o Rob and I arrived at Dirk’s place, which was pleasant, just the way I remembered it. Rob talked a lot about the architecture was different from that of Chicago. Sort of a how-he-imagined-Atlanta-thirty-years-back-look I think Rob said, and then he was riffing on some German album and Neofuturist theater as adopted by the people at the Neofuturarium in Chicago. We kidded around about Joe Tabbi’s theory of autopoiesis and how it related to our personal lives.
The note on the door said “Go to DuBois.”
It wasn’t unusual that Dirk and William weren’t there.
It was unusual that they had left a note.
Further, a note which specified a location.
And not Duttenhoffers, Dirk’s favorite used bookstore within walking distance. But DuBois. Which was known as your basic chain-type college bookstore, which exploited everyone who touched it. And sordid.
So we went there. The cashier looked kind of beat-up. He was reciting Coleridge. I didn’t see Dirk or William. So I asked him if he’d seen the Unknown. The guy, his nametag said Ralph, replied:
“the first rule about the Unknown Club is you don’t talk about the Unknown Club.”
“Yeah right buddy you read the Unknown? Where is Dirk? And what did he do with William? What’s he on?”
“the second rule about the Unknown Club,” Ralph said, “is you don’t talk about the Unknown Club.”
I’ll admit I was getting pissed off. Rob was too, apparently. He asked Ralph if that was a sestina he was working on. Ralph got all sensitive and covered up the sheaf of poems in front him. Rob grabbed him by the lapel.
“What did you do with the Unknown?” he asked, “I’m doing research for a book, and I need to speak with Dirk.”
Ralph looked scared, “Ya . . You… Kne… Know… Dirk?”
“Yes. He’s in the Unknown.”
Ralph began sweating profusely. The plip plip plip of his fear-induced moisture falling steadily on his manuscript seemed to be amplified by the eerie silence that seemed quite uncharacteristic of the DuBois I remembered.
“Hey, Ralph,” I said, “where is everybody? Why’s the store so empty?”
Empty was an understatement. Somehow, in our eagerness to find Dirk and William, we had failed to notice that DuBois seemed virtually abandoned. Not only was Ralph the only person in the store, he was about the only material object as well. The shelves were bare, for the most part; a few tattered notebooks lay on the floor intermingled with dirty Bearcats merchandise: a keychain here, a coffee mug there. No one had bought anything here for some time; that much was clear.
“the third rule of the Unk—”
Rob shut Ralph up with a vicious backhand slap to the face. Rob’s Rolex did most of the damage. “Listen, Ralph,” Rob said, in a voice that was like a straight razor married to a pit bull that dripped sulfuric acid from its gleaming steel canines, “we’re anarchists. We don’t believe in rules. Answer our questions, NOW, or plan to get intimately involved with your new friend Mr. Rolex. Capiche?”
I was glad Rob was my friend. I’d never seen this side of him before, but it didn’t surprise me, really. You know what they say: violent waters run deep. Or, wait… something like that.
Ralph was a blubbering wreck by now, spitting out broken teeth, blood bubbling from his nose and mouth. I felt sorry for him, but in a way, he brought it upon himself. I decided it was time to play good cop.
“Back off, Rob,” I said softly. “Let Ralph get himself together. He wants to help us… don’t you Ralph?”
Ralph nodded pathetically, and wiped away some of the blood with a Bearcat t-shirt I picked up off the floor. Rob relaxed his grip, but continued to hold his Rolex-ed arm conspicuously close to Ralph’s now-compromised face.
“O.K., first things first. What happened to DuBois?