The Folk of the Fringe (Phantasia Press/Tor, April 1989)
Deaver's horse took sick and died right under him. He was setting on her back, writing down notes about how deep the erosion was eating back into the new grassland, when all of a sudden old Bette shuddered and coughed and broke to her knees. Deaver slid right off her, of course, and unsaddled her, but after that all he could do was pat her and talk to her and hold her head in his lap as she lay there dying.
If I was an outrider it wouldn't be like this, thought Deaver. Royal's Riders go two by two out there on the eastern prairie, never alone like us range riders here in the old southern Utah desert. Outriders got the best horses in Deseret, too, never an old nag like Bette having to work out her last breath riding the grass edge. And the outriders got guns, so they wouldn't have to sit and watch a horse die, they could say farewell with a hot sweet bullet like a last ball of sugar.
Didn't do no good thinking about the outriders, though. Deaver'd been four years on the waiting list, just for the right to apply. Most range riders were on that list, aching for a chance to do something important and dangerous -- bringing refugees in from the prairie, fighting mobbers, disarming missiles. Royal's Riders were all heroes, it went with the job, whenever they come back from a mission they got their picture in the papers, a big write-up. Range riders just got lonely and shaggy and smelly. No wonder they all dreamed of riding with Royal Aal. With so many others on the list, Deaver figured he'd probably be too old and they'd take his name off before he ever got to the top. They wouldn't take applications from anybody over thirty, so he only had about a year and a half left. He'd end up doing what he was doing now, riding the edge of the grassland, checking out erosion patterns and bringing in stray cattle till he dropped out of the saddle and then it'd be his horse's turn to stand there and watch him die.
Bette twitched a leg and snorted. Her eye was darting every which way, panicky, and then it stopped moving at all. After a while a fly landed on it. Deaver eased himself out from under her. The fly stayed right there. Probably already laying eggs. This country didn't waste much time before it sucked every last hope of life out of anything that held still long enough.
Deaver figured to do everything by the book. Put Bette's anal scrapings in the plastic tube so they could check for disease, pick up his bedroll, his notebooks, and his canteen, and then hike into the first fringe town he could find and call in to Moab.
Deaver was all set to go, but he couldn't just walk off and leave the saddle. The rulebook said a rider's life is worth more than a saddle, but the guy who wrote that didn't have a five-dollar deposit on it. A week's wages. It wasn't like Deaver had to carry it far. He passed a road late yesterday. He'd go back and sit on the saddle and wait a couple days for some truck to come by.
Anyway he wanted it on his record -- Deaver Teague come back saddle and all. Bad enough to lose the horse. So he hefted the saddle onto his back and shoulders. It was still warm and damp from Bette's body.
He didn't follow Bette's hoofprints back along the edge of the grassland -- no need to risk his own footsteps causing more erosion. He struck out into the thicker, deeper grass of last year's planting. Pretty soon he lost sight of the gray desert sagebrush, it was too far off in the wet hazy air. Folks talked about how it was in the old days, when the air was so clear and dry you could see the mountains you couldn't get to in two days' riding. Now the farthest he could see was to the redrock sentinels sticking up out of the grass, bright orange when he was close, dimmer and grayer a mile or two ahead or behind. Like soldiers keeping watch in the fog.
Deaver's eyes never got used to seeing those pillars of orange sandstone, tortured by the wind into precarious dream shapes, standing right out in the middle of wet-looking deep green grassland. They didn't belong together, those colors, that rigid stone and bending grass. Wasn't natural.
Five years from now, the fringe would move out into this new grassland, and there'd be farmers turning the plow to go around these rocks, never even looking up at these last survivors of the old desert. In his mind's eye, Deaver saw those rocks seething hot with anger as the cool sea of green swept on around them. People might tame the soil of the desert, but never these temperamental, twisted old soldiers. In fifty years or a hundred or two hundred maybe, when the Earth healed itself from the war and the weather changed back and the rains stopped coming, all this grass, all those crops, they'd turn brown and die, and the new orchard trees would stand naked and dry until they snapped off in a sandstorm and blew away into dust, and then the gray sagebrush would cover the ground again, and the stone soldiers would stand there, silent in their victory.
That's going to happen someday, all you fringe people with your rows of grain and vegetables and trees, your towns full of people who all know each other and go to the same church. You think you all belong where you are, you each got a spot you fill up snug as a cork in a bottle. When I come into town you look hard at me with your tight little eyes because you never seen my face before, I got no place with you, so I better do my business and get on out of town. But that's how the desert thinks about you and your plows and houses. You're just passing through, you got no place here, pretty soon you and all your planting will be gone.
Beads of sweat tickled his face and dropped down onto his eyes, but Deaver didn't let go of the saddle to wipe his forehead. He was afraid if once he set it down he wouldn't pick it up again. Saddles weren't meant to fit the back of a man, and he was sore from chafing and bumping into it. But he'd carried the saddle so far he'd feel like a plain fool to drop it now, so never mind the raw spots on his shoulders and how his fingers and wrists and the backs of his arms hurt from hanging onto it.
At nightfall he hadn't made the road. Even bundled up in his blanket and using the saddle as a windbreak, Deaver shivered half the night against the cold breeze poking here and there over the grass. He woke up stiff and tired with a runny nose. Wasn't till halfway to noon next day that he finally got to the road.
It was a thin ribbon of ancient gray oil and gravel, an old two-lane that was here back when it was all desert and nobody but geologists and tourists and the stubbornest damn cattle ranchers in the world ever drove on it. His arms and back and legs ached so bad he couldn't sit down and he couldn't stand up and he couldn't lay down. So he set down the saddle and bedroll and walked along the road a little to work the pain out. Felt like he was light as cottonwood fluff, now he didn't have the saddle on his back.
First he went south toward the desert till the saddle was almost out of sight in the haze. Then he walked back, past the saddle, toward the fringe. The grass got thicker and taller in that direction. Range riders had a saying: "Grass to the stirrup, pancakes and syrup." It meant you were close to where the orchards and cropland started, which meant a town, and since most riders were Mormons, they could brother-and-sister their way into some pretty good cooking. Deaver got sandwiches, or dry bread in towns too small to have a diner.
Deaver figured it was like all those Mormons, together they formed a big piece of cloth, all woven together through the whole state of Deseret, each person like a thread wound in among the others to make a fabric, tough and strong and complete right out to the edge -- right out to the fringe. Those Mormon range riders, they might stray out into the empty grassland, but they were still part of the weave, still connected. Deaver, he was like a wrong-colored thread that looks like it's hanging from the fabric, but when you get up close, why, you can see it isn't attached anywhere, it just got mixed up in the wash, and if you pull it away it comes off easy, and the cloth won't be one whit weaker or less complete.
But that was fine with Deaver. If the price of a hot breakfast was being a Mormon and doing everything the bishop told you because he was inspired by God, then bread and water tasted pretty good. To Deaver the fringe towns were as much a desert as the desert itself. No way he could live there long, unless he was willing to turn into something other than himself.
He walked back and forth until it didn't hurt to sit down, and then he sat down until it didn't hurt to walk again. All day and no cars. Well, that was his kind of luck -- government probably cut back the gas ration again and nobody was moving. Or they sealed off the road cause they didn't want folks driving through the grassland even on pavement. For all Deaver knew the road got washed through in the last rain. He might be standing here for nothing, and he only had a couple of days' water in his canteen. Wouldn't that be dumb, to die of thirst because he rested a whole day on a road that nobody used.
Wasn't till the middle of the night when the rumble of an engine and the vibration of the road woke him up. It was a long way off still, but he could see the headlights. A truck, from the shaking and the noise it made. And not going fast, from how long it took those lights to get close. Still, it was night, wasn't it? And even going thirty, it was a good chance they wouldn't see him. Deaver's clothes were all dark, except his t-shirt. So, cold as it was at night, he stripped off his jacket and flannel shirt and stood in the middle of the road, letting his undershirt catch the headlights, his arms spread out and waving as the truck got closer.
He figured he looked like a duck trying to take off from a tar patch. And his t-shirt wasn't clean enough for anybody to call it exactly white. But they saw him and laid on the brakes. Deaver stepped out of the way when he saw the truck couldn't stop in time. The brakes squealed and howled and it took them must be a hundred yards past Deaver before they stopped.
They were nice folks -- they even backed up to him instead of making him carry the saddle and all up to where they finally got it parked.
"Thank heaven you weren't a baby in the road," said a man from the back of the truck. "You wouldn't happen to have brake linings with you, young man?"
The man's voice was strange. Loud and big-sounding, with an accent like Deaver never heard before. Every single letter sounded clear, like the voice of God on Mount Sinai. It didn't occur to Deaver that it was the man might be making a joke, not in that voice. Instead he felt like it was a sin that he didn't have brake linings. "No, sir, I'm sorry."
The Voice of God chuckled. "There was an era, before you remember, when no American in his right mind would have stopped to pick up a dangerous-looking stranger like you. Who says America has not improved since the collapse?"
"I'd like a bag of nacho Doritos," said a woman. "That would be an improvement." Her voice was warm and friendly, but she had that same strange way of pronouncing every bit of every word. Jackrabbits could learn English hearing her talk.
"I speak of trust, and she speaks of carnal delights," said the Voice of God. "Is that a saddle?"
"Government property, registered in Moab." He said it right off, so there'd be no thought of maybe making that saddle disappear.
The man chuckled. "Range rider, then?"
"Well, range rider, it seems trust among strangers isn't perfect yet. No, we wouldn't steal your saddle, even to make brake linings."
Deaver was plain embarrassed. "I didn't mean to say --"
"You did right, lad," said the woman.
The truck was a flatbed with high fencing staked around -- ancient, but so were most trucks. Detroit wasn't exactly churning them out anymore. Inside the fence panels, straining against them, was a crazy jumble of tarps, tents, and crates stacked up in a way that made no sense, not in the dark anyway. Somebody flung their arm over the top of one of the softer-looking bundles, and then a sleepy-looking, mussy-haired girl about maybe twelve years old stuck her head up and said, "What's going on?" It was a welcome sound, her voice -- none of that too-crisp talking from her.
"Nothing, Janie," said the woman. She turned back to Deaver. "And as for you, young man, show some sense and get your shirt back on, it's cold out here."
So it was. He started to put it on. As soon as she saw he was doing what she wanted, she climbed back into the cab.
He could hear the man tossing his saddlebags onto the truck. Deaver put his foot on the saddle till he had his shirt on, so the man wouldn't come back and try to lift it. Not that he could tell for sure, but by the little light from a sliver of moon, he didn't look like a young man, exactly, and Deaver wouldn't have an old guy lift his saddle for him.
Somebody else came around the front of the truck. A young man, with an easy walk and a smile so full of teeth it caught the moonlight brighter than a car bumper. He stuck out his hand and said, "I'm his son. My name's Ollie."
Well, if Deaver thought the Voice of God was weird, his son was even weirder. Deaver'd picked up a lot of riders back in his salvage days, and he'd been picked up himself more times than he could remember. Only a couple of people ever gave or asked for a name, and that was only at the end of the ride, and only if you talked a lot and liked each other. Here was a guy expecting to shake hands, like he thought Deaver was famous -- or thought he was famous. When Deaver took his hand, Ollie squeezed hard. Like there was real feeling in it. There in the dark, people talking and acting strange, Deaver still half asleep, he felt like he was inside a dream, one that hadn't decided yet whether to be a nightmare.
Ollie let go of Deaver's hand, bent over, and slid the saddle right out from under Deaver's foot. "Let me get this up onto the truck for you."
It was plain that Ollie had never hoisted many saddles in his life. He was strong enough, but awkward. Deaver took hold of one end.
"Do horses really wear these things?" asked Ollie.
"Yep," said Deaver. Deaver knew the question was a joke, but he didn't know why it was funny, or who was supposed to laugh. At least Ollie didn't talk like the older man and woman -- he had a natural sound to his voice, an easy way of talking, like you'd already been friends for years. They got the saddle onto the truck. Then Ollie swung up onto the truck and slid the saddle back behind something covered with canvas.
"Heading for Moab, right?" asked Ollie.
"I guess," said Deaver.
"We're heading to Hatchville," Ollie said. "We'll spend no more than two days there, and then it happens we'll be passing through Moab next." Ollie glanced over at his father, who was just coming back around the truck. Ollie was grinning his face off, and he spoke real loud now, as if to make sure his father heard him. "Unless you have a faster ride, how about you travel with us the whole way to Moab?"
The Voice of God didn't say a word, and it was too dark to read much expression on his face. Still, as long as Deaver didn't hear him saying, "Yes, Ollie's right, come ride with us," the message was plain enough. The son might've shook his hand, but the father didn't hanker for his company past morning.
Truth was Deaver didn't mind a bit. Seemed to him these people didn't have all their axles greased, and he wasn't thinking about their truck, either. He wasn't about to turn down a ride with them tonight -- who knew when the next vehicle would come through here? -- but he wasn't eager to hang around with them for two days, listening to them talk funny. "Hatchville's all I need," said Deaver.
Only after Deaver had turned down the offer did the Voice of God speak again. "I assure you, it would have been no trouble to take you on to Moab."
That's right, thought Deaver. It would've been no trouble, but you still didn't want to do it and that's fine with me.
"Come on, get aboard," said Ollie. "You'll have to ride in the cab -- all the beds are occupied."
As Deaver walked up to the cab, he saw two more people leaning over the railing of the truck to get a look at him -- a really old man and woman, white-haired, almost ghost-like. How many people were there? Ollie and the Voice of God, these two really old ones, the lady who was probably Ollie's mother, and that young girl named Janie. Six at least. At least they were trying to fit in with the government's request for folks to carry the most possible riders per vehicle.
Ollie's father got up into the cab before Deaver, giving him the window. The woman was already in the middle, and when Ollie got into the driver's seat on the other side, it made for a tight fit all across. Deaver didn't mind, though. The cab was cold.
"It'll warm up again when we get going," said the woman. "The heater works, but the fan doesn't."
"Do you have a name, range rider?" asked the Voice of God.
Deaver couldn't understand this curiosity about names. I'm not renting a room with you people, I'm just taking a ride.
"Maybe he doesn't want to share his name, Father," said Ollie.
Deaver could feel Ollie's father stiffen beside him. Why was it such a big deal? "Name's Deaver Teague."
Now it was Ollie who seemed to tighten up. His smile got kind of set as he started the engine and put the truck in gear. Was this a bet? Whoever got Deaver to say his name won, and Ollie was mad because he had to pay off?
"Do you hail from anywhere in particular?" asked Ollie's father.
"I'm an immigrant," said Deaver.
"In the long run, so are we all. Immigrant from where?"
Am I applying for a job or something? "I don't remember."
The father and mother glanced at each other. Of course they assumed he was lying, and now they were probably thinking he was a criminal or something. So like it or not, Deaver had to explain. "Outriders picked me up when I was maybe four. All my people was killed by mobbers on the prairie."
Immediately the tension eased out of the parents. "Oh, I'm sorry," said the woman. Her voice was so thick with sympathy that Deaver had to look at her to make sure she wasn't making fun.
"Doesn't matter," Deaver said. He didn't even remember them, so it wasn't like he missed his folks.
"Listen to us," said the woman. "Prying at him, when we haven't so much as told him who we are."
So at least she noticed they were prying.
"I told him my name," said Ollie. There was a trace of nastiness in the way he said it, and suddenly Deaver knew why he got mad a minute ago. When Ollie introduced himself outside the truck, Deaver didn't give back his own name, but then when Ollie's father asked, Deaver told his name easy enough. It was about the stupidest thing to get mad over that Deaver ever heard of, but he was used to that. Deaver was always doing that, giving offense without meaning to, because people were all so prickly. Or maybe he just wasn't smart about dealing with strangers. You'd think he'd be better at it, since strangers was all he ever had to deal with.
The Voice of God was talking like he didn't even know Ollie was mad. "We who travel in, on, and around this truck are minstrels of the open road. Madrigals and jesters, thespians and dramaturges, the second-rate Sophoclean substitute for NBC, CBS, ABC and, may the Lord forgive us, PBS."
The only answer Deaver could think of was a kind of smile, knowing he looked like an idiot, but what could he say that wouldn't let the man know that Deaver didn't understand a word he said?
Ollie grinned over at him. Deaver was glad to see he wasn't mad anymore, and so he smiled back. Ollie grinned even more. This is like a conversation between two people pretending not to be deaf, thought Deaver.
Finally Ollie translated what his father had said. "We're a pageant wagon."
"Oh," said Deaver. He was a fool for not guessing it already. Show gypsies. It explained so many people on one truck and the strange-shaped objects under the canvas and most of all it explained the weird way Ollie's father and mother talked. "A pageant wagon."
But apparently Deaver said it the wrong way or something, because Ollie's father winced and Ollie snapped off the inside light and the truck sped up, rattling more than ever. Maybe they were mad because they knew all the stories that got told about show gypsies, and they figured Deaver was being snide when he said "pageant wagon" like that. Fact was Deaver didn't much care whether pageant wagons left behind them a string of pregnant virgins and empty chicken coops. They weren't his daughters and they weren't his chickens.
Deaver moved around so much that a traveling show never come to any town he was in, at least that he knew about. In Zarahemla he knew that they had an actual walk-in theatre, but for that you had to dress nicer than any clothes Deaver owned. And the pageant wagons only traveled out in the hick towns, where Deaver never hung around long enough to know if there was a show going on or not. Only thing he knew about pageant wagons was what he found out tonight -- they talked weird and got mad over nothing.
But he didn't want them thinking he had a low opinion of pageant wagons. "You doing a show in Hatchville?" asked Deaver. He tried to sound favorable to the idea.
"We have an appointment," said Ollie's father.
"Deaver Teague," said the woman, obviously changing the subject. "Do you know why your parents gave you two last names?"
Seemed like whenever these people ran out of stuff to talk about, they always got back to names. But it was better than having them mad. "The immigrants who found me, there was a guy named Deaver and a guy named Teague."
"How awful, to take away your given name!" she said.
What was Deaver supposed to say to that?
"Maybe he likes his name," said Ollie.
Immediately Ollie's mother got flustered. "Oh, I wasn't criticizing --"
Ollie's father jumped right in to smooth things over. "I think Deaver Teague is a very distinguished-sounding name. The name of a future governor."
Deaver smiled a little at that. Him, a governor. The chance of a non-Mormon governor in Deseret was about as likely as the fish electing a duck to be king of the pond. He may be in the water, but he sure ain't one of us.
"But our manners," said the woman. "We still haven't introduced ourselves. I'm Scarlett Aal."
"And I'm Marshall Aal," said the man. "Our driver is our second son, Laurence Olivier Aal."
"Ollie," said the driver. "For the love of Mike."
What Deaver mostly heard was the last name. "Aal like A-A-L?"
"Yes," said Marshall. He looked off into the distance even though there was nothing to see in the dark.
"Any relation to Royal Aal?"
"Yes," said Marshall. He was very curt.
