Monday, November 26, 2018

A Melville-ous Pair (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

Mark and his new client sat on opposite sides of the desk. Mark scanned the man’s application.

Well, what can we do for you Mister... I’m sorry. I can’t make out your handwriting on the application.”

Call me Ishmael.”
Very well. Ishmael it is then.” Mark wrote Ishmael at the top of the application. “I understand you’d like to work in fiction.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mark looked closer at the application. The handwriting was so poor that he could barely make out any letters, let alone entire words, in the whole thing. “So,” he said, forging ahead. “What is it that you do?”

Ishmael was perched nervously on the edge of the chair. “I’m a fisherman,” he said.

A fisherman?”


There seem to be a lot of you running about these days. The man who just left was a fisherman, too.”

That old man with the dark tan?”

That’s the one. Fella from Cuba. The only English words he knew were Joe and DiMaggio.” Mark chuckled.

“Joe DiMaggio?” Ishmael said.

Yes,” Mark answered. “He’s a baseball player?”

Ishmael stared back blankly.

New York Yankees?” Mark tried.

Ishmael shrugged.

Never mind. It’s not important. So what kind of fishing do you do?”

What kind?” Ishmael echoed.

Yes. Mister Santiago was particularly apt at marlin fishing. Is that the kind of fishing you do?” Mark executed a search for fisherman on his computer, only half-listening to Ishmael’s response.

“Oh, yes. Well, I can catch marlins, too. And bigger fish as well.”

Mark’s search had turned up half a dozen results, some with promise. Izaak Walton was always on the lookout for fishermen, but Norman Maclean and Paul Torday both had positions they wanted to fill.

Bigger fish?” Mark asked. “Like what?”

Oh, um,” Ishmael spluttered. “Like, um, mackerel?”

Mackerel? Aren’t those usually smaller than marlin?”

Oh. Well. Some of them. But I fish for the big ones. And they get, you know, pretty large. Larger than a marlin, anyway.” Ishmael, for some reason, seemed unable to make direct eye contact with Mark. “Those are just the smaller fish that I, um, fish for.”

Okay,” said Mark. “What else, then?”

How about, uh, killer whales? They’re pretty large, right?”

I would think so,” Mark said.

Yeah. Killer whales. All types of whales, really. Let’s see. There’s, um, blue whales. And sperm whales. And, uh, killer whales.”

Yes, you said that already.”

Right. Yes, well. To be honest, I’m not so much a fisherman as a whaler. Doesn’t it mention that on my application?”

Mark glanced at the scribbles in the Skills and Talents section of the application. One of the scribbles looked like it ended in an -er, and it might have started with a w.

“So, a whaler, then?” Mark said.

Yes, sir.”

Mark cleared the screen of his previous search results and tried whaler. It returned only one result. “It looks like you’re in luck, Ishmael. One of our more prolific authors is looking for a whaler at the moment.”

“Wonderful!” Ishmael replied.

Mark scanned his computer screen. “Oh, this might be quite lucrative as well. Seems Mister Melville is looking for a whole crew of whalers, and one of those lucky crew will be the story’s narrator, though not its main character. Play your cards right and this could set you for life.”

Outstanding! I could really use an income boost right now.” This last he said as if he were speaking to himself. When he noticed the quizzical look on  Mark’s face, he smiled widely and said, “I’ll get that top spot, believe me!” Ishmael wagged a finger in the air to punctuate his confidence.

Mark filled out a contact card. “I’m sure you will. Here is Mister Melville’s contact information. Take this card with you when you meet him.”

I will!” Ishmael exclaimed, taking the card and shaking Mark’s hand. He turned to the door and opened it, but paused.

Is there something else I could help you with?” Mark asked.

Yes. Is there a library around here? I’d like to do a little, uh, research this afternoon.”

Research? About what?”

Ishmael glanced at the contact card in his hand. “N-Never mind. I’ll find it. Thanks again.”

He had disappeared from the doorway before Mark could say you’re welcome.

