Alas, Poor Country
Prologue: November 1954
Prologue: November 1954
I didn’t kill that man Kraft. I hardly knew him as that goes. And I didn’t have anything more against him than I got against any man. At my age that may be plenty, but it doesn’t mean I did it. He just got washed in with all those others that read in their magazines that they could hustle out here and scratch around and become millionaires just as easy as if they were plucking an apple from a tree. I don’t know what all they thought but I got no sympathy for that kind of foolishness. So I suppose if that was his aim, to bring himself out here and walk away with his pockets full of money, then I guess he probably deserved what he got for sheer stupidity alone. If only people were mining for foolishness out here, there’d be more than enough to go around. I don’t know who did it, and I’m telling the truth on that. But I can tell you this, when people, especially men because they’re made of stuff that breaks when certain pressures comes to bear on it, when they get an idea about one thing or another and it doesn’t work out the way they see it in their mind, they can come undone from it. That’s been my experience. So I’m saying I don’t know that this Kraft didn’t deserve what he got, but I didn’t have a hand in it. Write that down there. And anyone that tells you different is a lying son of a bitch.
OK, now, it’s true as you say that we had a run-in, Kraft and me, though I didn’t know that was his name then. I told the other man all this before, but if you like I’ll say it again. He came wandering into my camp out of nowhere, and I pretty nearly blew his head off. And who would’ve blamed me? This stranger comes stumbling out of nowhere with some crazy story about how he got there. It didn’t resemble any reasonable truth I know of. No one stumbles into another person’s camp like that unless he’s got something up his sleeve. So I kept my gun on him, gave him something to eat and then sent him on his way. I never saw him again after that day, or may God strike me dead.
I will say this. I know some things after all my years. Some you wouldn’t understand as young as you are. Plus some things only a woman can know. Justice can be fast or it can be slow. Either way. And just because you didn’t deserve it today doesn’t mean you didn’t have it coming to you from years back. Payment for what you did can take a long time finding you. But if you think it doesn’t get fixed in the end, well then you just don’t know the first thing. Could be he didn’t even wrong the fellow that did it. That happens. Plenty of men been killed for the deeds of another, or because they were handy. I can’t say.
But I don’t suppose it matters now, does it? I suspect he was like every other man, just as soon push his own mother down the cellar stairs if it got him first to the bottle or the bag of gold. Men like him, they’re as common as dirt. So I’m guessing he wronged someone in one way or other and paid for it. The desert is full of those stories. You ever hear that tumbleweeds are just the souls of those that have been killed looking for a home? I don’t know if I heard that or made it up myself. That’s what happens when you get old. Ownership gets to be a complicated sort of matter.
I didn’t plan any of it, I swear that, I didn’t. I want you to know that. I mean, I did plan to talk to him. I knew where he lived and so I went over there and knocked on the door, but only to talk to him, that’s all. When I got there the fella who answered the door said he wasn’t there. So I’m walking back to my car and there I see him in the window upstairs and so I guess I just waited for him to come out.
The truth is I’d been selling ore to him, highgraded ore. I’m not going to lie. I’d gone to the spot where we’d met for the last few months and for the second time in a row he didn’t show. All of a sudden, without any kind of warning, he just stopped showing up. He never told me anything. I can guess why, but that didn’t seem like a good enough reason to me. We had a deal, and I’d done my part. Every week I hustled ore out of there, rock by rock. My nerves would twist up my stomach like wringing out a rag. But I did it. And every week I showed up and took his price, no questions asked. And then he just up and stopped coming. It didn’t seem right to me. I got a family. And I’ll tell you this, I’m proud of my family. As proud as any man. It’s something I’m doing right. I’m trying, and doing what I can. I dare any man to tell me there’s something wrong with wanting your family to have more. I got two girls, and you’ll do anything for your girls. Anything. Go to the ends of the earth. Light yourself on fire to keep them warm. And then there’s my wife. If it weren’t for her I just don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing that’d be worth anything.
So that’s how come I went to see him. Just to talk. That’s how it started. I don’t know if it matters, but that’s the God’s honest truth of it. I only wanted him to tell me why, and maybe buy this last load with all this money of his now. That seemed only right as far as I could see. I didn’t have violent ideas about anything. I swear it. If a man was to get violent every time things didn’t go his way, he’d have to live with his fists clenched all the time. Make it awfully hard to work or eat. Maybe some men do that, I suppose some do, but not me. You can ask anyone. This was all an accident. It just happened. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could go back and get in my car and drive away before any of it happened. But there’s no negotiating with consequences. It’s this, or it’s that. When he told me to go, I could’ve gone. When he said no, I could’ve turned and done just what he said and dumped the rocks on the side of the road somewhere. I could’ve put my hands in my pockets. But I didn’t.
