“How are you feeling, buddy?”
“Better, I guess. I don’t know. It’s hot. Did, um, did anyone call?”
His mom paused, and he could just feel her wretched pity. “Sorry, love. I’ll tell, uh, anyone, to call your cell. ”
“Thanks, Mom. I gotta go eat lunch at Hardee’s. ”
“Sounds delightful. Wear your seat belt! I love you!”
“You too. ”
After a relentlessly greasy Monster Thickburger in the empty restaurant, Colin asked the woman behind the cash register, whose body seemed to have suffered from perhaps a few too many meals at her place of employment, how to get to Franz Ferdinand’s grave.
“Who?” she asked.
“The Archduke Franz Ferdinand. ”
The woman stared at him blankly for a moment, and then her eyes lit up. “Oh y’all are looking for Gutshot. Boy, you’re headed for the sticks, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Now what you want to do is you pull out of the parking lot and you turn right—away from the highway I mean, and then in about two miles, the road’s gonna T. There’s a closed-down Citgo there. You take a right onto that road and then you’re gonna drive past a whole lot of nothing for ten or fifteen miles. You’ll go up a bit of a hill and then that’s Gutshot. ”
“Gutshot, Tennessee. That’s where they got the Archduke. ”
“So a right and then a right. ”
“Yup. Y’all have fun now, y’hear?”
“Gutshot,” Colin repeated to himself. “Okay, thanks. ”
Since its last paving, the ten- or fifteen-mile-long road in question seemed to have been at the epicenter of an earthquake. Colin drove cautiously, but still, the worn shocks of the Hearse creaked and groaned at the endless pot-holes and waving undulations of pavement.
“Maybe we don’t need to see the Archduke,” said Hassan.
“We’re on a road trip. It’s about adventure,” Colin mimicked.
“Do you think the people of Gutshot, Tennessee, have ever seen an actual, living Arab?”
“Oh, don’t be so paranoid. ”
“Or for that matter do you think they’ve ever seen a Jew-fro?”
Colin thought that over for a moment, and then said, “Well, the woman at Hardee’s was nice to us. ”
“Right, but the woman at Hardee’s called Gutshot ‘the sticks,’” Hassan said, imitating the woman’s accent. “I mean, if Hardee’s is urban, I’m not sure I want to see rural. ” Hassan rolled on with his diatribe, and Colin laughed and smiled at all the right places, but he just kept driving, calculating the odds that the Archduke, who died in Sarajevo more than ninety years before, and who’d randomly popped into Colin’s brain the previous night, would end up between Colin and wherever he was heading. It was irrational, and Colin hated thinking irrationally, but he couldn’t help but wonder whether perhaps being in the presence of the Archduke might reveal something to Colin about his missing piece. But of course the universe does not conspire to put you in one place rather than another, Colin knew. He thought of Democritus: “Everywhere man blames nature and fate, yet his fate is mostly but the echo of his character and passions, his mistakes and weaknesses. ”17
And so it was not fate, but Colin Singleton’s character and passions, his mistakes and weaknesses, that finally brought him to Gutshot, Tennessee—POPULATION 864, as the roadside sign read. At first, Gutshot looked like everything that came before it, only with a better-paved road. On each side of the Hearse, fields of squat, luminously green plants stretched out into a gray forever, broken up only by the occasional horse pasture, barn, or stand of trees. Eventually, Colin saw before him on the side of the road a two-story cinder-block building painted a ghastly pink.
“I think that’s Gutshot,” he said, nodding toward the building.
On the side of the building, a hand-painted sign read THE KINGDOM OF GUTSHOT—ETERNAL RESTING PLACE OF THE ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND / ICE-COLD BEER / SODA / BAIT.
Colin pulled into the store’s gravel driveway. Unbuckling his seat belt, he said to Hassan, “I wonder if they keep the Archduke with the soda or the bait. ”
Hassan’s deep laugh filled the car. “Shit, Colin made a funny. This place is like magic for you. Shame about how we’re gonna die here, though. I mean, seriously. An Arab and a half-Jew enter a store in Tennessee. It’s the beginning of a joke, and the punch line is ‘sodomy. ’” Nonetheless, Colin heard Hassan shuffling his feet on the gravel parking lot behind him.