I found her there, in the office that old Bill Joyce had once occupied, although it wasn’t quite as dark and dingy now as it had been back then. Nor did it smell of stale cigars and mouldy books.
I had loved Bill dearly, for not only what I learned from him, which I have carried right through into my current career, but also for his friendship and support. Sure, I still may have some bad habits in my writing, of which my current editors almost certainly must despair, but I am sure that it was the grounding that Bill gave all his students in practical writing that had stood me in good stead when I tried tackling the beast that was my first novel.
I knocked on the open office door and stuck my head inside.
‘Anne?’ I enquired, not quite knowing what to expect.
The woman at the large timber desk looked up at me, peering out over the rims of a pair of gold framed glasses that were perched precariously on the end of her nose.
She was in her fifties, I guessed, not beautiful, yet not that plain either, I didn’t think. For a moment a furrow ran across her brow, as if annoyed by the interruption, but then the realisation of just who her intruder was must have dawned on her.
‘Oh dear, excuse me,’ she said. ‘You must be Tony?’
‘I certainly am,’ I replied as I stepped across the room to her desk. She stood up and reached out her hand, which I duly shook.
‘Thank you so much for coming in. We’re absolutely delighted to have you here again.’
‘The honour is all mine, believe me. I must say that the place looks a bit brighter than it did back in Bill’s day,’ I said as I looked around the once familiar room.
‘Well, what can I say, the place probably needed a woman’s touch.’
‘You could be right about that,’ I chuckled. ‘So, I mentioned to you the other day that I would try and get in to meet you before tomorrow. I’m afraid it will just be a hello and goodbye for today, but I just wanted to meet you and make sure everything is okay for tomorrow.’
‘No, that’s fine. I appreciate your coming. Everything is ready. We’ll be in the library as we have a few too many coming to be able to squeeze them all into our small meeting room here. You know where that is, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I have been there a few times. How many do you have booked in?’
‘About twenty-five, but there could be a few extras off the street, as we’ve been publicising your visit in the newspaper.’
‘Yes, I saw that this morning.’
‘People are quite excited, you know. It’s not often a local writer makes it onto the national stage like you have. I’m sure everyone will want to know how you’ve managed to achieve that, and what your secret to success is.’
‘To be honest, I’m not too sure about that myself, but I’ll do the best I can. I’m actually not even sure of what I can expect from them tomorrow, I mean, like what they might ask of me. I’m not exactly what you would call experienced in the art of public speaking, or teaching.’
‘You’ll do fine. You are one of our own, remember! You’ve been in the audience at this type of event before, haven’t you? All you need to do is think back to what you asked of the visiting authors you listened to back when you were one of us.’
‘Yes, that’s just it. As I recall, we were anything but gentle with some of them,’ I laughed.
We chatted for a little while longer, mainly about the group of writers she was working with, which sounded to me to be every bit as diverse as they had been back in my day, and she showed me around the office, pulling out a few of the published works that the group participants had managed to produce.
I noticed that copies of my own two novels were there on the shelf and I reached out and pulled down the copy of Shifting Sands. Opening it I glanced at the title page and noticed the message, along with the scrawl of a signature that I had written there several years ago. This very book had been one of the first two I had pulled from the box of advance copies that had been delivered to Harry’s office on a grey winter’s afternoon. I had proudly signed one specifically for Bill Joyce, and another for the writer’s group’s collection.
‘I remember signing this,’ I said to Anne. ‘I was so damned excited at holding my very first book that my hands were shaking.’
‘No doubt you’ve had a bit of practice at it since then, I would imagine?’
‘These days my hand protests with writers cramp every time I pick up a pen!’
‘I can just imagine. So, about tomorrow morning. We’re scheduled to start at nine-thirty, at the library, so will you be right to get there, or would you like to be collected from somewhere?’
‘Oh, no, I can manage. I’m staying at my cousin’s place at Thompsonville,’ I replied. ‘If I’m there by about nine, will that be okay?’
‘Perfect,’ she replied.
After that we chatted for a few minutes, then I made my excuses and left her, content in the knowledge that things were all in order for the next day, even if still a little unsure of what I could expect. I figured that I would like to keep the whole thing as casual and low key as possible. Whether or not I would be able to achieve that would be another thing altogether.
As I walked the short distance to the new vehicle I flipped open my phone and hit Luke’s number.
‘Hey, bud,’ he said when he answered. ‘Everything okay? How did your shopping go?’
‘Everything is fine. Got exactly what I was after, and I’ve checked out the Writer’s Centre, so I reckon some lunch and a trip home will go down a treat.’
‘Sounds good. It’s getting close enough to lunch time now, so where do you want to meet?’
‘Do you know a little cafe called Elly’s? I had a coffee there this morning.’
‘Yeah, I do. Give me ten minutes and I’ll meet you there,’ he said, before quickly disconnecting.
