Literary Agent Warren Radell meets the man from hell
Excerpt from my novel, "The Right Thing"
On the fifteenth floor of the Herbert March building, a well-satisfied Warren Radell Jr. put the phone back on the desk unit. Another referral meant another commission. The client list was stable, and growing by a few more authors each year. Top authors. The cream of the crop, the old man used to say. After Warren Sr. died, he’d left the agency in excellent shape. Because of the superior staff, the business was nearly self-sufficient.
From the 2nd and 59th Street Manhattan office of Warren Radell and Associates LLC, it was a quick hop across the Borough Bridge and only about a thirty-mile commute to the house on Oyster Bay. What a stroke of luck to get it! And such a deal! Helen had fallen in love with the house and now spent most of her time furnishing the huge, bay front home. Built in 1926, the house wasn’t new by any stretch, but the remodeling was nearly completed. The kids loved it too, especially with the addition of the indoor swimming pool. Because of the inheritance, even in death it seemed that Warren Radell Sr. looked over the fortunes of the Radell family.
Warren Radell leaned back in his chair, interlocked his fingers behind his head, and looked out the floor-to-ceiling window of his father’s office, Junior’s office now. The guardian at the gate, Miss Perkins, kept vigil in the outer office. The older office staff members called her Jane Hathaway, or more recently, “Plain Jane”, because of her remarkable resemblance to the actress. The younger ones in the office didn’t have a clue. Who watched ‘60’s era TV anymore?
Helen, or Mrs. Radell if you please, liked it just fine that way. Miss Perkins’s predecessor had certainly been a beauty, and in Helen’s estimation had warmed up just a bit too much to Warren Jr. Things changed the afternoon Helen unexpectedly came to the office. That evening, suspecting her husband, Helen informed Warren Jr. that the “Playboy Bunny” had to go.
And thus Miss Perkins became Warren’s personal secretary. Warren was careful, believing that he’d never given Helen cause to mistrust him. Still, he’d kept his ties with the Playboy Bunny, and the less Helen knew about that, the better. Murray was the only one who knew about the “arrangement”, and Warren trusted his friend implicitly.
Warren’s cell phone snapped him from his reverie. The caller I.D. code read Mr. Farnsworth, just in case Helen happened to look through the phone numbers. She would never do that, of course, but one had to take precautions. As the old man had been so fond of saying, if one didn’t plan for all contingencies, one was asking for trouble.
Warren said, “Hello, Mr. Farnsworth.”
Bunny’s voice came over the air. That low, sexy voice that went so well with the package. “Very funny, Warren. Are you coming over tonight like you promised?”
“I . . . ah . . . I don’t think I’ll be able to make it, Christal. I’d like to—I really would but tonight I have to go home. I can’t avoid it. Besides, I think Helen’s beginning to suspect that something’s going on. She has people coming over to see the house and if I’m not there she’s going to be . . .”
“Helen has people coming over to the house? You prick! Warren you promised me! If you think I’m just going to sit here and wait for when it’s convenient for you to come over and screw me you can kiss my ass goodbye! You bastard!”
“Christal? Christal, are you there?”
She hung up. Shit!
When Warren called back, Christal refused to answer.
Pick up, dammit!
The desk phone rang. “Mr. Radell?”
Not now. Damn!
“Yes, what is it, Miss Perkins?”
“Mr. Radell, do you still want to look over these submissions we spoke about earlier?”
“I suppose so, Miss Perkins. Would you bring them in, please?”
“Right away, sir.”
No sense calling Bunny back until she cools off. To hell with it. I won’t call her.
Miss Perkins entered with a stack of folders.
“Just set them on my desk here.”
Warren watched after the tall, gangly, flat-chested Miss Perkins until she closed the door. What was it Murray’d said about her?
“Hey Warren—looks like someone beat her pretty good with the ugly stick, huh? She’s uglier than three bags of assholes! You traded in Bunny for this? What the hell’s the matter with you. Trying to scare away clients?”
