The Publisher


The temptation to bolt was greater than at any other time, but he sat quietly. Resisting. Watching. Waiting until it was his turn. But the temptation was becoming a problem. Too many times, too many times.

McCaffery withdrew his attention from the face of a well-fed, well-dressed man sitting in the nicely-upholstered faux wing chair nearest the Big Office and cast his eyes down to the wilting bundle of 60-pound bond in his lap. There lied his future, his emancipation from the mundane, his pass behind the scenes to the world as it really is, his ticket to the magical world of what can be, and with a little taste of the wherewithal. He saw the poor quality of the pages as they curled up to greet his glance, maybe accusing just a little that he'd made do with leaves from two different reams of stock, one a crisp white and one merely a natural white. But the content was the message, not the delivery. Yes, the content.

On his first visit to the office, McCaffery had settled himself down, expectantly and nervously, into the hard metal chair across from David Dorchester Dunn, one of the most highly respected literary publishers in all of the city and listened, with eyes bright and ears unclogged with ego, as Dunn told him of the possibilities his book presented to the world of publishing - if only it were 70 pages longer.

On his second visit to the office, David Dorchester Dunn said . . . "And had a hook to historical relevance. Maybe a love interest. "

On his third visit to the office, David Dorchester Dunn said . . . "And a youngster. Yes, a youngster with sorcerous powers hidden from his adult contemporaries. Now that's a book, Mac. Am I right?"

McCaffery hefted his stack of paper, 70 pages heavier now with magical children and sexual explicity, and settled back to waiting. He stared back across at the well-fed, well-dressed man glistening in the overburdened air conditioning and let his eye trace the path of another glob of fluid perspiration as it traveled across his red forehead to the confluence of his skin-flaked eyebrows and funneled, with a brother traveler, down the indentation of the bridge of his porous nose and there, took a determined tack right to the end and dangled with the last ball of cohesion, waiting for release.

McCaffery held his position for nearly ten seconds as the ball of moisture grew impossibly large and the well-dressed, well-fed man-an author of some success known within the Big Office as a producer-quivered to slap the offending drop from his attention grabbing nose, but held his composure and retained what self-respect he came in with three hours earlier. McCaffery blinked and the drop lost its cohesion and broke from the mother ship of collected perspiration and sailed long millimeters down to splotch on the spreading sweat stain on the Big Office producer's red and yellow silk tie, deepening the Rorschach effect. The man made a small noise of annoyance but continued reading a four year old "Writer's Digest" as if he weren't the focus of someone's attention and idle manipulation.

The intercom announces his number and McCaffery gathers his overcoat, his stack of loose-leaf pages in their vinyl case and follows a slinky secretary slash receptionist into David Dorchester Dunn's opulent office.

"My son," blasts Dorchester Dunn, rattling the crystal decanter and every ash tray on his polished retro Newspaperman's oak desk! "My bread & butter baby. How you been, old socks? Life in its place? Women falling at your feet? Lotsa push-push to chase away the blues, my eight ball wizard?"

McCaffery smiles and nods a little to show that he's doing just as Dorchester Dunn expects he should be doing.

"Fabulous, Jimmy! Knew you were my guy first time I read your expression, little bubble & squeak. How's our new arrangement, you little Christer? Still getting on splendidly? Writing all that should be written?"

"I'd like to talk to you about that, David," McCaffery began.

"Mr. Dunn, you pissant little bastard! Who do you think you are? You writers make me sick with all your presumed liberties and wanna be friends bullshit. Remember your place, little ball sack!"

"Sorry Mr. Dunn," whispered McCaffery, fully fifteen years older than Dunn and with concomitant experience in the publishing world, but from the producing end.

"Nothing, sugar & spice! Did I mean anything should bother you, Sandy? Hell no." Dorchester Dunn cast a dismissive glance at the ghost of a chance hovering behind McCaffery's left shoulder

"Can I. . . " McCaffery began?

"No, shut your pie-hole. Lemme see the new pages. I assume you've finished the additions I requested?" Dorchester Dunn looked the question first at the ghost and then let his eyes slide down a notch to McCaffery in the hard metal chair Dunn kept for his office guests. McCaffery handed them over, cringing at the slight difference in color from the old pile to the new.

"Good, I see I didn't misjudge your immense talent for wanting to be accepted nor your indefatigable . . . whatever the hell it is you're indefatigable about. Good."

McCaffery fidgeted in the hard, uncomfortable chair. He sat for half an hour while David Dorchester Dunn read his amended manuscript. He sat and he waited and he tried very hard not to let his mind wander. He held to his focus, nothing could shake his resolve. He rooted himself to the moment and wavered not a midge. Not a midge. Midge. Midges are very small and they can be hellishly annoying when the night air is beginning to cool . . .

. . . In the cool air, passing clouds curled tight little fists against the darkening afternoon sky, punching black, angry holes in the bluish gray, like tiny bullies making a path for a bigger bully-night.

A rented car jostled and bumped its way along the ribbon of road laying across the moor. Inside the car, I bounced and jostled and pitched with every motion, fighting to control the steering wheel, and barely winning. I made mental note of each landmark I passed, intending to follow the same route back that night. So, remembering the way made perfect sense. There would be a full moon to help light my way and that thought gave me some degree of relief. But, those tiny cloud fists put a question to my hope.

I continued driving slowly. Then I saw it. A relatively large building constructed of fieldstone with a thatched, high roof. I could imagine the pungent aroma of burning peat and dung wafting from the single, massive fireplace, seated within the coldest wall of the building. More than likely in the south eastern wall, the one most exposed to the icy coastline. I parked the Jag on the road directly in front and got out.