After unlocking the Toyota I climbed in and tried to start it, but nothing seemed to happen. It was only after the second time I tried that I remembered it was diesel and the glow plugs needed to be hot first, so after trying again and waiting for the light to go out when I turned the key again it started first time. Pulling out onto the road I drove the few blocks to Elly’s and found a parking space almost directly outside, so I pulled in, then got out and leant against the mudguard of the vehicle while I waited for Luke to arrive.
It wasn’t long before he came trotting up the street toward me.
‘Do you think you should be doing that?’ he asked as he came to a stop.
‘Leaning on someone’s car like that,’ he replied, while looking from me to the Hilux and back again.
‘Oh, I don’t think the owner will mind.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Because I’m the owner. I just bought it … for Aaron of course, and for the business.’
‘What the fuck? You bought him a truck?’ he chuckled. ‘Don’t you think that’s just a little bit much?’
‘Well, it was either this, or a diamond ring, I had trouble deciding! But this is more practical, don’t you reckon? Anyhow, it is for our business after all …’
‘I just hope you know what you’re doing!’ he said, as he turned and started toward the coffee shop.
‘Yeah, mate. So do I,’ I replied, while falling into step beside him.
We found the place was about half full when we made our way inside. Quickly we found a table just inside the door and sat ourselves down. Luke sat with his back to the door.
‘So, what’s good here?’ I asked Luke.
‘Their salads are pretty good. Thai Beef or Caesar.’
‘Sounds good to me. How about you choose and order while I duck through to the men’s room?’ I asked, after noticing the signs at the rear of the room.
* * *
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, with Luke ordering the Thai Beef Salad for us both, along with a sweet and refreshing iced tea.
I asked him some more questions about his job with the software company and he filled me in on what he did and what some of the people were like with whom he worked. It was easy to see that he genuinely liked what he was doing, which was helping to design and program new computer software packages. Me, I didn’t know the first thing about computer programming, but I had always known that Luke was the smart one in our family, so it was great to see him doing something he loved and was obviously very good at.
At one point in our conversation he said to me, ‘Don’t look now, but I think you’ve just been made. There’s a woman and a guy sitting a couple of tables behind you and they keep turning in their seats and staring this way.’
‘Story of my life,’ I said with a sigh.
‘Doesn’t that ever bother you?’
‘Not really. For the most part folks are pretty good about it. I’m usually happy enough to sign an autograph, or have my photo taken, but you do get the occasional pest.’
‘Well, you had better put on your celebrity happy face, because I think they are heading this way.’
Moments later a couple stopped at our table. They appeared to be in their forties, well dressed and both slightly overweight, yet not a totally unattractive couple.
‘Excuse me. Aren’t you that writer?’ the woman asked me.
‘And which writer would that be?’ I replied.
‘You know, the one who wrote that story about the gay people in that little seaside town.’
‘You mean Shifting Sands, by Tony Scott?’ Luke asked, sounding slightly bemused.
‘Yes, that’s the one,’ the woman replied. ‘Is that you?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid it is.’
‘You know you’re going to hell, don’t you?’
‘For writing that filth! You’ll be going straight to hell for that. It’s disgusting. Absolute trash. Pornography, that’s what it is! Nothing but pornography!’
‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ I said, before turning away from her and facing back toward Luke, whose face had suddenly gone as white as a sheet.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself. No decent person would be caught reading that sort of thing!’
‘Have you read it madam?’ Luke enquired.
‘Then how could you possibly form an opinion on it?’ he asked her, as I sipped on my iced tea, trying to appear as calm as I possibly could, yet seething on the inside. This sort of thing wasn’t new to me. I had told Luke that most people were good about approaching me for an autograph or a photo, but most of the rest of them were like this … total fucking fruit-cakes, and most of those were religious nutters to boot! If I was in the right mood, I rather liked having fun with them.
‘It’s disgusting what they do, those gay people! They should all be wiped from the face of the planet. That’s what God wants, you know!’
‘Well, I guess that makes us even then,’ I calmly replied.
‘It appears we want the same thing! For our enemies to be smite down with the jaw-bone of an ass, or some such! Personally I believe that all homophobes and bigots deserve a similar fate! Although I rather think that they should first be locked away in institutions and given the whole gay treatment, you know, just to show them just what it’s like to experience gay sex and see how the other half lives.’
I glanced at Luke and saw the beginnings of a smirk appear on his face, then I glanced at the face of God’s messenger, whose mouth was open and moving, yet no words were coming out. She reminded me of a gold fish, one of those really bright reddish-coloured ones, swimming around with her eyes bulging out and her mouth opening and closing, but with nothing happening, while behind her the husband … or was it her illicit lover, perhaps … was cowering in either embarrassment or fear, I couldn’t quite decide which.
Quickly I stood up. I towered over the woman and knew that my height would be something that might intimidate her, not that I would ever do anything I shouldn’t. She took a step backwards and looked up at me, blinking, but saying nothing.
‘Is … is everything all right here?’ we heard someone ask. Turning my head I soon saw a rather flustered looking waiter standing there, not quite sure of what he should do.
‘Everything is fine,’ I said. ‘This lady was just letting me know what she thought of my career, while I was telling her what I thought of her religion.’
