They were a couple of miles short of the exit to Pittston when Linda asked, "By the way, how is the DNA sequence analysis coming along?" It was a question off the current topic and designed to ease some of the tension they were both feeling.
The non sequitur took Adam by surprise, especially as they were drawing near to the former site of the Knox Coal Company, and that was all he was thinking about. He rewound his mental VCR, and thought for a moment. "I haven't had a chance to check up on its progress. However, I have my laptop with me and as soon as we find a motel with an internet hookup we can find out. Remember the electron microscopy that George ran?"
"On your medallion, where he found a matrix of carbon-13 in the gold?"
"Yeah. Well, he took some pictures. Can you reach the laptop case behind my seat?"
Linda retrieved the case, and pulled out a sheaf of photographs. She studied the pictures one by one. "My word. These dark spots are carbon-13?" Adam nodded, and Linda finished. "Looks like there are tons of these spots."
Adam turned on his turn signal. After a few more moments, she asked, "Did you notice that some of these carbon-13 blobs are bigger than others?"
Adam hadn't noticed that. In fact, he had little time to examine or to think about those pictures since the lab explosion. "Are you sure? Maybe it's just the way the pictures were taken."
Adam turned into the Pittston/Port Griffith exit. "Which way?"
"You're asking me?"
There must have been twenty different signs at the bottom of the ramp. Blue interstate numbers, green and white local highways, hotels, restaurants and services stations taking up the rest of the rainbow, pointing in all directions. Adam had been thinking of a place to stay overnight when he noticed a beaten up little white sign which read, 'Port GriffithMiningMuseum.' He glanced at Linda who was smiling and already pointing at the sign.
It took them about a half-hour to reach the older part of town near the river. At one time the neighborhood may have been a center of commerce, sporting thriving warehouses, piers loaded with goods and supplies for the mining industry, and small businesses that flourished along each side street, catering to the throngs of dock workers and entrepreneurs alike. However, as Adam and Linda slowly made their way toward the mining museum, they saw only quiet, deserted streets lined with refuse, windowless warehouses, rotting piers harboring a few worn out fishing and touring boats, and an occasional open liquor store or sandwich shop. They drove on through these disquieting reflections of better days, until at last, they reached the museum. The faded sign over the store-front building read, 'The Port Griffith Mining Museum – A History of Anthracite Mining.' Adam pulled up alongside the curb, as there were plenty of parking spaces. The main entrance was bracketed by two display windows streaked with the type of soot and grime typical of time and neglect. They both clambered out of the Pathfinder and peered through the dusty glass. There were maps outlining the locations of mines throughout the Wilkes-Barre area set up as a backdrop and a variety of mining artifacts strewn about on shelves—a miner's hat complete with battery-operated lamp, shovels, gloves, bits and pieces of coal, each with a label indicating where and when, and drill heads saved from the large machines used to carve out coal. Adam focused on a scale model of a colliery, specifically, the River Slope mine. The model was detailed, even including tiny plastic mine workers entering the shafts, conveyor belts moving coal into a tall, dark breaker building, and railroad cars being loaded. Just beyond the colliery he made out the edge of the mighty Susquehanna. The display appeared as if it hadn't been touched in years, in fact, the dust gave the display a freshly fallen snow look, though the snow was gray and managed to cover everything including the river. As Adam wandered back to the maps, he was startled by a movement. Fingers appeared from behind one of the hanging diagrams, pulling it aside, to reveal the wrinkled face of a bespectacled, gray-haired woman. Despite being small in stature, she exuded a convincing look of self-assurance, the kind of look which he last saw on his second grade teacher, one which he never forgot. With a smile and peering over her pearl white frames, she motioned them to come in.
The door chime announced their entrance.
"Hi. I'm Adam Dove, and this is Linda Garcia. We dropped in today to find out a little about the history of coal mining in these parts."
"Pleased to meet ya. My name's Hedda Morrison. I'd be happy to give ya a little tour. Is there anything ya'd like to know in particular?"
"We are actually interested in some specifics surrounding the Knox mining disaster of 1959."
Hedda's smile disappeared, replaced by a questioning look. "I assume yar referrin' to the flood, the disaster which killed twelve miners in the River Slope Mine?"
"Yes. We'd be interested in any detailed information you may have. Perhaps how it happened?"
Adam noticed the change in Hedda's demeanor, a subtle frown which overtook her facial features. She pushed up her glasses, and replied with a slow, almost cautionary gait. "Ya know, that were a very dark time in our minin' history."
Adam saw Hedda's frown deepen into an introspective scowl, which prompted him to explain. "Hedda, we are looking for some answers to …"
"No need. No need for explanations. I'm sorry, it's not my place. I guess we don't get that many visitors here anymore and it's just that those days were somethin' I personally don't care to recall. But, never no mind, I'll be happy to fill ya in on what happened."
The smile returned to her face and she pointing to a pair of chairs. When they were comfortably seated, Hedda told them the story of that January day in 1959 when the miner's life in the Wyoming Valley came to a sad end. She omitted Luke from the story, but managed to underscore the major events of the day, and days that followed. It was a time for heroes and for despair. She described how one miner led thirty-two workers to safety through the maze of interconnecting tunnels, saving them from certain death in the waters of the Susquehanna river. Those that perished in the torrent were trapped by the flooding or were overcome by released gasses. In all, twelve miners never returned to their families, their bodies never found. The surging waters penetrated deep into the mine and the surrounding network of shafts for weeks. Dirt, rocks and debris were dumped into the insatiable swirling waters but had no effect. Sixty coal cars were dropped into the raging whirlpool, which slowed the flooding enough that pumps could be used to access the mine shafts. Eventually, Knox Mine management was held responsible for digging too close to the riverbed. Indictments were handed out and arrests made. The cost of pumping out the mines made it nearly impossible to salvage the operations. Since that time, anthracite mining in the valley had slowed to a crawl, and eventually ceased altogether.
