Monday, June 25, 2007

THE WRITER -- Chapter 7

Frankie at her cousin Zeke's wedding.

Frankie the next morning.

For those of you who missed the June 24 reading, here is Chapter 7 of The Writer...

In the ballroom, seven hundred-plus people were sitting or standing and talking, creating an aural wash of literary chatter.

"They're all here to see you," Ms. Apple told him.

"Please don't say that."


T. Wolmatoth sauntered over with an ungainly number of books stacked under his arm. He wore a denim suit jacket over a denim shirt.

"Hello, Teresa," he purred to the smirking graduate student. "What's shakin'?"

Ms. Apple rolled her eyes and replied, "Your hands. Excuse me," she said to Shriver, and moved off to join some friends.

Sure enough, the cowboy’s hands were like two leaves in the wind. Shriver looked down at his own wobbly hands.

"Got snakes in your boots, too?" the cowboy laughed.

"I'm a little nervous," Shriver confessed.

"Sure you are." Wolmatoth winked, then patted his suit jacket pocket and said, "No worries. I got some hair of the ol' dog right here."

"I'm not sure I—"

"Oh--," the cowboy interjected. "FYI: Our favorite Sapphic poetess remains MIA."


"I believe the authorities have been alerted."

"Oh my."

"What happened last night, anyway?" the professor asked, one eyebrow askew.

"What do you mean?"

"I seem to recall the young woman lying on your bed when I left your room."

"She was?"

The cowboy shrugged. "Well, she wasn't with us, of that I'm sure. I have a razor-sharp memory of all events post-room 19. You would too, I might add."

"I don't know what to tell you."

"You are under no obligation to reveal anything, Shriver," the cowboy informed him. "Not to me, anyway. But listen: we should probably head on up to the dais and settle ourselves in."

"They're going ahead with the panel?" Shriver asked. "With Gonquin missing?"

"The show must go on!" the cowboy declared. "Zebra has agreed to step in."

The authors—Ms. Amphetamine and Basil Rather—were already up on the platform, gazing down upon the audience like a king and queen.

Shriver followed the cowboy toward the front of the room. En route he caught sight of Simone, who was speaking to a very short man in a bright red suit jacket. She looked over at Shriver and smiled. In a sleeveless blouse and khaki Capri pants, she looked as young and fresh as she had when he first saw her.

T. Wolmatoth sat in the second of the four seats on the dais. To his right were Zebra Amphetamine and Basil Rather. Shriver sat on the cowboy's left. His mouth had gone dry on him again, so he drank from the water cup provided. He coughed loudly as the liquid burned his throat. The cup had been filled with whiskey.

"I know you're accustomed to the good stuff, Shriver," the cowboy told him after placing a hand over his microphone, "but I'm living on a professor's salary."

Shriver had intended not to drink today, but he had to admit the stuff tasted good, however cheap. He took another, more modest, sip and felt his hands begin to steady. Also on the table in front of him were a piece of notebook paper and a pen, placed there, apparently, by Professor Wolmatoth, or perhaps by Simone, to help him organize his thoughts.

"Good afternoon," Wolmatoth announced into the microphone with a smooth voice noticeably different from his usual growl. The crowd, previously abuzz with chatter, immediately went reverent. "Welcome to today's illustrious panel discussion, about which we are all understandably excited.

"I think our technical difficulties have been ironed out," he said, casting a glance toward Simone, who crossed her fingers. "Our apologies once again to Basil Rather, whose reading last night was magnificent, even if 'Loud roared the dreadful thunder.' But anyway, we're now ready to discuss literature without all the sound and fury."

He proceeded to introduce Basil Rather and Zebra Amphetamine. Then, glancing over at Shriver, he said, "And the gentleman to my left would need no introduction if only his face were more familiar. But after twenty years we may be forgiven if we do not recognize by sight one of the brightest lights of modern American letters. He is the author of but one novel, but I'd wager that if you asked any major writer which one book they wished they'd written, it would be Goat Time. I could go on and on about this classic novel, but will instead limit myself to a brief quote from the revered literary critic Duke Manleyson, who wrote of Mr. Shriver's debut, 'This is the sort of challenging, rude, hilarious, and original novel that any serious author would kill to have penned. I predict that, twenty or thirty years from now, it will be still be read and discussed and argued about by anyone bright enough to recognize its importance as a cultural artifact. Were its young author to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, he would remain a treasured contributor to the starving world of literature.'"

