Sneak Peeks & Giveaways:
Current - Excerpt from Coffee, Kamloops, and a Copper Mine, a story about courage and loss, trauma and just trying to live.
c. 2016 D.C. Shaftoe.
Coffee, Kamloops, and a Copper Mine by D.C. Shaftoe c.2016
Thick arms hauled Noah Kristofer upright. Two men dragged him forward. The man on his right smelled acrid, of cordite. He was most likely one of Macken Roy’s enforcers, members of the Dark Coast Warriors' gang. The man on his left struggled more, given his laboured and uneven breathing. He smelled of weed, that sickly-sweet odour of stale urine and stupidity. Noah wouldn’t trust this guy for much more than taking out the trash.
Apparently, that’s what Noah was, Maximiano Guerra’s trash.
In spite of today’s events, Noah didn’t regret sparing Maxi’s young life that night a decade ago. The boy had been an innocent no different from the hundreds of children Chenche had sold into sexual slavery and addiction during his reign of terror. Noah wouldn’t go back and remove Maxi’s chance to make a new life, to chart a course different from his father’s intent.
Neither would he surrender Grady to his uncle’s dark intent. Grady had a right to life, he had a right to happiness. Noah intended to do everything in his power to keep the boy alive until help arrived. Help was coming, he was sure of it. Ella would not sit idly by while Noah suffered. She loved him. She trusted him to do his best to survive and to protect Grady.
Noah planted his feet, resisting the forward motion of the two men dragging him inexorably forward toward something cold and looming, a space he imagined as a gaping maw. The air was laced with the scents of mildew and ore.
“Grady!” Noah shouted the boy’s name. His voice came out harsh and lacking full strength. But the effort made the two smelly men pause. “Grady!” Noah forced more authority into his voice while he dug his heels into the ground.
The enforcer’s fists clenched and Noah had a moment to tighten his whimpering muscles before he was punched in the gut. The air whooshed out of lungs. His knees gave out. He was dragged forward before he could catch his breath.
Noah wheezed in a breath. “Grady, son.”
Force impacted Noah from the back. The pothead on his left stumbled but the enforcer kept them moving inexorably forward. Little arms wrapped around Noah’s waist from behind.
“Good job,” Noah murmured.
“Too scared to be alone in the dark?” Macken sneered.
“Wait! Un momento,” Maxi intruded. He sounded almost panicked. “He’s no dead yet.”
“Copper mine will kill ‘em,” Macken said, ordering the men to continue inside. “Not our fault if they wandered away, fell in a mine shaft, and died.” Macken’s voice chilled with the tones of a sociopath enjoying the suffering of a child.
The air chilled, colder even than Grady’s hands which clutched the fabric of his shirt, pulling and leaving gaps at the buttons. He was glad he’d worn a T-shirt beneath the flannel.
“Wait,” Macken ordered and the men immediately obeyed, confirming Noah’s suspicions that Macken had brought support while Maxi had blindly trusted the older man. All the muscle responded to Macken’s orders and ignored Maxi’s.
“What is?” Maxi asked. There was young confusion in his voice. He was a man by years but not by choice. Someone, some cruel person had fed this boy’s heart with bile and hatred until he’d been forced to see Noah as his enemy. Perhaps Noah himself had done that when he had followed the order to terminate Chenche that night. If only he’d known the boy was there, he could have made a better plan to stop the father, a plan that would have helped the son.
“It’s not too late, Maximiano,” Noah said. “You don’t have to live this way.”
Footsteps. Booted feet. A resounding slap. Noah’s head jerked back. Pothead jerked to the side to avoid getting a nose full of Noah’s skull, but still held on.
Grady’s arms tightened around Noah’s waist, hurting him and making it hard to a draw full breath. But Noah wasn’t doing anything to dislodge the boy. There was no way he was leaving this child to his uncle’s nonexistent mercy.
“Shut up.” Macken’s voice was low, sinister. Vicious. His breath wafted into Noah’s nostrils, rank with whiskey and a hint of oregano. “No salvation.”
“What?” Noah asked, then ignored him. He felt the heat of Macken’s face close to his. But he heard the indecision in Maxi’s. That was the message to which he wanted to respond. “Leaving me to die won’t bring your papa back. You have an opportunity to make a better life. You don’t have to buy and sell your soul because Chenche did. Make a choice, Maxi. Make a better choice.”
“Shut up!” Macken’s fist shot out, the blows raining steadily down.
With his arms restrained by goons and his feet pinned to the ground by Grady’s body weight, Noah had no choice but to absorb the punishment. He was barely conscious when he fell. But he knew that Grady was with him.
Noah fell. He dropped a few feet, straight down, landing on his side. The impact knocked the breath from his lungs. Grady’s body was ripped from him. The angle changed and he slid, scrabbling for purchase. His fingers grasped, digging into dirt, scraping along rock, clutching at rotted wood, slivers piercing the skin of his palms.
The bottom disappeared. He fell. Impacted the earth. The world winked out.
