The End of the RoadbyCromagnonman©
Have you ever rolled into a town that you have no recollection of ever have been in, and discover that it somehow looks familiar. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but there was something very familiar about Mt. Vernon. Some of the older buildings had a familiar architecture about them, the Courthouse caused me to pause for a while. In the recesses of my mind there was something about that building that I didn't like, but again I couldn't put my finger on it. Had something happened to me in that building? If it had I couldn't remember it.
The Mt. Vernon Inn was another building that was familiar and when I checked in the Receptionist looked at me like he'd seen me before. "I would like a room for a week."
"Yes sir. If you'd just like to sign the register here for me, please." He pushed the book towards me with his finger on the next blank line, and handed me a pen. I filled out my details and pushed it back to him. He looked at it and his eyebrows were raised when he read my name. He dinged the bell and when the Bellhop appeared at my side. "Would you take Mr. Roberts to room 303."
"If you'd like to follow me sir." The Bellhop's shiny brass name tag told me that his name was Jeffrey. He led me to the elevator and we rose to the second floor and I followed him down the hall to my room. He placed my bag on the bed and showed me where everything was.
"Jeffrey," I handed him a two spot. "If I were to require certain things, personal things, who would be the best person for me to speak to?"
"I can get you just about anything, if you want a blond, I can get you a blond, the same goes for a brunette or redhead. If you want information then I'm your man."
"I'll be sure to remember that." I told him as he left.
I freshened up and changed from the clothes that I'd worn all day as I followed the course of what was once a major river, but was now a fast moving mountain stream. There was something about this place that told me that what I was looking for was here in this valley at the foot of Mt. Vernon, for which this town was named. High up in the steep slopes of the mountain range, at the headwaters of the stream and in amongst the scree slopes was what I was looking for, traces of gold.
A hundred years ago there was a minor gold rush in Mt. Vernon that saw it grow into a large town but when the alluvial gold petered out most of the population left to seek gold elsewhere. Mt. Vernon was now a quiet rural town living on summer pasture fed cattle and sheep and trout fishermen.
I went down to the street and began to walk along looking at the shops. Most of them were relics of past glory with their faded facades and old world interiors. There were a couple of stores that had moved with the times, like the electrical goods store with a couple of those new fangled TV sets in the window and a couple of kids staring goggle eyed at the flickering images on the screen. I wondered to myself if this was such a good idea letting kids stare at this contraption.
I found a bar that served meals and ordered myself a steak and beer. The beer arrived cold and the steak hot and juicy. I would have enjoyed my meal but I couldn't help but notice that several of the men at the bar were looking at me as if they knew me and were tossing up whether to approach. I finished my meal and left with the stares of the men following my back through the door. I didn't know what to make of this but decided that it didn't bother me none so I let it slide. I had work to do, but that would wait until tomorrow, tonight I had some sleep to catch up on, but first. As I walked through the foyer I caught Jeffrey's eye. "I think tonight I might try a blond."
"Certainly sir, she'll be in your room momentarily."
I had only just stowed my jacket in the closet and stretched out on my bed when there was a knock on the door and it opened to admit Jeffrey and a vision of pharmaceutical perfection. "This is Trixie, she will ensure that your stay in Mt Vernon is memorable." With that promise still in the air and money in hand he left.
"Good evening Mr. Roberts, do you have any requests?"
"I'm sorry Trixie, much as I'm sure that you are capable of making my time with you memorable, I'm afraid that I'll have to ask for a rain-check, you see I'm much tireder than I thought, and I need to sleep."
The look that she gave me was one of amazement. I was probably the first man to have ever failed to take advantage of her services. She came over and sat beside me on the bed and began to massage my shoulders and neck. "You'll never get to sleep if you're tense." She was right, as her fingers worked their magic on my shoulders I could feel the tension draining from me. She climbed onto the bed and knelt behind me and continued to work on me and I felt myself slump back against her. "That's it relax, relax, relax." She moved back and I found myself lying on the bed. She kissed me. "Let's get your clothes off." She helped me out of my clothes and pulled back the sheets and helped me into the bed. "If you pay me for the night I'll join you and make sure that you have a pleasant night." She didn't wait for my reply and just before I succumbed to my tiredness I felt her climb, naked, into the bed beside me. She made no attempt to restore my vigor with her caresses, at least not then.
