Summary of the Novel
Post-Traumatic Stress and an Interview with the Author
Sample Chapters
Comments from Readers
Coming Attractions
Leave a Note
How to Buy
Children of CIA and Secret Service Operatives
The Dead are Dancing, a novel by William Lloyd Roller

August, 1956

BILLY RICHCREEK LOVED GUNS. He was just nine years old when his father, Bodie, gave him his first gun to keep, a German Luger taken from the body of a dead Nazi. Bodie had killed a large number of people during his war service in the OSS and FBI when he transported defecting German SS officers through Italy to America via Buenos Aires and Mexico. He had chosen this gift for Billy from among the several hundred enemy weapons stored in his basement. He bestowed the Luger on Billy at a grand ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance in the living room of the Richcreek home, a brick, two story Georgian house, built at the turn of the century, with a whitewashed wrap around porch and Ionian columns. Close friends and neighbors attended the happy occasion and applauded young Billy. His ten-year-old sister Letty, a prodigy of classical piano, accompanied the ceremony, reluctantly hammering out a rendition of the “Soldier’s Chorus” from Gounod’s Faust, one of the many operas in her extensive record collection.

“It’s well past time we put that money for piano lessons to good use,” Bodie said. His wife Nessie hated guns . “Letty shouldn’t have to shame herself by taking part in this foolishness.”

“She’s been called to duty lust like the rest of us,” Bodie said.

“And Billy’s too young for guns,” Nessie protested. Bodie’s fierce eyes erupted in anger. “Billy is ordained to lead our people,” he said. “Don’t you ever forget that.”

It was the greatest moment in Billy’s life. He was proud of his gun and kept it in his bed under his pillow. He polished it each morning when he awakened and kept the blue-steel barrel shining.

Every day Billy and his dad and many neighbors and townsfolk of Cannon, Illinois, came to the Richcreek backyard firing range to shoot the numerous firearms they owned. Bodie alone possessed five hundred weapons of various kinds and national origins, from derringers, .38 caliber revolvers, and 9 mm pistols to grandly lethal systems like grenade launchers, bazookas, and Thompson submachine guns . Bodie and his neighbors lovingly cared for their sophisticated ballistic weaponry and proudly displayed them in a warehouse that sat adjacent to the firing range. Bodie’s collection of ordnance rivaled that of the Cannon armory and his four hundred thousand rounds of ammunition surpassed the supply of the local Marine Corps reserves. They practiced diligently for War Day, a day once a year when the entire Cannon arsenal was opened and tested in preparation for the glorious moment when a general call to arms would be issued to repel the enemies of the republic. On an ordinary afternoon, the Richcreek backyard burst to life with fire fights and explosions and the ratt-ta-ta-tat of automatic weapons. Men and women of all ages came out to sharpen their ballistic skills, squinting their eyes before the bitter clouds that clung to the gentle hillside. They exercised much discipline by staying behind the firing line and aiming their projectiles at homemade targets that appeared sporadically down range for two hundred yards of seared and crater-marked earth. The range sloped gent1y to a hollow where a grove of ashen trees withstood the withering fire. Beyond that lay the Chicago & Eastern Illinois railroad tracks, off limits to the assembled artillery, and the valley of the Salt Fork Creek meandering through the sycamores on its way to the Wabash River. Each artillery shell heaved up mounds of deep red earth characteristic of the soil in that put of the Wabash Valley. Its color betrayed the mineral content just beneath the surface of the ground, rich with coal, zinc, magnesium, and mercuric sulfide. The wood frame houses with brick trim that surrounded the firing range trembled and shook with the impact of each blast. Sometimes a window shattered or a chimney toppled from the explosions but the owners never thought to complain, no more than they would have if a tornado or other natural phenomenon had disrupted their lives . The range and its ritual had become so central to the life of the community that any hardship would be borne to sustain the tradition.

