The Law Of Distant Beauty

The Law Of Distant Beauty

A Story by Scott Durham

An obsession with the world's most popular writer turns dangerous. A desk in a meadow explodes, pea soup is eaten.

The curtain moved slightly from the inside, too much to be a breeze or wafting of air. There was a finger nudging it open about the width of a paper cut. The shadowy- hand behind the translucent fabric let go of the fabric and it quickly fell back into place. 

“WHO is it?” A muffled, yet percussive tenor voice coming from inside the dwelling announced firm disgust at the arrival of this intrusion.
The two guys outside the window were waving and showing the body language of expectations that the door might be opened for them. It was a very cold 38 degrees, felt more like 18 with an overcast sky. The figure inside never seemed to come back to the window and the door was never opened. 

Dave and Jon walked slowly and deliberately back down the driveway to the main road. In the hour or so that they were away from the car, a branch that held back a huge armload of snow had given way. The fallen branch left a short, wide mark in the hood, symbolic of the failed journey the two men just completed. 

“I told you he wouldn’t come out. I don’t know what we were thinking.”
The driver spent a couple minutes dwelling on those statements from his pessimistic passenger, realizing that ultimately they were true and accurate.
“I hear that sometimes people get him to come out and talk, it could just be the weather.” 

The radio still could not tune all the way in but the ghost of a song edged through the FM band, “Maybe we can come back in June, Bennie will be able to come with us for that trip, and he’s like a good luck charm.” 
Jon, the passenger, smiled at the thought of Benjamin Rieflin. The smile, and half giggle emerged from the sudden image of explaining to Ben the reasonableness of hunting down J.D. Salinger. Ben’s mind could never wrap itself around wanting to look up a writer. Even as a clever prank, he would never disturb a stranger unless there was some weed or beer at stake. As Dave got the second mitten off and straightened out the wheel, he looked for Jon’s response. 

“True…he is good luck.” Jon saw the long drive back to Buffalo ahead so he did not want to disparage Ben, but there was a laundry list of reasons not to bring him along next time. Nothing really mattered to a person like Bennie, Jon thought. The fact that Dave was going to be Bennie’s brother-in-law in a few months really drove a wedge between Jon and Dave.
Jon tried to imagine the car ride, and driving back to Cornish with the two of them would be unbearable. As unsuccessful as this attempt was, he doubted even his own return. 

“I wonder if Deb and Janie brought the mail in for us.” Jon was off subject, out of hope that there would be no going over the history of Ben and Jon. 
Just then, the radio finally cleared up as they neared the covered bridge back to Windsor, Vermont. Jon knew a CD was coming soon. For the moment, he just enjoyed the Johnny Rivers song that the oldie station offered. 
“Is the bag still behind my seat, or yours?” 
Jon saw the satchel behind the driver’s seat and retrieved it for Dave. 
“Here, you want me to dig for ya?”
“No, I got it.” Dave expertly pulled the joint from the inner pocket. The matches were deeper. 
“Whatta we got for tunes?” Dave asked.
Jon fingered nimbly through a book of CD’s and grabbed a disc Dave had burned before the trip, one of the last unheard discs made for the trip. Dave gave a wry smile as the disc was inserted. “Boo-yah”  
Dave was an a*s about making CD’s; Jon tolerated the phony expert connoisseurship because every now and then Dave came up with something good. Every now and then, not much more.
With track one, Jon was already done in. 
“Conley, quit trying to get me into The Cure!” 
Dave, a tad irritated and feeling unappreciated, looked at Jon with confusion.
“It’s just a band, some people like them. A lot of people like them.” 
“Maybe if this was 1988, I could see giving them a chance, they are a one-trick pony for sure.” Jon was just happy not to be talking about Bennie.
“You wanna skip it? Dave asked nicely, “Seriously, skip to track 2, you will like it…” Dave punched it up, Jon was happy again with the sound of some anonymous Dub group.
“Thanks, D.”
“All good, just stretching out my bro’s horizons!” Dave knew to let up with his mission to spread the gospel of The Cure. This was an issue for him quite a lot. His obsession was a little creepy for most, the only way Jon cut him slack was because of his own obsession with J.D. Salinger.

The misery of being a misunderstood youth can draw the words of Salinger into a Demigod-esque center of the known literary Universe. For some, even a guy like Jon Baldwin, the author’s words were a not unlike a map of the very Universe itself. It seemed like a destiny of his that he at least tried to meet Salinger, even considering in advance that the resistance would be stiff. 

