Today I’m posting Chapter 20 of High Pocket. In this chapter, Jake reveals the personal demons that make him determined to go ahead with the retrieval plan despite Mary’s plea to call it off.
I wasn’t sure who to tell first, Mary or Sandy, about the new way down to the 3800’. I could’ve told no one…just kept the information to myself. That would’ve put and end to it all. Believe me, the thought crossed my mind to keep quiet. Maybe that would’ve been the smartest thing to do, but it wasn’t the right thing, I knew that. Like I said at the beginning of this story, I couldn’t keep away from the truth anymore just like Sandy couldn’t keep away from the gold. We both had to go after it.
I waited a couple of days brooding over it and then phoned Mary. We met up at Carrs, a booth at the back of the place. It was crowded and plenty noisy, which was perfect for us to talk in private. The snow had been coming down fairly solid since morning and by noon this little pizza place was toasty warm against it. I stood up and waved to Mary when she came in and she was tugging off her big heavy coat before she got to the booth. There was no beating around the bush with her. She knew I had something important on my mind and she wanted me to get right at it.
I told her what my dad told me and what it meant. She stared past me. Not a word from her for a long time. Then she leaned forward and took my hands in hers. I felt like a little kid ready to be told something important by his mom.
“We’re not going to tell him,” she said in a whisper. “He doesn’t have to know. He’s still acting like Olner doesn’t exist anyway, let him go on pretending.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but before I could ask, the waitress came over and we ordered coffee. Still hadn’t let go of my hands. When the waitress went away, Mary squeezed my hands even tighter.
“Don’t do this, Jake!” her words were intense but soft. “You don’t have to tell him!”
“I do, Mary. I do.”
She dropped my hands, turned away, and for a second there I thought she might pull on her coat and walk out of the place. Instead, she kept her eyes off me and seemed to gather herself into herself. I let a few moments go by, even long enough for the coffee to come back, and still she hadn’t looked at me again.
“Mary, listen will you to what…”
She snapped around now, eyes on me, cutting me off, “Let’s get out of Lead. Now. Today!”
When I stayed quiet, she rushed on in a near panic with a plan she was making up on the spot that would keep her dad and me safe, at least in her mind.
“Jake, c’mon, it’s not about gold anymore. My dad will get over this. It’s not about that now. It’s just about you and me. I love you. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want you to do this. You don’t have to do this.”
“Mary, you don’t know what you’re saying,” I said taking her hands, “I’ve got to. It’s not for him…or for you…it’s…”
“No, no, Jake, no you don’t, please, you don’t…”
But she could see it in my eyes, she knew I wasn’t going to be talked out of it this now, not this time. She pulled away slowly now, and waited for me to tell her why. I stalled a little, put some sugar and cream in my coffee. She waited. I looked up at her.
“I told you at Latchstring that I played baseball in high school…until I hurt my shoulder. Well, I didn’t just play baseball. It was my whole world. Everything I ever wanted to do, everything I figured I’d be doing in my life.”
“I know,” she said, “I looked you up in the school yearbook. You were four-year Varsity, you were All-State, and I know about the accident, how you couldn’t pitch anymore after that. What that meant to you. I know…all that…”
“No, you don’t,” I cut her off, “You know, Mary. You don’t.”
“What don’t I know?”
“I was the Local Hero alright. The big sports star. I was scouted by the White Sox my senior year. I signed an option with them. My dream come true.”
Mary’s eyes were focused right on me, trying to figure out where I was going with this.
“But it didn’t take long before I started thinking I wasn’t good enough, that the Sox had made a mistake and that they’d find out, that they’d cut me from the team.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t know what you’re saying, Jake.”
“I’m saying I knew I would let everybody down, specially my dad. That it was all bullshit. Who was I kidding? I could never really do it. I wasn’t that good. I could never get the dream I was after. Never. And I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. It poisoned me. It was eating me up.”
I stopped then, took a sip of my coffee and Mary stayed quiet, waiting for me to get it all out. I appreciated that. I needed time, even now, I needed a bit more time.
“Three weeks before the end of school, I went to a party, got drunk and rolled my car over an embankment. Tore the hell out of my shoulder, and the White Sox tore up the option.”
“But that was an accident. It wasn’t your fault,” she nearly pleaded.
“Was it an accident? Did I go over that embankment by mistake? I don’t think so. I don’t think it was any kind of an accident.”
She seemed like she was about to say something, some words that would make me change my mind about what I did. But then she thought better of it and stayed quiet.
I reached over and took her hands now. “I got to go through with this. You understand? Not just for your dad and Ben, not even for all the miners left behind, but me.”
“What the hell am I supposed to say to that?” she said, not angry now, not judging me or nothing, just what she was feeling.
“You don’t have to say anything. It’s up to me now, my decision to go after it.”
We finished up our coffee pretty much in silence. I followed her back to her house, and when I came into the living room, it looked like a camping store or parts warehouse had been dumped out on the floor…flashlights, sleeping bags, tools, flares, rope, boots, a couple fire extinguishers. Sandy stood in the middle of the mess holding a portable generator in his hand that he’d either just picked up to examine or was just about to set down. So this is what Mary meant. He was moving forward with his plan as if I’d never said a word about Olner. It was nuts really, but I guess he figured if he kept moving forward, I’d have to go along and help as best I could. Now I had something to tell him that would make the planning he’d been doing worth something.
