DEALING WITH MR.
by Michael Lemieux
Where did it all go wrong?
It was a question that slithered around
in his head venomously. His life’s work had only just begun; his true work. But
there he was, knocking on death’s door as a man in his mid-sixties, completely
It’s been a long, slow and fading burn. Richard was sixty-four and dying the
painful death of prostate cancer. “It’s only stage two, and seems very
treatable,” is what his doctor had said a year ago. He’d never thought someone
as intelligent as his doctor could be so wrong.
The machines beeped their merciless
reminders. Air tubes pumped along, as the catheter was stiff inside of him.
Loved ones gathered around him and stared with their drooping, hollowed eyes.
Richard thought how if he were strong enough to write he’d describe them as
eager. His living will was written to disperse his funds across the immediate family.
Considering his parents were dead, and he had no wife or child, his brother and
sisters would inherit his wealth, which was vast and continuous.
He was Richard Perrian after all, with a
fan base of young teens, gripping the threshold of puberty. It wasn’t supposed
to be that way; he was a best-selling author, but for writing a series of books
he only wrote for fame. Gerald’s Journey—a
science-fiction romance—was formulated to sell. And it sold all right, flying
off the digital shelves in a frenzy. It became that year’s teen anthem with a
“You have to capitalize on this,
Richard! There’s millions to be made in a series,” Richard’s agent had said,
and Richard reluctantly agreed. Two books later and a movie deal, Richard
Perrian had become a household name, and Gerald’s Journey had made him (and his
agent) a fortune.
The time to write his passion project
had finally come. He would let it out, let it fly, and if his teeny-bop fanbase
didn’t dig it? All the better.
Good Day in Hell was a quarter of the way done when his
prostate begrudged his
So back to the question at hand: where
did it all go wrong?
The man in blue strolled in with a
mellow sense of observation, as if he were grazing through a museum, trying to
decide what was art and what he could probably paint himself. Indignant of his
surroundings, he paid no attention to anyone except for Richard in bed. There
was something about the man in blue that Richard found horridly familiar. Déjà
vu wasn’t a strong enough term to characterize it; it was as if his past had
reached out from a cold and distant swamp and yanked him back in.
The family gathered around Richard, but
they didn’t seem to see the man in the blue. It was only Billy, Richard’s
two-year old nephew, who looked towards the man and smiled. The man in blue
returned the gesture. The contours in his cheeks formed crevices, deep and
dark, like landscapes from a distant terrain. Billy began to cry. With that the
“Get some rest, Richie,” his sister
Joanne said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”
But something told Richard they
The room became cold. Richard couldn’t
move much but felt the sharpness of his nipples piercing against his cotton
shirt. He hadn’t broken eye contact with the man in blue, who was yet to speak,
he only circled the bed, slowly, waiting for Richard to remember.
It was the blue he wore that brought it
back, the same plaid blue he wore on their first encounter at a bar in the
thirty years ago? Richard couldn’t remember how
long, but knew it was long enough.
Richard remembered the night they met.
As he did, the blue the man wore began to brighten.
* * *
The bar was dark and lonesome, and
Richard felt his darkest and loneliest. Another publisher had turned him down,
along with four other agents, all of whom responded to his query letter with
disinterest. He was broke and drunk—adjectives his family had come to sum him
The one thing he loved to do was write,
as it was the one thing he knew he was good at. He had written short story
after short story, published once in Horror
Weekly, and received a check for a measly amount of money. The check hung
in a frame at his apartment, above his writing desk, where he would imagine
staring at it in the near future, with nostalgia of the struggle he’d come
But now rent was a struggle, and he had
to cash the check earlier that morning.
In front of him was a note he had jotted
down on a cocktail napkin. It was an idea, one he wanted no part of, but one he
thought might work. It was a man’s name he had written; a teenage heartthrob he
felt might sell. Gerald.
Whiskey was in his glass. He would drink
till he’d forget, and then he’d drink some more. For a moment’s time he became
a man without a care in the world. Drunk and smelling like it. He made eye
contact with a woman on the other side of the bar. She was husky, with teeth as
yellow as her fingertips. Her hand shook as she brought her glass of scotch to
her mouth and hid her eyes behind the glass. Richard did the same.
