I’m probably not even authorized to do a Teaser Tuesday entry, as I’m still part of the Great Unwashed whom agents fear and editors scorn, but I’m going to post something anyway. The problem is, what have y’all not seen already? I suspect everyone here hates my fiction anyway. (You were hoping that the writing folders got eaten by the crash, but we never did have a crash, and the bad blocks were over there in the folder where I was saving .jpgs and so forth. The Muses were watching over me.) Still, I’m a glutton for punishment, so I shall punish you hence with this. It’s farther into that romantic comedy/techno-mystery. Think “Foul Play,” sort of.
If you click through, let me know whether you hate the “groaner” pun or feel it shows Whit’s quirkiness. Since both characters enjoy wordplay/puns, that may be a big turnoff for readers who hate puns. *grin* It’s certainly not a common character quirk in most novels, you gotta gimme that.
By the time they’d woven their way to the big diner-style booth up front, Kay’s ankle was screaming like a disposable blonde running into the wild woods in a horror movie. She was grateful to land on the padded red leatherette and slide into the window seat. He hesitated, then chose to sit across from her, which she preferred, because then she could watch his expressions and she wouldn’t have to worry about their thighs inadvertently touching. Now all she had to do was keep her ankle away from his toes–and guard her knees against accidentally bumping into his.
After a moment’s thought (and the realization that she was, after all, wearing pants), she propped her bad foot next to her on the curving seat.
The tabletop was inlaid with Texas license plates from the 1940s through 1960s under a half-inch of polyurethane, and hanging on the walls were various metal advertising signs of the 1930s to 1950s era. Greasy-looking, authentic tools and spark plugs were displayed in a shadowbox on the rear wall behind the bar, and the requisite mini-jukebox on each table held Big Band crooners and doo-wop tunes.
Behind Whit the neon-outlined Pegasus shone, rotating overhead on a pole. Kay was positioned to watch the bartender dispensing beer into glass pilsners out of old Magnolia gas pumps from the 1930s. She caught Whit scoping the pumps out.
“Reproductions, I trust?”
“Oh, I’m sure of it.” She smiled. “Haven’t been poisoned yet. The light beer is in the Ethyl pump.”
“I prefer my alcohol unleaded.” He winked.
She was momentarily ruffled. To cover, she grabbed for the menu, although she had it memorized.
Whit looked up as their server, a college-aged guy wearing a classic Goober Pyle service station attendant costume (complete with “Josh” embroidered on the front pocket of the orange overalls), arrived to take their drink orders. “Yo, Josh. I’ll have whatever’s the specialty of the house.”
Josh grinned. “That’d be the Lube Job.” Kay knew it to be a high-test blend of liqueurs, including blue curaçao, which lent the drink its trademark tint, and it came to the table in a Hurricane glass, flaming on top. “Have fun with that.”
Whit’s smile wobbled a little. “What’s in it?”
Kay answered for him. “You’ll see.” She wanted to be grape-free, so she ordered sparkling water and a diet cola.
Whit took the proffered menu and seemingly began studying it as the waiter bustled towards the bar. “Tell me, Miss Fisher, where did you go to school?”
“Canyon Creek Elementary, right here in town.”
He grinned. “And where to from there?”
“Bachelor’s in English language and literature from Stanford, Master’s in Communications from UT. I intended to finish my Ph.D., but I ran out of money.” She took a breath. “Is this an interview? I would’ve worn something more appropriate.” He’d seen the way she normally dressed earlier, but she felt a little shabby wearing Tina’s emergency outfit. The top, in particular, was stretched pretty much to its limit.
“No, no, no. Just getting the basics.” He wiggled his fingers.
She’d pepper him with trivia, if her bio was what he wanted. “My mother taught piano and my dad’s a lawyer who used to be with a pretty large firm–contract law–but now he’s semi-retired. He has enough money, so they do what they want. Travel a lot–they have an RV and a network of distant relatives and old friends they like to visit. In our household, the idols were intellectuals instead of sports heroes, and I was taught never to break the spine of a book by placing it face down to hold my place. Is that basic enough?”
He didn’t look up from the menu. “Do you live around here?”
“I rent a loft in the arts district near downtown, about three miles from here. And I live alone. Like you.”
His brows lifted a centimeter. “How would you know?”
“You have on two different socks.”
“Of course they’re different–I couldn’t wear the same sock on both feet.” He waved the menu. “And you call yourself observant.”
“It’s all in attention to detail.” She smiled. “So do you room with someone when you’re at home? Where is home?”
“I live on the road these days, and I fly solo. But if I were to go home, it’d be to Hawaii, where I spent many happy years as a worthless surfer bum.”
Picturing this guy in some former incarnation as a young Val Kilmer was impossible; the very idea left her speechless. She recovered. “Hawaii! Nice place.”
“I could say the same about this restaurant.”
“My brother’s favorite.”
Their drinks arrived, and Whit seemed duly impressed as he watched the flame burn off the half-inch of high-octane liqueur floating on top of his drink. “I’ll assume the rest of it comes in at a reasonable proof.” He took a sip. To his credit, he didn’t immediately slide under the table.
