The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 20

 “You’re of an age to need them. Do you wear glasses to read?”

 “No,” I said. “I could probably use them, but I can get by without them. As long as the light’s not too dim.”

 “Then I don’t suppose you’re a customer of ours. If you don’t need reading glasses, you probably don’t buy large-print editions.”

 “Not yet.”

 “You’re a patient man,” she said. “Letting me traipse down Memory Lane and putting up with my impertinent questions. I asked because I was thinking of the firm’s early days. When I met Howard Waddell he was drawing con-tracts and selling subsidiary rights at Newbold Brothers.

 They were a small trade house, acquired a few years ago by Macmillan, but still thriving when Howard went out on his own. And do you know what propelled him?”


 “Presbyopia. He was squinting at fine print, holding the paper at arm’s length, avoiding paperbacks because the print was too small. A week after he got his first pair of reading glasses he started looking for office space. Within a month he’d signed a lease here and given notice at New-bold. I was an assistant in the production department there, on the phone every day arguing with printers while I dreamed about becoming the next Maxwell Perkins and fanning some young spark into the next literary bonfire. ‘Ellie,’ he said, ‘the world is filling up with old farts with weak eyes and there’s nothing out there for them to read. Once you get past thirty-odd editions of the Bible, the only large-type books are The Power of Positive Thinking and The Book of Mormon. If this isn’t an opportunity I don’t know what one is. Why don’t you come work for me? You’ll never get to meet a real writer or wear out a blue pencil, and I don’t figure we’ll ever get rich, but I bet we have fun.’ ”

 “And you went to work for him.”

 “Without a second thought. What did I have to lose? And we did have fun, and somewhere along the way we got rich. Not at first, God knows. We both worked twelve-hour days. Howard gave up his apartment and slept on a couch here, claiming that saved him rent and bus fare and an hour’s com-muting time every day. He brought in a hot plate and a tiny refrigerator and we ate at our desks. For years our only mar-ket was libraries and we were selling to very few of them. But we stayed with it, and our business grew.

 “And we fell in love, of course. And it was genuinely ro-mantic, because each of us quietly assumed what we felt was unrequited, and so we were in love for a long time be-fore we let on. Then we made up for lost time, except that I don’t think there is any such thing, do you?”

 I thought of the drinking years, the burned-out days, the blacked-out nights. I remembered Freddie Fender’s song, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” But were they?

 “No,” I said. “I don’t think any time is wasted.”

 “But how we rushed to make up for it! For a week he spent every night at my apartment. I lived in two little rooms on East End Avenue. Five flights up, and no elevator, and Howard was in his mid-forties by then, and in no condition to appreciate climbing five flights of stairs. He didn’t enjoy taking two buses to work in the morning, either. After a week he said, ‘Ellie, this is ridiculous. I’ve just spoken with a real estate agent. There’s a perfectly suitable apartment available on Gramercy Park. Two bedrooms, sunken living room, key to the park. We can walk to work. Look at it, will you? I’ll trust your judgment. If it looks all right to you, tell him we’ll take it.’ And, almost as if it went without saying, he added, ‘We’ll get married. In fact we can do that right away, whether you like the apartment or not.’ ”

 “Just like that.”

 “Just like that. We changed my name to Mrs. Howard Waddell, and we changed the firm’s name to Waddell & Yount, and we had thirty years. We never moved the offices, we just took Morrie Kelton’s space and added on another ad-joining suite when it became available. This area is fashion-able now, all sorts of publishers are moving in. And we’re still here, and I’m still on Gramercy Park. The apartment’s too big for me, all by myself, but then the office is too small, so I suppose it averages out. I am sorry, Mr. Scudder. You should have steered me back on track.”

 “I was interested.”

 “Then I’ll withdraw my apology. Glenn Holtzmann, Glenn Holtzmann. He sent over his résumé at the sugges-tion of a friend of his at the firm we used on the rare occa-sions when we required outside counsel. Sullivan, Bienstock, Rowan and Hayes, they had offices in the Em-pire State Building, but I don’t think they exist anymore as a firm. It’s not important, I don’t even know the name of Glenn’s friend there, and I believe he must have been some-body very junior.

