Brenda was six when she fell out of the apple tree. She climbed to the top and the limb with the good apples broke off. Gary caught her as the branch came scraping down. They felt scared. The apple trees were their grandmother's best crop and it was forbidden to climb in the orchard. She helped him drag away the tree limb and they hoped no one would notice. That was Brenda's earliest recollection of Gary.
She was six and he was seven and she thought he was swell. He might be rough with the other kids but never with her. When the family used to come out to Grandpa Brown's farm on Decoration Day or Thanksgiving, Brenda would only play with the boys. Later, she remembered those parties as peaceful and warm. There were no raised voices, no cussing, just a good family get-together. She remembered liking Gary so well she would not bother to see who else was there--Hi, Grandma, can I have a cookie?--come on, Gary, let's go.
Right outside the door was a lot of open space. Beyond the back yard were orchards and fields and then the mountains. A dirt road went past the house and up the slope of the valley into the canyon.
Gary was kind of quiet. There was one reason they got along. Brenda was always gabbing and he was a good listener. They had a lot of fun. Even at that age, he was real polite. If you got into trouble, he'd come back and help you out.
Then Gary and his folks moved to Seattle. Brenda didn't see any more of him for a long time. Her next memory of Gary was not until she was 13. Her mother, Ida, told her that Aunt Bessie had called from Portland and was in a very blue mood. Gary had been put in reform school. So Brenda wrote him a letter, and Gary sent an answer all the way back from Oregon and said he felt bad putting his family through what he did.
On the other hand, he sure didn't like it in reform school. His dream when he came out, he wrote, was to be a mobster and push people around. He also said Gary Cooper was his favorite movie star.
Now, Gary was the kind of boy who would not send a second letter until he received your reply. Years could go by, but he wasn't going to write if you hadn't answered his last. Since Brenda, before long, was married--she was 16 and thought she couldn't live without a certain guy--her correspondence lapsed. She might mail a letter from time to time, but Gary didn't really get back into Brenda's life until a couple of years ago, when Aunt Bessie called again. She was still upset about Gary. He had been sent from Oregon State Penitentiary to Marion, Illinois, and that, Bessie informed Ida, was the place they built to replace Alcatraz. She was not accustomed to thinking of her son as a dangerous criminal who could be kept only in a maximum-security prison.
Brenda started writing to Gary once more. Before long, they were into quite a correspondence. Gary's intelligence was really coming through. He hadn't reached high school before they put him in the reformatory, so he must have done a lot of reading in prison to get this much education together. He certainly knew how to use big words.
On the other hand, he was bitter. Gary liked to remark that having been in prison so long, he felt more like the victim than the man who did the deed. Of course, he did not deny having committed a crime or two.
Yet after a year or more, Brenda noticed a change. Gary no longer seemed to feel he would never get out of jail. His correspondence became more hopeful. Brenda said to her husband, Johnny, one day, I think Gary's ready.
She had gotten into the habit of reading his letters aloud to Johnny, and to her mother and father and sister. Sometimes after discussing those letters, her parents, Vern and Ida, would feel full of concern, and her sister, Toni, often spoke of how much Gary's artwork impressed her. There was so much sorrow in the drawings. Children with great big sad eyes.
Once Brenda asked, "How does it feel to live in your country club out there? Just what kind of world do you live in?"
He had written back, I don't think there's any way to adequately describe this sort of life to anyone that's never experienced it. I mean, it would be totally alien to you and your way of thinking, Brenda. It's like another planet--which words, in her living room, offered visions of the moon.
Sitting around the Christmas tree, they wondered if Gary might be with them next year. He had already asked Brenda to sponsor his parole and she had replied, "If you screw up, I'll be the first against you."
Still, the family was more in favor than not. Toni, who had never written him a line, offered to be a cosponsor. While some of Gary's notes were still depressed, a few really got to you.
Your attitude helps restore my old soul.... A place to stay and a job guarantee me an awful lot, but the fact that somebody cares, means more to the parole board. I've always been more or less alone before.
Only after the Christmas party did it come over Brenda that she was going to sponsor a man whom she hadn't seen in close to 30 years. It made her think of Toni's remark that Gary had a different face in every photograph.
Now, Johnny began to get concerned about it. He had been all for Brenda's writing to Gary, but when it came down to bringing him into their family, Johnny began to have a few apprehensions. It wasn't that he was embarrassed to harbor a criminal. Johnny simply wasn't that sort of person, he just felt like there's going to be problems.
For one thing, Gary wasn't coming into an average community. He would be entering a Mormon stronghold. Things were tough enough for a man just out of prison without having to deal with people who thought drinking coffee and tea was sinful.
Nonsense, said Brenda. She and Johnny hardly qualified as a typical straitlaced Utah County couple.
Yes, said Johnny, but think of the atmosphere. All those superclean Brigham Young University kids getting ready to go out as missionaries. Walking on the street could make you feel you were at a church supper. There had, said Johnny, to be tension.
Brenda hadn't been married to Johnny for 11 years without coming to know that her husband was the type for peace at any price. No waves if he could help it. Brenda wouldn't say she looked for trouble, but a few ripples kept life interesting. So Brenda suggested that Gary might stay weekends with them, and live with Vern and Ida. That satisfied Johnny.
Well, he told her with a grin, if I don't go along, you're going to do it anyway. He was right. She could feel awfully sympathetic to anybody who was boxed in. "He's paid his dues," she told Johnny. "He's been in jail thirteen years and I want to bring him home."
Those were the words she used when she talked to Gary's future parole officer. Brenda knew her power in such conversations. She might be that much nearer to 35 than 30, but she hadn't gone into marriage four times without knowing she was pretty attractive on the hoof, and the parole officer, Mont Court, was blond and tall, with a husky build. Just an average good-looking American guy, very much on the Mr. Clean side, but all the same, Brenda thought, pretty likable.
He had worked, Mont Court told her, with a lot of people who had just come out of prison, and he warned Brenda that there would be a recycling period. Maybe a little trouble here or there, a drunken brawl. She thought he was broad-minded for a Mormon. A man couldn't, he explained, just walk out of prison and go right into straight normal living. It was like coming out of the Service, especially if you'd been held a prisoner of war. You didn't become a civilian immediately.
Then Mont Court and another probation officer paid a visit to Vern at his shoeshop and looked into her father's ability as a shoe-repair man. They must have been impressed. Nobody in these parts was going to know more about shoes than Vern Damico, and he would, after all, give Gary not only a place to live but a job in his shop.
A letter arrived from Gary to say that he was going to be released in a couple of weeks. Then, early in April, he called Brenda from the prison and told her he would get out in a few days. Over the phone, he had a nice voice, soft-spoken, twangy, held back. A lot of feeling in the center of it. He planned, said Gary, to take a bus from St. Louis to Salt Lake.
It was practically the same route their Mormon great-grandfather took when he jumped off from Missouri with a handcart near to 100 years ago, and pushed west with all he owned over the prairies, and the passes of the Rockies, to come to rest at Provo in the Mormon Kingdom of Deseret.
Gary couldn't have traveled more than 40 or 50 miles from Marion, however, before he phoned in from a rest stop to tell Brenda that the bus ride so far had been the most kidney-jogging experience he ever felt and he'd decided to cash in his ticket at St. Louis and come the rest of the way by plane. Brenda agreed. If Gary wanted to travel deluxe, well, he had a little coming.
He called her again that evening. He was definitely on the last flight and would phone once more when he arrived.
"Gary, it takes us forty-five minutes to get to the airport."
"I don't mind waiting."
Even the children were excited, and Brenda certainly couldn't sleep. After midnight, she and Johnny just hung by the phone. Brenda had threatened to kill anybody who called her late--she wanted that line open.
"I'm here," said his voice. It was two A.M.
"OK, we're coming to get you."
"Right on," said Gary and hung up. This was one guy who wouldn't talk your ear off for a dime.
On the ride, Brenda kept telling Johnny to hurry up. It was the middle of the night, and nobody was on the road. Johnny, however, wasn't about to get a ticket. They were traveling the interstate, after all. So he kept at 60. Brenda gave up fighting. She was altogether too excited to fight.
"Oh, my God," said Brenda, "I wonder how tall he is."
"What?" said Johnny.
She had begun to think he might be short. That would be awful. Brenda was only 5'5", but it was a height she knew well. From the time she was ten years old, she had been 130 pounds, 5'5", and wholly equipped with the same-size bra as now--C cup.
"What do you mean, is he tall?" asked Johnny.
"I don't know, I hope he is."
In junior high, if she put on heels, the only person big enough to dance with her was the gym teacher. In fact, she got so paranoid about being tall it must have stunted her growth. Now she just had this nightmare that when they got to the airport, Gary would only come up to her armpit. Why, she would abandon the whole thing right there. Shift for yourself, she would tell him.
They pulled up to the main entrance of the terminal building. So soon as she got out of the car, there was Johnny on the driver's side, trying to tuck his shirt-tail in. That annoyed Brenda no end.
She could see Gary leaning against the building. "There he is," Brenda cried, but Johnny said, "Wait, I have to zip my pants."
"Who gives a shit about your shirt-tail?" said Brenda. "I'm going."
As she crossed the street between the parking island and the main door, Gary saw her and picked up his satchel. Pretty soon they were running toward each other. As they met, Gary dropped his bag and encircled her so hard she could have been hugged by a bear. Even Johnny had never gripped Brenda that hard.
When Gary put her down on the ground again, she stood back and looked at him. She said, "My God, you're tall."
He started to laugh. "What did you expect, a midget?"
"I don't know what I expected," she said, "but, thank God, you're tall."
Johnny was just standing there with his big good face, going, um, um, um.
"Hey, coz," said Gary, "it's fine to see you." He shook hands with Johnny.
"By the way, Gary," said Brenda demurely, "this is my husband."
Gary said, "I assumed that's who it was."
Johnny said, "Have you got everything with you?"
Gary picked up his flight bag--it was pathetically small, thought Brenda--and said, "This is it. This is all I have." Said it without humor and without self-pity. Material things were obviously no big transaction to him.
Now she noticed his clothes. He had a black trench coat slung on his arm and was wearing a maroon blazer over--could you believe it?--a yellow-and-green striped shirt. Then a pair of beige polyester trousers. Plus a pair of black plastic shoes. She paid attention to people's footwear because of her father's trade and she thought, Wow, that's really cheap. They didn't even give him a pair of leather shoes to go home in.
"Come on," said Gary, "let's get the hell out of here."
She could see that he'd had something to drink. He wasn't plastered, but he sure was tipped. Made a point of putting his arm around her when they walked to the car.
When they got in, Brenda sat in the middle and Johnny drove. Gary said, "Hey, this is kind of a cute car. What is it?"
"A yellow Maverick," she told him. "My little lemon."
They drove. The first silence came in.
"Are you tired?" asked Brenda.
"A little," Gary grinned. "I took advantage of the Champagne flight, but then I don't know if it was the altitude, or not having good liquor for a long time, but, boy, I got tore up on that plane. I was happier than hell."
Brenda laughed. "I guess you're entitled to be snockered."
The prison had sure cut his hair short. It would, Brenda judged, be heavy, handsome brown hair when it grew out, but for now it stuck up hick style in the back. He kept pushing it down.
No matter, she liked his looks. In the half-light that came into the car as they drove through Salt Lake on the interstate, the city sleeping on both sides of them, she decided that Gary was everything she expected in that department. A long, fine nose, good chin, thin, well-shaped lips. He had character about his face.
"Want to go for a cup of coffee?" Johnny asked.
Brenda felt Gary tighten. It was as if even the thought of a strange place got him edgy. "Come on," Brenda said, "we'll give the ten-cent tour."
They picked Jean's Cafe. It was the only place south of Salt Lake open at three A.M., but it was Friday night and people were sporting their finery. By the time they reached their booth, Gary said, "I guess I got to get some clothes."
Johnny encouraged him to eat, only he wasn't hungry. Obviously too excited. He looked dazzled by the red, blue and gold light show on the electronic screen of the jukebox. Then a couple of cute girls walked in. Gary mumbled, "Not bad," and Brenda had to laugh. There was something so real about the way he said it.
Of course, by now, Brenda's best friend could have walked in and she would still have been all alone with Gary. She didn't mean to be rude to Johnny, but she did kind of forget he was there.
Gary, however, looked across the table and said, "Hey, man, thanks. I appreciate how you went along with Brenda." They shook hands again. This time Gary did it thumbs up.
Over the coffee, he asked about Johnny's job.
Johnny did maintenance at Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company. He was blacksmithing now, but used to do the mold work.
The conversation died. Gary had no clue what to ask next. He knows nothing about us, Brenda thought, and I understand so little about him.
Gary spoke of a couple of prison friends and what good men they were. Then he said apologetically, Well, you don't want to hear about prison, it's not very pleasant.
Johnny said they were tiptoeing around because they didn't want to offend him. "We're curious," said Johnny, "but, you know, we don't want to ask: What's it like in there? What do they do to you?"
Gary smiled. They were silent again.
Brenda knew she was making Gary nervous. She kept staring at him constantly, but couldn't have enough of his face. There were so many corners in it.
"God," she kept saying, "it's good to have you here."
"It's good to be back."
"Wait till you get to know this country," she said. She was dying to tell him about the kind of fun they could have on Utah Lake, and the camper trips they would take in the canyons. The desert was just as brown and grim as desert anywhere, but the mountains went up to 12,000 feet, and the canyons were green with beautiful forests and super drinking parties. They could teach him how to hunt with bow and arrow, she was about ready to say, when all of a sudden she got a good look at him. Speak of all the staring she had done, it was as if she hadn't seen Gary at all yet. Now she felt a strong sense of woe. He was scarred up much more than she had expected.
She reached out to touch his cheek at the place where he was badly marked, and Gary said, "Nice-looking, isn't it?"
