Review: Lucifer’s Star

Lucifer's StarI was going to introduce this review with a comparison to all of the works that Lucifer’s Star reminded me of, but, while there are so many of them, not a single one can be used to give you a good sense of what this book is about.
Lucifer’s Star follows Cassius Mass, a former member of a royal house with huge political sway that they use to wage war. The world building in this book was amazing and we see a lot of detailed explanations in the interplanetary relationships as well as the individual cultures, all without taking away from the main story by being too filled with description. The descriptors come out naturally.
Cassius is a clone of the sovereign, with cybernetic implants to make him the perfect warrior, the perfect royal heir, and the perfect sexual partner. Each of these lending itself toward complicating his life more and more before finally, as a direct result of the Archduchy’s ongoing war. By the start of chapter 2, we find a down and out, drug and alcohol addled, his face and DNA changed to hide his identity, and living aboard a pirate spaceship with a questionable crew.
Then the crew finds out that he’s one of those rich nobles who somehow screwed each one of them over in some different way in the past.
From that point, his past begins to come back in a huge way and takes Cassius on a path that makes him question not only who he is, but also everything that he previously held as true. He’s forced to question everything from the difference (culturally) of right and wrong, the idea of identity, what defines a life, the galactic politics, and lots of questions of what love is versus like and versus lust.
Like most CT Phipps books, this book focuses a lot on Cassius discovering his identity once he’s been stripped of all the superfluous things that he thought was his identity. He goes through a huge transition from the beginning of the book all the way to the end.
When I said this book reminded me of a couple of other stories, it really did, but mostly in just elements. The entire pirate ship and such reminded me a lot of Talon Kardde from the Star Wars Expanded Universe/Legends books. The politics, and how they are so intricately defined, as well as the caste system that’s plainly obvious, reminded me a lot of the Red Rising books. There was even a moment that reminded me of the Borg from Star Trek. A lot of reminders, or ingredients, that made themselves into a great cake.
And I love cake!
5 out of 5. Epic Space Fantasy that leaves me begging to learn more about Cassius Mass!

Review: The Science of Supervillainy

The Supervillainy series by C.T. Phipps has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years now. Not only has Gary Karkofsky’s antics as an accidentally successful supervillain just been an absolute pleasure to read, but the world environment, the unexpected twists, and the tongue-in-cheek references to pop-culture makes for an exciting and entertaining read.
The newest arrival to that series, The Science of Supervillainy, hits all of those notes in spades.
This book picks up directly where the last book left off. The Other Gary and President Omega are about to pull off their plan, but Gary and crew take care of it pretty quickly, until they don’t. A time jump ahead and all of the old characters, a bunch of new characters, and a little girl with a super brain step up to help Gary save…err… I mean take over…err…well save first, and then take over? Whatever his plans, the world is in danger, and not his kind of danger. So it’s up to him and his rough and tumble crew to step up and stop Other Gary from erasing them all from existence.
The Science of Supervillainy is filled with both comedic and dramatic moments that blend well together. Using both the dramatic and comedic is how Phipps illustrates, surprisingly well, the conflicts of being a supervillain with morals. Wanting to own and rule the world doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the world to be a filled with shitty people, and Gary most certainly wants to rule the world, but why can’t he have his cake and eat it too?
Elements of this book I loved were the same as the previous titles. The cross-pollination from other worlds, time-travel, comedy, weirdly conceived relationships, and of course the pop-culture references help to make this a fun read. It works so well, and I look forward to the next installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Tower of Zhaal

Post-Apocalyptic fiction is fun, but Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraft fiction is even better.

That kind of fun led me to C.T. Phipps’ “The Tower of Zhaal.”

The Tower of Zhaal is the sequel to Phipps’ first successful foray into Lovecraftian fiction, Cthulhu Armageddon. In that first book, the world has been ravaged by the long ago (but still in our current future) rise of the Great Old Ones. The hero of the first book, John Henry Booth is back, and the taint of the world has eeked it’s way into his own flesh. With Nyarlahotep whispering in his ear, and the threat of the end of the human race on the brink of happening, John has to risk everything with a team that he can’t trust in order to save the few parts of the hellish world that mean something to him.

While traveling to and with some very Mythos specific names, as well as some that are a treat for readers of contemporary Mythos fiction (ie: the Ghoul priest being named Hoade as an obvious reference to fellow contemporary Mythos writer, Sean Hoade). The explanations of Magic, the Science of the Mind, and the different Alien races make it an epic adventure on par with Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but within the Mythos elements that bring us back.

The world has ended, Alien Gods are everywhere, and the question of humanities survival is a complex one. Can Humanity survive? Should Humanity survive? Would the Humanity that survives even be recognizable as Human?

Phipps weaves a great tale, that makes for an exciting read.

5 out of 5 Stars!

Minor Potential Spoiler: There’s a scene in this book that made me laugh out loud, but not because it was funny. The moment I read it, I wanted to shout, “Ah! He’s been Rick and Morty’d!!!”

Review: The Haunting of Barry Allen

Wow, just wow! When I get really involved in a show, I tend to either hunt for more stories in that universe or write my own in the form of fan-fiction. It was one of these hunts that led me to discovering Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen.
The entire book reads like a long episode of the Flash. We get a look at each character as they work on their own plot specifics, and we even get a great chance to see Rathaway as a villain again. Pre-Flashpoint has made a lot of great stories possible, by making everything that takes place before that Canon/Not-Canon, since Flashpoint ends up undoing anything that might have been story specific.
Anyway, Rathaway builds his own Rogue’s Gallery out of Peekaboo, Nimbus, Prism, and Weather Wizard. He uses them to terrorize the city. The major plot here is actually a callback to the giant wormhole that opened up when Eddie Thawne ended season 1 the way he did. Barry’s visited by ghosts and mirages from the future while also trying to battle to protect his city. It’s more than one man, even the fastest man, can handle.
Enter the Arrow! Teams join together to combat the evil that has plagued the city and the end result is a great read that has me incredibly excited about the second book that just came out.
This book was well done and fits well with the Canon of the series. Loved it, and have already started reading book 2.

Introducing Iowa Book Source

Guest Post by Wendy Siefken:

Hey everyone! trying to get your written book seen? Try this one on for size. Showcase your physical book with other indie authors in a display window at our local mall! this weekend we are having a home and garden show. Lot’s of vendors and visitors will see your book! Only $5.00 a month whether you have one book or ten! A landing page directs the curious buyer to where they can get an ebook copy of your book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or wherever you have your ebooks sold through.  So check it out and let others know!  Iowa Book SourceIowa Book Source display window

Like what you see? Every two weeks or so I will change out the decorations to keep it fresh and appealing to the eye.  Contact me at WendyandCharlesSiefken@yahoo.com for more information!

Short Story: Lerdrin’s Rings

Sprinting through the woods was easy enough. If one was so inclined they could find themselves a sort of path that maybe animals or whatnot might frequent and avoiding branches and the like wouldn’t become an issue. The problem arose from when one was being chased. As was the case with Lerdrin.

Lerdrin had, up until this particular day, been more or less ignored. Having lived on the streets in Cardenshire for the last several years, he was the kind of man that you’d hire for a small job that would only last a few hours. Jobs such as pushing carts, emptying caravans, shoveling stables, or helping a family move (never pack, as everyone assumed, correctly, that Lerdrin was quite fast with his hands).

