Mable Mauser is sitting at her antique desk with the spindly legs when the phone rings. The man on the line is not one of the Denver society people with whom she's worked for more than forty years. Nor is he a New York fur designer, or a rancher somewhere in Montana inviting her to come shoot ducks, or one of hundreds of friends inviting her to shoot the breeze. Instead, the man is a new customer. He saw Mable's name in the phone book, of all places, and thought she might be able to help him.

"Did someone refer you?" Mable asks. The answer is no, and since Mable has not had a cold call in more than ten years, she is fascinated. She settles in for a good long talk, crossing her delicate ankles in their silk stockings and smoothing her elegant up-'do into place. She does not, however, rest her elbows on the desk.

The man tells her that upon the death of his wife, he found himself the owner of a light-brown mink stole. A few years later he met a woman and offered to give it to her. She said she'd like to have it, but she wanted it dyed black. Now she's thinking she might prefer a black mink coat--but what does he know from fur?

"I think I can help you," Mable decides. "I work by appointment, of course."
The man suggests he pop over right now. Mable stiffens in her chair. Now? But her curiosity overwhelms her sense of propriety. "All right," she decides, "you may see me now."

Soon after, the man arrives at the address Mable gave him: the Colonnade Building, at Colfax and Marion Street. He does not see a plate-glass display window or a mannequin draped in mink, let alone a sign advertising anything like a Big Midwinter Clearance Sale. Instead, he finds himself in a quiet, turn-of-the-century hallway with tiled floors and tiger-oak bannisters. Mable's number appears to lead to a residential apartment, unless you take note of the brass sign, about the size of a business card, that is riveted to the door. Mable's Furs.

The man rings the doorbell, and the resulting pong seems to bounce off thick, luxurious surfaces somewhere within. Then he hears the click-click of Mable's well-made leather pumps, and finally she stands before him in a tailored black suit, one gold chain around her neck--the sort of woman who could be almost any age, and you absolutely would never dream of asking, anyway. Behind her he sees gleaming hardwood floors, mirrors with beveled edges, cut flowers, antique furniture and rugs, and one velvety mink coat draped casually over a chair. This is a furrier?

"It's a salon," Mable corrects him. "Now. How tall is she? My size? How old? Forty?" She looks the man up and down. He is slim and white-haired, somewhere between sixty and seventy, and wearing slacks and a leather jacket.

"She's just a good friend," he tells Mable.
"Well, happy landing!" Mable replies. "That's the way to have it."
"She says she prefers black."

Mable excuses herself for a moment, then comes back with a black mink coat. She slithers into it effortlessly and strikes a pose. "Now, this," she says, "has a lot of oomph."

"Yes, it does," the man says, "but how many of my Social Security checks will it use up?"

"Isn't she worth it?"
The man ponders that for a moment. "No," he decides.
Mable looks the man right in the eye and laughs. "You may have to let me meet her," she decides.

"I'd like to talk to her about her lifestyle and interests." That way, Mable explains, she can locate the right coat at the right price. "But you need to bring her in."

"Well, okay," the man says.
As he leaves, he is talking to himself. "All I wanted to do was get my wife's fur stole dyed black, and I end up here," he mutters. The thing is, he's hooked. He'll be back. His friend, whether she deserves it or not, will end up swathed in black mink. And he'll be able to afford it--his financial priorities will mysteriously have changed. The man has been Mabled, like thousands before him in the four decades since she opened her salon.

Mable Sizemore grew up on farms in rural South Dakota and northwest Nebraska, the beloved sister of five brothers who took her with them when they went off to hunt ducks or check trap lines. On her seventeenth birthday, they pooled their money to buy Mable her first fur coat.

"It was a Wesley seal, dyed black, and it cost $120, which was an awful lot of money back then," she recalls. "After that, I was never without a fur. I did farm work just like the rest of the family, but I was brought up to be a lady. I looked at life as beautiful--velvet ribbons and white gloves and people with culture. I sought beauty. People, fashion and furs became a sort of romance with me."

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff