It Happened One Night
The editor walked into Hades a little after midnight. She looked like she knew what she was after. She swaggered over to the bar and said hello to the bartender.
“Evenin’, Frank.” she said. “New talent tonight, huh?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “booth in back. Check it out.” Frank continued wiping a beer glass and reading a racing form.
Every city in the world has bars like Hades. Ask any cab driver, rickshaw puller or canoe paddler and they’ll take you. These bars are usually down by the docks, or near the airport, bus station or train station. These bars are where the writers hang out. They’ll sit in the bars all night long, sometimes, waiting to sell the one talent God gave them to anyone who comes in the door carrying a little cash. “Writer” is the nice name; the taxi drivers just call us “hacks”. Hades is a hack bar.
The editor walked the smoky length of the room, jingling a few coins in her hand, eyeing the tables and booths as she went. The sound the coins made in her hand drew the attention of the older hacks sitting near the bar, and a few flirted with her for old time’s sake. They weren’t serious about it; they all knew she only liked the young stuff. She leaned on the juke box for a minute, dropped in her coins and punched a few buttons. She turned and walked slowly away from the machine, waiting for the music to start, approaching my booth with a studied nonchalance.
I was dressed the way I know editors liked their hacks, neat but a little bit cheap: reliable but affordable. I was dressed to look easy. As the first notes of “Paperback Writer” came out of the juke box the editor motioned to the bench seat next to me. I nodded, and she sat down. I was waiting for her to talk first. I'm fairly new to the game and not yet confident with Editorish.
“You’re new here, aintcha?” asked the editor. I knew that if I ever wrote a line that any editor on earth would slap me around, but I swallowed my disgust and said “Yeah.”
“What’s your name, honey?” She smiled at me around a toothpick hanging from the corner of her mouth.
“Me? Uh… Ken. Yeah, that’s it: Ken.”
“Pleased to meetcha, Kim. My name’s John.”
“Your name is John?”
“Yeah. Short for Jeannette.”
“Oh. Well, I’ve never met a John who wasn’t lovely.”
“What kind of sentence is that?” The editor frowned. “Too passive! Why not just say ‘John, you’re lovely.’ Now that’s a sentence. Hemingway could’ve written that.”
I panicked; it was my first time working on my own, without an older hack helping me, and I’d blown it in my first sentence of more than four words. I fell back on that ancient tool of the professional submissive: tears. I let my eyes mist up and quivered my lower lip dramatically.
“I didn’t start out to work this way,” I whined, “I’m really a novelist.” The editor’s eyes drifted over my shoulder, and she waved at a waitress. The waitress came to the table and the editor said, “Scotch rocks for me, and a cola for my little friend.”
I waited until I had the editor’s attention again. “After my Papa died we had to sell the land to pay his medical bills. Mama moved into the big city and got a job in a factory. My little brother is still in school, but if I don’t send enough money home to pay for tuition and uniforms, he’ll… he’ll have to…” I was crying freely now, and my voice had assumed a little catch that I hoped made me sound vulnerable and sweet. “He’ll have to… write brochures!” At this point I broke down into sobs.
The waitress brought our drinks, and with one hand the editor threw back her scotch, draining the glass with a gulp. With the other hand she caressed my thigh under the table. “Don’t worry, Baby,” she said with a leer, the fumes of whiskey and tobacco enveloping me like fog. “Mama will take care of you. But you know what Mama wants, don’t you?” Her eyes almost closed as she leaned over me, her hand moving farther up my thigh. “Mama wants the good stuff. Stuff like you gave to Mega Media Mart.”
I had known this was coming, but even so I flinched when I heard it. I covered with a moist but willing smile and tried to breathe deeply, tried to slow the pounding of my heart. “I’ll give it to you, uh… Darling.” I said. I’d already forgotten the editor’s name, just one more in a long line of names.
“I know what you want,” I continued in a breathy whisper, “and I’ll give it to you. Just like I gave those guys at Mega Media, that and a whole lot more.” Then my eyes grew round and projected innocence, as I asked “Darling, how much you give me?”
“Don’t worry, uh… Darling.” She’d forgotten my name as well. “I’ve been around, I know the score. I know a good read don’t come cheap.”
The editor grinned crookedly and leaned way back in her chair, ostensibly reaching for her wallet but in effect showing the room with body language that a deal had been made, a bargain struck, and she no longer needed to act polite toward or even interested in what she’d purchased. The editor stood up and tossed a few bills on the table for the waitress. I allowed myself to be pulled up by one arm, making a show out of checking my outfit in the mirror behind the bar as I stood. I wanted the room to know that I was confident of the sale as well.
The editor led the way through the bar, hitching up her pants and calling a farewell to the bartender. I made eye contact with an older hack who was entertaining some merchant seamen with tales of riding over the Plane of Jars with Air America. The older man smiled an encouragement, and I caught up with the editor at the door.
She ogled me and licked her lips lewdly. “We’ll just go back to my office to clear up the paperwork, and then… ”
“Say,” I said as we went out the door, “I don’t have a work permit. Do you mind making the check out to my wife?”