Listen (10:08) The Wreck of the Amtrak’s Silver Service
einrick Clever, MD, FACS asked his wife Agnes to have a special anniversary dinner. Thirty-two years. They never ate together anymore. They really rarely talked after his affair with nurse Penny Pram, even though Agnes fully understood and forgave him years ago. Agnes still loved life, God, her dog, and her bridge parties. Her ecstasy seemed limitless. She was always too much about everything. He hated her unwavering joy that kept her brain from generating even the slightest blip on the EEG of life’s battery of significant ideas. She had been the sea-fog around his ship of opportunity, happily obscuring his chances of advancement, cheerfully diverting any choices that could have made him great. She had, insidiously, buried him in this godforsaken town with her mundane acceptance of everything with excessive good humor. He could have been a Parchlick Scholar, or a CJ Beatty in-house surgeon, for Christ’s sake. He was that good.
At dinner, in the silences between them, he revisited the weekly cycle of her habits: Church on Sundays, grocery shop on Mondays, gardening on Tuesdays and often Fridays. She volunteered at Goodwill on Thursdays. Saturday, without fail, she walked the country roads with one or two of her good friends. Wednesday evenings were always for her bridge club. He was tired of thinking about her routines, as regular and irritating as a loose bowel movement. It was that moment he began to plan, slowly and meticulously—generating a delay in his decision to act alone that proved prudent—and that strategem delivered to him the perfect solution for Agnes.
Henrick had an emergency call to the hospital and for weeks he tended Billie Bob who was charred and half crazed after he almost burned to death in a car wreck following an alleged, but never proven, bank robbery. Under Heinrick’s care, Billie Bob improved, although his thinking zigzagged at times. Heinrick became obsessed with Billie Bob’s past, and how it might fit into the future.
In one of Billie Bob’s lucid moments, the doc pulled down the hospital gown to where some good skin had survived and exposed a tattoo just below Billie Bob’s left clavicle; a clock the size of a half-dollar, the hands frozen at the twelve o’clock position, but no number twelve, and only the numbers for hours one through seven along the dial edge, some light, others darker, as if they had been done at different times.
The doctor questioned with a frown. When Billie Bob didn’t respond he asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a clock.”
“I don’t get it.”
Billie Bob cackled. “You don’t really want to know.”
“I do. Did you commit . . .?”
“Wha . . .?”
“Don’t say that word doc. Never say that word.”
“Accidental, wasn’t it?” Henrick smiled knowingly and noted that Billie Bob didn’t see the humor in the antonym. That frightened the doc a little. “You’d never do that on purpose,” Henrick said to ease the tension.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Billie Bob said.
“You do. It’s important to me.”
Billie Bob kept quiet but the doc studied his face. “I can read you like a book,” Heinrick said.
“It’s a living, doc. I never done nothing that I didn’t think was deserved.”
Heinrick was slightly ashamed of the thrill that surged through him when he knew for certain Billie Bob was the man he needed. And Billie Bob owed Heinrick for healing him too. So, day-by-day, Heinrick slowly presented a plan in oblique, vague installments. It took a long time for Billie Bob to be convinced of Heinrick’s misery and to get the plan right . . . and agree. Then they finally agreed on a price. One hundred thousand dollars.
“You’re a little odd, doc,” Billie Bob told Heinrick.
“But I’m the best at cutting ‘em open and sewing ‘em up,” Heinrick said with a laugh.
Billie Bob was antithetical to complexity. Heinrick wanted to shoot Agnes on his first thought, or, as a second possibility, poison her. Not for Billie Bob who also didn’t like up-close blood and didn’t do knives. But Heinrick insisted Agnes must suffer. God had spoken to him, Heinrick added for emphasis, although he despised the thought of God. He wanted to never see Agnes exhale again, he said repeatedly, with clarity, but reverently following Billie Bob’s insistence about not saying the forbidden word.
It took months for Billie Bob to fully heal and the time to finally come, a cold windy night with a light snow cover. Visibility was low. Billie Bob unzipped his parka and pulled down the collar to show–with a pocket flashlight–the clock tattoo.
“I got me a little needle work,” Billie Bob said.
The doc stared. There were two numbers freshly added to the clock, eight and nine.
“I got the eight. Why the nine?” the doc asked.
Billie Bob laughed. “This is a tough one for me,” he said. “Complexity.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Lot of integrated stuff. Deserves a nine.”
Billie Bob zipped his jacket back up with a smile.
Heinrick eased the family car onto the railroad tracks with Agnes sitting bound and gagged inside in the back. Heinrick killed the engine. Billie Bob parked his car on the road. Even when they untied her, Agnes did not struggle or speak. Billie Bob put her gently into the driver’s seat. Agnes remained still and Billie Bob put the can of chloroform he’d used to knock her out back in his pocket. “Good,” Heinrick said. Billie Bob secured the doors from the outside. Heinrick stood behind him breathing hard and fast. Agnes had regained her senses and stared straight at Billie Bob, nonjudgmental, without a hint of fear, and a faint smile that disturbed Billie Bob but inflamed Heinrick all over again.
In minutes, the Amtrack engine whistled around the bend; both Billie Bob and Heinrick were sure the train would not slow for the remote crossing. The headlight pierced the darkness. The barriers descended, The warnings lights flashed. Heinrick stood near a tree by the roadside and watched the express bear down on Agnes, the definitive object of vengeance. Billie Bob stayed down near the barrier to the last minute to be sure Agnes didn’t get free from the car somehow.
A hundred yards from the car the engineer reacted, the train braked skidding on the tracks toward Agnes. Sparks flew with a screech of steel on steel. Heinrick saw Agnes, her face pulsing red then white from the blaze of the crossing lights. She sat motionless, and he was sure she still smiled. He pulsed with anger. Whap! The train threw the sedan fifty feet into the air to land away from the tracks upside down. The car was ripped open, windows smashed, a fire flickered under the rear axle near the gas tank. Agnes lay in a ditch, her severed head resting right-side down on her breast, attached only by a piece of skin.
Heinrick raised a fist into the air. “Yes,” he cried. “We did it.”
Billie Bob approached carrying the crowbar. “I sort of admired her sitting there like she seemed to take a punch in the face standing up without moving,” he said.
“She was scared out of her mind!” That was what Heinrick hoped after all the years he suffered her bland, water-drip torture. But deep down he was enraged at her serene acceptance. Her smile at the end had already begun to haunt him.
“No doc. She was . . .uhhh . . . like she didn’t care. I liked her spirit.”
Heinrick could not comprehend Billie Bob’s thinking, and frankly found him crazier than he originally had thought.
With one swing, Billie Bob hit the doc in the neck with the crowbar. Heinrick, frozen with surprise, sank to his knees.
“What’s this?” Heinrick said looking up at Billie Bob with wobbly eyes, his neck was broken in two places. “I got the money,” Henrick wheezed. His hand weakly patted the money in a satchel by his side. “Why?”
“She was a better soul than you,” Billie Bob said.
“You made a deal,” Henrick said.
Billie Bob hit Heinrick with a direct whack to the head. The skull cracked.
“What kind of man are you?” Henrick said on the edge of incoherence and death.
“You one crazy dude,” Billie Bob said, pounding the doc’s head with two more blows. Then he tossed the crowbar into the withered weeds that stuck up through the snow blanket waiting for spring.
Heinrick took a last breath, gurgling with blood.
“It ain’t all about money,” Billie Bob said to the doc. “You ain’t got no sense about what’s good in people.”
Billie Bob took the satchel with the cash from Heinrick’s right-hand death grasp and disappeared, well before the first emergency personnel arrived.