A Star is Born

Grantville, Tuesday, June 1635

It had been a hard day at the salt mines. Sebastian Jones trudged the last few feet up the garden path to the front door. He was just about to insert his key when the door was swung open.

“Did you have a good day at school?” his mother asked.

He grunted an answer and edged past her into the house and headed for the kitchen. He dumped his rucksack on the table and opened the fridge to inspect the contents. Moments later he had most of the constituents of a sandwich on the bench. He turned to the bread bin and hacked off a couple of slices.

“Dinner will be ready in an hour,” Mary Ellen Jones muttered.

“But I’m hungry now,” Sebastian protested as assembled one of his classic gourmet masterpieces. He cut his sandwich in half and loaded it onto a plate before grabbing a glass of milk and sitting down at the table.

“You had a delivery today.”

He paused in his chewing to consider that. “Where is it?”

“In the garage.”

Sebastian tried to think of what someone might be sending him that would be put in the garage. With nothing coming to mind he took a sip of milk.

“There are a number of packing cases and a big pile of corrugated cardboard.”

Now Sebastian knew what was waiting for him in the garage. He guzzled down the milk and grabbed his sandwich before running for the garage.

He opened the door to see stack after stack of cardboard boxes and a stack of craft-produced corrugated cardboard.

“Is that mom’s book?” Mary Ellen asked from behind him.

“Yes. Gran didn’t want to pay the sales commission Schmucker and Schwentzel were asking, so I’m going to be handling sales from here.”

“I hope that’s not going to interfere with school. You know you need these extra classes in Latin if you’re to do well at university.”

“It won’t, Mom,” he said.

“It better not. Well, are you going to show me this book?”

Sebastian selected a carton and tried to tear through the packing tape holding it closed with his thumb nail.

“Here, let me,” his long suffering mother said as she used her thumbnail to tear the tape. “If you’d stop chewing your nails you wouldn’t have this problem.”

He ignored the attack on his personal habits and opened the carton to reveal—books. He carefully lifted out the top book and unwrapped it. His mother looked over his shoulder as he slowly turned the pages, stopping every now and again when his mother laid her hand on his to give her more time to look at a photograph. Eventually Sebastian handed her the book.

“They’re beautiful,” Mary Ellen muttered.

Sebastian wasn’t prepared to go that far, but the photographs of Grantville before and after the Ring of Fire were impressive. His gran sure knew how to get the best out of the limited technology they had. Many of the photographs had been taken on wet-plates, and lugging that equipment around had just about broken his back. Some were taken using the more modern dry-plate technology, but his gran wasn’t overly impressed by the effects she was getting from her current emulsion.

****

The next day Sebastian didn’t go straight home from school. He got off the bus at Grays Run and hurried along the road to the house where Gran lived with a carton of books balanced on his shoulder. She still had her house in Grantville, but she’d been lonely after Granddad died. She had, to quote his mother, fallen in with dubious company—the down-timers who lived there were Lutheran, while Tom and Celeste Frost were Catholic—and moved into the house on Grays Run.

Before the Ring of Fire the house had been offered as a rental with the bare minimum of furniture. Untenanted at the time of the Ring of Fire, and with the landlord an up-time property company, the house and acreage it stood on had reverted to the government. Carl Schockley, a guy who had been working temporarily in Grantville, had managed to buy the place in the early days after the Ring of Fire, before property values went wild. Last year Carl had relocated to Magdeburg, leaving the property in the hands of the tenants he’d recruited to help pay the mortgage.

Sebastian left the carton of books at the house and went in search of his gran. He found her doing what any self-respecting septuagenarian would do in her place if they lived in the house on Grays Run.

BOOM!

That’s right. She was “playing” with explosives. The prime tenant Carl had left behind was a company he helped start—Brennerei und Chemiefabrik Schwarza. Originally they’d just made primers and percussion caps, but over time they’d branched out, and although they no longer produced the explosives on the property, they did conduct tests there.

He waited for the all clear before joining his gran and Tom Frost. “Hi, having fun?” Lettie Sebastian turned and he saw the mile-wide smile on her face. “Silly question. I got the books yesterday. I’ve left a carton of review copies up at the house for you to sign and number before I mail them.” He screwed his nose up at that. He saw the need for giving away a few review copies, but he wasn’t happy about it. Not considering how many books they had to sell just to break even. The problem was the books weren’t just expensive, they were horrendously expensive. The special high quality paper the books had been printed on saw to that. They could have used cheaper paper, but the photographs wouldn’t have looked half as good and his gran’s artistic sensibilities had overtaken economic sense, and she’d insisted on the better quality paper.

