First Draft

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

A young research assistant at a publishing house gets an amazing job offer. She soon gets a peek behind the curtain and sees the darker side of the literary world. She finds things to be not so clean and clear cut as she explores the seedy underbelly of the publishing game. She sees first hand the price of fame and the casualties of mediocrity.


 

First Draft



 

Print is dying a show death, it used to be Publish or Perish but now publishing itself is perishing. Newspapers and magazines are all online, hobby writers and housewives can indulge in self published vanity projects and why not? It’s go digital or die! Established writers and proven publishing houses can of course hang on but both the book deals and the stables of talent are shrinking, downsizing seems to be the order of the day. Such is the case with Pierce Publishing, once a giant firm taking up five floors of a Madison Avenue office building. The former den of literary lions now occupies a Soho loft with less than a dozen staff and only three projects in the works in various stages of completion. This is also the age of freelance and Gig work, which saves money and offers flexibility in return. This allows would be writers to hustle, earning cash as needed while having the ability to be seen writing the Great American Novel While sipping on an IPA at their local or a half caff latte at the counter of their favorite coffee chain or some other such hipster hang. This is the world we live in.

Navigating his way through these uncharted, often choppy waters is Nathan Pierce. He’s the Editor in Chief and CEO of Pierce Publishing as of a year ago when his parents retired to Scotland and left him in charge. His father Nathan senior started the company in 1976 and set it up so that when he left his son could run the place for 5 years without really having to work too hard. The idea was to make sure junior had a place to go and something to do at least until he turns 40.  As it turns out the younger Pierce has quite taken to the family business. There are parts of it he excels at and actually enjoys. He likes reading manuscripts in search of new talent and then engaging in his favorite part, the chase. The wining and dining, wheeling and dealing that goes along with signing a new author. Nate is very hands on and very good at that aspect of the industry. It’s not about putting money in his pocket. He has a generous stipend to live on and funds have been set aside in company accounts to keep the doors open, the lights on and the handful of loyal employees paid and happy. So no worries.

At 36 Nate Pierce has one divorce under his belt but zero regrets. His marriage to his former shrink Hannah Blain gave them a daughter, Zoe. Both Nate and Hannah are in therapy, separately and with different shrinks of course. They have become solid coparents and good friends with Nate now able to admit to being a decent dad but a shit husband. Hannah can say the same on her end as well. It was a case of too young, too much and too soon. Nate has grown up a lot especially in this past year. He has grown into being a boss and a leader and grown out of the spoiled brat playboy persona of his youth. Nate can often be found crawling around the office playing hide and seek with 5 year old Zoe. A perk of being the boss is that it can be bring your daughter to work day every day. In general Nate Pierce is a good boss. He has no problem with staff working from home or cutting out early as long as things get done and he’s kept in the loop about deadlines and the progress of projects. There is no dress code in the office, there is always a rotating playlist going in the bullpen and Fridays are all about in house liquid lunch followed by happy hour.

It’s a loose atmosphere of collaborative effort, a workplace culture that fosters cooperation and values creativity. If you have an idea you spit it out. From the receptionist at the front desk to the college intern. What the hell? Maybe Dave the mail clerk has a suggestion? Who cares where a good idea comes from? Nate Pierce’s office is perched on the upper level of the loft above the bullpen. He likes to stand at the railing and listen to the hum of creativity coming from below. On the upper level of the loft is also a break room/lounge with all the usual amenities and accoutrements only bigger, nicer and more comfortable. Two large sofas are at either end of the room. There is a flat screen TV suspended on the far wall complete with cable and a gaming system. The coffee is actual, real GOOD COFFEE! There is always fresh fruit and baked goods and of course your standard snack machine filled with all your favorite sugar bombs. All these little extras seem to make people stay longer and work harder. The lounge also serves as a sort of social hub, an employee hang. The company honestly has a genuine family vibe that has carried over from Nathan Pierce senior and his wife Laura.

Nathan Pierce junior has a sister Tara, they love each other and get along well enough but Tara Pierce wants no part of the business that bears her last name. She does stop by every 2 weeks to pick up a paycheck though. That’s fine with Nate, his 30 year old sister has made a life for herself in the Hamptons where after culinary school and a few years abroad she set up a catering company. It may just be a front to attend parties and be seen with the right people on the pages of the gossip rags but it’s her thing and it does fairly well so who cares? Tara is bubbly and fun as long as she’s having a good time. There’s almost always a cocktail in her hand or a pill in her purse to pop. What could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing, when you run in certain circles, if you don’t know just forget it. You would never understand.

On this particular every other Thursday is payday visit Tara Pierce comes bouncing into her brother’s office just bursting with breaking news. “I met The Duke!” Tara proclaims as she tries to catch her breath and Nate asks, “Wait, what? Slow down and explain.” Tara sits and sips what could very well be a vodka tonic from her environmentally conscious reusable water bottle. She continues, “You know, the writer, The Duke! We were at the same party on Sunday and he was asking about us and Daddy. His deal is up and he wants a new house for his next book!” The Duke is Derek Holden, his first book got published when he was already 40. It was a wildly successful thriller about a Catholic priest who investigates crimes and corruption within the church. That book became a best selling trilogy, Titled Blood and Wine. When Derek Holden wanted to step away from the series and try something different his publisher supported him until his attempt at a political espionage suspense thriller fell flat. All they wanted was another installment of the Blood and Wine series. The franchise is worth millions and Holden hinted about possibly having a final story in him. He floated this rumor himself after taking a million dollar buyout and walking away from his contract. The Duke is now shopping around and open to offers. Thanks to Tara big brother Nate and Pierce Publishing may have the inside track.

Tara lays out the intel she has gathered so far, “He likes BBQ, beer and bourbon. He doesn’t call himself Duke or The Duke. That’s for the fans a sort of alter ego or persona he puts on to protect himself. That’s what he claims anyway but he seems to enjoy playing the rebel, the literary RockStar. I invited him and like a half dozen others to my place for a barbeque on Sunday around 2ish. You should come and chat him up, see where it goes. Before he can form a response Nate Pierce is already on the hunt in his mind and Derek Duke Holden is his White Whale! Nate wants to stall and pretends to hesitate for a moment. Who is he kidding? He Loves this Shit! “I’ll stop by and meet the guy but no promises and I can’t stay long, I mean it.” Tara returns, “Ok then it’s done! I’ll send a car for you around noon. Who knows, it might be fun? We never get together any more and it won’t kill you to have a drink and socialize with your Sis. Dress casual and bring a bottle of something.” She has issued her orders and just like that, Hurricane Tara has left the building!

Nate Pierce now has a singular laser focus, the mission… “Get The Duke!” Nate will devote all of the next few days to getting to know Derek Holden, learning everything about his prey as any good hunter would do. This requires research and lots of it. Nate hates research but he knows someone who loves it, Paige Declan. He won’t call or intercom employees, Nate prefers to walk the bullpen and visit staff at their work stations when he needs something. He also believes it makes him more down to earth when he walks the floor and engages with the working class. Nate finds Paige Declan furiously hammering away at her keyboard and flipping through a legal note pad while standing hunched over, leaning on her desk. The Boss of Pierce Publishing, the guy who signs the checks knows how to make himself small when the situation calls for it. He hangs back and politely clears his throat then says, “Excuse me.” After putting her index finger up as if to pause the person asking for her attention, Paige slowly raises her eyes and lowers her glasses down her nose to see Mister Pierce standing before her waiting to be acknowledged, if not at least recognized. Immediately Paige fumbles to recover, ‘Sorry Sir, I’m trying to fact check and proofread This new collection of JFK speeches and letters so we can get a final draft submitted.” Pierce answers, “Never apologize for being busy and working hard Paige. When you're done can you come upstairs? A new project just came in that I need some help with. I think you would be perfect for it. If you're interested?” Paige manages to cobble together, “Yes Sir, Thank you Sir.” in response just as Nate walks away.

Paige Declan is perfect, for her job that is. She started at Pierce under Nathan Senior as a college intern. She has been with the firm for three years now and has worked her way up from making coffee and copies to the title of research assistant. The job is exactly as tedious and boring as it sounds, it is well suited to Paige’s meticulous nature. She loves books and words, she absolutely adores putting facts and information in order. She gets the satisfaction of putting together a puzzle for the enjoyment of others. It works for Paige since she doesn’t truly enjoy the company of others. You might call her a cat lady except that she doesn’t care for cats or plants either for that matter. She is 26 and good looking in a plain natural way. She was engaged briefly but it ended badly, rather messy and unfortunate in fact. Paige is content in her own company or that of a good book, a glass of wine and a half a joint. That’s her nightly ritual in her Brooklyn basement, studio apartment where she has just enough counter space in her tiny kitchenette to experiment with recipes. Paige has become quite a good cook as a result of hovering just north of the poverty line. It’s cheaper than buying lunch in the city or ordering take out every night. She recently ditched the revolving door roommate thing in favor of a place she could finally afford on her own. That Brooklyn basement ain't much but to her it’s everything.

Twenty some odd minutes later Paige has collected herself enough to make her way up the stairs to Mister Nate Pierce’s office. Paige Declan has talked herself down, talked herself into getting her shit together and keeping it together long enough to sink her teeth into whatever project is waiting for her behind that door with the frosted glass window. She has already made her mind up to say yes to whatever the project is no matter what. She’s never been singled out before,let alone told she would be perfect for anything ever, and by the boss no less. Paige knocks and without thinking turns the knob to enter at the same time without waiting for an answer. Nate Pierce is sitting on his desk with his feet on the chair in front of him and is quick to dispatch all formalities. “I’m Nate, not Mister Pierce. That guy’s off in Scotland playing golf or some nonsence.” Nate wants Paige to feel comfortable right away, he goes on, “If I said to you, we got The Duke. Would you know what that meant? Do you know who that is?” Nate's opening tactic, his pitch worked. Paige is totally relieved and at ease, it helps matters that she is able to answer Nate’s question in less than a second she replies, “Derek Holden, the Blood and Wine trilogy and an underrated political suspense piece about a rigged election and an assasination plot.” Nate is impressed and he says so, “Impressive Paige, well his deal is over with Liberty Press. They bought him out of his contract and he took a walk. Now he’s looking for a new house. Are you a fan?” Paige explains. “My ex was, he was a little obsessed with the Blood and Wine stories. It was kind of his thing.” Nate knows nothing of Paige on a personal level but doesn’t want to be rude so he simply says, “Sorry about the break up. I didn’t know, relationships are tough. Anyway, Word has it he’s working on what could be the final Blood and Wine and I have a chance to meet him at a get together this weekend. I wanna know everything there is to know about Derek Holden by Sunday morning. Do you wanna research him for me and come up with a cheat sheet so I don’t sound like an idiot? It would be a coup if we could lock up The Duke, bring him into the Pierce family. What do you think? Are you in? It would mean a lot to the company and to me. Of course you would be compensated over and above your regular pay. Paige agrees and is instructed to come back before leaving for the day.

Paige Declan can hardly keep from jumping out of her skin as the end of the day approaches. She contains her excitement just long enough to meet with Nate again for what she’s sure will be detailed marching orders. She enters the office and sits quietly as Nate Pierce reveals his plan, “Ok Paige, this is some covert cloak and dagger type shit right here.” Nate explains as he rubs his palms together and points out all the “Goodies” on the table. “This is off the books just you and me. You don’t work on this here. Tomorrow you work from home, here’s everything you need.” On the desk is a brand new laptop, a thumb drive, a stack of pads and notebooks and over a dozen pens and markers. There’s also an envelope with a hundred dollar bill in it for some reason. Paige doesn’t ask questions, deciding instead just to go with it. Nate continues, “The computer and thumb drive are both clean and secure. Use them not your work or your own computer. Open a file on The Duke, call it John Wayne. Get it? Put everything you can on Holden in that file and back it up on the drive. Maybe it’s all too much but this is big and we should move quick and quiet. I’m meeting him at my sister’s on Sunday so the deadline is Saturday night. What do you think, can you get it done? Are you in?” Paige says, “Yes definitely, one question, What’s the money for?” Nate responds, ‘Honestly I don’t know. Whatever you need to work, Snacks, junk food, take out, booze and here’s my personal number and email. Keep me updated and call in sick tomorrow. Thanks Paige and good luck!”

