||Setting the scene
Big names in the small world of miniature interiors have begun to arrive in Dumont, Wisconsin, for the upcoming convention of the Midwest Miniatures Society. The two greatest luminaries are Carrol Cantrell, widely recognized as the king of miniatures, and his foremost rival, a Frenchman named Bruno Hérisson. On a Friday morning at the Dumont Daily Register, publisher Mark Manning gets a taste of this rivalry when the Frenchman is interviewed by the papers features editor, Glee Savage.
Excerpt from the text of Name Games
By midmorning, the buzz of activity in the Registers second-floor newsroom had risen to its weekly high. The daily deadline wouldnt pass till evening, but Fridays were hectic all day, with weekend features and Sunday sections being put to bed in advance. In days gone by, the hubbub would have been overlaid by the tatter of typewriters and the pounding of Teletype machines, but now, of course, words destined for print are processed by the silent whir of electronics. Some things havent changed though: Phones still jangle, editors still shout from desk to desk, writers still dash to their stories.
Glee Savage dashed past the glass wall of my outer office, catching my eye as I glanced up from my desk. She wore a wide-brimmed hat, but didnt carry one of her outlandish carpetbag purses, so I knew she wasnt leaving the building. A minute or two later she returnedwith none other than Bruno Hérisson in tow. A big, beefy man, he panted from the exertion of climbing the stairs from the first-floor lobby.
Look whos here, Mark, Glee called from the doorway to my office.
I strode from my desk to greet Bruno in the outer office. The space was meant for a secretary, but unlike the previous publisher, Barret Logan, I simply depended on the receptionist at the main switchboard, so the extra room served as an impromptu conference area. The decorating was tasteful if quotidian, and I wondered once more what these quarters might look like if I were to turn Neil loose with his talentsbut he had other priorities just then, as did I. Shifting my attention to Bruno, curious about the purpose of his visit, I invited him and Glee to be seated. Closing the door to the newsroom, I joined them.
As we settled into the upholstered chairs around a low table, I said, This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Hérisson, mangling his last name, which came out like Harrison with a misplaced accent. Graciously, he invited both Glee and me to use his first name, a familiarity rarely extended by the French, which suggested that he had already spent considerable time in America. We of course reciprocated.
Bruno phoned earlier, Glee told me, saying he needed to talk. Needless to say, my antenna shot up. Indeed, she already had a steno pad at the ready, folded open atop a stack of papers and magazines she had carried into the room. Turning to the Frenchman, she clicked her pen. If you dont mind, lets run through some background details first. The name is Hérisson, acute accent on the e, correct?
Accent aiguhe jotted the mark in the air with his finger. Correct.
And your permanent residence is in France?
Yes, in Paris.
May I ask your age?
He squirmed a bit, knotting the tip of his gold silk scarf around an index finger. He acknowledged, I have forty-eight years.
Glee looked up from her pad, slid her reading glasses down her nose, and stared over them at him. My God, Bruno, you could pass for thirty-eight. Thisll be our little secret. She winked at him confidentiallywhat a pro.
In response to her flattery, the man positively beamed. You are too kind.
Not at all, she assured him. Without missing a beat, she asked, Married?
Bruno cleared his throat. Divorced. Speaking slowly, he added, My work, said my wife, has consumed all my love. We were together twenty years, but she wanted a new life. I could not refuse her, no? We have no children. He fell silent.
I understand, Glee told him, not recording these particulars. Changing her line of questioning, she asked, Would I be correct, Bruno, in telling my readers that youre the worlds most renowned craftsman of miniature period furniture?
But of course. His attitude was not smug; he was being flatly objective. Then he raised a finger. To be accurate, chère Glee, you might refer to me as a renowned artisan. That is the term often applied to those of us who craft the miniature furniture of highest quality.
Wonderful. Thank you, she said, making note of the distinction. And the reason youre here for the convention of the Midwest Miniatures Societyis it in order to exhibit your pieces or to sell them?
Both. I shall conduct workshops as well. There are many who are eager to learn my methods, my tricks that click, as you say. He chortled.
Glee leaned forward in thought, fingers to chin. I have no idea, Bruno, and Im curious: What is the price range of your furniture?
Ahhe tossed his hands in the airthat depends. It depends upon whether the piece is a simple side chair or an intricate cylinder-top desk, either of which would fit into the palm of your hand.
I asked, Whats a cylinder-top desk?
Glee turned and explained to me, Its a type of rolltop desk. The sliding hardwood cover is a solid cylinder instead of slatted.
Bruno continued, The price further depends upon who is selling it, whether it is I . . . or . . . or Cantrell! His eyes bugged and he became suddenly animated as he invoked the name of the king of miniatures.
