He showed up on the screen a second time in a bowling shirt.
"Where's the Armani?" I typed an asterisk in my Word doc and enlarged the Skype screen to full view. "And Skype? What happened to the hologram?"
"I like to stay current." He grinned, the Grinch kind. He began tossing the keys in front of the camera. "Looking for these?"
"It'd be nice to have them back, but I thought, you know, at least you'd give me a year or two, maybe even five before you exercised the clause. Huh?"
His laugh shook my computer and made the screen sizzle. "You didn't specify. Aren't you still writing? Feeling it? Pouring out the words? I read them every day."
"No fair. That wasn't part of the deal."
"But no one's harshing your word count."
Harshing my word count? Bowling shirt? Skype? A lot had changed in a year. "Very hipster of you." I blanked on more chit-chat to stall.
He kept tossing. "Now, the way I see it," (was there any other way with him?), "you still owe me."
"But you've got the keys. What else of mine could you possibly want?"
"It's more complicated than spending a few eons here later," he said. picking a tooth with a long fingernail. "When you get published, you'll need to give me a token while you're still alive. Freebies aren't my style."
Hell (no pun intended), he could read my work, steal my soul and waltz into my computer at any time. What else did he need? A pinkie finger? A roll in the sack? Weird. I preferred neither. "I've already promised you my afterlife."
"I want recognition."
"Come again?" Footnote in Word doc: Devil = slithery egotist + persuasive + able to damn for eternity. Divide by self-esteem issues. Subtotal = leverage for the crafty negotiator.
"Then I get an exit clause."
"You do?" He grinned, again with a wide, creepy glint. "Name it."
I had to be quick or his sudden good graces would vanish.
"If you maintain my output, AND I get a six-figure advance, AND I sell 200,000 in my first run, AND I am reviewed decently in the NYT Book Review, I'll let you write your own dedication for the second run and the follow-up books. All of them. But, I get the keys back after book three."
He stopped tossing and tapped on the screen, making my bones cringe. He nodded: Certainly.
"Do we need to sign that in blood or something?" Sweat soaked my armpits.
"You watch too much YouTube."