Assumptions what they were, Lerdrin wasn’t just quite fast with his hands, he was a former entertainer, from years long gone. In his youth, he’d entertained children with puppet shows and magic acts, claiming to be a long lost wizard, pulling clothing from secret compartments, coins from ears and noses, and wallets from pockets. When Lerdrin’s age and nasty habits finally started to catch up with him, he decided that keeping quiet and living a life of fast hands on the street was a good way to go.

Catching up with him being the operative phrase as, he could see glancing over his shoulder, it was happening again. Lerdrin had once again had his hand caught and almost cut off, as he had tried to pilfer certain jewelries from his most recent work. The work had been simple enough, help the people unload their wagon, get enough coins for dinner and a small room for the night. Unfortunately, the rings had not been included in the deal.

Behind Lerdrin and near enough he could feel the air from their swinging clubs, were several men, two of which had been with the lady who’s rings he had attempted to liberate. The third was Nader, Knight for the town of Cardenshire, which was only large enough to deem one Knight necessary. Nader and Lerdrin, for the most part, left each other alone with the unspoken understanding that if anyone complained about Lerdrin, Nader would come down on him with a very heavy set of chains.

Glancing again over his shoulder, Lerdrin faced forward just in time to crash into a waist-high rock, flipping over end and feeling an instant reverberation and ache throughout his fifty-three year old bones.

Hitting the ground on the other side, his head spun as he rolled over onto his back and tried to regain his composure. Mostly this consisted of doing his best to stop the world from spinning.

As he looked straight into the midday sky, the branches overhead spun less and less, and the pounding in his head quieted enough that he was starting to hear a very questionable noise, a sort of low hum coming from the direction of the rock he’d tripped over. Propping himself up on his elbows he did his best to try to stand.

At this juncture, Lerdrin was capable to get away with trying much less than his best, as he was swiftly aided in standing by Knight Nader. Using one hand, the unarmored man of about his mid-twenties lifted Lerdrin up by the nape of his neck and threw him against the very same rock that he’d previously flipped over. His back was bent over it, as it was only as high as his waist and Lerdrin found that he could easily see his life ending here. Lerdrin could also hear the humming, much louder now, and definitely coming from somewhere around the rock. This same rock, Lerdrin was noticing, was freezing him through his clothing even though it was mid-June and was very smooth on his back.

These, of course are all secondary things that Lerdrin noted, as the point of Nader’s blade pressed into the old beggar’s ribs had slightly more of his attention.

“Lerdrin, you damned fool!” Nader reached into Lerdrin’s patched coat and yanked out a handful of the baubles that the elder had taken only a half an hour earlier. Nader turned towards one of the men from earlier. “Are they yours?” he asked, reaching out to show the items. The man nodded, never actually looking at the items so much as staring intently at Lerdrin.

Nader handed the rings and such to the man and then turned towards the third companion who was quieter and showed less hate and more indifference. “Hold his hand down, on the stone.” The man hesitantly complied.

Lerdrin struggled but was limited by the sword still jabbed into his ribs. Reaching out, the man took his wrist and pulled it out straight along the stone, palm up. Fearing for the accuracy of the sword, the man pulled a rope seemingly from nowhere and tossed one end of it to the accuser who took it and, together, they pulled it tightly across Lerdrin’s forearm, making it effectively immobile.

Unexpectedly, Nader brought his sword up and back down very swiftly. Lerdrin had assumed that the Knight would have slowly brought the sword up to bring it crashing down with ferocious speed. Instead, the blade left Lerdrin’s rib cage and was brought down before the old man even realized it.

Another surprise awaited everyone at this. The sword stopped over Lerdrin’s wrist and held fastly. In his inability to understand why, Nader pulled at his blade, attempting with all of his might to free it from the invisible grip over Lerdrin’s wrist. Maniacally laughing, for the fates had smiled upon him in this instance, Lerdrin started struggling to free his wrist from the bond of the two men. In the back of his mind, Lerdin noted that the hum in the stone had become louder.

As Nader yanked on his sword, not willing to surrender to the unknown force, it started to glow. Not just the sword, as Lerdrin was slow to notice, but all three men, the rope and the sword. All of them except Lerdrin, failed to notice this. The glow intensified, slowly, achingly, bringing tears of pain to Lerdrin’s closed eyes as he lay there, still immobilized by the rope.

Finally, through his eyelids, Lerdrin noted that the painfully bright light had vanished. Slowly opening his eyes he screamed in horror. All three of his pursuers had vanished. No trace of them having been there was left. Lerdrin slid from the stone onto the ground and started crying uncontrollably. He didn’t know why he cried. On the one hand he was free, alive, and with two hands. On the other, somehow and for some reason, someone or something had deemed him worthy to keep breathing instead of the three very justified men.

The hum was louder now, loud enough to break through Lerdrin’s spiraling train of thought. He turned and stared at the stone, smooth and reflective, as if made of metal and he panicked, scooting backwards away from it in a rushed terror. He stopped his rush, but not his terror, when the god arrived.

From an nondescript place upon the stone, as smooth as another other place, a ray of light rose from it, coalescing on a spot right in front of Lerdrin. The circular beam expanded slowly until what looked like a man stood in front of the old beggar.

The man within the beam of light was dressed in a tight fitting cloth and had no hair upon his head. The clothing, if it could be called that, was all white except for a red stripe down the man’s left side and a patch in the shape of some sort of four pointed star over his left breast.

The god smiled down at Lerdrin and then started to laugh. “It worked. I can’t believe it worked.” He knelt down to Lerdrin. “Can you hear me?”

The words were accented in a very peculiar way, but for the most part, Lerdrin understood, and therefore, not knowing what else to do, nodded.

The god jumped up, no longer kneeling, and punched at the air, laughing in a manner similar to how Lerdrin had started laughing when the sword had first been halted.

Lerdrin found his voice, deep down in his feet almost, and brought it to the surface.

“What manner of god are you?”

Immediately, the god stopped laughing and regarded the little beggar at his feet. “God?” He looked around, taking in his surroundings. “Well, I must be then.” His smile returned. “Reaching this far back, actually interacting. I would have to be.” He turned towards the stone and started poking at it with different fingers from each hand, as if weaving some sort of invisible spell on its surface. Mumbling to himself, Lerdrin heard, “How much can I interact?”

As the god worked his spell on the stone it stopped humming and instead let out a loud snap, cracking in half to reveal a table with several small items on it that Lerdrin couldn’t identify from the distance that he now rested.

“Stand then, my disciple.” He stopped for a minute and looked off into the distance to his right. “No, phase two can wait. We’ve got a perfect opportunity to activate phase three now and I’m going to.” He hesitated. “No, no, no. Its going to be this way or no way, keep working. I don’t want your opinions I want your progress.” Turning back to the now even more confused Lerdrin, he put back on his smile, now looking slightly forced. “What is your name?”

Lerdrin choked for a bit on his words before answering, “Lerdrin.”

The god smiled again, this time a real smile. “That’s almost too perfect.” He waved his hand to the stone, actually passing through it for a second, reinforcing Lerdrin’s confirmation of the divine within this being. “These rings are yours, to be used in my service.”

Forgetting to be scared, Lerdrin stepped forward and looked at the rings, each a simple band, each of a different color, and five in total.

The god smiled as Lerdrin eyed them, obviously already covetous. “You shall be a wizard of the order of…” the god thought for just a second before saying with a smile, “Jim.”

Lerdrin reached into the stone and pulled out the first ring. It was a small bad, green as the leaves on the trees and otherwise lacking in any descriptive features. “That ring will give you the ability to repair wounds.” Lerdrin slipped it onto his left index finger and let out a sharp gasp as something inside the ring sunk itself into his flesh. At his gasp, the god Jim explained.

