You wouldn’t believe how damnably lost you can get in these New England backwaters. It was pouring down rain and I was starving… hadn’t eaten since breakfast… and not a restaurant, or even a greasy spoon, in sight.
The rain began to let up, but only to make way for a nearly opaque fog. Swell. Hungry and now blind, too. I offered up a silent prayer to whichever deity happened to be listening and also happened to give a crap.
And you know what? It actually worked.
When I drove around the next bend in the road, there it was… a restaurant! Harry Wang’s! Good lord, what a name, but Jesus tap dancing Christ, if they had hot food in there, a rose by any other name, y’know?
I parked and dashed inside. What a place! I never would have thought I’d find this classy an eatery in this tiny no-name town, but here it was.
“Jus’ you?” the tiny lady holding menus asked me as she walked up.
“Yes, and I’m starving!”
“You comm’a righ’ prayce, den!” she said. “My name Wing Wang. Tay’ba righ dis way.”
She set me up at a corner booth near a youngish couple. The way they were staring at each other over the two red roses on their table made me think ‘Anniversary dinner.’ They seemed vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I knew them from. Probably a book signing or a reading.
I opened the menu. Pricey, but food, any food, at this point would have been worth it at twice the cost. I ordered General Tso’s chicken and many side dishes.
I looked around while waiting for my dinner. The place was completely full now, but the noise level was so low that it didn’t seem that way. I began to mull over a plot point I was currently stuck on for my second novel, when I became aware that someone was looking at me.
I looked up. She was standing right in front of me, though I hadn’t heard her walk up.
“Hello. My name is Theodora Hamilton. Apparently they’re overbooked here tonight. Would you mind very much if I shared your table?”
Well, I did, but what can you do? “Not at all, please sit down.”
“You have the advantage of me, I’m afraid,” she said, eyes unnerving behind Coke bottle lenses.
“I’m sorry. Carson Buckingham here.”
“The author.” It was a statement, not a question. She knew who I was all right.
“Yes. I’m astonished that you’ve heard of me.”
“Oh, I know quite a bit more about you than you realize.” Again with the frog-eyed stare.
“I’m sorry. Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Not if you do things the right way, there won’t be, no.” I felt a drop of nervous sweat roll down my back.
“What exactly are we talking about?”
“You’re working on a new book, yes?”
“Yes. Gothic Revival.”
“I know. All I need for you to do is to write the section you’re having problems with right now in a certain way.”
“And what way is that?”
“I’m about to offer them a highly lucrative job and I want them to accept it.”
“Why wouldn’t they, if it’s a lucrative as you say? Why the assist from me?”
“I don’t believe in taking chances. I want to be sure. Please take out the notepad that you always carry with you and write it that way, without changing it substantively later on. I’ll know if you do, and I won’t be happy. You don’t want me to be unhappy, do you?”
“Uh, no… no, I don’t.” I took out my pad. “Are you going to give me some background information about this job you’re offering them?”
She did, and though I’d never heard the like of anything she told me, I wrote it up—and it worked! It got me past that section I was blocked on. I knew where I was going with it now.
I looked up at the young couple again, and it hit me.
They were Leo and Alex Renfield—my protagonists in Gothic Revival.
When I glanced back at Theodora Hamilton, she had moved to the booth that had just opened up next to the Renfields. She caught my eye and gave me a smile that would have been more at home on a crocodile.
What have I done?