I found Jean-Paul stretched across a sordid looking camp bed in a hostel in New Delhi. He hardly stirred when I came in. A pedastal fan was labouring to blow the hot air in the close room from one side to the other. I think it was the smell from my cigar smoke that roused him. He regarded me feebly from his bed, and after licking his lips, spoke in a voice that sounded like a scratched vinyl record.
“How can you bear to wear a suit and tie in this climate?” he asked.
He licked at his lips again, and sighed.
“Fictional?” he said eventually.
“Yes. Like you.”
“I’m non-fiction. In a non-fiction world.”
I don’t like to humiliate a man when he’s down. “If you say so,” I said.
I went and got some water from one of the bottles he had on the floor near his head. There was a chipped enamel cup which I tried to clean out with my hanky before I poured him a glass and handed it to him. He drank it slowly, propped up on an elbow, and thanked me. There was plenty of time to listen to the fan, and the endless street noise so we did.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“Man of Errors sent me.”
“You’re supposed to be on an exciting whirlwind tour of the world reading exotic books and filing witty reports.”
I could see him steeling himself for the next part so I said it.
“They weren’t dumb.”
“Then you made them sound dumb.”
He began to sulk, but there wasn’t any point in being nice about it. I had read his last two reviews and they were drivel. Jean-Paul flopped back on his camp bed and rolled over to face the wall. I carried on.
“Anyway, you’ve been fired.”
“I’m taking over.”
“What have you been reading in India?”
He mumbled something, and waved his arm vaguely at the other side of the room. I found a book on the floor. There was a man on the cover with an enormous beard. The cover of the book said Rabindranath Tagore, I Won’t Let You Go, Selected Poems.
I took a long moment over my cigar and looked at Jean-Paul’s back, and then summarised the situation as far as I saw it.
“God, you’re such a dick,” I said.