Chapter 86

“Up in the world
toiling at the top, shooting slop,
and shops ’til you drop.”

“This place looks like someplace…”

“Could be because it is someplace—it’s a baby Guggenheim. You know, the museum.”

“Sure, I knew that…in Washington D.C., near the Smithsonian…”

“Close, try nearer the Metropolitan. You really do have a problem keeping up with stuff, don’t you.”

The pinch was in. After Jason Guthrie had sprung my camera gear, these things became all but routine. Day after day was one fashionable, if not opulent upscale blur: shop upon shoppe upon store of elegant, exquisite and exclusive. Salon upon gallery squeezed and bled for hiked-up square footage, hawking particularly world class furs, fine art and furnishings to some of the world’s classiest jet-in clientele. At least Guthrie and I were thinking along those lines once either Nolan or Valerie had finished with them. Then it was up to us to stroke their haughty retail egos all the way back out their security guarded doors—as if shoplifters were more bottom-line threatening than their leeching commercial landlords.

Which came across to me in our early lap of discovery. Even the fabrics and silk flower establishments had a story, a curiosity quotient going for them. After all, when had somebody of my cut tugged the sleeves of Brioni, Bill Blass or Nicolas Blasi of Abla? Where else could I run my greasy fingers over the silk French cuffs of Brindisi, A. Sulka and Daniel Shagan, fill the styling shoes of Artioli and Martegani?

Yet the terra cotta and marble menswear palaces up and down Post or Sutter Streets were but windowdressing when it came to the galleries. Museum stature Rodins and Renoirs, visions of Verite, of Jean Art to Jasper Johns floored me with available light to film acuity, producing no less an altered, hair-trigger perspective and chemical reaction between my viewfinder and visual cortex. Jackson Square antique stores buried me brick by Barbary brick in Meissens, Sevres, faience and heirloom cloisonne. Product shots, storefronts, stylized situationals: each resulting proof sheet framed a rapid procession of bombe commodes, Louis XV dessertes and Vernis Martin vitrines—of Chippendale consoles, Staffordshire cupboards and Hepplewhite chest-on-chests.

By then I was having trouble enough separating the Deco from the Nouveau, the Galle from the Heywood-Wakefield. Rare Ecole de Nancy art glass began to to double expose into fruitwood inlaid Majorelle Armoires into tube-and-laquered Moderne vanities, as though the major 20th Century design movements newsreeled period by period before I could so much as advance my film. Still, slowly,as if my low-lit attempt and fashion and papparazzi photography weren’t declasse enough, Prism’s client roster also led me through sable, Fila fever, deerskin loungewear, pearl stud inlays, strappy platforms, monogrammed angora, double-flounced and pleated chemise, then to an early morning session at that lacy Sutter Street lingerie boutique notorious for its celebration of full figure frill and tial most imperceptibly, I began to see the larger picture, cull late Georgian from the Givenchy, Turkish tapestries from the treacle pots and creamware tureens, even feel on a first name basis with Gilbert Rohde, Georgio Armani and Jean-Paul Germain.

But where Prism ad-sell ultimately rose to the retail occasion was in women’s wear; apparently rotund Nolan really did his way with the ladies. He or Valerie must have snookered every rouge and rag shop, every svelte signature salon within a five-mile reach of Union Square. I focused on skin and cheekbone ensembles of formal gowns, parachute pants and multi-tiered silk chiffon. On superstar collections by Halston, de la Renta and Geoffrey Beene—not to mention entire walk-in closets lined with Dior, with designers named Bruno, Julio, Philippe and Georgio.

As if my low-lit attempt and fashion and papparazzi photography weren’t declasse enough, Prism’s client roster also led me through sable, Fila fever, deerskin loungewear, pearl stud inlays, strappy platforms, monogrammed angora, double-flounced and pleated chemise, then to an early morning session at that lacy Sutter Street lingerie boutique notorious for its celebration of full figure frill and titillation. Almost imperceptibly, I began to see the larger picture, cull late Georgian from the Givenchy, Turkish tapestries from the treacle pots and creamware tureens, even feel on a first name basis with Gilbert Rohde, Georgio Armani and Jean-Paul Germain.In all, here was a page-space hit list that ultimately delivered us unto the baby Guggenheim on chic, festive little Maiden Lane, to this fashion institution called Helga Hazare.

