The Contract

 Tzvi pursed his lips which became a half-smile as he walked in. Harold seemed as dazzled as Celeste had hoped he’d be. Ben led their guests to a table in the center of the loft laid with coffee, Madeleines, and fresh fruit. 

Ben asked Tzvi about his travels and the work he’d been doing in New York. Celeste asked Harold how he’d met Tzvi. 

“How can we help?” asked Ben. 

“I just need a quiet place to work. How big is your etching press? I want to make monumental pieces. I have a unique vision I wish to manifest.” Tzvi was in his early fifties, tall, trim, but mostly bald with a meager comb-over. He wore oversized black framed glasses with thick lenses. “You have an ashtray?”

“Our press is 36” wide and 70” long,” said Celeste.

Tzvi turned to Celeste as if he’d just noticed her. “You are Ben’s wife?” 

“His girlfriend,” said Celeste.

“We’re joint owners of the business,” said Ben. “Celeste is the etching printer; I print the lithographs, and we both collaborate with artists on the technical portions of platemaking.”

Tzvi wandered around the studio, nosing in cabinets, inspecting everything. “I am pleased. When can I start? Tomorrow’s perfect. I can bicycle over the bridge in ten minutes.”

“We’ll need a week to bring in supplies, once we have a description of what you’re planning,” said Ben.

“Of course.” He grinned with badly stained teeth. ‘Harold, do you have your checkbook with you? I’m going to spend your money.” Harold was about the same age as Tzvi, but stocky with a head of grey curly hair. His broad torso was as solid as a brick with skinny arms and legs. 

“We’ll need a written contract.” Harold glanced from Ben to Celeste. His teeth were perfect. “For everyone’s protection.”

“Naturally,” said Celeste. “Give us the details. How many etchings? Copper or zinc? How large will the editions be? Do you have a deadline?”

Harold looked at her wide-eyed as if she’d slapped him. Tzvi pulled a pad from his pocket, sat down, and jotted notes.

“Many questions. I’ll return on Monday with my drawings and a list of materials.” Tzvi pushed himself away from the table and lit a cigarette. 

 “What do you prefer? A deposit to start and the balance at delivery?” Harold plucked a grape from the bowl on the table and popped it into his mouth.

“A third to start, a third at the B.A.T., the balance when the editions are signed.” 

“What is a B.A.T.?” asked Harold.

“It’s a French term. Bon à Tirer. It means good to pull. It’s the sample the printer uses to match against while printing the edition.” 

Harold finished his coffee and stood up. “It’s a new world, isn’t it?”           

“Will you draw up the contract?” Celeste asked.

“Just write up a standard printer’s contract and we’ll sign it.” Harold checked his watch. “Tzvi, we have to go. I have a conference call in an hour.”

 “We’ll chat soon,” said Tzvi shaking Ben’s hand.

 “Let me walk you to the street,” said Ben. “I’ll be right back, Celeste.” 

She watched the door close. Tzvi seemed to be the kind of artist who wanted to do the work, rather than have the printer be the only one who dirtied his hands, but there was much to be clarified. She prayed it would go smoothly.

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