Moon Dreams (Jeremy Moon Trilogy)
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by Brad Strickland
Description: Jeremy Sebastian Moon is transported far from Earth where his dreams and job in advertising provide comfort but not much happiness, a world where fantasy is reality. This new magical world presents to Jeremy his double, a dangerous wizard who wants him to take his place and stand before the Council of Mages. Jeremy's mission before he returns home is to help the Mages battle the Evil in Thaumia. He encounters a beautiful thief, an enchantress and Nul, along his journey, but will his newfound powers take him back to earth?
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 1988
eBookwise Release Date: July 2001
22 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [456 KB]
Reading time: 302-423 min.
The room had a 3 a.m. feel.
At the far end, past clusters of silhouetted heads, past drifting nets of silver cigarette smoke, the bartender stood in a rectangular fluorescent island, backed by hard-gleaming rows of bottles. Between him and Jeremy the blackness of the room was spotted with glowing red points of cigarette ends and broken by tiny green-shaded circles of light on tables.
To Jeremy's left, on a two-foot-high stage, a black pianist occupied a second island, a round spotlight island. His blind ebony face glistened in blue highlights, sweat-sheen, as he leaned back to let slow blues leak between his fingers and out into the bar.
Jeremy stared into the dark. They were there. He couldn't see them, but somehow he knew they were there.
They had come for him.
A baby cried somewhere in the dark, shushed after a moment. Jeremy frowned. A baby? In a bar? Where were its shoes?
Cassie had stopped by his office earlier that day. "You look terrible," she had said with the assurance of someone who knew she looked terrific, svelte and glowing in a russet business outfit. "Getting sick before Christmas?"
Jeremy shook his head. "Not sick. Just tired."
She stood over him, a warm blond presence, her sheer vitality filling the little cubicle. "You're in luck. You get eight whole days off."
"And you're going to Florida," he said. "Lot of good the vacation does me."
"Hey, I won't be gone the whole time," she said, and having mentioned time, she checked her Geneve wristwatch. Three of the diamonds caught the overhead fluorescent light and flashed rainbows in Jeremy's eyes. They only reminded him that his eyes ached from lack of sleep. But Cassie didn't even stop: "Oops, gotta go. I've got to chew up an artist." In the doorway she paused, looking back. Jeremy regarded her opulent figure, one that made her sensible harvest-colored business dress somehow lewd and tempting. "Get some rest, seriously. Get some sleep tonight."
Then she was gone in an invisible swirl of Giorgio, but Jeremy said to her absence, "How can I get some sleep? I always dream."
Jeremy was cold. The air-conditioner outlet somewhere up among the fake black beams directed its breath on him, and his highball glass, lifted to his lips, offered no warmth. It was empty, though Jeremy's tongue and stomach bore no memory of its contents. The pianist took the melody down a staircase of sound, a graceful nude descending into the smoky room.
Movement, dry rustle, a skulking figure caught momentarily against the light of the far-off bar: coming toward him: one of them.
Jeremy darted a glance to his left. Crowded tables, no escape. No exit signs anywhere. The scrape of a chair, pushed out of a deliberately slow walker's way, close. Jeremy pushed away from the table, found his legs, stood. The stage was only a step away; he took the step, gained the stage, found the dark exit into the wings--
"Here!" A hiss, Escher's voice. Why was he here? "You wanted to be the star. Take this damn thing and sing!"
Cold, phallic shape of microphone thrust into his hand. "But I can't--"
"Taplan and Taplan doesn't have room for quitters. You do what I tell you. Light!"
Blue stab of a spot on him, pinning him, an insect on the card of the stage. He turned toward the obscured audience, seeing nothing but the slant of light, looping the mike cord with his nervous left hand. On that side of him the pianist, blind face grave, inclined his head sideways, away from his long black fingers, and teased fill music from his instrument. The light-purpled lips moved, the soft voice said, "Anything you wanna sing, man. Anytime you ready."
