It’s been years since I was back in the city, a place where I was born, went to college, made most of the friends I still stay in touch with, met my future wife and was never anxious to leave. Then life happened and, while I’m not complaining, I do miss it more than I care to admit.
So this was an invite I couldn’t pass up. My agent wanted me to meet a producer who had taken an interest in one of my early crime novels. The first, really, that got me reviewed by the holy grail of literature: The New York Times Book Review.
“So, what are you working on now?” Sheila Gentry asked after an hour bantering about how the industry had changed and how backlists have almost disappeared and how Amazon had sucked the creative life out of modern literature.
“A novella about a gang that kidnaps those suffering from amnesia and is able, with the aid of a drug, to tear away their emotional boundaries of right and wrong and program them to carry out crimes.”
“Fucking fascinating,” she said, sitting across from me in The Green Kitchen coffee shop where she was to meet some friends later.
Tall, thin, and cutting edge stylish, Sheila Gentry at forty-eight looked like the photos I’d seen connecting her to a half dozen blockbuster movies in the last two decades.
“Into my second draft and deciding who lives and who dies.”
She sipped away at her herbal tea and leaned back, reflecting. “Interesting how authors have the power of life and death.”
“In our fantasy world, yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as power.”
“Of course it’s power, just another form of it, fantasy or not.”
“I have the power over life and death on paper, but you have that same but far greater influence in the real world.”
Sheila Gentry looked like a woman who, at this point in our meeting, would take out a cigarette, sit back, and wait until someone else lit it. Wearing a bright yellow blouse and deeply creased white linen slacks, she stood out as class and power with every nuanced gesture.
“You’re one of the most successful and influential producers in the industry, and who and what you decide to finance can make or break them. In a sense, you have the power, and not metaphorically, of who lives and who dies. You probably get pitched hundreds of times a year, are working on multiple projects at a time and seem to know more about genuine character development than most of the writers I’ve met. That’s a very real skill and rare in this business.”
She crushed out what remained of her cigarette. “Do you golf, Mr. Briggs?”
“No, not at all.”
“Good. Because I have never produced a movie where the author played golf.”
“Good to know, now maybe you could help me decide whether or not to kill off one of my main characters,” I said, throwing out the bait. Her reputation of getting “overinvolved” in story development to the point of undermining an author’s passion was baggage many writers felt was intrusive, if not threatening.
“Kill who you want, Brian. I have complete faith you will choose wisely,” she said, called for the check, and waved off my gesture to take care of the tab. “This has been a delightful conversation and I am glad we had the opportunity.”
“The pleasure was mine,” I said as she departed as quickly as she came.
The waitress filled my empty cup with a freshly brewed serving as I quickly scanned the list of text messages from my agent and friends eager to know how the meeting went backed up on my cell phone.
“Excuse me, Mr. Briggs, Mr. Brian Briggs, my name is Detective Warren Rogers?” the man said, discreetly flashing his badge. “Do you mind if we step outside for a minute?”
“Outside?” I answered as I reflected on my conversation with Sheila Gentry. Had I acted too confident, too aggressive or, as I had rehearsed, respectfully complimentary and confident?
“We have a few questions we would like to ask you, and this isn’t really the right place to do it.”
“My name is Kelly Johnson, Detective Johnson,” Roger’s partner said as we exited the coffee shop where he was leaning against their unmarked car. “I hope we didn’t interrupt your meeting. We wanted to wait until your friend left.”
“Not a friend, more a contact, and how can I help you officers.”
What a great caper! I couldn't figure out where this was going, which turned out to be everywhere.
A great read! I really enjoyed the twists and turns. It's amazing how Katerina became real and believable.
Enjoyed it! Love a good supernatural twist.
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Very nice.
I loved this twisting, turning tale. Being a writer as well, this story idea is fascinating and “fantastic” !!! Refreshing! Bravo!!!
Interesting premise. Really a fun idea, well-executed.