Before the Glass of Sherry
In 1981, I began citing lines of verse from The Book of Counted Sorrows as epigraphs at the beginnings--and occasionally at the part divisions--of some of my novels. Little more than a decade later, mail from readers, specifically inquiring about this exotic volume of poetry, had risen to 3,000 letters a year.
Dealing with these earnest but exhaustingly repetitious inquiries became so annoying to one of my assistants--Basil Keenly--that he gave up his lifelong dream of serving as a novelist's right-hand man, signed up for a series of university courses toward a new career in body waxing, subsequently worked as a customized-cake salesman (your face or favorite body part realistically rendered in exquisitely subtle shades of icing), briefly returned to personal-assistant work as the right hand to Porky Pig, but was dispirited by the endless jokes about stuttering and ham that came with the job, attempted to hold up a 7-Eleven with a lump of cake cunningly decorated to resemble a handgun, and eventually took a leave from the secular world by joining a tiny and somewhat curious religious community that worships squirrels. Tragically, while working with other cultists in urgent preparation for a hard winter, he was crushed when the community hoard suddenly shifted, burying him under millions of acorns, walnuts, and dried legumes.
I miss him.
We all miss him here at the Koontz manor.
Well, not Mrs. Scuttlesby, whose standards of excellence are so high and whose commitment to her work is so complete and unrelenting that she feels nothing but contempt, and rightly so, for the rest of us engaged in this enterprise. She said good riddance to Basil when he left our employment, as she says good riddance to all, as she says good riddance to me and my wife each time that we depart on a brief holiday, and when she received the news of Basil's death, she shed not a tear, but said only, "This is precisely the end I expected he would meet."
In the receiving room, on the north wall, which we call the Wall of Honorable Service, dear Basil's photograph is handsomely framed and hung among the equally handsomely framed photographs of other former members of our staff who have performed their duties with exceptional ability and conducted themselves with moral probity, with great courage, and with no fear whatsoever of the words "Girl Scout Cookie sale," in even the most difficult times. Some of these much-missed employees have moved on to enjoy stellar careers assisting far more luminous literary figures than I: Among the most notable of their new employers have been Nobel-nominated novelist William Shatner, self-help guru Caesar Zedd, and the anonymous copywriter of the Calvin Klein advertisements; indeed, our very special Emily Vlick, who was with us seven years, accepted a position with the late V. C. Andrews, who has produced more novels following her demise than she did during her lifetime. Other beloved employees have left our service due to forklift accidents, alien abductions, non-cancerous but weird chin tumors the size of pumpkins, incurable addictions to Spam, and, of course, due to that greatest of all impediments to the maintenance of a full and happy staff--death.
I am deeply pained to recall how some of our most cherished and enormously missed employees perished, but I have committed myself to revealing the inside story, the unvarnished truth, and the full poop about Counted Sorrows; consequently, it seems to me that I absolutely must relate to you how these adored and grievously missed staffers died, although at the moment I see no connection whatsoever between the circumstances of their deaths and this book. Perhaps we will achieve enlightenment together. One died in a cataclysmic rickshaw collision, two in separate incidents of spontaneous human combustion, one while spiritedly arguing the fine points of creative napkin-folding with Martha Stewart, one in a gorilla suit that had been manufactured from toxic fabric, and three in the panic and turmoil that arose at a Dali Lama look-alike contest. One died by flaming arrow, one by the excess fizz in an irresponsibly over-carbonated sparkling beverage, one by catapult, two by parakeet. Two bought the farm when they fell off the high wire at a circus while tap dancing to "Mr. Bojangles," and another bought the farm after literally buying a farm, only to discover too late that the cows that came with that particular property were ill-mannered and vindictive. And Basil, of course, pinned beneath a deadly weight of assorted nuts.
Copyright Dean Koontz, 2001 - all rights reserved.
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