 “Glenn was unemployed at the time. He grew up in west-ern Pennsylvania, in a town called Roaring Spring. I believe the closest town of any size is Altoona. He attended Penn State University. And no, I didn’t have all of this committed to memory. I checked the files after I spoke to you on the phone.”

 “I was beginning to wonder.”

 “After college he worked for several years in Altoona. An uncle of his had an insurance agency and Glenn worked for him. Then his mother died—his father was already dead— and he took the insurance money and the proceeds from the sale of the house and moved to New York, where he attended New York Law School. When your eye hits that on a résumé, you tend to read it as ‘New York University Law School,’ but there’s a rather considerable difference. Still, he did well there, and he passed the bar exam on his first try, and moved up to White Plains and went to work for a small firm there. He said the New York firms weren’t hiring, which I take it to mean they weren’t hiring boys with Penn State and New York Law on their résumés.”

 But he hadn’t liked living and working in Westchester County, and before too long he hooked on with a publishing house in the city, working in their legal department. He’d been let go as part of the wholesale sacking of the depart-ment that occurred when the house was gobbled up by a Dutch conglomerate in a hostile takeover. Then Howard Waddell had died, and Glenn had sent over his résumé, and there had been no need to interview anyone else.

 “At first,” she said, “there wasn’t much for him to do. The vast majority of our transactions are with American trade publishers with whom we’ve done business for years. Our contracts are straightforward and clear-cut. As pure reprint-ers, we don’t have to secure permissions or concern our-selves about possible libel. We don’t commission original works, so we don’t have to sue to recover advances when au-thors fail to deliver manuscripts. You see, Glenn was being hired to handle what had amounted to only a small portion of Howard’s work.

 “This didn’t mean we could have done without him. How can I best explain?” She frowned, hunting for an analogy. “My secretary has a typewriter,” she said. “Now of course she also has a computer, which she uses for almost every-thing. But every now and then there’s a form that has to be filled out, and you can’t do that on a computer. It uses its own paper, you see, so when you want to type a few lines on an already existing piece of paper, you need a typewriter. Frequently days go by without that typewriter’s being used, but that doesn’t mean we could get along without it.”

 “I think I heard it earlier.”

 “No, I know what you heard. My secretary’s typewriter is a demure little electronic model that’s very nearly as silent as her computer. What you heard was an old Underwood that sounds like the city room in The Front Page. Our for-eign-rights person insists on using it and nothing else for all correspondence. It’s a hideous old machine, too, with its keys out of alignment and the o and e filled in with ink. She produces these disgraceful letters full of corrections and strikeovers and FAXes them all over the world. And this is a twenty-eight-year-old woman, mind you, presumably a part of the computer generation.” She sighed. “I don’t mean to imply there was anything old-fashioned about Glenn, be-cause there wasn’t. But like the typewriter he was indispen-sable when we needed him, but that was only now and then.”

 “What did he do with the rest of his time?”

 “He spent a good share of it reading at his desk. His area was history and world affairs, and we took on several books on the basis of his recommendations. And he pitched in in other areas as well.” Her eyes narrowed. “When Glenn started here,” she said, “I thought he might become a good deal more than our in-house counsel. As a matter of fact, I saw him as a possible successor.”


 “Remember, my husband had started out with a legal background. And I thought Glenn might use his position as a platform from which to reach out into all aspects of the busi-ness. I’m by no means ready to retire, but in a few years I might be, especially if I had the right sort of person standing in the wings. I never came out and said this to Glenn, but it ought to have been implicit. His was a job with a future.”

 “But he didn’t exploit it.”

