Before too long their omelets arrived and they ate for a few minutes without talking.
—This is by far the best omelet I've ever eaten, Martin said.
—The secret is creating a little egg pouch around the cheese and herbs. And lots of butter. And the outside of the omelet should never be browned. Like most Frenchmen, I have opinions about food . . .
Martin took a bite and wiped his mouth with his napkin.
—They still teach you in film schools, you know.
A consideration of a smile played on Claude's lower lip.
—And what do they teach?
—That you practically invented the close-up.
—Heavens no, that was not me.
—That you were the first one to use a professional stuntman and to shoot at night.
—More or less this is true.
—I assume that was before the first war?
—Yes, before we all drowned in our own excesses.
Claude looked out at the street across the rim of his coffee cup.
—And what do they teach you in film school about the end of my career? The dénouement?
—That you never worked again after The Electric Hotel. That you went to film in Europe during the first war and had some kind of nervous breakdown . . .
—No, no, there was nothing nervous about it. It was quite decisive. And after the war, I came back to America and supported myself for decades as a wedding photographer. For the most part, no one ever knew who the Frenchman was behind the viewfinder.
* * *
Martin used the edge of his fork to slice into the perfectly rolled omelet. Claude had never understood the American aversion to keeping a knife in hand during a meal.
—Your studio was in New Jersey? Where you made the first feature?
—Perched right above the Hudson, near the town of Fort Lee. A big production stage under a glass roof, like a greenhouse, right up on the Palisades. We used to haul in actors from Manhattan on the ferries and we could shoot melodramas and westerns out on the cliff tops. Did you know the term cliffhanger comes from those early films shot on the Palisades?
Martin chewed, nodded.
—I'd heard that. Or read about it.
—Sabine Montrose or Lillian Gish at the edge of a cliff with a bandit bearing down on her. Then cut, finis, come back next week to pay a quarter to find out whether Sabine lives or dies.
—What ever happened to her?
—Sabine Montrose. She never acted again after you made The Electric Hotel together.
Claude felt his mind slacken and go blank, as if someone had lowered an awning over his thoughts. He rested his hands flat on the tabletop, studied the whites of his knuckles, the sunspots that resembled tiny brown planets.
—Well, let's see . . . Ah, I remember: she ate my entrails like a feral dog and then she vanished into thin air.
Claude dabbed at his mouth with a napkin, aware of Martin staring at him.
—Forgive me, it's been many years since I've spoken of her. She wronged me, it's true, but you might also say that I killed her off.
—What do you mean?
—That will take some explaining.
Claude flagged down Gail for some more coffee and asked if the kitchen had any extra bones they could spare for Susan Berg's soup broth. Gail topped up their cups and said she'd check.
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.