Each day when the barrage began, the wild life in the woods above the creek scattered, sending pheasants and bobolinks darting above the fusillade while squirrels and raccoons scurried to the water’s edge, seeking refuge downstream. All the beasts of the field and the creatures of the air fled the noisy cannonade. The sounds of battle, however, comforted the people of Cannon, who tied them to their own security and well-being. Those who could not actively participate for reasons of age or infirmity watched with no small interest, sometimes with field glasses, seated in arm chairs, waving feathered hats and fedoras in gestures of encouragement and support. They took care never to cross the perimeter of the firing range itself lest they forfeit their lives by such a foolish transgression. Rutting goats slow-witted dogs sometimes tested the boundaries only to be blasted into jelly. Bodie Richcreek never constructed a fence about his firing range because in a free country he valued the right of public access to private lands and believed that good sense should restrain the citizenry and not barbed wire.

“Merle, that last mortar round almost hit the railroad !” Bodie shouted. “They’ll raise hell for sure if you blow up their tracks!”

“Why Bodie, those engineers and firemen down on the C&EI need to be waked up from time to time,” Merle laughed. He pumped another mortar round into the sky and smiled. Merle Beckwith and his wife Carolina operated the mortar emplacement as a team. Frank, their son, delivered the afternoon paper and usually missed practice with his folks but drilled with his friend Billy on Sundays. Merle’s face was heavily creased for a man in his thirties, owing to daily exposure to the weather as a trainman for the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad. He wore a constant frown as if some anger grated at him even during moments of mirth . He dressed in the common railroad man’s outfit, blue and white fine pin striped overalls with a wide billed cap of the same color atop his severely cropped sandy hair. A bright red bandanna circled his throat. His wife seemed older than her years, her face etched with complacency. Like many women of her generation and social class, she had resigned herself to the strange ways of her husband that she could not fathom and did not wish to examine. She looked faded like the blue sun dress she wore as if the yeast of curiosity no longer fermented within her. She wore her owl brown hair tied back with a scarf to protect her eyes against the hot blasts of air generated by the mortar.

The Bowen family experimented with the new M79 40mm grenade launcher. The eldest son Bob, strong for his age, held the apparatus . His little sister Josie fetched ammunition for her parents as she ran swiftly behind the line, breathlessly dodging dozens of ejected shells and giggling merrily in the warm sunshine, her banana curls tossing softly like lemon grass. It seemed to them a healthy, wholesome activity for the whole family because everybody got to do their part. The citizens exercised a great degree of freedom during the drill. Some families selected one target for total destruction. Others developed their proficiency with range finding or proper weapon management. Children too small to handle weapons ran as couriers along the firing line delivering messages and ammunition as needed. They served sandwiches to their elders from brightly decorated picnic baskets so that training could be sustained without interruption. Mrs.Bowen developed a special knack for feeding Bob and her husband liverwurst sausages so that they never missed a single grenade launch. Her small mouth displayed a guile less smile that never varied regardless of the circumstances, as if nature had sewed the edges upward. Mr. Bowen rarely smiled because it interfered with his favorite activity, chewing food or tobacco. The Bowens dressed alike, blue denim trousers and red checkered work shirts, except little Josie who wore a pink calico dress. Bob and his father sported black suspenders and old baseball caps.

“Bodie, you need to oil this one!” screamed Mr. Bowen above the incessant cacophony and rolling smoke. “The action’s a bit sluggish!”

Bodie nodded approvingly. He strode like a colossus amidst his neighbors, overseeing their maneuvers with the grey-blue eyes of a hawk and without facial expression beneath his beige felt, snap brim hat. Dressed in a wide lapeled, extra large navy blue gabardine suit with a wide-cut silk tie of deep claret hue, he dominated the landscape with his sheer physical presence. By the simple gesture of his right hand, flattened at the palm and fingers, slicing the air swiftly as if brandishing a scythe , he conveyed calmness and a steely resolve as he delivered precise orders to his charges. According to the legend that all knew, he had displayed extraordinary physical courage in the teeth of battle, like a predator that instinctively grasped the weaknesses of its prey and delighted in the thrill of the hunt. Bodie evoked the image of a no-nonsense American in pursuit of his civic duty. He instilled confidence in boys and won the admiration of men. Bodie saw women weep and men’s eyes glaze over whenever he spoke. Mostly he spoke of justice and the terrible vengeance of God against those who crossed purposes with His way and the USA. Bodie believed himself an instrument of that terrible justice. The people of Cannon held him in awe because of his silent and sure devotion to that task.

