Casebook of the Black Widowers (The Black Widowers 3) - Page 6

6. The Next Day

Emmanuel Rubin's glasses always gave the illusion of magnifying his eyes with particular intensity when he was aroused. He said, in an intense whisper, "You brought an editor as your guest?"

James Drake's train from New Jersey had arrived late and he had, in consequence, almost committed the solecism of being late to his own hostship over the monthly banquet of the Black Widowers. He was in an uncharacteristically snappish mood therefore and said, "Why not?"

He flicked the ash from his cigarette and added, "If we can have writers for guests, and even as members, Zeus help us, why not editors?"

Rubin, a writer, of course, said haughtily, "I wouldn't expect a chemist to understand." He looked briefly in the direction of the guest, who was tall and spare, with longish red - blond hair and with the kind of abbreviated mustache and beard that gave him a Robin Hood air.

Drake said, "I may be a chemist to you, Manny, and to all the world besides, but I'm a writer to him." Drake tried to look modest, and failed signally. "I'm doing a book."

"You?" said Rubin.

"Why not? I can spell and, judging by your career, that's the only requirement."

"If your guest thinks it is, he has about the mental equipment needed for an editor. What's his name again?"

"Stephen Bentham."

"And what firm is he with?"

Drake stubbed out his cigarette. "Southby Publications."

"A shlock outfit," said Rubin, with contempt. 'They're a sex - and - sensation house. What do they want with you?"

Drake said, "I'm doing a book on recombinant DNA, which is a sensational subject these days - not that you know anything about it."

Mario Gonzalo had just entered, brushing at his brown velvet jacket to remove the city fly - ash. He said, "Come on, Jim, all the papers are full of it. That's the stuff they're going to make new disease germs with and depopulate the world."

Rubin said, "If Mario's heard about it, Jim, you'll have to admit I have, too - and everyone else in the world has."

"Good. Then my book is what the world needs," said Drake.

Gonzalo said, "The world needs it about as much as it needs air pollution. I've seen two books on the subject advertised already."

"Ha," said Drake, "they're talking about the controversy, the politics. I'm going to talk about the chemistry."

"Then it will never sell," said Rubin.

It was at this point that Henry, that paragon of waiters, without whom no Black Widowers banquet could endure, announced softly to Drake that the gentlemen might seat themselves.

Geoffrey Avalon drifted toward Henry, having now had the pleasure of a sedate conversation with the guest - with whom he had talked eye to eye, something which, from his 74 inches of height, he could not often do.

"I detect a fishy aroma, Henry," he said. "What has been planned for this evening?"

"A bouillabaisse, sir," said Henry. "An excellent one, I believe."

Avalon nodded gravely, and Roger Halsted, smiling, said, "Even an average bouillabaisse is excellent, and with Henry's encomium, I stand ready to be delighted."

Avalon said, "I hope, Mr. Bentham, that you have no objection?"

"I can't say I've ever eaten it." Bentham spoke in a distinct, but not exaggerated, English accent, "but I'm prepared to have a go at it. A French dish, I believe."

"Marseillaise in origin," said Halsted, looking as though he were coming very close to licking his chops, "but universal in appeal. Where's Tom, by the way?"

"Right here," came an exasperated voice from the steps. "Damn taxi driver. Thanks, Henry." Thomas Trumbull, his tanned forehead creased and furrowed into fifty lines of anger, gratefully took the scotch and soda. "You haven't started eating, have you?"

"Just about," said Gonzalo, "and if you hadn't arrived, Roger would have had your share of the bouillabaisse, so it would have been a silver lining for someone. What was with the taxicab?"

Trumbull seated himself, took another invigorating sip of his drink, buttered a roll, and said, "I told the idiot to take me to the Milano and the next thing I knew I was at some dive movie on West Eighty - sixth Street called the Milano. We had to make our way through four extra miles of Manhattan streets to get here. He claimed he had never heard of the Milano Restaurant, but he did know that flea dive. It cost me three bucks extra in taxi fare."

Rubin said, "You're pretty far gone, Tom, if you couldn't tell he was going northwest when you wanted to go southeast."

"You don't think I was watching the streets, do you?" growled Trumbull. "I was lost in thought."

