production planning and control

Chapter 18
Production Planning and Control

In any manufacturing enterprise production is the driving force to which most other functions
react. This is particularly true with inventories; they exist because of the needs of production. In
this chapter the relationship of production planning and control to work-in-process inventories is

Objectives of Production Planning Control

The ultimate objective of production planning and control, like that of all other manufacturing
controls, is to contribute to the profits of the enterprise. As with inventory management and
control, this is accomplished by keeping the customers satisfied through the meeting of delivery
schedules. Specific objectives of production planning and control are to establish routes and
schedules for work that will ensure the optimum utilization of materials, workers, and machines
and to provide the means for ensuring the operation of the plant in accordance with these plans.

Production Planning and Control Functions

All of the four basic phases of control of manufacture are easily identified in production planning
and control. The plan for the processing of materials through the plant is established by the
functions of process planning, loading, and scheduling. The function of dispatching puts the plan
into effect; that is, operations are started in accordance with the plant. Actual performance is then
compared to the planned performance, and, when required, corrective action is taken. In some
instances re-planning is necessary to ensure the effective utilization of the manufacturing
facilities and personnel. Let us examine more closely each of these functions.

Process Planning (Routing)

The determination of where each operation on a component part, subassembly, or assembly is to
be performed results in a route for the movement of a manufacturing lot through the factory.
Prior determination of these routes is the job of the manufacturing engineering function.


Once the route has been established, the work required can be loaded against the selected
machine or workstation. The total time required to perform the operation is computed by
multiplying the unit operation times given on the standard process sheet by the number of parts
to be processed. This total time is then added to the work already planned for the workstation.
This is the function of loading, and it results in a tabulated list or chart showing the planned
utilization of the machines or workstations in the plant.


Scheduling is the last of the planning functions. It determines when an operation is to be
performed, or when work is to be completed; the difference lies in the detail of the scheduling
procedure. In a centralized control situation -where all process planning, loading, and scheduling


for the plant are done in a central office-the details of the schedule may specify the starting and
finishing time for an operation. On the other hand, the central schedule may simply give a
completion time for the work in a given department.

Combining Functions

While it is easy to define “where” as process planning, “how much work” as loading, and “when
as scheduling, in actual operations these three functions are often combined and performed
concurrently. How far in advance routes, loads, and schedules should be established always
presents an interesting problem. Obviously, it is desirable that a minimum of changes be made
after schedules are established. This objective can be approached if the amount of work
scheduled for the factory or department is equal to or slightly greater than the manufacturing
cycle. For optimum control, it should never be less than the manufacturing cycle.


Authorizing the start of an operation on the shop floor is the function of dispatching. This
function may be centralized or decentralized. Again using our machine-shop example, the
departmental dispatcher would authorize the start of each of the three machine operations – three
dispatch actions based on the foreman’s routing and scheduling of the work through his
department. This is decentralized dispatching.

Reporting or Follow – up

The manufacturing activity of a plant is said to be “in control” when the actual performance is
within the objectives of the planned performance. When jobs are started and completed on
schedule, there should be very little, if any, concern about the meeting of commitments.
Optimum operation of the plant, however, is attained only if the original plan has been carefully
prepared to utilize the manufacturing facilities fully and effectively.

Corrective Action

This is the keystone of any production planning and control activity. A plant in which all
manufacturing activity runs on schedule in all probability is not being scheduled to its optimum
productive capacity. With an optimum schedule, manufacturing delays are the rule, not the


Re-planning is not corrective action. Re-planning revise routes, loads, and schedules; a new plan
is developed. In manufacturing this is often required. Changes in market conditions,
manufacturing methods, or many other factors affecting the plant will often indicate that a new
manufacturing plan is needed.


Factors Affecting Production Planning and Control

The factors that affect the application of production planning and control to manufacturing are
the same as the factors we have already discussed that affect inventory management and control.
Let us briefly review these in relation to production planning and control.

Type of Product

Again, it is the complexity of the product that is important, not what the product is, except as this
may in turn relate to the market being served. Production control procedures are much more
complex and involve many more records in the manufacture of large steam turbine generator sets
or locomotives to customer orders then in the production of large quantities of a standard product
involving only a few component parts, such as electric blankets, steam irons, or similar small

Type of Manufacturing

This is probably the most influential factor in the control situation. For a large continuous
manufacturing plant producing a standard product, we have already indicated that the routing
was included in the planning of the plant layout.

Production Planning and Control Procedures

A detailed discussion of all the techniques and procedures of production planning and control is
beyond the scope of this book; many complete text books exist on the subject. We have already
indicated that planning and control practices will vary widely from plant to plant. Further the
many ways in which of the functions might be carried out in practice were indicated earlier in
this chapter.

Though no production control function can be entirely eliminated, the least control that results in
effective operation of the factory is the best control. It must be remembered that production
planning and control systems should be tools of management. The objective is not an elaborate
and detailed system of controls and records, but rather, the optimum operation of the plant for
maximum profits.

Production Planning and Control Systems

Because production planning and control places an emphasis on the control of work-in-process,
the system will in effect tie together all previous records and forms developed in all planning for
the manufacture of the product.

Market forecast

The market forecast is discussed in Chapter 26. Its value to production planning and control is
that it will indicate future trends in demand for manufactured product. Work shift policies, plans
for an increase or decrease in manufacturing activity, or possible plant expansions may often be


based upon the market forecasts and in turn affect the planning of the production planning and
control group.

Sales Order

This is the second of the five classes of orders. It is a rewrite of the customer’ order specifying
what has been purchased – product and quantity and authorizing shipment of the goods to the
customer. Multiple copies are prepared and all interested functions are furnished a copy. Sales
orders may be written by marketing, inventory control, or production control.

Stock Order

This third class of order is not always used. In the preceding paragraph we indicated how it may
be used after sales order accumulate to an economical manufacturing lot. It is, of course, the
principal order when manufacturing to stock. It will authorize production in anticipation of future

Shop Order

This fourth class of order deals with the manufacture of component parts. Customer orders, sales
orders, and stock orders are for the finished product. In the preceding chapters we discussed how,
by product explosion, the requirements are established for component parts to build assembled

Standard Process sheet

This form is prepared by process engineering and it is the source of basic data as to the type of
machine to be used, the time required for processing and the sequence of operations in the
manufacture of the product. Routing and scheduling of shop orders, as well as loading of workstations
in advance of scheduling, depend on up-to-date standard process sheets being available
to the production planning and control group.

Engineering Specifications

Blueprints and bills of materials are used by production planning and control when they become
a component part of the packaged instructions issued to the shop through the control office. One
good planning procedure is to accumulate all necessary data for a shop order in a single package-
the standard process sheet, the blueprint, the bill of material (if an assembly operation is
involved), the route sheet, and possibly the schedule for the production of the order.

Route Sheet

This is the form on which the route of a shop order is indicated. In practice, this form is generally
combined with one of the other forms in the system. For example, the shop order, the standard
process sheet, and the route sheet are often one piece of paper-usually called the shop order or
the manufacturing order.


Load Charts

These charts are prepared to show the productive capacity that has been “sold” – and at the same
time the available productive capacity. These charts may be prepared for each workstation or
machine in the plant, or they may be for groups of machines or departments.

Job Tickets

This is the fifth and last type of order in a manufacturing situation. Job tickets authorize the
performance of individual operations in the manufacturing process.

Project Planning Methods

The production planning and control methods discussed thus far in this chapter deal primarily
with the production of consumer or industrial products which could be considered to fall within
the area of “repetitive manufacturing”. The products to be produced are often manufactured in
quantities of more than one, and their total processing time can be measured in hours, or at most,

The best –known methods that have been developed are CPM (for Critical Path Method) and
PERT (for Program Evaluation and Review Technique). The original PERT technique is now
considered, more accurately, PERT TIME, whereas a later development is known as PERT

From the optimistic, most likely, and pessimistic times, the expected elapsed time (te) can be
obtained by statistical techniques. The relationship of the three estimates to the expected elapsed
time is given by the formula

a +
4m +

t =

e 6

Where a = optimistic time
b = pessimistic time
m = most likely time

It can be seen from the formula that the most likely time estimate is given four times as much
weight as the optimistic and pessimistic estimates when computing the expected time.

Systems Analysis

As with other manufacturing control systems and procedures, production planning, and control
lends itself to modern mechanization techniques such as machine accounting and use of
computers. Careful study of the control system through procedure analysis will indicate the
savings that may be effected by the utilization of modern equipment. These savings may be in


the clerical help required in the administration of the system or in the advantages of quick
compilation of data, which in turn results in up-to-date control data.

Production Planning and Control Organization

It should be obvious that there is no single pattern for the organization of the production planning
and control activity. In many small plants the routing, loading, and scheduling functions may
well be included in the duties of the operating line; the shop manager, superintended, and
foremen. But it is difficult to combine day-to-day work with adequate planning, and as a result it
is often more feasible to break away the production planning and control functions and assign
them to qualified specialists. These groups should be organized as staff sections normally
reporting to the top manufacturing executive.

Centralized Production Planning and Control

Centralization or decentralization of duties of the production control staff depends upon the
design of the production planning and control system. In a completely centralized setup,
determination of shipping promises; analysis of sales, stock, and shop orders; preparation of
routes, load charts, and schedule charts; and dispatching of work to the shop complete with job
tickets and all other necessary paper would be accomplished by a central production planning
and control unit. In addition, as work is completed, a careful analysis of the actual performance
would be made, and if corrective action were required, it would be initiated by this group.

Decentralized Production Planning and Control

We have discussed at great length that no matter how general the planning may be in a central
office, the plan must eventually be developed into a detailed plan on the shop floor. Some
companies are now endeavoring to make each foreman a manager of his own departmental
operation. In these cases the foreman is furnished with a complete staff for the production
planning and control of the activities in the department.

Planning Phase

We have already indicated in some details the duties involved in the production planning phase.
Working from the basic data mentioned earlier, the personnel in this part of the activity routes
and load and schedule charts.

Control Phase

The completed job ticket, or its equivalent, is the key to this phase of the production planning
and control system. It is the means of reporting back from the shop floor that indicates that a job
is completed; or if daily job tickets are turned in, the daily progress of a job can be determined.


Relation to Other Functions

Good relationships with all the other functions in the enterprise are essential to effective
production planning and control. Full cooperation with the marketing group is necessary,
particularly in view of the importance of market conditions and the goodwill of customers. Both
product engineering and process engineering must keep production planning and control
informed as to their plans to avoid the manufacture of goods either to incorrect specifications or
by an improper method.

Measurement of Effectiveness

In determining the effectiveness of a production planning and control system, there are quite a
few problems. The key criterion might well be whether or not shipping promises are being kept –
the percentage of the order shipped on time. This, however, would not be a true criterion if
excessive overtime of expediting costs were involved in getting any of these orders shipped.

The cost of the control system in relation to the value of goods shipped is another possibility.
Again, however, this may not be sound: if markets slump, a bad ratio will develop. Many good
production planning and control systems have been discontinued because of “high costs” under
these conditions-and have never revived after business picket up.

In a study of benefits and costs of computerized production planning and control systems,
Schroeder et al. list the following performance criteria by which production planning and control
systems might be judged:

1. Inventory turnover
2. Delivery lead time
3. Percent of time meeting delivery promises
4. Percent of orders requiring “splits” because of unavailable material.
5. Number of expeditors
6. Average unit cost.

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weight gain diet

Weight Gain Diet and Nutrition

If you’re naturally thin, then a proper weight gain diet becomes absolutely crucial in your endeavor to gain healthy lean muscle mass, probably far more so than your weight training program. The purpose of this article is to outline the fundamentals of a good weight gain diet and then we’ll look at specifically what and when you could eat over a sample day.

First up, is something you’ve almost certainly heard before…

Consume More Calories
The only way to gain weight whether it’s fat or muscle, is to consume more energy than you expend. There is no escaping this basic law of human anatomy regardless of how many explanations you hear to the contrary. Admittedly some of us have faster metabolisms than others but that simply means that those who do need to eat even more again.

The basis of any weight gain diet should contain nutritious, high calorie foods. If you find to hard to put on weight then the greatest challenge you face is to consume enough energy without feeling full all the time. Don’t worry it can be done… quite easily!

So how many calories should you consume? Well, there’s probably a separate formula for everyone who asks the question. Some base it solely on your weight and age, others take lean mass into account and the most complicated have you recounting every bit of activity during a typical day…

There’s a short article at the bottom of this page that has some formulas for calculating your caloric needs. It also briefly explains basal metabolism and why it’s important.

To sum up, calorie counting isn’t much fun and this is not something you have to do long term. Once you establish a quantity of food and energy that maintains your ideal weight, you will know instinctively how much to eat each day.

The issue of how much protein we should consume incites fierce debate between Nutritionists, Bodybuilders and Sports Scientists alike. We’ll leave the debate for another article dedicated to the protein issue. For now…

Just know that Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 50g of protein per day for the average male adult and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 56g. But this is for the average sedentary Westerner…

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 0.8g per kg or 0.36g per lb of bodyweight. A 140lb person would need to consume about 51g to meet their RDA. Sports Scientists concede that athletes and bodybuilders need more than this and conservatively recommend up to 1.5g per kg or 0.7g per lb of bodyweight. However…

If you talk to the vast majority of bodybuilders they will advocate a much higher intake than this. And they have some convincing arguments. In fact although in the minority at the moment the anecdotal evidence from bodybuilders is being backed up by some credible research. According to many lifters, coaches and some sports nutritionists an ideal weight gain diet should contain up to 2g per kg or 0.9g per lb of protein. This might seem like a lot but don’t forget you are consuming more calories than the general population and those calories have to come from somewhere. Is it unhealthier that they come purely from carbohydrates or just from fat? It’s probably best it it comes form all three.

So why is protein important?

From a weight gain perspective protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 in total and 8 essential amino acids must come from food. Weight training increases the demand for amino acids and will break existing muscle down if it does not get enough from a weight gain diet. Without adequate protein, and more specifically, amino acids muscle gain is unachievable.

Good sources of protein include fresh and canned fish, lean cuts of red meat, chicken, turkey, low fat milk and yogurt, low fat cottage cheese, egg whites, soy products and whey protein powder.

Any weight gain diet worth its salt will contain plenty of unrefined carbohydrates. Just because you’re increasing your protein intake does not mean you should omit or even limit your carbohydrate intake.

Carbohydrate, which is converted into glucose and glycogen in the body, is the only macronutrient that can supply your body with an immediate source of energy – essential for any type of training.

Good sources of carbohydrate for a weight gain diet include whole meal bread, potatoes, brown rice, pasta, couscous, fresh and tinned fruit and dried fruit.

Certain dietary fats are crucial to both your well being and your ability to gain weight. One gram of fat contains more than twice the number of calories than 1g or protein or 1g of carbohydrate. A tablespoon of Flaxseed Oil contains as many calories as a banana for example so it makes sense to incorporate good fats into your weight gain diet. What is good fat?

Without going into too much detail about how fat is subdivided, the fats you want to consume are monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats found in oily fish, flax, sunflower, safflower and cod liver oil and some raw nuts.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are what the health care professionals love to talk about. And with good reason. EFA’s also known as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are found in polyunsaturated fats, particularly oily fish. As well as having a numerous health benefits they also play an important role in muscle building.

In short, a weight gain diet containing fish like mackerel, tuna and salmon (to name a few) or supplemented with a product like Flaxseed oil will not only help you build muscle but will keep you alive longer too.

Meal Frequency
Finally, forget about eating 3 large meals a day with a few snacks. The best approach to an effective weight gain diet is to eat 5 or 6 small meals a day. Separate them by 3 hours so your stomach has time to digest each meal fully. If your goal is to consume 3300Kcals a day I would eat 3 larger meals of about 700kcals and 3 smaller meals of about 400kcals. You will find an example in one of the articles below.

One last point before we wrap up. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. They are the richest source of vitamins and minerals (particularly antioxidants) and have both health and weight gain implications.

The elements above have the most influence of your level and rate of weight and muscle gain. There are other important factors we haven’t touched on such as vitamins and minerals, fiber, water, alcohol and cholesterol… all very important to your health.

Now that you have a good grounding of what an effective weight gain diet should incorporate you can use this article as a starting point for reaching your weight goals.

by David on July 25, 2007 · 184 comments

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Merchandising is the department which mediates marketing and production departments. It is Space optimization through effective Brand/Package allocation, focusing on gaining first position, providing greatest exposure of brands to all consumers, creating a consistent, orderly and clean appearance for the products, maximizing the use of POS to increase consumer awareness of brand and promotions.
Merchandising is a process through which products a re planned, developed, executed and presented to the buyer. It includes directing and overseeing the development of product line from start to finish. Marketing and merchandising depart ment: A team of merchandisers and marketers work together under a profit controls head. Merchan disers handle the foreign buyers. The teams are made according to the buyers being handled.
Merchandising is the department which mediates marketing and production departments. Some times, merchandising department will have to do costing and pricing also. In any case, the merchandiser is the person whose responsibility is to execute the orders perfectly as per the costing and pricing. So it is a very valuable department. Following are the main responsibilities of merchandisers.
Two type of merchandising done in garment exports
• Marketing merchandising.
• Product merchandising.
Marketing merchandising
Main function of marketing merchandising is
• roduct Development
• Costing
• Ordering Marketing merchandising is to bring orders costly products development and it has direct contact with the buyer.
Product merchandising
Product merchandising is done in the unit. This includes all the responsibilities from sourcing to finishing i.e. first sample onwards, the products merchandising work start and ends till shipment.

A Merchandisers key responsibility is as follows:
• Product Development
• Market and product Analysis
• Selling the concept
• Booking orders
• Confirming Deliveries
• Designing and Sampling
• Costing
• Raw Material
• Flow Monitoring
• Production Follow Ups
• Payments Follows
• Internal & external communication,
• Sampling
• Lab dips
• Accessories & trims
• Preparing internal order sheets
• Preparing purchase orders
• Advising and assisting production,
• Advising quality department about quality level
• Mediating production and quality departments
• Giving shipping instructions and following shipping,
• Helping documentation department
• Taking responsibility for inspections and
Following up the shipment. Internal & external communication
Earlier, we had seen the importance of communication with buyers. By the same way, internal communication is also very much valuable. As the other departments will follow the instructions given by the merchandising department, they have very high value. Other departments don’t know the buyer’s instructions; they know only the merchandising department’s instructions. So it is the sole responsibility of merchandising department to instruct other departments the specifications and instructions of buyer’s orders clearly.
Even a small omission, mistake or deviation of instruction may create big problems. Sometimes, they may not be correctable. Hence all the instructions to be double checked before being informed to other departments. Prevention is better than cure.

Department structure and Functioning

Costing of Shirts
In order to achieve perfect garment costing, one must know about all the activities including purchase of fabrics, sewing, packing, transport, overheads, etc and also about their costs, procedures, advantages and risk factor. There are two types of garments, namely woven and knitted garments. Shirt, trouser, sarees, bed spreads, blankets, towels and made ups are woven. T-shirts, sweaters, undergarments, pyjamas and socks are knits.Costing is the deciding factor for fixing of prices and the impor
Basic Categories
Costing includes all the activities like purchase of fabrics and accessories, processing and finishing of fabrics, sewing and packing of garments, transport and conveyance, shipping, over heads, banking charges and commissions, etc.We must be aware that there are always fluctuations in the costs of raw materials and accessories,charges of knitting, processing, finishing, sewing and packing, charges of transport and conveyance.The method of making costing will vary from style to style. As there are many different styles in garments. Hence let us take men’s basic T-shirt style as example which is in regular use.We have used Indian Rupees as the currency.To find out the costing of a garment, the following things should things be calcuated:
1. Fabric consumption.
2. Gross weight of other components of garment.
3. Fabric cost per kg.
4. Fabric cost per garment.
5. Other charges (print, embroidery, etc).
6. Cost of trims (labels, tags, badges, twill tapes, buttons, bows, etc).
7. CMT charges.
8. Cost of accessories (hangers, inner boards, polybags, cartons, etc).
9. Cost of a garment.
10. Price of a garment.
Consumption of Fabric
The garments manufactured in many sizes to fit for everybody. Generally they are in sizes Small (S),Medium (M), Large (L), Extra large (XL) and Double Extra Large (XXL). The quantity ratio or assortment can be any one of the following approximate ratio.
S: M: L: XL: XXL – 1:2:2:2:1
S: M: L: XL: XXL – 1:2:1:2:1
S: M: L: XL: XXL – 1:2:3:2:2
As the price is the same for all these sizes of garments, let’s take the centre size large(L)for average calculation. Generally, the quantity of L size will be higher or equal to the quantity of each of other sizes.
Men’s Basic T-shirtDescription:
Men’s Basic T-shirt-short sleeves- 100% Cotton 140 GSM Single jersey – 1 x 1 ribs at neck – solid dyed – light, medium and dark colours in equal ratio.Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL Ratio: 1: 2: 2: 2: 1.
Export carton: 7 ply -120 GSM virgin corrugated – sea worthy. Cartons are to be strapped with 2 nylon straps.
Measurements in cm: (Finished garment)
Size: L
Chest – 60 cm
Length – 78 cm
Sleeve length – 24 cm
Neck rib width – 3 cm Hem – 3 cm
Patterns are generally made with the seam allowance and cutting allowance. Generally, 12 cm is added with the total of body length and sleeve length.
That is,
Fabric consumption
(Body Length + Sleeve Length + Allowance) x (Chest + Allowance) x 2 x GSM
(70 + 24 + 12) * (60 + 3) * 2 * 140 = 187 grams
Body & Sleeves : 187 grams
Neck rib : 10 grams (approximately)
Gross weight : 197 grams
Therefore, the fabric consumption per garment is 197 grams.Gross weight & net weight.The above weight is the gross weight of fabric. It means the weight of the fabric bits cut in tabular form without taking shapes is called gross weight. This is the consumed fabric for the particular garment. Hence costing is to be made as per this gross weight. The weight of the cut pieces after taking the shape according to the pattern is called net weight of fabric.Fabric cost per kg (in Rs) (all charges approximately)
Cost of fabric per kg is calculated and given in
Particulars Light colours Medium colours Dark colours
34’s combed yarn Rs.135.00 Rs.135.00 Rs.135.00
Knitting charge Rs.8.00 Rs.8.00 Rs.8.00
Dyeing charge Rs.35.00 Rs.45.00 Rs.55.00
Compacting charge Rs.6.00 Rs.6.00 Rs.6.00
Fabric wastage @ 5% Rs.9.20 Rs.9.70 Rs.10.70
Fabric cost per kg Rs.193.20 Rs.203.70 Rs.224.70
Fabric consumption per garment 197 gms 197 gms 197 gms
Fabric cost per garment Rs.38.06 Rs.40.13 Rs.44.27
Cost of trims
The accessories which are attached to the garments are called Trims. Let’s take Men’s Basic T-shirts, as example.
Let us see what are the trims required for this style.
Labels: Woven main label (2.5 cm width x 7 cm length): Rs 0.35.
Polyester printed wash care label: Single colour print: Rs 0.10.
Hang tag: Rs 0.40
So the total cost of trims is Rs 0.85 per garment.
Cost of accessories:Polybags: Normal – Rs 0.30 per garment. Master Polybag: Rs 2 per master polybags to contain 8 garments – Rs 0.25 per garment.
Export carton: Normal: Rs 40 per carton to contain 48 garments – Rs 0.80 per garment.
So the total cost of accessories is Rs 1.35 per garment.Garment costing.
Now we at last have to take the step to find out the freight charges for the Men’s Basic T-shirt.
Price of garment estimation is given in Table given below.
Particulars Light colours Medium colours Dark colours
34’s combed yarn Rs.135.00 Rs.135.00 Rs.135.00
Fabric cost per garment Rs.38.06 Rs.40.13 Rs.44.27
Cost of Trims Rs.0.85 Rs.0.85 Rs.0.85
CMT Charges Rs.11.00 Rs.11.00 Rs.11.00
Cost of accessories Rs.1.35 Rs.1.35 Rs.1.35
Rejection of garments(commonly 3%) Rs.1.50 Rs.1.50 Rs.1.50
Cost of Garment Rs.52.76 Rs.54.83 Rs.58.97
Local Transport Rs.1.00 Rs.1.00 Rs.1.00
Profit@15% appro. Rs.7.90 Rs.8.20 Rs.8.90
Commission/ pc Rs.2.00 Rs.2.00 Rs.2.00
Price of Garment Rs.63.66 Rs.66.03 Rs.70.87
Shipping charges
For men’s basic T-shirt, the delivery terms in the buyer enquiry as ‘FOB’. So sea freight charges isnot added. But the local transport with the cost of garment has to be added. Finally, we have to convert the Indian rupee value to USD or Euro
Garment Costing
Costing is a very complex procedure, with set patterns and guidelines followed by the industry, and it is difficult to find out costs for every processas there are some inbuilt costs while costing.Garment costing includes all the activities like purchase of raw materials and accessories, knitting fabrics, processing and finishing of fabrics, sewing and packing of garments, transport and conveyance, shipping, over heads, banking charges and commissions, etc.
Costing includes all the activities like purchase of raw materials and accessories, knitting fabrics, processing and finishing of fabrics, sewing and packing of garments, transport and conveyance, shipping, over heads, banking charges and commissions, etc.
To do perfect garment costing, one must know about all these activities thoroughly about their costs, procedures, advantages and risk factors. Also he must know how to solve the problems when occurred and to take suitable alternate decision immediately in time.
We must be aware that there are always fluctuations in the costs of raw materials and accessories, charges of knitting, processing, finishing, sewing and packing, charges of transport and conveyance. Hence we must have update knowledge about the latest prices and charges, latest procedures, methods and quality systems, market prices and availability, transportation (road, sea, air) and freight charges, etc.
We must remember that the quality depends on price; price depends on quality. Each product will have different price according to its quality. We do not manufacture only one quality of garments. Also we manufacture the garments not only for one customer.While we do the garment costing, the customer’s price level, quality & quantity and payment terms, to be taken into consideration.
There are two types of garments, namely woven and knitted garments. Shirt, trouser, sarees, bedspreads, blankets, towels and made ups are woven. T-shirts, sweaters, undergarments, pyjamas andsocks are knits.Costing is the deciding factor for fixing of prices and the important thing to follow in all stages like purchase, production, marketing, sales, etc. Also update knowledge about everything related togarments, is essential to make perfect costing.Costing includes all the activities like purchase of fabrics and accessories, processing and finishingof fabrics, sewing and packing of garments, transport and conveyance, shipping, over heads, bankingcharges and commissions, etc.We must be aware that there are always fluctuations in the costs of raw materials and accessories,charges of knitting, processing, finishing, sewing and packing, charges of transport and conveyance.The method of making costing will vary from style to style. As there are many different styles in garments.
Garment Product costing
How much does it cost to make a garment is something you have to know before you get too far in the process?
It goes without saying, the simplest garments cost less to make. As styling details are added; pockets, fancy seaming, linings and trims etc, the cost of the finished garment will increase labor cost in production. If you have chosen an expensive fabric for one of your designs, it would be wise to keep the details to a minimum. Using expensive fabric and many styling details often makes the finished cost of the garment too high for the market which has been targeted.
Now keep in mind, the cost the garment is information you will need from the factory. A simple formula is used to calculate the cost of the garment and looks like this:
Costs of fabric + trims + labor + business overhead + profit = Garment Cost
This is how a factory will calculate the cost of manufacturing each garment. For you as the small business, your overhead and all of your expenses such as design research, markdown sales losses, brand advertising, promotions, rent, and everything else that goes along with owning and running a business are deducted from the total revenue you generate per garment. After you deduct all of the expenses of running your business from the revenue you generate from the garments you make and sell, you are left with your profit.
The cost of piece goods (fabric) is generally about one-third the initial production cost of a garment. For the small company, the margin and mark-up will be higher than for bigger mass-producing companies that have a lower margin and mark-up percentages due to the volume they manufacture.
Ultimately, the final figures may be a subjective call of what the market will bear.
Costs to Consider
1. Direct cost: Cost of raw material — 66%. Cost of size and chemicals – 4%. Production cost comprising of running the machine, maintenance, power fuel, humidification and other utilities — 8 % and worker wages and salaries — 8% losses incurred due to shrinkage, wastage, grading, and also selling commissions.

