Lawrence Polk and Tammy Soames crossed into Canada on a shimmering August day in 1974. That was the adjective Tammy used in her journal—shimmering—a “shimmering morning after the rains where even the black pavement gleams like a mirror.”
That day Lawrence had let her drive the Olds on the Interstate. She’d driven before in parking lots and fields, Lawrence coaching her, his instructions as much about the idiosyncrasies of the lumbering Olds as the fundamentals of driving. When they’d checked out of the Puyallup Motor Court that morning, Lawrence had held the passenger’s side door for her, told her to scoot over and followed her inside, reclining the seat so he could set his heels on the dash. At a rest stop around Bellingham they switched. The picture they now presented, a lanky dark-haired gentleman at the wheel, a petite blonde in a sleeveless checked summer dress next to him, was thoroughly nondescript.
“Where’s home, folks?” The border guard leaned out of his booth to scan the length of the car. Did I leave the gas cap off? Tammy thought. Will he check the trunk?
“Everett McCrawley from Kansas City, Kansas,” Lawrence said, grinning at the man. “My wife’s from Garry, Indiana originally, but we both come up from Oregon.”
“Your name, Miss?”
Tammy portioned out a nervous smile. “Tabitha Mabry.”
“Nature of your visit?”
“What you might call a working vacation,” Lawrence said. “I’m a salesman, I’m hoping to pay a few calls when we’re not taking in the sights.”
“Kind of salesman?”
“The traveling kind.”
“What product, sir.”
Lawrence grinned wide. “Our Risen Lord, or the closest thing to Him, which is His word. My product is Bibles, sir, no gimmicks or deceits–I’m sure you’ve heard the jokes. I sell only the truest and most accurate of translations, the sixteen-eleven Jacobean. Hand-bound in genuine pig leather with your choice of complimentary bookplate.”
“How long’s your visit?” Eyes crawling over Tammy. Circles under them.
“Any fruits or vegetables?”
“Nary a one, officer.”
“Enjoy your stay, sir. Ma’am.” Touching his hat brim to Tammy and nodding horizontally to Lawrence to drive on, lust and envy beneath the guard’s expression.
Seven miles from the border they pulled over near a long unbroken stretch of maple and transferred the bibles from the trunk to the back seat. They removed the carpeted plank floor of the trunk and Tammy held it while Lawrence lifted the girl’s body from the molded O where the spare would have fit. Tammy worried that a car might pass them, but none did.
The two of them carried the garbage-wrapped load into the forest until the road noise was just audible. Tammy swept wet leaves from the spot she’d chosen and loosed the earth with her hands. All the while Lawrence cradled the body, humming to himself a hymn of his own composing. He hadn’t lied to the guard about his work. His fervor for the Good Book was genuine.
When Tammy had cut a trench in the earth, Lawrence stooped and lowered the body on its side. The trench was neither deep nor wide enough and the girl’s head and arm and part of her hip jutted from the flat landscape. They drizzled handfuls of dirt over her and gathered leaves around the body.
Lawrence bowed his head. “We commit her to the earth, O Lord, for a little while anyways.” He began crowing a ragged medley of hymns, folk tunes, murder ballads, Dylan, all connected by his own strange tuneless refrain.
Tammy sneezed and the change in Lawrence was like a small appliance whose faulty electric cord has been jiggled just the right way. His back straightened and his gaze lost its playfulness. The song died. Don’t let me sneeze again, Tammy thought, but she did, this time cupping her hands over her mouth and nose.
A good part of her life was spent wondering what Lawrence Polk thought of her. She often imagined how she might look to him. She indulged in this flight now, in what could have been her last conscious moments, for the rage in his eyes at having his service interrupted brought on that dead-eyed glare that precipitated a long period of Tammy not knowing what Lawrence Polk thought or saw or whether he saw her at all, and if he did what his intentions might be.
It struck her that with her hand across her mouth she might remind him of the dead girl between them. Lawrence’s own smooth hand had clamped similarly over the girl’s mouth and nose a day before.
But thankfully he laughed, delighted at the blasphemy of the sneeze. He bent and took up a double handful of crisp leaves, part of the girl’s burial mound, and tossed them over Tammy’s head so that they showered her, leaving small flecks of maple parchment that she would find tangled in her locks after three motel showers. Lawrence peppered her with a second handful and after the third she had the courage to toss one back at him, laughing, letting him catch an arm and pin her to him, fold her down to the forest floor. They made love, and he was gentle, at least at the beginning.
