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Chapter Five
The One-Hit Wonder

"[Ethan] awoke; and, behold, it was a dream."
~ 1 Kings 3:15 ~

The muffled sounds stirred Ethan from his sleep. It took a few moments for him to blink and wake up before he realized someone was in the hall outside his bedroom door. With a yawn, he rolled over and prepared to go back to sleep. Last night's dream still haunted him, and he wished he could wipe his mind and forget it had ever happened. Since a mind-wipe wasn't possible, he'd wish for a good stiff drink to numb the senses and make him at peace with the world. Alcohol of any kind was never going to happen in the Campbells' house, so Ethan opted for more sleep. It wouldn't be hard. He could feel the drowsiness tugging in around him as he closed his eyes.

As Ethan started to nod off, he heard the familiar sound of his name. Someone was talking about him in the hallway. He raised his head and looked at the closed bedroom door. What were they saying?

Oh good, he's still asleep? We never liked him anyway, so don't bother waking him? After the words Ethan had exchanged with Matty last night, the sentiment was possible. Or not. Matty had never been known to hold a grudge, and the same could be said for Beth. But it did make Ethan curious about what was going on in the hallway.

Now he couldn't sleep.

With a muttered curse, Ethan got up, pulled pants over his boxers, and went and opened the bedroom door. He found Beth so deep in conversation that she at first didn't notice he was there. She had just finished saying something wasn't possible, when she saw Ethan.

"Good morning," Beth smiled, as she moved the laundry basket in her arms. "We don't have to whisper, Mom. He's awake."

"I told you we were talking too loud." Shannon emerged from the second bedroom down the hall, and dropped more sheets into Beth's already large load. "We'll do Ethan's room next."

"Want any help with that basket?" Ethan asked his sister-in-law. He felt a little self-conscious in front of her, for by now she had to know about the difference of opinion last night. Matty would have told her.

Beth gestured to Shannon. "We were just talking about the fancy car in the driveway. You wouldn't happen to know why it's there, would you?"

"Yeah, it's mine."

"And you said it wasn't possible," Shannon said with a nod to Beth.

Beth squinted at Ethan. "Are you sure we're talking about the same car? The sleek red one in the driveway?"

"Yeah, that one." This was a surprise. Ethan hadn't counted on getting into trouble just by parking in the driveway.

"I sure hope you know what you're doing," Beth said, as she followed her mom into the mess Ethan and Ryan called a bedroom.

Ah. In the driveway was fine.

As the women began to collect the clothes on the floor for their laundry basket, Ethan grabbed a dirty shirt before he was left with only the jeans he was wearing. He tossed his thanks to Beth and her mother, then headed for the great room before they got any ideas about making him do his own laundry. He had offered with the basket-- it wasn't as though he hadn't tried.

In the great room, Ryan, Dylan, and Peter were sprawled out on the couches as they ate sandwiches, and watched TV. On the far end of the second couch, Cassie had curled up with a book, and was picking from a plate of green salad and thinly cut vegetables. Ethan paused to note the distressing lack of salad dressing on her greens. He liked his veggies, but not without something to help it all go down.

"Hey," Ethan asked anyone who would listen, "where's Matty?"

"Out front," Ryan said around a mouthful of food. "That car is yours, isn't it? Wow, Ethan. I can't believe I'm related to anyone who owns a Ferrari."

"And I can't believe you didn't tell us about it," Dylan chimed in.

"Then it really is yours?" Cassie looked up from her book with a laugh. "That thing must have cost you a fortune."

Ethan gave an easy shrug.

"Why did you pick red?" she asked, as Tucker barked over their voices. "Red gets ticketed more often than other paint jobs. You should've bought something more humble than a loud, look-at-me convertible. It's such a male thing to do. Anyone would think you're trying to compensate for a personal shortcoming. You wouldn't be having a mid-life crisis, would you?"

Ethan folded his arms. "That's very funny."

"Tucker, come!" Peter called to the family mutt.

"That's actually a myth," Ryan put in, as Tucker plopped himself at Peter's feet. "Red cars do not get a disproportionate number of tickets than everyone else's. There was a study that proved it."

Cassie laughed. "Tell that to the cops when Ethan gets pulled over."

"Well, let them," Ethan dared. "Better to flaunt it when you've got it, than to not have it at all." He shot Cassie an in-your-face grin, and left the great room as Dylan shouted after him,

"Can we have a ride in it sometime?"

