When Devon Butterfield rode his motorcycle through a mound of barbed wire and into a horse pasture, picked up his severed foot, jumped on a horse and rode to town, no one in Wildcat Falls knew that it would put them on the map. But it did. The news was just regional at first. Devon’s chiseled face was right there on “Live at Five” in Billings and Boise, telling how he’d had the presence of mind to wrap the foot up in his leather jacket and tuck it under his arm. He related how difficult it had been to mount the horse with a bloody stump hemorrhaging out his life, and how he’d cell-phoned ahead to 911. The ambulance had met him half way to town and the immediate efforts of the EMT’s plus the ER staff’s quick action in tying off vital arteries had saved his life and ultimately his foot. “Some feeling, limited use,” Devon echoed the terms used by his doctors in Boise, while the newswomen looked on adoringly.
The story had gone viral and soon citizens of Wildcat Falls started getting phone calls from friends and relatives in places like Phoenix and Miami. “Who’s the cowboy on the news?” they’d ask. It was entertaining at first, what with all the news cameras set up outside Ruthie’s Café, and Brian Williams and Wolf Blitzer talking about Wildcat Falls like they knew everyone there. When the rumor starting going around that Devon was going to New York City to be on the Paul Sanderson Show, everyone was pretty excited. Sooner or later every famous person went on that show from the President to the Kardashians. People wondered how Devon Butterfield from Wildcat Falls would handle Sanderson’s nosy questions. He was an interviewer who really knew how to make his guests squirm. He would invite them on, introduce them with a big build up and when they got comfortable, manage to make them say all kinds of things they didn’t intend.
“You better watch out,” Gabe Littlefeather told Devon in the barbershop. “You’ll be spilling your guts all over national TV.”
Devon looked in the mirror at the hack job Gabe had given him. He should have waited to get a haircut in New York. “I can handle his kind,” he told Gabe, never taking his eyes from his own reflection.
Connie Rasmussen first heard about the Sanderson show when she arrived at work at the bank on Tuesday. She didn’t think much about it at first. But that afternoon as she was pouring coins into the sorting machine, a dreadful sinking feeling began in her lower stomach. By the end of the day when she looked up from her desk into Devon Butterfield’s big belt buckle, she was nauseous.
“Did you hear I’m going to New York?” he asked her. “You’ll be proud of me,” he sneered, limping away.
At home Connie took some chicken from the freezer. Tommy wouldn’t be home for another couple hours. The construction company he worked for had a road project going about forty miles north in Caulville. Everyone in town liked Tommy Rasmussen. He worked hard, had a friendly way about him and gave a lot of free time to the Wildcat Falls Volunteer Fire Department. The guys at the bars were still talking about how he’d run into the machine shed out at the Gales’ ranch to save Manny Rodriquez. And he was good to Connie, pulling her to him in a bear hug when he walked in the door each evening. She felt safe against his big fleshy frame. There was comfort in his squatness and ruddy complexion. He was good to his family as well. Too good, in Connie’s estimation. Which was why when he had driven over to Billings to see his ailing mother for the third time in two weeks, she decided to go out to Rollie’s Bar by herself on Friday night.
They usually went there together after having dinner at Chipotle’s. It felt weird to be there alone, but she had run into Sandy and Dave White and spent the evening as a third wheel, drinking too much and listening to them go on about their new house. After they left, and she was getting ready to leave herself, Devon Butterfield had walked over to her table. They had never had much to say to one another before. He had been three years behind her in high school, but had dated Tiffany, a popular girl with big hair and tight clothes who had been in Connie’s class. Devon sat down across from her and wanted to buy her a drink. It seemed cosmopolitan to Connie to sit there and have drinks with another man while her husband was out of town. Where was the harm? Tommy wasn’t due back until the next day. Did he expect her to sit home and watch television while he was gone? She did feel a little bit ashamed for flirting but she wasn’t used to attention from good-looking men, and five Bud Lights had loosened her up quite a bit. Devon’s attention made her feel flushed and restless. When he offered to drive her home, she was flattered. And when he suggested that he should see her safely into the house, it seemed like a good idea. But upstairs ten minutes later while she was flailing all over the bed, repeating the obscenities that Devon spoke in her ear, she couldn’t quite remember how she got there. And afterward, when increased circulation had pumped some of the alcohol from her brain, she looked at Tommy’s softball trophy on the dresser in disbelief.
