Eric Frome came as close to showing emotion as I ever saw him. He gave me what he probably considered a smoldering glare. He carefully placed his thumb on the edge of my stacked up manuscript and slid it toward me.
“This won’t do.”
“He’s changed. He’s a completely different person.”
“That’s the point.”
“He’s not the person people buy your books for. He quit cussing. He won’t sleep with women. He’s quit drinking for Christ’s sake.”
I smiled. “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there.”
Eric didn’t smile. “You can’t do this.”
“You’ve changed him. This isn’t the character we bought. The contract…”
“I read the contract. As a matter of fact, I got a lawyer to read the contract. It turns out that you were right. I can’t kill him. But there’s nothing that says I can’t change him.”
Eric came close to showing exasperation. “We won’t support it. No advertising. No book tour. No prime shelf space. It’ll die. We won’t support it.”
“Yes you will.”
“What makes you think so?”
“It’s in the contract.”
The air hummed with the background noise of a thriving diner on a Friday night: clattering dishes, shouted orders, the unintelligible buzz of the conversation of fellow diners. Not loud enough to be a bother but still there in the background, familiar and comforting. Lieutenant Harper sat across from me in the booth. His brand new partner sat next to him, a cigarette dangling from his lower lip. He was just a kid, not more than twenty-one or so. He was one of those people who didn’t have to shave very often. He looked like someone whose momma would be really mad if she knew he was out this late.
Lieutenant Harper put his coffee cup down and looked at me. “So you haven’t taken a drink in three weeks.”
I looked up from my pie and smiled. “That’s right.”
“And you’re going to Church three times a week.”
I shrugged. “Well, I try. Sometimes the work interferes.”
“Don’t see a cigarette. Have you stopped smoking, too?”
“That’s a tough one. Let’s say I’m trying.”
“So what’s this all about? Is it a woman?”
“No, no woman. Not this time.”
The peach fuzzed partner leaned back against the vinyl backrest. “So you got religion.” There was a smirk on his face.
“You could say that. I think it would be more accurate to say religion got me. Or God or Jesus. I don’t really know how to say it. All I know is my life has changed. I’m a believer.”
Lieutenant Harper interrupted peach fuzz before he could say more. “What happened?”
I chucked, remembering. “You know how it is with women. They’re good for some laughs, a good time. That’s all they’re for, so you think. Then one day somebody comes along and you know you’ve been looking for her all your life. You’re in love. Your heart, I guess, was doing the looking for you. You needed something you didn’t even know you needed. I was that way with God. I didn’t even know I was looking. But one day there He was. And He wanted me. It’s kind of a shock to think that all my sordid past was not enough to run God off.”
Peach fizz would not be denied. “I heard you were a tough guy.” The smirk was more obvious now. Before, I would have sent him cowering in his corner with a withering stare but this time I just chuckled.
“Son, have you ever been in love?”
The color rose in his cheeks and his eyes dropped to the table in front of him. He snorted a self-conscious laugh. “Nah.”
“You’re a tough guy now, a cop, packin’ a gun. Don’t need anybody. But someday you’ll need to be in love. Someday something will happen and you’ll know without a doubt that your whole life to that point has been empty, a vacuum, nothing. And you’ll know that you need someone to make your life mean something. You’ll need a woman that’s more than just a good time. You’ll need to be in love.”
The kid wasn’t smirking any more. I looked out the rain streaked window and watched the metronome flash of neon in the rain soaked parking lot, remembering the emptiness I felt, the emptiness that led me to God. I looked back at the young man.
“But there’s more than that. Someday you’ll come to the fact that there has to be more to it than a good time, a few bucks, win the lottery, even the love of a good woman. It’s all empty if that’s all there is. God is the only thing that can make it more than a worthless existence. Someday… Someday you’ll need to believe.”