Caroline politely shuffled the papers on her desk, giving the villain a moment to collect his dignity before walking away. Instead, he growled and threw the script at her before storming off.
“And you wonder why I didn’t want to work with you?” she muttered, collecting scattered pages from the floor of the studio. By the time she was done, Caroline felt like growling herself.
When the room was once again presentable, Caroline poked her head into the foyer where the other applicants were waiting.
Lord Voldermort and the Wicked Witch of the West were arguing over whether the basilisk or the flying monkey made a more fearsome familiar. Wickham buffed his nails on the couch, and a large, elderly woman dominated the armchair, surrounded by her knitting. Gollum was digging through a potted tree in the corner, murmuring something about “preciouses.”
As Caroline entered, a spray of dirt from Gollum’s wiry fingers hit Voldermort in the face. His nostrils would’ve flared, if he had any.
With a sharp swish of his cloak, Voldermort raised his wand and began, “Avada…”
“Stop!” Caroline cried. “Really! Murder, during an interview? I can see already that your services won’t be required.”
Wickahm looked up, bored. “Told you. She’s a romance author. You’re not her type.”
“You, told me?” Voldermort hissed. “Cru — “
The Wicked Witch of the West slapped his wand down. “You may be everyone’s favorite now,” she warned, “but once word gets around that you’re difficult to work with? Took me fifty years to book Wicked after The Wizard of Oz!”
“I’ve never had any trouble reprising my role,” Wickham drawled, crossing his legs in neatly-pressed slacks.
“Smeagol too!” Gollum agreed, still at work destroying the greenery.
“Why did I ever decide to change series?” Caroline wondered aloud. “Next!”
The elderly knitter, who had watched the proceedings with mild interest and only chimed in via the click click click of her needles, put away her yarn and rose to join Caroline.
“Nice to meet you, Ms…?” Caroline ventured.
“Oh, names are so personal, aren’t they, dearie?” the woman asked, taking her arm.
Caroline brought the woman into her studio, flushing with embarrassment when she realized there was nowhere for her to sit. All the other applicants had simply auditioned standing before her desk.
“Please,” Caroline said, motioning to her own chair.
“Oh, that won’t be necessary.”
Caroline’s jaw dropped. The voice had transformed from a shaky old woman’s to that of a vibrant, educated British man.
The elderly woman’s stooped shoulders straightened, and she (?) began removing a wig, glasses, false teeth…
When the transformation was complete, a British man in the prime of his life stood before her, dressed in an oversized knit sweater.
“I am a master of disguise, you see, which makes me the perfect fit for your new novel,” he remarked. “I can conform to any plot you create!”
The man withdrew a thick piece of paper from his bag of yarn.
“Here is my resume,” he began. “As you can see, in addition to my talent in the art of disguise, I thrive in high-stress situations. My last author had me managing Egypt’s illegal antiquities market for years — and I rarely harm anyone who doesn’t truly deserve it.”
Caroline eyed the man before her, unable to believe the transformation she’d just witnessed. He was no Mrs. Doubtfire either. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that the person she invited into the room had been an elderly American woman.
“Disguise is more about mannerisms and affectations than crude physical alterations,” he explained. “We see what we expect. Stooped shoulders made me appear several inches shorter, and surrounded by knitting, why should I not be an elderly woman?”
Caroline looked at his resume. The name at the top read: “The Master Criminal.”
“The Master Criminal?” she asked. “Is that what you expect me to call you?”
“I’ve also been known as ‘The Genius of Crime,’ if you prefer.” He smiled, displaying even, white teeth. “But my friends call me Sethos.”
Caroline found it impossible not to smile back. “Why did you leave our last story, Mr. Sethos?”
“Suffice it to say I became a little too…close…to the family I was meant to be antagonizing. Would you believe I started saving them more than robbing them?”
“Why do you think that is?”
For a moment, the man’s gaze lingered on Caroline’s umbrella, leaning against the wall in the corner of the room.
A smile touched the edge of his lips. “It’s all her fault, I suppose. She vowed to change me, and no one can resist her, not even I.”
“Interesting…” Caroline tapped the pen on her desk. “A villain with a conscience. A villain who rescues the protagonist!”
“I did kidnap her a time or two, also,” Sethos said defensively. “And I’d really prefer not to be typecast in future roles. Oh, the larceny and antiquities theft, that would be fine. But don’t expect me to get attached to another family. I have a hard enough time keeping Amelia and the rest of the Emersons out of trouble as it is.”
Caroline grinned. “I wouldn’t dream of stepping on another author’s toes. But if you’re interested in a new series — one with ample vacation time, mind you, leaving you free to pop in and out of other books — I think I may have a job for you.”
Story audio was made available on the Vocabbett podcast. To keep everything together, I’ve included it at the top of this post.