Chapter 15

COVIDose: …Whoa, steady as she goes here. Really, I’m all right, so REGATHER, go NOW…

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“Bottom line: I say yes, they say no…

“I say stay, they say go, go, go.”

“How amusing, but spare me the blessed droning, will you please!”

Not to make a joke of the situation, but a little gallows humor, some insouciant lyrical levity did crank down anxiety pressure valve a mite—ease the tension, break some ice—clearly at my expense, as the case may be. For this ultimately was as serious as a thrombosis. Truth be told, my spirits had been sinking rapidly, as reality began setting in. No longer firmly anchored in Delphoria’s harbor, I took to drifting about and upending the place, assessing possessions and furnishings, at a loss as to how I could possibly pack up and remove it all, let alone where it would go.

Still, the termination clock continued running. So I frantically scoured the neighborhood for moving cartons of all shapes and sizes—U-Haulers to Pliny the Elder and Ronrico Rum—shaky on orientation, heavy of heart and misgivings, tape measure and packing tape in unsteady hands. Sorting and culling, bundling and boxing, sealing and trashing—I was essentially jettisoning, unmooring, weighing anchor with no new port to be found. That was about when the call came from Alison, summoning me back to her downtown office, whereby I jumped at the chance to slip the tightening household knot. This was about when two parallel undercurrents began to converge and whirlpool about.

“Listen to me, Mister Herbert,” she said, glancing through the termination notices I’d handed her so meekly. “You should have told me about these earlier on.”

“Sorry, I just didn’t think it was proper to drag you into this…” My eyes wandered up to the office’s common ceiling light boxes and acoustic tiles, then out its windows to a detail of 44 Montgomery’s middle floors—anything but her way.

“Well, you in essence have dragged me into it,” she admonished. Just when she had readied to discuss my working manuscript, and asked why I hadn’t made authorial progress, I’d hit her with the Delphoria…distraction. “This isn’t the sort of thing you keep from your lawyer.”

“Uh, you’re my lawyer?”

“At least on your book matter, yes I am.”

I had once again passed through the Hobart Building’s ornate gilded lobby, express elevating up to the 14th floor. No gold-leaf door name yet, but her white fluorescent office had added a new sawhorse braced conference table, stacked with bound legal documents, real estate journals, unfurled floor plans and a black bookcase half filled with more banker’s boxes and those U.S. Reports and California Code volumes. Workflow charted whiteboards and framed sheepskins lined the walls, along with a roll-down city street map and dark flatscreen TV. Adjoining the main room was a more private cubbyhole office space, the walnut door to which was slightly ajar. Seated midway along the conference table, I took note that somebody’s practice was picking up here, concerned as to how the hourlies to pay for all this could possibly jibe with redressing my compound interests.

“Hey there! This the writer?”

“Peter Tallian, meet Mister Kenneth Herbert,” she rose, her black pin-striped pantsuit fully on display as her associate barreled into the office.

As did I, to a bone bruising shake of the hand. “Ken’s more like it…”

“Ken, then,” he motioned us to reseat. “Please…don’t let me interrupt.”

“Peter, would you mind taking a quick look at these,” she handed him the termination notices as he pivoted toward that side room. “See what you make of them…”

“As you wish, counselor,” he winked, tapping her freshly manicured fingertips.

By all appearances, Tallian was a hard charger, a Golden Gate University evening class lawyer in a hurry to make waves and level the field. Ripped and buff in an off-the-rack gray suit, his carmine and zinc striped tie waved against white oxford cloth, tasseled black loafers with supinate worn heels. Pushing back his mound of flecked auburn hair, he rimmed a broad, ruddy face with owlish butterscotch eyeglasses, smiling through the stubble of some speculative chin music. He pulled at his Windsor knot and surveyed what Alison was laying out in front of us on a small patch of conference table free space. The young commercial/investment property lawyer shrugged at our I.P. particulars, then slapped at the termination notices and trod into his chamber with an expressive slam of the pebble glass windowed door.

“In any case, Mister Herbert, back to the business at hand,” she flipped through her yellow legal pad. “I’ve had some time to go over your materials, and have a couple of questions.”

“It’s just Ken to you too, okay,” I nodded, trying to get an inverted read on her notes. “Shoot…”

To refresh, you initiated contact with these Hassett people via an exploratory letter upon Jenson Brookhouse’s passing, is that right?”

“Yeah, I sent a note and obit clip to his designated editor and new representative,” I replied, guardedly amazed that she had so taken up interest in this. “Along with a copy of Brookhouse’s letter to me.”

“Wherein this Craig Prescott fellow quickly answered with a note to send him a query on your story…” She scribbled a side note on the legal pad, then picked up my stack of correspondence.

“His letter’s right there in your stack. He said that if Jenson Brookhouse had shown such interest, he would welcome the opportunity to see the essence of the novel.”

“So you sent him this, did you,” she leafed through the two-page query.

“Which was when he phoned me at six in the morning and left that message to send him a synopsis of the entire story and three sample chapters,” I pointed to the mini cassette.

“Yes, I’ve listened to that voicemail, and copied it onto my phone. He sounded fairly cordial, enthusiastic, all right.”

