A less than svelte literary agent gets a bit more than she bargained for when visited by the man in black.
Excerpt from my third novel, "The Right Thing"
The obese woman waddled out of Chung Lee’s Chinese-American Restaurant on 5th and Magnolia carrying a bag the size they’d give you when you said “paper, not plastic.” The thirty steps to her car caused plenty of heavy breathing by the time she opened the back door to the big Lincoln sedan. On the back seat, she deposited the bag with a full four quarts of Chung Lee’s finest carryout cuisine.
The woman opened the driver’s door and maneuvered her girth behind the wheel. Although it was only a ten-block drive to the office over on Pacific and East Broadway, Mrs. Ellington forced herself to wait, her mouth watering from the aroma of the fried rice, egg rolls and subgum.
When the elevator door opened on the third floor, Mrs. Ellington retained her death grip on the bag when she put the key in the lock. The script lettering on the glass door informed prospective clients that these were the offices of The Marcia Ellington Literary Agency.
Entering, Mrs. Ellington frowned at the empty receptionist’s chair, thinking could she possibly know how much it pisses me off that she called in again? That’s it! I’m going to have to let her go! So adios, Mrs. Smiling Senora Buenas Dias Torres! And where the hell is everybody ELSE today?
Everyone was out of the office. That was a rarity, even for a nice warm spring day in Long Beach. But then, the business was thriving—over ninety mostly dependable clients and a few excellent prospects. There were five full time agents and Leo, although these days husband Leo preferred to spend the majority of his time at the country club.
With clients like Joel Macintosh, who cared anymore what Leo did? Mr. Joel Macintosh, who wrote like a man possessed. Mr. Joel Macintosh, who sold hundreds of thousands of books with regularity, his fans waiting impatiently for the next blockbuster novel to hit the bookstores and supermarket checkout lanes. And Joel Macintosh wasn’t the only one, not by a long shot. There were a few other pretty good earners as well.
Unused to having to chase for her own lunch, the crisis was over, and the food was here, in hand. Mrs. Ellington entered her office, set the bag on her desk, and produced a double liter of diet soda from the small strategically placed refrigerator. She reached into the bag and opened the plastic wrap over the napkin and plastic knife, fork and spoon. Tossing the chopsticks in the circular file, she freed the first quart container from the bag, slid the wire carrier out of the way, and opened the carton of Chung Lee’s Special Fried Rice. Mrs. Ellington set to it with a vengeance, grunting and moaning in pure bliss.
Because she’d left the door to the inner office open Mrs. Ellington saw the man get off the elevator and walk toward the outer office door. He stood outside for only a tick on the clock, opened the door, and entered the receptionist’s area. Wearing a long dark overcoat, an oversized wide-brimmed hat hid his features. He gazed at the empty chair at the desk with the nameplate Maria Torres. Mrs. Ellington shoveled one last spoonful into her mouth, and reluctantly closed the container. Dinner would have to wait.
Noticing the movement, the man saw her and relaxed.
Navigating around her desk, Mrs. Ellington padded to the doorway.
“May I help you, sir?”
The tall man removed his hat, revealing a completely bald head, deep-set eyes and heavy gray-black eyebrows.
With a proper upper-crust English accent, the man said, “I would like to speak to Ms. Marcia Ellington, madam. My name is William Bagnold.”
“Did you have an appointment, sir?”
“Yes. I spoke to Ms. Torres only a week ago.”
Why didn’t she say anything to me? That’s the second time she’s pulled this! Damn her!
“I see. Well then, Mr. Bagnold, is there something I can do for you? I’m Mrs. Ellington.” Like a tiny larvae, a solitary piece of rice remained on her chin.
The man offered his hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Ellington. And yes, perhaps there is something you can do for me. I represent Two Ravens Publishing Company, London. I have an American client whom I’d like to discuss with you.”
Mrs. Ellington’s memory chimed for a moment. It seemed that somewhere she’d heard of the publisher. She took the man’s hand, and released it. It was like putting her hand in a freezer.
He reached in his breast pocket and withdrew a business card.
