Family

Family
By James Goodwin


This story was inspired by some genealogical research I have been doing. Reading newspaper reports, letters and personal documents made the people vivid and real to me. If you haven’t read any of the other stories, Enjay (New Jersey) is the name of a mining planet and The Hole is the nickname for the subterranean city of Paramus. The Company is the giant space conglomerate that founded Enjay and then divested it when it wasn’t profitable enough. 


John Dermody sat at the dirty kitchen table in the quarters on level two where he’d grown up, his blue Deputy’s jumpsuit a stark contrast to the miner’s work clothes of everyone else in the room. He was tall and slender, with dark hair like his late mother. Across from him sat his father William, still wearing his miner’s overalls even though he hadn’t been down a mine in twenty years. Behind William stood Michael, his younger brother, blond and fair, wearing clean new overalls of a geologist who had never gone into a mine. Standing across the room scowling was his brother William, the eldest, a younger duplicate of his father, head shaved clean, in the beat up overalls of a mine shift manager. His face was creased and marked by working in an aging atmosphere suit for ten hours a day down a dangerous mine for twenty five years. The other man in the room sat beside his father, he was Marty Riley, a small dark fidgety man with the mannerisms of a rat. He was the miners’ “lawyer” who, not an actual lawyer, took care of things like wills for them.


William Sr. was approaching eighty years old, he was bent from age and too much manual labor. His face was a permanent scowl, lined and scarred from a harsh life. He’d been on Enjay working in The Hole since he was seventeen. When he started, The Company was still running The Hole, and he’d been lured there with an offer of a share in the Loughrea Mine. He’d married Katherine Jordan after his new prosperity and they raised eight children. He’d kept buying options in the mine his whole career and his sons John and William had followed him down the mine. His son Laurence was the first one to find a way off world, followed by his daughters Ellen, Honoria, Delia and Catherine. They managed to escape Enjay and the sad ends it put most men and women to. William Sr. spat when he said their names, if he mentioned them at all. His wife Katherine had a breakdown ten years ago and had killed herself by jumping into a mass air shaft and falling thousands of feet to the bottom of The Hole. Filthy and cluttered, his quarters hadn’t been cleaned properly in a decade. Michael, the youngest was the apple of William Sr’s eye, his new hope born after his other children had disappointed him. Michael had never actually gone down into the mine, he’d managed to sample online geology schools flunking and transferring until he patched together a barely credible degree. His father had used his seniority, belligerence, and cronies to get him an office job at the mine. Michael’s actual occupation was junkie and party boy, even now he swayed gently behind his father, a slightly unfocused expression on his unmarked face. 


William Sr. spoke “Read the fucking thing Marty, so we can get this done with.” Marty shifted uncomfortably in his seat, shooting a look at William Jr. and then he read “I William Dermody being of sound mind and body, do make the following bequests upon my death: To my son John I give a sum of five credits. To my son William I give a sum of one hundred credits to reimburse him for mining equipment he purchased for me. To my son Michael I give all my shares in Loughrea Mine and all remaining property and assets.” John saw his brother William tensing as Marty was reading and he jumped to his feet and placed himself between his father and William bringing William up short as he lunged. “What the fuck! What did I ever do to you old man that you fuck me over now?” William shouted. “You never did what I asked, you always had your way, your own ideas! Well fuck you now! My son Michael is the new man of the house and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it!” William Sr. roared, spit flying from his lips. “And as for you John, you’ve got your precious Deputy’s pension to take care of you, so you’ll be just fine won’t you ?” he said sarcastically, punctuating his words by spitting on the filthy floor at John’s feet.


William Sr. grabbed the paper, scrawled his signature in the middle of the page, and then scowling at Marty said “Fucking witness it.” and Marty signed and dated the paper. William Jr. shoved John aside and stormed out of the room. Michael had barely reacted, he just smiled a bit. John said “Dad, you’ve always been a miserable fucker, but begrudging your own blood... especially William who worked like a dog in that fucking mine… What a disgusting legacy, I’m glad Ma isn’t here to see this shit.” With the mention of his wife William Sr. rose suddenly from his chair, but immediately gasped and clutched himself and sank back breathing heavily. John shook his head and left his father’s quarters.


