The Waste of a Perfectly Good 1955 Chevy
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sorrow, tears, laughter and heartache first hand...
Chapter 1 ~ Kyle & Francine del Mar - A Rocky Start
Sage, Wyoming was a small oasis of a community in the midst of endless miles of barren hills and dry wasteland. With Bear Lake in Utah 25 miles west of them, the small town's founders were wise to dam up Twin Creek for water to create a “tiny dot on the map” of fertile ranch and farmland.
The resulting much smaller Lake Sage may not have had the tourist appeal of Bear Lake, but the farms thrived from it and relished in its “in the middle of nowhere” reputation. Local fisherman even began a catch and release program… Catch ‘em at Bear Lake - release ‘em at Lake Sage!
Utah even extended its scenic Valley View Highway (Rt. 30) to the Wyoming line just outside of town to accommodate the increase in commerce and traffic.
As with anything worth keeping though, paradise is earned only with constant, hard and backbreaking work.
Kyle del Mar and Francine Bowers were practically twins, both farm-born on June 1st 1922. They were both blond, grew up on ranches across Dead Horse Road from each other, went to school together, and were practically raised as brother and sister… in fact they did everything together.
The only discernible difference in their life trajectories was that while Francine was an only child, Kyle eventually became the middle child of fourteen brothers and sisters.
Young Kyle grew up quickly toiling hard in the fields with his daddy Ennis to become a thin, muscular and gangly teenager with wavy blond hair. When he hit puberty he suddenly realized that Frannie might potentially be more than just his “bestest friend in the whole world.”
He learned to brawl by fighting off his elder brothers’ attentions towards her.
He was born with a defect in his cleft pallet that left him with a life-long lisp that got him picked on a lot by his many brothers and sisters, and especially by the other kids in his classroom. Heartless school tormentors toughened him up by labeling him “Sissy boy” early on and by the time he’d reached the 6th grade he’d been expelled four times for bullying and belligerent behavior.
1937 saw the prices that farm products could be sold for fall through the floor. Instantly half the ranches in town went bankrupt with unharvested crops rotting in fields, lots of livestock and no one to sell either to.
In November of that year, when Kyle was fifteen and a half, his daddy couldn’t find a job in the midst of the Great Depression. Ennis, whom everyone in town knew simply as "Pa," took his life savings and paid the mortgage up for six months, then joined the army to try to support his family. He was accidentally killed when a defective rifle barrel exploded on a boot camp firing range two months later.
Mama del Mar was devastated. Without a word to anyone, especially the bank, she abandoned the farm, livestock, equipment and all, and moved her brood of fourteen young kids west into northern Utah to live with her married brother. It was only after the long bus journey there that she realized that one of her children was missing.
Following days of frantic searching, finally her eldest daughter broke down and confessed that one of her middle sons said that he was going do his patriotic chore by running away to take his father’s place in the army.
She never saw Kyle again.
He lied about joining the army.
Lovesick Kyle couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his girlfriend Francine behind. He hid out in her parent’s barn across the road for two weeks while she snuck meals to him. Eventually he moved back to his folk’s abandoned ranch, afraid of the responsibility, trying desperately to remember everything his father taught him about running a spread of that size... by himself.
Del Mar was a careful and smart kid for his age and convinced the neighbors that he was left behind to try to save the ranch on his own. He was allowed to continue going to school every day, signing his mama’s name to report cards and worked part time here and there.
Long ago his daddy discovered that their fat peninsula bordered on three sides by Lake Sage seemed to be a secret gathering spot for cutthroat trout, mackinaw, cisco, and whitefish, and with no limits like on Bear Lake, he’d let out-of-towners fish off his land for a minimal - yet profitable price… Kyle continued that tradition adding ice fishing in the winter months.
His father was permitted to post signs forbidding angling boaters off his shore in return for allowing an annual fishing contest that drew crowds from miles around.
Kyle also did odd jobs on the neighboring ranches for only food and supplies he needed when he had to. Slowly but surely he learned to work the crops on his own and sold off the cattle and horses for pennies on the dollar a few at a time for money to buy equipment to pay the electric and make home repairs.
If it weren't for the Great Depression and plummeting farm commodity prices, the del Mar Ranch would be worth a fortune to someone investing for when the economy got better… if it got better.
Had the bank known who truly held title to that land, they would've snapped it up quickly and had no regrets about evicting the young young man who now resided there all alone and scared.
For the first few months the teenager went wild with no parents to say “no” to him, but eventually he settled down with the weight of responsibility on his back for the mortgage. Kyle del Mar would have been alright and gone unnoticed too if it hadn’t been for the present he and Francine gave to each other on their mutual 16th birthday in 1938.
On the last day of school an angry father named Marcus Bowers showed up in class with a loaded shotgun hunting for the boy that got his little Francine pregnant. A week later they were married shotgun style by a justice of the peace.
What with the rumors of war coming and all, and everyone out of work from the depression, the banks had their hands full and decided that since the del Mars had only one payment left on the books for their ranch loan, they’d let them have it; not knowing that the current holders of the deed were a sixteen-year-old couple.
After a difficult pregnancy their first child Cornelia was born March 26, 1939 and Kyle was furious because not only wasn’t it a boy, but the baby was a brunette and they were both blonds. In ignorance he believed he'd been tricked into marrying her with some other guy’s child. In revenge he savagely sexually attacked and beat his young bride over the next week.
Nine months later the day after Christmas his namesake Kyle Ennis del Mar Jr. was born, also dark haired. Kyle and Francine went through a rocky time in their marriage and separated for nearly two years because the new baby reminded her of that marital rape.
During that period, she took the toddlers to live across the road with her parents never letting on to them what had happened to her, or why Kyle left town.
Rather than fight with Francine all the time, Kyle gave use of his land and livestock to his father-in-law, leaving his failing ranch to join the rodeo circuit as a chute dogger and roper, doing well enough to send money back to Francine to support his two children, but not enough to make much of a living at it.
Men were begging and pleading for jobs during the Great Depression, so it wasn’t uncommon for a father to leave his family behind out of desperation and work for pennies to support them in another town miles away.
In 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked and then World War II broke out. Del Mar was never registered with the draft after his mother assumed he was either dead or already in the army, so he avoided being called up by laying low and not drawing attention to himself.
Though he was 18 and drove his father’s truck, he never got a driver’s license, nor voted, so he was on no one’s books but the bank’s.
Chapter 2 ~ Destiny’s Fathers
(Click map to enlarge it)
One night on a rare visit to his hometown, Kyle was on his way to seeing Frannie and the kids living across the road at his in-laws. Deep in thought, he nearly ran over a big man in the dark just after turning left off of Sage St. onto Dead Horse Rd.
Sage St. is the thoroughfare that runs southward uphill from the railroad tracks at the county road, through downtown Sage, and then dead ends at Camel’s Back Road three quarters of the way up Sutter’s Hill.
The cowboy was walking aimlessly down the middle of the road where it connected to Sage Street just north of Camel's Back Road.
Thinking he was a drunken neighbor, del Mar stopped and found a dazed, confused and lost stranger a little older than he was in silent anguish over something horrible. He wasn’t drunk; he was crazed with grief and didn’t know where he was.
The man managed to choke out that he’d hitchhiked as far as the railroad tracks on Route 30 to get to Sage’s Rodeo stadium but couldn’t find it in the dark.
Kyle explained the rodeo was wedged between the shops and the earthen dam holding back Lake Sage Reservoir. Seeing that this man was in no shape to be by himself tonight and knowing his farmhouse was empty because Frannie and the kids were living with her parents, Kyle drove the stricken stranger home with him.
With the electricity off, del Mar helped him into the dark kitchen, lit a kerosene lamp, and then they sat at the dinner table.
The handsome man had immense bulging arm and torso muscles that were bigger than any he’d ever seen in his life and he looked awful familiar, but he couldn’t place the face.
The brown-haired cowboy was beside himself with something all pent up inside, so Kyle found a bottle of whiskey and fed it to him until the big man calmed down enough to tell of his sorrow.
His childless wife up in Lightning Flat had just a few days ago miscarried for the second time, and the people he worked for and loved like family had been gunned down in town the night before. The stranger’s best friend in the world died only an hour ago at a local hospital across the Utah line in Lakton, and it’d become just too much for him to handle. He was trying to walk back to the arena in town and in his overwhelming sorrow got lost.
The man wouldn't let it out, and Kyle could see it was eating him up inside.
Wait... those posters plastered up all over town! Del Mar imagined a big beaming smile on his face and a white cowboy hat, and it suddenly hit him. He jumped up knocking his chair backwards and shrieked like a schoolgirl who’d just spotted Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra on the street, “Jack… no-uh um… JUM… uh… JUMPIN’ JOHNNY TWIST!!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, standing there pointing at him in astonished disbelief.
The man sitting right here at his very own table was a famous rodeo star! In fact he was his hero and the man Kyle hoped to be some day!
Twist just sat there with his head down on his forearms in quiet bitter exhaustion.
In his amazed state of mind, Kyle wasn’t really paying attention to his guest and gushed grinning from ear to ear, “Sakes alive, ya got big! You know I tell all my rodeo friends how I met ya ‘bout two years ago up yonder in Lightnin’ Flat! I pert near broke my arm tryin’ out fer Bossman ‘n was introduced to ya in the locker room there. I declare it’s such a mighty honor ta…”
Suddenly it hit him. A newspaper said the owners of the Boss Man’s Traveling Rodeo Show and several other people were shot dead in town during a robbery at the stadium two nights ago.
The champion looked up at him, and his chin and forehead seemed to be trying to crush his face between them. This time he couldn’t hold back and the cries burst out of him in huge gasps so loud, Frannie could probably hear them across the road.
Kyle quickly circled the table, held him in his arms, and comforted him until he cried it all out. The man was so exhausted that he was ready to pass out, so Kyle led him into the back bedroom, slipped off his boots and stayed with him in bed through the night occasionally holding him or softly talking him back to sleep.
The next morning he drove John Twist to the stadium and discovered that a makeshift memorial meeting was taking place for his slain coworkers.
Kyle wanted to go in with him to make sure he was alright, but he now had lost nearly a day of the only two he had left to spend with his family. They thanked each other and parted ways not possibly knowing what destiny held for both of their yet to be born sons…
Chapter 3 ~ Ennis Jordan del Mar - Frannie Goes It Alone Again
In mid-1942 Kyle turned twenty. His own rodeo was suspended as Uncle Sam called more and more young men into the war effort. With nowhere else to go, he returned home to try his hand at breeding and selling roping horses, while raising livestock on the ranch... and trying to make up with Francine.
He was surprised at how much his two kids had grown and it didn't help the situation that while he was gone, Kyle Jr.'s hair had gradually lightened to almost the same shade as his father's.
With men dying in wars across both oceans by then, Francine realized that she was lucky to have a man at all and after a few months of sweet-talkin' from Kyle, moved back across the road with her volatile husband. The new reconciliation stuck and in late spring of 1943 she presented Kyle with a second son that was fair-haired this time. They named him Ennis Jordan del Mar.
To her relief he was the proverbial "spittin’ image" of his Daddy.
As the baby grew and became a toddler rather than crying, he developed an infectious giggle that his parents adored. Later as a cute kid starting up in school, that contagious laugh could earn Ennis anything he wanted and his doting parents began spoiling him rotten.
Resentful little Kyle Junior began to feel like a “factory reject” instead of the first-born son, and so began a habit of endlessly picking on his little brother out of spite and to “keep him in his place.”