Most people who go looking for the house of J.D. Salinger might encounter a myriad of confusion along the way. The house on the right going this way, no that way. Asking a local for directions can be straight ridiculous, “Oh yes, the Salinger place…take this road back a mile and turn down the gravel road leading to the next town, it’s just around the first turn…”  
They almost enjoy the fun of giving false directions, smug in the knowledge that they have personally helped to enforce the code of the hills. Don’t they understand what it means to be touched in the soul by literature? The unspoken code of the hills is basically this, “if you don’t know exactly where you’re headed, then you surely could have no good business being there, truly you deserve no help getting there.”
Besides, Salinger practically invites us here in the first chapter of his novel. All that crap about liking a writer and looking him up, he wrote those words and could hardly be surprised that the public might seek him out for writing the greatest book of all time.
The old man had to know that the self-serving nature of people would mandate a disruption of his life at some point. There is not a woods deep enough to keep the true believers away, but Salinger sure gave it a good try. 
Upon returning to Buffalo, a letter awaited Jon “Caulfield” Baldwin on the floor beneath the mail-slot. 
Opening it, reading at a mid-size mutter his eyes widened. 
He passed it to Dave, who was still wet from walking in with the bags. 
“This has to be somebody pranking you, whoever it is; they’re pretty good- I would say.” Dave handed it back.
The attached contents assured the reader that Jerry Salinger himself had written it. The enclosed photo of Jon and Dave standing on his porch in the snow raised no doubt in Jon that it was the real Salinger who’d sent the note.
The letter read:

“Dear Mr. Baldwin: 

If you really want to know the truth, I want people to visit me. I just don’t know what to say in a situation like that, I’ve said everything a person could ever say in that situation, and I have done it a thousand times.
 So you liked my book, big f*****g deal.
 Can’t you all just pretend that I died with the publication of that book? Because I did die a horrible death once it was published- on the inside.
Every day since it came out I get a little richer, and, I die again one more time. What you do not understand is that I know my story touches people; it is why I wrote the f*****g thing to start with. In reality, I am a sentimental b*****d that can really admire the hell out of another writer occasionally. I just don’t feel the need to know what he smells like. Maybe he doesn’t want you to know what he smells like. In any case, I wish for you to return, by yourself, to the house in Cornish. I assure you that you will not be meeting a legend, or a god, I am just as flawed and confused as you are. I have a job for you, and small personal request, which can only be discussed in person. Don’t worry about how I found you, one of my biggest fans is in a position to run your plates and find out who you are in a few minutes. I read your credit report Jon, tsk, tsk. 
I do not wish to sound rude but if you don’t come back here, I do know where to find you, don’t make me have to come find you. I do not care when you come, just walk down around the house to a little green door in the side of the garage, I’ll buzz you in. Walk up into the main house and make yourself comfortable, I’m sure I will be along at some point. 
Do not refuse my request! I feel you owe me this courtesy, at the least, for intruding on my property.


Jon stood there with chills running down all of his various spines. 
“I have to borrow the car for a few days.” Jon announced. “No, I need you to drop me off in Cornish.”
Dave’s sarcastic chin went to work and smirked as if to say ‘what do you think I am -Greyhound?’ 
Then he said he would do it. If circumstances were reversed, Dave knew that Jon would help the cause. Added to this was the fact that someday Jon would find out that Dave had slept with his younger sister a couple of times, it wouldn’t hurt for Dave to install a nice cushion of good deeds before that inevitable crash.
 “Let’s take a quick nap, shower up and head back in the morning.” That was the plan that Dave announced. 
What it turned into was, do some shots, get faded on bong hits and oversleep to the menu screen of the Woodstock ‘99 DVD. 
It was 9 a.m. before they got back on the road; Jon had hoped to get there before sundown. There was a slim chance of making it before but more likely to arrive shortly after.
As the highway lines passed, Jon was ignorant of the fact he’d not eaten very much that day. A brief rest in Schenectady for a pee and stretch was the only real break they took all day. This was coming off a back to back they did the days before this, Dave was getting weary of the road. Jon had that “Little Kid Energy” of Christmas Eve night, the grumbling in his belly kept him focused on the conversation that he was hoping to have with his idol. They stopped again in Windsor on the Vermont /New Hampshire border, for food and some coffee. Stopping here gave Jon a chance to eat and gather himself; he thought he might have to prepare for a long wait, so he bought a few bagels and Danishes for the road. Dave loaded up too, that way he could get a good running start back to Buffalo once he dropped Jon off. 
The meal took forever. When the bill finally came, Dave picked it up and wished Jon luck on his coming adventure. Jon felt like he had aged a year sitting at the table. 
“Jerry was just in here on Saturday, he bought a pie and some oatmeal.” The server heard them talking about the writer and chimed in, “He don’t like people bothering him much, I hope you’re not going up there.” 
“No, we’re just passing through; my friend here was telling me who JP Slazenger is.” Jon was patronizing the hell out the poor girl. “I guess he wrote some good books or something?”
“Yeah, I guess he’s a pretty big writer alright.” The waitress could not be standing in the dunce-light any more than she was; Jon stopped having fun with her and got up to leave. 
The guys were almost at the car when a sheriff drove by, staring them down. Dave got the idea that maybe the sheriff would be watching to see if they were heading towards the Salinger place. He wasn’t following. 
As the car moved up the driveway to the house, Jon got out and Dave fist-bumped him goodbye. 
There he stood. Jon and the house were like warriors about to face off. Just what is it like inside the house? Is it clean like a palace? More likely to be the den of a recluse which translates to a messy hoard, excitedly stepping to the back of the house and down a slope into the garage area, he found the green door and rang the bell. The box above the door buzzed, and a click announced the removal of a lock, the door pushed open by itself. 
Jon walked into a stairway and went up to the next floor, a room that held three couches and a table in between them stood between himself and the kitchen on the other side. An alarm clock radio was playing a talk-show or something in the background, could have been a weather report. 
From the hallway on the left, he appeared. 
“Hi Jon, glad you came back, nice to meet you, call me Jerry.”
This was a simple enough greeting, the surreal quality of the moment was somewhat lost to the informality with which Jerry moved into the conversation.
Jon had so many other visions of what it would be like to meet him, this was not exactly a disappointment but it did not have the fireworks either. 
Jerome David Salinger, the writer’s writer. A model of rebellion for many generations now, how did Jon plan on being smart or interesting to the Old Man? As far as Jon knew, he was none of those things.
Jerry asked him if he’d had anything to eat, and said there’d be some food out later in case he felt hungry. 
The reports out of Cornish on Salinger’s diet indicated that there wasn’t any decent food there. Let’s see…
Other than some chocolate cake on vacations, Jerry ate simply according to his daughter, Peggy. 
In 1973, Jerry was eating little else but frozen peas according to Joyce Maynard. He was pretty fond of popcorn as well. If you believe the other reports on his habits, definitely no meat in the fridge for Jerry. Standing in his kitchen, there were signs of carnivorous activity all over the place. A butcher’s block sat on the counter next to some pretty damn big cleavers. Yes, meat was being prepared and consumed on the premises. As Jon indicated he was fine, they swept into a tunnel off the other hallway and were walking downward for a couple hundred feet when they came to a door. 
Jon was excited to know the inner wonders of this catacomb; surely not many people had ever been granted a permission to see Salinger’s place, let alone the underground portion. 
Jerry was stone silent as the door came open to reveal a room full of people working at typewriters.
“Jon, this is Stan, he’ll point you in the right direction.” Jerry handed me off to the director of these operations and was off back up the tunnel. The door coming to creepy airtight seal upon closing, the fans came back on to pressurize the room perfectly. 

