Motif II: Crash/Landing (A Semi-Tragedy in Two Acts) I. On the south side of Liberal, Kansas For some reason, we all know to gather along the old highway just north of where it meets the bypass; between them, a wedge of dry prairie grass anticipates dawn and something else. The plane comes in from the south: long, thin, white, unliveried. (Picture the offspring of a Concorde and a 707, its father’s nose and its mother’s wings, and you have it close enough.) Gear still retracted, it slides in and turns top, three perfect spins down the field without bending so much as one thin dun blade; there is no sound but breaths all drawn in at once. No flame, no laceration of aluminum skin, not so much as a cloud of honest Kansas dust; nose pointed back where it came from, the plane rests unperturbed, maiden-flight pristine. From somewhere in the crowd, a Panhandle-tinged twang: Well, that ol’ boy done ‘er again, didn’t he? Might as well go see what all he brung us this time. II. Manhattan, Kansas, on the street where Jim Roper lived Stuffed with burgers (eaten, as ever, standing in the kitchen), we walk north toward the football stadium, discussing the quarterback situation and whether threatened rain will hold off. Someone – probably Gary – brings up a years-ago summer solstice party, the honey-haired girl nobody knew who showed up in a toga and antler-danced with Jim in the living room. This is routine, ritual, sacrament, not to be disturbed by anything like that belly-flopping 747 two blocks ahead, plunging into low brick blocks where married students live. Impact now, an infrabass thump and rumble. A fireball races to consume families, tricycles, maples, all of us. It is red and orange and beautiful; I breathe in and am not afraid. Shawnee, Kansas, Which is Not Really Shawnee, Kansas: Dream II This is another in a long line of whole-cloth hotel lobbies on streets which both exist and do not: a tile-and-Formica spot on an off-map stretch of Johnson Drive (pick dumpy or retro and either will suit, depending more on you than on the place), and I’m trying to explain to Larry that I did (eventually) recognize the young Clint Eastwood and the older one when I ran into both of them at the coffeehouse in Union Station sitting at a table with either Anthony Hopkins or John Wayne – or occasionally but not always both, though why the Duke should resurrect for three-dollar drip is beyond me – and for some other unfathomable reason James Urbaniak, thin and vaguely dangerous, who smirked at all of us and left halfway through the conversation. Larry all the while fiddles with his phone, poking it with a little screwdriver, only making appropriate noises so as to seem engaged, so I walk out into a half-dawn of backlit plastic, oddly angled streets and lumen-polluted overcast. I suppose I might eventually find my way back to the map and home – that, or just go upstairs and fall into dream within dream, still in my clothes on forty dollars' worth of rented sheets. Don't press me for a clear answer; I am and will be asleep the whole sometime. Bonner Springs, Kansas, Which is Not Really Bonner Springs, Kansas: Dream II The stakeout is just beginning. I have time to go for coffee. The town’s heart is only a few blocks south; its buildings are taller than I remember, but this bodes well; somewhere in this tangle of five-story limestone, there must be a place. The sidewalk spans a ravine, brush-lined, hundreds of feet deep. There is no handrail, and the walkway is less than a yard wide. I take no shame in dropping to my knees to cross, but a man on the other side rolls his eyes and tosses a few dead dogwood branches to impede my way. No need; I am being called back. We have been made. Our target has seen telltale peanuts floating in his gutter. (He looks like a television character actor of some minor note, one who always seems to play a well-meaning but largely incompetent foil to the protagonist. I will remember his name someday, likely on my deathbed, and my loved ones will always wonder why those were my last words.) We will have to take another tack, so we roll back into the city along Kaw Drive. I see a coffeehouse, set back among trees on the north side of the road. We do not stop.