Mind Sweeper

Mind Sweeper by Deborah O'Toole is a haunting mystery/suspense novel now available in Kindle, Kobo and Nook editions.


Newly-widowed Beth Mills accepts an outpouring of sympathy from her community after a freak mining accident takes the life of her husband, Aaron. Unbeknownst to anyone, she is secretly delighted that her cruel husband is lost to her, but never expects his vicious ghost to return and haunt her in more ways than one...

From Chapter Fourteen

August 2007

One More Aaron Night, with Feeling


BOB PALMER SPENT Sunday morning reading The Oregon Herald. He enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, and then sat in his living room to peruse the newspaper. It wasn’t until he finished reading the publication from back to front that he allowed himself to think about his meeting with MSHA the day before.

“We are convinced the mine collapse was deliberately set,” Andrew Gibson had told him in the windowless conference room at the office.

Gibson, a tall man with sandy hair, was accompanied by his district manager Brent Shelby. Bob had talked to Shelby on the telephone over the years, all to do with mining affairs, but had never met him in person. Shelby was vastly built, his corpulent frame housed in khaki trousers and a loose-fitting dress shirt. He was sweating profusely, even though the conference room was air conditioned, and his moist lower lip protruded even when he was silent.

“How is that possible?” Bob asked, shocked by the findings of their investigation. “Who would do such a thing? And why? How can you prove it?”

“We examined the video taken by the camera in the bore hole,” Shelby replied. “We watched the film over and over again, I might add. We didn’t want to miss anything. It wasn’t until we viewed the video dozens of times that we noticed the power cords on several of the safety lamps were frayed.”

“The damage to the cords was not a result of the collapse,” Gibson continued. “It looks as though someone stripped the cords nearly to the core, leaving just enough of the composite safety coating to hide the frays. You know as well as I do that a spark can ignite methane gas deep in the mine, causing an explosion. The explosion led to the virtual collapse of the stopes, which of course buried the miners alive.”

“We originally thought it was a rail car that created the sparks,” Bob stated thoughtfully. “Now you think it was produced by sparks from frayed lamp cords? What could cause them all to spark in the first place, and all at the same opportune time?”

“I know this is going to sound far-fetched,” Gibson said. “But I think we can prove someone used a sophisticated remote device to ignite the sparks, maybe even implementing wireless technology. Whatever the case, it had to be long-range switch system. In the video we can see the remains of what might be an RCT receiver, located next to three safety lamps near one of the offshoot tunnels. Mind you, the tunnel in question was the last one used by the miners before the collapse. This means someone knew where the men would be in the mine at the exact time of the explosion.”

Bob was suddenly defensive. “Are you accusing me?”

“Not at all,” Shelby spoke up. “We think it might have been a disgruntled worker, or someone from the outside – a competitor wanting to discredit you, perhaps.”

Bob shook his head. “How would anyone else know the work schedule? I set the timetables, after which they are maintained by shift supervisors. The actual workers don’t know where they’re going in the mine from day to day, at least not until they report for their shift.”

“Aaron Mills was the shift supervisor on the day of the collapse,” Gibson said pointedly.

“Yes,” Bob agreed, although he was growing irritated. “And Aaron Mills is dead, along with four other men in my employ. Are you suggesting Aaron set the explosion to commit suicide?” When Gibson shrugged, Bob continued strongly: “Why on earth would he do that? He was a respected member of this community with a loving wife at home, not to mention being well-paid for his position in the mine. Cripes, gentlemen, Aaron started working for me right out of high school, some twenty-eight years ago. His father worked for my father, and so on and so forth.” He shook his head. “I just can’t see Aaron taking his own life, not to mention those of his coworkers.”

“Didn’t Aaron’s father and brother die in the 1987 Misty Canyon accident?” Shelby wanted to know. “Perhaps he held a grudge?”

Bob snorted. “Surely not. Why would he wait twenty years before taking action, for crying out loud? No, there has to be some other explanation.”

“I’m willing to concede Aaron might not be responsible,” Gibson said. “However, we’re certain the explosion and subsequent collapse was deliberately set. If not brought about by Aaron by process of elimination, then someone else surely had a hand in it.”

“Is that going to be your official word?” Bob asked coolly.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Now that our inquiry is complete, other federal and local authorities will probably launch a separate criminal investigation.”

“I have no intention of not cooperating,” Bob told Gibson. “I want answers just as much as you do.”

“I understand,” Gibson replied sympathetically. “I apologize for the length of the investigation, but we wanted to make sure of our facts before making a pronouncement. We also wanted to give you the courtesy of first report, as it were.”

“Thank you for that,” Bob said grimly. “I’ll keep my mouth shut until you make a public statement.”

“Your discretion is much appreciated,” Shelby intoned. “I’ll send you a copy of our full report in a few days time.”

After he left the office to return home, Bob was still in a state of semi-shock. It never occurred to him that the mine explosion might be the result of deliberate intent to do harm. He could think of no one “disgruntled” enough to kill five miners and destroy their livelihoods.

However, he was willing to trust Andrew Gibson. The man knew his job, and did it well. Gibson was thorough and not likely to give over to illogical conclusions or to let fly wild accusations. Bob was willing to agree with him to a certain point, but he drew the line at fingering Aaron Mills as the mastermind behind the mine collapse.

                It was simply inconceivable.



MIND SWEEPER ©2011-16 Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Mind Sweeper" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Mind Sweeper" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.