“Get out,” she said to Devon who was sitting with his back to her on Tommy’s side of the bed. He got up lazily and buttoned his shirt.
When he reached the door, he turned back, a grin on his handsome face, “But, Connie, I feel so used.”
She heard him laugh going down the stairs.
And now he’s going on television to answer Paul Sanderson’s trick questions. Connie stood at the sink, as rigid as the frosty pieces of chicken she pried apart under the running water.
Almost everyone who came in to the Morehouse Insurance Agency had something to say about the Devon Butterfield incident. Chester Morehouse sat in his office and listened to them talking to Gladys his receptionist. They commented on the strange twists of fate that made ordinary people famous these days. A few folks expressed surprise that Devon, never known for his intellect or quick wit, had known what to do. Chester couldn’t and wouldn’t point out the error in their thinking. He knew that Devon Butterfield was dumb like a fox. He had hired him a few years back to act as a courier to insurance firms in surrounding towns. Gladys wondered out loud why they kept him on, now that documents could be faxed or attached to e-mails at no additional cost. Chester said that doing business in person was a classier way to interact with colleagues and customers. Gladys just shook her head.
If there was any man in Wildcat Falls who was an American success story, it was Chester Morehouse. A generation prior, the Morehouses had been known as a clan of misfits who lived in a series of shacks eight miles out of town. Their children only attended school for a brief period following a visit from the truant officer. The herd of mismatched livestock the family kept was thought by many to be the result of midnight rustling forays perpetrated far enough away from Wildcat Falls to avoid suspicion. No one bothered the Morehouses. Their anti-social ways weren’t of any consequence to the affluent or influential members of the community.
Most of Wildcat Falls was surprised when Chester Morehouse was the first in his family to graduate from high school. They were downright incredulous when he received an associate degree in business from Big Sky Community College. He started out selling insurance door to door. The housewives of Wildcat Falls, impressed by Chester’s suave sales pitch and polite manner, bought policies protecting their families from every conceivable act of God. Soon, he owned his own agency and offered auto, home, health and life to most of the tri-county area. He was a past president of Rotary and had served terms on both the city council and the school board. He built the most extravagant home in Wildcat Falls, and until recently had been able to sock away a substantial amount in a Roth IRA account in anticipation of a grand tour of Europe when he took early retirement. Last year, the Wildcat Falls Register had named him “Citizen of the Year” for initiating Murdock County’s first homeless shelter. Business, social and service obligations kept him busy six nights a week. Tuesday nights he stayed at home.
When he arrived home after work every Tuesday, the first thing he did was open a chilled bottle of white wine and run a hot bubble bath. He stretched out in the water, took up a razor and carefully shaved his legs. He kept a hand mirror by the tub that he used to shave off the day’s beard as closely as he could. Then Chester would get out of the tub, dry off and go to his bedroom where he pulled a locked strongbox from under the bed. For the better part of an hour, using delicate movements, he applied make-up, press-on nails and a wig. Then the part he liked best—he slipped on panty hose, delicate undergarments, stiletto heels and a satin dress, all purchased years ago on a trip to Denver. He loved the smoothness of the silky garments next to his body. It made him feel both cool and hot, excited yet queasy. He would spend an additional hour sipping wine while walking between the master bedroom and the spare room at the end of the hall, glancing at himself in the full length mirrors he had installed. Then, having sated this quirk in his nature, he would pack everything away, take a long shower and forget about it all until the following Tuesday. That was until one Tuesday when he stepped from his room into the hallway and looked through false eyelashes at a smirking Devon Butterfield. After that he thought about Tuesdays all week long, starting with the Monday morning bank withdrawal in the amount that he normally deposited in his Roth account—the amount that he now handed over to Devon Butterfield in a plain brown envelope
Chester could imagine the talk show host Paul Sanderson saying to Devon, “I’ll bet all the cowboys out there in Montana are real he-men.”
