A DATE NEAR DOWNING STREET

The taxi door fluttered open, a bright flap of yellow against the sluggish October wind.

One last look to the driver with graying teeth and gangly, corn-husk hair and Daniel Plinkers peeled himself out of the car. (This after sitting for twenty seven minutes in downtown traffic as the taxi meter skipped along and his elbow ached from not one but two earlier brushes with bicyclists. “Screw you, mister!” Ah, home.)

He would’ve written something down about the driver—his ramshackle appearance fit exactly with that of the anti-hero protagonist from Daniel’s soon-to-be-drafted historical fantasy novel, The Secret Shoemaker—but there was no time. He was late and she was waiting.

On this particular Friday, under the cover of a waning afternoon, the spectacle of the city turned a little blurry and dark, a labyrinth of shadowy streets littered by almost-drunks and their more sophisticated counterparts—the kind who might ask to sit outside in restaurants and then order their water with no ice. Daniel walked toward a brooding bakery on the thinly drawn Downing Street, checking that the gelled waves of  his golden hair remained frozen and that his J. Crew slacks had just the right amount of rumple to give him his ever-casual edge. All good. 

Up ahead, he saw the entrance to Blue Bernier Baked Goods, the small café with cerulean tablecloths fit for couples who preferred polaroid pictures and expensive European dishes with mispronounce-able names like encornets farcis or pfannkuchen. 

The whole place smelled of dough and wooden spice. Daniel imagined he would probably stay here for no more than an hour with the ordinary but intriguing Maribeth Wumm, chardonnays in hand and $16 grilled avocados on plates because why not? 

Maribeth is pretty enough, he thought, and she really was fine for now, before the glittering days of Secret Shoemaker success when beautiful women would show up to his book signings wearing custom-made “Date Me Daniel!” t-shirts and editors would beg him to write their grocery lists just so they could have ink scribbled by the brilliant hand of Daniel Plinkers, international bestselling author of Secret Shoemaker fame.

Tonight he was still pre-Shoemaker, with exactly three lines of the story written and the rest living inside his head. Minutes ago, as his taxi stammered across a yellow light at Piccolo Avenue, he had thought of one more: The secret shoemaker worked only when the sun went down, allowing the night to become his leather canvas, so long as he listened to its sole-ful beat—ha!—and let his fingers take care of the rest.

Sometimes Daniel wondered what exactly it was that made him such a gifted writer: His narrative forms class at Saywater University? The adjunct professor from Mastering the Art of Playwriting who was sure Daniel would self-publish one day? His career as a freelance reporter for The Coin Collecting Times, which took twenty hours from his week, leaving the rest open for him to write?

But here at Blue Bernier Baked Goods was Maribeth, purple with lipstick one shade too dark for her puckered mouth, red with tight curls arranged Poodle-like around her face. And she was also altogether silver, Daniel noticed, awash in muted candlelight that fell on impatient green eyes.

“Hello, Daniel.”

“Hi there, Ms. Wumm.” He mumbled something about traffic and the impending global overpopulation crisis then gave Maribeth a nonchalant smile, an artist acknowledging his temporary muse.

They ordered two chardonnays and the avocados and Daniel watched Maribeth speak without listening to anything she had to say. Finally, he interrupted her because he had a very funny thought.

“Have you ever realized that people describe meeting someone like they’re talking about the scene of a crime?”

“Uh, no …” She stared at him blankly.

“Yeah! Like, ‘It was late. I wanted to go home but my friends made me go to McWhatever bar. It was pretty cold that night so I found a seat far from the window and that’s when I saw her … and she stabbed me in the heart!’ Ha! Ever notice how everyone does that? I should really put that into my book. It would be perfect for when the main character meets Priscilla Ferlton, the beautiful wife of a rival shoemaker.”

“Hm, maybe.”

“Definitely. I just get worried when I come up with these great ideas because it makes it more certain than ever that the minute I finish my manuscript, some publishing house will try to strike a deal with me and then I’ll have to quit my job at Coin Collecting. Who would write the ‘Daily Dime’ blog posts if I’m gone? But I’ll probably start to finish the whole thing in the next few weeks and then I’ll put this bit about meeting someone and crime scenes into chapter three. What do you think?”

Maribeth brushed a hand across one eyebrow and swirled the honey-colored wine in her glass. “I think you’re …”

A man of incomparable creativity and wisdom? An undiscovered genius of the written word? A literary mastermind masquerading in the fashionable clothes of a Coin Collecting reporter? 

“… a complete idiot.”