Deaver couldn't figure out why Marshall was annoyed. Royal's Riders were the biggest heroes in Deseret.
"My husband's brother," said Scarlett.
"They're very close," said Ollie. Then he gave a single sharp hoot of laughter.
Marshall just raised his chin a little, as if to say he was above such tomfoolery. So Marshall didn't like being related to Royal. But definitely they were brothers. Now that Deaver was looking for it, Marshall Aal even looked kind of like Royal's pictures in the paper. Not enough to mistake them for each other. Royal had that ragged, lean, hard-jawed look of a man who doesn't much care where he sleeps; his brother, here in the cab of the pageant wagon, his face was softer.
No, not softer. Deaver couldn't call this sharp-featured man soft. Nor delicate. Elegant maybe. Your majesty.
Their names were backward. It was Marshall here who looked like a king, and Royal who looked like a soldier. Like they got switched in the cradle.
"Do you know my Uncle Roy?" asked Ollie. He sounded real interested.
It was plain that Marshall didn't want another word about his brother, but that didn't seem to bother Ollie. Deaver didn't know much about brothers, or about fathers and sons, not having been any such himself, but why would Ollie want to make his father mad on purpose?
"Just from the papers," said Deaver.
Nobody said anything. Just the sound of the engine rumbling on, the feel of the cab vibrating from the road underneath them.
Deaver had that sick feeling he always got when he knew he just didn't belong where he was. He'd already managed to offend everybody, and they'd offended him a few times, too. He just wished somebody else had picked him up. He twisted a little on the seat and leaned his head against the window. If he could go to sleep till they got to Hatchville, then he could get out and never have to face them again.
"Here we've been talking all this time," said Scarlett, "and the poor boy is so tired he can hardly stay awake." Deaver felt her hand pat his knee. Her words, her voice, her touch -- they were just what he needed to hear. She was telling him he hadn't offended everybody after all. She was telling him he was still welcome.
He could feel himself unclench inside. He eased down into the seat, breathed a little slower. He didn't open his eyes, but he could still picture the woman's face the way she looked before, smiling at him, her face showing so much sympathy it was like she thought he was her own son.
But of course she could look like that whenever she wanted to -- she was an actress. She could make her face and voice seem any old way she chose. Wasn't no particular reason Deaver should believe her. Smarter if he didn't.
What was her name? Scarlett. He wondered if her hair had once been red.
The sky was just pinking up with dawn, clear and cold outside the heated cab, when they rattled over a rough patch in the road. Deaver wasn't awake and then he was awake. First words he said were from his dream even as it skittered away from him just out of reach. "It's your stuff," he said.
"Don't get mad at me about it," said the woman sitting next to him. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn't Scarlett's voice.
In the night sometime the pageant wagon people must have stopped and switched places. Now that he thought about it, Deaver had half-awake memories of Scarlett and other people talking soft and the seat bouncing. Marshall and Scarlett were gone, and so was Ollie. The man at the wheel wasn't one of the people Deaver saw last night. They had called Ollie their second son; this must be his older brother. The young girl he saw on the back of the truck last night -- Janie -- she was asleep leaning on the driver's shoulder. And next to Deaver was about the prettiest woman he could remember seeing in his life. Of course women got to looking nicer and nicer the more time you spent on the range, but it was sure she was the best-looking woman he ever woke up next to. Not that he'd ever say such a thing. He was plain embarrassed even to think it.
She was smiling at him.
"Sorry. I must have been --"
"Oh, it was some dream," she said.
I look at you and think maybe I'm still dreaming. The words were so clear in his mind that he moved his lips without meaning to.
"What?" she asked.
She looked at him like she'd never look at another soul until he answered. Deaver was plain embarrassed. He blurted out something like what he was thinking. "I said if you're part of the dream I don't want to wake up."
The man at the wheel laughed. Pleasantly. Deaver liked his laugh. The woman didn't laugh, though. She just smiled and crinkled up her eyes, then looked down at her lap. It was the absolutely perfect thing for her to do. So perfect that Deaver felt like he was starting to float.
"You've done it to this poor ranger man already, Katie," said the driver. "Pay no attention to her, my friend. She specializes in enchanting handsome strangers she discovers in the cab of her family's truck. If you kiss her she turns into a frog."
"You wake up very sweetly," said Katie. "And you turn a compliment so a woman can almost believe it's true."
Only now did Deaver really come awake and realize he was talking to strangers and had no business saying what came to mind, or trying to make his jokes. In the roadside inns where he used to stop while he was driving a scavenger truck, he always talked to the waitresses like that, giving them the most elegant compliments that he thought they might believe. At first he was flirting, teasing them, which was the only way he knew to talk to a woman -- he couldn't bring himself to talk crude like the older drivers, so he talked pretty. Soon, though, he stopped making it a joke, because those women would always look at him sharp to see if he was mocking them, and if they saw he wasn't, why, it brightened them, like pulling the chain on a light inside their eyes.
But that was back when he was seventeen, eighteen years old, lots younger than the women he met. They liked him, treated him like a sweet-talking little brother. This woman, though, she was younger than him, and sitting tight up against him in a cab so small it caught all her breath so he could breathe it after, and the sky outside was dim and the light made soft pink shadows on her face. He was wide awake now, and shy.
You don't flirt with a woman in front of her brother.
"I'm Deaver Teague," he said. "I didn't see you last night."
"I didn't exist last night," she said. "You dreamed me up and here I am."
She laughed and it wasn't a giggle or a cackle, it was a low-pitched sound in her throat, warm and inviting.
"Deaver Teague," said the driver, "I urge you to remember that my sister Katie Hepburn Aal is the best actress in Deseret, and what you're seeing right now is Juliet."
"Titania!" she said. In that one word she suddenly became elegant and dangerous, her voice even more precise than her mother's had been, like she was queen of the universe.
"Medea," her brother retorted nastiliy.
Deaver figured they were calling names, but didn't know what they meant.
"I'm Toolie," said the driver.
"Peter O'Toole Aal," said Katie. "After the great actor."
Toolie grinned. "Daddy wasn't subtle about wanting us to go into the family business. Nice to meet you, Deaver."
All this time Katie didn't take her eyes off Deaver. "Ollie said you know Uncle Royal."
"No," said Deaver. "I just know about him."
"I thought you range riders worked under him."
Was that why she was sitting next to him? Hoping he'd talk about their famous uncle? "He's over the outriders."
"You want to be an outrider?"
It wasn't something he talked about much to anybody. Most young men who signed on as rangers were hoping someday to get into Royal's Riders, but the ones who got in usually made it before they reached twenty-five, which meant they had five or six years on horseback before they applied to the outriders. Deaver was twenty-five when he joined up, and he hadn't had four years as a range rider yet. Except for a couple of older guys, most rangers would have a good laugh if they knew how much Deaver wanted to ride with Royal Aal.
"It's something that might happen," said Deaver.
"I hope you get your wish," she said.
This time it was his turn to search her face to see if she was making fun. But she wasn't. He could see that. She really hoped for something good to happen to him. He nodded, not knowing what else to say.
"Riding out there," she said, "helping people make it here to safety."
"Taking apart the missiles," said Toolie.
"Ain't too many missiles now," said Deaver.
Which pretty much ended the conversation. Deaver was used to that, having his words be the ones that hung in the air, nobody saying a thing afterward. A long time ago he tried to apologize or explain what he said, something to make that embarrassed silence go away. Last few years, though, he realized he probably hadn't said something wrong. Other people just had a hard time talking to him for long, that's all. Nothing against him. He just wasn't the kind of person you talk to.
Deaver wished he actually knew their uncle, so he could tell them about him. It was plain they were hungry for word about him. If their father'd been feuding with Royal for a long time, they might hardly know him. That'd be strange, for the kinfolk of the best-loved hero of Deseret not to know a bit more about him than any stranger just reading the paper.
They crested a hill. Toolie pointed. "There's Hatchville."
Deaver had no idea how long ago they left the grassland and came into the fringe, but from the size of Hatchville he figured this town was probably twelve, fifteen years old. Well back from the edge now, really not fringe at all anymore. Lots of people.
Toolie slowed enough to gear down the truck. Deaver listened with an ear long attuned to motors from his years nursing the scavenger trucks from one place to another. "Engine's pretty good for one this old," said Deaver.
"You think so?" said Toolie. He perked right up, talking about the engine. These folks made a living only as long as the motor kept going.
"Needs a tune-up."
Toolie made a wry face. "No doubt."
"Probably the mix in the carburetor's none too good."
Toolie laughed in embarrassment. "Do carburetors mix something? I always thought they just sat there and carbureted."
"Ollie takes care of the truck," Katie said.
The little girl between them woke up. "Are we there yet?"
They were passing the first houses on the outskirts of town. The sky was pretty light now. Almost sunrise.
"You remember where the pageant field is in Hatchville, Katie?" Toolie asked.
"I can't tell Hatchville from Heber," said Katie.
"Heber's the one with mountains all around like a bowl," said Janie.
"Then this is Hatchville," said Katie.
"I knew that," said Toolie.
They ended up at the town hall, where everybody stood around the truck in the cold morning air while Ollie and Katie went in looking for somebody to give them a permit for a place to set up for the pageant. Deaver figured that this time of morning the only one on duty'd be the night man who did the data linkups with Zarahemla -- every town had one -- so he didn't bother going in on his own business. As for them going in, well, it was their business, not his.
Sure enough, they came out empty-handed. "The night guy couldn't give us a permit," said Ollie, "but the pageant field's up on Second North and then out east to the first field that's got no fence."
"And he gave us such a Christian welcome," said Katie. Her smile was full of mischief. Ollie hooted. Deaver was having fun just watching them.
Toolie shook his head. "Small-town pinheads."
Katie launched into a thick hicktown accent, full of r's so hard Deaver thought she must have her tongue tickling the back of her throat. "And you better say there till you come back in at nine and get a permit, cause we respect the law around here."
Deaver couldn't help but laugh along with the others, even though the accent she was making fun of, that was pretty much the way he talked.
Marshall, though, he wasn't laughing as he stood there combing his sleep-crazy hair with his fingers. "Ungrateful, suspicious, small-minded bigots, all of them. I wonder how they'd like to pass this autumn without a single visit from a pageant wagon. There's nothing to stop us from driving on through." This early in the morning he didn't talk so careful. Deaver heard a little naturalness in his speech, and even though it was only by accident, it kind of made Deaver feel better to know that the real person Marshall used to be wasn't hidden all that deep after all.
"Now Marsh," said Scarlett. "You know that our calling comes from the Prophet, not from these small-town people. If their minds are little and ugly and closed, isn't it our job to bring them a broader vision? Isn't that why we're here?"
Katie sighed pointedly. "Why does it always have to come back to the Church, Mother? We're here to make a living."
She didn't speak harsh or nasty, but people acted like she'd slapped her mother. Scarlett immediately put her hands to her cheeks and turned away, tears filling her eyes. Marshall looked like he was about to tear into Katie with words so hot they could start a brushfire, and Ollie was grinning like this was the best thing he'd seen all year.
But right then Toolie took a step toward Deaver and said, "Well, Deaver Teague, you can see how it is with show people. We have to make a grand scene out of everything."
That reminded folks that there was a stranger among them, and all at once they changed. Scarlett smiled at Deaver. Katie laughed lightly like it was all a joke. Marshall started nodding wisely, and Deaver knew the next words he said would be as elegant as ever.
It was plainly time for Deaver to say thank you and get his saddle off the truck and go take a nap somewhere out of the wind till it got time to report in to Moab. Then the Aals could quarrel with each other all they liked. Parting would be fine with Deaver -- he'd been a bit of painless charity to them, and they'd been a ride into town for him. Everybody got what they needed and good-bye.
What messed things up was that when Marshall got pretty much the same idea -- that it was time for Deaver to go -- he didn't trust Deaver to have sense enough to figure it out himself. So Marshall smiled and nodded and put his arms around Deaver's shoulder. "I suppose, son, that you'll want to stay here and wait until the offices open up at eight o'clock."
Deaver didn't take offense at what he said -- he was just hinting for Deaver to do what he already meant to do, so that was fine. Folks had a right to keep their family squabbles away from strangers. But giving him a hug and calling him "son" while telling him to go away, it made Deaver so mad he wanted to hit somebody.
All the time he was growing up Mormons kept doing that same thing to him. They always fostered him out to live in some Mormon family's house who'd always make him go to church every Sunday even though they knew he wasn't a Mormon and didn't want to be one. The other kids knew right off he wasn't one of them and didn't make any bones about it -- they left him alone and didn't pretend they liked him or even cared whether he lived or died. But there was always some Relief Society president who patted his head and called him "sweetie" or "you dear thing," and whenever the bishop passed him, he'd put his arm around him and call him "son," just like Marshall, and pretend they were only joking when they said, "How long till you see the light and get baptized?"
That friendly and nice stuff always lasted until Deaver finally told them "never" loud enough and nasty enough that they believed him. From then on until he got fostered somewhere else, the bishop would never touch him or speak to him, just fix him with a cold stare as Deaver sat there in the congregation and the bishop sat up on the stand being holy. Sometimes Deaver wondered what would have happened if just once, some bishop had kept on being friendly even after Deaver told him he'd never get baptized. If maybe he might've felt different about Mormons if ever their friendship turned out to be real. But it never happened.
So here was Marshall Aal doing just what those bishops always did, and Deaver plain couldn't help himself, he shrugged Marshall's arm off and stepped back so fast that Marshall's arm was still hanging there in the air for a second. His face and his fists must have shown how mad he was, too, because they all stared at him, looking surprised. All except Ollie, who stood there nodding his head.
Marshall looked around at the others. "Well, I don't know what I . . ." Then he gave up with a shrug.
Funny thing was, Deaver's anger was gone already, gone in a second. He never let rage hold on to him -- that only gets you in trouble. Worst of all, now they all thought he was mad because they were sending him away. But he didn't know how to explain that it was OK, he was glad to go. It always ended up like this whenever he left a foster home, too. The family was sending him away because they were tired of him, which was fine cause he never much liked them either. He didn't mind leaving and they were glad to see him go, and yet nobody could just come out and say that.
Well, so what. They'd never see him again. "Let me get my saddle," Deaver said. He headed for the side of the truck.
"I'll help you," said Toolie.
"No such thing," said Scarlett. She caught ahold of Deaver's elbow and held it tight. "This young man has been out in the grassland for I don't know how many days, and we're not sending him away without breakfast."
Deaver knew she was just saying that for good manners, so he said no thanks as polite as he could. That might have been the end of it except right then Katie came to him and took his left hand -- which was his only free hand, since Scarlett had tight hold on his right elbow. "Please stay," she said. "We're all strangers in this town, and I think we ought to stick together till we have to go our separate ways."
Her smile was so bright that Deaver had to blink. And her eyes looked at him so steady, it was like she was daring him to doubt that she meant it.
Toolie picked up on it and said, "We could use another hand setting up, so you'd be earning the meal."
Even Marshall added his bit. "I meant to ask you myself. I hope you will come with us and share our poor repast."
Deaver was hungry, all right, and he didn't mind looking at Katie's face though he wished she'd let go of his hand, and he particularly wished Scarlett would unclamp his elbow -- but he knew he wasn't really wanted, and so he said no thanks again and got his arms back from the women and headed over to get his saddle off the truck. That was when Ollie laughed and said, "Come on, Teague, you're hungry and Father feels like a jerk and Mother feels guilty and Katie's hot for you and Toolie wants you to do half his work. How can you just walk off and disappoint everybody?"
"Ollie," said Scarlett sternly.
But by now Katie and Toolie were laughing, too, and Deaver just couldn't help laughing himself.
"Come on, everybody into the truck," said Marshall. "Ollie, you know the way, you drive."
Marshall and Scarlett and Toolie and Ollie piled into the cab, so Deaver had to ride in back with Katie and Janie and a younger brother, Dusty. The two really old people he saw last night were way in the back of the truck. Katie kept Deaver right up front, behind the cab. Deaver couldn't figure out if she was flirting with him or what. And if she was, he sure didn't know why. He knew his clothes stank of dirt and sweat and the horse he'd been riding till it died, and he also knew he wasn't much to look at even when he shaved. Probably she was just being nice, and didn't know how to do that except by using that smile of hers and looking at him under heavy eyelids and touching his arm and his chest whenever she talked to him. It was annoying, except that it also felt pretty nice. Only that made it even more annoying because he knew that it wasn't going anywhere.
The town was finally coming awake as they drove to the pageant field. Deaver noticed they didn't go straight there. No, they drove that noisy truck up and down every road there was in town, most of them just dirt traces since nothing much got paved these days outside Zarahemla. The sound of the rattletrap truck brought people looking out their windows, and children spurted out the doors to lean on picket fences, jumping up and down.
"Is it Pageant Day?" they'd shout.
"Pageant Day!" answered Katie and Janie and Dusty. Maybe the old folks in back were shouting, too -- Deaver couldn't hear. Pretty soon the news was ahead of the truck, and people were already lined up along the edge of the road, straining to see them. That was when the Aals started pulling the tarp off a couple of the big pieces. One of them looked liked the top of a missile, and another one was a kind of tower -- a tall steep pyramid like a picture Deaver saw in school, the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico City. When the people saw the rocket, they started yelling, "Man on the moon!" and when they saw the pyramid, which they couldn't see till the truck passed they'd scream and laugh and call out, "Noah! Noah! Noah!"
Deaver figured they must have seen the shows before. "How many different pageants do you do?" he asked.
"Three," said Katie. She waved at the crowd. "Pageant Day!" Then, still talking loud so he could hear her over the truck and the crowds and her little brother and sister yelling, she said, "We do our Glory of America pageant, which Grandfather wrote. And America's Witness for Christ, which is the old Book of Mormon pageant from the Hill Cumorah -- everybody does that one -- and at Christmas we do The Glorious Night, which Daddy wrote because he thought the regular Christmas pageants were terrible. That's our whole repertoire in towns like this. Pageant Day!"
"So it's all Mormon stuff," said Deaver.
She looked at him oddly. "Glory of America is American. The Glorious Night is from the Bible. Aren't you Mormon?"
Here it is, thought Deaver. Here comes the final freeze-out. Or the sudden interest in converting me, leading up to a freeze-out soon enough. He had forgotten, for just a while this morning, that he hadn't told them yet, that they still figured he was one of them, that he basically belonged. The way that these show gypsies were still part of Hatchville, because they were all Mormons. The way most of the other range riders liked being in town, among fellow Mormons. But now, finding out he wasn't one of them, they'd feel like he fooled them, like he stuck himself in where he didn't belong. Now he really regretted letting them talk him into coming along to breakfast like this. They never would've tried to talk him into it if they knew he wasn't one of them.
"Nope," said Deaver.
He couldn't believe it when she didn't even pause. Just went on like nothing got said. "We'd rather do other shows, you know, besides those three. When I was little we spent a year in Zarahemla. I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. Do you know what I've always wanted to play?"
He didn't have any idea.
"You have to guess," she said.