The doors opened; a gale of wind
invaded. Fallen, dead leaves whisked inside and crunched under the feet of the
man who brought them in. Richard brought his eyes to the man, who was wearing a
blue suit. He was tall and clean shaven. His skin, smooth and featureless, like
plastic. Bright, blue eyes peeked out from under the black fedora he wore.
“Martini, up and a little dirty,”
man in blue said to the bartender, as he placed his fedora on the bar a few
stools away from Richard.
“Sure thing,” the bartender said,
hesitantly. At an establishment such as his, beers and whiskey were the only
drinks he’d pour. He pulled out a cocktail guide from behind the bar and
thumbed through it.
Richard couldn’t help but smile.
“Is something funny, friend?” said
man in blue. His blue eyes pierced Richard defiantly.
Richard shook his head from behind his
glass and slugged it down.
The martini was placed in front of the
man in blue. It was not up, and it was far more than a little dirty. It looked
like a scoop of swamp water in a martini glass. He brought it to his lips and
sipped it, tasting its every imperfection.
“Perfect,” he said to the bartender,
smiled and walked away. The man in blue made a face to Richard saying it wasn’t
so perfect at all. Richard laughed again. The man in blue got up—whistling as
he did—and sat down in the stool next to Richard..
“How be thee?” the man said, extending
“I be well, and I be Richard,”
taking the man’s hand.
“Richard, huh? Why are you lying?”
“Excuse me?” Richard asked, mildly
offended. “I’m not lying, my name is Richard. What’s yours?”
“I know your name, Richard, but you’re
not well, so don’t say you are.”
Richard stared at the man, stupefied.
he know? Well, I’m sitting alone in a bar, drunk as a skunk; it’s probably a
dead giveaway. Richard reasoned with himself.
“I know cause it’s painted on your
face,” the man in blue said. “I don’t mean to intrude, and if I am then my
sincere apologies. I just saw a man who might need to get a load off his chest,
or boulders off his shoulders?”
The way the man talked was deranged and
peculiar. Yet, to Richard, something about it was oddly endearing.
“I… I don’t know what you—"
“Oh pish-posh Mr. Perrian,” the
blue said. “If you can’t be honest with a complete stranger, who can you be
I tell him my last name? Richard tried to remember, but
drunk to recall. In fact, his brain felt as murky as the man in blue’s martini.
“Look, I don’t know you. Why do
“I care because I care. I make it my
business to care.”
“What’s your business?”
“I’m a salesman.”
“Ah, makes perfect sense now Mr…
never got your name.”
“Never got because I never gave. Mr.
Blue you can call me. Sydney Blue,” he said and smiled, Richard could have sworn
he saw a spark glimmer off his tooth as he did.
* * *
“Sydney?” Richard asked from his
“Richard, it’s been awhile,”
and placed his fedora on top of Richard’s foot.
An unease swept over Richard’s body.
couldn’t help but feel helpless, even more than he recently had. If this was
the same Sydney Blue he’d met years earlier, he hadn’t aged a day. Richard
reached for the call button for his nurse, but had done it too slow. Sydney
inched it away from him.
“No, no, no, two’s a company, but
third is a wheel,” Sydney said in the same bizarre dialect Richard remembered.
“What are you doing here?” Richard
“I’m doing what any good salesman
do, Richard. I’m collecting what I’m owed.”
The memory arose clearer than ever; the
decision made, the deal that was struck. But it was all a joke, wasn’t it? It
was drunk banter between strangers passing time.
* * *
Richard liked Sydney, something about
him made him easy to talk to. Maybe it was the way he stared: his eyebrows
arched in wonder, his eyes—so bright and blue they were almost white—never left
Richard’s. He was listening intently, asking questions. He actually seemed to
care. He ordered them both another drink, which Richard graciously took, and
then went deeper into his plight.
