In 1975 I had been evading the draft for ten years. If I'd have answered the draft, I would have been home for eight years, with the GI bill to help me go to school. Still, every time I got close to turning my self in for conscription, something, some little stone in my spine, some vague certainty in the knot of my guts, kept me back. It wasn't that I was just afraid to die; most draftees didn't die, many didn't even go to Vietnam, and a lot of them never left the US. I wouldn't have called it a principle, on the other hand, because I didn't have a way to talk about it. It was more a hard intuition that it was the wrong thing to do, that it would make me into a person I didn't want to be, even if I never fought, even if all I did was wash uniforms in Texas somewhere. It was my freedom in me telling me to run from chains.
The decade, I lived on the lam, working short term jobs for cash, moving on without notice. During that time, family members had died, babies had been born, sickness and divorce and work promotions and new cars all went without my knowing. I always traveled ahead of any mail that might reach me. I called home only a few times a year.
Other draft dodgers just got on with their lives. The FBI would arrest you if they found you, but few people were arrested. I didn't know that, in my mind people like me were going to prison all the time. I avoided the news, as I do to this very day, but when I did see a newspaper or a black and white TV news show, the government was always arresting or attacking someone: Negroes, Mexicans, Vietnamese, hippies, college students. Why wouldn't I assume they would attack me if they knew where I was? I worked every day to avoid getting arrested. One way to get arrested was to be arrested, for something else. I kept my nose clean, didn't drink, and didn't flirt with a woman with a ring.
Eventually, I got a Wyoming driver's license. Five years later, when it was about to expire, I got a Montana driver's license. Then, I got a Utah driver's license. I gave my name in different ways when I had to use it: William Willoughbee; Liam Willowbea; Will B. Willow. Looking back, it was pretty stupid and pointless, but it was part of the world the way I understood it then: I was wanted by my government for refusing to whip some poor Asian people into line.
And so it was I found myself in the Mason Valley, Nevada. To be specific, the Golden Ranch, a cattle and alfalfa ranch outside of Mason, Nevada.
Originally, I had intended to go to Fernley, from Reno, to work construction. I took the bus from Reno through some of the most uninhabitable land I've ever seen. It would be desolate if it weren't for minerals in the soil and water in a few rivers, the Truckee, the Carson, and farther south, the Walker.
The construction job I went for was filled. I walked over to a hardware store and looked at the bulletin board, looking for a job.
“Well, if that ain't a tick on the dick.”
A guy about my age and height in an old army fatigue jacket was walking out of the hardware store.
“What's the problem?”
“Looking for a job.
“Know hayin'?”. I did.
“I'm goin' to Mason Valley, want to ride? It'll cost a buck for your share of gas.”
“Sure. Name of Willie.”
He nodded, “people call me Frag, but my name is Dan. Jump in my truck, throw your stuff in the back. She's old, but she'll get us there. Watch that spring in the seat there, it'll hook you right in the rucksack.”
I threw my pack and sleeping bag in the back of the truck, careful not to let go of the bed. I had someone take off after I threw my stuff in the back. Two miles down the road I found my clothes and books and letters scattered along the road, then my pack, but none of my money or other stuff.
I pried open the sticking passenger door of a 1952 GMC three quarter ton and threw my jacket over the spring sticking from the seat before jumping in. He fired it up, we were down the road.
“Why do they call you 'Frag'?”
“Because I fragged a lieutenant in his tent. That was years ago, though, so call me 'Dan'.”
“What does 'frag' mean?”
“Fragmentation grenade, M26. I set one up in his tent, put the grenade in his foot locker and ran a trip wire across the opening of his tent to the pin. He went in, see, and BLAM! He was chopped shit. They said he turned around, so he must of seen the pin and realized what it was, but it was too late. Chopped shit.”
“Why didn't you go to jail?”
“Well, he was a crap lieui, always getting people killed, and there was a lot of complaints. Then, there was no evidence linking it to me. In the end, they decided to call me crazy and let me out.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“It was him or me. The dumb fucker got three of us killed in one day, even after we all told him he was wrong. He was a graduate of West point, but he barely graduated. He wanted to prove himself on the battlefield and become a big shot. He was willing to do it or have me die trying.”
“Kill anybody since?”
He shrugged, “haven't had to.”
“Well, if enough people know your story, that's why.”
“What about you, ever kill anybody?”
My mind snapped back to a few years before, and I pondered.
“I don't know for sure.”
“Well, let's hope today goes smooth,” he laughed.
