They even call it
Sitting at my desk doing routine
backups of my hard drive, I tried to figure out how to write the next
scene of my novel when the phone rang.
I looked at the caller ID and
saw that it was Sam the plumber calling. There was just no point in
spoiling a perfectly bad day by talking to Sam, so I let it ring.
Footsteps outside in the living
room. My wife, Eunice, picked up the phone. “Hello?” A short pause.
“Oh, um, no, he’s not available. He’s doing backups right now.”
I leaned back in my chair and
closed my eyes. I had painted my lead character into a corner in the
previous chapter. Which is what a novelist is supposed to do—end each
scene with a cliffhanger.
The only problem is that
eventually, you have to get the guy out of trouble. You can wing it for
a couple of scenes by switching to another character. Sooner or later,
though, you have to get your man out of the corner or off the cliff.
Or, in my case, I had to get my man out of a dark alley and past three
thugs who intended him great bodily harm.
I’d put it off as long as
possible, but today I had to do it. And I had no idea how.
“No, really, Sam, that won’t be
necessary,” Eunice said. “He’s got it under control. It’s normal for
writers. They even call it writer’s block. But it always works itself
out in the end.”
I had no idea what Sam thought
he’d be able to do, but one thing was for sure. He was not going to
“help” me with my novel. I’d figure this thing out on my own.
Half an hour later, I had typed
exactly three letters, forming the emotively power-packed word “The.”
It was a good start, I thought,
and I had even typed a space after it. But I couldn’t decide what the
next word ought to be.
The doorbell rang in a way that
could only be caused by a particularly large and persistent thumb. I
rolled my chair back and slammed the door of my office shut.
The bell rang again. And again.
Footsteps in the entryway.
I grabbed the door and shouted,
“Hi, Sam,” Eunice said at the
door. “What brings you out here?”
“How’s he doing?” Sam said.
“Um . . . fine, I think. Just .
. . blocked, you know.”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I said. “Just
fine. Boffo. Never been better.”
“Hold that thought,” Sam said.
There followed the very solid thunk of something heavy being dropped on
my tile entryway.
I winced and looked out of my
A large metal canister with an
electric motor on its top sat on the floor. Sam was outside, hauling in
an enormous wheeled contraption with thick electric cables, rubber
hoses, three ominous gauges, and a long stainless steel tube.
“What’s all this about?” I
Sam grunted and wheeled the
monster inside. “All backed up?”
“Yeah, but . . .” I couldn’t
understand Sam’s sudden interest in backups. It’s important, but I just
didn’t know he cared about data security.
“Well, don’t you worry about
that,” Sam said. “We’ll get ya unblocked in a jiffy. I done this
before, ya know, and it’s real quick and easy.”
Eunice and I looked at each
other and started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Sam said.
“Just between you and me, this ain’t no laughing matter. I had it
myself once, and it wasn’t no picnic.”
A loud chorus of meows erupted
down the hall.
My wife sighed and went off to
feed the cats. We had recently added a third cat to our menagerie. He’s
small but he eats more than Zephyr and Rocky combined, and then
terrorizes them all around the house. He’s a frisky little guy, but his
frisky days will soon be over.
Sam, hands on his hips, glared
at me. “Honest, I’m starting to feel underdepreciated here. I drive all
the way out here with the absolute latest state-of-the-ark in
unblocking technology, and you start laughing at me. How about a little
respect for the guy who’s gonna get ya unblocked?”
I leaned against the wall and
tried to wipe the enormous grin off my face. “Sam, I don’t think you
quite understand what’s going on here. We don’t have pipes that are
blocked up. It’s me who’s blocked. It’s called
writer’s block. But it’s okay, I’ll get it worked out soon.”
Sam shook his head impatiently.
“Look, I ain’t got all day and time’s ticking. Do you want help or
“How could you possibly help
me? There’s nothing wrong with our pipes.”
Sam just looked at me like I was a monkey wrench without benefit of the
wrench. “Look, if it was just your pipes that was blocked, I’da sent my
assistant. But yer wife told me you was all blocked
up, and ya just now admitted it yerself. I’m gonna snake ya out first,
and if that don’t work, I’ll blast it out with this steam thingie.”
He grabbed my arm with a meaty
hand and powered me into my office. “Look, this here is the perfect
spot for it. It’s nice familiar surroundings and there’s a door for
privacy. This won’t hurt at all. Well, okay, it’s gonna hurt a lot, but
it’ll be quick. I done this before, lots of times. Now just drop your—”
“No!” I yanked my arm out of
Sam’s grasp and backed toward my desk, looking for a weapon. There was
no way Sam was going to snake me out, or steam-clean me out, or anything.
My desperate hand closed on a letter opener. It was small, but
double-edged. And wicked sharp.
Sam’s eyes gleamed. “All right,
so you ain’t gonna cooperate. Maybe I better holler for your wife to
come hold you down.”
The phone rang again.
Sam gave me a friendly smile and
took a step toward me, his eyes locked
on my letter opener. “Lookit, this ain’t as painful as it sounds. I
even had it done on me once, and I don’t hardly remember nothing from
I backed away from him, holding
out the letter opener at eye level.
Footsteps outside. “Hello?” my
I studied Sam, timing my move.
No jury in America would convict me for what I was about to do.
“Yes, Sam’s right here,” Eunice
Confusion clouded Sam’s eyes.
I decided that I’d count to
three and then lunge for his heart.
“How long will it take him to
recover?” Eunice said. “It just breaks my heart to do it to him, but I
guess we can’t let him reproduce.”
Sam’s face turned green.
“Yes, I’ve got the
sleepy-pills. When should I give them to him?”
Sam mopped at the sweat on his
forehead with a grimy sleeve and backed toward the door.
I pressed after him, waving my
letter opener savagely.
Once in the entryway, Sam
grabbed the handle of the steam monster, yanked it outside, and lugged
it furiously toward his truck, stumbling over his enormous feet.
I grabbed the snake, heaved it
outside onto the porch, slammed the door, and threw the deadbolt.
“Okay, good-bye then, we’ll see
you in the morning with Sam.” My wife hung up the phone and came into
the entryway. She stopped and stared at me. “What are you doing with
that letter opener?”
My hand was shaking and I
Sam backed out of the driveway
at high speed, braked to a screech, then roared away.
A chorus of caterwauling came
tearing down the hallway and around the corner. Zephyr and Rocky raced
to a safe haven behind me, pursued by a demonic white kitten with black
I reached down and picked him
up. “Samiel! You’re a very, very, very bad little boy!”
Samiel clawed at my sleeve,
shredding it in seconds.
“He won’t be a little boy much
longer,” Eunice said. “The vet just called and we need to take him in
tomorrow by 8:00. But . . . what happened to Sam?”
I shrugged. “What we had there
was a failure to communicate.”
She giggled. “Oh, right. He
thought our pipes were blocked.”
“Something like that.” I walked
into my office, staring at the letter opener.
Eunice followed me in. “Are you
still having that awful writer’s block?”
I shook my head. “Nope. All
“Really? That’s great! How’d
you figure it out?”
I ran my thumb along the cool
metal edge of the letter opener and leaned back in my chair, closing my
eyes and breathing deeply. “Sam unblocked me.”