“My card, madam.”
Mrs. Ellington studied the card. Gilt edged and expensive, it was smoke-dark gray with raised borders and pearl-white lettering. A highlighted black bird decorated either side of the script. The three lines read:
Mr. William Bagnold
Two Ravens Publishing
“My goodness, Mr. Bagnold! You’re certainly a long way from home. Please. Won’t you come into my office? Here, let me take your overcoat.”
When her guest was seated, Mrs. Ellington removed the food bag from her desk and set it on the floor beside the refrigerator. Smiling now, she faced the Englishman.
His suit looks like something that belongs in a museum. Weird duck. I wonder what he wants?
“So, Mr. Bagnold. You mentioned an American client?”
“Yes, madam, I did. You see, our editors received a manuscript from an American client, oh, I’d say about a year ago. They were thoroughly pleased with her work and we contacted her in regard to a publishing contract. She agreed to our request on the condition that she is represented by an American literary agency. The Marcia Ellington Literary Agency, to be exact. I’m under the impression that she is already a client of yours?”
“That’s entirely possible, Mr. Bagnold,” Mrs. Ellington gushed. “I’ll need to know her name and the title of her manuscript, of course.”
“Her name is Mrs. Elsbeth Malone. From your State of Wisconsin. The County of Racine, I believe. The manuscript is titled The Circle of Light.”
“Elsbeth Malone. The Circle of Light. Mr. Bagnold, forgive me if I don’t immediately recognize the name. We service many clients, you understand. Can you give me a few moments while I check our database? I’m sure I’ll come up with it. We keep records of all correspondence whether we accept or reject an author’s work.”
“I’m at your disposal, Mrs. Ellington.”
Donning her half-glasses, Marcia Ellington reached for the mouse and peered at the monitor. She looked up for a moment at Mr. Bagnold. His eyes rested on the boxes and file folders piled on the table against the far wall.
“Those are submissions that show promise, passed on by my agents. Naturally, I reserve final judgement. If I didn’t, I’d be out of business.”
Silent, the man across the desk returned his gaze to Mrs. Ellington. When their eyes locked, she felt a sharp pain in her stomach. Indigestion she thought. Must be the fried rice. Why is he looking at me like that?
The pain intensified. God it hurts. It feels like something’s growing inside of me.
When she looked back at the computer screen, the pain ebbed, but the feeling didn’t go away entirely. Uneasy, Mrs. Ellington wiped her brow with the napkin.
“Is something troubling you, madam? May I be of assistance?”
“No . . . no, I’ll be fine. Just a stomachache. I’ll be all right. Thank you. Okay. Let’s see here. Ah . . . Malone. Elsbeth Malone . . . file . . . representing current authors . . . ah . . . no.”
Mrs. Ellington looked up at him. Her smile turned to a grimace when the iron-hot pain again shot through her abdomen. Fighting the agony, she said, “Mrs. Malone is not on our active list. Just a few more checks.”
Oh God I feel like I have to shit. It hurts so bad. So BAD!
Mercifully, the cramp faded until finally, it was gone. Again Mrs. Ellington mopped her brow. Breathing was a chore now, the racing heartbeat throbbing at her temples.
“Here it is,” she said, breathing hard. “Malone, Elsbeth. Query and sample chapters from The Circle of Light.” Mrs. Ellington regained her composure enough to say, “I’m afraid I had to reject her work. It just didn’t conform to the direction we were taking at the time.”
In a few seconds Mrs. Ellington’s stress disappeared as if nothing had happened. Suddenly, relieved, she was hungry again.
“I see,” William Bagnold said. “Yet Mrs. Malone insists that your agency deal with Two Ravens. I can assure you that for her work we’re willing to offer Mrs. Malone a substantial advance. Before I go into details, Mrs. Malone prefers that you speak to her personally. Do you have the correct contact information in your files?”
“Yes, we do. Ah . . . would you like me to call her right now?”
“ I phoned her earlier today. I’m afraid she will not be taking calls until after 9PM this evening. That would be 7PM your time, Mrs. Ellington.
