Emile Janza approaches Archie and asks him if he still has “the picture.” Archie feigns ignorance at first, but then admits that he does still have the photo. Emile asks if it’s for sale. Archie replies that it’s not—and even if it were, it’s “not the greatest picture ever taken” of Emile, who has a “funny look on [his] face” in the photograph. Emile, not amused, asks Archie where he keeps the picture. Archie assures Emile that the picture is safe. One day, Archie teases Emile, Emile might be able to get the photograph back without paying for it.
This passage elaborates on Janza and Archie’s earlier interaction. Where there was a tense pleasantry to their last exchange, this one is completely dominated by Janza’s very palpable fear and apprehension. Archie clearly has something Janza desperately wants, and the power imbalance between the two will continue to inform much of the narrative as the book progresses.
Though the tone of the conversation is light and teasing, Archie knows that Emile is deadly serious about getting the picture back. The “terrible irony,” Archie thinks, is that there is no picture in the first place—Archie is simply blackmailing Emile. One day, Archie cut class and found a camera dangling from a coat hook on someone’s open locker. He didn’t intend to steal it, but instead just misplace it and send the owner on a wild goose chase. Archie stepped into the men’s room with the camera to have a quick smoke; when he opened one of the stall doors, he found Emile inside, masturbating. Archie pretended to take a picture of Emile, and then hurried out of the lavatory.
Archie is revealed to know that there is no actual picture with which he can blackmail Emile. Though Archie has been putting up a brave, confident front where the “picture” is concerned, it is now suggested that lurking beneath that smooth exterior, Archie is perhaps also insecure when he thinks about the supposed photograph.
Now, Archie watches as Emile, apparently feeling secure enough that his secret is safe with Archie, begins to pick on a freshman. He orders the freshman—who is running to class, clearly worried about being late—to go across the street and buy him a pack of cigarettes. The freshman protests that he has no money, but Emile insists the freshman find a way to purchase the cigarettes by lunchtime—or else. Archie lingers with Emile, knowing that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who are victims, and those who victimize others. He knows there is no doubt about which kind of person Emile is—or, for that matter, which kind Archie himself is.
Archie and Emile are two sides of the same coin. Both are victimizers who enjoy feeling a sense of power and control, and love to see those they’re controlling squirm and even suffer. The uncomfortable ballet the two are caught up in surrounding the picture has the potential to turn either into a victim, though. If Janza discovers the photograph is false, he will surely be angry and even violent; if Archie threatens Janza with the photo in any real way, Janza will be forced to serve Archie in any way Archie wants.