22 July 2010

Meet Mr. David Foster

Dear Mr. DeVille,
This letter may perhaps come as a surprise to you. After all, as a Lawyer, I doubt you’d have come across as odd a request as my own. However, your excellent reputation assures me that you’ll handle my troubles quite efficiently.
My troubles, if such is the word to describe them, relates to the life of the esteemed writer, Mr. David Foster. You may have perhaps heard of him. This problem though, is delicate in nature, and requires your complete compliance...
*           *           *           *           *           *           *           *
The Housekeeper knocked on the door twice, and waited for a moment, before hearing the familiar, “Come in!”. With clock-like precision, she entered, began her cleaning, and was done within an hour. Over the past four years, she had never once broken the routine. Which was one of the several reasons David Foster enjoyed staying at the Emerald Pastire Hotel.
When the clock struck 9, the head waiter smiled inwardly as David Foster made his way through the lobby, and into the restaurant. He took his favourite seat by the window side, and had his usual scrambled eggs. In the fast moving Hotel Industry, nothing was constant. Except David Foster.
The six foot tall, moustached 57 year old gentleman was, the young hotel manager found out, an accomplished author. In a career spanning over thirty years, he had won a Pulitzer, and sold several million books, mostly to the literati that now seemed to be vanishing as the years passed by.
Though he had not written a novel in over four years now, Mr. Foster kept himself occupied. Every day, he spent anywhere between four and six hours writing short stories, poems, and on occasion, chapters of serialised novels. These were then sent to local newspapers and magazines, many of whom published the work with great interest.
And like most other accomplished authors, Foster never bothered to read the published works themselves. What did interest him, though, were the letters of appreciation that kept piling up in the letter basket outside his hotel room.
There were all kinds of letters. From young adults who’d only just discovered the David Foster way of writing, to old timers who knew the value of being able to read a Foster short story in their local newspaper.
Foster diligently spent his time replying to each one of them, at least initially. Soon, though, the sheer amount of letters overwhelmed him, and he resorted to reading them several times before putting them away for safe keeping.
Such a routine, firmly enshrined in the author’s life for the past four years, would’ve continued, had it not been for an ill-advised change in his lunch. Upon the recommendation of the head waiter, David ordered the grilled Salmon, something which his late wife would’ve never let, and for good reason, he soon realised.
After an uneventful evening, the real trouble began when David retired for the night. After tossing in his bed for over two hours, he realised that his night’s sleep was effectively ruined. A short trip to the toilet followed, and then David, against normal conventions, decided to try and complete a short story he had been working on.
Just as he sat down near his writing desk (David, like other writers of his generation, still shunned modern technology when it came to writing,) he noticed a shadow fall over the small slit of his front door. Motionless, he watched as the shadow moved slowly, gaining in shape. Over the stillness of his living room, David could hear the ruffling of paper. It sounded as though someone was picking up letters.
Realising that he was most probably being robbed of his mail, David darted towards the front door, unlocked it, and flung it open. To his surprise, in front of him stood a man, well dressed in a suit, holding the letters in his hand. He made no attempt to run, nor did he try to explain himself. Instead, with a calm expression on his face, he asked softly.
“Mr. Foster, may I come in? There is something I need to discuss with you.”
*           *           *           *           *           *           *           *
....I must, however, stress to you Mr. DeVille, just how important it is. You have to make sure that you explain the truth in case you are caught while depositing the mail. Running away, will, as you must have understood by now, only ruin the whole plan. It would be best if you could take enough time and make sure things are fixed. Everything should go back to how it was. That, is imperative...
*           *           *           *           *           *           *           *
