Today I’m posting Chapter 9 of High Pocket. It’s a pivotal chapter in which Sandy reveals to Jake and Mary the secret that has embittered his heart and possessed his dreams.
“It had to happen,” she said calmly, “I knew it was going to someday.”
“I’m sure he knew you were in love already, and there was nothing to be done about it.”
She looked toward the door,”What’s he going to do without me?”
“Mary,” I said as comforting as I could, “He still has you, he’ll realize that. Let him cool down. Then he’ll see things the way they are.”
I don’t think she believed it. The truth is, I didn’t believe it myself. I sure couldn’t see the three of us there sitting around having a big friendly chat. Sandy wasn’t the type.
“Let’s take a drive somewhere,” I said.
“I’m going to wait. I want to be here when he comes back. You go on home.”
“We’ll stay together.”
We sat there and waited and there wasn’t a lot to say. I wondered how long we’d sit there. Until dawn? I guess so. But it turned out not to be very long at all. Inside of half an hour, the screen door opened and Sandy came in.
He looked pretty bad, like he’d been crying himself, though I doubt it. Mary got up, took his hand, and walked him to his chair.
“Mary, honey, I want you to leave me and him alone. I want to talk to him.”
“I’m not going to do that, daddy. Whatever you’re going to say, I have a right to hear it.”
“If you say it to me, you’re saying it to her anyway,” I said. “What you got against me or any miner for that matter? You work at the Homestake yourself. ”
“Listen, you, Mr. Garnes,” he was still sarcastic as hell.
“Don’t go calling me that no more. My name’s Jake.”
“Please, you two, if you are going to start this way…”
She stopped there, and said she was going to fix coffee. Me and Sandy both lit up cigarettes and paid a hell of a lot of attention to smoking for a minute or two.
“How long you been at the Homestake?” Sandy asked me.
“Near ten years.”
“Ten years. That ain’t long.”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
“It’ll be 23 years this November for me. But I only count the first 11.”
“I been in that goddamn bit room for the past twelve. That sure as hell ain’t mining. Or do you think it is?”
He was quick to be nasty. I stayed quiet.
“Mining’s risking your ass for peanuts and getting it kicked in most likely.”
Mary brought the coffee in and we fixed ourselves cups and sat there drinking it for minute.
“Where do you suppose I got my limp from?” he said all of a sudden.
“I know, Mary told me.”
“Yeah, course she did.”
He took a sip of his coffee, put out one cigarette and lit another.
“Shit, I’m not going to tell you nothing about mining you don’t already know.”
It was the first half-nice thing he said to me.
“Jake won’t be mining all his life,” Mary said.
“You gonna marry my daughter and take her away from all of this? What are you going do for money?”
“There’s other jobs,” I said without sincerity.
He went quiet for a bit, then started in a different tone.
“Why do you think I’ve stayed in Lead all these years, dragging my ass around the bit room making peanuts?”
He had something to tell me, and I didn’t like being toyed with.
“What are you getting at?” I said looking at Mary, who seemed confused by him as well.
“I’m going to tell you two something, something you won’t maybe believe, but can’t help yourself from wanting to believe.”
“What are you talking about, daddy?” Mary asked, “Course I’ll believe you whatever it is.”
“Well, we’ll see, but you’re going to know now whey we stayed in Lead and why I can’t leave it yet.”
Mary and I exchanged a glance, and Sandy stood up, pacing the room, talking faster than I’d ever heard him, talking about the history of the Homestake Mine, names, dates, the whole works. How Horatio Ross was a scout for General Custer, and how he first found gold nuggets and then how the Manual Brothers found the “lead” of gold and started digging underground for it. He went on to Hearst and his “gang” as he called them and how they bought the claim from the Brothers and really got it going. It was a history both of us knew, but we didn’t stop him.
Finally, tired out I guess, he sat down and poured himself another cup of coffee, lit up another Pall Mall and looked over at the two of us.
“And what the hell do you think they all were chasing like their life depended on it. Gold!” he yelled. “That’s what made this town, built it from nothing and keeps it going. Hell, that’s what made the whole goddamn world. They got gold statues to God himself! Even He likes gold. You can take your diamonds and rubies and emeralds, and then there’s gold. There ain’t nothing like gold.”
“It’s important all right. There’s no doubt about it,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything else to say with him staring wide-eyed at us, but he went on again like I hadn’t said a word.
“Have you ever seen it? You’ve been working there ten years, and I’ll bet you ain’t seen it once. Maybe you’ve seen a speck or two in a rock face. You haven’t had the luck I’ve had!”
He let out a loud and bitter laugh and slapped his leg. He grabbed his crushed hand and shook it out at us.
“This is the price for seeing gold!” he yelled. “It doesn’t come cheap.”
Mary jumped up, like out of a trance when he yelled out.
“Daddy, c’mon now. You’re starting to scare me going on and on about gold like that.”
He sat back, calmed down a bit. His head seemed to clear.
“I’m sorry, honey. I just want you to know right now that what I’m about to tell you ain’t cheap to come by.”
Then he looked me in the eye.
“She loves you,” he said. “I saw that tonight. She’s not my little girl anymore.”
Mary started to say something, but he stopped her. “It’s all right. You have no explaining to do to me. I’m the one with the explaining to do.”
He paused, and in the silence I could hear a coyote cry out across the valley of Lead, and then the sound of the crushers booming in the background seemed to come up in volume.
“You know I used to be a drifter, Jake, a high-baller like you.” He looked down at his bad leg. “Mary may have told you some of my accident, but she don’t know it all, no one does. I was in there for three days before they pulled me out. Three goddamn days…everybody moaning around me, and I couldn’t move but to crawl along the ground and it hurt too much to do that. So I sat there where I fell.”
“Could you hear anybody coming, digging after you?” I asked.
“Nothing. Not a sound. My light worked for awhile. Then the battery went out and the place was darker than a coat pocket, the kind of dark you don’t adjust to. Couldn’t hear nothing nor see nothing. I might as well been dead. For a while I thought I was dead.”
He stopped and flicked the ash from his cigarette and kind of leaned forward like he was letting go of a secret.
“But before it went dark, I saw something I ain’t ever seen before or since.”
“What? What was it?” Mary said.
“Gold.” He eased the word out real slow. “Everywhere I looked. There was more gold than you can dream of. It’s not sparkling in the rough like that. Not like some pirate’s treasure chest. But it glitters some, soft and dull. The whole damn cavern was glittering with gold.”
“Gold?” I heard myself say out loud, “sitting out there?”
“Nuggets, I’m telling you! Bigger than my fist. I was lying on it, beneath me, above me. Everywhere. It was like being locked up in Ft. Knox. Even in the dark, I could still see it before me.”
He stared straight ahead trance-like. Mary went over to him and sat on the arm of his chair. She took a hold of his hand. “Daddy, are you all right?”
He nodded and whispered, “Gold, everywhere I looked.”
“I’m going to make some more coffee? she looked over at me.
I went to the bathroom and Mary went into the kitchen. It was like we both were running from what we’d just heard. I don’t know what she was thinking, but I figured it was close to what was going through my head. He was crazy, simple as that, and that the accident and all he went through made him that way. Hell, there’s no way he could have seen what he said he saw. I’ve heard of what they call a “high pocket” where you might find fingers of solid gold in the middle of host rock. But they were nothing like what he was talking about. There weren’t caverns of gold. No way.
He was unconscious, too, when they pulled him out. He probably was in shock and saw the whole thing in a dream at the hospital for Christ’s sake. It was pitiful, really, if you thought about it. To think of him smashed up and dreaming about a gold-lined cavern all the years since the accident was pretty sad.
When I got back to the living room, Mary was pouring coffee. Sandy looked over at the two of us.
“So,” he said, “now you know why I stayed in Lead all these years. There’s a treasure down there. And we got to go get it. I can’t do it by myself you can see that.”
Man oh man, so that’s what this was all about. He was spilling his big secret for me to go on a treasure hunt with him. He was nuts. I looked at Mary.
“I know it’s dangerous. No beating around the bush about that. But this time it’s for us, you and Mary and me. You can keep all you can carry…” he trailed off trying to laugh about it.
The air in the room got pretty heavy with the silence between us. I didn’t want to tell him what I thought in truth about all this gold talk and Mary didn’t either. He finally said what we were thinking.
“You don’t believe. Do you? You think I’m out of my ever loving mind.”
“I’m not calling you a liar,” I said.
“No, daddy. It’s nothing like that.”
“It could’ve easy been pyrite…” I said, “You were hurt pretty bad and all. It might have been pyrite, easy.”
“It was gold,” he said and he wasn’t angry. “It didn’t look like gold. It was gold.”
He leaned forward, started fumbling with one hand with his watch cap. He got a hold of it and pulled it off. Mary gave out a short gasp, and what I saw made me near cough. He had a gruesome looking scar that formed a deep groove on the side of his head. It was about four inches long, ugly, red, with no hair growing out of it.