Mayor Estes Hicks commanded the 105 mm Howitzer with a skeleton crew of four, including his younger brother, W.T. Hicks, a born complainer. The mayor, as always, was dressed in a black suede jacket with long coattails and black bow tie in the fashion of the last century and a well-fitting embroidered red satin vest with a ponderous double gold watch chain swaying between the neatly sewn pockets. Upon his head rested a stove pipe beaver hat of the kind favored by Abraham Lincoln in his time. For the sake of maneuvers, he had removed his suit coat and rolled his white french cuffs, placing his look-alike .45 caliber cuff links carefully in a vest pocket along with his watch fob. He ground his yellow teeth on a giant Cuban cigar that audaciously jutted from his jaw. Born on the day Teddy Roosevelt attacked San Juan Hill in 1898, Mayor Hicks assumed the posture of a conquering general, his right hand visor-like to his forehead just below his distinguished silver hair and his left arm and index finger stretched forward as he surveyed the consequences of his bellicose labors. Every fiber of his rangy six foot-two frame emanated authority as he squinted his steely grey eyes in an expression of determination and resolve that by its sheer intensity hammered into submission every obstacle in his path.

“Fine trajectory,” the Hicks brothers remarked in unison as their cannon demolished a plywood shack at close range. “But we need a few more men on our crew to set the angle of fire,” said W.T. ”It’s too much work without eight .”

W.T. was the sheriff of Cannon and never seemed to accomplish his tasks quite to the satisfaction of his older brother and boss. He looked more the buffoon than an officer of the peace with his bald head ruddy from his nearly constant scratching and his bushy red eyebrows jumping about as he spoke in the whiny and high -pitched prairie tenor, which so annoyed his brother and delighted those who made fun of him. A six footer as a youth, his posture was now squashed down, shoulders hunched forward, fat gut distended downward, and chunky butt spread outward. His comical appearance was accentuated whenever he attempted to exercise authority. He would puff up both his chest and his cheeks in an effort to seem formidable but his inability to take decisive action soon left him merely inflated like a dead hog in July. Only when goaded and directed explicitly by his brother did W.T. assume a more sinister character and become a truly threatening presence.

The Starking family aimed a 75 mm recoilless rifle at a red banner in the distance. Little Emily clapped her hands with joy and her green eyes danced as her mom and dad balanced the weapon carefully on its tripod . “Let mommy do it this time, daddy!” she cried happily. “It’s her turn!”

“Just calm down, Em,” said Mr. Starking. “Mommy will have her chance.” He enjoyed the family outing as much as his daughter and the opportunity to get away from his child, dressed in the Irish green woolen cardigan and white lace blouse he’d just bought for her.

But he worried about her sassy and willful nature. “Let your daddy shoot, honey,” said Mrs. Starking. “He’s having so much fun .”

“He should share, Mommy!” She wrinkled her brow as she tossed her long blond pony tail from side to side in disapproval.

Next to the Starkings, Henry Teton held a .50 caliber machine gun tightly in his grasp. Three feet of ammo belt rasped through the weapon as hot lead spewed forth and casings flew randomly. His wife smiled and riveted her blue eyes on her husband. Jim, his son, closed his blue eyes to keep out the smoke and stuck his fingers in his ears. “Pay attention to your daddy, Jimmy,” his mother admonished as she grabbed him by the neck. Jim-Wore his favorite corduroy shirt that he could never keep clean because he-liked to climb trees and fence railings and telephone poles as an outlet for an over-abundance of young male energy and his budding skills as an athlete.

“I can’t hear ya,” Jim shouted keeping his fingers in place. “Ease up a bit, Henry,” Bodie hollered close by his ear. “ if this were war, you’d have to relax your muscles to avoid cramp.”

“Damn, Bodie, if I don’t hold on tight, this baby will run away with me!”

