Part One * The book opens with David Hayden talking about his father serving his second term in 1948 in Mercer Country, Montana. It talks about the type of country Montana is. * David’s father doesn’t fit the ideal of what he should be in his occupation, and his wife didn’t think so either. She wanted him to better himself and become a lawyer. The reason that his father is the sheriff of Montana is because when David’s grandfather finally decided to retire, he handed the job down to his son; David’s father.
David’s mother wanted to leave Montana for several reasons; she wanted David’s father to be fully himself and not do his job just because his father told him to, and for David; she feared for his soul, and his values and such. David and his family lived in the middle of town, which meant that David could be anywhere in a matter of minutes. David’s mother worked as a secretary in the Register of Deeds office which was in the courthouse. This meant that the family had a housekeeper who lived with them during the week.
Her name was Marie Little Solider and she was a Hunkpapa Sioux who originally came from the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She was in her early twenties and was close to six feet tall and wore cotton print dresses. David worshipped Marie’s boyfriend, Ronnie Tall Bear. Marie stayed in a small room off the kitchen. David and his parent’s room were upstairs. In mid-August 1948, is where the story finally begins. Marie had been sick that morning and had only come out to set out the lunch. David mentioned to his mother that Marie may be sick and she was instantly alarmed.
His mother feared nothing more than disease or illness. So she went to check on Marie and turned out she had a cold and a fever. So they called David’s father’s brother, who is a doctor (Doctor Hayden) to come and see Marie. Marie shot up in bed and refused to see a doctor and that if she did she wants to see her doctor not Dr. Hayden. David’s mother puts David in charge of looking after Marie for the afternoon. * David checked in on Marie often, but stayed out just like his mother ordered. Marie is talking loudly while she is dreaming. Later on she calls out to David and tells him to tell everyone that she doesn’t need a doctor.
She tries to pretend that she is okay but then starts to cough and David tells her that he will tell them that she doesn’t need a doctor. * David’s mother and father came home at 5 o’clock and had supper, then his father left again four and hour or two if the evening was peaceful. His mother checks on Marie again and she was burning up. She tells Wes, David’s father, to call Frank, the family doctor. David tells his parents that Marie doesn’t want a doctor but his father dismisses it as Indian superstition. David mentioned that his father didn’t like Indians, he didn’t hold them in a very high regard.
His parents didn’t listen to David went he told them that Marie didn’t want a doctor is a defence. His father dismissed David’s comments and went rang his brother to come over. * When his brother arrived, he rolled up his sleeves and David starts to compare his father to his brother, in which his father is bound to suffer from. * Frank put his black bag on the kitchen table and had a drink before he went to examine Marie. Marie screamed until David’s mum, Gail, was in the room with Frank. David and his father went out to sit on the porch while Marie was examined. Not long after, Frank came out onto the porch.
He explains that Marie wouldn’t let him examine her properly as she is used to a ‘medicine man’. He suspects its pneumonia or mumps. Gail persists that Marie will stay at their house so she can keep an eye on her. Once Frank left, Gail told David that she wanted to talk to his father privately. David wishes that he had either gone to the kitchen, to his room, if he had only left the porch. If he had done that he wouldn’t had heard the convosation. Gail tells Wes that the reason Marie was yelling when Frank was trying to examine her is because Frank has molested Indian girls and that he does it when he is examines them.
Wes tries to question Gail’s accusation but she tells him that he makes some of his patient’s undress and get into indecent positions, jump up and down while he fondles their breasts. Gail tells Wes that his brother is raping these Indian women. Wes asks who she is telling this to; the brother, the husband, Marie’s employer, or the sheriff? Wes decides to go and talk to Marie. * David’s parents were in Marie’s room for a long time. After supper, Wes says that he is going to see Les, his deputy and next-door neighbour.
