The twin doors of the saloon swung open and Alistair walked inside. Apart from a few fleeting glances nobody paid him any mind. He wasn’t exactly an opposing figure and though it was a bit odd for a scrawny man like Alistair to be walking into a place like this alone, the patrons had gotten really good at minding their own business. As such, Alistair made his way to the bar mostly unnoticed, save for a single gentleman seated across the room in the corner, out of sight.
Taking his seat at the bar, Alistair swung his bag around and plopped it next to him with enough force that the barkeep finally took notice. He approached Alistair and addressed him with a nod.
“Whiskey, please. And hopefully some information.” Alistair said, fumbling with a coin purse.
“Whiskey I can do. Information is extra.” The barkeep noticed Alistair’s jingling bag. “Though it looks like you knew that.”
“Yes sir, the information I seek is very important to me. Very.” Alistair said, dropping the bag onto the bartop.
“Yes I can see that, though you might want to keep that a bit quieter around here. The contents of that purse might be very important to someone else around here.”
“The contents of this purse are yours sir, or anyone else’s, if they can provide me with the directions I need.”
“Directions to what exactly?” The bartender asked with a raised eyebrow, setting Alistair’s whiskey down in front of him.
“I’m looking for a mine, an old one, used to belong to the Draco family. Might be called Draco mine but I ain’t sure.”
“Draco mine? Boy why in the hell are you looking for that place?”
“So you know where it is?”
“Well not exactly, but I know about it. Nothin’ but a pile of rubble now from what I hear.”
“Even so, if you could provide me with the location, I’d love to see it for myself.”
“I could point you in the general direction but I ain’t never been there myself. But I’ll tell ya, that feller there,” the barkeep nodded in the direction of the back corner of the bar, “he knows these places pretty well and he’s been eyeing you since you walked in. Approach at your own risk but I’d start there.”
Alistair swung himself around in his stool in the least subtle fashion imaginable and saw the man in the corner staring at him intently. He dropped a few coins out of his purse for the barkeep and walked over to the man in the corner.
“Sit down.” The man said sternly. Alistair took his seat across from him.
“Hello, I’m looking for info…” Alistair started and was cut off.
“I know what you’re looking for. Hell, the whole bar knows what you’re looking for now you’re so damn loud. You ain’t got the sense to walk into a place like this without letting everyone know you’re carrying money like that? You’re not gonna make it very far pal.”
“Well it seems I’ve gotten your attention at least, and from what the barkeep has informed me, your attention may be precisely what I need. I’m looking for…”
“I know what you’re looking for, I heard ya. It just so happens I’m looking for the same thing.”
Alistair couldn’t believe his ears. This couldn’t be a coincidence, why would anyone else be looking for this place?
“That’s oddly convenient sir, why on earth are you looking…”
“My reasons are my own friend. Now, do you want help or not? Cuz it just so happens that I know where to find what you’re looking for.”
“This is astounding. Yes I would like your assistance. I’m trying to locate any evidence of…”
“I couldn’t give a good God damn why you’re looking for the mine, you best keep that to yourself.”
“If you don’t want to know my reasons, might I ask why you’re so keen on allowing me to accompany you?”
“Well for starters I don’t want you thinking you’re entitled to my reasons just cuz you’ve gone and shared yours. But most importantly the place we’re looking for is a 3 day ride into the wastes and I need someone to keep watch for raiders and coyotes while I sleep. And you seem to have a talent for making an awful lot of noise so I’m sure you’ll make a great alarm.”
“Well then. You have yourself a partner. I hope this will suffice for payment.” Alistair set his purse down on the table. The man immediately pushed it back to him.
“Don’t need no payment,” said the man, grimly. Alistair looked at him puzzled.
“What we do need is horses and supplies and I wager this will take care of that. We leave immediately.” The man pushed his chair back, grabbed his hat and began heading for the door.
“Hold on a moment sir, if we are to be traveling together we should at least introduce ourselves. My name is Alistair. Alistair Cr…”
“Alistair will do,” said the man, “you can call me Grim.”
The newly formed team set off into town to purchase horses, camping and travel supplies, and booze. It came to no surprise to Grim that Alistair had the funds necessary for their necessities and then some. It did come to Alistair’s surprise that Grim had purchased so much whiskey for a 3 day trip. Within a few hours they were packed up and set off into the wastes. The hours passed by quickly without either man saying much to the other apart from Grim pointing out some of the flora and fauna that Alistair should probably avoid. This extended silence was definitely harder on Alistair and he was quite sure Grim was used to not speaking to another person for long periods of time. Before long it was dark and the two men set up camp.
“I’ll take the first watch,” said Grim, checking that the horses were tied up securely. “You get some rest.”