He wasn't sure he'd ever even heard the name of a play, let alone a person in one. So he seized on the only thing he could halfway remember. "Titanic?"
She looked at him like he was crazy.
"In the cab. You said you were --"
"Titania! The queen of the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream. No, no. I've always wanted to play -- you won't tell anybody?"
He sort of shrugged and shook his head at the same time. Who would he tell? And if it was a real secret, why would she tell him?
"Eleanor of Aquitaine," she said.
Deaver had never heard that name in his life.
"It was a part Katherine Hepburn played. The actress I was named after. A movie called A Lion in Winter." She almost whispered the title. "I saw a tape of it once, years ago. Actually I saw it about five times, in one single day, over and over again. We were staying with an old friend of Grandpa's in Cedar City. We had a VCR that still ran on his windmill generator. The movie's banned now, you know."
Movies didn't mean much to Deaver. Hardly anybody ever got to see them. Out here on the fringe nobody did. Electricity was too expensive to waste on televisions. Besides, a former salvage man like Deaver knew there just weren't enough working televisions in Deseret for more than a couple in each town. It wasn't like the old days, when everybody went home every night and watched TV till they fell asleep. Nowadays folks only had time for a show when a pageant wagon came to town.
They were past the houses now, pulling onto a bumpy field that had been planted in wheat, long since harvested.
Katie's voice suddenly went husky and trembled a little. "I'd hang you from the nipples, but you'd shock the children."
"She was a magnificent woman. She was the first to wear pants. The first woman to wear them. And she loved Spencer Tracy till he died, even though he was a Catholic and wouldn't divorce his wife to marry her."
The truck pulled to a stop at the eastern edge of the field. Janie and Dusty jumped right off the truck, leaving them alone between the set pieces and the back of the cab.
"I rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus," said Katie, in that husky, quavery voice again. "I damn near died of wind burn, but the troops were dazzled."
Deaver finally guessed that she was quoting from the movie. "They did a movie where a woman said damn?"
"Did I offend you? I thought since you weren't a Mormon, you wouldn't mind."
That sort of attitude made Deaver crazy. Just because he wasn't a Latter-day Saint, Mormons thought he'd want to hear their favorite dirty joke, or else they started swearing cause they thought it would make him more comfortable, or they just assumed that he slept with whores all the time and got drunk whenever he could. But he swallowed his anger without showing it. After all, she meant no harm. And he liked having her so close to him, especially since she hadn't moved any farther away when she found out he was a gentile.
"I just wish you could see the movie," said Katie. "Katherine Hepburn is -- magnificent."
"Isn't she dead?"
Katie turned to him, her face a mask of sadness. "The world is poorer because of it."
He spoke the way he always did to a sad-looking woman who was too close to ignore. "I guess the world ain't too poor if you're in it."
Her face brightened at once. "Oh, if you keep saying things like that I'll never let you go."
She took hold of his arm. His hand had just been hanging at his side, but now that she was pressed up against him, he realized his hand was being pressed into the soft curve of her belly just inside her hip bone. If he even twitched his hand he'd be touching her where a man had no right without being asked. Was she asking?
Toolie, standing on the ground beside the truck, pounded one fist on Deaver's boot and the other on Katie's shoe. "Come on, Katie, let go of Deaver so we can use him to help with the loading."
She squeezed his arm again. "I don't have to," she said.
"If she gets annoying, Deaver, break her arm. That's what I do."
"You only did it once," said Katie. "I never let you do it again." She let go of Deaver and jumped off the truck.
For a moment he stood there, not moving his hand or anything. She just talked to him, that's all. That's all it meant. And even if she meant more, he wasn't going to do anything about it. You don't answer folks' hospitality by diddling with their daughter. After a minute -- no just a few seconds -- he swung himself off the truck and joined the others.
Except for picking the exact spot to park and leveling the truck, the family didn't set to work right away. They gathered in the field and Parley Aal, the old man from the back of the truck, he said a prayer. He had a grand, rolling voice, but it wasn't so clear-sounding as Marshall's, and Parley said his r's real hard like the Mormons Katie made fun of back in town. The prayer wasn't long. Mostly all he did was dedicate the ground to the service of God, and ask the Lord's Spirit to touch the hearts of the people who came to watch. He also asked God to help them all remember their lines and be safe. So far only Katie knew Deaver wasn't Mormon, and he said amen at the end just like the others. Then he looked up and in the gap between Toolie and Katie, he could see part of the sign on the truck. Miracle, it said. Then they moved, and Deaver read the whole thing. Sweetwater's Miracle Pageant. Why Sweetwater, when everybody in the family was named Aal?
Unloading the truck and setting up for the show was as hard as the hardest work Deaver'd ever done in his life. There was more stuff on that truck than he would ever have thought possible. The tower and the missile had doors in back, and they were packaged tight with props and machinery and supplies. It took only an hour to pitch the tents they lived in -- four of them, plus the kitchen awning -- but that was the easy part. There was a generator to load off the truck on a ramp, then hook up to the truck's gas tank. It was so awkward to handle, so heavy and temperamental, that Deaver wondered how they did it when he wasn't there. It took all the strength he and Toolie and Ollie and Marshall had.
"Oh, Katie and Scarlett usually help," said Toolie.
So he was saving Katie work. Was that why she was treating him so nice? Well, that was all right with him. He was glad to help, and he didn't expect payment of any coin. What else was he going to do this morning? Call in to Moab and then sit around and wait for instructions, most likely. Might as well be doing this. Best not to remember the way her body pressed against his hand, the way she squeezed his arm.
They carried metal piping and thick heavy blocks of steel out about fifteen yards from the truck, one on each side of where the audience would be, and then assembled them into trees that held the lights. They kept tossing around words that Deaver never heard of -- fresnel, ellipsoidal -- but before long he was getting the hang of what each light was for. Ollie was the one in charge of all the electrical work. Deaver had a little bit of practice with that sort of thing, but he made it a point not to show off. He just did whatever Ollie ordered, fast and correct and without a word unless he had to ask a question. By the time the lights were wired, aimed, and focused, Ollie was talking to Deaver like they were friends since first grade. Making jokes, even teasing a little -- "Do they make some special horse perfume for you range riders to spray on?" -- but mostly teaching Deaver everything there was to know about stage lighting. Why the different-colored filters were used, what the specials did, how the light plot was set up, how to wire up the dimmer board. Deaver couldn't figure what good it was ever going to do him, knowing how to light a stage show, but Ollie knew what he was talking about, and Deaver didn't mind learning something new.
Even with the lights set up the work was hardly started. They had breakfast standing around the gas stove. "We're working you too hard," said Scarlett, but Deaver just grinned and stuffed another pancake in his mouth. Tasted like they actually had sugar in them. A gas stove, their own generator, pancakes that tasted like more than flour and water -- they might live on a truck and sleep in tents, but these pageant wagon people had a few things that people in the fringe towns usually had to do without.
By noon, dripping with sweat and aching all over, Deaver stood away from the truck with Ollie and Toolie and Marshall as they surveyed the stage. The missile had been taken down and replaced with the mast of a ship; the side of the truck had been covered with panels that made it look like the hull of a boat; and the machinery was all set up to make a wave effect with blue cloth out in front of it. A black curtain hid the pyramid from sight. Dusty raised and dropped the curtain while the men watched. Deaver thought it looked pretty exciting to have the pyramid suddenly revealed when the curtain dropped, but Marshall clucked his tongue.
"Getting a little shabby," said Marshall.
The curtain was patched a lot, and there were some tears and holes that hadn't been patched yet.
"It's shabby at noon, Daddy," said Toolie. "At night it's good enough." Toolie sounded a little impatient.
"We need a new one."
"While we're wishing, we need a new truck a lot more," said Ollie.
Toolie turned to him -- looking a little angry, it seemed to Deaver, though he couldn't think why Toolie should be mad. "We don't need a new truck, we just need to take better care of this one. Deaver here says it isn't carbureting right."
All of a sudden the cheerfulness went right out of Ollie's face. He turned to Deaver with eyes like ice. "Oh, really?" said Ollie. "Are you a mechanic?"
"I used to drive a truck," said Deaver. He couldn't believe that all of a sudden he was in the middle of a family argument. "I'm probably wrong."
"Oh, you're right enough," said Ollie. "But see, I take all the huge amounts of money they give me to buy spare parts and use it all up in every saloon and whorehouse in the fringe, so the engine just never gets repaired."
Ollie looked too mad to be joking, but what he was saying couldn't possibly be true. There weren't any saloons or whorehouses in the fringe.
"I'm just saying we can't afford a new truck, or a curtain either," said Toolie. He looked embarrassed, but then he deserved to -- he had as much as accused Ollie of doing a lousy job with the truck.
"If that's what you were doing," said Ollie, "why'd you have to get Teague here on your side?"
Deaver wanted to grab him and shout straight into his face: I'm not on anybody's side. I'm not part of your family and I'm not part of this argument. I'm just a range rider who needed a lift into town and helped you unload eight tons of junk in exchange for breakfast.
Toolie was trying to calm things down, it looked like, only he wasn't very good at it. "I'm just trying to tell you and Father that we're broke, and talking about new curtains and new trucks is like talking about falling into a hole in the ground and it turns out to be a gold mine. It just isn't going to happen."
"I was just talking," said Ollie.
"You were getting sarcastic and nasty, that's what you were doing," said Toolie.
Ollie just stood there for a second, like some really terrible words were hanging there in his mind, waiting to get flung out where they could really hurt somebody. But he didn't say a thing. Just turned around and walked away, around the back end of the truck.
"There he is, off in a huff again," said Toolie. He looked at his father with a bitter half-smile. "I don't know what I did, but I'm sure it's all my fault he's mad."
"What you did," said Marshall, "was humiliate him in front of his friend."
It took Deaver a moment to realize Marshall was referring to him. The idea of being Ollie's friend took Deaver by surprise. Was that why Ollie worked so close to him so much of the morning, teaching him how the electrical stuff was done -- because they were friends? Somehow Deaver'd got himself turned from a total stranger into a friend without anybody so much as asking him if he minded or if he thought it was a good idea.
"You need to learn to be sensitive to other people, Toolie," said Marshall. "Thank heaven you don't lead this company, the way you do what you like without a thought for your brother's feelings. You just run roughshod over people, Toolie."
Marshall never exactly raised his voice. But he was precise and cruel as he went on and on. Deaver was plain embarrassed to watch Toolie get chewed on. Toolie did kind of pick a fight with Ollie, but he didn't deserve this kind of tongue-lashing, and it sure didn't help matters much to have Deaver standing there watching. But Deaver couldn't figure how to get away without it looking like he disapproved. So he just stood there, kind of looking between Marshall and Toolie so he didn't meet anybody's eyes.
Over at the truck, Katie was sitting on the top of the pyramid, sewing. Dusty and Janie were setting up the fireworks for the end of the show. Ollie had the hood open, fiddling with something inside. Deaver figured he could probably hear every word Marshall said, chewing out Toolie. He could imagine Ollie smiling that mean little smile of his. He didn't like thinking about it, particularly knowing that Ollie thought of him as a friend. So he let his gaze wander to the pyramid, and he watched as Katie worked.
It seemed an odd thing, to sit so high, right in the sun, when there was plenty of shade to sit in. It occurred to Deaver that Katie might be on top of the pyramid just so he'd be sure to see her. But that was pure foolishness. What happened this morning didn't mean a thing -- not her talking to him, not her pressing close to him, meant nothing. He must be a plain fool to imagine a smart good-looking woman like her was paying heed to him in the first place. She was on top of the pyramid cause she liked to look out over the town.
She raised her hand and waved to him.
Deaver didn't dare wave back -- Marshall was still going strong, ragging on Toolie about things that went back years ago. Deaver looked away from Katie and saw how Toolie just took it, didn't even show anger in his face. Like he switched off all his emotions while his father talked to him.
Finally it ended. Marshall had finally wound down and now he stood there, waiting for Toolie to answer. And all Toolie said was, "Sorry, sir." Not angry, not sarcastic, just simple and clean as can be. Sorry, sir. Marshall stalked off toward the truck.
As soon as his father was out of earshot, Toolie turned to Deaver. "I'm sorry you had to hear that."
Deaver shrugged. Had no idea what to say.
Toolie gave a bitter little laugh. "I get that all the time. Except that Father likes it better when there's somebody there to watch."
"I don't know about fathers," said Deaver.
Toolie grinned. "Daddy doesn't live by the standards of other men. Mere logic, simple fairness -- those are the crutches of men with inferior understanding." Then Toolie's face grew sad. "No, Deaver, I love my father. This isn't about Ollie or how I treat him, just like what I said to Ollie wasn't about the truck. I'm too much like my dad and he knows it and that's what he hates about me." Toolie looked around him, as if to see what needed doing. "I guess I better head to town for the official permit, and you need to get in there and report to Moab, don't you?"
Toolie stopped with his mother to see if she needed anything from town. Scarlett recited a list, mostly staples -- flour, salt, honey. Things they could get without paying, cause it was their right to have it from the community storehouse. As they talked, Ollie came by and tossed a dirty air filter at Toolie's chest. "I need a new air filter just like that one only clean."
"Where are you going, Laurence?" asked Scarlett.
"To sleep," he said. "I was up all night driving, in case you forgot." Ollie started to walk away.
"What about brake linings?" asked Toolie.
"Yeah, see if they've got a mechanic who can do that." Ollie ducked into a tent. Anger was still thick in the air. Deaver noticed that Scarlett didn't even ask why.
She finished telling her list to Toolie, sometimes talking over what they would probably get donated by the audience in a place like Hatchville. Then Toolie set out, Deaver in tow. Deaver wanted to take his saddle with him, but Toolie talked him out of it. "If they tell you to get a ride today, your cab driver can come out and pick it up. And if you end up riding to Moab with us day after tomorrow, you might as well leave the saddle here." As if he was holding the saddle hostage to make sure Deaver came back.
Deaver wasn't sure why he didn't just say no thanks and then pick up the saddle and carry it with him anyway. He knew they hadn't wanted him in the first place, and it was just good manners or maybe guilt or embarrassment or something that made Toolie want to keep the saddle so Deaver had to come back at least one more time. Funny thing, though: Deaver didn't mind. It had been a long time since anybody went to any trouble to try to get him to stay with them. Them saying he was Ollie's friend. The way Katie treated him. That was part of it. A lot more of his feeling came out of just working alongside them, helping unload the truck and set up for the show. Deaver had enough sweat spilled in this field that he really wasn't hoping to leave for Moab today. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about. He wanted to see the show. That's all it was, nothing more.
Yet even as he reached that conclusion, he knew it was a lie. Sure, he wanted to see the show, but there was something more. An old hunger, one so deep and ancient, so long unsatisfied that Deaver mostly forgot he was even hungry. Like some part of his soul had already starved to death. Only something was happening here to wake up that old hunger, and he couldn't go away without seeing if somehow maybe it could be satisfied. Not Katie. Or not just Katie, anyway. Something more. Maybe by the time he left for Moab, he'd find out what it was he wanted so bad that it made his dream of joining Royal's Riders seem kind of faint and far away.
He and Toolie walked a direct route to the town hall, not winding through the whole village the way they had that morning. There were still children excited to see them, though. "Who are you!" they called. "Are you Noah? Are you Jesus? Are you Armstrong?"
Toolie waved at them, smiled, and usually told them. "No, my daddy plays that part."
"Are you Alma?"
"Yes, that's one of the parts I play."
"What's the show tonight?"
"Glory of America."
All the way through town Deaver noticed how bright-eyed the children were, how daring they thought it was to talk right to somebody from the pageant wagon.
"Sounds like your show's the biggest things they ever see" Deaver said.
"Kind of sad, isn't it?" said Toolie. "In the old days, a show like this -- it would've been nothing."
Deaver went with Toolie into the mayor's office. The secretary had neat, close-cropped hair. Plainly he was the kind of man who never spent a week without a barber -- or a day without a bath, probably. Deaver wasn't sure whether he despised or envied the man.
"I'm with the pageant wagon," said Toolie, "and I need to change our temporary permit to a regular one." Deaver saw how he put on an especially humble-but-cheerful tone, and he couldn't help but think that his own life would have been a lot easier if he'd only learned how to act like that toward his foster parents or the bishops of the wards he lived in. Of course, Toolie only had to act like that for a few minutes today, while Deaver would've had to keep it up for days and weeks and years on end. Like crossing your eyes -- sure, you can do it, but keep it up too long and you get a headache.
And then he thought how when he was little, somebody told him that if you cross your eyes too often they'll stick that way. What if acting all humble and sweet worked that way? What if it got to be such a habit you forgot you were acting, the way Marshall's and Scarlett's fancy acting voices came out of their mouths even when they were picking up a range rider in the middle of the night. Do you become whatever you act like?
Deaver had plenty of time to think about all this, because the secretary didn't say a word for the longest time. He just sat there and eyed Toolie up and down, not showing any expression at all on his very clean and untanned face. Then he looked at Deaver. He didn't exactly ask a question, but Deaver knew what he was asking anyway.
"I'm a range rider," Deaver said. "They picked me up out on the road. I need to call Moab."
A range rider -- town people pretty much despised them, but at least they knew what to do with them. "You can go right in there and call." The secretary indicated an empty office. "The sheriff's out on a call."
Deaver went on into the office and sat at the desk. An old salvage desk -- might be one of the ones he found and brought in himself in the old days when he was a kid. Not ten years ago.
He couldn't get an operator -- the line was tied up -- and as he waited, he could hear what went on in the other room.
"Here's our family business license from Zarahemla," Toolie was saying. "If you just look us up in the business database --"
"Fill out the forms," said the secretary.
"We are licensed by the state of Deseret, sir," said Toolie. Still polite, still humble.
There was no answer. Deaver leaned over the desk and saw Toolie sitting down, filling out the forms. Deaver understood why Toolie was doing it, all right -- giving in to get along. This was how the secretary proved he was in charge. This was how he made sure the show gypsies knew they didn't belong here, that they had no rights here. So Toolie would fill out the forms, and as soon as he was gone the secretary would call up the business database, verify their license, and throw out the forms. Or maybe he'd go through the forms line by line, looking for some contradiction, some mistake, so he could have grounds to throw the pageant wagon out of Hatchville. And it wasn't right. The Aal family had natural troubles all their own, they didn't need some short-haired overwashed flunky in the mayor's office adding to their trouble supply.
For a moment, pure rage flowed through Deaver, just like this morning when Marshall put his arm around him and called him son. His arms trembled, his toes pumped up and down, like he was getting ready to dance or wrestle -- or punch some power-hungry bastard right in the face and break his nose and cover him with his own blood, mat it in his hair, all over his clothes, so even when he didn't hurt so bad, there'd be stains in his shirt to remind him that people can only be pushed so far and then one day they bust out and do something about it, show you what all your power's good for --
And then Deaver got it under control, calmed himself down. There was no shortage of volunteer self-trained sons-of-bitches in the world, and this secretary wasn't the worst of them, not close. Toolie was doing the right thing, bowing down and letting the man feel important. Letting him have the victory now, so that the family would have the greater victory later. Cause when they left this town, the Aals would still be themselves, still be a family, while this secretary, he wouldn't have a speck of power over them. That was freedom, the power to leave whenever you wanted to. Deaver understood that kind of power. It was the only kind he'd ever had or ever wanted.
