Chapter Forty-six

   Well, here I am again, "temp" novelist Maureen Ripley (née MacNamara) at your service. I like that name, Ripley, even if it did come from a page haphazardly stored in the memory of a Xerox machine. (Copier! -- Ed.) Copier, excuse me. Anyway, let's go back to Jim's first day at Kopy Katz, shall we?
   Jim came in that day holding a worn cardboard "Now Hiring" sign that he apparently made himself. Otherwise he seemed pretty normal, although his clothes were a bit rumpled, and money was falling out of his shoes, and his fly was open.
   "Your fly is open," I informed him.
   "Oh, it is? Thanks." He zipped up. "Say, are you hiring?"
   "I'm not, but you can ask Mr. Katz -- he's in the back right now. Would you like to wait?"
   Jim nodded politely and took a seat near the window, just as another customer entered, an angry-looking character with a big chip on his shoulder. The angry guy introduced himself.
   "Before I introduce myself, let me just say that I don't approve of other people describing me, or telling me what to do, or what to say, or how to act, or how to think, or anything, okay? I don't like it. I don't buy into the idea that just because you're a character in a novel, just because you're a product of someone else's imagination, you have to relinquish all of your rights as an entity in this universe. And, because of that, I have been guaranteed by the author a certain amount of leeway in what I say and do. (A guarantee?! -- Ed.) That's right. Guaranteed, signed, and notarized."
   "Guaranteed?" I was taken aback. I don't even have that in my contract!
   "You should have asked. By the way, I looked for you in the latest Vonnegut book, but -- "
   "What's the big secret? Reynolds can find out any time he wants to, can't he?"
   "I don't think he wants to find out. He's keeping as far away from his own thoughts as possible. He's out in the Hamptons. Not on the beach, but in town."
   "I don't get it."
   "He can't afford a beach house."
   "No -- I don't get how he can abandon his own novel like this, and leave the writing to others."
   "It's his way of keeping it fresh, or surprising, or something."
   "You think it works?"
   "I don't know."
   "Because, if it were me writing this book, I'll tell you right now, I'd want everything mapped out, organized, step by step, chapter by chapter, with nothing to think about, nothing left to chance, just follow the schedule and fill in the blanks."
   "Then you talk to him."
   (Editor's Note: Hate to interrupt, folks, but the person I report to -- who happens to be the person who reports to Ms. Matopeia, who reports to Mr. Butler, who reports to God, who reports to Mr. Reynolds -- has just informed me that this novel, which is well past its pre-determined due date delivery deadline -- stop that! -- will no longer be published under our imprint, but will be released under the imprint of one of our smaller publishing subsidiaries, Quirkly Press.)
   "Quirkly Press?" Jim will die! Although I have a feeling he already knows.
   "Quirkly Press? Didn't they publish Diary of a Run-on Sentence?" (Yes, they did, but I had nothing to do with it! -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: For your information, Diary of a Run-on Sentence was published by Quirkly in the fall of 1990 and sold out its first run. It went on to six printings and a new updated edition will be coming out in the spring. So there!) (I thought it was an embarrassment -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: You're entitled to your opinion, and two weeks notice. Good luck, Ed.) (What? But, I... -- Ed.)
   And, like that, Ed.'s been fired, and Jim's still out in the Hamptons, sitting by an apartment swimming pool, and I'm here, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The phone's ringing. Excuse me.
   "Hello... Mau... I... "
   Jim? Is that you? It's a lousy connection.
   "How's th... any bet... "
   Not much. But go ahead, talk. Where are you?
   "I'm... phone booth... luncheonette... middle of... or Brooklyn, although it... like Milwaukee. Did you... that? Maureen?"
   Barely. It's a terrible connection. You'd think this wouldn't happen in a novel.
   "May... I should... you back."
   No, no, don't bother. What happened? Your car break down?
   "I'm with... and Vinnie... they want to... big explosion... less than an hour... two million dollars... "
   Jim? Jim? Is this some kind of kidnap-ransom situation? It sounds like you're in trouble. Did you say Vinnie was there?
   "I'm... just... trying... to... scare... you... I'm... actually... standing... right... over... here."
   Ahh! Very funny, I said, not meaning it. Now, can I please go back to being one of your characters? I asked him.
   You may.
   "Thank you. And, change the tense. You were right about the present tense. Too limiting."
   I agreed with her that, yes, my narrative skills are best displayed back here, in the past tense. And then I turned to her, looked her in the eyes, her beautiful blue eyes --
   "They're green."
   Sorry, green eyes. And I took her in my arms and I kissed her, and she yielded to my manly powers.
   "Not to break the mood," she said, "but what choice have I got?"
   We kissed, we made out, we did whatever we damn well pleased, irresponsibly disregarding all of society's warnings about safe sex and such, reveling in the knowledge that we were fictional -- unless we're the product of a freak accident in the workplace, although it really wasn't work-related, come to think of it.
   "Jim! Not so rough, not so rough."
   This went on for as long as you, the reader, want it to, and then we broke our lovers' clinch and relaxed, and took a break.
   "You're a great lover," she said, if I'm not mistaken. "The best," she might have moaned.
   I'm flattered, I said, but she was looking at me strangely, and then the doorbell rang.
   "My husband!"
   What? You're married?
   "I never had a chance to tell you. Hurry, you must hurry, and get out of here -- hurry, hurry."
   All right, all right, but one thing confuses me. One thing confuses me about this...
   Why is he ringing the doorbell? Why doesn't he have his own key? If he's your husband, why doesn't he have his own key? Why? She didn't answer. She didn't have to -- the sound of a key turning in the door was answer enough -- and the perfect motivation for me to leap out the window of the small but chic apartment that happened to be on the twenty-ninth floor!

(This ends Chapter Forty-six.)

Chapter Forty-seven