For the next five years through war and then victory in Europe and Japan, Kyle got the hang of ranching, depending on raising livestock more than farming, though he eventually did both well. He gutted and then remodeled both floors of the ranch house with help from his neighbors and in-laws. What once was a big four-room house, barely holding fourteen kids and two adults was gutted to the outer walls and then converted to a two-story three-bedroom home.
He also tore down and then put up several outbuildings after taking out his first mortgage on the spread. With all of the improvements, the bank thought it was a safe bet.
With Russia and the U.S. entering the Cold War, President Truman felt the need to have a good standing army just in case and instituted a peace time draft. All hell broke loose when that same month he signed an order desegregating the armed forces.
In 1948 on Kyle’s 26th birthday, the government finally caught up with him and he was inducted into the army for a four-year hitch, serving with a bunch of now outraged and bigoted racists. Unfortunately their attitudes infected him too out of peer pressure.
Francine was left to raise two grade school children and a toddler on her own... again.
After Kyle left for San Diego, Francine took a job as a clerk at the library full time and barely made the mortgage payments. Meanwhile her parents took over running both the Bowers and the del Mar spreads, hiring on extra help to farm a combined 2000 acres.
To save money on expenses Frannie moved her family to her parent’s house between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Francine was put to the test in January and February of 1949 after just moving her family back home across the road. The great 30-day blizzard brought record low temperatures and winds sometimes over 70 miles per hour. Snow drifted so high that long stretches of Dead Horse Road were impossible to find, meaning she couldn’t get to work, so she lost her job at the library.
She resorted to heating the house with a wood-burning stove and all of them lived in the living room downstairs to conserve warmth.
At one point it snowed for a week and a half straight, downing power lines and severing mail service. She and her parents lost nearly three quarters of their livestock to subzero conditions. The family was snowbound, loan payments weren’t made and Frannie had to home school her children until the roads were cleared finally in early March.
Unable to get word from them, Kyle was frantic trying to get home to see his family and assure their safety, but there was no way to travel there because of the storms.
One night Francine and the kids were roused by pounding on the door. One of her father’s ranch hands nearly froze after being sent to check on her mother "Grandma Francine," who hadn’t arrived after announcing the previous afternoon that she was going over to check on her daughter and the kids.
They found Mrs. Bowers partway down their driveway two days later frozen to death.
Kyle never made it to the funeral to comfort his grieving wife and family. He tried for a hardship release from the military, but was denied.
Frannie was heartbroken for a while because she and Kyle would have to spend their tenth wedding anniversary apart… that was until Kyle surprised her at their doorstep on a 4-day pass. Unfortunately because of travel time back then, he could spend only one day at home; but it was enough.
In September at the age of six, Ennis entered first grade. Kyle Junior by then considered himself the “man of the house,” and a few days after entering the fourth grade he’d tired of being called “little” Kyle and/or “Junior” and stomped up defiantly to the breakfast table one morning and demanded that Francine give him a more “growed up” nickname.
His mother instantly got revenge for his brash attitude and turned to her youngest to decide on a suitable substitute. Out of the blue, the first grader dubbed him “K.E.” and laughed every time he said it. Mom loved it and from then on that was his name - like it or not… which didn’t set too well with Kyle Junior.
A week letter Kyle Senior sent his oldest a letter from California addressed to Mr. “K.E.” del Mar, which made it official. In pure resentment K.E. began slapping his little brother across the face hard every time he’d laugh or giggle out loud. Ennis would go crying to Francine and she’d reprimand his big brother with a good spanking.
Within a few more months her youngest was cured of his famous smiles and laughter from constant beatings and bullying at the hands of his stronger elder brother, along with threats of more if he tattled to their overworked mom.
In May of 1950 Kyle came home on leave to tell his wife that it was very likely he would soon be sent to Korea where the war was heating up. Almost immediately after his boots hit the ground there, he was seriously wounded in the Battle of Inchon and a buddy carried him half a mile to a medical unit where he almost died from loss of blood. His injuries were serious enough for him to be released home soon.
While he was convalescing overseas, Francine’s father Marc died at 62 of a sudden heart attack in his wheat field just across the road from their driveway. She was the one who found him while checking their rural mailbox and was so inconsolable that Kyle was shipped to a stateside V. A. hospital in Casper early under medical care.
It was only after she talked to the doctors long-distance on her parent’s phone that she was told that her husband had been shot in the abdomen and had lost a kidney. He’d be alright as long as he was careful with his diet, but he’d be sore walking around, in the saddle and farming for quite some time.
Francine inherited her parent’s spread and the huge mortgage that went with it. If she didn’t do something fast the bank was prepared to foreclose on both ranches. Before Kyle could get released from the sickbay, a savvy assistant manager fast-talked Fran into signing ownership of her parents’ ranch over to their bank for the total remaining payments owed on her father’s loan and the del Mar mortgage.
When Kyle arrived home a week later, he was furious at what she’d done because he thought they should’ve gotten much more, despite the fact that her actions meant that the del Mar ranch’s deed was now free and clear.
Chapter 4 ~ Kyle Gambles His Ranch In The Name of Stupidity
While at the bank trying to get satisfaction, to his ignorant shock he became infuriated when he found out that a wealthy Negro farmer from New York had put a generous bid in for the Bowers Farm.
A recently divorced local gas station owner from Lakton Utah named Earl Lamb had also expressed interest in buying the property, so in desperation Kyle talked him into making a sizeable down payment.
The problem was Earl, who was in his fifties, didn’t have family to fall back on anymore to help run it and didn’t have enough cash for the offer Kyle had promised, so del Mar talked his ranch neighbors into selling tractors, plows and other equipment to loan Earl enough of a down payment on it and Kyle even put his own ranch up as collateral rather than have some damned Yankee nigger for a neighbor, especially one living in the very house his wife grew up in.
Francine was beside herself at his stupidity and backward thinking but could do nothing to stop him.
Within a week the deal was done, the papers were signed and Earl sold his gas station, using the proceeds to start an auto parts and repair shop across the road in what used to be Francine’s parent’s barn and out buildings. In gratitude he leased 750 acres to Kyle for a dollar a year to cultivate, and allowed him to harvest her father’s existing crops for half the proceeds.
Since Earl no longer had a wife and kids to help farm or ranch it, within months the remaining land collected hundreds of wrecked automobiles and trucks bought for parts, scattered over the western half of the spread on what used to be productive wheat and cornfields. Along with the sounds of air wrenches and hammers came the strong smell of discarded oil, radiator dumpings and transmission fluid on the wind.
Earl still kept her parents' many horses there and allowed Frannie’s family to ride them whenever they wanted to in return for caring for them. He announced that he planned to do a little farming of his own the next year, and sent out word for help from the local kids looking to earn extra money in the spring.
Despite his many kindnesses, it still saddened Francine to see her former home turned into a junkyard, but racist Kyle and his ignorant neighbors didn’t care, considering the alternative.
With harvest season still going, Dead Horse Road started getting a steady stream of traffic in and out, and all the local ranchers promised to take their tractors, combines and other equipment in need of repair to Earl so he could pay them back faster and the bank wouldn’t foreclose on del Mar for putting his spread up as security on the risky note.
Sometimes Earl would work on people’s farm equipment for free as a goodwill gesture to the community.
The town of Sage showed its appreciation by awarding him a contract to work on its utility vehicles and police cars.
As a hot August turned into an unusually hot September Earl found his hands full with more cars than he’d ever expected in his first months of business, and while that was a blessing, he found himself short-handed.
He had a few high school teenagers who’d come and work on weekends, and one of his most promising trainee mechanics was a tall average-looking brunette sophomore with a lot of enthusiasm named Arthur Trent. Earl would only allow the young man to work after school if the boy could prove he’d done his homework first and was warned if he fell below a C average, he could only work weekends and if he fell below a D he was fired.
The regular crew had left for the evening and at the moment Art was alone in the middle bay of the shop and had an enormous ’48 Ford farm cargo truck up about halfway on the hydraulic lift with its nose pointing away from the wall of the sweltering converted barn. He’d watched his father change the brake shoes only once on their own Chevy pickup before, but was lost on this one.
Earl had been helping between doing a tune-up across the floor, but had to keep catching the phone in the office.
As you looked down between the two vehicles, Art was seated on a wooden stool wedged between the truck’s backend on the left and a ’51 Pontiac coupe behind him on the right. He'd removed the brake drum and was staring at the mechanized puzzle at eyelevel in wonder while referring to the printed instructions for the rear brake assembly trying to make heads or tails out of it.
He'd just pulled his T-shirt off in the heat, and wiped the sweat off of his face with it, put the diagram sheet down and began to undo an odd-shaped screw when suddenly the spring-loaded contraption surrounding the wheel hub sort of exploded little parts all over the place.
He needed to figure it out before his boss returned, because he didn’t want the kindly owner to be disappointed in him.
Down on his knees on the grimy floor trying to remember where each part came from, he didn’t notice he had company until an unexpected box fan pointed at him on a long extension cord suddenly hummed to life.
He stood up too fast and bumped his head on the underside of the truck. When he turned to apologize to Earl and thank him for the fan, he was confronted with the most handsome blond guy he’d ever seen in his life. The young muscular and grinning rancher who looked to be in his mid-twenties was naked in the heat from the waist up, his jeans loosely hanging at his hips. He was covered with sweat from toiling in his fields all day.
The stranger’s smile turned to a look of concern as Art froze holding the top of his head, with his eyes and jaw still gaping open at the sight of the shirtless newcomer.
Trent’s look of fascinated wonder turned to one of pain and he looked kind of dizzy.
The straw-haired man rushed over, grabbed him mightily under the armpits from behind and guided him to the shop stool.
Arthur winced as he rubbed the top of his head, “I think I stood up too fast, sir.”
The handsome guy laughed, “Ya reckon?” while using his fingers to comb through Art’s hair looking for cuts on the top of his scalp.
The teenager’s eyes couldn’t stop studying the friendly man’s well defined abdomen after he walked around to face him, and with a stammer Trent asked, “Is… uh is th-this yer truck?”
The guy frowned and gazed up at the big dusty Chevy with puzzlement and chuckled, “Naw, I come over to see if Earl needed help and he asked me to check on ya. You sure yer okay?”
Art's heart was pounding and he was beginning to breath heavily and couldn’t understand why he wanted so badly to explore this incredibly good-looking man’s chest with his eyes, so he distracted himself by offering his right hand, “Arthur Trent, sir; I… I work here.”
The Adonis was completely oblivious to the effect he was having on the younger man's hormones. He reached out his fist, took young Trent’s hand and shook it, replying, “Ain’t no need fer the ‘sir’ kid, everyone who knows me around these parts calls me Kyle… Kyle del Mar. I own the ranch acrost the road there,” he said pointing vaguely off to the left.
Trent stammered out, “P-pleased to meet ya, Mr. uh Karl, uh Kyle.”
Unaware that the teen unwittingly had just fastened his first adolescent crush on him, Kyle laughed at the scattered components on the floor and within the next half hour or so, together they installed the new parts.
Kyle only instructed, making Arthur assemble it himself, so he’d remember how to do it next time, and stood in close with an occasional friendly affectionate arm around the boy’s shoulders like he always did with his sons, pointing here and there, giving help only when it was needed.
When they finished, the rancher gave the teen a loud slap on his bare back, grabbed him by the neck sideways, pulled his forehead to his chest, roughly rubbed the top of his head and tussled his hair, congratulating him on a job well done.
In no time at all, as with all young teen boys, Arthur wanted to be just like this older and incredibly attractive man who was nothing like his own father, and was falling hopelessly in love.
