The Fast-Talking Lumber King
By Mike Stevens
A Charles Placard Tale
“The man crawled on hands and knees away from the burning inferno that used to be his discount lumber warehouse. Now, it was a dangerous blowtorch that threatened to consume him, and chased him on legs of fire.”
So began Charles Placard’s newest novel. Well to be completely honest, it was his only novel, at least so far. He’d called it “The Fast-Talking Lumber-King”; about a criminal on the run who uses an assumed name to get a job as a lowly cashier on weekends at a lumber supply warehouse and climbs the corporation’s ladder, until, after a few short years, he is promoted to president of the company, and then buys it. On the surface, he’s only a successful entrepreneur, but in the evenings he runs an illegal betting ring out of the warehouse. Charles knew this novel would be a bestseller someday; the only question was which book publisher would step up and grab the opportunity by the ‘tale’?
Charles rose the next morning full of anticipation; he’d gotten a phone call last evening from Behemoth Press, saying they’d like to set up an appointment to talk to him. He was confident once they met, face to face, he’d snag a book deal. He walked in to Behemoth’s offices and went up to the receptionist’s desk.
“Can I help you sir?” asked a beautiful blond woman.
“Yes, I’m Charles Placard, and I’ve got a 10:00 appointment to see Mr. Calamine.”
“Yes, Mr. Placard, I’ll buzz Mr. Calamine and let him know you’re here.” She dialed a number, and after a few seconds, “Yes, Mr. Calamine, Mr. Placard her to see you. What? Yes, the comedy writer," she said, and hung up the phone.
“There must be some mistake, I’m not a comedy writer, I’m a dramatic writer,” said Charles, rather indignantly.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you wrote the comedy book that has the whole office laughing to themselves. You may go in the office straight down the hall. Mr. Calamine is expecting you.”
A few minutes later, Charles knocked on the office door of Mr. Calamine.
“Please, come in,” answered a voice from inside. “Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you something to drink?” asked Calamine.
He was so nervous, and a drink would help calm him down. “Sure, a double whiskey on the rocks sounds good.”
Mr. Calamine shot him an incredulous look, and replied, “Ah, I meant a soft drink, coffee, or water. I’m afraid we don’t have any liquor.”
“Then nothing for me, thanks.”
“Fine, I’ll get right to the point. We liked what you wrote, and we’d like to offer you a book deal.”
Yes! Charles had known all along he had a winner of an idea. “Well, Mr. Calamine, I’d very much like to work something out, what is your offer?”
Calamine replied, “We here at Behemoth Book Publishers have been on the lookout for a good comedy writer, and we’ve finally located one. Our off—”
“Hold on there, Mr. Calamine, I think you have the wrong book in mind.”
“Is it the book about a lumber yard owner who also runs an illegal betting ring out of his warehouse? Hilarious!”
Charles shot back, “A comedy book? No, it’s a dramatic novel.”
“Dramatic, hell, it’s unbelievably bad writing. There’s no way you could expect people to take it seriously. Surely, you meant it as a joke, for no one could write that badly on purpose!”
Charles was immediately angry, answering, “I’m not going to sit here and have my work made fun of! I believe our business is concluded.” And with those parting words, he stomped back down the hall, passing several employees on his way towards the front door.
“Hey man, very funny stuff! Let me be the fir---hey, where are you going?”
Charles continued on his way out of the building. He was pissed! When he got home, the first thing Charles did was pour himself a big drink of straight booze. Usually, the taste of straight alcohol made him sick, but he didn’t even taste it. How dare they basically make fun of his work, who the hell did they think they were? After he’d finished the first drink, and ½ of another, he had calmed down considerably. After he’d finished the second and third, he started to think the book company’s offer sounded pretty good; after all, he had no money now, and they were going to make him an offer. So what if the humor was unintentional, they were going to market it. For the right price, he could endure having to see people laughing at his novel. He picked up the phone, and dialed a number.
“Hello, Behemoth Book Publishing Company, this is Daisy, How may I help you?”
“Yes, hello Daisy, I was just in to visit Mr. Calamine, could you please connect me with him?”
“Sure, please hold the line while I place you on hold and ring Mr. Calamine’s office.”
“So, as I was saying, I’m thinking of adding a new character, a guy who thinks he’s right even if everyone else disagrees with him. I was merely acting out the part to see if it would work, and I think it would add a comic fleshing out to the book. And of course I was kidding, you’re absolutely right, no one could possibly write a book that bad, and expect people to take it seriously,” Charles said.
Calamine answered, “Well, Mr. Placard, you sure had me convinced. Sure, we’re still going to make you an offer, and did you ever think about acting? You played your part brilliantly!”