Brenda said, "I'm sorry, Gary, I didn't mean to embarrass you."
This set up such a pause that Johnny finally asked, "How'd it happen?"
"A guard hit me," said Gary. He smiled. "They had me tied down for a shot and I spit in the doctor's face."
"How," asked Brenda, "would you like to get ahold of that guard?"
"Don't pick my brain," said Gary.
"OK," said Brenda, "but do you hate him?"
"God, yeah," said Gary, "wouldn't you?"
"Yeah, I would," said Brenda. "Just checking."
Half an hour later, driving home, they went by Point of the Mountain. Off to the left of the interstate, a long hill came out of the mountains and its ridge was like the limb of a beast whose paw just reached the highway. On the other side, in the desert to the right, was Utah State Prison. There were only a few lights in its buildings now. They made jokes about Utah State Prison.
Back in her living room, drinking beer, Gary began to unwind. He liked beer, he confessed. In prison, they knew how to make a watery brew out of bread. Called it Pruno. In fact, both Brenda and Johnny were observing that Gary could put brew away as fast as anyone they knew.
Johnny soon got tired and went to sleep. Now Gary and Brenda really began to talk. A few prison stories came out. To Brenda, each seemed wilder than the one before. He had to be reciting out of his hind end.
It was only when she looked out the window and saw the night was over that she realized how long they had been talking. They stepped through the door to look at the sun coming up over the back of her ranch house and all her neighbors' ranch houses, and standing there, on her plot of lawn, in a heap of strewn-about toys, wet with cold spring dew, Gary looked at the sky and took a deep breath.
"I feel like jogging," he said.
"You've got to be nuts, tired as you are," she said.
He just stretched and breathed deep, and a big smile came over his face. "Hey, man," he said, "I'm really out."
In the mountains, the snow was iron gray and purple in the hollows, and glowed like gold on every slope that faced the sun. The cloud over the mountains was lifting with the light. Brenda took a good look into his eyes and felt full of sadness again. His eyes had the expression of rabbits she had flushed, scared rabbit was the common expression, but she had looked into those eyes of scared rabbits and they were calm and tender and kind of curious. They did not know what would happen next.
The distance from the north side of Orem, where she lived, to Vern's store in the center of Provo was six miles, but going along State Street, it took a while. There were shopping malls and quick-eat palaces, used-car dealers, chain clothing stores and gas stops, appliance stores and highway signs and fruit stands. There were banks and real-estate firms in one-story office compounds and rows of condominiums with sawed-off mansard roofs. There hardly was a building that was not painted in a nursery color: pastel yellow, pastel orange, pastel tan, pastel blue. Only a few faded two-story wooden houses looked as if they had been built so long as 30 years ago. On State Street, going the six miles from Orem to Provo, such houses looked as old as frontier saloons.
"It sure has changed," said Gary.
Overhead was the immense blue of the Western sky. That had not changed.
"I better tell you a little more about Vern," Brenda said. "Dad is gentle in his manner, but you have to understand when he is joking and when he is not. That can be a little hard to figure out, because Dad does not always smile when he is being funny." Then, too, she remarked, he was a very strong man and usually said what he thought. That could be abrasive.
Vern, however, told Gary to move in with Ida and himself right away, though not to plan to go to work for a few days. A fellow needed time to get acquainted with his freedom, Vern observed. After all, Gary had come into a strange town, didn't know where the library was, didn't know where to buy a cup of coffee. So he talked to Gary real slow.
Together, Vern and Ida Damico made a sight talking to Gary in their living room. Although Vern's shoulders could fill a doorway, and any one of his fingers was as wide as anyone else's two fingers, he was not that tall, and Ida was short. They wouldn't be bothered by a low ceiling.
For a small living room, it had a lot of stuffed furniture in bright autumn colors and Oriental rugs and color-filled pictures in gold frames and there was a ceramic statue of a black stable boy with a red jacket standing by the fireplace. Chinese end tables and big colored hassocks took up space on the floor.
Having lived among steel bars, reinforced concrete and cement-block walls, (continued on page 110) Executioner's Song (continued from page 102) Gary would now be spending a lot of his time in this room.
Vern slipped him some underclothes, some tan slacks, a shirt and 20 bucks.
Gary said, "I can't pay you back right now."
"I'm giving you the money," Vern said. "If you need more, see me. I don't have a lot, but I'll give you what I can."
Sunday afternoon, Vern and Ida drove him over to Lehi, on the other side of Orem, for a visit with Toni and Howard.
Both of Toni's daughters, Annette and Angela, were excited about Gary. He was like a magnet with kids, Brenda and Toni agreed. On this Sunday, two days out of jail, he sat in a gold cloth-upholstered chair, drawing chalk pictures on a blackboard for Angela.
He'd draw a beautiful picture and Angela, who was six, would erase it. He got the biggest kick out of that. He would take pains on the next one, draw it extra beautiful, and she'd go, Yeah, uh-huh, and she'd erase it. So he could do another one.
After a while, he sat down on the floor and played cards with her.
The only game Angela knew was fish, but she couldn't remember how to say each number. She would speak of six as an upper because the line went up, and nine was a downer. A seven was a hooker. That tickled Gary.
He called, "Toni, would you explain something? Am I playing some illicit game here with your daughter?" Gary thought it was very funny.
Later that Sunday, Howard Gurney and Gary tried to talk to each other. Howard had been a construction worker all his life, a union electrician. He'd never been in jail, except for one night when he was a kid. It was difficult to find much common denominator. Gary knew a lot, and had a fantastic vocabulary, but he and Howard didn't seem to have any experiences in common.
Monday morning, Gary broke the $20 bill Vern had given him and bought a pair of gym shoes. That week, he would wake up every day around six and go out to run. He would take off from Vern's house in a fast long stride down to Fifth West, go around the park and back--more than ten blocks in four minutes, good time. Vern, with his bad knee, thought Gary was a fantastic runner.
In the beginning, Gary didn't know exactly what he could do in the house. On his first evening alone with Vern and Ida, he asked if he could get a glass of water.
"This is your home," Vern said. "You don't have to ask permission."
Gary came back from the kitchen with the glass in his hand. "I'm beginning to get on to this," he said to Vern. "It's pretty good."
"Yeah," said Vern, "come and go as you want. Within reason."
About the third night, they got to talking about Vern's driveway. It wasn't wide enough to take more than one car, but Vern had a strip of lawn on the side of the house that could offer space for another car, provided he could remove the concrete curb that separated the grass from the paving. That curb ran for 35 feet from the sidewalk to the garage. Six inches high, eight inches wide, it would be work to chop out. Because of a bad leg, Vern held off.
"I'll do it," said Gary.
Sure enough, next morning at six, Vern was awakened by the sound of Gary taking a sledge hammer to the job. Sound slammed through the neighborhood in the dawn. Vern winced for the people in the City Center Motel, next door, who would be awakened by the reverberation. All day Gary worked, cracking the curbing with overhead blows, then prying chunks out, inch by inch, with the crowbar. Before long, Vern had to buy a new one.
Those 35 feet of curbing took one day and part of the next. Vern offered to help, but Gary wouldn't allow it. "I know a lot about pounding rocks," he told Vern.
"What can I do for you?" asked Vern.
"Well, it's thirsty work," said Gary. "Just keep me in beer."
It went like that. He drank a lot of beer and worked real hard and they were happy with the job. When he was done, he had open blisters on his hand as large as Vern's fingernails.
Doing the work, however, had loosened him up. He was ready to do his first exploring around town.
Provo was laid out in a checkerboard. It had very wide streets and a few buildings that were four stories high. During the day, Gary would walk around town. If he came by the shoeshop around lunchtime, Vern would take him to Joe's Spic and Span, which had the best coffee in town. Of course, Vern told him, Provo was not famous for restaurants.
"What is it famous for?" asked Gary.
"Darned if I know," said Vern. "Maybe it's the low crime rate."
Gary's first working day in the shop was good. Vern started him on a bench jack, tearing down shoes. The jack was like a metal foot upside down, and Gary would put the shoe on, pry off the sole, take off the heel, remove the nails, pull out the stitching and generally prepare the top for the new sole and heel. You had to watch not to rip the leather or make a mess for the next man.
Gary was slow, but he did it well. The first few days he had an excellent attitude. Vern was getting to like him.
The trouble was to keep him busy. Vern wasn't always able to. There were rush jobs to get out. The real difficulty was that Vern and his assistant, Sterling Baker, were used to moving the work between them. So it was easier to do it themselves than to show a new man. Often Gary had to wait when he wanted to move to the next step.
He would say, "I don't like this standing around and waiting. I feel like a dummy, you know."
The problem, as Vern saw it, was that Gary wanted to be able to fix a pair of shoes like Vern could. It just wasn't going to come that way. Vern told him, "You can't learn this immediately."
"Well, I know that," Gary said, but his impatience didn't take long to come back.
Of course, Gary did get on well with Sterling Baker, who was about 20, and the nicest fellow, and didn't mind talking about shoes. The first couple of days, Gary kept bringing the conversation back to footwear, as if he was going to learn everything there was about it. Only time he had trouble concentrating was when pretty girls came into the store. "Look at that," he'd say. "I haven't seen anything like that for years."
The girls he liked best, he said, were around 20. It occurred to Vern that Gary wasn't much older when he said goodbye to the world 13 years ago. He certainly was comfortable becoming friends with a kid like Sterling Baker.
Gary went back to visit with Brenda and Johnny for Easter weekend. After the kids went to sleep, they spent Saturday night coloring Easter eggs around the table, and Gary had a fine time and drew beautiful pictures and painted the names of the kids in Gothic script.
After a while, Johnny and Gary began (continued on page 228) Executioner's Song (continued from page 110) to giggle together. They were still decorating eggs, but instead of saying, "Cristie, I love you," or "Keep it up, Nick," they were getting into stuff like "Fuck the Easter Bunny." Brenda exclaimed, "You can't hide those."
"Well," said Gary with a big grin, "guess we got to eat 'em." He and Johnny had a feast of mislabeled hard-boiled eggs.
They spent the rest of the evening drawing maps--Take so many steps; Look under a rock; You can read the next clue only in a mirror; etc.--they were up half the night putting candy, eggs and treats all over the yard.
Brenda had a good time watching Gary climb around in the tree--which was wet, for that matter. They were having a wet Easter. Here he was, looming through the branches, hiding goodies and getting soaked right through.
Then he put jelly beans all over his room, especially on the shelf above his couch, so that when the kids got up next morning, they would have to romp over him to get the candies.
Little Tony, who was only four, walked across the front of Gary's chest, up on his face, mashed his nose and slipped off, squashing his ear. Gary was laughing his head off.
The morning went like that. When it cleared up a little, they played horse shoes and Johnny and Gary got along fine.
Dinner, however, didn't turn out as Brenda had hoped. She'd invited Vern and Ida, and Howard and Toni with their kids, and counting all the noses, they came to 13, and made jokes about that. The main dish was spaghetti Italian style, promised to Gary the way Brenda's Sicilian grandfather used to make it, with mushrooms, pepper, onions, oregano and garlic bread. She had some hot cross buns for dessert with a white X of icing on the top and plenty of coffee, and would have enjoyed the meal except for how tense Gary looked.
Everybody was jabbering back and forth, but Gary was a little out of it. Occasionally, somebody would ask him a polite question or he would say something like, "Boy, this is better grub than what they had at Marion," only he kept his head down, and hid his silence by swallowing food in a hurry.
Brenda came to the glum conclusion that Gary was an atrocious eater. Too bad. She couldn't stand to see a man shoveling and slobbering at the table.
From his letters, she had expected him to be very much of a gentleman. Now she decided she should have known his manners would be common. In prison, they didn't eat with napkins and place settings. Still, it got to her. Gary had long artist's fingers, small at the tips, nice-looking hands like a pianist might have, but he gripped his fork with his fist and bulldozed it in.
He was, however, sitting at the end of the table by the refrigerator, and so the fluorescent light over the sink was shining on his face. It lit up his eyes. Brenda said, "Wow, you've got the bluest eyes I've ever seen."
He didn't like that very well. He said, "They're green."
Brenda looked him back. "They're not green, they're blue."
This went back and forth. Finally, Brenda said, "OK, when you're mad, they're green; when you're not, they're blue. Right now, they're blue. Do you feel blue?"
Gary said, "Shut up and eat."
After Vern and Ida and Howard and Toni and the children left, and Johnny had gone to sleep, Brenda sat around with Gary, having a cup of coffee. "Did you have a good time?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah," said Gary. Then he shrugged, "I felt out of place. I have nothing to talk about."
She said, "Boy, I wish we could get over that hump."
"Come on," he said, "who wants to hear about prison?"
Brenda said, "I'm just afraid of bringing back bad memories. Would you rather we didn't walk so lightly around the subject?"
Gary said, "Yeah."
He told her a couple of prison stories. God, they were gross. It seems there was this old boy Skeezix, who could perform fellatio on himself. He was proud of that. Nobody else in O.S.P.could.
"O.S.P.?" asked Brenda.
"Oregon State Penitentiary."
Gary had taken a small cardboard box, painted it black and made it look like one of those lensless cameras. He told Skeezix there was film in the box and it would take a picture through the pinhole. Everybody gathered around to watch Gary take a snapshot of the fellow going down on himself. Skeezix was that dumb he was still waiting to see the photo.
On finishing his story, Gary went off laughing so hard, Brenda thought he'd sling his spaghetti around the room. She was awful glad when he wheezed into silence and fixed her with his eye as if to say, "Now, do you see my conversational problem?"
Rikki Baker was one of the regulars in Sterling Baker's poker sessions. Although not heavy for his size, he was tall, very tall, maybe 6'5". Gary fixed on him early. He was the only fellow in the game taller than Gary. They kind of got along.