“The rings get their power from your…soul and can only come off if you die.” Lerdrin looked at his new god, annoyed that he hadn’t been warned of this beforehand. The pain had subsided at this point, and soon was forgotten as Lerdin remembered that their were four other rings.

Picking up a ring as black as night, he put it on his other index finger and gritted his teeth through the bite into his flesh. “That ring will allow you to put to sleep any who challenge you.”

The next ring was a beautiful sky blue. This Lerdrin placed on his left ring finger. “This ring will…throw lightning.”

Hearing that, Lerdrin looked at the god with shock. This was truly of being of power if he could harness the powers of the sky in such a small bauble.

The ring of blood red was the fourth ring, and this he placed on his middle finger of his right hand.  He was starting to get better at ignoring the biting pain each ring inflicted. “The red ring will defend you.”

Finally, the last ring was a bright white and slightly smaller than the rest. Putting this on his right pinky finger, Lerdrin waited for the explanation.

The god Jim was hesitant though, as if the complexities of this ring might need more explanation than the others had. Finally, Jim spoke, slowly. “This ring, the white ring, allows for all you’ve done to become undone. If things get too out of hand, this ring will give you the option to erase it all, back to now and only once.”

Holding up his hands, palms out, Lerdrin eyed his new power with hunger, smiling at the two rings on his left hand and the three on his right. Green and blue on his left; black, red, and white on his right.

“What do you want me to do, god Jim?” Lerdrin asked, begging for a chance to exercise his power.

“Who is the leader of this land?”

Lerdrin didn’t hesitate. “Lord Richard owns these lands, as far as I’ve ever been.”

“Go to Lord Richard and explain to him what you now are. Aid him in everything he asks.”

“Is that all, god Jim?”

The god Jim smiled. “For now.”

Lerdrin, without hesitation, sprinted back the way he had come into the forest, not caring to watch his footfalls anymore than he had when he’d entered, as now he was in a rush to do his god’s bidding.

Minutes after he left, Jim still stood, a hologram of light from the time capsule, as a blast of lightning struck the stone and blinded him for just a moment. At his feet lay Lerdrin, older than when he’d left, the white ring on his hand glowing brightly as it drained the last of his life. The rings, advanced technology, even for Jim’s time, dissolved now that Lerdrin was dead, and were soon reconstructed in the time capsule to await for Jim to pick them up himself.

Typing into the holographic interface the time capsule closed around them and Jim stepped out of the holographic field, vanishing from Lerdrin’s time.

Satan’s Salesman Hiatus

At the last DW Team meeting, I discussed how I need to re-find my focus in writing. I have so many projects going on, both personally and professionally, that they are diluting my time. Instead of completing a project in a respectable time-frame (defined by myself), I’m instead getting moderate advancement in multiple projects. While this gives me advancement in each of my projects, this leads to not putting out anything in the respectable time-frame that I’ve set for myself. If I continue on this path, I’ll have months (or longer) before I publish anything that I had originally intended, and in that time I could easily see myself taking on more and more projects that could slow me down.

That leads me to my choice of focus.

I’m going to be devoting as much of my time toward the completion of individual projects, in an order that I am outlining myself. The first one that I wish to complete, will be the Broken Nights Sequel. We finally settled on a name as well, Broken Nights: Strange Worlds.

That means that my other projects are being moved to the back-burner. The only thing that I’ll also be working on during Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, will be the completion of the Ghostbusters: Des Moines first season. Only one episode left!

What does that mean for you, my faithful readers? Well, first of all, the results of the “Should I write Bridge Over Paradiso” poll were less than lack-luster. That story will be shelved for now. Satan’s Salesman on the other hand, isn’t shelved, just being put on hiatus until I’m done with Broken Nights: Strange Worlds.

Gasp! I know, it sucks, but I am finding it too difficult to remain excited about stories that inch forward. I either need to quit my day job and focus entirely on writing, or I need to pick a project and “git-er-dun.”

This doesn’t mean that you won’t find excellent reads on the blog anymore. While my co-author and I have decided that you won’t be getting any more spoilery bits regarding Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, I will continue to post stories to this blog on a regular basis.

