Friday, September 28, 2007
"Excuse me; you're sitting in my seat!"
The voice, a rich baritone, carried a definite edge.
Amanda Bennington looked up into a stranger's dark, flashing eyes--eyes that snapped an order for her to move. "My ticket is clearly stamped row 8, seat B." She held her boarding pass in front of his face. "See for yourself."
"Ain't that the truth," the voice rumbled. "'A' is always a window seat on a plane. It's the one I booked and it's the one you're sitting in now."
Amanda's face heated and the fire surged down to her black Italian designer pumps.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'll move."
"Thank you. Wise decision."
The grouch's mouth reverted to a tight grim line beneath his Tom Selleck graying moustache. Amanda grabbed her purse from beneath the seat in front and switched to what she assumed was Seat B. She leaned back to avoid the silver-haired passenger's grizzly bulk as he squeezed past her scrunched knees. There wasn't much room in the big jet's economy class. She caught a drift of alcohol on his breath, but pain distracted her when one of his giant clodhoppers landed on her toes. "Ouch! That hurt!"
"Sorry, you shudda moved into the aisle and let me in first." The oaf maneuvered onto his throne by the window.
"Turkey, " Amanda muttered under her breath.
"Beg your pardon?"
"Er... I said I'm not perky. I've been up since dawn, and even at that I had to race across Seattle to get to the airport in time."
Amanda hoped no one would take the empty aisle seat beside her on the early morning flight. She might move there if he breathed on her again.
Obviously not interested in her plight, the hefty man stared at something outside the plane, slapped his knee and laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"A big suitcase fell off the luggage wagon and burst open. The tarmac guys are kinda making a big deal out of picking up some woman's underwear that's rolling along with the wind. Good thing it's not the sexy kind; they wouldn't get a lick of work done for a while."
"I admire a woman with modesty," she sputtered. "They are rare these days."
"Probably belongs to some little old grandmother," he said.
"Ah... what color is the suitcase?" Amanda thought of her relatively new, black two-piece Samsonite set marked with orange tape for easy identification on the carousel.
"If that doesn't beat all." His laugh at the expense of whoever owned the luggage annoyed her.
"The suitcase is decorated for Halloween."
"Never said a word." Amanda's fingernails dug into the seat's armrest. The thought of strangers ogling her lingerie made her cringe. When her seat partner turned to stare at her, she got another whiff of liquor, this time so strong she could taste it. Mixed with a spicy scent--likely a cologne he had bought at a dollar store--the unbearable smells overwhelmed her. She almost gagged. The aisle seat looked better all the time.
The passenger shook his head and turned back to watching the tarmac.
Amanda studied him out of the corner of her eye. I can't imagine a man traveling without shaving first. This guy's scruffy leather jacket has seen better days. I suppose it serves the purpose of covering most of his wrinkled plaid shirt. She turned her head away and inhaled a big breath of non-alcohol-infused air, then surveyed him again. His new jeans stand in his favor, fitting as snug as they do. God, I hate sagging crotches. Why am I bothering with someone I don't know? I've got more important things to consider.
She looked up the aisle and watched other passengers boarding for a while, then shifted in her seat. Was there something to see beyond the other Boeing 737 emblazoned with Alaska Airlines, parked next to hers? Not a damn thing! She was too far from the small window.
"Are you nervous about flying, ma'am? I'm sure they'll let you off." Her seatmate's deep voice resonated like gravel hitting pavement.
"Am I bothering you?" she asked politely.
"Ah... no, but the way you're squirming and sighing, I don't want you croaking when we take off."
"Oh, for Pete's sake! If I drop dead from fright, call the stewardess. They'll dispose of me with little trouble to you."
His forehead grew numerous lines. Amanda imagined they appeared often; they went so well with his scowl. Many passengers now flooded the aisle, each trying to find their assigned seat and stash their carry-on luggage. A baby, snuggled in a carrier against the breasts of the young woman sitting down ahead of her, would be a noise problem Amanda would have to endure. Whether she could tolerate the boozed up occupant beside her was another question.
The passenger in the seat behind had a bad cough. Amanda envisioned millions of germs forming a canopy over her head. Maybe the illusion was an omen to get off the plane. She watched the stewardess shove a passenger's overnight bag into the compartment opposite her, pushing at it three times before the door latched. To take her mind off the unpleasantness of her surroundings, Amanda decided she would adapt like the stewardess, forget about present annoyances and mull over her yesterday's disaster, instead.
~ * ~
The previous day had not gone well. The sight beyond her living room window had dotted an exclamation point in Amanda's life. Finished, done, kaput--the end of a twenty-one-year marriage. She watched the two moving vans pull out of her circular drive, their tires stirring the early morning fog into haphazard swirls. The first time I've been up early in ages and the day has to start out gloomy. She ground her bare heels into the plush gray carpeting. I hope whoever buys my belongings at the auction house treats them well.
At fifty-two, used to luxurious vacations, the best restaurants, and invitations to the most sought after parties--along with top service from her household staff--she was at an unbelievable and unwelcome fork in the road.
Freshly divorced and bitter as hell, she could now add homeless to her life's description. She was entitled to half of her ex's pension but she suspected Harold would keep working until he was ninety-nine just to spite her. She clicked her tongue and with her finger wiped a spot of fly poop off the large windowpane. Harold will have to forgo retirement to maintain his current twit in the manner to which she's becoming accustomed. The slut's heavily painted lips were bad enough but her out-of-date Cleopatra eye makeup with fake eyelashes batting over cat-like eyes made Amanda want to puke. I can't understand why a man prefers flattering hogwash instead of the truth.
Obviously Harold wanted to try out a newer model so he chose one that boasted huge headlights and a tight chassis, noticeable three hundred feet from the source. His new woman was young and had cotton batting for brains, but when she strutted down the street every male eye within range popped out of its socket.
Poor Mr. Bentley. The rumor was that he had his heart attack gawking at her--the dose of lust too powerful for his feeble heart to stand the pleasure... er...pressure. If such a thing happened to Harold, it would serve him right. I wonder how that little bitch would make out handling funeral arrangements? Probably stuff him in a pine box and cruise on Holland America with the savings.
Amanda sipped a mouthful of coffee and swished the brew around in her mouth to savor the expensive, rich flavor before swallowing it. I wouldn't be surprised if that trollop made out with the funeral director on the embalming table first. She smiled. Yes, indeed, Harold will find life more difficult without my advice every step of the way.
Like it or not, Amanda was forced to concentrate on her own life's desires, or more to the point, her necessity to continue her status quo. What's an unskilled, stay-at-home wife supposed to do when the household provider coldly informs her that he's found someone more attentive to his needs?
Harold had never even mentioned to her what his needs were. Good thing she had figured out a pattern early on that didn't particularly stress her out. Sex wasn't as big a deal as magazines proclaimed. Same old routine worked well enough every Saturday night and she had faithfully kept to the schedule no matter how inconvenient. No, Harold had no reason for complaint, but he had reason for offering his thanks with a huge alimony. Her sophistication and social graces had won him numerous lucrative contracts in the airline industry and it wasn't for naught. She would be fairly well off when the final tally was made. Then, no way would she be caught under the financial screws of any man ever again. Amanda scoffed, but bit her lip to keep from blurting out: never under the physical ones either.
What hurts most is that I never saw the breakup coming. CEOs are normally close-mouthed, but not even hinting at trouble was downright obscene. No one else had seen it either, except for Dad, who made observations in his blunt way a time or two. I should have paid more attention even if Dad is a widower with a penchant for girlie magazines. He warned me that Harold's paunchy stomach and balding head wouldn't draw social butterflies, but his money certainly would be the nectar they craved.
Amanda felt like kicking herself. She should have suspected her ex had found a love interest when he started working out and underwent several hair transplants.
Dad warned me that Harold was a philanderer, but neither of them can crow about it when they find out how well I've come out of this sordid ordeal. Dad'll never see my heartache or hear my sobs at night. I'm jittery about the future, but a new life will be a challenge I'll face with my head held high.
She wiped a tear from her eye and recalled her first consultation with her lawyer, a long-time friend. He wasn't shocked by her request for a divorce. He said he dealt with that type of foolishness on a daily basis. In the words of Randolph Senior, of the law firm Randolph Outhouse & Sons, "CEOs have a high rate of marriage breakdown. It's the nature of the job, Amanda." She had always thought Randolf's last name was appropriate. He was full of it!
"You should have kept your eyes open, Amanda. I can't understand women who float through life on a goddamn pedestal, then act surprised when a sexy piece of work undermines the faulty craftsmanship."
Randy had some nerve, sitting behind his desk like a giant toad pontificating on my marriage as if he knew it all! Blinking back her fury, she had stormed out of his office.
Amanda twisted in her plane seat, noticed her seat partner was still engrossed with the view so she slipped back to that same fateful day.
Randy had called later to inform her that important information had arrived. It was imperative she come to his office at four o'clock. She had scurried to the master bedroom's walk-in closet. At least her clothes were still intact and added stability to the room's unmade cot, set on a colorful Persian carpet purchased in Saudi Arabia. No way would I let the moving guys pull the rugs out from under me just yet.
"Okay, what to wear for my Independence Day?" Amanda felt her face heat, not from frustration but from the degradation of talking aloud to have some kind of sound in the house. She seldom played the radio--didn't have the time with her active social life--so she considered it no real loss when the entertainment center left with the other symbols of her high-scale life.
"The navy Donna Karan suit should do nicely; its understated style hides my middle-age spread and accents the blue of my eyes." She laid the outfit on her bed. "I should have made an earlier appointment at the salon. A manicure and trim would give zip to my step." She didn't like the way her words reverberated, sounding hollow in this room stripped of her gorgeous mahogany bedroom suite and original paintings by well-known artists.
Amanda blanked her mind and soaked in the shower's hot spray, clouds of steam billowing around her. She wrapped a towel around her shoulder length Ginger Zing colored hair, dried her body and wiped the fog from the gilded bathroom mirror. She didn't see much to admire in the form looking back at her--the naked image of her five-foot-eight frame slumped, instead of standing proud. Everything else on her body seemed to aim for the ground as well. She wondered why women showed the ravages of time more prominently than men of a similar age.
Still, aside from the crow's feet scratching vehemently from the corners of her eyes, she had few wrinkles. Her skin wasn't alligator shingled but a smooth peaches and cream. She could work on the spare tire clinging to her middle and hopefully shave off some of her rear excess in the process. She turned for a back view and moaned. She needed a roll of Duct tape to give her buttocks a lift. Oh well, the gym will get a new client in a day or two. First, I have to find a peaceful place to plan the rest of my life.