So I told him. I told him what my dad had said about the parallel bore hole.
“That don’t change much,” he said with a strange smile, “not much at all. Now we don’t need to worry about the cage is all. The way I see it, we still get there just after dark, we still cut through the gate, put our stuff in the ore car, we take down the boards, get back to the shaft, now the bore hole, same thing, same damn plan…”
He rambled on like this for awhile longer, ignoring out all sorts of stuff that had changed, like the fact that Olner’s crew would be down there smack in the middle of the Supply Adit forcing us to find a new way into the 3800. And the fact that we’d have to find some way to keep them distracted while we found that new way. I guess I’d be the one figuring out that stuff.
I looked over to Mary and she kind of shrugged with a roll of her eyes. So I let him go on a bit more with the telling of his plans. No sense in stirring up trouble before I had to.
“Shit, if we do it right,” he said, “and if all goes like I know it’s going to, we’ll have all the gold and no one will be the wiser. Those bastards won’t ever miss it. They don’t know what they got, not one good goddamn idea of it!”
“Yeah, Okay, Sandy, enough now of that. We get the gold, all of it, then what?”
I wanted to bring him back to ground sort of speak.
“Then what? What do you mean?” he said.
“We got a truckload of gold. Right?” And I stopped when I said that. It was hitting me that I was as crazy as him right then. I mean, a truckload of gold! Who were we kidding? How could that ever happen? But I went on. “What are we going to do with it?”
“We’re going to have over 300 gallons of gas in that truck and extra tanks besides, and we’re going to drive like bats out of hell, but not too fast that we get pulled over, right straight up to Canada out on 85. We say good-bye to Lead, to South Dakota, and to the U.S. of A. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Canada? I thought to myself and then said it out loud. He looked at me and waited a minute or two, and then said, “Why not?” The way he said it, I thought maybe he’d just thought up this part of it. I knew we’d be leaving Lead after going in for the gold. That was the whole idea. But Canada, that never came into my mind. I guess, I’d never thought it out this far before. He was right, though. Why not? I didn’t have an answer, and Mary seemed comfortable from her side of the room. Okay, I guess that was it. Canada. I’d been there once before on an elk hunt with Tom and a couple of buddies. Probably wasn’t more than six or seven hundred miles away. With some luck, we could make it without stopping for gas. All right, Canada.
“It’s three people,” he said. “One on the hoist, two down getting the gold.”
“Well, there’s three of us,” Mary said, trying to sound like it was natural and that it settled the problem, no need to figure further.
“Now wait a minute,” I said. “No way!”
“Why not?” she said back to me and then she looked over to Sandy for support, but I could see he was going to stay out of it, or try to, and that pissed me off.
“Because it’s dangerous, for Christ’s sake. That’s why.”
“It’s dangerous for you, too. I’m sharing in the gold, right?”
“We don’t need three, Sandy. Two of us. You and me. You run the hoist. I go down there.” Now I was looking to him for support, but still he stayed quiet.
“Sandy,” I said louder now, “I can blast the place and haul it to the cage. You can bring me up.”
He looked at her and she stood her ground, staring him back down and me too.
“It’s your daughter, goddamn it!” That hit him like I knew it would. You could almost see him jump back some. “Make her see how dangerous it is. Mary, you can wait in the truck. Keep the engine ready to run…you’ll be our getaway driver,” I tried to joke.
“There’s no time for you to do it alone,” he said firmly. “Two of us are what we have to have on the 38. Besides, I’m the only one who’s been down there before, I know what we’re looking to find.”
“Jake,” Mary said, “I know it’s from your heart and it feels good to hear you say it. But nothing’s going to happen to me on the 3200′ where I’ll be.”
“You don’t know that,” I said.
“We don’t know anything for sure.” Mary was still talking but Sandy looked ready now to say something. Mary kept going, though, and didn’t notice. “Nothing is for sure except that we’re doing it. And I’m going to be a part. Besides, there is no one else.”
“Jake,” Sandy said in a near whisper, “I wouldn’t let her go if I thought it was too dangerous for her up there.”
“Dad,” she said quickly, “I’m a big girl now. I have a say in this. I’m saying yes, no matter what happens.”
“I know you do,” he said and then turned to me and told me the truth of what was on his mind. “Goddamn it, Jake, do you think I’m going to sit up there and work the fucking hoist while you blast into my cavern and gather all my gold? Do you think I’m not going to be there to see it, to touch it? Jesus Christ! I am going to be there. How long do you think I’ve been waiting for this? How many nights I’ve sat right on that stoop out there and gone over what it’s going to be like. Or dreamed of it. Sonofabitch, the dreams are all I’ve had! Well, you can forget it!” he yelled. “No way. Do you hear? I’m going to be there. I’m going to walk or crawl or slide on my belly if I have to, but I’m going to see that gold for myself. That’s what I’m going to do!”
A long silence came over the living room when he finished his piece. There was no way I was going to change his mind or Mary’s. And, hell, the thought of bringing somebody else in on the plan didn’t make any kind of sense. It was going to be her, whether I liked it or not. It was going to be the three of us going in after the gold.
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