Or the Thirtieth Street railway station, in Philadelphia. Or the Camden train station. Like a sleepwalker, but with unnaturally widened eyes, Philip had made his way past a noisy family loading their minivan to the boy panhandling listlessly at the curb. He was a lone white boy whom no one gave more than a cursory glance. He stood with one hand extended palm up, stubborn and unmoving. There was something both childlike and feral about him that made Philip shy, so he was surprised when the boy looked at him eagerly, as if hoping he might know him.
You could come with us. Dad says. These words had been programmed for Philip. Except for Dad says , which was his own invention. It was late now, nearing 10 p. His speech was interlaced with shit , suck , fuck. He had shocked Philip by belching loudly and without apology, as if making a witticism. He is someone to be pitied. Philip was much too young. Philip hid inside the vestibule and watched his father drive away with Reuben. Now he felt a stab of jealousy, but he knew that, the next day, Reuben would be gone and he would have his father to himself.
It was the new Acura his father was driving, a sedan with a beautiful pale-bronze finish. Roy Szaara always drove new cars, which he leased.
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Now he watched as it moved back into State Street traffic. Soon it disappeared in a stream of glittering cars headed for the bridge over the Delaware River. Next day, the pillow was gone from the back seat of the car, though the rest of the camping gear remained. Philip wondered if it was in the trunk of the car. Or if his father had thrown it away.
Did Philip promise to keep this secret? Sometimes, in the apartment, Philip discovered things that the hitchhikers had left behind: soiled socks and underwear, crumpled cigarette packages, a single sneaker mended with duct tape. A plastic belt patterned to resemble crocodile skin.
A sweat-stained baseball cap. Once, his father came up behind him to snatch a filthy undershirt Philip had been holding. Harshly, he laughed. Your mother should keep you cleaner. For a long time those words had reverberated in his ears with a ring of playful reproach. He was a fastidious boy who washed his hands often and had a compulsion to brush his teeth immediately after eating, for he could not bear the sensation of food particles between his teeth.
Over time, he would come to believe that the filthy undershirt had in fact been his and he was flooded with a deep shame, for his father had seen it, and his father, too, would remember. For his father trusted him, and Philip had violated that trust. Not for some time would Philip learn why. The former Mrs. The ugly headlines had disappeared from the Times , replaced by other lurid headlines pertaining to strangers. Now she was furious! As if I might get lost.
As if I might disappear. Philip had to be excused from school and brought with him several textbooks in which he might hide from his mother. He had not seen his father since the mandated weekends had come to an abrupt end. He had not dared suggest, even to his grandparents, that he be allowed to visit his father in prison, for such a request would have dismayed and infuriated them, and there was no chance, not the faintest glimmer of a chance, that he might say such a thing to his mother.
We could stop. For he knew that his father would not want to be seen in such a place. His father had always dressed so stylishly—expensive clothes, haircuts. His fingernails were manicured and the cuffs of his trademark white silk dress shirts always spotless. Philip found this comforting, or had.
Secret between us, promise? Repeatedly he heard, There are places in the world where people vanish, or was it There are places in the world where people can vanish? On the drive to Trenton he was beset by such memories. Spread across the table in the windowless interview room were a half- dozen snapshots of a thin, dark-haired boy not much older than Philip, frowning at the camera. Any information you can provide.
Philip sat silent, staring. In two of the photographs the boy was wearing a white T-shirt and smoking a cigarette. In one he was wearing what appeared to be a rumpled pajama top, partly opened to show a pale sunken chest and a single berry-colored nipple. Philip had no information to provide.
His mother stood close behind him with her hand on his shoulder. There were two detectives. They had surprised Philip by shaking hands with him as if he were an adult. He had not heard most of what the detectives had said. He had not seen his father in months. He had rarely seen his father during the last several years, for his father had lived apart from the family since Philip was ten.
Now he was only thirteen and he was trying to adjust to a new home and a new school. The detectives listened politely. They did not interrupt. Philip felt a pang of embarrassment that his mother had become a woman to be pitied and humored. She was wearing dark clothing and her hair was pulled back into a chignon, yet her mouth flashed red with lipstick and her eyes were unnaturally bright. She had not brought her son all the way to Trenton, she said, to abandon him to strangers.
