Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2291084
Reg Scribbs, a man who never saw the big picture.
| Words 1993|
He stepped out of the truck, dusty boots hitting the parched red earth. The young man’s sweat-soaked Akubra shaded his dirt-ingrained, but handsome face. Reg Scribbs leaned back on the vehicle and lit a cigarette. He scanned the horizon from left to right taking in what appeared at first glance to be nothing but a moonscape. But rusted out vehicles lay abandoned where they’d broken down, perhaps even many years ago.
The arid, barren landscape, sparse vegetation and red sand dunes surrounding the small town gave him a sense of security. Surely no one would track him down here.
He stood above the outback Australian town and thought of those who may come looking for him. Creditors, the bank, even Sheila, his wife. She might wonder where he’d gone but she was probably better off without him. The kids? Nah. All they cared about were their screens.
He spat into the dust. Coober Pedy, might just be the place to give him sanctuary from those bastards forever chasing him for money.
Ever since he’d been a boy, the Mad Max movies, portraying a post apocalyptic world, filmed in and around Coober Pedy, had been a place he’d been drawn to. The desolate, harsh , unforgiving landscape used as a film set was as far away from Reg’s city existence as possible.
Climbing back into his truck, the young man drove slowly down into the town to slake his thirst at the Opal Inn and find a bed to get his head down at the caravan park.
The Opal Inn was one of the few places built above ground as Coober Pedy was famous for its underground dwellings, hotels and businesses built to escape the searing heat of the daytime temperatures. Which often reached fifty degrees or more.
The bar was busy. Evening meals were being served and when Reg saw a waitress delivering a large plate of steak and chips, he realised how long it had been since he’d had a cooked meal.The last one was when his wife, Sheila, slammed a plate of congealed spaghetti bolognese in front of him, with a side serving of unpaid bills.
“There’s another one from the bank about the overdraft, and the landlord called around today. Says we’re six weeks in arrears!”
“It’s not my fault…”
“No. It never is, is it?”
“Oh, Christ, don’t start y’nagging as soon as I get through the door.”
“The trouble with you, Reg Scribbs, is you can’t see what you have to lose.” Sheila wiped her eyes on a tea towel, “You’re not the man I married, that’s for sure. I’m going to take the kids to my mother’s!”
“Don’t bother. I’m going out! Don’t wait up.” Reg grabbed his keys and black, leather jacket where he’d thrown it on the sofa.
“Yeah, piss off.” Sheila screamed at his retreating figure and the slammed door. “Go and meet up with your gambling mates, you love them more than me and the kids.”
Reg jumped into his truck and drove. And he’d kept on driving.
Within a week of arriving in the town, he’d made a few aquaitances and scored himself a temporary job as a maintenance man at the underground camping and caravan, tourist park. Reg, for all his faults, was affable. He made friends easily and soon began to settle in with the other misfits who had made this desolate place their home.
Opal miners, by their own admission, are the first to admit they take a gamble each and every day as they dig underground searching for that big find, the one that would make them rich beyond their dreams. As a gambler himself, Reg fitted right in. He’d never been work shy but found it difficult to hold on to any money he made. He would have a bet on anything.
There was certainly no shortage of work in town and the young man was fit, strong and willing to do anything to make a quid. He hired himself out as a labourer to an old miner everyone called, Opal Bill. He’d been there for years. His dug out mine had a number of tunnels, all excavated by hand over the years by the old man.
Outside the entrance was a rough, hand-painted sign, which declared the place to be called, ‘The Last Vein.’Reg supposed the name said it all.’
He’d been surprised and impressed by the ingenuity of the old guy when first invited into the mine. There were separate entrances, some were still being worked, as Bill dug, pick-axed and shovelled for the elusive coloured stone. The already worked out tunnels had been converted into a comfortable, whitewashed home. There were bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen and a bathroom. Electricity and water services were connected and Reg was invited to make himself at home.
After working and living together for a few months, the unlikely pair developed a friendship. Bill started calling Reg, “Son.”
They were sitting one evening under the stars, around a camp fire, sharing a few beers. The nights turned really cold out there in the desert and Reg had a blanket around his shoulders while he listened to the old man’s stories.
“I have no family, son, and the docs told me this lifestyle’s going to kill me. Sooner than later.”
“Nah, you’ve got years left. Anyway we’ve got to find that last vein you’re always on about.”
“Yeah, that’s what I want to tell you.” Bill took a swig of Jim Beam from the almost empty bottle.Reg waited for him to continue, he’d always thought Bill had secrets he’d told no one. “I had a partner once. Years ago now.” Bill sighed.
Reg waited, not wanting to interrupt the story. He remained quiet and threw another log on the dying fire.
“I’d like to show you something. I trust you, son.” The old miner stared directly into Reg’s eyes as if weighing up his options.
“What is it, Bill? You can tell me.”
