Chapter 1: Get the Job
I spotted the boss of my boss, Allan "Murph" Murphy, wearing his trademark sly smirk from his office doorway as I gingerly trudged to meet him.
Suddenly feeling feverish with cold sweat trickling down my neck and my throat painfully parched, I closed the door of his lair behind me and faced the hard day before me.
A few days ago, I had a quarrel with one of the authors I was handling and it almost cost the publishing house a valuable asset. The book was about healthy living but instead of encouraging me to live a healthy life, it inspired me to do the opposite like smoke cigars.
As an editor - well, an assistant editor - I made some changes to the book assigned to me. And might I say I improved it!
...Not that the author appreciated my effort.
I scrapped a pile of his unnecessary side comments and nonsense life stories, and stripped the book down to essentials. The result was an easy-to-read book about health - a manuscript written like those interesting reads in health magazines.
The author, of course, was furious. He lashed out at my senior editor, who summoned me in his office demanding an explanation. Unfortunately, as an assistant editor in charge of grammar and layout, editing the book to such extent was beyond my responsibility.
So my moment of glory turned into a catastrophe.
I didn't regret editing the book though. It was hideous. If I was given a chance to do things all over again, I would edit it the same way. I would even sign my name on it.
"Sit down," Murph said, leaning back on his squeaky chair, crumbling what little courage I had with his icy stare.
I took a deep breath and sat myself on the right seat fronting his desk.
"You know you're a pain in my ass, right?" he scoffed, looking at me like he was simply too tired to see my face.
"Yes, sir," I replied, realizing this wasn't my first time in his office.
Memories of the first argument I had with an author flashed before my eyes. I edited a badly written manuscript on the day I started working in the company, and by "badly" I meant grammar errors going off the charts that I went into a proofreading frenzy.
I was so proud of myself that I thought the company needed me. I imagined myself being summoned by my senior to acknowledge my efforts and name me "best rookie assistant editor!"
...If there even was one.
My senior editor did call me in his office after that, but to reprimand me for badly editing a manuscript of one of their prized authors. Apparently the manuscript, as much as I hated it, catered to a significant amount of audience that had been giving the publishing company a substantial amount of profit. And with the author furious at my job, the company was on the verge of losing money.
I've had my highs, of course. That was why after all the fuss I've caused, I was still there in the company - editing under the strict supervision of not only my senior editor, but also of our Chief Editor, Murph.
Sure, I could write an extremely long list of things I hated about my job. But the fact was, I liked it. I liked getting paid to read books and polish them before other people read them.
I liked reading words and seeing them form sentences that paint images in my head. I liked sitting on my desk all day and cleaning pages of stains that could mess up their story.
Sadly, I didn't get that many beautiful images and stories on the manuscripts I read.
Being in the Non-fiction: Guides and Manuals department, I was in charge of cleaning manuscripts that taught people how to use curtains; how to design living rooms; how to sleep on time; how to raise the perfect pooch; and other whatnot. And with what would seem like some kind of cruel twisted curse from fate, I always ended up with the worst kind of manuscripts.
"Rough draft" wouldn't even be enough to describe them.
Several paces away from my workstation was the Fiction department - a floor of middle-aged editors who read piles of stories about love, adventure, worlds beyond your imagination, heroes in epic battles, ambitious bloodthirsty villains...
They read the upcoming installments of bestselling authors like Miller Dane's second fantasy book for "Windlass;" Rick Lemur's new mystery "Spring Tide;" Willow Finworth's drama "Éclair;" Craig Philip's tragedy, "Sea child;" and so much more!
They spent all their workdays in marvelous, action-packed places while I spent my work hours reading crap and making them less of the crap they were.
I looked at Murph; his sleepy eyes looking down at me as he tapped his stubby fingers on his burgundy desk.
Murph, though closely resembling Father Christmas, wore the most stoic face in the office. Not even his bosses could guess what ran through his mind. But based on what had been happening to my work lately, I was pretty sure my head was on the chopping board.
Murph was finally going to fire me.
And sure enough, he leaned further away from his desk - giving his over-bulged tummy a fair distance from the table. He opened his drawer, fished out a stack of papers and placed them on the desk.
Yes. He was firing me. Goodbye, manuscripts. Goodbye, free web-surfing. Goodbye-
"I'm assigning you to the Fiction department."
Goodbye, Fiction Depart-
"What?!" I gasped, jumping up from my seat.
Murph raised his brow at me. "You don't want it?"
"I DO! I do, I just - I... You're transferring me to the Fiction Department? Really..?"
Murph smirked. "Actually, I've transferred you there," he said, signing the papers he placed on the table. "You'll be reporting to Jimmy now."
I never thought I would do it but yes, I smiled like a crazed man and it was just humiliating. My eyes were wide and teary, and my mouth was-
"I want to hug you right now," I told Murph.
Murph looked appalled at me, not that I could blame him. I was socially awkward but I didn't do stuff like that often.
And no, I was not gay.