Rikki was Sterling's cousin, and had been trained by the Navy to be a diesel mechanic, but didn't get enough experience to qualify for a real job when he got out; so when nothing else was available, Rikki put in time at Vern's shop. He happened to be around when Vern began to speak about this nephew in prison who was getting out soon. Later, Rikki met Gary at the shop, but didn't have much impression. The fellow just seemed like a new worker, uncertain of himself. It was only when Rikki watched him playing cards that he realized Gary was one hell of a relative.
Sure had a different personality at poker. Rikki could see right off that Gary wasn't too honest, and was a real lawyer about rules, always interpreting them in his favor. He also kept putting down the other players because they didn't know the same games the convicts used. He was making no friends.
After the evening, a couple of Sterling's buddies said they were going to stop coming over. Sterling told them, Fine with me. He was certainly being loyal to Gary. Yet when he was alone with Rikki, Sterling would put Gary down. Rikki went along. Still, he had a funny feeling about the man. Didn't want to make an enemy of him for too little. If Gary gave trouble, he wouldn't be afraid to just right-out fight him, but you had to be a little afraid of what Gary might pull from his pocket.
The poker games continued. Different people. By the third night, Sterling got Rikki aside and asked if he would take Gary somewhere. The guy was really getting on everybody's nerves.
So Rikki asked if he wanted to chase down some girls. Gary said, Yeah.
Rikki soon decided this was the horniest guy he had ever met.
Rikki had been married for six years, ever since he was 17 and she was 15. Now, however, he told Gary he and Sue were sort of split. Told him how beautiful she was, big, beautiful, mean-looking blonde, yet a good chick. Now that she was mad at him, maybe she'd like to meet Gary, Rikki said kind of half joking.
Once the possibility was there, though, Gary wouldn't quit bugging him. Rikki said he was only kidding, it was his wife, man! But Gary kept asking when Rikki would take him over. When Rikki finally told him, No way, Gary got so mad they almost did have a fight. Rikki had to get Gary off the subject by saying they could go drag Center Street. Rikki was pretty good at chasing girls, he let Gary know.
So they went cruising up and down in Rikki's GTO. Would pass girls and try to wave them over, then go back to Center Street again, see the same girls and try a second time, just driving side by side, part of a long line of other dudes in their cars and pickup trucks, and the chicks in theirs, everybody's radio going real loud.
Gary got bored with the lack of positive results. When they came to a red light behind one carful of girls, he jumped out and stuck his head in their window. Rikki couldn't hear what he was saying, but when the light turned green and the girls tried to take off, Gary wouldn't take his face out of their window. Didn't care about the cars behind or anything. Once the girls finally got going, Gary wanted Rikki to chase them down. "Ain't no way," said Rikki.
With all the traffic, Rikki couldn't catch up. All the while, Gary was yelling to make a move and show he was as good as he said.
Too late, however. There were a lot of cars with guys but only a few with girls, and they were just fooling around and very cautious. One had to come up on them easy, not scare them right out of the water. Gary made him promise to go out earlier next time.
As they were saying good night, Gary had a proposition. What would Rikki think about teaming up? Make a little money at poker.
Rikki had already heard about this from Sterling. He gave Gary the same answer Sterling had given: "Well, Gary, I couldn't cheat against my friends," he said.
For reply, Gary said, "Can I drive your car?" Being a GTO, it was a fast automobile. This time, Rikki said yes. Figured he'd better. Not getting his way bent Gary too far out of shape.
Moment he got the wheel, he almost killed them. Took a corner fast and nearly hit a stop sign. Then he didn't slow down at the intersection and went catahumping over the drainage ditch that was there to slow you down. Next he almost ran some people off the road; in fact, one car coming toward them had to go onto the shoulder. Rikki kept yelling but couldn't get him to stop until Gary popped the clutch without enough gas. Then the motor conked and he couldn't get it started. The GTO had a bad battery.
That's what it took for Rikki to get behind the wheel again. Gary was awful depressed the engine had died on him. Got upset about it the way people can brood over bad weather.
Next day around lunchtime, Toni and Brenda picked Gary up at the shoeshop and took him out for a hamburger. Sitting on each side of him at the counter, talking into his left ear and his right ear, they got right to the topic. What it came down to was that he had been borrowing too much money.
Yes, said Toni gently, he'd been hitting Vern for a five-dollar bill here, ten there, once in a while, twenty. He hadn't been going to work a full number of hours, either. "Vern and Ida said this to you?" Gary asked.
"Gary," said Toni, "I don't think you realize Daddy's financial situation. He's got too much pride to tell you."
"He'd be furious if he knew we were talking to you about this," Brenda said, "but Dad isn't making a whole lot right now. He created a job so the parole board would help you get out."
"If you need ten dollars," said Toni, "Daddy will be there. But not just to buy a six-pack and then come home and sit around and drink beer."
"I feel bad," said Gary, "about this. Vern has no money?"
"He has a little," Brenda said. "But he's hurting for money. He's trying to save for his operation. Vern doesn't carry on, but that leg gives him pain all the time."
Gary sat with his head down, just thinking. "I didn't realize," he said, "I was putting Vern on the spot."
Toni answered, "Gary, I know it's hard. But try to settle down, just a little. What you spend for beer doesn't sound like much, but it would make a difference to Mother and Daddy if you took five dollars and went and bought a sack of groceries, 'cause, you know, they're feeding you, and clothing you, and board and room."
Brenda now moved to the next topic. She knew Gary had needed time to unwind and work with somebody like Vern, whom he didn't have to regard as a boss all the time. Yet the moment had come, maybe, to start thinking about a place of his own and a real job. She had even been doing some looking for him.
Gary said, "I don't think I'm ready. I appreciate what you're trying to do, Brenda, but I'd like to hang in with your folks a little longer."
"Mother and Dad," said Brenda, "haven't had anybody living in their house since Toni got married. That's been ten or twelve years. Gary, they love you, but I'll be frank. You are starting to get on their nerves."
"Maybe," said Gary, "you better tell me about that job."
That evening, Gary came in with a sack of groceries. Just odds and ends and nothing to do with putting a meal together, but Ida took it as a happy gesture. It turned back her thoughts to a time 30 years ago and more when she had loaned Bessie $40 because Frank Gilmore was in jail. It took Bessie almost ten years, but she paid back that $40. Maybe Gary had the same characteristic.
It was seven miles and more from Vern's home in Provo to Spencer McGrath's shop in Lindon, seven miles along State Street with all the one-story buildings. The first morning, Vern drove him there. After that, Gary left at six to be sure of getting to work, by eight, in case he couldn't pick up a ride. Once, after catching a hitch right off, he came in at 6:30, an hour and a half early. Other times it was not so fast. Once, a dawn cloudburst came in off the mountains and he had to walk in the rain. At night he would often trudge home without a ride. It was a lot of traveling to get to a shop that was hardly more than a big shed, with nothing to see but trucks and heavy equipment parked all over a muddy yard.
He was real quiet those first few days on the job. It was obvious he didn't know what to do. If they gave him a board to plane, they also had to tell him to turn the plank over and plane the other side. One time the foreman, Craig Taylor, discovered that Gary had been working an electric drill for 15 minutes with no results. Couldn't get a hole started.
Craig told him he had been running the drill on reverse. Gary shrugged. "I didn't know these things had that," he said.
So the word his boss, Spence McGrath, got about him was that he knew no more than a kid out of high school. Poly-grinders and sanders and paint guns all had to be explained. He was also a loner. Brought his lunch in a brown-paper bag and took it himself the first few days. Sat on a piece of machinery off to the side and ate the food in all the presence of his own thoughts. Nobody knew what he was thinking.
Night was different. Gary was out just about every night. Rikki was getting a little in awe of him.
Gary told everybody about this black dude he killed in jail who had been trying to make a nice white kid his punk. The kid asked Gary for help, so he and another buddy got ahold of some pipes. They had to. The convict they were taking on was a bad nigger, and had been a professional fighter, but they caught him on a stairway and beat him half to death with the pipes. Then they put him in his cell and stabbed him with a homemade knife 57 times.
Rikki thought the story was talk. By telling it to everybody, Gary was just trying to make himself look big. Still, that didn't leave Rikki feeling comfortable. Any fellow that wanted to live on such a story could hardly back down if he started to lean on you and you pushed back.
There were times Gary seemed almost simple, however. Running after the girls in Rikki's GTO, Gary sure hadn't learned much. Rikki kept trying to explain how you talk to girls, soft and easy like Sterling Baker, instead of big and mean, but Gary said he wouldn't play those games.
One night, Rikki started talking to three girls in a pickup. The truck was on Rikki's left and he just talked through the open window until they could feel he was all right and good-looking enough. Then the girls cut down a dark street and he followed and parked behind. The girl at the wheel came over to talk to Gary, and Rikki walked over to their truck. He was going on real nice to the other two girls about moving over to their place for a party, when the driver came back, looking scared. "You ought to do something with that guy you've got along," she said, and she got into her truck and took off.
"What happened?" Rikki asked Gary.
"Well, I came right out and asked her for it, said, 'It's been a long time and I'd like some right now!'" Gilmore shook his head. "Why don't we just grab a couple of bitches and rape them?"
Rikki chose his words carefully. "Gary, that's something I just couldn't go for."
They drove around until Gary said he knew a girl. "Real nice." Now he wanted to go to her place, only to her place. She lived on the second floor of a two-story building with several apartments on each landing. Looked like a small motel.
Gary pounded on her door for ten minutes. Finally, a girl came to answer. She opened a crack and whispered, "My sister has gone to bed."
"Tell her I'm here."
"She's gone to bed."
"Just tell her I'm here and she'll get up."
"She needs her sleep."
The door closed.
"Cunt," Gary shouted.
Then he got mad. On the way down the stairs, he said to Rikki, "Let's tip her car."
She was just a little old foreign job, but heavy. Put their backs into it, and gave what they had, but couldn't do more than rock her. So Gary grabbed a tire iron out of the GTO's trunk, ran up to the girl's car and busted the windshield out.
The sound of glass breaking scared Rikki enough to go flying over to his car. It was only as he took off that Gary opened the door on the run and jumped in.
They decided to visit Sterling. On the way, Gary said, "Help me rob a bank?"
"That's something I never done."
A bank was easy, Gary said. He knew how to do it. He would cut Rikki in for 15 percent if Rikki would sit in his car and drive off when he came out. Rikki, he said, would make a good getaway man.
Gary said, "You wouldn't have to come into the bank."
"I couldn't do it."
Gary got inflamed. "You're not supposed to be afraid of anything."
"I wouldn't do it, Gary."
They went the rest of the way to Sterling's house in silence.
Once there, Gary cooled enough to get working on an acceptable story in case the girl called the cops. They could say they drove up to Salt Lake for the night and didn't get back till morning. Somebody had them mixed up with two other guys.
At present, Spencer McGrath was working on a plan to take in all the county garbage for recycling. He had 15 people in his employ, a large contract, and he was working very hard. It had become one of those times in a man's life when he can advance his career and his finances ten years in two years. Or fail, and have gained very little beyond the knowledge of how hard one can work.
So his social activities were minimal. Seven days a week, he worked from seven in the morning into the night. For days in a row, he wouldn't even get home in time to see the ten-o'clock news on TV.
Maybe he could have put in a little less time, but it was Spencer's idea that you gave what was necessary to each person who came before you in the day. So it was natural that he kept an eye on Gilmore and reassured himself that nobody was trying to downgrade the fellow in any way. The men knew, of course, that he was an ex-con--Spencer thought it was only fair to them (and to Gary, for that matter) to have it known--but they were a good crew. If anything, this kind of knowledge could work in Gilmore's favor.
Still, it was all of a week before Spencer McGrath learned that Gary was walking to work whenever he couldn't get a hitch and he only found out because there had been some snow that morning and it took him longer to walk all the way.
That got to Spencer. Gilmore had never told a soul. Such pride was the makings of decent stuff. McGrath made sure he had a ride home that night.
Later that day, they had a little talk. Gilmore wasn't real anxious to get into the fact that he didn't have a car while most people did. That got to Spencer, too. At V. J. Motors, there was a six-cylinder '66 Mustang that seemed to be pretty clean. The tires were fair, the body was good. Spencer thought it was a reasonable proposition. The car sat on the lot for $795, but the dealer, Val J. Conlin, a friend of Spencer's, said he would move it at $550 for them. It beat walking.
So that Friday, when Gary got paid, they went back to the car lot and it was arranged that Gary would put up $50, Spencer McGrath would add another $50 against future salary and Val Conlin would receive the rest of it in $50 payments every two weeks. Since Gary was getting $140 a week and taking home $95 of that, the deal could be considered functional.
Gary wanted to know if he could take time off on Monday to get a license. Spencer told him all right. It was agreed that Gary would stop for his license Monday morning, pick up the car and come to work.
Monday, when he got into the shop, however, he told Spencer that the drivers' bureau said he would have to show a previous driver's license. Gary told them he had one in Oregon, and they were going to send for it. In the meantime, he would wait on the car.
Wednesday, however, he picked up the Mustang anyway, and that night, to celebrate, he had an arm-wrestling contest with Rikki at Sterling's house. Rikki tried pretty hard, but Gary won and kept bragging it up through the poker game.
Embarrassed at losing, Rikki stayed away. When, a few days later, he dropped in again, it was to hear that his sister Nicole had gone to visit Sterling one evening and Gary had been there. She and Gary ended up with each other that night. Now they were staying out in Spanish Fork. His sister Nicole, who always had to go her own way, was living with Gary Gilmore.
Rikki didn't like the news one bit. Nicole was the best thing in his family, as far as he was concerned. He told Sterling that if Gary did anything to hurt her, he would kill him.
