By Tyson Blue
In this tale of revenge and literary vendettas, a promising mystery novelist, finds his career derailed when a man accuses him of perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Fueled by resentment and a desire for retribution, he takes matters into his own hands by kidnapping and crafting a macabre edition of his canceled book.
Howard Franks pulled aside the curtain of his living room window and looked out at the black Tesla sedan parked in front of his small cottage, on a bank overlooking Puget Sound. He looked at the car for a moment, then glanced down at the letter in his hand.
It was from his publisher, a small press specializing in mysteries, to whom he had recently sold a novel.
“Dear Mr. Franks,” it read. “We deeply regret to inform you that we will not, after all, be able to publish your novel. Although we still believe that it is a fine debut novel, and that you are a new rising talent in the mystery field, the critical reaction to our advance reader’s copies from the LGBTQ+ communities, led by Wallace Martin and coalition, makes it doubtful that the novel could be successfully marketed in today’s social climate.”
His lips curled in a silent snarl, Franks tossed the letter onto his coffee table. He walked into his compact kitchen and opened the door leading down the plain wooden stairs into the cellar. The cellar was a single room, the size of the entire house. It was furnished with only by a washer and dryer and a sink to carry away the waste water.
In an old aluminum folding chair sat a naked man. His arms and legs were secured to the chair with duct tape. Another strip of tape covered his mouth. Franks reached out for an edge of the tape and ripped it off. The man gave a yelp and glared at his captor.
“Water,” he rasped, and Franks filled a water bottle from the sink and held the built-in straw to the man, who drank from it greedily.
“You won’t get away with this,” the man said, his voice still rough. “I know who you are, and when I get out of here, I’ll go straight to the police. You’ll be through!”
Franks smiled at him.
“Of course you know who I am, Mr. Martin,” he said. “Just like you knew who I was when you and your friends destroyed my career before it even started with you lies about my book.”
“Is that what this is about? Your stupid book?” Martin was astounded.
“That book deserved to be cancelled; you made your villain a trans person, and played into every anti-trans stereotype there is. Do you have any idea how many people’s lives are ruined when you play into people’s fears about things they don’t understand?”
Franks lashed out with his right hand and slapped Martin across the face. The impact rocked him in the chair.
“You lying bastard!” he shouted. “The villain in my book is a serial killer who dresses in women’s clothes to ease his victims’ fears and get them to relax, making it easier to entrap them. Your claims are completely untrue, and your reviews got all those people up in arms about my book before it even came out!”
“Maybe that’s what you thought,” Martin replied. “But that’s not the way I read it. And a lot of people agreed with me.”
“My publishers pulled the book because of the shit you pulled!” Franks said, leaning his face into Martin’s, spittle flying from his lips.
“So?” Martin fired back, a smug smile on his face. “They let you keep the advance, didn’t they?”
Franks turned his back and walked away a few steps, then came back and shook his fist at Martin.
“That won’t carry me very far these days,” he said. “This book would have started my career, and would have let me write full-time, but that’s not gonna happen now, and it’s all your fault. You’ve destroyed me, over something that’s not even true!”
“You’re not the first person to get this treatment from me or someone else.”
“No, but those people had already written books that were very popular. They had royalties and film rights sales, and they were big enough for their publishers to bring out their books anyway, in spite of you. What you’ve done has ended my career before it even started!”
Martin shook his head.
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad your nasty little book is never going to see the light of day. I hope no one ever buys another one from you. And they won’t have much of a chance, will they? Because I’ve cancelled you, as the politicians say. And even if they don’t” he said softly, “I’ve taken steps to make sure you vanish without a trace. No one will ever read a word of your shitty little book for the rest of recorded time.”
“Oh, yeah?” Franks said, straightening up to his full height, crossing his arms across his chest and glaring down at Martin. “Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. You’re going to love my book.”
Martin stared at him with contempt.
“No, no, don’t give me that look,” Franks said, wagging a finger at his captive. “You’re gonna love my book so much that you’re going to wrap yourself around it and clutch it all to yourself in a great big, all-encompassing hug that will last forever! What do you think about that?”
