"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Starvation Draw

Starvation Draw

Vernor Tenney sat on the hilltop, absorbing the warmth of a rare sunny morning. For the first time that day the cold that he felt deep in his core subsided. He turned his back to the sun and let his black pea coat soak up the solar rays.  As he rolled a rudimentary cigarette, he stopped to glance towards Starvation Draw, a billowing cloud of dust advanced towards the Greenleaf Mine. "Epi", he called into the shaft opening next to him "Someone is coming"  At the bottom of the shaft,  Epi stopped picking at the rock to look up "They come here, Boss?" he asked. Vernor peered out at the approaching line of dust, "No, to the Greenleaf" Epi chuckled and replied "No One comes here, Boss" and with that he continued to strike at the vein of fluorspar that they had hit upon.  Vernor took a long drag on his cigarette before he replied "Fuck it, we'll have to walk over there and see if they have our supplies"  As a crow flies, the Hilltop mine was just three miles from the Greenleaf mine. However, for a vehicle it was a long haul of rock strewn draws, wash outs and some quite scary switchbacks. Renfro who twice a week made the trip from town, had lost his nerve. The angle of the roadbed was such that it made his stomach queasy.  After making the trip two weeks prior with a box of dynamite and drill bits, the rotund hardware store owner had put his foot down.

Vernor called down to Epi "By tomorrow we have to blast that rock" he said as he took the last drag, Epi yelled back "I think I pick some more today, Boss"  Vernor grinned "Suit yourself hombre"  Epi was wary of blasting, ever since  McGill had blown himself up inside a sixty foot deep prospect shaft at Goat Ridge. Assigned the task of recovering McGill's remains, the experience had un-nerved both men. McGill an over sized Texan, had settled with Vernor and Epi for back wages owed by signing over the deeds to The Hilltop mine and two prospects. Anyhow, who was to say he hadn't, or  who would ever know that it was Vernor who had signed McGill's name. While packing McGill's personal effects, Vernor had found the deeds inside an envelope.  "Don't matter" Vernor had told Epi "He did owe us wages, that's a fact"  Epi crossed himself  "I can live with this" he told Vernor "God, he may not forget" Vernor tossed McGill's knapsack on the truck next to Texan's mangled corpse, his answer was expected "Ain't about God, it's about money owed, don't worry yourself  Epi, I'm going into town to file these deeds.

The first bad omen was when the truck engine seized up near the river bed, a rock had ripped through the radiator.  Vernor limped into town, and had barely settled into his seat at the Depot Cafe, when Renfro showed up with Deputy Meliton Baca in tow, an excitable Renfro exclaimed "Tex owed me money, I have papers to his vehicle right here" a weary Vernor looked up "You'll have to go fetch him and the truck" he told them "I just walked 4 miles into town" as they went out the door, he couldn't help but quip  "Be careful, he hasn't been himself lately" Vernor's next stop was the courthouse, the clerk was  a mouse of man named Duffy. He examined the papers, "Imagine that!, just a few days before he passed away" he said with a raised eyebrow  "What are you implying" Vernor snapped defensively, "Nothing" said Duffy "Lucky You, if they prove productive" Vernor gave him a sour look, "Just file 'em" Duffy continued "The man had no living relatives did he?" Vernor strained to remain calm "I don't know" Duffy continued to probe "Did he also have a stake in the Gratten mine?" gruffly Vernor repeated "I don't know" Duffy picked up the deeds and studied the signatures "Was the man left handed? he asked, by now Vernor was besides himself but he tried not to show it "I know for a fact that nobody called him Lefty!" he glared at the clerk "May I finish my business, so I can get back to camp?" Duffy shrugged and brought down his stamp with authority "There it's all good and legal, Good Day Sir!"  Vernor hitched a ride back to camp with Deputy Baca who was on his way to serve a warrant at the Valley Mine. For the first time since stumbling upon those deeds, Vernor felt at ease, he was now the proud owner of three mines and a pipe dream. He yawned, pulled down his hat and told Deputy Baca "Jefe, wake me up when we get get there."

