Around six a.m. on January 12, 1552, Milton Gimblesnout rose exhausted from his bed having not slept a wink, his mind all abuzz. Being careful not to awaken his snoring wife, he quickly performed his morning ritual and dressed for the day. Cacophonous rumblings could already be heard from downstairs, where his employees were busily setting the type, printing out pages, and proofreading syntax.

“Dammed if I know how I’m going to keep this publishing company from collapsing, with my creditors at the door,” Milton muttered as he descended the stairs with his hair uncombed and his tie askew.

Edgar Manicotti, his second-in-command, met him at the bottom of the steps with his hat in hand, saying, “There’s a well-off gentleman waiting for you in your office, Gov.”

Finally, a paying customer, thought Milton as he entered the room, extended his hand, and said, “Welcome, Sir, and good day to you.”

“Good morning,” said the somewhat evil-looking, dark-haired visitor, “my name is Devlin Bezzlebub and I have an extremely important document that I’d like you to print.”

“How many pages?”

“It is but twenty-six sentences but I shall pay you one gold sovereign for each word, since this job will place your workers in considerable danger.”

“Jumping Jehosaphat, what on Earth do you mean?” asked Milton, silently questioning the strange man’s I.Q.

“Knowledge of these cursed words brings a death sentence and eternal damnation, so the type must be set without anyone being able to read the document during setup.”

Lunatic or not, I can’t afford to turn down this man’s commission, the printer thought, and he agreed to provide one hundred printed copies of the murderous article by that afternoon at two.

Milton summoned Mr. Manicotti as soon as the customer had gone, instructing him to cover the source document and to have the other seven workers take turns setting the type, each of them reading only one word at a time, with strict instructions not to attempt to read the rest under pain of employment termination.

“No one is to read this confidential material, including you!” Milton repeated as he dismissed him.

One hour later, a worker rushed into Mr. Gimblesnout’s office, wailing breathlessly, “It’s Mr. Manicotti … He’s dead … He just slumped over and died … How awful!”

Poor Manicotti, thought Gimblesnout, the man just couldn’t resist the temptation to look. Quaking slightly, he examined the body to confirm for himself that the man was dead, then he summoned the undertaker by dispatching his runner, a boy from Algiers named Faraj.

“Resume your work!” he yelled, “and do not read the document we are printing, as you were instructed by the late Mr. Manicotti.”

Signaling to one of his senior workers, Gimblesnout said, “Henceforth, you shall assume Mr. Manicotti’s duties and your wages will be increased accordingly, Mr. Ash.”

“Thank you, Sir,” replied a grateful but shaken Mr. Ash, “I’ll keep the men working.”

“Unfortunately, we must finish this commission before we can suitably express our grief.”


“Very nicely done,” said Mr. Bezzlebub when he arrived to examine the copies, right on time. “With respect to your payment, however, there is a slight problem since I can see that this is a document you’ve read. X your arms like so, and I will give you a suitably just reward for knowingly taking on a dangerous and evil commission that was clearly toxic.”

“You’re not going to carry me off to hell for this, are you, Mr. Bezzlebub?”

“Zounds, man,” the Devil replied as the walls around them erupted into flame, “where did you think I was going to take you, Valhalla?”


Pete Simons