When Cappy and Joe reach the oak tree, they turn and look down at Linden’s body. Cappy drops to his knees and touches his head to the ground. After a few minutes the boys fill the hole where the gun was buried. Then, Joe and Cappy go to Cappy’s house to figure out where to hide the rifle. Once they get there, Cappy grabs the keys to Randall’s old car and they put the gun in the trunk. After some difficulty, Cappy starts the car and they drive to Linda’s house.
After killing Linden, Cappy takes a moment to process his actions, dropping to his knees. Although Cappy shot Linden with relative ease and in an attempt to fulfill justice, he obviously is profoundly affected by his crime. After a few minutes, the boys recollect themselves in order to hide the gun.
When they arrive at Linda’s house, no one is home. The boys hide the gun under Linda’s front porch and then get back in the car and drive to Joe’s house. Cappy pulls over to let Joe out on the road to his house when they see the tribal police car drive by with its lights going. The boys feel certain that Linden is dead, since no sirens are on. As the boys sit in the idling car, Joe tells Cappy that he saved him, and Cappy denies it. Joe clarifies that Linden’s death was on himself, not Cappy, and Cappy agrees half-heartedly. Joe starts to choke up and tells Cappy that they can never talk about it again. Cappy agrees.
Throughout the book, Erdrich seems to imply that, while some violence is justified, or perhaps even necessary, that violence will always also harm the person committing it. This certainly seems to apply in Cappy’s case. Although he was acting out of love for his best friend and in what did seem to be in the best interest of their community, he obviously feels the consequences of his murder quite strongly.
The boys, wanting to get drunk, decide to meet at Whitey’s gas station after Cappy drops the car off. After Cappy drives away, Joe walks to the station and finds Whitey standing in the doorway of the garage. He brings Joe, who is feeling sick, soda and bread to settle his stomach. Whitey then tells Joe that someone killed Linden on the golf course. Joe leaps up, runs to the back of the gas station and vomits.
Joe is obviously also deeply affected by the murder, feeling physically ill and even vomiting after Whitey tells him definitively that Linden is dead. As Whitey talks about the murder, his lack of commentary on Joe’s illness suggests that he may suspect Joe’s involvement.
When Joe comes back, he says that he has the summer flu. Whitey continues to talk about Linden’s murder, saying that there is no evidence because of the rain. Whitey then tells Joe that Sonja had called to say she was coming home, and that, after everything, he’s still in love with her. Joe then goes and lies down on the cot in the gas station office for a half hour. After resting, he asks Whitey for a sandwich. Just as Whitey finishes making the sandwiches, Cappy arrives, and the three of them sit outside and eat. Whitey gives the boys a bottle of liquor, telling them to drink it in the back, before leaving to pump gas.
When Whitey reveals that Sonja is coming back to live with him, this moment, which Whitey presents as a happy triumph, is actually much more ambivalent given the fact of Whitey’s abuse, which Whitey has given no indication that he plans to stop. Sonja’s return to Whitey is bittersweet because it shows that Sonja was unable to use Joe’s money to escape her cycle of abuse for good.
As the boys head out back, Cappy asks Joe if Whitey knows they killed Linden. Joe says that he thinks so, since he threw up after Whitey told him about Linden’s death. Cappy says that he also threw up, and Joe and Cappy try to smile, but they are too upset. Joe and Cappy drink from Whitey’s bottle until they finish all of it. Afterward, the boys lay down on the ground and Joe asks Cappy why he went to the overlook that morning. Cappy tells Joe that he was there every morning because he always “had [Joe’s] back.” The boys fall asleep.
Again, although Joe and Cappy try to act normal, they are clearly both profoundly affected by their act of violence, as evidenced by their vomiting and the fact that they cannot even smile at one another. Erdrich also reveals the extent of Cappy’s devotion to his friend when Cappy tells Joe that Cappy went to the overlook every day in case Joe went without him.
When Joe and Cappy wake up, Whitey tells them to eat another sandwich and to touch the whiskey bottle again. He also makes them give him their shirts. Afterward, Joe and Cappy walk to their respective homes. When Joe arrives, Geraldine asks him where he has been, and Joe says that he was running and then went to Whitey’s. Joe can tell that Geraldine and Bazil very badly want to believe him.
Whitey asks Joe and Cappy to touch the whiskey bottle again and give him their shirts, clearly trying to establish a stronger alibi for the boys should they be questioned. Suddenly it is Joe and Cappy, not Linden, who are gaming the justice system.
Bazil tells Joe to sit down and says that Linden is dead. Joe says he thinks that’s good. Bazil asks Joe if he knows anything about it, and Joe, who practiced his response to this question, responds “childishly,” “the way the old Joe…would answer.” Joe tells Bazil that he is happy that Linden is dead and that he deserved it. Geraldine looks at Joe in a way that makes Joe think that she believes he is the murderer. Joe goes upstairs and thinks about his mother and his crime, feeling that there is no going back on what he has done and the consequences.
When Bazil confronts Joe and Joe responds “childishly,” “the way the old Joe would answer,” it becomes clear to the reader not only how much Joe has grown up in the past several months, but also that Joe is aware enough of his own transformation that he himself can thoroughly distinguish his past self from his current one. Joe is able to deceive his parents thanks to this new self-awareness.
During the next week, Joe actually does contract the flu. During the police investigation, Whitey attests to Joe and Cappy’s presence at the gas station on the morning of the murder, saying that Joe and Cappy had found his booze. Whitey shows them all the evidence: their shirts, the bottle with fingerprints, etc. While Joe is sick in bed, he worries about the possibility of someone finding the rifle. In his feverish state, he thinks that after killing Linden he might become a wiindigoo himself. Joe thinks back to when he was pulling trees out of the yard a few months before, and remembers how happy and ignorant he was. Joe asks his father if Linda knows about Linden’s death, and Bazil says that he has not been able to get in touch with her. Joe falls asleep and wakes up later feeling much better. He then dresses and goes downstairs to watch his mother garden. Geraldine stops what she’s doing to feel his forehead, then proclaims that his fever is gone. Geraldine wants Joe to stay home, but he insists on going out to see Angus and Cappy.
Again, Whitey obviously suspects that Joe and Cappy killed Linden, but instead of confronting them, he goes out of his way to help Joe and Cappy get off. As Joe, sick with a fever, imagines that he has become a wiindigoo himself, he seems to think that by murdering Linden and committing a similarly violent crimes to Linden’s murder of Mayla, Joe has become no different from him, even if in Joe’s case that crime was much more justifiable. As Joe thinks back on the trees he uprooted from the house’s foundation, perhaps remembering his profound sense of guilt at the time, Joe obviously comes to understand that memory differently, and feels that so much, including himself, has since changed.
Joe sees an empty pickle jar in the kitchen and he freezes, remembering that he had brought a pickle jar of water with him to the overlook and had forgotten it there. Geraldine sees Joe looking at it and explains that Vince Madwesin, the tribal policeman, came by and gave her the jar and told her to wash it out. Geraldine looks at Joe and says she is worried about him. They both say “I love you,” and then Joe asks if Geraldine is better now that Linden is dead. Geraldine tries to persuade Joe that the answer to that question is yes. After this conversation with his mother, Joe gets on his bike and rides away.
When Geraldine describes how Vince Madwesin, the tribal policeman, brought her the pickle jar and told her to wash it out, it is clear that not only Whitey, but the entire community is conspiring to keep Joe and Cappy from being arrested for the murder. When Joe then asks Geraldine if she is better now that Linden is dead, Geraldine hesitates, suggesting that although Linden’s murder can protect Geraldine from future violence at Linden’s hands, it cannot undo her past trauma.
First Joe rides to the post office. The other postal workers tell Joe that Linda has taken sick leave, so Joe goes to Linda’s house. There Linda invites Joe into the kitchen, where she offers him a fried egg sandwich. While she fries the eggs, Joe looks at her apartment. As they both eat, Linda asks if it is morally wrong to enjoy a sandwich when her twin brother is dead, though she does not seem too concerned. She tells Joe that she did not take time off work to mourn Linden, but for “other reasons,” which she will tell Joe about if he tells her why he came to see her. As Joe puts down his sandwich, Linda says he should finish eating before they talk.
