Natalie should have gone home after the party. One of New York’s hottest literary agents, she was celebrating her latest coup—next year’s mega-thriller, sold at auction for $1.5 million. As the industry bows at her feet, Natalie can’t help but think of her boss, Jay, a handsome dynamo who has been in love with her since her first day on the job. When the party ends, Natalie retreats to the office to clear her head. Lost in thought, she steps to the window—and sees something that strikes fear into her heart. A man in a trench coat scurries down the sidewalk, stops in front of a construction site, and hurls a pistol over the wall. Natalie doesn’t realize the significance of this until the man sees her watching. They make eye contact, and Natalie knows her life will never be the same—now that a killer knows her face.
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About the Author
Thomas Gifford (1937–2000) was a bestselling author of thriller novels. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, he moved to Minnesota after graduating from Harvard. After eight years as a traveling textbook salesman, he wrote Benchwarmer Bob (1974), a biography of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Bob Lurtsema. The Wind Chill Factor (1975), a novel about dark dealings among ex-Nazis, introduced John Cooper, a character Gifford would revisit in The First Sacrifice (1994). The Wind Chill Factor was one of several books Gifford set in and around Minneapolis. Gifford won an Edgar Award nomination for The Cavanaugh Quest (1976). The Glendower Legacy (1978), a story about an academic who discovers that George Washington may have been a British spy, was adapted for the film Dirty Tricks (1981), starring Elliott Gould. In the 1980s Gifford wrote suspense novels under the pen names Thomas Maxwell and Dana Clarins. In 1996 he moved back to Dubuque to renovate his childhood home. He died of cancer in 2000.
Read an Excerpt
Woman in the Window
By Dana Clarins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Dana Clarins
All rights reserved.
The party was in full swing. Advance copies of Publishers Weekly had been messenger delivered to the Danmeier Agency shortly after lunch, and the remainder of the afternoon had been devoted to a celebration. Natalie Rader, the cause of all the revelry, sighed happily. Looking around the office, she couldn't avoid the picture of herself, half a page with an absurdly fulsome cutline calling her "the hottest, newest, prettiest Superagent." But there was no doubt that the long piece detailing the auction she had conducted several weeks before was good both for the agency and for herself. Increasingly, it seemed to her, the style and customs of Hollywood were seeping in and discoloring the publishing industry—but at moments like this her distaste for the phenomenon was kept carefully at bay. Enlightened self-interest, healthy ambition, all that: she wished she didn't enjoy the spotlight quite so much, but then she was only human, and at least she admitted the truth to herself.
Her secretary, Lisa, brought her a styrofoam cup of champagne and gave her a proud hug. Donnie, the messenger boy and mailroom attendant, beamed at her and lifted his own cup in a toast. She leaned back on a couch in the reception area and basked.
The article in PW was accurate, thank God, and the publishers involved in the auction of this first novel had all told the interviewer the truth. The mega-thriller by the academic in Marblehead, Massachusetts, had indeed brought a $1.5 million advance for the hardback and softcover rights, and Natalie had indeed orchestrated the auction masterfully, assuring the agency a $225,000 commission. She'd been with Danmeier for twelve years, a full-fledged agent for ten, and she knew what was going on. Natalie understood the psychological dynamics of things like auctions. Mastering the elements of the game was almost as important as the property itself. Almost. But she was too smart an agent, and too good an agent, not to know that in the end the book was everything.
From where she sat quietly on the couch, with the secretaries and the two other agents and a couple of lucky strays who happened to be in the office at the right time chatting and sipping and kidding her about the ego trip, she could see through two doorways to her own office, her desk. There in a green florists vase sat two dozen red roses. The little white card read: Congrats, Tiger. Tony.
Jay Danmeier came toward her, smiling, looming over her as he inevitably did. He was a large man, well over six feet and two hundred pounds, incredibly well tailored by a bespoke firm in Savile Row. He had hired Natalie away from Simon & Schuster when she was a beginning editorial assistant only two years out of Northwestern. He'd said later that he'd recognized a born deal maker in her, had said it mainly to tease her because it was the fascination of working with writers that had interested her, not the deal making.
But he'd been right, after all. She was a born angle finder and negotiator, and whether or not she particularly enjoyed it was irrelevant. As the years passed, she did come to enjoy it, as part of the process of handling someone with literary ability. It was that sort of insight and predictive judgment that had made Danmeier himself one of the very best: he could read people; he had understood Natalie better than she had understood herself. Success had fed his reputation over the years until it finally matched his physical size. At fifty, Jay Danmeier let no one doubt that he was just coming into his prime. But Natalie was used to him, used to the tension that sometimes curled out of his ego like the spirals of smoke from his two-dollar cigars.
Looking down at her, he smiled his crocodile smile, sighted down the length of the immensely long cigar, and said, "Well, my darling girl, you've set yourself a hell of a dangerous precedent. What do you do for an encore? In a month this'll be old, old news."
"Sit down, Jay. You don't have to impress me from on high. I'm already impressed."
He shrugged and sat beside her, slipping a heavy arm around her shoulders.
"And you know perfectly well I don't look at this business as a competition," she continued. "The encore doesn't worry me. I'm getting just as big a kick out of the Linehan book—"
"Christ, Nat. Always the idealist!" He made a face and tapped his ash into a tiny Sardi's ashtray. "He's just another drunken Irishman. A psycho mick good for a thousand copies, tops, and not a hope for a reprint sale. Listen to me, it'll be a miracle if you can get him fifteen hundred up front. I know, I know...." He held up his hand and growled like the MGM lion. "Ars gratia artis."
"Linehan can write."
"Sure. Just be careful. He's got that look on him that scares me to death." He squeezed her shoulder and smiled. "But, lady, you did a hell of a job on this one."
"This is where I say, 'I owe it all to you, Jay,' and you say, 'That's not altogether untrue, Natalie,' and we chuckle up our sleeves." She watched him reflexively shoot his cuffs, inspect his sleeve for a speck of dust, and she smiled at how transparent he was in spite of all the ego. Or because of it.
"Consider it said, then," he observed judiciously. "But you keep up these big capers and you'll make me jealous—"
"You've gotten all the punch lines for far too long. It's finally my turn."
Jay leaned over and kissed her cheek, got up, and headed back to his office. Impulsively he looked back, saw that she was still watching him. He winked with self-satisfaction and disappeared around the corner. Natalie took a few calls but mainly chatted with the gang, nibbled at snacks from the deli downstairs, and reflected on Danmeier in the corner of her mind.
He hadn't been kidding about feeling jealous. Maybe he thought he was, but she knew there was more than a grain of truth to his remark. He'd always dominated the agents who worked for him. It was part of his plan. But somehow Natalie had cracked the careful mosaic he'd constructed, almost from her arrival in the office. Danmeier's reaction to her had been complex from the start—ambivalent, comprised equally of pride in her growth and accomplishments and concern that she might steal some of his limelight. She had never held it against him: it was just the way he was, and she not only understood him, she could handle him. She had, however, wondered what in the possibility of her success he feared!—that was a mystery.
Knowing that he was a man who seldom improvised, a man who thought out his strategies far in advance, she had been surprised recently at some of the risks he'd taken with her, putting himself on the line. Not long ago, he had taken to noticing her again, as he periodically did, citing this time some "appealing, fresh vulnerability" he'd never seen before. She had been amused and he had made a pass at her. No other way to put it.
Caught off guard, she had let him take her determinedly yet gently in his arms and kiss her, had felt his hand on the silk of her blouse, stroking her nipple—it had not been unpleasant, she had not resented it, but she had not been particularly aroused by it either. They had known each other for such a long time: it wasn't an unnatural thing for him to have done. She wasn't challenged, insulted, or driven to perceive it as sexual harassment. It was just Jay and he'd kissed her and touched her. She had let him and thought about it later.
"We work together, Jay," she had said a day later over drinks in the ornate, terribly grand bar at the Palace, "and we work together well. And we're friends. So let's not run the risk of ruining it all with a quick little affair, okay?"
"What if I was hoping for more of a long run?"
"Jay, let's not play games. We're better than that."
He had stared into his perfect Manhattan, gray shaggy head bowed, chiseled features overlaid with the fleshiness of success and the floridness of his age and drinking habits, and had pursed his lips thoughtfully. "You know what Oscar Wilde said, of course."
She'd laughed. "Maybe you should refresh my memory."
"'There is only one difference between a lifelong passion and an infatuation. The infatuation lasts longer.'" He had sipped the Manhattan. "What do you think of that, dear lady?"
"I think you're wondering if you should agree with my assessment of the situation or not. Do you think you're suddenly infatuated with old everyday Natalie? For one thing, it's a little late in coming, isn't it?"
"Oh, no. I remember quite clearly the day I fell in love with you, Nat." He had looked up at her, for a moment seeming almost shy. "I'm only twelve years late in telling you...."
She had felt the start of tears. "Much as I hate to say it, that's a very lovely thing to hear. And," she had pulled herself together, "it's also not fair. No more lovely remarks. Promise me."
He had put his hand over hers and nodded. "All right. For the moment, anyway. But, goddamn it, Nat, I can't answer now for what might happen later." He had smiled gruffly, removed his hand from hers, and finished his drink.
His promise was still intact, more or less. But occasionally she had caught him staring at her in the office or while they met with a client or publisher over lunch at the Four Seasons, and she'd recognized that look in his eye. Once she had accused him, only half-facetiously, of harboring a lovely thought or two.
