I was on the porch kicked back with my eyes closed; it was a lovely warm breezy day, when I felt a chill. I opened my eyes to behold him, one of the characters from "Swallow the Moon" sitting opposite me.
Van Man Go was smoking, as usual, a mixture of tobacco and pot. For once he was dressed in clean clothes, no paint stains on the tee shirt, nor holes in his jeans. His hair had been trimmed; his hands were clean of paint.
"You're all dressed up." I sat up. "What's up, Van?"
"We need to talk."
"Sure, want some coffee or a soda?"
"No, thanks. I'm good." He took another hit, careful not to blow the smoke at me.
I smiled, Van is never, ever good. He is the embodiment of dissipation, a man wrecked by excess. Completely uninterested in redemption, he is the perfect foil for a goody-two-shoes hero or heroine or two.
"This looks serious." I took a sip of cranberry juice. "What do you want to talk about?"
"It is the manuscript. I don't want to end up dead at the end of the book."
Van doesn't beat around the bush. I like that about him.
"Well, the book isn't finished yet. I don't know what is going to happen."
"Sure you do. They end up back at her place, where the kitchen ceiling gets a couple grand in water damage." He flicked the ashes over the side of the porch. "Waste of a good ceiling if you ask me." He flashed me a smile that showed off the fanged caps of his teeth.
"Then what's the problem?"
"The final chapters are about five pages each. That's not your style." He pointed a thin finger at me. "I know you. You write ten to fifteen pages a chapter. So half the ending is still up there." He tapped the side of his head. Then he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. "Spill it. What happens to me?"
"Bullshit. You’re a romance writer. Happily Ever After is the name of the game. Justice will prevail and the bad guy always gets whacked in the end. You don't fight the tropes, ever. That means I get snuffed in the last chapter."
"That's not true."
"I think we can make a deal." Van leaned back, smiled and took a deep hit. His brown eyes narrowed as he regarded me. Here on my porch in the Kentucky afternoon sunlight he looked less like Gollum and more like a dried up version of some people I knew from the Harbor.
"I think not," Van smiled again. "Kitty, you've got a hole in the plot big enough to ride a herd of horses through." He waved at the three horses cropping grass on the other side of the fence. "Consider all your options."
There are times when I wish all my characters talked to me. Right now I would like Van to shut up and go away. Why couldn't I be having this conversation with Eric? Hmm – yeah a conversation with my hunky hero. Nix that. My husband would have a large farm animal.
"Look, Van, I appreciate your survival instinct." I fidgeted with my pen, tapping it on the table. "You're sneaky, sly and crafty at staying out of situations that can get you whacked."
"I'm flattered." Another smile, as he sat back, crossed his legs and took another hit. "Keep talking." The pose would have done a GQ model proud. Instead he was bald, pale as a ghost and his skin hung on him like an ill-fitting suit.
"I've said all I'm going to say."
"I have terms."
No smile this time, a level stare still holding the GQ pose. He took another hit off the stub of the cigarette; it vanished as if he had inhaled it.
"You're a hard case." His foot tapped air, while his eyes measured me. It was a ploy to see if he could make me nervous. "I'll make it worth your while to keep me around."
"Later." He vanished in a puff of smoke.
I downed the last of my cranberry juice.