“Our final item today,” the auctioneer called in a booming voice, “is a book that was written and distributed secretly amongst the inmates in our women’s facility.”
Hessman looked with awe at the book the auctioneer was holding. It looked as if it were five different notebooks held together with duct tape and thread.
“The title is: WOMANHUNTERS: The Sequel to WOMANHUNT,” the auctioneer said. “The author is unknown.”
Hessman knew who the unknown author was. It was the adoptive mother of his favorite sixth grade student, Da’Quarius Masters: Helen. Da’Quarius had come to him for self-publishing advice on the first WOMANHUNT book, and Hessman loved it. It got pulled from publication due to its content before it had the chance to go viral. The book ended on a cliffhanger, but he had no idea it actually had a written sequel.
He had to have that book, no matter what the cost. Hessman resolved to leave the auction with that book in his hands, even if he had to clean out his life savings to buy it.
“Let’s start the bidding at two dollars,” the auctioneer called.
“Two dollars!” Hessman shouted, raising his hand.
“Five!” an old, bald man shouted in a nasally voice.
“Ten!” Hessman retorted.
“Twenty!” the old man shouted.
“Fifty!” Hessman called. He looked over at the old man, who was animatedly arguing with another old man.
“SOLD!” the auctioneer called.
Hessman walked to the podium and collected his prize. He held the collection of taped-together notebooks that made up WOMANHUNTERS. He ran his hand over the front, confirming its existence.
“I got it,” Hessman said, staring at the book in his hands, unbelieving. “I got the sequel to WOMANHUNT.”
He wrote the check for his item and walked to his car, uncaring of the glares he was getting from the old man.
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Season 8, Episode 4: WOMANHUNTERS: The Sequel to WOMANHUNT
“Why’s that damn teacher of yours want to come over anyway?” Helen asked.
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “He just told me to tell you he’d be stoppin’ by dis afternoon.”
“I hope you’re not in trouble,” Rose said with a worried tone.
“He probably is in trouble,” Helen said, glaring at Da’Quarius. “What did you do this time?”
“I ain’t in trouble,” Da’Quarius said. “He said he just wanted to talk.”
“Sure,” Helen said. “The prison guards used to pull that shit too. They always wanted to ‘just talk’. Before you know it, you’re spread eagle and they’re searching you’re cavities for contraband. Every. Fucking. Time.”
The doorbell rang, and Da’Quarius ran to open it. “Hess,” Da’Quarius said with a nod.
“Da’Quarius,” Mr. Hessman said, coming inside. “You have a lovely home.”
“Thank you,” Rose said, smiling and shaking Hessman’s hand.
“So what did the kid do?” Helen asked, not getting up from her chair.
“Nuttin’!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Tell ’em, Hess.”
“He’s not in any kind of trouble,” Hessman said. He held a large notebook in his hand. “I bought this at a prison auction, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
“What’s that,” Helen said, putting on her glasses and taking the book from Hessman. “Looks like one of mine. ‘WOMANHUNTERS’? Oh yeah. I thought this one was long gone.”
“You wrote a sequel?!” Da’Quarius said, taking the book from Helen. “Dis is awesome! Thanks for bringing it back to us, Hess.”
“I didn’t exactly bring it back,” Hessman said, taking the book back from Da’Quarius. “I own this now. I bought it from the auction.”
“You can’t do dat!” Da’Quarius said. “Helen wrote dat!”
“Prison rules, kid,” Helen said, shrugging. “He bought it: he owns it. It’s his unless you want to shiv him in the stomach for it.”
“I want to publish it,” Hessman said, “along with a reprinting WOMANHUNT. Not just the ebook either. I’ll put up my own money for paper copies.”
“Don’t you remember what happened?” Da’Quarius asked. “Da feminists went so crazy dat it got pulled.”
“I still think it should never have been taken down permanently ,” Mr. Hessman said. “Do you think you’d be able to part with the publishing rights, Helen.”
