Sunday, August 30, 2015

Amazon's KDP Select Restricts Global Free Trade

Smashwords's founder and president, Mark Coker, blogged regarding Smashwords ending its contract with India's Flipcart (see original post: Below is my two-cents. There is trouble afoot, but I agree with Mark Coker's proposed solution, which he emailed to Amazon's CEO. Here is my post:

No doubt, Amazon is the new opiate of the masses, and no matter how you slice s**t, it's still s**t.

US anti-trust laws address predatory, monopolistic, and heavy-handed business practices. Those affected (authors, Smashwords, et al) can file complaints with the US Department of Justice's Anti-Trust/Foreign Commerce division (USDoJ/AT-R). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a similar reporting process. Their links are easy to get to from a Google search.

Also, because Smashwords and Flipcart will be negatively, economically, impacted as a result of Amazon's KDPS exclusivity rules and related punishments, both could file grievances with the World Trade Organization (WTO) because KDPS impedes free trade between (but not limited to) the US and India. Due to Amazon's dominant position in the global ebook market,its scale creates an artificial, non-tariff barrier to market penetration and retention in India (in this instance). India's primary retailers only purchase via distributors, such as Smashwords. Hence, Amazon is restricting free trade.

Although I have not yet been economically affected by the dissolution of Smashwords's contract with Flipcart, this action has eliminated my ability to reach readers in India, a fact that will warrant my submitting complaints to the FTC, USDoJ, and WTO. I urge all others, both directly and indirectly affected, to file complaints. The Sherman Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, and the Clayton Acts take monopolistic, trade-restricting behaviours very seriously, and the punishments are often severe.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Diary of a Reluctant Vampire -- LC Cooper's New Novel

Okay, I'll admit it ... I want in on the cash cow known as vampire tales. Hence, "Diary of a Reluctant Vampire" is my offering. This novel has it all--humor, satire, romance, drama, action, adventure, mashup, slight sexual teasing, a little gore, a tie to another of my novels (Simmering Consequences -- see if you can find it within the story). There's even an acrostic poem.

Until August 14, 2013, you can download this novel for FREE. After reading the following description, you'll find instructions and a coupon code for a free copy of "Diary of a Reluctant Vampire."

I hope you enjoy this parody on vampire and diary stories.

Eugene Elliott Kleinman never intended on becoming a vampire. At the geeky and awkward age of twelve, the boy was preoccupied with typical pre-teen nonsense.

Shuffling home one afternoon with his stepmom's emasculating grocery sack of pads and other feminine products, Eugene tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and wiped out into a tall, sinewy, and ice-cold man. Unfortunately for Eugene, he knocked the man off his feet and right on top of him. The man's fangs plunged into Eugene's neck.

Wiping excess blood off his mouth, the man stood and introduced himself as Maximus, Over Lord of the Damned, Freaks, Atheists, Rejects, and Terrors.

Eugene replied with, "You do realize the acronym for your title is 'Old Fart,' don't you?"

Maximus rolled his eyes, nodded, and sighed, but replied with, "Oops, I crapped my pants. Damned sun does it every time."

Thus began Eugene's rocky and challenging transition from human to vampire. Balancing the benefits of both worlds solves a number of Eugene's social dilemmas, but he must decide, by the time he turns thirteen, which lifestyle he'll forever retain. The choice of eternal life or endearing mortality isn't an easy one for Eugene. Until he makes a decision, he must keep Maximus, the OLD FART, at bay.

Until August 14, 2013, you can download "Diary of a Reluctant Vampire" for FREE. Just follow the link below to Then, during checkout, enter this coupon code: SV33T

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Embrace Obscurity


Did you see Larry Crowne, the Julia Roberts & Tom Hanks movie? I loathe that film because whenever I write a blog post, I feel like I'm that slob of a husband of Julia's. Yeah, I have nothing but time on my hands, so I spend it writing, which everyone knows isn't "real" work. The cool thing about obscurity, in this case, is that I can write whatever I want and NO ONE WILL CARE. I'm not a brand, and by the time I become one, evolution will have put Morlocks in charge of the planet.

Blogs and websites that cater to authors are chock full of smarmy pep talks designed to inspire and encourage. An unprecedented crush of ebooks, a flood of Biblical proportions, is keeping you and your titles beneath the horizon. Still, however, you read optimistic posts just to remain focused on the dream of landing one of your titles onto a NYT list. Well, are you still fired up?

Reading motivational sludge is like a football team listening to the coach's rousing pep-talk moments before everyone hollers and races out of the locker room, ready for the big game. Yet, in this scenario, they rush out onto an empty field devoid of a team to play and fans to cheer them on to victory.

You, the quarterback, tuck the coach's speech away into a back corner of your brain and trudge off the field in search of a cold shower. Maybe next time someone will show up, you hope.

Obscurity is the prelude and finale to every artist's career. The good news is that if you're reading this, you're career as a writer has just begun (no well-paid author would waste valuable writing time reading my self-help drivel), and as such, you have nothing but blue skies ahead of you.

Instead of obscurity being your wasteland, I challenge you to embrace it as your playground. The benefits and perks can far outweigh the rewards of being a mid-list or branded author. If I repeat those words often enough, I'll probably believe them one day.

This post isn't motivational; I didn't write it to cheer you on. On the other hand, what I wrote isn't designed to tear you apart, either. I'll leave trashing your heart and artistry to your friends, family, and surly readers for the time when your career is soaring.

Instead, I offer a twist to the bitter lemon of obscurity.

Scrooge Was No Fool

This is, by far, my favorite reason why I choose to remain obscure. Sure, I have to sabotage my perfect stories, but plot holes and poor character-development ensure I retain my grip on my money. I can spend it on food and bills and save enough to avoid living on the streets with a guy named Mumbles.

