A Strong Woman - Cover

A Strong Woman

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 22

The photography place was down in Nob Hill, in one of those delightfully eccentric buildings that originally went up decades ago, and people have added onto piecemeal ever since. Even from the outside you could tell that there would be different floor levels, steps up or down as you passed from room to room. It was rounded, imitating adobe, with tan stucco to enhance the effect. The windows were small, with wooden frames that had old white paint peeling off to reveal the aged gray wood underneath.

Inside the linoleum on the floor was buckled, the incandescent bulbs overhead lit only what they had to, and a glass counter blocked off half the room so that customers had to sort of cramp themselves into the public space. Behind the counter a door led to the rest of the building, where I knew there had to be a darkroom, but what else I didn't know. I'd been in the place many times over the years, but had never been behind the counter.

"Hey, Abraham," I said to the little old man behind the counter. He was little, and he was old – and as far as I could tell he hadn't changed anything more than his shirt the whole time I'd been in Albuquerque. He was one of those men who's been old forever, and will be old forever, and will never get feeble, or any older than he is right now.

"Hey, Darvin," he said. "This the wife?"

"Yeah – Cecelia Carpenter. C, this is Abraham Horowitz. He'll tell you all sorts of lies about the old country, but it wasn't as good or as bad as he says it was."

"There's one thing that was worse than I could ever tell it, young man," he said, and shook a finger at me.

"And what is that, Mr. Horowitz?" Cecelia asked.

"You see," Abraham said to me severely, "how she treats an old man. She has respect. She doesn't say 'Abraham, ' she says 'Mr. Horowitz.' This one, she knows manners." He looked at her, pulling up the sleeve of his shirt. "Tell me, young lady – do you know what this is?"

She looked at the skinny forearm, and I could hear her take in a breath, and see her face go hard and cruel. "Yes, Mr. Horowitz, I do. I am sorry you had to endure that shameful thing." It was a concentration camp tattoo she'd seen. If Abraham liked you, he'd show you early on, and if he didn't, you could know him for years and never know he'd survived the Holocaust.

"Maybe you know a little bit about persecution, nu? Maybe you been on the receiving end a little."

"Nothing like you have. But yes, I have witnessed crosses burning, and seen scars, and known people who saw hanging bodies. And I remember indignities my father endured in my presence."

He nodded. "I thought so. You see this," he said, though he'd pulled his sleeve back down, "you don't wonder, you don't smile, you hurt." He turned to me. "You told me a long time ago you got a treasure. Now I know you're telling the truth."

"I knew it a long time ago," I said quietly.

"What we're here for, Mr. Horowitz," Cecelia said, and I knew that Abraham wouldn't take offense at the sudden change of subject, "is to develop some pictures – some more pictures, I should say, since the case we're on has, I deduce, already called upon your expertise."

"Yes, the bad photography I tried to fix the other day. Someone don't know how to handle a camera."

"Abraham doesn't have the artistic sensibility, if I can call it that," I told Cecelia, "but if there's anyone knows more about the technical side of photography I ain't never heard of him."

He waved a hand. "So I know an f-stop from a lens cap, big deal. You leave the film in the camera?"

"Yeah – Cecelia did, actually, though I expect she wondered why on earth I hadn't pulled it."

"Well, young lady, I like to rewind and take it out myself. An old man's little ways, nu?"

"I perceive that whatever you want is acceptable, since the result will, no doubt, be the best obtainable in this city."

He chuckled. "I like this woman. Maybe I'll marry her."

"Maybe Eloise will object."

"Eloise, what do I care about Eloise?"

"That's his wife, C," I said, "and I think he cares a great deal. And besides," I said to Abraham, "I would most certainly object."

"Yeah, you object, but what about the young lady here?"

Cecelia looked at me and grinned. "Mr. Horowitz, if you weren't so much younger than I am, I might accept your kind proposal."

There's a word I've coined – splort. It's the only way I can describe the choking, snorting, spluttering laugh that Cecelia can provoke from me. I splorted just then, and I could hear Abraham's chuckle and Cecelia's delighted laugh. Eventually I got myself under control and looked from one to the other. Abraham had on an expression of aged serenity, and Cecelia looked as innocent as an angel from heaven.

I snorted. "Y'all just develop that film, Abraham, while I take my wife out and give her a spankin'." And I turned and pretended to stalk out. It didn't work – they were both laughing as I returned to the outdoors.

We walked around Nob Hill while Abraham did his magic. Cecelia said, as we strolled along, "I did not see any sign, on the exterior of the building nor inside, indicating that Mr. Horowitz does one hour photo processing."

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