“In those immortal words, it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Guthrie said, as we regrouped near a clutch of cafe tables mid lane, just outside Helga’s designer couture gem. “And believe me, it’s far from over.”

Not that this 48-hour store-to-store hyper marathon seemed to drain him any. Jason simply kept asking questions, picking at the merch, shorthand scribbling on his yellow ruled pad. How he managed a quick 125 words for each of these hypersensitive establishments was beyond me. I just kept snapping away, if for nothing else to coffer up and take my fractious mind off other splintered things—albeit with one little hitch in our getalong, which surfaced at the close of each workday.

“Wonder what possessed Frank Lloyd Wright to put this gem here, anyway?” I glanced at its historical landmark plaque, having reloaded a fresh roll of Panatomic X into my silver Nikon F—film being another advance on account, “Most of his good stuff is in the Midwest and Arizona.”

“Consider it warm up for the real Guggenheim on the Upper East Side,” Jason replied, leading me through Hazare’s tinted glass entry. “But if you ask me, it’s penance for what he did to Marin.”

“Don’t follow,” I stepped aside as two ferocious shopping birddogs from Dallas or Gross Pointe pounced down upon Helga’s arched, recessed portal, Saks and Coureges bags blazing.

“Apparently you haven’t seen the Civic Center—that aquaduct-looking place with the turquoise roof. Kinda like an overweight Howard Johnson’s…”

Helga Hazare’s stunning spiral ramp way gave me immediate haute vertigo. Renee Helga herself had stage managed the Prism photo op, directing her fashion slaves from the salon’s mezzanine around down to the Baby G’s foyer in ten-foot intervals, as though she were choreographing a center spread for ‘W’ or ‘WWD’. Lean, voguish vamps all, thoroughbred prancing in Hazare’s softly couture wool jerseys and slinky drop-dead knits, dispensing the inexpressive equivalent in distant gazes, pivoting so perfectly pouty on the heels of their Maud Frizon shoes. I had neither the clusters nor inclination to mention that my final roll of Tri-X in the black body F was a goner four shots into the show. I just kept cranking empty sprockets, clicking a blank shutter curtain, as Helga kept cracking her velvet whip.

“Got it all, right?” Guthrie asked as we departed, scribbling some final notes—mavenous quotes from Madame Hazare on our way out the door.

“In the can, in the can,” I said, rewinding film spools, then folding all the camera gear into my shoulder bag. We headed up Maiden Lane toward Union Square, Blackjack Pershing’s stature centered straight ahead across Stockton Street. Beyond that, the St. Francis Hotel was a solid wall of luxury suites and staterooms, its entryway flags heralding the visiting Saudi delegation. “But you know, real photographers say it all with one shot…”

“Just so you got the goods,” Guthrie replied tersely.

Nearing Stockton, we approached the bright yellow parasols of an outdoor cafe. Only one table was taken now, late day shadows casting long and chill over Maiden Lane’s white barrier gates. Even that was occupied by two lunched-out Filipino busboys, their boombox Bee Gee’s disco faded into the afternoon wrap-up. As I followed Guthrie into the open glare of Union Square, some passing newstalk junkie turned up his transistor volume to: ‘Blood Sacrifice: Supervisor’s family responsibilities are thicker than City Hall’s—rumors have it Supervisor Dan White may resign his 8th District seat. Will the boy wonder’s political career be water under the bridge?’

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Unfortunately, that’s where my culture fatigue and contempt came in. For I’d soon had my fill of mousy little boutiques, European designer cloths and custom doll houses with miniature four-posters, breakfronts and working bidets. Of sticky candy stores full of Myers’s-soaked truffles and kumquats dipped 140 times in a secret hypoglycemic glaze. Wearied of kite emporia overlorded by Bombay butterflies and gape-mouthed Mylar dragons; eclectic curio shops flush with every frivolous thing from Limoges eggs and lacquered boxes to lovelorn lavalieres. Deco obelisk merchants, antiquarian scriptoria and 18k Gold Montblanc atelier prives: whatever fascination I held with these quirky enterprises was quickly giving ground to the strain of photo capturing it all. Still, we had one more deal to seal…

“What kept you,” Jason asked, the moment I hyperventilated into into the Gran Galleria. Grand wasn’t exactly the word for this semi-precious antique gift shop just off Sutter and Grant Streets. But words were more his business, after all.