“I don’t see why you’re worried. Your market research showed there was a lot of interest in a book of photographs showing Grantville before and after,” Tom said.

“But it wasn’t enough to persuade Schmucker and Schwentzel to publish it,” Sebastian said.

“That’s because there is a lot of difference between people saying they might be interested in buying such a book and those same people actually forking out seven hundred and fifty dollars, plus postage and packaging, for it.” Lettie shrugged. “Still, it’s only money, and at my time of life it’s best to enjoy it while you can.”

“You’re not worried about losing your house?” Tom asked.

“I live here.” Lettie waved her arms to encompass the Grays Run property. “And the rent my tenants pay covers the mortgage with more than enough over to pay my way here. As long as the property taxes don’t go too high, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Sebastian was glad to hear his gran wasn’t going to lose her home if the book was a failure, but he was hoping it made a profit, because Gran had promised him a share of any profit in return for his help.

Wednesday

With summer school operating Sebastian had time to hawk his gran’s book around town before and after school. This afternoon his target was the post office. He checked his appearance in the reflection from the window before walking in. He’d made an appointment to talk to the postmaster, so he approached a teller to let them know he was there, and was promptly told to “please wait.” He waited over by the stands that showed the merchandise the post office sold. There were the usual post related items in the form of standard size cardboard boxes and envelopes, postcards, and then there were the “last minute gifts and souvenirs.” A Pictorial History of Grantville would be right at home here, if it wasn’t three times the price of the next most expensive book.

“Sebastian, how can I help you?” Pam Sizemore, the postmaster, asked when she showed up a few minutes later.

Sebastian took the sample book he was carrying out of its protective packaging and offered it to Pam. “You said you might be willing to sell my grandmother’s new book.”

He waited patiently while Mrs. Sizemore slowly looked through the book. “It’s very good. I can see the tourist market being interested, but how much is it going to cost?” she asked.

“We’re thinking to retail it at seven hundred and fifty dollars.”

Pam whistled. “That’s pricy. I don’t think we’d get much demand for anything that expensive. Still, there will be some interest.” She fondled the box it came in. “Do they all come in these boxes? Because most of our sales would be to people wanting something to send as a gift, and we don’t have anything this size.”

Sebastian made an executive decision. The books had been delivered in cartons of twenty. He had been planning to use the custom protective corrugated cardboard boxes for mail-order purchases only, so they’d have to order some more made, but for such an expensive book, the extra cost of the packaging wasn’t worth fighting over. “I can supply the books in a carton of twenty, with the packaging as pre-cut corrugated cardboard sheets, or I can deliver the books individually pre-packaged.”

Pam glanced over at the books she had on sale. “You can put me down for twenty pre-packaged, and we’ll see how they sell.”

Sebastian recorded the order in his book and left for his next stop.

****

After a long afternoon traipsing around the shops, Sebastian had commitments for a hundred books, and he hadn’t even tried the tourist traps yet. The RedBarnMuseum was his next stop.

The Red Barn, naturally enough, attracted tourists, and Sebastian felt that the prime market for his gran’s book would be the tourists. When he’d been conducting his market research the museum’s manager had indicated that she would be interested, so here he was. He approached the first museum assistant he discovered. “Mrs. Harris, is Mrs. Mase about?”

“She’s in her office, Sebastian.”

“Thank you.” He made for the museum manager’s office and knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Mase. I’ve come about Gran’s book.” He laid the by now shop-soiled box on her desk and stepped back.

Sydney Mase hefted the box before opening it, the moment she removed the tissue paper protecting the dust jacket she froze, and just stared at the view on the cover. It was a view from the hills looking over post Ring of Fire Grantville showing, as close as they could tell, the same view as that of the 1897 “map” of Grantville that had pride of place on the wall of the museum.

Sydney opened the book and stopped again. The endpapers were a reproduction of the 1897 map. She looked up. “Could you turn that into a poster?” she asked.

“Gran took that photo with a ten by twelve plate camera. I guess it could be enlarged, but Schmucker and Schwentzel have a camera that can take bigger photographs. If you wanted to have posters made, then I’d suggest talking to them.”

“Do you have any idea what they’d cost?”

Sebastian shrugged. “They can’t be too expensive. The Arts Week committee in Magdeburg had promotion posters made last year, and those were in color. Ask them, I’m sure they’d be happy to give you a quote.”