There were folders of such photographs. All were of teen-age boys. Philip was smiling, and shaking his head no. He was having difficulty seeing, but he did not want to wipe his eyes on his sleeve. The gesture would be a sign of weakness, and he knew that adult men are contemptuous of weakness in boys. His mother insisted upon accompanying him. Not in this place. When he moved toward the door as if to elude her, she seized his arm and walked with him, holding him captive. The detectives behaved as if this were nothing unusual.
Nor did she want one of the detectives to accompany him. Oh, Philip hated this woman right then! In that way, Ms. Hudgkins could be assured that no one would approach her son without her permission. How like kindergarten this was, his mother anxiously overseeing his first days! He could not bear to see his reflection in the mirror. He could not bear to look at his weak, frightened soul glittering like tears in his eyes.
It was difficult for him to pee. He wondered if a surveillance camera was trained on him. When he emerged from the rest room, he was shaking with indignation and trying not to cry. The first one.
His name was Reuben. He had not meant was. He had no reason to think was. But all that he had been determined not to tell the detectives that day, suddenly he would tell in a rush of words that his mother could not prevent, and which would be recorded on tape and could not be unsaid. There was a comfort in this.
At the car, she seemed to rouse herself. She turned the key in the ignition briskly and gunned the motor. She would take the River Road north to I, and avoid most of Trenton altogether. It was out of their way, she said, but the detour was worth it. Running parallel to the River Road was a narrow canal of muddy water and beyond the canal was the wide, windy Delaware River. On the other side of the highway were small suburban houses that, within a few miles, gave way to larger and more imposing houses in the hills. That style of architecture has no soul. Philip squinted at the house, barely visible behind a scrim of juniper pine.
A pulse beat in his eyes. He hated it that strangers lived there now, that another child had appropriated his room. A boy his age or younger for whom the future held no dread. Philip expected his mother to turn onto the entrance ramp of I near Titusville, but she drove past it without slowing. He dared not say anything to her.
She was driving over the speed limit, clenching the steering wheel tight. They were veering ever farther from the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, which would return them to Nyack. They were miles beyond suburban Trenton, in a sparsely populated area of western New Jersey bounded on the right by densely wooded hills.
I think I need to stop this car. I think you should get out of this car and leave me alone for a while. Philip was stunned. He was unable to speak, to defend himself. She had seemed to forgive him. This new shame. It will be in the newspapers, it will be on television. Where can we hide? You could have let it go, Philip. That boy, that missing boy, you could have let him go. She was braking the car, skidding and sliding from the roadway into a deserted rest stop. They were at the edge of Washington Crossing State Park. Wordless, Philip yanked the car door open and charged blindly away.
He was trembling with hurt, indignation. He was aware of picnic tables, benches. Shuttered rest rooms in a fake log cabin. An overturned trash can that reeked of garbage. His mother had no right to punish him at such a time. He had told only the truth of what he knew and he did not wish the truth untold, even if it brought shame to them all. At the edge of the rest stop was a sodden woodchip trail leading into a hilly wooded area. He had no idea where he was, what he was doing. He wanted only to run. There was a smell here of rich damp earth and awakening vegetation.
The day had been unseasonably warm for early April, and already small insects, gnats, and flies brushed against his face. When she opened it, the heat gathered inside the room was like a sudden, awful hand over her mouth; she hurried to open a window. Lord, Lord, Lord! Kidwell sat down on the bed; she wanted to hold Bonnie in her arms, and eventually Bonnie let herself be held.
All of you. Having a good time. The best years, the children—everything. A little while, and even Kenyon will be grown up—a man. And how will he remember me? As a kind of ghost, Wilma. Now, on this final day of her life, Mrs. Clutter hung in the closet the calico house dress she had been wearing and put on one of her trailing nightgowns and a fresh set of white socks.
Then, before retiring, she exchanged her ordinary glasses for a pair of reading spectacles. The two young men had little in common, but they did not realize it, for they shared a number of surface traits. Both, for example, were fastidious, very attentive to hygiene and the condition of their fingernails.
After their grease-monkey morning, they spent the better part of an hour sprucing up in the lavatory of the garage.
