Destination Mars, a short story by detroittigers2011. Date added: 2011-10-25. Times viewed: 305.
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- Intro: A romance story but no romance. A photographer sold his wares in an arts festival, and he met a mysterious woman and a strange day,
By Ed Bas 3,067 words
Samuel Oswald sold his first photos in this same booth in an Apples-n-Arts Festival last year. It was interesting to him. It brought his craft and his customers and, to boot, it was worth it for his payment for his wood-and-canvas booth, a couple of gas tanks in his van and a nice dinner that too. Today, it was the first fall weekend in October, Midwestern temperature, not hot, nor cold.
His photographs from his models: i.e., the outer space, the moon, the planets, comets and meteors, galaxies to nebulae. His favorite is Andromeda, similar to the Milky Way, another spiral barred galaxy. Inky black, white stars and a faint of blurred dust clouds -- that was the cosmic life matter descended among and amid the stars. Astrophotography and photographers is not the normal subject in the booths. A few are exhibiting (and selling, they hope), the blue-haired women selling their usual arts and crafts, pictures for kittens and puppies, big eyed kids, red barns and blue-and-beige colorful seascapes, and cheap knitted key fobs, wooden painted plaques or various screened t-shirts with funny or unfunny logos (Best Granddad/Granny, Gone Fishin’, etc.)
At a mid-westernMichiganarts festival, a few people try to show unique and different trades. Sam met a woman, not striking but a fair face with red hair and freckles, and a nice, not-too-skinny, not-too-fat body. Not bad, Sam noticed. She sold her paintings at her booth. She was busy though, she was texting at or to the cell phone, and forever, texting… Sam was reading a science fiction paperbook novel, Destination Mars. It was an old book and he read it one time in the sixth grade. He hadn’t had the habit for calling friends or relatives in his cell phone and not ever texting. He kept himself. He called out to his customers, “Do you like astronomy?” It was an early morning, the last day. No customers that minute. It was hisfifth streetart fair.
He smiled. His neighbor that day, the pretty red haired woman said to him over his short walled booth. “It’s ok. But I read it… HEY!” A black kid was trying to cop a leather bracelet in another booth over that street. He can see for his own eyes, and he muttered to the kid, “I should kick your ass.” The kid shrugged his shoulders, not scared nor even embarrassed, and took his time on his skateboard. His stolen merchandise stayed on the makeshift countertop. No sale for that five finger discount. It bothers Sam though. The booth seller wasn’t gratified though, she eyed him like he was a criminal, not a law-biding citizen. She was 50ish, and she wore a white apron over her plaid shirt and her overalls. She looked like a farmer woman. She had beady black eyes and a unibrow. Her name is Mrs. J. Ivaniskov, pinned her booth placard, a recently Russian immigrant.
“Did you see that?” Sam said to the red-haired girl and most of their customers in that moment. She suddenly saw his eyes, like a red bubble light atop the cop cars. It wasn’t red though, blue eyes like the Earth from space. “No, never. He was stealing?” she said.
“Not mine, never.” He forgot reading that book that day. “I have spy cameras and I have a laser under my robe.” He carried his invisible laser weapon in his bare arms with a t-shirt, and a noise, mimicking not unlike a little boy shooting the enemy at his pretending neighborhood army. Cameras? Laser? Robe?
“You are safe,” she said. “No kids won’t steal your photos. Nor my paintings, I should think. Too big and too artsy.”
True enough. He sold the minimum of 16X20 inches laminated glossy photos and most of them are bigger, such as 24 or 36. He photographed most of their pictures on a homemade telescope. One is a Dobsonian 16-inch reflector (he produced the Pyrex thick glass) and the metal pipe tripod and a stainless steel clock drive train. You can see him, Sam akimbo, at another photo, self-timed, with his black Labrador Wolf. He was demonstrating his black-painted Sonotube cardboard scope and his observation dome in his backyard.
