For a public relations guru like Al Brody, witnessing death is not part of the job description. But that is just what the call from Andrew Capestone requires. When Brody arrives at his old friend’s bedside, it’s not long before the man dies. Brody has not thought of Capestone, his onetime Harvard acquaintance, for decades. In the years since college he has established a successful career, gotten married, gotten divorced, and fallen in love with his assistant Millie. But everything Brody has worked for is put in peril when Capestone’s dead body goes missing, and Brody is suddenly involved in a shocking criminal cabal. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Howard Fast including rare photos from the author’s estate.
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By Howard Fast
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 William Morrow and Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
I don't know where it began, if indeed there was any beginning. If this is in the way of a confession, then it doesn't make one damn bit of difference where it began or when. If my story is in the way of an explanation at least to myself, then I ought to pinpoint it and not let it go with the fact that it began the day I was born in a tenement in Brooklyn. But that's too long ago and too far away from a three-hundred-thousand-dollar house on North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, which I euphemistically call my home.
Confession or explanation, it's not for posterity. If posterity opens the door of my home after I ring the bell, she looks at me coldly and says, "Oh, it's you." That's my daughter, who is sixteen. Her name is Ruth. My son's name is Roger, and he rarely opens the door because he's rarely home; he's eighteen. Mostly the maid opens the door, but if we give this a beginning, it's my wife, Evelyn, who opened the door and informed me that she had been on the phone all day with real estate agents in Washington, D.C., except that they all advised the suburbs, and she thought she had a lovely house in Georgetown.
I went inside and told her to forget it.
"Just what do you mean by that?" Evelyn demanded. My wife is a beautiful woman. I am never allowed to forget the fact, because everyone who meets her finds occasion to tell me what a beautiful and charming woman I married—for the most part with disbelief, myself being neither beautiful nor particularly charming.
"We're not going to Washington."
"I don't believe you."
I thought she would be happy at the news. For seven months she had been having an affair with the golf pro at the club. A move to Washington would end it. But conceivably that was to her purpose, since most of her affairs were short-lived.
"Try to believe it, Evelyn. You'll get used to it."
"Do you realize I've been working on this for weeks? I've been on the phone for three days."
"I'll realize it when I get the phone bill."
"After all you told me. You made Senator Bellman. He was nothing until you put your magic touch on him. Your creation."
"My creation, exactly. You're shouting," I told her. "But you're right on it, Cookie."
"Don't call me Cookie!"
"It's over, that's all."
More quietly—and possibly with a vague note of sympathy—she said, "How can it be over? He had agreed that you would be his right-hand man, stay with him, groom him for the Presidency. After all you did—"
"I am a flak, Evelyn, a middle-aged, overweight, rather coarse public relations man. That's all I am—no more. His image is very good now, mine isn't. He explained that to me very sincerely. I am also a Jew."
"Half Jewish, and what has that got to do with it?"
"Different tracks, that's all. He doesn't want to be encumbered. I am an encumbrance."
She stared at me for a long moment, and then she shook her head. "Oh, no, Al. You are not an encumbrance. You are a loser. I'm not. I'm going to call Bellman, and well see how much of an encumbrance we are."
"No!" I snapped. I rarely turn hard on her; this time I did. "You will not call him."
"Because I don't sell my wife. I may give her away on occasion, but I don't sell her."
"You son of a bitch!"
Which was precisely how most of our philosophical discussions ended.CHAPTER 2
The truth of the matter was that United States Senator Ronald Bellman was my creation—or at least his image was. I am good at building images and I am well-paid. When Ronald Bellman first got in touch with me, eight years before this, he was a rather dull, moderately intelligent and very rich man who had bought his way through thirty-five years of his life. He was a good shopper; he bought the best and paid well. He bought me with a retainer of twenty thousand dollars a year, and I created an image. I got him elected to the House and then I put him in the Senate. Whatever he had been was forgotten, even by himself. He was now handsome, serious, well-informed and the very image of the new breed of senator, and my reward for this eight-year stint at public relations was to be the senator's right-hand man, guide and adviser—and incidentally a chance for me, Al Brody, to stop being a flak. Al Brody would hold up his head and walk like a man. Only it didn't turn out that way, and who the hell wanted to go to Washington anyway? The senator was decent enough to continue as my client. I felt that there were worse men than Ronald Bellman; I knew at least a dozen who were my clients.
The next day, at about ten o'clock in the morning, Millie Cooper, my assistant, buzzed me on the intercom and said that there was a very peculiar phone call, and that I ought to take it.
"What do you mean, peculiar? And who's calling?"
"He says his name is Andrew Capestone."
"I don't know any Andrew Capestone."
"Mr. Brody," said Millie, "will you please take this call."
I took it then, and after the first few words I knew what she meant by peculiar. The voice was thin, pleading and full of pain. "Is this Al? Al Brody?"
"Yes, this is Al Brody."
"Al, this is Andy Capestone. Andy Capestone." When I remained silent, the voice pleaded, "Al—for Christ's sake, remember me! No one else will. Harvard, forty-six."
Then I remembered, and asked him how he was and where he was.
