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The Man in the Sky

Feb. 8, 1962

The man was a riveter in the sky. He worked near God and was happy. But one afternoon he slipped and fell... and barely grabbed the I-beam with his fingertips. A few inches of sinew and nerve were supporting two hundred heavy pounds. He looked down in mortal fear, and between his legs Denver was spread out, fifteen stories below. The wind was lashing his legs and making them move in circles...

Johnny Bearcat was born in a dusty shack in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, the bastard son of an Indian girl and a wealthy merchant. His tribe raised him as a Ute, and he was proud of it. When he was twelve he earned a first prize at the reservation school’s fair for a model of a ranchyard. It had taken Johnny six weeks, five thousand toothpicks, and three tubes of cement to build it.

In 1940, when Johnny was sixteen, he quit school of boredom and began work in Leadville, Colorado, in the Molybdenum mines. He was good with his hands and soon graduated from a digger’s helper to a member of the construction team which reinforced the many tunnels. When he was eighteen he became one of four riveters on the crew, building passageways, trestles for the mine’s trains, and repairing the refining machinery.

But Johnny was not satisfied with his work or his life. He wanted adventure. He enlisted in the Air Force and made twenty-three kills in six months. He fell in love with a Belgian girl, a miner's daughter, and married her. Anna gave him two children even before the war was over, and they lived very happily on his pittance of a salary. Often times they walked hand-in-hand down the Serpentine in Hyde Park while he visited Anna during leave in London. These were his fondest memories. When the war was over he obtained citizenship for his wife and children and they returned to the States.

Despite his fame in the service, only his mother met him and his family when they got off the train in the city of the Mormons. Here he was but an Indian who had done well. He asked to have his old job up at the mine, but he was told that all the positions had been taken up. They were sorry.

So Johnny, Anna, and their children moved to Denver where he found work with the A. J. Pitkin Company as a riveter on the city's new bank building. Here he was working late in a spring afternoon when...

He slipped and fell, barely catching the beam with his fingertips. He was supporting his weight with both hands, and knew that if he lifted one hand over the beam to secure his grip, the other would not be able to bear the weight. He thought of Anna, and Christopher, and Sarah and he relaxed, dropping into the sunset.