Continuing, just for fun, with bits of an unfinished novel about why George Chiari left Tibet, and what he hoped to accomplish.
“You keep talking about my life being in danger. Why should it be?”
“Because of what I’ve been doing since I’ve been back.”
“You keep saying that, too. But it doesn’t answer the question. Why?”
“I need you to do some snooping for me.”
“For the paper, too, I hope?”
“I don’t know. Probably not. Not for a long time, anyway, even at best.”
“Dangerous to whom?”
“Depends on what you find out. If it’s what I think it is, dangerous to you, for finding it. You’re going to have to go after this very carefully, believe me.”
I studied him. “All right, I’ll accept that. And let’s say I dig something up, what are you going to do with it?”
“I’m going to do my best to make it less dangerous, but that’s going to make it more dangerous first.”
“In other words, you aren’t going to tell me.”
“Not yet. Believe me, it’s better this way.”
“So where do I start?”
“I want you to find out whatever you can about a man named Carlos Santiago.”
“Who is a Colombian by birth, I think. Or maybe half Colombian, half American. Mid-thirties, somewhere. Supposed to be a staff editor as Dolores Publications in New York.”
“Do I get to find out what your interest in him is?”
“A while ago, John A. Adams sent a manuscript to Dolores Publications. In my cover letter, John Adams said that he was the designated spokesman for the group responsible for compiling and writing the manuscript, and that he would be getting in touch with them after a time but that, if they chose to, they could respond directly to H.P. Craft’s P.O. Box as a return address. You understand, I didn’t want them looking for George Chiari. It was also very important that it look like I – Adams – was one of a group, rather than operating free-lance.”
“Safer for you that way,” I said.
“Absolutely. And I figured it wouldn’t be much of a problem to convince them that it was a group they were dealing with, rather than an individual. The manuscript has `committee’ written all over it, in more ways than one.”
“Later. I’m not brushing you off – and you are remarkably quick to sense when there’s something important I’m not saying – but right now we don’t have time. I’ve got a lot to tell you.
I accepted that, and waited for him.
“You remember the rigmarole I set up around the Craft post office box. I wanted them to think that we thought – Adams and his group thought – that it was important that they not find us, and that in any case Craft was expendable, whoever he was. So I got a letter from them in my p.o. box: They liked the manuscript, and would Mr. Adams come to New York and talk to them about possible publication. They even promised financial reimbursement for my expenses.”
“Pretty good,” I said. I couldn’t help thinking of the very different reaction Joe Panella had gotten when he tried to peddle his own manuscript a couple of years previously.
“Too good, if they were on the up and up. I was pretty sure they weren’t, though. I didn’t come up with their name out of the blue.”
“You’re saying they read the manuscript and something in it threatened them?”
“It tipped them off that there was a group out there – I sure God hope they think I’m a group – that knows more than it should, and could be a major nuisance to them, yes. In a sense, Adams was serving notice that his group wants to be cut in on the action, or else. You understand.”
“Provisionally. So why didn’t they just snatch you up when you picked up the letter?”
“Don’t think I didn’t worry about just that. But I figured they wouldn’t do something irretrievable any sooner than they had to, and I was counting on them assuming that I was just a figurehead.” A pause. “Besides, one Tuesday I paid a kid to go in and clean out my box, pick up a cab, and carry anything he found to North Philadelphia station. I met him there, paid him the second half of what I had promised him, and took off fast. Sure enough, there was my invitation, and as far as I can tell, they hadn’t yet seen me and hadn’t any description of me.”
“They don’t, unless they paid off your kid and he gave them the word.”
A shrug. “Maybe, but I doubt it — and no, I can’t tell you right now what makes me think so. So anyway, I wrote that I would meet them at 11 a.m. in their office the following Monday. Which I did. __”
“After I gave my name to the receptionist at the desk, they made me sit, alone, for some 30 minutes in the empty waiting room. I had arrived (by careful calculation) three minutes early. I had expected to be made to wait five minutes, perhaps ten. Not 30. Nonetheless, I worked on the assumption that I was being observed, and not necessarily merely by the receptionist with the frosted manner, and veddy, veddy British accent.
