ScanEliteA Story by Ron Sanders
How to get published.
"Yeah, yeah, Ernie, I got a good one here. Says he spent twenty years on the damn thing; can you believe it!” The Beamer leaned back, receiver locked in shoulder and chin, hands free to rattle the keyboard. “Calls it Search And Rescue, and claims it’s mystery, adventure, and psychological suspense all rolled up into one beautifully polished package. No, I’m not kidding. Nine-freaking-hundred and seventy-two pages, man! I’ve got it right here. It’s on a floppy, straight off his hard drive. And get this, get this, get this . . . the guy--are you listening, Ernie? Yeah, well, he inserts a copyright symbol, right under his name! Uh-oh, it’s Superman! Boy, when I seen that I just knew he was serious . . . sure, sure . . . I copied the whole thing straight onto our drive. So what do you think? I’m hearing you, Ernie. ScanElite’s just the ticket for this fish. How’s about Norway? They love ‘psychological suspense.’ What better market? Spain? Espanol’s almost too easy. Whatever. Sure I’ve got the code.”
The Beamer rocked side to side in his chair. It was a lovely gray L.A. day; even the graffiti appeared to sparkle in the mist. He leaned over, squished and smeared a spider on the pane. “Then give me one he’ll appreciate, Ernie. That’s almost a thousand pages, for Christ’s sake. Ten-four; here it comes now.” The Beamer adjusted the zoom on his screen. “Let’s see. The William Morass Literary Agency, Agency To The Stars appreciates your contacting us . . . blah blah blah . . . overwhelming number of submissions . . . impossible to judge every manuscript on an individual basis . . . considers your work of the highest quality--good, good; I like that part . . . hopes you will continue to submit your manuscripts on a regular basis--you got that right--and, of course, will never accept a cent in payment for any service or subjective evaluation. Et-freaking-cetera. This one’s a goer, Ernie. Right away. I’ll get back to you on it. How’d that casting call go? No! She did it how many times? Okay, okay, my lips are sealed. Too bad hers weren’t. Just joshing you, big fella! All right; I’ve gotta get on this Search And Rescue guy anyway. Ciao, baby.”
The Beamer replaced the receiver and bent to his work. Dear Author, he typed. He copied and pasted the rejection, and under this typed The Very Best Of Luck, W. Morass, William Morass Literary Agency, Agency To The Stars. The Beamer then opened the ScanElite program on his drive, peeking round the room as he typed in the pass: an old literary agent habit; he was the building’s sole occupant. The screen showed symmetric halves. The Beamer loaded Search And Rescue. The text appeared running down the left side. Above this he typed English, and above the opposing column Spanish. The Beamer hit Connect, and the right-hand side immediately translated Search And Rescue. The Beamer now hit Indigenous.
The beauty of ScanElite is that it doesn’t just translate verbatim. It’s loaded with idiomatic guides, thesauri, map features, governmental agencies, histories, cuisines . . . when the Beamer hit Indigenous the program introduced samples of locales similar to those in Search And Rescue, altered dishes to those popular in contemporary Spain, overlaid rural maps matching the square mileage of entered sites while adjusting street names accordingly, altered weather patterns, host affiliations, slang phrases . . . the Beamer shook his head admiringly. Search And Rescue was now a novel written by a Spaniard, in a mode and tense only a Spaniard could appreciate. While the original author continued to beat his head on agency doors, his novel would be on the imports carousel, finding its way to airports, gift shops, and candy stores before finding its way to permanent obscurity. By that time a hundred others would be hard on its heels. The Beamer hit Send and wagged his head once more. Technology is a beautiful thing.
Instantly an email icon appeared on his screen. The Beamer looked around the room again. If Ernie’d changed his mind it was too late now. He opened the message and squinted thoughtfully.
Please take heed. The ScanElite program has a bug that can be traced to senders and associates. I have developed a con-program that will not only disable electronic eavesdroppers, but will enable users to increase profits exponentially by automatically cross-referencing to desaturated global links. This message is new, and if you are reading it now you are the first to view. If you do not respond, the message will migrate to every literary agent in the book. Beat the feeding frenzy. I am willing to take you on as an equal partner, no questions asked. Click on the link below. Now.
