Henry poured the rest of the wine into his glass. He enjoyed the privacy of the dimly lit corner booth at the back of the restaurant.
“Feeling inspired today, Henry?”
Henry ignored Antonio.
“Time to get fired up. Write another bestseller.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? Your series is over. Done.”
Henry’s speech was so slurred that Antonio struggled to understand him. He would have tried to take away his car keys, but Henry no longer owned a car. The repo man had picked it up early that morning. “You can’t mean that, Henry. My books made you famous.”
“My publisher doesn’t want another Antonio book.”
“Why not? You’ve only written four.”
“You know why not. Sales were way down on the last one. The critics tore me to sleds…I mean…shreds.”
“Trust me, Henry. The fifth book will be frigging fantastic.”
The waitress delivered another bottle of wine. Henry thanked her and she walked away.
“How do you plan to pay for that wine?” said Antonio. “Do they know you’re broke?”
“My credit is good here.” Henry uncorked the bottle and refilled his glass, spilling some it on the table. “Look, I don’t really care what the critics say. My fans are tired of you.”
“Tired of me?” Antonio sat up. “No, Fool, they’re tired of your crappy writing.”
“Hey, don’t you dare take that tone with me. I’m a famous author.”
“So, write like one. It’s not my fault that you make me sound boring.”
Henry shook his head. “I don’t know how I ever made it work. A gang leader as hero. Crazy.”
“But it did work.”
“Yeah. For three books.” He gulped down the rest of his glass, and began to refill it. “But it got old.”
“No, Holmes, you got old. Your writing got stale. You were just going through the motions.”
“Because I got tired of you. Okay? There, I’ve said it.”
“Whoa. You got tired of me? My stories are exciting. Dangerous. And besides, if you’re so tired of me, why haven’t you already written a book that’s not about me? It’s been two years, Man. Why haven’t you moved on?”
Henry’s response was to take another sip of wine.
“I’ll tell you why. Because you’ve got writer’s block. And you know why? Because you’re too stubborn to write what you’re supposed to be writing. Quit fighting it, Dude.”
“Another Antonio book.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. And it’s easy, Man.
All you’ve got to do is follow your muse.”
“And I suppose you are my muse.”
“How do you think you wrote those first three books? Why do you think they were pure genius?”
“Because you…inspired me.”
“That’s right, Jack. I’m you’re muse. And you shouldn’t have tried writing that fourth one without me. You shut me out, Man. You thought you could go it alone. Well, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
Henry fumed. “Get out of here. Go, and never come back. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“Take it easy, Holmes. You need me. You can’t write a great book without me.”
“I don’t care. You’re making me crazy. Just go!” He motioned with his wine glass, sloshing the red liquid all over the table.
“You still don’t get it. You can’t do it without me.”
“If I never write another word it will have been worth it, just to get you out of my life.” Henry words were barely intelligible.
“Without me, Man, you ain’t got no life.”
“Are you listening to me? I want you gone! Dead.”
“Oh, really? Dead?” Antonio searched Henry’s eyes. “Well, there’s only one way that’s gonna happen, Man.” Antonio pulled out his pistol.
“What are you doing? Put that thing away.” Henry held out his hands in a vain effort to protect himself, knocking over the bottle. The wine flowed freely onto the tabletop.
“You’ve had your say, Punk. There’s no turning back.” He rotated the gun ninety degrees, gang-style. “It was a great life while it lasted, Man.”
Antonio squeezed the trigger.
Cause of death: Unknown. No heart attack. No stroke. Henry’s only injury was a bruise on his forehead, an obvious result of his head hitting the table. The heart had been functioning normally. Then it just stopped.
The waitress told police she thought she heard Henry talking to someone as she was walking up to his booth to deliver a bottle of wine. Yet when she arrived, Henry was sitting alone.
The lead investigator suspected someone had poisoned Henry’s wine with some undetectable substance. He knew that authors sometimes make enemies with their writing. But he had no leads.
The ex-wife knew who had killed Henry. Although, she would never tell the police. Or anyone else. They wouldn’t believe her anyway.
Over the course of their marriage, she had learned one of the best kept secrets of great fiction writers: the characters are real.
Sure, the writer creates them. But once created, they are forever in his life. To bring him joy. To give him comfort. Or to torture him.
Until the day he dies.
***** THE END *****