Dick stripped to his briefs was not quite the same as Dick fully clothed. In the latter state, he seemed a flimsy dingy-blond youth of medium height, fleshless and perhaps sunken-chested; disrobing revealed that he was nothing of the sort but, rather, an athlete constructed on a welterweight scale. The tattooed face of a cat, blue and grinning, covered his right hand; on one shoulder a blue rose blossomed. It was as though his head had been halved like an apple, then put together a fraction off center. Something of the kind had happened; the imperfectly aligned features were the outcome of a car collision in —an accident that left his long-jawed and narrow face tilted, the left side rather lower than the right, with the result that the lips were slightly aslant, the nose was askew, and the eyes were not only situated at uneven levels but of uneven size, the left eye being truly serpentine, with a venomous, sickly-blue squint that, although it was involuntarily acquired, seemed nevertheless to warn of bitter sediment at the bottom of his nature.
Because you have a wonderful smile. One of those smiles that really work. Actually, he was very intelligent. While he had fewer tattoos than his companion, they were more elaborate—not the self-inflicted work of an amateur but epics of the art contrived by Honolulu and Yokohama masters. Blue-furred, orange-eyed, red-fanged, a tiger snarled upon his left biceps; a spitting snake, coiled around a dagger, slithered down his right forearm; and elsewhere skulls gleamed, a tombstone loomed, a chrysanthemum flourished. Having discarded his work uniform, he wore gray chinos, a matching shirt, and, like Perry, ankle-high black boots.
Perry, who could never find trousers to fit his truncated lower half, wore blue jeans rolled up at the bottom, and a leather windbreaker. Scrubbed, combed, as tidy as two dudes setting off on a double date, they went out to the car. The distance between Olathe, a suburb of Kansas City, and Holcomb, which might be called a suburb of Garden City, is approximately four hundred miles. A town of eleven thousand, Garden City began assembling its founders soon after the Civil War. An itinerant buffalo hunter, Mr. Buffalo Jones, had much to do with its subsequent expansion from a collection of huts and hitching posts into an opulent ranching center with razzle-dazzle saloons, an opera house, and the plushiest hotel anywhere between Kansas City and Denver—in brief, a specimen of frontier fanciness that rivalled a more famous settlement fifty miles east of it, Dodge City.
Along with Buffalo Jones, who lost his money and then his mind the last years of his life were spent haranguing street groups against the wanton extermination of the beasts he himself had so profitably slaughtered , the glamours of the past are today entombed. Anyone who has made the coast-to-coast journey across America, whether by train or by car, has probably passed through Garden City, but it is reasonable to assume that few travellers remember the event.
It seems just another fair-sized town in the middle—almost the exact middle—of the continental United States. Not that the inhabitants would tolerate such an opinion—perhaps rightly. Swell schools with every kind of sport. A temporary thing, I never planned to stay. But when the chance came to move, I thought, Why go? What the hell for? Beautiful churches. Nothing like that here. All equal, regardless of wealth, color, or creed. An occasional Methodist is welcomed, and once in a while a Democrat infiltrates, but on the whole the Establishment is composed of right-wing Republicans of the Presbyterian and Episcopalian faiths.
As an educated man successful in his profession, as an eminent Republican and church leader—even though of the Methodist church—Mr. Clutter was entitled to rank among the local patricians, but, just as he had never joined the Garden City Country Club, he had never sought to associate with the reigning coterie. Clutter was acting as chairman of a meeting of the Finney County 4-H Club. Nancy and Kenyon had been conscientious members from the age of six. Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Hideo Ashida. Know how the Ashidas moved here from Colorado—started farming out to Holcomb two years ago. As anyone will tell you.
Anyone who has been sick and had Mrs. Ashida walk nobody can calculate how many miles to bring them some of the wonderful soups she makes. And last year at the county fair you will recall how much she contributed to the success of the 4-H exhibits. So I want to suggest we honor Mrs. Ashida with an award at our Achievement Banquet next Tuesday. Ashida was bashful; she rubbed her eyes with her baby-plump hands and laughed. She was the wife of a tenant farmer; the farm, an especially windswept and lonesome one, was halfway between Garden City and Holcomb. After 4-H meetings, Mr.
