It was a bright May morning when I reached the offices of Devilment Incorporated, on Fifth Avenue. I read the little placard by the elevators and took the elevator up to the fortieth floor. A horsefaced receptionist greeted me when I came off the elevator. Apparently, I looked fairly authorial in my corduroy blazer. A man lay on the floor behind her, moaning and holding his head.
“May I help you?” The receptionist’s nametag read: “Artemis X.”
“Yes,” I said. “I believe you can. I have a ten o’clock appointment with Mr. Dix.”
“Hm,” she said, putting a lacquered fingernail against her bottom lip and looking down at an appointment book filled with childlike, pornographic sketches. “Mr. Dix is, uh...” She giggled. I noticed she had her shoes off and the moaning man on the floor was tickling her heels. She coughed and kicked him in the head. He rolled back to his place on the floor. “What I meant to say was, uh, Mr. Dix is...”
“A GOAT!” the man on the floor shouted. “MR. DIX IS A FUCKING GOAT!” he shouted again before being overcome with a case of the giggles himself.
“No...” Ms. X tapped her fingernail on the counter. “No.” She shook her head. “Mr. Dix is most definitely not a goat.” She picked up the pornographic appointment book, closed it, turned around and swatted the floored man with it after each word. “Why. Don’t. You. Go. Back. To. Your. Own. Floor.” Swat. Swat. Swat.
The man snatched the book from her hands, stood up, and said, “Fine. If that’s the way you want to be. I will go back to my own floor. But don’t expect me to be there when you get home.” Then he stormed out of the office, stalking over to the elevators and angrily pushing both buttons frantically.
“Mr. Dix is...” Ms. X looked at the acoustic-tiled ceiling. “Well, he’s certainly not here today. That’s what he isn’t.”
“I see. Should I come back then? Perhaps I can just leave this with him?” I brandished my bulky manuscript. Although, frankly, I would have felt a little nervous leaving anything in that office.
“Hm,” she said. “Let’s have a look-see at that.”
I plopped it down on the counter.
She read the title aloud, mispronouncing a couple of the words and running her thick fingernail under them.
“David Glum?” she asked when she got to my name. “I’ve never heard of you.”
“Probably not. This is my first novel.”
She laughed and called out, “Lance!” I turned to see who she was shouting at. It was the man from the floor. The elevator doors still had not opened and he continued to push the buttons. They both glowed ferociously and his face glistened with sweat. “He says...” She spoke around her wild laughter. “He says this is his first novel.”
At this, Lance stopped pushing the elevator buttons, clasped his hands around his stomach and threw out the loudest most inauthentic laugh I’d ever heard. He fake-laughed so hard he fell to the floor. The elevator doors opened and he just rolled inside, not even bothering to stand up. The doors closed and I heard his laugh descend with the elevator. My face burned red. Once he was gone from earshot Ms. X ceased laughing and struggled to pull her horsey face into something resembling seriousness.
“If this,” she said, stroking a hand down my title page, “is your first novel, then you would want to see Mr. Half. Not Mr. Dix. Mr. Dix does not work with first time novelists.”
“Well... I assure you my appointment was with Mr. Dix but if Mr. Half is the only one here today then I guess he’ll have to do.” It would have to be okay since my appointment with Mr. Dix was imaginary.
“Just a moment.” She sat down at her chair and picked up the telephone. She enclosed her hand around the receiver so I could neither hear her nor see her lips moving. “If you would like to sit down over there Mr. Half will be with you in a few moments.”