The Unknown: The Red Line.

We were taken in a van with tinted windows and government insignia to a small airfield.

I expressed to Cormac my concern that he was flying us out of the country before we’d been able to meet the Clintons, who were all big fans of The Unknown, even Chelsea, even Roger, who reportedly howled with laughter at our comical fictional drug-fueled book tour during his stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. Cormac winked. “The Clintons are going to be more happy to see you now than ever, now that they know you’re going to help us out on our little project overseas.” Did this mean that we were involved in a covert operation that not only the President, but the First Lady, were aware of? We didn’t realize that we were going to be reporting so high up. Maybe we were bypassing the CIA altogether.

Cormac escorted us to a C-123. We climbed inside and tried to make ourselves comfortable. Outside on the runway, soldiers were loading gigantic crates onto our plane. It occurred to me to be apprehensive. Dirk was reading John Ashbery and was withdrawn. Scott was smoking and fixing martinis. He saw me looking and smiled and said, “It’s on Uncle Sam.” Just then, a man I assumed was the pilot came back to where we were sitting. He had a white helmet and jumpsuit—no military markings—and orange goggles. He looked stern and Scott was about to ask if it was okay to smoke inside the plane when the stubble on the man’s cleft chin wiggled into a smile and he lifted his goggles and it was Frank.

We were surprised as hell and all smiles and backslapping but what the fuck? Frank could pilot a C-123? He sure didn’t pick up that knowledge when we were working on our master’s degrees back in Normal. It was a liberal arts program, we didn’t learn any applicable skills. And he couldn’t have joined the armed forces in 1997 and be working for intelligence, very high-level, in 1999. So he must have been working for the CIA or the N.S.C. or (I shuddered) the D.E.A. the whole time when we were in grad school together. Even when I snuck that hit of marijuana when I was studying Kristeva in his kitchen and he smelled it. Frank the Spook. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Marquardt. Which was undoubtedly only one of many aliases.

But why would an intelligence operative get a creative writing degree? To spy on someone. And that someone could only be one person.




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