Authors: Tim Curran
© 2012 by Tim Curran
Cover Artwork © 2012 by Daniele Serra
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
P.O. Box 338
North Webster, IN 46555
This is for Kate and
our fossil-hunting days
Second month on the job at the Hobart Mine in Iron City they put Boyd on the night shift and he knew he would be going underground where the raw ore was. No more sweeping up and running errands and driving truck, working the rock pile until his back was filled with needles. Maybe it meant he’d passed the initiation and maybe it just meant that they were short-handed. Either way, he was glad. Because this was what it was about: going down into the tunnels. It was cold and damp and weird down there from what he’d heard, but if you wanted to get in the Union, then this was the path.
And with a kid on the way, he wanted that real bad.
Russo, the mine captain, told him about it, getting right in his face as was Russo’s way. Day before, as Boyd clocked out, Russo came right up, pressing him into a corner like he was horny and Boyd was available. “Hey, Boyd,” he said, “how do you like this fucking pull? You figure on sticking with it or you just passing the time?”
Boyd told him the truth. “I’m staying. My old man worked the mines and so did his old man. I’m no different. It’s in my blood.”
Russo chewed on that for a few moments, nodding silently. He was a big guy with a crewcut and eyes just as black as coal chips. You didn’t want to mouth off or give him any guff, but at the same time you had to stand your ground. Look him dead in the eye and let him know you had a set on you. He liked that. Didn’t respect anything else.
“Now…you ain’t gonna jump on me, are you? You ain’t gonna get all girly and run off on me when things get tough and dirty below, are you? Not gonna cry your eyes out first time your pussy gets wet?”
“Because I can’t have that. I gotta quota to fill and if you bust me on it, swear to God I’ll maroon your fucking ass down in the drift and it’ll be the last time your little wifey sees your baby blues.”
That’s what the last month had been about.
When they took you on at Hobart, and they were real picky with all the damn unemployment, they put you through the acid test. They gave you every dirty, shitty, back-breaking job they could find. That’s how they tested you. Found out if you had the nuts for the job, had the mettle. Found out if you’d fold up on ’em or complain. Boyd did neither. They threw it at him and he caught it, never once dropped it.
Russo kept nodding, his breath smelling like salami. “Okay. Tomorrow night you’re on the graveyard shift. Don’t let me down.”
And that’s how it happened.
Boyd figured he was lucky. There were ten other guys hired with him but he was the only one they picked. Funny, almost like it was fate. Like what was coming next was meant to happen.
That first night on the skeleton crew, Boyd showed twenty minutes early with his lunch bucket in hand. He parked his rusty Bonneville out in C lot, grabbed a smoke and looked up at all the buildings and huts dotting the rising hills above, the looming headframes and derricks and hoists that were lit up with blinking lights so low-flying planes wouldn’t crash into them. Some of them went up five-, six-hundred feet, lattices of iron and steel that looked like the skeletons of dinosaurs against the night sky.
The stars were out and blinking and he wondered, somehow, if that was a sign.
But that was strictly bullshit, so he slipped into the Dry Room where the diggers changed out of street clothes and into working duds, showered up at the end of their shifts. Nobody was in there. Just Boyd facing those rows of battered green lockers and wooden benches, the cement floor stained pink from iron ore dust. It was hosed down every day, but ore dust is tenacious stuff. Boyd was aware of the silence in there, the dust hanging in the beams of the fluorescents overhead. On the day shift, the place was bustling, guys laughing and joking and swearing, talking football and hockey, tossing wet towels around.
But not at night.
The silence was thick and almost unnatural.
Like being in a morgue, a place where things did not move and voices did not sound, where only the ticking of a clock marked the passage of time. It all gave Boyd the goddamn creeps. He wasn’t one of these crazy jack hoo-hahs who believed in premonitions or any of that Mickey Mouse shit, but right then, he was getting bad vibes. Like currents of electricity were running from his balls right up into his chest. It made him feel funny inside, like something in there wanted to curl up and cover its head. He wondered if that was how people sometimes felt when they were certain disaster was looming. Refusing to get on planes because they got a bad feeling or how sailors and fishermen sometimes wouldn’t get aboard a boat because they had the distinct feeling that she was cursed, that she was going straight to the bottom this trip.
No, Boyd wasn’t a guy who got feelings like that, but he was feeling
And whatever it was, it wasn’t sitting on him too good. He had the craziest goddamn notion to turn around and run as fast as he could.
But he didn’t, of course.
All he had to do was think of Linda at home, eight months into it, knowing that he was going to be a father and that straightened him right out. Feelings are just feelings, but families need to be fed.
The other miners started to pour in, swearing and smarting off at each other, and he relaxed. Just the jitters. It was going to be okay. That’s what he kept telling himself.
The miners he knew said hi and the ones he didn’t just looked him up and down or ignored him completely. Boyd climbed into his gear and stood around with them, listening to them bitch and insult each other. Finally, a thin wiry guy with a face etched deep as pine bark came up.
“You Boyd?” he said.
“Okay, you’re with me, cookie. Name’s Maki. This your first trip into the hole?”
