Henry & Biggs:
Adventure Blog of a Literary Agent and His Beagle
Chapter 3: Maybe It’s a Sex Thing
Date: February 8
Time: 12:45 p.m.
Lewis Glume stands in the office kitchenette – Lewis likes to call it the lounge – watching Biggs rummage through the refrigerator for his lunch. Beneath his ankle-length black coat, more of a woolen cloak with sleeves really, Lewis’ shoulders are like an uneven shelf beneath his irregular head, slanting sharply, so that his right hand is a foot closer to the floor than his left hand. The pale knobby fingers of that hand are wrapped like knotted vines around the handle of a portable plastic carrier that is the color of burnt crème. Inside the carrier, like a caged baby Yeti, is Agatha.
“You don’t even know her name?” Lewis asks.
“Did you eat my sandwich?”
“No, I didn’t eat your sandwich. You don’t even know her name?”
“And why, pray, is that?”
Biggs extracts himself from the fridge. “I told you. She was kind of… there and gone. It happened too fast.”
Agatha is clearly unhappy to be off to see the vet. She is even less happy that on his way out the door Lewis has detoured to follow Biggs into the lounge, parading her through the office as she dangles and swings above the floor. She fixes me with that all too familiar basilisk glare. She thinks the look is an extension of some feline superpower. Like she is some kind of lazy, domesticated sphinx that can, whenever she is so inclined, narrow her one good eye and incinerate me from across the room.
“So what am I supposed to do about it, exactly?” asks Lewis.
“Nothing, exactly. I just wanted to know if you knew who she was… is. No big deal. Forget it.”
I know that Agatha’s floating incarceration at the end of Lewis’ arm is a distinct humiliation. She would like us all to believe that no one is her master; that she is not – I will admit to also hating the term – a pet, to be owned and yarded around against her will. In Agatha’s mind, Lewis Glume is her pet; a stray that she has adopted and tolerates from her disdainful perch atop his bookcase, but only because he, and he alone, is willing to spare her the chore of hunting for her own food.
And yet, every so often, like today, Agatha is forced to confront the reality that she is, in fact, a pet; specifically, a fat, spayed feline with delusions of grandeur owned by, yes owned by, as in property of, an unctuous, stooped, dandruff-afflicted, strangely effeminate, literary agent who collects non-fiction occult and who has a pair of taxidermic Mexican Free Tail bats on his desk as a conversation piece paperweight, and, importantly, who bathes less frequently than he clips his fingernails, which Tinkles and I think is almost never.
I sit up from beside the lunch table so that Agatha can be assured that I am free and bearing witness to her shame. When I refuse to burst into flame from the intensity of her gaze, she refuses to acknowledge my presence, retracting most of her head back into the white folds of her elephantine neck.
Not willing to waste a good opportunity to put her in her place, I yawn and pad across the lounge to stand beneath her, staring directly up into the holes in the bottom of her little fabric-mesh prison, sniffing at the pink pads of her fat, over-burdened feet. I push up against them with my nose. Agatha hisses and squirms and tries to levitate inside the cage.
“Henry, be nice,” says Biggs. Lewis swings Agatha over to his other hand. I follow and repeat.
“When was this?” Lewis asks.
“Last week. You were in Hackensack. All I’ve got is the description.”
“Not much to go on.” Lewis says.
“Well I’ve never seen anyone like her. You do the book fair thing more than I do. I just thought maybe you had come across her. She knew your name.”
Lewis stands looking stone-faced, letting the tension accumulate in one of his characteristically awkward conversational pauses. Will he respond? Will he ever speak again? Is he about to say something so profound or shocking that the listener had best use the interval of silence to brace himself for what is to come?
The kindest theory I have ever heard involved a micro-seizure phenomenon that temporarily arrests all thought and muscle use. My, admittedly less scientific and less generous assessment is that this is Lewis’ dickish ploy for attention. Biggs leans on the refrigerator door and waits.
“My name,” Says Lewis at last. “So… she knew my name. Well that is curious.”
“We’re all in the phone book, Lewis. She mentioned Melissa too. Guess she did her research.”
I stop torturing Agatha long enough to see if Biggs will mention that the woman in the park had read all three of his books, or that she had insinuated that he would one day risk death just to represent her. But I can see from his face that he intends on keeping those details to himself. I go back to playing poke the sphinx in the bung.
“So you have no idea what she wants from you.”
“To represent her, I guess. But, no. Not really.”
“Maybe she’s an organ thief. She’s scouting.”
“Are you so naïve, Peter, as to think that doesn’t happen?”