Looking down on Fluorite Camp/Greenleaf Mine from Fluorite Ridge

That was a year prior, and the riches had failed to materialize, the prospect shafts were barren, though for no good reason, Epi still worked them. The Hilltop was paying off, but at a laboriously slow rate.  Although, located in the center of the Fluorite Mining District, the topography made it difficult to get in and out, "We might as well be on the moon" Vernor had remarked to Epi. Who broke out in laughter, for some reason Epi found this hilarious as he kept repeating "Moon" and chuckling all morning, until finally Vernor tossed a rock at him and yelled "Epi, you simple fuck, shut up already." After that, Vernor didn't dare use the word "moon" for fear of triggering another spasm of giggles from his partner. The routine was simple, get up at dawn, fix breakfast, climb up to the Hilltop and work all day. The only company they had was the hardscrabble miners who followed the foot trail up and over the ridge from Fluorite Camp to The Greenspar or Gratten mines further north.  With one exception, Rodriguez, who worked a couple of shafts, north of the foot trail. He was a strange bird, didn't like anyone to look at him, not that he was hideously  deformed or much different from anybody else. If by chance anyone got close enough to see him, he would quickly duck down, turn his back or walk behind some brush.  He had made avoiding human contact into an art form, in some ways Vernor envied him, although for the most part, he would taunt Rodriguez about his strange behavior, "I see you god damn it" he would yell from atop the hill, sometimes he would stand there just to see how long Rodriguez would hold his position. Vernor would always give up before Rodriguez would break, "Strange god damn, son of a bitch" he would say.  Vernor worked the winch on the hoist, when the bucket of ore reached the top, he pulled it in and dumped it, "Almost time to call Espinoza" he yelled down to Epi "We need to get paid, hombre" Epi stopped to rest and called back "The vein is done, Boss, now we have to blast."  Vernor felt his stomach turn sour, "Come on up Epi, we'll hike over to Fluorite and get our supplies."
 
The Hilltop was eighty feet deep now, the men climbed in and out using a series of four 20 foot wooden ladders anchored to timber framing. The ladders were staggered across, Epi scrambled up the ladders, "You're pretty good at that, Epi, that's why you're lighting the fuses" as he reached the surface, Epi grinned "McGill, he wasn't so good" Vernor stifled a laugh "Damn right about that" the two then ambled down to their campsite and from there started up the trail to Fluorite Camp. A little ways up, Vernor quickly turned in time to see Rodriguez duck behind a bush,  "I saw you, god damn it" he yelled, then grinned at Epi, who shook his head sadly "What?" asked Vernor "It's just fun" Epi kept his head down and kept walking up the trail. At the crest, Vernor sat down, "Let's roll a couple of smokes, Epi" they both sat there staring out at Starvation Draw, "See right there" Epi pointed to the north "That's where the Apaches killed my Grandfather" Vernor looked to where Epi was pointing, "They chased him from there to there" Epi's finger moved from northeast to northwest "They catch him...mala suerte" Vernor looked north, then he explained "That's the Pony Hills, I've seen graves out there, maybe your granpappy?"  Epi shrugged, "They catch my uncle too and his son" Vernor looked puzzled "All at the same time?" he asked, "No different times" Epi said "Wagons too slow, Apaches too fast" Vernor couldn't help himself as he chortled "Hell, Epi your peoples were too damn slow" Epi took a long drag on his cigarette "Si, but the Apache are gone and we are still here, no?" Vernor stood up "Thank God, for that, let's get on with it, Epi"


