"Bart summons his assistant to look for the novella--the one he told me he couldn't locate. She beelines for a cabinet behind his chair and retrieves a slim bound volume with a navy blue cover. She hands it to him. The search takes less than 20 seconds.
"'This is an 86-page novel,' he says. 'This was what was bought. It was the only thing that was ever submitted toParamount.' He admits that he probably spent a weekend transforming the Crossroaders script into the wisp of a novel he holds in his hand. I look at the novel's cover page, which displays not the pseudonym the Variety article had promised but the words 'By Peter Bart.' When I tell him the whole thing looks like an elaborate way of circumventing the rules, effectively selling a script by ginning up a novel, he objects.
"'I don't think it looks that way,' he says. 'If you're saying therefore that I wrote and marketed the script, you can say it, but I would deny it. I contend to you that a novel was written of this, and that's what Bob bought. There's no rule that says you can't write a script that no one sees.'
"Except, of course, that Evans--the man developing the project--did see the script. 'I'm sure Bob has,' he says, 'but I'll tell you about Bob.' He laughs. 'Bob having it is like the crypt.'
"As the interview winds up, Bart is almost playful. He jokes that I'm a 'troublemaker' and 'mean.' 'It's really scary,' he says, 'when you start remembering things about me that I don't remember.'
"The next morning Litigious Peter picks up the phone. He's still at home. His voice is tight and angry. He accuses me of using material stolen from his files. He feels betrayed that I gave him no warning. The details of why he wrote a screenplay as a warm-up for a novella are coming back to him, he says, though 'vaguely.' 'I'm glad I did it that way,' he says. 'The book sure is lean.'
" 'One thing I'm not is self-destructive,' he says. 'To break my own rules is just stupid. I was trying to get Bob's career going.' He pauses. 'I would appreciate it if you could tell me how you're going to handle this, so I can send to the magazine this legal document that will say I will sue you.'
"A week later Conflicted Peter calls.
"'I haven't heard from my nemesis for a while. Have you given up on this project, I hope?' he says, his voice almost warm. 'I must say, I'm still a little nettled.'
"Despite his better judgment, he has more to say. 'It's always a favor that kills you. No one ever did see that fucking script. In retrospect, I shouldn't have done it. I will guarantee you that I will never do it again.'"