Places That Are Gone Excerpt
FRIDAY, July 18, 1986, ALMOST MIDNIGHT
Bennett drove, “Atlantic City” playing on ’HFS, his heart an arrhythmic backbeat to Springsteen’s acoustic guitar. His guts churned with the same mix of fear and anticipation he felt before his high school wrestling matches, when he faced faster, stronger opponents, who often mistook his easygoing nature and doughy midsection for weakness.
He followed Liz’s directions, heading south and east now, into a part of the city he didn’t know. The buildings were lower, the space between them greater, and Bennett was struck by the absence of people, evidence, as if the day needed any more, of how displaced from his own life he’d become.
“It’s close,” Liz said. The jaunty plainspokenness was gone from her voice, in its place something tighter, more controlled. He understood that everything she’d done—and let him do—had been for this moment. Twelve hours ago he was hurt because he thought she’d stood him up, her attraction to him a mirage. Now, he wondered if he’d be better off if she had.
Bennett gripped the wheel. He wanted to tell Liz again she didn’t have to do this, tell her that he would take her anywhere, but she’d only say they had to see this through.
Liz pointed. “Turn there.”
Ahead was an alley barely wider than his truck. Out of habit, Bennett signaled but hesitated before making the turn. The alley ran farther than he could see, a lane of deepening shadows broken by a glow partway down. Beyond the glow some trick of the night air gave movement to the smoky darkness.
He turned into the alley, his headlights revealing an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire on one side and a narrow swath of land thick with scrub ending at a warehouse wall on the other. He killed the lights and stopped, waiting for his eyes to adjust. The smoky darkness was gone now, the night still.
“What’s the worst that can happen, right, Bennett?”
In answer, he put his truck into gear and drove forward, watching the blackness beyond the dull glow, unable to turn away.