Time for business.
National Press Books gave me a desk. I sifted through their Edward Howard publishing contract, perused a media correspondence file (letters from news organizations to Howard requesting an interview) and read the manuscript.
At noon, Sultan and I broke for lunch at Melio's in Spring Valley.
"Wouldn't it be great if Howard came back to the U.S.?" said Sultan. "Think of the publicity!"
Working on it, I felt like saying.
Soon after, on December 16, I had my first encounter with Edward Lee Howard. I touch-keyed his Moscow telephone number and left a message on his answering machine. An hour he returned my call.
We exchanged greetings; Howard sounded serious and sober. I asked how much material he'd already written.
About a hundred pages.
How much more did he intend to write?"
"Another hundred pages," said Howard.
"Sounds light, Ed. Even 300 pages would convey to only 220 book pages."
"Hmmmm. I guess I could write more,” said Howard. “I wrote my story a couple of years ago. A lot has happened since then."
He said he had imminent plans for a Christmas vacation in Siberia (his own code for Switzerland).
"I'll be back on the 27th. That's when I intend to start writing."
"National Press wants to publish this book in May or June, which means we need a finished manuscript by early March. Do you think you can do it?"
"The contract says March 15th," said Howard. "I intend to comply with it."
"Don't worry about spelling or grammar," I said. "Just let it roll, like you're at a bar telling your story over a couple of beers."
Howard chuckled. He could relate to that; it probably made him thirsty.
A few weeks later Howard's computer disk arrived, labeled in Howard's hand: ELH Book WP5.0.
Maybe future evidence against him.
I slipped the disk it into my laptop and read Howard's files, about 100 pages as promised. It was rough, very rough. Not what the proposal had promised. Howard needed more than an editor. He needed a ghostwriter.
Although they had a signed contract with Howard, the guys at National Press had thus far withheld his advance payment, not least because they had no cash flow.
Everybody was conning everybody else.
I shot Howard a fax: Your material has big problems. I'm planning to be in Monaco on business in February. Can we meet?