Authors: Janine McCaw
Tags: #romance, #history, #mining, #british columbia, #disasters, #britannia beach
“Nothing serious, a bolt had come loose and
Lloyd couldn’t find where it belonged, so I gave him a hand. Like I
said, it was after my shift. I wasn’t wasting any company
McMichael sighed. “Okay Fitzpatrick, thanks
for helping out. I admire men who give a little extra. You should
think about taking that management test we’re doing. I could use
someone with a little initiative.”
McMichael liked this man Fitzpatrick. He was
young and strong and did what he was told. He had a good head on
his shoulders and never took risks in the tunnels, which is why it
had angered him to see him doing something stupid.
He glanced down at Frank’s leg.
“So what’s wrong with you? I noticed you
limping earlier. Have you been to see the doctor?”
“Yes. I went over to see him before I started
today. He said it’s just a sprain. I twisted it the wrong way or
“A sprain? What did you trip on? Did John
Howser leave those God-blasted rods lying about again? Because if I
found out he did, there will be hell to pay. What the hell’s going
on in there? Those tools are worth hundreds of dollars and he’s
just tossing them around and leaving them wherever he damn well
feels like it. I told him last week to smarten up or he’d get his
“It’s nothing sir, really.”
“Nothing? You’ve been injured on the job.
That’s a safety concern. But you know what’s a bigger safety
concern? You. Riding up the bloody skip! Really Frank, did you stop
to look at the angle that flatbed car goes up? There’s no way to
strap yourself in. It’s designed for mineral transport. It’s not a
commuter tram. You could have fallen hundreds of feet straight
down. Blood would have been splattered all over the place and your
brains would have wound up in the ore. Not a pleasant thought now
is it? Don’t be so stupid next time. I won’t have another accident
here like the time that kid doctor smashed his head on the tower.
On his first day here at the mine! Young man, about to be married,
and he meets his maker because he’s too busy gawking at the
scenery. And it wasn’t his fiancée he was gawking at either. It
really was the scenery. Stupid man.”
“Yes sir,” Frank said quietly.
The whistle blew to signal the end of the
“Isn’t your wife arriving this afternoon?”
“Yes sir, she is.”
“Then you’d better go home and bathe. You
stink man, you stink.”
McMichael turned to hop in the exiting
commuter tram, taking the miners back up to the beach site. The
workers were allowed to ride the commuting tunnel trams only. There
were no seats left, so Howser, a young gangly man, gave up his
“I want to see you in my office Howser, in a
half an hour,” McMichael said.
“Yes sir,” Howser said with dread in his
The tunnel tram had been McMichael’s
brainstorm. Getting in and out of the mine had been a time
consuming ordeal. The old ore transport cars were constantly
breaking down. By the time the men had come to the end of their
physically demanding shifts, they were too tired to carry the raw
materials out. McMichael decided it would be far more efficient to
run a small steam powered train through the tunnel to move both the
people and the ore. He did efficiency studies, and provided the
owners with a budget for the transportation tram. Within the year
they had given him what he wanted. McMichael was able to move twice
the loads and gave them back twice the profit.
John Wesley McMichael was a Canadian, and
proud of it. A comparatively short man, standing five foot seven,
he was none the less solid enough that although the men had many
good reasons to hate him, they never dared raise a fist to him.
There was a story that his wife had died of physical violence,
which McMichael probably started himself to keep everyone in line.
But the truth was she had a brain aneurysm that took her life quite
suddenly one summer night. He never got over it, and those who knew
him before her death said that was when he had turned cold hearted.
Some men die of broken hearts, some sink into deep, dark
depressions. McMichael just got mean. His only signs of outward
compassion ever sighted were for his two young daughters, Lara aged
eight, and Christina, aged twelve. He had hired a nanny, an older
German woman with grown children in Vancouver, to help look after
his children after his wife’s death.
The women of Britannia Beach were generally
of two minds about McMichael. He was, despite his temperament, a
handsome man. He kept his sandy blond hair well barbered and he was
always clean. Due to the amount of physical activity he got each
day, his body was as lean as it had been when he was a teenager.
