TROUBLE SHOOTERS SHOULDN'T FAILL IN LOVE
Rumford Thorne couldn't write unless he was mad. And it was Tremaine's job to get him mad. But one soft April night she learned that
SENECA GRADISH sat in his office and watched some pigeons making love on the window sill. Spring had burst forth in the street below with the flash of convertibles and the airing of poodles. All around Seneca’s sanctum the cogs of Hornaday House were turning briskly; there was something seasonal in the watery smiles of the book editors, the jaunty assurance of authors demanding higher royalties and the feverish clatter of the publicity department’s typewriters. But Seneca Gradish was gloomy and aloof. Under ordinary circumstances he could fling off his anxiety in a splurge of cocktail parties, compiling anthologies of sophisticated gags or sudden trips to Europe to unearth a new poet. In the current crisis all these pleasures palled. A dilemma had come to Seneca Gradish and Hornaday House: Rumford Thorne had dried up.
Hornaday was the most fashionable publisher in the countryand the most successful. As its head Seneca Gradish displayed an uncanny ability at making money by corralling the most colorful and controversial names in literature. A second fa et of Gradish’s genius lay in his discovery of new authors whose work he dumped before the public with an accompanying fanfare of criticism that could be heard from coast to coast. Of these fledgling writers the most inspired and the biggest financial success was Rumford Thorne.
He was a tall young man who wore horn-rimmed glasses and a sweater that smelled of goats. When he had first drifted into Hornaday House he was unknown and carried a badly typed manuscript under one arm. His offering was read, reread, talked about, published, sworn at and hugely successful. It was called Sound Effects for Armageddon, and consisted of a collection of essays that covered a wide range of subjects. The book seethed from kitchen stoves and public monuments to girdles, hotel food and women. Thorne hated them all. His hatred was possessed of violent language, vast panoramas of adjectives and sweeping flows of verbiage. A brooding picture of
Thorne appeared on the front page of the New York Times literary supplement and his explosive book went through twenty-nine printings.
His next opus, Gretchen Premmadine, did even better. It was a novel about a debutante who turned dope peddler and ended up discussing Marx with God. After Gretchen came a nasty little volume simply entitled Yah ! Thorne was denounced by women’s clubs and Communists alike. Three college girls tried to commit suicide in front of his apartment house. There the flow ended. Something had happened to the magic and profitable stream of verbiage and Seneca Gradish was worried.
Not only was the financial future of Hornaday House quivering, but Seneca had the uncomfortable feeling that he had overreached himself. In the late winter he had advanced Thorne five thousand dollars on his next, unwritten book. Since then, as far as Gradish knew, Thorne had spent the rest of his time staring at blank pieces of paper in his typewriter.
A secretary buzzed and Seneca stopped his contemplation of the pigeons. “Miss Tremaine is here,” said the voice in the little metal box.
“Send her in.”
The door opened and a tall girl with brown hair and grey eyes came into the office. She wore a simple woolen dress and carried a polo coat. She nodded to Seneca and settled herself in a red leather chair.
Louise Tremaine was another of Seneca’s brain storms. She was the official nag of Hornaday House, a lissome trouble shooter whose dutyjt was to be, as Seneca once expressed it, “ju.hpt poker applied to the anatomy of lazy autWr She did her job admirably. Her unusual tAle combined the shrewdness of a Tartar encased in the body of a cover girl. *An colleague called her “Foam vand/Fa drunken novelist wept whenever her mentioned. N
“I don’t suppose you’re free for simmer tonight? Seneca asked hopefully. ^ \^\)niïrm,ed on pa.
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Tremaine shook her head. She was never free for dinner when Seneca asked. He was certain that she never dined with anyone else. She seemed to live entirely for her job.
The president of Hornaday House leaned back in his chair and looked at his manicure. “I have a new job for you, Tremaine,” he said, “Rumford Thorne.”
Tremaine nodded. “I’ve heard.”
“I want a book out of him,” continued Seneca, “a good, fire-eating novel would do nicely. Needle him night and day until he writes one. I’ve rented you an apartment in his building. Move in immediately. I don’t care how you make him write the book” "hfc looked her up and down, from her intelligent grey eyes to her nicely proportioned legs—“just see that he does it.”
Iremaine nodded again, gathered together her purse, gloves and notebook and stood up. “Will that be all?”
