Chapter 28

The story so far: Strikers are on the march; Lily and Anton have a baby boy.

 

No one was more surprised than Milo. It worked just as Paul had said it would. He, Andre, Mrs. Sherek and Paul had spent nearly every night in the last two weeks planning at the underground field bunker and it sure paid off. For here he was, on the second day in June, in his eighteenth year of life, leading a strike. “They will follow you,” Paul had told him. “Trust me.” Every single miner had walked out. How Paul had orchestrated it, he did not know. He would never ask. That was one thing he had learned from the men at the Slovenski Dom: You don’t want to know too much.

Milo wondered if it would go as smoothly at the Miller. At the St. James he had Andre on the inside. Andre had known exactly how many mine guards would be on duty. He knew how many of the men were armed. He knew where the captains would be and had estimated how many men it would take to subdue them. Andre had been right. “Is there someone at the Miller on the inside?” Milo had asked.

“Don’t matter,” Paul had told him. “One action leads to the next. If everything goes as planned, at the St. James, the rest will fall in place. Don’t pay to overthink. Would just get us in trouble.”

“How so?” Milo asked.

“Spies,” Andre had said, with a crooked grin. “They’re everywhere. Never know if you might tip off the wrong person.”

Some of the miners had grabbed musical instruments. He heard a drum and a few trumpets. That helped them pick up the pace a bit. Dang, it sure was hot. Milo wanted to take off his shirt, like many of the men had done, and just wear his work pants and suspenders. But Paul and Andre still had their shirts and hats on. He was one of the leaders too, an official Wob, now, just like them. He wanted to look the part. He kept walking, his head held high. Every once in a while, he’d look back. “Holy smokes,” he’d think. The river of people stretched so far behind him. He knew his parents would be proud. When he got back to the boarding house, he’d ask Katka if she’d let him use her typewriter. He’d write them a letter. He wouldn’t reveal any secrets, of course, but he’d tell them that he was a big man now, doing important things.

When they got to the Miller mine, they were almost five hundred strong. Three hundred were workers; the rest were wives, children and strike sympathizers. The workers chanted the strike words raucously. When the first workers at the Miller mine emerged from the cage and held up their clenched fists in a show of solidarity, the crowd could hardly contain itself. Then, they just kept coming. The workers began to sing.

As they reached the property line of the Miller Mine, Milo’s adrenaline soared. But there was no showdown at the Miller. The workers met no resistance from the captains and guards. This was a smaller mine and management was outnumbered by a confident crowd. All the managers could do was watch as their operation was depleted of its work force.

Someone with ambition was trying to form the men and women into tidy rows. “Heck,” Milo thought. “Who said foreign-borns couldn’t organize?”

“I think everybody’s out of the shaft,” Andre said.

“Time to carry on to the next mine,” Paul said.

Milo saw Anton approach from the west, Bruno leading his cart. “Hold up,” Milo said.

Anton pulled up his cart next to them. “No violence?”

“None,” Paul said.

“Glad to hear it,” Anton said. “Got something for you, fellas.” He swung off his horse, reached into the cart and removed one of the three heavy crates.

Andre the Bulgarian tipped his hat. “We appreciate what you trying to do Anton, but we don’t want no guns. We’re going bare fisted.”

“These ain’t no guns.” Anton grabbed the second crate and passed it to Milo. Then he lifted the third and put it down by the others. “And I ain’t trying to do nothing for you. I’m a businessman. I’ll send you a bill. I don’t get mixed up in politicals.” He got back on his horse and rode back to the Slovenski Dom.

Milo slowly opened one of the crates. “Well, I’ll be,” he said, shaking his head in wonder.

“What is it?”

He reached into the crate and pulled out a bottle. He held it high in the air. “Soda pop!” The crowd was joyful. The temperature had risen above eighty-five degrees. The miners had already worked half a day and walked seven miles in the heat. The thought of a drink bolstered their already high spirits. Paul and Andre started emptying the crates, passing the bottles back into the crowd. When all the bottles were distributed, the strikers and townsfolk continued their march to the next mine.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 29 begins.