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Michael Lemieux
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dealingmrblue.jpg
Art by Darren Blanche © 2019

DEALING WITH MR. BLUE

 

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 unsatisfied. 

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 manic following.

“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.

A Good Day in Hell was a quarter of the way done when his prostate begrudged his plans.

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 family dispersed.

“Get some rest, Richie,” his sister Joanne said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

But something told Richard they wouldn’t.

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 Catskills.

Twenty-five, 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 up by.

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 from.

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,” the 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 the 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, who 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 his hand.

“I be well, and I be Richard,” he said, 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.

How’d 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 man in blue said. “If you can’t be honest with a complete stranger, who can you be honest with?”

Did I tell him my last name? Richard tried to remember, but was too 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 you care?”

“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… ? I 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 hospital bed.

“Richard, it’s been awhile,” Sydney said and placed his fedora on top of Richard’s foot.

An unease swept over Richard’s body. He 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 a third is a wheel,” Sydney said in the same bizarre dialect Richard remembered.

“What are you doing here?” Richard asked.

“I’m doing what any good salesman would 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.

Wasn’t it?

 

* * *

 

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 try, 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 and 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 new 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 have to 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 but was 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 what’s… that?”

“Who’s Gerald?” Sydney asked, ignoring Richard’s question.

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?”

Richard laughed.

“It’s a serious question,” Sydney said. “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 an atheist.”

Sydney’s grin grew further, contorting his lips like those of a clown’s painted on.

“Well then, let’s just say I could make 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 hand.

 

* * *

 

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 to say.

“Ha-ha, it can be, Mr. Perrian, and it is. You made a deal my friend, and I’m here to collect my ticket.”

It’s not fair.

“Isn’t it though? You shook my hand, 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,” he croaked.

“Are you sure about that? You’re one of 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, Richard. You 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 took advantage.”

“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 don’t believe.”

Richard lay there helplessly, knowing Sydney was right. He took the easy way out. And he did so because he was afraid.

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 with himself.

“You’re right,” Richard said.

“Really?” Sydney asked, sounding surprised.

“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: if 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 mouth.

“Richard, you all right?” the bartender asked.

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.” He 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.

A moment’s 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.

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