Monday, November 26, 2007

Chapter Six


He is troubled at night by recurring images running through his head. They're images which should belong to another person. They contradict his public persona. Now, as his brain slips into sleep and the images return, he wonders which "him" is the truth.

He sits not where he wants to sit. He's atop a podium at a judicial tribunal. Long robes cover him. Down below, at a plain wood table on a checkered tile floor, in handcuffs, await the accused. Wait! he wants to cry. I'd rather be down there, with you. Instead his large head carries forward as he signals his fellow jurists to begin the trial.

A man resembling Chief Lopate rises to read the indictment. Next to Lopate sits a dark-haired man with a malignant frown. How did I get mixed up with such as them, the Black-Hatted Man wonders? More, his fellow judges look to him for direction. To him! They work for HIM!

"Crimes Against Established Literature." Lopate in the Robes of Authority angrily points a shaking finger. Members of the ULA in the dock scowl back with reciprocal contempt. The Man in the Black Hat is of two minds about the hostile rebels. One side of him wants them wiped from the earth, banned forever, locked away in some underground literary dungeon never to be heard from again. Yet another part of him wishes he could pose as their savior; could borrow everything they represent, their authenticity, their voices, their cred. But he knows that to save them would be to destroy himself.

The other judges look now to him for direction, with sheeplike faces. It's his turn to speak, to enable the prosecution. His eyes glower with decision as he feels within him the unearned power he draws from his trappings; from his robes, his guards, his peers, and the impressively constructed courtroom festooned with golden symbols. Before the trial can continue he wakes up.

To get the recurring dream out of his head, the Man in the Black Hat journeys outside, warily onto the city's streets, seeking a latte coffee and a donut. There is a meeting of some importance later, he recalls, this afternoon, to discuss something. He has to be there. "He": the Very Important Man in the Black Hat. His falling-apart postmodern mind can't remember exactly what the meeting is to be about.

A homeless man stands threateningly on the sidewalk outside the local Starbucks. The man's features, or maybe just his eyes, resemble those of a prep school classmate from many years ago. The Man in the Black Hat wants to believe this man before him is a self-made failure. Why, once this fellow had been as privileged as himself! To admit there is something wrong with the city which surrounds him, with this civilization, is a conclusion he dare never admit, because it would pull out the foundation from beneath his all-powerful station; that which has fuled his identity, his success, his corrupt decisions these many years. The homeless man points a finger of accusation at him. In response he embraces the man.

"My friend! My former classmate!" he says to the smelly beggar. "You're sick! You're paranoid. It's conspiracy which you believe. Conspiracy! It's not true. Not true! Your eyes of accusation are not true! You need help. Get away from me!"

The Man in the Black Hat is running back down the street the way he came, scampering home, fleeing from himself while very upset at the world because he forgot to buy at Starbucks his coffee and donut.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chapter Five

Rookie patrolwoman Lindsay is called into the office of Chief Lopate at Literature Police headquarters. As Lindsay waits for him to speak, she studies the various certificates and outmoded maxims covering the wall behind him. "Our Mission: Clean and Quiet Streets," she reads on one plaque. On another: "Obedience Before Change."

"Well, Officer!" Chief Lopate says, removing his eyeglasses and leaning back in his rusty seat.

The Chief makes an effort to put an expression of kindliness over his face, the effort a failure. A perpetual glower has hardened onto his features like concrete.

"I've been studying your personnel file, Officer, searching for clues to your behavior. I must confess, I don't know if you're sufficiently loyal to what we're doing. I don't know! As we try to infiltrate the opposition, we must be cautious about infiltrators coming into our ranks. As you know, Officer, we tolerate almost anything in this outfit: nepotism; corruption; incompetence. Everything except insubordination. In an organization like ours-- enforcers of the status quo-- it's the only and greatest crime. We can tolerate no dissent. Ever. Otherwise the entire system will collapse. The realm would descend into chaos."

Chief Lopate knows the weaknesses of the system he works for yet is filled with justification. He worked his way up the ranks, through total obstinate loyalty to the powers-that-be. Drilled into him again and again was the idea that the Literature Police way is the only way. His loyalty is not to ideas, truth, or even literature-- but, as with the pure bureaucrat, to the organization. To protect those who'd given him his tenured position near the top of the ranks he would dissemble and denounce, as he'd publicly denounced from a stage the dreaded underworld literary guerrillas of the ULA. Now he observes the careless tow-headed rookie before him. What does she know of struggle, compromise, and achievement, he thinks? Chief Lopate points to an officer standing at the coffee machine outside his office glass.