“I will. Okay, back to your grandmother’s book. It’s even better than I thought it would be. What are you hoping to sell it for?”

“Seven-fifty,” Sebastian muttered defensively. He’d been catching flack from retailers all afternoon about the price.

Sydney surprised him. She nodded. “That sounds about right. It’s expensive, but there is absolutely nothing like it out there. We should ask your gran to take some photographs so we can put together a souvenir of the museum.”

“I can take the photographs,” Sebastian said. “Gran’s been teaching me, and she’s happy to lend me her cameras.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Meanwhile, what’s the deal about handling your books?”

“Seven percent commission on sales, and we provide the books either already individually wrapped in their cardboard boxes, or I can deliver them in cartons of twenty with sheets of pre-cut corrugated cardboard that you can fold into boxes as you need them.”

“Put me down for two cartons, and we’ll make the boxes ourselves,” Sydney said.

****

Sebastian was almost walking on air when he got home. He had orders for a hundred and forty books, and there hadn’t even been a book review published yet. He bounced into the house, and went hunting for someone to tell his good news. He found his mom and dad in the kitchen. “Hi, did you have a good day?”

“It certainly looks like you did,” Simon Jones said. “How did it go?”

“I’ve got orders for a hundred and forty, and that’s without any publicity.”

“Congratulations,” Simon and Mary Ellen said.

“I’ll just go and tell Gran she’s got to come round and sign another bundle of books.

Thursday

Sebastian was home from school early. He should have been studying, but there was a regular book review program on, and his source at the school TV station had tipped him that his gran’s book was going to be featured, so he’d grabbed a bite to eat and stretched out on the couch to watch the program. Right now he was being slowly put to sleep by the presenter as she droned on about a book by some down-timer. Apparently she had liked it, because she recommended it to viewers. Then she held up the next book, and Sebastian was suddenly all ears.

He lay there in horror, his sandwich forgotten, as she tore the book to shreds. She had nothing good to say about it, and then she attacked the price. “Of course it’s expensive. It’s a coffee table book,” Sebastian muttered to himself. Everyone knew art books were expensive. They expected them to be expensive.

He was still sitting there when his mother got home. “Shouldn’t you be studying?” she asked.

Sebastian stared at her vacantly.

“Is there something the matter? Is it Mom?”

The real concern in his mother’s voice dragged Sebastian’s mind from the nightmare he was in. “The critic tore up Gran’s book!”

Mary Ellen looked from Sebastian to the television, to the newspaper open to the television schedule, and back again. “The book review show on television?”

Sebastian nodded.

Mary Ellen walked over and hugged Sebastian. “It’s just one woman’s opinion.”

“But it’s an opinion on television. Lots of people will have seen it.”

“No publicity is bad publicity.”

Sebastian sighed. If only there was some truth in that old saw. He collected his half-eaten sandwich and headed for the kitchen. He’d suddenly lost his appetite. “I’d better call Gran and see if she caught the show,” he muttered.

****

Lettie had caught the show, and she was not happy. Her first instinct had been to call the station and complain, but Tom’s wife had persuaded her to cool down before doing anything rash. So she’d followed Celeste’s advice and released her anger by blowing up a couple of tree stumps. That had made her feel better, but not as much as placing the explosives under Brianna Marie Flannery’s seat would have done. Of course Brianna would have to be Celeste’s cousin, wouldn’t she?

Felling considerably settled, Lettie returned to the house. Celeste met her at the door.

“Feeling better?”

She nodded. There was something about blowing things up that couldn’t help but make someone feel better.

“I’m sorry about my cousin.”

Lettie waved the apology away. “We can’t choose our relatives.”

“The best thing is to fight fire with fire. Do you have a copy you can spare for a review?”

“You mean give away another one of my overpriced vanity publication of my pictures?” Lettie snarled the words. They had drawn blood when Brianna Flannery said them, and she wanted revenge.

“I think you should offer Mr. Kindred a copy if he’ll put a review in the Grantville Times.”

“Sebastian’s already sent out review copies. The trouble is we don’t have any control over when or if they’ll print reviews.”

“Maybe if you speak nicely to Mr. Kindred, he’ll ask his reviewer to hurry-up,” Celeste suggested.

Lettie sighed. She was getting too old for this sort of thing. “I’ll talk to him in church on Sunday.”

