Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter 10b


The man ensconced on the porch when Dale came back from the corral with Riley late the following afternoon, was elderly, and had been tall before he began to stoop. A walking stick leaned on the chair beside him, he was sipping tea and he held out his hands at the sight of Riley, his face lighting up. Riley ran up the steps and took them both, stooping to kiss the man's cheek warmly and to return the hug. It was a few minutes before Riley straightened up and kept hold of the man's hand, turning to Dale.

"Wade, this is Dale. Dale, Wade."

Dale held out a hand and found himself looking at very shrewd dark blue eyes which twinkled at him, and the man instead of shaking his hand, pulled him straight down and kissed him without a trace of hesitation.

"At my time of life I get to kiss good looking boys and it just gets called eccentricity." he explained when he let Dale go. "I'm glad to meet you, Dale. Where did you two go this afternoon?"

"Out by the train in the woods." Riley sat down on the chair beside him, still holding his hand. "And across the river in a few places, we're working the two year olds up for sale."

"In my day here we were riding for cattle more than horses." Wade picked up his tea again. "It's good to know the train is still there. Is she rusted through yet?"

"She doesn't look any different to me than she did the first time I saw her." Riley gave Dale a quick smile over Wade's head. "Did you hear Dale gave us Three Traders?"

"The town?" Wade's voice sharpened in surprise. "Really?"

"The town and the land it stands on. It's incredibly preserved."

"The last time I was in Three Traders you could still buy a drink in the bar." Wade said, shaking his head.

"We'll take you up in the car and you can look around." Riley told him.

"Did you drink up there much?" Dale asked. Wade smiled.

"It was getting kind of rough when I knew it. People were leaving with the mine closed down, it was getting wilder. David liked the bar. Well, he knew most of the people up there. I tagged along with him sometimes but Philip – he wasn't big on us drinking."

"You knew it when the mine was closed?" Riley demanded. Wade sat back in his chair, giving Riley a suspicious look.

"Have you been in that mine? You ever want to sit again? Has Flynn gone soft since I was last here?"

"We haven't been in the mine." Riley leaned on the arm of his chair and Dale could see the excitement in his face. "I'm so stupid, I should have thought of asking you from the start! Did David ever tell you about anyone called Gam Saan?"

"How do you know about Gam Saan?" Wade looked from Dale to Riley. "He was a friend of David's, one of the Canton miners in the town. Little old man, took the dockets at the mine entrance with his snake wrapped round his shoulders – some yellow thing, a pet of his. David couldn't stand it."

"Do you know what happened to him?" Riley asked hopefully. "He isn't buried in the cemetery."

"Well he wouldn't be." Wade put his cup down, sitting forward in his chair. "He died in the last cave-in. There were three men not recovered, they must have been direct under the fall and the tunnel was too unstable. David and the rest of the miners dug for three days and couldn't get near them."

"But Gam Saan had a digging licence with David, didn't he?" Riley asked. "We saw– we found it at Three Traders in Gam Saan's hut –"

"You found it?" Wade said sharply. Riley nodded.

"Papers in his hut. What was he digging for? Were he and David trying to find new coal faces?"

"David hated the coal digging," Wade said dismissively, "It was a cheap racket by then, badly paid and the tunnels weren't safe. Everyone knew they weren't. I never met Gam Saan, the mine caved in the year before I came here, but David talked about him. That old man was gold mad. That's the only thing he'd have gone down there for. Real gold fever."

"He and David were after gold?"

Wade tipped his head for a moment, steepling his hands on top of his stick. "Well I don't know David was. David would give most things a try but he didn't stay focused long if it wasn't something important. He was fond of Gam Saan, and I knew from Philip, David was the reason the old man kept a job and still had food on the table for last few years of his life. That was a bad town then to be old in and he was the last of his generation left. Ha. Maybe went queer in the head at his age and went back to what he knew, or maybe the gold fever hit him one last time."

"So if he wanted the licence, David would have paid for it?" Riley asked him.

"Well there were the old tunnels up in the rocks – the gold tunnels." Wade frowned, and Dale could see him searching his memory. "David told me about them. It's a maze in there, the coal tunnels cut everywhere. Gam Saan would have known which were the old tunnels and how to get to them. He would have known too if the coal miners struck rock that was an indicator for gold. The coal miners wouldn't have realised. The gold miners, the old ones like Gam Saan, they had skill. Knowledge. The coal mine owners would pay any man willing to take a pick down in the dark."

