A low hum of voices whispered through the press room—much to the satisfaction of its chief editor.
“Music to my ears, Apateonas.”
The modish fellow angled back in his chair, positioned his feet on the desk, and drew out a cigar. “Latest drafts?”
“Coming along splendidly, master.” Several crisp manuscripts THUNKed to the desk. “Miso in Research discovered more than a few tasty tidbits about that junkie on Fifth Avenue—wonderfully despicable stuff; you’ll love it—and Zeleuow down in Product Placement—splendid chap; really living up to his potential, sir—he convinced a Voodoo priest in SoHo to put a hex on his Christian neighbor.”
The chief editor scowled and reached for one of the drafts. “Junkies and Voodoo priests.”
“Yes, sir. Their books are just as predicted. We did have a scare with a Brendan Phelps—real talent for stealing anhydrous for methamphetamine. Some time ago, one of those vile Christian chaps—real do-gooder—approached Brendan with a Bible; the blockhead actually started reading it. However, Zeleuow convinced him to chuck the rubbish in a dumpster and continue his lucrative business. Money is often the key, you know.”
“I am aware of this fact.” The chief editor skimmed the pages, letting a few fall to the floor, before he shoved away from his desk and snatched the manuscripts, brandishing them like a rapier. “This is what you bring me? Dribble about battles we’re already winning? Joel Singery—two counts rape.” He threw the offending page behind him. “Marsha Wren—prostitute. Doris Marham—witch. Kazeem Hasad—Islamic militant.” He dropped the papers. “Trash! All of it! They’re already mine.”
Storming to the rear of the office, he jerked open a brimming filing cabinet, and then another, and another. Files slipped to the floor, scattering pages. “There’s no victory here! It was too easy!” He strode forward—“I want her—” and pointed at one of the fliers taped outside his office. “Bring me her manuscript.”
Apateonas scrambled, gathering scattered documents. “Yes, my liege. Whatever you say, my liege.”
The chief editor paced, glancing at his wall of defeat. Pictures of every battle he’d lost haunted him, reminding him of his future banishment and the billions he couldn’t wrench from the King’s hand. Sasha Tillion. He had one last chance with Sasha Tillion. The King called her number just yesterday, meaning her time on Earth was almost up. He had to edit hers just right, and maybe, just maybe, he’d win one.
“Here it is!” Apateonas clambered into the room, breathless and flourishing a thick stack of pages. “Here’s Sasha Tillion! Got her! Right here, sir!”
The chief editor snatched the manuscript. “Pulled hair. Chased neighbor’s cat. Ignored direct order of King—oh, that’s a good one; we might gain ground with that one. Pride, cowardice, anger—there’s some good stuff here, Apateonas. Has the Proof Department gone through it?
“Every ‘T’ crossed, every ‘I’ dotted, every period and colon smartly in place, master.”
“Leave me. I have work to do.” He sat down to the text. “ ‘Cowardice’ to ‘faithlessness.’ More poignant, to be sure. And ‘sexual divergence’? Hardly. We’ll call it what it was. ‘Fornication.’ ”
Within an hour he had it edited to his taste.
The chief editor’s skin sizzled in revulsion. He hated these proceedings, but it had to be. The more in hell, the merrier.
“One Sasha Tillion.” He tossed the leather-bound book to the table. “Read it and weep.”
The King nodded, and the gentleman to his right rose, took up the volume, and browsed.
The chief editor glowered, hating the fellow—his arch-nemesis—editor in chief of the Lifebook and all-around bleeding heart—the King’s precious Son.
“Well?” The King’s brows arched.
“Quite the surplus of sins, My LORD.”
The chief editor smirked, tasting a win.
The King’s Son dipped the volume in a large vat, shook it dry, and scrawled something across the final page before tossing it again to the table.
The chief editor grabbed it, flipping through empty page after empty page. “All my hard work!” He came to the last. “ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’!” He slammed it shut. “Of all the—! After everything I wrote? The lies? The deception? The greed and hypocrisy?”
“The love for Me,” the King simply said. “Now get out of My sight. And, Lucifer?”
The chief editor turned.
“Your time will soon be up.”
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