He finally got an operator and told him who he was and who he needed to talk to and why. It took the operator forever to check the computer and verify that Deaver was indeed a range rider and that he was therefore authorized to make an unlimited number of calls to regional headquarters in Moab. At last he got through. It was Meech, the regular dispatcher.
"Got the scrapings?" asked Meech.
"Fine, then. Come on in."
"Not quick enough to pay money for. Just catch a ride. No hurry."
"Two, three days all right?"
"No rush. Except I got approval here for you to apply to Royal's Riders."
"Why the hell didn't you say so, dickhead!" cried Deaver into the phone. He'd been on that waiting list for three years.
"I didn't want you to wet your pants right off, that's why," said Meech. "Please note that this is just permission to apply."
How could Deaver tell him that he never expected to get permission even for that? He figured that was the way they'd freeze non-Mormons out, by keeping them from applying for the job in the first place.
"And I got about five guys, Teague, asking if you'll transfer your right to apply. They're pretty eager."
It was legal to sign over your spot to somebody farther down the list -- it just wasn't legal to accept money for it. Still, the outrider waiting list was long, and there were bound to be some men on it who never meant to apply, who signed up just to make a little money selling their spot when it came along. Deaver knew that if he said yes and Meech gave him the names of those eager applicants, he'd start getting promises and favors. What he wouldn't get, though, was another chance to apply. "No thanks, Meech."
The secretary appeared in the doorway, glowering. "Just a second," Deaver said, and put his hand over the phone. "What is it?"
"Are you aware of the public decency laws?" asked the secretary.
It took a second for Deaver to figure out what he was talking about. Had the secretary heard Meech hint about selling the right to apply? No -- it was the public decency laws the secretary was talking about. Deaver thought back over his phone conversation. He must have said hell too loud. And even though dickhead wasn't on the statutory list, it fit quite easily under "other crude or lascivious expressions or gestures."
"Sorry," he said.
"I hope you're very sorry."
"I am." He did his best to imitate the humble way Toolie'd been talking before. It was especially hard because he was suddenly in the mood to start laughing out loud -- they were going to let him apply to the outriders! -- and he figured the secretary wouldn't like it if Deaver suddenly laughed. "Very sorry, sir." He picked up that sir bit from Toolie, too.
"Because in Hatchville we don't wink at sin."
In Hatchville you probably don't piss, either, you just hold it all inside until you die. But Deaver didn't say it, just looked right at the secretary as calmly as he could until the man finally took his unbearable burden of righteousness back to his desk.
That's all Deaver needed, a misdemeanor arrest right when he was about to apply to be an outrider. "You still hanging on there, Meech?"
"By my fingernails."
"I'll be there in two days. I've got my saddle."
"Ain't you cool."
"See you, Meech."
"Give your erosion reports to the reporter there, OK?"
"Got it," said Deaver. He hung up.
The secretary grudgingly told him where the reporter's office was. Of course the reporter wasn't transmitting -- that was done at night, over the same precious phone lines used for voice calls during the day. But he'd enter it into the computer today, and he didn't look thrilled at getting even Deaver's relatively slim notebook.
"All these coordinates," said the reporter.
"It's my job to write them down," said Deaver.
"You're very good at it," said the reporter. "Yesterday's desert, today's grass, tomorrow's farm." It was the slogan of the new lands. It meant the conversation was over.
When Deaver got back, Toolie wasn't in the secretary's office anymore. He was in the mayor's office, and because the door was partly open, Deaver could hear pretty well, especially since the mayor wasn't trying very hard to talk softly.
"I don't have to give you a permit, Mr. Aal, so don't start flashing your license from Zarahemla. And don't think I'm impressed because your name is Aal. There's no laws says a hero's kinfolk got to be worth shit, do you understand me?"
Shit was definitely on the statutory list. Deaver looked at the secretary, but the secretary just moved more papers around. "Just don't wink," said Deaver quietly.
"What?" asked the secretary.
If he could hear Deaver's comment, he could sure hear the mayor. But Deaver decided not to make a big deal about it. "Nothing," he said. No reason for him to provoke the secretary any further. Since he came into town with the pageant wagon, anything he did to annoy people would put the Aal family in a bad light, and it sounded like they had enough trouble already.
"Young girls see you in those lights and costumes, they think you really are the Prophet Joseph or Jesus Christ or Alma or Neil Armstrong, and so they're suckers for any unscrupulous bastard who doesn't care what he does to a girl."
Finally Toolie raised his voice, dropping the humility act just for a moment. Deaver was relieved to know Toolie had a breaking point. "If you have an accusation --"
"The Aal Pageant and Theatrical Association is implicated in a lot of these, do I make myself clear? No warrants, but we'll be watching. Just cause you call yourselves Sweetwater's Miracle Pageant these days doesn't mean we don't know the kind of people you are. You tell everybody in your company, we're watching you."
Toolie's answer was too mild to hear.
"It will not happen in Hatchville. You will not ruin some girl and then disappear with your commission from the Prophet."
So somebody did believe all those stories about show gypsies. Maybe Deaver used to believe them, too. But once you know people like the Aals, those stories sound pretty stupid. Except in Hatchville, of course, where they don't wink at sin.
Toolie was real quiet when he came out of the mayor's office, but he had the permit and the requisition form for the bishop's storehouse -- both signed by the same man, of course, since the mayor was the bishop.
Deaver didn't talk about what he heard. Instead he told Toolie all about his getting permission to apply for a job change, which meant he at least had a shot at getting into the outriders.
"What do you want to do that for?" asked Toolie. "It's a terrible life. You travel thousands of miles on horseback, tired all the time, people looking to kill you if they get a chance, out in the bad weather every day, and for what?"
It was a crazy question. Every kid in Deseret knew why you wanted to be one of Royal's Riders. "Save people's lives. Bring them here."
"The outriders mostly deliver mail from one settled area to another. And make maps. It isn't that much more exciting than the work you're doing now."
So Toolie had looked into the work his uncle Royal was doing. How would Marshall feel about that?
"You ever think of joining?" asked Deaver.
"Not me," said Toolie.
"Come on," said Deaver.
"Never since I grew up enough to make intelligent choices." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Toolie must have realized what he'd said. "I don't say it isn't an intelligent choice for you, Deaver. It's just -- if one of us leaves, the family show is pretty dead. Who'd do my parts? Dusty? Grandpa Parley? We'd have to hire somebody from outside the family -- but how long would somebody like that work for nothing but food and shelter, like we do? If anybody leaves the show, then it's over for everybody. What would Dad and Mom do for a living? So how could I go off and join the outriders?"
There was something in Toolie's tone of voice, something in his manner that said, This is real. This is something I'm really afraid of -- the family breaking up, the pageant wagon going out of business. And also: This is why I'm trapped. Why I can't have any dreams of my own, like you do. And because he was speaking true, like Deaver was somebody he trusted, Deaver answered the same way, saying stuff he never said out loud to anybody, or not lately, anyway.
"Being an outrider, it's got a name to it. A range rider -- what do they call us? Rabbit-stompers. Grass-herders."
"I've heard worse," said Toolie. "Something about getting personal with cows. You rangers have almost as low a name as we do."
"At least you're somebody every town you go into."
"Oh, yes, they roll out the red carpet for us."
"I mean you're Noah or Neil Armstrong or whatever."
"That's what we play. That's not who we are."
"That's who you are to them."
"To the children," said Toolie. "To the grown-ups all a person is is what he does here in town. You're the bishop or the mayor --"
"The bishop and the mayor."
"Or the sheriff or the Sunday school teacher or a farmer or whatever. You're somebody regular. We come in and we don't fit."
"At least some of them are glad to see you."
"Sure," said Toolie. "I'm not saying we don't have it better than you, some ways. A gentile in a place like this."
"Oh. Katie told you." So it had mattered to her he wasn't Mormon, enough to tell her brother. Mormons always cared when somebody wasn't one of them. In a way, though, it made it so the way Toolie talked to him, like a friend -- it meant even more, because he knew Deaver was a gentile all along.
And Toolie had the grace to act a little embarrassed about knowing something Deaver only told to Katie. "I wondered, so I asked her to find out."
Deaver tried to put him at ease about it. "I'm circumcised, though."
Toolie laughed. "Well, too bad it isn't Israel where you live. You'd fit right in."
Some trucker'd told him when he was about sixteen that Mormons were so damned righteous because they couldn't help it -- after you get your dick cut all the way around, the sap can't flow anymore. Deaver knew the part about sap flowing wasn't true, but not till this moment did he realize that the trucker was also putting him on about circumcision being part of the Mormon religion. Once again Deaver had said something stupid and offensive without meaning to. "Sorry. I thought you Mormons --"
But Toolie was just laughing. "See? The ignorance is thick on every side." He clapped his hand onto Deaver's shoulder and left it there for a minute as they walked along the street of Hatchville. And this time it didn't make Deaver mad. This time it felt right to have Toolie's hand on him. They got to the storehouse and arranged for a cart to deliver their supplies that afternoon.
"Soldiers of the United States! We could march on Philadelphia and -- we could march --"
"March under arms and grind Philadelphia beneath our boots."
"Soldiers of the United States! We could march under arms and boot Phila --"
"Grind Philadel --"
"Grind Philadelphia beneath our boots, and what then could --"
"What Congress then could --"
"What Congress then could deny our rightful claim upon the treasury of this blood which we created by --"
"Nation which we created --"
"I'll start over, I'm just confused a little, Janie, let me start over."
Old Parley had gone over George Washington's speech to his troops so many times that Deaver could have recited it word perfect, just from hearing it while he worked on bypassing a relay to the heater fan. With his head buried deep in the truck's engine, one leg holding him in place by hooking across the fender, the sound of Parley memorizing echoed loud. Sweat dripped off Deaver's forehead into his eyes and stung him a little. Nasty work, but as long as the fan kept blowing they'd remember him.
Got it. Now all he had to do was climb out, start up the truck, and try it to see if the fan motor actually worked.
"I've got it now, Janie," said Parley. "But are we now, for the sake of money, to deny the very principles of freedom for which we fought, and for which so many of our comrades fell? Help me here, Janie, just a word."
"Got it! I say thee, Nay!"
"I say that in America, soldiers are subject to the lawful government, even when the lawful government acts unjustly against them."
"Don't read me the whole speech!"
"I thought if you heard it once, Grandpa, you could --"
"You are my prompter, not my understudy!"
"I'm sorry, but we've been over it and --"
Deaver started the truck engine. It drowned out the sound of Parley Aal unfairly blaming Janie for his collapsing memory. The fan worked. Deaver turned off the motor.
"-- suddenly starting up! I can't work on these lines under these circumstances, I'm not a miracle worker, nobody could hold these long speeches in their heads with --"
It wasn't Janie's voice that answered him now -- it was Marshall's. "The motor's off now, so go ahead now."
Parley sounded more petulant. Weaker. "I say the words so often they don't mean anything to me anymore."
"They don't have to mean anything, you just have to say them."
"It's too long!"
"We've cut it down to the bare bones. Washington tells them they could seize Philadelphia and break Congress, but then all their fighting would be in vain, so be patient and let democracy work its sluggish will."
"Why can't I say that? It's shorter."
"It's also not at all what Washington would say. Dad, we can't have a Glory of America pageant without George Washington."
"Then you do it! I just can't do these things anymore! Nobody could remember all those long speeches!"
"You've done them a thousand times before!"
"I'm too old! Do I have to say it that plain, Marshall?" Then, more softly, almost pleading. "I want to go home."
"To Royal." The name was like acid sizzling on wood.
"Home is under water."
"You should be doing Washington's speech, and you know it. You've got the voice, and Toolie's ready to play Jefferson."
"Is he ready to play Noah?" Marshall spoke scornfully, as if the idea was crazy.
"You were his age when you started playing Noah, Marshall."
"Toolie isn't mature enough!"
"Yes he is, and you should be doing my parts, and Donna and I should be home. For the love of heaven, Marsh, I'm seventy-two and my world is gone and I want to have some peace before I die." Parley's speech ended with a ragged whisper. It was the perfect dramatic touch. Deaver sat in the cab, imagining the scene he couldn't see: Old Parley staring at his son for a long moment, then turning slowly and walking with weary dignity back to the tent. Every argument in this family is played out in set speeches.
The silence lasted long enough that Deaver felt free to open the door and leave the cab. He immediately looked back to where Janie and Parley had been practicing. Both gone. Marshall too.
Under the kitchen awning sat Donna, Parley's wife. She was old and frail, much older-seeming than Parley himself. Once they brought down her rocking chair early in the morning, she just sat there in the shade, sometimes sleeping, sometimes not. She wasn't senile, really; she fed herself, she talked. It was like she wanted to sit in her chair, close her eyes, and pretend she was somewhere else.
Now, though, she was here. As soon as she saw that Deaver was looking at her, she beckoned to him. He came over.
He figured she had in mind to tell him he ought to be more careful. "I'm sorry for starting the truck right then."
"Oh, no, the truck was nothing." She patted a stool sitting in the grass next to her. "Parley's just an old man who wants to quit his job."
"I know the feeling," said Deaver.
She smiled sadly, as if to say that there wasn't a chance in the world he knew that feeling. She looked at him, studying his face. He waited. After all, she had called him over. Finally she said what was on her mind. "Why are you here, Deaver Teague?"
He took it as a challenge. "Returning a favor."
"No, no. I mean why are you here?"
"I needed a ride."
"I thought I ought to fix the heater fan."
Still she waited.
"I want to see the show."
She raised an eyebrow. "Katie had nothing to do with it?"
"Katie's a pretty girl."
She sighed. "And funny. And lonely. She thinks she wants to get away, but she doesn't. There is no Broadway anymore. The rats have taken over the theatre buildings. They chewed up the NBC peacock and didn't leave a feather." She giggled at her own joke.
Then, as if she knew she'd lost the thread of her own conversation, she fell silent and stared off into space. Deaver wondered if maybe he ought to just go back to the truck or take a walk or something.
She startled him by turning her head and gazing at him again, her gaze sharper than ever before. "Are you one of the three Nephites?"
"Appearing on the road like that. Just when we needed an angel most."
"The ones who chose to stay behind on Earth till Christ comes again. They go about doing good, and then they disappear. I don't know why I thought that, I know you're just an ordinary boy."
"I'm no angel."
"But the way the young ones turned to you. Ollie, Katie, Toolie. I thought you came to --"
"Give them what they want most. Well, why don't you anyway? You don't have to be an angel to work miracles, sometimes."
"I'm not even a Mormon."
"I'll tell you the truth.," said the old lady. "Neither was Moses."
He laughed. So did she. Then she got that faraway look again. After he waited awhile, her eyelids got heavy, flickered, closed. He stood, stretched, turned around.
Scarlett was standing not five feet away, looking at him.
He waited for her to say something. She didn't.
Voices off in the distance. Scarlett glanced toward them, breaking the silent connection between them. He also turned. Beyond the truck, the first group of townspeople were coming -- looked like three families together, with benches and a couple of ancient folding chairs. He heard Katie call out to them, though he couldn't see her behind the truck. The families waved. The children ran forward. Now he could see Katie emerging, out in the open field. She was wearing the hoop skirts of Betsy Ross -- Deaver knew the Betsy Ross scene because he'd had to learn the cue when to raise the flag, so that Janie could help Dusty with the costume change. The children overran her, turning her around; Katie squatted and hugged the two smallest both at once. She stood up then and led them toward the wagon. It was very theatrical; it was a scene played out for the children's parents, and it worked. They laughed, they nodded. They would enjoy the show. They would like the pageant family, because Katie greeted their children with affection. Theatrical -- and yet utterly honest. Deaver didn't know how he knew that. He just knew that Katie really did love to meet the audience.
And then, thinking about that, he knew something else. Knew that he'd seen Katie play out some scenes today that she didn't mean, not the same way, not with that fervency that he saw when she greeted the children. This was real. Her flirting with Deaver, that was false. Calculated. Again, Deaver didn't know how he knew it. But he knew. Katie's smile, her touch, her attention, all that she'd given him today, all that she'd halfway promised, it was an act. She was like her father, not like Toolie. And it tasted nasty, just thinking about it. Not so much because she'd been faking it. Mostly because Deaver'd been taken in so completely.
"Who can find a capable wife?" asked Scarlett softly.
Deaver felt himself blush.
But it wasn't a real question. Scarlett was reciting. "Her worth is far beyond coral. Her husband's whole trust is in her, and children are not lacking."
He could see how the children clung to Katie. She must be telling them a story. Or just pretending to be Betsy Ross. The children laughed.
"She repays him with good, not evil, all her life long. When she opens her mouth, it is to speak wisely, and loyalty is the theme of her teaching. She keeps her eye on the doings of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her sons with one accord call her happy; her husband, too, and he sings her praises: Many a woman shows how capable she is; but you excel them all."
It might be a recitation, but it had to have a point to it. Deaver turned to Scarlett, who was smiling merrily. "Are you proposing to me?" asked Deaver.
"Charm is a delusion and beauty fleeting; it is the God-fearing woman who is honored. Extol her for the fruit of all her toil, and let her own works praise her in the gates."
As best Deaver could figure out, Scarlett was trying to get Deaver thinking about a wife when he looked at Katie. "You hardly know me, Mrs. Aal."
"I think I do. And call me Scarlett."
"I'm not a Mormon, either." He figured she'd probably been told already, but Deaver knew how much store Mormons set by getting married in the temple, and he also knew he never planned to set foot inside another Mormon temple in his life.
But Scarlett seemed to be ready for that objection. "That's not Katie's fault, now, is it, so why punish the poor girl?"
He couldn't very well say to her, Woman, if you think your daughter's really in love with me, you're a plain fool. "I'm a stranger, Scarlett."
"You were this morning. But Mother Aal told us who you really are."
Now he understood that she was teasing him. "If I'm an angel, I got to say the pay isn't too good."
But she didn't really want to play. She wanted to talk seriously.
"There's something about you, Deaver Teague. You don't say much, and half what you say is wrong, and yet you caught Katie's eye, and Toolie said to me today, 'Too bad Teague has to leave,' and you made a friend of Ollie, who hasn't made a friend in years." She looked away, looked toward the truck, though nothing was happening there. "Do you know, Deaver, sometimes I think Ollie is his uncle Roy all over again."
Deaver almost laughed out loud. Royal? The hero of the outriders shouldn't be compared to Ollie, with his mocking smile, his petulant temper.
"I don't mean Royal the way he is now, and I especially don't mean his carefully constructed public image. You had to know him before, back before the collapse. A wild boy. He had to put his nose in everything. And more than his nose, if you understand me. It seemed as though anything his body craved, he couldn't rest until he got it. Terrible trouble. Stayed out of jail only by luck and praying. Mother Aal's praying, his luck."
