Today I’m posting Chapter 18 of High Pocket. In this chapter, all hope seems lost for Jake, Sandy, and Mary when Olner’s production crew begins its assault on the 3800′ Level.
I came onto the ramp and picked up my gear and headed to the cage. When I passed the Production Board and saw what it said there, I about fell over. The board has all the active levels listed and their crew make-up and times in and out, so I’m surprised I spotted it, but my eyes went right to it:
ACTIVE: Level 3800′ – D. OLNER
I stood there in the middle of the ramp frozen, staring straight at it. A miner bumped into me.
“Sorry, man,” he said and then looked up to see what I was staring at. “Yeah, I heard Olner’s making up a new crew. Count me out of that one.”
He walked on past me, and I was still just standing there, thoughts racing through my brain. I figured the only way for the Olner crew to get to the 3800’ was through the Supply Level adit that I’d gone on a few weeks back. I had to know for sure, and I took off running for the Yates Cage that was already loading for the shift before mine. I could see the gates just being pulled closed as I pushed past people, yelling out, “Hold it! Hold it!”
The Operator saw me hauling ass toward him and held the gate with a yell of “Hurry it up will ya.”
I gently as possible pushed my way onto the cage, men grumpily moving to give me room.
“Thanks, really appreciate it,” I said to the Operator, “Main Supply Level for me.”
He closed the gates and the cage began to drop. Since it didn’t have too far to go, it didn’t get up full speed and was actually rougher and bumpier than normal. The Main Supply Level came up quickly and the cage jolted to a stop. A couple of engineer types got off with me and gave me a curious look since miners don’t normally work on that level. I nodded, kept my head down and let them get some good distance between us. I felt suspicious as hell and took my time heading to the adit.
And I was right about where the crew would be. I could see a halo of light up ahead. I could hear the sounds of machines working and when I rounded the final turn, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of a construction crew and a skip loader banging away exactly where I’d undone those boards and climbed on through, exactly where the two engineers had been talking about loose track when I tried to get out and had to wait for them to finish. I dropped down to my knees and scooted over to the level wall. I could see from here that they were widening the adit so they could lay bigger gauge track to bring in boring equipment. This was a goddamn disaster for us! No other way to say it.
And then I saw him, Olner, coming up quickly from the other side of the work area. Yelling for the Foreman who walked up to him.
“At twenty feet of track a day, we’ll be up to the 3800′ shaft itself in about two weeks,” the Foreman yelled above the equipment.
“No sooner?” Olner demanded.
The Foreman shook his head, “tunnel’s too narrow to get bigger equipment working it.”
“All right. But keep at hit hard, 24-hour shift changes,” he said and started to walk away and then yelled back to him, “And put a guard on the entrance.”
“A guard?” the Foreman said surprised.
“Yeah, a guard. I don’t want any trespassers.”
“All right, I’ll get a guard out here…should he be armed?” he tried to joke.
“Don’t be a wiseass,” Olner barked back at him.
I watched him walk away and wanted pick up a chunk of rock and throw it at him. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. I kicked a nearby ore car and about busted my foot. I slumped down beside it, pissed and defeated. I was also angry at my brother, Ben, which was stupid, sure, but somehow I thought he should’ve warned me about this, at least told me the crew was coming this way as well as from the level he was working on. But why should he tell me? He had no idea what I was up to. There was no point in blaming him. No point in blaming anyone. I sure as hell hoped Sandy would be reasonable about this when I told him, but I knew he wouldn’t. No sense, though, in putting it off. I sneaked back along the Supply Level and caught the next cage back up to the ramp.
When I pulled up to Sandy’s house, I thought maybe I was on the wrong street because a massive two and half ton dually truck nearly blocked all signs of the house behind it with its huge camper shell filling the driveway. This was a monster vehicle. Brilliant white. Chrome gleaming. It dwarfed Sandy who was out there polishing the front bumper like a proud high school kid.