When the day comes that relatives and friends discover that I'm making money writing books, they'll expect handouts on a scale that would make Santa Claus blush. Oh, the hostility and hatred … and that's just from me.  I shudder to think how friends and family will react when I tell them no or how they'll treat me if their gifts aren't from Macy's.

They'll rue the day when, from the ashes of my overwrought imagination and sleepless nights, a finely tuned writing machine emerges. I, the Phoenix, will methodically crank out money-making prose. Magnificently enriched and benevolent, I shall be packing forgiveness and tons o' goodies. I will understand that showering love and attention won't be good enough for my family and friends; they'll demand the bling-bling … and I'll encourage each of them to write their own friggin' novel.

Most images I use on book covers I get from public-domain sites. I'm sure the design artist doesn't mind giving away works for free, right? Hmmm … No, I'm almost certain I don't care about the double standard …

Grow Yourself Some Alligator Hide, Princess

Another benefit of obscurity is that my spouse, parents, siblings, and even my children don't pretend to be supportive of my passion and effort. I don't have to fend off jealous barbs about my stories, characters, grammar, clothing style, choice of toothpaste, and the like. When that does happen as my career takes off, I'll have my agent return their calls; I'll be too busy running their Prias off the road with the limo my fans buy me.

For now, I have to live with the fact that no one cares about my aspiring career. I can't get family to read my short stories, let alone the novels, so my craft remains unadulterated. I get to write and publish exactly what I want with no fear of upsetting my spouse with one too many commentaries about the mother-in-law's bushy moustache.

Critics refer to my artistry as a "hobby" that I'm "dabbling" with. The Bar of Expectations is set so low for me that I get attaboys just for finding the courage to get out of bed each morning.

Condescending backrubs and head pats are plentiful, given when someone passes behind my desk chair. Instead of a constructive critique, they offer little more than a tongue click or a snide comment pooh-poohing my plot.

I daydream about ripping the offender's face off and cramming it through my shredder, all the while screaming, "It's fiction, you idiot. None of it's real." But then, I notice I'm alone in the room … all alone. (*sniffle*). Instead of sharing playful banter, I just slap on a foolish grin and wave happily at his/her rapidly disappearing backside, knowing that one day, I'll thank them for their lack of support with their share of lavish gifts.


Obscurity keeps me from being pigeonholed into a specific genre demanded by my publisher and readers. I can experiment with the most bizarre plot twists and character quirks imaginable. It's refreshing that there's no pressure to write formulaic factory books—the brass ring.

Planning ahead for my inevitable fame and fortune, I created multiple identities via pen names. I have begun using a different one for each genre I write within. I couldn't get away with this approach unless I was obscure. Think about it—once I'm a famous novelist, my breadwinning genre will demand a significant chunk of writing time and attention to keep the money flowing. My new and refreshing stories will have to exist under separate personalities, and none of these can be worked hard until my cash cow's milk has run dry. Not a problem when one is buried deep within obscurity because it lets me do that NOW!  I get to goof around and see what sticks.

IRS? No Royalties = No Worries!

Taxes, shmaxes, The Man can't take what I don't have. Without book sales, I don't get paid. The financial headaches that plague mid-list and brand authors are inconsequential to me. Every end-of-quarter and April 15th, I grin because I don't have to calculate the potential income I might earn from a fickle readership. My taxes are based on the single W-2 I get from my shifty and unscrupulous employer. None of my royalties are wasted on legal and financial services.

My Day Job

Obscurity gives me the opportunity to refine my skill at sucking up to my boss and his/her cronies. I can't afford to lose my job because my book sales are in the toilet, so I've really become a people-person at work.

No Black Eyes

In a favorite dream, I'm competing in the 100-meter dash against the super-model Cindy Crawford. My strategy is simple: I keep a few paces behind her for the first 70 meters and wait for gravity to work its magic. Cindy's 38DD boobs bash her in the face with each stride, eventually knocking her senseless. Before collapsing from the pain of getting two black eyes, she yells to me, "Curse you and your tiny boobs, LC!" Then, I do a touchdown strut across the finish line.

Huh? Well, since I don't pack the big guns of the Famous, obscurity works against gravity and protects my stories from piracy and tyrannical reviews common with high-profile authors. This means I save gobs of money on legal fees and aspirin. See? No black eyes.

Unfettered Vacations

When not writing, I relax in my pool chair, sipping Corona knock-offs in front of my wall mural of a Caribbean sunset.  Without a beach nearby, my cat's litter box is an adequate substitute, even though I avoid driftwood and the tidal pools. I did chuck my ringing mobile phone into the mural's water once. Unfortunately, my neighbor was home. He responded to the hole I'd put in the wall by crushing my phone into silicon dust. If I were a B-list author, I'd already have a replacement phone, but since I'm obscure and broke, does it really matter that my voicemail box is full?

Well, Almost No Black Eyes

Writing short stories is inexpensive therapy for me. I publish and give them away for free. I never expect reviews of my free stuff; however, there are readers who feel obliged to hammer a stake into my heart anyway. Because of the internet's longevity, spite-slathered reviews will be forever tied to my titles, and I detest that fact.

As I write this, I wonder if I'm growing out of obscurity. A hateful review means that I succeeded in drawing enough emotion out of a reader that s/he felt compelled to react. Being obscure, it would be less of a sting if the reviewer had actually paid money for the title s/he blasted, though.

As such, I prefer to remain in my bubble of obscurity, safe below the horizon of fame and fortune and out of reach of dorks disappointed because I don't write Barney stories.

Out of necessity, brand authors and high-profile mid-list authors have to keep their mouths shut all the time and hide behind their publicists and attorneys. As you can see from this diatribe, I ain't got nothin' to lose. After all, when you're obscure, is there a level called "Obscurity minus One?"