Eleven file cabinets lined the back wall of the room; two of them had drawers opened as if they were being used currently. Jon was introduced around the room; Stan shook Jon’s hand and greeted him warmly.
“So, can you type?” 
“I am actually quite good at typing, what are we working on?”
Stan looked over towards the open file drawers and replied, “Hapworth.” 
Jon was confused, “Isn’t that one finished already?” Jon was thinking hard but that story came out a long time ago. 
“We re-type copies of the manuscript down here, Jerry wants to see if you can hang in there with this job before giving you something worthy of your talent, so here’s a desk and machine, all the paper you need is in the third cabinet. That third cabinet is all yours.” This was a lot to take in. Jon didn’t much feel like typing out a story that was already done. Truth be told, he hated that story. The least they could do was to re-type Catcher. 
“I wasn’t sure about what we were doing here, is there another job for me? Something in editing maybe?” Jon showed the first signs that he understood that he would not be free to depart this room anytime soon.
“Now, Jon…this isn’t the time to get cold feet dear boy. You came to this man’s house and violated every decent boundary that you should be expected to obey.”
Stan was coldly matter of fact, “The way I see it, if you would like to face the trespassing charges with the local Sheriff, that can be arranged but until you’ve satisfied Mr. Salinger’s requirements you are going nowhere.” Now Stan’s dark side eased out from under its umbrella, “You’ll be fed and kept warm, you shall want for nothing- and all at our expense.” Pausing to breathe, Stan gave a look at the cabinets again, which seemed to be his natural reflex after so much time in the room. “After you’ve typed enough copy, I will submit your work to Jerry for approval but unless I get a minimum of thirty pages per day for the first two weeks, I cannot see helping you submit anything on your behalf.”  
“What the hell is this?”
“Don’t get excited Jon, the alternative to working for an indefinite period in this room is not one you would opt for.” Stan convinced him to go back to being silently fearful. 
“Here is a desk you can use if you want, it may take a day or two to get going but you might actually enjoy it.”
“I want to leave, you can’t just keep me here” Jon felt powerless but still tried to insist there was some integrity brewing inside him.
“Ok, then we’ll have a policeman come and get you.” Stan walked down a corridor to his office and picked up a phone. After ten minutes or so, he hung up and beckoned me into the office.
“The Constable will be here in thirty minutes, you will be taken to a jail somewhere in New Mexico, and then we shouldn’t really be worried about you being a problem for us after that.” Stan had given that speech enough times that he could sell it perfectly. There had been no phone call. No Constable would be showing up. Jon was noticing the two side tunnels that met the sides of the room as Stan stood up to walk him out to the pick-up area.
On the way down the tunnel, Jon realized that something was not right. “You can’t just let me walk out of here. What’s to keep me from escaping and blowing the lid off this place? Spoken with almost no belief in the words.
Stan calmly smiled, “Now you’re getting smart, don’t think we can afford that.”
Raising a key card to a scanner on the wall, Stan kept moving ahead of Jon, “Keep walking, when we get inside the showers you will need to strip down and give me all your clothing.”
As he quickly ripped clothes off, a verbal reflex mumbled out. 
“What the hell is this?” 
The inspiration to fight came over Jon but he kept it down.
“Your clothes, now!”
“Ok, wait a second, my feet are stuck.” Jon almost fell over taking the pants off his left leg. When he shifted a toothpick from the Windsor diner fell out of his shirt, he picked it up before Stan saw it. Squeezing into the crack of his palm, the pick hid itself well. He wasn’t sure the toothpick could be made into a tool or weapon but it was an asset of some value, so he kept it.
“Alright, I’m naked before God and the world, now let me out of here.”
Stan turned a few dials and the door opened to the New Hampshire wilderness, snow and ice were everywhere. 
“F**k, I forgot about the snow.” Jon had a change of heart but didn’t speak soon enough. 
“Well Jon, it’s been real fun but see you later, best of luck to you.” He then pressed the dials in and repeated the turns that opened it. 
“Dude, I’ll die out here!” Jon exclaimed harshly.
“Yes, of course you will, probably within the hour. The last few were pretty tough; one lasted almost half a day, hah!” Stan was arrogantly giggling and sounding somewhat cruel by now. 
“This sweet young girl from Pomona came out here in her flip-flops, in November! Flip-flops! Can you imagine that? I remember so well, she sounded extremely sad and pathetic when I closed this door on her.”
