‘Fourteenth floor,’ says the liveried doorman, walking me across the lobby of a grand old Art Deco building on one of Manhattan’s most expensive streets.

What’s the apartment number? I ask.

‘Just push 14, you’ll be fine,’ he says, showing me into the wood-panelled lift.

Ah, but of course. Tom Wolfe has been picking up six- and seven-million-dollar advances for his last few novels, so why not buy an apartment that takes up the entire 14th floor at this fantastic address? He has been called a glib caricaturist, a conservative reactionary and a pseudo-intellectual, but no one has ever accused him of modesty.

The lift door opens at 14. There stands a maid in uniform, a starchy, inscrutable woman from somewhere in Latin America. She leads me through a hallway into the living-room. ‘Mr Wolfe will join you in a few moments,’ she says.

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