With that Paige Declan grabs her backpack and is off on some over the top, probably unnecessary real life version of mission impossible. Whatever, she thinks on the subway ride back to Brooklyn, it might be fun to be stealthy and play spy. Fuck it she already made an extra hundred bucks and she gets to stay home tomorrow. No pants required! This day just keeps getting better and better. All Paige Declan needs now is a glass of wine and a joint, then all will be right with the world.

On Friday morning Paige wakes with an enthusiasm and an optimism she has never before felt. As she powers up her brand new laptop she’s prepared not only to greet the day but to Crush it! She intends to grab today by the Balls and make it her Bitch! Take it easy, maybe some coffee first? Yes coffee, coffee comes first! Before Paige can even get organized and get going she hears several dings in quick succession coming from her cell phone. She retrieves the phone from the inside pocket of her perfectly beat up and broken in leather jacket which she had lovingly shed and discarded just inside the front door last night. “Unbelievable”, she says out loud as she looks at the screen to find four textsn from Nate asking in slightly varied, slightly veiled ways for a progress report. Not even a quarter after nine and Paige can already tell that Nate is going to be a Pain in the Ass about this! Further proof of this comes in the form of an email sent by Nate to Paige in the account she just set up last night specifically for this project alone. Oh well time to get to work. She responds to the texts and email with,”I got this I’m on it Boss.” Mostly true but also a snarky, “Leave me alone!’ if you read between the lines.

As Paige slaps together a basic bio of Derek Holden Nate Pierce is doing some research of his own. Since Paige Declan is doing all the heavy lifting, for his part Nate figures he might as well actually read the Blood and Wine series. He tears into the first book with vigor and varosity, setting himself the task of reading all three novels in order and cover to cover before the Sunday afternoon get together. It’s a tall order but Nate feels he is up to the challenge. Besides, he would never want to embarrass himself by engaging in a conversation about a subject he knows little to nothing about. Nor would he risk insulting a talented writer he was attempting to sign. Nate always has some small degree of social anxiety triggered by group functions or an environment he can’t control. He combats this by being prepared with well rehearsed talking points and witty banter. That and a few drinks and Nate Pierce is as smooth and charming as his Dear Old Dad, every bit his father’s son in all the best of ways. He finds the first book to be entertaining, not too heavy or intense to begin with but so far Nate is able to understand the appeal that this writer holds for the public.

At home in sloppy sweats and a Sex Pistols tee shirt Paige Declan is finding her new role as house detective for Pierce Publishing to be a good fit. Delving into and dissecting someone else’s life from a far is kind of exciting to her in a voyeuristic sort of way. Most who take an entry level job in the literary arena do so in order to pursue the dream of having their own manuscript published. It’s a stepping stone, a hustle and also something Paige Declan has no interest in. She loves books and great storytelling but has no aspirations to write. She has tried but feels that she lacks the talent and imagination to create rich worlds and very real, very human characters out of nothing. She greatly appreciates good writing for the pleasure and escape it provides her but she knows her limits and how to work within them. Paige Declan is perfectly happy being a reader. Being a writer just isn’t her thing. She is much more comfortable being the fly on the wall. Although, ultimately she wouldn’t mind if this little research project landed her a seat at the table. This is her shot to prove herself, to show that she can play with the big boys and that’s all she wants.

By the time she bites into her Saturday morning breakfast burrito Paige has compiled the most comprehensive collection of info and intel on Derek Duke Holden that has ever been seen. Everything from where he went to high school to his employment history. She documents everything from the darkest corners of the web to the geekiest of fan pages dedicated to The Duke. Paige is full! In under 24 hours Paige Declan has consumed all things Derek Holden. The funny thing is, the more she learns about the man the more her taste for him has turned sour. She literally has a bad taste in her mouth from ingesting ugly rumors and second hand stories of Holden’s decadent and debaucherous behavior. Paige is left with a stomach ache but has to remain objective not judgemental of her subject. Can she respect the talent and not like the person? The answer from where Paige sits is… Why not? It’s not like she’s ever gonna meet the guy. They probably would never be in the same room together anyway. Why would they?

At around three that afternoon Paige has a complete report for her Boss, much like what she imagines a Private Eye would prepare for a client. Maybe Nate Pierce will see it more like Cliff Notes for his upcoming Duke Holden exam? Paige downloads her digital/virtual cheatsheet to the thumb drive and her and Nate talk and make arrangements to meet. Nate insists on doing an in person hand off of the research material and would prefer sooner rather than later. Paige agrees but has conditions, “I won’t go to the city over the weekend and I Don’t have people over to my place because well, mostly I just don’t like people but there’s a bar in my neighborhood that I go to sometimes. Meet me there at seven and I’ll let you buy me a drink.” They hang up and Paige texts Nate the address. The bar is right around the corner from her apartment so not a pain in the ass and it doesn’t hurt to get out, kill some time and have a drink every once in a while. Paige gets ready, meaning she puts on jeans and a different tee shirt. She’s out the door and sitting at the bar by 6:30 because to her, being on time is actually 15 minutes late.

The Irish Haven is an institution in Sunset Park, an old school Brooklyn drinking establishment, a real neighborhood joint. Paige only wanders in occasionally but she feels safe there. It’s the kind of place where you can sit by yourself and have a drink without anybody bothering you or feeling pressure to be social. It feels like the regulars would step in if some overserved Jackass got outta line with a lady before things got outta hand. So it’s a comfortable place for a clandestine meeting. Paige sips a Bourbon, neet as she waits for Nate to show up. This is strictly a beer and booze joint, not a shot in hell of getting a good glass of wine and Paige knows better than to ask, that would be embarrassing. At just a few minutes before seven in walks Nate Pierce. Looking not at all out of place but also not much different than he does around the office. His sandy Blonde hair slightly mussed by his reading glasses always resting on top of his head, faded, cuffed up jeans and an olive green tweed blazer. The two say hi and opt for a small round table by the window next to the door.

Before anything official begins Nate goes up to the bar to get a round. He returns quickly with another Bourbon for Paige and a long neck bottle of Coors Light for himself. If there was any ice to be broken between the two of them that did it! No way can Paige even attempt to hide the fact that she’s cracking up as she asks, “What are you, a sorority pledge at her first frat party?” “What??”, Nate gets the joke but plays dumb with a wink and slight grin. Paige is surprised that she even made the off the cuff joke to her boss but it was a definate equalizer. So, she takes it a step further, saying, “Gimme that!” and grabbing the offending beverage. She returns with a bottle of Miller High Life and declares, “Here, this is Classy!” To which Nate remarks, “Ah… the Champagne of Beers!” Light hearted banter and libations are out of the way, now it’s time to get down to business.

Paige placed the laptop case on the table and fetched the thumb drive from it’s front pocket. Palming it, she passed it off to Nate with some sly sleight of hand. Both Nate and Paige are aware that the theatrics and secrecy are not called for as they aren’t doing anything wrong but both of them can’t help thinking that it’s just more fun this way. Paige then produces a file folder from another pocket inside the case, as she slides it over to Nate she informs him, “I took the liberty of making a hard copy of the “Wayne” file, in case you wanted to glance at it now. It’s pretty standard stuff, nothing shocking but it should be enough to give you the edge you’re looking for with The Duke. Truth, I went deep really got inside the guy. Got in his head and under his skin. It was pretty cool anyway. I hope it helps.” Nate Pierce sits in silence as he flips through the substantial file. Looking pleased he tells Paige, “Looks good,nice work, I’ll get into it when I get home. I like to read in a comfy chair with a nice glass of wine. It’s a very private, solitary thing to me. Thanks for this. Oh, you can keep the laptop as a bonus and this.” Nate leaves an envelope on the table with Paige’s name written on it. She tucks it in her jacket and packs up the laptop. The pair walk out together to go their separate ways under the cloak of darkness or something like that. Some kind of cliche to put a fitting end on the evening.

Nate Pierce and Paige Declan stand outside the Irish Haven together for a moment. They awkwardly share a quick hug after both debating internally between hug and handshake. Nate has a question before they part company he asks, “You wanna meet the man? Come to a lame ass thing with me in the Hamptons tomorrow? Might be fun and you can make sure I don’t Fuck things up with The Duke.” Paige is a bit caught off guard by the invitation but is quick to respond, “Sorry, I can’t help you with your thing. I would love to but I kinda already have a thing tomorrow. So good luck with The Duke and don’t call him that. He actually Hates it! I think you should go home,study like it’s a school night and get some sleep. That’s my advice to you.” Nate understands and doesn’t push it. Saying only, “Ok, I get it thanks again. I gotta walk over to catch the R and it’s a school night soooo…. Can I call you after the BloodBath tomorrow?” Paige replies, “You better I’m looking forward to it. You got this, No Worries!” Then Paige and Nate are off in different directions.

At home Paige unwinds not with her obligatory wine and joint combo but a simple glass of Maker’s mark, no ice. Paige has discovered a new found fondness for the brown booze courtesy of Mister Derek Holden. He is often quoted singing the praises of good bourbon as his drink of choice enough at least so that Paige decided to explore the elixir’s virtues as part of her research. She has also discovered a new found respect for Mister Nate Pierce. Here’s a rich guy who enjoys reading, drinks cheap beer and takes the subway. She thinks there’s something charming and maybe almost redemptive about that. Then Paige remembers the envelope tucked inside her leather jacket. As she slides across the floor to get it she also remembers that Nate said she would be compensated above and beyond for her work. She put it out of her mind because it would have been rude, even vulgar to open the envelope in front of Nate. Now alone and with a pleasantly warm buzz going she tears into the envelope and leafing through the bills inside, Paige lets out a considerably load, “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!” As she stares down at the 4 crisp, new hundred dollar bills sitting in her lap. With the hundred he gave her before Paige Declan just made five hundred bucks cash for what basically amounted to less than 12 hours of actual work. Not a bad gig. Paige congratulates herself by pounding down the last of her well deserved cocktail before stretching out on her futon and crashing for the night.

It’s a big day for Nate Pierce and he is appropriately and excitingly dreading it. It’s the pre Labor day goodbye to summer thing that his sister Tara throws every year the Sunday prior to Labor day weekend. She does this so that she has no competition and can attend the other bashes on the Hamptons party circuit without having any responsibilities. Tara’s parties are always a hit, there’s always a theme and always amazing food and drink. This is a small get together of about a dozen guests with barbeque, beer and bourbon on the menu With Derek Holden as the guest of honor. Nate is being picked up at noon and has been instructed to pick up a bottle to bring. He runs to a liquor store over on Houston a few blocks away. Nate is hoping and praying that they are open on a Sunday as he trots around the corner and they are! He grabs two bottles of Maker’s Mark and on his way home picks up a bunch of sunflowers from the bodega across the street from his place. Then Nate Showers, shaves and dresses casually, short sleeve button down, khakis and black Converse. He waits outside and is picked up right on time. He has studied and put some notes in his phone. Now he is ready to party.

Nate goes over his notes in the car and calls Paige looking for a pep talk. Paige said she had a thing so, no surprise when she doesn’t pick up. So much for killing time on the over 90 minute ride. Oh well, that’s what mindlessly scrolling on social media is for. Nate pulls up to his sister’s beach bungalow compound shortly before 2pm, Tara greets him at the side garden gate and leads him around to the backyard. There is a tiki bar set up and several picnic tables and benches spread around bordering a fire pit. Three charcoal grills and a smoker have been set up while drinks and apps are already circulating among a handful of early arrivals. Nate and Tara take a few minutes to chat by the bar where Nate hands over the bottles of booze he brought with him. Three to five minutes is just about all the family time Tara can handle before she has to buzz around the yard and play host. While she is in her element Nate is not, he’s standing off by the enclosed porch on the side of the house like he’s at a junior high dance and is afraid to ask a girl to dance. You can’t blame the guy. This isn’t his scene and for him this is a work thing otherwise he wouldn’t be here. Hell, he wouldn’t even be invited if he wasn’t Tara’s brother. The Hamptons social scene is scary, scary and vicious!

