I first saw him at a reading in Paris. An American writer, whom everyone had supposed dead, had come to France to launch a new translation of his classic book, originally published twenty-five years earlier. The young man in the audience who caught my eye had short red-blond hair and broad shoulders (bodyguard broad, commando broad) and an unsmiling gravity. When he spoke English, he was very serious; when he spoke French, he looked amused.
He was seated on the other side of the semi-circle surrounding the author, who was slowly, sweetly, suicidally disappointing the young members of his audience. They had all come expecting to meet Satan, for hadn’t he summed up in his pages a brutish vision of gang rape in burned-out lots, of drug betrayals and teenage murders? But what they faced now was a reformed drunk given to optimism, offering us brief recipes for recovery and serenity – not at all what the spiky-haired audience had had in mind. I was charmed by the writer’s hearty laugh and pleased that he’d been able to trade in his large bacchanalian genius for a bit of happiness. But his new writings were painful to listen to and my eyes wandered restlessly over the bookshelves. I was searching out interesting new titles, saluting familiar ones, reproaching a few.
And then I had the young man to look at. He had on black trousers full in the calf and narrow in the thighs, his compact waist cinched in by a thick black belt and a gold buckle. His torso was concealed by an extremely ample, longsleeved black shirt, but despite its fullness I could still see the broad, powerful chest, the massive shoulders and biceps – the body of a professional killer. His neck was thick, like cambered marble.