Neener, neener, neener

I'd like to thank Ruth Ann Nordin for publishing this post on the Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors blog. I do appreciate the kind feedback my observations received from SPAHA's readers. See the comments at: 



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jorick & Katelina: Ch. 1 of Heart of the Raven

Joleene Naylor's got a new novel out! Heart of the Raven is the latest in her vampire series; this is the story of the search for a legendary, mystical artifact. Read an excerpt and learn more about Joleene and all of her stories at:

If you're a fan of suspenseful vampire tales, then Heart of the Raven is a must-read! I think you'll agree after reading the excerpt. While visiting her website, you should check out all her other novels, supporting prologues, and character introductions.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

"The Next Big Thing" Blog Hop

I wish to thank Joleene Naylor for tagging me for “The Next Big Thing” blog hop. I am excited about participating because, well, frankly, the competition is suffocating and thick, and I need the exposure. Thanks to self-publishing, a cornucopia chock full of aggressive and talented writers is spilling forth everywhere. For example, in a writing contest last month, my previous novel, Man Cave, lost to little 3-year-old Wu Chang's book of finger-paintings. What can I say? Her core color selections and final blends were magnificent, and the accompanying text was both spectacular in construction and fabulous in presentation.

Here are my answers to the ten interview questions from "The Next Big Thing":

Q:  What is the working title of your book?

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A: Many would expect the inspiration sprang from a drunken stupor, but that wasn't the case this time. One Sunday afternoon, my children and I were strolling through a playground when I noticed a little girl sitting sad and alone on a swing. I felt so sorry for her; the dress she was wearing was tattered and stained, her hair was a tangled mess, and she wasn't wearing a coat or shoes. Upon my approach, in a most pitiful voice, she asked me if I'd push her in the swing. Concerned, I scanned the park for her parents. That's when the little girl told me her mother used to push her before she died. After I gently pushed her in the swing for a while, my children played with her the rest of the afternoon. Curious, we stopped by that park almost every day for a couple of weeks after, but never saw the little girl again. She became the inspiration for My Slice of Heaven because I believe that, somehow, the little girl will carve out a happy and content life for herself, just as my protagonist did.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Vampire Sci-Fi, of course … oh yeah, and Regency Romance, too. That's what sells books, right? Seriously, I'd classify it as a contemporary romantic drama with a splash of inspiration. I'm a sucker for sappy romantic contemporary dramas, so naturally, many of my titles fit in this genre. For some reason that escapes me, readers who are downloading free copies of the WIP of My Slice of Heaven are also downloading free erotica. My novel is not erotica, folks. Not certain how you stumbled across my novel while searching for erotica, but I'll take exposures any way I can get them. Thank you!

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A: I envision Claire, the protagonist, being played by whoever the lead actress is in the latest smarmy Broadway incarnation of Annie. Claire's aunt Rosa might be Wanda Sykes or someone with a similar edge to her. Frankie, Claire's go-to-guy, can be no other than my childhood best friend, a happy-go-lucky boy named (naturally) Frankie. He was the nicest, friendliest kid in spite of having a screwed up home life and being racked by illnesses. The load my bubbly little friend had to bear, only to succumb to his disease at the age of eleven, made me appreciate every crumb of life. I wish I knew of an actor who could convincingly express Frankie's zeal.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
A: I'm writing My Slice of Heaven during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2012. There are benefits for participating in NaNoWriMo: promotes NaNoWriMo titles, and Amazon's CreateSpace team offer a free paperback proof copy for writers who meet or exceed 50,000 words in November. So, My Slice of Heaven will be self-published in Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and for ebook formats and in CreateSpace for the paperback version.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A: The first draft of My Slice of Heaven is well underway. For the last 3 NaNoWriMos, I completed a first-draft manuscript for each in a month. I believe the first draft of My Slice of Heaven will follow suit.

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A: Barney Gets His Smarmy Purple Ass Beat is probably the closest match. Then I'd say Twilight, Fifty Shades of Gray, witty commentary on The Golf Channel, and the menu at Pizza Hut nicely round out the genre. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting My Slice of Heaven to be a homerun, but it has the moxie to be this generation's Matrix, if by Matrix, you mean a sweet love story about a gentle couple as they meander through life.

Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?
A: As I stated earlier, a childhood friend and a little girl at a playground were my inspirations. Additionally, a few years ago, I sat on a park bench in Phoenix, AZ next to a woman and her infant who, just the night before, became homeless. The terrified and exhausted woman's face and body language conveyed a lonely hopelessness that haunts me to this day. I thank God my family has never had to endure this situation. While writing My Slice of Heaven, I drew from the emotions that scared and very young mother shared with me.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A: My Slice of Heaven is meant to be a tearjerker; however, I want to convey real-life magic, those events we all face that are inspirational even though blissfully normal.

Here are the authors I tagged for the November 21 blog hop. Please check out their works.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Heart's Lust

LC Cooper

Copyright LC Cooper 2012
Published by LC Cooper at Smashwords

Cover image, "Angel fountain (Schoenbrunn)," courtesy of Gryffindor via Wikimedia

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This free ebook may be copied, distributed, reposted, reprinted and shared, provided it appears in its entirety without alteration, and the reader is not charged to access it.