“That’s not my decision,” Helen said. “I don’t own the publishing rights.”
“Who does?” Hessman asked.
“Da’Quarius,” Helen said. “I turned them over to him when he published the original.”
Harold watched the house of Freedom Lane from the passenger seat of his husband Lee’s car. “He’s in there right now,” he said. “He’s in there with that damn book.”
“I don’t understand your obsession,” Lee said.
“She told me about the sequel,” Harold said, “but she didn’t get it out of prison when she left. It was lost, but now it’s found. This Hessman character is probably trying to talk her into publishing again.”
“Let it go,” Lee said. “It was so long ago.”
“I’ll never let this go,” Harold said, glaring as if it would help him see through the walls. “Never.”
“We cain’t publish,” Da’Quarius said. “We’d drown in protestors.”
“I have a work-around for that,” Hessman said. “We can change the ending and edit out any hardcore anti-feminist stuff. You did an expert job editing and getting the original WOMANHUNT ready to be published. you can do it again, taking one extra step to ensure the protesters are kept at bay. You’ll probably have to lose all of chapter eleven though.”
“Den no,” Da’Quarius said.
“What?” Hessman asked. “Why?”
“I refuse to publish Helen’s work unless it’s in its original state,” Da’Quarius said. “I will not remove da’ endin’. Dat’s like rapin’ da Mona Lisa in her mouth.”
“Oh, Da’Quarius,” Rose groaned.
“OK,” Hessman said, putting the taped-together book back in the bag. “I see there’s no changing your mind.”
“Nope,” Da’Quarius said. “Call me if you wanna try an’ do dis da’ right way.”
Defeated, Hessman turned to leave.
“Wait,” Helen said. “An old homo may ask you about the book. Be weary of him. He thinks he’s owed something from any kind of publication. His words are poison, and his breath smells like dick.”
“Oh, Helen,” Rose groaned.
Hessman walked toward his car. He admired Da’Quarius’s want to not publish unless it was done uncensored, but he wished he had agreed to edits. There was a deep message in the WOMANHUNT books, and he wanted the world to see. Helen may have come off crass, but there was a beauty to her writing despite the hardcore lesbian sex, violence, and anti-feminist ideals.
“No luck with the Masters family?” someone asked from the sidewalk.
“I know you,” Hessman said, turning. “You’re the guy from the auction. You and I were both bidding on the book. Have you been following me?”
“My name is Harold Fuchs,” Harold said, “and I have an investment in Helen’s writing career. I’d like to sit and talk with you about that book if you have time for coffee.”
Hessman measured Harold and the man standing behind him. He couldn’t possibly have an investment in a book that spent decades hidden away in a women’s prison. Still, Hessman was curious as to why they would follow him around just because of Helen’s book.
“Fine,” Hessman said.
“Follow me then,” Harold said, walking to his car.
Hessman turned to see Helen watching from the window. She gave him a look of warning before she turned away.
Harold and Lee took Hessman to the State Street Diner, and asked for the booth in the corner. They sat down and ordered three decaf coffees. This had to be the old man Helen had warned him about, but Hessman was eager to hear what they had to say anyway.
“I was instrumental in getting WOMANHUNT taken off the internet,” Harold said, pouring a bag of equal into his coffee.
“No you weren’t,” Lee sad. “You had me send two emails, and you barged into Helen’s house while she was being interviewed. The feminists were already trying to ban it.”
“Shut your damn mouth,” Harold muttered. “Anyway, publishing rights to WOMANHUNT or any sequels are mine. That’s why I tried to shut Helen down when she had her son self-publish that abomination.”
“But why?” Hessman asked. “You seem not to like the book, and you really don’t like Helen. I can’t see why you’d want to be involved in publishing something they don’t even want to publish.”
“It’s the principle of the whole thing!” Harold snapped. “Helen screwed me over on this book. She nearly ruined one of my businesses, and she ruined our friendship!”
“You and Helen were friends?” Lee asked.