“I think you’re outta your fucking mind, that’s what I think about that,” Martin said, his jaw defiantly clenched.
“Oh, really?” Franks asked.
“Yeah, really,” Martin replied. “Just how do you think you’re gonna make me change my mind about your nasty little book?”
“Oh, I’m not gonna do a thing to change your mind,” Franks went, pacing back in forth in front of the chair. “I’m going to bring my book out anyway, in a special edition.” he took a few more steps, then turned to face Martin,
“And you’re going to help me.”
Martin looked up at him.
“And how do you figure that?”
“I’ve been reading up on bookbinding,” Franks explained. “It’s not all that difficult if you know what you’re doing. I’m going to take one the ARCs and bind it into a deluxe hardcover edition, with the pages Smythe-sewn, not just glued into the cover, so it will last forever.”
Martin shook his head in disgust.
“And how is that supposed to make me wrap it up in a great big hug,” he sneered, “that will last forever?”
A beatific smile spread across Franks’ face as he looked down at Martin. “That’s why you’re here,” he explained. “I’ve also been reading up on leathercrafting—how to harvest the hide, cure it , make it soft and supple.”
Martin paled and gulped.
“Do you mean—” he started.
“Yes,” Franks finished for him. “I’m going to bind it in your skin.”
Eight weeks later, Franks admired his finished product—a thin, square piece of leather, soft and warm to the touch. Although an industrially-made piece of leather can be produced in about ten days, Franks was working on a single piece, and the five-step process—cleaning, tanning, retaining, milling and finishing—had taken him considerably longer.
Now came hard part—binding the book. Over the next few days, the leather was stretched over hard boards, covering the front, back, and spine of the book. He then extended the leather over the fore edge to protect the textblock, forming a so-called yapp style binding.
He had then used a soldering iron to burn the title and his name into the cover and spine of the finished book, and he was done.
Thanks a lot, Mr. Martin,” Franks said, tipping a quick salute out toward Puget Sound, whose icy waters had swallowed the leftovers of Mr. Martin after he had harvested the parts he needed for his purposes. Being solidly weighted and sunk to a depth of 930 feet, he’d be out of reach for the legions of fishermen who roamed the area in search of coho, salmon and other game fish. No, he wasn’t likely to turn up anytime soon.
I pulled my rental in behind a black Tesla parked in from of a neat Cape Cod house perched on a hill with a nice view of Puget Sound. I got out and strolled up a flagstone walk that led up to the front door. I rang the bell, then knocked on the door with one gloved hand.
I could hear the sound of footsteps approaching the door. There was a rustle of the curtain at the front window to the left of the door, followed by the rattle of a bolt being drawn, then it cracked open and a man in his mid-30s peered out, looking me up and down curiously.
“What do you want?” he asked sharply.
“My name is Ray Vincent,” I told him. “May I come in?”
“You can deliver it just fine from where you are,” he said. “Who’s it from?”
I reached behind me and said, “It’s from Wallace Martin.”
“Well, I hope he paid you in advance, Mister,” Franks said, turning to face me and suddenly looking cross-eyed.
As I leveled the silenced pistol between his eyes, I said, “You’re canceled,” and pulled the trigger. Franks fell over and landed on his back on the floor. I put the gun into its holster at the small of my back and stepped inside. The house had the quiet, empty feeling of an unoccupied place. There were no sounds that would be made by someone coming to investigated the sound Franks had made hitting the floor.
I was getting ready to leave when I noticed a book sitting on the coffee table. It was bound in leather, with Franks’ name below the title and on the spine. I picked it up. I notice that the pages were Smythe-sewn, the mark of fine bookmaking, and the cover had the smooth, buttery feel of the best leather.
Perhaps it was a presentation copy for Franks, to celebrate the publication of his first novel. I decided I’d see if he was any good, and tucked the book under my arm as I left, pulling the door shut behind me.
Good or bad, it would give me something to read on the plane back to New Hampshire.I set the book on the passenger seat and started off to SeaTac Airport; I had plenty of time to make my flight. This had been a pretty routine job—I had in fact been paid in advance, everything had gone smoothly, and the normally rainy weather had held off for a change.