Threatening clouds huddled over the Iowa cornfields. Monstrous flashes strobed through the thunderheads. The still air was charged with electricity.
"Have you ever seen a tornado?" Brock asked with his video recorder out the window.
"Only in WIZARD OF OZ." Twisters killed people and I stepped on the gas. Brock studied the map. We hadn't seen a single human being for an hour.
We're heading north, right?" The Scotsman couldn't drive, but as a covert agent he knew the points of the compass.
"Yes." I was headed away from the storm front.
"You know where?"
The unpaved rural road paralleled US 169. No one in New York or London had ever traveled this route through Iowa.
"When you think that family left that house?" asked Brock, as we passed a one-story farmhouse haunting an overgrown yard.
"Back in the 90s." The paint was peeling off its wood like potato chips.
Brock was the boss and I punched the brakes to batslide to a halt on the dirt road.
I got out of the rented Ford and shut of the engine.
The storm lurked farther to the south. The mutter of distant thunder invaded the still spring fields. I didn't feel safe.
Brock set up his camera and explained more about his documentary on a dying Irish sculptor.
"Barry once said to a journalist, “I enjoy the third dimension and I appreciate material in time and space. I find it exciting to the eyes.”
"Then he'll love this." The strengthening wind bent the trees. The four elements were gathering force.
"Barry will love this."
The Irish sculptor was losing control of his body back on Ibiza.
"Let's go." I didn't like the look of the sky.
Thirty miles down the road we stopped at the Blackcat Fireworks store.
The sky was clearing. We had outrun the storm.
Brock tried my cellphone.
There was no service.
"I love a little pyrotechnics." He entered the store and spent $100 on rockets and M80s.
Four days ago Brock had been in Afghanistan and he was homesick for the sounds of war.
Twenty minutes later we braked on a empty road. Iowa had thousands of them. We pulled out the fireworks. I lit the fuses and Brock watched the explosions.
"Not even close to the real thing," he said, as the report of the last M80 faded into the treeline.
"Much." He didn't want to talk anymore about it and we got back in the car.
Our next destination was Des Moines, which was Iowa's capitol.
We arrived after 5.
The city was devoid of people.
"Is America dead?" Brock said, as if a plague had killed my countrymen.
"After work people flee the cities for the suburbs."
Des Moines has suburbs?
They were the great social experiment of the 60s." I had grown up in a pink split-level ranch house south of Boston. It had a two-car garage. "Cars gave Americans freedom to go where they wanted."
"Away from blacks?"
"Yes." Iowa was 95% white. My hometown had a population of 25,000. Only three families were black. "Segregation is the American Way."
I drove to the Flanagan hare at the city's Art Center. I stayed in the car, as Brock focused his camera on the statue. He interviewed homeless people for their impression of the hare. No one else's was left in the city. I called Thailand.
My son Fenway was better.
His mother was angry at me.
"Why you go trip? Why you not see son?"
We spent the night on the outskirts of Des Moines. Brock and I ate ribs at the restaurant was next to the motel. The TV over the bar showed fast cars. This was Nascar Country. At the end of the meal I ordered a doggie bag. Neither of us could finish our ribs.
"Why did Barry sculpt hares?" I discerned no difference between hares and rabbits.
"One day he bought a dead rabbit from a butcher in England and remembered a jumping hare. To him the hare represented freedom. All kinds of freedom."
"Freedom is a rarity in America these days. All kinds of freedom."
"Better than Afghanistan."
"What about your hippie friend? Doesn't he live in Iowa?"
"Thanks for reminding me. No one was freer than Rockford back in the day."
I loved being a hippie almost as much as being young.
Before I went to sleep, I called my friend Rockford in Iowa City.
The old hippie was looking forward to seeing us.
"I have a surprise for you."
"What?" I hated surprises.
"You'll see when you get here."
The next morning we left Des Moines. Silos towered over the old highway.
"This is farmland." Iowa was the center of America.
"Corn and wheat."
"Tortillas and bread."
"And prisons. My friend Rockford spent two years at the state penitentiary. It's across the Mississippi from Illinois."
"I doubt he had a room with a view. What he get done for?" Brock was very open-minded for a spy.
"The police raided his farmhouse for pot." Rockford had been growing weed on his Back Forty. Someone had snitched him out on a plea bargain. Snitches were a problem everywhere. "Growing pot is a felony, but the police also found some cocaine and the judge hit Rockford with a three-year bid."
"Better here than Bagram prison in Kabul."
"Bad?." I had seen pictures. The government claimed the abuse was an isolated case, but the US military and CIA had tortured thousands.
"Rockford doesn't talk about it.
"Most people don't. Are we're meeting him tonight?"
"But of course. Rockford and I go back to an acid trip on Moonlight Beach in 1974. "LSD? Do tell."
