"I love your opening sentence," said Liz Carpenter, poking her head around the corner where Dan Moldea sat Thursday talking about his book "The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicans and the Mob."

"Jimmy Hoffa's most valuable contribution to the American labor movements," the sentence begins, "came at the moment he stopped breathing on July 30, 1975."

After that it's off-and-running journalism of an investigative nature that at times had the author himself off and running. Once he learned there was a contract (as they say in the rub-out trade) out on him in Pennysylvania.

"We got him a passport and shipped him out in two hours, I was so worried we would lose him," said Steve Martindale, Modlea's lawyer, who also sold the book to Paddington Press AND tossed Thursday night's publication party.

The Moldea book was the victim of a publishing world flap last spring when it was dropped from fall publication by New Republic Books. Simon & Schuster, which distributes New Republic, refused to distribute it on grounds that its own book on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was coming out this fall.

It was almost too late for finding another publisher for Moldea, who had worked nearly four years on the book, part of that time with grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. But Martindale knew John Marqusee, publisher of the small, quality New York-London firm, Paddington Press. Moldea flew to New York wearing his best Cardin suit ("I wanted to wear blue jeans"), and within 10 minutes after sitting down with Paddington's editors (all wearing blue jeans) had the contract wrapped up.

The denouement was played out Thursday night in Georgetown where 100 guests, including Betty Talmadge, Walter and Bennetta Washington, Margaux Hemingway, Nancy Nolte of Denver and Emil and Mary Moldea of Akron, jammed into the Martindale's living room for a glimpse of the author.

Excerpted in the current issue of "Playboy," the book has also been chosen as an alternate selection by Book-of-the-Month. "I came to watch Dan's success>" said Nolte, once his University of Akron history professor. "I light candles and say prayers," said his mother.

And as for Moldea, "I feel like Judy Garland when she said Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.'"