Eric Frome sat calmly behind his desk; white shirt, conservative tie, sensible haircut, black rimmed glasses. The only thing on his desk except the telephone was my manuscript. It sat there in front of him, waiting for his approval. Eric Frome held the power of life and death over hundreds of novels every year. Eric Frome had never had a single original thought. His power lay in the fact that he knew what would sell. What would sell would be what had sold before. A new idea, a fresh perspective, an original approach stood no chance with Eric Frome.
I knew that behind me was a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, hung on a wooden coat hanger on the back of Eric’s door. To my right was a comfortable looking brown leather chair with a warm but masculine looking floor lamp. I could picture Eric Frome wearing the tweed jacket, sitting in the leather chair, smoking a pipe, reading my manuscript. Very literary looking, very professorial but just an act. Eric enjoyed the figure he cut, in his mind’s eye.
“So, you’re going to kill Robert off.” Eric looked at me without emotion, not giving anything away. I didn’t think he had emotions anyway.
“Yeah, I’m bored with old Bob.”
“It’s Robert. He doesn’t like Bob. You need to remember that for the interviews. Anyway, you can’t kill him. You owe us two more books after this one.”
“I’ll write about somebody else. Bob’s growing stale. I need a change.”
“You can’t kill him. He belongs to us.”
I didn’t have any trouble showing emotion. I uncrossed my legs and sat up straight. I could feel color rising to my bare scalp. “What do you mean, he’s yours. I created him. He came out of my imagination, certainly not yours. He’s my creation and I own him.”
“Read your contract.”
I hesitated. What had Susan said? “Contract?”
“You remember that document you signed two books ago? You were probably too busy counting your money to read it. It’s in there. You can’t kill him off. He belongs to us. If you can’t bring yourself to write any more Robert Everlander novels, we’ll find somebody who will step in and pick up where you left off. And of course there’s the advance. You would have to give that back.”
Eric paused and waited for my response. I didn’t have one.
“We know how to handle temperamental authors. We’ve been burned in the past and now we have ways to protect our interests. You can get a lawyer and fight us but take it from me, you’ll be wasting your money. We know how to do this.”
“The truth is that, no matter how much you hate the …” Eric paused and waited for the right word. “The vacuity of your efforts, Robert Everlander novels sell. They will sell for years to come. We have a franchise here. You can ride along with us or not. But one thing is sure. You are going to have to change the end of this manuscript.” Eric tapped the stack of paper in front of him. I didn’t doubt him.
I could here Susan coming down the stairs. I tried to look absorbed in my reading, waiting for her reaction.
I continued to pretend to read but I could feel a crooked grin growing. “It’s a Bible.”
Susan sat down on the couch trying not to look confused. “Where’d you get it?”
“At a Christian book store.”
She gave me a hard look that forced my eyes from the page in front of me. “Why?”
I surrendered the pretense of reading and gave her my full attention. Now was the time to come out of the closet.
“You know how depressed I’ve been since my talk with Eric.”
Susan nodded, looking a little apprehensive.
“Well, I was up late a few nights ago. I couldn’t sleep, bored and depressed, I was down here flipping around the dial. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.”
Susan nodded. She had expressed her disapproval of my viewing habits before. I hurried on.
“Well, I stopped on one of those TV evangelists and listened for a while. And I had an inspiration.” The grin now could not be denied.
“You’re not going to send him money, are you?”
“No, no. He didn’t get to me. Nothing like that. But I did get an idea. Robert is going to get saved.” There it was. She had to see the cleverness of it. Bur she just sat there, apparently not impressed.
“Don’t you get it? It will ruin Robert for them. They might as well give him up. Nobody else will be able to pick up where I leave off.”
“So the Bible is…”
“Research. I bought the biggest, most complete one I could find. The lady said it was the most understandable translation. And it has all this stuff in the back. She called it ‘helps’. Indexes front and back. Names, places, maps. It’s got everything. I’ve got to make this convincing.” I was rifling through the Bible, showing Susan the densely packed pages of text. I knew I was sounding a little giddy.
“How do you know this will get past the contract?”
“I read the contract. I don’t think they can knock this one down. I think I’ve got them.”
Susan shrugged and turned back to her magazine. “OK. As long as you don’t send anybody all our money.”