The Beamer’s forefinger was an epee. The link opened on a phone number; very near, same area code, same prefix. He picked up the receiver and dialed, his eyes glued to the screen.
“I got your message,” the Beamer whispered, “and I must say I’m impressed with your enthusiasm. However, the William Morass Literary Agency, Agency To The Stars is a perfectly upright organization, and we do not engage in practices that are not one hundred percent aboveboard.” He licked his lips. “And, of course, we never accept a cent in payment for any service or subjective evaluation.”
“You got to the phone fast enough. Come now, Mr. Morass, we’re both men of the world, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“Of course, of course. But you weren’t all that generous with the details in your message.”
“We obviously can’t discuss business over the phone. You’re familiar with Chez le Encountre?”
“Sure, I lunch there all the time. You’re pretty close by?”
“On the patio. I can’t sit here forever without looking suspicious. It’s starting to rain.”
“I’m on my way. I’ll tell my secretary to send the staff home early.” The Beamer gently replaced the receiver, grabbed an umbrella, and sprinted for the door. It was starting to pour. The Chez waited only three blocks down. He couldn’t afford to fire up the Ol’ Lexer and make a stately showing; time was running against him. The Beamer hopped puddles until he saw the familiar wrought iron rail. He turned up his collar, righted the umbrella, and paced the slurping cement steps with decorum.
At a storefront table, under an anodized steel umbrella, hunched a raincoated man, gloved hands folded on the glass. The Beamer couldn’t tell anything about him, other than that he was thin and Caucasian, due to the coat’s floppy drawn hood. The Beamer shook rain off his umbrella as he took the facing seat.
“Pardon me, sir. I believe we have an appointment here.”
The stranger didn’t raise his head. “I prefer to keep my identity secret, at least for the time being. The business we are about to discuss, you understand, carries certain extralegal ramifications.”
“Certainly, certainly.” The Beamer scooted forward; out of the rain, out of the security cameras, and intuitively lowered his voice. “You mentioned something over the phone about a collaboration. Of sorts--you weren’t definite either way. I’d like to hear more.”
“SEG: the ScanElite Guard. I’m the inventor. I’m also a handyman, investor, programmer--I’ve a long and quilted history. At one point I ran a very successful literary agency, making good money on editing services, promo packages, quickie covers, fonts and letterheads, bylines and boondoggles.”
The Beamer fidgeted defensively. “We got those too.”
“The Guard simply functions as the next-generation Elite. It not only outperforms ScanElite, it seeks out sources incidentally encrypted by what I call misnomers. In other words, there are literally hundreds of thousands of potential sucke--clients--open to Internet voyeurism . . . but only when a sophisticated program culls incidentals. Okay? Every author wannabe isn’t wooing Herman or Literary Marketplace; the genuine novices are purchasing learner programs, taking classes over the Internet, peeking in on conventions . . . these are the ones we go after; the ones who’ve yet to feel the sting. SEG can smoke ’em out.”
“Brilliant! But where do I come in?”
“Fifty-fifty. I’ve burned all my bridges. You’ve got the connects, the name, the network, the clientele. We do this together. If it busts, we slip out of the light and swear we’ve never met. If it flies, and I know it will, we buy an island and sell watered-down Margaritas to the tourist rubes.”
The Beamer’s initial trepidation was now fully replaced by awe. “Mister, you are one savvy customer.” He offered his hand.
“I’m using my cell phone.” The stranger faced it toward the Beamer. “That, Mr. Morass, is the power of the Internet. A man can send and receive messages electronically, anywhere over the globe. He can send text and graphics as attachments; even whole manuscripts. A smart man can even encrypt those messages with tracers; microscopic munchers that will tell him, instantly, if his stuff goes anywhere it’s not supposed to go. Not only that, his encryption can run on a floppy and thereby infect another’s hard drive, exporting a trace signal the original sender can monitor. And not just at home, Mr. Morass; this kind of activity can also be transmitted to and from a properly outfitted cell phone.”
“No kidding,” the Beamer mumbled. “And I need to know all that to sell Margaritas?”
“Not everything. But if a signal should get lost, somehow, we might have to perform a search and rescue operation before the authorities catch on.”
