Monday, January 4, 2010

The Author, Chapter One: The Call

June 8

Last night had been a good night for Jeff Reynolds and his best friend Malcolm Attison. Such a good night, in fact, that they both woke up with headaches. They drank beer and played video games until almost two in the morning. Unfortunately, while Jeff can sleep his beer off, Malcolm has to go to work.

Mal groans to himself when he sees the pyramid of beer cans on the coffee table and then he proceeds to the kitchen. Jeff always stays up later than he does, “One more level” or “One more beer” and then he passes out without cleaning anything up. Jeff still views himself as a guest. Malcolm is viewing him more and more as a tenant. An increasingly unwelcome.
When the phone rings, Malcolm is still so out of it that he is startled, looking up from where he was staring deeply into his Froot Loops.

“Fuzzah?” he hears Jeff say, and, predictably, there is the ringing clatter of empty cans as the awakened sleeper flails for his cell phone. Who would be so ignorant of Jeff's sleeping patterns as to call him at the unreasonable hour of 8 a.m.? Malcolm cannot imagine, but it's none of his business. A secret part of him gloats at the disruption of the lazy bastard's repose.

Jeff shakes a few droplets of tepid beer from his hand, blinking stupidly, still trying to figure out what's going on. Eventually he sees the phone, lying on the floor, part way under the couch, the screen blinking in time with the ring tone. He stabs a finger at it, knowing that any button other than END will take the call. He lays the side of his head back down on his pillow and rests the phone delicately on his other ear.


“Good morning. Please hold for Arthur Reed.”

“What? I—“

“Good morning. Is this Jeff Reynolds?” The voice is officious and fussy, and you could be forgiven for thinking the owner might be gay.

“Yeah, this is Jeff.”

“Excellent. I am contacting you about the summer caretaker position you applied for.”

“Yeah, I know, I didn't get it, they told me a couple of weeks ago.”

“Mr. Reynolds, I am pleased to inform you that the position has become open again and that you are our next choice.”

Jeff was waking up now. “I was the second choice?”

“That's correct, and the other gentleman clearly did not feel able to fulfill his duties and left the position.”

“You mean I get to spend the summer—“

“There is a lot to do before you can meet the man himself, of course, so we're calling to see if you can come in this morning for a brief orientation and some paperwork.”

Jeff grabs the phone off his ear, props himself up and shakes his head. He can feel the excitement trying to build in his toes, but part of him wants to ignore it. It feels the same as when he has four out of the five requisite symbols on a lottery scratcher and some small naïve part of himself is convinced he's about to win $25,000, even though he never does.

“I should be able to come in this morning.”

“Excellent. It is now 8:04. Would 10 a.m. work for you?”

“Actually, I'd have to check the bus schedule, I'm afraid I don't have a car at the moment.” Because I'm fucking poor, he doesn't add, although he often does.

“No problem at all. We will send a car for you. Where are you?”

“I'm in the Central District, just a second.” He covers the microphone. “Mal, what's the address here?”  He's asked before, for pizza deliveries and the like, but damned if he can ever remember.

Malcolm comes out of the kitchen, looking curious. “1411 22nd Avenue. Cross street is Union.”

“Thanks.” Jeff returns to the phone. “1411 22nd Ave, at Union.”

He can hear some typing on the other end of the phone. “Excellent,” Arthur Reed says. “A car will be outside at 9:30, which should get you here in plenty of time. Please bring two forms of ID with you.”


“Thank you very much for your cooperation, Mr. Reynolds, we will see you soon.” Then, before Jeff can ask any more questions, the other man is gone.

“Holy shit,” Jeff says quietly to himself.

Malcolm slurps the remaining sugary milk out of the bottom of his cereal bowl. “What was that all about?”

“Remember that summer thing I applied for?”

“The fuckin' dream job? Of course I remember, you talked about it for months.”

“Dude who got the gig dropped out. I was the runner up. So now they offered it to me.”

“For real?”

“Sounded pretty legit to me. They're sending a fucking car to pick me up.”


“I know!”

Neither of them says it, but both of them think it, almost in tandem. Jeff will be leaving, which will make Malcolm happy and relieve the building pressure on their friendship.

“Congrats, man, I hope it's as good as advertised. I'ma take a quick shower and then it's all you.”

“Thanks.” Jeff is already thinking about what he must do in the—he looks at his phone—hour and 20 minutes before the car arrives for him. He likes making mental lists. He never got into the habit of writing things down, even though he considers himself a writer and even though he always forgets something. He'll need a shower, he'll need breakfast (and then his stomach twists at the thought of anything being put into it this early after the better part of an 18 pack of beer was consumed just a few hours ago), he'll need a shave for sure, and a careful one, because four days worth of stubble can make for a lot of blood, and if he wants to be presentable, he should probably iron a shirt. Or at least take it into the bathroom with him and let it steam for a while.

An hour and 10 minutes later, Jeff is wearing a slightly damp shirt and blotting blood from his cheeks. His hair isn't too bad, he thinks, he had it buzzed off a few weeks ago and so far it's just come in short and easy to deal with. The nervous energy that Jeff normally associates with the moment before he goes all in and actually kisses a date is humming through his body. His stomach, which accepted the orange juice and granola bar he provided it, is still grumbling bitterly about its lot in life. Now, of course, with 10 minutes to go, Jeff is ready to go and his nerves are starting to hum.

He ponders logging 10 minutes of a video game or trying to read something, but he winds up helping himself to one of Malcolm's Marlboro Lights and smoking it out on the deck.

The sun is bright over Seattle, promising the kind of clear day that is more common in the city than you might think. The misery of November will make up for it in a few months, but for right now it is clear and just the right temperature. Malcolm's neighborhood is shitty, as you would expect for a guy one year out of college with an entry level job, but at least he has a place. Jeff had told Malcolm he would be damned if he boomeranged back to his mom right after he graduated from college with his sure-to-be-useful Creative Writing degree, and Mal had unwisely offered him the couch until he got on his feet. That had been three weeks ago, and mostly what Jeff had done since then was drink and play video games, while occasionally firing a resume into the vast black hole of the internet, responding to job postings on Craigslist that he knew he wasn't qualified for.

The tension had been building in the last week, partly because Malcolm was sick of Jeff and partly because Jeff was starting to feel like a burden. Mostly it was because two nights ago Mal brought a date back home and realized that since his living room wasn't exactly his own any more, he didn't have anywhere to close the deal if the girl wasn't willing to go into his bedroom right away. The young woman in question had required a bit more wooing than that, so she had left, Mal had bitched, and Jeff had felt like an asshole. She had been really hot, too, and Jeff knew Mal was in a slump.

But today things were looking up. Today he had woken up (albeit with a hangover) to a job offer, an opportunity. An opportunity that offered money, a place to stay, and the chance to work alongside one of the most challenging writers in the English language. Things were definitely on a better track, and it turned out Jeff hadn't actually had to do a damn thing. Good things did, apparently, really come to those who waited. And to think he could have working a shit job as a barista for the past couple of weeks instead of living off his paltry savings and dodging questions from his mom about what he was going to do with his life, particularly what he was going to do with his shiny new $120,000 education.

Jeff was grinding his cigarette out on the porch railing, taking in the clear weather and letting out a satisfied sigh when he saw coming it down the hill. There was no reason to assume it was for him, but he did anyway.

The guy had said they would send a car. They had sent him a fucking limo.

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