The arrows on the floor have taken on the texture of the linoleum. They look like shadows made of light. When I peer inside the coat room, they animate around me. They beckon like fingers leading to a pie in a cartoon.
“Not this way,” The arrows say.
Yes, this way. I press on. Here in the dark, the coat room is unattended. I roll my eyes. Everything goes green. The coat racks present themselves in shades of lime. Pixels line their sleeves. Staircases line their shoulders. I feel the pockets for lumps, discard scarves, and gloves to the floor. I gag when I get a palm full of tissues, still wet with snot.
It’s all worth it, when my hand strikes pay dirt, a business card with a picture of a manuscript with fluttering pages on one side, and a QR code on the other. I hold the QR code up to my eyes. I scan the boxes from left to right. I hear a ding. The eureka sound effect that accompanies light bulbs.
An internet browser pops up on the wall. The address bar projects across the coat hooks. It auto-populates, then a blue line streams across it. The website loads. I roll my eyes to loose the green tint. There’s a column full of faces between the words “GOING” and “MAYBE.” It’s an event page.
The event is titled “PITCH PERFECT.” A caption reads:
PITCH YOUR STORY TO PUBLISHERS AND INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS FOR FEEDBACK AND A CHANCE TO SEE YOUR WORK IN PRINT ($100 ENTRANCE FEE, TICKETS SOLD IN ADVANCE).
My eyes rise from the floor to the ceiling. The comments section scrolls into view. A totem pole of smiling close-ups.
It’s filled with questions like:
“Should I print copies of my work in progress?”
“Should they be double sided or single?”
“Are the publishers only hearing Young Adult pitches, or will they listen to gritty ones too?”
Feeling behind my ear, I squeeze the cartilage. A chirp echoes through my eardrum. I say, “Search for this page for the word, ‘sorry.’”
A blue rectangle fills out one of the bricks before me. It highlights the word I was looking for. Turns out someone named Eliot Baxter is having car trouble. Eliot is sorry that he’s not going to make it.
Stepping back out, the arrows return like blinking breadcrumbs. They lead me down the corridor of the convention center. They widen as I approach the main hall.
There’s a checkin table with a field of name badges. The girl behind it presides over them with a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles. With her hair up in a red bandana, she looks like a librarian who knows her way around a Harley.
I fish my license out of my wallet and present it to her with my thumb over the name. I say, “Eliot Baxter.”
She assumes positive intent, hands me the name badge without question. So much for the hundred dollar entrance fee. I strut my way into a place I’m not supposed to be. The arrows stop at the entrance to the great hall. The threshold is highlighted by a blinking bar that tints the carpet yellow.
I see things. Things other people can’t see. It’s my gift. Technically it’s a gift that was intended for someone else, a high profile beta tester with clearance codes coming out of his ass, but a gift nevertheless.
My second sight can be attributed to a pair of special contact lenses. They augment reality. They project the Internet onto the world around me. That’s nothing special. They also allow the internet to see through my eyes. To run every sign through an image search. To find my location based on the building scape. To mark the exits in the event of an emergency.
Our eyes are trained to recognize patterns. Sometimes it’s too much for our subconscious minds to process. We misidentify things. We think we see a face on the moon, elephants in the clouds, and silhouettes in the shadows. That’s where the lenses come in. Their complex algorithms can give those patterns clarity. They give my shifty eyes an edge.
It took weeks to case the labs that developed them. I called each of the front facing departments to ask innocent questions. I pretended to be a plumber, an elevator repairer, and an IT technician. I learned the lingo of the building. I became fluent in the office jargon. I used it to convince the operators that I was working on the lens project.
They patched me through each of the internal departments. None of the admins suspect an intrusion, because the company was fragmented by secrecy. The left hand never knew what the right hand was doing. For all they knew, I was their superior. I convinced them that I was operating under a deadline. Everyone wanted to be helpful. No one wanted me to be late. People are inherently good, that’s why they gave me all the clearance codes I needed.
It took one message to convince the good folks in the mail room to reroute a pair of fifty-thousand dollar lenses to a PO box off the beaten path.
My second sight tells me there are approximately two thousand guests in the main hall. Writers who want to be authors. Authors sitting in for their publishers, hoping that this will help publicize their work, and publishers out to make a quick buck.
Before I can step into the room, my head is full with the sound of a thousand pitches. I pinch my earlobe. It takes a moment for the noise cancellation to kick in. The pin sized microphone that juts from my side burns has to sample the crowd, then phase it out.
