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Authors: Jesse Kellerman

Potboiler

A
LSO BY
J
ESSE
K
ELLERMAN

The Executor

The Genius

Trouble

Sunstroke

JESSE KELLERMAN

POTBOILER

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS NEW YORK

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

Publishers Since 1838

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Copyright © 2012 by Jesse Kellerman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kellerman, Jesse.

Potboiler / Jesse Kellerman.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-399-15903-9

1. Writers—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3561.E38648P68 2012 2012001823

813’.54—dc23

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

To Gavri

Praise for William de Vallée and the DICK STAPP novels

“There’s no one like William de Vallée. Every time I finish one of his books, I feel like washing the blood off my hands. And after
Fatal Deadliness
, I had to take a twenty-minute shower. Dick Stapp sends Mike Hammer to the slammer, and Jack Reacher looking for a preacher. No mystery here; this is a thriller reader’s thriller by a thrilling thriller writer.”


Stephen King

“Of all the books I have read this year, this is one of them.”


Lee Child
(on
Mortal Grave
)

“If noir is your thing, you won’t find a blacker black than the blackness in William de Vallée’s postmodern darkness. Every word sent me reeling! Dick Stapp is harder than a body left in the sun, and twice as much fun.”


Robert Crais
(on
Risk of Peril
)

“No one does stomach-turning violence better.”

—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Writing that grabs you by the throat and wrings you like a chicken on the eve of Yom Kippur.”

—Woonsocket Potato Pancake

“Stand back, Maxwell Smart, there’s a new agent in town. . . . [Stapp] is a tough guy’s tough guy’s tough guy, the kind of hero who makes women swoon and men wish they had another testicle.”

—New Haven Calumniator

“Mr. de Vallée’s stock-in-trade are plots twistier than those little wire twisty ties that come with bakery bread but that always go missing, forcing you to spin the plastic bag and tuck its neck underneath in order to maintain freshness.”

—The New York Times Book Review

Contents

Cover

Also by Jesse Kellerman

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Praise for William de Vallée

 

ONE ART

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TWO COMMERCE

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THREE A NOVEL OF SUSPENSE

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FOUR (Welcome to West Zlabia!)

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FIVE (Welcome to East Zlabia!)

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SIX (Welcome [Back] to West Zlabia!)

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SEVEN DEUS EX MACHINA

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Acknowledgments

ONE
ART

1.

After one hundred twenty-one days, the search was called off. The Coast Guard had stopped looking after three weeks, but the presumptive widow had paid for a private company to drag the entire Pacific Ocean, or as much of it as they could. With all hope lost, funeral arrangements were now under way. It was front-page news.

There was no obituary as such. A related article outlined the missing man’s life and described his many accomplishments, professional and personal. A third surveyed various people connected to him through the business of writing: his agent, editor, critics, and peers. All agreed that William de Vallée had been a master of his craft, a titan whose loss was the world’s. One interviewee submitted that the full extent of the tragedy would be felt only in due time, once the initial shock had worn off.

Disgusted, Pfefferkorn tossed the paper aside and resumed eating his breakfast cereal. Nobody had called to ask for his opinion, and it was this that upset him so dreadfully. He had known Bill longer than anyone, including Bill’s own wife. She was not quoted in any of the articles, either, having declined to comment. Poor Carlotta, he thought. He considered calling her. But it was impossible. He had failed to call even once since news of the disappearance had broken. Though the odds of finding Bill alive had never been good, Pfefferkorn had been reluctant to offer comfort preemptively, as though by doing so he would be confirming the worst. Now that the worst had come to pass, his silence, however well intentioned, seemed horribly callous. He had made a mistake and he felt embarrassed. It wasn’t the first time. Nor would it be the last.

2.

By the next morning, other stories claimed the front page. Pfefferkorn bypassed news of a celebrity divorce, an arrested athlete, and the discovery of a major gas field off the West Zlabian coast, finding what he wanted on page four. The memorial service for William de Vallée, noted author of more than thirty internationally best-selling thrillers, would be held in Los Angeles, at a cemetery catering primarily to celebrities. It was to be a closed ceremony, by invitation only. Pfefferkorn once again felt disgusted. It was typical of the press to feign respect for a person’s privacy while simultaneously destroying it. He left the kitchen and went to dress for work.

Pfefferkorn taught creative writing at a small college on the Eastern Seaboard. Years ago he had published a single novel. Called
Shade of the Colossus,
it concerned a young man’s bitter struggle to liberate himself from a domineering father who belittles his son’s attempts to find meaning in art. Pfefferkorn had modeled the father after his own father, an uneducated vacuum salesman now deceased. The book received mild acclaim but sold poorly, and Pfefferkorn had published nothing since.

Every so often he would call up his agent to describe something new he had written. The agent would always say the same thing: “It sounds simply
fascinating
. Get it on over to me, would you?” Dutifully Pfefferkorn would mail in the material and wait for a response. Eventually he would tire of waiting and pick up the phone.

“Well,” the agent would say, “it
is
fascinating. I’ll give you that. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I can sell it. I’m willing to try, of course.”

“You know what,” Pfefferkorn would say. “Never mind.”

“It’s not a good time for short stories.”

“I know.”

“How’s that novel coming?”

“Not bad.”

“Let me know when you’ve got something to show me, will you?”

“I will.”

What Pfefferkorn did not tell his agent was that the very pages the agent deemed unsellable were not in fact short stories but abortive attempts at a second novel. By his count, Pfefferkorn had started seventy-seven different novels, abandoning each after hearing his first five pages dismissed. Recently, on a lark, he had placed all seventy-seven five-page segments in a single stack and attempted to stitch them together into a coherent whole, an effort that cost him an entire summer but that ultimately yielded nothing. Upon realizing his failure, he kicked out a window in his bedroom. The police were summoned and Pfefferkorn let off with a warning.

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