Alistair laid back and shut his eyes. He wasn’t used to the kind of riding they had done that day and passed out rather quickly from exhaustion. Grim sat up against the rocky ledge they had made camp by and looked into the fire. He lit a cigarette and reached into his pack removing a small chest, about the size of a music box. He didn’t say a word, just looked at it while taking a drag of his cigarette. After a few moments he placed the box back into his bag, picked up his rifle laying it across his knees, and stared out into the sands.
A few hours later he stirred Alistair from his sleep to take the second watch. Alistair responded with no more than a yawn and took the rifle from Grim as he laid down and shut his eyes. Alistair had never fired a gun before but he was pretty confident that wouldn’t be a problem. He was especially cautious to keep the barrel away from his face though and set it standing upwards next to him against the rocky wall. He reached into his jacket pocket and removed a torn photograph. In the photo there stood 2 women and what appeared to be a third person but most of their body was cut off. He flipped the photo over and on the back there were numbers that read, “14, 5…” and the rest must have been with the other half of the photo. Alistair sighed deeply and placed the photograph back into his pocket.
Before they knew it, morning had come again and Alistair woke Grim to set off back into the wastes. The two men carried on in similar fashion for the next day, speaking sporadically, no chit chat or personal stories. Grim had filled a canteen with whiskey and AListair had spent most of his travel time watching and counting the time in between swigs. He was amazed that this mystery man remained seated on his horse. Riding for so long without speaking was not something Alistart was used to and it was making him uncomfortable so he decided to risk antagonizing his drunk traveling partner with the rifle.
“Have you ever seen this place before? You’re sure it’s out here?”
Grim turned his head slightly to meet Alistair’s gaze and said nothing, just shook his head slowly.
“No I ain’t never seen it myself, but I got it on good authority that we’ll run into it out this way. What’s left of the place anyway.”
“Well yeah, I’m sure you know about the accident there and what happened to the workers. From what I heard the explosion pretty much leveled the place. Supposed to be nothin but rocks and dust there now.”
“Well,” started Alistair, “hopefully there’s something still buried under all of those rocks, I knew someone who used to work there and I’m hoping to find some trace of them.”
Grim just rode on silently.
“What is it that you’re looking for, Grim?”
“I ain’t at liberty to discuss it, friend.”
Alistair thought better than to press, he had gotten more out of Grim than he had expected already, best not to push it.
The two men rode on and settled camp like the night before, trading watches and waking up just before dawn to continue. By around midday the riders saw their destination in the distance. Alistair had nearly written their chances of ever finding it off by this point so he was relieved. They made their way towards the mine entrance, dismounted from their horses, and tied them up to a wooden barrier that was mostly intact. The mine was definitely still around but the rumors hadn’t been too far off, it was mostly rocks and dust by now. The entrance to the mine itself was completely caved in and inaccessible. Looking around, Alistair could see the remnants of what appeared to be shacks; likely what was left of the mining town. Grim walked off without saying a word and began exploring the town. Alistair followed and started on the side of town opposite his traveling partner. One by one the men searched each shack - what was left of them anyway - coming up short on whatever it was they were looking for until they both ended up in front of a larger structure, could have been an important office, could also have been a storage facility. Could have been nothing at all, it was hard to tell anymore. They jarred open the old wooden door and stepped inside, keeping a close eye on the integrity of the ceiling. The two men began scanning the room. Much like most of the other buildings, the inside was gutted. Open wooden crates, broken furniture, evidence of the place being raided. It appeared that nothing of value remained here either. Until Grim walked over to a busted table on the side of the room. He wiped the dust off of something a picked up a small object that looked like a town piece of paper. Alistair approached and quickly realized it wasn’t just paper, it was a photograph. Well, half of a photograph. Alistair’s eyes widened. He snatched the photo out of Grim’s hand and threw his bag down on the table.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Grim protested but Alistair paid him no attention as he pulled a matching torn photo from his pocket and placed them together on the table. The photo, now complete, featured two women and two men standing together in front of what appeared to be the very building they were standing in. At the bottom of the photograph were the numbers, “14, 5, 22”
“This is exactly what I was looking for. Well, part of it anyway. See these numbers here? Well they’re supposed to be a combination to a lockbox, which should hopefully be around here somewhere.”
Grim slammed his bag down onto the table.
“You don’t know how right you are,” he said, removing a small chest from his bag.
Alistair looked on in amazement as Grim began setting the combination into place. With a click, the lock sprang free and the box popped open. The two men looked at each other and Grim opened the box. Inside were a few official looking documents and a note that read:
“To our boys,
Hope this finds you in good health. Inside you’ll find the deed to the mine. May business continue to be as prosperous for you as it is for us.
Love Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad"
The two men stared at the note, looked at each other for a moment, and simultaneously walked outside. They put their hands on their hips and looked out at the ruined mining town.
And then, at exactly the same time, they looked at each other, shook their heads, and exclaimed, "Well, fu..."