"Later Dilly." Ethan opened the front door, stepped onto the welcome mat and spotted his big brother in the driveway talking to Aiden. Both men stared at the new car as though it came from another planet. Ethan had wanted to be the one to show Matty the sports car, but he hadn't counted on sleeping in. He studied his brother's face. Matty didn't look angry. He didn't look happy, either, but the day Ethan did something to make Matty truly happy, would be the day pigs sprouted wings. Matty had been pleased Ethan hadn't proven himself to be an absolute bum, that Ethan knew how to work long and hard for success. Ethan knew Matty was pleased... to a point. While all those things were well and good, they hadn't been enough to take the fear from Matty's eyes last night, and that bothered Ethan.

Deciding he'd better get out there to defend the wisdom of his purchase, Ethan started down the driveway. A few quick steps and the pain registered. The oven-hot concrete burned like crazy as Ethan hurried back to the welcome mat with an angry curse. It had to be over a hundred degrees out here. Ethan looked over and saw Aiden and Matty had heard him; they came back to the house as Ethan checked the bottoms of his smarting feet.

Aiden grunted. "Good way to burn yourself."

Ethan chose to not fight the obvious, and looked at Matty. "What do you think of the car?" Ethan asked.

His brother hesitated a moment too long before answering. "It's quite a machine." Matty's tone gave him away, and it seemed as though Matty knew it for he was quick to add, "I really like the leather seats."

"Do you want to drive it?" Ethan asked. "It's the smoothest ride you'll ever have this side of heaven."

"I believe you," Matty smiled.

"So do you want to take her out for a spin?"

"No way."

"Come on, I trust your driving."

"This isn't so much about trust, as it is wanting to stay in one piece. That thing must go from zero to insane in a blink."

"It's fast," Ethan admitted.

"It is quite a car though." Matty shook his head and sighed. "I can't imagine spending a fortune to have that experience, but I'll be the first to admit that it is a very sleek, very cool machine. It's probably the coolest machine I've ever seen up close."

"Now I wouldn't go that far," Aiden put in. "There's nothing quite like a Vought F4U Corsair with the morning light glinting off her canopy. It hits you right here--" Aiden patted his heart.

Ethan grinned. It wasn't often that he got to see the lighter side of Aiden, and come to think of it, Ethan was kind of shocked that Aiden even had one.

When they all went into the house, Ethan's bare feet kissed the cool floor and made him grateful for central air conditioning. In a good mood, Ethan rubbed his hands together and asked what was on today's agenda. Though half afraid they'd say more miniature golf, Ethan was ready to put up with it. If they wanted to go ice fishing in Alaska, then he'd play along and humor them. While everyone finished eating their lunch, and talked of how they wanted to spend the rest of the day, Ethan went to build some sandwiches of his own. He grabbed a paper plate from the tall stack on the counter, and headed for the food. "Man, am I starving," he said out loud, more to himself than to anyone else.

"You should be starving-- you slept through breakfast." Dylan shook his head. "We were supposed to be at the RC Flyers Field this morning, but someone who shall remain nameless decided to sleep in, and now it's too hot to leave."

"Sorry." Ethan looked up from his sandwich building in progress. "When you mean RC, you mean radio control, right?"

Matty nodded yes.

"I didn't know any of you were into that sort of thing." Ethan thought it over and shrugged. "I suppose I should have, though. Aiden's hobby does stand rather prominent in the family."

"My job is not a hobby, son," Aiden stated matter-of-factly. The old pilot sank onto the couch with a quiet sounding "umph," then gave Ethan a mildly annoyed look that had Ethan smiling. "Anyone who calls my chosen profession a hobby, needs to get his head examined."

"I hate to disappoint you," Ethan said with a laugh, "but I had a physical three months ago, and my head is perfectly fine."

"If I were you, I'd hold out for a second opinion." Cassie came into the kitchen area, pitched her plate and plastic fork into the trash, then looked over the kitchen island at Ethan as he bit into his veg-monster sandwich. "Buying a last-minute luxury car is hardly anything a sane person would do." She gave a nod to his food. "You do know the mayonnaise isn't vegan, right?"

"I only added mustard."

"So do you want to come to the field this evening?" Dylan asked Ethan, his voice sounding with a kind of renewed hope that had Ethan feeling guiltier than before. "It's going to be flat-out awesome, isn't it, Pete?" Dylan elbowed his nephew, and the boy nodded an enthusiastic yes. "Pete brought his F-16 Fighting Falcon, and I have my P-51D Mustang. Mom and Dad gave me the Mustang when I got a C on my math final." Dylan looked so pleased, Ethan smiled and made no comment about the grade.

