Chapter Twenty-nine

   So I moved in with Maureen to escape the mob -- and also, perhaps, to find a nice, cozy domestic situation that would stabilize and give direction to my life, and this novel.
   "Where can I put it?" I asked, removing a rhinoceros tusk from one of the many trunks and suitcases.
   "I've never seen so much junk!" Maureen mused, carefully stepping around a stuffed porcupine. The room was chock-a-block with bric-a-brac. (Chockablock with bric-a-brac? -- Ed.) "Just how long do you intend to stay?" she asked me.
   "As long as it takes," I explained, unfolding the 26'x40' American flag I use as a rug.
   "And what do you need with an inflatable life raft?"
   "You've heard of floods, haven't you?"
   "We're on the twenty-ninth floor, Jim."
   "We are?"
   It went on like this for at least an hour, until about six, six-fifteen. By then the sun was up and it was bright enough to shut off the lights in the apartment which, damned if she wasn't kidding, really was on the twenty-ninth floor! I continued unpacking my things, and we had coffee, and traded wisecracks and so forth, all that you'd expect to happen in a straightforward, simple, coherent, easy-to-understand scene within a chapter within a novel, with no changes in plot or tense.
   "More coffee?" she asked me.
   "Fine," I said, comfortable, somewhat, in my new role as a domesticated character/writer-in-residence. And no sign of the, uh, ahem.
   Maureen returned with a fresh pot of coffee, so rich and dark and hot and steamy you could almost smell it from the description.
   "You know," I began a long-winded monologue, "it fascinates me how things have developed. I mean, look at where we are now, this morning, compared to, oh, last night, or yesterday afternoon. It's incredible. But, here's what I think: I think I really am James M. Reynolds. Well, probably. And, I probably did work at a place called Kopy Katz a couple of years ago, and stick my head in the Xerox machine, and there probably was -- is -- a very understanding woman named Maureen -- you -- who, when there was no one else to turn to, took me under her wing and provided the kind of support and positive encouragement I never got from anyone else -- ever! -- and who, when the chips were down, always picked up the chips. And here's something else I know: I could live with this, with this arrangement, me sleeping on the floor in the kitchen, you in the bedroom. I could live with it. At least for a while. Plus, it's good for my health, wink wink."
   "More coffee?" she asked.
   "Maureen, were you listening to what I just said?"
   "More coffee?" she repeated.
   "More coffee?"
   "Maureen?!" I was getting worried.
   "More coffee?"
   "Maureen, don't do this to me! What if 'you know who' is reading this? You know -- 'you know who'." I tried to indicate with my words, and as subtly as possible, that, well, you know who might be reading this.
   "More coffee? More coffee? More coffee? -- just kidding!" She broke out in uproarious laughter, and I nearly died. "Just thought I'd give you a taste of your own medicine."
   "Well, you picked a damn funny time to do it, let me tell you." I was soaked with sweat, I was so scared. Boy, I realized, they'd really gotten to me.
   "It's almost six-thirty, Jim. Do you need to take a shower?"
   "Yes, I do." I must have smelled like something awful, not having bathed since this book began. By the same reasoning, I thought, I better brush my teeth.
   "I'm going out for the paper and some doughnuts," Maureen said from the doorway. "Want anything?"
   "Yeah, pick me up some fried lizard heads, a pint of ox blood, pigeon beaks -- about a dozen -- and snot, human, about a quart."
   "I'm going."
   I think Maureen had just about had it with my stupid jokes, but she flashed me a friendly smile on her way out, and that made me feel good. It was time for that shower.
   The stall shower in Maureen's apartment is glass-enclosed, making you feel like you're in a closet-sized hall of mirrors, and I was deathly afraid of shattering one of the walls and creating a scene right out of a horror movie -- one that I've seen, of course. So I stood in the absolute middle of the shower, trying to enjoy the lousy little drip coming out of the ecologically-correct showerhead, and wistfully daydreaming about nothing in particular, nothing that would really grab your attention or distract me from this narrative -- except, oh, maybe one thing you might be interested in. (He's digressing again. By the way, what happens if an author's bumped off before he's finished? Do we have to pay his estate? Can we get insurance for it? -- Ed.) And then the phone started ringing, of course. The phone always rings when you're in the shower...
   "All right, all right, I'm coming... Hello?"
   "Reynolds?" It sounded like Carmine -- Mister Carmine that is.
   "Uh, yes, that's my name."
   "We've got your girlfriend."
   "My girlfriend? You mean Maureen?"
   "Did she say she was my girlfriend?"
   "I don't know who said what, I'm just calling to tell you we got her, and if you ever want to see her again you better straighten out, or else."
   "Or else what?"
   "I told you already!"
   "Okay, okay. Well, where is she?"
   "She's -- " but before Carmine could blurt out her location his mouth was covered, followed by a brief struggle, ending with the thud of a fairly hefty body hitting the cement.
   "Hello?" came a different, but equally coarse voice.
   "Uh, yes, hello. This is Jim Reynolds and I was just talking to one of the kidnappers, Carmine I believe, and he was about to tell me your location when he was interrupted and, apparently murdered. Would you have the information I'm seeking?"
   "I certainly would. We, that's me, Vinnie, the hostage, and Bobby the driver, are all located downstairs in the basement of your building -- oops!"
   What a fool. I immediately got dressed and ran out to the elevator and banged and banged and banged on the "down" button and yes, I'll admit it, the "up" button too. After what seemed like an eternity -- but was really only the time it took you to read this last sentence -- the elevator finally arrived. I got on, the doors closed, and it started to go... up! Damn! I pushed the button frantically for the thirtieth floor, but it was too late -- we were already past the thirtieth floor! And then I pressed the button for the thirty-first floor -- but we had already passed that too! I pressed the button for the thirty-second floor -- just missed! Same for the thirty-third, and the thirty-fourth, and the thirty-fifth, and the thirty-sixth, (Can't he just anticipate and press a few floors ahead???!!! -- Ed.) and the thirty-seventh, and the thirty-eighth, and the thirty-ninth, and so on.
   Finally, the elevator stopped at the penthouse. The doors opened and on stepped the most beautiful, sexy, shapely, comely, handsome, pleasing, good-looking, attractive -- there were no words to describe her! She pressed a button, smiled at me seductively, and the doors closed. I thought I was dreaming, which I might have been -- and then the elevator stopped suddenly, and I thought -- Oh no! The ultimate erotic fantasy! Stuck on an elevator with a gorgeous woman! And then the doors opened, and she left. It was her floor, the forty-fifth. I guess she had just been throwing out the garbage.
   Anyway, the doors closed and the elevator began its long trip down, stopping at every single floor again. What a nudnik I am! But I'll learn.

(This ends Chapter Twenty-nine. Going down.)

Chapter Thirty