Clint was seated in the middle of the gallery floor, photos spread out around him, which he periodically held up to picture them against the wall. He had put in the order with the printers that morning and was now trying to make decisions on presentation using a few of his sample prints.
He stood up and went over to physically hold two pictures next to each other. Leaning back he tried to take in the effect.
“Need some help with that?”
Clint turned around.
A man was just entering the gallery, taking off a pair of sunglasses and placing them in his front jacket pocket. He looked familiar. Clint knew he’d seen him before but it took a second. When it hit him, he dropped one of the photographs.
He bent down to pick it up and by the time he was standing upright again, the man was next to him.
“May I?” The man gestured to the two photographs.
Warily, Clint handed them over. He stepped back and watched as the man held them up to the wall.
“Well? How do they look?”
“They go together,” said Clint.
The man lowered the photos and handed them back to Clint. “You have a show opening here soon?”
There was a beat and then Clint grinned. “I think you know I have. You’re Malcolm Grant.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’m not surprised you recognize me.”
“No, you wouldn’t be. And I’ll go one further: I’m beating you arranged this gallery to be available for me in the first place.”
“And why on earth would you ever think that?” asked Grant, his voice pleasant.
“Maybe because the second you walked through that door, this whole deal finally started to make some kind of sense.”
“I could have been just passing by.”
“You could have been.” Clint crouched to the ground and started stacking his photographs. “But I’ve always preferred people who tell it like it is. So, if you want something, you’d stand a much better chance just coming out with it.”
Grant leaned against the wall and studied him. “Straight to the point? You paparazzi often are. Of course I hear from Tobin Makem that you aren’t working as a paparazzo anymore. You want to be a ‘serious photographer’. I don’t know a lot about the photography world I admit. But you goal does sound familiar. Just like an actor trying to get out of soaps. It’s not an easy climb is it?”
“And why are you talking to Tobin about me?”
“I thought you said that you like to ‘tell it like it is’? Can you honestly say you have no idea why I’ve taken an interest in you?”
Clint straightened up. “Touché. Alright. This clearly has something to do with Lionel.”
Grant waved a hand. “Lionel is old news. This is about Holly Woods.”
“Holly Woods?” Clint chuckled. “Are you honestly afraid of a twenty something actress who barely has enough clout in the industry to ensure she’ll be remembered in another year?”
“Afraid? No. But concerned? Of a young woman with powerful allies who does, I admit, have a fascinating story to tell.”
“She’s already told that one.”
“Yes. And people are still talking about it.”
“Isn’t that the worst kind of talking?”
“I think the worst kind is exactly the kind you can help me with.”
“By which you mean…”
“I’d sleep a lot easier at night if I could once and for all be done with all this. My studio is at a very important place. I don’t have time to deal with some upstart actress who hasn’t figured out that she’s out of her league.”
“If she’s out of her league, she shouldn’t be able to cause you any trouble.”
“And she can’t. But other people could, people who could see her as tool. People who are an actual threat. And I want to remove that option from them.”
“And you think I can help you with that because…”
“Because of what you do. Or did. And also because of whom you’re dating.”
Clint went suddenly still. “Nikki will be left out of this.”
“Nikki is Holly’s friend. That’s useful.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Of course you do. What I want is simple: enough ammunition against Holly that I will never have to worry about her again. She’s already close to the edge in public opinion what with the Peter, Alan mess. I just need something to tip her over. And you can get that for me.”
“What exactly did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know yet. But you’re a paparazzo. You’ll recognize it when you see it. And then you can get the evidence of it. Pass it on to me and I’ll pass it on to an interested publication.”
Clint scratched his chin thoughtfully. “And why would I do that? I do know what happened to the last paparazzo that worked with you.”
“He didn’t work for me. He blackmailed me. There’s an important difference. Look around this gallery where in a few short weeks your photos will be displayed. You already know I can be generous. To the people that are loyal to me, I become an invaluable ally. You want to be the next Ansel Adams? I can help make that happen.”
Clint chuckled. “You do know how to sell a deal don’t you? But tell me this: what if I no? This gallery goes away? Some loophole in the contract is discovered?”
“Not at all. A truly valuable ally joins forces willingly. I think you could be a truly valuable ally. If you say no, that’s your choice. But everything else I have to offer you, goes away.”
Clint hesitated. “I’ll need to think about it.”
“Of course.” Grant took a business card from his pocket and handed it over. “Call me when you’ve made a decision.” He retrieved his sunglasses and placed them back on before exiting the building.