But Warren had to admit it. Although Miss Perkins wasn’t about to win any beauty contests, she did a bang-up job, and was the most efficient secretary he’d ever worked with. And it kept the peace at home, especially since Bunny had left the office at Helen’s insistence. And what about Helen? Helen was no slouch, no sir, not at all. Helen was beautiful, fit, refined, and a good mother to the two kids. Married how long now? Was it ten years already?
In the beginning, when the employment agency had sent Bunny, Warren thought for sure someone had made a mistake. It was too good to be true . This kind of thing only happened in the movies. But Bunny was for real. And it took less than a week before he’d found his way to her small apartment and into her bedroom. Bunny didn’t mind at all. Actually she encouraged it. With the looks to get damn near any man she wanted, she wanted Warren. It wasn’t too long before the demands began. At first it was only the dates and dinners. Next came the clothes and jewelry. And the car. Then the biggest gift of all, the new loft apartment over by Central Park. Thank the almighty that the old man kept private accounts, and that he’d been so generous. Did Helen suspect? Nah. But one look at Bunny had been enough for Helen. Months had gone by since Bunny’s last day at Warren Radell and Associates LLC.
Warren didn’t care. Warren was smitten.
And Bunny? These days Bunny didn’t have to work, and Bunny liked that most of all. She’d taken care of the man at the employment agency, and the guy had been as good as his promise, handing her the secretarial job at the Warren Radell agency. But now it wasn’t quite enough. Bunny decided that the greatest gift her lover could give her was the title of Mrs. Warren Radell. It was time to let Warren know about it. He certainly didn’t want Helen to find out about the arrangement, did he?
Furious, Christal flipped the cell phone closed.
So. He’s going home, is he? Well, that’s just peachy, isn’t it? Now what am I supposed to do tonight?
Christal thought about it for only a few seconds. She flipped the phone open and punched in the numbers. This number wasn’t in the memory.
The voice on the other end said, “Hello?”
“Hello . . . Murray?”
“Yeah, this is Murray. Who’s this?”
“That’s it? Hi? Something else you want to say to me, Murray?”
“There might be. Are you alone?”
“Alone and lonely. Want to do something about it?”
“What about Warren?”
“Warren’s going home to wifey tonight to entertain friends at the new house. I guess he doesn’t need me. How about you, Murray? Can you think of anything you need?”
“Christal . . . I don’t know. You know I want to. I just feel like a . . .”
“Got a conscience all the sudden? It’s not like you haven’t stirred these coals before, Murray. No matter. I have lots of numbers. Let’s pretend I didn’t call, okay? I’ll talk to you later, bye!”
“Oh—still there, Murray?”
“Yeah. I’m still here. Don’t go.”
“I’ll be there.”
“You’re a darling. What time?”
“I can be there by eight.”
“But I won’t be here at eight. Make it seven, Murray.”
“Seven? I’m not going to be able to . . .”
“Like I said, Murray. Seven.”
“Seven. Okay. Seven. I’ll be there. You’ll be there. Right?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Hit the buzzer three times.”
Christal flipped the phone closed.
She thought so you don’t want me, Warren? Mister Prick? No problem. You deserve it. Murray’s like a dog in heat. Not only that, he’s a better lover than you are. Gee Warren, makes me wonder how you’d handle that particular information! Just a shame Murray doesn’t have the money you have. But I won’t hold that against him. At least not tonight.
Warren reached for the top file from the stack that Miss Perkins had put on his desk. These were the better submissions, cleared by the younger staff. The older agents worked well enough on their own because they knew what the agency was looking for. The younger ones…well…Warren liked to go over the proposals and weed out the bulk, hoping there might just be a diamond or two in the rough. The old man always had a good eye for a bestseller, and the son, Warren thought with some satisfaction, wasn’t too shabby at picking winners himself. And Warren did love to read.