One thing Amanda knew... the only man in her life from now on would be her father. Her dad would be glad of her company if he could unglue himself from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition long enough to notice she was in his home.
She dressed quickly, called a taxi, and headed to her lawyer's office downtown. Randy met her at the door. His lackluster eyes should have warned her. "Come in, Amanda. I'm impressed you arrived on time."
"I didn't have Harold pacing the floor so there was no reason to tarry."
"Hmm. Sounds like you two were at odds for a long time but ignored the signs."
"Maybe we had sunk into a rut, but be that as it may, Randy, I need closure to the marriage so I can move on with my life."
"I'm afraid that will take some doing, Amanda." The lawyer's nod indicated she should sit in the burgundy leather chair in front of his grandiose oak desk
"What do you mean?"
"Please, sit. I don't want you to faint."
She sat but didn't lean back to enjoy the chair's soft comfort.
"The bastard has seen to it that you'll have a hard time keeping to your lifestyle." Randy stared her right in the eye without a smidgen of a grin.
"The decree orders that all assets be split evenly," Amanda said, keeping her tone level.
"That's true and applies when there are assets to split."
"Harold is a wealthy man. Of course there are assets."
She squeaked back in the chair and crossed one leg over the other. The rich smell of the luxurious leather permeated the office. She was glad she had friends in high places, even if they were expensive. This law firm was said to be one of the best.
"Are you braced for the news, Amanda?"
She pulled her skirt over her knee and flicked off a small white feather. "What news?"
"Your ex-husband has sent his money out of the country and moved to the Cayman Islands with his bit of fluff trailing behind him."
"But he owns an airline and is expanding the company."
"Haven't you been reading the local news at all?"
"I avoid that dreadful stuff; I stick to the society page and Dear Abby."
"Airlines crash, figuratively speaking, every year. Canfly Airlines found out they couldn't fly and just went into receivership. Harold had already mortgaged the house to the eyeballs. I'm sorry to say you are nearly penniless, except for what you get from the auction." He tightened his mouth in a long, weighty pause. "If I were you, and I'll deny I said this, I'd grab the money from the sales and run as far as I could. I'm only telling you this because we're friends. You'll probably have little more than enough to pay my bill."
Some friend. Amanda rose and strutted to the window. Through the rain-spattered plate glass, she watched cars ten floors below splash through puddles. A dreary day for damn dreary news. "There is nothing that can be done?"
"In time possibly, currently, no. You'll have to find work when your funds evaporate. Knowing you, that won't take long."
She thought of her home's walls, bare as a pauper's hovel. The tapestries she had picked up in Turkey, the artwork from Italy, even the Grecian vases from the fireplace mantel had left on the trucks. "That's hardly fair, Randy. I'm certainly mature enough to handle my affairs... er... my finances."
"You've been snookered on every front. Get real, Amanda. Come out of the clouds!"
Available from www.champagnebooks.com
Aloha is alive and well!
There's a magical, special feeling in these Islands of Hawaii. Those of us who live here call it aloha. It's alive and well, and to some it's so powerful and pervasive that it soon becomes an essential part of life. To many people, this feeling is a huge part of what they're here for. Perhaps they're even here for healing or for a specific spiritual focus, but in any event it's the mystique and power of the Islands that brings them to this extraordinary destination in the first place, and in the end it is what keeps them here forever.
To others, these feelings seem not to exist. We've had friends from the mainland come to visit and notice nothing, while others feel it profoundly. We even had one friend say that she surely feels the ambiance of love and acceptance here but she thought it was some kind of tourist-trickery being played by the Visitor's Bureau! And she was serious!
The more obvious draw of this Island is its natural resources: the pristine beaches, the crystal clear ocean, the awesome and varied flora, and of course the spectacular volcano. A less obvious but no less important draw is the mana, or spiritual power. The Big Island is home and host to many spiritual events, sessions, celebrations, and workshops from many differing disciplines. The Zen Temple in Wood Valley hosts these kinds of events all year long, and others take place in less formal surroundings, like in some of the sacred and powerful places all over this Island or perhaps even on a quiet beach. The Magic is one of the big reasons why so many people are drawn here for their spiritual work. It's somehow so easy in The Islands.
Each of us sees "the Dream" differently. To some, it's being able to spend lots of time on beautiful white sand beaches and never again having to think about "going back home." To others, it's the sumptuous weather and never again having to burn anything to keep warm. Or it's the quiet, gracious, simple and unhurried lifestyle. And to others still, it's as simple as this: It feels good. It feels good to every one of our senses, psychological, physical and spiritual.
To us, it is all of these things. It is somehow so easy and natural to stay grounded here, and there is just "something in the air" that is a constant, gentle reminder that keeps us on our spiritual path. This is a simple life where friends matter more than timetables, where inner peace and aloha come easy.
It feels so good to us to be among these wonderful people of many cultures who all seem to be of one big, loving family. The color of your skin, the kind of car you drive, the size of your home--none of these things matter here. What's in your heart is all that matters.
This is a generalization, but we believe those who end up staying here are the people who Know in their Knowingness the minute they first breathe the sweet, sensuous air of the Islands that they have come home and that this is where they must be.
The Change to Island-Style
It's interesting to observe our new friends and neighbors as they fall into step with Island life. It's especially interesting to watch the women who came from a professional life in some big city. At first, they find it awkward to shed the all-important apparel they've become so used to and adapt to the comfortable attire of the Islands. It's not too long, though, before they find real pleasure in their new comfort of pareos and rubber slippers. Even the makeup that was an everyday routine starts to become less important.
Men, too, take a while to adapt. But pretty soon the rubber slippers and shorts feel natural and they can laugh at the clothes they used to wear to keep up with the styles in the city. And then they wonder why it took so long.
Another interesting observation is how most people simply slow down. Those who talk fast, move fast and come from life in the fast lane are the most dramatic to watch. From the frenetic pace they brought with them, they begin the beautiful and healthy process of slowing down every nuance of their lives. Speech slows down and becomes more focused, mannerisms become more graceful and at ease, attention to others becomes more deliberate and loving, and they begin, consciously or not, to live aloha.
In the Islands, and particularly in the rural areas, people always have time for friends, neighbors and even strangers. There's a popular pastime here called "talk story." You always have time to talk story. If you're ready to leave your home to go on an errand and a friend shows up, you stop what you're doing and talk story. You share a cup of coffee, tea or whatever, but you always have time. That's why sometimes appointments seem to have little meaning here. The bottom line is that people are more important than anything else.
Speaking of people, one of the things we love about living here is that everybody is a minority. There is no prejudice here; what your personal culture is doesn't matter. Again, it's what's inside that counts. This is especially true here on the Windward side of The Big Island, where the population is a wonderful mix of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, haole (Caucasian), various Island cultures and others, and the beautiful results of the mixes of all of them. There is an obvious respect for everyone's culture, and each practices it's own ways to whatever extent they wish. And for those who have heard stories of how "the locals all dislike haoles" and other exceptions to this notion, we'll discuss that in detail in Chapter 2.
The Hawaiian culture is alive and well here and is being preserved and nurtured. It's truly heartwarming to us every time we see another example of the energy that the young people here, especially the Hawaiian kids of all ages, put into the preservation of their culture. The Hawaiian culture is built upon love and acceptance, family and friends, the land and the ocean, and to a large extent, the Hula and music. These are the important things; everything else is secondary. There are lots of Hawaiian cultural events here, and we recommend attending as many as possible. It's good to continue to learn about the culture and the ways of the people who are our hosts here in these Islands, and to maintain the highest possible respect for this amazing place and its people.
The cultural events we speak of are those put on by the local folks. There are theater events, street parties, talks by Hawaiian elders, museums, musical events of all descriptions and even small Luaus and other informal gatherings where you can learn about local ways by observation and becoming involved. With a few exceptions, the so-called cultural productions by hotels and other tourist endeavors are not among our recommendations for really learning about Hawaiian ways or history.
A large part of the Hawaiian culture is based in the philosophy of giving back to the community. Those who live this philosophy would feel incomplete living their lives only for themselves, or even just for their own families. Family members give back to their families, and the family as a whole gives back to the community, and this, coming from the heart, is an important ingredient of the spirit of aloha. This is a philosophy not often found to be practiced in Mainland haole cultures and it is one of the differences not easily understood by the Hawaiians. Not surprisingly, the Island haoles who truly live lives of aloha are those who find themselves most at ease with--and accepted by--the locals.
The dream of living in these Islands has as many interpretations as there are dreamers, and no one interpretation is less real than any other to the one doing the dreaming. There are few places on Earth that cast this kind of spell on their guests. If you are one of the dreamers, take heart! If it is truly your desire, you can live that dream.
Author: Skip Thomsen, Hilo, Hawaii
Title: Affordable Paradise
http://www.affordablehawaiiliving.com (Book site and purchase site)
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
BOOK TITLE: Three Steps to Investment Success: Buying the Right Art, Antiques, and Collectibles
How to Guarantee a Profit on Your Acquisitions
BOOK AUTHOR: Scott Zema
INTRODUCTION AND CHAPTER ONE:
'Collectors buy art for many reasons: some buy purely for investment, others for love. Sometimes a collector tries to find a balance between their love of the art form and the possibility of their piece increasing in value. A good eye coupled with good business sense can be a powerful combination when buying any art'.
--Andrew Van Emden and Dr. George Pantela, authors of 'Collecting Animation Art'
What I am going to relate is what you need to know about art, antiques, and collectibles if you want to make smart financial choices in what you buy. If you follow my advice, you will make an investment profit on your art, antiques, and collectibles. You can make art, antiques, and collectibles not just a source of enjoyment but an enjoyable source of value. And what can be more pleasant in this life?
I am a long time professional art, antiques, and collectibles appraiser, certified and highly experienced in the sale of art, antiques, and collectibles as well as their appraisal. I felt I had to write this book because I got tired of holding in my disbelief with the poor financial choices people make in their art, antiques, and collectibles purchases. I got tired of muttering under my breath to myself as if I were arguing with a collective buying public that I see to be definitely off cue in acquiring with an interest in value and quality as well as matching the color of the drapes, filling a hole in the corner of the room, or buying to satisfy a whim.
In this book I relate my own experiences as an appraiser and investor in a field not traditionally accepted as a place to invest money. I also tackle the enormous social and intellectual obstacles standing in the way of the interested public viewing their appreciable personal properties from a serious financial perspective.
