From the Desk of Jojo Self
by Corey Mesler
Driving to New York City, Candy Marcrum had time to wonder at the turn of events which resulted in this mission. And she wondered why. Over and over she wondered why. It certainly wasn’t an attraction, was it?. Jojo Self was, well, too odd a bird for that. But, there was something going on... a frisson of positive energy which led to her involvement.
Traveling alone, Candy kept a thermos of coffee on the seat next to her. Also a copy of one of Jojo Self’s manuscripts, one that had not been eaten by the desk, of course.
The city was a super-scale board game, a crazy-quilt stratum with game pieces crowding for sky-space. Candy felt as if she were maneuvering her small car through a maze made up of plastic, and provisional, constructions. She knew something about how the grid was laid out but it didn’t avert her from becoming lost. When she finally arrived at the address of the publisher she was sweaty and irritable. She stepped from her car into the redolent air and shook like a dog after a bath. The clarion taxi horns drove her indoors.
The revolving door admitted Candy to the lobby. The lobby was intimidating enough, stark yet bustling, full of recycled air and concatenation. Everyone knew what they were doing and where they were going except Candy. She took a deep breath, coughed, and strode to the guard dog at the receptionist’s stall.
“Doubledog,” Candy Marcrum said to the gnomic man behind the desk.
“Mm hmm,” he said, glancing at Candy and returning to his newspaper.
“I want to see them,” she said.
The little man looked up. He looked her over, not without a hint of ogle, and replied, “I don’t care. Go ahead.”
“Oh,” Candy said. “Oh,” she said, moving away.
There were many elevator doors. No waiting. She boarded one elevator, panicked momentarily, and deboarded. She checked the legend on the wall. Doubledog was on the 13th floor.
She reboarded and pushed 13.
The offices of Doubledog Publishing were lousy with dark wood. Everything seemed to be made of dark wood, including the little woman behind the desk who greeted Candy and whose ethnicity was cause for speculation. Her skin said one of the dark races. Her voice said Upper Crust Boston.
She also guarded the offices like Cerberus. Candy realized too late that she should have called for an appointment. She thought of it in the car on the drive North. By that time she had decided that an explanation by phone would be spurious and that, face to face, she could make her case better.
“Ms., um, Pettigoat,” Candy said, eyeing the name on the desk-plate, after getting the must-have-an-appointment speech, “I have driven far to come here and present you with an ultimatum. If you would like that ultimatum to die here on your desk, if you want that responsibility, then just say so and I will open up like the gates of a dam.”
It was a partially prepared speech.
Isabel Pettigoat looked Candy up and down.
“Sorry,” she said, dismissively. She turned her attention back to her computer screen.
Candy stood there for a moment. She was stunned. She was stumped, but only temporarily. She never thought that this would be easy.
“Would you, could you, please give me the name of the man or woman in charge here?” Candy said. “Just give me his or her name and I will be on my way. The name of the person responsible for the theft of the manuscripts of Jojo Self.”
She saw the swallow.
There could be no doubt about it. Isabel Pettigoat betrayed her knowledge of the subterfuge by a pause in her keystrokes, by a swallow, a single, dry, difficult swallow.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Ms. Pettigoat said, turning one quarter turn toward Candy. “Jojo Self?”
Candy now held the winning hand. She felt it.
“Uh huh,” she said, slowly. She studied the receptionist’s face. A drop of sweat the size of a pinhead appeared on one temple.
“You probably mean, heh, Mr. Newtix. Herman Newtix. He, um, he is the chief editor here. I am sure, if Mr. Self submitted something, it went through proper channels, probably one of our junior editors, who, only if it merited especial attention, would pass it up to Mr. Newtix, or, well, to his office. Then — well, let’s not discuss the whole process.” Here a tight smile, a small attempt to win back the advantage. “Now, if you’ll just give me Mr. Self’s agent’s name.”
Candy studied her adversary. “You are sure Jojo Self is a man?”
“Ach,” Isabel Pettigoat said.
“I’ll wait until Mr. Newtix can see me,” Candy said. “Tell him it’s about Mr. Self’s Princess Mandalooie of the Planet Nfs-X.”
Isabel Pettigoat opened her mouth once. No words emerged. She shut it.
Candy took a seat in one of the plush chairs in the outer office. She picked up a copy of Marie Claire. She smiled her coolness toward Ms. Pettigoat, who was suddenly on the phone.
The waiting area felt like a medical waiting room and hence Candy thought briefly that she was going to see the doctor. A new doctor. Something was wrong with her. Was it going to be fatal? A book doctor. Would he prescribe more Russians, a little less chick lit?
