The Unknown: The Red Line.
  The Unknown were hoping to reach Lincoln, Nebraska by dawn. They had a reading at Lee Booksellers at 8:30 A.M. and were running late, as usual.

William was in one of his unspeakably foul funks in the back seat. He was withdrawn and angry and narcissistic and vicious and had become very drunk but was convinced that it was someone else’s fault even though he wouldn’t pass the liquor. Dirk and Scott drove on in strained silence, each of them separately considering just throwing William out of the car. Their only consolation was that there was no computer in the car so William couldn’t flame them over email. William was eating Cheetos and drinking Goldschlager and not sharing either.

They drove through the beautiful and deep night with the amazingly clear stars wheeling above them. A gigantic moon sat on the western horizon behind them. The three men were words, the highway was a ribbon of blank paper. It was a beautiful night and a hostile silence. They drove on into the Unknown in the awesome night beneath constellations they had only known by name.

Abruptly William began to choke. Scott lit a cigarette. Dirk turned on the radio and tried to find a country station. There was a coughing and a strained gargling and a retching. Scott took a deep drag and looked out the window and said: “I don’t know the Heimlich maneuver. Do you?”

“Nah,” Dirk replied.

There was nothing to be done. William was gasping to loosen a Cheeto from his trachea.

“If he choked to death,” Scott offered, “it would be just like John Bonham.”

“That would be cool, actually,” agreed Dirk, “if the Unknown could be more like Led Zeppelin. They sold a lot of records.”

“Yeah. Also, I think Frank is really getting tired of being compared to Ringo.”

There was a prolonged strangled wheeze and a thumping. Dirk asked Scott:

“Didn’t Keith Moon choke on his own vomit?”


“Yeah, er, no, not the whole Who, Keith Moon was just the drummer.”

“I thought he died by falling out of a second story window.”

“No, er, yeah. Well, I mean, he did fall out of a second story window. But he was uninjured.”

“That a fact?”

William’s arm reached up from behind the front seat and tapped Scott on the shoulder. Scott offered him a cigarette, wondering aloud: “Now wait, how did Jim Morrison die?”

“It was probably a cocaine and alcohol overdose, but I don’t think he was ever autopsied. I think he was vacationing overseas with a lover and she was the only witness and when his body arrived back in the states it was already nailed into a coffin.”

“Ah. Yeah, I remember they said he was found dead in the ah, Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Paris, but yeah, hmm. . . . And Hendrix?”

“He overdosed on pills. I think it might have been a prescription sleeping pill he was actually taking in order to sleep. Thing was, the ambulance drivers didn’t treat him properly, probably because of who he was. I think they just propped him up in the back seat, and he choked to death on the way to the hospital.”

“Really. What about Janis Joplin?”

Heroin and whiskey. Joplin and Hendrix were both 27. It was 1970. Hendrix died in September, Joplin in October. Hendrix in London, Joplin in Hollywood.”

“And Morrison?”

“1971. 28, I think.”

“And Brian Jones? How old was he when he drowned in a swimming pool in 1969?”

“He was 27 too. But the Rolling Stones had already asked him to leave the band.”

“How old is William?”

“I forget.”

“Didn’t rock stars shoot themselves back then?”

“No. Only writers.”



“Well, I’m just thinking. All those people were dead by the time they were our age.”


“So they all had at least, what, three, four albums, a couple TV shows, whatnot. All we got is one stinking measly book and it took three of us to write it.”

“Don’t remind me. Time’s winged chariot. But don’t forget the hypertext, the criticism.”

“Yeah, all that shit. Didn’t any rock stars get shot in the Sixties?”

“No. Only politicians and African-American leaders got shot in the Sixties. Sixties rock stars didn’t start getting shot until the Seventies.”

“Hey William, you okay?”

“. . . ugh . . .”

“Is that a yes?”

“. . . ’sthere any water up there?”

“I don’t know. Ask Dirk.”

“. . . Dirk?”

“Yeah, Zeppelin, I don’t know. Last I heard, the number one song of all time was “Hey Jude” and “Stairway to Heaven” number two. I think we should stick with the Beatles. Frank always seemed like more of a George Harrison to me. You guys often treat me like Ringo.”

“And who’s John Lennon?”

“I don’t know. Lennon was supposedly really grumpy and withdrawn and arrogant and fucked up a lot of time.”

“Hm . . . “

“He also got murdered by a psychotic fan who had cultivated a cult-leader kind of fixation on the man.”

“Hm . . . I guess I don’t know which of us is Lennon.”

“Yeah, we’ll just have to wait and see . . . “

“. . . Dirk . . . ?”

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The Unknown at Spineless Books.