Today, I’m posting Chapter 7 of High Pocket. It’s a short chapter and a brutal one emotionally for Jake and for Sandy. A confrontation…and a challenge. A challenge neither one can turn away from. Let me know how you like it.
It took us about half and hour to clear away the debris and rock that the power shovel threw all over the place. We’d have to catch up for the lost time, so we could get the drilling done and blast another eight feet before quitting time. I could see the new tracks we’d put in shining and then disappearing into the dark. With the back only 7 feet high and walls the same distance apart, the place seemed like the dungeon we used to sing about as kids. The idea of loading it up with explosives and blasting suddenly seemed crazy to me.
But that was our job.
We set up the jackleg drill that looks like a telescope sitting on a tripod with connections for the air hose that powers it and some other lines for lubrication and cooling. We were set to drill 20 holes, each about 8 feet deep and then load them with ANFO, which is the explosive. We started out with six bits each of drill steel and by the time the round was done, all twelve bits were dull, but we made pretty good time. I pushed the jackleg out of the drift and Tom brought up a car full of the ANFO. It’s a kind of diesel fuel mixed with fertilizer; that’s all it is but man does it go off if you pack it good and tight and set your caps right.
We headed out of the drift and around the corner into the cove where we had lunch. We put in our ear plugs which you have to do if you don’t want your ears to be ringing for days afterwards. I opened my mouth to help absorb the shock waves that come from any blast in the mine. All the blasting that goes on underground you do at the end of a shift so that the air can clear some before the next crew comes on and starts the cycle all over again. As I was about to push the detonator, I could hear other blasting going on in the mine; then I pushed it.
I expected to see the back coming down on my head or to watch the walls crumbling in front of me, but they didn’t. Everything was fine. Except my hands, they were trembling, trembling bad. Tom saw it, but he didn’t say anything. He just got up quick and headed to the train pick-up. It got there on time for once, and we got in and headed back to the winze to take us up.
We changed to the main shaft on the 6,800 and the cage was packed. Tom wanted to wait for it to come back down again with less men on it. Not me, though, I wanted to get out quick. Full as it was, there weren’t going to be any stops on the way up, and we just about flew to the surface in no time at all.
Tom had checked out my bits for me when we came on the shift since we were running late, so I hadn’t seen Sandy yet today. I thought about him a lot over the vacation seeing so much of Mary. Man I was sick of running around behind his back and meeting her on side streets. But that’s the way she wanted it, and I said I’d wait to meet him until she was ready.
There were lots of miners in front of the bit room when I walked up. It didn’t matter to Sandy, though, he never hurried. You’d be trying to get your gear turned in as fast as you could while there was some hot water left in the showers, and he’d be moving at a snail’s pace, limping along. He could only handle one set of bits at a time in his good hand; the other hand just hung by his side.
“That son-of-a-bitch is too goddamn slow,” I heard a couple of miners say. “They ought to do something about him.”
‘Course no one but me knew how he got hurt. I have to be honest with you, though, even knowing about it didn’t help much.
It probably wasn’t more than ten minutes, but it seemed like thirty by the time I got up to the split window. I was the last one from my cage drop-off, and Sandy had his back to me hanging up bits. He shuffled back up to the front without even looking up and took the drill steal out of my hands.
“Garnes,” I said, “8,000 level.”
He had turned to the back of the room by the time I said that, but then he turned around quicker than I think I’d ever seen him move.
Jesus, you should have seen his face. It was frozen, just staring right into my eyes. He had a cigarette in his mouth that he pushed out with his tongue and stepped on as he walked up to me. He set my bits on the counter top without looking away from me. He was practically leaning out of the room, close to my face. He might have been pissed because I called out my name like he didn’t know whose bit were whose. Maybe he thought I was trying to hurry him or something. But then I knew what it was, what it had to be.
“You think I’m a dumb son-of-a-bitch,” he said, but he wasn’t asking a question. “You think I’m blind or some fucking thing.”
For just a second I thought maybe I was right, maybe he was pissed off for me calling out my name like that.
“What the fuck you think you’re doing? Going on behind my back. Thinking I wouldn’t know. What kind of asshole you think I am, Mr. Jake Garnes?”
When he said ‘Mr. Jake ‘Garnes,’ like that, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck bristling. I didn’t want to say anything; I wanted to hit him. It was like he was daring me to do it. I would have, too, if it hadn’t been for Mary.
“What are you talking about?”
I didn’t think before I said that. It just came out. It was stupid, a kid’s answer when he gets caught red-handed.
“You gonna play that shit with me? You know what I’m talking about, Mr. Garnes?”
“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about,” I fired back at him, madder than hell now. “I’m dating your daughter.”
“No you ain’t ‘dating’ my daughter. You’re chasing after her ass. ‘Dating’ is getting my permission to see her. Which I would never give.”
I started to say something, but he cut me off.
“Well, you ain’t chasing her no more. You hear me!”
He was practically spitting in my face.
“She ain’t seeing you again, not ever.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“You like saying that, don’t you? ‘What are you talking about?’ I guess you’re a dumb one, huh? I’ll say it real slow this time, so you get it. And you listen good to me Garnes, because I won’t say it again.”
When he spoke this time he talked slow, like each word was meant to strike me down.
“Don’t you ever see my Mary or call or talk to her again. I mean never. Don’t you try it. You got that?”
“She’s eighteen. There’s no law against it.”
He yanked my bits off the counter, and I jumped back. I thought he was going to hit me with them. Instead, he glared at me.
“I don’t need no law, Mr. Garnes. You think I need a law?”
He turned then, spit on the ground, and went to the back of the bit room.
He didn’t say anything else or look at me again. He left me standing there not knowing what to say. Finally, I had to walk away.
I’d seen Sandy plenty mad before, sure, hundred’s of times. He got mad before the day began. That was nothing. But it was something much more than mad that I saw in his glare. There was a kind of desperation mixed in with the anger, desperate like a trapped animal protecting its cub. He was ready to do whatever it took to keep her for himself, and to keep me away from her. At the bottom of him, I think he knew he wouldn’t be able to do either.
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