"Where is this RC field you're talking about?" Ethan asked.

"RC Flyers Field-- it's a club here in Cielo Grande. You won't be able to fly, since you're not a member, but you can come and watch this evening."

"Then count me in."

"I think Tucker wants outside," Cassie called.

Looking tired and still busy, Beth came into the kitchen and started to put away the bread and vegetables. "Dylan, would you walk the dog?" Beth asked, when no one came running to the mutt's aid. "And make sure he stays off the sidewalks. It's a hot afternoon and he'll burn his paws."

"You can say that again." Ethan thought about it, and frowned. A hot afternoon. Something prodded at him. Didn't he have plans for Saturday morning? For some reason he felt late, but for what? He put down the sandwich, and pulled out his phone.

The date screamed Saturday and it all came back to him.

"Oh, man." Ethan left the uneaten sandwich on the counter and headed for his room. "No, no, no." He hurried to put on his shoes as Ryan came into the bedroom. "Tell Dylan I might have to take a rain check on the RC field."

"Sure, but--"

"I can't believe I forgot."

"Forgot what?"

"I have to run. I am late-- so late. With my luck, she'll never forgive me." Pocketing his car keys, Ethan jogged from the bedroom with Ryan in tow. "I've got plans for today, or at least, I had plans." He cut across the great room without saying a word to anyone. Ryan could do Ethan's explaining for him, for Ethan didn't want to be stopped.

"Do you actually have a date?" Ryan tagged behind Ethan as Ethan pushed out the front door. "We haven't been here a week, and you already have a date, don't you?" Ryan looked dumbfounded, or in awe-- Ethan wasn't sure which as Ethan unlocked his toy, and climbed inside.

"Who is she?" Ryan asked.

Starting the engine, Ethan gave it a good growling rev that caught the attention of a next-door neighbor. "Catch you later?" Ethan asked, and Ryan nodded.


"Yeah, Ry?"

"Don't do anything that I wouldn't do."

With a laugh, Ethan pulled away from the house. That kid. He'd certainly been raised by Matty, all right, for Ryan even thought like him. It was kind of scary, really. Ethan figured Cassie had better find and marry Mr. Right soon, and start popping out kids before they were outnumbered by churchgoers every time there was a family reunion, or vacation, or whatever they were calling this gathering of Taylors.

If Ethan hadn't been running late, he would've gone with his brothers to the RC field. Ethan told himself this was a special circumstance, that he wouldn't be doing this if it weren't important. Part of him felt like a jerk for running out on them, but they were family. They'd get over it, and probably already had. Jo, however, was a different story. She barely knew Ethan, so Ethan couldn't afford to whiff on a promise this soon after meeting. She wasn't a relative, she didn't have to put up with him the way the rest of his family did. Man. How could he have forgotten? He pictured Jo waiting by a window, pensive, and all breathless, and waiting for him to come for her.

He groaned. He had only just gotten things started with Jo, and already he was in the doghouse. It usually took longer for women to get angry with him. With Jo, Ethan figured he'd set a world record. But how likely was she to stay angry? While he wasn't exactly a Silicon Valley rock star, he figured guys like him didn't pop from the ground every day.

Parking in front of Jo's apartment, Ethan braced himself for some righteous indignation, something to show that she didn't want to be taken for granted, but not so much anger that she scared him away. Ethan knew the drill, if not with Jo, then with the women who had come before her. While his brain worked to find the right words, Ethan crossed the sidewalk, and stepped to her front door. He could go with, "I totally forgot, and slept in." While that came off as honest, it also sounded flippant and callous. He could try "a funny thing happened on the way to your place." He grimaced. A funny thing had happened, all right. He had forgotten.

Ethan rang the doorbell.

He wished he'd known Jo a little better, so he could ply her with whatever made her smile. What did A&P mechanics like, anyway? What was Jo's idea of a dream-come-true? Diamond encrusted power tools?

Ethan rang the bell to hurry her along. He'd figure it out as he went.

He checked his watch, saw it was almost one o'clock, and winced.

Where was she? He gave the doorbell button a slow push in the hopes the indoor chimes would finally sound. He assumed they weren't going off. He moved to the window, tried to peer inside, but couldn't see past the frilly curtains.

