Tommy Barban was a ruler, Tommy was a hero - Dick happened upon him in the Marienplatz in Munich, in one of those cafes where small gamblers diced on "tapestry" mats. The air was full of politics, and the slap of cards.
Tommy was at a table laughing his martial laugh: "Um-buh-ha-ha! Um-buh-ha-ha!" As a rule, he drank little; courage was his game and his companions were always a little afraid of him. Recently an eight of the area of his skull had been removed by a Warsaw surgeon and was knitting under his hair, and the weakest person in the cafe could have killed him with a flip of a knotted napkin.
Part II, Chapter XVII, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1934.
Once when we hopped in the car with the radio on, in the rare instance that we drive with it on, we became mesmerised on one station on which a middle-aged woman was reading a novel to an audience. I have never been able to learn what that book was, and indeed, I've searched on the Internet for ages trying to find the smallest clue to it's title, but one little thing that she read from it has never left my mind since. It was about some men, maybe some sort of military men, who were so clever with their knives that they could skin a live squirrel so tenderly and precisely that afterwards the poor creature could walk away unharmed, shivering slightly with cold.
What an grotesque but mesmerising image of vulnerability. When I read the above passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald, it reminded me so much of the skinned squirrel, because of how strangely and frighteningly vulnerable Tommy Barban was so that the weakest person in the cafe could have killed him with the flick of a knotted handkerchief. It makes you sit up straight, shudder and think. I won't ever have either image out of my mind.