Stage fright clenched cold in his chest. The microphone reared up of its own accord, a cobra of wire and metal ready to strike at his face. Nervous energy propelled Jeremy, and he paced, the light following him. "Ladies and gentlemen, I guess we all have blues in our lives. Yeah, blues from the time we stand up in baby shoes till they drop us barefoot in the ground." His voice. His voice? "So this is for all of us, ladies and gentlemen, 'cause we're all in the same damn boat."
He didn't know the words. Hell with it, his business was words. They would come. Bending his head low over the mike, he brought his voice up from deep in his abdomen:
Driftin on the ocean, ain't no land in sight
Said driftin on the ocean, Lord,
Ain't no land in sight--
Somebody tell my woman,
Say, "You man ain't comin' round tonight."
He rolls in sweat-damp sheets, groaning, trying to wake up.
Jeremy felt a difference in the room, the press of attention turning on him, someone looking up here, a conversation breaking short there, whispers ceasing, heads turning. He caressed the mike, sent words through it and out into the smoky room:
Ocean's mighty big, Lord, water black as coal,
Say the ocean's big, baby,
And that water's black as coal,
And we all in the same boat,
Ev'ry single livin' soul.
More words spilled from somewhere inside him, words about darkness and loneliness and the bleakness of souls alone, the feelings coming not from him but through him, without effort, the voice not really his own but a whiskey baritone, rich and sick and full of knowledge and the sharp smoke of weary sin. At the song's end a surf of applause rolled forward through the dark to curl, to break against the stage. The light went out
a city full of night and no lights showing, only the wind's howl in the streets, a rattle and hiss at ankle height, a windblown paper trying to snag his leg. Around him loomed buildings, deeper black against the black of sky. Jeremy had never before noticed how much difference city lights made: they shut out the stars, but also threw into relief the street mysteries, banished night fears to the deepest alleys, cast the sodium-yellow or mercury-blue light of sanity on the river of passersby.
This is crazy, Jeremy thought. I'm dreaming again. Nothing is chasing me.
He was driving an unfamiliar car through the night city, his eyes on the rearview mirror. They wouldn't give up that easily. Somewhere they would be behind him. The mirror, a rectangle of city night, showed headlights, hookers, marquees, liquor stores, a manhole pluming steam into the darkness. No gaze turned toward him, no one seemed to mark his passage.
If I can only find the shoes, he thought.
"Tacky," Cassie had murmured beside him. They had been heading home from work on the day before Thanksgiving--Cassie's car was in for a tune-up, and Jeremy had put his Civic at her service.
"What's tacky?" he asked. They had stopped at a red light on Highland, not far from her apartment complex.
"Look to your left. The Mercedes."
Jeremy darted his glance sideways. A gleaming black Mercedes, driven by one of those cool, angular brunettes with swept-back hair, eyes concealed behind large sunglasses, the sleeves of her red blouse tight over tennis muscles in her arms. "I don't see--"
"Oh." A pair of baby shoes dangled from the mirror. "Kind of unusual," Jeremy said. The light changed.
"A trophy," Cassie said with a trace of smugness.
Jeremy's attention was on the Audi ahead, the one driven by an uncertain man who just couldn't choose which lane he preferred. "Hmm?"
"Trophy," Cassie repeated. "She's a cradle robber." Cassie giggled a little. "Snatched the poor little bastard right out of his shoes--what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Jeremy had said that afternoon almost a month ago. "Goose walked over my grave."
Jeremy sensed them somewhere in the neon maze of streets behind him, in a long dark car like a shark come to town. Its flat eyes, without mercy or knowledge, searched the night for him. He shivered, realized that he could take no more of this random driving. He pulled off the street, into the cramped parking lot of a small restaurant; one slot open, a tight one, he had to ease his door open to avoid dinging the Corvette next to him. He stood, took a deep breath of night air, and looked toward the restaurant entrance. It wasn't hard to make a decision. Better inside than caught out here.
The restaurant was absurdly tiny, no more than four tables. A topless waitress met him, escorted him to a table, seated him. He was the only customer. Her breasts stared at him like round pink eyes. Her face seemed unclear, a blur beneath mussed black hair. He waited for a menu, checked his watch: 9:14:32
she thrust a check into his hand. "Thank you, sir. I hope you enjoyed it."
