Literary agent Jean Collier can hardly believe her good fortune.
Excerpt from my novel, "The Right Thing"
With fifteen bestsellers to his credit, Brian Roman, the highly successful author of horror fiction, couldn’t believe his ears. Seated in the comfortable New York offices of Asgard Publishing, he turned to his agent.
“And you go along with this? What the hell’s the matter with you, Harry? Each time it’s a little more here. A little more there. I’ve been quiet about it long enough.”
Harry Misch, chief literary agent and owner of Misch Enterprises replied, “Brian. It’s really not about the money.”
“Am I getting this straight?” Brian said. “Not about the money? It’s always about the money with you two. So don’t give me this shit that it’s not about the money.”
“Brian, look.” Misch said. “Haven’t I always been square with you? Think about the early days. Wasn’t I there for you when you lived in the slush pile? Without agency help you’d have been like all the rest. Think about it. Come on. How many years have we been together? Nineteen? Twenty? Look—business is business—you know that.”
“I’ll tell you what I know, Harry,” Brian said. “I’m finished with Asgard.”
The other man in the room, Ira Rothstein, broke his silence. Always formal, Rothstein said, “Mr. Roman, I understand you have been—shall we say . . . disenchanted with your contract as of late. However, Asgard has no intention of breaking that contract. And there’s no reason why the renewal cannot proceed as spelled out by Mr. Misch.”
“My contract comes up for renewal in three months, Mr. Rothstein. Correct?”
“I do not intend to renew with Asgard,” Brian said.
“What!” Misch was on his feet. “Not renew? What the hell’s the matter with you? You’ve ridden Asgard since day one. Now it’s not good enough. Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m a writer, Harry. Just a simple slush pile writer, as you so succinctly put it. And as long as we’re all present and accounted for, here’s another news flash. I don’t intend to renew with you either, Harry. I’m done with you too. And now, gentlemen, as far as I’m concerned this meeting is over. I’ll show myself out. I know the way.”
When Brian Roman was gone, Harry Misch said, “Ira, do you think he means it this time?”
“I think he does.”
“Well, what do we do about it?”
“We give him what he wants, Harry. He’s hot and he knows it. Look at the resurgence on sales of his first five . . . six books. Third printings. Better not lose him, Harry. Talk to him. Tell him we agree. He’ll come around.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“He’s your best client, Harry. And he’s one of our top clients. Don’t lose him.”
In the parking garage, Brian walked up the ramp to his car. Before he put the key in the ignition, he felt the eyes. Looking left, he saw the red haired woman in the car next to him Frowning, she turned her head away, leaned forward just a bit, and then opened her door. Brian saw her hood jump up an inch when it popped off the latch.
Once outside her car, when the redhead stood to her full height, Brian thought she’s nearly as tall as I am, I’ll bet. Wow! She’s pretty damn good looking, too.
The woman still had an irritated look on her face when she tried to undo the hood latch in front of her car. Brian put the key in the ignition and started his car. He watched the woman a moment longer before putting the gearshift in reverse. She was still having trouble opening her hood.
Brian pushed the lever back to park. He hit the down button for the driver’s window. The woman looked up again.
Brian said, “Say—are you having trouble?”
The woman looked nervous. She looked away for a few seconds. When she made up her mind, she looked back at him and said, “My car won’t start.”
“Need some help?”
The woman forced a smile. “Oh, I’ll just have my husband pick me up. I’ll be fine, thanks.”
“Are you sure? Maybe I can get it going for you.”
“No. That’s quite all right. Car’s been acting up lately. I think it’s the battery.”
The woman was distracted. Two young men walked behind the woman’s car on their way up the ramp.
One of them said to the other, “Hey, homey check this out.”
The other didn’t reply.
The first one said, “ Hey baby, ya need a lift? I be glad to drive ya right on home!”
The woman said, “Thanks anyway but my brother’s here.”
Brian got out of the car. They hadn’t seen him.
The men scowled at Brian. Silent, they started walking again. The talker looked over his shoulder and said. “Do’n know what you missin baby, cuz I be drivin’ Miss Daisy!”
The woman pushed her hood back down.
