A Novel

Chapter 27: Mayhem, Make Me Empty

Kathy: getting out of Elmville undetected would be complicated. She was too well-known in the hotel—mostly as an insufferably arrogant bitch. Even among the crowds of strangers staying at the Wagon Wheel for Pow-Wow Days, she was known. She was the kind of woman you noticed: the way she dressed, the way she carried herself, the way she asserted herself: there was a sharpness to it all, an edge. People noticed it; people noticed her.

Her departure must be staged to look...unplanned.

The fence had taken her car.

Fernando had taken Ultraglis, and some of her belongings. He had taken them to La Salle. Everything else she would have to leave behind. She must leave enough behind to make her departure appear...unplanned.

People would quickly remember things about her: that she was disliked at her company, that she was disliked at the hotel, that she had no friends, that a "Mexican" had recently visited her in her room, that the Mexican had given his business card to the desk clerk, that his name was Fernando Pedrosa and he worked for...

People would remember enough to keep the police occupied while she and Fernando fled south.

Suddenly, just like that, everything she had done in Elmville—all her hard work—became a red herring.

Friday evening » September 18, 1987 » she went to the hotel bar for a drink. She asked for a seat on the patio.

The lounge was empty; the patio was empty.

Without even being asked, the hostess said, "Everyone's down in Tiskilwa for the Pow-Wow Days. Even them's that don't care 'bout Pow-Wow Days are down there for the game."

"The game?"

"Tiskilwa and Elmville. The rivalry." The hostess handed her a menu. "Your waitress'll be right out." The hostess went back inside.

It was that time of year when the cicadas trill loudly, urgently.

She ordered a glass of wine and a light dinner. She ate, and she ordered a second glass of wine. She paid her bill, and then sat a little longer, pretending to linger over her wine. She quietly stood up, stepped off the patio, entered the darkness, and walked straight into a corn row.

A corn row. She was inside the cornfield that bordered the hotel, on the hotel's north side, the cornfield she had so often looked onto from the window of her room. Her plan was to follow the corn row clear to its other side, a distance she and Fernando estimated would be about one mile. The corn rows ran in a north/south direction, so Fernando would be waiting for her on the north side of the field, about a mile from the hotel.

It was the hardest mile she ever walked, and while trudging through the field, she recalled stories of people getting lost inside cornfields. She recalled stories of people getting lost inside cornfields, but she had no idea where she would ever have heard such stories.

With every step she brushed against corn stalks almost twice as tall as she, making it difficult even to see the sky; the leaves were damp and the furrows made the ground uneven. The air felt about ten degree colder inside the cornfield than it had on the hotel patio; she clutched herself and shivered.

About 45 minutes later, she came to the end of the corn row. She saw Fernando's Toyota, with its headlights off, parked on the side of the empty country road. He emerged from the car and ran to meet her. She almost fell into his arms in exhaustion, and he kissed her.

"You made it! How did it go?"


"Did anyone see you?"

"I don't think so. How can I know?" Then, irritably: "What do you think? I wouldn't have continued if I thought anyone had."

He looked at her clothing—a skirt and sleeveless blouse, with leather pumps—and said, "It couldn't have been easy walking in that outfit."

Angrily, sarcastically, she said, "I could hardly have gone to dinner in hiking gear." She then she began weeping. She thought, is this what we do, we women? We weep when the going gets tough? We fall into the arms of men? I was a fool to consider myself better than any other foolish member of my sex.

He held her tightly and said, "I wasn't criticizing. Calm down Kathy. Everything's going just exactly as we had planned. We wake up tomorrow, hit our mark, and ride off into the sunset. Easy as pie. Let's get going."

They drove back to La Salle, where they spent the night together at the Tikki.

The next day, as they drove toward Tiskilwa, Kathy said, "I never thought I'd be sorry to leave Elmville."

"Sorry to leave because of what we're about to do?"

"I don't know." She paused. "Everything's a muddle. I can't think straight. I don't know why I'm sorry. Sorry maybe to leave my work undone. Maybe even because I liked it better than I let myself believe."

She looked at herself in a mirror that was clipped to the passenger-side sun visor, and had an uncanny feeling, possibly because she had disguised herself with a Betty Paige wig, bright red lipstick, heavy black eye-liner, tight blue-jeans, a tank-top, and temporary tatoos. Fernando had purchased the tatooes in La Salle: a bald eagle carrying on its back a cowboy and a mermaid. The mermaid held a trident, held it triumphantly.