As the heavy wooden door thudded, caught and closed behind me, I was transported back in time. The smoky scent, the dim light and the cloying fragrance of myriad tobaccos and local beer filled the large room.

I fixed an appropriate smile on my face and walked to the bar. The man standing behind it was dressed in black wool trousers and a coarsely woven white shirt. The collar and elbows of the shirt were frayed.

His hands were huge and meaty, as was his body. His face was young but heavily lined. Deep creases decorated his forehead, eyes and mouth. His sandy hair was almost as thick as lamb's wool behind the receding hairline. Broken capillaries crawled across his sagging cheeks and heavy nose. A seafarer's complexion, a drinker's expression.

"Pint of Guinness, please," I said.

"Don't 'ave it, Sir. But we got just as good in our local brand," he said.

"Sound's all right to me," I answered.

"Right away, Sir," he said turning to pull the draught from one of the taps.

"Passin' through, then are ye, Sir?"

"No. On my way to a funeral."

"Sorry, sir," he said as he placed a heavy, glass mug of dark, brown liquid before me.

"Terrible thing, reuniting with forgotten family at a time like this. We should never lose touch."

"But that's the way of it, Sir," he said. "What country d'ye come from? America, I'll bet."

"No, but close. Canada."

"Lot o' snow, I hear."

"Only in winter."


"Yes. The same kind of preconception applies to every country, I suppose." (There I go again, sounding too smart for my own good. And I could see in his weathered face that he thought exactly the same thing.)

"Ye don't say?"

"Yes, this would have been a holiday under different circumstances. I wanted to compare the real Ireland with what I imagined."

"What's the verdict?"

"I'm pleasantly surprised," I lied. "It's much more than I'd hoped it would be. Although the rain and fog are not exaggerated."

"Rain's rain, sir, no matter where ye are, it's still wet."

". . . Nightmare, you bag of pus! This is the nightmare of every publisher, the thing he dreads most in his life of trying to instill a sense of literary marketability to you pieces of dog excrement. You missed my point, you open sore. You sat there last time and pretended to listen to my every golden suggestion and you bald-faced lied to me, fudge packer! Because I don't see one of my wonderful words in this sorry stack of, what's the alliteration I'm looking for here? Gimme a homonym, Danny, something I can use to illustrate my distaste for this completely crapacious collection of characters. I, my little frog footed fireplug am at a loss."

David Dorchester Dunn sat back into his 19th Century reproduction, leather upholstered Editor's Chair and sighed with a Cheshire smirk playing coyly at the corners of his tattooed lips. "I assume you've gathered that I'm not entirely happy with the rework of your manuscript?" An eye twinkle and a smugging of the Cheshire smirk. "Let's hear what other jetsam you've evacuated onto your mismatched paper, old Binky. And sit up straight!"

McCaffery straightened in the unforgiving chair and sought respite from the numbness beneath him and the growing sense of helplessness around him, cleared his throat and. . .

. . . Uncle Alex, sitting in the corner farthest from the coffin, a bottle of dark beer by one elbow and a tall glass of whiskey at the other, his face, buried as foreshadowing, in the hands of the arms attached to each of his occupied elbows, sobbed quietly to himself. All around the crowd were cooing over the thing in the box, making nice noises, dredging up memories that never really began, stories that never really were. The thing in the box looked very good, for its present condition, in fact it looked very good for any condition it possessed during living memory. But the thing in the box was old. It was right that it should be in the box, getting cooed over and having last thoughts spread at its feet, it was right. It was too old to continue.

Uncle Alex sobbed louder in his corner, surrounded by his defenses, attracting some condescensive reaction from those who knew better than to behave such. At once a loud "Bhuph! Bah-hurumph, bruph, phuph, awwww-Jeeezus, no," erupted from his mouth and he raised his head to be understood more clearly.

"He was too young to die, goddammit. Too young!"

Following a short interval, the condescensive attention turned to another part of the room for fuel. Uncle Alex rested his heavy, grizzled head back into his waiting palms. One of which was busy trying to put a beer glass to his blubbering mouth at the same time and spillage occurred, until he regrouped and caught himself before indecision lost the whole glass to the floor.

Aunt Beryl, from the thing in the box's other side of the family, came over to Uncle Alex and spoke quietly into his ear, wiping his table spill, with a cloth she apparently carried around always for just such occasions. Uncle Alex refused to acknowledge her presence. She re-gathered her self respect and shuffled to the next wet spot in the large room. Stopping once, she cast a longing glance over her shoulder to the blubbering old man who'd refused her so many times before. A hymn began in the adjoining chapel and her spirits soared with the hearing of it, she added her aged voice to the welling of the rest. Uncle Alex mumbled and blubbered in his own tempo.

"He was too young," repeated Uncle Alex! "My balls are the size of goat's balls. That's how old I am. You think he was old? You want ta have a look at the size of my goat's balls? That's an old man, goddammit."

"I'll have a look at yer balls, Alex." It was Aunt Beryl from the other side of the family, suddenly on the other side of the room again. . .

"Now you're talking, little Musketeer. This stuff I can sell! But lose the old man and the funeral crap." A look of surprise arrested his pontificating, mobile face in mid expression with the appearance of a tiny red hole between his startled eyes.

McCaffery gathered his papers in his vinyl carryall, wiped his forehead of the blood splatter and turned toward the office door, slipping the little silver pistol into his jacket pocket.

David Dorchester Dunn sagged back into his 19th Century reproduction, leather upholstered Editor's Chair and died from the little bullet hole punched through his forehead.

No rewrite was ever suggested.


The End