Death in the Cornfield. Adult Violence
I've got a good crop of corn this year. I stand at the edge of the field, new 1951 Ford parked behind me on a one-lane dirt road in the middle of Ohio. A bright sun shines on flowering stalks, most over six-feet tall.
I spit tobacco into roadside brush at the edge of a ditch. This particular field holds special memories for me, bitter and bittersweet memories. A memorial to hope, love, and death...
"Goddamn this town," Sonia bitched. She pulled violently away from my grip, sliding to the other side of the bed. "What the hell's high school for, anyway?"
"Come on, babe. I'm horny and, don't forget, we have to be up before sunup." I reached over to grab her around the waist, pulling her toward me.
"You're always frickin' horny," she replied, shoving away with both hands on my naked chest. "We take all them damned tests and what happens? What happens is all we can find here is farm work. Could'a got that without fuckin' school."
Still in the mood, I slid lower under the covers to press my face into her tummy. "Ummmmm. Ummmm. Meal time."
She pulled away again. "At least you get to drive a tractor, Jerry. All I do is cull and cut the stems off cabbage all fuckin' day ... at four fucking cents a basket." She sighed. "There must be something better than this?"
"We could rob a bank, honey? That there Bunny and Clyde seem to be making out okay."
"Bonnie. Bonnie, not Bunny. Didn't school teach you to read?" She paused. "Maybe we should rob one? A bank, I mean?"
"It didn't teach me this, neither," I mumbled, the sound probably lost in the covers as I slid lower between her thighs. "Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!"
At first, Sonia tried to pull me away, eventually changing to grab both my ears, roll over, and ride my face like a horsey.
"You sure, honey?" I was frightened and already wished I'd backed out. I was there only at Sonia's insistence. She'd always been the instigator among the three of us, even back in high school. With her mad and crazy pranks, she'd gotten me suspended from school twice in our senior year. When we were kids playing cops and robbers, Sonia always had to be the robber and hold the loudest cap-pistol.
This time she ... we ... were to be real robbers. Larry was parked in blazing sunlight outside the front door of the "First Farmer's Commerce Bank," in his model "T" Ford. It was May of 1936. In a few moments, I was to go in the bank with her ... to rob it.
Ah, it was the era of the gentleman thief. The time of trigger-happy gangsters being heroes to the masses. The age of the farm-boy almost shitting his pants on his first criminal enterprise.
"Come on, Jerry," she said, laughing at me with those beautiful but hard sparkling eyes, "don't chicken out now. Only Pop Edwards is going to stand in our way, and he's in his eighties."
Pop had been a bank guard for at least the eighteen-years I'd been alive. His ancient .38cal revolver was probably rusted into its holster by then.
After a good luck peck on the cheek, she pulled a white-dotted red handkerchief up over her chin, motioning me to do the same. In unison, we jerked hat brims down over our eyes and strolled into the lobby.
As expected, Pop was dozing in a kitchen chair at the rear, leaning against the wall, chin down to his chest. Myrtle Evens, whose husband sharpened combine blades for a living, was the only employee behind a small barred counter. One woman, Mrs. Jeffers, was doing something at one of two stand-up writing tables in the lobby, with no one else in sight.
I couldn't help but be proud of Sonia as she strode right up to Myrtle while I kept an eye on the other two. Her gyrating hips held my attention – they always had – as she reached the counter.
Sonia drew a 1911 Colt .45. out of a small green purse. I could hear her tell Myrtle, in a hopefully disguised voice, "This is a stickup, lady. Put all your money in a bag and hand it over."
She wasn't supposed to be that loud, for me to hear it across the room. My eyes swung from Sonia to Mrs. Jeffers, who was standing stock still, eyes wide and legs quivering slightly. Mrs. Jeffers couldn't seem to understand what was going on, looking back and forth from Sonia to me.
I could see her straightening up as she looked hard at the action in front of her and came out with, "Sonia Peters? What do you think you're doing with that thing?"
About that time, old Pop must have heard her, since he jerked upright, trying to get his gun out of the holster. Sonia might have been correct about the rust, since he was having a hard time of it.
Without thinking, I grabbed my own pistol from behind my shirt, ran over, and cracked the old man on his punkin' head with the barrel. He stiffened and fell to the floor. I hoped I hadn't hurt him too bad.