“It’s like no matter how hard I
just can’t make it, you know? I could get a nine to five I suppose, but to me
that’s the antithesis of living life to the emptiest,” Richard said, laughing
at himself. “Every morning I wake up, and I write first thing. Well, after my
first cup of coffee, of course. I write, and I write. I read some of these
books out there and wonder how in God’s name they got published. There’s no
sentence structure, character development, grammar is a care of the past, and
the storylines and development are borderline ridiculous. Sometimes I think creativity
had died a slow and miserable death a long time ago, and now we’re just left
with the residuals of its last breath.”
“Hmm, well Richard,” Sydney said
sipped his drink. “I can’t say I disagree with you. But that’s no reason to
give up. If you got the talent, eventually you’ll get there.”
“That is where you’re wrong my
friend. Talent means nothing in this business. All that matters is who you
know. I’d give my right leg and half my left one to know a who.”
They sat quietly for a moment. The bar
had taken on a new seldom shade as the bartender dimmed the lights for the
night crowd which was yet to come. The jukebox kicked on, breaking the silence
with the voice of Jim Morrison singing about how he’d been down so goddamn long.
“What if I told you, you didn’t
lose any legs?” Sydney said, finished the last of his martini, and signaled for
another. “What if I told you, you just met the right person right now?”
“Wha—“ Richard tried to say
interrupted by his own hiccup. “Huh? You work in the innndus-try? I thought…
you said… you were a sales…man?” the words dragged out of Richard’s mouth
sluggishly. Somehow he instantly felt drunker than he had all night.
“I am a salesman, Richard. I sell people
the lives they want.”
“What does… that mean?”
“It means, Richard, I can get you what
you want, you just have to give me what I want in return.”
“Oh?” Richard asked. “And
“Who’s Gerald?” Sydney asked,
Richard quickly folded the napkin with
Gerald’s name on it and stuffed it into his pocket.
“Nobody,” he said
The smile on Sydney’s face extended.
Shadows grew in its divots.
“Let me ask you something, Richard, do
you believe in an afterlife?”
“It’s a serious question,”
“Do you, or don’t you?” His eyes seemed to be smiling too.
Richard squeezed his eyes shut for a
moment, confused to what was happening and to how he felt. It felt as if he
were living out a dream he’d once had. He tried to shake off the feeling.
“No,” Richard said. “I’m
Sydney’s grin grew further, contorting
his lips like those of a clown’s painted on.
“Well then, let’s just say I could
you an author—a famous one at that. And all you’d have to do in return is
promise me your ticket to the afterlife. All you’d have to do is say you agree
and shake my hand, would that be something you’d be interested in?”
Richard felt the hairs on the back of
his neck stand, prickling in the cool air of the bar. He downed the last of his
glass and thought about what he wanted in his life, where he was, and where he
could be. If there were short cuts he’d take them, and if this crazy man in his
crazy suit was offering one, maybe it was worth a shot. Besides, to a writer
such as Richard, a soul is a fairytale, and a cliché one at that.
His mind had finally cleared.
“Would I?” Richard said, and extended
* * *
His already pale complexion had turned
even whiter. The bags under his eyes sank deep into his face, while his lips
curled and trembled.
“It can’t be,” Richard managed
“Ha-ha, it can be, Mr. Perrian, and it
is. You made a deal my friend, and I’m here to collect my ticket.”
“Isn’t it though? You shook my
Richard. You agreed.”
“How’d you hear what I was thinking?”
“How do I do a lot of things?”
A realization struck Richard. It was a
trick; Sydney Blue was a con man. He had swindled Richard with nothing but
empty promises. Castles in the air.
Tears surfaced in Richard’s eyes.
“But I never got what I wanted,”
“Are you sure about that? You’re
the most famous authors in the world. You outsell all your colleagues every
time Gerald has one of his journeys. I
mean you really knew how to take
advantage of the market, Richard. I’m quite impressed.”
“No, I only wrote that to get my name
out. I got trapped. I have stories to tell. I have my life’s work to do.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,
wrote it ‘cause you wanted the fame, which I granted you. I swear all my
clients are all the same in the end. Whining and moaning, never saying thank
you. I granted your wish, Richard, now grant me mine.”