At 2:20pm the man of the hour arrives, getting out of a silver BMW which promptly departs Derek Holden struts up the path to the garden gate looking every inch the Rock Star. Wearing a black newsboy cap tilted over one eye, a sheer black scarf draped over his shoulders and a Marlboro dangling from his mouth. He lowers his sunglasses as he cruises the crowd pressing the flesh like a politician only better, cooler. That’s the perfect word, he’s Cool. That’s the perfect descriptor for The Duke and it seems to be true, natural and effortless. Derek Holden eventually glides over to tuck himself in next to the bar. He barely gets a sip of bourbon and water down his throat before Tara is on him. This gives Nate an in, he strides over and makes a crack about Tara harassing guests. Now Nate is in his element, in seconds he’s chatting with Holden. In under five minutes the two fine gentlemen are walking away toward the side porch with their cocktails to go have a smoke. Nate Pierce hasn’t smoked in forever but it helps get him a few minutes with Holden away from all the other eyes and ears. It’s all part of the hustle and Nate is good at it.

Derek and Nate sit on the steps of the side porch and Derek confesses, “I Hate these things! It feels so false, like I’m putting myself on display. Like I’m a shill running a con or playing a part and the thing I’m selling is me.” That’s an open door for Nate to walk right through but he doesn’t want to go into a publishing pitch when Derek Holden looks like he could use a friend. Nate can fill that position for a few hours just by selling himself. Just by being a Pierce, he observes, “I get it it’s like you don’t belong here, right? Try being a Pierce, the expectations, the pressure and all that Family Business Bull Shit. You can have it but there’s no escape. I can’t just walk away from it, it’s a trap. Must be like being a famous and successful writer in a way, huh?” Holden replies, “I don’t know, looks pretty good to me. Your sister seems to enjoy being a Pierce. As for me, honestly I don’t even like writing any more. I like having written and I like the lifestyle but you're right about the trap. The critics are Brutal and sometimes the fans are even worse. They feel like you belong to them. They love you and they love to tear you apart, build you up to knock you down, kinda thing.”

The two talk a bit longer about sports, music and everyday petty annoyances until Derek feels obligated to join the group again. Nate follows behind interested in watching The Duke hold court. Nate grabs another drink and stakes out a spot next to Tara. He’s both plotting his next move and planning his exit. Come up with some excuse and in about an hour it’s Irish Goodbye time. Except Tara has other plans, “Hey Brother, I told Derek he was welcome to stay and crash in the pool house. Maybe you should do the same? Looks like you two hit it off. You should stay and hang. I’ll get a car to drop you both in the city in the morning.” That’s right, Nate and Derek are both stuck, neither of them drove. It might be a good idea to stay but it is a Sunday. Nate quips, “It’s a school night Sis, work in the morning.” “And you’re the Boss and this is work so… Fuck All That!” Is Tara’s answer and that is that! Derek needs far less convincing, his mind was made up as soon as Tara made the offer. These kinds of Hamptons parties never have a formal start or end, people just trickle in and stagger out. As happy as Tara is to throw a party she’s equally just as happy when it’s over or even better, when it’s at someone else’s house. By nine it’s time to call it a night and retire to the pool house.

Tara and her gal pal Georgia join the boys in the pool house which is the size of an NYC one bedroom and fully stocked with plenty more beer, wine and bourbon.Georgia is a hot shot interior designer who is having a moment as the go to name in the Hamptons and coastal New England vacation towns. The foursome stay up late into the night drinking, musing and pondering rich people problems. When the ladies leave Derek Holden tells Nate, “When we get back to the city we should have a serious talk.” Nate takes the opening and bites, “About what?” Holden continues, “A book of course. I have an idea, I have one more Blood and Wine story in me and it will be the absolute end of the franchise. I plan to sew up the final chapter so tight that even I could not come back from it. I walked away at the end of my last deal with a Million Bucks and now I wanna prove myself again Maybe with you, with Pierce Publishing? The last Blood and Wine could be yours for the right price. Let’s get together during the week and figure it out, ok?” Of course it's ok, this is what Nate Pierce wants but he has to be cool about it. He replies, “Yeah, let’s do that. It’s definitely worth a conversation.” They leave it there for the time being and decide to get some sleep both aware of the Hellish drive that awaits them in the morning.

After saying goodbye to their host and grabbing some coffee for the road Nate and Derek get in a waiting town car and ride back to the city together. In the course of conversation they realize that they live less than ten blocks apart. RThis will make getting together easier for both of them. Derek Holden is dropped off first at his West Village townhouse, Then Nate at his Houston street loft conveniently right across the street from the loft that serves as the office for Pierce Publishing. Also conveniently, both are owned by the Pierce family. It’s going on 11am and Nate hasn’t heard a word from the office or from Paige. Strang, but no matter, Nate intends to shower and change then stroll on over to the office. After a shower and in the process of getting dressed it dawns on Nate that he hasn’t eaten so he changes his plans. He texts Paige and asks her to join him for a breakfast meeting. He tells her all she has to do is walk across the street. She replies with, Ok????? 15 min?

Fifteen minutes later Paige Declan is across the street getting buzzed into her Boss’s apartment that she didn’t even know was directly across from the office. She takes the rickety old freight elevator up to the second floor and when the doors open there’s Nate Pierce standing beside a spread of coffee, juice, bagels and pastries that he ordered from a gourmet market down the street. Nate can’t wait to brief Paige on The Duke so he dives right in, “So, Holden is pretty cool. We talked a lot and got along really well. I think we could actually wind up being friends. Anyway, he wants to talk about Pierce putting out a new Blood and Wine book that he says will be the Ultimate, the absolute end to the series answering all the questions and wrapping it up so there can’t be another one.” Paige adds, “And a Big middle Finger to Liberty Press, not to mention a fat paycheck, one last score? Sounds about right.” Nate likes the fact that Paige gets it, she’s sharp and no nonsense. Nate needs her on this, on his side so he makes an offer, “Paige, you want a seat at the table? I’m gonna set up a meeting with Holden and I want you to sit in. Help me lock him up and you can work on the next Derek Holden book.” This is Paige Declan’s shot to be part of something big and to prove herself. She can’t be shy anymore, she has to grab this by the balls so she does. Paige speaks up, “Yes Sir, thank you! Whatever you need, I would just like to be part of the team and bring a Derek Holden book to life from the very beginning. “Then it’s settled. I’ll call him and set it up.” That’s how Nate calls the breakfast meeting to a close. Then Paige and Nate walk back to the office a few minutes apart and go about the rest of the day.

Later in the day Nate gets a hold of Holden and they discuss plans to meet on Thursday with Derek Holden Saying, “I was just working on some crap a little bit ago. I’ll write it up as an outline or like a proposal and bring it with me so we have something on paper to stare at. Then we can go from there, ok?” Nate agrees and Derek goes on, “Let’s not make it too formal or involve too many people to start. Let’s meet outside the office. Come to my place Thursday afternoon like around 3ish, we’ll work out some details and get goin’ on this Son of a Bitch!” Once again, Nate agrees but asks, “I’m going to bring my best, most trusted research assistant if that’s alright? Derek replies, “Whatever Brother let’s just keep it small and close to the vest for now. Gotta go, see ya Thursday.” Nate informs Paige of the plan and then decides he has had enough for one day. All that’s left is to call his sister and say thank you which he can easily do later on from home.

Tara Pierce is of course happy to hear from her brother and happy to help. She is very glad things went well. Tara has no real vested interest in the business but she likes her comfortable life and the salary she draws every two weeks. It’s in Tara’s best interest to help her brother when help is needed as long as she doesn’t have to go too far out of her way that is. She doesn’t mind stepping in from time to time but Tara is her own woman with her own pursuits and priorities. She just happens to be a Pierce and she is guilty of enjoying the name and everything that goes along with it. Tara knows the small price she is occasionally asked to pay is nothing compared to the power and privilege of being a Pierce. She knows how the game is played and she plays it very well.

Paige Declan on the other hand is about to cross the threshold for the first time, no longer on the outside looking in with her face pressed up against the glass. She will finally get to look behind the curtain, peek under the veil, call it what you will, Paige is about to jump in the deep end and swim with the sharks. She needs to prepare but she doesn’t know how or for what? Can she call Nate and ask what to expect or what will be expected of her? Is that ok, is that allowed? As if to answer her question, her phone rings and it’s Nate Pierce. Weird and creepy she thinks as she answers, “Hi Nate.” Too forward? Too informal? Doesn’t matter Nate tells Paige, “You passed, this was a test and you passed.” He further instructs, “Always have your phone charged and always pick up. If I call, you answer. Things are about to get very real and very serious for us, this is Big! We gotta be in constant contact and totally in sync from now on. Only three people exist in your world: me, you and Derek Holden. That’s all, good night, get some sleep see ya tomorrow.” Click, and Paige Declan is in the deep end just like that.

Business as usual never applies at Pierce Publishing but that is particularly true during the days leading up to the Hush-Hush meeting with the duke. Nate and Paige meet behind closed doors and after hours to develop a strategy and work out an offer. Nate wants to have two versions of a deal ready for Derek Holden, the first a one off, a million dollars for the final Blood and Wine book along with a fair split of profits and royalties. The other would be the same plus an option for two more Holden titles new and different ones separate from the Blood and Wine series. Paige does more research on Derek, this time more of a personal and financial nature looking, as always for insight or an edge, anything they can use to their advantage.

“Check this out.” Paige says as she turns her laptop so Nate can see the screen from across his desk. “Looks Like your Buddy has a habit of stringing along editors, blowing deadlines and holding drafts for ransom to squeeze more money out of his publisher.” Nate offers a sceptical retort, “All writers pull that shit, plus he hated Liberty Press and his deal so he was putting the screws to them.” Paige replies, “I get that but we should ask for a chapter or a few pages at least and maybe smaller up front money just to be safe?” Paige is technically way overstepping herself right now but she may have a point. At least she’s being protective, Nate likes that so he lets it slide. He answers, “Let me run some rough numbers tonight and tomorrow. We can go over them together in the car on Thursday on the way to Holden’s.” This is the first Paige is hearing of the meeting being held outside the office. Whatever, that’s Great! No big deal, it gives her just enough time for her nerves to get the better of her and twist her stomach into a knot. She replies, “Ok great, talk to you later.” and leaves the office to finish the rest of the day at her rightful place in the bullpen.

Paige is aware of the whispers and rumors but she doesn’t give a shit! She simply doesn’t care enough about any of these people to confirm or deny anything and why should she. This is her moment, she’s taking her shot, no apologies, no regrets and no excuses. These people aren’t her friends and any or all of them would cut her throat to get ahead besides, Paige isn’t doing anything wrong. She’s actually just doing what she’s always done. Keep your head down, dig your heels in and work your ass off, that’s the bottom line. She gets the job done and that’s all that matters. She isn’t here to make friends or find a nice fella, She has bills to pay. Her and Nate talk on Wednesday after work and he informs her, “The car will pick you up first at 9 in the morning and then come get me. Derek’s townhouse is like less than ten blocks from here. I worked up a proposal so we can go over it and prep a little in the car so we don’t go in cold. Get some sleep and relax, we got this.” Nate always tries to get the last word in and usually hangs up abruptly without giving Paige a chance to respond or even say good night. Paige has her orders and she knows what to do. All that’s left is to turn her brain off and get some sleep which in this case is definitely going to be easier said than done.