Bodie laughed and adjusted Henry’s hands on the gun grip. His authority went unquestioned and his instructions met no resistance. Although a civilian, Bodie carried himself with the bearing of a field marshal, quick to discern the slightest advantage and opportune opening offered by a careless gambit of the enemy. Bodie believed deeply in the enemy. Intensely alive with masculine vigor, his muscles moved precisely, deftly in each and every gesture and manual operation. His large yet strangely artistic hands stroked the refulgent weaponry that bristled proudly from the gun bays of his armored personnel carrier. It stood ready on the concrete slab that led from the cavernous armory warehouse to the various ammo stations along the firing line. He stroked his square, beardless chin with his left hand, a movement Billy had already begun to imitate.

Billy knew well each and every person on the firing line. He cared about them all because they were gun lovers. They were the faces of Cannon and, to Billy, they encompassed an entire world. Billy wore his Luger manfully on his hip in a holster studded with sparkling silver stars and stripes. He watched his father fire a .357 magnum and stiffly absorb the tremendous shock of recoil in his six foot-five, three hundred pound frame. A wave of pleasure flowed through Billy’s body. He felt pride and joy in his father‘s absolute manliness. He wondered at the sight of all these men as they obliterated the colorful targets erected for their pleasure. He told himself he ought to feel lucky and grateful to God and his country. And yet, some of the things that happened in Cannon didn‘t feel quite right to him. He put that thought aside, pulled his pistol, and fired deftly and accurately with the others.

Nessie Richcreek, Billy’s mother, came out the back door of the Richcreek home that stood close by the range and shouted.

“Bodie! Billy! Come in now and stop this ruckus! Supper’s ready. My cake’s fallen. Is the fight against the Reds worth a bad meal?”

Nessie’s pregnant belly seemed incongruously large for a woman of her small stature. Not beautiful, still she appeared wildly erotic as a she-wolf loose on the prairie, both attentive and watchful, quick to recognize signs of danger, quick to react and protect. Keen to the scent of distress, she pointed her graceful and prominently sharp nose in the direction of trouble, narrowing her large agate-like and mostly amber eyes, her eyebrows arching dramatically. She wore her jet black hair unbound and flowing, which accentuated her dark features and olive skin. Taut and muscular in a womanly way, with all her senses awakened to life, she seemed strangely foreign to Cannon, being more instinctively canny than the others. She carried her child not with joy but with growing trepidation for her most inner bay of waters. She wore her fear outward as an article of clothing, draped about her narrow shoulders and cascading down her lithe legs and slender ankles to her bare feet, which padded softly in the thick dust first raised by the withering fire of arms, then settled softly near the axis of the firing line. Above her fluttered colorful banners carrying the well-loved slogans of past campaigns, “Don’t Tread on Me!,” “Fifty-four Forty or Fight,” and “Damn the Torpedoes!”

“Stop this nonsense now!” she shouted.

Bodie scowled at his wife. “Don’t be backward, Nessie. I’m not going to let your prejudice against guns and your womanly ways compromise the public defense.”

“The farm’s not backward. Menfolk out there use guns to hunt and kill squirrel and possum to eat. In Cannon, you boys never aim at something to eat and if you did, you’d blow it to smithereens!”

Hush up, Nessie! It’s not your position as a woman to be talkin’ like that, Carolina Beckwith stood up to stretch while the steel mortar tube cooled. Her face appeared intolerably weary to Nessie and she thought she detected a flash of pain in Carolina’s eyes as she pronounced the word woman like “woeman.”

Nessie hated that Carolina staunchly defended her 1ot in life when her demeanor betrayed her unhappiness.

“The schoolhouse roof needs fixing and I should think that some of your neighbors might spend some time attending to it. “We do have children to think about.” Nessie held her round belly with both her hands as she spoke.

“My boy Frank is doin’ just fine, thank you.” Carolina folded her arms and raised her chin with an air of superiority.

“And how about some cash for vaccinations and formula at the hospital?” Nessie persisted. A whole lot of babies die in Cannon county.”

For godsakes, woman, just clear out and leave us be!” Bodie shouted. His looks conveyed both shame and disgust for Nessie. For a moment she thought she saw a seething rage just beneath the surface of his well practiced self-control. It frightened her yet fascinated her enough to keep digging at him in order to expose a deeper vein of emotions within his character.