Clutter usually drove the Ashidas home, and he did so today. Ashida as they rolled along Route 50 in Mr. But thanks. All through that first hard year, gifts had arrived of produce that the Ashidas had not yet planted—baskets of asparagus, lettuce. And Nancy often brought Babe by for the children to ride. Hideo says the same. We sure hate to think about leaving. Starting all over again. Maybe in Nebraska. Clutter, she turned to other matters. What he needs is teeth. Now, if your wife was to give you three gold teeth, would that strike you as a wrong kind of present?
His reaction delighted Mrs. Ashida, for she knew he would not approve her plan unless he meant it; he was a gentleman. She ventured to obtain a promise now. At the banquet—no speeches, huh? Not for me. The way you can stand up and talk to hundreds of people. And be so easy—convince anybody about whatever. By midafternoon, the black Chevrolet had reached Emporia, Kansas—a large town, almost a city, and a safe place, so the occupants of the car had decided, to do a bit of shopping.
They parked on a side street, then wandered about until a suitably crowded variety store presented itself. The first purchase was a pair of rubber gloves; these were for Perry, who, unlike Dick, had neglected to bring old gloves of his own. Nothing can go wrong. Next, they were interested in rope. Perry studied the stock, tested it.
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Having once served in the merchant marine, he understood rope and was clever with knots. He chose a white nylon cord, as strong as wire and not much thicker. They discussed how many yards of it they required. The question irritated Dick, for it was part of a greater quandary, and he could not, despite the alleged perfection of his over-all design, be certain of the answer.
Dick tried. The kid and the girl. And maybe the other two. They might have guests. The only sure thing is every one of them has got to go. Kenyon had built the chest himself: a mahogany hope chest, lined with cedar, which he intended to give Beverly as a wedding present. Now, working on it in the so-called den in the basement, he applied a last coat of varnish. Together Kenyon and Nancy had made a paint-splattered attempt to deprive the basement room of its unremovable dourness, and neither was aware of failure.
Adjoining the den was a furnace room, which contained a tool-littered table piled with some of his other works-in-progress—an amplifying unit, an elderly wind-up Victrola that he was restoring to service. This defect, aggravated by an inability to function without glasses, prevented him from taking more than a token part in those team sports basketball, baseball that were the main occupation of most of the boys who might have been his friends.
He had only one close friend—Bob Jones, the son of Taylor Jones, whose ranch was a mile west of the Clutter home. Not far from River Valley Farm there is a mysterious stretch of countryside known as the Sand Hills; it is like a beach without an ocean, and at night coyotes slink among the dunes, assembling in hordes to howl.
Equally intoxicating, and more profitable, were the rabbit roundups the two boys conducted. But what meant most to Kenyon—and Bob, too—was their weekends, overnight hunting hikes along the shores of the river: wandering, wrapping up in blankets, listening at sunrise for the noise of wings, moving toward the sound on tiptoe, and then, sweetest of all, swaggering homeward with a dozen duck dinners swinging from their belts.
But lately things had changed between Kenyon and his friend. I used to think the same as you: Women—so what?
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If Bob was unavailable, then he would rather be alone, for in temperament he was not the least Mr. Leaving the varnish to dry, he went on to another chore—one that took him out-of-doors. When he got there, he found one of the hired men loosening earth with a spade—Paul Helm, the husband of the housekeeper. Helm the late Mr.
Helm; he died of a stroke the following March was a sombre man in his late fifties whose withdrawn manner veiled a nature keenly curious and watchful; he liked to know what was going on. Helm grunted. Helm were now tying plants. Suddenly, Nancy herself came jogging across the fields aboard fat Babe—Babe, returning from her Saturday treat, a bathe in the river. Teddy, the dog, accompanied them, and all three were water-splashed and shining. Nancy laughed; she had never been ill—not once.
Sliding off Babe, she sprawled on the grass at the edge of the garden and seized her cat, dangled him above her, and kissed his nose and whiskers. How that Skeeter could take a fence! By Thanksgiving? Helm picked up his spade. Crows cawed, sundown was near, but his home was not; the lane of Chinese elms had turned into a tunnel of darkening green, and he lived at the end of it, half a mile away.
But once he looked back. The boy rooting around in the garden. Nancy leading old Babe off to the barn. Like I said, nothing out of the ordinary. The black Chevrolet was again parked, this time in front of a Catholic hospital on the outskirts of Emporia. While Perry waited in the car, he had gone into the hospital to try and buy a pair of black stockings from a nun. The notion presented one drawback, of course: nuns, and anything pertaining to them, were bad luck, and Perry was most respectful of his superstitions. Some others were the number 15, red hair, white flowers, priests crossing a road, snakes appearing in a dream.
