I’ve decided to serialize my novel, High Pocket, on this site at a rate of one chapter per month, which should give you plenty of time to read each chapter as it’s posted, presuming you’re interested of course.

The way I look at it, if I bring this project into the light of day, or the light of the computer screen at least, who knows how brightly it may shine…

Cheers, and thanks for your continuing interest in my work.

 

High Pocket

Frank Zajaczkowski

(c) 2013 Frank Zajaczkowski

Preface

This is a true story as far as I can tell. The manuscript was mailed to me by a professor friend of mine, whose name I promised not to reveal. He was born in Lead, South Dakota, where the Homestake Gold Mine is and where the incidents of this story take place. Of course, the Homestake is closed now, has been for nearly twenty years. In 1976, though, it was celebrating its 100th anniversary as the nation’s largest and most successful gold mine, having hauled out over 40 million ounces of gold. Just go ahead and figure out how much money that is at today’s prices for gold.

Not everyone got rich from the gold of that mine, not by a long shot. Most miners made a modest living at best. Some of them died broke and exhausted, old beaten-up men, trembling in their wheelchairs from years of operating rock drills and blasting granite into smithereens. Others lost their lives as young men, or were badly maimed in the accidents that take place commonly in the dangerous underground tunnels, caverns, and stopes that make up a gold mine. Some of these accidents were reported in the Lead Daily Call. Some weren’t. Sometimes the truth of these accidents was told completely, sometimes a lot got left out.

This story is about one of the accidents that didn’t make it fully into the light of day, sort of speak. It’s a story that should have been told completely as a honor to the men who lost their lives that day and to the family and friends they left behind. That’s why I decided to go ahead and publish this manuscript once I read it and verified as much of it as I could by checking through old Homestake files I still have access to, by talking to men who worked at the mine then, and by looking myself in the mirror and facing up to my own role in it as a mining inspector at the Homestake Gold Mine during the time these events took place.

If this story isn’t true, I’d like to think that it is. I’d like to think that the heroes of this story (and no better word for them comes to my mind as I write these words) had the heart and courage to go after what they believed was rightfully theirs, not just for themselves, but for all the men and some women, too, who spent time in the dark with danger around every corner and death just a whisper away.

 

Chapter 1

I don’t know if I’ll ever finish this story or not, but I want to. I want my family to know why I left without a word. You could say this is a letter home to them. It’s going to be a long one, I know that. But, hell, it’s been a long time now since I’ve seen or talked to them; and even though I told my dad that I would be leaving and not to think I was dead or something, I never told him why.

Sure, my dad knew about Sandy. He thought he was a crazy son-of-a-bitch. He warned me to stay away from him. But I couldn’t do that, and not just because I fell in love with his daughter, Mary. Of course, that’s why I started up with Sandy in the first place. But there was more to it than that. I came to see that what was driving Sandy crazy was something I had to face up to. I guess it’s something everybody comes up against one time or another, and I just couldn’t run away from it.

And that’s another reason why I hope I see this thing through. I sort of feel responsible to Sandy and to what he did. I don’t want it to be forgotten. I want people to know about it now that it is over.

You’re probably wondering by now what the “it” is, and I guess I’m getting this story out of order already. I better slow down some and get to the beginning. I’ve done a lot of thinking about that, and I’m pretty sure the best place to start is with Sandy’s nightmares.

Mary was the first one to tell me about her dad’s bad dreams, long before I heard them from Sandy, himself. They were real bad. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and sweating like a ten year-old kid. Mary would come running from her bedroom and find him sitting bolt upright and trembling in the dark. I should tell you that Mary’s mother died in childbirth and that she had no brothers or sisters. It was just the two of them, and his screaming would scare her half to death.

She would turn on the light, and he’d be kind of dazed by it for a minute, like he didn’t know where he was. I never saw him like that myself or heard him screaming in the middle of the night, but it must have been pretty awful. He looked straight ahead like he was blind, with his old cap pulled way down on the left side of his head, so that it nearly covered his left eye, and his scruffy beard would be all matted down with sweat. The cap, by the way, wasn’t a nightcap. He wore it all the time, and I mean all the time. Nobody ever saw him without it on, and nobody seemed to think it was strange. I remember I didn’t when I first saw him. The cap was as much a part of him as the Pall Mall hanging from the corner of his mouth. It was knitted wool, dull green like a army watch cap.

Anyway, he would sit there and stare for quite awhile before he said anything. Mary had been through it enough times to be patient. She once told me it was hard for her to remember a time when he didn’t have the nightmares. She told me that when she was little girl, she got so frightened when she heard him scream that she didn’t dare go out of her bedroom or even out of her bed. She would just lay there, saying Hail Mary’s as fast as she could until she finally fell back to sleep.

Now she sat next to him and waited until it passed. He reached over to the table near the bed for a cigarette. He took a deep drag and turned to her saying, “It’s all right, Mary. Just a bad dream. I’ll be okay, now. You go on back to bed.”  She nodded, holding his hand, and then sat awhile longer before going back to her room.

She never knew for sure what the nightmares were about. I guess she was too scared to ask, and he sure didn’t volunteer anything. But she had a pretty good idea they were about the accident he had years before at the Homestake Gold Mine. She knew that’s why he wore the watch cap all the time. He had something under there he said he didn’t want her to see. I always thought it was something that he didn’t want to look at either.

The accident happened a long time before I had ever went down the mine. But I’d known about it all my life. It was a part of the town’s history, you could say, a part a lot of them wanted to forget. Most people didn’t remember all the details, and the younger miners didn’t even know who it happened to. But no one forgot the accident on the 3,800 level of the mine, where four miners were crushed to death. It seemed burned into everyone’s mind forever. There were even some cruel songs we kids made up about it that I can still recall. Yeah, we all knew how many were killed, all right, but I’ll be damned if most of us ever heard about the miner who came out alive.

I never would have known that it was Sandy, and that his limp and his crushed hand, not to mention whatever it was that was under his cap, happened in that cave-in, if I hadn’t fallen in love with Mary. And if I hadn’t fallen in love with her, I never would have heard Sandy’s crazy ideas or ended up going back down to the 3,800 with him. But I did fall in love with her, and that’s really where this whole story begins.

 

 

13 Responses to High Pocket – A Novel – Preface & Chapter 1

  1. […] in seeing the book based on reading portions of my memoir, Passage From England or my novel, High Pocket. At the same time, I think it’s wise to search for new agents and/or editors who may be […]

  2. George says:

    Early morning and reading on my Droid. Great read – keep it coming Frank. GG

  3. Ursula says:

    OK Frank, you got me hooked again!
    Getting a new cast today and hopefully flying home Wednesday.
    love to both of you,
    Ursula

  4. Mary E. says:

    Frankie-This first Chapter is as exciting today as it was a few years ago!-I can’t wait for the following chapters as I have forgotten how it ends. You have such a talent and soon many more peple will agree with me. Love Mary

  5. Dave McCall says:

    Hey Frank, I love your writting and I am already intrigued by the story and look forward to more. All the best my friend,
    Dave

    • Anonymous says:

      Hey Dave,

      Always great to hear from you. I’m very pleased you’ve enjoyed the beginning to this tale. I hope to keep you entertained. Thanks, man.

      Here’s to a quiet season in the Carib!

      gz

  6. Greg says:

    Frank,
    I was lucky to be able to read this novel around the time it was written. I really enjoyed it then and look forward to revisiting the story again now!
    All the best,
    Greg

  7. Frank,
    I look forward to your upcoming chapters. Your writing is a gift to us!
    Thank you
    Warmest regards,
    Alexandra

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