"Nat," he had replied, "in the nicest possibly way, may I suggest that you shove it?" They had laughed. But there it lay between them, confined for the moment to his eyes. Sometimes she wondered what he saw when he looked at her that way. It was odd, maybe part of being a woman, or reflecting the times in which she lived: she should have known what signals she was sending, but she didn't—and that was that. They were both stuck with the membrane of tension stretched between them. There was something ... something that kept her from tearing it once and for all. She was at that turning point in her life when the sexual arrogance of youth was gone. You never knew how many more chances there might be, and Jay wasn't easy to ignore or forget. And he cared about her.
At six o'clock the secretaries left. The suite of offices was empty. Except for Jay. He poked his head through the doorway of her office and harrumphed.
"You're sounding awfully officious in your old age," she said, taking off her reading glasses and looking up from the fine print of a contract. "Positively Dickensian."
"Old age," he repeated. "My God, you have an unfailing ability to inflict a flesh wound in passing when I least expect it. Charming."
"Well, you know what Wodehouse used to say. When he was past ninety?"
"I'm not going to find this terribly amusing—"
"Of course you will. He said, 'As long as you're going to get old ... you might as well get as old as you can.'"
He couldn't help laughing. "Look, come with me to "21" for dinner. Eight-thirty. I'll fight off all my impulses and not say one lovely thing. We can continue today's celebration. Innocent as the newborn. Come on, Nat." He had a regular nightly table, all part of the Danmeier style.
"Thanks, but no thanks, Jay. I'm utterly bushed. And I feel like I've got a cold coming on—"
"Bullshit. That's what Hemingway used to say."
"Really, I'm sorry, Jay. Another time. The fact is, I got caught out in the rain last night."
"Well, now I'm pissed off. Beware the consequences, my sweet."
"I'll bear up under the pressure."
"Don't I know it." He pulled on his trench coat. "Good night and don't forget to lock up." He went away whistling. She heard the door close in the reception room and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Jay, you're such a bastard. And she smiled at the thought. Smiled at his easy persistence. Could he convince her he was serious? And should she give him the chance?
She relished being alone. It had not been that way following the divorce, but she'd worked her way through the worst of it and now solitude was okay. Time to herself, no longer afraid to be alone because then she might start thinking about Tony and louse up everything ... Solitude was fine if there wasn't too much of it.
Smiling to herself, proud of herself, she poured the last of a bottle of champagne. It was flat and warmish and she didn't mind at all. She had gotten through the psychological firestorm, which was how she thought of the crack-up of her marriage, and now, today, she was back on track, feeling good about herself, calm, whole, able to be alone. Back to being Tiger.
She wandered through the empty rooms. The agency occupied most of one floor in an old, handsomely decorated office building in midtown, six stories with a common street-level lobby and a rickety elevator, self-operated. A design studio, two sets of lawyers, a trade commission from an eastern European satellite—and the Danmeier Agency. It was the kind of building that constituted its own neighborhood, was only a couple of steps from landmark status, and operated on the honor system. Old Tim, the doorman, had once been knocked down nine times in a single round; when he came to, he had a vaguely English accent and longed to be a doorman. He came with the building and there was always the chance that he might actually be on duty. His hours were erratic at best and no one had the nerve to upbraid him. Lobby security never seemed a crucial issue.
Natalie loved the comfortable jumble of rooms, the framed dust jackets, the stacks of manuscripts, the sagging, overburdened bookcases on tatty oriental carpets. Home away from home, that was what the agency meant to her, and that was fine, the way it had to be for her now. Work was your life, life was your work. You worked, you coped, and if there was the time and the opportunity ... then, maybe, you could love. But work was what you could count on. It made sense. You could—what was the jargon of the day? Validate? Sure, you could validate your life with your work. When you asked people to define themselves, what did they say? They told you what they did for a living. Well, she was an agent, she worked, she coped. Whee.
Turning off lights one by one, she giggled. The champagne was getting to her. A wee bit. She didn't drink much, that was the problem.... Giggle.
Back at her desk, the contract lounging in a puddle of soft light, she drained the last bit from the bottle into her cup. The roses were beautiful, still dewy from the florists spray, darkly red, like blood in Italian vampire movies. So sweet of Tony. But she didn't want to start thinking about Tony. That was where the wild things hid, danced, grinned inanely at her. Tony was a memory, had damn well better stay that way. Memory Lane.
She dictated a brief letter into her machine.
"Dear Mr. Linehan. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to tell you that the contracts from Hewitt and Sons have arrived and I am reviewing them. You will have them to sign in a few days; a check for twenty-five hundred dollars will follow shortly...."
Tomorrow she'd tell Jay. She'd beaten his estimate on the advance but she hadn't wanted to rub it in today. It would be fun tomorrow, though.
The beautiful part was that it truly did give her more pleasure than the coup that had her spread all over PW. You had to keep things in perspective, treasure your integrity. Damn straight. It was what made you an individual, right?
She toasted her integrity. Her individuality.
Which was when she should have packed it in and gone home. Instead, she got up and went to the window.
She never understood what had beckoned her to the window.
Excerpted from Woman in the Window by Dana Clarins. Copyright © 1984 Dana Clarins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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