Why do I have a check? I haven't eaten.
He turned the paper over.
"A hundred and thirty-eight dollars?"
"Is anything wrong, sir?"
"But I haven't had anything to eat."
"That's not my fault, sir." Breasts round, with faint blue veins, two moons in the dim restaurant. His brother Bill was two years older than Jeremy. In high school they had been the Two Moons, Billy and Germy.
"I won't pay for food that I haven't eaten."
"In that case, sir, I'll have to call the baby shoes."
Sour bile rushed cold into his mouth. "Here." He handed his MasterCard to her, seeing that the intersecting circles on it had become her breasts.
She took the card away
his watch said 10:47:05
and came back with a bearded policeman. "What's the trouble here?" the uniformed man asked in a genial voice.
his watch showed 12:00:21, the same backward or forward
The policeman reached for the handcuffs dangling at his belt. They were small and white, tied together by the laces--
Jeremy shoved his chair over backward, heard it bang as he ran for the door. The door had opened from the parking lot directly into the restaurant, but now it was at the far end of a long corridor. Shots reverberated behind him, the vibrations felt through the soles of his shoes as he thrust his shoulder against the door.
In his tangled sheets Jeremy whimpered.
The door burst open, and Jeremy pitched forward off a ledge. He held his breath. The water was cold but not deep; not far above his head he saw the mirror of the surface, surprisingly clear, reflecting perfectly his upturned face, his streaming hair, each rising bubble also a descending pearl. Those are pearls that were his eyes. He fought to keep from breathing, felt himself rising with an agonizing deliberation through the water. If only he could wait it out. He could use that big black piano as a raft--
Piano? He frowned. Above him, his inverted image frowned back, eyes flashing. Beware, beware, his flashing eyes, his floating hair. What was there about a piano? No, it was a boat, on a coal-black ocean. That was it. A car with eyes like a shark. Sharks.
Jeremy nervously looked down, at nothing, at fathoms of nothing, silver shading to dusty blue to far dim midnight, way down between his dangling bare feet. He was really in deep this time. If the coach criticized his diving form, he'd damn well quit the team. Who needed tower diving with finals coming up, and Christmas--
That was eight years ago. That was in college, for crying out loud.
--coming up. Coming up fast now. Jeremy looked up. He saw himself reaching down for his own outstretched hands, and on the reflected face (a bearded face! his own face!) a demonic grin stretched, a grin he could not feel.
Jeremy went cold enough to freeze the water, and suddenly he knew he didn't want those hands closing around his wrists. He bent at the waist, pointed his feet up, and dived down into the darkness, dived knowing he was dying, losing his air, already past the point of resurfacing, already
falling faster and faster, from miles above the earth. A toy landscape grew to be real, a small pond (the eye of God) benign and blue one second, expanded, ready to swallow him the next. If he hit the water, he might live. If he missed the rocks, he might make it.
But the wind in his face was like a knife, slicing his eyes, making tears flow like blood, forcing them back along his temples, feeling like wounds opening in the flesh, drying before they could be blown off, and he knew he could not hit the pond.
He must not hit the pond. He would break it, break through, meet himself coming and going.
Somewhere there were baby shoes.
The only alternative was the rocks, and at the last possible moment he twisted, rolled, saw the pond water thrash in outraged disappointment, saw the rocks rush at him, pointed, deadly
"You'll be safe in here."
Beside his car, a stranger, holding the door open. Not the car door, just a door frame, a door ajar, door to nowhere? Jeremy blinked. Yes, a door frame, made of white pine, unfinished, set up on the asphalt of the parking lot. On the ground in front of the frame Jeremy could see a tuft of grass, green-bladed but red-streaked, a white flattened cigarette butt, the tab-pull from a beer can. And among it all a night beetle the length of the last joint of his little finger, a ridged blackish-green capsule, hurrying along like a miniature buffalo--all on this side.
On the far side of the frame, nothing. No thing.
