Peet’s was packed, the humid air spiced with coffee. It was a gray, cold, rainy day, the week after Christmas, but many shops had sales that had drawn people out in spite of the weather. I got in line for my drink. They had a sign on the counter saying that they had raised $1,547 dollars for the local charity on Christmas Eve. I thought that was an impressive figure.
I ordered my drink and looked around. A spot had opened up at the counter by the window. This was a bad news-good news scenario. The stools have no back support, but the view from the downtown shop is perfect; Fourth and D Streets, with Barnes and Noble right across the street, Arigoni’s Italian Deli kitty-corner with the salon upstairs, several other shops and eateries within a block. Sitting there is like having a front row center seat on live theater. You can see anything there. I grabbed the seat.
Sitting to my right was a man, maybe thirty. He had thin, light brown hair and blue eyes, and was engaged in conversation with the man on his right. That man looked like he had retired from hard physical work; he had a hunched, stocky build and scars, like cuts, on his hands. Old scars—scars from working with wood or metal. He was reading a magazine ((I think it was Fortune) and saying “Un-huh,” and “Mmm,” and “That’s interesting,” to the younger guy. I sat down and got up again when they called my name because my latte was ready.
“It’s a matriarchy,” the younger man said.
“That’s interesting,” the older man said.
I came back, set my wide white ceramic cup on the counter and opened The Reapers to where I had left off. A word percolated through now and then from the exchange next to me, but nothing more. Then the older man left.
“John Connolly,” the young guy said. The words weren’t bouncing off the glass. He was talking to me. “Is that the guy from LA who writes the crime novels?”
“No. It’s the guy from Ireland who writes the thrillers.”
“Oh. That’s cool. There’s a guy named Connolly who writes crime novels.”
“Michael,” I said. “Michael Connelly. I think it’s spelled differently.”
He nodded. His blue eyes were very clear. He had put a dark blue billed cap on; he didn’t have it on before. He also had a newspaper in front of him and a pen in his hand. I didn’t look at the newspaper but I thought he might be doing the crossword puzzle or the Sudoku or reading the ads.
“He came and talked to a class I was in,” he said. “The crime writer. He was boring.”
“ Mmm,” I said.
Michael Connelly started his fiction writing career with the Harry Bosch series; The Concrete Blonde, Black Ice, The Last Coyote. Harry Bosch, at the time, was a unique take on an LA cop. Harry had been a tunnel rat during the Viet Nam conflict; that alone made him interesting. Connelly started the world-weary disillusioned-cop-novels of the 1980s and went on to write The Poet, Bloodwork, The Lincoln Lawyer and I don’t remember how many others. I don’t know how many awards he has won. It was sad to hear that in person he might be boring, because his books, generally, were not.
I went back to my book.
“Yeah,” the chatty guy said. “We had another guy come talk to us, he was interesting. He was cool. He was some kind of a screenwriter. I don’t remember his name. Connelly was grim. Did you know he used to be the crime beat reporter?”
“That’s interesting,” I said.
“So I guess it’s appropriate that’s he’s grim.”
“What class was this?” I said. Damn! Now he’d sucked me in.
“Crime fiction,” he said.
I nodded and went back to my book.
“I should let you read your Irish thriller,” he said.
“No, it’s—“ Damn! Again! I said, “It’s set in the US. Most of his books are. Some in Maine.”
“Maine? Like Stephen King.”
“No, not much at all like Stephen King, except there are ghosts.”
He nodded. “Well, I should let you read,” he said.
I looked down at his newspaper. He wasn’t marking ads and he wasn’t filling in a puzzle. He was in the local section and he was writing what looked like random letters in the blank space above a headline. If I wrote thrillers or spy novels, I might have guessed he was decoding something; but I had no idea what and I decided not to ask.
“You have a nice day now. Stay dry,” I said. I went back to my book, and stayed there, until it was time to leave.