2. Indirect cost : Interest on investment, loan, working capital, depreciation, etc. Above 7%, overheads and administrative expenses like travelling, telephone, couriers, legal issues, taxes comprising of 7%.

3. Profit: 10 – 20% depending on the order size. In some companies, 70% of the fabric cost will comprise of direct cost, but in corporate selling only 40% cost of the fabric is direct cost and 60% is overheads.

Costing Essentials
The method of making costing will vary from style to style. As there are many different styles in garments, it is not possible here to discuss about all the styles. Hence let us take some following styles as examples which are in regular use.
1. Men’s Basic T shirts,
2. Men’s Printed Polo shirts,
3. Ladies Night dress,
4. Men’s Pyjamas,
5. Men’s Solid Pique Polo shirts,
6. Ladies yarn striped T shirts (Feeder stripes)
7. Boys yarn striped T shirts (Engineering stripes)
Based on these methods, costings can be made for other styles too. Let us see them in detail now.
To make the garment costing, we have to find out following things.
1. Fabric consumption.
2. Gross weight of other components of garment.
3. Fabric cost per kg.
4. Fabric cost per garment.
5. Other charges (print, embroidery, etc.)
6. Cost of trims (labels, tags, badges, twill tapes, buttons, bows, etc.)
7. CMT charges
8. Cost of accessories (hangers, inner boards, polybags, cartons, etc)
9. Cost of a garment.
10. Price of a garment.

There are set patterns and guidelines followed by the industry. It is difficult to find out costs for every process as there are some inbuilt costs while costing. A larger picture has been taken into account while quoting the cost. Costing depends a lot on quantity and order received. Indirect cost is about 15 – 20%. On top of the cost a profit of 15 – 20% is added. It is not only the cost of the final product that matters, for exports the cost is generally given as FAS, FOB, CIF and LDP.
FAS (Free along Side) means: It is the cost of finished goods plus it includes the delivery of the goods to port, dock, etc. The price does not include loading into the ship, etc, or the shipping or any other charges incurred from that point on.
FOB (Free on Board): It is the cost of finished goods, cost of delivery of the goods to port and loading onto the ship, plane, etc. The cost does not include the shipping or any other costs incurred from that point on.
CIF (Cost Insurance and Freight): It includes the cost of finished goods plus it includes the delivery of the goods to the port, loading on the ship, shipping charges, all applicable insurance fees along the way. The price does not include going through customs or any duties or other costs incurred from that point.
LDP (Landed & Duty Paid): It is the cost of the finished goods, plus it includes the delivery of the goods to port, loading on the ship, shipping charges and the goods brought through the customs with all applicable duties and taxes paid.
Lead time plays an important part in the domestic and export market. Generally for production of greige fabric the lead time is 30 days. Processing time for grey fabric is 15 – 20 days but when the buyer needs something urgently then the above costing parameters sometimes are not significant; It depends on demand and supply.

Fabric Consumption
How to calculate the consumption of fabric for a particular garment?
Garment prices are mainly based on the fabric consumption. Hence we must pay more attention to find out the fabric consumption more accurately or closely. It needs sound knowledge and good practical experience to find out the fabric consumption. Let us analyse here how to make this calculation.
As the knitted fabrics are knitted by the circular knitting machines, the fabrics will be in tubular form only. Here we are going to see the garments which are made in 100% Cotton fabrics in tubular form.
To work on the prices exactly, we must have full measurements of the garment. But compulsorily, we must have the measurements of Chest, Body Length and Sleeve Length.
Consumption of fabric
1. Consumption (Kg/ Doz) =
(L + S.L. + AL-01) × (½ C + AL-02) × GSM ×2×12+Wastage%
100 100 1000
L (Length) = HPS (High Point Shoulder
= CBL (Central Back length)
= BL (Body Length)

S.L = Sleeve Length
AL = Allowance
Allowance-01:This is actually sewing allowance in length wise of a garment.
For T-Shirt,
Bottom Hem = 2.5-3 Cm
Shoulder Join = 1.5 Cm
Sleeve Hem = 2.5- 3 Cm
Sleeve Join = 1.5 cm
Sub Total = 9 cm
In Hand = 1 cm
Grand Total =10 cm
Per Cut and Sewn allowance = 2 cm
Note: Pocket, Half moon, double layer bottom hem, and double layer sleeve s/b calculated onlengthwise.
2. Chest Allowance: This is sewing allowance in width wise of garment
a.Side Seam = ½ Chest + 3cm
b.Tube Seam= ½ Chest + 0 cm
c.Per cut and sewn allowance= 2 cm2.
Consumption (Kg/ Doz)= Length in Meter X Width In M X GSM in Kg X 2 X 12 + WastagePercentage
3. Neck Rib # 1×1/1×1 elastane rib circular
Neck Rib Consumption:
Height (Length) = Rib height or rib width or rib depth
Total Height= Rib Height X 2 + Allowance
Width = Neck opening or neck width x 2 + 2 cm (Round)
= Neck opening or neck width x 2 + 5 cm (V-shape)
Picture 01
A=Body Length= 70 cm
B=Sleeve length=25 cm
½ C ==1/2Chest =55 cm
Picture 02
A= Body length 1=15 cm
B=Body Length 2= 15 cm
C= Body Length 3=40 cm
D= ½ Chest=55 cm
A1= Sleeve length1=10 cm
B1= Sleeve Length2=5 cm
C1=Sleeve length3=10 cm
Example:-Calculate the consumption/doz on the basis of 180 GSM, S/J and neck rib gsm 230
For picture 01:
Consumption (Kg/ Doz) =
( 70 + 25 + 10) × ( 55 + 3) × 180 × 2 × 12 + 5 %
100 100 1000
= 2.76 kg/ doz
For picture 02:
Consumption (Kg/ Doz For color A) =
( 15 + 10 + 8) × ( 55 + 3 ) × 180 × 2 × 12 + 5 %
100 100 1000
= 0.86 kg/ doz
Consumption (Kg/ Doz For color B) =
( 15 + 5 + 4) × ( 55 + 3 ) × 180 × 2 × 12 + 5 %
100 100 1000
= 0.63 kg/ doz
Consumption (Kg/ Doz For color C) =
( 40 + 10 + 5) × ( 55 + 3 ) × 180 × 2 × 12 + 5 %
100 100 1000
= 1.44 kg/ doz
Total consumption: 0.86+0.63+1.44 = 2.93 kg/ doz
Neck Rib Consumption:
Width = Neck width x 2 + 2 cm (Round)
= 19X2+2 = 40 cm
Total Height= Rib Height X 2 + Allowance= 2X2 +2=6 cm
2. Consumption (Kg/ Doz) = Length in Meter X Width In M X GSM in Kg X 12 + Wastage
= .06 X .4X.230X12+18%
=.07 kg/ Doz
Following point s/b considered during marketing cost:
1.Fleece dia is not available.
2.Y/D stripe wastage is huge
Math 02
Question: Fabric Length 100yds width 58 inch (Open) GSM 230, what is fabric weight?
Ans:Fabric weight in Kg = Length (Meter) X Width (Meter) X GSM in Kg
W (Kg) = l x w x GSM= (100 Yds X36 X 2.54)/100 X (58 X 2.54)/100X 230/1000
= 91.44 x 1.4732 x .230
= 30.99 kg
2.Question: Fabric weight 50 kg, Fabric width 40 inch (tube) GSM 180. What is fabric length in meter?
Ans:Fabric weight in Kg = Length (Meter) X Width (Meter) X GSM in KgW (Kg) = l x w x GSM
50 = l x (40x 2.54x 2)/ 100 X 180/1000
L = 136.70 meter
= 136.70 x 1.0937 yds [ 1 meter = 1.0937 yds]
= 149.50 yds
3.Question: Fabric price 2.25 USD/ yds, Width 45 inch open, GSM 200,Consumption 3.20 kg / doz, what is the garment fabric cost for per doz garments?
Ans: W (kg) = L (M) X w (M) X GSM (kg)
= L (M) X (45X2.54)/100 X 200/1000

L (M) = (3.20 X100X 1000) / (45X 2.54 X 200)
= 13.99 (M)
= 13.99 X 1.0937 yds
= 15.30 yds
Fabric cost (Per doz gmt) = Length X Unit price/ yds
= 13.99 (M)
= 15.30 x 2.25
= 34.56 USD / Doz
Piping or Binding or Back Tape:
Cons: Length in M x width in M x GSM in Kg x 12 + allowance (18%)
Length: Neck width x 2 + 2 (R shape)
Width: If width is 1 cm or any unit Pls multiply by 4
1. Sewing wastage = 3%
2. Cutting and Finishing=2%
3. Print Wastage=2-3%
4. Emb. Wastage=2-3%
5. Garment Wash wastage=5% above (Depends on wash type)
Wash types and their wastage
• Garment Normal Wash=2-3%
• Garment Enzyme Wash=3-5%
• Garment Stone Wash= 5-10%
• Garment Pigment dyeing & wash=10-20%
Note: Wastage is variable depending on factory to factory.
Varialble Functions
1. Fabric Consumption
2. Fabric Cost
3. Accessories Cost
4. Print/Embroidery/Washing Charge
5. C.M.
6. Freight (C & F)
7. Payment mode (at sight deferred payment 60days or 90 days or 120 days, TT, Sales Contract)
Fabric Cost Details
Cost of Fibre or Yarn : The cost of the fibre will depend largely on its generic type – cotton, linen, wool, silk, rayon, nylon, polyester, polyester cotton blend etc, and also its quality. The Yarn cost will depend on the count of the yarn — finer the yarn, more expensive it will be. Number of fine filaments used in making the yarn will also affect the cost.
Relation between count and GSM:Count means the thickness of the fabric.The thinner the fabric the better the quality therefore the higher the cost and viceversa. GSM (grams/sq mt) of the fabric. GSM is directly dependent on the EPI and PPI or construction of the fabric and is inversely proportional to the count of the yarn. Relation between GSM and cost is a little complex. For the same variety of the fabric, as the GSM increases the cost increases.When the yarn becomes very fine and there is a variation in picks per inch in the fabric, then the cost of spinning and weaving plays a more important role than the GSM and even when the GSM is similar, the cost of voile fabric with finer yarns and more picks per inch is more.
Weight of the fabric is the weight of warp and weft which can be calculated by the formula below:
Weight of warp in grams/sq mt of fabric = EPI x 0.6 / Count of Warp = A
Weight of weft in grams/sq mt of fabric = PPI x 0.6 / Count of Weft = B
Tabular Representation of GSM & Count
A. Single Jersey 1. 30-150 -> 30’s
2. 160-170 -> 26’s
3. 180-200 -> 24’s (210)
4. 220-240 -> 20’s
B. P.K./Lacost/1×1 Rib 1. 150-170 -> 34’s
2. 180-200 -> 30’s
3. 210-225 -> 26’s
4. 230-250 -> 24’s
5. 250-270 -> 20’s
C. 2×1 Rib 1. 220-230 -> 30’s
2. 240-250 -> 26’s
3. 260-280 -> 24’s
D. Interlock 24 G 22 G
1. 40’s -> 220 200
2. 34’s -> 250 230
3. 30’s -> 260 240
4. 26’s -> 275 260
E. S/J with Lycra 5% 1. 150-160 -> 34’s
2. 170-190 -> 30’s
3. 200-210 -> 26’s
4. 220-240 -> 24’s
F. Fleece 1. 250 -> 20,30’s (Ratio 20:80)
2. 300 -> 10, 26’s (Ratio 30:70)

Req.F. GSM Yarn (Basecvc/tc + LoopCotton) Grey G.S.M. From 30″(20GG)
290-300 30’s+10’s 221 73/74″
280 30’s+12’s 212 72/70″
260 34’s+12’s 198 66″
230-240 38’s+5’s
or 40’s+10’s 179 64″
220 40’s+12’s 166 62″
Base 67.5% & Loop 32.5%
Yarn Price:Per Kg in USD
a. P/C or Carded yarn price same
b. CVC or Combed Yarn Price same
c. 5 cost need to add from20’s (as a standard count) for 4 count difference.
Knitting Charges
Type of Fabric Per Kg in USD
Single Jersey – Solid dyed $ 0.17
Single Jersey- with 5%-10% Elastane, Solid dyed $0.63
Single Jersey- with 5%-10% Elastane, Y/D,Feeder stripe $0.88
Single Jersey- with 5%-10% Elastane, Y/D, Engstripe $2.35
Single Jersey – Yarn dyed, Feeder stripe $0.49
Single Jersey – Eng Stripe $2.16
Single Jersey – Single Mercerized, Solid dyed $0.18
Single Jersey – Double Mercerized- Solid dyed $0.18
Single Jersey – Single Mercerized – Engstripe $2.18
Single Jersey – Double Mercerized – Engstripe $2.24
Pique – Solid dyed $0.31
Pique – with 5% Elastane, Solid dyed $0.69
Pique – Yarn dyed, Feeder Stripe $0.59
Pique – with 5% Elastane, Yarn dyed, Feeder stripe $0.69
Pique – Eng Stripe $2.16
Pique – Single Mercerized, Solid dyed $0.34
Pique – Double Mercerized – Eng stripe $2.24
1X1 Rib – Solid dyed $0.31
1X1 Rib/ 2X2 Rib – Yarn dyed, Feeder stripe $0.69
1X1 Rib – with 5% Elastane, Solid dyed $0.69
2X2 Rib – Solid dyed $0.56
2X2 Rib – with 5% Elastane, Solid dyed $0.88
Variable/ Placement Rib – Solid dyed $0.74
Plain Interlock – Solid dyed $0. 41
Plain Interlock – Yarn Dyed $0. 47
Drop Needle Interlock – Solid dyed $0. 46
Jacquard/ interlock(design) – Solid dyed $0.74
Jacquard/ interlock(design) – SingleMercerized $0. 79
Jacquard/ interlock(design) – DoubleMercerized $0.81
Fleece Fabric (French Terry) – Solid dyed $0. 56
Fleece Fabric With Brush – Solid dyed $0.56
Fleece with Elastane (5%) – Solid dyed $0.69
Mini Waffle or Waffle – Solid dyed $0.65
Mélange (Wash Only) Single Jersey $0.16
Mélange (Wash Only) Pique $0.30
Mélange (Wash Only) 1X1 Rib $0.30

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Island Recess-part 1

“Island Recess” An Island Romance Set In The Virgin Islands, By Sonora Rayne.