“My name is Jonathan DeVille, sir, and I’m sorry for surprising you the way I did. I do have an explanation for all of this, of course. But first, I hope we can have a cup of tea?”
David Foster, still looking dazed, was shaken by the young man’s confidence. Perhaps he was a con man, a trickster? Not sure of what he ought to do, David proceeded to the kitchen. Oddly, Jonathan followed him.
“Please, let me help you,” he said and proceeded to take out two cups from the top left drawer. With complete efficiency, he helped David make two cups of steaming tea.
“Are you still out of biscuits?” Jonathan asked as they sat down with their cups.
“No, I think there’s a packet in the bottom most drawer,” David said cautiously, eying his midnight visitor carefully.
After they’d settled down again, Jonathan took out a biscuit and bit it softly.
“Mr. Foster, I am a lawyer who specialises in Property and Inheritance Wills. You may perhaps have heard of me?”
“Yes, I thought I had heard your name before,” David replied, relieved that the stranger in front of him was a reputable man.
“And now you’re wondering why I was tampering with your mail a few minutes ago, yes?”
“An explanation would help, yes,” David replied, feeling more at ease now.
“Well, since there’s no easy way to put this, I’ll say it. I was submitting your mail, Mr. Foster. Your fan mail, to be particular.”
“My fan mail? But why would a lawyer like you deliver my mail?”
“Because,” Jonathan said, sipping his cup slowly, “all of the mails were forged by me.”
Placing his cup back onto the saucer, Jonathan continued, as though his monologue had been rehearsed beforehand. “Mr. Foster, I work for your publisher, HarperCollins. It was they who had entrusted me with the duty of supplying you with forged fan mail, on a daily basis.”
“You must be joking,” David replied warily. “I mean, this must be some kind of a prank, right?”
Jonathan looked at him severely, his expression unwavering. “I’m afraid none of this is a joke, Mr. Foster. I have two clerks who compose the letters themselves. Due care is taken to ensure that there is as much originality in the letters as possible. To your credit, one of them used to be an avid fan of yours.”
“But – but,” David spluttered, trying to make sense of what the lawyer was saying. Suddenly, he realised what it meant. “How dare you tamper with my mail! Why you would want to forge mails to me in beyond my understanding. And what are you doing with my actual fan mails?”
Jonathan laughed lightly. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “It’s just that – I never fail to laugh at that line. Mr. Foster, haven’t you understood yet? There is no actual fan mail. How could there be, when almost none of your works are being published in the first place?”
“What rubbish!” David yelled, jumping to his feet. He looked furious now.
Jonathan, completely unperturbed, tossed a few magazines and newspapers onto the table. “See for yourself. None of them carry any of your stories. Except the first issue. The editor, who used to be another fan of yours, did that out of courtesy, by the way. And since you yourself don’t subscribe to any of these magazines or newspapers, it makes my job all the more easier.”
Unable to believe the lawyer’s words, David began rifling through the newspapers, desperate to prove the man wrong. As the pages flew by, the 57 year old author felt his knees going weak. He slowly slumped into his chair, looking shocked.
“I cant understand. I mean, why? Why such an elaborate con?”
“Because it was necessary, Mr. Foster, because it was necessary. Do you know when was the last time you submitted a manuscript for publication? Five years ago. And that book was a complete disaster. The critics ripped it apart, didn’t they? And since then? What have you written that’s been worthy of your talent and reputation?”
Before David could reply, Jonathan continued. “These short stories and serialised novels in newspapers. That’s what’s been keeping you going for the past four years. Why is it that you wake up everyday with such eagerness? Because there’s something to look forward to. The letters. The numerous letters from your admirers, fans and readers.”
“But none of it is true!” David bellowed, the truth sinking in. “All of this has been a horrible farce, concocted by you and the others. None of it means anything anymore!”
Just as tentative tears began appearing in David’s eyes, Jonathan opened his suitcase and took out three strips of tablets, which he placed on the table.
“Until an hour ago, though, all of it meant something, didn’t it?”
David looked up at Jonathan, trying to understand what the lawyer meant.
