Friday Night Book Club: Read an exclusive excerpt from Under the Whispering Door, a charming queer love story from TJ Klune
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend.
Treat yourself to a glass of wine this evening and this exclusive excerpt from Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune.
Witty, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is a gift for troubled times. Klune brings us a warm hug of a story about a man who spent his life at the office – and his afterlife building a home.
About the book
Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh and the dead are just passing through.
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own sparsely-attended funeral, Wallace is outraged. But he begins to suspect she’s right, and he is in fact dead. Then when Hugo, owner of a most peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace reluctantly accepts the truth.
Yet even in death, he refuses to abandon his life – even though Wallace spent all of it working, correcting colleagues and hectoring employees. He’d had no time for frivolities like fun and friends. But as Wallace drinks tea with Hugo and talks to his customers, he wonders if he was missing something.
The feeling grows as he shares jokes with the resident ghost, manifests embarrassing footwear and notices the stars. So when he’s given one week to pass through the door to the other side, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in just seven days.
Read the excerpt:
Patricia was crying.
Wallace Price hated it when people cried.
Little tears, big tears, full-on body-wracking sobs, it didn’t matter. Tears were pointless, and she was only delaying the inevitable.
“How did you know?” she said, her cheeks wet as she reached for the Kleenex box on his desk. She didn’t see him grimacing. It was probably for the best.
“How could I not?” he said. He folded his hands on his oak desk, his Arper Aston chair squeaking as he settled in for what he was sure was going to be a case of unfortunate histrionics, all while trying to keep from grimacing at the stench of bleach and Windex. One of the night staff must have spilled something in his office, the scent thick and cloying. He made a mental note to send out a memo to remind everyone that he had a sensitive nose, and that he shouldn’t be expected to work in such conditions. It was positively barbaric.
The shades on the windows to his office were pulled shut against the afternoon sun, the air-conditioning blasting harshly, keeping him alert. Three years ago, someone had asked if they could move the dial up to seventy degrees. He’d laughed. Warmth led to laziness. When one was cold, one kept moving.
Outside his office, the firm moved like a well-oiled machine, busy and self-sufficient without the need for significant input, exactly as Wallace liked. He wouldn’t have made it as far as he had if he’d had to micromanage every employee. Of course, he still kept a watchful eye, those in his employ knowing they needed to be working as if their lives depended on it. Their clients were the most important people on earth. When he said jump, he expected those within earshot to do just that without asking inconsequential questions like how high?
Which brought him back to Patricia. The machine had broken down, and though no one was infallible, Wallace needed to switch out the part for a new one. He’d worked too hard to let it fail now. Last year had been the most profitable in the firm’s history. This year was shaping up to be even better. No matter what condition the world was in, someone always needed to be sued.
Patricia blew her nose. “I didn’t think you cared.”
He stared at her. “Why on earth would you think that?”
Patricia gave a watery smile. “You’re not exactly the type.”
He bristled. How dare she say such a thing, especially to her boss. He should’ve realized ten years ago when he’d interviewed her for the paralegal position that it’d come back to bite him in the ass. She’d been chipper, something Wallace had believed would lessen with time, seeing as how a law firm was no place for cheerfulness. How wrong he’d been. “Of course I—”
“It’s just that things have been so hard lately,” she said, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. “I’ve tried to keep it bottled in, but I should have known you’d see right through it.”
“Exactly,” he said, trying to steer the conversation back on course. The quicker he got through this, the better off they’d both be. Patricia would realize that, eventually. “I saw right through it. Now, if you could—”
“And you do care,” she said. “I know you do. I knew the moment you gave me a floral arrangement for my birthday last month. It was kind of you. Even though it didn’t have a card or anything, I knew what you were trying to say. You appreciate me. And I so appreciate you, Mr. Price.”
He didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. He hadn’t given her a single thing. It must have been his legal administrative assistant. He was going to have to have a word with her. There was no need for flowers. What was the point? They were pretty at first but then they died, leaves and petals curling and rotting, making a mess that could have been avoided had they not been sent in the first place. With this in mind, he picked up his ridiculously expensive Montblanc pen, jotting down a note (IDEA FOR MEMO: PLANTS ARE TERRIBLE AND NO ONE SHOULD HAVE THEM). Without looking up, he said, “I wasn’t trying to—”
“Kyle was laid off two months ago,” she said, and it took him longer than he cared to admit to place who she was talking about. Kyle was her husband. Wallace had met him at a firm function. Kyle had been intoxicated, obviously enjoying the champagne Moore, Price, Hernandez & Worthington had provided after yet another successful year. Face flushed, Kyle had regaled the party with a detailed story Wallace couldn’t bring himself to care about, especially since Kyle apparently believed volume and embellishment were a necessity in storytelling.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said stiffly, setting his phone on the desk. “But I think we should focus on the matter at—”
“He’s having trouble finding work,” Patricia said, crumpling up her tissue before reaching for another. She wiped her eyes, her makeup smearing. “And it couldn’t come at a worse time. Our son is getting married this summer, and we’re supposed to pay for half the wedding. I don’t know how we’ll manage, but we’ll find a way. We always do. It’s a bump in the road.”
“Mazel tov,” Wallace said. He didn’t even know she had children. He wasn’t one to delve into the personal lives of his employees. Children were a distraction, one he’d never warmed to. They caused their parents—his employees—to request time off for things like recitals and illness, leaving others to pick up the slack. And since Human Resources had advised him he couldn’t ask his employees to avoid starting families (“You can’t tell them to just get a dog, Mr. Price!”) he’d had to deal with mothers and fathers needing the afternoon off to listen to their children vomit or screech songs about shapes and clouds or other nonsense.
Patricia honked again into her tissue, a long and terribly wet noise that made his skin crawl. “And then there’s our daughter. I thought she was directionless and going to end up hoarding ferrets, but then the firm graciously provided her with a scholarship, and she finally found her way. Business school, of all things. Isn’t that wonderful?”
He squinted at her. He would have to speak to the partners. He wasn’t aware they offered scholarships. They donated to charities, yes, but the tax breaks more than made up for it. He didn’t know what sort of return they’d see on giving money away for something as ridiculous as business school, even if it too could be written off. The daughter would probably want to do something as asinine as open a restaurant or start a nonprofit. “I think you and I have a different definition of wonderful.”
She nodded, but he didn’t think she was hearing him. “This job is so important to me, now more than ever. The people here are like family. We all support one another, and I don’t know how I’d have made it this far without them. And to have you sense something was wrong and ask me to come in here so that I could vent means more to me than you will ever know. I don’t care what anyone else says, Mr. Price. You’re a good man.”
What was that supposed to mean? “What is everyone saying about me?”
She blanched. “Oh, nothing bad. You know how it is. You started this firm. Your name is on the letterhead. It’s … intimidating.”
Wallace relaxed. He felt better. “Yes, well, I suppose that’s—”
“I mean, yes, people talk about how you can be cold and calculating and if something doesn’t get done the moment you want it to, you raise your voice to frightening levels, but they don’t see you like I do. I know it’s a front for the caring man underneath the expensive suits.”
“A front,” he repeated, though he was pleased she admired his sense of style. His suits were luxurious. Only the best, after all. It was why part of the package welcoming those new to the firm listed in detailed bullet points what was acceptable attire. While he didn’t demand designer labels for all (especially since he could appreciate student debt), if anyone wore something obviously bought off a discount rack, they’d be given a stern talking to about having pride in their appearance.
“You’re hard on the outside, but inside you’re a marshmallow,” she said.
He’d never been more offended in his life. “Mrs. Ryan—”
“Patricia, please. I’ve told you that before many times.”
She had. “Mrs. Ryan,” he said firmly. “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, I believe we have other matters to discuss.”