"Observe there Officer Green," he announces to Lindsay.

Officer Green, struggling to make a fresh pot of coffee, spills coffee grounds and coffee filters everyplace.

"Green has spent fifteen years in the ranks," Chief Lopate states dramatically. "Fifteen years! No promotion in sight. Yet his obedience is unquestioned. Officer Green remains unswervingly dedicated to what we're doing, which, in the final analysis, beneath the trappings, offices, uniforms, medals and awards, is: Nothing. Never a grumble from the man! He knows he's found his place."

With that the Chief lifts a large rubber stamp in his meaty hand and brings it down onto a sheet of paper with a pronounced "smack!" The entire movie set office shakes. A camera zooms in to read the paper. In large block letters: "TRANSFER." Officer Lindsay gulps as the shot fades.

THE SCENE: Night, in the midst of a dark and chaotic city. The humming machines of a gigantic factory. Rookie patrolperson Lindsay steps along a catwalk near the roof. The sky smells of sulfur, and carries a yellowish cast. The great factory appearing in the darkness like a medieval fortress rumbles and creaks. Its technology is obsolete, she knows (it was state of the art in 1955) yet the plant's managers refuse to change things. Their thinking: if it was fine then, it's fine today. But it's not fine, she realizes. Lindsay sees a huge smokestack belching postmodern cultural pollution into the sky. This factory, which dominates the industry, with its clouds of obscurity prevents any clean message of renewal which might yet save the failing art. Oh, if only they could interest the public again! A quixotic dream. That would take far stronger personalities and voices than those offered by the factory's caretakers.

The young cop proceeds back into the soot-covered building. She carries a round clock, on her way to the next designated key station. She strides with robotic obedience.

"Click!" She inserts a key hanging on a wall chain within the clock and turns it.Everything in this world is monitored and regulated-- her job scrutinized to the minute to ensure that never a stray word of dissent from her will ever escape. Wasn't that what Chief Lopate said? "Ever"? Never!? She no longer remembers, overwhelmed by a sense of disillusion about this field, this art, which should shout to the public with joy, with the cleansing sunlight of day, but instead is content to exist in the shadows of the society.

Lindsay quickens her pace. She watches for saboteurs, which she's been assured are ready to destroy everything. This is the line that's been propagated to her about the ULA. She fully believes it. Would that they existed not to destroy, but to save! Who knows where the truth lies. Pounded into her brain again and again at the Literature Police Academy was the idea that there is no truth, and so no one can know anything. This is the mantra even of the formidable Eggers Gang, supposed Apostles of Change who aren't changing a thing; who dwell at the center of corruption, cronyism, insularity.

As she does every night, Lindsay passes a steel door to a utility closet. She's been given strict instructions to never unlock the door and look inside. On her rigid schedule she never has time-- but tonight she has the time; is one minute ahead of schedule for the next key station. Has she done this deliberately, her conscience asks? "Insubordination!" the authoritarian voice of Chief Lopate reverberates through her mind. In her head she's gone too far in her thought crime to turn back. She struggles with a ring of keys on her belt. Seconds tock away. At last she finds the right round shiny key and as her brain emits a scream of terror, unlocks the door.

It's a utility closet. Nothing more. A long tunnel of mops and pails lead toward the nothingness of mystery. She feels on her face for a quick instant a puff of cool air. Where does the tunnel lead? Underground? Outside? What awaits? What puzzle? What solution?

She has not time to find out as more scarce seconds click away. She slams the door-- wondering if she's relocked it-- and runs in panic toward the next key station as if Chief Lopate himself were watching.

Bounding up a metal stairway, she clicks the key waiting at the top into her clock. "Click!" A pronounced sound shattering her. Only then does she see blazing yellow light in the management office before her, which overlooks the factory floor. A man dressed in black, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, sits at the steel desk inside, his back to her. He begins to turn around, to reveal his face, as Lindsay runs back the way she came.

NEXT CHAPTER: "The Man in the Black Hat."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chapter Four


Meanwhile, gang moll Vendela Vida is in Manhattan meeting with her Columbia University buddies. The MFA program consists of a severe indoctrination regimen based on a martial arts academy. Their grads are trained to think of themselves as superior Masters of the Art-- though the version of the art they train on is, unknown to them, badly out-of-date.

Evil Vendela, who aspires to be best of all, returns to the secret writers gymnasium on campus to train.

At the moment she's practicing her literary "kicks" on cardboard silhouettes of her rival, Captain Rebecca Skloot-- a leading member of the Literature Police dedicated to wiping out any hint of literary noise on the streets, even the mild form Vendela and the rest of the Eggers mob engage in.