Stay tuned…

Satan’s Salesman (Unedited) Chapter 5

Chapter 5 

The rest of the day was spent trying to wrap his head around exactly what had happened that morning. Everything from Sara Durant’s inconceivable comeback to Sherrie Webster and her very vague job offer made absolutely no sense to him. It was easy to see that this company without a physical location was behind helping Sara get her job back but he still didn’t know how or why.
The most puzzling thing wasn’t the most frustrating. When he was finally back to his apartment he popped open the fridge and grabbed a Rolling Rock. As he did so, he saw something small and flat sitting on the top shelf of his refrigerator.
Picking it up, he almost started yelling. This wasn’t only impossible, but it was also ridiculously illegal and wouldn’t help their case at all when his lawyer got a hold of them.
Sitting on the top shelf of the fridge was the business card for Perdition Investments.
Shane sat down and stared at the card, completely forgetting about his beer. After about ten minutes of staring at the card, he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and started searching Google for local lawyers. He didn’t get far. About halfway down the search options, Shane stared off into space. It was only about a minute of staring into space when he decided to set the phone down.
While Sherrie had obviously broken into his house, how she got his address wasn’t hard to understand. Whatever application she had opened on her smartphone had given her the personal information of Shane without even knowing his name. It wasn’t hard to realize that it might have included his address. Since he had gone directly home, she must have forwarded the information to someone else as to leave the card for when he arrived.
It wasn’t only clandestine, it was illegal and a violation of his personal space and rights. If it wasn’t stalking, it was borderline. With all of that in mind, Shane couldn’t help but wonder how he could get access to that application. It would be an invaluable tool in getting him deeper information on each of his clients and help him drill deeper into accounts.
That was exactly how Sherrie Webster was using the app. Shane wasn’t an idiot, it was obvious what she had done. When Shane had explained that he wanted to make a deal, Sherrie had opened the application to see what value she could get out of him. When she saw that he had a skillset that she could use, it was time to offer him a job.
It hadn’t worked, but that was only because Shane wasn’t there to talk about a new job, he was asking for a specific job. Her sales expertise wasn’t that great, but Shane had seen that in Sales Managers before.
What was the quote? Those who can’t do, teach. That wasn’t always the case with Sales Managers, but it was obviously something that happened from time to time. That wasn’t to say that Sherrie didn’t have sales experience, but she slipped up and offered Shane the big deal before she was even aware of what he wanted.
He wanted the position that he had been working for. The position that he had earned.
Then again, maybe he was driving toward his goal with blinders on. Just because he had been working toward the Global Account Manager position didn’t necessarily mean that it was the best thing for him. Shane had said no because he wasn’t getting what he wanted, but maybe he wasn’t aware of what he wanted.
Sherrie Webster had offered him a position to do what he was already doing for a lot more money. Wasn’t that the point of hiring the lawyers? Also, if he was inside the organization that was responsible for hitting the reset button on his career, than wouldn’t he be safer from further intrusion if he was part of that organization?
At the very least, maybe he could see the road hazards before he crashed into them.
Shane rubbed his face as the weight of the situation pressed down on him. The best thing that he could do would be to wait until tomorrow morning and see what Steve was going to offer him. It was an easy thing to guess what he would offer. Most likely, Steve would offer him the pay and commission structure that Sara Durant has, but while keeping Shane in his previous role as an Account Manager.
That would be because Steve, CIT, and even Perdition Investments didn’t know him as well as they thought they did. They all thought that if they threw enough money at Shane Lowe that he would fall in line and do what he was told. If they knew anything about Shane, than they wouldn’t have even offered money. They would have offered him a better position. Shane wasn’t doing this job for the money, he was doing it for the sales. He lived for the thrill of the close. He thrived off of convincing people to do things they wouldn’t normally do that ended in the mutual benefit for both of parties.
It was the sale that drove Shane.
The sale and the close. Sales at his current level had become too easy. That was why he strived for more in the form of Sara’s job. She handled accounts that had more players, larger concerns, and bigger threats. Those sales would be harder to close, but would be the perfect place for Shane to get better at what he loved.
Shane put his head down on the table and pushed the beer bottle and phone away. It wasn’t even noon yet, so the beer was a little much, even for him.
The phone was another matter. The more he thought on it, the more he talked himself out of calling the lawyers. Sara was fighting to keep her life together. Shane’s problem was with CIT’s willingness to fold under her demands and therefore pull the rug out from under him. By the time the lawyers had finally gotten Shane something that might be considered a victory it would have cost him more, both financially and emotionally, than he was really willing to spend.
Whatever deal Sara had made with CIT had made Shane collateral damage. CIT would try to clean it up with money, but even that seemed hollow.
If he decided to stay with CIT, it would be constantly shadowed by Sara still being there. He would never be able to step into that office again without people either seeing him as the guy that got screwed over by Sara Durant, or as the guy who stayed with a company that wasn’t willing to reward him for his efforts. He would be a warning painted on the walls of everyone’s cubicles.
No. If he wanted to hurt CIT and help Shane Lowe, Shane was going to need to find another position. Leaving CIT would hurt them financially, destroying their forecast, but they would recover. Everyone would know they messed up, though, and it might serve to further protect future employees.
It was still a big move to make. The only position directly available for him to step into was a vague thing offered by an even more vague company.
Shane sat up and picked up the card. Staring at it again, he thought about how he might spin this offer toward his advantage.
He still had the majority of the work day available to him. Shane might be able to get a glimpse at what Perdition Investments was about.
He sighed. They weren’t the bad guy, and neither was Sara. CIT was for not fighting for him.
Shane dialed the number on the card.
“Mr. Lowe,” Sherrie Webster had no reason to know it was him, but Shane found himself not surprised that she did. “Why might I be getting a phone call from you?”
Shane sighed, “Does that job offer still stand?”
While he couldn’t see her, Shane felt he could feel her grinning from over the phone. “Of course, we can meet in person and I can provide you with a proper offer letter. When would you be available?”
“Slow down,” he said. “First, I would like to schedule a ride along so that I can see what it is that you do at Perdition Investments. I still don’t fully understand what this job offer is.”
Perdition Investment’s Sales Manager was quiet for a while before replying. “That shouldn’t be difficult to put together. When would work for you?”
Shane liked that he had caught her seemingly off guard. “I was actually hoping we could meet sometime today.”
Sherrie paused again, but this time it seemed less surprised and more logistical. Or so Shane assumed. If Perdition Investments was anything like every other sales company that Shane was familiar with, the Sales Manager had to see who was out and about as well as who might have basic calls that would be good for a visiting rep to ride along with.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. One of my sales team is currently in my office,” Shane was surprised to hear that Sherrie had a physical office location. “His name is Al Keen and he can be by to pick you up within the next half an hour. How does that sound?”
Shane smiled, “Great. I’m guessing that you don’t need the address.”
“Not at all,” Sherrie answered without missing a beat.
Shane hung up the phone and realized that he didn’t need the full half hour to get ready. He was still in his suit for work and only needed to grab his binder from his car.
Once he had collected his binder, he saw no point in going back up to his apartment and instead just stayed on the curb outside. He killed the time by trying to search the internet for anything that might help him learn more about Perdition Investments.
Aside from the one entry that showed the reverse address lookup, Shane found nothing about the company except for a five-star rating on the Better Business Bureau website.
Around the half hour mark, a car pulled into his apartment lot. There was nothing remarkable about the car. It was a silver Lincoln. Shane didn’t know cars, but he knew enough to know that this wasn’t a cheap car.
The Lincoln pulled right up to the curb at the front of the apartment building and the driver put it into park. Stepping from the driver’s seat an older gentleman came around and met Shane.
Albert Keen was taller than most of the people Shane knew, standing a few inches above six feet. He wore large glasses and was dressed in a full suit. His hair, thick but silver, implied that this tall guy was nearing retirement age. When he opened his mouth, the first thing Shane realized about Al was that he came across as quiet and shy.
He reminded Shane of an older Clark Kent as played by Christopher Reeves. Uncomfortable in his own skin, very pleasant to meet, and entirely too big for his quiet demeanor.
Al stuck out his hand to Shane, “Shane Lowe? Are you Shane Lowe?” He said it twice, obviously unsure if just questioning Shane’s name would be interpreted correctly.
Shane grasped the man’s hand and shook it hard. Much like Clark Kent, Al’s grip was stronger than his demeanor implied.
“That’s me,” Shane answered.
“Albert Keen, everyone calls me Al,” he pulled back his hand and gestured toward the car. “I guess that I am taking you on a couple of appointments?”
“Yes,” Shane decided to see if he could push Al. “You’ve been assigned to convince me to join Perdition Investments.”
To Shane’s surprise, his words didn’t even phase Al. “Then let’s get started.”
Shane climbed into the car and Al quickly ran around and joined him before pulling out of the lot.
“So,” Shane ventured, “tell me about yourself, Albert.” He consciously chose to use Al’s entire first name. He wanted to show Al that Shane Lowe wasn’t everyone.
“There isn’t much to tell,” Al answered. “I’ve been with Perdition Investments for almost nineteen years. It hasn’t changed much. People have come and gone, but the company has remained the same.”
Shane didn’t miss that Albert had avoided the actual question and jumped directly into talking about Perdition Investments under the guise of his relationship with the company.
If Albert wanted to talk about Perdition Investments, then Shane wouldn’t stop him, but he also wouldn’t forget that Albert didn’t like talking about himself. That could be useful information later.
“What do you sell at Perdition Investments?” Shane hoped that Albert would be a little more accommodating than his manager had been.
“We don’t.” Albert looked at Shane while he drove, his eyes were seeking deeper understanding. “Do you not know what we do?”
Shane rolled his eyes. “Well, Albert, that’s why I asked.” As means of an explanation, he added, “Sherrie gave me the elevator pitch, but you’re probably aware of how vague that is.”
Albert nodded and turned his eyes back to the road. “Well,” he said slowly, “I would love to tell you, but you would think I was joking.”
“Try me,” Shane was beginning to regret not calling a lawyer.
Albert visibly struggled with Shane’s response. Finally, he said, “Do you believe in God?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Everything, unfortunately.”
“Then my answer would have to be that I am agnostic,” Shane answered reluctantly. “I never really think about religion.” It wasn’t some politically correct line he was feeding Albert, as Shane still wasn’t certain that he even wanted the job. He was being honest in that he never really thought about God or Heaven or whatever. People were too hung up on what other people believed, so Shane made it his goal to understand and speak to what other people believed, but his beliefs had nothing to do with beings that controlled the Universe. His beliefs focused on how the world already worked, and what steps would he need to follow to achieve the goals that he put in front of himself.
“So,” Shane said into Albert’s ensuing silence, “Perdition Investments sells to Churches?”
That seemed odd to Shane as he said it. When he said the name Perdition Investments in a conversation about belief, he suddenly found himself making a correlation that others would have seen as obvious. “Wait, isn’t Perdition another name for Hell?”
Albert nodded. “That’s a good start, but you should stop guessing and just let me show you. You still won’t believe me until you see it.”
As he said those words, he slid the Lincoln into park at a small house in a cul de sac.
“So, this isn’t a business to business sales job?”
Albert grabbed his sales binder and put his pen in it. Shaking his head, he replied, “It’s not exactly a sales job, it’s a job that sales skills are necessary. And no, it’s not business to business, but it’s also not consumer specific.” He shrugged and climbed out of the car while Shane followed suit. “We go where the business is.” He nodded toward the small townhouse, “Today the business is in Francine Stein’s home.”
Shane stayed a step behind Albert as he walked the short distance up Francine’s path to her porch. Somehow, Albert managed to translate his quiet demeanor to his knocking. He knocked three times, hesitating between each one as if he were struggling to decide if he should knock again.
When the door finally opened, Shane remained calm while Albert seemed startled by it. He obviously wasn’t, but he still gave a small hop and hurriedly thrust his hand out to the equally jumpy old lady on the other side of the threshold.
Francine Stein was looked to be nearing her eighties. She stood at a little over five feet tall and her hair was in a short cut that followed her hairline, leaving her ears exposed. Her hair, which Shane imagined was normally between silver and white, was dyed an unnaturally dark shade of black.
When it was Shane’s turn to shake her hand, he could feel the bones in her hand and her skin felt paper thin. In contrast to how her skin and bones felt, her grip was as solid as any middle-aged male that Shane had ever shaken hands with.
“Francine Stein?” Albert asked in his shy way.
Francine nodded. “That’s me.”
“We’re with Perdition Investments. We were hoping to talk to you about,” he paused, “Bruce.”
“Perdition Investments?” Francine seemed confused. “What’s that?”
“Well,” Albert explained, “Perdition Investments helps people, such as yourself, uh,” his nervous demeanor was worse in front of prospective clients, “solve problems.”
Francine shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the money for whatever it is that you’re offering.”
Albert nodded, “We understand that, Ms. Stein, and that’s why we’re here. We help people who don’t have the means to help themselves. People who, uh…um…” he paused again, “are in need but have no means.”
Shane could see that Francine didn’t understand what was going on, and neither did Shane for that matter, but Shane wasn’t about to shut the door on them.
“Francine,” he said, “my name is Shane Lowe and we’re only here to help.” He shrugged. People loved shrugs. It humanized a salesperson to the customer. People don’t imagine someone shrugging who is trying to sell them something and the level of trust climbs just a little more. “Sometimes helping is just a matter of hearing your story. Would you mind if telling us what’s going on with Bruce?”
Francine’s mask fell away the moment Shane shrugged. Her face was suddenly filled with exhaustion and her shoulders sagged. She stepped back from the doorway and waved them in.
“Have a seat. Do you want anything to drink?”
They both declined and took a seat on her couch in the nearby living room. The room looked like a nuke had gone off. Newspapers, boxes, and all sorts of junk littered every surface. This wasn’t the house of a hoarder or a messy person.
This was the home of a person who was only barely keeping things together.
As if they had said yes to being brought refreshments, Francine brought in a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and three empty glasses. They had orange and red triangles on them in a fashion that made them look at least thirty years old.
She poured each of them a glass. The pitcher shook as she poured it, but she didn’t spill.

