Café Monmartre in the Eastern Market.
I was just finishing my lunch. I had never been here before, a little pricey but the food was “pretty good”. The dishes had been cleared and I was lingering over coffee when he approached my table; a tall, well dressed, thin man with dark hair and a goatee. A stranger.
“Excuse me sir,” he leaned in and said with a soft baritone. “Would you per-chance be Rene’?”
“I am indeed.”
He seemed to almost snap back upright and the corners of his mouth raised slightly. “Would you mind if I joined you for a moment?” he asked. “My employer dispatched me to locate you and I need just a few minutes of your time.”
“Please,” I indicated the empty chair. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“You can call me William.” He said. “Allow me to get right to the point, if I may. My employer is a man you had dealings with some thirty years ago. You probably called him Mr. Chance. Mr. Nicholas Chance.”
This got my attention immediately. I knew Nick Chance. We had been roommates in college. We had indeed cooperated on some business dealings shortly after graduation. Then one day he was simply gone. I never heard from him again. It wasn’t like he drifted away or anything like that. It was more sudden. One night we were drinking and celebrating. The next morning he had vanished.
William went on, “Mr. Chance asked me to remind you of the nature of your dealings. He requested I show you the copy of the document you both signed. The agreement wherein he agreed to ghost write your debut novel and you agreed to split the proceeds with him.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a single sheet of paper folded lengthwise in half. “He asked me to discreetly inquire why he has not received any payments, despite your critical acclaim. Do you want to see the document?” he asked, holding it out.
“That’s not necessary William, I remember it well.”
We stared silently at one another across the table for awhile until he broke the silence, “Well?” he asked.
“What would you like me to tell Mr. Chance?”
“You can tell him whatever you like, William,” I replied. “The truth is that Nicky vanished. I could not have given him any payments. He was nowhere to be found.”
William leaned back in his chair, “Very good then sir, I must assume that you have retained the required compensation in an escrow account awaiting the time when you found Mr. Chance and could make good on your debt; waiting, in fact, for today. I will give you his bank details and you can wire the funds straight away then.”
“You may assume whatever you like William but I haven’t got the money. It’s gone. In fact I probably can’t pay for this fine lunch I just finished. True, that first novel was a success but there haven’t been any others. In fact I believe that the breakout book would have flopped too, had it not been for Nick. His writing was superb.”
“Oh, this is unfortunate,” William tsk-tsked his tongue. “No money?”
“In that event,” William continued as though I hadn’t said a thing. “Mr. Chance has instructed me to collect your soul. I’ll find you again later this evening, after I have relayed these developments to my employer.” He stood to leave, “Your lunch is on me.” He said. Then he turned and walked away.