The following is a work of fiction. I do not own the character of Sebastian Michaelis, although I do wish he were real.

I just needed to get this out so I could go back to writing The Night Wolves.

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Day 1: It wasn’t like that at all.

Sebastian delivers the day’s agenda to his employer along with breakfast: a poached egg with sundried tomato pesto, a flaky croissant, latte made with single-origin Colombian coffee, and a blueberry parfait to boost balance and brain function. The lockdown that has forced their cohabitation has allowed Sebastian to showcase his culinary skills in addition to his organizational ones. This is now part of his admin aesthetic.

“You’re my assistant, not my servant, Sebastian,” says the CEO of RaaS, Inc. “It’s as if you spent your past life as a butler.”

“That’s a very accurate guess, my lady.”

“Reinvent yourself with the times, Sebastian. It’s no longer appropriate for you to refer to me that way. Brief me on the day’s meetings, please.”

“Yes, Miss Viega. Your first and only meeting of the day is with Jared Chadwick, a media mogul who has been accused of grooming a young woman at a conference, plying her with alcohol and offering her mentorship and opportunities in exchange for sexual favors.”

“Ah yes. I’ve guessed about Jared Chadwick for some time,” says Miss Viega with a smile. “I’ve been wondering when his time would come. Who referred him to RaaS?”

“His wife. Apparently, she intends to stand by him, and he has agreed to come see us to appease her.”

“Well, of course. Chadwick is worth 30 billion dollars, and by California law she will own half of that in the event of a divorce.”

“Precisely,” says Sebastian. He has acted as Miss Viega’s admin for two years, and he is fond of her already. Her efficiency in seeking revenge is surpassed only by her intuitions about human behavior. It has been a very long time since Sebastian knew someone as unapologetically ruthless as they were emotionally intelligent. The irony in Miss Viega running a service that helps the wealthy launder their damaged reputations is not lost on either of them.

“Mr. Chadwick’s private jet has just arrived at LAX,” Sebastian says, checking his notifications. “He will be here in forty-five minutes.”

“Ready the office, then,” says Miss Viega. “And Sebastian? This one will be tedious. The next time you accept a client, find one more interesting?”

“Yes, Miss Viega.”

Sebastian excuses himself and prepares the CEO’s home office to receive the visitor. He knows the role he must play. They have done this before. Still, even to Sebastian, who has seen the depths of hell firsthand, there is something delightfully transgressive about sitting in Miss Viega’s office chair.

She explicitly ordered it. It is strange to Sebastian, how she sees nothing odd about having the demon she has hired to destroy her enemies pretend to be her admin in polite society, but she finds it exceedingly strange and unprofessional that he’d offer to pick out her clothes or draw her a bath. In some ways, Miss Viega asks far less of Sebastian than other client-employers have.

Jared Chadwick arrives with two women flanking him on either side. The wife and a fellow admin, Sebastian realizes. Sebastian can see them on the door’s camera, and he can watch every room in the house from the CEO’s chair. A headset connects him to his employer, who is currently opening the door.

“Please, come in Mr. Chadwick,” Miss Viega says from behind a surgical mask that serves to hide her expression.

“Emma Chadwick,” says the wife. The couple barrel through the door, leaving the admin behind.

“And you are?”

“She’s my assistant,” says Jared Chadwick. “Where’s Mr. Viega?”

Ah. First test failed. Sebastian smiles, and despite the surgical mask on her face he notices his employer doing the same. A man who speaks over a woman hours after being accused of harassing one is not one that will be easily redeemed. But the harder cases are more lucrative.

“The CEO will be right with you,” says Miss Viega cheerfully, showing the guests to a waiting room. She hands them a box of surgical masks. “If you don’t mind, please do wear these while you’re here.”

“Is he sick or something?” Jared says as he takes a seat on the leather sofa. “I hate these things. They’re so constraining.”

“It’s the law,” Miss Viega says politely and leaves the box on the table. The two women acquiesce, but Jared does not.

Second test failed. Miss Viega has taken a seat at a desk with her laptop in front of her. She can now message Sebastian in private and hear his response in her ear.

I know what you’re doing, Sebastian.

“I have no idea what you mean, Miss Viega,” Sebastian says, allowing his amusement to ring out. “How could I possibly have predicted that a powerful man could be incapable of basic manners?”

Well, in any case he’s not getting in that office until he learns to comply.

“Of course, Miss Viega.”

Between getting up and pacing, asking whether Mr. Viega was aware they had arrived, making frustrated clicking sounds, crossing and uncrossing his legs, and frantically going through media reports on his behavior, Jared Chadwick’s patience lasts a full five minutes before he gets up and walks over to the office door.

“You can’t go in there without a mask,” Miss Viega says. “But if you’d like, I could get us started on your case.”

