Still coming soon. In July. As far as I know. Still don’t know when exactly. Isn’t this exciting?
Believe me, as soon as they tell me when, I will pass it on. In the interim, I thought I would give you another wee sample hopefully to whet your appetite for more, for whenever the actual novel is available for purchase. Whenever that would be.
Am I whining? Just a little. Sorry! On with the good stuff! Preview, coming up!
On the other side of my front door, I encounter yet another impediment to my intentions and progress. Bert, my UPS guy, arriving for the envelope I’m toting. Bert’s a great guy, quite the character. A regular person, not like most of the lunatic residents of the asylum I recently escaped from. He loves to talk. Boy, does he love to talk.
Our paths don’t often cross. Not that I wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to spend more time in conversation. Chatting with Bert is actually a lot of fun. But I don’t do it often. I keep to myself, mostly, when I’m in town. Normally, whenever he comes, I don’t see him at all. On the mornings when he makes his scheduled pickup, I’m usually down here earlier. I leave the envelope in the box for him, he takes it and goes. But this morning the conversation with Max put me behind schedule.
This could be a problem. He looks way too pleased to see me. No way I’m gonna get away with a mere handoff. I see a lengthy conversational interlude in my immediate future.
“Morning, Mr. Jim.” Bert blasts me with a grin. “A bit early for you big city types, isn’t it? I thought you celebrities didn’t get out of bed until noon.”
Did I mention he really likes to talk? Ugh. My stomach is threatening to storm up my throat and take prisoners. But, what the hey, it’s not gonna kill me to starve for a few minutes longer. Bert’s a good guy. I’ll play the game with him.
“Oh, you know us celebrities,” I shrug. “Haven’t even been to bed yet. All that partying, you know.”
Bert’s weatherbeaten face cracks even wider. We do this schtick almost every time we talk. My public profile is all a big joke to him and the rest of the town now, but when I first showed up here five years ago, the prevailing negative reaction to the James Invasion was no local laughing matter. Fairly harsh and hostile critics, these folks were. Until they got to know me.
We’ve all subsequently successfully weathered their initial apprehension of and objection to my presence in their hallowed hamlet. When Birchwood first got wind the last surviving member of their founding family had left the mansion to some fancy-pants writer, there was much weeping and wailing and sharpening of pitchforks in the town hall. Apparently fears—and imaginations—were running high regarding my possible nefarious intentions for the ramshackle remnants of what had once been the grandest building in town. Their apprehensive speculations ran the gamut from drug lab to casino to playboy mansion and every imaginable variation of absurdity in between.
Time, patience, schmoozing, and throwing a lot of money into civic improvements and community services went a long way to winning the townsfolk over and putting the boots to both their fears and over-the-top imaginations. I just wish they hadn’t insisted on putting my name all over half the buildings in town. A public humiliation I’m resigned to living with while being eternally grateful the Town Council agreed to confine themselves to those expressions of their gratitude in lieu of the statue thing. Mind you, if Art Baker reintroduces the statue proposal in one more Town Council meeting, I’m going to sneak over to his house in the middle of the night and spray-paint his porch Pepto pink.
Don’t mess with me, I’m bad.
But not exactly a social butterfly. Monks do more entertaining than I do. And a sight more drinking. Bert knows damned well the closest I’ve come to partying in Birchwood in the last year was when I made a cameo appearance at the Founders’ Day town fete six months ago.
Didn’t stay long. Those riotous revels in the town square? Grandmas drinking Gatorade in public, dogs and cats dancing together. Mass hysteria.
Way too much excitement for me.
“Partying!” Bert guffaws. “Gotcha, Mr. Jim. Nice to see you back. Oh, by the way, the missus wanted me to ask you, next time I saw you. How’s that Ellen keepin’?” He winks conspiratorially at me.
Don’t remind me.
“Saw that one, huh?” I barely suppress a weary sigh and hand him my envelope.
“You know it.” He smiles again, a huge, warm, gap-toothed grin. “The missus taped it for me. We’re getting quite a collection, ya know.”
Preserved for all posterity. Me doing the limbo on Ellen. Great.
“Matter of fact, we’ve taped every show you’ve ever been on. Every single danged one!” He puffs his chest out proudly. “Listen, if you ever want copies—”
“No!” I quickly raise a hand and cut him off. “Thanks, but it’s… it’s….”
I hate being a performing media seal, and I’d rather stand on my head and fart fish than see visual proof of some of my more absurd public antics. Bert doesn’t know that. Why would he? Who wouldn’t want to watch themselves on Ellen? Or Oprah, or The View, or… or….
God, man, stop before you scare yourself to death.
Gotta let him down nicely. He means no harm, and I take none.
“I… I’m hardly ever home. And when I am? Work, work, work.” I force a smile that makes my face creak. “When would I watch them?”
I wonder how many years I’d get if I stole into their house in the dead of night and ignited their cinematic proof of my public ignominies.
Ah, they’ll have to catch me first.
“Ya know, we still can’t get over it, Betty and me, somebody as famous and high-faluting as yourself settling down in our pokey little town.”
Oh, Bert, not so “faluting.” And the fame thing? If I could do what I do without it, I’d do it. Without it.
That sentence made sense when I started. Definitely have to eat something.
“Don’t sell your town short, Bert. It’s got a lot of things going for it. Starting with the people who live here.”
Great people. Best in the world.
His ruddy complexion flushes up a noticeable notch, and he oozes honest pleasure from every pore. “That’s a real nice thing to say, Mr. Jim.” He beams at me, doffs his ball cap, and wipes it across his brow. “But then, you’re a real nice man. What with takin’ the time like you do to answer your fan mail.” He taps my envelope nestled against his slightly damp armpit. “Real nice.
Fan mail? An honest enough assumption. If only he knew what that soggy manila envelope actually contains.
I wonder if he’d be so comfortable standing on my front porch and chatting with me if he knew what I can really do.
“So are you, Bert,” I tell him sincerely. “And by the way, it’s James, not—last names aren’t like first names; you can’t use a—tell you what, why don’t you call me Ellery.”
“You got it, Mr. Jim.” Bert reseats his hat on his head with an audible plop, rocking it back and forth on his cranium as if searching for some arcane, optimal resting position. After a couple of seconds he finds it, then sniffs and gravely gathers himself for the formal farewell.
“Well, can’t stand here jawin’ all day. That’s not what they pay me for. Have a good one.”
You too, Bert.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed!