The next day Wesley goes to the reservation, though he has no jurisdiction there, to investigate Marie’s accusations. Later that day, David sees him at the Coffee Cup (a café where he often goes to sit and talk with his “regular group” of men from around the town). Today Wesley is sitting with Ollie Young Bear, a native American man who married a white woman and is admired by the town’s white people for being an example of “what Indians could be.” David, though his father admires Ollie deeply, is intimidated by him. And David has heard Marie say that Ollie simply wishes he were white. David wonders if Ollie is the right person for his father to be talking to.
That Wesley must leave his jurisdiction to investigate Frank’s crime emphasizes Frank’s manipulation of the legal system—he victimizes Native Americans in part because he can do so “outside” the reach of the law. Wesley nevertheless pursues justice (in part due to Gail’s insistence). Though he notably chooses to communicate with Ollie, an “assimilated” Sioux who is held in higher regard among white people than he is among Native Americans. This could be due to Wesley’s prejudice, but it is also likely he knows that his case hinges on the support of white people.
When David gets home, Marie is asleep. He notices the house is unusually quiet—Marie usually plays the radio all day. David turns it on hoping that she will hear it and feel better when she wakes up.
This touching moment describes an effort on David’s part to return things to normal, to go back to how things were. Moments like this remind us that David is very much still a child.
When his parents get home, David overhears them. Wesley tells Gail he wants to talk to Marie again, but that he doesn’t want Gail to be in the room. David wonders if his father is sparing his mother the more gruesome details, or if he is trying to limit the number of witnesses to Marie’s testimony, in the interest of protecting Frank.
David is now forced to wonder if Wesley is acting in the best interests of Gail, Marie, or his brother. It is still unclear where Wesley’s loyalties lie. Is he acting as a sheriff, a brother, a husband, a Hayden? David, and Wesley, continues struggling with the question of family and identity.
While Wesley talks to Marie, Gail takes David for a short walk outside. David works up the courage to ask her what’s going on with Marie. She answers cautiously, telling him there’s some “possible” trouble on the reservation. She then changes the subject, telling David she loves the wind, because it always feels as though it is “bringing something new.” She says she is not used to the smell of the wind in Montana, and misses North Dakota where she grew up. As an adult, David understands his mother was talking about the wind in order to communicate her desire for a few moments of peace and purity. But as a child he cannot see this, and simply continues to ask about Marie before noticing his father has finished speaking with her and returning to go back inside the house.
David’s mother is more careful talking to him than she is talking to Wesley. She qualifies her language, disguises her belief in Frank’s guilt. She talks about the wind (an ever-present feature of the Montana landscape.) Winds signify change, fresh starts. But for her the wind also reminds her of home, of what she’s lost. Her comment paints a complicated picture of the fraught nature of change—it is irresistible, often painful, often necessary. David, however, can only acknowledge this as an adult: his youth is emphasized by his innocent ignorance of his mothers’ true meaning.
The following Sunday, David and his parents are on their way to Grandpa Hayden’s house. Gail and Wesley had fought about going—Gail hadn’t wanted to accept the invitation because she knew Frank would be there. Wesley had argued that he couldn’t cut his parents out of his life along with his brother.
The involvement of Wesley’s parents complicates the matter. It is suggested for the first time that exiling Frank from their lives might mean exiling Grandpa and Grandma Hayden. Wesley is as of yet unable to accept this fact, unable to place justice above being a Hayden.
When they arrive at Grandpa’s house, Frank’s car is already parked out front. The house is large and expensively decorated in a way that Wesley believes is cliché and tacky. But David loves the house, because it is big enough for him to disappear into.
Frank has appropriately arrived first—this gestures to his status as first among the Hayden boys, the favorite son. Wesley’s distaste for his father’s house further emphasizes the fact that he and Julian Hayden have little in common, and raises the question of why Wesley feels so loyal to his family.
Grandpa Hayden greets them in a traditional western shirt and a cowboy boots. When David sees him, he realizes that Grandpa Hayden would never let anything bad happen to Frank, his favorite son. Wesley casually remarks to his father about the wind, and Julian responds judgmentally: “If you don’t like wind, you don’t like Montana.”
Grandpa Hayden’s attire is a cliché “western” getup. This is appropriate given his tendency to ignore the more complex realities of the society he lives in, to worship Frank for his superficial qualities, and to dismiss the abuse of Native Americans as unimportant. In some ways, David’s grandpa is like the sort of Western TV cowboys David used to worship.
David hears his father ask Grandpa Hayden if he has a minute to talk about Frank. David has the brief hope that Grandpa Hayden will hear about Frank’s crimes and talk sense into him—make it so that Frank will never dare to hurt a woman ever again. But instead Wesley tells Julian that Frank and Gloria are trying to have children, and that he thinks Julian should lay off teasing them about it. Julian protests, saying that with two sons he expected to have more grandchildren by now. Then he clarifies: “and white. We want them white.” Wesley goes silent, and Julian jokingly says that Frank has always liked “red meat.” Then he says he suspects that there might be children on the reservations who look quite a lot like Frank. Wesley simply says he thinks Julian may be right about that.
