© 2002 James Beattie Morison
Walter felt unmotivated and discouraged until a phone call created a new challenge.
The Call of the Leech
The phone rang. I sat and waited. Another ring and then the answering machine cut in.
“This is Walter Mann. I am busy on my new book and do not have time to talk. If you think this call is important, please leave a message. If I agree, I will call back.”
The answering machine beeped and started to record.
“Walt — this is Angelica.” She paused, the lilt of her accent hung in the air. “Don’t play games with me. You can’t just hide from what happened. Please talk to me.” She waited in silence. I made no move to pick up the phone. Eventually she hung up.
I got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen. I looked in the fridge and then the cupboards and didn’t find anything to inspire me. In the next room, the phone rang again. I listened until I recognized the voice. Another leech wanted an exclusive. I walked back to the answering machine and turned the volume down so I couldn’t hear the voice anymore. After I stood and looked at the phone awhile, I reached down and unplugged the phone — now the ringing wouldn’t distract me.
I sat in another chair and looked out of my window. My apartment looked out on a beautiful view of the mountains.
I knew I had things to do — so I got restless. Finally, I got up and wandered back to my office. I sat in front of the computer. I fiddled with my notes on the desk and rearranged my pens. Eventually I was happy enough with my notes and pens. I turned my attention to the computer, grabbed the mouse and clicking on an icon to start a program.
Angelica at the Door
Bang bang bang.
Someone was at the door. I had been lost in my work. An hour had gone by, and I had won several solitaire games. I got up and quickly and quietly walked through the apartment to my front door. I became cautious as I got close.
They still banged on the door. Angelica’s voice called clearly through the door. “Walt, are you OK? Please let me in.” She knocked again. I started to reach for the door handle, but caught myself and took a step back. She continued. “Don’t let what happened stop you from enjoying life.”
Sometimes I thought of her as another one of those leeches. After all, we had known each other for many years and she still hadn’t read any of my books. But then, she never asked for anything but my company. A neighbour must have let her into the building.
Still, I moved further from the door to block the sound from my mind. I sat on the couch. The answering machine reported 10 calls since I last looked. More leeches.
The Phone Call
I slumped down in the couch and stared at the ceiling. Blank and featureless — much like my own life.
The answering machine clicked on again in silence. I listened to the click of the mechanism. Angelica was gone now — or at least she was quiet.
I got curious, so I turned up the volume.
“… we do hope you can help us. It is a long shot, but she doesn’t have much time left and I didn’t want to let her die without trying . . .”
I picked up the phone and interrupted him. I apologized, and explained that I had been in the washroom and had not heard the phone.
“Thank you for answering.” He sounded apologetic. “I know you are a busy man. I am Dr. David Henderson in Greenview. We have a patient here, a 19-year-old girl. She has some very unusual symptoms and all of the doctors here are baffled. None of us has seen or heard of anything like it. All we know is that she will die soon if we do not come up with something.”
I said that sounded very sad, but I was a writer, not a doctor. I didn’t see how I could help.
“Well, like I said before, it is a long shot. One of our nurses is a big fan of your books. She is almost certain that in one of your books you describe a similar case. You have a reputation of doing a lot of research for your books and you might be able to point us in a fruitful direction.” He went on to give me some details of the symptoms.
I said, “Often I do research, but sometimes I just make things up. I have written more than 100 books and I can’t remember all the details. I just don’t recall a case like you mentioned in any of my books. Your nurse may have read it somewhere else. I would like to help, but I just can’t help you.”
Sounding disappointed, he replied, “Thanks anyway. I thought it was worth a try.”
I apologized and asked him how I could get in touch with him in case I thought of anything. Finally, he told me the name of the girl: Joan Anderson.
I hung up, looking at the small slip of paper that might be Joan Anderson’s only hope of survival.
Books and Boxes
I went back to my computer but I couldn’t think of anything but Joan Anderson. A stranger was dying many miles away. It wasn’t really my responsibility, but I felt I had to do something.
I walked over to the bookshelf where I had neatly filed away each of my books. I stared at titles, hoping that one would spark my memory. There were some I couldn’t remember writing. That was discouraging. I pulled several in turn from the shelf. I flipped through the books hoping to stumble across the reference I sought. This was useless I felt. There is no way I would find anything this way. I put the books back and sat down.
After I waited for a while I got up slowly I walked down the hall to my storeroom and went in. Rows of metal shelving filled the room. Boxes sat on the shelves each neatly labelled with the name of one of my books. Soon I would need a larger room — or I would have to stop writing. I wandered up and down the spaces between the shelves. Somewhere in one of these boxes was what the doctors needed from me — assuming there is anything at all. I stopped, opened a couple of boxes, and glanced through some handwritten notes, typed letters, yellowed newspaper clippings and computer disks for computers I no longer owned. They were unreadable now.
The room had a musty smell. I rarely went back to any of this material. It was all the past. Soon it would be nothing but dust. It would be of no value to anyone. I stood for a while and contemplated this morgue of my ideas. Like everything I produced, it had turned to rot. A great sadness came over me.
It was hard to admit how little I had accomplished in my life.
I found myself back in front of my computer. Still, I wanted to do nothing. I opened up my Web browser and went to my favourite search engine. I sat and had no idea of what to search for. The only thing on my mind was Joan Anderson and her illness. I typed her name and hit go. A list of web sites popped up. I glanced down the list and one line caught my eye: Joan’s Dilemma the title of one of my books. I couldn’t understand why it came up because it had nothing to do with Anderson.
Curiosity got the better of me and I followed the link. A wave of disgust came over me as I realized what it was. It was a review of my book by Robert Anderson. A person I had no trouble remembering. When it came to leeches, he was the King. A fanatic’s fanatic, he called himself my biggest fan. Pain in the butt was a better description.
