I finally threw up my hands and decided to write a novel called Prairie View, about my home town, Mobridge, South Dakota. I didn't care if I got it published. I just wanted to write what I wanted to write. This is also available free from Lulu.com or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble in papeer. Here's a summary:
When Joby Shelton returns after a ten-year self-exile to Prairie View, South Dakota, he witnesses a murder while fishing on the nearby Sioux Reservoir. He has returned to Prairie View to make peace with his father, that is, to attend his funeral. During a Fourth of July celebration, he reunites with friends of his youth (remembered fondly as the Fearsome Foursome), meets and falls in love with a young local teacher, and becomes entangled in a scam involving the Mafia and the nearby Sioux Indian reservation. The plot elements culminate in a dramatic showdown atop Rattlesnake Butte.
The water was cold on his feet and very dark, and he had the uneasy feeling that something large and sharp-toothed would mistake his toes for bait. He was in the middle of a deserted cove about a hundred feet from shore, working the spoon from the shallows back out to deep water, and his feet and toes felt vulnerable dangling below the inner tube.
He cast out to his right, just short of a drowned cottonwood lying in the water near the shore. Its limbs were barkless and white and stuck out from the trunk like skeleton arms grasping at the sky. He let the spoon sink until he felt the line go slack as it settled on the bottom. Then he reeled it toward him—jerk rod, reel in line, jerk, reel in line—but slowly, lazily. He’d learned that trick from his father. The northern would usually strike just after one of the spurts of motion, take the lure as it began to drift downward. Sometimes one might follow it all the way in and not strike until the lure was almost out of the water. He pulled back on the line and then he could see the spoon, orange and white moving up through greenish depths toward him. No northern following. It cleared the water and he reeled it up to the metal leader and cast again, this time to the right of the cottonwood.
The day was bright and sunny with just a light breeze, and the water of the bay was calm, almost glassy. But he could see waves beyond the arm of land west of him. Must be wind around the corner, he thought. Harder casting. No luck here, but easy casting. Anyway, he wasn’t really fishing. More like giving something back. Fishing was secondary to the chore that had brought him there. It was simply easier than thinking, a way to fill up the time before he could escape again from the hooks and claws of Prairie View.
The day before, he had found his old fish-‘n’-float rig hanging on a nail in the garage and decided to take it out on the lake the next day, soak up some sun. Do what he had to do . . . and not have to think.
The inner tube had looked all right, so he tucked it in the can-vas sleeve, zipped it up, and filled it at Jim’s Mobile station on the western edge of town. And he’d been in the water since eight that morning, ashes to ashes, dust to water, the container sinking slowly in the green depths, wobbling as it sank, finally disappearing. Then two hours of casting out, reeling in—losing himself in the mechanics of rod and reel.
He paused between casts, opened the zippered pocket at the front of the canvas sleeve, and took out a cigarette and lighter. Filthy habit, he thought as he lit it and inhaled deeply. Haven’t smoked for five years, and now I’m back to suckin’ ‘em up just like I never quit. The past two days had been awful, and a cigarette or two just to relieve the nerves couldn’t hurt. He’d told himself that lie just after the service, knowing that one cigarette led to another, and another, knowing full well that he was using his confusion, his grief, as an excuse to begin again a habit he’d had such a hard time kicking five years before.
He inhaled again and looked around, the rod resting in front of him across the inner tube. God, what wild country. He’d forgotten just how desolate and lonely it was. To the right about a mile away he could see the silver span of the bridge across the mouth of the old Snake River where it had once emptied into the Missouri. Or at least what used to be the Snake. Now it was just another long arm of water connected to the Sioux Reservoir. Fourteen years later, and the trunks of cottonwoods still rise from the surface like dark, accusatory fingers, reminders of the lost bottomland now covered by millions of acres of water. To the left and slightly behind him he could see the open expanse of water that led down over a hundred miles to the earthen dam at Pierre, the state capital. Miles and miles of shoreline nearly all as wild and barren as here. Low hills and buttes and bays inhabited mostly by range cattle, badger, muskrat, beaver, and rattlesnakes. The good land along the Missouri Basin, the land that was rich and arable, was now under water. And the land along the present western shore, Sioux land for the most part, was mainly clay, good for growing the long prairie grass for grazing cattle but not good for much else. But the reservation Sioux were supposed to grub out a living on that land. Screwed again, he thought. The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Corps of Engineers stuck it to ‘em, and then for the land lost to water, the government paid them less per acre than what even an ugly hooker on a slow night could make. And what was left, the reservation land west of the Missouri, was among the loneliest and harshest in the world.
He’d deliberately come out nearly five miles to avoid even a chance encounter with people. People were not what he wanted just now. He wanted silence and solitude.
