And now for the finale.
We had planned to hit Elwood right after church let out. We figured we'd find a neighborhood diner with plenty of Buicks out front, mosey in, and ask the friendly woman behind the counter whether she could tell us where we might find Darcy Benton.
"They're going to wonder why we're asking," Sarah said. "We need a cover story."
"Simple," I said. "We tell them you're a student, and this is for a class project. People always want to help students. Always."
The problem, once we arrived in Elwood, is that Elwood doesn't have neighborhoods, much less neighborhood diners. Elwood doesn't have gas stations or grocery stores or bars. Elwood has a smattering of houses, a church, and what looked like an abandoned schoolhouse.
Plus, absolutely nobody was anywhere to be seen.
We parked in front of the church and tried the door. It was locked. Across the street, a dog barked at the sight of us. His owner came outside and gave us a curious look, just as we dashed back to the car.
"Let's go ask that guy," I said.
But Sarah looked skeptical. The magic seemed to be waning. Or maybe we were really hot and hungry and not looking forward to six more hours in an un-air-conditioned car.
"Your project, your choice," I told her.
Sarah turned on the ignition, threw the car in drive and swung back toward the highway.
Ten minutes later, at the intersection of some small highway and the larger highway that would take us to the Interstate, she banged her hand on the steering wheel. "We should go back – I need to learn how to do this."
And so we went back. The man with the dog was still in his yard, and this time a woman was with him. We parked the car on the street and walked towards the driveway. "Hello?" we called. The woman came around front.
"Hi, um, we're students? Doing a project? On, uh, beauty queens in Iowa? And we were wondering if you, ah, might know where we could find Darcy Benton," one of us said, without stopping to breathe.
The woman, wearing denim jean-shorts and permed hair, glanced at Sarah's red Volkswagen, its bumper covered in gay pride stickers, the windows rolled down and her dog's big head panting in our direction. Then she looked back at us. Without speaking. Not a great sign.
"Well," she finally said. "I don't know about Darcy. But her aunt lives over there." At this, she waved her hand in the air, motioning somewhere behind us.
She gave us directions, with the implicit promise that we would then leave. Ten minutes later, we were standing in front of a house on the edge of town, knocking on the door.