Following our meeting in St. Moritz, I had faxed Biggleswurm requesting fifty written pages prior to an advance.
About a month later, when next we spoke, he sounded upset.
“Your proposal is not realistic, “ he whined. “My material is in total disorder, not finished, out of context, in German and French, this is how I write. You keep setting new conditions. Either you’re ready to go or not. I came all the way to America. It cost me two thousand dollars.”
I let him milk it for all it was worth—and it wasn’t worth much.
“It makes no sense anymore,” Biggleswurm grumbled. “Any publisher will take this book.”
“I sense a tad of frustration here,” I said.
“I have contacts all around the world! My name is good! I’m doing a lot of things in my life!” Biggleswurm worked himself into frenzy, trying to goad me. But I could not be goaded; I had no reason to argue with him. “If you go on like this, I lose my enthusiasm! I work on an intellectual level!”
“Of course you do,” I said. “How have you been?”
“I hurt my hand this morning,” Biggleswurm whimpered. “It’s swollen. That’s why I’m in a bad mood.”
“You poor fellow,” I said. “I had no idea you were unhappy until this moment. I’ve been expecting to receive a signed contract any day, along with fifty pages of material. And it didn’t arrive. So it finally occurred to me, maybe something’s wrong. I thought you would like my proposal that you provide fifty pages.”
“No, no—I can’t give you.”
I phoned the countess. “If my relationship with Biggleswurm is to continue, I need to give him an advance.”
“How much money?” she asked.
“Five thousand dollars. Then he’s married to me. We’ll never have to pay him more because he’ll never write a book.”
“Okay, give him the advance.” She paused. “But isn’t he suspicious of you?”
“Don’t underestimate the power of illusion,” I said. “If someone called Biggleswurm this minute and told him he was being rused he’d think they were nuts. He wants to believe I am a publisher who will make him famous.”
Biggleswurm sent a signed contract and I cut him a check. When I phoned him he yakked about how busy he was doing this and that.
“When will you find time to write the book?” I chided.
“I’m getting into the whole thinking,” said Biggleswurm.
“What are you doing for Christmas?” I asked, mindful that his son would visit during the holidays.
“I stay home for Christmas. Then I leave the first of January. South somewhere. Maybe Bali."
“A vacation by yourself?”
“Yaa—I need a vacation. Then I return January 20th to collect my wife. If she wants to come.”
“Rent a house somewhere in the Caribbean.”
In his mind, Biggleswurm was already spending my five grand.
Lara phoned and told me she had explained to her son my role in their lives. “He wants to talk to you.”
“Sure. Put him on.”
After fifteen months of looking after his best interests, the time had come for me to speak with the boy, now aged ten.
“Hello?” said a boy’s voice, meek, unsure. “I don’t want to visit my father over New Year.”
“Are you worried about anything in particular?”
“Yes, it’s horrible. My father yells and argues with me.”
“Is there anything you especially fear?” I asked.
“That he will keep me there and not let me go. He’s done it before.”
“Listen,” I said. “I don’t want you to worry about that. I want you to know that I will know where you are at all times. If your father tries to keep you there, or if he takes you somewhere else, I’ll know—and I’ll come get you and take you home, okay?”
“And you know not to tell your father that we’ve spoken or that I know your mother?”
“Good. I’ll probably call while you’re there. You may even answer the phone, but you’ve got to pretend you don’t know me, right?”
“Okay, let me speak with your mother again.”
Lara got on. “He’s really frightened. Me, too. He wants to meet you. He has questions.”
When I told Clair George about this development, he shook his head. “Never trust kids with secrets,” he said.