So Hollister and Newcomb went on their road-trip. Toward Bethlehem. Hollister repeated several times too often, “slouching toward Bethlehem.” Newcomb told Hollister to shut up, but both he and Hollister consistently leaned forward in the seat, as if drawn by something just around a bend in the road. Expectancy. Hope. Three thousand miles. Newcomb admitted blankly from time to time that he may have forgotten what they hoped to find. Aaah. I am reminded that I am also suddenly forgetful. Who the dark visitor might have been. My own place in the midnight room. Elizabeth’s stories recede in dull anguish, along with mine. It’s a painful and hazy and strained chapter just now. But even so, dear solitary reader, here you go:
Hollister leaned forward and surveyed the hazy line between gray sunrise and road. Concrete sections of highway, patches of asphalt repairs. Hollister glanced over at Newcomb, stirring from another unsettled and noisy nap. “Newcomb, we look like a couple all-night drunks or gamblers. Trying to win back our losses. Something like that.” They crossed the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania’s dividing line. “These concrete highways have really held up over the years. World War II idea. Smooth, except for the expansion joints every thirty-forty yards. Bet you couldn’t really sleep, Newcomb. Hey, not very comfortable, right?”
“It’s OK, Hollister. Where are we, anyway?”
“Well, it’s only another hundred miles or so. Maybe not that far.” Hollister looked at Newcomb and decided again that the trip was worth it. At least for Newcomb’s sake. “Not bad after a few thousand miles,” He shouted. “In a cab!” Hollister laughed. “Lucky I own it.” He cleared his throat. “Newcomb. What you think we’re going to find out? In Bethlehem. I mean, will anyone remember anything?”
“Well, it was your idea,” Newcomb said. “No way to find out by email or letters or phone calls. Especially if they knew something. They’d clam up. We have to find someone who was there, maybe. Elizabeth was there, but she doesn’t remember. Or won’t tell. Hell, stranger things have happened in this story.” He laughed.
“Yeah. It’s a story, all right. A story. To find a stranger’s cold trail. Almost forty years. And he’s dead. Or someone said he was. Talk about cold. We don’t even have a name yet.” Hollister glanced at Newcomb, once again sorry for the man’s anxious obsession. A dark room at the end of a tunnel. Hollow echoes. Hollister could feel Newcomb’s unraveled life. Stained tailored clothes, nervous turn of his mouth. A sour odor. Fear? “Hey, Newcomb. Let’s pull over the next time we see a truck stop. I gotta pee and take a break. You can drive if you like, and maybe we can talk this through again, pick up a clue. Hidden in too many words. Maybe you’ll remember something, or open up, just talking it through.”
Newcomb shook his head and shrugged. Pursed lips. “Okay, Hollister. Let’s stop. Coffee. Gather our wits.” The two men leaned forward, weary, yet hopeful for some inconceivable miracle. A puzzle lacking substance. Nothing to gain. Newcomb’s quest. Hollister’s rescue. Hollister angled the car onto an exit, the tall beacon of gas and food and rest on a gentle rise. Brief reprieve from the hopeless sentence. Bethlehem.
Once in a parking space, Hollister turned to Newcomb. “Tell me again. What is it? There must be. Well, something. What happened, Newcomb?”
Newcomb sighed. “What haunts me was the sound. Or the sounds. Muffled, but loud. For in the dark. Fear. And something else. Release, maybe. All in one. Or two, I should say.”
“Right. Elizabeth and this guy, right?”
“Yes. Both of them. And if it was. A guy. Hollister, I don’t know if it was. I guess that’s part of my question.”