He opened the first file and scanned the query letter. Reading about halfway down the page, Warren sighed, closed the file folder, picked it up and dropped it in the oversized Rubbermaid recycle tub beside the desk. Opening the second proposal, he made it through the first few pages.
Under his breath he said, “You got to be kidding me.” This folder too he closed and tossed in the recycle. It wasn’t long before the container was full. Out of the stack that made it to his desk, only one promising manuscript made the grade. Warren was actually enjoying the story, which held his attention well into the second chapter, when the desk phone rang.
“I’m working, Miss Perkins. This better be good.”
“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Radell. There’s a man here to see you. A Mr. Bagnold.”
“I didn’t have any appointments this afternoon. Or did I?”
“No sir, you didn’t.”
“Then would you explain to me why Mr. Bagnold is here?”
“He’s represents Two Ravens Publishing. He asked to speak to you.” Sounding as if she had her hand over her mouth she added, “He’s a walk in.”
“Two Ravens? Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“From London, sir. England.”
“I see. Two Ravens. I kind of remember the name—I just can’t seem to place it. Well, you might as well send him in.”
“Right away, sir.”
Miss Perkins showed the man in. “Mr. Radell, may I present Mr. William Bagnold of Two Ravens Publishing?”
Warren extended his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bagnold.”
“Likewise, I’m sure,” the man said, putting his black slouch hat in his left hand, and offering his right.
Warren thought this guy’s hand is like ice. Feels like he’s freezing.
“May I take your wrap, sir?” Miss Perkins asked.
“No, thank you, madam. I’m fine.”
No wonder Warren thought.
Miss Perkins caught Warren’s eye. His look said leave us alone and close the door behind you.
The man was dressed in a black topcoat. His thick, unruly, ink-black hair matched his beard and eyebrows. He appeared to be in his late thirties, his dark attentive eyes set well back in his head.
Something about the man’s features drew Warren’s attention. For just for a moment, Warren felt as though he’d lost his balance. Suddenly disoriented and confused, he would have sworn it was the middle of the night. Willing himself to tear his eyes away from the man’s scrutiny, Warren looked toward the manuscript on the desk, breaking the spell.
How long was I staring at the guy?
“Forgive me, Mr. Bagnold. Please. Won’t you have a seat?”
“I will, thank you Mr. Radell.”
“Now. Miss Perkins told me you’re with Two Ravens Publishing? London?”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“Well, Mr. Bagnold, I can tell you that our agency deals with many publishing houses, primarily in the United States, although we have dealt with a few English houses in the past. Is there something we can do for you, sir?”
“Yes, Mr. Radell, there is. I represent a client, an American client. Although Two Ravens has agreed to handle her work, she prefers to deal with an American agency. Naturally we offered to handle all negotiations and contingencies for our client, but she is adamant that she deals with an agency here. To quote our client, your agency is “tops on the list.”
Was that supposed to be a smile? Warren wondered. Looks more like the guy is in pain.
“I see. I’m assuming that your client hasn’t dealt with our agency in the past?”
“Of that I’m unaware,” Bagnold said. “She may have contacted you. I was under the impression that she had.”
“Yes, well, many writers contact us. Our agented proposals keep us busy full-time. Can you tell me your client’s name, sir?”
“Yes, of course. Mrs. Elsbeth Malone.”
“Elsbeth Malone. I must admit I’m unfamiliar with the name.” Warren stood. “Could you excuse me for just a moment, Mr. Bagnold?”
Warren went to the outer office.
“Miss Perkins, can you see if we have anything on an author named Mrs. Elsbeth Malone?”
“Let me check, sir. It will only take a minute.”
Miss Perkins scanned the database. No one named Malone, male or female.
“She’s not on file, sir.”
“Didn’t think so. Thank you, Miss Perkins. Probably a reject.”