When I saw him fall, I turned back in time to hear a loud "Blam ... Blam" as Sonia shot Myrtle. I still don't know why she done it, but she did have a full paper sack in her hand.
On our way out, Sonia hit Mrs. Jeffers on the cheek with her gun, staggering the portly woman but shutting off her shrill screaming.
Smiling sheepishly at Mrs. Jeffers through my mask, I waved the revolver and followed Sonia out.
We jumped into the waiting car and Larry stomped on the gas. Blue smoke poured from the exhaust, a stiff breeze blowing it into open car windows as we raced away at about forty mph, all the old car could do on a slippery brick-paved street.
Now why the hell did she do that? I wondered, shoot Myrtle. There wasn't supposed to be any shooting and I doubt Myrtle had ever touched a gun in her life. By that time, I was definitely sorry for going along with Sonia. Getting into her pants wasn't worth going to prison, or being hung.
Larry's car suffered from an engine problem, clouds of blue smoke following us on our getaway.
"Hey. Hey. Hey," Sonia called from the back seat where she was trying to count money, despite smoke and wind coming in through open windows.
I managed to hang onto my seat with one hand and the dashboard with the other as that damned Ford bounced or slid over one dirt or gravel road after another while going about forty-miles an hour. With all the potholes and stray tree limbs lying on the road, it wasn't a pleasurable experience.
"We got us over five-thousand dollars here, one-thousand with a string of sixes apiece," Sonia called out, voice shrill with excitement.
I stuck my head out of a window, only to be splashed with fresh cow pie, as we ran over a patch in the road. Cursing, I brought my head back inside and used a rag to wipe the shit off as best I could. Then I turned to look past Sonia and out the back window. In the rare moments the blue smoke drifted the other way, I saw no signs of pursuit.
With the wild ride, my heart still hadn't been able to slow down. I was keyed up about the bank. Has she killed Mrytle? Or, for that matter, had I killed old Pop? Are the police after us yet? It had been maybe an hour, so they must be. We were almost out of Seneca County. Would they follow us into Sandusky County?
I knew the cops had telephones, and we'd get to Fremont before long at that rate. Maybe they even had car radios for all I knew; not likely in our cheap backward communities but not impossible.
"We better find someplace to hide for awhile," I yelled across to Larry over the noise of the vehicle. "They probably called Fremont. The cops and sheriff will be waiting when we get there."
"They can't cover all these little farm roads," Sonia called from the back seat.
"Maybe not, but our exhaust can be seen for a long ways. Better to find a farmhouse and hide for a few days."
"Hey, man. We got us our own little smokescreen," Larry said with fake anger.
"Yeah, Larry, we better," Sonia screamed from the back. "Least ways I'll be able to breathe."
"The Johnson farm is up ahead, just an old couple," Larry suggested, trying to avoid a decent-sized pot-hole but hitting a larger one, bouncing my head off the tin roof of the Ford.
I knew Fred and Emily Johnson slightly, having helped them in one season's corn harvest. Since the cops probably already knew who we were – at least Sonia – thanks to Mrs. Jeffers at the bank, I guessed it wouldn't make any difference if the farmers identified me. Everyone in the county knew we three ran around together.
Larry swerved into a long driveway at the Johnson farm. It was about a city block long, tall corn fields on both sides threatening to enclose the width of the narrow drive. Stalks brushed the auto on both side-panels as we tore down the lane. Larry couldn't swerve if he tried, the tires were so deep in dry ruts.
Fred hired help when he needed it, but it was still the off season. Cornstalks need time to dry before harvesting. Hopefully, the old couple would be alone.
The first thing we noticed were no lights on in the house, although it was getting dark.
"Car's gone," Larry told us. "Maybe they're not home?"
"Good," I replied, looking around.
I saw a huge combine standing in the back yard, next to a large barn. Fred was probably greasing it and getting ready for the coming harvest, needing the large machine to cut his corn. I'd driven it a couple of times when I worked for him, though it was Joey Dimon's usual job.
"The combine's out. He might have hired some hands already. Keep a watch out. Circle around a little," I said to Larry. Now that we were slowed down, it was possible to talk, rather than yelling.
