The steam blew up in bellows around Jacob Frowly's head, wet and sticky. He sighed as he checked his watch, only twenty more minutes left and he could leave this hole. Jacob walked past the hissing pipes as he walked farther down into the tunnel, the lamps flickered and cast jagged shadows throughout the tunnel, leaving shadowy corners where light couldn't reach. Jacob avoided these areas, there always seemed to be something cowering in the darkness.

Jacob passed a hand over his forehead, the grimy glove he wore left trails of muck in the lines of his face, making him appear twenty years older. Jacob was not a tall man, close to 5'4 but his build made up for what he lacked in height. Jacob had a barrel chest that ran through his father's side of the family, a bunch of alcoholic men who beat their wives and slapped their children when they came in late at night, Jacob refused to belong in that category. His arms were large with bulky muscle and tight sinew, the shoulder's naturally broad and square as though he served a lifetime in the military. Legs, that as a kid were skinny and gangly, now were as tough as ionized steel. His jaw was thick and his sandy hair was shaggy, with always one chunk that fell into his eyes. Jacob walked with a long stride that would give an observer the impression that he was an important man doing important business. But Jacob was just a miner, he had a quirk that led him to large coal deposits, and he was never wrong. Battling companies would have paid him millions to find the resource, but instead he worked for a small town company and got paid miniscule amounts. He didn't care, he wanted to support the little man, and above that he was a very solitary guy and solitary guys couldn't work around lots of people.

Jacob turned left along a narrow pathway that led to the excavation sight. Two major corporations were coming in the morning to see what he had found, and they would outbid each other to win the plot that would make their pocket linings full. Jacob would have done the work himself, but the boss, Dan Hardly, wanted to finish his nest egg so that he could retire and move to Texas with his wife for their 50th anniversary. Jacob knew he would have to search for a job, but he was loyal to Dan, and he would help him sell every last plot he owned even though his future would be dead.

Walking deep into the mineshaft, Jacob's neck began to prickle. He stopped and imagined glowing eyes lurking in the deep shadows out of the reach of lamplights. However, when he turned he saw nothing but the usual shadows. Suddenly a man emerged from the darkness directly in front of him. He was dressed entirely in a fitted black suit except for a pair of white gloves. His face was sharply defined, eyes that were black and menacing. His hair was as black as his suit, and his skin as fair as his gloves. He was smirking at Jacob with lips seemingly made of silk and shaped as though they belonged to Adonis.

Jacob stopped in his tracks and eyed the man carefully. He was certainly taller than Jacob, by at least eight inches and was quite wiry for someone who appeared to Jacob to be anorexic. The man stepped forward his hands on his slender hips with his long bony fingers curled into claws. His smile widened, showing perfectly aligned teeth almost overly shiny in the dull light of the tunnel. Not quite sure why, Jacob reached behind him and wrapped his meaty fingers around the handle of a pickaxe that hung from a loop in his belt. The axe was used for core samples only, weighing only eight pounds.

The man moved forward again, then began to speak in a voice of smoke through satin. "Jacob Frowly, just the man I'm looking for. You see, I've come to deliver you a message. My boss has chased after you for many years, watching you strike mine after mine of pure goldâE¦or so to speak. The deposits you find could have made you rich beyond your dreams, Mr. Frowly, but you threw it away. Or better yet, back into the face of the man that wanted to give it to you. You are a very stupid man, Mr. Frowly, you see you could have gone through life exceedingly wealthy and would have saved me from stirring up trouble just to get you to take this new "can't- say- no" offer. You see, Mr. Frowly I've had to do some "digging" so to speak on you and I've got something in the palm of my hand that you would just itch to get a hold of." The man stopped. He reached into his pocket and withdrew several photos and handed them to Jacob, being careful not to get soot on his white gloves.

Jacob looked at the man a moment longer, then at the pictures. The first was a picture of Dan Hardly and his wife Joeanne. The second was a picture of Dan again, this time Dan was missing three fingers from his right hand. Jacob's eyes flamed, he looked up at the man in black who laughed at Jacob's fury.

