Grain – Part 1
I could start by telling you about the trees.
Golden leaves, falling from skeletal branches on a crisp autumn morning. The birds overhead singing their joy and the homes below the branches waking up to the glorious sounds. I could also start by telling you about the clouds, white and fluffy, rolling overhead in a smooth arc across some quiet suburbia. But this isn’t a story about those things. It’s not about pretty pictures or natural wonders. This is a much darker tale, and it’s all true.
It happened on the twenty-first of October 2012. It happened over sixteen days and punctuated by violence and brutal death by my own hands. I will tell you this story in a moment, but first, one little thing. There’s a good chance you’ll forget what I’m about to tell you by the end of this story, but remember: I’m a liar.
I’ll start where I think this story should start, somewhere in the middle. All you need to know about me is that I’m thirty-two years old, I have dark hair that always looks greasy, and my teeth are perfect from years of dental work brought on by an obsessive mother and a wealthy father. The rest of my physical features are unimportant to the telling of the tale.
So, the middle of the story is Nebraska. Big Springs, Nebraska. And while I won’t pretend to know much about the history of this small town, I can tell you it’s located ten miles east of the Nebraska-Colorado border. There are only about 500 residents. But because it sits along I-76 and I-80, there is nationwide access to Big Springs. And that’s important because, without that interstate exchange, I never would have met Molly, the girl I ended up murdering.
I’m a firm believer in the power of a good love story. Some of my favorite films have a solid romance at their core, even if they’re not romantic films. Love grounds us in ways that nothing else can. It can move us to do great things, driven by inspiration and the need to create. It can make us smile and cry with joy. And it can also cause us to do violence—great violence and acts of unspeakable rage. Molly was my love story. She was the Apollonia to my Prince. The Ariel to my Wren. The Kate to my Jack/Sawyer. And she came rolling in on an 18-wheeler, bound for Chicago.
I had been in Big Springs for four months when she rolled in. I was working full-time at a grain mill just outside of town. I ran machinery, stacked pallets, and even fetched the foreman’s kids from the local school on days when he couldn’t leave work. They paid me well, almost twenty-two bucks an hour, and received free lunches most afternoons.
People liked and trusted me. My routine consisted of early mornings and early bedtimes. I went out to the local bar, Rory’s, usually on Saturday nights. That was when the ladies emerged from who knows where. They often liked to dance and drink shots of Jägermeister with me. I tended to go home alone after feeling more than a little drunk and either masturbated or passed out. I was content just making some honest money and being free from Cassie Delmonico. I’ll get to her later. But for now, I wanted to focus on Molly.
I saw the truck pull into Jerry’s Sunoco because I was getting a pack of Marlboro’s and a Coke. I had just gotten done with my shift, clocking out early per the boss’s orders and heading home to relax. The truck pulled into a spot by a long run of grass that separated the gas pumps from the interstate. The driver’s side window of the truck was down, and I saw a large arm perched on the door. I can’t honestly say why I was looking. Trucks came and went to this gas station regularly. But call it fate, divine intervention, lousy luck. Something held my gaze.
Molly emerged from the other side of the truck, wearing a well-worn pair of Levis and a sexy peach-colored top that buttoned up the back. She had clean, tan skin, and a set of tits that made me sit up and sing. And if I’m telling the whole truth, (and if you’ve been paying any kind of attention, you’ll know I’m not). She was gorgeous. So, I stood there a moment, Marlboro pack open in my hand, cigarette hanging limply from my lips, and a can of coke in my other hand. I tucked my change into the front pocket of my jeans and moved towards my car.
Molly walked by me, passing me on her way into the store, not even glancing at me. Something light and crisp hung in the air as she passed, the scent of a woman. I hesitated only a moment before shaking my head at how instantly smitten I was and then lit my cigarette. I walked the rest of the way to my car without looking back, but thought about Molly for the entire evening.
It was Friday night, and normally I would go home and watch a movie on the big television that I had in my small room over Tanya and Bill Worster’s garage. But something told me I should go out tonight. Go to Rory’s and get drunk. A few beers and some shots of Jägermeister. So, I drove home, shaking my head in disbelief the whole time. I had never been so taken by a woman’s looks before. I’ve seen some beauties, too. Gorgeous women that made me appreciate being a man. Women that would make me say some clever line about angels or some such nonsense. But nothing that made me pause and sniff the air. Molly made me sniff the air.
