The most bizarre episode to hit the publishing world in some time became even odder yesterday, as Clive Cussler -- the only one of three big-name authors whose endorsement of the novel "Just Killing Time" was authentic -- said he will "have to reconsider" his support for embattled writer Derek Goodwin.

Last week, Simon and Schuster bought the thriller about serial murders for $920,000 -- one of the highest prices ever paid for a first novel. Having learned that letters of endorsements purportedly from John le Carre and Joseph Wambaugh were faked, the publisher is reconsidering the deal. Yesterday Simon and Schuster executives met with the author and his agent, but said they came to no decision.

Goodwin, who has represented himself as an investigator for various federal agencies, told the New York Times last week that the false endorsements may have been a hoax by someone who holds a grudge against him -- possibly a former CIA agent.

Neither Goodwin nor his agent, Peter Lampack, responded to calls yesterday.

Cussler, author of the best-selling "Raise the Titanic," has been Goodwin's chief proponent in the literary world and earlier this week expressed his faith that Goodwin was not responsible for the fake endorsements. But yesterday, he said that faith was shaken. Cussler complained that Goodwin had led him to believe for years that a common acquaintance was a serial murderer -- a tale that turns out to be untrue.

That acquaintance, Zefferino Lorio, is in fact in prison in New York state for tapping phone lines and weapons possession. He was never suspected of killing anyone -- although he apparently served as a model for one of the killers in Goodwin's novel.

The three men -- author Cussler, protege Goodwin and Lorio -- all worked on searches for wrecks in the Long Island Sound and off the New Jersey coast in the mid-1980s. But Cussler, who led the expeditions, said a police detective contacted him around 1986 and told him Lorio was being investigated for wire-tapping and weapons possession. Cussler said he was "just dumbfounded" to learn that Lorio was a suspected criminal.

The police wanted to know about Lorio's association with Cussler's research organization; Goodwin responded to some of those questions and somehow began to help out with the investigation, according to authorities.

Cussler said Goodwin later told him that Lorio was a serial murderer who was suspected of hundreds of killings, including those of seven prostitutes in New York. Cussler also said Goodwin told him that Lorio craved revenge on Cussler for not coming to Lorio's defense during his trial. "I was told that Zeff wanted to do away with me and my wife," Cussler said. But later, Cussler added, Goodwin told him that Lorio had been attacked by convicts in prison, had fallen into a coma, and died.

In fact, as Cussler was stunned to learn from a reporter earlier this week, Lorio is alive and had a parole hearing yesterday. To Cussler's relief, the story that Lorio was suspected of any violent crime is entirely false. Speaking from prison yesterday, Lorio denied that he had ever threatened Cussler with anything more serious than a lawsuit.

Only superficial similarities exist between Lorio and Goodwin's fictional villain. The principal murderer in the book has two names: Zak at one point, Jeff at another. Lorio calls himself Zeff. In Goodwin's novel, the murderer taps phones, keeps a cache of guns and masquerades in false identities -- purporting, for example, to be a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. The detective who handled Lorio's case said police found uniforms, guns and wiretapping equipment in his house. During the investigation, "I had reputable attorneys calling me telling me I was picking on a Congressional Medal of Honor winner," the detective said.

According to former prosecutor Bruce Plesser, Lorio used numerous false identities -- as a CIA or Drug Enforcement Administration agent or a retired Army officer -- to woo women and then used wiretaps to harass them when the relationships soured.

Plesser said Goodwin showed great interest in Lorio's case during and after the investigation and prosecution. Goodwin asked permission to videotape the sentencing, according to Plesser. "The interest, it seemed to me, far exceeded even the interest that I had," Plesser said.

Speaking from prison yesterday, Lorio (who says his real name is Zeff Loria, although he is identified as Zefferino Lorio in state records) said he was not surprised to hear that Goodwin had misled Cussler about him. "So I'm supposed to have been a murderer, huh?" he said. "I think my wife kind of thinks I'm a pussycat."

Lorio denies all the charges that were filed against him, although he admits that he sometimes misrepresented himself when pursuing women. "You meet a girl and you're a deep-sea diver. Sometimes you're an astronaut. I was just kidding around. ... I was a very foolish middle-aged man," he said.

Lorio said he was disappointed that Cussler did not come to his defense when he got in trouble with the law. Now, he said, he is "not mad" at Cussler -- whom he called "a fellow explorer" -- for believing the tale.

"Tell him I'm so sorry he was led to believe all these things. ... I never hurt anybody except my wife, my family and myself," Lorio said. But Lorio said he doesn't like Goodwin. "I don't like him and I wouldn't trust him as far as I can spit," he said.

Asked how he felt about being the model for a serial killer, Lorio replied, "I don't like it. How would you feel?"

To make matters even more bizarre, the retired New York police detective who pursued the case against Lorio said yesterday that he believes that Goodwin "was connected with the U.S. government in some agent status" during the 1986-87 investigation of Lorio. He said he has no knowledge of Goodwin's recent activities, although he was aware that Goodwin was writing a book.

The detective, John F. Scott, said he believed that Goodwin was an agent because Goodwin was able to procure information -- some of it sensitive -- from the federal government during the Lorio investigation. "Mountains were moved. Doors were opened," said Scott.

The detective in Goodwin's novel also is named John F. Scott. Although the character's physical description does not match the real Scott's, the character -- like Scott -- retires and moves to Florida.

Cussler had believed -- based on Goodwin's account -- that Scott specialized in serial killers. However, Scott said emphatically, "I was considered one of the best detectives in my department but my forte was white-collar crime, cons. ... Serial killers -- no."

During the investigation, detective Scott said, Goodwin cut through government red tape to acquire all sorts of materials -- information from law-enforcement agencies, Lorio's social security records (Scott said the information was hand-delivered to his office just before the trial), transcripts of a court-martial proceeding that took place in the 1950s. "Did he provide us with ... sensitive or secure information? My answer is yes," Scott said.

Former prosecutor Plesser confirmed that Goodwin was "useful to me during trial." Plesser said he was able to obtain sensitive material and received information from various federal agencies much faster than usual. "If you went through normal channels, it would have taken a very long time to do it," he said. "Apparently Jack spoke to {Goodwin} and I got what I needed."

On two occasions, Scott said, he saw Goodwin enter or leave commercial airliners carrying a gun -- which only certain specially licensed agents are permitted to do. "I watched him get on and off a plane carrying a sidearm," he said. "I saw him show his ID."

Scott said he is by nature extremely skeptical. "Let me tell you that I spent 20 years in law enforcement, a pretty active career working with a lot of agents on cases," he said. "If anybody was extremely cautious, it would have been me ... I deal in fact."

Tuesday, Scott said, he had calls from Goodwin's agent and "frantic calls" from Goodwin. Both asked him to fly to New York, attend Wednesday's meeting at Simon and Schuster and vouch for Goodwin, Scott said.

"They wanted me to explain how I knew Derek and he's helped me out with investigations and that I felt he was somehow involved with the federal government," Scott said. But he refused. "I said, 'Verify what? ... I don't know what you've been doing the last five years.' "

Staff writer Paula Span contributed to this report.