I have one more little story that I want to tell you about our Custody Wars, and then we can leave that unpleasant subject forever. It concerns the way in which Judy was able to make people who should have been neutral declare loyalty to her.

I was working in my Fifth Avenue literary agency one day when the door opened and a man named Sam walked in. (His name wasn’t actually Sam, but I see no reason to tell you what his real name was, although there are quite a few people around who would have no trouble guessing it.) Sam said the reason he had come was that he had been working for the Scott Meredith agency, Scott had fired him and he needed a job. Would I like to hire him?

Such a thought had never occurred to me but, you know, it wasn’t a totally bad idea. To some extent the earnings of the agency depended on how much time I devoted to making sales. I didn’t trust anybody but myself with the major sales, but there were all those routine ones that required no more than putting a manuscript in an envelope with a friendly covering letter, and getting it onto the desk of somebody who might buy it.

I wasn’t deep in financial miseries yet, although I was beginning to get close, so I said, “All right, you’re hired for a trial month. Here’s a building pass and an office key, and come in tomorrow and start familiarizing yourself with the work.” Big executive, right? Shrewd judge of men. Quick to seize a random opportunity.

So the next day came along, and Sam began to familiarize himself with the locator cards, and which Western could go to, say, Mike Tilden’s Western pulps but by no means to those of the Thrilling group, and all that stuff. And then, just a few days later, one of my favorite writers came in, looking seriously annoyed. “Hey, Fred,” he said, “Horace bought that novelette of mine two weeks ago. Why haven’t you sent me a check?”

That was an unexpected embarrassing moment — truly unexpected and seriously embarrassingly embarrassing — and then there was another like it, and then I figured out what was going on. Sam, who is dead now, was using his office key to come back at night, after everyone else had gone home, and make a careful study of my deposit slips and check stubs. And then he passed it all to Judy. Who passed it on to my clients. With the result that now everybody knew as much as I did about my most private juggling of the funds that were keeping me going.

Was I pretty close to theft there? I was. The only thing that was different was that every last human being who had money coming was getting it in full, just a few days or weeks late. But no, I had no right to do it.

Just an overpowering need.

Of course I fired Sam five minutes after I found out what damage he had done, but of course the damage was already very serious. What Judy knew, if she chose to spread it, was enough to threaten the relation of trust I had with some of my favorite clients.

She did choose to do that, and it did have that effect, for a few clients. But it didn’t put me out of business.

And what about old Sam, here? How would you describe him? Stinking, treacherous, backbiting piece of human excrement? Something like that, maybe, or at least those were the kind of words that crossed my own mind.

But do you really think that that’s the way Sam thought of himself? No. I don’t think that for one second.

Remember what I said about Judy’s phenomenal ability to attract loyalty from others. I think he considered himself an indispensably good friend to someone who urgently needed his help in her righteous struggle with me. And that is why, for the purpose of these writings, his name will remain as just Sam.

To be continued.

Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 9

One Comment

  1. Stefan Jones says:

    I imagine it’s rough going over this stuff, but these are the things great and honest biographies are made of.