After 5 minutes, Ernie slid one of the folding chairs back far enough to allow him to exit on the business side of the table. He was straightening up when a female voice said, “There you are!”
Ernie’s arm was seized at the elbow by the newcomer’s left hand. Her right hand grasped his and pumped up and down. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Roberts. Werepires is going right to the top! I‘m your publicist, Jeanette Wheeler. ”
Ernie smiled. It was going to work.
“Why were you on the floor?” Jeanette asked. “Did you lose something?”
Ernie produced a felt tipped marker from his pocket. “Dropped my lucky pen.”
“You won’t need luck,” Jeanette promised. “You’ve got me working for you.”
She led Ernie behind the curtains, and for the next hour, he met the team of professionals who would help to promote “his” book.
When Jeanette announced that it was time for his signing, Ernie swallowed the last of his croissant, dabbed the final drops of espresso from his lips with a cloth napkin, and followed her along a labyrinthine route to the signing tables.
She parted the curtains to reveal a seemingly endless line of autograph seekers filling his lane, and winding into the booth area of the convention floor. Spontaneous applause pleased but puzzled Ernie. “They haven’t even read the book yet.”
“That teaser chapter we put online has them worked up. You know, the scene where Vulpine first realizes he’s a vampire and a werewolf, having been bitten by both?”
“Oh, that scene,” Ernie faked.
“Powerful, very powerful,” she praised. “It went viral the first day.”
Ernie beamed. He sat, uncapped his marker, and faced his public. This was what he had been dreaming of for years. In a drill sergeant voice she hadn’t used with Ernie, Jeanette barked, “Listen up, people! No flash photos due to Mr. Roberts’s sensitive eyes. One book per person. The promises you made to others don’t concern us. And, no personalized books. Mr. Roberts will sign his name and nothing else.”
As she talked, Jeanette opened a book to the title page and passed it to Ernie. There was nearly an immediate disaster as he started to write a capital E. At the last second, he remembered to scribble Roland Roberts. No sooner had he finished then Jeanette slid the next book in front of him. Looking up, he saw that the guards he had evaded earlier were assigned to keep order in his line.
“Is it true Vulpine mates with a zombie?” one fan asked.
“Can werepires reproduce?” wondered another.
Ernie had no clue, but he needn’t have worried. Jeanette encouraged them to find a quiet corner and start reading for answers to all their questions.
The second his marker showed the slightest sign of wear, Jeanette plucked it from his fingers and handed Ernie a new one. As they hit a rhythm of her sliding books and him scrawling Roland Roberts, faces passed by more and more quickly. Yet, when Ernie took a second to peek, he still couldn’t see where the line ended.
Jeanette handed him a glass of water instead of a book. “Mustn’t get dehydrated,” she said.
Ernie tipped his head back to drink and met the gaze of an enraged, middle-aged woman. “You’re not Roland Roberts,” she hissed.
The line fell silent. He might have bolted, had Jeanette not whispered, “Security.”
Despite her soft tone, the guards were there in an instant, each gripping one of his accuser’s elbows. They lifted and carried her down the exit lane, her feet scrabbling, inches above the floor.
Ernie forced his gaping jaw closed. Jeanette slid another book in front of him, and on the signing went. When his hand began to cramp, Ernie improvised. Scribble a capital R, attach a meaningless squiggle, raise pen, and repeat. Any relief was cancelled when Jeanette increased her speed to match his improved performance.
At the point of exhaustion, Ernie lifted his hands so Jeanette could slide the next book into place. Instead, she gripped his fingers in hers and said, “Nicely done.” The stacks of Werepires were gone. A chain blocked the lane so no one could approach the table. Cameras flashed as distant people called out incomprehensible questions.
Jeanette’s hand slid under his elbow and he struggled to his feet. “Now we’re going to get you a sandwich, and give you a chance to freshen up. Your media interview is set for 12:30.”
“Television?” Ernie squawked, his heart seizing up at the thought of his face being broadcast. How many of his friends and acquaintances, not to mention Roland’s, would call in to say he was a fraud?
“Not this time,” Jeanette said. “NPR.”
To be continued! Check back next Friday for the conclusion of “Unauthorized.”