Stan was just about to the end of his presentation, “Now, we are ¼ mile from the house, I know what direction it is, but Jerry won’t let me tell you. If you are lucky enough to make it back there, and, if Jerry sees you he might let you back in but he may not even be up there right now.” Jon stared into the cold and began to shudder with fear. “Even if you do make it to the road and over the bridge to Windsor, you can bet that everyone will know what you were up to, strangers don’t do well in these hills.”
Jon always pictured himself as tough and resilient, the stroll down the tunnel to this door had broken him irreparably. “Can I go back in? I will do whatever you want; I’ll type out the Bible if I have to.”
“Goodbye, Jon.” The door closed behind Jon as he immediately felt the shock of 7 degrees and 15 mph winds, the points of his knees and elbows felt like the cold steel in a hospital. He broke into a full sprint down a trail that he was certain would lead back to the house. Jon had obsessed over the aerial maps of the Salinger property and he knew what to look for, but this was an arctic landscape. The snow-covered hills gave little help to Jon as he tried to fix himself geographically. He knew that if he just calmed down for ten seconds, he could get straightened out. He had to stop running for a minute, the wind was cutting through to his marrow. 
He knew that house was backed up against a hill, and several creeks ran around the base of it, the largest one was farthest from the house. He was scouring the white morass for anything that would help him orient himself, across the meadow he saw the barn that rests across the road from Jerry’s place.
“How did we get this far from the house?” No one answered, not even the frosty wind. 
His next reaction to the cold found him in a fetal position lying in the snow, completely exposed. His skin felt hard and burnt, much worse than sunburn.
His breathing was seizure-like and his hands were slapping at his thighs, violently rubbing them together and then touching his legs again to try to warm them up. Standing up one more time, he finally was able to put his mind away somewhere else, soon he was walking again under a canopy of trees where very little snow had accumulated. He could see the frozen creek down the slope of the hill; it was peppered with dead leaves. As the trees thinned slightly, the back door of the house appeared like the shadow of a ship in the snowstorm. Its deliberate architecture stabbed the mountain like a dagger, thinking on this deeply, he felt like the house was just a lid that sat on top of a complex grid of tubes, tunnels, and shafts. 
He suddenly realized that there were cameras announcing their presence with the blink of tiny LED lights, they were mounted up under the trees every 25 feet or so.
The fog of hallucination swept in to his eyes, he could see Stradlater, Ackley, and the old man Antolini. They were standing 50 yards off through the woods, on the rear patio of the house; the old man was beckoning with his right hand.
 Mr. Antolini held a highball glass in the other hand; his joviality opposed the elements and the dismal outlook of the moment. The other two were silent, motionless, but somehow he was aware of their identities. 
Though the minutes were accumulating, and odds were against his chances of survival, Jon took the time to wave back at the old man on the deck. Suddenly he didn’t feel cold anymore, he was going numb which meant hypothermia had already begun to affect him. 
The figures were not there anymore, gone in one swipe of snowflakes, but Antolini’s call still resonated in him. Alone, he knew he was fading. If he thought someone was coming to help, perhaps he could hold up a little longer. No one knew he was out here, in his mind he was settling into a certain death. He was exhausted from the hurried attempt to get to the house.
The back door to the house gave birth to two figures, they were walking toward him without looking in his direction, they knew the path well. Their mannerisms gave an impression of silent druid monks, only the robes were missing. 
Concentrating on one foot, then the other, he froze in place and began to shudder for a brief instant. Unconscious, he fell forward into the merciful arms of the collected snow.
Their boot prints were nearly 8 inches deep in the powder when they reached him. One of the attendants lifted his head up and the other one slipped a blanket underneath. 
Once they had wrapped him up, a roar of dark, low thunder shook the ground; Jon awoke briefly to see they were now carrying him in the blanket, only his face remained exposed. They did this effortlessly, as if they might have had a lot of practice at this. 
As Jon recovered one of several rooms within the complex, he came to feel at home. Was the world really going to suffer without him? 
The up and down of emotions allowed Jon to take a cathartic inventory of his ideals. Stan was right, even if Salinger wrote to the contrary, nobody has the right to look up a writer and talk with him. Even if he wrote something that touched you at the center, his privacy must be respected. Someday J.D. Salinger will pass away from this life, what he asked of us was to pretend that his physical death had already occurred. Awareness to the onset Stockholm Syndrome brought his sympathies down a bit. After all, this man sent him into the woods to die. What kind of b*****d does that? 