“Needed more film,” I wheezed, instantly dumbstruck by this little shop of extravagantly fragile horrors, not mentioning that I had grabbed an Orange Julius along the way. A daytime routine of snapping downtown and nearly snapping in the Marina Triangle by night was taking a bicameral toll.

“Mrs. Corbette, this is our photographer,” Jason sighed, “Kenneth…”

“Herbert, Ken Herbert. S-s-sorry I’m late.”

“Yes, well,” smiled the proprietor as I offered my sweaty hand. “Delighted, I’m sure.” She was a smoothly attractive woman of middle age, almost Stanford sorority-like to this day, with athletic handshake and shoulders, and a graying blonde bun combed back tightly as tuned strings, cinched with a hand-carved ivory comb. And she looked strikingly familiar to my viewfinder strained eyes.

“Well then, why don’t you familiarize yourself with the Galleria here while I get Mrs. Corbette’s ideas down,” Guthrie poised to follow her rearward. “You know, get the feel of the place.”

“You mean pick out items, or…”

“Just scout your locations, check your lighting—do what photographers do, I don’t know.”

“Hmm, one would think that might involve cameras somehow,” she smiled coyly, rather studying me as if having seen me before, as well.

Escorting her to a backroom office, Guthrie motioned back to either get on with it, which left me alone with a galleria full of pricey perishables, palms still sweaty and shaky via the residual caffeine from an earlier doppio espresso con panna break or sugar boost from Mr. Orange. So I tore into the place with all feigned insouciance of a blue-nosed oenophile. Imari, Celadon, 18th Century chinoiserie: but in reality, I couldn’t begin to approach this stuff so casually; just looking at the Oriental porcelains gave me stress cracks, much less her folksy Russian porcelain and woodcarvings, spiced with colorful majolica ceramics.

Camera bag over my shoulder, I slipped gingerly through narrow aisles of Tonsu, Japanese baskets and Korean chests, around 19thCentury bamboo lamps and Philippine screens. Past maroon velvet tables displaying antique bronze, silver and pewter, with price tags and ‘You drop, you pop’ notices to die for.

“That Kutani platter might make a good shot,” said Mrs. Corbette, upon their return.

“Terrific choice, maam,” Guthrie chicken scratched some further notes. “That platter would be perfect…”

“Or those ming jade unicorns…”

“My thinking exactly…Herbert…”

“No, better yet, that Kuan Yin gilt bronze decanter. It’s museum quality, I’ll have you know.”

“Museum quality, perfect. That’s what we need, Mrs. Corbette, real impact. The decanter, it is.”

“On second thought, we can’t be portrayed as too hauteur…”

“Hmmm, no, I see what you’re saying,” Guthrie winced, chasing after the store owner, notepad in hand.

“So, what about all three,” I said, as we converged on an imposing brass-trimmed rosewood chest.

“All three, a triptych—I like that.“Let’s just be careful with the treasures, shall we?””

Discretion the better part of dexterity, I tweaked and metered and otherwise focused my Nikons, keeping all this booty out of arm’s way. Mrs. Corbette composited her jade figures, Kutani platter and Kuan Yin decanter left to right atop the rosewood chest. Guthrie continued scribbling marginally in the dog-eared corners of his pad.

“Now then, about your lighting,” she asked smartly, fingers to jaw line, sliding her pantsuited right leg toward my camera bag, nudging it lightly. “Have you any?”

“A small strobe, nothing exotic,” I fiddled down into my bag for a coiled photoflash cord and cable release, watching a black high-heeled pump and well-turned ankle enter my periphery.

“Yep, maybe a little flash wouldn’t hurt…” 

“Ready then,” Guthrie finished jotting from some captioned product descriptions.

