“No, you grow up.”
Sebastian paused. ‘Maybe…’ he thought,
Pen to paper, he wrote.
Nancy said, “Shut up!”
“No, you shut up.” Melissa stood her ground.
‘Better…’ Sebastian then shook his head, slashed a line through the second dialogue and circled the first. ‘First drafts always suck,’ he thought. ‘I’d rather be working at home.’
Writing a novel is hard enough without the distractions that come with sitting in a hospital bed, endless tests and hovering nurses. This defibrillation detour was no help. His deadline loomed. He needed focus.
Patients tend to shrink into the environment. The wires, hoses and attached equipment swallow them up. But Sebastian’s presence filled the room. The blinking, humming equipment became extensions, accessories of his outsized personality. One might expect he’d take over the whole wing, given half an inch.
Sebastian was a legend in the publishing world. He would not conform to his critics’ sense of how a story should be told. Defying convention, he wrote disjointed and apparently random plots. His elliptical style thrilled those who bought his books. His fans and the publishers loved him. Over decades, and nearly thirty novels, he hadn’t failed either. Many titles became best-sellers.
Sebastian wrote without apology. The critics called them potboilers. So what? Should he fix what had made him successful beyond expectations?
He sipped water, and returned to the action.
Without warning, Billy burst through the door, his extended finger miming a pistol.
“Put ‘em up girls.”
The girls said, “Who are you?”
“McGurk, see? Tell me where you hid the jewels and nobody gets hurt.” His snarky attitude felt familiar, but not at all like Billy.
Melissa cocked her head. “Billy, why are you talking so weird?”
“It’s ‘McGurk’ talking, silly. Not me.” He shook his head. “Like that guy in the TV movie. Remember?”
Sebastian paused again. ‘Will anyone remember Edward G. Robinson? It’s been decades…’ He made a marginal note, ‘fix later.’ He flipped to a blank page on the legal pad and wrote more.
Melissa held her head up. “Don’t point that at me unless you intend to use it.”
Billy waved the pistol. “I’ll use it alright. Give me the goods or I’ll…”
Nancy stepped to one side, splitting his attention. He shifted his aim.
“Hey! Stay together. Or would you rather feel hot lead?”
She said, “I see through you like a dirty glass in the kitchen sink.”
Sebastian wanted their dialogue to sound childish, but not too clichéd. Comic relief would contrast with the life and death drama taking place outside.
He loved when the writing process flowed. He was in the zone.
Spencer listened through the bedroom door. The kids were play-acting what they saw. ‘What do they know? What did they hear? Will they tell me?’
Melissa spoke and he knew what he needed to do.
He heard his wife tell their children. “Kids, it’s beautiful outside. Daddy’s sleeping. Go out and play. Let him rest.”
He stole back to his bed and feigned sleep. His wife cracked the door to check on him, and quietly shut it.
Spencer had to leave. Too much to do.
Nurse Jenny entered Sebastian’s room like a moth, busy and unproductive. He glanced up and returned to writing. She checked the machines monitoring his vitals. She replenished his water pitcher.
“It’s late, Mr. Sebastian.” He ignored her. “Mr. Sebastian, you need to rest.”
He glanced up. “I’m writing. I’ll rest when I’m…”
She waited for him to finish the sentence. Instead, he returned to his pen and paper.
“You writing a letter?”
“Another novel. Almost finished.”
She cooed. “Another? How many have you…?”
“Some say too many.” They laughed. “Almost thirty. I think this is twenty-nine.”
“Thirty? Impressive… Hard to read one. I could never…”
“Please excuse me. I’m feeling a time pressure…”
“Of course. Sorry.” She moved to the door. “Please don’t exhaust yourself, okay?”
He nodded and continued attending his craft. Jenny watched for a moment and left.
Spencer ran up the sidewalk toward the main drag. He glanced up the alley in time to see the white, ’66 Caddy convertible bearing down. He could only plant himself and leap before the car made impact. Going airborne, he arched like a high-jumper and landed on the, broad, white hood.
Rolling, his hands slapped the windshield, stopping him face to face with the driver. They locked eyes for a frozen moment. The car screeched to a stop. Spencer rolled off the hood.
Landing on his feet, he ran. He wondered, ‘Who drives the white whale?’ They’d been face to face. Didn’t know the guy.
He rounded the corner and heard shots. Two hooded figures dove into the black Tesla. It squealed off, leaving a haze of burned rubber.
A woman slumped to the sidewalk. Spencer ran to her. Badly wounded, Delores lay, barely conscious.
Her eyes implored as he cradled her in his arms. Her head lolled.
“Hang on, Dolores. We’ll fix this. Get you to safety.”
She trembled like a dove. A distant siren approached. The pain made her squirm.
She coughed and then smiled up at him. “You were too late, Babe. You almost had it…” Her dark laugh returned. “…But you were too late.”
Her eyes lost focus.
She went limp as the ambulance pulled up. Paramedics poured out. They lay her on the sidewalk to resuscitate her. They pulled Spencer to his feet.
He pushed through the crowd of onlookers. He didn’t look back.
‘Gotta keep moving. Find these guys. Can’t stop now.’
Sebastian set the pen down and dabbed his eyes.
‘If I’m not moved, they won’t be.’
Nurse Jenny peered into the room and saw Sebastian slumped over. She took his pulse and shook her head. She gently laid his head onto the pillow and set the pad on the bedside table.
The pen had stained the bed spread. Sighing, she turned the blankets down to cover it. When Jenny reached to turn the respirator off, Sebastian grabbed her arm and pulled.
She gasped. Clutching a scalpel, she lunged. Sebastian struggled but his strength failed him. She bore down with the knife.
Jenny looked to see Det. Murphy and an orderly standing in the doorway. She stood back and dropped the scalpel.
Others entered and began to applaud. Jenny clapped too. Sebastian sat up and grinned.
He pulled the connectors off and rolled out of bed. “That worked! Thank you everyone, for helping me research my next novel.”
Jenny asked, “How does this help, Sebastian?”
He smiled. “I know, writers are supposed to use imagination...” Everyone laughed. “Few have a budget to brainstorm with a team of improv artists.”
Someone passed out glasses of champagne. Sebastian raised his. “Let’s drink to my getting #30 completed next year… If the critics don’t kill me first…”
He continued. “Few predicted I’d get this far. The critics always had their knives out…”
Jenny asked, “Is that who my character is?”
The room erupted in laughter.
Sebastian smiled. “Only in a manner of speaking, Jen. Critics never seem to get that they can always stop reading what they don’t enjoy. Ever hear someone say, ‘That review was great. Couldn’t put it down…’?”
They called out a unanimous “No!”
“But my fans tell me they can’t stop. Say I don’t let them. I make them turn the page, and read on.” He raised his glass again. “Here’s to the fans who keep reading.”