Ten million people in New York City– and I can’t escape the one that reminded me why I wanted to disappear.
“Molly,” I say after knocking on her door, “Why is Luke Hollaway coming here? He’s an actor, not a writer.”
She cracks a chesire smile grin. “Shut the door, please.”
Oh no. The door smacks shut behind me and I take a seat in her stiff leather chairs. “Do you remember the research I had you do on L.A. Candy?” My ass was stuck to my office chair for three hours while I prowled Bookscan’s RTD numbers. That kind of pain is hard to forget. I keep my mouth shut and nod. “Luke’s agent approached us with a fiction manuscript–”
“Written by him?” I ask, arching an eyebrow at her. Ghostwriting isn’t illegal, it just would be very surprising if Luke decided to put more than a day’s worth of effort into something.
Molly just laughs. “It’s actually quite good. Holloway is a good writer. Not a half-bad actor either.” I continue to hold my tongue. “He wanted us to publish it. We have the budget, the name, and the time.”
“We don’t have to. We can lie; say we’re completely swamped.” Shit, I’m associate editor. I’ll have to sit across from him and avoid eye contact for at least two hours.
“Don’t even try that. Book sales could go up to 500,000 copies a week. I’m not willing to give up that kind of paycheck. I need you to compile a quick comp sheet. Meeting’s in an hour.”
“Why wasn’t I told about this earlier?”
“Only senior editors knew. We didn’t want to start spreading rumors,” As she’s booting up her computer, she comes to some conclusion, “Actually, we should probably let more of the office know so they won’t assault him once he’s in the door.”
“Please,” I snort, “he wishes he were that popular.”
Fifty minutes later, I’m nervously tapping my heels inside the meeting room. The metal gleams from its recent cleaning, and each of the eight seats has a neat packet laid in front. Comparison sheets of similar titles to predict sales from marketing, excerpts from the first chapter from the editors, magazine and TV campaigns from publicity. Ten minutes until Luke is officially late. Two hours until I can leave this room.
With nine minutes to go, a large group fills in many of the seats. Luke Holloway is among them. God, please kill me.
“Alex, I’m glad you’re here.” he shakes my hand and fails to dazzle me with his movie star smile.
“Luke, good to see you again.” I wait for him to take the bait.
“Again?” Molly catches on. “How do you know each other?”
He starts speaking, but I cut him off. “We ran in the same social circle.” And dated. And got engaged. And divorced. I told him to give up the dream of being an actor. He had gone to college for theater and consistently made the circuit through Times Square theaters. He did some small theater shows, but never got paid. You need to get a real job, I told him. He spat that I shouldn’t get angry at him for having the guts to do what I couldn’t. That I was being a coward for working in publishing instead of writing my own book.
Neither one of us flinched, “You’ve got to love New York,” Luke said, “You can run into anymore here.”
“Let’s get started, shall we?” I’m not interested in reminiscing. I take my seat as close to the head of the table, where Molly will direct this circus spectacle.
“I agree. Let’s get started,” Luke’s agent pipes up. We all sit. “What did you like?” He looks at Molly while he asks.
“I’m really excited about this. You’ve got a great story here. Market’s showing favoritism towards mysteries and thrillers.” Molly’s in full pitch mode and she sparkles.
“What did you think, Alex?” Luke asks. What? Clients are not supposed to speak during these meetings. “I remember you always had a knack for mysteries.” I focus on him. He looks cocky, not nervous. He knows I haven’t read it yet.
“From the few pages I’ve seen, I think it has a lot of promise. Publicity will be a great help with sales,” I lie. But hey, it sounded effective.
“Great. Then let’s talk details,” his agent says.
Two hours and two minutes later I break out of the conference room and head for the kitchen. I can’t tell if I want a cigarette, a cookie, or coffee. Coffee’s closest. It’ll do.
As I’m setting up the coffee maker, I head a kerfuffle by the door. “You’re looking good, Alex.”
I don’t want to talk to you. I focus on the lip of the coffeemaker, perfectly measure the coffee grounds. “Did you need something?”
“This company has been doing really well in the past few quarters. You chose well by working here.”
I roll my eyes and turn on him. “Apparently, so did you. After this, you’ll be an acclaimed writer and actor. Congratulations.” The word burns like acid.
“I…I guess this is proof that anyone can publish a book. Take that as motivation.”
I consider throwing the apples in the fruit bowl at him. Letting fruit splatter against his nose. “I have to look over the rest of your manuscript. I hope you can find your way out.”
He doesn’t get a word in. I shove past him to my cubicle. The gray collapsible walls offer some form of sanctuary. There’s folded piece of paper resting on my keyboard.
Have the courage to do what you want. I know a really good publisher when you have your finished manuscript.
I crumple up the note and listen to the satisfying ting against the trash can.