“Oh, not all of them,” Devon would smirk.
Chester knew the world was changing—that there was more tolerance for the variations of human expression. But he knew he would be long in the ground before that kind of change overtook the citizens of Wildcat Falls.
The day of the famed motorcycle accident stood out clearly in Hank Butterfield’s memory. Just minutes before his son had blasted through that pile of barbed wire, the two of them had had an argument that nearly came to blows. Hank wanted to know where Devon was coming by all the extra cash he’d been throwing around lately and Devon had told him that he didn’t intend to spend the rest of his life living like a filthy farm animal. Hank knew that the comment was a direct insult lobbed at the life he had provided for his family and it made him see red. Hadn’t he done everything he could to make this miserable five hundred acres pay off? And all without the help of his worthless younger son. He and the oldest boy, Derek, had spent every waking minute working their nuts off while Devon ran around in cars with women and hung out at the taverns all night long. But just like always, after their argument Devon took off, tearing out of the yard on that goddam motorcycle revved up to the hilt. Two hours later, Hank got a call from Lona Bivins down at the courthouse telling him that Devon had been in a bad accident and was on his way to Boise by helicopter.
Hank didn’t see what all the commotion was about. Grabbing that foot and riding to town was the first sensible thing that Devon had ever done, but anybody would have done the same. God knows that kid would look after his own hide any way he could. And now the boy was going to New York to be on one of those bleeding heart talk shows. Jesus. When Hank had been laid up with sciatica a few years back, he’d watched some of that black woman’s show out of Chicago. People came on and whined about how rough they had it, so sad and misunderstood. Christ, like anybody had it easy. Take his wife, Lottie—now there was a woman who didn’t complain about anything. Right up to the end, even after the docs had said she wasn’t going to make it, she was out there pitching hay and always had a meal ready when he walked in the door at night. Lottie never whimpered, always letting him make all the decisions. The only time he had ever let her have her way was when the boys were born, and that had been a mistake, giving them sissy names like Derek and Devon.
He could see Devon on one of those shows alright. Be right at home with that face he was so proud of sticking in the camera. He would probably bring up all the times Hank had taken a strap to him. They ate that stuff up on those big city shows. They didn’t understand that what was wrong with the world today was everybody was afraid to discipline their own kids, calling everything child abuse. What was the sense of having them if you didn’t teach them to mind their ways and show them how the world worked. Derek, now he had enough sense to shape up after the first whipping. But Devon just kept coming back for more. You could never teach that boy anything. Still, Hank didn’t like the idea of being made to look like a monster on television. He didn’t like it at all.
New York was everything Devon imagined it would be. The Paul Sanderson Show sent a limo to meet him at the airport. When he left the security area, there was the driver with a wheelchair, holding a sign with his name on it. He explained to the guy that he didn’t need the chair, but by the time they reached the car, he wished he had used it. The show had booked him into a classy hotel, and as soon as he was settled in the tenth floor room he picked up the phone and ordered room service. A rep from the Sanderson show called and told him that another limo would collect him at nine the next morning so that he could come to the studio for a tour and a brief interview. He didn’t know what else they could ask him. He’d already had about a dozen calls from them, and was getting tired of repeating his story. After he ate his dinner in solitary splendor, he went down to the hotel bar where he spent the rest of the evening. He wasted a good two hours talking to some blond who, as it turned out, was just killing time waiting for a guy in a turban. She left without even acknowledging Devon, and by the time he struck up a conversation with another girl in a sparkling gold dress the bar was closing. He decided he needed some rest anyway. All that walking on concrete had been murder on his foot, plus he didn’t want to be puffy eyed for his TV appearance.