Thursday morning Paige Declan is standing outside her apartment waiting to be picked up as instructed. She’s dressed as professionally and smartly as her wallet and wardrobe will allow. Black boot cut slacks with Chelsea boots, a silk black blouse and a long gray sweater with her granny glasses and ponytail. She quite looks the part of literary research assistant. A black SUV pulls up right on time and Paige is off. When Nate gets in he has two coffees in hand. He asks the driver to pull in and park for a minute telling Paige, “We have time. Drinking coffee in a moving car always seems risky. Derek isn’t expecting us until 11 and I feel like being early doesn’t work for him. So, let’s just sit with our coffee and game plan for a few.” Nate shows Paige the two proposals he has worked up. She scans them nodding and saying, “Uh-huh” a lot under her breath. Paige is not sure if Nate is looking for input or approval or nothing at all here so wisely she leaves it alone. 

At 10:55 they arrive at the Holden townhouse. When they exit the SUV Nate lights up a Marlboro. Paige asks, “What’s this? Since when?” Followed by, “Gimme that!” She takes a drag and coughs up a lung but it gets a laugh out of Nate. They share the rest of the smoke and pop some Altoids before ringing the buzzer on the video doorbell/intercom combo security system. They hear, “C’mon in, followed by a buzzing and a click of a lock turning then Nate is able to open the door. Nate Pierce and Paige Declan are in the inner sanctum, maybe the lion’s den or possibly a level of Hell straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Who knows? They enter a large reception/lounge area with exposed brick walls and wooden beams where there is a large sectional sofa and a horseshoe shaped bar in the corner. This is a perfect space for entertaining or intimidating depending on the situation.

Derek Holden comes down the stairs to join them balancing an ashtray, a pack of cigarettes and a coffee mug all in one hand while holding onto the banister with the other. He cuts a curious figure in an open and tattered green tartan bathrobe and a faded old Rolling Stones Some Girls tour tee-shirt. On his way across the room before even speaking a word, Holden pats himself down looking for a light. He finds a blue bic in the left pocket of his black and red checkerboard pattern pants. Only after exhaling a cloud of smoke does he address his guests, “Hi, hey, what can I get you? Coffee, cocktails, Irish coffee perhaps?” Derek Holden pauses to acknowledge Paige’s presence. He introduces himself, “Derek Holden and apparently today I am vVery Rude and Very Sorry and you are?” Nate jumps in and steals the introduction, “Paige Declan, my top research assistant. I asked her to join us. I told you, right? Thought so anyway.” Holden responds, “I assume Miss Declan that you are intelligent and can and will speak freely for yourself for the rest of the day.” Caught off gaurd Paige just nods and mumbles something of no consequence. It doesn’t matter as Derek and Nate have moved over to the bar and moved on. Derek Holden declares, “First a drink, then to the business at hand.”

It’s his world on his terms and it’s quite clear that he likes pulling the strings and holding all the cards. It’s only on the third round of Bourbon and water for everyone that Derek feels like discussing anything even remotely related to writing. He hands over a four page story outline for the next and final installment of Blood and Wine. It’s just enough to get things rolling. In the early hours of the evening pizza is ordered and paperwork is produced. There is a deal to be made here but of course there is also some negotiating to be done. Derek Holden likes the version of the million dollar deal with the option of publishing future works but it all comes down to money. Nate Pierce declares, “A million straight up with a hundred fifty grand advance that we don’t recoup. It’s yours. That’s as good as it gets.” Holden responds with a counter, “You’ll give me a two hundred fifty grand advance and fifty of it in cash before I sign or I say thank you and walk away.” Nate returns, “ ok two hundred and you get twenty of it in cash. We can have that done first thing in the morning then we get right to work. Deal?” With that Nate extends his hand for Holden to shake. Holden responds, “One condition, Paige delivers the cash and the documents personally in the morning and also everything we do is just the three of us. Those are my terms.” All three shake hands and the deal is done. Not a bad day at the office.

Bright and early the next morning Paige Declan walks from the office of Pierce Publishing to the Holden townhouse, giving very little thought to the twenty grand in cash that’s strapped to her back. She is in fact more concerned, almost fixated with what her role in this project is to be going forward. Now that the Big Fish has been caught where does she fit in? Now that Nate Pierce has landed his White Whale is Paige Declan even part of the plan? To be fair a lot has yet to unfold, much remains to be seen. Paige has the skills and the sensibility to make herself an asset to Nate and Derek alike. She also has a talent for making herself invisible when necessary so as not to take away or distract from the task at hand. She hopes to prove herself reliable and prays not to be seen as disposable. At Derek Holden’s door She takes a deep breath and rings the bell. She’s buzzed in quite quickly and walks straight into the lounge area to wait for her host. Paige is relieved to put the backpack containing the cash advance down while she waits and waits. Feeling as if maybe she is being tested, wondering if she is maybe even being watched? Or maybe she should just stop being paranoid?

What happens over the next 45 or so minutes is something almost resembling a job interview. A well put together version of Derek Holden not in a bathrobe and clean shaven starts rambling to her mid sentence as if in some sort of stream of consciousness kind of thing. Derek Holden starts rattling off questions to Paige but they're quite convoluted and mixed in with numbers and dates and deadlines and jiberish. It’s a lot but from what she can discern Paige is either being offered a job or being recruited into the KGB. Either way the prospects are exciting and the stakes just got raised. Holden explains that he doesn’t retain a full time assistant, “No need, I know how to function in the day to day sense. I know how to live in the world. It’s only when I’m writing that I need help. Mostly with the discipline and deadline aspects of it. I need someone to kick me in the ass and keep me on task. Can you do that? Will you do that?” Paige pauses before answering or asking any questions. She is stuck, frozen in a pause that has lasted longer than desired, until it is broken by Derek Holden.

“The offer Paige is Ten Grand a month to be my assistant for the duration of this project. Of course you would still work for Pierce and get paid by both of us. Nate and I will work out the details. I’m not trying to steal you or test your loyalties, I just like you and I trust you. I think we would work well together. I need someone to check my ego and call me on my bullshit. This is a great opportunity for you to be part of something bigger than you. Something that will be here long after we are gone.” To prove how serious he is, Holden insists that Paige takes the cash advance she came to deliver for herself as a retainer. She accepts and asks, “Give me a day to talk to Nate and make sure this is good?” Derek agrees and as Paige leaves to head back to the office she has the feeling that this is already a done deal. Possibly with the devil, Maybe that’s a touch dramatic or possibly paranoid? In any case it’s a good gig with good money attached so not much to think about and that’s that!

Back at the office Paige goes about breaking the news to Nate Pierce. She finds her Boss to be receptive to the arrangement, “ It’s perfect! Why not? You can keep an eye on him and work for me while he pays you. He’s gonna be a spoiled, demanding pain in the ass. But you can handle it, keep him focused and keep this thing moving.” Paige Declan agrees to this new assignment/arrangement and her, Nate and Derek put together a breakfast meeting to iron out the particulars and get the project started. Paige is starting to appreciate the potential power of the position she finds herself in. She will have influence, she can make herself  indispensable to these two men. Paige doesn’t play games. To her this is more of a math equation, a problem to solve or a puzzle. Paige Declan is good at this and she knows it. Now she just has to tread lightly, thread the needle and play perfectly so that everybody gets what they want, everybody wins! No big deal though, no pressure!

The Friday morning breakfast meeting takes place at a diner pretty much half way between the Pierce Publishing office and Derek Holden’s townhouse. It is agreed that work on the new Blood and Wine should start on Monday. As the party of three finish their coffee and assorted danish, Paige Declan is informed that she will have the weekend to pack and tie up any loose ends as she will be expected to move into the townhouse on Monday to begin the writing process. This is the first mention of Paige relocating for the sake of working on the project and it is obvious by her expression that she is none too pleased with this turn of events. She did have advanced warning that Holden would be a demanding pain in the ass so, here it is. Derek Holden frames the situation in a much more favorable light to suit his own needs of course, “It’s just easier to work that way. Less waiting around and wasted time.” He explains that the upstairs of the townhouse is four bedrooms as well as a wrap around terrace and a large living room. He continues, “You will have your own large bedroom with a private bath, plenty of storage and tons of personal space. Please at least come look at it. If you don’t care for it then we say Fuck It! We can work more traditionally if the place isn’t to your liking, ok?” Paige takes note that Holden is trying to be a gentleman and she is curious to see the rest of his place, she responds, “Ok I’m in, let's all go check it out. Now is good!” She’s totally dragging Nate Pierce there without even asking but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Beyond the entry and the lounge/bar area which they have seen is a fully stocked galley kitchen. Lots of snacks, sandwich stuff and frozen microwave selections. Derek Holden leads his guests up the stairs and then to the left. There is a closed door, the master bedroom. Right next to it is an open door leading to the writing room. Holden ushers Paige and Nate into the sparse space, bare white walls and a computer on the far side of the room sitting on one of those cheap Ikea desks. At the desk is a cracked and beat up old leather office chair that may have been a street find? Against the wall across from that is a crappy couch and coffee table combo, possibly more trash treasures? The table is littered with scraps of paper and empty cigarette packs. The only other things in this room are two overflowing ashtrays and a filthy, fossilized coffee mug. Holden suddenly snaps, “Onward! To Miss Declan’s accommodations!” They pass a large living room full of comfy looking sofas and chairs, at the other end of the hall are two more doors side by side. The door on the left opens to a modest bed/bath combo, simple full size bed, full length mirror and four drawer dresser. There is an adjoining door to the next room which has been outfitted as both an office and a kitchenette with a microwave and mini fridge. Along with a couch and a coffee maker Paige is assured she will have all she needs and she digs it. Truth be told, she kind of loves it! After the tour is concluded Paige gives the only reasonable reply she can to the offer, a resounding, “Yes! Thank You! I’ll be here Monday and we can get right to work.” Satisfied that the matter is settled the three part ways for the weekend.

On the train back to Sunset Park Paige is positively pulsing with excitement! She decides not to make a big deal of this to others, no need to explain herself. She’s not giving up her little piece of Brooklyn, just making a new home away from home on Houston street. Paige has a running list in her head, pack only three or four days worth of clothes, some toiletries and a few personal items. Don’t wanna make it look like you're moving in. Don’t wanna make the wrong impression or give Holden the wrong idea in any way at all. She assures herself there will be ample time to do laundry and that she is not under lockdown. She will be free to come and go, run errands and get things as needed. She is sure, she hopes, Maybe? She hasn’t a Fucking clue! The other unknown is which Derek Holden she will get? The acclaimed, articulate and charismatic author at the height of his powers and the top of his game or, the heavy drinking, chain smoking slob in the tattered bathrobe? The guy in the depths of despair and the indifferent darkness or the eloquent, intellectual gentleman? Could be either one or even both, who knows? Monday will arrive soon enough and ready or not all will be revealed.

Over the weekend Nate Pierce manages to make quite the pest of himself in Paige’s eyes. As for that matter does Derek Holden. Both are trying to get to Paige, to prime and prep her for what’s to come. It’s all a bit of gamesmanship, both pushing their own angles and agendas all in the name of pride with Paige Declan in the middle. She won’t be made a chess piece or a trophy, Paige is smart enough to stay above it. She’s being deliberately diplomatic and delicate. A true practicing pragmatist, for however long that can last? Hopefully until Monday at the very least. Derek Holden calls on Sunday afternoon to tell Paige, “I’m sending a car for you at 10 am tomorrow. An SUV so you can bring as much or as little of your stuff as you want. Whatever will help you feel more comfortable. The driver’s name is Manny, he’s a good guy. I gave him instructions to stop anywhere you like along the way for coffee, food whatever. He has a credit card in your name to use for anything you need. Ok, see you tomorrow.” After Derek hangs up Paige laughs to herself. She can’t help but think of this as some modern twisted retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Tomorrow will show her if she’s far off or not.

