Easing off the brakes, I allow the truck to move slowly over the path, carefully following the moonlit ruts from farm vehicles long since passed, and steer toward the woods. I roll down the window, allowing the night sounds and the cool pre-dawn air into the cab as well as a mosquito the size of a bat. After smashing the mosquito against my arm, I stop the truck, leaving it in gear, and lean out the window. I listen intently, hearing the sounds of crickets and other insects, a bullfrog from the nearby pond and the hoot of an owl in a tree up ahead, telling me that I’m alone. I say a quick prayer of thanks.
Pray. That’s something I used to do frequently but do now only out of self-preservation. That can’t make God very happy. I’m sure that very little I do these days makes God happy, not that I have any remorse for the path I’ve taken. In a word it’s—exciting.
The right front tire dips into a rut and the truck tilts on the passenger side. Glancing nervously at the bed, I see the drums are secure. As the truck levels out I sigh in relief and pick a point ahead where I’ll leave the trail and enter the woods. Off the path the tall grass rustles under the truck, leaving a clear indication of where I’ve been. It won’t matter. By the time anyone discovers this, I’ll be long gone.
There’s good separation between the mature trees, making navigation, even with something as big as the three quarter ton truck I’m driving, manageable. Once I can no longer see beyond the woods in any direction, I park the truck and shut off the engine. Pulling a map from the glove box along with my compass and a penlight, I study the map and find the logging road leading from the woods. A small road a few hundred yards to the west will take me safely past a small town and connect me to the state route in a rural area where I’m not likely to be seen. From there it’s a short drive to the interstate and the rest of the trip is cake.
After returning my tools to the glove box I pick up the thermos resting on the bench seat next to me. The hot cider slides down my throat, warming me with its tart bite, and I can’t imagine a better, tastier drink for keeping one awake. Once on the state route I turn on the radio but can’t find a station. Grabbing a CD from the seat I pop it into the player sight unseen. It’s The Killers. How appropriate.
Two hours later the sky lightens in the east and I can finally pick up radio signals from the Twin Cities. I should be able to make Chicago by noon. Finding a truck stop I fill up the truck and pay in cash. I spot a Cracker Barrel restaurant and decide on breakfast. It reminds me of home. I wish the English had a better appreciation for the importance of a good breakfast.
Two truck drivers at a nearby table are sharing a newspaper and discussing the border problem. One says it’ll cost $127 billion dollars to enforce security at the borders, and it should be done, even if it cost $200 billion.
I nearly laugh. Secure the borders? The only border they’re concerned with is the southern border. I just illegally crossed the largest unprotected border in the world and most people could care less. Why? Because securing the borders is just a ruse for securing majority status, which is the real concern. Better to have an unprotected border with white people than with brown. I can cross the unprotected northern border and no one cares because I’m just another white man in America—like Ted Kaczynski.
Heading south on I-94, my thoughts turn to the Man and what he’s forcing me to do. It’s not something I would normally do. At least, I don’t think it is. During the past few years I’ve done a lot of things I never thought I would. But this—it’s not something I want to consider.
Looking out the window at cornfields makes me miss Shipshewana. I remember working in the fields in long pants and long sleeve shirts with wide brimmed hats protecting our faces from the hot sun. It was hard and dirty and our muscles ached but there was always laughter and love. Laughter, love, family, community and God; that’s what we were about—but that was five years ago.
I still farm, though it’s mostly a ruse. I glance back at the drums. I need large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, and no one suspects a farmer with such quantities of a common fertilizer. So I drive through mid-America with my truck full of fertilizer. I yawn. It annoys me that I was forced to make this trip: I could have made the purchase at a thousand places but the Man said no. He wanted no trace of the shipment, no record of the purchase, so off to Canada I went, making the purchase and sneaking it back across the border like a thief in the night. I don’t understand the English and their government.
Navigating past Madison, Rockford, and the west suburbs of Chicago, I make my way south to Valparaiso. My stomach starts growling around Aurora but I ignore the pangs and push on, eager to finally get home.
Past the mailbox with A. King stenciled on it I pull into the dirt road that leads to the farmhouse. Amos King, that’s me. This is my home, my castle. It’s good to finally make it home. I park in the barn, empty now except for the truck. The Man took away my dirt bike, my Hummer, and almost everything else but said I could get it back if I did what he told me to do. He told me I had done some bad things and now it was time to pay. That moment, I can put my finger on it, was the moment I missed my family, my community—the Amish, the most.
