Thursday, April 20, 2017

Deal with the Devil

Scarlett snapped the last branch in two, put it in the lawn bag, and then rubbed her aching back.  Ahh, sweet relief.  There were enough knots back there to tie every rope in the Coast Guard fleet.

            Glancing up from her stretch, Scarlett caught the glint of light off of peroxide blond hair.  There was only one person she knew who had hair that shade. She groaned.  Anica Mathews, Southern Living, Scarlett mocked internally. Usually she was accompanied by at least one obedient, worshipful photographer and journalist each. …Found them!
            Smothering her deep instinct to duck and run, Scarlett marched over the newly-clear, bright green park lawn to Anica.

            “Anica Mathews.” Scarlett stood ramrod straight in front of the SL editor.
            “Yes?” Anica looked around for the source of the voice, curious. When her eyes locked on Scarlett’s, a smirk flitted over her face. “Oh, Scarlett, my dear! It’s been such a long time! You must tell me – how have you been?”
Scarlett ignored her saccharine posturing.  “I have a deal for you.”
Anica’s eyebrows rose, and her pale blue eyes narrowed.  “Oh?” She gestured subtly for the spellbound journalist to start taking notes. “And what might that be?”
            “I give you the Southern Living feature you want, the way you want it. No limits. Provided everything printed is true, of course.” Scarlett couldn’t resist that little jab.
            Anica cocked her head, reminiscent of a falcon pinpointing its kill.  Her hands rose to her hips. “And what do you get out of it?”
Anica rocked back on her heels, caught off-guard. “What?” Slipped out involuntarily.
Scarlett, sensing her weakness, moved in for the clinching blow. “I give you the feature you desperately want. You use your publishing connections to help me publish and promote my book. Easy-peasy. A win-win.”
            “A win-win,” Anica echoed. “But wait. Your book? If it’s crap, it won’t get published.” She eyed Scarlett up and down. “There’s nothing even I can do about that.”
            “It’s not crap,” Scarlett volleyed back confidently. “Do you remember that feature you did on this town as part of your story 6 Southern Towns Making a Comeback? You didn’t get the material you wanted because you focused on the wrong part of our…” she paused, “‘…charming city life.’”
            The photographer and journalist took a step forward, unsure if they were protecting Scarlett or restraining Anica in the imminent explosion that would follow such provocation. Their boss inhaled heavily through her nose, a red flush suffusing her cheeks.  But to their incredulousness, she held it together.
Anica spoke through clenched teeth. “And what is the correct part to focus on, according to you?”
            “Not our horrible restaurant offerings. Or our dead night life.  Or our dilapidated architecture.
Instead: the people. They’re complicated and crazy enough to write a book about. Which is exactly what I did.”
            Anica forgot her indignation in her surprise and sudden interest. “Well, Miss White…you have yourself a deal.” She stuck her hand out and Scarlett shook it firmly, only to be blinded by a sudden flash.

            “Say cheese!” The obnoxious, peppy photographer beamed.
            “Great! We’ll be in touch!” Scarlett followed her instincts this time and hightailed it out of there as fast as she could.
Only when she was on the other side of Howell Park, finally pristine after a day’s worth of whole-town clean-up efforts, did she relax.

So this is what a deal with the devil feels like.  Scarlett shook her head, then jumped as her phone rang.
            “Scarlett White, hello?”
“Hey, Scarlett? Yeah, sorry I was such a pill this morning.  Anyway, you wanna go with me to see the Little Mermaid in the park tonight?”
Now that she said it, Scarlett fuzzily remembered a tetchy Jenn in the pre-dawn hallway this morning.
            “Eh, no problem.  But yeah, I’ve here all day for the clean-up.  Might as well stay for a little Disney to brighten up my night.”
Scarlett began howling off-pitch, “Under the sea, under the sea…”
Jenn yelped. “Hanging up now!”
Scarlett collapsed into laughter.  Jenn should really know by now that I sing like a skinned cat.

She’d tell her about the unofficial book deal when Jenn arrived.  That would garner a happy explosion. If there were such things.