The doorkeeper wore a faded purple robe. He was bareheaded, shock-haired, bearded. Teeth gleamed white through the whiskers. "Safe. Through here. Come on."
A hand closed on Jeremy's shirt, dragging him toward the doorway.
Jeremy grasped the wrist, felt its bones hard in his hand, felt the other's warm breath close against his cheek, looked into the other's face
it is his face, his own, but bearded
screamed, fell, screamed
he wants to go through
no, remember the shoes
"--God!" Jeremy Sebastian Moon found himself sitting up in bed, sweat-soaked and shaking. He gasped for breath, felt his heart leaping like something that wanted out of his chest. He ran a hand through his wet hair and said, "Oh, shit."
The red digits of the bedside clock winked over to 3:02 A.M., the sigh of the heat vent overcame the thudding of his blood in his ears, and the dim outline of the bedroom windows registered.
He took a long, shaky breath. It was 3:02--no, now it was 3:03--dark in the middle of a workday morning. He had to be at Taplan and Taplan in just under six hours.
Moon swung his feet out of bed, pushed up, and padded barefoot into the bathroom. Standing on the cold tiles, he urinated, flushed, grabbed a still-damp towel off the shower-curtain rod, and rubbed his chest and belly. In the chill air he could smell the sour tang of his own sweat. He glared at his image in the mirror, wild-haired, thin-faced, pale, eyes thumbprinted by sleep, and he saw in it the memory of that other face, the bearded one. Gooseflesh made a relief map of his upper arms.
"Another late night special," he muttered to his reflection. It stared mutely back, offering no word of comfort or advice. Moon drank a glass of water, put his thumb on the light switch, hesitated, and finally left the bathroom light on. But he pulled the door almost shut, leaving only a wedge of light. The bed looked as if he had fought a battle in it--and in a sense, he supposed, he had. He tugged ineffectively at the covers, found an opening, and slipped in. The bedside clock said 3:09. His pulse rate, he guessed, was still above ninety.
Moon watched the minutes flick past. At four-thirty he decided he would get no more sleep that night, but sometime before five, he slipped back into slumber, this time, blessedly, one that brought with it no dreams.
The clock woke Moon again at seven-fifteen, and he got up with a dry mouth and the springy, drunk-like feeling of too little sleep in his head. His stomach lurched at the thought of breakfast. He settled instead for an extra-long and extra-hot shower and a new blade cartridge for his razor. He scowled into the mirror as he shaved. How many more nights like this could he take? But the hand with the razor was steady, the harrowed rectangles of skin visible through the lather showing no nicks. He dressed and checked his pocket reminder before slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket. December 21: Robinard, the wine people, today. Albert Robinard, despite the French pronunciation he insisted on for his Christian name, was a Savannah yachtsman who cultivated a casual elegance and a taste for underage blonds. Moon considered his clothes. His dark gray slacks, pale blue shirt, navy-blue tie, and gray tweed blazer seemed all right, enough to put Robinard at ease without making it seem as if Moon were trying to outclass the yachtsman.
That should please Taplan Jr., Moon decided. Moon's boss, the younger Taplan of Taplan and Taplan, was a great believer in putting clients at ease. Moon thrust the pocket calendar into his jacket, sighing at how Byzantine advertising was, sometimes as much so as the law, or medicine, or even politics.
The clock radio was still on. The announcer told Moon that this was the first day of winter and advised him to dress warmly, for there was an eighty percent chance of sleety rain. A brighter feminine voice was chirping the praises of Macy's lingerie department, to the background strains of "White Christmas," when Moon turned the radio off.
Taplan and Taplan was located, by any sane calculation, about twenty minutes' drive from Moon's north Atlanta apartment, but then no sane calculator would envision the traffic snarl of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, I-285 East, and Thornton Bridge Road during rush hour. Moon prudently allowed an hour for the trip, and this morning, with the promised sleet snapping against the windshield, he needed every second of it.
