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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2235558-Twenty-nine
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Thriller/Suspense · #2235558
There's some things in this world you can't explain. (2142 words.)

Twenty-nine



      What if I told you . . .? I know why some great writers die early. Would you listen? Would you believe?

      Well . . . believe or not, this is how it happens.

      Every time Jack J. Novak wrote a new book, his fans lined-up at bookshops all over the world. Some camped overnight on footpaths in all kinds of weather, foul or fair, freezing or sultry, it didn’t matter. All that mattered to them was the assurance that they could buy his latest book—before it sold out.

         He was a mega-star-author: a household name. Somewhere in the world, three people bought one of his books every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day.

         That’s a lot of books.

         At five minutes past nine, in the leafy outer suburbs of Brisbane, a telephone rang in a quiet library tucked away behind a busy shopping centre. It was unusual. It was early, five minutes after opening, and the librarian picked up the phone. “Mt. Ommaney library. My name is Isabel. How may I help you?”

         “Hello, Ms. Novak,” a cultured voice said. “Jules Sinclair calling from London, your uncle’s agent. I’m terribly sorry for your loss. I understand you and Jack were quite close.”

         “Thank you, Mr. Sinclair,” she said. “Everyone’s in shock. He was so young.”

         “He will be sorely missed,” Sinclair said, and he paused a moment. “I hope you don’t consider me crass, but I’d like to meet with you, after the service of course, to discuss his new book idea.”

         “A new book?”

         “Yes. He and I discussed it over the phone. I’ve made notes.”

         “I don’t know anything about—”

         “I’ll explain it all when we meet. You’ll love it,” he said, hanging up.

         Slowly, she put the phone down.


The following week . . .



         Misty, grey clouds hung low above the cemetery, puffy in the damp afternoon air, and rained a fine drizzle over the ocean of black umbrellas moving towards the carpark.

         The service was over. Some lamenters mingled in solemn groups, catching up with rarely seen relatives or friends.

         Jules Sinclair and Isabel watched the line of departing cars from a coffee shop across the road.

         “Jack told me he was retiring the Detective Lucas Martel series,” Sinclair said, sipping his coffee. “He felt twenty-nine novels was enough. He wanted to try his hand at a new series of thrillers.”

         Isabel looked at Sinclair over her cup. “He never told me about it.”

         “Understandable. It is a pretty big deal. I know you were the first to read most of his drafts, and you edited the manuscripts before I ever saw them.”

         “That’s true.”

         “So, I propose you take over where Jack left off.”

         “I’m not a writer.”

         “Oh, come-come my dear, everyone’s a writer. You write—therefore you are. All I’m asking is that you give it a shot. Talent runs deep in your family.”

         “I suppose I could try.”

         Sinclair took a notebook from his pocket. “Here’s Jack’s outline for the first novel of the new Nicholas Slater series . . .”


***



         Isabel Novak finished the first novel. The manuscript was accepted by Sinclair and he sent her the contract post-haste.

         She was overwhelmed by her success and quit her job at the library to write full time. Her following works, all twenty-seven of them, were the same: all number one—worldwide—bestsellers.

         She decided to see the world and travelled extensively with her trusty laptop, but, after many years, she grew tired. The constant attention, the press conferences, the book signings, and the seminars were wearing her thin. She flew home to take a break from it all and spend some time catching up with her son, family, and friends.

         Her mobile rang; she looked at the screen. It was Jules Sinclair calling. “Hello, Isabel. Is everything okay?”

         “Hi Jules,” she said. “I’m a little weary, worn out, just taking a small break.”

         “It’s been nine months. Please tell me the new book is almost ready.”

         “I haven’t even started it.”

         “You cannot do that, Isabel,” he said. “You are contracted for twenty-nine books—”

         She hung up on him.

         Twenty-nine books? she thought. I don’t remember reading that in the contract.

         She strode to her study and grabbed her briefcase, opening it as she sat at her desk and hunted through the compartments until she found the contract. The paper was thick. It was yellowing with age.

         It read: ‘Clause 1: Parties involved.

         This agreement describes the understanding between Sinclair & Co. (“The Agency”) and Isabel Novak (“The Author”), as of—’

         Isabel removed her glasses and wiped her eyes. Reading legal jargon always gave her a throbbing headache, and right now she could feel one coming on. Still, she read on, turning the pages slowly.

         Her eyes grew wide with astonishment when she saw clause twenty-nine.

         It read: ‘Clause 29: Term.

         The term of this agreement is for twenty-nine books and is not terminable. This agreement is governed by the natural laws of cause and effect and—’

         She took off her glasses. She rubbed her eyes again; the text on the page seemed to shrink, becoming smaller and smaller.

          ‘. . . at completion, The Author agrees to transfer all their rights to The Agency including their right to further life and the ownership of their soul.

         Signatures below by the parties named in this agreement.’

         She stared at her own witnessed signature on the following page. She couldn’t believe it.

         It can’t be the same contract, she thought.

         She grabbed her mobile with trembling hands and pressed seven on her speed dial—Sinclair’s direct mobile number.

         “Sinclair and Co,” a young male voice answered. “My name is Tony. How may I help you?”

         “This is Isabel,” she said.

         “Isabel who?” he asked.

         “What?” She was perplexed. “Where’s Jules?”

         “Mr. Sinclair is not available right now.”

         “Where’s Jules?” she said.

         “He’s indisposed.”

         “Okay. We need to talk about my contract.”

         “Just a moment,” he said and put her on hold. She listened to elevator music for what seemed like a long time. Two minutes and nine seconds, to be exact, although she didn’t notice; she paced the carpet.

         He came back on the line. “Sorry about the delay, Isabel.”

