“You finished it!” Honey says excitedly when she sees the manuscript on the coffee table, clapping her hands in glee.
Jessica says with fake surprise, “Oh, did I leave this out here? How forgetful of me. I should just put this away.” She picks it up and clutches it to her chest, then makes no movement to leave.
On cue, Honey reaches out and says, “Well? Don’t keep me in suspense!”
“Really?” Jessica says, eyes lighting up. “Even though it’s Stephen King book club night?”
“Of course!” Honey says. “Rose Madder can wait. I’m so excited to read what you’ve written.”
Jessica preens. “It is pretty good, if I do say so myself,” she says. “Even though Evan’s the only person in the house who’s made it past the first chapter.”
She pauses, settling onto the couch next to Honey, and says shyly, “Do you want to hear the first chapter?”
Honey pats her on the knee playfully and says, “Hit me with it!”
“A Case of a Knife in the Brain, by A.L. Tyson,” she reads.
“Good pen name,” Honey says, nodding her head. “Smart. You don’t want any crazies on your door.”
“That’s why I thought,” Jessica says happily, looking up. “I knew you’d get it.”
It was just another body on just another Tuesday...
“So I’ve been thinking about it, and the killer is actually Amber, the fingerprint analyst from the first crime scene, am I right?” Honey says as she walks through the door the week after. She absentmindedly hands the bottle of chardonnay to Jessica with one hand, while taking the manuscript from her with the other. She starts flipping the pages to where they last left off, climbing onto the couch and tucking her legs under her as she settles comfortably into a corner.
“Don’t read ahead!” Jessica scolds as she wanders into the kitchen for a corkscrew and two glasses. “And I’m not telling you!”
“I’m right, I’m sure of it,” Honey says. “What was she even doing there? Who dusts a corpse for fingerprints?”
“There’s always trace evidence,” Jessica says, coming back with their wine. “Hair, saliva, fingerprints. And you have to get it fresh at the scene before the dumb cops mess it up. I’ve been doing my research.”
“Oh, okay,” Honey says, rifling through the pages again. “Now, where were we…Oh, here! We’re in the morgue where Jennifer’s examining the body.”
She hands the next stack of pages back to Jessica, picks up her wineglass, and leans back to listen attentively.
Jessica starts reading, her voice sure and dramatic, relishing the detailed descriptions as Jennifer makes precise incisions in the flesh of the victim.
“Sure, a collapsed trachea is suspicious,” she says, zipping up the body bag. “But so is a knife to the brain.”
“Ooh, title mention!” Honey breaks in. “Take a sip! We can make it a game - a drink every time that comes up.”
Jessica screws up her face for a second, thinking, then she says reluctantly, “Actually, I don’t think we should do that if you want to be able to walk home. Or you want me to finish reading another chapter.”
...she can hear her heartbeat, so loud in her ears, even over the satisfying sound of her black patent leather pumps (bought for an excellent price on sale after Christmas) pounding on the stairs. She bolts past Chief Stevens, not even hearing his barked orders to stay on the ground, as she never listens to him anyway.
At the top of the stairs, barely panting after nine flights, she slams open the heavy metal door to the rain-slicked roof with a bang. The crowd of police and forensic technicians already on the scene raise their heads in unison - all except one. Amber, incongruous in a plunging red cocktail dress that leaves little of her cleavage and her shapely middle to the imagination, works away diligently, sweeping her brush and her fingerprint dust over the prone body on the ground. Jennifer watches her work for a long moment, breathing out a sigh of relief she hadn’t realized she was holding.
Jennifer pushes past the young, freckled beat cop to reach Amber’s side. She looks down at their victim, a very attractive, very dead young woman who could have been Amber’s twin, except for the color of her dress - an inky black as dark as the asphalt she’s lying on. The once bouncy waves of her luscious chocolate brown hair are now matted with mud - and the blood flowing from the wound Jennifer is sure they’ll find in the back of her head. The killer with the knife had struck again.
She takes a deep breath, puts her hand to Amber’s shoulder in a tight squeeze, and says tersely, “Do you know how dangerous this dumb mission was? It could’ve been you here, you could’ve gotten yourself killed.”
“Hey lady, back off,” says Freckles. “Don’t be so harsh on - “
“It’s okay, Renaldo,” Amber says, turning her devastating smile on her unnecessary defender, causing him to gape even more vacuously at her than usual.
Then she turns to her friend, with a look of understanding in those brilliant emerald eyes, and raised a hand to cover Jennifer’s on her shoulder.
“Jennifer, I knew the risks. I see you being so brave every day and I wanted to be just like you. You’re the reason I had the strength to say yes to Chief Stevens when he asked me to work undercover - ”
Honey breaks off mid-sentence and says, “Seriously, she’s a forensic lab tech, why would she be going undercover?”
