Sam's smile had frozen in place and become strained as Dickson confronted him in the airport's arrival hall. Tova had stopped in her tracks, not sure how to proceed, but Sam shot her a desperate look and waved her over.
"... my sweetie come to pick me up," he'd been saying when she got within hearing range. "Look here, here she is right now," he'd concluded, reaching out to embrace her.
Dickson had frowned in disapproval.
"Did you look over those e-mails I sent you, Sam?" he'd said peevishly. "We need to discuss the issues I raised, and I think we should get started as soon as possible. We can talk in my car on the way back to the city."
Sam had tried on a new smile. "I was on vacation, Monty – and me and Ms Greenberg like to take the bus to downtown. It's relaxing. You should try it some time."
"It's your career, Burnside – I'm just paid to manage it. You're the one who should be taking things more seriously."
"It's okay," Tova had started to say, "I can go —"
"No, now honey," Sam had interrupted her gently, "while I'm sorry that Monty here made an unnecessary trip, I'm sure he can get back into that big old automobile of his and maybe listen to some nice soothing music, or to some of his inspirational CDs if he prefers."
Dickson's mouth had opened at this point; Tova thought she saw smoke coming out of it.
Sammy had raised his hand and continued, "I promise I'll read through all your electronic messages when I get home tonight, and tomorrow I'll come right into your office and we can discuss issues to your heart's content."
With a final glare at Tova, Dickson had turned on his heel and stalked off.
"Now then," Sam had said as he'd embraced Tova again, this time adding a seriously passionate kiss. "You gon' come on home with me? 'Cause I don't believe I can face all those eee-mails on my lonesome. I'll need some moral support. Y'all could hold my hand – that'd be nice."
Dickson's messages contained a series of brainstorms which the agent had had about how Sam could "promote his brand".
"Ouch," Sam had said, wincing. "To me, a brand is still an archaic and inhumane method of marking cattle. And it involves burning flesh."
"Does this mean you're ready to become a vegetarian?" Tova had asked.
Watching the screen over his shoulder, she'd noticed there was one message that Sam deleted before she got a chance to look at it.
"What was that?" she'd asked.
"Nothin' worth knowing," he'd grumbled.
"It said something about your girlfriend. Shouldn't you read it?"
Sam had groaned. "No. I know what it's about. He thinks my 'fans', who are mainly young men, would be more excited about me if I had a ... well, a ..."
"A better girlfriend. Not an old lady who works in a bookstore. Well, you said you dated an actress when you lived in New York. Maybe you could –"
"Now Tova, stop right there. First of all, I got me the best sweetheart a man could possibly have. Secondly, even if I didn't, I would still refuse to encourage that kind of sexist objectification in my readers. Third, just about everyone in New York is an actor – that's one of the main reasons I moved up here. I told you that."
"Why are you getting so defensive?"
"I'm just feelin' beleaguered, darlin'. I don't know how to deal with Monty; I'm startin' to suspect that he's the kind of friend who could stand in for all a person's enemies. I need you on my side."
"Oh Sam, I am on your side. I just have my own insecurities. What else does he want you to do? Maybe you could negotiate."
"That's the plan, I believe. Like, see here, he wants me to take up some manly hobbies, and you know I taught myself to box when I was a kid. I heard about a gym not too far from here where they teach kids from poor families to spar, and they teach them other martial arts, too, because they find it increases their self-confidence, which gives them a better chance in life. Only – Monty won't like this – this program is mainly for girls."
"You're gonna teach girls to fight?"
"To fight like girls, that's right. Like strong, independent, don't-mess-with-me girls."
Tova hugged him around his shoulders. "I hope Monty hates it but he can't say anything because you're just following his suggestion."
YOU ARE READING
Once upon a time there was a warrior queen who loved peace ... Mild-mannered writer Samuel J. Burnside is working on his latest adventure story, set in ancient Susa, where Queen Esther is teaching former harem slaves how to fight! But can Sam's new...