“Come on. You drive.” Bill rose unsteadily to his feet and climbed into his battered Land Rover.The keys were already in the ignition and Reg waited for directions before driving east, past working and abandoned digs.
After some miles they stopped outside a boarded up, abandoned mine. Bill climbed out without speaking and Reg followed, wondering if the old man had lost his reasoning. Everyone knew not to wander around in the desert in the dark. The ground was full of deep holes dug into the earth by disillusioned men.
However, Bill seemed to know exactly where he was headed and aided by both the light of the full moon and a powerful torch, he stopped before shifting several, heavy wooden boards, covering the entrance to an old dig.
Reg followed him down a series of steps dug it into the red earth.
Bill suddenly stopped walking, causing Reg to almost fall over the old man.
“This was where we found it.” Bill shone the powerful beam on to the sandstone wall of the mine.
Reg had learnt that Opal is often white or a dull shade of another colour, but what he saw was a rainbow of colours, shimmering and changing in the light of the torch.
He gave Bill a look, his mind full of questions, but then he saw what the old miner was looking at. It wasn’t the obvious vein of precious Opal, but the skeleton of a man, still dressed, wearing boots. The bones had obviously been there for what must have been many years.
“It’s my partner, Tom Ballard.” Bill said. The words were uttered matter-of-factly.
Reg, rubbed his thumb across his bottom lip, a habit of his when trying to settle his mind and think. “What the hell happened here, Bill?”
“It’s twenty years ago, now.”
“Christ, Bill. Did you kill him?”
“Tom was impulsive. When we found the vein, we knew we’d struck it rich. He wanted to shout it out to the world. I told him we were to keep it to ourselves for a while.” Bill went silent.
“And?” Reg prompted.
“We hadn’t made a claim. It wasn’t ours, legally. I tried to explain, we needed to be careful, go about it the right way. Anyway, we got into a fight, Tom hit his head…” Bill shrugged. “I didn’t know what to do, so I worked for a week or so and got a shitload of the finest Opal you’ve ever seen, until I couldn’t stand the smell. I just shut up the dig and never told anyone about it, before now.”
“Did you sell what you had?’
“No. I couldn’t bring myself to profit from killing my friend.”
Reg just stood there in the darkness, before pulling himself together. “Come on, old man, let’s get you home.”
Months passed. Bill never mentioned that night again. Although he often told Reg that when he went, “to that big Opal mine in the sky,” everything he had would be his.
But Reg wasn’t content to wait until the old man died. As far as he could tell it would be years. No, his thoughts always returned to where Bill had stashed the “shitload of the finest Opal you’ve ever seen,” as he’d told him on that strange journey into desert.
One night, sitting outside after a day’s hard work, chipping away in cramped conditions at the inferior Opal in, The Last Vein, Reg could no longer wait to ask the question which had been burning into his soul,
“Hey, Bill, why did you never sell the Opal you dug out of the other mine?”
Bill nodded, “I wondered how long it would take you to ask.” He gave a wry smile. “Guilt, that’s why.”
“I’ve been thinking. We could make a claim on that old dig, give Tom a burial someplace no one would ever find him. There are so many abandoned shafts we could take our pick.”
Bill just stared before saying, “I thought you were different, but you’re like all the others. Greedy.”
Reg knew it was no good arguing. He’d seen the disappointment in the old man’s eyes when he said, “You can have it all. Then I want you to pack your gear and leave.”
The following day, Reg left Coober Pedy. A sack of the finest Opal on the back seat.
It had been over two years since the day he’d left his family. He was a rich man and yet he felt no pleasure in his new found wealth.
Reg Scribbs sat by a campfire under the stars alone, rubbing his thumb across his bottom lip as he tried to figure out his next move. A truck pulled into his campsite.
“G’day. Mind if I camp here?” A man stepped from the vehicle and stretched his back. “I’ve been driving all day. Sure feels good to stretch the legs.”
“That’s fine. It’ll be good to have a bit of company.” Reg weighed up the man. He seemed to be right enough. “Want a beer?”
The man, who’d introduced himself as Charlie, told Reg he was headed to Coober Pedy. He’d heard there was money to be made if a man was willing to work hard.
“Do you know anything about Opal?” Reg asked.
Charlie laughed, “Nothin,’ but I’m sure I’ll learn.”
Reg had a few more beers before accepting Charlie’s offer of a drink from his bottle of whisky, “to keep the chill out.”
The two new pals talked into the night, Reg told him all about Bill, the secret Opal mine and Tom’s corpse, before turning in.
Mercifully, Reg never felt the first or subsequent hammer blows as they crashed into his skull. Nor did he hear of Charlie’s plans to take over where Reg had left off, or hear the words, “you just never saw the big picture, Reg.”
Written for Quotation Inspiration
Quote Prompt for February 2023:
"The eyes only see what the mind is prepared to comprehend."