"Quartzite." Riley said, looking at Dale. "I bet the coal miners struck quartzite. What would a man Gam Saan's age do with gold?"

"Well it probably wasn't gold for cash's sake." Wade said thoughtfully. "I never met any of the gold rushers, I was too young, but David knew them. Obsessed. It didn't have to mean money, it was gold for the gold's sake. The hunt."

"I still don't think he was using the main entrance; it's too near to the well worked coal sections." Dale said, thinking again of the scribbled map. "If the miners struck quartzite it would have been on a new face. There were a few different mine entrances marked on the map, David must have had some idea of where in the tunnels Gam Saan was going."

"Assuming Gam Saan shared that with him, and those tunnels were passable." Wade told him. "That was a wet spring. The land down there on the river banks soaked through in the floods, and water travels a long way underground."

It was while they were starting to strip off to shower in the bathroom off the kitchen that Dale realised. Riley yelped when Dale grabbed his hand and followed him up the small stairs off the kitchen that led up into the attic room. Someone from the family spent time up here – there was another book open on the floor by the chair, which stood in the light from the tall window, but Dale turned on the little light switch in the floor and focused on the room's main feature. David's modelled kingdom, spread out and covering feet of floor. Green rolling hills. Blue ocean. The feeling it evoked was something Dale had never grown used to since he first saw it in this house – in fact it was stronger now. This massive, detailed model, made by David, set out by him within his house, belonged to his home and to his family and was a direct connection to David himself.

"I'm so stupid. David put everything important on here, including Three Traders. Look."

Riley knelt down to lean over the map, spotting at once the plateau down into the valley and the streets of the town. David hadn't felt fettered by things like scale or geographical accuracy, but the main points were visible.

"He put the quartz mine – his quartz mine – marked down towards the abandoned Shoshone village," Dale said, touching the little wooden barrier that marked the mine entrance. "By Eagle Canyon. So logically, he'd mark other mine entrances too at Three Traders."

"The main entrance." Riley put a finger on it beside the small painted river running down through the town.

"The rock tunnels." Dale touched another little mark on the rock slopes to the east of the town, by the river. "It all stretches east, towards the ranch, not under the town. According to the diagram, another exit should be here."

It was marked as being in open fields, east, and Dale found the tiny wooden barrier, some way from the river.

"There's no entrance on our land in the middle of pastures," Riley objected. "We'd be losing sheep down it, we'd have noticed."

"David didn't use scale." Dale looked again at the map, frowning. "Wouldn't this be in the woods? This far from the river? You can see the woods from the river."

"It's in the woods?" Riley sat back on his heels. "We might have missed that."

"Assuming it's still open. We don’t know if the other entrances collapsed or were filled in." Dale pointed out. "We just do know that David knew where they were."

Dinner went on longer than usual that evening. The old man was lively company, garrulous and charming, and Dale quickly realised the sharpness of the mind behind the smile. He had been a police officer for most of his working life out of the army, on the streets of his native Texas, and he told them stories mixed with demands to know news on various family members, some names of which Dale recognised and some he didn't. Jake had come to join them for dinner and Wade lit up at the sight of him, but Jake came alone.

"Tom went back to the bunk house," he said easily when Wade asked after him. "Headache, he wasn't feeling too well."

Unwell, or shy of another stranger? Dale wondered about that more than once through the meal. Paul packed cold food for Jake to take back for Tom, and he left straight after dinner, pausing in the kitchen doorway as he pulled his boots on.

"Sky's getting dark. That's a thunderhead building."

David had said the weather would change. Dale glanced out of the door as he got up to help clear the table, and saw the heavy cloud formation over the pastures to the north.

"I think I'm going to need to head up to bed." Wade said cheerfully. "Long journey, and I'm better saying goodnight than snoring at you from a chair all evening."

"I'll give you a hand." Paul came to offer an arm and Wade got to his feet, gathering up his stick. They could hear him talking cheerfully to Paul as they went upstairs, and Jake said goodnight and jogged across the pastures back towards the bunk house. In the distance the thunderhead flashed, and Riley went to the kitchen door, whistling at the sight of the clouds.

"That's really building. We're going to get some heavy rain tonight."

