THE BOOK I WILL WRITE by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. THE BOOK I WILL WRITE is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment, and is now living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. Now he’s being stalked by the murderous son of Reid Markham, the author of The Devil’s Good Graces, a book Fleming is trying to track down and read as an influence to his own, still unwritten, novel. Annie, the editorial assistant, has been filling in at Knopf while her boss is in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct.
SHE MAY HAVE FOUND GANDHI
Dear John Henry,
My lunch breaks keep getting longer. So are my chai breaks. I feel more and more that my breaks are more important than my job, that the breaks somehow are my job. You know, someone has to work and someone has to break. My job is to break.
It also helps that my job involves no work.
Anyway, today on my long break I went to go see Ms. Hollymore at the Brooklyn jail. I’d tried to do this before, and she refused to see me, so I didn’t have high hopes. The jail’s like a big apartment building in a low-rent district, complete with bars on the windows. Imagine that!
This time, she agreed to meet me, and we were allowed to talk in the visiting room, which reminded me of my high school cafeteria. A bunch of long tables with attached chairs and bored-looking guards. One difference: the guards carry guns instead of pink slips.
I was shocked to see Ms. Hollymore step into the room. I expected her to be cuffed. She wasn’t cuffed. I expected her to shuffle. She didn’t shuffle. I expected her to look awful. She looked great, down to the baby blue jail uniform, which complements her eyes and skin tone. She’d cut her hair. She looked thinner and healthier. She wore a peaceful smile. I think she may have found Gandhi.
“Ghost from the past!” she said when she saw me.
It’s only been a few weeks.
I told her she looked great. I asked her how she was getting along.
“Everything’s perfect,” she said. I couldn’t get any other details out of her. And when I tried to tell her about the happenings at Knopf, she put her hands over her ears and shut her eyes. This also made me feel like I was back at the high school cafeteria.
There wasn’t anything else to talk about, so I got to the point. “Ms. Hollymore,” I said. “I want to know about Reid Markham’s book, the one you represented a long time ago?”
Her face went pale. Her age came back to her. “Everything’s been said about that. Go look it up online.”
“I tried. They keep deleting the Wikipedia page.”
Her hand balled into a fist. “They’re trying to erase him,” she said. “I knew they would.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just…it’s a long story, but…does the book have anything to do with airships?”
“Of course it does!” she said. “Don’t you know?!” I saw the old Ms. Hollymore coming back, and I was sorry.
“You haven’t read it? Why did I ever hire you? How could I ever think you’d have even the minimal competence necessary for the job?”
“I’ve looked for a copy. It’s not at the library, and it’s not on Amazon. Not even Alibris. I actually stopped trying a long time ago.”
“Don’t ever come here again,” she said. She stood up so quickly, two of the guards quit hiking up their waistbands and reached for their weapons. The thinner one reached for his gun, the thicker one for his billy club. You’d think it would be the opposite.
I apologized profusely. “I want to read it!” I said. “It’s nowhere around!”
“They’re trying to erase him,” she said again.
“Sit down or go back to your cell!” the thin guard shouted.
“Who’s trying to erase him?”
“You! Them! Everyone!”
“I said sit down!”
“You think I’m going to tell you where my copy is? You think I’m going to let them erase that, too?!”
It’s a paranoid side of Ms. Hollymore I hadn’t seen before. I was shaking. I was afraid the thin guard was going to shoot her.
“I promise I won’t!” I said.
Both guards came up behind her and grabbed her. They yanked her a little too hard toward the door. She looked awful. Truly crazy.
If there’s an upside, there’s this: now you and I are both looking for the same thing, and that brings us a little closer together.
I have an idea on my end. I remember the name of Ms. Hollymore’s boyfriend. He might have a key to her apartment. I can make up a lie to get it. Then I can search the place, maybe even deliver the book to you in person.
I have the time, so why not? Private Lankowski reporting for duty!
Wow, I hope Ms. Hollymore’s okay.