Claude looked up and smiled when he heard the sound of boot heels on the terra-cotta tiles. He sometimes photographed this kind of apparition out on Hollywood Boulevard, among the music and creative types, the urban cow- boy with the unruly sideburns and big belt buckle who's just moved out of his parent's basement in Van Nuys. To Claude's mind he didn't look anything like a Ph.D. student in film history. The doorman gestured to Claude, and the man in western wear grinned and nodded.
—Mr. Claude Ballard, in the flesh, said Sid. Cinematic genius, forager of edible plants, and permanent resident of this fine establishment since 1929.
—You're making me feel like I'm part of a museum exhibition, said Claude.
—I'm Martin Embry. It is an enormous and distinct pleasure.
He extended his hand to Claude and they shook. Sid picked up a newspaper and returned to his post at the front doors.
—Please, have a seat, Claude said.
Martin sat in the armchair opposite and leaned down to rub Elsie's rump. The dog quivered but continued to sleep.
—She is dreaming of chasing a rabbit, Claude said, which I am inclined to think always ends with a meal. Before she got so old I used to take her out foraging.
—I grew up with dogs. I miss them out here.
—You are not from here?
—Texas. I moved out here for graduate school.
A silence settled between them as they both watched the sleeping dog.
—I must apologize for not replying to your letters sooner, Claude said. You see, I have been out of the correspondence business for many years.
—I understand completely.
—Very kind. Would you mind terribly if I took some footage of you?
—Are you making a film?
—I like to document what happens to me each day. Call it an old habit.
* * *
Claude lifted the 16 mm Bell & Howell from around his chest and filmed several seconds of Martin blinking and smiling into the lens. Then he took out a small spiral notebook from his jacket and jotted down the date, time, and subject.
—I wondered if I might take you out for breakfast. I'd love to ask you about your career.
—There's a diner around the corner, Claude said. I have trained them to make omelets the way I like them.
Claude rested the camera against his rib cage and attached the lens cap. He gathered his envelopes of herbs and mushrooms, stood up, stepped over Elsie, and continued to the corner of the lobby, where Susan Berg was looping through a second murmured run at the monologue. Claude heard Martin's boot heels behind him as he delicately touched the arm of Susan's robe.
—Wonderful, wonderful work this morning, Susan. I see something new every time. Now, I'm headed out for breakfast at the diner and I wondered if you would like me to see if they have any bones for your soup broth?
Her papery, girlish face lived inside a halo of silver-white hair. She blinked and swallowed, her eyes a startling blue that put Claude in mind of tropical fish darting behind aquarium glass.
—I'd like that very much, thank you, Claude.
Claude handed her a small sprig of lilac verbena and she brought it to her nose.
—Go on up to your room and I'll stop by after breakfast.
Susan nodded and the scene dropped away from her face and hands as she headed for the elevators.
* * *