Our third excerpt today is from Blogger Book Fair author Richard Levesque. Have fun reading!
What if all you had to do to make your dreams come true was violate the laws of the universe?
That’s not just a philosophical question Eddie Royce has to answer. It’s a choice he has to make when the most famous science fiction writer of the 1930s goes missing and his unscrupulous publisher becomes convinced that Eddie knows all of the older writer’s secrets—not just the secret of where he’s gone, but the secret of how he’s traveled in time.
Until now, Eddie’s fooled himself into thinking he’s got the system figured out, “borrowing” plots from Shakespeare and rewriting them as space operas to make a name for himself in the pulps. But when he finds out that Chester Blackwood—his idol and inspiration—has been cheating the system in ways Eddie could never have dreamed of, the hack science fiction writer finds himself in the middle of a plot that his pulp readers would never have imagined.
Now he has to do all he can to save himself—and Blackwood’s beautiful daughter—from the powerful figures who all want Blackwood’s secret. And violating the laws of the universe might just be the least of Eddie’s problems.
Eddie Royce sat in Whistler’s office on the sixth floor of the Meteor building and waited patiently for the editor to look up from the galleys he studied, a smoldering cigar held between his thick lips and a look of quiet disgust on his face as he read. The muffled clack and ding of a typewriter made its way into the office from somewhere beyond Whistler’s closed door, and Eddie tried hard not to let it distract him. He sat in one of the mismatched chairs that faced Whistler’s enormous, scarred desk and thumbed nervously through the March 1940 issue of Stupendous, silently going over the pitch he had been formulating for days and hoping Whistler would not notice his anxiety. The magazine had hit the newsstands only three days ago, and Eddie had already read it cover to cover, focusing most of his scrutiny on one story—“Dark Hearts of Mars” by Edward Royce. It was his second publication in Stupendous, his second publication anywhere, really, but he already had two more stories and a serial accepted. After finally seeing his name in print following months of trying and failing, he had quickly come to believe in his success as a writer in spite of what he knew to be true—that he was at best unoriginal and at worst a plagiarist.
As with every issue of Stupendous, the cover of the magazine in Eddie’s hands was a work of art that no doubt accounted for a large portion of sales each month. The covers were always sensational, and this one featured a beautiful female space explorer watching in exaggerated alarm as her space ship exploded in the background, apparently leaving her stranded as she floated in space, her skin tight suit accentuating her curvaceous figure. Eddie knew from having carefully studied “Castaways in Space” in this issue that the story featured no such character or scene, but that did not matter. The Stupendous covers pulled readers in, and the stories kept them there until next month. Dozens of recent issues were scattered around Whistler’s office, each with its brightly lurid variation of the barely clad female warrior, seductive villainess or imperiled princess to draw the eye. With the first installment of his serial to appear in the May issue, Eddie knew that promoting it with a cover illustration would ensure reader interest and secure his position in the stable of Stupendous authors, and he had phoned to make an appointment with Whistler this morning to try to convince the editor of the same thing.
That Whistler had largely ignored him after having him seen into the office had not helped Eddie’s nerves any. He was made even more agitated when Whistler looked up from the desk for a moment and mumbled around his cigar, “Blackwood’s coming in this morning. I mentioned you’d be here. Says he wants to meet you.” He paused, an eyebrow rising to make deeper wrinkles in the editor’s already craggy forehead, before adding “Can’t imagine why” and returning to ponder the galleys before him.
Eddie did not know how to respond. Chester Blackwood was the most famous, most successful writer of science fiction in the last fifteen years. His stories and novels had been among the most inspirational things Eddie had ever read, and meeting his idol was something he had been hoping for since he had first begun getting published in Stupendous.
“I assume you don’t mind,” Whistler said, pulling the cigar out of his mouth and holding it over the galleys like a pen.
“Yep.” The editor set the galleys down now and stared at Eddie with more scrutiny than Eddie would have liked.
“No,” Eddie said a bit too quickly. “I don’t mind at all.” He paused. “Why would I mind?”
Whistler shrugged. “Star struck maybe. A writer like you. A writer like him. Some guys get antsy.”