There was a generous round of applause as Shriver drained what remained of his whiskey. Off to the side, he saw Simone clapping vigorously. Near her sat Jack Blunt, still busy scribbling away on his dreadful notepad. Near the open door, like a sentry, stood the short man in the red suit coat, his arms folded, scanning the audience.

"Today's theme is 'Reality-slash-Illusion,'" the cowboy announced. "So, to get the ball rolling up here, I guess I'd ask the panel to react to the idea that what we write—the words on a page, whether as intended or as interpreted by the reader—is an illusion. Or, is it reality, whether that means actual reality or a constructed reality that is no less real for being constructed in the imagination? Who wants to start?"


Shriver kicked himself for not writing down what Wolmatoth had just said. He glanced over at the other panelists, both of whom appeared to be deep in thought. He took up his pen and drew a dark blue question mark, nearly pushing the pen point through the paper. Finally, Basil Rather inhaled theatrically and leaned toward the microphone.

"What I think is: is not reality an illusion, anyway?" The playwright paused, presumably to let this question reverberate. "I think the topic as written on the schedule—'reality-slash-illusion'—is wholly appropriate. That slash implies something synonymnal, does it not? Or at least it invites us to take the two terms as able to co-exist with one another under the same roof. After all, if I wrote fiction, like my esteemed colleagues, I would be a 'novelist-slash-playwright.' No one would have an argument with that. 'Novelist-slash-playwright.' 'Obstetrician-slash-gynecologist.' 'AC-slash-DC.' 'Reality-slash-illusion.' See what I mean?"

"An interesting point," the moderator opined.

Shriver drew thick circles around the question mark.

"Personally, I don't go in for this 'reality is an illusion' bullshit," Zebra Amphetamine declared. "That's a coward's way out. You can always say, 'Well, this moment—this very moment in time, in this place, with these people in this room—is an illusion, because, hey, it's gone now, man. There it went. It's not real anymore, is it? It's now just a memory. And memories, like writers, are notorious liars. So there you have it," she said, leaning back in her seat for emphasis.

Shriver, his head bowed as he drew a horse rearing up on hind legs—the only thing he knew how to draw, having practiced it as a child based on a sketch he'd seen on a matchbook—heard murmurs of thoughtful admiration from the audience. As he continued his doodling, he could sense everyone looking at him, waiting for him to weigh in on this challenging topic.

"Mr. Shriver?" the cowboy said. "I see you writing down your thoughts there."

Wolmatoth was poking fun—he could clearly see that Shriver was drawing pictures. Shriver added a question mark over his blue horse's head.

"Perhaps," the moderator continued, "you could relate this question to the idea of autobiographical fiction. Many have wondered how closely your work hews to your actual experience."

Looking out at the undulating sea of faces, Shriver experienced a vertiginous sense of dislocation, as if he had just been dropped into his seat via parachute, having fallen mistakenly from an airplane headed somewhere completely different. He cleared his throat.

"Last night," he said, "from my hotel room, I saw a group of cheerleaders form a human pyramid two stories tall."

The cowboy let out a little cough and squirmed in his seat.

"At the top of this pyramid was a young girl," Shriver carried on, "I'd say about sixteen years old, in an aqua blue one-piece bathing suit. A lithe brunette, with light eyes and muscular arms, she was at once an innocent virgin and a jaded, experienced adult. From my window on the second floor, I could have reached out and touched her face."

Shriver glanced over at Simone. She was on the edge of her seat. Behind her, Jack Blunt had raised his face from his notepad, waiting for the next word.

"Beyond this lovely young girl, I would not have been able to make out where the prairie met the night sky but for an invisible line where millions of stars began. Meanwhile, beating against the window screen were a hundred mosquitoes, drawn by the light in my room."

He lifted the cup to his lips. He'd forgotten there was no more whiskey, but he pretended to drink anyway. The room was very quiet.

"And as all this was happening, a long, slow freight train rolled by, its wheels making that clacking sound that is so reassuring, right in time as it is with our heartbeat."

He saw Simone raise her hand to her heart.

He leaned closer to the microphone and said, "Or maybe I made it all up." He waited a moment, then shrugged in an exaggerated fashion, his hands upturned, his shoulders rising to his ears. He sat back in his chair and resumed doodling.

There was laughter, then some scattered applause.

