Chapter Nine

COVIDose: …Really, did the virus start in a Wuhan wet market or a nearby laboratory, derive from a carrier bat or 5g deployment, if not a bio weaponry experiment gone awry? Too soon to tell at the present, and I am running a tad late, so might as well…RETELL, NOW
                                                           ________________________

“This the letter?”

“That it is…”

“Started everything, you say?”

“Uh-huh, so to speak…”

By this time, any north country noxious air had long cleared from The City, but something more sinister was setting in, and my breathing hadn’t gotten any easier. I’d grabbed an inbound neighborhood MUNI bus, still in the denial stage regarding that termination notice, having run into a skein of resistance overall. But first things first, no matter how less pressing it might seem at the moment, something to take my mind off matters Delphoria for the time being. I otherwise shuffled and re-sequenced another paper file through Chinatown and North Beach, in preparation for this follow-up meeting downtown. I piled out just short of Market Street, about as Financial District as could be, dodging e-scooters, GPS-yapping pedicabs, Uber/Lyft hustlers and Monster-fueled bike messengers at the Sutter Street juncture, before remembering that our plans had marginally changed.

The massive sight before me: What began in 1910 as an ornate little Anglo and London Paris Bank had morphed into an entire CitiGroup Center. The old bank’s classical granite-clad facade was now dwarfed by the 41-story One Sansome office tower it had grown that looked like a tall, toothpaste tubular silver skyscraper with spacey aquamarine windows. So the original Paris-London had been gutted entirely, its 38-foot high Doric colonnade and arches lined with gleaming gray-white dappled marble, fashioning a comparatively serene CitiCorporate conservatory.

“So to speak, what does that mean?”

“You know, in a manner of…”

“Answer specifically, sir, definitively—please answer as asked.”

I had slipped between a rush of overdue brokers and BARTable commuters, around some smokin’, Cokein’, cadgin’ homeless dudes and anti-imperialism activists on into the peristyle atrium, my rubbery footsteps squeaking across its polished marble floor. Cozy, matching marble-top tables were scattered about the sunlit court—hosting al fresco cafe confabs and interludes amid a web of workday scrambles, unbearable deadlines and unforgiving performance reviews.

I soon caught a discreet wave from a far corner, redolently near the Center’s shuttering hot crepe stand. Better here than a stuffy Hobart Building office, said she, where her partner had spread out wall-to-wall documentation from his ongoing Janus-faced REIT litigation. What began as a little local bank grew into splendid granite atrium and gargantuan office tower, all right. But what began as a flaming chance encounter on Union Square had grown into more of a sworn interrogation, the moment I had planted across from her on a black metal lyre-back chair.

“All right, then—that is correct…”

“Good,” she said, jotting a note onto long yellow legal. “Now why did you send it to this individual in particular?”

“Particular? I dunno, sent queries to a whole slew of them back then…” I surveyed the dozen and more spindly Queen Palm trees framing the courtyard, and balmy cross shadows they cast across the conservatory’s marble walls and stone slab flooring.

My tongue and lips fused together just thinking about it. All the queries, all the SASE correspondence, the synopses and sample chapters; all the wait-fests, so much unremitting rejection: I could have written a book about it, no lie. Suffice to say, the process was death by a thousand slights and snubs, the moment I began shopping my story around. Day by drawn-out day, agents near and far responded with the form-letter follies. I foul weathered terse, laser printed Not right for us, Isn’t really for me, Not anything we’d like to work on, Not quite right for our agency, My author’s list is so well filled, rebuffs that likely were sent out by the scores everywhere, every day. Then I calendar watched for the excusatory I’m not the right agent for this, Not a project we feel we can take on now, Not appropriate for our current editorial program, We are too heavily obligated to give it the necessary attention, We’re too small and overwhelmed with work right now, Sorry, I’m months behind in my reading as it is. Therewith I bore witness to the slow drip of derision and disabuse, from zip codes as disparate as the 1002’s to 92014.

“Queries?”

“You know, trying to generate interest in the story I’d written…”

“Expecting what, exactly?”

“Just hoping that somebody would bite on the thing, represent it or at least show some interest, pass along some feedback, direction…”

Before long, I had begun pacing up and down angst road, girding for the postcard shuffle: simple, no-nonsense door slams rubber stamped with No thanks not for us, Prior commitments, Too swamped right now, Sorry not interested—good luck elsewhere, some at least scribble initialed on the margins. Worse yet, I sweated hollow points through the slush pile-on, from publishers like Knopf, Norton, Scribner’s, St. Martin’s and Doubleday. Then came the panic attacks as I anxiety wrestled with a mailbox barrage from Putnam, Viking Penguin, Grove, Harper & Row; followed by Little, Brown, Random House, Atlantic—Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Got so I wanted to chop block the USPS carrier and weld the post box shut until all the returns were in and dead letter gone.

“So how did you come to hit upon this person?”

“Just one among many, believe me,” I said, over the murmur of echoing conversations from table all around us. “Think I’ve yanked chains on just about every no-fee type in the LMP directory.”

“Yet you did choose to go after a big fish like this?”

“Big fish? Big and minnows, coast to coast, and every rostered agent in between,” I recalled the printing and gumflap hassle of a scattershot mass mailing. “Hell, I didn’t even know this guy was in that league at the time, much less that he’d be game.”

“Game—are you saying that’s what it was to you?”

