An excerpt from The Poser

“There you are! Christ!" Anthony Vandaline, of all people, came waddling up the stairs. “I'm a pilgrim in the dark. I'm searching and searching. And — ah, finally."

At this late hour, only four men remained at the balcony bar, stoking each other's laughter with shouted stories. One even bent at the waist, gripping the back of a chair. Performing for me. Soon, I knew, would come the sharp compliment or offered beer, and I prepared myself by seeming unaware, a man immersed in his life. I stroked Lucy's hand, doing that thing where I looked from her hands up to her eyes and down again. What she was saying in that low voice, however, the one she risked only when we were alone, I can't rightly say, for I was listening to the men.

Then Vandaline arrived, and they fell silent. Lucy stood to meet him.

“Ugh, you're one of those people who's always heeere," she said. “It's like I'm gonna turn around and trip on you."

“Look, my priest is gonna blush at this thing when I print it in full. All my sins. But I was talking to Max, and he said, and I quote, 'the heart of his technique is something called' — yeah, here it is — 'the thread.' "

A show tune played through the house speakers.

“Now you answer this," Vandaline said, “and I'm gone. I mean, I walk out the door."

“It's a skill you should practice more," Lucy said.

“Doll, whatever you think of me, I'm after the truth. A servant of the truth. A butler to it, truly," he said. “Now I wasn't wrong about everything, was I? Your man Maximilian printed that profile about Giovanni, so I did what any reporter worth his salt would do, didn't I? I checked the facts, humbly, and published them. Humbly."

“But what happened then?" I asked, half turning to the men who tittered at the attention, like schoolboys before an upperclassman.

“Did I get overzealous?" Vandaline said. “Guilty as charged. But, boy, oh, boy, did you prove me wrong. Hell, I'm shaken up just standing here. You think I wanna stand here after what happened tonight? I'm just a butler with my plate, asking someone to put the truth on it, so I can serve it to the public. Warm and tasty. Now, I'm gonna correct the whole thing in tomorrow's column. My god, am I gonna correct it. This is gonna be the best goddamn advertising you ever got — not that you need it. But, in all seriousness, please, just tell me about the thread."

“If Max lied earlier," I said, “why isn't he lying now?"

“Are you saying he is?" Like a man in a shootout pulling for his gun — with that practiced, defensive quickness — the reporter raised the pen to his pad.

“No," I said.

To my surprise Vandaline didn't harass the pause that followed, waiting for me, I guess, to say more. Bless him. Despite himself, he was a collaborator. When earlier in the night, Max's patter was derailed by the appearance at the foot of the stage of a stubby man declaring that I was a fraud and pretender — well, I immediately recognized Vandaline and was pleased, for I knew he would insist on joining us onstage, where I could do him once and for all.

So it was when he appeared at the balcony bar. In my churning waltz with the public, there was a time to lead and a time to be led, and the upstairs bar of the Communiqué at two a.m. did feel like the venue for a second performance, more intimate than the night's formal entertainment. “The thread," I said. Downstairs they'd started stacking chairs and clearing the stage. Shadowy figures scooped up a table's glasses, four in a hand, and pushed, back first, through the doors. “Well, okay, so most people believe imitation to be an art of exaggeration. There's truth to this, of course. It's important, as a tool, it is. But it comes second." Bernard, I noticed only then, sat at the end of the bar. It might have been a photo of him if not for the smoke rising from his cigarette.

“Now I was fortunate to be born with the elastic limbs, the perfect pitch you and your colleagues have been kind enough to write about. But I would have been lost without this knowledge: The real thing, the heart of it, isn't exaggeration, or even duplication. It's selection: knowing which parts of a person to take and which to leave alone." I frowned the way people do to indicate a concept too complex to be articulated. “You see, everyone covers himself with certain gestures. A man clearing his throat while snapping open a newspaper, the way a woman covers her yawn on the bus — these gestures are a costume. Now some do it better than others. Some have made perfect little suits for themselves: politicians for instance, movie stars. Those charismatic types who tool around in their own bodies like rented sports cars. They're smooth, right?"

Vandaline held the notepad at his chest like a cop writing a ticket.

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