We talked and it turns out that Dan had a wife and kid in Reno. They lived with his mom; his wife worked in the casinos; she had been a waitress but she worked her way up so now she worked in the office, away from the floor. His kid was a boy, Everett, who was six and just starting school. He was working in Mason because he was a crack tractor and implement mechanic.
“They only have a couple of months a year to raise hay,” he said. “They can't afford to have equipment down. I'm going to work for Meyerhoff; he's the king of harvest. He runs a couple of teams of cutters and bailers and leases them out to field owners, and takes a nice cut of the crop for doing it. He deals hay all over California, Nevada and Utah. He runs a crew of hands, maybe you can get on with him. If not, one of the ranches might hire you. Everyone who can throw a bale will find a job.”
That sounded fine to me.
Again, we drove through land that would seem like nothing could live there, but here and there were cows, grazing on something.
Then, we started passing some nice ranches, places with river water, or deep wells. There were cattle here and there, but most of the green landscape was for crops: alfalfa, some wheat, even some spuds.
“What you out lookin' for,” he asked me. It was a good start; nobody moving around wants to hear “where you from” or “where you goin'”.
“An education,” I said.
“You mean like going to college?”
“No, I mean like getting out and living, doing different jobs, meeting people from different places with different ideas. It's a great education.”
“Did you do service?” Now, he was getting kind of close.
He smiled and nodded, “good for you! Another one got away.”
“Some guys have told me I've missed out on the best experience a man can have, the brotherhood of battle sort of thing.”
“Oh, fuck me in the ass,” he said. “That's bullshit and lies.” His eyes left the road; it's good there were no other cars on the road and we were only doing about 45 because the old truck had a front end shimmy. “You think someone needs to know how it is to live and eat and sleep with a bunch of guys, to spend four months with them like they were family, getting to know who to talk to, who you want on your side in a fight, to be with them so much you know the smell of their shit in the morning, and then see them wasted fighting people in pajama and bare feet, people we could hardly see? I saw one of my bodies killed by a piece of fucking bamboo on a branch. Right through the fucking throat, we had to cut his shirt off to get the body off the branch. That fucking fast, and not even a bang to mark your passing. And, those people don't want us there. You never knew if the little girl clearing your dishes away in the chow hall was going to bring in a tray of explosive under a towel and blow us all to shit. It's bullshit, the kind of thing you tell yourself to make yourself think it was OK that you did something stupid. Here, my friends don't die, at least not as much. If I'd have known, I'd have gone to Canada.”
We rode in silence for awhile, and then he asked, “got kids that you know of”.
I smiled. It was something else I'd been busy not doing. “No.”
“Well, you're still young. My son Everett is six. My wife Delba and I want to have a little girl. We figure to try for a boy if I get on full time somewheres.”
We rode in silence for a long while, watching the gray sagebrush hills crawl by, and then all at once we were in Yerington, and a a little while later, we came on Mason itself, then to the edge of town where a big steel building with huge doors, each filled with farm machinery or trucks, stood in the center of a yard parked with windrowers and rotobalers. This is where Dan would work.
“Here's where I stop, he said, I hope you got your dollar's worth on the ride.”
“I reckon I did.”
“Hang around for a minute and I'll see if I can find you a job buckin' bales.”
He went inside, and after a minute, he came out and said, “go on over to the office, there in that old house. They'll set you up.”
It was into the afternoon, and I hadn't had lunch. I hoped they had room and board, but I didn't see a bunkhouse.
I opened the door and was faced at once with a large desk. A skinny old man sat behind it, he was hunched over a ledger, and his gnarled and knobby hands held a pen from which neat and perfect handwriting flew.
“I was told to report here for a job pitching hay.”
He looked up. “Yer skinny, what do you weigh?”
“I have a spot for you on a crew. Fill out this paper here. It's thirty two bucks a day plus room and board. You'll board at the Golden ranch, someone'll give you a ride out there. Be up at four in the morning, job starts at 4:30, after morning hash. There is no drinkin' on the job, and no smokin' around the hay.”
I gave him back his paper work. He looked at it.
“No next of kin, eh?”
“Not in Nevada.”
“All right. Tell you what, I'll start you in the odd bale barn. There is an odd bale crew out mopping up, when they get back to the barn, you help them unload, and go back out with them. I'll pay you half a day.”
“Tomorrow I'll put you somewheres else.”
“I can drive.”
“You're too young to drive, that's for the old hands. You head over to the barn now. Start by sweeping up.”
I found the barn, a huge corrugated steel building at the edge of the lot. There were tons of hay inside, and two men already arranging bales. The wooden floor, worn to a polish, was spotless.
The two men were Mexican. One of them looked at me.