“Bruce was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago,” her voice wasn’t sad, but both men could hear the weariness in her voice. “I don’t know what you know about pancreatic cancer, but he will be dead before the week is over.” Francine sipped her lemonade and continued, “His life insurance will cover everything and give me some sort of income after. So, while I appreciate that you think you have something to offer me, you don’t.”

“I understand how you’re feeling, but I have access to resources that most people aren’t aware of.” Albert paused to open his binder and scribble some notes. Shane could make out what they were if he tilted his head, but he didn’t want to draw attention to whatever notes Albert might be writing. “What if I told you that, uh,” he stopped to find the words, or maybe the courage for the words, “we can cure Bruce and give you more time with him?”

Francine’s tired face turned cold. “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want it. Get out.” She stood and walked to the door opening it.

“Now.”

Shane was only growing more confused. How had Albert expected this conversation to go?

“Wait,” Albert said as he stood and pulled out his phone. “Just a second,” he opened his phone. He tapped something and then said, “Cure Bruce.”

“I said get out.”

Albert looked nervous but didn’t move. Shane stood and started to move toward the door when a thud came from the back of the house.

Francine’s eyes went wide and she ran past Albert and Shane and into the back of the house. Shane looked up at the taller man and then toward where Francine had ran to.

“What’s going on?” Shane whispered at Albert.

Before Albert could answer, Francine walked back into the living room with an older gentleman behind her. She couldn’t take her eyes off of him as she wept and said, “How? How is this possible?”

Bruce, though pale and very thin, was smiling and seemed full of energy. He was wearing a faded set of blue pajamas. “What’s going on? I feel great.”

Albert took a step toward Francine and touched her shoulder. She jumped and tore her eyes away from her recently resurrected husband.

“Can we have a minute alone?”

She took a moment to understand what Albert was asking her and then nodded. Turning back to her husband, she said, “Bruce, would you mind going back to the bedroom.” Bruce raised his eyebrow at her and looked from Albert to Shane. “I’ll be right in, I’m just going to see these gentlemen out.”

When Bruce left, she spun on Albert.

“What is this? How did you do this?”

“Uh,” Albert started, “this is what we do at Perdition Investments.” He nodded toward where Bruce disappeared. “Unfortunately, Bruce’s new condition is only temporary.”

Shane was the first to react, “What?”

“Perdition Investments can do almost anything, but the unfortunate truth is that we can’t do anything for free.” Albert had crossed his arms and his binder over his chest as he spoke. “For his condition to be permanent, we’ll need you to sign our standard contract.”

Francine’s face returned to the look of distrust, but this time she was obviously weighing the options of having her husband back. The other shoe had dropped, and instead of being prepared to turn it down in an instant, she was torn.

Shane wasn’t so surprised by Bruce’s sudden turn around that he didn’t recognize what was going on. Albert might be timid and not a solid speaker, but he was good at his job.

Al had her right where he wanted her.

“How much?” Francine asked.

Albert unfolded his arms and shifted his feet. “Perdition Investments doesn’t work in conventional monetary units, opting to instead work in contracts for spiritual compensation.”

“Spiritual what?” Francine asked in almost a whisper.

“Souls,” Albert answered, this time without a hesitation. “Perdition Investments will give you anything you want in exchange for your soul.”

Francine laughed. “Is this a joke?”

Shane was dumbfounded but found his mind filled with the same question as he stared up at Albert.

“Uh, no. We recognize that you might not believe in your immortal soul,” Albert was obviously reading the company line, but his timid style made it sound original, “but the value of a contract is based on the value of what we believe in.”

Francine hugged herself. “I believe in my soul, I just…” she seemed flustered and confused, and Shane couldn’t blame her. “I don’t know what to believe.”

Albert nodded, “Belief is a confusing thing. Instead, we should look at the known variables.” He paused for only a second, seemingly finding his stride. “Would you do anything to have your husband back?”

Francine hesitated, obviously knowing where the line of questioning was going. Finally, she answered, “Of course I would.”

“That’s what marriage is, isn’t it?” Albert continued. Shane was mildly surprised, assuming that after Francine has said she would do anything to cure her husband that Al would have moved in with the close, but instead, he took it further. “The promise that you would sacrifice anything for each other. That promise is the thing that binds your souls together. True soulmates would save each other from…well…anywhere, err, I mean thing.”

