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Richard Glendower stopped at the top of the stairs, head spinning.
"Not again," he muttered as he kept a tight grip on the end of the railing. "Don't be falling down the stairs, man." He made another mental note to talk to his cardiologist about his medications.
After a few seconds, things stabilized, and Richard was able to walk down the hall to his apartment. He shifted the mail to his left hand so he could dig out his key ring from his jeans pocket with his right.
Once Richard was through the door and it was closed behind him, he walked into his little office. Like everything else about the apartment, "little" was the operative word. But he still felt fortunate two years later that he'd been able to find it. Apartments he could afford tended to not have even that kind of space for an office.
Richard sorted the mail, hoping to see envelopes from publishers, editors, or his new agent. No such luck. He threw a couple of bills into the desk inbox, and fed everything else into the large shredder that stood beside his desk. "Incinerator fuel." Richard made his usual comment. "Waste of paper, waste of time, waste of postage. Why do they bother?"
Richard hung his jacket from a peg by the front door, checked to make sure the front door deadbolt was set, then stepped into the one-person kitchen. Opening the refrigerator door didn't reveal much; some sliced bologna on the verge of going green, a bottle of Dijon mustard, half a bottle of old ranch dressing, what was left of what was now a very limp head of lettuce, four eggs, and two cans of Coors beer. He really wanted a beer, but there were only two, and it was still a week to payday. He looked down at the bulge of his belly, and sighed. "Probably just as well I don't have a lot of it. I'd weigh even more." Richard wasn't obese—not technically—but the extra weight he was carrying wasn't good for him. He knew it. But he was also very disinclined to exercise, other than the hike up the stairs every morning when he got home. He was a writer, not a jock, for God's sake.
A few minutes later, Richard filled his favorite cup—the big one that said "Don't Piss Off the Writer— You Could Be a Crime Stat in the Next Story"—almost to the brim with steaming oolong tea. Cup in hand, Richard wandered back to his desk. The tea felt good, warming his fingers as he held the cup and warming his insides as he slowly drank it.
He opened his laptop, and it woke up to display the work file for his current project: "The Pendragon of New York." Yeah, as a working title it sucked, but it kept the central idea in focus for him. He knew it would probably get changed, either by him or the new agent or the eventual editor/publisher. That was okay.
What wasn't okay was he was stuck. He was blocked. And if he didn't get this thing unstuck pretty soon, he was going to be in a world of hurt, because he had promised the new agent he'd send it to her at the end of next week, and he didn't want to start off their working relationship by looking like the ubiquitous "day late and a dollar short" writers that were the butts of so many jokes.
The story had been rolling around the back of Richard's mind all night while he worked at his wage-slave job on night shift at the local shipping center of one of the big parcel and shipping companies. The job was ideal for Richard: full-time—with benefits, which he definitely needed due to his heart—yet when he walked out the door of the center at shift's end he left the job there. Most of the shipments were gone when he got there of an evening, and it was just him and a couple of other guys making sure everything got posted in the systems and that late-drop-off packages were staged for the next round of pickups and deliveries. That left him plenty of time to think. He'd worked out a lot of plots or solutions to writing problems while at work and gone home to turn them into stories after his shift ended the next morning.
Unfortunately, tonight all that time to think hadn't produced any solutions. Richard was still stuck, and his frustration level was now eight hours deeper and that much more intense.
"Urrrr," he growled, drumming his fingers on the desk. "Okay, now what?"
After a minute, Richard scrolled back up the file a page or so, placed his fingers on the keys, and tried a trick that had helped him in the past. He retyped the last several paragraphs in the hopes that it would prime the pump, so to speak. The last few words flowed out on the monitor and . . . nothing.
"Arrgh!" the frustrated author screamed—almost. "What am I going to have to do to get this off high-center—sacrifice a goat to Belial?"
"I wouldn't recommend that," a refined baritone voice said from behind him. Richard spun in his office chair to see a distinguished-looking very well-dressed silver-haired gentleman standing in the doorway to his office. Oddly, there was no fear on Richard's part at the sight of a stranger standing unannounced in his apartment, but he was immediately aware that his oversized Jets jersey and faded blue jeans suffered in comparison to the three-piece suit that almost shrieked of a British tailor. Not to mention how the pointed-toe obviously handcrafted Italian shoes the stranger wore compared to the very scuffed sneakers Richard had on his size twelve feet.
"How did you get in here?" Richard demanded as he shot out of the chair. He certainly hadn't heard the locks on the front door clicking or heard it being opened. "What do you want? Who are you?"
"My card," the man said, producing it out of seemingly thin air and handing it to Richard. He turned it in his fingers. Very fine stock, very crisp printing; much better than the ones Richard had run off from his printer for himself.
Richard was jolted at seeing the name on the card. Ambrose was his own middle name, and there was nothing cordial about his loathing for it. It invariably had resulted in teasing and bullying at younger ages when his schoolmates found it out. He fingered the edges of the card and looked up at the intruder, trying hard not to resent the man because of that.
"Mr. Ambrose, is it?"
Ambrose's voice had an almost British intonation, but there was a timbre to it, a tone, that left the effect that he was from somewhere else.
"What do you want?"
"Believe it or not, I've been looking for you for some time, Mr. Glendower."
"You have?" Richard's eyes narrowed as a first chill of alarm ran up his spine. What kind of nutcase was he faced with here?
Ambrose gestured at the old battered chair beside the desk. "May I?"
Richard wanted to say no, but he couldn't bring himself to be that much of a jerk when so far Mr. Ambrose had been nothing but polite. His curiosity overbalanced his alarm. "Sure."
The chair creaked a bit under Ambrose as he settled into it.
"Sorry," Richard apologized. "I know I need to replace it, but I haven't been able to afford it yet." Yeah, and he wouldn't ever be able to afford it if his doctor didn't get him off of some of the expensive prescriptions he was taking to keep his aortic stenosis and cardiac arrhythmia under control.
"That's quite all right," Ambrose said with another wave of his hand. "Objects of a certain age are permitted to make the occasional noise. Particularly when they're made of a nice piece of oak." He leaned back into the chair and crossed his legs. "As is this." He ran his hand along the arm of the chair. "Very nice."
"My grandmother's," Richard said, then immediately wondered why he had volunteered that.
"Ah, yes, Cassandra," Ambrose said with a small smile. "Such a lovely woman. So strong-willed."
The chill ran up Richard's spine again. "How did you . . . who are you, and what do you want?"
Ambrose sobered, and seemed to straighten a bit. "Mr. Glendower, are you aware of the origin of your surname?"
"Welsh," Richard replied shortly. "Surname of Owen Glendower, the last native Welshman with a credible claim to being the ruling Prince of Wales. Grandma always said we were descended from him." He'd almost forgotten about that until his recent researches for the story he was writing had brought it back to mind. He shook his head. "I never bought it."
"And why not?"
Richard shook his head again. "How many Welshmen had that name? What are the odds that we would be descended from a prince? Not so good. It's about like all the Americans that claim to be descended from Cherokee princesses. If those claims were all true, either the continent was overrun with Cherokee princesses when the English settlers arrived, or there were a few princesses having litters like sows. Either way, it's not likely. Same with the Glendower thing."
"Ah. Well, as it chances, you should have believed your grandmother, for you are indeed descended from Owen Glendower, or Owain Glendŵr, to put it correctly."