Jeff's body seized and his penis jerked and a small spurt of urine trickled down his leg, creating a damp spot in his boxers. As long as he lived, he never spoke of it to anyone.
Stuart took a step back, keeping the gun level on Jeff. His eyes stared at Jeff in curiosity, as though he were a rare animal in a zoo. An animal that was about to get rarer.
Jeff parted lips that were suddenly fossil-dry. “Please,” he whispered, in a voice so small he wasn't sure if the author would even hear him.
The gun moved, and Jeff, anticipating what would happen, dropped to his knees and threw himself to his left. He had read once (in a Hardy Boys book, if he cared to admit it) that guns, especially those operated by amateurs, tended to pull up with the recoil, so your best bet to avoid getting shot was to drop. He had done so with no conscious thought, simply trying to stay alive.
The author had actually been lowering his weapon, not firing it. His eyes were large in surprise and then, looking down at Jeff, his mouth cracked in a wide grin, his eyes brightening, and a strangely high-pitched giggle began to creep out of him. It started high in his nose, in a pony-like whinny and built into a louder, fuller “ha ha ha-ha” until tears streamed down his cheeks. He tossed the revolver underhand into an armchair where it jounced on a pillow and then he gasped for breath. Panting, he bent and offered his hand to Jeff.
“You're—the new kid, right?” He chuffed in laughter again. “Shoulda—seen your face. Shit!”
Jeff stared up at him, panic slowly being replaced by a mixture of expressions all fighting for dominance. Part of him completely understood what was going on. The rest of him wasn't buying it.
“I'm sorry, kid. That was one of those things that seemed like a really good idea at the time, you know? Really, I was just fucking with you.” He waggled his hand at Jeff. “It's okay, really, I swear.”
A second later, Jeff took the hand, letting Stuart help him to his feet. That was the first time he really noticed how the writer smelled. There was the scent of tobacco, deep and chocolatey, the sour smell of liquor, and dank body odor.
“Victor Stuart,” the author said, holding onto Jeff's hand. “It takes me a while to remember names so I'll probably call you kid for a week or two. Don't take it personal. I'd only just gotten the hang of the last guy's name before he vanished.”
Jeff didn't say anything. He was still mentally catching up.
Stuart sat him on the couch and brought him a glass of lemonade. He sat next to him on the couch, sensibly leaving a reasonable space between them, and waited for the younger man to catch his breath.
“Why the hell do you have a gun?” Jeff asked. He didn't know anyone who owned a gun. It was the first thing he thought of.
“Mostly for protection. I have a crazy neighbor that I expect to come up here gunning for me one day.”
“Kinda. I'm licensed, took the class and all that. The safety was on, you weren't gonna get shot, I swear. I'm sorry.”
Jeff shook his head. “Helluva way to meet someone.”
“I know, right?” Stuart offered him his hand again, still smiling. “I'm Vic.”
Jeff returned his handshake. The author's hand was warm and gentle. “Jeff.”
“Well, even if you can't tell, I'm damn glad you're here. I work a lot over the summer and the more shit I have to worry about, the less I get done. That last little dipshit was only just starting to be usefuf before bailed on me.”
“He didn't quit?”
“Is that what they told you?”
“They just told me the caretaker position was open again.”
Stuart nodded. “True enough. Because the little bastard just walked away as far as anyone can tell. Packed his shit and left while I was sleeping. He didn't seem to be much for seeing to someone else's needs anyway. Maybe they didn't explain the position very well.”
“Nah, he's just an arrogant prick.”
“Seconded. I could tell. Guy was here for one day and already thought he was better than me. You knew him?”
“Sure, we were both in the lit program at Pacific.”
“Oh, right, I always forget that you guys come from a pretty small pool. Didn't like him?”
“He's a douche, and he won the Playboy college fiction contest last year, and it went to his head. But mostly I didn't like him because he beat me out for this gig and he didn't even like you. He was just doing it for resume padding, you know?”
“He didn't like me?”
“Well, you know, your books.”
“For real?” Stuart looked incredulous.
“Well, I mean, it's not like—“ Jeff was desperately trying to backpedal.
“No, I get that there's lots of people who don't like my work, it just never occurred to me that someone who didn't like my books would even bother, you know? Shit, no wonder he left. Too bad I can't give him a letter of unrecommendation to take with him to future employers. 'Dear Sir, the individual before you is a two-faced quitter'. Something like that.”
“And a little bitch,” Jeff finished for him.
Stuart grinned and it was the grin that he had flashed when he had first laughed at Jeff huddled on the floor, fierce, almost manic, completely unguarded. “And a little bitch,” Stuart agreed. Then the author stood. Jeff really looked at him in person for the first time. His body was lean, arms and legs that were certainly spindly when the author was 20 were now just thick enough to not seem weak. His torso was short and his legs were long. He wore a plain white t-shirt and button fly jeans with the top button undone. Jeff knew that he was in his early forties and that was only indicated by a bit of gray in the hair at his temples. The hair was light brown and almost shaggy, the style of a younger man. A short beard, just a few days worth of scruff really, covered his cheeks, which came to a steep triangular point at his chin. With a longer nose he would have had the hawk-like face of Sherlock Holmes as described by good old A.C. Doyle. The eyes were sharp and alert, capable of the kind of intense focus that would make you feel flattered or uncomfortable.
“Tell you what,” he said, “Why don't we take the tour later? I usually kick around the house during the day, in case they didn't tell you, I'm pretty much a homebody, but I'm ravenous and I don't much feel like cooking. Wanna get something to eat?”
“I could cook something.” He really couldn't, actually, at least not anything that didn't involve toast and cereal.
Stuart waved his hand. “Pssh, not on your first day, not after the kind of welcome I gave you. I'll show you around town a bit, where to get the groceries and all that, we'll get some grub, start the day out right. Best brunch in West Seattle, whaddaya say?”
It finally sank in, now that the panic, shock, and adrenaline were out of his system, he was talking with his idol, his hero, and he was just another guy. They were talking the way Jeff talked with Malcolm. Vic (just like he had fantasized) was cool, approachable, and relaxed. And they were going to go to brunch. Fuck Mac. This summer was going to rock.
“Sounds great,” he said.