Suddenly, Shane understood. Shane wasn’t certain what was going on, and he was fairly sure that all of this was fake, but either way, he thought he understood what narrative Albert was using. Albert was painting a story for her. Francine had admitted that she believed in the ‘soul’, so she would obviously be hesitant to give it up and potentially end up somewhere that Bruce would not for the rest of eternity.

His narrative had a hidden promise in it, though. Albert was saying that her husband’s love could save her soul, but he said it without ever saying it.

For all of his nervous demeanor, Albert was proving himself to be a damned good salesman.

Francine stared at Albert for a moment before her gaze shifted to Shane. After trying to get a read off of his face and failing, she returned her look to Albert.

“Can I have a minute to discuss it with Bruce?”

“Well,” Albert took in a breath, “part of the contract is that no one outside of the contract is allowed to know about the contract.”

“Bruce would be part of the contract,” Francine argued, “it’s about him.”

Albert shook his head, “It actually isn’t. We’re asking you to trade us your soul in exchange for something that you want. You get to label that ‘want’, but it has nothing to do with him. It’s your free will and your choice.” Albert continued, as if expecting Francine to continue bargaining with him on the subject. “It states very clearly in the contract that any sharing of the knowledge or details of the contract with anyone who isn’t either with Perdition Investments or is, in fact, yourself would void the contract, negating all effects.”

“That’s incredibly harsh, don’t you think?” Francine was annoyed. She was being told that she could have her husband back and in good health, but whenever anyone asked her how such a miraculous thing had occurred, she wouldn’t be able to answer the truth. “What am I supposed to say to him when he asks how?”

“That’s the easiest part,” Albert answered. “Do you know how I healed your husband?”

Francine could have mentioned Albert talking into his phone, or she could have mentioned the aformentioned contract, but instead, she recognized that Albert was giving her the broom with which to push all of today under the rug.

The older woman shook her head, “I have no idea how you did it.”

Albert smiled. “See? It’s easy. Get used to those words.” He clarified by stating it plainly. “Just say, “I have no idea. It’s a miracle,’ anytime someone asks.” He nodded. “Do that and you can have your husband back and healthy for the rest of his days.”

Albert then did something that Shane hadn’t expected. The deal was essentially closed, they just required a signed contract from Francine. Instead of getting that signed contract, Albert directed her back toward her rejuvinated husband.

“Why don’t you go visit with your husband for a few minutes while I explain to my friend how I’ll draw up the contract.”

Francine said nothing. She turned away and shuffled toward the back of the house.

Shane was finally free from whatever pretense they had been operating under.

“What the hell was that about?” Shane waved a hand toward where Francine had disappeared. He was whispering, but only barely. “Is the husband in on this with you?”

“What? No,” Albert laughed. “Nobody’s ‘in on it’ with me. This is what we do.”

“You trade people for their souls?” Shane wasn’t sure what he believed in, but he certainly wasn’t going to buy whatever Albert was trying to sell him. “You find people who are down on their luck and trade them their souls for whatever they want? Bullshit.”

Albert frowned at Shane’s profanity. “How else do you explain what just happened here?”

“I already told you, the husband is in on it. Obviously, he reached out to you to help him get out of…something. He paid you, and you staged this elaborate mystical intervention to help his wife buy whatever part in it you might have had.”

Albert shook his head. “Souls have intrinsic wish value. Some have more than others, but they all have some value. The idea is to get people to agree to give up their souls for far less than their wish value is worth.”

“Why?” Shane demanded.

“Gross profit,” Albert shot back. “We don’t get paid in the conventional sense. We get a percentage of the wish power deposited into our accounts. That wish energy can be used for anything. If you need money, food, cars, or the ability to fly, then you can use the wish power to get it.”

Shane’s mind was reeling. He still didn’t believe Albert, but he was beginning to think Albert was insane. “Prove it.”

“What?” Albert was confused.

“Prove it,” Shane repeated. “I’m assuming your phone is how you access that wish energy? Make a wish, something ridiculous, that will prove to me that,” he circled his hand above his head, “all of this is real.”

Albert resorted to his nervous demeanor again, but brought out his phone. He mumbled something about saving up, but swiped to unlock the phone anyway. It was a standard Android model that everyone seemed to have these days. He opened an app that’s icon was a light gray. In the center was of the gray square was a white flame. The screen that opened up had four lines of text.

Check Balance.

Make Wish.

Gift Wish.

Report a Problem.

“Just, uh, select ‘Make a Wish,’ and speak your wish.”

Shane took the proffered phone and tapped the ‘Make a Wish’ button. The screen was replaced with the picture of a microphone that pulsed in time with the ambient noises in the room.

“I wish for the sky to turn green and the grass to turn blue.”

“Oh, come on,” Albert grabbed at the phone, but Shane pulled it out of his reach. “That’s two wishes in one. It’s going to cost more.”

The words of Shane’s wish were converted to text on the screen. Two buttons joined them. They read ‘confirm’ and ‘cancel.’

Shane pressed ‘confirm’ and tossed the phone to Albert who caught it frowning. Shane walked to the window as Francine came in.

The sky was blue and the grass was green.

“I’ll do it,” Francine said.

“Great,” Albert was suddenly filled with an energy that didn’t reflect anything that had happened to him or Shane in Francine’s absence. He tapped a few things on his phone’s screen and then turned it so that the screen was facing Francine.

“Some things,” Albert explained, “haven’t changed since the old days. Once you’re done reviewing the contract, all you need to do is put your finger over the headphone jack,” he pointed at the proper place on the edge of the phone. “Just hold your finger there until you feel a pinch.”

She looked at him with a twist of fear in her eyes, but got over it. The reality of the situation, as she believed it, was dire, but she couldn’t deny that her husband was definitely healthier.

Whether the sky was blue or green, Shane couldn’t deny it either.

Francine put her finger over the headphone jack and flinched, but when she pulled her finger away she handed the phone back to Albert with finality.

It was done.

“Now get out of my house.”

Francine didn’t even lead the way. She simply stated her demand and both Shane and Albert stepped out the small home and walked back to the car.

As Shane climbed into the passenger side, he asked, “Well, a sucker’s born everyday.”

Albert answered by pointing up and out the window.

Shane looked up just in time to catch the sky shift in color. It turned green.

Satan’s Salesman (Unedited) Chapter 4


Chapter 4
A long night of celebratory love-making helped to push Sara Durant’s odd behavior to the back of his mind. Unfortunately, it came back to the surface when Maggie left for work in the morning.

As he poured himself a cup of coffee, Shane struggled to think of a time before her getting let go that Sara had acted so awkwardly around him. Even when Shane included the one chili cookoff that he and Sara had gotten in a friendly argument over, it hadn’t gotten to such weird levels of awkward for him.

On the drive in, Shane blasted the Elvis Duran in the Morning Show and managed to bury his concerns about Sara Durant beneath prank phone calls and comedic interviews. By the time that Shane reached his office, Sara was a distant memory.

Before he was out of his car, Steve Horton was coming out of the back lot glass door and marching toward Shane’s car.

“Look,” Steve was saying as Shane got out of his car, “I did everything I could.”

“What are you talking about?” Shane was confused, but he couldn’t help but feel Sara Durant’s name floating back to the surface of his mind.

“The decision came from Chicago. I don’t know how, but she managed to convince someone that she still had something of value to offer us.”

Shane didn’t even ask. It was all too obvious to him what was going on.