“How may I contact you, sir?”
“I am staying at the Merriweather Hotel. I can be reached there.”
“Excellent! Mr. Bagnold, as soon as Mrs. Malone and I reach an understanding I’ll contact you first thing.”
“That would be splendid, Mrs. Ellington.” Bagnold stood. “And now, if I may take your leave, I’ll await your call this evening. Please. Don’t get up. I can find my own way out.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bagnold.”
The searing pain erupted again when their eyes met. His words echoed as if spoken in a large, empty room. “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing for my client. Won’t you, Mrs. Ellington?”
She gasped, “I will, Mr. Bagnold. Good day, sir,”
The man nodded, satisfied. He took his coat and hat from the rack and showed himself out.
When the elevator door closed, Marcia Ellington bolted for the bathroom. The rice came out in a torrent of vomit before she was halfway to the door.
Mrs. Ellington stared at the phone. After cleaning the mess, exhausted, she’d gone back to her desk.
After an hour and a half, Marcia Ellington drowsed awake. Although her throat was sore, the stomach cramps and nausea were gone. Remembering her meeting with the Englishman, she reached for the phone, and then put the receiver back in the cradle. The aroma of Chinese food overcame her senses, and she took a carton from the bag on the floor. Although her eyes were glued to the phone, it only took a few moments before Mrs. Marcia Ellington was spooning food into her mouth with the precision of a midshipman.
“The party that you’re trying to reach cannot come to the phone right now. Please leave your name, number and message and your call will be returned. Thank you.”
Computer voice. Damn.
I’ll try calling her again later. Elsbeth Malone. Not too often a publisher comes to an agent. But it does happen. A substantial advance, he said. Twenty percent agency commission for foreign contracts. Either way I’m really not jumping through hoops to talk to a certain Mr. Bagnold again. Son of a bitch really gave me the willies. What was that he said about me doing the right thing? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Weird bastard! And where in the hell is everybody today?
Beside an empty two-liter diet soda bottle, four empty oily cartons littered the desk. Another call to Wisconsin resulted in another recorded message, and again the fat woman hung up the phone. Something on the desk caught her eye. The slip of paper from the fortune cookie read Enjoy the Water.
This time when it happened she put her hands over her ears. It didn’t stop the Englishman’s words, ringing in her ears with each wheezing breath.
You will do the right thing, won’t you?
You will do the right thing, won’t you?
On the first floor the real estate broker gave the fat literary agent woman plenty of space to walk past him, for mingling with the smell of Chinese food she exuded the unmistakable odor of vomit. She tottered across the foyer toward the glass double-entrance doors. Once outside, she moved with a purpose, intent on crossing the street. A car horn blasted to the screech of brakes and skidding tires.
The man stuck his head out the driver’s window. “Ya dumb ass! Jesus Christ I almost hit ya! Trying to get yourself killed, ya dipshit?”
Oblivious to the driver, the fat woman walked to her car, opened the door, and got inside. Slowly, carefully, she pulled out into traffic. From the front window, the real estate man watched until her car turned left from East Broadway onto Pacific Avenue.
Manny Lopez was proud of his 1964 Chevy Impala Super Sport. Lowered to only three inches from the ground, with the latest aviation hydraulics, the candy-apple red classic lowrider was a thing of beauty. Perfect inside and out, they said it was the finest ’64 out of North Hollywood, and who was going to argue with that? Hadn’t Manny’s ride made the feature photo shoot for the latest issue of Southern California Lowrider?
Pablo Hernandez, riding shotgun, leaned over the seat and gestured to the man in back.
“Hey, C.C., you gonna Bogart the whole thing, man? Gimme some of that shit.”
Carlos Cano took one more hit and passed the bomber blunt up to Pablo and said, “Pablito man, you scored some fine herb this time, man. Es muy bueno. Good thing we came down to Long Beach.”
With the Chevy’s big mill purring, Manny drove past Shoreline Park onto Queensway Bridge. From here one could see the steamship Queen Mary parked where the L.A. River emptied into the bay.
