Kelly Stone Gamble
Helen Carter lives in the back seat of her father’s Model T in the harsh Nevada desert, surrounded by thousands of desperate souls trying to endure the hardships of the Great Depression. When her father dies while working on the Hoover Dam diversion tunnels, she finds herself alone. In this unforgiving landscape where marriage, prostitution, and starvation seem to be her only viable choices, Helen is determined to defy society’s expectations of a young woman and create her own American dream. She relies on her resourcefulness to survive but soon realizes she can’t go it alone.
Ezra Deal, a young dam worker, brought his sister to Nevada in search of the father of her child, only to have the man reject her. Tragically, both his sister and the baby pass away during childbirth, leaving Ezra with a profound sense of guilt. Determined to distance himself from any further responsibilities, he focuses on his job and locating the man who callously denied his sister. But when he learns that his friend Helen is running from not only the law but also a Las Vegas gangster, he must decide between his independent lifestyle and helping her.
As Helen and Ezra grow closer and become more invested in the diversion of the Colorado River from its course, their lives parallel this monumental change. Ezra can picture building a life with Helen, but she has other ideas. With the help of a thirteen-year-old runaway, a few prostitutes, a dead desperado, and Ezra, Helen embarks on a journey to live life on her terms.
Incorporating actual dramatic events gleaned from the oral histories of the dam workers, Ragtown highlights a time in American history when ordinary men and women overcame the challenges of the Great Depression and thrived.
When we reached the camp, a circle of ten or so men surrounded another, who quickly shifted from one man to the next, cussing and threatening them with a hayfork. In the center of the circle, two small figures lay naked on the ground. Their hands and legs were spread wide apart and appeared to be tied to tent stakes. They weren’t moving.
Ben was coughing uncontrollably when he reached us. “Dear Lord,” he said in between coughs. “What the hell happened?”
“One of the boys gave a can of beans to Johnny-behind-the-rock without asking his daddy first.
They’ve been out there for over an hour now,” Helen said.
“Where did he get a hay fork?”
“He used it for a tent pole. Tore down the whole thing to get to it.”
I alternated my stare between the man jabbing at the spectators and the two small bodies on the ground. I didn’t want to get stabbed, but somehow, we had to get to those boys, and none of the other men seemed too keen on making a move.
Ben whispered something to Helen, and I heard her say under her breath, “If Ranger finds out we have a gun—”
“No.” I reached for Ben’s arm. “You’ll get fired. You can’t do that.”
Ben shook his arm loose. “Those boys are gonna die before Ranger gets here. I can’t let that happen.”
I could see the boys clearly now. They couldn’t be more than six or seven. Their skin was as red as a cock’s comb. I walked toward the circle, trying to focus on the man with the hay fork while others in the crowd tried to reason with him to no avail.
Too much going on and not enough sleep, or maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly, but as he turned his back to me to jab his weapon at someone else, I broke the circle and tackled him from behind. We hit the rocky ground together, me landing on top, the hay fork a few feet away.
The man struggled against me, and I hit him square in the temple with a closed fist. Then another. And another. I felt all the anger inside of me boiling up—anger at my father, at Billy, and even at Grace for dying on me, and I hit him again. He bucked and threw me off him, swearing as he rolled over. He tried to get to his feet, but I kicked him hard in the abdomen with my booted foot, throwing him back to the ground. I grabbed the hay fork and raised it high over my head, directly above him. His face tensed, and his dark eyes filled with anger.
As I lowered the fork, a strong hold around my midsection pulled me away, and I missed my mark by inches. “That’s enough, son,” Ben said from behind me. Four men held the offender down and, after untying the boys, hog-tied him with the same rope to keep him until Ranger arrived.
The boys’ skin had started to blister, and they were covered with red ants. I turned away, unable to look at them, and focused on Helen. “Are they alive?”
Author Note: Johnny-behind-the-rock was mentioned in one of the many oral histories related to Ragtown. Too old to be employed on the dam project, he lived alone behind a large boulder with nothing to his name but the clothes he wore. He rarely came from behind his rock, moving throughout the day to stay in a shady spot. He rarely spoke and survived on what others gave him. He was known only as Johnny-behind-the-rock. I don’t know his story, I’m not sure anyone does, but I’m sure it was tragic to live as he did. I wanted to remember him in some way, even if it is only a mention in a work of fiction.
The ant scene is a fictionalized account gleaned from a true event that took place in Ragtown. I included it to show the cruelty that desperation can breed.
I want readers to take something away from my books and short stories: something memorable, whether it be an interesting protagonist, an emotion or a moment in time.
Depending on what characters decide to sit beside me on a particular day, I may write historical fiction or quirky, dark humor.
My interests are as diverse as my writing. I am at home fishing on a river, riding horses in the mountains, reading on a beach, hiking through the desert or playing pirate with my friends.
I don't believe in growing old and I refuse to grow up.
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