(LBL Writing Prompt #2)
Anselm Mine #3, Anaconda Copper Company
January 23rd, 1889
The cold, blaring lurch of the steam elevator tilted the tightly-packed workers, at least one dozen, who shuffled drearily under the glow of oil-wick caps as the monstrous lift groaned and surged heavenward—up through geological eons—escaping at last from a long shift in the copper mines.
In the very back of the lift, a wincing and wiry man—tall enough to require his neck crooned in the elevator—kept his eyes shut tight with a hand clutched to his chest. He was shaking, near-uncontrollably—though the uneven jilting of the elevator masked it well. He whispered to himself in a methodical grimace– Ave Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum. He shuddered, his ears pulsing with hot blood as the air around the cramped mine cooled, giving way at last to reams of blaring light. At last, Cormac Allan-Timothy Kennedy opened his eyes.
“Alright, blokes!” The hoarse call of the foreman boomed over the wide and busied Lift Room to the Anselm Mine. He was a Welchman—a damned incorrigible bastard—and he had a large gap between his front teeth so vast that his involuntary whistle upon the termination of consonants had a mind and habit of its own.
“Oi!” The foreman frowned, pointing his barrel-chest forward and pushing his way through the dissipating miners. He prodded the tall, looming man with his large wooden stick, frowning and whistling as he spoke
“Out’a the lift, ye towerin’ mick!” The Welchman called angrily. “Arse out a’fore it’s back in the earth wit’ya, now!”
Stirring, Cormac blinked like he’d forgotten where we was. The tall, sandy-haired man tilted his head, frowning at the foreman.
“I’ll not say twice, ye albatross taig! Ye know what an albatross taig is, eh Kennedy?”
“Yes,” the tall man replied softly, in a gentle, decidedly neutral American accent, “An irish bird?
“Just so, Kennedy, ye feckin’ papist bastard ye, it’s a feckin’ baird. Bad luck, ‘tis, and popery besides!” The foremen spat angrily on the floor. “Now get’off me feckin’ lift, paddy, or so ‘elp me god, not even tha’ Samson arm a’ yours’ll save ye, th’true Cornish God as me witness.”
Nodding, Kennedy stepped softly from the lift and beyond a frowning, squat foreman, who spat again for good measure and began beating the next shift of bleary-eyed, lantern-hatted men into the depths of the Anselmo Mine of Butte, Montana.
“Cat!” a new voice, low and confident, called from the entrance to the lift house. Kennedy winced, frowning, wondering what he’d done now.
“Hey, Cat!” the voice repeated, closer, and now Kennedy recognized it as Cameron Robbins, a friendly face, grinning at him beneath an oil-wick lantern hat with his bent nose and large, perpetually amused eyes. Coming off shift as well, Robbins worked Mine #2, and seemed in particularly high spirits this evening. He paused when he saw the waxy pallor of his friend and raised a brow.
“You alright, pal?”
“Never better,” Cormac Kennedy replied, forcing a smile. He removed his cap and lifted his old coat from the hook of his small, shared peg, looking with some dissatisfaction to the flurrying scene of evening snow that gripped the pale and coal-clattered cityscape of a mining city in 1899.
“Better watch your step around that old Corny,” Cameron mentioned darkly , throwing his own coat collar up above his neck. “If you weren’t such a hotshot ‘round here, Cat, I think he’d of sent you packing already.”
With a small frown, Cat gathered his lunch pale and sighed, looking again out the window at the pale swaths of glistening snow that spread out over the valley—rushing to meet the daunting conveyance of mountains in the distance—towering, southern exposures of granite and limestone. Aerial displays of the same geological inconsistency that made the valley so crowded with precious metals.
“The foreman say he had it in for you?” Cameron asked conversationally, shaking as much dust free as he reasonably could. Cat shrugged.
“Maybe—never understand a word he says.”