“You tricked me. I was drunk and you
“Oh yes, quite the sexual deviant I am.
Take responsibility, Richard. It’s your fault you are where you are, not mine.
You refused to believe in yourself, Richard. Nothing good comes to ones that
Richard lay there helplessly, knowing
Sydney was right. He took the easy way out. And he did so because he was
In that moment he knew the answer to the
question he’d asked himself. Where did it
all go wrong? Shaking Sydney Blue’s hand had nothing to do with it. He remembered
writing Gerald’s name on that cocktail napkin. He remembered the deal he’d made
“You’re right,” Richard said.
“Really?” Sydney asked, sounding
“Yeah. I gave up on myself a long time
ago. I sold myself short before I ever even met you.”
“Hmm. Okay, Richard, answer me this:
you could change one thing in your life, right now, what would it be? Take your
time to think; a moment’s time is all the time you need.”
Richard contemplated. The answer came
quick and easy, from a place beyond the murkiness of his pain meds.
“I’d do it on my own.”
Richard felt his eyelids get heavier. He
settled his head further into the pillow. Fear and all else fell to the wayside
as Richard fell asleep, hoping he’d wake up again.
Sydney nodded and smiled. “Good answer,
Richard. Good answer indeed.”
* * *
He awoke from a drunken haze. Where am I? He thought to himself. His
back was tangled in knots. The hard wood under his head hadn’t done him any
favors, nor did the barstool. The paralyzing sting of pins and needles pulsated
through his legs.
It was the sound of Jim Morrison singing
about how he’d been down so goddamn long
that woke him. The realization that he’d passed out at the bar again was not
beyond him. Disappointment and self-disgust swayed with a pungent flavor in his
“Richard, you all right?” the bartender
A strange recognition took hold. But
something was different. Amidst the throbbing headache and warm saliva,
churning his stomach with nausea, he’d awoken with a desire.
He wanted to write.
He looked under his folded arms and saw
a napkin he had jotted a name on.
“Gerald,” he read out loud. “Stupid.”
crumpled the paper and threw it behind the bar at the trash can, landing short
by a good six inches.
He had another idea, one that’d been
formulating for a while. There was no title, and he was yet to write a single
word. The gears in his mind mechanically turned; he could feel it. He asked for
another napkin from the bartender, then picked up his pen and wrote.
time is all the time you need.
The words exited him, the way only a
good opening line could. He jumped from the barstool and threw down his money,
unsure how much was enough, but felt like a fifty should suffice. Richard
walked towards the exit with his head held high. Tonight he was going to write;
and he’d spend all night doing so.
The door opened before his hand reached
the handle. A man in a sharp, blue plaid suit walked in, looking out of place
for the type of bar it was. Richard barely noticed the man in blue; his mind
was too busy as his synapses were firing off.
The man in blue smiled as Richard passed
him, and watched him go. He felt his sense of pride tingling as he turned into
the bar. He made his way towards a woman he spotted, sitting by herself. Her
fingertips were the same smokey yellow as her teeth. He sat down next to her
and ordered a martini, up and a little dirty.
Michael Lemieux is a born and bred New Yorker, and has studied Creative
Writing and English Literature at Plattsburgh University. What Remains of
Charlie, his self-published novel, can be found on Amazon and Kindle.
Currently, he and his editor are finishing up his second novel, and he’s
maintaining a blog and other stories at his website: Michaellemieux.com. His 9-5
is working at his family auto body shop with his father and brother, where he
paints cars. Decked out in a hazmat suit, respirator and gloves, his mind
wanders as imagination takes hold. Ideas spark and he pulls out a notepad in
his pocket to write them down so he won't forget.
Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of
visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your peepers.
With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as life, Blanch
has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color and connotation.
People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding
the ways and means of any story.
arts mastery provides what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how
their own minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process
which sync intrinsically to the expression of the nearby written or implied
word he has been called upon to render.
the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA,
Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt -
www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author
/ intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion -
SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.