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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Writing · #1432761
Writer gets a new agent.
"Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."
Samuel Johnson




         Saw my agent the other day to pitch him my latest story.  I was excited.  Besides, 10 weeks had passed since his last call.  I half-jokingly surmised that either he had died or he thought I had.  But since I hadn't read his obituary -- or mine as far as I can recall -- I deduced that we were both still alive, if not altogether well.

         In any event, he hadn't returned my calls or called me with any assignments.  The first two weeks were fine by me, after all, I had only just finished the series of articles I had named: "AMERICA'S UNDER-EMPLOYED" all about men and women with PhD's flipping burgers and pumping gas.  A couple of weeks layoff wouldn't hurt me financially and it was most welcome physically.  And it allowed me some time to attempt to piecemeal my personal life (such as it was) back together after the latest in a never-ending line of romantic mis-adventures.

         At the end of the 4th week, and an unusually profligate spending binge I must admit, I was physically rested, nearly broke and sufficiently bored with my irksome private life to grab the first assignment offered.

         By the beginning of the seventh week, however, I began to be concerned.  Actually, worry would more clearly describe my state of mind.  Though I had been unemployed for longer periods earlier in my writing career, for the last three years I worked constantly.  Since I wrote the expose "THE MORAL RIGHT" on "moral-majority brainwashing techniques" which earned me the PULITZER PRIZE, I had been one of the hottest freelance investigative journalists in America, having my choice of the best assignments.  In fact, I often came up with the ideas that led to my next job.  In the six months after the "MORAL" piece was first run, I found it extremely difficult to keep up with the demands on my time.

         Now, however, it had been mostly a year of very slim pickings.  For some reason unbeknownst to me, assignments had dwindled down to a pitiful few.  In fact, I had inexplicably become "persona non grata" in more than one editor's office.  The right-wing media tilt placed my left-leaning exposes in limited demand.

         During the 10th week, I figured it was high time to investigate the problem for myself.

         As I enter Bennie's office, I am struck by the plushness of his everyday surroundings.  Stenciled in gold-flake on the opaque plate glass, and the electronically controlled, sliding door proclaimed for all to see in big, bold letters was: BENNIE KOFF & ASSOCIATES, LITERARY AGENTS and PUBLIC RELATIONS.  Of course, since the death of Bennie's partner of 30 years, Myron Cohen, five years ago, Bennie Koff and associates has been mostly a one man operation.

         Upon admittance, which is by voice print analysis, the doors whoosh open into an ornately designed and elaborately appointed reception area.  Soft beige thick-pile carpeting perfectly compliments the overstuffed white leather couches and matching chairs.  Hand-blown crystal tables strategically placed around the room hold freshly-cut flowers.  The center table offers a lazy-Susan of goodies including dried apricots, figs and an assortment of nuts and fresh fruits.  Only the best for Bennie.

         Just off the right of the entrance, sits the reception desk.  An attractive young lady, the receptionist/secretary, sits behind the desk performing admirably in her dual role.  I was later told that she herself wanted to be a writer.  A graduate of Sarah Lawrence with a degree in Russian Literature, she could certainly have done better than working for Bennie, notoriously a difficult person to work with much less for.  As a mentor, however, Bennie couldn't be beat.  He knew all the tricks of the trade; many he invented impromptu as the need arose.
         "Good morning.  May I help you?" she said, smiling brightly.  She had a glow that was the picture of good health.  Smartly dressed in a pale blue, two-piece outfit, her hair pulled back into a pony tail, only a hint of eyeliner, she looked like the perfect definition of a sophisticated young professional or businesswoman right out of the pages of Vogue or Cosmopolitan.

         "Yes.  A lovely morning isn't it.  I have an appointment with Bennie at 10:30."  As I said this, I leaned on the counter.  The smell of her perfume reminded me of freshly bloomed gardenias.

         "You're Scott Charles?" she queried, looking me over very thoroughly.

         I nodded.  "Yes."

         "You're early," she observed.

         "Better early than late, right?  But that's not to say I'm ever premature," I said as I leaned further over the desk.  Her scent was intoxicating.  "Is that PASSION FLOWER?" I suggested.

         She looked at me with raised eyebrows, a curious mixture of mild haughtiness and subtle intrigue; a man who can identify her scent piques her interest.  Her cat-like eyes searched my face for a sign.  "Yes it is."  She put down the appointment book. "Mr. Koff is expecting you.  He'll be right with you," she said simply.

         Now I knew -- from long personal experience -- that when Bennie said he'd be right with you he usually means sometime this week.  "Excuse me, Miss ..."

         "Charlotte Parsons."  She smiled demurely.  "But you can call me Mz. Parsons."