"Help me with the washing up?" Jasper invited, going to fill the sink. Riley groaned.

"I could lock up. We need to lock up."

"I'll do that when we've finished washing up." Jasper said serenely. "Wash or dry?"

Flynn followed Dale's gaze out towards the thunderhead and slipped his fingers into Dale's, interlacing them.

"Come and sit with me for a while?"

Somehow it was worse with a stranger in the house.

Flynn took Dale with him into the study and shut the door, and Dale went to stand by the window, digging his hands into his pockets, which was a habit he'd never had before he wore jeans every day. It didn't help either to remember the last storm they'd had here, he'd lost it. In a big way.

"Adults have got no business being afraid of storms." he said shortly to Flynn. "Especially adults living in Wyoming. There are going to be a lot of storms, I can't freak out about every one."

"I've got you, and you're not going to freak." Flynn put the lamps on against the dimming light outside, and sat down on the couch. "Come here."

Dale dropped down on the edge of the couch beside him, propping his elbows on his knees, and Flynn ran a hand down his back.

"I know what they are." Dale said to the floor. "Cumulonimbus clouds, updraft, downdraft, internal turbulence, it's fairly straight forward."

"Do you remember when you first started getting bothered by storms?" Flynn asked him. "You told me about hearing a storm at night when you were small?"

"I actually didn't start really getting freaked by them until I was at college." Dale said absently. There was the first rumble of thunder a long way off and he jumped. Flynn leaned over, hooked an arm around his waist and pulled him full length onto the couch, head and shoulders in his lap where he couldn't see the window. He was solid and warm and with absolutely no concept of privacy or personal space, and he held Dale where he was without compunction.

"Why college?"

"I've got no idea."

Flynn went on rubbing his back, something he always did deeply and slowly in a way that went right into your guts.  "You weren't bothered before then?"

"I didn't like it, but it was college when I started sweating and looking for a gym, or a bathroom without windows and a loud shower. I was in a tower block office once, all four walls of windows, leading a meeting when a storm hit and I ended up calling a half hour break to go sit in the basement and stop shaking." Dale said sourly. "I suppose at school there was supervision, other people around."

Flynn sat back, keeping his voice neutral but continuing to rub. The physical contact unlocked Dale; that was a lot of what was keeping this narrative flowing. "The first one you remember at school? There were people around then?"

"It was a dormitory." There was definitely lightning flashing beyond the window, even if at the moment it was silent. "About eight of us in it. Not the kind of Victorian type school Dotheboys Hall thing, it was sort of divided into two open plan rooms and four beds each…. We were about seven or eight I suppose, it was my first year there."

Flynn made a sound of assent, and remembering that Flynn's picture of a British prep school in the early eighties was probably quite abstract, Dale shut his mind to another flash of lightning and tried to find a way to explain it.

"It was all the boarders there, boys from seven up to thirteen, all in these big dormitory groups, but it was very kind of – well they tried to make it home-like. Patterned quilts, and most of the younger ones had soft toys on their beds and you had shelves for books and whatever. The dorms for the younger ones were at the top of the house with the idea they wouldn't get woken up by the older ones coming to bed, or crashing around still playing in the evenings, so we were right at the top under the attics and there were three huge picture windows that looked out over the lawns- and dressing gowns. Life revolved around dressing gowns. I suppose it's how you manage sixty small boys running around in pyjamas, and the house wasn't warm at night, but everyone had these dressing gowns, which was supposed to live on your bed if you weren't wearing it… "

He was talkative because he was anxious, but there was something more behind this apparently off hand narrative. Something about the detail. Flynn could see him talking himself gradually closer to something, concentrating on the safe parts of it.

"….and because we were so high up I suppose we were the first to be woken if there was bad weather. So we heard the storm, and it was still summer weather so it must have been September time, we could only have been at the school a few weeks. A couple of the boys had the courage to get up and draw the curtains and look – it must have started quite suddenly, and it was a bad one. Or at the time it sounded like a bad one. A lot of thunder."

"When did you wake up?" Flynn asked gently. There was rain starting outside, the first splatter of drops could be heard against the window.

Dale shook his head. "I don't remember. They were all upset; you could feel it. The boy next to me kept jumping every time it thundered, and they were talking, very loudly about how exciting it was and how stupid it was to be frightened. From an adult perspective, a group of seven year olds going on and on about how they're not scared, you know what they really mean, but as a kid…?"

