Hennessey's Pub was exactly what Savannah Miller expected to find in a town the size of Monotoning. It was your typical, small town bar, located on the first floor of a long, rambling, three-story, white-wooden, barn-like structure, with a wide, wooden gallery facing Main Street. A dead, neon Budweiser sign hung slightly askew in one of the windows.
Savannah made a left at the corner and parked her shiny, red I-roc Z, next to Peter Wildwood's grimy, old Chevy sedan, in the narrow gravel lot behind the bar. Peter was already waiting for her, when she got out of her car. His beautiful, brown eyes lit up the moment he saw her---even though it had only been thirty-five minutes since they'd first met each other, at the offices of the Morning Ledger, on Jefferson Boulevard, in nearby in Ellentown. The right corner of his mouth slipped upward in an easy smile, which Savannah thought was cute and adorable, and made him look totally irresistible.
He stood there, looking awkward and clumsy, and uncertain, almost like a nervous, pimple-faced adolescent on his very first date---this was definitely not a date, although Savannah suddenly found herself wishing it was. Peter watched with a somber, contemplative expression on his handsome face, while she locked her car door. His expression quickly changed to one of perplexed amusement, when she opened her trunk, carefully placing her expensive, red-leather briefcase next to her pristine spare tire and slammed down the lid, and locked it with her key.
Then he smiled that charming and disarming smile of his, again. They started to walk slowly, side by side, without saying a word or looking at each other. Savannah's high, stiletto heels crunched softly on the loosely packed gravel. Glancing out the corner of her eye, to her left, on the other side of the narrow alley, she spied a fat, dumpy, old man, in a tight-fitting, red T-shirt and a bluse baseball cap. The man sat on what looked to Savannah to be an old kitchen chair, in the stagnant, black shade of ancient elm tree, which appeared to have sprouted full-grown, straight out of the shattered sidewalk. In the pudgy fingers of his right hand, he grasped the plastic handle of a fly swatter, as if it was some kind of royal scepter.
Peter opened the ripped screen door, at the back of the building, and then the brown door, behind it, and graciously ushered Savannah into the bar. At five o'clock on Saturday afternoon, Savannah was surprised to discover, that besides the bartender, there were only four other people seated at the long, horse shoe-shaped bar. Two were obviously pensioners, quietly sipping their beers, munching on sandwiches and potato chips. The other two were tall, brawny, construction worker-types, somewhere in their early to mid-twenties. Despite the horrendous heat outside, they were dressed in the almost obligatory, plaid, flannel shirts, tight, threadbare jeans and blocky work boots. The moment Savannah walked through the back door, as one, the five men turned their heads and stared at her, ogling her intently, with their leering, lustful eyes.
Savannah was relieved and grateful when Peter steered her toward one of the round-topped tables, against the wall, on their left. He even pulled a chair out for her, which was something no man had done for her in years. She smiled demurely at batted her long, dark lashes at him, and ducked her eyes. She felt a warm blush color her cheeks. "Thank you," she said sofly.
He asked if she would like something from the bar. She told him, "A Molson's Gold would be nice."
She took her wallet from her purse and laid a twenty dollar bill on the table. But Peter had already ambled over to the bar. The bartender was a short, frumpy-looking man with a bad Moe Howard haircut. A pair of wire-framed glasses rested precariously on the blunt tip of his nose.
Savannah was taken aback when she heard the bartender say to Peter, "Hey, there, Crazy Eddie. What can I do ya for, today?"
A minute later, Peter returned to their table with a coldly sweating bottle of Molson's Gold in one hand and a tall Pilsner glass in the other. He carefully poured the beer into the glass, and set the glass and the half-empty bottle of berr on the table, in front of her.
"Thank you, sir," she said, in what she hoped was a seductive and alluring voice, and raised her glass in salute.
He returned her smile with a lopsided, little grin of his own. "You're entirely welcome, ma'am," he muttered shyly.
He made one more trip to the bar. This time, he came back with a frosted mug, filled with Coca-Cola, and a cold meatloaf sandwich on a paper plate.
"Hey, listen," he said. He looked and sounded embarrassed. "I really do have to apologize for eating in front of you like this. But I haven't eaten all day and I'm starved."
She offered him a gracious smile. "That's quite all right. You go right ahead and eat. I don't mind. Honest. But can I ask you a question? Why did that goofy-looking guy behind the bar call you Crazy Eddy?"
"Oh, that, " Peter said. He smiled and shrugged. "One night, a long time ago, I was sitting in here and shooting the breeze with the rest of the regular customers. I said something truly outrageous, as I've been known to do, from time to time. Dell said I must be crazy. I told him I was crazy and that I had the papers at home to prove it. Ever since then, he's called me crazy Eddy. Dell gives stupid names to all of his regular customers. He thinks it makes them feel special."