“You here for hay?”
“No, was told to hlpe over here until the odd bale truck comes back.”
He nodded, “here it comes now.”
A double long truck with bales stacked seven bents high. On top of the load sat two men. As the truck backed in the two men in the barn slid the bale lifter in to place to unload the bales.
I took my place at the bottom, to help catch bales and swing them into the stack. The two men on the truck worked like machines, and kept the two men and I busy.
But, as the truck bed was nearly empty, the two men began fighting, apparently for no reason. One shouted, “fuck your mom and then fuck my mom,” he said, and he took a swing at the other. They grappled and slipped on the hay, falling on the truck bed.
“Hey, stop it,” I said, but the man next to me frowned and shook his head.
“Don't say nothing,” he said, “they are brothers, and if you go there, they will beat you.”
The truck driver, and old hand, came over to watch.
“Derry and Patrick Flynn,” he said. “They're tough as the hide on a bull's ass. Stay away from 'em. You sleepin' in the bunkhouse?”
“Well, mind your grits.”
Warning: swearing, and misfortunate things you never want to experience in this chapter- WW
The two continued to grapple, grunting and swearing, until one, the heavier, probably older brother, worked his brother to the edge of the wagon, hanging his head over the edge.
“Well, Derry, this is where you die if you don't call me the winner right now.”
Derry had his hands wrapped around his brother's wrists, Patrick's hands were locked on his brother's throat. Derry laughed, let go one wrist and grabbed his brother by the hair, then jerked with all his might, pulling them both off the wagon on to the ground. Derry had curled around Patrick as they fell from the wagon, and so was cushioned by his body. He immediately moved forward and put his knees on his brothers arms as he lay spread eagle on the ground.
I've seen men fighting for their lives who fought harder, but brother on brother, this was mean on the way to crazy.
“Your neck broke,” Derry asked.
Patrick struggled, and said “ when you go to sleep tonight I'm going to butt fuck you like Da used to do.”
Derry drew back to back to punch his brother in the face, but as he did so, Patrick reached up with one booted foot and caught him around the neck, pulling him off. Then the bigger brother took the top, knees on his brother's arms and started slapping him, hard, front hand and back. At first Derry tried to hold his head still, but after a moment he began to let it swing back and forth as it was hit; his nose bled, and the blood started to spray with each blow; his lips bled. Patrick's hand was covered with blood.
“Good enough,” he asked his brother.
Derry nodded. Patrick stood, helped his brother up.
“I'm going to kill you one day Patrick,” he said.
Patrick laughed and tousled his hair, “I know, Derry, I know. But until then, I'm yer big brother, and you'll not fuck my girlfriend, nor promise to fuck our dear dead mother.”
“It's just a sayin'” Derry said, spitting a little blood.
“Come on, then, I'll wash yer face for ya,” and Patrick took Derry's arm and tenderly led him out of the barn.
“Holy shit,” I observed.
The two men nodded.
“That's how they are. So long as you keep clear of them, they'll not notice of you,” one told me.
We finished cleaning up and then a pickup drove over; there were three people in front and the brothers Flynn in the back.
“Anyone going to the Golden Ranch” the driver asked.
“I am,” I shouted, and another hand walked over and got in the back of the pickup. I grabbed my pack and sleeping back and threw them in the back, and jumped in. The brothers were sitting on the right side, leaning in so they wouldn't fall out backwards on the bumps. Patrick, about 30, turned his already cragging face towards me, raked me once with two blue eyes, sized me, dismissed me and ignored me after that; Derry, I think about 26, normally probably youngish but now his lips now swollen and his nose still bloody turned his steel gray eyes on me and said, “what are you lookin' at?”
It was a touchy moment. No answer was going to be good enough, but if I looked away, he'd cow me anytime he took a notion.
But then I noticed over his shoulder some smoke rising on the hillside.
“Smoke,” I said. I nodded at the hillside behind him. “I was worrying there'd be a fire.”
He glanced over his shoulder and saw the column of smoke, black at the base but white as it spiraled upward. It was about two miles off, and did look like a brush fire, with flames low but angry orange at the base.
Derry turned back to me. He spit blood at my boots.
The truck was speeding along a narrow paved road, and on the right was a small river, the Walker.
“Any fish in that river,” I asked the fourth man. He was early twenties, light sandy hair and thin lips.
“A few,” he said.
“Ever get a chance to fish?”
“Once in a while,” he said. He shot quick glances at the brothers.
I was getting a bad feeling about them.
I didn't like the silence, never do, I'm known for it.
“How's the grub at the Golden,” I asked no one in particular.
