Kyle got a letter from the Department of Defense in Washington D.C. that said he was to report to the Mayor's office in Sage on June 16th, 1954. All kinds of things raced through his head about what he might've done to get into trouble somehow. Frannie and the kids insisted on going with him and it turned out that an Army Colonel had flown out to right a wrong that was exactly four years old.
It came to light that in the confusion of getting Kyle home quickly after he was wounded because Frannie's father died, his Purple Heart citation got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.
The new mayor pinned it on the dazed corporal himself and later that year the family rode in the mayor's convertible in the Veteran's Day parade.
Gradually everyone seemed to accept the status quo and on the surface at least, people smiled a lot and things went back to normal in Sage, Wyoming…
In the back of his mind, restless Kyle worried... There were still guilty men aware that del Mar knew too much.
The family 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 chores, 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 St. was widened, a new movie theater opened, and the town 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.
Vice President Nixon made an impromptu whistle stop visit campaigning for Eisenhower’s reelection in June of 1956. Sage spent two weeks cleaning, primping and painting for him and the man never got off the caboose… he spent five minutes waving before the train headed further east, leaving only a dented cardboard box of “I Like Ike” lapel pins by the railroad tracks.
After being told that Kyle’s earnings on last year’s crop would be delayed, he discovered he didn’t have enough saved up to put in winter wheat 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. The 17-year-old 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. After a couple of years of not seeing his own, Ennis couldn't believe how small it looked. 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 just as Ennis had high hopes of having his own room away from K.E.
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 days were spent planning out a schedule for taking care of the livestock and tending the fields. Francine and Amy rekindled their friendship.
Kyle, Sam, Ennis and Mike went on a camping trip up in the mountains for a week, fishing and hunting. Arthur’s absence was a ghost that haunted them all and in the backs of their minds was the young mechanic's comically terrified act as he pleaded with the boys not to shoot him while he was downrange setting up targets.
By then, Mike had lost his shyness around guns and often the boys would have shooting contests of which Ennis usually won. Kyle’s youngest 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.
Early one morning, Kyle went out the back door to begin milking cows only to discover Mike and Ennis tinkering under the hood of the old Dodge pickup. He dashed up to them in concern yelling, "Hey! Hey! What'ya guys doin'? Git yer asses away from there!"
Michael seemed to have not heard him and proud-as-you-please, detoured around him, got in the cab and a moment later the old thing roared to smoky life.
Their reward was Ennis' father's jaw gaping open in wonder, and Sam's proud grin behind him.
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... and it wouldn't be the last time he saw that license plate.
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, Ennis grateful that his best buddy finally gave him the freedom to cry it out.
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 long distance from a payphone instead of using the del Mar’s.
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.
K.E. muttered, “Queers,” under his breath with disgust, and his mother rewarded him with a hard slap to the back of the head to quiet him.
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.
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 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/Sapro murders had begun to resurface.
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.
She moved into her parent's bedroom before either grieving brother thought to claim it.
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 put the wreck up for sale for parts and planned to pocket the money instead of putting any towards the money the young del Mars owed. No one seemed interested and a few called it a "ghost car."
A month later their phone was shut off for nonpayment too.
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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Important notice about this novel: This adaptation of the original short story was
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2012 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana in red/black/green.
All text in blue written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner published here ©2005-2013.
Reproduction in any form or use of unique characters is
forbidden without permission of the author.