“While I was waiting, I was careful not to browse through the expensive magazines stacked on the coffee table. Neither did I try to engage the receptionist in conversation. Nor did I fidget, nor obviously refrain from fidgeting. `If you fidget,’ Gurdjieff said, `you show the world you are idiot.’ I needed to show them I was not an idiot. I merely waited.
“Dolores Publications had a very expensive-looking waiting room, nicely filled with five very expensive-looking arm-chairs, occupied, at the moment, by no one but me. The expensive lady sat at an equally expensive-looking desk of polished cherrywood. And the room was otherwise empty. No one around, and where were the phone calls? The phone didn’t ring once. No calls, in half an hour. Maybe incoming calls were handled somewhere else? But what sense would that make? If the receptionist wasn’t there for the purpose of answering the phone, what was she there for? To keep me from stealing expensive, three-month-old magazines? Or was she just expensive and classy window-dressing? As far as I could tell, all they were using her was as a sort of typist. After hanging up the telephone — having discreetly announced my arrival — and asking me to have a seat while I waited, she had returned to typing at her desktop computer.
“But typing what? Entering someone’s manuscript for the convenience of the editors? No. Something about the rhythm of the way she was working wasn’t right for that. She seemed to keep switching screens, or — no, more likely she was moving back and forth on a menu. Whatever she was entering, it wasn’t something so simple and straightforward as a manuscript.”
“What was so interesting about her, that you were watching her?”
“Nothing special. I had been trained to observe, and by now it was ingrained in me. But I made sure that my watching her was not evident to anyone who might be watching me.
“At length, the inner door opened, and I saw a dark-complexioned man of middle height standing there. Young. He looked to be in his mid-30s. An air of quiet confidence, great self-possession.
“He did not, I noticed, advance into the waiting room to greet me, but instead addressed me from the open doorway. A deliberate attempt to show no embarrassment at having made me wait so long? An attempt to put himself in a tactically superior position? Unconscious arrogance? Stand-off-ishness stemming from shyness? Games, but I’ve had to learn something about playing games. I didn’t move. I said, `Mr. Santiago?’
“`Would you step this way, please?’
“I stood up and followed the man past the receptionist and through the inner door, then down the paneled corridor three doors.
“I don’t know if you have any experience of publishers’ offices, Angelo, but Carlos Santiago’s office certainly wasn’t what I expected — even though I already assumed that he wasn’t what his position would make him appear. I expected to see a small cubicle, lit by overhead fluorescent lights, complete with metal desk and a small set of bookshelves, and an enormous clutter of manuscripts and assorted papers, and perhaps an air of haste and even harassment. One or two pretensions to culture, perhaps. On the walls, maybe an art print or two, bought from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Instead, I entered a room five times the size I had imagined, lit pleasantly by floor lamps. On one side was a desk, of polished wood, not metal, with two wooden armchairs positioned in front of it. The desk held two small stacks of paper, and centered on the blotter, the manuscript by John Adams. On the other side of the room — to which Santiago led the way — were two easy chairs on an oriental rug, with a coffee table between them. On the coffee table was a silver tray holding a silver coffee service.
“`Please, Mr. Adams, be seated. Do you drink coffee? Tea?’
“`Coffee, always,’ I said. You know, Angelo, I had enough tea for a lifetime, in Tibet.
“Santiago’s smile was a slight relaxation of the serious features. `A good answer, to a Colombian,’ he said. He poured. `I trust you will find this product of my native land to your taste. Cream? Sugar?’
“I took it black, and waited for Santiago to pick up his own cup, and tasted the coffee. It was extraordinary, and I told him so, and he said he was delighted that I liked it. “Now, I was aware that Santiago had been studying me from the moment he had opened the reception room door — if not before — and I knew that he was searching for any sign of irritation or impatience. Or, perhaps, apprehension. Nervousness. I waited him out, knowing that he could not find what was not there.
“`I am sorry to have kept you waiting so long,’ he said. `It was extremely discourteous of me, but I became involved in a telephone conference of some importance, and was unable to extricate myself.’ I knew he was lying, though.”
“How could you know that?”
George hesitated. “I just did. Don’t worry about it for the moment.”
“George, if I really am going to be danger over all this, I hope you’re thinking carefully about what I need to know and what I don’t.”
He nodded. “I am, don’t worry. I won’t keep anything from you that you need to know.
“Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He was lying. So what did you do?”
“I swallowed my coffee and made the polite, the safe, response. I said, `Mr. Santiago, I assumed it was something like that. I know you must be a busy man.’
“Even if the receptionist’s phones here don’t ring once in half an hour.”
“Precisely, but that was just the kind of point I wasn’t going to make.”
“Because it would tell them too much. I was playing on their turf, running a huge bluff on people who are damned hard to fool. I knew they had been watching me, and I knew what they had been looking for, and I knew that they hadn’t seen it. So the last thing I wanted to do was make them doubt their initial assessment of me. That could be dangerous. Very dangerous.”
“I’m not following you.”
“I know. Never mind for now. The point is, I just said I was indebted to him for asking to see me, and he said that was very gracious of me, and we went on to the next round.
“For a long moment we sat in the subdued lighting, savoring our coffee. I noticed with appreciation that the walls and doors were apparently very thick: No sound entered the room from the surrounding offices. The quiet was almost monastic, especially by comparison to the computer programming shop I worked at. Naturally, I didn’t mention that. Didn’t say anything, in fact. Any conversational gambit would have been interpreted as a nervous filling-in of silence. My part was to wait, to see why the manuscript had called forth the summons. In the meantime, the coffee was excellent, and that was surely a Monet, or a wonderfully talented copy of a Monet, on the wall opposite.
“Santiago had followed my eyes. He said, `You appreciate impressionist painting?’
“I said, `Monet is one of my favorites. Corot is another. But I seldom get to see them at such advantage.’ I picked up Santiago’s satisfaction, and pegged it: satisfaction that my voice had held neither envy nor awe that an editor or a publishing house could afford not only to own a master, but to display it so casually. I had passed another test, you see.”
“No, I certainly don’t see.”
“Don’t worry about it at the moment. The point is, I finished my coffee and put the cup onto its saucer on the coffee table. I didn’t ask Santiago how an editor rated a room with an oriental rug and apparently unlimited amounts of time at his disposal — not to mention the Corot and the Manet. I waited, tranquilly and utterly patiently, and at last Santiago had to make a move.
“`Your manuscript. It interested me,’ he said. `Life and the Control of Life.’ An interesting topic, well presented, with many unusual views.’
“I said, `I’m glad you enjoyed it,’ strictly the polite guest.
“`I did. I found it most thought-provoking. Enough so that I determined to meet the author, you see.’ He waved a hand, as if to say: `and here you are.’ I said, `Very kind of you,’ with just the slightest hint of dry amusement. Slight enough to leave Santiago uncertain. Dry enough to assure that he got the message.
“I could see Santiago eye me — for the first time — with something like frank curiosity. `Mr. – ah, Adams — you intrigue me,’ he said. This would have been the moment to ask why, or perhaps to ask him to say `John’ instead of `Mr. Adams,’ so I did neither. `Would you care to hear why you intrigue me?’
“Now, I had to step carefully. No rudeness, but no subservience, and no appearance of play-acting or of constraint. A dance on a tight-rope. I smiled at him and said, `Mr. Santiago, to paraphrase the late Andrei Gromyko, or perhaps it was Molotov, my personality is of little interest to me. I would far rather discuss my manuscript. But of course I’m willing to discuss whatever you please.
“Santiago hadn’t expected that. I could almost hear the clicking of the chess-player’s mind (I’m willing to bet anything that Santiago is a chess player), exploring various options, avenues, gambits, strategies. Yet the interval was vanishingly slight. Santiago answered almost without pause. `As you wish,’ he said. `Let us discuss your manuscript, then.’ What I heard was, more or less, `Let us see if you are serious in not caring why you intrigue me.’ That was okay with me.
“Santiago was watching me closely. `Life and the Control of Life,’ he said. A topic one would expect to be of interest to everyone, surely?” He raised an eyebrow at me.
“`Hardly,’ I said. `If it were, the world would be a happier place.’
“`Agreed,’ he said, and then he paused, and I wondered what was next. But maybe he was wondering the same thing. After a while, he said, `I have often discussed manuscripts with previously unpublished authors, Mr. Adams, as you may imagine. Sooner or later, I always ask who would be interested in the book, and I cannot estimate how often I have received, as answer, a look of amazement and the assurance that it would interest everyone.’ I couldn’t help smiling, then, and of course he noted it. He said, `You are under no such illusion, then?’