* * * *

I behaved no differently than the rest of the guys in our office. Unashamed, we swarmed and hovered around the new girl, while she made it obvious she was enjoying our attention. Buried in offers to take her to lunch, I was elated that she accepted mine. It wasn't the steamy, sultry getaway I had fantasized, but the fact that such a gorgeous woman wanted to be with me, if even for a quick lunch in the company cafeteria, was a heavenly revelation.
You see, I wasn't the best looking guy; actually, the belly and receding hairline kept me lonely in the bars until just before closing time. Heather, on the other hand, was eye candy. Hired by the company's president himself, everyone knew she'd follow the same fast-track the other hotties did. Her way up the corporate ladder contained rungs attached to his bed. None of us cellar dwellers were fooled into believing any of us would nail this beauty. She was stratospherically out of our, my, league, so I wondered why she accepted my invitation to lunch. Certainly, my hesitancy was merited. She even turned down our broad collection of dashing alpha-male sales guys to be with me.
"Hey," I thought with a shrug, "why rock the boat?" I was content munching my sandwich while sitting across the table from such an engaging woman.
"You seem nice and sincere," Heather purred, adding a wink. Then her smile turned into a frowny pout. "I know what guys think of me, but the way you look, all dumpy and pasty, you'd know there never was a chance in hell, which is why I agreed to join you on this pleasantly platonic lunch."
My courage and manliness weren't the only things shriveled by her brutality. I stammered to reply, but what was the point? With this one scathing comment, it was perfectly clear Heather was well suited for the VP position freshly vacated for her.
After cudding the remainder of my fermented silage, I humbly shuffled to my center-aisle cubicle. The flies swept between Heather and my desks, either demanding details from me, or jockeying for position with her. My bovine tail kept the pests off me, whereas Heather oozed honey, encouraging their competition. She played the giggly-newbie role to a T.
The following week, Heather was relocated to her well-earned VP office within the lofty Mahogany Row grotto. Her desk on my floor wasn't the only one emptied though. Three of the salesmen that had most strongly come onto Heather were seeking new employment opportunities outside our company. Such a maneuver kept the rest of us focused on our jobs and no longer on Heather's rack. I couldn't stop thinking about her though.
Instead of generating another meaningless spreadsheet for my boss, I often spent the time wishing I were the company president, holding Heather all night long. It was odd that as soon as my mind would drift back to the workday tedium, something would jar me, and I'd return to my favorite distraction. The latest occurred moments before I began my routine of shutting down for the weekend. I gave up, however, when I had the sensation that someone was watching me.
I looked up from my computer and saw Heather peering at me from over my cubicle wall. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't know you were there, Ms. …," I stammered as I struggled to stand.
"Please, you can still call me Heather," she whispered. She appeared sad. "Can we talk?" she quietly asked as she wiggled her index finger for me to follow her.
This pretty pin-up wanted me to join her on a clandestine mission; who was I to argue? Her mysteriousness got my imagination reeling. I stealthily strode out of my cube as her shapely butt disappeared around the corner that lead to the conference rooms.
I quickened my pace and thought I caught up with her, but when I turned the same corner, Heather was gone. Pathetically anxious, I flung open doors to empty conference rooms. I reached for the light switch in the final one, but as I did, something or someone grabbed my arm and yanked, tossing me onto a two-seater sofa.
"Stay there," Heather's husky, but sweet, voice commanded from the darkened corner behind the door. She plopped down against my leg after pressing the room's door closed.
Admittedly, I was scared to death. Unaccustomed to corporate skulking, I was a quivering pile of mush inside. Heather didn't do much to quell my fears.
"This is awkward, and I don't know where to begin," she said while wringing her hands. She drew in a deep breath, as if mustering up her courage, and said, "Okay, here goes … whew … this is so unlike me."
Emboldened by her frailty, I leapt into the role of gladiator-warrior-hero, and asked, "What's wrong, Heather? What's bothering you?" as if I had magical healing powers. For God's sake, I was only a glorified number-cruncher. How was I to help this powerful vixen? I almost mockingly chuckled at the absurdity of the chasm between us.
Heather tightened her lips closed, as if they were the only thing preventing a dreadful secret from taking flight. After completing what appeared to be an argument with her ethics, Heather said, "Look, there's something I need to tell you, but you must swear never to repeat it. I have to be able to trust you with all my heart." To emphasize her point, she grabbed my hand and pressed its palm into her cleavage. "You are the only person I feel I can trust, Michael Gabriel."
Who was I to argue? My hand was resting between the most amazing set of tits the world has ever seen … my hand. Oh, I was so full of crap when I opened my mouth. At first, I babbled in tongues, but after two false starts, I managed to engage my other brain. I disappointed Heather, however, when I timidly yapped, "If this is a matter of corporate espionage or embezzlement, have you contacted the head of security?"