John went to the lifts at the end of the tunnel on level two where his father’s quarters were. He pressed the down button, he knew where his brother was headed and he wanted to try to help calm him down. As the lift descended towards the eighth level, the location of the nastier drinking establishments in The Hole, he thought about his own parting of ways from his father. It had happened fifteen years ago, he’d been working in the mine for five years at that point. He sucked as a miner, the instincts weren’t there, he’d been nearly killed a couple of times, the other miners hated being on his crew. He knew at the time it was just a matter of time before he got himself and perhaps some of them killed or injured. The recruiting push by the Deputies seemed like the answer, and Sheriff Ditson seemed like a good man who didn’t seem to care he was a miner or Irish or a Dermody. When he told his father about joining the Deputies his father had punched him in the face with no warning, no words, knocking him to the ground. William Sr. was still strong as an ox then, and he had stood over his son, shaking with rage. He said “You do this boy, and you are dead to me. Join the fucking company’s gang of thugs! Are you out of your mind?” John had tried to speak and tell his father they weren’t like that anymore, but William Sr. just came after him swinging and he fled.


The door opened on the eighth floor and he walked down the graffitied hallway until he reached “Rock’s” which was a mining gallery converted into a drinking establishment. He walked in and scanned the smoke filled room for his brother. He caught sight of him across the room, recognizing his shaved head and his broad tattooed shoulders visible now that he’d taken off his work jacket and sat at the bar in his t-shirt and overalls. A woman in a suit was resting her hand on the back of his neck, leaning in, speaking into his ear. She glanced his way as if she could feel him looking. It was Bridget Leetch, head of the geology department at the Loughrea Mine. She said something to William and he turned to look too, his face still showing his rage. She turned and headed for one of the other doors. John walked over to his brother.


“What’s Bridget doing in a place like this ?” John asked. “She’s a friend, we’ve been working together for a long time. She was telling me, what you’re probably going to tell me. That killing that old fucker won’t fix anything.” Bill replied. His voice was so cold saying the words that John shuddered. “Look, Bill, he’s a broken old man and he’s flailing around to take out his anger and disappointment on everyone in range. The truth is those shares aren’t worth shit, and he’s handing Michael a big pile of nothing.” His brother sneered, and took a drink of vodka from his glass. “Yeah, I know. I just wish I hadn’t listened to him, have those years back, got off this rock. I wish a lot of things…” His voice trailed off. John ordered a drink and sat down next to his brother and put his hand on his shoulder. They drank in silence for a while and then by some unspoken agreement they decided it was time to go, they embraced briefly, and left in different directions.


A few weeks later John had just returned from a reconnaissance patrol in the wasteland when he got a call from Sheriff Ditson. “John, I have some bad news. Your father was found dead yesterday morning in his quarters. His friend Paulie found him when he brought his meals for the day. He was sitting at the table, he’d had a heart attack sometime the night before. We tried to get you, but there was too much radiation interference yesterday. We haven’t told any of your family, we figured you would want to handle it.” John processed the news, he couldn’t find a word for how he felt. “Thanks for letting me know boss, I’ll let the rest of the family know.” Sheriff Ditson said “My condolences John, feel free to take a couple of days to get things arranged, I’ll get someone to cover for you.” John said “Thanks sir, I appreciate it.” He composed a brief message to his off world siblings on his portable com unit, as he sent it he doubted they would come back for the services. He checked the time, his brother William would be down the mine now, it wouldn’t be good to tell him until he got off his shift. He decided to go find Michael, he should be at his desk in the mine offices on level thirty. 


When the lift doors opened on level thirty, you would have thought you were entering the lobby of some sky scraper on a sunny blue skied earth like planet. It was all an illusion produced by imaging panels lining the lobby walls and ceiling, but it was convincing, so much so it gave him vertigo every time he came down here. He walked to the reception desk and asked for a pass to visit Michael in the Loughrea Mine’s labs, he showed his identification, said it was urgent family business. The receptionist called the mine labs main number and spoke with them briefly. She hung up and said “Michael didn’t come in this morning, he called in sick last night, he said he was going to stay in his quarters.” John sighed, and thanked her and headed to the twenty-second level where Michael lived. As he was leaving, he saw Bridget Leetch looking at him through the glass walls of the lab office.