Hedda paused for a moment as if to clear her throat, but it could have easily been a suppressed sob. The story appeared to have come to an end.
Adam asked, "It sounds as if you were there when the flood happened."
Hedda motioned for the pair to follow her to the window display where she moved aside a hanging map and pointed with her finger. "I was at home when it happened. My husband Luke was in the mine, mine shaft number 102, right here." Hedda moved her finger from the colliery across a hill to the river.
"Your husband wasn't one of the victims of the flooding, was he?" asked Linda.
"He were in the gangway along with them buggies … those be the tram cars that carry the coal … when the river broke on through. He heard the roar of the water and ran up the gangway, but it caught up with him. After that, he didn't remember much until he woke up in a side shaft that weren't there before. He weren't sure what happened. He lost his headgear, and everything were dark, and wet, and noisy. So, he just waited there until he started smellin' the black damp."
"Oh, sorry. The black damp's just old air where a lot o' the oxygen is gone and replaced with a mix o' carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Mines are full o' the stuff, and it can kill ya."
"So what happened to Luke?" prodded Linda.
"With it being dark, and he not knowin' which way to go, he started yellin'. Meantime, the river was still rushin' in, louder than him, sweeping right nearby. He started panickin' and decided to go up into the side tunnel away from the sound of the water. After a long time, sloppin' through mud and rock, Luke came across another shaft. He yelled again and again, as here the water's noise wasn't as bad. Then he heard other voices, and he thought that maybe these were others trapped like him. A few steps on, and he saw some light. It was a rescue party."
Hedda stopped for a moment to regain her composure and then went on, "It was late at night when he made it back home. I thought he were a goner, but the Good Lord brought him home to me."
Adam and Linda stared at each other in wonder. The silence in the museum was a blanket, cutting them off from the dreary reality outside. Then Adam spoke up. "Hedda, it sounds like you must have gone through quite a lot back then." After a beat, Adam asked, "Do you think it would be possible to speak with Luke?"
She straightened up a bit before answering. "Luke passed away a few years back ... in a mining accident. Why would ya want to talk with 'im?"
Adam and Linda once again looked at each other, and Adam replied, "It's complicated. This is going to sound odd, but we were wondering if you had seen or heard of anything unusual being found in the mines … maybe just before the flood?"
Hedda's eyes widened. She stood up and glanced at a glass case on the far side of the room. "Strange is right. I'm not at all sure what you mean by unusual."
Adam added, "Maybe some kind of artifact. You know, like a piece of pottery, an odd piece of metal, tools…"
Before Adam finished his hypothetical list, Hedda interrupted. "Odd piece of metal?"
Adam recognized a change in her tone of voice. It had become stronger. "Well, something you wouldn't expect to find in a coal mine."
Hedda walked over to the case and said, "You mean something like this?"
Adam and Linda followed her and the three of them gathered around a display table with a rectangular glass case protecting a variety of artifacts laid out beneath. There were lamps, gloves, nails, screws, drill bits, batteries, and a shiny gold-colored metal rod. Adam read the faded, type-written label affixed near it. 'Metal artifact found in the River Slope Mine, January 21, 1959. Origin unknown.' Adam and Linda both bent over and to take a closer look at the unassuming metallic rod.
Adam straightened himself out and looked to Hedda. "This little metal rod here. Do you know anything more about it?"
"That there piece o' metal were somethin' that Luke found the night before the flood. He brought it home with 'im, and in fact, told me that there were more like it up in the mine. He planned to get at the rest the next day."
"More?" Adam asked, letting his breath out. "Do you think we could take a closer look at this rod?"
Hedda reached into the back pocket of her dungarees and pulled out a set of keys. A moment later, she propped open the glass case and Adam's hands gently caressed what appeared to be a simple three inch-long solid metal cylinder, but upon closer inspection revealed the slightest hint of a groove at either end, as if the ends had diameters slightly less than the rest of the body. Adam reached up to his neck and pulled up the chain holding his medallion. Hedda's mouth opened wide as Adam freed it from the chain, held it in one hand and the rod in the other, and then brought them together side by side. Both Linda and Hedda looked on speechlessly, as Adam placed the end of the rod into the hole of the medallion. The two pieces slid together in a perfect union, with the end of the rod precisely flush with the surface of the medallion. The fit was snug, it was perfect, it was incredible. That this was a chance event was impossible. Adam knew that the tolerances built into the medallion were extremely precise. The rod matched the radius of the medallion's hole and its thickness. Adam thought about the millions, perhaps billions, of years these two parts had been separated, and now, they were united in the Port Griffith Mining Museum and held in his sweaty palm. Of course, he had no idea what they were. He could be holding the wheel and axle assembly for an ancient toy car. Holding up the construct for Linda and Hedda to see, he started to spin the rod between his fingers, twirling the assembly like a top.
As the three of them were being entertained by this most interesting development, Linda interrupted. "Adam, there's someone at the window."
Partially obscured by the hanging display maps, Adam saw a man in uniform, a policeman's blue uniform. The man was standing in front of the museum, looking out into the street as if waiting for something. Adam started to have a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hunched over and moved closer to the back of the window display for a better viewing angle and caught a glimpse of the man's face. Turning to Hedda with a grim, expressionless face, he whispered, "Is there another way out of this place?"