Further, because quality in art, antiques, and collectibles is more or less tied to price, your attention to the markets and how they work has a reciprocal effect in helping you to enhance your overall expertise and enjoyment of the experience of collecting sophisticated artifacts. This is activity that requires effort and knowledge, but I do it, and so can you. You just have to lay the proper groundwork for the activity, and that's what I will tell you all about.
Reading this book will enable buyers to accommodate their particular areas of interest within the wide universe of art, antiques, and collectibles with a viable financial acquisitions strategy pertaining to those interests. Despite its focus on weaning the beginner from using a scattershot acquisitions policy to purchasing more carefully and systematically from a financial standpoint, this book will also appeal to more seasoned collectors by tailoring their collecting more closely to value and appreciation.
How to Use This Book
This book is divided sequentially into three steps designed to get you from less-than-zero in your ability to effectively invest in art, antiques, and collectibles to where I might be tempted to ask you a question, because you have surpassed me in your knowledge of a particular area of the art, antiques, and collectibles investment field. The book is full of amusing and interesting anecdotes largely relating my experiences in the marketplace which I use to illustrate the principles I present.
These steps are as follows:
STEP I: CLEARING YOUR MIND ABOUT ART, ANTIQUES, AND COLLECTIBLES
This part describes what you need to unlearn before you can start to think effectively about appreciable personal properties as investments. It deals with misinformation, misconceptions, attitudes, and poor buying habits rampant among the public at large--things which impede effective investment strategies. By describing and discounting these obstacles to rational thinking and action which are almost Biblical in their pervasiveness and in their hold on the popular imagination, I will cause many of you to see yourselves as ignorant in your knowledge of the appreciable personal properties markets and compel you to discard old ideas and attitudes. After wiping your mental 'slate' clean, I can then provide you with the information that you will need to develop effective buying habits in the steps that follow.
STEP II: PREPARE TO START BUYING WITH A FRESH APPROACH (Don't start buying yet!)
This part of the book describes what you need to learn before you can start buying as an effective investor. It describes the evolving market in investment-quality appreciable personal properties, and it outlines their similarities and differences with other types of investments. It defines quality art, antiques, and collectibles and describes what means are available to educate yourself about your interests in these objects.
Here I also give you an outline of the general structure of the personal property markets to familiarize yourself with how all personal properties are bought and sold, including art and antiques. I do this so that you will start to develop an internal 'map' of the valuable properties marketplaces and have a general idea about what you are buying and selling and where you are buying and selling it.
STEP III: GO FOR IT: BECOMING A COLLECTOR AND AN INVESTOR
Here I unleash you on my friends, the unsuspecting art, antiques, and collectibles professionals, newly armed with useful knowledge and ready to cut a swath in the market. In this section I also provide basic principles and ideas associated with knowledgeable buying and selling and how they are used by the value minded collector. I revisit the markets I described previously only now with specific reference to your being a knowledgeable buyer and seller. I also talk about strategies for buying, selling, or bartering, and I talk about effectively maintaining your collection.
STEP I: CLEARING YOUR MIND ABOUT ART, ANTIQUES, AND COLLECTIBLES
CHAPTER 1: THE ABYSMAL STATE OF ART, ANTIQUES, AND COLLECTIBLES INVESTMENT
The Strange Hypocrisy of the Marketplace
It's been a popular tradition that when collecting someone shouldn't associate value with the personal choices involved in that activity. I believe that many people are so intimidated by the double standards and muddled thinking traditional in dealing with these two topics in tandem, that is, personal choice in collecting and the financial value associated with that collecting, that they avoid its rational consideration.
So, as they follow me around while I'm evaluating their collections, clients often protest that their collecting choices are governed strictly by what they like and that they are not motivated by financial considerations. To say the least, this makes for very strange conversations, because while my customers are protesting the thought of assigning value to priceless family heirlooms they have one ear cocked as I tell them what their properties are worth in the present market and their characteristics as effective investments---which is why they hired me in the first place!
But someone doesn't have to broadcast, after all, what they pay for anything, and that includes stocks or bonds as well as valuable personal possessions. Talking about investments is one thing. Intelligent consideration of investments is another! This kind of low regard for mixing appreciable personal properties and investment has existed has more to do with poor conceptualization, incomplete market data, and lack of knowledge than from any satisfactory analysis that would definitively discount these properties as investment vehicles. The art of investing intelligently in appreciable personal properties is still in its formative stages, and even in this general circumstance it is possible to draw useful comparisons between appreciable personal properties as investments and other types of investments for the benefit of readers.
Later on in the book I speculate why this state of affairs exists, what solutions are available to bridge the gap between casually buying items of interest and true investing, and why I think the present is a good time, as opposed to any previous time, for presenting a book that does this. I do not believe that art, antiques, or collectibles are sacred cows huffily defying explanation and that there can be a sensible consideration of these topics such that collectors can benefit financially from their buying activities.
Thinking About Appreciable Personal Properties and Buying Them: Oil and Water
It's possible to over-personalize and under-analyze the choices someone makes in buying or selling valuable properties--(or any investment property for that matter!) That this is true regarding valuable properties has to do with a lack of interest or focus on the factors contributing to value in art, antiques, and collectibles, both by the buyers of these properties but also by people in the industry (Not only that, but it has become fashionable on the antique valuation shows for appraisers to encourage owners of valuable properties to actually use these properties despite their high value and thereby risk damage to these properties, which is the unfortunate outcome of an incorrect industry bias which is dead set against regarding any such properties in a serious investment or financial light!) There is also a pervasive anti-intellectual tenor in America which contributes to negative attitudes pertaining to analysis of art, aesthetics, and other pertinent concepts which are important in effective purchasing.
And when it comes to the capabilities of buyers, I make no distinctions between blue collar working folks and businessmen, doctors, investors, or software industrialists. All seem to carry the same baggage of little hard knowledge about appreciable personal properties and a lot of misconceptions which are reflective of widespread slogans or platitudes. If anything, bigger mistakes are made on bigger budgets, because the frugal blue collar guy collecting on a budget may seek to inform himself before buying because he doesn't have the luxury of making expensive mistakes. Maybe.
Let's review then some of these platitudes by reciting a sampling of these misconceptions and examining them from my standpoint as an appraiser with good experience of the marketplace. This is a necessary and effective approach for getting you turned around and in the right frame of mind to begin thinking about where you spend your money.
Misconceptions That Pass For Knowledge about Appreciable Personal Properties
Sometimes in our society you just can't tell people what to do with their money. 'I know what I like, I own it, and that's all that matters, people sometimes say. Especially with art or collectibles or other valuable properties, people's eyes are quick to glaze over when the discussion gets too involved and they quickly lose patience with or don't bother to take on board important fundamental concepts before they indulge their tastes. So our discussion brings us to the first widely held and insidious investment misconception, which is:
Misconception #1: I may not know anything about art (or antiques, or collectibles), but I know what I like.
What this says is that there is no difference between what someone likes and what may truly be worth collecting, a concept reinforced by general cultural thinking that tends to look down on choices governed by too much mental effort mixed with the pleasurable disposition of one's money. With respect to art, it is the emotional reward that comes with the assertion of a buyer's own tastes that may trump any consideration of intrinsic value. Mix these dispositions with a lack of clear knowledge about the factors making up real merit and quality in collecting, and you end up with a lot of people spending their hard-earned resources on property that ultimately has no value.
This one idea, that I may not know anything about art, but I know what I like, is the biggest barrier to effective investment. And it works its way into the whole issue of buying valuable properties in the most unexpected ways and into the collections of even the most apparently avid collectors. And, again, it's an idea reinforced and publicly supported by many in the art, antiques, and collectibles business.
Again, one aspect of this is that collecting first and foremost involves emotional choices, and it is in dealing with emotions unleavened by sufficient knowledge that people get themselves into trouble in the art investment game (and, incidentally, in other investment games). I have to admit that it is often more difficult to separate emotions from rational investment choices in art than in many other investment areas. Art is art, and not, for example, pork bellies or widgets or other products making up the boring produce of ordinary life.
Appreciable personal properties are not widgets and that is good. Widgets are manufactured articles for the accountant to tally. Valuable personal properties are more intimate and are something that makes life interesting beyond the dull necessities and preoccupations of ordinary life, as they properly should. This means that the dry machinations involved in balancing your accounts or stock market investments can get horribly muddled when applied to investing in valuable personal property.
This book is not a dry discourse that tries to objectify the emotionalism of the appreciable personal properties market, because emotionalism is inherent in such properties. But you still can think beyond the emotional choices you make in buying art, antiques, or collectibles, just like you can rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. It just takes a bit of practice! It is just as easy with education and thought to buy something of value you love as it is to buy something which you love that has no value. If you don't have a framework for objectively analyzing your choices, you just feel what you feel, and that will create poor investment choices.
I mentioned earlier the bigger mistakes which people often make on bigger budgets. Again, the basic problem is that buyers with generous budgets allow their tastes to completely dominate their investment choices without regard to rational investment considerations. What's more, such buyers may tend to discount any advice or expertise brought to bear by a professional in the art, antiques, or collectibles field because of problems which academia and the industry traditionally have had in effectively articulating what quality and investment worthiness really mean.
One of my clients was a very successful lawyer in the Eastern Washington State town of Richland, where he was known as a local art, antiques, and collectibles buyer of note (he is now deceased). He had called me in previously to appraise artwork for a number of clients for different purposes, and finally I got the bright idea to ask him if he had ever had his property appraised for insurance. He said that he never had, and that I had better schedule a trip to Richland to undertake this process.
So I drove in the dead of winter across the Cascade Mountains, arriving about noon in the Tri-Cities, and went in search of my client. I entered the exclusive area indicated in my directions and found my way winding up, and up, and up the hillside, the houses getting increasingly fancier and fancier--until, finally, I arrived at the 'Charles Foster Kane' mansion on the tip-top of the whole shebang. The estate lay somewhere in front of me, I had no doubt, but I couldn't see it as it was hidden behind a cottonwood forest. What I first saw was the spiky and formidable black wrought iron gate with my client's intertwined initials on each door. The only effects missing were the darkness of night and the lightning from the Citizen Kane movie!
I pressed the call button and heard the familiar response of 'Mr. Kane' (actually, Mr. Mitchell Soulani), himself. The huge gates creaked open and I drove up the large paved drive towards the great stuccoed house with the Mexican tile roof. I got out and approached the gorgeous carved set of seventeenth century French double doors and rang the doorbell.