At that, he was a few minutes late, for he had to find a parking slot at Taplan and Taplan, a quadruple-decked building of yellow brick within sight and hearing of the perimeter highway. He climbed out of the Civic, hunched a little deeper in his overcoat, and fished his briefcase out from behind the front seat. Just as he straightened, Moon became aware of Cassie--Cassandra Briggs, at twenty-four the youngest of Taplan and Taplan's department heads--close beside him. "Hi," she said in a voice that Moon had once, in a moment of moderate inebriation, compared to a distant silver bell. "Shitty weather, huh?"
"Awful," he agreed. Cassie slipped her arm comfortably through his, shielding them both with her umbrella, and Moon had to transfer the briefcase to the other hand. He asked, "What's the art department up to today?"
Cassie scrunched up her face, an arresting face, small-featured, elfin, with a faintly pointed chin, snub nose, and two tilted green eyes. "Easter-bunny crap for the dime-store chain. I wish old Max'd drop these penny-ante accounts, but what can you do?"
"You can get his story about how he started in the business." Moon grinned as they walked past dripping rows of parked cars. "Just a pen and ink and some paper, and a fellow in the dime-store business took a chance on him--"
"Please," Cassie said. "I'm not even pregnant. I don't want to puke right here in the parking lot." Her hip gave his a soft nudge. "So what's up with you tonight?"
Moon opened the door for her and stood back as she folded her umbrella. He said, "Not much. The usual, you know. Got some copy to work on for the wine people, probably be sharpening that up. How about the weekend?"
Charlie at the front desk nodded to them over his morning newspaper. Cassie gave Moon a sideways glance. "Have you forgotten? Got to spend Christmas in Tampa with the folks."
Moon shook his head. "That's right. It slipped my mind."
"Won't even be able to attend the office party tomorrow afternoon. I have to be at Hartsfield at twelve for my flight."
Moon thumbed the elevator button. "Sorry."
"You don't need to be. Just don't get drunk and fall into the typing pool."
The elevator doors opened, and they stepped into an empty car. As the doors closed, Cassie reached up to plant a quick kiss at the corner of Moon's mouth. "Hey," she said, "I've got an idea. I'll catch you in between."
"In between what?"
She arched an eyebrow. "Christmas and New Year's, of course. Keep your mind on your work today, Jeremy."
"I'll try. If I could get some sleep--"
The elevator doors opened on the third floor, the art floor, and Cassie slipped a thigh against the rubber bumper to keep them open. "That reminds me. I told you yesterday you needed to get some sleep--" She rummaged in her purse for a moment, then produced a brown plastic phial. "Got it. Here you go."
Jeremy took the tube. "What are these--"
"Sleeping pills. I went through a rough spell a couple of years back. Take one and you'll sleep all night. No dreams. Guaranteed. Bye." Cassie's pixie face disappeared behind the closing doors.
Jeremy rattled the pills in the tube. The label told him they were 100-milligram Nembutal capsules, that the dosage was one capsule at bedtime, that originally there had been eight pills in the bottle, and that the prescription was not to be refilled. He popped the top off the tube and shook three yellow capsules into his hand. With a shrug, he put them back into the phial, replaced the top, and dropped the tube in his coat pocket as he stepped out of the elevator on the fourth floor. Here, in a warren of offices, was his own home base. He got there, shucked off his overcoat and hung it on a hook behind his desk and settled into his swivel chair, ready for a day of work.
He spent most of that morning proofing a series of magazine spots he had done for a Miami Beach oceanfront hotel, and reading them reminded him of Cassie and her Florida Christmas. When the words began to chime meaninglessly in his brain, Moon occasionally allowed himself to daydream, fantasizing about sand and surf and a very tan Cassie. At least once his daydreaming crossed the line into a doze.
In a dream he recognized as a dream, Moon stood naked in the bathroom of a hotel suite--through the open door he could see a ceiling-to-floor window, and beyond that, the ocean shading from beachside white and green through brown over the sandbar to a faraway deep blue--while Cassie took a steaming shower. He was ready to shave, and looking into the mirror he decided he looked like a smiling lecher, Pan without horns, needing only some grape leaves in his tousled brown hair. But he'd have to get rid of the beard. Cassie began to hum, a nameless but cheerfully licentious tune, and he turned to look her way, her figure tantalizingly blurred by the frosted glass of the shower door as
his reflection lunged out of the mirror to grab his shoulder
Moon blinked. Bob Escher stood over him, hand on Moon's left shoulder. "Hey," Escher repeated. "What's wrong with you?"