Soon Les and his wife Daisy were over, with Wes and Len standing in the front yard and Daisy and Gail and Daisy at the kitchen table. David continued to walk in and out hearing snippets of each convosation. * Later that night, Gail checked on Marie once more and then told her husband and David she is sleeping again. David could tell that his father was having a hard time dealing with the fact that his brother was taking advantage of his Indian patient’s. The main reason that he didn’t want this going around town is because he didn’t want his father finding out.
They stopped talking as his mother didn’t want to discuss it in front of David. Wes tells his wife that he will deal with this in his own way. Even though he wouldn’t admit it, David’s father knew his brother was guilty. Part Two * The next day Wes began investigating the accusation Marie had made against his brother. Later, David saw his father at the Coffee Cup, which wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was the fact that he wasn’t sitting at his usual spot at the large table at the centre of the shop, but at a table for two over against the far wall.
He was sitting with the most respected Indian in north-eastern Montana, even the whole state, whose name was Ollie Young Bear. David knew that the reason his father was sitting Ollie Young Bear because he was asking Ollie if he had heard anything his brother molesting young Indian girls. David walked over to where his father sat and his father asked him that when he went home that he checked on Marie to make sure she took her medicine. * When David got home, Marie was sleeping and her medicine and a glass of water so he just assumed that she had taken her medicine.
But after a few minutes, David sensed that something was wrong. For the one thing, the radio was off, and Marie always had it on when she was home. So David turned on the radio to her favourite channel so that when she woke up she would be able to hear the music. * After dinner one night, Wes suggested that David and his mother go for a walk as he wanted to talk to Marie again. But they didn’t go far, they went to their backyard. David decides to ask his mother what was going on, even though he already knew. She reply’s with saying that there may be possible trouble with the Indians.
He asks his mother many questions about the Marie situations, but she gives him vague answers. * The following Sunday, David and his parents go to his father’s parent’s ranch. Marie had felt better so they decided it was okay to leave her for the day. The entire car ride was quiet and David knew why because his mother had wanted to refuse the invitation to dinner because she knew that Frank and his wife would be there. Soon enough though, he knew they weren’t fighting anymore because his father had made a promise of a holiday that David knew he would never follow through with.
When they pulled up, Frank’s truck was already there. David’s grandpa greeted them on the front porch and after a few minutes of discussion about Frank and his wife having children it becomes obvious that Grandfather already knows about Frank, as he makes comment on the colour of the kids and how many may already look like him in this town. * David talks about how his father had come home from his brother’s bachelor’s party before his brother got married and how he was very drunk. The day after the wedding on the train home, chocolates were offered around and they were starting to talk about Frank and Gloria, his new wife.
David’s Grandfather made a comment about how now that he is married to a nice white woman it might keep him off the reservation. * At dinner that night, David sat between his Aunt Gloria and Grandma. He starts to thin about why Gloria is married to his uncle and how she doesn’t know what he does. David also starts to wonder why his uncle would need to do what he does with a wife like his aunt which sparks his own desire. After dinner, David excuses himself to go riding, and his Grandfather gives him a Hi-Standard automatic . 22 target pistol and a box of cartridges because the coyotes were worse than ever.
David shot up the entire box of bullets in the stable which was far enough from the house that no one would hear him. David usually misses when he shoots, but this time he got a magpie from less than 40 yards away. He went to check if the bird was dead and he felt strangely calm when he did. He dug a shallow depression in the dirt with his heel and nudged the bird into it and just covered it with the dirt. * David took a different route back to the ranch, and witnessed his father and uncle arguing on the creek that David sometimes fished at.
He wanted to get closer so he could hear what they were saying, so he dismounted off his horse and made his way. About half way, he stopped as he was getting to close but he still couldn’t hear. Frank suddenly took a threating step towards David’s father and David took out his gun, thumbed off the safety and rested it against a tree. It wasn’t loaded of course, but David wondered what would have happened if it wasn’t. While thoughts were rushing around in David’s head, his father and uncle shook hands and walked off together. They left for home before dark and on the way, Wes told his wife he spoke to Frank. She yelled at him but he told her that he thinks the problem has been taken care of and that Frank is going to stop. Gail lectures her husband on the fact that he has broken the law and about the damage that his brother has already done. Wes says that his brother will meet his punishment in the hereafter and that he will do nothing to arrange it in this life. * When they arrived home, Doris Looks Away was still there and Marie was feeling stronger even though she still had a cough.