At about a quarter to ten on Monday Morning Paige Declan notices a Black SUV idling across the street out of the tiny window of her basement studio. “There’s my ride.” She says out loud, then she takes a deep breath and a moment to collect herself before going outside to introduce herself to Manny. Manny Calderone is a polite and cordial middle aged man who seems to have a very easy manner about him. He is immediately helpful to Paige with her bags and he has a way of chatting just enough to be pleasant but not intrusive or annoying. Just before pulling away to take her to the townhouse, Manny hands Paige an envelope courtesy of Derek Holden. Inside she finds an Amex Black card with her name on it. There’s a set of keys and twenty five bucks in cash as well. Without being asked Manny offers an observation, “Derek is a good guy, very generous. He lets me keep the car for my own use when I’m off the clock and he never has me drive on weekends. He always asks about my family and offers me extra cash in case I’m a little short. He’s a good Boss!” This is the side of Derek Holden Paige hopes to see most she thinks as Manny goes on, “That’s what the cash is for, in case we stop somewhere that doesn’t take cards. It’s always good to have a little cash on you. Mister Holden, he thinks of these things.” Paige listens intently and nods when appropriate as she hasn’t much to add to the conversation.

They pull up to Paige Declan’s new address in under an hour and Manny helps her get through the door with her things. He then announces her arrival by yelling up the stairs to Derek, “I’m back with Miss Declan Boss! I’m goin’ for your smokes and your liquor store order. Be back in an hour.” As Derek Holden makes his way down stairs Paige feels a sense of relief to see that her host and new charge so to speak seems to be in fine shape. Derek directs Paige, “I doubt we will get any actual work accomplished today. Take your time, settle in and get your bearings. That’s the important thing, that’s enough of a task all by itself for today. Meet me in the lounge around 4ish if you feel up to it. We can have a drink and maybe order some food? Then we can plan a schedule for tomorrow and the rest of the week, how’s that? I’ll leave you to it for now.” “Sounds good, thank you.” Paige answers. She truly is grateful and very much at ease thanks to Holden’s understanding and patience. This may work out very well after all.

The day flies by and it is closer to five than it is to four when Paige realizes she is more than a little late to meet Derek in the lounge. She rushes down to find Derek having a beer and Manny keeping him company. Manny will often stay for a drink with his boss, as he sometimes feels that the guy might be lonely. Paige joins the two of them at the bar and extends her apologies after being greeted with a glass of wine. Shortly after that Manny says goodbye and takes off for the evening. Paige and Derek chat about books and about Brooklyn Derek grew up there in Kensington not too far from Paige’s neighborhood of Sunset Park. They briefly cover many topics of the getting to know you general crap. They wrap it up around nine and decide that their first full, official work day will start at eleven in the morning. Each of them retires to their rooms to unwind. Paige feels obligated to call Nate Pierce and fill him in on her first day and her first impressions. 

“He’s actually quite tame, very laid back. We had a few drinks and a bite to eat and just chatted a bit. We are scheduled to get to work tomorrow. Derek Holden, the person, the man is very different from the persona.” With a measure of relief in his voice Nate says, “That’s good to know.” He then continues, “Just remember you’re there to keep him focused and on track. You’re not his friend or his drinking buddy, Your job is to make sure he is productive.” Paige responds, “Sir, yes sir!” In a mocking, playful tone. After hanging up with Nate Paige watches TV for a while before drifting off. Derek Holden on the other hand stays up late and in the quiet of his room frantically scrawls notes to prepare for his morning writing session.This is part of the reason Holden insists on having an assistant with him in the house when he is working on a new project. If something strikes him at 1 in the morning so be it! If there is a day that he just doesn’t feel like writing that should be just fine as well. Derek Holden can’t seem to stick to a traditional work flow. His mind just works differently and he needs someone who understands that and can help him with the discipline aspect of it. How to harness and direct all that creative energy. He believes Paige Declan is the perfect person for that.

In the morning Paige is at a loss, she’s unsure what to do. Is she responsible for waking Holden? Does she knock on his door or just wait for him? Wait where? They said they would start at 11 but where? It’s a big Fuckin’ house God Damn it! Paige talks herself down from this momentary manic frenzy and figures she should just go stand in the hall and wait for some possible signs of life from Derek’s room. Just as she does this she hears Manny’s voice from downstairs saying, “Good morning! Time for breakfast, then time for work!” Manny has set the little square table off to the side of the bar with a serious assortment of bagels and danishes and of course doughnuts and coffee as well. Paige is impressed as she crosses the lounge,  not only by the spread but also Manny’s anticipation of their possible needs. He explains to Paige, “When he is working, the Boss will find any excuse to get distracted and take breaks. Here’s food and coffee and two more packs of Marlboros. He smokes a lot when he writes. You can usually get three good hours of work a day out of him. He likes to have a few beers around 2 or 3ish before moving on to bourbon at around 6. Then the work day is pretty much done. Don’t worry, I have no doubt you can handle him. Just don’t take any bull shit from him and you’ll be fine.” “Thank you, I appreciate it.” Paige replies just as the stirrings of the literary lion can be heard up above them.

Holden appears with a yellow legal pad tucked under his arm and a cigarette dangling from his lips seemingly ready to seize the day. He pauses to pour a cup of coffee then pauses, and leaning on the table through a cloud of smoke he asks, “Sleep well Paige?” He talks right over her reply, “We can eat and then take some coffee up to the writing room and get into it if that’s ok?” It’s a question to which no reply is expected or needed. A simple nod from Paige will do. Manny takes that as his cue, he grabs some coffee and a cinnamon roll and he is out the door to start his day saying, “I got my list, see ya later Boss and take it easy on the young lady at least on her first day ok? Derek responds with, “You got it, I promise I will.” Said of course with a wink and a smirk. Then it’s up to the writing room and down to business.

The day goes just about exactly as Manny had predicted. Holden spent about two and a half hours trying to transcribe his notes into something resembling cohesive thoughts. Paige was very helpful in organizing Derek’s ideas and by the time Derek called for the first beer break of the day the pair had hammered out an outline of sorts. It was enough at least for Paige to be satisfied that something got done and also enough for Derek Holden to sit back and be pleased with himself for the day. When he had enough and was ready for dinner and drinks Paige agreed that they had found a good stopping point for day one, as she declared the day a success saying, “So far so good. Let’s leave it here for now and pick it up tomorrow.” The next three days went by in a similar fashion with the work taking shape at a good pace which Paige is happy to report to Nate Pierce and he of course is thrilled to hear.

Friday is a different story. Derek Holden seems very disinterested in writing. He expresses feeling cooped up and distracted so he proposes that he and Paige institute, “Field Trip Fridays! Let's take Fridays off and get outta here. I’ll get Manny and we can go do something fun!” It’s not a bad idea but Paige doesn’t want it to become a bad habit either. In the end she agrees. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want a four day work week? When Manny arrives Derek informs him, “After breakfast we are off to Brooklyn! It’s been a while, and there’s a great taco truck over in your neck of the woods Paige. We can get lunch there and stop by your place too while we’re over there if you need to pick up anything. “OK, sounds good.” is the only response that Paige can come up with. The three of them head out around noon after what has become their ritual daily dose of carbs and caffeine.

As they amble through the streets of Brooklyn Derek points out landmarks and places of interest. He spouts little factoids as if trying to establish credibility or impress his audience. He mentions the Irish Haven by name and claims, “Now there’s a great day drinking spot, we should make a pit stop in there. I do enjoy a good early afternoon buzz. It makes the rest of the day just more enjoyable.” Paige is aware that Holden must know she lives right near this particular day drinking joint, after all Manny did pick her up there on Monday so she comments, “I like that place too! Then we can swing by my apartment so I can grab some more stuff and we can pick up tacos on the way back. Sounds like a plan.” Paige Declan is becoming more vocal and way more confident with each passing day and every experience in this new situation of hers and she’s enjoying this process of reinvention. Why not? It happens, people do it every day. Change, adapt, move on, Derek Holden has a persona and affectations presumably to protect himself from the public. Maybe Paige Declan should practice a little self preservation as well? Become a little louder, a little harder? Call it the Birth of a Bad Ass! That has a certain ring to it. At least enough to bring a smirk across Paige’s face. She is snapped out of her day dream just as Manny pulls up across the street from the Irish Haven and as he rubs his hands together, Holden announces, “Here we are, let’s go!”

Manny has every intention of just sitting in the car for an hour or so with his coffee and the paper but his Boss has other plans. He instructs Manny, “C’mon, come in with us. Just for one, just one beer.” Manny knows this is not the polite request that it sounds like. He will do as he is told but he will also keep it to just one for himself as he is the driver and that’s one thing he won’t Fuck around with. Work is work, that’s a line Manny won’t cross and he is right not to. As they enter the bar Derek and Manny are surprised to see Paige being warmly greeted by name and treated like a regular. Behind the bar an old school bartender named Charlie serves up three drafts in chilled, icey mugs and engages Paige and friends in the usual bar room banter. After his one beer Manny is perfectly happy to go sit and wait in the car. He leaves the day drinking duo of Declan and Holden content to sit and indulge in two more or a few more.

The conversation between Paige and Derek turns deeper as Derek tries to probe and get deeper and more personal with Paige. “So, no kids or husband, that much I know. Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Cat, house plant maybe? Gimme something!” Paige answers, “I was engaged a few years back. It didn’t end well. My parents are retired and living in Arizona. I have a sister who’s a teacher, she’s married and lives in Jersey.” Holden says in return, “Me and my ex get along better now that we aren’t under the same roof. It was all too much, the money, the fame. Too much and too fast, I didn’t handle it well. At least we never got married so no messy divorce. She stuck with me when I was a broke nobody teaching creative writing to housewives and soccer moms at the learning annex. When we broke up I owed her something so I bought her a little house in the suburbs and gave her a hundred grand.” After a third and final round the pair get back in the car and head back to the city with a nice mid afternoon buzz. Pizza is ordered and more beers are consumed. All in all not a bad Friday.

Saturday and Sunday are not work days, Manny is off and Derek and Paige are left with nothing but to lazily lounge around for the weekend. They both seem to be settling into a certain level of ease and comfort with each other. Not feeling forced to be social or entertain each other in their free time. They are each content with their own space and their own company. Paige Declan is finding that she could probably go the whole weekend in the house with Derek and quite possibly not even see him. She is comfortable with that and it also seems to suit Derek Holden just fine as well. The two do seem however to gravitate toward each other in the evenings for dinner and cocktails which also seems to suit them both just fine.

Just before noon on Sunday Derek knocks on Paige’s door with an invitation, “I’d like to have a proper Sunday dinner. Will you join me?” Paige replies, “Yeah sure, why not? Where are we going?” Not far, just the dining room around 6?” Holden answers and continues, “You wouldn’t think it but I’m in fact not a bad cook. I just rarely have the occasion or inspiration strike me to make a full meal. Let’s make it a thing. It’ll be nice, I’ll go do the shopping. I gotta get out for a bit anyway. Do you need anything?” Paige responds, “ No thanks, see you later.” After Holden leaves Paige stands there simi stunned and a bit impressed. She is snapped out of it by the ringing of the door bell. Glancing at the video monitor she sees a familiar and recently neglected face. Nathan Pierce has come to pay a visit.

Paige buzzes her Boss in and shuffles to the front door in coffee stained sweatpants and a strategically shredded Guns N Roses Tee shirt. Upon entering Nate Pierce starts with some sarcasm, “ So, I have a question, What the Fuck????!!!!!! Are you forgetting about me, forgetting about your real job and who you actually work for?” To which Paige quickly retorts, “Yeah, so I’m gonna need you to back it down a touch on the attitude. I’m not diggin’ that vibe from you so much. OK? That’s Great, Thanks!” Paige has made her point and Nate goes on, “All I’m saying is this seems like a pretty cozy gig. I just need more updates. I thought there would be more status or progress reports or something, I don’t know.” Paige isn’t hiding anything or holding back as she explains, “It’s only been a week. We’re establishing a workflow and building up trust. It takes time, like any new relationship. He writes anywhere between two to six hours a day and likes to take Fridays off and spend the day out on field trips which means sitting in a bar and day drinking. He also wants Sunday dinners to be a thing. There’s also Happy hour and cocktail hour every day. Derek Holden may drink too much but he’s also a kind and decent man who treats me with respect so, yeah there’s that and if we can all work together for the common goal of putting out the next great Derek Holden bestseller than Hell Yesss, this is a pretty sweet gig. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to adjourn to the lounge for a Sunday afternoon beverage. You’re more than welcome to join me if you like? That’s up to you. It is barely just past noon and Paige Declan in truth had no intention of drinking until Nate Pierce showed up and made her feel the heavy weight of a chip on her shoulder and a point to prove. Paige has often felt that way in her life and it has served her well up to a point until that feeling gets in her way.