         I noticed for the first time how sharp, clear and full of confidence her eyes were.  I couldn't help smiling, thinking my luck was definitely looking up.  "Well, Charlotte, I've known Bennie for 15 years.  Not once have I known him to return a call the same week, much less the same day."

         "I'm sure you're right, but --"

         I cut her off in mid-sentence.  "It would be a great help to me if you would buzz him once again."  There I was, trying not to sound whiny or too demanding but firm enough to spurn her into action.
         "I'm sorry, Mr. Charles, but --"

         "Call me Scott," I interjected.

         "Okay, Scott," she said pointedly.  "Mr. Koff is in conference and unable to see you right at this moment.  He left explicit instructions not to let you, or anyone else, in until he tells me to."

         "He's avoiding me," I asserted.

         "I really would like to help," she shrugged, "but as you can see, my hands are tied."

         Everything from the tone of her voice to the look in her eyes and the defensive body language told me she was sincere.

         "If he won't see me now or let me know when he will, then I'll be forced to stay here until he decides he can't avoid me," I threatened.  Though I didn't relish camping out in Bennie's office, what choice did I have.  I had stories I wanted, no make that needed, marketed.  But I had no leads presently.  Bennie, being my agent, was the logical place to start.  Lately, however, he hadn't placed or sold a single story of the seven he had.  I was beginning to feel unappreciated and unloved like the only puppy - the runt of the litter -- left in the pet store on Christmas day.

         What could I do?  I was, for all intents and purposes, broke.  Talking to Bennie had recently become an economic imperative; if only to borrow enough to pay my back rent and see me through till my next sale which was sure to come any time.  I hoped.

         Charlotte sat behind her desk and, from time to time, rose to file away the few files that were on her otherwise immaculate desktop.  Glancing at me occasionally, she tried to avoid my intent gaze while basking in the attention.

         "I enjoy your writing very much.  Especially the short pieces in the EXPOSE series.  Have you written anything lately?" she asked.

         The fact that she was asking wasn't a good sign.  I was about to respond with some sarcastic reply just as the phone rang.

         "Excuse me. "  She answered, "Bennie Koff Agency."

         I assumed from her hushed voice that the call was of a very private, personal nature.  Being the gentleman that I am and, not wishing to impose upon or disturb her conversation, I slowly meandered down the long hallway towards Bennie's door. 
         As I approached his office, the sounds of screaming and shouting emanated from within.  Drawing nearer, I could distinguish 2 voices.  The first one was low, gravelly, interspersed with a distinct smoker's hack, Bennie's trademark.  The second was a man's voice, though it was quite high-pitched and slightly effeminate, squeaky and somewhat raspy as it came through the tinny sounding speakerphone.

         Both were talking a mile a minute, in very excited and agitated tones.  The breaking point was being rapidly reached.  The question was, which one of them would break first.  Though I didn't recognize the other voice, one thing was for certain -- for Bennie to be this mad, it must be something catastrophic and inevitably involves money.

         By now, I was standing with my ear to the door.  As I listened in I heard -

         "What do you mean, you can't use the article.  You yourself gave me the go ahead in getting Scott to do the piece on the Pentagon's plans for a limited nuclear war in Europe," Bennie said irately.  I could picture his red-face, having seen it so many times in the 15 years I'd known him.  "That story very nearly cost him his God-damned life, for Christ's sake.  And you want me to tell him your chicken-shit publisher refuses to run it?  I can't -- I won't do it!"

         "Believe me, Bennie, I know how you feel.  When I gave you the go ahead on that particular story, there was no way of knowing how much pressure Washington would bring down on us," came the excuse from the other voice.

         Though I didn't know who was on the other end of the line, I assumed it was the editor of FUTURE EARTH magazine.  That article had nearly cost me my life like Bennie said; therefore, I had a strong vested interest in seeing the story published as written.  Having heard enough to convince me there was no other way, I calmly opened Bennie's door and boldly walked right through.

                Bennie sat slouched over behind his desk speaking urgently into the speakerphone.  He strikes you immediately as a gruff but likable spark-plug of a man.

         "Morning, Bennie.  Your assistant was tied-up on the phone, so I decided to show myself in.  Hope you don't mind," I said facetiously.

         Bennie waves frantically at me to go away.  I'm obviously the last person he wants to see right now.  Cups his hand over the receiver and mouths for me "to go away, get out of here."

         I shook my head just as emphatically "no".  Crossed my arms defiantly over my chest and planted my feet deep into the thick pile of the plush Berber carpeting.

         Suddenly there was total and complete silence -- as if the person on the other end was no longer there, unable to respond or had ceased to exist.  I started just as suddenly to scream at the top of my lungs at the speakerphone.  "Hey Ashenfelcher -- do you have any idea what it took for me to get you that story?  It nearly cost me my God damn life.  And you loved it when you got it.  What the hell's happened since to change your mind?"

