Meet Jane Callow…

If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:

One in a Million – Chapter 19

19. Meet Jane Callow

Comix Comix Comix was literally throbbing with people, stuffed to the gills with anxious and eager fanboys and their bored girlfriends, and goth chicks and their bored boyfriends. This extra layer of excited customers was a grievous distraction to the listless, angry regulars who resented these black bedecked newcomers in their line of sight. Usually because the listless, angry regulars didn’t have girlfriends to begin with, and so the mere existence of these oddball couples was an affront to them.

There was nothing like an author appearance to bring out the disparate elements of fandom and shoehorn them all into the same small space with poor ventilation and assume everyone will get along.
D.J. kept the flow going, bantering easily with the regulars, even Short-Guy Jim, who was a colossal timesink, and guiding the newcomers to appropriate sections of the store while they waited for the main event to begin. He checked the store clock. Any minute now. He turned to the tall glass case containing anime statues and checked his reflection one last time: clean jeans, black hi-tops, a t-shirt bearing a likeness of Bela Lugosi on it, and a blue and white flannel shirt, all tucked in, over that. Given D.J.’s job, environment, and surrounding social group, this was akin to formal wear.
The atmosphere changed when Hazel Medrick walked into the store; there was a barometric shift as one by one, the customers turned and stared at the girl in the doorway. D.J. gaped. He knew who she was because he’d seen her picture online, but this was different.

Hazel wore her former nerdliness the way a super model would drape a shawl over a strapless evening gown. Effortlessly and in danger of leaving it behind at any second. Her black frame glasses were cat-eye vintage, and her maroon lipstick accentuated her generous smile. She was skinny without looking anorexic, wore giant Doc Marten boots and a simple cotton frock-dress combo that ran roughshod over every single awkward girl who ever tried to pull off the Olive Oyl look on purpose. She carried a design portfolio under one arm and a folded cardboard display under the other.
“Little help?” she asked the now quiet room.

“Oh god, yes,” said D.J. He surged forward and fairly snatched the display out of her grasp. “I’m D.J.”

“Hazel Medrick. So nice to meet you at last.”

“You too, Hazel. Follow me, I’ll show you where we’ve got you guys set up.”

“Aces.”

The store returned to life, now that D.J. had assumed command of the situation and the hot-girl was apparently not a customer and therefore in no need of any help with deciding which Marvel Mutant book they were going to buy.

The staff had cleared off the sorting table over by the vintage comics area, freeing up six feet for books, an author to sit and sign them, and a modicum of security in that the fans couldn’t get too close.

“Good crowd,” said Hazel as they maneuvered through the labyrinthine store.

“We’ve been pushing the event ever since you called. I’m really glad to host this,” said D.J. He added quietly, “I’m actually a huge fan.”

“Aw, that’s great,” said Hazel. She set up the cardboard dump display, and D.J. got the staff loading hardcover books into it. On the table were two large stacks of the graphic novel, along with paperbacks of the first novel. Hazel slipped some promotional fliers and artwork out of the portfolio while she and D.J. talked about sales in the first week.

“We’re pushing the trade, so it’s been doing pretty well for us. Of course, now that the second book is out, the sales on the first paperback will pick up again.” D.J. spoke casually, as if he were having a business conversation anybody. In fact, D.J. was adding “Leslie” to the end of each sentence, mentally, as he spoke. And as goofy as it sounded, it was actually working.

When Jane Callow walked into the store, five minutes later, wearing her now trademark black leather jacket and black miniskirt, the store’s energy spiked. Everyone started buzzing excitedly, and several of the goth girls gasped openly. D.J. was ready for her, even as he knew there was a fifty-fifty chance of her recognizing him and killing his dream forever.

“Jane, Hi, D.J. McGuiness,” he said, taking her hand.

“D.J.” said Jane. She cocked an eyebrow over her black sunglasses. “Love the store. It’s very ‘Wayne’s World.’” She removed her shades and said, “Where do we do this?”

“Right this way,” D.J. said. The crowd parted for her respectfully. “Thanks so much for coming,” he said. Leslie, he added to himself.

“Hazel recommended you. I hear the books are going well. You must be a fan,” she said.

“Oh yes, I love the books. Finished the new one last night. It’s better than the first one.”

Jane smiled. “That flattery will get you absolutely everywhere.”

Could it be, D.J. thought, that she doesn’t remember me? There was only one way to be sure. “Oh, yes, I’m your dark horse fan, all right,” he said.

Jane cocked her head. She studied him for a long minute, during which time D.J. forgot to breathe.