“No thanks,” Jared says. He whirls on his wife. “This was a stupid idea. I send a hundred emails a day. I communicate in front of audiences of millions. I give TED talks. I don’t need a PR firm.”

“RaaS Inc. is not a PR firm,” Miss Viega says.

“Damage control then. Crisis response. Whatever you call yourselves. How are you supposed to help me with my image when I can’t find a single piece of information about you online?”

“If you knew who our clients are, we wouldn’t be doing a very good job of discretion now, would we?” Miss Viega says. “But of course, the process won’t work unless the client is completely committed to it. Have you seen our brochure?”

Sebastian laughs. If the brochure is coming out, this is going to be a lost cause. Even over the video he can see the vein popping in Jared Chadwick’s broad forehead as he takes in the plastic-paper booklet about Redemption as a Service, with its 3-step approach of Remorse, Reparation, and Rehabilitation.

“Miss Viega,” Sebastian says, “I never took you for the merciful type. You’ve given him the answer to his predicament without any sort of payment.”

To a severely dehydrated man, water is poison not mercy, Sebastian.

“The CEO is ready to see you now. You may enter as soon as you wear your mask.”

“Stay here,” Jared tells the two women who came with him, and picks up his mask. He slings it below his nose and walks into the office where Sebastian has turned off the surveillance cameras and is waiting for him.

“Ariel Viega? I’m Jared Chadwick. Thank you for making the time.”

For the next few minutes, Sebastian’s only role is to keep Jared Chadwick busy, while Miss Viega gently interrogates the wife and admin outside on those things women only ever tell each other.

So he lets Jared speak, allowing him to give his own version of events. Apparently, he is a diversity champion, ally and sponsor to women who lacked the talent and above all the presence — yes, that’s the key, executive presence — to lead anything beyond an ice-cream shop without his guidance. Did he drink at the conference where he allegedly (always allegedly) harassed an attendee who looked up to him? Possibly. His memory of the night is faulty, and at any rate he doesn’t understand how he could have sexually assaulted anyone in front of five hundred guests. Wouldn’t they have noticed something? Said something? And if she was so uncomfortable, why did she come with him to the after-party?

She’s an opportunist, according to Jared Chadwick. A sad case, really. It’s the lockdown. It creates anxieties, makes people relive their past and find opportunities for allegations and lawsuits to deal with economic uncertainty.

It has been over twenty minutes, and Jared Chadwick has not yet said her name.

“So, is it true? You can fix this?”

“How much do you want to fix it?” Sebastian counters.

“I’d give anything to go back to normal.”

“Rarely do people mean that. But yes, although it depends entirely on your level of commitment,” Sebastian says. “Our terms are simple. You will not say or do anything without approval from us first. That includes conducting what you might think are unrelated business affairs, speaking to friends, or spending more than fifty dollars a day. You will not return to work until we tell you that you may do so.”

Jared gapes.

“You’re joking.”

“I’m afraid not,” Sebastian says.

“For how long?”

“Well, if all goes well, your apology will succeed in tempering the public’s anger. The news cycle will pass by in a week, at which time you may return to work, but only in an advisory capacity. You will resign as CEO to take time for personal growth and rehabilitation. We will work with you as well as the lady in question on a restorative justice process and you will reimburse her as appropriate. With luck, you should be able to return to public life within six months.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

“I assure you, I am not.”

“And how much do you charge for this ridiculous process?”

“If everything is as you’ve told me, twenty-five percent.”

“Twenty-five percent of what, exactly?”

“Your net worth. If, however, you have lied about the smallest detail or there are more indiscretions that come to light, the fee will be a full fifty percent.”

The expression on Jared Chadwick’s face is so comical that it takes Sebastian superhuman strength to stifle his laughter.

“I did tell you,” Sebastian says, “rarely do people mean it when they say they’d give anything for what they desire.”

Miss Viega being a notable exception. She knew the price of entering their contract, and she agreed without fear or hesitation. To date, she hasn’t shown the slightest sign of regret. Only once before in Sebastian’s long life has a client been so calmly willing to forfeit their soul.

“I’m leaving now,” Jared says. “And you’d better not say a damn thing to the press.”

“Of course not,” Sebastian says. “But I feel it is my duty to inform you that while we’ve been talking here, your wife and your admin have already told us far more than you have about other potential vulnerabilities that may be exploited.”

The door opens, and Miss Viega walks in.

“Thank you, Sebastian,” she says. “Mr. Chadwick, the fee will be fifty percent of your current net worth as you haven’t been completely honest with us. You may walk away now, but our door will remain open to you for the remainder of the month, although our fee will go up by one percent every day, as your valuation is about to drop precipitously. At the end of this month, we will not be able to help you as you will quite simply no longer be worth our time.”

Jared trembles with rage. His fists clench. Oh, Sebastian thinks, I know how this ends.