         I was so irate that Bennie said nothing.  He simply sat there with his hands laced atop his desk, muttering under his breath about "those damn publishers" and "those god damned writers."

         "Now you refuse to run it.  You chicken shit!  Maybe I should spread the word around that you renegged on a deal.  That you have refused to pay for an article you commissioned.  How long before all your writers start demanding up- front pay?" I railed.

         I could hear the sounds of his sputtering as he tried to think of a response.  "You wouldn't dare spread such malicious, unfounded, damnable rumors," Ashenfelcher shouted, his voice quavering and cracking with stress.

         "I would and I will if you don't at least pay me for that article which you commissioned.  We have a contract.  You signed it and, by God, you'll meet your obligation."  I was adamant.

                Bennie motioned for me to take a seat.

                Reluctantly, I did.

         "That's blackmail," came the high-pitched retort from the other end.

         "Call it what you will.  I call it payment for services rendered."  I waited for him to speak.

         "Seven-thousand, five hundred wasn't it?"  was all he could muster.

         "That's just like you, Ashenfelcher.  Try and pick a man's pocket as you cut off his nuts.  The figure was more like seventeen-thousand, five hundred.  I know what's going on over there."  I sat there with my arms crossed defensively across my chest.  On this I was completely intractable.

         "Consider this severance pay, Charles."

         "That's fine by me," I shouted.  "I wouldn't write another story for your lousy rag if my life depended on it!"

         But Ashenfelcher had already slammed down his end with a resounding echo.

         I couldn't help breathing a sigh of relief.  More then my need for the money, great as that might be, my ego needed the gratification.  After all, I'd nearly been shot and burned to death, not to mention being nearly devoured by an army of millions of red fire-ants, to get it.  The least the son-of-a-bitchin' publisher could do was to print the damn article or pay me in at least.

         I looked over at Bennie.  His head was turned away.  I could tell he was not in the least bit pleased with me.  Not pleased was a dreadful understatement.

         "What'd you do that for?" he asked without looking at me.  A deep sigh preceded a roiling cough that sounds like a lung is on the way out of his chest.

         "You're my agent," I shouted righteously indignant.

         "Right," he simply said.

         "You're supposed to be on my side."

         "And right again.  But I have to deal with Ashenfelcher everyday.  And dozens of other publishers just like him.  You're not my only client.  If you were, I couldn't afford all this."  He waved his hand like a game show model displaying the consolation prizes.  "There's nobody better than you, Scott.  I mean that and you know it.  But for the life of me, I just can't figure you out."

         "I'm not all that complicated or complex.  Treat me fairly and you won't have a problem with me.  It's that easy," I insisted.  "I'm fair and reasonable.  And you know that.  But this shit -- it just doesn't make sense.  Those were the best articles I've ever written.  You said that yourself --"

         "I know that but --" Bennie interjected but I wasn't listening.  I knew that once Bennie got control of the conversation I was sunk because he'd talk me to death with the most lavish praise while trying to assuage his own guilty conscience at capitulating with Ashenfelcher.  He had the knack for making a victim out to be the abuser.

         "Bennie, I count on you to fight those battles for me.  What good is an agent that caves-in to editors?"  I was hopping mad.  Bennie knew not to interrupt me when I was venting my creative frustrations.  And I was overflowing with creative frustrations at the moment.  "You've always been straight with me, Bennie.  Now's not the time to change and start equivocating."

         Bennie gave me his best "how could you think such a thing" hurt look.  He knew every trick in the book and then some when it came to manipulating people into his way of seeing things.  But he was also smart enough to know not to push it when it wasn't going to work.  Like right now.

         "What do you want from me, Scott?  I can't make them take a story -- any story -- any more than you can.  I'm an agent.  And as your agent I act as an intermediary between you the writer and Ashenfelcher the editor.  What he does or does not buy is entirely up to him."  Bennie could get real supercilious when he was on the defensive.  His superiority complex masked the wounded soul entombed inside.

         "Tell me something I don't already know," I growled.  Wounded soul or not, I didn't get my ass nearly shot off getting stories that Bennie couldn't sell.  Something more was going on than met the eye.  "Tell me what's really going on, Bennie.  I want it all."

         He looked at me direct.  No hint of avoidance.  Just a piercing gaze that sent a chill racing down my spine.  "I'm dying.  It's the big C.  The doctors give me six months, a year tops."  He draws a deep sigh as if telling me was a dreadfully difficult task that was easier to bare after completion.

         I sank back into the chair before his desk as if gravity had somehow become irresistible.  My head raced with all the primal images of death stored up in my subconscious.  Could it be true?  Bennie had always been so full of life, to me he seemed indestructible, as if he'd live forever.  Suddenly, I felt guilty for having gone ballistic on him earlier, and powerless to say or do anything that could possibly help the situation.  God, I felt awful.

