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.The corn rows did not go in straight lines, as it seemed at ground level, but rather curved to follow the topography of the landscape, creating elliptical, mazelike paths.He located the row in which he stood and carefully traced its curve.Then, with difficulty, he forced his way into the next corn row, then the next.Once again he examined the aerial photograph, tracing the path of the current row.Much better: it went for a long distance across flat ground and then dropped down toward the bottomland near Medicine Creek, at a point where the creek looped back toward the town.It was, in fact, the only row that actually opened onto the creek.Pendergast walked down the row, heading away from the murder site.The heat had settled into the corn and, in the absence of wind, was baking everything into place.As the land gradually declined toward the creek, a monotonous landscape of corn revealed itself, stretching to an ever more remote horizon, oppressive in its landlocked vastness.The distant creek, with its clumps of scraggly, half-dead cottonwoods, only added to the sense of desolation.As Pendergast walked he would stop occasionally to examine a cornstalk or a piece of ground.Once in a while his tweezers would pluck something up, only to drop it again.At long last, the corn row opened onto the bottomland along the creek.Where the cornstalks and field dirt gave way to sandy embankments, Pendergast stopped and glanced downward.There were footprints, here in the firm sand: they were bare, and deeply impressed.Pendergast knelt, touched one print.It was from a size eleven foot.The killer had been carrying a heavy body.Pendergast rose and followed the tracks to where they entered the creek.There were no corresponding tracks exiting on the far side.He walked up and down the creek, looking for a point of emergence, and found nothing.The killer had walked for a long distance in the creek bed itself.Pendergast returned to the corn row and began making his way back to the clearing.The town of Medicine Creek was like an island in a sea: it would be difficult to come or go without being seen.Everyone knew everybody and a hundred pairs of keen old eyes, staring from porches and windows, watched the comings and goings of cars.The only way an outsider could arrive at the town unseen was through this sea of corn—twenty miles from the next town.His first instincts had been confirmed: the killer was probably among them, here, in Medicine Creek.SevenHarry Hoch, the second-best-performing farm equipment salesman in Cry County, rarely picked up hitchhikers anymore, but in this case he thought he’d make an exception.After all, the gentleman dressed in mourning was standing so sadly by the side of the road.Hoch’s own mother had been taken just the year before and he knew what it was like.He pulled his Ford Taurus into the gravel just beyond the man and gave a little toot.He lowered his window as the man strolled up.“Where you headed, friend?” Hoch asked.“To the hospital in Garden City, if it isn’t too much trouble.”Harry winced.The poor guy.The county morgue was in the basement.Must’ve just happened.“No trouble at all.Get on in.”He cast a furtive glance as his passenger stepped into the car.With that pale skin, he was going to catch a wicked sunburn if he wasn’t careful.And he sure wasn’t from around these parts; not with that accent, he wasn’t.“My name’s Hoch.Harry Hoch.” He held out his hand.A cool, dry hand slipped into his.“Delighted to make your acquaintance.My name is Pendergast.”Hoch waited for the first name, but it never came.He released the hand and reached over to crank up the AC.A frigid blast came from the vents.It was like hell out there.He put his car into gear and pressed the accelerator, shooting back onto the road and picking up speed.“Hot enough for you, Pendergast?” said Hoch after a moment.“To tell you the truth, Mr.Hoch, I find the heat agrees with me.”“Yeah, okay, but a hundred degrees with one hundred percent humidity?” Hoch laughed.“You could fry an egg right there on the hood of my car.”“I have no doubt of it.”There was a silence.Strange fellow, Hoch thought.His passenger didn’t seem inclined toward small talk, so Hoch just shut up and drove.The silver Taurus flew along the arrow-straight road at ninety, leaving a wake of swaying, trembling corn behind.One mile looked pretty much like the next and there were never any cops in this area.Harry liked to move fast on these lonely secondary roads.Besides, he felt good: he had just sold a Case 2388 Combine with a six-row corn head and chaff-spreader bin extension for $120,000.That was his third for the season and it had earned him a trip to San Diego for a weekend of booze and bumping uglies at the Del Mar Blu.Hot damn.At one point the road widened briefly, and the car shot past a group of shabby ruined houses; a row of two-story brick buildings, gaunt and roofless; and a grain silo, its upper half listing over a weed-choked railroad siding.“What is this?” Pendergast asked.“Crater, Kansas.Or I should say,was Crater, Kansas.Used to be a regular town thirty years back.But it just dried up, like so many others.Always happens the same way, too.First, the school goes.Then the grocer’s.Then you lose the farmers’ supply.Last thing you lose is your zip code.No, that’s not quite right; last to go is the saloon.It’s happening all over Cry County.Yesterday, Crater.Tomorrow, DePew.The day after that, who knows? Maybe Medicine Creek.”“The sociology of a dying town must be rather complex,” said Pendergast.Hoch wasn’t sure what Pendergast was getting at and didn’t risk a reply.In less than an hour, the grain elevators of Garden City began rising over the horizon like bulbous skyscrapers, the town itself low and flat and invisible.“I’ll drop you right off at the hospital, Mr.Pendergast,” said Hoch.“And hey, I’m sorry about whoever it was that passed.I hope it wasn’t an untimely death.”As the orange-brick hospital appeared, surrounded by a sea of shimmering cars, Pendergast replied, “Time is a storm in which we are all lost, Mr.Hoch.”It took Hoch another half an hour of fast driving, with the windows down, to get the creeps out of his system.Sheriff Hazen, wearing a surgical smock that was two sizes too big and a paper hat that made him feel ridiculous, stood and looked down at the gurney.A toe tag was dangling from the right foot, but he didn’t need to read it.Mrs.Sheila Swegg, twice divorced, no children, thirty-two years of age, of number 40A Whispering Meadows Trailer Estate, Bromide, Oklahoma.White fucking trash.There she was lying on the steel table, butterflied like a pork chop, organs neatly stacked beside her.The top of her head was off and her brain sat in a nearby pan.The smell of putrefaction was overwhelming; she’d been lying in that hot cornfield for a good twenty-four hours before he’d gotten there.The M.E., a bright, bushy-tailed young fellow named McHyde, was bent over her, cheerfully slicing and dicing away and talking up a storm of medical jargon into an overhanging mike.Give him five more years, thought Hazen, and the biting acids of reality will strip off some of that cheerful polish.McHyde had moved from her torso up to her throat and was cutting away with little zipping motions of his right hand.Some of the cuts made a crackling sound that Hazen did not like at all [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]