[a bagatelle from A Republic of Books, a ‘novel in progress’ to be found elsewhere on this site]

By the bye, the category I have chosen for my work is ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus,’ as it is found in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, if for no other reason than it allows me the citation as well as the use of three possessives in one sentence: “O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.“ [Costard, act 5, scene 1]. This was, according to the first edition published at London by Cutbert Burby in the year 1598, “A Pleasant Conceited Comedie called, Loves Labors Lost,” and presented before her Highness Elisabeth the First for the previous Christmas.

By God, flap-dragons!

But I have ‘lived long on the alms-basket of words’ myself.

And Jack had a word for me too. He appeared from nowhere that evening before closing, told Ardis he would be along shortly and, after we locked the door, he asked me to have a beer with him. He knows enough of my habits to figure I didn’t have a better thing to do.

We went to Duggin’s and sat there at the bar because the booths were filled. I had some ideas about what he wanted to say. I was wrong.

But Doreen lingered in front of us after she had pulled the beers, towel in hand, decolletage agape.

She says, “How goes the battle?”

I said, “Not well.”

Jack said “Fine.”

“Tell me about fine,” she says, looking to him hopefully and waiting for an answer.

Given that it was Jack, I didn’t figure he would say much, but he said, “The Ebola outbreak in Liberia is spreading, Women and children are being raped in Sudan, throats are being slit in Syria and Libya, six young black men and three women were killed in Chicago over the weekend, Isis has taken Mosul, the Taliban is resurgent in Pakistan, Russia and Ukraine are at war, and Mr. Rogers and Katherine Hepburn are dead but this beer is mighty fine.”

“Geez,” Doreen says. “Peas in a pod. Doom and gloom. Michael comes in here with that kind of talk every week. I thought maybe we would get something happier out of you.”

Jack shrugs. “It is good beer.”

Doreen shakes her head and moves away.

It was a small thing, but I immediately realized he had done this with purpose.

Jack has one of those faces that makes him look younger than he is. Especially with the way he shaves close. Deceptive. Not quite a baby face but you’d think he was a kid if it wasn’t for the muscle he carries in his shoulders.

I said, “What did you want to speak to me about?”

He says, “I wanted to apologize.”

“About what.”

“I’m afraid all this mess is my fault.”

“How so? I was feeling rather proud of myself about it.”

Jack cackles. He doesn’t laugh outright very often. But he frequently cackles.

“I thought I had them beat. I thought using your computer connection was a clean entry point. Once I’m in on the dark web, they can’t track me. But at that entry they can tell that I’m there. That is if they are waiting there for me in the first place. I don’t know how or why they had you tagged before I even started. I guess you can take some credit for that. You must have been causing them some concern. Anyway, I couldn’t see any sign of it, even though they’d have to be there from the beginning to track me. It’s a lesson. You’re never as smart as you think you are. Even when dealing with the FBI. I haven’t done anything from the bookshop since the Feds showed up, but I did set some of my own tags in return and they are still there. So I’m positive. Not right there in the shop. They could be outside at the cable link, or somewhere else close. So I know now that this is all my fault.”

“You are telling me all my good work is for naught. All my rabble rousing and noise making had nothing to do with it?”

Jack gives me another cackle.

“Well, maybe. A little. You are the synergist, after all.”

“It’s a good Greek word, but I’m disappointed. I was just getting ready to appoint myself a hero. A veritable Leonidas at the Thermopylae of modern Western culture.”

He says, “But you don’t look Greek.”

This is a continuing joke between us. When we had first met, and he asked me if I had any work he could do, I asked his name. “Jack Holt,” he says, and I repeated the name after him and added, “Funny, you don’t look English.” It’s the sort of esoteric humor I am given to. But he didn’t let the ball drop. He answered immediately, “On my father’s side. My mother is black Irish.” Of course I would have hired him just for that.

“I wonder what it was I said the got them interested. It couldn’t have been something I wrote. Nobody reads that.”

“I have a guess,” he says and drinks down half the glass.