Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chapter 4: A Voice from Above

A Crime Novel in Installments,
by Dick Adler

Where we left off: While waiting to hear again from Saul Cooperman, who’s out West digging up clues to a murder case, Ivan Davis took dinner with his parents and then received an invitation to Vesuvio’s restaurant from his mob-connected cousin, who said he might know some things Ivan should hear.

* * *

While Ivan, at Vesuvio’s, was hearing about how the mob might have connections to Viking magazine, his colleague Ross Calhoun was getting an earful of another sort of whispers across town, at the Four Seasons Hotel. Writers and editors descended from the Time and Life offices liked to pad out their expense accounts at the Four Seasons’ restaurant--Brock Burns among them. A year ahead of Ross at Dartmouth, Burns had chosen journalism over espionage, but it was a close call. A professor in the history department was a famous CIA talent scout, and Burns was smart and devious enough to catch his attention. Despite turning down the Agency’s offer (Burns liked the ideas of fame and money better), he still kept up with some CIA types in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“Everything alright in the sweat and tits business?” he asked, his grin brimming over the rim of a vodka tonic.

Ross knew that his old classmate was working on something very boring for Time, so he shrugged off his usual jealousy. “I’m busy cutting a murder novel down from 150,000 words to 30,000. It’s a great lesson in brevity.”

“Good. The reason I ask, is that one of my contacts wondered if I knew anyone in the men’s adventure magazine field--especially your rag. Seems there’s been a leak somewhere; some writer for Viking doing the leaking. I thought I’d check with you before giving him your name.”

“What kind of leaking are we talking about here? The odd sex habits of generals and senators?”

“Probably something a bit more serious than that,” Brock said. “My contact is quite high up on the Agency ladder. But why speculate now? I’ll have him call you tomorrow. You might even get a trip to Washington for your efforts.”

Calhoun was still thinking over Brock’s questions and suggestions as he strolled back to the Viking offices, where a pulpish but strong short story written by one of Gold Medal’s hot new novelists awaited his editing. Yet even in the midst of marking up copy, he wondered what to make of all that gab about leaks, and why someone from Viking would stir interest among the clandestine set. As Ivan had said after his cousin’s ominous invitation to lunch at Vesuvio’s, who in hell could possibly care what a Viking writer was up to?

* * *

Me. I cared. That is, the people who paid me cared--especially a lunatic Wisconsin senator riding a very hot white horse. So I shared his concern.

Call me Kid Nickels. My old man ran a newsstand in the Bronx, and that’s how I picked up the nickname--hustling for nickels. Now I was fat and 40, always snappily dressed, usually wearing a blue cashmere suit with a $30 shirt and a tie to match, but in a sense I was still that hustling kid.

What I hustled now, though, was information--mostly rumors, but occasionally the real stuff. Scandalous stuff. Because of my background, I started off as a Red, a communist: I figured it was a way to meet free-thinking girls. But I soon realized that the big money and power were all on the other side. So I hooked up with one of this Republican senator’s rich young helpers--probably a fag, though he never tried to get fresh with me.

My first victory came as a teenager, when I “exposed” a gang of Red collaborators within the Boy Scouts of America. Then, because I’d always thought of myself as a show business type, by the time I turned 20 I was putting out--virtually on my own--a magazine called Counterattack, in which I lobbied hard to establish a blacklist of actors and screenwriters who were obviously on the wrong side, America-haters. Treasonous bastards. Producing Counterattack marked the happiest time in my blacklisting career. It gave me the opportunity to bask in the glamorous limelight of show business. Once I got a top comic actor named Jack Gilford kicked off the Colgate Comedy Hour on TV by dialing up the New York Yankees’ front office and saying that I didn’t think Yogi Berra ought to be on the same show with a known Communist-fronter like Gilford.

Ah, sweet memories.

True, after some of the worst stuff I did eventually came to the light--in a book I wrote myself, believe it or not--I did a soft year at
Lewisburg for contempt of Congress. But that’s all behind me now, and I’m right back in the thick of things, even though my profile is a lot closer to invisible than it was in my glory days.

The cost you pay for trying to do the right thing, eh?

* * *

It was two days later that the call finally came in: Saul Cooperman, ringing from New Mexico. Despite the scratchy connection, the once-famous novelist sounded excited, as though whatever story he was working on out West--presumably the Lopez murder case--and whatever lead he was following now, had reawakened his energy and sense self-worth. Ivan fielded the call and tried to find out what was going on, but he didn’t get very far. “I can’t talk much,” Cooperman said. “This guy with the gun says not to. But I’m where I said I would be.” Then the phone went abruptly dead.

Ivan hustled off to the managing editor’s office, where he recalled for McLennon the entirety of his phone call. The M.E. dialed their publisher to pass on the news.

Later that afternoon, McLennon, Ivan, and Ross, along with mystery writer Perry Marcus, who headed up Viking’s Court of Final Justice, a publicity-attracting project that tried to help unjustly convicted prisoners, met in publisher Louis Erickson’s penthouse office. Marcus seemed anxious for immediate action. “We can’t let them push our writers around,” he said in his best courtroom-lawyer voice.

“We don’t even know who ‘they’ are,” Ross reminded everyone. “Whatever trouble Saul is in, we may not be able to get him out of it by ourselves.”

“Maybe we should just call the cops,” Ivan suggested. Nobody seconded his motion.

Erickson rocked back in his leather desk chair, tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling for a moment, and then asked the M.E., in a tenor that seemed too calm for the circumstances: “Morgan, how soon can you get out to New Mexico?”

“Not for a while,” answered McLennon, who, like Ivan, thought the Court of Final Justice was little better than an expensive do-gooder project. The fact that Saul Cooperman had gotten into trouble while working on a Court-related assignment only confirmed his doubts about the whole enterprise.

Erickson was visibly annoyed, his bushy eyebrows threatening to become one at the bridge of his bulbous nose. “OK, get out there as soon as possible. Meanwhile”--and here he swung on Davis and Calhoun--“you two will go out there and see what you can find out about this mess.” When the two staffers didn’t immediately leap from their chairs, Erickson added, “Well, what the hell are you waiting for?”

© Copyright 2007 by Dick Adler

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