Today I’m posting Chapter 14 of High Pocket. In this chapter, Jake comes over to Sandy and Mary’s house to report on his trip to the abandoned level; but when Sandy reveals the truth about his father’s involvement in the 3800 accident and rescue, Jake begins to wonder if he’s a partner in the retrieval or a pawn.
I waited a couple of days before going to see Sandy and Mary because I suddenly felt like I was getting caught up in Sandy’s dreams about the gold and they were rushing in on me. They were going to cause me to do things I never would have done before, like risking my life down on the 3800’ one day. I was also still chewing on the fact that I’d have to talk to my dad at some point and face up to how I felt about him with Sylvia. And I was still bugged about stealing gold from the mine…if there was any gold down there that is.
I was confused about myself. I was changing, you could say, growing up I guess. It was something like that, something you don’t know until you pass it, and then all you can say for sure is that it happened. Anyway, I waited a couple of days and then called Sandy’s house. Mary answered. When I told her I’d been down to the 3200′, she got real excited, and Sandy took the phone.
“What d’ya see down there?” he said before I had a chance to say anything. I told him to calm down.
“I’m coming over. Break out a beer and I’ll tell you what I found.”
I hung up before he had a chance to argue with me.
No more jumping ahead, I told myself on the drive over. I was taking on too much pressure. If I didn’t start taking things a day at a time, an hour at a time even, I wouldn’t make it much longer. To look at what we had ahead of us was enough to stop anyone from trying. We had to get back in there unseen, get down the shaft to the 3800′, after starting the engine somehow, find the cavern, blast it out, get the gold, and then we had to get back out with it. You just couldn’t think ahead to all that and still go on. At least, I couldn’t. I turned up the radio to make anymore thinking impossible over Merle Haggard wailing away.
It was getting dark when I drove up and the lights were on in the house. It was cooler than it had been, but still plenty humid. I knocked on the door. Mary gave me a kiss, and yelled to Sandy. He yelled back. It struck me as funny how different my arriving was this time from before. I never would have thought then that Sandy would be happy to see me. Damn, we were nearly friends. Fact is, I think I was the only friend he had.
“I was so worried about you,” Mary said sitting down on the couch. “Everything went okay?”
“Sure, sure. Okay enough…”
“Hold on!” Sandy yelled. “Don’t say a word of it until I get there.”
Mary leaned forward and pressed my knee. “Is it good or bad news?”
“A bit of both…” I said as Sandy came walking in.
“I heard that,” he said, setting the Lone Star in front of me. “Is it mostly bad or mostly good?”
“Both,” I said, after taking a big swallow.
“Don’t play with me,” he got bent out of shape quickly. “I waited long enough for this. Twelve goddamn years. I don’t want to be joked with now.”
“All right, dad. He’s going to tell us. I’m excited, too,” Mary was refereeing already.
“I’m not excited. I’m long past excited…I…”
“Hold on!” I cut him off. “If you don’t shut up, you won’t hear either the good or bad of it.”
He shut up and let me talk.
“I’ll make it short. I think we can get down to the 3800′. That’s the good part. But what the 3800′ is like, I don’t have any more idea about than before I went in.”
“How come you don’t?” Sandy said fast, like he didn’t even want his own talking to slow the answer down.
“I couldn’t get down to it. There wasn’t time and there wasn’t a cage, least not as far as I could tell.”
“There’s got to be a cage!” he boomed. “Of course, there’s a cage. I came up on it. There’s a goddamn cage there. Gotta be!”
It was pretty damn clear why he got to yelling. No cage, no chance to get the gold.
“I didn’t say there wasn’t one. I said I couldn’t see one that’s all.”
“I don’t understand?” Mary said. “If it was there, you’d have seen it, right?”
“It was just too damn dark to see all the way down the shaft to the 3800’, and I lost my cap before I could take a climb down.”
“How’s that…?” she started but Sandy cut her off.
“That’s it. Of course that’s it! It was down in the shaft all the way to the 3800′. They probably lowered it and left it setting down there. There’s a cage, all right. They don’t disappear. Of course there is.”
We went on for awhile about there being one or not. Mary wanted to hear more about the rest of what I’d seen, and my fall, and Sandy half did, too. I say half did because he was kind of strange about the whole thing. Anytime I raised any problems about what I’d come across, he’d say they weren’t any problems at all. They didn’t amount to nothing as far he was concerned. He was sure, for instance, that the engine parts could be gotten with no trouble. He was sure the engine would start up when we tried it, sure the hoist would work to haul up the cage that must be there. And, of course, sure there’d be gold to haul up.
“Don’t you understand,” he kept saying, “we’re going to get the gold. There ain’t no question about that. No one or no thing is going to stop us. So all this little stuff is bullshit.”
Anyway, after I’d finished, I looked at Sandy, waiting for him to ask me to go to my dad for what we didn’t know, to come clean about what he wanted from me. But he didn’t. Mary got up for more beer and made herself some coffee. Nothing was said the whole time she was gone. We just sat there and looked away from each other, like a cat and mouse game. She came back and handed us the beer and sat back down. Still, nothing. I wanted it out in the open, put on the table, so I said it again.
“So that’s it, getting in and out shouldn’t be too bad, from the adit I mean. But that’s all I know with any confidence.”
“We know a lot more than we did,” Mary said innocently.
I looked at Sandy.
“Maybe you could go in again,” she said eagerly, “…if you wanted to…and this time go straight down the shaft so you’d have time for it.”
“Too risky,” Sandy said.
“I was nearly seen this time. If I got caught going in, that’d be the end of it all.”
“Too risky,” Sandy said again and pushed out his cigarette.
