Wichita Kansas August 11 1939
National Weather Service (Wichita Municipal Airport) Midday Weather Bulletin
Head meteorologist Barry Conant had to make his first decision as the head of the newest NWS Field office. He smiled ruefully at how differently he felt about making forecasts, now that he was in charge of the office and not just a staff meteorologist.
“Meteorology is art disguised as science. And if that doesn’t make your job difficult enough, the science it’s trying to look like, is mostly engineering. The ‘facts’ are millibars and barometric pressures displayed in gray, on white maps. The public would be just as happy if we told them we spread chicken entrails on the ground behind the weather office and took our forecasts from reading the patterns, provided our forecasts were always correct and accurate. But meteorology is a science and it not only requires having the intelligence to see the pattern, it insists that you have the guts to stand up and say, “There’s dangerous weather coming. Don’t wait, prepare.”
The speech on the last day of classes at the University of Washington was almost fresh enough to hear Professor Milger’s voice. Barry sat at his desk, the dry-clicking sound of the wall clock reminding him that the Noon Advisory was the second most read (or listened to) forecast of the day.
The evidence and the indications were there, the reports from Tulsa and Norman observers, while not coming out and saying, ‘funnel clouds’, demanded that he issue a tornado warning.
August 11 1922 Circe, Kansas County Road #2
Herschel Goloby stared through the dust-shadowed windshield of the black Packard. The sign read, ‘County Road #2’. His very simple plan was entering the final stage. In the early morning hours of the day, he’d stepped off the train that carried him from Boston, Massachusetts to Kansas City, Kansas, got in the car that was waiting at the station and drove west.
On the seat next to him, under the squared black shape of a Colt .45 and the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun, was a ledger. The book was spread open, the lined pages were of an off-white nearly yellow color. Printed in large letters were a series of incomplete sentences; ‘Get on the train’ ‘Get off in Kansas City’, ‘Go to Western Union and get car’. Next to the ledger was a single sheet of paper with a hand-drawn map. In smudged graphite black, it started on the right edge of the page with Kansas City (an almost perfect circle enclosing the words), a line with route numbers drawn above it and, finally at the near left edge of the paper, where the final notation of ‘County Road #2’ was a large ‘X’. Underneath the X was written, in the overly precise letter-shaping of a child or a person with much else on their mind: ‘bring him back. kill her.’
Herschel Goloby was not in any way self-conscious about his near complete illiteracy. He often required directions, (and steps involved in certain tasks), be written out. He managed, by the simple expedient of requiring whoever hired him, to write everything out. That he was as effective as he was at his chosen work was acknowledged in the complete absence of raised eyebrows, smirk or joke about the literacy rates in New England.
When plans changed or alterations became necessary, Herschel Goloby simply found someone to write out the changes for him. It might be anyone, voluntary or otherwise, who would be told to write what he told them to write. That the handwriting of these changes (to his instructions) sometimes appeared shaky was a reflection of the mental state of the stenographer, not the person dictating.
He looked at the road sign and frowned. Herschel Goloby was, by even the most charitable estimations, a primitive man. Primitive in that he lacked both the drive and perceived need to engage with others to contribute to the common good. Herschel Goloby was bothered only when something occurred to interfere with his day or when he encountered a new or novel element that could not be ignored.
Herschel drove west from the train station in Kansas City. He stopped only twice to relieve himself, once in a small grove of trees and the second by the roadside along a desolate stretch of highway. At this last stop, the scenery consisted of nothing more than a world of wheat fields.
County Road #2 stopped leading straight ahead and now insisted that the driver make a decision. Quite a simple decision: turn right or turn left. The sign that insisted this decision be made, was planted in a cornfield that, by its orderly furrows and tall stalks was as unyielding as a plain brick wall.
Herschel decided to get out of the car and stretch his legs. Leaving the car in the middle of the road, pointed straight ahead, he stepped from the car. Looking around without any interest in where he was, he stretched his arms over his head, sweat-darkened shirt made him look like a black and white photo of victims of gangland territorial conflict. He wore a very expensive tailored business suit. Although Herschel was rarely concerned with the exact time, a gold chain crossed his vest, the chain secured a gold watch. He wound the watch every morning and would stare at the intricately crafted face, much as might a serf in the Middle Ages staring at a page of an elaborately illustrated bible. He paid a great deal of money for the watch and was quite aware, even derived pleasure, from the envious looks from those he might show the timepiece. He wore the attire of a business man, a successful business man, if the custom tailoring was any indication. The majority of his clients were business men, (successful and otherwise), however buying custom suits was more a reflection of the lack of clothing in his size, than it was personal taste in fashion.
Herschel walked towards the rail fence that divided the field and it’s cultivated nature from the road, and it’s man-made nature, and stopped.
Sensing motion in the field, his arm went from hanging at his side to pointing ruler straight in an instant. There was a waving motion from a point about 30 feet into the cornfield. Looking down along his pointed arm, the waving motion resolved itself into a dark blue bandana. Without changing his position as additional elements resolved themselves into the scene before, Herschel saw the scarecrow, standing amid rows of corn. Being caught off guard, in his line of work, a surprise like this was in no way a source of amusement. He pulled the trigger of the .45 twice. The scarecrow’s head disintegrated, a split-second later, the wood frame that held the straw-filled man upright followed, splinters and sticks flying in all directions. Six crows flew from a grove of trees, a short distance away.
Un-zipping his sweat-stained trousers, Herschel Goloby urinated on the fence, constantly scanning the road in the three directions it provided. After a time, he got back into the Packard, picked up the ledger on the passenger side and stared at the lettering on the open page. His lips moved in slow reflection of the memory of hearing the instructions read aloud by a luckless hitchhiker. The man ran up to the car and seemed happy to have been offered a ride, up until the moment Herschel handed him the ledger and told him to read what was written on the page. Simon Lassiter spent what remained of his life reading over and over, the contents of a single page of the ledger. Finally, Herschel pulled the car over to the side of the road, on a section of road where nothing but wheat and barbed wire fences were to be seen. His passenger expressed genuine surprise at the isolated location. His surprise turned to alarm, unfortunately, his assessment of the situation came too late to change his fate. The instinct to survive is surely the more persistent of those that motivate man, Simon Lassiter, in a desperate attempt to change the unchangeable, opened his door and, nearly shouting with relief, got out and stood next to the car, “Hey mister this is great. I have some friends up yonder. This will give me a chance to…”
Herschel leaned over, extended his arm through the still open passenger side window, shot Simon Lassiter in the face twice before he could finish thanking him for the ride.
Herschel Goloby continued his drive, his instructions playing and re-playing in his head, the voice of the soon-to-be-deceased out of work school teacher, Simon Lassiter reading, ‘…bring him back and kill her.”