As Linda greets Joe and welcomes him into her home, she does not seem fazed whatsoever by the fact that her biological twin brother has just died, and even jokingly asks the egg sandwich she is eating whether it is okay to enjoy herself. Again, it has become clear by this point in the book that Linda’s loyalties lie not with her biological family, but rather with the Wishkob family and the Chippewa community she belongs to, which includes Joe’s family.
Once they finish their sandwiches, Linda tells Joe that she realizes that he got his information about the golf course from her, leading to Linden’s murder. Linda, however, tells him that she thinks Joe was not actually the murderer and that he told someone older about the golf course so they could shoot him. Linda asks Joe why he came to see her again. Joe asks if he can trust her, and Linda says that, if he has to ask her that, the answer is no. Linda then leans in and tells Joe that she would do “anything in the world” for his family, and then asks him again why he came to see her.
Linda reveals that she knows that Joe is linked to Linden’s murder because whoever killed Linden also knew he would be on the golf course, but she also states that she thinks Joe is too young to actually have killed Linden himself. Despite Joe’s newfound maturity, he still is perceived as innocent, perhaps reflecting the fact that Joe is still in reality very young, and has just grown up very fast because of outside circumstances.
Joe surprises both Linda and himself by asking why Linden raped Geraldine. Linda replies that Linden hated Joe’s entire family, but proceeds to say that the attack was really about Linden’s obsession with Mayla. When Geraldine filed Mayla’s daughter’s tribal enrollment form, Mayla named Curtis Yeltow, not Linden, as the father. This meant that Mayla had gotten pregnant while she was working for Yeltow as a high schooler. Yeltow paid Mayla to keep the baby a secret, but Mayla insisted on enrolling her in the tribe. Linden, who also had worked for Yeltow, was infatuated with Mayla and tried to convince her to run away with him with the money Yeltow had given her, but Mayla instead filed for her daughter’s enrollment.
When Joe asks Linda why Linden raped Geraldine, he shows a strange interest in actually understanding Linden’s motives. As Linda explains Linden’s hatred, jealousy, and possessiveness towards women, it is clear that Linden’s violence is the culmination of his generally racist and misogynistic attitude, but also that his misogyny was particularly channeled into his relationship with Mayla. When Yeltow pays Mayla to keep quiet, Linden became furiously jealous.
Linda imagines that Linden wanted to find the enrollment form in order to blackmail Yeltow, and that Geraldine would not give it to him. Linda says that Linden raping Geraldine had more to do with his inner evil, his “monster,” than with any rational intention. Linda talks about how she recognized this evil in Linden when she met him at the hospital, and how she thinks that what corrupted both Linden and their mother Grace was Linda’s absence from their lives after her abandonment. Linda also hypothesizes that Linden kept hanging around the reservation to make sure that no one found Mayla’s body.
As Linda talks about the “monster” inside Linden, she seems to be suggesting that some people possess certain traumas or innate qualities that make them particularly susceptible to becoming violent. Linda’s hypothesis follows that, although some people (those with “monsters”) are more likely to be violent, the onus to control one’s impulses and not commit violence rests on the individual.
Joe suddenly is filled with dread, and he asks Linda if he (Joe) is “like” Linden. Linda tells him that while the murder will get to him—or “whoever” (Linda backtracks, still pretending that she does not think that Joe killed him)—he can’t let it wreck him. Linda then tells Joe that she should have shot Linden. Joe finally tells Linda that the rifle used to kill Linden is hidden under her porch. Joe asks if she can get rid of it, and Linda smiles. She explains that her dog already found it. When Joe starts to panic, Linda tells him not to worry, stating that she took a sick day in order to get rid of the rifle, which she disassembled with the help of her adopted brother. The two of them then threw it into the Missouri river.
Joe is obviously plagued by the possibility that he has become in any way similar to Linden through his own violent act of killing Linden. The fact that Joe asks this question right after Linda talks about how Linden’s misogyny leads to his violence makes the reader wonder whether Joe is also considering how his own treatment of women like Sonja may be increasing or igniting his capacity for violence. Meanwhile, Linda’s comments make it seem like, despite her earlier comments, she, too, suspects Joe is the murderer.
