“Ballarat or Bust”…Chapter Fourteen…

Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 1 Photo by Lara Hartley
It had only been less than twenty-four hours since Bruce and I had left Barker for our supply run but Bruce was as fidgety as a cat on a hot tin roof to get back to The Family.

Usually Bruce was a pretty non-chalant guy but not today.

“Jesus, Man, will you hurry up with them sacks, the morning’s dragging on and I don’t want to get caught in the Wash at dusk”, Bruce barked.

“Yeah, yeah, stop getting your shorts in a knot”, I barked back.

As Bruce loaded the last of the supplies and got all the paper-work straightened out with that old codger who runs the Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 2a
General Store, he paid what was due, slipped the last of the small items into his gunny sack in the back of the Jeep and plunked himself in the driver’s seat, loaded for bear, the engine slowly turned over with an annoying fan-belt whine but got off the starting block real fine as Bruce floored the throttle.
Photo by D.A. Wright
I was going to bug him again about his impatience at getting started for Barker but the cold stare he had for the road gave me pause.

“What’s goin’ on Bruce? Man, you usually love to get away from Charlie for a few days. We didn’t have to return this quick ya know”, I offered.

“Listen Paul, those girls are having a hell of a time with the babies being sun burned and the rats not letting up, crawling all over the place. Just yesterday, it looked like Ze Zo Zose had a bite from one of them varmints on his backside. I gotta get these supplies up to them, it just ain’t fair”, Bruce snapped back.

“Okay, Man, settle down. I see where you’re comin’ from. That ain’t a pretty picture, no how.” I muttered back.

Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 2 Photo by Len Wilcox
The Jeep continued to roar on its way down the highway and no more was said between us up until we reached the Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 3 mouth of the Wash. Both of us deep in our own thoughts. As for mine, it was times like these that the lingering doubt of why I was here, doing what I was doing with a gang who were now multiple murderers and kidnappers to boot, would rear its ugly head, especially when hate and murder were counter-intuitive to everything I held dear.

It really came down to the fact that I had no where else to go, no one else who gave a damn one way or the other, if I lived or if I died, so being with the Devil however perverse was more comforting than being alone.

Somehow, it seemed un-natural to have such a fatalistic viewpoint of Life at such a young age. But I think that was Charlie’s doing. We were going to find that Bottomless Pit in the desert or die tryin’. It all just seemed pointless but I had no idea of how to get myself out of this Family anymore. Once you’re “in”, you’re in, and there ain’t no turnin’ back.

After what was hours in the midday sun, as Bruce and I took turns gently guiding that rusted old Jeep over the boulders and the wash-outs, drinking almost all of our canteen water in the effort, we finally got by the old miner’s cabin, by the Lotus Mine, by the discarded machinery rusting to nothing in the sand dunes and reached the last right turn before Barker would come into view.

Bruce stopped the engine and turned and looked at me.

“Listen, if anything ever goes wrong, you know, between Charlie and me, or The Family, if some bad karma comes down, you know, I never deliberately wanted to hurt you or the girls, you know that, right?”

“Sure Bruce, I know. What you goin’ on about? Why you bein’ so serious all of a sudden?” I asked, almost afraid to hear his response.

“Nothin’, Man, nothin’. I just don’t never want you to think that I think as bad about you as I do them kids who killed for Charlie and took Sharon, okay?” pleaded Bruce.

“Yeah, Man, I know what you mean. I hope you know I don’t put you in that scene no way neither?” I said.

“Thanks, Man. Listen, I only helped kill Shorty cuz Charlie ordered me to, not cuz I wanted to, you know?” he offered.

“I know, Man, I know. No one says no to Soul, Man, and lives to tell the tale”, I said.
“Okay, Man, we’re straight with one another? We’re okay? No hard feelings no matter what happens, between us that is, are we in agreement on this, Man?” asked Bruce, his body leaning in at me, his eyes and his expression deadly serious, too serious, almost.

“Yeah Bruce, we’re good, we’re tight. I’m here no matter what comes down. I’ve been ready for a long time, for whatever is supposed to happen. I ain’t got no where else to go, so I’m at peace with whatever, you know?” I confessed.