Brian said, “I’ll wait with you until they’re gone, if you like.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“Why don’t you get your keys?” Brian said. “I have a cell. You can call your husband and I’ll wait with you until he gets here.”
The woman looked up the ramp. The two young men stood by their van, waiting. They returned her look. As Brian watched the men, one of them opened the van door to get in. One spoke to the other. The first one got back out of the van and stood, watching.
The redhead said, “Okay.”
When she got in, Brian said, “The name’s Brian. Tell you what. Under the circumstances there’s no way I’m going to leave you here. I don’t have to go anywhere in particular right now, so I’d be happy to drop you off.”
“Do you think they’ll do something to my car?”
“I don’t think it’s the car they want.”
“Well, I have to tell you I really appreciate this.”
“No problem. Where do you want to go, Mrs. . . .?”
“Collier. But please. Call me Jean.”
“Okay. Jean it is. I’m Brian.”
“Yes. You already told me. Brian.”
They exchanged smiles.
“If you could drop me off at the Belmont Hotel I’d really appreciate it, if it isn’t too much trouble. I’m afraid I don’t know my way around New York all that well. I can call my husband when I get back to the room.”
“I know the Belmont,” Brian said. The Belmont was a top of the line hotel. “We’ll have you there in no time at all.”
Traffic was heavy. Brian kept stealing looks at the redhead. She was beautiful.
“So, Jean, what brings you to the city?”
“Business, actually. I was here to see a publisher. I’m a book agent. I represent authors.”
Traffic was stopped. “You’re kidding, right? You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t believe this. You’re a literary agent?”
“What’s so unbelievable about that? There must be hundreds of agencies in New York City. My agency’s located in Vineland. Downstate New Jersey.”
“What agency do you work for?”
“Mine. I own the Jean Collier Literary Agency. Jean Collier at your service.”
Traffic started to move again. The Belmont was only a few blocks ahead. This was the last he’d see of the redhead. Brian didn’t want this to stop here. He wanted to see Mrs. Jean Collier again. All of the sudden he realized that he wanted very much to see Mrs. Jean Collier again. He decided to do something about it.
He was too late. She beat him to it when she said, “Brian, I owe you one. The hotel has a nice bar. The food’s even pretty good there. Could the lady buy the gentleman a drink? Don’t worry about parking. The Belmont has valet service.”
Brian returned her smile. “Mrs. Collier, I think I’d like that. Will your husband be joining us?”
“My husband? Well . . . no . . . actually . . . actually I have a little confession to make. I’m not really married. I just said that because I didn’t know . . .”
Not married? Brian thought. Well how about that?
He said, “These days one can’t be too careful.”
Her smile was dazzling. “I knew you’d understand.”
At the hotel bar, after the drinks were served, Brian said. “I’m intrigued that you own a literary service. I’ve always been interested in that sort of thing.”
“Really? Well, it was something I always wanted to do,” Jean said. “I tried my hand at writing, but I’m afraid I wasn’t too successful at that.”
“What did you write?”
“Oh, short stories, mostly. When I finished college I tried to get them published, but it didn’t happen. Without an agent, it was nigh impossible.”
“So . . . did you get an agent?”
“Actually it was then that I decided to become an agent. I have a few clients that’ve done all right—nothing big, mind you. Enough to pay the bills.”
“Oh yeah. I know all about that. Trust me.”
Jean returned Brian’s smile and said, “Why are we talking so much about me? Tell me about you.”
“Not much to tell. Like you, I tried my hand at writing.”
“You did? Really?”
“Yeah. But when I tried to find an agent I couldn’t find one to save my soul.”
“That’s too bad. It’s tough. I know all about rejections. So what did you write?”
“Novels. Horror stories.”
“You did? I love horror stories! My agency represents all types of fiction, horror included. Well? What did you do then, after you couldn’t find an agent, I mean?”
“I tried harder. Eventually I did find an agent. A good one. I had a few manuscripts. He liked one of them and offered me a contract. I’d say it was about six months later that we landed a publishing contract. I’ve kept him on since day one. Like I said, he’s good.”
“No kidding?” Her eyes narrowed. “What’s the name of your book?”
“Behind the Stairs. It was my third novel, actually.”
“You’re Brian Roman?”