“No record of her in our database, Mr. Bagnold,” Warren said when he returned to his desk. “But we’ll be happy to represent her work if it’s already been approved by a main line publisher. This is rare for us, but not unprecedented. I hope Mrs. Malone understands the agency does charge a twenty percent commission on all out of country business. Standard contract. Twenty percent on advance and royalties.”
“Yes, Mrs. Malone is aware of the fact. I tried to explain this to her, but as I said, she was adamant. Even under the circumstances I’m sure my client will be delighted,” Mr. Bagnold said. “May I take the liberty of having her contact you?”
“Please do so, Mr. Bagnold. We’ll be waiting for her call. Better yet, I can have Miss Perkins put in a call to Mrs. Malone right now, if you’d like. Should we get the ball rolling right away, do you think?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible at the present time, Mr. Radell. She’ll contact you when she returns from her vacation abroad. I’d venture it will be in about two weeks. Oh, yes—as to the advance against royalties. Mrs. Malone has agreed to accept Two Ravens offer of two hundred fifty thousand dollars. Here’s my card.”
Two hundred fifty thousand advance? Warren thought. No catch? I don’t believe this.
“Excellent, Mr. Bagnold. I’ll handle her account myself. Is there anything else we can do for you today?”
“No, Mr. Radell. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“The pleasure was all mine, sir.” Warren said. The handshake again was ice cold.
Warren held the door open for the man. The man stopped and turned. When Warren met his eye the timeless, disoriented feeling returned.
As the man put on his hat he said, “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing for Mrs. Malone. You will, won’t you Mr. Radell?”
“I will, Mr. Bagnold. And thank you again. Good day to you, sir.”
Miss Perkins watched the Englishman until he was gone. When she turned to speak to Mr. Radell, he stared as if in a trance.
“Sir?” Miss Perkins asked. “Is something the matter?”
Radell did not answer.
Then, speaking to himself, Radell whispered, “Why did he say—what did he mean by . . .”
Radell tried to clear his head. Finally, he said, “Such a strange man. He makes me feel as though I . . .”
“Sir? Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Ah, yes, Miss Perkins. Everything’s fine.”
“You just seemed so . . . I mean . . . like you were daydreaming or something.”
“No. I’m okay. Really.”
Miss Perkins thought oh no you’re not. I don’t know what happened in there but you’re far from okay.
Radell said, “Tell you what, Rosemary. Look up Mrs. Elsbeth Malone and see if she’s written anything—a novel, a short story, magazine article . . . anything. Something’s not right here, and I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Mrs. Elsbeth Malone. Right away, sir.”
Rosemary? Miss Perkins thought. That’s the first time he’s ever called me by my first name.
Radell’s demeanor abruptly changed. “What is it now?”
Miss Perkins thought my God I’ve never seen him look like that before. He looks like . . . like he hates me!
“It’s nothing, sir. Excuse me.”
“I’m not to be disturbed.”
Warren sat at his desk, the mantra ringing in his head. I will do the right thing.
When the phone rang, he didn’t hear it, nor did he answer the knock at his door. The door opened a sliver, then all the way. Warren sat, elbows on the desk, palms covering his eyes.
“Mr. Radell? Mr. Radell? Are you all right?”
Warren looked up. “I’m fine, Miss Perkins. What is it?”
“About Mrs. Elsbeth Malone? There’s nothing, sir. If she’s been published anywhere I’ve not been able to find it.”
“Thank you, Rosemary. Could you bring me some aspirin?”
“Yes sir. Right away, sir.”
Miss Perkins retrieved four aspirins from her desk. When she went to the water cooler, she heard Mr. Radell’s office door open. He walked across the office toward the exit door.
“Mr. Radell? Do you want . . . ?”
He acts like he doesn’t hear me!
Ignoring her, he walked out. By the time Miss Perkins decided to follow, paper cup in hand, the elevator doors had closed.
The turbaned man looked at the fare in the rearview mirror.
The fare didn’t answer. The taxi driver repeated it louder.
“Take me to a hardware store.”
