Every one associates fog with San Francisco and yet it was Roberson Jeffers who would write about the fog while living in Carmel By The Sea. The Pacific Coast fog is known up and down the coast of California. I had business in Big Sur, a small community of artists nestled along the coast where Big Sur creek meets the ocean and the red sandstone and clay cliffs sometimes slide burying shore line until the next large storm drags them further into the sea. I often look forward to spending some time driving the coast highway in the fall when the weather is clear and one can see vistas from every curve in the road. Joan Wilder is a client of mine. She writes books, popular love novels, if you like. I attend to her legal affairs and those of other residents in that artist colony. I’m based in Monterrey so the drive is not terribly long. I gave up San Francisco several decades ago when rental prices became too expensive for my blood.
Normally I take care of contractual matters but sometimes there are other legal issues to attend. Just last week I had to defend a client, an artist really, one William Rusick, a sculptor by trade. I say by trade because if one judged his art, well, you’d understand. Let’s just say that he had captured the rustic sculpture to a tee. And unfortunately as many would be great artists go, he took offense to the mild criticism, “Your work sucks!” with the typical reaction of an injured artist. He smashed the man’s teeth with his overly large fist. I was able to plea bargain and get him a year’s probation. If you asked me, I’d have sentenced him to life for the crime of killing art. But I digress.
Joan summoned me and wasn’t too specific, none of these people ever are. I am suppose to be a mind reader for them. All I knew is that she had some kind of problem that involved limits, whatever that meant. So I was expecting encroachment on her property by another artist who might have felt the need for appropriation without benefit of legal title assumption. Out side of Joan and Walt Kandinsky, the painter, few of those who lived there and called themselves artist had much talent. There was one man who made erotic pottery beyond your wildest expectations. No, I really didn’t know what Joan had in mind so i took my portable typewriter and several different forms of pleading with me. There is a Sheriff’s station that is maned twenty four hours a day but more for traffic accidents and the occasional local complaint.
I pulled up to the gate and pressed the buzzer. A voice came from the speaker asking me to identify myself. “I’m Ms Wilder’s attorney.” I was buzzed in as the gate opened and I drove up the driveway. She spared the expense, it was all gravel and in need of a new layer put on. There was a 68 Dodge Dart in the driveway along with a 76 Jeep Gladiator and a 98 Toyota Camry. All three cars were low mileage since Joan seldom drove much. Her daytime maid did the shopping and drove her own car, the Camry. As usual, the maid, Carmella, came out to greet me. “She’s in her study, Senor Griffin.”
“What it this time, Carmella?”
“Oh, she got troubles with some man. You know, somebody wants to meet her and she don’t want to.”
“Do you know who this man is?”
“No, just a fan I think, I don’t know. She tell me nothing, senor.”
I always suspected Carmella never had a green card but it’s not my job to play border patrol. I walked through the front portal. Her house was a hodgepodge of buildings that were linked together is an indifferent manner. I had had to represent her before the planning commission for Monterrey County several times for the abstract construction that she had commissioned. That amounted to paying the fines and bribing the building inspectors. So I made my way to her study, a four hundred square foot shed in the back with plenty of windows and a wood stove for the cooler temperatures, which could be in summer as well as winter. I stopped at the french door as I saw her typing on her old Olimpia portable. to interrupt the goddess was to invite severe censure.
Joan saw me out of the corner of her eye and waved me in. “Gordon, I’m having problems with some man that thinks I stole his story. He’s become an incessant nuisance, hounding me day and night. I can hardly work these days. Do something with him, won’t you. I’ve got a story to finish and he’s destroying my concentration.”
“Who is this man and where can I find him?”
“You don’t expect me to remember all those details, do you?”
“Actually, I do. Your average manuscript is around four hundred pages with quite a few characters and lots of sub plots. A few details about your problem should be easy to remember. Otherwise I can’t really help you, Joan. So be a good girl and tell me the problem in detail. It’s close to lunch time so you can take a break as you always do this time of day.” I deliberately timed my visit to coincide with her routine otherwise I would get very little done while waiting on her.
“Oh very well, I’ll ring Carmella.” Joan pressed a button on the side of her desk and then rose to her feet. Slipping into her flip-flops she allowed me to follow to the deck where her table had been set for two. Carmella was bring out lunch as we sat down. Joan’s manner of conveying information was through story telling, so I settled down to lunch and switched on the tape recorder I had in my coat pocket, the microphone was in my lapel. ” I was in Mexico last year in Cozumel gathering some material for my last book, you know the one, Lapis Azul. Well, I met this man who I thought was charming at the time and he offered to be my guide and show me the various points of interest. So I was there for a month and this man was telling the local lore about the Mayans and Aztecs and Indios. So I gathered all this background for my book and then came home to write it. It was a best seller, you know, made me a little nest egg.” Joan has the habit of keeping a bank account for each of her books, don’t ask me why. I think her accountant suggested that as a way of tracking her expenses for each book. “So the book was published here and in several other countries. Mexico just happens to be a big fan base, they love me there. The next thing I know this same man that guided me around Cozumel was trying to telephone me and even came to the gate. Well Carmella would have nothing to do with him, said he was some sort of gangster or something. He’s been awfully persistent and spreading lies that I stole his story. Gordon, he is being most unattractive in his behavior. Won’t you make that little man go away and leave me alone?
“Did you steal his story, Joan?”
“Of course not. I may have used some of the background in my book, but those are all my own words. The nerve of him to accuse me of stealing anything of his.”