"What happened?"

Dale swallowed, shrugging a little. "Nothing. The storm blew itself out and we all went back to sleep."

And it was hard to describe the atmosphere of tension and terror that had been in that dim little room.  

"Nothing happened." Dale said aloud, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. "Nothing. I bet the others don't even remember it now."

Flynn stroked his hair, half an eye on the growing yellow light outside behind the rain and the tension in Dale's back and shoulders. The storm hadn't even gotten started yet.

"You were seven, and you'd only been at the school a few weeks? Living away from home, new place. It's called an indirect stimuli phobia. You were anxious, you were dealing with a lot of fears and stresses. Any child that age would in the situation you were in. Then along came something you could justifiably focus all that anxiety on."

"I wasn't anything like phobic then." Dale said shortly. Thunder rumbled outside, a little louder, and Flynn felt the jerk, much as Dale tried to control it.

"What were you wearing?"   

As a gambit for distraction, it worked. Dale looked up, eyebrow raised, and Flynn smiled.

"Just humour me."

And go back to the safe description for a minute. Think around the edges of it, kid; you can't force yourself to remember.

"Pyjamas." Dale said dryly. "School issue. Proper striped flannel pyjamas, blue and white, school crest on the pocket, boys for the use of. We all had them. With blue slippers and the blue flaming dressing gowns. Sixty kids, all with identical kit, it was insane. I should think the matron spent about half her career trying to match the right clothes to the right kid, and there was practically a death sentence for being in possession of clothes without a name tag-"

He stopped. Lightning flashed beyond the window, echoed by a sudden increase in the rain. Flynn went on stroking, saying nothing, and a few minutes later Dale said mildly,

"I remember doing it. I stood at Charles' window in New York, and Charles said the board were calling it a breakdown. He was the one who told me I was being sent out here. I stood at the window and I watched the harbour, and I sort of – took a step to the side."


"How?" Flynn said quietly.

Dale frowned, trying to think about it. "It was sort of mildly despairing I suppose. It was too much, I couldn't handle it, there wasn't anything more I could do, and it was kind of – what happens when you know you've reached the limit? When you can't cope any more? It actually makes no difference. It doesn't matter whether you can or can't; you still have to go on coping. It was like I just stepped back from it all. It felt very calm."

Flynn said nothing, continuing to stroke, aware that Dale hadn't reacted to the rumbling of thunder outside.

"That was what I did in the dormitory." Dale said eventually. "The same thing. I stepped away. It felt the same, going from panic to nothing. Calm, like turning it off."

The politely detached tone was in his voice, as distanced as the phrasing. 'Mildly despairing'. Dissociation. An inbuilt survival strategy for children in situations they didn't have the resources to handle. And like many such survival strategies, if un noticed and un challenged, it became ingrained habit over the years. The brain simply ran the programme in default mode whenever it perceived a threat.

This looks like getting too much? That's ok, we know a trick that always works. .

It wasn't new information; they'd always known that Dale used detachment in numerous ways, and because intellectually, academically, he was so very functional, it came all too easily to him: shut down the unsuccessful, rely entirely on what works.  But it was the first time he'd mentioned or realised how far back it went. Any emotion or impulse that risked a show of uncontrolled behaviour, anything liable to subject him to criticism – and underneath that was a terror of ridicule like the frightened child in the dormitory-  anything that felt intense enough to be perceived as a risk, was detached from.

"The whole time I was walking around the mall with Paul," Dale said rather uncertainly, "It felt like being under snow. Not really there. The same kind of feeling. I used to have it a lot the first few weeks I was here."

Flynn knew the look. Paul knew it too at gut level; what he called 'sweet and polite' in that exasperated tone that meant he knew there was something Dale was doing that he didn't like, but he wasn't sure what. Paul's instincts were a lot sharper than he gave himself credit for.

It was positive that Dale was starting to realise, to notice himself doing it, and to question it. But right now, the problem was the storm and he needed something concrete to help.

"What's the worst thing you can envisage yourself doing in a storm?" Flynn said mildly, sifting through adjectives to find ones that he often heard Dale use. "The most pathetic, wimpish thing you can think of?"

The words were potent; he saw Dale flinch. And shrug.