“That’s enough,” said Seneca. “Report to me every Friday. Good hunting.” He watched her go out, wondering what she did in her spare time. “Probably molds ice cubes with her bare hands,” he thought, turning back to the pigeons.
RUMFORD THORNE lay in bed
looking at the ceiling. Two flies had been circling each other for fifteen minutes. Sooner or later they would either collide or go their separate ways. Rumford didn’t care which and he had no concern over how long the outcome might take because he was in no hurry. His days had been notably unhurried for some time. They followed a pattern of waking and getting up (with a long interval in between), brewing coffee, drinking it, rummaging around for clothes, dressing, going out to feed pigeons, talk to people, see movies, eat hamburgers and come home to sit in front of his typewriter before going to bed. Rumford had been worried when he first discovered that he wasn’t mad at anything any more and thus could not write. Then he began to realize that eventually something would get him riled up and meanwhile all he had to do was watch flies, feed pigeons and expend his creative energies in dreaming up excuses to Seneca Gradish.
A buzzer shattered the morning silence. The two flies flicked off the ceiling and Rumford swore to himself. “Leave it outside!” he called.
The buzzer sounded again.
Rumford got out of bed and pulled on a pair of dirty dungarees. He went out into the living room and opened the front door.
“Good morning,” said Tremaine. Rumford peered at her.
“Is Mr. Thorne in, please?” “He’s in,” said Rumford. He stepped aside and closed the door after her. The girl stood in the middle of the living room. She was sniffing. “Do you keep a goat?” she asked.
“Not that I know of,” said Rumford. She looked around at the piles of laundry, cigarette butts and crumpledup pieces of paper. “I’d like to see Mr. Thorne,” she said in a firm voice.
Rumford nodded and went into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Maybe, he thought, she’ll just go away. He took off his dungarees and got back into bed. “Mr. Thorne!” he said loudly. “Someone to see you!”
He had just gotten adjusted comfortably and was searching the ceiling for more flies when the door opened and the girl appeared holding the New York Times article. She looked from the newspaper to Rumford. “All
right,” she said, “cut the comedy. Get up.”
Rumford rolled over and looked at her. “Who says?”
“I say. Come on, Mr. Thorne.”
Rumford sat up and reached for his cigarettes. Apparently she wasn’t going to go away. He was about to say something unpleasant about violation of privacy when the girl sat down on the edge of his bed. He offered her a cigarette.
“No thank you,” she said. She opened the notebook. “Perhaps you are wondering who 1 am.”
“Not especially,” said Rumford. He looked at her searchingly. Much more interesting than looking at flies.
“Last February tenth,” she read from her notebook, “Hornaday House advanced you five thousand dollars on your next book. Thus far there has been no book.” She looked at him severely.
“No,” said Rumford, “no book.” .
The girl closed her pad. “lam here to help you get started on one. My name is Tremaine.” She said the last sentence with gentle finality.
“Tremaine of Hornaday,” grinned Rumford. “Big deal.”
“If you will get up and start yourself some breakfast,” she said briskly, rising from the bed, “I will arrange your desk.” She went out, closing the door behind her. Rumford got up and put on his dungarees. He was intrigued.
He was standing in the kitchen making coffee when Tremaine came in. “This apartment is very messy. No wonder you can’t get any work done. Good heavens!” she gasped, “what’s that/”
Rumford looked down at the pan on his stove. “It started out to be oatmeal a couple of weeks ago. I guess it’s some sort of mold now like penicillin or
'Tremaine shuddered, thinking of Seneca’s five-thousand-dollar investment. “It’s a miracle you haven’t poisoned yourself,” she said, “1 think I’d better do the cooking from now on, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” said Rumford, “call me when you’re ready.” He went back to bed.
FOR the rest of the afternoon 'Tremaine cleaned up the apartment while Rumford sat at his typing table looking out the window to the rear garden where a willow tree had broken out in wild yellow budding. Around four o’clock Tremaine came back from delivering a large bundle of dirty laundry. She found Rumford reading a piece of paper. “Well?” she said, sitting down on the sofa.
“I’ve started on something,” explained Rumford, “listen.”
A warm glow of satisfaction spread over Tremaine. Personality dominance had done it again. They’d taught her about personality dominance in high school. By using it properly you could make anybody do anything. “Go ahead,” she told him.
