Today I’m posting Chapter 17 of High Pocket. In this chapter, Jake faces his growing obsession with the gold-lined cavern, while Sandy nearly kills himself in a dangerous explosion.
After dinner with my dad, things got confusing for me. Not so much because of what he’d said or even because of what he was doing. There’s no question I respected him for not going against the Homestake and standing up for the company he worked at. And there’s no question either that I didn’t respect him for cheating with Sylvia, but I didn’t hate him anymore. I guess you could say I accepted it all. What else can a person do?
What confused me was that the more I thought about the dangers of the 3800′, the more I wanted to do it. It was gnawing at me. The idea of all that gold sitting down there, waiting for someone to come and get it was never out of my mind. I wanted to see all that glittering gold, simple as that. I didn’t even care most times about getting it out of there, just seeing it would be enough.
If it was there, and if we did take it, we’d be stealing it. No way to deny that. But hell, for Sandy, stealing it made it even better. He wanted to get even with them. It was revenge like my dad said. They owed it to him, he thought, and he was going to get it and that was that. And maybe they did. I don’t know. He’d sure given them a lot and a lot had been taken from him.
Of course, all of this thinking leaves Mary out, and like I said at the beginning of this story, she was the one who got us down there on the 3800′ to begin with. She didn’t make any spectacular speech or anything. She just called me a few days after I’d seen my dad and asked me to go fly a kite with her. She said we could make a picnic of it.
It was autumn in the Black Hills. The mountains were spotted with all sorts of colors. Lots of green was left, and of course some of the fir trees would be green all year, but still it was winter coming on and you could feel it in the air and see the changes. At night it was getting plenty cool, but in the sun with the warm wind like today it was still comfortable.
I could see her from a long way off, standing in her front yard with this huge kite, barely holding it from blowing her away. I mean it must have been 6′ x 4′. I had to laugh when I saw it was made of newspapers glued together and the sticks looked as big as broom handles. She painted on it the face of an owl with two great big eyes.
“There’s only one problem,” she said coming over to the truck and dragging the kite behind her. “It doesn’t fold up. You think it’ll fit?”
“I’m not worried about it fitting, I’m thinking about it lifting us off the ground and into the clouds.”
I opened up the back door of the truck and folded down the rear seat. The kite fit, just barely, on an angle.
“Do you think this will hold it?” She handed me a spool of fishing line, probably 40 lbs. test.
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
“That’s a compliment, right?”
“Yeah, it’s a compliment,” I said and kissed her.
We went out highway 85 to Deer Mountain since it wasn’t ski season yet, and there’d be plenty of room to get the big kite up. The parking lot was empty, and it took the both of us to hang onto the kite as the wind starting really kicking up. I finally had to lay it down flat to keep it from taking off.
“Let’s walk it to that hill,” she said. “What do you think?”
“You’re the expert. If I get blown off a cliff, send for a search party.”
We walked over to the base of a ski run and tied the fishing line to the kite.
“Have you got a tail for it? It’s going to need something to settle it in this wind.”
The wind was coming over the parking lot and the flat part of the grounds and then shooting up the hill like a vent at the mine.
She opened up the picnic basket, and pulled out a long strip of coiled bed sheet.
“I don’t know how much you’ll need, it’s plenty long.”
“I think we should start with all of it, then tie it to my truck bumper,” I laughed and tied it to the bottom of the kite.
“I’ll walk part ways up the hill and yell when I’m going to let it go,” I said.
But it was a lot easier to say than to do. It was gusting up the side of the slope, bucking into the kite, the newspaper rippling and crackling and damn near lifting me off the ground. I had to use everything I had to hold the kite up and to keep my balance at the same time. The tail was whipping around my legs and I was sure it was going to tangle and that I’d be lifted up with it.
Finally, I raised up the kite and yelled to her to get ready.
“Ready,” she yelled back.
I shoved it off and the kite shot straight up, the line peeling off the spool in her hands. I could see she was having trouble holding it so I ran back down to her and took the spool. Damn, it was like holding a bucking bronco or something. Really tugging, so that I had to brace myself from being pulled back up the hill.
“I guess you know how to build them,” I said.
“The first kite I ever flew was homemade. My dad made it when I was about six. It wasn’t this big, but it flew like the devil.”
“He took you kite flying?”
I don’t know why I said that with such a question. It’s just that I couldn’t picture it, him making a kite and all.
