Monday, August 8, 2011

Chapter Seventeen of Hampton from the Halfway Line


Central London

Christmas 2007 had been unlike any other in Rosalie’s life. Always her favorite of holidays, Christmas (Peter, don’t ever write it ‘Xmas’ again) found Rosalie going about making all and sundry as festive and memorable as possible for her children – first Nicholas, then Lauren, then soon after Dani. Peter administered the storage boxes and took care of the high up things. When it came to Christmas, Rosalie McMahon could give any high-end gay florist a run for his money. She had grown up in a mixed, Jewish/C of E household, in Golders Green in the sixties, where Christmas had been a muted celebration. Still, Rosalie the girl had absorbed much of the mysterious nativity, combined with the pagan magic of Saint Nick and the breathless visits to London department stores. The sights, sounds, feel and tastes of the traditional western yuletide filled little Rosalie Silver with a deep appreciation, now that she was a mum, for stuffing more fancifully-wrapped presents under the tree than could possibly fit without spilling over into adjoining rooms and perhaps even a few gifts like toy motorcycles and such (assembled after midnight by Peter) having to appear fantastically on the porch or the terrace. For her, Christmas was not Christmas without bits of ribbon and bows strewn about, holiday music playing at all hours on the stereo, at least one day coursing amid the throngs before the mercantile icons of Oxford Street, and color, color, color.
Peter allowed her free reign – not that he could stop her if he’d wanted to. Decorating the house (from top-to-bloody bottom, according to Peter), throwing big sweeping parties (actually better than anyone else’s), taking in the occasional wastrel (Please, no!) and shopping like crazy (can we take it a bit easy this year?) meant a great deal more to Rosalie than it meant for Peter that these things not happen. Part of his shtick involved channeling Scrooge, but it was an act. In Peter’s mind, probably, his wife behaving so outrageously puckish led to his unconsciously performing as a counterweight with fun-loving sarcasm and a studied weariness.
Such as, when driving through the countryside and spotting a forty-foot spruce, exclaiming, “Oh, darling, just there. We could probably knock through the parlor ceiling and fit that tree in the house. The children could decorate the top half from their beds like in some West End musical.”
This year, though, she had all the emotional touchstones she’d cultivated over the years -- a tight-knit, loving, if argumentative family; dear friends; a beautiful home in Brook Green ripe for trimming with pine roping and holly berries – plus the added riches of exquisitely meaningful work. Well, maybe not meaningful like feeding starving Sudanese children; or helping prevent war or pestilence; or rebuilding the wrecked bits of Sichuan province. She had her local charity work, and that was nice. But, just after Peter and the children, Rosalie loved books most of all. Commercial and literary fiction first. Travel and food second. They were part of who she was as a woman. And now, amidst the usual joys, she was knee deep in the business of books with one of its heavy hitters. Ben Hampton would not describe himself as a heavy hitter – more like a lucky blighter.
Just after Ben had alerted Rosalie that his actual agent, Dava Carson, sought a huddle of sorts with her – his quasi-agent, Rosalie immediately set about arranging a summit. His actual agent, Ms. Carson, of whom Ben was quite fond and proud, was, along with dozens of her colleagues, in the act of a protracted, nasty and very public battle with Sizemore and Callus. Sizemore had been an independent literary agency, one of London’s originals. Now they were the talent agent tentacle of a vast entertainment supernova. The last thing Dava needed at this chaotic time was her dear friend and plum client nibbling the fruit of a mysterious rival.
‘He wouldn’t dare leave me, would he? And who was this Rosie McGregor or whatever? What sort of low life?’
Ben assured Dava that the collaboration with Rosalie was out of the blue, completely his idea and just for this one harmless little sport book. It was nothing. Of course he wanted to remain Dava’s client. Absolutely he was indebted to her and relied significantly on her as a creative, editorial and business partner. Ours is a bond, he even said. Ben Hampton had never uttered anything of the sort in his life.
