This is Story #3, entitled Where’s Uncle Buckshot?, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.
This pile of bullshit isn’t very high, so I decided to contain it all in one post, rather than break it down into parts.
Harold and his wife, Lizzie, headed the gang of outlaws, and his sons Bill, Roy, and Tom were part of the gang. And so was Buckshot. Harold’s brother. Or Uncle Buckshot, as he was known to Bill, Roy, and Tom. They were hard working criminals, these six. And enterprising. They made a dishonest dollar wherever they could find one. The good ol’ American way.
They hit their heyday back in the early 1970s, when they were into all sorts of lucrative ways to generate filthy lucre. One of Roy’s favorite gigs was to steal airplanes and fly them down to Mexico. Then he’d load up on cocaine, and fly the drugs back across the border, low under the radar.
He and his brothers also took to illegal gold mining up in the Sierras. They used scuba gear in rivers such as the American and Russian, to find nuggets in the water. They could pick up thousands of dollars worth of the yellow stuff every summer, that way.
Bill was the oldest, and wildest. And so they called him Wild Bill. But he eventually met and married Blanca. She was a big, tough Mexican lady who knocked Wild Bill upside the head enough that it exorcised the wild clear out of him. He went straight and towed the line, with Blanca keeping a watchful eye to make sure he stayed that way. Especially when he hung out with his family.
Harold and Lizzie were the brains of the outfit, but not the back. They organized and instigated, and refereed any infighting to keep it fair, but they never actually committed any crimes. Other than conspiracy.
My sister married Roy about this time, and that’s how I became acquainted with these outlaws. I was just a young stripling, pushing into my teens. But I knew they were tough hombres by their hard faces and rough language. However they weren’t bad folks. That is to say, they weren’t mean. Or at least, they always treated ME nice.
But when they were drinking or doing dope, look out. Those were the times when Roy would get rough with my sister. He broke her nose and jaw a few times, while jacked up on coke and alcohol. And she left him more than once, while fleeing for her life.
And after five years of wedded chaos, she deserted him for good. But during those five years, she saw a lot of shit. And she heard of a lot more shit, when the gang would return home from one of their escapades. And one of those things she heard, concerned Uncle Buckshot.
One day, about 30 years after freeing herself from that family, my sister was visiting me, and casually mentioned Uncle Buckshot. I’d never heard of him before. I felt tickled with his name, and asked her how he had earned such an odd sobriquet. She didn’t know, and said she had never been told. And she said it was probably best that way.
But she did pass on a story to me, about Buckshot. Now this is a hearsay tale, because she wasn’t there when it happened. So it could be pure bullshit. And it is bullshit in one sense. I’ve had to fill in many details with my imagination, due to the sketchiness of this tale. So it might be most accurate to call this fiction, based on possible truth.
She was told the sketchy version one day, after sitting around with her outlaw in-laws, relaxing and just shooting the bull. It suddenly occurred to her that she hadn’t seen Uncle Buckshot in a long time. So she asked about him.
That was a conversation-killing question. And that’s where this modern Western begins.
Where’s Uncle Buckshot?
“Where’s Uncle Buckshot? I haven’t seen him around in awhile.”
Everyone stopped talking. Her husband Roy, and her in-laws fell silent. Not the kind of silence where everyone’s thinking, “Hey yeah, where IS Uncle Buckshot?” No, this was an awkward, floor-staring silence. It was a silence with the message that she should never ask that question again.
Later her mother-in-law, Lizzie, pulled her aside and told her the tale in quiet whispers.
Her in-laws were outlaws. Most had done time in prison. And Uncle Buckshot had been the worst of the recidivists. She’d only met him a few times, between stints in jail or some other correctional facility. And no one had ever told her how he came to be called “Buckshot”.
He was likable enough, but kind of squirrelly. And after meeting him those few times, she realized she did not want to know how he acquired his nickname. Some stories are best left untold.
But here was a different story. And it had been told. Her mother-in-law had spilled those beans into her ear in somber whispers. And it was a story best kept unrepeated. Which is why it was repeated to me, and why I’m repeating it to you. There are good lessons to be learned from unrepeatable stories.
Uncle Buckshot had just gotten out of prison from his most recent conviction. Was it burglary? Grand theft? Assault? Who can remember? His rap sheet was a medley of felonies and misdemeanors.