Laughing brightly, Cameron shook his head and the two departed, heading out into the cold and the orange glow beneath the large electric lights that illuminated the evening yard of the mine. The two continued down the hill, beyond many outbuildings and wooden shacks into Walkersville—the small community just outside the city proper, and as the walked Cameron whistled a lilting air and sighed.
“You’re a damned terrible miner, Cormac,” Cameron said at last, which put a confused expression on Cat’s face as he turned. Cameron laughed. “No offense, ‘course. It’s just…a man’s gotta wonder, Cat. What the hell’re you doing here?”
“Don’t know what you mean, Cam,” Cat answered, shoving his hands in his pockets and pulling his neck down to stay warm beneath his collar. The sun was setting, and he felt positively exhausted. “Man’s gotta make an honest living, doesn’t he?”
“Well, sure,” Cameron continued, shaking his head. “But it’s just…look Cat, there’s still summer and amateur leagues in the east, right?”
“I don’t want to talk about baseball,” Cat replied, darkly, shoving his hands even deeper into his pockets.
you don’t,” Cameron answered politely, his hands up. They turned a sharp corner onto Excelsior
Avenue, a few gaslights blooming in the twilight. “It’s just…well god damn, boy! You’re Cat Kennedy! Don’t you ever—”
“No,” Cat said, loudly, “I do not.”
“just look—” Cameron stopped, turning to face a perturbed Cat against the glow of a closed shop window. He removed a newspaper from his coat. “My aunt sent this all the way from St. Louis, Cat.” He shoved it into his friend’s hands.
Raising a brow, Cat snatched the newspaper with one hand and looked at it, lips pursed. A headline shined across the front pace of the wrinkled article:
RUMORS OF A NEW BASE-BALL ORGANISATION TO REPLACE FAILED NATIONAL LEAGUE
Working his jaw, Cam looked up at Cameron for a moment, and then shoved the newspaper back at him. His cheeks flared crimson, and he turned on a heel to continue walking.
“So what, Cam?”
“So what?” Cameron yelled, his voice echoing off the bricks of the surrounding buildings. It was so loud that Cat, despite his agitated state, paused, and turned again to see his friend standing, bewildered, on the snowy avenue.
“Aw, Jesus, Cat! You know how much any drunken bastard in Butte would do to be you? You tall, idiot bastard?” He took a step forward. “Ain’t one man from Denver to god-damned Seattle that can throw a base-ball like you can. What did they pay you a year, four, five hundred dollars?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Cat answered through gritted teeth. Cameron’s eyes lit up.
‘Oh, the hell it doesn’t matter. It matters to me, Cat. It matters to us. To every other Mick-Cornish-French bastard in this godforsaken city, and every other town like it. If there’s a new league, you should be in it. And not just for you, Cat. But so maybe some kid with a ball down A Avenue can dream about some besides taking over his pa’s shift in Anselm Mine.”
Cat blinked. He’d never seen his easygoing, pub-crawling friend so agitated. He was breathing heavy, hands on his hips, and he shook his head with a scowl.
“If I was you, Cat, I’d be on my way to St. Louis right now.” He shook his head with a cold, bitter laugh. “Shit, Cat. I was always jealous of how you can throw the ball. Remember when we was kids, out behind St. Mary’s? I’d tell my folks, if I was Cat I’d get the hell out of this town and stay there.”
“I remember,” Cat said distantly.
“When you signed with St. Louis it was all anyone talked about ‘round here for a year,” Cameron said, motioning around the quiet, evening neighborhood, spackled with dust-caked miners moving to and from Anselm. “I remember saying, god, if I was him. If I just had that damned fast-ball.” He shook his head again. “And here you are, back in Butte, godforsaken Montana Territory, mining yourself to the grave like a damned idiot with the rest of us unlucky bastards without a fast-ball.”
“Well, you’re not me, Cameron,” Cat answered—soft, but resolute. He sniffed, looking to the veil of stars that began to unwind above the winter mountaintops. “You’ve never killed a kid with one.” He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and gently returned the newspaper. “I said I’d never throw again, and I meant it.” He turned, continuing down the alley and out of sight.