The Hilltop Prospects

They arrived to find Fluorite Camp in a flurry of activity, both the delivery driver for the Gem Grocery store and Renfro the hardware supplier were in camp.  Also present was Espinoza, who made his living hauling ore from the outlying mines to the Peru Mill. He drove a truck he had purchased from the U.S. Army, after they had pulled out of Camp Furlough in Columbus. Espinoza was a hard case, he wore a dirty rag tied around his head, gypsy style, he kept a Bowie knife and a revolver on his person at all times.  Rumor had it that he was a scout, translator and spy for Gen. Pershing during the Punitive Expedition, while others said he had done the same in France during the war. Either way he wasn't typical of the Mexicans who populated the camps or the county for that matter. Deputy Meliton Baca wasn't typical either, educated at a Catholic boarding school in El Paso, he had attended the Univ. of Notre Dame for one year, before homesickness brought him back to the Valley.  Deputy Baca was at the camp serving a warrant for Mike Spungen, who was wanted for almost beating a man to death during a drunken brawl in town.  The negotiations were delicate, Sheriff Gray, usually would send a white deputy to arrest a white man, but to test Baca's meddle, he had appointed him to the onerous task.

Vernor greeted Baca "Hey Jefe, what's new in the world?" Baca seemed distracted "I'm here to arrest Iron Mike for brawling" Vernor looked at the gathering of white miners near the pay window "Are they gonna let you do that?" he asked. "He's coming in on his own" answered Baca "I'm just waiting on him, if anything he respects the badge" Vernor felt tension in the air, as he walked past the white miners, one of them spat in his direction with the spittle landing just short of his boot, Vernor pulled his hat low and kept walking, "Can't fight them all" he muttered to himself. Once out of their sight, he relaxed, walking over to where Espinoza was parked, he called out "I got ore for you to haul, Espi, muy pronto!" Espinoza stared through him  "I'll be there tomorrow morning" he replied, Vernor leaned against the hood of the truck "Works for me, that gives us time to pull up some more ore." Espinoza spat on the ground "Trouble is brewing my friend" Vernor followed Espinoza's gaze "That!, it ain't nothing, Iron Mike is turning himself in" Espinoza kept his arms crossed with one hand on each of his weapons "Damn!, you are wired too tight amigo" Vernor exclaimed, Espinoza grinned "You're probably right about that" adding "Hey tell Rodriguez to be ready" he spat again "He's one crazy hijo de la chingada" Vernor took his departure.

Vernor then ambled back over to Deputy Baca's truck, the miners had dispersed, Spungen was cuffed, shackled and sitting in the bed of the truck, he greeted Vernor "Mister Tenney! long time no see" Vernor cracked a smile "Wish these were better circumstances"  Iron Mike grinned "Hell, Mel told me the guy won't die anytime soon"  Vernor nodded "Here's hoping he lives a long and somewhat normal life" (from what Deputy Baca had told him the man was fucked up beyond repair) Though, there was no sense in telling that to Iron Mike before he was safely behind bars. Spungen flashed a gap toothed grin at Vernor "I hadn't seen you since our scrap at Old Hadley" Vernor rubbed his neck as he recalled the brawl "Sure, you nearly ripped my fucking head off" Iron Mike chortled with glee "It was a dilly!, ya' gave as much as you took Mr. Tenney" Vernor shook his head "That's not how I remember it" Iron Mike's mood suddenly turned sullen "It was the sulphur fumes at The Graphic mine, Vernie... my mind ain't been right ever since, please forgive me" Vernor lit a cigarette and passed it to Mike, "You are forgiven my son" As Deputy Baca passed by, Vernor stopped him "That son of a bitch is dangerous"  Baca wiped his brow, "That's why his own people gave him up"  With a look of distaste he added  "He knows I'll put a bullet in his brain if he tries anything"  Vernor leaned in "Are you sure?" Baca replied "Same as I would shoot a mad dog" Vernor started to say "That's not what I meant" but Baca cut him off  "I know what you meant, I will shoot him and he knows it"

Fluorite Ridge and the road leading from The Hilltop to The Greenspar & Gratten mines