When Earl came over finally, Kyle gave Art all the credit for the work and they shook hands with invitations to the teenager to visit his ranch to go fishing some time, maybe to go with him to pick out some horses at an auction, or just to swim at his shoreline with his wife and three kids.
Earl noticed the teen’s inability to take his eyes off his handsome fair-haired neighbor and how Arthur studied Kyle’s strong back and hips longingly as Kyle walked home… and Earl remembered when he was that young.
He was sure Arthur would eventually grow out of the crush, as most young guys do…
…Despite their father’s return from Korea, K.E. continued to pick on Ennis. The youngster would bawl to his daddy and get hit by him too, saying that real cowboys don’t cry. After a while Kyle finally gave up in frustration and taught Ennis how to fight off K.E. with his fists.
The net effect was that Ennis became reluctant to laugh or cry for fear of retribution and began to turn inward on himself emotionally.
Sometimes when he’d pout quietly to himself at night, Francine would come to his bed and sing him cowboy songs. Eventually Kyle put a stop to that; not wanting his son to become a “mama’s boy.”
Feeling like he was in a no-win situation, he’d ask his mama what she thought he should do about his big brother. Her only advice was the same as how she dealt with Kyle, “If ya can’t fix it Ennis, ya gotta stand it.”
Chapter 5 ~ Earl & Rich - Kyle & Frannie - Ennis & Michael
Late November brought heavy snow, so Earl bought an old snowplow for his tow truck and kept a long stretch of Dead Horse Road clear from their ranches west to Sage Street so that customers could get to his shop.
While he was at it, he kept Kyle’s long driveway clean too.
In December of 1951 a twice-wounded Korean War buddy that Kyle owed his life to, wrote of his trouble finding a job in Utah because of his disability. Francine thought it’d be a wonderful idea for him to move across the road with Earl. He’d gain a business partner and besides, she was concerned about her neighbor being all alone over there by himself.
Just before Christmas, Lieutenant Richard Saphos bought up half of the repair shop with his accumulated war pay and moved into Earl’s spare room to help run the business end of things and to revive part of the ranching operation managing raising cattle, breeding horses and doing light farming. He was welcomed with open arms by the community as a respected and twice-decorated war hero.
With the fresh influx of cash, Lamb hired Ennis' older sister Cornelia to do light household chores and occasional cooking for them.
He also hired the local older teenaged boys as journeyman mechanics and the business grew to be well known across Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. They were taught a trade for free and he had a near endless and cheap labor source. To everyone’s relief, the loan was well on its way to being paid back too with Rich’s investment.
Earl was 52 and Rich was 29 and they resembled father and son more than business partners.
That Christmas marked the first visit of Rich’s married sister Amy Salisbury's family from Lakton Utah; a relatively close 25 miles due west of Sage. Her husband Sam was a schoolteacher there, just south of Bear Lake and they had a 7-year-old son Michael.
Ennis was the same age and he and Mike became instant buddies.
Amy announced that they’d be spending the coming summer there so that Sam could earn money working for Earl over the school's mid-year break helping with the ranch operation.
All through 1951, the del Mars became even better friends with the two pleasant bachelors after they kindly offered to let Kyle and his wife use their telephone when they found out that the couple didn’t have one of their own.
Eventually a utility cable was strung across the road giving the del Mars party-line service piggybacked off of Earl's business phone. It was done in return for Frannie taking daytime business calls to the shop when the mechanics were too busy to answer after five rings or were away from the office working on a car.
All Kyle had to do now was keep his wife from tying up the line gabbing with her friends. It was eventually agreed to that the del Mars would have full use of the line after the repair garage closed in the evening, since Earl already had a separate private phone number into his house for the two men's own use.
In gratitude, Rich and Earl were often invited over to the house together for dinner to share stories of the war and to play cards, or to fish out on the lake.
Amy and her family visited again during school’s spring break and Kyle, Rich, Sam, K.E., Ennis and Mike went hunting.
That was the boys’ first experience firing a rifle. Ennis loved it, but poor Michael got knocked on his ass from the kick of his dad’s gun when it fired and was reluctant from then on.
Earl announced that with all the junked cars they were getting in daily, they’d probably need some help over the summer inventorying them by make, model and year, and then disassembling their smaller components for screws, brackets, bolts and part numbers.
The two boys jumped up and down begging for a chance to earn extra money. Kyle was skeptical as to whether his youngest was old enough for the responsibility of the job, and concerned the boy might get hurt crawling into wrecked automobiles, but promised he’d think about the offer.
Ennis was briefly hesitant when he found out he’d have to get a tetanus shot… but only briefly.
K.E. proved to be a “chip off the ‘ol block” and was more interested in learning the ranching business from his father.
Until the end of the spring break when the Salisburys had to go home, Michael and Ennis were inseparable, either sleeping-over at his grandparents’ former house or at the del Mars. Mike wasn’t like the kids at school and Ennis instantly considered him a second brother.
For the rest of April and May Ennis enthusiastically did extra chores, helped with spring-planting, and constantly waited on his injured father hand and foot to the point where an exasperated Kyle surrendered to all of the pleading, and promised him he could work over at Earl’s with Michael that summer; but only if he got good grades.
When June finally arrived, young Michael came east with his mother from Lakton and again often enjoyed sleepovers and fishing/camping outings with the del Mar boys. On one such trip, Arthur came along. Kyle had befriended him during his frequent trips across the road.
Ennis got to fire his daddy’s Winchester again and discovered a real talent for shooting a rifle. Former expert Army sharpshooter Rich gave him lessons to improve his budding skills while Arthur bravely set up smaller, more distant, and more difficult targets to aim at.
As the del Mars got to know him, Arthur Trent turned out to be a typical friendly, popular and athletic high school teenager. He seemed to have trouble at home getting along with his family (as most teens did) and used any excuse to hang around Kyle when he wasn’t working on cars at Earl’s, dating his clinging girlfriend Peggy Sue, or coaching/captaining Sage High’s summer swim team tryouts for the next school year.
If Earl hadn’t hired him, he’d probably be working for Kyle tending the ranch.
One night around the campfire after listening to Arthur’s ghost stories and Kyle telling about his rodeo days, Ennis declared he wanted to be a broncobuster like his daddy. Kyle would hear none of it and told his boy, "I’m a stickin’ to raisin’ ropin’ horses, ‘stead of ridin’ ‘em. I know of only one rodeo hero in my time that wasn't a fuck-up, boy. Rodeoin's fer men who got nothin' to fall back on 'n believe you me, I'm glad I got out when I did."
Kyle’s slip of the tongue meant that for a week afterward young Ennis insisted on calling everyone a “fuck up” until a few swats upside the head from Frannie put a stop to it.
After the constant grief he took from his brother, Ennis was happy that Mike was back, because K.E. was better behaved when the kid was around. The two boys usually both worked side-by-side at the repair garage disassembling and labeling parts, or harvesting small items for whatever was needed off of junked cars; as the older mechanics required them.
In an effort to toughen him up a bit, Kyle would drop over after a long day at his ranch, and set up arm wrestling contests between his youngest and Mike to see who was the strongest. Earl would drill a few cracked bolts from wrecked cars into one of his old wooden workbenches and the boys would race with wrenches to tighten them enough to snap the heads off.
On Ennis’ 8th birthday, Rich surprised both boys with identical brand-new bicycles parked out in the del Mar's front yard. They were a bonus for doing good jobs, and were both custom deluxe models, painted metal-flake blue by Earl, and they sparkled in the sunlight.
A day after the boys got them, Rich took them over to the garage and they added horns, head and taillights, and sturdy baskets on either side of the rear tire and in front of the handlebars for toting parts.
Michael came up with the idea of attaching cardboard strips to the frame that’d make them sound like motorbikes as they fluttered against the wheel spokes. For the rest of the summer they'd have races up and down Dead Horse Road when they weren’t riding into town to pick up small parts at the auto supply store.
Other times they’d ride their bikes together to Twin Creek Cove and fish for hours, or hike up this or that hill; just to see what was on the other side.
As a joke, the teenaged mechanics got Rich to have boy-sized dark blue mechanic’s work shirts made up for them with the kids’ names embroidered on the chests on little white ovals just like they had. They also featured Earl's business name and phone number in big letters emblazoned across the back so they could advertise his company when they went out running errands for him.
After closing up his classroom for the summer, Sam Salisbury arrived a week later.
Rich ran a newspaper ad announcing that he’d set aside three acres of unused farmland bordering the road so that the folks in town could come up and use little sectioned off portions of it to grow small private vegetable gardens for free. He even partially tore the fence down and marked it off with little signs attached to posts with twine, giving them easy access. In gratitude most gave him assorted tomatoes, potatoes, corn and beans as they ripened, and incidentally their car repair business.
The boys made even more money after being hired to haul water out to the little individual crop squares every day.
As a result the tool bays became as much a place for the local men to gather to play cards, drink cold pop and bullshit, as it was to fix automobiles.
K.E. had decided to stay on the ranch to work with his father and was beside himself with jealousy of how much fun his little brother was having.
One weekend Ennis and Mike had to be rescued... at Mike's house in Utah!
As with most people, Michael didn’t realize the vast difference in perceived distance between riding in a car at highway speeds and riding a bike or walking to the same place.
Just for fun, Michael had decided to show his new friend where they lived, so they packed a lunch and some water and attempted the 25-mile trip west to Lakton on their bikes and were too exhausted to return. Their fathers made sure that neither could walk right for a few days afterward.
The journey turned out to be a real eye-opener for Ennis, who’d never left Sage before. He witnessed the barren dry hills of that part of Utah/Wyoming for the first time, after youthfully thinking that everywhere was as lush and green as his home.
When the summer of 1951 started drawing to a close, Sam had to leave to prepare lesson plans for the coming semester; which meant Michael and his mother would be gone too. They had a big barbeque that last night, and the next day young Ennis went off by himself out of sight of his strict father, heartbroken and bitter because Mike was the first kid in a long time he’d actually allowed himself to openly laugh and be friends with.
That fall with the extra land Earl and Rich allowed him to use, Kyle took out a 2nd mortgage to buy a new tractor, some cattle and extra seed for next season.
After school started Ennis was allowed to work over at Earl’s only on the weekends and only if he’d done his homework. Since they didn't live all that far away, the Salisburys often made impromptu day trips on Saturdays to visit Earl and Rich, which meant Michael got to earn extra money too.
K.E. unexplainably took up where he left off again bullying his little brother souring Ennis' recent joyful disposition. Most took the change as typical boyhood jealousy that Ennis had such a good friend and his elder brother didn't.
Cornelia started eighth grade that year, with K.E. a year behind her and Ennis entered 3rd grade.
After a great harvest, and with winter closing in soon, Kyle signed on part-time over at Earl’s changing tires and doing odd jobs.
After snow set in, he’d help out plowing driveways and supply store rear parking lots downtown with Rich’s crew. K.E. and Ennis made extra money shoveling sidewalks when their dad was assigned to clear someone’s driveway out. Wyoming was in for another bad winter that’d eventually last all through the following March.
Sam, Amy and Michael invited Ennis to spend Christmas at their house that year and he came home with the greatest gift of all... his smile was back. Earl and Rich had Christmas dinner with the del Mars.
The two men bought the family a second-hand but like-new Capehart-Farnsworth cabinet style radio with a built in record player. From then on there was happy music in the house interspersed with soap operas, The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, and The Shadow.
A week later Rich talked an old Army buddy into selling Kyle his ’48 GMC pickup for almost nothing and he spent most of January fixing it up and painting it blue over at Earl’s.