Island Recess, Chapter 1.
Breathing heavily from her recent exertion, Helena stood at the top of a steep incline, one foot on the pedal of her mountain-bike, the other steadying her on the rough terrain. A few errant curls strayed from beneath her bike-helmet and fluttered across her forehead with the warm breeze. Far below, the waters of the Caribbean unfurled in smooth waves and spilled along a white stretch of sand. Shielding her eyes from the glare of the noon sun, she scanned the town-site below for a sign of the apartment she had leased for the summer. Located near the local ball field, the tiny building was sadly in need of repair. Even from this distance, the moss-covered roof looked in imminent danger of collapse. Helena smiled as she recalled her first encounter with her summer home.
Shrouded in a damp linen suit that had proven not to be wrinkle-free she had stood in the middle of the bachelor apartment and cried. This was not the seaside villa she had envisioned as she and her prospective landlord had tapped out queries and responses via e-mail. She tried in vain to recall the somewhat blurred electronic image of a pastel condominium complex posted beside the unit‘s description. Helena had book-marked the site on her computer, visiting and re-visiting the advertisement numerous times before finally leaving her e-mail address. Charming Mediterranean style sea-side villa, the claim had read. Even though it was after dark when her taxi driver took her from the landing dock at Cruz Bay through a bewildering array of twists and turns to her new home, she could see that it was a long way from an all-inclusive paradise. A sagging screen door slumped from its hinges, causing Helena to visualize a nightly invasion of rodent-sized arachnids. Helena had heard on the radio just that morning that the average parson eats five spiders in their sleep over a lifetime. She had hoped that the average inadvertent arachnid-consumption was not any higher in the Virgin Islands than in Seattle. Thick green aloe plants twined along the walkway, their branching fingers catching at her bare ankles. Dragging behind her an enormous wheeled suitcase, Helena had sworn under her breath as she attempted to negotiate the narrow concrete steps. Her elderly landlord had shuffled to greet her with surprising speed in response to her banging on the screen door. Although her first instinct had been to articulate her frustration with a salty string of expletives, one look at the encouraging smile of her e-mail correspondent and she swallowed the words with a sigh. Beneath thick prescription lenses, his eyes swam like trapped brown fish. With myopia of that extent, he likely did not even realize the dilapidated condition of the building he had inherited from an elderly aunt.
She had extended her hand and forced a smile her aching face could ill afford.
“I’m Helena Travis,” she said, “I’ve come about the apartment.”
“Ben Holmes,” he had uttered in a booming voice, extending a wrinkled hand. “Of course, of course; follow me.” Picking up one of her bags, he had gauged its weight, then dropped it and motioned to the taxi driver to assist. Slowly, he had ascended a stained set of linoleum stairs, and then paused, rooting about in his pockets for a key. When he turned to face her, he swung open the door on her new apartment. “Welcome home,” he had uttered with dramatic flair.
She had waited until she had handed Ben an envelope with the first month’s rent and heard the door creak to a close behind him. Then, she had burst into tears. Sitting on the edge of a dusty suitcase she had wept onto the sleeves of a cream linen jacket, heedless of the smears of caramel make-up and globs of mascara that now decorated the sleeves. When the last of her ragged sobs had died, she forced herself to look around. The apartment was of the “efficiency” variety, with a hot-plate and fridge and an old Murphy bed that pulled down from the wall. She had stood and walked the length of the room, fingering the bubbling paint and wincing at the bare bulb swinging from the ceiling. The dim light illuminated a depressingly weathered linoleum floor and ancient slipcovers. With a sigh, she pushed aside a set of faded print curtains, stepped out onto the balcony, and gasped. The air on her face was cool and sweet, smelling of tropical flowers and the tang of salt water. Although the lights of the town-site were few and dim, the moon cast a pearly glow on the rushing waves and sandy strip of beach. She had stood spellbound, watching the breathing of the ocean a stone’s throw from her bare feet. Smiling, she turned and saw her home with new eyes.
In the weeks that followed, Helena had devoted her spare time to making the apartment seem more like home. Borrowing a ladder and brush from the elderly landlord, she had set about painting her walls a sunny shade of yellow. In the local tourist shopping area she struggled to choose among a myriad of gorgeous batik fabrics. When she finally settled on a dazzling mix of indigo, royal and teal blue with splashes of yellow for curtains, she made sure she had enough left over to make a new slipcovers and an assortment of plump cushions for the small wicker settee. In the evenings, she pulled the settee out onto the balcony and sat with her arms wrapped about her knees, watching the wind whip the tops of the waves into foam.Leaning against her bicycle and looking down at the pastel buildings spread below, Helena smiled and shook her head as she recalled her initiation into the languid rhythms of island life. Time seemed to move more slowly here, a leisurely, gentle pace in which neighborly visiting took the place of the faceless telephone and fax communications that were so much a part of her urban Seattle life. Glancing down at her slim tanned arm, Helena noted wryly that she had once again forgotten to wear her watch. Although only a little over two months on the island, she was already learning to gauge the hour by the height of the sun and the length of the shadows. A few minutes past noon, and the sun was high overhead, cutting through the sparse clouds like a lance. Against her damp face, the air was warm and scented with the promise of summer. Stretching languidly, Helena pushed out the kick stand and left her bicycle standing by the path. She slipped her backpack to one shoulder and meandered slowly across the open clearing toward the drop-off to the beach, marveling at the vast spread of indigo ocean coming into view. In the small bay, dozens of sailboats bobbed gently with the swelling waves. Unzipping her backpack, Helena pulled out a fluffy beach towel and spread it out over the sparse grass. The small crescent beach below the steep drop-off was accessible by the main road and appeared to be nearly empty, despite its being a Sunday afternoon. Although she knew the warm sands of the popular tourist beach to be as soft as a sprinkle of talc, Helena didn’t want to risk any interruptions to her temporary solitude. The appearance of the towel was quickly followed by that of a cheap transistor radio, a thick paperback novel and an even thicker sandwich. Biting into the concoction of fried fish and ketchup, Helena drew her legs under her and sighed, knowing that she had but weeks left until she returned to her home and to all the questions she had still to answer. With great reluctance, she allowed her thoughts to drift into a still painful re-run of the reasons behind her impulsive move to St. John.
For a little over a year, Karl, her fiancé, (ex-fiancé, she reminded herself for the thousandth time) had seemed like the proverbial perfect catch. Helena grinned briefly over a mouthful of sandwich filling as she compared Karl to a bushel of slippery, pungent-smelling, decidedly dead-fish, then resumed her reverie. Everyone had commented on the suitability of the match: the much anticipated alliance of the “perfect couple” about to embark on a fairy-tale life. The compassionate school teacher, devoted to a life filled with children and learning, was to wed the charismatic millionaire, and join him in expanding the charitable portion of his business enterprises. In a year filled with what she now saw to be every imaginable cliché: weekend jaunts by private jet, elbow-rubbing with the rich and famous, and more material acquisitions than she had imagined possible, Helena had fallen under the spell of Karl’s charm and sophistication. When, on a moonlit stroll down the Champs Elysées, he had asked for her hand in marriage, her response had been a breathless affirmative. With the unanimous support of friends and family, she had begun immediate preparations for a wedding that promised to be of elaborate and epic proportions. Weeks later, she had begun to question her decision, but afraid to admit her fears to anyone but herself, had remained silent but watchful. What she had seen, and could no longer deny, was a dramatic transformation in Karl’s behavior. Her formerly attentive suitor had become distracted, forgetful, easily angered and increasingly remote.
After the umpteenth ruined dinner and sleepless night alone in the bed they now shared, Helena had removed the heavy platinum and diamond setting from her finger and dropped it with a angry clatter on the glass-topped bedside table. Wrapping an over-size silk robe about her slim figure, she had padded barefoot down the hall to his office. Lifting the corner of his leather desk blotter, she had found what she was looking for. She had seated herself in the deep swivel chair before the computer, switched on the monitor and hard-drive, and logged on to the well-known web-site. Then, consulting the scrap of paper, she used Karl’s password to access his e-mail account. Taking a deep breath, she had waited for the machine to catch up with her typing, and then studied the screen in horror. From the addresses and titles before her, she had understood instantly the source and contents of the messages. Or sources, for there were several. Until the early hours of the morning, when Karl tiptoed through the door with rumpled clothing and familiar excuses, Helena read and re-read intimate messages her fiancé had relayed to and received from women on both sides of the continent. Coupled with these adulterous communications was confirmation of her worst suspicions. Under the guise of a thinly-veiled code, were a number of messages alluding to criminal activity, of which Karl was obviously either source or coordinator. Her confrontation had been the controlled and confident response of one who knows the undeniable truth. There were few tears and fewer recriminations. Her mind was clear. Karl had responded to her accusations, first with anger, and then with wheedling apologies. Even as she strode through the door with suitcase in hand, her fiancé had reached out to her, called his despair and clutched his forehead in seemingly theatrical distress. Turning one last time, she had seen his face contort with animal fury, had heard him snarl, “You bitch!” and saw him pick up a heavy crystal vase. The door closed to the sound of glass shattering, and a piercing scream of rage.
As she rode that night by taxi to her mother’s home, she had been unable to stop shaking, terrified by what she had done, and the consequences she feared would follow. Reluctant even to leave the house, Helena had passed a week in ready tears, curled up in her childhood bed, nurtured by a confused and concerned mother. Each day she had called in sick to the school where she taught second grade, and tried to field the increasingly threatening phone calls and e-mails of an increasingly persistent, and angry Karl. Finally, she herself had turned, with the support of her best friend, Julie, to the computer, and begun searching for a home and temporary employment somewhere Karl’s threats and obsessive attentions could not reach. She had found both in the Virgin Islands. Her funds were tight, having invested the majority of her small savings in a recent business venture of Karl’s that he claimed would double her money in a matter of months. Having terminated their relationship shortly after, Helena had not had the opportunity to see if his generous claims had come to fruition. After arranging for a teacher to take over her class and selling the few items of valuable jewelry still in her possession, Helena had purchased an economy ticket to St. Thomas and arranged inexpensive accommodation on the nearby island of St. John. Her Mediterranean-type villa, she thought with a smirk. Her position at the Caribbean school was temporary, taking over for a staff member on emergency medical leave, and was due to expire at the end of June. Helena planned to stay in St. John until the end of July, and the end of her stress-leave, when her job with the Seattle school board would have to be resumed, or relinquished. Her finances were limited, and she knew she would have no choice but to return.
Gazing out at the harbor, and the boats dancing with the waves, Helena felt a tug in her throat. How could she possibly leave the friends she had made, or the children whose toothy smiles and ridiculous antics lightened her distress on even her lowest days? Thanks to the kindness of the islanders, and to her own eagerness to make connections, Helena no longer felt like an outsider. Lying back on her towel, Helena stretched and sighed. “Carpe Diem,” was her motto. “Seize the day.” “Better make hay while the sun shines,” was her mother’s. Less Latin and just as apt, she thought to herself, as she shucked off her shorts and tank top and stretched out on the towel clad only in her red string bikini. The warmth of the sun on her back was soothing and she sleepily reached around to undo the strings fastening the suit around her neck and back. If she was going to return to Seattle in another month, she would do so without tell-tale tan lines. Helena propped herself on her elbows and looked to left and right. The grassy bluff was wide and bathed in sun, but too far off the beaten path to be frequented by tourists. Far below on the beach, the oiled bodies of the few sunbathers were as tiny as dolls lain out in the sand. Finding herself completely alone, Helena wriggled out of her bikini bottoms and stretched out nude under the midday sun. Turning her head, she extended a hand toward her book, then, reconsidering, flicked the switch on the cheap radio. A reggae tune was playing and although the sound was tinny, Helena liked the beat and turned the volume up as loud as the dial would allow. The glare from the sun left points of light dancing against her eyelids. Under the soothing touch of the tropical heat, the tension in the muscles of her compact body seemed to melt away, leaving only hazy daydreams in their wake. Groggily, she wriggled her bare bottom, nestled her naked breasts into the soft terry towel and gave a tremendous groan of pleasure.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a loud voice cut sharply into her near-dreaming state.
“Whaat?” mumbled Helena as she pulled herself to a sitting position. Rubbing her eyes in confusion, she looked up from a pair of tawny muscular thighs to an equally cut set of abdominals and a decidedly ripped-looking chest. A piercing set of blue eyes surveyed her under furrowed brows. As she noticed their owner’s gaze drop to her breasts, she suddenly remembered her nudity and scrambled to cover herself.
“Didn’t you read the sign back there?” He waved wildly off to his right, then gestured angrily as he continued.
“This is a nesting area for terns and they’re very sensitive to disturbance. You need to turn that radio off and get out of here!”
Shaking with embarrassment and raging inwardly at his rudeness, Helena reached a free hand out to the radio, switched it off and grabbed at her towel. Still seated, she couldn’t cover herself with the terry without further revealing her nudity. Attempting a semblance of dignity, she contented herself with pressing her legs together, leaning in toward her knees and covering her breasts with her arms. All the while, her intruder continued his angry diatribe.
“And don’t you know there’s no nude sunbathing on this part of the island? What the hell are you doing up here anyway? You seem to have wandered away from the tourist zone.”
The owner of the muscular legs was frowning and gesticulating down toward the beach, his shock of blond hair waving in a sudden gust of wind. Helena flushed furiously as she squeezed her upper arms around her hardening nipples and attempted to wind her legs together for further concealment.
“I didn’t see the sign and I wouldn’t be here if I had. And I’m not a tourist. I’m living here. At least, I’m living here for now. I’m living here until the end of the summer.”
There were angry tears biting at her lashes. How dare he! Helena struggled to think of something else to say that would prove her quick, sophisticated wit. Before she could sort through her racing thoughts to find the perfect rebuttal, from a perfectly shaped raspberry pout set in an impossibly tanned face he provided the final denunciation.
“Well that definitely makes you a tourist. And if you don’t have respect for the places you choose to visit, then you might as well go home to wherever it is you came from.”
With those words, he pushed his hands in his pockets, turned on his heel and began a noisy stomp down the same incline she had ridden up. Given the volume of his retreat, she could not fathom how she had not been woken by the mere sound of his approach. As she gazed in grudging admiration of his retreating physique, she could not help but notice with a stab of satisfaction, that the stranger had turned around for a last glimpse of her tanned figure. Then he rounded the bend and disappeared from view.

Island Recess, Chapter 2.

Helena gathered her heavy tangle of hair into a knot at the top of her head. Despite her best efforts, a cascade of tendrils slipped free and fell loose about her face. The back of her neck was damp with the heat and she fanned her flushed face with a sheaf of papers from her desk. In a ragged pile on the top of her workspace sat a pile of unmarked spelling tests. She picked up her red marking pen, then hesitated, rolling the marker back and forth over the scratched wooden desk top with the tip of her finger. Sighing gently, she leaned her chin on the heel of her right hand and half-closed her eyes as she allowed herself to slide into a momentary day-dream.
In the late afternoon heat, the voices of the children in the concrete play area rose and fell with the thunk of the school’s only basketball and the soft scuffle of an improvised skipping rope. A trickle of perspiration rolled between her breasts and she unfastened another button on her cotton blouse, fanning the front of the garment against her skin in an effort to cool herself. Unbidden, an image of the mysterious stranger flashed into her mind, causing her to bite her lower lip as she recalled the rear-view of his hasty retreat. Helena flushed deeply at the recollection of her clumsy attempts to conceal her nudity, and then deeper still as she thought of the undeniable thrill of being observed by the attractive stranger in such a state of vulnerability.
Re-buttoning her blouse, she chided herself for her foolish daydreaming and ruefully returned her attention to the un-graded papers. For the remainder of the school year, she had best focus her energy on dealing with the immediate future. The past two months had been a crash course in heartbreak and she was more than reluctant to experience a re-run. Still, she was flesh and blood, and what hot-blooded woman could resist a little afternoon fantasy involving a sexy stranger, a naked school teacher, and an isolated island cove? She smiled inwardly as she recalled that lingering backward look. The stranger’s obsession with the female form might be typically male, but his concern over the plight of nesting birds most definitely was not. Helena ran her tongue over her lips and leaned her head against her hand. Mentally, she replayed the scene, featuring herself wearing the bikini she had impulsively abandoned, weighing five pounds less, and making a number of snappy retorts to the intruder’s accusations.
A knock at the door brought her to her feet.
’Come in,’ she called, fingers crossed against an impromptu appearance by the school principal. Helena knew that her afternoon kite-making activity had filled the classroom with a hail of tissue paper scraps and the boisterous clamor of excited seven year old voices. She was dreading what her supervisor would say about her plan to take the children kite-flying the following week. Helena breathed a sigh of relief as two of the fourth grade girls poked their heads through the door. Standing one behind the other, their dark corn-rowed heads looked like two laughing brown-eyed Susans.
“Something to show you, Miss Travis,“ the taller girl smiled shyly, revealing a row of perfect white teeth.
“Please, girls, come on in,” smiled Helena, smoothing her wrinkled skirt and extending her hand in invitation. The girls were fairly dancing with excitement as they entered the classroom, swinging a plastic bag between their joined hands. Helena clasped her hands about her waist and smiled encouragingly. The girls both sang in the choir that was Helena’s latest responsibility and they often stayed after school to help her in the classroom.
“What’s this all about girls?”
“Well,” began one in a soft voice, “My mama say it’s gonna be your birthday soon so we made you some decorations for your room. “
The words of the two girls began to tumble together as each tried to deliver her message over the other’s.
“And we wanna put them up for you as kind of a surprise,” breathed the smaller of the two.
“We been making them for two whole days now.”
“And we ran all the way from home to get here before you went home and locked up and all.”
Helena smiled. “Well girls, that’s just about the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. I feel absolutely honored to have such a wonderful treat. And I do have some work to catch up on. So, how about if I just sit at my desk and mark these tests and then I won’t see your surprise until you’re all done?”
Helena glanced with distaste at the pile of grading and then back at the girls. Both were bobbing their beaded braids with infectious enthusiasm. Collapsing once more into the rickety wooden chair, Helena drew the sheaf of spelling tests toward her. Obligingly, she turned the chair so she was facing away from the window. Despite her fatigue and the oppressive heat of the tiny classroom, she marked each test with care, circling the parts of the words where spellers had gone wrong and writing notes of praise or encouragement to each of her students. Thoughts of her humiliating encounter dissolved as she temporarily reassumed the role of instructor. As she passed from test to test, she grinned at the excited whispering of the two girls, who had drawn a chair close to the window and were making mysterious rustling noises as they extracted something metallic-sounding from the plastic bag. In the late afternoon sunlight, something shiny already winked as it dangled from one of the hooks she had driven into the low-lying ceiling. Appreciating the childish excitement of the girls, she promised herself not to sneak a peek before they were ready. She remembered her first day at the school when she had cut out dozens of paper snowflakes and suspended them from the ceiling. The children had clapped with wonder as they entered the classroom and saw “snow’ for the first time. They had passed that first afternoon engrossed in conversation, teacher and students losing their shyness as they discovered the difference, and similarities, of their two cultures.
“Okay, now it’s ready!” shouted the girls separately, but seemingly in unison. They giggled as Helena squeezed her eyes tightly closed and allowed herself to be led toward the window. As she looked up she couldn’t help but gasp in admiration. In the slanting light, the tin ornaments shone like silver and twinkled as they spun on different lengths of thread. With carefully trimmed edges and holes punched through to catch the light, the ornaments looked like shining icicles twirling under the tropical sun.
“There’s twenty all together, Miss Travis – one for each year!”
Actually, Helena was close to a decade over twenty, but she didn’t care. She scooped a girl under each arm and hugged them tight. There were tears in her eyes that she made no effort to blink away as she thanked them.
“Emily and Sarah, you are absolute wonders! I’ll always remember this. Always. No matter where I go, I know I’ll never ever again receive such a gift.”
Remembering the camera she had tucked inside her backpack that morning, Helena asked the girls to wait so she could take a picture of their handiwork. While she was rooting about in her bag, she was startled to hear girlish shrieks, followed by wild giggling. As she straightened up, she saw Emily and Sarah both clap their hands over their mouths and drop their eyes shyly to the floor.
“What is it girls?”
Helena smiled as she approached the window, shaking her head and good-naturedly rolling her eyes at their childish antics. She followed the finger pointing toward the open courtyard and took a hasty step backwards. Flushing scarlet, Helena swallowed hard and attempted to bring the staccato beat of her heart under control. Not twenty feet away stood the stranger from the bluff. Stripped to the waist and beaded with perspiration, he had his back turned to the admiring trio. A well-stocked tool belt was slung low over his hips. As a barely stifled snort from one of the girls carried through the open window, he turned and waved. Helena ducked down behind the taller of the students and prayed he wouldn’t see her kneeling form against the glare of the louvered glass window. From where she crouched she could see a smile twitch in the corner of his mouth and spread slowly across his face, revealing brilliant white teeth. Running both hands through his thatch of blonde hair, he ambled slowly toward the open window until his muscular torso was mere inches from the top of Helena’s head. Raising her eyes guiltily she allowed her gaze to roam across the sweat-slick surface of his well-muscled stomach. A light-brown line of hair pointed down like an arrow from his belly button beyond the waistband of his snug-fitting, low-slung jeans.
“Hi Emily, Hi Sarah. What are you doing here at this late hour? Aren’t you supposed to be at home helping your mother get supper on the table?” He laughed and wagged a finger at the girls.
Sarah giggled and made a face at Emily.
“No, that’s Emily’s job. I’m supposed to be minding Cecily. But mama said we could come up to the school for an hour if we helped at the market on Saturday.”
“Well, well,” he teased, “I guess you must really love all that reading and writing if you’re spending your precious spare time at school.”
Both girls giggled. Emily rolled her eyes and pointed to the twinkling ornaments above her head.
“We were bringing these to Miss Travis. It’s her birthday in a couple more days.”
“And where is this Miss Travis of yours keeping herself?” He leaned into the window frame and cocked an eyebrow at Helena’s cowering form.
“Oh, there she is. Drop something, Miss Travis?”
“No, I…” Helena’s words were lost in a tongue-tied mumble as she rose to her feet and faced the stranger. Beneath the thin cotton of her sleeveless summer blouse, her nipples hardened unbidden at the memory of yesterday’s encounter. Smoothing her chino skirt over her hips, she couldn’t help but notice that her crawling about the floor had loosened a button from near the hem. The bottom of her skirt splayed open, revealing a generous expanse of brown leg. As she met her tormentor’s eyes, she noticed his gaze slide from her face down to her slim tanned ankles and back over the arms she had crossed tightly over her breasts. Ears burning with humiliation, she extended a shaking hand in the direction of the man’s torso, inadvertently grazing his chest as she did so. Emily and Sarah erupted in a torrent of giggles as she struggled to regain her composure and introduce herself.
“Helena Travis. I teach second grade here at the school. ”
“Mmm. Most decidedly not a tourist, then.” He smiled a broad, genuine smile and laughed, raising his hand to meet hers. “Neil. Neil Streep,” he concluded. I’m doing a little work here at the school as well.” He gestured toward a stack of two-by-fours piled neatly against the wall.
Emily and Sarah began to jostle each other impatiently as they listened to the adults. Suddenly aware of their agitation, Helena remembered the picture she had promised to take. Posing the girls in the open window, she located her camera and snapped several photos from different angles. She noted that Neil had quietly moved away and resumed his activity by the wood pile. With the pictures taken and promises to make extra copies for both girls, Sarah returned to her desk to complete her grading. The girls departed soon after with a fresh round of embraces and thank-you’s. Once more alone, Helena made a conscious effort not to glance toward the open window. Despite her best intentions, she found her thoughts a tangle of emotion and reverie and she was aware that the heat clinging to her breasts and thighs was due to more than just tropical weather. With an immense sigh of frustration, Helena felt and acknowledged the undeniable stirrings of desire. Suspended between a past she was trying to erase and the uncertainty of the future, Helena felt a familiar tremor. Her attempts to wipe Karl from her life had left her expecting to encounter betrayal around every corner. Twice-bitten, Helena felt unable to stem the tide of suspicion that any male between eighteen and sixty-five seemed of late to provoke, and Neil Streep was no exception. He was, however an undeniably sexy, albeit suspicious, male, and Helena seemed unable to banish him from her lazy afternoon thoughts.
Turning her reverie to the pragmatic, Helena pondered Neil’s claim to be working for the school. In the month she had been on staff, this was the first she had seen of him. She couldn’t fathom any legitimate reason for him to be on the property after regular school hours, but he seemed to know the girls, and their family, and they were obviously comfortable with him. That, in itself, was something. Her spirits bolstered momentarily, she relaxed enough to raise her eyes to the window. While she could see nothing, the familiar tingle between her legs told her what she was seeking. Why couldn’t it truly be a case of the birds and the bees with no questions, no calculated unkindness, and no fear of heartbreak? It would all be so easy if it were just about sex: pure, lusty, spontaneous sex with no past beyond foreplay and no future beyond climax.
The sun was beginning to sink low on the horizon, and the pink tinge in the sky spoke of the coming evening. What on earth was he doing? Her curiosity getting the better of her, Helena rose to her feet and took a few tentative steps toward the window. Peering through the glass louvers, she could see nothing but the neatly stacked pile of wood. Neil, or whoever he really was, was gone. Turning, Helena returned to her desk, bent and grabbed her bag by its top loop. Slinging the bag over her shoulder, she returned to the window, closed the louvers, and left the classroom, locking the door behind her. Her lengthy strides increasing in tempo, she strode across the empty courtyard, stopping to pick a tropical bloom that had somehow found its way through the cracked concrete. Lifting the flower to her nose, she inhaled deeply, savoring the sensuous odor. Raising her hands behind her head, she tucked the blossom into the twist of her hair, then adjusted her backpack so it sat squarely between her shoulders.
“That looks lovely on you.”
A voice from behind her caused her to start and she turned with a pounding in her chest. A few feet behind her stood Neil, one hand on a slim hip, and the other pointing at her rapidly collapsing French twist. His head was tilted to one side as he regarded her with eyes as blue as the Caribbean waters. A faded black t-shirt stretched across his wide chest. Confused, Helena brought her hand to her head, then felt and removed the lustrous blossom.
“No, no, don’t take it out. Here, let me fix it for you.”
Taking a step closer, Neil reached for her hair, felt about, and with a practiced hand, placed the flower in the dark gloss of her curls. Then he stood back and surveyed his handiwork. Frowning, he extended his hand once more and gently tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Then he smiled.
“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”
He uttered the words in a smooth baritone as he offered a calloused palm. Glancing down, Helena noticed what appeared to be a small tattoo on the inside of his wrist.
“I’m the jerk who startled you yesterday. And I would like to extend my most sincere apologies for my incredibly rude behavior. It really upsets me to see animal habitat reduced to such a small space and when I see it invaded, especially by tourists, I get kind of carried away. The notice about the nesting area is a little hard to see, and I shouldn’t have jumped on you like that.”
He blushed at the words “jumped on you,” but continued.
Flushing slightly, Helena put her hand out to meet his. His grasp was warm and firm and lingered against her palm, even as his fingers withdrew. First, he’d seen her nude, now he was shaking her hand! This definitely wasn’t the normal social order, and Helena’s thoughts tumbled busily as she attempted to regain control of the situation.
“Well, perhaps I should call you Tom,“ she said, with a pert toss of her chin, “Because you were most definitely peeping.” She met his smile with a stern and teacherly glare, which deepened into a mock-frown as he burst into laughter.
“Really!” she exclaimed, once again coming up empty on snappy retorts. Inwardly she was treading dangerous waters as she floundered between her raging desire and the certainty that she needed to start putting distance between herself and the suddenly-friendly stranger. As the interior war raged on, Neil continued talking, seemingly oblivious to Helena’s dilemma.
“You must be wondering what I’m doing up here,” he said with a tilt of his head.
Helena nodded a hesitant affirmative as she tried to look busy readjusting her pack.
“Your principal has asked me to do some work on the school. I just brought up some materials so I could make an early start tomorrow.” Neil pointed to the pile of lumber as he reached around and undid his tool belt, dropping it with a tired clank on the concrete.
“I’ve been back and forth from my truck to the courtyard a dozen times, but you didn’t look up once, so I figured you must either be angry or concentrating pretty hard.”
“I had some grading to do,” said Helena quietly, her eyes following a line of ants crossing the courtyard. Mentally, she was turning off the first of the warning bells.
Neil was employed, and by the school as well. That is, if he was telling the truth. Now, was he just being friendly to make up for their disastrous introduction, or was he actually trying to hit on her? Her glance skittered up from the ground and scanned his left hand. No ring, and no tell-tale tan line. But that didn’t mean much these days. Appearances so often were deceiving, particularly when it came to men of mystery. How many lies had Karl woven through their brief engagement? Helena sighed as she met Neil’s warm smile with a strained one of her own. Gathering the edge of her lower lip between her teeth, she bit down hard.
“Come on,” said Neil, reaching out to touch her arm lightly. “You’ve worked a long day today, and I think it’s quitting time for both of us. What do you say to a nice juicy steak and a cold beer? It’s the least I can do.”
Helena paused, her heart thumping against her ribcage as she weighed her options. Celibacy or heartache? The opening scenes of that last ruined night with Karl began to play in her mind, and she felt her eyes fill with sudden tears as the familiar wave of fear washed over her. Shaking her head slowly, Helena turned on her heel and took a step away, panic filling her so suddenly that she struggled to find the words.
“I’m sorry,” she said in the strongest voice she could muster. “But I can’t just now.” Then, just as the tears began to spill down her cheeks, she strode away quickly, toward the narrow footpath that would lead her home. Bursting through the tumbling overgrowth that covered the entrance to the path, she feigned deafness to the calls after her and picked up her pace. She was oblivious to the sting of branches dogging her heedless steps as she stumbled down the hill, moving faster and faster, too horrified by the thought of him following her to turn around, or even wipe the tears from her damp face. As the path ended and the roadway began, Helena risked pausing briefly, craning her neck to catch the tell-tale sounds of dislodged pebbles and cracking twigs. Hearing nothing but the calls of tiny birds and the rumble of nearby traffic, she pushed her sunglasses firmly against her nose, and began walking alongside the main road leading to her apartment.
Her head throbbed as her mind, unbidden, began to replay the scene that had just unfolded. It had been a mere matter of days since the last humiliation she had endured in Mr. Streep’s presence and at the moment, she felt more the fool than she had ever felt in the entirety of her dating experience. To what part of the distant galaxy had her ability to come across as calm, cool, and collected vanished? True, she harbored no romantic intentions toward the stranger from the bluff, but she had always prided herself on her quick wit and snappy repartee, and in the face of Mr. Streep she seemed doomed to play the role of blushing, tongue-tied, head-ducking teenager. To think that she had come so far to avoid one man and now, on tiny St. John, she would have to steer clear of another. She honestly did not think she could physically cope with any further humiliation without falling into the deep pit she prayed would swallow her up. Her cheeks flushed deeply as she saw herself with the eyes of an observer: the hysterical female, so distressed by the slightest male attention that all she could do was flee in terror. How very stereotypical Victorian heroine! Helena cringed, the tears pricking at her eyes, now those of anger. Mentally kicking herself, she sniffed loudly, despite herself. Looking up through swollen eyes, she stopped short before running directly into the mother of one of her students.
For a fraction of a moment, the mother scrutinized Helena’s inflamed nose, then reached a maternal hand to Helena’s arm and squeezed.
“It can’t be that bad, Miz Travis,” she said in a voice that conveyed both sympathy and the curiosity to hear what would surely be lurid, and possibly gossip-worthy details.
Horrified to find a ready audience for the source of her humiliation, Helena waved vaguely in the direction of the floral bushes crowding the sidewalk and then toward her nose, pantomiming elaborate sneezing fits while gasping out, “Allergies! Must be the change in climate!” Returning the woman’s affectionate gesture with a hand squeeze on her own, Helena bade her a good afternoon, and hurried on her way, pretending not to notice the disbelieving shake of the woman’s tightly curled head.
Rushing headlong through the crowded sidewalks that wound through the town, Helena made a beeline for the sanctuary of her Mediterranean-style apartment. As she stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street, a horn honked stridently and she looked up in alarm. Registering a waving arm in her peripheral vision, she was horrified to hear a strong male voice calling her name. Not Neil Streep, again! Had he been following her?
Without breaking pace, Helena kept her eye on the door of her apartment as she threaded her way around a passing vehicle and leapt up onto the sidewalk like the lead in a cross-country race. Pounding up the stairs, she was already removing and rummaging in her backpack for her keys. Locating these, she fumbled with the lock, then tore open the screen door, slid inside, and pressed her back to the lock. Breathing hard, she waited. Hearing a car door slam somewhere behind her, she blessed Ben for having omitted an intercom system, and then pitched herself forward, scrambling up several flights of stairs, until she was at last, home sweet home.