It took four days for Jon talk and walk right, two more to go to the bathroom without a bedpan. His tailbone still felt numb and without being able to see them, he could tell that his fingers and elbows had come very close to frostbite. He was layered in cotton sheets and a huge fluffy comforter.
When he was able to remain awake for an hour at a time, a nurse named Elyse would try to feed him something.
She had bathed him twice in the time he was there, but Jon had no memory of it. He behaved as if some amount of mystery still existed, and she smiled in a way that expressed the contrary. It was slightly flirty, but gone in flash. 
“How’s our boy?” It was Jerry, boisterous; “Give us a moment El?” 
“I didn’t take care of this kid for damn near a week to just let you come in here and upset him, ya hear?” Elyse was veiling her southern origins; her tone had the sassy authority of an Aunt who had permission from your mom to slap you. 
“Leave us, please…” She turned and left without passion. 
“Now Jon, I’ve thought about this for a few days, and I am still not convinced that you really belong here.” Jon wondered deeply what he could mean by that. As if it were a privilege to be there. 
“That room scared me Mr. Salinger-”
“Goddammit don’t you EVER CALL ME MR. SALINGER! “
Jerry was surprised by his sudden change of tone, slyly looking out for any sign of Elyse, he apologized and continued. 
“Look, you want to know what it’s like to be this great author. Here’s your chance, boy.” The room lightened as cloud moved apart from the sun.
“I want to stay; I just don’t type very well.” Jon, now the captive patient, admitted this childish insecurity. 
Jerry gave a moment to be nice about it then answered, “You’ll learn… You most certainly will pick it up, most people take a day and a half to get up to thirty pages a day.” 
Jon finally had the courage to ask a real question.  
“How long do I have to type before I can leave?” 
“As soon as you’ve copied all my work.” That was an easy answer. 
“How many times have you asked yourself, ‘What’s it like to be JD Salinger?’ Now you get to find out what it‘s like to be me. Since I can’t send you back in time to World War Two, I thought I’d try to kill you first.”
“That’s sick, Jerry”
“Yes, it is, kind of like your stalking habits. You don’t rate well among the best of them, hell that damn Clarke kid sat down at the end of the driveway for months.” Jerry’s testimony against professional aggravation unfolded from there, “When I finally go down to confront the f*****g weasel, he shies away.” He said, with that flavor of old man invective, “Came all this way to act like a b***h.” Mocking in the whiny voice of a spoiled child, “I want to talk about deep things - I want to write something good for you Jerry.” Jerry resumed his normal voice, “What an a*s… And I take a beating in the press for being insensitive to my readers?” 
Jon kept watch for a glimpse of the real man, not the recluse. He never showed.
“What kind of mind can conceive that?” Salinger railed, “Write something- For Me? Me?” 
“That damn kid had the audacity to even think I would read his crap?”
Jon was amused by the critique of another writer from the Master of them all. As a critic, Jerry was way off base, Jon thought so at least.
The obsession with Salinger takes people to odd places, one of them being that the more serious worshippers do in fact read all the stuff that the more well-known stalkers have written.
Jon went deep into this thought. The worst stuff ever written about Jerry always seemed to come from close proximity. His daughter’s book is mostly a self-excusing stream of uncontroversial anecdotes. The Maynard book runs in a circle of embarrassment and rejection. Jon always felt that what Salinger did to Joyce Maynard, was essentially the same thing that was done to him by the publishing industry.
Jon envisioned the young Jerry walking around, peddling manuscripts in New York. In the age of the business hat, overcoat and tie, Jerry must have paced the entire island from top to bottom. Maybe when he started writing, the industry seemed magical and perfect. Upon his first contacts with publishers, the disillusionment came quickly. In an office with a desk and a bad lamp, he faced rejections by the score.
The artist, who walked up the hill to write from this crystalline perspective, was long dead and replaced by this ragged cynic by the time it was published. Just as Joyce greeted him with the smile of hopeful youth only to be turned away for expressing her truth, Jerry met the darkness of publishing with innocent and hopeful eyes. 
Jon always had sympathy for all these ideas, he now punished himself far worse inside of himself than Stan and Jerry’s frostbite treatment. How had he forgotten the concept of privacy?
Sitting there with the Master, he could think of only one thing to say.
“Mist- Jerry, I am so sorry for my intrusion. You know what? I do want to know what its like to be you, guide me. And, I’m not being facetious about this; I really want to understand your situation. I’ll type anything”
“Okay, maybe in the morning we’ll start again.” Jerry gave a wry smile and walked out of the room. “For now, rest up.”


