This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 787 words.
To find out what had happened to Lolly after they split up, he would probably have to travel down to Brighton. He had heard that Dennis Green had allowed Lolly to stay at his flat for a few nights, until he found somewhere to live. Dennis had once been a successful drag artist, using the stage name Dorothy Emerald. But outside of some northern coastal resorts like Blackpool, drag acts had dipped in popularity back then, and Dennis had been working on various concessions on Brighton Pier by the time Jon had left for York.
Meanwhile, he had a phone call to make. Time to contact Claudia and to sell her the concept of his book. He waited until he had eaten a bacon and brie panini for lunch, then poured a large glass of Chianti to take into his study to fortify his courage for the phone call. The best time to catch Claudia in a friendly mood would be after she had enjoyed her first large gin and tonic of the day, which was usually just after one in the afternoon.
The tone of her voice indicated that she had almost certainly enjoyed at least one drink.
“Daaarling, how lovely to hear from you. Are you still enjoying your retirement up there? Or have you sold so many science-fiction novels you are getting film offers from Steven Spielberg, and thinking of relocating to Los Angeles?” Ignoring what she thought passed for wit, he told her that he had six good chapters of a new Inspector Johnson novel down, and had done a lot of valuable research into the bargain. He assured her that the story was flowing well, and he should have it completed in less than three months.
That got her attention.
“Tell me more dear boy. Give me an outline at least. If I like the sound of it, we might well be able to capture the Christmas market with a rushed release in hardback”. Jon was ready, with a good length outline written up, which he read to her. Then he added some background about the letter he had telephoned her about previously, telling her how he would use the characters he had actually met, renaming and relocating them. He went into some detail, and she listened without interruption for a considerable time.
“Daaarling, that sounds wonderful. I really like this new detective, Sergeant Chen. She could generate a spin-off, perhaps transferring to the murder squad or something, then cracking cold cases with her Confucian ingenuity. Love it, daaarling”. There was a pause as he heard her light a cigarette, then the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass signalled gin and tonic number two before she continued.
“So you should email what you have to me, and I can start thinking about a synopsis, and a suitable cover photo. Might get a couple of readers onto it as well, see what they make of the idea behind it. Okay with you, dear boy?” He agreed, knowing what was to come next. “Of course, that will mean you signing a new contract accepting me as your agent. I won’t read a single word before I get that. I will have it written up and sent by courier tomorrow. You should get it the next day, with a return wallet”.
Keen to get off the phone after such a long call, he exchanged a few pleasantries, and told her what she wanted to hear, that he was very happy to be working with her again. After all, she was the best in the genre, and could get publishing houses fighting each other for the writers she represented. She exhaled a lungful of smoke that sounded like a hippo blowing out water as it surfaced, and then her tone changed to something more serious.
“Tell me those names again. The real ones, the people in that crazy family who have been trolling you with this bloodstained letter nonsense.” Jon reeled them off from memory, and he could hear Claudia’s Mont Blanc fountain pen making a scratching sound as she wrote them down. As always, she was pressing too hard. “Okay, Jon. Give me ten minutes, and I will ring you back”.
Something had sobered her up, and she had dropped the facade. The call came in under five minutes, not the ten she had asked for.
“I thought as much. Eloise Parker-Hill is an unusual name. A couple of years ago, she sent me a manuscript for a private eye novel. She wanted it published under a pen name, Eloise Bowes. I just looked through my filing cabinet under B and there it was. It was rubbish, to be honest. I rejected it out of hand”.