Mr. Sulani expansively greeted me and we went into the living room to chat and eventually get down to business. But before we entered the living room, I noticed the bronze torcheres in the form of nubile art nouveau women each fully five feet high and flanking the doorway to the living room with its ten million dollar view off the entry. I was struck by the crude workmanship (obvious in the sausage shaped toes, where I look first) and the new appearance of each statue. At first the significance of what I was looking at didn't really register; sometimes it takes me awhile to assess my surroundings in a household appraisal situation, but once things finally click…
Anyway, after a little pleasant chit-chat and admiring the chilly yet still stunning view of the Columbia River, we proceeded to tour his collection, starting with the displays of the elaborate scrimshaw carvings in glass cases in the living room, complemented by a selection of Lalique glass radiator caps. The furniture we were sitting in was in Javanese nineteenth century style, there were East Indian paintings on fabric framed and hanging on the wall, and academic style paintings of lions and other impressive looking animals on canvas in heavy gilded frames lurked in half-light on the walls.
“I want you to appraise these items”, said Mitchell, and he continued: “Everything here I got at a discount from dealers who were going out of business and needed to sell quickly, so I got it all for a real steal. I'm sure these items are worth much more than what I paid for them.”, and he gave me a look that suggested I was to admire him as a Real Sharp Player and a Fellow in the Know when it came to dealing in art, antiques, and collectibles. After hearing about his buying strategy, and seeing what he bought in combination with his explanation of how he bought it, I began to see clearly the lay of the land and began to formulate a general, working picture of the property I was being asked to appraise.
(As an appraiser, when I enter a client's home I always ask for a quick tour of the premises to gain an impression of the scope of work required, following which I sit down with the client to write up the contract. After the contract is negotiated, I go back through the house and record in detail those properties requiring valuation).
But to get back to the story: As yet, I said nothing. Instead I coughed very softly into my fist and bowed my head slightly as he then led me further into the house and into the dining room, where there were items of a conspicuously Chinese character on display in what was overall a Chinese/Japanese decorative theme.
Featured on one wall was a folding screen.
“I'm particularly proud of my Chinese screen, a real antique and something for which I had to pay plenty although I managed to talk the dealer down considerably.” he said.
“How much did you pay?” I asked.
“I ended up paying $20,000”, he sniffed, “…discounted from $35,000.”
He then led me up a grand staircase to the bedroom, which on entering I noticed was decorated in an 1870's Eastlake style with various pieces of walnut furniture reupholstered in faux tiger skin fabric. On we went, each room having its own decorative motif. As we proceeded with our tour, the conversation was punctuated with my client's exclamations: “Got it for a steal.” Or “didn't know what they had.” Or “had him in a bad position” or similar exclamations as we moved through the mansion.
He showed me an enclosed Chinese bed that he solemnly assured me was a 12th century opium bed, although it looked like an ordinary 19th century Ch'ing Dynasty Chinese bed to me…
Finally, he stopped and said he had something really special to show me and he winked at me and motioned to follow him into the inner sanctum, the billiards room, with its dramatic down lighting. He then pushed a button, and as I watched the mechanical doors on the wall behind the pool table silently parted to reveal…
“Yes, it's a genuine Frederic Remington,” he said, as I viewed the appalling fake. “I paid twenty thousand for it. I figure it's worth at least $100,000!”
At last I'd had enough.
“Mitchell,” I said, “for a Remington of that size (approx. 3'x 5') you would have to pay millions of dollars if it were real. I'm sorry to tell you I have my doubts that this painting is by Remington. It doesn't look like any Remington I've ever seen.”
His jaw dropped, and he challenged me, “Well, are you sure about your Remingtons?”
“Pretty sure”, I said, although in my mind even the most cursory examination by an ordinary observer of any real Remington paintings should have revealed the vast differences between those and the thing in front of me, even with the big 'Frederic Remington' signature at the bottom and with a rousing composition of a cowboy lassoing a calf in a draw.
“…Let's go back” I started, diplomatically, “and talk about what we need to appraise for you for insurance.”
And we started to retrace our steps back through the house. At each stop, I informed him of the true nature of the properties we had reviewed. The 12th century bed? Nineteenth century. The Chinese screen? A mid twentieth century decorative screen worth about $2,000 at the most. The bronze torcheres? Crude modern copies of turn-of-the-century French bronzes. The scrimshaw collection? All molded plastic fakes. The Lalique crystal radiator caps? Modern reproductions from the original molds. The animal paintings? Modern European decorator copies. The Javanese furniture? Absolutely modern. And on, and on, and on…
Not everything was fake, new, or comparatively ordinary. The Eastlake furniture was worth a little bit and he had a few paintings by local artists which required appraisal for insurance coverage. But everything else was not what my client thought it was. So I ended up appraising the few things in his grand estate which I felt were worthwhile and sent him the report.
The upshot? Well, a week or so later Mitchell sheepishly called me to ask me if he and his wife could hire me to show them where the 'real' bargains were.
“Mitchell”, I sighed, “there aren't any.”
What happens is that because strong and clear collecting criteria based upon knowledge of what constitutes lasting value are lacking both in the buyer and as points of reference in the marketplace, the overriding factor in such collections eventually becomes the cheap price, and shopping expeditions become bargain hunts. The purchaser is not buying true bargains, which may be considered a cheap price paid for a quality product, but is buying merely cheap merchandise without redeeming quality.
Don't look for bargains unless you know what bargains truly are. Further, you must be prepared to look very hard. Bargains are hard enough to find for informed professionals in the industry, and so you can imagine how much more difficult it is for someone who lacks basic information about such products to actually stumble on something of value at a price less than the going industry price.
Misconception #2: I'm going to make a bundle with an undiscovered masterpiece, because I hear about people hitting the jackpot by just looking through their attic!
Yes, fairy tales can come true. People can win the lottery, and a Michigan couple can discover that they are living with a Van Gogh in their living room (this actually happened). But the chances of even an informed person, much less an uninformed person, of making a major find are so small that it's a circumstance no one should count on. I can think of people who spent decades going to garage sales and pinned their hopes on making the big money-making find and never found anything. Not only are these people who don't have enough information to realize that they are chasing pipe-dreams, but they are also people who really don't ultimately understand what it is they are looking for!
Misconception #3: I Couldn't Possibly Care About the value of what I Own because what I have are Family Heirlooms which are PRICELESS
…they say as they are talking to the money guy, the appraiser, and on national television for all to see on the appraisal shows. How silly. People feel guilty about evaluating what they own, which is not necessarily silly, as people don't necessarily like to affix dollar signs to their possessions. But when they are telling this to the appraiser, they do look a little silly. This an idea closely allied to, and implicit in, the slogan I may not know anything about art but I know what I like. It turns this slogan into a defensive protest.
This I think has at least a partial genesis in the fact that such properties are considered so personal that to assign a dollar value seems inappropriate. An admirable sentiment, but hardly meaningful if by consulting with an appraiser you are trying to satisfy your curiosity about what you own is worth.
Misconception #4: Good Art is a Matter of Individual Taste
Here's a slogan which is profound in its implications, which can be dangerous, and which can and has thrown better and more knowledgeable people than me into fitful intellectual discourses and has sent very intelligent art buyers back squarely into the impulsive realm of emotional art purchasing without financial purpose or structure. But I believe I can offer ways around this profoundly flawed investment idea that provide you, the investor, with solid footing in your quest for investment quality art, antiques, and collectibles.
Collecting art is a matter for individual taste. Collectors have to pay attention to their own tastes in buying art, or what's the point of enjoying life? One person's fine china can be another person's old teapot. But to say that good art is a matter of individual taste is completely wrong, both from an investor's point of view and from an intellectual standpoint. It's one thing to say that a work of art appeals to one person and not another. It's another thing to say that quality art is a matter of individual perception! It can even be argued that a person cannot be a true collector unless they take stock of things outside of their own likes and dislikes in buying valuable properties, that unless they pay attention to general ideas of quality that they are only accumulators of stuff and not true collectors.
There must be an absorbing emotional or intellectual response to a work of art as a basis for collection and investment on a personal level. But in assessing a work of art beyond a collector's strictly personal tastes, a collector should decide what it is it is that an artist is expressing generally to his audience and the responses to that expression. There must be good communication established between artist and viewer through the medium of a work of art, a communication dependent mainly on the effectiveness with which an artist presents what it is they are trying to express. This idea implying a commonality or a meeting of the minds is central to the concept of quality art. So in other words, the idea of quality is not really a matter of individual taste but a matter of informed opinion and consensus across broad areas of the art world, and you ignore this at your peril as an enterprising art investor. Also, an interest in broader ideas of quality and value have an effect in enhancing your own appreciation of objects and sharpening your tastes.
I will deal with what quality means in a future chapter. Suffice here to say that, based on my knowledge of the personal properties market, I find myself increasingly in the position of identifying items of quality and value as I buy them without knowing anything about the particulars of what attract me other than my understanding of general factors determining quality in the market beyond my own personal biases or tastes, as well as other factors which I will tell you about. I can predict that what I buy at a cheap price either I can sell at a much higher price to the right buyer if I happen to find it under priced--and be right, or that I can buy something with the idea of investing in it for the long term and see an appreciation in that investment.
I could not do anything like this if all art, for instance, were strictly a matter of individual opinion because there would be no structure to the art market and no prediction of future value would therefore be possible. Nor could I be an effective appraiser, as an appraiser offers his clients values based on the consistency afforded by pricing information relating to any group of objects having identifiable characteristics in common with the item I am appraising. If I couldn't effectively do this, then appraising would fit into the same category as tea-leaf or palm-reading, and I believe it is an activity with more value than that.
'AHA!' Some of you will say, 'You are responding to questions of taste which collectively are categorized as fashion!' And my answer is--yes, as an appraiser I must take into account the value of property influenced by issues of fashion and, for example, give a high price to objects which I believe have no long term value as investment-quality property. As an investor I must as well recognize fashion and trends, general fluctuations in the economy, and other factors which I will discuss shortly. And not everything appreciates consistently, but then neither do any other investments!
If you ignore concepts making up collectively the idea of quality in art, antiques and other collectibles you will find yourself in the position of people I hear about who sank all of their money into fashionable Beanie Babies and received high appraisals of their properties at the height of the collecting boom some years ago. Those high appraisals have not held up for the long term because Beanie Babies do respond to a market concerned with fad or fashion and not to a market interested in determining intrinsic quality. There is a difference. And what is that difference? Well, once again, I am putting off that consideration for another chapter. Just keep in mind that because you don't know the underlying rules of the personal properties values game doesn't mean they aren't there, and if you don't understand them you won't succeed as an investor. You will be subject to the ebb and flow of more transitory investment considerations and will have no understanding of the characteristics that underlie a truly significant portfolio.