"Do you understand what I'm saying now Mr. Frowly. You will come with me quietly to meet my boss and accept the deal, or Joeanne will become a widow. And if you still cause me problems after, she will live, but as the disfigured whore that she is." The man in black laughed again, his flower petal lips stretched across his pearly teeth. Jacob's small body shook with pure unadulterated rage that poured from every capillary in his body, the grip on the pick tightened, knuckles bone white and the tendons bouncing like piano wire. His bulk seemed to grow with each haggard breath he drew. His face contorted as he expelled a guttural growl that shook the walls of the small cavern in which he stood. The man wearing black stepped back in shock, but quickly regained his composure and flew at Jacob with his hands curled for the soft flesh of his throat. Jacob watched and swung the pick with intense force. The blow caught the man in black squarely in the jaw. With a loud crack of breaking bone, the man was sent spinning, falling to the ground. He turned his head, to see Jacob charging him with the pick once more. He screamed, the sound muffled and bubbly with a strong flow of blood, chunks of pearl and coagulated blood flowing from his mouth. Jacob raised his arm, and in a strong arc, stopped before connecting with the man's head. The man shuddered, his piercing eyes lost their luster and his once perfect lips were smashed into pieces of bloody meat, swollen and purple.

The man in black whimpered, his black hair disheveled and coated with dust from the cavern floor. Jacob watched him with disgust, "Get up."

The man looked at him, his eyebrows scrunched together in anger. He spat onto the ground, chunks of broken teeth and phlegm commingled with coppery blood. He got to his feet slowly, dusting off his ebony pants and grunting with disgust at his dirtied gloves. He glared at Jacob through his midnight hair and struck Jacob in the side of the neck with a broken pipe. Jacob's face contorted in surprise and he fell to a heap on the ground. The man removed his dirty gloves and threw them to the side of the tunnel. He picked up the photos that had sprawled from the ground with his bony, well- manicured hands. He spat once more, this time aimed perfectly at Jacob's face. He removed two crisp white gloves from his pockets and placed them onto his hands. Satisfied, he pulled a sleek black cell phone from his blazer pocket and punched the keys. He spoke calmly and carefully. "This is Pheta Neptune, he's ready for transport. Oh, and we'll need to make a stop at an emergency room."

He hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket. Gingerly he touched the side of his face, it was swollen and the skin was split where the pick had connected. Grimacing, more at the fresh stains on his glove than at the pain, he left the tunnel and walked past the men who came to retrieve Jacob's body from the place he had fallen.

***

Jacob awoke with a severe headache. The drumming pain filled his head like the bass at a hard rock concert. He attempted to move but soon realized that he couldn't. Sounds from around him started to come into focus, he didn't recognize any of them, with the exception of one, but it sounded different. Carefully Jacob lifted his head from his chest and surveyed his surroundings. He was tied, rather tightly, to a hard oak chair. The room was white, with white leather chairs and a matching leather couch. The only other thing in the room was a glass coffee table centered exactly, it seemed, from each wall. There were several items on it as well, but Jacob couldn't quite make out what they were. The voices got louder and Jacob heard a door open from behind him. He saw the man in black first. He had strode to the couch directly across the room from Jacob and sat down, crossing his ankles. His head was incased in an intricate wire system, and the side of his face that Jacob had smashed was puffy with a rainbow of grotesque colors. His adonian lips however didn't seem to be fairing as well. They were swollen as well, but seemed as though they were a puzzle that was put together without all the correct pieces.

Jacob laughed to himself, but only for a second. A large man waddled in with an ivory cane and wearing an expensive looking suit. He had gold rings on almost every one of his flabby fingers, and on each had a variety of diamonds. The man reeked of three-day-old sweat covered with cheap cologne. As he walked, his stumpy legs jarred his layers of fat into a jiggling mass. Sweat stains have already formed at his lower back and armpits leaving wet circles in his dark suit. Plopping himself into a leather chair, with the back squealing in protest, he wiped the sweat from his brow with a stained handkerchief and looked at Jacob with piggy eyes. His face was fat and pudgy, a thin mustache above his lip. He smiled at Jacob, there were large gaps between his teeth.

"So, you are Mr. Frowly. At last I can meet you face to face. Diesel, untie Mr. Frowly, we want him to feel comfortable." The fat man smiled at Jacob.