Then someone snapped a picture off to the side and the moment was broken. “Well, that’s sweet,” Jane said. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

“Here we go, then,” said D.J., his heart jumping furiously. Jane maneuvered around the counter and took her seat as D.J. held up his hands for quiet. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he intoned loudly, “Ms. Jane Callow.”

Jane smiled, took her applause, and began to read.

***

The signing was fast and furious. D.J. put Leslie on the signing line helping Hazel and Jane with the books, a trio of beautiful women (and it pained D.J. to use Leslie as the bait-girl—the one that, if any of the comic geeks looked at, would feel they have a shot with), and watched as all of his grumpy regulars cued up in line with such lofty statements as, “Well, NORMALLY I’d never buy a VAMPIRE comic, you’re such a LOVELY reader that…” or some variation thereof. Jane and Hazel didn’t seem to mind that for these particular fans, they were treating the book signing like Geek Speed-Dating, trying to find a way to impress the hot author in thirty seconds or less. Failing that, they usually turned their full sweaty charm onto Leslie, who certainly knew how to fend off unwanted geek-attention.

When Leslie had first walked in the store, wearing her “Support Staff” t-shirt, she and D.J. exchanged guilty little smiles in the midst of their usual “Hey Deej/Hey Les” greetings.
Elaine, currently on register duty, took one look at the exchange and covered her mouth. “OH MY GOD,” she screamed into her hand. “YOU TWO TOTALLY HOOKED UP!”

“What? No, don’t be ridiculous,” said D.J. “And hey, remember, we’re at work? ‘Family-Friendly,’ and all that shit?”

D.J. turned away, but not before he saw Leslie quickly nod to Elaine, who silently made a Scream-Face in reply. He smiled and went back to stocking the supplies. And that was all that was said about the other night.

Now as the last of the stragglers were lingering, hoping to get…something from Jane, and not quite sure what it was, D.J. moved in for phase two. He yawned and stretched. He was surprisingly tired. But nothing short of a coma would keep him from at least trying the next phase of his master plan.
“Ladies,” he said to the trio as he walked up. They were chatting easily, as all girls seemed to be able to do. “Thank you again. This was great.”

“Deej, you’ve got fifteen trades left, twenty one paperbacks, and seventeen hardbacks,” said Leslie. “I just counted. You want ‘em all signed?”

“Yes, please, if you don’t mind?” he directed the question to Jane.

“Certainly,” she said, reaching for the nearest stack.

“Hazel,” said D.J., indicating with his head that he’d like her to follow him away from the knot of curious gawkers. At the end of the row, he said, “you guys were terrific,” and held out his hand for her to shake.

“It was our pleasure,” said Hazel. “Believe me.”

“Well, we have a little tradition that we do here at Comix Cubed, after every signing.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah,” said D.J. “I take the guests and the staff out to dinner at Oliver’s Garden. Do you know the place?”

“I do, indeed,” said Hazel.

“Oh, good. I’ve got the back room reserved, and so if you’re both up for it, we’ll treat you for coming in and doing this signing for us.”

“Us and the staff?”

D.J. grinned and bobbed his head. “Confession time. I take the staff out, but they all sit at the common table and scarf down all you can eat pizza. We’ll have a booth off to the side. Just you, me, Jane—”

“And Leslie?”

“You bet. How does that sound?”

“Pretty swanky, Deej. Let me go check with Jane. I’m pretty sure she’ll be up for it.”

“Excellent,” he said. Hazel moved back down the counter to where Jane and Leslie were talking. Goddamn, Deej, but you’re going to pull this off. He surveyed his kingdom, looking one way and then the other. An excellent day. Justin was no where to be found. Jane and Hazel were going to go to dinner with him. He hadn’t put his foot in his mouth…yet, he remembered to say to himself. Don’t blow it. He wiped the sweat off of his brow and quickly looked for the nearest mirrored surface to see if he looked gross or weird. Unfortunately, the only one in view was the convex security mirror over the vintage comics counter, a seldom used device by any of the staff. D.J. wondered idly if he could see himself, however distorted. He looked up, and stared and stared as Hazel and Leslie spoke to and reacted to apparently empty space in front of them.

The Author

Mark Finn

Mark Finn

Mark Finn is an award-winning author, playwright and essayist who is active in Robert E Howard studies. His biography, Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E Howard was nominated for a World Fantasy award, and will be re-released in an updated second printing later this month. His comic books SCOUTS! Premeires in March from Ape Entertainment.

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2 Comments

  1. The Great NateO
    January 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm — Reply

    Dinner With a Vampire. Awesome, not sure Jane is that hungry after the feeding she just had.

  2. Mark Finn
    January 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm — Reply

    Hopefully that wasn’t too played out. I’ve never seen a vampire reveal using a round security mirror before. And they say there’s nothing new…

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