“Figures. I always get guys like you. Russo must think I’m some kind of fucking Boy Scout.”
A couple of the miners laughed. They looked like they thought it was pretty goddamned funny that Maki got saddled with the Fucking New Guy. Boyd just stood there, not smiling or frowning. He was a FNG. At least for now.
Maki just shook his head. “Well, I’ll hope for the best, Boyd. I’ll make a big wish that you don’t get one of us killed.”
“That’s it, Maki,” one of the other diggers said. “Wish with one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up faster.”
And then they were all laughing.
But not Boyd. Because what he was feeling was just getting stronger.
Ten minutes later, the graveyard crew jumped on the trolley and made the run to the Pit. “Trolley” was a pretty high-stepping word for an electric tram with ore-stained cars, but that’s what they called it. The ride took maybe five minutes and out of the night came the Pit. It was lit up like a football field for a Friday night game: an open pit some 300 acres across and over 900 feet deep, a huge cavern that had been sliced down layer by layer at Hobart for the past sixty years.
During the daytime, Boyd figured, if you flew over it in a plane it would have looked like some massive impact crater from a meteorite, except that it was cut square and even like the sides of a box. The whole thing was fenced in with a walkway encircling it, massive crane booms rising overhead that brought equipment down and hoppers of ore and crushed rock up to the surface. Everything, even the cranes and shacks perched on the edge, were lit up with spots and security lights.
The crew stood by the fence and looked down into the abyss.
A road snaked around its edges, circling slowly downward to the very bottom.
It was night above, but daytime far below. The pit was bright and busy and congested. There were buildings and warm-up shacks, great piles of slag and heavy equipment running back and forth. Lots of men scurrying about. It was like kicking over a rotting stump and exposing an ant colony, all that industrious motion and enterprise. While Iron City slept, the mines went on non-stop.
The crew rode an elevator down to the bottom of the pit. It was little more than a cage with fifty men packed asshole to elbow in it. If you didn’t care for heights, you had no business on it. Boyd watched the lights as they descended. They were set into the rock face every thirty feet until the cage touched bottom. Then he climbed out with the others and Maki steered him around and made sure he didn’t step into a hole. The entire way from the elevator platform to the rock face, he kept his hand on Boyd’s shoulder. Good thing, too, because it was big down there, heaps of rock taller than two story houses scattered around. Shacks and trailers and the booms of cranes swinging overhead. Lots of big machinery—crawler loaders and rippers, scrapers and automated conveyors, 300 ton dump trucks that could have squashed you flat without feeling so much as a bump and immense electric mining shovels with buckets so big you could have parked six or eight full size pickups in them and still had room to walk around.
Maki brought them to a tunnel that had been shot through solid rock. Its mouth was vast; you could have driven a Greyhound bus through it. The rough-hewn ceiling overhead was set with incandescents like a subway tunnel. The lights continued on and on until they were lost in the haze, which was a pretty good indication of how far it went.
“This is the Main Level, cookie. That would be Level Number One,” Maki said. “There are seven of ‘em and an eighth they’re cutting right now, some two hundred feet below Seven. With that one, this mine reaches down over 2500 feet. You’ll want to remember that. It’s a long way down. Any questions?”
“Yeah. Why you keep calling me ‘cookie?’” Boyd said.
Maki turned and looked at him, shook his head, his face plunged in shadow from the brim of his miner’s helmet. “You in the Union?”
“Didn’t think so.
Boyd chuckled and Maki didn’t seem to like that.
It wasn’t part of the game.
See, they were playing a time-honored blue collar tradition called WHOSE GOT THE BIGGEST BALLS? It was Maki’s game and he made the rules. He was the old hand, the working class sage, and Boyd was so green his nuts looked like limes. He didn’t know shit. He didn’t know enough to wipe his own bottom unless Maki handed him a rag and pointed out his asshole to him. That’s why he had to tell Boyd how deep the shafts were, because a guy like him, shit, he was so dumb he’d fall down the first hole he found.
At least, that’s how Maki saw it.
Thing was, Boyd had played the game before. He was thirty years old and he’d played it in the army and in lumber yards, on docks and in mills down in Milwaukee. No big deal. Maki was trying to make him feel uncomfortable, to assert his dominance on the working class food chain right off the get go. He was trying to intimidate Boyd, but it wasn’t working.
And he didn’t like that.
“You think something’s funny, Boyd?”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.”
They came to a supply shack and were outfitted with rain gear and rubber boots, gas detectors and emergency breathing kits. Maki gave Boyd a quick overview of them, but you could see he didn’t have much faith that a guy like Boyd would remember any of it.
They joined up with the rest of the graveyard crew at the elevator cage that led below. As they stood there, everybody grabbing a quick smoke before the big plunge, the insults and off-color jokes started flying like rice at a wedding. A guy named Breed started picking on Maki and Boyd was loving it. Breed was a big boy, looked like maybe he could crush rock with his bare hands. He had a black ponytail down his back and a bushy mustache, looked dark like he might have some Indian blood in him. He was always smiling and joking around. Boyd liked him right away. He didn’t play the game; he just made fun of the guys who did.