The man he'd called Diesel was named so for good reason. He was almost twice Jacob's size in height and build. Much like the other men in the room, he was dressed in dark clothing. Jacob wasn't sure where they would buy his clothing, the man was literally huge.

The feeling rushed back into Jacob's hands with needles and ice. He flexed them several times, the color changing from purple back to they're normal hue. He rubbed at the side of his neck, there was a large knot of bruised tissue. It appeared that his migraine was emanating from that spot. Jacob rested his hands on the arm rests and tensed his bulk on the balls of his feet, ready to spring and run like hell.

Diesel returned to his spot in the doorway, crossing his beefy arms across his chest. The fat man nodded approvingly at Diesel and started speaking to the man in black. "Well, Geode, how is your face today? I commend you on your fabulous capture, even if it did ruin your beautiful face." With that the fat man laughed and turned back to Jacob.

"Mr. Frowly you've taken the expression of rearranging someone's face to the extreme. However, that is the extent of damage you will be doing to anyone else in this corporation. Now, down to business. On that coffee table there are four samples of coal. I want you to categorize them, and tell me if there is more to be found near them."

"And if I refuse?" Jacob watched the fleshy man's face redden.

"If you refuse Mr. Frowly your dear friends will certainly come to more 'accidental' harm."

Jacob remembered Dan's hand from the photos. He grimaced inwardly and walked cautiously to the glass table. He looked toward the fat man, his face was greasy and he nodded toward the table. Jacob sighed and dropped to his knees beside it. He picked up each chunk of coal and tested them in his hands. He watched the color spread onto his hands. He knew they were all doomed. They were only from very small deposits. Not even close to $200 worth in each, even enough to pay for the cost of the excavation. Jacob dropped the lumps back onto the table. Puffs of coal dust flew and landed on the plush white carpet. Jacob looked at the fat man, his eyes watched the dust settle onto his carpet before his face turned deep crimson. Jacob could almost see his blood boil. Then as quickly as it came, it subsided. The fat man smiled at Jacob without joy.

"Well, Mr. Frowly, how are my coal deposits. I'm going to be a much richer man, yes?" He laughed.

Jacob shook his head. "You've struck a pile of shit. Not only is that coal no good, it's a very poor deposit. You'll end up paying more money to have it dug then you'll make from its sale." With that Jacob sat back in the oak chair. He watched the fat mans face redden and waited for an explosion of rage. For now it seemed that it was lodged somewhere, and Jacob feared that the man would have a coronary and die while he watched. From off to the side Jacob heard muffled laughter. When he looked around, he saw that Geode's eyes were full of tears. He had one hand to the side of his face and his cracked lips were smiling.

"I told you, you fat bastard. You're bad luck. You've eaten too much of your money to support yourself let alone live the comfortable life you have been." Geode couldn't talk any more. Now he gripped his sides and laughed from deep in his throat. His laugh seemed to be infectious because before he knew it, Jacob was laughing as well.

Deep roars of hearty laughter faded to giddy giggles. Jacob wiped the tears from his eyes, leaving small trails from the coal he had handled. Geode looked at him through his wiring and pointed at his face. The giggles came full throttle and turned back into a cataclysm of laughter. From behind him, Jacob could hear a low rumble. Startled he turned and saw Diesel doubled over, clutching his stomach.

The large threatening man, now looked more like a teddy bear. Jacob stood laughing, and stumbled over to the large man. He slapped him on the back and Diesel's rumble turned into a train. The big man fell to the floor, sitting against the wall and breathing deeply between each peal of sniggering. Suddenly, as quick as lightening, Jacob smashed Diesel in the head with a balled fist. The laughter stopped.

Diesel stood, his face in shock. He looked at Jacob with fire in his eyes. Jacob closed his eyes, knowing he had been very stupid. There was wet thump and a low moan. Jacob opened his eyes, Diesel was on his knees, his eyes bulging from his head. He collapsed face first at Jacob's feet. Stunned Jacob looked around him, Geode stood behind Diesel, an ivory cane clutched in his fist. He smiled at Jacob then strode to the fat man.