“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Arielle Viega, CEO of RaaS Inc.”

Day 2: Two sides to any story

“What is it, Sebastian? You never feed me entrails unless you feel I’ve been particularly cruel.”

“You knew full well Mr. Chadwick would never accept our terms. You kept me listening to him for nearly half an hour.”

Miss Viega says, “Mr. Chadwick is on a path of self-destruction that will lead him right back to us before the month is up. Since you seem to enjoy torturing me, I wanted you to have a full preview of your upcoming meal, which will be as disgusting as the one you’ve just served me.”

Sebastian smiles. “That is what I suspected, Miss Viega.”

“Have we reached the non-apology yet?”

“Not yet, Miss Viega. Mr. Chadwick denies all allegations and claims that he has witnesses who state that the lady in question got herself inebriated and threw herself at Mr. Chadwick.”

“Ah yes, the both sides game. Sebastian? Say her name.”

“Mary White.”

“And she is, isn’t she? White?”

“Yes, Miss Viega.”

Miss Viega sighs heavily and drinks her coffee, nose wrinkling in disgust.

“That means it’s going to take twice as long until this ends.”

Day 3: In those days we were all a bit wild, a zany family

“A second young woman has added her story to the mix. She says that raucous parties and drinking to the point of oblivion were considered part of the company’s work-hard play-hard culture. Those who refused to join were considered poor culture fits. One woman was fired when she became pregnant, because she didn’t fit in with the JustJared vision.”

“Of course. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

“I see those French lessons are coming in handy,” Sebastian says. He knows that the admin’s role is to do whatever is necessary to ensure the continuity and comfort of their employer’s daily agenda.

Including teaching them French to pass the time during the lockdown.

Day 4: It’s not against policy

“Let me guess. Three days have passed. A thorough investigation has been conducted, and after speaking to multiple people, they have found no evidence of wrongdoing. Mr. Chadwick could have shown better judgement and chosen his words more carefully, and he will receive coaching to this effect.”

“Precisely.”

Miss Viega groans and buries her face in her yoga mat.

“I want something sweet, Sebastian.”

“I think not, Miss Viega. Given the occupational hazard, dentists will not return to work for a few months at least, and your fillings have already come loose.”

“You enjoy torturing me.”

“If I were to let you destroy your teeth, what kind of admin would I be?”

Day 5: Consider the context. Assume good intent.

Miss Viega holds up her iPad, displaying a graph of a curve that starts to rise slightly and then begins a gentle slope towards zero.

“Given the current coronavirus context, I chose to hone my skills. I imagine most admin jobs post-lockdown will involve interview questions about the analysis of logarithmic graphs.”

Miss Viega’s eyes narrow. “Do you really think you’ll be done with our contract by the end of June for you to be looking for new jobs?”

“I beg your pardon, Miss Viega. That’s not our contract I mapped, but our share of Mr. Chadwick’s net worth as each day passes. At first increasing our share by 1% each day gives us a greater yield, however after his latest tweet, his financial situation has started to decline. I plotted the total value of our fee, which will decline to zero by the end of June.”

“I know that already. What the hell did he tweet?”

“He asked that everyone appreciate that we are going through an unprecedented time. Emotions are running high. We are to assume best intent and consider the context within which the company used to operate was different back then, but they will strive to do better in the future.”

Miss Viega frowns. Sebastian enjoys this moment the most, when his highly intelligent employer starts to put the pieces together.

“You shorted his stock.”

“Of course, Miss Viega. If I weren’t making sure you were compensated for the time you spent consulting with a client I engaged on your behalf, what kind of admin would I be?”

Day 6: I’m sorry if people felt hurt.

“Ah finally, the conditional non-apology,” she says. “To actually admit fault would open the door to legal liability. Still, it’s a shame their PR representative couldn’t do better than this. This reads like a template from one of those strategy consultancy workshops.”

“Did you mean wokeshops, Miss Viega?”

She glares at him, and he delights in it. Good to know that her fire has not been quenched. The summer days in Los Angeles are intolerably hot and the lockdown has put her hopes of her own revenge on hold, for now. But it wouldn’t do for her to get lazy. Maybe Sebastian did choose Jared Chadwick on purpose, to keep her hungry.

“You’re better than such wordplay, Sebastian. Don’t do it again. An admin’s frivolity reflects on their employer. It is your job to ensure I am taken seriously, and not just by my enemies.”

“Yes, Miss Viega,” Sebastian says, properly chastened and secretly delighted.

Day 7: Donate to a charity.

“You’ve got to be joking, Sebastian. You’re telling me that not only did Jared donate a measly hundred grand, the money will go to a man who wants to arrange a ‘cup with a cop’ and advocates for unity with the police department.”

