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The Book I Will Write #54: The Scotch Gives Me X-Ray Vision

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 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’s trying to help Fleming track down the book by confronting Ms. Hollymore’s ex-boyfriend, Seamus.

#54  THE SCOTCH GIVES ME X-RAY VISION

Dear John Henry,

When I called Seamus he said, “Well it’s about time!” so I played dumb and said, “Can I speak to Marcia?” and he said, “Oh, don’t give me that.”

“Fine. Where’s the book?”

He tsked. When I say he tsked, I mean it. “Tsk,” is what he said. “You stood me up and stole my bag.”

“Actually, I retrieved it from a Midnight Cowboy. I was never not going to give it back to you.”

“So we’re on for lunch? A better neighborhood this time?”

I agreed.

We met at a midtown diner. He sat at a booth cupping a scotch in his meaty fingers. I slid into the booth and dropped his purse on the table. He grinned. He’s got sideburns and frizzy ears.

“You don’t strike me as a thief of anything but hearts,” he said.

“Did you come early to rehearse that line?” I asked. “Dig through it. Everything’s there.”

“I don’t care one way or another.”

The waitress came. Seamus ordered another scotch. I ordered a coffee and a bag of Cheetos.

“What I really want to know,” he said, “is why you’re so interested in the book.”

“A research project,” I said. “I’m taking a lit class.”

He shook his head with the scotch to his lips. The ice made a festive sound. “You know what I think? You’re trying to steal Roberta’s job.”

I didn’t expect that one. “She’s in jail!”

“How convenient for you. You’re already halfway there. Interim Senior Editor. I read Publisher’s Weekly. If she found out her precious book had fallen into the wrong hands, it would be enough to push her over the edge.”

“I went to see her,” I said. “She’s already jumped.”

“She’s just having an episode. You might be interested in the cause. I was. I went through her phone messages. I look like the type who’d do that, so I’m not fooling anyone. You, on the other hand—so small and young. No one can be as innocent as you look. So that makes you a liar. Automatically, all the time.”

“Because of the way I look? That’s some sort of ugly -ism. I’ll have to take a class to figure out which.”

“The scotch gives me x-ray vision, that’s all. Back to the cause. As I said, I went through her phone. I found a bunch of emails there from another man. An author. She’d erased the messages but I took the phone to a tech friend who recovered them in degraded form.”

When I sipped my coffee, my Cheeto mustache left an algae bloom. “I like Ms. Hollymore,” I said. “I wish she wouldn’t date men like you.”

“She also dates a writer by the name of John Henry Fleming. Do you know anything about him?”

My face must have blanched. “No,” I said. Of course he didn’t believe me. I was about to cry. I slid out of the booth and made for the door.

“Don’t you want the book?” he called.

No. I don’t want the book. I don’t want it ever.

What I want is to know what the hell you’re doing dating an older woman who happens to be my boss.

All my fake memories are tainted now. I can’t stroll through the Village past all those coffee shops we didn’t go to without thinking about your treachery. I can’t walk in Central Park in the rain imagining our misunderstandings will work themselves out when the soundtrack changes. I can’t go to sleep at night with your first email hanging on the wall by my bed. I’ve torn it up. I’ve taken it out with the garbage.

Go find the book yourself. And when you do, you and Roberta can read passages to each other and snicker about me before you kiss and the prison guards have to come break it up.

Goodbye my former ex-lover. I’ll miss having missed you.

Sincerely,

Annie

 

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About John Henry Fleming

John Fleming's stories have appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The North American Review, Mississippi Review, Fourteen Hills, and Carve, among others. He is the author of The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman, a novel, and Fearsome Creatures of Florida, a literary bestiary. He teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida and is the founder and advisory editor for Saw Palm: florida literature and art. He blogs at johnhenryfleming.com.

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