“Hard ware store sir? Oh, I understand now sir. A hardware store. Yes sir. ”
The tires broke traction when the driver pulled out into traffic.
When the taxi stopped, double-parked, the fare said, “Wait for me. I’ll be right out.”
“I wait for you sir.”
The fare emerged from the store with a bag. He got back into the taxi.
“Address, sir?” the cabbie asked.
Warren gave him the apartment building address.
Only minutes later the cabbie said, “We are here, sir.”
Over the seat, Warren handed the driver a handful of bills.
Incredulous, the cabbie turned halfway around on the seat, the unspoken question on his lips. It felt as though the fare was looking right through him.
The tip was over ten times the largest tip he’d ever received.
Thank you sir! Thank you very very much, sir.”
The cabbie raced around the car and opened the door for the man.
“Good day to you, sir! Good day to you.”
The fare ignored him and made his way to the apartment building entrance.
Warren didn’t need to use the buzzer. He had a key.
Naked, Christal lay on the bed on her stomach, her feet on the floor as far apart as she could get them. With her arms and head on the pillow, she watched the reflection from the mirrored closet doors. Murray stood behind her, his hands gripping her hips. Christal was a screamer, a grunter. That was just fine with Murray.
Each time Murray thrusted; Christal uttered her pleasure, keeping time.
“Unnh . . . Murray . . . harder . . . with-your . . . big . . . Jewish . . . wha . . . Murray! What was that?”
When she tried to stand, Murray pushed her back on the bed.
“What are you doing?” He said. “Don’t stop now!”
She tried to keep her voice down.
“Murray! You asshole! Listen! Somebody came in! Didn’t you hear it? It must be Warren! He wasn’t supposed to be here. Oh my God get dressed! Shit what are we gonna do? Shit!”
Christal looked at Murray’s tortured expression. He’d been ready to explode at any moment and now he looked like a scared boy, almost ridiculous, standing there with his fast shrinking prick in his hand.
At any other time Christal would have laughed in his face. Not this time.
She said, “Get dressed. Hurry up. I’ll try and get him in the bathroom. When I do, get the hell out of here!”
“Okay. Okay. Just don’t tell him.”
“Tell him? What the hell—do you think I’m crazy? Just get the hell out of here when you’re sure we’re in the bathroom. Maybe we can get away with it. Keep quiet. Don’t move. I’ll keep him from coming in here.”
In her bra and panties, robe and slippers, Christal cracked open the bedroom door. Warren was nowhere in sight. She closed the bedroom door behind her and went to the kitchen. She glanced at the bottom of the bathroom door. The light was on inside. Warren must be in there. It had to be Warren. No one else had a key to the apartment. Christal went back to the bedroom.
“He’s in the bathroom. Get the fuck out of here. Quick!”
Murray didn’t need any prompting. In a few seconds, he was gone.
Christal went back to the bathroom door. She heard water running.
“Warren? Honey? Are you in there?”
For a sick moment Christal thought Helen Radell was on the other side of the door.
“Leave me alone.”
Warren’s voice. Thank God.
“Warren. Is something wrong?”
“I said leave me alone. Go away.”
The water shut off. A few moments later Christal thought she heard a fizzing noise.
“Suit yourself, Warren. I thought you were going home tonight. What happened?”
This time, Warren didn’t answer.
What was that gurgling noise?
“Warren honey? You hungry? Want me to make something to eat?”
Christal heard the water running again.
When she tried the door, it was locked. She said, “Okay. Be an asshole.”
Christal went back to the bedroom and made the bed. Poor Murray. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and grinned. Yeah, poor Murray. Oh well. Life’s a bitch, isn’t it, Murray?
She went to the living room, sat in one of the lounges, picked up the remote and turned on the TV. A woman sang off key and three panel members rolled their eyes at the pathetic display. Engrossed in the program, the minutes ticked by. When the program ended Christal looked at the clock.
He’s been in there a half hour. I didn’t hear the shower going. Did I? No.
