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It seems Mr. Slater has issues with his editors… all those other editors… not me of course.


Shooting Star




Robert L. Slater



            “Sam!” Ellen admonished, pulling my gaze up from the pair of legs and into the gentle face of the secretary. 

Thank God nylon rations had ended.  As a teen I remembered women painting that line up the back of their legs.  “We’d like to see Mr. Bancroft,” I said, carefully maintaining eye contact.

            “He’s waiting to see you, Mr. Slade.”

            I smiled my thanks and allowed myself one last glance at those shapely legs.  Ellen elbowed me in the side and struck my war-issue .45.


            “Be quiet.  You hit me.”

Ellen slid her hand inside my gun-metal gray double-breasted pinstripe suit.  “I can’t believe you’re packing.”

            “He’s an editor.  I’m a writer.  You’re my agent.  ‘Nough said.”  I straightened my tie, tugged my suit down and strode into Bancroft’s Office.

            Mr. Bancroft glanced up at us from behind the gorgeous expanse of his spit-polished maple desk.  Two chairs and a coat rack completed the furnishings, spare, but expensive.  "There's no need for your agent," he explained sweetly.

      Warning bells jangled.  "You're an editor, right?"

      "Of course."

      "Then I want my agent here."  My fingers stroked at the well-defined cleft in my chin.

      "Very well, Sam," he lamented.  "But she won’t accompany you on the all-expense-paid workshop."

      "She's only here to check out the contract."

      "Here.”  Bancroft gestured expansively toward the desk.  “This contract will make you one of the biggest rising stars in the Science Fiction firmament."  He smiled gently, his gray brows comforting.

The contract and pen looked lonesome on the huge desk--no typewriter, no manuscripts, no telephone.  This guy took cleanliness to new highs.  I glanced at the contract and saw the same smile reflected into an evil frown in the shiny desktop.  It reminded me of the scene in Damn Yankees where Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil for a chance at the major leagues.  Well, for the right contract…  And I’d want to meet Lucifer in person, no sub-daemons or motion picture producers.

      I handed the contract to Ellen.  Long ago I realized that my talent for business was inversely proportional to my talent as a writer.

      "These rates‘re astronomical, Sam," Ellen whistled.

      "Nothing but the best for our rising stars," Bancroft agreed.

            "What's the catch?" I asked.

            "The catch, Sam?  No catch.  Sign this and walk through that door,” Bancroft gestured behind him. “Your transport waits on the roof.”


            She continued to scan the contract.  “Have patience.”

Finally she shrugged.  "I’d say it’s too good to be true, but it's your funeral."

            "I'll right, I'll sign."  I whipped out my heavy contract signing pen and scrawled one of my more legible signatures.

            “Welcome to the fastest moving corporation in the universe. On this journey you’ll meet the best and brightest minds this planet has to offer.”  He held out his hand.  It felt cold and clammy—the classic limp fish shake.

“Thanks for coming along, Ellen, I'll call when I can."

            "Take care of yourself, Sam," she counseled.

            "I always do," I retorted.  "This way, Bancroft?"

            "Yes, Sam, your chariot awaits."  He punched a key on his desk and hydraulics opened the door.

            I slipped through and looked down a long hallway, but something kept me from going down it.  Paranoia, I guess.  As the door closed behind me, I put my pen on the floor between the doorjamb and the door.

            “Good Day, Miss Ellen,” Bancroft acknowledged.

            Maybe my paranoia filters needed adjustment.  I bent to retrieve my pen.

            "Bancroft, this door’s locked," Ellen said.

            "You’re sure?  Check it again.”

            “Yes, it’s locked.”

            Sensing trouble, I pushed on the door.  It didn't move. 

            "Well, Ellen," Bancroft murmured, "Perhaps we could use you."  He laughed that sick sort of laugh you only hear in B movies.  “Editors are always looking for something fresh.”

            I slammed my muscular bulk into the door.  It didn’t budge, my shoulder did.  Grimacing in pain, I pulled on the knob and something in the door mechanism released.  I shoved my way back into the room. 

            He had his hands all over her and his eyes shone like a used-car salesman on a Sunday.  She fought back, clawing at his face, but it didn't seem to bother him.

            "I don't think you'll be using her after all."

Bancroft turned, surprised. 

Ellen grabbed the contract from him and skipped away.

            "Let's go, Ellen," I suggested, trying the door.  It didn't budge.  I slammed on the door with my fist.  It felt solid.  I pulled my .45 carefully from its shoulder holster.

            "What do you plan to do with that?" Bancroft inquired.  He eyed me as the spider does the fly, wondering why fight the inevitable.

            I flicked the safety off, pointed it at the door and pulled the trigger.  The door took the slug like a spitwad on a chalkboard.

            "I'm afraid its bulletproof and soundproof, Sam."  His look of bemused disdain remained. 

I turned the gun on him and pulled the trigger twice.  The first slug blew his face off and revealed dark brown scales underneath.  The second knocked his head back.  His head returned to vertical and his eyes attempted to focus on the silvery slugs imbedded in his face like a peas in mashed potatoes.  He scraped at his hands.  Like cheap rubber gloves, his skin came off in strips revealing wicked claws. 

“Sam, be reasonable.  You can see the stars.  Distant planets.  We’ll take you there.” 

“If I go, I’ll go my way.”

His talons reached for me.  I raised the gun.

Ellen screamed, "Why? What do you want with him?"

The monster that was Bancroft spun on Ellen. Its head cocked to one side. "Your species is advancing too fast. We would like this planet. His kind are providing to much motivation and ideas. We'd rather have him for dinner. But you're my appetizer."  

My fingers worked the trigger involuntarily as the counterfeit human flesh sloughed off.  His hard skull absorbed the blows as more hit.  He turned his head and smiled predatorily.  “You should’ve spent more time at the gun range, Sam.”

The next slug hit his eye socket and the condescension disappeared.  My finger clicked on the empty chamber.  Bluish fluid oozed from his facial orifices as the body fell.  It careened off the desk and landed solidly. 

     Ellen’s hand grasped the gun.  "You can stop now."

     I glanced at her and nodded.  She reached under the desktop and flipped a switch to unlock the door.

     "You want to put that thing away?"

     Dumbly, I slipped the gun back into its holster, but not before sliding in a full clip to replace the spent one.  I opened the door, we strode out and I shut it behind me. 

     The secretary spun in her seat, smiling.  "How was your meeting?"

     "Excellent."  No way she could hide reptile flesh under that skin.  "Mr. Bancroft asked not to be disturbed.  I'm afraid he's immersed in his slush pile."

      Ellen and I strode to the door calmly and I opened it for her.

      "Thank you, Sam."

      We climbed into my Studebaker.  I revved the engine and spun out into the busy midday traffic.  Then my hands started to shake.  "I think I want a drink."

     "Me, too," Ellen agreed.  "I don't get how you figured it out?"

I laughed, it felt good.  "Simple.  Writers’ first rule: Never trust an editor with a perfectly clean desk."