It seemed that overnight the people decided they could live without his writing. That it wasn’t necessary for this world. Jack was finished. The readers chewed him up and spit him out, down the river with the rest of the turds. Jack kept burning the midnight oil, trying to find the remains of his muse. Why did it have to leave him like that? He was on top of the literary world before the people decided against him.
One night it came to him, the perfect story. He mutilated the hours until his fingers cramped up. After years of silence, Jack found the right words to build sentences. The first thing that came to mind was to call Andrew. After everyone else had dropped him like a brick when the words stopped coming, Andrew was the only one that stuck with him. Andrew had been Jack’s agent from the start. He was the main reason why Jack was so successful.
Jack pulled the last paper from his typewriter and stapled it to the rest of his novel. He moved his chair to the other side of his desk and picked up the phone. Andrew had to know what happened to him tonight.
“I’ve got it! The next best thing,” he told him.
He wasn’t lying. This story was the best thing he has ever written to this day. It was truly a masterpiece.
Andrew was surprised to hear from him. Of course, he wanted to read it, right away. But there was one thing that was stopping him. Jack didn’t like computers and he kept writing on his old typewriter. To him, that was the reason for his success. The only downside was that this was his only copy. He had to bring it to his agent, but he had to guard it with his life. This was it, the one manuscript that was going to take him back to the top. The New York Times would write about him full of praise. He took his finished manuscript and looked for a place to put it in. The only thing available was an old briefcase, one that he hadn’t used in years. The combination of the lock was unknown to him. The lock was broken, so it didn’t matter much to him. Jack didn’t want to risk it and left the lock alone. He placed his manuscript in there with great care and called Andrew back.
“You know what? I’m gonna take this bad boy and drive it to you myself.”
After his literary downfall, Jack had to sell his house to pay his bills. He moved to a small apartment just outside of the city. He didn’t want to leave Los Angeles; it had been his home for as long as he could remember. Even though the city spat him out, he wanted to stay there.
His only prize possession was his typewriter and his ’69 Chevelle convertible. He would rather sell one of his kidneys than sell that car. It meant the world to him and no one was going to take it from him.
“There’s just one thing,” Andrew told jack, “I’m in Tijuana at the moment. I’m celebrating my niece’s Quinceañera.”
Jack knew Tijuana like the back of his hand. On several occasions, he joined Andrew when he went to visit his family. For a while, he liked to think that the drunken benders had a lot to contribute to his success. Nights full of tequila and mariachi music, how could he say no to that?
He grabbed a duffel bag with an extra set of clothes and his briefcase with his finished manuscript and jumped in his convertible. Ready to take on a two and half hour drive to Tijuana. Good thing he was driving an automatic, Jack refused to let go of the briefcase on the passenger seat. This was going to take him back to the top, so he couldn’t risk losing it. He cranked the radio up a notch and let Zeppelin blast through the speakers. Immigrant Song would be the soundtrack of his future success.
Jack drove past the Chinese movie theatre on Hollywood Blvd. This was the only street he would lower the volume of his car stereo. This was the place where most of the street musicians would gather and let the world know they existed. They brought colour to the grey of the city. It fought back the power that the movie industry held over it. If the beat was right, they could connect a thousand souls, ready to become one.
There was a light fog when Jack went on the freeway. This was his least favourite place. Car horns, people flipping him off. Occasionally it would be the other way around and he would thank God that most cars were soundproof. All his swearing would send him straight to hell. Not that he would mind, he would be reunited with his heroes, having bbqs and reading poetry to each other. Jack’s car was cornered between several other cars. Why did he have to leave during rush hour? Why couldn’t he wait a few more hours to get going? That’s right, he wanted Andrew to read the next best thing. That couldn’t wait any longer, he had been a vagrant for far too long. The car behind him was bumper to bumper with his ’69 Chevelle. Jack could see the other driver’s face getting red in his rearview mirror. He couldn’t hear the sounds, but he could have sworn his mouth was cursing him to go fuck himself. The other car was only inches away from him and Jack signalled him to pass. Not soon later he made his move to pass Jack. Now they were driving next to one other. The other driver looked at Jack with a crazy look in his eyes. He kept his gaze locked with Jack’s for about a minute before he speeded up. He rolled down his window and gave Jack the finger. The last thing Jack heard before he was out of his eyesight was:
“Move it, grandma!”