Misconception # 5: Art, antiques, and collectibles are only worth what someone will pay you for them.
This is one more misconception in the family of Gee-I-don't/know/like/understand-art-and-antiques-and-so-its-all-a-matter-of-personal-taste-or-anyone's-guess clichés. What this cliché is implying is exactly that, what I've just strung together--but folks, so what if something is only worth what someone will pay you for it? Houses, chickens, biscuits, skyscrapers, and rubber bands, among just a few million other things-- are all worth only what someone will pay you for them. Artworks, antiques, and collectibles are commodities just like everything else.
Misconception #6: This is a really popular artist. Everybody is collecting his work; therefore it must be a good investment.
Just because everybody is buying Riddley Jewels artwork from retail galleries featuring her offset sentimental landscape prints (not original art, an investment danger sign) doesn't mean that it's a good investment. It's popular, pricey, and, especially, it is well marketed, but it probably has no long term investment value if the market history of such multiple products are any guide. Don't automatically assume marketing hype equates with quality from an investment perspective. Multiples editions of art are generally not as effective in competing with one of a kind art products for the long haul, and are a particularly difficult area of investment for the novice collector, if investment value is an ultimate objective.
I do want to emphasize that I am not advising people to buy or not to buy any particular artwork in the market; I am only telling people to use care when it comes to purchases which do not show investment history or potential, or if they have no real knowledge of art--if they are at all interested in such issues.
Misconception #7: I know what I paid for it, therefore, I know what it's worth.
Five seconds thought should dispose of this idea. There is nothing that remains the same price after you buy it. I recently obtained a copy of Warman's Antiques and their Current Prices from 1966--an antique in itself!--and the prices assigned to items then which are much more valuable now make me wonder what I was doing with my time in Junior High School. For example, a bronze and favrille glass Tiffany lamp is listed for $250.00. This same lamp would sell now for $20,000. A Staffordshire 18th century Tobey jug is listed for $200; similar ones now sell for $5,000-$8,000; a stoneware American crock with a glaze drawing of a bird on it lists for $30; try finding one for less than $300. A 5 foot high carved wooden Indian from the nineteenth century on a wheeled stand lists for $475; I wouldn't be surprised to find one similar selling for $50,000 or more. Not all items have increased in value over forty years beyond the expected rate of inflation, but I think I've made my point.
Recently I was contacted by a representative of a company that manages financial affairs for the wealthy. When she called me, I was all ears! What she had to say was surprising. She said that no appraiser had ever bothered to contact them and that the brochure I sent was the first indication she had that there was an organized art, antiques, and collectibles appraisal industry! She said she didn't know what list I had consulted to send them my brochure, but they certainly had a use for me.
“To appraise their art, antiques, and collectibles and let people know what they owned?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “They know what they own. My clients need advice on display and framing, could you do that?”
“Sure”, I answered, but pressing the point I asked: “How do they know what they own?”
“Oh, they just do.”
Because people tend to buy into the feeling that the very rich walk on water, they are tempted to take on faith that through osmosis, superior supernatural perception and god-like intelligence the rich just know what they own! But because I was feeling frisky, I pressed the point: “But how do they know what they own?'
“Well, they know what they paid for items.”
“Well, what about now as opposed to what they paid for items in the past. Values do change on art like everything else. Do you mean they have their valuables appraised periodically to keep up on prices?”
… (pregnant silence). Then: “No, they keep up on prices.”
“How do they do this?”
“They have collection curators that assist them with this.”
“Oh... (embarrassed silence)….they all do?”
“Well, no, I am just thinking about one client in particular whose name you would instantly recognize. We have found generally that our clients have between $75,000 and $225,000 worth of antiques” (not Bill G., I thought). After a few more pleasantries and promises of business, the conversation concluded.
What was it I failed to learn from this conversation? I have many wealthy clients who realize the need for periodic appraisals for insurance coverage. But short of having their property actually appraised, how did my caller's clients know what they own?
The answer is: they don't. Even this financial handler for the wealthy was ignorant about any connection between value and collectibles, and, particularly, investment value, a determination that requires periodic monitoring of purchases like any other investments, like houses, like stocks, like gold…. like the $5,000 snuff box my client was using for an ashtray and which she damaged because she was ignorant of any value beyond its general appeal to her tastes.
It could be that financial handler's clients are not interested in the values of their collections. But, most probably, they are. And, again, if you think they don't care, believe me, they do, and are grateful when I have a chance to evaluate what they own.
Misconception #7: The artist is dead. Therefore his works have to be worth more.
No they don't, because his death can be a blessing in disguise for art aficionados as his art was basically no good and he quickly will be forgotten. Also, many artists make money while they are up and walking around. An artist's value and reputation depend on more than the state of his health. Now it's true that the death of a great artist will put upwards pressure on the prices of his or her remaining works because while demand has remained stable or increased, there is no longer anyone to produce more art and therefore to match supply to that demand. But this doesn't often happen.
Misconception #8: It's old, so it must be valuable.
I have boring, round, gray and brown garden rocks that are older than Methuselah. But they can't compete value-wise with the more recently produced Matisse paintings. So in fact, as I explain later, age is not really a factor in valuation of anything!
Misconception #9: It has a certificate of authenticity, so it must really be authentic!
Legions are forged. It's actually easier to forge the certificate than the art itself.
Misconception #10: This is by an artist whom the critics are calling a new fresh talent, an up-and-comer, and certainly a great investment for the future! (Or something similar, part of gallery promotions).
It is possible for someone with a great discerning eye to spot the future. There are people who have an uncanny talent for spotting the best from the first. And artists who present a drastically different vision from what has gone before may present great investment opportunities when their works first appears in the market; artists like Warhol, or Picasso, or Monet, for instance.
Still, take with a grain of salt the hype about an otherwise unknown artist from any source as a basis for serious investment. Neither you nor the gallery can predict the future--the artist may become an investment success but, then again, they may not for a variety of reasons. Among the reasons an artist's works may not pan out as an investment include: the artist may quit producing quality artwork or--worse yet--he may die, the gallery may quit promoting the artist's work, the artist's work may suffer a downturn in quality, or he may turn out to be a minor talent as his career progresses.
Similar kinds of reasoning should apply to the appellation 'future collectible' (or 'future antique', if you like), which is a vaguer idea but which describes items which are only one-off sales successes, exist in too large a quantity to be significantly appreciable, or may not have the requisite quality required to be of sustained interest in the secondary (or investment) market, among a variety of other reasons which we will explore in more depth later in the book. The bottom line is that you just have to wait and see whether certain favorable conditions are met--you have to give a new artist's work or a new collectible time to weather the exposure to critical and market interest and you have to keep tabs on the secondary market--all before you decide to invest in something which you also find attractive as a work of art or collectible.
Misconception #11: I have only a few things that are valuable, most of what I have is not worth anything.
…Oh, and how do you know that? The larger issue here is that people often think that they are sure about what is valuable in their home based on mythology, misconceptions, Family Feelings About Things, and their own mistaken conclusions based on faulty knowledge and reasoning absent an appraisal of their property. And, again, the industry is partly to blame! Keep an open mind and understand the value of education in determining quality.
Misconception #12: It's a big gallery, so what they sell must be valuable.
There's a big, impressive new gallery or auction in town featuring what appear to be fabulous antiques. But everything is new merchandise produced in China--that's right, everything is completely fake--and the 'gallery' is really a glorified imports outlet, a front for flogging Chinese export decorative fake artwork or antiques.
But whether they are fly-by-night traveling auctioneers in the local motel ballroom, there one weekend and gone the next, or whether they are big shiny new galleries suddenly popping up out of nowhere in your neighborhood, all they have to do is take your money, give you your item, and forget about you if they choose to do so (Of course, I am only referring to dishonest establishments, not to honest and legitimate businesses). Later they might send you periodically inflated 'appraisals' indicating regular increases in value of your investment--not appraisals at all, actually, but retail price increases of dubious authenticity--just to keep you happy and ready to be suckered once more into buying on another occasion. Others vastly overcharge for items which can be obtained for more modest prices at less visible or glamorous locations, leaving little room for rational investment.
Never let yourself be overawed by splashy presentation or a big fancy gallery. Watch out for auctions not rooted in the area, keep a wary eye on big new galleries suddenly appearing which are completely different than other gallery operations typical for the locale. Never be tempted to buy in bulk or do all of your shopping in one location. And again, be very wary of fakes!
Picture a new antebellum style mansion with a big paved driveway. In the center, a fountain plays softly over a concrete cupid holding a cornucopia. I am greeted at the door by the youngish casual-and-Capri lady of the house, and I gingerly enter, half nervous and half elated, because of the responsibility I evidently was granted after my clients made an involved search for the right person to evaluate their collection.
We start our walk around the house and it starts to dawn on me that I am not seeing antiques, only decorative artwork.
Now, from my client's perspective, they had a house full of Art Deco ivory statues by Dimitri Chiparis plus a few other odds and ends; from my perspective I was looking at modern Chinese fakes all purchased, apparently, from the same source. But how to break it to her?
“Where did you get these Art Deco statues?”
“Oh, we bought them from a big gallery in Miami about five years ago.”
“Are these what you want me to appraise?'
“Yes, our insurer requires appraisal on fine art items for separate scheduling.”
“But I think many of these are reproductions, and reproductions are decorative art or depreciable property carried under your general household policy.”
“Well, we thought some might be, but then we were told by the man in the gallery we bought them from that some were reproductions and some were real; he sort of picked and chose a mix for us.”
“I'm pretty sure they are all reproductions--fakes actually--because they have the forged signatures of an Art Deco master sculptor who has been dead a long time.”
And I proceeded to point out the bad workmanship, including the poor casting and detailing of metal portions of the sculpture, the rough and ready cobbled appearance of the marble bases, the vaguely Chinese appearance of the faces, the primitive labeling--moving from one ivory statue to the other (oh the poor elephants who gave their lives for this stuff!). She even showed me the less than stellar work of a previous appraiser, who was taken in by one of the more impressive pieces and who gave it a price far, far lower than what it would actually be worth were it real, but still way too high by an order of ten for a reproduction/fake.
Bottom line? These people had about $10,000 worth of insurable art (not the statues, the odds and ends) in their whole million dollar mansion. I didn't appraise the statues. I sincerely hope that these people had other investments going for them other than their art collection!
Misconception #13: Buying art when you are vacation is a good time to buy!