Lastly, Linda tells Joe to tell “whoever did it” to “rest easy.” Linda then changes the subject and asks how Geraldine is doing. Joe says that his mother said she was fine, but she seemed a little too insistent. Linda pulls a black screw out of her pocket, saying that she wants to give it to Geraldine. Joe puts it in his pocket, takes a loaf of Linda’s banana bread, and heads home. When he is halfway home, he realizes that the screw is from the rifle, so he throws it in a ditch.
It’s unclear why Linda gives Joe the screw, and many interpretations are possible, but it could be to convey to Geraldine that Joe is safe from arrest because the gun is destroyed. However, Joe, perhaps wanting to believe that his mother does not know that he is the one who killed Linden, throws the screw away.
The narrative jumps forward to Joe, Angus, Cappy, and Zack hanging out together at the edge of the construction site on the reservation one afternoon. The boys drink whiskey and beer and take valium. Cappy swallows a pill and takes out a photo of Zelia and holds it to his forehead, then tells the photo “I miss you too, baby.” Joe says their love is beautiful, and Cappy hands him a letter that Zelia wrote to him about the rapture. Joe reads it slowly in his drunk and high state as Cappy explains that the rapture is a religious doomsday prophecy where the good are transported to heaven, and that Zelia’s family is thinking of converting because of it. Angus says of the rapture “I don’t think you’ll make it, you two,” because of their “mortal stain.” Joe assumes that Angus is talking to him and Cappy, and that he is referring to Linden’s murder. Cappy tells Angus that none of them will go to heaven since they drink and do drugs.
Cappy’s love for Zelia, in classic adolescent fashion, is way over-the-top as Cappy kisses and talks to Zelia’s photo. Zelia’s religious devotion continues to rub off on Cappy, who tells the other boys about the rapture. The idea of the rapture seems to loosely connect to Cappy’s fate later in the novel, as the rapture promises the sudden transportation of the good to heaven—and Cappy, one of the novel’s most likable, loyal characters, dies suddenly. However, as Angus brings up Joe and Cappy’s participation in Linden’s murder (despite never having been told by Joe or Cappy about it), he casts Cappy’s moral status into doubt.
Zack tells them that they don’t need the rapture anyway, since they have confession. The boys then reminisce about how Father Travis chased Cappy around after his confession about having sex with Zelia. Joe brings up the possibly of Zelia having gotten pregnant, and Cappy says that he wished she had so they could get married. Joe reminds him that he is thirteen, and Cappy reminds Joe that so were Romeo and Juliet.
As Zack tells the other boys that the rapture isn’t relevant to them since they can instead confess and go to heaven, it is clear that the boys view different religions not as individual, unchangeable ideologies, but rather as different toolkits that can be mixed and matched for religious salvation.
Joe suggests that they get food, but Zack, Cappy, and Angus have fallen asleep. After a while, Joe hears someone crying and realizes that Cappy is sobbing in his sleep. Joe leaves the other boys where they’re sleeping and rides his bike home, then falls asleep in the bushes in front of his house. Joe wakes up again after sunset and goes into his kitchen. Geraldine calls into the kitchen from the other room to ask where Joe has been and to tell him that he missed dinner. Joe says that he was biking. He takes a container of spaghetti from the fridge and eats it out of the container.
When Cappy cries in his sleep and Joe slips away, Joe proves himself incapable of emotionally supporting his friend. Notably, as the scene of Joe and his friends getting high at the construction site conveys, the boy’s drug use in the novel has steadily increased and become more dangerous, later culminating in the drunk driving accident that kills Cappy.
Geraldine tells Joe to put the spaghetti on a plate, then she asks if he was smoking cigarettes. Joe assures her that the other boys were, but not him. Geraldine sits down and tells Joe that he yelled Cappy’s name twice in his sleep the previous night. Joe thinks about Cappy crying in his sleep and feels guilty for having left him and the others at the construction site. Bazil comes out of his study and sits down at the table with Geraldine and Joe. Joe is still thinking about Cappy while Geraldine holds Bazil’s hand and Bazil touches Geraldine’s wedding ring. As Joe watches their loving gesture, he gets angry and feels that they have switched roles, and he is now the adult and they are the children. They have no idea, Joe thinks, what he and Cappy did for them.