With the early 1950’s economy beginning to boom, a city contract and good word spreading like wildfire, Earl and Rich’s business became known in Utah, Idaho and Colorado, as well as across Wyoming. Rich estimated that their debts would be paid off five years early, which would free Kyle from his co-signature on their loan.
To celebrate, Earl bought a brand-new bright red 1952 Pontiac Chieftain convertible and he’d sometimes haul the del Mars to the local Methodist Church in it, or take local girls he and Rich had picked up on picnics at a park in town. The two men were soon known as the most eligible and sought-after bachelors in Sage.
Chapter 6 ~ The First Signs of Success… and Trouble
With the cold war heating up, all the newspapers were filled with word of a paranoid Senator Joe McCarthy who began his communist and homosexual witch-hunts in Washington D.C. in the spring of ‘52. As a result, that Easter was spent without Kyle.
He’d gotten into a bar fight with a man in town who’d gone too far making fun of his lisp and called him a commie queer. The assault brought a six-month prison sentence but Earl used his business connection with the mayor to get it reduced to two.
Francine and young Cornelia made and served a holiday Easter ham in her old kitchen at Earl and Rich’s house. When Kyle came home in late May he had to make up for lost time and Ennis had to stay home and help on the ranch during planting season.
Alvin Corbett moved into town that spring, bought up, tore down 8 buildings in downtown Sage, and put up a GM/Chevy dealership. He offered fantastic deals on police cars if the city gave him their repair business, but the mayor was a man of his word and stuck with Earl… after all, the little town only needed two patrol cars anyway.
Alvy wasn’t too happy about that and got some cronies to spread lies around about shoddy work that his competitor was doing on cars. He also charged Earl near retail on parts that were needed on repairs, so Lamb just drove east into Diamondville for the more expensive ones, or relied on good used ones harvested from the wrecks he’d bought.
As June approached and Ennis turned nine, he couldn't wait for school to let out because he knew Mike would be coming to stay at Rich and Earl's for the summer with his family. He’d made another deal with his dad that if he got good grades he could work at the garage instead of in the fields and though it was a struggle, he succeeded in keeping a B average all through the rest of third grade.
K.E., who was twelve then, felt more like a grownup because he worked closely with his father while Kyle was in jail planning this season’s crops, and as a reward Earl was recruited to teach him how to drive the tractor.
With the expected extra income from the 750 acres Rich let Kyle use for a dollar a year, extra ranch hands were hired onto the del Mar spread for the first time.
Farm equipment from all over the area was hauled into the repair shop as the weather got warmer and Rich was strapped to hire new men to fill the overflow of business since he had his hands full steadily making their ranch/cattle/horse operation a success too.
Earl and Rich were swiftly becoming a major employer in Sage. Between constant livestock trucks and auto repair business, there was even talk in city hall of paving and widening Dead Horse Road... not exactly a good street address for a growing quarter horse breeder.
Rich began negations with Kyle to run a pipeline through his property to pump water from the lake to a tank that would feed a proposed fish hatchery the army vet had dreamed up. If the plans came to fruition, the city pledged to cover half of his costs to stock Lake Sage.
Amy, Sam and Mike arrived just in time to lend a hand, and Amy was even drafted to drive a supply truck into town on a regular basis for parts too big or heavy for the boys to handle on their bikes.
Ennis got a big kick out of telling everyone that he was the parts department manager when he answered their business phone and though he was only nine, he had an inventory of available parts kept his head that even Earl would consult occasionally. As good as he became taking calls, he started getting frustrated because his voice hadn’t changed yet and people who called in kept addressing him as “Ma’am.”
1952 was a tough year for poor Kyle; the pathetic old soul turned 30. Frannie didn’t feel sorry for him at all since she was born on the same day he was and couldn’t figure what all the fuss was about. Tough work day and night kept him firm and muscular and Rich insisted at his birthday party that he didn’t look a day over 25.
Cornelia insisted that her girlfriends in school would see him with his shirt off in town and envied her for having such a sexy blond hunk for a dad; which made him blush red.
In July when things started quieting down, the boys began taking off time to go on camping trips with Kyle and Rich.
Kyle’s young mechanic friend Arthur (that’s him on the far right in the photo below) occasionally came along too. He’d begun teaching the boys basic car repairs under Earl’s watchful eye, and regularly joined Kyle fishing at his shoreline on the ranch. Kyle seemed to be a leveling influence and the teenager seemed troubled about something that he couldn’t talk about.
Often K.E. acted jealous of the time the two spent together, and Frannie had to set him down and explain that Art was closer to Kyle’s age, so they were friends, where as Kyle was his daddy.
Ennis always came home with those hunting trips with a sore shoulder from the recoil his father’s rifle gave when he fired it.
His daddy was really proud that his young son actually managed to hit everything he aimed at, and at Arthur’s prompting Kyle promised that in a few years if he kept his grades up he’d get a proper hunting rifle of his very own for his birthday, and Trent cheerfully pledged to chip in for it too
In the hot summer months Rich bought some big fans that were placed on either side of the barn/garage for cross-flow ventilation, but they only helped a little.
Sweat-covered young muscular grease monkeys and mechanics often wandered around in the heat without shirts in just jeans, and eventually only cut-off denim shorts and work shoes despite the presence of female customers, and no one gave it a second thought.
In fact some young women seemed to bring their cars more often than necessary just to see the brawny show or an unusual number of damsels in distress would crop up with flat tires that only seemed to need reinflating instead of patched.
Rich noticed Arthur’s open fascination with Kyle and was going to say something to the teen about being careful, but Earl talked him out of it, saying it was just a phase and would probably pass. Rich disagreed; mentioning Trent’s “doe eyes” every time the handsome rancher came around, but Earl shrugged it off.
A big blue wooden farmer's water tank and pump were set up next to the garage to accommodate the extra water needed for the ranch's feed and vegetable crops. With the extra capacity he now had, Earl set up a big communal shower room with 5 spigots in the back of the barn just so his men could wash the oil, sweat and dirt off before they went home, or merely to cool off during a lunch or cigarette break.
Never one to go into anything by halves, over the summer Earl bought a huge aboveground pool that they could cool off in that was 30 feet in diameter and five feet deep.
Earl and Rich got into several arguments over that purchase, considering there was a big lake just across the road. Usually they’d end with Rich threatening to store his trout in it until they could get the permits to build his fish hatchery.
Sam quickly insisted on a no skinny-dipping rule during business hours in case of female customers… after the work finished around 6PM - an hour after closing time however, the pool was fair game for horseplay and “letting it all hang out” unless Amy objected, which she rarely did unless the teenaged mechanics were using it while she was there.
Without Kyle knowing it, Arthur did some hyperventilating one very hot day when the handsome rancher of his adolescent fantasies decided to join in, and Trent excused himself from the pool early hiding his obvious reaction to the rancher's toned body… and as it turned out Kyle being hung like the proverbial horse.
It started becoming routine during the hot summer months to enjoy the freedom of private after-work skinny-dipping in the cool clean filtered pool; something they obviously couldn’t do in the lake.
Kyle let Ennis and K.E. join in once in a while, horsing around bare-assed with the young mechanics in water that didn’t smell like algae for a change, but just like Sam with Mike, del Mar forbade his sons to go in without an adult present.
Though the guys never mentioned it to their parents and friends, they never considered it anything more than good clean innocent fun… because that’s all it was.
After hearing of all this “freedom,” Frannie, Amy, and Cornelia did it too, whenever the men were safely out fishing or hunting somewhere. Amy began loving her “all over” tan that would eventually allow her to wear strapless gowns to school functions in the early fall with her husband, much to the envy of the other women in the PTA and teachers associations.
To the guys that worked there it wasn’t unusual to see Earl with his arm over Rich’s shoulders or vice versa. There were rare days when twice-wounded war hero Rich had a hard time walking on his shot up right leg; especially when rain was coming. Every guy there was more than happy to help him get around without a second thought. Some of the high school athletes even started hefting him like a barbell to show off to each other.
The old bullshitting pop-drinking card players who hung around would good-naturedly tease him to no end for sometimes walking like an old man.
In the midst of all that joy and fun, 1952 was also the year that rumors started flying around town. A local woman and her daughter had walked into the garage’s business office around 4:30 to ask about an estimate for a wheel alignment for her husband, and found a shirtless Earl in Rich’s arms in an intimate embrace, possibly after just kissing each other.
She gasped, rushed away, and thanked her lucky stars that her daughter had wandered off somewhere and hadn’t seen this immoral scene between two heathens…
Chapter 7 ~ The Witch Hunt and the Brat
Lacey Ann Trent - age 13 - had been saving up her Bazooka bubble gum wrappers to get a miniature palm-sized "spy" camera.
She'd been picked on by her older brother Arthur all of her life and had hatched a plan to get him off of her back for good...
She carried that tiny camera everywhere she went hoping to catch him while premaritally necking with Becky Sue.
She’d ridden with her mother to Earl's to pick up her brother after work, and had gone exploring the repair bays looking for him, and accidentally came across the shower room in use. While Arthur and the boys' eyes were shut against the soap and unaware of her, that little girl snapped a picture.
No one heard it. No one even noticed it when the schoolgirl pushed the camera button down. In a fraction of a second that click would seal the doom of two men... and eventually a whole town.
The next day, Lacy took the camera to a woman who had a private darkroom and that evening the brat confronted Arthur with the photo with her threat to show it to every girl in school unless he gave her his weekly allowance for six months.
He tore the photo from her hands and shredded it.
She laughed and said she had another copy.
That night while she was at a slumber party at a friend's, Arthur tore her room apart and found it and the tiny negative.
As he rushed from her room, heading for his own to burn the incriminating evidence, he ran smack into his father...
...who demanded to know what he was hiding behind his back.
Print and negative were burned by a disgusted self-righteous father. Of course his big-mouthed wife blamed the two queers she’d seen kissing, but Mrs. Trent was sworn to reluctant secrecy to keep her from embarrassing their overly Christian family.
That night Mrs. Trent was overheard by the town switchboard operator and instantly rumors flew like wildfire and got more intense and exaggerated with each telling.
Unfortunately for all concerned, more than two copies of that negative had been printed, and as the spiteful pigtailed little brat carried out her promise to show them to all of her school friends, word spread like wildfire that either Earl or Rich or both were now taking perverted naked sex photos of the town’s cherished sons.
Despite repeated warnings from her husband, Arthur's mother would swoon in front of assorted friends several times a day to make sure all her sympathetic acquaintances at the beauty parlor, the church, and supply store where she worked knew how much she was suffering. Her poor baby Arthur; "Oh," she'd gasp dramatically, "it... it's just so awful girls! My poor baby!"
Soon after, young Ennis came home from work and his father confronted him with pointed questions about what usually went on over there. Even after talking to Amy and Sam the pressure from ignorant men in town eventually forced del Mar to angrily tell Ennis without further explanation that he, Cornelia and K.E. were to never go over there again... not even to see Michael.
The local men from town that used to gather regularly at Earl's, bragging that they were the only ones who could fix a car the right way abruptly vanished into the woodwork as if they never existed. They could've cleared the two men’s names of the lies easily by denying they'd ever seen the things the woman described, but suddenly no one remembered ever hanging out there, fearing "guilt through association."
Seeing an opportunity to wreck the reputation of a competitor, Alvin at the Chevy dealership made sure the gossip spread even more.
Within days, several farmers and businessmen started coming around to the del Mar ranch. While gesturing across the road they began asking Kyle pointed questions about Earl and Rich and why he’d put up his ranch to allow them perverts to move into their community, especially after it was learned that the men had shared many suppers, holidays and camping trips with his family.