Island Recess, Chapter 3.

For the past week, the skies had darkened daily with sudden cloudbursts that gave way to spells of damp heat and brilliant sunshine. A native of Seattle, Helena could smell a pending rainstorm like a hound sniffing after a rabbit and her nose twitched as the clouds banks continued to build. Helena walked slowly back and forth over the small field, waving encouragement to all and dispensing gentle reminders to a few. Periodically, she was stopped to mend an injured kite with a few well-placed patches of tape. As the children ran back and forth, attempting to build speed and raise their creations aloft, Helena smiled in spite of herself. Against the June sky, the patchwork creations of cellophane and tissue were as boldly colored as bands of stained glass. While most of the kites bounced on the ground as their owners raced furiously back and forth, a few caught and held by the wind, achieved momentary lift.
As Helena paced, she tried in vain to put the events of the previous Friday out of her mind. For the past week, she had busied herself with school during the day, and with helping her elderly landlord at night. With several units now vacant, Helena had suggested that Ben allow her to assist with some minor cosmetic renovations before he again advertised them for rent. Having seen the changes Helena had made to her own apartment, Ben was easily persuaded to go along with his new tenant’s scheme. Her first order of business was a brutal assault with mops and rags and toxic-smelling cleansers. Pouring bleach into the toilets and cleaning around the ancient taps with an old toothbrush, it had been easy for Helena to banish the image of her humiliation before Neil. Once the cobwebs, dust, and grime were cleared, Helena had thrown herself into the role of interior designer. Together, she and Ben had decided on a different decorating scheme for each unit. They purchased several lengths of bold, tropical prints and Helena then set about designing and sewing curtains, table linens, and throw cushions to suit each room’s dimensions. With the assistance of Ben’s two teenaged nephews, she had painted each room a different colour, using techniques like ragging and sponging to bring texture and visual interest to the small spaces. Just yesterday, she had returned from a weekend trip to nearby St. Thomas, where, under Ben’s direction, she had purchased woven raffia mats to use as runners over the now-creamy linoleum floors.
As she watched her students frolic in the afternoon sun, heedless of their teacher and, oblivious to the trials and tribulations of adulthood, Helena couldn’t help but yearn for some simple recreation of her own. But after last Friday, the only recent candidate for her affection would hardly be beating a pathway to her door. She cringed inwardly at the spectacle she had made of herself in the school’s courtyard. For the past week, she had played and re-played the scene, wondering whether Neil had witnessed her emotional breakdown or only her girlish flight. If only she had screamed shrilly, or kicked up her heels and flapped her hands as she ran, she would have made the perfect virgin-on-the-run. She now almost wished she had turned to see the source of the honking horn. Had it been Neil, she could perhaps have summoned up a smidgeon of self-respect, drawn herself up and made some viable excuse for running away so readily from the offer of a juicy-steak-and-beer dinner. Perhaps, “I’m a teetotaler and vegetarian” would suffice as explanation for her behavior? Perhaps not.
How she had found herself back in her apartment, red-faced and mentally kicking herself, she couldn’t quite remember. What she could partially remember was the hesitant tap on her door that had come moments after her flustered arrival. On opening the door she had found her landlord, Ben, standing awkwardly before her, a bottle in one hand, and two plastic tumblers in the other. After a few searing mouthfuls, it was explained to Helena that the bottle contained a potent island liquor brewed from sugar cane. Several drinks later, Helena had hiccupped out the story of the desertion of her fiancé and was beginning to unravel in exhaustive detail, the particulars of her encounters with Neil when Ben held up his hand with a slight grimace.
“I don’t think you want to be telling me all dis information, Miz Travis,” he had slurred out. “Best you be telling one of your girlfriends about all dis.” The topic had shifted abruptly to safer ground. Shortly after, Ben had departed, taking with him an empty bottle.
Helena giggled as she recalled the next twenty-four hours during which she had made every possible attempt to avoid running into her landlord. A normally private person, Helena usually restricted her confidences to a few close girlfriends. Watching her students play together, she sighed, thinking how far away Julie, her closest friend, was. She desperately missed their emergency councils, typically conducted over steaming cappuccinos and rich desserts, and sometimes lasting until the coffee shop owner raised his eyebrows and tapped his watch to indicate closing time. If only she could talk to Julie, de-brief the last few weeks and worry out some kind of dignified solution! And now, the elderly Mr. Holmes had been privy to her most private humiliations. Had she actually told Ben about her embarrassing encounter with Neil? Of course, which was more embarrassing encounter, that involving nudity or the one marked by crying and running away? How she hoped she had not shared those details! Her concerns had been unwarranted. Ben had cornered her in the hallway the following day with a face turned suddenly innocent as an egg, and bade her follow him to his apartment. There, in a corner of the room was an expensive-looking computer and flat screen monitor, hooked up to a printer and scanner: the means by which Helena had found her present home. Mr. Holmes had gestured in the direction of the computer.
“Now you can find that girlfriend, you be needin’” he had said with a smile. “You come and knock whenever you want to use it, send an e-mail, send a fax, whatever you need.”
He had given her a paternal pat on the back, and then swiveled on his heel, ushering her out of the apartment with elaborate courtesy.
Helena checked her watch. Luckily, she had remembered to put it on that morning. Only half an hour left until the end of the school day. She could quickly finish grading yesterday’s multiplication tests, and be home by five o’clock to e-mail Julie. Glancing across the sloping field, she took a mental head-count of her students, and frowned as she realized she was missing at least half a dozen. She chided herself mentally as she strode quickly across the rough-bladed grass toward the steep footpath leading down to the dock. She must learn to focus on her responsibilities and keep her mind from wandering in foolish analyses of silly encounters. Silly encounters that mustn’t continue, she reminded herself. Blowing her whistle in short, strident bursts, she gestured to the children playing nearby to join her.
“Robert, did you see where Samuel, Jacob, and, um, Michael and the others were playing?” Helena spoke slowly in an attempt to convince the children that everything was under control and to disguise her ignorance of the whereabouts of half-a-dozen of their peers.
“They went down to the docks with that man,” spoke up one of the boys, pointing up ahead. Helena’s heart began to pound against her breast. Visions of strangers luring students to doom with sticky candy and empty promises filled her head. Helena accelerated her pace, her skirt flapping about her thighs as the students who had stayed nearby struggled to keep up. As she skidded down the sloping trail, she sighted a clutch of children gathered around a tall man with blonde hair. Nearing the group, she almost cried out in frustration. Neil, again! Fighting the urge to organize the curls erupting defiantly from her ponytail, and she slowed to a more dignified pace and approached with a frown.
“Samuel! Jacob! Michael! Alison! Eliza! Mattie!” She spoke the names like a round of gunfire. “You were asked to stay where I could see you!” Realizing that she was making herself look ridiculous, as she accented each word with a school-marmish shake of her index finger, Helena was further annoyed to see that several of the children, unaccustomed to such outbursts from their teacher, seemed to be attempting to suppress a case of the giggles. She frowned in their general direction, narrowing her eyes to convey the seriousness of the situation. It was then that she noticed Neil had turned in her direction with a smile on his face that could quite possibly been intended as apologetic.
“Miss Travis, I must take the blame for this. I asked your students to come down here and give me a hand unloading these fish. I’m terribly sorry.”
As he spoke, Helena realized with horror that her eyes had strayed from Neil’s face to his bare torso. He was wearing a short-legged blue wet-suit and had unzipped and peeled the top portion back from his shoulders. The garment hung from his waist, emphasizing the narrow line of his hips and a firmly jutting pair of buttocks.
“Um, Miss Travis?” Neil spoke questioningly, and Helena returned her gaze guiltily to Neil’s face. Her cheeks were hot and she thought she detected a knowing glint in Neil’s eyes. One of her students was tugging at her wrist.
“Look Miz Travis, look at the conchs. They’re big ones.”
Helena knelt down to the child’s level. Next to a bucket of shimmering, freshly-caught fish were several large shells. Their outer covering appeared to be thick and grey, but the inner lip, still filled with the animal, was blush-pink, ending in a surge of near-crimson at the edges.
“Once the shells are cleaned, scoured off with a wire brush and dried in the sun, they’ll look just like the ones you can buy at the tourist stalls. That’s if you were a tourist. Which you clearly are not.” Neil finished off the explanation with a broad, and Helena thought, possibly cheeky smile.
Her students had gathered around her, subdued by her stormy arrival, and were watching to see if good humor had been restored. Helena knelt and picked up the smallest of the shells, peering at the contents.
“I think that’s it’s foot, Miz Travis,” piped up the recently shamed Michael in an attempt to re-establish himself in his teacher’s good graces.
“They make good eating, Miss Travis,” said Neil, squatting back on his heels and reaching his hand out for his catch. “I was spear-fishing around the bend at the cove, but I couldn’t help but pick these up. I had a hankering for conch fritters. Too bad there’s no one to share them with. I don’t think I can eat all of ‘em myself.” He patted his obscenely flat stomach as he stood up, head ambiguously cocked.
“Why don’t you share them with Miz Travis?” Obviously on a roll, Michael spoke up earnestly, looking from one adult to the other with an excited smile. Unfortunately, the pint-sized matchmaker was thwarted by a shriek from one of the students waving from the top of the hill.
“Miz Travis,” she bellowed, “Home time!” She waved, and jumped up and down, pointing at her wrist. Helena smiled briefly in the direction of Neil’s torso.
“I guess that means it’s time to go,” she said, turning just as Neil reached out a hand.
Helena herded the children like an errant flock of geese back up the hill and toward the school. As she entered the schoolroom and watched the children scurry to gather their belongings, her thoughts drifted back to the dock. Despite her best intentions to live in monk-like seclusion, Helena was fighting the increasingly urgent demands of her libido. Hustling her students out the door and waving frantically to encourage a speedy departure, Helena returned to her desk. The math tests waited expectantly. She could almost hear guilt inducing “Grade me! Grade me!” voices emanating from the stack of papers. Executing a smart turn, she picked up her backpack in one hand and the tests in the other. Pending further appearances by the mysterious Neil and following the completion of her ventures into cyberspace, Helena promised to immerse herself in her teacherly duties.
Swinging her pack onto her shoulder, she trotted down the path to the main road. Unbidden, her thoughts returned to the afternoon’s adventure by the dock. Because it was close to supper-time, Helena’s mouth watered at the thought of the conch fritters. She had only had them once before, steaming from the pot and smothered in hot-sauce. The temptation to follow up Michael’s invitation on Neil’s behalf was highly tempting. She could imagine herself turning up at Neil’s front door, eyes baleful and stomach rumbling, saying, “But you said you couldn’t eat them all by yourself.” Helena giggled, causing a tourist to look at her with some alarm and skirt her by a wide margin as he passed. She didn’t even know where the elusive Neil lived, but the town was small, and Helena was sure that she would run into him soon. Although one portion of her conscious mind was annoyed with her continued thoughts about the builder, the other wandered dreamily into nostalgic recollections of his nude torso and speculations about the exact proportions of what lay below.
Ever yearning to be a pragmatist, Helena chalked her fantasies up to months of sexual abstinence and to sheer desperation for the physical comforts of another body. Still, she couldn’t deny the powerful attraction she had felt watching him talking to the children, listening attentively and patiently as they vied for his attention. Perhaps Neil, with his sculpted arms and taut belly, presented a recipe for getting her mind away from the imminent return to reality. Alternately scolding herself and flashing a mental green-light, Helena allowed herself to drift into a pleasant daydream. She would be wearing something irresistible and consuming a concoction sufficiently alcoholic to provide herself with an excuse for her wanton behavior. No! That wasn’t right either. Helena was too honest with herself to pretend that drunkenness rather than lust would ever be the reason she had sex with a man. It always came down to making a choice, and for Helena, that choice was always a very conscious one, even if, she had to admit, many of her choices had been poor ones. As she continued on toward her apartment, Helena carefully revised her fantasy, casting herself in the role of an aggressive, take-charge woman of the new millenium. She was about a block away from home when she developed a sudden craving for mango. Helena was carefully inserting the presence of fruit into her latest erotic fantasy when she realized that the scent of mangoes was carrying from a display at the open-air market. She slowed her steps and approached the grocer, a rotund woman in her senior years who always had a smile and a cheerful word for Helena.
“Good afternoon, Susan,” Helena said with a broad smile. “Those mangoes look absolutely delicious. Are they ripe enough to eat today?”
“Of course, of course, Helen-ah” exclaimed Susan, hoisting the largest to shoulder height for Helena’s inspection. The fruit was ripe and heavy on Helena’s palm and the rich scent lingered as she passed the mango back to Susan. Perhaps if she already possessed the fruit, her latest sexual fantasy would be that much more likely to become a reality.
“Could you give me three or four please, Susan?” The woman slowly sorted through the dozens of fruit on the counter, selecting and discarding until she had found the four plumpest mangoes and placed them in a paper bag. As she took Helena’s money and rang up the sale, she continued to chatter about the school and the children and the changing weather. Then, just as Helena was turning to head home, Susan said something that made her stop in her tracks.
“So you’ve met our Mr. Streep, I hear,” said the older woman with a smile. Her broad brown face creased as her grin widened. Beneath her close-cropped curly grey hair, her dark eyes twinkled with pleasure.
“Whaaat? Who? Mr. Streep? I…” Helena mumbled in confusion as she tried to sift through tumbling thoughts. Her face grew hot and she struggled to come up with a coherent response.
“Ah, then ‘tis true,” beamed Susan. I know by looking at you.” The older woman wagged her finger as she spoke.
At these words, Helena felt she would burst into spontaneous combustion. Actually, at that point she felt anything, even a yawning chasm opening up in the ground at her feet, would be a welcome relief from her current humiliation. What were people saying? For heaven’s sake, she was a teacher, world-wide icon of virtuous conduct. She could only imagine the story of her nude sun-bathing escapade passing from barstool to barstool over rounds of rum and draft beer.
“Oh don’t worry, Helen-ah,” laughed Susan, looking at the expression of horror spreading across Helena’s face. “I hear it from Mr. Streep. He been askin’ about the pretty new teacher, but I don’t tell him too much.” Helena practically slumped over with relief.
“I only told him that you be a single girl looking for a good time with a good-looking man,” said Susan. She burst into helpless giggles as Helena’s mouth fell open. “I’m joking, don’t worry, don’t worry.” She patted Helena’s arms as she spoke.
Struggling to regain a degree of composure, Helena couldn’t help but laugh out loud herself.
“It’s just all been so strange, Susan. He seemed to come out of nowhere, and now I see him all the time.”
“Oh, Mr. Streep, he been on the mainland. Now he back helping us. Before he was over in St. Thomas and before, oh, I don’t know where. He comes and he goes on that boat of his, stays a while and moves on. But he always be coming back to St. John.”
“But what exactly does he do, Susan? How can he afford to live here just doing odd jobs?”
“Oh, he don’t take money for the work he do here. I think he just a handy-type of man. He don’t seem to need a job. He got a nice big boat and enough money to buy the things he wants. Some say the man is downright rollin’ in money. “ Susan beamed as she relayed Neil’s dossier. Then she leaned across the counter and whispered to Helena,
“The only thing that man be needin’ is a good woman.” Susan winked broadly and turned away to help another customer, her words trailing off into soft laughter.
Bewildered by the news, Helena continued her walk home, crumpled bag slapping against her thighs. She tried to fit the puzzle pieces together, but somehow, they didn’t seem to fit. A seemingly unemployed drifter, volunteering his time for charitable acts who was rollin’ in money? What was Neil Streep anyway? A con artist? A gigolo? A drug dealer using the local school as a cover for his illegal activities? Only when she had accessed Karl’s personal e-mail, was Helena made blatantly, unavoidably, aware of the fact that her fiancé’s business dealings were at best, on the shady side. If Neil was some kind of criminal, he was definitely not the kind of distraction she needed. She would have to find out more and in the meantime, tread very cautiously where her new acquaintance was concerned.

Island Recess. Chapter 4.