Doris Looks Away left almost immediately and Marie asks David questions about his day before she went back to bed. * That was the last convosation David ever had with Marie, because on Monday, August 13, 1948, Marie Little Solider was dead. Gail had found her at 5:15 when she returned from work and when David returned at 6:00 after spending the entire day fishing with Georgie Cahill he saw his Uncle Franks pick-up truck parked out the front with The station wagon of Undset’s Funeral Parlour backing out of his driveway with Marie’s body.
When David saw the funeral truck he knew why is was there and he could have continued to walk on forever and take the secret of what had happened in that house with him. But he didn’t. He put his fishing gear away in the garage and went into his house. Everyone was in the kitchen and hugged his mother. Uncle Frank was there filling in the Mercer County Certificate of Death and their next door neighbour Daisy came bursting in and Wes told her Marie was dead. Frank explained that this sometimes happens to patients when they have phenomena; their lungs can just collapse or any number of things.
Wes decides that he is going to drive out and see Marie’s family as he is unable to reach them. David thinks that he should ride with his father and tell him what he knows but he didn’t want to leave his mother. Frank left and Daisy started to talk to Gail and told David to go to her place and have as much ice cream and blue berry pie as he likes. * Len turned out to be home when David arrived, and he was obviously drunk. They start talking and Len starts to hint that he may have seen something that say to do with Marie and David asks him if he had and Les asks him right back.
David knew this was the time to say what he saw but he didn’t and pretended that he forgot he was supposed to take the pie back to his mother. David started to think that maybe Len loved his mother. * That night, David felt that his house know feels like death, thanks to his Grandmother superstitions, of which he was taught never to pay attention to from a young age. He thinks he hears something and goes to his parent’s room. He sits on the edge of the bed with his father what he saw; his Uncle Frank at their house before Marie was found dead, around three o’clock.
He tells his father that he was going fishing with Charley and Ben and they had just come from Ben’s house and they were riding their bikes along the tracks. They were going out to Fuller’s gravel pit. Then he had to go to the bathroom. He didn’t want to go all the way home, so he went to Len and Daisy’s outhouse. He told his friends to go ahead and that he would catch up with them. While he was sitting there he could see someone going across his backyard as there was a hole you could see out of. It was his Uncle Frank. When he got out he saw his uncle going towards town, down the tracks.
He had his doctors bag with him and that he saw him coming from the direction of their house. David’s father then started talking to himself trying to come up with reasons to why his brother was there and his wife told him to stop. David tells his father that no one else knows what he saw but he think that Len may have seen something. He father knows that he will be able to stop Les telling anyone but the fact that he knows will be punishment enough if he just ignores what his brother has done. Wes tells David to go to bed and sleep. David couldn’t sleep, neither could anyone else in the house that night. David thinks about how he sees Indians every day and how he wonders if they will ever come down from Circle Hill to find Marie’s killer. Part Three * David and his family had of course planned to attend the funeral but Marie’s body was being taken back to her home town in North Dakota. Wes had been working non-stop building a case to find out what happen to Marie. * A few days following Marie’s death, Wes had brought is brother over. It was raining which had ruined David’s plans for the day.
Frank had been carrying a small satchel, not his medical bag and his father ushered him down into the basement. They were down there a long time and David had been straining his ears to hear what was happening and when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs, his father came alone and shut the door firmly behind him. David started to ask his father what was wrong but he told his son to hold on a minute as he drank his half full glass of whiskey. He also said he was waiting for his Gail to come home as there were new developments and he only wanted to tell the story once.