Night had fallen by the time Vernor and Epi started back to their camp site. When they were back at the crest, Vernor called for another smoke break. Epi sat down and made a sign of the cross, a somewhat agitated Vernor said "Cut that out Epi, there ain't no diablos out here"  Epi sat down "I forget you're not Catholic" Vernor lit his cigarette, even though they had worked together for over two years, Vernor had revealed little about himself to Epi.  In turn, since he first met up with him at Cook Town, he knew almost nothing about Epi.  Vernor exhaled " No Sir! I'm a jack Mormon" Epi's look gave away his confusion "I was raised as a Latter Day Saint, Epi, but it sure as hell didn't take" Epi still didn't understand "A Mormon, Epi, I was born in Mexico, the fucking Villistas ran us out of our  homes" Epi caught on (sort of) "Villa!, he's no good, Boss?" Vernor raised his voice "Fuck No! God Damn, took our land, our farms, forced us across the border to Hachita"  Epi interrupted "Mexico! you were born in Mexico, I was born here, but I'm the Mexican" Epi started laughing,  Vernor snapped at him "Shut the fuck up Epi!, don't even start me on that."  Mexico, Villa and Spanish had always been a sore point for Vernor.  As a boy all the other white kids had teased him without mercy because he couldn't speak English.  As a teenager working on ranches along the Alamo Hueco range, the white cowboys took to calling him Mex. At the Speer Ranch they even made him bunk with the Mexican vaqueros, he grew to loath his station in life.

In 1916 Vernor journeyed to Deming shortly after Villa's raid on Columbus, he lied about his age in order to enlist in the U.S. Army.  After cowboying in the Boot heel country for two years, he thought it would be an easier way of life.  However, his pronounced Spanish accent soon caught the attention of a group of soldiers, when they started to bully him, he cold cocked the biggest one, this earned him a beating and a night in jail. The next morning he went back home to Hachita, angry and dejected. Now as that memory passed from his mind, he shivered, "Fuck it's getting cold, Epi, let's move."  They awoke at day break to a curtain of falling snow, the entire area was blanketed in white, "Oh, Hell Espinoza ain't gonna make it up here now" was Vernor's first reaction.  As they sat in the canvas tent, drinking coffee and smoking, Vernor laid out the day's schedule "We'll hoist up the rest of the ore and then start drilling for the dynamite, with any luck we can blast tomorrow" Epi said nothing, he seemed tired, "Ok Boss" was his only reaction.  They worked all day, by that evening they still hadn't finished drilling. The snow had stopped, Vernor and Epi sat by the fire, the whiteness of their surroundings was eerie, "Just like the moon" Epi remarked, but this time he didn't chuckle or giggle he just stared out into the darkness.


The first light of day found both men hard at work at The Hilltop mine, as they sat down for a smoke break, two Mexican miners came up the footpath, one called for Epi. Vernor glared down at them and then in disgust told Epi "As long as you're going down there, bring up a roll of fuse and a tool bucket" From his vantage point, Vernor could see that this was no social call, the conversation was serious and brief. As the two men left, Epi retreated into Vernor's supply tent. After rummaging around and not finding any rolls of fuse, he came upon a canvas bag with four rolls. Without much thought he grabbed one and placed it in the metal tool bucket that they would lower into the shaft. A good portion of their tools and supplies had been appropriated from Tex McGill's belongings over the protest of Lawrence Rasberry. "He owed us several weeks back wages, Lawrence, I'm taking his tools unless you aim to cover our wages" Vernor declared, Rasberry was exasperated "Tex owed Renfro all kinds of money, most of those supplies probably ain't been paid for" Vernor ignored him and kept loading the goods on Tex's truck "You'll have to answer to Renfro" screeched Rasberry,  to which Vernor replied "Fuck Renfro"

