Tuscorora Nevada, a booming gold mining town in the 1860’s, stirs to life when prospector Desert Pete and aerospace finance executive Rod Stearman exploit state-of-the-art technology to recover millions the old timers never could. But when a Hazmat scare threatens to expose the operation, and a forensic accountant uncovers criminal activity in the aerospace company’s finance department, Pete and Rod must scramble to stay ahead of events. Loaded with action and intrigue The Gold Game’s original plot engages the reader right to the final plot twist.
Rod Stearman sat in a weathered rocking chair his eyes fixed along the length of the Tuscorora valley, watching the setting sun change the colors of the sky, valley floor, and the surrounding mountains from gold to orange to blue to purple. Desert Pete sat on an identical weathered rocking chair, his eyes peering through binoculars fixed on the Hazmat truck and its dust trailer, aimed at the gold refinery at the valley’s southeast corner. The truck stopped at one side of the refinery. Two uniformed men jumped from the truck, while two refinery employees appeared from nowhere to greet them. Pete’s binoculars weren’t good enough for him to determine what the four did for the next half-hour, but it had to do with transferring whatever was in the truck, through a hose, into the building. “Bah, they’ve done it again.”
“Done what?” Rod asked.
“All the times I’ve seen them pump stuff into that building, I’ve never seen them take anything out. Where does all that nasty stuff go? Into the ground and into our well water I’ll bet.
“Hey, you run the place, what happens to all the used Hazmat stuff?”
“I can tell you that GMR goes by the book. Whatever it is we’re supposed to do with that material, we do it.”
“But you don’t know, do you? You could dump that stuff straight into the ground if it were legit.”
“I’m sure we don’t.”
“But you don’t know, do you.” Pete snorted.
Rod stayed quiet.
“I thought so. I’ll bet we’ll be drinking that stuff in our well water before very long.”
“Pete that refinery may sit isolated out here in the Tuscorora, but it is the world’s most advanced gold processing facility. The entire refinery uses robots for every internal gold purification operation. The factory’s staff consists of two men and they only worked day shift, five days a week. I assure you, there is no hazmat issue.”
Rod chuckled when he thought about the building’s security systems. They made the Nevada High Security Prison in Ely look like a sandbox. No unauthorized anything made it in, or out, of NorAir’s Tuscorora facility.
“We shall see,” Pete said. “We shall see.”
North American Aerospace – NorAir most called it – arrived in the Tuscorora Valley four years before. They leased a twenty by forty mile block of land that included the entire valley, and the foot of the mountain sides that drained into the valley. A part of that included the ghost town of Tuscorora, once an important gold mining town, now with no stores, no school, and no utilities, nothing commercial at all. Six of the town’s lots were current on taxes, out of reach of the Bureau of Land Management, and not leased by NorAir. Desert Pete owned one of those lots, with a house perched almost at the top of a hill above the valley. Rod bought another, the grand old Victorian perched atop the highest point in the town. He found getting construction crews to make the sixty mile drive from Elko difficult. In three years he’d restored the outside, but almost nothing inside. Pete, a full time resident and doing much of the work himself, completed his.
Rod never considered himself a desert person. A San Diego beach town native and financial expert, he now lived in an ocean view house in Manhattan Beach, and commuted to his job as CFO of the Space Operations Unit — known to all as SO — of NorAir. Before SO’s plan to build a spaceport, and choose the Tuscarora Valley for it, Rod never visited any desert other than Palm Springs. To defer some of the spaceport’s construction costs, NorAir decided to start a Gold Mining and Refining, or GMR, operation. This small refinery worked the gold flour from valley floor locations where NorAir built some facility or another. Only when the job of managing GMR become a part of Rod’s responsibilities, did he travel to the Tuscorora Valley. Now, he and Pete were the sole Tuscororans, the ones with inhabitable houses, and proud owners of Tuscorora real estate..
When the shadows grew long enough to cover the entire valley floor, the two men retreated into Pete’s house and turned on the lights. Rod’s solar system, too ugly for the roof of his Victorian, sat on the hillside between Pete and Rod’s houses. Connected to Pete’s place and his system, electricity was ample all year long, but both houses also boasted back-up gas generators. The two shared the septic tank leach field, the well, and a propane storage tank. Pete joked that they ought to start their own utility company.
“You on the two-ten flight out of Elko Sunday?” Pete asked.
“Yes. The regular finance meeting happens on Monday no matter what.”
“Gonna stop by Danny’s?”
“I think so. This weekend wasn’t great, but there’s maybe an ounce and a half of dust and a couple nuggets. Enough to warrant a stop. I guess I’ll leave about ten.”
“Tell him hello for me,” Pete said. “The potatoes are in the oven, it’s about time to light the barbeque.”
The man the Northern Nevadans called Desert Pete — once known as Pete Ameche — and Danny Costa went way back. They met in third grade and stayed friends. After high school, Pete went to college, got a masters degree in accounting, and went to work for the south side boss, Big Frankie. Pete worked his way up to controller, but when the government used a flaw in one of Pete’s shell companies to bring down Frankie’s sweets business, Pete fled, settled in Tuscorora, and assumed the persona of Desert Pete Smith. Danny started with Big Frankie out of junior college, made store manager, and then buyer. He avoided the sweets retaliation, but agreed to an outpost in Big Frankie’s laundry business. Danny set up his Gold Trading and Casino store in Elko a few months after Pete settled in Tuscorora. A year later Danny’s reputation claimed he knew everybody who was anybody in Northern Nevada.