As her mind played these games and bright, glossy ads sped by her thumbing fingers, time passed, glutinously. Then the ebon receptionist spoke as if from the grave.
“Mr. Newtix will see you now.” She didn’t look up.
“Thank you,” Candy said.
The inner office she crossed into, if possible, exhibited even more dark wood than the outer offices. It was like entering a tree. And the gnome behind the large, dark desk was extending a chubby little hand, while smiling the smile of the troll under the bridge.
“Ms. Mackeral,” the round, little man said. He was standing, Candy determined. His body was round like a snowman’s. His cheeks and neck were one continuous web of flesh. His color was rubicund as if all the blood was about to burst from the pores of his face.
“Marcrum,” Candy said, taking the hand. It felt like a plush, doll’s hand.
“Sit, sit,” Herman Newtix said.
Candy sat in front of the desk. It was an old desk, and the dark brown wood was polished to a vivid patina. Herman Newtix didn’t so much commandeer the desk, it was more as if he was clinging to it to stay afloat. The desk was a good eleven times the size of the squatty, spherical publisher.
“Now, what’s this all about?” Herman Newtix said. His smile seemed drawn on.
“Princess Mandalooie of the Planet Nfs-X,” Candy said, smoothly.
“Ah, one of our newest titles. We’re very proud of it.”
“That’s fine, Mr. Newtix. That’s very fine. Now, who wrote it?”
Herman Newtix hesitated and in his hesitation Candy saw a glimmer of hope. In his hesitation she saw the possibility of justice.
“I believe, let’s see,” he fumbled, dramatically, with some papers on his desk.
“Celery Moser?” Candy Marcrum asked.
Herman Newtix looked up brightly, as if this little problem had just resolved itself.
“Yes, yes that’s the author’s name. A bright, young talent. I predict good things for him. Great things!”
“Uh huh,” Candy said. She let some tense moments tick by.
“Do you have a picture of, and an address for, Mr. Moser?” she asked.
“I think so,” Herman Newtix said. Again, he went through the motions of moving papers around on his desk. He shuffled a stack. He put one stack on top of another stack. It was as if he were doing some light housecleaning while Candy waited.
“Mr. Newtix, enough pretense. The author of Princess Mandalooie of the Planet Nfs-X is Jojo Self. I believe you know this. I believe you are deliberately deceiving the public and me and, in the process, defrauding Mr. Self. Is there a Celery Moser?”
“Ms. Marcrum.” Herman Newtix said. He cleared his throat. “I think perhaps I should get someone up here from legal. I believe you are accusing me of fraud, or plagiarism, or worse.”
“Fine, Mr. Newtix. Get your lawyer. I know and you know that the novel was written by Jojo Self and stolen from him in a manner that is unclear. I further believe that you intend on stealing more of Mr. Self’s stories, as more are missing.”
“Folderol,” Mr. Newtix said. “Poppycock. That is not the way Doubledog does business. We are an old and reputable firm.” He turned to his computer screen and began to punch some keys.
And then it happened.
In the space that Herman Newtix had cleared a white blur appeared. Mr. Newtix did not see it before Candy did. The blur began to crystallize. Suddenly it was one sheet of typewritten paper. Then two, then dozens. A manuscript was forming there as speedily as a cloud streams rain. Herman Newtix turned quickly and slapped his hand down on top of the pages.
“Egad!” he said.
“Aha!” Candy said.
Herman Newtix seemed to want to crawl on top of the manuscript which had just materialized on his desk. If he could have, he would have spread eagled on it and covered it with his butterball body. He looked up and his eyes were moist.
“Honest to God,” Herman Newtix fairly exploded, “I didn’t want this to happen. I didn’t understand it at first. It’s the damn desk! It’s some kind of black magic! It’s some kind of devilry!”
Candy Marcrum knew she had the plump publisher over a barrel. She also knew that to press her advantage would not reflect well on her or on the man whom she was representing, Jojo Self. Candy smiled an indulgent smile.
“You must have known the books were not just yours to take,” she said, softly.
“I didn’t — I mean, at first, I didn’t know what to think — I mean, it’s not like someone was sending me the next John Grisham or the next Stephen King. These were genre books destined to be genre books. If you understand me.”
Candy’s perplexed face was his answer.