“That’s correct, Miss Viega. Mr. Barnes has nothing to do with the global movement. He is merely profiting off an easy opportunity.”

Sebastian thinks about it for a moment and adds, “As are we, of course.”

Day 8: Declare victory.

These last few days have been truly difficult for everyone. Let us move on together and strive to be kinder.

Black Lives Matter. ~~ Jared Chadwick @JustJared

“Tell me something, Sebastian.”

“Yes, Miss Viega.”

“Do you suppose he purposely donated to the wrong organization so he could play the hero, resolve a problem quickly and apologize for something other than what he actually should be apologizing for?”

Sebastian brings a gloved knuckle to his lips to hide his laughter.

“Sebastian?”

“He’s not that intelligent, Miss Viega.”

Her eyes narrow. “No, he isn’t. Sebastian, what have you been up to?”

“I may have set up a virtual coffee-chat with his admin to trade stories and strategies. She punches up hard, that one.”

Sebastian can see the twin emotions warring for dominance on his employer’s face. She’s both impressed and slightly angry. She loves it when Sebastian takes initiative. She hates it when she can’t predict someone’s moves.

Sebastian looks forward to their long road ahead together.

Day 9: We take {{$ISSUE}} seriously

Sebastian looks up.

“No, that was entirely Mr. Chadwick’s idea. Despite her grievances against him, Rachel has professional integrity. She warned him against it.”

“Well, the audio has been leaking in near real-time. Someone asked him what he planned to do about the systemic discrimination against women and people of color at his company, and he said he was saddened that people could not engage in respectful discussion.”

“A bold strategy. How did it work out for him?”

Miss Viega sighs. “About as well as you might expect. His legal team was caught on tape too, giving him a prewritten script and warning him not to acknowledge systemic discrimination and to instead suggest that individuals who felt they might be affected ought to raise the issues through the proper channels.”

“Liability?”

Miss Viega nods. “Liability.”

Day 10: Listening and learning.

Sebastian easily blocks the jabs and kicks that come his way. Miss Viega refuses to buy a punching bag from Amazon (Jeff Bezos is on her Arya Stark list) and if he didn’t provide a way for her to blow off some steam and lower her blood pressure, what kind of admin would he be?

Day 11: The apology video

“He starts to cry before he’s said a word. It’s pathetic.”

“You don’t think his remorse is real?”

Miss Viega scoffs. “What was it Camus said? Too many people now climb onto the cross merely to be seen from a greater distance.”

Sebastian grins and raps her knuckles sharply. She gasps in pain and surprise.

“I’m sorry, but it was your explicit order, Miss Viega, that I do that if you ever quoted a French author in English again.”

“I’m starting to understand why you thought living together would be a good idea.”

Day 12: I apologized. What more do you want?

“Ah, has the counterattack begun?”

“Yes. He sent her the apology video in Whatsapp, which gave him a read-receipt. He’s now been pinging her repeatedly asking her what more he needs to do before she’ll stop attacking him. She’s posted the exchange on Twitter.”

“Forgive me, Miss Viega. Weren’t there two women?”

“Yes, but so far he’s only going after the Black one. Also, there’s now a spreadsheet of women.”

Day 13: Gaslight her.

He imagines her to be full of the same desperate fury as Zelda Fitzgerald, who was committed against her will on the word of a man who stole her words and raged at her for daring to tell her own story.

He is wrong.

Moreover, Erica recognizes him.

“You can show me your true face, you know. Do you really think that in this city, a devil could frighten me?”

He obeys, and her fingers reach out and touch his talons without fear.

“You’re very perceptive, for a human.”

“And you’re very polite, for a demon.”

Zelda was too blinded by her despair to ask for anything of substance in exchange for her soul, and still too much in love with Scott to wreak any real vengeance. Erica is calm, collected and perhaps a little sad, but her soul is as wholesome as a spring salad.

She tells him her story, and it comes to him as no surprise. She left Chadwick’s company over two years ago and found a new job, but never seemed to be able to shake off his influence or make it up the ranks. She discovered she was being paid less than her counterparts, but was told it was because salaries were determined on an individual basis based on prior pay history.

“You get to pay me less now because someone paid me less before? What makes that fair?”

When she raised the issue she was told she lacked resilience, that her behavior was not in line with the expectations of a leader. Her promotion was denied. Her new employer denied that race was an issue, as he did not see color. When she told him that was a luxury she could not afford, she was referred to the company therapist to deal with her anger.

When she mocked Chadwick on Twitter over his disastrous townhall and his failure to address the real issues, her manager described her behavior as erratic and unreasonable, even disrespectful.

“Especially during lockdown, when it’s so critical that we maintain optimism, Erica’s performance shows a steep decline… you know what they say,” Erica says. “And then they fired me when they found out that I’d made that spreadsheet of women he’d harassed.”

“And yet you aren’t interested in a contract?”

