“Get your dirty boots off my desk,” Frank snarled.  He stared hard at the other man.

Roy put out his hands.  “Easy, man, easy …”

Roy’s boots thumped down onto the floor hard enough to rattle the egg-shell-thin teacup beside Frank’s hand.  The pirate slumped down in the uncomfortable Victorian chair and straightened his black eye patch.

Roy’s swarthy good looks and sunburnt visage always made Frank feel slightly inadequate with his own thin frame and pasty white complexion. The fact that Frank was a redhead didn’t help in the confidence department.

Frank pushed back from the large walnut desk. “Damn. Who am I kidding. I need a break,”  he said.

He was dressed in an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt and well-worn jeans. His hair stuck straight from running his hands through it every other minute.

“Now wait just a dang minute,” Roy started.

“No.  I’ve been sitting here for hours trying to write. My back is killing me.  I need to get out of here.”

The blue-toned barrel of a gun waivered near his eye then pushed into Frank’s cheek.  He turned his head slowly and the gun turned with him.  Carefully nudging away the barrel, Frank glared at the man behind it.

“What the hell, Detective?! I’ve told you a hundred times don’t pull that thing on me,” Frank whisper shouted.

The short and pudgy man lowered the gun and shrugged.  He eased down into the nearest chair.  His suit was shabby and he had a comb-over of thin salt and pepper hair.

“Just don’t forget about me.  You promised I’d get the bad guy,” he said to Frank.

Roy interrupted.  “You promised me a love scene.”

“I lied to you,” Frank said to Roy.

Turning to The Detective, “You’ll have your villain this week,” Frank said.

Ignoring Frank, Roy asked, “Where’s the delectable Alexandra?”

Pushing her way into the tiny study and yanking up her sagging bodice, Alexandra whined, “Yeah.  When do I get to rendez-vous with Roy?  I’ve had it up to here with The Duke.” She flung her arm up dramatically to her pearl covered throat.

The Duke followed close on her heels.  He had a slightly vacuous look.  “But, Alexandra, my love.  We’re in love.  You can’t possible look at another man. You’re mine,” he said.  At this last declaration, his voice kept rising in volume. It was accompanied by a deftly executed sashay and a hand placed over his heart. The Duke had dark King Charles II curls spilling down over his blue satin coat and tawny colored eyes.

Alexandra rolled her eyes.  “Whatever.  Now, Roy and I could easily spice up the Seven Seas,” she said.  She winked at the pirate.

Roy stood up, offering her his seat with a bow and a flourish of his floppy pirate hat.  The bedraggled ostrich feather fluttered limply.  “Alex, how I yearn to make slow delicious love to you.  Come away with me.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Frank.  “Will everyone shut up? I’m going out.  Everyone take five.  Roy, you can’t have a love scene.  You’re in a middle-grade book.  No hot stuff. The kids don’t need to read that.”

“That sucks,” Alex said, sitting down in the proffered chair with a huff and a poof of her voluminous skirts.  Her raven curls trembled on the tops of her pale white breasts.  The Duke started to reach for the closest curl, but she batted him away.

Alex lit up a cigarette.  She was careful not to light her lacy corset on fire.  Roy watched her every move.  The Duke went to play with the colorful millefiore paperweights on Frank’s desk. He spun one around and watched the rainbow it made in the morning light streaming in through the eastern-facing window.

“Please. Tell me you’re not going to Starbucks again.  I hate that place,” she said.

Frank stretched his back which had cramped up from sitting for so long at his desk. He snatched his crumpled jacket out from behind The Duke’s manly shoulders.

“No, I’m going to get lunch at the K & W Cafeteria.”

Everyone groaned in unison.

“Oh my God,” said Roy. “I mean, shiver me timbers,— that is geriatric heaven.  Please, no.  Go anywhere but there.”

“Too many blue hairs,” agreed The Detective, unobtrusively patting his scantily covered skull. Frank still had not gotten around to giving him a name.

“C’mon Frank, at least give us a treat—maybe a slow ride through the UNC campus with its beautiful bevy of co-eds?” Roy asked.

Frank ignored him and grabbed his keys off of the kitchen counter where he’d flung them yesterday.  He bent down and filled Sumo’s bowl with the expensive brand of diet cat food that the vet had recommended.  Sumo wobbled in after the first morsel pinged in the bottom of the ceramic bowl.

The damn food hasn’t done a thing for poor Sumo,” Frank thought.  He scratched the gray tabby behind his ears.

Frank refused to look back as he headed out of the door and climbed into his ratty Impala.  Careful to avoid the next-door neighbor’s ever-expanding yard art collection, Frank backed out of the drive.

He cranked up the radio on the medium blue car.  On full blast, the voices of the Stones pumped up his blood pressure while still soothing his frayed nerves.  Music was one of the few things that stopped the voices of his characters.
It was his own fault.  The characters were ones that he’d created over his unplanned one-year hiatus from his middle-grade fiction contract and the beginning of his romantic writers contract. The Detective’s story he’d started on his own hoping to sell it to his ever-demanding literary agent. Each character now lived with him with their ever-increasing demands for his attention.