“Right,” she said hastily. “Of course. I know you don’t like when people compliment you. I promise it won’t happen again. We’re not here to talk about you, after all.”
He was relieved. “Exactly.”
Her lip trembled. “We’re here to talk about me and how difficult things have become lately. That’s why you called me in after finding me crying in the supply closet.”
He thought she’d been taking inventory and the dust had affected her allergies. “I think we need to refocus—”
“Kyle won’t touch me,” she whispered. “It’s been years since I’ve felt his hands on me. I told myself that it’s what happens when a couple has been together for so long, but I can’t help but think there’s more to it.”
He flinched. “I don’t know if this is appropriate, especially when you—”
“I know!” she cried. “How inappropriate can he be? I know I’ve been working seventy hours a week, but is it too much to ask for my husband to perform his matrimonial duties? It was in our vows.”
What an awful wedding that must have been. They’d probably held the reception at a Holiday Inn. No. Worse. A Holiday Inn Express. He shuddered at the thought. He had no doubt karaoke had been involved. From what he remembered of Kyle (which was very little at all), he’d probably sung a medley of Journey and Whitesnake while chugging what he lovingly referred to as a brewski.
“But I don’t mind the long hours,” she continued. “It’s part of the job. I knew that when you hired me.”
Ah! An opening! “Speaking of hiring—”
“My daughter pierced her septum,” Patricia said forlornly. “She looks like a bull. My little girl, wanting a matador to chase her down and stick things in her.”
“Jesus Christ,” Wallace muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face. He didn’t have time for this. He had a meeting in half an hour that he needed to prepare for.
“I know!” Patricia exclaimed. “Kyle said it’s part of growing up. That we need to let her spread her wings and make her own mistakes. I didn’t know that meant having her put a gosh darn ring through her nose! And don’t even get me started on my son.”
“Okay,” Wallace said. “I won’t.”
“He wants Applebee’s to cater the wedding! Applebee’s.”
Wallace gaped in horror. He hadn’t known awful wedding planning was genetic.
Patricia nodded furiously. “Like we could afford that. Money doesn’t grow on trees! We’ve done our best to instill in our children a sense of financial understanding, but when you’re young, you don’t always have a firm grasp of it. And now that his bride-to-be is pregnant, he’s looking to us for help.” She sighed dramatically. “The only reason I can even get up in the morning is knowing I can come here and … escape from it all.”
He felt a strange twist in his chest. He rubbed at his sternum. Most likely heartburn. He should have skipped the chili. “I’m glad we can be a refuge from your existence, but that’s not why I asked you for this meeting.”
She sniffled. “Oh?” She smiled again. It was stronger this time. “Then what is it, Mr. Price?”
He said, “You’re fired.”
He waited. Surely now she’d understand, and he could get back to work.
She looked around, a confused smile on her face. “Is this one of those reality shows?” She laughed, a ghost of her former exuberance he’d thought had long since been banished. “Are you filming me? Is someone going to jump out and shout surprise? What’s that show called? You’re Fired, But Not Really?”
“I highly doubt it,” Wallace said. “I haven’t given authorization to be filmed.” He looked down at her purse in her lap. “Or recorded.”
Her smile faded slightly. “Then I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how to make it any clearer, Mrs. Ryan. As of today, you are no longer employed by Moore, Price, Hernandez & Worthington. When you leave here, security will allow you to gather up your belongings and then you’ll be escorted from the building. Human Resources will be in touch shortly regarding any final paperwork in case you need to sign up for … oh, what was it called?” He flipped through the papers on the desk. “Ah, yes. Unemployment benefits. Because apparently, even if you’re unemployed, you can still suckle from the teat of the government in the form of my tax dollars.” He shook his head. “So, in a way, it’s like I’m still paying you. Just not as much. Or while working here. Because you don’t.”
She wasn’t smiling any longer. “I … what?”