It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter VII (Part II)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writing Month Contest. As of this post, he has passed the 30,000 word mark, and is once again eating solid food".)

Friday came surprisingly quick then. I had almost begun to believe that Monday was some sort of elaborate practical joke, or perhaps even a vivid hallucination, shared by my family, my co-worker, and at least one waitress. The only thing that kept me from buying into this completely was the sight of the mysteriously loony DVD sitting on my desk at the office. Every time I sat down, it stood out like a marmoset at a royal tea party.

The thing had almost taken on a life of its own, in my mind at least. For a few days, I would come back from the loo or from lunch to find the disk moved to a different part of my desk or turned over. This was fairly disturbing until Stew admitted that he’d been doing it as a little joke to take the edge off of the tension. He gave it up when I revealed that each time it happened I became that much dizzier and the throbbing in my head that much more pronounced. I also did a bit of a stumble and complained of chest pains. That was my practical joke for the week.

Actually, I was feeling much better than I probably had a right to. I was even relatively nice to Heath when he called up and mentioned casually that the potential book deal with Manchester Technical Printing had fallen through on account that they had utterly no use for a humourous book on e-mails that might contain a tip or two about using Microsoft Outlook. I was feeling chipper enough to mention that I was writing a novel and I could hear him literally fall out of his chair on the other end of the phone.

“Earl, that’s fabulous news!” he said, a slight giddiness in his voice.

“Better get back to Pneumatic Tubes Press of Birmingham then,” I happily suggested.

“Man, it’s like you read my mind.” He replied and then excused himself to make several calls about this development to various publishers, all of which, I suspected would be headed off by devotedly zealous publishing secretaries, determined to keep any and all actual reading material away from their bosses.

In any case, the DVD sat on my desk occupying its own little space, scorned by the various pencils, pens, sticky notes, and paperweights disguised as golf balls. I was half tempted to watch it again, in case it was like one of those pictures that looks plain and meaningless at a first glance but stared at in just the right way reveals another completely different picture hidden underneath the obvious visuals.

I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the repetitive, deranged voice though. My nerves were just starting to come back around and I didn’t want to reinjure them. Instead, I wrote a piece relating to the election, and a long bit about how strange it is that you can find a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Victoria Station in London, but would starve looking for decent pub grub in most American cities outside of Florida, L.A., and New York. I availed myself of the opportunity to make as many “bangers and mash” jokes as were decent, which admittedly isn’t many.

So I stared at the DVD in its case instead. It seemed a happy compromise at the time, but I quickly wound up going back to research the number of times the phrase “finger lickin’ good” appears in the British press. Finding few examples, I spent an hour adding another 2,000 words to the novel, most of them having to do with the ex-model getting her skirt caught in a revolving door on a breezy day.

This relative calm was utterly shattered by two events that happened in the middle of the day, just after a hearty lunch of Carne Asada and Stew’s and my favourite Mexican bistro. The first was a phone call that greeted me just as I sat back down at my desk and brushed the tortilla crisp crumbs off of my jumper. Stew was hitting practice putts across the floor into a paper coffee cup.

“Hello,” I optimistically answered.

“Mr. Fando,” came a silky voice, with just a hint of Chinese diction, “Did you enjoy your burrito and cheese dip?”

I made a slight choking noise, although the only thing in my windpipe was suddenly very thick and dry air.

“I’m very disappointed that you haven’t taken the time to return my call,” the voice continued.

“Mr. Wang!” I sat so loudly that Stew’s putter slipped out of his hand and crushed the paper cup, which was a full 20 feet away.

“Well, I’m surprised to hear back from you,” I continued. “I thought you would have realised by now that I am as clueless as a former employee of a business firm can get, don’t you know.”

“Mr. Fando,” Wang replied, with great calmness, “You underestimate me as much as your pretend to underestimate yourself.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Wang,” I replied, “I assure you that I underestimate myself with great accuracy.”

Stew looked at me as though I had just spoken in Finnish.

“Mr. Fando, I think that you are not applying your imagination to the situation enough. This can all be resolved very simply.”

“So, you’re going to stop calling?” I suggested.

Mr. Wang laughed that damned annoying soft laugh of his. It was annoying because he was so good at it, and when I tried it, I only managed to sound like Barney Rubble from the Flintstones.

“Mr. Fando, I think you know what we want. It’s sitting on the desk right in front of you.”

“My PC?” I replied. “You can’t have that!”

“No, Mr. Fando.”

“My November’s Reader’s Digest?”

“Mr. Fando…”

“My lucky Neil Diamond coffee mug?”

“Now you’re just making that up.”

He was absolutely correct. It was actually a Doctor Who coffee mug, which I kept perpetually filled with ink pens and one neon green highlighter.

“Oh…,” I said with feigned realisation, “my special 118 yard holed shot golf ball!”

“The DVD, Mr. Fando,” Mr. Wang finally said, with the resignation of someone who has just lost a very hard fought twenty-seven hour game of Monopoly.

“Listen, Mr. Wang,” I replied. “If you’ve wanted this DVD so bad, why haven’t you just come up and nicked it whilst I’m out on errands or indisposed with nervous bowels?