“Just a sec,” I said, mildly flustered, connecting the flash attachment to an x-marked camera jack. “Think I’m going to bounce it, to avoid any glare…”

Soon as the strobe unit blinked ready red, I advanced some Plus-X several frames and commenced shooting. I caught the Kutani head on, then 45-degrees left, right—bracketing F-stops, bouncing the strobe off Galleria’s floor, sidewalls, ceiling chandeliers.I fully synched with the black-body Nikon, tightening in on the decanter, soft focusing the Ming Jade unicorns. Extending the strobe, keying the set-up from above—I rotated around the composed set in inspired swashes to the full length of my stretch cord. Which suddenly extended me to the tune of a wrought crystal sculpture one table overexposed. The spread-winged Scandinavian peregrine sang like a nightingale as it shattered into jagged shards against the display tables brass-trimmed base.

“Oh, that’s just marvy,” Guthrie dove to the carpet to grovel for the pieces.

“Dear, me, it would appear we have a situation here,” Mrs. Corbette tapped her crow’s feet with her gold-banded fingers.

“Hope it wasn’t from a museum, or something,” I cringed, stooping to help Guthrie re-fit the glass bird, as though that would actually work.

“No, but it was a Claude Lhoste original…”

“Ouch,” Guthrie screamed, slicing his thumb on a wicked wingtip, spurting like a spring lamb. “Mrs. Corbette, I can assure you Prism: California will make good on this.”

“What’s done is done,” she replied with unnerving poise and calm. “I suggest we reserve judgment until you complete your little article. If it proves to be of the quality Mr. Anderle promised, the Gran Galleria should be fairly inundated with new clientele. If not, well…”

“Oh, it will be ,” Guthrie blurted, hanky to his seeping thumb, casting a threatening eye my way. “You can bank on that…”

“One way or the other, I suppose,” she observed, scanning me up and down. “That includes the photography, of course.”

“Uh, of course,” I nodded, still wondering where I had seen this woman before.

“Until then,” she smiled, as we handed her what we could of the shattered peregrine. “I’ll expect to see you again shortly, with draft and photo prints in hand.”

“Not standard Prism practice, but especially for you, Mrs. Corbette, in appreciation of your patience and magnanimity,” Guthrie gushed, as I quietly repacked my camera bag. He then ushered me out of the Gran Galleria, tighter than a state’s witness on government protection. “Good Day, maam. And I’m certain Nolan Anderle passes along his highest regards.”

There we left it, peering back through the Galleria’s front windows at her Tansu chests and Japanese screens. I was trying to grasp who purchased all that stuff, how the place could make a go of it with such inflated prices. But mostly, what was Mrs. Corbette driving at? And why did she seem so visibly unruffled by my crash course in product photography? Adrift in all that, I began to entangle myself with the steady flow of shoppers dragging Magnin and Gumps bags, with impeccably layered Indian summer tans.

“Aww, let’s head back over toward Union Square,” Guthrie grumbled, thumb stabilized, directing me down Grant toward Post Street. “Sort this thing out.”

“How do you think Nolan will take it?”

“Out of our hides, that’s how,” he tapped Tiffany’s thick little vaultish windows with his college ring, pausing to check out a 24k star sapphire lapel pin tucking like an arctic glacier of frosted cashmere.

“Heavy hitter hardass, is he?”

“The hardest,” Guthrie snapped a pink flower from a pelargonium nearest the sidewalk in Podesta Baldocchi’s open-front floral display stand, drawing the ire of a red-frocked attendant.

“Y’know, it’s weird,” I said warily, as we scurried up to Post. “But somehow, I think Corbette won’t be such a bitch about it—that it’s not that big a deal. She just seemed more interested in the photography part, don’t ask me why…”

“Could be because she’s just another Pacific Heights matron with a senile banker husband who prefers spending his vacation time with the boys at Bohemian Grove. She’s probably bored stiff and boring into menopause. Anything new that wanders into her Gran write-off is bound to turn her head on—otherwise, I’m sure everything’s insured.”

“Well you seemed to play her right,” I noted, stunned, torn asunder by case upon glass case of sterling and platinum in Shreve’s hallowed showroom—home of a 720k Yonkers diamond and the jewelry of Catherine the Great. “And if she’s got big bucks, what’s one glass bird…”

“What? If we don’t deliver, that lady will have our gonads on the half shell—just because she can afford to,” Guthrie snapped. “Or she’ll sic her husband’s lawyers on Nolan, and he’ll add ours to his personal collection when he gets back to town.”

