Hazel Snow buzzed Harris from the outer office.
"It's a bad time!" he shouted.
Hazel ignored him. "Mr. Lord and Miss O'Grady here to see you," she said, indifferent to anything but her desire to go home. Through the intercom Harris could hear the squeaky sound of Hazel putting on her galoshes.
"You picked the worst possible moment!" he shouted to Richard Lord and Nan O'Grady once Hazel had ushered them in.
The English art and fashion director looked at his expensive shoes, still unscuffed at this late hour, and whispered, "It's about Lindstrom, I'm afraid."
"What about him?" Harris asked, in a voice that made plain, for all its volume, that he would rather know nothing new concerning Waldo Lindstrom, the handsomest young man in New York, and Bandbox's most frequent cover model now that photographs were replacing illustrations. Harris would be more receptive to tidings of this Adonis were Lindstrom not also an omnisexual cocaine addict who had escaped from the Kansas State Penitentiary a few years ago at the age of twenty, and whose work for Oldcastle Publications depended on frequent payments from Harris to the NYPD's vice squad.
"He never showed up," murmured Lord, while he adjusted the two points of his breast-pocket handkerchief.
"Find his pusher!" bellowed Harris. "Call the morgue! Why are you bothering me? And why are you bothering me?" he continued, turning his eyes and anger to Nan O'Grady, the copy chief, whose lower lip had begun to tremble. A tear wobbled in the lower reaches of her left eye, ready to drip down her powdered cheek and cut a line that would run parallel to her straight red hair.
"It's Mr. Stanwick's piece on Arnold Rothstein."
Max Stanwick, a successful writer of hard-boiled mystery novels, now also wrote features for Bandbox on the nation's ever-burgeoning crime wave. The fact-checkers sometimes muttered that he had made no discernible shift from the methods of his old genre to those of nonfiction, but Stanwick's pieces were immensely popular and the occasion for some of Harris's more memorable cover lines: lend me your ears had announced Max's recent report on a spate of loan-sharking mutilations in Detroit. Harris trembled at the thought of losing him to Jimmy Gordon, who had brought him to Bandbox in the first place.
"And what's the problem with Stanwick, Miss O'Grady? Some people in his piece saying who' instead of whom'? They're gangsters, Irish."
Nan, who until two years ago had edited lady novelists at Scribner's, and who had taken this better-paying job to help support the mother she lived with out in Woodside, forced her lower lip to stiffen. The tear in her left eye sank backwards without spilling. She glared at her boss. "It's not a question of subject versus object, Mr. Harris. It's a question of . . . schvantz." She pronounced it with the lilting precision of a lieder singer.
"Whose schvantz?" Harris wanted to know.
"Mr. Rothstein's, apparently."
Harris hesitated for only a second. "Well, keep it in!"
Nan, her lower lip now fully retracted, held her ground. "I assure you that it's in no known style book, and I guarantee you that within a week of publication, a half-dozen of your precious advertisers will have protested its use in"
"More schvantzes all around!" cried Harris, suddenly on his feet. "And the balls to go with them! This is a men's magazine! Out! And close the door behind you!"
After Harris watched a trio of departing formsHazel's among themthrough the frosted glass of his door, he allowed himself to sit back down and light a cigar. He looked out the fourteenth-floor windows of his corner office to the vertical world aborning all around him. The Bowery Savings Bank loomed in the southeast, and a few streets over, close to the river, he could see the absurd new towers of Tudor City, in whose tiny apartments his aging pals had taken to stashing their chorines and tootsies. Directly across Lexington Avenue, and also one block south, squares of earth were roped off for the great excavations now sprouting the Chrysler and Chanin buildings.
Excerpted from Bandbox by Thomas Mallon Copyright© 2004 by Thomas Mallon. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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