The gravel crunched beneath the tires of Tony’s heavy pickup. He towed a trailer atop which sat a mid-sized excavator touched up with yellow caution paint. Sloppy patch-welds ran up its neck; at its nose an off color hydraulic ram, used to tilt the bucket, advertised a dedicated lifetime of service.
Tony pulled up near the base of a wooded hill, far enough from the double-wide so as not to wake Hawser’s kids. Early starts had been Tony’s hallmark since he’d bought the failing Dig & Demolition business from his step-father. Within a year he’d turned it around. He’d added two employees and purchased “Mabel”, brand-new, from the CAT dealer in Monstock. But that was thirty years ago.
He’d come to dig the hillside as a gift to Hawser, his first employee, who barely eked by on disability. An on-the-job injury, while preparing a septic field in icy weather, had crippled both of Hawser’s hands. The man rarely took Tony up on charities, but his hobby, growing specialty mushrooms, had become Hawser’s baby. The entrance-blasted silver mine, once re-opened, would be the perfect place to expand the enterprise.
Mabel’s diesel started with a brump-pump-pump and rumbled contentedly while Tony unchained the tie-downs.
Hawser let the screen door slam behind him. “Hey ya, Tony. Need any help?”
“I’ve got it, Danny. This is my religion. Even if my mind were to go, my hands would still know how to pray.”
“You know where to dig?”
They’d examined the mine’s entrance a dozen times. Tony imagined the drugs Danny Hawser took dulled his memory. That or the supplements he added which he said, “aided them other drugs to do their job.”
“I’ll let you know when I’ve cleared the way.”
“Good ’nuff. You get thirsty, Donna mixed up a batch o’ that watermelon lemonade you like.”
Tony’s fingers operated the excavator’s controls as if the two had been separated at birth, flesh to one mother, steel to another. He started by clawing down the face of the scree, looking for the outline of the hard rock hole. The arch showed itself first and into that pocket he sent Mabel’s eager mouth, gulping, chewing and spitting the fragmented stone.
He arranged the overburden to either side which helped support the loose rock above from sliding into the pocket he made. With the bucket wide-open, teeth high, Tony shoved the whole head deeper into the hillside. Mountain really, a peak that rose, after a moderate slope, up a thousand feet to join the ridge that bordered the valley. Mines had been plumbed all along this range: precious metals, tin, copper, even some semi-precious gems had been dug from the bones of the mountain.
Tony nosed Mabel’s treads forward as far as they would go. The whole crooked neck of the digger had been swallowed by what clearly was a mine shaft. He flicked the black-knobbed lever and felt and heard the break through into an underground emptiness. He probed and scooped until he had formed a passable tunnel.
Only an hour had ticked by. Tony smirked, he still had the knack.
He snatched the flashlight from the dash and hopped from the cab. He straightened his hardhat, the chinstrap long since torn away, and proceeded up the rise of remaining gravel and down into the black maw of the hole he’d excavated.
The sealing blast, fifty years ago, had done nothing to weaken the walls and ceiling. He picked at the rock with a spike-hammer testing for dangerous crack—he found none. The tunnel ran straight for fifty feet before branching. Tony bared left. At the first fallen timber he debated whether to return for Danny. Looks like it fell ages ago. At the third, another hundred feet in, he stopped to examine an etching scrawled into its side.
E. D. Hawser 1922 Got Plenty. Done Here.
Beneath the timber, which lay at an angle, he notice a pocket carved into the tunnel wall. Crumbled masonry showed that the nook had been hidden until the ancient blast exposed it.
On his knees, breathing heavy from a buried sense of claustrophobia, he peered into the recess. Arrayed as a pyramid were dozens of ore sacks tied with leather strapping. Tony pulled one out, the sack material splitting as it came. Inside, sparkling from the LED flashlight, jagged crumbles of quartz spilled out. And mixed into the crystalline stone, veined like fine marble, gold.
He grabbed up a handful and shuffled toward the entrance.
At the Y, he looked up to find Danny standing there, a big quad-D-cell Maglite in one crippled hand, a shotgun in the other.
“Danny, Danny, take a look at this. We’re rich Dan. We’re rich.”
“You mean, I’m rich, Tony.”