Heather scrunched her face up and said, "Really? You have your hand resting between my breasts and I'm pleading for your help, and all you can offer is to contact the rent-a-cops?" She started to pull my hand away, so, sweating profusely, I recovered, promising my unconditional loyalty, which earned me more time to explore her cleavage.
"Unlike the other men in this company, you come across as genuine, sincere, and …"
I waited, holding my breath. I prayed she wouldn't say obedient. I wasn't so shallow to trash my dignity in exchange for a cheap feel and a leash. I had morals – I was almost certain of it.
"… tender," she sighed while staring deeply into my darting eyes. "I feel, so … so vulnerable and used." She leaned in toward me and kissed me passionately on the mouth while my hand grazed her amazingly tight breast. She moaned and pressed my hand firmly against her.
Inhibitions and conscience lost, I moved in for more, but suddenly Heather pulled away and pushed my hand onto my own leg.
"Oh, my, we must stop," she said while panting. "This isn't right. I'm married, after all."
"Huh?" my Neolithic brain mumbled. To complete the picture, all I needed was a drool cup resting beneath my chin. Good Lord, I was a mess. "Um," I said, beginning to punch through the fog of desire, "are you trying to seduce me?"
"Heavens no, Michael Gabriel! Is that really what you think of me? I turn to you, someone I hoped could be a trusted friend, but instead, you jump in and take advantage of me during a weak moment. How dare you," she hissed as she began to stand.
Completely confused and reeling, I said, "I didn't mean anything of the sort, Heather. Please, please sit back down. I promise to behave. I really do want to help you. I promise." I patted the sofa cushion she had occupied and then slid away from it, providing her with a buffer of trust.
"Okay," she warily said, "but don't try that again. My husband would kill you. He's a very, very jealous man … and God forbid if Henry, the president, found out what you did. There wouldn't be a safe place anywhere on Earth where you could hide."
"I swear I'm here for you, Heather. Please trust me to keep my hands to myself."
"That's better," she huffed before dropping into the opposite corner of the small sofa. "I'd like your advice on something, so here goes: During an argument early this morning, Henry admitted he hired me because he was crazy about me and wants to be with me all the time."
"That two-timer," I fumed, playing along, because everyone in the frigging company knew he hired Heather to bang her. "So, he wants to have an affair with you. But in doing so, he'd be cheating on his wife."
"Yeah, so … ?"
"Um nothing. Please do continue if you must." If committing adultery wasn't bothering her, I wasn't sure I wanted to hear anything else she had to say. Depraved and illegal goings-on in the company were none of my business. That's what the HR director told me anyway.
"My husband, it's about my husband, Adolf. He's always up to no good, and I don't want him finding out about Henry."
"Oh, come on," I thought. "Is this for real? Am I on some hidden-camera show? I lifted the pillow next to me, searching for a microphone and the room for a camera. No one in the world falls into such a stupidly obvious trap. Did she want me to rat on her husband. With a name like Adolf, I had no problem imagining the guy was a mobster or drug dealer. Exasperated, yet still horny, my heads battled for control of the conversation. "What, exactly, do you want from me, Heather?"
"A friend, Michael Gabriel," she sighed. "I need a close, supportive friend who won't judge me – someone who will listen and give me helpful feedback. I had hoped you weren't like all the others … but maybe I was wrong." She set her purse in her lap and dug out her lipstick and mirror. Ignoring the desperate look on my face, she deftly applied lipstick to the supple lips I had kissed only minutes before. She coyly glanced at me and then back into her compact's mirror. "Can't walk around the building with smeared lipstick. Kind of obvious what people would think, you know?"
My crotch could only get my mouth to grunt in agreement; my brain had checked out, having left for a quick race around Fantasyland. Finally realizing Heather was yearning for a confidant and companion, I blurted out, "You can count on me, Heather. I'll be there for you."
"Good!" She reached over and patted my inner thigh to reinforce her pleasure with my decision.
Once again, I had to reel my childish brain in, and with the iron will of an archangel, ignored what everyone in the world knew was a tease. Was she testing my resolve? I chose to assume she was, so I lightly patted her hand in response, suppressing the urge to shove it against my aching member. I was so confused, so conflicted.
Relieved, though not happy, I watched as Heather lightly let her hand drop to the sofa cushion. She let out a frustrated breath, as if disappointed that she didn't get me to react. Then, just when I believed my dignity was rebounding, Heather said something that haunts me to this day.
"Before we part, there is something I must tell you …"
"Oh, come on – enough of this rollercoaster ride already," I thought, and then my brain shut down for good.
"It's embarrassing to say this. I mean, I'm usually not so forward and blunt …"
"Uh huh," I grunted as the little head checked in.
"but, I kind of like you." She paused, scanned the room, and then added, "I think you're cute." With that, she shot up and off the sofa and rushed out of the conference room like a blushing teenager.

