WRITER’S CELL BLOCK - DANA C. KABEL
Pete woke up kissing cold concrete and his head felt like it was splitting in half and the bottle of whatever he drank the night before was trying to crawl out.
“What the fuck?” he said in a broken glass voice.
Someone laughed. Springs creaked.
He peeled his sore eyes open and focused on the vagrant that was sitting on a metal cot trying to light a used cigarette. Next to the cot was a steel toilet with no lid, and the only door in the room was made of steel bars.
“Good morning, sunshine...” the vagrant sang, laughing.
“Shut up,” Pete said.
“Hello, how do you do-ooh...”
“I said SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
The vagrant laughed harder. The smoke from his lit cigarette butt smelled like burning shit.
Pete rolled onto his back and tried to conjure up his last memory. He was sweating and shaking and bile burned in the back of his throat. A jail cell was the last place in the world he wanted to detox.
The last semi-sober memory he had was the visit from his agent, Derrick, in his favorite bar in the Village.
“You must be done with the book if you’re in here celebrating at ten in the morning.”
Pete threw back his sixth shot of Jim Beam and tossed the glass over his shoulder.
“Classy,” Derrick said. “What have you got for me?”
“Sit down. Have a drink. Party just started.”
“Godamnit, Pete! Do you know what a deadline is anymore? There’s money invested in you. A book tour lined up. You were given an advance on the next Jake Bracer novel. Give me something...anything!”
Pete signaled for the bartender to bring another drink.
“I got nothing, Derrick. The well is dry. Jake Bracer is as fucked as my liver.”
It went real fuzzy from there. Pete knew that his agent threw a fit and grabbed him by the shirt. He reached down to feel where it had ripped, but he was wearing an orange jumpsuit now.
“Fuck Jake Bracer,” Pete said to the cold concrete floor.
“Holy shit,” the vagrant said. “That’s who you are! I knew I recognized you.”
He jumped up from the cot as if it were on fire and grabbed onto the bars.
“Guard! I want out! You can’t lock me up with this maniac!”
“Shut up, old man. You’re the only maniac in here,” Pete said.
The vagrant started laughing again. He slapped his hand on his knee and bounced back onto the cot.
“I read one of your books. Mostly I seen them Jake Bracer movies. Every time they make another one your picture is all over the local news. What’d you do to get in here?”
“I don’t know.” Pete rubbed his head and tried to remember more.
“All right,” Derrick had said as he followed the stumbling writer out of the bar. Pete looked past him at the building they had just exited. Could have sworn they were in the Village, but now it looked more like Queens.
“We can work around this. I’ll make some calls, get you in rehab and use the publicity to promote the next book. The public eats that shit up.”
“I told you I’m done with Jake Bracer. Not...writing...one more...fucking...wordaboutim.”
“Yeah, yeah...you’ll feel different when you get out of rehab. And we’ll keep making money off of Bracer. We’ll hire an up-and-comer to write the next Bracer under, ‘Pete Bishop’s Jake Bracer.’ You know, like Patterson does.”
“Like Patterson...” Pete snorted sarcastically. “Guess I really am at the end of my career. Listen to this, Derrick. I brought Bracer into this world and I will be the only one who takes him out. The day I go pimping my characters out to so-called up-and-comers is the day I go back to digging ditches.”
“Then you need to get your drunken ass behind the keyboard and write it out yourself. Because we have a contract and Milton House owns the rights to Jake Bracer, in case you’ve forgotten. If we want to, we can have someone write a Jake Bracer versus the vampires from Twilight and there’s not a goddamned thing you can do about it.”
Derrick fell out of step because he was at his car by the curb. Pete stopped, swaying side to side in his tracks. There was someone in the passenger seat of the car.
“Who the fuck is that?”
The agent’s mouth curled into a malicious grin.
Then Pete noticed that they were standing in front of his apartment complex in Tribeca, which was fucking impossible because he had barely taken a dozen steps out of the bar in Queens.
“His name’s Tommy Tuller. I introduced you to him at the Manhattan Project Suspense Writer’s conference a couple of months ago. He’s been doing a lot of ghost writing for Milton House for the past couple of years. Great writer...he just needs a name,” Derrick said.
“The fuck is he doing here?”
“He’s going to be writing the next Jake Bracer book while you’re getting yourself cleaned up.”
“Like fuck he is...”
Pete swung at his agent. He could have sworn that he saw the Tuller asshole laughing his ass off in the car. The punch caught air and he stumbled. Before he knew what was happening, Derrick was steadying him on his feet and clapping him on the back.
“There, there...you can do this,” Derrick said.
But they were standing inside Pete’s apartment, both Derrick and him. Tommy Tuller was there too...duct taped to a chair in Pete’s dinette, his eyes wide with terror.
Pete looked down at the baseball bat in his hands. It was a wooden Louisville Slugger, just like the one he had as a kid.
“You can do this,” Derrick said again. “Come on...you’re not seriously going to let this little fucker write the next Bracer book, are you? You brought Jake Bracer into this world...you’re the only one who should be able to take him out.”
Pete’s hands were sweating. He was starting to shake. Oh God, when was the last time he had anything to drink. He didn’t want to get the DT’s.
“Now take him out! Take him out!” Derrick shouted.
The Tuller kid shook his head furiously side to side. Little shit was going to steal his character...his creation...his whole...life!
“DO IT!” The agent said. “DO IT NOW!”
Then the bat was in both of their hands, like they were fighting over it. Not for possession of the club, but to push it into the other’s grasp.
The Louisville Slugger whistled through the air and Tommy Tuller shrieked through the duct tape as it cracked his head open like a thick egg. Something warm and wet splattered across Pete’s face. He swung the bat again and again and again...
“Bishop! Visitor!” The hulking guard shouted through the bars.
Pete looked down at his hands. No bat there...no blood...But he suddenly began to remember some of the in-betweens as he scrambled shakily to his feet.
Derrick had been on his ass for months about a new Bracer book. The publishing house had the rights to Jake Bracer and Pete just didn’t have it in him to write another one. He finally agreed to meet with one of the young “up-and-comers” Derrick had been pushing. The agent had suggested meeting right at Pete’s apartment for an informal discussion.
“Sit at the table and talk to your visitor on the telephone. You have fifteen minutes,” the guard said.
Pete sat down and picked up the phone on his side of the booth. His agent picked up the other one.
Derrick was grinning from ear to ear.
“Goddamn, dog...you are something. Wait till you see the publicity from this shit. You are all over the news...you can’t buy this kind of advertising. As soon as you get processed and transferred to Riker’s, I’ll have a laptop ready for you so you can start the next Bracer book.”
“Fuck you,” Pete said.
“Come on, Pete...the well can’t be dry anymore. Aside from all the publicity, you got some new experiences to draw on. Murder...prison...institionalization...Your blood alcohol was to the fucking moon. Our lawyer says you’ll do a short involuntary manslaughter ticket with some time in the nut house and in rehab. You’ll dry out and have all the time you need to get back to work.”
Pete looked down at his hands. He didn’t know if he had swung the bat into Tommy Tuller’s skull or if Derrick had.
The agent hung up the phone on the other side of the booth and got up to walk out into the free world. Pete tried desperately to remember who really swung the bat. He wondered if it even mattered.
BIO: Dana C. Kabel’s stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Muzzleflash, Mysterical-E, Out of the Gutter, Powder Flash Burn, and Yellow Mama. Dana blogs at http://www.thenonstopbullet.blogspot.com/.