“No, Sebastian. Not with you, not with Arielle Viega, not in this lifetime. Things aren’t so bad yet that I’d cross that line.”

Sebastian chuckles. “I must say, I’m not used to being outright rejected. If this is what your far less powerful employers are feeling, it is quite unpleasant. You won’t even pretend to be afraid of me, just to soothe my ego?”

Erica smiles at him. With casual grace, she pricks her finger on his talon. Waves it beneath his nose.

“Your hunger is surpassed only by your fidelity. Word on the street is that you’ve waited two years already for Arielle Viega’s soul, and that you have no intention of spoiling your appetite with anything else. Is it true?”

“I’ve made no such promise,” Sebastian says, although he pushes aside her finger. He might be starving, but it’s not for a spring salad.

“I’ll be fine,” Erica says. “But you should speak to Mary White. She’s not doing so well.”

“You’d throw her to me, knowing the truth?”

“That girl stepped on me to climb to Jared’s side. I’m not petty, but I’m not pure either.”

“Good night, Miss Jones. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

Day 14: Parade the credentials.

“A Chateau Musar Grand Vin, with the taste of Lebanon’s Beqaa valley.”

“I’ve told you, Sebastian. I’m not drinking during lockdown. It isn’t appropriate for me to be drinking while you’re living here, even if you are in the back cottage.”

“In that case, might I suggest you steer clear of the news.”

Miss Viega throws her head back on the sofa in exaggerated despair. “What did he do now?”

“He will be appearing on CNN shortly to talk about his long and continued allyship with the community.”

“Which community?” Miss Viega pinches her forehead, looking momentarily like a child. “Hm? Which is it, Sebastian? The Asian wife? A Black friend?”

“Gay son, Miss Viega.”

“Give me that wine.”

Day 15: After all I’ve done

Miss Viega glares at him. They don’t speak, during the daytime, of the fact that she has nightmares, or that she sometimes wakes up screaming his name for help. They definitely don’t speak of the way her eyes burn with all the conviction and hellfire as on the day they met.

She looks away, and swallows. It’s all the vulnerability she has ever shown in Sebastian’s presence. He knows full well he is her only friend. Everyone else wants something from her, if only that she “get over it” or “be okay.”

“He finally showed his true colors to the world, Sebastian. Said that he had sponsored these women’s careers, connected them to his friends, showed them the ropes… how ungrateful of them to hold a few minutes of poor judgement against him after years of advocacy.”

“Why does this bother you so much more than everything else he’s done?”

She takes her time in answering him, and when she does it’s with a question. “With Mary White, why did you not make a contract?”

“Never mistake for loyalty what can be accounted for by taste, Miss Viega.”

“But she was angry, wasn’t she? I thought it was my anger that drew you to me in the first place.”

“Her anger tastes… bitter. She wishes to hurt because she has been hurt. She wants to exercise her power simply because she has been made to feel helpless. She will lash out even at the hand that tries to help her because it can’t take away the past. Not all anger has the same spice.”

Sebastian turns to see Miss Viega paying rapt attention. He has no desire to compare his clients, and would never bring up the names of prior clients in front of current ones. It would be in poor taste. But he does need a way to explain why in his long existence, so few people have truly kept his attention.

“Your anger on the other hand grows richer with every day, expands to include more people in its scope without ever losing sight of the endgame by yielding to the quick win.”

Miss Viega scoffs. “You speak as if you’re fattening a pig for the kill.”

“Demons are not like humans. We don’t need to eat regularly to live. My hunger grows with your anger.”

She smiles. “I see. Well, then you have a long wait to consume my soul, Sebastian. My anger will outlive my enemies.”

Sebastian smiles.

Day 16: Send in the trolls

I watch JustJared for the lulz. Sex and skin color shouldn’t matter. She’s just mad because she’s not as funny as he is. She’s lucky she’s not fugly to boot. #SaveJustJared

These days you can’t say a single thing without someone crying sexism or racism. This toxic behavior is destroying the JustJared community #1stAmendmentSoDead #SaveJustJared

She may have a valid point, but I wish she would state her case objectively, in her own blog or something, instead of attacking Jared on Twitter. Not a good look. #SaveJustJared

@TheMaryWhite you make everything about gender, and about yourself. Have you tried focusing on your actual work? Things might work out better for yourself, and for the world. #SaveJustJared

“SEBASTIAN!”

“Yes, Miss Viega.”

“Make it stop.”

“Is that an order?” Sebastian knows his eyes are gleaming like hot coals. He loves killing people, but he’s promised not to do it unless it is to protect his employer or under her explicit instruction. It draws attention to himself and to her, which is counter to their long-term goals.

She hesitates, and then realization hits.

“You want me to have him killed.”

“When you take it on yourself to play Lady Justice, you do get to draw the line in the sand about how to wield your power.”