Community peer pressure began to sway Kyle, even though he knew in his heart that Rich couldn’t possibly be involved in the insane stories being passed around town… and Sam and Amy couldn’t possibly condone it right under their noses with their son present over there.
Kyle, K.E. and Ennis never so much as sensed anything untoward when they were over there and Francine insisted on daily talks with Amy, despite her husband’s worries.
As for the skinny-dipping, even he saw no harm in it, since there were only men and boys there. It wasn't like they were parading around in front of little girls or something. It was the homosexual rumors that bothered him and the reason why he suddenly kept Ennis away... reluctantly.
Del Mar considered himself a good church-going father protecting his children… still he knew Earl and Rich well and refused to believe the increasingly outrageous rumors.
Several subsequent visits were heated after it was discovered that Kyle was farming half of Earl’s land for a profit, and none of the kids understood why they’d be sent out of earshot to their rooms or out to work in the fields during those confrontations.
About the only people blissfully unaware of the furor were Earl, Rich and the Salisburys, since folks in town suddenly avoided talking to them.
Kyle did his best to convince the unruly fools that everything was perfectly innocent and that the ignorant woman probably was exaggerating and saw something completely above suspicion like Earl helping the crippled Rich up after falling. Besides, if they did anything stupid or drastic before Earl and Rich's loan was paid off, Kyle would lose his ranch to the bank as collateral for what was still owed on Earl's Repair Service, so for the time being things stayed quiet... he hoped.
Despite her husband's objections, Frannie still cheerfully answered the telephone during the day, "Earl's Auto Repair Service!" She was determined to honor their obligation to the men for the free evening phone service they were still getting from their friends across the road. Suddenly the kids were banned from answering it, because of the occasional menacing and sometimes obscene calls threatening the two men if they didn’t leave town.
Sam and Amy became reluctant to visit Kyle and Fran because of the often-unfriendly or standoffish reception they’d get and poor Michael was miserable.
Francine put her foot down and allowed Ennis’ best friend to come over and visit. Youthfully oblivious to the seriousness of the situation the boys still rode bikes together and went on occasional camping trips, but Ennis wasn’t allowed to earn summer money at Earl’s any more on the excuse that he was needed to work in the fields or tend the cattle and horses.
Ennis was hit especially hard because at the time Earl had begun secretly teaching him how to drive in his brand-new Pontiac convertible on the back roads of his ranch behind the repair shop. The nine-year-old kid was too small to reach the pedals yet, but never once was Ennis uncomfortable sitting on the man's lap while he steered or was taught how to work a manual column shift while Earl did the clutch. Both of them spent the whole time laughing their heads off.
Arthur showed up at the del Mar’s door one day unexpected and scared looking for Kyle. Out on the edge of the lake, all that Kyle could get out of the mysteriously frightened teen was that he was afraid that if his dad found out, he’d kill him. Kyle would scoff, but the boy seemed genuinely worried and said it wasn’t a joke.
Kyle asked, “Find out what?” but the teen up and ran off without answering…
…and he never returned.
Within a month, every male teenager who worked for Earl was questioned repeatedly as to what went on there and every single one of them said they worked on cars, were taught how to maintain them like and by an expert, they were paid daily and then they went home. The young men were loyal because instead of pocketing the extra when the bill was paid, Rich would call them into his office and let his mechanics keep the tips customers gave for good work.
Arthur tried hard to convince his parents that Lacey had taken the photo, but they couldn’t believe their precious sweet little angel would do such an evil thing. In addition they were convinced now that those two heathens had turned their beloved son into a queer devil too; one that even walked around with naked photos of the boys who worked with him.
Lacey wore a continuous smirk on her victorious face, having gotten her hated brother into more trouble than he could possibly get out of and she of course denied everything with appropriate astonished gasps, imitating her mother.
Despite the unanimous denials from virtually everyone involved, the rumors and wild speculation around town persisted. Within two weeks the shop lost every local young man that worked there on the word of some loud-mouthed dim-witted woman who may or may not have seen what she said she saw.
Chapter 8 ~ Friendship At The End Of A Shotgun
Perplexed, Rich began hiring more expensive mechanics from outlying towns. Business didn’t really suffer too much, but still an underlying feeling of uneasiness grew around the repair shop.
Soon after, the lisping Kyle del Mar lost all of his ranch hands when they just stopped reporting for work. Anger and frustrations set in, now that he had to single-handedly try to tend and harvest 1,500 acres by himself in the coming months with only the help of his two young boys.
Initially Rich's ranching operation suffered the same loss, but after the word got out, closeted homosex-ual men began flocking to them from all over the area to fill the abandoned farming and herding positions.
They were paid top dollar and a bonus toward staying to tend horses, cattle and Rich's modest crop fields.
Earl spent more money having an outbuilding on the far side of the ranch converted to a makeshift dormitory for them with a private driveway off Camel's Back Road.
With the extra expenses, they had to give up Rich's dream of a trout hatchery.
A barbed wire fence had gone up last year to keep Earl's livestock from wandering into Kyle's crops planted and tended over there; it now became a sort of border that neither of them crossed. Despite Earl owning it, the section Kyle farmed was still known as the Bowers Farm.
Sam wanted badly to stay, sensing something wrong with the local attitude, but he couldn’t put his thumb on it, and like it or not he had to head west to prepare for the next school year taking his family with him.
Before he left, he came across the road to try to get an explanation from Kyle but left empty handed and worried from hearing Ennis softly crying behind the closed door of his bedroom.
Within days of leaving, Ennis' friend Mike began writing from Utah every so often to ask what the local trouble about his uncles was about; for which he got no answer.
Young Michael knew his uncle Rich's secret relationship with Earl and loved them both anyway, as did his unconcerned and progressive parents. Not once did either man lay an improper hand on the child, and Mike loved to ride on them piggyback, rough house, toss baseballs, dive off of their shoulders into the pool, ride horses and laugh with them like all uncles and nephews do.
Back before the trouble started, Ennis and K.E. would be invited to join in and they never had such a good time as when they were over there… until now.
Over the previous two years not a single payment had been missed and in August Kyle del Mar got his collateral back from the bank now that it was no longer needed by Earl.
To celebrate, he bought a four-year-old Ford station wagon on credit to go to town and church socials in, instead of hauling the kids around in the back of the pickup truck, now that rides from Earl and/or Rich were out of the question. Kyle began taking the car to a garage in downtown Sage for servicing despite it being more expensive there, instead of just going across the road.
Many of the townsfolk did the same.
Fortunately Earl had a statewide reputation by then of doing good work at a fair price, so his business stayed afloat, despite local customers suddenly abandoning him.
With Ennis unable to tend them single-handedly, the little garden patches at the road withered from neglect, not that it mattered since the people that used them stopped coming around too.
When the del Mar’s rode into town in the station wagon, the kids would often stick their hands out the windows to wave or shout at Earl or Rich on the sidewalk or coming out of a store, and Francine reluctantly would make them quiet down.
After a few months, it was just assumed that the youngsters weren’t allowed to say “hi” to them in public. The resentment grew to the point where even Kyle would occasionally mumble something rude under his breath if he saw them when the kids were with him, and always if one of the local troublemakers were within earshot.
None of the kids understood why the men they’d once considered favorite uncles weren’t to be spoken to any more and they were very sad about it, pestering their parents for an explanation to the point where Kyle would lose his temper and sternly tell them to just shut up.
The summer turned into an unusually warm fall and Cornelia started high school, K.E. entered 7th grade and Ennis started 4th. After hearing of Kyle’s labor troubles through Ennis, Sam contracted twenty teenagers from the Lakton Utah area 4H Club for him, and sent them out to help with his harvest. Kyle fought long and hard with his pride, but with Frannie’s help, accepted the assistance with grace and made a tidy profit after paying them off.
A few days after a Thanksgiving spent without the two friendly neighbors across the road, Kyle under more and more pressure from the local rednecks, posted NO TRESPASSING signs at his driveway. A few days later a frustrated Earl came across the road on foot to invite the family over for Christmas far in advance, and to ask why his best friends had all turned on him.
Kyle chased him off the property with a couple of shotgun blasts, terrifying his kids in the process.
In retaliation, a few days later an angered Rich sent Kyle a registered letter. As of January 1, 1953 he was canceling the dollar-a-year lease on Earl's farm land that del Mar was using to financially get ahead, along with a "no trespassing" notice of his own. Soon afterward, some workmen came out and the split-rail fence was put back up along the roadside too, shutting off the free garden parcels for the townsfolk.
The del Mars would have to make due with about half of their planned income for next year, leaving Kyle holding the bag for the brand-new farm equipment he'd just bought on time payments. Earl sadly made another futile attempt to reconcile with his friends by phone, but gave up quickly when Kyle hung up on him.
The next afternoon a gentle call was made from Rich’s private phone to his garage number when they knew Kyle would be out in the fields. Despite everything, Frannie dutifully still answered it, and Rich pledged in a voice that sounded near tears, that no matter what; the horses she loved as a child would be well looked after. He also said he was so sorry… and hung up.
Soon afterward, the mystified del Mar kids found their mother crying on the front porch after noticing out the window that their friend Earl was climbing a ladder steadied by Rich to the top of the telephone pole at the end of his driveway.
A big set of long-handled tree limb pruning shears was attached to his belt.
After pausing to wipe his eyes of tears, he severed the cable to the del Mar ranch between the pole and his repair barn. As the line fell onto the wheat field on the shop's side of the road, the warm relationship the del Mars had with the two likable men died with the family's free phone service.
Kyle wasn't angry when he found out; he just went off by himself into town.
They were his friends and he'd turned his back on their caring generosity instead of standing by them. He owed Rich his life, and Earl his young family's current financial stability, but when he weighed that against the townsfolk thinking he was queer too, he was lost as to what to do about the situation.
All of Sage had the Bible and God on their side… or so they said.
Doing something, as opposed to doing nothing to stand up for his friends had netted the same result.
Ennis became more and more of a nuisance, demanding to know why his father suddenly wouldn't let him go over to Earl's to earn extra money and be with his friends. In retaliation, Kyle became very strict with his sons; giving them both military buzz cuts and making them call him "sir" instead of "Dad."
Gradually young Ennis' happy grin vanished.
He just couldn't understand, and wouldn't for a long, long time.
Kyle and Fran had started having kids at the young age of sixteen when Cornelia was born. In those days of large families necessary to run a ranch, an age difference of eighteen years wasn’t unusual between the oldest and youngest child.
By the time Kyle had turned 30 with his youthful good looks, he’d years ago become used to being mistaken for being his kid’s older brother instead of their father.
A few days later, it occurred to Kyle that Arthur had stopped coming around to talk and fish, and he realized he missed the young man. Out of force of habit, he picked up the phone to ask if the teen wanted to come work for him… and realized the line was dead.
Tearing the useless phone off the wall, del Mar wondered if Mr. Trent causing trouble for the guys across the street had something to do with the popular teenager’s absence.
He became genuinely concerned when he remembered Arthur’s fear of his father, but with no way to contact him was lost as to what to do…
Chapter 9 ~ Onward Christian Soldiers
In the week that followed, gunshots began ringing out at all hours of the day and night near the bunkhouse on Camel's Back Road. Someone had begun taking potshots at Earl's ranch hands both in the fields and at the dormitory in an effort to scare the workers away.
Half of Kyle’s yet to be harvested late corn crop over there was doused with kerosene ruining it. Three head of cattle and one of Fran's favorite horses became casualties too. Livestock fences were torn down in the night scattering frightened herds everywhere. Someone's truck ran through Rich’s cornfield mowing most of it under its tires.
