Hire Me?

To Whom it May Concern:

Let’s be honest. You’ve got all those lovely books on your shelves above that big, fat, oak desk of yours – but you’ve only read three of them. The rest you got as gifts over the years, liked the look of, and put them up there. This way, when big, important, pretentious clients come to talk to you, they can throw out a remark about whatever book they’ve happened to have read that they spot on your shelf. Sometimes, they hit on one of those books you’ve read, and the two of you can prove to each other how intelligent you are. But more often than not, you need to glance at the shelf to remember what book they’re referring to, take it down, and look sneakily at the back while pretending to show them the lovely edition you have, just so that you can remember what on earth the volume is about.

This is where I come in. I am offering, for a small fee, to spend my days reading all your books, and dedicated a half-hour a day to telling you what each book is about. Trust me, it’s much nicer to hear someone tell you about a book than to read the back or the inside flap. I’ll be able to convey the main themes and even, if your memory is good, the main characters’ names. I can guarantee that you’ll feel a lot smarter than you are with very little work!

In case you think there’s a catch, I promise you there isn’t. I am simply a bookworm looking for a way to get paid to read books. This service that I’m offering is one that I will enjoy, and we all know that happy workers make better workers. Think about it.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Slightly Ignorant Eager Reader

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Liar, Liar, Pants on… Ooo, Shiny!

I’m working at the Hebrew Book Fair, as I told you guys a few days ago, but I’ve been tossed around a couple of times since then, from one sales area to another. I was moved from outside the mall to inside the store, and then from there I was stolen by a very nice woman with dark hair to work with her in the little area right outside the store that’s separate from it but still owned by the same company. Confused? Yeah, so was I. Anyway, none of this is really relevant.

I’m now acting as a boss/manager even though I’m still paid minimum wage. I get to be in charge of the register at the end of the day, as well as the two seventeen-year old high school kids who are working with me.

That’s not the point either. The point is that Book Week, as lovely a concept as it is, is about sales. Pure and simple. It’s about making money. Whenever a certain book isn’t selling, I need to start recommending it to customers after having just read the back cover or inside flap. I need, in short, to lie about having read and liked books. I’m not above an occasional white lie, but in this case… well, it bothers me. As a reader, I want sales-clerks’ honest opinions about books, and I don’t want to cause anyone to buy a book they might not enjoy.

But bookstores are businesses, and the cash register needs to show a certain amount of profit every day. Still, while I’ve recommended books that I haven’t read, I’ve only told people that I’d heard good things about the book. I also never tried to foist a book on someone who didn’t want it after I showed it to them. And, most importantly, I still recommend the books I know and love most of all.

How do you feel about lying, or at least bending the truth and exaggerating, in order to make sales? Have you done it before? Do you feel guilty or do you see it as all part of the job?

A Traveling Business

The fairground was deserted, except for the lone figure strolling through it, swinging a cane with a curved handle. This man, who for some years now had gone by the name John Hathaway, whistled as he threw his large feet out to the sides and out. His walk was strange, everyone said so, like the rolling gait of a man who knows the swaying deck of a ship more than dry land. He peeked into the empty tents as he passed them, making sure that all the carnival workers were in the roped off area where their tents were set up. He’d heard about the sort of thing that went on after hours at other men’s carnivals, but he wasn’t going to let such indecorous and rude behavior go on in his.

He’d bought the traveling carnival from its previous owner, a Mr. Glencock, for pittance. It was true that the elephant was rather old and feeble, the tightrope walker was in her forties, and the ringmaster was losing his voice, but Mr. Hathaway had decided not to let humdrum facts get in the way of making a fortune. He’d hired the poster-makers to put gold-paint on all the advertisements and he’d dropped the ticket price quite a bit, so the crowds came in droves. If they left disappointed – well, they’d bought cotton-candy, kettle-corn and a few rounds of pie-throwing first. Fair’s fair, Mr. Hathaway thought, he wasn’t promising anything that wasn’t in the carnival. He chuckled at his pun – “Fair’s fair,” he muttered under his breath again – and poked his cane into the last tent. Empty too.

He started to stroll back towards the camp. Merry fires had sprung up in between the canvas shelters, and someone had taken up the fiddle and was playing some country melody that sounded familiar. Mr. Hathaway bounced a little bit in time to the rhythm and hummed rather tunelessly. Tomorrow he and his carnival would be opening for the third and last night in the small intersection here between three towns, and he’d be glad to get going. Already, rumors were beginning to spread about the poor maintenance of the paint in the main ring and the blind, toothless old lion that was supposed to “ROAR AND SCARE THE BRAVE OF HEART!” according to the poster. Well, Mr. Hathaway saw himself saying to the complainers, the lion may be blind and toothless, but poke him with a stick and he roared, alright. Still, he thought, better to get moving and go to somewhere new.