“I assured him I was not.
“`You do not expect this book to make you rich.’
“At this point, I figured it was time to unlimber the artillery. `To be frank, I don’t even expect you to publish it,’ I said. `In fact, I am sure you will not.’
“I had caught Santiago short, I could see it. He asked me what he had done to bring me to that conclusion, and I asked him if it mattered. He said he would like to know, so I told him that it hadn’t anything to do with anything he had done, I had known they wouldn’t before I had gotten into my car to go to New York that morning. Of course, I hadn’t driven up, but there wasn’t any reason to tell him that. Good reason not to, in fact.
“So Santiago eyed me thoughtfully and asked why I thought he wouldn’t publish the manuscript.
“I told him, because they were afraid it might meet response – and then there was a sizable silence.”
“I guess! What was that all about?”
“Oh, another gambit. Besides, I figured I had nothing to lose by bluntness, and perhaps something to gain.”
I sighed. “I don’t get it, but let me guess: I don’t need to know, and you’ll tell me later.”
George smiled. “You got it.”
“What I can’t figure out is how you knew what you were doing. I mean, you had to be making a lot of assumptions; some of them could be wrong.”
“Oh sure, but life’s like that. How many sure things do you find in a lifetime? So anyway, there was this sizeable silence — four or five minutes, maybe, but it seemed to stretch forever. I noticed that Santiago’s phone did not ring, and his secretary did not buzz him. Yet his interview had started half an hour behind schedule. Had he planned to make me wait half an hour? Or had he considered the interview important enough to hold all calls? Or were there no calls? Or was he unaccustomed to being interrupted? Or was the truth some combination of these choices? No way to know for sure, but after all, how much difference did it make? I was busy monitoring my back and arm muscles, assuring that they did not tense up. I was confident of my unconscious habitual awareness, but a little extra alertness couldn’t hurt. I watched Santiago’s thoughtful gaze move from a point on the wall above the Corot to my face and back again. I met him imperturbably, as if the long silence were the most natural thing in the world. I could wait, possessing his soul in patience. I knew all there was to know about waiting.
“So at last Santiago says, `You would not have known to check into my background, and if you had, you could have learned little. Nothing of importance. Nor could you have based that statement on what your countrymen call the track record of Dolores Publications. We have published many inspirational books, what are called self-help books. As you surely know. It would be reasonable to expect that we would consider yours favorably.’”
“In fact, it was that corporate track record that had led me to them, but I had no intention of saying so. He says, `You were called in to meet with a staff editor. Surely this should have raised your hopes?’
“I said, `It was intended to, I know.’ Another pause, a brief one. `As you say. Very well, you arrive for the interview, and unfortunately you are made to wait a considerable length of time. You show no sign of impatience.
“So! Just as you thought, they had been watching.”
“Oh, sure. I never had any doubt about it. So then Santiago says, `You show no sign of eagerness, or of anticipation. You are received by the editor, you are ushered into his somewhat unexpectedly comfortable chambers, and you show neither surprise nor discomfort. This is all quite remarkable, quite out of the ordinary. But what is most remarkable is that, when you are told that your manuscript — which you know to be a most extraordinary and valuable work — may be of interest to us, you state quite calmly and surely that we will not publish it for fear that the public will, as you put it, respond to it.’ I gave him no clues, and he smiled at me, a bit thinly. `I know few authors who would be quite so daring, even as a gambit aimed at securing greater royalties or larger advances. I know of none at all who would make such a statement in earnest. Yet your posture and bearing do not contradict you. You lead me to suspect that you know much more about me than you should, yet you do so without giving me even one concrete, specific bit of evidence on which to base my suspicions.’”
“Told you more than he meant to, there, did he, George?”
“Maybe. At any rate he gave me another smile, a somewhat broader smile that I distrusted even as I accepted it, and he said, `It strikes me, Mr. John A. Adams, that you may be a remarkable man.’ That was supposed to thaw me, to warm me in the other’s approval. I said, `I never met Gurdjieff, Mr. Santiago,’ and despite myself, I felt a little smile escape me. Santiago noticed, and returned it. He said, `I did not, at any rate, compare you to Beelzebub.’ All right, we both know our Gurdjieff, or at least the titles. Point, counter-point.