Avalon said austerely, "You can't rely on the local wisdom of the New York taxi driver. You ought to have said explicitly, 'Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street.'"

"Thanks a lot," said Trumbull. "I shall instantly turn the clock back and say it."

"I presume there'll be a next time, Tom, and that you're capable of learning from experience," said Avalon, and received a scowl for his pains.

After the bouillabaisse arrived, there was a lull in the conversation for a while as the banqueters concentrated on the evisceration of mussels and the cracking of lobster shells.

It was Drake who broke it. He said, "If we consider recombinant DNA..."

"We aren't," said Rubin, spearing a scallop neatly.

". . then what it amounts to is that the whole argument is about benefits that no one can demonstrate and dangers that no one can really pinpoint. There are only blue - sky probabilities on either side, and the debaters make up for their lack of hard knowledge by raising their voices. What I propose to do is to go into the chemistry and genetics of the matter and try to work out the real chances and significance of specific genetic change. Without that, both sides are just searching in a dark room for a black cat that isn't there."

Avalon said, "And all this for the general public?"


"Isn't that rather heavy going for the general public?"

"It isn't for the comic - book audience, but I think I can manage the Scientific American to Natural History range. Tell them, Bentham," said Drake, with perhaps a trace of smugness, "you've seen the sample chapters."

Bentham, who had tackled the bouillabaisse with a certain tentativeness but had grown steadily more enthusiastic, said, "I can only judge by myself, to be sure, but I suspect that since I follow the line of argument, the average college man ought to."

"That still limits your audience," said Gonzalo.

Bentham said, "We can't say that. It's a very hot subject and, properly promoted . . ."

"A Southby specialty," muttered Rubin.

"It could catch on," Bentham said. "People who don't really understand might nevertheless buy it to be in fashion; and who knows, they might read it and get something out of it."

Drake tapped his water glass as Henry doled out the brandy. Drake said, "If everyone is sufficiently defishified and if Henry will remove the towels and finger bowls, I think we may start to grill our guest, Mr. Stephen Bentham. Tom, will you do the honors?"

"Glad to," said Trumbull. "Mr. Bentham, it is our custom, ordinarily, to inquire as to how a guest may justify his existence. In this case, I suppose we can allow the fact that you are involved with the production of a book by our esteemed colleague, Dr. Drake, to speak for you. We will therefore pass on to more mundane questions. You seem young. How old are you?"

"Twenty - eight."

"I have the feeling you have not been long in the United States. Am I right?"

"I've been living and working here for about five months now, but I have been here on brief visits before. Three times."

"I see. And what are your qualifications for your post; as editor, that is?"

"Not overwhelming." Bentham smiled suddenly, an oddly charming and rueful smile. "I have done some editing with Fearn and Russell in London. Rather happy with them - low - key concern, you know, but then, British publishing generally is low - key."

"Why throw that over to take a job with an American firm where the pressures are bound to be greater? They are greater, I assume."

"Very much so," again the rueful smile, "but there's no mystery as to why I came. The explanation is so simple that it embarrasses me to advance it. In a word - money. I was offered three times my British salary, and all moving expenses paid."

Halsted intervened suddenly. "Are you a married man, Mr. Bentham?"

"No, Mr. Halsted. Quite single, though not necessarily celibate. However, single men can use money, too."

Rubin said, "If you don't mind, Tom, I would like to add the reverse of the question you asked. I can see why you've joined Southby Publications. Money is a potent argument. But why the hell did that shlock concern hire you? You're young, without much experience, and they're not the kind of firm to hire promising young men out of benevolence. Yet they triple your salary and pay moving expenses. What have you got on them?"

Bentham said, "I met Mr. Southby on one of my earlier trips and I think he was rather taken with me." His fair skin turned a noticeable pink. "I suspect it was my accent and my appearance. Perhaps it seemed to him I would lend an air of scholarship to the firm."

"A touch of class," murmured Avalon, and Bentham turned pinker still.

Trumbull resumed the questioning, "Manny calls Southby Publications a shlock concern. Do you agree with that?"

Bentham hesitated. "I don't know. What docs the expression mean?"

Rubin said, "Cheap, worthless books, sold by high - pressure campaigns hinting at sex and sensationalism."

Bentham remained silent.