 “No. One of my husband’s final projects was our large-print book club. The club start-up called for a lot of legal work, and it got most of Glenn’s attention at the beginning. The master plan called for us to develop additional clubs for readers with specialized interests—mysteries, science fic-tion, cookbooks. It was an area of the business with real growth potential, and all Glenn had to do was make it his baby, moving out of the legal area and expanding the whole operation. But he didn’t do it, and six or eight months after he started here, I realized that he was evidently content to remain a small frog in our little pond. At first I thought he was just biding his time here, that he’d jump to another firm when he got the chance, probably a corporate law firm. Then time passed and I saw I was wrong, that he was quite happy where he was. I decided he wasn’t terribly ambitious.”

 “Were you disappointed?”

 “I suppose I must have been. I’d envisioned him as an-other Howard Waddell, and he was a far cry from that. And I had thought my own retirement might come about sooner rather than later. As things stand I expect to hang on to the reins for five more years, and I think I know who’ll take them from me when the time comes.”

 “Your foreign-rights person,” I said.

 “That’s exactly right! And by then her typing won’t stand in her way, because she’ll have a secretary of her own. Now tell me how you knew that.”

 “Just a lucky guess.”

 “Nonsense. You weren’t guessing. You spoke with ab-solute assurance. How on earth did you know?”

 “Something in your voice when you were talking about her. And a look in your eye.”

 “Nothing more concrete than that?”


 “Remarkable. She doesn’t know what I have planned for her, and neither does anyone else. You must be very good at what you do, Mr. Scudder. Is that your whole job, talking to people and listening to what they say? And watching their faces while they say it?”

 “That’s most of it,” I said. “It’s the part I like the best.” We talked a little about my work, and then I asked about Glenn Holtzmann’s salary.

 “He got annual raises,” she said, “but he was still earning considerably less than the large corporate law firms pay to associates fresh out of law school. Of course they get sev-enty or eighty hours a week out of their people, and I’ve told you how little we demanded of Glenn. He earned enough to live decently. He was single when he started here, and then when he did marry he was clever enough to pick someone with money. Have I said something wrong?”

 “Did he tell you his wife was rich?”

 “Perhaps not in so many words, but that was certainly the impression I got.”

 “She was an artist,” I said, “supporting herself as a free-lance illustrator. She lived in a run-down tenement on the Lower East Side.”

 “That’s extraordinary.”

 “He met her here,” I went on. “She came to show samples of her work to your art director, and he spotted her, and I gather it was quite romantic, though in a very different way from your own courtship.”

 “If courtship is even the right word for it,” she said. “But please go on. This is fascinating.”

 “He swept her off her feet. He proposed a month after they met.”

 “I had the impression they kept company longer than that.”

 “You never met his wife?”

 “No. I know she was from Denver, and the wedding took place there. No one from the office attended. I gathered that it was a family affair.”

 “She’s from a suburb of Minneapolis,” I said, “but I get the impression she cut her ties with her family when she moved to New York. They were married at City Hall and honeymooned in Bermuda.”

 “I don’t suppose her father built ski resorts in Vail and Aspen.”

 “I can’t recall that she told me anything about her father, but no, I don’t think he did anything of the sort. When they got back from the honeymoon Glenn surprised her with a new apartment. He made the down payment with money left over from his parents’ estate.”

 “My impression was that he’d had barely enough to get him through law school.”

 “Maybe he saved his lunch money.”

 “The apartment—”

 “A small two-bedroom condo with a spectacular view. I’d say a minimum of a quarter of a million dollars.”

 “It’s a new building, isn’t it? The builders arrange financ-ing with as little as ten percent down. He would only have needed twenty-five thousand dollars. But wouldn’t he have had trouble with the payments?”

 The payments, I explained, had been a cinch; he’d bought the property outright for cash.

 She stared at me. “Where did he get the money?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “Of course the first thing I have to think is that he might have embezzled it. A quarter of a million dollars? I’m tempted to say it’s impossible, but everybody always says that. I’ve heard of two embezzlements in publishing in the past year or so. One of them ran into six figures. Both were very quickly hushed up, and both involved cocaine, which seems to foster that sort of behavior. It creates a compelling economic motive and undermines character and judgment at the same time. Did Glenn use cocaine?”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies