The St. Clair Manuscript
When Randolph St. Clair handed me what I later realized was a God-awful sci-fi/fantasy manuscript called Ten Light Years that Shook the Universe, I'd only been in the publishing business for a month. Until he showed up, "being in business," to me, had meant little more than showing up at Spooky's Publishing Company and reading magazines and paperbacks on loan from the bookstore on the first floor of the two-story Whippy Building in downtown Frinton, Alabama.
St. Clair's condition when he arrived at my office was more than a little disconcerting: in addition to being quite obviously drunk, he was pale and wild-eyed, making me promise I would destroy the two-inch-thick manila envelope he shoved into my hands if I didn't hear from him again in a couple of weeks.
I didn't even look at the manuscript for a few days, but after reading only a few pages of the manuscript he'd given me, I put it back in the envelope and gave it to my secretary with instructions to give it back to Mr. St. Clair when he returned.
Naturally, he fell off my radar. I wasn't actively seeking manuscripts, but a few people called the number printed on my sign outside the office. Many of those actually made appointments with me, not wise to the fact that I would probably never publish their books, nor anyone else's: for all intents and purposes, I am now retired from the workaday existence I never much enjoyed, anyway.
My head swam when I read about the death of Randolph St. Clair two days after the fact in a day-old Mobile Register. It certainly didn't make the front pages. A single column, 175-word piece with a two-deck headline in 12-point bold type, the news was buried on page seven of the regional section: "Missing Eastern Shore Man Found Dead."
Not surprisingly, the week St. Clair was found dead in a bathtub there were no stories about it in the Frinton Ledger.
There were major features about an art show at the luxurious Louis XVI Hotel, and about the ribbon-cutting ceremonies at a tobacco shop on Main Street. The friends of the library scored a center-spread story about the history of their upcoming annual book sale. Four women who'd written a travel guide to the Gulf Coast were pictured for what seemed like the hundredth time in five years with copies of the newly updated edition of their book, Freewheeling on the Road to Fun, Fun, Fun!
I waited to read something—anything—about the St. Clair case in the next week's Ledger. Nothing.
I was concerned about the disappearance and death of Randolph St. Clair for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that I'd seen him a day before the police allege he went missing. Mixed in with this was also the small matter of now having in my possession something which he'd begged me to destroy.
The work was bad enough to destroy without feeling too much guilt. But there was a twisted thread of something sinister attached to the manuscript, now, that I wanted to untangle.
Before I could even begin doing that, my office was broken into and ransacked. Nothing was stolen except—you guessed it: the St. Clair manuscript.
Oh well. I was glad to have it out of my life.