Stan woke Jon up the next morning by setting his clipboard on a desk, intentionally a little hard to ensure that disruption.
“So, how we doing down here?” 
Jon was in a post-sleep cobweb, rubbing his eyes before responding.
“Ready to start typing, ready right now.”
“Ok, let’s get you out of here and back into the bunker. You’ll find a strong camaraderie in there, everyone in there ran through the snow, so you don’t have to feel out of place about that.” 
“Did you leave too?” Jon was not able to discern that idiom within the nuance of Stan’s dialogue.
“I never left, I would never leave.” Creepiness ensconced him, full nerd blanket covering the moment, “I was meant to be here.” 
“How did you realize that?”
Stan and Jon sat down around a desk, Jon’s desk. Stan was looking in the drawers to make sure everything was good.
“Now, we don’t expect you to do anything more than work at this. There is no demand for your work so whatever pace you get to, is just fine.”
“Do we get to see Jerry?” Jon felt like if a little mentoring were involved, this would all be worth it. 
“Not really, Jerry despises us but is bent on enforcing a weird artistic revenge that comes out of his faith.” Stan went on to describe his first encounter at Jerry’s door: 
It was the peak of summer 1992, fairs and festivals dotted both S’s on the calendar in the area around Cornish. Stan said he had come out from Warwick, sold everything to put himself up in a hotel nearby. Soon after that he walked through Cornish for days until he found the Salinger property. With full confidence of his acceptance, the current warden running Salinger's personal prison system had knocked on the door; Jerry opened it as if he had been waiting for Stan. 
It was explained that Stan understood what a piece of garbage he was for insulting Jerry with his intrusion. But Salinger knew he needed to evolve the experience of the stalker, he was the most stalked man of the 20th Century. 
Not too long after that, they had created and followed through on a plan to build a facility to correct these types of injustices, or rather, unforgivable intrusions.
Stan had dreamed this up years ago, in a short story of his own. He was shy about presenting the idea but when Jerry had heard him out, he was convinced. 
A check was handed over for the construction, Stan was given full reign over the operation. All Jerry had to do was help lure the participants to the door in the tunnel. Any further contact would be at his choosing. Stan explained that Salinger was not a mean person really; occasionally he would come down and take one of the typists in to town for pie and to get the mail for him. Jerry hates getting out of the car, but he has to watch the mail as it is carried from the box to the car. The old man obsesses with not having his correspondence stolen.
Stan grew this thing into a fun little project; the people would type every word that Salinger ever published. They would work together and type segments of the books randomly never from start to finish. 
When a typist has fulfilled whatever obligation Jerry had set for them, they are free to go. Much like the unknown surveillance that was performed on Dave and Jon to deliver that message in Buffalo; a similar mysterious bond must be in place ensuring that the secrets regarding this project were never made public. 
 Even Stan did not know what that bond was enforced with; nonetheless, he was devoted to Salinger like nobody else could be. If Jerry asked him to put a knife in his own eye, Stan would do it as if breathing a breath. From some of the scarring present on his arms, one could assume that Stan suffered some kind of embarrassing self-flagellation. 
The winter visitors are usually rare, some have died in the woods around here trying to get in. Stan has to send his “druid monks” out to retrieve the troubling evidence, at least twice a year. 
A box of plastic bowls filled with soup arrived in the work area, on a cart rolled in from the outer tunnel. “Soup’s on.”
A faux-Chef wheeled the communal meal in, which Jon could smell was pea soup. Joyce was right; the man was obsessed with peas. Stan noted that they were high-quality peas, and that should be a consolation to this one-dimensional diet. 
Now that Jon settled in and Stan had filled in the gaps about what was going on in here, a productive mood fell upon Jon. He began typing the book from somewhere in the middle of ‘Franny’, surprisingly he liked what he was doing enough to absorb the story as he typed it. 
He wanted to look around the room and socialize with the others but he sensed that was wrong. Of the nine people in there, three were women. All of them over 25 years of age, the oldest was a man approaching 45. Jon kept to himself and typed methodically making few mistakes, and eventually, none. 
If it were reasonable to do so, he would like to call Dave and put his mind to rest about where he was going to be for a while. 
Stan took care of that, calling to assure Dave and the necessary family that Jon was sent abroad to be a literary ambassador for Mr. Salinger. There were no phones in most of these places; it could be some time before we hear from Jon. All is well, he is doing great.
Here he was. In the belly of an unknown beast. 
No music. No TV. Just work and words. 
Salinger’s words at that, what could be better?
Jon visualized the Mary Shelley version of this place, realizing instantly that this was the better of the two places. 