Drake said, "Go ahead, Bentham. Anything you say here will never go beyond these walls. The club observes complete confidentiality."

"It isn't that, Jim," said Bentham, "but if I were to agree, it might wound your feelings. You're an author of ours."

Drake lit another cigarette. "That wouldn't bother me. You're hired to give the firm a touch of class and you'll do my book as another touch of class."

Bentham says, "I grant you that I don't think much of some of the books on the list, but Dr. Drake is right. Mr. Southby doesn't object to good books if he thinks they will sell. He is personally pleased with what he has seen of Dr. Drake's book; even enthusiastic. Perhaps the firm's character can be improved."

Avalon said, "I would like to put in my oar, Tom, if you don't mind. Mr. Bentham, I am not a psychologist, or a tracer of men's thoughts through their expressions. I am just a humble patent attorney. However, it seems to me that you have looked distinctly uneasy each time you mentioned your employer. Are you sure that there is nothing you are keeping from Dr. Drake that he ought to know? I want an unequivocal answer."

"No," said Bentham quickly, "there is nothing wrong with Dr. Drake's book. Provided he completes the book and that the whole is of the quality of the parts we have seen, we will publish and then promote it adequately. There are no hidden reservations to that statement."

Gonzalo said, 'Then what are you uneasy about? Or is Geoff all wrong about your feelings in the first place?" He was gazing complacently at the caricature of Bentham he had produced for the guest gallery that lined the walls of the meeting room. He had not missed the Robin Hood resemblance and had even lightly sketched in a feathered hat in green, of the type one associated with the Merry Men.

Bentham said, in sudden anger, "You could say I'm uneasy, considering that I'm about to be bloody well slung out on my can."

"Fired?" said Gonzalo, on a rising note.

"That's the rough one - syllable version of what I have just said."

"Why?" said Drake, in sudden concern.

"I've lost a manuscript," said Bentham. "Not yours, Dr. Drake."

Gonzalo said, "In the mails?"

"No. Through malice, according to Southby. Actually, I did every j ruddy thing I could do to get it back. I don't know what was in that man's mind."


"No, the author's. Joshua Fairheld's his name."

"Never heard of him," said Rubin.

Trumbull said, "Suppose you tell us what happened, Mr. Bentham."

Bentham said, "It's a grim, stupid thing. I don't want to cast a pall over a very pleasant evening."

Trumbull said, "Sorry, Mr. Bentham, but I think Jim warned you that answering our questions was the price of the meal. Please tell us exactly what happened."

Benthan said, "I suppose the most exciting thing that can happen in a publishing house is to have something good come in over the transom; something good that has not passed through the hands of a reputable agent and is not by a recognized author; something that has reached you by mail, written by someone whom no one has ever heard of.

"Aside from the sheer pleasure of the unexpected windfall, there is the possibility that you have a new author who can be milked for years to come, provided the product is not that of a one - book author - which is not an unheard - of phenomenon."

Rubin began, "Margaret Mitchell . . ." and stopped when Trumbull, who sat next to him, elbowed him ungently.

"Anyway," said Bentham, jarred only momentarily by the interruption, "Southby thought he had one. One of the readers brought it to him in excitement, as well he might, for readers don't often get anything that's above the written - in - crayon - on - lined - paper level.

"He should have gone to an editor - not necessarily me - with the manuscript, but he chose to go directly to Southby. I presume he felt there might be a deal of credit for the discovery and he didn't want Southby to be unaware of the discoverer. I can't say I blame him.

"In any case, Southby was infatuated with the manuscript, called an editorial conference, said he was accepting the book and had notified the author. He explained, quite enthusiastically, that it was to get the full Southby treatment. . . ."

Rubin said indignantly, "Up to and including cooking the best - seller lists. Tom, if you give me the elbow again, I'll break it off."

Bentham said, "I dare say you're right, Mr. Rubin, but this book deserved all it could get - potentially. Southby said he thought it needed work and he gave it to me to edit. That struck me as a remarkable sign of confidence and I was rather gung - ho on the matter. I saw quick promotions on the horizon if I could manage to carry it off. The other editors didn't seem to mind, though. One of them said to me, "It's your butt that's in the sling if this doesn't work, because Southby's never wrong.'"