“I like your photos,” she abruptly said. She was not flattering nor complimenting him for nothing. She had an artist’s eyes and a viewpoint. Sam was seeing her still pictures in her booth, various natural or portraits, or abstract. “And I like your paintings. They are bigger.”
She smiled. “I hope you will like my ideas or at least the colors in my paintings, not only my sizes.”
He was aware of a customer. “Sir? SIR! How much is it?” a bald man, black rimmed glasses with a Hawaiian unbuttoned shirt, asked.
“Small photos are 95 dollars each, and the bigger sizes are $125 and $149. Can I help you? Do you need any special subjects?”
“Hmmm, no, thank you.” Ninety percent of the usual arts-n-crafts festivals are interested in his craft but not really into burrowing their wallets or purses. A hundred dollars can be too expensive for any festival sales. But, it is not a garage sale though, Sam noted not once. He was not into haggling and he was not a starving artist. No way!
Suddenly, commotion broke this one placid day. “Hey, you!” Sam wanted to talk to her, but another customer talking to the woman, forever talking about the weather, the crowd, not the pictures and the artist, he thought. Just another boring conversation to a friendly-but-bored person, not really true customers though. He was eavesdropping. An old woman said something like, “My name is Loretta” or maybe “Lauren,” or similar like that, but he distinctly heard the artist told her, “My name is Ella and... ooops, I have to go.” She said to Sam, “Can you pay attention to my booth?” That was an answer, not a question. He heard that “Hey, you” voice. She was literally running, quietly mind you, like a spy. Not a thief or a shoplifter. Sam won’t forget her name, at least that day. He wrote her name in his calling cards, “Sam Oswald, Astrophotographer – Planets and Stars with a Big Bang Dust,” and his contacts, with a ball pen, inked Ella.
“Hey, you” was a shadowy man, not a suit nor an uniform, but different, just a person distinctly. Not police, not a security guard for the streets, but… something is wrong, Sam thought. Ella shone her red face, like her hair. Curly, long, luscious hair, he noted. She was gone, abruptly, silently, but quick. Sam last saw her eyes, similar to a deer, wide like hubcaps, shone his headlights at the dark highways – lunar eyes. Nice eyes though.
He noticed the Shadowy Man was gone, too. During SM was not quiet. He disrupted a countertop and her wares, almost fell atop the neighboring booth with its beaded necklaces and leather bracelets. Mrs. J. Ivaniskov. She yelled, “You idiot!” Sam assumed from a Slavic language, and a couple of customers, with a little girl with pigtails, and their little dog with a jeweled collar, everybody is barking and jostling because they didn’t know about the whereabouts and their circumstances.
No matter, Oswald tried to read his book. The suspects are gone and the wares are on sale. The dog was prohibited and the little girl kept her mouth.
“My name is Nicole,” the red-haired woman said quietly. He didn’t notice but she was there at last. “You call me my name, Jane. Jane Ford, it reminds me of Jane Fonda. It was close to her name. I assume I like her.” The booth showed Jane Ford, Photographer and a slogan, “I will paint anything for a price.” She worn her familiar jeans and a white sweater.
Maybe she meant paintings not a house painter. “I have a garage. It can be used a latex coat,” he didn’t say.
“Do you mean you have a pseudonym?” he did say.
“Uh huh. Don’t you have one?”
She was kidding, he thought. “I have a middle name. I don’t use it much. Why do I need it? Can I trust you? Can I trust a person without an ID?”
“I believe so,” Nicole/Jane said. You believe so. Where is the lifesaver? I am drowning. It was real or not? Dreaming or a nightmare? Where or what is the Shadowy Man?
He shelved his Destination Mars. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”
“I prefer tea. Earl Gray orDarjeeling, thank you.”
He saw a booth and refreshments a few yards from them. “Lipton, I should think. I can treat. Do you mind?” He noticed Nicole looked around the street, aware, looking up and down the to-be customers or not.