Jessica makes an impatient little hand wave for Honey to keep reading. Honey just stares at her quizzically until she sighs and says, “She is the only one at the station who could look the part of the attractive, loose women who are being stalked and killed through Detroit’s bars. It’s mentioned in the previous chapter.”
“When... oh! Oh. In that bit where she described the way Amber’s scandalously short and expensive crop top and skirt at the station Christmas party showed off all her curves?”
“Yes!” Jessica beams. “So you see, that’s how Chief Stevens gets the idea - she’s perfect to go undercover as the bait for the serial killer.”
“Hmmm.” Honey picks up the manuscript again to start reading, then adds, “I still think it’s strange that Jennifer spends so much time describing Amber. Her body, how hot she looks, you know...”
“It’s important that readers get a good sense of the characters from Jennifer’s view,” Jessica says. “What’s strange about that?”
“I guess it’s not,“ Honey says, a little uncertainly. “Well, it seems like Jennifer really cares about Amber. I really hope she doesn’t turn out to be the killer.”
“Stop trying to trick me into revealing the ending!” Jessica just says, draining her wine glass. “You’ll just have to keep reading to find out.”
And so they closed the case of the killer with the knife to the brain. Amber put her arm around Jennifer’s shoulders as they walked out of the hospital together, satisfied with the justice meted out to the monster who had almost taken them from each other.
There’s a long silence after Jessica reads that, and during that time she keeps her eyes on the page. Finally, when she can no longer stand it, she breaks the quiet with an almost angry, “I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t like it.”
When there’s still no response she jerks her head up as if slapped, only to be taken aback by the tears on Honey’s face.
“It’s that bad?” she says, dismayed.
“Oh Jessica,” Honey says, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “No, not at all! I can’t believe the killer was that cop - you really hid the monster inside well, right there in plain sight. And I really - I was so scared for Jennifer and Amber in that last little bit. I’m just really glad they both survived.”
“So why are you crying?” Jessica says, exasperated. “Shaking or screaming because it was scary, yes. Happy because we defeated the monster, yes. But crying?”
“Because Jennifer and Amber get such a lovely ending together! It’s so... ”
“Empowering!” Jessica says, “Oh, I get it. You’re emotional about girl power, and strong women who don’t need men.”
“Uh, that’s not - “ Honey pauses and tilts her head. “Oh. You don’t - this is - yes. That’s exactly it.”
She smiles wide then, and pulls Jessica slowly into a stiff hug, laughing into the side of Jessica’s head when she doesn’t pull away. “You did it! You wrote your first novel, you’re amazing. Now what are you going to do?”
“Get published, of course, and make lots of money,” Jessica says.
“Cheers to that!” Honey says brightly, clinking her glass against Jessica’s. “Ooh, can I keep this copy? And you have to sign it for me…my own autographed first edition!”
“Gladly,” Jessica says, signing her pen name with a flourish. “Bestseller lists, here I come!”
Dear Mr Tyson,
Thank you for your manuscript A Case of a Knife to the Brain. We regretfully inform you that…
“OK, so even Stephen King didn’t get published on his first try,” Jessica says, smoothing out the folds in the letter over and over. “We’ll try again.”
Dear Ms Huang,
Thank you for submitting your manuscript. It does not suit our present needs, however, we suggest you may wish to…
“...change my lead character to a man and approach a romance novel publisher?” Jessica reads angrily. She rips up the letter and throws it in the trash. “Sexist garbage,” she denounces.
We have received your manuscript and due to its alternative interests we have chosen not to progress this submission. Please find enclosed a rejection slip…
“Alternative interests?” Jessica says incredulously. “What, a little murder was too much for them?”
Louis opens his mouth but shuts it abruptly when he sees Honey behind Jessica making shushing motions.
“They just don’t get it,” he says instead.
“Genius is never recognized,” she sniffs.
Dear contributor… too purple...
To the author… disgusted... can’t believe... interracial same sex relationships…
“How’s the search for a publisher?” Honey asks a few weeks later at book club.
“Hmm?” Jessica says. “Which book are we reading tonight, I forgot.”
“That bad, huh?” Honey says sympathetically.
Jessica says nothing, just stares at Honey stone-faced until she throws her hands up and says, “OK, OK, I get the message. Anyway, I got you a surprise!”
She pulls the package out of her handbag with a flourish.
“It’s his new book collected into one volume! I know you don’t have it yet because you thought it was a desperate money-grab to publish them serially, but now that it’s one volume we can read it together.”
Jessica takes it from Honey woodenly. “Thanks,” she says. She gazes down at the cover listlessly, making no effort to flip it open, even as Honey starts reading with a forced cheer completely out of tone with the actual words, glancing up now and then to look at Jessica with worried eyes.
“Um, excuse me? Ma’am? Uh, yeah, sorry, um - “
Jessica swivels a little unsteadily on her stool, holding onto the bar to come to a stop when she’s facing the young woman in a baseball cap, white t-shirt and ripped jeans who’s just timidly tapped her on the shoulder.
