The Webcomic Thief
The waitress took away the remains of Adam's cheese Danish. "Need anything else?" He was dumping cream in his coffee and ignored her.
"We're all set," I said.
She smiled. She had a cute face, like a cherub with glasses. "I'll be right back with the check." As she walked away I tried to remember her name - Ashley or Angela - and realized I was staring at her. I turned back to Adam, who resumed his pitch.
"So they're all fantasy characters, like orcs and wizards. And they hang out in this coffee shop talking about RPGs. I call it 7th Heaven, after that bar in Final Fantasy 7." He added another cream. "So what do you think?"
I sipped my coffee, which was too hot. The shop was getting ready to close. A girl in a black shirt was flipping chairs onto tables. Adam stirred his cup casually, like his question had been to no one in particular.
"It's pretty weak," I yawned. "People hanging out in a coffee shop is such a cliché."
He kept stirring. "That just means it works. Can you pass the sugar?"
I passed the dispenser, which he took without looking up. His nonchalance irked me, just like his face, which was pale and elfish with eyes I didn't trust.
"Okay, but the premise is too meta. RPG characters talking about RPGs, that's some Charlie Kaufman shit. It'll fly over people's heads."
"Penny Arcade does it." He unscrewed the lid and dumped half the sugar in his cup. "Look, if you don't like the idea, just tell me."
"I thought I did." I smiled limply. "I mean it's not terrible." I sipped again and looked at my watch and saw my hand was shaking slightly. A guy behind the counter was cleaning trays with a white cloth. "It's - okay, do you want to know? It's the setting. It's too bourgeois. A bunch of people in a coffee shop - with class tension at an all-time high people won't like it."
"Class tension?" He almost spit out his coffee. "You're kidding, right? Most RPG fans are objectivists."
I leaned forward, putting my elbows on the flimsy wood table; it almost tipped over, sloshing coffee from our cups, although neither of us noticed. "Exactly. Objectivists hate the bourgeois for whoring themselves to the lower class. And by playing games instead of using their natural fighting skills, these characters aren't seeking their rational self-interest."
He grimaced, like he'd drunk a mouthful of dirt. "I think you're analyzing this too deeply."
"If you say so." I shrugged and sipped my coffee, still too hot, although I didn't care.
He looked at the table and stroked his goatee. "I guess I could change it to robots."
"Look," I made my hand stop shaking and put it on his shoulder. "Keep the fantasy characters. But use a spaceship instead of a coffee shop. And instead of talking about games make them detectives solving space crimes."
"Yeah ...." Something behind his eyes flicked on. "Like T.J. Hooker meets Spaceballs!" His face beamed like a sunburst gradient.
"There you go." I leaned back in my chair, grinning. I had the urge to kick my feet on the table like a cowboy.
Ashley-Angela reappeared with the check, which I reached for, but Adam's hand was there first. "Thanks," he said.
"Thanks." I repeated, smiling, inventorying all the cute things on her face - dimples, freckles, rosy cheeks, plump lips. I wanted to ask what she was doing after work, but I knew I'd be busy. It would take a few days to retool my comic, change the characters to fantasy designs, draw some coffee-shop backgrounds - everything else from Adam's brilliant pitch - but well worth it. Maybe I could even use "7th Heaven."
As Ashley-Angela walked away, Adam took out his wallet. "I've got this." He unfolded a ten and two ones and placed them on the table. He got up and put on his coat. "I really appreciate your advice. When my comic makes it big, I'll give you mad props." His hand patted my back. "Well, you coming?"
I didn't say anything. Ashley-Angela was across the room waiting on two guys. One of them - a balding 30something in a tank top - looked at us and said something that made them all laugh. He laid a twenty on the table and him and his friend left.
"Yeah." I grabbed my coat. "Sorry."