Cities of the world: regional patterns and urban environments
Burt turned the radio on too loud and didn't turn it down because they were on the verge of another argument and he didn't want it to happen. He was desperate for it not to happen. Vicky was fanning herself with her scarf even though the T-Bird was air-conditioned. She gave him a cold, neutral look. I know we're in Nebraska, Burt. But where the hell are we? This is why we got off the turnpike. So we could look at three hundred miles of corn. And enjoy the wit and wisdom of Burt Robeson. He was gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white.
He decided he was holding it that tightly because if he loosened up, why, one of those hands might just fly off and hit the ex-Prom Queen beside him right in the chops. We 're saving our marriage, he told himself. We're doing it the same way us grunts went about saving villages in the war. I did all that driving myself because you refused to drive. Then -'. Those were your exact words. Sure, Burt. Then -'Sometimes I wonder how I ever wound up married to you. She stared at him for a moment, white-lipped, and then picked up the road atlas.
She turned the pages savagely. It had been a mistake leaving the turnpike, Burt thought morosely. It was a shame, too, because up until then they had been doing pretty well, treating each other almost like human beings. It had sometimes seemed that this trip to the coast, ostensibly to see Vicky's brother and his wife but actually a last-ditch attempt to patch up their own marriage, was going to work.
Wide place in the road. Do you suppose we could stop there and get something to eat? Or does your almighty schedule say we have to go until two o'clock like we did yesterday?
He took his eyes off the road to look at her. As far as I'm concerned, we can turn right here and go home and see that lawyer you wanted to talk to. Because this isn't working at -'. She had faced forward again, her expression stonily set. It suddenly turned to surprise and fear. He turned his attention back to the road just in time to see something vanish under the T-Bird's bumper. A moment later, while he was only beginning to switch from gas to brake, he felt something thump sickeningly under the front and then the back wheels.
They were thrown forward as the car braked along the centre line, decelerating from fifty to zero along black skidmarks. Her face was a pallid, cottage-cheese colour. A little boy. He just ran out of the corn and. Burt sat straight behind the T-Bird's wheel, hands still gripping it loosely. He was aware of nothing for a long time but the rich, dark smell of fertilizer. Then he saw that Vicky was gone and when he looked in the outside mirror he saw her stumbling clumsily back towards a heaped bundle that looked like a pile of rags.
She was ordinarily a graceful woman but now her grace was gone, robbed. He turned the ignition off and got out. The wind rustled softly through the growing man-high corn, making a weird sound like respiration.
Vicky was standing over the bundle of rags now, and he could hear her sobbing. He was halfway between the car and where she stood and something caught his eye on the left, a gaudy splash of red amid all the green, as bright as barn paint. He stopped, looking directly into the corn. He found himself thinking anything to untrack from those rags that were not rags that it must have been a fantastically good growing season for corn.
It grew close together, almost ready to bear. You could plunge into those neat, shaded rows and spend a day trying to find your way out again. But the neatness was broken here. Several tall cornstalks had been broken and leaned askew. And what was that further back in the shadows?
So you can tell all your poker buddies what you bagged in Nebraska? Don't you -' But the rest was lost in fresh sobs. Her shadow was puddled starkly around her feet. It was almost noon. Shade closed over him as he entered the corn. The red barn paint was blood.
There was a low, somnolent buzz as flies lit, tasted, and buzzed off again. There was more blood on the leaves further in. Surely it couldn't have splattered this far? And then he was standing over the object he had seen from the road. He picked it up. The neatness of the rows was disturbed here. Several stalks were canted drunkenly, two of them had been broken clean off. The earth had been gouged. There was blood. The corn rustled. With a little shiver, he walked back to the road.
Vicky was having hysterics, screaming unintelligible words at him, crying, laughing. Who would have thought it could end in such a melodramatic way? He looked at her and saw he wasn't having an identity crisis or a difficult life transition or any of those trendy things.
He hated her. He gave her a hard slap across the face. She stopped short and put a hand against the reddening impression of his fingers. I guess it belonged to him.
No more than thirteen, from the look of him. The suitcase was old. The brown leather was battered and scuffed. Two hanks of clothesline had been wrapped around it and tied in large, clownish grannies. Vicky bent to undo one of them, saw, the blood greased into the knot, and withdrew. And when the staring, sightless face flopped up to regard them, she screamed again. The boy's face was dirty, his expression a grimace of terror.
His throat had been cut. Burt got up and put his arms around Vicky as she began to sway. Don't faint. He repeated it over and over and at last she began to recover and held him tight. They might have been dancing, there on the noon-struck road with the boy's corpse at their feet. Get the blanket out of the back seat, and my rifle. Bring them here. Maybe whoever is watching us. It marched away as far as the eye could see, undulating up and down small dips and rises of land.
She walked stiltedly back to the car, her shadow following, a dark mascot who stuck close at this hour of the day. When she leaned into the back seat, Burt squatted beside the boy.
White male, no distinguishing marks. Run over, yes, but the T-Bird hadn't cut the kid's throat. It had been cut raggedly and inefficiently - no army sergeant had shown the killer the finer points of hand-to-hand assassination -but the final effect had been deadly. He had either run or been pushed through the last thirty feet of corn, dead or mortally wounded. And Burt Robeson had run him down.