Chapter 12

The River Flowed Backwards

Ray picked Oliver and Jeanne up outside the door to the apartment shortly after seven that morning. They tossed their gear, which consisted of Oliver’s photography equipment and a small backpack containing food, flashlights, rope, and other gear that Oliver considered essential for any fact finding expedition, into the back of the battered old pickup truck and climbed into the cab beside him, with Jeanne riding in the middle. It was over an hour drive from New Orleans to the long abandoned access road on the western outskirts of White Castle.

“I hope you don’t mind me bringing someone else in on this little photo project of yours,” Ray said as he guided the truck down the narrow streets of the French quarter and towards the highway.

“Who might that be?” Oliver asked, raising an eyebrow. He’d called Ray again because the man had a personal connection to the White Castle mine and Oliver had him on retainer for the week as a guide to the abandoned places around New Orleans, but he hadn’t expected the old guide to involve anyone else.

“I hear your tone, kid. Now don’t you worry. It’s just my nephew Tony. I thought I told you about him yesterday.”

“Might have. You told a lot of stories yesterday.”

Ray laughed and used the dashboard coil to light up his first cigarette of the day. Once he had got a lungful of smoke, he said, “I do tend to run my mouth, that I do.” Smoke trailed from his wrinkled lips as he spoke and he finished with a guttural chuckle that threatened to turn into a cough.

“Is this going to be a problem, Oliver?” Jeanne asked.

“Don’t you worry yourself a bit, lady. My nephew don’t give a shit if you’re breaking into an abandoned mine. Fact is, I called him in for two simple reasons. Reason ‘A’ is that I don’t do underground. I’ll take you to the mine, sure enough, but I ain’t going down there. You see, about ten years back I…”

“And the second reason?” Oliver interrupted. It was true that he could not honestly recall if Ray had mentioned his nephew the day before amid the continual stream of tall tales he had spun about himself and his extended family. He didn’t want the old guide to get distracted on another lengthy digression before he finished explaining why he had called another person onto the job.

“I was getting to that. The other reason I called Tony after you mentioned me driving you out to White Castle is that he’s been down that mine in recent years. Tony’s more’n a bit lazy, but he’s got an enterprising streak and he’s like you. What I mean by that is, he’s got an itch for abandoned places. A couple years back he told me that he organized some of his chopper buddies to run, well, let’s call a pig a pig and say they were organizing unlicensed parties in abandoned, out of the way places. College kids pay fifty bucks to get in and god know what for drinks, no ID check required if you get my drift, and Tony would take the profits.”