I couldn't absorb all that had happened. I remained sitting on the sofa for at least another fifteen minutes, wrestling with thoughts that she was setting me up versus the possibility she genuinely liked me. Finally, I sloughed off the sofa and trudged back to my hovel. Thankfully, everyone had gone home already, so I didn't have to explain the wet spot on my pants.
I drove home as I always did on Friday nights, stopping to pick up a sub and a movie. This weekend felt differently, however, as if the planets had aligned so that Heather and I could be together.
Thus began weeks of flirting and passionate secretive meetings. Always a gentleman, I never bragged or shared with others. Well, after a co-worker discovered lipstick on my collar, I absentmindedly admitted it was Heather's. I guess I wasn't surprised by my associate's reaction: she laughed hysterically, much to my relief.
Looking back, I admit I was obsessed with Heather. Her body was magnificent; her touch, soft and caring, kept me wound up and longing for more; and she always greeted me with a warm hug and an earnest smile. Oh, how I yearned for her. I had fallen head over heels, yet I was sworn to secrecy. Our indiscretions weren't newsworthy as they never evolved above a flirtatious crush. I longed to be with her every minute of the day. I lived and breathed for Heather, and although I wanted much more, Heather seemed satisfied with our current arrangement.
Oddly, I also found myself daydreaming about what it must be like to be Adolf, Heather's husband. I couldn't remember the number of times I had prayed to be him. He was probably suave, debonair, great looking, athletic, and loaded with money. I was certain he had the playboy lifestyle since he had such a terrific wife.
It was mid-October when I screwed up my courage to tell Heather exactly how I felt about her and about our relationship.
"Relationship? What relationship?" she angrily muttered from across the conference-room's table. "An arrangement is what I agreed to, Michael Gabriel. I'm a married woman …"
"… who's having an affair with our company's president. Oh, don't look so shocked, Heather. Everyone, even the window-washing crew, know. Who do you think saw you two doing it in his office? That's right … the window washers."
"Remind me to have them fired," she angrily shot back. "Hey, my relationship with my boss is none of your business!"
"Oh, so you have a relationship with your boss, but with me, it's merely a civil agreement, an arrangement, you called it."
"Before today, I didn't hear you complaining."
"Starving dogs don't complain when tossed the occasional bone."
"I suggest you change your attitude and tone before you get yourself fired, Michael Gabriel. Good God, I thought you were different – someone I could trust and hang out with. Yet, you sit here and judge me, pleading for more of me. Well, I'm not interested in being your friend any longer," and with that, she shoved the chair backward and braced to stand.
I scrambled to throw together an apology. Indeed, her friendship was very, very important to me, I reassured her, and I promised to not let her down again.
Seeming appeased, Heather smoothed out her skirt and settled into the chair. She shook her head sadly, though, and then said, "I'm not so sure I can trust you any longer."
"You can! I will prove it to you – you'll see."
"No, you really screwed up this time by pushing too hard, Michael Gabriel. It's going to take something astounding to convince me we're still friends."
"Name it," I confidently said. "I'd do anything for you, Heather."
"Hmmm, now that you mention it, there is something you can do to redeem yourself." She paused and tapped her luscious lips with a fingertip, as if deep in thought. "Here's the situation: I have reason to believe my husband is cheating on me …"
"Adolf? He's got it made. Why would he cheat on you? You're perfect – you're gorgeous," I loudly sighed, which resulted in an awkward silence. This is when I noticed the bruise. "My God, what happened to you, Heather?"
She didn't try to hide it with her hands. Instead, she dropped her head in shame. "Adolf found out about my relationship with Henry …"
"So, Adolf slugged you?" I felt my ire bubbling. Nothing made me more furious than seeing a sweet woman broken by an out-of-control man.
"Worse … the cheek is all that's visible. You should see the rest of me," she softly sobbed.
Oh, how I wanted to, but not under these conditions. "If only I were your husband, Heather, I'd …"
"Please stop there, Michael Gabriel. You're a nice guy, but you don't deserve a wreck like me," she sniffled while watching me out of the corner of her eye. "Adolf was right, it's all my fault. If I hadn't cheated on him, he wouldn't have roughed me up."
"No one deserves to be beaten up," I spat, unable to believe I was defending her adulterous affair with our sleezeball boss. I tried again: "You know, if I were your husband, I'd treat you like the queen you are."
Heather grimaced, and then forced a smile. "I don't deserve a friend like you. See? Even when I confessed my affair to you, you didn't judge me."
Actually, I did, but I was so damned in love that I easily dismissed her betrayal. My heart ached, hoping and praying for the day when she'd fall in love with me and forget all about Adolf and Henry. Then, she said the words that I was longing to hear. Well, they weren't the words, but they were a close second.
"I need you," Heather sighed.
I perked up, straining forward to hear more, but then wished I hadn't.
"I need you to come to my house and spy on Adolf. I want to know who he's seeing. Take photos, watch him like a hawk. He's not the only one who's going to have ammunition if our marriage ends up in divorce court."
"Um, I'm not very comfortable with breaking into your house or watching him from the road. What if he sees me? He's a monster, right? He'll kill me."
Heather grinned as if she'd developed the perfect plan. "I have an idea. Friday, a painting crew is supposed to be at our house to repaint the rooms on the second floor. You can pretend to be one of the painters. Our master bedroom and office are on that floor, too, so you can pretty much watch Adolf all day long since he works from home."
"Then, what will you do with the information I hand over to you? Nail Adolf to the cross?"
"I suppose I'll give it to an attorney … after I hire one."
Helping Heather get Adolf out of the picture meant that I was one step closer to realizing my dream. Then, there was her affair with Henry, the company's president. I discretely asked about the matter, hoping to drive a wedge there, too.
"Oh, it needs to be over," Heather huffed. "Henry's wife and kids are constantly getting in the way. If they're not tripping us up, the paparazzi are driving me nuts. Why, one guy snapped a photo of me in the shower."
"The lucky bastard," I thought, but asked, "What did you do?"
"The guy was a grifter. He extorted $100,000 from me to keep the photo out of the papers."
While pretending to listen, I came up with an idea that I then pitched to Heather. I told her that in order to rid her of Henry, I would gladly provide the cops with spreadsheets containing the most damning evidence of Henry's corporate misdeeds.
He'd be arrested, which meant, finally, Heather would be mine. I was almost certain Heather would joyfully leap into my arms for rescuing her from the two evil men in her life. Oh, how much closer I was to her. Everything was coming together nicely for me. Fantasizing about her and my honeymoon became my nightly ritual, an almost religious experience.