Silas (2)

Mr. Suit’s name turned out to be Thomas Smith. Silas assumed the name was fake, but didn’t mind much. In this business, he knew, privacy was essential. Part of the reason he was so successful at what he did was that he understood this simple fact and acted on it. It had been twenty years or more since anyone had seen Silas’s real face, and he intended on keeping it that way.
The face Thomas Smith saw that day was a pock-marked wreck; cheeks hollow, eyes a muddy brown, a crooked nose and a gash of a mouth, obviously scarred. Smith didn’t seem at all disturbed by this face, which annoyed Silas a little. He liked making people uncomfortable. It was another reason he was so successful – people didn’t want to spend more time with him than they absolutely needed to, so they wouldn’t try to socialize or bribe or judge him. Instead, they simply gave him the facts of the matter.
Smith looked at Silas, and then turned his head around, first to one side and then the other, taking in the empty tables and the dirty street. Then he did something that surprised Silas. He swiveled his body around and looked up at the dingy building above Mick’s Burgers & Beer, obviously checking to see if anyone was looking out of a window. Silas hid his surprise behind a stony face once more, and waited patiently.
“It’s like this, Magician,” Smith began. “I heard about you from a lady friend who used to be… well, shall we say, not in the best of situations. She says that you’re known among the South-dwellers.”
Silas nodded, and broke in rather wickedly “South-dwellers, eh? ‘Round here we call ourselves Southies. As you would know from your lady friend.”
“Yes, well,” Smith didn’t seem offended in the least. “The official term is still South-dwellers, Magician. Also, if my information is correct – which I am sure it is – you haven’t been a Southie, as you say, forever.”
Now Silas took notice. This man, this Mr. Smith, knew more than he was letting on. He knew more than any corporate stiff had a right to know. Mayhap he was simply rich enough to get tongues a-wagging, but then again maybe he he’d hired someone to find out about Silas, and the thought that he might have missed someone lurking around here made him very uncomfortable.
“I’m the Magician,” Silas said coolly, refusing to show he was unnerved. “I’ve been lots of places in my lifetime, Mr. Smith.”
“Indeed.”
“You gonna tell me what the job is or shall I leave you in peace to enjoy a burger and a pint, Mr. Smith?” Silas was desperate to get the job, sign the contract and get away from this suit.
“It’s very simple. The company I work for has placed a spy in a rival company. This spy is now an-” he hesitated, but then continued. “an inconvenience. We need him taken care of.”
“Right,” Silas smirked. “Taken care of. Understood, Mr. Smith. Tell me when and where I find him. And you’ll have to sign this.” He took a crumpled contract from his jeans pocket. “Fill it in, as much as you can, and sign right down there.”
Mr. Smith seemed, finally, slightly discomfited, but he did as he was told, filling in the short form while explaining to Silas where and when the spy could be found. He agreed to the fee Silas demanded without haggling. He returned the contract to Silas, who scanned it quickly as the man rose from the table.
“Just a minute, Mr. Smith,” he took hold of the suit’s arm, firmly grasping it so that he caught skin and sinew, not only the expensive shirt fabric. He tightened his grip as he continued. “You didn’t sign right at the end here, like I asked you to. I asked nicely, didn’t I, Mr. Smith? Can’t do a job without you signing the contract.”
Mr. Smith stared blankly at Silas, then back at the contract. Finally, he reached back to his pen, which he’d put in his shirt pocket. Slowly, ever so slowly, he signed the name “Thomas H. Smith” on the dotted line.
Silas looked at Mr. Smith’s face and saw the surprise and alarm in the suit’s eyes as he felt a jolt, like an electric surge, go up his arm. Silas smiled grimly, his jagged mouth tightening into a hard line.
“They call me Magician for lots of reasons, Thomas H. Smith. You remember that.”