"I was kidding," I quickly said, attempting to salvage the pinch of dignity I had left.
"I hope so," Murph mumbled. "Here," he said, handing me the papers. "Go ask Jimmy for a job. Now scram, before I decide to punch you for verbally assaulting me."
He didn't mean that, did he?
Either way, I ran out of his office an extremely happy man. I didn't care if they threw me into the Fiction Department's beginner's pool. I noticed a handful of curious glances at me, but I didn't care.
I was finally going to read the kind of manuscripts I lived for!
Jimmy sighed the minute I handed him the papers. He was sitting behind his desk at the time, reading the morning newspaper. He was the plump, bespectacled version of Dr. Xavier.
At one point in working in the company, I figured you had to resemble some fiction character to be assigned to the Fiction Department. I had seen a lot of editors resembling fiction characters like Garfield, Ms. Piggy, Sgt. Caterpillar, and Cheshire cat in the department.
I didn't resemble any fiction character. And now that I was under the department, well... It did make me wonder who I might actually resemble.
Tony Stark? Steve Rogers? Dick Greyson?
Jimmy browsed grimly through the pages. I didn't know what they were, really. I was too out of my wits with excitement to realize I should have read them.
"Murph decided yeh've wreaked enough havoc in the Non-Fiction Department so he's throwing yah to the Fiction Department," Jimmy muttered in the drunkard manner he was known for, while reading the papers. I always thought he was faking an accent. But hearing him speak that way all the time made me think he had some sort of speech problem.
I frowned. That couldn't be the reason why Murph re-assigned me... Right..?
Jimmy looked at me through his thick eye glasses. "Well," he continuted. "I guess ya'll do. He did tell yah that if yeh failed here, yer out of the company, right?"
I froze. I felt like a six-wheeler truck just crashed onto my face. "N-no..."
Jimmy stared at me for a moment before his lips cracked into a smile. He burst into laughter, stood up and slapped my shoulder - hard. "I was fooling yah!" he exclaimed. "Ye should have seen yer face!"
I tried to smile as I massaged my screaming arm. It felt like it slid off the socket. I might have to file a leave and run to the nearest hospital.
"Come along, kid," Jimmy said, standing up from his seat and urging me to walk with him to the door. "I'll take yah to yer new place."
I slowly stood up and followed him.
New place...? Of course! The reassignment entailed a new cube - a new workstation. But to my surprise, he led me to an office - a four-walled, glass-windowed office.
I stared at two polished wooden desks where two sleeping computers sat; at the towering bookshelves resting their weight against the walls; at the hardbound books that rested in their arms; at the soft carpeted floor silencing my footsteps; and at the glass windows overlooking the city from the 25th floor.
"Rupert's office, yes," Jimmy interrupted, slowly carrying his weight to the nearest chair.
Rupert Warren was one of the special editors in the company. He took charge of one author who wrote several bestselling books under a variety of genres; a special author. He had made several authors famous but the current author he was handling was one of the best ones I knew.
"As yah might have already heard," Jimmy began, resting his body weight on a chair. "Rupert had a bit of an accident - broke his leg in two places, and got himself a heart attack. The guy's a retiree, though he doesn't want to admit it."
I looked at Jimmy, half expecting him to tell me a lesson related to Rupert's office - like how I could reach his level if I worked hard in the Fiction Department. I was also half expecting he would tell me I would be taking Rupert's place, but that was just impossible.
"Yah'll move yer things here," Jimmy went on. "-Make yerself comfortable."
I nodded, thinking that was the lesson when lo and behold! I froze. "I-I'm sorry?"
"Yah forgot to clean yer ears this morning?" Jimmy asked, raising an intimidating eyebrow at me.
"N-No, I just... I'm moving into Rupert's office? Wouldn't that be-"
Jimmy gave a hearty laugh. "Yah really didn't read those documents, did yah? Sheesh! I could have kicked yah out the door then, and yah wouldn't even know I was bluffin'."
I just stared at him. I knew it was wrong of me not to read the papers. After all, it seemed to have something to do with my transfer. I was clearly being irresponsible - the kind of behavior that would kick me out of the company.
"I'm sorry," I finally said, embarrassed at what I did. "It won't happen again."
"Damn right," Jimmy snapped. "Now to cut the long story short, yer Rupert's temporary replacement. Yah'll be in charge of keepin' his author on track."
Chills crept up my spine. I felt cold, anxious, scared, stunned. I wanted to freak out!
"His author..." I managed to say.
"Yeah," Jimmy nodded , walking to the desk at the far end of the office. He opened the drawer and pulled out a thick blue clear book. He placed it on the table with a thud. "This should have everythin' yah need."
I walked slowly to the desk, as if the book was a cursed object that could unleash a bloodthirsty monster. I saw myself as a lowly hobbit being entrusted with the responsibility of protecting an evil ring.
"I expect ye'll keep whatever ye see here a secret," Jimmy hissed, looking sharply at me.