Thursday evening arrived. On my way home from work, I slinked into a hardware store and purchased a painter's set of overalls, a cap, and an assortment of brushes, rollers, and other props.
Early Friday morning, I watched Heather drive out of her garage, just as I had done so many times before. This day, however, I was invited inside. No longer would I sneak onto the property to peer into a window or two.
"Hey," came the gruff voice from the speakerbox. "You painters aren't supposed to be here for another hour. Beat it … Oh, never mind."
"Ah, Adolf," I thought, "you certainly deserve what's coming, you cheating mother …,"
The front door creaked open far enough for an eye to peer out at me. "Go around back and come in through the garage where I've got the paint buckets stored. Where's everyone else?"
"Soon be here. My wife drop me off early so she go to work," I replied with a really poor Spanish accent.
"Fine," he grumbled before shoving the door closed and locking it.
I pretended to trudge, as a painter would, I imagined, to the back of the house, all the while absorbing every detail of my love's home and gardens. The garage door opened slowly, which gave me a few extra moments to study Adolf's candy-apple red convertible. "Clean and tidy," I remarked just before inconspicuously flicking my wad of chewing gum beneath the sport scar's dashboard. "Paybacks are hell, eh, buddy?" I chuckled at the revenge I extracted from his precious ride. "There's more where that came from, oh yeah!" I hummed.
The door at the top of the garage's steps flew open, and a burly, half-naked man filled the doorframe. "I'm working from home today, so you guys need to keep it down, understand? No more loud radios blaring cha-cha music, got it?"
I nodded and said, "Sí, Senor," in my most-southern drawl, mocking the brutish Adolf, but he didn't catch on. I felt energized. Adolf may have the brawn, but I was easily his mental master.
I thought it was strange he was half-dressed. Heather said he works out and showers very early every day; yet, I just saw him dripping wet as if he had taken a shower. "This must mean," I thought, punctuated by a broadening grin, "that his lover is still inside the house."
I was dying to get inside, so I yelled up as I climbed the set of steps, "Senor, bathroom, por favor?" I jiggled the locked doorknob to add to my sense of urgency, a move that I hoped would piss him off enough to open the door to me.
"Across the hall," Adolf barked as he flung the door open and walked away. "Hey, what was that sound?" he angrily asked in response to the click of my camera.
I quickly recovered with, "I must have a nail in my shoe."
"I thought you spoke Spanish," he growled, eyes narrowing.
"Sí, but I know some English. My sister teach me," I said, proudly patting my chest like a stereotypical buffoon.
He pointed his index finger at me and snarled, "I'm watching you, punk. Don't try to steal anything or I'll toss you and your pals out on your asses."
I nodded and waved in understanding as I stared at the ground, pretending to have been humbled. I watched for Adolf to turn around and walk down the long hallway before I ducked into the bathroom. I smiled when I heard the sound of a woman's laugh. It came through the overhead air duct. "Bingo … gotcha now, you gorilla!" After a brief look at the photos I'd already taken, I slid my camera into a chest pocket, then flushed the toilet and pretended to wash my hands. I remained in the bathroom when I heard the doorbell ring and Adolf's muffled answer.
Soon, a horde of painters were assembled in the garage. Thankfully, as I slipped in among them, most didn't know each other. We all grabbed paint cans and marched up the garage's steps and into the house. I heard an upstairs door slam just before the job's foreman said, "Okay, boys, we have only three hours to paint the rooms and hallway. Get to it."
We meandered up the inside staircase and fanned out, each heading for our assigned room. I ducked into the master bedroom and snapped a dozen photos, many containing a pair of women's pants that couldn't have belonged to Heather; the legs were much longer than hers. Then, the bra lying alongside the pants was a 34C. Heather was clearly at least a 40D. As a boy, I studied the Sears catalogs – I knew bra sizes.
Then, I raced out of the bedroom and dipped my paintbrush into a paint can just as Adolf opened the door to what appeared to be his office. He shoved past me, muttering. I watched as he stopped in front of the foreman and warned him of the consequences if anything was stolen or broken.
"I have to leave, with my, um, business partner," Adolf grunted while, I thought, he was looking directly at me. Startled by his piercing stare, I frantically searched for a way to escape the house. My desire to flee was cut short when an amazingly tall woman flitted by me. I never heard her approach, so I guessed she had been in the office with Adolf. She dashed into the master bedroom. I heard rustling coming from near the bed, so I assumed the bra and pants were hers. Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I was relieved to see that Adolf wasn't paying attention to me. He was arguing with the foreman instead. The statuesque woman poked her head out of the bedroom door, and seeing the coast was clear, sprang after Adolf. Unknown to either of them, I was snapping one picture after another.
Once I heard Adolf's car peel out of the driveway, I dropped my paintbrush and sauntered back into the master bedroom. The bra and pants were gone and the bed had been made. The evidence was overwhelming that Adolf was cheating on Heather.
I climbed out of my painter's overalls and stuffed them into a plastic sack I hid in the pocket. No longer identifiable as a painter, I roamed the house at will, snapping photos for Heather … and for me. I ran my fingers across the fine marbles and woods crafted into furnishings. I opened kitchen cabinets and envisioned what Adolf and Heather discussed during a meal. I smiled at the thought that, very soon, all this would be mine.
How I yearned to be in Adolf's shoes. I grinned. The guy would be gone for a while, so why not? I strolled down the hall and back into the master bedroom. Into his closet I went, rummaging through his clothes, coats, shoes, and ties. There was no point in trying any of the clothes on; Adolf's shirts were tailored to his muscular physique, while his pants were a trim and narrow 34 waist. I think the last time I was able to slip into size-34 pants was sometime during puberty.
Adolf's shoes, however, were a different story. I easily and comfortably slipped my feet into a pair of Ferragamo alligator lace-ups. There was enough space to wiggle my toes. Wow, they felt amazing; so much so that I decided to keep them on. I justified doing so because if I were to be Heather's next husband, I needed to start dressing the part. Besides, Adolf wouldn't miss them. To replace the shoes, he could turn in an insurance claim against the painting contractor.
I was leaving the kitchen to walk onto the back patio when I noticed a fountain loudly gurgling outside the master bedroom's window. I jammed my hand in my pocket and fished out a penny and rested it atop my bent thumb and index finger. I closed my eyes and made a wish, praying to be Heather's husband.