The balcony on the floor above provided skimpy coverage from the sudden downpour. Helena had pulled the settee as far back as possible from the railing, and still the slanting droplets flicked at her face and body, causing her skin to rise in gooseflesh. She had intended a pleasant pre-dinner drink on the balcony and was reluctant to give up the much-anticipated treat. Far from the theatres, fine-dining, and night clubs of her recent experience, Helena was surprised what pleasure could be derived from a stiff rum and coke now much diluted by melting ice. Still, her sweatshirt was already damp and the hair around her face was unfurling in a sodden mass. Hardly a model candidate for a print-ad dedicated to the liquor she was rapidly consuming. Drink clenched in one hand, she half pushed, half dragged the settee back inside the apartment, then tilted it away to allow any errant drops of rain to run off on the linoleum. The smell of baking fish, rubbed with onion and garlic and a blend of spices, filled the room with its pungent aroma. She turned the heat off under the rice, and gave a final stir to the mango salsa she had prepared earlier. Opening the oven door, she was suddenly and poignantly reminded that once again that she was only cooking and shopping for one. The baking dish contained enough fish to feed two or three, and with the rice and salsa, the meal she had prepared could probably stretch to accommodate the appetites of a large family. Scooping the rice from the cooking pot, Helena heaped it around the fish, and crowned the dish with a heap of mango salsa. Then, grasping the steaming baking dish with a pair of pot-holders, she left the apartment and headed downstairs to her landlord’s unit. She tapped gently at the door with her foot, and waited for the slow shuffle that would herald Ben’s arrival. After a short pause, and the sound of shuffling bedroom slippers, the door swung open and Ben peered out. His eyes seemed enormous, magnified by the thick glasses, but were hardly a match for the enormous smile expanding beneath them.
“What a pleasure! Come in, come in!” he gestured, moving back to allow Helena to enter.
“I’m sorry to call unannounced,” said Helena with an apologetic smile. “I just wondered if you had eaten yet. I’ve made quite a large meal and I was hoping you could share it with me. I’d hate for it to go to waste.”
“How delightful! I’ve been at the computer here for most of the afternoon, I think. I must have lost track of time. Hadn’t thought of starting dinner yet.”
Ben bustled about the small kitchen, finding plates and cutlery and arranging them on a faded floral tablecloth. The baking dish was uncovered, allowing the savory aroma to escape. Rooting around in an old-fashioned refrigerator, Ben located two bottles of the local Caribbean beer and set one down with a clink in front of each plate. Then he shuffled back into the kitchen and sliced one of the tiny firm-skinned local limes lengthwise into quarters. Returning to the table, he inserted a slice of lime into the mouth of each bottle, before lowering himself cautiously into his chair.
“Mexican-style,” he said by way of explanation. Smiling across the table at Helena, he rubbed his hands together with dramatic relish. “Now, let us begin.” He sighed with pleasure as he picked up a fork and prepared to attack the savory dish. As the rain continued to dimple the waters of the bay beyond the patio door, Helena and Ben chatted amicably about her job at the school and about the building’s new tenants. Although both studiously skirted the topic of her social life, Helena noted that Ben was more than liberal in sharing gossip about her neighbors. With an inward cringe, she wondered if the new tenants had been treated to a similar examination of her personal life. All she needed now was to have to avoid eye contact with her neighbors while scuttling to and from her apartment. Life in Seattle had seemed so complicated. Now it seemed that despite the claims of cruise ships and purveyors of Caribbean rum, life in the Virgin Islands had its own share of complications. She signed, and Ben looked up at her with a quizzical glance. Helena shook her head and smiled. “Just thinking of home,” she said quietly.
“Well, after dinner, you use my computer. Catch up with life on the mainland. Then I will pay you back for this delicious meal.”
Helena smiled her thanks.
The scrape of forks across almost empty plates filled a momentary silence, which Ben abruptly broke.
“Maybe, you won’t be needing to go home so soon.”
“Oh, Ben, but I do. My life is in Seattle and before I can get on with it, there are people to be faced and problems to be solved.” Helena rubbed the bridge of her nose with her fingers and leaned her chin against her hand. “I just don’t know,” she concluded meaninglessly.
“Oh all that,” Ben flapped his hands as if brushing away her worries. “I’m meaning that maybe now there will be more reason for you to stay than to go.” He smiled enigmatically, his grizzled face broadening in a sea of wrinkles and ivory teeth. Helena waited, head tilted like a bird’s for the old man to continue.
“You see, I was talking last night with Susan, you know, the lady who runs the fruit stand, and she says she been talking with you and our Mr. Streep. So, I listen all day long, and talk to the man himself, and finally I hear some news you might be interested in.” Helena felt her gut do a quick flip-flop while Ben took a minute to make an elaborate show of coughing into a handkerchief that had definitely seen better days.
“Our Mr. Streep, he is almost finished his job at the school. But he is already volunteering for another one. He’s gonna be re-doing the old tile floor in the church up the road from here. You know that man, any kind of building, he can do. Did you know that back on the mainland he even have a construction company or some thing? Makin’ barrels of money getting buildings all planned up and put together.”
Ben paused for a second, gauging Helena’s reaction to the information. She tried hard to remain impassive as he continued.
“Well, Mr. Streep, he asking about you. He wanting to know what a pretty girl like you be doing all alone in a place like dis one.”
Through pounding heart and clenched teeth, Helena breathed out, “Oh Ben, what did you tell him?”
Ben smiled broadly, reaching across the table to pat Helena’s trembling arm.
“Don’t you worry that curly head of yours. All I told him was you was a pretty girl from the big city, payin’ in cash and askin’ and answerin’ no question. I did tell him that we needed a crane to get all your fancy leather bags up to your room.” He chuckled to himself, a soft gurgle against the slack skin of his protruding Adam’s apple.
“He’ll be here, oh, at least another month, or maybe even two. So maybe you can, you know, spend some time together. Maybe you be less lonely, less needin’ to spend time with old men.” Ben smiled beatifically as he concluded his monologue. Stifling the urge to throttle the absent Mr. Streep, Helena laid a trembling hand on Ben’s wrinkled one.
“Ben, you know I love spending time with you. And as for Neil, um, Mr. Streep, I think I should just, I don’t know.” she trailed off lamely.
Ben nodded understandingly. He rubbed his stomach and pushed back his chair.
“Wonderful dinner, wonderful. I must return the favor soon. You will make some lucky man a very good wife one day.” Ben winked as Helena groaned theatrically.
“And now, for a trip to cyberspace,” said Ben, shuffling slowly across the linoleum floor to the make-shift computer desk. He switched on the computer and monitor, the dial-up modem coming to life with a familiar series of clicks and bongs. Impatient to be on-line, Helena felt a momentary longing for her high-speed Internet back home, but the delay of a minute now heralded a generous connection to home and family. She seated herself beside the elderly man, trying not to betray her eagerness to have a few minutes alone with the machine. Having booted up the computer, Ben, perhaps sensing her impatience, excused himself, saying that he was going to take an early evening stroll ‘to work off the delicious meal.’ The rain had stopped during their dinner, leaving in its passage a heavy humidity which seemed to trap and absorb the late-day rays of sun in a yellow haze of light. Alone in the apartment, Helena found her mind racing. So now Mr. Streep thought she was a girl from the big city flashing cash and keeping secrets. What if he believed she was on the run from some kind of trouble? Did he think she had money? What if he saw her as some kind of wealthy damsel-in-distress and easy prey for the gigolo services of a temporarily unemployed carpenter? She flushed with shame as she considered the possibility that Neil’s intentions could be purely financial.
Helena typed in the address of her free e-mail provider, and after entering her password, was able to access her personal account. Until now, she had kept in touch with family and friends with brief letters and briefer cards. Long-distance phone calls were an expensive draw on her tiny income and rapidly depleting savings, and so were kept to an absolute minimum. It was time to instigate more lengthy correspondence. Quickly she scanned the contents of her electronic mailbox. The majority of messages were from her mother and Julie, and the more recent titles betrayed a growing concern on the part of both. “Where are you?” “Have U forgotten me?” “U never call anymore!” and “CALL WHEN U CAN!” messages all bore today’s date. Looking down the list of addresses, she groaned as she read the familiar “” Without reading the messages from her fiancé (ex-fiancé, she reminded herself for the umpteenth time,) she clicked in the box beside each title to delete them from her inbox. Rapidly skimming the remaining titles, she grinned wryly as she noted that junk and bulk-mail were becoming as prevalent and irritating in e-mail form as the envelopes marked, “You Could Already Be A Millionaire” she regularly weeded out of her letter box at home. She read her mother’s messages first, and mentally summarized them into common themes as she progressed through the lengthy prose. Are you eating well? Are you getting lots of rest? Don’t forget the sunscreen! Scrolling up to the final message, she paused mid-sentence, leaning forward in disbelief.
“…Helena, I don’t want to alarm you, but I think you should be very careful for the next few weeks. Karl has been phoning me almost daily, pestering me for information as to your whereabouts. All I’ve told him is that you needed some time alone and slipped away for a short holiday. I keep telling him that you chose to keep your destination a secret, but I know he doesn’t believe me. Anyway, to make a long story short, he called me this evening and told me that he had discovered where you are. Apparently, he’s been calling his friends and hit upon one who works for the airline you flew from Seattle. This man was able to track your flight to St. Thomas. For now, don’t you worry. I’ll be sure to keep you informed. Just remember to check your e-mail! Or call. You know you can call me collect any time you want. I’m sure if Karl decides to go to the Virgin Islands that he won’t be able to resist telling Julie or me, and we’ll let you know as soon as we do. Love you. Oh, and Happy Almost Birthday Sweetheart! Only a few days to go! P.S. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Helena was still shaking as she composed her response. She was careful to avoid betraying her alarm to her somewhat overly-protective mother. Instead, she talked about the weather, the upcoming Carnival celebration, and her work at the school. In closing, she inquired after the health of their mutual relatives and the progress of her mother’s latest gardening ventures. Continuing through her mail, she began reading Julie’s messages. Momentarily distracted by her friend’s humorous prose, she became lost in the latest of Julie’s romantic escapades. Common to both of their experience were men who disappeared without explanation, men who developed quasi-stalker behavior, and those with whom a second date was something to be dodged by caller-ID and voicemail. Julie had refined a somewhat alarming series of strategies for dealing with cheaters and deadbeats. Hearing second-hand tales of Julie’s exploits, Helena was always secretly relieved that she wasn’t on the receiving end of Julie’s self-styled justice. Like her mother’s, Julie’s most recent e-mail detailed Karl’s discovery and the possibility of a pending visit from her ex-fiancé. Her friend closed by inquiring about the availability of attractive men on the island and penning a brief description of a fantasy in which a mysterious Island Lothario challenged Karl to a bout of hand-to-hand combat from which the unfortunate Karl barely escaped alive. Helena grinned as she mentally composed a response. Then, she hesitated. Glancing at her watch, she noted that close to half an hour had elapsed since Ben’s departure. Before replying to Julie’s e-mail, she would do a quick search on the Internet, and then be able to share her findings with her best friend. Just like the old days, except there were no cappuccinos, no warm hugs, and no comfortable silences in which spoken words became redundant.
Locating a popular search engine, Helena typed “Neil Streep + Construction” beside the “Search” button. She hoped to locate as many references to the elusive Mr. Streep as possible. If the rumored construction company were of any size, there might even be a web-page devoted to its business. She hit “Search” and waited for the search engine to locate articles containing her chosen key words. Scrolling down through references to articles with the names “Streep” and “Neil” and the word “construction” proved to be a tedious and fruitless venture. Finding no specific references to Neil Streep’s construction business, Helena idly attempted various combinations, first typing in his name and then adding different labels in an attempt to refine her search. Unsure of Ben’s accuracy in describing Mr. Streep’s business, she tried looking under drafting, design, and architecture. Nothing. Perhaps Neil’s “construction company” was merely a rumor designed to conceal the true nature of his activities on the island. Exiting from her search, Helena typed a quick response to Julie’s e-mail.
Thanks for the mail, and the warning. Can you please call Mom and reassure her that I am in my right mind, will be fine, etc. etc.? Bless you. I promise to do better as a pen, oop, cyber pal and will phone you tomorrow. Hope the new man in your life is worthy enough to avoid the tuna-in-the-glove box fate of his predecessor. RE: your query, have met a man on whose stomach I could grate cheese. He has already seen me naked. I have not been so lucky. Will explain this tomorrow. Love you as the gossip of all time and follower of trendy people and places. Wonder if you have heard of my mystery man? His name is Neil Streep. According to the local grapevine, he owns a construction company back on the mainland. With my luck, he is most likely a drug dealer and/or robber of elderly ladies. Must know before proceed further, i.e. see him naked. Till tomorrow. Love, Helena.
Hearing the familiar shuffle of footsteps at the door, and Ben’s cheery, “Helloo?” Helena exited the program and turned off the monitor. Entering the room, he inquired with a smile, “Feelin’ better now my girl?” Despite the pursuit of one and possibly two unsavory suitors, and her return to Seattle looming large on the horizon, Helena smiled. Electronically, she had been home. Or at least her cyber-self had been in the company of friends. And curiously enough, she was feeling better.

Island Recess, Chapter 5.

Helena stood in the middle of the sidewalk, mentally tabulating the remaining balance in the “grocery” portion of her budget. Yesterday’s trip with Ben to the mega-grocery store in St. Thomas had made a serious dent in her finances for the month. Somehow, her resolve to eat oatmeal for breakfast and simple sandwiches for lunch had given way to extravagant purchases of gourmet pizza, expensive wine, and thick, glossy fashion magazines. Helena wasn’t sure exactly how the freshly-roasted coffee beans and bars of specialty chocolate had made their way into her grocery cart, but she had found herself guiltily handing over the money for her luxury items at the check-out stand. Helena sighed, as she tossed the chocolate bar wrappers from the final victim into a nearby garbage can. She was always covertly annoyed with herself for feeling guilty about food, and made a sanctimonious self-defense about the anti-oxidant properties of chocolate. Today’s different, though, she thought with a degree of sanctimony, birthday calories are negative, or at least that’s what Julie would say. Of course, Julie would call them birthday week calories, thereby justifying last night’s caloric pre-birthday food fest with the staff of her school. Helena smiled at the memory.
Readjusting her sunglasses, she looked both ways and walked swiftly across the road toward the open market, barely registering the honk of an oncoming car. While the roads were never as congested as those on St. Thomas or the mainland, Helena had found that there was a curious relationship between the local pedestrians and drivers. There seemed to be some mutual unspoken knowledge of exactly how slowly a pedestrian could amble across a busy street, and exactly how close an oncoming vehicle could come to the pedestrian before braking slightly and administering an admonishing blast from the horn. The Sunday market was in full swing, with a series of make-shift plywood strands occupying the tiny square by the waterfront. From the stalls swung the usual collection of brightly colored sarongs, scarves, and t-shirts. Vendors shouted out invitations to passers-by to examine their jewelry, wood carvings and knick-knacks. Helena noted wryly a “My Grandma went to the USVI and all she bought me was this lousy” t-shirt swinging against one stall. Having seen similar merchandise bearing the same sentiment in a variety of countries, she gave a mental kudos to what must now surely be a very wealthy entrepreneur. Heading toward the back of the market area, she shook loose the plastic shopping bag she carried with her. The fruits and vegetables were stacked in colorful disarray on the tables. Greeting the nearest merchant with a smile, she inquired after the prices of the unmarked produce. She had long since come to know the disparity between “tourist” and “local” prices, and was pleased to now be offered produce at the same rates paid by the parents of her students. Filling her bag with mangos, bananas, sweet peppers and tomatoes took only a few dollars of those she clutched in her sweaty palm. With a lighter heart, she turned and left the market, heading down toward the dockside, where she hoped to purchase an inexpensive lunch. Her bag swung in time to her light footfall, and as she turned to run across the street, her smooth progress was halted abruptly by a loud cry. “Morris!”
Helena half-turned as a bulky canine of indeterminate parentage trotted past her, dragging a length of rope from his collar. The dog seemed oblivious to the increasingly desperate cries of an approaching owner, and had jumped the curb before Helena had dropped her groceries and managed to grab the rope’s tail-end. At that moment, she heard the warning bellow of an oncoming truck, and leapt back onto the sidewalk, hauling mightily on the dog’s lead as she did so. Morris seemed unaware of the fact that his wriggling posterior had missed colliding with the truck’s bumper by mere inches. Turning his attention to Helena’s bags of now-tumbling produce, he began a frantic investigation of the contents. Helena bent to him, rubbing his tightly muscled brown body and whispering soothingly as she wound his lead more tightly around her palm.
“Morris! Thank God you’re all right!” Morris’s owner had arrived, panting with exertion. “Miss, I don’t know how to thank…” His words trailed off as he bent down and Helena simultaneously stood, striking him on the chin with the top of her head. “Oww.” he moaned, smiling in recognition as he made eye contact with Morris’s guardian angel.
“Helena!” said Neil with what was both gratitude and genuine pleasure. Flushing slightly as she recalled her e-mail message to Julie, she returned his smile.
“Oh Helena, thank you! I was in the scuba store and left Morris tied up outside. I guess I turned around for a minute too long or the knot wasn’t tight enough to hold. Anyway, when I came out he was already half-way down the block, heading toward the traffic. I can’t tell you how glad I am you were able to catch him. He’s deaf as a post and has no sense at all about cars. You saved his life, Helena. I don’t know. I just don’t know what I’d have done if anything happened…”His words trailed off, swallowed up by emotion.
By instinct, Helena reached an arm out toward him, gave him a half-hug and said soothingly, “Well, let’s be glad nothing did happen. He’s okay now, just needs a little T.L.C. after his close call.”
If Morris was at all damaged by his escapades, it was not readily apparent. He had taken hold of a large tomato and sunk his teeth into the flesh, causing a messy eruption of seeds and juice in the general vicinity of his muzzle. The remainder of the damage had struck Helena’s bare leg, and she made a surreptitious attempt to wipe the tomato’s intestines from her skin with the edge of her sandal. Neil bent to scratch his pet’s ears while stretching out a hand to corral a few truant pieces of fruit. Helena quickly stuffed these in her near-full shopping bags, petted Morris’s flanks longingly and hesitated. Morris began to pant heavily, looking eagerly from Helena to Neil and shifting impatiently as if begging for further diversion..
Rising to his feet, Neil reached out a hand and gently squeezed Helena’s shoulder.
“I’d really like to thank you properly for this, Helena. I know you’re probably busy tonight, but maybe with more notice?” Helena noted the invitation, wondered if it contained innuendo, but said nothing. Mentally, she was defining “busy.” Her plans for the afternoon involved a bath and a book. They could include a rum and Coke, if she still had ice and lime. And rum. She made a mental note to pop around to the liquor store. Neil was continuing.
“Anyway, maybe I could take you for a drink just for now, and then for something better later on. Do you have time? Just for a quickie?” His cheeks reddened almost imperceptibly as both parties registered the unfortunate double-entendre.
She took a deep breath and the decision was made. “As a matter of fact,” said Helena sagely, “I do have time. And I believe it’s my responsibility as Good Samaritan to monitor the progress of my patient.”
Morris strained at the lead as he recognized the impending forward motion. The rope tied to his collar tightened around Helena’s hand. Seeing that both her hands were occupied with groceries and Morris, Neil good-naturedly slipped the bags from her hands and left Helena walking the dog, or rather being walked by him. Gradually the trio progressed toward the waterfront, led by an eagerly plunging Morris who clearly had never learned, or else had forgotten, the business of walking politely by his owner’s side. Finding an open bar facing the beach, the trio climbed the tiled entrance steps.
“He’s had a bit of a scare; he almost got run over, and we’d really like to keep him with us,” explained Neil with a beseeching and beguiling smile to the waitress, who promptly lost her glacial demeanor and placed them on wicker chairs around the counter. Helena looked around her in delight. She had taken few opportunities since her arrival to eat and drink in the more expensive establishments, and this eatery, while informal, was bright and pretty with its island décor. Soothing pastel prints splashed across the cushions were echoed by the short-sleeved shirts of the bar staff, moving with practiced ease among the clientele. The excited patter of tourists and locals was drowned out sporadically by the whirling of the blender as it mixed brightly colored, fruity-smelling drinks. Helena looked longingly at one particular concoction, a lemony-yellow, frothy drink crowned with a fruit-laden spear and tiny umbrella. Following her gaze, Neil smiled broadly, “How about one of those?” he suggested. She nodded enthusiastically. Leaning forward across the bar, he gesticulated at the bartender and motioned for two of the cocktails.
Few words had been exchanged between the two since being seated, and yet Helena felt strangely at ease with her companion. Having passed a few pleasant minutes in inspecting his new surroundings, Morris had settled in the shade of their chairs, head supported on front paws to begin surveillance of passers-by. It seemed that either Helena or Neil were always in contact with Morris, rubbing the canine’s large head and pointy ears. At one point, both leaned in to pat him simultaneously, and nearly knocked heads again.
“I’ve already had one of those today,” moaned Neil in mock-misery, pointing to his chin. “I think I’ll just let you have the next turn at the petting zoo.” Morris emitted a low grumble of contentment as Helena’s hand met with the fur at the scruff of his neck.
“How long have you had him?” she inquired, a trace of wistfulness in her voice. Helena loved animals of all types, especially dogs, and missed her weekend runs in the park with Julie and her best friend’s flighty Golden Retriever.
“I picked up Morris, or rather he picked me up on one of the Bahamian islands. He was just skin and bones, poor thing and seemed scared of his own shadow. At first, he wouldn’t even drink water from my cup, so I had to pour is out on the pavement. He circled and circled, watching me all the time until he felt safe enough to lap at the puddle. I’d seen him before outside a bar that I used to visit, um, rather a lot. And we got to have a little ritual with the water. I think old Morris knew he had me, hook, line, and sinker, the day he decided he was ready to take a drink from my cupped hands. I asked around but it seemed he was a stray. So the night before I left the island, I had Morris come hang out with me down by the dinghy dock. I’d brought a beefy bone to help along with the convincing, but when it was time to go he just jumped in of his own accord. And that was that. I don’t know who picked whom, but it’s worked out great. We went right to Nassau after leaving the island and found a vet. I had Morris checked out completely, vaccinated, and de-wormed, and then began feeding him whatever his poor stomach could keep down. Since then, he’s filled out nicely and seems pretty happy on the whole. Only thing is, he still seems a little nervous around other men. I don’t know, maybe he’s just being a guy, preferring the company of the opposite sex.”
Neil concluded his story with a fond tug at Morris’s ear. The dog leered upward with an adoring expression, then turned his attention and tongue to a close examination of his private parts. Neil shook his head laughingly. “See? Typical male. Totally driven by sex.”
At the word “sex,” Helena started slightly. While outwardly hanging on Neil’s every word, Helena had allowed a few of her still-unoccupied brain cells to process the visual information before her. The message relayed back to her indicated that her companion was indeed a very attractive one. The faded navy t-shirt, the hem of which he appeared to be using to absorb the sweat from his palms, was an attractive foil to his sparkling blue eyes. Emerging from a pair of old, creased khaki shorts, his thighs were well-muscled, the hairs on the skin golden against his tanned skin. As he spoke, Helena observed the curve of his mouth against his teeth, and found herself longing to touch his full lower lip. A lock of sun-bleached hair flopped forward, becoming stuck to his forehead by the beads of sweat that glistened there. She found herself wanting to see him push his hair back with an impatient gesture, his broad calloused fingers sliding purposefully front-to-back. But his hands, other than the ritual wiping on his t-shirt remained relatively still, reaching only occasionally for a glass in which the ice was rapidly melting. His eyes had not appeared to have left Helena’s face since they had sat, and under what appeared to be close scrutiny, she tried to find excuses to divert his attention elsewhere. She pointed out sailboats in the harbor, a dog fruitlessly chasing minnows in the shallows, and a pair of children attempting to skip rocks into the gentle waters. For several minutes, she breathed a sigh of what felt like relief, but wasn’t, when Neil, with some encouragement on her part, excused himself to talk to the children.
Turning her attention briefly to her beverage, she relished the smooth blend of rum, fruit juices, and coconut milk. What was that spice? And who was she kidding? With a scrape on the tiled floor that aroused Morris from a brief snoring reverie, she turned her chair to watch Neil and the children. He talked with them quietly, out of earshot, and all three smiled shyly. Neil seemed to ask them a question, and the response was a vigorous nodding of two brown heads. Then, he was bending low to one side, his wrist snapping forward as the small, flat rock left his hand and skipped five times across the waves before slipping under the water. Both of the children were eager to try his technique and ran about the beach, searching for the perfect stone before dropping their shoulders and launching their missiles. The man seemed to praise their efforts and both children were beaming when he shook their hands and turned to walk back up the sloping beach. As she waited for her companion to return, she counted the skips of the children’s stones. One, two, three, four.
“Sorry for abandoning you like that, Helena, but I’m glad you encouraged me to go. I know how frustrating it can be learning to do something for the first time. Sometimes it’s good to struggle through on your own but other times you persevere a lot longer with just a bit of guidance. I can see why you like teaching: giving them wings and all. How did you get your start?”
Helena launched somewhat tiredly into the explanation she had given many times: the family members who had become teachers, her early experiences volunteering in nursery schools, tutoring peers through high school, and finally, a failed experiment working as a nanny in Spain. After a few confusing months, she had gladly returned to Seattle, and after a brief stint in a coffee shop, had enrolled at Washington State the following term. The rest had followed quickly: an honor’s degree in Education, the immediate offer of a position at a needy, low-income elementary school, and her subsequent decision to accept the offer. While she had switched positions only twice since her first job, Helena continued to seek out those in high-needs school districts, preferring the company of children dealing with multiple challenges. Neil listened attentively, nodding and inserting salient questions at appropriate intervals. Despite her reservations, Helena found herself relaxing and talking more freely. When the question she had been dreading came, she was surprised by the ease with which she was able to respond with simplicity, conveniently omitting the most painful truths.
“So Helena, savior of runaway canines and problem children, what brings you to the beautiful Virgin Islands?“ came the query, along with a noticeable forward shift in posture. Their knees were almost touching. With just a casual shift in posture, she could…
“Ah, well, let’s just say it’s been a very long time since I’d taken a holiday. I’ve always been the one with my nose stuck to the travel-agent’s window, drooling over pictures of sandy beaches and drinks with little umbrellas.” She laughed, indicating her empty glass, and smiled more broadly as Neil gestured for another round.
“Anyway, it had been an unusually cold, wet winter, even for Seattle, with lots of sleet, and snow and ice. I was desperate for some warm weather and desperate for other changes as well. My girlfriend Julie, who’s a Web addict and a teacher to boot, is always looking on the ‘Net for job postings in more exotic locales. Well, when she found this one in St. John advertised, she phoned me immediately. It turns out she couldn’t leave her current contract due to some crazy clause, so I wound up applying. I’m fortunate enough to have an aunt who knows somebody who knows somebody else, so before you could say ‘nepotism is totally wrong where others are concerned,’’ I was here!”
As Helena reached for the fresh drink, she knocked her hand unnecessarily against Neil’s, and felt the electric tingle of the contact slide down her arm. “Down girl! ”she cautioned herself inwardly.
“Anyway,” she said, drawing herself up with straight-backed posture and winding up on a more formal, teacherly note, “I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity. The Virgin Islands are beautiful, and I’ve been able to swim and snorkel, and kayak and cycle all around St. John. The school is wonderful, the kids are great, and I’ve met wonderful people who’ve become good friends. I’ll be sorry to leave come August.”
She averted her eyes momentarily, fighting the rising sense of loss she always experienced when contemplating her return to the mainland and all the loose ends that awaited her.
“But, why leave?” asked Neil with a quizzical expression, “From what I hear you’re doing a fantastic job at the school. I’m sure that the school board would gladly find you another position, maybe not on St. John, but on St. Thomas or St. Croix, for sure. Good teachers are hard to find.”
“Um, it’s not just that”, said Helena, struggling to find words while sipping furiously at the remains of her second drink, “It’s just that I need to go home and sort some things out. I have some unfinished business to attend to, I guess you could say.”
“Well, I hope it’s not another man,” said Neil with a smile that managed to convey impish teasing, wistfulness, and inquiry all at once. He reached out a finger, and to Helena’s mortification wiped from her chin a trickle of beverage that had missed her mouth.
“No, not really. Sort of. But not in that way. Not in a good way.” Her words trailed off as Neil reached for her hand and covered it gently with his.
“I know, sometimes it’s hard,” he said simply.
Helena smiled her gratitude and rejected the unstated invitation to elaborate. With what she hoped was not an obvious attempt to change the subject, she asked, “Well, what about you, mender of church floors and builder of school additions?” Helena cringed as she realized he had not told her about his activities on St. John. The painful price of gossiping, she thought ruefully. For a fleeting, desperate moment, she hoped that he would not realize she had been pumping others for information. He either didn’t seem to notice, or covered it well.
“Now that is a long story, Helena Travis, and definitely requires sustenance for the telling. How would you feel about dinner? My boat’s only a short drive away and I have all the fixings for a pasta dinner. What do you say?”
He was rising as he spoke, weighting a variety of small bills with their empty glasses, gathering Morris’s lead in one hand and Helena’s groceries in the other.
Helena faltered as she weighed her options. Among her college friends, she had been the notorious butt of campus jokes for her inability to tolerate large amounts of alcohol. Two drinks was one more than her usual, and she was already on the verge of feeling giddy. While both she and Julie had made careless decisions in the past regarding men, they counted themselves lucky, and had sworn a pact never to act rashly after a few drinks. Rather than giving herself an excuse to tear off his endearingly un-ironed shorts, and unwittingly open the door to possible heartbreak. Helena decided to play it safe.
“I’d love to,” she struggled to remain composed, “But I have a few errands to take care of before I go home and then a pile of grading waiting for me there. Rain-check?” Her words hung in the air momentarily as she registered the look of disappointment on her companion’s face.
“Absolutely. What about Friday, right after school? I’ll pick you up, show you the boat, and make you dinner, or take you out. Your choice?”
His face visibly relaxed as Helena beamed broadly and reached for her groceries. Happy Birthday to me, she thought. Maybe it doesn’t have to be complicated after all.
“I’d love that. Friday it is.” On impulse, she touched his arm briefly, and then bent to kiss the top of Morris’s head. “I’ll see you both then.”
As she turned and started to walk away, she found herself struggling to suppress the urge to skip and run. On the pretence of checking both ways before crossing the street, she glanced back in Neil’s direction. He and Morris were still standing where she had left them, broad human and doggy smiles firmly in place.