Silas

Silas was crouching in the alleyway, hidden deep in the shadows. The streetlight that stood at the far end of the alley was flickering on and off, accompanied by a buzzing sound; it was driving Silas mad. He shifted his weight a little, careful not to disturb the loose stones in the corner between the sidewalk and the building he was leaning against. His boots made a slight scuffing sound as he moved, and he froze. The last thing he wanted was to be heard.
It seemed like he’d been there for hours, and upon reflection, Silas decided he probably had. The stars in the sky were definitely in a different position now than when he’d taken up his post. At the very least, he decided, he must have been in the alley for three hours. The thought didn’t comfort him. This was supposed to have been a quick job, easy money, child’s play. But something had gone wrong, or else he’d simply received faulty information.
Two days before, Silas had been sitting in, for lack of a better work, his office. It was the place where he took on jobs, at any rate. His so-called office consisted of a grimy table at Mick’s Burgers & Beer, a popular hangout for bikers and shady businessmen. Silas had his very own table, courtesy of Mick himself. Mick had been his most appreciative client by far, and Silas still got free burgers and greasy fries whenever he wanted them – which wasn’t very often. Silas liked to eat well, and usually ate at Mick’s only when his cash was running low. Lately, this had happened more than usual, and it made Silas very cranky.
Two days ago, Silas had dipped his last French-fry into an oozing paper cup of ketchup, grimacing. He chewed it slowly, and washed it down with his dark brown stout. He wiped his hands slowly and methodically on his already stained paper napkin and threw it into the trash-can behind him. He’d perfected this throw over many a long-afternoon, and never missed anymore.
He took another sip of his beer when he realized someone was standing off to his right, staring at him. He looked over and saw a tall man, his limbs long and gangly, wearing grey slacks and a white shirt. He held a briefcase in one long arm and had a Cashmere sweater tucked under the other. His hair was dark brown and slicked back from his forehead, a couple strands jumping loose and sticking up comically. Silas took the man in and discarded him. This was obviously some lost corporate drone, or perhaps he wasn’t so lost and was simply looking to avail himself of the services of Madame Etoile’s Entertainment Parlor, the whorehouse that had for time out of mind sat across from Mick’s.
The man in the slacks, however, didn’t even glance over at the pink neon sign for Madame’s. Instead, he walked over to Silas’s table and sat down across from him. Silas gave him a stony look.
“You lost?” he grunted.
“No,” said the man softly. “I’m here to hire you, Magician.”
“Well, well,” Silas smiled slowly, “I’m all ears then, Mr. Suit.”

The Businessman

The Businessman sat at the same restaurant every day during his lunch break. Every day was the same for The Businessman, and one of his few joys was ordering a different thing for lunch every day. He would take the specials each day, and if the specials contained something he absolutely hated or was allergic to, he would take one his favorite regular dishes. In this way, he managed to keep the favorites special, and he never got sick of them.

The Businessman had the same routine at the restaurant every day. First, he would find a table outside. Rain or shine, he had to sit outside. If there were no tables available, which happened sometimes during tourist season, he would wait. The waiters, the servers, even the manager knew him, and they always managed to find him a seat quickly. Once he found a suitable table, he would sit down and reach into his bag. He had a worn black leather briefcase, one that looked dignified but not stuffy and too new. He would take three things out of his bag at first.

The first was a bag of tobacco. The second was a box of rolling papers. The third was a lighter. Until the waiters came over – and indeed, the waiters knew not to come over until this ritual was over or they would need to deal with a very flustered man – he would meticulously roll himself three cigarettes. He would smoke one before the meal, the second after the meal, and the third after his post-meal coffee. He felt that rolling his own cigarettes was the one roguish behavior that he’d kept from his college days when he’d been wild and carefree.

The Businessman considered himself to be rather homely. He didn’t think he had particularly interesting features, and he knew that he blended in with the endless flow of suited men in their late forties. He didn’t realize that his eyes were a beautiful and rare light blue. He didn’t seem to notice the fact that he cut a fine figure. He wasn’t entirely aware of the fact that his face, lined as it was, was full of character and intelligence. He only saw himself as The Businessman, a man who knew and understood his trade but couldn’t explain what he did to others very well. Because of this, he was convinced that he was boring.

The Businessman ordered a different thing every day at the restaurant. He hoped that one day he would take a last meal there, shake the waiters’ and the servers’ and the manager’s hands goodbye, and turn his back. He hoped he would have the opportunity and the courage to go somewhere different one day and leave the business district forever. He hoped.

Spam [Part II]

Part I

Ladonna had walked down several blocks at a very brisk pace before she stopped, shook herself both mentally and physically, and tried to pull herself together. It was weird, true. It was even extremely strange and unlikely. However, there was no reason to panic. In fact, quite the opposite: perhaps her lottery ticket would really be worth something.

Still, she was spooked. As she slowly made her way home, she shook another cigarette out of her pack and lit it. The smell and taste of smoke calmed her nerves, but only out of habit. She considered smoking as a sort of meditation. That argument had never worked on her friends who told her to quit smoking, but it sounded good anyway.

It was still early in the day, and Ladonna had the day off for her birthday. In the evening, she’d have a few friends over. They were all taking the train down to throw her a little bash. She was appreciative – she knew train tickets weren’t all that cheap and that the two hour train ride was a hassle for them. She comforted herself with the knowledge that she’d be taking the train over to them soon enough as well, and so she shouldn’t feel guilty. It was her birthday, after all. She was allowed to be indulged, at least a little.