The coin plopped into an upper tier of the fountain, and then playfully rolled along the uneven surfaces until it came to rest beneath a tiny, trickling waterfall. I smiled smugly, confident my wish would come true.
A jarring crunch followed by screaming shoved me out of my happy trance. I looked out beyond the patio's rail and then smirked; God was smiling down on me. At the end of the street, two houses away, Heather was standing outside her wrecked car, hands planted on her hips. She was yelling at Adolf and his lover as they scurried to get out of his burning convertible. I loved Heather's ingenuity and cunning: She rammed her car into the side of his to stop them during their return to Adolf and Heather's house.
I slid my camera out of its pocket and then braced my leg against the patio's railing to get the best quality photographs. All my photos would be incriminating enough to provide the coup de grâce to Heather and Adolf's marriage. The day couldn't be going any better for me.
Also, I wasn't worried about Henry and Heather's affair any longer. The day before, I had mailed a large envelope to a judge's office. It was crammed full of spreadsheets that Henry had ordered to be doctored – the kind of information that sends corporate officers to prison for decades.
"Thank you, God," I sighed while looking up at the sky. Although Heather, Adolf, and his lover were screaming at each other, I only heard the cheery clinking of wedding bells and champagne glasses.
"She's got a gun!"
This revelation startled me, and I looked out at the angry trio. I saw the gun. Thankfully, it wasn't Heather holding it, although she certainly was within her rights to shoot her cheating husband. Actually, it was Adolf's lover who held the gun and she was pointing it at Heather.
"No!" I screamed, which distracted the pistol-wielding woman. She pulled the trigger at the same moment she turned to face me – to where the sound of my yell came from. The shot caught Adolf in the middle of his forehead.
"Aaarrrrgghhh!" I screamed through a blast of pain. The sensation of my skull splitting in two vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. "What the hell was th…" I stopped talking and tried to look around, but all I could see was black and diffused reds. "Shit," I exclaimed, "I've been shot!"
"You most certainly have," an ominous voice hissed. "How's it feel?"
"Horrible! I've got a splitting headache and I can't see. Can you help me?"
"Um, I suppose I could, but that's really not my thing," he cackled. "By the way, welcome to Hell."
"Wh-what?" I sputtered. Suddenly, a ghastly figure attached to the voice strode into sight. I instinctively slammed my eyes shut and prayed to wake up from this nightmare. I screamed in terror when I again opened my eyes. The demon's face was inches from mine. The monster had crept forward, waiting for me to open my eyes again before saying another word.
"Boo?" the beast asked and then roared with demonic laughter, as the voices of millions of tormented souls screeched and howled their approval.
"No, this – this can't be! I don't belong here! There must be some kind of mistake."
The demon shook his head and clicked his tongue disapprovingly as he studied his blood-stained fingernails. "Oh, I assure you, there was no mistake."
"But, but I was alive."
"Yes? What's your point?"
"I did nothing wrong, certainly nothing to deserve being sent here."
"Oh really? You don't say? Well, according to the list I have in my hand," the demon growled while unraveling a piece of parchment. "It says here that you were a wife-beating and mentally-abusive husband …"
Relieved, I sighed, chuckled and said, "You can stop right there. I knew this was a mistake. I've never been married."
"Hmm, is that so? Well, it also states you murdered a man and his daughter several years ago during a hit-and-run accident. You were driving drunk. Lucky for you, eh, that the cops never caught you," the beast snarled.
Again, I protested, but each of my arguments went unanswered. Instead, the demon continued to rattle off charge after charge against me.
"Please, I beg you, stop reading those horrible things. I swear, I did none of it."
"Look, I hate to admit this," the demon said, leaning in closer, "but God is never, and I do mean never, wrong."
"Then this is His first time," I fumed. "I demand to be let go and returned to my life. I have a future with Heather …"
"You have no future!" the demon bellowed. He slapped the parchment with his hand in exasperation, and then asked, "Did you not wish to be Heather's husband?"
I stared blankly, unable to rationalize a connection between my desire for Heather and the fact that I was standing at the gates of Hell, being read my supposed crimes against God and humanity.
"Well, sport, simply put, God granted you your wish."
I still didn't get it.
"Welcome to Hell, Adolf."
"Huh?" I continued to struggle with my belief that God was wrong. "Adolf? My name is Michael Gabriel Pennymore. I-I was named after two of God's archangels."
"Well, isn't this a small world!" the beast chuckled. "My boss, Lucifer, was one of God's original archangels. What a coincidence!" Again, the minions roared with rageful, mocking laughter.
"I don't belong here. I'm not Adolf!" I screamed – a feat that momentarily silenced the crowd.
The demon glared at me, but didn't lash out again. Instead, the beast sighed and said, "I'm not going to waste any more time on you. Simply put, you wished to be Heather's husband. At the exact moment the bullet left the gun of Adolf's lover, God granted you your wish. You switched bodies with Adolf. You became Adolf. Congratulations, you can now enjoy eternity as Heather's husband." The demon turned to the monster nearest him and said, "Beelzebub, get this guy checked in and hurry him to the psycho ward. He's about to crack."
The demon then turned back toward me and dropped a newspaper at my feet. Numbly, I bent down and picked it up. The headline screamed, "Adolf Scharnhorst Shot Dead by Jilted Lover."
"That's not true," I mumbled. "I saw the whole thing. I was there. She accidentally shot him after I …"
"Oh, do shut up and read on, would you?"
I begrudgingly did. The article described the bizarre events surrounding the shooting, including the fact that not only was Heather's husband dead, but her lover, Henry Philkowitz, the CEO of HammerLink Fencing Company, was arrested for cooking the company's books. The article concluded with a paragraph detailing how Heather's close friend, Michael Gabriel Pennymore, was there to comfort and console her.
Then, a lone article fluttered down from above and landed in my hand. It was a wedding announcement, that of Heather Scharnhorst to Michael Gabriel Pennymore. I gasped and looked at the demon for an explanation.
"You and Adolf switched bodies," he said with a shrug. "Look how happy they are in the photograph. No doubt, Michael Gabriel Pennymore will be a good husband to Heather. Kind of ironic, don't you think? He gets a gentler second chance with his wife, which is what he wished at the fountain this morning … the very same fountain where you wished to be Heather's husband."
To Beelzebub, I heard the demon whisper, "Get ready."
The demon turned back to me and said, "God was generous. He granted both of you your wishes. Isn't that swell of Him? Welcome to your new home, Adolf."
Something hollered, "Look out, boys, he's gonna blow!"
And I did, screaming for all eternity.

# # #

Author's Note:

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