"Hiyaaahhh!" Vendela shouts as she kicks a hole through another Rebecca Skloot silhouette.

The cardboard hangs in tatters as Vendela graces it with a malicious sneer.

"If you really want to be the best," Training Master Ben Marcus advises, "You should visit the old wise man: the Master of Masters."

"Where's he?" Vendela snarls. "Where do I find the person?"

"On top of the Mountain," Marcus cryptically whispers.

She follows him to a dusty office at the back of the gymnasium. Wiping away cobwebs, he unlocks a faded green file cabinet. From the top drawer he produces, like a magician from a hat, a faded map.

"Follow this," Marcus tells her.

The light in the office is too dim for her to read the map, as is the artificial light in the gymnasium itself. Staring at the map, mesmerized by its existence, she walks hypnotically up a stairway with iron handrails until she's outside.

The malignant stuffiness of the room she left behind drops away. In sunlight Vendela sees a blue line thickly marked on the ancient paper. The words on the map are in an unreadable language, but the blue line is clear.

It's a long and arduous journey to the Mountain. Driving and driving through the reaches of New England; through snowstorms; past stuffy suburban communities of extreme wealth; past the environs of Providence and Boston, beyond, into the woods of Vermont, past Bennington, onto a road unmarked on any roadmap but this one. The car rises. She has driven onto the Mountain itself! Round curve after curve, ever higher, and higher, the air becoming colder and thinner.

The road ends. She unpacks hiking gear from the car's trunk and leaves the vehicle behind, making her way up a rocky path toward the summit; a path few have walked upon. The path is filled with obstacles; boulders; noxious growths of distorted plants. Then snow and ice.

The light is vanishing. The thin air this high influences her head. Vendela feels a sense of exhilaration. Why, she is one of the best! Her own husband mob boss Eggers himself seems very far away. Very far below. Up here, there is just her-- and the Master of Masters, whoever that might be.

She feels no fear about meeting this personage. She's been raised to think she's the best and has little regard for other people. Her entire life, her every action, every class taken, has been geared toward arriving at this special place: the Mountaintop! Many thousands of writers have gone through indoctrination programs but up here there is only her. She. Vendela Vida.

A few yards more. Then, at the front of a small cave beneath the very top squats a shadow. A man; a very small and very ancient man from ancient times, other eras, another generation. The 1940's! An impossible distance away, to her mind. So far back in time. Incomprehensible. Yet he's still here, alive, this wrinkled troll. How? Why?

She stands before him, towering, and scowls, hands on her hips.

"Tell me, O Master," she says with a trace of irony, of sardonic sarcasm intrinsic to her gang, "Tell me, Master, your Secrets. Tell me the mysteries of writing and literary achievement, of how to breathe your rarified air. Tell me how to be a Legend, adored and worshipped by millions, receiving millions in payment, fawned over by mighty corporations and placed on TV. Tell me how you accomplished this, Wizened One. What wizardry did you rely upon? Was it simply a marker of your more glorious times? Or can we capture the Power and Glamor the Word once held for people? Can we sweep away this nonsense of Mass Media we're bombarded with every day to arrive at the truth we as a lost people seek? Tell me, oh Noble Author. Tell ME!"

"You are all a lost generation," the troll, who looks suspiciously like Norman Mailer, murmurs in a polite and barely audible voice. "I know I'm quoting from another writer essentially revolutionary writer when I say that but it's essentially true, if we can know the essential truth about anything which I suppose is a kind of mystifying illusion perpetrated upon us by higher forces like the Old Boys who I once knew and played with, WASPy icons like Plimpton you know not all of them but many of them of course from the CIA and its many Martha Vineyards kind of playgrounds I hope I'm not being too verbose in capturing or trying to capture I've never been completely successful you know the riddle of existence as a writer in this technologically mad society of spaceships and stereo systems which doesn't much value the author, the writer, which I take to mean or are taking to mean for you in this conversation you and I. . . ."

(Vendela would think such an old troll would have to pause for a breath but he doesn't. . . .)

"Not to blather too much there are too many of us old white guys chauvinistic white guys as we see in today's news headlines none more chauvinistic than myself of course I Mailer trying to grab the 'Macho' ethos of Hemingway failing that then of the Beats the essential be-bop bluesiness whatever was trendy at the time I tried to grab onto it; always tried to be relevant, you know, the one true media writer if there ever was one so you see the irony of me of all people being atop this somewhat chilly and dreary mountain! These are shitty times. All is shit. That's the message, you know. Shit! SHIT is the one essential truth in life. We all shit! Can't you see it? The monumental profundity of that statement?"