"If I was alone I'd hit the gym. Probably too much and too hard."

"To stop yourself doing what? What's the worst thing you could let yourself do?"

What do you want to do when you feel like this, kid?

To suggest he could ever 'want' to do it would shut him down completely; Flynn didn't say it. Just waited.

"Freak out." Dale said eventually, rather light-heartedly.

"Which means what?"

"Lose control."


Flynn could almost hear the gears crunch.

Access denied. You do not have clearance to download this part of the vocabulary database; please return to the main menu.

Newsflash, kid; I've got full clearance and if necessary, a hammer.  

"How?" he repeated firmly, tapping the hand resting on Dale's hip. Dale recognised the warning and he shifted a little, but he still didn't answer. Flynn swatted him briskly across the seat of his jeans, and this time Dale yelped, twisting further over onto his back to defend himself.

"I don't know! 'Lose control' is fairly self explanatory."

Flynn rolled him onto his side and raised a hand, and Dale grabbed for his wrist.


"Then talk." Flynn warned. Dale gave him an exasperated shrug.

"Yell I suppose. Shout."

"Shout what?"

"I don't know, I've never got there yet!" Dale protested.

Flynn put an arm under his, hoisting him briskly to his feet, and unbuttoning his jeans, and before Dale fully had a grasp on what was happening he found himself face down across Flynn's thighs with his shorts around his knees.

"I thought," Flynn said mildly, and the swat was hard and very well placed, and stole Dale's breath with the sheer smart of it. "We'd talked about this?"

"No bullshit, I know!" Dale leaned an elbow against the couch and braced the other on the floor, discreetly trying to push up and turn around, except that Flynn held him exactly where he was. The second swat was harder, and suggested that further struggling would be a really bad idea. Dale lay still and stared at the rug on the floor, finding himself more out of breath than he'd realised. Flynn didn't take prisoners. This was a battle of wills now, which Flynn would win; the only question was how long Dale wanted to prolong it.

It was infuriating, and it was overwhelmingly safe.

"Throw books around." he said savagely to the rug. "Hide. Cry."

"That’s the worst thing you can visualise." Flynn repeated. "All right. Visualise yourself doing those things. What's the worst that can happen?"

"I don't know." Dale said honestly.

"Then think about it." Flynn told him. "What's the worst outcome you can envisage from doing any or all of those things? Come on Dale, statistical probabilities."

"I know
. Nothing would happen." Dale snapped back. "I know."

"You think nothing would happen? If you were upset enough to cry or to hide, you'd rely on the rest of us to ignore it?" Flynn demanded.

"You're physically and statistically incapable of ignoring anything, I know."

"Do you think any of us would think less of you or ridicule you doing any of those things?" Flynn said just as firmly. "Dale. I told you the equation for anxiety."

"Perception of likelihood of event happening over perception of confidence to deal with the outcome." Even in this position Dale dug up the maths without difficulty.

"Over estimation of danger, and under estimation of resources and abilities to cope." Flynn rephrased. "How high is the danger? What's the probability of you getting sufficiently scared of a storm to react?"

"High." Dale said bitterly. "95%"

"Especially since coping here does not involve burying yourself in work or a gym and storing the anxiety up for later." Flynn agreed. "Now what about the resources and ability to cope if you do react to a storm? Here. You live here. What's the probability of you coming out of that here with serious harm or losses?"

"Low." Dale admitted.

"Being scared is a normal human response to danger." Flynn said quietly. "I just want you to be clear about what the danger actually is, kid. You're not that little seven year old trying to find some way to be brave alone. You're not the chief exec in the tower block who had people depending on him to hold it together."

"Neither of those people could hack it anyway." Dale retorted. "I made the decision months ago to quit being those people and to hang around freaking out about bloody storms in the middle of bloody Wyoming!"

"If you get that feeling that you can't cope any more," Flynn told him sternly, making it very clear what he thought of Dale's tone, "If you feel you're even starting to get there, your responsibility is to let me know. Immediately. Is that clear?"

"Heil." Dale said distinctly through his teeth.

Ok, that was self destruct mode fully engaged.

Flynn leaned back into the sofa, crossed his ankles and turned his head to watch the storm building outside, resting his hands on Dale's slim form draped over his lap. It was barely seconds before Dale tried to twist around to look back at him, hair slipped down over his forehead and eyes blazing. Less freaked by the storm than livid. Flynn held him where he was without effort.

