"Carver Edlund, right?"
At eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning, the hotel bar at a major literary convention is a near-deserted sanctuary. Near, but not complete. The bar's other customer is a big man -- ruggedly handsome, says the part of Chuck's brain that puts words to everything, the one part of his gift that outlasted the end of days -- and vaguely familiar, the way everyone at this convention is vaguely familiar. Mystery writers. He'd never thought of himself as one of those, but he'd never really expected to have a career after the apocalypse, either.
Funny, the way things turn out.
"Chuck," he says. "Everyone calls me Chuck."
He feels a hot flush of embarrassment. "Right. Derek Storm. Nikki Heat. I knew I should have recognized you."
"Nobody looks like their promo pics," says Castle, with an easy smile. "Especially before noon."
"No," he says. His own promo pic had been taken by his then-landlady with her cell phone, the day after he'd signed the contract for the first of the Winchester Gospels. Author photo courtesy of Veda Harrigan, the credit line read; she wouldn't take money for it, but he'd made certain she got the acknowledgment. She'd died suddenly a few months afterward, and he wonders sometimes if she'd been one of the unrecorded casualties of Lucifer's rising. "So how did you -- "
"I cheated. I read your name tag."
"Oh." It's been over a year since the day when the world kept on going after all, and he still has trouble remembering that most things have ordinary explanations. "Shouldn't you be -- " he makes a vague gesture toward the hotel lobby " -- out there somewhere? Doing -- I don't know -- publicity or something?"
"I have been doing publicity," Castle says. "All day yesterday, and again this afternoon and tonight and tomorrow. Right now, I'm in hiding. What about you?"
"Struggling with imposter syndrome and a deep-rooted sense of inadequacy."
"You're meeting someone, right?" Castle's expression is knowing and sympathetic both at once. The man would have made a good hunter, Chuck thinks, at least for the getting-information-out-of-reluctant-witnesses part. Maybe not so good for the killing bits, though; he didn't look like a man who would enjoy doing violence, even in a righteous cause. One good thing, at least, had come out of averting the apocalypse -- people who weren't meant for fighting evil mano a mano weren't going to have to do it whether they wanted to or not. "Editor or agent?"
"Agent," Chuck says. "He wants to talk about my ideas for a new series. Maybe take me on as a client. But I don't know. I never had an agent before."
No agent, only visions from God and a permanent migraine. After the end of all things, when all things hadn't, after all, ended, he'd wondered for a while if continuing to write novels would be sacrilegious or something, even for an ex-prophet -- but it was true what he'd said to Dean, that writing was the only thing that he knew how to do. And Cas had grumbled something about the laborer being worthy of his hire, and not muzzling the ox that treads the grain, and the words, at least, could still come when he needed them -- so, maybe.
"The Winchester Gospels were small press," says Castle, "but they had a strong fanbase. The man would be stupid not to take you on."
"That's what Becky says."
"My girlfriend." And that was another good thing to come out of the nearly-the-end of the world -- he has a girlfriend now, which if not a first for him is at least something that had been exceedingly uncommon in the days before the almost last days. "I wanted to bring her along to the convention -- for moral support, really, because she's always thought I'm a better writer than I think I am -- but, well. Right now she's the one with the day job."
"If your new series takes off, you can bring her next year."
"That's the other thing . . . how do I know for certain that I'll be any good at writing anything else? The Winchester Gospels -- " he pauses. How to explain this to someone who didn't know about all the inhuman monsters in the world, or about the deadly wars of the demons and the angels, or about the apocalypse that for a few dreadful months had hovered over the face of the earth like a dark and unseen cloud? "I wrote them, but they weren't like something I consciously invented. They were -- it was like they were burned into me, and I had to write them down or go crazy. I'm pretty sure I'm never going to be able to do something like that again." No blinding headaches, no waking nightmares . . . . "Becky says I'm probably better off making things up like normal people."
"She sounds like a smart lady."
"She is. I don't deserve her."
"We never deserve the good ones," Castle says. "Word of advice from a guy who's been there: If your new series takes off -- and I'm betting that it will -- don't get distracted and let her get away."
There's something behind that, Chuck thinks, but spending time around hunters has trained him out of the urge to ask questions. Not every backstory has to be a tragic one -- awkward encounters and missed opportunities are more most people's lot -- but if Castle isn't going to volunteer his, then Chuck isn't about to ask.
A phone rings -- a personalized ringtone, something bright and jaunty -- and Castle's face lights up with fondness. "I have to take this one," he says. "It's my daughter. Good luck with your meeting!"
He's off then, leaving behind a fifty to cover his tab, already deep in animated conversation by the time he reaches the door of the bar -- one of those happy people for whom the world is a constant source of entertainment and adventure. Chuck Shurley, once a Prophet of the Lord and not a person for whom the world has ever put itself out to be entertaining, nevertheless looks upon his happiness and finds it good. These are, after all, the days of the new revelation, and the earth belongs to those who can take joy in it.
In such a world, anything can happen, even to a burnt-out prophet in need of a new line of work. "Rick Castle thinks that my new series could take off," he says a few minutes later to the literary agent who, improbably enough, seems to be actually interested in representing him.
"Smart man, Castle," says the agent. "If he thinks so, he's probably right."