While on semester break during my college days, I began to read Aleksandre I. Solzhenitsyn’s personal account of Stalin’s terror-filled reign, Gulag Archipelago. It is not an easy read, especially for those who prefer to stay mindless of the horrors of life.
Knowing something about terror and the madness of dysfunction as a boy, in an odd way, I looked forward to finding company in those pages. More than that, however, I discovered the people to possess the most profound courage and spiritual strength. I was in awe of the Russian people, and sympathetic toward their horrific ordeal.
Then, while at the middle of the book, I got a knock on my apartment door. I arose, opened it, and was met face-to-face with a man identifying himself as an agent while holding FBI credentials. Accompanying him were another FBI agent and a police officer.
The guy to first speak seemed to be in charge. He and his men, he told me, had been keeping my apartment under surveillance for the past few days and wondered why I chose not to leave, why I remained cooped up. “Are you hiding? You haven’t left that seat (pointing) for hours, and you’ve been out only once to order food at Benny’s.” he said.
Benny’s Chinese restaurant was my favorite place to eat. Located only a few minutes from the beach, my apartment was across the street, on the second story, above a leather shop, directly across from Benny’s.
To get there I had to leave the building down the back stairwell behind Dan’s leather shop. The smell of fresh cut leather and dyes, I grew to like, and often I stepped in to gab for a while, mostly about Christian life issues and doctrinal debates.
Richard, Dan’s helper and phenomenal craftsman, was a true comedian the way he was able to impersonate church leaders. It was all so intense, those years we shared every day wrapped up in a community-wide movement that demanded inward and outward change. One had to laugh to exist.
Both Richard and I were musicians in an original Christian quartet that placed Richard as the lead singer, and rightfully so. He was a consistent crowd pleaser.
My completely honest explanation to the FBI was that I was a poor college student who was attempting to get a head start on reading assignments for next term. “I’m majoring in literature and the workload can be overwhelming at times,” I said.
“What’s this all about?” I asked him. His reply was as if it jumped right out of the pages I was reading, “You fit the description of a man who raped and murdered a girl thirty miles south of here. We’re taking you in for questioning.”
To them, I must not have displayed any worry or guilt, because they didn’t handcuff me. “Surely, there’s been some mistake,” I told myself.
The police station was located less than two blocks from my apartment, and during our slow walk there, the agent asked me what else I did with my leisure time. I told him that I liked to fish.
“What kind of fish do you catch?”
“Whiting and flounder mostly.”
“Where do you go?” he asked, attempting to catch me, I supposed.
“Mostly to the pier, but flounder are best caught at night near the jetties in Mayport,” I replied as we entered the station.
Past the doorway, I was told to take a seat inside a scarcely furnished foyer. The agent continued talking. He told me he and his buddy planned to do some fishing while they were in Florida and asked if I had any pointers to share with them? I explained how to set fishing lines and the type of baits to use.
“Do I know enough about seawater angling,”. I thought to ask, but just let it go.
After ten minutes, I was led into a room where my fingerprints were taken, thanked for being so cooperative, and told not to leave town for a few weeks. I complied.
Never again was I called to the police station, and I never learned if they caught the bad guy.
When I got back to my apartment, I picked up Solzenhitsyn’s book to continue where I left off, feeling a bit more like a fellow patriot.
I never did see those guys at the jetties.