Yet when Rikki saw them, Gary came over to Rikki and said. "Man, you've got the most beautiful sister in the world. She's just the best person I ever met." Gary and Nicole held hands like they were locked together at the wrist. It was all different from what Rikki had expected.
Sunday morning, Gary brought Nicole over to meet Spencer and Marie McGrath. Spencer saw a very good-looking girl, hell of a figure, not too tall, with a full mouth, a small nose and nice long brown hair. She must have been 19 or 20 and looked full of her own thoughts. She was wearing Levis that had been cut off at the thigh, a T-shirt and no shoes. It sounded like a baby was crying in her car, but she made no move to go back.
Gary was immensely proud of her. They were sure getting along in supergood shape. "Look at my girl!" Gary was all but saying. "Isn't she fabulous?"
When they left, Spencer said to Marie, "That's just about what Gary needs. A girlfriend with a baby to feed. It doesn't look like she'll be too much of an asset to him." He squinted after their car. "My God, did he paint his Mustang blue? I thought it was white."
"Maybe it's her car."
"Same year and model?"
"Wouldn't surprise me a bit," said Marie.
Brenda wasn't too happy, either, when he brought Nicole to her house. Oh, God, she said to herself, Gary would end up with a space cadet. (continued on page 237) Executioner's Song (continued from page 232)
Nicole just sat there. She had a little girl by the arm and didn't seem to know the arm was there. The child, a tough-looking four-year-old, looked to be living in one world and Nicole in another.
Brenda asked, "Where are you staying?"
Nicole roused herself. "Yeah." She roused herself again. "Down the road," she said in a soft and somewhat muffled voice.
Brenda must have been on radar. "Springville?" she asked. "Spanish Fork?"
Nicole gave an angelic smile. "Hey, Spanish Fork, she got it," she said to Gary as if little wonders grew like flowers on the highway of life.
"Don't you love her looks?" Gary said.
"Yeah," said Brenda, "you got yourself a looker."
Yeah, thought Brenda, another girl who pops a kid before she's 15 and lives on the Government ever after. One more poverty-stricken welfare witch. Except she had to admit it. Nicole was star quality for these parts.
My God, she and Gary were in a trance with each other. Could sit and google at each other. Could sit and google at each other for the entire day. Don't bother to visit. Brenda was ready to ask the fire department to put out the burn.
"She's nineteen, you know," Gary said the moment Nicole left the patio.
"You don't say," said Brenda.
"Do you think she is too old for me?" he asked. At the look on his cousin's face, he began to laugh.
"No," said Brenda, "quite frankly, I think you are both of the same intellectual and mental level of maturity. Good God, Gary, she's young enough to be your daughter. How can you mess around with a kid?"
"I feel nineteen," he told her.
"Why don't you try growing up before you get too old?"
"Hey, coz, you're blunt," said Gary.
"Don't you agree it's the truth?"
"Probably," he said. He muttered it.
They were sitting on the patio, blinking their eyes in the sun, when Nicole came back. Just as if nothing had been said in her absence, Gary pointed tenderly to the tattoo of a heart on his forearm.
When he had stepped out of Marion, a month ago, he said, it had been a blank heart. Now the space was filled with Nicole's name. He had tried to match the blue-black color of the old tattoo, but her name appeared in blue-green.
"Like it?" he asked Brenda.
"Looks better than having a blank," she said.
"Well," said Gary, "I was just waiting to fill it in. But first I had to find me a lady like this."
Nicole also had a tattoo. On her ankle. Gary, it said.
"How do you like it?" he asked.
Johnny replied, "I don't."
Nicole was grinning from ear to ear. It was as if the best way to ring her bell was to tell the truth. Something about the sound set off chimes in her. "Oh," she said, extending her ankle for all the world to see the curve of her calf and the meat of her thigh, "I think it looks kinda nice."
"Well, it's done," said Brenda, "with a nice steady touch. But a tattoo on a woman's ankle looks like she stepped in shit."
"I dig it," said Gary.
"OK," said Brenda, "I'll give you my good opinion. I like that tattoo about as much as I like that silly-ass hat you wear."
"Don't you like my lid?"
"Gary, when it comes to hats, you've got the rottenest taste I've ever seen." She was so mad she was ready to cry.
She had done it to him again. It didn't strike him well that she didn't like Nicole's tattoo any more than his hats. He got up to leave then, and Brenda walked them to the door. Coming outside, she was also surprised by the sight of the pale-blue Mustang.
That was enough to restore him. Didn't it have to be fantastic? he told her. He and Nicole had both bought exactly the identical model and year. It was a sign.
She was in all wrong sorts the rest of the day. Kept thinking of the tattoo on Nicole's ankle. Every time she did, her uneasiness returned. "Oh, Lord," said Brenda, "Gary loves Nicole."
Last winter, just before her mother and father split up, Nicole had found a little house in Spanish Fork, and it looked like a change for the better. She wanted to live alone and the house made it easier.
It was very small, about ten miles from Provo, on a quiet street at the start of the foothills. Her little place was the oldest building on the block, and next to all those ranch bungalows lined up on each sidewalk like pictures in supermarket magazines, the house looked as funky as a drawing in a fairy tale. It was kind of pale-lavender stucco on the outside with Hershey-brown window trim, and inside, just a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The roof beam curved in the middle, and the front door was practically on the sidewalk--that's how long ago it had been built.
In the back yard was a groovy old apple tree with a couple of rusty wires to hold the branches together. She loved it. The tree looked like one of those stray mutts that doesn't get any attention and doesn't care--it's still beautiful.
Then, just as she was really settling in, getting to like herself for really taking care of her kids this once, and trying to put her head together so her thoughts wouldn't rattle when she was alone, why, just then Kathryne and Charles chose to split, her poor mom and dad, married before they were hardly in high school, married for more than 20 years, five kids, and they never did get, Nicole always thought, to like each other, although maybe they'd been in love from time to time. Anyway, they were split. That would have dislocated her if she hadn't had the house in Spanish Fork. The house was better than a man. Nicole amazed herself. She had not slept with anybody for weeks, didn't want to, just wanted to digest her life, her three marriages, her two kids and more guys than you wanted to count.
Well, the groove continued. Nicole had a pretty good job as a waitress at the Grand View Café in Provo, and then she got work sewing in a factory. It was only one step above being a waitress, but it made her feel good. They sent her to school for a week, and she learned how to use the power sewing machines and was making better money than she had ever brought in before. Two-thirty an hour. Her take-home came to $80 a week.
Of course, the work was hard. Nicole didn't think of herself as being especially well coordinated, and certainly she was not fast--her head was too bombed out for sure. She would get flustered. They would put her on one machine and just about the time she started getting the hang of it and was near the hourly quota, they put her on another. Then the machine would fuck up when she least expected.
Still, it wasn't bad. She had a nest of 100 bucks from screwing Welfare out of money they'd once given her in some mix-up of checks, and put another $75 together from her job. So she was able to pay out in cash $175 for an old Mustang that she bought from her next-door neighbor's brother. He had wanted up to $300, but he liked her. She just got a little lucky.
On the night Nicole met Gary, she had taken Sunny and Jeremy for a drive--the kids loved the car. With them came her sister-in-law, Sue, who was in the dumps at this point, being pregnant and split up from Rikki.
On the drive, Nicole passed about a block from her cousin's house, and Sue suggested they drop in. Nicole agreed. She figured Sue liked Sterling and must have heard that he had also split up with his old lady, Ruth Ann, just this week, baby and all.
It was a cool dark night, one of those nights in May when the mountain air still had the feel of snow. Except not that cold, because Sterling's door was open a little bit. The girls knocked and walked in. Nicole wasn't wearing anything but her Levis and some kind of halter, and there was this strange-looking guy sitting on the couch. She thought he was just plain strange-looking. Hadn't shaved in a couple of days and was drinking beer. What with saying hello to Nicole and Sue, Sterling didn't even introduce him.
Nicole made a pretense of ignoring the new fellow, but there was something about him. When their eyes met, he looked at her and said, "I know you." For a split second, something flashed in her mind, but then she thought, No, I've never met him before. Maybe I know him from another time.
That started everything off. She hadn't been thinking that way for quite a while. Now that feeling was around her again. She knew what he meant.
His eyes looked very blue in a long triangular face and they stared at her and he said again, "Hey, I know you."
Finally, Nicole kind of laughed and said, "Yeah, maybe." She thought about it a moment more and looked at him again and said, "Maybe." They didn't talk anymore for a while.
She gave her attention to Sterling. In fact, both girls were clustered around Sterling, the easiest man in the world to get along with. He was gentle and warm and very hospitable, and sure sexy. Soothed everything.
What with Sue liking him, too, the night was sort of exciting. As they were talking, Nicole finally confessed to Sterling that she had a crush on him for years when she was a kid. He told her right back that he'd always been crazy about her. They just laughed. This other fellow sat on the couch and kept looking at her.
After a while, Nicole decided the new fellow was pretty good-looking. He was much too old for her, looked like he could be near 40. But he was tall and had beautiful eyes and a pretty good mouth. She was a little fascinated, even if she wasn't about to admit to much interest.
Sue wasn't saying anything to him, either; in fact, she pretended he wasn't there. Sunny, however, started being a real bad four-year-old and carried on in front of the stranger, as ornery and bossy as she could. She began ordering Nicole to do this and do that. Soon Sunny got flushed and pretty-looking, and now was flirting with the man. Just about then, he looked at Nicole and said, "You're going to have a lot of trouble with this little girl. She could end up in reform school."
That gave a twinge. It was one remark to get under you. Maybe she had been the kind of mother who could do that to her kids. Nicole knew those words could stick in her like a hook over the next couple of years.
She began to think this guy had some kind of psychic power. As if he were a hypnotist or something of that ilk. She hardly knew if she was about to like that.
Anyway, he seemed to think that was enough to start a conversation. Before long, he was talking to her in a very presistent way. He wanted to go to the store, to get a six-pack of beer, and kept bugging her to go with him. She kept shaking her head. Sue and she had been getting ready to leave and she didn't want to go to the store with this man now. He was too strange. There wasn't any sense to it, anyway, since the store was just a little down the road.
What worked in his favor, however, was that Sue didn't look ready to leave yet. She was just beginning to get off on talking to Sterling, and obviously wouldn't mind being alone with the guy for a little while. So Nicole said, OK, and took Jeremy for protection. Sunny was asleep by then.
When they got to the store, Nicole didn't even get out of the car. It was odd, but he had a Mustang just like hers, same model, same year. Just the color was different. So she felt comfortable in it.
When he returned with the beer, she was leaning against the door, and he put the six-pack on her knee. She joked and said, Oh, that hurts. He started rubbing her knee. He did it decently; not too personal, but it felt pretty good in a nice simple way, and they went on home. When they got to the end of Sterling's driveway, before she got out of the car, he turned around and looked at her and asked if she would kiss him. She didn't say anything for a minute, then said yes. He reached across and gave her a kiss and it didn't do any harm at all to what she thought about him. In fact, to her surprise, she felt like crying. A long time later, she would remember that first kiss. Then they went back to the house.
Now Nicole didn't ignore him quite so much, although she still made a point of sitting across the room. Sue obviously couldn't stand the fellow and was paying even less attention in his direction. In fact, Nicole was surprised how indifferent he was that Sue disliked him. Sue might be obviously pregnant now, but in Nicole's opinion, she was the more spectacular of the two of them. Yet the fellow seemed ready to sit by himself. Sterling was also quiet. After a while, it looked like the evening would all go nowhere.
With the down drift, Nicole and Sue started talking to each other. Nicole often had the feeling that Sue, when things were all right with Rikki, didn't think too good of her because of all the guys she dated; in fact, Sue and Rikki told on her when she took a dude into bed once at her great-grandmother's house, and she never trusted Sue completely after that. She certainly didn't want Sue to think she was still that easy. So Nicole got a little stiff when just as she was getting ready to take the kids home, Gary said he wanted her phone number. She felt funny about looking so available after all the remarks she'd made to Sue tonight about living a new kind of life, so she told him that he couldn't have it. He was amazed.
He said, It just doesn't make any sense for you to walk out of here and never see you again. It would be a waste of a good thing, he said. He even got a little mad when she kept saying no. Sat there and looked at her. She stared into his blue eyes and told him she wouldn't give it to him, and left with Sue, but by the time they were out of the house, Nicole felt like screaming, she had wanted to give him that phone number so bad.
She didn't even have a phone. All she could have given was her address, or the next-door neighbor's number.
On the ride, Nicole didn't like the way she was feeling at all. She took Sue home and drove all the way out to her own house, but didn't move from the car. Then she said, To hell with it, and started back to Sterling's after all. On the way, she decided she was an idiot, and the guy wouldn't even be there anymore.
Then she became really scared of what she might be getting into. In fact, her heart was so high, she could have been breathing some strange gas, making her half faint, half exhilarated. She had never felt anything so strong as this before. It was as if it would be impossible to let this guy go.
His car was still there, however, and she parked right behind. The kids were asleep in the back seat, so she left them. It was safe to leave kids on a quiet street like this. And went up and knocked on the door, even if it was still cracked open a little. She heard him say something just before she knocked. It was incredible, but she heard him say, "Man, I like that girl."
When she went in, he came over to her and he touched her, didn't grab her for a big kiss but just touched her lightly. She felt really good. It was all right. She had done the right thing. They sat on the couch for a couple of hours and they laughed and talked. It hardly mattered if Sterling was in the room with them or not.
After a while, when it was obvious she was going to stay, they went out to the car and picked up the sleeping children and put them in the house and laid them still sleeping on Sterling's bed, and went on talking.
They did hardly anything but laugh. They had a great big laugh about counting her freckles and the impossibility of that because he said you couldn't count freckles on an elf. Then, in the quiet moment that followed a lot of this laughter, he told her he had been in prison for half of his life. He told her in a matter-of-fact way.
