Here is 18th Contest entry #9:
Beth dropped into a seat on the commuter train and looked at the man in the chair facing hers. His thick mane of white hair, merry blue eyes, and pudgy cherub's cheeks reminded her of a clean-shaven Santa.
"I'm Mack," he said, leaning forward to shake her hand.
"Beth," she replied, then settled in her seat and pulled a novel from her purse. She hoped he understood the subtle hint. After her long, grueling day, Beth was in no mood for a chat.
"Don't worry, Beth. I won't talk your ear off." Mack's dimples deepened with his grin.
Beth smiled at him, then opened her book and began reading. A whistle blew and the train lurched forward. Beth smelled the strong odor of alcohol a moment before she heard someone lumber onto the seat next to Mack. Two feet settled on the empty chair beside her. She glanced up from her book and looked into a pair of bloodshot eyes. The stranger's soiled tie hung loose, dangling from the collar of his wrinkled shirt. Stains decorated his jacket.
The man squinted at the book in Beth's hands. "How anyone can read that drivel eludes me," he slurred in a gravely voice. "Drek doesn't begin to describe McBride's books. They're abominations. You like reading trash, honey?"
Mack shifted in his seat and a faint pink flush colored his face.
"Name's Peter," gravel voice said. "What's yours?"
Beth turned her attention to her novel.
"I'm not good enough for you? Don't even want to tell me your name?"
"Leave the lady alone," Mack said to Peter.
"Is that what you are, honey? A lady?"
Peter belched and Beth waved a hand in front of her face, trying to clear the air.
"I've been writing for thirty years," Peter said. "Good books, important novels, tomes that could change lives. But what sells? Crap like that. A turd on the bookshelf."
He launched into a stream of vitriol the likes of which Beth had never heard. She wanted to reach into her purse for her notepad and jot some of the words down so she could look them up later, but resisted the urge. It might further incite him.
Mack's mouth hung open and his face reddened. He cleared his throat. "Please lower your voice and watch your language."
"Watch my language? Tell me, how does one watch one's language?" Peter lifted an arm and fluttered his fingers. "Do you see it floating around somewhere? Perfect example of the dumbing down of America. It's imbeciles like McBride who hurry the process along. Him and sheep like this stuck-up broad, who read what the bestseller lists tell her she should. Lemmings."
Peter snorted, then took off on another tirade against the author.
A vein on Mack's forehead bulged. "Have you even read any of his books?"
"Every one of the idiotic things. Dross."
"If they're so terrible, why did you read them?"
"I like keeping up with what the great unwashed considers entertainment. Like cattle to a trough, they walk single file to the bookstore every time that hack comes up with some new offal to clutter their minds. Morons made the cretin rich."
Mack winced. "I like his books," he said in a strained voice.
"Good for you, old man." Peter clapped his hands. "Stand up to me. Tell me to go to hell."
"Go to hell."
"I'm already there." Peter tilted his head back and laughed.
Beth smelled his breath and crossed her eyes. Her head pounded.
Peter's laughter died. He muttered several profanities, then grew silent.
"How can you speak like that in front of a lady?" Mack pulled an immaculate white handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow. "How can you say such things about someone you've never met? Is it jealousy?"
Beth wondered why Mack seemed so distraught. Was it because his generation didn't use words like Peter's in mixed company? Then she had a horrible thought. Was Mack a nickname for McBride?
Peter's expression softened. He patted Mack on the arm and aimed a tortured gaze at Beth. "I apologize for my uncivilized behavior. You see, my real work, and my dreams, lie in a drawer, gathering dust." He reached for the book and showed Beth his photograph above the name 'Pete McBride' on the dust jacket's back flap. "I spend my time writing this shameful refuse. I have become that which I despise. I have become a hypocrite."