“It was a dark and stormy night.”
ALLY looked at his computer screen with a mischievous smirk. This latest manuscript would take the cake. He knew it was bad. Laughably bad. Intentionally bad. So bad those cheesy parody movies would say it was awful.
He had three rejection e-mails filed away on his system. The printed copies of the manuscripts that matched those rejections sat in a drawer in his desk. Each one of those had been a masterpiece, at least to him. He’d poured his heart into those novels. Thrillers were his specialty. Dark stories about unforgivable men doing unspeakable things. He loved writing. It let him live—truly live. His heroes were always tall, raffish figures. They were cops, private eyes, and FBI agents. Brave men who foiled the bank robbery, or saved the kidnapping victim, or thwarted the plot to overthrow the government.
His heroes were everything he wasn’t. No author in his right mind would build a hero like him. Too short, too pale, too pudgy, too bald. He’d never be anyone’s hero. Too many cons, not enough pros. In fact, he had exactly one pro. He had something huge in his pants. Something so big, men and women lined up to get their hands on it, no matter what he looked like. So fat, their mouths watered, and they would tell him whatever they thought he wanted to hear just to get him to pull it out.
Usually stuffed with cash and credit cards that, when they had a limit, it was so high that his newest, bestest friend of the moment couldn’t hit it in a year. He’d had the luck to be born to wealthy parents, but after college, he turned down the huge trust fund they had set aside for him. Instead, he took a modest portion of it and invested it, managing the assets himself. The rest of the fund went into a foundation he set up. He was aware enough to know he’d hand the money out to anyone who came asking, whether the request was reasonable or not. His role kept him in the background overseeing the investments. Far away from the eager hands reaching for his wallet.
Every person who passed through his life wanted something from him. His parents just wanted him to carry on their name. And what a doozy they had saddled Ally with—Aloysius Theodisius. His friends—if you could call them friends, anyway—just wanted the free ride that came along with his wealth and status. They wouldn’t do anything to rock that boat. When they read his books, they had nothing but rave reviews—”the best ever” or “a certain bestseller.” No one had been honest with him. They all seemed to be afraid of being cut off. Not one of them had pointed out the wildly implausible story line in the first one, or how bad the dialog was in the second one. His third “award winner” had plot holes so big you could drive a giant blue semi through them.
That first rejection had crushed him. A form letter. He couldn’t believe the publisher was turning it down after all the praise he had gotten from his friends. He blamed the editor who read his novel. It had to be some sadistic failed writer rejecting his brilliant work out of jealousy. Some poor hack who couldn’t cut it as an author, so he retaliated against better writers. When his second novel was complete, he’d tried another publisher, determined not to allow that other group of would-be Pulitzers to get a crack at his genius. The second rejection stung worse than the first. His friends rallied around him, consoling him by taking him to Venice for a week. Well, they all piled into his family’s jet and availed themselves of his family’s villa. They were considerate enough to call ahead to the caretaker to ensure the wine cellar was unlocked, the bar was fully stocked with all the top-shelf whiskeys they could drink, and the kitchen staff was on site and prepared to cater to their every whim. They ordered enough of their favorite foods to last several weeks. Except they overlooked the fact that Ally was allergic to shellfish, couldn’t stand eggs, and never drank hard liquor.
They nearly emptied the alcohol carts during the plane ride and kept urging him to buy the publishers so he could force them to see the error of their ways, and he could finally get published. Once they landed, they arranged for the bags to be taken directly to the villa and also suggested Ally accompany them. After all, it was his villa. He really should be the one to show up with the luggage and make sure all the rooms were ready for them.
Ally agreed, and the next time he saw his friends was on the tarmac, ready to board the plane to return home. The bills from that trip had been staggering, as every excursion, every night on the town, every shopping spree had been billed to the Theodisius household.
“But Ally, you were so depressed, we had to do something to cheer you up,” they had said when he showed them the invoices.
