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The Book I Will Write #63: The Dog is Off the Leash

flemingTHE 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. He’s recently joined a memoir group that meets in the library. Someone seems to be trying to lure Fleming out of the library to kill him, and in this episode he goes to the memoir group for help.

 

Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski

Interim Senior Editor

Knopf Publishing

 

Dear Annie,

I spotted two of the Grandmoirs having a heated discussion about a VHS tape in the video section today, one accusing the other of not rewinding. I told them I had a literary emergency. They asked no questions. They pulled out their cell phones and called the others. “Code Orange,” they said. “The dog is off the leash.”

Forty-five minutes later, we convened in the library conference room.

Bill came in last, wearing a white button-down and baggy brown trousers, his tie tucked in, the knot crooked. “Welcome,” he said. “Who called a Code Orange?”

I raised my hand.

“He’s not a full member yet,” Harry said. “He can’t call a Code Orange.”

“I called it in for him,” said one of the VHS guys. The other agreed.

Harry shook his head. “Not allowed.”

“Relax, Harry,” said Margene. “It’s just a Code Orange. Anyone can call a Code Orange.” Her perfume backed her up on this.

Harry wouldn’t look at her. He folded his arms and kept his eyes on Bill.

“Let’s hear what it is first,” Bill said. “Then we’ll decide if it really is a Code Orange.”

No one objected to this.

So I told them everything. It took a while. We had to ward off a gang of loitering teenage poets who claimed they’d reserved the room.

“Do you mean our story lady was an author’s wife?” Harry asked. “She could have helped us publish.”

She used to be an author’s wife, I told them. Then they divorced. Then the author died.

“Still,” said Harry. “It’s a connection. You have to know somebody to get published these days.”

“Be quiet and let him talk, Harry.”

“I’m used to that.”

I continued telling them everything. We had to hold the door against an angry librarian.

“Why don’t you just call the police on this man who’s trying to kill you?” Margene asked when I’d finished.

“The police don’t do anything anymore,” Harry said. “They’re on drugs.”

“Besides,” said one of the VHS men, “this is good material.”

“You’re right,” said the other, “but who gets to claim it?”

A heated exchange followed, while outside the conference room the barbarians gathered. “Ladies!  Gentlemen! Please!” Bill interrupted.

“I have a proposal,” Harry said.

“Harry, you have the floor,” Bill said.

“Thank you. Jerry’s right, it’s good material. I say we all share it.”

“That’s the first smart thing you’ve said this week,” Margene said.  She reached across and patted his hand.

“I say we agree to help out the newcomer here on the condition that he relinquishes all rights to the story,” Harry continued.

“Couldn’t he share in it, too?” Bill asked.

“That’s messy,” Harry said. “He’s the original claimant. He’d want special privileges. You know how that goes.”

“He’s got a point,” said one of the VHS men.

“What if we’re all killed?” Margene asked.

“Then the rights revert to him,” Harry said. “It’s simple.”

In the quiet moment that followed, they took each other’s measure.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we were mistaken about the Code Orange,” Bill finally announced. “What we seem to have is our first Code Green.”

As the realization washed over them, everyone’s spirits were lifted.

“Are we all in?” Bill asked.

Hands were raised. Ayes were spoken. The angry ruckus outside made no difference.

And that’s how it stands, Annie. We’re going together to confront Reid Markham’s son: Owner of a defunct bookstore. Giver of free money. Arranger of kittenbunny petting. And, killer.

Don’t worry about me. I have my team. I feel confident.

Please forgive me if you haven’t already.

Sincerely,

John Henry Fleming

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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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