I happened to be the one who answered the phone. It was from Peter Johnson's agent.
"Who's agent?" I asked.
It didn't ring a bell. And why would we be getting a call from him anyway -- we weren't doing the book on Peter yet. Then I remembered we were including famous people with John last names. Johnson, get it Rick!
The agent babbled on as I was trying to think of who Peter Johnson was. Then I heard the word "lawsuit" and my mouth fell open. "And he does not want to be in the book!" the agent concluded and slammed the phone down.
Numbly, I hung up the phone and tried to get everyone's attention. But my vocal cords weren't working.
My brain was like putty, but somehow I tried to explain what had happened.
"Who's Peter Johnson?" everyone wondered.
Unfortunately, by then I had remembered. "Some actor we sent a photo request to. He's the one that does those Idaho potato commercials."
"Why would we have included him in the book?" Dad puzzled, "he's a nobody!"
I blushed. I guess I was the one that voted him into the book. Can I help it if I like potatoes? Well, what's done is done. Let's not blame someone... particularly when it's me at fault.
"Well..." I continued. "He's all upset because we mentioned in his biography that he comes from Iowa. His agent says his career will be ruined if we print it -- his whole credibility as a representative of Idaho potatoes rests on the belief that he's an Idaho boy. He wants his name out of the book!"
"But..." Dad stammered. "It...It's already been printed! They'll be binding it tomorrow!"
We were devastated. How many other celebrities would be upset, too, once the book came out? So what if we were just reporting the facts. They had plenty of money to bring us to court, and we didn't have a dime to defend ourselves. We had no choice -- we would have to scrap the whole book. Our dream was dead.
Mom called the printer and told them everything. They understood and were very sympathetic. But they'd have to charge us for what had been done; they had almost finished, so we'd have to pay pretty much the whole amount.
We had never been more depressed in all our lives.
I needed a shoulder to cry on. I first thought of Mrs. Fitzenwahler, but decided I didn't want her to feel depressed. With Suzie and me visiting her every day, she was making loads of progress. We'd just about convinced her to accept her niece's offer. So, I took a bus to Richmond instead -- might as well get Maggie depressed.
Thank goodness Maggie was home. She too was very sympathetic. But then her eyes grew wide and she started babbling a mile a minute. "Why don't you write to all the celebrities in the book, show them the biographies, offer them the opportunity to change anything they don't like, and if they do, you've got an 'authorized biography,' and if they don't you're covered because you notified them and gave them the chance to change it."
Automatically I started to sneer at the idea, then as everything she said sank in, it suddenly occurred to me that it was a good idea. I kissed her. "Mag, you are a genius!"
She just shrugged with a smile.
"Can you give me a ride back?" I laughed. "I know they're going to be real happy. Oh, you've saved us Maggie. Now we've got another chance!"
Maggie did save the day. There was no way we could get the book out by Christmas now, but we still had the project. We started sending out letters to the celebrities right away. After a couple weeks we started calling the agents of the stars who hadn't replied.
It was a long, tedious project, and it was kind of hard tracking a lot of the stars down. "No, he's no longer with us, try So-and-So at Such-and-Such agency." So-and-So had the same thing to say for him-or-herself. Nobody even knew who currently represented some of the stars. We began to realize the stars didn't want anyone to get in touch with them.
The highlight of the whole episode was when Suzie answered the phone and it was Johnny Rock, her favorite musician.
Now, usually, we only spoke to agents, or more precisely, the secretaries of the agents, so Suzie's call was really special. Johnny Rock had a few changes he wanted, and Suzie was in heaven as she scribbled them down. I don't have to tell you she was floating on a cloud for weeks.
Christmas came and went. We were a little depressed that our dreams had been postponed, but at least we still had them. Mrs. Fitzenwahler shared Christmas with us. It was really nice. She told us that her niece had asked her to move to Arizona again, and this time she'd agreed. She'd be leaving within a week. We were all really happy for her, and assured her that she'd made the right decision. It's important to be with your family.
"But you'll keep me posted about the book, now won't you?"
Over the previous month I had been trying to track down some of her old students. Her birthday was in February and I had thought that I'd throw a little party for her. It wasn't too hard tracking them down. Unfortunately, some of them had the same type of memories that I had had before I really understood how much she'd helped me. But most of the kids that had made something of themselves were very happy to be a part of anything to honor Feona Fitzenwahler.
But now she was leaving in only a few days. With such short notice I was only able to round up a handful of former-students. I brought them over as her niece was helping her pack her things that last day.
Feona Fitzenwahler had never been more touched in all her life. She cried, and she hugged everyone, and it was a really sweet day.
I hugged her tight and promised her my family would keep an eye on her house over the next few months until she decided something definite. Then her students waved good bye to a part of our past that would be with us for all of our lives.