Epi arrived back at The Hilltop, "What was that about?" Vernor inquired "Estrada over at the Lucky Mine, his baby boy died this morning" Epi replied. Vernor winced "Aww gee! probably dysentery, this ain't no place for children" Epi nodded in agreement. Vernor continued, "Remember Cook Town in '18?, I bet at least six kids died that summer and four more at Old Hadley" Epi secured the tools he had brought up "I should go see Estrada, he's my primo" Vernor grabbed the tool bucket, "Go ahead, Epi, I'll work this for a few hours more, we can blast tomorrow"  The next morning, Vernor brought out the dynamite, with great care, they lowered themselves into the mine.  Vernor prepared the loads and fuses "These are long fuses, Epi, you have plenty of time to scramble" Epi looked on without a word as Vernor tied three fuses together "Light them and go, Epi, that's what you do" Vernor looked at Epi, "You want me to do it?" Epi laughed "No, you too slow, Boss" Vernor felt a sense of relief to see Epi back to his normal self. "I hate blasting Epi" Vernor wiped his brow "We'll be able to buy a plunger soon and then we can blast at a safe distance" Epi said nothing as Vernor gathered up his tools  "I'll climb up, when I get there, I'll signal you to light the fuses" Epi cupped his hands and blew on them "Con la gracia de dios" he said and then he crossed himself. "You told Rodriguez we're blasting, right?" Epi smiled "I told him this morning, Boss" Vernor started climbing his way out of the shaft,  once on the surface he called down, "Light them up,Epi"

What happened next made Vernor's heart skip a beat "Boss, the fuse is fast" Epi yelled without panic "God Damn it, Epi, get the fuck out of there!" Vernor yelled back,  Epi paused to look at the fuse "Boss, it's burning, muy rapido" Vernor felt a sense of panic "Epi, God Damn it, Climb, Climb!" For some strange reason Epi paused to gather the tool bucket, Vernor was besides himself "Leave the fucking bucket, get  the fuck up the ladder!"  "Madre de Dios" Epi exclaimed as he started to climb the first ladder, twenty feet up, forty feet up, sixty feet up, he glanced back down "Por el favor de Dios" he groaned,  just twenty more feet to go, "God Damn it Epi, climb, God Damn it climb" Vernor kept yelling. Finally, Epi reached the top of the last ladder, he took a deep breath as though he had been under water, he grinned at Vernor who reached out for his hand. Then it came, a concussive force roared upwards from the shaft, the force flung Vernor away from the opening, as he fell backwards he saw Epi fly over him like a human cannonball. Vernor landed on his back and then instinctively curled into a fetal position, covering his head. A shower of rocks and splintered timber came raining down, one thought raced through his mind "Too much God Damn dynamite!"  He closed his eyes to welcome sweet death.

He then had visions of his father who was once a farmer, busting rocks for a living, toiling away inside a mine. Of himself as a five year old helping his weary mother drag an iron bucket to the ore car, then chewing on some sweet cornbread while his mother caught her breath, he blacked out. A startled Vernor came to, he sprang up and then quickly dropped to one knee, "Sweet Mercy!" was his first reaction to still being alive, "Epi! are you ok" he coughed and gagged "Epi! answer me hombre!"  Vernor stood up again, trying to clear his ringing head, then he saw Rodriguez standing at the bottom of the hill staring at him. "Rodriguez! Epi is hurt, ayudame!" Rodriguez bounded up the hill with an ease that even in his current state, impressed Vernor. He sprinted past Vernor to where Epi had landed, it seemed strange for Epi, a man who was always in constant motion, to be laying on the ground. Rodriguez turned Epi over and then made a sign of the cross, he was dead. Vernor dropped to both knees clutching his hands, he looked to the sky, dark clouds were coming in, there was another storm building up. Rodriguez motioned to Vernor, he rolled his hands as if wrapping a package, when Vernor didn't respond, Rodriguez sped back down to the tent and came back with a wool blanket, Vernor stood up and limped over to Epi's body "I'm Sorry, Compadre, I fucked up" He sat down on a rock, then he started to sob.  