With all his chores and shopping done, Desert Pete stopped at the Gold Mine Casino, talked to the cashier, and planted himself in the restaurant booth farthest from the slot machines on the casino floor. A half a beer later, Danny slid in next to him.
“How’s the laundry business?” Pete asked. “Hung anybody out to dry lately?”
“I’m so busy, I need another two Chinamen.”
They both laughed.
“I did get a couple extra loads from Chicago. Big Frankie must have had a little trouble in another store.
“What can I do for you?”
Pete took a swig from his beer bottle. “I know this sounds weird, but I got this itch. Those gold refining guys out in Tuscarora use a lot of Hazmat, acids, cyanide, that sort of stuff. I see it trucked in, I never see it trucked out.”
“I want to hire somebody to go out there and find out where all the used Hazmat goes.”
Danny shook his head. “You’re crazy. We’ve all got a great deal out here. Don’t mess with it.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Besides, those guys have a boatload of money and the government on their side. You upset their apple cart and they’ll squash you like a bug. They’ll blow your whole cover.”
“I know, I know, Danny. I don’t want change, I just want to find out.”
Danny sighed, slid out of the booth, and said, “Wait here, I know somebody.”
Five minutes later Danny came back, put a three-by-five card with a name, address, phone number, and e-mail in front of his friend. “Here’s your guy. He’s over in Carson City.”
The Carson City strip mall sat behind a parking lot, well off the street, but the sign next to the stop light listed all the tenants, including one called the Ecological Investigative Service. Pete parked one storefront over, knocked on the door, and walked in. A fit, tanned, man of about thirty-five sat in front of a computer screen. He waved, motioned to Pete, and continued at his keyboard for another three minutes. Pete looked around the office. Diplomas, one a BS in Biology, another a BA in criminal justice, and a third a Masters in Mining, hung on the wall behind the desk. Surrounding those were his Private Investigators License, and various certificates from the states of Nevada, California, Utah and Idaho. All bore the name Joe Woodland. Pete felt he’d walked into a lawyer’s office.
When Joe lifted his eyes from his computer screen he saw a lean, short man, no more than five-foot-six in his boots, with a bushy salt and pepper beard. A tanned face displayed protruding cheekbones. A black, wide-brimmed floppy hat, plaid flannel shirt, and faded jeans held up by a wide belt completed the picture.
Hazel eyes riveted Joe’s attention. Set deep below bushy eyebrows they stared out like a pair of laser beams. All Joe could think about was that he’d hate to sit across from this guy in a poker game.
Joe stood, his six-foot-two frame towered over his guest, offered his hand to Pete, and said, “Hello, I’m Joe Woodland, Ecological Investigative Services, welcome. What can I do for you mister, uh …”
“Smith, Pete Smith. Danny Costa recommended you.”
“Thank him for that for me, and please sit down.”
“He says you’re the one to help me with a Hazmat problem.”
“That’s a big part of what I do. What’s the problem?”
Pete explained the situation with the gold refining operation in Tuscarora, and his concerns about the disposal of the material. Joe listened intently. When Pete finished, Joe said, “Let’s see what they’re licensed for.”
Joe punched the keys on his computer. “I see they’re licensed for use and storage of a variety of Hazmat materials. It looks they covered any chemical that anyone might ever use to refine gold. My, my, they could store enough of this stuff to refine all the gold in Northern Nevada if they wanted to. This doesn’t say what they use, or how much of it, just that they can do whatever they want to.”
Several computer strokes later, Joe said, “Not a word here about disposal though. They either have someone else do that for them, or they’re illegal.”
“I knew it!” Pete blurted.
“So, Mister Pete Smith, what would you like me to do for you?”
“I want you to find out how they’re getting rid of all that stuff.”
“ Okay, here’s my rate card, and it’ll take a trip out there, so there‘re expenses involved too. I’ll need a retainer now, and bill for the rest when I’ve submitted my report.”
Pete reached into the pocket of his flannel shirt, took out a plastic vial about half full of gold dust, placed it on Joe’s desk, and then added two small nuggets beside the vial. Joe then removed a small scale from a desk drawer, poured the dust and nuggets on it, said, “Two point seven ounces. Do you agree?”
Joe went to the computer, pushed a few keys, and said, “At today’s spot price, your gold is worth thirty-four hundred and forty dollars. I’ll put that as my retainer.”
Joe then took a standard form from a desk drawer, filled in the price, date, and a brief statement of the task. He signed it, and handed it to Pete, who read it and signed next to Joe’s signature. Joe then ran a copy, and gave the original to Pete.
“Okay, I’ll be out there sometime next week. Give me your address. The report should be there in a couple weeks.”
Pete said, “What if it shows they’re into something illegal?”
“Then we’ll get together and decide what to do. As a rule, it’s a cease and desist order from the court, but until we know, I can’t say.”
After the two men stood and shook hands, Joe said, “You’re the one they call Desert Pete, aren’t you?”
“Looks like the prospecting out there in Tuscorora is pretty good.”
“It was much better before NorAir took the valley floor. Now you have to know somebody, or scramble out in the back country.”
Joe smiled. Funny, he thought, how people think of things. To him, Tuscorora was as far out in the back country as it was possible to get.