His smile, when he actually smiled, could warm the chill out of the
northerly winds. There were those who lived in fear of his every
step, of what he could and would do to the welfare of their
families. There were those who craved a piece of him, and were
secretly hoping that one day, he would look at them and become
bewitched by their charms. And of those women, some wanted to marry
him and take a new position in society, but some simply wanted to
lie with him, and feel the blood pulsing through his veins, somehow
absorbing his power within.
McMichael walked into his office.
“Sarah, I want you to take a letter,” he
began, “Stuart J. Collin, Vancouver Police Department. Dear Stuart,
I have come to discover that just outside the town limits of
Britannia Beach is a home that houses ladies of questionable
repute. This den of sin is temptation for the many hard working
single men employed here at the Royal Columbian Mining Company. The
moral disintegration of their virtues and the loss of integrity of
my employees aside, I fear that the gambling parlour that is also
housed illegally at this address is merely a ploy to rob the men of
their hard-earned cash. I trust that you will send a constable up
to take care of this matter, or I will be forced once again, to
take matters into my own hands. I know we had talked about
re-stationing a constable permanently here in Britannia, but you
know I don’t feel we need a full time officer. Save your money.
However if I can borrow one for a day to remove this woman and her
‘staff’ it would perhaps scare the fear of God into her and cause
her never to return. She obviously has no regard for the law here
in Britannia. Sincerely, J.W. McMichael.”
He ended his dictation.
“Get it out in this evening’s post. Oh wait,
you can’t. It’s Sunday. I had forgotten, what with the extra shifts
needed this weekend. I’ll give it to Frenchie Cates to drop off in
Vancouver when he leaves again on Monday. That will do Sarah.”
It would also teach Ruby a thing or two about
not cutting him in on the action, he thought. He leaned over and
tapped on Sarah’s desk.
“When I told Ruby Dalton to pack up her girls
and move on out, I didn’t mean she could set up shop just north of
here, outside the town limits, and she damn well knew that. And
another thing, that John Howser, you pay him up today until the end
of the month. I’m sending him out of here tonight. He’s a walking
His thoughts momentarily left his
“Is my tuxedo ready for the wedding?”
“Of course Mr. McMichael,” Sarah sighed.
Sarah Lieboldt was one of the few women at Britannia to have a job,
and as such, she found herself indebted to McMichael just like the
men at the mine. She was a frail thing, almost twenty, lived at
home with her parents, and had no boyfriend in sight. She was quite
adept at exasperating McMichael with her constant inane questions
and tendency to be clumsy. But when it came to math, for whatever
reason, she was a genius, which more than made up for her lack of
typing skills. What he was getting for a junior secretary’s wage
was actually a skilled junior accountant, which saved him
considerable time and money.
“Isn’t Sunday an odd night to have a
wedding?” she asked hesitantly, knocking over her cup of tea.
McMichael glared at her. He liked to see the
panic in her eyes.
“What exactly are you suggesting, Sarah?”
“Nothing sir,” she replied. “I was just
making a little friendly conversation.” She reached for a rag to
clean up the mess. McMichael grabbed some papers on her desk just
before the runaway tea spoiled them. The tea had managed to nick
the corner of some papers despite his efforts.
“Sorry sir,” she blushed.
“I didn’t realize we were friends, Sarah. I
thought you were my employee.”
“Sorry again sir, it’s just that some of the
ladies were asking…” Sarah regretted saying that as soon as the
words were out of her mouth.
“Then tell the ladies, Miss Lieboldt, that my
niece wanted to get married this weekend, before she sets off for
Winnipeg. I had previously promised the dance hall on Saturday,
last night, to the Harper family wedding party, who had as their
guest, among other people, the Premier of British Columbia, who,
after all that, didn’t even bother to show up as you are well
aware. Not much gets by you, does it Sarah? Still, it could have
been a social faux pas, not to mention a political fiasco, to have
bumped them out for the evening. People in this town don’t always
appreciate what I do for them, you remember that, Sarah. Remember
to tell the caretaker at the hall I want everyone out tonight by
midnight and by God the men working tomorrow had better watch
themselves. That’s all I need is drunk and disorderliness at a
McMichael family function.”