“l’ll let you be when you slop all this foolishness and go bowling like you’ re s’posed to after work. Letty can’t hear herself at the piano with such a racket!” “That girl’s a disgrace to the family. She should be out here with a gun in her hand or at least carrying ammo!”

“Over my dead body!”

Bodie shook his fist with frustration. Nessie tossed her head back and returned within the safety of her home, clutching her blue apron to her midsection, nauseated by the acrid smells produced by her neighbors. Billy ached inside when his parents fought. He loved his dad but, as much as he loved guns, he still knew his mom was right about a lot of things. His dad and the townsfolk who followed him did get carried away and take things too far. But what was a little boy to do? Billy leaned his head to the left and cupped his chin with his left hand, imitating Bodie’s mannerisms. Billy loved every single gesture of his father but couldn‘t abide his words . His words scared Billy because his dad seemed out of control when he called for the people of Cannon to defend themselves against enemies. Turning back enemies didn’t seem to have much to do with the everyday lives of the people of Cannon. But what did a little boy know?

Billy made up a plan in his head that let him be loyal to both his mom and dad.

He promised to go along with his dad and follow the ways of Cannon until he was older and could stop the Cannonites when they all got too far off course. He felt a lot better once he thought of this plan, but hated his parents’ fighting all the same. He continued to shoot his prized Luger in staccato fashion and fought back his tears.

When the frontline daily ammunition ration gave out, the men and women reluctantly bid farewell to Bodie, their deafened ears ringing like the bells in hell, and another day of shooting came quietly to an end.

As a benediction to the afternoon’s work, Bodie spoke in solemn and mellifluous tones to his friends and neighbors who gathered round him. “The Communists could never stand up to a barrage of bullets like that. We have done well,” he said.

W.T. Hicks reported that his shoulder ached from loading the howitzer. “I don‘t believe I can make the call of duty again tomorrow,” he concluded.

“Don’t be so pasty with your discouraging words, W.T.” Bodie chastised him in stem, resonant tones . “We all must sacrifice. We’re not just practicing marksmanship here, we’re practicing patriotism.”

“Daddy, what’s patriotism?” Billy asked.

Bodie looked at his sonintently and spoke meaningfully, as if he were about to pass on the highest proof of wisdom he had distilled from his life. “Patriotism is the passion for maintaining that all is right, even the most awful horrors, if they serve to glorify America whose transcendent goodness justifies and makes them right.”

“You’ re right, Bodie,” the men echoed in agreement as they stacked the ordnance gently and with great fondness.


After supper, Bodie took Billy for a drive in his big, emerald green Buick with white leather seats, one of many road trips taken to teach Billy about Americanism. They passed the simple one-story wood frame houses that surrounded the Richcreek property, each house uniformly constructed with tar-patched roofs and brick chimneys and all facing the broken, uneven lines of sidewalks and streets made of smoothly worn red brick, the most abundant building material manufactured in Cannon. Large black oak branches arched above them making a canopy of green that camouflaged the August blue sky, fading in the twilight of summer. As they descended into the hollow created by the Salt Creek, Billy saw the unpaved streets and shanty hovels where poor folks lived and the factories huddled and the railroads concentrated their tracks . So many tracks crossed Cannon that trains often besieged the town and closed road traffic in all directions.The New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads united the continent west to east, following the grain delivery routes from the prairie to Eastern cities and returning with Monongahela Valley anthracite coke for Cannon’s foundries and with sewing machines and firearms for its people. Along these tracks the stark monoliths of grain elevators rose against the sky, the highest structures on the horizon. Billy wanted to climb them one day to see the countryside from their great height.

They crossed the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad bed which ran south to north bringing Negro laborers from Tennessee and Mississippi, picking up soft coal from the Cannon mines and hogs from the nearby farms and delivering them to Chicago, and returning with the entire contents of the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. Billy planned to be president of the C&El when he grew up so he could get free passenger tickets for himself and his family. Next, they crossed the Wabash tracks where the Wabash Cann onball roared twice a day, coming a-slant from St. Louis across the Mississippi River and following the old Shawnee trail along the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers up to Detroit. The Cannonball sliced the prairie in half, stalking those slow, dusky rivers in the moonlight. Billy listened for its piercing diesel cry in the night and knew its schedule by heart.

