“Zanny.” The name had a dull familiarity like the brand of cheap beer that laid you low after hockey practice back in 5th grade.
I strained to see the screen on the trusty old laptop. I threw my faded sports jacket (buck fifty on Half-Price Day at the Faded Dreams Thrift Store) over my head and the screen. The Skype came in real dark like the old Philco in gramp’s moldy rec room. As I pinched my eyes I could make out a figure on the screen. It appeared to have no facial features.
“I’m authorized to inform you that my employer has selected you to ghost write her hot new book. Soon to hit the newsstands!”
“Uh, Zanny who?” Now I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, like I said jobs are few and far here at The Agency, but I didn’t see a mouth. I needed to know more.
“Zenaida Gonzalez,” she rasped with a voice that sounded like a '52 Plymouth squealing tires over spiked gravel.
“The nanny?” I croaked.
Outside of my office I heard the shuffling old man and dog. The coot is deaf and the bowser’s blind, but together they manage this “office park”. It’s really an old storage property with a few street-facing units that they threw some windows on and called offices. I can see through the window that the coot has flopped on the picnic bench just outside my door. I’m late with the rent and they’re on it.
With no business to speak of for several years, getting that rent paid can be as difficult as climbing Mt Everest on a Segway. The writing game ain’t what it used to be. The Internet, spell-checker and every mother’s son (and daughter) blogging their deep thoughts and grocery lists has brought legit writers to their knees begging for work like $2.00 prostitutes at a shoe-horn salesmen’s convention.
I doused the overhead lights real quick so the codger and mutt wouldn’t know I was in. I had parked a couple blocks away (yeah, dodging the repo men too).) I ducked back under the suit jacket. In the stuffy air I could tell that the jacket’s previous owner had a penchant for Indian food and was a Old Spice/Irish Spring guy – fucking reeked, but there was work in the offing! The figure on the screen with the blank stare rasped out insistently.
“Look, sir, we have other options. Lots of ‘em. You want to hear the offer or not? I’ve got kids to watch here!” Zanny exclaimed.
“Yeah, sure.” I squeaked. You have to act cool - that can make the difference between getting a quarter cent or half cent a syllable. You see, I charge by the syllable, a habit I acquired when I had the haiku contract for a New Age tea company out of Eastern Montana. They worked on a fixed budget. The company folded due to a lack of interest and the pricks still owe me $17.00.
“Go doo-doo or get off the potty as we say around here,” Zanny said.
“Why me, Z?”
“I’m going to let the talent scout of our committee answer that question. Jeffy get over here and talk to this man,” Zanny barked.
While the shadowy figures exchanged places I fumbled a pint of Canadian Club from the top desk drawer careful not to let the jacket slip and reveal my presence to the hounds at the door. I found a smudged glass and poured out a double-shot of amber delight. The whiskey danced in the pixel glow like a pool of cool water in a lost-in-the-desert-man’s mirage. The golden warmth of the precious liquid emanated from my center and I began to relax.
On the screen a tow-headed male emerged (think Howdy Doody with no eyes, nose or mouth). I was wondering how they could talk, but dough is dough and I was knee deep in desperation.
“I’m Jeffrey Michael Hopkins. Why did we pick you sir? Well, with nothing else to do for the last 3 years we have scoured the Web and found your blog on Open Salon, a publishing platform with a built-in audience. We loved your sarcasm, perspicacity , and awesome talent for fiction. Our Boss was really impressed with the fiction.”
“Takes one to know one,” I retorted even though a chill ran down my spine. Perspicacity, there’s a good one – 5 syllables.
“Apartment 301. Is that a real apartment?” J-Hop asked.
“Yes, that’s the apartment we moved to after they took my mother to the looney bin. I guess that means I have a little more in common with Your Boss,” I said.
“Ha,” he chortled. “You’re our guy.”
The dog started up with his I-might-be-blind-but-I-can-still-smell-a-deadbeat-a-mile-away bark. Through the coat I can hear him and the old-timer scratching at the door. It was time to talk money.
“Say, Jeff,” I muttered. “I appreciate the compliments, but I’m going to need you guys to “show me some money” before I set my considerable talents to ghosting for Your Boss.”
“That would be Juliette’s department. Let me turn you over to her,” he said efficiently.
The cranky old bastard and his shrill barking canine are creating a ruckus at the door. “I KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE, WALTERS. IT'S TIME TO PAY THE RENT, YOU HACK!”
The screen filled with a feminine profile; again the muted visage.
“Hi, Damon,” she cooed. Is she flirting with me? “We will pay you handsomely. We already made one obscure slightly talented individual rich and famous; we can do the same for you. The thing is, sweetie, we have a lot of applicants for this position and it is a costly to maintain our lifestyle, so payment will be contingent on your submission of the chapters. Meanwhile, and this is just to assure our publishers, we will need a small “good faith” deposit from you. Just $500.00 payable with credit card or in certified funds.
“Now, wait a minute, I pay you and then you pay me?”
“That’s how The Boss rolls. Good faith from you, and when your work comes in, a check from us. You will accept a check, won’t you, dear?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll get back to you real soon.” I may have fallen off the turnip wagon at night, but it wasn’t a couple of nights ago.
Good idea though. I throw off the suit coat, flick on the desk lamp and go to the door. I’m ready to deal with the elderly fellow and his canine companion.
“THE RENT IS LATE!” he shouts. The dog walks into my leg and then cocks his and pisses on the sports jacket draped over the chair. Fuck it; probably will improve the smell.
“Here, let me write you a check,” I tell the dog.