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(excerpted from novel project)

UNCLE VERN
&
THE KILLER

A tale of love, murder and betrayal

By Pat Christian 

“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled wishy straw. Alas!
Or dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quite and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In or dry cellar”

-- T.S. Eliot:
 

Contents
Author’s notes
Genesis
Gary
Uncle Vern
Freedom
Romeo & Juliet
The blood bath
On the inside
On the outside 
A jury of one's peers 
The press 
Prison 
Tumbrel Wheels 
The cannery
Souvenirs
The funeral
Victims
Vultures circle
Deja vu
The book
The movie
Epilogue
 
 

Genesis

     “Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.”
-- Genesis 4:1

     Bessie Gilmore slouched motionlessly in the chair inside her beat up trailer parked in a mobile home park on McLoughlln Boulevard in Milwaukie, Oregon. It wasn't too far from the Willamette River that flowed seaward through Clackamas County.
     With her gray hair, unwashed for quite a while, she sat in her kitchen wearing a pair of dirty, once-pink fluffy house slippers, and her right foot twisted almost horizontally because of crippling arthritis.
     Dirty dishes were piled in the sink, and there was a strong rotting food smell, but she was used to it and didn’t notice. On the table was dried up peanut butter in a small plate. The linoleum was nearly black, especially at the edges by the wall, hiding whatever color it had been when new. She was looking really nowhere, thinking really not much, feeling that old uneasiness in the pit of her stomach about her son Gary.
     She had lived in northwest Oregon so long, but she never quite got used to the damp and the rain.
     It could rain for a week straight, and that wasn’t good for her arthritis. For the last few years, she Didn’t move around much, mostly just sat thinking. And sometimes she'd make up poems in her head.
     Only rarely, as with this one, would she write them down.

“I walked into a forest
and there on a bed of moss so green
stood a tall purple violet
one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen.
Its little head was bent on its stalk
as though it was saying a prayer.
I sat down beside it and smelled
Its perfume that was filling the air.
Today I went back to the forest
The violet has gone away
But somehow I will never forget
That it quietly bloomed there one day.”
 

     “It's my best means of self expression,” she had told her niece Tony.
     Only rarely she might write Gary or Mikal, Frank or Gayland, her other sons. 
     It might be just a page or less with the explanation, “My arthritis is real bad today. My hands hurt so bad that I won't be able to write but just this little bit.”
     It had been some time since Gary had written her too, after getting out of Marion State Prison in Illinois.
     Bessie’s sister Ida lived with her husband Vern Damico in a valley below the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in the sisters' hometown of Provo, Utah. The Damicos had agreed to take Gary in while he tried adjusting to the world outside prisons.
     Now Bessie had heard her son had a girlfriend named Nicole, and she thought she liked that for her son.
     She had been thinking about Gary.  She had recently thumbed through his drawings Gary had sent her when he was still in prison.
     Gary had neglected her of late; he had been better at letter writing while still in prison than now that he was free.
     His mother wanted to be with him and wanted most to move back to her hometown in Utah but was too poor to do it.
     Vern had offered to bring her back to Utah. But she turned him down. Vern had thought maybe she declined because of her appearance. She had once been a beautiful woman, even modeling in Salt Lake City. Now she was a terrible sight because of her health.
     Bessie was so far away from when she had growing up in Provo on the Brown family farm on Grandview Hill. And she missed the dry climate, missed family, friends and pleasant memories.
     Even today, Oregon was so much the past, tied with so many memories of Gary getting into trouble with the law.
     Seemed she had always stood by him through juvenile court days, special schools and finally prisons.
     “Lord knows, she's had far more than her share of sorrow,” Gary had once said to Nicole.
     “Ain't never stopped loving me or believe that someday, some magic someday, the police would quit mistreating her boy Gary and let me up out of them jails. I was the one she had all the hopes for, ain't that something.”
     It had been nearly 17 years since Bessie had last seen Ida when the Damicos visited her in Oregon. While they were Vern and Ida had told her Oregon was too cold and that they didn't care too much for the climate.
     “It wasn’t even raining that day, and the sun even came through but compared to Utah’s climate, I guess it did seem cold to them,” Bessie had said.
     “I haven’t had a white Christmas since the last time I spent one in Provo,” she wrote Brenda.
 
 

* * *

     Vern and Ida were watching Perry Mason on the old black and white television in their living room. Their older red brick home was situated on Provo's 300 South Street near Provo's old downtown business section.
     As they sat on the brown and green flowered couch, they talked about their nephew Gary and how he looked when he had come to shower the night before.
     “I want to take a shower upstairs,” Gary had said.
     “No. Use the basement shower,” Vern had insisted.
     “OK.”
     Vern couldn't put his finger on it, but Gary seemed somehow different. He kept looking at the back door, and Vern thought he looked like someone or something might be creeping up on him.
Neither Gary nor Vern saw the little smear of blood near the cuff of Gary's pant leg. 
     “Did you notice anything different about Gary last night?” he said to Ida, looking away from the TV momentarily.
     “Yes, very definitely. There was something about him – a meanness. He acted like he was trying to put a puzzle together.
As they watched their television screen, Gary sauntered up a pathway and stared through a screen door at them for a moment. They were unaware of his stolen glances.
     Whatever the thoughts Gary was entertaining as he focused on the Damicos, he ended them, turned, and then walked down the path to the motel located adjacent to the Damicos house.
     Next door, motel clerk Benny Jewkes Bushnell was in the City Center Motel with his two-year-old son Benjamin Joseph.
Built like a college wrestler, the 26-year-old was a transfer student from Pasadena City College and was working his way through Brigham Young University by managing the motel.
     He and his wife Debra Jean lived in a flat just behind the motel office.
     Benny was big, but was an easy man to talk to, and Vern and Benny had talked many times as the young husband and father worked in the Motel’s flowers beds next door to Vern’s house. In fact, they had just the day before talked about what he was doing in school.
     He told Vern he was from California and Vern could tell from some of the things he said that he was very devoted to his wife who was pregnant with their second child and Benny was very excited about it.
     He seemed interested in Vern too and asked where he was born.
     Vern said, “Right here in Provo.
     Benny was Mormon and had spent a couple of years as a missionary in Australia before marrying his wife in the Los Angeles Mormon Temple.
     When Benny looked up from his work, he was looking into the barrel of the .22-caliber Browning automatic pistol Gary Gilmore pointed at him.
     Gary had the look in his eyes. Ida had described the look as a wild animal stare. Was there . . .

(end of excerpted section)


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