After Joe’s torturous nightmares and his feelings of his profound guilt, he is now frustrated by his parents’ loving, intimate gestures. Joe seems to think that their happiness represents a kind of innocent blissfulness that he has lost since murdering Linden. When he talks about feeling as if they have switched places, with Joe as the parent and Geraldine and Bazil as children, Joe articulates the culmination of coming of age— becoming a caregiver rather than care-receiver.
Bazil addresses Joe and brings up Linden’s death, saying that he was at first felt relieved to know that Linden was no longer a safety threat. Joe tries to get up from the table, but Bazil keeps speaking, saying that there’s still the question of who killed Linden. Joe says that Linden got what he deserved, and Bazil agrees. Bazil then tells Joe that Bjerke, the FBI agent, will interview them tomorrow to get their alibis.
The fact that Bazil addresses Joe as he discusses Linden’s death makes it seem that Bazil suspects Joe’s involvement in Linden’s murder. Although Bazil is relieved that Linden is dead, his relief focuses on the end of Linden as a safety threat rather than the fact that abstract justice was achieved.
Bazil says that he thought about what he, as a judge, would say if he knew anything about the murderer’s identity. He tells Joe that he ultimately decided that he would not say anything, because there are “many kinds of justice,” including both “ideal justice” and “best-we-can-do-justice.” Bazil comforts himself with knowing that Linden was unquestionably guilty and that it resolves a legal problem created by the questions of land jurisdiction. Bazil decides to say nothing, since the murderer will have to live with the emotional burden of murder, and he even resolves to protect anyone who would be prosecuted for killing Linden. When Joe expresses confusion at this, Bazil tells him that he could plausibly argue as a judge that Linden met the definition of a wiindigoo, and that killing him fulfilled a law that predates the United States Government’s legal system. Joe looks at both of his parents and then thinks about the books in Bazil’s study “as if they could help” the three of them. However, Joe thinks, they are now way past the domain of stories and books. Joe thinks that, although Bazil’s words are a relief, he is also wrong about them being safe from Linden, because he haunts Joe and Cappy’s dreams.
When Bazil suggests that he could argue in the courtroom that Linden’s murderer was carrying out the old, established law of wiindigoo justice, he essentially imagines reconciling the Chippewa legal system with the United States one. Joe, on the other hand, seems more skeptical—perhaps because, with his guilt from implementing wiindigoo justice and his frustrations with the court of law, he is now questioning the morality of both systems. Joe goes on to think of Bazil’s bookshelf, but then thinks they are beyond the help of books. While books generally serve to give characters in the book models of behavior, this comment implies that there is a limit to what reading books can do, perhaps in part due to the gravity of Joe’s emotional burden as a murderer or the specificity of his situation, which may not be addressed in any of the books Bazil owns (or in any books at all).
There is a break in the narrative as Joe describes the two dreams he has after the murder: one in which he and Cappy are at the golf course and they shoot Linden, but then Joe and Linden switch bodies and Joe’s spirit is the one dying, while Linden’s spirit in Joe’s body runs up the hill with Cappy. Joe knows that Linden will kill Cappy, but he dies before he can warn him. In the second dream, the ghost Joe saw out his window leans over him and talks to him. Joe says that he knows that the ghost is “the police.”
In Joe’s dream, he imagines himself switching spirits with Linden just before Linden’s death, so that while Joe’s spirit dies, Linden’s lives on in Joe’s body. This dream seems to reflect Joe’s concern that he himself has become a wiindigoo, and that by killing Linden, he has internalized some of the evil that Linden represents.
Several nights later, Joe wakes up again as he’s shouting Cappy’s name. Joe get up and looks around the hallway, hoping no one has heard him. When he sees that no one else is upstairs, he lies down and tries to calm himself. Out loud, Joe says that he needs Ojibwe medicine. Joe would like to talk to Mooshum about it, but Mooshum is now so old that he’s hardly conscious. Joe thinks he could go see Grandma Thunder instead, but Joe then thinks of Bugger Pourier and remembers the last time he saw Bugger, when Bugger stole his bike outside of the diner where Joe was talking with Linda. Bugger had told Joe that he had seen something strange and was unsure whether it was a dream.