“And what is the man’s name and where can I find him?”
“I’ve forgotten. Carmella probably knows. You know how protective of me she is and she always knows everything that goes around here.”
I turned the tape recorder off and finished my lunch. I would have a talk with Carmella before I left, Carmella would see to that. Later, by my car, Carmella told me about this mysterious stranger, a Mr. Mack Douglas. “He said he is staying in Monterrey in a motel near the Presidio. I think it was called a motel with a number, Senior Griffin.” Carmella had never become familiar with me, always very formal. “Senor Douglas was very insistent about coming in to see Senorita Wilder but the gardener told him no. Jose is a very big and strong man. Last week he caught Senior Douglas after he climbed over the fence and threw him back over it again.” That fence is eight feet tall, yes Jose is a big strong man, enough to dissuade most from a repeat performance. Carmella opened the gate and I saw Jose watch closely as I drove down the hill and onto the road.
Back in Monterrey I made some inquiries and sent one of my investigators to find and watch Mr Douglas. As I thought, his name was MacDouglas and was staying at the Motel 6 in San City. He was driving an old rental car from a cheap rental outfit. Apparently he had hired the vehicle for a month. Considering that he had already been in town for almost two weeks I wondered what his plan was. He certainly wasn’t going to get past Jose, no one ever did. Joan knew how to buy loyalty. So I sent Mr MacDouglas an invitation for a visit to my offices. Actually, I have three depending on the client and the need. I spread my staff out around the city so as to gather information that is of use to me and my clients. This office was in an older building that had seen better times three decades ago.
MacDouglas was a man of medium height and build, perhaps pushing fifty, and starting to bald. His face betrayed him as a poser and con artist. Most people usually don’t look me in the face for long periods of time, he made a habit of on the assumption that people who lie never look one in the eye. “Sit down, Mr MacDouglas, I believe we have some business to discuss.”
He looked a bit wary. “And what would that business be if you don’t mind telling me? I only came because you said it would be to my advantage.”
“And so it shall be. I understand you’ve been to the publishers, Harcourt and Brace, with a claim that Ms Joan Wilder had stolen your story for a book. Is that true?”
“And what if it is, what’s that to you?”
“Ah, I represent Ms Wilder in such affairs. Have you a manuscript you would wish to show me?”
“What if I did, why should I show it to you?”
“I should imagine we ought to get down to cases. You have tried several times to press your claim on Ms Wilder and the last attempt caused you some physical discomfort. Jose is a very strong and a very loyal retainer of Ms Wilder’s So, do you or don’t you have a manuscript?”
“Yeah, I got a manuscript but you ain’t getting it. No sir, I ain’t letting it out of my hands.”
“I have in these sets of offices a conference room that can be locked from the inside. There is an outside door as well. If you wish to bring your manuscript so that I may read and take sufficient notes, perhaps make some copies, you may lock us both in the room and bolt the doors from being opened. would that satisfy you?”
“Well, I don’t know. How do I know you’re being square with me?”
“You don’t. But I certainly do not believe you’re being “square with me. On the other hand I can contact one of the assistant district attorneys and ask his opinion as to whether you are trying to shake down my client and her publishers. I could have you picked up tonight by the police. Now, what is your answer?” I must say that MacDouglas was a cool customer. He acted flustered, but that was the key, act.
“Alright, have it your own way. I’ll be here ten o’clock tomorrow.” With that utterance he stood up and turned toward the door.
“Ten o’clock it shall be, I’ll see you then.” Actually I had my doubts that he would show. So I called one of my investigators to follow him and see what developed. There was a great deal about MacDouglas that did not ring true and I suspected that there must be a partner involved with him play.
My agent reported that through his very sensitive microphone he had heard MacDouglas call someone named Ortega. There had been a heated argument between the two that focused on the scam MacDouglas was to play. It was agreed that he was to meet Ortega at the Casa Frejole at nine pm. John, my agent I rely on the most for these delicate affairs, was ready to follow MacDouglas and report by cell phone who this Ortega was or represented.
I must say that I was very intrigued by this confidence game. One seldom gets to get on the ground floor with these affairs and I wondered who would be so bold and yet so stupid to try one of these games. So it was much to my surprise when John reported that MacDouglas met with a Hispanic looking man of rather large size. I was puzzled at first and then I remembered that Joan had hired a new gardener just after she returned from Mexico. Could this be the same fellow? John used the camera in his cell phone and sent me a picture. Yep, that was Jose. But that is not all. He had a woman with him. I almost regretted the thought I had at that information. John took another picture and sure enough the photo was of Carmella. I kept thinking, “What the hell’s going on?” The picture wasn’t pretty but it was incomplete. I told John to follow Jose and Carmella.
There had to be another party involved, someone who was the brains behind the play. A little later Jose and Carmella left and drove to a house in Pacific Grove. They got out and walked to the front door. I did a quick search of the property and determined that it was rented by one Carlos Domingo Sanchez, resident of Cozumel, Mexico. Ah, the play was beginning to make sense. Background checks would probably determine that Carmella came from that area and that Jose was sent specifically to be the Gardner for Joan. I called INS and issued a complaint. As it turned out, Jose and Carmella were in this country illegally, but owing to the current government administration I understand they were released and who knows where either of them are today. Sanchez had a visa and was obtaining his green card. He was being sponsored by Joan Wilder. as for me, Joan informed me that she had taken her business to my competitor. Some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.