Steve Liskow  
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From Who Wrote the Book of Death?

Who Wrote the Book of Death

No way in Hell her real name is Taliesyn Holroyd.

Everything else about her strikes Zach Barnes as unreal, too, from her energy level-which could eclipse a heavy metal band even if she were unplugged-to her clothes, Sex And The City meets Pirates of The Caribbean.

"I need to do this," Taliesyn--"call me 'Tally'"--says. Her stiletto boots make her Barnes's six-one. He's offered her a chair twice, but she keeps pacing, her strut turning her calf-length leather skirt into a major event.

"Why?" He wonders how many baseball gloves died to make that skirt.

"Love Insane is a breakout," she says. Her face registers that he doesn't follow publishing. "My first three books sold enough for Isadora Press to keep me on, but this one's sold five times the others put together. New York Times bestseller, the whole deal. I've put together a Web site that's picked up a hundred thousand hits in four months and my agent's convinced the publisher that it's time to tour."

Her "A's" broaden slightly and her "R's" flatten. Near Boston?

"Tour," he says. Somehow, an author touring lacks the impact of, say, The Rolling Stones at the Hartford XL Center. You don't need all the amps and a dozen roadies to set up. What does an author need? Probably a book to read from, a pen to write with, and clean underwear. "When you say 'tour,' exactly how big a trip are you talking about?"

Outside, the wind along the Berlin Turnpike south of Hartford makes cheeks burn like broken glass. Tally's eyes get even brighter and she finally takes the chair across from his desk.

"Locally, I'm hitting R. Julia in Milford, Heather's Grove in New Haven, and Binding Agreements in Chester. Read a chapter, do a Q and A, sign copies. Borders and Barnes & Noble, too. Next month, the Southwest and a few stops on the West Coast. So far."

"And you'd want me with you for all of it?" The woman's energy level could light up the whole county; a month with her would age him 50 years.

"Why?"

"Security." Tally seems to hear the Hound of the Baskervilles panting over her shoulder. "Check out the places, keep autograph lines moving, make sure I'm not...bothered."

He hears the hesitation. "Do you expect you will be?"

When she crosses her legs, her thighs whisper like satin sheets. Her fingers twirl the silver ring on her left hand. If it were any bigger, she could use it as a hubcap. "I really need to do this. It's a step up."

"Uh-huh."

She stops playing with her ring and looks at him again, too-perfect champagne blonde hair floating to her shoulders and framing blue eyes that make him remember the big box of Crayolas he got for his fifth birthday. A thin silver bracelet circles her wrist and a matching necklace glimmers gently over her breasts.

"The merchants push your books more when they've actually met you. That's really the best way to sell books, word of mouth."

"I'm local," she adds. "We're pushing around here, but the Web site's getting hits from all over the continent. Canada, a few from Central and South America. I didn't even realize the books were being translated until"

"Do you expect someone to bother you?" Barnes repeats the question she hasn't answered and she shifts in her chair to look at the sun glaring off the February snow.

"I almost got run down two days ago," she says. "In West Hartford. The guy didn't even stop."

"Did you report it to the police?" Ultramarine, he thinks. He's never comprehended the color before, but now her eyes make it a fact of nature.

"I didn't get the license number or anything. I thought it might be an accident until..."

"That's a 'no,' isn't it?" He's ready to wish her a nice day.

"Then someone tried to break into the house that same night."

"Did you report that one?"

"Yes, but the police didn't find anything." Her voice drips over him like syrup but her eyes look like she still hears that hound howling. "Whoever it was, the alarm scared him off."

"So you don't know that the two incidents are connected."

She finds the ring again. "No. But when my agent called this morning, I mentioned it and she told me to call somebody. You were close."

"Close. Gee, you mean none of the glowing testimonials from past clients had anything to do with it?"

Her cheeks darken. "I'm sorry, I guess I didn't notice them. Were they in the Yellow Pages ad?" She drips enough estrogen to stunt his beard growth.

"I can't do 24-hour coverage alone," he says. "You need three or four people for that and it's going to be pricey." He hears the mistake and her eyes tell him that she has, too.

"How pricey?" she asks.

He does't want to do this. While he's standing around looking tall, he could be on-line doing a background check without leaving the comfort of his office. Subway, Wendy's, and Burger King within walking distance, he doesn't even have to cross the Turnpike. "I'm five hundred dollars a day plus expenses. For round the clock..."

She doesnt need a calculator. "What if you do eight hours on and I feed you?"

He can't help raising his eyebrows. "You cook, too?"

She shrugs and the necklace shimmies on that cranberry silk blouse. "I do great eggs and coffee. And I know how to call for take-out."

"Where do you live?"

"New Britain. One of the old houses near the museum."

"How much will you travel before the tour?"

"I don't go out much. I write about eight hours a day and obsess the rest."

So if there's really someone after you, they'll know where to find you, he thinks. She seems to think of it, too.

"Then I talk with my researcher and webmaster and we call out for Chinese or pizza or something...healthy." Her voice betrays what she thinks of "healthy," but her body says she watches her diet with a microscope.

"When is your next appearance?" he asks.

"Thursday. The Borders in Farmington." She flashes a smile that feels more like a shield. "Getting my feet wet for the first time."

"Let me make a few phone calls and think about it, OK?"

She stands in a fluid motion that demands a harp glissando for accompaniment. Sure enough, she's eye to eye with him. "When will you decide?"

"I'll call you tomorrow morning." Her number's a New Britain exchange, not even a cell. He can hardly wait to go online to look for her books-and to see if any mother in the United States has ever been cruel enough to name her daughter "Taliesyn Holroyd."

 

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