Chapter Fifteen

   It took, oh, fifteen minutes to clean the gum off the walls. A maintenance crew had to be called in, though nobody actually showed up. Butler, still covered with pieces of pink bubble gum from the exploding bubble gum cigar (for those of you who just started reading at this point), resumed the interrogation.
   "Mr. Reynolds, do you ever talk to inanimate objects?"
   "Like who?"
   "Well, like with, uh, money, for example. Do you ever talk to money?"
   "Money?" I could hear George and Abe giggling inside my pocket.
   "Let me put it bluntly, Mr. Reynolds. Do you talk to dollar bills?"
   "No?" He stared at me skeptically.
   "Well, today I did talk to a one dollar bill, but usually, exclusively, it's the sawbucks that I talk to."
   "I see." Mr. Butler slid his chair back and placed both hands in front of his mouth and then, uncontrollably, and to his extreme embarrassment, began picking his nose -- and then, back in control again, he resumed reading my death sentence. "Mr. Reynolds, I hate to have to tell you this, but due to your odd behavior, which I can no longer condone, I am going to have to let you go. You'll have two weeks, and in that time we'll do everything we can to find you another job, but then, that's it." He stood up to shake my hand.
   Wow, what a surprise. Well, now it was time for his surprise.
   "Uh, Mr. Butler, I have some bad news for you. I've hired a lawyer, and I'm filing a class-action suit against you, your bank, and your pet cobra."
   "What?! I don't have a pet cobra!"
   "You do now."
   "All right, all right, have your lawyer fax me the papers, and we'll meet you in court."
   "Fax?" came a squeaky voice from inside my pocket.
   "What? Who said that? Did you say that?"
   "I didn't say anything," I said nervously.
   "What's a fax?" came the squeaky voice again.
   "I heard that, Reynolds. It's coming from inside your pocket."
   Reluctantly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my attorney, Abraham Lincoln, Esq.
   "What's that for? Are you trying to bribe me? Because, if you are -- "
   "Shut up, windbag!" Abe shouted, cutting him off. "You're worse than Douglas!"
   Butler turned ashen white.
   "Are you gonna finish that pie?" I asked. Abe, meanwhile, having established a beachhead, continued.
   "Mr. Butler, Mr. Aloysius Q. Butler, is that your name?"
   "Aloysius? Where'd you get Aloysius? That's not my name."
   "No matter," Abe went on. "Tell me, Mr. Butler, how long have you been the manager of this bank?"
   "Uh, I'm not really sure if I remember," he waffled, insouciantly.
   "I won't tolerate insouciance, Mr. Butler," Abe bellowed, "but I do like waffles."
   Butler then got up, went over to the window, opened it wide and stepped out onto the ledge. And then, without so much as a wave goodbye, he jumped. I didn't think in a million years he'd do that. I didn't think in a million years I'd think of writing that. And, as surprised as I was, you should have seen the look on Abe's bearded little face. I mean, he was f-r-e-a-k-e-d out!
   (Where are you going with this? -- Maureen)
   Maureen? How'd you get in there? What are you doing in there?
   (I was offered a position by your publisher -- can you believe it? -- they liked my work! As a favor, they asked me if I could take a gander at what you were up to, maybe help you out -- Maureen)
   What? I can't believe this, Maureen, I, I -- I mean, you're one of my characters! I created you!
   (Now, Jim, I knew you were going to go nuts when you found out, but, look -- you want the damn thing to get published, don't you? Don't you? -- Maureen)
   I'm not so sure anymore, Maureen. I'm not so sure.
   (Well, I know you and I know that you would never throw away an opportunity to get something with your name on it out into the public. You're desperate for recognition, aren't you? -- Maureen)
   Well, I wouldn't say desperate. So, wait, let me get this straight, Maureen. Have you replaced the other editor? (No, she's filling in for me. I'm in the Hamptons for the summer -- Ed.) I see.
   (Look, Jim, let me offer some advice. Stylistically, a word you like to use and just did, your work has all the cohesiveness of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut? You've got to rein it in, get it together -- Maureen)
   Get it together? That's your advice? Get it together? That's the kind of advice you get on talk radio.
   (No reason to be condescending -- Maureen)
   Sorry. So, how's it going? Do you have one of those fancy penthouse apartments overlooking the Empire State Building?
   (Of course not. I'm sharing an L-shaped studio apartment with two other junior editors -- Maureen)
   (Yes! -- Maureen)
   Just asking -- you know, you can never be too careful in the big city.
   (Well, thanks for being so concerned. You certainly weren't this concerned when you plunked me down in the North Atlantic with a bunch of Seabees! -- Maureen)
   They were frogmen. Anyway, I'm happy for you, but I'm going full steam ahead. Nothing you or any editor can say will change the course of this... uh, course.
   (Well, fine, Jim, that's what I suggested in the first place. Go ahead, get on with it, keep going, keep it moving, keep... writing -- Maureen)
   Yeah, okay.
   "Mr. Reynolds?"
   Oh no. I turned and there, standing before me -- without the slightest hint of having just leaped out the window -- Mr. Butler! Now I turned ashen white.
   "Mr. Butler, I, I didn't expect to see you again," I stammered. (Was I talking to a zombie?)
   "I'll remind you Mr. Reynolds that this bank is on the ground floor."
   Gulp. Did I feel stupid, as you can well imagine.

(This ends Chapter Fifteen.)

Chapter Sixteen