Two voices played tug-of-war with Theo’s brain all afternoon.
Keep the proposal, use it as a basis for your own nonfiction book, and submit it to Janet Fischer, one voice chanted. She asked for your work, didn’t she?
Call Janet Fischer, tell the truth, be up front and honest, argued the other. She’ll learn the truth anyway when Theodore Russell speaks tonight.
Sitting at the desk in her hotel room, Theo dithered between the two, feeling a little like Abraham on the mountaintop with his beloved and long-awaited son on the altar. Did she have the courage to surrender her dream? And was God really asking her to do this?
She tried calling Janet Fischer’s room, but the editor wasn’t in and Theo didn’t want to explain the situation through voice mail. She even thought about calling Theodore Russell (“You’re going to think this is funny, but guess what my name is?”), but then remembered that she was apparently the only Theo Russell registered at the hotel.
So during the afternoon she studied the proposal.
The implications of Russell’s theory still dazzled her. If a link between abortion and breast cancer did exist, women needed to know. Her mother had died from breast cancer, and now Janette struggled with the same disease. Whether Theo wrote about Russell’s hypothesis from a women’s health perspective, a pro-life viewpoint, or simply as a medical breakthrough, the idea was a sure winner. If breast cancer was really aggravated by the physiological changes caused by an abortion, the topic was hot enough to support two books—even a dozen.
So how could she address the topic and still feel good about the way she’d received the material? Janet Fischer needed to know that Theodora was not Theodore, that much was certain. And Theodore needed to know that Theodora had seen his material. Perhaps he’d be willing to give his permission for her to use it. After all, she would write a completely different kind of book. . .
Theo chewed the end of her pencil, thinking. Janet Fischer wasn’t the type, she decided, to listen to Theo’s explanation and then laugh it off as a strange coincidence. She might be angry, even insulted, that a nobody had taken up her time and heard her offer six figures to the wrong person. Better to write Ms. Fischer a letter than to confront her in person. Theo had Howarth House’s address in the NAL information packet, so she could write the letter first thing Monday morning. Janet would receive it within a couple of days, and the editor would save face with her peers. No one else would know about her little mistake.
Except Theodore M. Russell. Theo knew she could leave him out of the confrontation entirely, but she really did want to know more about the abortion/breast cancer link. No one in her family had aborted a baby, but breast cancer ran through their ranks like a crimson thread, binding, then separating mothers from daughters, daughters from sisters—
And Theodore Russell was speaking tonight at the NAL convention. Surely Theo could join the crowd of admirers around him after his speech. She’d catch his attention by introducing herself, and the similarities in their names would grant her at least a five-minute audience. Then she could quietly explain the mix-up of the afternoon and return his proposal. And then she’d ask, even beg if necessary, for his permission to follow the same research with a totally different kind of book.
He couldn’t say no. There was really no ethical, moral, or legal reason why she couldn’t investigate the abortion/breast cancer link on her own, but she’d be courteous enough to ask first. And she’d promise to give him credit for the idea in the acknowledgment section of her book when it was published . . .
“Yeah,” Theo whispered, putting the pencil down. A thrill of hope whispered through her as she straightened the edges of the proposal. “This feels right.”
Sitting in the back of the grand ballroom, Theo looked at her watch. Seven-thirty, and still no sign of Theodore Russell. In the crowded seats to Theo’s right, men and women talked and gestured enthusiastically as they waited. Several held copies of Out of the Darkness, Into the Light, and Theo guessed that they would join her in the crowd around the novelist when he had finished speaking. She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and curled the proposal in her hands.
Just then a trio of women climbed the stairs to the platform. Theo recognized one of them as Anna Burkett, president of NAL and moderator for the convention. Tall and striking in a pale peach suit, Anna was the last woman on the platform. She nodded to the others with a tight smile, then walked to the lectern.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Anna Burkett said, tapping on the microphone for attention. When the room quieted, she leaned forward and gave them a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. “I am sincerely sorry to tell you that Theo Russell will not be able to speak to us tonight. He has been taken ill, and sends his regrets and apologies.”
Stunned, Theo took a quick, sharp breath. How was she supposed to return the proposal if Theodore Russell didn’t show up?
The audience groaned audibly, and Anna Burkett gave her audience a slightly frayed smile. “Once again, friends, I’ve been foiled. I’ve been trying for months to snag Theo Russell as a speaker, but that man is more elusive than D. B. Cooper.”
The crowd laughed, and Anna smiled again and gestured to the women on the platform. “The two women who allowed me to reschedule their presentations so we could hear from the reclusive Mr. Russell have graciously allowed me to reinstate them on tonight’s program. Tonight we will hear from the two top editors at Breckinridge Publications, the newest publishing house in New York. I’m sure you’re curious about this company and their plans for the future, and the women behind me are eager to tell you about their vision and the kinds of books they hope to produce.”
I have to find him, Theo thought as the crowd politely applauded for the two editors. She didn’t want to hear about Breckinridge House, she wanted to return the proposal and get to work. As she turned to look discreetly for the nearest exit, a familiar face caught her eye. Elegant in a pencil-slim jade suit, Janet Fischer stood at the door, deep in conversation with the columnist George Keeton. She wore an expression of smug satisfaction, and Theo’s blood began to pound in her temples when the editor leaned over to whisper in Keeton’s ear.
Theo closed her eyes, imagining what Fischer was saying: “Theo Russell was feeling fine at lunch today. And you’ll never believe what I discovered. Theo Russell is a woman.”
Hanging her head, Theo bent low and hurried from the ballroom.
Back in room 2121, Theo pulled her clothes from the closet, whisked the toiletries from the bathroom counter, and tossed everything into her suitcase. Her luck had held so far, but she didn’t want to bump into Janet Fischer in the hall or the elevator. Things were becoming fast becoming complicated.
Rather than risk lingering in the lobby, Theo checked out through the hotel’s video system and applied the charges to her credit card. She gave the room one quick glance, inwardly cringing because she’d paid for a night she wasn’t going to stay, then picked up her purse, briefcase, and suitcase and stepped out the door.
“It’s still okay,” Theo whispered to herself as she struggled to carry her luggage to the elevator. “I can write Janet Fischer on Monday, and send a letter to Theodore Russell in care of his agent. And while I wait to hear from him, I’ll have three months to check out the facts, write my book, and get it ready to submit. It will be okay. My book won’t be anything like the novel Russell wants to write, and Janet Fischer should appreciate my honesty. I really thought she wanted to see me. I can’t help it if my name is Theo Russell.”
Still nervous about meeting Janet Fischer in the hotel, she bypassed the lobby, took the elevator down to the parking garage, and stood by the driveway impatiently tapping her foot until the attendant brought her car around. After the young man had placed her suitcase and briefcase in the trunk, she flung a dollar bill in his direction and sped out of the garage. Not until she turned onto her own street half an hour later did her heart slow to a normal pace.