In the lounge Nate helps himself to a beer from the large spring loaded cooler behind the bar while Paige fixes a Bourbon and water. She has developed a fondness for the brown booze taking a liking to the warm hug it gives her inside after a couple of sips. As her and Nate engage in calmer and more polite Bull Shitting Paige moves over to the jukebox in the corner and selects some Van Morrison to accompany their drinks. Almost on cue as if he was waiting to make his entrance, Derek Holden appears in the doorway of the lounge with his arms full of groceries and a Marlboro in his mouth.

He doesn’t look at all surprised to see Nate only acknowledging, “Oh good, company. Excellent! Dinner is at six, filet mignon, red wine and baked potatoes with green beans in garlic and oil. I have more than enough, you must stay and join us. All it takes is a simple, agreeable scrug from Nate and the matter is settled. The three of them happily pass the time with music, drinks and lively banter. Nate Pierce sees the charm and ease of his host but also picks up on the fact that Holden is quick to change the subject at the slightest mention of writing or how the new book is coming along. Not one to apply pressure in a social situation Nate lets it slide when Derek observes, “This is a day of rest. This is the Lord’s day and the Lord wants us to eat, drink and be glorious, slothful gluttons!” This is followed up by Paige interjecting, “Amen to that, no arguments here Brother!” With that Nate Pierce knows that not only is he outnumbered but he has also just been masterfully and elegantly silenced on that subject and so be it. 

In the end it turns out to be an enjoyable evening and a good time is had by all. Nate Pierce decides to walk off his meal and sober up in the night air instead of taking a car home. Holden promises to call Nate on Monday and outline for him the way the story is shaping up so far. Holden’s word seems to be good enough at least for now. The project is still in the very early stages of development and as far as Nate is concerned Paige Declan has both Derek Holden and the next installment of the Blood and Wine series well in hand. So all is well and right in the world of Pierce Publishing. The kitchen and dining room of the townhouse is another story entirely both are littered with the wreckage and carnage of one Hell of a successful dinner party. Derek Holden makes the executive decision to just turn the lights out, have one last drink and deal with the mess in the morning and as Paige Declan surveys the damage around her, she is easily convinced that this is the best course of action.

Monday morning moves slowly as is normally the case but this particular morning is moving at an absolute crawl. Paige has literally nothing to do until Derek emerges from the writing room where he has been for hours. Paige has poked her head in only to be told, “Not now!” or, “Go Away!” Finally around one in the afternoon Holden insists that if Paige wants to be useful she can read and answer some emails for him while he thunders away at the keyboard and hammers out some storyline ideas. “I’m fleshing out some major plot points you can look at them later. You can also call Pierce and tell him that I’ve hit a major groove. See you at three down stairs for happy hour.” Paige goes about her busy work attending to several dozen unread and unanswered emails going back at least six months or maybe more. “Jesus Christ Holden! Answer a God Damn Email for Fuck sake!” She says out loud as she jots down the most common, recurring names and email addresses to ask Derek about who they are and how to respond. It’s a drag and it’s mind numbing drudgery but it takes just long enough to get Paige through to happy hour. Which should blend seamlessly into cocktail hour and then dinner. At least the day has gathered some steam and started moving.

Derek is in a fine mood and sipping on a tall can of Coors as Paige makes her way over to the bar. After cracking open a Corona she produces a folded up piece of paper and proceeds to ask about the list of names, “Lucas Spencer? He doesn’t like you much and obviously you had some dealings in the past and he feels you owe him. He isn’t going away. Elliot Chambers? I gather he’s your lawyer, or at least a lawyer? He wants a lunch meeting something about going over some papers. Lynn McGrath? Sounds like she could be your ex and maybe also a lawyer? They are the top three most frequent and most ignored in your inbox. Tell me how you want to handle them and I’ll respond. It’s better than ignoring them.” Derek knows that Paige is right but he doesn’t have to like it. “Tell Chambers he can bring the papers by tomorrow. Tell Lynn she can call me to talk and ask whatever ridiculous favor she needs. As for Spencer, I have no need to communicate any further with him. Whatever business we may have had is done and has long been settled. I’m gonna get back to work. I’ll see you for dinner, just pick something and order in. I don’t care what it is.” Paige can tell Holden is upset but she wisely leaves it alone. There seems to be a mixing of business and personal affairs going on. That could be messy and Paige is better off staying out of it.”

Later that night at the conclusion of dinner Derek Holden offers Paige a bit of an explanation and some insight into himself personally. He reveals, “Spencer or Spence was my first assistant ever. He was in a writing class that I taught and he helped me with the first draft of the original Blood and Wine story. This was over a decade ago, I wasn’t very computer savvy and I hated typing. I still hate typing but I was worse back then. So, that’s what Lucas Spencer did for me. He typed, he transcribed, he created, saved and backed up files that’s it! He was a college kid and I paid him but when the book got published and started selling I made money and became successful and he came after me. He claimed that he contributed greatly to the story and that we worked on it together. Totally false but a lawyer at Liberty Publishing advised that paying Spence to shut up and go away was the easiest thing and that it was done all the time. So that’s what I did Twenty Five Grand later and every time I put out new work he comes back around with his hand out! Not this time. Enough is enough.”Paige now has a better grasp of the situation. She understands how sensitive and frustrating it must be. She insists, “Fair enough, I’ll pay him no mind. He doesn’t even deserve a response if you  ask me.” Her reaction is exactly what Holden wanted to hear and that is that. The matter is dropped. Paige ends the night in her room on the phone with Nate Pierce making sure she keeps him up to speed. They decide to follow up and go into greater detail in the morning and that is that.

Half way through the next day Paige realizes that she hasn’t seen Manny. When she enquiries, she is told only, “He had some things to take care of, he’ll be gone a few days. We can get along alright until he gets back, right?” By the end of the week Manny returns but something is different, something seems off about the mood and the tone around the townhouse. Over the next few weeks there's very little in the way of progress or productivity happening with the book. Derek Holden has become withdrawn, secretive and antisocial. It may just be sensitive, temperamental artist crap but Paige has concerns Nate Pierce has concerns of his own as well but they are more about money and time then the welfare of his star author and favorite research assistant. Nate is obviously willfully ignorant and thus as such, no help. This leaves Paige with only Manny to turn to. Which is risky given his loyalties will of course lie with his Boss. Paige decides to take a chance, she asks Manny on a Thursday if he would drive her to her place to pick up a few things. He is instantly accommodating and they will have a ride to Brooklyn all by themselves the next day. Absolutely perfect for Paige to poke around and do some digging. There may be nothing but why not find out if something is going on? Better to know for sure then to be kept in the dark, right?

Manny is quick to put Paige’s concerns to rest. He explains, “Spence was a good kid but he was a pest. Always wanting the Boss to read something, give an opinion or help the kid get published. Derek said Spence had some OK ideas but none were well thought out or fully formed. When Derek finally let him go for trying to use his name to score some meetings, Spence lost it and started accusing the Boss of stealing his ideas. He tried to take credit for Derek Holden’s work. Lucas Spencer is just a little Punk who was jealous and got greedy! That’s the bottom line.” What Manny says makes sense and seems reasonable so it's good enough for Paige. At least it’s good enough for now. The last thing she wants is to come off as suspicious or disloyal to Derek or Manny for that matter. She genuinely likes both of them and she has a job to do. A job that requires that she remain in the inner circle. At this point Paige Declan has worked hard to earn her place there and she likes it. She has no intention of blowing it.

Later on that day back at the townhouse Derek Holden can be found in a very foul mood. It seems he feels hurt and stood up By Paige and Manny for not including him on their Brooklyn excursion. It appears there would be no field trip on this particular Friday. Manny knows all too well that if Holden feels slighted he will sulk and pout and throw a tantrum! Manny has been around long enough to know how to quickly remedy the situation by addressing it first, “Boss Man, where you been?There’s cold beer and BBQ on the deck upstairs we’re waiting for you.” A pleasantly surprised Derek can only answer, “Good call Manny! I thought you two ditched me!” To which Manny replies, “Paige needed some stuff from Brooklyn so we brought the field trip home to you.” That settles that situation and the three of them retire to relax on the rooftop deck which almost never gets used.

Holden had it built a few years ago to resemble a Brooklyn backyard complete with a massive grill and an electric fire pit. It looks cool but doesn’t really give off much heat. The view is amazing and the turf looks and feels like real grass. Though he is a shiitty golfer, Derek had a putting green installed, mostly so he could blast golf balls off the roof and laugh his ass off if he hit a car or broke a window below, Funny Fuckin’Guy!! For Paige it’s just enjoyable to walk around barefoot on a roof and take in the surroundings of the city below in the crisp fall night air. It’s Friday so it’s ok to lighten up and relax. That’s what the weekend is for but Paige is sure that Monday will be a different story. She will have to put the distractions aside and try to really crack down on getting Derek to work. Nate Pierce will be needing more than assurances. It’s been long enough for him to expect to see some results.

The next few weeks give Paige cause to worry as Holden looks as though he’s working at a feverish pace but he is in fact producing nothing. Nothing but scraps of ideas on scraps of paper. Not a cogent, cohesive thought to be had. Nothing but scraps on top of  scraps. She knows she needs to step in but she’s also afraid to overstep. Paige is concerned that a confrontation may cause Derek Holden to lash out or shut down completely. The potential certainly exists for either or both to occur but something must be done and it falls to Paige Declan, she must be the one to do it. She carefully chooses a Friday evening to approach Derek. Should there be a freak out or some fallout at least they’ll both have the weekend to lick their respective wounds and recover.

After dinner and during drinks a short conversation takes place, “Derek, what can I do to help you focus? Your notes are all over the place and the story so far as it is lacks structure. It’s choppy and it’s stalling, there’s no flow to it.” A deflated Derek Holden responds, “Don’t talk to me about writing, don’t tell me about flow. Don’t talk to me at all about anything. Can you do better? Are we on the same level? What do you know about my process, my craft? What do you know about life, or about anything at all? Nothing!” With that, Derek Holden storms off. More honestly, he slinked out of the room like a wounded animal. Hurt and in pain he scurries away seeking shelter, safety and respite. Wishing to gather his strength and sure to return for a rematch. Paige is content to leave it alone and let things settle. She is secure in the knowledge that there will be several more rounds to go with the sensitive, temperamental artist and for her part, Paige will very happily live to fight another day.

Over the weekend Paige and Derek sort of circle and dance around each other. It’s easy to avoid someone in a house that size without even really trying. In need of a break Paige calls Nate Pierce and arranges to meet up with him for coffee. She informs him of the state of affairs with Holden and Nate blows off the new developments saying only, “Writers are all like that. They are all misunderstood Mad Geniuses who don’t like to be challenged. You were right to speak up and not coddle him. It’s tough love, hang in there and he’ll come around.” At least now Pierce knows what’s going on. Paige vents her frustrations further, “I just figured at this point ten or eleven weeks in we would have much more to show for everything we’ve put into this project. Everything I’ve put up with and put into working with him, it all seems so exhausting now. It feels like it was all for nothing.” Nate ends the meeting with encouragement and support. He urges Paige to fight the good fight and keep up the good work or some such Bull Shit along those lines. He then leaves the diner essentially leaving Paige Declan with no choice but to go pick up the pieces and soldier on.