While Nicole wasn't afraid of him, she was scared. It was the thought of getting mixed up with another loser. Somebody who didn't think enough of himself to make something of himself. She felt it was bad to float through life. You might have to pay too much the next time around.
They got to speaking of karma. Ever since she was a kid, she had believed in reincarnation. It was the only thing that made sense. You had a soul, and after you died, your soul came back to earth as a newborn baby. You had a new life where you suffered for what you had done wrong in you last life. She wanted to do it right so she wouldn't have to make another trip.
To her amazement, he agreed. He said he had believed in karma for a long time. Punishment was having to face something you hadn't been able to face in this life.
Yes, he told her, if you murdered somebody, you might have to come back and be the parent of that person in a future century. That was the whole point of living, he said, facing yourself. If you didn't, the burden got bigger.
It was getting to be the best conversation she ever had. She had always thought the only way to have conversations like that was in your head.
Then he sat on the couch and held her face in his hands and said, "Hey, I love you." He said it from two or three inches away. She felt reluctant to answer him. Nicole hated "I love you." In truth, she despised it. She had said it so many times when she didn't mean it. Still, she supposed she had to get it out. As she expected, it didn't sound right. Left a bad echo in her head.
He said, "Hey, there's a place in the darkness. You know what I mean?" He said, "I think I met you there. I knew you there." He looked at her and smiled and said, "I wonder if Sterling knows about that place? Should we tell him?" They both looked at Sterling, and he was sitting there with a, well, just a funny kind of smile on his face, like he knew it was coming down that way. Then Gary said, "He knows. You can tell. You can see in his eyes that he knows." Nicole laughed with delight. It was funny. This guy looked twice her age, yet there was something naïve about him. He sounded smart, but he was so young inside.
He kept drinking the beer, and Nicole got up once in a while and went in to give Sterling's baby a bottle. Ruth Ann was out working--even though Ruth Ann and Sterling had split, they were still living in the same house. It was all they could afford.
Gary kept telling Nicole that he wanted to make love to her. She kept telling him she didn't want to start that night. He'd say, "I don't want to just fuck you, I want to make love to you."
After a while, she went to the bathroom and when she came out, Sterling was leaving. It gave her a funny feeling. Sterling didn't show a sign he'd been forced to leave. He didn't look like he was being ejected. Still, she thought Gary might have been just a little rude. The idea was quite a lot rude, if you wanted to get into it. With all that beer, he was also getting just a little gruff. Still, now that they were alone, there was hardly any logic left to refusing. After a while, her clothes were off and they were on the floor.
He couldn't get a hard-on. He looked like he had been hit with an ax but was trying to smile. He wouldn't stop and rest. He had half a hard-on.
He was so heavy on her, and he just kept trying. After a while, he began to apologize, and blamed it on too much beer. Asked her to help. Nicole began to do what she could. When her neck was as tired as it was ever going to be, he still wasn't ready to quit. It became straight hard work and it made her mad.
She told him they ought to cool it for a while. Maybe try again later. He asked her then to get on top of him, asked her gently. Now, he said in her ear that he would like her to lie there forever. Asked her if she would be able to sleep that way, on top of him. That would please him. She tried for a long time. She told him he should rest, and not worry. After the heat, and the exhaustion, and the fact that it wasn't going, she still felt tender toward him. She was surprised how tender she felt. She was sad he was drunk, and sorry he was that anxious, and might even have been loving him, but she was also irritated that he was too worked up to let it go and fall asleep. And he wouldn't stop apologizing. Said again it was the beer and the Fiorinal. He told her he had to keep taking Fiorinal every day for his headaches.
One time Sterling knocked on the door and asked if he could come back and Gary told him to get lost. She told him she didn't like at all how rude he was with Sterling. Gary finally pulled a rug over her and unlocked the door so Sterling could get in, and then Gary came back and climbed under, and bothered her a little more. It went on all night. They got very little sleep.
About six in the morning, Ruth Ann came home from where she worked at the old folks' home. It was mildly embarrassing to Nicole, because she knew Ruth Ann didn't necessarily have that high an opinion of her. All the same, it gave an excuse to get up, which was all right with Nicole. She wanted to be by herself for a while.
Yet, before they separated, she gave him her address. It was a real step. He kept asking whether it was truly her house. When she said again it was, he told her he was going to come over after work.
Sure enough, he was there. She had to go to the store, and left a note. All it said was, "Gary, I'll be back in a few minutes. Make yourself at home." But that note managed to stay around the house all the time they were together. She would stash it, and the kids would get ahold of it, and then she and Gary would run across it again.
On this afternoon, when she came back, he was already standing in the front room, grubby-looking. His pants were the kind that look like they were made for a telephone man to carry tools in his pockets, and he had on a T-shirt and was dirty from working with insulation, and Nicole thought he looked beautiful.
Later, when things quieted, they stayed up late again talking and it made her uneasy at how close this guy was to moving in with her. It truly scared her. Nicole had always thought of herself as phony when it came to love. She might start sincere, but she wasn't so sure she'd ever really been in love with a guy. She'd care about guys, and have a lot of crushes, some of them pretty heavy. Mostly, it was because the guy was good looking, or did nice things to her. But when she looked at Gary, she didn't just see his face and the way he looked, it was more like Nicole felt in the right place for the first time.
In days to come, she would no longer remember what it had been like in bed on the second night, although it was better. Maybe it set no records, but it wasn't hassled like the first. Then the days and nights began to run together. He didn't move in completely for a week, but he was living with her just about all the time.
On workdays, he had to get up early, but she found it really OK to have him hugging her in the early morning and whispering he loved her. They both slept nude, but he still had to lay hands on her to be sure she was there. Of course, that could be a problem. Nicole hardly enjoyed to kiss him then. He didn't smoke and his breath was good, but she smoked a lot and her mouth tasted awful at 5:30 a.m.
Before too long, she would get out of bed, go in the kitchen, fix him sandwiches and set the coffee on. She had a real short little bathrobe which sometimes she wore, or she'd run around nude. He'd sit and drink his Carnation Instant Breakfast with a handful of vitamins. He was a vitamin freak and believed them good for energy. Of course, if he'd done a lot of drinking after work, he was tired in the morning. Still, he was good company. He'd sit with her over coffee as long as he could, and keep looking at her, and would tell her she was beautiful, and that she amazed him. He had never believed a woman could be as fresh and sweet-smelling as she, and, indeed, Nicole was willing to hear all of that, for she liked her bath, and no matter how the house or kids might look at times, she really cared about being dainty.
Without make-up, her face was fresh as dew, he told her. She was his elf. She was loveliness, he said. After a while, Nicole got the impression that he was just like her and could hardly comprehend what was happening. The feeling of something beautiful next to you all the time.
Then, just before he was ready to leave, he would get up and lock himself in the bathroom for 20 minutes. Nicole supposed he combed his hair and did his thing. Afterward, they'd spend five minutes at the front door, and she would watch from there while he got in the car. A lot of times he'd have trouble starting it. Sometimes, after slipping on her Levis, she'd come out to push. Sometimes he would have to take her car. It was dependent on which Mustang had the most gas. They got pretty broke sometimes.
She didn't regret, however, quitting her job. She needed time to think. It was hard to stay serious about a sewing machine when you wanted to dream all the time about your man. Besides, they had his pay check, and her welfare, and Gary was just as happy if she quit.
While he was away, she'd piddle around, clean the house, feed the kids. She'd work in the garden a lot. Sometimes she would sit and drink coffee for a couple of hours and think about Gary. Sit there and smile to herself. She felt so nice she couldn't believe some of the things she felt. It was the first time in her life she could act like a lady of leisure.
Maybe a week after Gary came to live with her, she found a big yellow folder in his stuff with a bunch of papers about a dispute he had with a prison dentist. The arguments were all typed up in prison language and seemed so funny she just sat there and laughed. When she told Gary, however, he got upset. He had never mentioned he had false teeth. Bothered the hell out of him that she found out.
Of course, it wasn't new to her. She had discovered it the first night. She had lived before with a guy who had a plate and knew how they felt. You could always tell when kissing a man, because they never wanted you to put your tongue in their mouth, whereas they were always putting their tongue in yours. She went so far as to tease him about the chompers, but he took it bad. Changed like somebody just turned out the lights. She still kept teasing him, as if to make him see it didn't bother her. She had no desire to compare him to other guys, or rate him in one department or another. She was ready to buy the package, string and all.
Each day she kept coming across the realization that some of the little things he did gave her surprising pleasure. He didn't smoke, for instance, yet when he saw her rolling her own, he brought home a carton of cigarettes. It was beautiful, those little lifts.
They would sit around and drink beer in the evening, and there was hardly time enough together. All she wanted was more hours with him. She had always appreciated any minute she had to herself, but now she would get impatient with wanting him to be back. When five o'clock rolled around and he was there, the day was made. She loved opening that first beer for him.
Sometimes, he would take his BB gun out to the back, and they would shoot at bottles and beer cans in the twilight until you couldn't tell anymore when you were hitting except by the sound of the ricochet or a plink of glass. The twilight came down slowly. It was as if you were taking one breath and then another from a cluster of roses. The air was good as marijuana then.
In those early evenings, it they stayed home, there were always kids around. Their baby sitter was a girl named Laurel, an adolescent who had a lot of little cousins, and they came with her. Sometimes when Gary and Nicole got back from a drive, all those kids would be around and he would play with them. He'd give them piggyback rides. They'd stand on his shoulders and touch their hands to the ceiling. He liked to play with the ones who had enough nerve to walk all the way across the room like that. They just loved the holy shit out of him.
A lot of the time, though, as soon as he got home, they would get Laurel over and take off for a ride alone.
Usually, they would eat at a drive-in, and a couple of times he took her to the Stork Club to play pool. There were afternoons right after work when they went to the shopping mall and selected sexy underwear for her, or picked up beer and cigarettes for the drive-in movie.
Pretty soon after they parked, he'd want her to take her clothes off. Then they would make it in the front seat. Gary just loved to have her naked. Couldn't get over the idea he was holding a naked woman.
Once, watching Peter Pan, they got out and sat on the rear deck over the trunk, back to back, and she was naked then. The Mustang was parked way in the outfield, but there were other cars around, and she had nothing on. God, it was the nicest feeling. After all those years inprison, Gary was insane about watching her walk about with her bootie exposed and her boobs bouncing. She dug it that he liked her without clothes. He had her right around his finger and she didn't mind it a bit.
Yet he didn't get arrogant. He was so touching when he asked her to do something. One night, she even took off her clothes on the back steps of the First Mormon Church, in Provo Park, practically the center of town. It was late at night. They just sat there on the steps, her clothes on the grass, and she danced a little, and Gary began to sing in a voice like Johnny Cash's, although not as good, unless you were in love with Gary, and he sang Amazing Grace:
"Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come:
'Tis grace hath bro't me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home."
That way she sat beside him naked at two in the morning, on a hot spring night, with the heat pushing in from the desert instead of the cold settling down from the mountains.
That night, very late at night, back in bed, they really made it. Just as the sex was going good, he talked of putting his rough hands on her soft warm bootie and of breathing into her soul, and she came with him then, really came for the first time.
In the morning, she sat down and wrote a letter to say how much she loved him and that she didn't want to stop. It was just a short letter and she left it out there by his vitamins. He didn't replay when he read it, but a night or two later, they were walking by the same church off Center Street and saw a falling star. They both made a wish. He asked what hers could be, but she wasn't going to tell him. Then she confessed having wished that her love for him be constant and forever. He told her that he hoped no unnecessary tragedies would ever befall them.
She wanted to hear about his life. Only he didn't want to talk about it. Preferred to listen to her. It took a while for Nicole to realize that having spent his adolescence in jail and just about every year since, he was more interested to learn what went on in her little mind. He just hadn't grown up with sweet things like herself.
In fact, if he did tell a story, it was usually about when he was a kid. Then she would enjoy the way he talked. It was like his drawing. Very definite. He gave it in a few words. A happened, then B and C. Conclusion had to be D.
A. His seventh-grade class voted on whether they should send valentines to one another. He thought they were too old. He was the only one to vote against it. When he lost, he bought valentines to mail to everybody. Nobody sent him one. After a couple of days, he got tired of going to the mailbox.
B. One night, he was passing a store that had guns in the window. Found a brick and broke the window. Cut his hand, but stole the gun he wanted. It was a Winchester semiautomatic that cost $125 back in 1953. Later he got a box of shells and went plinking. "I had these two friends," Gary told her, "Charley and Jim. They really loved that .22. And I got tired of hiding it from my old man--when I can't have something the way I want it, then I don't really want it. So I said, 'I'm throwing the gun in the creek; if you guys have the guts to dive for it, it's yours.' They thought I was bullshitting until they heard the splash. Then Jim jumped and hurt his knee on a big old sharp rock. Never got the gun. The creek was too deep. I laughed my ass off."
C. On his 13th birthday, his mother let him pick between having a party or getting a $20 bill. He chose the party and invited just Charley and Jim. They took the money their folks gave them for Gary and spent it on themselves. Then they told him.
D. He had a fight with Jim. Got angry and beat him half to death. Jim's father, a rough-and-tumble fucker, pulled Gary off. Told him, "Don't come around here again." Soon after, Gary got in trouble for something else and was sent to reform school.
When his stories got too boiled down, when it got like listening to some old cowboy cutting a piece of dried meat into small chunks and chewing on them, why, then he would take a swallow of beer and speak of his Celestial Guitar. He could play music on it while he slept, "Just a big old guitar," he would tell Nicole, "but it has a ship's wheel with hand spokes, and in my dreams, music comes out as I turn the wheel. I can play any tune in the world."