He didn’t apologize (as she might have expected), and he didn’t request for this peculiar indulgence to be considered any kind of favor needing to be paid back. Ben Hampton was his typically friendly and easy-going blokish self. As irritated as Dava Carson had every right to be by such a ghastly revelation, she also realized what the famous author was implying in his innocent and uncalculated tone. Don’t rock the boat!
Ben held, by far, the upper hand at this point in their relationship, and he didn’t even have to acknowledge that he knew it. Over a twenty-year period he had cultivated, by his personality allied crucially with his runaway success and well-earned reputation, a community of literary associates who could best survive and prosper, as can we all, by endeavoring to behave well and get along. Ben Hampton et al were a professional niche, within the larger village of the book business, possessing a variety of shared, intertwined interests very much like a family.
Dava knew it too. Besides, she loved him like a brother. She did ask permission, however, to at least chat with Rosalie ‘just to get to know her.’ And to make it clear that any additional boat rocking on Rosalie’s part would constitute much more of a risk than the one this renegade took in turning Ben’s head in the first place. And to negotiate some manner of face-saving share of the agent fee, without resorting to threats, just so this Rosalie McMahon knew where things stood going forward. On top of everything else, Dava was itching to know what really happened to set this Julius Novak bullshit in motion.
Sizemore and Callus were of mixed opinion when they first got wind of the whole ‘Ben Hampton proposal sold to JJI by some interloper’ gossip. Their first instinct, as a corporation, had been to just unleash a torrent of ravenous solicitors on anyone even tangentially connected. Legal ‘shock and awe,’ as it were. Cool heads having prevailed, though, the directors at Sizemore figured if they were going to lose Ben Hampton anyway in some kind of mass agent exodus – barring an eleventh hour miracle at the bargaining table – then why not sit back and enjoy watching the popular novelist stick it to one of the mutineers?
The week before Rosalie met Ben and Julius at The Dove, she therefore had a meeting with Dava Carson at the Coram Street office. Peter was told to be available if the encounter were to go all pear shaped. Dava, at first, sought home-field advantage by inviting Rosalie down to Sizemore’s historic and imposing Bow Street building in Covent Garden. In the end, she decided not to add any shots of booze to the water cooler chatter by presenting in the flesh the infamous Ben Hampton poacher. A term, by the way, which Ben asked Dava please not to use – not around Rosalie; not around anyone. The Julius Novak project, he insisted, did not constitute a poach.
“Technically, it does,” Dava said to her client over dandelion, broad bean, cherry tomato and shaved pecorino salad at a bustling Orso. “But, never mind. What shall we call it then?”
“Why do we have to call it anything?” he asked.
“Because others will.”
Ben really hated the part of the book business having fuck all to do with reading, writing, browsing, sipping cappuccino and getting paid.
“Look, you’re my friend. Rosalie’s my friend. This has not got in the way of anything else I’m doing – much. Dava, really, by next week half a dozen other of your clients will have caused you much more catastrophic bother than this.”
“Great. How very soothing.”

After thirty minutes together that afternoon in Coram Street, Rosalie was standing behind a seated Dava Carson vigorously massaging her neck as the super literary agent sobbed the tears of a million agents throughout recorded history. Rosalie had gotten Dava to unload a year’s worth of anxiety about the agency turmoil, breast cancer scare, separation from her husband and the ongoing upset of her adopted Egyptian girl having quit school to follow a muslim street gang in Brent.
“Poor Dava. There, there, dear. Let it out. Let your body go limp. Yes. There you are. How does that feel?”
“Oh my god. That’s extraordinary. Is this how you got Ben to do the football book?”
“Shhhhh …”
     For the next two hours, Rosalie laid out a savvy game plan for Dava and her colleagues to successfully negotiate a solution to their Sizemore and Callus disorder. By the time they kissed goodbye and Dava headed in the direction of the Russell Square tube, Ben Hampton’s longtime agent was committed to not getting in the way of the Julius Novak project and to her new friend and confidant, Rosalie McMahon.

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