The Book I Will Write #50: The Midnight Cowboy

THE BOOK I WILL WRITE by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. THE BOOK I WILL WRITE is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment, and is living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. Now he’s being stalked by the murderous son of Reid Markham, the author of The Devil’s Good Graces, a book Fleming is trying to track down and read as an influence to his own, still unwritten, novel. Annie, the editorial assistant, has been filling in at Knopf while her boss is in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct. She’s trying to help Fleming track down the book.


Dear John Henry,

I tracked down Ms. Hollymore’s boyfriend, Seamus. Yes, he says, he has the key to Ms. Hollymore’s apartment, and yes, he’ll give it to me. How about lunch?

I’m like, wow, does this older gent know how older he is?

I agreed. After your meeting with The Story Lady, I feel like I have to get my hands on that book, and not just for your sake. I don’t want you to be tempted to do anything that might damage our fake relationship. It’s important to me.

I arrived early and sat at an outdoor table in a restaurant across the street. I wanted to give myself the option to run away. When it comes to men, that’s kind of how I roll.

I ordered a glass of wine. I drank it too fast, considering I hadn’t eaten since the night before. I actually forgot to eat breakfast. That happens to me.

So I had another glass of wine. And then I was drunk. I mean hopeless drunk before noon, and this on two glasses of wine. I’m still buzzed, so sorry if the sense of this stops making.

You could say I know when to stop. Except really the only reason I didn’t order a third glass is because I knocked over my second one when I finished and broke it all over the sidewalk and thought I might get in trouble with the cold-eyed blonde waitress.

I sit there and wait. Pretty soon I spot him. I know Ms. Hollymore’s type. He shuffles along like a retired dancing bear, a light-footed, heavy-bellied lope. His sandy hair falls in sloppy curls over his ears. Or is all that ear-hair? Too hard to tell from across the street.

He gets a table and orders a glass of wine, and there we sit across 4th Street from each other, with only one of us knowing both of us are there. Cars go by. Flocks of pedestrians. Who are these people walking the streets? I watch him sip his red wine. I had white. What does it mean? Nothing, of course, but I’m sitting there wondering anyway. Just wondering about things as if it’s my job, because why shouldn’t it be?

Did I mention he had a leather satchel? A man-purse. Did I mention he set it beside him in easy reach of a passing thief?

Could I be that thief? Could I be that person who walks past like she has some place to be but who really only wants to steal a man’s purse?

Someone else stole it for me. Some guy walked by, and I didn’t pay any attention to him until I blinked and noticed the satchel was gone. Seamus sipped his wine and suddenly looked like a clueless doofus.

I jumped up and ran. The thief was wearing a tan leather jacket and a hat, sort of like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy without the fringe. He was easy to follow. By the time he turned onto Lafayette Street I was in earshot. “Hey!” I yelled. He ignored me until I came closer and shouted again. “Hey!”

He looked over his shoulder. He wasn’t going to stop. I ran up to him. I was drunk. I grabbed the man-purse off his shoulder and kept running.

He didn’t even bother to follow. “It’s ugly anyway!” he called.

“So are you!” I called back. And then I checked to make sure I hadn’t been shot.

How about that? I didn’t think I had it in me. I’m a thief. I’m a thief of thieves. And now I have in my possession the man-purse of Mr. Seamus Lingle, and one of the keys on Mr. Seamus Lingle’s keychain opens the door to Ms. Hollymore’s apartment, where a copy of The Devil’s Good Graces awaits a thief to come along and snag it. A thief like me.

Maybe I’ll kick off early today, what do you think?

Talk to you soon,