After Joe’s nightmares, he begins to think of seeking out help from a Chippewa medicine person in order to figure out his dreams. Before Joe can actually do that, though, Joe thinks of another person who talked about disturbed dreams, taking the reader back to Joe’s brief encounter with Bugger Pourier. Throughout the book, dreams are not simply hallucinations, and instead are often caught between reality and fiction, as in the case of Bugger’s.
Joe decides to look for Bugger to ask what he saw. At the post office, Linda tells Joe that Bugger is in the hospital due to a foot injury. Joe rides his bike to the hospital, where Bugger is excited to see Joe, but disappointed that Joe has not brought him anything. Bugger explains that he has a craving for pancakes. Joe reminds Bugger of when Bugger stole his bike and, as Bugger begins to remember that day, Joe sees a look of terror on Bugger’s face as he exclaims “poor girl!”, sobs, and mumbles about the construction site. Joe realizes that Bugger must have stumbled upon Mayla’s body in the construction site and that even if he and Cappy had not killed Linden, Linden would go to jail for murdering Mayla as soon as the body was found. Joe wants to tell the police about the location of Mayla’s corpse, but he worries that they will then begin to suspect his involvement in Linden’s death. Joe thinks how different everything would be if he had asked Bugger earlier about his dream.
Joe goes to talk to Bugger and discovers that, had he not killed Linden, Linden probably would have gone to jail anyway. Mooshum’s storytelling about the potential dangers of executing wiindigoo justice thus become reality, as Joe realizes that he jumped to an extreme, probably unnecessary, and violent course of action with major consequences. The reader sees also in this moment how Joe’s fear of being caught for his own crimes hinders him from acting morally, as he decides not to tell the police about Mayla’s body in order to keep himself out of suspicion, even though he could plausibly end Mayla’s family’s heartache as they agonize over what happened to her.
Joe decides to find Cappy and get drunk. As he rides toward the Lafournais house, he sees Zack and Angus in the grocery store parking lot, sitting in Zack’s cousin’s car. They tell Joe that Cappy has gone into the post office to get a letter from Zelia. Joe goes inside and finds Cappy sitting in the back, looking downtrodden and smoking. Cappy hands Joe a letter from Zelia’s parents saying that they had found Cappy’s letters and that Cappy is no longer allowed to speak to Zelia or they will sue. Cappy is upset and asks why Zelia’s parents think that he would ever wreck Zelia’s life, as the letter said, when he loves her so much and they were made for each other by God. Cappy sets the letter on fire with his cigarette and then tells Joe that he is going to get some money and Randall’s car and then he will pick Joe up from his house so they can go find Zelia.
Cappy describes his love for Zelia in religious terms, as a divine gift that it would be an insult to God not to pursue, despite the fact that Catholicism explicitly condemns premarital sex. Interestingly, Cappy seems to have adopted the language of Christianity without actually internalizing the concrete practices or beliefs that devout Catholics hold. He then uses the language of religion against itself, to attack Zelia’s parents’ desire to keep their daughter chaste. Cappy demonstrates how religious ideas can be manipulated to serve personal interests and beliefs.
Joe and Cappy say goodbye to Zack and Angus and then each go home. Joe packs a bag of clothing, money, and a dozen sandwiches. As Joe waits for Cappy to show up, he goes into Bazil’s office and looks in his desk drawers, where he finds a manila folder. Inside, Joe sees Mayla’s enrollment form for her daughter, with Curtis Yeltow listed as the father. Joe puts it back. Then he writes a note to his parents telling them that he is going on a camping trip with Cappy for a few days.
Although Geraldine is now safe, this moment in which Joe looks at the enrollment form for Mayla’s daughter serves to remind the reader that not everything has been happily resolved. Erdrich seems to indicate that, although parts of the case are wrapped up, the violence that Linden committed is irrevocable, forever changing Mayla’s child’s life (and ending Mayla’s).