Basil Rather went on to speak of Plato, Homer, Euripides, and Samuel Beckett. Zebra Amphetamine discussed the influences of Catullus, Octavia Butler, and the women of the ancient court of Japan. And Shriver covered his paper, front and back, with drawings of horses and question marks. When asked by the moderator about what writers had influenced his style, he could only come up with "the people who write television programs, especially the news," which elicited smiles and acknowledgement of his eccentric and playful profundity. Later, an audience member asked why he had not written in twenty years. He answered, "It hadn't occurred to me," knowing he could have passed a polygraph exam.

After the cowboy concluded the panel discussion with a quote ("True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,/As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance./’T is not enough no harshness gives offence,—/The sound must seem an echo to the sense."), and the audience applauded affectionately, he turned to Shriver and said, "You're very good at this sort of thing, you sly bastard." As a show of solidarity, the four authors shook hands while still on stage, though Basil Rather seemed distant, his thin lips white as he pressed them hard together.

"I also love TV!" Zebra Amphetamine enthused to Shriver as she pumped his hand. "McLuhan said it's a cool medium, but I find it red hot, don't you?"

"I don't really know." Simone, he could see, was now talking with T. Wolmatoth, who was touching her arm in a familiar manner.

"I mean, what is there to fill in?!" Ms. Amphetamine nearly shouted. "TV fills you up to bursting. I love it!"

She turned and walked away, her earrings swinging with each long stride. Shriver was about to approach Simone when Jack Blunt appeared in front of him.

"You crafty old bugger," the reporter chuckled. "You're putting on quite a performance, aren't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"That whole bit about the cheerleaders, the television shows. You're making yourself out to be some sort of primitive type. Is this a kind of performance piece you're working here? Are you testing people—maybe gathering data for that next big novel we've all been waiting for?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'll get it out of you yet, Shriver," Blunt promised. "I've got some calls in to New York, your old agent, all the usual suspects—someone's going to crack under the pressure."

He cackled as he walked away, his pen held aloft like a baton.

Meanwhile, Simone had extricated herself from the cowboy.

"That was wonderful," she told him.

"I have absolutely no idea what I said."

"You did great. Everybody's buzzing. There's a big line outside waiting for you to sign copies of your book. Are you ready?"

He picked up Vlad McKennedy's story and followed her into the hall. The other authors were at small tables signing books, but the longest line had formed at an empty table at the end. Shriver felt everyone's eyes on him as he walked to the chair and sat down.

"Do you need a pen?" Simone asked, producing an elegant fine point from her handbag.

"I was hoping we could have lunch," he told her as the first person in line handed him a copy of Goat Time.

"Oh, I'd love to, but there's this problem with Gonquin, and…"

"Still no word?"

"Nothing. Her friend is going ballistic, the cops are talking to people. It's crazy"

"Do they suspect foul play?"

Simone shrugged. "They're going to want to talk to you, too. I'm sorry, I have to go. Edsel will take care of you."

Then she was gone.

Shriver went on to sign many books. The people in line were unfailingly polite and respectful, and praised him for his comments during the panel discussion.

"You're a breath of fresh air, sir," one elderly gentleman declared. "I've been coming to this conference for many years, and you hear a lot of hooey at these panels." He cocked his gray head toward the next table, at which sat Basil Rather. "But you were a real person up there. Thank you," he said when Shriver handed back his book.

People went from line to line getting their books signed, but Shriver's line remained the longest, and he sat there well after the other writers had gotten up and gone on their way.

Last in the queue were two elderly women.

"Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?" one of them asked.

Shriver saw that they were identical twins. The other woman frowned at her sister and said, "Leave him alone with that stuff, Jillian." She handed Shriver a copy of Goat Time and said, "Please make it out to Jillian and Lillian."

It was remarkable how similar they looked: pale eyes, button noses, even their silver hair was cut in the same style. First the hotel clerks, now these ladies. Was this town full of twins, he wondered.

Jillian said, "I can see that you're lonely. I used to be lonely before I found Jesus."

Shriver kept his head down and wrote, "To Jillian & Lillian."

"Jesus fills up your life. Yes, sir. Fills you up more than whiskey. Fills you up more than women. Fills you up more than writing or reading or—"

"Jillian!" her sister interrupted. "Let the man be."

Shriver wanted to write something clever, but was stuck.

Jillian leaned uncomfortably close and whispered, "I know who you are."