Sunday

One of the advantages of being married to a Methodist lay preacher was that she’d gotten to know all the Methodists in Grantville. When you had a daughter and son-in-law who were Methodist ministers to the parish, you stayed in the loop even when your husband died. So Lettie had no trouble talking to Lyle Kindred and his wife about her book, the Brianna Flannery review, and when the Grantville Times, of which Lyle was the publisher, might be printing their review of her book. She walked away with the less than satisfactory answer that they were waiting for their reviewer to file her review, but they’ll print it as soon as they could.

Wednesday

Lettie was called to the phone late in the evening. She picked it up. “Lettie Sebastian speaking.”

“Hello, Lettie. Lyle Kindred here. I just thought you’d like to know the review of your book will be in tomorrow’s paper.”

“What’s it like? Who wrote it?” Lettie demanded.

“Wait and see, Lettie. Wait and see.”

“Lyle Kindred, you tell me what it says or . . .” she stared at the phone. He’d hung up on her.

Thursday

On Thursday morning she paid one of the older children to run into town to get the paper the moment it hit the street. He returned just as Lettie was finishing breakfast. She ignored the front page stories with their photographs—those were almost old hat now—at least in the Grantville papers, and the cartoons, heading instead straight for the entertainment section. There was a small image of someone reading a book identifying the location of the review.

She read it, and started to smile. Heather Garlow, the reviewer, introduced herself as a fellow artist, and then went on to effectively deny nearly everything Brianna Flannery had said on television, without mentioning the television review.

“That’s a good review, isn’t it?” Tom asked from over her shoulder. “I mean, more people read the Times than watch television.”

“It’s more than a good review, Tom. It’s a carefully constructed hatchet job on Brianna.” Celeste looked up at the ceiling as if looking for inspiration. “I wonder what she could ever have done to upset Mrs. Garlow?”

“She probably tore up some of Mrs. Garlow’s work,” Lettie muttered. “Whatever made your cousin think she knew anything about art?” she asked Celeste.

“She took a couple of courses at college,” Celeste answered.

“Ah, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” Lettie said. “I guess all we can do now is wait and see if it helps sales.”

“How have sales been so far?” Celeste asked.

Lettie shrugged. “They were looking good, but since your cousin’s negative review most of the retailers have been holding back on new orders.”

Friday

Sebastian watched the emotions flash across his mother’s face as she read the paper and wondered what had caused them. “What’s so funny, mom?”

Mary Ellen looked up from the paper. “The letters to the editor. Brianna Flannery is complaining about Heather Garlow’s review of Mom’s book. She’s claiming it’s a barely disguised personal attack for some honest comments she made about Heather’s new installation in the Higgins, and she wants an apology.”

Sebastian walked round so he could read the letter over his mother’s shoulder. “What’s an installation?”

Mary Ellen opened her mouth in preparation to answer, then shut it and looked across the table to her husband. “Simon, can you explain?”

Simon shook his head. “I know what one is, but you really need to see one to understand.”

Sebastian reread the letter. “I might drop by the Higgins and have a look.”

Mary Ellen nodded. “You do that, and maybe you’ll understand.”

“Take a camera. You might be able to sell a photograph of it to one of the papers,” Sebastian’s father suggested.

Saturday

Sebastian paused to appreciate the photograph in the entertainment section. It showed a crowd gathered in the Higgins Hotel to see Mrs. Garlow’s installation, and it was his first sale. He then moved on to reading the letters to the editor. There were a couple of letters defending Mrs. Flannery’s comments about Mrs. Garlow’s installation. They questioned how such a thing could possibly be called art, and having seen the installation in question, Sebastian was on their side. There was a letter from someone who’d bought a copy of Gran’s book, and seemed to think it was money well spent.

Monday

Sebastian flipped through the paper until he came to the letters to the editor. Today, for the first time Sebastian could remember, they took up an entire page. There were the run of the mill letters, where people complained about the government or the way the iron-rimmed wheels on wagons traveling through Grantville were damaging the roads. And then there was the developing battle between Mrs. Garlow and Mrs. Flannery. People were starting to take sides. And caught in the middle was Gran’s book. Sebastian chewed at his thumbnail as he tried to work out if this was good or bad.

“Stop chewing your nails. There’s plenty of food in the house!”

He dropped the thumb instantly and turned to his mother. “I’m worried about what this will do to sales of Gran’s book. Do you think it’ll hurt it?”

“Of course not, it’s all good publicity.”

She was his mother, so of course she’d say something like that. Sebastian turned back to the letters. As he read he felt his thumb brushing his lips and hastily dropped it.