Avalon said gravely, "It sometimes happens that when the boss makes a mistake, the underling tabbed to reverse the mistake is fired if he fails."

Bentham nodded. "The thought occurred to me, eventually, but it excited me further. The scent of dangers sharpens the desire to be in at the kill, you know.

"You can see, then, I went over the manuscript in a painstaking manner. I went through it once at moderate speed to get a sense of the whole and was not displeased. Southby's description of it was not, on the whole, wrong. It had a good pace and was rich in detail. A long family saga - a rough and domineering father, a smooth and insinuating mother in a rather subtle battle over the sons, their wives, and their children. The plot was interlocking, never halting, and there was enough sex to be suitable for Southby, but the sex worked. It fit the story.

"I turned in a favorable report of my own on the book, indicating its chief flaws, and how I proposed to handle them. It came back with a large 'very good' on it, so I got to work. It had to be tightened up. The last thing any beginner, however talented, learns is to tighten. Some scenes were misplaced or misemphasized, and that had to be corrected.

"I am not myself a great writer and could never be, but I've studied writing that is great sufficiently closely to be able to amend and improve what is already written well, even if, from a cold start, I could not produce anything nearly as good. It took me some six weeks of intense work to complete the job. I knew that my head was on the line and I was not about to lose the war for lack of a horseshoe nail.

"It wasn't till after I had done a thorough piece of work that I called in the author, Joshua Fairfield. I thought it better that way. Had I called him in en route, so to speak, there would have been bound to be acrimonious arguments over the changes, and much time would be wasted on trivial points. If he could see the revisions as a whole, I felt he would be satisfied. Any minor disagreements could be easily settled.

"Or so I reasoned, and perhaps I had need of a little experience myself. The author arrived and we met, actually, for the first time. I can't say I particularly liked his looks. He was about my age but he had a rather somber cast of countenance, small, dark eyes - almost beady - and poor teeth.

"I went through the amenities. We shook hands. I told him how pleased we all were with the book; how well it was going to do; the promotion we would give it; and so on.

"I then said, rather casually, in order to emphasize the minor nature of the changes - compared to what was not changed, you know - that I had taken the liberty of introducing some small emendations here and there. At that, he sat upright and his small eyes bulged. He seized the manuscript, which was on the table before us, shook some of it out of one of the boxes, riffled through the pages where I had made the necessary changes in a fine - point pencil, done quite lightly to allow of further changes, and shrieked.

"He really did. He screamed that I had written something on every page and that he would have to get the whole thing retyped and that the bill would go straight to me. Then he seized the boxes and was gone. I couldn't stop him. I swear to you, I couldn't move, I was that thunder - struck.

"But not panicky, either. The manuscript was photocopied and I had made copious notes of the changes I had made. Since he was under contract - or so I assumed - we could publish over his objections. He might proceed to sue us, but I don't think he could have won, and the publicity, I couldn't help but think, would simply sell more books.

"The trouble is that when I went to see Southby to tell him what had happened, it turned out there was no contract and everything came apart. It seemed that Southby and Fairfield were haggling over the advance. I suppose I might have been more diplomatic when I heard this. It was not a good idea to ask Southby if, in view of the advertising budget being planned, it made much sense to haggle over a matter of two thousand dollars in the advance."

Rubin grunted. "Well, now you know something about Southby."

"I know he didn't like to have it made to look as though it were his fault. He ordered me to get that manuscript back and he made it pretty clear that I was in for it if I did not.

"It proved difficult from the start. I tried Fairfield at his apartment, I tried him on the phone. It took me three days and then he finally answered the phone. I managed to keep him on the phone. I told him he could have the advance he wanted. I told him that every change was negotiable and that we could go over the book line by line - which was exactly what I had tried desperately to avoid in the first place - and I warned him that no publisher would take it precisely as it was.

"He said, with a rather snide and unpleasant snicker, that that was not so, that another publisher would take it exactly as was. He had still not turned it over to that other publisher, but he hinted that he might.

"I took that as a bluff and didn't let it rattle me. I just told him quietly that no firm could guarantee a best seller as Southby could, reminded him of some of our other books. . . ."

Rubin said, "Sure. Trash like Dish for the Gods."

Avalon said, "Let him speak, Manny."

