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• Chapter Two The Scenic Fourth of July rodeo and Dance Friday, July 4, 1969 Heat waves flickered across the road that became the wide, dusty main street of Scenic as the two-car convoy crossed the east–west railroad tracks driving north to Harley and Annie Ferrill’s Longhorn Bar at the northern end of what Scenic called its town. Sissy rode shotgun with Clayton Red Bird driving his old Chevy Impala, the backseat crammed with guitars, a bass, microphones, leads, and all the other paraphernalia that they needed to play the gig in the Longhorn after the rodeo. Except for the big amps and Melvin’s drum kit, which were in the back of Melvin’s new Ford pickup behind them, padded with old raggedy blankets and tarped over against the dirt and dust and the impossibility of rain that might come through the leaky pickup camper shell. Sissy’s cou­ sin Sonny rode shotgun for Melvin, but instead of a gun, he held a can of Bud between his knees while he popped another for Melvin. Clayton disapproved. Sissy watched his face souring up as he glanced at them in his rearview mirror. “You’d think a man like Sonny, just a few months out of seminary, wouldn’t be a drunk,” Clayton said. “I don’t think he should ever have been in the seminary in the first place,”Sissysaid.“Theyprobablykickedhimoutfordrinking.Whichever it is, he isn’t studying for the priesthood anymore, and isn’t a priest now.” “Can’t you do something with him?” Clayton asked. “I’m his cousin, not his keeper, Clayton. We’ve been around this pole before.” When Clayton stopped the car, Sissy jumped out to move the sawhorses that Harley had put out to reserve parking spaces for the band in front of the bar, and Melvin and Clayton backed up to the crumbling concrete steps of the Longhorn to unload the equipment. The bar and 6 Chapter Two the entire town, such as it was, were already doing a brisk business to judge by the number of vehicles parked on both sides of the street and lining the two hundred yards of road out to the rodeo grounds on the north side of the Longhorn. The little faded yellow café across the street had a crush of people waiting to get in, and would have been an impossible place to expect a meal if it hadn’t been that most people had brought a lunch, which they had spread out on the concrete picnic tables just north of the café. Tilted flat tin roofs over each table provided the only shade from the brassy sun hanging in mid-sky. Vehicles full of people kept coming in from all directions on the graveled roads, mostly old beat-up pickups and cars barely held to­gether with bubble gum and baling wire. The band members had seen sev­ eral­­ vehicles with these failed home fixes sitting alongside the road cross-­ country on their way up across the reservation to Scenic. Most of them had been burned. They say that the life of a stalled car on the rez is less than half an hour. Tothewest,thepurpleteethoftheBlackHillsbitthehorizon,pointing at the sky, pale blue with heat. To the south, from which direction the Red Birds had driven, the Badlands simmered, a maze of shattered and upthrust limestone weathered into fantastical shapes named things like The Devil’s Frying Pan, The Devil’s Kitchen, or The Gates of Hell. People spoke the names as if they were capitalized like that. Farther south on the other side of the Badlands, Yellow Bear Canyon split a giant crack in the prairie, a cool haven in the blistering heat with the Cheyenne River running through it in late spring, but now a narrow sluggish stream. Low, grassy hills rolled away to the east for miles, dotted in rare places with a tiny village or town where the only businesses were the bars and gas stations and the occasional café where you took your chances on whether or not you’d get a hamburger with everything or a hamburger with everything including ptomaine. North ran more hills all the way across the rest of the state and the next state of North Dakota to the Canadian border from where the blizzards came down in the winter with nothing to hinder them but a barbed-wire fence. No such luck on this day that was already approaching a hundred degrees...


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