“Passable,” the fourth man said.
I turned to him and said, “name of Liam.” I stuck out my hand. We were riding crouched down; the pavement had turned to dirt and was pretty rough.
“Steve,” he said, shaking my hand.
“Liam,” I said, to the brothers.
Derry spat a clot at my feet. Patrick turned to me and said, “where you from?”
I looked at him for about ten seconds and said, “I don't reckon that's any of your business.”
I waited for him to reach out his freckled, cabled arm, grab my shirt and pitch me from the truck, but instead, he nodded.
“Patrick,” he said, “my brother Derry.”
I used “Liam” because, in Ireland and even elsewhere, it is short for “William” just like “Will” is. I knew this because I'd pulled rope on a big utility job in Oregon with one Liam O'Keefe, who insisted on calling me “Liam” instead of Will, because, he said, he hated the English. I kept that nickname for about a year. It seemed like a good time to inflate it.
Derry said through his thick lips, “you Irish, then?”
“My family left Ireland a long time ago.” My family was never in Ireland, they were English as shepherd's pie until great great grandpa left to work in the coal mines of Montana.
He nodded. “Orange or green?” He wanted to know where my family was from, where they Catholics or Protestants, poor or wealthy, oppressed or lackeys of the English; thank you Liam that I know that. But which are these boys, orange or green?”
I took so long to answer that Patrick turned an eye to me, waiting for an answer.
“In my family,” I said, “and it's considered contrary to the family peace to discuss the Troubles.”
Patrick went back to looking at the hills, and Derry nodded. “Like the Irish Rover's song, eh? ”
I nodded, and sang a little of the song:
“One day my ma's relations came round to visit me
Just as my father's kinfolk were all sittin' down to tea
We tried to smooth things over, but they all began to fight
And me being strictly neutral, I bashed everyone in sight.”
Derry laughed. “Now yer Irish.”
The truck finally chugged into the farm yard of the Golden ranch. It was sprawling, with six great barns, a shop big enough for five windrowers, at least three stock pens, a horse barn and corral, and a main house with three stories and columns at the front door.
I dragged my stuff in to the bunkhouse, but all the beds were taken.
The foreman, a gruff man of medium height, stout build and no hair, came to greet me, “Name?”
“William,” I said; the brothers were getting from the truck, and I didn't want to give my last name. “I just got hired today.”
“Yeah, here ya are. You're by the day. It says here you will be working tomorrow. The bunkhouse is full; you can sleep down the basement in the big house. There'll be no smoking, swearing, going upstairs or talking to any of the family, got it? You use the basement door only. Don't touch any of the family's things that'll be stored there, got it?”
“You can wash in the bunkhouse now, and after chow I'll take you up and show you yer quarters.”
The bunkhouse was big, with two rooms, ten bunks each. It had three sinks and two showers, and I had to wait to wash up. There was the usual parade of rough characters, a Black man, a couple of Indians, and five Mexicans, in addition to twenty mostly White boys like me.
The chow hall had the usual large tables with rows of benches, pretty standard. Dinner was beans and ham and cornbread and bread pudding for desert.
I wasn't quite finished yet when the foreman came to get me.
“Clear your place and grab your stuff, I'll show you where you sleep.”
He drove me up to the big house in a farm truck, and stopped at the back door. He got out and walked to a set of steps.
“This is your room for now,” he said, leading me down.
There was a large room with a concrete floor and block walls lined with shelves and cupboards. A single light hung from between the joists, heavy timbers supporting the three floors above. There was a door in one wall which most likely went to another part of the cellar, I never found out. There were no stairs up from this room, so I figured they were in the other part.
There was a folding bed, all laid out with sheets and a pillow, and a blanket. I had my sleeping bag. There was a little table with a lamp. There was a bathroom with a toilet and sink, but no shower.
There was nothing to do, and even though it was daylight outside the high, narrow windows, I took off my pants and shirt and got into my sleeping bag on the cot. I had to get up and walk over to the light and shut it off. The windows were small, it got pretty dark.
It was then that I noticed the noises from upstairs.
There were children, probably two small ones. There were women talking, I decided two. There were other voices that could be two young men or older boys. It was a mumble of voices, the little ones high and cheery almost like birds; the women's voices and occasional laughter made me think of coffee in porcelain cups and cookies with walnuts on top. People walked above me, clopping or tapping or dancing across the floor. I decided it was under the main living room.