"Well," said Bentham, "we were on the phone for over an hour and he finally put it to me straight. Would I publish it as written? I said, just as straight, that we could negotiate every change, but that there would have to be some - for his own good.

"He remained truculent and nasty, but he gave in, just like that. He said he would deliver it the next day and I said enthusiastically - and trying to hide my relief - that that was top hole, and that he was to go to it, the sooner - the better, and I would send a messenger if he'd like. He said, no, he didn't want any stinking messenger, and hung up."

Halsted said, "Happy ending."

"No, because he never delivered the manuscript. We waited a week and then Southby finally got him on the phone and all he got out of Fairfield were snarls to the effect that his paid monkey, Bentham, could keep his stinking sarcasm and shove it and we would get no manuscript from him on any terms, or words to that effect.

"That's where it stands. Needless to say, I was not sarcastic. I was perfectly reasonable and diplomatic at all times. I was firm on the key point of revision, but not offensively so. In fact, he had agreed to deliver it the next day. As far as Southby was concerned, however, I had lost the manuscript through my malicious treatment of the man, and he's out of his mind with rage."

Drake said, "But he hasn't fired you yet, Bentham. And if he hasn't, maybe he won't."

"No, because he still has hopes. I told him that Fairfield was probably bluffing and was probably psychotic, but he's not listening to me these last few days.

"In fact, I may soon be sliding along the street with Southby's boot - marks clearly imprinted on my rear end. This is all the more certain since he must realize that none of this would have happened if he had not played silly haggling games over pin money. He would certainly have had the man under contract otherwise. Firing me will be the evidence he needs for all the world, and most of all for himself, to see that I was to blame and not he."

Halsted said, "But it would be difficult for you to work for Southby after this anyway, wouldn't it? You'd be better off somewhere else."

Bentham said, "Unquestionably - but in my own time and at my own resignation. After all, the editorial field is not exactly wide open now, and I might have difficulty finding a new position, and with an as - yet thin reserve of savings, that prospect does not fill me with delight. Southby might well try to see to it that my chances were even less than normal."

Rubin said, "You mean, he would try to blacklist you? I wouldn't put it past him."

Bentham's gloom showed him to be in full agreement. He said, "Still, what's worst is that with my editing we would have had a good book there. It would be something we could be proud of. Southby and Fairfield could make a fortune and I could make a reputation that would move me on to a much better position elsewhere. And the world would have a whacking good first novel with the promise of better things to come."

"Fairfield has the makings of a great novelist, blast his soul, and I have my editorial pride and wanted to be part of that greatness. And I was not sarcastic and he did give in. He did say he'd deliver it the next day. Why in the devil's name didn't he? That's what bothers me. Why didn't he?"

There was a rather dank pause. Avalon finally said, "There may be an explanation for this. There have been first - class men of genius who have been monsters of villainy in their private lives. Richard Wagner was one; Jean Jacques Rousseau was another. If this man, Fairfield, is bluffing, and I rather guess he is, too, then he may simply have judged Southby to be a kindred soul and he feels that you will be fired. It's what he would do in Southby's place. Then, when you are gone, he will show up with the manuscript."

"But why?" said Bentham.

"No puzzle there, I think," said Avalon. "In the first place, you dared tamper with his manuscript and he feels you must be punished. In the second, once you are gone he can be reasonably certain that Southby, after all this, will publish his manuscript as written."

"Then why did he say he would deliver it the next day?"

Avalon bent his formidable eyebrows together for a moment and said, "I suppose he felt you would tell Southby, ebulliently, that the thing was in the bag - as you did - and that Southby's anger, sharply intensified by falsely raised hopes, would explode and make certain your rapid firing."

"And all that stuff about my sarcasm would then just be designed to further infuriate Southby?"

"I should think so. Yes."

Bentham thought about it. "That's a pretty dismal picture you've painted. Between Fairfield and Southby there's no escape."

Avalon looked uneasy. "I'm sorry, Mr. Bentham, but that's the way it looks to me."

Bentham said, "I can't believe it, though. I spoke to the man for an hour or more on the phone. He did not sound vindictive. Stubborn and nasty, yes, but not personally vindictive."