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad was the connecting link to the Deep South: Atlanta , Birmingham, Mobile, New Orleans, and Jackson. It was the source of potatoes and timber, more Negroes and poor whites. Along its course through Cannon, a few romantic hotels had sprung up to cater to the well-heeled traveler of an earlier time. These turn of the century relics were now housing for itinerant bluesmen and drilters passing through town. Billy liked to pass the time listening to them play guitar and harmonica, sing songs, and tell stories, and watch them tap dance on knocked down doors outside their decaying quarters on Liberty street, just ninety feet from the Louisville and Nashville rails. Cannon had its own blues song, one verse of which Billy sang often to himself to dispel his loneliness:

When they fire the Cannon, I’m goin home again
When they fire the Cannon, I’m goin home again
Whisky and women gonna be my best friends.

Each railway had its own passenger station. Billy loved the New York Central station best of all. The splendor of the craftsmanship lavished on this one monument was totally out of proportion to the population or significance of Cannon. To Billy it seemed as if they had chosen to favor one town with all the grandeur and souvenirs from a gilded time. Brass shone everywhere from ticket cages to daily departures. Indiana marble and limestone had been pieced together in pink and white and amber displ ays of color that spoke of substance and permanence. Leaded glass, imported from Germany, had been enshrined in its vaulted ceilings, depicting in great detail the winning of the early West, the pioneer movement onto the prairie, decisive battles with the Indians, the first corn harvest, and all the resplendent memories of Cannon’s past. They reminded Billy of art he’d seen in encyclopedias, grand moments frozen in eternity like the timeless images on Grecian vases. Billy wanted to be a part of a deathless culture that was marching forward toward a glorious future.

If he could just help Cannon stay on the right track.

They passed the town square with its giant statue of Abraham Lincoln and ringed by the Cannon County courthouse, the Selective Service office, the Veterans of Foreign Wars sanctuary and armed forces center, and the Cannon County water pumping station, all white marble temples, flying American flags and sculpted meticulously with patriotic emblems like fierce eagles clasping bundles of arrows in their sharp talons. Even the street lamps had the insignia of the flag emblazo ned on their bronzed bases. Next to the statue of Lincoln stood a granite monument to Uncle Joe Cannon, an early supporter of Lincoln and Speaker of the House of Rep resentatives, who pork-bar reled a tremendous number of public works projects for Cannon County during the boom times of the 1880’s until the economic bust just before the First World War. A Republican, he earned the undying gratitude of the citizens of Cannon, who immortalized him by naming their town after him. Billy wanted to be a leader like him one day.

Bodie waved at policemen as they reported for duty and Billy felt like he was a part of a vast family as they good naturedly returned smiles and friendly greetings. The streets filled with human activity in the lingering warmth of the summer evening. Brakemen, conductors, and porters left their steaming locomotives, bearing their duffle bags, and headed for the laverns near the old hotels . Miners and ironworkers carried their lunch boxes, wearing their illuminated headgear and protective helmets, and reported for the night shift on the south end of town. Billy got on his knees and penned high upon the big front seat so he could smile and wave his hand at them all.

Why did Billy take such care in surveying the details of Cannon and revelling in its sights and sounds? Because he felt a strong bond of loyalty to its people. He pledged to be a loving son and never forsake them . It pained him to think that all these good folk might get carried away and harmed by his dad’s leadership. Billy was especially troubled by the Cannonites constant talkof war. They relived each war as if it were yesterday. He worried where the on-going memorials to past wars might lead them in the future.