After a week had passed, Jon was happily typing and fully ensconced in the work. The pea soup and raw vegetable diet actually had him feeling good, it was almost like the most intense writer study ever conducted. This was Salinger’s experience, wholly and without edit. Jon sat there while typing De-Daumier Smith and worked out many questions that had nagged at him. The meditative aspect of this kind of writing felt as if it would take hold even after he was free from here. 
In talking with Stan, he had determined that he would not be in a rush to finish the work, Jon felt he needed some time here. At the beginning of June, Jon would assume around D-Day or right on it, he was summoned to the topside to meet with Jerry. 
There were four or five Sheriff Deputies present; they were there to oversee the days’ project. Each year, Jerry brings out the desk of some old Editor that rejected his work as a young writer and blows it to smithereens. The tall red barn across the road was filled with them. 
“This one’s special, he was a friend of mine for ages, we’re still friends even though I can NOT stand the son of a b***h! “ Jerry announced with glee. “This one was Hotchner’s desk back in the late Fifties, what a score this was. “ It seemed that he would enjoy this year’s ceremony more than usual. What had this Hotchner person ever done to Jerry? Jon was riddled with questions but knew he was looking for a moment of opportunity. 
One of the deputies walked out from behind Jerry and raised a signal to the others that it was time to start. 
For a reclusive writer, this was an awful lot of crazy stuff going on in public view. Jon felt like he had never known J.D. Salinger at all. The man he formulated in the mind was a kind, understanding person. The real Jerry Salinger was vengeful b*****d, a hooligan at times as well. Images of hero-worship left his brain like a train out of town, the caboose fading gently into the shadows on the horizon.
Jon’s task today, right now, was to light the fuse. They would be bringing the desk out to the meadow any moment now, Jon was to ride out there on a golf cart with a deputy and they would all help to light this thing up. The whole town came out for this, there were cars lined up all along the outer fence and down the road outside the property.
Was the whole town in on this? If that was the case, then escape was futile. Jon could never get far enough away without the help of a local. Did all of these people know that Jon was being held captive? Even if it was voluntary at this point, he was a hostage, after they blew up the desk they would all be free to go home. Breathing the air, Jon wished to leave now more than ever before. He realized that there was so many cops around and they must all be in on it, he could never get away clean.
An imposing topography gave him doubts that were even more consuming. There was nowhere to go; the entire area was indiscernible farmland. Top one mountain and it looks just like the last one you topped, Jon was boggled as to how to get away. 
A second deputy joined them in the meadow; Jon was given a lighter and a set of gloves. They all three put in earplugs. Then, both of the deputies pulled out huge ear protectors that looked like gigantic headphones, the kind a helicopter pilot would wear. 
The first deputy held out the fuse and looked away while he expected Jon to torch it. As Jon was standing there, he had just a second to act if he was gonna do something- he took it.
He asked the deputy holding the fuse to help cup his hand so he could block the wind. That small obscurity aided him in executing a devious plan, and he placed the unlit fuel flow against the deputy’s shirt. Loading the fabric with accelerant would help it catch better. Jon blamed the windy conditions but really, he was just filling the deputy’s shirt with lighter fluid. The hand-torch lit up and the fuse sizzled to life as the flame went out and he was about to be undone.
Jon flipped the lighter on again, and the flame was really high. The wind was a small factor but this plan was working. The brown uniform shirt went up completely, the mesh shirt underneath melted in a matter of seconds. The deputy’s face was caught in realization that some of his skin was bubbling, swollen, his undershirt gave him intense trouble, and he was pulling at it to get it off… Some of the deputy’s hair caught flames as he pushed against Jon for assistance, grabbing at him almost. The flailing began to go full panic.
Jon pushed him towards the desk, and the flaming deputy went bonkers trying to put himself out. Jon fell behind the golf-cart and covered himself the best he could. The second deputy tried to help him but got too close to the desk as it blew up. Suddenly there were over two hundred pieces of deputy. There must have been thirty sticks of dynamite in the desk; from fifty feet away the heat warmed Jon beyond comfort. As hey lay there in the tall summer grasses, his plan got a little more technical. He realized that they might think he had blown up with the deputies, he heard screaming and yelling from the house. 
The smoke from the explosion was white and it filled the whole meadow. Jon crawled as fast as he could into the trees and rolled on his sides all the way down the hill. He was out of eyeshot for sure. He broke into the hardest sprint of his life as the leaves and twigs whipped his arms and shoulders all the way through the forest. The trail went up and down as much as it went forward. He must have run for two miles straight before stopping. There was water and shade, which he took a minute to get his fill of. He continued running the same direction which seemed like north.