Avalon said, "I hate to be the insistent advocate of a solution personally abhorrent to me, but surely you were not looking for vindictiveness and would not be expected to see it if it were not absolutely in plain view."

Bentham said desperately, "But there's more. I have read his book and you have not. I believe no one, however skillful, can write a book alien to his own philosophy and . . ."

"That's nonsense," said Rubin. "I can write a piece of fiction hewing to any philosophy you please. I could write one from the Nazi point of view if I were of a mind to, which I'm not."

"You couldn't," said Bentham. "Please don't interpret that as a challenge, but you couldn't. In Fairfield's book there were a variety of motivations, but none was out of the kind of motiveless malignity some people attribute to Iago. There was no unreasoning anger arising over trivial..."

"But that's the very point," said Avalon. "It seems a trivial cause to you but you don't see through this man's eyes. Changing his novel in even a minor way is to him unforgivable and he'll hound you down over it."

Trumbull said in a troubled voice, "I hate to join in this gallows fiesta, Mr. Bentham, but Geoff sounds as though he might be right."

"Ah," said Rubin suddenly, "but I don't think he is."

Bentham turned in his direction eagerly. "You mean you don't think Fairfield is out to get me?"

Rubin said, "No. He's mad at you, surely, but not to the point of wanting to cut his own throat. What we've got to do is look at this thing carefully with writer psychology in mind. No, Mr. Bentham, I don't mean trying to see a writer's personality in his writing, which I still say can't be done for any really good writer. I mean something that holds for any beginning writer.

"I grant that a beginner might feel psychotic enough to fly into a fury at any changes imposed on his golden prose, but even that pales into nothing compared to another need - that of getting into print.

"Remember, this guy was haggling with Southby over a few thousand dollars in advance money, and what was that to him? We sneer at Southby for sticking at a small sum when millions might be in view. Isn't it queerer that the author should do so and risk not only millions, but publication altogether? Is it conceivable that a beginner who must have worked on his book for years would even dream of chancing failure to publish by haggling over the advance?"

Avalon said, "If he were the semipsychotic individual whom Mr. Bentham has described, why not?"

Rubin said, "Isn't it much more likely that he already had another publisher on the string, and that he tried Southby only because of the firm's reputation for turning out best sellers? His quarrel over the advance was his effort to make the two firms bid against each other in an auction they didn't know was taking place. Then, when Bentham tried to make changes, he turned back to the other publisher, who perhaps was willing to make fewer changes, or even none."

Bentham said, "Do you mean, Mr. Rubin, that Fairfield originally went to some publisher - call him X? X read the manuscript, suggested a revision, and Fairfield took it back, presumably to revise, but brought it to us instead. When we offered a lower advance and suggested greater revision, he took it back to X?"

"Yes, and you marked up his copy," said Rubin. "I think that annoyed him more than the revision itself had. It meant he had to have the copy retyped in toto before submitting it. Even erasing the pencil marks would leave some marks, and he might be a little shy of letting X know he was playing tricks with the manuscript. After all, you got him on the phone three days after he had stormed out and he already had another publisher on the hook. After three days?"

Bentham said, "That's why I assumed he was bluffing."

"And risk publication? No, Publisher X exists, all right."

Trumbull said, "I must be going crazy, but I've switched sides. You've convinced me, Manny."

Bentham said, "Even if you're right, Mr. Rubin, I'm still in a hopeless position."

"Not if you can prove this Fairfield was playing games. Once Southby sees that, he'll be furious with the author, not with you. Then you can bide your time and resign at such time as suits yourself."

Bentham said, "But for that I would have to know who Publisher X is, and I don't. And without that, he simply won't believe the story. Why should he?"

Rubin said, "Are you sure Fairfield didn't mention the publisher?"

"I'm sure."

Halsted said, with a mild stutter, "How would you know? You've only been in the country a few months and may not know all the publishers."

"There are hundreds in New York and surrounding areas and I certainly don't know them all," said Bentham. "I know the larger ones though. Surely X would be among the larger ones."

Rubin said, "I should think so. No hint at all?"

"If there was, it whizzed by me."

Rubin said, "Think. Go over the conversation in your mind."

Bentham closed his eyes and sat quietly. No one else made a noise except Drake, whose bolo - tie tip clinked against his water glass when he reached forward to stub out a cigarette.