"Are you bored or on strike?" Dale inquired. "I just thought I'd ask."

Not even bothering to respond to that, kid. This happens on my terms, not yours.

Flynn watched the sky darken still further above the house, and the sound of the rain intensify. A real thunderhead. Bandit would herd his mares west, well away from the storm, and shelter them in the canyons only he knew, and the sheep would head for cover in the woods.

The tap on the door was tentative, as though the tapper had a good idea of what was going on and really didn't want to intrude. Flynn glanced up at Riley who opened the door, carefully not looking too hard at either him or Dale, and speaking very respectfully indeed.

"Sorry. Flynn, Paul asked me to tell you he's making cocoa, and did you two want any?"

"Not right now thanks, half pint." Flynn said mildly. Riley escaped with alacrity, closing the door softly behind him.

Dale had another assertive try at getting up which Flynn thwarted without comment, after which they returned to their contemplative silence. It was a few minutes more before he felt the tension start to go out of Dale, he stopped bracing on his hands against the floor and couch, and he turned his head on his arm, listening to the rain outside. It was heavy in the yard and against the windows now.

"I'm sorry." Dale said eventually, and quietly. "That was inexcusable."

It was utterly sincere, both the apology and the self condemnation. This was an intelligent and very sensitive man with powerful emotions and little to no experience in practically regulating any of them. And his temper, while it was hotter than he thought it was, burned out quickly and gave way to his usual quiet good nature.

"It was extremely rude." Flynn agreed. "Are you ready to answer me yet?"

Riley wouldn't have heard, never mind remembered the question in this kind of state. Dale produced it word for word.

"If I have that feeling that I can't cope, I have a responsibility to inform you immediately. Yes sir."

"If you even feel like you're starting to get there."                                                                                                                                                
"Yes sir."

"Thank you." Flynn let him go, helping him to his feet. "Now go get me the wooden paddle please, and we'll discuss what I think of 'heil'."

 The storm moved on, leaving pouring rain behind that was still flooding down long after Flynn had turned the light out and gone back downstairs. Dale lay in bed, one arm under his head, and watched the streaking against the glass. They'd left the window ajar despite the rain; both he and Flynn needed the cool and the freshness of the air to be able to sleep.

He glanced up at the creak of the door and Riley signalled to him to be quiet. Barefoot and also in sleep wear, he pushed the door softly to behind him and crawled across the bed to join Dale, propping his back against the head board.

"How ugly did that get? It looked like it was heading for horror film status when I came in."

"It was my fault." Dale said at once, rather abashed. "I pushed it."

"So I saw. You do know you don't have to push that far?" Riley hissed softly in sympathy as Dale eased down the back of his shorts to let him see. It wasn't that bad at all, and Dale knew it; hot, red and sore right now, there would be nothing to see by morning and it was nowhere near in the league of the paddling Riley had gotten for the fight in the yard with Henson. Riley had felt that for several days afterwards, in line with Flynn's promise, and Dale had seen the evidence. By Riley's own admission that had been one of the worst of his experience.

"I didn't intend to push at all." Dale told him, turning onto his side.

"Story of my life." Riley gave him a quick smile. "What was it about? The storm?"

"Mostly. Flynn insisted I talked, properly, and I got a little-" Dale hesitated, not quite sure how to explain. Riley grinned.

"Mouthy. The term is mouthy."

"I was going to go for something in the region of 'threw a fit'."  Dale admitted.

Riley held up a piece of paper which glinted white in the moonlight, and raised an eyebrow at Dale. "Want to do something equally not so well behaved?"

"That's David's map."

"Exactly. I got it from Paul's study to show to Wade. You work with translators, don't you?"

"Yes?" Dale sat up, gingerly but without very much trouble. "Or rather a translator. I've been employing the same man for years."

employ?" Riley demanded. Dale nodded.

"Yes, the contract's with me, not with A.N.Z. like my PA and other admin services –"

"That makes things so much easier." Riley said cheerfully. "Who is this guy?"

"Raf Pavlak. He's based in London and he works from home- mostly I think because his clients work all over the globe and he's used to answering questions at weird hours of the day and night-"

"You make this so convenient." Riley told him, grinning. "You've got it all thought out. Would he be able to translate these symbols?"