You are special, Savannah wanted to tell him, but didn't.
Peter sat hunched forward, his elbows resting on the table's sharp, round edge, taking small, delicate bites of his sandwich. As Savannah watched him eat, once again, she felt an immediate and undeniable attraction to his curly, brown hair and dark eyes, his hawk-like nose, and roughly bristled jaw. She especially liked the little dimple in his chin.
His broad shoulders were level and square as a shaved beam and his biceps bulger like a pair of cannon balls beneath the stiff, damp fabric of his denim shirt. Peter's forearms were just as strong and brown, and hairy, as those of the two construction workers seated at the bar. A few loose coils of wiry, brown hair curled over the front of his shirt, which thrilled and excited Savannah. The sight of hair had always been a major turn on Savannah; her father had a hairy chest.
Savannah suddenly envisioned her living room, with the lights out and the candles light. She was stretched out on her sofa and this handsome, rugged, verile man was lying on top of her, the both of them all hot and sweaty. They made love fast and furious, and then slow and langorious, on the sofa, and on the imported bear skin rug, on ther living room floor. In her bed and on her bedroom floor. In the shower and on the bathroom floor, although their legs and feet would probably stick out of the open doorway. On the hard, smooth, glassy surface of the old-fashioned, roll-top desk, in her den, and on the den floor, with it slippery shag rug. On the kitchen table and the kitchen counter, and on the kitchen floor, and in the dark, narrow hallway that led from her living room to the bedroom. In every dark and quiet nook and cranny, on every hard and smooth surface of her cramped, little studio apartment.
She pictured him seated at the roll-top desk in her quiet, little den, furiously pounding out a fresh, new masterpiece on his wireless notebook. Quick and quiet as a cat, she stole up behind, throwing her arms around his wide, massive shoulders. He froze for just a second. But his long, knotted fingers continued to relentlessly tap the keyboard, seemingly unaware of her presence.
After another moment, his fingers finally ceased their feverish pecking. He turned in his/her creaky, squeaky, old swivel chair and tilited back his head to greet her. That light snapped on in his eyes and he smiled that little-boy smile of his. She bent down to meet him and they kissed each other on the lips, the same way they had done a thousand times before.
Savannah's mind and body quivered with excitement and anticipation.
She cast a quick, impatient glance out the window, behind her. "So, do you live near here?" she asked, innocently enough.
Peter paused long enough to wash down a moutful of sadnwich with a long slug of his Coe. He dabbed at the corner of his mouth with a paper napkin.
"As a matter of fact, I have a house just a block from here. I bought it, a year ago, from a kid who works at the post office, here, in town. His parents died in a really bad motorcycle accident, five years ago, and he didn't want to keep it, anymore. He said the place held too many memories for him. He could have sold it for three times what I paid him for it. But hey, what can I say? He's living in a condo, now. up in Autumn Hills."
"Have you written anything new lately?"
"I have about two hundred pages of something new."
"Could I take a look at them?"
She saw his gaze drift to the long, symmetrical digits of both her hands. Seeing no ring anywhere, he smiled. "I think that could be arranged."
She just hoped he had protection. She remembered seeing a 7-11, down by the railroad tracks, on her way into town. Hopefully, she could persuade him to stop there and purchase a pack, before they went back to his place.
"You know, I was the first one to read your novel when you submitted it to Beacon House," she told him. "I took it home with me, at five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, and I finished the last page, eleven hours later, just as the sun was starting to come up."
"Really?" Peter said. He looked and sounded amazed. And impressed. "You read the whole thing in one night? All seven hundred pages?"
She nodded. "Uh-huh. All seven hundred pages," she said proudly. "I just breezed right through them like they were water. And then, I passed it on to Sue Langford, another junior editor at Beacon House. It took her two nights to read it. She, in turn, handed it to over to Nick Dellman. He was like me. It only took him twelve hours to read your manuscript. Each of us wrote a glowing recommendation of your novel.
"Mr. Griffin White, the president of Beacon House Publishing, read each of our recommendations. Then he sat down in his office, behind closed doors, and he read your novel. At our weekly meeting, yesterday afternoon, Mr. White said that he totally agreed with us. He said your novel was one of the finest pieces of literature he's ever read---and this comes from a man who's been in the publishing business for close to forty years, now. He agreed with me that we had to send someone down here, as soon as possible, to get you to sign with Beacon House, before another publishing company swooped in like the hungry vultures they are, and snatched you away from us. And since I was coming down the way, anyway, this weekend---my parents live in Philly---I happily volunteered to swing by and persuade you to sign a contract and accept our advance check."