Still, not that the campaign was all formula refusals and robo rejections. Some agents actually jotted sparse scraps of advice or encouragement, such as Interesting themes but needs more cohesion, Work in more consciousness and astrological awareness, Looks promising but we’ve been out of business for three years down to Your prose all but swallows up the story, Too self-consciously hip-glib, Plot doesn’t move along fast enough, Get an editor, we’ll take a second look. One Hollywood agency actually invited me instead to submit some original lyrics and songs, when I couldn’t begin to fathom the words of Beck and Swifty, let alone Drake, Nelly or Ga-Ga about then.

“No—look, I’d poured several years of sweat and sobs into the thing, and thought I had something going with it…so I sent out the best lure I could think of—that letter you have right there.”

“I see, fame and fortune, all that—overnight Faulkner and Steinbeck,” she said, setting mine aside, glancing at the reply. “So then you heard back from this particular New York agency, and what?”

“More like hope and a prayer,” I replied, eyes skyward to the atrium’s gambreled birdcage roofline. “But I jumped at the nibble there. I mean, Jenson Brookhouse was on the Upper West Side, right off Central Park…the first real serious deal.”

“Let’s see, been around over 40 years, 15% commission, SAS jiffy bag,” she read the response aloud. “Says here to send the completed manuscript for full evaluation…”

“Right, that was the problem…” I heard isolated bursts of disjointed titter and outright laughter about then—the swoosh of long coats, the teletype clicking of heels.

Meanwhile, query-wise, I had begun getting solicitations back then from fee-based, ego-stroking parasites demanding hundreds of dollars up-front to even look over my material, or per-hour editorial services and writers’ powwows in Iowa and Squaw Valley. Any remaining authorial vanity was no match, however, for my dire economic straits at the time. Still, there eventually were some substantive New York nibbles—from high power, best seller agencies that offered to thoroughly review a completed manuscript. So I began making peace, roller coasting with the entire go-for-broke process. But that was before this Team Hassett flimflam went down, whereupon I stuffed the entire effort on a thumb drive and into a bottom drawer.

“Problem? You didn’t follow through on this?” The attorney said, over the Vivaldi piping in lightly above.

“No, couldn’t, because the novel wasn’t completed,” I muttered, pointing to my short stack of correspondence. “So I sent him that other letter there, begging his patience, and that I would ship the entire story as soon as I could…

“Sooo—did you,” she continued reading.

“Uh, can’t say as I did…” The gurgling spillover of that black marble center fountain became deafening upon my drift.

“Why not? I mean after all the rejections,” she frowned. “You get a big-time sniff and don’t walk the walk?”

“Couldn’t, because the story wasn’t finished, still isn’t, actually…”

“But you stayed in touch with this Mister Brookhouse?”

“Wasn’t able, because not too long after, I read in the Times that he had suddenly passed away,” I rued. “That’s where his obit noted that one of his major clients was James Marion Hassett…guess that’s where the trouble began.”

Better left unsaid at the moment was that I had recently tried to engage the services of ‘Lawyers for the Arts’, then a referral list of Intellectual Property firms. Legal stonewall: none of them liked my contingency chances of butting heads with the Hassett Machine or his publisher, let alone the famed legal thrillerator himself—whom they to a man and woman envied, respected, often idolized. For an unpublished wannabee hack? Nolo contendere, case dismissed with prejudice—who had the time for rank amateurs? Really, have you any idea what you would be up against?

“Trouble? Go on—um, wait a sec,” she replied, suddenly grabbing at the pinging smartphone in her grey pinstriped pantsuit pocket, glancing at a TXT. “Lo siento, I’m going to have to cut this short—that was from a Latina sex/hass client I have to meet down at Civic Center at the top of the hour.”

“Hey, no worry, I’m just appreciative of your interest and valuable time, given what you’ve recently been through,” I alluded to Union Square in an empathetic effort to get and keep her on board.

“Yes, well, I appreciate that,” she softened some. “Tell you what, I’m going to do some further research in this IP/copyright area—you mentioned having a lot more documentation?”

“Not with me, but it’s all in nice and safe-keeping back at…home,” I beamed, late afternoon sun refracting through the atrium’s glass roof, its white skeletal metal bars casting like cellblock shadows over its coarsely textured flooring.

“So get it all to me, Mister Herbert, and we’ll talk further,” she rose, streaked blond hair tousled in a breeze that was infiltrating the conservatory’s open archways, rustling the dwarf palm trees all about us.

“Really? Meaning you might look into taking my case?” I jumped up to meet her hazel-blue eyes.

“We’ll see—be sure to follow up, with the evidence and docs,” she shook my hand, however gossamer lightly, as though she were still wary Guntherwise, maybe sizing me up as to whether I might have been one of those psycho-chauvy pigs back in my day, a rapist-shaming broadside at the ready. “Get back to me when you’re fully prepared…”

“Will do, and don’t worry, I won’t be pulling a Weiner or Weinstein on you,” I added, with a two-handed hold of her own, shying away from Calder’s seductive ‘Star Maiden’ pedestaled statue gracing yonder wall. “Don’t want to be accused of sexual assault by inappropriate grip or emoji. Really, it’s a manssacre out there these days…”

“Totally man made, wouldn’t you say? In any case, I don’t want to come across as Debbie Doubter, but just tell me more thing. What ultimately convinces you that your great American masterpiece was actually purloined at all?”

“A single word,” I replied, still holding her hand with both of mine, buoyed by the mere prospect of associating with someone the likes of her. “Clover…”  

Care For More?

CHAPTER TEN. The house edges
toward
 disorder, especially given
one
 firmly posted on the door…