Bentham opened his eyes and said, "It's no use. There's nothing there."

Drake looked leftward toward the sideboard where Henry was standing. "This is a serious situation, Henry. Do you have any suggestions?"

"Only the publisher's name, sir."

Bentham looked around in astonishment, "What?"

Trumbull said hastily, "Henry is one of us, Mr. Bentham. What are you talking about, Henry? How can you know?"

"I believe the author, Mr. Fairfield, mentioned it in his phone conversation with Mr. Bentham."

Bentham said, on the edge of anger, "He did not!"

Henry's unlined face showed no emotion. "I beg your pardon, sir, I do not mean to offend you, but you inadvertently omitted an important part of the story. It was rather like Mr. Trumbull's misadventure in the cab when he left out an important part of the direction. Or like Dr. Drake's point that those who argue about recombinant DNA do so without adequate knowledge of the fundamentals."

Gonzalo said, "You mean we're looking in a dark room for a black cat that is there?"

"Yes, sir. If Mr. Bentham had told his story otherwise, the whereabouts of the black cat would be obvious."

"In what way could I have told the story otherwise?" demanded Bentham.

"You told the story with indirect quotations throughout, sir, and thus we never got the exact words anyone used."

"For a very good reason," said Bentham. "I don't remember the exact words. I'm not a recording device."

"Yet sometimes in indirect quotation, a person is reported as saying something he could not possibly have said in direct quotation."

"I assure you," said Bentham coldly, "my account was accurate."

"I'm sure it is, within its limitations, sir. But if there is a Publisher X, why did Mr. Fairfield promise to deliver the manuscript the next day?"

Bentham said, "Oh God, I forgot about that. Are we back to motiveless malignity?"

"No, sir. I would suggest he didn't say that."

"Yes, he did, Henry," said Bentham. "I'm unshakable in that."

"Do you wish to put his remark into direct quotations and maintain that he said, 'I will deliver the manuscript the next day.'?"

Bentham said, "Oh I take your meaning. 'The next day' is a paraphrase, of course. He said, 'I will deliver the manuscript tomorrow.' What's the difference?"

Henry said, "And then you agreed enthusiastically, urged him to do so at once, and offered to place a messenger at his service. You don't think that sounded like sarcasm, sir?"

"No. He said, 'I will deliver the manuscript tomorrow' and I was enthusiastic. Where's the sarcasm?"

"To Morrow," said Henry carefully, pronouncing it as two words.

"Good God," said Bentham blankly.

Rubin brought his fist down on the table, "Damn! William Morrow & Company," he said, "one of New York's larger publishing houses."

"Yes, sir," said Henry. "I looked it up in the telephone book, to make certain, immediately after Mr. Bentham's account of the phone conversation. It is at 105 Madison Avenue, about a mile from here."

Gonzalo said, "There you are, Mr. Bentham. Just tell your boss that it's with William Morrow & Company and that the author had it in to them first."

"And he can then fire me for stupidity. Which I deserve."

"Not a chance," said Gonzalo. "Don't tell him the literal truth. Tell him that as a result of your own clever detective work you uncovered the facts of the case through a confidential source you cannot reveal."

Henry said, "After all, sir, confidentiality is the policy of the Black Widowers."

'The Next Day' - Afterword

I had a mild coronary on May 18, 1977, and you'd think the world was coming to an end the way Janet carried on. In July of that year, for instance, I wrote "The Next Day," and just because we were having a heat wave with temperatures in excess of a hundred degrees, Janet wouldn't let me leave our air - conditioned apartment to take it down to the EQMM offices. I had to mail it in.

This was a horrible blow because whenever I submit a story to EQMM, I always spend some time chaffing with the beautiful Eleanor Sullivan, managing editor of the magazine. (By chaffing, of course, I mean chasing her around and around the desk - and Janet thought that wouldn't be good for my heart, either.)

Fortunately, Eleanor bore up under the horror of being deprived of my company and sent on the story to Fred anyway. He took it and it appeared in the May 1978 EQMM.

I sometimes wonder on how small an ambiguity it is possible to hang a Black Widower plot. This story may represent the record.


Tags: Isaac Asimov The Black Widowers Science Fiction
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