There are some landmark moments writers wish for, wait for, and forever remember once they’ve materialized. Some of mine are as follows:
The first time I witnessed my name on a movie one-sheet? It was, in fact, on a huge DIE HARD 2 cardboard standee in the lobby of a West Valley movie theater.
The first time I saw one of my novels as a paperback on a revolving tree display? Andersen’s Pea Soup in Santa Nella, California.
Last is my Holy Grail. Where and when might I stumble (if ever) on a stranger actually reading one of my books? Would I walk up and introduce myself as the author? Or would I just stare in stupefied silence?
Follow along and find out.
My debut novel Dark Horse had been on bookshelves for about five or six months. I’d sold the movie rights to Fox and Imagine and had already completed the script and already begun a new screenwriting assignment. I was in the middle of a midday lunch break when I found myself with a jones for a cigar. There was a smoke shop and lounge called The Big Easy in neighboring Studio City near my house. I was a regular there and was friends with the owner, Dodd Harris. It must’ve been two or so in the afternoon when I ambled in. The store, a coffee-house-styled mélange of cool kitsch and antiques, was empty but for a petite brunette in a gray, pin-striped suit. She was parked in the middle of a couch, lit robusto between her index and middle finger and cradling a hardcover book across a pair of seriously watchable thighs. Suffice it to say, I reckon she would’ve stood out just about anywhere, let alone all by herself in an empty locale that was usually populated by men.
I slid into the humidor, browsed until the right cigar called out to me, then checked into the rear office to say hi to the owner and steal a Diet Coke from the fridge.
“Finishing up something here,” said Dodd, staring at numbers on his computer. “Grab a seat and I’ll be out to join you in a bit.”
I retreated back to the lounge area, snipped and lit my smoke, popped the lid on the Diet Coke and sat catty-corner from the rare, cigar-loving damsel and, since she was engrossed in a book, resigned myself to politely leave the lady to her reading.
That was until I saw myself staring back at me. Yeah. That’s right. On the back of the hardcover’s dust jacket was my own smirking mug in black and white.
I flicked a look toward the humidor, expecting to see the shop proprietor standing behind the glass slider, grinning at my own gobsmacked surprise. He wasn’t there. Nor did there appear to be any hidden cameras aimed in my direction.
C’mon, I said to myself, if there ever was an obvious set-up for a joke. I stood, briefly strode to the exit and checked the small parking lot for familiar vehicles. If I was in Punked territory, I wanted to pull the camouflage from any lenses. Again, I discovered nothing suspicious whatsoever.
Certain the joke was still in play, I decided to game the moment and seat myself across from the female reader.
“Hi,” I said, still keeping my periphery senses on full alert.
“Hello,” she replied with barely a blink of her eyelashes, cherry red lipstick perfectly framing her petite mouth.
“Good book?” I asked.
“So far, so good,” she said, checking the thickness of the pages she’d accomplished. She was barely a quarter of the way through nearly four hundred pages.
I kept looking into the humidor to see if my host was spying. Then back over to the entrance. Both spaces, empty.
“Okay,” I said. “This is weird. But I guess it’s supposed to be weird.”
This is where she looked at me. Directly and with smoky brown eyes. As if to dare me to come up with a better qualifier before the obvious come-on line she’d expected.
“The book,” I continued. “That’s my picture on the back.”
Her face screwed into a question mark. Great acting, I thought. Natural. The girl had talent. She turned over the book, studied the gray tones of the photo then looked back at me, pausing as if she was trying to tie in my actual face with the one printed on the back jacket.
“This is you?” she said, pointing to my name on the spine.
“’Fraid so,” I replied, fully expecting the music to start and for her to break into either some silly singing telegram song or—considering her drop dead looks—an embarrassing, congratulatory strip-o-gram.
Still. There appeared no Dodd the Proprietor or anybody else to capture the comic moment.
“Huh,” she said, forming a quizzical smile. “That’s kinda crazy.”
“You’re telling me.”
“I just moved here yesterday,” she said.
Of course, you did.
“And you just happened to walk into my smoke shop to read my book?” I sarcastically queried.
“Yeah,” she laughed. “Guess I sorta did. Started the book on the plane. Then I was craving a cigar so…” She could only shrug.
“So you really wrote this book?”
“It’s really good.”
“So far,” I reminded her.
“I said that, didn’t I?” she admitted. “There’s this D.A. I know.”
“Pennsylvania,” she clarified. “Where I’m from. He read it, liked it enough to recommend it to me. This is his copy.”
“So you’re an attorney?” I guessed. That would’ve accounted for the sharp suit, but not necessarily the obvious body inside it. She returned a flattered smile.
“Lawyer? Oh, no. Not me,” she practically laughed. “Know enough of ‘em. But yeah. Not that kinda girl.”
“Something wrong with lawyers?” I followed.
“Had a few get me out of trouble.” Once again, she turned her lamps on me. Direct. Challenging.
“Well. You already know I’m a writer. Which means I collect lives and stories. And if there ever was a tease for one.”
She paused. Her stare continued. As if she was assessing my trustworthiness.
“I dance,” she finally revealed. “Or at least I did. Now I want to get into management. Why I’m dressed this way. You know. The suit.”
“By dance,” I carried over. “You mean you dance…”
“Exotic,” she smirked. “I strip.”
No shit, I said to myself. Cue the cameras and the music. And dudes? My wife better not ever see this!
“Well,” I gulped, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Glad I didn’t write any strip scenes in the book. Otherwise, you might have something to add your expert critique to.”
“Well, if you ever need a consult. Know the game pretty good by now.”
“Why LA?” I asked, finally introducing myself. “I’m Doug, by the way.”
“Cat,” she replied, accepting my hand. “You’re right. This is weird.”
“My first novel, too.”
“Have an aunt who lives here,” she finally answered. “So why not try LA?”
The conversation continued. She smoked her cigar and I smoked mine. And never, not once, did anybody barge in to announce they’d played a joke on me. There was nobody to spike the football. Just myself and Cat the Stripper engaged in polite and candid chat. Eventually I excused myself to visit the restroom. When passing through Dodd’s office, I had to ask:
“Come on, dude,” I pressed. “Where’s the punch line?”
“What punch line?” he replied, still crunching numbers.
“The looker out there reading my book?”
“Yeah, she’s really hot. A total walk-in. Knows her cigars—wait. She’s reading your book?”
“Yeah. Nice joke. Stripper part was a nice touch.”
“No joke,” he said, shaking his head. “Stripper?”
“So she says.”
“Cigar smoking stripper reading your book?” he laughed. “Man I wish I woulda thought of it.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“Where does she dance. Maybe we can go see her, you know.”
“Yeah. We can bring our wives.”
So there it was. Confirmation. If there was a joke in play, it was and still is on me. My first stumble onto somebody reading my book was this woman named Cat. From Philly. A foxy, cigar-loving stripper. She promised to call me when she finished. I ended up taking her to lunch a couple of times. Research, of course. Some of which appears in my newest novel, 99 PERCENT KILL, which is available this Saturday. Seriously.
Feeling Lucky? Pre-order my first Lucky Dey thriller, 99 PERCENT KILL right now at Amazon.