Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chapter Seventeen


Professor Poofer's pale blue eyes widen as he reads the text message on his cellphone. The panic in his eyeballs fills the movie screen. Then the camera pulls back and we see he sits behind a brown desk in an untidy office. Outside a side window are the vine-covered walls of an Ivy League campus.

"Er, ah, well, yes, er, Mr., er, uh, I mean, well. Willie! Yes! Er, how's your mother, Willie?"

The wary writing student utters a noncommital reply. Poofer appears to him as a grotesque, propped on several phone books behind his desk, an amorphous blob-like nondescript lump of characterlessness. Poofer leers at the student. Willie is reminded of Poofer's famous story, "The Writing Student"-- famous for its multiple viewpoints of a writing professor's obscene and occasionally violent fantasies about one of his young female students. Highly lauded-- the foundation of the Poofer reputation-- but when reading it Willie found it only embarrassing-- squeamishly embarrassing-- and was thankful he was male.

"She's doing well, is she?"

Poofer's eyes gleam as he sets aside his cellphone and sits back in his creaky chair.

"Yes," he continues. "One of the university's largest donors. We're very grateful for her philanthropy, Willie, believe me. You should be grateful to her also, for recognizing your writing ability and sending you to me!"

He ponders this as if it had been a momentous occasion. In truth, Willie is no better or worse a writer than his similarly competent but undistinguished classmates.

"What you lack, Willie, is experience," the Professor pontificates. "Your mother and I were discussing this at the University Club the other day. She worries that her divorce from your father has left you without proper masculine, er, guidance. That you've turned out too delicate; too soft. She feels she's been too protective of you-- raising you, an only child, among books, paintings, cats, and rich matrons. Properly educating you, yes. But Willie, there remains outside the library: life. Life!"

A painting of Henry James frowns down at both of them from behind.

"I've just received a phone message from a very important colleague-- a famous author, actually-- who was once a student of mine. He informs me a young writing person is needed to fly to Italy for an important, er, artistic assignment. And right before me sits the perfect candidate! Tickets are on their way. They'll arrive shortly. Fly there, Willie. Milano! Roma! Venezia! BE the writer you've dreamed of being! Experience the summer joys of Italy. Culture! Art! Beautiful young women! Molto bellisima. Your mother will be grateful."

A door opens. "Oh! Gloria!" Poofer coos. A scared coed with outstretched arm hands Poofer an envelope, then hurries away. On the envelope: "PLANE TICKETS."

"You must rush now, Willie. You'll receive further instructions when you deplane. Life awaits! Irrepressible life! Get going. Perhaps you can run down Gloria, who I hear scampering down the hall, to give you a ride to the airport." Poofer giggles. "Go! Now! Run!"

Poofer rises halfway from his phone books and with pudgy hands motions Willie through the door.

"Life! Art! I'll call your mother!"

These words echo behind Willie as he runs ineptly down the hallway with the plane tickets to catch up with Gloria.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chapter Sixteen

The movie screen is filled with bold, hand-written letters which spell two words: "UNDERGROUND" and "MANIFESTO." In the glitzy restaurant, Boss Eggers takes the brightly colored sheet of paper from his African sidekick and begins to read.

"Who creates revolutionaries? They're created by authoritarian regimes themselves, through their own blundering authoritarianism.

"What you need to know. There IS a literary rebellion. It began before I heard of it, through rebel writers like Richard K. I joined it in 1993. . . . Since 2001 I've been one of the movement's leaders, but only one of them. If I'm destroyed, others will step forward. We operate through organizations like the Underground Literary Alliance but also outside them. There are more of us than you know. One joins the Rebellion simply by acknowledging to yourself that literary change is necessary-- then working for that change in every way possible. All writers need to reorient the way they view themselves within the System of literature. Then they need to renegotiate their relationship within that System, and with those who run it.

"Every revolution creates: -Rebels; -Moderates; -Reactionaries; in symbiotic topsy-turvy rotations of weakness and strength. This revolution has experienced all three. Who has the upper hand at this moment I can't say. . . .

"HISTORY: From 2001 to 2004 we were kicking the Establishment's ass, going from victory to victory. In the years since we've faced waves of reaction. Our allies in the media were destroyed. Our main vehicle was shaken by betrayals. Yet, the literary Resistance has survived. I consider what we went through to be growing pains. We've been shattered, but the pieces are still out there, able to be reconsolidated at any time. . . .

"SECRET CODICIL #1: In hindsight, when setting up the ULA we behaved like naifs, with no anticipation of the moles, turncoats, and attacks upon us which would follow. Our structure, our discipline, and our internal security needed to be tighter. I had assumed that once a public profile was accomplished we'd be unassailable. This was mistaken.

"As solution I propose an ultra-secret arm of the underground, Unit Z, whose members would be known not by name but by number, and whose purpose will be to counter the counter-insurgents: to defend against the paid moles and spies who've been attacking us. Our biggest weakness has been our lack of "intelligence"-- a failure to know not only what is going on regarding us in the other camp, but on our own side; even in our main organization. We need a clearing house for tips and information. Unit Z would contain the hard-core of the hard-core; be relentlessly devoted to the cause. Not an ideal solution-- but given an unscrupulous enemy, how else is the cause to prevail?"

Boss Eggers stares across at his lunchmate, the man behind the veil, for effect, before reading one phrase more.


He looks up. "The rest of the page is blank."

A storm has appeared outside, as if in warning, while they talked. Thunder shakes the glass windows of the skyscraper and vibrates across the tables of the restaurant's elegant room. Sudden rain sweeps down upon the street outside as they watch, while waitresses light golden-flame candles. The three men involuntarily shiver.
The same storm passes across the Great Lakes and buries the crumbling industrial city of Detroit in lightning and rain. Clouds spread purple in all directions. The deposed leader of the Rebellion scurries like a wet rat from doorway to doorway of boarded building in the beat-down Cass Corridor, seeking shelter. He sprints across a street through a blue curtain of rain to another doorway, where he pauses with heart racing. Water runs down his face. The hoodie he wears is soaked, as are his shoes, and himself. This is the end of the line-- but here he can hide and regather his resources before attempting another wave. Or should he? The Apparatus of Dissent he's set into motion has jumped from his hands. . . .
Alone in his New York pied-a-terre at the storm's end-- his wife out of town-- the Man in the Black Hat considers the lunch meeting. The underground broadside read to him, concocted or real, has thrown him. He sits in darkness, behind his veil, considering his next move. Extreme measures are called for. The Rebellion has to be isolated, its outlets shut down. It has to be stopped!

He's shouted these last words, and punched the arm of his armchair weakly with his fist. His words linger in the air before him. "Stopped!" Two moles, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are already at work. He knows also that Boss Eggers has sent an unnamed Spy on the underground's trail. This isn't enough. It's time to put into play the ultimate weapon, known by many names and identities; a human missile of unspeakable ability and unstoppable hate. Even the fiercest undergrounder would be no match for the individual known infamously as THE ASSASSIN. Assassinate! Demolish! Kill! The man smiles as he picks up his cellphone and punches in a text message. His order. Is the person still alive? Can the jackal-like agent be summoned and quickly brought into the fight? Impatience. Impatience! He needs victory NOW, by every measure; wants the underground broken; wants proof that the destruction of all protest, all complaint, all dissent against his dominance is assured.