Photo by Lance Booth.

Part of a series.

My fingers trembled as I pushed the buttons of my home phone. I was scared, but most of all I was worried about Bart. He had a family to care for. He had a mortgage to pay and a child to feed. As the phone in Bart’s home rang, a lump rose up into my throat. His wife answered. “Hello?”

“Is Bart home?”

“Yea, let me go get him. Who is this?”

“Uuhhm Gary from work”

“Oh, he’ll definitely want to talk to you.”
That statement alone was enough to let me know that Bart had already been contacted by the company. I was too late.

“Hey, Gary, What’s going on?”
“Ahh just got back from Mousie. Had to go meet with Craig and someone from Pittsburgh.”

“You must have just missed me. They caught me before I left the parking lot.”

“I’m really sorry man. I had no idea this would happen. I deleted the video from the internet. I’m really, really sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. I wish you wouldn’t have put the pictures of me in there, but it’s too late now. That’s how they knew to talk to me first. They didn’t recognize you in the video.”

“Sh*t, I’m really sorry. I don’t believe they found it themselves. I think someone ratted us out.”
“I don’t know how they found out, but it’s costing me three days without pay. That’s all I’m worried about.”

Bart didn’t have to say it. I knew he had turned me in for making the video and putting it online. I’m sure he had the same option as me. Suspension with possible termination, unless he gave up who made the video. I couldn’t be mad at him, though. He had much more at stake than I. What did I have to lose? Next semester’s tuition, my books for class, $250 rent for my apartment in the middle of nowhere Knott County? I felt like Bart made the right choice, regardless of me losing my job. I was faced with making the right decision for myself. I needed to find a new job with a new company before I was fired by Consol. The next morning I went directly to the unemployment office and looked at the listings for underground mining jobs. At the top of the list I read Enterprise Mining- General Laborer, Scoop Operator, Shuttle Car Operator, Roof Bolter, Miner Operator. Before I made the five-minute drive to my mother’s house my cell phone began to ring.
“Is Gary Bentley there?”

“This is him. Can I help you?”

“Yes, this is Sharon with Enterprise Mining. We just received your application and wanted to know when you could come in to talk to J.R. the mine manager?”

“Anytime you want.”

“He’s here until 3:30pm if you can come in today. We’re hiring immediately.”

I hung up the phone, passed the street my mother lived on and kept my truck heading north west on Highway toward Vicco, Kentucky. As I traveled the one lane road past the Imperial Club better known as the Big “I,” my heart began to flutter. My heart and mind were both confused. Was this the right decision? I hadn’t been fired yet. Should I really quit the largest coal company in the world to go to work for a much smaller regional company? All questions that I could not answer. I only knew that I was scared and looking to continue my career as an underground miner. When I walked into the office, the chairs in the lobby were full. There was a variety of men sitting in the chairs. Some looking much younger than me, some looking to be not far behind my grandfather in age. There were men who looked like they had not bathed in weeks and others in their Sunday best that could have passed as high school principals. I looked through the window at the front desk.

“I’m Gary Bentley, Sharon just called me and ask if I could come in today.”

“I’m Sharon, I’ll let J.R. know you are here. Just have a seat in the lobby, and we will be with you very soon”

Before I could sit down a very large man, more than six feet tall, and well over 300 pounds came out of an office

“Gary Bentley, come with me.”

I followed him into the office. It was a small and simple space. A cheap laminate desk centered with mine maps hanging on the wall. There was a laptop in the corner with the screen folded down. There were no family photos. There were no papers littering the top of his desk. The man was simple and organized.

“Mr. Bentley, I brought you in here because you are young and ambitious. I see that you have quite a bit of experience but very little operating heavy equipment. That’s not the important part though. You are going to college and working full time in the mines. That is what says something about you. I want to offer you a job as a scoop operator. We’ll start you off at 19.10 an hour. You just need to get a physical and drug test. We will do a training class before you start and get you to work as soon as possible. Are you interested?”

I quickly thought this over. They pay was a dollar an hour less than I made now but I may not even have a job next week so what could I lose?

“Yes sir. That would be great!”

“All right then. Stop out front and Sharon will take care of everything you need.”

Sharon scheduled my physical exam and drug test for the following week and made copies of my mining certifications.

“We will setup orientation and training and call you when your drug test and physical results are returned. It should be no more than three weeks so you can notify your current employer as needed.”

A weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I knew that now I could relax and not have the stress of worrying over where my next paycheck would come from. I spent the next week hanging out with friends, playing music, and riding my ATV. Until my phone rang.

“Gary, this is Craig. We’ve decided that you should return to work on Sunday night. We realized that you had no ill intent with your video and made a simple mistake. Hopefully this time away from work has given you the opportunity to realize your mistake.”

I didn’t mention my new job, I didn’t give a notice, I packed my lunch and I went to work Sunday night. As I arrived at the mine the parking lot was blocked by the Knott County Sheriff’s Department and Kentucky State Police.

“In the Black” is published every Monday. Gary Bentley is a former underground coal miner from east Kentucky.

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