         "I'm ah, I'm very sorry to hear that, Bennie?"  I was floored and couldn't hide it. "Are you sure?"  Perhaps this is a joke.  Bennie was famous for his practical jokes.  He'd go to any lengths to get his way, but I didn't think he'd go that far.

         "You think I'm kidding here?  Oh, I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking it's a joke.  Or you're probably thinking he's trying to manipulate me into feeling sorry for him so he can squirrel his way outta this mess."  Bennie shakes his head solemnly.  "Can't say that I'd think any different if I was you given what you know about me.  But I assure you, Scott, it's all too painfully true."

         In the blink of an eye, my own problems took on a new light.  Facing eviction, homelessness and destitution was one thing -- this, death and dying -- was altogether different and light-years more serious.  "Bennie ..." my voice faltered, "I don't know what to say."  I choked on the knot in my throat, fought back the tears that welled into my stinging eyes.  "I didn't have any idea."

         "I know that.  I didn't want to tell you, either.  But you deserve an explanation as to why I can't fight your battles anymore.  I owe you that much at least," he sighed deeply, the words coming hard and reluctantly.  "You have been a great writer, a good friend and my most difficult client, in that order" he said with a sad, half-smile.  The lost look on his face dispelled any shreds of doubt that lingered in my numbing mind.

         Before me sat a man who had just announced his own death sentence.  The graveness of the situation was not lost on me.

         "Six months to live.  That isn't long," he interjected mournfully.

         "Maybe they're wrong.  Perhaps you were mis-diagnosed.  It happens all the time.  Remember that article I wrote about medical mistakes?"  I was grasping at straws, hoping beyond hope for some medical miracle just beyond the near horizon.  My head sank to my chest as I fought a losing battle with the tears.

         "I wish they were.  But they're not.  I can feel it with every cough, sense it in every short breath of air I can force into my lungs."  He coughed, a roiling, hacking cough that scared even him.

         "Is there anything I can do?"  I knew the answer before I asked the question.

         I got to my feet feeling helpless.  All I could think to do was pore him a glass of water from the pitcher on his desk.  I offered it without a word.

                From the moistness of his eyes and the trembling of his hands as he drank from the glass, I could tell he was scared to death.

         "Thanks, Scott," Bennie said.

         "Does Miss Parsons know?" I wondered aloud.

         He averted his eyes.  Wiping the tears, he tried to cover up his distraught condition.  He leaned over the desk and keyed the intercom.  "Charlotte, could you come in for a moment."

         "Be right there, Bennie," was her response.

         Charlotte entered the room, shifting her focus to take us both in at the same time.  Bennie motioned her to the other chair.  "Please sit down."  He gazed down at his stubby hands then up at us.  "Scott has just been informed about my ... medical condition.  What he doesn't know is I've decided to take on a new associate.  And you, Charlotte, are that person."

         I watched her as she received the news.  She registered mild surprise.

         Bennie continued, "I plan on spending what little time left me in other ways.  Next month, I will retire and make Charlotte the sole partner."  He turns his gaze on her.  "Think you can handle Scott?"

         Charlotte gauged my reaction.  "It should prove quite challenging, but I think I'm up to it."

         I hid the fact I was flabbergasted behind a well-practiced smile.  In the space of less than an hour, I had learned an old and dear friend was terminally ill, my agent was quitting the business and I was being assigned to an inexperienced, fledgling agent who has aspirations to write herself.

         And yet, all I could think about was how attracted to her I was and just how personal was that call was earlier.  I kicked myself for not hanging out a little longer and eavesdropping in on her conversation.  Oh well, I guess there might be an opportunity to explore the issue further at some point in the not too distant future.  Seeing as she's going to be representing my work, I felt the urgent need to get to know her explicitly and vice versa.

         I know that I'll miss the constant bickering and endless give and take that constituted our relationship both professional and personal but, looking on the bright side, Miss Charlotte Parsons was a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold.  And I planned on "beholding" her at the earliest opportunity.


         Fortunately for Bennie and all those who knew and loved him, the end came mercifully swift, relatively pain free.  One night, several months later, he just lay down to sleep and never got up again.

         His memorial service was attended by all the media heavyweights who eulogized Bennie as a leader in the industry.  I remembered him as a close and very dear friend.  The closest thing I ever had to a real father.

         In closing the memorial service, I eulogized Bennie Koff with a quote from Eric Hofer: "'How frighteningly few are the persons whose death would spoil our appetite and make the world seem empty.'"

         "Bennie Koff was just such a person.  Bennie, my friend, you will be sorely missed."

                And that is how I lost a friend and got a new agent.

© Copyright 2008 thrumyeyes (thrumyeyes2004 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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