"Maybe you should drop me off at the house first, Larry? We don't want them calling the cops," Sonia suggested. "For trespassers, I mean."
"I don't think they have a telephone. Fred's too cheap to pay to run a line from the road," I told her. "At least they didn't a few years ago. And I didn't see any wires or poles coming in here when we turned."
"Na, me neither," Larry said. "I didn't see any either."
We circled around the farmyard, even passing completely through the barn, which was open at both ends, and didn't see anybody or any signs of activity except for the huge machine sitting there, red tool chests open nearby. It stood about fifteen-feet high at the cab, a huge twenty-foot-wide paddle-wheel across the front. It also had a chute for ears of corn to fall out of the back and into a trailer. The thing was a massive piece of self-propelled machinery. It had this new "Power Steering" though and a comfortable cab on top. Even so, combining corn was still a hot, sweaty, and dirty job.
Anyway, no one was around so we parked on the lawn in back. Larry didn't give a damn about the grass.
"Hey, anyone home?" I yelled after knocking on the back door with no answer. "It's Jerry. You know me, Emily." Still no answer.
"Screw this shit," Sonia kicked the door open, slamming it into an icebox. We went in and gave the house a quick search, finding nobody there.
"Well, might as well make ourselves at home," I suggested. "Don't turn on any lights. Won't they be surprised when they get back?"
Larry drifted over to the icebox to look for something to make a sandwich, while Sonia emptied the money onto a kitchen table and began recounting it.
Me, I headed for the living room to find a radio. There was a large console next to two stuffed chairs. I turned the device on and waited for it to warm up.
After a bit of squealing, it came on suddenly, already tuned to a Toledo news station.
"... as two bandits held up the First Farmer's Commerce Bank today. They shot a clerk and clubbed a bank guard. The two got away with approximately six-thousand dollars. Police in four counties are searching for the getaway car, an unknown make but emitting heavy blue smoke. The authorities are certain of the identity of one thief and are confident they will soon identify the other one. Currently they have roadbl..."
I was interrupted by a flurry of gunshots back of the house. Running out through the open kitchen door, I saw Sonia standing with a smoking gun. Fred and Emily were lying on the grass. Larry stood nearby, eating a sandwich.
"Why'd you shoot them?" I asked, causing her to swing my way, pointing her Colt at my gut. She had a look on her face – a look I hadn't ever seen before. A cold sparkling calculating gaze. "They were only old people. We could have tied them up or locked them in a closet."
"Leave her alone, Jerry. At least we don't have any witnesses now," Larry mumbled with his mouth full.
Sonia made a show of blowing on the end of her pistol while smiling to impress us. The others turned and went back inside, leaving me to drag the bodies behind bushes and out of sight.
Damn, now this was getting serious, I thought, dropping Fred's legs into the brush. I still didn't know about the bank clerk or Pop, but now it made no difference. We would be wanted for murder, for damned sure. I could say goodbye to my family and friends, having to get used to a life on the run.
And it should have been so damned easy. Get the money, split it up, and forget it. Maybe even buy into a farm of my own or try living in a big city. Why the hell did Sonia have to shoot people?
Later that night, we were all sitting in the living room listening to "Gang Busters" on the radio. I didn't pay much attention when the other two went out to the kitchen. On the radio, the play was getting toward the end. The FBI was closing in on a bunch of mobsters hiding in an apartment house. Expecting a shootout on the radio, all my attention was on that lighted dial.
I dimly sensed someone coming back out and standing behind me. My eyes were on the glowing dial, waiting for the big moment on the radio. I didn't pay any attention, thinking whoever was behind me was doing the same, listening to the finish of that engrossing tale.
There were two gunshots – but not over the air – as my chair quivered and I felt what seemed like a hammer hitting me in the back. Someone had shot me through the back of the stuffed chair.
Face down on the rug, in shock but not yet in pain, I heard a voice from above.
"I got him, baby," I heard Larry say.
Figuring I'd better play dead, I lay on my stomach.
"Geez, all the blood, Larry." I could hear Sonia. "You pull him into a bedroom or something. I don't wanna look at that body all night. Now there's only the two of us to split the money."