She sat down during the crowd dissipated. They sat in folded chairs. She sipped at a hot paper cup. “I am not a famous painter. Never will. I love art and artists. I try to be an artist, and I hope a little about talent. But I have a habit of plagiarizing. I notice you copyright your own pictures.”
“Yes, I do. But do you mean… you are a forger?”
“No. I signed my name in my paintings. You copyright your pictures but the natural scenes can be a public right to see that, you agree? I am a little bit confused. It’s not your dominion, I should think. Almost everybody can see the views and it should be free or near close to it.”
No response, and she sipped her Lipton and she told him, “But I had to paint my pictures, say a published book, or a magazine or postcards or other media. I sold a few paintings without my signature. I have a right to sell my pictures without my signatures, correct? Anyway, every artist can sell paintings for a dollar or a million dollars.”
“Do you mean rich people can be stupid? They are paying a million dollars for a not-famous artist?”
“It’s an exaggeration. A million dollars? We’ll say yes,” she laughed. “A few people are rich and stupid, also. Good for them!”
It’s a whole world from a not-famous, booth-selling,
astrophotographer. He can say, “Interesting but I have to go – RIGHT NOW!” Or something like that. He was curious. He can be an accessory for a criminal forger. It can be exciting. He likes his view. He can see her top of her blouse, a white peasant blouse and he can imagine her legs, swathed under her skinny jeans. He suddenly likes red hair and freckles. He wondered, she is 28 or 38?
He had to think: people assumed they are buying pictures and famous artists. And they bought a painting for… say a lot of money. It’s not a copy, not a forger but they can be assumed…
“It’s not a problem for you, correct?” he had to ask. He had to remember Shadowy Man. Federal prosecutions have been successful using generalized criminal statutes, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO). A successful RICO charge was brought against a family which had sold counterfeit prints purportedly by famous artists, Chagall, Miro, and Dali. The defendants were also found guilty of other federal crimes including conspiracy to defraud, money laundering, and postal fraud. However, federal criminal prosecutions against art forgers are seldom brought due in part to high evidentiary burdens and competing law enforcement priorities. One example, an art fraud could be at least five years in the federal courts. Less than a million dollars you can kiss it goodbye for the lawyer fees, their curious trademarks and copyrights, and changing rules every year -- and a ho-hum for the jurors and the media, seeking pricey armed robberies or prominent murderers in the court houses.
Sam and Nicole were thinking about storing and, ultimately, carrying their wares. They can’t afford paying workers. It’s not a hard job but it’s tedious, not a simple housekeeping. Moving booths can be a nuisance. Once, a woman told him, “I really don’t know about art shows. This is the worst business I know. I am simply tired.” He asked her how many times in the show for her – maybe four or five times? “This is my 36th.”
Sam was thinking of Nicole. She was married? How old she is? He didn’t have a clue to attempt his questions. It’s not easy, he thought, it’s a mystery to his simple questions. They can be rude or at least, too inquisitive. He needs a brain sponge, soaking and absorbing information like NASA’s Endeavour, probing and discovering in Mars.
“I don’t have a mind for creativity or authentic ideas,” Nicole said. “Maybe you can say I am a mimic, coloring the lines like a first grader. I made a little money though. I am a little bit embarrassed.”
“I don’t really know about the legalities. But you have talent.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I think so. Oh-oh… somebody is coming.” Sam saw a glimpse of Nicole. He was watching her eyes and her steps and her – slinking? Or she is scared? She stopped her steps. Sam was not worried. He knew that little old man, a milk shake, safe, he had a cane with his replacement hip, a regular festival goer, not a uniform or not even an undercover g-man. He was wondering her life, or her lifestyle. She was nice. But can she be a criminal? Sam was thinking, are you trying to sell a painting for a five finger discount. It’s a misdemeanor, just a fine? Or you can get a prison sentence for that? Maple syrup flavored is not maple syrup. And Fruit Loops has no fruit and Sunny D has no orange juice.
