It always feels great to get a first draft done on a novel. You chip away and chip away over time, adding pages every day, until finally you are finished! Whew, what a relief! Then comes all of the revisions, but for a while it is nice to just forget about that and let the accomplishment wash over you. That's where I'm at now with my latest novel, Bachelor of Arts. It still needs some work, but I'm very happy to have a draft completed. To help celebrate, I'll post the first chapter here in case anybody wants to check it out! :-)
Samantha Bridges wandered through the empty storefront, running her fingers along the wall as she dreamed of what might be. She scanned the hardwood floors, scuffed from years of abuse, yet salvageable. She eyed chips on the door frames and nicks and scratches in the drywall. It wasn't these signs of the past that interested Samantha, however, it was the future that had her full attention. Sam imagined works by L.A.'s most promising young artists hanging on the walls. She saw crowds of patrons, sipping wine from plastic cups as they wandered from one room to the next on opening night. She looked toward the front window and pictured the sign she might hang in it: The Bridges Gallery.
“So what do you think?” Marguerite, the property manager, stood nearby with a phone in one hand and a briefcase in the other. “For the location, you're not going to do much better on price. The owner is eager to lease this space as soon as possible.”
“How long has it been available?” Sam asked, partly as a way to stall for time. She wanted it, there was no doubt about that. She'd wanted to open a gallery of her own for years. That wasn't what frightened her. What kept Samantha up at night was the prospect of giving up everything else she'd worked so hard for, all to chase this crazy dream that was so likely to fail, no matter how great her intentions.
“The previous tenant moved out just last week,” said Marguerite.
“What kind of business was it?”
“Bookshop. They were here for 20 years, but you know how things are. The world is changing.”
“It is at that.” Sam turned her attention once again to the space around them. There was the one large room in which they stood, with that big front window facing the street, and then toward the back a double doorway led to a second, longer room. “I do like it,” she admitted.
“I wouldn't wait too long if you think you want it,” said Marguerite. “Not that I'm trying to pressure you, but somebody else is likely to snap this place up. There aren't many commercial spaces coming available in this neighborhood. Most of the shops are well established.”
“Yeah, that's part of what I like about this area.”
“Just wait until more of the corporate tenants start moving in, and then all bets are off. I've seen it before. Rents will skyrocket. The big chains haven't discovered this little pocket yet, for whatever reason, but I'll bet you anything they will.”
“Uh huh,” Samantha replied. Just looking at the place was a nerve-wracking experience. It was one thing to have a dream, but another thing completely to face an actual, real-life decision. Especially when every bit of reason told her that opening this gallery was a terrible idea. Samantha was torn between doing the right thing and doing what she wanted. The right thing, she knew, was to stick with the status quo. Sam had worked too long and hard on her law degree to simply throw her career away. If all went as expected, in a few more years she'd make partner at her firm. She'd marry Malcolm, her deputy D.A. boyfriend. Her future would remain secure and her parents proud. What would they say if she gave it all up for this? Sam knew exactly. They'd say she was crazy, and they'd probably be right. Besides everything else, she had her debt to consider. She should be paying it down, not taking on more. The problem, however, was simple. No matter how much she wished it were otherwise, Samantha simply wasn't happy. She couldn't imagine herself ever being happy if she kept to the same path she was on. She tried telling herself that things would get better in time. Once she was married and had a few children, then maybe she would settle into some contented rhythm. She could take some time off. If Malcolm's career continued to flourish, Sam could chase her own dreams after the kids were grown up a little, or maybe off to college. But how long was that going to take? Twenty more years? The prospect of waiting filled her with dread. Sam wanted to feel excited about something again. She wanted to feel alive! Unfortunately, she also knew that Malcolm would never understand. He wasn't capable of seeing the world through anyone's perspective but his own. And what of Sam's parents? She could almost sense their disappointment already. “I'm going to have to get back to you,” Samantha said.
Marguerite didn't try very hard to hide her pity. “Don't take too long.”