David was convinced that his father had killed his own brother in their basement, until he heard noises coming from the basement. When Gail came home, Wes told them that Frank was in the basement because he had arrested him as he had no choice; as the sheriff he had to because his brother had run afoul of the law. He compromised as his brother didn’t want it all around town he didn’t want to locked up in a jail so Wes said he could stay in his basement. Wes leaves to tell Gloria, Frank’s wife, as he believes she has a write to know and Gail says to tell Gloria the truth as she will find out eventually.
Wes called David out to the porch before he leaves and tells him that they are going to paint the house and that it is going to be hard work. David said that he is up to it. He also tells him that if any trouble were to occur he was to run and get Len. David agrees and Wes tells him that Len knows everything and to get him whether he is drunk or sober. * At 9’oclock, David’s Grandparents arrived at David’s house. Wes, Gail and David had all been sitting in the living room trying not to think about who was in their basement when Gail tells her son to go and see who is at the door.
Wes comes out and greets his parents with happiness and Grandfather gets right to the point and asks his son where Frank was. Wes knew Gloria had told them and his father wanted to see Frank. Wes told him at this point it wasn’t a good idea but he wouldn’t hear of it. Wes tells his angry father that this situation isn’t about family, it’s about the law. The argument was starting to get heated, and David’s mother told him to go upstairs; he was glad, but also wanted to know how the confrontation would turn out. He ran to the room where when the vent it released you can hear everything that is being said below.
David listens as his father clears up the situation with his own parents. They give up trying to persuade Wes to change his mind and leave. David makes his way down the stairs to the kitchen where his mother and father was, his father crying on his wife’s lap. Wes tells his son that if his Grandfather is to come here when he isn’t home that he isn’t not to let him in, or his Grandmother. * That night David cried for the first time since the whole charade had started. But it wasn’t for his uncle, Marie or the relationships in his family that will never be the same, but for his horse, Nutty.
His horse that lives at his Grandparents ranch that with the distance this situation has made, he may never see beloved Nutty again. * The next day, David’s mother stayed home with her son. At 10 o’clock David’s mother sent David to the grocery store. But as he reached the store, the shame of his family name made him not want to go in. But he went in anyway and got the things his mother asked for and left as quickly as he could. When he arrived home, he asked his mother how long Frank was going to be down in the basement.
She says that Wes is working on it and that it will happen once there is a trial she supposed. David says that either way he will get off because his Grandfather can get him off as he can get anyone to do what he wants. He also believes they are getting the shitty end of the stick and his mother agreed. * Later, David was the first to notice a truck circling their house with four men in it. He recognised them as employees of his Grandfather. His mother soon noticed and she demanded that David tell her who they were as she knew he knew who they were.
David rings his father and leaves a message to come to the house when he gets there. When he turned back to his mother, she had her husband’s shot gun. She loaded it up and told David to go find his father or anyone to get help. As David was running around looking for his father he heard shot coming from the direction of his house and his mother was yelling at the strangers at her house to leave and get away from the house. David made it back to the house and was planning to take the gun off his mother when he saw Len come through the bushes that divided their properties.
He had a gun and threated to shoot at the strangers in David’s front yard. They soon left and Gail ran to his side and hugged him. Wes soon joined them and she ran and hugged him too. David just stood there holding his father’s gun. Wes fills them in that a few Indian women are willing to testify against Frank for assault and sexual assault and that nothing is going to happen about Marie. Len and Wes continued to talk about prosecuting Frank and David and his mother made their way back inside the house. Soon after Len and Wes come inside and say that if Wes can’t be here with David and such, Len will be.
Wes states that he is going to go and deal with his father and Gail tells him just to open the basement door and let Frank out, which will solve everything. Len and Wes consider this optioned and agree that Wes’s father is never going to stop. Wes heads down to the basement to talk to his brother. Len and Gail discuss how Frank may have killed Marie and they also consider the fact that there had to be an autopsy. Len soon leaves for home, and Gail and David wait for Wes and Frank to come up from the basement. Soon, the waiting was over and only Wes came up the stairs.