Be careful buying while on vacation in Las Vegas, or Hawaii, on cruise ships, or in any of the vacation destinations, if you want the best investment value. I specifically exclude the better galleries in New York, Paris, London, Rome, Los Angeles, and other major population centers (which are also popular vacation destinations) because they are the heart of the world art, antiques, and collectibles trade and careful and informed buying in these locations can put you at an advantage relative to investors purchasing at the geographic margins. This is because of the better quality and quantity of choices in these locations, but don't expect to make a killing. You are making prudent investments for the long haul.
However, be leery of buying in locations which are primarily known as vacation destinations or where tourism is the major industry, or buying when you are in a vacation frame of mind. When you are on vacation, you might be tipsy or otherwise feeling liberally disposed, and you like being ushered into a cool, velvet, down lit studio, where, wearing your flowered shirt and sandals and feeling casually well-heeled, you are suddenly presented with--Ta Da!--the overpriced and very possibly fake Salvador Dali print for which you will pay just oodles as a souvenir of your once in a lifetime vacation!
This is absolutely the worst time to buy, for the sharks have been lying in wait. Of course, I'm not referring to the honest and reasonably priced galleries in those locations, only to the dishonest ones and the ones who charge inflated prices for art that is available at a much cheaper price in a less glamorous setting, or wouldn't even be sold at all. (By the way, any and all galleries and business venues referenced in this book have both good and bad players, and it must be understood that it is the bad players which you want to avoid).
I was contacted by a couple who said that they had purchased a Marc Chagall print while on vacation in Hawaii. They said they were calling me because they had heard that there were Chagall fakes and wanted to verify that what they purchased was real. I sucked in my breath, anticipating the worst, and told them to bring it in.
They brought me the print and it looked pretty good. It was signed in pencil in what appeared to be Chagall's hand, and I took in out of the frame to look more closely at it. Now this inspection was less than satisfactory, as I noticed that under the matt there was a distinct yellowing of the paper consistent with what is referred to as mat burn. Mat burn occurs when a print or other framed paper comes into contact with a pulp paper mat which has released sulfuric acid onto the print and thereby stained, or in some cases physically destroyed, the artwork with which it has come into contact. The acid is produced because the mat has been saturated by liquid water, or, more typically, has been in a humid environment (Hawaii?) and has created the conditions which have allow the acid to be produced. Acid free matting should have been used to frame the print so that this would not have occurred, a touch that recommends a quality gallery over other galleries. Ominously, the client reported that the seller had asserted it was in perfect condition, which it was not.
I said I had to research the print to further determine authenticity. They took it with them (after I had taken appropriate notes and photos) and left. After a few minutes research I found the auction records from the auctioneers for the exact print in question, certainly relieved that it was real. I found out that it had sold at auction to an unknown seller two years before for $5,000.00. The picture of the item when it was sold indicated no discoloration of the margins.
I called the client and asked her: “Judy, what did you pay for this print?”
“We paid $27,000.00 for it.”
I told her what I had learned.
“Do you think we were cheated?” asked she.
I told her, very reasonably, that an item is worth what somebody pays for it, but that I certainly would have rather bid at the auction by phone or on line when it had originally sold and saved myself some money.
The last I heard from the clients was that they were trying to get their money back because of the print's condition, which the gallery apparently asserted was still perfect.
Misconception #14: I had a professor at the museum look at I and he told me what it was worth and that's ALL I need to know.
It's hard to know where to begin on this one. First of all, professors are not typically found at museums. Most are found at universities, unless they are associated with a university museum. More to the point, professors and curators have high sounding titles which do not mean that they are experts in the markets for artwork, antiques, or collectibles.
Now it is true that academics are the thinkers that create the concepts which influence the determination of quality for many valuables in the market, but that doesn't mean that they are regular participants in the market. And unless they are actually in the market as dealers or appraisers, they know just a little more than the man in the moon. Keep separate the worlds of academia and the appreciable personal properties commercial marketplace. They are related but are not the same!
Misconception #15: It's too difficult to learn about all this art and antiques stuff--again, I know what I like and understand.
Is it too difficult to learn about stocks and companies? Is it too difficult to learn about football teams and the NFL? Is it too difficult to learn what constitutes good nutrition? Come on, folks, laziness and or lack of interest in a subject can take many forms. What's certain is that if you are not learning where any of your money goes, whether into expensive art purchases, rookie baseball cards, or Supra-Cola stocks--you will pay the price. Misconception # 15 is only a variation on Misconception #1.
Misconception #16: Hey, I'm an impulse buyer. When I see art I like I grab it!
I sometimes get the feeling that people often associate artistic creation with impulse, with joie-de-vivre, and that they therefore should buy art in the spirit of the artist creating the masterpiece. It doesn't help that artists such as Salvador Dali in his public posturing contributed to such perceptions of artistic creativity and the creative life.
But the best artists work hard and carefully at their craft (and that includes Dali at his finest). You owe more to them and to your pocketbook to assess their work carefully and consider purchases prudently if you are at all concerned with an investment perspective.
Misconception #17: Because this artwork is old, or shows Civil War soldiers, (or has a signature, or is in good condition, or is large, or came from the Hoity-Toity estate, or has any one quality which I am focusing on to the exclusion of all other qualities)-- it must be valuable!
Never be tempted to focus on only one quality of anything as a basis for assigning value to it. There is no one magic characteristic which automatically means an item will be valuable. Look at different factors in deciding the worth of an object, factors which I will tell you about in the discussions to follow.
Misconception #18: This piano has a long family history, and my grandmother provided extensive notes as to where and when it was purchased. I also have lots of family letters describing family gatherings around the piano. This must make my piano more valuable.
Unfortunately, valuation television programs sometimes show appraisers expressing an interest in the family photos and notes accompanying the antiques featured by the television cameras. They cite the value of tracking family history and encourage the beaming owner to make notes to describe when and where the item was bought, who used it, and so on.
But many people are tempted to believe that this translates into value for otherwise ordinary or unremarkable family heirlooms. The whole issue of establishing provenance for a valuable property must take into account: 1) The quality and nature of the property itself, 2) the extreme importance of the personality who had a connection with a family heirloom or 3) a very important event associated directly with that heirloom to be of importance to the value of that property. Ordinary family history is only of importance to the family and has no role in enhancing the general value of otherwise ordinary items.
Misconception #19: All art, antiques, and collectibles appreciate in value.
Because art, antiques, and collectibles are really just 'stuff' in disguise, like rubber biscuits or skyscrapers, they respond to the same market forces as any other commodities. This means that they can either appreciate--or depreciate!
Anyway, there is a lot we need to discuss. So let's begin!
WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK:
Each person who posts a comment on any or all of the blog stops will be entered in a separate giveaway. Each comment will be entered in the drawing and at the end of the month one person will win a copy of the book being promoted on that blog. So, come out and say hi.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Joanne jumped as a trashcan slammed into the laundry room door. "God, I wish they'd go and get drunk someplace else."
Sheila pulled another t-shirt out of the dryer, folded it, and placed it on top of an already growing pile of clean laundry. With comic grace she pirouetted and said, "It's another lovely Saturday night here at the prestigious Arbor Meadows. Look at the A-list people milling about." With a flip of her hand she picked up the bottle of softener, held it like a microphone and gestured toward the large plate glass window next to the laundry room door.
"It's a star-studded bonanza tonight, folks!"
Sadie Matthews, their long-time neighbor, sometimes babysitter, and surrogate mother, laughed at Sheila's performance.
Clapping, she looked through the window at the scene Sheila referred to only to stop as fast as she started. There was really nothing to laugh about. She could see the usual drunken, brawling group of tenants letting off steam after a hard week's labor. She picked up her laundry basket piled high with fluffy towels.
Joanne pushed up a sigh from deep inside. She hated this place. "Damn, I wish I could afford some place better for Joey to grow up."
"Don't we all, honey." Sadie smiled as she put a hand on Joanne's shoulder and squeezed. "Don't we all." Adjusting her basket against her round and generous hip, she turned to the younger women, waggled a finger, and said, "Don't ya'll stay here too long, ya here? That group out there is fixing on getting mean real soon, and I don't want ya'll anywheres near here, ya got that?"
"Yes, ma'am." Sheila and Joanne chorused together then looked at each other and giggled like ten year olds.
"And, lock that door behind me when I leave. Don't need nothing happening to ya'll with those babies at home." Sadie clicked her tongue and stood on the outside of the laundry room door until Joanne firmly locked it. With a quick wave, she again adjusted the basket against her hip and headed for her little apartment, all the while, casting nervous, but determined, sideways glances to the rowdy group at the end of the parking lot.
Joanne turned from the door as the dryer buzzer called to her. Another load of clothes done. As soon as she finished folding this load, they could head back to their apartment and hide behind their doors pretending the noisy group didn't exist.
"Wanna come over and let the kids watch a video tonight?" Sheila asked.
Joanne pulled soft, warm clothes from the dryer and dropped them onto the tabletop. "Maybe, I dunno. I'll let you know how I feel after I put all these clothes away." Stray hairs escaped the confinement of her ponytail. She pushed the errant wisps back behind her ears.
While folding the last of the towels, she looked around the small laundry room. Paint peeled from the walls, scattered dryer sheets and a rainbow of lint littered the cracked linoleum floor. The too-small portable air conditioner mounted in the wall above the wobbly table blasted semi-warm air into her flushed face. The high humidity level didn't help. She pulled at the hem of her small t-shirt, realizing that the bright green t-shirt shouted "razz me" to the animals on the other side of the glass. At first thinking the t-shirt was cute and sufficient legal coverage for such a hot night, now brought to mind what kind of trouble it could cause her.
Trouble had a way of finding her. Keeping two steps ahead of trouble meant a lot of work for her already stressful life. Joanne wanted to pretend that this horrible place wasn't so bad and if she could just save a little more money she and Joey could move into a better part of town. Then this part of her life could go away and they'd put it behind them like a bad dream.
It would take a lot of pretending to imagine that the pitiful little apartment complex on the edge of the industrial part of town, next to the noisy railroad and the dirty Hillsborough River didn't exist.
The pounding on the window made her drop the towel she had just folded to the floor. Bending to pick it up, she glanced toward the window.
Sheila whispered to her, "Don't make eye contact. Just ignore them. Maybe they'll go away."
"They're disgusting. How can they think those gestures are attractive?" Joanne whispered back.
Sheila smothered a small laugh and shrugged her shoulders. "That's their universal mating signal. Good thing we're not from their species otherwise we wouldn't be able to help ourselves."
Now it was Joanne's turn to stifle an uneasy laugh. She tried to ignore the pounding on the glass and the taunts of the drunken onlookers from behind their only protection. "How many times have we asked for a payphone in here?" Joanne swung her arm open for emphasis. "Do you see one?"
