it began on a windy summer morning on the nebraska-wyoming border, where the waving yellow cornfields gave way abruptly to the rolling gray sheep fields. it had not rained in weeks, but a thunderstorm was in the air.
john dillinger had driven across wyoming from san francisco by way of reno. he had come alone.
j edgar hoover and clyde purvis had driven across nebraska from chicago by way of st louis.
dillinger arrived fifteen minutes ahead of the two lawmen. he finished off the quart of whiskey that had kept him company on the long trip, and tossed the bottle into the cornfields across the road. a scarecrow in the field shouted at him, but he ignored it.
hoover and purvis arrived and got out of their packard. purvis sat down on the running board and began fanning himself with his flat straw hat. hoover, cool as ever in his brown suit, walked up to dillinger.
dillinger nodded at purvis and laughed. "he's been in a car for a thousand miles and doesn't want to get out and stand on his feet."
"i will worry about him," hoover answered. "what is going on?"
"it's the lady in red. she's taken the ticket."
"just like i said."
"yeah, just like you said. you were right, i was wrong." dillinger squinted out into the corn fields. "but now it's up to both of us to make it up to the corn god."
"but he is not here," hoover pointed out.
'he's here. i bet that is him right there." dillinger pointed to the scarecrow. he took a briefcase out of the back seat of his pierce arrow and started to walk through the rows of corn toward it, with hoover behind him. hoover looked back over his shoulder. purvis had lit a cigarette and was still sitting on the running board, leaning back on the door of the packard.
dillinger pushed his way up to the scarecrow. "ok., we are here," he said to it. "now what?"
the scarecrow/corn god laughed. "your friend here didn't even recognize me."
"don't think i'm not embarrassed," said hoover. "because i am."
"don't worry about it," dillinger said. "you haven't dealt with these gods as much as i have. you'll get used to their ways."
"gentlemen, please," said the corn god. "i haven't got all day to stand here." he smiled to show this was a joke, but neither of them laughed.
"he's got a pretty primitive sense of humor, doesn't he," said hoover to dillinger.
"yeah, they're all idiots," said dillinger. "that's the first thing you have to learn about them."
"and humans have no manners, talking about folks as if they weren't there," said the corn god. "that's the first thing you learn about them."
"let's get on with it." said dillinger. he opened his briefcase. it contained eight silver bullets wrapped in cellophane and nine plastic roses, also wrapped in cellophane.
"here you are. just what you wanted, the souls of seventeen young girls."
"young girls! whatever gave you the idea i wanted the souls of young girls? that's not what the corn god wants."
dillinger looked over at hoover. hoover just raised his eyebrows.
"what do you want?" dillinger asked finally. "we are to serve you."
"the souls of wild horses. of white tigers, of fat ladies - not young girls."
"our intentions were good," said hoover. "we will go back and try to make amends. meanwhile, do our good intentions count for anything?"
"the gods don't deal with intentions, sir. we don't recognize such things. that is just pathetic human stupidity."
dlllinger took the briefcase and threw it out into the cornfield. the silver bullets and plastic roses flew out of it and the souls of the seventeen young girls escaped and drifted away. they called out to each other and their voices fell like raindrops on to the windows of the pierce arrow and the packard.
"maybe you shouldn't have done that," said hoover.
the corn god had disappeared. the scarecrow was just a scarecrow again.
"let's get out of here."
they crossed the cornfield. dillinger got back behind the wheel of the pierce arrow. hoover and purvis got into the packard and when dillinger pulled out on to the highway they followed him.
dillinger headed to lincoln. hoover and purvis stayed close behind. a few drops of heavy rain began to fall. when they had gone about six miles they saw three of the escaped young girls hitchhiking. dillinger accelerated past them and purvis followed suit.
"what has that idiot done now?" hoover muttered. it began to rain harder.