“Sure. We did lots of things together,” she said. “Most of them boy stuff, sure, but then I have to admit I was pretty much a tom-boy anyway so it was fine with me. I don’t know if it’s that he wanted a son or not. He never let on that he did. It’s just that most of the things that he knew how to do were for boys.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“We went fishing together lots of times and even hunting one time.”
“Why only one time?”
“He wasn’t any good at it anymore. His arm and leg I mean. It mad him mad as hell. You know, not being able to do it right. Watch it!” she yelled because the kite was starting to dive and dip, the owl eyes seeming to wink and close and open again.
“You’ve got five hundred yards there, and I bet it could take it all out,” she said, helping me let out some more line.
“The fun part’s going to be bringing it in.”
“That’s why I’m going to let you do that,” she laughed.
“I went to see my dad,” I said from out of nowhere. It surprised me and her.
“I knew it. I thought you did.”
“I don’t know. You seem happier I guess.”
“Oh, yeah?” I laughed uncomfortably.
But she was right about my feeling pretty good since then. Confused some, like I said, but good all the same.
“He won’t help us,” I said.
She didn’t say anything.
“Don’t you want to know why?” I finally said.
“Because of my dad.”
“No, not really. He doesn’t agree with Sandy, but that’s not it. If anything, he feels sort of sorry for him.”
I wish I hadn’t said that. She looked hurt and turned away.
“He told me he wouldn’t betray the Company.”
I stopped there to see how she’d take that. She looked up at the kite and then to me.
“Why don’t you pull it in, and I’ll set up something to eat,” and she ran off.
I went to work getting the kite in, and believe me it was plenty of work. Hell, by the time I had the kite close in enough to drop it to the ground, I was most of the way up the hillside. I kept the line close and managed to get it down the hill, the tail flapping and jerking like a live wire behind me. I put the kite down and laid a rock on the center bar to hold it down. She handed me a beer and a sandwich without a word. The warm wind was the only noise while we ate for a few minutes.
“So what does it mean?” she asked.
“It means we don’t have any idea what the hell to expect down there. The cavern could be underwater, could have caved in again years ago, maybe the whole damn 3800′ doesn’t exist anymore.”
“Is that what you think?”
“Where I was standing was solid, but that was on the 3200′. I couldn’t see but 100 feet into the shaft. I don’t have any idea at all.”
“You think it’s too dangerous to try…?” she stopped, her voice trembling, clearly upset at the thought of it. “…if you do…then it’s off. I’ll do whatever you…”
“Hold on a second. I didn’t say anything about calling it off. Not yet I didn’t. We haven’t got that far yet.”
“Look, Mary. You know how I’ve felt from the beginning about this whole thing. The craziness of it…shit, a gold-lined cavern? But, I’ll be honest, since I’ve been down there and come back to tell the tale, so to speak, I can’t get it out of my mind. I don’t know what it is, gold fever I guess.” I took a swig of my beer and bite of the sandwich. “So no, I’m not planning to call it off. But you have to know what we’re in for. Really. It could be hell down there. Who knows what could happen?”
She sat quiet for a while and you could tell she’d been going over the worst of it in her head.
“There’s something else, Mary, something my dad made pretty clear.”
“What?” she said scared a bit.
“It is stealing, you know, what we’re planning on doing. I’m not claiming to be a goodie two shoes or nothing. I know it isn’t a bank, but still it’s robbery. There’s no way around it that I can see.”
“I’ve thought about that to.”
“Yeah, and what?”
“You’re going to say this is just an easy way out, and maybe it is, but the way I look at it they’ve already been down there and given up on it. I bet they’ll never go down there again. I mean, would they?”
I was just about to blurt out that Olner was digging in that neck of the woods for some reason, but I kept it to myself for now.
“It’s stealing you’re right, but, Jake, when do you start counting?”
“What do you mean, counting?”
“You could say the Homestake stole the whole mine from the Indians. The whole Black Hills for that matter. There’s no denying that if you want to look at it that way.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and the Indians stole it from the dinosaurs.”
We both laughed now and she leaned in and kissed me. Then she pulled out a small box from the picnic basket wrapped with a bow.
“Happy birthday from me and Sandy.”
“What, you didn’t need to get me…”
“Don’t start that, open it up.”
I pulled the bow apart and opened box. Inside, pinned to cotton wool was a solid gold four-leaf clover on a gold chain. I lifted it out. It was heavy as hell.
“Is this the nugget?”
She smiled back to me proud as could be.