Fresh out of stir, he joined up with his brother Harold, and sister-in-law Lizzie, and his nephews, Bill, Roy, and Tom, for one of their infamous outlaw forays. A road trip. A vacation for highwaymen on the byway, where crimes of opportunity are spotted by experienced eyes, and freebooters sortie forth to liberate treasures from their careless owners.
Roy’s wife stayed behind to mind business at home, and keep on the right side of the law.
They caravanned across the West in a motorhome and several jeeps. They sought plunder wherever serendipity smiled at them, and lived off the fat of a land populated with unsuspecting victims.
One evening they rolled down a dirt road in western Colorado, seeking a place to park and camp for the night.
The next morning they lounged about like lazy lizards under the unfurled canopy of the motorhome. They were in one of those isolated, hidden spots where silence is palpable as cotton, during dead spots in conversations. There was no sign of civilization around for miles.
Except one sign.
Uncle Buckshot tore through the cotton. He pointed out this solitary sign of civilization. It paralleled their dirt road campsite. “Jist look at those lines,” he mused.
His brother Harold said, “I wonder why they’d have telephone lines way out here?”
“Not telephone lines,” corrected Buckshot, “POWER lines. I know power lines when I see ‘em. Look how thick they are. Way I figger, there must’ve been a town down this road at one time. Those power lines fed the town its electricity. You see that shit all over the West. Abandoned, dead power lines leading to nowhere. They never bother to take ‘em down.”
“Yup,” said Harold. Then another cotton-thick section of silence. Then a clinking and rattling of dishes as Lizzie got to work in the motor home, cleaning up breakfast.
“Know what I’m thinking?” Uncle Buckshot broke the reverie.
Dear Lord help us, thought Harold. When his brother got to thinking, trouble soon followed. Harold did not take the bait. He made no reply.
But Buckshot’s nephews hadn’t learned to be so wary. “Whatcha thinkin’, Uncle Buckshot?” asked Tom, the youngest nephew, with a tinge of eagerness.
“Copper! Those dead power lines are pure copper. We could cut about a mile of that line down, strip it, an’ sell it to a recycler. Must be thousands of dollars up there, jist waitin’ for someone like us to cash in.”
“Yeah someone will cash in alright,” said Harold. “How do you know those lines are really dead?”
Buckshot knew. He just knew. Ipsedixit. It was true, because he said it was true.
“Why, they don’t leave power lines jist sittin’ around, unmaintained, if they were usin’ ‘em. No, hell no. An’ they ain’t usin’ ‘em. There ain’t nuthin’ out here for miles. Jist old ghost towns. An’ look at those poles. Piss-poor condition, I’d say. They’re about to fall over, I’d say. No. Nope. No sir. Those lines have got to be dead.”
Wild Bill and Roy, Uncle Buckshot’s other two nephews, were in on it. Along with Tom, of course, who was always in on anything impulsive and ill-advised. Harold was out. He stomped up the metal motor home steps and retreated inside.
Within a few minutes they found the long-handled bolt cutters. The tool they used for breaking into sheds and stuff. These would do for snipping the lines. Then they rigged up a harness-like contraption out of ropes. They put the harness on Uncle Buckshot and sent him up the pole.
He got the climbing honors because, after all, this was his idea.
Squeezing the ends of the long handles was the last act of the outlaw Buckshot. A flash. A crack that sounded like buckshot itself. And a plummeting to the ground.
“Jesus Shit Christ! Now what’re we gonna do?” Harold muttered as the family gathered around the blackened body.
“Service truck should be coming along within the hour,” remarked Roy. “We gotta get outta here.”
The three nephews loaded their uncle into the back of a jeep, along with a few shovels. They took off down the service road. The motor home, driven by Lizzie, and the other jeep, with Harold behind the wheel, headed in a different direction. The next morning they all met up at a campground near Moab, Utah.
It’s been nearly five decades since Uncle Buckshot disappeared. In the interim, Harold and his wife passed away in rest homes. Tom was arrested in Montrose, Colorado, after a barfight, and hanged himself in his cell. Or did a deputy organize the hanging? Wild Bill went sober and straightened out his life, with his wife’s determined assistance. Roy was divorced.
And Uncle Buckshot’s bones remain decomposing in an unmarked grave near a jeep trail, somewhere in the lonely hills of Colorado.