The news was all positive, six months later, as Scott Paxworthy sat across from Mr. Shade behind his enormous desk, seemingly ever larger and more intricate since their initial meeting.
In its first fiscal quarter, not only was Scott’s digital brainchild RoadtoHell.com receiving record traffic, people were eagerly lining up to pay for their Good Intentions. It was growing into a monumental moneymaker.
A webtide. Mr. Shade’s term for a website that generated a fast and sustained current of use that grew exponentially.
According to the Shades of Genius analysis being read aloud by Adam Paine, many customers were purchasing more than one cobblestone at a time, and that repeat purchasers were emerging with regularity. The RoadtoHell had virtually wound its way around the eastern seaboard and passed through such notable places as Boston’s Fenway Park where Babe Ruth stood on the side of the Road his thumb out as if hoping to hitch a ride to a better place. Wherever Scott guided the Road, there was a new cadre of good intenders who wanted their cobblestones in that place.
Each cobblestone was priced at a dollar, a tier constituted 10 stones, and the Road was fast approaching tier 300,000. Unfortunately, Scott was less than amazed at how easily this early success had come. He had reserved the first tier of the RoadtoHell for his own Good Intentions. And he had easily filled them. Missing his father's sixtieth birthday party. Precipitously axing his latest girlfriend. Choosing a cocktail party rather than a second cousin’s funeral. Failing to donate to the Red Cross for the latest disasters in Haiti and Somalia. His own list seemed to grow daily. All the items were easy to rationalize, maybe even rectify, but he just kept adding them to the Road. There was no cost to its creator.
Scott also intended that, should the Road ever have an end, he would pave the very last tier. Yet, the RoadtoHell didn't seem like it would ever end, just like this conference. With failing resolve, he listened to Mr. Paine drone on, and he avoided eye contact with Mr. Shade. Scott shifted in his seat, a physical discomfort growing in him as the report continued to be read. Mercifully, Mr. Shade with a wave bade Mr. Paine to stop.
"Are you satisfied, Mr. Paxworthy?"
Scott gripped the edge of the desk to help himself regain the moment. Once again his fingers began to tingle, and he felt a vague dizziness as he looked out over the desktop that seemed to recede like the ocean tide towards the fixed and composed figure of Mr. Shade.
"I believe I am." Scott managed to reply.
"Belief?” Mr. Shade grimly smiled. “I think that's fitting. Do you intend to stay with us, Mr. Paxworthy?"
"Stay?" Scott squirmed in his seat which was growing more uncomfortable by the moment.
"With Shades of Genius and your RoadtoHell."
Scott’s hands felt as if an electric current were being run through them. He found it difficult to concentrate, and tried to stay focused by asking, “Don’t we have a contract? I don't think I have any choice?"
Mr. Shade’s voice came to him as if from very far away. “Mr. Paxworthy, choice is the only thing that keeps me in business. I have always depended on entrepreneurs like you to innovate, to keep things fresh and attract new and diverse clienteles to keep me in business. The methods of the past—dispensations, indulgences, inquisitions, schisms—must constantly be reworked with modern ideas and tools in order to pave brave new roads to the future. That, Mr. Paxworthy, is progress."
Mr. Shade reached across the shimmering desk and placed his finely manicured hand on Scott’s shoulder. Scott felt immediately lighter as if a burden had been lifted from him. The tingling in his hands subsided.
Without a word, Mr. Paine was at his side, helping him out of his seat and leading him to a side door he’d never before noticed in the room. As he passed through the dark and disturbingly warm threshold of the doorway, Scott only regretted that he hadn't thanked Mr. Shade for all he'd done.
When Mr. Paine returned, Mr. Shade was standing and working a minutely fine piece of quartz into the growing surface of the desk that sparkled and danced like the fast retreating surf.
"Done for the day, Boss?"
"For the day, Mr. Paine," answered Mr. Shade as he sat back down and his tail rolled slowly under him forcing from him another grim, humorless smile.