Another press of shoppers suddenly engulfed us. I was still boggled by Shreve’s silver lode when we hit upon Gumps. Squeezing between the idiosyncratic department store’s flower stand and black-framed display windows, I reflected on my wavering, still rumpled image. Christ, fantasy windows under wine red awnings, late autumnal harvests of Steuben pumpkins and Baccarat cranes—Cerelene china, jade warblers and enameled copper gnatcatchers: I was hardly in a position to take this all in stride. Wasn’t as though I‘d ever known fire-breathing California lawyers, bankers’ wives who intentionally set up pet businesses to write off. Damned if I’d ever come across somebody who could afford to sue my ass off just for the hell of it. Guess things were most definitely looking up…

A strong wind gusted along Post Street, to where I momentarily dodged the peregrine issue on approach to Stockton, and some Gucci Arab throwing up a smoke screen, contrailing out of Dunhill’s doors, taking me back to my father’s corn cobs. Premium pipe tobaccos filtered through its display windows of smooth leather luggage and attaches, aside fine velvet robes and silk smoking jackets. Inside, Alfred’s finest lacquered root briers and Block Meerschaums, walnut-copper humidors chock with fat Montecruz, Lonsdale Grande and Ramon Allone stogies. A display window nearest the corner featured an onyx ashtray and mahogany pipe stand, between them, a brass-framed travel clock dutifully ticked off ten of five.

“Okay, that ought to do it for today,” Guthrie said, as we crossed Stockton back over to Union Square. “I’ve got another engagement, so you’d better gather up the film for processing. I’ll take your bag.”

“Uh, again?” Hence the hitch, deal being that he took possession of my camera gear each afternoon. We paused at a park bench, where I pocketed my tiny film cans, rewinding one last roll. “Haven’t I proven myself by now—you know, jib and all?”

“Trust me, it’s only per Nolan’s instructions. He always says, in for a dime, in for a dollar.”

“What, he thinks I’m going to abscond with cameras I still own?” Allowing for that to sink in, I scanned about a still relatively placid Union Square, that always breathtaking expanse of trim, mazy hedges and tall, lazy palms. “I mean I’ll go bonkers without my cameras again.”

“It’s out of my hands, Herbert,” Guthrie waited impatiently while I pulled the Kodak spool and pressed closed the camera back. “It’s his pawn ticket, that’s the deal…”

“So how does he know you won’t run off with my camera gear?” Regretting I’d unloaded all this film from the Nikon bodies, I was quickly distracted by Macy’s 5 o’clock bell tower.

“Because he still holds pawn tickets on my tape recorder, Trinitron and Selectric II in New York,” Guthrie grumbled, callously shouldering my camera bag.

“Christ, for how long?”

“Just get those shots developed, will you? I’ll meet you here again tomorrow morning at 9:30. “We’ll pick up the proof sheets and some more film. Meanwhile, I’ve got a ton of writing to do…”

“Gotcha, only we have to stop meeting like this,” I cribbed, resolved to spending yet another chilling, disarmed night in the Marina lot, cramping my newfound style.

“Tell me about it…”

Rush hour was now swelling Union Square, Macy’s chimes drowning in a clamor of motor coaches and honking taxicabs. I zagged between stalled Civics and Caprices, running head on into a newspaper box to avoid a right-turning double-decker tour bus emblazoned with day-glo sunsets on a field of limeade green, its reflective windows obscuring a full load of tourists gaping and panning like orangutans in a circus cage.

The news box itself had much less to hide, its final-markets edition screaming, ‘Late Polls reveal Prop 6 Doomed to Defeat’, for all the Union squares and tourists to see. But where the Examiner saw doom, I saw potential deliverance: that solid gray fortress so anchoring the plaza, international flags afurl, starlit glass capsules bobbing up and down its rear tower like commodity futures. This imposing tomb of St. Francis stood as blessed testament to divine intervention and ascension. In the meantime, five after five, I was fashionably late for another date with an antidiluvian Volvo.

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“Actually, I think the contrast is pretty good on this one. I asked them specifically to burn in the detail on that platter and everything.”

“Still, the pizazz just isn’t quite there…”

“Then what are your thoughts on the vase?” No pop? Hell, I’d just popped to the tune of twenty bucks for these ruddy prints, coaxing every dodge and burn he could out of those suckers, the crash of Scandinavian crystal ringing in my ears every time ProLab ran a wet 8×10 by me.