“But if I kill him now, he becomes a martyr.”

“Precisely,” Sebastian says. “Most redemption requires a punishment that so far outweighs the crime that it fosters a spirit of mercy in even the hardest of hearts.”

“At the rate he’s going, if he did become our client now, we might have to kill him.”

Sebastian smiles. “If that is your wish, I will of course acquiesce. However, I feel it is my duty to warn you, as your admin, that his stock price has been increasing lately with all the attention.”

“So, if he dies before his stock crashes we’re out… how much?”

“Two billion dollars, Miss Viega.”

Miss Viega shakes her head. “I’ll take care of this on my own then, Sebastian.”

“Very well. Who will it be, BTS or Blackpink?”

“Let’s try Blackpink. BTS is busy squashing the #AllLivesMatter hashtag and I don’t want to distract them.”

Day 17: My {{$DISABILITY}} made me do it

I have always stood up for my beliefs. I stand for humanism, social justice, rational thought and scientific progress. I stand for gender equality and against discrimination of all kinds. None of these ideals would exist without a culture of constructive debate.

“Or the French Revolution and years of violent protest. Carry on reading, Sebastian. I refuse to read this drivel on my own.”

It is hard to carry on such constructive debate in social media, or indeed over any form of virtual communication. I have always struggled to read subtle social cues that might indicate tone, and this is particularly true of typed content. Being on the autism spectrum comes with bouts of anxiety and depression that make it impossible for me to engage, and it is possible that I am occasionally hurtful to others during these episodes despite my deepest intentions not to be.

“Sebastian, if his stock hasn’t crashed by the end of the month, you have my permission to kill him.”

“Very well, Miss Viega.”

Day 18: Take toys and go home

Ok, but what about Erica Jones tho.

Day 19: Doxx her

Sebastian grins. “I was simply accelerating the inevitable. But yes, I had a word with Rachel, Mr. Chadwick’s admin, about having him leave public life for a while so she could vacation.”

“Well, you’ve certainly stuck a fork in things. These fanboys have been sharing Mary White’s address on message boards and sending her the most vitriolic threats.”

“Ah yes. You have a word for this behavior, don’t you? Doxxing, I believe.”

“Yes. Sebastian, what are you playing at? You can’t mean for Mary White to get hurt.”

“Of course not. She has already reported the matter to the police.”

“The police? What are they going to do? Shoot Reddit’s datacenters?”

“Absolutely nothing. The police cannot de-anonymize sockpuppet accounts, and they cannot act on what isn’t a credible and imminent threat. There are many harmless reasons for posting a person’s address online, and an excrement emoji is not a weapon.”

Miss Viega looks unimpressed.

Sebastian sighs. “Don’t worry, Miss Viega. I have ensured her safety. I am, after all, one hell of an admin.”

Day 20: Commemorative schwag

“The fuck is this?”

“I believe your people call it schwag, although etymologically, when I first encountered the word in the 18th century, it was spelled differently and referred to stolen property, or loot.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Mr. Chadwick has turned on dark mode on his website, and draped his offices in black curtains to stand in solidarity with the global movement. He is selling these objects to mourners and protestors, with the proceeds going to charity.”

“And why did I get one of these?”

“Rachel was instructed to send one to everyone in Mr. Chadwick’s personal rolodex, so that he may write off the expense as a tax deduction.”

Miss Viega throws the paperweight at Sebastian’s smiling face. He catches it, but it shatters against his hand.

Day 21: Create a code of conduct

Jared Chadwick: Well, you see, we’ve been doing some soul-searching at JustJared, and we realized that as a company and a culture, we’ve never actually told people what we value in our employees. So there’s a real fear people have that the mob will come after them if they say a word out of place.

Interviewer: And you yourself have had several people attack you over the last few days. How has that been for you?

Jared Chadwick: I’m fully aware that I am in a position of privilege and I have private security, so I don’t want to focus on my own problems. It’s been really hard for my wife, though, I will say that, to have people who call themselves feminists attack her as a proxy. It really sets a bad tone for our employees to see such toxicity. So the reason we created a Code of Conduct was to just help people understand… you know, since they may be coming from different backgrounds and cultures… what’s accepted at JustJared and what isn’t.

Interviewer: The Code of Conduct is centered around what you’ve called the Two Values. Value each other. Value the moment. Can you tell us more about how you developed these?

Jared Chadwick: I didn’t want to write a bunch of legalese that people would nitpick. I wanted to be really thoughtful and clear about the kind of mindset shift we’re trying to make here. We’re committed to being an inclusive environment for everyone. And we’re in the media business ourselves, so valuing the opportunities presented by the moment, really, you know, seizing the day, it’s in our DNA.

