A Conspiracy of Tall Men by Noah Hawley

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Deaths, bombings, strange events… add the FBI, CIA, three ‘kooks’ and a bunch of ‘survivalists’. Conspiracy and paranoia a definite possibility.

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Storytelling that is sheer pleasure to read.


The airline had offered to send a counsellor with him, for comfort or warmth or understanding, but Linus refused. Patronising little men with compassionate eyes and television rhetoric could drive him into a rage greater than anyone could know, and if there was one thing Linus needed, it was to suppress his emotions, to compose himself and go on with the wrenching task of finding out whether his wife was really dead and who killed her.
    Ahead he sees a conflagration of emergency vehicles and unmarked government cars. The rectangular jut of a concrete gymnasium looks above the short palms. Linus’s mouth is dry. His throat tightens. Instinctively he checks to make sure that both of the rear doors are unlocked. He feels a savage need to escape, to run off into the Florida marshes and sink into the stink of the Everglades, a hermit living in one set of unwashed clothes, cooking shellfish snatched from the muddy depths of soggy bogs, speaking to no one, pondering only the unwelcome prospect of heavy rain.
    “I’m sorry we have to put you through this, Mr Owen,” says the agent in the passenger seat again, as if sensing that the air has become charged with fear and sorrow. “Your wife did have identification on her, but since we can’t figure out why she was on the plane at all we have to be certain. You know her employer was just as surprised to learn that she was travelling with Mr. Holden.”
    Linus thinks nothing, except that he is not about to trust any government agency to tell him why his life has suddenly turned to so much shite. As they round a corner and the façade of Willmont Junior High School comes upon them, Linus sinks his fingernails into the meat of his palms, squeezes. Perhaps he is trying to cut his own lifelines before he has to face the prospect of his dead wife. After this, it is clear, nothing will ever be the same. I will be a man who has looked upon the husk of the woman he loves. The car stops in front of the gym. The three men climb out woodenly, Linus is in a daze. The closure of the car doors reverberates in his head. They stand for a moment in the hot Florida sun. Linus feels the sweat on his back, the undersides of his arms. He is wearing a blue suit, a shirt and tie. He wanted nothing more than to look like a Rockefeller or a Kennedy for his wife and show his respect.

Drawn in to the paranoia

Forbes smiles. He has read both of Linus’s books, the last one in his hotel room in Tallahassee.
    “Mr. Owen, I have decided to take a sudden liking to you.”
    “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
    “Danton, we believe, is a group of left-wing extremists. Their place of origin is unknown. Their place of operation is unknown. Their membership is unknown.”
    “But you believe they exist despite this overwhelming lack of details”
    “You know how things work, Linus. We operate on the suspension of belief, both of us. We hear rumours we have been trained to believe. We are suspicious people. Our first impulse is to think the worst. Someone tells you the government has made a deal with extraterrestrials. The government denies this. Your first impulse is to suspect a cover-up. For me, if I hear that perhaps there is a super-secret group known as Danton who are pursuing a campaign of violence against certain guarded government operations, I think, Well this must be true, until it is proved otherwise.”
    “You use the word ‘campaign’.”
    “A figure of speech. Campaign. I mean bombing an airplane carrying Defense Department personnel.”
    “No one has sent you a letter, though. No late-night phone calls. This is Danton. We are responsible. That level of belief.”
    “We have only the vaguest speculation to go under.”
    Forbes begins to feel a certain distance from the room. He digs his fingernails into the palms of his hands, grits his teeth. He thinks, In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
    “So you are saying some left-wing militia has struck a blow for ordinary citizens everywhere,” says Linus.
    “I’m saying some left-wing militia has just blown up a hundred and twenty-four people, four of whom happened to be government employees. No victory, I would think, for the moral animal in all of us.”
    Linus considers the use of the words ’moral’ and ‘animal’ by this man in this context. He raises an eyebrow.
    “Tell me the truth. You don’t work for the FBI, do you?”
    “You may think of me as captain of the Keystone Kops if it makes you feel any better. Would you like me to run around in an oversize helmet crashing into lampposts and cable cars?”
    “Give me the bottom line.”
    “We want you to work with us to find Danton.”
    “’We’ being …”
    Forbes smiles.

On the streets of NY with Linus

New York in February. The snow blacks quickly. It clumps as if rotting, cleaved by the tread marks of buses and cars. Enormous black pools of water form. Salt corrodes the boots of pedestrians, the wheel wells of automobiles. Underneath mountains of consumptive white, the windshields of cars struggle forth, ice ridden, flyers for discount clothing stores and 900 sex lines frozen to windshield wipers. The streets become clotted with the ranks of the homeless, androgynous mounds of humanity encumbered by layers of discarded clothing; five shirts, two sweaters, a torn parka or overcoat too short in the sleeves. The wheels of their shopping carts jam with clumps of ice and salt. They lope the uneven streets like rag-festooned beggars from medieval times and the dirty blue water from the squirt bottles of the window washers freezes in midair, their rags stiff and brittle, gripped in fingers that have lost feeling.
    Beginning in November there is a great migration of the dispossessed to the subways. They descend in pairs or packs, together and alone. People are looking for heat. They ride the 4 and 5, the A, the C. They ride the shuttle from Grand Central Station to Times Square and back. Hours pass, miles spent moving in place. Policemen roust them as they sleep curled into position of defensive repose. The shelters fill, overflow. At night the temperature plummets. On the abandoned streets of February the homeless shiver after dark. They are the Sir Edmund Hillarys, Ernest Shackletons of the modern age. They survive through the collection of clothes and garbage-can fires. In desperation windows are often broken, misdemeanours committed. The justification is the safety of a warm cell. After midnight the temperature drops to zero and below. At the airports ice smothers the runways. The windchill slices the skin. Businessmen in parkas and long corduroy dusters fight for room on crowded subway cars, where, conversely the temperature can be measured in increments of Kelvin. Women in nylon winter coats and goose down stuff themselves like twitching sausages into the hot pockets between compressed bodies. Under their clothes, their sweaters and suits, they sweat in great rivers as the cars hurtle stammeringly downtown. Outside once more, covering the icy pavement toward office buildings, they feel the chill of the wind as it sneaks through the buttons of their coats, the weaves of their sweaters, and seeks out the dampened T-shirts and bras that now cling to their skin. The sky collects itself in muscles of constricted gray; shrugs ominous cloudbanks across the horizon. The days of blue sky are achingly clear, the cold weighing the soots and pollutants to the ground, where they seep into the snowbanks and corrupt the virtuous white until it has all turned a leprous black.
    In Ford’s Gore-Tex parka Linus swims his way downtown. He slips into the tide of Sunday shoppers descending from their Upper West Side retreats to the sparkle and hum of Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. He rides the B train to Thirty-fourth Street, walks over to the F, the train of his youth. He walks two cars up, gets out at Twenty-third, and gets back on three cars to the rear. At Broadway and Houston he changes to the number 6 and then switches to the 4 at City Hall. The train descends beneath the river, lights flickering on and off. Across from him a man in jeans with slush-soaked cuffs places a container with a medical-waste seal on the floor beneath his feet. On a cellular phone a woman says ‘You’re breaking up. I’ll call you from the restaurant.’ He gets off at Borough Hall in Brooklyn, ascends to the street level. Traffic growls through the intersection at Court Street and Joralemon. Linus makes his way through the scattered bursts of snow to a Chinese restaurant illuminated by neon tubes. Fisher Cody has gotten them a table in the back, away from the windows.

Copyright © Noah Hawley 1998