“Yes. I mean, no. It doesn’t happen. Not in Great Neck.”
“Which is why she’s stalking you. You’re an easy mark. Your guard is down.”
“Sorry I asked.”
“Maybe it’s a sex thing.”
“A sex thing?” Biggs closes the refrigerator. “Why would it be a sex thing?”
“Because, Peter, she asked you out for a drink rather than consenting to walk across the street to the office where virtually all the business of the Bigelow Literary Agency takes place.”
There is silence as Biggs considers the point. Agatha hisses at me.
“Well I think it’s a sex thing,” says Lewis impatiently, turning towards the door.
“Do you want it to be a sex thing?” Biggs asks.
“No. Of course not. But you were silly not to see what was on her mind, that’s all I’m saying. I have to go. Agatha has a fungus. Don’t you kitty?”
Agatha looks up at him through the slats of her cell. She narrows her eye. Lewis does not burst into flame.
I follow them down the hall to the door, giving the sphinx one last poke in the sphinxter. When they are gone, I head into Melissa’s office. Tinkles is stretched out by the desk chewing on a rawhide in the shape of a horse. She looks up in acknowledgment but then gets right back to work.
On the other side of the desk, Melissa has her feet propped up, a manuscript open in her lap that she is not reading. CSPAN fills the room like gas.
“Hey Henry,” she says, not looking at me.
I head for the water dish. It’s empty. I sit in front of it and look at Melissa expectantly, but she is absorbed. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are hard at work looking hard at work. I shift my weight impatiently between my front paws but Melissa is still oblivious so I give her a medium volume, one-syllable prompt. Polite but firm. The sound freezes Tink in mid-chew, her delicate little jaws wedged awkwardly open over a large knot in the rawhide. It looks painful, like the rawhide might just be winning. Her ears prick up and she gives me a look. I look down demonstratively at the empty bowl. Tink relaxes her ears dismissively and resumes.
Melissa, however, has not budged.
On the screen, five men in expensive suits sit uncomfortably at a long straight table in the well of a congressional hearing room. Half surrounding them from above are, according to the screen, members of the House Financial Institution and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the House Committee of Financial Services. The executives sit still and erect like five stalks of sun-blackened corn looking up at the semi-circular glint of the coming scythe. In capital letters, CSPAN frames the issue thusly: Executive Pay in Financial Services – How Much is Too Much?
The legislators take turns leaning into long-stemmed microphones that seem to grow like reeds out from rectangular reservoirs of paper. They do this even when they are not speaking, which makes them look like a row of fat birds drinking from metal straws. They take little sips of ink to keep them simultaneously informed and hydrated.
Or maybe I’m just THIRSTY!
I put some muscle into it this time. The sound is like a hard snowball exploding against the wall.
Tink stops. Looks. Resumes. Melissa does not budge.
I lie down and paw a couple of times at the bowl.
I lay my entire face forlornly in its plastic crater, trying my best to look like I might just expire at any moment. This is more than enough for Tink who, clearly annoyed by my theatrics, drops the rawhide thing and gives Melissa a high-pitched machinegun blast of sound that seems to jolt her back in her chair.
“Hey! Tink! No!” Melissa comes to life, scolding Tink with a swat of her hand against the desk. “What the… Be quiet already. I’m trying to watch. Why can’t you be like Henry and just… chill?”
Melissa swivels enough to see that I am apparently dead in the water bowl.
“Oh, Sweetheart,” she coos. “Let me get you some water.”
She stands and drops the manuscript on the desk, scooping up the bowl from beneath my chin and disappears down the hall. Tink, now freshly rebuked, refuses to look at me.
Up on the screen, the ranking member of the House Financial Institution and Consumer Credit Subcommittee has paused his interrogation in order to swivel backwards in a huddle with two staffers. Before him, the well-suited stalks of blackened corn fidget in the silence with their watches and pens.
A door opens behind the ranking member issuing a well-dressed woman. Billowy, rose colored blouse. Navy skirt. Lots of leg. She steps through with a sheaf of paper that she delivers to a lumpy, bald congressman five seats down from the huddled caucus. She bends gracefully at the waist and whispers in his ear as he cups his hand over the tip of the metal straw. A curtain of long dark hair comes unfastened from behind her ear, partially obscuring their faces. Eventually, the congressman nods and makes a note on a pad.
It is not until she stands again, resuming her full height and begins slowly scanning the hearing room with those ghostly eyes, that I recognize her. She tucks her hair back behind her ear with a long pale finger.
I don’t know where she got all of the hair, but it is definitely her: the odorless harbinger of death.