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Part One ~ Chapters 1-6
Features: Ennis' family history, his childhood and teen years.
An evangelical con man blames a gay teenager's suicide on a rancher and a mechanic.
The murders of Earl & Rich. The deaths of Kyle & Frannie del Mar in a car crash.
Orphaned - K.E. & Ennis wander hundreds of miles in search of a new home.
Part Two ~ Chapters 7-11
The Legend of Jumpin’ Johnny Twist
Features: Jack's famous rodeo father's secret past and
how it contributed to Jack's death over 40 years later.
L.D. Newsome's father robs and then murders the owners of a rodeo.
Uncle Harold gets swindled. Jack's childhood and teen years.
Part Three ~ Chapters 12-34
Features: Jack's first summer on the mountain in 1962.
Ennis & Jack's 1963 adventures on the mountain. The short story has been
expanded with additional material incorporating deleted scenes from the movie -
Jack's gruesome death. A stranger falsely accuses Ennis of murdering Jack.
Part Four ~ Chapters 35-41
If You Can’t Stand it - Ya Gotta Fix it
Features: What really happened to Jack's ashes and why he was cremated.
A suicide becomes an arson at a Pentecostal Church in Lightning Flat
Ennis struggles on after losing Jack. Who poisoned Jack's father and shot his mother?
Jack's innocent son Bobby gets caught with planted evidence of Jack's murder and jailed.
Who set the fire that destroyed the Twist ranch? Ennis' death in 2006 and his legacy.
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 at Earl's Auto Service, 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 of her naked brother cleaning up after work.
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 the image would eventually condemn a whole town to death.
The next day, Lacey took the camera to a woman who had a private darkroom and that evening the brat confronted Arthur with the embarrassing photo of his bare ass and her threat to show it to every girl in school unless he gave her all of his weekly allowance for the rest of the year.
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 attention-addicted Mrs. Trent was overheard blubbering to her mother for sympathy by the town switchboard operator and instantly rumors flew like wildfire, getting 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 quickly 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. She never mentioned the rumors, and was puzzled that Amy or Sam hadn't heard them.
As for the skinny-dipping, even Kyle 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.
Cornelia had figured it out months ago when while cleaning around the men's house she noticed that Rich's room never seemed to have been slept in. She'd compliment Rich on making up his own bed for her and he'd laugh and claim that most of the time he slept downstairs on the couch because it was tough climbing the stairs.
Because she liked them so much, she kept her suspicions to herself.
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 weeks 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 homosexual 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 eastern half of his ranch that 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 upstairs.
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.
Men from town were once again uninvited guests in his kitchen, and Kyle chased the mechanic off the property with a couple of shotgun blasts, terrifying his kids in the process. In the kitchen Arthur's father toasted del Mar with a beer and resumed making fag jokes.
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 farmland that del Mar was using to financially get ahead, along with a "no trespassing" notice of his own. Soon afterward, some of Earl's hired hands 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, worried that the switchboard operator might be listening in.
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 porch after noticing out the front 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 sharp 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.
Young and insistent 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…
K.E. extended his father's invitation the next day at school, and reported back that Arthur acted afraid to talk to the boy, turned his back, and then walked away quickly without answering...
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 personal 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. Sage's police chief dismissed the fire as a smoking accident, and the gunshots were most likely just hunters misaiming at something in the woods near Earl's.
After it swiftly became known to the deputies that the two men that reported the trouble were just two flighty "Nancy-boys," the Sheriff left with no further investigation into a couple of stupid queer's complaints.
...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 where he was supposed to be at the garage, 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, Trent's 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 harm his two heroes.
An opportunistic con man named Rev. L.D. Newsome Sr. arrived that week with his young son and wife, and after hearing the rumors, opened his bible to Leviticus with a greedy smile.
He'd been here once before during the rodeo murders that took the lives of seven men, and was now back for a second helping.
He held his well-timed revival meeting at the arena to a nearly standing-room-only crowd. The townspeople left his tent with a revitalized religious vigor in the knowledge that the Bible taught death to homosexuals... The reverend Newsome soon went back to Childress Texas with a lot of their spare cash stuffed in his pockets.
To Arthur's astonishment, his dad came home after work the following Monday and righteously yelled, "Kill a queer for Christ!" and the young man watched helplessly as his everyday average town quickly transformed itself into a hateful and potentially murderous mob.
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 run the once very popular garage owners out of Sage; most saying that the two subjects of their hatred deserved more. His father often quoted Leviticus over the phone.
Originally the plan was to seize their property, beat them up and run them out of town on a rail. As each day passed, the ideas became more violent and suddenly the element of surprise became important and all were urged to be at least friendly to Earl and Rich until they could spring their vicious trap. Arthur desperately wanted to warn his friends, but was driven to school every day and picked up afterward and his father watched him like a hawk.
The teenager's attention-starved mother told everyone that it was time to teach those two heathens - and the town - a good Christian lesson in morality and reminded everyone what the Bible said God taught 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 than for whoever put it up.
The next day the slogan appeared on a big decorative address boulder at the end of Earl and Rich's driveway. The two men began arming themselves and put up bars over the ground floor windows of their home. The Bowers farm had become a defensive fortress after the gunshots started.
As the situation escalated, Arthur angrily cornered his sister in her room one afternoon after school and threatened to beat the hell out of her if she didn't own up to taking the picture. The child simply laughed in his face, too young to ponder the consequences of her actions, to frightened of her parents to admit she'd lied, preferring that those two perverts take the blame for her actions.