Then Gary told her about his Guardian Angel. Once when he was three, and his brother was four, his father and mother stopped to have dinner in a restaurant in Santa Barbara. Then his father said he had to get some change. He'd be right back. He didn't come back for three months. His mother was alone with no money and two little boys. So she started hitchhiking to Provo.
They got stuck on the Humboldt Sink in Nevada. Could have died in the desert. They had no money and had not eaten for the second day in a row. Then a man came walking down the road with a brown sack in his hand, and he said, Well, my wife has fixed a lunch for me, but it's more than I can eat. Would you like some? His mother said, Well, yes, we'd be very grateful. The man gave her the sack and walked on. They stopped and sat down by the side of the road, and there were three sandwiches in the bag, three oranges and three cookies. Bessie turned to thank him, but the man had disappeared. This was on a long flat stretch of Nevada highway.
Gary said that was his Guardian Angel. Came around when you needed him. One winter night of his childhood, standing in a parking lot, snow was all over the ground and Gary's hands hurt from cold. It was then he found new fur-lined mittens on top of the snow. They fit his hands exactly.
Yes, he had a Guardian Angel. Only it left a long time ago. But on the night Nicole walked into Sterling Baker's place, he found his angel again. He liked to tell Nicole this when her legs were up on the dashboard of the car and her panties were off, and they were driving down State Street.
It didn't bother her if somebody looked over. A big truck, for instance, pulled alongside at the light, and the guy up in his cab looked down into their car, but Gary and Nicole both laughed, because they didn't give a fat fuck. Gary lit a stick of pot and said it was going to be the best lid ever. As they took a toke, he said, "God created it all, you know."
One night they went to the drive-in early and discovered they were the first ones there. Just for the fun of it, Gary began to ride over the bumps between each row. Damn if this fellow from the management didn't come chasing out with a truck and tell them in a rude voice to quit riding around like that. Gary stopped, got out, walked over to the guy and told him off so bad, the fellow whined, "Well, you don't need to get that mad."
But Gary was. After dark, he took his pliers and clipped off a couple of speakers. Made a point of picking up a couple more next time they went to the drive-in. Those speakers were good things to have around. You could hook one up in every room, and they would give you music throughout your house. They never got around, however, to installing them. Just left them in the trunk of her car.
Sometimes they went wandering in the grass between the nut house and the mountains. The idea of being up on the big hill behind the loony bin gave Nicole a charge. A funny chill would swoop in like a wind, and the mountains above looked cold as ice.
Once she was running around the place and he called to her. Something in his voice made her tear all the way down and she couldn't stop and banged into him, hitting her knee so hard it really hurt. Gary picked her up then. She had her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms over his neck. With her eyes closed, she had the odd feeling of an evil presence near her that came from Gary. She found it kind of half agreeable. Said to herself, Well, if he is the Devil, maybe I want to get nearer.
It wasn't a terrifying sensation so much as a strong and strange feeling, like Gary was a magnet and had brought down a lot of spirits on himself. Of course, those psychos behind all those screened windows could call up anything out of the night ground in back of the nut house.
In the dark, she asked, "Are you the Devil?"
At that point, Gary set her down and didn't say anything. It really got cold around them. He told Nicole he had a friend named Ward White who once asked him the same question.
Years ago, when Gary was in reform school, he walked into a room unexpectedly and Ward White was being butt-fucked by another kid. Gary never said a thing about it. He and Ward White were separated for years and then ran into each other again in jail. They still never spoke of it. One day, though, Gary came into the prison hobby shop and Ward told him he had just received some silver from a mail house and asked Gary to turn it into a ring. Out of a book of Egyptian designs, Gary copied something called the Eye of Horus. When it was done, Gary said it was a magical ring and he wanted it for himself. Never mentioned the old memory. He didn't have to. Ward White just gave him the Eye of Horus. Nicole always thought of that ring as being taken from the kid who got butt-fucked, and wasn't sure she wanted to wear it. Might bring down more spooks.
On the second weekend in June, Gary and Nicole made plans to go up to the canyons. But Nicole couldn't get a baby sitter. Laurel had to go to visit relatives.
So, Saturday morning, Gary went over instead to Vern's shop to do some lettering on a sign, and saw Annette, Toni's daughter, walk in. She was staying with Vern and Ida for the weekend while Toni and Howard were off to Elko, Nevada, with Brenda and Johnny to enjoy the slot machines and the crap games. Right there, putting eyes on Annette, Gary asked her to baby-sit.
Ida was opposed to the idea. Her granddaughter might look 16, she said, but, in fact, she was 12. There was too much responsibility for Annette to look after two little kids by herself.
Gary wouldn't give up the idea. Later, when the job was done, and he was taking cans of paint from Vern's store out to his car, he told Annette he'd give her five dollars to baby-sit. She wanted to, she told him, but she couldn't. She did have a present for him, however. That first Sunday Gary was out of jail, he had given Annette an art lesson at Toni's house, and now Annette had painted a plaque and wanted him to have it. He was so pleased that he put his arm around her and gave Annette a peck on the cheek. Then they strolled down the street hand in hand. Gary was still trying to talk Annette into coaxing Ida a little more about the baby-sitting.
Peter Galovan, who rented a cottage back of Vern's house, was going into the shop as they were coming out, and he noticed Gary and Annette walking closely together, and stopping. He didn't like it. Gary had Annette leaning against a wall while he talked. He looked like he was trying to make a lot of points as fast as he could. Pete went into the store. "Ida." he said, "I think Gary is propositioning your granddaughter."
Three months before, while Annette had been staying with Ida, the child had been struck by a car right in front of their house. The car had hardly been moving and it was nothing serious. Still, Annette was with her grandparents and got hurt. Ida didn't want Toni to think something happened to Annette every time she visited. So she rushed to the window in time to see Gary and Annette strolling back hand in hand.
"I don't know if that was the right thing for you to do," she said. "You stay away from Annette."
Later, Vern said to Gary, "I don't want to see anything out of the way."
Next evening, Annette said to Toni, "Mama, we didn't do anything wrong. I gave Gary the plaque, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek."
"Well, why did you walk down the street with him?"
"Because a big red bug--the biggest beetle I ever saw--was flying by. We just went looking at it."
"And you held hands."
"I like him, Mama."
"Did he touch you anywhere? Did he give you anything more than an affectionate kiss?"
"No, Mama." Annette gave Toni a look like she was nuts to ask.
When Toni and her husband talked about it, Howard said, "Gary wouldn't try anything in front of the shoeshop right on the sidewalk. Honey, I don't believe there's anything to it. Let's just watch, and be kind of cautious."
Monday, Vern told Pete that Gary was saying he would punch him out real good. Pete should watch it. Vern said, "If Gary comes in, and wants a scrap, I don't want it in the store. You go back and fight it out." Pete, however, didn't believe in strife.
Back when Gary was taking up Vern's concrete curbing with the sledge hammer and the crowbar, Pete Galovan had been watching from his window and was impressed with the amount of labor Gary put out in two days. So Pete, at first opportunity, had invited him to a church dance.
Pete, as Brenda later told Gary, was more religious than anyone under God. It was like he had come out of the shell a litte wobbly. He had a tendency to take people around the neck and get them to pray with him. Since he was also an immense fellow, 6'3", heavy, a little blown out around the middle and a big dough-faced friendly expression that looked right at you through his eye-glasses, you could hardly say no easily. But when he invited Gary to the dance, he was told immediately to get lost.
Pete didn't want to fight him now. He had too many responsibilities. Pete was doing jobs for Vern to take care of his rent, and also working at three other places. He was employed by the Provo School District to maintain the swimming pool, he was a part-time bus driver and he cleaned carpets on the side. He was also trying to get back in the good graces of the Mormon Church. That all made calls on his time. Moreover, he was doing his best to help his ex-wife, Elizabeth, with the finances of raising seven kids from her first marriage.
Needless to say, he was tired, and that wasn't even mentioning the continuing toll of his various nervous breakdowns, which had required hospitalization in the past for lithium treatment. Just thinking about getting into fisticuff's with Gary stiffened up Pete's muscles and back.
On Monday, Pete was working in the shop during the late afternoon when Vern said, "Here he comes."
Gary looked just the way Pete had pictured him--all steamed up. The ugliest expression you could expect.
Gary said, "I don't like what you told Ida about me. I want an apology."
Pete answered, "I'm sorry if I upset you, but my ex-wife has girls that age, and I feel--"
"Did you see me do anything?" Gary interrupted.
"I didn't see you do anything," Pete said, "but the appearance left no doubt in my mind what you were thinking." If that sounded too strong, he added, "I apologize for what I said to Ida. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I apologize for talking too much. But your interest in the girl still didn't look right to me." Pete just couldn't step all the way down when he wanted to be honest.
"All right," Gary said. "I want to fight."
Vern was right there. "Out back," he said. There was a customer in the store.
Pete sure hadn't wanted to get into this. Walking to the rear alley a step or two ahead of Gary, he tried to get himself psyched up by remembering his old feats of strength. He had been a future track star until he shot himself by accident in the foot at the age of 15, so he switched to shot-put and still won the high school state title. He had done construction work and knew his way around weight lifters. Pete was starting to build up to an idea of physical power as large as his own body, when blam! he was slammed on the neck from behind. Almost went down. Just as he got himself turned around, Gary rushed, and Pete caught his face in a headlock. Immediately, he dropped to the floor. That position was a lot better than boxing. On the floor, he could bang Gary's head on the cement.
Of course, the grip put a great deal of pressure on Pete's ribs. His glasses broke in his breast pocket. Next day Pete would even have to go to the chiropractor for his neck and his chest. But right now, he had him. Pete could see Vern standing right over them and observing.
If Gary had waited to stand up and punch nose to nose, Vern thought, he could have whipped the fellow. But here Pete had the hold and was using all his 240 pounds. That hold was the luckiest thing in the world for Pete. Pete would thump Gary's head on the floor and say, "Had enough?"
Gary could hardly breathe. "Oh, ohhh, ahhr, ahh," Gary would answer. Mumbling was about all he could manage.
Vern waited a minute, because he wanted Gary to get all of what he was getting, then said, "OK, he's had enough, let him up." Pete undid his grip.
Gary was white in the face and bleeding a lot from the mouth. He had a look in his eye about as mean as anything Vern had seen.
Vern cussed him out. "You asked for it," he said. "That was a rotten thing to do. Hit somebody from behind."
"Think it was?"
"Call yourself a man?" Vern got him by the arm. "Get in the bathroom. Clean yourself up." When Gary just stood there, Vern pushed him directly in. He didn't go too easily, but Vern pushed him anyway.
Then Gary turned around and said, "That's the way I fight. First hit counts."
"First hit," said Vern. "But not from the back. You're no man. Get yourself clean and go back to work."
Pete started collecting himself. Felt shook up more than ever now. So soon as Gary came out of the bathroom, however, he was still asking for an apology. Looked ready to fight again. In fact, Gary's face looked ready to do anything. So Pete picked up the telephone and said, "If you don't leave right now, I'll call the police."
There was a long pause. Gary left.
Pete made the call anyway. He didn't like the feeling left behind. A cop came over to the store and told Pete to come to the station and file a report.
Vern and Ida weren't altogether opposed to this. They told Pete that Gary was getting more out of line every day. Pete even got the name of Gary's parole officer, Mont Count, and gave him a call as well, but Mont Court said Gary came from another state, and he wasn't sure he could send him back to jail that routinely. Pete had a feeling the buck was being passed. Gary wouldn't be arrested unless he really worked at it.
That night, Pete went to visit his ex-wife. "The next time it happens," he said to her, "Gary is going to kill me." Elizabeth was tiny and blonde and voluptuous and had a fiery disposition and was very wise as far as Pete was concerned, for she had kept her happy spirits through a hundred personal disasters. Now she told him to ignore it.
Pete said no. "It's a certainty," he said. "He's going to kill me. Me or somebody else." He told her he was sensitive to Gary's agitation right now. It was part of the equipment God had given Pete to be that sensitive. But he also knew that when he got too responsive to things, he got a breakdown. He tried not to have them anymore. So he told Elizabeth, "I want Gary where he won't harm anybody. Jail is where he belongs, and I'm going to press charges."
Next day at work, Gary's mouth was swollen and his face discolored.
"What happened?" Spence asked.
"I was drinking beer," Gary said, "and a guy said something I didn't like. So I took a swing at him."
"Looks like the guy got the best of it," Spence said.
"Oh, no. You ought to see him."
"Gary, you're on parole," lectured Spencer McGrath. "If you're in a bar and have a fight, they'll throw your tail in jail. When you can't handle a drink, leave it alone."
Later that morning, Gary came over. "Spence, I thought about it," he said quietly, "and I believe you were telling me for my own good. I'm going to quit drinking."
Spencer agreed. He tried to reinforce the lecture. Suppose that he, Spencer McGrath, went into a bar, had a few drinks, got into a fight, and the police came and threw him in jail. He would be in a fix, right? But that would never be nearly as much trouble as if Gilmore got thrown in. That would be a direct violation of parole.
Gary asked, "Spence, have you ever been in jail?"
"Well, no," said Spence.
Gary was expecting Nicole for lunch, but when she did not show up, he sat down next to Craig Taylor, the foreman. They were now friendly enough to eat together from time to time. It worked out well, because Gary liked to converse and Craig never said a word more than he had to, just flexed his big arms and shoulders.
Today, Gary began to speak of prison. Now and again, he would go on about that. This may have been one of those days. Gary got around to mentioning that he knew Charles Manson.
Name-dropping, Craig decided, blinking his eyes behind his glasses. They were sipping beer, and Gary was a lot braver, Craig observed, when he had a few beers. "In prison, I killed a guy," said Gary. "He was black and big and I stabbed him fifty-seven times. Then I propped him up on his bunk, crossed his legs, put his baseball cap on his head and stuck a cigarette in his mouth."