I could hear motion around me as I lay as quietly as possible, resisting the urge to rub my back, which was now starting to hurt – a lot.
"He's not the criminal type, would have turned us in later anyways," she said. "Watch it. Grab him by the legs or you'll get blood all over yourself. I'll get the other end."
"I don't know about this, Sonia. I think he was in love with you. He was always talking about you and him."
I could feel fingers probing both armpits, then I almost winced as I felt my shoulders and legs rise. Biting dry lips, I suppressed a groan.
"Jerry was an idiot. I only buttered him up to get someone to help with this. Who gives a shit about his feelings. He's dead now," she told Larry, making my eyes moisten – not entirely from pain.
"Lets get the asshole out of here. These damn stupid farm boys," she finished, as though to herself.
Sonia was oh, so wrong. Anger built up in my mind, eclipsing even the pain. My back hurt, but I didn't feel as weak as I thought I should. They dragged me to a bedroom and I could hear the two leave the room, shutting the door behind themselves.
"I'm a farm boy," I could dimly hear from the other room. "Don't got the idea you can shoot me for it."
"Come here, baby. I've got other plans for you." I could hear laughing then cries of passion in the living room. The same sounds I'd heard so many times before, now coming out for Larry.
I was lying on my back, the same position they dropped me in. I lay, panting, for awhile, then managed to flop over to my stomach, only to rest again. Face to the rug, I didn't notice much of a blood stain under me, only a small red patch. Funny, but I didn't seem to be bleeding to death, I thought, panic ebbing a bit at the realization.
Bringing both elbows under myself, I even managed to raise painfully onto hands and knees, then crawled up a bedpost to sit on the bed itself. Feeling behind my back, I found I wasn't too bad off.
The heavy padding on the chair must had taken the brunt of the force of the shots. Thank God Larry was carrying an old .22 snub-nosed revolver used to shoot rats at his family's feed store, probably loaded with the cheaper "short" rounds.
I could feel a lump of lead embedded in the skin of my lower back, and it hurt like hell. It felt like the bullet was just under the skin. Tearing the shirt open, I dropped it off my shoulders, letting it slide down my back, then off. Though it hurt, the pain actually helped me to keep my senses.
Stripping the top sheet off the bed, I held one end, clumsily flipping the other behind myself. Repeating the act, I pulled it as tight as I could, tying the ends across my stomach. Knowing I wouldn't be able to win any fights for awhile and that I had to got out of there before one of them came back in, I looked around.
Finding two other doors, I checked them out. One was a closet, the other led to another bedroom. Tiptoeing across the other room, I found a door to the kitchen. The slightly open doorway let me hear sounds from the living room.
From what I could hear, the two were still making love. The sounds coming from Sonia were oh, so, familiar. Strangely, when directed at another man I could tell they were faked. I didn't think Larry would be living too long. Probably only until they'd gotten away with the money and he wasn't necessary to her.
At the moment, feeling increasing pain, revenge wasn't on my mind. I only wanted out of there, out of the house and out of the whole damned mess.
Hurrying to the back door, I started out, halting when I noticed stacks of cash still sitting on the kitchen table, divided into two high piles. Why the hell not? I picked it all up and stuck it, in clumps, down the front of my makeshift bandage.
Outside, I wondered what to do. Scrambling into Larry's car, I found the keys gone from the ignition. Getting them would mean going back inside to confront the other two – out of the question. I didn't give a damn about Larry, knowing I couldn't have taken him on my best day, gun or not, and this certainly wasn't my best day.
And I didn't want to face Sonia again, not ever. Frankly, I was also slightly afraid she'd talk me into something. I didn't know what, but I didn't trust myself around her.
Instead, I headed into the field of tall corn, figuring I could lose myself in there, where they would never find me. Looking back as I ran, even in the light of the moon, I could see a clear path though the rows, stalks bent as I walked through it. Not to mention footprints in mud between the rows. I realized the bent stalks would give me away when they followed me, which they certainly would, just as soon as they finished rutting and found the money gone. So I angled away, making a large circle ending back at the farm. Since I could see the top of the barn, I couldn't get lost.
Needing a place to hide, I laboriously climbed to the cab of the combine. If they found me I'd have to fight unarmed, since there were no weapons in the single-seated enclosure, but I hoped they'd assume I ran away through the field and was hiding in it somewhere.