I was woken by the silky touch of her hand urging me into action. I didn't know what time it was but the sun was shining through the curtains and there was a tray of room service breakfast on the table. It got cold before we got to it. She earned her money and a sizable tip as well as a promise that I would avail myself of her services when I was more able to take full advantage of them. This brought about a passionate kiss as she departed.
I poured myself another cup of tepid coffee and dressed for the day ahead in heavy denims, a drill shirt and jacket. On my feet I wore combat boots that would protect my feet and ankles from the hazards of the terrain that I would be working on. I grabbed a cup of hot coffee and a fried egg in a diner down the road before fuelling up my jeep at the town's only gas station.
"Where are you heading?" The pump jockey asked.
"Just up the valley a ways."
"It's pretty rough country up there and there might be a few grizzlies prowling around. I wouldn't go up there without a good rifle."
"I've got one thank you." I pointed to the scabbard hanging across the back of the eats.
I paid and left, turning off the main road just by the bridge and heading up the hill. The road followed the stream for about five miles before they both petered out, the road became a track just wide enough for one person to walk along, and the stream became a narrow creek that was sometimes lost among the rocks. This was the place to start, the run of water at the moment wasn't strong enough to carry any traces downstream and I reckoned on finding traces that would lead me to the seam in the cliffs above.
I got my gold pan from the back of the jeep and began panning in the stream. After about an hour I had several small flecks of gold, not enough to get too excited about, in a sample jar in my pocket. I was so intent on what I was doing that I didn't hear anyone come up behind me. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"I believe that I'm prospecting." I was going to sarcastically tell her that any fool could see that was what I was doing, but there was something familiar about her as well. This was getting really weird.
"I can see that, do you take me for a fool? What I mean is what are you doing prospecting on this property?"
"I have a permit to prospect along this creek to the headwaters." I took the permit from my pocket and handed it to her.
There was a puzzled look on her face that had nothing to do with the permit. "That looks to be okay. Do I know you?"
"I shouldn't think so, I've never been here before, at least I don't think so."
She looked at the permit again. "Peter Roberts, no I don't recognize the name, but you look familiar. Have you found any gold?"
"A few flecks, but then I didn't expect to find any more than that. It is the indicator that there may be more up the slope, maybe there's a vein in that cliff up there. That's where I'll be looking next."
"Why look up there? I would have thought that further upstream would be the logical place."
"No, you see the way that this valley and the slopes and cliffs are formed is the clue. The broken rock at the base of the cliff is caused by cliff retreat, that's the process where water seeps into cracks and crevasses behind the cliff face and in the winter it freezes. Because it can't expand upwards because of the ice in the crack it has to go somewhere else and the line of least resistance is to push outwards. This is the major cause of landslides and rock-falls. As the rock crashes to the ground it breaks up into smaller pieces. The cliffs here are formed from igneous rock, granite and basalt, which are of volcanic origin, and while they are hard they are also quite brittle, something like toffee, when it's broken it tends to shatter."
"If you look closely at the rocks on that slope you will notice that the jagged edges mean that they don't pack closely together and that there is a lot of air space between them. This allows the gold to work its way down to the creek and because the rocks in the creek are not worn smooth the gold gets trapped in the gravel. Now I have to work my way up the slope to see what I can find."
"How come you know so much about this?"
"I'm a geologist. After I was shipped back from Europe when the war ended I used my GI loan to go to university and study Geology. I've just completed my degree and this is my first job. I work for a mining company and I'm prospecting around here with a view to establishing the viability of mining the area."
"Didn't the war finish in '45? It's '53 now and it doesn't take that long to complete a degree course unless you're not that bright and you don't strike me as stupid."