As she spoke, Deaver noticed that her voice was losing that precision, that studied warmth. She sounded more like a normal person. Like as if just remembering the old days made her talk the way she used to, before she got to be an actress.
"He couldn't hold a job," she said. "He'd get mad at somebody, he couldn't take getting bossed around or chewed out, couldn't stand doing the same thing day after day. He got married when he was eighteen to a girl who was so pregnant the baby could have tossed the bouquet. He couldn't stay home, he couldn't stay faithful. Right before the Six Missile War, he up and joined the army. Never sent a dime home, and then the government fell apart and all that time, you know who took care of his wife and baby? Babies by then."
"Well, I suppose. But not by my choice. Marsh took them in, they lived in our basement. I was so angry. There was barely enough for Marsh and me and our children, so every bite they ate, I felt like they were taking it out of the months of little Toolie and Katie and Ollie. I said so, too -- not to them, but to Marsh. In private. I'm not a complete bitch."
Deaver blinked at hearing her use that word. "What did he say?"
"They're family, that's what he said. Like that was the whole answer. Family looks out for family, he said. He wouldn't even consider turning them out. Even when the university stopped classes and nobody had jobs, when we were eating dandelion greens and planting the whole yard for a garden just so the rain could come down and rip it all out -- that terrible first year -- rain tearing it out again and again --"
She stopped a moment to remember, to live in those days again. When she finally spoke again, she was brisk, getting on with the story.
"Then he came up with the idea of the pageant wagon. The Aal Family Pageant was the very first, you know. Not a truck, not then -- a trailer in those days, so it really was a kind of wagon, and we built the sets and Marsh wrote Glory of America and adapted the old Hill Cumorah pageant so we'd have a Book of Mormon show and we went on the road. Oh, we were always a theatrical family. I met Marsh when his mother was directing plays at church."
She looked down at her mother-in-law, asleep in the chair.
"Whoever would have thought play-acting would keep us alive! It was Marsh took the Aal name and made it stand for something, one end of Deseret to the other. And somehow he made it -- we made it pay enough to raise our own kids and Royal's too, kept bread on the table for all of us. His wife wasn't easy to live with, never pulled her weight, but we kept her the whole time, too. Until she ran off one day. And we still kept her kids, never put them in foster homes. They knew they could count on a place with us forever."
She couldn't possibly know how those words stung deep in Deaver's heart, reminding him of foster homes that always began with promises of "you're here for good" and ended with Deaver putting his ugly little brown cardboard box in the back of somebody else's car and riding off without ever even a letter or postcard from one of the old families. He didn't want to hear any more talk about places you could count on. So he turned the conversation back to Ollie. "I don't see how Ollie's like Royal. He hasn't left any children behind and run off."
She got a hard look in her eyes. "Hasn't he? It isn't for lack of trying."
Deaver thought of what the mayor said to Toolie this morning. The Aal family was implicated. Getting girls pregnant and running off, that was no joke, that could get a man in jail. And here Scarlett was as much as confessing that the accusation wasn't just small-town rumors, it was true and she knew it. And after what the mayor said, Deaver knew that if Ollie got caught, it would surely mean the loss of the family's license. They'd be dead broke -- what value would their costumes and set pieces have to anybody else? They'd end up on some fringe farm somewhere. Deaver tried to imagine Marshall getting along with other farmers, fitting in. Tried to picture him covered with dirt and sweat, mud high up on his boots. That was what Ollie was flirting with, if Scarlett's accusation was true.
"I bet Ollie wouldn't do that," said Deaver.
"Ollie is Roy all over again. He can't control himself. He gets a desire, then he'll fulfill it and damn the consequences. We never stay in the same place long enough for him to get caught. He thinks he can go on like this forever."
"You ever explain it to Ollie like this?"
"You can't explain things to Ollie. Or at least I can't, and certainly Marsh and Toolie can't. He just blows up or walks away. But maybe you, Deaver. You're his friend."
Deaver shook his head. "That's the kind of thing you don't talk about to somebody you met this morning."
"I know. But in time --"
"I just got my chance to apply to the outriders."
Her face went grim. "So you'll be gone."
"I was going anyway. To Moab."
"Range riders come into town. They get mail. We might keep in touch."
"Same with outriders."
"Not for us," she said. Deaver knew it was true. They couldn't stay in touch with one of Royal's Riders. Not with Marshall feeling the way he did.
But still -- if Ollie was really like Royal when he was younger, they could find some hope in that. "Royal came home, didn't he? Maybe Ollie'll grow out of it."
"Royal never came home."
"He's got his wife and kids now," said Ollie. "I've read about them. In the papers."
"That's how Royal came home -- in the papers. We started reading stories about the outriders, and how the most daring one among them was a man named Royal Aal. In those days we were famous enough that they used to put in a little tag: 'No relation to the theatrical Aal family.' Which meant they were asking him, and he was denying it. His kids were old enough to read, some of them. We never denied him. We'd tell the kids, 'Yes, that's your daddy. He's off doing such an important work -- saving people's lives, destroying the missiles, fighting the mobbers.' We'd tell them how everybody sacrifices during hard times, and their sacrifice was doing without their daddy for a while. Marshall even wrote to Roy, and so did I, telling him about his children, how they were smart and strong and good. When Joseph, the oldest, fell from a tree and shattered his arm so badly the doctors wanted to take it off, we wrote to him about his son's courage, and how we made them save the arm no matter what -- and he never answered."
It made Deaver sick to think of such a thing. He knew what it was like to grow up without a mother and father. But at least he knew that his parents were dead. He could believe that they would have come for him if they could. What would it be like to know your father was alive, that he was famous, and still have him never come, never write, never even send a message. "Maybe he didn't get the letters."
She laughed bitterly. "He got them, all right. One day -- Joseph was twelve, he was just ordained a deacon a few weeks before -- the sheriff shows up at our campsite in Panguitch, and he's got a court order. A court order, listing Royal and his wife as co-complainants -- yes, they were back together now. Telling us to surrender the children of Royal Aal into the sheriff's custody or face kidnapping charges!"
Tears flowed down her face. They weren't beautiful, decorous actress tears; they were hot and bitter, and her face was twisted with emotion.
"He didn't come himself, he didn't write to ask us to send the children, he didn't even thank us for keeping them alive for ten years. Nor did that ungrateful bitch of a wife of his, and she ate at our table for five of those years."
"What did you do?"
"Marsh and I took his kids into the tent and told them that their father and mother had sent for them, that it was time for them to be together with their family again. You've never seen kids look happier. They'd been reading the papers, you see. That's who they thought Royal Aal was, the great hero. Like finding out that after years of being an orphan, your father the king had finally found you and you were going to be a prince and princesses. They were so happy, they hardly said good-bye to us. We don't blame them for that. They were children, going home. We don't even blame them for never writing to us since then -- Royal probably forbade them to. Or maybe he told them lies about us, and now they hate us." Her left hand was in front of her face; her right hand clenched and unclenched on her lap, gathering folds of her dress in a sodden mass. "So don't tell me how Royal grew out of it."
This wasn't exactly the story folks usually told about Royal Aal.
"I read an article about him once," said Scarlett. "Several years ago. About him and his oldest son Joseph riding together out on the prairies, a second generation of hero. And they quoted Roy about how he had such a hard family life, that there were so many rules he always felt like he was in prison, but that he had rescued his boy Joseph from that prison."
Deaver had read that article, the way he read everything about Royal Aal. He thought he understood it when he read it; thought how he was in prison, too, and began to dream that maybe Royal Aal could rescue him, too. But now he'd spent a day with Royal's family. He could see how confining it was. Fights and squabbles. But also working together, everybody with a place that nobody else could fill. The kind of family he always wished for as a kid.
A thousand times over the years Deaver had imagined going to the outrider headquarters in Golden and going up to Royal Aal and shaking his hand, hearing Royal welcome him as one of his outriders. Only now if it really happened he'd be thinking of something else -- like Marshall and Scarlett being served that court order. Like kids growing up without a word from their father. Like telling lies to make folks who'd done good to you look bad.
At the same time, Deaver could also see how it might look different to Royal, how as a kid he might have come to hate his brother Marshall -- the man really was hard to take sometimes -- and Deaver could guess that Parley wasn't the nicest, most understanding father in the world. This wasn't a family full of perfectly nice people. But that didn't mean they deserved dirt from him.
So how could Deaver become an outrider, knowing all this about Royal Aal? How could he follow such a man? Somehow he'd have to put all this out of his mind, forget that he knew it. Maybe someday he'd even get to know Royal well enough that he could sit down by a fire one night and say, What about your family? I met them once -- what about them? And then he'd hear Royal's side of the story. That could change everything, knowing the other guy's side of the story.
Only he couldn't imagine any story Roy could tell that would justify what Scarlett went through -- what she was still going through, just remembering. "I can see why you don't like to hear much about Royal now."
"We don't use our name much anymore," said Scarlett. "Do you know what that does to Marsh? Everybody thinks Roy's a hero, while every town we go into, they treat us like we're all thieves and vandals and full-time fornicators. Someone once asked us if we stopped using the Aal name on our pageant wagon in order to protect Roy's reputation." She laughed -- or sobbed. It wasn't too easy to tell. "It near eats Marsh alive. We still live from the charity of the Church. Every bit of food from the bishop's storehouse. You don't know this, probably, Deaver Teague, but back in the old days, you only ate from the bishop's storehouse if you were down and out. A failure. It still feels that way to Marsh and me. Roy doesn't eat from the storehouse. Nor does his family these days. Roy doesn't move from town to town in the fringe."
Deaver knew something about how it felt when every bite you ate was somebody's charity, when you being alive at all was a favor other people did for you out of the goodness of their hearts. No wonder there was such a touch of anger always under the surface in this family, ready to lash out whenever something went even a little bit wrong.
"And the thing that hurts worst about the way they treat us in these pitiful little towns is that we deserve it."
"I don't think so," said Deaver.
"Sometimes I wish Ollie would just run off like Roy -- only do it now, before he has a wife and children for his brother Toolie to take care of."
That didn't seem fair to Deaver, and for once he felt bold enough to speak up about it. "Ollie works hard. I was with him all morning."
"Yes, yes," said Scarlett. "I know that. He isn't Roy. He tries to be good. But he always stands there with that little half-smile, as if he thinks we're all so terribly amusing. I saw that smile on Roy's face the whole time he was with us, before he ran off. That smile's like a sign that says, I may be with you, but I'm no part of you."
Deaver had noticed the smile, but he never thought that was what it meant. It seemed to Deaver that Ollie mostly smiled when he was embarrassed about the way his family was acting, or when he was trying to be friendly. It wasn't Ollie's fault that when he smiled, his face reminded people of Royal Aal.
"Ollie's old enough to be on his own," said Deaver. "When I was his age, I'd been driving a scavenger truck for a couple of years."
Scarlett looked at Deaver in disbelief. "Of course Ollie's old enough. But if he left, who'd do the lighting? Who'd keep the truck running? Marshall and Toolie and Katie and me -- what do we know except the shows?"
Didn't she see the contradiction in what she said? Ollie couldn't go because the family needed him -- but all the time he was there, his own mother was wishing he'd run off so he wouldn't cause the harm his uncle caused. There was no sense in it at all. For all Deaver knew, Ollie was nothing at all like his uncle. But if his own mother saw him that way, then it was hard to see how Ollie could ever prove to her it wasn't true.
Deaver had seen a lot of families over the years. Even though he was never really a part of any one of them, he lived right with them, saw how the parents treated their children, saw how the children treated their parents. Better than most people, he understood how it was when something was wrong in a family. Everybody tries to hide it, to pretend everything's OK, but it always squeezes out somewhere. The Aals had all that pain from what Royal did and they couldn't get back at Royal, not a bit. But it so happened that they had a son who was a little bit like Royal. It was bound to squeeze out there, some of that pain. Deaver wondered how long Scarlett had thought of Ollie as being just like Roy. Wondered if Ollie had ever caught a scrap of a sentence about it. Or if one time when she was mad Scarlett had said it right out, "You're just like your uncle, you're exactly like him!"
That was the kind of thing a kid doesn't forget. One time a fostered mother called Deaver a thief, and when it turned out her own kid had stolen the sugar and sold it, even though she made a big deal about apologizing to Deaver, he never forgot it. It was like a wall between them for the months before he was finally fostered somewhere else. You just can't unsay what's been said.
Thinking of that, of people saying cruel things they can't take back, Deaver remembered how Marshall gave a tongue-lashing to Toolie that morning. There was more going on in this family than Ollie reminding his mother of Roy Aal.
"I shouldn't have said any of this to you, Deaver Teague."
Deaver realized he must have been silent a long time, just standing there. "No, it's all right," said Deaver.
"But there's something about you. You're so sure of yourself."
People had said that to Deaver before. He long since figured out that it was because he didn't talk often, and when he did, he didn't say much. "I suppose," he said.
"And when Mother Aal called you an angel."
Deaver gave a little laugh.
"I thought -- maybe the Lord led you to us. Or led us to you. At a time when we are in such great need of healing. Maybe you don't even realize it yourself, but maybe you're here to work a miracle."
Deaver shook his head.
"Maybe you can work a miracle without even knowing you're doing it." She took Deaver's hand -- and now the theatricality was back. She was trying to make him feel a certain way, and so she was acting. Deaver was glad to know he could see the difference so clearly. It meant he could believe what she said when she wasn't acting. "Oh, Deaver," she said. "I'm so scared about Ollie."
"Scared he'll run away? Or scared he won't?"
She whispered. "I don't know what I want. I just want things to be better."
"I wish I could help you. But about all I can do is work the flag in the Betsy Ross scene. And rewire the heater fan in the truck."
"Maybe that's enough, Deaver Teague. Maybe just by being who you are, maybe that'll do it. What if God sent you to us? Is that so impossible?"
Deaver had to laugh. "God never sent me anywhere."
"You're a good man."
"You don't know that."
"You only have to take one bite of the apple to know if it's ripe."
"I just happened to come along."
"Your horse happened to die that day and you happened to walk with your saddle so you arrived just when you did and we had brake trouble so we arrived when we did and you just happened to be the first person in years that Ollie's cared for and Katie just happened to take a liking to you. Pure chance."
"I wouldn't set much store on Katie taking a liking to me," said Deaver. "I don't think there's much in it."
Scarlett looked at him with deep-welling eyes and spoke with well-crafted fervor. "Save us. We don't have the strength to save ourselves."
Deaver didn't know what to say. Just shook his head and moved away, out into the grass away from the truck, away from everybody. He could see them all -- the crowd out front, the Aals working behind the truck, getting makeup on, setting up the props so they'd be ready to take onstage when they were needed. He walked a little farther away, and everybody got smaller.
If the crowd kept coming like this, there'd be hundreds of people by showtime. Everybody in town, probably. Pageant wagons didn't come through all that often.
The sun was still up, though, and people were still arriving, so Deaver figured he could take a minute to walk off by himself and think. Old Donna was crazy as a loon, calling him an angel. And Scarlett asking him to somehow stop Ollie from wrecking them. And Katie, wanting whatever it was she wanted.
He only met these people last night. Not twenty-four hours ago. And yet he'd seen them so close and so clear that he felt like he knew them. Could they possibly also know him?
No, they were desperate, that's all it was. Wanting to change and using the first person who came along to help them. What Deaver couldn't understand was why they wanted to keep up their show-gypsy life in the first place. It wasn't much of a life, as far as Deaver could see. Working too hard, just to put on shows in towns that hated them.
Katie, what do you want?
She was probably part of this conspiracy of women -- Scarlett, Donna, and Katie, all trying to get Deaver to stay in hopes he could make things better for them. The worst thing was he halfway wanted to stay. Even knowing Katie was faking it, he still was drawn to her, still couldn't keep his eyes off her without trying. What was it Meech said when a guy left the rangers to marry some woman? "Testosterone poisoning," that's what he called it. "Man gets sick with testosterone poisoning, that's the one disease takes you out of the rangers for good." Well, I got that disease, and if I wanted to I could plain forget everything else except Katie, at least for a while, long enough to wake up and find myself stuck here with a wife and babies and then I'd never go even if I wanted to, even if I found out Katie was play-acting all the time and never really wanted me at all -- I'd never go because I'm no Royal Aal, I'm no foster father. If I ever got me a family I'd never leave my kids, never. They could count on me till I was dead.
Which is why I can't stay, I can't let myself believe any of this or even care about it. They're actors, and I'm not an actor, and I could no more be a part of them than I could be a part of Hatchville not being a Mormon. And as for Katie, I know better than to think a woman like that could ever love me. I'm a fool for even thinking about staying. They're all so unhappy, I'd just be guaranteeing myself as much misery as they've got. My life's work is out on the prairie with the outriders. Even if Royal Aal is a gold-plated turd, even if I didn't fit in there, either, at least I'd be doing a work that made some difference in the world.
Deaver wound up in the apple orchard about a hundred yards south of the truck. Hatchville was enough years back from the fringe that the trees were big and solid enough to climb. He swung up into a branch. He watched the crowd still coming. It was getting late. The sun was about touching the mountains to the west. He could hear Katie's voice calling. "Ollie!"
Like hide-and-seek the neighborhood kids played when Deaver was little. Ollie ollie oxen free. Deaver was a champion hider. He'd heard that call more than once.
Then Toolie's voice. And Marshall's. "Ollie!"
Deaver imagined what would happen if Ollie just didn't come back. If he ran off like Royal did. What would the family do? They couldn't run the show without somebody running lights and firing off the electrical effects. Everybody else was on stage but Ollie.
Then Deaver got a sickening jolt in the pit of his stomach. There was one other person who knew something about the lighting and wasn't on stage. Can you help us, Deaver Teague? What would he say then? No, sorry, I got grass to tend, good luck and good-bye.
Hell, he couldn't say no and walk off like that, and Ollie knew it. Ollie sized him up right off, pegged him for the sort not to go off and leave people in the lurch. That's why he made such a point of teaching Deaver how the lighting system worked. So Ollie could run off without destroying the family. And here everybody thought Ollie had chosen Deaver as a friend. No sir, Deaver Teague wasn't Ollie's friend, he was Ollie's patsy.
But he had to give Ollie some credit here. Scarlett was wrong about him -- Ollie wasn't the kind just to run away like Royal did, and to hell with the family and the show. No, Ollie waited till he had a half-likely replacement before he took off. Too bad if Deaver didn't particularly want to run lights for the Aal family show -- that wasn't Ollie's problem. What did he care about Deaver Teague? Deaver wasn't one of the family, he was an outsider, it was all right to screw around with his life because he didn't amount to anything anyway. After all, Deaver didn't have any family or any connections. What did he matter, as long as Ollie's family was all right?
Even though Deaver was burning, he couldn't help imagining Katie coming to him, frantic -- no actress stuff now, she'd really be upset -- saying, "What'll we do? We can't do the show without somebody running lights." And Deaver'd say, "I'll do it." She'd say, "But you don't know the changes, Deaver." And Deaver'd say, "Give me a script, write them down. I can do it. Whoever isn't on stage can help me." And then her lips on his, her body pressed up against him after the show, and then her sweet hot breath against his cheek as she murmured, "Oh, thank you, Deaver. You saved us."
