The Great Writer poured another whisky and gazed out through the Boston Grande penthouse window and over the Boston skyline. He filled his glass with soda. Better take it easy on the booze tonight!
Down in the basement was the laundry where he’d worked after leaving school, loading sheets and tablecloths into the huge washers. With revulsion, he remembered the maggots that festered on the seafood stains.
Twenty years and ten best-selling novels later he was back and installed in the penthouse at the behest of Saul, the owner. “It’s great to have you stay here Lenny, we’ll pick up the tab for the rooms, you just pay for the food and drink. It’ll be cheaper for us that way round!” He winked.
Laura and the kids were headed for the cinema, thank Christ, leaving him free to concentrate on the thankless task of reducing his latest manuscript down by twenty thousand to a hundred thousand words. In front of him was his MacBook with the novel’s title page on the screen – The Polishing.
Dominic Eckhardt, his publisher, had spoken. “Look, Lenny, J K can do it, she can do anything now, walk on water probably, if she wants. It’s still down to me at Brampton’s though and Francis tells me we need to make the new titles shorter.” Francis being the chief editor. “Look Fran’ll do it on the house, save you the aggro, give you a chance to take Laura and the kids to the lake cabin.”
Lenny had hesitated. Hmm. He didn’t want to cede control to some has-been novelist-cum-editor!
He took a large gulp of whisky. Even diluted he felt the alcohol touch his brain with feathered fingers. Go easy this time!
Where to start? OK, start on page one, cut out scenes, and tighten up description? Or just knock a whole chunk out? He took another gulp. The second would be easier, maybe scrap the whole business about the vampires taking over the petrol station? He knew it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, just that he could picture it so clearly. And that bit where the family got doused in petrol. He could just see the film adaptation. Wow!
Goddamit! He’d become aware of an aimless tootling coming from somewhere, next door or on the floor below. Come to think of it, it had been at the edge of his mind ever since he’d sat down. He hadn’t come to the best suite in town to have his work ruined by some damned fool tootling on the recorder or flute or whatever! He stood up and went out into the corridor. Yes, it was on the same floor, he was sure. Surely it wasn’t some ethnic nonsense? No, it was too tuneless even for that!
He left the penthouse and walked the long walk to a smaller apartment. He pressed his ear to the door. Ah-ha! He rang the bell. No reply. He kept his finger pressed down. Finally, the door opened and Lenny recoiled at the aged features of his old arch-enemy. “Good God, MacLeash, you’re still here!”
The flushed face with its heavy lines and red bulbous nose stared back. “Lenny! I heard you’d got famous!”
“Oh, you learned to read, did you? You old bastard, you treated me like shit!”
“Look Lenny, you don’t know the pressure I was under to get that goddamn laundry done! We couldn’t have no slacking, not even for a second!”
Lenny noticed a recorder in the old man’s hand. “And what’s with that racket, I’m trying to work!”
“It helps me stay calm. It’s a kind of meditation. I just blow and let whatever comes out come out. You can’t stop me!”
“Look, one call to Saul and you’ll not only stop, you’ll be out on the goddamn street!”
“OK, OK. Look I’m sorry, I’ll stop and I’m sorry about that laundry business. Hey man, it was twenty years ago! Look, I’ll help you out, if ever you need me.”
“Fat chance! Just lay off that damned flute!” Lenny stormed back to the penthouse, fuming.
A year later, Lenny was back at the hotel. This time for the prestigious Boston Best-Seller Awards. Dominic had got his hundred thousander, and it’d topped the charts for the last six months. Now Lenny was waiting in the wings, ready to be called on stage. Laura and the kids were with Dominic and Francis at one of the front tables. He’d checked his appearance in the dressing room mirror, white suit, white shirt, red bow tie. He looked good! Then a quick visit to the bathroom and now, any second and he’d be facing the audience and cameras. He’d rehearsed his lines until he could say them after a whole bottle of whisky. Relax!
He felt a tap on his shoulder. MacLeash! “What the hell do you want?” he said through gritted teeth, whilst smiling like a ventriloquist for anyone watching.
MacLeash made a discrete motion at the fly in his black trousers. Lenny looked down. Shit! He broke out in a sweat as he surreptitiously drew his own zipper up.
An announcement boomed out. “Ladies and Gentleman, this season’s number one author, Mr Lenny Queen!”
Lenny strode onto the stage to rapturous applause, heaving a sigh of relief and quickly remembering to turn his smile back on.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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