Imprisoned: part eight
He’d taken warning from the flatness of Amédée’s voice; and the hand with which Honoré had reached for the third sketch froze inside his portfolio. He withdrew it.
“Monsieur Ballatin.” Amédée picked up the sheet that guarded the pastels…and showed the masthead, the important editorial, some general news—the front page, in short, torn from one of a dozen Progressistes Honoré had brought with him to Paris. This, he had thought, would make a conversation starter, and a subtle bid for employment preferable to a direct plea.
“Yes, you see, we are in the same profession,” he might, with a small laugh, have told Amédée. But…Ballatin? Honoré began to feel badly insulted.
He would, perhaps, drop another of his cards under Amédée’s nose, then shut the door with a firm hand when he left; which he meant to do shortly, once―before Amédée’s eyes―he had checked his watch.
Amédée looked up from his reading. Even this satisfaction, he seemed to have anticipated, and now circumvented. “I apologize. When you leave, Monsieur Gremot, you will see a window at the end of the corridor. Face that direction. His room will be two doors ahead on your right. Ballatin manages all our advertising. I’m confident he will have a suggestion for you, as to where you may sell these.”
He then laid the paper down, smiled…charmingly, and told Honoré: “But I’m not asking you to leave.”
He questioned the work in ways that Honoré―who would not resume his seat―no longer interpreted as kind. Yet he felt he wasted a chance; and felt himself at the same time too tempersome to recover it.
Why progressive…? He would like to close this opening with a devastating clarity. Only it needed a moment’s time for Honoré to think of a clarity better than the truth. The Progressiste was a chameleon, meant so, to attract every sort of ideologue, as he and Gilbert could not have survived without every possible customer.
“Will have,” Amédée prompted now, “a natural appeal for the enlightened thinker?”
“I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, Monsieur Gremot.”
His own had scattered, in any case. Honoré nearly shrugged, and caught himself. He nearly reminded Amédée, in defiance, “I will not be staying for long in Paris.” But not surrendering the paper, Amédée opened a drawer of his desk, and folded this away inside. From the same drawer he removed a square book, bound in blue leather.
“It occurs to me that you may go with your work to one of my competitors, and…although I have nothing for you today, I may come to regret, tomorrow, not having paid you a retainer.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)