“How, exactly, was whisking me off to dump me in a room, running up my credit cards, and spending my money, halfway across the planet for a week supposed to cheer me up?”
“Ally, it’s not our fault you didn’t have fun. You should have tried harder. It’s like that with you every time we go.”
Or something else to that effect. It was always Ally’s fault he never had fun at their parties—in his house, with his booze, on his dime. The one time he tried to step up, dared to cut them off, they berated and bullied him for being selfish. As always, he’d backed down and continued to fund their lifestyles.
His third rejection letter came with feedback. When he reviewed the publisher’s comments, he couldn’t believe that none of his friends had pointed out the problems with his story. How could they have missed such glaring plotting issues? He decided to review his other two works of art. Now that some time had passed, he could read them with a more objective eye. What he found shocked him.
They were awful. Amateurish, overwrought, and just plain bad. That’s when he put his current plan together. He finished the chapter and printed it out. Then he went to get ready. He was just taking one last look in the mirror when he heard his name called.
“Ally! You up here? Come on, we’re going to be late.” Footsteps echoed in the hallway as his friends, Derek and Robbie, pushed into his room. They wore similar button-front shirts and flip-flops, with no pants. Derek had on a pair of plaid silk boxers, while Robbie flaunted a pair of red briefs. Both would certainly attract attention at the No Pants Day brunch they had insisted Ally go to with them.
“What the fuck are you wearing?” Robbie asked.
“A waistcoat. What’s wrong with it?” Ally thought he cut a dashing figure in his French-cuffed shirt, silk tie, and pin-striped vest. As dashing as he could pull off, anyway.
“No, those. What the fuck are those?”
Ally looked down to where Derek was pointing. He had always felt his legs were his best feature—nicely muscled from constantly standing on his tiptoes around his taller friends. The dark blue knee-high nylon socks were sheer enough to make out the definition of his calves, while the sock garters drew the eye to them and down to his polished wing tips.
“Dude, you are not wearing those. Go change,” Robbie ordered as he started looking through Ally’s watches.
“Yes, I am. And put that down.”
“I just need to borrow one. Mine stopped working for some reason.”
“The Wyler-Zagato you took from here last week?”
“I thought it was a gift.” Robbie started to get that indignant look again.
Ally sighed. It had been a gift to him from a business associate trying to get Ally’s financial backing for a new project he wanted to launch. He didn’t know why he’d accepted it, let alone kept it, other than to remind himself of the hypocrisy some people were capable of. The outlandish price of the watch could have made a nice down payment for the project, but Ally supposed it was easier to risk someone else’s money. The watch had been the last step in wooing Ally’s wallet, after the pathetic attempts at dating him failed. “Just take the Tag and bring the other one back. I’ll see if I can get it fixed.” Ally suspected the problem was that Robbie hadn’t thought to wind it.
Robbie beamed. “Thanks, pal. I got that piece of shit in the car. You can keep it.”
Ally looked up from winding his great-grandfather’s military-issued pocket watch and shook his head with a sigh. When he considered that both were his to begin with, Ally thought it was awfully magnanimous of his friend to allow him to keep the pricy timepiece in exchange for another of his name-brand watches. Granted, the Wyler cost about twenty-five times the Tag, so maybe Ally was getting the better end of the bargain.
Ally wiped the antique crystal face with a polishing cloth, thinking of his great-grandfather and the stories he’d told him about using the navigational watch during WWII. He loved hearing how his great-grandfather used it to get his crew safely back to base. Ally never could grasp how to do more with it than tell time, no matter how many times his great-grandfather tried to explain it, but just looking at the face helped calm his nerves and gave him a sense of direction. He dropped it into the vest pocket, straightened the white gold chain running across his slightly rounded belly, and slipped his arms into the sleeves of his suit coat and shrugged it over his shoulders. He folded his sample chapter and tucked the pages into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“Ready?” He smoothed the lines of his coat, squared his shoulders, and left the room with all the dignity a man wearing half a suit could muster.