“Wellllll, not too terribly bad, I suppose,” Mrs. Corbette replied, tapping her chin in qualified contemplation.

Come morning next, I had stumbled through another Marina Triangle awakening, Jason Guthrie greeting me by the Union Square Hyatt Hotel as I pushed through the exit doors of a 30 Stockton trolley bus. He’d handed me my camera bags with a groan of shoulder blade relief, then bankrolled a stack of ProLab processing and a resupply of 35mm panchromatic film. He’d also sprung for Maiden Lane lattes, then assigned me to win Mrs. Corbette over with his copy draft and my batch of exposure- bracketed glossies. Guthrie then begged off to deliver similar work-ups about various downtown clients for approval and/or revisions, while I trepidly darkened Gran Galleria’s doors.

“Tsk, copy,” she slighted, spindling the typed sheet he’d left me. “Mere words on paper. What customers first see is paramount, and young man, these photos simply fail to grab me.”

“Hmm,” I fidgeted, shuffling through the shots as if thermal friction would punch up the contrast. What the hell did she know about it? Shattered crystal, slattern prospects—aww, what could she do, confiscate my cameras, place a lien on all my equipment, and where the hell was Guthrie now, anyway?! “ So, uh…”

“But of course there are other ways to…how shall I put it, create impact,” she said, turning smartly toward her counter, then spinning back again, like the quiet Galleria’s center aisle was a ramp at the Carrousel du Louvre, somewhere between Ann Taylor and Anne Klein, with a dash of Annie Hall for dramatic effect.

“Beg pardon?” I stole glances of her, over the upper margins of my photo prints.

“Grab, impact. Come now, need I paint you a picture?” Hands at her waist, the store owner pushed back her burgundy cleric jacket, revealing the easy straight cut of her saddle tan flared trousers, her true blue sweater and its hourglass hug about her waist. She leaned against her glass displaycounter, smiling, yet a tad skittish somehow. At once marshaling her courage and maneuvering for her mirrors, as though longing for sorority row, for her daughter’s flawless beauty, and a man who hadn’t cashed in his virility ages ago for a Stanford MBA.

“Well, I’m afraid I’m flat out of more film right now,” I hedged, flushed with the prospect that I was just green enough to fill her bill, and that she was still ripe enough to pull it off.

“I’ll just bet you are,”she said, caressing the large onyx beads of her necklace.

Painting pictures…it dredged up Syd’s low-budget passion play in Nevada, her studio maneuvering, that provocatively unfinished portrait of Monica on her hoary bedroom wall—four alarm images of aborted infidelity, not to mention erective statutory rape. “My apology, Mrs. Corbette,” I blurted, dropping the Prism photos like so many shards of crystal. “But I have to say I’m beginning to feel…”

“I beg your pardon,” she interrupted, straightening up suddenly, officiously raising her chain-linked tortoise shell reading glasses to the bridge of her noble, sun freckled nose.

“I mean, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with the implications here,” I huffed, looking around for Guthrie, some customers, her bald, boring husband, a few shoplifters would do.

“Implications of what, I might ask?”

“Of, of…you know,” I sputtered, trying to read the room here, buy a few moments to tease things out. “What you said…about impact…”

“What are you implying, young man? What in God’s name are you inferring from what you imply was implying?”

“I wasn’t inferring anything, Mrs. Corbette, I just heard what I heard…”

“My dear boy, if I was implying anything, it was in reference to color intensity…”

“Say again?” I suddenly recalled where I had seen her before, in that crosswalk over Geary Street, when I had little better handle on things than I did at the moment.

“That what you failed to engender with black and white could perhaps better be achieved with color film. Honestly, what were you inferring?”

“Dunno, I just recall impact, grab…” Wrong. Not the choicest way to get out form under a peregrine or vase. She did say grab, didn’t she? That was how she put it, wasn’t it?

“Oh, come now,” she smiled coyly, stepping toward me slowly, as if her on her final pose along judge’s row. “You don’t for one minute imply that…”

“I don’t mean to imply anything you did or didn’t imply,” I rattled, waving my arms in befuddled frustration, nearly tacking a Kutani bowl and chinoiserie platter to my running tab. “Please, don’t go inferring something I didn’t even begin to imply…or infer…whatever!”