Later, Vernor and Rodriguez wrapped Epi in the blanket and carried him back down the hill for the last time.  They laid him out on his cot, Vernor heated up some coffee, he offered some to Rodriguez, the two men then sat there drinking coffee without a sound. "You're a mute... ain't ya?" Vernor asked Rodriguez, who simply glared at the ground "I guess that explains alot" Vernor poked at the smoldering campfire. "piece of rock shot through Epi's skull, just like a goddamn bullet" He pulled his wool blanket tight around his shoulders in order to stifle a shudder. The next morning Vernor awoke to the sound of Rodriguez picking at the rocky ground a few feet from the foot trail. Still sore and hobbled, Vernor roused himself from his cot and joined him. The men dug for a better part of the day, interrupted only by an occasional miner passing along the trail "Pass the word along that my partner, was killed yesterday" Vernor asked of one man "He had friends around here, they'll want to know"  late in the day they buried him, Vernor piled the rocks that Rodriguez had gathered over the grave, the finishing touch was a wooden cross on which he scrawled Epifanio Chacon, "Vaya con Dios, amigo" said Vernor as he drove the cross into the ground, then braced it with rocks.

The following day, Vernor gingerly climbed up to the Hilltop mine to inspect the wreckage, other than a pile of rubble and some busted timbers it was workable.  He sat down to smoke a cigarette. Vernor  watched as a group of Mexican miners walked along the trail, when they got to Epi's gravesite, they all made a sign of the cross and kept walking. "Well I'll be damned" thought Vernor "That's the perfect spot for Epi, every god fearing Catholic, who passes will cross himself in tribute" thought Vernor, "God Damn it, if Rodriguez didn't know what he was doing" he said to himself.  Vernor closed his eyes and the events of the previous year or so came rushing back, it was  January, Vernor and Epi were camped at the Greenspar, working deep in the bowels of that dark and cold mine. Every morning they climbed wooden ladders 200 feet into the ground and then they navigated their way through three different working levels, 1,000 feet of dangerous tunnels and shafts.  The air was bad, the conditions were miserable and the pay was late. Vernor confronted Tex McGill about the wages, "Damn, Tex, we don't even have enough cash for tobacco and coffee" the big Texan sputtered "I can't advance you no more, you and that mex haven't produced enough ore to get paid yet" Vernor seethed with rage "That is bullshit! we need some god damn supplies" McGill knew he had pushed too far, for his size, the Texan did not like to fight and frankly Vernor scared him.  Having seen him hold his own against the likes of Iron Mike Spungen and Bully Bob McGrath in fights, Tex did not want to scrap with Vernor.

"I tell you what, you go with me to Goat Ridge and help me clear some rubble after I blast and then we'll go into town and get your goods"  McGill tried to sound sincere, "You better not be twisting me in the wind" Vernor snarled, "Oh i'm not" McGill said "Be ready to go in one hour" At the appointed time Vernor made his way to the wood frame shack that doubled as an office, he arrived unseen and unheard. As he stood by the window he could hear McGill raging in a loud voice "That sumofabitch, I don't owe him shit" McGill's foreman Lawrence Rasberry spoke "Ya gotta pay'em their wages, Tex, it's only right" McGill raised his voice "Screw him, he ain't no better than a greaser" Rasberry tried to reason "You gotta give 'em something to keep 'em working" McGill continued " I staked him his grub and his tools all on advance" McGill roared "Fuck 'em, I have a mind to just shoot the sumofabitch out there on Goat Ridge and say he attacked me" Rasberry raised an eyebrow "That's crazy talk, man" Tex laughed "That's right! I'm not one to fuck with" Vernor let McGill's words sink in, then he heard Tex say  "Hell now I'm all worked up, I need to take a shit" Tex hurried off to the nearby outhouse. Vernor waited a second and then eased himself to the back of the building, opened the explosives locker and reached into a canvas bag and pulled out a roll of black fuse. Several weeks prior, McGill had tested several rolls of fuse and declared the ones in the canvas bag defective, "Those fuses burn too fast" he told Vernor, "Don't try using them underground, lessen you wanna get blowed up" Next, he walked over to McGill's truck, reached into his tool bucket took out a roll of  fuse, tossed it into the brush and replaced it with the defective roll.