I unlock the three deadbolts on the back door and disable the alarm as I enter through the kitchen. There’s a note on the table from Katie. She’s left me. I’m hurt, but not surprised. I had hoped she would say goodbye in person. She’s returned to the community and, unlike me, will be welcomed back with open arms. Katie is in the third year of her rumspringa, the period that begins with the sixteenth birthday and ends when you decide to either accept or reject the Amish ways. She has finally accepted it and will rejoin the Amish for life. I crumple the note, tossing it in the garbage. I need sleep.
I sit at the kitchen table alone in my thoughts. Normally I’d be busy at this time of night, overseeing the lab for my customers at Valpo and Notre Dame. Not anymore. At least, not until I complete the job. After that I get a new home, a new lab, a new life. The slate’s wiped clean. If I do that, I’ll be just another white man in America—like Barry Seal.
Around 10:00AM I wake up, make toast, and pour a glass of buttermilk. I don’t feel like cooking breakfast this morning in spite of its importance. Logging on to my email address I see there’s a message from the Man. That’s his email address: theMan@gmail.com. I read the note and then it disappears, like it never existed. Creepy.
Behind the barn, beneath an overhang, is the old John Deere. It’s been two weeks since I’ve driven it and I fire it up, giving it a minute to get warm before heading out through the open wood gate that separates the barn from the fields. The sun is already hot on my skin and I feel sweat rolling down my neck. At the last row of the field I turn and follow the row parallel to it. About halfway down the row I stop. A scarecrow sits about five rows in, just like the Man said. It wasn’t there the last time I was here.
I walk between the stalks, pushing them apart until I’m standing at the foot of the scarecrow. There’s a small plastic tub at the base. I carry it back to the tractor but I don’t open it. I’m supposed to wait until I’m in the house and I will because the Man might be watching.
Fifteen minutes later I’m back in the house, sweaty and sticky and feeling like I need a shower, but it will have to wait. Opening the container, I read and memorize the printed instructions. I check the contents and everything is there, just as the instructions indicate. Flicking my lighter I set the instructions on fire and allow it to burn in the sink. When the flames die I turn on the faucet and wash it down, as instructed. The Man is very careful, very thorough.
The calendar that hangs above my computer indicates today is Tuesday. My job is in Cincinnati on Thursday. Guess I’d better get busy. Emptying the drawers of my dresser I throw my clothes into a duffle bag that I’ll take with me. I stuff a few CDs into the duffle bag and take it to the truck. The rest of the stuff I pack into boxes and leave in the living room. The Man said they would be taken care of, moved into storage until I resettled and called for them.
My cell phone buzzes and it’s Danny. He’s someone I’ve done business with before, and he wants me to meet him at a gas station. He doesn’t tell me he wants to deal. He doesn’t need to. When I tell him that I’m out of business I can hear his sharp intake of breath and then the line goes dead. Danny’s afraid I’m being monitored. He’s probably right.
I’m bored. When the Man took my stuff he also took my lab partners, Petey and Mikey. The Man said if I didn’t cooperate he’d tell them I set them up and he’d send me to the same place. He assured me I would not come out alive.
So now my friends are gone, the lab is gone, and there’s nothing to do until tomorrow. I don’t want to think about the job, but I can’t help it. I just know that I don’t have a choice and if it turns out well, I walk away clean. If not…
I search the boxes and finally find pen and paper and write a note for my family. Though I don’t know her well, I trust my lawyer will get the note to them. Once when I was seventeen the court appointed her to represent me and she seemed to genuinely care. She said to contact her if I were ever to get in trouble again, which I thought about doing when the Man sent Petey and Mikey away, because I didn’t want to be a patsy. But the Man said I would be fine.
I drive to the post office and leave the letter, addressed to her, in general delivery. Then I find a payphone to call her office, leaving a message to check with general delivery at the post office. I don’t give my name. She probably wouldn’t remember me anyway. To her, I’m probably just another white man in America—like Lee Harvey Oswald.
Wednesday morning I’m up early and shower. I cook the last of the eggs and bacon and drink the rest of the buttermilk. After breakfast I place my wallet inside a large envelope and seal it, leaving it on the boxes in the living room as the Man instructed.