I had no reason to think I would see her out that night at the very bar, the only bar in town. No wild intuition that I recall, or lucid premonition about where the night would lead. I got showered, shaved, and a splash of that AXE body spray. And then I was off.
I forfeited the car in favor of walking. The night was cool, and a gentle breeze felt good at my back. I seemed to float as I walked to Rory’s. My spirits were high, but I felt like a fourteen-year-old boy, discovering that the girl who had been living next door for his whole life suddenly gave him an erection.
I had only been to Rory’s on a Friday night once since I had moved to Big Springs. I remembered it was crowded, but nothing like it was that night. Normally, there’s ten or twelve cars parked out front and a few old-timers hanging around the front entrance smoking and shooting the shit. But tonight there were more cars, and what looked like a dozen patrons hanging around near the entrance. I paused ten yards from the front door and lit a cigarette. Rory’s still allowed smoking, and I appreciated that. But I also enjoyed walking into a bar with a lit cigarette. It made me feel cool. No idea why, but there it is.
Some honky-tonk song was playing when I walked in. I’m not a big country music fan; I can’t stand it, honestly. But I would never let it deter me from a cold beer and a good time. I surveyed the packed bar, taking in the pockets of patrons drinking and smoking. Some were playing pool, others leaning against the jukebox, intent on finding the right track for their sweetheart. I took a deep drag from my cigarette and walked up to the bar. Despite being busy, the bartender noticed me right away and came over.
“Hi, cutie,” she said, winking at me while leaning her right elbow on the bar.
“Hi to you, too. Busy night tonight, I see,” I said.
“It’s crazy. You want a beer?” she asked.
I nodded. “And a shot of Jaeger, please.”
The bartender glided around her coworker and pulled a Budweiser from a huge tub of bottled beers that were covered in ice. She flipped the cap off in one quick flick of her wrist and glided back over to me. She set the bottle on the bar and glided away again. I put my cigarette into one of the ashtrays littered atop the bar and looked around—lots of women. Most of them worse for wear, skin ravaged by years of chain-smoking and bad living. But a few of them, the younger ones mostly, still hadn’t been savaged by time, smoke, and too many fatty foods. These were the ones I looked over like a hawk searching for prey. Nothing caught my eye before the bartender came back with my shot. She set it on the bar and winked again.
“I’ll start you a tab, darlin’,” she said.
“You always do, Lanice,” I said and then took a big pull from my beer. To my right, very close, an older man was on the verge of passing out. His head kept lolling forward, waking up just as he was about to hit the bar. He did this for several minutes before catching himself one last time and sitting upright.
“Gonna catch that train, Lanice,” he said, swiveling out of his chair. And then he walked out of the bar on legs as solid as oak trees. I marveled at this, the professional drunk. We should all be so lucky.
Lanice grabbed his money from the bar and wiped it down. A man slid into the vacated stool, and the process started all over again. I took another drink from my beer and then went back to surveying the room. The bar, in all its smoky glory, is a perfect system of politics and religion, faith and sex, and sometimes even love. There’s honesty in a bar that only exists around drunk people. Most drunkenness begets honesty, but rarely does it rear its ugly head as prominently as it does in the small-town bar. The one where people know each other’s business. The one where adultery and murder are usually only a drink apart. And except for airports, there’s no better place to people-watch than at a bar like Rory’s.
I grabbed my shot glass full of the dark elixir known as Jägermeister. I held it out in front of me, toasting no one in particular, but saluting the room, nonetheless. As I was about to knock it back, a small voice rose over my shoulder.
“I love Jägermeister,” it said.
I wheeled around, almost spilling my shot, and saw Molly. She had her cute peach colored top on. And despite a room filled with the smell of smoke and stale beer, I could still smell her light and crisp scent. The one I associated with women.
“Well, here’s to you, then,” I said and knocked back the entire shot in one swallow. I raised the empty glass high and then turned and set it on the bar.
“That was rude,” she said, smiling at me. “I did say I loved it, right?”
I laughed out loud, feeling like I was probably blushing a bit, as well. “You are absolutely right,” I said, turning back to the bar and getting Lanice’s attention with a subtle wave of my hand.
“Can I get another shot, please?”
Lanice winked, nodded, and sauntered away. I turned back to Molly, grateful she hadn’t left.
“Coming right now, miss…?”