When Noah woke, his trousers were damp. For a moment he thought he was back in the hospital and he’d wet his pants. But the ground beneath his prone body smelled of dirt and damp, not clean hospital sheets. His only pillow was the earth.
Where am I? Noah reached out with his senses. Cool humidity filled the air around him, soaking into his body to make him shiver. There was silence but for a repetitive clacking sound and the occasional drip-drip of water. His body ached. His head throbbed. The world was black. But that was nothing new.
Reaching out, he patted the chilled ground until his fingertips brushed fabric. “Grady?” he croaked. Swallowing a few times, he forced enough saliva into his mouth to try again. “Grady.”
A breath of sound in reply while a small hand patted his head, little fingers tangling in his messy curls.
“Easy.” Noah winced at the pull. He didn’t need more pain added to the ache throbbing up his body.
Slowly, Noah rolled onto his side, pushing up to sit against the cold, stone wall, testing each new posture to gain information on the state of his body. It hurt. But nothing seemed broken.
“You okay, G?”
Chattering teeth were his only response. Noah followed the sound until he could pull Grady close. Grady resisted a moment and then collapsed into his embrace. His head connected with Noah’s sore ribs but he hugged the little boy regardless. “It’s okay, kid. We’re alive. We’ll be okay.”
Aside from the chattering of his teeth, Grady made no sound. He clutched fistfuls of Noah’s flannel shirt. Somewhere along the way, one of Macken’s goons had stolen his sweater. Grady’s shuddering increased and then gradually diminished until he was lying quietly against Noah’s body. Grady’s body had leeched the heat out of Noah’s, leaving him chilled to the bone.
“They touch you, kid? After I passed out?”
Grady’s head brushed against his chest in a negative response.
“Good. You know where we are?”
Grady shook his head again.
“You have your device?”
Grady gasped as though he meant to cry but instead he squeezed Noah’s ribs tighter, making him grunt at the discomfort.
“It’s okay, kid. You and me, we know how to communicate, don’t we? We don’t need a device.” We could use a phone, though. They’d taken pleasure in searching Noah’s pockets and removing everything, smashing his blind man’s phone that contained the text from Ella, “Can’t wait to run my fingers through your hair and kiss you until you pass out from lack of oxygen.” Though it was unlikely there was cell coverage here, wherever here was.
Grady’s face tilted up toward his as he relaxed his grip to a more comfortable level.
“We’re going to be okay, G. Okay? You hear me?”
Grady finally nodded, his movements jerky.
“Okay. Cool. Did they leave my cane?”
Grady released one hand and Noah heard him patting around the ground. Grady returned, picking up one of Noah’s hands and placing it on his head. Grady shook his head.
“No cane,” Noah interpreted. “Okay. Can you see?”
Grady shook his head again.
“Dark. We must be inside somewhere. It doesn’t feel like outside. The air is too stale. No animal sounds. The ground is hard-packed.” Noah explored the area around him with his free hand, the ground and then up the wall at his back. “Stone walls, but unevenly cut. A tunnel, you suppose?”
“Mine,” Grady replied. In his own voice.
Noah smiled in relief. If Grady was willing and able to use his voice, they stood a better chance of getting out of here.
“Mine,” Grady repeated.
Mine. He’d already said that his device was gone. And he didn’t have a cane to claim as mine.
“Did they take something that belongs to you besides your iPhone, dude?”
“Dig. Copper. Not police.”
Dig? Police? Copper. Je comprend. “Okay. Cool. We’re in a copper mine. There are tons of them around—Kamloops.” Home. He’d almost called the place home. Boy had he ever changed his tune. “Disused one, I’d guess, or we’d be too easy to find. I don’t think the two M’s want us to get out of here.”
“Say mine kill us.” Grady’s voice was rusty from disuse but his speech was clear.
“You and me?” Noah asked as though the idea was ludicrous. “Together we’re getting out of here and going home. Just watch us.”
“God with us. Lillian says.”
“Lillian is one amazing lady, G. Thank you for reminding me. God is with us.”
“She’s dead,” Grady said.
“That’s true,” Noah replied. What else could he say?
Noah pulled Grady close. “You have a home, Grady. With Ella and me.”
“As long as you want it.”
This boy who spoke so few words knew just what to say to fill Noah’s chest with warmth. He accepted the promise without question, and Noah wanted more than anything to fulfill it.
“We need to figure out which way to go. If this is a disused copper mine, there should be several paths that lead to the outside.” And several that lead nowhere.
“What do you mean? They exploded a bomb or something?”
Hm usually meant yes. “They probably collapsed the main entrance.” Noah recalled a loud noise as he’d lost consciousness. Setting dynamite or a bomb at the entrance would make sense. It would seal them in. And Maxi did seem to like bombs, if the bomb that had destroyed his super-fine CR-Z was any indication. “They assumed we’d lie down and die. Fou. We are getting out of here. Help me up.”
