I went to visit a friend of mine who lived down in the city. He said he had something that he wanted to show me in his basement, something I might be interested in buying. He took me down to look at it so that we could settle on a price. As we descended the dark, narrow stairs and made our way to the back corner of the basement through piles of dusty, overturned chairs and duct taped boxes, I noticed that something looked strange and out of place. The back wall seemed a little closer than I remembered. The ceiling slanted sharply there, and I even bumped my head against it. I looked closer and saw that someone had nailed a few sheets of drywall together to form a roughly improvised partition. It looked like it had all been done very recently.
I turned to my friend and asked him about it. “Something’s different here. There used to be a door here where you go could straight out to the back yard. It’s all been covered over. Everything’s been boarded up for some reason. When did this happen?” He just shrugged like he had no idea what I was talking about. There was a long moment of silence. My friend seemed uneasy. He brushed the sweat from his forehead and wiped it against the leg of his pants, pressing his hand a little too roughly against the fabric. I could hear him breathing heavy in the close, stifling air. Then I heard a soft thump behind the partition. I saw my friend’s hand twitch, but his face showed no sign that he had heard anything. I knew then that something was up.
I scrambled back up the stairs and my friend scrambled up after me. The kitchen was up at the head of the house, and the house sat on the corner of two city streets. From the kitchen window I could see along both streets. I looked out at the cars parked along the curb. Most of the cars were empty and I could clearly see that there was no one in them. But further down, about fifty yards from the house, I saw an orange and white van that had curtains drawn across the windows in the back. I could just barely make out the grey smoke curling up from the tailpipe behind the van. That was it. They were watching, waiting in that van.
I just shook my head at my friend for betraying me, and then I ran for the door on the other side of the house. I burst out into an alley between the houses, and I could already hear the scrape of the van door opening and the frantic voices of the cops piling out. I climbed a fence into the neighbor’s back yard and then over another fence and another until I came out onto the street on the other side of the block. The cops were swarming in from all directions. I crossed the street and took off running down the sidewalk, knowing that they were close behind.
I turned a corner and I stopped to catch my breath in front of a tall grey house. I had eluded them for a moment, and I took a second to collect my thoughts and think about my predicament. I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t bought whatever it was my friend was trying to sell me to set me up. I had nothing incriminating on me. I fumbled through my pockets. The only thing I had was a disk, and I knew that the only thing on it was the rough draft and the final draft of a paper I had written for college. I could hear the footsteps of the cops on all sides. They had figured out where I was. I stayed still and waited for them to come.
I had the disk in my hand, and for some reason, just as one of the cops came around the corner and came into view, I tossed it away from me and it landed in the grass somewhere on the front lawn of the grey house. I wasn’t exactly sure why I did it. I wasn’t sure if it had been a reflex, or whether I had done it to deliberately mislead them. But the cop had seen me, and the mere act of throwing the thing away had given it an incriminating importance. The other cops showed up, and some of them hunted around in the grass for the disk while the others handcuffed me and loaded me into a squad car.
Later, the disk would become a great point of contention for the police. There had to be some reason I had thrown it away. There had to be something on it. There had to be something about it. For lack of anything else to analyze, they scrutinized the two versions of the college paper that were saved on the disk, looking for clues. They decided that the secret lay in the discrepancies between the rough draft and the final draft, that these differences must form some kind of code. They brought in all the experts, all the specialists. And all the while, the days went by, and I sat there in a cell, forgotten, wondering when it would all end.