There were blue and white checked curtains hanging at the windows and a rag rug on the rough wood floor beneath his feet. A large double bed with a cast iron head and footboard had taken the place of the bunk beds they’d constructed in the corner of the room. There were now two real cupboards hanging on either side of the dry sink where only two boards had been used for shelving before he’d left. The fireplace was the same, however, and Trace stared at the blackened stones remembering happier days when his father had been alive and in a good mood. Unfortunately, the memories were very old and faded by now.
Trace lowered the supplies onto the table and approached the mantel, where his mother’s small brass clock still ticked out the minutes in perfect precision. Gingerly, he ran his large fingertips over its smooth surface, noting that the timepiece could use a little polish and recalling the happy hours he’d spent with his mother learning how to tell time.
Suddenly, Trace felt the hard edge of a rifle in the middle of his back and he stiffened as he automatically raised his arms into the air.
“Hold it right there or you’re a dead man,” a menacing voice said from behind him.
“George?” Trace asked.
At first, there was no reply to his question and the rifle barrel bit a little harder into his spine.
“George, it’s me,” Trace tried again. “It’s Trace. I’ve come home.”
“Turn around real slow,” the gruff voice directed. “And no sudden moves.”
Carefully, Trace did as he was asked and pivoted on his heels as the rifle barrel remained leveled at his chest. He kept his head down at first, then he raised his face into what little light there was in the room and stared at the man opposite him.
A scruffy miner stared back at him from behind the gun, one eye squinted as he sighted down the barrel with his abundant whiskers crushed against the stock on one side. George’s hair was a wild unkempt rat’s nest of dark blond hair interspersed with particles of dirt and rock. His partner had enough beard on him to reach halfway down his chest. His red work shirt was dirty and sweat stained and his pants had been mended twice over, but Trace recognized the boots on George’s feet despite their wear. Trace had given them to his partner just before he’d left to join the army and George had apparently gotten considerable use out of them.