The Uber’s door fluttered open, a bright flap of blue against the sluggish February wind.
One last look to the driver with graying teeth and corn-husk hair and Simon Plinkers peeled himself out of the car. (This after sitting for an hour and forty-seven minutes on the ride from Newport Beach to downtown Los Angeles. Now, his elbow ached from not one but two brushes with fast-moving bicyclists. “Screw you, man!” Ah, L.A..)
But a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles is well-documented by most. Instead of Simon describing of the city, he should’ve written something down about his driver—his ramshackle appearance fit exactly with that of the anti-hero protagonist from Simon’s soon-to-be-drafted historical fantasy novel, The Secret Son of the Shameless Shoemaker. But there was no time. He was late, she was waiting.
On this particular Wednesday in February, under the cover of a waning afternoon, the spectacle of the city turned a little blurry and dark, a labyrinth of wide streets littered by nervous weekday daters and their more sophisticated counterparts—the kind who might ask to sit outside in restaurants then order their water with no ice.
Simon walked toward a brooding bakery on S. Flower 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.
Up ahead, he saw the entrance to Blue Bernier Baked Goods, the small café with checkered 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. Simon imagined he would stay here for no more than an hour with the ordinary but intriguing Maribeth Wumm. They’d have chilled Chardonnays in hand (unoaked) 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 Shameless Shoemaker success would sail Simon onward and beautiful women would show up to his book signings in frenzied hoards wearing custom-made “Simonator” shirts. Editors would beg him to write their grocery lists, just so they could have ink scribed by his brilliant hand.
Tonight, he was still pre-Shoemaker, with exactly three lines of the story written and the rest living conspicuously inside his head. “It was a cold night without a single shoe to be found …”
Minutes ago, as his Uber stammered across a yellow light at Olive Street, he had thought of one more line to go after the third: 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 Simon wondered what exactly it was that made him such a gifted writer: Was it his background as a creative writing major at Saywater University? Was it the encouragement from his Mastering the Art of Playwriting professor who was sure Simon would self-publish one day? His blog about croissants across the country? His freelance reporting career at The Coin Collecting Times of Tuckerville?
No, back to the here and now, to this moment at Blue Bernier Baked Goods, where Simon was the beautiful-ish Maribeth, purple lips drawn with lipstick one shade too dark for her puckered mouth, red hair crunched into tight curls arranged poodle-like around her face. And she was also altogether silver, Simon noticed, awash in muted candlelight that fell on impatient green eyes.
He mumbled something about traffic and overpopulation then gave Maribeth a tight smile, as would any brilliant artist acknowledging his temporary muse.
They ordered two Chardonnays and the grilled avocados. Simon 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!’ 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 pretty wife of a rival shoemaker.”
“Hm, maybe. I can kind of see how that—”
“No, not 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 multi-million-dollar deal with me and then I’ll have to quit my job at Coin Collecting. Who would edit the ‘Daily Dime’ podcast if I’m gone?Nobody can tweet about the 1984 double ear penny like I can. I’ll probably start to finish the book in the next few weeks. Bam! I’ll put in 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 …”
“Yeah? Maribeth, what do you think?”
“Well, 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.”