“Never wear high heels,” read Rumford. “flat shoes much more becoming. Never wear woolen dresses. Much too severe. Comb hair more to one side, add flowers to hair, preferably yellow willow buds. Take two hot baths a day for relaxation. Read some light novels: Wodehouse or Allen Smith.” He looked over at her. “You read 'Tolstoy?” he said.
“Yes,” answered Tremaine, “but—” Rumford nodded and returned to his list. “Forget whatever diet you’re on. Eat lots of ice cream. Stop going to bed so early.” He laid down the paper. “How does it sound to you?”
“A little weird,” she said.
“It’d do you good. Loosen you up.” “Me? Really, Mr. Thorne, I—” Rumford grinned at her. “You’re all tight and repressed. Probably didn’t make cheerleader or something.” Tremaine flushed. “I appreciate your interest, but you’re supposed to be writing a book.”
Rumford tossed his list on the table and lit a cigarette. “It isn’t that easy, Tremaine. What kind of book would you suggest?”
“Well, Mr. Gradish had something in mind ... a book, say, along the lines of your previous works . . .” “Novel?”
Rumford frowned. “No soap,” he said, “no plots. Sorry.”
“You had plots before,” she insisted, “and I know you can think up another one.”
“My dear Tremaine,” said Rumford, noticing that her eyes were quite large and deep, “those plots all came from people. Take Gretchen, for example. I met a debutante. We became—ah —friendly and in due course she spilled her life story while in wine.”
Tremaine was shocked. “You mean she was drunk?”
Rumford nodded. “I listened to her ghastly little tale, switched it around a bit and presto—Gretchen. Unfortunately you don’t run into Gretchens every day.”
Tremaine was silent a moment. Then a rather horrible idea bloomed in her mind. Although her own past had a sort of inviolate quality about it, duty was a strong word to Tremaine. She envisioned what Rumford’s purple prose would do to her family, high school and girlish yearnings. She shuddered slightly and said, “Perhaps
I can be of help, Mr. Thorne.”
Rumford grinned at her. “You mean a novel about a girl who didn’t make cheerleader?”
Tremaine nodded grimly. “A western upbringing. It ought to do very nicely.”
“Could be,” said Rumford, picking up a note pad, “let’s try.”
She paused a moment. The thought of what she was about to do was, to her, something like undressing in front of this agreeable man. “Do you mind if we go outside?” she asked.
“Not a bit,” he chuckled. He was enjoying it, she thought bitterly.
Ten minutes later Tremaine was sitting on a bench in the square holding a bag of peanuts. Pigeons whirled and dipped around her and sat on her arms and shoulders. The sun had gone and the old checker players and children were moving away to the edges of the park. Rumford Thorne sat beside her listening to the story. At first it had been hard to talk. “I am twenty-five years old,” she had begun stiffly. But after a little while it went smoother. Rumford was a surprisingly good listener. Instead of laughing at what she was sure were her trivial hopes and aspirations, his face had been serious, his eyes never leaving her.
One by one the apartment house lights went on and then the streetlamps splashed gleam and shadow through the April evening. Tremaine talked steadily, reliving, remembering, her voice dropping low to describe a disappointment and laughing aloud (to her own surprise) over long-forgotten jokes.
She told him about the high school where they’d taught her all about personality dominance, the finance company where she’d worked as a bill collector and the carpeted temple
that was Homaday House with its multigifted president fluttering around writing columns, collecting jokes and having cocktail parties like spaniels have puppies.
When she finished her story they were having dinner at a little restaurant. Suddenly, in the silence, Tremaine felt embarrassed. All that she had said, which was all that she had ever felt and done, seemed a little trite. “Perhaps,” she said, groping for her professional manner, “you can find something to use in what I’ve told you and—”
ltumford smiled and put his hand over hers. “Relax,” he said gently, “I’m surprised. Why don’t you forget about being Tremaine?”
“I’m—I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she faltered.
“What did they call you back home?”
“Then be Louise,” said Rumford, “Louise is nice.”
A warm and happy feeling flooded over her. “Did you like the story?”
He nodded. “Too much to use it. I’m supposed to write nasty books, you know.”
She smiled. “I know.”
“I think your story’s too nice.” He looked at her large eyes and noticed that they were also very bright. “I think you're too nice to write about.”
Tremaine started to say something and then stopped. For a brief, very brief, instant it flashed on her that she had failed—that she hadn’t given Rumford anything to write about at all. But in the next moment she was glad. All afternoon and evening she had been searching Rumford to catch the spark of malevolence that broiled through his books, but it wasn’t there. And now it seemed that she had lost her resolve somewhere between the park bench and the restaurant. “I’m happy you feel that way, Rumford,” she said.