“Deb said I could have another,” she slurs, “So don’t try to stop me.”
“Right, um, oh, okay.” The young lady looks askance at the two empty wine glasses sitting on the bar in front of Jessica, then seems to steel her nerve to try again. “Actually, I’m not - I’m Fiona? And I just wanted to ask - Deb said you’re like, A.L. Tyson? The A.L. Tyson?”
Jessica sits up a little straighter and does a double take at the young woman in front of her.
Fiona looks back at her friends in the corner, who are all giggling excitedly and motioning at her to continue.
“I mean, I’ve heard Deb call you Jessica, but you’re A.L. Tyson, right? You wrote A Case of the Knife to the Brain?”
“I did,” Jessica says slowly. “But how do you know that?”
At Jessica’s admission, Fiona’s eyes grow impossibly round and she says in a rush, “Ohmygodyou’rereallyher!”
Her squeal brings her friends to their feet, and soon they’re crowded like puppies around a bemused Jessica, brandishing several copies of a slim, bound volume at her.
“I couldn’t, like, put this down and then when I finished it I got a copy for Kirstie and then she got one for Tanya and it’s sooooo good. Can you sign this for me? I can’t believe you drink here at the Denim Turtle too!”
Jessica signs the books with a flourish, then holds onto one and flicks through it quickly.
“How did you - where did you get this?”
“Deb’s been selling them over there, you’re really popular with the crowd here,” Fiona explains, clutching her copy to her chest and beaming. “Do you plan to write a sequel? I would 100% read the next book. Ooh, and in that one, you can show Jennifer and Amber taking their relationship to the next level!” She makes finger quotes around the last two words.
“The next level?” Jessica says, tilting her head and mirroring the gesture with her own fingers.
“Yeah, like - oh.”
“Hi ladies, can I steal Jessica away from you for a second?” Jessica swivels in the opposite direction, only to end up with Honey standing almost between her legs. She wobbles from the abrupt spin, and Honey chuckles, grabbing her hands to help her come to a stop, saying, “I keep telling Deb she has to cut you off after one.”
“ - hey, do you think she looks a bit like - “
“Did you know they’re selling copies of my book here?” Jessica says excitedly, waving the copy she’s still holding.
“ - if her hair was brown and her eyes green - oh my god, you’re right, she totally is - “
Honey blushes and says, “Yes, actually, I - ”
“Hang on a minute, does that mean Deb is making money off my book? The nerve - “ Jessica rises out of her seat as if to leap over the bar.
“Jessica, no, just listen to me!” Honey says, shaking her head. She hops onto the stool next to Jessica and pulls her back gently by the back of her denim vest, running a soothing hand down her arm to calm her down.
“I knew it! I knew it wasn’t just subtext!”
“Deb’s just helping out with getting your book to the right audience,” Honey says. “The women here love it.”
“That makes sense. The women here all have good taste, and they’re always so friendly with each other. Of course they’d enjoy a book about two awesome women defeating a monster of a man.”
“...yes, well, they definitely do like the very close relationship between Jennifer and Amber.”
Jessica nods, then says, “But how did you know about this before I did? And where have these books come from?”
Honey bites her lip, ducks her head and says, “Well, that would be my doing.” She leans forward and says, "I hope you don’t mind. But I really enjoyed it and I thought it was such a shame others couldn’t enjoy it either.”
Jessica turns the volume over in her hands, eyes focusing on the little printed logo at the bottom of the back cover. “RRP $6.95. K&K Press,” she reads out loud.
“It stands for Kitty & Keroppi,” Honey says shyly. “I was just worried Sanrio would sue.“
“So you’re behind this?”
“I am! Well, and Marvin - he wanted to chip in for the initial print run from a small press out in Tampa.”
Jessica puts her hand to her chest. “Honey, this is the nicest thing you’ve done for me - “
“Well, actually - “
“Nicest thing you’ve done for me this week,” Jessica amends quickly. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome!” Honey says, with that warm, brilliant smile of hers.
“So...how much money have I made?”
Honey stops to do some quick sums in her head, but before she can answer Jessica quickly puts her hand up and says, “No, wait. I couldn’t have done this without you so I want to put any profit back into something we both share in.”
She takes a deep breath, as if almost not believing her own words as she says, ”We can use it for some of your future file ideas for our next investment property.”
Honey bounces in her seat excitedly. “Oh! Maybe we could - we could do the quiches with bacon for the open house this time!”
“Okay,” Jessica says. “Maybe.”
“Let’s go look at the house now, I have ideas,” Honey says. She slides off the stool, then puts her hand out to guide Jessica onto the floor. She puts her arm around Jessica to keep her steady as she wobbles her way out, and they stroll out of the bar chatting excitedly, partners on their way to the next adventure.