~!~!~<@ The Closed Book v. 1.11 @>~!~!~
By Mike Meginnis and A D Jameson
m: You stand in the rare books room of your local library, which has tall walls painted gray. Or it seems to be paint -- on closer examination, this is only thickly layered dust, the dust of many years. The librarian has foolishly left you alone with the books. Several are locked up in glass cases, in various shades of dark green, and then there is the one in front of you, on the lectern at the center of the room, titled THE CLOSED BOOK. This one is black. The text is not ink but etched into its surface. Exits are north.
a: Does the book look valuable?
m: At this age, having survived for this long, on a lectern at the center of the rare books room, it seems it must be valuable. But no, it doesn't look that way.
a: Too bad; otherwise, I would have tried to steal it. Do any of the rare books look valuable?
m: There is an old edition of MOBY DICK that might be worth something. It might look valuable to you if you are the sort of person who has some sense of the value of old editions of MOBY DICK.
a: The librarian was foolish not to recognize me, as I am an international rare book thief. I also haven't eaten in a while, and I want to get a torta. I'll take that copy of MOBY DICK.
m: Of course it is sealed in one of the glass cases, which your international rare book thief instincts suggest might possibly be somehow wired to an alarm, or set to go off. How would you like to take that copy of MOBY DICK?
a: Judging from the condition of the paint, any wiring in this room would have decayed long ago. I've seen more secure laundry baskets. I'll just open the case and snatch it.
m: You have the old edition of MOBY DICK. Do you wish to read it now? I'm told it's quite good.
a: No, I think I'll head for the nearest exit. The only good I'm interested in right now is the good of a torta.
m: You exit north. This doorway opens to a narrow hall leading to a staircase (the way you came) and the main room of the library's top floor, which houses the hardbound collections of old magazines (TIME, LIFE, BOY'S LIFE, etc.).
a: Although, on second thought, that CLOSED BOOK book looked kinda interesting. I think I'll go back and take that, too. And try trading it for a licuado de nopal.
m: You, having given in to grand forces of destiny and fate and so on, go back for THE CLOSED BOOK. And then back to said hallway. Exits are north (the stairwell) and west (the library's magazine room).
a: Magazines are worthless. I'll head toward the stairwell, and go up.
m: You are now on the roof of the library. A black helicopter hovers above, its blades spinning very slowly (stealth mode). On your arrival, it begins to lower the rope ladder. But wait. This isn't your helicopter.
a: Obviously. I'm afraid of helicopters. But I have a rope ladder of my own, in my knapsack, and want to use that to parkour my way down to terra firma. (Assisted parkour.)
m: You tie one end of the rope ladder around one of the library's many chimneys (all of them spewing black industrial waste, the better to facilitate the helicopter's stealth) and take the rung at the other end between your teeth. You start to run toward the edge of the roof, and, clutching the precious rare books like your own children, take a swan dive. Lucky for you, your calculations were perfect: the ladder stops just high enough above the ground to let you dangle six inches off the grass, hanging on by your teeth.
a: I cry out, "I, too, have a stealth mode of my own!"—which of course causes me to fall the remaining six inches. I get up and dust myself off and now I want to scram to the nearest taqueria.
m: First you'll have to navigate a series of ingenious traps and tenacious police investigators and unforeseen complications, all while being pursued by said black helicopter hovering above you in said stealth mode, forever dangling its rope ladder (dragging it on the ground, over trees, through student games of hackie-sack and devil sticks), seeming to hope you'll just sort of give up and climb in. But you totally navigate all of these hazards, and quite suavely, and now you're at the taqueria, BAM! (BAM! is the name of the taqueria. You said the nearest, not the best or most authentic.)
a: Catching my breath I think, "Luckily I have trained my calves for precisely this kind of situation, and am 'fleet of foot.'" OK, now I want to try trading these books para la comida.
m: You'll have to convince the cashier, Carlos "BAM!" Carlos, owner of BAM! and primary taqueriaist. He looks both fat and skeptical. (Tremendously so, in both cases.) Exits are east (to the street), north (the ladies' room), northeast (the gents'), and Through Carlos (the kitchen, presumably).
a: No problem. I tell him this: "Señor Carlos, see this book? It's by Herbert Melville, a truly great American writer. As well as the great-grandfather of the popular contemporary musician Beck. You could easily sell this to him, or trade it for some unreleased tracks from his recent albums. And maybe even have him play some future party, here at BAM!"
m: Carlos takes the book from your hand and flips through it casually. "Lot of sperm in it," he says, in a gruff Kentucky drawl. "And what's all this about the whiteness of the whale?" He reaches beneath the counter, groping for the silent alarm. You'll have to explain fast!