“It’s not really that far from Carpe Diem to Carpe Hominem,” Sebastian says, touching his lip lightly, “which is how he got here in the first place.”

To his delight, Miss Viega bursts into laughter.

Day 22: A few bad apples

“I give it two hours,” Sebastian says.

“Two hours until…? Sebastian?”

Secret relationship between Jared Chadwick and Human Resources representative Lily Byttow comes to light.

Investigation by Byttow showed “no evidence of wrongdoing”

“Sebastian!”

“Rachel is very good at her job.”

Day 23: Patronize and appease

Starting tomorrow, Jared Chadwick will be stepping down as CEO while we search for an appropriate successor. He will continue to advise as a member of the Board. All of us here at JustJared take your feedback very seriously and are committed to listening and learning from you.

To showcase our commitment, we are donating 100% of our subscription fees for the next three months to Black Voices in Media. We will be waiving commission fees for Black and women creators. You will already find Black and LGBTQ+ content surfaced at the top of our site through the month of June and extending into July to raise those voices even more.

We know it’s not enough. This is just the beginning. We promise to do better.

“Hey Sebastian, has the stock price crashed yet?”

“I’m afraid not, Miss Viega. On the contrary, they’ve risen on the hope that new leadership can change the culture.”

“Uh, he still has majority voting rights on the Board, doesn’t he? What’s the new CEO going to do?”

Sebastian smiles. “I believe the term is glorified admin.

Day 24: Feed the peanut gallery

FriendlyLatinoGuy: First they censored him, now they’ve made even the slightest flirtation between colleagues a reason to ruin a man’s career!!!

DesiVoices: As a publisher of diverse South East Asian voices, we condemn JustJared for their discrimination on the basis of race and sex and other immutable characteristics! Content should be chosen on merit.

bea@: Wow, way to be racist, sexist and transphobic in a single sentence of cognitive dissonance.

DesiVoices: There’s no need to throw slurs like “racist” about. Those who disagree with us respectfully are free to do so. If anything is racist it is the exclusion of non-Black POC in the rush to appear woke.

Asianchick: lol just because i only dated boys SO FAR doesn’t mean i’m not bi xoxo anyone know how to raise your ranking on jj? #pride2020

Day 25: Get the model minority to say the quiet part aloud

He has seen her crush a man’s chest under her heel. Her bloodlust rivals his own. What could make her squeamish?

There’s a woman on the television. She beams with gratitude for the introduction of railways to her birth-country, and her accent speaks of an Oxford education and French skin-care and her body sings of a personal trainer. Definitely a Peloton.

People are really afraid right now of speaking to each other. What we need to remember is the importance of diversity of opinion. That’s what makes America great. I really do believe in being open-minded here at JustJared, and as CEO I’m all for healthy debate. If you don’t have friends from across the aisle, you’re doing something wrong. I’m biracial, so I really see myself as part of multiple communities.”

Miss Viega is smiling.

“Sebastian? Contact the Department of Elections, would you? If she wants a debate she’ll get one. Just not the one she wants.”

“What would you like me to do, Miss Viega?”

“The Department will sell voters’ physical addresses to interested buyers. I’d like her to receive some promotional materials.”

“Any particular cause? PETA?”

“Please thank her for her instrumental support in state-sanctioned genocide. And Sebastian, you may share some souvenirs from your own collection. Human bones, perhaps?”

Sebastian knows that the time will come when he’ll get to savor Miss Viega’s soul, and this moment will be one of his most cherished striations.

Day 26: I’m the real victim here.

The balls of jasmine leaves unfurl slowly, writhing into honeyed contrails.

“You might have a meeting today, Miss Viega.”

“New client?”

“Possibly. Emma Chadwick is thinking of filing for divorce.”

Miss Viega nods. “She’s stupid, but she’s not a liar. Twenty-five percent, and let’s make sure the divorce goes through before the stock crashes.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. Under the lockdown, divorces are taking more than the usual 4–6 months.”

Miss Viega looks up at Sebastian in surprise. “Is there nothing you can do?”

“I’m afraid marriages are human matters. Contracts with a demon can be made instantaneously, as you well know, since we do not regret our desires. Humans must often be dragged across even the finish lines they choose for themselves.”

“What does Mrs. Chadwick need from us?”

“It appears she is unable to make up her mind about the divorce, or about being our client. She has no assets of her own, and the lockdown rules prevent her from going… well, anywhere.”

“So we find a way for her to tell her story. She’s free to say anything she likes to the press.”

“Unfortunately, she was employed by Mr. Chadwick before they were married and her NDA prevents her from revealing details that would exonerate her and implicate him.”

“How many of his employees has the man fucked?”

“The spreadsheet is still receiving new entries, Miss Viega.”

Day 27: Finding the new, sympathetic audience

The expression on Miss Viega’s face is priceless.