This ends my previous life. Well, almost. I was instructed not to take anything with me, other than what the Man provided in the tub. New identity, new money, nothing to tie me to the past—but I can’t resist. I find a picture of Katie, one where she’s smiling and holding a kitten, and I hide it inside my cap. The Man can’t take everything.
As I drive south on I-65 I think about Katie, my family, the others in our community. My life has changed so much in five years. Before rumspringa things were simple. I knew exactly what was expected of me, as did everyone else in the community. Things were black and white and choices limited. Then I turned sixteen and everything changed. I met English kids, saw the way they dressed, the cars they drove, listened to their music, watched their movies, drank their alcohol, took their drugs and accepted their values.
They had the one thing I longed for in life—choices. I could chose to party, to have sex, to listen to whatever music I wanted, to drive 100 miles an hour in a car instead of plodding down the road in a horse-drawn carriage. I could be whatever I wanted and have whatever I wanted, and I wanted it all. With the Amish, I would be secluded from the English and their ways. Giving up my choices was something I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do. So I made my choice and was shunned, never being allowed to return.
To hell with them, I’m living life on my terms. The English like to party, to drink and take drugs. Once I learned to make meth I had more friends and money than I could count. Until the Man came and took it all away.
I’m nearly to Indianapolis and thoroughly depressed. I decide to think of something else, like the future. Soon I’ll tell the Man my plans. He’ll set me up and make sure no one messes with me. I remember hearing about Amish communities throughout the Midwest. I think there’s one in northern Iowa near a town called Independence. Independence—isn’t that what I’m seeking? Isn’t that why I’ve forsaken the Amish life? Maybe I’ll move near there.
As long as there are colleges and universities, I’ll have customers—and girlfriends. Maybe instead of having one girlfriend like Katie, I’ll have a different girlfriend every night. It’s possible; I know some guys who’ve done it.
After taking the ramp to I-74 I see a sign showing Cincinnati, 100 miles. Less than two hours away. Good, I’m tired of driving. That’s something that surprises me. I remember when I couldn’t wait for rumspringa, couldn’t wait to drive. It’s something all the Amish crave, driving and the freedom of movement that comes with it. But in the past week I’ve driven more than most Amish will in their lifetime and it hasn’t been by my choice—but rather the Man’s.
The drums rattle when I hit a small pothole. In a sense, they’re my future. Two drums for the job; four are mine to keep. Four drums make a lot of meth.
I try not to think of the two drums for the job, instead focusing on the sights along the highway: the llamas in their pen, the underground house, the racetrack. Try, but fail as my mind keeps going back to the job. I shudder.
The instructions are explicit and, according to the Man, if I follow them exactly—foolproof. That means after the job I get away unnoticed while many unsuspecting people die. Who would notice me anyway? I’m just another white man in America—like Eric Rudolph.
It’s early afternoon when I check into the motel. It’s not the cleanest or safest place but it’s the kind of place that a pickup truck loaded with drums wouldn’t seem out of place and people don’t ask questions.
In the lobby I grab some brochures, not because I’m considering going anywhere, but for something to do. In my room I leaf through brochures about the zoo, the aquarium, the sports teams, and the amusement park located just minutes north of the city. I wonder if any of the people that will die tomorrow will be visiting those places today.
I channel surf for a few hours but can’t concentrate. Eventually I walk to a nearby fast food joint that sells tiny hamburgers with pickles and onions. I buy a bag along with some fries and a soft drink and take them back to my room. I’m amazed at the number of people of color in this area. I’ve only seen them in small numbers, a family here or there when they visited our shops on their way to Gary or Hammond or Chicago. In this area, I stick out. I’m the minority, and it unsettles me. It shames me. I have become like the English.
Back in my room I turn on the television as I eat my dinner. The local news is on and while I’m not particularly interested, I can’t think of anything better to watch. The newslady is a pretty blonde with nice blue eyes who talks about a landmark case that will be heard in the sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It involves governmental use of power and I quickly lose interest. The next twenty-five minutes are equally boring and only the weather report interests me. Hot, humid, and sunny, which the funny little man claims is normal for the area at this time of year.
