'He fell and broke his leg up on the ridge… You bothered about something?'

'No, sir,' I replied.

'You dimed Peggy Jean with her husband, so you think you share some responsibility for Earl's craziness?' Marvin asked.

'No, I don't think anything, Marvin. I think we're going to breakfast. You want to join us?'

'Today's Pee-Wee football day,' he said.

I walked back to my Avalon. Temple was studying the ground on the far side.

'Look at this,' she said, and pointed at the imprints of heavy, cleated tires in the grass.

'There were a bunch of emergency vehicles in here,' I said.

'Not with this kind of weight. They don't lead back to the road, either. They go up the hill,' she said.

'I think the story of the Deitrichs is over, Temple.'

'Not for me,' she said, and began walking across the lawn and up the hill.

We followed the tracks onto a rough road that wound up to the plateau and meadow above the house. The ground was heavy with dew and the grass was pressed flat and pale in two long stripes that led up a sharp slope to the edge of the ravine where Pete and I hunted for arrowheads.

'I don't believe this,' Temple said.

We walked between the imprints to the top of the ravine. At the edge of the cliff the soil was cut all the way to the rock by a vehicle that had rolled out onto the air and had disappeared. Down below, the tops of the pines were deep in shadow, blue-green, the branches symmetrical and unbroken; mist rose like steam off the water and exposed stones in the creekbed.

'I think we're looking down at the entrance to Hell, Temple. I think Cholo and Jeff came back for Earl Deitrich,' I said.

Temple chewed the skin on the ball of her thumb.

'I don't want to remember seeing this. I don't want to ever think about this again,' she said.

I studied her face, the earnestness and goodness in it, the redness of her mouth, the way her strands of chestnut hair blew on her forehead, and I wanted to hold her against me and for us both to be wrapped inside the wind and the frenzy of the trees whipping against the sky and the whirrings of the earth and the mystical green vortex of creation itself.

I picked up a pinecone and slapped it out over the ravine, like a boy stroking an imaginary baseball.

'Let's go out and watch Marvin's kids play Pee-Wee League today,' I said, and rested my arm across her shoulders as we walked back toward the Deitrichs' home.


Wilbur Pickett didn't have trouble finding oil up in Wyoming; he just found it too soon. There was no blowout preventer on the wellhead when the drill bit punched into an early pay sand; the premature eruption of gas and oil and salt water ignited at the wellhead, and the pressurized torrent of flame incinerated the derrick like a tower of matchsticks.

Wilbur and his crew barely escaped with their lives.

After the well was capped, Wilbur squatted on his haunches amid the ruins of his derrick and surveyed the cliffs that rose above his and Kippy Jo's land, the green river that meandered through it, the groves of cotton-woods on the banks, the wet sage on the hardpan, the antelope and white-tailed deer down in the arroyos.

That afternoon he and Kippy Jo drove to a bank in Sheridan and took out a building loan and started construction two weeks later on the dude ranch that he would name the Kippy Jo Double Bar.

For electric power he erected two wind turbines where his drilling rig had been. One morning he hooked his thumbs in his back pockets and gazed at the enormous metal blades turning soundlessly in the sunrise.

'This is a fine spot, Kippy Jo, but it ain't diddly-squat on a rock when it comes to serious wind. Where's the one place on earth it blows from four directions at once? I mean wind that'll pick your cotton, sand the paint off your silo, and move your house to the next county, all free of charge,' he said.

Wilbur went in the house and called the Deitrichs' lawyer, Clayton Spangler, who was rumored to own fifty thousand acres of the old XIT Ranch in the Texas Panhandle.

'Mr. Spangler, Kippy Jo and me would like to invite you trout fishing up at our ranch. I'm talking about rainbows fat as a fence post, sir. I flat got to knock 'em back in the water with a boat oar,' he said.

The Wilbur T. Pickett Natural Energy Company was on its way.

The next spring, during Easter break, Lucas and Temple and I drove to San Antonio and had supper at an outdoor cafe on the river, not far from the Alamo. The evening sky was turquoise, the air warm and fragrant with the smell of flowers. Lucas didn't talk anymore about Esmeralda. If I mentioned her name, he always smiled and deliberately created a beam in his eyes that was not meant for anyone to read, lest the dues he had paid be taken from him.

The scene along the river was almost an idyllic one. The gondolas were filled with tourists; mariachi musicians in sombreros and dark suits scrolled with white piping played guitars in the cafes; the fronds of banana trees along the water's edge raided in the breeze. But I couldn't concentrate on the conversation around me. I kept smelling a heavy fragrance of roses. When Temple and Lucas went into a shop to buy cactus candy for her father, I walked over to the Alamo. The facade was lighted with flood lamps and was pink and gray against the darkening sky, and I sat down on a stone bench and twirled my hat on my finger.

I could never look at the chapel and the adjacent barracks without chills going through me. One hundred and eighty-eight souls had held out for thirteen days against as many as six thousand of Santa Anna's troops. They went down to the last man, except for five who were captured and tortured before they were executed. Their bodies were burned by Santa Anna like sacks of garbage.

But even as I dwelled on the deaths of those 188 men and boys, the smell of roses seemed to be all around me. Was I still enamored with the girl who used to be Peggy Jean Murphy?

Maybe. But that wasn't bad. The girl I knew was worth remembering.

Behind me, I heard the throaty rumble of twin Hollywood mufflers off the pavement. I thought I saw a sunburst T-Bird turn up a darkened street toward the freeway, then I heard the driver double-clutching, shifting down, catching a lower gear, one shoulder bent low as he gripped the floor stick and listened for the exact second to pour on the gas and tack it up.

In my mind's eye I saw Ronnie Cross and Esmeralda Ramirez flying down an empty six-lane highway through the countryside, the chromed engine roaring, the green dials on the walnut dashboard indicating levels of control and power that seemed to transcend the laws of mortality itself.

I thought of horsemen fleeing a grass fire in Old Mexico and civilian soldiers who waited with musket and powder horn at an adobe wall and a preacher who baptized by immersion and created a cathedral out of trees and water and sky. I smelled banks of roses and saw Ronnie Cross speed-shift his transmission and floor the accelerator, tacking up now, the rear end low on the road, the twin exhaust pipes thundering off the asphalt. Esmeralda twisted sideways in the oxblood leather seat and grinned at him, pumping her arms to the beat from the stereo speakers, she and Ronnie disappearing down the highway, into the American mythos of gangbangers and youthful lovers and cars that pulsed with music, between hills that had been green and covered with sunlight only an hour ago.

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