He tells his wife and son that his brother is guilty as sin and that he is going to move him over to the jail first thing in the morning. Wes continues on and says that he just can’t bring himself to let Frank go, because he would not be able to live with himself. Gail sends David to the butchers to get him out of the house. * At 1:00am that morning, David was hearing weird noises that aroused him from his sleep. It was coming from the basement. He went to his parent’s room but they weren’t there and it was evident that they had also quickly jumped out of bed to see what the noises were.
David was beginning to get scared he ran down the stairs to find his parents sitting on the couch. They told him that his uncle had gotten into the root cellar and was breaking every single jar in there. Wes knows he is doing this for attention, but Wes decides to wait I tout as he knows that he will run out of jar eventually. David’s parents tell him to go back to bed and get some sleep. They tell him that it is just one more night and to sleep late so that when he wakes the worst will be over. * At 6 o’clock David was awake and there were no more sounds of breaking jars.
He got up quickly and quietly and went down stairs to the kitchen to find his father surprisingly already in the kitchen. Wes tells his son that he is waiting until he hears his brother moving and then he will take him across to the jail. Wes tells David a story about his childhood with is older brother. After the story, Wes takes coffee down to his brother and in a short amount of time he heard is father screaming. David ran down there to find his uncle’s head on his father’s chest, with both of his wrists cut. Wes told his son to go wake his mother and to tell him to get Len.
And to not tell his mother to come down to the basement. He then started to cry. As David made his way to his mother’s room, he knew that his uncle’s suicide had solved all of their problems. As David climbed the stairs, he felt something he hadn’t felt for his Uncle Frank in a very long time; something very close to love. Epilogue * David talks of how his family moved out of Bentrock and the fact that their minds had been made up to move for months. His mother had said to her husband short after his brother’s suicide that she could no longer live in Montana anymore.
It was decided Frank’s death was to be told as an accident that had occurred when Frank had been helping his brother build shelves in the basement and he fell and hit his head and died instantly. It was also decided that Frank’s crimes were never to be revealed as they didn’t serve a purpose to anyone. These cover ups meant that Franks body was allowed to be buried with scandal. The whole family sat together at the funeral, but neither Aunt Gloria or Wes’s parent’s would talk to Wes, Gail or David and stood at the opposite side of the grave at the cemetery.
They all said their goodbyes to their friends and neighbours who were talking to them once the car was packed and made their way to their new lives. * As they were about to pull away, David jumped out and ran back to their house to see what it looked like without them in it. When David looked back at his parents waiting patiently in the car, he wondered how two people who were just trying to do the right thing were forced to leave their home and start a new life. * After spending the winter with Gail’s parents, they moved to Fargo. Here, Wes got a job at a small law firm and within five years was a made partner.
Gail was happy that her husband was finally a lawyer. She wanted David to follow in his footsteps and he made a remark about being the sheriff of Montana and she never said another word about what he should do with his life. David eventually became a history teacher for a high school in Rochester, Minnesota. * After everything, the family’s only link with Montana was Grandma Hayden. She wrote and visited a few times until she became too ill to continue. She kept them updated with some of the people who played roles in the tragedy, but never spoke of the actual events.
Aunt Gloria left Montana less than a year after they did and eventually remarried. Len was never able to complete his term in office, and had a stroke which left him partially paralysed. Len lived on a number of years after his, but David’s Grandfather didn’t as he was dead within three days. David continued to blame the tragedy that happened forty years ago for both their strokes as a build-up of pressure from keeping the secrets about Frank and for Wes’s cancer. * David talks about his happiest moment with Marie. * David talks about his wife, Betsy. David told her about what happened n the summer of 1948. She asked his parents about what happened that summer and she said that that sure was the Wild West. David’s father had only had one cancer treatment at that time and wasn’t strong and he snapped. He banged his hand on the table so hard the plates shook. He said ‘Don’t blame Montana! Don’t ever blame Montana! ‘. He removed himself from the room and never returned to the meal. * After that dinner, David returned to where his father had sat and placed his hands on the table and swore he could still feel the wood vibrating from his father’s blow.