The Hottest Place on Earth
The Hottest Place on Earth
1. Geiger Counter Downs
I was in Port Radium, on Great Bear Lake, for six weeks before rumours evolved into proof the isolated mining camp had a sinister past linked with Hiroshima. The first time I met Corey, our reclusive geologist, he turned my suspicion to outrage ...
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Corey's reputation was hard to nail down. I heard he was a frat rat who was usually intoxicated on Quaaludes. But didn't that breed tend to puff up in cardigan sweaters, abuse alcohol, and seek social status at country clubs? Our Corey hung about the camp as a skeletal loner rattling his bones beneath a dusty lab coat, self-medicating himself to temper his reality. In my estimation, he had potential.
He met my expectations the first time I really met him. He was in his early twenties, as was I; his voice was weak and his shoulders slumped - mine were not. He presented as innocuous and clean-cut, whereas I was brash, opinionated, and tended to rebellion. After weeks in isolation, all chameleon disguises become transparent. There is no place to hide, everyone knows everyone else's propensities, and all are on raw display. Corey's solution to simplify life's challenges was pharmaceutical and personal, so I did not judge him. Equally in his favour, Corey was friends with the twins, Genna and Morag. Any familiar contact with them was off-limits for the rest of us; therefore, their bunkhouse, a place we called the sugar shack, was never out of our minds. For his connections, Corey garnered universal envy and spiteful gossip, but I doubt he ever got laid.
On this particular day, my room partner, Michael, and I had met the plane and were unloading the light supplies. Any nonperishable cargo that arrived with the company plane that a man could lift, I delivered. Michael was thin and strong, had long, greasy brown hair, perennial stubble, and was a French Canadian. About my age and my height, he was on the run from the law - I was not, although I placed in the "brush with the law" category. Michael always carried a folding knife and was unafraid of the thugs running the back alleys of Winnipeg.
"Careful with that, Michael," I said. "It's probably vital to mining operations I deliver it intact and pronto." The package was marked "RUSH" and was destined for the geology office.
After so many weeks in camp, I had been responding to the boredom by talking, at times, like a telephone switchboard operator. Somewhat more disturbing was the fact I was aware of this but never bothered trying to curb the inclination. Camp life had become long days of self-survival. My only focus was to make it to the end of the four-month contract term. I was only halfway through my contract, so it was still a toss-up whether I'd get out before going bonkers. That is the exact kind of personal information you keep private in an isolated camp, but like I say, there was no place to hide.
Michael stopped with the box held firmly in both his hands. It was also clearly marked "FRAGILE" on six sides. He spun around, dropped it, then fired off a sardonic mock-Nazi salute at me.
Later that afternoon, I made the delivery to Corey's lab. It was after 3:00 p.m. before I finished a lengthy bout of frustrated flirting with Morag, who occasionally worked in the cook shack. However, the time I invested was as wasted as ripe fruit rotting on the vine, because lately, when in my company, we were chaperoned by the camp cook's obese wife.
I slid the bus to a stop at the geologist's office. Corey had rooms in one of the larger, almost abandoned warehouses, repurposed from the original miner's two-storey bunkhouse. Built on the lakeshore, it stuck out like a sore thumb on a hand full of arthritic digits. The building was another example of the many dreary, abandoned structures at the site. Constructed of timber and yellowed plywood, torn black tar paper sheet