“At your service.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Would you like to see some identification, officer? Perhaps my driver’s license? Social Security card?”
“You are Brian Roman. I’ll be damned.”
“Well, you know how we writers are about recognition.” Brian raised his glass in salute. “Thanks.”
“I can’t believe this! I love your books. I’ve read every one of them.”
“That’s flattering. I’d like to read some of your short stories.”
“Sure you would.”
Brian ordered another round. He was really starting to like this woman. For a moment his thoughts turned to earlier in the day and his meeting with Ira and Harry. Undoubtedly they were going to try and negotiate, perhaps even give him the percentage he was asking for. But why not break with them? Why renew the contracts? Who was the guy doing the writing, anyway? And then? And then Lady Luck drops a bombshell redhead right into the mix just when old Brian needs an agent. Providence. That’s what it must be. Divine providence.
Brian asked, “Jean—how long did you plan to stay in New York?”
“I had planned on driving back to Jersey tomorrow. But now I’m going to have to get my damn car fixed. That reminds me. I have to call the auto club. Why?”
“Well . . . I was going to ask you on a date.”
“Yeah, for real.”
Across the table, the redhead studied him. When he met her eye, she looked away.
“Oh, Brian. I don’t know.”
“I thought so.”
“You thought so, what?” she said.
“That there’s someone in your life. How could there not be?”
She laughed. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that someone as beautiful as you is already spoken for. Should have known, I guess.”
“Thank you for the compliment. There’s nobody right now. I date occasionally, but nothing serious. What about you?”
“To tell the truth, my last relationship was a disaster. The one before that wasn’t much better.”
“I can relate to that,” she said.
Brian stirred his cocktail. “You never answered my question.”
“About going on a date. I have to confess I have an ulterior motive for asking to see you again.”
“Interesting. What might that be?”
“I’m looking for an agent.”
“Not funny. Very serious.”
“Oh come on, Brian. Would you really expect me to believe that? You just told me that you’ve been with the same agent since day one. This sounds like more of an attempt at seduction.”
“Strictly above board, honest. Just before I met you I’d been to a meeting with my agent and publisher. I told them I quit, or I fired them, or whatever the right term is. I told them that I didn’t intend to renew my contracts with them. Both expire inside of three months.”
“You really want to go with a different publisher? You’re serious?”
“Publisher and agent. Dead serious.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything yet. Naturally I need to check on your agency—client list, publishing contacts, organizational affiliations, and so on. Strictly business. If everything looks like it should, then maybe we can work together. I need a change. Should have done something about it a long time ago. Besides, I have to admit I’m really liking the view from here.”
“I still don’t know what to say.”
“Will you go out with me tomorrow night? Say . . . seven o’clock?”
Their eyes locked. “I’d love to.”
“Good. I’ll pick you up here. That okay?”
“That’d be fine. Umm . . . the hotel bar at seven?”
“Hotel bar is fine.”
Leaving the restaurant, they walked together to the elevators in the lobby.
“I’m going to go up, then, if you’ll excuse me. It’s been a long day. I usually don’t drink this much. I have to admit I’m overwhelmed by all of this. Brian—it’s really been a pleasure to meet you. And I think you’ll find that my agency will fit your needs, if that’s the way you decide to go.”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow, okay?” Brian offered his hand.
The elevator doors opened. Jean took his hand. “Okay. Till tomorrow then.”
When the cell phone rang the man in the passenger’s side of the van answered.
“This is Jean.”
“How’d it go?”
“He took it hook, line and sinker.”
“No shit?” The man looked at the driver and said, “He bit.”
The driver grinned.
Terry said, “So you want me to bring the car then?”
“Yeah. Give it an hour or so and have valet park it.”
“Cool. Easiest five hundred bucks I ever made.”
“Make it a thousand each.”
“Jeannie, you mean it? Ten large each?”
“There’s going to be a lot more where that came from. Hey, what are cousin’s for?”
“You’re a doll, Jeannie. A real doll. Uncle Roy brought you up right. My ma always said so. What you want me to do with the keys?”
“Put ‘em under the mat. I have another set. I’ll drop off the money by Marie. And thanks, guys. You even scared me!”
“Talk to ya later, Jeannie. And thanks again, cuz—’preciate it.”