"For most people it did, but not for me. I was in a German prison hospital for over a year until the armistice and then I was shipped back to England and spent another two years in hospital before the doctors considered it safe to ship me home to Boston."
"You don't sound like you come from Boston."
"Part of my problem was that I lost my memory totally, I couldn't remember anything about myself or where I came from but my dog tags told them that I was Flight Sergeant Peter Roberts of Boston Massachusetts, so that's who I am. Apparently I was on a bombing raid and my plane was shot down over Germany. I had to learn to speak, read and write all over again and because much of that took place in England I speak with a sort of English accent and use English words that can sometimes be different and have different meanings to words here."
"I still think that you look familiar."
"I suppose that somewhere in the world there will be someone that looks like me. Who do you think I look like?"
"You look a lot like a friend of mine that I knew from school. We were in high school and there was a bit of trouble and he left town suddenly and that's the last that I saw of him."
I loaded a pack with provisions, enough for a couple of hours at least, and grabbed my prospecting pick. "I'd better make a start, I don't want to be caught up there late in the afternoon, especially if the weather changes." I waded across the creek and began to clamber over the rocks on the other side. She was next to me and easily keeping pace with me.
"Do you mind if I join you, I've never seen a real life prospector before?"
"You're not really dressed for clambering over these rocks, those shoes won't give you much protection if a rock slips onto your foot."
"I've been clambering around these rocks since I was a little girl, I can take care of myself."
"Suit yourself. If you're going to join me I should at least know what to call you, you do have a name I assume."
"You assume correctly, my name is Patricia, not Pat or Patty. I will answer to Trish from my friends but for now it's Patricia."
"I guess that I'll have to earn the right to call you Trish. Well Patricia, let's get going." I led the way up the slope, trying not to dislodge too many rocks, until an exhausting hour later we had reached the base of the cliff. I began a minute search of the rock-face and several minutes later found what I was looking for. I chipped at the rock with my pick until a flake of rock peeled from it.
"What are you looking for?"
"Quartz, that's this white stone, if there is gold here it will be in the quartz." I took a jewelers glass from my pocket and looked closely at the rock. There were minute traces of gold in the sample, but not enough to be commercially viable.
"Can I have a look?" I handed the sample and the glass to her and she looked at it for several minutes. "I wouldn't go out and order a new fur coat on the strength of that sample." She handed them back to me.
I put the glass back in my pocket and placed the sample into a labeled sample jar and placed it in my pack before returning to the rock face. The search was slow, it was painstaking, and I fully expected Patricia to start complaining of boredom. She surprised me by carrying on a non-boredom conversation for the whole time I was searching. She wanted to examine every sample that I took from the cliff and I got the impression that she was actually interested in what I was doing.
At around two o'clock I decided that it was time to go back down the slope. Clambering down the slope is more dangerous than going up, the chances of dislodging a rock is that much greater. We were about half way down when it happened, the rock she stood on was balanced in such a way that when she stood on what should have been the safest part it tipped back and her foot disappeared into the gap. We both heard the crack as the bone snapped. "Shit and damnation, that hurt!"
"Stay still while I have a look at it." I gently moved the rocks away from her leg and lifted it out of the hole. It was a clean break but she was not going to be able to walk down the slope and I didn't want to leave her here while I went for help. I took my pick and some bandages from my first aid kit and splinted her leg to ease the pain. With the head of the pick beside the sole of her foot she would probably, on flat ground at least, be able to walk on it, but up here there was no way. "We are somehow going to have to get you down from here without doing any more damage. What I want you to do is to climb onto my back and I'll carry you down, do you think you can do that?"
"More to the point can you do it? I'm no lightweight you know."
"We'll see." I got into a position where she could put her arms around my neck and on the second attempt I managed to get to my feet. She wrapped her legs as far as she could around me and I grabbed them just above her knees and set off, gingerly stepping from stone to stone until an hour later I was wading across the creek to my jeep. She slipped from my back and propped herself against the side of the jeep with her broken leg off the ground. "Do you think that you can slide your arse onto the seat and I'll lift your legs in? I hope that you have a doctor in town that can set this leg for you."