"Don't do that." It was a girl's voice that snapped Deaver out of his imagination. Not Katie's voice. Behind him and to the north, deeper in the orchard.
"Don't do that." A man's voice, mocking. Deaver turned to look. In the reddish light of sunset, he could see Ollie and a girl from Hatchville. She was giggling. He was kissing her neck and had both hands on her buttocks, gripping so tight she was standing on tiptoes. Not very far away from Deaver at all. Deaver kept his mouth shut, but he was thinking, Ollie didn't run off after all. What he couldn't decide was whether he was glad of it or ticked off about it.
"You can't," said the girl. She tore away from him, ran a few steps, then stopped and turned away. Plainly she wanted him to follow her.
"You're right, I can't," said Ollie. "Time for the show. But when it's over, you'll be there, won't you?"
"Of course. I'm going to watch it all."
Suddenly Ollie got all serious-looking. "Nance," he said. "You don't know how much you mean to me."
"You just only met me a few minutes ago."
"I feel like I've known you so long. I feel like -- I feel like I've been lonely for you my whole life and didn't know it till now."
She liked that. She smiled and looked down, looked away. Deaver thought: Ollie's as much of an actor as anybody else in the Aal family, I ought to be taking notes on how to seduce a Mormon girl.
"I know it's right between us," said Ollie. "I know -- you don't have to believe me, I can hardly believe it myself -- but I know we were meant to find each other. Like this. Tonight."
Then Ollie reached out his hand. She tentatively put her hand in his. Slowly he raised her hand to his lips, kissed her fingers gently one by one. She put a finger of the other hand in her mouth, watching him intently.
Still holding her hand, he reached out and caressed her cheek with his other hand, just the backs of his fingers brushing her skin, her lips. His hand drifted down her neck, then behind, under her hair. He drew her close; her body moved, leaning toward him; he took a single step and kissed her. It was like Ollie had every step planned. Every move, every word. He'd probably done it a hundred times before, thought Deaver. No wonder the Aals were implicated in a lot of ugly stories.
She clung to him. Melted against him. It made Deaver angry and wistful both at once, knowing what he was seeing wasn't right, that Ollie was fooling with a girl who believed all this stuff, that if he got caught he could cost his family their license to put on shows; yet at the same time wishing it was him, wishing to have such lips kissing him, such a sweet and fragile body clinging to him. It was enough to make a man crazy, watching that scene.
"Better go," Ollie said. "You first. Your folks would just get mad and not let you see me again if they saw us come out of the orchard together."
"I don't care, I'd see you anyway. I'd come to you at night, I'd climb right out my window and find you, right here in the orchard, I'd be waiting for you."
"Just go on ahead, Nance."
Far away: "Ollie!"
"Hurry up, Nance, they're calling me."
She backed away from him, slow, careful, like Ollie was holding her with invisible wires. Then she turned and ran, straight west, so she'd come up to the audience from the south.
Ollie watched her for a minute. Then he turned squarely toward Deaver and looked him in the eye. "Got a cute little ass on her, don't you think, Deaver?" he asked.
Deaver felt sick with fear. He just couldn't think what he was afraid of. Like playing hide-and-seek, when somebody you hadn't heard coming suddenly says, I see Deaver!
"I can feel you condemning me, Deaver Teague," said Ollie. "But you've got to admit I'm good at it. You could never do it like that. And that's what Katie needs. Smooth. Gentle. Saying the right thing. You'd just make a fool of yourself trying. You aren't fine enough for Katie."
Ollie said it so sad that Deaver couldn't help believing it, at least partly. Because Ollie was right. Katie could never really be happy with somebody like him. A scavenger, range rider. For a moment Deaver felt anger flare inside him. But that was what Ollie wanted. If somebody lost his head here, it wouldn't be Deaver Teague.
"At least I know the difference between a woman and a cute little ass," said Deaver.
"I've read all the science books, Deaver, and I know the facts. Women are just bellies waiting to get filled up with babies, and they pump our handles whenever they get to feeling empty. All that other stuff about true love and devotion and commitment and fatherhood, that's a bunch of lies we tell each other, so we don't have to admit that we're no different from dogs -- except our bitches are in heat all the time."
Deaver was just angry enough to say the cruelest thing that came to mind. "That's just a story, too, Ollie. Fact is the only way you ever get to pretend you're a real man is by telling lies to little girls. A real woman would see right through you."
Ollie turned red. "I know what you're trying to do, Deaver Teague. You're trying to take my place in this family. I'll kill you first!"
Deaver couldn't help it -- he busted out laughing.
"I could do it!"
"Oh, sure, I wasn't laughing at the idea of you killing me. I was laughing at the idea of me taking your place."
"You think I didn't notice how you tried to learn my whole job today? The way you had Katie hanging all over you? Well I belong in this family, and you don't!"
Ollie turned and started to walk away. Deaver dropped out of the tree and caught up to him in a few strides. He put his hand on Ollie's shoulder, just to stop him, but Ollie came around swinging. Deaver ducked inside the blow, so Ollie's arm caught him alongside the ear. It stung, but Deaver'd been in some good hard fights in his time, and he could take a half-assed blow like that without blinking. In a second he had Ollie pressed up against an apple tree, Deaver's right hand holding Ollie up by his shirt, his left hand clutching the crotch of Ollie's pants. The fear in Ollie's face was plain, but Deaver didn't plan to hurt him.
"Listen to me, fool," said Deaver. "I don't want to take your place. I got me a chance to apply to Royal's Riders, so what in hell makes you think I want to sit and run your damn fool dimmer switches? You were the one teaching me."
"Hell I was."
"Hell you were, Ollie, you're just too dumb to know what you're doing. Let me tell you something. I'm not taking your place. I don't want your stupid place. I don't want to marry Katie, I don't want to run the lights, and I don't want to stay with your family one second after we reach Moab."
"Let me down."
Deaver ground his left hand upward into Ollie's crotch. Ollie's eyes got wide, but he was listening. "If you want to leave your family, that's fine by me, but don't do it by sneaking away and trying to stick me with your job. And don't do it by poking dumb little girls till their folks get your family's license pulled. However much you want to get away, you got no right to destroy your own people in order to do it. When you walk out, you walk out clean, you understand me?"
"You don't know me or anything about me, Deaver Teague!"
"Just remember, Ollie. For the next couple days till we get to Moab, I'm on you like flies on shit. Don't touch a girl, don't talk to a girl, don't even look at a girl here in Hatchville or I'll break more ribs on you than you thought you had, do you understand me?"
"What's it to you, Teague?"
"They're your family, you dumb little dickhead. Even dogs don't piss on their own family."
He let Ollie slide down the tree till he was standing on the ground, then let go of his pants and his shirt and stepped back a safe distance. Ollie didn't try anything though. Katie was still calling "Ollie! Ollie! Ollie!" He just stood there, looking at Deaver, and then got his little half-smile, turned around, and walked out of the orchard, straight toward the pageant wagon. Deaver stood there and watched him go.
Deaver felt all jumpy and tingly, like all his muscles had to move but he couldn't think what he should do with them. That was the closest Deaver'd come to really tearing into somebody since he was in his teens. He'd always kept his anger under control, but it felt good to have Ollie pressed up against that tree, and he wanted so bad to hit him, again and again, to pound some sense into his stupid selfish head. Only that wasn't it, after all, because he was already ashamed of letting himself go so far. I was being a stupid kid, making threats, pushing Ollie around. He was right -- what's it to me? It's none of my business.
But now I've made it my business. Without even meaning to, I've got myself caught up in this family's problems.
Deaver looked over toward the pageant wagon, silhouetted in the last light of dusk in the eastern sky. Just then the generator kicked on, and bank by bank the fresnels and ellipsoidals, making a dazzling halo around the pageant wagon, so it looked almost magical. He could hear the audience clapping at the sight of the stage, now brightly lit.
The backstage worklights had also come in, and now in that dimmer light he could make out people moving around, and seeing them, gray shadows moving back and forth on business he didn't understand, he felt a sweet pain in his chest, a hot pressure behind his eyes. A longing for something long ago, something he used to have. So long lost that he could never name it; so deeply rooted that it would always grow in him. They had it, those men and women and children moving in silent business behind the truck, hooded lights glowing in the dusk. It was there in the taut lines that connected them together, a web that wound tighter, binding them with every pass. Every blow they struck, every tender caress, every embrace, every backhanded shove as they ran from each other, all left still another fine invisible wire like a spider's thread, until the people could hardly be understood as individuals at all. There was no Katie, but Katie-with-Toolie and Katie-with-Scarlett; there was no Marshall, but Marshall-with-Scarlett and Marshall-with-Toolie and Marshall-with-Ollie and Marshall-with-Parley and above all Marshall-with-Roy. Roy who had hacked those lines, cut them -- he thought. Roy who went away never to return -- he thought -- but still the lines are there, still each move he makes causes tremors in his brother's life, and through him in all their lives, all the intersections of the web.
I've been caught in this net, too, and every tug and jiggle of their web vibrates in me.
A fanfare of music came over the loudspeakers. Deaver ducked under a branch and walked across the field toward the truck.
The music was loud, almost painful. An anthem -- bugles, drums. Deaver came around the truck partway, well back from the lights, till he could see that Katie was onstage, sewing with big movements, so even the farthest audience member could see her hand move. What was she sewing? A flag.
The music suddenly became quieter. From his angle, Deaver couldn't see, but he knew the voice. Dusty, saying, "General Washington has to know -- is the flag ready, Mrs. Ross?"
"Tell the general that my fingers are no faster than his soldiers," Katie said.
Dusty stepped forward, facing the audience; now Deaver could see him, right up to the front of the truck. "We must have the flag, Betsy Ross! So every man can see it waving high, so every man will know that his nation is not Pennsylvania, not Carolina, not New York or Massachusetts, but America!"
Suddenly Deaver realized that this speech was surely written for Washington -- for Parley. It was only given to Dusty, as a young soldier, because of Parley's failing memory. A compromise; but did the audience know?
"A flag that will stand forever, and what we do in this dark war will decide what the flag means, and the acts of each new generation of Americans will add new stories to the flag, new honor and new glory. Betsy Ross, where is that flag!"
Katie rose to her feet in a smooth, swift motion, and in a single stride she stood at the front, the flag draped across her body in vivid red and white and blue. It was a thrilling movement, and for a moment Deaver was overcome with his feelings -- not for Katie, but Betsy Ross, for Dusty's fervent young voice, for the situation, the words, and the bitter knowledge that America was, after all, gone.
Then he remembered that he was supposed to be backstage, ready to raise the flag when Katie was finished with the very speech she was beginning now. He was surely too late; he ran away.
Janie was at the lever; not far away, Parley, in his full George Washington regalia, was standing behind the pyramid, ready to enter and deliver his speech to the soldiers. Onstage, Katie was saying her last few words: "If your men are brave enough, then this flag will ever wave --"
Deaver reached up and took the lever in his hand. Janie didn't even look at him; she immediately removed her hand, snatched up a script and scrambled up the ladder to a position halfway up the back of the pyramid.
"O'er the land of the free!" cried Katie.
Deaver pulled the lever. It released the weight at the top of the flagpole; the weight plummeted, and the flag rose swiftly up the pole. Immediately Deaver grabbed the wire that was strung around the other side of the truck, invisibly attached to the outside top of the flag; by pulling and releasing the wire, he made the flag seem to wave. The music reached a climax, then fell away again. Deaver couldn't see the flag from where he was, but he remembered the cue and assumed the lights were dimmed on the flag by now. He stopped the waving.
Janie wasn't helping Dusty with a costume change at all, though that was the original reason why they asked Deaver to run the flag effect. Dusty had run straight back to the tent, and Janie was halfway up the pyramid, prompting Parley in Washington's speech to the troops. She did a good job; Parley's fumbling for his lines probably seemed to the audience to be nothing but Washington searching for just the right word to say. Yet Deaver knew that Parley botched the speech, leaving out a whole section despite Janie's prompting.
The speech ended. Parley came down in the darkness. Onstage Toolie was playing Joseph Smith and Scarlett was playing his mother. Marshall moved through the darkness wearing brilliant white that caught every scrap of light that reached him; he was going to appear as the Angel Moroni. Parley came down the steps and turned, a few steps toward Deaver, into the darkest shadow. He bent over, resting his head and hands against the edge of the stage, the edge of the flatbed truck. Deaver watched him for a while, fascinated, knowing that Parley was crying, unable to bear knowing it. A man shouldn't have to wait until he wasn't any good before he retired. He should be able to quit while he still has some fresh accomplishment in him. But this -- to have to stay on and on, failing again every night.
Deaver didn't dare speak to him; had he and Parley even spoken yet? He couldn't remember. What was Parley to him? An old man, a stranger. Deaver took a step toward him, another, reached out his hand, rested it on Parley's shoulder. Parley didn't move, not to move away, not to show a sign that he felt the hand and accepted it. After a while, Deaver took his hand away and went back around the truck to watch the show from the side, where he'd been before.
It took a while to get back into the pageant, to follow what was happening. Dusty was onstage in blackface, to be the slave that Lincoln freed; Marshall made an imposing Lincoln, fine to look at. But Deaver also kept looking at the audience. He'd never watched a crowd like that before. The sun was long gone, the sky black, so all he could see was the people in front, where the light from the stage spilled back onto their faces. Mouths open, they watched the stage, unmoving, as if they were machines waiting for someone to switch them on. And now, onstage, Lincoln's hand reached out to the young slave and lifted him up out of bondage. "O happy day!" cried Dusty. The music picked up the refrain. O happy day! The Tabernacle Choir singing it.
Then Lincoln reached out both his arms to embrace the boy, and Dusty impulsively jumped up and hugged Lincoln around the neck. The audience roared with laughter; Deaver saw how, almost with one movement, their heads rocked back, then forward again; they stirred in their seats, then settled. The comic movement had released the tension of their stillness. They relaxed again. Then burst into applause at something they saw; Deaver didn't even bother looking at the stage to see what it was. The audience itself was a performance. Moving, shifting, laughing, clapping, all as one, as if they were all part of the same soul.
Toolie played Brigham Young as he led the Saints across the plains in Utah. Deaver vaguely remembered that the settlement of Utah was before the Civil War, but it didn't seem to matter -- it worked fine this way in the show. To Deaver it seemed a little strange that a show called Glory of America should have an equal mix of Mormon and American history. But to these people, he realized, it was all the same story. George Washington, Betsy Ross, Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, Brigham Young, all part of the same unfolding tale. Their own past.
After a while, though, he lost interest in the audience. They only did the same things -- hold still, rapt; laugh; clap; gasp in awe at some spectacle. Only a limited sort of entertainment for someone watching them. Deaver turned back and watched the stage again.
It was time for the rocket. Even though it actually looked like a missile, and nothing at all like the Apollo launches, it was still something to watch Marshall put the helmet over his head and climb into the missile. All wrong -- one man, not three, and riding in the rocket itself. Every school in Deseret taught better than that. But everyone understood. There was no way to put a full-size Saturn rocket with the letters NASA and USA on it, and the man getting in was supposed to be Neil Armstrong. A large puff of smoke represented the launch. Then the door opened again, Marshall came out; the music was soft, a high, thrilling violin. He opened the rigid American flag on its little stand and placed it on the ground in front of him. "A small step for a man," he said. "A giant leap for mankind."
The music reached a towering climax. Deaver's eyes filled with tears. This was the moment, America's climax, the supreme achievement, the high-water mark, and no one knew it at the time. Couldn't these people back in 1969 see the cracks, feel the crumbling all around them? Not thirty years later it was all gone. NASA, the USA itself, all gone, all broken up. Only the Indians to the south were making nations anymore, calling themselves Americans, saying that the white people of North America were Europeans, trespassers -- and who could tell them no? America was over. It grew two hundred years, feeding and devouring the world, even reaching out to touch the moon, and now the name was up for grabs. Nothing left but scraps and fragments.
Yet we were there. That little flag was on the moon, the footprints unstirred by any wind.
Only gradually did Deaver realize that these things he was thinking were all being spoken; he heard the whispered words in the trembling voice of Scarlett Aal. "The footprints still are there, and if we go back, we will recognize them as our own."
Deaver glanced at the audience again. More than one hand was brushing a tear away. Just as Deaver's own hand went up to his cheek.
Now the collapse. Cacophonous music. Parley as the evil Soviet tyrant, Marshall as the bumbling fool of a President, together they mimed the blundering that led to war. Deaver couldn't believe at first that the Aals had chosen to show the end of the world as a comic dance. But it was irresistibly funny. The audience screamed with laughter as the Soviet tyrant kept stomping on the President's feet, and the President kept bowing and apologizing, picking up his own injured foot and hitting it himself, finally shaking hands with the Russian, as if making a formal agreement, and then stomping on his own foot. Every mimed cry of pain brought another roar of laughter from the crowd. This was their own destruction being acted out, and yet Deaver couldn't keep himself from laughing. Again he was wiping away tears, but this time so that he could see the stage at all through the blur of his own laughter.
The Russian knocked off the President's hat. When the President bent over to pick it up, the Russian kicked him hard in the behind and the President sprawled on the stage. Then Parley beckoned Dusty and Janie, dressed as Russian soldiers, to come over and finish him off.
Suddenly it wasn't funny anymore. They both held submachine guns, and jammed the butts again and again into the President's body. Even though Deaver knew that the blows were being faked, he still felt them like blows to his own body, terrible pain, brutal, unfair, and it went on and on, blow after blow after blow.
The crowd was silent now. Deaver felt what they all felt. It has to stop. Stop it now. I can't bear any more.
At the moment when he was about to turn away, a drum roll began. Toolie entered, and to Deaver's astonishment he was dressed as Royal Aal. The plaid shirt, two pistols in his belt, the grizzly beard -- there was no mistaking it. The audience recognized him at once, and immediately cheered. Cheered and leapt to their feet, clapping, waving their arms. "Royal! Royal! Royal!" they shouted.
Toolie strode down to where the Russian soldiers were still pounding the corpse of the President. With both hands he thrust them apart, knocking them down. Then he reached down to the President's body -- to lift him up? No. To draw out of his costume the gold and green beehive flag of Deseret. The cheers grew louder. He carried it to the flagpole, fastened it where the American flag had been. This time the flag rose slowly; the anthem of Deseret began to play. Anyone who wasn't standing stood now, and the crowd sang along with the music, more and more voices, spontaneously becoming part of the show.
As they sang, the flag of Deseret suddenly flowed outward, disappearing, as the American flag moved in behind it. Then the American flag flowed out and the flag of Deseret replaced it. Again and again, over and over, the flags changing. Even though Deaver had helped Katie set up the effect and knew exactly how it was done, he couldn't keep himself from being caught up in the emotion of the moment. He even sang with all the others as they reached the final chorus. "We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the King! Let glory to them in the highest be given, henceforth and forever, amen and amen!"