Tuesday

Sebastian put down the phone and smiled.

“Some more orders?” his father asked.

He nodded. “That’s the sixth shop to call asking for delivery of more books as soon as possible.”

“So everyone likes Mom’s book again?”

“Everyone but Mrs. Bonnaro. I got a check and her returns today.”

Simon walked around to read the list of orders Sebastian had taken down. “She might regret that. How many books have you sold, then?”

Sebastian opened the order book at the back, where he’d been keeping a running tally. “We’ve had orders for three hundred in Grantville, of which we’ve been paid for a hundred and thirty four, and we have mail-orders for another sixty, waiting on the clearance of payments.”

“So you’ve got close to two hundred actual sales, and nearly four hundred possible sales. That’s not bad.”

“But we need to sell nearly seven hundred to break even.”

“So get out there and hustle. Advertise. Do what you have to do to move them. Otherwise you’ll end up remaindering them for fifty percent off.”

Wednesday

The Grantville Times Wednesday edition was double its normal size, being a bumper four section, sixteen page monster. The letters to the editor claimed the full two page center-spread in one section. And it wasn’t just the Times. The Daily News was also running an enlarged letters to the editor section.

The opening of Mrs. Garlow’s latest show was also being promoted. Sebastian looked at it, and wondered. “Dad, would it be all right if I go to the gallery tonight?”

“What time?”

“The show starts at seven thirty, so I’d like to get there earlier.”

“What show?” Mary Ellen asked.

“Mrs. Garlow’s got a new exhibition starting tonight.”

“And why this sudden interest in first night showings?”

“I thought I might take a camera and see if I can get some shots for the paper.”

His father smiled. “You’re hoping to earn a little pocket money? Don’t let your first sale go to your head.”

“I won’t,” Sebastian said, although that was exactly what he was thinking. He’d got a hundred dollars for that shot. If he made another sale . . .

“Just stay out of trouble,” Mary Ellen said.

“What kind of trouble can you get into at an art gallery?”

Wednesday night

Sebastian had an advantage over all the other photographers. His grandparents had been enthusiastic photographers and collectors of photographic paraphernalia. His grandfather had reenacted as a Civil war photographer, even going so far as to use historically correct wet-plate photography. Not that Sebastian was using anything that primitive. No, he was using a Speed Graphic with an electronic flash. Not only was it a better camera than anybody else had, it opened doors, including the front door to the gallery. He hadn’t thought about the dress code for a first night of an exhibition.

Sebastian happily moved through the gallery taking photographs of the notables as he saw them, usually with their enthusiastic agreement. Then he saw Mrs. Flannery. Sebastian was no student of body language, but with the current battle raging in the letters to the editor he would have thought she’d be a bit of a spectre at the feast. He decided to follow her. He saw her stop in front of a woman and they started talking.

FLASH! Smack!

The room went silent. Half of the patrons were staring at him, while the rest were staring at the two women. The one Mrs. Flannery had confronted was holding a hand to her face.

Sebastian lowered the camera he didn’t remember lifting and smiled innocently to the people looking his way. “Don’t take any notice of me. I’m just the photographer.” He did his best to disappear into the woodwork as he rapidly changed out the exposed double-dark, filed it in his camera bag, and reloaded the camera. By the time he finished reloading the camera, the capacitor on the flash unit was recharged. He looked around for something else to photograph.

A hand tapped on his shoulder “Did you get a shot of that?”

Sebastian turned to find Lyle Kindred and his wife looking at him. “What?”

“Brianna Flannery slapping Heather Garlow.”

“Oh!” He looked back to where Mrs. Garlow was still being comforted by a male escort. “Is that who she is?”

“Yes. Now, did you get a shot of the slap?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even remember lifting the camera, let alone taking the photo.”

“We might make a press photographer of you yet,” Lyle said. “Come with me to the Times, and we’ll see what you’ve got.”

“You’re not going to abandon me here are you?” Mary Jo Kindred demanded.

“Have you seen anything you like?” Lyle asked.

“No!”

“Then there’s no problem,” Lyle said as he started to escort Sebastian out of the gallery.

“I might decide there’s something I like,” Mary Jo called after them. “Something really expensive,” she added just before Lyle and Sebastian left the gallery.

Thursday

The Grantville Times was two sections again. The photograph of Mrs. Flannery slapping Mrs. Garlow made page four. Sebastian looked at it with pride. He’d got it just about perfect. He couldn’t have taken a better shot if he’d tried, and according to Mr. Kindred, if he’d tried, he probably would have made a mess of it.