In retrospect, I wished I had tried to get the guns, or at least had grabbed a wrench or something from the tool box. I thought of climbing back down, but pain dissuaded me. Besides, I thought, they were probably finished by then.
Crouched on the floor of the high cab behind the stuffed seat, I had time to quiet down, nerves settling as the pain in my back decreased and muscles stiffened. At least darkness made it easier to hide, and it was getting darker.
Painfully, I tried to reach around to feel the back of the sheet, and my hand came back free of blood. The wound wasn't bleeding through the sheet, so it couldn't be all that bad. Maybe it had even stopped?
After what seemed a long time, I saw activity inside the house, lights going on all over the place. Eventually, the two of them came out with flashlights, large four-cell jobs. They started by flashing them around the back yard.
"There's blood on the steering wheel." I could hear Larry call out from his Ford.
I was already hugging the floor of the combine cab, not daring, with all those beams flashing around, to take a chance on glancing out.
"Well, look around. We have to kill that asshole," Sonia replied. "Hey! I can see where he ran into the field. He has the fucking money and must be half-dead by now. We'll get him if it takes all night."
I waited a minute or so before looking up, cautiously, and could see lights flashing around in the cornfield. All that time crouched in pain and fear had gotten me to thinking. According to the radio, they still thought it was Sonia and one other man, but didn't know who. Pop was alright with only a bruise and a headache. Myrtle wasn't too bad off either, already being interviewed at the radio station.
Other thoughts came to me. Sonia had done all the killing and would probably be back out soon, following my trail to the back yard to get me. Larry tried to kill me on her orders. I didn't really owe her anything. She was the one who talked me into that mess. Because of her, I'd probably end up dead or in prison for life.
In short, I worked myself into a vengeful rage and, rather than wait to be slaughtered, went on the offensive.
The key was in the combine ignition, and I had driven it twice before. I started the huge machine up. No longer feeling pain or fear, I put it in gear. Knowing they heard the engine, I turned all four headlights on bright and started for the corn field – right where I had come out. Before hitting the field, I pulled on levers to engage the processing engines, causing the large twenty-foot wide blades to slowly begin spinning.
Moments after entering the field, I caught Larry in my headlights. Like a bug framed in incandescent light, he remained frozen in the light beams, staring at the looming monster as I ran him down. The blades rattled a moment and threatened to hangup, but kept on rotating in the end – his end.
Sonia took a little longer. At first I couldn't find her, but when I got closer to where she was hiding I could see flashes as she shot at me. They served as guides as I ran the monster over her. I never did see her, maybe she was lying down when I hit her, but I certainly felt a bump and heard motors whine as blades ground her to shreds.
From my height, I could see a string of vehicles coming down the long lane to the farm. Some had red lights blinking on top, so I knewthey were police. There was no way I was going back there.
Not even attempting to run, I kept my cool – acting like a farmer out working late, slowly moving back and forth across the field. I kept it up for hours, getting farther and farther from the farm while watching activity there, and nobody bothered me.
The police must have thought I was a night worker and nobody wanted to run all that way through tall corn and dark sticky mud to check me out. After all, I wasn't trying to escape or anything. Finally I came to the other side of the field and found a main road. A few minutes later, a car stopped and took me back to Tiffin, where I lived.
After going home and dressing my wound, I made it to work on time in the morning. Hell, the last bullet had even worked it's own way loose by then and flopped out onto the bed as I took off the sheet.
The police eventually questioned me but I told them I'd gone to bed early in order to work in the morning. By then, they'd settled on only Sonia and Larry being involved. Besides, I had a good reputation around town and was considered a nice kid. I was believed.
A couple of months later, seeing an ad in a local newspaper, I used the money – along with some I borrowed – to buy the Johnson farm, cheap. Their son wasn't a farmer and jumped at my offer. Now I own the scene of the crime.
The police believe they've figured it out. They think Sonia and her accomplice, Larry, found a car or some other vehicle at the farm and took off for parts unknown. Sometimes I get a special feeling that Sonia is still with me. In a real sense, it's true – since I imagine a part of her in every ear of corn I grow in this field.
Charlie – hvysmker