Back at the townhouse Paige isn’t ready to fly the white flag just yet. She retreats to her room and the comforts of a glass of wine and a joint. A little while later Paige gives into a microwave burrito craving. On her way down the stairs she can hear someone rattling and banging around in the kitchen. Standing in the doorway, she has stumbled upon the Master of the house in the midst of making a meal. Derek Holden looks up from the platter he is preparing and offers, “I’m making tacos, I was about to knock on your door and invite you to join me if you’re hungry? Let’s grab a few cold ones and go eat up on the deck. It’s a nice night for that.” An apparent thaw in the cold war, maybe? Paige decides to just go with it. She answers, “Lead the way my good sir.” They head off to the roof, might as well eat, drink and clear the air if possible?

This is where Holden seeks to set the record straight, opening up to some extent, “I don’t enjoy being called out on my crap but it is necessary and you were right to do so. Also the truth is, I don’t like writing, I like having written. Having said that, I ask that you forgive my poor behavior. If you can do that then by the end of the day tomorrow we should have something close to a working draft or at least an actual outline.” Paige accepts the apology and goes along with the plan mostly because there isn’t much else that she can do. After a few tacos and a few Coronas to wash them down Derek has a peace offering of sorts for Paige, “So listen, I’m sure by now you’re sick of being here and you could probably use some time to yourself. Why not take the day tomorrow? You can do whatever you want. I’ll tell Manny in the morning that he  and the car are at your disposal for the day. How’s that sound?” Paige appreciates the gesture but suspects the motives are selfish. Either way, it will do her some good to get out. Clear her head and be on her own for the day. She responds, “Thank you Derek that might be nice.” To which Derek Holden replies, “Ok cool, that works out so I will have the day to get things cleaned up and back on track, clear out the cobwebs and what have you. It’s a perfect solution. Goodnight Paige and thank you for everything!” The two of them part ways for the night on good terms and both in good spirits.

Manny is more than happy to spend the day with Paige on Monday. They have grown to have quite an easy report with each other. Paige had no real plan for the day except to stay out of the house and out of Derek's way for as long as she could. This meant zig zagging around Brooklyn for a bit and inventing some errands just to waste time. Manny sees this tactic for what it is. After stopping for coffee when Paige gets back in the car Manny sees fit to share what’s on his mind, “If you feel like he wants you out of the house and out of the way, he does. Sometimes he sends me out all over town just so he can be alone.” Paige answers, “Yeah, I kinda got that feeling, but it’s ok we all need alone time. I don’t mind.” “That’s good of you Paige.” Manny says in return but my point is, he don’t want us around when he has other business to conduct. Like with that lawyer, Chambers. He’s shady and crooked and up to no good but I stay out of what don’t concern me and I mind my own business. Now how bout we get some lunch?” It’s obvious that Paige wants to know more about the mysterious Elliot Chambers and what dark secrets or intrigue may be around the corner but now doesn’t seem like the right time. During lunch is probably not the right time either but Paige Declan has so many questions she is just about to burst.

“So Manny, Don’t just put that out there about Chambers and then leave me hangin’ What’s up? Is he a bad guy? What kind of bad guy? How bad? Manny has no out, he can’t backpedal on this so he tries a limited abridged version, “Elliot Chambers is a lawyer who made his name and his money defending low life drug dealers and thugs. To the point that he thinks he’s a gangster and he likes playing the tough guy. He defended the Boss in a lawsuit with that Spencer kid and now he has it in his head that he wants Derek Holden to write a book about him. He comes around here and there with story ideas but mostly the Boss just blows him off. Chambers is a pain in the ass! He loves the spotlight and his name in the papers and he makes a lot of noise but that’s about it.” There must be more to it than that but Paige knows better than to push. She instead feels that bringing home a burger and fries for Derek is a better idea. It may also be a good excuse to walk in on a meeting between Holden and Chambers. Hey, ya never know. What could be wrong with bringing a hungry guy some food? Could there be anything at all wrong with that? It’s just a friendly gesture.

 Paige along with her kind and considerate care package knock on the door of the writing room while turning the knob to enter without waiting for an answer. What Paige Declan finds is… Nothing! Nothing and no one. Just an empty room, but judging by the cigarette smoke still hanging in the air, this room was vacated not all that long ago. Holden isn’t hard to find. He’s just next door in his bedroom sitting on the edge of his bed eating a slice of pizza over a paper plate. It looks as if he might have left the door cracked open so he could be discovered by Paige. She strides past the doorway acting as if she doesn’t notice Derek. Paige reappears in the doorway moments later with a couple of Coronas and she observes, “Cold beer pairs very well with pizza.” “So it does.” Is Holden’s response as he walks to the doorway. He hands Paige a file folder containing eight pages and remarks, “Today’s work. Let’s go down to the lounge and take a look. Shall we?” Paige is pleased as the two of them head downstairs.

As she thumbs through them, these eight pages represent a good start. They are a well thought out and organized beginning to something resembling a story. To Paige they are also much more than just that. They are a relief. They are proof that Holden does in fact have something. There is still something there after all. This man has talent and he still has something to say. Derek Holden is still a storyteller. Granted it’s just a few pages and it isn’t great or even good but it is something and it’s halfway decent for that matter. Paige nods and makes some notes on the pages while sipping her beer. She stops short of making any comments out loud and she is far from heaping praise on the writer standing before her like a nervous, eager school boy waiting for his homework to be graded. Paige says only, “It’s a start and that’s good enough. We’ll pick it up in the morning.” She at least has something to report to Nate so she feels good about that as she leaves Derek and calls it an early night. Derek Holden stays up a while longer. Left to his own devices and left to wonder what Paige thought. That’s the problem right there. When the insecurities creep in. Was it good? How can I make it better? Be honest, what do you really think?” These are the questions that will torture Derek Holden and keep him up for the rest of the night.

The following day Holden quickly produces three more pages. He then spends the remainder of the morning pacing and chain smoking when he isn't following Paige around like a lost puppy. He is in desperate need of approval and validation. Where is it? Where is the praise he seeks? It’s like a drug, his ego needs a good stroking. Derek Holden needs A fix! What does Paige Declan need? A Break, Paige Declan needs A Mother Fuckin’ Break! So, she borrows the keys from Manny and goes and hides out in the car. Holden has been driving her nuts all day! At least in the peace and quiet of the SUV she can read over the new pages and make some notes. What she finds is three pages of utter and absolute CRAP!!! Like it’s not the same story, not in the same voice. Like it wasn’t even written by the same guy. Paige decides then and there that the time has come for a bold move. She rips all eleven pages of the story apart, making all kinds of notes and suggesting revisions in bright red ink in the margins. This should keep him busy Paige thinks as she marches back inside and Declares to Holden, “This needs work. Here are my notes. Let’s have dinner together and we can go over it then.” With that Derek Holden has basically been dismissed by his assistant and practically, well almost told to get back to work.

It’s always going to be a chess match. Paige is trying to get the best and most productive work out of Derek and all he wants is maximum reward for minimal effort. It’s a tug of war and each of them can go back and forth claiming victory. At the end of the day for the most part it usually ends up a draw. Besides the ongoing chess match, Paige is engaged in a near constant juggling act. Trying to keep Holden happy, working and productive while keeping Nate Pierce satisfied and in the loop at the same time. It’s both a thankless and exhausting position to be in. The next few days continue pretty much the same at the townhouse Until a phone call from Nate breaks up the malaise and monotony. He simply and directly informs Paige of a meeting at Pierce Publishing on Friday that absolutely requires her presence.

“There are a couple of people you simply need to meet. Friday at eleven, it should be interesting and I hope educational as well.” Pierce then abruptly ends the call as is his habit. In the nearly four months since starting this assignment Paige has never been summoned back to the Pierce office. Something must be up. Without even thinking or realizing it, P_aige finds herself out on the sidewalk in front of the building lighting up a butt. What the hell? She doesn’t smoke, she thinks. Well, rarely almost never. It’s stress and second hand smoke from Derek Holden and the fact that there are packs of Marlboro in every room of the house. As she paces off her nervous energy and glances around the street Paige notices a man directly across from her. He’s smoking and pacing the other side of the street as if he’s a mirror image. Creepy coincidence or something more? She isn’t scared but just shaken enough to ditch the rest of her smoke and casually head inside.

From her bedroom window Paige has the perfect vantage point from which to observe the stranger. He’s most likely completely harmless. In a long black wool overcoat and tweed cap looking like he just rolled off the nearest park bench. Outside of Paige’s imagination this poor guy is guilty of nothing except being odd and having no place to go. Neither of which is a crime by the way. Paige Declan needs to get a hold of herself. She says that out loud as if hearing it was meant to somehow soothe her. She then remarks aloud, “Only crazy people talk to themselves, get your shit together girl. During dinner she lets Holden know about the mandatory meeting the next day at Pierce. His only reaction is to ask, “Do I have to go? I didn’t get an invitation and I’m not prepared, also I just don’t wanna go, ok?” Paige answers, “I’m sure it’s just a boring staff meeting. No you don’t have to go. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. Nate just wants me to meet some people. It’s at eleven AM and then I’ll be right back here ready to work. As long as it’s ok with you?” “Of course, do what you gotta do. Manny can drop you off and we’ll see you later, not a big deal at all.” Paige is glad she was able to keep the juggling act going so she doesn’t mention the strange man across the street. Thinking it’s better to quit while she’s ahead she also politely declines the ride to the meeting wishing not to impose or feel obligated to repay a favor later on.

Paige Declan walks the half mile or so to the factory loft building that is Pierce Publishing. It’s a clear brisk morning, the kind where you can see your breath. Making her way in the front door and through the bullpen is a surreal feeling. Almost as if this place has stayed frozen like a time capsule and Paige herself has gotten bigger, somehow outgrowing the space itself as well as the people in it. That is until she reaches the second tier of the loft, sitting in the conference room waiting for Nate Pierce and whoever the other parties may be, Paige feels quite small again indeed. Like first day as an intern, kind of small. Like she’s a fraud, an imposter about to be exposed. She rifles through her purse for lack of anything else to do. Finding a loose mint at the bottom of her bag, she self consciously sucks on it as she waits for the stomach churning feelings of inadequicy and ineptitude to pass.

“Here we are, hi, hello let’s get started. Shall we?” Nate Pierce announces his presence as he enters the room flanked by two other men. He stands front and center as if holding court. He waits for all three of them to be seated before making introductions. In meetings Nate can be quick and blustery, even abrasive at times. That’s mostly because he hates meetings and wants them to be over. it can be kind of like being involved in a hit and run or a drive by. Pointing to a well dressed,  middle aged British gentleman Pierce states, “This is Graham Rogers he is a private investigator for both my family and the firm.” Paige and the man glance over at each other and Rogers gives her a slight wave. Graham Rogers is the odd stranger from outside the townhouse. Paige holds her tongue momentarily as Nate goes on, “And this is the notorious, illustrious and allusive Mister LucasSpencer.” Paige pauses looking to see if her jaw has in fact hit the floor. The little, skinny guy in the hoodie, ripped jeans and beat up Vans, That’s Lucas Spencer? That’s Spence? No way! Can’t be, can’t possibly be the same person. Can it? Something is wrong here, right? Paige was right but the thing that was wrong here was her. She wasn’t keeping these questions and declarations to herself, in her own head where they belonged. Oh NO! It dawned on her. She just said all of that out loud in front of all of them. Now Paige Declan is standing in the middle of a room with these three men. In a state of shock with her hands over her mouth as if trying to shove her own words back in.

“Ok thanks for the recap Paige. I think we’re all caught up.” That’s all Nate could muster by way of an attempt to bail Paige out. Tossing her out an open window may have been better and less painful for all involved but hey, you take what you can get. What follows over the next three hours unveils the purpose of the meeting. A twisted and tragic true life tale of suspense and intrigue unravels in the room. At the center of it all are Paige, Nate, Lucas Spencer and The Duke himself, Derek Holden. The plot is a confusing one and the unwitting supporting cast members are many. It’s an old story filled with greed and jealousy but it’s one that must be told. When told through the eyes and in the voice of Lucas Spencer, here’s how it goes….

