A Novel

Chapter 32: Heat Seeker

Two nights later » Wednesday, September 30, 1987 » Durney McKusker waited nervously in an office trailer (an office in a trailer house, a "modular office solution"). It was the office of the Galena Trail Farmers Cooperative, Illinois River Station = the GTFC's grain elevator on the Illinois River. The trailer house office looked tiny beside the grain elevator's giant concrete towers, each tower over a hundred feet high, each tower adjacent to another: side-by-side concrete towers stretching four hundred feet in length, like a massive rampart on the river's west bank. The elevator was supplying a fleet of barges with half a million bushels of corn, USDA Grade 2. Meanwhile, as the elevator's drying unit worked on the recent harvest, it sounded like a four thousand horsepower diesel engine running at maximum capacity. The drying unit filled the air with dusty red corn chaff. Colored, flashing lights illuminated the chaff-filled air, and the chaff looked like incense over an altar.

A tugboat blasted its horn in staccato signals, the trumpet of God. And why not? The tugboat was collecting corn the way Christ would collect dead bodies on the last day, when the dead would rise from their graves like corn stalks from their seeds. Corn, that magnificent mystery: simultaneously the seed and the product of the seed: the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a kernal of corn die, and be buried into the ground, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. And the fruit of the corn seed was corn seed.

Inside the office, Alabama Simmons paced the floor. Durney fidgeted with the cylinder on his revolver.

Durney said, "Everything's set for the girl. Camden says she's off by ten. The whole Marina will be tricked out with dynamite. Goodnight Todd Menocken. Camden should be back soon."

The office door opened. The chaff and the noise from outside blew into the office like cold, windy air in a blizzard. A man wearing a De Kalb seed corn cap walked through the door. He closed the door, crossed the room, and sat at a desk in the corner. He did not greet Durney or Alabama; he did not even acknowledge their presence.

As if in explanation, Durney said to Alabama, "Night auditor. Don't worry about him. He's with us."

Alabama: "I seen him with you before. Sure thing boss: I seen him around."

They waited in silence.

A knock at the door brought dark thoughts to Durney's mind: the time was approaching and was almost here when the master of the house would close the door, and the evildoer would stand outside knocking, and the master would order him to depart. Durney wondered what course Blondie would have advised, and he wished he had been able to consult her. But everything was happening so quickly, and with so much to arrange in so little time—barely even thirty hours—there was no time to speak with Blondie.

Durney and Alabama withdrew behind a row of filing cabinets. The night auditor opened the door, and the caller asked, "My grandad still here?" It was Camden.

Durney stepped out from behind the filing cabinets, "Everything go as planned?"


"He took the money?"


"Did he ask any questions?"

"He wanted to know how I got it."

"And you told him you got it from your parents?"


"What else did he say?"

"He asked if I wanted another loan. Fresh start, easier terms—that kind of thing."

"And you said?"

"I said maybe, but not now."

"Good. Do you think he suspects anything?"

"I don't think so. He seemed pleased."

"Did anyone see you?"

"Well, the bartender. And Ellen—she was sitting at the bar counting her tips. But Jared Rone wasn't there."

"What about the other one?"

"Harry? No, he wasn't there. Or I didn't see him."

"So no one else saw you."

"Not really."

"What do you mean, 'not really'?"

"There was a man in Todd's office. He just sat there drooling. He didn't even seem to realize I was present. Todd said it was his cousin, and that he was brain damaged. That as a boy he had fallen while playing in an untilled cornfield, and that a six inch stub of cornstalk had punctured his skull and gone straight through his brain."

Durney paused a moment before saying, "Alabama, could you get the car ready and wait for Camden outside?"

Alabama left the trailer.

Durney continued, "Alright Camden, Alabama's driving you to Peoria. You got a one-way airplane ticket to Houston. I don't ever want to see you again. Do you understand?"

Camden nodded.

"I want you to know that you disgust me, Camden. And I'm disappointed in you."

"You know they drugged me. You know I didn't—"

"That only makes it worse. When you're drugged, you do what you really want to do—"

"That ain't true, goddammit! What do you know that ain't—?"

