The Unknown: The Red Line.

While we were in D.C., we decided to fly Adam in and have him take some promotional photos for future hypertext novels and book jackets. He suggested we take some shots in front of D.E.A. Headquarters. We thought that was a fine idea. We did not, at the time, consider ourselves recreational users. We were professionals. And this fact, thanks to the war on drugs, made us martyrs of a sort. So we felt we owed the D.E.A. for being narcs, busting users, locking up artists, and, in general, making us into heroes and rebels.

We were in the park across the street trying to line up a shot that included the face of the D.E.A. Headquarters along with the flags when a few suits came out and started to approach us. It was at this point that I realized that I was holding. It just hadn’t occurred to me to leave the marijuana in the car for the D.E.A. shoot. I started sweating. The suits walked up, wingtips impeccable. They had mirrored shades. Looked like one of them was packing a .33 in an ankle holster. The other one looked mean and he was reaching inside his jacket, his hand moving toward his shoulder. My knees turned to theory. I wanted to run. He pulled his hand out of his jacket wielding a copy of The Unknown.

Autographs. They wanted autographs.

They turned out to be great guys and they took us out drinking. They were pros, too, it turned out. Rourke had been working twelfth floor under the marijuana desk for about three years. South was about to go undercover in Illinois, and this day had been the last day he would spend behind a desk for many weeks. We tried to get him to talk about his project, and we eventually, many rounds later, did get him to talk. We’re fiction writers, we said, except Dirk, we’re expert liars. Even if we tried to expose your mission, it would just be literature, it wouldn’t be a threat to you.

Turns out that there was a certain celebrated metafictionist in Illinois whom the D.E.A. knew had previous ties to some big dealers in the Boston area. South had enrolled in a Master’s program to try to get close to him. To pull off the cover, he had had to read a lot of John Barth in a short time, in order to be a convincing graduate student.

This was too much. I pulled Scott aside and we played pinball. I expressed my concern:

South is about to embark on a mission that has already failed. Not only is he going to get an advanced degree in English Studies, he’s going after a man who’s cleaned up his life and lost his connections. A professor. He’s going to Normal, Illinois. We should tell him to call it off.”

Scott skewered me with a skeptical glance. “South is a great guy, but he’s a narc. Narcs suck. Let him bang his head against a wall. Maybe he’ll end up reading Thomas Pynchon and learn a little about life.”

I saw his point. So we let the narc have it. Then we went to dinner.



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