Moon rubbed his palm over his face. When he took it down, he saw his own cubicle, ad ideas and roughs thumbtacked to the corkboard covering two of the three walls, computer terminal glowing green on the desk in front of him, the hotel ad proofs fanned out beside it. "Sorry," he said. "Guess I must've dropped off for a minute. What time is it?"
"Nearly time for the Robinard meeting. You want some water or coffee or something? You look pretty rough."
You're not so hot yourself, Moon thought. Bob Escher was almost two years younger than he, but with his baby face developing a double chin and his fine platinum hair thinning to show pink scalp beneath, he looked older. At least, Jeremy hoped he did. But aloud, he muttered, "No, I'm all right. We might as well run on down." He scooped up a brown folder and rose from the desk.
In the elevator Escher said, "Any ideas so far?"
"Nothing we didn't talk about last time. I thought we'd wait to see how Max decides to pitch it."
"Yeah, right. I thought that too."
Sure you did, Bob. Sure you did.
The group at the meeting was small, with Max Taplan presiding, Albert Robinard moodily looking out the rainstreaked window at the gray woods beyond, at the gray office towers beyond the woods. The art, broadcast, and copy departments had all sent reps, and they kept up a desultory murmur until Taplan called them all to order.
"Now, then," Max said, rubbing his hands as his father did, "let's settle in and take a look at what Robinard Wines needs. Minter, what about the magazine art?"
The room seemed stuffy to Jeremy. Too hot, or maybe it was just the influence of their fearless leader: Max Taplan was a nervous man in his early fifties, still seeking a way to impress his father, Taplan Sr., with his acumen. Or perhaps by this point only with his bare competence. At the meeting Max was like an exceptionally jittery basketball player, passing the ball along as soon as it came into his hands, to the art department, the TV people, even to Robinard. Jeremy closed his eyes for a moment, and the moment extended.
Again Bob Escher jostled him awake, but this time he came merely from sleep, not from a dream. "Well, Jeremy?" Max said for what was evidently the second time. "What do you think?"
Jeremy tilted his head back, studied the rough-textured ceiling tiles, then dropped his gaze back to the walnut-topped table. His hands rested there, holding a pencil horizontally between them, and in the shiny table top he could see two pink blobs--his hands--and between them the fuzzy yellow bridge of the pencil. He cleared his throat. "Radio," he said.
Robinard looked at him with the indifference of a man dreaming of sun on Gulf waters. Max cleared his throat, and the sound was half a hysterical giggle. "But Bob has already talked about the possibilities of--"
Jeremy lifted a finger for silence. When it fell, he said, "Just one word: demographics."
A flicker of interest, like a marlin below the surface, showed in Robinard's eyes. "That's the stuff we need," he said. "What can you tell me about demographics?"
Escher murmured inanities for a moment before Taplan ordered a far-reaching demographic survey of potential radio markets. That should be ready, certainly, by the middle of January--
Robinard, Jeremy was sure, felt delight at the reprieve. Now he could get in a month of sailing before having to return to Atlanta. At any rate he beamed. "Good thinking, fella," the yachtsman said across the table to Jeremy. "I can see you earn your keep around here." He got up, terminating the meeting.
On their way back up to the fourth floor, Bob Escher glared at Jeremy. "Thanks a lot, guy," he said. "Demographics. You had to do that to me."
"You should've worked them up," Jeremy said. "That's standard for accounts like Robinard's."
"Yeah," Bob said, his voice still surly. "You wait till I'm department head. We'll see about demographics then." But a moment later he added, "Hell, I'm kidding. You know I'm kidding."
Yes, Bob, of course you're kidding. You've still got an ad campaign to blunder through. You'll need somebody's brain--you never use your own.