a: Odelay! Luckily, I once had Beck explain the plot to me. I flip to a different page and point out the name "Starbuck." "Carlos," I say, shaking my head for dramatic effect, "would that prestigious coffee chain have endorsed this novel if it were something obscene?"
m: Carlos "BAM!" Carlos thinks about this for a few minutes, still slowly groping his way toward the silent alarm. (It seems it's always moving.) "I don't suppose they would," he says. "They're good people. What do you want for the book and the Beck concert?"
a: I eye the book longingly, as though I can't bear to part with it. But then I rub my stomach and moan piteously. "Una torta de carne asada is all I ask, Carlos," I manage to get out.
m: Carlos shrugs and disappears into the kitchen, holding the book open in one hand to read it as he goes. (The old book smell is starting to compete with the taqueria smell.) You hear the sizzles and pops of things (hopefully food) being fried. Now there is nothing to do but wait. Possibly at one of the empty tables. Possibly reading THE CLOSED BOOK. Or you could strike up a conversation with the mysterious stranger dressed in a black turtleneck, black leather pants, and a black fedora at the back corner of the restaurant (beside the gents').
a: Life is so fascinating, in its infinite (or near-infinite) choices! But what I'm really wondering is whether Beck might want a torta as well. I should probably call him. I decide to look in my knapsack for my cell phone.
m: You find your Hello Kitty cell phone (standard issue for glamorous international rare book thieves) at the very bottom of the knapsack.
a: But then I change my mind. Yo tengo mucho hambre. And Beck can get his own damned tortas; he has the means. Very few suspect that he, too, is an international rare book thief. And quite good at it, since his extensive touring schedule provides an ironclad alibi. The more I think about it, the more I realize I've long been envious of him, and his massive collection. I resolve to do something about that after lunch. But in the meantime, I decide to calm down, by taking pleasure in the fact that I have a new book called THE CLOSED BOOK, which, presumably, Beck does not. I decide to call him and ask him whether he has it.
m: Beck is all like "Yo yo!" On the phone, that is. When he picks it up, after you call him, and furthermore after it rings several times and his cell phone's secretary picks up and puts you on hold for a bit and then you can actually hear him through her hand, which she uses to cover the receiver, as he insists that he's NOT here this time and he does NOT want to talk to you, A D Jameson, rare international book thief and chief rival to him, Beck "Herbert" "Melville," but his cell phone's secretary reminds him that he always says that and that he's always ultimately glad he spoke to you because you boys have such fun, and then he takes the phone, Beck, and he's all like,"Yo yo!"
a: That Beck! He and I go back a long way. "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me"--that was my catchphrase, before he decided to swipe it. But I let him have it, because I'm magnanimous that way (and I pinched his BOBBSEY TWINS collection when he embarked on his first U.S. tour). Meanwhile, though, I'm thinking, "I could have been a rock star, too, were I not so damned afraid of helicopters!" But I don't say that. Instead I say, "Who's a yo-yo? Not I! Because I've just stolen a rare book, my lyric compatriot, that I think will interest you keenly!" And I say that last bit rather loudly, so loudly that I can be easily overheard by everyone else in the restaurant (and this despite the noise of the jukebox, and the TV, and not to mention the grill).
m: The guy in the black turtleneck remains absolutely motionless throughout this monologue, but your keen instincts tell you it's not because he isn't listening, but precisely because he is. "What's the book called?" says Beck, who seems to have just noticed for the first time in his life how much "book" sounds like "Beck," which is something you had noticed and considered at length many decades ago -- an achievement that is the source of much pride. Carlos, meanwhile, comes out of the kitchen with his thumb in the Melville and a question on his tongue, but he can see you're busy with Hello Kitty, and he respects that (as much as any pillar-of-his-community taqueria owner can respect anything) and so retreats to the kitchen.
a: Curses! I knew this day would come, when Beck realized precisely why I was his friend. (I have long entertained the desire to become an international rare Beck thief.) Well, that's just what I deserve for procrastinating for so long... Bidding that fond dream adieu, I turn to face the guy in the black turtleneck and stare at him with my eyes as I respond to my robber-buddy and occasional fence Beck, "THE CLOSED BECK. I mean, BOOK."
m: "Woooooah," says Beck. "Woooooooooooah. I mean, the first one you said would have been better, but THE CLOSED BOOK is pretty great too. That's a MacGuffin-class theft, my frenemy. You could hang a Dashiell Hammett-style noir plot on a find like that." The guy in the black turtleneck is visibly sweating. He pushes his hat back enough to wipe his forehead clean -- and reveal that he hasn't any eyebrows. Which can only mean one thing. (But you don't know what.)
a: I want to laugh. And I want to shake my slim fists at the sky. And I want to cry out, in a voice that shakes the nearby cans of refried beans, "Yeah! Oh! Man!" Can I do those things?