“It’s all right, Mary. It don’t hurt me no more. It just looks like hell.”
He put the cap back on.
“I got proof there’s gold down there. That ugly scar, you know how I got that?”
We shook our heads, staying quiet.
“That valley on the side of my head is where my cap ended up after a rock dropped on it. Took the doctors to cut it off and put my skull back together.”
“I don’t want to hear anymore about this,” Mary said with a shudder.
“You said you could prove there’s gold down there,” I said to move him off the subject. “How?”
I wanted to believe it; he was right about that. I mean, who wouldn’t? Gold down there, maybe pounds of it, and nobody knowing it was there. It was a good dream to have if you were the dreaming type.
“I still have that old cap. It’s my proof.”
“How is it ‘proof’?”
“Before my lamp battery went dead, I opened up the lamp like you do to change the bulb, and I picked up a chunk of gold the size of a peach pit and put it inside the lamp housing.”
“Where is it?” I said quick. “You still have that cap?”
“Sure I got it.”
“Have you ever seen it, Mary?” I asked her.
“No, she ain’t ever seen it. No one’s seen that cap except me.” He got up and was walking toward the bedroom. “But you’re going to see it now. Both of you. You’ll see my proof. You’re going to see I ain’t telling some wild-ass story.”
He walked out of the room, and Mary came back over to me.
“I never heard anything about this before. Just my dad talking this much is something to take notice of. I’m kind of scared all of a sudden. Could there really be gold down there like he said?”
“No way. He was hurt too bad to think straight or see straight. It couldn’t be.”
We could hear him moving something around in his bedroom. Then the noise stopped and we heard him walking in the hallway toward us, then he stepped into the living room with an old, beat-up cap in his hand. It was brown, or had been at one time, most of the paint was worn off. The left side was cut away some where they must have got it off of him like he said. It was the cap all right. I didn’t doubt that. What was in it was another question.
“Here take it up, Jake,” he said and handed it my way, “or you Mary. Here, take it.” Neither of us moved. “Go on. Take a hold of it.”
I got up and took it from his hand. When I did that, something rattled inside.
“Hear it?” he said excited. “You hear that?”
“I did,” Mary said, and you could tell she wanted the sound to be what Sandy said it was.
“I told you. I told you there’s gold in there.”
“There’s something in there,” I said.
“Open it up,” Mary was standing up by now. “Hurry. Go on. Open it up!”
I started to work at the latch to the lamp when Sandy reached for it.
“No don’t!” he yelled.
“Why not?” Mary said.
But when I looked in Sandy’s eyes, I knew why he didn’t want me to open it up.
“You haven’t seen it. Have you?” I said. “You put it in the dark and you ain’t opened all these years.”
“Is that true?” Mary asked softly.
“I’ve had that cap in my hands probably a thousand times in the past 12 years. Shook it like a goddamn piggy bank. Listened to it rattle, held it up to the light. Even slept on it under my pillow once.”
Then he stopped short and grabbed it out of my hands. He stood in the center of the living room, turned the cap facing to the ground with the lamp down. He cried out loud as he flipped open the lamp casing. Something fell onto the floor at his feet. He leaned over and picked.
“It’s gold! Goddamn it! I told you it was! Holy shit! I knew it all along! Look at it! Just look at it sparkle in my hands!”
Mary came up close, and he handed it to her. She’d never seen gold in her life to know if it was real or not, but she said, “It is gold, Jake. Look, it is!”
I took the nugget in my hand and felt the heft of it, I knew it was gold. But still I leaned over and held it in the light. I’m telling you right now that when I looked down at that chunk of gold in my hand, a lot of things suddenly seemed possible.
We were all huddled around it, rubbing it like it was a magic lamp and a genie was going to appear.
“It’s gold,” I said, like I still couldn’t believe it.
“Damn bet you it’s gold,” Sandy said. “All this time, I knew it was gold rattling around in there.”
He hugged Mary, and I stood up and we damn near shook each other’s hands off and laughed and whooped it up.
Finally, we calmed down and sat back down. I was still holding the nugget. The sun was starting to come up and the lights inside grew pale. We sat there quiet, each of us with our own dreams of what the nugget meant and what we were going to do about it.
“It sure as hell is gold,” I said not much louder than to myself.
“Yeah,” Sandy said slowly, “and it’s waiting down there for us to come and get it.”
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