A Tale of Modern Times
William Dear: The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III; Houghton Mufflin; Boston.
Dallas Egbert was a genius. At the age of 13 he entered Michigan State University to study computer science. MSU assured the Egberts that the university would take special care of the brilliant but remarkably immature student. Two years later he disappeared. William Dear, the Texas PI hired to find him, lost no time in discovering how well MSU had protected their young charge. Little Dallas had spent his college years cooking up angel dust in his dorm room and taking an active part in the homosexual community of East Lansing. His most strenuous intellectual pastime was playing Dungeons & Dragons—not just in his head, but in the eight-mile maze of steam tunnels under the MSU campus.
Dear’s investigations were sometimes bizarre. In order to get inside the boy’s head, he spent time learning to play Dungeons & Dragons. He even lay down in front of an oncoming train (another one of Dallas’s amusements). Unfortunately, the engine had a cowcatcher attached, and the PI had to run for his life. More productively, Dear authorized a homosexual investigator to start pressuring the local gay community just to see what would pop (Philip Marlowe would have been proud). Eventually Dear retrieved the boy from an oil-field town in Louisiana. His story, when he finally gave it to the detective, was as strange as anything Dear had imagined. Driven to despair by the obvious pressures of his fantastic life—pressures which were increased by a domineering and demanding mother—he took refuge in the steam tunnels and swallowed what he hoped was a lethal dose of quaaludes. When he woke up to discover yet another personal failure, he went for help to an older homosexual, who first befriended him and then exploited him with a series of “friends.” Eventually the gays got scared, probably as a result of Dear’s pressuring, and sent the boy to Louisiana, perhaps intending to have him killed in a more·convenient location. As Dear closed in, they changed their mind and told the boy to telephone the detective. Dallas’s recovery is not the usual happy ending of fairy tales. His relations with his family improved for a while but not enough to stave off chronic depression. One year and a day after his disappearance, he blew his brains out with a .25 automatic.
William Dear is no writer—his style alone acquits him of that charge—but he has put together a compelling narrative of modern times. The casual and indirect manner of his storytelling gives the reader an occasional frightening glimpse into the unreal world of the college campus. Students would not come forward with information. The faculty refused to talk. The Gay Rights organization was only interested in protecting its rear. Nobody, it seemed, cared one way or another about the 16-year-old boy who had lost himself in the fantasy world of sci fi, Tolkien clubs, and game fantasies. The kids who knew him best were too wrapped up in their private worlds of games, drugs, and illusions.
What was the role of MSU in all this? If Dear is right, they deliberately misled Dallas’s parents about the life the boy was leading. So far from providing supervision, the university authorities had no way of knowing from one day to the next if the kid was even in East Lansing (often he wasn’t). They took five days to notify the parents of his disappearance, and Dear was in East Lansing for a week before they allowed him to explore the tunnels. Meantime, “somebody” complained to the Michigan State Police that Dear was not properly licensed in the state—anything, it seems, rather than help uncover a potentially damaging scandal.
It is difficult to say what Dallas Egbert might have made of his 180+ IQ if he had been allowed to lead a more normal life, or if he had been allowed to lead a more normal life, or if he had been sent to a responsible liberal arts college instead of to the nightmare campus of what Russell Kirk has taught us to call Behemoth U.