Durney struck Camden across the face. "Don't talk back to me. After everything I've done for you. You disgraced yourself. So take this airplane ticket and leave and don't ever come back. You can do what you want with your body now. Just leave here and do it where they won't know you. And where they won't know me."

Camden left.

Durney doubted himself.

What would Blondie have done?

What would Camden do in Houston? Durney contemplated it: sin. Sin, sin, take a spin: spin and win, win and grin, then sin again.

Sin. A hard word; a hard, small, compact word—compacted like coal compressed with unfathomable force into something not only small and hard, but desirable, like a diamond, refracting the will as a diamond refracts light. Durney, he knew all about sin. He trafficked in it. He himself was already and irretrievably damned. But Camden's sin—Durney's whole body and mind and even his own goddamned soul recoiled from the unnaturalness of Camden's sin, from the fact that it was Camden's sin, and from the fact that this sin was Camden's. Camden. This sin removed one not only from the grace of God, but also from the grace of mankind, and of mankind's grace and disgrace there could be no doubt.

How could Camden let somebody do that to his body? How could he do it to his own body, and with his body. That body, godlike in its perfection—Camden should have treated it like a temple. But now the temple was defiled. Camden let it be defiled, and he himself defiled it. A healthy, perfect body yoked to a degenerate mind.

Degeneracy was a punishment that must itself be punished. Durney was now seeing fulfilled God's promise to punish the children for the sins of the parent, even unto the third and fourth generation.

The night auditor, as if reading Durney's mind, said, "You think you are punishing your grandson, but you are also punishing yourself. You are playing God and then blaming God. You use God to justify your own narcissism, so that you can hate God and pity yourself for what you claim to believe is your certain damnation, and you use that certitude as an excuse to do wrong. You use God to disguise your own cosmic egotism, believing that everything in your world, the good and the bad, originates with you, and from your actions. But it doesn't, and you didn't have to send your grandson away. You are angry that he put you in Todd Menocken's power, though I doubt Todd even realizes that Camden is your grandson. If he did know, then why didn't he confront you with the video, instead of using it to extort, what, ten grand out of Camden? He could easily have gotten ten times ten grand out of you. Instead of simply seeing the situation for what it is, you transform it into an epic drama with yourself at the center. But you aren't at the center, of this or anything else. There is no center."

Durney did not respond. Facts were facts: a man killed another man, and was a murderer; he gambled and was a gambler; he stole and was a thief. Camden fucked another man, and that made him a faggot. Durney would never have believed the story if he hadn't heard it straight from Camden's own mouth. The same mouth that...sucked...suck and fuck...

It blindsided Durney. How much worse would it be for Camden's parents and friends if the video were circulated and actually seen? And that must never happen. Dureny would do everything in his power to ensure it, and to avenge himself upon Todd and Todd's gang of whores and sodomites. He would make Todd's whole world into a feedlot slaughterhouse.

The telephone on the night auditor's desk rang, and the night auditor answered it. All Durney heard was, "Uh-huh...okay...uh-huh...yep...you sure?...no," and he hung up. He looked at Durney and said, "Car at the Rainbow Cove Marina exploded. Two people were inside the vehicle. Police think the driver was Todd, but the passenger is unidentified."

Durney said, "Probably the idiot cousin Camden said he saw in the office."

"Probably. Poor son-of-a-bitch."

"Yeah. In any case, looks like we're one for one so far."

The night auditor handed Durney a newspaper and said, "Here, read something. I'm tired of hearing you mess with that gun, and we've got a lot more waiting to do."

Young Good-man Brown, Night-ma-re Town...

About half an hour later, the telephone rang again. The night auditor picked up, "Yes? Okay...alright...uh-huh...any witnesses?...okay." Again he hung up the telephone and said to Durney, "Multiple explosions at the Marina; the entire complex engulfed in flames including two boats. Where the hell did you manage to get so many explosives on such short notice?"

Ignoring the question, Durney said, "Now we just wait for Ora and Scerial to come back with the girl."