UNITED STATES—The co-owner of the coffee shop took a tentative seat at Robbie’s table in the patio.

“This inspector has me terrified. Inspector #43. She even complained about my body odor.”

Robbie was half distracted, catching up with the traffic on the device on his hand. He was really listening to the words on the screen. He nodded. Don’t wait for the muse, he told himself before launching into a response to his editor. Let the muse catch you in the middle of moving your fingers.

“You smell like pure heaven,” Robbie said distractedly.

His nose inwardly acknowledged that Health Inspector #43 may have had a point. The co-owner was quite obviously a natural woman who eschewed Estee Lauder and Lancome and bras. Attempts to avoid carcinogenic benzene in spray antiperspirant under her bushy underarms left something to be desired. And yet…

“It’s just that I’m on edge, Robbie. This is her second visit. Inspector number 43. A follow up to all the things she noted wrong. She saw you and your giant schnauzer was scrunched up on the corner, out of sight. If he had barked…”

“You won’t be getting that ‘A’ rating–” Robbie mumbled sardonically without looking up from his device.

“Worse… We’d lose our license.”

“No way.”

Still not looking over, meanwhile Robbie’s left hand automatically sought out the double-cupped green Matcha latte, ringed by a cardboard sleeve advertising a dating website.

“I had a friend who said the C restaurants had the best tasting food,” still avoiding her eyes. “Then you know the money goes into the food and not cleaning supplies.”

Robbie kept on babbling to the owner of Coffeeville how his friend had died, but it wasn’t the food. He had overdosed. Couldn’t handle his dope. Jeez, couldn’t she get the drift that Robbie was busy, taking care of business. Now Robbie felt like he had talked too much. He shouldn’t have talked at all. These days it seemed like pretty much everything he said was too much. Nobody wanted to hear more than ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

But the owner stayed there. It would seem out of spite. Finally, she said:

“You can read, can’t you, Robbie?”

“Sure. I’m a writer.”

Out the corner of the eye as he remained calm and collected. As his fingers tapped steadily away, his eyes followed to where the owner of the coffee shop was pointing. He became aware with suddenness of the yellow lettering on the door: No Dogs Allowed Inside.

“I didn’t know that you were a writer,” she said.

“I thought you knew.”

Oh God, on top of remorse for almost causing her to lose her business, because of bringing his dog Rolf inside, new remorse pinioned Robbie for having blown his cover. Everyone was a writer in the city, so he made a point of not telling anybody. In fact, instead of writer, Robbie, or rather, R.P. Caine was author. Maybe it was ego. But he had to be top of the heap, even if he was writing crime schlock. Now a text has just flashed by on his screen. From his editor: change the ending of your new story!!!

Robbie cringed. Exclamation marks could be so violent!

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)