He guessed she was in the shower or something, and wasn't able to hear the door, so he rang again. If she was angry, he couldn't blame her. He had been late in the extreme, and he would admit it freely. Still, Jo should cut him at least a few inches of slack for showing up. It's not like he had completely forgotten.

He waited a few moments longer, but still no one came to the door.

Seriously? She wasn't home? He'd call her, but he hadn't gotten her number yet. Jo had to know he'd turn up eventually. Come on. Hot sports car-- remember?

Shaking his head, Ethan stepped back from the door.

Great, just great.

It looked as though he hadn't been the only one to mess up that day. She had blown it, big-time. She should have been home, and if his hunch was right, and she was in there somewhere, she should have opened the door. He wasn't going to wait forever.

The curtain moved ever so slightly, but still nothing. Right.

Ethan went back to his homage to self-sufficiency; being able to climb into that machine stroked his ego, for that ego felt bruised around the edges. It was her loss; he wasn't a nobody. He had more success than he knew what to do with right now, and in fact, he was just getting started. If people looked at him with wonder now, wait until his next startup. He'd show her. He'd make so much noise, Jo Mack wouldn't be able to ignore him, wherever she was.

Okay, so maybe that was going overboard, but that closed door smarted. He had wanted to have a good time with Jo that day, and now he was faced with watching others have fun.

Driving away from the street where Jo lived, Ethan headed north, away from Cielo Grande and its small-minded A&P mechanics. By all rights, Ethan knew he should go back and hang out with his family, and cheer on the boys as they displayed their RC skills. He owed it to his brothers and nephew to do at least that much.

And he would. At least, he would think about it.

The evening was hours away, and if Ethan couldn't be with Jo, then he wanted to spend his spare time doing something that wouldn't bore him out of his skull. He could still have fun. He could check his favorite dating apps, and see if there were any women in Phoenix who'd be willing to hookup with him. He'd been as monogamous as a monk for longer than he liked to think, but it wasn't for lack of interest, or lack of women. He just hadn't had the time. With a profile like his though, Ethan knew he could score two, maybe three women tonight-- one meet-up after another-- especially after he updated his profile to reflect his newfound status. He didn't know if the hookup scene was as active here as it was elsewhere, but human nature was human nature, no matter where you found it. People would always do as they wanted.

It got him to thinking, and the gears in Ethan's mind began to turn.

What if he could disrupt the market for casual sex? Ethan thought it over. What if he created a space for consenting adults to say upfront what they wanted, and what they were willing to do? Safety would be essential, and everyone would be screened for preexisting diseases and conditions. Instead of soliciting street whores with ugly STDs, (which Ethan had never tried), why not create a community where everyday people were able to find other everyday people, who shared the same needs? There would be no exchange of money, just two consenting adults meeting for mutual satisfaction, with no guilt or further expectation when it was over.

Maybe he was onto something.

Dating apps were hot right now. He couldn't walk into a bar and not see people working their smartphones for potential hookups. The apps had their problems though. They were inefficient at finding what the users really wanted. It was one thing to meet at a restaurant, then go to her place to see what might happen, but another thing entirely to meet and know beforehand what the other person was willing to do. How much time had he wasted trying to tactfully run from women who had been hoping that no-strings-attached sex would turn into something more meaningful and permanent? They would never say it upfront, but he had seen enough hurt looks to guess they had been hoping for a romance novel ending.

As Ethan drove toward Phoenix, an idea began to form in his mind. He considered the competition, what their apps did wrong, and what his would do differently.

He began to design and brainstorm, and wish for a desk and a quiet place where he could work. For the first time since he'd sold startup number nine, he was eager about an idea, a concept that held promise. It felt good to use those muscles again, to dream and build and feel that rush of adrenaline when he considered the possibilities. He had started to think that maybe the actual number nine was unlucky for him, that creativity and desire for risk had stopped at eight. Those creative juices were flowing again, and he was back in his element.

When Ethan arrived in Phoenix, he lost no time in getting the things he would need while he worked. He had no idea how long he would stay; his only focus was to zero in on the perfect business model for his startup. While Ethan mentally laughed at the idea of magic, he had always felt there was a zone, a mental creative zone, that when crossed, made awesome things to happen. Ideas came out of seemingly nowhere, insight and priceless wisdom served up to him on a golden platter. Okay, so he had experienced the golden platter only once before, when he'd had the genius to contact Intrepid, the software giant who had bought his startup. But he knew firsthand that the zone existed.