Then someone started to play the piano. It was “When Mama Sang”, I recognized it right off. The women started singing, their voices rose, and I heard the words,
And I always felt that maybe our house was blessed
When daddy would say mama sing a song
Sister left home first I guess and then Bob and then Tommy and then Dan
By then dad's hair was turning white and I had to be mama's little man
And, I reckon I started to cry there, in the cellar, while a family sang above me, and, not for the first or last time, I wondered why I was there, and why my life was as it was, and why I had to flee the twisted, pitiless powers that ruled my life.
The foreman came at first light, knocking on the door to the cellar, then opening it to stick his head in.
“Hurry up, you'll miss morning chow.”
I rushed out into the orange light of a flaming dawn.
“Quite a sky,” I observed.
“Yeah, fairly going to rain. It won't rain enough to help with the water, just enough to spoil some hay. You men better dance like there's ants in your pants out there today.”
We were a little late to the chow hall and I missed out on the scrambled eggs, but had a plate of flapjacks and a haystack of bacon. The coffee was strong enough to remove warts.
There were still about ten men at the tables, and I figured all together there were probably twenty men working, not counting people who lived in the valleys and worked hay in the summer. I was almost done with my breakfast when the foreman came in and said, “five minutes to take a crap and smoke a cigarette and then we're working.”
I wrapped the last of the bacon in the last of the flapjack and headed out the door.
The foreman came back as he said in five minutes and sent men in different directions. Most of the men simply drove equipment; the bales were mostly not the small bales we pick up, but big square bales weighing over a ton, and the big round silage bales weighed close to a thousand pounds. Even the small bales were mostly picked up with a harrow bed, a machine with big wheels that would pick up bales and shoot them on the a flat bed. At the stack, the machine grabbed a row of bales and stacked it.
When the operators were gone, it left the Flynn brothers, a skinny red headed boy name of Mark, and an old man named Hank and me.. We were the clean up crew, we'd take the flatbed truck out and pick up busted bales.
The foreman gave Hank instructions, and we jumped on the flatbed.
“Irish,” Derry said, nodding. I nodded back, my best Irish nod. Then, we were heading for the field.
I nodded to the skinny red haired boy, “What about you, rd on the head like a dick on a dog, you Irish?”
“Scots” he said.
“What's your name?”
Now Derry spoke, “a Scottsman's just an Irishman who doesn't know who his dad is,” he said.
Dan didn't want any trouble with the brothers, and he just smiled and nodded.
Soon enough we were in the fields. We walked around behind the truck with pitch forks, throwing partial bales and patches of cut hay on the truck. It was hot, and it was grueling work.
We had to go through Yerington to get to one field. When the flatbed was loaded, the brothers sat inside the truck, and Dan and I sat on the load. As we were going back through town, I heard Derry say “there's that son of a bitch.”
He and Patrick shouted to Hank to stop. They immediately jumped from the truck and ran after some guy, who saw them, turned and bolted. They immediately started beating the holy shit out of him, but five guys poured out of the Lucky and raced to jump Patrick and Derry from behind.
The brothers whirled around and faced their attackers and right fast put them to the run, but four more came from the Lucky and headed down the street, one of them carrying an axe handle.
The brothers gave the first poor chump another kick each and raced for the truck as now about ten people were running towards them.
“Go, go you old fucker, drop the clutch and hit the gas” Derry shouted, and they jumped up on to the back of the truck. The brothers were laughing, banging on the top of the truck, “go, go, go! Want to get your ass kicked by a bunch of fuckers?”
Hank romped on the gas, but the old truck took a long time to get going, and the posse chased as long as they could. Finally, we started to pull away and one of the men pulled a small pistol and fired two shots.
The brothers roared.
When we got back to the ranch, Dan went and quit.
After noon chow I was sent back out with Hank and the Brothers. I sat on the back of the truck, they sat in the cab.
Even though fields of hay lay on both sides of the road, it was dry in the hills; usually the deer were high up in this season, but some came down for water and to eat a little hay. Their bodies were here and there on the road; some just skeletons and fur, others fresh enough to butcher. Everywhere magpies and crows and coyotes ate well.
We had been scouring the fields for the last of the straggler hay. I wondered why we put so much effort in to gathering it, and Hank said “this hay is off the books. The boss gets it all. He even tells his drivers to round the corners of the field to leave more.”
It wasn't my business, and it made a job for me.
The Flynn brothers were like machines, their arms and legs were cables and levers, their faces set like radiators as they worked. Derry was younger, lighter and faster, but Patrick could hurl hundred fifty pound bales up on the stack, and he wielded a pitchfork like the Reaper handles a scythe, with speed and precision, no wasted motions.
It was finally near six, and we headed back with our last load. The last fields had been along the Walker, and didn't take us to town.