In Kathy's lap: a black leather purse, inside of which: Ultraglis, loaded and chambered, concealed beneath a pile of lipstick, eye shadow, eye liner, hairspray, and half a dozen tampons.

After a long silence, Kathy said, "So, Pow-Wow days?" Typical silence-breaker. Christ, I'm so typical, in every contemptible way.

"Yep. Blondie said it would be the best time to move about unobserved."

Teasingly, Kathy said, "You really seem to like this Blondie."

"What's not to like?" He laughed. "Believe me, if you saw her, you'd have no reason to be jealous."

Reading from an insert in the county newspaper, she said, "Pow-Wow days...began on Thursday evening, with the crowning of a local high school girl, Tammy Wallace, as Wapsipinicon Queen. Wapsipinicon Queen—that's difficult to pronounce. I think the contestants actually have to be virgins, although I don't know whether their viriginity is verified by the judges. Maybe the town physician does the honors."

Fernando laughed.

Kathy continued, "Last night Tiskilwa played Elmville. An old rivalry. Tiskilwa won. The locals should be feeling very happy. Probably the happiest they'll feel all year. What's that like, I wonder? To have all your happiness come from somebody else's achievement?"

"I don't know, but horse owners are like that too."

"Today, there will be a parade, a farm exhibition, a gun show, a carnival, and several battle reenactments. Tonight is the actual Pow-Wow, performed by a group of Lakota who are encamped in a park somewhere outside of town. The biggest event this year, however, will be the grand opening of Senachwine’s grave. Archaeologists have been excavating the site for over a year now, and building a museum over it. Today the grave will be open to the public for the first time ever."

"My waiter was telling me about that yesterday morning. Sounds barbaric. There will be a real body inside the grave."

"Or at least some bones."

Fernando said, "Maybe we can throw another body into it before we leave town."

"Yeah. Maybe."

Another silence.

Kathy asked, "Did you really never go to college?"

"Not a day."

"You're so well-educated. So smart. I can hardly believe it."

"Chalk it up to Catholic school, I guess."

"When I went to college, I was lonely. I made a lot of friends, but none of them felt like true friends. I never really had any true friends. My mom told me it was because I was never a true friend to anyone. I guess, in the long run, that made it easier for me to focus on my career."

As she finished that sentence, they entered Tiskilwa. Blondie had not exaggerated when she said it would be an easy day for strangers to move about unobserved. There must have been at least a thousand visitors, probably exceeding the town's actual population, more than doubling the number of people normally occupying the police's attention.

Especially favorable to Fernando and Kathy's plans, and completely unexpected, was the presence of angry protesters, a huge mob of them. They were creating a chaos into which she and Fernando could more easily blend. The protesters were also doubtless exhausting the capacity of the local police force.

The battle reeanctments began at 1:00, and at 1:15 Kathy heard the first crack of gunfire from nearby, followed by a fusillade echoing against the valley bluffs. She said, "That must be the battle reeanctors. We need to find the house now."

Blondie had given Fernando detailed directions to the house, and soon they were parked in front of it.

Fernando said, "Are you sure you don't want me to do this?"

"No. It's my problem to fix."

"Here's the key."

With her purse in one hand and the housekey in the other, She crossed the street, opened the front door, and walked inside, closing the door behind her. The front door opened directly onto the living room, which was sparsely furnished. It reminded her of a movie set that somebody had begun to build, but never finished. The house was dark inside, except for sunlight entering through the vertical slits where the window drapes met. She was surprised that nobody acknowledged her entrance. The house was so silent, she wondered if she had walked into an ambush or a trap, or an empty house. An empty house would signify a decoy, rendering her useless while the action proceeded apace somewhere else. She wondered if Blondie could have double-crossed Fernando.

There were two doors off the living room's back wall: the left door led to a kitchen, the right door to a small hallway. She could hear a television program coming from someplace behind the hallway.

She opened her purse and pulled out the gun, Ultraglis. She was surprised by how easily she could handle the gun, as if she instinctively knew what to do with it. As if all the movies she had ever seen had been remembered not just by her mind, but by her muscles and her bones. Once in hand, the gun became almost an extension of herself, and it felt good.