Angus and Zack show up at Joe’s house and Joe tells them that Cappy is going to pick them up in Randall’s car. Cappy then pulls into Joe’s driveway, and the boys pile in. Zack asks where they are going, and Cappy says “Montana.” Joe and the other boys drive on the highway, stopping twice to fill up on gas and again at a liquor store to buy beer. Zack, who brought his guitar, plays and sings in the back. At a gas station, Zack and Angus call home to say where they’ve gone. The car struggles to start after one stop, so the boys push it down a hill and jump in while it’s rolling. At night, Zack and Angus fall asleep, but Joe and Cappy stay up in the front seats talking.
As Joe describes the road trip with his friends, even after all that has happened, the idyllic road trip seems to have a kind of innocence or light-heartedness about it—Zack sings and the boys bond, drinking beer. At the same time, however, as Joe describes the alcohol that they buy and drink, the reader may already be able to predict the horrible car crash to come, which thoroughly snuffs out Joe’s childhood forever when Cappy dies.
Joe tells Cappy about finding Mayla’s file in Bazil’s desk and how Mayla’s baby’s father was Curtis Yeltow. Joe surmises that Mayla stored the money that Yeltow had given her in her daughter’s doll, which Joe later found. Joe guesses that Yeltow will get in trouble for his affair with Mayla, an underage girl, but, in retrospect, Joe states that Yeltow never did. As they drive, Joe thinks about the round house and the story of Nanapush. Joe suggests that they drive all night, so they keep going, switching drivers on and off. During his off-shift, Joe falls asleep in the back while the boys talk and drink.
The fact that Curtis Yeltow, South Dakota’s governor, never gets in trouble for having sex with the under-aged Mayla seems to be a commentary on Erdrich’s part on how politicians are relatively or completely protected from persecution—especially when their crimes hurt the Native community. Although justice was served to Linden through the wiindigoo justice system, it was not served to Yeltow by any means.
Joe is jolted awake as the car hurtles off the road, flips, and lands in a field. Joe opens his eyes and calls for Cappy, but he receives no answer. Joe unbuckles himself and crawls out of the car. He hears Angus and Zack making noise and getting up. Joe searches the car for Cappy and when he cannot find him, Joe thinks that Cappy must have gone to get help. Joe gets on his hands and knees and crawls through the grass. When he finds Cappy’s body, he cries out.
In a shocking turn of events, the car flies off of the road and crashes. The car crash, which seems likely to have occurred because the boys have been drinking and because they are inexperienced drivers, suggests how physically dangerous it can be when children who are too young experiment with adult activities.
After the accident, Joe sits in the police station while Zack and Angus are in the hospital. Cappy’s body is in a funeral home. Joe remembers how, when he found Cappy, Joe held him and felt the ghost that he saw outside his window shake him. The ghost, who was actually a police officer, mouthed the words “let go” to Joe, but he refused. In the police station, Joe falls asleep and wakes up again in his chair. He looks over and over again at the stone that Cappy gave him. Eventually, Geraldine and Bazil walk in, looking old, Joe thinks. Joe himself feels old. They get in the car and start driving home.
As it turns out, Mooshum was correct that the ghost that Joe had seen out his window was a spirit from his future, since it seems to have been the spirit of the policeman who arrives on the scene after the car crash and tells Joe to let go of Cappy’s body. The description of Joe holding Cappy’s body is incredibly poignant, and when Joe says that he feels “old,” it is clear to the reader that Cappy’s death gives Joe his final, bitter push into adulthood.
No one speaks on the drive back and Joe knows that his parents know everything that happened already. Geraldine and Bazil switch driving on and off. On the way back they pass a café that they used to stop at on road trips when Joe was a child to get ice cream. This time, however, they do not stop, passing by “in a sweep of sorrow that would persist into [their] small forever.”
The fact that Cappy’s death constituted the ultimate loss of childhood and innocence for Joe is painfully implied in the last sentences of the novel, as Joe describes how, unlike when he was a kid, they do not stop for ice cream, too weighed down by their collective and now constant sadness.