The fruit and vegetable stands on Ulysses S. Grant street had closed but the movie theaters and soda fountains were just opening their doors, their merchants eager to cater to farmers and day workers wanting to forget their troubles and slake the thirst of labor beneath the sun . Many old Pullman railway cars, their route designations of “COTION BELT”or “GREAT NORTHERN” still affixed to their silvery aluminum sides, had been converted into diners along Grant street and they stayed open well past midnight to serve the many work shifts of their customers. Billy marveled at the pretty women who waited behind the counters and wore makeup like the actresses in movies . They put their arms around the men they knew and laughed out loud, splitting the heavy, humid air with the rich timbre of their low strung voices. He felt a wave of sadness when they passed Fantasyland, his favorite movie house where he’d sat through Sands of Iwo Jima a half dozen times. The Victory ice cream parlor was next door and tempted Billy powerfully each time he and his dad drove by.

“You think we might get an Eskimo Pie, Daddy?” Billy pleaded fervently.

Bodie said nothing but fixed his eyes to the road as they sped down the street and beyond the city limits. Billy looked back. at the town and its smokestacks, grain elevators, and stone monuments to America’s wars. Cannon had fought in all the major wars of the republic and many of the minor ones. Its citizens had demonstrated the highest standard of valor and their record of service showed no blemish of cowardice or even a murmur of reluctance. Bodie had suffered greatly by his war service, a fact that only Billy knew. This caused Billy much anguish. Only the beauty of the land gave him a sense of well-being and grace-and it was on the land that he now focused his eyes.

They drove west out of the Salt Creek valley and into the countryside beyond Cannon. The late summer corn ripened in the verdant fields at the edge of the prairie and the sky above seemed to explode in a fiery sunset that reddened the far stretch of clouds. Twilight brought the prairie alive. Each particle of floating dust radiated light at that moment in peaceful decrescendo. Fireflies glowed and danced in the fields of com, bright living things burning small with countless points of iridescence. They brought joy to Billy’s heart. He knew that at the very center of the fields, away from the summer breezes, the corn itself moved. Quietly at first, then rustling in the still and listless night, each corn leaf sprang to life and grew beneath a watchful moon. They fluttered in the soft light as fireflies darted and flecked the stalks in silence. The gentle Okaw River sparkled with a thousand fireflies, flitting among the low branching oaks and maples at the water’s edge. A pale slice of moon held sway in the heavens and August hung on every fragrance of the evening. Billy breathed deeply and felt at peace. New mown hay and buffalo grass blended their aromas in the heavy, humid air.

Why did Billy lavish so much attention on the prairie? The land itself seemed more real to him at times than anyone or anything in Cannon. The landscape helped him soothe his ragged nerves. He searched the distant horizon with his deep blue eyes and found no reason there for fear. All was tranquil for now to the west. Bodie stroked his son‘s blond hair with the calloused palm of his hand. Billy felt his father shaking, and he shuddered himself because he knew what came next.

Bodie swerved the car slowly onto the shoulder of the road and turned off the motor. Billy opened the passenger door and let his right leg swing out one foot short of the gravel. The air in the Buick soured with perspiration. The rite of confession began. Billy popped open the dash board compartment and handed his father a fifth of whisky. Bodie swallowed eagerly in large gulps, once, then twice, and calmed himself a bit. He appeared wired with electricity. His face became strangely animated, twitching and jerking to a startling degree, and his whole body shook. His high cheekbones protruded sharply against his pale skin as he dropped his jaw to speak, his eyes afire and his voice trembling.

“I was alone with an ice pick and 1had to kill him with it. Slowly. Holding the pick with two hands, I drove it deep into his left eye upward toward the mid brain. He screamed terribly and tried to resist my intrusions into his skull . But I lay my whole weight on his body and he could not push me off. I worked the pick back and forth, back and forth, chewing away at flesh and skull, breaking through bone layers to reach soft cavity tissue. I felt his pain in shudders through my body. I knew I had reached the centers of motor activity when his arms and legs began toflail spastically and his voice cried out for its lost brain. He reminded me of a frog skewered through the brain to a board. Then his voice died. No more speech center.

“But he did not die. For close to an hour he writhed in an epileptic fit as I lay upon him. Then he entered a swoon and it was over.” Billy,waited patiently, wanting to soothe his father’s visible agitation but spoke not a word nor barely breathed.

Bodie’s voice broke the silence.

