Five minutes after six on a Friday night in mid-November, and every seat at the Harvard Book Store is filled. The event, a conversation between Echols and Amnesty International's Joshua Rubenstein, doesn't start for an hour. At 20 to seven, a bookstore employee maneuvers to the microphone and apologizes, but they've sold out of the book. "Tonight's event will be miked throughout the store," she says, "so even if you can't see it, you can hear it. We'll be getting started soon." The crowd fills every part of the first floor of the store. The line to have Echols sign books is 150-deep or more.
The audience in the seated area is 60 percent women, more than average with black or magenta hair. Two women discuss the eating habits of their cats. "I had a cat behaviorist come in because of the problem, and she said that each can of tuna is different." Another woman explains her reading preferences to her companion: "The only books that interest me are old textbooks about mental illness."
Echols, when he appears, in his black pants and black button-down, looks spent. He removes his dark glasses briefly and rubs his eyes. Shadows pool beneath them, obscured again as the glasses go back on.
He has described the attention — the interviews, the book, the touring, the talking and talking about the case, answering over and over what it's like being out of a prison — as a "necessary evil."
"It's hellish," he told me, using a word that he repeats often, in speech and in the book. "You become the fact that you're out of prison. It's like you can't even heal because you keep having to rip the wound open." There's no sense of closure.
"People are always saying, 'You're so strong, you've made it through this situation I couldn't have,' " Echols says. "And I always think, 'You have no earthly idea how broken I am inside, how bad this destroyed me inside.' "
At the reading, Davis sits in the front row, directly across from Echols; they are less than four feet apart. She chats with fans, purses her lips in a nervous way, a flush on her cheeks to match her crimson shirt, knowing she is very much part of the show.
Echols chews his thumb as the bookstore employee and then Rubenstein introduce him. The conversation begins about writing. Echols is flat, his answers rote, lacking the energy and animation he radiated less than a month before in Salem. This distance doesn't come off as nerves, as caution or anxiety in front of a crowd; it looks more like exhaustion. He's been on the road, a string of cities and speaking engagements, a rock star on tour, and it's started to show. He does not smile. He's a little softer about the jaw than he was a month ago, a string of hotel meals and sandwiches on the go and little chance to exercise or lift weights, one of his new passions.
Rubenstein recounts the details of the case, names the boys who were murdered, runs through the bullet-pointed facts of the murders, the trial, the injustice. Echols nods. Here is Echols's "necessary evil": the wound ripped open again and again.