The compulsively superstitious person is also very often a serious believer in fate; that was the case with Perry. During the first of his three years in prison, Perry had observed Willie-Jay from a distance, with interest but with apprehension; if one wished to be thought a tough specimen, intimacy with Willie-Jay seemed unwise. That was what amazed Perry. You exist in a half-world suspended between two superstructures, one self-expression and the other self-destruction. You are strong, but there is a flaw in your strength, and unless you learn to control it the flaw will prove stronger than your strength and defeat you.
The flaw? Explosive emotional reaction out of all proportion to the occasion. Why this unreasonable anger at the sight of others who are happy or content, this growing contempt for people and the desire to hurt them? But these are dreadful enemies you carry within yourself—in time destructive as bullets. Mercifully, a bullet kills its victim. This other bacteria, permitted to age, does not kill a man but leaves in its wake the hulk of a creature torn and twisted; there is still fire within his being but it is kept alive by casting upon it faggots of scorn and hate.
He may successfully accumulate, but he does not accumulate success, for he is his own enemy and is kept from truly enjoying his achievements. A cinch, the Perfect score. Or Willie-Jay. But they had both been much in his thoughts, and especially the latter, who in memory had grown ten feet tall, a gray-haired wise man haunting the hallways of his mind.
In the solitary, comfortless course of his recent driftings, Perry had over and over again reviewed this indictment, and had decided it was unjust. He did give a damn—but who had ever given a damn about him? His father? Yes, up to a point. He drove to Las Vegas, sold his junk-heap car, packed his collection of maps, old letters, manuscripts, and books, and bought a ticket for a Greyhound bus.
That much he had learned by telephoning the Reverend Mr. A decent job, and a home with some good people who are willing to help him. But what, he wondered when the anguish subsided, had he really expected from a reunion with Willie-Jay? Dick returned empty-handed. After they had travelled in silence awhile, Dick patted Perry on the knee. What the hell would they have thought? Clutter uncap a Parker pen and open a checkbook.
Like royalty, he was famous for never carrying cash. When those tax fellows come poking around, cancelled checks are your best friend. With the check written but not yet signed, he swivelled back in his desk chair and seemed to ponder. Herb was hardheaded, a slow man to make a deal; Johnson had worked over a year to clinch this sale. But, no, his customer was merely experiencing what Johnson called the Solemn Moment—a phenomenon familiar to insurance salesmen.
The mood of a man insuring his life is not unlike that of a man signing his will; thoughts of mortality must occur. Clutter, as though conversing with himself. Take Kenyon. Don Jarchow? Vere, too. Vere English—the boy my girl Beverly had the good sense to settle on. Johnson, a veteran at listening to ruminations of this sort, knew it was time to intervene. Clutter straightened, reached again for his pen. And pretty optimistic. The time was ten past six, and the agent was anxious to go; his wife would be waiting supper. They shook hands.
Then, with a merited sense of victory, Johnson picked up Mr. It was the first payment on a forty-thousand-dollar policy that, in the event of death by accidental means, paid double indemnity. With the aid of his guitar, Perry had sung himself into a happier humor. Dick, however, was choosy, and in bars his usual choice was an Orange Blossom. They passed the bottle to and fro.
Though dusk had established itself, Dick, doing a steady sixty miles an hour, was still driving without headlights, but then the road was straight, the country was as level as a lake, and other cars were seldom sighted. He hated it, as he hated the Texas plains, the Nevada desert; spaces horizontal and sparsely inhabited had always induced in him a depression accompanied by agoraphobic sensations. Never set my pretty foot here again.
As though they were barring me from Heaven. And just look at it. Just feast your eyes. Dick handed him the bottle, the contents reduced by half. All that talk about getting a boat? I was thinking—we could buy a boat in Mexico. Something cheap but sturdy. And we could go to Japan. Sail right across the Pacific. Wonderful, gentle people, with manners like flowers. Really considerate—not just out for your dough. And the women. One place called the Dream Pool. You stretch out, and beautiful, knockout-type girls come and scrub you head to toe.