Harold sighed. “I hoped never to relive these memories,” he said. “Even the slow decay of my brain won’t erase what happened between the two of us. It sparked a bitter feud that has lasted decades, and I’m reminded of it every time this damn book is brought up.”
“Tell me,” Hessman said. “Maybe if I knew the truth, the two of us can talk Helen into letting us publish.”
“She won’t budge if she knows I’m involved,” Harold said, “but maybe I should talk about it. I’ve let it fester in me for years. I even attacked her with a nunchuck last week.”
“You did what?!” Lee exclaimed.
“Oh stop it, you drama queen,” Harold said. “Here’s what happened, nearly fifty years ago…”
Harold Fistberg sat in his office on Anderson Street, letting the sun come in his window. He had a number of businesses he ran or oversaw since he had no real job. He was in his thirties, and he was living off his recently-deceased father’s investments. The businesses were just a supplement so he could leave his father’s money alone, allowing it to incur as much interest as possible.
Harold was getting ready for lunch when someone came into his office. “Hello?” the woman called, walking around and looking at things. She was a butch woman, keeping her hair short. She wore tight tee shirt, showing off her muscles. She was bull dyke if Harold ever saw one.
“Can I help you?” Harold said, walking from his office into his lobby. He didn’t have many visitors, so he didn’t keep a secretary on staff.
“My name is Helen Ventriglio,” the woman said, “and I hear you have some connections to get a book published.”
Harold looked over the woman again. She carried a pile of notebooks with her. “Is that your book?” Harold asked, pointing a finger. The pages looked yellowed and may have been wet at some point.
“Look,” Helen said, sitting down and letting the tome of notebooks rest on her lap. “I’ll level with you. I just got out of prison not too long ago, and I’m hard up for some cash. My parents are putting me up, but I don’t want to mooch off of them forever. All I got is this book I wrote in prison. It doesn’t look like much, but that’s because it got passed around quite a bit. All of them did.”
“There’s more?” Harold asked.
“Yes and no,” Helen said. “This is the only one I could get on short notice. Ownership is harder to disprove on the inside. I would’ve had to buy back the others or shiv those who had them.”
“Of course,” Harold said, visibly chilled.
“I like you,” Helen said. “I think we can do this.”
“Slow down a step,” Harold said. “These things take time. We’ll have to get that edited, typed up, and printed. Them we’ll have to find a distributor. It won’t be an overnight thing.”
“Do what you gotta do,” Helen said, handing Harold the pike if notebooks. “Let’s publish this fat bitch.”
The weeks that followed were a whirlwind of action. The two went over their plans for publishing Helen’s work three to four times a week. The two became fast friends, laughing and joking over dinner or drinks as the book went through the process. Harold had even come out to Helen, something he had not even done with this family yet. She had made some rude comments about him gobbling pickles, but he had laughed it off.
Two editors quit after reading only part of WOMANHUNT, but a third stuck with it, getting a finished product ready to be printed. Harold had connections with some Chinese printers, and he paid an advance to have them start. He even knew some managers of book stores around New Haven to get the book a decent start in the market.
But everything went down the tubes when Helen came into Harold’s office one warm spring morning.
“I’m pulling the plug,” Helen said.
“What?” Harold asked. “You can’t do that.”
“I just did,” Helen said. “We’re not publishing the book.”
“We’re too far in,” Harold said. “If we stop now…”
“Well, we’re going to have to,” Helen said. “End of story.”
“No!” Harold said, getting up and walking to Helen. “I’ve invested too much time and money in this book. I’ve paid three editors! I’ve paid the printers in advance! I’ve pulled every favor I can to get your book into stores!”
“So you’re going to be pissed at me over the money?” Helen asked. “Is that why you were doing this?”
“Yes!” Harold exclaimed, throwing his arms about. “This has always been about the money! What else could it have been?!”
“Nothing,” Helen said, looking surlier than ever. “Give me my book, and I’ll go.”
