"He's having a ball," Herz adds. "He hasn't been on a book tour since before The Satanic Verses was canceled. He's out!"
This tour, she elaborates, has taken the three of them and the security detail around Europe and to South America. Rushdie first popped up in the U.S. this past month, with several appearances in New York. Since then he's traveled to Washington, D.C., Chicago, and the West Coast, granting interviews, autographing books, and giving a few invitation-only readings along the way. But the Books & Books foray is unique. While Rushdie has visited other bookstores, Herz explains, the entourage has never provided store owners with more than "five to ten minutes'" advance notice, content to have the author sign whatever copies of his books happened to be in stock at the time. "This is a whole new thing -- the fact that people were called and told he would be here at a certain hour," she says. "There's a very solid relationship between Mitchell and [Pantheon]. We felt comfortable with Mitchell."
The line dissolves after about half an hour -- during which time, Kaplan estimates, more than 100 people passed through -- and nearly everyone leaves except the media. As Rushdie starts in on the stock copies, he discusses his recent life and his emergence from hiding.
He's fed up with Iran's refusal to formally withdraw the death decree -- "this thing," as he refers to it -- and of the imposed confinement. "I'm trying to get back to this, and it seemed an appropriate time to do it," he says. "I miss it. It's been a long time."
On the subject of his future plans, he is evasive but good-natured. Asked how long he will be in the U.S., he replies wryly: "For a certain amount of time."
"Can you tell us your exact itinerary?" a reporter asks jokingly.
"It is, in fact, exact," Rushdie deadpans.
He seems most intent upon emphasizing the twofold purpose of his tour: to thumb his nose at the death decree and to recoup his literary reputation. "It increased my fame and decreased my stature," he says of the fatwa. "In a strange way, it damaged the reputation that I had. And this novel, I'm happy to say, is going a long way toward restoring the damage. It's chasing clouds away."
At about 11:00 Rushdie and crew prepare to depart for a day of interviews and the dinner party at the Delano. Kaplan hands the author a gift, a copy of The Cockfighter Journal by the late Miami writer Charles Willeford. Ram centsn Mestre, a member of the Herald's editorial board, presents Rushdie with a slim volume by a Cuban poet, Miguel Gonzalez. Finally, Rushdie graciously complies with several requests for photos: one with Kaplan, another with a Time reporter, a third with Mestre and Balmaseda. "We wouldn't do this for Madonna," Balmaseda whispers afterward.
With that, Rushdie is escorted through the rear door and into a waiting Lincoln Continental driven by an enormous, vaguely menacing bald man. The big car pulls out of the alley, turns north onto Salzedo, and then heads east along Aragon, one of its tinted rear windows rolled down ever so slightly.