“So he says, very casually, `Mr. Adams, thinking of me in the way that you do, why would you think I called you to meet me?’ `To get a look at me.’ `Only that?’ `Basically. You wanted to compare what I said to what I am. I had thought you might offer to publish my book despite everything. But now I wouldn’t be surprised if you offered to buy the manuscript so as to not publish it.’ At this point I wanted to get him to lay his cards on the table, you see.”
“And did he?”
George shook his head. “Way too shrewd for that, way too careful. He blinked, and that was about all the candid reaction I got. He said, “You totally mistake my intentions, Mr. Adams. I would very much like to publish your manuscript. I think it is ingenious, honest, and quite valuable to the certain select audience capable of understanding it. You understand, however, it is not for everyone. The somewhat esoteric nature of the topic, and the seriousness of purpose presumed in the reader, seriously limit the book’s commercial possibilities. Fortunately, this need not be a serious obstacle. My firm is financially comfortable: We can publish a few books because we like them, rather than because they will make money. In fact, Mr. Adams, I can say with some confidence that this is almost the only valuable thing money can buy: the ability to do what you want to do merely because you feel like doing it.’ You notice the sudden wordiness, Angelo? The salesman’s pitch?”
I nodded. “Assuming your memory is accurate.”
“It is, trust me.”
“I take it you don’t want me questioning your assumptions? I mean, as sinister plots go, I’ve reported on worse things than somebody giving you good coffee and saying they like your manuscript.”
I nodded and listened some more.
“Santiago proposed to publish my book in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, signed and numbered. Calfskin bindings, gilt edging, 70-pound, acid-free paper. Illustrations to be mutually agreed upon, he said, but `I can say that we need spare no expense within reason.’ And for this, he offered me an advance against royalties of $250,000. A generous sum, I think you will agree?”
“Jesus! I don’t know anything about writing books, but it sounds like I’m in the wrong racket.”
“Racket is right. That offer was a tad too generous, in the circumstances. I told him I didn’t see how a thousand copies of Life And The Control of Life could earn that much in royalties. He gave me a faint smile, and said, `Certain publishing houses — not ours, however — notoriously pay large advances that they never recover. Sometimes there are sound business reasons for doing so. Publicity, for instance. In this case, however, I assure you that my offer, while generous, does not defy the laws of economics. I propose to sell your book at $1500 a copy, and so I have no real hesitation at offering you $250, or 17%. That is a little generous, but certainly not unheard of. Our not having to go through bookstores and other middlemen makes all the difference, as you will appreciate.’
“Fifteen hundred bucks a copy!”
“That’s that I thought. I asked him if he expected to find a thousand people willing to pay $1500 apiece for my book, and he said he had no doubt of it. I asked why, and he said, `Because I know books and I know my customers.’ You understand, Angelo, up to this point it had been still barely possible that this was a legitimate offer. Not very likely, but just possible. So I asked him how long after the limited edition before they issued an ordinary hardcover? When would the paperback come out? Author questions, you know.”
“Santiago glanced at me casually, still playing chess. He says, `Would that be necessary? You would have been compensated for your labor — well compensated, as I think you will agree — and you will have gotten the message out to those most capable of comprehending it and responding to it. Why then dilute the effect by casting pearls before swine?’
“I said, `Isn’t that an odd attitude for a publisher? You’re talking about your customer base.’
“He made a gesture of dismissal. `Have you seen the sort of thing that sells, Mr. Chiari? I know my customers, believe me. For every one with taste I have several hundred with none whatsoever.’
“I thought, `Right.’ I said, `And my book is far too good for the common herd.’
“`You choose irony, but despite your intention you are correct.’
“So I told him I was sorry, his offer was flattering, and under the circumstances generous, but, I said, I was afraid it didn’t meet my needs.
“I’ll bet that got a reaction!”
“A polite raising of eyebrows, nothing more. `Mr. Adams,’ he said, `there is no need for haste. Would you join me in another cup of coffee?’ But I was thinking, you don’t accept cigarettes from your captors, so I said no thank you.
“`The taste disappointed you, perhaps?’