Dale had never yet found a language Raf either didn't speak himself, or couldn't find a contact who did. He looked for a minute at the map and then at Riley, and found himself grinning in return.

"You'll have to fax it to him. Phone him and tell him you're calling on my behalf, and say we know the guy was from Canton, and in his eighties in 1943."


Dale rolled over and dug in the bedside drawer, coming up with a pen, and Riley held out his hand without hesitation.

"Go on then, write. I should have known you'd have this down by heart, I thought we'd be looking for address books."

Dale scrawled both numbers rapidly on his outstretched palm.

"That's the fax, that's his home number, and he'll talk you through sending the fax. I daren't get up."

"You wouldn't live long if you did." Riley slid off the bed, taking the map with him. "Give me five minutes."

Dale lay, listening with some apprehension to the very distant buzz of voices downstairs. Thankfully staying downstairs and talking; no one appeared to have heard Riley unlock the office.

He was gone nearer ten minutes than five, and Dale sat up at the sight of him. Riley looked alight, trying not to laugh and just about keeping his voice low.

"I couldn't work the fax machine for ages, but Raf figured it out. He's sweet, even if he thinks I'm your PA. He's got it, he says he'll fax an answer back as soon as he has one. I left the machine on."

"Better hope no one else hears it." Dale said dryly. "How did you think of that?"

Riley grinned. "I didn't. Wade did."

The elderly man – or the elderly brat, the knowledge made Dale look at him in quite a different light – apparently got up as early as Paul did. He gave Dale a friendly smile over his cup of tea and went on talking to Paul at the kitchen table, leaving Dale to pull his boots on, go outside and unlock the barn and stables, and to feed the dogs who followed him, tails swishing. The yard and the buildings were soaked through from the overnight rain, the roofs still dripping, although the sky was a bright and cloudless blue again overhead, as if washed clean. Puddles stood in the red mud of the yard. Riley was filling the feedbins at the corral, unusually early for Riley, and as he finished and brought the empty sacks back to the stables, he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it over.

"Raf did it. I pulled that off the fax while Flynn was in the shower."

The note was in Raf's familiar handwriting, brisk and friendly and to the point.
Dale – fascinating text! Historical as well as dialectic interest, old penmanship and the guy didn't do a lot of writing. Looks like notes to himself rather than recording anything to be read by others. I've marked the translations on the copy. The other handwriting in English was also interesting – as asked, I looked up 'Ginver' and 'suzu'. Ginver is a surname, I'd suggest 'Ginver hole' is actually 'Ginver's hole'. A 'suzu' is a Shinto bell, but Shinto is Japanese rather than Chinese. 'Pot hook' is also likely to be a description of physical terrain. 'Red' would appear related to the Canton symbol and again physical description.
Best wishes

"Pothook, red, ginver hole, suzu." Dale repeated the list to himself, looking once more at the diagram. Raf's translations were beneath each Cantonese symbol.

High tunnel.
First tunnel.
Red ore rock.
Water by footsteps.
Gold stream.

"It is a map." Riley said, watching him read. "Those are directions, aren't they? David's and Gam Saan's. Gam Saan had struck gold."

"That's supposition, he might equally have been looking for coal."

"Gold stream?" Riley tapped the fax sheet. "Where do those directions lead? Towards the coal faces or into the old rock part of the mine?"

"Without knowing where he and David entered the mine, we've got no idea." Dale told him. "It's pure guess as to where the entrance was that they were using, and which direction they went in once they got there. Those land marks might have meant something to people familiar with the mine, which they were, but they wouldn't mean much now, and certainly not without a definite starting point."

"So how do we find where the entrances were?" Riley asked him. "There has to be a way?"

"Breakfast!" Paul called from the kitchen door. "And anyone walking mud into the house will be shot."

Dale followed Riley, lost in thought. There did indeed have to be a way.

They took Flint and Ticktock out along their usual path, past the cairn which glittered in the morning light, across the river crossing place where the colts placed their feet with confidence acquired from several months of hard work despite the river running fast and high today after the heavy rain, and moved on into the woodland trail. The trees dripped this morning, and Dale was grateful for the Stetson, now worn entirely by habit outside, which protected the back of the neck from stray droplets. It was already starting to get hot; they had both ridden out in nothing more than polo shirts, and steam rose from the pastures in places as the rain soaked earth began to warm.