Harold handed Helen her original book and the freshly printed manuscript. “Go,” Harold said. “I don’t care if the door hits you in your fat ass either.”
“I’ve smashed bitch’s heads for less than what you’ve said,” Helen said. “You’re lucky you’re a friend.”
“Were a friend,” Helen said, leaving.
“We never made up after that fight,” Harold said, sitting across from Hessman. “We lived close to each other, so it made sense that we crossed paths often. We always tried to one-up or hurt one another. It’s been so long, I forget most times that we were friends. That’s why her publishing this is such a big deal to me. We were supposed to do it together, but I screwed it all up. Maybe I should’ve listened to her instead of screaming about money. I had no real friends other than her, and I had no idea how to talk to one. I should’ve seen something was wrong. Maybe I would’ve known why she chose not to publish it if I had only asked. Maybe, to this day, we’d still be…”
Harold looked up, realizing he was still talking. “Sorry,” he said. “I guess I’ve held that in for a long time.”
“Look,” Hessman said, choosing his words carefully. “About getting this book published…”
“I know,” Harold said. “I have no legal recourse to stop you from publishing with Helen. I just felt her and I would do it together, as friends.”
“We should get home,” Lee said, getting up and helping a sullen Harold to his feet.
“Yes,” Hessman said, standing up as well. “Thank you for your time.”
“You wanted to see me?” Da’Quarius asked, approaching Mr. Hessman’s desk after his social studies class.
“Yeah,” Hessman said. He reached into his drawer and pulled out the copy of WOMANHUNTERS. “I want you to have this.”
“You sure?” Da’Quarius asked. “You nearly creamed fo’ dis to be published.”
“I read it,” Hessman said. “It’s glorious. It answered all of the questions WOMANHUNT left unanswered, even the ones I hadn’t thought to ask. It’s a perfect sequel in every way.”
“Den why give it up?” Da’Quarius asked.
Hessman sighed. “The world can’t handle any more WOMANHUNT,” he said. “I was wrong to try and make you change it just to publish it.”
“Fuck da’ world if dey don’t want it,” Da’Quarius said.
“Indeed,” Hessman said, his thoughts far away from the conversation. “Fuck the world.”
“So that hippy teacher of yours gave it up?” Helen asked later that night.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, holding the ancient tome of notebooks. “Guess he couldn’t bring himself to come back an’ talk us into changin’ it. It’s weird, doe. Hessman ain’t usually one go’ backin’ off so easily.”
“What do you mean?” Rose asked.
“He really wanted dis published,” Da’Quarius said. “You saw him when he was here. He wanted it bad. I wonder what happened to make him change his mind.”
“We’ll probably never know,” Helen said, staring off. “Run off to bed now.”
“Aight,” Da’Quarius said. “Goodnight Helen. Goodnight Rose.”
Helen had waited until she heard the unmistakable sound of Rose’s breathing change, signaling that she had fallen asleep. She got up silently and went downstairs. She then crept through the kitchen and into the basement.
The were piles of boxes on the floor and on tables throughout the entire basement. Helen knew where everything was with an almost photogenic map in her mind. She had to know. There were more secrets buried in boxes of baubles or Christmas decorations than even Rose knew about.
Helen found the box she was looking for. She opened it up and moved the old newspaper-wrapped figurines out, placing them carefully to the side. She pulled out two items from the box. One was a framed four-by-six photo of her and Harold from when they were in their thirties, sitting at a bar with a beer stein each. The other item was the original, edited manuscript of WOMANHUNT Harold had adapted from her notebooks.
“You should’ve asked why I told you not to publish it,” Helen told the young face of Harold in the photo. “I would’ve told you everything. My father was being blackmailed by the feds, and they had leaked. Big time. I couldn’t get into a publishing venture when we all knew they would cap him at any time. You’d know that if you didn’t scream at me about the dirty, fucking money, you greedy little worm.”
Helen kept her head down for a while, not having anything else to say to the inanimate photograph. She didn’t even notice Da’Quarius sneak back upstairs.
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