"Jillian, I'm warning you," Lillian said.

Shriver looked at Jillian's face, hovering inches from his own. She was an attractive woman, about sixty, her teeth straight and white, her eyes wide and lively.

"Who am I?" Shriver asked.

"Just a man," she answered. Then she stood up straight and said, "But with the Lord Jesus as your Savior, you could be much, much more!"

Shriver wrote, "From just a man," then signed his name.

"Thank you," Lillian said, taking the book. She grabbed her sister by her elbow and pulled her away.

"Good luck!" Jillian called over her shoulder. "You'll need it without Jesus!"

Shriver waved as she was dragged off. He was about to get up when the man in the bright red suit coat approached. He had no book to be signed.

"Mr. Shriver, is it?" the man asked. He was even shorter than T. Wolmatoth, but with a trim, wide-shouldered physique, like a miniature gymnast. His dark eyes were set far apart, nearly on the sides of his head. His brown hair was neatly combed so that a line of pale skin showed at the part. "Detective Krampus," he said, introducing himself. He pulled a pencil and a small notebook from his jacket pocket. "I'd like to ask you a few questions about Gonquin Smithee."

"She still hasn’t turned up?"

"I understand you were with her late last night."

Shriver remained seated while Detective Krampus stood, but they were nearly eye to eye.

"Well, there was a whole group of us."

"Where was this?"

"In my hotel room."

"Number 19?"

"That's right," Shriver answered, a little unnerved.

"Who was present?"

"Uh, let's see. It was very late, and everyone had been drinking… There was Professor Wolmatoth…"

"Yes," the detective muttered, scribbling loudly in his notebook.

"Ms. Amphetamine…"


"Edsel Nixon, a graduate student."


"Ms. Malarkey-Jones,"

"The ample woman?" he inquired, displaying a copy of Harem Girl.

"Correct. And the folk singer from the café," Shriver continued.


"You seem to know all this, detective."

"Anyone else in your room last night?"

"And Ms. Smithee, of course."

"That's all?"

"I think so."

"You think so, or you know so?"

"I know so."

Shriver proceeded to recount the events of the night before, leaving out the part about Gonquin Smithee passing out on his floor.

"And you didn't notice Ms. Smithee's departure?"

"I don't know when she left."

"When did you first notice that she had left?"

Shriver thought. "This morning," he said.

"Did you spend the night together, Mr. Shriver?" the detective inquired.

"Are you asking if I slept with Ms. Smithee?"

Krampus raised his thin eyebrows.

"The answer is No."

The detective wrote furiously in his little book.

"If you knew anything about the poor woman," Shriver continued, "you wouldn’t need to ask such a question."

"'Poor woman’?" Krampus said. "Why do you say 'poor'?"

"I don't know. Obviously she's in some sort of bad situation. You don't just up and leave in the middle of a conference."

"Hm." More scribbling in the notebook. "Any ideas about what happened to her?"

"None whatsoever."

"Have you noticed any friction between her and anyone else?"

"Well, she was squabbling with Ms. Labio," Shriver said. He hadn't wanted to mention this because, he thought, it might look bad for Ms. Smithee's friend.

"They were fighting?"

"Not fighting, I would say."

"A lover's spat?"



"Ms. Labio objected to Ms. Smithee's drinking."

"Was she imbibing a lot?"

"She had a few, I'd say."

"Anything else about her behavior last night?"

"Not that I noticed."

"No problems with any of the other authors?"

"I don't think so."

"I was told she took exception to a question you posed to her yesterday."

"Oh. Yes. She didn't like my question, but then last night she told me she'd changed her mind."

"When? While you were together in your hotel room?"

"No. Right here. During Mr. Rather's reading."

"And how did she get along with Mr. Rather?"

"Okay, I suppose."

"Didn't he accuse her of sabotaging his reading?"

"Not directly."

"Do you think she did sabotage the reading?"

"I hadn't considered it. But, no. I don't think so. I think it was an accident."

"Did you sabotage the reading?"

"Of course not!"

Detective Krampus slid the notebook and pencil into his jacket pocket.

"Thank you, Mr. Shriver. I hope you'll be available for more questioning, if need be."

Then the little man was gone. Shriver felt a mounting sense of anxiety as he watched the bright red suit coat disappear around a corner. He should have told the detective that Gonquin Smithee had passed out on his floor. Now he would have to keep it to himself in order to not look suspicious. Why hadn't he told the whole truth? He had not told Ms. Labio this morning, either, and now it was becoming a habit. He just hoped the poet showed up safe and sound, and as soon as possible.