“No, no,” he said. “It’s fine. What time’s he coming in?” He realized he might not get his chance to bring up the cover illustration if he didn’t say something about it quickly.
Whistler glanced at his wristwatch. “Should be here now. SOB’s always late, though.”
Eddie barely had time to register shock at the epithet when the door to Whistler’s office swung violently open behind him, slamming against a wall and half bouncing closed again before Eddie could turn in surprise. He heard before he saw the woman in the doorway shouting, “Whistler, goddammit, I’ve had it!” Twisted around in the chair, Eddie beheld a beautiful woman whose anger practically bubbled out of her. With platinum hair hanging to her shoulders and bright, gaudy makeup exaggerating otherwise stunning lips and eyes, she stood in a tattered green terry cloth robe, her chest heaving, her face red and her eyes brimming with tears of rage. She looked to be about 25, perhaps a year or two younger than Eddie.
Whistler stood up behind the desk and calmly said, “Now look, sweetie.”
“Don’t sweetie me, you son of a bitch!” she shouted, stepping all the way into the room, only two feet away from Eddie but oblivious to his presence. “I’m not doing it. Not this time. Not anymore.”
“All right, all right. Just calm down and catch your breath for a second.” When she remained silent, Whistler continued. “This is Mr. Royce, by the way. You may be modeling for one of his stories next month if he gets his way.” Eddie turned again to look at Whistler, stunned at what appeared to be Whistler’s amazing intuition. The editor really did know writers. But probably not women, Eddie thought.
The woman barely glanced in Eddie’s direction and then said, more calmly now, “Not a chance. You either need to get Klaus another model or you need to get me another artist. I’ve had it, I tell you.”
“Let’s not go overboard here, Roxie.” Whistler was beginning to take a patronizing tone with her. Eddie doubted that it would do any good. “Now tell me what the problem is, and we’ll see what we can work out.”
“This is the problem,” the woman said, her voice rising again as she quickly undid the terry cloth belt and pulled open the robe. Eddie felt his face grow red, and he glanced quickly at the floor before finding himself compelled to look up again and stare. She stood in an outfit that would have been perfectly suited to one of the women on the covers of Stupendous: gold boots that went to just above the knee, fish net stockings covering her thighs, gold short pants that went only to the tops of the thighs and wide, gold suspenders that crisscrossed her bare chest, leaving her breasts almost completely exposed. They swayed slightly from the motion of her arms having yanked the robe open, and Eddie found himself wondering what kept the suspenders in place. It was the same question he would have asked if he had seen her on the cover of the magazine.
Whistler cleared his throat. “A little too much skin, huh?”
“Yeah,” she responded sharply, her eyes growing wide, challenging.
“You know he’ll change your face on the final drawing. It’s not like you’ll be walking down the street and people will recognize you from the cover. They never have before.”
“That’s not it, and you know it. He’s a pervert! You should see the way he stares.”
“He’s an artist, Roxie. He’s got to look if he wants to paint you.”
“But do I have to be dressed like this while he does it? Couldn’t I just strike the pose?”
Whistler sighed as though he had been through this with her before. “You know he’s got his limitations. He needs his models in costume, or he can’t capture the feeling of the scene.”
“He can change my face but not the outfit? You know that’s not it. You know it as well as I do. Even you can see that, can’t you?” This last was addressed to Eddie, and he felt himself grow redder, both at having been acknowledged by her and at having been caught so obviously staring at her breasts.
He self-consciously looked up into her eyes. They were deep and blue and stared right back at him. “I . . .” he began, but she waved her hand dismissively at him, glared once more at Whistler, then turned on her heel and strode out of the office, the robe still open and fanning out behind her as she walked past a tall, gray haired man outside Whistler’s door.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said and kept walking.
Behind Eddie, Whistler let out a long sigh and then said, “Eddie Royce, meet Chester Blackwood.” Eddie spun quickly to look at Whistler, then turned again as he got out of the chair to face the door. “You’ve actually met the whole Blackwood family now,” Whistler added, sounding quite amused.