I finish my meal as the news ends and channel surf again for a few hours before giving up. Better try to get some sleep. My stomach is killing me. Damn burgers with the pickles and onions. I go the desk and the clerk looks at me funny but sells me some sodium bicarbonate tablets. A half hour later my stomach feels better and I finally fall into a fitful sleep.
In the morning I skip breakfast, which I’ve never done before. I’m wearing the maintenance outfit the Man sent me, complete with a photo ID badge and tool kit. When I get to my destination, I’m nervous. Remembering the directions, I find my way to the loading dock and ring a buzzer. A security man with a gun in his holster comes outside. I give him the work order from the Man and he checks my badge and a second photo ID. He has me sign in on a log and tells me where I need to go. He’s very helpful.
It takes two trips to unload the drums in the basement. There are cameras at the dock and throughout the building, but not in the basement. I work quickly, connecting the hoses and valves to the drums. The Man said this had to be done by 10:00. I check my watch—9:50.
On my way out, I thank the security man, and he smiles and waves at me. Later, when they interview him about me, he won’t remember anything remarkable. I’m just another white man in America—like Timmy McVeigh.
Following the Man’s directions, I find U.S. 50 and follow it west. I’m very careful to obey the traffic laws and not draw attention to myself. I flip on the radio and the music soothes me, but not for long. It’s interrupted by breaking news; a terrorist attack has occurred at the Federal Courthouse where the sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing a case involving governmental authority. Early reports indicate that an explosion started a fire and several people are believed to have succumbed to smoke inhalation. It’s unknown if anyone was killed or injured by the blast.
I cross the state line into Indiana and my cell phone, not the one I had before, but one that was in the tub supplied by the Man, rings. I answer and the Man congratulates me. He says he wants me to switch trucks, that it will be safer, and he tells me where to meet him.
I’m surprised because this wasn’t previously discussed.
I start to put in a CD when the news breaks in again. An update from the courthouse indicates a chemical was introduced into the waterlines of the sprinkler system and, when set off by the smoke, rained a toxic, caustic substance. The announcer’s voice quivers as he tries to maintain his composure. “One report from outside the building indicated that screams could be heard up to two blocks away and that the few occupants who stumbled out of the building fell down the steps, their flesh eaten away, and quickly, mercifully, died. Police and rescue units have responded to the building and are reporting a gruesome scene with mass casualties. Area hospitals have been alerted and the mayor is asking the governor to send in the National Guard to preserve order.”
I snap off the radio and pull into a convenience store where I vomit in the parking lot. Wiping tears from my eyes I take several deep breaths. I had no idea. I thought it would be painless. The Man told me it would be painless. Like carbon monoxide, they would all just fall asleep. I swear to God I had no idea.
I know I should be leaving, but my hands are shaking too much to drive and I need time to settle myself. I go inside and purchase cough syrup and sleeping pills. Back in the truck, I wash down three pills with a swig of the syrup. Digging in the duffle bag I find the most mellow CD I have and push it into the player. I wait five minutes before my pulse slows its frantic pace and I start the truck. Our meeting place is not far.
Turning on the side street as instructed, I soon find myself on a gravel road. At the marker I turn again, this time onto a dirt driveway that splits two cornfields. The Man is waiting for me at the clearing. He’s smiling as I get out of the truck and shakes my hand, seeming not to notice it’s clammy with sweat. He points to a Mustang convertible and tells me it’s mine to keep. Dropping the keys in my hand he assures me I’ve done well and everything will be taken care of.
I shouldn’t, but I ask him why. Why did all those people have to die such a horrible death? He tells me they are casualties in the war on terrorism. He calls them martyrs, says they died their gruesome deaths so that the government would have the authority—the power needed to protect the country. I don’t understand. I guess I’ll never understand the English and their government.
The truck is driven up a ramp into the back of a tractor-trailer. I throw my duffle into the back seat and climb into the Mustang. As I start the car, I feel him beside me. He’s holding a gun. Nothing left to chance. I know I’ll never be found. Just another white man in America—like Jimmy Hoffa.
TOM GUMBERT lives along the Ohio River with his wife Andrea, in an area that was once an active part of the Underground Railroad. Operations Manager by day, he has been writing for a decade. His short stories have appeared in publications throughout the US, UK, and Australia and he co-authored the anthology “Nine Lives,” which was published in All Things That Matter Press.