“No, I won't, thanks.” Sam took one last look around before walking out the door. She wanted this. She wanted it badly. The only question was whether or not she had the guts to go for it.
Back at the law offices of Ogilvy and Hancock, Samantha faced down a pile of work. It was her normal state of affairs, though with fresh visions of an alternate reality dancing through her mind, it was even harder to face than usual. The only solution for the time being was to put all other thoughts aside and dive in. She had to lose herself in the work, shutting everything else out entirely. If she got enough done by 8:00 p.m., then she'd hurry out to see her friend Amanda's concert at a club on Sunset Boulevard. At least she still had some sort of life outside of work. The clock on her desk read 4:25 p.m. That gave her three and a half hours to churn though some of these contracts stacked on the desk in front of her. Sam picked up the page on top and began reading it over.
“Knock, knock!” A male voice came from across the room.
Sam looked up to see her assistant Justin standing in the doorway. “What do you need?” she asked.
“There's someone here to see you,” Justin answered.
Sam's eyes narrowed as she considered the interruption. “Do they have an appointment?” she asked.
“No. He said he was a friend of Piper,” Justin replied.
“I see...” said Sam, not entirely surprised. She loved Piper to death, but the girl was a little scattered.
“I wasn't sure what to tell him,” Justin continued.
“Tell him I'm busy,” said Sam.
“You got it boss.” Justin turned around.
“Wait!” Samantha was hit by a pang of guilt. She didn't want to be that person, who didn't have time to help a friend in need. Or even a friend of a friend. Besides, a little procrastination was hard to resist. She looked again to the clock and took a deep breath. “He'll have to make it quick. I'll give him ten minutes. If he wants any more, he can make an appointment, like a normal person.”
“Right.” Justin moved out of the room.
When she heard another light knock, Sam looked back up to see a man she didn't recognize standing in her doorway. He was handsome. Very handsome, with sandy blond hair and boyish features. He looked like a surfer, all grown up yet clinging to the trappings of youth. He wore a blue collared shirt, buttoned up the front and slightly wrinkled. Bluejeans led down to flip flops on his feet. This guy was definitely casual. It made sense that he was a friend of Piper's. She hung out with an eclectic crowd. What a golden boy like this wanted with a lawyer, Samantha could hardly guess. “Come on in,” she said instead, waving a hand at one of two chairs that faced her desk.
“Thanks.” Before he sat, he leaned across to offer a hand. “I'm Brent Cassady.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you.” Sam shook his hand, trying not to lose herself in his baby blue eyes. Her heart picked up a beat, despite her best intentions. She'd better be careful, she told herself. She didn't want to end up making promises she couldn't keep, just because the man was attractive. “Samantha Bridges,” she said.
Brent took a seat. “Thanks for seeing me like this. I hope you don't mind the flip flops. I didn't have time to go home first.”
Sam glanced again at his feet. “What can I do for you?” No matter how cute this guy was, Sam had work to do. She still needed to expedite this meeting as much as possible.
“I'm looking for representation,” he said.
“What kind of representation?”
Brent held his hands in front of his face and touched his fingertips together. “It's complicated. Mostly I'm just trying to be proactive.”
“Why? You're planning to rob a bank?” Sam laughed at her joke. “You know I'm a civil attorney, right? I don't handle criminal law. In fact, I primarily handle entertainment law.”
Brent seemed anxious, tilting his head to one side. “Piper told me you were a public defender.”
“I was, right out of law school, but I gave that up years ago. I'm in it for the money now.”
“I'm sorry to hear that.”
“I'm sorry to say it...” Sam looked down at her desk. The disappearance of her youthful idealism was an enduring source of shame. She'd gone into law hoping to make a difference in the world. She'd volunteered with The Innocence Project, helping to free the wrongly convicted. With the public defenders office she'd represented those too poor to hire their own attorney, but it only took a few years for her to begin feeling jaded. Too few of her clients seemed to appreciate her efforts on their behalf. Too many were guilty, often of heinous crimes. Sam had met Malcolm. At least there was that. Often she'd gone up against him, usually bargaining pleas on her clients' behalf. After a few years of it she was drained, and besides, the money was so much better on this side of things. Samantha had thrown in the towel and gone to work for her current firm. Most of her current clients were household names in entertainment. Actors, directors, producers... She still couldn't imagine what she might be able to do for this blond surfer boy, seeking some sort of “proactive representation.”
