Manguy steepled his fingers together and tapped his index fingers against his lips. His bright eyes darted from side to side, though his besuited body remained perfectly still in his black leather office chair. For a moment he seemed tense, then he seemed perfectly at ease again. It was exactly the kind of stillness that Zen monks attain after a decade of study in a remote temple on the roof of the world. The woman sat in the chair on the opposite side of the desk tried to wait him out.
Forty-five minutes later her bladder was complaining noisily, which she was finding mildly embarrassing, and Manguy still hadn't moved. She wasn't sure if he'd ever blinked, or if he'd somehow conspired to only blink when she did. She didn't think that was possible, but then she'd never thought that someone could sit that still for that long either. She stretched her arms above her head, knowing that this presented her breasts in a rather attractive light, and yawned noisily.
"Look," she said, her voice raucous to both their ears after the prolonged silence. "I won't pretend that this is fun, though it is relaxing. I've been to Yoga that was far worse that this, and in dim light you'd pass for the teacher too. She was a woman by the way." She paused, lowering her arms as an excuse for not talking, studying Manguy. He never moved, not even a blink. "But you asked me to come here, and here I am. Was it really just so you could hold a staring contest with me?"
"Do you know where here is?" His voice was low, musical, and far clearer than anyone who'd apparently not swallowed for forty-five minutes should be able to manage.
"Yeah, sort of." Geraldinium frowned as she tried to remember. The name of the organisation had been written at the foot of the email in small type but all she could remember was the postcode, which she'd had to look up in a 1970's edition of the London A-Z. "I know your postcode."
"Here is Data Analytic Marketetic Normalisations," said Manguy. "We specialise in... specialising in things, and we're very good at it. My colleagues arrange for people and organisations to make headway in the often conflicting environments that the modern world disports around us. The incredibly tall and high-heeled lady you passed on the way to my office is Jeronica, and she looks after soft-power in the Northern Hemisphere. Even if she didn't tower over you and intimidate you she could sit down with you and show you how to become the most exhibited artist in London. In about twenty minutes."
"She's agreed to sit for a portrait," said Geraldinium, nodding. To her great delight Manguy looked suddenly surprised, though he quickly controlled himself and his face firmed back into boredom. "I'm doing an homage to Dali and his Temptation."
"The one with the Elephants?" asked Manguy, though his voice changed half-way through the question so that it became more of a statement. "I wonder if Jeronica is aware of your intentions."
"I wonder if I'm aware of your intentions," retorted Geraldinium. She lifted a leg and slung it over the arm of her chair, slumping towards her left to get more comfortable. "You've told me who you are and I don't care. You've told me what you do, and I don't understand, and I think I wasn't supposed to. You've told me about your colleague, but nothing about you. Why? Why? Why?"
"I'm Manguy," said Manguy. "Can we pretend I offered you my hand and you declined to shake it on artistic grounds?"
Geraldinium shrugged. "Or we can pretend I offered you my hand and you declined because you thought you might catch something."
"We wish to purchase your next year's output of art," said Manguy, controlling a shudder and the urge to call for the cleaners. "We have a list of paintings that we'd like to commission from you. To an extent, there is a lot of creative freedom, but there must be certain elements conveyed in the paintings, exactly as we define."
"Steganography?" said Geraldinium. "Again?"
"Rather, still," said Manguy, allowing himself a small smile. "May I take that as acceptance?"
"No," said Geraldinium. "We haven't discussed my fee yet. Shall we start by pretending that I've named something astronomical and you're so thrilled that it's me doing the work that you're going to pay it anyway?"
"Ah," said Manguy. "I was hoping that we could start by looking at these pictures of your cat-press." He didn't move, but somehow conveyed the impression that there might be a drawer on his side of the desk that might contain something interesting.
"Did you know," said Geraldinium sounding conversational, "that you can fit a person in a cat-press? Not many people know that."
There was another momentary pause and then the staring competition resumed.