Day 28: That was the old me

A sweaty and shirtless Jared Chadwick stands in front of a reporter who has clearly been told to focus on his abs rather than his face, which sports a designer Black Lives Matter mask.

“I wanted to talk about the pressures a CEO faces,” Jared says, as if he’s just a regular guy and it’s completely normal to be interviewed while jogging rather than a concerted marketing push to make him seem more relatable. “It’s really about having a growth mindset and learning… I’ve already come out of this stronger, better than ever.”

“What will the title be?”

“I don’t know yet. Something about who you are and how that’s defined by what you do.”

Day 29: I’m being hounded and run out of town

“How is that a question? Why not both?”

“Very well, then. I’ll open the 2008 Roederer Cristal for you momentarily.”

“Has the stock crashed?”

“No, but it is about to. A video has surfaced of Mr. Chadwick making fun of Taylor Swift’s breast size. His book deal has been revoked. Even his most loyal advertisers have begun a boycott.”

“Passive voice doesn’t become you, Sebastian. Send some champagne to Rachel as well.”

Day 30: I’m sorry.

“Sebastian.”

“I’m here.”

For long minutes they are silent while she catches her breath.

“You seem to have a question for me, Sebastian.”

“Why do you seek redemption for others but not for yourself?”

“You imply that I am unhappy with my actions. I don’t regret my contract with you, Sebastian. And when the day comes to give the devil his due, I will go with you willingly.”

“It will hurt,” Sebastian points out.

“You told me that at the outset. You have never once betrayed me, Sebastian.”

The phone rings.

“Who’s calling at this hour?”

Sebastian answers it. “Yes, Mr. Chadwick. I’m aware the month hasn’t ended yet. I’ll put you on speaker.”

“I’m sorry,” says Jared Chadwick. “I should have listened to you. I’ve lost everything. You were right. Tell me what I should do. I’ll give you anything you want. Please… just make it stop.”

Miss Viega sighs. “Wire the money over, Mr. Chadwick. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea — ” Sebastian hangs up.

“Rehabilitating him at this point is going to be close to impossible,” Miss Viega mutters. Then she looks up, her eyes squinting in the dark. “Sebastian, why are you smiling?”

“Sleep well, Miss Viega. You have a challenging day ahead.”

Month 2, Day 1: The new client

“Miss Viega, your first and only meeting of the day will be a virtual one with Emma Chadwick, who is under arrest for the murder of Jared Chadwick, the beleagured media mogul who harassed or sexually assaulted nearly two dozen women on his staff.”

Miss Viega chokes on her omelette. If Sebastian slaps her back with more enthusiasm than he really needs to, well, it’s just part of the admin aesthetic.

“Sebastian… what did you do?”

“I had been wondering for some time why someone like Jared Chadwick would not have made a prenup before his marriage. It turns out that he did.”

“So if he lost everything, she did too.”

“I overheard your conversation with her when she came here. She was convinced, as women usually are, that his behavior was an… aberration. Not a pattern. She was going to sue Erica Jones for creating that spreadsheet.”

Miss Viega looks furious.

“I am older than your kind, Miss Viega. And unlike you, I can see a man’s soul, and I knew that some of the girls were only children when he deliberately misled and started grooming them.”

The anger on Miss Viega’s face turns into the horror Sebastian expected. It’s the thing he finds most fascinating about her, that she can still be shocked by what humans do knowing what she does about what demons do.

“I merely helped Mrs. Chadwick see the truth,” Sebastian says. “Once she did, she knew redeeming him was impossible. But may I ask why you don’t seem particularly horrified that she killed him for it?”

Miss Viega shrugs. “Why would I be? Haven’t I done far worse?”

“Last night we were interrupted when I asked you why you believe someone like her may be redeemed while you may not.”

“Sebastian, those for whom I seek redemption still believe that they are destined for happiness. Moreover, that it is somehow owed to them. That they deserve it despite what they have done.”

“And you do not?”

“I have no interest in happiness. I didn’t deserve the terrors that led me to you, nor did my attackers deserve the vengeance you helped me wreak upon them. Justice isn’t about what we deserve. Peace isn’t about what we are owed. We, each of us, seek to correct an imbalance of power that disadvantages and terrorizes us. That’s all this really is.”

Sebastian’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Bring me another coffee, Sebastian. This cup is tepid.”

Sebastian smiles, and for the briefest instant he almost believes in reincarnation, as if for a moment he can see in Arielle Viega’s soul a hundred years of waiting and a familiar turquoise sky.

END

Thanks for reading! I’m on Twitter @anat_deracine If you liked this story and want more, please subscribe to my webcomic, The Night Wolves.

Author of "Driving by Starlight" https://goo.gl/N35aS1 and “The Night Wolves” http://bit.ly/TheNightWolves I'm on Twitter at @anat_deracine

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