When Shane rushed past Steve, his manager, he didn’t even swerve to avoid crashing into him. Instead, Steve jumped out of Shane’s way and was still bumped by Shane’s laptop bag.

Once in the CIT building, he made his way toward his new office without slowing.

Boxes filled with his stuff were stacked neatly outside of the office. The door to the office was shut but unlocked.

Shane threw the door open and continued his stride into the office that had been his only a few hours ago.

“What the fuck is going on Sara?”

He didn’t hide how pissed off and confused he was. He needed her to see that he wasn’t going to take any of this.

“I told you that I had a backup plan.” Sara was very calm and leaning back in her chair as if she had never lost it.

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” Shane wasn’t shouting but his voice was filled with righteous anger. “You lost this job, and I earned it. What the fuck are you doing in my chair?”

Real sympathy, not the stuff a salesman or someone trying to empathize would use, filled Sara’s face.

“I’ve been doing this too long,” she sighed and her eyes looked like they were about to spill tears. “I can’t do anything else. I don’t know how to do anything else. So, I made a deal.”

“With who?” Shane demanded. “Was it Brent Lamar?” He was referencing the Human Resources director. “Did you have something on Steve that you could leverage? Or were you sitting on a huge deal until the day something like this happened?”

Sara shook her head and tears were actually sliding down her cheeks. “It’s nothing like that.” Her body started to shake as her tears evolved into actual sobs. It was confusing to Shane. She was essentially saying that she made a deal to get her job back, taking it away from Shane and with it Shane’s dreams of the Global Account Manager position.

Yet, she was the one crying. Shane couldn’t help but wonder what she had given up to get her job back.

None of the confusion alleviated his anger.

“Then tell me what it’s like. I am going to fix this.”

Sara looked up at him and wiped her eyes. “Unfortunately for both of us, I don’t think this can be ‘fixed’.” She reached into her desk and pulled out a card. She slid it across the desk to him. “They, um,” the words seemed to catch in her throat, “grant wishes.”

“Grant wishes? What the fuck does that mean?”

“You tell them what you want, and they make it happen, but that’s all I can say.”

Shane slapped his hand down on the card and picked it up to read it.

“I bet that’s all you can say,” he mumbled as he read the card.

It only read “Perdition Investments” and had a phone number beneath it. Otherwise, the card was entirely blank.

“Is this a joke?” He held the card out as if he was about to throw it back at her. He had no intention of losing the card, though. He was going to reach out to them to find out where to send the lawyers.

“No, it’s real.” Sara held her hands wide essentially saying, “The results speak for themselves.”

Shane frowned. “How much did it cost you?” Maybe when his lawyers were done destroying Perdition Investments, they could get her whatever she paid for it back.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Sara gave instead of an explanation. “I really can’t talk about it. It’s part of the…” she paused again as another word got lost on its way out, “contract. I can’t say anything other then recommend that people give them a call.” She opened her computer and wiped her eyes, making an effort to avoid eye-contact with Shane. “And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve recommended that you give them a call. Now,” she looked at Shane, but she was trying very hard to keep the look from turning into tears, “I have work to do and you need to get out of my office.”

Shane had to refrain from doing something outrageous. Punching a wall, kicking a trashcan, or breaking a laptop all came to mind, but he held it all back. Instead he turned and slammed her door.

He let his feet carry him to Steve’s office, but Steve wasn’t there. No one was where they should have been. Instead, everyone had been hanging out near the end of the hall, listening in to everything that went on in Shane’s former office.

When he had reached Steve’s office he leaned on his manager’s desk and waited for Steve to catch up.

“That was intense,” Steve ventured in an attempt to break the thick fog of Shane’s anger that seemed to permeate every inch of his office.

“Shut up and listen,” Shane said it calmly and with no malice in his voice, but his words demanded to be heard. “You and this company are very close to losing me. Are you aware of the revenue potential that you will have traded if you lose me because she was hired back on?”

Before Steve could answer, Shane held up his hand to stop him.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ve already done the simple math. If I keep going as I’ve gone this year, I’m on track to bring this company over a million dollars this year.” Shane’s anger finally showed as he jabbed his finger in the direction of Sara Durant’s office. “She hasn’t brought in thirty thousand dollars in the last six months.”

Steve opened his mouth to speak, but Shane cut him off again.

“So, what I want to know is what you are going to do to make me want to stay.”

Steve wasn’t sure if Shane was going to cut him off again, so he waited until it was obvious that Shane actually wanted him to speak.

“Shane, this was as much a surprise to me as it was to you.” Shane was about to call Steve on what he suspected was bullshit, but it was Steve’s turn to raise a hand, “That means that I am not prepared with an offer to keep you, but I obviously want to and you have the best case. Give me twenty-four hours and I will come back with something better than what you just lost.”

“That’s fair enough,” Shane replied, “but so was firing Sara Durant. My faith in CIT has been shaken. I expect you to remember that when you’re speaking to whoever you need to speak to about whether or not I leave you.” He steepled his fingers on Steve’s desk. “I’m also taking that same twenty-four hours as paid leave.” Shane turned and walked to the door before turning and adding, “One more thing, if anyone says that the revenue I bring in isn’t worth it, try to remind them that I’ve backed up all of my current customer base on an external cloud. My clients will be going with me. If I walk out of this office, I’m taking over ten million dollars of potential revenue for the next several years with me.”

Shane didn’t look to see what Steve’s reaction was and instead kept walking until he was back at his car.

***

Trying to explain the situation to Maggie was the most difficult part of Shane’s day. He didn’t think that he fully understood what had happened, so how could he explain it to her. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to find out. When his phone rang, he contemplated not picking it up, but doing so would only encourage her to text him, and he didn’t want to have this conversation over text.

“Hey, how’s work?” Maggie’s voice came over the Bluetooth connection in Shane’s car.

“In flux,” Shane responded. It wasn’t meant to be cryptic by any means so much as it was a commentary on his mental processes. All of this might turn out great for him once Steve had a chance to plead Shane’s case to the upper management. On the other hand, everything in nature preferred the easiest path. Streams flowed around rocks, fish swam with the current, and humans usually chose to keep things exactly how they were if the alternative meant actually doing some work.

“Oh my, what’s going on?”

“I don’t even know, to be completely honest. Sara Durant’s dinner party last night was celebrating her ability to convince someone in a position of power to give her job back to her.”

Maggie wasn’t sure how to respond at first. “What does that mean for you?”

“It means that I was just promoted and then demoted back to my original position with no bump in pay,” he shook his head at the idea even though Maggie could see him. “I stepped out after demanding that they give me a reason to stay. I gave them a day to figure it out.”

“Good for you. Do you think they’ll come back with an offer?”

Shane thought about that for a second. They would have to give him something. If they didn’t he would gladly take his contacts and sell them to the highest bidder. Those contracts and his sales record were going to belong to someone who could use them, he just needed to evaluate his options.

To answer Maggie, he said, “I gave them little choice, but anything could happen at this point.” All of it was mind-blowing. “I mean anything at all could happen. I was positive that nothing could save Sara’s position with CIT, but she figured something out.”

“Why did they hire her back?”

“She said that she made a deal and then she gave me a card for Perdition Investments.”

Maggie mulled over the name for only a moment before saying, “I’ve never heard of them.”

“Me either, but I reverse looked up the phone number and am headed to their offices now, I think.” Shane’s righteousness was flaring up again. How could any company out there pull this kind of bullshit on him? “I’m going to speak to them and if they don’t do something to correct the actions that they’ve made I am more than willing to call a lawyer and get this ironed out the legal way.”