m: Knock yourself out, kid.
a: I do those things. Also, I want to try casting a magic spell.
m: You don't have the necessary material components.
a: What if I grab a can of refried beans?
m: There are a few spells you could do with one of those. But you might not like them.
a: What if I grab the can of refried beans and open it with the can opener that I keep in my knapsack for precisely this kind of circumstance and then scoop out a handful of bean and lob it in the direction of the guy in the turtleneck sweater, meanwhile shouting "FRIJOLE-CADABRA!", this being the necessary material components and incantation required for casting GROW EYEBROW, which is precisely the spell I want to cast? Because people who don't have eyebrows freak me out, and I would like to give him a big one.
m: Then the guy in the black turtleneck will weep with gratitude and throw himself on the ground and apologize for ever taking "this cursed assignment," grasping at the cuffs of your glamorous short pants, pleading for you to forgive him for what he promised he would do to you, A D "Rare Beck Thief" Jameson, Glamorous International Rare Book Thief. Meanwhile, Beck will rap quietly and patiently on the other end of the line. If you do those things.
a: Then I will do those things, and only wish I'd done them sooner. And I'm well aware that doing these things will cause me to drop my HK phone, but Beck's in no hurry, and used to that. And in any case, he sounded high.
m: Perfect. All that stuff happens, that I said before, right now. And then your torta comes out. So things are going pretty well for you right now, I think. Beck keeps running into trouble trying to rhyme "potato."
a: Excellent! I was just beginning to think that since I now have a big can of raw refried beans, there was no real reason for me to continue to wait for my torta. But now I can dunk the sandwich in the refried beans while me and my newly bushy pal travel to see Beck, in order to show him the majesty of THE CLOSED BOOK. Which I own, and Beck does not.
m: There's only one problem: as you exit the BAM! taqueria, arm-in-arm with Bushy Pal (whose name suddenly makes much more sense, he is relieved to tell you), the helicopter hovers into view. It turns out that this is Bushy Pal's helicopter. He wants you to climb the rope ladder it's still helpfully dangling. Scary!
a: Yes, but before anything else happens, can I say that I'm happy to observe that this guy in the black turtleneck sweater is no longer sweating? Because the cool beans cooled him off. Which makes my excellent situation even more great, because I can't stand to see someone sweat. I haven't sweat a drop myself since I painstakingly cauterized my every pore. And can I refer to this guy in the black turtleneck which now has some refried bean stains as "Mr. Smooth"? Even though his name's really "Mr. Bushy"? Because names should remind us of who we once were.
m: You can call him what you want but he doesn't have to like it. He was very excited to be given his new, lustrous eyebrow, and he believes our names should be aspirational, that we should call ourselves what we most hope to be (Mr. "Rare Beck Thief" Jameson), that this allows us to live in a state of focused study and reflection, rather than wallow in our own self-satisfaction and refried bean coolants.
a: Very well, it will serve as an object lesson for us all. And regarding my new pal's ominous helicóptero negro and its escalera de cuerda--You know, today's been such an excellent day, I think it's time for me to try getting over my lifelong fear of such things. Because what the Beck, right? So, OK, I grab hold of the dangling e.d.c.
m: The rope ladder draws you up into the chopper's belly. Inside everything is black, such that you can barely distinguish yourself, Bushy Pal, and the pilot (Otto, who is also a robot) from the general gloom. Otto, who is also a robot, informs you that whatever happens to you in here, in this place, in this dark secret place, you will forget it instantly when you disembark from the chopper. He says that you can, might, and should take some comfort from this.
a: OK, I will.
a: Right on.
m: Wouldn't have it any other way.
a: What are we talking about, again? I see we're about to land at Beck's helipad...
m: AAAAAAH OH MY GOD THE PAIN THIS HAS BEEN THE WORST HELICOPTER-RELATED EXPERIENCE IN A LONG AND GLAMOROUS LIFE FULL OF TERRIBLE INTERNATIONAL HELICOPTER-RELATED EXPERIENCES SWEET MARY MOTHER OF JESUS TAKE IT OUT OH PLEASE TAKE IT OU-- oh hey, you're right. Well, what's done is done. Maybe. You're honestly not sure. Beck's cocktail's secretary has brought you Beck's cocktail, for your enjoyment on Beck's helipad.
a: Muy bien. I sip it.
m: "Beck's cocktail is delicious," says Beck's cocktail's secretary. "Don't have too much, though. He's saving most of his cocktail for later."
a: "Beck can go take a flying leap at a Buick." Is what I think. But not what I say; I am always a perfect guest. Taking the crazy straw out of my mouth I say, "Shure."