"Come on hon, let's get our stuff and get out of here." Sheila tossed a pile of unmated socks into her basket.
The girls gathered the rest of their unfolded laundry into baskets then looked around to make sure they didn't leave anything behind.
"Walk fast and keep your head down, Jo." Sheila said with an air of confidence Joanne knew she really didn't feel deep inside. Joanne gave her credit for trying.
Even so, Joanne nodded, then lifted a basket and placed it on top of another. Exhaling, she lifted both baskets and headed for the door. Sheila did the same, and then reached out an unsteady hand to unlock the door.
"Here we go, into the lion's den."
The taunts and pounding increased in volume as the girls stepped out of the laundry room.
"Yo, mama, gimme some softness!"
"Hey baby, looking good!"
"I'd play house with you any day."
Sheila turned her head and caught Joanne's attention. "Remember, don't make eye contact, Jo."
"I don't plan on it." Joanne pulled her laundry baskets closer to her body. Biting her lower lip, she forced a blank look on her face and stared straight ahead.
"Do me? Yeah baby, let me do you!"
"Ooooo, yeah, shake it, shake it, gimme some fries with that creamy shake!"
"How original." Jo whispered.
"Shhh. . . don't start anything."
The crowd moved in unison toward the women. Joanne checked behind her. The loud taunting voices surrounded them. The rough looking pack closed in, blocking any escape.
"Stay close." Sheila said.
The jeering crowd tossed expletives and vulgar comments.
Joanne searched the faces leering back at her. Men and women alike laughed at her discomfort. She shuffled her feet backward and stumbled on loose gravel.
Wobbling sideways, Joanne braced herself to fall. Determined not to make a spectacle of herself, she strained to keep her balance. Wincing, she tightened her grip on the plastic laundry basket even though the handle bit into the sensitive skin of her palm.
For the first time, fear threatened to overwhelm her senses. Joanne pushed aside the rising panic and concentrated on not provoking anyone in the crowd into attacking them.
"Hey, little mama, let me carry that basket for you." A large, unshaven man reached out to pull the basket from Sheila's hands.
"No, thank you."
The large, greasy hands pulled at Sheila's basket.
"I don't think so." Sheila firmly held the basket in both hands. "I don't need any help."
"Hey, me too, let me help!"
Joanne grimaced and turned away from the tall, shirtless man with strange tattoos covering his back. His dirty hands grabbed at her laundry basket.
"No, I can handle it myself."
"Oh, come on, pretty little girl, let me carry it for you. Then you can show me some appreciation."
Joanne pulled her laundry basket hard. She tugged against the stronger man's hold. "No! Give me my basket!"
Clothes flew threw the air and scattered about the ground.
Anger replaced her fear. "Shit, you son-of-a-bitch! Look what you did!" Joanne couldn't hold in her disgust any longer and let loose with a string of curse words that would have made her mother faint dead away.
Raucous laughter burst from the crowd watching the exchange.
Kneeling on the rough asphalt, Joanne pressed her lips closed so she wouldn't make any more outbursts that she might regret.
Without bothering to fold the scattered clothes, she shoved them into the basket as quick as she could. From nowhere, she was lifted to her feet and crushed to a foul smelling body.
"Let me go!"
"Oh, come on baby, you and me just need to get to know each other."
Joanne swallowed hard past a large lump. Bile rose in her throat. She wanted to vomit from the combined stench of sour sweat, cheap whiskey mixed with stale beer, and the foul breath of the man holding her.
"Hey, Jerk-off, let her go!"
"Sheila, get back. Go get help!"
"Oh, no you don't. You're gonna stay here." With that, Sheila's arms were pulled behind her back.
"Get off me!" Sheila kicked out. Her little plastic flip flops made no impact against her captor's leather boots and heavy jeans.
Joanne's mind raced. They wouldn't really try anything out here in the open, would they? Not with everyone watching? She had to convince these jerks to turn Sheila loose.
"Hey, let her-" sirens drowned the rest of her words. Wide-eyed, she watched several police cars with flashing blue and red lights pull into the complex from various directions, converging on the group. Bright lights lit up the dark. She heaved a sigh of relief as the smelly thug that held her close pushed her away.
Rubbing her arms and trying to wipe away the grime, she watched several uniformed officers round up the crowd. Two officers made their way to Sheila and Joanne just as Sadie hurried toward them. "Are you girls okay?" Sadie called out. "I knew there was gonna be trouble. I just knew it."
"Are you the one who called the police?" an officer asked.
"Yep, that's right. I did." Sadie clucked like a mother hen over her chicks as she checked first Joanne then Sheila for injuries.
"You poor things. Honestly, I don't know how this place got to be so bad. Why, when I first moved here we didn't have any hooligans running around like they owned the place." Sadie gave the officer a reproachful look that could have meant it was their fault her neighborhood fell to ruins. "Are you girls sure you're okay?"
Joanne and Sheila both assured Sadie that they were fine.
Two more officers moved forward as Sadie took a breath. "We're going to need statements from all of you. If you could come this way."
"Sure, no problem," Sheila walked with the female officer toward the laundry room door.
"Miss, if you could come this way?" another female officer motioned to Joanne.
"Of course. Let me just pick up my laundry first." Joanne knelt next to her basket.
Roy separated himself from the noisy crowd from which he had been gathering statements and watched silently as the small girl in the bright yellow t-shirt knelt down on the ground and gathered clothes that were strewn about. On impulse, he hurried over and offered to help.
"Here, let me get that for you."
"No!" Startled, Joanne reacted. She looked up to find a pair of kind gray eyes watching her carefully. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still a little jumpy from all this." She motioned toward the crowd.
Roy stood then put a gentle hand under Joanne's elbow and lifted her effortlessly to her feet. He took both laundry baskets and strode toward a small bench outside the laundry room.
"Hey, where are you going with my clothes?"
Roy didn't bother answering her; he only cocked his head toward the other officer and asked if she'd taken the young lady's statement yet.
"I was just getting to that, sir."
"Okay, why don't you head over to see if Davis needs any help. I'll take over here."
"Yes, sir, Officer Bonham, sir." The female officer saluted then turned on her heel and moved quickly over to the group to give a hand.
"Is that how you get through life, just taking over?"
Roy carefully placed the baskets on the bench and turned to respond. All words escaped him when he looked down at the feisty spark in the young girl's blue eyes. She stood next to him; her arms hugged her thin body. He could see the writing on her t-shirt -'Dew Me' in bright neon green.
He smiled when she flipped her ponytail then crossed her arms over her chest as if knowing he was reading her t-shirt.
"What are you looking at?"
"I'm not sure."
"Oh, nothing. I'm Sheriff Roy Bonham. I'll take your statement. Tell me what happened here." To cover his embarrassment, Roy pulled a small notebook and pen from his left breast pocket.
"We, uh . . . we, uh . . . I mean, Sheila and I were doing laundry and we . . ."
Tossing his notebook aside, Roy caught the slight woman before she fell to the ground. "Hey!"
He lifted her slender frame into his arms and sat on the bench. Roy gazed down at the face of the woman who just fainted. She was so small; she fit into his arms like a child. He noticed dark smudges beneath her eyes and wondered what kept her from getting enough sleep.
He raised his hand to brush a few strays of her honey colored hair from her forehead. His hand stopped when her eyelids fluttered open.
"No, I didn't."
A low rumble shook Roy's chest. "Yes, you did."
"I don't faint."
Roy tightened his arms when he noticed that her too-thin, soft body no longer lay pliant in his arms. "Hold on, let's make sure you're okay before you go moving around."
"Look Officer Bonham, I'm fine. Let me go, please."
He couldn't resist the embarrassed, pleading look in her eyes. "Alright. Be still." Roy released his hold on her and let her slide off his lap onto the bench. "Maybe you should see a paramedic just to be on the safe side?"
"I don't think so."
The sting in her voice pierced Roy's soul. It echoed on his face.
She must have seen the hurt look on his face because she hurried to say in a softer tone, "That's not necessary. I just got light headed. You know, the heat of the laundry room, the humidity, the cool night air, the . . ." she waved her arm to include the commotion surrounding them.
"Uh huh . . . when was the last time you ate?"
"I dunno. Lunch, maybe? No, wait. I skipped lunch to go and pick up some pants for Joey. I guess it was breakfast."
"You haven't eaten for over twelve hours? No wonder you fainted!"
"Yo, Bradford!" Roy yelled for a deputy sheriff. "Bring me a can of soda."
Roy looked down as a hand tapped his arm. "I drink diet soda."
"Not diet!" he yelled to Bradford then looked back at the young girl staring up at him. "You need the sugar."
His tone meant he wasn't going to argue about it. He watched her close her mouth and cross her hands over her chest. Looks like she's not used to being told what to do. I wonder why she's doing laundry and buying pants for this Joey instead of dating and doing what other girls her age do on the weekends?
Trust in the Wind
by Vicki M. Taylor
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Twenty minutes after Air France Flight 008 from Paris landed safely in New York at JFK Airport, the passenger from seat 7G walked through Gate 9, heading toward U.S. Customs. He looked ordinary--tall and rangy with Celtic features, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans. His curly dark hair was shot with grey. He held a black carryall with an overnight bag slung from one shoulder and a dark-blue winter jacket draped over his other arm. There was nothing remarkable about him, as the security tapes would later show.
He collected no baggage from the carousel. Having nothing to be suspicious about, the Customs official stamped his passport and passed him through without incident. The passenger stopped to buy a map at a news kiosk. Instead of walking through the automatic doors onto the sidewalk, he turned back into the main concourse, going straight to the baggage storage area. He found an empty locker, pushed the two bags into it, piled his coat on top and closed the door. Pulling the key out of the slot, he walked casually toward some benches where other sleepless travelers were drinking coffee, smoking and reading--trying to stay awake.
He chose a seat next to a large potted palm, in plain view of the door. Opening the map, he laid it at the base of the palm and leaned over to re-tie his shoelaces. He sat up and began to study the map.
It was 9:44 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the last Saturday in March.
James "Jazz" Harper loved the night shift. Being in charge of Airport Security amused him during those hours when human beings were at their lowest ebb and the weirdoes were sleeping it off somewhere else. Peace and quiet were fine with him. He'd had his fifteen minutes of fame as a running back with the most rushing yards in one season during his last year of college. Being black and somebody sure beat the hell out of being black and nobody, but he didn't mind his retirement. He had a nice little nest egg, a good job and still-reasonably-good knees. Now, he just liked sitting in the main security office, watching the human parade march across his screens.
