Bruce Robert Coffin: As I prepare for the rapidly approaching October 30th release of my third Detective Byron Mystery, Beyond the Truth, I can’t help but wax nostalgic. Join me now as I look back to a blog originally published in 2016 for the Maine Crime Writers describing the excitement of how it all began.
“Remember this day.” That was Paul Doiron’s advice to me the day I received paperback copies of my first novel.
It was Saturday morning and the sun was shining and the temperature was nearing eighty as I loaded my pickup with trash, returnables, and a full recycling bin. It was getting close to eleven and I hadn’t really eaten anything you’d likely call breakfast. My plan was to hit the town dump then head back into North Windham to drop off the bottles and cans at Hannaford’s. After that I figured I’d swing by the post office, hoping for something other than bills, maybe even a bit of positive cash flow, before grabbing lunch at a fast food joint.
I held the door for a polite young woman then headed into the gloomy interior of the postal facility hoping for good news. Upon opening the box I discovered a new registration certificate for my wife’s car, a single piece of junk mail, and a yellow slip informing me that I needed to see the desk clerk for an item. Now I’ve seen these slips before. Usually deliveries are only kept at the counter when they’re either too big for the package bins or when all the bins are full. My mind raced. What could it be? Being early September, I surmised a pre-holiday fruitcake was probably out of the question. I hadn’t ordered anything recently and I couldn’t remember Karen telling me that she was waiting on anything. Although, maybe she had but I hadn’t been listening. Maybe she’d mentioned the purchase of some latest fashion, and instead of listening I’d glazed over like she does whenever I try and explain the inner workings of something mechanical, like the stereo remote. It was possible. The only thing I could imagine was the case of novels my publisher had promised to fulfill their contractual obligation. My pulse quickened. What was waiting for me behind the post office counter?
I dashed back to the lobby with my yellow card. Two clerks were working the counter, but the line was out to the door. My heart sank. What time does the North Windham Post Office close on Saturday? Damn. I couldn’t remember. Noon? That sounded right. I checked the time. 11:35. It was gonna be close. One by one I watched in horror as the two employees waited on my fellow Mainers. Each had a package or letters needing special handling, and wrapping, and weighing. And stamps! A collector was buying sheets. What the hell?
“Oops, hang on. That one needs another piece of packing tape,” a clerk said to one of the customers.
I was sure of it now. They were trying to kill me.
I checked my phone again. 11:40. OMG. I looked down and caught myself nervously tapping my right foot on the linoleum. I stopped.
“Yes, it has been a very dry summer, Mrs. Smith. How’s your garden?”
How’s her garden? Who cares? Jesus, if you’d just hurry up I’ll drive you to the grocery store myself and buy you all the vegetables you could ever want!
I examined the yellow card in my hand. Read it again. I realized there was something familiar about it, this yellow card. Ah ha. I had it. The Yellow Card Man, from 11/22/63. Stephen King’s novel about the Kennedy assassination. My only hope was it didn’t foreshadow that I was about to step through some portal to the past, where I’d never find out what had been delivered.
A customer finished at the counter and the line inched forward. I took one step. I thought again about the possibility of it being my novel. Was that even likely? I’d been in constant contact with both my editor and my publicist all week, and neither mentioned anything about the books being ready. Wouldn’t they have known? Of course they would. Maybe it wasn’t the books after all. Maybe I was being silly. How long does fruitcake keep? I looked down at my foot again. It was moving a little. I willed it to stop.
11:50. Another satisfied customer peeled off and walked past me. One of the clerks looked at her watch.
Oh, no you don’t, I thought. Nobody leaves until I get my package.
The next customer shuffled up to the counter in slow motion.
I was due to be next. I glanced left and right, watching each transaction closely. Who would finish with their customer first? The male clerk on my left or the female on my right? People read left to right. I was betting on left. Come on, come on.
11:55. I was beginning to feel a little like Oswald.
Finally, the customer at the window on my left was done and the male clerk waved me forward. Hot damn! I was working hard to hide my angst.
“May I help you?” the clerk asked.
“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking. “I received this slip in my mailbox.”
He took the slip from me. “What number?”
“What?” I said.
“Your box number. What is it?”
I couldn’t remember! I’d just emptied it and now I couldn’t remember the number!
I stared at the clerk. He stared back at me. What the hell? I couldn’t leave the line to go look. There were people behind me. They’d close before I ever made it back to the counter. I looked down at what I was holding in my hand. Mail. Ha! Correspondence from the state that had my address on it!
I recited my box number to him, fighting to stay calm. He repeated it back then walked out of sight. If this turned out to be clothes for my wife or a fruitcake, I’d be tying one on. Without question, the Yellow Card Man had reached his limit.
I watched in astonishment as the clerk rounded the corner with a large nondescript cardboard box. He had it on his hip and was struggling a bit with it’s weight. It certainly wasn’t a fruitcake. Too big for that. And clothes wouldn’t have been nearly as heavy.
I watched him set the box atop the counter. A piece of paper was taped to the backside, but I couldn’t see what it said. I lowered my voice an octave trying to project cool. “Does it say who it’s from?”
He bent down to look. “Um, says it’s from HarperCollins, the publisher.”
My publisher! It was my books! Hallelujah!
“Man, I’ve been waiting for that,” I heard myself say from outside of my body.
I heard murmuring from the line behind me. Most likely someone thinking about driving me to the local bookstore to buy me some books if I’d only get moving.
“What is it?” the clerk asked.
I dropped yet another octave, moving from cool to nonchalant. “Oh, it’s just a bunch of copies of my debut novel, Among the Shadows.”
“What’s it about?” he inquired.
“It’s a mystery,” I said, smiling proudly as I lifted the box and headed for the door.