As Jeff gargled the smoke taste out of his mouth, he realized that until he'd seen the limo, part of him had been expecting this to be a scam, some dickbag sorta-friend of his from college playing a prank on him. They'd all known he was trying for the caretaker gig. It had been the guy's almost-gay sounding voice. It made him feel that this could not possibly be real. Of course, there was still a tiny nagging sensation in the back of his mind that just because the limo showed up didn't mean this was real. Shit, the limo could have been on its way somewhere else and just driven on past. The sudden realization filled him with fear.
He looked into the mirror, straightened the tie that he had borrowed from Malcolm. He made sure he had his wallet and his keys and he ran down to the lobby, taking the stairs three at a time, risking a strained or broken ankle for the stupid, irrational fear that this was all a scam, a lie, some kind of bullshit that was being perpetrated on him.
But when he reaches the lobby, there it is, with a guy wearing a black suit and a cap standing next to the elongated vehicle, just waiting for him. He pushed open the glass lobby door.
“Mr. Reynolds?” called the limo driver, and Jeff was disappointed that he didn't have an accent of some kind.
“Right this way, sir,” the driver said, opening the back door for him.
For one crazy instant, Jeff had the vision of the old gag from Young Frankenstein, the limo driver, in a lisping Igor voice saying, “Walk thith way, thur,” and the two of them limping in tandem to the door. Jeff's eyebrows and mouth twitched as he fought down a preposterous spurt of giggles. He climbed quickly into the car past the driver, who either did not notice, or was well trained enough to pretend not to notice.
He practically had to sit on his hands to keep from playing with the various buttons that controlled the windows, the partition between the passenger cabin and the driver, and the radio. There was a bar, and it took all of Jeff's self-control not to explore it. Not that he would drink this early, certainly not before a meeting, but even for senior prom he'd never been able to afford a limo.
The ride was short, coming down Capitol Hill into downtown Seattle and it passed without Jeff paying much attention to his surroundings. He was too busy trying to keep up with his thoughts.
He had known that the summer job was a long shot. Not only did most of the students in the English Literature Department of Pacific University apply for the damn thing, but once Jeff had found out that Mac had applied for it, he'd pretty much given up hoping. Not given up hoping in the sense that the hope was all gone, it was never completely gone, just given up hope in the sense that he pretended he didn't have any left. The kind of hope you had when you asked out a supermodel.
Fucking Reginald “Mac” McKenzie. The golden boy of Pacific's English Lit community, editor of the paper and the douchey literary journal, campus celebrity. He'd been something of a luminary in his sophomore year after interviewing a presidential candidate who made an appearance on campus, but after he won the Playboy college short fiction contest in his junior year, he had become two things: Locally famous and completely insufferable.
Grades weren't the only thing considered when students applied for the summer program, not by a long shot, they also considered your creative work (which was good for Jeff, but not as good as it was for Mac), your social record, and your application letter. For all Jeff knew, the author reviewed the files and choose the candidate himself.
So of course Mac had won, and robbed Jeff of his opportunity to spend the summer learning at the knee of his favorite writer of all time. You could keep your Stephen King and James Ellroy, you could fuck Charles Dickens right in the ear and you could throw Thoreau back in Walden Pond. Victor Stuart, and, by extension, his creation Alistar Wilcox, were the tits. And this unique program, only offered to Pacific U. students because Stuart was an alum (which is why, Washington resident or not, Pacific had been Jeff's first, second, and only choice of college), gave one student each summer the opportunity to work for Victor Fucking Stuart, to live at his home while the guy spent the summer writing his next master work.
The school did not publicize the program (you couldn't quite call it an internship), but among the student body, it was an ultimate prize. It was like the music program offering an opportunity to tour with Pearl Jam or the film school offering a summer internship under Martin Scorsese.
Any other year, Jeff probably would have had it in the bag. Admittedly, he hadn't been published in Playboy, but he had been very kindly rejected from the New Yorker once, and any year that he hadn't had to compete with goddamn Mac McKenzie he would have been the big swinging literary dick of Pacific University. He didn't even care to be a campus celebrity, or so he mostly told himself, it was about the work, and he knew, he felt, he fucking believed that he was better than Mac. Mac wrote about tired ideas with clichéd expressions. His metaphors were weak. He pandered to his audience. His writing was comfortable, and easygoing. His stories were cheeseburgers. They were Roland Emmerich movies. They were bon bons. They were crap.
Jeff, on the other hand, confronted his audience. He drug ugly things into the clear light of day and forced his readers to deal with their fears, the paranoia, their most frightening ideas, whether they liked it or not, just like Stuart. When you got it, you got it, and one of his teachers, Professor Higgins, had gotten Jeff better than anyone ever had. The reason he'd ever had any hope (whether he admitted it or not) of getting to spend the summer with Victor Stuart was because of the shining recommendation letter that good old Professor Higgins had written. But, Jeff supposed, Mac probably had a half a dozen of those, in addition to Playboy and all the rest.
But somehow things had turned around. Whatever Mac had done, he'd dropped the ball, and Jeff was damn well going to—
The car door opened and the driver was there, in his impeccable black suit. Jeff started. He'd been staring, unseeing, out the window.
“Excuse me, sir, we have arrived.”
“Uh, yeah, thanks. Great.”
As Jeff climbed from the back of the car, he realized that he hadn't fastened his seatbelt. A bright bolt of an idea flashed through his brain, that you were supposed to tip limo drivers, but then the opportunity and the driver were both gone. Jeff was standing before a rotating door, underneath a burgundy awning. Written in gold leaf in the window next to the spinning door was: “Wrigley, Davis, and Feldman, Attys At Law”.
Jeff swallowed, straightened his tie, and moved toward the door.