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Authors: James Grady

Nature of the Game

BOOK: Nature of the Game
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The Nature of the Game

James Grady

A
MysteriousPress.com
Open Road Integrated Media ebook

Every ship of state sails on a river of darkness.

—
Gen. William Cochran
Deputy Director, CIA    

To Luke,                           
De Oppresso Liber

Why Here, Why Now

I often wondered if I'd be killed trying to write
The Nature of the Game
, the fictional spy saga of the
Boomer generation
.

History creates us even as we create history. Born after Word War II into the Cold War, I grew up in a tough, corrupt, but loving
Montana prairie town
surrounded by
Minuteman missile
sites, waiting for when—not
if
, but
when
—the button would be pushed and dynamite charges would blow concrete doors off those underground silos so that screaming missiles could scar our blue sky and create
Dr. Strangelove
's mushroom-cloud Armageddon. The Civil Rights battles to let non-white kids my age share our bathrooms and schools and voting booths rippled through my youth.
Assassination politics
cut down JFK: If “they” could kill the President,
for sure
they could kill you.
The Beatles
blew the doors off the “it's only rock 'n' roll” prison already breached by poets like
Woody Guthrie
,
Hank Williams
,
Billie Holiday
,
Muddy Waters
,
Robert Johnson
, and
Bob Dylan
. Guys I grew up with got swallowed by a
10,000-day Southeast Asian war
where too slowly we realized “victory” for the United States defied definition or delivery.

“Naïve but lucky” sums up my youth. Whatever compels me to write fiction let me create a first novel called
Six Days of the Condor
when I was twenty-three, a story that became
a great movie starring Robert Redford
and gave wings to my dreams.

Thanks to
Otto Penzler
and The Mysterious Press, that book and its strange saga—including how
Condor
inspired a secret 2,000-man spy group in the Soviet Union's KGB—is available as an e-book, as is the post-9/11
re-imagining
of my Condor character in the novella
condor.net
.

The crucible for this novel came after
Condor
.

By the time I was twenty-five, I'd worked my way through the
University of Montana
on road crews and with part-time jobs like librarian and gravedigger. I'd been an aide to Montana's U.S.
Senator Lee Metcalf
during Watergate's last year. With first novel
Condor
on the bookshelves, I had two novels in publishing's pipeline while “my” Robert Redford/
Condor
movie crouched, poised to fly to theaters across the world.

And then out of the blue, I stumbled into a job as an investigative reporter for syndicated columnist
Jack Anderson
, the only reporter Nixon's Watergate thugs feared enough to try to murder, a muckraker whose column appeared in 1,000 newspapers for twenty million Americans.

What a rush! Jack's handful of “investigative reporters” covered
who
did
what
to
whom
, with no pretense of “objectivity” (then journalism's official standard), but with the promise to be fair and fearless. I reported and wrote—in Jack's bizarre Gilbert & Sullivan prose style—stories on Congressional investigations, spies in the Central Intelligence Agency and other organizations, heroin and cocaine dealing, extremist politics of both the left and the right that sometimes veered into terrorism, big money muscling public policy, cults like
the Manson family
, the old Mafia, new emerging crime groups, Wall Street shenanigans, billions in government waste, military mastery and military madness, American villains, and more than a few American heroes.

I worked for Jack for four years before I realized my hunger to write fiction—and to see my byline—was far stronger than my yen to be one of his muckrakers. Besides, I was no journalism star. Most of my colleagues at Jack's were better journalists than I, as were the vast majority of American reporters who did not have the fear-stoked access granted those of us who carried Jack's press pass.

While I was at Jack's in those post-Watergate days, I ventured into America's noir underworld. I rode with cops, went into prisons, made contacts in the intelligence community that I'd fictionalized in
Condor
without knowing any real “spooks.” What I experienced ranged from learning such minutiae as why a particular U.S. Navy plane landed in a backwater African country seemingly far from that day's international crisis, to a snowy December day circa 1979 when—off the record—an executive of the
Drug Enforcement Agency
confided to me that “in less than a decade,”
marijuana
and
cocaine
would be legal.
Of course marijuana
, I told him, but I wasn't sure about cocaine. Neither of us foresaw the personal, criminal, and international political horrors that created the twenty-first century's narco-states.

By the time I left Jack's team, I had learned all sorts of surprising things from spies who never revealed (maybe never knew) the whole truth, cops whose badges seemed bigger than their beats, warriors who fought different wars than my
regular
military friends, and outlaws who felt less than evil. From all that emerged a sense that
the noir world
that always shadows our official history was evolving with a new essence because of my generation.

It wasn't just sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. It wasn't just the battle-scarred post-sixties political scene. It wasn't just post-Vietnam War cynicism chronically misreported with bad clichés. It wasn't just the entitlement clash of my Baby Boomer generation gaining its predictable footings within the harsh realities of the Cold War inherited from our parents. It wasn't just an outlaws' party where gun-heavy spies, smugglers, political extremists, and gangsters swapped angry, stoned stories about the quintessential American experience of high school.

