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Tuffy McShane Supports the Arts

by Charles C. Cole

In Tuffy McShane’s upper-middle class, gated community, there was money to be made for an ambitious teenage boy who was rather tickled by the unbending stiffness of his wallet when it was filled with dollar bills. He had returned to sell chilled bottles of water — a lot less work than mixing lemonade and making a “stand” — and homemade cookies on this sunny Sunday morning, as a line of parched, hungry people stood in a slow-moving queue down the sidewalk, all the way around the block.

Some people cradled notebooks or photo albums in their hands. One individual carried a painting in a floral pillow case. A petite, particularly weathered woman with a noticeable wobble pushed a large jewelry box in a baby stroller. Most were white-haired, quiet, focused. A burly local police officer sat in his black Santa Fe cruiser nearby, drinking coffee, fine-tuning his grocery list, mindful of any disruptions: keeping the peace. There was no portable toilet for the inconvenient urge, but usually people would let you back in if you dashed to the nearest Waffle House and back, usually. That was, generally, the extent of the excitement.

This was not an audition for “Antique Roadshow,” no. These people were somehow convinced — maybe by well-intentioned friends — that their former existences were uniquely interesting enough in circumstances to sustain a character’s backstory or even major plotline for the next Quinn Lee Glenncannon bestseller. Quinn Lee was nearing 90, but he was still producing two or three novels a year.

Someone on the Internet had recently started a rumor that the formerly prolific author was finally slowing down, running out of ideas. How sad! The flesh — and the publishing company — was willing, but the mind was rusting. These volunteers arrived to help, by selling the rights to their life stories, perhaps even their names, supplying a little paint for the poignantly blank canvass that was his next novel.

Quinn was mildly amused. After all, an intern for his agent had started the rumor, at his own initially semi-sarcastic suggestion. He had fallen off the radar of high-flying celebrities years ago. No news is bad news, so long as the public was still talking about you. What to do? He had lived in the same house for over thirty years, the one with the 8-foot tall lighthouse in the front yard promoting his Edgar-winning “Max Breakers” series, so it was only a matter of time before his readers came calling. And did they ever!

The local daily had promoted the fan migration — the managing editor was the son of a friend — then the state’s one big press had reprinted the story, then a national print magazine had heard about the newsworthy phenomena, then the online zines, and so forth. There were people from around the world waiting for a brief audience, as if he were the literary pope. It was heartbreakingly funny. Thankfully, this procession was only on Sundays because the rest of the week, as his fans knew, Quinn had to write.

Quinn’s brother, Aegis, was only a year younger than the author and resembled his kin right down to the long drooping earlobes and crooked pinky fingers. With matching glasses, they could be twins. Therefore, Aegis, long on the payroll, was assigned the task of sitting grandly in the study, with a wood-paneled wall behind him famously decorated with anchored vintage typewriters, greeting and listening and shaking trembling hands.

Up in the finished, deliberately windowless attic, Quinn quietly continued his first draft, in mostly legible longhand. Sentences were scratched out. Arrowed “threads of thought” connected the revised end of someone’s dialogue with the start. And large black carets, plentiful enough to be a new form of punctuation, showed where to insert sardonic turns-of-phrase and hyperbolic adjectives. Now and again, written vaguely in the margins: “See previous plot index.” Though perhaps cryptic to the uninitiated, the familiar stream-of-consciousness technique had remained unchanged from his rough-hewn undergraduate days.

Outside the closed attic door, a stop-clock alarm on an iPhone rang unexpectedly.

“Come,” called Quinn. “And turn that thing off.”

Tuffy McShane entered. He was panting and leaned melodramatically against the door frame to catch his breath. He had run all the way up the backstairs from the first-floor kitchen. “How’s the writing going?” he asked.

“One sentence at a time.”

“Well, I think I’ve earned enough for a down-payment on that Hoverboard we were talking about.”

“I’d be surprised.”

“You said you’d match what I earned, dollar for dollar.”

“You sure that wasn’t my brother? People confuse us all the time.”

“It was you, Grandpa.”

“Did you expect me to stop writing, mid-sentence, to write you a check?”

“If I get the Hoverboard, then you’ll have one less distraction on your front lawn.”

“How’s the line today?”

“Some little old lady fainted, so I helped Sergeant Libby put her in the backseat of his cruiser. I even gave her a water for free.”

“That was very altruistic of you.”

“Thanks. You think I could charge more for the water if I had you sign the labels?”

“I think we’ve already pushed the limits of our merchandising.”

“Did you know this was going to happen, that people would line up?”

“You wanted a flexible way to earn money from the convenience of your home. I think your grandmother and I came up with a pretty clever, though accidental, solution. Thank God for tolerant neighbors.”

“When are you going to tell people it’s a joke?”

“Never. It gave Aegis something to do. It put me on the map again. It’s revitalized the hotels and restaurants in town. Maybe we can create an oral history coffee book. You can finally afford a Hoverboard. Maybe, when my creativity finally dries up, we’ll have a new well to look in.”

Tuffy looked deep in his grandfather’s eyes a moment, briefly concerned with mortality. “But that’s never going happen.”

“Not soon anyway,” said Quinn with a reassuring smile. “But ask those people in line. Life is full of surprises.”

Copyright © 2019 by Charles C. Cole

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