“GOOD BOOKS ON THE HIGHWAY provided shelter; he closed out the lashing sleet and stood taking stock. On the shelves the current titles showed their faces while the others turned their backs. Girls were giggling over comic Christmas cards; an unshaven man was swept in on a flake-edged blast and halted, staring around uneasily. Strutt clucked his tongue; tramps shouldn’t be allowed in bookshops to soil the books. Glancing sideways to observe whether the man would bend back the covers or break the spines, Strutt moved among the shelves, but could not find what he sought. Chatting with the cashier, however, was an assistant who had praised Last Exit to Brooklyn to him when he had bought it last week, and had listened patiently to a list of Strutt’s recent reading, though he had not seemed to recognize the titles. Strutt approached him and inquired ‘Hello—any more exciting books this week?’
The man faced him, puzzled. ‘Any more—?’
‘You know, books like this?’ Strutt held up his polythene bag to show the grey Ultimate Press cover of THE CANING-MASTER by Hector Q.
‘Ah, no. I don’t think we have.’ He tapped his lip. ‘Except — Jean Genet?’
‘Who? Oh, you mean Jennet. No, thanks, he’s dull as ditch-water.’
‘Well, I’m sorry, sir, I’m afraid I can’t help you.’
‘Oh.’ Strutt felt rebuffed. The man seemed not to recognize him, or perhaps he was pretending. Strutt had met his kind before and had them mutely patronize his reading. He scanned the shelves again, but no cover caught his eye. At the door he furtively unbuttoned his shirt to protect his book still further, and a hand fell on his arm. Lined with grime, the hand slid down to his and touched his bag. Strutt shook it off angrily and confronted the tramp.
‘Wait a minute!’ the man hissed. ‘Are you after more books like that? I know where we can get some.’ ”