Craig noticed Gary was taking pills. A white downer. Called it Fiorinal. He offered one to Craig, who refused it. Those pills didn't seem to make much difference in Gilmore's personality. He was sure keyed up.
Nicole came in just as they were done eating. As soon as she and Gary started talking, Craig could see they looked upset. They were squeezing each other's hands and gave each other a big kiss and said goodbye. The kiss was Gary's way of showing he had a beautiful chick and everybody better know it, but the squeezing of hands looked different. Afterward, Gary acted odd all afternoon.
The message Nicole had brought at lunchtime was that Mont Court had gone out to their house in Spanish Fork to tell her that Pete was pressing charges of assault and Gary was in a serious situation if they weren't dropped.
Gary said, "Don't worry," and they gripped each other's hands.
The moment she said goodbye to Gary, however, Nicole did begin to worry. It was as if a doctor had come to the house and said they were going to amputate her legs. She knew Gary's mind. Don't worry. Don't worry, 'cause I'm close to killing Pete. She decided she better talk to Galovan herself.
Pete's cottage was grubby. She tried to tell him that Gary had his problems and was trying to straighten out. She said the last thing that would do anybody any good was to return Gary to prison. All the while, Pete was dressed in an old sweaty T-shirt and dirty pants. He kept telling her a lot of stupid things. Said Gary hit him pretty good.
She tried to keep calm and sensible. She wanted to explain about Gary and not get upset. Pete, she said, the guy has been locked up a long time. It takes a while to get used to being out.
Pete Galovan kept interrupting. He didn't want to hear. Just a big plain old oaf. "The guy is dangerous," Pete said, "he needs help." Then he added, "I've been working hard long hours, and I shouldn't have to take this kind of thing. He treated me badly. I'm now in pain."
She kept working on his sympathy. Pete would understand what she was saying, she said to him. He could see that she loved Gary, and love was the only way to really help a person.
"Love," agreed Pete, "is the only way to bring the spiritual power of God to a situation."
"Yes," said Nicole.
"But this is a tough situation. Your man is far gone. He's a killer, I believe. He wants to kill me."
At that moment, Galovan was looking so bad to her that she said, "If you press charges, he'll be out on bail. He'll get you then." She didn't take her eyes away. "Pete, even if they lock him up right away, he's still more important to me than my life. He's a hell of a lot more important to me than your life. If he don't get you, I will."
She had never said anything she meant more. She could feel the shock come over Pete, as if he was bleeding inside over every part of him, past and present.
Now he sat on the bed of his little cottage room feeling dirty and stale from sleep and exhausted from the way he needed his sleep. Before him was the face of this girl Nicole who was saying she was ready to kill him if he pressed charges. Pete felt so miserable, he could cry. This girl, whom he judged to have a good heart inside and a hectic rough life on the outside, this girl who was humble and wasn't frivolous, disliked him so much.
He was also scared. He didn't have time to mess with the problem. Yet it didn't scare him at first as much as it hurt him. He felt pricked inside. Nicole loved Gary enough to be willing to commit murder for him. It hurt Pete that no woman had ever loved him that much.
He thought about it, breathing in all the sorrows of these thoughts, and felt sorry for Nicole and touched by her. "Well, relax," he said, "calm down. Maybe the guy deserves another chance." Pete said, "I'll drop the charges."
He got on his knees. "Given your permission," he told her, "I'd like to say a prayer with you."
Nicole said OK.
"It's for you and Gary. You're both going to need it."
He prayed that the Lord have mercy on Nicole and Gary, and bless them, and that Gary get some control of himself. Pete didn't remember all the things he said in the prayer, or even if he held her hand while he prayed. One was not supposed to remember what was said in prayers. It was sacred at the moment, and not really to be repeated.
When Nicole went out the door, there was a calm spirit in the room, and Pete felt happy enough to go over to visit Elizabeth. By the time he got there, however, he was upset all over again. There was horror to feel all over the city of Provo. He sat on the couch, and told what happened with Nicole, and he began to cry. Pete said, "He's a very dangerous man and he's going to kill me." The more upset Pete got, the less Elizabeth would show. She told him to cool it.
Pete told her he was going out and get an insurance policy and put her in as the beneficiary. That made Elizabeth feel terrible. Pete said, "If I can't give you money one way, I'll fix it this way." Then he asked her to marry him. One more time, she said, No.
"I'm dropping the charges," Pete repeated. "I'm not going to press charges." Pause. "Even though I feel I should press them."
Next day Pete went out and got the insurance policy and went over to the Provo Temple and put Gary's name on the list, so people would pray for him.
Early Sunday morning, lying in bed, Gary asked Nicole to shave her pubic hair. He had been talking about that for the last couple of weeks. Now she said yes. As she climbed into the tub, she was thinking, It really means something to him.
He helped. They were using a big pair of scissors, and being careful, and smiling a lot. Nicole felt bashful, but also thought it was the thing to do. She was not so much afraid of cutting the hair off as of what it might look like afterward.
He carried her from the bathtub to the bed and for the second time she had an orgasm with Gary. She knew it had something to do with being a six-year-old pussy once more.
That shaved little old tooty certainly made a hellion out of Gary this Sunday morning. Ever since the thing with Pete, he had been adoring her twice as much. It was like he was truly mad about her now.
Sunday night, Laurel came over with her cousins and a friend named Rosebeth. Once Gary and Nicole came back from their drive, Laurel's duties as a baby sitter were over, and she went home. But Rosebeth stayed on. She would sigh just looking at Gary. Nicole laughed. Rosebeth was so young and so cute, and had such a crush on Gary. Next night, she came over all by herself, and before Nicole knew it, she invited Rosebeth to give Gary a kiss. Then they all laughed and Nicole gave Gary a kiss. It got to the point where they had their clothes off, and lay around in bed.
You couldn't call it an orgy, exactly. Rosebeth remained a virgin. She was ready, however, for anything else. It got sweet. Nicole really liked the idea of giving this gift to Gary.
Over the weekend, they did it more and more. Once, Rosebeth came over in the daytime, and Gary closed the doors and windows. Since the neighbor kids were used to hanging around, you could feel them getting restless outside. God knows what the neighbors heard. It wasn't all that quiet. Nicole began to feel a little paranoid. If it ever came out that Gary was fooling with minors, he could blow his total case. Then it occurred to Nicole that she wasn't in such a good spot, either. They might take her children away.
She began to think of Annette. Nicole didn't have any doubt that Gary might have been having a few thoughts when he gave Annette that peck on the cheek. He did love young girls. But Nicole was also sure he would never have done anything, physically speaking. So from Nicole's point of view, Pete was still out of line. Anyway, Nicole didn't feel ready to stop things with Rosebeth.
In fact, she loved the way everything was new to the girl. Sex had never been new to Nicole. How beautiful if she'd been introduced to the subject like Rosebeth. It was exciting to watch Gary make her blossom. Of course, Gary also could get very demanding with the girl and order her to suck him good, stuff like that. It just turned him on the way the girl had this tremendous crush.
Then Nicole had to face another problem. While Gary was at work, Rosebeth still came over, and Nicole still wanted to get it on with her. She wondered if she was moving into that side of sex a little deeper.
A couple of days later, Gary stopped off to pay Val Conlin for the Mustang. He had already missed the first installment and Val was upset. Of course, it was no big incident. Half the people to whom Conlin sold cars were sooner or later delinquent in payments. It was just part of the ongoing hell of a success story that was Val's life.
In the last 15 years, Conlin had gone from being general manager of Orem Buick-Chevrolet to owning the Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Then he got into a big dispute with the Ford Motor Company and another with his partner, and before the litigation was over, he had gone from being the largest new-car dealer in Utah County to being the smallest used-car dealer. One hell of a success story. V. J. Motors sold very old cars more often than not-so-old cars, just sold them off the lot for a little down. The rest when you could get it. People on welfare or picking up a little alimony, ex-cons, stalwart characters who couldn't get credit anyplace else. Those were his clients.
Val was a tall, slim guy with eye-glasses and a keen and friendly face. He had the build of a golfer--relaxed shoulders and a bit of paunch. He was dressed this day in polyester red-checked pants and a pale-yellow sport shirt. Gary was grubby with insulation whose powder coated his face, his nostrils and his clothing. Kind of a pale yellow to match Val's shirt.
Conlin now gave Gary a lecture about missing the payment. Since V. J. Motors occupied what was once a hole-in-the-wall drive-in restaurant, its showroom wasn't large enough to show cars. It just had a couple of desks, a dozen chairs and anybody who was there. You could hear everything Val Conlin had to say.
"Gary," he now stated, "I don't want to go out and start knocking on doors. I told you how it works. We try to set a rate people can handle. We agreed you could bring in fifty bucks every two weeks. So don't give me any manure that you're going to pay a hundred next week, or two hundred next month. You got to start bringing the money in on time."
"I don't like this car," Gary said.
"Well, it's not a real slick car," said Val.
"It gets left at the intersection by every other heap. It's a bad car."
"Pardner," said Val, "let's get it straight. When you buy a car here, I'm doing you the favor. You can't buy from anybody but me."
"What I really want is a truck."
"Get the payments in on time. Once you pay this off, we can swap for a truck. But I want my fifty, Gary, every two weeks. Otherwise, you walk."
Gary cashed his pay check and gave him $50.
That night, Nicole and Gary had a bad one in bed. It went on too long and once again he was three quarters erect, half erect, it finally went all bad. Gary got up, got dressed, stomped out of the house, went to sleep in the car. It made Nicole mad as hell he had walked out, and it didn't help that he woke the kids up en route.
She told herself that if she was going to mellow him out, she'd have to calm herself. There had been other times, after all, when he blew out of the house and sat in the car. Usually when the kids' noise was drilling him. She knew from what he told her that the level of noise in prison was always high, and his ears were oversensitive. Somehow, with all the years he had put in, he could never get used to the sound.
Now she managed to get the kids together, gave them warm milk, tucked them in and went out to his Mustang. He was sitting behind the wheel silent as stone. She did not talk for ten minutes. Then she slipped a hand over.
On the next weekend, Gary ran into Vern. They stared at each other. Good Lord, Vern said to himself, he is giving me one dirty look. "Don't think I'm much of a man, do you?" Gary asked.
"Maybe I don't," Vern said and turned and left. Afterward, he felt bad.
Same day, while Toni was visiting Brenda, Gary dropped by Toni certainly didn't know what to say. She wasn't about to accuse Gary--the poor guy had been accused of enough things in his life. On the other hand, she didn't think it was right to let it all ease by unspoken. Annette was a beautiful young lady and Gary could have had intentions.
She went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, and Gary chose to come out of the bathroom then. They were obliged to look right at each other.
Gary said, "Toni, you haven't mentioned this thing with Annette."
She answered, "Gary, if there's something to say, I'll say it."
He took hold of her hand and said, "Hon, I'd never hurt you or your family." There was a silence. Toni believed him. That is, she believed she could accept what he said. Still, she also felt she wasn't going to let Annette be alone with him. There was always the other possibility.
"Gary, I go along with you," she answered at last, "but, just remember, I'm a mother first."
He smiled and said, "If you weren't, I'd be disappointed in you." He gave her a kiss on the cheek and walked back to the front room.
Brenda tried to amuse Gary by telling a story about Val Conlin. In the old days, when Val had the Lincoln-Mercury dealership, he always acted like a big shot at the Riverside Country Club. Had been the type to snap his fingers at the waitresses. Brenda was working his table once and thought Val kind of brusque, so she said, "How'd you like me to drop this soup on your head?"
"How'd you like me," Val answered, "to get you fired for that last remark?"
"I'd tell my boss you were lying," she said.
Gary laughed. He hugged her and lifted her up in the air with no trouble, considering that she was 155 pounds at that point. He was awfully strong. How had he ever lost the fight to Pete?
Gary must have been sitting in her brain. "Brenda," he said, "it's not through yet. In prison, you don't leave things like that undone."
The following Saturday, Gary and Nicole still planned to take a trip into the canyons, but now both Mustangs were giving them trouble. It made Nicole wonder about their luck. All last week, Gary's car had been dead every morning. Having to get it pushed made him late for work. On this Saturday, he even decided to visit Spencer McGrath, who might know what was wrong.
Spencer said right off he probably needed a battery. "There's nothing wrong with the old one," Gary told him.
Spencer said, "How do you know?"
Gary said, "Well, it looks all right."
Spencer laughed, "You can't tell by looking."
Spence went over to the shop, got a meter, checked it out. The reading was awfully low. "The battery," he said, "has a dead cell in it."
Gary said in a hollow voice, "Well, what am I going to do?"
Spence said, "Buy yourself a new one. They go for twenty to thirty, along in there."
Gary said, "Gee, I don't have it."
"You got paid just yesterday," Spence said.
"I know," said Gary, "but I made the car installment, and there's not much left."
Spence said, "How will you last till Friday?"
Gary said, "I probably can make it. Just don't have enough to buy a new battery." Spencer loaned him $30.
Gary was back in half an hour. At K Mart, a honey had been found for $29.95. With tax, it was $32. Spence said, "I guess you had to take a couple of dollars out of your pocket?"
"Well, yes," Gary said.
Spence said, "Gary, how are you going to get through this week?"
Gary didn't know. Spence gave him another five for gas and said, "Pay the car off. We'll work it out."
The $32 for the battery was the beginning of a real run of rotten luck. Monday night, thinking he would surprise her, Gary went to pick up Nicole at driver's training school and found his lady sauntering down the hall with four guys in tow. As soon as she saw Gary, she rushed right up, gave a big smile and tried to let everyone know that she was his. But she could feel how the bolt went through. On the way home, he said, "I won't tie you down." She knew he was thinking of all the dudes who had been in her life.
