Sample text for Gideon / Russell Andrews.
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It had not been one of Carl Granville's better weeks.
For starters, in his weekly pickup game at the Chelsea Piers, he had been taken to the hoop and dunked on by a spindly high-school kid. Then New York Magazine gave the Nathan Lane profile they'd promised him to another freelancer--the editor's sister-in-law. Then his dad called from Pompano Beach to tell him he thought Carl was wasting his precious Ivy League degree and his life, not necessarily in that order. Plus the Mets had lost three in a row, Nick at Nite had cleared out The Odd Couple and Taxi to make way for I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, and now, just to round things out, he found himself in a room with the only two people left in the world who believed in his talent, in his future, in him. Unfortunately, one of those people was dead and the other one hated his guts.
No, it had definitely not been one of Carl's better weeks.
He was standing next to an open casket in the Frank E. Campbell funeral parlor on Madison Avenue and Eighty-first Street, where Betty Slater, the legendary literary agent and even more legendary alcoholic, was laid out, looking as rosy and lifelike as a basket of wax fruit. At least she was not glowering at him with undisguised hostility, the way Amanda Mays, standing on the other side of the casket, was. Amanda was still angry over a slight misunderstanding. Something to do with a certain plum job in Washington, marriage, and living happily ever after. Carl had to admit to himself that some of the misunderstanding was his fault.
Actually, Carl had to admit that all of the misunderstanding was his fault.
The turnout for Betty's funeral was huge, considering just how cranky Betty had gotten toward the end of her life, when she'd managed to offend just about every publisher, critic, and author in town. It was her brutal honesty, mostly. Throwing out words like stinks, and phony, and--one of her favorite combinations--pseudointellectual crap. Nonetheless, this was an event and people had dutifully turned out in droves for it, clustering around her open casket in solemn tribute. Norman Mailer was there. And John Irving. Maya Angelou was there. So were Sonny Mehta, Tina Brown, Judith Regan, and a number of prominent editors and literary agents. All to pay their respects. To mingle. And, Carl was horrified to observe, to work the room. Because Betty had still had a few money clients in her stable, and now they were on the loose. Most notably Norm Pincus, the balding, splayfooted little shlub known to the reading public as Esmeralda Wilding, author of eleven straight best-selling bodice rippers. Agents were hovering
around the tubby little gold mine like vultures, waiting to swoop down on him. It was, Carl reflected, in terrible taste.
Especially because not one of the vultures was paying the least bit of attention to him.
Hey, wasn't he talented? Didn't he have the potential to write best-sellers? Quality best-sellers? Couldn't he go on Oprah and charm the hell out of America?
And wasn't that Maggie Peterson staring at him from across the room?
Holy shit. The Maggie Peterson. Staring at him. And not only that. Now coming toward him. Smiling and sticking her hand out. The most famous, the most visible, the most flamboyant, and by far the hottest editor in New York publishing was speaking to him. She'd had three number-one best-sellers in a row. Her own imprint at Apex, the international multimedia conglomerate. She was a star. And Carl Granville knew that what he could use more than anything else right now was just a little bit of stardust. He was twenty-eight years old and burning to write the next great American novel. He had just delivered the first draft of his most recent attempt to Betty Slater, but she had died before she could tell him what she thought of it. And now he had no agent, no money to pay this month's rent, and no reason whatsoever to believe that his next payday would arrive any sooner than the twenty-fourth of never. But suddenly there was hope. Maggie Peterson was saying something to him.
She was saying: "I don't know whether to hire you or fuck you."
Carl had to admit, she got his attention.
Everything about Maggie Peterson was calculated to get attention. The severe blue-black pageboy hairdo that had been cropped sharply at the chin, with what looked to be a hatchet. The wide slash of bright red lipstick. The matching skintight black leather jacket and trousers. This was a highly charged woman, most likely forty, a lean, tightly coiled whippet who exuded energy and sexual challenge. This was a very sexy predator. A meat eater. And right now she was eyeballing him up and down as if he were a
T-bone steak, medium rare.
