Escondido, CA. -- In the yellow-brown dust alongside U.S. Highway 15, a major new freeway through the heart of San Diego County’s hilly desert region, the Big Numbers World Tour bus suffers a meltdown. Out of gas, two flat tires, and a broken, cranky heart. The Old Steel Warrior just couldn’t take the pounding schedule. Those endless miles in the dead of night. The refueling and maintenance nightmares in unknown territory. Those snubs from fancier buses. “No problem,” Desmond says. “We call a tow truck.” My new driver sports long hair, a beard, and, so far anyway, an unlikely wealth of common sense. “That’s one idea,” I say. “Another is to leave the bus here for the buzzards and fly home. I think I’ve had it with the Big Numbers World Tour.” Desmond’s eyebrows scrunch into a single dark patch. “You can’t give up.” “Why not?” I say. “It’s almost Halloween. Another month and it’s Thanksgiving. The publishing industry shuts down.” Desmond wags his head, no. “But not the book stores. December and January are the biggest months of the year for retail book sales. You’ve got to be out there, getting people to try your work.” Over my shoulder, construction equipment carves brown California desert into a shopping center. Men and their machines are moving mountains. Funny, but I’m not feeling that same level of ambition anymore. “We’re wasting our time, Desmond. Nobody wants to come to a signing for Jack Getze. They never heard of Jack Getze. They want to come to a signing for Robert Crais, or Lee Child, or Charlaine Harris.” “You have to start somewhere,” Desmond says. Maybe. But I think I should start with a strong, new book, a number three in the Austin Carr Mystery Series that kicks tail. I want to lock myself up in the fiction office for a while. “We have the Cavalcade of Authors next week in Buffalo,” Desmond says. “Remember? That Mystery Writers of America signing at Border’s?” “Vaguely.” “But after that, just telephone stuff. You can take another long break. Let me call the tow truck.” “Wait a minute. We have to get to Buffalo by next week?” “No sweat,” Desmond says. “We take U.S. 70, straight across the country.” I glance down at the spreading pool of engine oil. The flat tires. My own worn shoes. “It’s not the route I’m worried about, pal.”

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