“Can I ask you something?” said Brent. “Is attorney-client privilege in effect at this point?”
“If you are seeking to become a client, then yes, it is in effect.”
“So whatever I tell you stays between us?”
“I am legally forbidden from disclosing any information you communicate to me in confidence. Even a judge cannot force me to do so.”
“All right then.” Brent lowered his hands. He seemed to relax somewhat. “See, the thing is, I'm an artist.”
“All right...” she waited for him to go on. Nothing much was going to surprise her at this point.
Brent looked Samantha over again, as though trying to get a better read of her. “You see, not all of the art I do is exactly legal.”
“So you're a street artist?”
“And you're worried that you might have legal trouble at some point in the future?”
Sam shook her head to herself. At least it had been a relatively pleasant distraction, and brief. “I'm sorry Mr. Cassady, but I'm really not your girl. Not unless there's some sort of lawsuit involved.”
“But you haven't heard me out yet.” Brent seemed taken aback.
“Is there more?”
“Piper told me you were an art lover. She said you were even thinking about opening a gallery.”
“Is that what she said?” Samantha's cheeks flushed.
“Uh huh. She also said that if anyone would understand my predicament, it would be you.”
“What predicament? Here is my advice... Carry a checkbook when you indulge in your artistic shenanigans. If you get arrested, post bail. Then you can hire a lawyer before your court date. There's no need to rush things. Maybe you'll never get caught. Most vandalism cases are misdemeanors anyway. It's not that big a deal.”
“This is more complicated than you seem to think.”
“Or maybe less complicated than you do,” Samantha answered.
Brent's eyes took on a steely cast. He stared right at Samantha, not willing to back down. “Have you heard of an artist named Waldo?” he asked.
“Of course.” Sam looked at Brent Cassady with a whole new level of scrutiny. Waldo was one of the most famous names in street art. Sam had followed his career for years in the papers, occasionally going so far as to track down some of his works in person. She'd trekked down to Skid Row to see his image of a rat in a fur coat, with champagne and cigar. She'd gone to the port of L.A. to see his painting “Commerce” on the side of a rusting freighter. The mystery of Waldo was that nobody knew the artist's true identity. Nobody who would admit to it, anyway. Now she had this man sitting uneasily in her office chair, bringing up the name... “Why do you ask?” she said.
He paused for only a moment before coming out with it. “I'm Waldo.” The way he looked at her, it was as though he were dropping the biggest bombshell ever revealed. In a sense he was, to Samantha anyway. It very likely was the biggest client revelation she'd ever heard. The two of them sat staring at each other, neither saying a word. Samantha tried to compare this handsome, surfer-boy with the image of the artist as she'd always imagined him to be. But then what had she imagined? A shaggy, long-haired dropout? Or a working-class guy with tattoos and a cigarette, in paint-splattered blue overalls? Sometimes she'd thought it might actually be a woman. The artist seemed far too thoughtful to be a man. But more often Sam pictured the more obvious image; the one he cultivated himself with his choice of name. “I suppose I always thought you'd be wearing a green and white stripped shirt, with a matching knit cap,” she said.
“And the mustache?”
“Exactly. But then you'd be too easy to spot, wouldn't you?”
“I hope you're not disappointed.”
“Are you kidding? I feel like I've just been given entry into a very exclusive club.”
“You have indeed.”
“Just to set the record straight, I'm not the one who came up with the name,” he explained.
“So who did?”
“Back in the beginning I used to only put my work on walls that were already all tagged up by other artists. People made a game out of spotting my stuff amidst the chaos. Like the kids' book, you know. Somehow the name stuck.”