"And I'm so very glad to you did," Peter said.
"Me, too," Savannah readily agreed. "And if I can come back to work, on Monday morning, with your signed contract in my hand, they're going to make me the new senior editor at Beacon House. Seeing as I was the one who first discovered your manuscrip, so to speak."
"Well, congratulations on your promotion," Peter said. He smiled that disarming smile of his and raised his heavy glass mug in a hearty salute.
"Thank you, sir." She matched his vibrant smile with a glowing smile of her own, as she lighly touched the rim of her tall Pilsner glass to the mouth of his mug. For one short but beautiful moment, their eyes met and locked.
I'm also goind to be your wife, she thought,although you don't know it, yet. But you will know it by the end of this weekend.
"You know," she said, "I honestly believe that, ten years from now, when all is said and done, your novel,Doomed Desires, will be on every critic's list in America as one of the top ten novels of the decade. Maybe even the novel of the century. Who knows?"
When she said that, Peter's eyes grew large and round as a pair of china plates and his thick lips formed a perfect circle. "Oh, wow," he barely managed to gasp. "You really think so?"
"Yes," Savannah said, nodding empathically. "Your novel has everything. Sex, drugs, violence, and drama. Plenty of drama. And your characters. They're all so three-dimensional and incredibly life-like. They all just seem to jump right off the page at you. Especially your heroine, Callie Morgan. She was superb. There's just no other way to describe her."
"That's because I'm androgynous.," Peter said brightly. Seeing Savannah's perplexed expression, he hastened to explain. "The real Callie Morgan, the woman on whom I based the character in the book, once told me I was androgynous. That I could see both sides of story, male and female."
"Well, she was certainly right about that," Savannah said and laughed. "Whatever happened to her? The real Callie Morgan, I mean."
"Oh, fifteen years ago, the night after we graduated from high school, she suddenly decided she wanted to be a big movie star, and she hopped on the first Greyhound bus headed for Hollywood. I haven't seen or heard from her since. We'd probably be married by now, if she hadn't done that."
"I'm sorry," Savannah said in a tender, consoling tone. Secretly, she was glad. "I would have liked to meet her."
"I wouldn't mind seeing her again, myself."
Peter looked down at the table and shook his head, looking forlorn. But after another moment, the sadness seemed to pass. Now, he appeared pleased and flattered, and thrilled and excited, and secretly embarrassed---probably, Savannah surmised, from the over-abundance of lavish praise she had heaped upon his brilliant first novel.
"And to think I almost never wrote the damn thing," he muttered to himself.
"Really?" Savannah was shocked. "That would've been a terrible tragedy."
"Ah, I spent too much time in this dump," he said, with a sudden, savage edge in his normally placid voice. He sounded to Savannah like the type of kind, sweet man who could forgive everyone but himself. "For over five years, I sat in here and drank, from the time I got off work, until Dell closed the place, at two in the morning. I did that six days a week, Monday through Saturday. And when Dell decided to open the place on Sunday afternoons, I came in here and drank then, too. During all the time I spent in here, I must've drank enough beer to float the entire Seventh Fleet. If I'd saved all the money I blew in this place, I could be living in a beach house in Malibu, by now."
Or in a studio apartment with a sky light, in New York City, with me, Savannah thought and smiled. The thought made her feel warm all over.
"You see, I was the hail-fellow, well-met, kind of drinker," Peter. I'd tell Dell and his wife Nancy, 'Give that guy a beer on me. Give that other fella a beer and a shot on me."
"What made you quit?" Savannah asked. "Did you go to AA?"
"Nah. I came in here, one Friday night, with over two hundred dollars in my wallet. The next afternoon, I woke up with the worst hangover I'd ever had in my life. It felt like someone had buried an axe in my forehead and left it there. When I checked my wallet, all that I had left out of that original two hundred dollars was about eleven dollars and thirty-one cents. I rushed outside to check my car. There weren't any unexplained dents or blood on it---thank God." Peter grinned and shook his head, chuckling at his own stupidity.
"That alone should have been more than enough to make me stop drinking for good," he said. "But there was more to it than that. I know you've probably figured me out by now, a beautiful, intelligent women like you. But for as long as I can remember, ever since I've been old enough to pick up a pencil and scratch words on paper, my one burning ambition in life has always been to become a great writer, someday. I started sending out short stories to all the major magazines when I was still in high school. And of course, they came back to me almost as fast as I sent them out. All with the same dreaded, standard rejection slip. Thanks, but no thanks. You're an editor. I'm sure you know the drill.