The lights went out on the stage; only a single spot remained on the flag, which had come to rest as the old American flag. It could have been the end of the show right there. But no. A single spotlight now on stage. Katie came out, dressed as Betsy Ross. "Does it still wave?" she asked, looking around.
"Yes!" cried the audience.
"Where does it wave!" she cried. "Where is it!"
Marshall, now dressed in a suit and tie, wearing a mask that made him look pretty much like Governor Monson, strode into the light.
"O'er the land of the free!" he cried.
The audience cheered.
Toolie, still dressed as Royal Aal, stepped into the light from the other side.
"And the home of the brave!"
The music immediately went into "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the lights went out completely. The audience shouted and cheered. Deaver clapped until his palms stung and kept on beating his hands together until they finally ached and throbbed. His voice was lost in the crowd's shouting -- no, rather the crowd's voice became his own, the loudest shout he had ever uttered in his life. It seemed to last forever, one great voice, one single cry of joy and pride, one soul, one great indivisible self.
Then the shouting faded, the clapping became more scattered. The faint audience lights came on. A few voices, talking, began among the crowd. The applause was over. The unity was broken. The audience was once again the thousand citizens of Hatchville. Little children were gathered up in their parents' arms. Families moved off together into the darkness, many of them lighting lanterns they had brought with them for the trek home in the night. Deaver saw one man he recognized, thought he couldn't think why; the man was smiling, gathering his young daughter into his arms, putting his arm around his wife, a little boy chattering words that Deaver couldn't hear -- but all of them smiling, happy, full. Then he realized who the man was. The secretary from the mayor's office. Deaver hadn't recognized him at first because of that smile. It was like he was someone else. Like the show had changed him.
Suddenly Deaver realized something. During the show, when Deaver felt himself to be part of that audience, like their laughter was his laughter, their tears his tears -- the secretary was part of that audience, too. For a while tonight they saw and heard and felt the same things. And now they'd carry away the same memories, which meant that to some degree they were the same person. One.
The idea left Deaver breathless. It wasn't just him and the secretary, it was also the children, everybody there. All the same person, in some hidden corner of their memory.
Once again Deaver was alone on the boundary between the pageant wagon and the town, belonging to neither -- yet now, because of the show, belonging a little bit to both.
Out in the crowd, Ollie stood up from behind the light and sound control panel. The girl from the orchard -- Nance? -- was standing by him. It made Deaver sad to see her, sad to think that she would translate all those powerful feelings of the pageant into a passion for Ollie. But there was nothing to worry about. The girl's father was right there with her, pulling her away. The town had been warned, and Ollie wasn't going to have his way tonight.
Deaver walked around behind the truck. He was still emotionally drained. Toolie had the door of the truck open and was peeling off his beard and putting it in a box by the light from the cab. "Like it?" he asked Deaver.
"Yeah," Deaver said. His voice was husky from yelling.
Toolie looked up, studied his face for a moment. "Hey," he said. "I'm glad."
"Where are the others?"
"In the tents, changing. I stay out here to make sure nothing walks away from the truck. Ollie watches out front."
Deaver didn't believe anyone would steal from the people who brought them such a show as this. But he didn't say so. "I can keep watch," he said. "Go in and change."
"Thanks," Toolie said. He immediately closed the box, shut the cab door, and jogged off to the tent.
Deaver walked out into the space between the tents and the truck. Because he was supposed to be keeping watch, he faced the truck, scanning across it. But his mind was on the people in the tents behind him. He could hear them talking, sometimes laughing. Did they know what they had done to him?
I was on both sides of this tonight, thought Deaver. I saw it, I was in the audience. But I also raised the flag the first time, made it wave. I was part of it. Part of every part. I'm one of you. For one hour tonight I'm one of you.
Katie came out of the girls' tent, looked around, walked over to Deaver. "Silly, wasn't it?"
It took a second before Deaver realized that she was talking about the show.
"Of course the history in it is pure nonsense," said Katie, "and there isn't a genuine character in the whole thing. It isn't like real acting. Watching that show, you wouldn't think any of us had any talent at all." She sounded angry, bitter. Hadn't she heard the crowd? Didn't she understand what the show had done to them? To him?
She was looking at him, and now she finally realized that his silence didn't mean he agreed with her at all. "Why, you liked it, didn't you," she said.
"Yes," he answered.
She took a little step backward. "I'm sorry. I forgot that you -- I guess you haven't seen many shows."
"It wasn't silly."
"Well, it is, you know. When you've done it over and over again like we have. It's like saying the same word again and again until it doesn't mean anything anymore."
"It meant something."
"Not to me."
"Yes it did. There at the end. When you said --"
"When I said my lines. They were memorized speeches. Father wrote them, and I said them, but it wasn't me saying it. It was Betsy Ross. Deaver, I'm glad you liked the show, and I'm sorry I disillusioned you. I'm not used to having audience backstage." She turned away.
"No," Deaver said.
She stopped, waited for him to say more. But he didn't know what to say. Just that she was wrong.
She turned around. "Well?"
He thought of how she was this morning, coming so close to him, holding on to him. How she went back and forth between real and fake, so smooth he could hardly tell the difference. But there was a difference. Talking about Katherine Hepburn, saying how she loved that movie, that was real. Flirting with him, that was fake. And tonight, talking about the show being silly, that was phony, that was just an attitude she was putting on. But her anger, that was real.
"Why are you mad at me?"
"All I did was like the show," said Deaver. "What was so wrong about that?"
He just stood there, not taking the lie for an answer. His silence was too demanding a question for her to ignore.
"I guess I was the one who was disillusioned," said Katie. "I thought you were too smart to be taken in by the show. I thought you'd see it for what it really is."
"You saw Betsy Ross and George Washington and Neil Armstrong and --"
"I saw a stage and actors and makeup and set pieces and costumes and special effects. I saw lines getting dropped and a flag that went up a little bit too late. And I heard speeches that no real human being would ever say, a bunch of high-flown words that mean nothing at all. In other words, Deaver, I saw the truth, and not the illusion."
The word stung her. Her face set hard, and she turned to go.
Deaver reached out and caught her arm, pulled her back. "I said bullshit, Katie, and you know it."
She tried to wrench her arm away.
"I saw all those things too, you know," said Deaver. "The screwed-up lines and the costumes and all that. I was backstage too. But I guess I saw something you didn't see."
"It's the first show you ever watched, Deaver, and you saw something I didn't?"
"I saw you take an audience and turn them into one person, with one soul."
"These townies are all alike anyway."
"Me too? I'm just like them? Is that what you're saying? Then why've you been trying so hard to make me fall in love with you? If you think I'm one of them and you think this show isn't worth doing, then why have you been trying so hard to get me to stay?"
Her eyes widened in surprise, and then a grin spread across her face. "Why, Deaver Teague, you're smarter than I thought. And dumber, too. I wasn't trying to get you to stay. I was trying to get you to take me with you when you left."
Partly he was angry because she was laughing at him. Partly he was angry because he didn't want it to be true that she was just using him, that she wasn't attracted to him at all. Partly he was angry because the show had moved him and she despised him for it. Mostly, though, he was so full of emotion that it had to spill out somehow, and anger would do.
"Then what?" he demanded. He talked low, so that the others wouldn't hear him in the tents. "Suppose I fell in love with you and took you with me, then what? Did you plan to marry me and be a range rider's wife and have my babies? Not you, Katie. No, you were going to get me hooked on you and then you were going to find some theatre somewhere so you could play all those Shakespeare parts you wanted, and if that meant me giving up my dream of being an outrider, why, that was fine with you, wasn't it, because it doesn't matter to you what I sacrificed, as long as you got what you wanted."
"Shut up," she whispered.
"And what about your family? What kind of show can they do if you walk out? You think Janie can step in and do your parts? Is the old lady going to come back on stage so you can run away?"
To his surprise, she was crying. "What about me, then? Doing these stupid little backwater shows all my life -- am I supposed to be trapped here forever just because they need me? Don't I get to need anything? Can't I ever do anything with my life that's worth doing?"
"But this show is worth doing."
"This show is worthless!"
"You know who goes to plays in Zarahemla? All the big shots, the people who work in clean shirts all day. Is that who you want to do plays for? What difference is your acting going to make in their lives? But these people here, what is their life except rain and mud and lousy little problems and jobs always needing to get done and not enough people to do them. And then they come here and see your show, and they think -- hey, I'm part of something bigger than this place, bigger than Hatchville, bigger than the whole fringe. I know they're thinking that, because I was thinking that, do you understand me, Katie? Riding the range and checking the grass, all by myself out there, I thought I was worthless to everybody, but tonight it went through my head -- just for a minute, it came to my mind that I was part of something, and that whatever it was I was part of, it was pretty fine. Now maybe that's worthless to you, maybe that's silly. But I think it's worth a hell of a lot more than going to Zarahemla and play-acting the part of Titanic."
"Titania," she whispered. "The Titanic was a boat that sank."
He was shaking, he was so angry and frustrated. This was why he gave up years ago trying to talk about anything important to people -- they never listened, never understood a thing he said. "You don't know what's real and you don't know what matters."
"And you do?"
"Better than you."
She slapped his face. Good and sharp and hard, and it stung like hell. "That was real," she said.
He grabbed her shoulders, meaning to shake her, but instead his fingers got tangled up in her hair and he found himself holding onto her and pulling her close and then he did what he really wanted to do, what he'd been wanting to do ever since he woke up and found her sitting beside him in the cab of the truck. He kissed her, hard and long, holding her so close he could feel every part of her body pressed against his own. And then he was done kissing her. He relaxed his hold on her and she slipped down and away from him a little, so he could look down and see her face right there in front of him. "That was real," he said.
"Everything always comes down to sex and violence," she murmured.
She was making a joke about it. It made him feel sick. He let go of her, took his hands off her completely. "It was real to me. It mattered to me. But you've been faking it all day, it didn't matter to you a bit, and I think that stinks. I think that makes you a liar. And you know what else? You don't deserve to be in this show. You aren't good enough."
He didn't want to hear her answer. He didn't want anything more to do with her. He felt ashamed of having shown her how he felt about her, about the show, about anything. So many years he'd kept to himself, never getting close to anybody, never talking about anything he really cared about, and now when he finally blurted out something that mattered to him, it was to her.
He turned his back on her and walked away, heading around the truck. Now that he wasn't so close to her, paying so much attention, he realized that there were other people talking. Sound carried pretty good tonight in the clear dry air. Probably everybody in the tents heard their whole conversation. Probably they were all peeking out to watch. No humiliation was complete without witnesses.
Some of the talking, though, got louder as he rounded the back of the truck. It was Marshall and somebody else out by the light and sound control panel. Ollie? No, a stranger. Deaver walked on over, even though he didn't feel like talking to anybody, because he had a feeling that whatever was going on, it wasn't good.
"I can be back with a warrant in ten minutes and then I'll find out whether she's here or not," said the man, "but the judge won't like having to make one out this time of night, and he might not be so easy on you."
It was the sheriff. It didn't take Deaver long to guess that Ollie'd got himself caught doing something stupid. But no, that couldn't be, or the sheriff wouldn't need a warrant. A warrant meant searching for something. Or somebody. Whatever was happening, it meant Deaver hadn't stayed on Ollie tight enough. Hadn't the girl said something about meeting him after the show, even if she had to sneak out of her window to do it? He should have remembered before. He shouldn't have let his eyes off Ollie. It was all Deaver's fault.
"Who you looking for, Sheriff?" Deaver asked.
"None of your problem, Deaver," said Marshall.
"This your son?" asked the sheriff.
"He's a range rider," said Marshall. "We gave him a ride and he's been helping out a little."
"You seen a girl around here?" asked the sheriff. "About this high, name of Nancy Pulley. She was seen talking to your light man after the show."
"I saw a girl talking to Ollie," said Deaver. "Right after the show, but it looked to me like her father pulled her away."
"Yeah, well, could be, but she isn't home right now and we're pretty sure she meant to come back here and meet somebody."
Marshall stepped in between Deaver and the sheriff. "All our people are here, and there aren't many outsiders."
"Then why don't you just let me go in and check, if you got nothing to hide?"
Of course Deaver knew why. Ollie must be missing. It was too late to go find him before trouble started.
"We have a right to be protected against unreasonable searches, sir," said Marshall. He would've gone on, no doubt, but Deaver cut him off by asking the sheriff a question.
"Sheriff, the show's only been over about fifteen minutes," said Deaver. "How do you know she isn't off with some girlfriends or something? Have you checked their houses?"
"Look, smart boy," said the sheriff, "I don't need you telling me my business."
"Well, I guess not. I think you know your business real good," said Deaver. "In fact, I think you know your business so good that you know this girl wouldn't be off with a girlfriend. I bet this girl has caused you a lot of trouble before."
"That's none of your business, range rider."
"I'm just saying that --"
But now Marshall had caught the drift of what Deaver was doing, and he took over. "I am alarmed, sir, that there might be a chance that this girl from your town is corrupting one of my sons. My sons have little opportunity to associate with young people outside our family, and it may be that an experienced girl might lead one of them astray."
"Real smart," said the sheriff, glaring at Marshall and then at Deaver and then at Marshall again. "But it isn't going to work."
"I don't know what you mean," said Marshall. "I only know that you were aware that this girl was prone to illicit involvement with members of the opposite sex, and yet you made no effort to protect guests in your town from getting involved with her."
"You can just forget that as a line of defense in court," said the sheriff.
"And why is that?" asked Marshall.
"Because her father's the judge, Mr. Aal. You start talking like that, and you've lost your license in a hot second. You might get it back on appeal, but with Judge Pulley fighting you every step of the way, you aren't going to be working for months."
Deaver couldn't think of anything to say. To Deaver's surprise, neither could Marshall.
"So I'm coming back in ten minutes with a warrant, and you better have all your boys here in camp, and no girls with them, or your days of spreading corruption through the fringe are over."
The sheriff walked a few paces toward the road, then turned back and said, "I'm going to call the judge on my radio, and then I'll be sitting right here in my car watching your camp till the judge gets here with the warrant. I don't want to miss a thing."
"Of course not, you officious cretin," said Marshall. But he said it real quiet, and Deaver was the only one who heard him.
It was plain what the sheriff planned. He was hoping to catch Nancy Pulley running away from the camp, or Ollie sneaking back.
"Marshall," said Deaver, as quiet as he could, "I saw Ollie with that girl in the orchard before the show."
"I'm not surprised," said Marshall.
"I take it Ollie isn't in camp."
"I haven't checked," said Marshall.
"But you figure he's gone."
Marshall didn't say anything. Wasn't about to admit anything to an outsider, Deaver figured. Well, that was proper. When the family's in trouble, you got to be careful about trusting strangers.
"I'll do what I can," said Deaver.
"Thanks," said Marshall. It was more than Deaver expected him to say. Maybe Marshall understood that things were bigger than Marshall could handle just by telling people off.
Deaver walked along after the sheriff, and came up to him just as he was setting down his radio mouthpiece. The sheriff looked up at him, already looking for a quarrel. "What is it, range rider?"
"My name's Deaver Teague, Sheriff, and I've only been with the Aals since this morning, when they picked me up. But that was long enough to get to know them a little, and I got to tell you, I think they're pretty good people."
"They're all actors, son. That means they can seem to be anything they want."
"Yeah, they're pretty good actors, aren't they. That was some show, wasn't it."
The sheriff smiled. "I never said they weren't good actors."
Deaver smiled back. "They are good. I helped them set up today. They work real hard to put on that show. Did you ever try to lift a generator? Or put up those lights? Getting from a loaded truck to a show tonight -- they put in an honest day's work."
"Are you getting somewhere with this?" asked the sheriff.
"I'm just telling you, they may not do farm work like most folks here in town, but it's still real work. And it's a good kind of work, I think. Didn't you see the faces of those kids tonight, watching the show? You think they didn't go home proud?"
"Shoot, boy, I know they did. But these show people think they can come in here and screw around with the local girls and . . ." His voice trailed off. Deaver made sure not to interrupt him.
"That man you talked to, Sheriff, this isn't just his business, it's his family, too. He's got his wife and parents with him, and his sons and daughters. You got any children, Sheriff?"
"Yes I do, but I don't let them go off any which way like some people do."
"But sometimes kids do things their parents taught them not to do. Sometimes kids do something really bad, and it breaks their parents' hearts. Not your kids, but maybe the Aals have a kid like that, and maybe Judge Pulley does too. And maybe when their kids are getting in trouble, people like the Aals and the Pulleys, they do anything they can to keep their kids out of trouble. Maybe they even pretend like anything their kid does, it was somebody else's fault."
The sheriff nodded. "I see what you're getting at, Mr. Teague. But that doesn't change my job."
"Well what is your job, Sheriff? Is it putting good people out of work because they got a grown-up son they can't handle? Is it causing Judge Pulley's daughter to get her name dragged through the mud?"
The sheriff sighed. "I don't know why I started listening to you, Teague. I always heard you range riders never talked much."
"We save it all up for times like this."
"You got a plan, Teague? Cause I can't just drive off and forget about this."
"You just go on and do what you got to do, Sheriff. But if it so happens that Nancy Pulley gets home safe and sound, then I hope you won't do anything to hurt either one of these good families."
"So why didn't that actor talk good sense like you instead of getting all hoity-toity with me?"
Deaver just grinned. No use saying what he was thinking -- that Marshall wouldn't have gotten hoity-toity if the sheriff hadn't treated him like he was already guilty of a dozen filthy crimes. It was good enough that the sheriff was seeing them more like ordinary folks. So Deaver patted the door of the car and walked on up the road toward the orchard. Now all Deaver had to do was find Ollie.
It wasn't hard. It was like they wanted to be found. They were in tall grass on the far side of the orchard. She was laughing. They didn't hear Deaver coming, not till he was only about ten feet away. She was naked, lying on her dress spread out like a blanket under her. But Ollie still had his pants on, zipped tight. Deaver doubted the girl was a virgin, but at least it wasn't Ollie's fault. She was playing with his zipper when she happened to look up and see Deaver watching. She screeched and sat up, but she didn't even try to cover herself. Ollie, though, he picked up his shirt and tried to cover her.
"Your daddy's looking for you," Deaver said.
She made her mouth into a pout. To her it was a game, and it didn't matter that much to lose a round.
"Do you think we care?" said Ollie.
"Her daddy is the judge of this district, Ollie. Did she tell you that?"
It was plain she hadn't.
"And I just got through talking to the sherif. He's looking for you, Ollie. So I think it's time for Nancy to get her clothes back on."
Still pouting, she got up and started pulling her dress on over her head.
"Better put on your underwear," said Deaver. He didn't want any evidence lying around.
"She didn't wear any," said Ollie. "I wasn't exactly corrupting the innocent."
She had her arms through the sleeves, and now she poked her head through the neck of her bunched-up dress and flashed a smile at Deaver. Her hips moved just a little, just enough to draw Deaver's eyes there. Then she shimmied her dress down to cover her.