“I’m sure they’ll behave themselves Mr.
McMichael,” Sarah offered.
“Humph,” he snarled as he left the office
once more, slamming the door behind him as he went outside. He
paused for a moment then went back into the office. He wasn’t quite
“So tell that to the ladies Sarah, and if you
want more time to tell them stories, that can be arranged as
He saw her two fingering the typewriter.
“And never mind the letter, get him on the
“Now?” Sarah asked.
“In the morning Sarah. First thing Monday
morning, all right?” he said exasperated.
“Mr. Michael, I was wondering, will there be
any new single young men at the wedding, you know, maybe coming up
for the special occasion?”
“For the umpteenth time, I don’t know,
The door slammed again. McMichael stood
outside viewing the workers heading to their homes. He saw Howser
coming down the hill towards him.
“Mr. McMichael, I can explain…”
“Into my office Howser. We’ve got a few
things to discuss,” McMichael said sternly.
Frank Fitzpatrick headed over to the cabins
on the west side of the beach town. He had been lucky that a
vacancy had come up just before his wedding and McMichael gave him
the nod to move on in. Up until that point he had been staying in
one of the men’s dormitories, up on the hill. The cabin was tiny.
It had only a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom, a bath and a
pantry area, but no one else had anything better, other than
McMichael, so Frank was quite content with the place. McMichael was
renting the house out to him, complete with water and electricity
for five dollars a month, a bargain, even for McMichael. Frank had
purchased some paint from the general store and had spent the last
few weeks making the place feel more like a home. Liv's father had
sent some money for Liv to buy some furniture once she got there,
but Frank hadn’t done too badly furnishing the house on his own. He
considered the money from William just another stab at his lack of
ability to provide for a wealthy man’s daughter.
He had taken McMichael’s advice and poured
himself a long, hot bath. As he stepped from the bathroom into the
bedroom, he looked at himself, naked, in the mirror. One thing
about the job at the mine, it kept you fit and muscular. There was
not an ounce of fat on his six-foot frame. His stomach was as flat
as a young fighter’s. He ran a comb through his mass of dark hair,
and debated shaving his day-old stubble. Olivia liked the stubble.
He decided to leave it. He would ask her to give him a shave in the
morning, perhaps in the bathtub, perhaps together. He supposed that
if any of the men saw him primping like he was, he’d be labelled a
sissy, but Frank was proud of his physique, and knew that Olivia
was too. He figured something had attracted her to him, and it sure
Frank made sure their engagement photo her
family had insisted upon was dusted off and prominently displayed
on the bureau. He thought about how much he loved her, and what he
would do if any of the men got out of line and tried anything.
There wasn’t a man there, he figured, that he couldn’t kill by
sheer force if he had to. He hoped Olivia would be comfortable in
their home. Lucy Bentall had helped him pick out a quilt for her,
made by the ladies of the town, as a present from him. It took Lucy
forever to do it, and he never did figure out why. Lucy was like a
ball of fire headed towards a babbling brook. You were never quite
sure what would happen in the end, but for sure there would be some
steam. She was a bit brassy for Frank’s liking, but he hoped that
Lucy liked Liv and vice versa. It would be tough for Olivia to make
friends here, he knew. She would need some female company from time
An angry pounding on the door interrupted his
thoughts. He pulled on his pants and went to the door. It was
Howser. Frank let him inside and was taken aback when Howser
grabbed him by the throat and tried to throw him up against the
wall, his hands clenching around Frank’s windpipe.
“What the hell did you say to him?” Howser
His adrenaline rushing, Frank gave a blow to
Howser’s nose with his left fist, causing Howser to drip blood, the
pain taking him off balance.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Frank