“And we have to know about the 3800′,” I said, just about egging him on. “What if it’s flooded?”
“It ain’t flooded,” he snapped.
“We can’t know for sure,” Mary said. “Something could have happened in all this time.”
“Anything,” I said. “You know that Sandy.”
He took the bait now. Hard and tight.
“There’s only one thing to do then, Jake,” Sandy said and I could tell he was calling my bluff. “You go to your dad for it.”
“Oh, you think that might be a good idea, huh?” I half-mocked.
“Your dad’s a big man. He can get his hand on what we need, just like that,” he snapped his fingers in front of my face.
“How long you been waiting to ask me that question?” I looked him right in the eyes when I said it.
Mary raised her eyebrows at the tone that had come into our voices.
That “big man” stuff is what gave him away. He’d been waiting a long time for this, probably long before I met him, and that was a sobering thought.
“That’s right, I didn’t even think,” Mary said. “Do you think he would?”
I couldn’t tell if she meant it or if she was just pretending not to have thought of it before. It made me feel real uncomfortable not knowing whose side she was on for a minute, or if there were sides. I looked at Sandy. I wanted him to say what was really on his mind. He looked back with that same smile on his face. It was almost like a dare and gloating at the same time.
“How do you know he can get it?” I asked.
“A hotshot Safety Manager.”
“Yeah, he’s a manager. So what?”
It bugged me the way he was acting and talking. It was like the old Sandy all over again. You could practically see the chip on his shoulder. He sure wasn’t trying to hid it.
“They’re all the same, those guys. Bastards all of them. He can get the information. You know he can.”
“Dad! That’s not fair. You don’t know Jake’s dad. They aren’t all of one piece.”
“Oh, I don’t, huh?” he said, looking from Mary to me and back again.
“You know him, okay. I heard about that,” I said, thinking back to the baseball game and what my dad told me about he rescue.
He just smiled. He had something he was holding onto, something he was about to let go of; and when he did, it about knocked me off the couch.
“Yeah, what he tell you, Jake? That he saved my life?”
“Something like that, yeah, he told me that.”
“How about what he didn’t tell you?”
“Dad, what are you talking about? What are you both talking about?”
I saw his face change then. It fixed on itself.
“What the hell are you talking about!” I snapped.
“Did he tell you he was the shift Foreman when the walls started caving in?”
“The Foreman?!” I blurted out.
“Yeah, the Foreman!” he snarled. “You didn’t know that did you?”
I couldn’t believe it. My dad said he was part of the team, not the goddamn Foreman on the dig. I was right when I thought there was more he wasn’t saying at the baseball diamond. Sonofabitch! It meant all kinds of things. First of all, it meant they knew each other a whole lot better than my dad let on. And it meant my dad had a lot more to answer for than he’d told me.
“He volunteered to go back down there, he probably told you that, and he drug me out of the place. I thank him for that and I hate him for that, too.”
Mary looked over at me like I should explain something to her or maybe that I should have told her something that I didn’t.
“I’m sure he had to call off the rescue…” Mary started but he cut her off.
“Hell no! He didn’t want to call it off,” he said.
Now I was a little confused, but I stayed quiet and let him light another cigarette and then continue.
“I was near dead, so you two don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to, but I heard it from everyone down there when I come to in the hospital. Shit no! He didn’t want to call it off. He was the Foreman. We were his men. My best friend, Chuck Mills, was his goddamn responsibility. He knew he should’ve have stayed down there. But he didn’t.”
“Just say what happened,” Mary’s voice was flat.
“You would do better to ask Robert Garnes that one,” Sandy said looking at me.
“Wait a fucking minute,” I barked. “Don’t you pull that shit on me. If you know something, I want to hear you say it.”
He took a deep drag off of his cigarette and started speaking as the smoke came sputtering out.
“You betcha I know why. Even if he won’t admit it, he knows why, too. It was those shining bastards on the hill told him to call it off. He was the Goodman Foreman. But he did what the boys in white shirts told him…”
He stopped for a second and I could see he’d thought about holding the next part back, but then changed his mind.
“And next thing you know,” he said, “he’s a manager himself. Simple like that. You figure it out.”
I kept quiet, now, the energy all suddenly gone from my fight. Was he right? I didn’t know. My dad was spooked as hell talking about Sandy and the accident with me and Ben at the picnic. I remember how nervous he seemed. Hell, he could have been up for a promotion anyway. That’s possible, right? But it felt wrong anyway I looked at it.
“He might have lost more men going back in there,” Mary said, “You have to think of it that way.
“They don’t think about shit like that!” Sandy nearly yelled. “When are you going to listen to what I’m saying? It was public relations, that’s all they cared about. Not people, but money.”
Mary looked away.
“Oh, but I got them this time,” he said, starting to sound a little crazy again, “I got ‘em good. “That whole mine, from the day it was damn near tripped over by Custer’s scouts. I got it all. I’m telling you two right now. We got the seed of it all. The root of that whole fucking place. All the gold it ever produced started growing in that cavern I laid in for three days. I know that’s true. It’s the core of the Homestake Gold mine. You don’t need to look any farther. I have been in the center of that mine! The very heart of it!”
He lurched up, took a few steps, then turned back to me, speaking softly.
“You ask your dad for what we need. He knows he owes it to me and to what he has left of himself.”
He walked out of the room. There wasn’t much for me and Mary to say after that. She seemed kind of sorry for me when we kissed good-night. She knew I was stuck with this. We needed what he could tell me. There’s no getting around that. But helping to make what was now my crazy dream come true was about the last thing in the world I wanted to ask from him.
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