Eric Smythe has just been summoned into his manager's office.
Among the NBC writers, Ross has always been known as Himmler – because he's the guy who exterminates anyone the company wants out of the way. His secretary visibly paled when she saw me […]. But instead of escorting me into his office, she brought me to an adjoining conference room. There were five guys sitting around a table. When I
came in, all of them stared up at me, as if I was some death-row inmate who's been hauled
in front of the appeals board for one final stab at clemency. […]
“ ‘All this for me?' I said. But nobody laughed. Instead, Ross stood up. He's a real
bloodless guy, Ross. The nondescript accountant type with thick glasses and greasy
brown hair. No doubt he was bullied like hell at school – and has been getting his revenge
ever since, as he so clearly delights in the small amount of power that his job gives
him. Especially at a moment like this – when he was about to conduct his very own
Un-American Activities investigation on the forty-third floor of Rockefeller Center.
“So up he stood and tonelessly introduced everyone at the table. There was Bert
Schmidt, the network's head of Variety and Comedy. There were two guys – Golden and
Frankel – from Legal Affairs. And there was this gentleman named Agent Brad Sweet
from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. […] A real big, square-jawed Midwestern type,
with a crew cut and a short thickening neck. I'm sure he played linebacker when he was
at high school in Nebraska, married the girl he brought to the senior prom, and probably
spent his entire four years at Wichita State dreaming of the moment he could go to work
for Mr Hoover, and defend Mom and the American flag from dangerous gag-writing
subversives like me. Got the picture?” […]
“ ‘Mr Smythe, are you now or have you been a member of the Communist Party?'
“Without even thinking about it, I instantly said, ‘No.' Agent Sweet tried to control a
smirk as he opened my very substantial file, and said, ‘You're lying, Mr Smythe. If this
was a court of law, you could be indicted for contempt.' […]
“ ‘As I just told you, I quit the Party over a decade ago.'
“The other lawyer, Golden, came in here, trying to sound friendly.
“ ‘What made you leave the Party, Eric?'
“ ‘I'd lost faith in the doctrines they were pushing. I thought they were ideologically
wrong about a lot of things. And I also began to believe the rumors that were being
spread about Stalin's repressive policies in Russia.'
“ ‘So,' said the ever-helpful Counselor Golden, ‘you realized Communism was wrong.'
“He didn't pose that sentence as a question – rather, as a statement. Bert Schmidt shot
me this pleading, don't be stupid here look. I said, ‘That's right. I decided Communism
was wrong. And evil.' […]
“ ‘Given your admirable change of heart on the matter of Communism,' Agent Sweet
said, ‘would you call yourself a patriotic American?'
“I was also expecting this dumb question. And I knew I'd have to lie. So I assured Agent
Sweet – and everyone else at the table – that I loved my country more than life itself, or
some such crap. Sweet seemed pleased with my response.
“ ‘Then you'd be willing to cooperate?' he asked me.
“ ‘Cooperate? What do you mean by cooperate?'
The Pursuit of Happiness, 2001.
Copyright © Douglas Kennedy 2001, by kind permission of the author and Random House Limited