The Great Gold Heist

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: January 27, 2019

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Submitted: January 27, 2019

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The Great Gold Heist

“A man does not climb a mountain

without bringing some of it away with him,

and leaving something of himself upon it.”

– Sir Martin Conway

Setting the Stage

When Avery turned forty, she was presented with a unique opportunity to salvage gold and make some cash, if she were willing to steal it.

Her brother, Cooper, and his wife, Abby, had taken a trip to Minerva in Northern California, the month before, to check on his silver mine located there. His original goal was to make sure no one had broken in through the flimsy doors guarding the opening, but once he’d arrived, he devised a new idea.

Cooper stopped in town and looked up Ron, who he’d worked with years ago at the Daisy Mill nearby. The Granhold Mine, which processed its raw materials through the mill, had struck a rich gold vein, years before. As the miners followed the line of gold, it eventually ended on the side of a wall between the mine shaft and an underground river. The miners got too close to the thin wall between the river and the mine, and the wall burst in, flooding the mine. It also ended a gold rush that netted more than $40 million, out of more than 500,000 metric tons of ore. As a result, almost everyone who’d worked for the mining company had to seek other employment.

Cooper’s friend, Ron had managed to remain there. He’d opened a coffee bar and gift shop to handle the over 10,000 tourists who descended on the area every year. Ron was doing well with his new venture.

Over coffee, their conversation turned from old and new gossip to some information Ron had heard regarding the potential purchase of the Daisy Mill.

“A company wants to turn the mill into a tourist trap. The deal hasn’t been completed yet, and the mill is in a state of limbo as the details are worked out,” Ron claimed.  “This new investor group plans to make the mill into a museum of sorts and set up tours within the next six months. It would also help my business. In the meantime, gravel haulers are using the road onto the mill’s property to dump various types of rock and dirt into the gulley behind it.”

 Cooper listened carefully but resisted the urge to ask too many questions. His mind was already considering the options this new information provided.

Cooper spent the next day as a ‘tour guide’ for Abby. He loved showing her around the place where he’d lived and worked before meeting her. The small town was an easy walk from end to end, so he showed her the Renaissance Hotel, a 200-year-old, beautiful, historic, four-story building in the center of town. It showed deterioration on the doors and windows, needed paint and restoration, but was still doing a thriving business.

They wandered through the numerous tacky gift shops, selling everything from tiny bottles of gold flakes to stuffed beavers, and he took her to the two-story apartment building where he used to live. They ended up driving around the outskirts while Cooper pointed out landmarks, and told tales about his days as a gold assayer there.

“I know you’ve told me before about being an assayer, but I’m not sure what that is. What did you do?” Abby asked.

“In layman’s terms, an assayer analyzes the composition of raw ore by using different methods to determine the content, or makeup, of samples taken from a mine. Sometimes I used chemicals, other times high temperatures, or x-rays to determine whether the samples had gold, silver, or whatever in it. Then my job was to figure out the percentage of each so the miners could decide to continue working in the same area or move to another. There was more to it, but that’s the basics,” Cooper explained.

The town boasted a summer population of over 10,000 people, mostly tourists who arrived and departed along the winding road through the Lassen National Forest, giving spectators breathtaking views of the canyons, as well as the spectacular peaks of the mountains. The road travels the same route as the original miners and settlers did. Rugged terrain and jaw-dropping cliffs draw visitors from around the world to this tiny remote area.

As summer advances into winter, a mere one hundred hardy souls remain. Avalanches are not uncommon and frequently cover the passes, making the only roads in or out impossible to travel. If the passes are blocked for more than a week, helicopters drop in food and airlift out any emergency cases. Its sub-zero temperatures fall to negative double digits with snowfalls averaging over one-hundred-fifty inches. Perfect skiing conditions for the nearby Mount Shasta Ski Park.

The summers there are glorious. At an altitude of over 8,800 feet above sea level, the weather is perfect, even in the thin air. Many newcomers find themselves having difficulty breathing, gulping and wheezing as their bodies acclimate. Tourists tend to take naps to conquer altitude sickness and are advised to drink a gallon of water a day to remain hydrated.

Until the mine flooded and closed, workdays in the summer were a grueling twelve hours long. Explosions deep in the mineshafts were frequent, and rock samples were hauled up and out of the tunnels to be analyzed for the percentage of zinc, nickel, gold, and silver content.

After the assayers had completed their work and relayed the findings, the samples were tossed into a waste pit behind the main processing building. At the lowest level of this building was a shaker table. Pulverized rock and water were dumped on the slanted table which then vibrated to separate the lighter-weight zinc from the heavier gold pieces. Once separated, the gold would be smelted down and placed in metal cans, not unlike how paint is stored.

As Cooper and Abby drove around the hillside, Abby marveled at the beauty of the mountains and the lush landscape as Cooper relayed a story of a security guard at the mill who decided to steal two of the cans filled with the refined gold.

“He thought he was clever and snuck them into his car’s spare tire well under a blanket. Once the man made it through the gates though, his nerves got the best of him and halfway into town, he stopped the car, opened the trunk and took the cans out. He heaved them down the mountainside, thinking it was better than returning them and admitting his regretful deed. As he drove away, he didn’t realize the cans didn’t roll as far down the incline as he’d expected but were partially hidden by the grass. The name of the mining company was printed on the sides. No one knew he had taken them.”

“Oh, my God, did they find them?” asked Abby.

“Oh, yes. A week later, an older couple touring the area and driving toward the mill, happened to see something shining in the sun on the mountainside. They stopped and retrieved them, not having any idea what they were. They did see the company stamp on the side, and without ever opening them up, drove them right up to the gate. They handed them over to a guard, fortunately not the same one who’d tossed them, and explained they’d found them. The guard took the cans, thanked them politely, and they drove off, never realizing they had found over $100,000 in nearly pure gold.”

“I wish you’d found them!” said Abby, laughing.

“Me, too.”

Cooper pointed out some small mine openings dotting the mountainsides, and the rushing water of the river. After exploring the area and checking on his own mine, they returned to the hotel so Abby could take a nap. Cooper asked his wife to stay in their room that evening. He said he needed to check on something and suggested they go to dinner when he got back. He had a plan.

He wanted to access the waste pit once all the gravel trucks had left for the day, fill a small bucket with the leftover samples that had been thrown there, and take it back to Illinois to analyze it. His foray into the mill’s waste pit went off with flying colors, and the next day they left to complete their vacation in Los Angeles, then return home.


© Copyright 2019 Avery Stark. All rights reserved.

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