Carl glanced around just to make absolutely, positively sure that he was the person Maggie had said those words to. He was. So he cleared his throat and took his shot. "If I have a choice," he said, smiling, "I need the job more."
Maggie didn't smile back. He got the feeling that smiling was not usually on her agenda.
"I read those murder mysteries you ghosted for Kathie Lee," she said, gazing up at him. "I liked them. I liked them a lot."
That would be Kathie Lee Gifford. Not his proudest creative moment. But a job was a job.
"Betty got that for me," he said, and modestly shrugged his broad shoulders at Maggie, feeling the twinge in the left one that was always there. A Penn power forward who was now playing over in Greece had given that to him under the boards his senior year. Carl had started at point guard for Cornell for three years, a smart, determined floor leader, a good passer, an accurate shooter. He was the complete basketball package. He had it all--everything except the height, the vertical leap, and the foot speed. He was an inch and three-eighths over six feet tall and his weight hadn't changed, it was still 185. Although fifteen of those pounds kept wanting to drift south. He had to work out regularly to prevent that.
"Betty sent me your novel, you know."
"No, I didn't know." He couldn't help it; his pulse was definitely quickening.
"It was the most dazzling prose I've read in two, possibly three years. Parts of it were even brilliant."
There it was, the b word. The word every writer hungered to hear. And it wasn't just anybody saying it to Carl. It was Maggie Peterson, who could actually do something about it.
"We need to talk," she was saying now.
Carl stood there a moment, grinning. He looked no more than eighteen when he grinned. He looked, Amanda once told him with a disgusted look in her eye, like an overgrown Campbell's Soup kid, with his shiny blue eyes and apple cheeks and unruly dirty blond hair that was forever tumbling down into his eyes. He was so wholesome and innocent-looking that bartenders still asked him for his ID.
"Well, sure," he said. "Let's talk."
Maggie glanced abruptly at her watch. "Meet me at three o'clock."
"I have a lunch date on the East Side. It'll be easier to meet at my apartment. Four twenty-five East Sixty-third. We can be alone there. Have a nice little talk in my garden."
"It's pouring rain outside."
"I'll see you at three, Mr. Granville."
"I thought people called you Granny."
"Some do," he allowed. Although precious few, and it had to be his idea, not theirs, and ...
And how the hell did she know that?
"I do my homework," she said, as if reading his mind. Her eyes were already elsewhere, flicking around the crowded room, restlessly searching. When they came to rest, she was looking down at the waxen body in the casket. "This really is the end of an era, isn't it?" The realization seemed to please her. She turned her gaze back to him. "Don't disappoint me, Carl. I can't stand to be disappointed."
And with that she vanished back into the crowd of mourners.
It was Amanda Mays who offered Carl the ride home in the rain.
Her same old dented, rusted-out wreckage of a Subaru station wagon was parked illegally out front in the loading zone that was reserved exclusively for hearses. The interior, as always, was littered with collapsed Starbucks containers, an assortment of coats and sweaters and shoes, notepads, file folders. Neat the woman never was. He stood there on the curb with the rain pouring down the back of his neck while she unlocked the door and threw the shit that was on the front passenger seat on top of the shit that was in the backseat so that he could get in.
Once inside, he folded his long legs so that his knees almost touched his chin. Other than offering him a ride, Amanda still hadn't said a word to him. He realized it was up to him to be mature and civil. "When are you heading back to--"
"Washington? Right now. We're in the middle of a huge team investigation of the D.C. school board. I'm quarterbacking and I don't want anyone else mucking it up. Besides, there's no reason to stay around, is there?" she said pointedly.
"Amanda, can't we at least be--"
"Friends? Sure, Carl, we can be friends." She was forever cutting in on him like this, never letting him finish a sentence. Their conversations were always fast, sometimes furious, rarely linear. It was the way her mind worked--in overdrive.
"Well, do you want to get--"
"A cup of coffee? No, thanks. I just don't think I can handle that much friendship today."