Lucas Spencer met Derek Holden at the Learning Annex where Holden was teaching creative writing classes and Spence was a student. Holden had been published, essays and short stories in regional magazines and journals but not enough to pay the bills. Teaching gave him the time and flexibility to write and still make some money. He enjoyed it and the students seem to like his irreverent style and rebellious attitude. Around this time the original Blood and Wine was being shopped, getting kicked around from publisher to publisher. It’s first incarnation was as a thirty some odd page short story. The feedback was mostly positive, all in all it was a pretty good story. The criticism was that it needed more meat on it’s bones or it didn’t have legs. Meaning that for Blood and Wine to be published it needed to be longer. Derek’s girlfriend at the time Lynn McGrath was a clerk at a Brooklyn Heights law firm, she had yet to take the Bar exam but was very interested in contract and entertainment law. She was a driving force in Derek Holden’s early career and she was also driving him nuts!

Spence goes on explaining how he and Holden slowly bonded and began exchanging ideas and giving each other feedback, not as student and teacher but as peers and even friends. When Holden finally scored a deal Thanks to the pushy and persistent Lynn McGrath he turns to Lucas Spencer for help. He needs someone he trusts to be his assistant and also a friend to help him navigate his way through this uncharted territory. Spence would be perfect! He could help keep Derek on task, he would also be honest about the quality of Derek’s work. Thanks to Lynn playing the role of his manager Derek Holden had a forty five thousand dollar advance on a development deal meaning it’s a one shot deal, hit or miss sink or swim. Holden had a year to turn a perfectly good short story into a better be great novel. Time to get to work.

“At first,” Spence continues, “It was great, it was the perfect situation. I had lost my job as a waiter at an Olive Garden and was living in my mom’s basement. I was trying to figure some stuff out and get my shit together, ya know? Holden offered me a grand and he let me crash on his couch if I help him with the story. Why not? It sounded fair and seemed like a good deal at the time. We worked really well together. We just kicked around ideas. The basic story concept was already there, it just needed to be longer.” The first draft was done in ten weeks, Spence describes how stuff just bounced around the room and it was hard to say which one of them came up with what. It was Holden’s story, there is no doubt or dispute at least as far as that is concerned. Spence tells his audience, “I did all the typing, creating and backing up of files, all the computer stuff. As far as contributing to the book, I’m sure I did. I mean everything has to come from somewhere, right?”

“Our problems started and stopped with money. Ten weeks is a long time and a Grand doesn’t last forever. Sure he bought me a few beers and there was food in the fridge and a place to sleep in that tiny Kensington apartment with him and Lynn but I mean my time has to be worth something too! Especially when you have a big fat advance and your ass is just sittin’ on it. When I brought it up he threw me a hundred bucks. Then we worked it out, fifty bucks cash a day until the book is completed and when the royalties rolled in he was gonna take care of me. I guess he did.” After a pause for a sip of his Coke Spence picks up, “ We had the second draft done in another three weeks. By this time Lynn was getting sick of me living in her living room and she was giving Derek shit about it but it almost didn’t matter because the third and final draft of what eventually became Blood and Wine was finished in another five weeks.” After that all that was left to do was to sit and wait and according to Lucas Spencer that’s all he did. He sat and waited.

Spence describes going through a rough year at that point. As Blood and Wine and Derek Holden were experiencing the first surge of success Spence was sinking into the quicksand of depression and sliding into the depths of addiction. He had been helping himself to the liquid morphine and oxycodone his mother was using to stave off the immeasurable pain of stage 4 terminal lung cancer. After she caught on and kicked him out, Lucas Spencer quickly turned to a cheaper, more addictive and more seductive alternative, Heroin. That’s exactly how it happens and it happens every day.

Now a full blown Junkie Spence is working hard. Hustle, Score, Fix and Repete. He asserts, “I went to the newly acquired townhouse of one Mister Duke Holden and found him quite amminable. I was gonna rob him, stick him in the gut with the knife I had at the ready, in my boot, but that wasn’t necessary. He welcomed me with open arms. He gave me soda and candy and a Big Fat Check! Right then and there, right on the spot we came to an agreement. A sort of loose verbal contract, handshake kind of business arrangement that worked for both of us at the time. Holden admitted that he owed me. He called what I did, “Filling in the blanks and connecting the dots.” He put a value of Twenty Five grand on it. He would never give me actual formal credit but the money mattered more to me and he knew that. Like I said, it worked for both of us at the time and it was good enough at the time. Times change as we all know. What was good enough back then might not be right now and that’s all I have to say at the moment.

With that Lucas Spencer collected the other half of the hundred bucks he was promised to come in and tell his story and then he was gone! Graham Rogers wastes no time offering his observation of what just unfolded, “An addict, as sad as it is will always tell a slightly skewed if not completely self serving version of events but always with just enough of a ring of truth to be believable. Let’s not jump to conclusions or make any rash decisions until we hear Mister Holden out. He deserves the benefit of the doubt after all. At least until we can sort this out.” Nate Pierce concurs that the next step is to talk to Derek Holden but that must be handled delicately which of course puts it squarely on the shoulders of Paige Declan, who of course expected as much and already knew she wasn’t getting out of this unscathed. As she gets out onto the street Her brain is buzzing with disturbing, turbulent thoughts. Paige can’t quite reconcile the man she has come to know and respect with the picture that was just painted for her of a petty, greedy man who would take advantage of and use a poor, pathetic junkie for his own selfish gain. She better wrap her head around it quick and come up with a plan before she walks back through the front door of the town house.

Making her way down the hall heading toward the lounge, Paige can see three figures sitting around having drinks. Getting closer, she realizes that they are in fact Manny, Derek and Spence. They seem to be having quite the cordial little chat. Paige pauses in the doorway to survey the scene when she is noticed and called upon by Derek Holden, “Holy Shit Paige you should see your face!” He invites her to join them as he pats the couch cushion nxt to himself. “Um, What’s this? What’s going on?” Paige asks about the unexpected gathering. Spence answers, “You can call it extortion or blackmail if you like. We prefer to think of it as a business meeting.” Holden jumps in, “Yes, we have come to terms on Spence keeping his mouth shut and helping me finish the book. We have a Gentlemen's agreement and a bargain. We finish the book and Spence stays silent for A Hundred Grand. As for you Paige Declan. You’ve been paid and you are bound by a confidentiality agreement and several non disclosure clauses. So that’s that, let’s put it to bed, call it a day and have a few drinks. You will join us won’t you?” Paige pours herself a bourbon and sticks around for a bit. Mostly because she is unsure of what to make of the situation. There may not be anything wrong with this at all? It certainly doesn’t seem like anything illegal? Just an exchange of goods and services between seemingly willing parties. It would appear that nothing more is happening here than just a simple business transaction.

The truth is that Lucas Spencer was involved in completing all of the previous Blood and Wine books for Twenty Five Grand a piece as well as rent being paid on his furnished room in Bed Stuy and Manny making weekly smack deliveries. The deal was a junkie’s dream come true! This time around Holden and Spence decided would be the last one. The final book in the series and one last big score for the both of them. Spence named his price and Derek Holden agreed. According to Spence the final draft will be done in two weeks. He’s giving Luas Spencer half the money tonight and half when the book is done. After that the plan is for Spence to disappear and for Holden to retire. After explaining their deal and their plans Lucas Spencer is looking to make his way back to Brooklyn with a gym bag full of cash. He’s been stalling and hinting around for a ride which Manny agrees to. Leaving Paige and Derek to their cocktails and conversation.

The tone over what remains of the night is somber, melancholy if not a touch menacing. Derek expands on his explanation of his arrangement and his entire relationship with Spence, “He’s a very good writer. He has skills with words and language that I just totally lack. I would tell him the story, give him the idea and he would just run with it. He could make something out of nothing but he was way too weak for the spotlight or the microscope and I saw that. We were better in tandem. I had the personality,  the thick skin and quick wit to create the persona. I had the ideas but always hit a wall. He had the true talent but also the curse and weakness of his demons. I helped him, I protected him and I got what I always wanted. We both did, we both won. In return Paige snaps, “You strung him along and kept him strung out so he would be helpless and have to do what you wanted. That’s just Sick and Fucked up! You Derek are Sick and Fucked up! So sad it’s all just for money. It’s all about ego and money.” Holden responds, “You are free to leave but you must do so in silence as per our contract. Don’t let your heart bleed for a lost boy. He chose his path long ago and he will always choose the needle. At least I made sure he has a safe place to shoot up. That’s more than anyone else in his poor wretched life ever gave him. He pissed away his talent and threw away his life but at least he will have a nice warm hole to crawl into and he can comfortably and anonymously die when the time comes.”

Those words strike Paige as probably the most eloquent and sincere that she ever heard Derek Holden speak. He goes on to reveal, “It isn’t failure that I fear, it’s success. You can fail thousands of times and who cares? You just keep going, keep trying and failing. It’s when you have some success that’s when you have every right to be scared Because then there will be expectations. They want you to replicate or surpass every success. All they want is more and if you stumble they can’t wait to turn on you and tear you apart.” Paige listens, knowing there is some truth in what this manufactured shell, this fabrication of a man is saying. No matter, Paige has no sympathy but she does have a new or at least different understanding of what stands before her.  Derek Holden isn’t a monster, nor is he a God he is only a man and a scared and sad little man at that. Satisfied that there is nothing left for her. Nothing left in Holden, nothing left in the townhouse she turns to leave. Holden makes no attempt to stop her knowing that he has nothing to offer her and she won’t allow herself to be used or bought. Paige walks away with zero thought, without hesitation almost as if it were written that way. As if it were an ending or at least some sort of an exit.

After being dropped off in his furnished room in Bed Stuy Lucas Spencer spends the rest of the night behind a locked door lamenting the life he has led and the one he has let slip away from him. His reality is that the spike he plunges in his veins is a form of slavery which keeps him locked in endentured servitude to Holden merely for the reason that Derek Holden is a man of stronger will than Spence. Spence often reflects on this in the dark and all alone. He settles into the warm embrace of his illicit mistress as he secretly and silently waits for the eventuality of his demise. A little too much, too big of a hit and he can be released. This time he knew he got it right and he drifted away with a little smirk on his face because he had taken all of the final Blood and Wine story with him. Locked away in his mind never to be read by a single pair of eyes.

The cash from Derek Holden was never found and not a trace of anything to tell you Lucas Spencer ever even existed was left behind. In a year or so the whole thing would just fade away much like Spence did. Derek Holden would burn out and disappear after some feeble and half hearted attempts to produce the final Blood and Wine book  that he always dangled but could never deliver. He just couldn’t make it happen on his own and publishers saw investing in him as a waste of time and money.This left Derek Holden effectively Blacklisted within literary circles but he still maintained a fairly healthy bank account.  His reputation in shambles, rumor and speculation swirl around with whispers that he bought a pub somewhere in Ireland where he is now happily telling stories and drinking himself to death in elegant exile. Further evidence of this being truth rather than fiction is that Manny Calderone and his family have relocated to a certain SoHo townhouse. Conspiracy theories call it a reward for Manny’s years of service, fierce loyalty and silence on all matters concerning Derek Holden. It is believed by some  That Manny knowingly supplied Spence with a lethal dose of H known as a hot shot as a way of buying his silence and closing this chapter so to speak. Allowing all involved to make a clean break and move on. This may be supported by the fact that Judy Spencer, mother to the tragically fated Lucas found a fair chunk of cash in a plain envelope in her mail box.No doubt to help give Spence a proper funeral and ease some other burdens as well. No mother ever wants to lose a child let alone twice, once to the demon of addiction and again to a possible suicidal overdose. Nate Pierce would go on to champion a new up and coming writer with an interesting voice. The book is called Hot Shot, a dark tale of the mysterious death and remarkable secret life of a tragically talented junkie. The story is told with the honest grit of an eye witness. It doesn’t gloss over or glamorize the dark corners. There is no romance or reverence for the greed and gluttony. It’s unvarnished human ugliness seen through the eyes of an innocent bystander and it’s almost perfect. The writer is Paige Declan and the story is true.







 

 



 

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Submitted: November 18, 2020

© Copyright 2021 John Nash. All rights reserved.

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