Dick switched on the radio; Perry switched it off. Or go to the movies in Garden City. Always, as long as I can remember, she was pretty and popular—a person, even when she was a little kid. I mean, she just made everybody feel good about themselves. The first time I dated her was when we were in the eighth grade. Most of the boys in our class wanted to take her to the eighth-grade graduation dance, and I was surprised—I was pretty proud—when she said she would go with me.
We were both twelve. My dad lent me the car, and I drove her to the dance. Clutter may have been more strict about some things—religion, and so on—but he never tried to make you feel he was right and you were wrong. So I drove over there, got there a little after seven. Just old Teddy. He barked at me. The lights were on downstairs—in the living room and in Mr. The second floor was dark, and I figured Mrs.
Clutter must be asleep—if she was home. You never knew whether she was or not, and I never asked. But I found out I was right, because later in the evening Kenyon wanted to practice his horn—he played baritone horn in the school band—and Nancy told him not to, because he would wake up Mrs. Anyway, when I got there they had finished supper and Nancy had cleaned up, put all the dishes in the dishwater, and the three of them—the two kids and Mr.
Clutter—were in the living room. So we sat around like any other night—Nancy and I on the couch, and Mr.
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Clutter in his chair, that stuffed rocker. He had very white teeth; he said apples were why. Nancy—Nancy was wearing socks and soft slippers, blue jeans, I think a green sweater; she was wearing a gold wristwatch and an I. See, a couple of weeks back she got sore at me and said she was going to take off our ring for a while. I mean, sure, we had fusses—everybody does, all the kids that go steady.
Some tattle told her I was roaring drunk. About some fellows in the Arctic. Then the news. He criticized everything, and Nancy kept telling him to hush up. They always quibbled, but actually they were very close—closer than most brothers and sisters. Clutter away and Mr. Clutter gone to Washington, or wherever. He seemed to be off somewhere. You never knew what he was thinking, never even knew if he was looking at you—on account of he was slightly cockeyed. Some people said he was a genius, and maybe it was true.
He sure did read a lot. Except that once the phone rang and Mr. Clutter answered it in his office. Van Vleet, and I heard him say that he had a headache but that it was getting better. Van Vleet on Monday. Five minutes of news. Then the weather report. Clutter always perked up when the weather report came on. Like the only thing that interested me was the sports—which came on next. After the sports ended, that was ten-thirty, and I got up to go.
Nancy walked me out. It was as clear as day—the moon was so bright—and cold and kind of windy; a lot of tumbleweed blowing about. Only, now when I think back, I think somebody must have been hiding there. Maybe down among the trees. Somebody just waiting for me to leave. The travellers stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Great Bend. They ordered two steaks medium rare, baked potatoes, French fries, fried onions, succotash, side dishes of macaroni and hominy, salad with Thousand Island dressing, cinnamon rolls, apple pie with ice cream, and coffee.
To top it off, they visited a drugstore and selected cigars; in the same drugstore, they also bought two thick rolls of adhesive tape. He rolled down a window and bathed his face in the flood of frosty air. Dick told him they were in Finney County. The car was going very fast. Welcome to Garden City. A Friendly Place. They skirted the southern rim of the town. No one was abroad at this nearly midnight hour, and nothing was open except a string of desolately brilliant service stations.
His legs pained him, as they often did; they hurt as though his old accident had happened five minutes before. He shook three aspirin out of a bottle, chewed them slowly for he liked the taste , and then drank water from the basin tap. He sat down on the toilet, stretched out his legs, and rubbed them, massaging the almost unbendable knees.
They were glue-colored, sticky, and thin, and as he inched them on, one tore—not a dangerous tear, just a split between the fingers, but it seemed to him an omen. The attendant, whose name was James Spor, felt uneasy. Where you coming from? On our way to Arizona. We got jobs waiting there. Construction work. Any idea the mileage between here and Tucumcari, New Mexico? Three dollars six cents. Putting a bumper on a truck.
Dick waited, ate some jelly beans, impatiently gunned the motor, sounded the horn. Perry gripped the edge of the washbasin and hauled himself to a standing position. His legs trembled; the pain in his knees made him perspire. He wiped his face with a paper towel. Walls, ceiling, and everything else except a bureau and a writing desk were pink or blue or white. The white-and-pink bed, piled with blue pillows, was dominated by a big pink-and-white Teddy bear—a shooting-gallery prize that Bobby had won at the county fair.