“Huh. You think we could be traced over the Internet?”
“Not readily. There’s just too much traffic. Any kind of search and rescue would leave one of us hanging, and I’d sure hate to be that guy.”
“You don’t say.” The Beamer backed his seat a foot or two. “I can’t say I feel all that comfortable with the operation as you lay it out. Maybe there’s still some bugs.”
“No problem. We just do a search and rescue and stomp the little creeps before they run.”
“Look, I gotta go,” the Beamer said. “Lit. Convention; all the biggies . . . Harris Literary . . . Debbie Fine . . . Jeff Herman . . . Gooder Books . . . Ajents R Us . . . Flybi Nite’s . . . Auther’s Junkchun. Maybe we’ll pick up this little talk some other time.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
The Beamer rose. “I don’t think I have to take that kind of behavior, Mister. I have friends in this town.”
“I’m sure you do.” The stranger rose also.
“What’s your problem, buddy?” The Beamer moved off, looking over his shoulder as he walked. The stranger snapped shut his cell phone and stepped off in pursuit.
“Jesus!” There was no one around; the rain was coming down too hard. The Beamer ducked between shops, saw the figure picking up pace. The Beamer raced awkwardly down the dreary aisles between stores, twice nearly falling in puddles, hearing the splashes coming on hard to his rear. He stretched out flat behind a trestled planter, half-submerged, and listened as the splashes approached, paused a few feet away, and slowly moved along. He was shivering like a dog as he snuck around the building. His mind was halting, his pulse stumbling. The Beamer pasted himself in a haberdasher’s doorwell, wiped the rain from his face. Gradually he grew aware of another presence. That second party, not at all mysterious, morphed by degrees from an amber lamp-generated shadow; looming brick by brick on a facing wall, the frame and demeanor fully anticipated, the coat and hood, even in the transparent, absolutely unmistakable. The hand was rising with deadly certainty; slowly, slowly, the swelling shadow seeming to bear down until it all but grazed the Beamer’s cringing own. The ballooning shape topped the wall and the Beamer’s heart stopped. Funny thing about nature: even at the very jaws of death, the cornered animal may refuse to turn and face its stalker--that long-suppressed image can be so mortifying as to dwarf the moment itself. Yet just as the horror was upon him, the Beamer managed to catch his breath and whirl.
It was a gummy old bum in a trench coat, bonnet, and shades, whacked out on speed and booze and God knows what. He thrust that determining hand in the Beamer’s trembling face. “Take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and be--”
“Christ!” The Beamer rammed him aside. “I’m a literary agent!” He found himself stumbling in circles; well as he knew the mall, his self-preservation instinct had produced a profound sense of disorientation. He slunk shop to shop for perhaps fifteen minutes, retracing his steps half a dozen times before passing headlights gave him a fix.
The Beamer scrambled slipping and sliding on the slick cement, barking his shins on cast iron table legs, breaking his nails on the shops’ gray brick walls. The street was deserted, the rain pounding. He stumbled off the kerb and almost lost it in the street; but a streamlined, medium-sized moving truckvan was barreling his way. Very high-tech, ultramodern; an imported job, eggshell-white, super-smooth lines. Wipers accelerated, high beams flashed twice. The truck stopped six feet shy, on hydro-grooved tires, barely having to swerve. The Beamer staggered up to the passenger side and the window hissed a crack. He clung to the pane’s lip, his breath fogging the glass.
“Help me out, buddy! Be a pal! There’s some nut chasing me down, man, and I think he’s trying to kill me.”
It was impossible to make out features in the dark cab. The voice was gravel and phlegm. “Well then, call a cop! Jesus, man, I coulda killed you! You oughta have more sense than to jump out in front of a moving truck.”
“I’m desperate, friend. Really! I’ll make it good to you. Promise. But for Christ’s sake, let me in!”
The click of an electrically triggered catch. The window hissed back up. The Beamer yanked the door and squeezed inside. “Bless you, friend.” He slammed the door. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” The truck moved off.
The Beamer ran a sleeve over the glass. “Anywhere you’re going. Just get me away from that kook.” He leaned back, gulping the A/C. “Oh, mama.” The Beamer rolled his head. “You’re a life saver. I mean that literally, and I’m a literary agent.” He extended a hand. “William Morass, Agent To The Stars.”