It had been like pulling money out of thin air.

First he needed to get a few things at the store, but then he could get down to work.

Never minding the heat, Ethan drove to the heart of downtown Phoenix in search of a supermarket. If he had passed any, he wasn't aware of it, for his mind was in that impatiently distracted space where even the smallest tasks were hard. He was in a hurry, why couldn't he find a stupid store? Out of the corner of his eye, a flashy sign caught his attention and he pulled into the parking lot. What luck-- a specialty liquor store, and from the looks of it, a decent one at that. He reasoned nothing through for there was nothing to reason about. He had seen, and so he had came, simple as that. Though he didn't need a buzz right now, it wouldn't hurt to at least look. His mind told him he had to get working, but hey! Look at this! A whole wall dedicated to single malt scotch.

Before Ethan was aware of it, he had burned a full thirty minutes just browsing the selection. Though he finally settled for his usual, it was nice to know that he could've tried something new, if he had been in the mood, or had the time.

After carrying his booze out to the car, Ethan looked up directions to the nearest grocery store, one of those super-sprawling marts that carried just about everything cheaply. He didn't have time to be picky, he was primed and ready, and needed to strike while he could.

At the grocery store, it took longer to stand in line at the checkout than it did to actually shop. As Ethan waited, he used his smartphone and searched for a place to crash and work. He gave no thought to how long he would stay in Phoenix, for he didn't care-- he only needed someplace he could work without interruption, and he needed it now. As the cashier ran Ethan's groceries over the bar scanner, Ethan made a quick study of the reviews of the hotels in the area. The best luxury hotel would do well for his needs, for he wasn't about to purposely find somewhere less convenient that was also less expensive. Plugging the address into his smartphone, he brought up the map as he headed out to his car.

The hotel Ethan had registered at wasn't exactly a hotel, so much as a resort and spa. It was sheer luxury, but he'd wanted someplace that didn't have a dog barking in the background, with people to look over his shoulder and poke their nose into his business. He needed to work, and it came as a relief to him that he actually wanted to, that his hunger for work energized every cell of his body. He lived for days like these. The possibilities of where his ideas might lead, and what they might do, excited him.

Forget those tired dating apps. Ethan had a fresh concept that had the potential of revolutionizing the hookup scene. It was an opportunity to put a great big mark on the world, a mark with his name on it.

Even as Ethan stepped into his suite, he started mentally laying out what he wanted to get done. He didn't have his laptop with him, but he could put down concepts on his iPad, research, and get a head start for when he got back to San Francisco. Kicking off his shoes, he settled onto the bed with his tablet. The creative juices were working, he could feel the magic at his fingertips as he began to pour his ideas into words and hastily sketched diagrams. He was on fire, ready to face down fear and the giant question mark that had become startup number nine.

* * * *

Some men were too much.

She supposed she should be grateful that Ethan Taylor had bothered to show up at all that day. If he wasn't going to try any harder than that though, it served him right that he'd left by himself. She had better, and far more important things to do.

Curled up on the comfy sofa that had come with her apartment, Jo sipped her third cup of herbal tea and tried to focus on the open textbook on her lap. She felt it important to go over old material from last semester to fill in any weak spots in her understanding. Study like crazy-- that was her plan, and it was a good one, if she could concentrate on the material in front of her. Ethan had made it hard to do when he'd decided to blow her off until hours later. What was she? Chopped liver, to be used as he saw fit?

Some men.

Jo took another sip from the glossy teacup she had found at the local thrift store. Fine bone china, even a single cup at a super-affordable price, had been a splurge. She didn't have money to burn like some obviously did. Ethan was back in her mind, and she groaned. She'd let that Italian sports car do all his talking for him. She'd been seduced by a machine, and not a man.

Certainly not Ethan Taylor.


Ethan didn't matter. Jo went back to her studies and sipped her tea. While yesterday had been fun, yesterday was over, and she settled down for a good long study. She pushed the cute guy with the messy brown hair out of her mind, once and for all.

* * * *

Ethan's stabbing moment of crystal clarity began to fade as he slowly thought things through. The more he studied his business model, the less shiny his Big Idea seemed to be. As an entrepreneur, he was facing possibilities that had never come up before now.