         “Yes, yes,” she said, “there’s been a misunderstanding of some sort.”

         “I have your account on my screen. Let’s see now. Isabel Novak. No middle name. Contracted for the term of twenty-nine books—”

         “I don’t remember certain parts of the contract.” She held it up staring at clause twenty-nine. “It says . . . you . . .The Agency . . . gets my soul . . .”

         “That’s correct,” he said, “after one more book.”

         She said nothing.

         “Let’s see now. You met Wilhelm Goren, a Formula-one driver, in Germany, after the first novel. A whirlwind romance. Lasted a bit over six months. Twenty-nine weeks, to be exact. You gave birth to a son and named him James. He would be twenty-eight years old now. Almost twenty-nine.”

         She was silent. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

         “You’re not the most talented writer we have ever represented,” he said. “The only reason for your glamorous success was us. So, honouring the contract is the least you can do.”

         She said nothing.

         “For example,” he said. “You know when you wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea? Or, when you’re just driving along or flying somewhere, and a sensational idea comes to you? Where do you think those ideas come from?”

         “My subconscious,” she said. “The ideas come from the subconscious part of my mind.”

         “Wrong,” he said. “They come from us: The Agency.”

         Speechless.

         “You see? We’re the ones that made you a successful author,” Tony said. “Consider how your life would have been without us.”

         “Who are you?”

         He chuckled. “We’ve been called many names and—”

         She hung up and stared at the phone.

         It’s obvious, she thought. Don’t even start the book. Stop writing!

         Yes.

         Just stop writing!
         

Twenty-nine hours later . . .



         Isabel tried to keep herself busy. Tried to immerse herself in everyday chores around her home. She’d tidied her study and now she seated herself at her desk. She glanced at her closed laptop.

         Just stop writing, she thought.

         She grabbed her letter opener and the first envelope from a pile of many, slicing it neatly. Council rates. She placed it in the ‘to-pay-pile’ at her right elbow. The next one was advertising junk-mail and landed in her bin with a soft paper-to-paper thunk. The following letter was from her bank.

         Isabel stopped breathing as she unfolded the letter. She sat very still and stared at it. Attached to it with a paper clip was a cheque from Sinclair & Co. It was her biannual royalty cheque, returned by her bank, for all of the books she’d written. Big red letters were stamped diagonally across it.

         ‘Insufficient funds.’

         She took a deep breath and let it out with a long sigh. Her eyes wandered to the contract sitting neatly on the far-left corner of her desk.

         All my rights, she thought, including my right to further life and the ownership of my soul.


***



         That same evening, Isabel lay in a tangle of clammy sheets, even though it was a cool night. Discarded blankets and spare pillows littered the carpet of her bedroom. Ceiling-staring is not sleeping, and it wasn’t helping, so she sat up and wiped at her eyes with her three-sizes-too-large t-shirt.

         A nice cup of Chamomile tea, she thought. That’ll help me sleep.

         Her feet padded down the hallway towards the kitchen when she noticed a faint-blue glow coming from under her study’s door. She put her hand on the cold door handle and stopped to listen.

         Silence.

         She turned the handle and pushed the door open. The faint-blue light was coming from her open laptop and gently spilled out into the dim hallway. She glanced around the study.

         That laptop was definitely closed, she thought, as she made her way around the desk. I must be going mad.

         It was an open Microsoft-document and words appeared on the page with furious speed, page after page. The header read: Legacy—Book twenty-nine—Final draft – Saved to this PC.

         She pressed escape. Nothing changed. She pressed the power button, holding it down. Nothing. She tried to close it. The lid was stuck—jammed solidly open. She picked it up and slammed it down on her desk with all the strength she could muster. It bounced and settled at an odd angle.

        The words continued.

         She grabbed her briefcase with both hands, raising it above her head and brought it down with a huge grunt, which would have shamed any female tennis player.

         CRASH!

         The screen cracked and broke away from the keyboard. Lettered keys flew in all directions, skittering across her desk, dotting the carpet.

         She took a deep breath. That killed you.

         But her eyes grew wide with cold fear as the broken screen lit up again.

         It read: ‘Slater coughed. Crimson spilled from the corners of his mouth. The gunshot wound quietly sucked air with each shallow breath.

         Diana knelt beside him holding his head in her arms. “Stay with me, Nicholas.”

         “Did I get him?” His eyes fluttered.

         “Yes,” she said, with a sob. “You got them all.”

         Nicholas Slater smiled for the last time and closed his eyes.

         
The End.’



One week later . . .

         

         Misty, grey clouds hung low above the cemetery, puffy in the damp afternoon air, and rained a fine drizzle over the ocean of black umbrellas moving towards the carpark.

         The service was over. Some lamenters mingled in solemn groups, catching up with rarely seen relatives or friends.

         Jules Sinclair and James Novak watched the line of departing cars from a coffee shop across the road.

         “Isabel told me she was retiring the Nicholas Slater series,” Sinclair said, sipping his coffee. “She felt twenty-nine novels was enough. She wanted to try her hand at a new series of thrillers.”

         James looked at Sinclair over his cup. “She never told me about it.”

         “Understandable. It is a pretty big deal. I know you were the first to read most of her drafts, and you edited the manuscripts before I ever saw them.”

         “That’s true.”

         “So, I propose you take over where Isabel left off.”

         “I’m not a writer.”

         “Oh, come-come James, everyone’s a writer. You write—therefore you are. All I’m asking is that you give it a shot. Talent runs deep in your family.”

         “I suppose I could try.”

         Sinclair took a notebook from his pocket. “Here’s Isabel’s outline for the first novel of the new Gordon Beck series . . .”
         
© Copyright 2020 T.J.Gunn (t.j.gunn at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2235558-Twenty-nine