It was true that Jack was driving slow, but he had every reason to. His ’69 Chevelle was one of his prized possessions, but it was also an old car. Since his books weren’t selling anymore, he didn’t have the money to get it fixed. The only way he could drive that car was with the top down. It was broken and he couldn’t get the top up anymore. With this kind of fog and wind, he couldn’t risk letting go of his briefcase. If he drove any faster, he might risk losing it in the wind.
Jack was almost in Tijuana and he could already smell the chilli and cinnamon. The smell of freshly cooked tortillas filled his nostrils and he knew everything was going to be okay. Andrew was just outside of Tijuana, so he only had a few more miles to go. That was before he heard the familiar sound of jazz coming out of one of the bars.
Jack came from a musical family. Every weekend they would keep themselves entertained by playing jazz. Jack’s weapon of choice was the trumpet. Of course, most of their neighbours weren’t too happy about their weekends, but they never came out to complain. Jack had a rough time growing up, so he took his refuge in playing music and writing. Every time he was feeling down, he would either write his feelings down or take out his instrument. It was a gift to make his trumpet cry instead of himself. It took him a while to master it, but eventually, his tears left and music brought back the spirit inside their home. After things improved for his family, he focussed his attention on his writing. It was his words that brought him fame and he promised to never turn his back to a blank piece of paper.
Ever time Jack heard jazz coming from a bar, he couldn’t resist going in. Besides, he had been on the road for a while now and he could use a drink. After all, he was in Mexico and tequila was calling out for him. During his late nights of writing, tequila was always there to keep him company. He couldn’t show Andrew his masterpiece without a single drop of his long last companion.
Jack took a seat at the bar. From there he had a great view of the band playing on stage. The band had been playing for a while and sweat was dripping from their bodies. Every time the drummer hit his toms, few drops of sweat would fly into the air. Their music was energetic and most people couldn’t sit still. For Jack, it was hard to resist the call to join them on stage, but he didn’t bring his trumpet with him. He was here on official business, so one drink and he would be back on the road. Only a few more miles to go.
“What’s up with that?”
A woman in her thirties stood next to Jack. She was pointing straight at his briefcase.
“Nothing special, only the next best thing this world has ever seen.”
The woman stared at the black briefcase, wondering what was inside. Jack was famous back in Los Angeles, but here in Mexico, nobody knew who he was. He told her he was a writer and that he wrote the next bestselling novel. She didn’t seem too impressed by his words, but still, she couldn’t keep her eyes from the briefcase. Maybe she thought Jack was some kind of drug dealer, and he was here to make a delivery. Jack felt uneasy with her standing so close to his manuscript. The way he was holding it, made it look like it was very important to him. And what was very important to someone, must be worth something. The woman moved even closer to Jack, putting her hand on his leg. It didn’t take long before he knew what she was up to. In his old days, it wouldn’t have mattered if someone stole his work. Especially not if it meant he got laid in the process. But now, with the next best thing? No, he couldn’t risk it. He moved her hand away from his leg and stood up. He wrapped both arms around his briefcase and walked out of the bar, back to his ’69 Chevelle. Not a moment later, the woman ran outside after him, followed by two other men. They had it in for his briefcase. Whatever was in there, must be worth a fortune, or so they thought. Jack put his key in the ignition and sped away, creating a whirlwind of dust in his rearview mirror.
Wait ‘till Andrew hears about this, he thought to himself, if that doesn’t mean I wrote the next best thing, I don’t know.
Jack drove in the dead of night, on his way to deliver his finished manuscript. It took him a while before he realised he had both hands on the steering wheel. In his effort of getting away from that woman, he realised he didn’t have his hand on the briefcase. When the dust settled behind him, he could see pieces of his manuscript floating on the stream of air above him. It sat there in his briefcase with great patience, for the time it could be free from the clutches of Jack. The paper was clear and perfect, just like Jack’s words on there, as white as new snow once the storm had passed.