He reached Michael’s quarters on the twenty-second level, a trendy level with many fancy quarters, his was done up in an industrial style, the door was an old mine bulkhead door. The irony was not lost on John. He rang the bell and waited. Nobody came to the door. Several more tries and he was getting pissed off. He called Seath Holman in the central Sheriff’s office. “Hey Seath, I know we’re not supposed to do it for personal stuff, but could you look in my brother’s quarters and see if he’s in there? I need to talk to him.” Seath hesitated and then said “Sure, I guess this qualifies for an exception, sorry for your loss by the way.” John waited while Seath enabled surveillance inside the quarters. She came back almost immediately, her voice tight “John, I’m going to pop the door, he’s in there, but he’s laying on the bathroom floor not moving looks like he’s vomited. There’s nobody else in there.” The door popped open and John rushed inside and through the stylized mine workroom interior to the steel and stone clad bathroom. His brother was sprawled naked on the floor in a pool of puke. John felt his neck and detected a weak pulse. Michael’s breathing was either stopped or seriously impeded. He did everything he’d been trained to do to clear his brother’s airway and to get him breathing normally again. A few moments later the MEDEVAC robots arrived and he had to step back as they inserted breathing tubes and attached sensors and picked Michael up to transport him.


Three hours later John was standing next to Michael’s hospital bed, looking at his brother at the center of a mass of wires and tubes. His chest rose and fell, but it probably wouldn’t if they turned off the machines. His brother William came into the room, still in his work clothes straight from his shift. He looked at Michael and then at John and said “What the hell happened ?” John said “From the surveillance that we have, he was down on eight in a party room with a bunch of girls until about midnight. I can see him taking all kinds of shit and drinking all kinds of shit, hard to tell exactly what. He comes home with a girl around four in the morning, they fuck for a while, she leaves. He watches TV, goes to bed and sleeps for a while. About an hour before I found him he sat straight up in bed obviously in distress, runs to the bathroom, pukes for a while and then finally collapses. He was down for about twenty minutes before I found him…” John paused “The doctors say his brain might not have been getting enough oxygen during that time, probably not, so if he wakes up, he’s likely going to have brain damage. They can’t say how bad.” William walked over and took his younger brother’s hand in his. He squeezed his hand, and he started crying, saying “Why, why did you have to fuck around with all these drugs? Why take that risk for a rush and some pussy ?” He collapsed to his knees, his head resting on the edge of the bed, his back heaving with sobs.


The funeral for his father was the next day, it was a sparsely attended event, William Sr. had been a difficult man to be any type of friend or kin to. John was there in his best formal uniform, William in his only suit, people filed through. A sequence of faces and words that didn’t register. Then towards the end, Bridget Leetch came in, she went to William and embraced him and stroked his face, speaking softly to him. She turned to John and offered him her hand “I’m so sorry for your loss John, and for the trouble with Michael.” He took her soft, perfectly manicured hand and he realized she and his brother were in a relationship. As he looked into her eyes, he had an awful feeling that something wasn’t right about her. It wasn’t a miner feeling, or a brother feeling, it was a cop feeling. She went to the casket and knelt down. “How long have you guys been together Bill ?” he asked. His brother tensed and then shrugged, “We keep it quiet, the mine management doesn’t like fraternizing across roles, but it’s been weeks now. We met on an ore regrading project and just hit it off. We’re thinking of getting hitched when I retire next year.” John said “Congratulations, I’m happy for you.” He looked at Bridget getting up from beside the casket, he couldn’t shake the bad cop feelings. 


Later that day, John knocked on Sheriff Ditson’s office door in the central Sheriff’s office. Ditson said “Come in.” then “Hey John, what can I do for  you ?” John hesitated, then he said “I think something is going on with my brother Michael’s ‘accident.’ I have a bad feeling it wasn’t an accident.” The Sheriff looked puzzled saying “But I think we have full surveillance of that night, we know what happened ?” John said “I think we didn’t go back far enough in his day, I think we only looked at what we needed to see to fit the ‘junkie O.D.’s and kills himself’ narrative.” Ditson said “Why do you think there is some other cause ?” John said “I think it involves my father’s death, shares in the mine that Michael would inherit, and somebody close to my brother Bill. Bill’s been seeing Bridget Leetch head of the mine lab, since around the time my father made a will. I found out at the wake that they’re planning to marry. Bridget would know if my father’s mine shares were worth anything different for some reason.” The Sheriff stood up and said “We can find out that answer pretty fast, I know Michael Loughlin, the President of Lochrea Mine, he’d know if there were any developments like that. But I’d assume he’d have told the shareholders if there were. Let's go talk to him, if something is going on we can pick up Bridget as well.” He strapped on his blaster, and they left for the mine offices.