She went to the bathroom door.
“Warren! What the hell you doing in there? C’mon. Hurry up. I gotta pee.”
She shook the door handle.
“Warren you’re really starting to piss me off! Come on now. Open up.”
Did he know that Murray was here? Did he know what was going on? He couldn’t have. I heard him come in. He would have come straight to the bedroom.
“Warren you’re starting to scare me. Please come out.”
Christal tried the door again, and this time put her shoulder into it and pushed. She pushed again, harder. The door seemed to give a little. Remembering now, she went to the kitchen drawer and got a post card, and folded it in half. While leaning on the door she slid the post card by the latch in the doorjamb. The door slid open until it came to the end of the chain. Christal could see the edge of the tub through the three-inch opening. Warren must be by the toilet. She went to the bedroom and returned with a hand mirror. Holding the mirror inside the door, Christal saw why Warren wasn’t answering.
The neighbor lady across the hall called 911 when she heard the screaming woman. “My God, please hurry,” she told the dispatcher, “it sounds like there’s somebody getting raped over there!”
By the time Christal herself was able to get it together enough to call 911, the police were already in the building, on the way up. The neighbor woman waited in the hallway. She met the police and pointed at Christal’s door.
When the cops knocked, Christal let them in.
“Oh my God oh my God what did he do to himself oh God he’s in there he’s laying in there on the floor he locked the door he locked the DOOR!”
The woman clutched a mirror. One cop helped her to the living room couch and the other took the mirror from her hand. He used the mirror to look beyond the chained bathroom door.
“We’d better call the EMT’s. There’s a guy on the bathroom floor. He doesn’t look too good. I don’t see any movement. The chain’s on the door inside—I’m gonna break it in.”
This was followed by a crash.
“Jesus Christ. Hey Frank. Better come here and take a look.”
The man in the bathroom was well beyond any help. The cop returned to the living room.
“You want to tell me what happened? Miss . . . ?”
“Massie. Christal Massie.” The words came out in a torrent. “I don’t know what happened. All I know is that as soon as Warren came home he went in the bathroom, that’s all. When he didn’t come out I waited. Then I got scared and tried to get in. I got the door open but it was chained from the inside. I couldn’t see in so I got a mirror. I saw his face. Then I think I called 911. Oh my God I saw his face! I saw his FACE! What did he DO?”
“Okay, try and calm down. The EMT’s will be here in a minute. Easy, now. Okay?”
“Yeah. I think I’ll be all right. I’m okay.”
“Miss Massie, can you tell me Warren’s last name?”
“Radell, Warren Radell.”
“No. My . . . friend. My boyfriend.”
The cop sized up the situation. He’d seen enough stiffs in his time. There was no doubt about the guy in the bathroom. Suicide. The broad, a real looker, was off the hook. No way she could have killed him and latched the bathroom door from the inside. And the guy in the bathroom was as dead as he was ever going to get.
The cop said, “Miss Massie. Your boyfriend is dead. Is there someone else that should know about this?”
Christal looked at the floor.
“Yes. There is. Helen Radell.”
“No. His wife. Helen’s his wife.”
The EMT’s arrived and the cop waved them to the bathroom. The body lay on the floor, already stiff, the death mask in a silent scream. On the small table beside the sink, the half-empty plastic bottle of Maxell’s Drain Crystals sat beside an open tub of Rode-Kill rat poison. Traces of both the drain cleaner and rat poison would later be found in the big coolie cup that lay beside the body. The victim had sustained severe chemical burns around the mouth area, the body stiff in rigor mortis from the massive dose of strychnine in the rat poison. The EMT’s, hardened with seeing death on a daily basis, were shaken by the way this man had taken his own life.
The receipt in the plastic bag advertising Habib’s Hardware led police to the store where Habib himself told them, “Yes, officer, the picture you have there, that is the man. He bought the items on the receipt. It was just this afternoon.”