But, on the way back we saw a car hit a doe. It hit her hind quarters and spun her around into a tangled heap. It was in the opposite lane, she had dashed across our lane into traffic. Who knows what makes does run when they do?
We slowed to drive past, but Derry said, “hey, she ain't dead. Stop.”
Hank stopped and the Flynns ran back to the doe.
I thought, “there is nothing they can do for her” and followed them, but that was not their way.
“Ever kill a deer before, Patrick” Derry asked,
“No, I never have.”
“Let's kill this one.”
The doe was conscious; her hind legs were broken, so was her pelvis it looked to me.
She tried to rise on her front two lets, but Derry pushed her down, “whoa there, where you think you're going with your back all busted? How should we kill her? I got my knife.”
“You can always kill something with a knife.” Patrick said. “I think we need a spear.”
“You carryin' a spear I don't know about? How about a rock?”
“We could cut a spear from those bushes there,” Patrick said. He had a hankerin' to spear himself a dying doe, I could tell.
“We're haulin' hay, Patrick, want to get fired?”
“Usually. This job's about done anyway. Then we go south to hang sheetrock.”
Derry shrugged, pushed the doe down again. “OK, then let's go cut you a damn spear. Could do the job better with a rock right in my hand.”
“It ain't the same. You can always kill somethin' with a rock in your hand. I mean to kill her like a red Indian.”
They crossed over a barb wire fence and headed for a bunch of willows.
Hank sat behind the wheel, engine idling.
I sat on the hay in the back.
The doe tried to rise, fell back down. Her ears twitched, but she knew she was dead. She laid there on the gravel at the side of the road in the hot sun.
I leaned over to Hank's window.
“We could drive off and leave them,” I said.
He laughed; the engine started to steam, he shut it off.
I jumped down and stood by his window. The pavement threw the sun's heat back, even in the shade.
The doe lay in the sun, twitching her ears.
The engine continued to steam, and got worse for a few minutes before it quieted.
“I have a mind to put that doe out of her misery,” I told Hank over his elbow. Sweat formed on his forehead, under his hatband, and ran down by his ears.
Hank grunted, and said, “them boys are pumping to kill somethin'; it's best if it's the doe.”
“They're a nasty pair,” I said.
Hank huffed, “I been working with them two weeks. I've seen them brothers pain a rattlesnake that was caught in a half bale, busted back. They plagued it for about ten minutes, until it was too tired to strike any more. Then the killed it with a knife and rubbed the knife on the snake's teeth to get venom. I've watched them stomp a nest of field mice babies. They messed with a nigger feller for two full hours, until he quit, called him things, said things about his ma, drug a hay hook over his head. I've watched them stun a gopher with a shovel and scoop it up and use the shovel like a throwin' stick and toss it thirty feet in the air and have it hit on the truck hood. Took them three tries to kill it.
“I heard they raped a prostitute in Yerington and told everyone it was impossible to do that because she was already a whore, her women parts belonged to men already. That fella they fought with in Yerington, that was her man. I hope we don't have to go through Yerington again for a few days.”
They finally came back with a sharpened willow stick about an inch and a half across and five feet long.
They stabbed and stabbed at the deer, and she struggled as best she could, but they just could only break the skin. Finally Patrick pushed her down and put all his weight on the willow, I figure about a hundred ninety pounds, and the spear finally did go in a ways, into the rib cage of the doe, who cried out like a baby cries, but it wouldn't kill her. Finally, still stuck between ribs, the stick broke.
Derry picked up a rock and handed it to Patrick. “Here, kill her.”
Patrick waved it off, “nah, you do it, I'm done.”
Joyfully, Patrick hauled his arm back, and smiling said, “goodbye to this world, deer” and smacked her on the head with the rock. She went suddenly ridged, and her front legs tried to run; he smacked her again, and she shivered a minute and was dead.
Derry tossed the bloodied rock over his shoulder and he and Patrick headed for the truck.
“Hey, Paddy,” he said to his brother, “ever kill a deer?”
I climbed on the load, but Hank opened his door.
“Can I have the deer,” he asked?
“What,” Derry asked.
“Can I take the deer?”
“Fuck yeah, do what you want, we're done with it.”
I jumped down again, and when there was no traffic, Hank and I tossed the doe on the load.
“One back quarter is spoiled, but ther rest is good, Hank said. He slit her throat and we bled her for a few seconds, but a car was coming so I climbed up and covered her with hay, to avoid any complications.
It was chow time when we finished unloading; I washed up and went to the chow hall right off. I was worried that, with Dan leavin', they might make me move from the cellar to the bunkhouse. I wanted another night in the cellar. Patrick was right, the job was stale, and we'd likely all be moving on soon.