In Arthur’s confused and tortured teenaged mind he feared "guilt through association," which was something teens always had - and always would - take seriously. At his age everyone feels things intensely; love, sadness, hate, fear, depression, isolation and loneliness; and Art hadn’t gained the years yet that it took to moderate them.
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 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 teenaged boy.
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 again begged Lacey to admit she took the picture and not Earl and Rich.
Knowing his parents would never tell anyone the truth; he paced down to their mailbox and mailed his story to the local paper too.
Later that night, not being able to bear being their next potentially violent 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" or chose not to believe it, convinced the two perverts had bent the young man's mind.
With only wild rumor to go on, the town's increasingly impatient vigilantes thought for sure they knew who to blame for the teen's death and prepared to take action...
...they needed someone that Earl and Rich trusted to trick them into opening their door and letting their guard down.
While the kids at the top of the stairs listened in fear of the angry voices below, the words “queers,” "filthy faggots," and “pervert” were used loudly, and more scenarios were thought up and dismissed until using Kyle was brought up.
"I'll have no part of bein' yer goddamned Judas!" protested Kyle.
One of the men sinisterly studied around the kitchen and then sneered, "Maybe we'll have to burn this house out too." Watching the other men in the room he added, "When yer burnin' out a hornet's nest, ya gotta make sure you git it all, 'n who knows what them perverts mighta done to influence yer two boys that might spread to our younguns."
Just then, Frannie came in the kitchen door from outside while her husband seemed to be loudly defending himself against them, and the kids cowered in fright when their mother suddenly said their names in defense of Kyle, asserting that just because he wanted nothing to do with their scheme, didn't mean he was “one of them kind.”
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.
The angry mob 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 del Mar’s 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 cabinet. Now maybe the two men would get a plausible explanation as to what had turned the whole town to violence against them.
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...
...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.
The Trent's pickup appeared again from the right, just up from the sharp curve coming from town. From the dust trail she thought something was being dragged behind it...
...and prayed it wasn't Kyle.
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 her 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 WORTHLESS 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 dripping 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 ego was in intense emotional agony.
He felt less of a man when he realized 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 gasps 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...
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.
In the middle of the night, Kyle took some whitewash out with him and painted over the “kill a queer for Christ” off of his two dead friends’ driveway rock.
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.
Frannie sat on their porch with Cornelia and watched them leave. She eventually gazed across the way at the house full of love that she grew up in that had now turned into sorrow. Try as she might she couldn’t find the words to explain the situation to her daughter.
After what Kyle had told her of their threats, she worried about her husband and sons, closed her eyes, and said a silent prayer for their safety.
The men folk drove downward on a long gully trail near the end of Camel’s Back Road after crossing over Sutter’s hill. 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 on foot 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.
For a long time Kyle wouldn't let anyone touch, much less turn on, the old cabinet radio/record player 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 station wagon 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.
Kyle watched them from the front porch swing and was glad he painted over the big rock.
In the coming days, the Salisburys 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 being 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.
The entire time they were there, the Salisburys defiantly wore only their Earl’s Auto Repair uniforms no matter who came to call, which troubled Fran. She kept a weary eye on them from across the road. Without a phone, she’d be unable to call for help if it was needed, and she truly worried it might come to that.
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 frowns at his shirt made him feel unwelcome, but he was determined to see his buddy Ennis once more, and Mike started carrying spare auto parts on his bike 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 Frannie’s fears came true. 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 again and her 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.
After finding out that Kyle and family wouldn’t be attending the burial service in Lakton, Amy told Frannie that Sam swore they'd never return to Sage. Fran explained that Kyle was worried that something might happen if they left the del Mar ranch unattended, which seemed to smooth things over between them.
The del Mars stopped attending church for the same reason, which got tongues wagging in town.
In case someone saw them, Kyle 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 paper 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 at watching two close friends violently tortured and murdered before his very eyes. 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.
He’d have to harden and toughen up his sons so that they could take care of Frannie and the ranch in case something happened to him.
Often he'd scream out in terror in the middle of the night from flashbacks or 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...
After all, his father was friends with the great old guys and look how that turned out. In his bewildered 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 using 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 had 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 anger. 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 watched bitterly after he set it on fire, running away to a safe distance as the burning inner tubes exploded.
After it cooled, he fought off his boyhood tears turning them to anger, and hurled the charred hulk of it as hard as he could into the dark green water.
After about ten minutes of staring at where it’d sank, he rode home. The rest of the day he remained silent; everyone noticed but no one asked why.
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.
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.
Kyle seriously thought of joining the rodeo again as maybe an announcer or an animal handler, but knew that in his condition it’d kill him. Besides there was no way he could stay away at long stretches without worrying that something might happen to Fran and the kids...
...For months, Mr. Trent couldn’t stop reading his son’s final note over and over, and one rainy night he shot his self-centered self-righteous wife and heartless daughter in a fit of rage and guilt for costing him his Arthur, and then turned the gun on himself.
The guilty in Sage thought it would’ve been simpler to lay the whole Lamb/Sapro murders off on a dead man that had started the ruckus in the first place, but many others knew that Kyle still brooded over the truth and how he was forced to participate.
The town needed a scapegoat to move on from the news of Trent’s actions and the del Mars had unknowingly been elected.
Out of financial 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 them to and from school in the old station wagon.
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Important notice about this novel: This adaptation of the original short story was
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2011 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.