m: Beck's cocktail's secretary takes Beck's cocktail from your mouth. His helipad's receptionist -- Gina -- leads you and Bushy Pal inside Beck's posh, dark inner sanctum. (Bushy Pal is missing an ear, you notice, but you can't remember why.)
a: Who isn't, these days? I myself am missing a whole crate of ears. While we walk I finger THE CLOSED BOOK, increasingly excited as to just how excited Beck will be. Which reminds me, of course, that the text on the cover isn't ink, but etched into its surface.
m: That's very true, and quite attentive of you. Nicely done. (You get a 1up.) As Gina leads you deeper and deeper into the maze that is Beck's posh, dark inner sanctum, you see a great number of fantastic sights, including but not limited to a pair of Christ's sandals, the original baby blue dish towel from PSYCHO's notorious "dish towel scene," two turntables and a microphone, a Coca-Cola polar bear, the skeletons of those Narnia children, a minotaur, a car battery, an invisible dildo, an armoire, and one of those little flashlights that light up when you shake them.
a: All tubbish (tubs of rubbish), when compared with a truly rare book. That's that guy's problem—a lack of focus! Which is why I'm the one with the book and with the 1up.
m: Finally you come to the innermost recess of Beck's inner sanctum. His secret garden, if you will. It's not a garden, though: it's a glass room with large, ornately decorated brass doors. Beck is snickering at you inside the glass room -- you're not sure why, as you have the MacGuffin-class rare book, and besides it's quite rude, because you can see him, but it's not entirely clear that he realizes the walls (unlike the doors) are glass. (You reflect that he has never once in his long musical career rhymed "brass" with "glass," which suggests he doesn't realize that they aren't the same word.)
a: I'm quite accustomed to Beck's rude snickers—he's never handled fame well. But we'll soon see how well he handles my fame! After all, I've got the book, and can now ride in helicopters, and am beginning to shape a few killer hooks in my memory—two can play at this debauched game! I place my free hand on one of the brass handles and tug at the grass-stained glass door.
m: The door grudgingly gives way to your expert tugs. Bushy Pal helpfully pulls the other door open. "Yo yo!" says Beck, who is still holding his cell phone, as if he's been quietly rapping into it the entire time. (He has.) "Is that really it? THE CLOSED BOOK? Wooooooah."
a: His RAPPING is about to get PERMANENTLY SILENCED. I think. But what I SAY is, "Behold! Yes! This book, which, while it wasn't written by your illustrious great-grandfather, is nonetheless one of the great American books, being rare, and being closed, and being etched, instead of printed upon with ink, and being, um, something that excited you when I mentioned it on the phone." At which point I myself am silenced, as I wait for Beck to say or rap something explanatory.
m: "Well here is the deal / my book thief veal / with your rare black book / and why it merits a look," raps Beck, without apparent effort or (one imagines) much in the way of advance preparation. "That book is notorious / because it's said to be laborious / to open that shit, / no matter how sharp your wit. / Impossible, in fact, if we're being totally honest, / which I myself have always believed to be the best."
a: "Oh, for heaven's sake," I say. Or think. Or say. "What does that matter to me? Indeed, it's best for all concerned that I not open it—as every international rare book thief knows, opening a book serves only to weaken its spine, and thereby devalue it. I intend rather to sell it to some collector, who can fiddle with the damned thing from now until eternity, for all I care. As long as I get my torta!"
m: Beck's eyes light up. "You would sell this rare find / to a collector with a serious mind, / if said collect-ah / were willing to get-chah / just one goddamn torta?"
a: "Of course not!" I say. I would want...two tortas. And not just any kind. I would want..." I stare Beck straight in the eyes. "Two ear tortas!" Because I have suddenly remembered what happened in the general secret gloom of that flying machine.
m: Beck takes a small silver bell from his desk, the one that summons his tortas' secretary, and rings it. He grins at you with an expression of pure smugness. Quite a while later, after an interminable awkward silence, Beck's tortas' secretary arrives, carrying Beck's two tortas.
a: I sigh. Trust the madcap fool not to understand that I wanted his two ears. His stupidity has consistently proven the foil to my sadistic scheming. But so our friendly rivalry, or rivalrous friendship, has always been. And as long as he has his two ears...I will still have my plots to separate them from him. I toss the book in Beck's lap and greedily stuff the two tortas in my knapsack for precisely the kind of later situation in which they will later prove useful (i.e., future hunger), then cordially take my leave. Although on my way out, I take care to swipe my friend's rare copy of MOBY DICK—the one that was inscribed for him by his great-grandfather. Because I rather enjoy reading novels about espresso.
Bio: A D Jameson is the author of two books: the prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound) and the novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson). He is also the nonfiction/reviews editor of the online journal Requited, and a contributor to Big Other and HTMLGIANT.