“I’m using the gearshift.”
“Right, right. You just go ahead and do the driving; we’re both cool here.” The Beamer looked the cab over appreciatively. “This is some vehicle, cousin. The works. What you got in the back?”
“Just stuff. Go ahead and take a gander. Door’s unlocked. Lift the latch and give her a shove.”
“Yeah.” The Beamer pushed the door wide. Heavy as it was, it slid soundlessly and almost without effort. The driver flicked a dash switch and the rear was brilliantly illuminated.
“Wow!” The Beamer’s eyes were alive. “It’s like a hospital back there! Sink, tools; everything stainless steel. And what’s that big goober you got hanging in the rear? Looks like a meat hook.” The Beamer grinned at the driver. “What are you, friend? Some kind of a mobile butcher?”
The door latches locked with resounding clicks. “Something like that.”
This part is kind of difficult to describe for readers who may be, understandably, more sensitive to the gut, rather than the psychological, accounts of a written narrative--but it wasn’t the actual pain of the trapezius-ripping hook that brought the Beamer screaming into consciousness. It was the horror. The horror of knowing what his flickering subconscious had been insisting was all a dream.
The driver stood just before him, dressed head to toe for surgery; cap, mask, sterile gloves . . . the truck wasn’t moving, and only the immediate area was lit, lending the place a morbid, suffocating mien.
“Sorry about the medical getup, but I’ve a feeling things are about to get a tad on the messy side.” The Beamer screamed some more. “Please feel free to articulate most vociferously. While you were sawing logs we were on our way to a remote part of town. Your plaints would only prove music to the ghetto’s ears, and anyway the walls of this truck are completely soundproof.”
“Please, friend,” the Beamer gurgled. “All a mistake. We don’t gotta do this.”
“I see. You just accidentally took my life’s work, my heart and soul, and zipped it off to Barcelona for a few quick bucks. You raped my muse, a*****e. But maybe you’re right. Maybe she was ‘just asking for it’.”
The Beamer whipped his head side to side with outrage, sweat and foam glancing in the light. “I’m a literary agent, for God’s sake! We do this all day long. Countless submissions. You’re special, is that it? Christ!” Comprehension dawned in his working iris. “You’ll get your damned money, okay? All profits are digitally tabbed through Paymaster!” A shudder of hope. “Reach in my left pocket, friend. Grab my cell and let me make a call. We’ll get cash in your hand pronto, and I’ll make sure to slip in something nice on the side for your trouble.”
“Gee, I’m sorry, but your phone’s been confiscated, along with your I.D., keys, and address book. Wink-wink, Mr. Morass. I think you understand: we’re both men of the world.”
“Keep ’em! Take my Lexus and my credit cards. They’re yours, guy! Just let me go!”
The stranger nodded wistfully. He folded his hands at the waist and raised his eyes in the shadows. “Just before you so abruptly encountered slumber, you voiced a curiosity as to the particulars of this truck’s cargo bay modifications. Now, I’ve always admired men of an analytical bent, so it’s with some pride I hereupon share our most interesting arena.” He disengaged a rolling office chair from a wall clamp and moved it directly before his squirming guest, leaned pensively against the sculpted leather back, and, with his free hand, tenderly removed from an arm fixture a rectangular steel contraption. It was about the size of a videocassette. “This is a remote control unit.” He got comfortable in the chair. “It instigates, and regulates, the various equipment and paraphernalia about us.”
The flick of a switch, and scores of colored lights popped out of the darkness like the eyes of ever-patient predators. The Beamer had never witnessed an environment so patched and daisy-chained anywhere outside of Metro-Oscar-Mayer Studios.
