Never expect a good literary critique from a federal agent. I learned this the hard way, through a roundabout lesson via a maze of fear and loathing. These guys aren’t readers, they have other things on their mind. Seek your feedback elsewhere. They don’t hang in bookstores.
I was spending a sleepless night watching Law & Order re-runs at 3 a.m. last week when I came across a particular episode. Stabler was perusing a table top of confiscated booty while on the eve of another tortured denouement. There were drugs, weapons and cash and I began to wonder what happens to all that crap when the perps are locked up? The drugs are probably consumed, the cash spent and weapons sold. It started me thinking about my computers, years back, when the feds invaded my house and confiscated my equipment. I was accused of selling stolen library books (bogus) and the curtain was coming down. They wanted me off the street. Or at least out of the libraries.
It’s interesting how computers have become the brain and nerve centers of most households today. You might have a jar of plutonium under your pillow or Jimmy Hoffa locked in your closet but goddamn, better hang on to your computer! I guess everything evil tends to be concentrated into the hard drive, it is the post-modern jugular of criminality. If you have been breaking the law, there will surely be trace elements of evidence in your drive, no doubt about it. It is now a physical law of nature.
Well, the feds came knocking. They took our computers and only later did they take note of all the books that were lining our living room walls. Two weeks later I had a formal interview with two federal agents in my town’s local jail. I was a bit nervous so I popped a few Xanax first. I had to get in the proper mood.
My interview took place in a shoddy room with, I kid you not, a single light bulb dangling from a ceiling cord. I expected Bogie to pop out at any moment. The two agents were as deadpan as deadpan gets. They asked me the usual questions, how, what, when, then asked me again to try and trip me up. The Xanax was in my lobes by then, I was certainly in no hurry. I answered them all over again. Or at least I think I did.
Then came the unexpected question.
Who is this Newton Feeney?
I laughed and didn’t respond. It seemed the feds had a sense of humor after all. Then they asked me again.
Who is Newton Feeney? Was he a partner? Did you sell him books?
I laughed again. Were they kidding? Newton Feeney was a character in a novel I had started to write with a working title of Calling Newton Feeney. My only copy was on the hard drive that was confiscated. It was probably the only favor the feds did for me. They got that damned book out of my life.
I explained the origin of Newton Feeney to them. “It’s a book I wrote, or tried to at least. Did you read it? What did you think?”
They looed at me doubtfully and scribbled notes in their little black fed note books. “So you never had any book connection with Newton Feeney?”
“No,” I told them, “his only book connection was that he was in the book I wrote. Newton Feeney does not exist, except in my book, or now, in my mind.” Damn, I thought, are we really having this conversation? Or did I take too much Xanax?
I got that I Don’t Believe Your Ass Look which made me feel like a liar. They took more notes, gave me more looks and finally dropped the subject. Newton Feeney had an alibi. At the time of this alleged caper, he was safely installed on my C drive. Looked like he was going to walk. My case however, was going to be a different story.
Exhausted, we both finally called it quits. I was free to go, at least for now until they invaded my life the next time. I never did get a literary opinion from them. I don’t think they ever read it. Maybe one of their lackeys did, who the hell knows? Maybe I have a secret fan out there somewhere.
I don’t know whatever happened to Newton Feeney. I’m sure he was eventually auctioned off, given a new life and new home. I hope he’s doing well wherever he is. I do miss him. I’ve never had a literary character come as alive since as Newton did that day beneath the single burning light bulb. For one afternoon, he was a living and breathing character, a person of interest to the federal agents. I’m glad I brought him into the world. If you see him, please give him my regards. I hope he’s running free.