Bruce silently nodded as he leaned over the steering wheel and turned over the already steaming engine once more, to crawl us the last hundred yards or so to the entrance of Barker Ranch.

It was late afternoon when we finally pulled the Jeep through the gates and up over the bluff to its hidden location, walking toward the cabin through the

 Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 3a back gate.

All was as it was when we left a day earlier.

Charlie and Tex still bent over engines, looking tired and dirty as they worked feverously to get the last of the buggies road worthy, Cappy and a few other girls were in the lattice-covered outside kitchen peeling some potatoes, Sadie, Katie and Ouisch sitting beside them on the ground, miners picks in hand, chipping gold flakes from the boulders they had dug from the Mine, and Sharon, Gypsy, Brenda and a few others lounging in the pool, a tarpaulin cover hoisted up and over the opening to give respite from the searing sun if not the heat.

The kiddies were no where to be seen and I suspected it was naptime for them as the midday heat was just too dangerous for them to be up and about.

The scene on the face of it, looked quite idyllic, really. Just a group of young people trying to make a peaceful go of it where the “Man” would leave them alone. If there hadn’t been all the bloodshed, that’s the impression this scene gave. But there had been bloodshed, so every innocent act performed by The Family always had a dark cloud hanging over it, bad karma, I felt in my gut,  we’d never be able to shed.

Bruce had already left the Jeep in the time I was just sitting and staring, his gunny sack with him, heading straight for that pool. Charlie barked out at him to hand over the buggy parts and Bruce complied, sensing that work, as always, came before play.

I got the last of the supplies out of the Jeep, storing the perishables in water-tight containers deep within the well with the help from the other girls. And just as the last of the sun tipped below the horizon, the cow bell Charlie had installed for the girls on one of the front porch beams rung announcing the end of this workday and our evening meal. Sharon had been hard at work in the kitchen as usual and the aroma wafting out of the cabin was incentive enough to drop our tools and call it a day.

Charlie was the last to come in and wash up and we waited patiently and silently around the kitchen table for him to join us. We never knew what kind of mood he’d be in from day to day but tonight, maybe because of the engine parts that Bruce and I had got, Charlie was relaxed and quite jovial which made the rest of us breathe a wee bit easier.

“You girls out-did yourselves tonight; this casserole looks great!” hollered Charlie, as he dug in his fork, the signal for all of us to do the same. We all laughed and smiled and told stories as everyone dug in and cleaned their  plates. There were no leftovers as usual and not one drop of the homemade lemonade was left in the pitchers, which was a pity as not all of The Family made it back to the cabin in time for chow.

As the guys pushed their full bellies from the table, the candles that had graced the table were moved to the sink so the girls could clean up. Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 4The men headed out with two of the hurricane lamps and onto the porch for some well deserved pot, to relax in the cool breeze that often came when the sun disappeared from view.

“Things are goin’ pretty good. You guys brought them parts, they all fit in perfect and I think Tex and I have finally got our battalion ready and able” , Charlie said with a certain amount of pride in his voice, as he leaned back on one of the metal deck chairs, rocking it back and forth on his heels.

“Yeah, Charlie, them last two buggies are doin’ just fine. We can go back out and continue our search for the Pit tomorrow, if ya want” offered Tex quite enthusiastically.

“Yep, that there is a plan! That’s exactly what I’m aimin’ to do.” he answered back but with no specific details, of how that would be accomplished, offered.

The crickets and cicadas and the odd howling wolf were the last sounds of the day as night had overtaken the ranch. The wooden slats creaked and groaned on the old rickety porch as the men swayed back and forth in their chairs.

The candle light that had glowed from within had suddenly vanished, signalling that the girls had retired for the night.

“Okay, Charlie, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll start searching again tomorrow” was all Paul said. I couldn’t see his face, well, I couldn’t see anyone’s face as the darkness in the Panamint Range was as black as the inside of a coffin. One by one, we bid our goodnights and headed to our respective bunks. The days were long and deathly hot in the desert yet the nights were freezing and a little unsettling, maybe because you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face.

Ballarat-CharlesManson-TheMansonFamily 5
Maybe because you couldn’t see anything at all.

To be continued…(but not for long!…)


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