“Mr. Fando, I am not about to break the law capriciously simply to speed along the inevitable,” he replied. “I am a very patient man and I know how to get what I want in the most effective and untroubled way.”

I had to admit that he was quite impressive. Many people, including a host of drive through window fast food servers, technical help personnel for computer manufacturers, and phone solicitors had been brought to tears or obscene invective by my “playing dumb” routine, even in its most lame incarnation, which was to be expected in the case of dealing with people packing large caliber handguns. In fact, the only people who have ever been completely immune to it were government workers, who were trained to begin any interaction with the public under the assumption that the average person was as stupid as a wet brick.

I suddenly realised that Mr. Wang was not simply a member of a Chinese criminal gang. He was working for the Chinese government.

“Let me think it over a bit more,” I finally replied.

“Of course,” replied Mr. Wang, with a trace of satisfaction in his voice, “A most eminently reasonable course of action. You have my number when you are ready. Please convey my best to Mr. Miller,” and with that, he hung up.

Stew had picked up the other line midway through the call and nearly fell out of his chair when he heard his name mentioned. At least that’s what I thought, but it turned out that he only fell out because he was trying to juggle two gold balls in the air and listen in at the same time.

“Well, I guess he’s not giving up,” Stew remarked.

“I’m not surprised,” I responded. “He’s playing this like a game of chess, without the little alarm clock to speed things up, and with a twelve-hour nap after each move.”

“Sounds like a Chinese government agent to me,” Stew observed. “A Chinese gang member would have blown your head off with a bazooka after that conversation.”

Somehow, that was a strangely comforting comment, if only for the fact that Stew and I were on the same wavelength regarding the affiliation of Mr. Wang. Also, if we were wrong, I had no evidence that Mr. Wang or Mr. Dong possessed a bazooka or could smuggle one through customs.

“So, they want the DVD,” I said in a conspiratorial tone.

“Well, I kind of thought it had something to do with that,” said Stew, with a sort of “didn’t you figure that out” tone in his voice.

“Well, I suppose the word ‘Yangtze’ left me thinking there was some connection.” I offered.

“Maybe you’ve just gotten a hold of some sort of kooky tourist commercial and they want it back,” Stew suggested.

“Except they sent it to me, whoever they is,” I replied.

Stew sat in deep thought for a moment. He then looked up suddenly.

“I’m out,” he announced, and returned to his putting with a new paper cup.

Almost immediately after this brief conversational debriefing, there was a commotion in the hallway. There was the sound of a door opening and then a squeal of surprise It sounded like someone in one of the other offices was accosting an intruder.

“What are you doing in that office?” pealed the trembling voice of an older woman. It sounded very much like the secretary of the private bookkeeping firm down the hall. There was an indistinct voice which addressed her. “No, I don’t care if it’s a mistake!” continued the shaky woman’s voice. “You’re trespassing and if you don’t leave now I’m calling the police!”

There was a door slam and quiet footsteps coming down the hall, towards our office. Another door opened and the indistinct voice spoke again and yet another nervous female voice came back, “No, I’m sorry, this is Mutual Insurance. I… I think the office you’re looking for is down the hall sir.”

Stew and I both looked at one another. We both seemed to have the same idea that this might be a surprise visit from our Chinese friends. Without speaking, I gathered from his look that he had the same idea as I. Mr. Wang had feigned patience and was not coming up to apply a charming bit of brute force.

Stew reached into his golf bag and grabbed his driver. He then looked at it more closely, looked at me, and then put it back.

“Toss me the club,” I hissed.

“It’s brand new!” he hissed back and reached into the bag, pulled out the nine-iron and tossed that to me, grip first. He pulled out a three-iron himself.

“Like either one of us could hit that club,” I whispered nervously, as the footprints grew louder.

Stew gave me a sour look and moved towards the doorway, positioning himself so that he would be behind the door when it swung open. I moved towards the other side of the door and pressed myself flat against the wall. We both raised the clubs into the air as the footsteps stopped right outside our office. We heard shallow breathing outside, but it only sounded like one pair of footsteps had arrived outside the door. I glanced around at the windows in case someone else was prowling around outside, or worse, taking aim through one of them.

The doorknob began to slowly turn. Stew leaned forward with the club high above his head. I held the nine-iron to the outside of my shoulder to as to swing it around and not get crossed up with Stew’s club.

The door flashed open.

“Surprise!!!” shouted a most un-Chinese baritone voice, with a flourish.

Stew and I stood transfixed with amazement. In the doorway stood a tallish male figure with dark hair, wearing a long yellow robe made of what appeared to be yak’s wool. He had a pair of indigo blue pants on underneath the robe made from the same soft-looking wool. Strangely enough, I recognized the robe as a traditional Sherpa chuba from Nepal, with the accompanying kanam pants. He wore yak’s hide kaza shoes and was carefully attired in a prized kata scarf. He stood in the doorway with his arms outstretched, holding a bright grass green cashmere blanket in one hand and an ornamental wood carving in the other.

“You guys going out for a round of golf?” he asked.

Stew and I lowered our clubs and looked at each other, jaws slack.

It was Nuffy.

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