It becomes even clearer that Frank’s family has had an idea about his crimes for a while, and tolerated them. Julian’s light and even jovial acknowledgement of Frank’s abusive conduct is evidence of both his blind devotion to his son and his utter disregard for his son’s victims. Grandpa Hayden has been a sheriff, yet his disinterest in justice is especially evident here. Wesley is caught yet again between loyalties and identities. His silence in the face of Grandpa Hayden’s remarks illustrates his indecision and internal division. He’s not ready to confront his father over all of this yet.
This is the second time David has heard his Grandfather say something about Frank and Native American girls. At Frank’s wedding, Grandpa Hayden had said “now he’s got a good-looking white woman for a wife. That better keep him off the reservation.” At the time, no one had said a word.
David makes a connection between this moment and one from many years ago, understanding that the family’s tolerance of Frank’s behavior goes back several years. Their silence again illustrates indecision, but also complicity in Frank’s crimes.
David sits between his grandmother and Aunt Gloria at dinner. David has had a crush on Aunt Gloria for a while—she is beautiful and kind to him. David has trouble looking at her tonight because he can’t imagine that Gloria doesn’t know what Uncle Frank has been up to. David tries to suppress a series of thoughts about how Frank could want to sexually abuse Native American women when he had a wife as attractive as Gloria. David feels guilty about it, but he has always envied Uncle Frank for being married to her, for getting to kiss her and have sex with her (even though David doesn’t really understand these things at 12 years old.)
David’s increasing sexual awareness is brought out in this section. David is not only grappling with the moral failure of adults, he’s also grappling with the concept of sexual violence at a time when he is only just beginning to understand sex, attraction, and longing. His inability to understand Frank’s actions makes him feel guilty, because he can’t help but think of Aunt Gloria’s physical attractiveness. Like many twelve year olds, he’s not sure what’s normal when it comes to sex.
After dinner David quickly excuses himself. He wonders if they will talk about Frank once he leaves, but realizes they can’t say anything in front of Grandmother Hayden, who has a heart condition that worsens when she becomes stressed or worried. Before David leaves his grandfather gives him a pistol and tells him to shoot any coyotes if he sees them.
Grandmother Hayden’s heart condition complicates further the issue of familial loyalty. Frank is being protected from the law. Grandmother Hayden is being protected from the truth (as is David, though he is discovering it anyway.) The implied question is: who will protect Marie?
David goes outside and shoots off several rounds of ammunition. He likes watching the dirt spray off when he shoots the ground. He notices a magpie and impulsively shoots at it. The bird falls from the tree, and when David goes to inspect his kill, he realizes that all of the tension over the last few days has been released by his killing something—shooting the bird has made him feel better. He looks into the bird’s dead eye and sees connections he never saw before—connections between “sex and death, lust and violence, desire and degradation.” He realizes even a “good heart” has these connections in it.
This is an especially poignant moment in this coming of age narrative. David is not only learning about the cruelty and perversion present in the hearts of adults (even adults he admires)—he is learning to recognize it in himself. In his adolescent discovery of sex, violence, and corruption, he also discovers moral ambiguity, the coexistence of bad and good in the same person. This is a profoundly “adult” concept for a 12-year-ols to grasp, and emphasizes the speed with which the events around him are making him grow up.
David goes for a ride on his horse Nutty around his Grandfather’s ranch. As he rides, he sees his father and Uncle Frank talking down by a riverbank towards the back of the property. David dismounts, and sneaks closer. He cannot hear what they are saying. He sees Frank make a move towards his father, and holds onto his pistol tighter, perhaps imagining that he might shoot Frank. But then Frank simply shakes Wesley’s hand, and the two of them walk off together.
David continues to get in touch with his more violent impulses, even going to far as to imagine himself shooting Frank, who looks as though he might attack Wesley. However, Frank ends up surprising David my shaking his father’s hand. David expects to see violence, rejection, or anger—instead he sees a (rather brotherly) gesture of acceptance, though in that acceptance there is also the privileging of the bonds between brothers above the rules of law or justice.
On the way home Wesley tells Gail he talked to Frank. David pretends to b asleep in the backseat so that they will feel comfortable discussing it in front of him. Wesley says that the problem has been “taken care of” and that Frank has promised to “cut it out.” Gail responds with a frustrated groan and Wesley is confused. Gail explains that Frank’s sins cannot be left unpunished, ironically (David notes) lecturing an officer of the law about justice. Wesley is silent for a long time, then says that Frank will have to meet his punishment in the “hereafter,” because Wesley wants nothing to do with it.
Wesley is so blinded by his familial loyalty that he thinks simply asking Frank to stop assaulting women has solved everything. Gail is not fooled, however, and is quick to point out that Frank’s victims—the women he has already abused—still deserve justice. That Wesley—an unreligious man—remarks about Frank meeting justice in the “hereafter” is notable—Is Wesley just ducking his responsibilities as sheriff to protect his brother and family? Does Wesley really believe there is such a thing as justice in the hereafter? Is he willing to accept that Frank will never face consequences for his actions?