The next day at the studio Devon was disappointed to find out that there were going to be two other guests on the show with him—a young boy who had his arm reattached after a boating accident and a woman who had cut off four fingers with her lawn mower. He could see how the Sanderson people were trying to spice up her story, prompting her to tell about how the whole neighborhood had searched for her missing fingers. After they had all retold their stories to a staff member, Paul Sanderson stopped in to introduce himself. It seemed to Devon that he made a big fuss over the kid and the boring woman, but had only said to Devon, “So you’re the cowboy.”
The secretary gave them a tour of the studio. Devon flirted a little with her. She was one of those studious types with clunky glasses and he figured she wasn’t use to verbal foreplay because she seemed a little miffed by some of his comments. She took them to a studio where a game show was being taped and then to the cafeteria. Devon thought that the show could have sprung for a little better lunch, like at one of those fancy New York restaurants that everybody always talked about. They made selections from a big steam table just like in a damn prison. Besides, he was getting tired of hanging with the kid and old lady. Deciding to take a little tour of his own, he gave the group the slip. All of the hallways looked alike and he had just decided to find the lobby when he saw a door marked Paul Sanderson Show Personnel Only. He figured, what the hell? They wouldn’t throw out a guest of the show. He’d just say he got lost. The door was unlocked and led down a hallway. The rooms were much nicer in this section—thick carpeting, real art on the walls. One room had comfy looking furniture with a side table on which a coffee urn and fruit and snacks had been placed. Devon thought that it must be the proverbial “green room” like Jay Leno’s guests always talked about. He pushed open a couple more unlocked doors but saw only empty desks or technical looking equipment. At the end of the hall was a set of double doors that led to large suite that smelled like lemons and leather. Devon thought he caught sight of Paul Sanderson behind a large paneled partition. He limped over quietly to get a better look. Sanderson sat at a large table where he was leaning over and pushing white powder around on a mirror tile. Somebody slammed a door somewhere behind Devon and Sanderson threw a clutch of papers over the stuff on the table. When he looked up he caught sight of Devon.
“What the . . .Oh, it’s you, cowboy. Look if you have any questions about the show, take it up with Sandy at the personnel desk. This part of the studio is off limits.”
Devon Butterfield from Wildcat Falls was never one to miss an opportunity. “I was just wondering,” he said, “I can’t really work anymore and I was hoping this show would really pay off for me.”
“Yeah, sure. A story like yours usually nets a little cash from do-gooders who tune in. Who knows? There might even be some kind of reality show in it for you if the right people like the angle.”
“I was sort of hoping you might be willing to pay me a little extra. I did turn down other offers to do your show.”
“Look, Buddy, we have a standard pay scale for all our guests, even real celebrities. You have to get out of here now.”
Devon was tired of playing games, too. This guy wasn’t getting his message. “What would your boss think about what you’ve got under that paper?”
“What the fuck! You weasel! You think you’re gonna put the screws to me? I don’t have a boss you dumb shit. I am the boss. We’re syndicated. No network to answer to, only advertisers who get me as much of this stuff as I want!” Sanderson threw the papers off the pile of cocaine and grabbed the phone.
“Sandy! Send back security. And do we have a plan B for today’s show? Good. Go with it. We’re cancelling the amputee thing so let the guests down easy and get cracking on the bit about the clown doctors.”
He turned to Devon just as a security guard entered the suite, “Well, asshole, your fifteen minutes of fame are over. Your ticket back to the ranch is still good. I’d use it.”
Devon was ushered to the street. He had to use a good share of his cash just to take a taxi back to the hotel. He expected the room to be cancelled but when he discovered that it wasn’t, he washed up and decided to go out. He ate dinner at a place that looked like a greasy spoon from the outside but still charged exorbitant prices. He could only afford a bowl of soup. After that, he sat in a bar for a while, spending three of his last five bucks on a beer. A woman, he took for a prostitute approached him.
“Hey. I don’t pay for it,” he said. “After it was over, you’d wanna pay me.”