“Fuck their shit up,” Maggie whooped into the phone.

They talked for a little while longer until his GPS let him know that he was almost there. Once the phone call was over, Shane kept his eyes open for the location.

He was in the middle of nowhere. The reverse lookup address had taken him to a large empty field filled with tall grass and about thirty miles out of town. Shane checked the GPS address against the reverse directory lookup twice before deciding that the error wasn’t on his part.

He was about to turn around when he saw a carved wooden sign on a lone fence post along the side of the road. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Shane let the car roll to a stop in front of the post.

On it, the words “Perdition Investments,” were burned into the wood. The wood itself looked as if it had been originally put up back a long time ago.

Shane put the car in park and got out to look at the sign closer. He hoped to see either a forwarding address or other sort of useful information on the sign.

He didn’t expect to see anything on the sign and wasn’t disappointed. The only thing on the entire sign was the name of the company. There wasn’t even an address for the location, so he couldn’t figure out how his GPS even knew this was the right place. With no housing or anything for as far as he could see, there wasn’t anything that Shane could detect that would have been used in determining the address of the large empty field.

Taking a moment, he cast his eyes across the field, wondering if he was missing anything. There weren’t even woods against the field, it just continued off into the distance. Shane could see hills and what looked like they might have been windmills at the edge of the horizon, but nothing of value.

Just like the rest of his day, this location was a bust.

Shane turned back toward his car and started when he realized someone was leaning against the passenger side door with her hands in her pockets.

She was a shorter woman with dark brown hair and large brown eyes. She was dressed in a lady’s business suit that Shane couldn’t tell if it was black or a very dark red. Her hair was longer, but it was impossible to tell how long, as she had it up in a bun. Also notable were the large and numerous gold and silver bracelets on each of her wrists. This lady liked her bling.

Her interesting outfit and sudden appearance weren’t the oddest thing about this random woman leaning against his Sebring in the middle of nowhere just outside of Crescent Hill. The oddest thing about this random woman was that there were no vehicles anywhere aside from Shane’s. She was either hiding in the grass and waiting for him to turn his back, or she had just appeared out of thin air.

“Are you looking for someone?” Her voice was deeper than he would have guessed, but still not outside of the range of the average female pitch.

Shane eyed her and didn’t attempt hide his suspicion from his face. “I’m looking for Perdition Investments,” he hooked his thumb to indicate the wooden sign behind him. “You wouldn’t happen to have any idea where they might have moved to, would you?”

She raised an eyebrow at him in a similar way that Maggie did when she wanted more information. “What led you to trying to locate them?”

Shane retrieved the business card that he had acquired from Sara from his pocket. He held it up to show it to the new woman.

“I was given your card and I prefer meeting people in person, not on the phone.”

“Obviously,” she stated without inflection.

The mysterious woman came away from Shane’s car and stuck out her hand. “My name is Sherrie Webster. I am the Sales Manager at Perdition Investments. What can I help you with?”

Shane looked around, being careful to closely examine the field behind the sign as well as the one across the street from it. “I would prefer to have this conversation in an office.”

“I’m sure you would,” Sherrie said with a pleasant lilt to her voice. “Unfortunately, our headquarters is out of state, and our sales reps work remotely.” She shrugged and smiled. “It’s a new world or work. Everything is remote.”

Shane wanted to ask about the sign or why they even had a listed address if it didn’t lead to anything in particular, but decided that he needed to get to the business at hand.

“What do you do at Perdition Investments?”

“As I mentioned previously, I’m the Sales Manager.”

Shane shook his head, “I mean in a more general sense. What is the product that your sales team sells?” He shrugged. “Give me your elevator pitch.”

Sherrie Webster crossed her hands in front of her and said, “At Perdition Investments we specialize in leveraging your unused resources to provide the means with which you can achieve your dreams or increase your quality of life.”

“That’s a pretty way of saying a lot of nothing, don’t you think?” Shane had never heard a vaguer elevator pitch in his life. Elevator pitches were supposed to define a company’s goals in a short sentence or two, but this one still didn’t explain the product or what resources would be getting leveraged to achieve whatever the desired results are.

She nodded. “What can I help you with?”

“Do you have a client by the name of Sara Durant?”

Sherrie shook her head. “I don’t make it a practice to discuss my clients, and that includes whether or not they are my clients.”

Shane nodded but kept pressing. “I’m going to assume that you know exactly who she is. I have a problem with whatever service you provided for Ms. Durant. Whatever you did to reverse her misfortune has caused me misfortune. I was promoted when she lost her job. When you did whatever it was that you do to get her job back, I was removed from my new position.” Shane was keeping his voice even and his emotions in check. If he let his emotions drive the conversation than he would have lost before he started.

“And what can I do about that?”

“Reverse it.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?” Shane had expected her to give some pushback, but he was prepared. “That’s hardly a company line. From what little I know about Perdition Investments, you give people what they want for a price. What I want is Sara Durant’s position at CIT.” He put his hands into his pockets. “How much?”

Sherrie looked him up and down and whipped out her phone. She swiped once, and then twice, before tapping out a message on the keyboard. She waited, looked at Shane again, and then returned to tapping away on her screen.

“Are you ignoring me?” It was just rude to pull out a phone in the middle of a sales meeting, and Shane had no illusions that this was a sales meeting, even if he intended to see her process and then give all of the information to his lawyer.

“Not at all,” Sherrie answered. “I’m looking up the value of your request and texting upper management to see if the deal is something we can work out.”

Shane nodded and waited. After about thirty seconds her phone beeped and Sherrie Webster frowned.

“Well?” Shane asked.

“I can’t offer you what you’ve asked for,” Shane had expected her to say as much. Going back on her deal with Sara would destroy Perdition Investments’ credibility. “But,” Sherrie continued, “I’ve been told to make a different offer to you.”

That wasn’t something that Shane had expected and he found himself without words. To his mild relief, Sherrie took that to mean, “Please continue.”

“You’re good at what you do?”

Shane was expecting to hear more of the offer, not more questions.

“I suppose so, but you don’t even know my name.” He frowned at her. “I could be lying to you about being good at my job.”

Sherrie nodded. “You could be, but I would know.”

She held up her phone and read off of the screen. “According to my manager, you’re Shane Lowe. Shane Lowe is currently ranked as the number one sales rep at Computer Information Technologies.” She put her phone away and smiled at Shane. “As a matter of fact, in the last year you have been the number one sales rep for at ten of those months. Would it be safe to say that you are great at your job?”

Shane hesitated before nodding. “How did you figure out my name?”

“Now isn’t the time for that question. Ask a different one.”

Shane wasn’t in control of this conversation, and that wasn’t how he had meant for any of this to go. “This isn’t why I am here. I don’t want a new job, I want Sara Durant’s job.”

Sherrie shook her head. “No, you don’t. You want more. More money, more stuff, more love. Everything in your life isn’t good enough for you, but you know it can be as long as you reach just a little farther.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “So, ask me the correct question.”

Shane sighed. “What’s the offer?”

Sherrie uncrossed her arms. “Do what you do, but do it for us, and get paid more money than you ever thought you could want.”

Shane walked past her, slapping the card into her hand as he did and got into his car.

He rolled down the window. “You will be hearing from my lawyers.”

Sherrie looked at the card in her hand before clasping her hands behind her back. “I sincerely doubt it, Mr. Lowe.” She paused. “Why don’t you keep our card, just in case you decide to entertain our offer?”

Before she could offer the card back to him, Shane shifted his car into drive and took off down the road.