"In those days, being young and brace---or incredibly stupid, depending on your point of view---I slipped my stories inside a fresh envelope and sent them out again, lickety-split. And got them back again, lickety-split. By the time I started at the paper in Ellentown, I'd collected over three hundred of those bad boys. I still have them. I keep them all in a large, vanila envelope in what I call my writing trunk, in my bedroom closet. I used to laugh and tell everyone that someday, when I finally made it big, I was going to wallpaper my bathroom with the damn things. And now, come to think of it, I can finally do it."
Peter threw back his head and laughed, a victorious, triumphant laugh.
"The first year I worked at the paper, whenever I got a rejection slip, my co-workers were all generally solicitous of my misfortune," he told Savannah. "But after another year or so, when I still continued to receive nothing but rejection slips for my labors, they all started to try and gently dissuade him from what they obviously considered a grave folly on my part. And after another two years of slaving six days a week, sometimes twelve and forteen hours a day, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was sit down in front of my laptop and try and write. All I wanted to do was plop myself down on the sofa and stare at the television for a couple of hours, before I dragged my sorry ass off to bed. That was right around the time I took up drinking as a second profession.
"But that fateful Saturday afternoon, when that horrible hangover finally subsided, I looked at my trusty, old laptop, sitting on the dining room table. I hadn't touched it for so long, that it was covered with at least three inches of dust. Honest to God. I thought of all the nights I'd sat in this bar, dreaming of the great novel I wasnted to write and not being able to write one word, and yet bragging to anyone who would listen about how I was going to be a rich and famous novelist someday, like Stephen King. That made me sad. And mad. That was the moment when something inside of me suddenly decided that it was time to either put up or shut up. Either write a damn novel or throw my laptop in the dumpster and never thing about ever writing anything, again. So I sat down and wrote a novel. And here we are."
Peter paused a took a long, deep, slow breath. He gulped down a huge mouthful of his soad. Savannah found herself looking at this man not only with lust in her eyes but with respect and admiration, and awe, as well, which were emotions she had never felt for any man---except, of course, for her boss, Mr. Griffin White. But she'd had Mr. White and quickly tired of him. Besides, he was old and married. She wanted a man for herself. She wanted this man!
He set his mug back down on the table and licked at his lips with his tongue. "Hey, listen," he said. "I'm sorry. I must be boring you to death. I sometimes have this bad habit of rambling on and on, without realizing I'm doing it."
"Oh, no, no, no. Not at all," Savannah said quickly. This time, she finally gave into her impulse and slid her right hand across the table, so that he round, red fingertips just barely touched the blunt fingertips of Peter's right hand. She leaned closer, creating a gentle aura of intimacy between them.
"I love listening to you talk," she told him. "You talk just like you write. I could listen to you talk all day and night."
"Well, in that case," Peter said and laughed. He shook his head. "No, seriously...But if you don't mind my asking, where is the contract and my advance check?"
"They're both in my briefcase, in the trunk of my car. Under the circumstances, the though of flashing around a check for fifty thousand dollars in a place like this made me feel uncomfortable."
"You got that right."
"You're going to need a photograph for the dust jacket of your novel," she said.
Peter's face took on a pained expression. "Ah, no," he groaned, sounding exactly like a little boy who didn't want to eat his broccoli. "Must I? I hate having my picture taken. They never come out right. The picture on my driver's license makes me look like a Seminole Indian."
Savannah nodded. "I'm afraid so," she said, in a quiet, emphatic voice. "You know, there are many fine photography studios in New York. If you ever decide to visit Beacon House, I'd be happy to show you some of them."
Peter seriously considered her proposition for a moment or two. Then he shook his head.
"Nah, no thanks," he said. "I think I'll pass. I'm just not a big city kinda guy."
"Have you ever been to New York? It has a lot to offer someone like you. Time Square, Rockerfeller Center, the museums. Not to mention the night life."
"I've been to New York," Peter shot back defensively; he sounded hurt and angry. "Just because I live in a small town doesn't mean I'm a total hick. The last time I was in New York, I was eighteen. I went with my high school Humanities class. We saw Fiddler On the Roof on Broadway," he said proudly, as if that was the crowning achievement of his life, so far.
"Now, don't get me wrong," he said. "I like New York, I really do. I like sitting in St. Patrick's cathedral and eating ice cream at Schraf's, and riding around on the subway. But only in the afternoon. I'd never do it at night, though, I can tell you that much. New York is a wonderful place to visit for a dary, maybe even for a week, but I could never live there. Heck, this neck of the woods is getting way too crowded for me. If I went galavanting off to the Big Apple, I'd be swallowed up in no time, at all."
"Not with me, you wouldn't," Savannah said.