“Do you like history?” The man asked me this while refilling his glass at the sink. He had gestured toward mine also but I had waved him off.
“I guess so. It usually interests me anyway, if it’s useful. Not boring stuff, but a good story about something or some interesting details, yeah, I like those.”
“Ok. So, this will be a little history lesson for you about that mine.”
“For the purpose of keeping me out of it, I suppose?”
Brown Suit just raised his eyebrows in reply, then drank half of his water.
“That mine goes back a ways, basically to around 1918. There was a family up here at the time, the Caldwell’s, kind of prominent in business and politics. They made some decent money by investing in the Wilbur mine and the son, Boyd, he came over this way and put in stakes for what became the Clyde Forks mine. He didn’t stick around for long though, just enough time to dig a few holes and put in his claim. Probably didn’t even pull one ton of barite out of that ground. That family wasn’t really the type to spend a lot of time in the field, if you know what I mean. He basically went back to Lanark and got comfortable, bought some more businesses, mostly mills and the like, got elected to Parliament and we never heard from him again.”
“We, meaning you were here? In 1918?” I was skeptical of that claim but thought it might just be possible given how old this man looked.
He finished his water and continued on. “So it just sat there, with not much happening to it, and eventually his claim ran out and then someone else picked it up, and then that all repeated itself for decades. Claims, a little fuss, no action. Then a few locals up here decided to take a crack at it in the late 1950’s. That’s when the first person disappeared.”
I raised an eyebrow at that. I kind of felt like this story was going to end up being about some reason not to go to the mine, but I had not quite expected it to go this way. I guess I was expecting tales of people dying in the mine, not disappearing. Me and the old man stared at each other for a few moments and then he continued.
“They spent three years on it, surveying and taking samples and drilling, all for nothing much. They were closing up shop, getting the equipment out, when one day a guy just isn’t there. Five men had gone out to clear the site and the four guys that were left were just as confused by the whole thing as everyone else was. They said they woke up one morning and he was gone, and they figured he had given up and gone into town on his own. They got back to Flower Station and couldn’t find him and that’s when everyone realized he was missing. Not one trace of him was ever found either, except for his hat, which they found hanging from the lower branches of a tree about five hundred feet from the mine.”
“Yeah, that seems a little strange. There couldn’t have been many places he could really go I suppose, not around here. I mean, these are all pretty small towns. Someone would have probably noticed if he turned up nearby.”
“Yes, they would have, and he never did.”
I stretched a little and looked around the kitchen. I had not noticed before but there was a cat with thick black and white fur sitting on the inside ledge of a window by the stove. It yawned when it looked at me and then turned its attention back outside.
“So, that’s one missing guy. Who else?”
“Six other people. Two working men associated with mining operations, a local who drifted between towns, an old woman, and a young boy. All of them were in that area right near the mine for various reasons and all of them disappeared completely.”
“How much searching was really done for these people? I mean, this is a whole lot of water and trees around here and I expect it’s pretty easy to get lost. Really lost. And dying out here, well you probably wouldn’t be found unless someone stumbled right over your body.”
“That’s a good question but I can assure you that all of these people were searched for extensively. By us, by police, by dogs, over and over again, sometimes for months. Nothing was ever found except a few personal items.”
He stopped talking and was looking at me expectantly. Or maybe it was just hopefully, figuring I would give in now. I was going over his story in my head as something did not seem right, some detail was wrong or missing. I finally thought I had it.
“So, I might see how most of these people, well how the last location of most of these people might be known. You said they had all been in the exact area around the mine, right?”
“Yes, they were.”
“Well, I guess I buy that except for your drifter. How would anyone know where a person like that had been before they went missing? You said he just drifted around between the towns up here.”
“The drifter was a woman.”
“Oh.” That gave me a moment of pause to reconsider my assumptions about a few things. Then I continued. “Still, woman or man, how would anyone know? Maybe that person just died under some big tree and rotted away. It might not be part of your great missing person conspiracy about the mine.”
Brown Suit rubbed his wrinkled face and blinked back at me several times, his bright, deep-set eyes seeming to turn on and off in the shadows of his brow.
“Her campsite was found right at the old entrance of the mine. The cooking fire was out and there was a full cup of cold coffee sitting on a nearby rock. She took off her shirt before she disappeared.”
“Her shirt was found on the ground by the coffee cup. It was tangled up in a branch but I think that was probably from the wind blowing it around a little.”
“So she left a shirt behind? Big deal. I don’t think that says anything about her taking it off before she left. Maybe it was just a random shirt from her backpack, or whatever she carried her stuff around in.”
“She only had one shirt.”
“Really? How do you know that?”
“I gave it to her because she didn’t have one. She only ever had one set of clothing and her shirt had fallen apart when I saw her sitting on a tree stump just up the road from here.”
“Maybe it was already off when she went missing?”
“Hmm, well maybe. That’s a strange detail if true. So, these six people,” and that is when it struck me. The thing that was really off about the old man’s story.”
“You know, you said that six people went missing. But then you only mentioned five specific people?”
…to be continued