“I said, `To the contrary. What I find usually disappointing is to try to improve on perfection. One cup was delicious. Could the second possibly be better?’
“`You make a good point. Perhaps I too will wait,’ and he withdrew his hand from the coffeepot. Alphonse and Gaston, you see. I said, `Please, not on my account.’ He said, `Oh no, certain pleasures are best enjoyed in company rather than alone. Sometimes coffee is one of these.’ Spar, spar, spar. I thought, your move, Mr. Santiago.”
“Another moment of silence. Then Santiago made a tent of his hands and gazed at me speculatively. He says, `Mr. Adams, suppose we do this. I will have my secretary send you a contract outlining the terms I have proposed. You can then consider the matter at your leisure. There is no need for you to burn bridges at this point.’ But I shook my head. `I’m sorry, Mr. Santiago, I don’t think that’s necessary. From what you’ve already said, it’s evident you don’t believe that my book should be put before the general public — and I’m convinced that it should. I think it will meet response. I may be wrong, but I feel obliged to make the attempt, at least.’”
“Were you playing hard to get?”
“Well, not exactly. Let me finish. He says, `Your intentions do you credit. But have you considered that, in the circumstances, your ideal may be impractical?’ Now, I’m out to hold him at arm’s length, but carefully. `How is that, Mr. Santiago?’ `No one else will touch this book,’ he says.
“So I say, oh so casually, `Oh, I expect I’ll find somebody. There are other publishers.’
“`Yes,’ he says, `Technically, this is true. You may find someone. But it will not be a mainstream publisher. It will be someone operating out of his shirt pocket, and he will print two or three thousand paperback copies. He will be unable to obtain one review for you; he will be unable and unwilling to give the book any publicity; he will be totally unable to make a large bookstore sale for you, if that is your ambition. Six months after he goes to press, your book will sell for 20 cents on the remainder table, and two months after that, it will be nowhere at all.’ And as he’s speaking, I am hearing that not only had his speech pattern changed; his very voice had become harsher, flatter. He’s imitating someone, I thought, trying to come off as somebody he isn’t. It was very interesting.
“So I’m trying to come off as a mild-mannered observer, detached from the immediate scene; interested, but not enmeshed. I said, `You speak like a man stating facts, rather than probabilities, but let’s suppose you’re right, and it goes just as you say. You’ve already said you don’t intend to sell to the general public. Even 3,000 paperbacks with a marginal publisher is more than you would do for me. How am I any worse off?’
“He says, `I assure you, in practical terms, there is nothing to prevent me from setting your manuscript in type and selling it to the thousand people I have in mind. They would be discreet, and you would be unlikely to hear about it. In the event that you did, you would have no legal or practical recourse against me, and you would have forfeited the generous royalties I mentioned.’ He made a small gesture, a throwing away. `But I am not so unobservant as to believe that money is of serious concern to you. I am something of a writer myself. I believe I know why you write.’ I watched his eye harden — but I felt he could almost see the effort he was making, again trying to be someone else. `I shall be blunt,’ he said. `Reject my offer, proceed with someone else — if you can find a someone else — and you will end your writing career immediately. This is serious business to me, Mr. Adams. I am not exaggerating, and I am not bluffing.’
“I said, `I never thought you were.’
“`Does any of this put my offer in a different light?’
“Again, casually. `Different. But hardly more favorable.’
“I see. May I ask why?’
“I took my time, waiting for the answer to sort itself out within me. `Mr. Santiago,’ I said, `for some reason, Life and the Control of Life is important to you. I suspect you are used to getting what you want. But despite the threat, I think you consider yourself one of the good guys. I don’t think you like the idea of stealing my property. In fact, I’m not sure you’d do it. I can’t give you this manuscript to suppress. I haven’t the right to do so. I would hope you’d honor that.’ I stood up to go.
“Santiago didn’t move, but sat watching me. `One of the good guys. Mr. Adams, you continue to surprise me. Please, do not yield to impulse. Sit down. It has not yet been established that you and I cannot do business.’
“`Oh, I think it has.’
“Santiago shook his head, smiling. `Not at all. We’re negotiating. As in the joke.’
“`Not familiar with the joke, I’m afraid.’