“Huh,” Samantha replied. She wondered if this was all just some elaborate prank. Did he have a hidden camera in his shirt button? Was she going to end up the butt of some joke in an online video? His demeanor suggested otherwise. He wasn't trying to oversell his claim, and besides, what would he have to gain by putting her on? Then again, what did he have to gain by telling her anything at all? Why give up his secret identity so easily? Just because he thought he might be arrested someday? It just didn't seem to make sense. “So what are you looking for in an attorney exactly?” she asked.
“Well, to start with, there's the issue of authentication. I might go paint a wall somewhere, which is all well and good, but what happens if some enterprising soul comes along and chisels that piece of art off the wall? Say they take it to a gallery and try to put it up for sale. Who is to say that work of art is really mine? How do they prove it? And what if I don't want them to? I mean, I'm not going to make anything off of it, right? Maybe I don't want someone to come along and destroy a perfectly good wall just because I put some paint on it?”
Samantha held her hands together as she considered the ramifications. “Mmm hmm...”
“Maybe I'm feeling generous and I do decide to give this person the proof they need? How do we communicate, when officially I'm just a ghost?”
“Through an intermediary. Ideally, a lawyer with some experience in the art world.”
“Or at the very least an interest in art. Of course, to me it's all absurd anyway. I mean, why should a piece of art be worth any more or less just because one person painted it or another? If it looks just the same? I mean, what is art, right? Is it something to look at and admire, or perhaps learn from, or is it just a commodity to be locked away somewhere while you wait for the value to go up? Is it a status symbol, like a Maserati, or a 200-year-old bottle of wine? There is a pretty good chance that wine is going to be undrinkable, but it's the rarity that give it value. It's the ability for one man to say, 'I own that bottle and you can't have it, because there is only one left in the world.' It's not about the wine, really, at all. Just like it's not about the art. It's about the power.”
“I understand, but an object is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. The bottom line is the bottom line.”
“And the human race is a peculiar species.”
“I won't argue with you there,” Samantha agreed.
“Of course, this kind of thing creates complications for a guy like me.”
“Which is where a lawyer comes in.”
The wheels in Samantha's head started spinning. She couldn't help it. Sam had heard about some of Waldo's works selling for upwards of $1 million apiece. What if she could get him as a client for her gallery? What if she represented him legally, but also as an artist? She did some calculations in her head. The math wasn't hard. If she sold one “Waldo” per month in her new gallery at half a million dollars each, taking the standard 50 percent commission, that was an annual gross of $3 million, for each of them. That was her rent, and overhead and marketing expenses, plus a profit more than twice what she was making at this law firm that was sucking the life out of her. But would he go for that kind of deal? She had to remind herself, he was the one who had come to her. That gave her at least a little leverage, as far as she could see. “How do you actually make your money?” she asked him. “If you just go around painting walls without asking anything in return? Do you really just give your work away for free?”
“I've got a day job,” he said. “Art for me isn't about the money. The art itself has to be the motivation, pure and simple. Not that I don't sell a few things, here and there. It helps keep me solvent.”
“I've read that you're more than solvent.”
“I have a little squirreled away,” he admitted. “For a rainy day.”
“I see,” said Samantha. “So how do you go about it, then? Someone has to be helping you. You're not making million dollar art deals without the help of a lawyer?!”
“Look, I'm not here to hire a contracts lawyer. This isn't about selling my work. I've got more pressing concerns than that.”
“Right...” Samantha's own enthusiasm waned. If he didn't need someone to represent his art, what good was he to her? She couldn't afford to take him on as a charity case. Sam looked to the clock on her desk. It read 5:42 p.m. If she was going to make it to Amanda's concert, she was going to have to get some work done first.
“Let me tell you a quick story,” Brent said to her. “If you have a few more minutes.”
Samantha cocked her head to one side, trying to decide how to be diplomatic about it. She didn't have any more minutes to spare. His minutes were up. “I'm sorry...” she said.