At times, however, the job got too dull even for him. When the call came, it made his night--at first. Paul Michel Farrell, a French citizen wanted for a multiple murder in Paris. Requests for assistance from law enforcement weren't unusual.
As soon as the fax with the mug shot came through, Pete Grant, Harper's balding right-hand man, set about getting the word out to the boys on the floor from his usual post in the control seat at the bank of computers and monitors. Harper called for backup from Port Authority. A SWAT team with a couple of marksmen just seemed like a good precaution. Harper gave the orders for the well-rehearsed sequence of operations, with the repeated message that this was not a drill. By the time Grant reported back to Harper, all entrances and exits to Terminal 1 were closed off, although the average bystander would have noticed nothing unusual.
"AF 008 landed at twenty-one hundred hours exactly, five minutes ahead of schedule," Harper said half to himself as he read over the fax again. "He's already been on the ground forty minutes plus. The booking clerk in Paris told the cops the guy only had carry-on baggage, which means he didn't have to wait at the carousel. He's had enough time to get through Customs. We're probably already too late." He swore to himself.
Even though the delay had been due to some idiot in the Dispatch Center getting the time difference between Paris and New York wrong, his people would be the ones taking the heat if this guy got away.
"Where did the plane come in?" Grant asked.
Harper set the fax down and squinted at the monitors.
"Gate Nine. You got Terminal One all closed off now?"
"Good. Replay me the tape from that camera."
Grant swiveled back to his control panel. "Coming up." A short series of keyboard strokes brought up the view from the camera on the entrance to Gate Nine.
The gate was deserted, but Harper had expected that. "Download the playback for a half hour ago and let's see if he got off."
Grant chewed on his lip as he obeyed. "Where was he sitting?"
"In 7-G. He's probably in the first bunch off after First Class, if he was on the plane at all."
"Here we go," said Grant as the playback started. The digital clock on the bottom of the screen showed 21:11 EST.
Some sleepy businessmen disembarked first, carrying leather briefcases and laptops, followed by a small group of yawning students and two families with small children. Not one of the emerging faces looked toward the surveillance camera until the twentieth passenger--a man in his mid-forties with a lean build and curly hair, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans--glanced directly up and at the camera as he passed beneath it.
"That's him!" Harper said. "Run it back. Where's that picture?"
He snatched up the fax with its mug shot as Grant stopped the tape at the frame in which the passenger was looking straight at them. There was no question. It was him.
"That was twenty-one-twenty," said Harper. "It's twenty-one-forty-five now. There is no way we got it shut down before he got out." He sighed and rubbed his eyes. This was going downhill fast.
Grant gave him a sympathetic look. "We don't know that for sure, Boss. And it's not like they gave us much of a heads up."
Harper leaned forward, scanning the monitors. "The camera at Customs. Let's see what time he came through there."
When they found him again, the digital clock read 21:36 EST. "If we did miss him, it wasn't by much," Grant said. "It's a straight walk to the street from there, maybe thirty seconds, a minute tops, and that's if he wasn't in a hurry."
"Find out what exit he used. Maybe some cabbie saw him."
"Okay." Grant paused, one finger on his headset, listening. "The SWAT team's on its way."
Harper grimaced. "Yeah, yeah. Let's see if we can locate him before they come barreling in here. Try the camera at the nearest exit first."
"Already on it." Grant typed a guesstimated time into the computer and they watched the faces coming toward the glass doors.
"There!" Harper pointed at the monitor. He watched intently as the man approached the doors then turned left into the corridor leading back to the main Terminal One concourse. "Where the hell's he going? What's the time there?"
"Twenty-one-forty. We got the call at twenty-one-fifty-six and everyone was in place in under three minutes. Christ! He may just still be here!"
Harper straightened up, ready to head out the door. "Put out the alert. Tell everybody he may be in the main concourse. If they see him, tell them to keep him in sight but not approach him unless he tries to leave. Got that?"
Grant nodded, tugging at his headset. "On it." He paused, his jaw dropping open. "Boss! I think I got him!"
Harper stared at the monitor in disbelief. "Zoom in." The image on the screen came into sharp focus on one man. It was Farrell, no doubt about that. Harper shook his head and reached for the two-way radio.
"This is Harper. Listen up, everybody," he said into the mike. "We've found him. He's in plain sight on the main concourse, sitting on one of those benches near the newsstand. He's just sitting there. I don't want him freaked out. Who's in charge of the plainclothes unit, over?"
"It's Morris, sir, over." A new voice crackled from the radio.
"Affirmative. Good man. You're looking for a white male in his forties, lean build, dark hair, approximately six-foot-tall, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans. No baggage, no coat. Surround him, roust the civilians, then watch him. I want a couple of sharpshooters on the mezzanine. Tell them to stay out of sight until I get there, over." He took off his headset, donned a Kevlar vest and pulled on a jacket over it.
"He's just sitting there like nothing's happening," said Grant, "like he's waiting for something." He clucked and shook his head. "He nearly made it."
Harper shrugged. Who knew what these crazies thought at times like this? "Maybe he doesn't know anything's happening. Maybe he's innocent."
On the mezzanine, Harper found the sharpshooters immediately, out of sight, waiting for instructions. More of his uniformed security men blocked access from the adjoining corridors. Harper risked looking over the railing to count noses. Four plainclothes officers were sitting casually around the target like the four points of a compass. Farrell still sat, now leaning forward, his forearms on his thighs. Morris was standing where he could be seen by both his team and the uniformed men posted out of sight of the target. Harper smiled to himself at how quickly and quietly his team had deployed.
The pride faded into unease. It didn't make any sense. Harper had seen his share of the kind of human beings that gave you nightmares just knowing they were out there. He'd developed an instinct for them, a kind of radar, and it rarely failed him. It was the way they looked, furtive and nervous, ready to run in an instant. They were pushy, anxious to be through the line-ups, shoving little old ladies out of the way to grab their baggage off the carousel. And those were just the small fry.
Then there were the really scary ones--the kind that could murder four people in cold blood and walk away. Normally, he would have staked his reputation that Farrell was just another passenger, travel-weary, glad to be on the ground and thinking about getting to bed. But the fax had said otherwise. If the guy was guilty, why in God's name hadn't he just left the building? It wouldn't be the first time Harper and his team had arrested an innocent man here; of course it wasn't up to them to determine who should be arrested and who got to walk away. Harper's stomach soured. This was one he was going to regret if it went wrong.
He put a hand on the shoulder of the nearest sharpshooter. "No head shots. Interpol wants to talk to him. If it looks like he's going to run, disable him. We don't know he's dangerous; he may even be innocent. Shoot to kill if you absolutely have to, but I will personally chew the ass off any trigger-happy bastard who doesn't go for a limb first. Understood?" The sharpshooter nodded. "Good. I'm going down there to try to talk him into turning himself over to me without a showdown." Harper clicked the safety off his gun, pulled back the slide, returned it to his shoulder holster and rode down to the concourse floor. He approached Farrell from behind, rounded the end of the bench and sat down out of the line of fire.
"Mr. Farrell?" The dark-haired man turned his head, a wistful smile on his face. Later, Harper would remember thinking he had gentle eyes. "I'm James Harper, with the Port Authority Police. We have orders to arrest you and turn you over to Interpol. I'd rather do this the easy way."
Farrell didn't move, just stayed leaning forward with his arms on his thighs. "You run a good operation here, M. Harper," he said. He spoke quietly, in a pleasant accent that sounded French with something else thrown in. "I can only see four plainclothes men and they were very unobtrusive about how they cleared the area. I do not doubt that there is at least one sharpshooter stationed on the mezzanine. I am right?"
Harper was taken aback by the man's calm assessment. "Right on so far, but there are two sharpshooters."
Farrell chuckled. "The age of overkill. I expect that you want me to come quietly with you."
Harper nodded, keeping his hand on his shoulder holster. "Something like that."
"I did do it, you know." Farrell smiled sadly. "I did kill those people. I want you to know that."
Somewhere behind him and overhead, Harper recognized the sound of a rifle slide. Morons! This was the worst possible time for a screw up. Keeping his eyes on Farrell, he shot his free hand up toward the mezzanine. Farrell gave no sign of having heard anything but the sound had been unmistakable and he was already aware of their presence. His lack of fear made Harper uneasy. It usually meant one thing, except that guys this calm about it were usually protecting someone.
"I don't have anything to say to that," Harper said. "You come easy, it'll make a big difference with a judge. Get yourself a good lawyer. You must have thought you had a reason."
Farrell sat up. "A reason does not make it right. I am sorry to disappoint you but I cannot come with you. You should get out of the way."
Harper watched him, alarmed. "You can't get out of here any other way without getting hurt."
"I am aware of that." Farrell stood up and Harper followed suit. "Please move out of the way, M. Harper. I don't wish your death on my soul. Thank you for being kind."
Oh, Christ, this situation was going completely south in a hurry! Harper took a step forward. "Mr. Farrell, my men have orders to shoot to kill." It wasn't true, but he didn't like the look in Farrell's eyes. "They will do it. You won't make it."
"Yes, I suppose that it is. You are a good man." Before Harper could grab him, Farrell strode rapidly away from the bench into the open.
"Farrell!" Harper yelled. Morris and his men dropped the pretense of being onlookers and aimed their weapons at Farrell, arms straight, elbows locked.
"Stop where you are!" Morris shouted.
Farrell kept moving. As he approached Morris, his right hand went to his back at the waist, reaching under his sweater. There was no mistaking the movement.
"Gun!" somebody yelled.
Five shots rang out almost simultaneously. They lifted Farrell off his feet and threw him down hard. As the echoes died away, Harper sprinted to where Farrell lay on his back on the polished floor in an ever-widening pool of blood. While the shooters advanced cautiously on the fallen man, Harper knelt down beside him, ignoring the blood that seeped into his pants. Farrell was still alive. Barely.
"Shit, man! What did you go and do that for?" Harper said, reaching out to the man's head, his own hand big and black against the pale skin. Farrell seemed to be trying to say something. His face contorted; blood bubbled out of his mouth and nose. When he lifted his hand, Harper took it, gripping it as Farrell's body shuddered in pain.
At precisely 10:15 PM, Eastern Standard Time, Paul Michel Farrell closed his eyes and died.
Fraterfamilias by Peter Ferrer (pseudonym for Judith Doloughan and Paula R. Stiles)
Link for the book at Virtual Tales: http://www.virtualtales.com/StoryProducts~tn~Fraterfamilias.html