Soon all I hear is the sound of my loafers shuffling across the carpet.
My ear pieces were developed by the same company that produced my lenses. If it weren’t for their lax security, I’d swear by them.
The hall is a football field of folding chairs and card tables. Each one is lined with blank notepads and bottled water. Every publisher has a collection plate filled with notecards. These plates rest on the edge of their tables, just above the waste baskets.
The publishers lean back in their chairs, revealing the sock garters at their ankles, the seam lines at their heels. They shift in their seats, adjusting their boxers, wiping the pleats from their pants. They cross their legs and tug at their skirts.
The lenses catch every pair of waggling eyebrows, every upturned chin, and every smirking cheek. They label the publishers’ “DISINTEREST.” They mark their “PATRONIZING” expressions. The word “CONDESCENSION” floats beneath them like a station ID.
The lenses read their faces so I don’t have to.
The publishers nod with their eyes aimed anywhere but at the poor sap who’s pitching. They snicker as they send text messages to one another.
The writers who laid down their hard earned cash, have to sit there and take it. They know their place. They’re the low hanging fruit, easy pickings. That’s not what I’m here for. I want the sour grapes that dangle just out of reach.
Sure, there are some real finds here. They’re just on the other side of the table. My eyes shift from their name tags to their faces. The words fly at me as they’re absorbed. With their names filed and their faces framed, the lenses go to work.
CGI cones spin over the listeners heads, casting simulated shadows onto their hairlines. The cones start grey, then fill in blue. In a moment they will flash either red or green. Red means you’re a publisher. Green means you’re useful to me.
I walk through the aisles reading the auras, taking an inventory. Soon, there’s a cloud of crimson cones. There are a lot more publishers here then usual. They must have sucked every dollar they could from Vampire romances. That bubble must have burst. All the cuddly werewolves lost their bite. Their audiences have moved on to sexy sasquatches and abominable snowmen with ripped abs.
When I finally see a green cone, it’s love at first sight. Technically it’s a grid that identifies your eyes, mouth, and nose, measures the distance, and pushes that information to a database. It’s facial recognition at first sight, software that matches your features to your author profile on Amazon.
Your star ratings twinkle in my eyes. Four stars for your first published novel. Five stars for your self published novel. My pupils scan the page. It takes one blink to highlight your name, two to copy it, and three to paste it into a search engine.
You have fourteen-thousand Twitter followers.
Your video blog has ten-thousand subscribers.
Your author’s page on Facebook has six-thousand likes.
You have a one book deal with your publishing house. That book started as a paperback. It’s three-year’s old now. Fans on message boards are campaigning for a sequel.
Your personal Facebook account is set to private. It’s secure behind a two step verification system. If an intruder tries to access it from a new device, like my lenses, you will be alerted via text message. The intruder will need a code to log into your account. I could trick you cellular provider into rerouting your number to a fresh sim card. Then I could intercept the message, but I don’t have twenty minutes.
Your account is secure. After a little rapid eye movement, I learn that your mother’s is not. I send her an e-mail that reads:
YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT HAS BEEN COMPROMISED.
FOLLOW THIS LINK TO RESET YOUR PASSWORD.
I help myself to a cup of coffee, fill it with creamer, and two packs of sugar. I have your mother’s login credentials before I take my first sip. I scan through your timeline. I know you’ve been through a messy breakup, before I can finish the cup. I make my way down to the bagels. I know your stance on gun control, before I can spread the cream cheese. I browse through post after post. I know your stance on gay marriage, before I can finish the last bite.
You’re a Libra. Your last boyfriend was a Scorpio. Not a good a mix. You’ve experimented with magenta hair dye, with florescent blue, but you keep settling on jet black. You have a tattoo of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster on your left bicep. You have Bela Lugosi as Dracula on your right.
Your literary influences are Neil Gaiman and Caitlin R. Kiernan.
Your favorite guilty pleasure movie is Empire Records.
You Tweet the most under the hashtag #WriterProblems.
My heart might not be fluttering, but I’m starting to see a future with you.
New York is full of agents cramped into open offices, squeezing stress balls, wired into headsets. Worker bees trying to find the next big thing from their place in the honeycomb. Their cubicles are covered in wish boards, collage cut outs of wine vineyards, yachts, and supermodels. Images they’ve chosen to help visualize their goals.