In the days that followed, more bullets and buckshot flew, and two ranch hands wound up in the hospital with serious wounds. Despite their bonuses, loyalty and gratitude for their jobs, workers began packing up and leaving in droves for fear of their lives.
The gay ones held out the longest when everyone else bailed, sleeping in tents and taking turns on armed day and night guard duty after the bunkhouse was burned to the ground. Eventually even they had no choice but to flee for their lives too.
The local Sage police seemed unconcerned, so Rich called in the Lincoln County Sheriff and the Wyoming State Police. Deputies canvassed every known darkroom in the area, but no one admitted printing the photos.
...There was a good reason that Lacey Trent never caught her brother with Peggy Sue, though he talked about her often… she didn’t exist.
17-year-old Arthur had known he was "different" since he was a small boy. He was overjoyed to be hired as a journeyman mechanic, and had come to idolize happy Earl and Rich’ using them as role models for the fantasy life he'd hoped to have one day when he found the right boyfriend of his own.
The kid was miserable because of the shine he’d taken to Kyle. When Earl or Rich couldn’t find him they knew he was across the road during cigarette breaks fishing or just talking to the handsome rancher out in the fields.
Without realizing the young man’s feelings towards him, Kyle would innocently hug him or sling his arm around the teenager when he caught a big fish or announced an “A” on his report card.
Ironically, while all this was going on, his History homework assignment was on the murderous European Crusades. With that in mind, and the Inquisition, it seemed like half the town was now out to kill his two heroes.
As Arthur helplessly watched, his everyday average town quickly transformed itself, after an opportunistic stranger named Rev. Newsome held his second well-timed revival meeting at the rodeo arena to a nearly standing-room-only crowd. The townspeople left with a revitalized religious vigor… The reverend went back to Texas with a lot of their spare cash stuffed in his pockets.
Grace was now said at every meal, boys and young men stopped going shirtless in the warm weather, women wore more modest clothing; especially at the lake, area churches were packed on Sunday as if attendance had suddenly become mandatory, sermons became fierier and parents watched over their kids as if a wild animal might get them.
People began closing phone calls with “God be with you,” or “Have a blessed day.”
Arthur repeatedly heard his father on the line with different men, planning to harm the popular garage owners; most saying that the two subjects of their hatred deserved more than just to be run out of town. His father often quoted Leviticus over the phone.
His attention-starved mother told everyone that it was time to teach those two heathens - and the town - a good Christian lesson in morality and what the Bible said God taught what to do about homosexuals when and wherever they were found. Someone painted KILL A QUEER FOR CHRIST! in giant white letters on the redbrick wall of the high school facing town... No one bothered to paint over it worrying that the punishment for taking it down was worse that for whoever put it up.
The next day the slogan appeared on a big boulder at the end of Earl and Rich's driveway. The men began arming themselves and put up bars over the ground floor windows of their home.
In Arthur’s confused and tortured teenaged mind he feared guilt through association, which was something teens always had - and always would - take seriously.
He'd heard what they'd already done, shooting to kill the queer farmhands, and knew the terror in his mind that his father and his friends, would come for him next if he let his secret slip.
The “fear of God” took on a new, different and terrifying meaning to the teen.
Surrendering to what he thought was the inevitable, he left a long sad note one last time trying to convince his parents he was telling the truth. In it he begged Lacey to admit she took the picture and not Earl and Rich.
Knowing his parents would never tell anyone the truth; he mailed a copy to the local paper. Later that night, not being able to bear being their next religious target of hate - not love, young Arthur who'd had so much hope and potential took his daddy's pistol, put it in his mouth, and blew the back of his head off.
His useless suicide made the front page of the Sage Sentinel the next day... but not his letter.
Many people at the paper knew the truth after reading that note but elected to keep it quiet "for Christian decency's sake" and with only wild rumor to go on the town's vigilantes thought for sure they knew who to blame for the teen's death...
...In the middle of the following night, some of the men in town came over to the del Mar ranch. While the kids at the top of the stairs listened in fear of the angry voices below, the words “queer” and “pervert” were used loudly, and then something about getting inside the house across the way.
"I'll have no part of bein' yer god-damned Judas!" protested Kyle.
Their indignant father seemed to be defending himself against them, and the kids cowered in fright when their mother suddenly said their names in defense of her husband asserting that just because he wanted no part of it, didn't mean he was “one of those.”
She bravely stood her ground like a bear defending her cubs, and became even angrier that all the trouble was because of one gossiping woman who by now was claiming that she saw Earl and Rich necking half-naked, and that they were probably forcing teenaged schoolboys to have homosexual orgies in the shower after work or they wouldn’t get paid.
Fran pointed out that not one of the angry men present had seen it with their own eyes and that she'd heard that Arthur had said that his sister took that picture.
"MY - BOY - IS - DEAD!" roared Mr. Trent.
The children cringed in fright when their father suddenly yelled at their mother to shut the hell up before she made things worse. All of the sudden things got real quiet and stayed that way.
Everyone had left the house and from the sound of it Kyle went unwillingly.
Francine was left behind and seemed to be quietly sobbing in the kitchen after pleading with Kyle not to go with them.
Ten minutes later a justifiably paranoid and frightened Rich greeted Kyle at the two men's front door of the "Bowers Ranch" with a double-barreled Winchester leveled at his chest.
Relieved at finding a friend instead of a foe on their threshold, Rich relaxed and invited his neighbor in.
A tear dropped from del Mar's eye as he pleaded in true sorrow, "I'm so sorry - so sorry; I… they gave me no choice... They threatened Frannie 'n the kids."
Just inside the door Earl relaxed the tense grip he had on his own weapon and with a troubled sigh, took his lover's rifle and securely locked both of them back in the living room gun case.
With a frown of concern and worried words for del Mar's family, Rich asked, "Who? Who threatened ‘em?"
The couple thought their friend was apologizing for his past behavior; not for tricking them into opening the door and putting their weapons away.
As loud footsteps pounded across the porch, Kyle dropped to his knees in terrified tears and desperately begged his God for forgiveness at the top of his lungs.
His two friends realized too late that it was the last mistake that Earl and Rich would ever make as a pack of men just outside rushed the living room...
Chapter 10 ~ The Hero and the Helpless
... Later on, the youngsters could hear a pickup truck driving up and down the road with a bunch of drunken men whooping it up and shouting with laughter. Blubbering tears, their mother made them go back to bed and sternly warned them to stay there. In the following silence they could hear her crying bitterly while standing at the door watching the road.
Some time later that night the kids heard what sounded like an injured calf crying far off in the distance, but their mother made them go back to sleep and ignore it, saying some wolf or a coyote probably got hold of someone's livestock.
Kyle finally came home before dawn the next morning part drunk and part hungover and emotionally wrung out.
Moments later, the kids woke up to loud voices carrying across the second floor hall. A heated argument had broken out and he began yelling loudly in anger, "I had no choice Frannie; they come here fer me too. Fer ME! If'n I didn't go, I woulda been next. DAMN IT ALL TA HELL I didn't have no fuckin' choice."
Cornelia rushed in and was immediately ushered back to her room by her mother.
Francine almost made it back to their bedroom door when she shrieked and ducked back into the hall.
Their sons were startled in terror when without warning an almost empty lighter fluid can went flying violently across their parent's room, through their open door barely missing Fran, across the hall, and loudly hit the boy's closed bedroom door as they listened at it from the other side.
She cautiously entered their bedroom to find a devastated husband in motion.
He stopped at her appearing in front him and turned away to hide his angry gaze from her.
After a tense moment of silence, K.E. and Ennis were shocked to hear their father pacing around the bedroom sobbing into the hand covering his tortured expression, occasionally sniffing to clear his nose.
He choked out in a helpless voice, "I - they used me - I couldn't stop 'em, honey. He was my friend 'n he - he saved my GODDAMN WORTH-LESS life in Korea 'n he carried me... on his back ...fer half a mile th-through heavy sniper fire to a M*A*S*H unit. Baby, they used me. u-USED me. I had no-ho-ho chu-hoice… I didn’t want to die too. I was so goddamned scared I was gonna die too last night."
The boys could hear their father wail, "Oh Baby, they said they'd beat you 'n the kids to death if'n I didn't d-do what they said," while stomping around the room, still hiding his red face with his drip-ping wet palm.
His wife closed in on him to hug her hurt husband, but he thoughtlessly shoved her away, unable to bear being touched. Like a woman who had just been raped, his was in in-tense emotional agony.
He felt less of a man when he real-ized that he couldn't handle some-thing by the use of his brawn, his toughness or his fists. In that sense his manhood really had been raped and torn from him and he felt truly helpless, maybe for the first time in his life.
No one had ever seen Kyle del Mar cry before; it was something men just didn't do.
The kids were shocked beyond belief as their ever-strong father's voice came out in either choking sobs of anguished, guilt-filled, grief-stricken sobs, or in loud frustrated high-pitched screams.
"He was my friend, Frannie… the U.S. damned Army pinned him a hero fer riskin' his own life to save mine… ME! He weren't some damned queer, he was muh freh-heh-hend... he was muh fuckin' hero!"
"DAMMIT I SHOULDA STUCK BY HIM BABY! Something fragile angrily sailed across the master bedroom in frustration and shattered loudly against the wall.
Frannie replied softly, "'n then you'd be dead too... jest like them 'n then where'd we be without ya?"
Ennis gasped, "Dead?" searched into K.E.'s eyes and began quietly weeping for Uncles Earl and Rich... and for once his elder did something decent and held his little brother in his arms and comforted him...
Later after searching all over for him that afternoon, young Ennis stood ten yards behind his young father sitting with his knees up alone at the quiet northern shoreline of their property, sadly chucking stones and pebbles into the water. Earl, Rich and especially poor Arthur killing himself weighed heavily on his mind.
The teenager he'd called his friend had to be terrified of his own damned father killing him. Kyle began begging god that none of his kids would ever come to that.
The little boy watched his grown daddy for a few minutes until the man dropped his forehead to his knees and began quietly crying again, balling his fists wrapped tightly around his shins, crunching his seated body into a tight ball of sadness.
Ennis rushed through the tall grass and threw his arms around his emotionally broken father's neck from behind, silently trying to comfort him the only way he knew how.
They stayed like that for a long minute or so, then Kyle stared out at the lake and whispered, "Son; don't you never do nothin' ta hurt yerself 'cause ya think I wouldn't love you no matter what... P-promise me boy? Promise me."
Ennis shook his head against his daddy's shoulder and said, "I love you too, Daddy."
Kyle stood up, turned around, pulled his boy up off his feet so that Ennis' legs wrapped snuggly around his waist facing each other and they rested the sides of their heads together as his daddy swiveled his hips rocking his son back and forth in a silent tight hug.
"Don't be sad Daddy."
Del Mar choked out another sob and squeezed his boy harder, snorting to clear his sinuses...
The next day the city tarred the dirt length of Dead Horse Road from half a mile east of the del Mar Ranch to half a mile west beyond Sage Street. They said it was to keep the dust down… or was it to hide a long streak of smeared blood down the middle of it?
After a week Ennis noticed that no one seemed to stop at Earl’s garage anymore and it appeared deserted with a heavy chain sagging across the entrance. Soon after that, groups of men began coming around the del Mar ranch again and after lots of beer, they’d laugh vaguely with Kyle about dragging something down the road and listening to something cry.
The next day some scary men in a big pickup with angry faces came by the house.
K.E. and Ennis were called outside in their coats and then taken with their daddy along with some other schoolboys gathered in the bed of the truck.
They set off down a long gully road. On the way there other trucks joined them as if in a convoy.