“So am I, Louise. Come on, we’ll take a walk.”
WHEN Louise Tremaine made her third report to Hornaday House she found Seneca Gradish in a testy mood. “You’ve had nearly a month,” he said irritably, “what’s up, Tremaine?”
She twisted her gloves and looked around the office. Every time she came in her resolve flooded back, but it melted again the moment she returned to Rumford’s apartment. All of her time-tested methods for stirring authors to action had failed. To be exact, they hadn’t gotten started. Not only had Rumford continued in his lackadaisical ways, but Tremaine had joined him. She had been seized by spells of dreaminess and attacks of not caring about anything. She had seen more movies, in Rumford’s company, during those three weeks than she had seen in the rest of her life. She’d found strange quiet pleasure in pigeon feeding, Sunday walks in the river valley and staying up all night. Occasionally the vision of Seneca’s five thousand dollars had risen before her, but it had been quickly snuffed out by the new and bewildering things that had come over her. “I’m sorry,” she said to Seneca, “but he just isn’t inspired.”
“Inspired hell; he’s just lazy. He can turn it on if he wants to.”
“I think you’re wrong, Mr. Gradish,” said Tremaine, “he’s told me about the other books. Things had to make him mad before he wrote them.”
Seneca’s eyes gleamed. “Then needle him, Tremaine. Make him hate you, if you have to.”
“ Hate me?”
“That,” said Seneca archly, “is what you’re paid for, isn’t it?”
“But Mr. Gradish!” Tremaine went all weak as she thought of what her innocent childhood and girlish fripfrappery would turn to under Rumford’s pen were he sufficiently aroused. Besides, since that first evening, he knew so much more about her . . . things too sacred to turn into a novel.
Seneca picked up the galley proofs of an anthology he was editing. “Rumford Thorne,” he said, “can either get mad and write or have himself a lawsuit.”
“You mean you’d sue him?” Tremaine asked.
Seneca nodded. “He’s got five thousand bucks of my money.”
“But you can’t—•”
“Oh yes I can,” interrupted Seneca, “Besides, if he isn’t going to produce I want you to go south and jigger another historical out of that Medford dame.”
Tremaine walked out into the sunlight with the sensation that things were horribly loused up. The thought of Rumford being sued was bad, but the thought of going away was worse. She took a deep breath and caught a bus downtown.
She found Rumford in a cocktail lounge near the square. He had shaved, put on a coat and tie and was reading a book. “You’re late,” he said, “you’ve been sneaking into health bars.”
Tremaine laid her gloves on the table and sat down. “I’ll have a double Martini please,” she said.
Rumford looked surprised. “Double?”
“You’ve only been drinking for two and a half weeks,” he told her. “Take it easy.”
Tremaine choked and then glared at him. “Are you going to order me a double Martini or do I have to do it myself?”
For a moment they both looked astonished. Then Rumford shrugged. “A double Martini,” he told the waiter.
Tremaine drank very quickly. She set the empty glass on the table and looked at Rumford unsteadily. “Pigeons,” she said defiantly, “carry the bubonic plague.”
Rumford grinned. “Is that what’s bothering you? If it is, ease your mind. By nature pigeons are very—
“They carry,” interrupted Tremaine, “the bubonic plague. Black death.” Rumford’s face got red. “Say, what’s the matter with you, anyway?”
Tremaine tried to look argumentative. “Is something supposed to be the matter with me?” she asked shrilly.
“I don’t know,” said Rumford, coming up to a slow boil. “Maybe there is.” Tremaine closed her eyes for a moment. She wanted to cry and tell Rumford that she didn’t mean anything she said, but then she caught a glimpse of Sadie Medford’s pseudoplantation. “What,” she managed to say acidly, “do you mean?”
“I don’t know myself. Maybe they forgot to teach you something in psychology or maybe they taught you too much.”
Tremaine took a deep breath and got ready for the kill. “If you are going to make light of all the private things I’ve told you,” she said, “ƒ am leaving.”
“Don’t bother,” said Rumford, rising and slapping a five-dollar bill on the table. “I beat you to it.” He looked down at her. “You changed for a while, Tremaine, you were real nice. When you told me your story T didn’t think I could use it. I misjudged it. What a yarn! What an ending!” He hunched his shoulders forward and stalked out.
