Dragline, a historical fiction novel by Joe Harwell set in the western Arkansas coal mining industry in 1973.
Copyright 2013 by Joe Harwell Publishing, LLC, P.O. Box 54213, Tulsa, OK 74155-0213
This is a work of fiction, which includes references to known geographic locations, existing and closed businesses and deceased historical figures. Do not reproduce any portion of this novel without written permission of the author.
Cover designed by Forrest Campbell. Front cover model Rebecca Hibbs. Back cover photo taken by Jeff Mode, used with permission of Farrell-Cooper Mining Company, Fort Smith, AR.
Grateful appreciation to Mary Frances Hodges, Peg Livingston, Kris Gillham, Junior Grubb and members of the Unbreakable Spines writing group in Tulsa, OK.
Chapter 1. The call
Sissy slowly became aware of an on and off bothersome sound interrupting her sleep. “Go away,” her internal voice complained when she realized it wasn’t part of a dream. Feeling a pillow close by, she considered pulling it over her right ear until the throbbing pain of a monster hangover pounding inside her head halted any thought of movement.
“Damn!” she murmured when the noise wouldn’t stop. Awake enough to realize it was the telephone beside the bed, her first thought was, “Screw it!” The next was, “What time is it?” Slowly opening her eyes, Sissy looked for the green fluorescent dots and hands on the face of the alarm clock, then realized she wasn’t even looking in the right direction.
A man’s voice groaned beside her, saying, “Are you gonna get it?”
As reality pushed through the hangover, Sissy slowly rolled onto her back next to him. When Phil stayed the night, he always ended up on her side of the bed. As the phone kept ringing, Sissy reluctantly moved to answer it and the hangover gave all it could as she slid across Phil’s hairy chest. Focusing on the clock while reaching for the phone, her vision cleared just enough to see it was almost three-thirty. Phil groaned and moved as Sissy stretched her hand toward the phone, knocking the alarm clock onto the floor.
“Stay still!” she protested, while re-positioning herself to grab the phone.
Playfully placing his hands around her hips, Phil said, “It’s probably Victoria callin’ to see if you’re alone.”
“I know, but I have to answer it.” Stretching toward the phone again, she pushed it into the lamp, barely managing to catch the receiver as the base crashed to the floor. Phil laughed and managed to grab the lamp before it fell too. Sissy quickly placed her other hand over his mouth and put the receiver to her ear.
Before she spoke, her mother’s voice came through the phone. “Sis, are you there?”
“I’m here. Why are you calling in the middle of the night?”
Victoria didn’t immediately respond, and Sissy was sure she could hear her sniffling. “Is Phil with you?”
“Goodbye Mom!” Sissy responded in a groggy but defiant tone. “I don’t appreciate you calling me like this.”
“Don’t hang up,” Victoria pleaded. “I have something important to tell you that he doesn’t need to hear.”
Phil stabilized the lamp and Sissy took her hand off his mouth and reluctantly turned on the light. She moved off of him and Phil got up and headed down the hall to the bathroom. When the door closed, she said, “It’s just me, Mom. What happened?” The sniffling coming from the receiver grew louder as her mother’s voice broke into crying. Sissy asked, “Is it about Dad and Papa?”
After a moment, Victoria replied, “The State Department called. Their plane is overdue at its next stop and there’s been no word from them. The man said they may have gone down in some mountains and they’re launching a search. I need you over here right away.”
Her father and grandfather, Jake and Marlon MacKenzie are in Colombia consulting with the government and private firms on coal mining techniques.
Slowly sitting up, Sissy struggled to gather her thoughts, and then said, “I’ll be right there.”
“I don’t know what to do. I just know it’ll to be up to us to save the company if they’re gone. Your uncles and the lawyers will swoop in like buzzards if Marlon’s dead, and if your father is gone….” Her mother’s voice broke into sobbing.
Leaning forward, Sissy picked up the base of the phone. Seeing it was already broken, she dropped it, causing the ringer bells to clang when the base hit the floor, and she said, “Have you called anyone else?”
“No, just you. The man from the State Department said he’d call back every few hours and won’t release any information until he’s sure about what happened. Why the hell did they go anyway? It’s just some ridiculous favor for Bill Fulbright or a payback he arranged for them with parties and golf.”
“Stop it, Mom. Do you think we should call Fulbright?”
“The State Department is calling him. That’s why I want you here. I can’t deal with all these people and can’t even begin to think what we’ll do without your dad and Marlon. You’ll have to threaten Phil to keep him from saying anything.”
“Don’t worry about him. I’ll be right over.”
“I love you, Sis. Please hurry.”
“Love you too.” Sissy laid the handset down on the remnants of the phone’s base and wobbled to her closet. Grabbing an overnight bag, she stuffed jeans, work shirts and tee shirts into it before going to the dresser for underwear.
Cracking open the bathroom door, Phil asked, “Where ya goin’?”
“Mom needs me. Get outta here and don’t ask questions.”
“OK, OK,” he replied.
Sissy quickly pulled on her clothes and looked for shoes. Not immediately finding them, she mumbled, “Screw it.” Grabbing the overnight bag and her purse, she headed down the hall to the kitchen with her head pounding harder than ever.“There you are,” she said, pulling a nearly full pint bottle of Vodka from the refrigerator. Before dropping it into her purse, she removed the cap and drank two large sips. “That ought to do it,” she said, replacing the cap before slipping the bottle into the purse. Picking up the overnight bag, she headed to the back door, knowing the Vodka would help her get through the day. She crossed the porch and stepped onto the driveway, pulling keys, a pack of cigarettes, and a lighter from the purse. Opening the door of her red, 1963 Corvette, she tossed the overnight bag and purse onto the passenger seat and set the cigarettes and lighter on the console as she slid into the car. Placing her left foot on the clutch as the key went into the ignition, the engine roared to life. She slammed the shifter into reverse, released the clutch and backed the Vette into the street.
Glimpsing her reflection in the mirror with her long red hair tangled in every direction, she thought, “Mom’s gonna raise hell when I show up looking like this.” Just as the car reached the middle of the street, she hit the brake and depressed the clutch again, bringing it to a stop. The possibility of her father and grandfather not coming back rushed in and she momentarily rested her forehead on the steering wheel.
Phil had made his way to the kitchen and turned on the light. Sissy saw him standing shirtless, looking out the back door, and reflected on her relationship with this man who was now separated from his wife and children because of her.
“Phil freakin’ Biazo,” she thought. “Papa was right. What the hell have I been thinking? This is going to end badly.” Looking over at the cigarette pack on the console, she mused, “You’re not the only bad habit I’ll be breaking today.” Her thoughts turned to things Marlon said before leaving a week ago, starting with, “Run the company like it’s yours while we’re gone.”
Pushing the shifter into first gear, she turned the wheel, let out the clutch and gave the gas pedal a hard push, burning rubber as she sped away.