She looked him up and down. “Yeah, right,” she said, walking away.
He wandered back out into the street and turned toward the hotel but had to stop halfway back and lean against a news stand. His foot was throbbing and he felt disoriented. The magazines and tabloids on the rack caught his eye. He read some of the headlines and then asked the guy running the kiosk, “How do I get in contact with that paper there?’
“What do I look like? A fucking literary agent?” the guy said, spitting around a greasy cigar. “I just sell this shit.”
Devon bought a tabloid with a flashy picture of Lindsay Lohan on it and took it back to the hotel. He found an e-mail address and phone number in small print at the bottom of page two. He called the number and said to the voice that answered, “What if I have a story about a famous person?”
“Who doesn’t?” the voice on the line said. “Who and what are we talking about?”
Devon told him his story.
“No shit. You’re that cowboy dude? And you say you saw Sanderson with a little blow. That’s no shocker, but the two stories together might merit looking at. Be here at ten tomorrow.”
Devon slept pretty good that night in his plush hotel room. He was beginning to think he might make New York work for him after all.
He had to wait several days for the story to come out in the tabloid. He had been booted by the hotel the next morning but the reporter had given him enough for the story that he was able to rent a cheap room across town.
Finally on Monday of the following week the tabloid ran the headline “Crippled Cowboy Booted After Stumbling on Sanderson Drug Stash.” Devon read the article six times. They included all that he had told them plus several things he hadn’t. There was a phony picture of him with his arm around Sanderson. He remembered that they had asked him to pose for a photo when he brought in his story. They must have added Sanderson later.
The next day he went to a bar with a TV so he could catch Sanderson’s reaction to the whole thing. Sure enough when the theme music faded out, the camera zoomed in on Sanderson’s face. “We have a great show for you today, but before we get started I wanted to talk to you about my drug problem.” The audience gasped in unison.
“He’s busted,” Devon said to the guy next to him at the bar.
“I usually don’t address the kind of garbage that appears in the tabloids, but this was such an egregious fabrication that I can’t let it go unanswered. In case some of you don’t know, I was recently the victim of a vicious smear article in one of the rags you see next to the checkout at the grocery. It was right there above the article about the farmer who claimed that six of his heifers were impregnated by a bull from the planet Zorkon.”
The audience laughed.
“I’ll admit that at first I was furious about the story, the allegations contained in it I won’t even repeat here. But then I realized that this is the price we pay, all of us, you and me, to live in a free society with the free exchange of ideas.” Sanderson stopped for a moment, as if to regain his composure.
“This stuff is out there and maybe we’re lucky because the upside of the whole thing is that responsible journalism has the right to exist, too. And in a society like ours that is everything, just like that lovely lady in our harbor that welcomed many of our forebears, and that star spangled banner that flies over this beautiful land.”
An elderly woman in the crowd waved Paul over to her. “What, Dear?” he said.
She pulls the microphone down to her, “We believe you, Paul. Everyone knows the kind of vicious lies those papers print.” Applause.
“Thank you. Thank you,” Sanderson said, reaching down to squeeze her arm. “That’s why we keep coming out here day after day. Well, nuff said. On today’s show we have a woman who rescued a cat from a storm sewer only to find that it was wearing around its neck a bracelet she lost back in 1962. Stay tuned.”
Devon left the bar and went out into the street. And in the weeks and months that followed, he discovered that on the street there was money to be made from doing almost anything if you knew how to go about it.
Back in Wildcat Falls, a sonogram revealed that Connie and Tommy Rasmussen were going to give birth to a beautiful apple-cheeked little girl in a few months’ time.
Chester Morehouse, after much consideration, decided that people in southern California needed insurance, too. He was giving the Rasmussens an incredible deal on the house.
While returning to the ranch house after chores one evening, Hank Butterfield was gripped by a crushing pain in his chest. Derek found him hours later, still clutching the pail.
Some people wondered whatever happened to Devon Butterfield after he had received that horrific injury a while back. Most didn’t.