Up until now the weather had stayed unusually warm for late November, but as they turned down an access road lined with an irrigation pipeline on stilts on the left, a chill breeze began to blow.
When the lead pickup came to a dusty stop, the gruff leader narrowed his eyes at Kyle and muttered, “Yer first,” his gaze including young K. E. and Ennis, gesturing down the road with his head.
Ennis’ father silently gathered his two boys and reluctantly led them downhill along the dirt lane alone, guiding them forward with his comforting arms around their shoulders while the others watched. K.E. noticed his daddy’s breath catch and looked up to see a tear welling in his once-fearless father’s eye.
After about 100 paces they came up on a man hung by his neck with a thin cord on a tall deer fence to their right, his hair tightly kinked as if burnt, his skin scorched in places nearly black and his clouded open eyes staring in agony at the ground. His seared face was bloated beyond recognition.
Across the road and down twenty paces, lay old Earl Lamb naked with shreds of bloody clothing on the ground beside him. He lay there face up in an irrigation ditch, his crotch all bloody and vacant. There were small round dark red marks all over his body from where they’d beaten him senseless with the ends of tire irons before they dragged him unconscious up and down the road.
Both men had flies all over them and they smelled so bad that Ennis puked when he finally realized who they were and both sons began bawling in grief for their friends while their father comforted them closely to his waist, his eyes tightly closed, his head shaking back and forth in agony and tilted upward as if questioning God for an answer to his grief.
Kyle kept his eyes focused on the ground in anguish as he led them back up the hill to the truck. When they got there another group of teenaged former employees in turn were sent down there with their fathers.
One of the threatening men sternly warned the del Mar boys, "That’s what happens to queers when they come around Sage; that goes fer people that talk out of turn too."
For some reason the man was pointedly looking at Kyle when he said it.
Ennis looked up at his daddy in time to see him nod once and bow his head in surrender.
Chapter 11 ~ NO TRESPASSING
When the del Mars needed to, they now had to place calls from the phone booths inside the library at Sage and Camel's Back Rd. Kyle and Frannie never realized how much they'd come to depend on Earl's generous offer of phone service until they lost it... and thought of him when they did.
For a long time Kyle wouldn't let anyone touch, much less turn on, the old radio Rich had bought for them.
Ennis wrote to his friend Michael in detail about what he'd seen and heard.
Within days activity was noticed across the street as unrepaired police and utility cars were towed away.
Sam and Amy’s car was seen entering the garage’s driveway after pausing to cut the chain, but Ennis was forbidden to rush over to see if Michael had come too.
Sam and Amy sold off the livestock at rock-bottom prices in order to get up the money for Earl and Rich's final arrangements. Townsfolk came reluctantly at first, but soon flocked there as word got out at the bargains to be had. Frannie's treasured ponies were seen led eastward down Dead Horse Rd. by a neighbor and she broke down and wept for an hour... the del Mars had never even been offered first option to buy them.
While Mike's folks spent the better part of a week closing up the shop and had it put it up for sale, the boy could be seen standing for long minutes at a time staring at the NO TRESPASSING signs with a sad look on his face. Unable to stand it, Francine walked down, took his hand and led him to the house.
He stayed only long enough to say hello to everyone because Kyle’s stares made him feel unwelcome, but he was determined to see his buddy Ennis once more, and Mike started carrying spare auto parts across the road with him in the days that followed and tuned up their Ford wagon with new points and plugs, and then put new rear brake shoes on it for free from stuff that’d just have gone to an auction anyways.
A few nights later Sam and his frightened family cowered in their pajamas on the del Mar’s front porch after something across the road exploded. The volunteer fire department was called out to the repair shop to put out a dangerous grass fire that fortunately didn’t spread to the house.
Someone had snuck onto the property and set Earl's prized Pontiac convertible on fire while they slept.
The next morning Francine went across the road to offer her condolences and help to Amy, but couldn’t get Kyle to go with her. After sketchy details of what happened to her brother and Earl from folks in town finally reached their ears, they decided against a memorial service and had a Lakton funeral home pick them up for burial. Amy told Frannie that Sam swore they'd never return to Sage.
After their mother broke that news to Kyle, he forbade the kids from going across the road to say one last goodbye to Mike, and brutally punished Ennis when he began an angry protest. Expressing himself, even in front of his family seemed to now be forbidden. Later in life this learned bottling up of emotion would lead to a quick and dangerous temper that'd get Ennis in trouble over and over again.
When Michael’s family left for probably the last time that early December of 1952, Ennis spied his daddy at a distance standing coatless in the cold by their mailbox at the end of the driveway.
As the Salisbury’s station wagon turned onto the road and slowed to a stop beside him, Kyle leaned in and seemed to shake Sam’s hand; probably to offer his delayed condolences.
After the car disappeared down the road, del Mar angrily yanked the NO TRESPASSING signs down, violently shredded them with his fists, and then collapsed to a sitting position alone at the end of his driveway with his head bowed for a long time.
Even at that distance, his family watching from the porch could see his shoulders heaving as he sobbed out his sorrow. Frannie kept the kids from going down there to see what was wrong and ushered them back into the house.
Kyle would never fully recover. He feared for his family every day that some son-of-a-bitch would try to silence him after what he saw. Not even the Korean War prepared him for this, and his emotions and feelings burrowed deep down inside him, leaving a sometimes unintentionally thoughtless and cruel man who couldn't heal his emotional wounds.
Often he'd scream out in terror in the middle of the night from a bad dream. Mama would tell the kids it was from the war.
Just like his father, Ennis would one day follow in his idolized daddy's emotional footsteps...
Chapter 12 ~ Two Fires – One Broken Heart
Convinced he’d never see Michael again, Ennis ran out the back door and later fell into sobbing fits all alone in the woods without completely understanding why he was so sad, but telling himself it was because he missed Earl and Rich and couldn’t get the sight of their corpses out of his mind. In his innermost thoughts he knew it was because he'd never see his buddy Mike again and he swore he’d on no account ever make friends with anyone again if this was what happened as a result.
After all, his father was friends with the great old guys and look how that turned out. In his bewildered young mind a friend might kill you without warning, even though you trusted and laughed with them before.
As confusion clouded his thinking he began punching a tree, hoping the pain would take the longing he had for Michael’s friendship away. After a minute or so, he realized it wasn’t working and came away afterward with only a bloody top of his hand and sore swollen knuckles with bits of bark in them that later became infected.
For years afterward, Ennis couldn't see a Pontiac on the street without laughing to himself about how much fun he had learning how to drive, and then deep hurt and sorrow would set in at the loss of old Earl’s friendship. He was a good man and a treasured friend who treated Ennis like an equal instead of a little kid.
The next day Ennis' cherished fancy auto parts bike disappeared from school without explanation.
A few weeks later Francine presented him with a bigger new green bike on Christmas morning that she’d bought out of her “mad” money, but Ennis just looked at it parked in front of the tree emotionlessly. After making a point of thanking her twice, he ignored it the rest of the day.
That night as if to kill any joy that was left in the holiday, Kyle led Ennis out back and made him squirt his custom uniform shirt from the repair garage with lighter fluid and then ordered him to strike the match that set it ablaze.
All the while Kyle watched and then threatened his son to be sure the boy never shed a tear. It was one more brick laid in an emotional wall that Ennis wouldn't be able to crawl over for nearly the rest of his life.
The next day was K.E.’s eleventh birthday and his father presented him with a used red bike that smelled freshly painted. It had new tires, handlebar tassels, handgrips and pedals, and the new leather seat was rebolted unusually high for such a small frame…
Except for the color, it was identical to the one Ennis had just lost minus the lights, horn and parts baskets.
In March of 1953 old Alvin Corbett, the man who owned the Chevrolet dealership in town, bought Earl’s Auto Repair and Parts business, and moved his entire service department there in order to expand his showroom downtown.
Old Alvy finally got his revenge.
Francine cried bitterly as she watched from the porch as her childhood home and all of the out buildings were bulldozed down. Except for the water tower, everything was replaced with ugly gray corrugated steel structures. Then the fields were paved over to be replaced with parking for his new car inventory.
Dead Horse Road was paved too and widened to two lanes as the kids watched in wonder at the multi-car tractor-trailers that began arriving on a regular schedule day and night with new Chevys, Pontiacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles on their backs.
Ennis kept up his writing to Michael once or twice a month through the winter and spring. Mike was especially sad at the demise of Earl’s Auto Repair. He was even more upset when he’d learned of Ennis’ missing bike and how his father had forced him to burn his uniform shirt.
Life went on - planting crops and a summer without the Salisburys... especially Michael. That fall Cornelia started high school and Ennis entered middle school in the fifth grade.
Coming home from classes on their bikes that first day, they topped the hill looking out and down at their farm and the sharp turn in Dead Horse Road.
Ennis' jaw dropped when he noticed that Earl's blue water tower on the eastern horizon had been repainted bright red.
While his brother and sister peddled on toward home without him, he stood there straddling his bicycle in shock fighting tears. The tower was a landmark that could be seen from all over town, so it made sense that Earl's name would be covered up so as to not remind a guilty little community of its self-righteous sins.
Ennis was only eleven, but was already becoming practiced in holding in hurt, holding in anger, holding in loneliness and suppressing any joy that was left in his own life.
The next afternoon a white Chevrolet bowtie logo was added to the tower beneath a giant GM...
...In early October K.E. toppled over the handlebars of his too-little bike.
Ennis noticed that a scratch on the frame revealed sparkled blue paint. The next day Kyle Junior’s bicycle was stolen from the rack at school and he had to ride on the back of his little brother’s to get home.
That weekend Ennis rode out to a secluded part of Twin Creek Cove with some turpentine and old rags and wiped off all of the cheap red spray paint to reveal the metallic blue of his treasured first two-wheeler. After staring sadly at it for half an hour, he doused it with the rest of the paint thinner and wept bitterly as he set it on fire, running away to a safe distance as the burning inner tubes exploded.
After it cooled, he angrily hurled the charred hulk of it as hard as he could into the dark green water and rode home.
The next day he made an unexpected gift of his own unwanted bike to K.E. The bigger bicycle fit his older brother’s longer legs better anyway. Their father had also noticed the old paint beneath the scratch and wisely decided not to question his youngest about the gift.
Instead of being grateful, K.E. somehow must’ve figured out what had happened to his own bike and began verbally picking on Ennis. Their youngest startled everyone by simply turning away and silently going up to their shared bedroom alone.
That was the first time Frannie had ever cussed at any of her children after calling Kyle Junior a heartless little bastard and said she was ashamed of him.
That year’s smaller harvest brought harder financial times to the del Mars after he had to hire extra men from out of town to help out with it. With only one kidney, Kyle was now 31, and had begun having a harder time with the physical stress involved with ranching and raising roping horses, and seemed to be getting noticeably weaker as time went on.
He tried getting a part-time job over the winter across the road, but because of talk in town, the service manager refused to hire him.
It'd been hushed up that Mr. Trent shot his wife and daughter one night and then turned the gun on himself. The town needed a scapegoat to move on from the news and the del Mars had unknowingly been elected.
Out of necessity some of Kyle's best horses and cattle were sold at auction at unfair rock-bottom prices to neighboring ranchers.
Everyone in the family suffered in their own way every time they walked out their front door and spied that freshly painted water tower.
Fearing for the kids' safety, Frannie began driving the kids to and from school in the old station wagon.
Chapter 13 ~ Zero - One - Two - Three Kiss Me Woman!
The next four years flew by and were mostly uneventful. K.E. started high school and became captain of the baseball team. Cornelia began dating older boys much to Kyle’s chagrin. Both K.E. and Cornelia got their driver's licenses and took over driving back and forth to school.