Island Recess, Chapter 6.

Helena rubbed her temple with a moan as the smile on her face relaxed, and she slumped against the door frame of the tiny classroom. Unaccustomed to the two drinks consumed with Neil the night before, and a rapidly following celebratory rum and coke chaser (or was that chasers?) poured upon arrival home, Helena’s body was in revolt. Returning to her desk, Helena rifled through her drawers until she found some aspirin. Locating the noxious brew that passed for coffee in the teacher’s lounge, she filled a mug with the fluid and plenty of sugar and speedily gulped the now-lukewarm beverage. While she adored her students, her relief today when the clock struck 3:30 was palpable. Despite her attempts to treat his attentions with the feigned casualness of the type of pouting-lipped, serial dating women profiled in the popular fashion magazines, Helena found her thoughts drifting with increasing frequency in the direction of Neil Streep. Scolding herself repeatedly for what she perceived to be weakness, she recalled that the invitation for dinner had come in the context of an expression of gratitude and not of romantic interest. Still, there had been moments when their eyes or flesh made contact during which she had been certain his intentions were not strictly, well, honorable. How Victorian, she laughed to herself, to be thinking of honor and virtue in the twenty-first century. Still, hard on the heels of an ass like Karl, a little knightly chivalry would be welcome. Despite the raging inferno that her hormones were becoming, Helena was rather glad that Neil had immediately respected her desire to post-pone their date, at the same time wondering if his interests weren’t lascivious after all. On the other hand, maybe a true knight just didn’t assume that every woman was easy prey. Smiling at the mixed metaphors of knights and jungles, she found herself humming lightly as she returned to the classroom for her knapsack.
An hour later, Helena was tapping gently on the door to Ben’s apartment. Under her free arm, she carried a bag containing two generously proportioned slices of the popular local treat, bread pudding. Rather than the ill-favored dessert of her childhood, this confection was a dense, moist cake, studded with raisins and served in thick slices. Ben’s grin expanded into a maze of wrinkles as he spied Helena through the crack in the door. Throwing the door open wide, he gripped Helena’s elbow tightly, ushering her into the dimly lit apartment. In the corner, the monitor of the computer seemed to beckon her with a screen-saver of darting tropical fish.
“I’ve brought afternoon tea,” Helena teased, waggling the bag between them. Her elderly landlord smiled with pleasure.
As if reading Helena’s mind, he then suggested, “You would like to use this computer while I put on some coffee, or tea?” Peeping inside the bag that Helena had handed over, he said with finality, “With bread pudding, always strong coffee.” Then, he waved vaguely in the direction of the computer and shuffled into the galley kitchen, clutching the bag in a weathered brown hand.
Pouncing immediately on the opportunity to check her e-mail, Helena seated herself at the computer and quickly logged onto the Internet. She accessed her e-mail account with practiced ease, and began scrolling through the messages, discarding without reading, junk mail and chain letters. Reading the title, “PLEASE READ THIS” and the author, Karl, she impulsively clicked beside the delete key. Then, with a sinking feeling, she realized that her actions may have been premature. The message following Karl’s was from Julie and read, “WATCH OUT FOR PSYCHOS!” Clicking on the highlighted text, she read the following:
Hey there, Island Girl! Hope all is well and that you are managing to keep your clothes on, at least at work. After hours, what you do with your clothing or without it is your business! On a serious note, thought you should know that Karl is still asking around about you. Your mom and I are playing the cat & mouse game with: hinting you’ve left St. John and are off on a tour of the Caribbean, etc. Still, he mentioned having a friend that works for one of the major airlines who he says can check on outbound flights. The more I hear from Karl, the more convinced I am (like I needed much, ha!) that you did the right thing leaving him. Okay, re: Mystery Man. Helena, I think you need to know who this guy is before you get too involved. Guys who are all mystery usually have something to hide (girlfriends, wives, domineering mothers, etc.) I digress. Anyway, Helena, I swear, if this one turns out to be another Godfather wanna-be, you will be banned from dating forever. Your dregs will become mine! Anyway, I called my cousin Alex in New York, you know, the one who works on the staff of that big architectural magazine:- Blue Prints. He asked around and he couldn’t find anyone who knew of a Neil Streep with a design or construction firm on the East Coast. He did say he’d met a few Neil’s on a casual social basis (“A few studs” was how he put it) but no one with a surname like Streep. That’s like Meryl Streep, right? Alex said, if he could see a picture of Neil, that he would show it around and see if anyone recognized him. After all, Alex knows everybody who’s anybody in the business. Especially if they’re cute! Anyway, if he doesn’t he’ll know someone who does. Can you possibly sneak a photo? If you can, and have access to a scanner, send it on to me and I’ll see what I can do. And Helena, for God’s sake, be c-a-r-e-f-u-l.. Love, Julie. P.S. Your mother said to remind you about using sunscreen.
Helena frowned absent-mindedly as she quickly composed a response. Hearing Ben’s slow steps behind her, she exited her e-mail account and rose to take her seat beside him on the wicker settee. While she and Ben chatted lightly about the events of the day, she found it more and more difficult to focus her attention on the conversation. Several times, she found herself asking to have a question repeated, or simply starting after a brief lull in what was becoming a monologue on Ben’s part. While she knew she should be primarily concerned with the threat of Karl’s potentially dangerous behavior, Helena found her thoughts increasingly consumed by the mystery surrounding Neil. Although every iota of her logical reasoning told her that Neil’s background could be as nefarious as Karl’s, her heart was pumping out a bewildering series of rationalizations. Maybe his business was too small for common knowledge. Maybe the local gossips were wrong about his home, or his occupation. Did she even catch his last name correctly? Was there any other way to spell “Streep?”
She had a date to keep and her body wouldn’t stop reminding her. Still, even the prospect of a strings-free fling with a near-stranger had her on edge. She needed to reassure herself that he was at least, “safe,” not a liar, not a criminal, and not a distraction that would have her free-falling to complete ruin. What she needed was the truth, and her investigative work, to date, had been half-hearted and utterly lacking in sophistication. If only she had taken some steps to investigate Karl’s background before their ill-fated alliance, her life in Seattle would still be intact. If she really wanted to protect her future interests, she was going to need to hone her detective skills.
Helena slumped in her chair with an involuntary moan. Ben frowned and looked at her with consternation, shaking his head slowly.
“Girl, I don’t know what’s into you tonight, but I think you be needin’ some early to bed. And don’t you be arguing with me, young lady.”
Helena put up a weak show of protest, secretly relieved that she would be able to devote the remainder of the evening to pondering the enigma Neil Streep appeared to present, and possibly to planning her date-night ensemble. With a tight hug for Ben, she left the apartment. To his aging eyes, his young neighbor seemed to dance up the stairs, taking each step with a light jump. He passed a shaking hand across his smiling face, and quietly closed the door behind her.
Helena entered her apartment with the first warning prickles of excitement sliding up the back of her neck. The doorknob still clenched in her hand, she glanced about. Her backpack lay by the settee, a fistful of papers bursting through the opening.
“Your mission, Helena, should you choose to accept it…” ran through her mind, as she knelt down and sifted through the bag’s contents until she located her old-fashioned camera. The telephoto lens was loose in the front pocket. Dumping the papers out on the floor, Helena noted ruefully that the majority had not yet been graded. If she hurried, she would be back in time to finish up her paperwork and still catch a few hours’ sleep. With her pack now empty, she replaced the camera and lens, and then waded through the papers to the tiny closet where she kept her clothes. Quickly selecting, and then just as quickly discarding wardrobe options, Helena soon had a small pile of clothing at her feet. Near the bottom of the pile was her garment of choice, a loose-fitting pair of khaki shorts with deep, buttoned cargo pockets at each side. Stripping to her bra and panties, Helena donned the shorts and paired them with a close-fitting tank top. Searching further, she was able to add a black ball-cap to the ensemble. Surveying herself in the mirror, Helena laughed. Dressed for her covert mission, she resembled a miscast guerilla in a B-grade action movie. She tossed the hat back up onto the shelf, fluffed out her hair and tied it back in a high ponytail.
Her heart was thudding against her chest as she took up her pack, slung it over her shoulders and fastened the strap about her waist. To the camera equipment, she added a light sweater, a notebook, and a hastily constructed sandwich of left-over tuna. The notebook had been included with a fit of hysterical laughter as Helena envisioned herself furiously scratching notes on the nocturnal activities of Mr. Streep from an ill-concealed hill-top perch. First locking up her apartment, Helena glanced about the hallway furtively before proceeding to tiptoe guiltily down the back stairs and out onto the street. Helena prayed fervently that Ben did not chance to glance out his window and witness her attempt to flee the building without his notice. There would be no “early to bed” for her this evening. Already racked with guilty feelings about abandoning the visit with her landlord so prematurely, Helena craned her neck for a sign of a passing cab. Seeing none, she began walking swiftly toward the trendy retail area of town and its collection of coral-colored buildings. Then she stopped, frowning in consternation. Where exactly was she heading? She couldn’t very well duck her head in the window of the first available cab and ask to be taken to the residence of the infamous Mr. Neil Streep, could she? Helena paused momentarily, screwing up her forehead in a desperate attempt to recall the pertinent details of their conversation over drinks. Neil lived on a boat, or so he had said. A passing reference had been made to its name: something Greek, she had thought at the time. Mentally, she kicked herself for not having paid closer attention. That afternoon, it now seemed, she had been more intent on guarding against drunken revelry than on investigating the mysterious background of Friday’s dinner date. Taking a deep breath, Helena considered the possibilities for mooring. The main anchorage, Cruz Bay, was also the terminal for the inter-island ferries. Noisy and crowded, Cruz Bay would be an unlikely choice for someone claiming to be seeking peace and solitude. Not to mention the fact that the bar at which they had sat the previous night looked out onto the bay. Surely, if his boat had been moored there, Neil would have taken pains to point it out. Absent-mindedly, Helena nibbled her fingertip as she pondered. On one of her bike rides around the island, she had stopped on a hill to snap a few photographs of the island and ocean extending beyond. Sighting a number of sailboats bobbing in the white-tipped waves, she had asked a passer-by the name of the cove. What was it now? She frowned in concentration.
“Coral Bay!” Helena exclaimed in triumph, causing a matronly-looking tourist to give her a wide berth and disdainful glance as she passed. Her heart began to pound as she saw a vague plan beginning to gel into a more plausible one. Hearing, rather than seeing the approach of a cab, heralded by the stereo thudding within, Helena turned and waved it to a stop.
“Coral Bay, please,” Helena requested as she opened the rear door and slid across the cracked vinyl bench to the opposite window. Despite her casual interchange of pleasantries with the talkative cabbie, Helena’s mind was focused on the task ahead. At a time when she often felt the abstinent life of a spinster schoolmarm loomed ahead, she was surprised to find herself so consumed by investigative exploits aimed at “clearing” possible lovers of possible wrongdoings. She could only imagine what the Board of Education would think of her decidedly un-teacherly conduct. Helena barely managed to suppress a snort of laughter as she pictured the tabloid cover: “Visiting Teacher Turns Peeping Tom.”
Hearing the moment of sudden laughter, the cabbie half-turned, then shook his head and re-focused on the road. Helena’s face in the rear-view mirror was flushed scarlet as she bit her lip to contain the nervous giggles. She could only imagine the spectacle she presented to an onlooker.
The cab slowed near the top of a hill sloping down toward the sea.
“Were you going down to the dock, Miss?” He inquired politely, but with a look of wariness on his plump face.
“Um, not exactly,” replied Helena, without elaborating further. “If you could just pull over around here, that would be great.”
All she needed at this point was a talkative cab driver revealing her bizarre mission to someone acquainted with Neil. Having paid the fare, Helena stepped out onto the roadside. The sidewalk ran down one side of the slope, which gave a clear view of the bay. More than a dozen sailboats ranging from single-handed jobs to luxury yachts swayed with the movement of the sea beneath them. Before she could focus her attention on her target, she would need to determine which boat belonged to Neil. She realized with a twinge of nervousness that she would need to wait until dusk to move much closer without risking discovery. Glancing to her right, she noticed a clutch of slender trees surrounded by low, lush bushes. If she were to move in amongst the foliage, she would at least be able to make use of her telephoto lens to sort out Neil’s boat from the others. Cautiously, she moved toward the trees, feigning casualness as she slung her pack onto both shoulders and proceeded to wade into the low brush. Ouch! She had not counted on thistles. Helena glanced down ruefully at the prickles nestled in her sock, and pushed on farther. Grabbing hold of the nearest tree trunk, she pulled herself from the patch of thistles, and into a nest of wild grass. Here, at least, was a place to sit down. Glancing back at the road through the minimal cover of grass and brush, Helena realized that her hiding spot was an abysmal one. She could only imagine herself, creeping forward through the undergrowth, telephoto lens poised for action, and Neil slipping up behind her with innocence in his eyes, and a “Helena, what a nice surprise!” on his lips. She shuddered involuntarily. At least there was no law against taking photographs. And it was a rather picturesque spot, after all. If cornered, she could always feign ignorance. In fact, she thought she could feign it rather well, having not the slightest clue who Neil Streep really was!
After several uncomfortable minutes passed in removing burrs from her socks and shoes, Helena unzipped her backpack, reached in and extracted her camera. Attaching the impressively proportioned telephoto lens, she adjusted the viewfinder on the bay before her. The difficulty in determining which of the vessels belonged to Neil was the fact that each of the boats riding the gentle swells seemed to be pointing in a different direction. How would she be able to read the name scripted on the hull if the bow and not the stern was facing her? Her glance swept the bay, the late afternoon rays of the sun tilting off the lens and making the surface of the water dance in sparkling waves. One of the boats, moored slightly away from the others, caught Helena’s attention. It was small and neat, its white trimmed with wood which gleamed in the sunlight. The waves rocked it gently, making it difficult to read the calligraphy across the stern. By training her lens on the boat, and trying to ignore the sickening effects of the moving writing, Helena at last was able to read the name. Yes! It was the one. Odyssey. She had thought the name was Greek, but only because it reminded her of the mythical hero Odysseus. Then, she remembered how Neil had explained the origin of the moniker: Homer’s Odyssey. Biting her lip with excitement, Helena snapped a photo of the boat, then stood, moved a little to her right, and snapped another, and another.
The sun was sinking lower on the horizon, and the sky was becoming suffused with tinges of pink and mauve. She had seen no human movement on the Odyssey, and decided to venture from her hiding spot to find another, closer to her target. As she emerged from the prickly underbrush, she heard the rumble of an approaching vehicle, followed quickly by the appearance of an ancient Jeep rounding the corner. To Helena’s horror, the passenger seat was occupied by Neil Streep. The vehicle began to slow as it headed toward the dock area.
Turning swiftly in the direction of the treed grove, Helena put her hand to her forehead, shading her eyes and feigning great interest in the scenery beyond. Staring intently into the distance, she was certain that she was striking a ridiculous pose. The vehicle and its passengers seemed not to notice, however, and passed by with no give-away toot of the horn or friendly call. Helena exhaled deeply in relief, and then took a step back from the walkway as she continued to observe the actions of Neil and the driver. Raising her camera again to her eyes, Helena watched as Neil jumped from the vehicle and reached into his pocket. With a quick hand, he extricated a small package and handed it to the driver, who received it with a nod and a flash of white teeth. After a moment, the driver, whose features were obscured by a close-fitting black cap, then handed Neil what appeared to be folded bills held between extended fingers. The two waved briefly as the jeep made a tight right turn, and with a roar of the engine, returned back up the slope to the main road.
Behind the protruding lens, Helena’s eyes widened. She blinked several times, as if to verify what she had just witnessed. A package and what appeared to be money had changed hands. What was in the package? Helena’s mind reeled with possibilities. This certainly was an odd place to conduct legitimate business. Her skin prickled with a chill of apprehension.
The sun had dipped low against the horizon. Helena knew she was unwise to linger much longer, but against her better judgment, she was determined to have her suspicions confirmed, or erased. She watched as Neill strolled toward a small dock to which several dinghies were tied. Approaching the nearest, he deftly untied the knot securing the vessel to a plank of the dock, stepped into a wooden rowboat and dipped a pair of oars into the waves. Under Neil’s powerful strokes, the dinghy pulled away from the dock and headed in the direction of the Odyssey, leaving a v-shaped swath in its wake. Helena waited nervously, the back of her neck tingling with anticipation as Neil reached the Odyssey, tied his dinghy to the side, and clamored aboard. Within minutes, he had disappeared from view.
Lowering her head, Helena emerged onto the sidewalk, feigning absorption in the camera she clutched in her hands. She kept her steps toward the water’s edge casual but determined. If asked her purpose by a passer-by, Helena intended to indicate a photo-journalistic endeavor. Hands shaking, Helena had difficulty maintaining her grip on the camera. Reaching the wooden dock, Helena glanced casually in the direction of the Odyssey. She wished fervently for the cover of the hat she had recklessly tossed aside back at the apartment. Having seen the driver of the Jeep in a similar model, Helena supposed that these were considered fashionable island gear for the shadier element. Quivering with nervous tension, Helena lowered herself casually to the dock, dipping her tanned legs in the warm water. The Odyssey was now no more than 100 meters away. Gazing in the direction opposite to Neil’s boat, she snapped a few photos, pretending to take great care with the composition of each shot. Then, ever so slightly, she eased her lens back toward the Odyssey. What she saw, nearly made her drop the camera. Neil Streep was standing at the stern of the boat, apparently shampooing his hair with the aid of a bucket of water. He was, undeniably, stark naked, brown as a berry, and gleaming impressively in the rays of the setting sun. The camera lens whirred as Helena desperately clicked off several photos. Just as she prepared to take a final shot of his lean, tanned body, Neil Streep turned to face the camera and looked straight at Helena. Pulling her legs from the water, Helena struggled to her feet. Flushing crimson, she turned and made an awkward lunge toward the dock’s edge, missed her footing, and fell flat. Her camera landed, uninjured in the dirt beyond. Scrambling to gather the expensive equipment and replace it around her neck. Helena fumbled her retreat further. Finally, equipped with her belongings, she began a graceless lope back up toward the road. She could almost hear the phantom laughter dogging her footsteps. Reaching the main road, Helena paused momentarily to catch the breath that surged raggedly through her lungs. On a perverse impulse, she turned back for a final glimpse of the Odyssey and its occupant. In the last dying rays of sunlight, she caught the unmistakable glint of a pair of binoculars. They were trained in her direction.

Island Recess, Chapter 7.