“Wouldn’t think of it, perish the thought.” That outburst seemed to freeze her in her deep-pile tracks. She ventured no nearer than the display table of Japanese baskets, almost as though calculating that such circumstances might conceivably be factored in at some future date. Either that, or she was taking me for the dithering twit I’d admittedly been offering forth.

“Okay? Okay, no problem,” I sighed and bent down to retrieve the photo, hoping someone would wander in and turn the heat down in here.

“Very well, in any event, I suspect color photography is out of the question this late in the process,” she said, in a matronizing, come back if/when you ever grow up kind of way.

“Look, why don’t I leave these prints with you,” I offered. “Maybe overnight…with some more time to go over them, I mean…”

“Very well,” she nodded graciously. “But of course we still have that nasty little matter of the Claude Lhoste crystal.”

“Uh, that you might take up with Mister Anderle…”

“Take what up with Nolan Anderle,” Jason Guthrie asked, pushing through Gran Galleria’s front doors, opening this disquieting little scene to the rush and roar of Post Street traffic.

“Uh, Mrs. Corbette isn’t totally happy with our stuff,” I said, in curious relief.

“But maam, I thought we had agreed upon the copy,” he grimaced.

“It’s the art,” I muttered, handing him the glossies.

“Oh, well, then we’ll just reshoot, Mrs. Corbette. Herbert here will blow off ten more rolls if need be to get this right. We’ll shoot all night, whatever it takes! You have no idea how sorry I am these don’t perfectly represent the excellence of your Galleria. We should never have even exposed you to this trash.” He looked them over one more time, then tossed them at me.

“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Guthrie,”she smiled, pulling the top shot away smoothly, handing it to Guthrie.“This one will do just fine, impact it some in the printing.”

“Are you certain?” he gasped. “Oh, thank you, Mrs. Corbette, Nolan will be so delighted. In fact, I will see to it he calls you personally.”

“Please do,” she demurred, nodding my way. “Now if you gentlemen don’t mind, I’ve much to deal with.”

“Whatever you say, maam,” Guthrie wagged. “Again, thank for your support of Prism: California.”

“Uh, yeah, sorry about the misunderstanding,” I said awkwardly, sheathing the extra glossies in ProLab’s manila envelope.

“Mere misinterpretation,”she sighed, turning toward her rear counter, wiping a smudge from a scroll-handled Imari decanter. “You know how I feel about words.”

“Thank you again, maam,” said Guthrie, poking me toward the Post Street doors.

“Likewise, gentlemen,” she warbled over her shoulder. “And as they say, see you in court.”

What misunderstanding?” he asked on our way out. “The woman said court!”

“Not sure, Jason,” I said, with a skosh of gray area swagger. “I still don’t exactly understand it, and I was there…”

“Well, I can tell you one person who will,” Guthrie, leaned against one of the blue and gold crown lamp poles, again gesturing for my camera bag again. “If anybody knows about court, it’s Nolan Anderle.”

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Out the door, I parted ways with Guthrie for the day, deciding to make one last stop en route to the 30 Stockton—if only for a little pre-shoot scouting. Caddington Clothiers on Post Street was said to be The City’s premier British goods men’s store, furnished in oxford, poplin and hopsack everything, under the loyal, royal aegis of the ever triumphant Union Jack. I plotted out angles and perspectives on racks of dress and casual lambskin, cashmere, herringbone, Shetland woolens; checked ambient lighting on monogrammed blazers and tattersall trousers. I framed up camel hair and Chesterfield topcoats, buffer, G-9 and bush jackets, Burberrys up the loo. Then came all the regal trimmings: wing-tip bluchers and English rib Argylls, seersucker nightshirts, foulard ascots, button-style braces, crook-neck bumbershoots and grosgrain belts, with a right proper nose of Royall Lyme lotions.

In the process, I could overhear a pair of observant wet-combed sales manservants reveling that Foreign Secretary, Dr. David Owen was flying in for a Poppy Day celebration this weekend up at the British Consulate-General’s Pacific Heights mansion.

There I scouted, then decamped until the morrow—tattered and torn, in the bloody blink of an eye…

Care for more?

Chapter 87. The stake-out on some
housing hi-jinx gets testy, and a downtown
show precipitates an even testier tell…