"Al, I'm dying. I'm not hitting you up for a touch. I don't want one damn thing, but I don't have enough guts to die alone. I know it sounds crazy. But people die. I'm dying, Al—that's the whole stinking story." He gave me the address and told me to ring Andrew Smith's bell.
I informed Millie I would be back in a few hours at the most, or that I would call her, and then I got my car and drove down to Hollywood to one of those jerry-built, furnished apartment places on Fountain Avenue. There was an Andrew Smith living in Apartment 3B, and when I rang the bell, a voice told me that the door was open.
He lay in bed, and when I saw him, I didn't doubt his statement that he was dying. He was skin and bones, with the face of a yellow cadaver. Faintly, he touched the strings of my recollection. He was my age, forty-seven, and he looked like a sick man of seventy. I shook a hand he could barely raise, and then I told him that I was going to call an ambulance and get him to a hospital.
When I lifted the phone, he cried out, "No! Let it go, Al. I told you I'm dead."
"I'm still going to call an ambulance."
"Later, if you have to. Let's talk."
"Al," he said, "listen to me. I am an alcoholic and a diabetic. I had a heart attack last night. All I have to do is close my eyes and let go, and damn it, I want to. I have had it. I called you because you're the only person I know in Los Angeles who might be called a friend by stretching a point. I don't want to go alone, and I don't want to go as Andrew Capestone. I am Andrew Smith now. No one. I want it that way."
"Because I want it that way. There's no one to weep, no one, no mother, no father, no kids."
"I had eight years of her. We were divorced twelve years ago. I don't want to remind her."
"Andy, you must have relatives—someone."
"Only you, Al. You're elected."
"You're not going to die, and I'm going to call an ambulance." He didn't protest now, and I called the Hospital of the Immaculate Conception, because that's a place that asks for no explanations and no guarantees, and they said the ambulance would be with us in fifteen minutes.
He had closed his eyes now. I said gently, "Andy, forgive me for not remembering you."
"Hell, it's twenty-five years."
"I should have remembered. We were good friends. The ambulance will be here in a few minutes."
"Then do what I tell you to."
"You're not going to die."
"My wallet is over there on the table. Get it please, Al."
It was a well-stuffed, worn breast-pocket wallet of alligator. I started to hand it to him.
"No—I don't want it, Al. Put it in your pocket. It contains whatever refers to me, a few cards, my army discharge, some clippings, all that keeps me from being anonymous. Just try to understand me, Al. I'm a drunk, a loser and a pauper—so put it all together and try to understand why I don't want Andrew Capestone to die like that in this lousy place. It's hard for me to talk. Don't make me argue with you."
"All right, Andy—if that's the way you want it."
"That's the way I want it." He closed his eyes again and lay there in silence for a few minutes. "Al?" he whispered.
"How is it with you?"
"OK. I've got money, if that's what you mean."
"Did you make it big? Funny, I made it big too."
"I'm a flak, a PR man."
"You make it big and all the sins are forgotten. I want to tell you about that."
"Yes, all the sins are forgotten. Tell me later—when you feel better."
Then the ambulance came. I followed the ambulance in my car. He was dead on arrival at the hospital.CHAPTER 3
"Your wife telephoned," Millie Cooper told me when I had returned to the office.
"Yes? Did she leave a message?"
"She said she's going to the theater with Ginnie Foster, and it's an early curtain, so shell miss dinner."
"I see." Millie turned to go, but I called her back. She was a tall, dark woman of about thirty, with a narrow handsome face that was just short of beautiful and a good figure. She had been working for me some six years.
"Yes, Mr. Brody?"
"Nothing," I said lamely, then added, "What do you do with yourself nights?"
"Why don't you ask me, Mr. Brody?"
"Would you have dinner with me tonight, Millie?"
"Yes, Mr. Brody."
"I'll be out most of the day, but "I'll be back before six. We can leave from here."
"That will be fine," said Millie.
If you want to change your clothes, you can go home and come back. You don't have to. You look fine just the way you are.
"I'll think about that."
It was the first time since she had come to work for me that I had ever asked her out to dinner.
At the Hospital of the Immaculate Conception, I sat opposite Sister Mary Sullivan and made what arrangements had to be made.
"You're certain about the next of kin?" she asked me. "In these cases, it always leaves me with a hollow feeling, a terrible sense of loss, if you know what I mean?"
"I should think you would become hardened to it," I said.
"No. I sometimes wish I could."
"As far as I know, there are no next of kin."
"And he is not related to you in any way?"
"Only a friend."
Sister Mary looked at me rather strangely and long, and that prompted me to explain.
"Then you have not seen Mr. Smith for twenty-five years—until today?"
"That's right, Sister."
"Do you know how he died, Mr. Brody?"
"He said he was diabetic and that he had suffered a heart attack the night before."
"He was also an addict, Mr. Brody. A heroin addict in all probability."
"Is that what killed him?"
"No. I suppose you could say that life killed him—as it does so many of us. They found the puncture marks but no trace of heroin in his body. His heart was bad—his liver—poor man, there's no one to weep for him. Was he a Catholic?"
"I don't think so. I'll take care of the burial. Would you tell me where to go?"