The Subaru didn't particularly want to start. The engine was balky and reluctant. And when Amanda finally pulled away from the curb, it started clanking, regularly and loudly.
"You're not going to drive this thing all the way back to D.C. sounding like that, are you?"
"It's fine, Carl." The day they'd broken up was the day she'd stopped calling him Granny. "It's been making that noise for the last seven thousand miles."
"It's nothing. So just shut up about it, will you?" She floored it, just to prove her point. He closed his eyes and held on for dear life, remembering.
They'd met at a pub party for a mutual friend's book. And for eighteen months, two weeks, and four days after that, they had been inseparable. She liked the Velvet Underground, the Knicks, and cold pizza for breakfast. She was pleasantly round in all of the places she should be and enviably taut in all of the others. She possessed great masses of rust-colored hair that tumbled every which way, impish green eyes, a smattering of freckles, and the most kissable mouth he had ever personally kissed.
Remembering their nights together. Making love, talking into the dawn, making love again. And again.
Remembering how she made him feel: warm and excited, exhilarated and insecure, always so alive. Amanda was tremendously warm and passionate and even more tremendously opinionated. She was also a pain in the ass. Not easy to get along with. Intense, spiky, and stubborn. She was the smartest person he had ever met and, sitting next to her now, Carl realized with a touch of regret that her approval and respect still meant everything to him.
Remembering how it had ended between them.
Badly, that's how.
Mostly, she'd said, she wanted him to get real. Like she had. After years of scratching around as a freelancer, living month to month in a crummy studio apartment, she had decided that what she really wanted more than anything else in the world was a life. A good job. A nice place to live. Commitment. Him. She had found the good job--deputy metro editor of the Washington Journal. And D.C. was the perfect place for her. She loved politics, it was her passion. That was where they were different. Numbers were his. As in 30.1 and 22.9, which were Wilt Chamberlain's scoring and rebounding averages per game for his career. Or .325--Dick Groat's batting average in 1960, when he beat out Norm Larker for the National League batting title on the last day of the season. Still, there was a good job waiting there in D.C. for him, too. Hell, a great job. The Journal was looking for someone to cover sports as a form of popular culture, not a game. Profiles. Think pieces. It might even lead to a column. But he had turned it
down. The job would have been all-consuming, and he refused to abandon his book. He also refused to abandon New York, so, furious, she had gone without him. She had not understood. How could she? She was thirty then. He was twenty-seven--which, in gender evolution, meant she was somewhere between nine and twelve years ahead of him on the maturity scale. He knew he was giving up something special. But he could not change how he felt.
He just plain was not ready to get real yet.
That had been almost a year ago. And now they were hurtling through the rain-slick streets of New York in her car and they had nothing much to say to each other. She took Madison up to Ninety-sixth and shot across Central Park on the Ninety-seventh Street Transverse. Carl lived on 103rd between Broadway and Amsterdam, one of the only blocks on the entire Upper West Side that had somehow managed to elude gentrification. It was a street of scruffy, grimy tenements where unemployed Latino men sat on stoops all day drinking cans of Colt 45 they bought from the bodega on the corner.
"Since when are you and Maggie Peterson so tight?" she asked.
"She read my novel. She liked it."
He waited for her to be happy for him. Or even impressed. But there was nothing. She gave him nothing.
"I wonder if the gossip about her is true," Amanda said.
"I doubt it." He glanced over at her. He hated it when she sucked him in like this. "Okay, what gossip?"
"When she was editor of the Daily Mirror in Chicago, she broke up her top columnist's marriage."
"What, she was having an affair with him?"
"She was having an affair with him and his wife."
"Way. Believe me, way."
"She just wants to talk," he said as casually as he could.
