Chapter 3 - The Disappearing Gold Mine
The man in the old photo looked like Uncle Li. Shen Yu carefully examined the yellowing photo several times before confirming that it was indeed Uncle Li in his youth.
While she was looking at the photos, Tang Can had brewed two cups of tea and sat across the table from her. Shen Yu glanced at him, suspecting he was going to spill the beans on some old family history. Now this was a story she was interested in!
“Do you know what dog’s head gold is?” Before she could reply, he continued to talk. “This type of gold is formed naturally in outer space and not on Earth. The gold is shaped similarly to a dog’s head. Hence, the name.”
Shen Yu snorted and looked at him impatiently. “Stop beating about the bush and get to the point. I don’t need a recap of popular science.”
Tang Can chuckled, not at all offended by her lack of courtesy. “Please sit back and relax a bit. It can’t be comfortable for you to be sitting in that position for too long.”
Shen Yu was startled. It sounded like Tang Can wanted to explain every single detail of the past to her. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to listen to a story that long, but when he started telling the tale, she found out it was more interesting than she had anticipated. The story entailed not only her Uncle Li, but also included aspects relevant to her life. The mysterious gold mine was also included in the tale.
All of the events happened several years before Shen Yu was born.
In 1978, the vice-premier of the country declared, “Let the army go find gold!” The nation followed his proposal and formed a special military unit, the first of its kind in the world.
The Gold Discovery Armed Forces quickly traveled throughout the country. Within a few years, they had covered the entire country and explored up to the borders.
During one year, one of the squads from the Gold Discovery Armed Forces decided to team up with some geologists to make a preliminary expedition group. The group’s purpose was to investigate the mysterious Lop Nor (a salt lake located in Xinjiang province of China, used as a site for nuclear testing) district. After two years of backbreaking work, the group had nothing to show for its efforts. Just as they were about to leave the site, they found that one of the geologists and two of his students were missing. Working together, the geologists and the soldiers searched the area for the three lost people.
Two days later, the team finally found them but the missing people were on the verge of death. After giving emergency first aid, they managed to rescue the two students, but it was too late for the geologist. His heart had given out from stress. He left behind a camera and his knapsack. When the team opened the backpack, what they found inside shocked them. Besides the researcher’s journal, there was also a large metal ore that weighed around two kilograms and about eighty percent of it was dog’s head gold. Although it was not the first piece of dog’s head gold found in the country, it was one of the largest.
In order to commemorate his memory, the team sent the deceased researcher’s belongings to the National Geological Museum. The museum employees did not expect the camera to contain anything interesting so no one looked closely at the pictures after they were developed. The journal and the photos were stored in the museum’s storage vault and were forgotten. At the time no one knew that the photos contained clues to the world’s largest mineral deposit.
A few years later, the museum’s manager was tidying up junk and rediscovered the geologist’s belongings. Unfortunately, most of the camera’s pictures had been destroyed by mold and only a few out of the original twenty were still usable. The images showed a mountain of gold sparkling in the harsh sun of the desert, shocking everyone who saw them.
The excitement generated by these photos influenced people to flip through the deceased geologist’s journal. The last couple of pages depicted the time when the geologist and the students were missing. It described in detail how they had found countless ores of dog’s head gold and used their equipment to find the exact coordinates of the gold deposit. With those measurements, the geologist and his students were able to draw a map. In their excitement, they had miscalculated their supply of food and water. By the time they set off to go back to the expedition team, their supplies had completely run out. Only death awaited for them in the desert. The last of the entries ended just before the rescuers had found them.
Despite frantically looking for the map that the journal mentioned, no one ever found it. It was not with the other belongings that were stashed at the museum. Even so, the government at that time was shocked by the news. Unfortunately, too much time had passed. The geologist had been dead for years and no one knew where his two students went. Tracking down people was not as easy as it was today.
The commanding army officer of that expedition unit had always felt depressed about the whole situation. By letting the largest gold deposit in the world slip away, he had missed his chance to become immortalized in the history books. It was one of the biggest setbacks of his life.
Tang Can let out a long sigh after he finished telling the story. His eyes were dark with emotion and evidence of moisture could be seen at the corners.
As a reporter, Shen Yu was familiar with making deductions based on incomplete information. Tang Can was probably the son of that military officer. If she combined that with what she knew about Uncle Li, what was his role in all of this?
She paused before slowly asking Tang Can. “Was Uncle Li the student of the geologist?”
He smiled with difficulty. The smile was just as attractive as before but his obvious discomfort made her feel uncomfortable. He nodded. “You are very intelligent!”
Shen Yu wasn’t naive enough to take his words as a true compliment. Most of the facts had already been laid out. She would be a very poor reporter if she wasn’t able to deduce this much.
A frown crossed her face. She still wasn’t sure how these past events were linked with her. Uncle Li had been crazy for as long as she knew him, and it was not as if she could have talked to him about his past. All she knew were the rumors passed down by villagers. Tang Can actually knew more about Uncle Li’s past than she did! None of this explained why he and his men had sought her out.
“Since you guys were able to find me, then I assume you already know that Uncle Li is a madman. I wasn’t even alive when he had left the expedition team. If you’re trying to find out more about Uncle Li, I am not the best person to ask, you should go ask my parents instead!”
Tang Can massaged his eyes and cleared his throat in an effort to control his reactions. Talking about his father’s past seemed to draw out strong emotions.
Shen Yu waited patiently for him to slowly calm down, understanding that this was a difficult topic for him. After regaining control of himself, Tang Can’s face turned slightly red out of embarrassment, “Please forgive me for my poor manners.”
A warm smile graced her face. “Your story was very interesting, but how is any of this related to me?” she reiterated.
She thought about the unsettling events that occurred just a couple of hours ago. The old man was quite agitated when he saw her and she recalled exactly what he said. “Gold! Gold! A mine filled with gold!” None of that made any sense to her.
Tang Can ignored her question as if he never heard it. He inspected the tea in front of them and stated that he would get some fresh tea as drinking cold tea was bad for one’s stomach. After smiling again at her, he stood up to switch out the tea.
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