Noah let Grady pull him to his feet. He braced one hand on the wall behind him for support. As he came upright, his head pounded harder. His ribs ached as though they were definitely bruised but maybe not broken. His hands hurt and the ache in his groin was making him queasy. Even so, this was nothing compared to the pain he’d experienced in the bush. If he survived that to come home, he’d survive this. He had Grady to help him and Grady to save.
“Okay. Cool. We’re on our feet. Now, we need to stay together. You wearing your webbed belt?”
“Take it off. We’ll lengthen it and hook it through your belt loop and mine. That way we’ll stay connected.”
Noah remained still, waiting until Grady pressed the belt into his hands. He examined it with his fingers. Extended, it should provide a solid link, yet allow them to walk comfortably. Noah fastened and tested it. When he moved, Grady did, too. With that connection, they wouldn’t need to hold hands and Noah would be able to use both his hands and his feet to map out the space.
“Okay. We need to explore this area and find all the openings. Okay?”
“Let’s get started.”
Noah and Grady slid their palms along the walls, Grady low and Noah high, to map out the cavern. The ledge they’d traveled down was slick and far too steep to climb. They weren’t getting out the way they’d involuntarily entered. If Maxi had blown the entrance, it was futile to try. No, they needed to find an alternate route out.
The cavern in which they found themselves formed a lopsided oval with three openings. Noah led Grady to the first. “Stand here, bud. Put your hands out in front of you and stand still. Breathe slowly. What do you feel?”
Grady’s breath shuddered in his chest. “C-cold.”
Noah wrapped his arms around the boy’s shoulders and pulled him into his body to offer warmth. “Yep. The air is cold. Is it moving?”
Grady slowed his breathing as he concentrated on the messages his body was sending him. “N-no.”
“I agree. The air from this tunnel is still. Put your left hand on the wall and walk with me until we find the next one.”
Noah shadowed Grady’s movements, keeping their bodies close for warmth. He extended his right arm to test the space in front of them, in case anything had changed. Grady leaned into Noah’s body when he decided they’d drifted too far apart.
Noah detected the slightly cooler air a moment before his left hand encountered an edge that indicated a tunnel opening. He positioned them in front of it. “Is the air moving? Is it warmer or colder?”
“C-c-cold.” Grady moved a half-step forward causing the belt that connected them to tug on Noah. “Windy. Small wind.”
“I feel it, too. There’s a slight breeze coming toward us. Let’s check the other one to be sure.”
They slid their palms along the wall, keeping connected to each other as they moved slowly. The next tunnel opened almost directly across from what Noah thought of as Number Two, or, he hoped, The Exit in bright red letters with a flashing arrow pointing “this way out”. They set their bodies in front of it like they’d done at the others.
“Windy. Behind us.”
“Yes. This won’t take us out of here. We go back to number two and walk along it. That wind moving toward us is coming from outside. If we follow the tunnel, we’ll find our way out.” I hope.
They made their way back, using their right hands on the rock this time. Before they entered the tunnel, Noah crouched awkwardly, positioning himself face to face with Grady. At least that was his intention. He rubbed his hands up and down the boy’s arms to warm him. Grady responded by pressing his body against Noah’s and gripping him tightly around the neck. Noah flinched at the pain it caused, repositioned the boy and hugged him.
“We’re okay, G. Your uncle tried to kill you but he failed. We’re going to get out of here and tell the police and he’s going to prison.”
Remember? “When Macken killed your father?”
“Who cares? We know he did this today, don’t we?”
“This is enough to put him away.”
“Right. Now? I want to go home to Ella.”
“Ella and Otto, here we come,” Noah said. “We’ve got to watch for rubble that might trip us. And puddles. The water down here is very cold and some of the puddles might be deep, wide, and long. You see any light yet?”
“Tell me if you do, okay?”
Grady didn’t respond but Noah was fairly certain he nodded because of the way his body moved. There was a sort of magnetic field around people. When you got close, you felt, or maybe sensed, a prickle of energy or heat or something. Anyway, it helped him interpret Grady’s movements.
“We stay together. Keep moving toward the breeze. Get out of here and back to Ella and Otto.”
“We should pray?”
“You want to?”
“No. Too many words.”
“Okay. Cool. You pray in your head and I’ll pray out loud.” Noah closed his eyes and bowed his head automatically. His mother would be pleased. “God, Grady and I need your help. Please get us out of here. Amen.” Noah placed his hand on Grady’s head after one miss. “My mother used to pray with me.”
“Did you think I didn’t have a mother?”
Grady chuckled, a near-silent puff of air. It was good to hear him laugh. “Lillian.”
“Lillian taught you to pray?”
“They loved you very much.”
“Yes. My mother loved me.” My father? Not so much.
“Not me. Mother try to take me. Papa kill her. Take me back.”
“I’m sorry, kid. You’ve survived a lot of wicked stuff. And you’re a great kid in spite of it.” Was that what Ella meant when she asked how he got to be so nice? So many lost their way when the nastiness of life touched them. But it was no excuse to spread the disease.
Grady squeezed him around the waist and then hooked his right hand in Noah’s waistband. “Ready. Go.”