Among other things, there was the scary issue of liability and the safety of his users. If one of his app users got killed because the person they met through Ethan's app was deranged and homicidal, could Ethan be held responsible? Ethan would need top-drawer legal counsel, the kind whose names would be able to scare off all but the very determined. Even with Ethan's planned series of background checks, he could not guarantee the person they were meeting would not kill them. That should be a no-brainer to anyone. Even so, he supposed he could put some kind of liability disclaimer into the user agreement, bury it in screens of legal jargon, and then accept the losses as they came. It could all work, Ethan supposed, but things were fast getting complicated.

The very determined who would still go through with a lawsuit, would very likely include the families of the murdered victims. Ethan rolled his eyes. He couldn't believe he was having to think these thoughts. Even if those families were not successfully able to sue him because of his highly skilled, massively overpaid lawyers, would he still be good with that? If he wasn't legally liable, was he still morally responsible? The thought made him squirm. No one else had the same exact business model that Ethan was proposing, and everything within him screamed that the niche market for this app would be the size of the Grand Canyon.

And it could be all his.

It reminded him of an old fairytale he had once heard in church, one of those services Matty had dragged Ethan to when Ethan was young. Satan had supposedly told Christ that if he would only bow down, and worship him, then all the riches and power in the world would be Christ's, or something.

Stupid to think of that now.

Ethan studied his proposed plans on the tablet. He was no follower of a non-existent Christ, but he was no glorified pimp, either. He deleted the Big Idea. Just tossing the plan made him feel several degrees cleaner, though he told himself that it wouldn't have worked anyway.

Not wanting to stay defeated, Ethan pushed on, and brought up the list where he kept track of his light bulb moments for future startups. He was ready, he needed to work, he needed to get to the point where he was succeeding again. The longer he went without any real forward momentum, the more dangerous his situation became. At thirty-two, he considered himself too old to learn something new. This is what he did for a living, he had to keep going.

Taking the first concept on his light bulb list, Ethan began to flesh it out. He researched, saw it was a no-go, then went on to the next idea without pause or hesitation.

He wasn't a one-hit wonder. He was spending money like he had an actual future, so he couldn't afford to have one grand slam and then for the rest of his life, crickets. He felt a bubble of panic, and grabbed at idea number three. He could do this. He hadn't gotten to where he was by being a knucklehead. He had sold his startup for over seven hundred million dollars, so he had proof that he wasn't an idiot. He had worked for that money-- that money was the direct result of his genius.

Ethan pushed the pillows off his bed, sat cross-legged on the mattress and stared at the tablet.

He hadn't earned his money by dumb luck. Had he?

Sucking in a deep breath, Ethan ignored his ringing smartphone and latched on to the next light bulb on his list. He'd had the feeling before that these ideas weren't the best in the world, but surely, there was something here that had promise.

Concept number four stank to high heaven. He didn't need research or deep thought to recognize a stinker when he saw one. Then why had he placed it so high on the list? He rubbed his eyes. He needed a drink, but not now. He had to think. He dove after the next idea, then the next, only to slam his head against a ceiling of stupidity and hubris. Had he really thought those could work? What a moron. Ethan plunged ahead. What if his luck had run out, what if inspiration and ingenuity could be tapped out? Like a dry well that had been overused, what if he simply was unable to come up with something new, something promising? Maybe he should forget bold and brash. He needed to come up with anything even halfway promising, or else people really would say Midas had lost his touch. They could be saying it already. Ethan told himself that he couldn't care less, but he was coming up empty and the thought carried more weight than it usually did.

His thoughts flicked back to his original Big Idea, and he began to feel the sweat on his face. Maybe he could make it work, after all.

He had taken out time-- a few days to vacation with his family and relax-- and now that he was ready to work, he was as empty as he had been in San Francisco when he'd grasped for direction and meaning at the local bar. Not that he'd thought he could find meaning at the bottom of a glass, but it came as a shock to his courage that he hadn't gained any real ground at all. His ideas were thin, they lacked inspiration, and the ability to hold his head up in public. He wanted something huge, something that would make people look at him with true respect. Maybe his original big concept might work, but he'd never gain the respect he craved by pioneering new ground in the sex industry.

The idea of being called a pioneer was appealing though. Ethan shook his head. He had proven something to the world once before, and he needed to prove it again. If only to himself.

Time to dig deep, Taylor.

Ethan got off the bed, paced over the rich carpet in his bare feet and tried to free the tension from his body. He could do this. His inbox wasn't drowning for nothing. If he was a complete and total idiot, the world wouldn't be beating down his door.