Mr. L. Polk
C/O Hardwick & Associates
You would perhaps laugh to see a woman of advancing years, sitting at the kitchen counter with an Olivetti typewriter that was old when she wasn’t, while not ten feet away in another room her grandson and his friend play with something called X-box, which apparently requires you to gyrate like a maniac to make it work. The machine’s sensors turn their movements into game commands, up and down and jump and the like. It is something to see. Yet here I am, ensconced as I write this in a world and a time that now seems–of all things–quaint.
I do have your e-mail address and I am not unfamiliar with computers. The library where I worked has been computerized for twenty years. I even taught a course for little old ladies on how to use the internet and Google and the like. Me, who could barely work the gear shift in an Oldsmobile, instructing others on technology!
I’m using this old machine because I want to feel
I’ve been staring at what I just wrote. Looking down at that sentence fragment it seemed so complete, so I left it. We–the two of us as an entity–seem so divorced from the hurly-burly of the modern world. I felt ancient with you when we were young. Timeless. Perhaps using the Olivetti is an exercise in nostalgia, or a symptom of senility. Fine sentiments, aren’t they? Hardly the incandescent passion I wished to summon when I began writing this.
Do you remember that August morning in the deep forest just across the Canadian border? I remember sneezing and worrying that you would hit me, fearing for my life. But you were merciful, my love, and I felt so happy that day. Every time we grappled our love seemed born anew.
I bring that perfect day up not to reminisce, although we seniors need no excuse for that. That site, my love, is slated for development. What’s called a ‘big-box outlet,’ a mall full of stores so big that other stores set up shop inside them. Nothing is sacred–we never treated anything as such, so why do I feel such a strong stab of indignation now? Age makes us hypocrites, I suppose.
I actually had to browse one of those lurid web-sites dedicated to you to find out if the confession you made included what transpired that day. Do you know that all your trial documents are now online? Privacy is a thing of yesteryear. I’m forever thankful for the confidentiality which allows your lawyer to pass you my letters.
You left the events of that day out of your confession, to protect me, I know, though you admitted to most of the others. I worry that if the past is uncovered you will face further penalty. Please check into this with Ms. Hardwick, as I worry for you. You mean too much to too many to allow the state another chance to execute you.
I’ve enclosed the photo of me you’ve asked for, and one of my grandson. He looks very much like his mother. Keep yourself safe, my love.
Mr. L. Polk
C/O Hardwick & Associates
About the photos: you are too kind. I am glad that your talks with the chaplain stimulate you. I would caution you against putting your trust in anyone, other than Ms. Hardwick, of course. I’m sure the chaplain means well.
Yesterday a woman with light brown skin visited me. She told me she was a police sergeant and that her name was Das. She did not give a first name.
We talked a few minutes, almost small talk. She asked about my grandchildren, a topic of which I am never as brief as I mean to be. Then she asked me if I was American, and I told her yes, originally, but that I’d emigrated in ’76. She was very polite and attentive and I confess I was halfway lulled by her demeanor, until she asked about the girl in the woods.
I have no expertise in legal matters. I told her I didn’t remember. She left seemingly satisfied, but, her being such a cunning dissembler, I didn’t believe she would let the matter rest. Sure enough, she phoned this afternoon to ask if we could talk again.
I look to you for advice, darling. Miss Das (I do not believe she is married) has not revealed what evidence she has linking me to those long-ago events. I will be strong, but I need guidance. She never mentioned you, and I won’t either, not even if she threatens me with exile or imprisonment. What we have is as sacred to me as my family.
I confess, darling, sometimes I am jealous of being left out of the accounts. I felt this when the first newscasts aired, then again at your trial. All the articles and books, and not a mention of me. If I meant a thousandth part to you what you meant to me, and still mean, then I must consider myself some small part of the Lawrence Polk story. After all, it wasn’t only that August morning. The boy with the guitar in Topanga Canyon, asking us for a ride. You didn’t trust me to drive then but you did trust me to hold your toolkit. I remember the feeling. Liberation is the word you always used. I prefer Love. I felt love for you then in your trust in me and your bravery in opening yourself. You are the bravest man I know.
Help me find some of that bravery, darling.
Yours with love, in need of liberation,
C/O Hardwick & Associates
Your last letter distresses me, as does your “conversion.” This chaplain sounds sinister in his eagerness to force you to renounce what will always be your identity. He cheapens and makes tawdry what is sacred. Remember last letter when I told you that I felt love during our acts together? You felt that too. It radiated from you. Like glory. Perhaps you cannot feel it at present, locked away as you are, but trust in the warmth of your memories.