“Okay, look, I’m sorry, I’m not being clear. I bought this desk, see. I bought it at an antique’s store on 6th Avenue. The owner said there were only two desks like it. I didn’t understand but it was so big, so beautiful, and so cheap. The owner seemed happy to get rid of it and I was happy with the price I paid. Anyway, no sooner did I install the desk in my office than these manuscripts began to appear. All fairly crazy science fiction novels of questionable pedigree.”
Candy made a moue.
“Now, now, no reflection on the author. But, I took it, I took the appearances as a sign. See, science fiction has not been what we’re about here at Doubledog. We tend more toward the highbrow, the experimental, the oblique, the, well, difficult. Small sales, big reputation. I took these manuscripts as a sign that we would find some financial gold if we bent our usual policy and published these strange yarns.”
“But surely,” Candy said, heating up a bit, “you could see that they were someone else’s books. Why invent an author for them when they already had an author?”
It was a good question, a poser really, and Herman Newtix was thoughtful for a moment.
“Celery Moser is not invented,” he said, finally.
“Oh,” Candy said.
“Celery Moser exists as surely as you and I,” he said.
“I — I am Celery Moser,” Herman Newtix said. “And I’ve always wanted to be a writer instead of a publisher.”
Sandy was warming to the roly-poly publisher. She began to feel kindly toward him and she temporarily forgot that she was here to see fair dealing done, fair dealing for her new friend, Jojo Self. She approached Herman Newtix’s side of the desk and put a consoling hand on his shoulder.
“You know you must do the right thing,” she said. “No one is to blame here. No one is a bad guy.”
“Yes. Yes, you’re right,” Herman Newtix/Celery Moser said. “You’re right.”
“So, what now?” Candy Marcrum said.
“Will you read my novel?” Celery/Herman asked.
“So, then I said, ‘Will your firm publish these science fiction novels under their proper author’s name?’”
“Wow,” Jojo Self said. He was resting a cup of coffee on his knee, staring into the pellucid eyes of Candy Marcrum. “You’re my new hero.”
“And, of course, he said, yes,” Candy said. She scooted closer to Jojo. “Of course he said yes.” She paused.
“I don’t know how to repay you,” Jojo said. But he did know. Or at least he knew what was happening. He was not so far outside of human interaction that he didn’t know what was happening.
And when Candy placed her mouth, soft as fire in dew, against his mouth, Jojo was taught how to love. He was a late bloomer but a fast learner.
It was only a month later that Princess Mandalooie of the Planet Nfs-X was re-released with the same striking cover art but with a different author’s name, one the world had not seen before: Joe Self. And what followed, about once every six months, were more books in the series, soon to be called Joe Self’s Planetary Adventure Series. And his publisher, under the name Celery Moser, began his own series of adventures for young adults, the very profitable The Bodgie Boys Adventures.
United Artists released the first movie version of a Self adventure, Commander Pomacious and the Metagalactic Ballroom, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. It was an international smash and it made its author a millionaire. More movies followed, soon as reliable a cash cow as the Bond films, or the Harry Potters.
Also, it should be noted, Jojo’s books became less violent, such was Candy’s gentle suasion. And his stuck drawer became unstuck. Inside he found the manuscripts that he couldn’t finish or hadn’t finished, for one reason or another, finished.
But, before all this success, Candy and Jojo lay in each other’s arms after the first time they made love and they saw a future, not abounding with achievement and monetary comforts, but one of nurturing love and mutual support and erotic enthusiasm and the kind of companionship vouchsafed few humans, writers or not. And they saw little Selfs, too, two or three little Selfs, who carried Candy’s lovely looks as lightly as a child carries a sack of Halloween treats. It was quite a vision.
“Oh, Jojo,” Candy said. “What you were hiding! What was under that bushel basket of yours!”
“Candy, I had nothing before you,” Jojo said.
“Sweet man. Sweet man to say that. It’s not true but I love you for saying it.”
“And I love you,” Jojo said. “From a character in one of my novels to my bed, it’s a very satisfying bit of legerdemain.”
(When they made the movie of The Saturnian Age and cast Scarlett Johansson as Candy Marcrum, Candy was embarrassed. “Joe,” she said, “Scarlett Johansson?” To which her husband replied, “Candy, come here and give me your body made of sugary cake.”)
“And now, sweet, dear Joe Self,” Candy said, in copulation’s lambent afterglow, with limpid eyes — her eyes were limpid! — Candy said, “This new you, this published, confident, successful new you can venture out into the world. The doors are open. Together you and I can go out, anywhere, anywhere we please, oh, Joe, it’ll be grand, won’t it?”
“Oh no,” Joe Self said. “Not that.”
Copyright © 2008 by Corey Mesler