K eith Landry was going home after twenty-five years at the front. He turned his Saab 900 off Pennsylvania Avenue onto Constitution and headed west, along the Mall toward Virginia, crossing the Potomac at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. He caught a glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial in his rearview mirror, gave a wave, and continued west on Route 66, away from Washington.
* * *
Western Ohio, eight P.M. , daylight saving time, mid-August, and Keith Landry remarked to himself that the sun was still about fifteen degrees above the horizon. He had nearly forgotten how much light remained here at this hour, at the end of the eastern time zone, and had forgotten how big his country was.
The driving on the flat, straight road was easy and mindless, so Landry allowed himself some thinking that he’d been putting off: The Cold War was over, which was the good news. Many Cold Warriors had been given pink slips, which, for Keith Landry, was the bad news.
But God had taken pity at last, Landry thought, and with a puff of divine breath blew away the pall of nuclear Armageddon that had hung over the planet for nearly half a century. Rejoice. We are saved.
I will gladly beat my sword into a plow
share or pruning hook, and even my 9mm Glock pistol
into a paperweight.
Well, perhaps not gladly. But what was his choice?
The Cold War, once a growth industry, had downsized, leaving its specialists, technicians, and middle management exploring other options. On an intellectual level, Landry knew this was the best thing to happen to humanity since the Gutenberg printing press put a lot of monks out of work. On a more personal level, he was annoyed that a government that had taken twenty-five years of his life couldn’t have found enough peace dividend to keep him around for five more years and full retirement pay.
But okay, Washington was two days ago and six hundred miles behind him. Today was day three of life two. Whoever said that there were no second acts in American lives had never worked for the government.
He hummed a few bars of “Homeward Bound” but found his own voice grating and switched on the radio. The scanner locked on to a local station, and Landry listened to a live report from the county fair, followed by a community bulletin board announcing church activities, a 4-H meeting, a VFW picnic, and so forth, followed by crop and livestock prices, hot tips on where the fish were running, and an excruciatingly detailed weather report. There were tornadoes in southern Indiana. Landry shut off the radio, thinking he’d heard this very same news a quarter century ago.
But a lot had happened to him in those years, most of it dangerous. He was safe now, and alive, whereas for the past quarter century he’d felt that he had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. He smiled. “Homeward bound.”
Sure, he admitted, he had mixed emotions, and he had to sort them out. Two weeks ago he was in Belgrade exchanging threats with the minister of defense, and today he was in Ohio listening to a twangy voice speculating about hog prices. Yes, he was safe but not yet sound.
Landry settled back in his seat and paid attention to his driving. He liked the feel of the open road, and the Saab handled beautifully. The car’s unusual shape attracted curious attention when Landry passed through the small towns and hamlets of western Ohio, and he thought he should probably trade it in for less of a conversation piece when he took up residence in Spencerville.
The cornfields stretched as far as the deep blue sky, and here and there a farmer had planted soybeans, or wheat, or alfalfa. But mostly it was corn: field corn to fatten livestock and sweet corn for the table. Corn. Corn syrup, cornstarch, cornflakes, cornmeal, corn, corn, corn, Landry thought, to fatten an already fat nation. Landry had been in a lot of famine areas over the years, so maybe that’s why the sight of the heartland’s bounty made him think of fat.
“For amber waves of grain,” he said aloud. He noticed that the crops were good. He had no vested interest in the crops, neither as a farmer nor as a man who held crop futures. But he’d spent the first eighteen years of his life listening to everyone around him talk about the crops, so he noticed them wherever he was, in Russia, in China, in Somalia, and now, coming full circle, in western Ohio.
Landry saw the sign for Spencerville, downshifted, and took the
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