“This little lever,” and the speaker tilted his device for inspection’s sake, “controls the vertical inclination of your pointy spooning friend. It can be nudged up” --the Beamer shrieked as the hook raised his heels-- “and just as gently lowered.” His soles returned to the floor. The Beamer’s host slipped on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and bent over his remote control. “Up. And down. Up. And down. Up and down and up and down and up--”
“Son,” frowned the Vice Principal, “we’ve been over and over these occupational evaluations, and I’m frankly stumped. According to the State’s best experts, you have the morals of a child molester, the spiritual leanings of a Worm occultist, the ethics of a special education bully, and the IQ of a kumquat picked out of season. And, according to your mother here, you show zero familial aptitude and nil ambition.” He thumbed the pages irritably. “Based on everything we have to go by, the only careers open to you are auto mechanic, Tupperware hostess, literary agent, gay porno actor, and petting zoo rodeo clown.”
“He ain’t got no carwork sperience,” Ma chimed in, “he don’t look good in a skirt, he’s pony-shy, can’t never get it up less he diddles first, and never could read or write worth a damn.”
The VP signed the top page with a flourish. “That settles it then.”
Oh, Jesus: a donkey had him cornholed and a lamprey had him by the weenie. Worse, worse; it was way worse. The lamprey was going all the way, its electric lips a red-hot vise round his beebees. And the darned donkey--well, he just didn’t know when to quit. The Beamer flapped and foamed with the agony and ecstasy, and now Ma had him by the spine, had smashed her paw right through the skin to work him like a puppet. Wake up. She had him jangling this way and that, had him hopping and popping and peeing in time. Wake up. He was on fire; his eyes were coals, his tickle-tank a furnace, his dinky dork a fat purple poker.
Never rouse a sleeper in REM. Consciousness is an ungraspable balloon, sensation merely novocaine’s initial blush. But the Beamer did have real sensation, and very focalized at that. Eyes, back, ballsack, and butthole: that just-dreamt fire would not abate. Or is consciousness really an extension of dreaming, or the other way around . . . his eyelids burned, but not only from waking. With a tearing of tenderest flesh, the Beamer hit reality screaming.
“Remain perfectly still.” The voice was a therapist’s monotone. “Struggling only makes it worse.” The Beamer watched his host through a crimson veil. “The pain at your eyes is produced by a pair of fish hooks, one inserted in each upper lid. These hooks, attached to fishing line, are also controlled vertically by the remote unit. Observe.” The Beamer squealed and shrieked like a Campfire Girl. “This way I am assured of your continued attention. We have much to discuss.” He depressed a lever and the hooks’ tension diminished. “Fishing line is also very useful anywhere finesse is required. For example, line is securely wound about your scrotum, just where it meets the abdomen. That line is made taut by a ring affixed between your feet, and this arrangement produces a squeezing, rather than a tearing, effect.” He wagged his head. “I do so want to apologize for taking liberties with your apparel, but there was no other way to get you all prim and proper. And you were very messy. Plus, I’m absolutely certain you’re aware of a profound sense of rectal invasion. This can be attributed to an upright steel rod, bolted to the floor and terminating at waist-level, resting squarely in the most-becoming recesses of your dorsal region. The cap on this projection contains cross-terminals for producing mild electrical stimulation. Again, observe.”
The Beamer almost hit the truck’s roof with the pain. All that stopped him was a tightening line round his nethers. Halfway to a eunuch, he trembled and danced against opposing forces.
“Anything, man! I’ll do anything! Let me go! What do you want? Name it! Oh please let me down!”
“In the mood for a chat, are we? Well, why don’t we start with a heartfelt discussion on ethics? I’ll go first. Let me present you with a scenario. In this example, a decent, creative man has labored a decade to produce a work of real literature, only to be ambushed by one of those marketing maggots known as literary agents. Having dealt with their caliber before, he encrypts data which makes his work traceable, records copies with the Library Of Congress, and organizes a Watch group databank. But, as a genuinely creative and therefore essentially virtuous individual, he finds himself utterly incapable of dealing with abject venality, at least not in a manner our spoonfed society would term rational behavior. He realizes the ponderous and indifferent legal course is no recourse: no course at all--there is no justice for a victim; the very existence of victimhood obviates, if not downright negates, the very notion of justice. Mutual exclusivity aside, this hypothetical individual decides to take matters into his own hands. To wit: vengeance and heroism are synonymous. As a literary agent you are surely aware of this. For a hero to exist at all, it is imperative the villain get his just deserts. Your rebuttal?”
“God I’ll do anything! I agree! You’re right and I’m wrong! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, sorry, sorry!”