"I requisitioned maps and surveys," Dale said at length, still thinking. "When I applied to buy Three Traders. I don't remember anything marked other than the mine's main entrance. On the other hand, the mine closed and finished before the town died. It may have been that those entrances just passed out of living memory."

"They can't logically be that far from the main entrance?" Riley said, easing Ticktock down a slope. They were passing the buried steam train and Dale glanced down at it. A  landmark he was growing increasingly fond of.

"I don't know. In the UK coal mines could be up to half a mile deep and travel for literally miles underground from the shaft. That's unlikely to be the case here, we're not talking about thousands of miners working, but we still don't know. From the diagram, there are several galleries running off two main coal shafts and they probably linked up to the gold mine tunnels in some way. There should be air shafts too – although that depends on the mine owners, they cost time and money to make and they were an optional safety feature, and from what Wade said, it wasn't a well run mine."

Ticktock turned up the next path, up the next steep section of woodland that led to the plateau where once the train tracks had run. It was still easy to imagine the steam train plunging and rolling the half mile or more down through the woods to where it now lay. Dale ducked under a branch, turning Flint to follow, and the flash of white and of movement through the trees caught his eyes.

David. Standing still at the top of the bank, for a split second with his eyes intense. Then Flint reared and Dale heard Ticktock scream, and heard the first of the deep, soft and all pervasive rumbling through the woodland.

"It's an earthquake!" Riley shouted, trying to handle Ticktock, who was trying to yank his head free to run.

No. Dale saw the ground shake and then very slowly the mulch slope start to move all around them, and knew.

"It's a landslide."

Riley yanked Ticktock around and followed his gaze. A tree at the head of the slope suddenly lifted with a terrible groaning sound, like the straining of ropes on an old ship, and began to move very slowly down towards them, sailing on the mulch. Everything was falling. Everywhere Dale looked, the earth was starting to move, descending downwards.

"Off!" Riley yelled, swinging down from Ticktock. "Dale, off, now!"

Dale swung down from Flint on the word, following Riley's example of yanking the bridle free and hauling the terrified colt to face the way they had come. Riley slapped Ticktock hard on the flank and the colt bolted off the path and down the steep bank, scrambling for his footing and crashing through the low branches, but fleeing ahead of the fall through the woods. A rider would have been killed, but a colt alone would do it. Flint bolted after him, and Riley grabbed Dale's arm, towing him in the opposite direction, towards the fall. 

"Go up!"

He was right. They wouldn't out run this as the horses would, neither would they stay on top of the flow if they ran downhill. The only way not to be knocked down and buried was to climb it, and Dale didn't waste breath, hurling himself after Riley up the moving slope. The rumbling was getting worse, deeper and louder, and the ground was shaking. Under the mulch as his hands slipped down through the leaves, was running mud – it was terrifying how much running mud, like water flowing under the ground- and other trees were lifting with that slow, awful creaking and sailing down the banks still upright. Deeper and faster waves of mulch were sliding down and it took strength and effort to climb them and stay on top of them, and their progress towards the top of the bank was painfully slow. Dale could hear Riley's gasping and swearing, then there was a roar of earthworks that was deafening, and the whole world appeared to drop away.

Dale grabbed Riley with one hand, yanking him over the running ground and throwing his free arm around a tree not yet moving, and they hung on together, heads ducked, while earth crashed like an avalanche down the slope into the depths of the wood. The whole side of the bank dropped away – tons of soil, falling in slabs, and the top of the bank all around them was starting to move, and then Dale saw a few yards above them a yawning black hole open up in amongst the rain of soil. Riley saw it too, Dale felt him move, and clutching each other, scrambling on all fours and under the hail of mud and mulch, they bolted towards it. The heavy smell of rain and earth and rock was overwhelming and Dale was coughing on falling soil. It was impossible to see clearly. They reached the mouth of the cave and as he reached it, Dale felt the rock wall with his hand, a reassuring solidity, and he and Riley ducked into the mouth of it, scrambling as far back as they could. A few seconds later that falling avalanche of soil blotted out the light, not falling like rain but dropping in tons. It seemed to go on for hours.

In the cold, damp darkness of the cave they sprawled and coughed, still clutching each other, and the rumbling went on, and on, until they could no longer see the entrance.


Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2009

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Three Traders