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Kansas Mourning

page two
by John Edward Gill

Morris looked for traffic on the highway. Seeing none, he went to his car. He'd spent much time in that field and now drove along Swensson Street and turned left onto Harrison, at the Viking Motel, the edge of town. Across from it, in a large green building, was Parker's dealership with a local sign in front, "Upton, a community with pride", in large black letters.

He wanted to study the town.

As he drove, he saw Swede's Pizza on his right and a low yellow hut with Dr. Pepper and Budweiser signs on it, then some one-story homes with frayed porches and leaning TV antennas. On his left, was Swanson's Trailer Court -- "Pay by day, week, or permanent" -- Pepsi Cola and 7-Up signs, an Arco gas station.

He slowed near the Vi-Queen Motel and Tastee Spot. Next to the Spot was the Chuck Wagon Saloon and across from it Parker's house. Maybe Evelyn herself was in Upton, he said outloud. She might get custody in Kansas, too, saying she lived there now.

Morris didn't stop, but went to Harrison and Lincoln streets, where there was a Fina gas station, a cafe, Opat's service center, and Vicker's gas station. Opat's had a big, handwritten sign advertising "Live Fishbait, No Worms".

He wanted to find the police station or sheriff's office. Asphalt on Lincoln Street ended with red brick near the intersection of Main Street. He turned right on Main and saw Johnson's Maytag Appliances, Hansen's Walgreen Agency (a drugstore), and an art gallery. After one block there was a Farmer's State Bank and its sign, "11:27 a. m., 93 degrees", then a Firestone store, Colonial Savings Bank, an optometrist, and McNew Chevrolet.

Morris went two blocks, turned around, and drove back, checking alleys, cross streets, escape routes.

There was the Upton News Record, Hazelwood Paperbox Company, Main Street Glassblowing Studio. At West Grant Street, one block from the center of town, there were more homes. He saw an elderly woman carrying garbage pails from her curb. She wore a blue-and-white dress and white shoes and walked near that First Methodist Church. A sign outside listed funerals in Marquette.

He turned again and went back to Main and Lincoln, looking for places to hide in case he needed them.

Banks and large stores would be harder to break into, he told himself. But cafes and bars might have weak locks, back or rooftop windows easy to pry open. Car dealers would be wired for burglars.

Morris saw Marilyn's Fabrics, a bakery, Drake's variety store, an Amoco station, all on his left and across from the Farmer's Bank. A small office or dress shop might be easy to break into, he thought, and it wouldn't be hard to hide near gas stations which might stay open late.

He drove passed a man on a bike, wearing a gray shirt and green trousers. There were untrimmed hedges and tires hanging as swings from trees, a band half shell on the corner of Olsson Street, then a dentist, a water tower, and more homes.

At the foot of Coronado Heights Park was Smokey Hill Cemetery, so he turned around and drove into Upton again, parked near Hansen's drugstore, went inside, and asked for iced tea. The store had a luncheonette counter and magazine racks with Guns And Ammo and Soldier of Fortune, among other publications. He'd put on his black moustache and hoped no one thought it funny since his hair was light brown. On both walls of the store were cosmetics and in the middle a group of small tables. In back was another counter with a black nameplate, "J. Gustafson, Pharmacist" over it.

Morris paid for his tea, served by a woman with short brunette hair and freckles. He sat at one of the tables and tried to read the Hutchinson (Kansas) News. There was a story about a man with a rifle, but he couldn't read it. It was Wednesday and he wanted to leave by Saturday, when people would crowd Main Street and Ron Parker would be home.

"Can I have another?" he asked that waitress, walking to where she stood in her white uniform.

"If you go to the other end of the counter," she said. "I'm the cashier."

"Look like a waitress to me."

"And you a tourist trying to pick up country girls."

"How'd you guess?" He gave her his empty glass.

"You been drivin' 'round."

"Says you?"

"Says Mrs. Celaeno, by First Methodist. You shouldn't stare at women."

"I'm Presbyterian. Looking for places of worship."

"Almost ran over Mister Ocypete on his bike. He called Sheriff Eris."

"My business how I drive."

"You 'ain't stayin' at our motels, either."

"You the police?"

"Larry Aello says you went near the Heights. He owns the Vikings and fifty acres of cornfields along Coronado Road. Called both clerks. You're not registered," she said, filling his glass.

"Which means?"

"There was a sniper in Hutchinson. Killed two people, both women."

"What have they found?"

"Mrs. Parker says there was a man outside her house last night. Her dog barked, woke her up." She gave him more iced tea. "You look too honest to be a killer," she said, laughing. "Are you a killer?"

"No." Morris raised his hands over his head. He started to put them down when a man's voice behind him said not to.

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Copyright © 2003 John Gill. All rights reserved.

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