George Axelrod

Chapter One

The girl’s name was Jean Dahl. That was all the information Miss Dennison had been able to pry out of her. Miss Dennison had finally come back to my office and advised me to talk to her. “She’s very determined,” my secretary said. “I just can’t seem to get rid of her.”

Then Miss Dennison winked. It was a dry, spinsterish, somewhat evil wink.

“Anyway, Mr. Sherman, she’s your type.”

By that time I had decided Jean Dahl was most probably an author’s wife and, as such, fell under my jurisdiction. At Conrad, Sherman, Inc., Publishers, Pat Conrad deals with the authors and I deal with the authors’ wives.

I have far and away the tougher job.

Part of my job is to come up with spontaneous, unrehearsed answers to such irate questions as: Will you please explain to me why, when my Aunt Sarah tried to buy a copy of my husband’s book at Macy’s, they told her it was out of stock? Or: Are you deliberately trying to sabotage my husband’s book, or do you actually think you can sell it by running those measly little ads?

“O.K., O.K.,” I said to Miss Dennison. “Send her in. I’ll talk to her.”

When the door opened, I stood up, smiled broadly, extended my hand, and said, “How do you do. I’m Dick Sherman. I’m always delighted to meet the wife of one of our authors. Now don’t tell me what the trouble is. Let me guess. Your husband’s book is out of stock at Macy’s?”

Patter like this has made me the life of so many Book and Author luncheons.

Miss Dahl ignored me and my outstretched hand.

She walked past me, directly to the window, and stood staring down at the traffic on Madison Avenue.

“Or,” I continued, “perhaps our advertising campaign has fallen short of…”

Miss Dennison had been right about one thing. Miss Dahl was very definitely my type. She had thick, honey- colored blonde hair that she wore a little longer than this winter’s style dictated. She was wearing a beaver coat and what the fashion ads call a “basic black dress”-a little number costing about one hundred and fifty dollars. Several gold bracelets dangled from her wrist.

Miss Dahl took a cigarette out of her purse, lighted it, and, half sitting on the windowsill, turned to face me holding the cigarette between her lips. She looked at me carefully and said, “Are you the one I want to see?”

At this point it began to dawn on me that perhaps Miss Dahl was not an author’s wife.

“I want to talk to someone about a book,” she said.

I nodded, smiled, and explained patiently that since this was a publishing house most of the people who came to see us wanted to talk about books.

“You’ve written a book?” I asked. I was not surprised. The damnedest people write books.

“I’ve got a book, baby,” she said. “It’s for sale. You can have it for fifty thousand dollars.”

I laughed a polite, nervous laugh. “That seems a bit high,” I said. “Why don’t you do this, Miss Dahl? Why don’t you submit the book to us in the usual way, and if it turns out to be something we’re interested in, why, I’m sure…”

Then I noticed that Miss Dahl was not listening to me. She was staring dreamily out the window. “I’ll show you a page of the book,” she said conversationally. “So you’ll understand what I’m talking about when I say I have a book.”

She opened her purse, took out a folded sheet of yellow paper and handed it to me. I unfolded it and examined it curiously. It was page one, chapter one of a novel. There was no title and no author’s name. The page was roughly typed. There were many cross-outs, corrections, and penciled scrawls in the margin.

I glanced inquiringly at Miss Dahl. Her face was a complete blank. I began to read the page of manuscript.

I read the page very slowly. I examined the penciled writing between the lines and in the margins. By the time I had finished the page there was no question in my mind as to what I was reading.

“Where did you get this?” I asked, trying to be calm.

“I’ve got the three hundred and forty-six pages that come after it, too,” she said. “The price is still fifty thousand dollars.”

She reached over and gently plucked the yellow paper out of my hand. She folded it again and put it back in her purse. “I’ve got a book,” she said, “and I want to sell it. What I want to know is, do you want to buy it?”

“This book you say you have,” I was choosing my words carefully, “is it yours to sell?”

She ground out her cigarette in the ashtray on my desk. “Let’s put it this way, baby,” she said. “I’ve got it. If you want it, I’ll sell it to you and then you’ll have it.”

“I’d have to consult with my partner, Mr. Conrad, about this,” I told her.

Miss Dahl smiled. She had white, perfect teeth. “Consult with anybody you want to,” she said. “The price is fifty thousand dollars. In cash. Or a certified check will do. Only you’ll have to make up your mind quickly. As they say, this offer is good for a limited time only.”

I stood up, suddenly angry.

“It’s not as easy as that,” I said. “If this is genuine… if you have the rest of the pages… and if you can prove title to the book-that is, if you have a legal right to sell it so that after we’ve bought it we can prove ownership in court-if all those things, then we might be interested. Then maybe we could talk about the price.”

Miss Dahl was smiling.

She got up from the window and walked toward me. We were standing very close. It was so quiet that I could hear both of us breathing.

“Listen, baby,” she said. She was still smiling. She put her hands on my shoulders and gently pushed me back into my chair.

“Listen, baby,” she said. “I have the only copy in the world of the book Charles Anstruther finished before he died. If you want to buy it, I’ll sell it to you. But the sale has to be fast. There’s another customer interested in it. I don’t care who buys it. I don’t care about that at all. What I care about is the money.”

I started to get up.

She pushed me down into the chair again.

“You can have till tonight to decide. I’ll get in touch with you and you can give me your answer then. If you decide you’re interested, I’ll show you the rest of the pages. Then tomorrow you give me the money, and I’ll give you the book. Think it over. You’ll hear from me.”

I started to get up.

“Don’t bother, baby. I can find my way out.”

Twice, after she had gone, I picked up the receiver to call Pat Conrad and twice I put it down again.

The phone on my desk buzzed.

I lifted the receiver very gently, trying not to break the spell. I didn’t want to wake up and spoil the beautiful daydream I was having.

I walked into Pat’s office (in the dream) and casually tossed the manuscript (347 yellow pages, typed, with pencil corrections) on his desk.

“What’s this?” Pat asked.

“Oh,” I said, “a book…”

“What book?”

“The new Anstruther,” I said casually. “If we rush it into galleys we can have it for spring publication.”

Pat was aghast.

Feverishly, with trembling fingers he seized the manuscript and began to pore over it, eagerly, hungrily scanning the pages. “Dick! Where-how-I don’t understand…” He was kissing me on both cheeks and blubbering

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