A short time later they were in Loughlin’s opulent office with it’s simulated view of trees and mountains out the window. It was snowing today. Sheriff Ditson explained what they were interested in, and before he’d even finished Loughlin raised his hand and said “Sheriff, I can tell you right now that there has been a development with the mine. I’m excited about it! There was a regrading effort a while ago and in the process of doing the analysis we found significant amounts of a rare earth they’ve started using in hyperdrives. We never looked for it before so it wasn’t one of the things we extract for. Turns out we’ve got a significant amount, and even better our spoil heap is filled with it. Our value has gone up so much that we have just signed a deal with The Company to be reacquired at a significant premium.” He smiled and looked back and forth between them. “We sent an information packet to all the shareholders just yesterday, it’s not a secret.” John and the Sheriff looked at each other and John asked “Who sent out the information packet ?” Loughlin said “The labs division sent them out, Bridget and her team have been working on the data for the valuations since the find.”


The two officers walked down the aisles of lab tables and cubicles towards Bridget’s office, as they approached they saw that her desk was vacant. Sheriff Ditson called Deputy Holman at the central office, and asked for a location on Bridget Leetch. After a short pause, Seath replied “She’s not in The Hole, she exited to the surface in a mine hauler about ten minutes ago. I assume she’s going to the Loughrea Mine location.” Ditson said “We’re going to go out to the mine, please start reviewing the whole day before Michael Dermody’s O.D. and pull out any interactions with Bridget. I want to know if she could have drugged him.” Seath said “I’m on it.” 
A short time later John and the Sheriff were in atmosphere suits in a Sheriff’s department transport vehicle rolling over the mine roads towards the Loughrea Mine. As they arrived at the mine they saw people spilling out of the mine entrance, running. Miners were usually deliberate in their movements, a wrong move could kill you numerous ways. Running was not good. They intercepted a miner and made him stop, pressing their helmets against his to speak. “What is happening, why are you running ?” the man struggled with them and said “Let me go dammit! Bill Dermody has gone nuts and he’s going to blow up the whole fucking mine, which we’re standing on top of, we need to get at least a half a mile away from here to be safe!” He wrenched himself loose and ran away down the mining road.


Sheriff Ditson and John shoved their way past the last of the fleeing miners and descended into the mine, John knew what level his brother was working on so they headed there. As they reached the fresh gallery where the most recent mining had been going on, they saw a body sprawled against one wall. It was smaller than any miner, and the suit was newer and cleaner than any miner, it was Bridget. She was sitting against the rough wall, her helmet was filled with blood so that her face was half obscured, the back of the helmet was transfixed by a piece of reinforcing steel that stuck out of the wall. She was dead. They heard the sound of drilling nearby, and they walked around the gallery to where the main ore extraction shaft came down. There was Bill, identifiable by his name stenciled on his atmosphere suit’s back and the large shamrock emblazoned on his helmet. There was a whole explosives locker next to him, the door wrenched off with a loader or something. He was wiring and shoving indiscriminate amounts of explosives into drill holes as fast as his skilled hands could go.


John stepped forward and yelled “Bill, stop! Stop! Put down the explosives!” His brother turned to look and his eyes were wild with rage, tears streaming down his face. “No John! I need to kill this fucking mine, it killed my mother, my father, my brother, me…” John said “Michael’s not dead, you’re not dead, we don’t know what’s going to happen... “ Bill waved his hand angrily yelling “He’s a fucking vegetable, because of me, because of this mine… she thought I’d be happy, to be fucking rich… with my little brother brain dead hooked up to a fucking machine…” with a wracking sob he turned and grabbed another bundle of explosives and started wiring it. He’d worked in the dark and in every conceivable unpleasant condition that the mine could generate, so his hands did the work even though his tears blinded him. While Bill was focused on John, Sheriff Ditson moved to where the detonation board was located, he saw that Bill was wiring the explosives in series to a live board. One mistake and they would be killed in the blast, and because of the location, buried under a half a mile of planet as the mine pancaked down. He yanked first one and then the other blast wire out of the detonation board. He signaled to John, and they both grabbed Bill from behind and pinned him struggling to the ground. John put detention clamps on his brother and paralyzed him.


Because the mine had been reacquired by The Company, it was considered their jurisdiction during the incident. So Bill finally finally made it off planet to be tried at a Company facility, and then locked up for life in a Company prison.  A converted mine.  Michael never woke up and he was disconnected from life support, he passed away in a matter of hours. Seath had found surveillance footage earlier in the day of Michael’s O.D. of Bridget and Michael snorting lines of a white powder in her office, celebrating the report. She’d prepared the lines from two different containers. Bridget had learned of William Sr’s will and his death from Paulie via her cronies in the mine. John Dermody inherited his father’s shares in the Loughrea Mine, a considerable sum. He split it up evenly between him and his off world siblings. He gave his share to an organization that tried to help miners with substance abuse problems. He went back to work at the Sheriff’s office, after all he had to earn his pension.