When they arrive home Doris Looks Away, another Native American woman, is there watching over Marie, whose condition has improved remarkably. David tells Marie about hunting coyotes at Grandpa’s, and she remarks that coyotes are hard to find when you’re looking for them. These are the last words Marie will ever speak to David.
By the fact that David never speaks to Marie again we learn that even after getting so much better, Marie will die. Her final remark to David—about the difficulty of finding a coyote if you are looking for one—is fitting: This is in many ways a novel about failing to see: failing to see wrongdoing, to see bigotry and abuse, to see injustice.
Marie Little Soldier dies the next day. Gail comes home shortly after 5 pm and finds her lying dead in her bed. When David comes home from fishing, neighbors are out on the porch staring at the house, and Uncle Frank is inside signing the death certificate. David knows before he even walks in the house what has happened. He remarks that he could have run away forever, that he could have held onto his secret, but that he doesn’t—he simply walks inside.
We learn that David has a secret, and can guess—based on the fact that he knows what has happened to Marie before he enters the house—that it is related to her death. Once again David remarks that he could have run away, could have held onto his secret, but we can understand this is a fantasy. These are not problems from which David can run.
His parents comfort him, and everyone wonders how this could have happened. Marie’s fever was down. Frank simply says pneumonia patients often get worse after they seem to get better. David hears his father making plans to inform Marie’s family. He realizes that his father has often had to notify people of their loved ones’ deaths. He is amazed that he used to think his father’s job was easy.
David finally realizes that being the Sheriff of Mercer county is not a job for the fainthearted—it requires courage and compassion. When David realizes how many times his father has had to deliver bad news to the loved ones of a deceased person, it fundamentally changes how David sees his father, and how David understands courage.
Gail is upset with herself. Daisy insists Gail gave Marie the best possible care, but this does not make Gail feel better. Daisy suggests to David that he go next door and eat some of the pie she’s just made, clearly trying to get him out of the house. David agrees. Next door he sees Len and realizes that Len’s been drinking. This scares him, because Len has been on the wagon for many years. He tells David to sit down, and says to him that Grandpa Hayden always told him that being deputy sheriff in this town means knowing when to look away.
Gail seems to know that Marie should not have died. David is sent out of the room so that he might avoid hearing a difficult conversation—but is unknowingly sent into an even more difficult one with Len, who ominously tells David that Julian Hayden believes part of being a sheriff is looking away. We can assume Len has seen something he wants to look away from. David is rightfully frightened. That Len is drunk—after being on the wagon and not drinking for some many years—makes it clear to both the reader and David that Len knows something terrible has happened.
David hesitantly asks Len, “did you see something?” wondering if Len knows what he knows. Len asks David what he saw, and David gets too nervous to say. Instead he gets up to get the slice of pie he was meant to eat. Len tells him to look after his mother, and David wonders if Len is in love with her.
Though Len and David never actually tell each other what they’ve seen, they seem to be on the same page for a moment. Then David’s youth shines through again, and he flees the conversation. His conception of Len is different now—Len may have loved his mother. David sees him as a complicated man harboring more than one secret, and love too as something complicated.
That night, David believes he can feel death in the house. He becomes panicked, and can hardly breathe. He goes into his parents’ room. They ask him what’s wrong, and he says that earlier this afternoon he’d seen something. They ask him what he’s saying. David says he saw Uncle Frank cutting through the back yard and going into the house around 3pm. He had been sitting in the McAuley’s outhouse, on his way to go fishing, when he’d seen it. Wesley presses him, interrogating him about the exact time, how sure he was. David remarks that his father had stopped being his father. He was the sheriff; he was Frank’s brother.
David finally reveals to his parents that he’d seen Uncle Frank enter the house the afternoon Marie died. David notes this prompts a sharp change in his father—who cannot be a father in this moment—he must be the sheriff; he must be Frank’s brother. But can he be both at once? It is unclear if he is gathering evidence in the interest of convicting Frank or in the interest of protecting him. He is yet again torn.
Wesley desperately tries to rationalize this information. Perhaps Frank was merely checking in on his patient. Perhaps David was confused. David mentions that Len probably saw Frank, too. This changes things for Wesley. He realizes that even if Len keeps this information quiet, Wesley will still have to see him every day at work, and doesn’t think he can stand the guilt. Gail is silent. Wesley tells David he can go back to sleep.
It seems as though Wesley is entertaining the idea of continuing to let Frank get away with it, until he realizes Len has seen Frank, too. He knows Len will not believe the excuses he could make up for Frank. He realizes letting Frank get away with what he’s done means a lifetime of guilt and shame for himself.
David sleeps fitfully, and has dreams about the Native Americans he knows play-acting in western cowboys—and-Indian movies. Instead of wearing hides and carrying tomahawks, however, they are dressed as he sees them every day, in flannel shirts and boots. In the dream they seem poised for attack, and David wonders if they want to avenge Marie’s killer.
This dream literally converges popular constructions of the American west and the reality of life in the US for Native Americans. David sees the divide between “cowboys and Indians” only he sees it through a new and more realistic lens: Native Americans, not sensationalized or costumed, desiring justice.