The Ghost of Jethro Spooner
“Pardon me, sir?”
I cracked my dozing eyelids and sighted across the remains of an ice cream soda to see a pale-skinned, smooth-faced young man with rimless glasses standing by my table.
“Yeah, what can I do for ya?”
“I…I’m Jim Zimmerman. Everybody has a story…and, well, I thought you looked as though your’s would be interesting.”
I considered my dusty, scuffed and torn boots propped on the other seat of the restaurant booth, and then my dirty matted white beard now littered with traces of chocolate. Reluctantly, I moved my boots and motioned to him to sit down.
“Jethro Spooner”, I growled. “Have a seat. I see you do a lot of writing.”
Shocked, Zimmerman almost dropped a small notebook and pencil as he stammered, “Y…yeah, I ‘m a reporter. Then recovering, “how’d you know?”
“The calluses on your fingers. Pencils and pens make those.”
“Oh, I see. Where are you from Mr. Spooner?”
“From everywhere, and nowhere,” I replied watching his face.
“You’re homeless, then?”
“No, I live in Spoonersville,” I answered.
“Never heard of Spoonersville. Where is it located?”
“West of the prairie, east of the mountains, south of Canada and north of Mexico; on the lower slope of Standsstill Mesa.”
“That doesn’t tell me much,” Zimmerman smiled. “Could you be more specific?”
“It’s called “Standsstill Mesa” because it looks the same whether you come from the east, west, north or south. It seems to stand still and wait for you. Spoonerville is on the eastern slope in a broad draw of dust, sagebrush, and tumbleweed. I reckon I founded the town. Good clear water half-way up the eastern slope; a lake in a solid rock basin held what little rain there was. It was easy to pipe downslope and make a town.”
“Why would you found a town there?” Zimmerman asked, “It sounds like there’s nothing to draw people there.”
“Except one thing. About three hundred feet or so upslope…maybe a mile by the old dusty switchback road we carved later into the rock, I found a vein of gold so rich I literally built the town, started the mining company and sold miners the right to dig for gold in my mine for half of what they found. Then. I left them alone and let them fight for it. Soon, we took enough gold from that mine we had our own rail-spur to the mine running through the town. Back then, nobody had to ask where Spoonersville was; it was at the end of the Standsstill rail line.”
“A bunch of gold-crazed miners loose in a mine would be mayhem. What happened?”
“A few murders, and a few small accidents that may have been murders, but nobody was quite sure. One day, somebody stole half a railcar load of dynamite. The Pinkertons thought they traced it to the Spoonersville Mine, but they couldn’t find it,” I said laughing loudly. When Zimmerman looked at me like I was a few bricks shy of a load, I continued, “they couldn’t find it because I’d stolen it from the thieves and buried it in the graveyard!”
“In graves?” he asked, astounded.
“Oh, hell yeah! I had to bury the thieves anyway. They didn’t mind sharing their graves with the dynamite they stole.”
“So the Pinkerton’s just left? That doesn’t sound like the Pinkerton’s I’ve heard about!”
I grinned. “Well, I reckon they would have left, except I paid a miner named Morton Stone to help me. I paid him with a few sticks of dynamite to help him break some rock too hard for a pick. Ol’ Morton found his conscience in the bottom of a whiskey bottle one night when he was drunk as a skunk and started throwing dynamite sticks around town. Nobody hurt, but he destroyed two buildings including the saloon. After that, you couldn’t blast the Pinkerton’s out of town. They hounded Morton unmercifully until one day he was found floating in the railroad water tank.”
“Oh, my,” Zimerman exclaimed, “somebody killed him?”
I shrugged. “Who knows?” Serves him right.”
“Well, hell! I paid him to keep cool and he blew up the town,” I said, “Who da thunk it?”
Zimmerman scribbled in his notebook. “What happened then?”
“The Pinkertons began dogging the miners to find out more about me and my company. Soon, they were in the way and interfering with the miner’s income. One day, a miner was doing some blasting and dropped several tons of rock on two Pinkertons…got the miner that set the charge too. Wasn’t much they could do about losing their agents, but they backed off a little.”
“Guess they were cutting into your income, too, huh? I mean, you got half the miner’s take, right?”
“I suppose someone could see it that way,” I retorted, “but that ain’t the way I see it.”
“No, I suppose not,” Zimmerman smiled.
“Anyway, summer came, the snow melted and we got a terrible rainstorm. The explosive shed at the mine was damaged, so we moved the dynamite down into the mine and stored it in wooden crates. The Pinkertons followed like bloodhounds on a scent to see if it was part of the stolen shipment.”
“The stolen shipment was still buried in the cemetery, right?”
“Yeah, right,” I answered dryly.
“One of them was smoking a cigar. Cigars, matches, and dynamite…well, you can guess the rest. Thiry-five miners died in a blast that ripped the mine from top to bottom and cracked the rock basin holding the lake.” Zimmerman blanched white. “The rest of the miners drowned when the lake flooded the mine.”
“Oh my God! That’s awful!”
“Yeah…yeah, it was. A lot of people died that day. A lot more people’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations died with them. The widows and orphans had to leave to find a place other than a dead mining town to support themselves. The hardware, dry good store, and other businesses disappeared as quickly as the miner’s lives. “
“And you stayed?”
“Where was I to go? It was my town; had been at least.” I took a deep breath. “It was the only home I’ve ever known.”
“What’s there now?” Zimmerman’s question was inevitable I suppose. Even so, his questions were wearing my good humor down to a nub.
“Sagebrush, tumbleweed, a few old buildings, loose tin roofs, rusty and flapping in the neverending wind. A few old cars abandoned by the last of the families; junkers that wouldn’t run. I suppose they died along with their owners and their family’s expectations.”
“Where do you live?”
“In the mine; I never forget. I tell the tale to anyone that will listen.”
“It’s a good thing you weren’t in the mine that day,” Zimmerman observed.
“But I was, Mr. Zimmerman; right next to the Pinkerton that flipped the cigar into the blasting caps. I was too slow to stop him. Now, I can only warn those still living. You’re the third person I’ve told today.
Zimmerman ran screaming across the parking lot as I finished my soda.
CLABE POLK is the author of The Detective Mike Eiser Series and The Adventures of Harry Morgan Series of crime/action novels, as well as The Road to Armageddon. He has also written numerous short stories and flash fiction pieces that occasionally appear in e-magazines and anthologies. He enjoys woodworking when not busy working on his new science fiction series or adding new books to the Detective Mike Eiser Series.
He brings a deep love of natural sciences and more than thirty-seven years of professional environmental protection and public safety experience to his writing.
He lives near Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, two daughters, and the family’s Cockapoo named Annie.
Amazon author site: https://www.amazon.com/Road-Armageddon-Clabe-Polk-ebook/dp/B06XXGHS7P
Smashwords author site: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/CPolk64