What he could not have known was that there was nobody chasing him out there. They did believe he was one of the two hundred pieces of deputy in the mangled desk pile. The cover up would be swift and blinding: this never happened. The Sheriff knowing well that his bread was buttered by Mr. Jerry Salinger, assisted and conspired to nullify the entire days’ events. No record was kept, no pictures allowed. Done.
Eventually when Jon made to a dirt road, he followed it out to a highway and stayed off in the trees until it was dark. 
The New Hampshire summer nights can still get a tad chilly, Jon was moving briskly to keep his blood pumping warmly. The sweat around his forehead was cool and tingly in the breeze as he kept a watch for any vehicle traveling northward. Jon was feeling tired and laid down by the road for a bit. 
How was he supposed to get Dave out here to pick him up? 
 In this moment of peril and self-examination he admitted to himself that he regretted wanting to know this writer. Up close, he could see the pettiness and the bitter evolution of an artist, a man that Salinger probably never wanted to become. Jon did not know whether or not he would ever ride into Buffalo again, or if he would get to a phone. 
Just then a van whizzed by and Jon yelled out from the side of the road, he stood and yelled and waved vigorously. 
Brake lights and stopping. 
Backing up with the wind of a Japanese transmission, the van’s window rolled down.
“Help ya? “ The driver asked. 
“I need to get to a phone, I broke down a long way from here” Jon kept a story going in his head, and it helped him speak it out.
“I have a phone right here, go ahead” Jon heard him say this and noticed the hard pronunciation of the “O” in “go” gave the driver away as Canadian, probably from Toronto or Hamilton. 
“Thanks, I have a friend who can pick me up at the next station or rest stop.” It was only now that Jon realized he had been wearing the shirt and overalls that everybody wore in the vault. His canvas shoes torn up from the trek through the trees. 
“Where are we exactly?” Jon asked nicely, as if he had been off track when he broke down. 
“This is the 120; I think it goes to Lebanon. I can take you all the way to Montreal if you’d like?” The driver’s generous offer lightened Jon up a bit. 
“Is Burlington on the way?” Jon needed to know as he dialed Dave. 
“Yes, I am stopping for gas in Burlington and coffee, what is your name?” 
“I’m Bill…” Jon put his hand out and shook the driver’s hand
“’I’m LaRue, my American friends call me Larry. Like the Stooges. Are you from around here, Bill?” LaRue nodded across the road as if to point at it. 
Driving slowly up the bend of a hill, LaRue could tell his passenger was cold. 
“Some heat?” I see you are shivering a little, it’s quite warm out,” 
LaRue paused for a stick of gum and offered one to Jon, “How long were you walking?”
“Probably ten miles or so, I was driving on route 12 and I somehow got turned around or missed sign, I ended up driving over some rocks on the side of the road and broke the front axle. Car won’t move.” Jon made sure to place himself south of Cornish, just in case LaRue was on Team Salinger. 
Just then Dave answered and Jon started in with urgency, “Conley, hey- this is Baldwin, you gotta meet me in Burlington, I will be at a gas station in the south end of town Come look for me as soon as you can get not kidding!”
On the other end of the phone, Dave said “Baldwin? You are high out of your mind right now, aren’t you?” 
Jon had interrupted a very nice get-together at Rhonda Sherman’s Condo. Dave was probably going to need a bribe or an incentive to be convinced he should leave the party. 
“Dave, this is super important, I will hopefully see you there sometime in the morning- don’t let me down.” Jon hoped he was sober enough to remember Burlington. “Write it down dude….”
“South…end…Burlington Vee-tee” Dave heard his panic, he was sobering up for a moment. 
LaRue turned onto the larger road that led to Lebanon and Jon asked if he could sleep for a bit. 
“Go ahead; the heater must be putting you to sleep.” LaRue put on his headphones and drove them to Burlington. 
Jon was appreciative and gave LaRue his information, they shook hands and Jon sat down to wait for Dave. 
Within twenty minutes, a car pulled up a few feet from Jon. The rear passenger window rolled down and Jon was scared livid when he saw the face of Mr. Salinger. 
He got out, walked over to Jon, and dropped an envelope on him.
Jerry got in the car and was driven away.
Jon had nearly s**t his pants. The envelope read “To Bill”
He opened and pulled out a letter.

“Dear Jon, 

For a few moments earlier today you wanted to be somebody else so badly that you lied about your name. You were worried that someone would know who you are and that there might be some danger in anyone finding out.
Jon, I cannot ever pretend I am someone other than J.D. F*****g Salinger.
I do not ever get to experience the beautiful poetry of Anonymity. Wherever I go, I am still that writer that everyone wants to know. When you sought me out, you believed I was someone worth knowing; now you can see I am not very special. I am jealous, I am egotistical, I am violent and I am merciful. You need to remember always, that from far away, things seem perfect.
Do you see your gift now? You understand The Law of Distant Beauty as no one can. 


© 2015 Scott Durham

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Added on April 28, 2015
Last Updated on May 4, 2015
Tags: Salinger, Catcher In The Rye, Seymour Glass, Stradlater, Scott Durham


Scott Durham
Scott Durham

Phoenix, AZ

I was born. Soon after that I was placed in a Mental Health Institution, not for treatment but for my flavor. In all my life I never met a pretzel I didn't like. Kevin and Vanessa regret that a.. more..