"We don't recommend chapels or mortuaries, but there's a nondenominational place called Loving Care, directly north from here on Sunset Boulevard. They're not terribly expensive or showy. I mention it only because you appear to be quite bewildered. Was he Jewish by any chance?"
"No, he wasn't Jewish."
"Then Loving Care might be most convenient for you. If you wish me to, I'll instruct the pathology room to surrender the body to them. You'll have to sign these papers."
I signed the papers, and then drove over to Sunset and the Loving Care Funeral Home, where I made arrangements for a cremation. I had some qualms about this, but I was in no mood to go to the trouble of buying a plot and going through the mockery of a burial ceremony. My obligation to Andrew Capestone was, after all, a limited one. He had called upon acquaintance, not upon friendship, and I had only the vaguest memories of his presence in Harvard. Also, I felt quite certain he would not object. He might have had some strong feeling about a potter's field, and at least I salved my conscience to that extent.
"What would you like done with the ashes?" the funeral director asked me.
"What is usually done with them?"
"Frequently the loved ones request them—in an urn of one sort or another. Our urns are specially designed for us by the Clinton Company in England, and they run in price from twenty-five dollars to twelve hundred dollars."
"And if no one requests the ashes?"
"We have a mausoleum designed for just that purpose. The niche will cost eighty-two dollars for perpetuity."
"I'll take the niche and the twenty-five-dollar urn."
And so it was done, and Andrew Smith, né Andrew Capestone, went to whatever rest there is.CHAPTER 4
I took Millie to a steak place downtown, not because I wanted to avoid being seen by Evelyn's friends—most of them would sooner die than eat downtown—but because I wanted to avoid confronting Evelyn with her own date, golf pro or otherwise. I also made the mental adjustment of addressing Millie as a dinner companion rather than as an assistant or whatever she was for the three hundred and fifty dollars a week I paid her. I asked her what name she had been born with.
"Millicent, Mr. Brody. Millicent Patience Cooper. That's my own name. My husband's name was MacGeorge."
"You were married?"
"And divorced. I had twelve rotten months, and then I put an end to it."
"I think that at dinner you can call me Al. They have New York steak here and probably the best steak in Los Angeles. Back at the office, get formal and call me Mr. Brody if you must. But since you choose to put me down, do it on a first-name basis."
"Put you down?" She shook her head. "No. Really."
I smiled at her and she smiled back. She did not have an easy smile, but one that was slow and warm and honest.
"I didn't mean to," she said.
"But you did. We always mean the things we say—in one way or another. You had twelve rotten months and you put an end to it. I have had twenty rotten years, and I keep it going."
"All right, Mr. Brody," she agreed. It was not easy for her to call me Al. "I have watched and I have wondered. You don't make passes, you don't play around ..."
"But I remain married to a woman you regard as the ultimate bitch."
"Yes. Since you put it that way."
"No one is the ultimate bitch, Millie. Did it ever occur to you what a rotten break it could be to be married to Al Brody?"
"No. No, that never occurred to me."
"Think about it from her point of view. I am twenty pounds overweight; I have a face like a hairless moon; I am interested in nothing that interests her, and she is interested in nothing that interests me; we have nothing to talk about; and after I learned about her first affair and her second and her third—all imparted to me in a fit of venomous frankness—I became impotent where she was concerned, and since that happened nine years ago, what's in it for her?"
"I wish you hadn't told me that," she whispered.
"Because you won't like me when you think back about it."
"You're damn skillful. I couldn't replace you, and what difference does it make whether I like you or not?"
"Al—all right, now, I'm able to call you Al. I have been with you for six years. That's a long time. I had a feeling you liked me."
"And you waited for me to make a pass at you? Or were you afraid that I would? Do you want another drink?" I asked her.
"Yes, please. I would like to get drunk—not too drunk. A little bit. I know that you're twenty pounds overweight and that you have a face like a hairless moon and that you feel sorry for yourself because you're old and fat, but still I would like a second martini and then I want to stuff myself with some steak, and then I want you to come home and go to bed with me. I also would like you to accept the fact that you're the first man I ever made such a proposition to."
I thought about it for a little while, and then I told her I could accept the fact. "I'll get the New York cut for two."
"That would be nice."
"You want fried onions, dipped in batter?"
"You don't mind if I drink beer?"
"I don't mind, Al."CHAPTER 5
The clock on her night table said two o'clock in the morning, and I said that I thought it was time for me to go home.
"Well, it's a sort of convention. She comes home. I might as well."
"I thought you'd be liberated, now that you're not an impotent old man," Millie said.
"It really sets you up, doesn't it?"
"Why not? I feel like a doctor who's delivered his first baby."
"That's an interesting analogy."
"Why don't you leave her?"
"I have thought about it."
"For nine years?"
"No one else I wanted."
"What did you want—the house on North Canon?"
"Why doesn't she leave you?"
Excerpted from Millie by Howard Fast. Copyright © 1973 William Morrow and Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPART ONE: Creation,
PART TWO: The Deluge,
PART THREE: The Deluge Continues,
PART FOUR: The Beginning of the End,
PART FIVE: Ararat,
A Biography of Howard Fast,