Jeremy didn't say that aloud. To Escher he said, "Sorry. I didn't mean to put you on the spot. But Robinard likes the idea, so go with it."
"Yeah," Escher said, turning into his own office.
By the time Moon got behind his desk again, his head was pounding. He kept aspirin in his desk drawer, but after he managed to flush them out from their hiding place among paper clips and printer ribbons, he found the flat tin jammed shut. Press red corners, the instructions snidely told him. When he did, he succeeded only in hurting the pads of his thumbs. Moon put the tin on the floor and used his heel, crunching the aspirin container twice before finally unjamming it. By then he had powdered aspirin.
Grunting with disgust, Moon ripped a square sheet off his notepad ("Taplan and Taplan," it proclaimed. "Ideas on tap for you!"), veed the paper into shape between his fingers, shook some aspirin into it, tilted his head back, and dumped the contents into his mouth. Suddenly, forcibly, Moon remembered his grandfather, dead fifteen years now, in life an overalled farmer on 120 acres of red north Georgia clay.
His grandfather used to take headache powders, the individual doses wrapped in waxed paper about the size and shape of a band-aid wrapper. After his grandfather had swallowed the dose, for some ungodly reason Jeremy had liked to lick the last of the bitter, astringent dust from the wrapper, following it with a nose-stinging gulp of icy Coke. The aspirin was like that now, coarser but reminiscent enough to make him long for a soft drink.
At noon he phoned the art department, but Cassie had already acquired the harried manner of preholiday rush. She was tied up with some last-minute changes, sorry, sorry. He went to lunch alone.
For no reason Moon ate at a restaurant that Cassie favored, a young professionals' haven. It was a trendy little place hung with ferns, its menu given over to veggie burgers, whole-grain breads, organic salads, and its service provided by waiters who seemed to have sprung to life by means of asexual fission. The alfalfa sprouts in Moon's salad got stuck between his third and fourth molars.
Back at work, Jeremy cleared his desk of the old proofs, then worked for four more hours on prelims for the wine campaign, ones that Robinard had casually okayed before leaving the meeting room. He became aware of the overtime he was putting in only when Glenda, the division secretary, stuck her head into his cubicle and told him that he could spend the whole Christmas season at work if he wanted to, but she was heading home in about two minutes.
Shaking his head, Moon finished typing a paragraph, printed it, tucked it into a folder with the rest of the ideas, and put the folder into his briefcase. He took his overcoat from the hook, and when it rattled, he examined the pockets. Of course. Cassie's prescription.
He got into the overcoat, hefted his briefcase, and arched his back. His spine crackled. On the first floor, Tony, the night security man, had replaced Charlie. Tony didn't look up from his newspaper, but grunted as Moon passed. Charlie and Tony, Jeremy thought. What would happen one morning if some evil being substituted the Journal, the evening newspaper, for Charlie's morning Constitution? Chaos, probably. The downfall of T&T.
The air outside was colder, but overhead the sky had cleared, showing a pale full moon already risen in the east, and in the early twilight it looked as if the world had never even heard of sleet. "Another day," Jeremy remarked to himself unoriginally as he unlocked the Civic. Then the difference between the fair blue sky overhead and the rain of the morning struck him more forcibly. "Another world," he added.
Might be a peg there, he thought, sliding behind the wheel. Might just be something to hang the Robinard campaign on. Robinard wines ... take you to another world. Robinard, when the Old World needs a new look. Robinard, a new world of taste. Robinard ... gets you drunk as all hell.
With a rueful chuckle Jeremy switched off his brain, or at least the part of it that was creative on demand. Time enough for the wine account later. After all, he wasn't exactly bound for a new world. He'd be right behind his desk tomorrow, and next year, same as always. Meanwhile, he thought, the Bob Eschers of the world would nail down their promotions and pass him by.
He, on the other hand, would be stuck in the same old world, stuck there forever.
Pulling out of the parking lot, toward the murderous traffic of I-285, Jeremy hoped, just for a moment, that he was wrong.
As a matter of fact, he was.