American Elsewhere - By Robert Jackson Bennett


Even though it is a fairly cool night, Norris is sweating abundantly. The sweat leaks out of his temples and the top of his skull and runs down his cheeks to pool around his collarbones. He feels little trickles weaving down his arms to soak into the elbows and wrists of his shirt. The entire car now has a saline reek, like a locker room.

Norris is sitting in the driver’s seat with the car running, and for the past twenty minutes he’s been debating whether leaving the car running was a good idea or not. He’s made several mental charts of pros and cons and probabilities, and overall he thinks it was a good idea: the odds that someone will notice the sound of a car idling on this neighborhood lane, and check it out and sense something suspicious, feel fairly low; whereas the odds of him fumbling with the ignition or the clutch if he needs to start the car quickly seem very, very high right now. He is so convinced of his own impending clumsiness that he hasn’t even dared to take his hands off the steering wheel. He is gripping it so hard and his palms are so sweaty that he doesn’t know if he could remove them if he tried. Suction, he thinks. I’m stuck here forever, no matter who notices what.

He’s not sure why he’s so worried about being noticed. No one lives in the neighboring houses. Though it is not posted anywhere—in any visual manner, that is—this part of town is not open to the public. There is only one resident on this street.

Norris leans forward in his seat to reexamine the house. He is parked right before its front walk. Behind the car is a small, neat gravel driveway that breaks off from the paved road and curves down the slope to a massive garage. The house itself is very, very big, but its size is mostly hidden behind the Englemann spruces; one can make out only hints of pristine white wooden siding, sprawling lantana, perfectly draped windows, and clean red-brick walls. And there, at the end of the front walk, is a modest, inviting front door with a coat of bright red paint and a cheery bronze handle.

It is a flawless house, really, a dream house. It is a dream house not only in the sense that anyone would dream of living there; rather, it is so perfect that a house like this could exist only in a dream.

Norris checks his watch. It has been four minutes by now. The wind runs through the pines, and the sound of thousands of whispering needles makes him shiver. Otherwise, it is quiet. But it is always quiet near homes like this, and it is always ill-advised to venture out at night in Wink. Everyone knows that. Things could happen.

He sits up: there are noises coming from the garage. Voices. He grips the steering wheel a little harder.

Two dark figures in ski masks emerge from the garage dragging something bulky between them. Norris stares at them in dismay as they begin making their way up to the car. When they finally get close enough, he rolls down the passenger-side window and whispers, “What happened? Where’s Mitchell?”

“Shut up!” one of them says.

“Where is he? Did you leave him in there?”

“Will you shut up and open the trunk?”

Norris starts to, but he is distracted by what they are carrying. It appears to be a short man wearing a blue sweater and khakis, but his hands and feet are tightly bound, and a burlap sack has been pulled down over his face. Yet despite all this the man is speaking very, very quickly, almost chanting: “… Cannot succeed, will not succeed, such a vain hope that I personally cannot imagine, do you understand, I cannot imagine it. You do not have the authorities, the privileges, and without those this is but sand brushing over my neck, do you understand, no more than reeds dancing in violent waters…”

“Open the fucking trunk already!” says one of the men.

Norris, startled, reaches over and pulls the trunk lever. The trunk pops open and the two drag the hooded man back, stuff him in, and slam it shut. Then they scramble back around and jump in the backseat.

“Where’s Mitchell?” asks Norris again. “What happened to him?”

“Fucking drive!” shouts one of the men.

Norris glances at the house again. There is movement in all the windows now—could those be dark figures pacing back and forth