from Cardinal Numbers
MADRID, IN NEBRASKA’S SOUTHWEST corner, in the wide terraced plain below the Platte, had a Hog & Hominy Fest annually until 1978. There are three taverns in the town, two hardware stores, a Boys’ Club, a pistol range, and Strunk Fabrication, where crèche figures and baptismal fonts are made by a system of injection molding.
IN August of 1977, Ron Maddox was planning a future there. He had come to his wife’s country from North Dakota. Ron’s Pythagoras ABM Silo Group Commander, Lieutenant Benkelman, had been the best man at the wedding in Minot. Bonnie was expecting a child, but she wasn’t pregnant yet.
IT was only the fact of having once received a Visible Man anatomy doll for Christmas that prepared Kallinger for what he was to find all over the kitchen of Unit No. 6 at the mobile home park just off the county blacktop midway between Madrid and La Paz. Interim Coroner Perk Feed had so little to work with that even a preliminary finding seemed unlikely. Feed’s right leg was some two and one quarter inches shorter than his left, due to a fraternity initiation.
WAS Fran the kind of woman who would go all the way to Yankton for bridgework? Why had Lute Strunk rotated his best acres into sorghum? His CB handle was “Fledermaus,” and some said he had peculiar ideas about Jews.
AT 9:15 a.m. on Friday, Miss Clara Musil reported that her collection of little glass animals had been vandalized by a one-armed man. The light-blue hatchback had been abandoned next to the Elks Hall. Both Reverend and Mrs. LaFollette were treated for hyperventilation.
KALLINGER, at the subsequent awards dinner, wearing a strap-in-the-back “Go ’Huskers” baseball cap, refused to eat his portion of tapioca pudding until someone had tasted it first, and later proposed a curious toast “to Negro banking interests.”
“HE wanted the best of both worlds,” said a bureau insider.
Donna, Benkelman’s estranged wife, disagrees. Living in San Diego now, she has legally adopted Fran’s two sons and works as a commercial illustrator.
“Gas spectrometry is fine. Fiber analysis is fine. But people want a good, human story, and in this case they didn’t get it.”
SUSPICION of multiple sodomy focused on a “drifter” with a history of bronchiectasis. Someone had caused Jud Musil’s feed troughs to be infected with hog cholera. These were theories congruent with mutual distrust.
“We lacked a fallback position,” one resident later observed. “Pictures just didn’t tell the story.”
AND then on a crisp October morning, during the final hour of Ingo Feed’s Stop & Swap radio show, a strangely insistent man phoned in to offer his entire collection of bat-wing fans in exchange for “the global freezing design.”
BY now people were beginning to ask hard questions about the investigative reporter in their midst. Complicitous terrorist supplying atrocity photos to clients in Melbourne, Rome, Pernambuco, and Dubai? Semiliterate impostor becalmed in a delusional world of Mod Squad reruns?
OVER treacherous, ice-glazed roads, normally temperate, circumspect farm families drove the forty-five miles to Arbeiter Mall so they could dine at a Polynesian restaurant. Owner Gus Triandos would boast once too often about his acquaintance with high-level research. The baby back ribs were moist, tender, imaginatively sauced.
TRIAL proceedings, convened at the county seat of Bogota, began the first week of the new year under the guidance of Judge Pangloss LaFollette, no relation.
Dr. Shah, for the prosecution, explained that, as an “outsider,” he’d had little success in convincing the authorities, even in the face of corroborative evidence from a degreed caseworker, that the dozens of cigarette burns on the chest were cause for alarm. Dr. Zweig, for the defense, described Ron as “a man without qualities.” Fran, according to the testimony of a Chicago psychic, was operating a barge on the Loire.
“QUITE simply, there are no words to describe what Mrs. Maddox has already paid in suffering,” said a friend of the family.
BONNIE appeared each day in the same oyster-gray ensemble, occupied the same front-row seat. Her only change of expression, a slight moue disarranging normally serene features, came as a result of Kallinger’s breakdown on the stand, his admission that “I never learned to hit the curveball.”
THE jury, perhaps overly sequestered, imposed its inability to reach a verdict.