A cork bulletin board, painted pink, hung above a white-skirted dressing table; dry gardenias, the remains of some ancient corsage, were attached to it, and old valentines, newspaper recipes, and snapshots of her baby nephew and of Susan Kidwell and of Bobby Rupp, Bobby caught in a dozen actions—swinging a bat, dribbling a basketball, driving a tractor, wading, in bathing trunks, at the edge of McKinney Lake which was as far as he dared go, for he had never learned to swim.
And there were photographs of the two together—Nancy and Bobby. Of these, she liked best one that showed them sitting in a leaf-dappled light amid picnic debris and looking at one another with expressions that, though unsmiling, seemed mirthful and full of delight. Nancy was invariably the last of the family to retire; as she had once informed her friend and home-economics teacher, Mrs.
Tonight, having dried and brushed her hair and bound it in a gauzy bandanna, she set out the clothes she intended to wear to church the next morning: nylons, black pumps, a red velvet dress—her prettiest, which she herself had made. It was the dress in which she was to be buried. Forever, I hope. Sue over and we rode Babe down to the river. Sue played her flute. A different tinted ink identified each year: was green and a ribbon of red, replaced the following year by bright lavender, and now, in , she had decided upon a dignified blue.
Or that? Which is me? But why written in three styles of script? Practiced with Roxie. Bobby here and we watched TV. Left at They left the highway, sped through a deserted Holcomb, and crossed the Santa Fe tracks. This is it, this has to be it. Dick doused the headlights, slowed down, and stopped until his eyes were adjusted to the moon-illuminated night. Presently, the car crept forward. Holcomb is twelve miles east of the Mountain Time zone, a circumstance that causes some grumbling, for it means that at seven in the morning, and in winter at eight or after, the sky is still dark, and the stars, if any, are still shining—as they were when the two sons of Vic Irsik arrived to do their Sunday-morning chores.
But by nine, when the boys finished work—during which they noticed nothing amiss—the sun had risen, delivering another day of pheasant-season perfection. As they left the property and ran along the lane, they waved at an incoming car, and a girl waved back. She was the only child of the man who was driving the car, Mr. Clarence Ewalt, a middle-aged sugar-beet farmer. Ewalt was not himself a churchgoer, nor was his wife, but every Sunday he dropped his daughter at River Valley Farm in order that she might accompany the Clutter family to Methodist services in Garden City.
Nancy, a clothes-conscious girl with a film-star figure, a bespectacled countenance, and a coy, tiptoe way of walking, crossed the lawn and pressed the front-door bell. The house had four entrances, and when, after repeated knockings, there was no response at this one, she moved on to the next—that of Mr.
The garage was there, and she noted that both cars were in it: two Chevrolet sedans. Which meant they must be home. Can you imagine Mr. Clutter missing church? Just to sleep? The Teacherage, which stands opposite the Holcomb School, is an out-of-date edifice, drab and poignant. Its twenty-odd rooms are separated into grace-and-favor apartments for those members of the faculty unable to find, or afford, other quarters. Nevertheless, Susan Kidwell and her mother had managed to sugar the pill and install a cozy atmosphere in their apartment—three rooms on the ground floor.
The very small parlor incredibly contained—aside from things to sit on—an organ, a piano, a garden of flowering flowerpots, and usually a darting little dog and a large, drowsy cat. Susan, on this Sunday morning, stood at the window of this room watching the street. She is a tall, languid young lady with a pallid, oval face and beautiful pale-blue-gray eyes; her hands are extraordinary—long-fingered, flexible, nervously elegant. Instead, the Ewalts arrived to tell their peculiar tale.
They could be asleep—I suppose. Nobody answered, so Mr. Go inside the house. But the sun was so bright, everything looked too bright and quiet. Especially since he never had. Been in the house, I mean. Finally, Nancy said she would go with me. Helm—the family never did. It was lying on the floor, sort of open. We passed on through the dining room, and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I called her name, and started up the stairs, and Nancy Ewalt followed. The sound of our footsteps frightened me more than anything, they were so loud and everything else was so silent.