Thinking of the evening, Ladonna’s mood improved as she walked along the streets back towards her apartment. She meant to cook up a good meal for her friends, and even bake a cake, and she wanted to get an early start on things. There would be alcohol, of course, and plenty of it. Her friends were planning on staying the whole night and get raucously drunk (though not really, because there were neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate that). Ladonna smiled to herself rather grimly as she envisioned the hangover that would follow and the too-familiar feeling of that odd and illogical peace that would settle in the house as she and her friends would drink cup after cup of coffee at her table and try to sober up. They had spent many nights and mornings together in this fashion.

Well, they’d all be nursing headaches and queasy stomachs together, at least. Oh, oops, Ladonna realized. All of us but one. Kate was pregnant, and wouldn’t be drinking. Damn, Ladonna thought, that means none of us will get as much drinking as we’d like done either because we’ll all feel she shouldn’t have to suffer us extremely drunk. She felt guilty immediately afterwards, and slammed the heel of her shoe down on her dwindling cigarette. She had reached her apartment.

As she was climbing the stairs, a man exited a door on the next landing. He had a dog with him, an obedient golden Labrador who sat quietly as he fumbled with his keys one handed. He seemed to be having difficulty getting the key into the lock. Ladonna then realized the type of leash he was holding – not a leash at all, but a harness. The dog was a seeing-eye dog, and the man must be blind. She stepped sideways on the staircase to allow him and the golden Lab to pass her, but the stairway was just too narrow and the man bumped into her just as his Lab sensed the danger of it and sat down to warn him to stop.

“Sorry, sorry!” the man hurriedly apologized. “My mind was elsewhere, didn’t hear there was anyone else here, I’m so sorry.” He gazed at her unseeing and smiled slightly, trying, she felt, to gauge her mood somehow.

“No, it’s no problem at all!” she mumbled shyly back, trying to edge around him. She hadn’t meant to distress him, and he seemed so worried.

“Say,” he began again. “Your voice is a new one. Are you new here or something?” Ladonna felt ashamed of herself again. Here was a new neighbor, a person that would be tromping up and down the stairs here just like her, and she was acting like a complete ninny, just trying to get away from him because she was nervous!

“Yeah, I am, actually.” She decided to do the thing properly, put a smile in her voice and kept on bravely. “My name’s Ladonna Trent, I just moved into the apartment right above you, sir, and I’m glad to make the acquaintance of a neighbor.” She then took his hand and firmly shook it.

He smiled widely. Ladonna noticed how sweet, open and friendly that smile was. This big man, wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes looked simply boyish, despite being very much over fifty years of age.

“Well then! Welcome to the building, Ladonna! My name’s Steve, Steve Solomon. This good girl here,” he gestured to the Lab, who was sitting quietly beside her master with her tongue hanging out, “she’s Anibal. Anibal Solomon, really, since you could say she’s like a daughter, helping her dad around and all.” He grinned widely again. “We’re going out to the corner store. Need any milk or anything?”

“N-no, thank you, sir.”

“Steve’s fine, Steve’s fine – we’re neighbors, after all! If you ever need a cup of sugar or something, just knock on my door. Anibal here will get me if I’ve got my headphones on. She’s good about noticing the door. Come on, girl!” With his command, the Lab started to walk slowly and carefully, her harness gripped firmly by Steve, and led him down the stairs and out into the street.

Ladonna stared after them until they had left the dimly lit interior of the building. When they were out of sight, she ran the rest of the way up until she reached her apartment. It took her three tries to get the key in the lock, and she felt a pang of sympathy for Steve, needing to fumble like this all the time. Finally she managed it, and wrenched the door open. Without bothering to take the keys out of the lock or close the door, she rushed to her computer.

The screen was writhing with strange snake-like pipes that were moving and growing and then collapsing on themselves. Impatiently, Ladonna jerked the mouse aside, stopping the screensaver from it’s endless patterns of pointless animation. She stared at the spam folder in her email. There were still five emails there, from five different supposed senders.

Ladonna Trent was her name, of course.

Ronda B. Clements had been her waitress.

Ricky Charles had been the sole survivor of a freak tractor accident that she had happened to catch in a convenience store on the shortest, silliest news report of the day.

And now, Anibal Solomon had just happened to be her downstairs neighbor’s seeing-eye golden Labrador.

This was turning out to be the strangest birthday Ladonna Trent had ever had, and that included the one where her older brothers had tried, and succeeded for a few hours, to convince her that aliens were attacking the earth because she had turned eight.