Helena tapped her foot nervously, glancing at her watch every few minutes as if doing so would hasten the maddeningly lethargic movements of the clerk behind the counter. She had intentionally waited until the late-afternoon shift at the tiny mail-drop/computer service, knowing that the new staff member would be on. Helena most emphatically did not want one of the regulars catching wind of the bizarre fax transmission she hoped to send. While she had planned to use Ben’s scanner, Helena did not want to further jeopardize their relationship by impinging once more on the landlord’s hospitality. She also desperately wished to keep her current transaction anonymous. Processing the roll of film had been perilous enough, and had necessitated a late afternoon journey to St. Thomas where hopefully no one would recognize Helena or the subject of her photographic expose. Under cover of preparing materials for her students, Helena had then used the school copier to make a Xerox of one of the photographs she had taken of Neil Streep. First enlarging the image, she had then cropped the below-the-waist portion of the photocopy so that the final result was a head-and-shoulders shot taken full-on. She had then pasted the image to a blank sheet of paper and penned a hasty note to Julie in the space below.
Attention Julie Hamish (the note read) ~ As you requested, a sample portrait from my portfolio. Please contact me should you be interested in seeing other examples of my photography. Sincerely, Helena Travis.
When Helena finally reached the front of the line, she handed the photocopy and a scrap of paper bearing Julie’s fax number to the jaded-looking young clerk. The girl accepted the copy with a heavy sigh, and to Helena’s chagrin, turned it over to peruse the image. She gave the photo a thorough examination, sweeping the image repeatedly from top to bottom.
“Nice,” said the clerk.
“Thanks, I’m a photographer on assignment, in, um, the islands,” said Helena ludicrously, blushing darker with each word.
“Actually, I meant the guy. He’s gorgeous,” remarked the clerk, eyeing Helena with what appeared to be considerable distain. She returned her eyes to the photo.
“Oh, yes, well, professional model, you know,” faltered Helena, praying fervently that the girl would just get on with her job instead of brandishing about a photo that could well land her in a heap of trouble.
Instead, the girl persevered, forehead wrinkling as she studied the image further.
“Actually, he looks awfully familiar,” she said pensively, as she finally turned around and inserted the paper in the fax machine.
“Well, don‘t we all,” said Helena, striving by a firm tone to establish the fact that she was at least a decade older than the clerk, and as such, entitled to a little respect.
“I guess,” drawled the girl, handing Helena her change and losing interest in the transaction as she focused her sights on the attractive young man next in line.
Helena felt her face beginning to burn as she turned and left the store. The unaccustomed shenanigans had turned her stomach to water. Against her flushed face, the air was cool and damp, smelling of impending rain. The past two mornings, Helena had awakened to the sound of rain pelting against the balcony windows. Gray skies and looming thunderheads were becoming regular fixtures each morning and afternoon, and the fat droplets that pocketed the ground were falling more heavily with the passage of each day. She recalled how Neil had said he had chosen his boat moorage to provide shelter in case of hurricane. Apparently, the locals referred to the cove as a “hurricane hole.”
For seemingly the hundredth time since school had let out that afternoon, Helena checked her watch. She had been unclear as to the specifics of their dinner date until the day before yesterday when Neil had once again made a surprise appearance outside her classroom window.
“So how about six,” a disembodied voice had uttered shortly after the departure of her last student.
Helena had started, the gasp catching in her throat as she sighted the source framed by the narrow window. Neil’s face, streaked with perspiration and smudges of dirt had smiled up at her from between the slats.
“Six what?” she had countered, stalling for time.
“Six o’clock,” he had smiled back, shaking his head slightly as if in disbelief at her tactics. “For Friday. Dinner, remember? Are we still on?”
“Of course, that’d be great. Do you want to meet here, or at the bo…” Helena’s words had trailed off, as she realized with a start she wasn’t supposed to know the boat’s location.
‘ “I’ll come pick you up. Here or at your place? What’s better for you?”
Remembering her mother’s cautionary wisdom in preventing future stalking behaviors, Helena had chosen the former. Now, she had but a half an hour to return to the school, and try to bring some semblance of order to her disheveled appearance. Mounting her bicycle, she clipped her helmet over her tousled hair, pushing her curls away from her face and fastening the clip at the side of her face. She pushed off, beginning to pedal more furiously as she realized her linen shorts were already spattered with mud from the ride down. Now she would have to change her clothes as well. She prayed fervently that one of Neil Streep’s virtues was not punctuality.
By the time she arrived at the school, her sandals were also flecked with dark streaks. Dismounting from her bike, she surveyed last night’s hasty pedicure with a rueful eye. The crimson enamel was already chipping around the edges. Sighing heavily, she glanced around the courtyard. No sign yet of Mr. Streep. Unlocking the door to her classroom, she entered, hauling a heavy bike pannier behind her. Huddled behind her desk, she quickly extracted from her bag a rather crinkled black linen shift. Kneeling on the floor, she worked off her sandals, and awkwardly stripped off her t-shirt and shorts. Clad only in bra and panties, she struggled with the zipper of the short black dress. A rattle of the door knob quickly diverted her attention. Looking desperately to left and right, she decided on a straight-ahead course of action, and crawled under her desk, hauling her dress after her.
“Helloo,” came the call as the door squeaked open. Neil. She should have realized he would be early.
“Um, just give me a sec,” Helena called out, striving for a casual tone as she prayed fervently for instant beauty or a few more minutes alone.
“Okay, I’ll just be over here,” came the voice, which appeared to be traveling along the far wall of the classroom. From under the desk, Helena monitored the progress of a pair of navy blue deck shoes as they strolled past a display of student work. Now what was she to do? Giving the zipper a hard tug, Helena heard it part, and in a brief tug-of-war with the garment, somehow managed to get it over her head and fastened up the back.
“Helena, what are you doing?” declared a mystified Neil who was, as she predicted from the absence of feet anywhere within visual range, directly behind her. Backing out from under the desk, Helena grumpily muttered,
“Well, you said you were staying over there.”
“Nice to see you too, Ms. Travis,” laughed Neil, extending a hand and pulling Helena to her feet. “And you look wonderful as well.” Helena looked down at her bare, muddied feet and wrinkled dress, now covered with dust from the floor, and broke into laughter.
“I think wonderful would be a decided exaggeration,” she choked out, attempting to brush some of the dust off the black fabric. She knocked her sandals against the edge of her desk, allowing the dried mud to flake off onto the floor, and then slipped her feet into them.
“Ready?” inquired Neill, tucking Helena’s free arm into his.
“As ready as I’m going to be, I guess,” said Helena, a touch regretfully, as he walked her past the curling iron, can of hair spray, and tumble of make-up products lying untouched on her desk.
Taking a deep breath, Helena left the security of the classroom and walked with Neil into an evening that was sultry and ripe with promise. As she turned to lock up the classroom, her body brushed against his, and she willed herself to take her time. The muscles of his arm against hers felt solid and reassuring, and she nestled in more snugly, relaxing against the broad slope of his shoulder.
“By the way, I like that hat. Shows you’re up for anything,” said Neil cheekily, as Helena turned to lock up the classroom.
Eyebrows raised quizzically, she reached her hands to her head, and felt her bike helmet still in place. Helena groaned loudly and landed a playful slap on Neil’s khaki-clad posterior. Undoing her helmet with one hand she allowed it to swing freely from her fingers as they crossed the courtyard to Neil’s truck. A light patter of rain was beginning to fall, streaking the windshield with a sliding pattern of droplets. In the distance, the clouds huddled in gray clutches, darkening the horizon. As Neil started the truck, the drizzle increased steadily, obscuring the windshield between sweeps of the wiper blades. Seated beside Neil, Helena felt suddenly self-conscious. The hem of her skirt seemed to rise with her every movement, dragging up her muddied legs. While she was striving to avoid eye contact, she thought her peripheral vision detected a few covert glances on Neil’s part. Secretly, she congratulated herself on having shaved her legs beyond her calves.
“So, Helena, this is kind of weird,” said Neil abruptly, “But I have the oddest feeling I saw you a couple of nights ago.”
“Ooh,” said Helena in horror and for want of anything more profound to say. Then, just a quickly, she mustered up, “Oooh, ah, where do you think you saw me?”
“Well, that’s the weird part. I thought I saw you down by my boat. You were wearing a kind of guerilla warfare looking outfit, something black and tight and boots or something. You looked kind of sexy but you obviously didn’t see me because you didn’t wave or say ‘hello.’ Unless it wasn’t you at all. In which case, the person I saw wasn’t all that sexy. I mean, they weren’t all that sexy if they weren’t you.” He concluded his speech breathlessly and with a degree of fluster.
Helena was struggling to come up with a half-truth that would somehow divert Neil from this topic of conversation. And then, she had it. Or at least something that would suffice for the time being.
“Oh!” she exclaimed loudly, “No, that wasn’t me at all. I’ve been home safe and sound every single night. You must have seen my ‘double.’ Everyone’s been talking about how there’s this girl, who looks just like me,” Helena continued to gabble on frantically. “Anyway, I’ve been hoping to see her, because you know, we’re all supposed to have someone, somewhere who’s our double. And maybe she’s mine,” she finished up breathily. Realizing with a start that her half-truth was more ridiculous than sufficient, she fell silent and prayed the topic would miraculously change itself.
They had come to a stop-light and Neil turned to look at Helena oddly. He raised his eyebrows momentarily before giving his full attention back to the road.
“I was just so sure,” he said slowly. They were climbing a hill now, a climb that Helena knew led to a turn, and then to a downward slope toward the docks.
Suddenly seeming to dismiss the notion of having seen Helena here two nights before, Neil began pointing out the sights.
“Just over this ridge and then we’ll be almost there,” he said with a wink in Helena’s direction. “I love the view from this point. It feels like you can see practically forever. It’s always wonderful seeing my boat from a distance. It makes me feel even more excited that she’s mine.” Neil grinned, almost boyishly, Helena thought, and his tanned face crinkled up around his bright blue eyes.
Down the hill they drove, the old truck squeaking as it bounced over the uneven pavement.
“How do you manage to keep both a boat and a truck?” Helena asked impulsively, as Neil parked the vehicle just off the side of the road. “I can’t even afford a car, anymore.”
“Oh, the truck’s not mine,” he offered, swinging out of the driver’s seat and coming around to open Helena’s door. “I’m just borrowing it from a friend of mine while I’m here working.”
The rain had lifted to a slight mist. Helena could already detect the wild spring of her curls in the humidity.
“Okay, here we are. Now, I hope you don’t mind getting a little, um, wet,” uttered Neil with waning optimism as he surveyed Helena’s tailored shift dress.
“Linen doesn’t shrink in the rain, does it?” he inquired with a look of chagrin on his handsome face.
“I’m impressed with your familiarity with fabrics, and no, I don’t think it’ll shrink,” returned Helena, grinning gamely.
They walked slowly down toward the dock, the wet mist clinging moistly to their skin. When Helena felt Neil’s hand touch hers briefly, she responded to the invitation by entwining her fingers with his. Detective or not, she was still very much a woman, and the attraction between them was becoming harder to deny. Reaching the end of the dock, Neil indicated a faded blue row-boat.
“That’s the little’un,” he explained with a smile, steadying the boat as Helena awkwardly stepped down onto the tilting surface. He followed quickly, lowering himself gracefully into the wobbling vessel, and leaning back to untie its mooring. He pushed off from the dock with a well-muscled forearm, and began a smooth, rhythmic rowing. The little boat seemed to glide through the waves of the bay as he stroked toward the boat Helena already knew was the Odyssey.
“Here she is,” declared Neil with blush. It had obviously been laundry day yesterday, as the lifelines of the Odyssey were festooned with a row of flapping towels in various stages of fading.
“I guess I should have taken those down before it started raining,” he laughed, cringing slightly as if anticipating criticism.
“She’s beautiful, Neil,” Helena said simply. The grin that touched his mouth was generous, bracketing his teeth with smiling lines.
A sudden deep woof broke the momentary silence. Helena laughed.
“I guess you already have company,” she said with a joking pout.
“Just Morris. He’s still a little shy on the boat. Not quite ready to come up the stairs without a helping hand.”
With his guidance and steadying hand, Helena held onto the lifeline and managed to mount the metal ladder barefoot. Stepping down into the cockpit, she looked around with pleasure. The deck of the Odyssey was laid in planks of teak, polished smooth and gleaming under what looked to be many thick coats of varnish. Under a shady bimini of sun-bleached fabric, the deck and the cockpit seats remained dry and inviting. Helena felt Neil’s hand touch her back briefly as he invited her to have a seat, and rather than stiffening up reflexively as she had done so many times before, she allowed her body to relax. She leaned into the space below and shouted a greeting to Morris. His response was a slow string of deep barks. Excusing himself, Neil disappeared momentarily below deck, returning minutes later with a bottle of red wine and two paper cups.
“Sorry about the fine stemware,” he grimaced in mock-shame, “But glass and boats don’t mix too well. Especially not in a storm.”
The wine was smooth and rich against her tongue, and Helena relaxed against the cockpit seat, tucking a foot up under her. Seated across from her, Neil smiled with obvious pleasure as he sipped his drink. His palm was open in his lap, and Helena for the first time observed a tiny, faded tattoo at his wrist.
“Do you mind my asking what your tattoo is of?”
Neil’s smiled seemed to falter, but he extended his hand to Helena who traced the faded black ink with a light fingertip. It appeared to be the letter “S” scripted in a heavy font and enclosed in a circle.
Turning his hand over, he patted Helena’s thigh. “It’s nothing. Frat boy thing from years ago.”
Pointing across the water, he indicated the lights beginning to twinkle in the windows of the town. From this distance, St. John became a small town beauty whose age and areas of neglect were softened by the light behind her. Night was falling and a light wind scudded across the water, chasing the cloud off toward the north. Tugged by the breeze, a few strands of hair fluttered across Helena’s face. Setting his drink down on the deck, Neil reached across to tuck them behind her ear. Helena laughed, a trifle crazily, she immediately thought,.
“It seems like you’re always doing that,” she said by way of explanation.
“I like doing that,” he said with a roguish laugh, as he tucked a finger under her chin and tilted her face to his. She was on the verge of puckering her lips, when, to her surprise, he planted a chaste peck on her forehead and declared that it was time to begin cooking.
“Come on down,” he invited, taking her glass. Grasping her hand, he helped her get a start down the narrow ladder to the galley. Morris scuttled across the slowly tilting floor, pushing his big head against Helena’s free hand. She knelt down in the narrow space, rubbing his ears vigorously, before planting a kiss on his black nose. Then, she stood, balancing herself against the ladder and gazing about her. Stepping into the dimly lit galley was like entering a favorite room in an old library. Into every conceivable nook of space seemed to be built a warren of bookshelves. Helena walked through the space in wonder, touching the spines of familiar and much-loved books. Sliding a copy of Love Sonnets from the Portuguese from the shelf, she cleared away a pile of maps, and perched on a corner of the settee, flipping happily through the well-thumbed pages.
“Read something to me,” called Neil between clatters of battered aluminum pots.
“Okay,” she said, turning the pages furiously, and blushing to the very roots of her hair as she scanned the romantic titles.
“How do I love the, let me count the ways…” she began in a trembling voice.
“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…” he continued breathily. Glancing up, Helena noted with satisfaction that Neil too was blushing.
“I just love Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry,” he said abruptly. “She was just such a, a…” He struggled to find the right words.
‘Such a great poet?” inquired Helena laughingly, smiling up at him. “Exactly. A great poet she was,” he said with a relieved grin. Glancing around her, Helena took in the neatly upholstered cozy settee, cluttered little galley kitchen and snug v-berth just visible through a half-opened door. She guessed, correctly, that the door also concealed the toilet facilities. The “head,” she had heard it called. The whole of the Odyssey would have fit neatly inside the front hall of Karl’s opulent townhouse. At this point, she was willing to give up Karl’s Seattle townhouse, Colorado condo, and Maine summer home for one uncomplicated night with a man who at least on the surface, appeared to be a gentleman. And a lover of birds and dogs. And now, apparently, poetry. The gentle rise and fall of the boat as it rocked on the small waves, made Helena feel relaxed and peaceful. A pot on the stove was beginning to simmer quietly and the delicious smells of cooking garlic and tomatoes wafted through the tiny space. As she gave up her coy pretence, and openly watched Neil preparing the simple meal, she caught a glimpse of a small, simply framed painting hanging from a nail overhead. Still a little awkward on her feet from the unaccustomed movement of the boat, she moved slowly toward the painting and leaned in to examine it more closely. The strokes of acrylic were laid thickly on the small canvas, depicting a simple domestic scene in warm autumn hues of crimson and gold. Centered in the middle of the canvas was the image of a woman in a doorway, a welcoming smile touching her lips. Around her, the rustic cabin stretched to woods on either side, fall leaves touched by a golden autumn light.
Helena gazed at the painting for a moment, and then turned to Neil with a quizzical tilt of her head.
“Did you paint this?” she inquired
“A long, long time ago,” he responded, forehead wrinkling as he gave his attention to a row of neatly bracketed spices. He was quiet for a moment, and Helena suspected that he had been embarrassed by the question.
“Who’s the girl?” she persisted, moving back to the edge of the settee and watching Neil’s face as it contorted momentarily, with what emotion, she knew not.
“Well, I can’t really say who she is. She’s not anyone real. Not anyone from my past. I guess she’s someone I once hoped might be part of my future.”
They did not speak for several minutes, the words hanging awkwardly between them. The dinner preparations seemed to have come to a temporary standstill. Neil leaned against the counter, gripping the wooden lip with white-knuckled hands. On impulse, Helena rose, and moved into place beside him, grasping hold of the sink basin to steady herself.
“Need a hand with dinner?” she queried quietly, motioning toward the stove. Neil didn’t respond immediately, but removed a hand from the counter, and placed it at the small of her back. She was aware of his broad fingers spreading over her linen-clad skin. They stood that way for a moment, side by side, locked in place by the curve of Neil’s arm. The steam from the boiling pan of water made the air seem suddenly dense. She could feel her face flushing in the heat, and damp tendrils of hair clinging to her forehead. Breathing deeply, she sensed, rather than saw, the slight incline of the blonde head beside hers as he bent toward her. He pulled her toward him, grasping her waist like a life-line and pressing his lips urgently against hers. His skin tasted of salt, and his mouth was warm and damp from the steam of the galley. Helena’s mouth opened to the gentle probing of his tongue, welcoming him as she reached up and pulled his head into hers. Her fingers twined in his hair, holding him in place as they kissed more deeply. He backed her away from the stove, bending her gently to the settee. Cradling her in his arms, he ran a hand lightly down her linen clad back, stopping to cup and squeeze her buttocks with trembling fingers. The hem of her loose shift slid easily up her bare thighs, exposing her bare skin to the humid warmth of the cozy galley. Wantonly, she wrapped a leg around Neil’s chino-clad calf, pulling his body more tightly against hers. She gasped as the movement of his fingers shifted from her dress to her bare thigh. Against her pubis, she could feel the length of his cock, long and hard and hungry. She gasped sharply as his fingers met the silken edge of her panties and pushed past.
“Damn it!” he erupted abruptly, pulling away quickly. Helena pushed herself up on her elbows, momentarily chagrined, until she noticed the pot of pasta bubbling merrily all over the stove and onto the counter. Morris chose this opportunity to take up a chorus of howls which he maintained through the fits of human laughter. Helena leaned against the settee, giggling with near hysteria as she noted the fact that her host’s chino pants were doing absolutely nothing to mask his erection. Flushing furiously, Neil turned around and shook his finger teasingly at Helena. She glanced down, taking note of her shift bunched around her hips and her undeniably damp panties. Primly, she smoothed down her skirt, giving Neil her best school-marmish look.
“I think ‘damn it’ best sums up the situation,” she said with a smile.
“Let’s eat, and then figure out what to do about dessert,” he countered with an attempt to raise an eyebrow in mock villainy.
“I can hardly wait,” shot back Helena in her best Mae West voice.

Island Recess, Chapter 8.

Helena was more than a little aware of the warmth of Neil’s thigh pressed against her own as she twirled a forkful of pasta against a spoon. She tried hard not to sneak glances at what lay in the shadow of the table overhanging Neil’s lap. Instead, she concentrated on what she usually used to sublimate her sexual desires: food! The garlicky clam sauce tasted wonderful in combination with the red wine Neil had decanted into a new pair of paper cups. Sighing comfortably, Helena scooped up a lingering pool of pasta sauce and popped it into her mouth, savoring the blend of herbs and spices. From the corner of her eye, she caught Neil’s warmly appraising glance, and returned it with a smile. Flushing like the proverbial school girl, she chastised herself with a grimace. Although the moment of reckless sexual abandonment had passed like an unfortunate hiccup, the naked longing had remained, accompanied by a strange sense of familiarity which had Helena struggling to keep her inner romantic firmly tethered to terra firma. Since she was already rocking on the waves, so to speak, Helena was finding the keeping of balance more difficult than she had imagined.
Their conversation flowed easily around islands of comfortable silence, marked only by the scraping of cutlery as their meal drew to a close. Torn between her desire to tear off Neal’s clothes and drag him to the bedroom, or ‘stateroom’ as he called it, and her continuing need to unravel the mystery he presented, Helena decided to take the platonic route. Normally somewhat reticent around unfamiliar people, Helena found herself beginning to talk of her recent past and of Karl and their broken engagement. While she felt ludicrously awkward even alluding to the topic of marriage, she soon lost her shyness. Propelled onward by Neil’s sympathetic interest, she plunged further into the tale, divulging her uncovering of Karl’s infidelities and discovery of the true nature of her fiancé’s business dealings. She hoped that Julie, had she been present, would not have been making giggling comments about “verbal diarrhea” and “too much information.” Sometimes Helena, once set in motion, had as difficult a time reining in her words as a cowboy with a bronco.
As the conversation fell into a momentary lull, Neil ventured cautiously, “What made you first suspect that Karl was involved in something illegal?”
Helena glanced at his face. The dim lights of the cabin cloaked his expression in shadows.
Swallowing deeply, Helena strove for a falsely brave tone.
Tossing the words off with an attempt to be casual, she said, “He was just so very rich, you know, and it wasn’t like his family had any money to speak of. I never really understood precisely what he did for a living. I mean, he had an office, and employees, and all the rest, but it seemed a bit vague, what they all actually did. I mean, I know it sounds horribly naïve…”
She laughed falteringly.
“But I just kind of accepted that he was involved in some kind of import/export business, which is what he called it, and closed my eyes to the things that didn’t fit. And believe me, the things that didn’t fit suddenly became everything he did: making late night ‘private’ phone calls, and spur-of-the-minute trips to God-knows-where, and bizarre, seemingly paranoid allegations of having been watched or followed wherever he, or we, went.”
Neil’s face, caught by the light, looked saddened. Helena took a deep breath and continued.
“I suppose things finally hit rock bottom when I accessed Karl’s personal e-mail account and realized I wasn’t in Kansas, so to speak, anymore.” She giggled nervously. Neil laid down his fork and moved his hand to Helena’s wrist, where he traced gentle lines over her bare skin.
“When I finally opened my eyes, I saw the things I had not seen, or had previously chosen to deny or rationalize away. A metal briefcase handcuffed to a late night visitor’s wrist, white powder grains continually appearing on our glass coffee table, and Karl’s wildly erratic moods: irritable one moment, and pumping with energy the next.”
Helena stared down at her fingers, and brought her thumb to her mouth, where she began to bite a torn edge of nail. Neil reached toward her and gently removed her thumb, taking her hand in his own, and lacing his fingers between hers. She squeezed his hand gratefully.
“I had always known he had a handgun in the house, and at his office as well, for protection he said, but when he started wearing it all the time, in a holster under his suits, it was harder for me to accept that a businessman needed that kind of protection. Then, there were the desk drawers I wasn’t to open, a safe I didn’t know the combination to, and a phone with an outside line I wasn’t to answer. The list goes on and on.”
Neil was shaking his head slowly, his mouth compressed. Helena tried to catch his eye, looked searchingly into his face, but couldn’t read the expression she found there. She sighed deeply.
“I really was a fool, wasn’t I?”
This time, his face seemed to open. He smiled gently and caressed the line of her cheek with a work-roughened finger.
“Just trusting, I think, Helena. No one can judge you for being too trusting. We all do foolish things when we think we’re in love.”
His words hung between them. The silence that descended was as gentle and easy as the warm breeze at the open door. Inwardly, Helena was hugging herself. He said the ’l’ word, she thought to herself with a sudden and irrational burst of pleasure at hearing the word uttered in a companionable and comfortable space and time.
They sat quietly for several minutes, fingers twined together. Then, Neil moved restlessly, shifting his weight. Taking his movement as a cue, Helena released his hand and stood to gather up the dirty dishes and cutlery. Before she could move away, Neil put a hand against her hip and abruptly pulled her toward him. His hand wrapped around her thigh as she stood over him, crumpled paper cups still clenched in her hand.
“Leave those for now,” he said huskily.
She could feel the warm pressure of his kiss through her linen shift, and turned her body toward the movement of his lips. His breath against her belly was hot as he kissed his way gently from her navel to the junction of her thighs. Helena gasped sharply as his mouth grazed her mound through the fabric of her dress. Then, his hands moved lower still, caught the hem of her shift and pushed it upward, bunching it against her waist with one hand. With his free hand, he stroked the fabric of her panties, feeling and admiring her shape through the silky barrier. His hand moved to her bottom, gently cupping her as his mouth approached her bare thighs. Moaning with pleasure, Helena felt her legs pulling apart as she arched her back, and reached for the support of the settee. His mouth moved smoothly around the elastic of her panties, alternately licking and kissing her damp skin. When he softly kissed her clit through the fabric, she cried out with pleasure. Then, his hand was inside her panties, pushing them down over her hips, leaving her exposed to the probing of his tongue. His fingers swept gently over the flesh of her buttocks and between her thighs, spreading her wetness over her lips, and teasing the entrance of her hole, with tiny, delicate thrusts. Then, his tongue was between her legs, licking in long, loving strokes, over and over until he worked his way to her swollen nub. Helena felt her knees begin to buckle as his tongue circled her sex, lips drawing her throbbing core into his mouth. Hands buried in the thick locks of Neil’s hair, Helena moaned as he spun her into a vortex of pleasure. Alternately lapping at and sucking on her clit, Neil slid a wet finger inside her and explored gently until he was pressing on and then firmly rubbing her g-spot. Her knees began to buckle as she felt her orgasm swiftly building. Then, with an explosive cry, Helena’s body convulsed as Neil’s arms encircled her hips, pulling him against her and drawing out her climax until she felt the orgasm had been completely drained from her body. Panting, she collapsed against him.
As Neil relaxed his hold, Helena slid down onto the settee beside him. He slid an arm around her shoulders and drew her closer to him. With his free hand, he stroked her cheek gently. Helena was at a loss for words.
“Oh my God,” she exhaled, in what sounded like a parody of the eighties’ Valley Girl. “Thank you…”
Helena found herself snuggling up against his chest, reveling in the tightening of the arm embracing her.
“No need to thank,” he responded, “The pleasure is in the giving.” He smiled down at her and kissed her softly on the top of her head.
Tilting her head, Helena sought out Neil’s mouth, and kissed him wantonly, probing his mouth with the tip of her tongue.
“I think it’s your turn, now,” she said without a trace of coquettishness. “Or perhaps both our turns?” She laughed softly, then placed a hand on Neil’s thigh, passing it over the sinewy muscles to the rigid heat of his erect penis. A small moan escaped his lips and then he said softly,
“I can’t think of anything I’d like more, but I really want this to be just for you. It’s Helena’s night, and from what you’ve told me, you deserve to be on the receiving end of something good.”
She was about to erupt with a hearty snicker, when she looked down at Neil’s face and saw that he was serious. The desire to laugh at what she had perceived to be only a corny joke was replaced with wonder. He raised her wandering hand to his lips and kissed it gallantly, the tremor of his mouth a betrayal of his need for her. Then he wrapped his arms more tightly around her and held her close against the beating of his heart.
As they half-sat, half-lay together on the settee, their conversation was quiet and slow, a gentle probing of each other’s history and dreams for the future. To her surprise, Helena found that Neil was completely unguarded about his upbringing. He spoke of an idyllic childhood on the Eastern seaboard, and his earliest memories of white-washed summer cabins, creaky rowboats, and fishing expeditions with his father.
Neil seemed to be proud of the relationship he maintained with his parents, and honored them by conveying his admiration for their accomplishments. Despite her best attempts not to do so, Helena was already warming to the idea of a mother who was a master cabinet-maker and baker of chocolate chip cookies. Prospective mother-in-law, she could imagine herself telling Julie. Helena fought to remind herself that what she had experienced was raw sex, and most likely, only a short-lived fling, but she could not help being caught up in the whirlwind fantasy. Such was the stuff of romance novels, and not of real life, she reminded herself. Certainly not the life of an almost thirty-year old school teacher. While she listened, a tiny part of Helena’s brain was in the process of composing her next e-email to Julie, seeking advice, and she had to admit, permission she was not yet fully willing to grant herself. Julie would definitely tell her to “go for it.” Unfortunately, Helena sometimes had to admit at the end of yet another doomed relationship, that Julie had a tendency to root for the wrong team.
Neil’s voice wound softly around her thoughts, capturing her in the portrait of a life that reflected her most deeply rooted and embarrassing-to-admit fantasies of wedding veils, picket-fences, two-point-something children, and matching rocking chairs on a screened in porch. Encircled by Neil’s strong arms, she found it difficult not to fantasize about developing a warm rapport with his father, who had left a successful teaching career to stay home and care for his two young sons while his wife built a fledgling business. “Already I have something in common with his father,” she thought, hugging the image to herself with pleasure. Then, with a guilty start, Helena realized that she had been listening to a story that might be more fiction than fact. Hadn’t she promised herself to take everything with the proverbial grain of salt? To find out the identity of the man behind the mask before handing over her heart on a silver platter? Had she gained any real insight into Neil himself? Was he really so different from Karl? What was that that he had just said? I used to work in the construction business…
Helena’s body was taut as she tried to focus. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she strove for a tone of innocence as she inquired, “So, what company is it you work for now?”
The hand massaging her shoulder stopped for an instant.
“Oh, just a small one. I‘m sure you‘ve never heard of it,” was the response.
Helena fought the urge to fidget, to betray her nervousness as she honed her investigative instincts. Remember, you have stalked this man unseen, she reminded herself. Persisting, she tried for assertiveness.
“What exactly is it that you do?”
Neil slid his hand farther down her arm and patted it somewhat impersonally. “Mmm, just construction work, grunt stuff, but that part of my life is over. This is what I do now.” He concluded enigmatically.
“You mean, seduce innocent school teachers?’ Despite the queasy twist in her stomach, the comedienne in Helena couldn’t resist the sly dig.
Neil laughed, and returned his calloused palm to her shoulder.
“Nah, I mean, what I do now is work in the islands. Doing what I can here and there. Getting enough to get by on, and moving on when I need to.”
Helena digested this information without further comment. She couldn’t very well probe Neil about the supposedly charitable nature of his work on the islands when this information had come second-hand. How on earth could he manage without a source of income? Visions of organized crime and cocaine wars took the place of the sugar plums dancing in her head.
“Helena.” The sound of her name brought her back from her musings. “What are you really doing here?”
“What do you mean?” She responded in surprise, guiltily reflecting on her motives for probing Neil’s background.
“I mean, why are you really here in the islands?” He was peering down at her inquisitively, brow furrowed and head cocked to one side. “I mean, is Karl the only thing you’re running from?”
Helena felt her stomach lurch for an instant. She was running from Karl, she knew it, and she was prepared to admit it. But what on earth was Neil running from? Groping for the right words to establish trust and perhaps a reciprocal confession, she began.
“I guess,” she stammered softly, “I’m running from a life that was beginning to frighten me. An existence that quickly began to feel uncertain and that in reality threatened to crush all the values and beliefs I thought were so solid. I realize now that if I had stayed one minute longer than I had that I might have been pulled into a life where I was compromising everything I believed to be right just for the sense of security and peace that material wealth can seem to provide.”
Helena’s words trailed off as she turned to look at Neil. The quiet rhythm of his breathing had quickened, and she caught an expression she could not decipher as he averted his gaze from hers.
“Then, I guess you’re running from the same life that I’m running from,” he said simply.
The ambiguity of his words hung in the air, and Helena felt, once again, unsettled. She was talking of lost illusions, illusions that had threatened to capsize the world as she knew it. Was he speaking of the same thing? Or something more sinister? A sudden breeze from the cockpit brought a chill to her bare limbs and she shuddered. Just like in a bad movie she thought, with an involuntary snort.
“Chilly?” he inquired solicitously at the noise, hugging her close to him, and then releasing her gently and gazing at her with gentle eyes. “I guess I should be taking you home.”
Despite her growing trepidation, Helena was loath to leave the cozy space and intimacy of Neil’s boat, and Neil, for solitary nocturnal routines at her own apartment. Feeling somewhat ashamed, she had to admit that she was even more reluctant to leave their relationship still unconsummated. Nonetheless, she was even more reluctant to linger where uninvited, and quickly gathered up her cardigan in preparation to leave. Even now, Helena was vaguely aware that her aesthetic presentation was not of the highest caliber. She attempted to smooth her wrinkled skirt over her thighs, and to bring a semblance of order to her tousled hair. Stretching and yawning surreptitiously, Helena was suddenly acutely aware of the growing pressure in her bladder. She cleared her throat.
“Before we go,” she asked tentatively, “Do you mind if I use your facilities?”
“Oh, of course,” Neil murmured apologetically, “I guess I should have shown you before.”
He waved a hand toward the head, and Helena, following his lead, stepped up to the tiny cubicle and began to push the bi-fold door closed. She stared as she realized that Neil had followed her and intersected the door’s closing with a broad hand. Peeking around the door with a chagrined expression, he stammered out awkwardly.
“Um, I kind of have to tell you about the head before you actually, you know, use it.”
Despite herself, Helena grinned at the sheepish tone in his voice.
For the next few minutes, he went about explaining the procedure for flushing the toilet, demonstrating how to open one lever and manually pump before opening another and repeating the process. With a flush, and an attempt at delicacy, he explained the necessity of limiting one’s use of toilet tissue. Fighting her urge to giggle, Helena listened with an expression of rapt attention, while taking the opportunity to subtly peruse the v-berth cabin beside the head. The covers, which were of suspect vintage, were twisted together in disorganized fellowship. Surely the dreamer in that bed had not slept an untroubled sleep. Morris certainly was undisturbed, murmuring quietly as he dozed, sprawled wantonly across the wide bed. As Neil’s tanned forearm pumped vigorously away in demonstration at the floor pump, Helena took note of the book splayed open on a pillow, and the brass light fixtures. This would make a cozy reading space. Actually, a cozy anything space, she caught herself thinking, as she admired the curve of the khaki-covered buttocks pressed against her thigh.
Demonstration concluded, Neil abandoned the head with red-faced embarrassment, and was heard clamoring up the ladder to the cockpit.
Alone once again, Helena pulled the bi-fold door shut. She glanced around her in the tiny space which was barely big enough for her to turn around. With a beating heart, she felt her investigative instinct declare itself once again. Who can resist a medicine cabinet? she rationalized, as she worked her fingers under the clasp of the rusty-edged mirrored door. The image staring back at her looked as frayed and frazzled as she felt, and she took an instant to self-consciously adjust her hair. Then, with a tiny betraying squeak, the door yielded to her touch. Inside, the cabinet held the usual collection of male accouterments: shaving cream, razors, deodorant, and what was that? Helena eased a finger under a plastic-wrapped bundle and tipped it toward her. Inside a weathered plastic bag were several large roll of bills. Scarcely daring to breathe, Helena lifted the bag from the shelf and opened it with trembling fingers. The rolls were substantial. Lifting the first three, she glanced at the denominations and gasped. Hundreds. What was going on? Surely she hadn’t met another Karl? With quaking hands, Helena wrapped the bag up as it had been, struggling to restore it to its original position in the cabinet. Then, stomach lurching, Helena went through the motions of moving the lever and pumping the toilet. Bladder still insistently full, she half-closed the door behind her and glanced around the cabin with a forlorn expression. Her ambiguous discovery seemed to mock the pleasure she had felt all evening. “Bye Morris,” she whispered to the canine, fervently praying that the canine’s owner might still prove to be as innocent of wrongdoing as Morris himself.
Clutching her sweater in one hand, Helena made her way awkwardly up the ladder to the cockpit. Neil was there to assist her with a helping hand as she emerged into the open air. A pang of regret stung her as she was hit by two simultaneous realizations. The first was that she was falling in more than just lust. The second was that falling in whatever-it-was could destroy her. Then, Neil’s arms were about her, holding her as if reluctant to ever let go. Tilting her head back, Helena felt his lips press warmly against hers. She opened her eyes as he kissed her, and saw that his were already upon hers. Under the glow of the moon-lit sky, his face seemed suddenly inscrutable.