"I'll show you where the Doctor is. And I think that you've earned the right to call me Trish."
"Thank you Trish." I drove as gently as I could, I could almost feel the pain every time we hit a bump in the road. We got back to town and she directed me to a house just back from the main street. I carried her inside to a surprising reception. "For God's sake Trish, what have you done to yourself now?" The receptionist asked.
"Oh nothing much, just a slight fracture of the leg."
"And where did you find Brian?"
"It's not Brian. I thought that it was but he says his name is Peter, Peter Roberts."
"I could have sworn that it was Brian. You go into the surgery while, I get your father."
I helped Trish hobble into the surgery and up onto the exam table and a couple of minutes later a white coated man walked in. "One of these days young lady you are going to learn that you can't go gallivanting around the countryside without breaking something. I see that it's the leg this time, so I suppose I'll have you clumping around the house for months while it mends. Hello Brian, where have you been hiding for the last thousand years?"
"Why does everyone keep calling me Brian, the name's Peter."
"I think not, you were born Brian, you grew up Brian, and as far as I'm concerned you'll stay Brian. Now let me have a close look at the damage that you've done yourself this time. Where were you when it happened?"
"We'd been prospecting up by the cliff-face below Mt Vernon. We were on our way down and I got my foot jammed in between a couple of rocks and the leg just sort of broke."
"And I suppose Peter/Brian here applied this splint and got you down and brought you here. I hope that you found lots of gold because this ain't gunna come cheap young lady."
"I'll cover the expenses." I volunteered.
"He doesn't know when I'm joking, you've never had to pay for repairs before, it's kept me poor for as long as I can remember mind you, but I'm not about to start charging now."
All the time he was talking he was working on her leg, he carefully took off her shoe, followed by her sock and then he slit the side seam of her jeans, "Hey I've only just worn these in enough for them to be comfortable, and a new pair will cause me considerable pain and suffering until they reached the comfort status of the pair you've just ruined", and folded it back above her knee.
"Don't worry I'll buy you a new pair and I won't even put it on your bill." He had manipulated the leg so that the broken bones had lined up and he began mixing plaster for the cast. He looked at me, "I don't know what she's worried about, I've slit the stitches on the seam and she can get out her sewing machine and restitch them as good as new, that's if she can remember how to use it." This brought a light punch to his upper arm. "Watch it, you almost made me drop your leg and that would have hurt." Working swiftly he had the cast on, it encased her foot, just leaving the toes free, and ended just below her knee. He put this metal stirrup thing just in front of her heel so that she will be able to walk on the foot just as soon as the pain eased.
When the repairs were completed we sat around with a glass of whisky. "What brings you to these parts?"
"I'm carrying out some preliminary work for a mining company that is interested in the gold prospects in this area. The gold rush some time ago only mined the alluvium, it didn't explore to see if there were any veins in the cliffs. I think that the thought of hard rock mining was all a little too hard, especially when alluvial gold was found not far away. The claims were abandoned and the company has bought them up hoping that I can find where the gold originated and that it will be economically viable to mine it."
"You do realize that you'll have opposition to any mining proposals? Trish will move heaven and earth to prevent it, although I'll probably be happy if it goes ahead because it'll mean that she won't be wandering around in that rough country and falling over cliffs and half drowning herself in the streams. I'll rest easier without the worry of repairing the damage she causes to herself."
"Listen to him. Where do you think that I got the urge to wander around the hills? You were much worse that I'll ever be, and don't try to tell me that you were born with one leg shorter than the other." She turned to me. "He walks with a limp after one of his adventures, he was miles from anywhere when he tripped over his feet and ended up with a compound fracture of his leg. He managed to make a splint out of a couple of tree branches that he cut with his faithful Bowie knife, and some vines. He made a crutch out of another branch that had a fork in it and hobbled out of the bush. The leg wasn't set properly and is now shorter than the other."