1974 - Goldfish Have No Hiding Place

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Goldfish Have No Hiding Place

James Hadley Chase

1974

 

 

1

 

O
n this hot Sunday afternoon, as I had the house to myself, I decided it would be an opportunity to take a close look at myself, to consider if there was anything I could do to bridge the widening gap between Linda and myself, and to examine my financial position which was far from healthy.

Linda was with the Mitchells. I had begged off, explaining I had work to do. Linda had shrugged, taken her swimsuit and had driven over to the Mitchells' house with my vague promise I would join them later. I knew she wouldn't care if I showed up or not.

Because of a defective filter in my pool, this was one of the very rare Sundays when I could be on my own: an opportunity I wasn't going to miss.

So I sat in the sun and looked at myself. I am thirty-eight years of age, physically fit and blessed with a creative brain.

Some three years ago, I had been a successful columnist for the
Los Angeles Herald
. The work had bored me, but it was a way to earn a decent living, and as I had just married Linda who had extravagant tastes, earning a decent living was important.

One evening, in San Francisco, I attended one of those dreary cocktail parties where the Big-wheels meet and talk business while their wives yak in the background. There was little in it for me, but if I hadn't shown up I might have missed something and I made a point of never missing anything if I could help it. I was propping up a wall, cuddling a whisky on the rocks, wondering when I could slip away when Henry Chandler came up to me.

Henry Chandler was alleged to be worth two hundred million dollars. His kingdom comprised computers, kitchen equipment and frozen foods. As a sideline, he owned the
California Times
and a successful Vogue-like glossy, selling fashions to the wealthy. He was the city's leading Quaker, his money had built the local, vast Quaker church and he was the least liked, most generous do-gooder of the city's rich citizens.

“Manson,” he said, staring at me with his dark, hooded eyes, “I have been following your column. I like it. You have talent. Come and see me tomorrow at ten o'clock.”

I went to see him and listened to his offer. He wanted to start a monthly magazine to be called
The Voice of the People
which would circulate throughout California: its purpose was to criticise and protest.

“This state,” he said, “is riddled with corruption, dishonesty and crooked politics. I have an organisation that will supply all the information you will need so long as you feed them ideas. I'm offering you the job as editor because I believe you can handle this. I have had you investigated and I am satisfied with the report. You can choose your own staff. It can be small as the production and so on can be handled by my people working on my newspaper. You needn't worry about expenses. If the magazine flops, you will get two years' salary, but it won't flop. I have a brief here which I want you to examine. You will see you will have every support. Your job is to look for trouble. I'll take care of the libel suits. I have a top-class detective agency to work with you. We are not muck raking. I want you to be quite sure of that. There is no need to muck rake. We attack the administration, we attack police corruption and we go after the bribery and corruption boys. Does this interest you?”

I took his brief away and studied it. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I talked it over with Linda and she was as excited as I. She kept saying, “Thirty thousand!” Her lovely face alight. “We can at last move out of this godforsaken apartment!”

I had met Linda at a cocktail party thrown by an ambitious politician and had fallen in love with her. As I sat in the sun, I thought back to that moment when I first saw her. She was the most marvellous looking woman I had ever seen: she was blonde, beautiful, with big, marvellous eyes and a body that could only be the exact model of the perfect woman: heavy breasted, slim waist, solid hips and long tapering legs: a sex symbol de luxe. The fact that I was a society columnist and mixed with the best people appealed to her. She told me she thought I was heavenly romantic.

She made a tiny living acting as one of the various hostesses who looked after an ambitious politician: mixing with his friends, supplying glamour to his background, filling them with whisky, but, so she assured me, strictly paws off.

We married within a week of our meeting. Our wedding night should have warned me. There was no passion, no nothing. She just gave herself, but I was hopeful to think that I could rouse her if I were patient enough: but I never did. I then discovered that her obsession was money. I was so crazy about her, I let her spend what I hadn't got. She was always buying things: handbags, clothes, costume jewellery, junk and because I wanted to keep her happy, I let her spend. She grumbled. She hated the small apartment in which we lived. She wanted a car. Why should she have to take a bus when I used the car for business? I loved her. I tried hard to jolly her along. I even showed her figures to prove we just couldn't afford the things she wanted. She wasn't interested. “You are famous,” she said. “People always talk about you: you must be successful.”

Just when I was really getting worried, this offer from Chandler arrived.

“I know just where we are going to live!” Linda told me.

“Eastlake! It's marvellous! It has everything! Let's go tomorrow and pick a house.”

I pointed out to her I hadn't got the job, hadn't made up my mind and beside, Eastlake was an expensive estate which could eat a hell of a hole in a thirty thousand dollar income.

This was our first real quarrel. I was startled by her violence. She screamed at me and threw things. I was so shocked, I gave way. As soon as I promised I would take the job and would go with her to look at Eastlake, she came into my arms and apologised for being “so naughty.”

So I went to Chandler and told him I would be his editor.

He sat behind his desk, looking like a vast blow-up of what a two hundred million dollar executive had to look like, a big cigar rolling between his thick lips.

“Fine, Manson, the contract is all ready.” He paused and regarded me, his hooded eyes probing. “Now, one thing: you will be attacking the corrupt and the dishonest. Remember you will be a goldfish in a glass bowl. Be careful: don't give anyone any chance to hit back at you. Goldfish have no hiding place. Remember that. Take me: I am a Quaker and proud of it. I believe in God. My private life can't be criticised. No one can point a finger at me and no one must be able to point a finger at you. Do you understand? No drinking when driving: no fooling with women. You are respectably married so keep that way. No debts. No nothing the opposition can pin on you. You step out of turn and every newspaper in this state will come after you. You now have a mission to attack the corrupt and the dishonest and you are going to have a lot of enemies who will crucify you if they can.”

