Suspense short stories with a twist
"Number One Fan" - #218
Originally appeared November 1999
by Henry Slesar
(Pg. 1 of 3)
eep that she-wolf out of here!" Maxwell St. John roared, crashing his fist on the bed tray and making the hospital dishes clatter. "If I hear one more blubber out of that woman, I'll burst my stitches!"
Miss Cassidy, the day nurse, looked shocked. "'But Mr. St. John, I should think you'd be glad to see your wife. She's been waiting for hours--"
"Really, Max," Herb Devon said, from the foot of the bed. "Aggie's been worried sick about you since she heard of the operation; she flew all the way in from Kansas City."
"On her broomstick, no doubt."
St. John lifted his bullet-bald head from the pillow to glower at Devon. The glower was famous. It could be seen on the back of thick, wordy novels that were invariably classified by critics as "American masterpieces." It could be seen by clubwomen from Albany to Pasadena, thrilling them from the lecture podium. Currently, it was in all the media, under the heading: AUTHOR MAXWELL ST. JOHN UNDERGOES SURGERY.
"I haven't seen my wife since the separation, and I don't intend to see her now. As a matter of fact, I don't want to see anybody. I'm even getting sick of looking at you."
Devon, his literary agent, stiffened. "Very well," he said coldly. "I'll go if you want."
"I do want. I want you to go and stay away until I call you. And as for you, Madam--''
Miss Cassidy trembled. "Yes, Mr. St. John ?"
"You were hired to be a source of comfort to me, but you're a disgrace to your profession. I want you to admit no one to this room, understand? If the President and his entire Cabinet wants to see me, I want you to throw them out."
"There's a dozen people downstairs," Devon said. "A lot of your old friends, Max. You're not being very courteous."
"I don't have to be courteous, thank God. That's the privilege of genius." He laughed abruptly, and then winced at the pain he caused himself. "I'm suffering!" he shouted. "Dr. Duncan still has me on the critical list. I could die! Why should I care about visitors?"
"You don't have to see anyone," Miss Cassidy said solicitously.
"Damn right I don't. Who's out there, an)way?"
"Sam and Della," Devon said. "Leonard, Ralph Summers, that funny little Higgins man you used to like so much--"
"Higgins!" St. John boomed, propping himself up again. "Why didn't you tell me Higgins was here? He's the only man on earth worth seeing--"
Miss Cassidy said: "Who is Higgins?"
Devon frowned with distaste. "Nobody."
"Don't listen to him. Higgins is the steadiest, brightest candle in this dark, naughty world-"
"He's Mr. St. John's Number One fan," Devon explained. "Or number one sycophant, depending on your point of view."
"Stop showing your ignorance, Herb. Willard Higgins is a true devoted admirer, the only genuine admirer I have. If I were a praying man, he'd be the only name I'd think of mentioning to God."
"He must be something, all right," Miss Cassidy mumbled.
"That man has dedicated his life to me and my work. And why? Because of a true devotion to genius,
that's why, not for any personal gain. There's no percentage in it for Higgins, is there, Herb?" He looked at his agent slyly.
Devon flushed, and went to the door. "If you want me for anything, just call."
"All I want is for you to send Higgins in here, right now."
"But Mr. St. John," the nurse said, "I thought you said--"
"Never mind what I said! I'll see Higgins, and I want to see him alone."