"How'd it go?" Edsel Nixon asked, having appeared from nowhere.


"The book signing. How was it?"

"Oh. Good."



They went downstairs to the cafeteria, where Shriver ordered cream of mushroom soup. They sat at the same booth he and Simone had sat in yesterday, which made him pine for her.

Shriver wanted to ask Nixon about Simone—was she involved with someone? Was she well-liked? Were there any deep, dark secrets that everyone knew about? Perhaps he could take the boy into his confidence, tell him everything, even use him as a spy or go-between. As he considered this, Shriver watched his handler repeatedly hoist a massive slice of pizza to his mouth, the cheese spilling over the edges, grease dripping onto the paper plate.

"Weird about Gonquin," Nixon said through a mouthful of crust.


"I can't remember when she left your room last night."

"Me, either," Shriver said.

"And I wasn't even drinking."

Shriver finished off his soup and took a sip of ice water. He needed to get another bottle of whiskey.

"Did that detective talk to you?" he asked Nixon.

The student nodded. "I was sure he thought I had something to do with it."

"Me, too."

"Is he a midget?"

"I don't know."

"Or a dwarf? What's the difference, anyway?"

While his handler attempted to distinguish for himself the difference between a dwarf and a midget, Shriver noticed out of the corner of his eye a dark figure over by the exit. His immediate assumption, from years of habit, was that Mr. Bojangles had entered the room. He turned and was about to call out the cat's name when he realized where he was. There was no Mr. Bojangles, of course, nor any black figure at all. The exit door was empty. He wondered how the little kitty cat was holding up, all alone. He imagined him snoozing on the sofa, in the crack between the two seat cushions, one white-socked paw thrust out, his triangular little head resting atop his outstretched leg. He felt a pang of sadness, wishing he could be there to pat the cat on his soft head.

"You think there was foul play?" Nixon asked.

"Like what?"

The graduate student shrugged. "I dunno. Murder?"


Since there was some time to kill before Zebra Amphetamine's reading, Edsel Nixon offered to drive Shriver around town, to show him the few sights worth seeing. Shriver accepted the offer, intending to have the young man stop at a liquor store along the way.

The sky was a sleek blue dome. The temperature had risen into the 80s. Students traversed the campus in thin t-shirts and short pants, sunglasses hiding their eyes.

"Did the helicopters wake you up last night?" Nixon asked as they climbed into his jeep.

"What helicopters?"

"They sprayed insecticide in the middle of the night."

"I slept like a baby."

"You're lucky. Those things terrify me. They're like flying monsters."

He drove the sputtering jeep away from the campus and into a modest business district. Two-story brick buildings lined the street, clothing stores and laundromats and insurance offices topped by apartments with large, old-fashioned windows.

"This is downtown," Nixon announced. "There's where we had dinner last night," he added, pointing out Slander's restaurant. "Oh my God."

Emerging from the Porn Again Church of Pornocology was T. Wolmatoth, his enormous cowboy hat tilted downward to shield his eyes. Just as the jeep came up alongside him, and as if recognizing its distinctive rattle, the cowboy glanced up.

"Where you boys headed?" he asked.

The graduate student braked at the curb. "I'm just showing Mr. Shriver around town."

"Great!" The cowboy, with surprising dexterity, bounded into the back seat. "I suppose you're wondering what I was doing in that place of questionable repute."

"It's none of my business," Edsel Nixon replied as he steered into the slow flow of traffic.

"'I am sure no other civilization, not even the Romans,'" the professor quoted in a stentorian manner, "'has showed such a vast proportion of ignominious and degraded nudity, and ugly, squalid dirty sex. Because,' Nixon, 'no other civilization has driven sex into the underworld, and nudity to the W.C.'"

"Is that a quote, sir, or is that your own opinion?"

"Both, my ignorant friend. Both."

"Was it Hugh Hefner?"

"Mr. David Herbert Lawrence, you imbecile!"

"Sorry, sir. And how was your visit to the underworld?" Nixon asked.


"Pull over here, will you?" Shriver requested.

"Ah, Shriver," the cowboy smiled, "you are a mind reader."

