Leon and I leaned back in a couple of old tattered club chairs and rested our stocking feet on the natural rock hearth. The crackle of oak logs surrounded by flames in his open fireplace was as soothing to our emotions as our warm drinks were to our stomachs. We’d been outdoors building a Christmas present for Eddy and Darla. It felt good to come inside from a shivering wind and warm ourselves. Leon’s small cabin only has four rooms, but its rustic appeal could challenge any abode for a great place to call home on a cold winter afternoon.
I sat my empty cup down on the round table top between us.
Leon stood. His big toe punched a hole through his old wool sock. “You want some more hot chocolate?”
“No thank you, I’m good.
After refilling his cup, he retook his seat. “Had any luck with your query?”
I’d bragged a little too much to my friends about my latest novel, Murder and Mayham. Somehow a new story always brings renewed hope for a struggling writer. Apparently, the literary agents assumed my title was misspelled.
“No, but I’m confident I’ll receive a request for a manuscript before Christmas.”
That was my way of putting on a good front for my friend’s benefit, since he had suggested the title.
“That’s too bad. I was kinda hoping me helping you with that title would do the trick this time.”
My history of failed attempts to secure representation by a literary agent permeated the Boston Mountains like cold air in a harsh winter. My friends tried to help me anyway they could. I’d had nibbles here and there over the years, but the number of requests for full manuscripts topped out at zero.
“Nothing would make me happier than for one of those literary agents to want read one of your stories before Christmas.” Leon paused to take a sip of hot chocolate. “That would be all the present I’d need this year.”
That was his way of telling me not to spend any money on a gift for him. Things were tight all around, for everyone in our little community. My friend didn’t even have a decent pair of socks to wear, and he was concerned about me. There were still a few days left before Santa made his visit. Not enough time to write a new novel, but I had an idea that just might work.
As soon as I left Leon’s cabin, I went home and searched under my bed for one of my best stories, one which had been rejected less than fifty times. I removed it and dusted off the top of the box. All the manuscript needed was a new title and a few revisions to meet my needs.
Two hours later, with the rewrite complete, I prepared a query letter.
The Peterson Literary Agency
Attn: Mrs. Helen K. Peterson
12545 Fifth Avenue, Suite 598
New York, NY 100010
Attn: Ms. Peterson:
When a rejected manuscript, removed from a recycle bin, turns out to be exactly what its author claims, Ellie Jenson hopes to change her uneventful life.
Ellie, twenty-three, unattached and still cleaning offices for a living, peruses the recycle bin every Friday night in search of suitable reading material. She finds what appears to be an intact manuscript, THE TREASURE TROVE, a romantic suspense by Vargo Stalinski. All of the pages were in the original order with no hand written comments in the margins. NON-REQUESTED MATERIAL stamped in red on the cover page was a clear indication the manuscript was not to be read by any of the agents working at The Kartersan Literary Agency.
The following day, Ellie is deep into her latest grab from the recycle bin and flips the page. The story was so much better than other ones she’d retrieved from the bin. When she finishes reading page 200, the next page has a hundred dollar bill taped vertically in the middle of it. She checks the next one. It too has a hundred dollar bill taped the same way. She soon discovers the manuscript is a treasure trove, literally. She removes a total of 300 bills from the remaining pages. While staring at the stacks of hundred dollar bills piled on top of her small bed, she realizes they total $30,000 dollars in cash, more money than she has ever seen in her life. Ellie knows what she wants to do with the money, be somebody. Somebody people want to be around, instead of a person no one notices. After placing the cash in a plastic trash bag, she hides it under her sink, and decides to wait a full week before she begins her transformation.
A week later, so as not to cause suspicion, Ellie returns to the literary agency and begins her duties that evening. When she walks into Mrs. Kartersan”s office to begin cleaning it, she notices an unopened package on top of the agent’s desk. She leans over and looks at the return address. Mailed from Grand Cayman Island, the package appears to be the size of a manuscript box. In the lower left corner is a handwritten note: FINDER’S KEEPERS, the sequel to THE TREASURE TROVE. I promise this manuscript is also worth reading.
When Ellie returns to her flat later that night, she can’t believe she has become a thief. How could she stoop so low? She looks at the unopened package mailed from Grand Cayman and tries to decide whether to take it back or open it. It was probably placed on Mrs. Kartersan’s desk after the agent had left for the day. It had been stamped like the other one, non-requested material. It would be discarded. That’s how it works, isn’t it? She had retrieved lots of non-requested manuscripts from the recycle bin. No one had ever complained. What was wrong with reading them? So what if she read this one, and then took it back and placed on the agent’s desk. What harm would there be in that? No one would ever know she had read it, would they? She opens the package, removes the manuscript, and turns to page 201. Ellie is about to become somebody, somebody on the run.
THE TREASURE TROVE, a romantic suspense novel, is complete and ready for your review. I promise the 500 page manuscript is worth reading.
My wife entered the room. “Have you decided what you’re going to get Leon for Christmas this year?”
I looked up. “Wool socks.”
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