It was some mash of all that and more. Some shift of our cultural consciousness that began the day bullets killed JFK in Dallas and—though I didn't know it at the time—ran its Act One era until a movie star president rallied our country even as he beat a spy scandal called
Iran-Contra
. This was an essence captured best the same year of Redford's
Condor
movie by my generation's great American author
Bruce Springsteen
, who called it “
our runaway American dream
.”

That essence was something I felt compelled to write about.

So when I left Jack's, I drove into our noir world.

Not knowing where I'd get.

But knowing that's where my story was—a story that, unlike most other not-so-lucky authors, I might be able to base in reality.

At first I thought I was on a continuum from my Jack Anderson muckraker days. With three published novels notched to my name, I thought that maybe I could write a nonfiction book, try to capture factually what
once upon a time
I'd only been able to make up or experience in other people's fiction.

I was more naïve than I realized.

But still lucky.

Because the combination of
Condor'
s fame, Jack's reputation, and my own slight but
vouched-for
history let me go places I could never factually chronicle. This access made such places and the people who created them all the more fascinating and fit far better into my fictional drive than being a reporter or historian. I wanted to understand, to feel what our Baby Boomer noir world was like, and to know the other souls running out there. Sometimes we called it
the game
, sometimes we called it
the life
, but whatever you call it, I was there.

Not that there was or is any one “there.” The noir world is like a whiff of marijuana smoke on a city street, a transitory time and place defined by its transactions and attitude. D.C. San Francisco. London. Kentucky. Baltimore. Chicago. L.A. Paris. Montana. Manhattan. Somehow with my Anderson-
Condor
-schooled eyes, I kept discovering what was there before and what now came with my generation's arrival.

When you walk amidst spies or terrorists or outlaws, and those who hunt them, it's easy to end up as a proximity casualty. You cross legitimate borders even while you must never cross certain moral lines. Life gets kaleidoscopic, out of whack. Time and perspective distort. Violence or violation is only ever a heartbeat away. Mine was not a wise or safe journey, but while I cannot say I was right to take it, neither can I say I was wrong. I'm a writer. Even in my fiction, coming as close as possible to that never-attainable goal called
truth
, is the calling I chose to answer.

After about three years, I got out while I could.
The game
was not the life or death I wanted.

But while my writing had been changed—
charged
—forever, I still didn't have
the big book
that triggered my quest.

I'd been up front and honest with everyone—good guys, bad guys, all the guys with guns. Everybody knew I was there for some grand story I'd make up that wasn't about any of them but was about all of us then
in the game, in the life
. They all knew I was there to understand so I could write about what I
grokked
—as author
Robert Heinlein
called it in his 1961 novel
Stranger in a Strange Land
.

They were cool with that, that was our deal, and it worked, because Baby Boomers are the first “media generation,” so being chronicled overrode the
omertà
reticence of history's previous noirs. Our generation is infected with the belief that being revealed in media, even as a secret source, equals redemption, makes us real in a world where what's on TV or computer monitors or in movies or books creates a worthwhile existence. Writers more learned than I have chronicled this cultural/psychological phenomenon, but this force is part of what let me go out there and come back alive.

The decompression from that trip took a few years and writing a couple of novels.

Then, abruptly, what woke in me was a savage saga of
the game
as seen through the histories of three Baby Boomers, all of them in their own right spies, all trapped in a life-or-death chase from sea to shining sea, a noir odyssey that started with this vision:


At seven minutes to midnight on an L.A. winter Sunday, Jud Stuart looked into the bar mirror and realized that the skinny guy in the plaid sports coat had been sent to kill him
.”

Complete fiction.

But written
true
.

That's this novel:
The Nature of the Game
.

It came out originally under another title:
River of Darkness
.

When this saga of Baby Boomer spies ambushed me, it had no title. How could one name sum up that noir world? But as my characters of Jud and Wes and Nick emerged in my mind, what struck me is how their world felt, what it had felt like to be swept up in the noir spy saga of my past, swept up as if…by a river.

Like many Baby Boomers, a soundtrack of music energizes my life. I was a junior in my Montana north-country high school when my car radio crackled with Canadian signer
Gordon Lightfoot
's great hit “
Ribbon of Darkness
.” Years later, as Jud and Wes and Nick raced through my mind, that song echoed behind them—but re-written as “
river
of darkness.” That's what the noir world I'd survived had been: a river of darkness. That's what swept up Jud, Wes, and Nick, and the women who loved them.

Those were the days before the Internet, but I lived in D.C. My heart thundered against my ribs like I had a hellhound on my trail as I drove to Capitol Hill, raced into the Library of Congress, found a Help desk where the clerk checked her computer…and found no other novels titled
River of Darkness
. Relief flooded over me. I was home free with a title that captured the feeling of the novel.

A title I wasn't sure how to work into the book.

A title that my editor liked but did not love.

A sentiment shared by a major source for the novel: a spy who sat at the bar of a south-of-Hollywood restaurant with me when I lived in L.A. while working on the novel and on a CBS TV drama about a Congressman.

Driving to that dinnertime rendezvous, my rental car radio played the great
Rolling Stones
song “
Sympathy for the Devil
.”

“Too bad I can't use that title,” I told my source as we sat at the bar. A few years earlier, a
Special Forces
veteran named
Kent Anderson
…

“Yeah, I think I know him,” said my man.

BOOK: Nature of the Game
8.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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