The man was tall and that was all that kept him from being described as pudgy. His height gave all those marinara meatball subs and cheeseburgers with extra mayo on the side and gimme a beer with that thank you very much someplace to go, instead of just collecting on his gut and butt. Also, the only muscles in his not-too-inconsiderable bulk that got all the exercise his doctor said they should have were the ones in his fingers, tap-tapping away on his Dell and sneaking barbecue potato chips from the bag on his desk every so often almost unnoticed.

Of course, the man—Lucas—wasn’t thinking about his health now. He stared at his computer screen, a scowl pulling his features into a caricature of frustration. Features that could have been attractive, had they not rested on a layer of blubber. Attractive still, maybe.

The screen was blank, depressingly so. It seemed to mock the nonnegotiable fact that Lucas needed to have the first chapter of his next mystery in his agent’s hands by Saturday. Sunday, if he pushed it. Monday at the absolute latest.

His fingers rested on the home row, twitching every now and again with impatient energy. Slowly, he tapped a key, followed it with another. Fifteen minutes of mostly wasted time later, Lucas leaned back in his chair and blinked at the screen.

Point one: Gavin first knew it was murder and not suicide when he noticed that the writing on the note didn’t match the writing on the shopping list on the fridge. Point two: it didn’t matter. Gavin was a dead man walking and he didn’t even know it.

Lucas scowled at the screen again, this time because of words rather than of the lack.

That’s brilliant. With talent like that, you could write for the high school newspaper. That is, when the regular guy—some fourteen-year-old punk—is out with the flu. Hardy har har.

Oh shut up. It’s a start, isn’t it? Have to start somewhere, and edit later.

Edit. Oh yeah. The only brand of editing that’d help that load o’ junk is called Ctrl+A, and delete-o-matic.

Lucas agreed with himself and took his advice. Ctrl+A and delete. The screen was empty again and this time it seemed to taunt him. His excellently exercised fingers sneaked a fistful of potato chips. He wiped his greasy hands on his jeans.

Hey old buddy old pal, you’re the absolute bee’s knees. Your incredible writing abilities are just, like, overwhelming me here.

Beat it, ya ever-adoring bum.

Without me, your writing wouldn’t be fit for bathroom reading.

That shows how much you know. Just you watch this.

This time, Lucas’s fingers moved faster, his mind knowing what he was going to write before he wrote it.

Marianne really was easy on the eyes and she lived alone. All that mattered was that she was flawlessly beautiful, of course. The fact that she lived alone made his job a little easier, but didn’t change the outcome of the situation in any meaningful way. Even if she had lived with an Incredible Hulk of a boyfriend and four quarterbackin’ brothers, she would have died that day. Nothing personal, of course. It was just how things rolled, how the dice landed, how the hand played.

Now this, this was pretty good stuff. Not Pulitzer, but not too shabby either. A chapter of this and Lucas might have time to hit the social scene Friday night.

This load o’ junk, you call this writing? Like something someone might ever want to actually read, let alone pay for?

It’s not that bad. I mean, it’s not my best ever, but it’s no cause for you to go all Rambo-stomping all over my ego.

Ha.

What?

You. You’re so precious. You’re like—like a five-year-old. Bringing home a finger-painted monstrosity from kindergarten and expecting everyone to melt over it.

Oh shut up.

But now that Lucas mentioned it, it wasn’t all that good. This wasn’t so hot. In fact, the vic should probably be a guy. Hadn’t his killer offed a girl in Lucas’s last novel? Jeanne or Janet or whatever her name was. So a guy. A writer like himself, maybe. Which would be sort of poetic justice, or whatever it was called, because in this story the killer’s weapon of choice was a pen. Filled with poison instead of ink and jabbed into the vic like a syringe. An infected syringe, maybe, some decomposin’ junkie’s relic.

Like anyone would want to read about you, Lukie old buddy old boy.

Oh pu-leeze.

Lucas clicked open a fresh document and started typing away. It was good this time, really good. And he was on a roll. At this rate he’d be able to hang out with the guys Friday for sure, maybe even kick back early today.

He grinned, and that was when he felt something sharp sting the back of his neck. A wasp maybe, or a mosquito. He slapped at it and promptly felt a warm rush as his bladder let go.

Because it wasn’t an insect he felt. It was a hand. A hand holding something sharp that was not just against Lucas’s skin but under his skin, in him. His muscles tightened then, and he convulsed once before collapsing over his keyboard.

If his doctor could see Lucas now, he’d have more on his mind than Lucas’s BMI. Like maybe getting a blood test stat and then calling the morgue.

Black letters were still marshaled neatly on the screen, the cursor flicking and blinking at the end of the line, waiting for commands that would never come. All that would ever exist of Lucas’s first chapter was in the word processor now, about three pages worth.

The man was tall and that was all kept him from being described as pudgy. . .

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