“Hey man, what’s this shit?” Manny said.
Four cars ahead, about a hundred feet from the top of the bridge, a big Lincoln was stalled.
“Chingara!” Manny said. “I can’t turn around either. Shit!”
Pablo said, “Hey man, then I guess we’ll just have to sit here and finish this joint.”
This struck C.C. as probably the funniest thing he’d ever heard, and his mirth was infectious. Within seconds the three amigos were screeching with laughter.
In the haze of smoke, Manny said, “Hey man, check this out! Look!”
An obese woman had gotten out of the Lincoln and made her way over to the bridge railing. It looked like she was trying to raise her foot and get her knee up to the handrail.
“What she doing man?” C.C. said, leaning forward from the back seat to get a better look.
Pablo said, “Bitch is trying to get her fat ass over the railing, looks like.”
“She trying to jump, you think?” Manny said.
“Wait a minute. What’s the gringo doing?”
When the passenger side door opened on the pickup truck just behind the Lincoln, an elderly white-haired man got out and went to where the fat woman struggled to climb the rail. The man spoke to the woman for a moment. The three amigos were speechless when the woman took a roundhouse swing with one of her ham-sized arms and connected with the old man’s head. The force of her blow dropped the man like a stone. The woman used the old man as a stepping stool, hooked her massive thigh over the railing, and rolled the remainder of her huge body over the top. A second later she was gone.
At Shoreline Park, Lucy spoke to the boy and girl. The video camera was a birthday gift from Sam and she’d finally figured out how to use it. Taking the kids to the park was a good reason to try it out.
“Okay, Kevin, don’t just stand there when I start the video. Say something!”
“What should I say?” the boy whined.
“Just say something to Tammy. Ready?”
The kids panned for the video camera, getting into it, and Lucy Montgomery kept them centered in the lens. She wasn’t distracted when the object in the distance moved from the top of the viewer to the bottom. It wasn’t until she reviewed the film, with her kids hanging on her to take a look, that she realized that the object wasn’t an object at all. It was a person. Lucy zoomed in.
Holy shit she thought. Somebody just fell off the Queensway Bridge!
Several people nearby heard Lucy shout, “Somebody fell off the bridge! I got it on video!”
Someone called, “I saw it too!”
The crowd grew larger near the water’s edge, the people watching to see if anyone was swimming to shore. No one was in the water.
A voice said, “There ain’t nobody in the water, lady.”
Lucy said, “Well there sure as hell is. I got it on video.”
“You do not.”
“Do too. Here. Take a look.”
Several people strained to see the movie clip.
“Sure as shit. Looks like a woman. Where in the hell is she?”
“Anybody see her out there?”
“I don’t see nothing.”
“There’s a current. She musta went under.”
“TV Six brings you a live report from downtown Long Beach. The Queensway Bridge. Lets go now to Matt Hazleton, TV Six’s reporter on the scene. What’s happening down there, Matt?”
Thanks, Jerry. What TV Six has learned is that in an apparent suicide attempt a woman jumped from the Queensway Bridge. An eyewitness has provided TV Six with a dramatic video showing some actual footage. Long Beach Police have issued a statement that the identity of the woman will be withheld pending further investigation. TV six will keep our viewers posted should there be any new developments. All we can say at this time is that police teams will continue to search the bay area for the missing woman.”
The eyewitness reports and the registration in the Lincoln’s glove compartment, combined with the video footage, convinced authorities of the woman’s identity. After four days, with no body produced, the intensive search was called off. By request of the woman’s family, her name continued to be withheld. Finally, exactly one week after the woman jumped from the Queensway Bridge, TV Six provided additional information on the six o’clock evening news.
“A body recovered in the water at the Terminal Island piers this afternoon was identified as that of Mrs. Marcia Ellington. Mrs. Ellington’s death is believed to have been a suicide. Mrs. Ellington, well known in local as well as national literary circles, was a highly regarded literary agent, representing such notable authors as Joel Macintosh and Henrietta Walker. Mrs. Ellington was born in San Bernardino, California, and was a longtime resident of Long Beach.”