"Ballarat or Bust"...Chapter Eleven...

Tex returned from his buying spree for Charlie and for the pregnant Sharon and we all waited for the sun to set before heading out of Tinsel Town.
Loaded and ready, Bob and I lit cigarettes and waited for the others to follow. Tex had given Sharon an old faded jean shirt and jeans to wear, to keep her warm in the cold desert air and to protect her from the searing sun when dawn broke.
Goler Wash wasn't a Pass you did by moonlight but that rule had to be broken to lessen the risk of Sharon being spotted heading out of town and to avoid the midday desert heat that would surely make her ill. Those risks were greater than the lack of light we’d experience traversing the Pass.
We did however have the advantage of a clear night and a full moon to guide us as I slowly pulled out of Tex's parking stall and headed north for the Panamint Range, silently praying that everything, and everyone, would go as planned.
As I glanced in my rear-view mirror, I saw Sharon sitting mannequin-still in the backseat beside Bob. Bob was acting the real macho man beside her, his right arm out stretched over the top of her seat and his legs spread wide apart, with an expression on his face of a cat who had swallowed the canary.
Tex had bought a knit cap for Sharon to wear, to hide her recognizable honey-blond hair and to keep her warm in the night. She wore that and a pair of purple tinted John Lennon glasses, so, to look at her, she resembled just another hippie girl out for a drive with her male friends.
From the news reports we caught on Tex's TV last night and early this morning, A.P.B's were issued state-wide for Sharon's recovery and the C.H.P.s cops were conducting random car checks along the major highways heading out in all directions from L.A. All the major stations were frantically covering the scene found at Cielo the day before, and from the helicopter footage, the white sheets covering the bodies which were found lying on the front lawn really sent home to me the reality of what Tex had done to these people. I could not believe he had it in him to do.
Charlie's hold on Tex and his newly found addiction to coke and meth, I guess, gave impetus to his actions up there in the Canyon but I thought Charlie and The Family were all about love. These actions were going in the other direction, and I really began to wonder what I was doing with a group who no longer talked of love but of hate and death.
Sharon's face didn’t betray her thoughts but I’m sure she was awash in a mixture of fear and loathing for us, the people who stole her from her life and were carrying her against her will to a future decidedly less attractive than the one she knew and loved. The Family had stolen Sharon from herself, from Roman, and, God help us, from the lives of her very dear friends, and, as we later found out, from the love Jay still held for her.
I snuck another look in the rear-view mirror and could swear I saw tears slide down her cheeks from behind those John Lennon glasses and the sight almost broke my heart.
I had a thousand "Why?" questions for Charlie, as I knew Tex wasn't in a position to deliver the answers. But all that would have to wait for now, as I slid the Jeep into its highest gear and hit the throttle headed for Death Valley and Goler Wash.

I took side roads to get us to the mouth of the Wash, to avoid any C.H.P.s road-blocks and my scenic route worked like a charm. No cops, no cruisers, no road-blocks, just us passing a few motorists and a few RVs along the way, heading no doubt to Vegas and all points beyond. No one makes Death Valley their destination except the occasional hikers, miners and The Family, so once we turned off the Coyote Canyon Road and onto the dirt road which lead us to the mouth of the Wash, we were home free.

I stopped the Jeep well inside the Goler Canyon entrance, in order to be out of sight from the highway we had just left. I knew we’d need a break before we attempted the Canyon trail ahead.

Tex went to the back of the Jeep and rummaged through his gunny sack to retrieve the wax-paper wrapped ham sandwiches he had prepared for everyone while I hit the red metal Coke cooler for drinks. Tex and I stood around the back of the Jeep, eating and having a smoke while Sharon dangled her legs out the side of the back passenger door as Bob stood beside her and informed her of the trip ahead.

The plan was for Bob and Tex to walk ahead and throw the stones and boulders to the sides of the trail while I babied the Jeep through the tight corners and ruts, with Sharon by my side in the front passenger seat. I told her just to call out when she needed me to stop, no matter how many times, as we weren't on any schedule now, except to try to arrive at the ranch before the midday heat hit us. She seemed to be absorbing it all as Bob then went on to describe the layout of Barker Ranch and some of the Family members that were already there.

Finally breaking her silence, Sharon confessed that she had never been to Death Valley before, that her family always camped along the Pacific Coast Highway and environs south of San Francisco when she was a child. She admitted she was more of a Tom-boy than what was portrayed of her in Hollywood and that she'd be just fine on this last leg of the journey.

The look in her eyes told me she believed that to be true.

Our small lunch and chit-chat at an end, we relieved ourselves behind separate boulders and looked the other way as Sharon, who didn’t seem fazed at all by this, followed suit. Having achieved some measure of privacy behind the boulder she chose, the first such privacy since this trip began, she allowed herself to think of the others but not for long. On her return to the Jeep, she seemed to wipe away some tears with a determined air, as she let loose her hair from that wool cap and took off those glasses and let them hang from her jean shirt. She had the look of a Mother-to-be who would face head-on whatever was in the future, if not for her, at least for her baby.

