Update 2: You guys did it! We’re at 19 votes on top web fiction! I’ll work on posting Abandoned Highways somewhere over the weekend. Of course you can still vote using: this link.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Can we do a sort of giant mushroom cloud. I’m thinking full size, bright like the real thing, visible from anywhere in the city?”
“I don’t know…” Kyle started, but Ralph was really into his idea and continued on without listening.
“It’d be great, I could dovetail it in with my advertising throughout the weeks leading up to the sale. I’ll keep promising an explosion of savings. I’ll say lots of stuff about a huge ‘bomb’ of value going off in the lot. I can talk bombs and explosions and the like until people realize something’s up and start to wonder what. It’ll really get people talking, and there’s just no better advertising than that kind of word of mouth.”
Kyle felt his eyebrows climbing toward his hairline. He’d heard bad ideas before but, a month of veiled bomb threats leading up to a realistic looking nuclear explosion? That was… That was really something else. He looked over at Tim hoping, maybe, this was Ralph’s idea of a joke. Tim wore a tired expression that suggested he was all too familiar with this sort of plan. Kyle wondered if he had wanted to make his last mass mailing out of clippings from newspapers telling everyone how important it was that they show up at the car lot at the stroke of midnight.
With a sigh Tim caught his boss’s attention. “I’m not sure that would fit in with the corporate image I’m trying to build.”
“Well, but it would be really attention-getting!”
“Sure, but you remember how I was saying that even seemingly less effective advertising could make a really big difference if it’s all part of a unified theme?”
“And we’re trying to get people to associate shopping here with good times and good values. That’s going to be the whole theme of the sale.”
“Oh, yeah. You don’t suppose my plan would help with that?”
“Well it would be really attention-getting, but I think all the bomb talk might scare people and I’m sure the more real the mushroom cloud looks the more people it would worry.”
Ralph looked like the internal combustion engine had been outlawed. “I guess I see what you’re talking about.”
“A nuclear bomb would be a significant magical outlay,” Kyle put in.
“Happy people buy cars don’t they boss? A car is a car, right? Service is what we sell.”
Ralph perked up and thumped Tim on the back, “That’s what I always say, service is what I sell. I’ve clearly got this thing in the right hands. How about you two set down and come up with a plan. Tim can go over it with me later.” Ralph looked up and spotted someone crossing the lot looking at cars, “Hello sir!” He called out heading in that direction.
Once he was out of earshot Tim looked over tiredly. “He’s always like that. The place actually did pretty well with his advertising driving it for a long time, but all he really understands is get people onto the lot then tell them how great the cars are. I think his best trick is he basically hates letting someone leave without one. If they aren’t willing to buy he sends them home with one to test drive. I once watched him send the same guy home with the same car for a week. He got the sale though. Anyway, what’s your idea for this sale?”
“I suppose that depends when it’s going off. I was thinking a little illusory snow might be good. It’s pretty easy to do and we just haven’t gotten much of the real stuff this year.”
Tim nodded then gave a considering sound. “I’ve got some ideas in my office.”
They worked most of the day on various plans. Kyle didn’t know a thing about advertising, fortunately Tim seemed pretty good with his stuff. More to the point, he knew what Ralph would and wouldn’t go for; Kyle mostly helped him out by explaining what was, and wasn’t, possible.
Eventually, they decided on the snow but a shinier glitzier version than actually fell from the heavens. Kyle also agreed to make an image of Santa’s sleigh zooming over and around the city. That seemed a little tacky to Kyle, but Tim had assured him that Ralph would love it. He explained, Ralph, had said on numerous occasions that, “Santa sells cars.” Tim was of the opinion that he just liked dressing up as Santa. At any rate, a boisterous illusion of a sleigh zooming around the city should be sufficient to draw a few people to follow it. Kyle was surprised to learn he’d be dealing with Tim when it came time to negotiate price.
“Ralph use to do it, but he didn’t really know what things were suppose to cost so he’d always just try to dicker them down. That sort of worked out, but he ticked off a few decent media suppliers by trying to bargain with their list prices, and a few really bad suppliers learned that they could take him for a ride if they just started obscenely high. I managed to cut our ad budget 20% when I started. So what were you thinking of billing for this job?”
They were in one of the dealership’s conference rooms. It was a brand new room which still smelled slightly of glue, appointed with comfortable leather seats, and a burl table so singularly shiny that they left visible smudges whenever they touched it. The table wasn’t smudged where they hadn’t touched it, so Kyle wondered if someone was in charge of Windexing it off every night. The room had been cold the entire time no matter what they did to the thermostat on the wall, but that seemed to go without saying for a conference room.
Kyle leaned back in his cushy chair and steepled his fingers. This illusion would be his biggest yet. He couldn’t output the energy it would require all at once. Instead, he’d need magical batteries, but they wouldn’t be a big expense. He punched some numbers into his pocket calculator. If he worked for two weeks solid at 160 dollars an hour, the going rate for top flight illusionist, he’d make around 12 or 13 thousand. Still, he wouldn’t have any license fees and he could include the cost of the magical current in his bill. Those were big line items for a normal firm, so he decided to round the hourly rate up and and cross his fingers, “I’d say around fifteen thousand.”
Tim’s eyebrows fled to around his hairline. “See, this is where Ralph would lose money by trying to drive a great offer down. I thought you were going to ask for twice as much.”
“I still could.”
“Shut your mouth. Let’s head down to contracts and get this drawn up. Will a five thousand dollar retainer do?”
Then it was Kyle’s turn to accept rapidly. On the way back to the office he found himself humming happily. He was solvent for the next three months – minimum. He’d managed to make it there in only a few weeks. Things were looking good.
* * *
Jessie wasn’t nearly as happy.
Kyle had been so excited when he called that he’d been a bit hard to even talk to. He spoke too fast, kept interrupting himself, and got side tracked several times per sentence. She got the gist of it pretty readily. They had their first job, it paid well, and he was convinced he’d wedged open the door to success. That was great, and she even found herself a little excited by the prospect of the upcoming work. It would be great to show the world what they could do. Though she wondered when she had started thinking of the business as a “they”.
Unfortunately, she doubted that was going to be the case. For one thing, she was fairly sure they’d had the entire discussion of the job on a bugged line. The idea of an unseen, yet hostile, listener might also have contributed to stilted conversation on her end. Even if that wasn’t the case, Kyle wasn’t in the clear because Jessie had to stab him in the back.
Reaching into her purse she withdrew a small card. It was, she supposed, a “calling card” though she’d never before encountered such an anachronism. It had been left in the mailbox at her apartment shortly after her meeting with Servant. It was a handsome little thing, heavy cream card stock with gold embossed letters on it. “The Servant of Lord Dwennon has called. You may contact him at email@example.com.” Presumably that was the contact information he’d promised. Jessie wished he’d sent her a text message, Suma had picked up the mail that day and she was fairly certain Jessie had some sort of crazy stalker. Of course, Suma was right, but Jessie wished the whole mess wasn’t touching the other woman. It was bad enough that Kyle had to suffer.
Biting her lip, and deciding to just get it done with Jessie pulled out her phone, wrote a quick message, and sent it using the cellular network, so it wouldn’t leave any trace Kyle might find in the company network. There, it’s done, she thought, I hope whatever happens is bad enough that Kyle decides to sell the spell to Thomas Illusions and walk away. That way, this won’t continue. I hope no one gets hurt.