I don’t need to visualize my goals. They flash across my lenses. That light in my eyes, that’s you. Thumbnail pics stream across my vision. Black and white glamour shots. Someone has blurred your crow’s feet, smoothed the lines around your mouth, and removed your cheek bones.
I have to fight the urge to march right up to your table and say, “Your touch up artist wouldn’t know beauty if it was making out with him.”
I run my hand through my hair to compose myself. Your Book Description rolls down the floor like the opening crawl of a Star Wars movie. I tap my eardrum. A computerized voice reads it aloud. It pauses between words to take synthesized breaths.
You know what I like most about your story? There’s no vampires in it. Your hero doesn’t learn that she’s the descendant of some all powerful, whatever. She’s not a chosen one. There’s no prophecy of her arrival. She’s an underdog with no royal lineage to speak of. Her journey is filled with choices. There’s no oracle figure to lead her by the nose from point A to point B. Her only superpowers are the lessons she learns along the way. Sure, I might just be breezing through the cliff notes, but your story is a breath of fresh air.
I turn in time to see you offer your hand to the sap across the table. He quivers. His hands stay right where they are. His fingernails tap the tabletop. You step around to place a hand on his shoulder. He sighs.
You say, “That was really really good. I’m honored to be your first. I’ll tell you, I nearly collapsed when I gave my first pitch. It was nowhere near as graceful as you were. I panicked when I was on your side of the table. Just remember that a log line is a sentence, not a paragraph, and that every story needs a clear protagonist, even if there’s an ensemble cast.”
That’s good advice. I hope he hears it under the rhythm of his own heart beat. The poor sap gives you a bobbled headed nod and shuffles away.
You dig through your purse. A barcode peaks out. My lenses tell me that’s a soft pack of Parliament Lights. You look over your shoulder. I trace your sightline to a blinking red dot. That must be the exit for the terrace. Not so fast, you haven’t heard my pitch yet.
I take a seat, before you can scramble off. You turn to find me with my chin resting on a bridge of fingers. Ain’t I a stinker?
I say, “Howdy.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was about to get some air.” You point over your shoulder.
Waving the notion away, I say, “Don’t worry I’ll be quick. Mine is a simple story. It’s about a writer who thought a book deal would make all of her dreams come true, only to find her second book stuck in publishing limbo. She’s reduced to attending pitch events, representing her publisher, just to make a quick buck. This all changes when she meets a dashing young publisher with an eye for talent and her unique brand of urban fantasy. He signs her to a multi-book deal, and they live happily ever after.”
Your face goes white, your smile goes flat, and your Parliaments sink back into your purse. You sit down. Your exhale distorts in my ear pieces. You say, “Your story has one thing going for it. It’s succinct.”
I nod, “It’s also true.”
You look both ways before you lean across the table, “Is it now?”
I take the tongue out of my cheek and nod again. I say, “The only problem is there isn’t much conflict. Not when the heroine isn’t locked down by her publisher. It seems like she’s free to leave at any time.”
You roll your eyes at this development, “Yeah, but she has a relationship with her publisher. How can she trust this charming man with his pretty words?”
I smirk. I put the word “charming” in her mouth, and she opted to use it.
I say, “Her publisher doesn’t love her like they ought to. A single book deal isn’t exactly a wedding band. They want to keep their options open, but this charming young publisher is ready to make a commitment.”
You raise your eyebrow, “Is he now?”
I nod, “Indeed he is. He’s got an eye for talent. Especially one as original as she. Old media struggles to categorize new ideas. They file them under ‘risky.’ This is why everyone is publishing stories about defanged vamps and post apocalyptic waste lands. They’re well known players on well tread ground. Our heroine’s publisher will always see her in the wrong light. They’ll treat her like she’s counterfeit, because they can’t find her watermark. Just look, they have their golden goose out panhandling for fool’s gold.”
You whisper, “And my future with you would be brighter?”
My lenses hone in on the micro expression on your face, processing each point in an instant. They tell me that your heart rate is elevated. That your breathing has quickened. That your lips have gone moist. I don’t need them to tell me that your interest has peaked.
I say, “Your future with me is very bright indeed.”
This is what I do. I’m a headhunter, a talent scout. I let the publishers vet the authors, then I poach them. Then they know what they have and I can see where they’re blind. My second sight helps me find what I’m looking for, because beauty isn’t always in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes it’s in the eyes inside the eyes.