I saw that Sharon’s eyes were red and a bit puffy as I helped her into the front seat and then took my own seat behind the wheel and turned over the engine. With Tex and Bob in front, we slowly, ever so slowly, began the almost instant uphill climb to Barker. I was wishing we could have transported Sharon to Barker from the Vegas side but there were too many police cruisers always monitoring that highway and the risk of detection was just too great. That, and Charlie ordered us to take the Wash, so, as always, we obeyed him, and here we were, gingerly carrying our precious cargo over some of the worse gutter-gouged and rock strewn roads imaginable in this California desert landscape.

As we made it passed the steep walls of the Goler Canyon Pass, the only sounds which filled our ears came from the water that was bubbling out of the nearby spring and trickling down the trail and the low gear humming of the Jeep engine. None of us spoke. Bob and Tex kept bending down to shove away the larger stones and to throw other debris to one side; and, with shovels in their hands, they filled in any potholes that were too deep for the Jeep to traverse.

When I glanced over at Sharon, she was leaning back in the passenger seat with her legs stretched out, in a slight V formation, her feet flat on the floorboard, her right hand grasping the ledge of the door and her left hand under her belly in an attempt to defray as much of the turbulence away from the fetus as possible. Her eyes stared straight ahead but I think her thoughts were somewhere else.

Occasionally, Sharon would grab the wineskin from the dashboard which was filled with cool water and take a drink, more out of fear of thirst than from thirst itself. The full moon made the night seem like day, making the landscape a kind of bluish/grey hue as the canyon walls fell away to a wider boulder-filled terrain.

We were progressing but if it hadn't been for Sharon, walking would have been faster than driving that Jeep to its high desert destination. We passed a miner's cabin a third of the way up but the old guy who usually kept house there was nowhere to be seen, thank God for that. This was the last obstacle we would have had to overcome to the gate at Barker. Now we really were home free. It took hours but we finally reached the last steep stretch of the Pass before we turned left and upward to the final plateau which would carry us all to the Ranch.

The grinding of our engine, we were sure, would be heard by some of the Family members, as all man-made noises seemed to carry in that Panamint Range valley.

Our Jeep made one last wide left turn and in the distance the Barker gate came into view. This was Sharon's first glimpse at her new "home" and her reaction didn't betray how she felt about her new life to come.

As we pulled into the gate and I swerved up to the stone pathway, Tex and Bob were met by Charlie who had been crouched, buck naked, at the front door. There were no other Family members up yet; only Charlie.

He slowly walked over to the Jeep and didn't think it odd to meet Sharon as he was. Their eyes met, for really the second time in both their lives, although Sharon at this moment didn't recognise the bare-skinned diminutive man standing in front of her.

"Welcome to Barker, Sharon. I'm Charlie and this is your new home." As he waved his arm over the landscape he had long decided was his own.

"Thank-you." Sharon said meekly. A response I doubt she meant.

Charlie helped her out of her dusty seat and guided her with his arm in the small of her back up those stone steps and to a rusted metal deck chair on the porch.

"Would you like some cool lemonade? The girls hiked down to Ballarat just today to buy the lemons for you."

"Yes." Sharon said.

When Charlie left in search of the lemonade, she leaned over and asked Tex where her quarters would be and where the washroom was. He pointed in the direction of the front door, and carrying her gear, he took her inside to the only bedroom in the Main Cabin.

She would be sharing this small stucco-walled room with Charlie on a single mattress in the far corner and her on the metal-frame bed near the door. The girls had made the bed with a freshly washed pastel flower sheet set, the only linens the Family owned, and on top of a weather-beaten wood nightstand that separated Charlie’s bed from her own, stood a small clear glass vase with desert wildflowers. The morning sun, now creeping slowly over the Panamint Range, seeped through the sheer and torn white curtains, which were, by now, a decrepit shade of dirty yellow. This room she would now occupy with Charlie, wasn't even the size of her Master Bath at Cielo. A thread-bare set of towels - yellow & white stripped Canons - lay ready for Sharon on a rickety wooden chair positioned at the foot of Charlie's mattress and above the chair was a large shard of mirror hung on the cracked stucco wall by hemp rope and a large brad nail.

Tex told me later that Sharon glanced at herself in that mirror but only for a second, as if she didn't approve of what she saw or didn't want to recognise the reality in which she found herself.

After a time in the tiny bath, Sharon crept back on tip-toe through to the front door and out to the porch, trying not to wake the others who were all splayed out on mattresses and sleeping bags all over the cabin floor.

Returning to the deck chair, Sharon leaned back and let out a little sigh and rubbed her belly as she did.
Charlie returned with her lemonade and was about to ask if she was okay but thought better of it and just walked inside and back to bed, sensing that she needed some time alone. Bob, Tex and I did the same but before I hauled my gear back to the bunkhouse, I told her where water and food could be had in the kitchen but I really don't think she heard me. Her thoughts were elsewhere as she just sat there staring straight out towards the direction we had just come, over the Panamint Range and to the life she once knew, the neon-coloured layers of the rising sun seeping ever skyward.

It was a Barker Ranch morning at its finest, dead quiet save for those incessant cicadas and the odd crow or buzzard soaring overhead, looking for its next prey.
"Please, no more prey; no more blood." I whispered to myself as I dragged my tired body back to the bunkhouse.
All that, I prayed, would remain at Cielo Drive, in the city, in the past and in the gaze of Sharon’s eyes.


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