"She wants a lot of things. Including her own talk show on the Apex network. She'll probably get it, too. She and Augmon are totally tight." Augmon being Lord Lindsay Augmon, the reclusive British-born billionaire who had personally built the Apex empire, piece by piece: the TV network, the movie studio, newspapers in London, New York, Chicago, and Sydney, magazines all over the world, book publishing houses in New York and London, international cable franchises. Lindsay Augmon cast a wide and powerful net, and Maggie Peterson was his biggest, hungriest shark. His miracle worker. She was the woman with the sizzle. The Mirror had been failing when she took it over, and she raised its circulation by 25 percent in six months. From there she took two of his moribund monthly magazines and turned them into must-read trendsetters. And now she had put his publishing house on top.
"She never likes to stay anywhere for very long," Amanda added. "She doesn't like to manage. Her job is to come in and make a big splash."
Carl nodded, wondering just what sort of splash Maggie Peterson had in mind for him.
"Have you met anyone?" he asked her over the clanking of the engine.
"Tom Cruise," she answered. "It's hot and heavy. But keep it to yourself, okay? We don't want Nicole to find out." She pulled a cigarette out and lit it from her lighter, filling the car with smoke. "And I swore I'd never get mixed up with a married man."
Carl rolled down the window so that he could breathe, the rain pelting him. "When did you start smoking again?"
"Guess," she said sharply. Too sharply, and she knew it. She softened. "How about you?"
"Never. Nasty habit. Bad for the wind."
"I know what you meant. And the answer is no. Starving artists aren't very popular these days."
"Starving artists were never popular."
"Now you tell me," he said, grinning at her.
"Uh-uh," she said, shaking her head. "It won't work, so don't even
"What won't work?"
"The Granny grin. I'm wearing a Kevlar shield now. It bounces right off me."
"Look, Amanda ..." He reached over and took her hand.
She pulled away. "Please don't," she said quietly. "Don't tell me you're confused and you don't know how you feel. Because I'll tell you how you feel, Carl. You feel relieved."
He fell silent after that. They both did.
"I guess it was too soon," she said finally. "It still hurts too much. Maybe ... maybe we can try again next year."
"I will if you will," he said gamely.
"Done," she said, stubbing out her cigarette.
Carl's street was largely deserted. Thanks to the rain, the idlers had been driven inside. She pulled up with a screech in front of the beat-up brownstone Carl had lived in since he first moved to New York. He had the front apartment on the fourth floor, a studio that was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and noisy all year round. The waterbugs and the mice didn't mind, and neither did he, but Amanda had despised it. They had always stayed at her place, which had heat and hot water and other such luxury amenities.
A very attractive young blonde was trying to wrestle an old overstuffed chair in through the front door of his building. She wasn't having much luck. The chair was getting all wet and so was she. The T-shirt and tight jeans she was wearing were thoroughly soaked.
"New neighbor?" Amanda asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Upstairs." He nodded. "She moved in last week."
"She's not," Amanda said.
"Wearing a bra. That is what you were thinking, isn't it?"
He turned to stare at Amanda. "It might surprise you to learn that I'm not always thinking what you think I'm thinking."
Her eyes searched his face carefully, as if she was trying to memorize how it looked. "You're absolutely right," she said gravely. "That would surprise me."
"Watch out for the pothole," he warned her as he climbed out. It was a broad, deep one in the middle of the block. It was really more of a crater. And, of course, she accelerated right into it. Would have lost a hubcap, too, if she'd had any hubcaps left to lose. Carl watched her cross Broadway and disappear down the street, feeling rueful and glum and dissatisfied and lonely. He shook it off and started inside. But the chair and the very wet blonde were in his way.
"You're not planning to carry that thing all the way up to the fifth floor by yourself, are you?" Carl asked his new neighbor.
"I sure am," she replied. She possessed a soft, cotton-candy voice and the biggest, bluest, most arresting eyes that Carl had ever seen. Her silky blond hair glistened with moisture. She wore hot pink lipstick and matching nail polish. She was a tall girl, nearly six feet in her steel-toed Doc Martens. "I found it around the corner on the street. Can you believe someone was throwing it out?"
The chair was covered in green vinyl. And huge. Not to mention hideous.
