Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Six


The man across from the literary fugitive looks and sounds like a British fop, down to a monocle, tweed jacket, and lavender ascot. It's a good impersonation of a literary intellectual-- yet something is fake about the performance. The rebel doesn't buy it. Then again, he hasn't bought anything about what's presented as contemporary American literature.

"The problem is you," the faux-Brit tells him, as if reading his mind. "Your paranoia. It's all in your head. You have to learn to ignore what you see and hear. Your judgement is faulty. Haven't we proven that? Can the entire literary establishment be wrong, and you right?"

They sit at a table in a barroom connected to a Romanian restaurant. Outside is the gray devastation of what's left of Detroit-- abandoned structures everyplace. Empty office buildings. The reflection from blood-red neon letters in the bar's windows casts across soot on a sidewalk down which scurry hungry red-eyed rats. The literary fop is oblivious.

"Your own movement abandoned you! You took them farther than they wanted to go-- against the immutable laws of society. They're more comfortable in their natural station. They enjoy the bottom. They never wanted to question the aristocrats. YOU made them do it."

"Aristocrats?" the rebel asks. "Are there?"

"There are and there are not. Background means nothing. How can you hold good people to their parents, or their school? 'Ivy League' indeed! It doesn't matter. They are who they are and where they are. THESE are our writers; designated and accepted. Everyone accepts it. Except--"

The man's finger slowly raises and begins to turn, until it's pointing directly at the fugitive.

"You!" the go-between says in a threat of a whisper.

The other realizes the man who speaks is wearing a mask-- if he's a man at all. The face is a mask. Everything about him is fake. The character embodies training and talent without soul; technique and rules without life-- one of a class of writers with no honesty, honor, or ethics. Two more beers arrive, paid for by the fop's glistening credit card. "Drink!" comes the fake one's command. The rebel wants instead to stand up and rip off the mask. Behind it he senses many spaces, many games; many rooms.

"Who are you?" the rebel asks. "Who's your boss? Who's the Assassin?"

The representative of the literary establishment grins and quips.

"I'd tell you, you know, but you tell everything. That's your problem. You want to tell all of literature's secrets. But some people don't want you telling their secrets."

As the fop moves forward to taste his own beer, the mask slips. His hand rushes to keep it in place. The fugitive imagines a glimpse of his greatest enemy. His mind reels. He all but falls from his chair.

"What?" the hired performer across from him asks.

The fugitive has stood. His eyes circle around the room, and at the lonely streets outside. He feels instinctively the tightening of a trap, realizing to his shock what he saw behind the false face: NOTHING AT ALL.

The spectre behind the ascot and monocle watches with amusement. A moment later it's gone. Darkness has appeared outside the bar's expanding windows. On the table remain empty beer glasses and a monocle.

"At least he paid the bill," the rebel reasons inside the cloudiness of his head.

As he walks outside, scout cars with blue flashing lights pull up from every direction. Masked and uniformed Literature Police officers carrying nightsticks step purposefully out from them. The rebel's hands are cuffed behind his back; nightsticks within his arms prodding him to his knees, then to the ground. His face feels the coldness of the street as throbbing blue bands of light dance against buildings and into the deep blackness of the nightime sky.
NEXT: "The Court of the Demi-Puppets."