He spoke, his smoky voice had changed, it was now as ragged as rusted barbed wire. "Looky here, pig boy. I've done what you've wanted. I've gotten my face broken and no pay. I am not your loyal servant." Spitting out the words he turned toward Jacob.

"Jake, I don't really work for this meatball. I'm a gun for hire." He shook his dark locks out of his face. "As a matter of fact, I didn't touch Dan Hardly. All of the damage you saw was done by that crumpled man- dog at your feet. I've been pulled into this just like you." Geode chuckled, but his eyes were on fire. "I haven't been a hit man for almost six years. I had wanted out. Until this greasy sleaze ball dug up my past and threatened to hurt my family. My sister and her kids live out here, and he got a hold of them. Ground them up in his meaty hands." Geode stopped. His eyes were brimming with hot tears and his milky shade grew paler. "He killed them, Jake. The kids first. Oh, God." Geode sat down, the cane still clutched in his hand. "They were so little." His voice was barely a whisper.

His wiry body shook, Jacob watched him and stepped forward, not sure what he was going to do. Quickly, almost as though electricity had hit him, Geode stood. He strode to the fat man who sat in his plush white chair. After seeing his muscle man fallen his face had grown ashen and he prayed the two violent men would forget he was there. He was wrong.

Geode took two strong strides and raised the ivory cane over his head. He yelled, the bass shaking the windows. He began to bring the cane down in a deathblow when a strong arm blocked it. Geode glared at Jacob. Jacob shook his head and let the cane go. He watched the cane slowly fall back to Geode's side. The anger had faded from Geode's face, and in its place was a look of disgust.

Jacob stepped over Diesel's crumpled body. He probed him with a shoe and heard a low moan. Jacob looked up from Diesel to Geode. Geode nodded, and Jacob turned and walked down the long hallway to the stairway at the end. As he began to descend he heard a curdled scream, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. He stopped and listened for more sound. An ivory cane hit the floor and soft cat-like strides were making their way to the stairwell.

***

Together, Jacob and Geode had found Dan Hardly and his wife. They were more than relieved to be out on their own again and they gathered their things and left for Texas as soon as Jacob returned to the mine to sell the new plot.

Jacob stood in the tunnel again, this time the darkness didn't threaten him. He ran his fingers along the dirt walls and felt a deep well of wealth spewing from them. He smiled to himself, Dan Hardly was going to be a rich, rich man.

**Several months later**

Jacob stood in a large cavern. He shone around his flashlight, sparkling gems winked in reply. Jacob looked on in awe. He didn't know why he had this strange gift for the earth, but it was going to make him happy some day. Suddenly Jacob felt a presence in the cavern with him. He turned and a tall sinewy man stepped into his beam of light. He was wiry with midnight hair pulled back into a low ponytail. His black eyes were soft and his adonian lips and returned to their glory. He extended a white gloved hand to Jacob and talked with a voice of silk.

"It's taken me quite some time to track you Mr. Frowly." He smiled, a row of new pearly teeth shone in the light.

"Your face looks much better," smiled Jacob, extending his hand to Geode's outstretched one, "and your teeth still look like pearls."

"Well, Jake that's why I've been tracking you down. You see, after the little 'incident' involving the fat man's untimely death a case was opened and revealed a whole lot of misdealings he had done. I was paid in full for the mutilation of my sister and her family." Geode's eyes dimmed, and his face seemed to fall. "It's not replacing them, but it did pay for a grand funeral. But anyhow, Jake, you've got a settlement too. I'd like to give you a good chunk of the money I received. I certainly am not going to spend it all in my lifetime, and with it you could finally stop playing in the dirt." He smiled, his teeth flashing.

"That's mighty generous of you Geode, but I can't take your money." Jacob smiled at him. "Besides, I like playing in the dirt, and this little hole I've got just might be worth something."

Geode looked around him at the large winking stones in the walls. "You just might be onto something, Jake." With a final flash of white and a quick wink, Geode seemed to fade into the dark just as he had come.

Jacob strained his eyes but gave up searching. He laughed heartily and yelled out, "One day, Geode, I'll climb out of this hole and when I do you've got to teach me that trick." He strained his ears and was rewarded with a peal of soft laughter like rain on cotton. He knew he would see that lanky man again, someday.