He moved on to the entertainment section, and saw some more of his photographs. This time they were people who’d attended the showing. Mr. Kindred hadn’t paid as much for them, but he’d suggested that the subjects might want to buy copies.

That left the review of the exhibition. Sebastian found it, and cracked up laughing.

Across the table, his mother lowered her copy of the Times. “What’s so funny?”

“Have a look at who Mr. Kindred got to do the review of Mrs. Garlow’s exhibition.”

Mary Ellen did as she was told and giggled. “‘Reminiscent of the more extreme forms of Cubism.’ Brianna Flannery really doesn’t like Heather Garlow.”

“So why did Mr. Kindred ask her to review Mrs. Garlow’s exhibition?” Sebastian asked.

“You’re the one who claims to have learned so much from your business studies. Think!”

Sebastian did as he was told. He thought. He looked at the paper, and eventually it came to him. “The Times doubled in size inside a week, and they’re carrying a lot more advertising.” His mother’s slow clap response told Sebastian he’d hit the nail on the head.

Friday

“Free at last.” Sebastian all but sang the phrase as he hurried up the path. For him, school was finally over. He’d survived the last day of preparatory Latin, and now he was ready to attend his first lectures at university. There was a pile of messages stuck to the fridge for him. They were phone orders from shops wanting more books. There was also a request for an urgent delivery from an outfit called the Round the Ring Guided Tours. They wanted two cartons delivered to their office as soon as possible. There was also a contact phone number.

****

Sebastian hung up the phone and made a note in his sales book.

“You’re looking awfully cheerful,” his mother said.

“A tour business based in Rottenbach just ordered two cartons, and they’ll pay cash on delivery if I can get them to them today.” His mother didn’t look quite as happy about his good news as he would have liked. “It’s good news, Mom.”

“But that’s a lot of money to carry around.”

Sebastian stared at his mother while he did the necessary mental calculations. Forty books at wholesale was nearly twenty-eight grand. Sure he’d processed similar sized orders before, but payment had usually been by check. “I’ll be careful.”

“I’d rather you waited until your father got home.”

“But they need the books now. Apparently they didn’t know about the book until a client showed up with a copy asking to be shown where the various photographs had been taken from. They have a couple of parties coming in tomorrow morning and they want to have them available before they set out.”

Mary Ellen sighed. “At least take a gun, and be careful.”

Coming from his mother, the suggestion that he take a gun was a reflection of just how worried she was. “I will.”

The gun he selected was a Beretta 92. He slipped that into a small-of-the-back holster and set about loading his bicycle. Two cartons filled the box he’d fitted to his rear carrier, leaving the front carrier free for his camera bag. He lifted his jacket to show his mother he had a gun and set out.

The road to Rottenbach took Sebastian up the north arm of Route 250. He made a comfort stop at the church at Drakes Run and had just returned to his bike when heard the roar of a motorcycle reverberating in the valley. He thought immediately of Denise Beasley and her friend, and how he’d missed getting photographs of Minnie Hugelmair riding her motorcycle into city hall. He grabbed his camera and hurried to the road. He saw the biker heading his way and got ready. The rider was past in a flash, and Sebastian could only hope he’d got the photograph. He knew the theory of photographing a moving vehicle, he just hadn’t had a lot of practice, especially with one moving so fast.

Suddenly Sebastian realized he couldn’t hear the motorbike any more. He changed over the double-dark, got on his bike, and pedaled madly in the direction the biker had gone.

When he rounded the corner he slowed down. The biker might be in trouble, but not of the kind that Sebastian could help with. As he cycled past he glanced at the man standing by his bike while the policeman wrote him a ticket. He had such a hangdog expression on his face that Sebastian couldn’t help himself. He lifted his camera.

****

Ten minutes later, and a mile up the road, Sebastian was cursing his luck. He unloaded his bike and turned it over so he could free the back wheel. Why couldn’t it have been the motorcyclist who picked up the bit of glass?

He was just reassembling his bike after repairing the puncture when a pickup truck pulled up alongside him and Officer Blake Haggerty leaned out the window. “You need a lift anywhere?”

Sebastian almost said no, but then he thought, who better to help him collect nearly thirty thousand dollars than a couple of police officers. “I’ve almost got it fixed, but I don’t suppose you could help me do something else?”

“What?” Officer Heinrich Steinfeldt asked.