I told the story of speaking with seals, as we followed the train tracks out of Des Moines. Brock laughed upon hearing about my attempt to speak French with the seal.
"What's for lunch?"
It was getting near noon.
"There's this old Pietist colony in Amana." Iowa had plenty of religious sects. We had passed through several Memmonite communities and seen Amish in horse-drawn buggies.
"An old German sect rejected Lutheranism back in the 1700s." I had no idea about their tents, but hazarded a guess. "The Lutherans were too zealous. They fought wars over their beliefs. The Pietists fled Germany and then America. Iowa is a good state for freedom of religion. They were skilled craftsmen and now make refrigerators."
"I knew Amana sounded familiar." Brock had lived in America for a decade as a playwright. The Arts were a good cover for covert agents. "Their food has to be better than McDonalds."
"We'll soon find out." I turned off the highway.
Only a few tourists were visiting the Heritage site. It was still too early in the season. I ordered chicken pot pie and Brock chose a ham steak. The waitress served us water. There was no beer on the menu.
Brock filmed our meals.
"Barry likes to see everything."
"How much longer you think he has."
He had been a young man as had Brock and I had once been back in the 70s.
"He might last to the end of the summer." Brock intended on visiting the artist in Ibiza after our return to New York and aimed the camera in my direction.
"Hmmm good." I knew how to act for Brock.
Nice and natural.
At the end of our meal Rockford called from his farm to make a rendezvous at a sports bar in Iowa City.
"What do you think he has for us?"
"I can only guess."
Something told me it was something good.
Rockford and his son met us at a bar on the outskirts of town. I hadn't seen John since he was a baby. He was a teenager now.
I gave John a Ferrari jacket from my defunct internet site. He loved it being red. His friends picked him up. They were going to a movie.
"What?" I hoped it wasn't a blood and guts slasher film.
"Cool." I had been a Trekkie from the beginning and said "Live long and prosper."
We ordered another round and spoke with the bartender. Jake was back from a 3rd tour in Iraq.
"It sucked and my commanding officer wants to go again."
"You got that right."
Three right-wingers were drinking Bud-Lite at the bar and I overheard the chubby one said, "This country was founded on conservative values."
I slammed down my PBR.
"This country was founded on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, so shut the fuck up about your conservative values." I liked Obama as president. These three said nothing and drank their Bud-Lites.
Brock shook his head. He liked sleath instead of brawn.
"Was he like this when he was younger?" asked Brock.
"Our friend has always had a good temper, but with good cause." Rockford stared with eight ball eyes at the threesome and suggested we move to the Deadwood, which was Iowa City's best dive bar.
"Sounds good to me>"
Brock and I had more front teeth than any of the regulars at the Deadwood. The Iowa U co-eds danced to punk. They accepted our offers of tequila. After a few minutes Rockford broke out a small bottle packed with powder."
"Here's my surprise. Bolivian Pink 1975.
"No way." The Cali cartel had destroyed cocaine in the 80s with the help of the CIA an the Mexican gangs were even worse.
"I've been keeping it for a special occasion and nothing more special than an old friend visiting me." Rockford offered me the first blast. I did it at the bar.
1975 had been a good year.
"Was he a hippie back then?" Brock's 'he' was me.
I hated being third-person.
"Not even close, but he was good people." Rockford knew my soul.
I got another blast.
2009 was even better, because we were alive and alive was all there was everywhere in the world.
At closing the coeds asked, "Are you going?"
"Going where?" I was hoping a cheap hotel.
"To River City."
"What's in River City?'
"It's the future birthplace of James T. Kirk."
A minute later we were in a taxi heading south. Brock, Rockford, and I were in no condition to drive.
We arrived at the small town to discover that there wasn't a statue, but a plaque.
I cried just the same and had the taxi driver take us back to the hotel. I was ready to call it a night, but Rockford wasn't in the mood for sleep and poured out the rest of the Bolivian Pink. Brock and laid our heads on the pillow.
"This is a night to remember. The night you came to Iowa City and my ice let me out of the town.
I slept until dawn.
I sat up in bed and looked out the window.
Prairie grass ran up to the hotel.
"Hope I didn't keep you up." His voice was a growl native to the Hawkeye State.
"Not at all."
"I guess I'll be going. My wife will be real happy to see me, but I have a good excuse."
I was certain that my name belonged to that excuse.
"It was nice to meet you." Brock stirred from his bed.
"I wish you could stay longer."
"Me too." Brock was no angel, but a museum in Minneapolis was expecting him tomorrow.
Rockford said good-bye and drove back to his farm. We skipped the motel's complimentary breakfast. Our stomach were in no condition for food. We drank black coffee on I-380 northbound.It wasn't a pretty road, but it was fast.
I pushed the Ford to 90.
We had to make some time.
And time was easy to make on the highway especially with James T. Kirk at my back.
He liked fast too.
Warp speed fast.