I was finishing up my beans and beef, and thought of heading back to the cellar, but I stopped to have some desert: a bowl of canned fruit cocktail. Good as they are, you can't just eat beef and beans, you have to eat some fruit cocktail occasionally or you just stop shitting.
I went back to my place at the table, but the Flynns were there, eating dinner.
“Hey, Irish,” Derry said.
I smiled. “Good beans.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Listen, Sanchez is letting us use his car to go to town tonight, but he can't go. We want you to go with us.”
“To town? Tonight? I'm pretty tired.”
“Nay,” Patrick said, putting his hand on my shoulder and applying gentle pressure. “yer just a hungry boy. Finish your pears and cherries and you'll be bright as a puppy.”
“Sanchez let you borrow his car?” I didn't know who Sanchez was.
“He's about to, yeah.”
“Come with us, we'll stop for a few whiskeys and come home.”
“Where, I don't figure you can go to the Lucky.”
Patrick increased the pressure on my shoulder; it was just short of painful.
“Oh, we're not afraid,” he said in my ear, “after all, you'll be there, you'll have our backs, right?”
I paused for something to jump from my mouth, some excuse or discouragement, but my arm was starting to go numb from the pressure.
“Maybe a couple of drinks,” I said.
“There ya go,” Patrick smiled, and the pressure turned in to a light pat on the back.
“Finish your sweets and get cleaned up. We want to leave right quick.”
I finished my fruit, they shoveled beans, and we finished together.
“There ya go, Irish. Go wait by the car.”
“Which one is it, I don't know Sanchez.”
“Right over there, the Buick.”
I went over to a ten year old Buick, metallic green, and hung around the driver's door. They went in to the bunkhouse, and a few minutes later came out and headed for the Buick.
It was after seven, but there was still an hour or more of daylight.
Patrick threw me the keys, “here ya go, drive.”
I started the car and headed out the road toward the highway.
“Them guys shot at you last time. You guys have revolvers?”
Patrick snorted, “we don't need no guns to handle those hayseeds. Anyway, we aren't goin' to the club right off. We got a little stop to make first.”
They had me drive to a little trailer park at the edge of town, where the scrub and sand began in earnest. The trailers all looked alike, all with a driveway the length of the trailer, all with a little row of cottonwoods along the front, most with a small deck and maybe a little barbecue.
“Stop here,” Patrick said.
The boys got out and walked down the row of trailers. They stopped at one, then went to the door. They knocked. Someone answered, I couldn't see who.
They pushed their way in; through the front window I could see a woman with blond hair. She was talking, moving her hands.
Patrick grabbed her, pushed her into some back room I couldn't see.
Derry came out.
“Listen,” he said, “if someone comes, you honk the horn six times.”
“Does it work?”
“Does it work? Yeah, I don't know, give it a jab.”
I hit the horn; it worked.
“Yeah,” Derry said, “you stay here and watch. And, boyo, don't be thinkin' of driving off without us. Me and Patrick got nuttin' to do but find you.”
Derry went back in the house; I could see him go down the hall and disappear.
What were they doing down there?
Eventually, I had to ask myself; were they raping here?
Suddenly, I could hear a baby crying. There was a baby in the trailer!
An old woman, skinny, with a small round head and short hair walked by with a little dog. I nodded through the open driver's window.
“Who are you,” she asked me. Her dog sniffed at the tires; she looked at me through bifocals. She wore a soft blue sweater over a flowered dress.
“My name is Willie,” I said. “I'm kind of a hostage of to very hard men.”
“Well, whyn't ya just drive off?”
“They would find me and kill me. I am afraid they might be raping that woman in there right now.”
“Well, why don't you help her?”
“How? They are both bigger than I am and strong. Why don't you go home and call the sheriff?”
“Oh, it will take an hour. I'll run home and get my husband's gun. Then you can stop them raping poor Helen Halder. Having her husband is curse enough.”
“OK, get the gun, but call the sheriff, too.”
I steeled myself. When she came back with the gun, if it was a good big one, I'd kick in the door and at least stop one of the brothers from finishing.
But, I was wrong, The brothers suddenly appeared in the hallway, and came out the door. Patrick had his hand on the woman's arm; she was carrying a baby with a bottle..
She wasn't too tall, wasn't too fat, wasn't too young, and wasn't a natural blond. She wasn't crying, wasn't disarrayed, but wasn't happy.
Derry got in the front seat; Patrick and the woman got in the back.
“Now, let's go for that whiskey,” he said.
