Daniel was feeling like a damned fool sitting at the book signing table without a single person around him. He was used to crowds of adoring fans excited to meet him, clamoring for his autograph – he didn’t understand it. The signage in the store window clearly stated that he would be here today; there was a pyramid-shaped display of his latest book and a very handsome photo of him in plain view there. The bookstore manager had announced him with ample enthusiasm – what was the problem? All of these thoughts were running rampant through his mind as he sat there with pen in hand ready to write greetings, appreciations and ‘best of lucks’ to the inside cover page of his readers’ copies of his book.
He had the feeling that something strange was going on – he couldn’t put his finger on it, but something wasn’t right about this whole tour. The reception of his latest book, Daunted, had been lackluster at best in the last seven cities and sales were in the dumper. San Francisco was the last city on the tour and things weren’t looking very promising here, either.
And the fact he was under contract for three more books didn’t help the situation - the Murphy’s Law proverb, ‘whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way,’ certainly applied to Daniel at this point – because on top of all this, a nasty case of writer’s block had paralyzed him of any creative thought whatsoever.
He needed a good idea for a story and he needed it now.
Daniel’s eyes wandered about the bookstore searching for someone to make eye contact with him – as though he could will someone to the table just by staring into their eyes. He fixed his eyes on a few unluckies who had inadvertently met his gaze and stared intently at them without blinking – this clearly didn’t work as the creepiness of his facial expression put people off and they hurried away even more swiftly from the table – in his distorted imagination he pictured them actually running from him - this left him feeling utterly ridiculous in his efforts to captivate them and draw them in. Thereby, his other idea to jump on top of the table and do a jig for attention was promptly squelched – besides singing for his supper wasn’t in his DNA and he really wasn’t feeling all that well. He popped a couple of bluish tablets into his mouth and followed them down with a swig of water to calm his jumpy stomach.
Then, at last, one female reader approached the table and pushed her copy of Daunted in front of him.
“I really love the series,” she said.
“Thank you very much. What’s your name, Miss?” he asked baffled, thinking what was different about her that drew her to the table? He opened her book and lifted his pen to write.
“Courtney,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “Dick Sunday is my all-time favorite detective. So what’s the next book going to be like? Will it be a gruesome stabbing or maybe a strangulation case?”
Daniel stopped writing; his stomach did a somersault. “I’m working on it now, you’ll just have to wait and see,” he answered, completing his signature.
It wasn’t like Daniel to lie to his readers like that, but he couldn’t let on that he didn’t even have a next book in his head.
Daniel had never experienced writer’s block in his entire writing career and he really didn’t know how to handle it. He likened his endless reservoir of ideas to a once flourishing lake bed drying up in a drought.
Then just as he was about to give up, a few readers started approaching his table in dribs and drabs. Maybe Courtney had brought him some luck in that others had seen how she had come to the table and left with a smile on her face. A sort of testing of the waters, as it were, that Daniel was approachable and he was okay. He signed their copies; a half-hearted smile was all he could muster up in his deteriorating state of mind. He took no solace in their accolades of his past works; the praise only impressed upon him that his accomplishments really were behind him.
Daniel took a short break from the signing table as the line of people seemed to have abruptly dwindled down to nothing. He walked out of the bookstore and stepped into the beautiful San Francisco afternoon. The sky was bright blue with just a smattering of cumulous clouds. He inhaled the fresh air and caught an unexpected scent of rose riding on the breeze.
It was good to get out and stretch his legs, he thought, as he stopped to watch the cable car drivers turn the cable cars around at the end of the line. This was Daniel’s first time in the city and he found it just as rich in art, culture and great restaurants as he had always heard it was.
But as he walked past some of the boutiques and shops, he sensed something odd about the look of them. There were displays of form shaping lava lamps, weird psychedelic art and a wig shop touting the ‘shag look’ as new. Men’s shop mannequins’ sported disco jumpsuits, out-of-date polyester flair bottom pants with butterfly collar disco shirts in the wildest colors and patterns Daniel had ever seen. He found it amusing that ‘disco’ and ‘groovy’ were the words most used to describe the styles and themes for almost everything.
Daniel’s eyes followed a pretty girl as she passed by him wearing a micro-mini go-go skirt with white knee-high vinyl boots, the hem of her faded tie died top was tied off in a knot showing off her sexy midriff. He was so busy gawking at her that he didn’t see the couple coming towards him sporting some serious ‘his and hers’ afros. He collided with the man, full force, his face bounced off the man’s chest full of gold chains.
“Hey man, you wanna watch where you’re going?” the man scowled, pushing him aside and almost knocking him to the ground.
“I’m sorry,” Daniel apologized, trying to be as sincere as possible. “What the hell is all this?” he muttered to himself, thinking he had stepped into a sort of retro 1970’s renaissance fair where all the clientele actually came dressed in all this bad taste.
When he regained his balance, he found himself standing in the doorway of a store that specialized in used vinyl collectible albums, 45’s and eight track tapes. He went inside. The place was like a time-warp of 70’s music, media and posters. There were reel-to-reel decks, eight-track players and belt-drive stereo turntables the like of which he had never seen before.
