Novel Excerpt

  Downtown Escalante, Utah (pop. 900) [Photo © Dan Staebler ]

Chapter 10 – The Reckoning

Since Judge Grabble had confined them to Garfield County for the duration of the trial, with the permission of the camp Board of Directors, Weldon and Rolon stayed at Red Rock Youth Camp alone. In exchange for remaining on the payroll, they were required to do maintenance work–re-building some of the tent cabins, painting, tree trimming, and road improvement. Shortly after the death of Dalyn the camp had been officially closed with all of the participants sent home. Most were due refunds for the premature camp closure, but 30 days later no monies had yet been returned to the families. Rather, the main focus of the parents, Board of Directors, and broader Mormon community was on the criminal charges filed against the camp leaders. This was a difficult, emotional phase for nearly everyone. In time, for some people more removed from the actual events at Red Rock, disbelief and sorrow had turned to outrage and visible hostility for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). The more mainstream Mormons in and around Escalante, the scene of the crime, were particularly angered by the dreadful events and believed strongly this was a serious setback for their small, isolated community, a community heavily reliant on tourism.

Weldon and Rolon left Red Rock Youth Camp at around 10:30 on Sunday morning. It was a short drive to Escalante and Griffin’s General Store on Main Street for groceries. Rolon pushed a small handcart around the store as they gathered up what they needed–milk, bread, potatoes, summer squash, rice, juice. Last stop was the butcher shop inside the store, located against the back wall. Rolon did the talking. He looked over several beef cuts and settled on the sirloin steaks, they were the cheapest that day.

“Could we have two pounds of the sirloin?”

The butcher, a stalky man in his late forties with large hands and a receding hairline, did not respond. He was a step or two away from the meat case, carving some whole chickens on a wooden chopping block with his back to the meat counter.

“Excuse me, could we get some steaks, please.”

Again, no response from the butcher. Finally, he turned around facing the two customers and shouted, “I ain’t serving you two rapists. You have brought shame to our community, dirtied the cause of Mormon. Get the hell out of my store. I don’t have to serve you and I won’t.” The front of his white apron was blood stained from cutting up a side of beef earlier in the morning.

Both Rolon and Weldon were taken back by the harsh anger in his words. But, the expressed sentiment was widely held throughout southwestern Utah. Everyone knew a thoughtless, brutal crime had occurred at Red Rock Youth Camp and it couldn’t be hidden behind some obscure religious practice or an appeal to Mormon prophecy. It was wrong. A young boy lost his life over it, a boy who was in the care of these two men–an unforgivable crime in any society, in any age.

The butcher wiped his hands with a rag and moved closer to the meat case. He was starting to sweat heavily. Then he wiped his forehead with the same rag. He reached under the counter and pulled out a 12-guage shotgun, an old side-by-side.

“I said get your murdering asses out of this store!” This time he almost spit the words at Rolon and Weldon. “And don’t touch that side arm, Blackie!”

Rolon was wearing a holstered 38-Smith and Wesson revolver, mostly for the occasional rattlesnake they encountered in and around the camp. The snakes were clearly visible in late summer and every experienced backcountry traveler exercised great caution this time of year. Rolon and Weldon looked painfully at each other. Weldon nodded with his head in the direction of the checkout counter, signaling his preference to leave the store without the steaks. They could easily drive to Boulder tomorrow for additional groceries if they really wanted beef. Rolon had his hands on the shopping cart, and as they turned away from the meat counter and started to leave Rolon reached back with his right hand to check his wallet, something guys frequently do. The revolver was on his right hip, and his right hand and the revolver were now out of the butcher’s line of sight. Weldon was a step behind Rolon but kept his eyes pinned on the butcher, obviously perturbed by the unpleasant encounter and racist insult. Still, he said nothing.

At that exact moment Randy rounded the corner of the aisle and was several feet behind Weldon. His sudden appearance seemed to startle everyone and set in motion a series of actions that would have profound consequences. In his arms was a loaf of bread and can of mixed fruit in heavy syrup. He also wanted some fresh meat–bacon, flank steak, maybe a half chicken.

The butcher, fearing Rolon was going for his sidearm, raised his shotgun and pointed it at Rolon. Rolon, turning forcefully back towards the meat case, got the word ‘Hey’ out before the butcher discharged one barrel. The sound of the blast was deafening inside the store. A puff of white smoke rose up behind the meat counter. At such close range the buckshot tore through the left side of Rolon’s head, scattering skin, bone fragments, blood chunks against the row of canned goods behind. The buckshot also removed Weldon’s right ear and cheekbone. Both men were mortally wounded, bleeding profusely, and crumpled to the floor.

Temporarily stunned, Randy was also covered in blood but not hit by the buckshot. He had no idea what was going on or the basis of the disagreement, but two men were now slumped on the floor in a pool of blood, lifeless. The butcher then looked directly at Randy under the presumption he was with the other two. He raised the shotgun a second time, pointing it in Randy’s direction, and was about to speak. Both their hearts were beating so loudly it sounded like hail against the roof of a house. Out of desperation or raw instinct or maybe something else Randy hurled the canned fruit in his hand at the butcher, striking him in the forehead, just above his left eye. The butcher fell backwards to the floor, and as he did so the second barrel of the shotgun discharged. Looking through the meat case Randy could see a lot of blood. The butcher was on his back on the floor holding his head with both hands, but was moving, still alive.

The store went deadly quiet. The incident was over. Two dead, one badly wounded butcher from a self-inflicted wound, and one dazed and confused young man from southern California supposedly on vacation. The store smelled of gunpowder. Randy had an urge to run, run away from this horrible scene, find his truck, and get out of Escalante. What kind of place was this? He dropped the loaf of bread and ran towards the front door. As he passed the checkout counter an older women, plain, simply dressed, but clearly frightened by the sound of a shotgun in the back of the store simply stared at him and the blood all over his face and clothes. He was running faster now that he was outside, gulping air. He got to the truck, which he parked around the block on a slight decline, in the event it failed to start, which was often the case on hot days. He opened the driver’s side door and realized instantly Beaujangles was no longer in the truck.

“Beaujangles!” he shouted several times at the top of his lungs. He even whistled. No dog in sight. He thought he could return after dark and look for the dog without bringing much attention to himself. There really was no other option. He had to go now.

“Beaujangles!”

He put the key in the ignition, pumped the gas, but the engine barely turned over. Too hot. So he slid out and with the driver’s door open leaned into the truck with his shoulder, pushing with all of his strength. As the truck began to roll down the slight hill he jumped back in, put it in second gear, then popped the clutch. It started. He gunned the engine a couple of times and before closing the door Beaujangles jumped over him into the cab.

“Good dog.”

And they were off.

1953 Chevrolet 5-window pick-up truck [Foley Bros.]