”While we’re waiting for Mr. Rubrick, tell me: is Prince dead yet?”
Alec lost his mint. It tumbled to the ground between his feet as his mouth hung wide open. Lynne the secretary stared back at him from across her desk, looking bewildered by his shock,
“What, did I say something?”
“You … did you say- yes!” Alec stuttered. She took a mint herself off of the top of the pile of the dish beside her multi-line phone while his mouth flapped soundless, indignant. Her red lips swam around and around; she seemed to be chewing the thing without using her teeth.
“You,” Alec repeated, paused, continued, “What did you just say to me?”
“I just wanted to know if Prince was dead ye-“
The door to Rubrick’s office swung open and his torso emerged, leaning, with pressed blue button-up and clipped tie.
“Quit chatting him up,’ he said with a smirk, “It’s against company rules. Lynne, quit chatting him up.”
He barked this in a tone both jovial and commanding. She blushed and Alec swallowed hard, trying to reorganize himself between what she had asked him and his sudden emergence from the Fort Knox of his office.
“I wasn’t chatting him up,” she said with a sheepish glance at Alec, “I was just making chat. Chatting. Not chatting him up.”
“Nonsense, you’re incorrigible. Mr. Careful’d attest to that, right? Shouldn’t she just be illegal, Lynne here? Isn’t she just … criminal?”
“I … yes,” Alec sputtered.
“See! See what I mean? C’mon in,” Rubrick retreated into his office gesturing and Alec followed, taking a seat so that he and the director were separated by a wall of submissions. Rubrick apologized as he cleared a valley for them to speak through.
“You’d think we had a department for this sort of thing, you know.”
“She’s unsubtle. I’m sure she’d have invited you to the company pub-crawl if I’d taken the time to sort even one more of these rags. Care for a mint?”
“No, I … had one. Before Lynne asked me something about Prince. Then I lost it.”
“Oh yes, Prince. The reason you’re in my office today. Of course. What about Prince?”
“She asked me if he’d died yet,” Alec spat. Drops darkened the papers in front of him, at which Rubrick frowned. Dabbing at them with a tissue he said,
“Well, of course she was curious. It’s the big question here, after all. Our marketing department is already spinning their wheels in the waiting. Be kind and tell me: how is he?”
Gathering his words, Alec sat in silence as Rubrick waited for his response.
“He’s dying. He’s dying because he was shot.”
“Ah, of course. Well, that’s pretty straightforwards. How long is he expected?”
“Let me get something straight,” Alec caged his fingertips, speaking slowly, “Are you admitting to me, here in this office, your office as director of this publishing house, that you want Prince to die?”
Rubrick frowned, “Mr. Careful-“
“Alec, sure. You know Prince wanted to be published, I’m sure.”
“I was his only friend,” Alec said through his teeth, “You can bet your shit-eating attitude that I knew. He cared more about it than eating.”
“Well, then you know how important it is that we know his status on life-support. The publishing house is waiting on him now. The entire marketing campaign behind his manuscript is riding on it.”
“I should have brought a tape-recorder,” Alec said, dripping bitterness and maintaining eye contact with Rubrick.
“Perhaps? I don’t do interviews.”
“I’m taking his manuscript. Where is it?”
At this Rubrick scoffed, “It’s ours, why would you take it? We’re in possession of it, he submitted it to us. Whether or not we need it depends on if he lives or dies, of course. If he lives, well, we won’t be needing it at all. You can take it to him yourself.”
“I’m getting a lawyer and coming back. I’m not listening to another word form you,” Alec said before standing up. His head was pounding and he felt sweat filling the pits of his shirt. Rubrick looked alarmed, concerned even.
“I … don’t understand, but I do have a lot of work to do. We are talking about the same Prince, aren’t we?”
“Who the FUCK ELSE could we be talking about?” Alec roared, “The man with a motherfucking hole through his motherfucking skull. Prince Seamus Cockburn! Do I have to show you the cunting photographs, you twit?”
As Alec left the room, Rubrick called after him, “Leave your number with Lynne in case he dies, if you would please!”
On the way out of the room, Lynne stopped Alec at her desk.
“Hey! On your way out? Listen, we’re having a pub-crawl for the offices tomorrow night and-“
Alec’s palm sent the mint bowl scattering, cracking against the window as little green dots rained across the room. She didn’t ask him twice, and he left without apologizing.