Chapter Twenty-eight

   "Yikes!" I screamed, startled by the alarm. Four-thirty, time to go to work, time to go to work -- how long had it been since I was able to say that? Two years? Two weeks? Or had I just imagined the whole thing?
   (Editor's Note: Research ran a check on the name Ethan Childress, and while there were several authors with the last name of Childress, there were no historians, none had written a biography of Lincoln, and there was no book with the title, Lincoln: The Man, either in or out of print, or on any publisher's list of projects planned or projected for publication.)
   Watch your p's, my friend. Where was I? Oh yes. It's still dark out, I have four hours to get to work, but if I go back to sleep I'll fall into that frightening freak show again. What to do? Read a book? (Better not! -- Ed.) Then what?
   "Why don't you write one?"
   Very funny, Maureen. What do you call this?
   "I have no idea. Just don't ask me for a favorable quote on the dust cover." ("Very... funny!" -- Jim)
   Don't worry. Actually, I'm thinking of just having a photograph of myself -- you know, one of those matinee idol type shots. It sells books, really moves the wood pulp.
   "Tacky. Why not some nice artwork, and a few salient, selected passages to whet the reader's appetite."
   Like what?
   "Like, this section here, for example. It's fairly typical."
   You mean, these last few paragraphs? What about the current paragraph?
   "Look, Jim, do what you want. But it just seems to me that anyone who would read this book, especially this far, couldn't care less what you look like."
   Well, I -- hey, was that an insult?
   "No, no, of course not. Why would I insult you?"
   I don't know. How could I think such a thing?
   "Jim, it might be a good idea for you to take a break right about here."
   A break?
   "Yeah. Take a long look at yourself. A little self-analysis wouldn't be such a bad thing."
   You think so?
   "I think so, all the editors think so. (She's right -- Ed.) Even the readers think so.
   "Amen, and I think I speak for everybody."
   All right, all right. You're all ganging up on me, what can I do? I'll try. I don't know what you mean by self-analysis, but I'll give it a try. Where do I start?
   "Start by describing your present dilemma, then work backwards."
   "Just tell me -- tell us -- what's your problem, right now?"
   Right now my problem is trying to think of a way to express what my problem is right now, and, in a larger sense, figure out what to do with this situation, one that I didn't see coming. At all.
   "But, you're working on something here, am I right?"
   Well, yeah, of course I am. I'm trying to describe the experience of creation, of the random fireworks that either explode and delight, or fizzle and fester.
   Don't get me angry, Maureen. You know you're only a turn of phrase away from a cold dip in a big pond.
   "All right, all right. So, you're trying to describe the terrifying experience of writing, of trying to begin, and continue, and finish, and yet you feel blocked, am I correct in saying that? You feel blocked? Do you feel like you're... out of ideas?"
   Don't say that! The great abyss! We'll all fall right off the page if you talk like that!
   "Sorry. But it's important for us to know what's going to happen next."
   I can't tell you that. All I can tell you is that I can't tell you what I'm about to tell you. I hope that's clear.
   "Excuse me," came a new voice.
   Who's that?
   "My name is Carmine, and I represent someone, an avid reader of fiction, and he would like to propose a little proposition to you."
   A proposition?
   "We would like to propose that you cut the crap and get to the point or you might have difficulty typing. Capiche?"
   I think I catch your drift, Mr. Carmine.
   "Good. I will now take my leave."
   He's gone. Great, now I'm really screwed. The mob's involved. Great.
   "Who was that?"
   He's from the mob.
   "The mob?"
   You know, the Mafia, the Cosa Nostra.
   "Sure, sure. Why was he here?"
   I don't know, apparently someone in the mob, maybe the capo di tutti frutti himself, doesn't like my writing. The word must have gone out to "the boys," and Mr. Carmine dropped by to tell me that I better start making some sense or they'll make me one of those impossible-to-refuse offers they're known for.
   "Ouch. So, what are you going to do?"
   I don't know. Maybe hide out. Can I stay with you for a while? I mean, until this blows over.
   "Gee, Jim, I don't know... "
   I'll pay for all my food, and -- and I'll pay your utilities for the month. What do you say?
   "It's not the money, Jim, it's just -- "
   Just what? Come on, Maureen, I brought you into this world, the least you could do is --
   "Okay, okay, you can stay. But, if I get tired of the arrangement, out you go. Deal?"

(This ends Chapter Twenty-eight. Did you hear something?)

Chapter Twenty-nine