“Rumford,” Tremaine cried, half rising, “Mr. Gradish told me to—” But he didn’t hear her. She sat for
a moment with a bewildered expression on her face. And then she began to cry for the first time since she’d failed to make cheerleader.
April ran out its time and May came down in dismal rain. The sound of the drops drumming against Tremaine’s windows mingled with the pounding of Rumford’s typewriter in the apartment upstairs. Each morning when she got up Rumford was hard at work and he kept going long after she went to bed at night. Seneca Gradish was overjoyed. “Somebody’s catching hell,” he chuckled.
"Somebody is indeed,” murmured Tremaine, thinking of what her beauj tiful, beautiful life was turning into under Rumford’s baleful treatment. That was bad enough, but the loneliness was worse. Tremaine nearly asked Seneca to send her away because the agony of having Rumford so near and yel so infinitely distant was driving her into moody depressions and startling self-revelation. She couldn’t make up ¡ hei mind about going and after two weeks she broke down and admitted to her blank living room wall that she was in love with Rumford Thorne.
Finally, on the day that the last of the willow buds dropped off the tree, Seaeca Gradish rang Tremaine’s doorbell. He was wearing a bowler hat and a belted raincoat that he’d bought in London for three times what Londoners pay. “So you’ve seen him,” be.uned Seneca, folding up his umbrella.
Tremaine shook her head. “He telephoned me. One flight of stairs away and he telephoned,” she added bitterly.
Seneca giggled. “He must loathe you.”
“He does,” she sighed.
Seneca peered at her. “You don’t look well, Tremaine. Would you like to go south tonight?”
“I’d hate it,” said Tremaine, “but I will. Let’s go up.”
They climbed the dingy staircase and rang Rumford’s bell. “Imagine,” chortled Seneca, “three chapters in two weeks.”
“And an outline,” said Tremaine.
Rumford opened the door. He was red-eyed and needed a shave. He nodded to Seneca and gave Tremaine a long blank look.
“My boy,” said Seneca, “my dear boy.”
“Come on in,” said Rumford.
The apartment was hot and stuffy and smelled like goats. Tremaine pushed some laundry aside and sat down on the sofa. She was looking at Rumford, but he didn’t seem to know she was there. He handed a thick manuscript to Seneca.
“Fare Thee Well,” Seneca read the title gleefully. He sat down before Rumford’s desk. “I can’t wait,” he giggled, “do you mind?”
Tremaine shook her head. She was watching Rumford. You've done it for good this time, she told herself. When they read that back home—she shuddered. That was bad enough, but being in the little apartment without having Rumford even notice her was worse. He never even kissed me, she thought miserably, all he did was write a nasty book about me.
Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of pages slithering to the floor. “Rumford,” said Seneca.
Rumford turned around.
“I don’t get it. Does she turn Communist?”
“No she doesn’t,” said Rumford.
“It’s a satire, isn’t it?” asked Seneca hopefully.
Rumford shook his head.
“No,” said Rumford.
“You mean.” said Seneca getting red, “that this is a love story?”
“That’s right,” said Rumford, looking at Tremaine.
“A love story,” said Seneca, “he’s written a lousy happy love story.”
He looked at Tremaine as one elementary school teacher might look at another while explaining a backward child's deficiencies in the presence of the child. “Listen to this,” he said witheringly. He squinted at the page. “ ‘ She was lonely and her loneliness drove her to the efficient manner she presented. But beneath that manner
a voice cried out and a hand reached forward to be touched. He who touched it was kindled into flame and saw a world of such rare beauty that he knew none other had trodden there before him.’ ” Seneca put down the page. “Wouldn’t that turn the stomach of a goat?” he asked.
“I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” said Tremaine, looking at Rumford.
“Are you serious?” Seneca asked.
“I thought you’d never speak to me again,” Tremaine said.
“But it’s a love story," Seneca broke
in loudly, “a crummy happy love story!”
“I couldn’t stay sore,” said Rumford. “I started to write something nasty and all that came out was-—” he nodded at the manuscript—-“that. I hope you like it.”
“I think it stinks,” snapped Seneca.
“I love it,” said Tremaine.
Seneca picked up his raincoat and bowler. “I’m leaving, Tremaine. I’m disgusted.”
“Good-by,” she said happily. And as Seneca slammed the door, she was in • Rumford’s arms. ^