Tavaputs Ranch • This is the story of the corruption of 8-year-old Jack Anderson of Price. He was a good kid until Tuesday. Then Sonny and I turned him in a criminal.
We were hired as swampers and drudges at this remote cattle ranch overlooking Desolation Canyon. We like it here, but our wives like it even better. This is where they make us go when we get unreasonably bored.
The work was OK and nobody important got hurt. Sonny cut open his hand but this time it wasn't mostly my fault.
Things took a dark turn when a young ranch kid started hanging around and watching us. He was clean, polite and straight out of a Mark Twain novel.
We were cleaning out a shop when Jack, blessedly innocent for the last time in his life, asked us, "What're you two guys doing?"
We told him the truth. I said we were looking for stuff to blow up. Sonny said we were looking for heavy stuff to shoot at rafters at the bottom of Desolation Canyon.
Jack: "Won't that hurt them?"
Me: "Of course."
Jack's eyes widened. He carefully looked around for his mom, then whispered, "Can I help?"
This was the point of no return. We should have known that. But neither Sonny nor I had ever had any sons. When it came to being role models for young boys, we only had the way we were raised.
"That depends," Sonny said. "Do you have a knife?"
Jack said he had a knife but it wasn't anything like ours. It didn't automatically jump out of the handle with the press of a button. But it was kind of sharp.
That's when Sonny crossed the line and ruined the poor kid by casually asking, "Have you ever fired a large-bore potato cannon?"
Five minutes later, we introduced Jack to the highly therapeutic world of criminal ballistics. There are few things in life that help a guy feel better than making any old thing travel near the speed of sound.
When we shot off all the potatoes that were supposed to be for dinner, Jack wanted to know what else we were working on. Sonny showed him how to make a sling for throwing rocks (lug nuts, hard-boiled eggs, frozen oranges, etc.) 100 yards.
"I'll bet you didn't know it's possible to shoot an arrow out of a regular slingshot," I said.
Jack said no. While Sonny built him a slingshot out of a coat hanger and 150 rubber bands, I showed our new friend how to stick an arrow in a weather vane.
Sonny was in the middle of explaining the scientific principles behind a pipe, a golf ball, and a large firecracker when Jack's mom suddenly appeared.
"I sent you out here to make sure they're working," Mrs. Anderson said to her son. "Are they?"
Sonny and I waited for Jack's answer. Things could get really ugly if he gave her the wrong one.
Jack nodded. "They're working hard, Mom. Really hard."
"OK. Just remember that you're the responsible one out here," she said, eyeing us with suspicion. "I'm depending on you."
When Jack's mom was gone, Sonny and I breathed sighs of relief. The kid was alright. It was time to see if he was ready to cut the apron strings.
"Jack," we said. "What would you like to know about homemade high explosives?"
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/notpatbagley.