“Wrong answer.” Levers were moved like fades on an equalizer. The Beamer, butt up and balls down, became an electric marionette screaming bloody murder. The levers were returned to zero. “Why did you do this to me? How could you do this to a man’s work?”
“I’m a freaking literary agent, I told you! It’s what we do! Mouths to feed, bills to pay! Mommy! Let me go, let me go!”
“How could you do this to me!”
“Oh, God! Oh God, oh God oh God! I’m dying here. My confession! Forgive me! I do take the holy Jesus into my chest place. I repent, I tell ya, I repent!”
“Talk to me!”
“Mama Mary! Mother Jesus! Oh let me into your heavenly halo . . . I . . . Kee-rist! I’m spewing here, God. He’s making me bleed like Jesus all over--take me up to your cloud home, O savior me. Mommy, I’m dying, dying, dying . . . forgive me if I done any sins but we all done some, Ma, dear Jesus God, let me go, let me down, oh mama I’m sorry, so help me God, help me Jesus, help me mommy, oh Mary Martin, oh Luther and John, oh Moses, Manny, Moe, and Jack, I confess; all of it, I’m sorry, man, I’m sorrysorrysorry, pass the hat and crucify the choir, oh God it hurts, it hurts but I love you Jesus, the kids, the little woman, all of ya, the Beamer done his best, fellas, and he never squealed a once, oh Jesus, God, Mary, Christjesus, mamamercy, oh please oh please oh pleaseohpleaseohplease . . .”
“Enough already!” The Beamer’s host killed the remote’s master switch and the whole apparatus collapsed. The Beamer, squealing, hopped free of his anal pal. The smocked man reached to the stainless counter and brought back a pair of shears. While the Beamer slouched weeping, he carefully snipped the fishing line, high and low, and reached around to gently disengage the meat hook.
In one move the Beamer was on him. He grabbed the throat, tore the shears from the hand, went absolutely ape on the man, shrieking and shouting, cussing and cutting, slicing and hacking and chopping and stabbing until there was only a bloody pile. The Beamer tore through the man’s clothes. Wallet, pen and pad, Juicy Fruit, penlight, miscellaneous papers . . . but no car keys. The Beamer tore out the cash, unlatched the door, tumbled up front. No keys in the ignition. Frantic, not thinking, he leaped naked out the passenger side and ran off into the rain.
It was the black ghetto, all right. He recognized it from last year’s Morass-sponsored Irish Limerick Competition. The money stuck out of his fist like a swollen green thumb. The Beamer bent at the waist and inserted it in the one place no sane man would visit. He then ran flapping up the street until he saw a long black limousine easing out of a tenement’s drive. The Beamer puffed on with a passion, and when the limo attempted to swerve he deliberately leaped in its path. The car stopped with a squeal and splatter. The Beamer stumbled round to the rear window. The pane hissed down a crack. Inside was an immaculately-dressed black man, looking more amazed than frightened.
“Lord, son! What happened to you!”
“Long story,” the Beamer panted. “Help me out, friend. Drive me somewhere, anywhere. I can pay you. Cash.” He proffered his backside, took a deep breath and pushed.
“That’s all right! We can settle later. Who did this to you?”
“Crazy guy. Didn’t like me selling his story.”
“No! So you’re telling me he actually physically accosted you?”
“Look at me!”
A beetling of brows. “We just may be talking lawsuit here. Do you have any inside friends? And where is this individual? I would like to interview him.”
The naked man’s eyes slunk to the asphalt. “Oh . . . around. You know, I been thinking maybe I could use some legal help.”
The rider drummed his nails on the glass. “I’m going to be perfectly frank with you here, son. You impress me as a man with the wit and wisdom of a salamander, the scruples of a penitentiary snitch, and the moral restraint of a hooker during shore leave. You wouldn’t, by any chance, have ever worked in a petting zoo?”
“Are you kidding? I’m a literary agent!”
“Saints!” The latch was released and the door swung open. The dark figure extended a sticky hand. “Johnny Cockrun, Defense Attorney To The Stars.”
© 2010 Ron Sanders
Marina del Rey, CA
AboutL.A.-based novelist, illustrator, poet, short story writer. more..