As the waiter looked at me I noticed the flash of recognition when he realised who I was. Somewhere nearby I heard a couple of people chuckle quietly to themselves.
‘We … we were just leaving,’ the woman eventually said, then waving her tab in the air she said, ‘Come on David,’ and headed for the counter, casting one last look of disgust in my direction.
‘I’m so sorry, sir,’ the waiter said.
‘Don’t be. It’s not your fault.’
‘Relax. I’ve had worse to deal with than that. But thank you for coming over. It helped prevent the situation from getting any worse.’
‘You’re welcome, sir. Now, can I get you anything else at all?’
‘No, we’re good. Thank you.’
With a nod he turned and left us and I sat back down at the table to finish my meal.
Luke was just sitting there staring at me.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘So does that sort of thing happen often?’
‘I did say earlier that only most of the people who wanted something from me were okay. The rest of them are usually like that! Total rat-bags!’ I grinned.
‘And you’re okay with that?’
‘Not really. But it makes life interesting.’
‘Christ. The more I see of you the more amazed I am.’
‘And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?’
He was just about to answer when a man stopped at our table. Here we go again, I thought.
‘Well played, son,’ the man said, while at the same time patting me on the back. ‘It was worth coming here just for the show.’
‘Glad you liked it!’
With a chuckle he moved on. I watched as he went to the counter and paid his tab, glancing back in our direction a couple of times and smiling, while also chatting with the waiter. When he was through he gave us a wave, then disappeared out into the afternoon sun.
‘Now, as you were saying? Something about how amazing I was?’
‘No, what I said was I was the more I see of you the more amazed I am,’ he replied. ‘And what I meant was that seeing you like this, as this successful writer, with charm and wit, and good looks and money … it’s not quite how I expected you to turn out.’
‘I hope you’re not too disappointed in me?’
‘Disappointed? Fuck it Tony, you’re a god-damn superstar! And if you didn’t have Aaron and if I didn’t have Matt, and if you weren’t my cousin, I’d be seriously considering jumping your bones right now!’
‘And that’s a good thing, right?’ I asked, as I shovelled in the last of my salad.
‘I guess that depends on which side of the fence you’re on,’ he laughed.
I signalled to the waiter who presently came over. ‘Could we have our tab please?’ I asked.
‘Errr … you don’t have one, sir.’
‘Don’t be silly, man, of course we do.’
‘No, that man you were talking to earlier, he paid it for you.’
‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ Luke said.
‘Of that, you can be sure!’ I said. ‘Didn’t you hear the lady earlier?’
‘If I may be so bold, sir. Could I ask a small favour of you?’ the waiter asked.
‘Would you mind signing our wall before you left?’
‘Yes, sir. On the wall beside our cash register we have the signatures of a number of visiting patrons who are extremely well known. Would you mind adding your signature to those?’
‘I’d be delighted,’ I replied, getting to my feet.
I followed the waiter over to the cash register and it was then that I noticed what he was referring to. All along the wall, starting just near the cash register, were scribbles in all shapes and sizes.
When I started looking at them I could see, and recognized, the signatures of quite a number of famous people, including sportsmen, television stars and politicians, many of which had added their own short and amusing messages.
Glancing back at our waiter I noticed him holding out a marker pen for me, which I took, then scribbled Tony Scott Was Here, below which I added my signature, the words Shifting Sands, and the date, before then handing the marker back to a smiling waiter.
* * *
After Luke and I parted I drove back to Thompsonville, with the radio turned up and the windows down, enjoying the freedom and the feeling of the wind in my hair.
It was now early afternoon and I still had things I needed to do, mainly the writing I had promised myself that I would get done today, so I decided to go straight back to the house, rather than go into town and see anyone. I knew that Aaron was quite busy today, so I figured I would give him a call later on, then hopefully meet him in town later and surprise him with the Toyota.
When I arrived at the house I pulled up directly in front of the guest house and climbed out, taking a long and admiring look at the new vehicle and feeling quite pleased with myself on making the new purchase, before then heading inside. I switched on the air conditioning unit and drew back the curtains, letting in as much light as I could, then slipped off my shoes. Wanting to be as comfortable as possible I changed from my casual clothes into something even more casual, a t-shirt and shorts, then set up my laptop in the kitchen, in readiness.
Opening the files I had been working on earlier I re-read everything I had written previously. I changed just a few words here and there, but otherwise I was satisfied with what I had produced. A quick check using the word count showed the total at a little over five thousand words, which I considered was a good start.
When I finished my review I sat there staring at the screen for a few moments, just turning a few things over in my mind, then once I had things straight in my head I reached out and placed my hands on the edge of the machine.
The words slowly came to me and as they did I started to type, steadily at first, but soon picking up speed as the story flowed, from my head, to my hands, then onto the page.
When I finally stopped typing, four hours had passed and it was approaching six o’clock. A quick check of the file showed that it was now approaching forty pages, and the word count was nudging ten thousand words. I felt as if I had actually accomplished something, and whatsmore, I had the beginnings of a story that I felt I could show to Harry and be confident that he wouldn’t put the kibosh on my plans straight away.