"Like I told you," said Ollie. "We men are just pumps with handles on them."
Deaver ignored him. "Get on home, Nancy. You need your rest -- you've got a long career ahead of you."
"Are you calling me a whore?" she demanded.
"Not while you're still giving it away free," said Deaver. "And if you have any idea about crying rape, remember that there's a witness who saw you taking down his zipper and laughing while you did it."
"As if Papa would believe you and not me!" But she turned and walked off into the trees. No doubt she knew all the paths home from this place.
Ollie was standing there, making no move to put on his shirt or his shoes. "This was none of your business, Deaver." It was light enough to see that Ollie was making fists. "You got no right to push me around."
"Come on, Ollie, let's get back to the camp before the judge gets there with a warrant."
"Maybe I don't want to."
Deaver didn't want to argue about it. "Let's go."
"Try and make me."
Deaver shook his head. Didn't Ollie realize his fighting words were straight out of third-grade recess?
"Come on, Deaver," Ollie taunted. "You said you were going to protect the family from nasty little Ollie, so do it. Break all my ribs. Cut me up in little pieces and carry me home. Don't you carry a knife in your big old ranger boots? Isn't that how big tough strong guys like you get other people to do whatever you say?"
Deaver was fed up. "Act like a man, Ollie. Or don't you have enough of the family talent to fake decency?"
Ollie lost his cockiness and his swagger all at once. He charged at Deaver, flailing both arms in blind rage. It was plain he meant to do a lot of damage. It was also plain he had no idea how to go about doing it. Deaver caught him by one arm and flung him aside. Ollie sprawled on the ground. Poor kid, thought Deaver. Traveling with his pageant wagon all his life, he never even learned how to land a punch.
But Ollie wasn't done. He got up and charged again, and this time a couple of blows did connect. Nothing bad, but it hurt, and Deaver threw him down harder. Ollie landed wrong on his wrist and cried out with pain. But he was so angry he still got up again, this time striking out with only his right hand, and when he got in close he swung his head from side to side trying to butt Deaver in the face, and when Deaver got hold of his arms Ollie kicked him, tried to knee him in the groin, until finally Deaver had to let go of him and punch him hard in the stomach. Ollie collapsed to his knees and threw up.
The whole time, Deaver never got mad. He couldn't think why -- rage had been close to the surface all day, and yet now, when he was really fighting somebody, there was nothing. Just a cold desire to get through with the fighting and get Ollie home.
Maybe it was because he'd already used up his anger on Katie. Maybe that was it.
Ollie was finished vomiting. He picked up his shirt and wiped off his mouth.
"Come on back to camp now," said Deaver.
"No," said Ollie.
"Ollie, I don't want to fight you anymore."
"Then go away and leave me alone."
Deaver bent over to help him to his feet. Ollie jabbed an elbow into Deaver's thigh. It hurt. Deaver was pretty sure Ollie meant to get him in the crotch. This boy didn't seem to know when he was beat.
"I'm not going back!" said Ollie. "And even if you knock me out and carry me back, I'll tell the sheriff all about the judge's daughter, I'll tell him I balled her brains out!"
That was about the stupidest, meanest thing Deaver ever heard. For a second he wanted to kick Ollie in the head, just to bounce things around a little inside. But he was sick of hurting Ollie, so he just stood there and asked, "Why?"
"Because you were right, Deaver, I thought about it and you were right, I do want to get away from my family. But I don't want you to take my place. I don't want anybody to take my place. I don't want anybody to have a place. I want the whole show closed down. I want Father to be a dirt farmer instead of bossing people around all the time. I want perfect little Toolie up to his armpits in pigshit. You understand me, Deaver?"
Deaver looked at him kneeling there, a puddle of puke in front of him in the grass, holding his hurt wrist like a little boy, telling Deaver that he wanted to destroy his own family. "You're the kind of son who doesn't deserve to have parents."
Ollie was crying now, his face twisted up and his voice high-pitched and breaking, but that didn't stop him from answering. "That's right, Deaver, O great judge of the earth! I sure as hell don't deserve these parents. Mommy who keeps telling me I'm 'just like Royal' till I want to reach down her throat and tear her heart out. And Daddy who decided I didn't have enough talent so I was the one who had to do all the technical work for the show while Toolie got to learn all the parts so someday he'd take Daddy's place and run the company and tell me what to do every day of my life until I die! Well, the joke's on Toolie, isn't it? Cause Daddy's never going to give up his place in the company, he's never going to take over the old man parts and let Grandpa retire, because then Toolie would be the leading actor and Toolie would run the company and poor Daddy wouldn't be boss of the universe anymore. So Toolie's going to keep on playing the juvenile parts until he's eighty and Daddy's a hundred and ten because Daddy won't ever step aside, he won't even die, he'll just keep on running everybody like puppets until finally somebody gets up the guts to kill him or quit. So don't give me any shit about what I deserve, Deaver."
A lot of things were suddenly making sense now. Why Marshall wouldn't let Parley retire. Why Marshall came down so hard on Toolie, kept telling him that he wasn't ready to make decisions. Because Ollie was right. Their places in the show set the order of the family. Whoever had the leading role was head of the company and therefore head of the family. Marshall couldn't give it up.
"I never realized how bad I wanted to get out of this family till you said what you said tonight, Deaver, but then I knew that getting out isn't enough. Because they'd just find somebody to take my place. Maybe you. Or maybe Dusty. Somebody, anyway, and the pageant wagon would go on and on and I want it to stop. Take away Father's license, that's the only way to stop him. Or no, I've got a better way. I'll go shoot my Uncle Royal. I'll take a shotgun and blast his head off and then Daddy can retire. That's the only reason he can't let go of anything, because Royal's in charge of the outriders, Royal's the biggest hero in Deseret, so Daddy can't bear to let himself shrink even the teensiest bit, even if it wrecks everybody's life because my father is just as selfish and rotten as Uncle Royal ever was."
Deaver didn't know what to say. It all sounded true, and yet at the core of it, it wasn't true at all. "No he isn't," Deaver said.
"How would you know! You've never had to live with him. You don't know what it's like being a nothing in this family while he's always sitting in judgment on you and you can never measure up, you're never good enough."
"At least he didn't leave you," said Deaver.
"I wish he had!"
"No you don't," said Deaver.
"Yes I do!"
"I'm telling you, Ollie," Deaver said softly. "I've seen how your father is and how your mother is and they look pretty good to me, compared."
"Compared to what," said Ollie scornfully.
"Compared to nothing."
The words hung there in the air, or so it felt to Deaver. Like he could see his own words, could hear them in his own ears as if somebody else said them. He wasn't talking to Ollie now, he was talking to himself. Ollie really did need to get free. His parents really were terrible for him, Ollie hated his place in the family and it wasn't right to force him to stay in it. But Deaver wasn't a son in this family. He never was, he never would be. So he could do Ollie's job and never feel the same kind of hurt at not being the chosen son. The bad things in the family would never touch him, not the way they touched Ollie -- but the good things, Deaver could still have some of those. Being part of a company that needed him. Helping put on shows that changed people. Living with people that you knew would be there tomorrow and the next day, even if all the rest of the world changed around you.
What Deaver realized then was that he really did want Ollie to leave, not so Deaver could take Ollie's place, but so he could have a chance to make his own place among the Aals. Not so he could have Katie, he realized now, or at least not so he could have Katie in particular. He wanted to have them all. Father and mother, grandfather and grandmother, brothers and sisters. Someday children. To be part of that vast web reaching back into the past farther than anybody could remember and down into the future farther than anybody could dream. Ollie had grown up in it, so all he wanted to do was get away -- but he'd find out soon enough that he could never get away, not really. Just like Royal, he'd find that the web held firm, for good or ill. Even if you try to hurt them, even if you cut them to the heart, your own people never stop being your own people. They still care about you more than anyone else, you still matter to them more, the web still holds you, so that Royal might have a million people adoring him, but none of them knew him as well, none of them cared about him as much as his brother Marshall, his sister-in-law Scarlett, his old parents Parley and Donna.
Deaver knew what he had to do. It was so plain he wondered why he never saw it before.
"Ollie, come back to camp tonight, and spend tomorrow teaching me everything you can about your job. Then when we get to Moab, I'll take you in and transfer my outrider application rights to you."
Ollie laughed. "I've never ridden a horse in my life."
"Maybe not," said Deaver. "But Royal Aal is your uncle, and he owes the life of his wife and children to your father. Maybe there's too much bad blood between them for them ever to talk to each other again, but if Royal Aal is any kind of man at all, he'll feel a debt."
"I don't want anybody taking me on because they owe my father something."
"Hell, Ollie, do you think somebody's going to take you on cause you look so good? Try it out. See if you like being away from the pageant wagon. If you want to come back, fine. If you want to go on somewhere else, fine. I'm giving you a chance."
"Because you're giving me a chance."
"Do you think Father would ever let you be part of the company, if you helped me sneak away?"
"I'm not talking about sneaking away. I'm talking about walking away, standing up, no hard feelings. You doing no harm to the company cause I'm there to do your jobs. Them doing no harm to you because you're still family even if you aren't part of the show anymore. That's what I think is wrong with all of you. You can't tell where the show leaves off and the family begins."
Ollie stood up, slowly. "You'd do that for me?"
"Sure," said Deaver. "Beat you up, give you application rights, whatever you want. Just come on back to camp, Ollie. We can talk it over with your father tomorrow."
"No," said Ollie. "I want his answer tonight. Now."
Only now, with Ollie standing up, could Deaver see his eyes clearly enough to realize that he wasn't looking at Deaver at all. He was looking past him, looking at something behind him. Deaver turned. Marshall Aal was standing there, maybe fifteen yards back, mostly in the shadow of the trees. Now that Deaver had seen him, Marshall stepped out into the moonlight. His face was terrible, a mix of grief and rage and love that about tore Deaver's heart out with pity even though it also made him afraid.
"I knew you were there, Father," said Ollie. "I knew it the whole time. I wanted you to hear it all."
Well then what the hell was I doing here, thought Deaver. What difference did I make, if Ollie was really talking to his father all along? All I was good for was talking sense to the sheriff and punching Ollie in the belly so he'd puke his guts out. Well, glad to oblige.
They didn't pay any attention to him. They just stood there, looked at each other, till Deaver figured that it wasn't any of his business anymore. What was going on now wasn't about Deaver Teague, it was about Marshall and Ollie, and Deaver wasn't part of the family. Not yet, anyway.
Deaver walked on back into the orchard and kept walking till he got to the truck. The sheriff was standing there alone, leaning on the hood.
"Where you been, Teague?"
"Judge still coming?"
"He's come and gone. I've got the warrant."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Deaver.
"The girl's home safe," said the sheriff. "But she's sure pissed off at you."
Deaver's heart sank. She told. Probably lies.
"She says she was just doing a little hugging and kissing, and along you come and make her go home."
Well, she lied, all right, but it was a decent kind of lie, one that wouldn't get anybody in trouble. "Yeah, that's it," said Deaver. "Ollie, though, he didn't appreciate my help. His father's out there now, talking him into coming home."
"Right," said the sheriff. "Well, the way it looks to me, there's no harm done, and the judge isn't calling for blood either, since he believes whatever his sweet little girl tells them. So I don't plan to use this warrant tonight. And if everybody behaves themselves tomorrow then these show gypsies can do their pageant and move on down the road."
"No bad report on them?" said Deaver.
"Nothing to report," said the sheriff. Then he sort of smiled. "Heck, you were right, Teague. They're just a family with the same kind of problems we got here in Hatchville. Sure talk funny, though, don't they?"
"Good night, range rider." The sheriff walked away.
Moments later, Scarlett and Katie and Toolie were out of their tents, standing beside Deaver, watching the sheriff get in his car and drive off.
"Thank you," whispered Scarlett.
"You were terrific," said Toolie.
"Yeah," said Deaver. "Where do I sleep?"
"It's a warm night," said Toolie. "I'm sleeping on the truck, if that's all right with you."
"Better than lying on the ground," said Deaver.
As he was getting ready for bed, Marshall and Ollie came back to the camp. Scarlett came out of her tent and made a big to-do about his hurt wrist, putting a sling on his arm and all. Deaver just sort of stayed back out of the way, not even watching, just laying out his bedroll and then standing there leaning on the audience side of the truck, listening to the scraps of conversation he could hear. Which actually was quite a lot, since Marshall and Scarlett hardly knew how to talk without making the sound carry across an open field. Nobody said much about how Ollie's wrist came to be hurt.
One thing, though, that maybe changed everything. It was when Marshall said, "I think I'd better play Washington the next time we do Glory of America. You know how to do Toolie's parts, don't you, Ollie? As long as Deaver's with us, he can run lights and you can fill a spot on stage. Let Papa go home and retire."
Deaver couldn't hear what Ollie said.
"There's no rush to decide these things," said Marshall. "But if you do decide to join the outriders, I don't think you need to use Deaver's right to apply. I think I could write a letter to Royal that would get you a fair chance."
Again, Ollie's answer was too quiet to hear.
"I just don't think it's right to take away one of Deaver's choices if we don't have to. It's about time I wrote to Royal anyway."
This time it was Scarlett who answered, so Deaver could hear just fine. "You can write to Royal all you like Marsh, but the only way Parley and Donna can retire is if Ollie comes on stage, and the only way he can do that is if Deaver runs the lights and sound."
"Well, sometime before we get to Moab, I'll ask Deaver if he'd like to stay," said Marshall. "Since he can probably hear us talking right now, that'll give him plenty of time to decide on his answer."
Deaver smiled and shook his head. Of course they knew he was listening -- these show people always know when there's an audience. Right at the moment Deaver figured he'd probably say yes. Sure, it'd be sticky for a while with Ollie, partly because of beating him up tonight, but mostly because Ollie had some bad habits with local girls and he wasn't going to cure them overnight. Ollie still might end up needing to get away and join the outriders. Deaver could teach him to ride, just in case. And if Ollie left, then Dusty'd have to move up to doing some more grown-up parts. It wouldn't be long till his voice changed, judging from the height he was getting.
Or things might not work out between Deaver and Katie, in which case it was a good thing the right to apply was good for a year. All kinds of things might change. But it'd all work out. The most important change was the one Marshall made tonight, to take some of the old-man parts and give the leads to Toolie. It meant real change in the way the company ran, and changes like that wouldn't be undone no matter what else happened. No way to guess the future, but it was a sure thing the past would never come back again.
After a while things quieted down and Deaver stripped down to his underwear and crawled inside his bedroll. He tried closing his eyes, but that didn't take him any closer to sleep, so he opened them again and looked at the stars. That was when he heard footsteps coming around the front of the truck. He could tell without looking that it was Katie. She came on over to where Deaver was lying, his bedroll spread out on the pyramid curtain.
"Are you all right, Deaver?" Katie asked.
"Softest bed I've slept on in a year," he said.
"I meant -- Ollie was walking kind of doubled over, and it looked like he hurt his hand a little. I wondered if you were OK."
"He just fell a couple of times."
She looked at him steady for a while. "All right, I guess if you wanted to tell what really happened, you would."
Still she stood there, not going away, not saying anything.
"What's the show tomorrow?" he asked.
"The Book of Mormon one," she said. "No decent parts for women. I spend half my time in drag." She laughed lightly, but Deaver thought she sounded tired, The moonlight was shining full on her face. She looked a little tired, too, eyes heavy-lidded, her hair straggling beside her face. Kind of soft-looking, that's how she was in the moonlight. He remembered being angry at her tonight. He remembered kissing her. Both memories were a little embarrassing now.
"Sorry I got so mad at you tonight," said Deaver.
"I should only have people mad at me for that reason -- because they liked my show better than I did."
"I'm sorry, anyway."
"Maybe you're right. Maybe pageants really are important. Maybe I just get tired of doing them over and over again. I think it's time we took a vacation, did a real play. We could get town people somewhere to take parts in the play. Maybe they'd like us better if they were part of a show."
"Sure." Deaver was tired, and it all sounded fine to him.
"Are you staying with us, Deaver?" she asked.
"I haven't been asked."
"But if Daddy asks you."
"I think maybe."
"Will you miss it? Riding the range?"
He chuckled. "No ma'am." But he knew that if the question was a little different, if she'd asked, Will you miss your dream of riding out on the prairie with Royal Aal, then the answer would've been yes, I miss it already.
But I've got a new dream now, or maybe just the return of an old dream, a dream I gave up on years ago, and the hope of joining the outriders, that was just a substitute, just a make-do. So let's just see, let's find out over the next few weeks and months and maybe years just how much room there is in this family for one more person. Because I'm not signing on for a pageant wagon. I'm not signing on to be a hireling. I'm signing on to be a family, and if I find out there's no place for me after all, then I'll have to go searching for another dream altogether.
He thought all that, but he didn't say anything about it. He'd already said too much tonight. No reason to risk getting in more trouble.
"Deaver," she whispered. "Are you asleep?"
"I really do like you, and it wasn't all an act."
That was pretty much an apology, and he accepted it. "Thanks, Katie. I believe you." He closed his eyes.
He heard a rustle of cloth, a slight movement of the truck as more of her weight leaned against it. She was going to kiss him, he knew it, and he waited for the brush of her lips against his. But it didn't come. Again the truck moved slightly and she was gone. He heard her feet moving across the dewy grass toward the tents.
The sky was clear and the night was cool. The moon was high now, as near to straight up as it was going to get. Tomorrow it might well rain -- it had been four days since the last storm, and that was about as long as you got around here. So tomorrow there might be a storm, which meant tying little tents over all the lights, and if it got bad enough, putting off the show till the next night. Or canceling and moving on. It felt a little strange, thinking how he was now caught up in a new rhythm -- tied to the weather, tied to the shows, and which towns had seen which ones within the last year, but above all tied to these people, their wishes and customs and habits and whims. It was kind of scary, too, that he'd be following along, not always doing things his own way.
But why should he be scared? There was going to be change anyway, no matter what. With Bette dead, even if he stayed with the range riders there'd be a new horse to get used to. And if he'd applied to the outriders, that'd all be new. So it wasn't as though his life wasn't going to get turned upside down anyway.
Sleep came sooner than he thought it would. He dreamed, a deep hard dream that seemed like the most important thing in his life. In his dream he remembered something he hadn't been able to think of in his whole life: what his real name was, the name his own parents gave him, back before the mobbers killed them. In his dream he saw his mother's face, and heard his father's voice. But as he woke in the morning, the dream fading, he tried to think of that voice, and all he could hear inside his head was an echo of his own voice; and the face of his mother faded into Katie's face. And when he shaped his true name with silent lips, he knew that it wasn't true anymore. It was the name of a little boy who got lost somewhere and was never found again. Instead he murmured the name he had spent his life earning. "Deaver Teague."
He smiled a little at the sound of it. It wasn't a bad name at all, and he kind of liked imagining what it could mean someday.
Special thanks to Tor for giving permission for IGMS to reprint The Folk of the Fringe which is still in print.
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