He told Sterling about it. "She's free. I don't want to lean on her freedom," he said. He crossed over to the cemetery that faced all the houses on Sterling's street, and Sterling went with him. There was one grave that had no flowers. A little boy's grave. Gary went around and took a flower from each of a number of other graves and put them in a rusty little vase by the boy's headstone. Then they turned on to some good pot. Right away, Gary had to get out of the cemetery. Told Sterling he was seeing himself in a tomb.
One night soon after, Rikki was at Sterling's and Gary started needling him to arm wrestle. Bragged to Nicole of how he had beat her brother. They got into it.
Nicole didn't know if Gary was worn out from the night before, but Rikki took him this time. That is, was about to win, but Gary cheated something obvious, and even lifted his elbow off the table.
Now Gary wanted to try with the other arm. Rikki really got him. That left Gary giving dirty looks. On the way home from Sterling's, he dropped by a little store that was open all hours and stalked out with two six-packs.
It was risky to steal from that small a place, but he had technique. Picked up two six-packs, not one. No hesitation in his walk. At the same time, he managed to make his face look unpleasant. Not for too little would you break into such thoughts to ask if he had paid for the beer.
In the beginning, it had been fun. By now it was getting on her nerves. Whenever something bothered him, he got brave. Nicole had always been ready to boost if she needed something, and once they got together, she might even have been the first to do it, but Gary showed her how to really walk out with something. It had been a joke for a while. By now she had to notice that if anything went wrong, he'd steal to cheer them up.
Then he'd drink it afterward. Always getting loaded on beer. She came to realize that there had only been a couple of nights he wasn't drinking. She tried to keep up, but didn't like it that much. He wouldn't even let her leave beer. Didn't like to waste it. If she popped a can, he kept after her to finish.
Nicole was kind of irked that Gary was not only ripping stuff off but letting everybody know. He was even bragging to his uncle. Things weren't right yet, but Gary had to drop by anyway and offer a case. When Vern noticed that the trunk of the Mustang held two more of the same, he asked Gary how he could afford it.
"I don't need money," Gary said.
"Do you realize," said Vern, "that you're breaking your parole?"
"You wouldn't turn me in, would you?"
"I might," said Vern. "If it persists, I might turn you in."
One day he came home with water skis and that bothered Nicole. It just wasn't worth the risk. He was stealing something he probably couldn't sell for more than $25, yet the price tag was over $100. That meant they could get you for felony. Nicole hated such dumb habits. He would take a chance on all they had for 25 bucks. It came over her that this was the first time she ever disliked him.
As if he sensed it, he then told her the worst story she ever heard. It was supergross. Years ago, while still a kid, he pulled off a robbery with a guy who was a true sadist. The manager of the supermarket was there alone after closing and wouldn't give the combination to the sale. So his friend took the guy upstairs, heated a curling iron, rammed it.
She couldn't help herself. She laughed. The story got way in. She had a picture of that fat supermarket manager trying to hold on to the money and the poker going up his ass. Her laughter reached to the place where she hated people who had a lot of things and acted hot shit about it.
For the first time, she had a day when she thought she shouldn't be living with Gary so much. A part of her simply didn't like staying that close to a man for so long a stretch; but as soon as she realized how she felt, Nicole knew she couldn't tell him. He expected their souls to breathe together. More and more, however, an old ugly feeling was coming back. It was the way she got when she had to fit herself to somebody. You could put that off only so long. She still felt better with Gary than with anyone else, but that wasn't going to change the fact that when she got into a bad mood, it was like she has two souls, and one of them loved Gary a lot less than the other. Of course, maybe a part of him was the same way. He couldn't be loving her that much when they got into one of those five-hour deals.
It happened the night he brought home the water skis. Next morning, she wondered if it had to do with her ex-husband Barrett. Jim had popped up the other day while Gary was out at the store. Walked through the door cool as you please after being away for months. Maybe it was just conditioned reflex, but she felt a little stirring down there.
After Barrett left, she felt bad at the way she had only kind of told Gary the truth. She had no respect for Barrett, that was right. But she hadn't let Gary know he could be an eel when it came to wiggling all the way in. So when Gary met Jim this first time, he hadn't acted too heavy. Of course, Barrett just came on like he was the father of Sunny and happy to be tolerated. Still, Nicole felt like she was keeping a rotten secret. Because Barrett could pass a cigarette and make something out of it. Tickle your memory like he was tickling your palm. Hint that you had a gift to offer.
Now, those last couple of nights, she had been tripping a little on good things in the past with Jim to get herself more in the mood for Gary. Barrett's timing has sure been good, just as Gary's--she had to admit--was getting a little crude. Since Rosebeth, Gary had to make love six or seven times a week. Maybe they'd skip a night, but make up for it with two another. It was his idea, not hers. She enjoyed it more a day or two apart, but he kept pressing his damn luck.
This night, from seven to midnight, Nicole and Gary argued first about the water skis, then everything else. Finally she convinced Gary she wasn't going to fuck him. He had gone too far on uppers, downers and around-ers. If she had a gift, Gary was not exactly bringing it out. Not with his demands to do this, do that. Suck him now. She looked at Gary across their bodies and said, "I hate sucking cock."
The Fiorinal had put a glaze on his eyes, but her words still hit. He took off. Left at midnight and didn't come back until two a.m. He was hardly through the door when he wanted to get going again.
Why? she asked. Like a dunce. Do it because I want you to, he said. It was as bad as the first night. They didn't get to sleep till five.
Gary had his eye on a truck. The one on the lot that was painted white.
"Buddy," said Val, "pay off the Mustang and I'll get you something better."
"I got to have that truck."
"No can do without mucho mazuma," said Val. The truck was up for sale at $1700, "Listen, pardner, unless you come back with a cosigner, it's too good a truck for you."
Gary thought he could. Maybe his uncle Vern.
"I know Vern," said Val, "and I don't think he's in shape for this kind of credit. But, if you want, have him fill out the application. We can always see what we can do."
"OK," said Gary, "OK." He hesitated. "Val," he said, "that Mustang is no good. I had to put a new battery in, and an alternator. It came to fifty dollars."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Well, if I buy the truck, I think you could allow for what I had to lay out on the Mustang."
"Gary, you buy the truck, and we'll knock that fifty dollars off. No problem. Just get a cosigner."
"Val, I don't need a cosigner. I can make the payments."
"No cosigner, no truck. Let's keep it simple, pardner."
"The goddamn Mustang isn't any good."
"Gary, I'm doing you the favor. If you don't want the Mustang, leave the son of a bitch right out there."
"I want the truck."
"The only way you get the truck is by putting a lot of money on the front end of the loan. Or come in with a cosigner. Here, take this credit application to Vern."
Gary sat across the desk, looking out the window at the white truck on the end of the line. It was as white as the snow you could still see on the peak of the mountains.
"Gary, fill out the application and bring it back."
Val knew it. Gary was madder than hell. He didn't say a word, just took the application, got up, walked out the door, wadded it up and threw it on the ground.
Harper, Val's salesman, said, "Boy, he's hot."
"I don't give a shit," said Val. Around him, people got hot. That was run of the mill. Just his hell of a success story boiling away.
In the middle of making love that night, Gary called Nicole pardner. She took it wrong. Thought he was jiving at her for getting it on with Rosebeth. But as he tried to explain later, he often called men and women alike by buddy or pal, pardner, things like that.
Now he had to pick this moment to look up with all the light of love shining in his eyes. "Baby," he said, "I really love you all the way and forever."
She looked back. "Yeah," she said, "and so do seven other motherfuckers."
Gary hit her. It was the first time, and he hit her hard. She didn't feel the pain so much as the shock and then the disappointment. It always ended the same way. They hit you when they felt like it.
Soon enough, he apologized. He kept apologizing. But it did no good. She had been hit so fucking many times. She looked at Gary and said, "I want to die." It was how she felt. He kept trying to make up. Finally, she told him that she had felt like dying before but never did anything about it. Tonight, she wouldn't mind.
Gary got a knife and held the point to her stomach. He asked her if she wanted to die.
It was frightening that she wasn't more afraid. After a few minutes, she finally said, "No, I don't," but she had been tempted. After he put the knife away, she even felt trapped. She couldn't believe the size of the bad feeling that came down on her then.
Next night, they had one more marathon. Up all night about whether to fuck. In the middle, around midnight, he took off. Not too long later, he came in with a bunch of boxes. There was a pistol in every box.
She got over it a little. She had to. The guns hung around.
In the evening, driving around with Nicole and Sunny and Jeremy, he stopped at V. J. Motors to talk to Val Conlin about the truck. Even got to take it out for an hour. Gary was that happy up high behind the wheel with something like a real motor in front of them. All the while, she could feel him thinking of the guns. They were shining like $$$ in his eyes.
When he got back, he talked to Val about the size of a down payment. Nicole was hardly listening. It was boring to sit in the showroom with all the freaks and dead beats who were waiting to get some piece of a car. One girl was wearing a turban and had a big swipe of eye shadow under each eye, and her blouse just about pulling out of her belt. She said to Nicole, "You have very beautiful eyes."
"Thank you," said Nicole.
Gary kept repeating himself like a record with a scratch. "I don't want that Mustang," he said to Val.
"Then let's get closer to the truck, buddy. We're not near it. Come in with a cosigner or with money."
Gary stalked away. Nicole hardly had time to gather the kids and follow. Outside the showroom, Gary was swearing like Val had never heard him swear before. Through the window, Val could see the Mustang, and it wouldn't start. Gary sat there pounding the wheel as hard as he could.
"Jesus," said Harper, "this time, he is really hot."
"I don't give a shit," said Val, and walked through the people sitting around with their debts on different cars. Yeah, I'm right on top of the mountain, thought Val, and went outside and said to Gary, "What's the matter?"
"This son of a bitch," said Gary, "this goddamn car."
"Well, now, hold it. Let's get some jumper cables, we'll get it started," and, of course, Val did, just needed the boost, and Gary took off in a spray of gravel like he had a switch to his hind end.
By the following night, Gary had a guy who would sell the guns. But they had to meet him. That meant carrying the guns in the car. Gary didn't have a license and Nicole's Mustang still had last year's plates. Both cars had the crappy kind of look a state trooper would pull over for nothing. So they had quite an argument before they finally put the pistols in her trunk and started out. They brought the kids along. The kids might be insurance against a state trooper waving them over for too little.
On the other hand, Sunny and Jeremy made her awfully aware of his driving tonight. That definitely got Nicole nervous. He finally swung into the Long Horn Café, a taco joint between Orem and Pleasant Grove, to make a phone call. Only he couldn't get ahold of the guy who was to peddle the guns. Gary was getting more and more upset. It looked like the evening was going to get totally squandered. A sweet early summer night.
He came back out of the Long Horn and looked in the car for another phone number, then started tearing pages out of the book. By the time he finally found the number, his guy was out. Sunny and Jeremy were beginning to make a lot of noise. Next thing she knew, Gary spun out of the Long Horn and headed back toward Orem. He was going 80. She was petrified for the kids. Told him to pull over.
He slammed to the shoulder. A screeching halt. He turned around and started spanking the kids. They hadn't even been making a sound the last minute. Too scared of the speed.
She started hitting Gary right there, hit him with her fists as hard as she could, hollered for him to let her out of the car. He grabbed her hands to hold her down, and then the kids started screaming. Gary wouldn't let her out. Then this really dumb-looking guy walked by. She must have sounded as if Gary was killing her, but the fucker just stopped and said, "Anything wrong?" Then walked on.
Nicole wouldn't stop hollering. Gary finally wedged her into the space between the bucket seats and got his hand over her mouth. She was trying not to pass out. He had his other hand on her throat to hold her down. She couldn't breathe. He told her then that he would let her go if she promised to be quiet and go home. Nicole mumbled, OK. It was the best she could get out. The moment he let go, she started yelling. When his hand came back to her mouth, she bit real hard into the flesh near his thumb. Tasted the blood.
Somehow, she didn't know how, she got out of the car. She couldn't remember later if he let her go or if she just got away. Maybe he let her go. She ran across the street to the middle of the highway divider, a kid in each hand, and started walking. She would hitchhike.
Gary began to follow on foot. At first he let her try to bum a ride, but a car almost stopped for her, and so Gary tried to pull her back to the Mustang. She wouldn't budge. He got smart and tried to yank one of the kids away. She wouldn't let loose, hung on with all she had. Between them, it must have been stretching the kids. Finally, a pickup truck pulled over and a couple of guys came over with a chick.
The girl happened to be an old friend Nicole hadn't seen in a year. Pepper, her first girlfriend ever. Yet Nicole couldn't even think of the last name, she was that upset.
Gary said, "Get out of here, this is a family matter." Pepper looked at Gary, just as tall as she could be, and said, "We know Nicole and you ain't family." That was all of it. Gary let go and walked up the street toward her car. Nicole got the kids into Pepper's truck and they took off. The moment she remembered how once she had wanted everything to be good for Gary, she started crying. Nicole couldn't help it. She cried a lot.
With this issue, we celebrate a special publishing event--Norman Mailer's account of the life and death of Gary Gilmore. It's hard to think of another piece of writing that so thoroughly taps the iciness in the phrase cold-blooded--or conveys the frustration in the word misfit. We'll be publishing "The Executioner's Song" in three installments, and we think that after you've read them, you'll agree: Mailer has accomplished something rare--a portrait of depth and complexity rendered in a simple broad idiom perfectly befitting the characters and their time. We think it's a masterpiece. --The Editors
"'What's Provo famous for?' asked Gary. 'Darned if I know,' said Vern. 'Maybe it's the low crime rate.'"
"Gary was an atrocious eater. In prison, they didn't eat with napkins and place settings."
This is the first of three installments of "The Executioner's Song." Part two will appear in the November issue.