“That’s what I thought—here, this big-time publishing player, calling me,” I said, the rush of it all surging through my wizened ego cells once more.

“Understandable, but what did you point of fact do in response,” she shuffled deeper into the letter pile, which apparently had now become a file.

“Spent a whole holiday period fleshing out that four-page synopsis, and shaping up the sample chapters as best I could—you’ve got the thumbnail cover letter there that I enclosed. Packaged it all with an SASE and sent it to New York with book-deal advances and tours in my eyes.”

“Then…nothing?” She grabbed and swung back her blonde hair over her shoulder, with a bob of the head.

“Not a word, for months,” I said, eyes watering over slightly at the mere recounting of the mailbox misery. “Got to where I sent him that little reminder note you have there—about what was up, real casual like.”

“That prompted, what,” she again cooly jotted onto her yellow pad.

“Took several weeks, but I finally received his return package, with only that memo there stating the story ‘wasn’t for them’—what the hell did that mean?” The anger and frustration rebuilt as I spilled. “So I sent him that next letter you have there…”

I could almost recall it, word for word. How I asked him to toss me a bone, give me some input and insight into his editorial door slam. Whether ‘Herd On The Streets’ was a story not worth telling, or a worthwhile story not told well enough; was it a problem of style, plot line or subject matter overall? I copped that it delved into some sensitive topics, but could think of no other way to address such hot-button issues as homelessness and male/female violence, male anger and resentment with lapel-grabbing impact. That there was no ‘safe’ path to progress there, and that counseling centers and shelters here who had sourced much of my material were counting on getting their efforts dramatically portrayed. How I knew he was busy with bigger books and all, but that any comments and guidance from a pro of his stature would help me immeasurably.

“Hmmm. Sorry, I don’t seem to see Craig Prescott’s reply to that,” she paged deeper.

“That’s because there was none—nothing at all, as if ‘Herd’ and I never existed,” I said bitterly, slapping at my manila file folder. “Then Hassetts’s ‘Verdict Street’ hit me like a kick to the groin…no offense.”

“None taken, I’m used to much worse, believe me,” she smiled slightly, as she set aside the pile and opened her Mactop. “It sounds like I’ve hewed very closely to this chain of events, all right. And I’m pulling up a roughed out a reply letter for you to send to this Prescott fellow, only I believe it best we go the email and snail-mail route from here.”

“Well, he has provided contact information in his letterhead, hasn’t he…”

“Yes, and here is what you are going to say to him…” Alison then directed my attention to her laptop screen, and a Google Docs draft of what she termed a pre-demand letter, projected in my words, as best she could:

Its gist was that I had just finished ‘Herd On The Streets’, finding it a most topical story in timing and social relevance—its homeless theme hitting surprisingly close to home. Now, since it is apparent you and your client are open to outside material, I have another interesting idea for you—this one even better tailored to Mr. Hassett’s brand-name formula (e.g., championing the little guy over the tyranny and injustice of the rich and powerful, with ironic twists galore). Should you be inclined to explore my fresh thematic territory, unmistakably the makings of Mr. Hassett’s next blockbuster, I would be delighted to be of service by hand-serving it to you. It is based on my odd experiences struggling to market a first novel in the perilous publishing environment of today.

Maybe this time Mr. Hassett might even credit me in his author’s acknowledgements, as in the section where he presently confides he ‘had not worried too much about the homeless’ before writing ‘Verdict Street’. Then again, if no reply is forthcoming, I’ll have to conclude that you are no longer interested in soliciting (and purloining) my ideas on behalf of the Hassett Machine. Or that his well-honed message of uncovered truth and justice for all is only a plot device, product of your collective imaginations. In any event, for purposes of reassurance and clarification, I hope to hear from you sometime soon. Thank you for your valuable time and consideration, Sincerely, Kenneth Herbert…

“Whoa, this is good,” I said, pulling away from her Retina screen. “But what do you think will come of it?”

“Oh, I suspect you will hear back on this letter,” she said, a kaleidoscopic saver taking over her screen. “Depending on how they reply, we will plan and react accordingly. Let me revise and edit this draft so that you can hit send on your personal e-mail account—if that works for you.”

“Works? Are you kidding, send this just the way it is,” I gasped, wishing I could write that keenly and sardonically, wondering why she would be grasping at a straw man like me. “But how can I ever afford your valuable time and consideration?”

“Look, I’ll handle your case on ‘contingency’, which we can hash out later. Let’s see where this goes, Clover-wise,” she said in reflection. “Suffice to say, I had a dear friend who was a frustrated writer—one who burned with ambition—and my father is a weekend Hemingway-type with more blocks than bluster. Besides, most lawyers begrudge that arrogant Hassett his publishing success. Now stay put and get back to finishing your novel.”

“Uh, r-r-right, gotcha…” Enough said. I was still shaking my head in the affirmative when the side chamber door swept open and a jacketless Peter Tallian sprang forth, tie flying.

Slamming the termination notices down onto the conference table like a gavel atop the court bench, he bellowed, “What the hell’s the story with all this?” 

Care for more?

CHAPTER 16. Back up in the “hood”,
commotion sparks luxe locomotion
as the phone calls start ringing in…