Because I needed his thirty thousand dollars a year, I said I understood, but after signing the contract, after shaking his hand and when I left his opulent office and went down to my car, I had misgivings. I was already in debt: I had a bank overdraft. I had Linda who spent and spent.

But for all that, I stupidly let her talk me into buying a house at Eastlake.

Eastlake is a housing estate built for the upper income bracket people. The comfortable, de luxe houses sold for around $75,000 and they are equipped with fitted carpets, dish washers, air conditioners; you name it it's there, even to a lawn sprinkler. These houses are built around an artificial lake of some two hundred acres. There is a Club house, riding, tennis, swimming, a golf course (floodlit at night) and a vast de luxe Self-service store that supplies anything from caviar to a pin.

Eastlake was Linda's idea of paradise. She had a number of friends living there. We just couldn't live anywhere else, she told me. So I bought a house with a horrifying mortgage that would cost me $10,000 a year in fees, property tax and outgoings.

We moved in and Linda was happy. The furniture took all my savings. I had to admit that the house was marvellous and I was proud to be the owner, but at the back of my mind, I kept thinking of the cost. We had neighbours: young people like ourselves, but I suspected the husbands were better off financially than I was. Every night we either entertained or were entertained. Linda, of course, wanted a car of her own. I bought her an Austin Mini Cooper. She was never satisfied. She wanted way-out gear: her friends were constantly changing their clothes, so why shouldn't she? She couldn't cook and hated housework so we had Cissy, a large black woman who came in her beat-up Ford every other day and cost me $20 a visit. My $30,000 a year that had looked so good when I had signed Chandler's contract shrank to nothing.

But, at least, the magazine was a success. I had been lucky to find two top-class reporters, Wally Mitford and Max Berry, to work with me. Chandler's detective agency fed me with a stream of information. Chandler lent me his advertising expert who really knew his job. Financially, the magazine had no problems. With Mitford and Berry helping, I lifted the lid off a lot of corruption and consequently made a lot of enemies. This I had to accept. I went after the Administration and the politicians. After the fourth issue, I knew I was a hated man, but I kept strictly to facts and there was nothing anyone I attacked could do about it.

Sitting in the sun, taking stock, I saw how vulnerable I was if some enemy began to probe into my private life. I was burdened with a $3,000 overdraft. I was living beyond my means. I didn't seem able to control Linda's spending. If some columnist wanted to be spiteful he could hint that Linda and I were falling out and I knew that would upset Chandler whose married life was blameless.

In the next issue of
The Voice of the People
, due out at the middle of the month, I was attacking Captain John Schultz, the Chief of Police. I was raising inquiring eyebrows that he was able to run a Cadillac, live in a $100,000 house, send his two sons to the University and his wife wore mink. Chandler had told me to go after Schultz whom he hated. What I had written was the truth, but attacking the Chief of Police was asking for personal trouble. I knew, once the magazine was on the streets, I would have to be very, very careful: no parking offences, no driving even after one drink: every cop in the city would be told to gun for me.

As I sat by the empty swimming pool, I wondered if what I was doing made sense. I hadn't Chandler's Quaker mentality. I was in this for the money. It was fine for him: he could take care of any libel action and he was a natural crusader: I wasn't.

Tomorrow was the first of the month. It would be the day of reckoning when I paid my last month's bills. I went over to my desk and spent the next two hours listing what Linda and I owed: The amount exceeded the quarterly payment from Chandler by $2,300. I analysed my outgoings. Apart from Linda's extravagance, the worst inroad was liquor and meat bills. When you entertained ten to fifteen people twice a week, providing them with vast steaks and unlimited liquor, you really ran away with the money, plus Cissy, plus the monthly payments on my car and Linda's car, plus living expenses and provision for income tax and property tax, I wondered I wasn't more in the red.

I sat back feeling trapped. I would have to do something, but what? The obvious thing was to sell the house and move into a small apartment in the city, but by now I was regarded as a big success by the people of Eastlake and could I afford to raise the white flag and quit?

The telephone rang. It was Harry Mitchell.

“Hi! Steve! Are you coming over? Do I put a steak on for you?”

I hesitated, looking at the litter on my desk. What was the point in sitting here, making sums?

“Sure, Harry, I'll be right over.”

As I replaced the receiver, I thought tomorrow could bring a solution, -although common sense told me it wouldn't.

I would have to talk to Linda and this was something I dreaded. I knew she would make a scene. I still vividly remembered our last major quarrel. But she had to be told.

We had to cut down expenses. She had to cooperate.

I locked up the house, went to the garage and got in my car. I liked Harry and Pam Mitchell. He earned big money in real estate. I suppose he earned three times what I did.

They never had less than thirty people to their Sunday barbeques.

I drove over to his place, telling myself without any hope that tomorrow was another more hopeful day.

 

***

 

Jean Kesey, my secretary, was in my office, arranging my mail as I came in on this Monday morning.

A word about Jean: she was around twenty-six years of age, tall, dark with a good figure, a good face without being pretty and she was one hundred percent efficient. She had come from the Chandler stable, having worked for him as his fourth secretary and he had parted with her reluctantly, telling me he was making me a valuable present and a valuable present she was.

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