This arti­cle is part 2 of 10 in the series Beijing Acupuncture

I tossed my rain-cov­ered cap and rain­coat on the floor of the porch, sat down in the chair near the front door, removed my shoes and sat­u­rat­ed sock along with the dry one, and entered the house barefooted.

The bot­tom part of my jeans was also well sat­u­rat­ed but, even in the coun­try, one does not casu­al­ly remove one’s trousers on the front porch so I walked to the bath­room and doffed them there, hang­ing them over the top of the show­er door to dry.

In the adja­cent bed­room, I pulled anoth­er pair from the shelf of the clos­et, slipped them on, and wan­dered back to the den to retrieve the day’s mail.

Sidetracking to the kitchen, I poured a cup of hot cof­fee into my favorite insu­lat­ed cup from the still-hot cof­feemak­er and head­ed for the plush chair by the window.

With the rain still com­ing down from an over­cast sky, there was too lit­tle nat­ur­al light to prop­er­ly see what had arrived in the mail so I switched on the floor lamp which sits just behind the chair and throws a warm glow of light over my right shoul­der.  This is where I do most of my read­ing at night, when I’m not at my desk.

Bill.  Bill.  Junk mail.  Letter with no return address on the enve­lope.  Set that aside to read.  Advertisement for the local super­mar­ket’s week­ly spe­cials.  Furniture store fly­er.  AARP mem­ber­ship solic­i­ta­tion.  Not quite ready for that one yet!  Flyer for a European riv­er cruise.  Hmm.  Maybe one day.

Back to the no return address let­ter.  Postmarked Charlotte, North Carolina.  I noticed that who­ev­er had addressed the let­ter had pret­ty poor hand­writ­ing.  Guess I tend to be a bit crit­i­cal about minu­ti­ae like that since, when I write a let­ter, I often try to per­son­al­ize it by writ­ing with a foun­tain pen rather than a ball­point which has a way of reduc­ing every­one’s hand­writ­ing to a low com­mon denom­i­na­tor.  I just hoped that the let­ter inside might be type­writ­ten instead of hand­writ­ten as I was­n’t look­ing for­ward to try­ing to deci­pher a full let­ter of poor penmanship.

Ah, good luck.  The let­ter was neat­ly typed except for a few typo­graph­i­cal errors:

Dear Mr. Tate: 
I would like to meet to discuss with you the posibility of a painting commission at your earliest convenience. Please call me at 704.363.8881 so that we can discuss arrangement to meet. 
Lionel Trane

Short and sweet!  While I usu­al­ly don’t like to dis­cuss com­mis­sions over the phone, I felt that any dis­cus­sion could be kept suf­fi­cient­ly innocu­ous that no sus­pi­cions would be aroused by any­one lis­ten­ing… like the NSA. Anyway, using a land­line phone would reduce the pos­si­bil­i­ty of eavesdropping.

With noth­ing else impor­tant to do on this rainy day, I decid­ed to go ahead and place the call.

The phone at the oth­er end was picked up on the sec­ond ring and a very fem­i­nine voice pleas­ant­ly announced, “Hoerst Shipping, this is Carolyn. How may I direct your call?”

 “Mr. Trane, please,” I respond­ed.  “This is Michael Tate.  I believe he’s expect­ing a call from me.”

“Of course, Mr. Tate.  Just a moment please.”

One always won­ders what an unfa­mil­iar per­son on the oth­er end of a phone line looks like, espe­cial­ly try­ing to link a voice with facial fea­tures.  While Carolyn sound­ed every bit like a twen­ty-some­thing fair-haired ingénue, I could­n’t help think­ing that she was prob­a­bly a forty-some­thing, over­weight, fas­tid­i­ous harpy who held her job because she was so bloody effi­cient. Hope I nev­er find out one way or the oth­er.  It’s much bet­ter to think of her in the first way.

My thoughts were inter­rupt­ed by the voice of an obvi­ous­ly cul­tured gen­tle­man — although not an espe­cial­ly adept typ­ist if he wrote the let­ter him­self — who was accus­tomed to speak­ing with some authority. 

“Mr. Tate.  Thank you so much for call­ing.  And so prompt­ly, too.  I assume you’ve only just received my letter.”

“Yes.  Just received it today and thought I’d go ahead and call.  No sense in putting off until tomor­row and all that,” I replied.  “And please.  Call me Michael.”

“Of course, Michael.  No rea­son to stand on pro­to­col.  Everyone calls me L.T.

“Would it be pos­si­ble to meet with you in the next few days?  The com­mis­sion I have in mind is a bit urgent.  I’m assum­ing, of course, that you have some time to fit me and the com­mis­sion into your schedule.”

“Oh, I imag­ine I can jug­gle things a bit if nec­es­sary.  Just say when and where.”

“Well,” con­tin­ued Trane, “the soon­er the bet­ter.  If it would be con­ve­nient for you, I can come to your place.  No need for both of us to be trav­el­ing for this ini­tial meeting.”

I’ve nev­er received a com­mis­sion at the house before, sim­ply for secu­ri­ty rea­sons.  I was­n’t about to start now.

“How will you be trav­el­ing, L.T.?” I inquired, hedg­ing a bit.

“I’ll be com­ing into Lexington on American Airlines.  Short flight from Charlotte,” he answered.

I knew then that he was­n’t com­ing from Charlotte since all the flights between Charlotte and Lexington are on US Airways and Delta.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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