It's not often I summon Red Stan but tonight I donned the asbestos gloves of invocation and drank the chilli-juice of the watery-eyed and high-voiced chant. I performed the ritual dance of the Burning Bottom and shook my head until I had regained some feeling in my tongue.
Click, who should have been assisting, merely gaped at me. Fat lot of use he was.
It worked anyway. Red Stan appeared and knocked another chip out of my mantelpiece as he emerged from the fire.
"What do you want, Dume? I've just had a batch of liberals in and they're so wet it's hard to light them." Stan surveyed the room with his usual contempt until his gaze fell upon Click. "What's that thing? It looks like it should be one of mine."
"It's a useless thing. You don't want it." I waved Click away and he needed no further urging to flee the room. I have some chilli juice left and he's going to drink it later. I'll teach him that 'assist' does not mean 'stand and gawp while I do all the work'.
"Oh I don't know." Stan rubbed his ear. "A couple of horns and a tail and he'd fit right in at my place. Anyway, what is it you want?"
"Have you had anything to do with a group calling themselves Microsoft?"
He looked at me for a moment then developed a deep interest in the ceiling. "I do believe I have a few shares in that company. How's it doing? Anything interesting?"
"I see." I folded my arms. "How about Ebooks? An invention of yours, I suspect?"
"Well, they are taxable and you know I'm a big fan of the tax office. Most of my family work there." Red Stan fingered his horns. "Did I chip this one on your mantelpiece? You'd better be careful, Dume. I have an awful lot of lawyers, you know."
"Don't change the subject. I've spent days trying to get a book converted into Ebook format. It has to be sent in as a Word document but it has to be done without any of the Word hidden formatting and other nonsense or it won't work." I glared at him briefly because glaring hurts when you've drunk that much chilli juice. "So Ebooks have to be submitted in Word but the programming of Word means the submission is doomed. I suspect you had something to do with this."
"Did it hurt?" He leered so well I almost forgave him, but held firm.
"It was appalling. I pulled out both my hairs, stitched them back in and pulled them out again during the process and I won't even know if it's worked for days." It wasn't that bad but he does like flattery.
"Yes!" Stan punched the air. "Best invention ever. One lot of goblins work on word processors and fill them with code, another lot work on Ebooks and fill them with entirely different and utterly incompatible code and then I set up a company that only accepts submissions in the most incompatible format possible. I knew that was a winner." He glanced at me and attempted to straighten his face. "Oh. I mean, perhaps one of my underlings did it without telling me."
"That is," I said, "possibly the most unspeakably evil thing you have ever done."
Red Stan performed a low and extravagant bow. "I thank you from the heart of my bottom."
"Yes, well." I tried to keep the admiration from my voice. "You could have warned me."
"Where's the fun in that?" He straightened and rubbed his hands. "Of course, those who have contracts have no trouble with the process at all."
"Oh no. I have a contract with Damnation Books for another book. I don't need one with you. Besides, I think I managed to get through the process. Eventually."
"Yes, but you'll have to do it all again. By then I'll have changed all the formats and added more hidden commands in the programs." He grinned at me. "So what was this book about? Am I in it?"
"Not directly." I showed him a print copy but didn't let him touch it. I have to pay for these and I can't reclaim the burned ones. "It's fairly cruel though. I think you'd like it."
"Is it on Kindle?" Red Stan licked his lips. "I was particularly taken with the name of that gadget, the firestarter reference, you know?"
"It might well be. That's up to you."
"Oh?" Confusion flickered in his face.
"Well, that's what I've been trying to do. Get this book out into the world to scare as many people as possible. Your game of 'torment the author' has stopped me, or at least hindered me."
"Ah." Red Stan moved towards the fireplace. "I can see I'll have to rethink and perhaps refine this plan."
"Yes, perhaps you should." It was my turn to grin but I missed it because the chilli juice had numbed most of my mouth. I don't know what it looked like and perhaps it's better that way.
Red Stan took a headlong dive into the fireplace. I think that was the first time he managed it without smacking his horns on the mantelpiece.
The next Ebook submission might, I suspect, be a little bit easier.
Although probably not much.