At the corner of Broadway and Sixth Avenue, Martini heard a familiar tapping, steadily clacking, always nearer—as if someone were following him. Frightened, he ducked into a restaurant and leaned over a table nearest the plate glass window to peer out. He apologized to the man seated there who held open a paperback. But the man was only intrigued, saying, “That’s quite all right. It’s interesting, I was just now reading that someone ran into this restaurant and…” Bumping a waiter, Martini ran back out, right into traffic.
Car brakes squealed, and Martini stood petrified, inches from bumper and grill of a black Lincoln. Through the windshield he recognized Menaheen, the arch villain dogging him.
Martini was perhaps overtired, an author struggling to finish his latest mystery, and he often fell to fantasizing that he was the main character in the book. He was partly right—he was the main character, but just one who imagined he was the author.
Menaheen scowled as Martini ran to safety across the street and tried to lose himself in the downtown crowd. But the clacking, the tapping, was back, dauntless, intrepid. Martini glanced in a department store window and whirled around, cowering. Menaheen’s reflection nearly overtook him.
Martini ran into the nearest shop—a bookstore. He ran through the Self-Help section and down a set of stairs to the bargain basement, two steps at a time, but found the basement exit blocked by a padlocked accordion gate and piles of empty corrugated boxes. He rattled the gate desperately with both hands. Menaheen’s footsteps approached fast and furious. Martini started back up the stairs, but too late—he met Menaheen dead on.
Menaheen pointed a Glock 38 at him from atop the stairs.
“Don’t shoot. Let’s deal,” Martini said.
Menaheen sneered. “You’re in no position to compromise.”
Martini held his head in both hands, writhing. “You’re just a character in my book, but you’ve become so real.”
“Martini, come, come. It is you who is make believe.”
“Then why the gun?”
“Authors supply the motive—and the weapon. But I won’t shoot you.”
“No, but you do die now. This is the final chapter. You’ve become delusional, and you commit suicide on this very spot. Here, this is the gun you’ll need. Don’t be alarmed; it’s nothing more than a prop.”
Martini took the gun, hesitantly, but suddenly aimed it at Menaheen. “Did you think I’d shoot myself just because you told me to?”
“Fiction has a way of becoming fact, Martini. The book is due out next week. You’ll find an advance copy in your pocket. I suggest you read it. Why not begin on page 249?”
“It’s a trick.”
“Maybe—but if you’re the author, you have nothing to fear.”
Martini reached inside his breast pocket and withdrew the book, a thin paperback titled The Squeeze, while steadily aiming the gun at Menaheen. Martini flipped the book open with his free hand and thumbed through the book to page 249, and as if following instructions, pointed the gun into his right temple and squeezed the trigger.