In Big Chief's Liquorarium, Shriver and Wolmatoth picked out a pint of whiskey each. At the counter, Shriver realized he'd left his per diem money at the hotel. He dug into his wallet and pulled out a few crumpled bills. Big Chief grunted thanks and slid the bottle into a brown paper bag.


A half hour later, the three men sat on the gently sloping banks of the Black River, watching the aptly named current of murky water rush by. Nearby on the grassy banks stood a cluster of trees, their narrow trunks marked by past floods. Shriver and the cowboy took occasional swigs from their bottles while Nixon drank from a can of warm root beer.

"I've always thought it was strange that the river flowed north," Nixon remarked as a tree limb floated by.

"So, Shriver," Womatoth said, ignoring his student, "have you been interrogated by our diminutive friend in red?"

"I have."

"Your observations?"

"He strikes me as determined."

"Is he a midget, or a dwarf?" Nixon asked again.

"I believe he is merely stunted," the cowboy answered. "And for your information, a midget is a dwarf, only with more proportional features. But then the term 'midget' is out of favor these days."

"How do you know all that?" the graduate student inquired.

"I know all, Mr. Nixon. And do not forget it."

"Yes, sir."

During this exchange, Shriver thought he saw something moving among the nearby trees, a blur of black caught out of the corner of his eye. But when he turned to look, nothing was there.

"Any idea about what happened to our friend Ms. Smithee?" Wolmatoth asked him.

"Maybe she just ran away from Ms. Labio," Shriver said.

"Ah, yes. I wouldn't blame her."

"They seemed to be having a lovers' quarrel last night."

A long-legged mosquito landed on Shriver's hand. He smacked it hard and peeled the corpse from his skin.

"That was a male," the cowboy noted.


"Only the female bites."

"How can you tell the difference?"

"The males have those long legs. They feed off plants. It's just the ladies you have to be careful of."


"Words to live by, eh, Nixon?"

"Yes, sir."

"Are you married, T.?" Shriver asked, emboldened by the whiskey in his gut.

The cowboy pushed the lip of his hat back and sighed. Edsel Nixon picked up a stick and tossed it at the river.

"I was married, Shriver, for a while. But I was a failure as a husband."

"What was her name?"

"The syllables shall never again pass my lips. Too painful. Let's just say she was beautiful and intelligent and far too good for an old cowhand like myself."

"Don't be so hard on yourself."

"It is a writer's prerogative, Shriver."

The cowboy gazed at the black water gliding silently by. Shriver seemed to have strummed a deep chord in the man.

"No," Wolmatoth said, "I long ago came to the conclusion that, to be a writer—a true writer—one must sacrifice such conventional comforts as marriage and family. How can you create whole worlds, living and breathing characters—how can you construct plots that pulse with universal truth—and at the same time maintain any kind of meaningful relationship with another person? Both paths demand everything from you. What self-respecting woman would tolerate a man who is chained to his desk for days on end, concocting an alternate reality in a fevered state that has no room for cuddling or cozy chats over dinner? And what novel or story or poem will forgive a man for setting it aside just to go to a dinner party or to attend a graduation ceremony? No! You'd get pulled apart like salt water taffy, and then neither the art nor the marriage succeeds. You must pick one or the other, Shriver. But then I needn't tell you that."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's pretty well known that your marriage…well, it didn't work out, did it?"

"It is?"

"Come come, old man. You underestimate the extent of your fame back in the day. You don't write a novel like that without some attention being paid to your sex life."

So the real Shriver was divorced, also, Shriver thought. Not so surprising, really, especially given Wolmatoth's description of a writer's marriage.

"Then again," the cowboy continued, "perhaps you found someone else. Perhaps that's why you haven't written in so long. Tell us: have you been going to the ballet and Little League games?"

"Not at all."

"You were the real McCoy, Shriver. Few men have written with such fury and precision. I imagine your pen on fire. What doused the flame, if not a woman?"

Again there was a blur of black over near the trees. Perhaps it was some kind of animal, a beaver or a river rat. Shriver climbed to his feet and stretched. Sitting on the ground had begun to irritate his bruised buttock. This sudden alteration in perspective gave him a different angle on the trees, and he was able now to see a figure dressed in black running in the opposite direction.

"Did you see that, Edsel?" he asked his handler.

"I did, sir."

"See what?" the cowboy said.

Another mosquito, this one more diminutive, landed on Shriver's hand. He slapped it away and asked, "Is it time for Zebra’s reading yet?"


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