And I’m truly sorry for it. There’s not enough room inside me to hide from what I did. But then I’m not going to last long, so it doesn’t much matter for me I suppose. But for my family, for my wife and my children. They’ve got to live with this forever that I did this ugly thing. I hope some day they can forgive me.
Do I look like a murderer to you? Do I have the shoes, or the watch, of a murderer? Not only did I not murder that man, I didn’t even know him. I guess from what you tell me my partner knew him but I assure you I didn’t. That’s the truth. And as you’ll undoubtedly make the connection or someone will make it for you, yes, I’m that Weams. He’s my father. He still allows me to share his name. Isn’t that generous? He’s a magnanimous man, the senator. To a fault. My fault generally, but then you likely guessed that, seeing as he is where he is and I am where I am. I’ve always told him it’s because we had different fathers. He likes that. God if he got a hold of this, even though I’m totally innocent, he would slice it so thin it would last for weeks.
I want the record to show that I was cooperative with questions. I came right down when you wanted to speak to me, even though I’m tremendously busy. I’ve been absolutely forthcoming on every subject. And why shouldn’t I be, I’ve got nothing to hide. I’d met Verrill Kraft just the once. Fisher introduced me. It was a nothing meeting. And I have almost no memory of him other than he barely said five words. I can tell you that he was one of those men who manages to look like a lot of people you know at the same time. I’d guess he was 6 feet tall or so. But if you asked me I wouldn’t necessarily classify him as a remarkable person in any way. A normal man of normal looks. I don’t know if this helps, but, as I said, I want to tell you everything I know. Be completely honest.
As for their relationship, Fisher and Kraft, I don’t know anything about that. As I say, I only met him the one time. My wife and I had just happened to be in the neighborhood. We were looking at houses in the area, and ended up at Fisher’s. We just sort of dropped in to say hello and he was there. I was surprised to see him because there had been all those stories in the newspaper. And then to see him there, well, you can imagine how surprising it was. I don’t think we exchanged more than a handful of words. Pleasantries. Fisher never mentioned him before that night and never mentioned him again after it. They did seem an unlikely pair. That crossed my mind. But I guess I just figured that being a lawyer, Fisher probably dealt with all kinds of people. That’s his business. Fisher’s probably worked with just about everyone in this town over the years. And I hope you’re not suggesting he had anything to do with this. Because you’d be way off base. Trust me. I can promise you. Fisher’s no more a murderer than I am. Or you are. Plus, he would be an idiot to do anything like that – our business is going like gangbusters right now. Well enough that my wife and I just bought a house. Out on Pinkney. It’s not perfect. A bit on the small side, especially when we finally decide to have kids. But it’s a good start. I like to think of it as a base as we prepare to build our own place in the next year or so. You know what the hard part was? Furnishing it. We had to go up all the way up to Salt Lake. Do you know how little there is in this town when it comes to modern interiors?
Now if you have any further questions for me, though I can’t imagine why you would, but if you do, I suggest you schedule a time when my lawyer can be present.
On a different matter, I would be remiss if I did not offer to share with you, and maybe your partner here, information about probably the best investment on the plateau. The beauty of this opportunity is that even folks with a modest income, like our hardworking local police officers, can afford to take advantage of it. Think about it. I gave your partner my card. Call me and we’ll talk.
I’ve been working in the area here for quite a few years. And in that time I’ve met a great many people. Of every stripe and description. What I’ve learned is that the prospect of great and immediate wealth is an enticement to all, regardless of sex, color, background or avowed religious conviction. It may be that only death is that egalitarian. As for Kraft, I met him just once and so briefly as to be almost no meeting at all. I don’t even remember if we introduced ourselves. It was a couple of years ago. I might as well tell you: I had been tracking an AEC plane that particular day. I’d followed the plane some distance out of town, out to around San Rafael Reef or thereabouts, but I lost it when it passed over some hills; it was always a challenge to keep up in my Jeep. And there he was, with his truck, out in the middle of nowhere. He told me I was stupid to be out there without water. That was really the extent of our conversation. Then he drove off back toward the highway. You’d expect given the similarities of our trajectories, and the insular nature of the business we’re both in, that we would have bumped into each other on other occasions. But we never did. I suspect our interests have much less in common than the overlap in our lives might suggest. A lot can happen in the remaining 75 percent of a person.