“I never assume, because. . . .” She hesitated.
“It makes an ass of U and me,” he completed.
“You’re an Odd Couple fan, I see.”
“Never miss a re-run.”
“Are you more of an Oscar? No, you’re a Felix.”
“I like to think so.”
Kay smiled at the bemused Josh, who had after all walked up in the middle of their exchange. “Go ahead, tell us what’s happening.”
“I wish I knew,” said the kid. He proceeded to describe several of the menu items in more detail, at Whit’s request. The burgers had names like the Blowout, the Tune-Up, and the Hi-Test Special. Just being here and smelling the beer batter in which they dipped the fried delicacies made Kay hungry. She ordered the Nuts and Bolts (fried mushrooms and zucchini slices to dip in ranch dressing) as an appetizer and for lunch the Dual Exhausts, which were pigs-in-blankets made of smokies and crescent roll dough meant to be dipped in a honey mustard sauce, accompanied by beer-battered onion rings. She’d put that fifteen pounds back on if she didn’t stick to nibbles.
Whit ordered the High Beam with Texas Fire Sauce. She’d bet he had no idea what Chipotle peppers were, and she smiled secretly with the not-telling. He folded his menu and handed it back, and the waiter departed. “You mentioned some communications courses?”
“A Master’s in communications.” She’d just told him that. “I was in Toastmasters all through college. I think I know how to get a point across. More to the point, I know how to keep Rusty sounding eloquent while keeping him out of trouble.”
“Keeping his Italian loafers from dislodging his partial plates, eh?” He winked, putting her off a little.
“The man has all his own teeth,” she said firmly.
“I was speaking figuratively, of course.” He reached into his jacket. There was that silly little Crackberry brain again. And she knew it would want him to ask another question about her qualifications.
She raised her right hand. “Let’s cut to the proverbial chase, shall we? I don’t mind your making suggestions about how we might improve our Nielsen standing, but so far I haven’t heard any of that. We’ve talked about me, mostly, and nothing to do with the show’s target audience or peer group. What disturbs me is that I’m starting to get the feeling you don’t think I’m qualified to do my job.”
Surprisingly enough, Whit looked taken aback. “Please don’t feel that way. I’m certainly not trying to question your effectiveness.” He rested his chin on his fist. “Tell me what you think we need to do to raise awareness and increase viewership. For example, how we can make the Rusty LaBarbera Hour the focus of more controversy and thus more attention.”
She hadn’t even dangled the bait, and he’d swallowed it. She let him have it. “Perhaps the powers that be want Rusty’s program to be more controversial so it’ll rise in the ratings. But that’s short-sighted, in my view.”
“Oh?” He had just taken a large bite of burger, yet didn’t seem to be talking with his mouth full. “Seems to me I heard you guys were fighting to keep the market share where it is. Been struggling with it for quite a while.”
She avoided his main point by picking on an important Texas detail. “‘You guys?’ That’s ‘y’all’ around here.”
“I’ll try to remember.” His gaze still held a question.
She sighed. “Controversy can build ratings, definitely, in the short-term. In fact, though, I think Rusty’s quite controversial enough. There’s a line the public won’t let you cross; I don’t need to point to the Imus debacle and the recent scandal in the Senate. I need to keep Rusty on the right side of that line. He’s becoming high-profile and is fair game to be taken down by any interest group he offends. That’s the tightrope I walk here every day.”
Whit picked up a fry and gestured with it as though conducting a flea orchestra. “All right, let’s grant that he can’t overstep certain boundaries. Although it’s arguable exactly where those boundaries are–”
“Because the lines move from day to day.” She stirred a mushroom cap around in the ranch dressing.
“Granted. Point taken. Wherever the line is today, he’s got to toe it carefully. When you’re in the spotlight, any number of people would just love to take you down. Maybe you’re right about the stirring-up bit not being the right approach.” His tone actually sounded conciliatory. “So let me turn the question back on you. How do you think we could appeal more to . . . to. . . .”
His expression changed as his gaze focused on something just past her left shoulder. He blinked, then gave a nearly imperceptible shake of his head. “Appeal more to. . . .” Again he stopped and squinted at something in the middle distance behind Kay. “Don’t turn around,” he instructed just before she moved to do exactly that, “but back behind you–something odd’s about to happen. I’ve seen that woman before, the one who’s leaning too far out into the aisle. What’s she doing here–” He broke off. “Duck!”
The Publishing Powers have announced (via the agent blogs and PW articles) that there will henceforth be Fewer Books but Bigger Books. That has been the trend for a while, and it hasn’t worked as well as they’d hoped, IMHO. But last year 40,000 [EDIT: No!! Actually, 400,000! Thanks to Nick Mamatas for pointing out my heinous typo that missed by a factor of TEN] books were published. Whew! Some of those WERE dreck, for sure. But the problem in publishing lies elsewhere. Our only hope is that when this recession gets worse (if it does), people will need escape and will turn to fiction and buy books or see films instead of going out to dance on the table at a bar. They’ll still be able to afford a six-pack and a paperback and still pay $75 to fill the tank for going back and forth to work.