The del Mars finally got a phone of their own put in... and between Frannie and Cornelia it was nearly impossible to get through to them.
After mastering the farm tractor, Ennis was like a boy who'd proudly learned how to use a lawn mower for the first time... then realized how much of a drudge it was.
Sage put up a bond vote to fund reinforcing the earthen dam holding back Lake Sage, but it was voted down as unnecessary after a few amateur studies were done that said it wasn’t needed, mostly because it’d require tearing down the successful rodeo stadium.
After being told that his earnings on this year’s would be delayed, Kyle discovered he didn’t have enough saved up to put in a winter wheat crop for next year. All he could do was hope that when the check finally came, it would tide them through to better times.
Unable to find work locally during the unproductive months on the ranch began putting a strain on the family’s finances and mortgage payments began being missed. The strain was also affecting Kyle and Frannie’s marriage.
A Sheriff’s department detective would stop by from time to time still investigating Earl and Rich’s murder, but the case seemed to be at a stand still and eventually was forgotten. In 1956 the pickup truck started breaking down all of the time and more often than not Kyle began hauling things around in the back of the battered ‘48 Ford station wagon instead.
Mike made two failed attempts to ride his bike from Lakton to Sage to see Ennis, and finally in late spring of 1957 Sam Salisbury wrote to Kyle offering to come for the summer and help out with the ranch.
Michael and Ennis had grown into young manhood and had kept up their letters back and forth. Mike had just turned 14 and Ennis would too in June.
After some reluctance, Frannie finally talked Kyle into accepting Sam’s offer and on Ennis’ birthday they arrived. Of course the first thing they noticed was the repainted water tower across the road, and how ugly the asphalt covered fields looked, now packed with new cars.
Strapped upside down to the top of their station wagon was Mike’s repair shop bike. Though Michael offered, Ennis couldn’t bring himself to ride it, and it remained up there throughout the whole visit.
Every time Kyle saw it, he seemed to grow a sad expression, much like Amy did every time she saw Earl’s old water tower.
The house had only three bedrooms. Cornelia had graduated high school that spring and had moved out to take a job as a live-in housekeeper/babysitter in town. That freed up her bedroom for Sam and Amy.
K.E. was looking forward to becoming a senior in high school that fall and had gone away to summer baseball camp with the rest of his buddies and would return in a couple of weeks to help run the ranch. Until he did, Mike slept in his bed.
The next two weeks were spent planning out a schedule for taking care of the livestock, and tending the fields. Francine and Amy became the best of friends.
Kyle, Sam, Ennis and Mike went on a camping trip up in the mountains for a week, fishing and hunting.
By then, Mike had lost his shyness around guns and often the boys would have shooting contests of which Ennis usually won. Ennis showed an unexpected talent for wilderness cooking from helping his mother in the kitchen, and would clean and roast the game they shot on a spit over their campfires usually with baked potatoes in foil or stew from a can.
When they came back K.E. had returned, so Mike shared Ennis’ bed.
K.E. announced he'd somehow gotten a temporary job with his friends, helping to reconstruct a railroad siding that led into a sharp curve that skirted behind the western side of Sage Street’s businesses and dead-ended where Corbett’s Chevy dealership could unload new cars. Everyone was really excited because the project included a railroad station promising to bring new jobs to Sage, and now they would have once-a-week passenger service.
In mid-July Sam and Michael returned from gassing up their car and buying supplies, and they seemed visibly shaken. Sam spent some time on the porch speaking to his wife in low voices, but afterward nothing was said.
The delayed payment finally arrived from the sale of Kyle’s winter wheat crop, and he and Sam went across the road and made a deal on a shiny blue and white two-year-old 1955 Chevy Bel Air 4-door coupe on time payments. The dealership took the old Ford wagon in trade for next to nothing, saying it was only good for parts.
Kyle brought it home all proud and explained the brand-new black and yellow license plate to Ennis. It had the number twelve stacked vertically for Lincoln County, then the bucking bronco, then 0123. Frannie laughed and playfully said, "That'll be easy ta remember; even fer someone as dumb as you Kyle!"
Their father laughed and began chasing his giggling wife around the front yard yelling, "0-1-2-3-KISS ME WOMAN! 0-1-2-3-KISS ME WOMAN! 0-1-2-3-KISS ME WOMAN!"
From then on Ennis would remember his parents fondly that way.
Chapter 14 ~ The Nuts & Bolts Of Death
Building on what Arthur had taught him; over the previous couple of years young Michael had landed a part-time job in Lakton gassing up cars and eventually had graduated to lube jobs and tune-ups.
Enthusiastic to learn, Ennis was often found with him either under the car or beneath the hood tinkering with this or that. At first Kyle and Sam would be out there with them, while Mike proudly gave his maintenance lectures but after a while they were satisfied that the teenager actually knew what he was doing.
Michael made a point of reminding Ennis to check regularly that some suspension bolts weren’t too tight, because a jolt could snap them off, reminding him of the strength contests they used to have as little kids on Earl’s workbench.
Within a couple of days the two boys had the car purring like the proverbial kitten and the ride was noticeably smoother.
One night as July turned into August, K.E. went to spend the night at a friend’s.
The boys decided to bed down together anyway and in the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep, Ennis admitted what really happened to his cherished bike. Michael rolled over and faced him, and in the silent darkness slowly got the details out of his friend about seeing his Uncle Rich dead on that fence and Uncle Earl in the irrigation ditch. They fell asleep sobbing bitterly in each other’s arms.
All through the first days of August, everyone noticed that Amy seemed to be growing more and more distant and upset about something. Most of her time was spent on the porch staring at the water tower. By the end of the week she and Sam went into town alone and soon returned, after calling her mother from a payphone.
She’d found out that her sister had fallen very ill and might die. It would be too much for her to lose a brother and a sister, and the Salisburys apologized but announced that they’d have to leave for home early.
Ennis seemed to take the news of his friend’s leaving in stride, which puzzled his parents. On his last night there Michael kept waking Ennis to try to tell him something important, but then couldn’t find the words.
The next morning found Mike out front alone untying the bike from the top of their station wagon. Kyle asked him what he was doing, and Michael explained that he was giving it to Ennis as a gift to remember the good old days when they were kids.
Kyle firmly said no to him using the excuse that it was way too small for Ennis to ride now, and retied the ropes that had been undone as the family began exiting the house behind them.
Sam apparently knew of his son’s planned gift and with a puzzled frown moved to undo the ropes, but Mike stopped him with a whisper; after which an impatient look was shot from one disappointed father towards the other.
Michael seemed to want to tell Ennis something important again, but lost his nerve. Instead he gathered his friend up in his arms, kissed his neck just below the right ear, and whispered how much he was going to miss him.
As they separated, Kyle seemed to watch his son with a mixture of worry and suspicion.
After they’d packed up the car, everyone gave each other a big hug and just like that they were gone.
For a long time afterward Ennis stood on the porch watching the distant curve that their car disappeared around until his mother eventually called him in to lunch… Again he vowed never to befriend anyone again because of the pain he felt inside but didn’t understand.
That afternoon he went off by himself to do some fishing for supper down by the secluded cove where he’d burned his own bike.
Ennis may have grown reluctant to befriend anyone after that, but he did fall in love… with a beautiful horse. He spotted the easily startled striking blond palomino by chance, nearly invisible in a field near the water at the edge of the trees. For the longest time the young man suspected the apparent thoroughbred was one of Rich's that had been set loose during "the trouble."
He’d occasionally seen it over the last couple of months and tried coaxing it to him but never got near enough to pat its neck or feed it an apple. Gradually after about a week or so, del Mar somehow gained its trust enough to lead it home, probably because no one was caring for him.
He named the horse Saint Michael and rode him all the time, using his allowance and all the money he’d secretly stashed away working for Earl to buy a fully-rigged all leather proper saddle.
Three months later in November of 1957, Kyle and Francine del Mar were discovered dead after their car ran off the road in the middle of the night. It had careened out of control down a steep hill on the Maxwell Ranch and slammed into a tree at the lone sharp curve on Dead Horse Road.
Unbeknownst to them Alvin Corbett had coveted the del Mar spread for some time too, wanting it to expand his parking and repair facility so he could supply cars to all the surrounding states, buying them in bulk cheaper so his competition would be forced to buy from him wholesale instead of from Detroit. Whether that had anything to do with the crash or not was being investigated, but doubtful.
The Sage police also considered that since Dead Horse Road had been paved and widened with its dirt-road bumps and potholes smoothed out, people began driving significantly faster on it and many were unprepared for the near-elbow curve just west of the del Mar ranch.
It was ultimately ruled by the sheriff as just another drunken accident after a dozen or so open Black Label beer bottles were found scattered in the demolished wreck. The Sage cops still had their doubts though and left it open for the time being, especially since all of the rumors about Kyle being involved in the Lamb/Saphos murders had begun to surface.
Devastated, K.E. and Ennis tore the house apart but only found four five-dollar bills and four singles to survive on in an old coffee tin that Francine had hoarded away for “mad” money.
The local funeral parlor settled for a three-year-old combine and the tractor in trade for their services. Sage buried Mr. and Mrs. Kyle del Mar in an unmarked pauper's grave on Sutter's Hill just outside of town.
No one seemed to be able to get a hold of the Salisburys to attend the memorial service, and no one else came... the kids were well and truly on their own.
After the service, Ennis rode St. Michael to the police impound lot to get his school book bag out of the car, only to discover the mangled interior soaked in blood. The steering wheel was collapsed forward and the hub had dried blood on it where it’d pierced Kyle’s chest on impact. The windshield was shattered but intact, though bowed outward where Francine slammed into it.
Ennis ran two blocks in panicked anguish before realizing he’d left his horse behind.
In the coming weeks, Cornelia quit her job to move back to the ranch to raise her brothers, taking a job at Moe's Diner in town as a waitress in order to make ends meet.
Every cent that K.E. made working for the railroad, the proceeds from that year’s harvest, and the sale of most of their livestock probably would only take them through February or March of the next year.
The Chevy was uninsured so the del Mar children were saddled with two mortgage payments and a car loan as well. The bank sold the wreck for parts and pocketed the money.
A month later their phone was shut off.
Michael had schooled his best buddy carefully and Ennis was proud of how well he’d learned to maintain that car, earning extra allowance from Kyle for changing the oil, patching a cheap tire’s inner tube, or fiddling with something in the engine compartment. Without knowing any better, some of the bolts that the fourteen-year-old was taught to carefully check regularly in case they tightened up too much involved the steering linkage.
It was only after he'd returned home, that young Michael realized in a panic that his too-quickly thought up revenge plot might've killed Ennis too, but could do nothing since the del Mars were now unreachable.
Over the next several months, none of his urgent letters were answered… not even after he’d admitted in one of them that on that last horrible day when he tried to give the bike to his friend, he was also trying to find the courage to tell Ennis that he’d fallen in love with him just like Earl had done with Rich.
The spiteful mailman was one of the vigilantes and had decided to stop delivering mail to the ranch, in hopes of isolating the remaining del Mar's lives from the rest of the world...
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Part One written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2012
Important notice about this Novel:
This adaptation of the original short story was written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner and contains enhanced versions of all of the original events written by Annie Proulx.
REGULAR TEXT is based on the incredible screenplay written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.
RED TEXT is from the classic original short story by Annie Proulx that was not included as a
story element or dialogue in the Focus Feature film.
- - GREEN TEXT denotes a scene deleted from the film.
BLUE ITALICS written and published by Vernon “Jet” Gardner © 2005-2013
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