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Home: The Toast

piano(To the tune of “Piano Man”)

Now Paul is a real-estate novelist

Who never had time for a wife

His first novel, Mortgaging Murder, was released to little critical fanfare in 1983

Paul has never gotten a speeding ticket or been on a date

He loves to attend comic conventions

Each year at Emerald City he dresses as Dream from Sandman

Sandman is Paul’s all-time favorite comic book

If you want to know the real reason he never married it’s because he’s been too busy changing the face of publishing

Over the years he has quietly published twelve books in his Laurie Moore, Leasing Agent series

All twelve have sold a combined total of 83 copies

Sometimes Paul feels shaky inside

On Saturdays he shuffles into his neighborhood bar, HotKeys, on 49th Street (in the lot behind the Dairy Queen)

HotKeys is notable for its patrons’ curious practice of placing small pieces of bread in the employees’ tip jar (a holdover from the town’s past as a 17th-century witch coven)

Paul orders a bottle of Loneliness™ brand India Pale Ale (“Better Than Drinking Alone”) and sits down across from Davey

Davey was dishonorably discharged from the Navy in 1998 for gunrunning

They talk for hours

One night Paul and Davey break into HotKeys after it closes and douse all the microphones and sound equipment and furniture in beer

This makes them feel so alive

(“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction”)

The next day Paul gets an unusual call from his agent, telling him that after an intense three-day bidding war, HarperCollins has agreed to publish his new manuscript, Death & Property Taxes: A Laurie Moore Mystery

They are offering a six-figure advance and also wish to acquire his extensive backlist

The first thing Paul does with the money is buy HotKeys and reverse its hopelessly backward “stoned businessmen only” policy (not a single woman or non-stoned tradesman has set foot in the bar since 1901, other than one extremely political waitress who would go on to become the nation’s next [and final] President)

Paul gives John the bartender a raise and fires the shitty weekend pianist

Death & Property Taxes: A Laurie Moore Mystery is released the next year and becomes a runaway bestseller, catapulting Paul into the public’s consciousness

His charmingly deadpan appearance on Colbert is talked about for years

(He stops returning Davey’s calls)

Within half a decade the sales of Paul’s novels have eclipsed even the world’s holy books

The publishing world is in an uproar

One famously apocryphal incident involves Dan Brown publicly urinating on the bronze statue of Paul erected in Times Square

Paul regularly receives death threats from former bestselling authors until the President herself agrees to assign him a special Secret Service detail, following a landmark Supreme Court decision (Steele, Sparks, Rowling et al v. United States) in which all genres of literature, except for real-estate novels, are outlawed

Any citizen found with a copy of a work of fiction or nonfiction demonstrably unrelated to the housing market is arrested immediately

Homes and businesses are regularly raided for contraband “fake estate” books, or “falsies”

Bookstores are now pretty much just enormous displays for Paul’s complete works

Thousands of young aspiring writers hope to pen the next breakthrough “mortgage mystery” but they are all shallow imitations of the original

Paul is the wealthiest person in America, then the world

He purchases HarperCollins outright and uses it to acquire all the other major houses

Smaller imprints and illegal independent publishing houses are forced to close their doors as Paul ruthlessly eliminates all opposition

The US Government is now required to print “A HarperCollins-Paul Subsidiary” on the backs of all its bank notes in small font

Soon even the world’s landmarks are renamed (“The Great Paul of China,” “The Taj MaPaul,” etc.)

America is a police state

Paul declares martial law

The world is changed

* * * *

Now Paul sits back in his rooftop garden and watches his secret police force (“Paul’s Boys”) raid a Vintage Contemporaries warehouse across town on his tele-watch, then toggles the display and checks his OKCupid profile

He has one new message, from NotInTheNavy69

“Not sure if you remember me…” it starts

Paul smiles

Now he has time

All the time in the world

Trevor Barnes lives in Seattle and makes comics at nightmareorigami.com.

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