Late in the afternoon Kurt Schaffer rides on his roan gelding up to his uncle Pleasant's feedstore, only to find that the old man has already left for the hospital in Johnson City, to visit his sick wife. Kurt doesn't much care for filling in at the feedstore. The public life of a merchant doesn't appeal to him. He prefers the solitary existence of working cattle on his father's ranch, or the excitement of playing football on the weekends. Working at the store means that he can become locked into pointless conversations; he's at the mercy of any son of a bitch with six bits for a bag of Ripsnorter sweetfeed.
The feedstore is only a mile or so away from the abandoned courthouse in Blanco. The county seat moved to Johnson City years ago. The year is 1954 and the Blanco River is dry. All of Texas is four years into a drought that has caused everything that was once green to turn brown, curl up, and blow away. The only vegetation that remains consists of a few mesquite trees, honey locust, and oceans of short cactus. Kurt will be a sophomore at Texas A&M before rain falls on his home again. That same year the Aggies will win their first Southwest Conference championship in fifteen years. But right now Kurt is beginning his last year of high school, and the Aggies are perennial losers. Even so, he has heard rumors that things are about to change for A&M. The newspaper reported last week that the new head coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, is determined to institute an extreme brand of spartan military discipline.