Austin turned up the tiny street – rue Sarrazin – at the head of which he hoped he would come to a larger one, one he knew, rue de Vaugirard, possibly, which he could take all the way to Josephine Belliard’s apartment by the Luxembourg Gardens. He was going to sit with Josephine’s son, Leo, while Josephine went to her lawyers to sign papers divorcing her husband, and then he was going to take Josephine for a romantic dinner. Her husband, Bernard, was a cheap novelist who’d published a scandalous novel with her in it; her name used, her infidelity exposed in every salacious detail. The book had just reached the stores, and everybody she knew was reading it.
‘It is not so bad to write such a book,’ Josephine had said the first night Austin had met her, only the week before, when he had also taken her to dinner. ‘It is his choice. I am an editor. OK? But. To publish this? No. I’m sorry. My husband – he is a shit. What can I do? I say goodbye to him.’
Martin Austin was from Chicago. He was married without children and worked for an old, family-owned company that sold expensive, specially-treated paper to foreign textbook publishers. He was forty-four and had worked for the same company, the Lilienthal Company of Winnetka, for fifteen years. He had met Josephine Belliard at a cocktail party at the Intercontinental Hotel, a party thrown by a publisher he called on, for one of its important authors. He’d been invited only as a courtesy since his company’s paper hadn’t been used for the author’s book, a sociological text that calibrated the suburban loneliness of immigrant Arabs using sophisticated differential equations. Austin’s French was lacking – he had always been able to speak much more than he could understand – and consequently he had stood by himself at the margins of the party and drunk champagne, looking pleasant and hoping to hear English spoken and to find someone he could talk to instead of someone who might hear him speak French and then start a conversation he couldn’t make sense of.