I could almost feel the black cloud before I ever laid eyes on the man himself. He had some old ship paintings, probably from England, could I drive by and take a look? Evidently a neighbor had already bought a couple things.
I looked the man over once, couldn't help but smell the strong odor of booze at the rather early afternoon hour.
I tried to do an assessment of what he might have, perform the appropriate antique triage before I drove on out to the old place. I get calls every day like this, earlier this afternoon it was ceramic giraffes and that market is unfortunately on a sad decline. We all need to economize our steps these days. But you never know...
He pulled out a beautiful locket, an 18th century portrait of a Scottish navy man, an ancestral fore bearer. A swath of hair lay in back of the heirloom. Couldn't bear the thought of prying such an item from a man, no matter how desperate.
We have to move quick, he said. I arched an eyebrow. The cops are coming. I asked for an explanation.
It's a long story. The family comes from South America. I married the wrong woman, an eastern european. Now she's gone. I had to drive back from the eastern seaboard because the game is almost up. I am losing the house to foreclosure and they are going to lock me out. Can you come today?
I made a dreadful and insensitive remark about it always seeming darkest before the shit really hits the fan. I quickly got a sense that he was in no mood. He needed to duck out and try to get some food stamps. This guy was really on the skids.
Twenty minutes later I found his driveway, a nice part of town but a home quite gone to seed, the unkempt weeds threatening to capture and hide any semblance of civilization. I rang and rang and got no answer at the gate. Finally I called him on the phone number he gave me, almost expecting it to be suddenly disconnected.
Push the gate open. But don't let the dog out. He's old. I wound my way up the driveway, noticing the beautiful granite beds to the east, a perfect place for morteros. He met me at the car. Oh ya, there's plenty of them, walk right over.
I decided to inspect the contents of the house first. The wife was definitely gone, the place had the feel of a restless, single man. One who was in serious trouble.
The paintings of ships turned out to be near worthless colored etchings of ships, some auction company had picked most of the other bones clean. A few interesting books, nothing outstanding. His hand sifted through a pile of old foreign coins on the table, nothing looked promising.The Russian wife had left quite a few icons but nothing of any age or real merit.
I noticed some pretty posters on the wall, from the forties. That's my mother. I told him that she was very beautiful and she was. Started to make a crack about the child of such a woman surely needing therapy but thought better of it.
If you don't mind me asking, what exactly is your vocation sir, I asked?
I'd rather not answer. Let me just say international trade. I shut up and stopped the line of inquiry. Immediately thought of spycraft but quickly quelled the thought, what agency would ever consider employing a man that would allow himself to become this broken?
I noticed the big book from alcoholics anonymous on the shelf, right past the large budweiser bottle in my line of sight. Guess this one couldn't take the cure.
I didn't really know what to say. Promised to look up a few things. The reality is that he is already over the falls and beyond my help in saving. Don't think I can help this one.
I casually offered that as bad as it all seemed it would probably look great someday in his book.
He looked at me darkly.
I'm not writing a book.