“On the instruction of our government, we had four days notice before Pearl Harbor to eliminate all known Jap spies in New York.We killed constantly for ninety-six hours straight, neither stopping to sleep nor rest, we ate with blood on our hands, our clothes soaked with blood, dried and caked, our fingernails filthy with rotting skin embedded beneath, our nostrils filled with the unvarying smell of death. One man begged to be spared. His eyes turned purple as I grabbed him by the throat and dropped him out a window, the thin scream of his voice receding into the wind.”

After some time, Bodie spoke again, this time in a soft, instructive tone.

“Always plan to kill wisely with a knife. If you lunge for the torso, you’ll probably lodge the knife in his ribs. Always go for the kill. That means the jugular vein and the carotid artery.”

Bodie demonstrated these parts of the anatomy by placing his hand on his son’s ribs and throat and taking his son’s small hand and letting him feel the bright pulse at his daddy’s throat.

“Feel that?” he asked somberly. “You must cut that.” “Once I needed to kill soundlessly and so I jammed a wad of money in the man’s mouth and carved his throat with my razor.” Bodie demonstrated the technique on Billy’s throat with a graceful arc of his hand.

“He was a slow bleeder . It took all my strength to pin him down while the blood dripped out of his body. Gradually, blood pooled beneath his head and unconsciousness set in. I ripped open his shirt to view his chest. I could see his heart pounding like the rib cage of a dying stag. Suddenly, his chest heaved and stopped in mid-beat. A heart empty of blood refuses to beat. Remember that.

“Timing is everything. Strike quickly and surely. And always smile. It will disarm your opponent and he will not expect the final terror you have in store for him.” Gradually, Bodie began to unwind like a tightly packed spring in an explosive detonator.

Billy listened with awe and reverence to his father’s stories, but the excitement and the terror overwhelmed him. His heart beat frightfu1ly and his small hand reached deeply into his father‘s coat pockets beneath the shoulder holster to take a handkerchief to wipe his father’s brow and white-blond hair. Billy relived each moment of suspense and horror with his fath er as he heard him describe in detail how he dispatched with vengeance and extreme prejudi ce each enemy of America. He cringed with fear as his father escaped sure death in the face of grave danger. He stopped breathing just before each kill, and then resumed with an audible gasp once it was over. The hand -to-hand kills horrified him .

Billy threw up right there in the Buick. He wiped his mouth with his dad’s handkerchief. He laid a small hand on Bodie’s forehead to calm his shaking and ease his suffering. Billy hated that his dad was so sick and wanted someone to help him.

No one ever did . Billy felt desolate and alone. He knew all about his father’s distress but not how to take away his pain. He pressed his fingers upon Bodie’s eyelids signaling him to sleep. He pressed his slight body against his father‘s mighty bulk to comfort him and soften the misery of his dreams. Bodie slept.

Billy want ed to protect Cannon and America but he did not want to act like his father. He did not trust his dad as the leader of the people of Cannon. Cannon and America were headed for bloody deeds with his dad in charge. They were all bound for trouble. Billy promised in his heart to always help America but he wan ted no part of killing. Killing destroyed the joy he got from guns. Killing was what made his dad so sick, what made him act so strange.

Billy faced a dilemma that he could feel but only partly understand.

He had pledged himself to a town that had made craziness normal . It was only natural for him to feel jerked around between quiet scenes in the countryside and the awful memories of his dad, between the friendly company of his fellow citizens and their total preoccupation with war. This back and forth almost drove Billy nuts. He dreamed that one day, when he was grown, he would be a hero and save his town from terrible disasters that might come from carrying things too far. Until then, he would be of two minds: a loyal patriot who at the same time knew things were going wrong among his people.

Billy fingered his father‘s .38Smith and Wesson gently and lovingly. He peered into the dark infinity of its barrel and listened to its hollow sound at his ear. Guns were the closest and best friends a boy could ever have. He turned on the car radio and heard the clarion trumpets of the “Motif of Faith” from Wagner ‘s Parsifal creating a splendid stillness in the sultry evening air. Bodie awaken ed and whispered the chilling and fateful words that made Billy’s hair stand on end.

“America is calling us...America is calling us.”