“That’s one helluva truck,” I said flatly as I walked up. I was in no mood to be impressed.
“Biggest GMC makes,” he said without looking up, “unless you want to go to a 16 wheeler.
I came up close to it just as Mary came out of the camper.
“We’re gonna need every inch of it,” he said whispering, “gold is near as heavy as lead.”
“Show him the engine,” Mary was beaming.
He went around to the front and Mary popped the hood release. He struggled a little with his one good arm to lift the hood.
“Take a look at that,” he said proud as if he’d built it himself.
Inside was the biggest engine I’d ever seen crammed between two wheels. I don’t think you could’ve slipped a knife blade past the sidewalls.
“That’s a 454. Nothing can stop this truck. I’m gonna add external gas tanks, two of them, thirty gallons apiece…and the suspension, I’m gonna beef that up, putting in air shocks and spacers, too, in the coils, to tighten it up, and then…”
“Sandy!” I nearly yelled to cut him off, “We got to talk.”
He looked at me and knew something bad was coming, “Not out here,” he said.
He walked toward the camper door, Mary ahead of him, turning once with real concern as our eyes connected.
When we got inside the camper, Mary tried to lighten things up by saying, “I know, it’s bigger than a house.”
We sat down at the large dinette that was bigger than my kitchen table, and Sandy closed the door and leaned against the sink.
“So what have we got to talk about?” he said trying to sound tough but there was fear in his voice and I felt bad about that already.
I let a few seconds of silence go by and looked at Mary, whose face was now covered with concern. There was nothing to do but say what I’d seen, so I said it.
“Olner’s reopening up the 3800′, working his way back to the shaft, widening the adit for new equipment to start a full-scale production crew.”
“If that’s supposed to be funny, it ain’t,” Sandy glared at me.
“It’s no joke. He’s posted a 24-hour guard to protect their workings.”
“I knew I should’ve kept my secret. I never should’ve trusted you!”
“Dad! That’s ridiculous!”
“Who the fuck you been bragging to!”
“I haven’t said shit to no one! You know Olner’s been doing exploratory drilling a couple of levels below on the 4100.”
But I could see Sandy was barely able to control himself, boiling up, actually breathing loud, nearly panting.
“You don’t fool me!” he said through gritted teeth, “You never wanted to go after the gold to begin with. You didn’t have the fucking balls to believe in it!
“Stop it!” Mary yelled.
But he didn’t stop, he got louder, pointing his finger at me.
“I seen you coming onto shift, picking up your bits, already sweating, dry mouthed…trembling. You’re chickenshit of the place!
“Dad, quit it!”
“Tell me I’m wrong!” he ran right over her, “Go on, tell me I ain’t right.”
I keep quiet, just staring back at him. He took a couple of steps for the door then turned back at me.
“You and your dad are cut from the same cloth, both of you quitters. Both of you scared off by the 3800 and what it holds down there!”
He slammed the camper door.
“Don’t pay any attention to him,” Mary said quickly, trying to erase it. “Everything he’s ever dreamed about is in that mine. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s just his own way of…”
“Stop it, Mary, please.” I took a deep breath. “He probably is right.”
I paused again to collect myself as best I could. I took out a cigarette and lit it. I took a deep drag and looked out the camper window. I could see the Black Hills in the distance with dark clouds blowing in from the North. Probably going to be a fair sized storm, the first of the season. I turned back to Mary.
“Truth is, Mary, that when I saw the lights of Olner’s crew, some part of me was glad.”
“Glad about what?”
“Glad I didn’t have to find out if I had the guts to go through with this whole thing.”
She reached out for my hand but I pulled it away.
“You want the truth, Jake? I’ll tell you the truth. The truth is I’m happy it’s finally over. That it’s over and done with for good. You don’t have anything to prove to me.”
I stood up then, looking down at her.
“No? Maybe I don’t have to prove it to you. But what about to myself? What about that?”
I walked out, got in my car, and drove away.
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