His brain though-- it felt empty.

Of course it was. He was forcing it, and any moron knew you couldn't force genius.

There it was again... that word. He was no genius, or visionary. Well, maybe just a bit. Ethan stalked to his plastic bags and pulled out some liquid inspiration. Not the cheap stuff that could gag a wino, but the real thing, an eighteen-year-old Highland whisky that put all other malts to shame. Single-malt scotch at its best. If he could take all the worthy things in life, and cram them into one bottle, Ethan swore it would taste like that Highland whisky.

He poured the liquor into a tulip-shaped glass that stood in for his much-preferred Copita nosing glass, took a sip, and let the liquid move in his mouth.

Ah man. It didn't get any better than this.

Ever since Ethan had been able to afford the best, he had developed a taste for the eighteen-year-old scotch. Too bad he wouldn't be able to afford it in the future. Ethan swallowed hard. The mental glimpse of despair and destitution teased him to no end, and the thought came to him that he could always fall back to his Big Idea.

He took another drink, savored the taste, and stalked back to the bed to stare at his iPad. Inspiration would come. All he had to do was give it time.

As the hours passed without being noticed, the world began to blur in Ethan's mind. Somewhere between sunlight and nightfall, the painting on the wall began to stare at him. He was almost sure something in it was moving and alive, but he couldn't quite give it a name. He felt a menacing presence, and knew he was being watched. Then it came to him-- the hotel didn't trust their guests, so the room had been set up with entryways into hollow walls where lurkers hid behind paintings with peepholes. He had seen something about that on TV, hadn't he? It didn't matter, some things he just knew. The room was bugged, and there was someone watching him from inside the walls. Ethan could feel those eyes move as he got up to fill his glass.

He had gone through the eighteen-year-old scotch some time ago, and was now downing the cheap stuff. He had promised himself not to touch it, and yet here he was, guzzling trash as though it was all he had ever known.

He drained half the glass, dropped back onto the bed, and watched the painting on the wall of his spacious suite while the TV in the next room talked of chef's knives and limited time offers. Ethan frowned. He couldn't remember turning on the TV. Maybe the man in the wall had done it, and was now ordering his very own set of chef's knives.

"You know," Ethan's words slurred as he spoke, "if I was a good guy, I'd invite you in for a drink. But I'm not." Ethan shook his head. "I had to earn this booze the hard way, and slow should you. Earn money the hard way." He beat his chest like a territorial gorilla. "My money, my booze. Get your own."

He slowly reeled to the bottle, tossed more whisky into his glass, then sank onto the floor rather than negotiate his way back to the bed.

"What's this world coming to? Hiding in walls and peeping through keyholes." Ethan drank from his glass with a knowing laugh, and choked when the whisky went down the wrong way. He coughed, staggered to his feet, and headed for the bathroom. Cupping his hands, he drank from the faucet, then doused his face until his T-shirt could hold no more and water dripped onto his feet.

Oh, the trials of greatness.

Ethan laughed, finding it beyond funny that greatness should be watched by knife-loving cowards in the walls while nose-to-the-grind-stone people like him had to go out and actually earn their money. It had taken a lot to get where he was. This was what true genius looked like, this was the struggle that marked all great men. And women. He mustn't forget the ladies.

He swayed as he pulled himself up to look into the mirror above the sink.

He saw his face, and snickered. He might as well have been wearing a bright red clown nose, and a freaky large wig, for he'd look just as funny. See this fool, this moron in the mirror? Call this person smart? Ethan laughed. He laughed so hard his sides hurt, and when he couldn't stop, he dropped to the tile floor and gasped as laughter spilled from his mouth.

Down here on the floor, we've got greatness going on. Look out, here's a genius at work. If only the world could see him now, they would be laughing just as hard.

Ethan beat his fist against the cold tiles. He couldn't stop, the laughter kept coming until tears squeezed from his eyes and he couldn't see straight. Who was he kidding? He couldn't see straight anyway. Ethan coughed, and gasped, and rolled onto his side as the laughter kept coming. It came in waves and crushed his chest until the sound of it filled his ears and drowned out all thought.

Ethan stayed on that cold hard floor until he could at last get to his feet. His legs felt shaky, and his wet T-shirt was now dry. But no matter.

He fell into bed, shoved the iPad off the mattress, and passed out.

"The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly."
~ Proverbs 20:27 ~

end of chapter
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