Vernor then leaned against the bumper as McGill came down the slope buckling his pants "It's about goddamntime" McGill yelled, Vernor looked at him "I'm not going" McGill stopped short "What?" Vernor repeated himself "I'm not going, I'll stay and help Epi load the ore buckets" McGill snorted "Suit yourself, but you'll get no supplies today, no sir!" As Vernor opened his eyes, he thought about what he had done. He took a deep breath, then he covered his face with his hands "Oh God! forgive me" Epi's words about God not forgetting rang in his ears. Vernor walked down off the hill, he started up the foot trail towards Fluorite Camp. At the crest Vernor sat down and rolled a cigarette, he sat there staring out across Starvation Draw.  He imagined McGill's last moments, the Texan expecting to have at least 10 minutes to climb out, lit the fuse and then much like Epi found himself frozen with fascination at how fast it was burning, by the time he realized that his life was in danger, precious seconds had passed.  He dropped his tool bucket and scrambled for the ladder, only to stumble and fall. Tex got back up and started to climb again, in his panic he missed a rung, he hung there frantically searching for a foothold when fear suddenly paralyzed him, a guttural moan rose from deep in his throat, which was followed by a thunderous roar as the explosives went off.

The Hilltop Mine
 "I'll surely burn in Hell for this" Vernor told himself, the thought of turning himself in to the law, came and went "What's the point?" he reasoned "It won't change anything"  he rubbed his legs and then stood up  "Hell!, I've been doing time and hard labor all my life"  The Fluorite Mountain range is not big by Western standards. However it's most impressive feature is Anvil Mountain, Vernor stood on the neighboring mountain top staring at the flat topped summit when an idea came to him. He felt that in order to live with what he had done, he had to pay up. He knew what his penance would be,  "A cross, a big cross atop of the Anvil." There were other much higher peaks in the Cooke's Range, but this was the site of  Epi's descanso, his last resting place, this had been the center of his universe.  Vernor hustled back to his camp, he found two lengths  of lumber, four feet and six feet long, he started to chisel and drill, he then formed a cross and bolted the two pieces together. As he started to lift the cross up, Rodriguez suddenly appeared starling Vernor "God Damn! don't come up on me like that" Rodriguez motioned for Vernor to put the cross on his shoulder "No Sir! I'm carrying this, up there" he pointed at the Anvil, Rodriguez wagged his finger as if to say no "You can't talk, but you can hear, right?" Rodriguez nodded yes "So, get the fuck away from me"  Rodriguez shook his head, he folded a burlap bag and put it on his shoulder. Vernor scratched his head, "Ok!.... Ok!, you can help me it get it there" Rodriguez smiled "But I carry it to the top, entiendes?"

It was a good two miles to the mountain, the pilgrims plodded along, after their first rest stop, Vernor accepted some of Rodriguez's burlap to cushion the load.  by mid-day they arrived at the Gratten Mine, McGill's old foreman Lawrence Rasberry looked out his window at the strange sight. "Sweet Jesus on the Cross, what do we have here?" Vernor and Rodriguez stopped and put down the cross "It's a pilgrimage, you damn fool" Vernor explained "Where are you going with that?" Rasberry asked "To the top, to the very top" said Vernor, Rasberry let out a slow whistle, a few idle miners had gathered to take a look. One miner walked up to the cross "That's a sturdy cross, that is" Vernor sat down "Want me to bless it?" Vernor asked him "Why are you Catholic?" the miner answered "Aye, that I am" Vernor looked at him with suspicion "So bless it" he told the miner. The man reached into his pants as if to urinate, Vernor jumped up and kicked him hard in the upper thigh, the miner crumbled to the ground "That's enough of this funny business" he glared at the other miners standing around. "Anybody else feel a joke coming on?" nobody made a sound. Vernor picked up the cross, he waved off Rodriguez "From this point I carry it alone"

