A uniformed officer backed through the door to the detective division. He turned around and everyone could see he was carrying a box.
“Detectives Okuno and Haycock?” he called. “Here’s that little present for you.”
“Presents are supposed to be wrapped, Pinkus,” Haycock said.
“Actually,” Pinkus said, “it’s a lot of presents. How many wallet snatchings are you working in the financial district?”
“Twenty-seven,” Okuno said.
The officer set the box on Haycock’s desk. “Well, here are twenty-seven wallets, so you’re covered.”
“I’d like to preview the product,” Ashlan said, “before buying it.”
“Naturally,” Connor said. He placed a flash drive in a port on his laptop and called up the media viewer.
Ashlan leaned forward as images of documents appeared on the screen. The scene was misty at the edges, but the words on the pages were clear enough. Ashlan took special note of the dates on the pages, which were two years in the future.
The oblong little spacecraft overtook the truck on the road and landed gently in front of it, scarcely disturbing the gravel. The driver of the truck, a Blazer from the previous decade, slowed and stopped and stared.
A hatch opened on the side of the spaceship and an extraterrestrial, all four-foot-five of him, stepped down to the ground, his iridescent green scales shining in the afternoon sun. He approached the truck’s driver, a stocky man wearing a brand-new seed cap.
“Good soil to you,” the alien said. He held a small, round device from which the English words flowed; nothing about his mouth seemed capable of producing those sounds.
Sandra tugged at her ring and eventually got it off of her finger. She threw it at Delbert, who lay wheezing softly on the living room floor. It missed his face but landed in plain sight.
“That little thing isn’t even worth trying to resell,” she growled.
He looked at the ring and remembered how gleeful he had been eighteen years before when he went to Kavalitz’ Jewelry and picked out the nicest wedding ring his budget could withstand. It would have to suffice; the matching engagement ring was far too expensive. Mr. Kavalitz assured Delbert he didn’t mind breaking up the set.
Delbert had taken Sandra out to dinner that night. After they both had declined the waitress’ offer of dessert, Delbert had reached into his suit pocket. “Perhaps I could interest you in this, though.” He opened the box and handed it to Sandra.
The readily available evidence indicates that writing fiction for a living is becoming less of an option for those of us with expensive tastes such as food and shelter. The raw numbers can be seen here: Book Advances, Royalty Checks, and Making a Living as a Writer, by Adriann Ranta. It looks easier to win a lottery jackpot with an expired ticket. Some few will always be able to make it happen, of course, but they will increasingly be the exceptions to the rule.
Where does this lead us? Directly to Working the Double Shift, by Emily St. John Mandel. She writes about treating writing as a second job, which makes sense to me. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s practical in terms of money and perhaps in terms of finding things and people to write about, or in letting our subconscious work on a story while we earn the house payment.
Finally, Lapham’s Quarterly assures us that even great writers have held day jobs, so we need not feel badly about the necessity ourselves. (From the world of science, a reminder that Albert Einstein was working in a Swiss patent office when he wrote his groundbreaking papers on light quanta, Brownian motion, and special relativity. Perhaps a mind-numbing job for part of the day can lead to a burst of creativity at other times.)
Skunk Borster hadn’t heard his right name in so long it was no wonder he didn’t remember it. His own mother had practically renamed the boy – “You little skunk!” “You skunk! Get out of there!” “Skunk! Don’t think I don’t know who did that!” – when he was only four years old. Most folk in the area didn’t know it wasn’t his birth name and wouldn’t have cared had they been told.
Skunk fit him like a glove and it had pleased him for forty-seven years to live down to it.
The Depression and the War had both been over for some years, but tell that to the hills. There was still no industry in these parts and the miracles of the post-war boom steered studiously away.
As most people did, Skunk Borster tended his own little garden to help keep body and soul together. Sure, he ate the vegetables, but by and large it served as bait for small meaty creatures such as raccoons. This way, Skunk didn’t even have to go hunting; the prey came within twenty feet of his back door.
He had also made a study of getting money out of other people with little or no labor on his part. He was a wonderfully charming fellow, until one made his closer acquaintance. He could get anyone to trust him once, and maybe even twice.
The police sergeant closed the door to the interrogation room and waved the other man to a seat.
“Now, Mr. Legier, as I said on the phone, I believe we have found your missing wallet which was stolen from you five weeks ago,” Sergeant Kaplan said. If you could just describe it for me, please.”
“Certainly. It’s a simple brown bi-fold wallet. Rather well used; it’s not new. It had my name in it.”
“Anything … unusual about it that might help further identify it, Mr. Legier?”
“Well, not really,” he said, and paused. “I mean, it had my driver’s license and grocery store club card and library card and such things.”
“So there’s nothing, shall we say, peculiar … at all … about this wallet? Mr. Legier?” Sergeant Kaplan lowered his head and looked over his glasses at Mr. Legier. His eyebrows were up in his hairline and there was great meaning in his stare, which Mr. Legier understood.
“Well, it …” He stopped. “It makes money,” he admitted quietly.
She colored all her flesh chartreuse and all her hair neon pink.
That was for visibility.
Clad only in these hues and a pair of black flip-flops, she walked through the heart of the city, striding briskly, with purpose, to indicate she was going somewhere and was not merely on display.
That was for dignity.
She met the eyes of everyone who would meet hers, neither challenging them nor giving them succor.
That was for honesty.
She walked into the building, nodded politely to the woman at the information desk, and got on the elevator to go to the 31st floor.
That was for practicality.
She entered the suite and the receptionist welcomed her by name. At workstations, in cubicles, and in offices people stopped and looked at her and applauded.
That was for chutzpah.
“A few more times here and in the other cities,” the director said, “and we’ll start the ads linking her to our highlighters. Everyone’s going to want them. This is the greatest product launch ever!”
That was for money.