(He gestures with his hands as if kneading dough.)

"I, Mailer, this literary god, this truly great Author if you really must know, have said many profound things in my spectacular Baudrillard life but none more spectacular or existentially true than that. The one thing I really know. In the final analysis I've become no more than this old and sleepy castrated CAT this benign animal preoccupied with naps and my trips to the litter box; the knowledge of how good it really feels exercising the sphincter muscles producing in the process not unlike my last few books you know this one warm and essential thing. . . ."

Vendela has had enough.

"THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT!" she screams to the empty cold mountainous air and with one great thrust of her muscular leg she's kicked through the head of the Master of Masters. His voice is gone. He's become silent.

All silent-- only the beating of her heart and happy ringing in her ears. She steps forward on the dirt floor to analyze the damage.

The Master's head is on the dirt floor in pieces. She looks closer. It's not a head at all, she realizes. It's squishy and orange.

Vendela Vida has destroyed a pumpkin.

NEXT CHAPTER: "The Fortress."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Chapter Three

CHAPTER THREE: "The Literature Police"

The next morning, while Boss Eggers and Pretty Boy are headed to the airport, the Kid at gang headquarters is disturbed by a knock on his office door.

"Wha- - -?" he begins to ask.

Before him stands a tall and somewhat gawky woman in a severe black uniform and black jackboots. He recognizes her immediately. Captain Rebecca Skloot.

The Literature Police!

"How'd you get in?" he growls.

"I could have obtained a warrant." Her diction is crisp, cold, efficient, perfect, like that of a well-programmed robot. "Instead I called your boss. His cell. He cooperated."

"Cooperated? WHY?" The Kid hates coppers.

She stares through him. To her-- a super-intelligent yuppy writer slumming in this movie as police captain-- the Kid's a lowlife, and no association with the Eggers Gang will add luster to that fact.

"We're taking him out."

"Him?" Kid asks.



"Out. Rants. He comes with me."

Beyond tight-lipped tight-assed Captain Skloot of the Literature Police, the Kid notices now a figure standing nakedly exposed, no doubt embarrassed in the presence of Skloot but happy to be alive. He survived Eggers's bizarro Valencia headquarters, Rants can now claim.

"One of yours?" the Kid asks.

"NOW he is," Skloot replies. She turns to her charge, looks him up and down, then stalks toward the exit. The man dutifully follows.

(Cut to Literature Police Headquarters.)

Police Sergeant John Freeman gives the day's briefing.

"Men and women," he continues. "Our job is to patrol the streets of this city to make sure nothing exciting happens, no disturbances, no dissension, no debate, and that the public realizes that in this town which we control nothing exciting ever WILL happen."

(The camera pulls back to show the various officers in the briefing room. Most are sleeping.)

"Number One Priority," he continues blandly. "The ULA is still in the city; in alleyways, corners, shadows: everywhere. Let's be careful out there."

A hand raises. It's rookie patrolwoman Lindsay Robertson, the only person still awake in the room. "Gosh! But we have to know," (fresh from the Academy, Lindsay waits to jot down the facts with pen and paper). "What laws have they broken?"

Sergeant Freeman becomes alert for the first time that morning.

"Laws? LAWS?" Coffee spills threateningly from his mouth. He splutters, unable to continue. He begins coughing, choking, donut chunks emerging from his mouth, face glowing red an avalanche of sudden coughing so that the entire room is now awake wondering with no great concern if Sergeant Freeman is about to croak.

"ARUMPHAARGHGURGGAGARRRRHHHHHAUGGHCARUMPH!" the sergeant says, clutching his throat. Then he notices Chief Lopate standing unpleasantly behind him. The coughing immediately ceases.

"Yes, sir," Freeman squeaks.

Chief Phillip Lopate leans over the podium and glares at the clean-and-scrubbed preppy officers, before he barks, in a loud and angry voice, "DISMISSED!"

NEXT CHAPTER: "The Mountain."

Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Plutocracy USA"

(The continuing misadventures of a gang in the book business trying to consolidate and monopolize its position in a ruthless and primitively competitive urban landscape while taking on several rivals. Low budget. Black-and-white. Not on video or DVD.)

CHAPTER TWO: "Turf Wars."

"Pretty Boy" Bronson arrives in the anteroom of the Boss's huge office and takes a seat. He carries a portfolio of paperwork. Across from him waits The Kid, also with a portfolio. The Kid is sweating profusely and shaking a bit. "It's not good. It's not good," he says over and over. Bronson wonders what drug-of-choice The Kid is on this week.