“Until an hour ago, Mr. Foster, you were happy, weren’t you? Content with the fact that you were an accomplished writer; a loved, admired writer. Now that feeling has been shattered. Though I am no writer myself, I do know how that feels. No more letters, no more appreciation. No more admiration to fuel your writing. It can damage a person’s self esteem, yes? Why, I’d say it could even crush it.”
Tapping the strips of tablets, he said. “So why not forget that which hurts you?”
“I don’t understand,” David said, looking incredulous.
“Mr. Foster, the tablets in front of you are powerful peripanadols. Drugs capable of causing short term memory damage. You can swallow them now, and have a proper night’s sleep. Tomorrow morning, you’ll wake up with a headache, and no knowledge of ever meeting me.”
David looked numb for a moment, staring blankly at the tablets. Then, quite suddenly, he leapt up, enraged. Jonathan did not flinch a muscle.
“How dare you belittle me, you scoundrel! What do you take me for? My works may not be published in newspapers and magazines now, but I am still David Foster. I’m a Pulitzer Prize winner. The voice of a generation. The finest American author since Edgar J. Sallinger. And you dare to treat me like a petty little writer. How dare you!”
“Please, Mr. Foster, take the tablets,” Jonathan said calmly.
“No, I wont! You’re crazy if you think I’ll let you fool me again now. Get out Mr. DeVille, now!”
“Mr. Foster, believe me, you’ll take the tablets. I assure you!
There was something in the way the lawyer said those words. They sounded firm, almost prophetic. David, his temper momentarily subsiding, paused uncertainly.
Something struck him as being odd at that moment. He remembered how the lawyer had strolled into the kitchen, knowing exactly where the tea cups where. He’d asked whether they were still out of biscuits. How had he known that, just a few weeks ago, David had finished his stock of biscuits?
“Wait a minute,” David said suddenly. “Wait, how do you-“
He stopped mid sentence, as his eyes caught the expression on DeVille’s face. Now it all made sense.
“You’ve been here before!” David said breathlessly. “You – you’ve done this. This entire routine....before?”
“Several times, Mr. Foster,” Jonathan said, relieved that it had been so easy.
“You’ve found out in several ways. Sometimes you realise that the letters are all slightly repetitive and have a pattern. Otherwise you get hold of the latest edition of the local newspaper, and realise something’s wrong. And most often, you catch me in the act of dropping of your fan mail.”
David stood motionless, his mouth slightly open. He looked astonished beyond belief.
“Your reactions have always been varied. Sometimes utter disbelief, sometimes uncontrollable rage. I’ve found a way of mastering the whole routine now. Initially though, it was almost impossible to get you to take the tablets.”
Tears began streaming down David’s cheeks. Fighting back his emotions, he managed to ask.
“For how long?”
The answer was devastating.
“Four years.”
A few minutes later, as David gathered enough courage to open the strip of tablets, Jonathan collected his suitcase and prepared to leave.
“Cheer up,” he said as he opened the door, “you won’t remember any of this in the morning.”
With that, the door closed shut.
*           *           *           *           *           *           *           *
....Such an exercise would seem vain to a man of logic such as you, Mr. DeVille. But authors, you must understand, deal in a trade where the only reward is appreciation. Feedback, acclaim, reaction. Mere financial gains hold no value. And for a man whose loss of talent leaves him with no other means of achieving the desired appreciation, especially after a lifetime of familiarity with acclaim, resorting to such means is, sometimes, the only way to cope with it.
Trusting that you will carry out my wishes to the fullest,
David Foster.

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  1. Wow! This is a good one! It kinda reminds me of Shutter Island, dont know why! But yea, this is awesome, after such a long time though! :)

  2. I see that movies of the late are taking a toll on you..
    Nice one. I'm back in kerela.

  3. Ur writing style has improved !! Seems like the books u r reading have started making their impact!! .... And imaginative (though slightly filmy) plot too ... good one!

  4. Nice work. A very imaginative post, I must say. And btw, peripanadols? How do you come up with these things that no other normal people(in this case, me) have ever heard of? That is something I would really like to know...
    Interesting plot. Very engaging for a reader lke me. Keep going! I thought you had abandoned your blog when u left. Apparently not! Im pleasantly surprised... :P