He pointed to the two cartons of books. “I’m supposed to be delivering those to a place in Rottenbach, and they’ve said they’ll pay cash.” He paused. “It’s a lot of money, and I’d feel a lot better if you were with me.”

“How much money?” Blake asked.

“Just under twenty-eight thousand dollars.”

The two police officers exchanged looks and shrugged. “Why not? Toss your bike in the back.”

****

The rest of the trip to Rottenbach was uneventful, as was the transaction, and the trip to the Grantville bank to deposit the money. Sebastian’s mother just about fell on Officer’s Haggerty and Steinfeldt in gratitude when they delivered Sebastian safe and sound to the front door. However, as a mother she knew how to show proper appreciation, and both men left weighed down with cake and cookies.

With another forty books sold Sebastian headed over to his gran’s house to develop the photographs he’d taken. He was on good terms with Gran’s tenants, and after letting them know he was there he disappeared into the darkroom his grandparents had built into the back of the garage.

The shot of the down-timer being talked to by Officer Steinfeldt was as good as he’d hoped it would be, but the shot of the motorbike speeding by was even better. He pulled out a packet of the biggest paper in the darkroom—some of the twenty-four by thirty inch paper being made for the Kirlian Imaging industry, and made as big a print as he could.

He had just put the large print away in the glazing press to dry when there was a firm knock on the door.

“Can we talk to you for a moment, Herr Jones?

Sebastian didn’t recognize the voice, but it didn’t sound threatening. “Just a moment!” he called. He did a quick check that he’d put everything away, checked that the prints hanging over the sink were dry enough not to attract any dust, turned on the light, turning off the red safe light at the same time. Then he opened the door.

They were Suits, and very expensive Suits at that. Sebastian recognized one of them. She was an up-time female—young and attractive. The other was a down-time man—not so young, and not so attractive. Actually, he looked a lot like a well-dressed bouncer, but no bouncer could afford tailoring that good. Sebastian looked beyond them to see the reassuring sight of Gran’s tenants. He waved to them, and the Suits looked to see who he was waving at. “How can I help you?”

“We believe you took some photographs of Don Francisco Nasi today,” Tommasina “Tommie” Genucci said.

“I’ve just printed them,” Sebastian said. “Do you want to have a look?” Sebastian stepped away from the door to let them in.

Tommasina removed the photo of Don Francisco being given a traffic ticket from the drying line and studied it. “We’ve been empowered to negotiate for the negative of this photograph and any prints you might have made.”

Sebastian took a few seconds to work his way around what she’d said. Finally deciding it meant they had been asked to buy it. He looked at the photograph. The guy really did look embarrassed to be stopped and given a ticket. Still, Tommasina hadn’t said Mr. Nasi was their client, and Sebastian didn’t want to embarrass the guy anymore than he already was. “Sorry, but it’s not for sale.”

Tommasina pulled back her shoulders and jiggled her chest a little while running her tongue over her lips. “We’re willing to pay you a thousand dollars, in cash, for everything you have on Don Francisco Nasi.” She nodded to the man who opened an envelope and counted out ten hundred dollar bills.

That made Sebastian even more dubious. The most he’d been paid for a photograph was the two hundred and fifty dollars for the Slap. He shook his head. “Nope.”

“Our client really wants that negative and any prints. Two thousand dollars,” she said.

“Nope!” Sebastian said. “If it’s that important, I’ll send them to Mr. Nasi myself.”

There was a standoff with the two Suits looking at Sebastian, who looked straight back. Eventually the man put back the wad of hundred dollar bills and pulled out a wallet and produced a Johnnie. “Use a courier.”

Sebastian stared at the twenty dollar bill in the man’s hand. It seemed that maybe they were on the up and up. It wouldn’t hurt to accept the money, if it was used to pay to send the negative and prints to Mr. Nasi. He reached out for the money. “I’ll do that.”

“Tonight!” the man said.

Sebastian checked his watch. “That might be pushing it. I’ll try, but they have to dry first. Now, the sooner you leave, the sooner I can finish up here and get over to the post office to send them off.”

The man stared hard at Sebastian, but he easily maintained eye contact until the man nodded his head and gestured to Tommasina that it was time to go.

Sebastian showed them out, and was happy to see a couple of the tenants were lazing in the swing seat watching the darkroom door. He waved to them, and to the two Suits, before shutting the door on them. He glanced at his watch again. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to dry the prints and get them to the courier in time.

****

“That could have gone better,” Wolfgang Klettwich muttered as they walked down the path to their waiting cab. “Your sex appeal certainly fell flat. Herr Jones didn’t even bat an eye when you jiggled your tits.”