She entered the hallway, where she found three doors: two along the left wall, and one door straight ahead, at the end of the short hallway. The hallway was short, but it felt long, it almost seemed to be stretching itself so that the door at the end of the hallway receded farther and farther into the distance. The sound of the television came from behind the first door to the left. The door at the end of the hallway disappeared.

She opened the door to her left, and inside was a young man—a boy, really—lying in a bed. There were bandages around his head, and his arms were in casts. A white bedheet covered him from the chest down.

He looked at her, with mild surprise, but not with fear. He said, "What happened to the other lady?" Then he saw the gun in her hand, and said, "Oh, I see. I didn't think you looked like a nurse. So he's got his money already, and he sent you to do his dirty work. You look dirty enough for the job."

"Who're you talking about? Who got his money?"

"Oh, don't you know? Are you working for Delaney then? Going to rub me out before the money's even sent?"

"Are you Floyd Hotchkiss?"

"Would it matter if I said 'no'?"

She pulled the trigger and fired a bullet into his abdomen.

He screamed. Then, looking at her with agony in his eyes, he said, "You don't even know what motivates you. My grandma had a wind-up clock. When you turned the key—that's what she called it, a key: funny, the meanings words have. Turning the key wound up a spring inside the clock, and the spring stored up all that energy, and released it slowly, causing the clock to tick. My friend Joe, he said that motivation is like the spring inside a wind-up clock, that motivation keeps you going. But it isn't." The white bedsheet was turning a deep, dark, red—deeper and darker with every second that passed. "Motivation is like the gears of the clock, their peculiar construction that channels the energy from the spring and controls the way in which the hands on the clock move. But behind it all, the thing that powers the action, is that spring, and that spring isn't motivation; it's just life. When your life ends, you stop moving; the spring has unwound completely. But your motives, if they're like the gears inside that clock—I don't know what happens to your motives."

She fired another round, this time into his chest.

Wheezing now, he said, "It's like that gun you got there. An automatic? Semiautomatic. When you pull the trigger, the hammer strikes the bullet, igniting a small amount of gunpowder at the back of the cartridge. The explosion propels the bullet forward through the bore and out the muzzle, but the explosion also generates pressure inside the chamber, and this pressure pushes the slide backward along the rails, opening the ejection port and compressing the recoil spring, which then pushes the slide forward again, while the magazine spring pushes another round into the chamber. This all happens so quickly, you can't even see it. That's what motivation's like: it's the mechanism controlling you, but it moves too quickly to be seen." The bedsheet was now covered almost completely in blood. With great effort, he raised himself slightly, so that his head rested against the headboard. He said, "I guess it's over now. Over for me at least. The pain isn't, though. Could you, would you, point that thing at my face, pull the trigger, and empty my head? I can't stand it anymore."

She moved in closer, pointed the gun at his head, and pulled the trigger one last time. She then dropped the gun into her purse, left the bedroom, walked quickly through the living room and out the front door, clutching her black purse. She stepped stiffly down the steps, across the street, and into the car.

Fernando asked, "Are we ready to go?"

"Yes." She felt numb. Within ten minutes, they had left the town behind and were headed toward Route 29, which would take them south to Peoria, from where they would catch an Interstate west.

She said, "It was horrible. He was just a boy. In bandages. I think his arms were in casts; his legs must have been too because he didn't even try to get up. When I walked into the room, he didn't seem very surprised to see me. He was in a bed. He said, 'Sending somebody new, is he?' He must have been referring to Delaney. But why would Delaney have been sending anybody to see him? He never said anything to me about that. Did he tell you anything like that?"

"No, nothing at all."

"I asked what he meant, but he just said, 'You're the new one, aren't you?' I pulled the gun out of my bag. He didn't even struggle to get away. I don't think he could struggle, he was so wrapped in bandages and plaster. I approached him closer, and I thought about what he had done to me, how he had ruined my life. I was about two feet away from him. I fired twice into his body, and once into his head. It was horrible. His head exploded, Fernando. There was blood everywhere."

As she was talking, she saw that, beneath his pants, Fernando was aroused. She reached over, unzipped his flies, pulled out his cock, and went down on him, and he let her. After everything he had sacrificed for her, she felt as though it was the least she could do in return. She still hadn't thought about what would be the most.