Chapter Forty-three

   Where is she? Where is she? I don't see her anywhere. Where is she?
   "False alarm. It wasn't her."
   It wasn't?
   Great. Now what?
   "You're really hung up on her, aren't you?"
   Of course I am, she's my ideal woman. I created her, I designed her -- from the ground up. She's one of a kind. She's Everywoman.
   "That's a contradiction in terms."
   Okay, she's a little bit of each.
   "But -- you created yourself."
   "So -- what came first, the chicken or the egg?"
   The chicken, of course!
   "But, where did the chicken come from?"
   That I can't say.
   "Here, look at this."
   What is it?
   "A book."
   I can see that. Give it to me. Thanks -- oh, I get it, it's Blabberman's book.
   "Read it yet?"
   Don't be ridiculous.
   "It's not what I thought it would be. I was told it was a mystery, a psychological thriller, but it's nothing like that at all. But this Blabbo Blabberman can really write!"
   So, uh, what's Maureen's character like?
   "Not too different. Straightforward, honest, with a mischievous streak that occasionally pops up when you least expect it. She's Maureen. Here, I folded her pages over for you."
   "I won't tell you any more."
   I don't care if you -- gee, I wonder -- what would happen if I read this right now?
   "You mean, read that novel at the same time as you're writing this one?"
   Yeah. Let's find out... Page... 263...
   She stepped out from behind a street light looking to all the world like the tawdriest of prostitutes -- until the sunlight hit her and she was transformed into an angel.
   "Got a match?" she asked him. Nothing was ever given to her, and she asked for nothing, except, in this case, a match. She knew that hard work was its own reward, and that somewhere in the world there was someone who was her exact double, and that bothered her.
   "I don't smoke," he answered, hiding in his voice an extensive sub-text of terror and torture.
   "Did I say match?" she laughed. "I meant to say 'Do you have a copy of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead?'"
   "Mailer's The Naked and the Dead? I might have it, I might have it, but -- "
   "You might have what?"
   "The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer."
   "Did I ask you for that? I can't believe it, I must be going crazy. I meant to ask you for a stapler."
   "A stapler? What do you need a stapler for?"
   "I don't. What I need is some advice. Some serious advice."
   "Okay, shoot."
   "There's this friend of mine. He's a nice guy, kind of cute -- "
   "Well, he's got a nice smile, when he smiles, and he's interested in me. We work at the same place."
   "Where's that?"
   "It's not relevant yet. Anyway, this guy, he's got a nice smile, he likes me, but he's a little, well, weird."
   "Yeah, odd. Like, once, to impress me, he stuck his head in a copier machine. Ever since it's been alphabet soup."
   "I don't understand."
   "Neither do I. Anyway, here's where I need some advice. This guy, a friend -- hell, I'd almost call him a boyfriend -- well, he doesn't know it yet, but I've been promoted to store manager, and I don't know how to tell him that, well, that -- "
   "That you'll be his boss?"
   "Why don't you invite him out to dinner, and pick up the check? Maybe he'd like it."
   "I don't think so. He carries a gun in restaurants, too, although I'm not sure why."
   "This young man, is he a writer?"
   "Why yes, he is. But how did you -- "
   "I can tell he's a writer because he's got a way of expressing himself, a distinct style that sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when it insinuates itself into someone else's work of fiction!"
   "What are you saying?"
   "I'm saying -- I'm saying -- that he's here! Now! In this novel! -- He's here! He's here! Run, Maureen, run, he's going to grab you and take you baaa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ck!!!"
   So, how've you been?
   "That was rude of you, Jim Reynolds! I was almost done with my scene and would have had a hundred and twenty pages of paid vacation -- until, that is, you showed up and yanked me out of there."
   I'm sorry, Maureen, I guess I'm just...
   ... jealous. But, then again, I may have saved your life.
   "Oh really?"
   Yeah. That guy's a homicidal maniac. He picks up prostitutes and then kills 'em and chops 'em up and eats 'em.
   "Jim, that's disgusting. Take that last part out, please."
   "It's disgusting. It'll turn some readers off."
   So be it, then. I can't cater to everyone. Besides, I've had enough of this censorship. I've caved in too many times to the suits upstairs. Enough of this fucking bullshit!
   "Watch your language, Jim." (Yes, please, watch your language. There might be some younger readers out there who are still reading this -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: Mrs. Note has informed me that our youngest son Tommy was reading this just now -- he's only five but already he can read simple, unsophisticated text -- and she was shocked to hear him repeat a vulgar epithet, a vulgar epithet that he apparently just read in this book. Is this true, Reynolds?)
   Yes, it's true, but if you're asking me to remove it -- no -- it stays. (Uh, but, Jim, uh -- Ed.)
   No, I mean it. The fucking bullshit stays.
   (Editor's Note: Very well, but my wife is going to go ballistic when she hears this news!)
   Hey, I'm sorry, but what's a five-year old doing reading a novel like this in the first place? Especially a novel that dares to explore the outer boundaries of the human mind and the creative process. (Really? -- Ed.) Little Tommy would be well-advised to put this book down -- and now. Put it down, Tommy. Now! No more of your fucking bullshit, young man! Put the book down! There. That's the way to deal with the problem. Tommy's upstairs playing games again, you can go back to running your publishing subsidiary, Mrs. Note can go back to her tent parties in Westchester and her daily drunken revels at the golf club with Jacques the masseuse, and I can go back to writing, and Ed. here can go back to his editing, and Maureen can go back to...
   Spain. Barcelona. 1992. The Olympic Games. Maureen Ripley (her new last name) has just been handed four tickets to the opening ceremonies, the famous opening ceremonies where an archer shot a flaming arrow hundreds of yards into the night sky and lit the Olympic torch. She'd watched it all on TV a couple of years ago and loved it, but now, here she was, in Barcelona, and it's 1992 again, and she's got these four great tickets, tickets valued in the streets of Barcelona at fifteen hundred dollars apiece -- at least.
   "I've got four!" she shouted into the Barcelona night. "Four beauties right here! Fifteen hundred each takes 'em away! Four! I've got four!"
   Within seconds a battalion of undercover security men closed in, handcuffed her and hauled her off to the Barcelona jail, famous for its artwork. (It is? -- Ed.) Or so I'm told.

(This ends Chapter Forty-three. How many chapters do you think this book is going to be? Fifty? Sixty? I'd make a wager with you, except you can just skip ahead and find out, whereas I can't -- at least not now, while I'm writing.)

Chapter Forty-four