I was about to quit when an idea came to me. Robert had very detailed reviews of my books. Maybe I could do a search and find the book I wanted. I clicked my way to his home page. Fortunately, he had a search feature.
I tried different keywords that might find the book. I tried several times, each time I caught several books. I had to read each review before I could be sure it wasn’t the one I wanted. Eventually, I ran out of ideas to try.
I decided that I had wasted my time. By now, it was clear to me that a reference, if it was there, was likely a minor point to the story, no review would refer to it. I thought it was a good chance it wasn’t even one of my books the a nurse recalled.
An Appalling Decision
I picked up the notes for my new book and flipped through them. For a few minutes, I managed to focus on my notes, but then my mind thought again of Joan Anderson. I wished there was something more I could do for her. I thought again of Robert Anderson, that bloody fanatic. It was creepy how he wanted to know everything about me and had even claimed he memorized all of my books. Heck I thought, even I couldn’t remember all of the titles of books I had written.
I thought. Maybe Robert had memorized my books, or at least enough of them to know which one held the clue I sought.
I reached for the phone, then stopped. I didn’t want to talk to him. Every encounter I had with him had left so angry I could kill. I didn’t want to do anything to encourage him. The very thought of talking to him appalled me and I moved away from the phone.
I walked out to living room and lay down on the couch. I glanced at the phone and saw the small slip of paper with the name of Joan Anderson. I felt torn. Did I hate Robert so much that I would let Joan die?
I sat up and looked at the phone. I picked it up and I dialled. The phone rang at the other end. Once — twice — three times. Maybe he wasn’t there. I start to calm down. This surprised me, since I had not realized just how tense I had become.
At the other end, the phone was picked up and I could hear the whiny voice of Robert Anderson as he asked who it was.
“Robert . . . this is Walter Mann.” I paused, not sure what to say next.
“Walter Mann?” He too paused in surprise. “Why are you calling me? I’ve stayed well away from anything covered in the court order. You have nothing to complain about” he said defiantly.
“No, no it’s nothing like that.” I assured him. I felt awful at having to be nice to him. “I need to ask you a favour. I thought you could help me find a passage in one of my books.” I thought I would have rather died.
“Why?” He asked suspiciously. He was suddenly very wary. He was not sure he could trust me, and he feared a trap. He got a little cagey and asked, “what’s in it for me?”
“It isn’t a big thing, what would you like?” I didn’t want to give him anything.
He thought for a while and then said, “I would like to review your research notes.” He had wanted to write a book on me and it seemed like he never had everything he wanted.
“No, that is too much.” I hung up.
I got up, walked back and forth, and fought my anger. Slowly I calmed down and walked down the hall to the storeroom. Only a few minutes ago, I thought of these boxes as little more than garbage and that I should get rid of them. Now I defended them as if my life depended on them.
In a brief fit of anger, I decided to destroy the boxes before anyone like Robert Anderson could get their hands on them. But the anger passed and I felt myself let go. The boxes were really of no further value to me — I should pass them onto someone who would get something out of them, even if it were only Robert Anderson. It was a small price to pay for the life of a young girl.
I walked back to the phone. I hesitated while I worried about the logistics of letting Robert look over my files. I didn’t want to let him into my apartment. I realized that something we could work out later. I picked up the phone and dialled.
Robert answered and I said, “Okay, we’ll work something out so that you can access my notes. You’ll have to agree to provide me with any information on my work that I might need.”
He replied, “Fine by me”.
I told him the gist of what the symptoms were. He hardly hesitated at all before he said, “That is in The Passing of Edward Delaney page 212 of the hardback and page 192 of the paperback. You also mentioned something similar in Crisis in North Chandler page 50 of the hardback and page 47 of the paperback, but it only refers to the first symptom.”
I thanked him, too excited to appreciate how much of a change had come over me.
I rushed to the storeroom I pulled out the box for The Passing of Edward Delaney. I took it back to the living room, got down on the floor, and started to go through the box. I took out pages of handwritten notes, with typed and corrected drafts. I found old newspaper clippings, telephone notes, and letters from contacts. Nothing I found remotely resembled the description of the symptoms.
With my enthusiasm abated I slowly re packed the box and took it back to the storeroom and put it away. I looked for Crisis in North Chandler. It wasn’t there. I walked up and down the aisles. I wanted to give up. Then I spotted a box labelled Judy’s Turn to Cry. Then I remembered. The publisher had changed the name to avoid confusion with the song.
I pulled out the box, hauled it back to living room, and started to go through it. About halfway down in the box, I came across a yellow newspaper clipping stapled to a letter. Part of the clipping was gone, but I could read enough of it. The letter had what I wanted. It was from the attending doctor. In it, he described the symptoms. It was vague on how they cured it, but Joan Anderson’s doctors would now have someone to ask.
I picked up the phone and quickly called Dr. David Henderson. After a short wait, while his nurse got him to phone.
He was appreciative when I told him what I had found. He said that Joan still held on.
“Doctor, could you let me know what happens.”
“I will, but like I said, this is a long shot. I don’t want to give anyone false hopes.”
After he hung up, I wondered who kept him from false hopes.
I sat on my couch and looked at the mess of papers on my floor. I felt good. I felt at peace. It may not have changed anything, but I had tried. I wanted to do something. I had lost interest in my new book. It could wait.
I picked up the phone and dialled. When the Secretary answered, I said, “could I talk to Angelica please?” She asked for my name.
I waited in silence.
“Can we meet at Milton’s steakhouse for dinner tonight? It is quiet and we can talk.”
“See you there,” she said with a smile in her voice.
I went to my bedroom to get ready.