Through the office door, Mark could see a rather unkempt, greasy-haired man bent over Janice’s desk. The man looked up, locked eyes with Mark, and made a beeline for his office. Seeming not to notice the secretary’s pleas of “you can’t go in there!” he swept into Mark’s office, swung the door closed, and plopped into the seat opposite Mark’s desk.

I need a job,” the man said.

The man seemed small in the chair, hunched over, and he stared at the wall when he spoke. Not the wall behind Mark with the motivational “hang in there” poster, but the wall to his right, which was completely empty.

Well, fictional job placement is what we do here. Do you have an appointment?” Mark asked.


That’s quite all right. We get a lot of walk-ins here. If you could just fill out one of our applications, then we could start the process of placing you in a good story.”

Mark held out a blank application. The man took it in one hand, glanced at it, and set it down on Mark’s desk. “I would prefer not to,” he said.

Mark was perplexed. “I’m sorry?”

I would prefer not to,” the man repeated.

Well, Mister uh...”


Well, Mister Bartleby—”

No. Just Bartleby.”

All right. Bartleby, then. We really need you to fill out an application so we can match up your specific skills and talents to the needs of our authors.”

I would prefer not to.”

Not since Edmund Pevensie had he dealt with someone so unhelpful, but he had successfully found a place for him. This Bartleby character would be a challenge, but Mark liked challenges.

All right, Mister Bartleby—”

Just Bartleby.”

Bartleby, yes. What kinds of things do you do, Bartleby?”

Mostly just office work. Filing, copying, that sort of thing.”

Are you interested in expanding from those skills into something more, I don’t know, exciting?”

I would prefer not to.”

Okay. Why don’t you tell me what kind of role you’re looking for?”

I don’t know. Your job looks rather nice.”

Mark’s heart thumped.My job?”

Yes,” Bartleby stared at the blank wall. “You have a nice desk. A nice office. Nice walls. Is your job difficult?”

Oh, well,” Mark sputtered. His stomach turned at the sudden detour the interview had taken. “We don’t have any open positions at the moment. Besides, you’re a fictional character. You need a fictional job.” Hoping to get Bartleby out of his office, Mark added, “You might try one of the silver-screen placement firms.”

I would prefer not to. I would rather work here, in print fiction.”

But you wouldn’t really be working in fiction. You would be working outside of fiction.”

“If you say so.”


Moments passed in silence. Bartleby continued to stare at the wall, while the tension in Mark’s stomach grew like a hungry badger.

Look, Bartleby, my position isn’t available. If you aren’t interested in finding a place in fiction, there isn’t a lot I can do for you. I would like you to leave now.”

I would prefer not to,” Bartleby replied.

You would pref—? Look, man, I want you out of my office now!” Mark rose to his feet as his voice rose in volume. He pointed at the door, but Bartleby remained unmoved. It seemed the only way to get Bartleby out of his office was to either find him a job or drag him out bodily.

Mark sat back down and collected himself. “Now that I think about,” he said, “I think I have just the job for you. Would you be interested?”

Yes,” Bartleby said dully.

Perfect!” Instead of a contact card, Mark pulled a blank notepad from his desk drawer and quickly scribbled down the contact information that was still on the screen. He tore the sheet off the top and handed it to Bartleby, who took it with excessive amounts of apathy. “Contact Mister Melville at your earliest convenience. He is, uh, looking for someone just like you. He can certainly find a position for you!”

Bartleby took the paper and slipped it into his pocket. Without saying a word, he stood, opened the door, and left the office.

Mark sat back in his chair and took slow breaths, trying to calm himself.

Janice popped her head in. “Who was that guy?”

“I don’t really know.”

Did you find him a role?”

Not exactly, no. He wanted my role. My job. Can you believe it?!” Mark shook his head. “Hell, let Melville deal with him.”

“I’m heading out the Atlas Chugged for some lunch. You wanna join me?” Janice asked. “You sound like you could use a drink.”

“I’d prefer not to. Thanks.”