“He’s a Methodist. What do you expect?”

“Considering how you insisted he’d be putty in your hands, I’d have expected at least a little staring down your cleavage.”

“At least we stopped the photo going public,” Tommasina muttered.

“Not by anything you did.” Wolfgang glanced over his shoulder at the still closed door of the darkroom. “I wonder if he really will send Don Francisco the negative.”

“Of course he will. He took the twenty you offered for the courier.”

“So?”

“He’s a Methodist. He wouldn’t have taken the money if he wasn’t going to send the negative.”

“You show remarkable faith in human nature for a lawyer, Tommie.”

Tommasina stopped in her tracks and turned to face Wolfgang. “Sebastian Jones will mail the negative to Don Francisco.”

“Would you care to wager a little money on that?”

Tommasina glanced at the darkroom door and back to Wolfgang. “A hundred dollars says Sebastian Jones at least tries to get the negatives to the courier office before they close.”

Wolfgang looked at the darkroom door for a few seconds before spitting on his hand and holding it out. Tommasina did likewise and they shook hands. “How are we going to be sure what happens?” Wolfgang asked.

“We hang around and wait.”

Wolfgang pulled out his watch and checked the time. “He has an hour.”

“So we wait an hour.”

“Then I better have words with our driver,” Wolfgang muttered.

A few minutes he was back. “Did I miss anything?”

“He ran into the house for a couple of minutes before returning to the darkroom.”

“Why?”

“How should I know? Maybe he had to go to the toilet.”

A few minutes later a courier cyclist turned into the drive and knocked on the darkroom door. There was a short discussion, and a large envelope was handed to the courier. “What the heck’s he doing?” Tommasina muttered. “You don’t need an envelope that big for such a small photograph.”

The courier cyclist pedaled back down the drive and onto the street. Wolfgang and Tommasina hurried to their cab. “Follow that man,” Wolfgang ordered their driver as they clambered aboard.

The driver raised his brows, muttered something unintelligible, and climbed onto his seat and started pedaling.

They kept the courier in sight until he disappeared into Don Francisco’s office. Wolfgang jumped out and went in to check who the package had been delivered to.

“It seems I owe you a hundred dollars,” he said when he returned.

Monday

Sebastian had forgotten all about the photograph of Mr. Nasi over the weekend. He’d worried a bit about sales of Gran’s book, but sales were going along at a steady pace. In a single month they’d processed orders for over five hundred copies, and received payment for two hundred and sixty-six, with payment pending clearance of the checks on another thirty. At this rate they should break even by the end of July, by which time he’d be in Jena. He sighed at the thought. He’d much rather be taking photographs, but there wasn’t a lot of money in that, not yet.

“Sebastian, there’s someone to see you,” Mary Ellen called.

“Who is it?” he called as he hurried out to see who it was. He recognized Tommasina sitting on the sofa immediately. “I sent the photo and negatives to Mr. Nasi like I said I would.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why I’m here. Don Francisco was most impressed with the photograph of him riding his bike. In fact, he was so impressed he’s had it framed and installed in his office.” She looked at Sebastian and shook her head. “You’re either very smart, Sebastian, or very lucky.” She laid her briefcase on the coffee table and opened it. She extracted several papers. She laid one down on the coffee table. “One order from Don Francisco for twenty copies of A Pictorial History of Grantville to be delivered to his office as soon as possible.” She added another paper. “An order from the office of the mayor of Grantville for ten copies of A Pictorial History of Grantville, to be delivered as soon as possible.”

“But why does Mr. Nasi need twenty copies, or the mayor’s office ten?” Sebastian asked.

“Don Francisco often has occasions when he needs to present people with small tokens of appreciation, while a gift of a book about Grantville is a perfect promotional gift for the mayor’s office.”

“Small token!” Sebastian muttered. If a seven hundred and fifty dollar book was a small token, he’d really like to see a large token.

“Don Francisco is a very important man, and he deals with a lot of very important people. He suggests that you might want to produce a similar book about Magdeburg.”

“Do you realize how much Gran’s book cost? We can’t afford the risk.”

“But Don Francisco can.” She laid another sheet of paper on the table. “Also, the Magdeburg Arts Week organizing committee would like to retain you as a photographer. You would be responsible for all the publicity photography and recording events for a book to be published celebrating Arts Week.”

Sebastian licked his suddenly dry lips. It seemed he’d just discovered what a large token looked like.

****

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