It is true that I wanted to meet him again, later. I personally invited him to the party we threw over at the Roundabout. I thought it would be nice to have him there as it was only a couple of days after his own big announcement. But he didn’t respond, and he didn’t show. We learned one reason why the next morning.
Now, I never denied that I had misgivings about Kraft. He was a poor representative of our work, of our field. Excepting the dynamite, ours is a quiet enterprise. It takes place out under a quiet sky, often in a remote corner of nothingness. You have to want to be there; you have to love to be there. A feeling of profound something – connection, peace, whatever you wish to call it – has to come over you in the middle of all that. If it doesn’t, if you’re not moved as if by the presence of God Himself, then I feel sorry for that person. What a miserable, lonely, heartbreaking life it would be otherwise.
I mention this because I always got the sense that he – Kraft – just sort of fell into it. Winds of rumor pushed him out here. He sniffed something in the air. He was that sort of man. It could’ve been tulips, it could’ve been pearls. It just happened to be some rock inside of which this stuff called uranium is quartered, stuff you can’t even necessarily see. I don’t get the impression any of that mattered very much to him. It was less about the thing than cracking open the thing to see what was inside. Since what happened, I’m learning I made my feelings on this count a bit too clear to those who know me, and about that I’m truly sorry, especially given how things ended up.
None of any of this means, of course, that I wanted him dead, or even that I wanted him to leave the uranium business. I don’t wish any man dead. Life is what it is; it is full of all kinds of people, all kinds of ways of looking at and understanding the world. I liked that Verrill Kraft was who he was. Truly. Even if I didn’t agree with him, I appreciated him. He made things interesting, interesting like a rubber ball ricocheting around a room full of glass vases. He brought an immediacy that is so foreign as to be invigorating for an industry that talks in millennia and measures success, when it finds it all, in entire lifetimes. Because most of mining is failing, nearly all of it. And worse even than that for most. It is a miracle anyone makes a living doing this, and a further wonder to me that anyone who isn’t just dumbstruck by the rock even tries.
No, I was very sorry to hear about what happened. It still saddens me to think about it. For his family, and for the good of the industry and this town, I hope they find the one who did it and bring him to justice.
This is surely the work of God. As surely as the mountains were figured by his hands, and the stars in their heavens. And it is only the beginning. Your covetousness, your unchecked appetites, your feigned words, they will bring only death and destruction. Can you be surprised? You abjure the will of God. You ignore His commandments in pursuit of wealth and pleasures of the body. Just as night follows day, so too must the terror of His wrath follow such renunciation of his commandments. I can have no sympathy for those who bring about their own destruction by closing their eyes and their hearts to His will.
You have banished us, so God has banished you. You may believe you have sent us into the desert to die like the Nephites and the Jaredites before us, so that we might dry up and blow away like dust. But it is you who will perish, one by one and at each other’s hand. Look around you. Day by day you fulfill your destiny. Day by day it goes until you will pass totally from the earth. But we endure. We endure your manifold wickedness. By God’s divine hand, we make our way in this place, bearing privations of body that would break your kind. In fact, we are made stronger by it. God has selected our people, vouchsafed to us his Word and shown us the way to the Celestial Kingdom. By our beacon of righteousness we survive in His Glory. I say let the wicked kill the wicked. This is the curse of God. “With promise immutable and unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful, they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings; but inasmuch as they were not faithful, they are nigh unto cursing.”
I read the story about the miner, but I can’t help you. I do not know the man, nor does anyone of our number. We get into town quite rarely and don’t consort with the people there. I have no doubt that the man’s end is the bitter fruit of his own despicable seed. The same goes for the men who’ve lately come to bring legal action against us. They want to close down our school, break up our families, wipe out our community. And why? Because they are fearful. If we have violated any of the laws of this state it is because we obey first the laws of God and eternity. Given the choice between the laws of man and the laws of God, we obey God, for His Word is eternal.
It is by His provenance we live and breathe. It is by His grace that we receive what we receive, deny what we deny. I know to you it is desolation, just empty desert, but just as God animated man with life so have I turned that desolation into life. I took it from nothing and made from it a home for our families. We built houses, a church and a school. We dug a well. We turned over the earth and tend our own gardens there. Should I not then protect it as anyone else protects his home? The same hand that can pluck a flower can make a fist. Tell me I lie.