“There's another street artist here in L.A. named DeAngelo. Have you heard of him?” Brent pressed on.
“Yes,” Samantha admitted, “I've heard of him.”
“So you know that sordid tale? How he was picked up by the police, painting over a billboard on Hollywood Boulevard?”
“Yeah, I read something about that,” said Samantha. She was embarrassed to admit how much she did know.
“And an overzealous deputy D.A. prosecuted him to the full extent of the law?”
“Mmm hmm.” Samantha tried to hide her discomfort, shifting in her chair in an attempt to maintain an even demeanor.
“DeAngelo got four years behind bars.”
“And you're worried the same might happen to you?”
“I'll bet you didn't hear this tidbit... The prosecutor offered DeAngelo full immunity in exchange for one small request.”
Samantha perked up at this news. “What sort of request?”
“All he wanted was the full legal name of another particular street artist. One who goes by the name of Waldo.”
Sam's eyes narrowed. Could that be true?
“You don't believe me?” said Brent.
“I find it a little bit curious.” Sam felt cagey, holding a secret of her own. Did Brent have any idea that the prosecutor in this case was her boyfriend?
“DeAngelo was given the opportunity to walk free with no charges filed,” Brent went on. “All he had to do was drop the dime on me. Luckily he's a man of solid principles, or I might be the one sitting in prison right now instead of him. I owe that man a huge debt. I wake up every day wondering if he's going to change his mind and take the deal. Four years in the slam is a lot of hard time for an artist.”
“Why do you think this prosecutor is so keen on finding out who you are?” said Samantha, shifting the conversation back to Malcolm. “Why this supposed vendetta against you in particular?”
“Who knows? Maybe my existence represents the chaos of the universe to this guy. More likely he's trying to get some press. I mean, think about what that could do for his career... Outing me would be front page news, and we're not just talking locally. We're talking about a major global news event. Not to overplay my significance, but this guy's name would be right up there with mine in every major newspaper all around the world. He'd be interviewed on every cable news channel. He'd be famous overnight. The Eliot Ness to my Al Capone. He's got it in his head to nail me and I'm not naive enough to think he'll let it rest.”
Samantha felt beads of sweat forming on her forehead. She was absolutely certain that her face was bright red. “What can you tell me about this prosecutor?” she asked.
“Not that much. His name is Malcolm Grazier. I was hoping that maybe you could tell me something more about him. Did you ever come up against this guy in court?”
Samantha furrowed her brow. What could she possibly tell him? Taking Brent Cassady on as a client would be an enormous conflict of interest. At the same time, she thought of Malcolm. Why had he never mentioned this to her? Was it really true? Was her boyfriend really so petty as to focus single-mindedly on a street artist like this? Just the thought made her angry. Samantha wanted to pick up her phone and give Malcolm a piece of her mind right away. She wanted to take on Brent as a client just to make a point. If his claims were true, this was a major wedge being driven into her relationship with Malcolm, but the bottom line was that Sam didn’t have time for any of this. She certainly couldn’t afford to get mixed up in it, personally or professionally. As much as she’d like to help Brent Cassady, she simply couldn’t. “I know Malcolm Grazier,” she said. “I’ve gone up against him, yes. He’s a very capable prosecutor. If he does have this vendetta against you, as you believe, then I do suggest that you find representation. I can recommend a few people.”
“But you won’t take me on yourself?”
“No. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
Brent's expression sank.
“Don't get me wrong,” Samantha added. “I'd love to help you. I really would. I just can't manage it right now.”
Brent sat where he was, mulling his options. After a moment, he pulled out his wallet and retrieved a business card, handing it across the desk. “Just think it over. I promise you one thing, representing me will never be boring.”
Samantha smiled lightly. “That I do believe.” She took the card and read it over. His name and a phone number. Nothing else.
Brent rose and then offered his hand across the desk once more. “Either way, thank you for seeing me. I do appreciate it.”
“My pleasure,” said Samantha, and except for that unfortunate part about Malcolm, she meant it.