Copyright© 2018 by UtIdArWa
It was just moving into sundown when I arrived in Elk City. It took me about an hour to get Margarite and Jughead wiped down and curried. But they knew where they were and, as far as they were concerned life was good. Shadow and myself drifted over to My truck, camper and trailer. I went inside the camper and opened all the windows to start airing it out. Everything seemed fine so I’d wait until morning to get a more detailed inspection.
We were at the unofficial Elk City camp ground and livery stable. A while back Mabel, the owner of ‘Mabel’s’ restaurant, had an inspiration. She decided to convert the land behind her diner into a combination long term parking lot and horse corral. I had a hand in the initial idea and some of the funding. I had also helped out with some of the additional construction. In return Mabel pretty much allowed me rent free access. I parked my truck and horse trailer in the parking lot, in the sure knowledge that somebody would be keeping an eye on them. And when I boarded Margarite and Jughead, I knew that they would be well cared for.
As I walked into Mabel’s, it was almost deserted. I was actually surprised. It was still the early season and mid evening. At this time of day, the place should be deserted. There was two women in the corner booth by the jukebox and 2 of the regulars at the center of the counter.
I recognized the regulars, they were old time residents and town characters. A couple of gold bugs that, given half a chance would dig to China looking for El Dorado. They had the fever and had been working these hills for years. Usually they made their grub stake during tourist season posing with the shorts and sandal crowd. A bit of local flavor for the tourists to show off in their vacation slide show. I had also been known to front them the price of cup of coffee and slice of pie. I’ve always felt that charity started at home. And sometime these two needed the extra help.
But as I sat down, I knew that I was going to have to deal with these guys seriously. It was too early in the season for tourists. And they were looking hungry. Caleb, the older of the two started kind of edging up to me. He was sort of trying to be surreptitious and secretive about it. And He was about as successful as a cat trying to cover up on a linoleum floor.
With just a touch of impatience I said “What do you want Caleb. There’s nobody here to eavesdrop on your devious plan, so just spit it out.”
Just then Mabel came out from the kitchen. “Matt, Is that you?” Seeing me at my usual end of the counter and Caleb stalking me like a hungry lion. She changed gears and yelled, “CALEB, YOU BACK THE HELL OFF. Mr. Reynolds has got more important things to do than listen to your gold lined pipe dreams.”
I raised my hands up and said, “That’s alright Mabel, He isn’t hurting anything, yet. If you could though, I’d like a cheese burger, fries and coffee. That is if Caleb will let me eat in peace when it gets here.”
Hands on her hips, she glared at Caleb. “Oh, He Will, or he’ll be eating Jackson’s cooking from now on. “With that Mabel moved back into the kitchen.
Jackson was best known for his ability to make anything, including coffee, taste like charcoal. The city fathers made a point of excluding him from the fisherman’s opening day pancake breakfasts. He could, and did, eat as much as he wanted. But if he got anywhere near a spatula, The Sheriff, Paul, would throw him in jail for the weekend. They had eventually even modified that when they realized that he was deliberately getting thrown into jail for the free food. Now it would be bread and water only. Jackson might not have been the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he also wasn’t the dumbest muffin in the basket ether. From then on Jackson followed the crowd, ate his fill of pancakes and syrup, and headed back up to where ever his latest workings were. Problem solved, everybody happy.
“Mr. Reynolds, “ Caleb started, “Me and Jackson was wonderin’ if we could, maybe start doing some lookin’ on yor mountain. It’s getting to the end of the spring runoff and we was thinkin that there could be some good color up yor way.”
I starred at Caleb for a moment. Giving him my best evil eye. “Caleb, what happened the last time I let you two go scratching. Did I or did I not tell you that You could work BUT placer only? No hard rock, No holes, no explosives?”
Caleb stood there with a hangdog look, hat in hand. “Yes sir, I remember, and we learned our lesson. I promise that we won’t be doing that anymore. Just panning, No hard rock.”
I wasn’t about to let him off the hook yet, “Caleb, what was Jackson doing when I ran you two off the last time?”
Caleb glared over his shoulder at Jackson. Jackson was trying to pretend he was reading the menu, unsuccessfully, it was upside down. “Well,” Caleb continued, “he was setting a charge on that big honkin boulder on South Bend creek. But you got to understand Mr. Reynolds, We is certain that there’s color under that rock. We still are certain, If you would just...”
“STOP RIGHT THERE Caleb. Why don’t I want that rock disturbed?”
Caleb was obviously confused. “Well, We’re not quite sure Mr. Reynolds. It could be a real motherlode under there.”
Caleb and Jackson were typical gold bug prospectors. Nothing in the world mattered to them except for gold. Digging for it, panning for it. Blowing themselves up, if need be, for it. The rest of the world was just an obstacle to them. Shove it out of the way and there, gleaming, is that gold colored opium that they had, HAD to have.
I didn’t fault them for that. They were just as much addicts for gold as cocaine, or meth. There was no real cure for these two. But I was in a position to control them. So, I would let them scratch around on my property. And keep them supplied with beans and biscuits. I’d keep an eye on them and make sure that they didn’t do something REALLY stupid. Basically, I had decided that I needed to adopt these two children.
And as the adult here, I needed to hand down some teaching, and some limits. “Caleb, if you had blown that rock, Half that slope would have come down with it. Not only would any color be buried under tons of rock, but probably you two also. Jackson had that fuse cut so short that there was no way you could have gotten out of the way. Also, the creek would have been dammed up. What do you think would have happened then?” I paused for a moment. “I’ll tell you. That upstream valley would have flooded. And the downstream flow would have been cut off, Probably for the whole summer. My place is on the downstream side. Everything on either side would have been destroyed. Just because you two “THOUGHT” there was color under that rock.”
Caleb stood there hang dog, scuffing his shoes like a little boy. “Well, I guess you’ve got a point there Mr. Reynolds. But Me and Jackson cain’t see any other way to get under that rock.”
“Caleb there are miles and miles of waterways up on that mountain. Why not just let mother nature and gravity do most of the work for you? I’ll tell you what I’ll let you guys do. You can work my property, BUT, like before, only placer work. No hard rock, No explosives, No monitors or anything destructive to the land. I’ll even agree to a sluice box, But 6 foot only. No heavy equipment either. you even THINK of moving a dozer up there and I’ll have you off the mountain so fast your heads will spin. And that’ll Be it Caleb. No more working on my mountain. I’ll even have the circuit Judge put a restraining order on you two. Do we understand each other?”
When I had mentioned the circuit judge, I could see Jackson turn pasty white. I’d always thought he might have a history. But other than a desire to blow things up, and a lust for gold, he’d always seemed harmless to me.
A look of relief came over Caleb’s face, “You’ve got it Mr. Reynolds. You let us work your property and we’ll agree to any conditions. No hard rock, No heavy equipment, No explosives.” Caleb looked at Jackson with a scowl. “I told ya, didn’t I?” Turning back to me he smiled and said “Placer only and a sluice box no longer than 6 foot.” He spit in his right hand and held it out. I looked Caleb in the eyes for a moment. Looking over to Jackson, “You good with this? I don’t want any regrets or excuses later?” He starred at me for a minute, “Mr. Reynolds, You and Caleb are the only people that have treated me with respect and trust.” He put his hand on his heart, “You got a deal sir. Strike me dead iffn I’m lyin”
I Then spit in my hand and declared, “deal” while we all shook hands.