"All right," he says. "All right, then." He nods, sighs, and turns for the door.
She comes out after him. He reaches to touch her arm, but she pulls away. She hands back the box of calissons. "I'm not going to use these."
Back home, he runs through his contact numbers and ends up calling an old reporter buddy, Ken Lazzarino, now working at a magazine in Manhattan. They exchange news and get nostalgic for a few minutes, but an undercurrent runs through the conversation: both men know that Lloyd needs a favor, but he can't bring himself to ask. Finally, he forces it out. "What if I wanted to pitch something?"
"You never wrote for us, Lloyd."
"I know, I'm just wondering if."
"I do online strategy now-I don't have a say in content anymore."
"Is there someone you could get me in touch with?"
After listening to several variations of no, Lloyd puts down the phone.
He eats another can of chickpeas and tries Menzies again at the paper. "What about me doing the European business roundup today?"
"Hardy Benjamin handles that now."
"I know it's a pain for you guys that I don't have this email stuff working. I can fax it, though. It won't make a difference."
"It does, actually. But look, I'll call if we need something out of Paris. Or give me a ring if you have something newsy."
Lloyd opens a French current-affairs magazine in hopes of stealing a story idea. He flips the pages impatiently-he doesn't recognize half the names. Who the hell is that guy in the photo? He used to know everything going on in this country. At press conferences, he was front-row, arm raised, rushing up afterward to pitch questions from the sidelines. At embassy cocktail parties, he sidled up to the ambassadors with a grin, notebook emerging from his hip pocket. Nowadays, if he attends press conferences at all, he's back-row, doodling, dozing. Embossed invitations pile up on his coffee table. Scoops, big and little, pass him by. He still has smarts enough to produce the obvious pieces-those he can do drunk, eyelids closed, in his underwear at the word processor.
He tosses the current-affairs magazine onto a chair. What's the point in trying? He calls his son's mobile. "Am I waking you?" he asks in French, the language they use together.
Jérôme covers the phone and coughs.
"I was hoping to buy you lunch later," Lloyd says. "Shouldn't you be down at the ministry at this hour?"
But Jérôme has the day off, so they agree to meet at a bistro around Place de Clichy, which is near where the young man lives, though the precise location of Jérôme's home is as much a mystery to Lloyd as are the details of the young man's job at the French foreign ministry. The boy is secretive.
Lloyd arrives at the bistro early to check the prices on the menu. He opens his wallet to count the cash, then takes a table.
When Jérôme walks in, Lloyd stands and smiles. "I'd almost forgotten how fond I am of you."
Jérôme sits quickly, as if caught out in musical chairs. "You're strange."
"Yes. It's true."
Jérôme flaps out the napkin and runs a hand through his floppy locks, leaving tangled tents of hair. His mother, Françoise, a tobacco-fingered stage actress, had the same hair-mussing habit and it made her even more attractive until years later, when she had no work, and it made her disheveled. Jérôme, at twenty-eight, is tattered already, dressed as if by a vintage shop, in a velvet blazer whose sleeves stop halfway up his forearms and an over-tight pin-striped shirt, cigarette rolling papers visible through a rip in the breast pocket.
Excerpted from The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman Copyright © 2010 by Tom Rachman. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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