|t looked as though Barnes & Noble’s antitrust case was going to drag on in courtrooms for years as the corporate giant methodically monopolized the publishing, distribution, and bookselling industries.
And then there was the time when the Unknown came into the Barnes & Noble in Billings, Montana, on Harley Davidson motorcycles. Their choppers rumbled in through the front doors and lined up beside the sale table, idling. The four writers wore helmets with American flags and leather jackets with the URL of the hypertext emblazoned across the back. They began to rev their engines to terrifying volumes, drowning out the Muzak even in the computer books section in the rear corner of the superstore. There were shouts and security officers running toward them from both the café on the right and the long row of cash registers on the left.
Dirk nodded, and the four bikes tore off in different directions. Dirk and Scott drove straight up the middle of the store, literature to their right, history and politics to their left. Customers with shopping baskets yelled and fled into the science fiction and poetry aisles.
Frank pulled a radical wheelie and drove off to the left between the remainder tables. He kicked over a stack of copies of first edition hardcovers of A Frolic of His Own marked down to $3. A security guard chasing him tripped over the copies of the great encyclopedic novel and hit the floor in a cloud of unattributed dialogue.
William’s great bike circled to the right and tore toward the café, scattering newspapers in its wake. A security guard vaulted the counter of the cafeteria, kicking over a glass jar of overpriced biscotti, which hit the tiled floor in a splash of glass and crumbs. The guard leapt onto a table, stepping on a screaming undergraduate’s open copy of A Room of One’s Own, and dove over the railing of the café onto William’s bike as it drove past. The guard grabbed the chrome on the back of William’s seat. William gunned the engine and took a hard right around a tight corner, sweeping the guard up and off his feet, and slamming him into a tall shelf of sheet music, where he fell stunned to the blue carpet. William banked left and noticed a copy of Helene Cixous’The Ladder of Reading on the critical theory shelf as his speedometer hit 30 MPH. He was scared but kept telling himself, “This will make a great scene in the movie, this will make a great scene in the movie…”
On the opposite side of the store, Frank was tooling down a narrow row between nature and science books, being chased by a screaming assistant manager, when a very big security guard appeared in front of him at the front end of the aisle. Frank, keeping his hands on the handlebars, leapt up onto the seat, crouching on his boots, gunned the accelerator, and sprang into the air. The bike tore into the guard and drove him into a shelf of travel books, which exploded in a chaos of unfolding maps. Frank sailed over the shelf as it fell apart and, in midair, he grabbed the chandelier, swinging back and forth above the noise and smoke.
While Scott diverted security by doing donuts in the kids’book section, scattering tiny furniture and toys, leaving skidmarks on the pink carpet, as children huddled in the corners screaming with laughter, Dirk skidded to a stop beside the anthology section. Smoke rising from his tailpipe, he unzipped his leather jacket, grabbed all three copies of the Unknown Anthology, and tucked them away, zipping his jacket back up. He then spoke into his helmet radio the line, “So may every humiliated mouth, teeth like desecrated tombstones, fill with the angels of bread.” This was their prearranged signal to leave: it meant that the mission had been accomplished.
Having shoplifted back our own books, we were depriving Barnes & Noble whatever markup they would have made off of us. Security guards leapt aside as Scott tore out of the kids’book section, a gigantic stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat under his arm.
William and Dirk pulled into the main aisle and they made for the exit.
Frank dropped from the chandelier, landing next to his fallen bike. The assistant manager lunged for him. Frank hit the carpet in a shoulder-roll and somersaulted into reference, bouncing to his feet wielding a hardbound abridged Oxford English Dictionary. The assistant manager whirled into a fighting stance, and jumped into a flying kick aimed at Frank’s faceplate. Frank ducked beneath the kick and brought the open OED up, slamming it shut on the assistant manager’s genitals. The assistant manager fell for the floor, yelling, going for a concealed .33 semiautomatic pistol in an ankle holster.
Frank uprighted his bike, leapt atop it, and tore down the aisle. There were now mall police on the scene, coming at him from the left and the right. Frank drove straight into a low shelf of business books, knocking it over, and he gunned the bike up it like a ramp, sailing over customers lying on the floor, onto the remainder table, where he executed a turn and headed for the door. A bullet tore through a remaindered copy of Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist.
Scott, on Dirk’s cue, had driven back into the storeroom, following a route on a map he had memorized. He drove between shelves of cartons of books, all marked Ingram, and came out at the edge of the loading dock where Marla, in a black dress with a large hat and a veil, stood, smoking a cigarette on a long ivory stem, a carton under her arm labeled Unknown. During the diversion on the main floor, she had made her way into the storeroom and retrieved all the copies of the anthology they had in the back.
Scott gave her the stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat.
She opened the loading platform door, raised Scott’s faceplate, kissed him, and climbed onto the back of the bike, wrapping her arms around him. Then she said, “Scootaloo, baby, or we’ll be late for your reading at Moose Rack Books in Big Sky.”
Scott gunned the engine and they flew off the edge of the loading dock into the night.