“`No matter. Please, sit down. No, do. I promise you, you will find it worth your while. Excellent. `One of the good guys.’ You have touched me where I live. How you found the spot, I cannot guess, but you did. Very well. This matter of an issuance to the general public is important to you, for reasons that escape me. Let us come to some compromise. I will issue the limited edition I proposed, and in addition will offer for sale a certain number of reasonably priced, well-bound hardcovers. How few will satisfy you as a good-faith effort? An additional thousand? Two?’
“`I don’t know,” I said. He really had me at a loss. `I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. I’ve never heard of a publisher trying to figure out how few copies he could get away with printing!’
“`Perhaps, if I may say so, this reflects your limited experience of the publishing business.’
“`Maybe so. I don’t know how to answer you, but I guess I was assuming you’d start more like 20,000.’
“`Out of the question, Mr. Adams. Twenty thousand hardcovers! No. Nor ten.’
“`What about eight, then?’
“`I would not print more than 5,000 in any circumstance — and that includes the thousand limited-edition copies.’
“I weighed the words. ‘You aren’t just bargaining.’
“`No, I am quite sincere. My best judgment tells me that 4,000 hardcovers is too many. But I am willing to take the loss in order to obtain the right to print the limited edition.’
“I knew what to convey. Bewilderment. Pardonable confusion. Still perfectly in control, but off my home ground. I shook my head. `Mr. Santiago, I have to tell you, I don’t understand what’s going on here. I don’t see why you’re so set on obtaining my manuscript — which is nice to hear, of course — and so set against selling it to the general public. Why not skip the hardcovers and go directly to paper?’
“`Hardcovers are more prestigious, Mr. Chiari.’
“I said, very dryly, `no doubt. But paperbacks are cheaper and more accessible. Surely you could put out twice as many paperbacks for what it would cost you to print 4,000 hardbacks. Three times as many.’ I had to pretend to miss the point for the moment, you see.
“Santiago grimaced. `I find it distasteful enough to think of putting out your book as an ordinary hardcover. To put it out in paper would be an act of vandalism.’
“I told him that paperback was good enough for The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Plato and Walden and Moby-Dick, and I guessed it was good enough for my book.
“Mr. Adams, I decline even to consider it. I have made all the concessions I care to make.’
“I said, `Suppose you’re pleasantly mistaken, and the book does well in hardback. Would you think about putting it into paperback then?’
“`Time enough to consider the matter if the situation arises, don’t you think so?’
“`I guess I’d rather have it spelled out.’
“`Mr. Adams, think what I offer you. An edition of 5,000 copies in hardcover, one thousand of them in a prestigious limited edition. If your book will generate response, 5,000 copies will be enough to generate it. And no other publisher is likely to offer terms at all comparable. Believe me, it is in your best interest — in the best interest of Life and the Control of Life — to accept. They are very advantageous terms.’
“And, of course, if I were just interested in getting the book published, they would be. Very advantageous terms. A quarter of a million dollars ain’t hay, as dad would say. But none of this is about money, on either side. I gathered myself up and again I stood. I said, `Mr. Santiago, I’m sorry. I’m flattered to see your high opinion of my manuscript, but I think maybe it was a mistake to submit it in its present condition. Let me re-read it, and mull your offer over, and I’ll get back to you.’ I was presuming he wouldn’t believe that, you see.
“He says, `You are adamant.’
“I’m afraid I am. If you don’t mind, I’d just as soon take my manuscript back with me. I see you have it on your desk. Save you the trouble of mailing it.’
“And right away he’s on his feet, playing the courteous host. `Oh, no, no, Mr. Adams, please, it is no trouble. And I would so much enjoy an opportunity to retrace your marvelously lucid arguments. Besides, (and just for a moment the face seemed almost wistful) I hope that in a few days you will re-examine the situation and decide after all to do us the honor of allowing us to publish your book. I see that somehow I have made an unfavorable impression. I regret this, profoundly. Will you not leave me this one reason for optimism, however frail it may be, that you will eventually relent?’
“And I thought: `He hasn’t thought to Xerox it yet! He never dreamed I’d turn him down.’ But it would have been difficult to find a plausible reason to insist on carrying the manuscript out under my arm. And it didn’t matter if he kept a copy, it wouldn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know. The point was what we knew. So I left it.”