DEEP CITY in Times Roman

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Wheat from the Shaft

Not long afterwards, Sophia spoke with Daniel again. And it was the last time, she was certain. When she slammed down the receiver, she awakened Jason, who’d sprawled next to Adam. Both of them had cocooned in sleeping bags on Tom’s living-room floor. Although Tom had hedged on agreeing to let Lynette and Shirley sleep over, he had no qualms about allowing Adam and Jason to stay. Adam was welcome, of course, because he was Sophia’s son, and Jason because Tom deemed the farmer “wonderful. So genuine. True Americana.”

Jason blinked, pulled himself up, then scratched his head. He squinted at Sophia, wiped his mouth and grinned. “Kinda late to be phonin’ someone, ain’t it?”

“Apparently so.” Sophia shrugged. “It’s an hour earlier there.”

“Sounds like you gotta a problem with someone.”

Sophia sighed. “So it goes. But I’ve got bigger problems than that to worry about.”

Jason shook his head. “Not a pretty gal like you with a fine son like this—”

She glared at him.

“Sorry.” He frowned. “Just tryin’ to cheer you up. Sometimes folks get down when things get rough ’cause they forget all they have goin’ for ’em.”

“You’re probably right.” She bit her lip. Amazing insight for such a hick, she thought, but said about that. Instead, she replied, “I can’t bother you with my worries.”

“I don’t mind.” He shrugged. “It’d be better to tell me something I can help you with.”

She smiled and rubbed her chin. “I don’t suppose you’d know how to make a bomb?”

He tilted his head to the left, then scratched it again. “Well, that depends.” He looked at her and seemed to stare through her. “Depends upon the kind of bomb you need. We used to make bombs that were kinda like fireworks to shoo birds away from the crops.”

She lifted her eyebrows. “They mainly made noise, didn’t they? I mean, they wouldn’t blow up anything or—”

Jason first chuckled then leaned back on his elbows, shook his head and laughe. “They did a pretty good job of blowing up my pop’s woodshed. One day, me and Pop sat in the orchard, waiting for the sun to set. I kept lookin’ at the huge string of M-80s that dangled from a limb on an old oak. We’d twisted all the fuses around a long fuse so every one of them firecrackers hung by themselves, but they was tied into each other. See, there was a huge flock of crows that kept chowin’ down on our peaches and apples. That day, a big old, black cloud—think you call it a cumulus—started rollin’ ’n’ tumblin’ over itself, movin’ closer ’n’ closer to us. And the crows started comin ’bout then. A huge flock of ’em. They circled the orchard. So me and Pop went to work fast. Pop tugged out a box of wood matches from the bib of his overalls, lit the long fuse, then we ducked behind an apple tree. Seemed to take nearly forever for that first M-80 to blow. But when it went, the others blew right afterwards. Them crows had started to land, but they took right to the air when the M-80s exploded. And one crow had already roosted in that oak before Pop lit the wick. A piece of one of the M-80s hit him, and his wings caught fire.”

Jason stopped and yawned. “Well, that crow took off with its flaming wings, lookin’ like a wayward comet or something, and we thought it’d land in a field somewhere and scorch itself to death. Smoke clogged up the orchard like some giant fog, and the smell of gunpowder was so thick, it hid the smell of the burning wood from the shed. By the time we could smell tar smokin’ from the shingles, we could see flames from the building. And maybe it was good we didn’t see it sooner ’cause we mighta been inside tryin’ to put out the fire. See, we kept gasoline for the tractor in that old shed. ‘Get back,’ Pop yelled. ‘Run up to the house. That shed’s gonna blow!’ So we scrambled up the hill and turned back around to watch. Boy! Did that shed blow!” Jason whistled.

“So it was the gasoline that caused the large explosion?” Sophia asked. The story enthralled her. While Jason recounted his tale, Sophia had leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees, her chin on her palms.

“Probably.” He twitched his nose then leaned back and yawned again. “’Course fireworks have exploded factories, too.” Then he rubbed his nose and squinted. “Why’d you want to know how to make a bomb?”

She sat up erect, then shifted her weight from hip to hip. “For some research I’m doing.”

“Well, the problem is, that gasoline and those M-80s can get pretty messy.” Jason lay back in the sleeping bag and closed his eyes. “But you know, in the Army Airforce, we used an explosive that’s a whole lot cleaner, a lot smaller and easier to conceal. Does lots of damage, too. Powerful stuff. Only takes a tad to do it. It’s called C-40.”

Sophia looked at him and chewed her lip. Then she stared out Tom’s picture window at the Washington Monument. Its slitty eyes seemed to wink at her.

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