Frank rolled the window down partway to enjoy the breeze and the silence while he drove. He thought back to the beginning.  It all had started with “My Big Pony,” the first book he’d written for older elementary school-age children.  He’d published the book after winning a contest.  Getting published was a huge boost to his then-fragile ego.  He’d eschewed a “real job” to try and put his Creative Writing MFA to use.  Fortunately, a small inheritance and a part-time instructor’s job at the local community college kept him and Sumo alive.

Months after his first book was published, he began hearing noises in the attic.  He’d had an exterminator come in and a cleaning crew up there.  No one had found anything.  One day, he’d finally gotten his nerve up and walked gingerly up the attic stairs during the day.  When he’d pushed open the door, he’d seen dust motes dancing in the weak light from a small window, heaps of precariously stacked boxes, and clothes racks of old clothes. That was it.

He’d turned to go, but heard a soft noise.  He aimed his flashlight around the clothes racks and saw a long dark shadow which did not match the clothes racks’ shape.   Something huge charged from the gloom. With a shriek, he’d put up his hands and covered his eyes. A soft muzzle licked his ear. It had big teeth and large eyes almost covered by wild hair.  It was My Big Pony!

The old chestnut horse looked a bit older and cobwebs dotted his mane, but it was him, without a doubt.  Frank was overjoyed to see his old friend and threw his arms around his neck and hugged him.  The pony backed away but came back a few seconds later gently bumping Frank in the chest.

Relieved, Frank started talking a mile a minute and asking question after question.  MBP cocked his head and looked at Frank.

“Oh, yeah.  You’re a horse,” Frank said deflating a little.

MBP snorted then and pranced around.  Frank grabbed a fistful of mane to lead him downstairs but the pony shied away.  He went to the top of the stairs but refused to go down them.

Every morning thereafter, Frank went up to see MBP and took him sugar cubes, carrots, and apples.  He found solace in the time that he spent with the horse.

Meanwhile, during the days, Frank was stuck in the midst of three stories, two for which he was under contract with tiny advances and looming deadlines.  One story was a middle-grade pirate’s adventure with the pirate Roy, and the second was a romance between a young village girl and a Duke.  The third was a detective/crime/mystery novel.

Frank had to produce something suitable to the agent by the deadlines or both of the “deals” were off.  Although the amount of each deal would hardly keep Sumo in his expensive cat dinners, Frank needed every penny and wanted the recognition.

Now, the characters talked nonstop to him.  He had to leave the house during the day to get any peace.  Infrequently, one or more of them rode along and complained about Frank’s driving skills.

At night, it was worse.  The characters, not content to tell him what to do, argued incessantly.  Alexandra was a right little madam and pitted the men against each other.  The Detective needed a name and a quarry, but Frank had moved back to work on the pirate story.

The pirate came the closest to being a friend.  He was pithy and entertaining—just not middle-grade fodder.  Frank had made him into an image he’d liked, but Roy was too salty for the innocent middle graders.

Each character wanted their story told and each one demanded that Frank tell it their way.  His head ached most nights, because, inevitably, he’d throw his pen down in frustration after editing and swig Highland Dew straight from the bottle.

Frank planned to get to the K & W Cafeteria and order some decent food.  He’d savor the chocolate- no coconut- cream pie and forget about all of them.  At least the elderly dears at the restaurant wouldn’t talk to him.

Arriving at K &W, Frank loaded his tray up with the hamburger steak or “chopped with,” turnip greens, mashed potatoes, no gravy, cornbread, and pie.  The unsweet tea was his only concession to diet.  He carried his heavy tray over to a booth barely big enough for one. He spread his white napkin over his lap, put the spoon in the potatoes, and poured vinegar over  the greens.

“Aaaahhh,” he sighed in satisfaction.

“Frank, that looks mighty fine,” drawled The Detective.  The old guy had slipped into a Southern accent after he couldn’t make the Boston vowels work.

Frank’s fork stopped half way to his mouth.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“No.  It looks really good.  This is a nice place,” The Detective said swiveling his head and looking around.

A petite white-headed woman heading towards a booth near Frank whisked away her tray after shooting a glance at Frank talking to his mashed potatoes.

“Look, The Detective-or  whatever-I’m trying to enjoy my lunch.”

“Yeah, I get that.  I do.  But, look, Frank, I need a name and a villain to chase or a murder to solve.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?”

Frank just shook his head.  He reluctantly put down his fork.  He eyed his potatoes mournfully.

“Why don’t we hash this out.  Then you can go, okay?”

The Detective’s face brightened.  He lay his gun down on the table and leaned forward.

“Yeah, let’s do this.”

“Here’s the thing, Detective.  I haven’t decided on the genre of your book.  I don’t know if it’s going to be a thriller, crime/detective, or mystery. I haven’t gotten that far.”

Subdued, The Detective asked, “Can’t you at least give me a name?”

Frank scanned the room stalling for time.  Spotting the condiments table, he brightened.

“How about Pete Texas?” he asked.

“What kind of name is that for Chris’ sakes?!” The Detective bellowed.