“He melted it down and molded it, over three ounces. I bought the chain.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Just don’t say where it came from,” she laughed.
I turned around and she snapped the clasp around my neck.
“How does it feel?”
“Feels great, solid weight, but fine. I can’t believe he’d part with that nugget.”
“He said there’s plenty more where that came from.”
“Let’s hope he’s right.”
By the time we’d driven back to Lead, we were both feeling better, settled I guess you could say. We pulled onto her street and saw a couple fire trucks in front of her house.
“Oh, my God!” Mary yelled, “Hurry!”
I was already on the floor with my foot, and we could now see smoke coming from the backyard. We skidded up to a stop behind the fire engine. There were a couple of firemen wrapping up hoses and talking on the radio casually. The fire must have been out. We both jumped out of the car.
“What’s going on!” I said to one of them. “Is Sandy, the man in there, all right?”
Before he could answer, Mary was running up the drive into the backyard.
“It’s out. Not a big one. It was the shed out in the back. That’s completely gone. Nobody hurt.”
“Gas fire. The old guy had an engine running in the shed with a rigged gas line. Don’t know for sure, but we figure it leaked and went up. He’s lucky. Tell you that. Could have exploded. Happens all the time. You’d be surprised.”
“Thanks,” I said and hurried after Mary.
As I went through the gate, I could see what was left of the shed, smoldering and putting out some clouds of smoke. A couple of firemen were soaking it with the garden hose and another was knocking down the only wall that still was standing.
Sandy was sitting on the back stoop, Mary next to him.
“Jesus, what happened? The fireman out front said something about gas,” I said sitting down.
He put his finger to his mouth, “Later.”
Mary shook her head like a mom pissed at her son.
He stood up, “I’m getting a beer, want one?”
I sort of laughed. “Sure, why not.”
He went into the house.
“That about does it,” a fireman yelled over to us. “Keep an eye out for the next hour or so.”
In the center of the rubble was a huge, blackened engine sitting straight up like a statue.
“Yeah, we will,” I yelled.
We walked into the kitchen, Sandy was sitting at the table, his beer and mine in front of him.
“That’s the engine like at the 3800?” I said grabbing my beer.
“Quiet,” he said, “Mary close the door.”
She pushed the backdoor closed.
“Where did you get it? Or better yet, how did you get it in there when the shed walls were up?”
“An old buddy of mine, Roger Kelly in Pluma, runs a junk yard and old tools place. He had that one out in the open, and helped me get it over here in the shed.”
“When?” Mary asked, surprised by all this.
“Oh, shit, two weeks ago maybe. You were in school or something.”
Of course she was in school, but he could have told her about it. She just shook her head and looked back at him.
“Listen,” he said. “I rigged up a starter switch and it came with a radiator, ain’t worth much now, but that don’t matter. What I’m saying is that the bastard started. Fired right up! Threatened not to, kicked it over, stubborn, you know. So I primed the carb again–I rebuilt that by the way–and she came to life and purred like anything for a while. Well, not purred exactly because I had a short pipe on her. All that doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is that she ran like a champ. Like a real sonofabitch!”
He threw his arms into the air and whistled loud. Mary smiled some, and I couldn’t help but smile, too. But I didn’t let it carry me away. I mean, this one starting here in his shed didn’t say that much to me about the one we needed to start down there.
“You should have heard it, Gawd, it took me back to working rock. With that engine firing away, I could damn near hear the cage dropping from it. This old engine’s been sitting in a yard in Puma, out in the elements…and it started. The one on the 3200 has been protected underground all these years. For sure it’s going to start.”
Maybe, I thought. Maybe.
“Where did you get the parts to rebuild the carb? Did you find a new starter and generator?” I asked.
He was nodding his head at me before I finished asking.
“The carburetor, sure, there’s tons of parts for it, and the generator and starter are nearly unchanged through 73. No problem there. Plugs I had to order, and I had to order points and condenser and such.” He stopped there and you could see he was thinking it all over again. “Jake, Mary, we’re going to do it! That bastard’s going to start when we hit it. It is. I know it!”
There were other things to think about, the clutch housing for one, but I wasn’t about to bring them up right then. I was thinking about what my dad had said, or didn’t say. When I looked over at Mary, I could see she was thinking along the same lines.
“It burned the shit out of the wood model I built of the mine,” he laughed. “That’s one thing gone for good.”
Mary and me busted out laughing the way he said it, like a little kid that’s just broken a window but keeps thinking about the homerun ball, not the glass.
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