He started up the steep slope, pumped up with adrenaline and anger, his breathing grew harder and harder until finally he dropped to his knees. Rodriguez rushed up to help him "Get away from me" Vernor yelled, Rodriguez stopped, slowly Vernor got back up and started climbing again.  The scene repeated itself countless times, with Vernor seemingly recreating the stations of the cross along the way. This went on for two agonizing hours, until finally the slope suddenly leveled off, Vernor had made it to the summit.  He fell to the ground, gasping for air, his heart pounding hard, he rolled over and tried to throw up, but his stomach was empty. Rodriguez passed him a canvas water bag, between coughing fits, Vernor took several slow sips. After a while, he got his wind back and his head straight,  Vernor sat up and looked around, the view was panoramic, Starvation Draw stretched out before them "Damn, it is beautiful up here" Rodriguez nodded his head in agreement. "Let's plant this cross, amigo"  They carried it to the eastern most point of the flat top, jammed it into a crevice and braced it with rocks.


The cross would stand and weather the years, a silent witness to the comings and goings of the miners and cowboys passing below.  The ore ran out, the mines shut down, the miners left and Fluorite Ridge, once a beehive of activity returned to its original state. Vernor Tenney left Starvation Draw a few weeks after planting the cross. One morning he simply walked down to Rodriguez's camp and handed him the deed to The Hilltop Mine. He returned to Hachita for a few months and then worked at a ranch in the Animas range before he drifted down to Cananea, Mexico where he worked for a mining company, his bilingual skills came in handy and he was made  foreman and then a manager.  He married a Mormon girl from Colonia Dublan and settled in to a normal and routine life. During World War II he returned to the states and went to work at a copper mine in Bisbee,Az. Vernor would often think of Epi Chacon and that fateful day. Once a week on Sunday afternoon he would climb a small hill near his home in Bisbee, where he would sit down,  roll a cigarette and think back to those days. He kept the secret of Tex McGill, until he was nearly on his deathbed, he then revealed it to his son. "I killed a man" His son took in his words "I wanted to scare him" his son nodded "I never wanted to kill ol' Tex, he was just too damn slow" Vernor took in a long breath "I may have killed my own partner too, Epi was a good man, he trusted me, I let him down"  the son took his hand "May God have mercy"  Vernor grinned "That he may"  then he gingerly turned onto his side to let the sun's rays coming in through the window hit his back.

In 2010 a weekend explorer, trudging up and down the slopes of Fluorite Ridge stumbled upon what was clearly a gravesite. As he wiped his brow and drank some water, he noticed the similarities between this grave and others he had found in the Cookes Range. "No doubt about it someone is buried there" he remarked, the stones that Vernor had placed to outline the grave were still there. "It needs a cross"  to told himself, he climbed up the hill where he found an unsecured deep shaft, it was the Hilltop Mine, there was scattered timber and wood strewn around the opening.  He picked up some pieces, took them home and fashioned a sturdy cross. The next weekend he returned and planted the cross, He then recited a short elegy he had written  "To you my friend, you are not forgotten, you are not alone, though you rest for eternity in this desolate spot, at least one other soul knows of your existence" he stopped to gather his thoughts "As long as this cross stands whoever sees it will know that you lie here and if this cross should fall, someone else will eventually come along and stand it back up." He then climbed to the top of the hill, as he sat there looking down on the small valley below, he saw a large white owl near a cluster of open vertical shafts. Before he could grab his camera the owl quickly dove into one of the shafts. Laughing to himself he thought "I saw you, god damn it" He stood up to survey the area "No Sir!  my friend, you are not alone" he said to no one, as he walked down the hill.


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