He sorted through a stack of 45’s and eight-track tapes. He was fascinated by this old stuff but he couldn’t get over how new everything looked. He thought that the previous owners must have taken very good care of this stuff because everything in the store was in such pristine condition. And the prices were too good to be true - he was no expert but classics and collectibles such as these, in this kind of condition, would have to be worth a king’s ransom more than what they were asking.
The full-length version of ‘Nights in White Satin’ welled to a crescendo from the store’s sound system. Daniel stopped browsing as his whole body bristled with goose bumps - the sweet lament of unrequited love had touched his soul.
A loud bang from a car backfire cruelly snatched him out of the moment. He looked toward the sound just outside the storefront window. A fire engine red, 1960 Plymouth Valiant was pulling away from the curb; he ran to the window to get a better look. To his amazement, even this old Valiant was in super clean condition. Daniel was a car enthusiast and if there was one thing he knew a lot about, it was automobiles, classics in particular. And in his opinion, this was the finest specimen of a 60’s Valiant he’d ever seen. But before he could get over the spotlessness of the Valiant, a Ford Woody went tooling by complete with gleaming white walls and a windshield visor. Daniel’s trained eyes scanned the wood body for any age discolorations (he knew what to look for) and there just weren’t any to be found - its wood was in amazing condition for being over three decades old. “Now there’s a restoration,” he thought, out loud.
A Ford Pinto hatchback cruised by followed by an AMC Hornet, the Sportabout model. He knew he wasn’t dreaming because he was wide awake. The whole street was lined with nothing but cars from the 1970’s or older and all were in mint condition.
He rushed to the front door and watched as a parade of classic cars cruised past.
“What the hell?” He pushed the door open and stepped outside the store, but as his foot hit the pavement, the surroundings snapped back to present day. “Oh, this is just crazy!”
Daniel didn’t know what to think. He headed back in the direction of the bookstore; his senses were on high alert. He wondered if the bookstore was still going to be there when he got back or if he would encounter something else on the way. He was walking fast surveying everything and everyone he passed; cognizant of every detail around him.
When he finally reached the bookstore, he was so relieved that it was still there – he felt he could kiss its brick and mortar exterior. He hurried through the main aisle of the store; was he seeing things or were there more people standing around in the vicinity of the signing table? He rushed to his seat - his mind was still reeling from the whole experience as he sat down. Then an amazing thing happened; the group of people who had been standing nearby began to approach him at the table.
He blew out a breath, picked up his pen and began to sign autographs – now this was more like it, he thought. When he first began to sign their copies, he was able to pause and look at each person and get a sense of his or her face, but the more autographs he signed the longer the line of people became and soon he had to speed things up and compose his messages faster and faster to keep the line moving. Right before his eyes, the original group of people had turned into a steady stream of people until a pretty impressive line had formed. My God! Daniel gasped. He estimated there had to be at least a hundred and fifty people in the queue – wow!
His mood brightened and with it his posture; he was suddenly sitting straight up in his chair - the events of the earlier incident suddenly faded to the back of his consciousness.
“Maybe San Francisco will be different after all,” he exclaimed, with a genuine smile.
Daniel’s diverse and eclectic mix of fans never ceased to amuse him. Take Ron and Don, who arrived at the table wearing matching pastel Oxford shirts with turned up collars and Khaki’s with rolled up pant legs. They looked a lot alike and very Ivy League with the exception that one had thick golden locks and the other one had a head of thick, wavy, black hair sort of mirror opposites of each other.
Daniel surmised that they could be brothers, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. It wasn’t like him to pass any judgment, but he wondered why two grown men would dress alike at their age – they had to be pushing thirty, if a day. He couldn’t help but thinking that theirs must be a most interesting story to say the least.
“It’s so good to see you in person,” said Ron, pulling a copy of Daunted from a large shoulder bag and handing it off to Daniel.
“Why thank you,” Daniel said politely, opening it to the cover page.
“We’ve read everything you’ve ever written,” said Don.
“We keep one of your books by the bedside at all times,” said Ron, bumping elbows with Don.
Daniel wasn’t quite sure how to react to that so he didn’t, but it did shoot down the brothers’ theory.
“Could you make a separate note for each of us?” Ron requested.
“My pleasure,” said Daniel.
“I’m Ron, he’s Don,” Ron said, to differentiate between the two of them.
Daniel pondered a moment, assessing what he would write to the two of them. Then with a smile and a sweeping motion of the pen, he composed their separate notes and scribbled out his signature at the end.
The two men took turns reading their notes.
“Wow! Thanks,” said Ron.
“Hey, we’re looking forward to seeing you at the party later,” Don added. He was referring to, “An Evening with Daniel Taylor,” a black tie affair in honor of the mystery writer to be held later that evening at the Fairmont Hotel.
Daunted marked a milestone seventh book in his Sunday’s Law series of mystery novels. And Daniel had been looking forward to this milestone tribute of his work for some time. But in light of the dismal turnout of this book tour and the inexplicable loss of his artistic faculties, he wasn’t feeling any of the love.
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