For instance, Glee persisted, what is the price of one of your marvelous cylinder-top desks in the Louis Quinze style?
Bruno fidgeted, converting francs on his fingers. I would charge some six thousand dollars. His majesty Cantrell, however, would sell it for twelve, perhaps as high as fifteen.
Thousand? asked Glee, dropping her pen.
Dollars? I blurted.
It is the truth, he told us calmly, sitting back in his chair, resting his case.
I had no idea . . . , Glee muttered as she retrieved her pen and scratched the numbers on her pad.
I joked, You could buy a damned nice full-size desk for much less.
Yes, he conceded, but it would not be one of my desks. Harrumph.
Glee asked him, Are these markupsa hundred percent or moretypical of Carrol Cantrells profits?
Always. He sniffed.
I was tempted to comment, Good for King Carrolwhatever the market will bear. But I kept these thoughts to myself.
Bruno continued, Cantrell, who cannot himself construct even the most simple miniature . . . box, is but a merchant, a middle man. His arrogance is matched only by his lack of talentunless, of course, one considers it a talent to merely sell the work of others. He has profited more from my labors than I myself have. His profits are obscene!
I wondered wryly whether obscene profits fell under the purview of Dumont Countys obscenity ordinance. Our hot-dog DA could make headlines by raiding the miniatures convention and hauling a group of shackled artisans into court for trafficking in obscenely priced toy desks. As I struggled to compose a clever caption to accompany the page-one photo developing in my minds eye, Bruno verbalized his own concluding thoughts:
Cantrell is not the king of miniatures, no! He is in fact the reigning parasite of our precious little world. The time has arrived to expose himhe smashed his clenched fist once, thunderously upon the tableto topple him!
Glee and I glanced at each other, restraining our reaction to this outburst. With perfect composure, she studied her notes while asking, In what sense, Bruno, do you wish to topple your rival?
In the professional sense, of course. He smiled, instantly more calm, realizing that he had overplayed his position. I do intend to vanquish Cantrellin the marketplace. His smile turned devious. He rumbled, And I have a plan.
Glee mirrored his smug grin. With lowered voice, she asked, Care to share your plan? The twitch of her pen betrayed that she now sniffed a real story. She leaned toward him, curling her red lips into a pretty-please pout.
He leaned back into his chair, now fully at ease, aware that he had tantalized her. Pausing for effect, he fluffed the knot of his silk scarf. I would not have come to see you, chère Glee, had it not been my intent to speak openly. I thought you might appreciatehow do you call it?a scoop.
Why me? she asked through a purr. The sound of her voice was underlaid by the scratch of her pen. The trade press will be arriving in Dumont any day. Im sure the Nutshell Digest would be eager to print your exclusive.
Im sure. He smiled. But I prefer to speak to you. His tone insinuated an interest in Glee outside the realm of journalism.
Im all ears, Bruno. Her sensual tone echoed his; if she was faking it, Oscars have been given for shoddier performances. I suddenly felt like a voyeur and was tempted to leave the room. I stayed thoughwe were sitting in my own office. The rasp of her pen stopped as she waited.
Bruno cleared his throat. I am prepared to announce the imminent opening of my own American workshop, showroom and museum, the Petite Galerie Hérisson, which will eclipse the Hall of MiniaturesKing Cantrells monopolistic enterprisein the grandeur of its scale and the scope of its offerings.
Glee got busy with her notes. Where will this be located? she asked, though we could both guess the answer.
Los Angeles, naturallynot a block away from Cantrell. Negotiations on the property are all but finished. Installation will begin when the papers are signed.
Glees tone was all business now. You mentioned the scope of offerings of your showroom. Can you be more specific?
Galerie Hérisson will be, most certainly, the exclusive purveyor of my own work to the American marketCantrell will not reap another sou from the sweat of my labors. In the eyes of many, that alone would be enough to secure the superior reputation of my showroom. But there is more, far more. I have already secured agreements from many of the worlds most noted artisans to represent them through my Petite Galerie. Cantrell will lose his most prestigious suppliers.
Glee and I looked at each other again, each with arched brows, acknowledging the volatile situation that had landed in Dumont. As Glee seemed at a temporary loss for words, I asked the next logical question: Does Carrol Cantrell know of your plans yet?
Offhandedly, Bruno told us, I intended to discuss my plans with him during our drive from the airport yesterday, but his majesty was more interested in a running critique of my road manners. He smiled as a thought occurred to him. Perhaps it may not be necessary for me to broach thisperhaps he will read of it in your journal.
It would really be better if he heard it from you, Glee suggested. Telling him directly would be the polite thing to do.
Ah, yes, he mulled the situation. Politesse.