"I can't believe anyone bought it in the first place," he said.
"Well, I think it's perfect. Particularly because I don't have a chair and I need one. Only it won't fit through the damned door." She began chewing fretfully on her luscious lower lip.
Carl stood there thinking that it had been a long time since he'd dated a woman who wore hot pink nail polish. Come to think of it, he had never dated a woman who wore hot pink nail polish. Amanda's nails were unpainted and bitten to the quick.
"Sure it will," he said bravely. "We just have to angle it, that's all." He bent down and grabbed an end, trying as hard as he could not to stare at her nipples, which protruded right through her wet T-shirt, large and rosy and in his face.
"This is very nice of you."
"No problem," he grunted. "Neighbors do these things for each other. That's what holds this cruel, dirty city together. Besides, if I don't help, I can't get in out of the rain."
Together they angled it through the vestibule and wrestled it to the bottom of the stairs, where they dumped it. It was heavy and ungainly.
"I'm the Granville whose buzzer is right below yours, by the way. Carl goes with it. What goes with Cloninger?"
"Toni. With an i."
"Nice to meet you, Toni with an i. You new to the city?"
"Just moved from Pennsylvania. I'm an actress. Oh, God, that sounds so funny to say out loud, doesn't it? I want to be an actress. Mostly I've just done some modeling and stuff. And taken a ton of classes. How about you? Do you model, too?"
"Keep talking to me like that and I'll curl right up on your welcome mat and never leave."
"There's another thing I have to do--get a welcome mat," she said, smiling at him.
She had a wonderful smile. It made the entire lower half of his body feel like it was suspended in warm Jell-O. He took a deep breath, sizing up the logistics of chair and stairs and banister. "Okay, I'll push, you pull. On three. Ready?"
"Ready. Did I remember to say this was real nice of you?"
"You did. But feel free to keep right on saying it."
He pushed, she pulled, and somehow they managed to force the big, horrible, overstuffed thing all the way up to the second-floor landing, where they rested. Only three more flights to go.
"Can I ask you something personal?" she said, huffing and puffing. "I keep hearing this ba-boom, ba-boom noise coming from your apartment every morning. What exactly are you doing?"
"Banging my head against the wall. I'm a writer."
She let out a laugh, which was just as wonderful as her smile. It was big and easy and genuine. "I've never lived over a writer before. This may take some getting used to."
"Oh, you'll learn to love it. In fact, pretty soon you'll wonder how you ever got along without me."
She eyed him with flirty amusement. "Seriously, what are you doing?"
"It's my heavy bag. A sixty-pound Everlast. I work out on it every morning." He picked up his end of the chair. "You never know what might come up."
His lower back was in spasms by the time they reached the fourth floor. "I'm feeling uncommonly generous. Why don't you just leave this at my place? You can come visit it anytime you want."
"One more flight, Charles."
Her place was a studio like his, but the ceiling was lower and it felt even more cramped. She had very little in the way of possessions: a bed, a dresser, a TV, a cactus that looked dead, although Carl wasn't exactly sure how you could tell with cactus plants. There was still some stuff in cartons. The chair went in an empty corner, facing the TV.
"The least I can do is offer you a beer," she said gratefully.
"The least I can do is accept," he replied, waiting for her to move toward the refrigerator. But she made no move toward anything. "I don't actually have any beer," she admitted.
"Do you always make such empty offers?"
"It's not empty. You know Son House?"
"The blues bar down on Ninth Avenue?"
She nodded. "I wait tables there most nights, eight to two. Stop by and I'll treat you to a brewski. Deal?"
"I don't know. I'll have to think about it," he said. He looked at this gorgeous creature not two feet away from him. Then he pictured Amanda, angry as ever, hurtling through the pothole. "Okay, I thought about it," he said. "It's a deal, Toni with an i."
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Presidents United States Fiction, Publishers and publishing Fiction, Presidents' spouses Fiction, New York (N, Y, ) Fiction, Authors Fiction