It was only about five minutes to main street and the club.
“Stop right here, right in the street,” Patrick said.
He opened the door, pulled the woman out.
“Ed Halder, you lying piece of shit, come outside.”
A hand full of men spilled out of the club.
“Yeah, that's right, come outside. One a you blockheads stop playing with the head of your peter in your pocket and get Ed Halder out here.”
About five more men came out.
“There you are, you fuck. I gave you until tonight to get me my money. I've been to your house, nothin' there but cigarette butts and empty bottles. Where is my money?”
“Let go of my wife first.”
“I'll let go of your wife when I have my money.”
Another guy said, “why don't we just come over there and kick the shit out of you instead?”
Derry laughed, “Go ahead, but we might drop the baby.”
One of the men produced a small revolver.
“Let her go, or I shoot.”
Patrick laughed, pulled the woman and the baby in front of him.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
A woman came out of the bar.
“I called the sheriff, but they're dealin' with something over at the trailer park,” she reported. “They said just keep them busy awhile.”
Patrick said, “Give me my money, or me and Derry will take her for a drive. She's older'n I like, but I know she's fertile.”
“I don't have the money.”
“Well, let's see, five hundred dollars, and she's worth two bucks a throw, I guess we'll have her back in about a month.”
“Oh,” Derry laughed, “she won't be the same after fucking Patrick's club for a month. You'll have to tell her when you're in!”
“Where is my money?”
“Look, I'll get it.”
“You got it now. Give me your pickup and we're square.”
Ed hemhawed. He finally said, “it's worth at least fifteen hundred. Tell you what, give me another five and we'll call it even.”
The baby started crying. Patrick turned.
“Oy, the kid's hungry. Let's see the little bugger's lunch, go on, pull one out.”
Helen hesitated; Patrick put his hand on her shoulder.
“Go on, pull it out, let's see it.”
She timidly pulled her breast out and stuck it in the baby's face.
“Jesus,” Derry said, “is that a tit? It looks like a loose bag of marbles with a bruise on the end. Oh, the kid likes it, though. Well, I've had better, so far he never has.”
Patrick roared, “the pickup, or we go.”
Helen said, “Ed! Give him the damn truck.”
“All right, all right,” Ed said at last, “I'll go home and get the pink slip.”
“We'll be waiting, me and the baby and your old lady. Don't bring nothin' extra, either; I see you have a gun, I break her neck.”
Ed jumped into his truck for one last drive, and Patrick leaned back against Sanchez's car. The whole time, I'd been sitting behind the wheel, with the engine running.
The crowd of men got
restless. It was hot in the sun, the club beckoned, cool and dark, and rich with the smell of whiskey and cigarettes. The action was over, only the paper work was left, so some of them drifted back inside.
“Darlin'” Patrick shouted, “Bring us out a bottle of decent whiskey, yeah?”
At that point an older Ford sedan pulled up the street and parked behind me. I sweated it might be the sheriff, but no, it was the old lady from the trailer park.
She got out of her car and pulled out a Springfield bolt rifle. She worked the bolt, and rested it across the top of her car door, pointed right at Patrick.
“Hold on, mother,” Patrick said, “let's put the gun down, or the baby might be hurt, eh?”
“I'm a crack shot,” she said, “though the palsy does make my hand shake a bit. This might go off. Let Helen go.”
Patrick turned and put the woman and the baby between them, but he was a head and a half taller, and that head is what the old lady punked with her Springfield. One instand, he was standing there, then there was a pink haze, a blast, and then he was gone and Helen was standing there by herself. There was a flare of red on the windshield; Patrick's brain and blood.
Derry fell to his knees, but the bullet had gone in the front of Patrick's head, and take most of the back of it out.
The old woman worked the bolt and reloaded.
“You, get up and put your hands on the car or I'll do you, too.”
She leaned over so I could see her in the mirror and said, “young feller, you just sit right there, the sheriff will be here directly. He had to stop for a car crash on the highway.”
Derry did as he was told, but tears streamed down his face.
“Patrick, my own brother, shot down like everyone.” He looked at the old woman, “I'm going to kill you some day, you bitch.”
The safety on the rifle made a little “click” as she took it off.
Eventually, the sheriff did come. By then the brains had dried on the windshield of Sanchez's car, and I was used to the smell of brains.
The old lady told the story, and the sheriff let me go. I brought the car back to the ranch.
I spent one more night in the cellar, listening to the muffled sounds of the family overhead. I went through a few of their things: Christmas decorations, winter boots, boxes of photos, mostly black and white.
The next day the foreman told me the work was done, and I moved on.