I have a confession for you. That August morning after we made love, remember how you decided all of a sudden to move on? You were always making decisions like that. You knew how to heed your impulses, a trait I lacked entirely till I met you. You dressed first and stamped off through the leaves to start the car, which was always a chore. I told you I had to find my pocketbook. I asked you to help me but you were in a hurry to get to the next town. I looked and looked but couldn’t find it. When you asked me on the road did I find it I told you yes. Why? Because I sensed lurking beneath your good mood that anger which comes on you, and I feared ruining that perfect day.
Sergeant Das returned and showed me the pocketbook, well preserved considering it had spent thirty-odd years in the forest. She asked me how it came to be with the girl and I told her I didn’t know. Which wasn’t a lie: I thought I made sure it wasn’t near the mound. But in that carpet of leaves, who could be sure?
Stay strong, my love, or if you can’t, think of your previous strength and remember it fondly. Take the chaplain with a grain or two of salt. I couldn’t bear the thought of you submitting willingly like a slave to his authority.
Love as always,
The old woman’s teacup rattled in her hand. She was staring past Sergeant Mira Das, her dark green eyes fixed to the tawny head atop the couch all that was visible of her grandson. He sat on the floor in front of the TV, watching an Asian cartoon.
Das felt the old woman had something to tell her. During their first conversation Mrs. Johnson had played the addlebrained senior. The second time she’d been evasive. Now, as they sat across the dining table from each other, Das was sure the woman wanted to talk. Das knew enough to be quiet and let her.
“What I’m about to tell you,” Mrs. Johnson began, still not taking her eyes from the boy. “This is hard for me.”
“Take your time,” Das said, smiling, palms on the table. Would it be too much to pat the woman’s hand? she wondered.
“It was so very long ago, but thinking on it seems to make it happen again. I was young and naive, free-spirited. The man I was with was charming and handsome and passionate. I thought he loved me.”“Do you remember his name?” Das said.
The woman nodded. “It was the most horrible instant of my life,” she said, voice creaking at the middle syllable of horrible. “He strangled that poor woman whose name I don’t even know. He held a pistol on me and told me that if I drove him across the border he’d let me live. Once we were over he made me dig a hole for the girl while he held the gun on me, laughing all the while and singing his Bible verses.”
Gears ground in Sergeant Das’s head.
“Then he–had his way with me and told me if I ever spoke a word of this to anyone he’d–not only kill me, but my mother and father–and–”
The old woman was whispering the words. In the other room the child was oblivious. Das noted the pain on her face. She let her hand rest on Mrs. Johnson’s.
“What was his name?” Das said, feeling the old woman’s veins through her skin, skin as soft as Irish linen. “Do not be afraid. I promise you we can protect you. But we need to know his name.”
“Lawrence Polk,” Mrs. Johnson said. And Das’s hands slid across the table to brace herself.
C/O Sloan and Ketterman
[With instructions to be shown to recipient alone and then incinerated.]
“Why?” you wrote.
Could you appreciate the answer, Lawrence?
You use the words “evil” and “malicious.” You were always above such moralizing. Your precious chaplain has warped you. Worse–he’s unmade you. You who used to boast that you’d built yourself brick by brick, from a young boy escaping his father into a man. That chaplain collapsed you with a few well-chosen psalms.
I sense you think it unfair, your “conversion” so recent and your date of execution now so near. Scant months to enjoy being the “new man” you think you are. It might occur to the Lawrence Polk I loved to use the word “evil,” but he would positively shun any invocation of fairness.
What does this “new you” think we were doing? Who do you think you were?
No matter. You asked me why, and I’ll indulge you, as I always do.
Because I fear prison.
Because I despise the creature you’ve allowed yourself to become.
Because I want to see my grandson as often as possible, even if only the back of his head as he plays his computer games. His presence comforts me. You wanted me to live my life–how can you shrug off responsibility when I tell you that that life is precious to me?
And because I am older, and perhaps I too have started to doubt.
As for the other letters, let Ms. Hardwick use them if she deems. A lot of people carry the initials ‘T.M.’ and own Olivetti typewriters. Neither is true of me–or will be once I’ve finished this last epistle.
When you’re gone I’ll think well of you. Try to think well of yourself. Have courage. Rest assured I’ll show him the journal when he’s older.
Let us think of each other as we did on that bright, shimmering August day.
Fondness and care,
From subTerrain #68 (Pulp Fiction)