“It’s a manly name.  All of the ladies will love it.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Live with it a few days, okay?  We’ll change it if you really hate it.”

“Okay.  See you later,” Texas said as he holstered his gun and got up.

Frank savored every bite of the creamy chocolate pie.  They’d sold the last piece of coconut just as he’d started to reach for it way back in the standing cooler. The wizened lady with the hair net smiled at him as she deftly swirled cling wrap around it and handed it to the old gentleman in front of him.

Frank waited on his “to go” cup of unsweet tea and headed for his car.  The spring air blew cool across the parking lot.

Opening the car door, he yelped.  Alexandra sat in the front seat with bedraggled hair and half a soda spilled in her lap. She took the cigarette out of her mouth with her index finger and thumb and blew smoke in his face.

“You gotta do something about The Duke. He’s like an overgrown puppy and with the same amount of smarts,” she said.

She took a final drag of the cigarette and  tapped the ash outside the car door.

“You can write something steamy for me and the pirate.”

“No. I can’t. The pirate’s story is middle grade fiction.  No love scenes.  You have The Duke for your love scenes.  Now, sit somewhere else or go home.,” Frank said.

She gave him a dirty look “Well, how about writing in another female to talk to?  I’m bored outta my mind.” She tapped ash into the Coke can.

Frank thought a minute.

“Yeah, okay.  I’ll work on it this afternoon.”

She broke into a radiant smile.  “Thanks Frank.  You’re a peach.  Oh, no, wait.  You’re the sweetest of mulled wine that I sip from my goblet.”  Laughing, she disappeared.

On the way home, Frank called his agent on his cell phone.  Before he could say anything, his agent launched into him and called him irresponsible, unorganized, and lazy.

“Yeah, yeah.  I know.  I’m behind.  The good news is I’m motivated to speed things up.”

His agent, Bill Montgomery, barked, “You need to move it.  The middle grade fiction piece is due next week.  How many pages have you written?”

Frank thought a minute.  “I’m about half way through, but I’m spending all weekend on it.  The community college is out for spring break and I have plenty of time to get it done.”

Montgomery exploded. “You’ll never make the deadline and you’ll lose the project.”

“No way,” Frank said calmly. “I’ve got this.  Don’t worry so much.”

More invective rolled off Montgomery’s tongue.  Frank listened with half an ear.

Frank arrived home more depressed.  Throwing his keys on the dish filled counter, he clapped his hands and called a meeting.  Surprisingly, MBP showed up in the back of the group. Alexandra stroked his mane.

“Look, folks.  I called this meeting because I’m behind on all of the books.  I need your help.  Let’s brainstorm the story lines.  Alexandra write everything down on the old laptop.  I spoke to The Detec—no, to Pete Texas—at lunch. So, Roy, what’s going on with yours?”

Relishing the spotlight and preening before Alexandra, Roy said, “You’ve got me looking for treasure.  I’m not sure where I am or in the middle of what ocean.  I’ll look through your old encyclopedias in the library and I’ll get back to you.”

“Good,” said Frank. “Now. Alex, where are we with the Duke?”

“We’re in the bedroom,” said the Duke.

Alex rolled her eyes.  “Right,” she said.  “We need a story line to go with all that.  Something fresh and sizzling.”

Frank thought a minute. “How about this: you’re secretly his half-sister and your royal dad abandoned you at birth.  You had no idea you’re related to The Duke.”

“I like it!” Alex clasped her hands together.

“I don’t get it,” The Duke said.

Pete Texas raised his hand.  Frank nodded to him.

“I could be searching for a missing teen and find clues that the teen has a secret twin.”

Pete balanced his gun on his knee.  “Or, I could be tracking a cheating wife and find out that she’s going to poison her husband.”

“Let’s roll with the wife bit,” Frank said.  “Do some research with Roy.  He’ll point you to some successful crime novels on the shelf.”

Totally immersed in the three story lines, Frank missed dinner.  It was ten o’clock when he stopped for a break.

The small library looked like a war zone—bodies were everywhere.  Roy had on Frank’s bifocals and orange cracker crumbs in his beard.  Pete Texas was surrounded by true crime paperbacks and a few books on poisons.  Alexa lay on the thread-bare sofa with her feet in The Duke’s lap and absentmindedly kept pushing away the Duke’s roving hands. She’d propped up Frank’s old lap top and was typing furiously.

Frank tiptoed back out and headed to the kitchen to call his agent.

“Everything’s on track.  I’ve had some major inspiration.  I’ll email what I’ve got to you tomorrow.”

Mollified, Montgomery hung up slightly happier but chewing antacids in Frank’s ear.

MBP trotted into the kitchen and over to the fruit bowl.  He gently extracted the lone apple.

“This is all your fault, you know,” Frank said. “I missed the hell out of you.”

MBP blew his mane out of his eyes.  Both turned toward the half glass half wood back door when it slowly creaked open.

A desiccated hand wrapped in dirty bandages reached in accompanied by low moaning.

“Damn,” said Frank.  “I forgot all about the zombie resurrection graphic novel.  Thank God I have a basement.”

He gently led the bedraggled giant down the wooden stairs and away from the others.