He finished the cigarette and flipped it away. More fish food, he thought. It hissed as it hit the water and then bobbed on the quiet surface. He took up the rod, tightened the line, and cast, the lure splashing ten or fifteen feet from shore and just left of the cottonwood. On the third pause he felt the familiar thud of northern strike, and his pulse quickened to the angry tug on the other end. He set the hook with a short jerk of rod tip and let the fish run. The line moved right, toward the cottonwood, and he pulled back as much as the ten-pound line allowed. “Oh no you don’t, you sly devil,” he murmured as the fish continued to rip line out, the rod bowed nearly to the water. Then the line went limp.
“Damn!” He reeled in rapidly in case the fish was still there.
It was. It had apparently turned to deep water and made its run toward him. The reel was nearly full when he felt the weight of the fish again. And then he saw it in front of him in the water, a northern like a log, unbelievably thick across the body, and long, four or five feet. He could see the spoon, orange and white against the mottled green of the jaw, the barb hooking him where the cruel mouth hinged just below the eye. Then the fish must have noticed him, or at least his bare legs dangling uncomfortably close to the bony snout and razor teeth. A swish of tail that broke the surface and the fish disappeared, the line chattering out against the drag as the fish went right. The force of the pull surprised him and although the drag was set just below breaking, the fish was taking line easily and he could feel himself being tugged along to the west. He’d taken fish from this floating rig before—northerns, walleyes, crappies—but he’d never before been towed along behind.
A regular northern Clydesdale, he thought. Oh, Pop! If you could see me now!
He was very near the western edge of the bay by then and the line was angling right again, parallel to the shore, heading for open lake beyond the tip of the peninsula. The reel was nearly empty when the run ended and the line went dead. He reeled in trying to catch up with the fish before it could shake the hook loose. Just as the line tightened again, he noticed he could now see across the arm of land to the open water and shoreline west of the bay he’d been in, and he was surprised at the distance the fish had dragged him.
There were two men on the shore several hundred yards away, face to face in what looked even from that distance like an argument, legs apart, shoulders hunched belligerently. He watched them, no longer paying attention to the fish. He was too far away to recognize them, too far away even to see clearly what they looked like or how they were dressed. Suddenly one of them, the one with his back to the lake, shoved the other one to the ground and took something from his pocket and pointed it at the first man. He knew from the way the man held it, the stance he took, that it had to be a gun. The other man leaped to his feet and grabbed the second, pinning his arms, and they struggled toward the water. He watched this long-distance drama with frozen detachment, unable to believe what he was seeing. The two men went down with a splash in the shallows along the shore. The man with the weapon was on his back in the water, and the other held him down with one arm and struck him repeatedly with his free hand. Then he held him with both hands, forcing him under the water. A dramatic tableau, the one on his knees in the shallows, leaning forward on his arms, the other hidden beneath the water.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! What . . . ?” He heard himself and knew somehow he shouldn’t have called out. Time and motion stood still.
Then the survivor pushed himself to his feet. And looked around. And saw him.
Even from that distance it seemed as though their eyes locked. Then the man reached down into the water and came up hastily with something in his hand and began running down the shoreline toward him.
He kicked forward with his feet and began to move slowly backward toward the safety of open water. The fish was forgotten. He knew instinctively he had to get out into the lake, away from the danger of the man with the gun, if that was what it was. He kicked as hard as he could and by the time the man had reached the end of the peninsula he was out in the lake some fifty or sixty yards. He heard the man shouting something, but he didn’t understand. Then the man pointed the gun at him. From this range it was now definitely a gun. He heard the report across the water and the squish as the bullet plowed through the lake surface just to the right of him. He ducked his head and his legs kept up their automatic thrashing away from the shore, away from the man with the gun. Another report, another squish ten feet in front of him. Again, and he heard the bullet whiz by uncomfortably close to his head. Then there were three shots in rapid succession and the bullets squished water near him, the last squarely in the swirl of his wake right in the spot he’d just vacated. He continued to kick as he leaned back against the inner tube, staying as low as he could. There were no more shots and he knew without knowing that he was now out of range of the gun. Still he kept kicking and leaning away from the danger in front of him.
He was now well over a hundred yards from the tip of the peninsula, and the figure had receded to an unrecognizable distance. He stopped kicking and he felt his breath tearing in and out of his mouth, his heart beating at an impossible rate. Incredibly, he still held the rod in his right hand. I wonder if old Clyde is still there, he thought. He began pumping his legs again, moving away from the shore, less furiously now, moving out into the lake as far as he could to get away from the man who had just tried to kill him. He was trying to kill me! He shook his head in wonder as he realized what had just happened, nearly happened.
The man was a tiny figure now, and he watched him stand there motionless looking out over the water at him. Then the man moved quickly along the shore back toward the scene of the previous violence and disappeared over the hill.
He stayed out on the lake for another hour gathering his courage to go in, thinking about what he’d just seen. Sometime during that hour he’d reeled in his empty line, the line now unresponsive and light. No fish, no spoon, no leader. Well, he thought, at least the damn northern had enough sense to get the hell out of here while he had the chance.