Nancy Ewalt says I did—screamed and screamed. And Nancy. And running. In the interim, Mr. Ewalt had decided that perhaps he ought not to have allowed the girls to enter the house alone. He was getting out of the car to go after them when he heard the screams, but before he could reach the house, the girls were running toward him. Susan turned on her. Ewalt subsequently testified. It seemed to me the first thing to do was call an ambulance. Miss Kidwell—Susan—she told me there was a telephone in the kitchen.
I found it, right where she said. But the receiver was off the hook, and when I picked it up, I saw the line had been cut. Larry Hendricks, a teacher of English, aged twenty-seven, lived on the top floor of the Teacherage. He wanted to write, but his apartment was not the ideal lair for a would-be author.
Except Sundays. Now, that Sunday, November 15th, I was sitting up here in the apartment going through the papers. Most of my ideas for stories, I get them out of newspapers—you know? Well, the TV was on and the kids were kind of lively, but even so I could hear voices. From downstairs. Down at Mrs. Susan never has got over it. Never will, ask me.
And poor Mrs. Even Mr. Ewalt, he was about as worked up as a man like that ever gets. Shirley came downstairs to sit with the women, try and calm them—as if anybody could. And I went with Mr. Ewalt—drove with him out to the highway to wait for Sheriff Robinson. On the way, he told me what had happened. Make a note of every detail. In case I was ever called on to testify in court. Of course, I knew the family. After we got there, and the sheriff had heard Mr. That wonderful girl—But you would never have known her.
She was lying on her side, facing the wall, and the wall was covered with blood. The bedcovers were drawn up to her shoulders. Her hands were tied behind her, and her ankles were roped together with the kind of cord you see on Venetian blinds. All the other doors were closed. We opened one, and that turned out to be a bathroom. Something about it seemed wrong.
I decided it was because of the chair—a sort of dining-room chair, that looked out of place in a bathroom. A lot of boy-stuff scattered around. But the bed was empty, though it looked as if it had been slept in. But differently—with her hands in front of her, so that she looked as though she were praying—and in one hand she was holding, gripping, a handkerchief. Or was it Kleenex? The cord around her wrists ran down to her ankles, which were bound together, and then ran on down to the bottom of the bed, where it was tied to the footboard—a very complicated, artful piece of work.
Think how long it took to do! And her lying there, scared out of her wits. Her eyes were open. Wide open. As though she were still looking at the killer. Because she must have had to watch him do it—aim the gun. Nobody said anything. We were too stunned. I remember the sheriff searched around to see if he could find the discharged cartridge. But whoever had done it was much too smart and cool to have left behind any clues like that. And Kenyon? Clutter slept. The bedcovers were drawn back, and lying there, toward the foot of the bed, was a billfold with a mess of cards spilling out of it, like somebody had shuffled through them hunting something particular—a note, an I.
It was Mr. Another thing I knew was that neither Mr. Clutter nor Kenyon could see a darn without his glasses. And there were Mr. We looked all over, and everything was just as it should be—no sign of a struggle, nothing disturbed. Except the office, where the telephone was off the hook, and the wires cut, same as in the kitchen.
Sheriff Robinson, he found some shotguns in a closet, and sniffed them to see if they had been fired recently. Coming up the stairs from the basement. Kenyon was over in a corner, lying on a couch. He was gagged with adhesive tape, and bound hand and foot, like the mother—the same intricate process of the cord leading from the hands to the feet, and finally tied to an arm of the couch. Somehow, he haunts me the most, Kenyon does.
Ewalt found the light switch. It was a furnace room, and very warm. Around here, people just install a gas furnace and pump the gas smack out of the ground. Well, I took one look at Mr. Clutter, and it was hard to look again. But probably he was dead before he was shot. Or anyway, dying. Because his throat had been cut, too.
He was wearing striped pajamas—nothing else. His mouth was taped; the tape had been wound plumb around his head. He was sprawled in front of the furnace. On a big cardboard box that looked as though it had been laid there specially. A mattress box. On the mattress box. A half-sole footprint with circles—two holes in the center, like a pair of eyes. Then one of us—Mr. There was a steampipe overhead, and knotted to it, dangling from it, was a piece of cord—the kind of cord the killer had used.
Obviously, at some point Mr. Clutter had been tied there, strung up by his hands, and then cut down. But why? To torture him?