“You’re trying to trick me,” she said, accusingly. “I can see your eyes. Looking at me.”
Disarmingly, he said honestly. “Because I like you. Don’t be mad. I am trying to help you.” He imagined daydreams of federal agents, a few private detectives, and the National Guard. Sam was not paranoid, since then. She shrugged. “Don’t help me. Please. I am okay.”
During the Renaissance many painters took on apprentices who studied painting techniques by copying the works and style of the master. As a payment for the training, the master would then sell these works. This practice was generally considered a tribute, not forgery, although some of these copies have later erroneously been attributed to the master. The most obvious forgeries are revealed as clumsy copies of previous art. A forger may try to create a “new” work by combining the elements of more than one work.
Nicole said, the forger may omit details typical to the artist they are trying to fake or imitate, for paintings. A famous artist can be forged as a slightly different or close to the original version. Her pictures are pretty, he thought, and she has talent. “I have to eat,” she said. “My landlord doesn’t know about paintings, just renters like and cold cash, first of the month.” In theUnited States, criminal prosecutions of art forgers are possible under federal, state and/or local laws. Prosecution is also possible under state criminal laws, such as prohibitions against criminal fraud, or against the simulation of personal signatures. However, in order to trigger criminal liability under states’ laws, the government must prove that the defendant had intent to defraud.
After a few minutes, almost the day’s done, the old man with his limp, stayed his booth. He was a customer. Not rich but a nice, fat fish. “My name is Martin,” he shaked his hand. Sam was smiling. “I am a professor in the city college,” Martin said. “History, not science though.”
“Oh, you are an amateur astronomer,” Sam asked.
“Yes, I believe so. I bought an eight-inch Celestron. I am retiring this year. I am devoted to space and my hobbies. And my wife.”
“Where is she?” he politely asked. She is at home, he said, with theirLabrador. Sam smiled. He suddenly likes his customer. They talked about their dogs and their antics.
Sam was not haggling but he had to negotiate for a fine customer like Martin. He wanted to buy a mural for his favorite photos, Andromeda galaxy. He wanted to buy five bigger photos in a mural for his vacation home living room. Sam accounted his familiar Texas Instruments. He had to include tax, shipping and handling, etc. His estimated for his five photos is $1,295. It is not haggling but is negotiating. It can be a dream to come. That includes his gas tank, his meals and half of the booth space for that festival, and more.
Martin was thinking. “That’s a lot of money,” he said, but didn’t say no. “Can I lower your sales tax, shipping and handling, about half of that?”
Sam included $1,100 with his photos and $195 for boxes, insurance, etc. That’s about $1,300. It’s the most dollars any customer in his that year. “Twelve hundred dollars. Cash or charge?” Sam asked. They shaked hands. “I don’t take personal checks, Martin.”
It was a whirlwind for that day. Sam was trying to write Martin’s contacts, he was trying to disassemble his booth with the sun is going down, and he drove to his vehicle to another parking lot, etc. And, where is Nicole? Her booth was not there, an empty space with a cardboard coffee cup. He missed her for a few minutes, maybe 15 or 20. Suddenly, he thought, she skipped out. Her paintings were not in the naked black streets. She wasn’t in the festival or the street with an hour ending. He didn’t see Shadowy Man, nor uniforms. He didn’t miss SM, he didn’t miss Mrs. J. Ivaniskov, or friendly Martin. Why? She was scared? Or she was not into him? Maybe her name is truly Jane Ford. Or other names. What is real and what is fake? He didn’t know about women and their minds, much. He is an astronomer and an astrophotographer. He knows about the study and his telescopes and his cameras. But he missed Nicole, somewhat. He was driving at his home last night and he imagined about Nicole, sipping tea in her paper cup, red hair and freckles, laughing about nothing and, a piece of back of his mind, forever destination Mars.
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