"What happened?" Pretty Boy asks.

The Kid begins rambling. "I was ready to jump. It was the meds. No-- my girlfriend. We didn't get them. The warehouse bomb went off but we didn't get them. Not all of them anyway. Took out five I think-- maybe others. Their leader and a few more escaped. Our informant-- he's a screwball-- was wrong. The ULA yet lives."

The Kid takes a snot-covered handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his brow. His shaky eyes zero in on Bronson.

"Who's this new bodyguard the Boss has? I mean, I think that's what he is. He never says nothin'. The black guy. He just goes with the Boss everywhere like an unspeaking shadow."

"I don't know," Pretty Boy answers.

At that instant Boss Eggers appears in the corridor, silent bodyguard next to him. The two others realize he's heard every word. Boss Eggers shows no reaction. He nods to the bodyguard, who departs.

Eggers opens the door to his office. It's an entire soundstage, with an enormous desk-- fit for a gangland boss. Backdrop is a matte painting of the city of San Francisco. Eggers gazes possessively at the backdrop for a minute, as if he owns the world.

"Reports?" he asks while sitting in the leather chair behind the huge desk.

Pretty Boy, a former bond trader, knows the Manhattan landscape well.

"They're moving into our territory," he says, reciting figures. "N+1 is pushing their stuff" ("stuff" said as if it were illegal whiskey) "on the shelf right next to ours!"

"Do we still have allies?" the Boss quizzes.

"Oh yeah, sure. Loads. Whitney and others like her. The rich boys of course."

Eggers's fist slams suddenly hard onto the desk, startling Pretty Boy, and The Kid also.

"Then motivate them!" Eggers shouts.

He takes a minute to calm himself. His eyes are very intense. The camera zooms in on them. Instantly he calms, as if nothing had occurred.

"We don't have even this town locked up 100%," he smirks in his cute-but-cynical postmodern way. "Show me who we've got in The Room."

The three men walk down a long and spooky corridor. With a ring of keys, The Kid unlocks a heavy steel door, then leaves them. Inside sits a man bound to a chair in the center of the naked room.

"Who is this creep?" Eggers asks. Pretty Boy consults a clipboard.

"He calls himself Ed Rants. A gangster wannabe-- playing the role around town for a couple months pretending to be a big shot. Got into a scuffle with Gessen and his boys. Note the black eye. We found him in a movie theater. Had seen four movies in a row. He blew his cover-- was complaining to the usher about stale popcorn! He's a goof."

Eggers frowns. Pretty Boy continues.

"We told him we'd have The Ogre play with his head. Note the photo."

On the wall opposite Rants, in plain view staring at Ed every minute, is a blown-up photograph of mob enforcer Daniel Handler, aka The Ogre. Rants looks at the photo. His eyes bulge from his head in terror. Unknown to him, Handler is already in New York to set up the coming visit. The Boss nods to Pretty Boy, who removes the gag from Rants's mouth.

"Sarvas is an idiot!" the man screams uncontrollably, saying what he thinks they want to hear. "Sarvas is an idiot!"

The gag is replaced. Boss Eggers glances at Pretty Boy, then laughs. Pretty Boy follows him from the room.

"When he begins to say," Eggers calmly tells his advisor, "'Gessen is an idiot,' then we'll know we've made progress."
NEXT CHAPTER: "The Literature Police."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Movie Serial


Mob boss Dave Eggers of the powerful McSweeney's Syndicate, accompanied by evil gun moll Vendela Vida, holds a meeting at creepy Syndicate headquarters on Valencia Street. Present are main henchmen Po "Pretty Boy" Bronson, Dan "The Ogre" Handler, and Stephen "The Kid" Elliott. Boss Eggers is upset that the latest effort to destroy underworld rivals "The ULA" has failed.

(Blockhead Eggers little knows that as an amorphous organization with no address and no property, appearing out of and vanishing into thin air, the ULA can't be killed. It's an idea, not an entity.)

"We'll change strategy," Boss Eggers declares to the gang, as Pretty Boy stares wide-eyed, the Kid shivers, and the noxious Ogre blinks uncontrollably. (Slinky Vendela looks at the inept gang members and sneers.)

"Duh, Boss, does I gets to hurts somebody?" the Ogre asks while decapitating a child's doll.

Pretty Boy's question is marginally more intelligent. "We need easier territory."

Eggers grins, having anticipated him."We'll go after. . . ." Eggers announces, "The other guys!"


Welcome to Literary Mystery. Open the door for surprises inside. . . .