..... The snake inhabiting the cavity of his stomach never slept, but when it finally demanded feeding- when he could feel its venom rising up in his throat-he took off with some flimsy excuse.
"I'm in the mood for rum raisin," he'd say. Or "I'd better fill the tank before the station closes."
..... Although she never questioned his coming or going, it seemed necessary to continue the pretense of a legitimate errand. He wondered what her response would be if he said, "The boys are waiting for me to blow open the safe inside Standard Federal." Or "My mistress only rented the motel room for two hours, so chop-chop."
"Of course, Tom," she'd probably murmur, her head bent over the partly scoured sink, the open fridge, her laptop. "You should get going."
..... Because that- or something very much like it- was what she said every time.
..... You should get going.
..... She positioned herself so they seldom made eye contact. Her skill at this was astonishing. There were things they saw in each other's eyes that could not be ignored, so better not to see them. Better to occupy separate planes whenever possible.
"Need anything?" he sometimes asked before sliding out the door. She never answered. What could she ever need from him now?
..... He could smell sulfur from her burning match before he reached the door-as if he ceased to exist within seconds. At some point, she'd stopped urging him to quit and resumed smoking herself, although never in his presence.
..... And both of them were serious drinkers now. He'd stopped placing the empties in the recycling bin last fall when the neighbor's son knocked it over playing touch football. The kid, who came running over, looked on in amazement at the explosion of glass glinting in the autumn sun.
"Must have been some party, Mr. Bodie."
..... Regret at his hasty words swept over the boy's face before he finished speaking. They cleaned it up together, the kid growing quiet as the same wet label turned up again and again on shards of glass. What host only offers one brand of whiskey to guests at a party? And there were no parties at the Bodie house lately, were there?
..... Later, splinters of glass flattened a bicycle tire and twinkled maliciously from Jo's waffle-soled shoes as she lay on the sofa or on their bed, not even bothering with the sham of a book or TV. He remembered when she'd been strict about taking their shoes off at the door, stern about shoes on the bedspread.
..... On his worst days, he drove out to the spot before dawn, stealthily backing down the driveway. If he looked up, something he tried hard not to do, Jo's face would be at the window, the street lamp illuminating the pallor of her exposed neck and shoulders. Had she always been so white?
..... But at some point every day, he found himself in the car headed in that direction. Sometimes he didn't realize his trip to the dentist or barber or his office had been hijacked until the landmarks popped up in front of him like funhouse props. First came the store advertising live bait in shaky black letters, then the rusting Chrysler plant, next the denuded field looking brown and scraggly or covered with filthy snow, then the check-cashing place that never seemed to close.
..... The final marker was a deserted storefront church, its façade covered with advertisements from the days when there were events to promote. The posters were in tatters now, looking like signal flags for an auto race, offering a counterfeit gaiety to the casual passersby.
..... After the church, the rubble cleared, and the object of his trip stretched before him, its metal teeth glistening if the day was fair. When traffic was sparse, which it often was, he pulled over, his eyes focusing on the barren stretch of land.
..... Until last year, he'd avoided this route into the city, going miles out of his way to escape the disheartening blocks of abandoned houses, potholed streets, boarded-up businesses. Entire sections of the city had disappeared and what remained here seemed unlikely to last another winter. Yet it did, contrarily defying expectations and fading in increments each year, growing smaller-but still there.
..... The train track, for that's what the metal teeth were, crossed the wide, arterial street, then quickly disappeared into the muted grays and browns of a bend in the landscape. He could sit for hours, and had on many days, without seeing a single train pass. After investigation, he discovered only four trains a day traveled this stretch. And often only one carried more than a dozen cars. The morning run at 7:25.
..... The train that killed Karin pulled fourteen cars and was traveling at a speed of forty-five miles per hour. It hit the suburban bus, one of the larger ones in the fleet, and propelled it forward for a quarter mile before the bus detached itself and spun away, flipping twice before coming to a stop.
..... Karin was the only passenger still onboard at the end of the route. Dozing perhaps, she'd probably sunk so low in her seat that she went unnoticed by the novice driver. At least, that's what the investigators concluded.
..... The only witness to the wreck, a man in a northbound car waiting for the train to pass, told the police detective that the bus had smashed through the gate at a speed equal to or exceeding that of the train. There was no vacillation in its plunge, not hesitant lurch to mark indecision. The witness admitted sheepishly that he'd ducked instinctually, fearful of the flying metal and glass, only looking up after the train carried the bus several hundred yards beyond him and when the horrible grating and squealing sounds subsided.
..... By now, Tom was well-schooled on transportation vehicles and knew everything there was to know about this particular intersection, what bus routes passed through it, what the freight trains carried, how bus drivers and engineers were trained, how many accidents each year involved the two vehicles.

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