Island Recess, Chapter 9.

The brightly colored casings of the public phones shone like wet candies under the increasing cascade of rain. As she waited for a connection to her mother’s home in Seattle, Helena cursed the slick strands of hair dripping over her forehead and into her eyes. She checked her waterproof wristwatch. For the past two weeks, the weather had been growing steadily more unstable with cloudy skies, sudden thunderstorms, and increasingly plentiful rain and wind Since the beginning of last week, both locals and tourists alike had been glued to the local radio and television stations, and last night, their worst fears were realized as an approaching tropical storm swung in the direction of the Virgin Islands. Strengthening rapidly, the storm had just this morning been upgraded to a hurricane and was predicted to make landfall by late afternoon. Barely ten in the morning, and the winds were already sending sheets of rain slapping violently against the island. Her thin wind-breaker was soaked through and Helena shivered with cold and nerves. According to the emergency broadcasts, schools and businesses were closed for the day, and Helena fervently hoped that the parents of her students were already up and fortifying their homes against the fury of the coming storm. The waters of the bay were becoming choppy, and she watched with growing alarm, the violent heaving of the ocean farther out. Sailboats usually moored on the periphery of the pier had been re-located to more protected harbors, and the unoccupied warm waters of the tiny bay seemed suddenly to be ominously vast. Even the ferry service which ran daily between St. Thomas and St. John had been suspended pending the storm’s arrival. She drummed her fingers impatiently as she listened to the telephone ringing thousands of miles away. Then, barely audible over the driving of the rain, Helena discerned the reassuring rhythms of her mother’s speech.
“Mom?” she began in a tremulous quaver, struggling to keep the rising lump in her throat from transferring to her voice. She longed to regress to her twelve year old self, to sob out her worst fears and to be lulled into the sense of security that only her mother could provide. Helena swallowed her tears bravely. Sixteen years past twelve, she reminded herself, and committed to keeping her mother from worrying more about her than she already did. Bound by her desire to reassure rather than alarm, Helena quickly outlined the weather situation, informed her of the tropical storm that had recently strengthened to hurricane force, and warned her mother that for the next few days, contact by computer and telephone might be impossible. Despite Helena’s precautions, the elder Ms. Travis was obviously distressed, and it was evident that she, too, was fighting to keep her emotions from spilling over into tears. They bade each other an emotional good-bye, and it was as Helena was about to replace the receiver that she heard the tinny echo of continued speech over the line. Quickly, she returned the receiver to her ear.
“Yes, mom, I’m still here.”
“Just one quick thing, dear. Not to alarm you, but there was a message from Karl the other day on the answering machine. He said to tell you that he’d be seeing you soon.”
Helena felt her skin prickle and tasted the cold metallic thrill of fear on her tongue. She swallowed hard.
“I wonder,” she paused, scarcely daring to voice her thoughts. “I wonder if he means he’ll be seeing me in Seattle, or he’ll be seeing me, here.”
A sudden gust of wind swept the rain into the shelter of the phone booth, driving the droplets against her skin in a furious blast. Slapped by the relentless whip of the wind and the angry surge of the waves, the tiny island paradise was quickly becoming a potential setting for a nightmarish journey into the past. As she again said her farewells, Helena struggled to soothe her mother with a falsely casual air.
Heart pounding, Helena replaced the receiver and stood for a moment, considering. Her sanctuary stood to be invaded, and she was seemingly powerless in the face of her pursuer. With nothing but an e-mail account she could no longer access, and a few scenes she alone had witnessed, she had no way of proving to anyone else the danger that Karl posed. After all, who would believe quiet, scholarly Helena Travis could have forged such an unspeakable alliance without assuming she was aware of, or even complicit in, Karl’s criminal behavior? Even if she was believed, who would keep him from her when her pitiful attempts to escape had not proved sufficient deterrent? She had traveled from urban Seattle, cross-country to a small island community where, despite the open ocean that surrounded her, she now felt hopelessly trapped. With his affable charm, obvious criminal connections, and copious financial resources, there was no one Karl could not manipulate or intimidate into doing as he pleased. Feeling suddenly faint, Helena saw her home, her job, a fledgling romance, and her friendships vanish as if they had never been, swallowed up by the vacuum of Karl’s greed. Taking a deep breath, Helena dug in her pocket for her phone card, picked up the phone, and made the call that connected her to directory assistance in Washington.
“Give me the number of any private investigator in the Seattle area, please. I don’t personally know any, so anyone will do.” said Helena, in response to the droning request for city and business name.
“There are dozens, Miss. What is the name of the business for which you require a number?”
“Just pick one, please,” Helena hissed, drumming her fingers impatiently and covering her free ear against the driving wind.
“Okay,” sighed the operator. “Here’s one: Franklin Skye, Skye Investigations. Is that what you’re looking for?”
Helena scribbled the phone number on a dampening scrap of paper, hung up and re-dialed.
Franklin Skye himself answered, leaving Helena to wonder if he was the sum total of Sky Investigations. At this point, she didn’t care, as long as he had the ability to provide her with the protection she so desperately needed. With time ticking out on more than her rapidly depleting phone card, she was forced to make her request as succinctly and expediently as humanly possible.
“I need to know everything I can about a man, a man named Karl Pennington,” she began. “And whatever you find out, I need proof: documents, pictures, numbers, names, whatever. This will be the only insurance I have, and I’m going to need it as fast as you can get it.”
“It’s gonna cost you,” Mr. Skye predictably replied.
“If it takes my last dime,” retorted Helena, already fishing about in her shoulder bag for the credit card with the lowest balance.
For the next ten minutes, Helena told Skye Investigations everything she knew about Karl. All the while she wondered what information was actually real and was simply another lie Karl had fed her under the guise of the truth. Maybe all she really knew was a name, a phone number, and an address. But to whom did they really belong? Suddenly, Helena was very grateful for Skye Investigations. No matter what happened, at least she wouldn’t be the only one who knew the truth first-hand.
Her phone call concluded, Helena held onto the receiver for a moment, as if afraid that hanging up on Mr. Skye would leave her defenseless in the face of the coming storm. Replacing it gently, she turned, pulled her jacket tightly around her and bowed her head to the wind’s assault.
Her walk back to the apartment building was an increasingly physical battle against the growing strength of the storm. Trees snapped back and forth as if on springs, their foliage ripped from branches and shredded like confetti in the churning air currents. With the stinging slap of storm-swept road debris slowing Helena’s progress, she held her hands protectively before her face, and walked at an angle to the relentless fury of the wind.
Struggling to remain upright as the wind picked up speed, it was all Helena could do to keep an eye on the path ahead and dodge the most treacherous obstacles as they flew by. Panting raggedly with the effort of her exertion, she reached the front steps of her apartment building in time to see her elderly landlord being hustled roughly into a pick-up truck so obscured by the slanting rain that identification would be impossible.
“Ben!” she called out in panic. Her voice was caught by the wind and seemed to vanish before the word was out of her throat. She broke into a run toward the truck, fighting to stay on her feet in the driving rain. As she neared the truck’s open door, first a bronzed forearm, and then a familiar shock of blonde hair appeared, and she ran into a pair of open arms.
“Helena.” She read her name on his lips as the rain slicked across his face. Then, Neil was grabbing her roughly, pushing her up and into the vehicle, and slamming the door behind her. Ben was seated next to her, staring dismally at the tumble-down apartment complex. Cautiously, Helena put an arm around his waist and then leaned her head on the older man’s shoulder. “Oh Helena,” he said with a sigh, and then lapsed into silence. He patted her arm absent-mindedly as he continued to gaze through the rain pounding the windows. The wind whipped the torrent into blinding sheets, and Helena looked about frantically for Neil. He seemed to have been swallowed up by the storm. A sudden bang jolted both her and Ben from their thoughts.
“Let them go!” she heard Neil scream, and then both front doors opened and in clamored Neil and one of Ben’s nephews. Both of them held saws, hammers, and boxes of nails. Neil turned in his seat. His face was wet and streaked with dirt, his hair plastered against his skull.
“We were trying to board up the windows,” he said by way of explanation. “But the wind’s coming too strong. We lost half our planks, and we’ll lose more than that if we don’t get out of here now.”
The truck roared to life, and Neil gunned the motor as he pulled away from the curb. Rainwater pooling on the streets seemed to swallow up their tires as they slipped and skidded on the near-empty road-way. Helena slipped her hand into Ben’s.
“Everything will be okay,” she murmured quietly to her silent companion. Shredded leaves and debris careened over the flooded roadway and whistled past their vehicle or smacked against the windshield. The volume of the storm’s cry was increasing, and Neil had to yell to be heard. “We’re almost there.”
The wipers were powerless to clear the sheeting rain from the windshield, and the winds had whipped the falling rain into an impenetrable wall. Helena would never know how he got them there. Half-dragged, half-pushed by strong arms, Helena found herself stumbling into a building. The windows of the old public school had been hastily boarded over, but the concrete block and steel-reinforcement construction looked reassuringly solid. Shuddering, Helena felt a warm arm about her shoulder, and then another about her waist. Neil’s mouth moved against her ear, murmuring reassurances as he rocked her gently against his body. Looking about her, Helena saw that Ben had joined his sister and her family, and had been locked into a group embrace. This was a time for family, she thought, and suddenly felt intensely grateful for Neil’s presence. At least she wasn’t alone. Strangely suspended from the normal passage of time, she watched the growing power of the storm through the chinks of the window. It seemed that only minutes passed, cradled in the silence of her companion’s arms, before the full fury of the storm struck the tiny island. Pulled away from the windows toward the centre of the shelter, Helena stood surrounded by the close press of friends and strangers. Across the polished cement floor, a pool of rainwater was forming, sloshing around their ankles in chilly rivulets. The wood-plank door, sparsely reinforced before their arrival, groaned under the wind’s onslaught. Helena trembled as she watched the shuddering of the fragile barricade. Then, her companion’s warmth left her side, and she watched him, dream-like, striding through the pooling rainwater, pulling the hammer from the belt at his waist. Re-aligning loose planks, he banged nails back into place, seemingly heedless of the wind spitting rainwater through the chinks in the boards. Having quelled the sickening heaving of the door, Neil knelt by the door, feeling around in the cold swill of water for materials with which to reinforce the barrier. Scooping a shattered piece of plywood from the water, he began nailing the warped fragment over the criss-crossing network of boards. Another man left the group standing stunned into immobility and sloshed across the floor to join Neil. He was followed by another. Helena started as she felt the fingers of a stranger intertwine with hers, but squeezed them gratefully as she was led up a flight of stairs to the upper-story of the school. Linked by their hands, the group huddled in silence, eyes turned fearfully toward the naked gaps in the metal-grille of the tiny air vents.
A frightening spectacle was unfolding. In the distance, small trees snapped off at the base and flew through the air like umbrellas. The tin roof of a sandwich stand began to flutter as if levitated by a magician and flew off, skipping wildly with the rest of the debris that traveled the wind-tossed road. A broken power line fluttered in the wind like a kite string and shot streams of sparks as if touched. Nearby, a transformer on a pole exploded with a deafening pop. Someone began to cry, softly, their voice soon matched by the keening of another. Helena’s eyes filled with tears, the fear of the moment matched by her dawning understanding of what might lie ahead for the island’s residents. Across the room, cradled against the shoulder of his sister, Ben’s head hung low, his thin frame wracked with quiet sobs. Feeling Neil’s absence, Helena unlocked her neighbor’s hand with a quick squeeze and crept to the stairway to watch him at work. Huddled on the landing, Helena’s eyes swept over the flooded floor, the piled-up sandbags, and the boarded up windows, and came to rest on Neil’s tired face. Sensing her gaze upon him, he looked up and his expression softened. Moments later, he was again by her side, his arms tight around her waist. Bound together, they watched, and waited.
An unearthly moan filled the skies as the wind gathered strength and struck the shelter with its full force. The voices of those within fell away until the only sound was the voice of the storm outside. As the solid roof began to breathe with each gust of wind, others around her began to pray. Just as it began to seem that the roof would fly off, the winds seemed to tire. Those in the shelter waited, holding hands and breath, until it seemed that the worst had passed. Then, one by one, people began to rise, shaking themselves and embracing their neighbors as they stood. Silently, they made their way in single file down the stairs to the main level of the building.
Across the cement floor, the wash of water increased, sweeping the rooms with a tide of oily debris. Outside the shelter, the wind’s howling was falling away to a persistent moan. Someone passed Helena a flimsy white bucket, and looking around her, she saw that several of the men had begun the arduous task of bailing water from the rapidly filling shelter. Helena joined in, scooping up pails full of water and tossing them through the now partly-opened doorway. Around the base of the walls and door, sandbags were being tightly wedged, stacked neatly together. Together, the group of some twenty-odd began to reclaim the shelter from the clutch of the storm. They worked together in unceasing rhythm, bailing and sandbagging, arms aching and limbs chilled from the wind and wet, but their spirits strong and their force united.
It was dark and still raining when someone pushed a tin cup into Helena’s hand. She sipped the grainy coffee gratefully, reveling in the sweet warmth. Glancing around her she noted with surprise that the pooling water had diminished to a mere trickle. Across the room, an elderly woman was busy sweeping the watery debris over the uneven floor, and depositing the silt in the farthest corner. The pace of their labor had slowed with their exhaustion, and now, here and there, were others who had paused in their efforts to enjoy the rest and the hot cup of coffee. Sniffing the air, Helena caught the scent of home-cooked stew. She glanced around her, the details of the room suddenly coming into focus after hours of concentrated labor. In their collective need to match the fury of the hurricane with their own defense, Helena and many others had lost track of both time and space. In a corner, on a cleared table surface, two of the women had a portable propane stove lit and were warming the contents of a battered aluminum pot. Called upstairs for a hot meal, Helena felt tears springing to her eyes. Together with the others, she found a place to sit and accepted a steaming bowl of stew. Scooping the soft vegetables and ragged bits of meat into her mouth, she could have cried out her gratitude. Breaking off bits of the crusty bun she had been handed, she sopped up the last of the stew and reluctantly rose to her feet. Spying the clock affixed to the classroom wall, she realized with a start that it was nearly midnight.
“Stay, stay,” urged a stout matron, placing a hand on Helena’s shoulder. A cotton blanket was pressed into her hands, and Helena looked about her to see others making preparations to sleep. The woman leaned toward Helena, her wrinkled face reassuringly calm.
“It’ll be all right Helena-ah,” she said with the familiar sing-song cadence of the islands. “It was not as bad as some had been thinking. Tomorrow we clean up. Tonight, well, we must get the sleep we can.”
Helena smiled gratefully. She looked about without catching sight of Neil. Swallowing her doubts, she felt a familiar tingle creep up her spine.
“Yes, soon, I will. Thank you, Mavis. Just not quite yet. First, I’ve got to find my friend.” Helena patted the woman’s arm and slipped past her, making her way quietly down the staircase. She found Neil alone, perched on a sandbag, sweat and rain-soaked hair falling into his eyes. He leaned tiredly against the wall, an untouched bowl of stew supported on his thigh by one scratched and bruised-looking hand.
“Hi,” she said softly, coming to stand in front of him. He looked up and smiled, his face creasing under its coat of sweat and grime.
“Hey you,” he reached out a hand and took hers, pulling him toward her. “I was just about to come looking for you.”
Neil made a sweeping gesture toward the piled up sandbags.
“I’m going to spend the night down here, just to keep an eye on things,” he said, darting a questioning look in Helena’s direction.
“You need to eat something before you do anything else,” she said softly, cupping the bowl in her hands and lifting it toward his mouth. Reaching for the spoon, he obligingly began to eat, relief apparent on his face as he partook of the comforting food. Helena watched until the bowl was empty, and some color had returned to his pale cheeks, before reaching for his free hand.
Rising, he set the bowl down on the damp floor, and led Helena by the hand to a higher spot on the uneven concrete. Here, the floor was relatively dry, betraying its recent soaking only by patches of darker staining. Neil released Helena’s hand for a moment, tiptoed cautiously upstairs and then returned again quickly, two gray blankets in his hand. He spread one out neatly across the damp floor, and sitting down, placed the other in his lap.
“Put your head down for a bit, Helena,” he whispered, patting the folded blanket. She did as he asked, curling up into the fetal position and snuggling her damp curls into his jeans-clad lap. Slowly his hand moved against her back, rubbing a slow pattern on her skin through her rain-soaked t-shirt.
Helena leaned against him, the chill dampness of the floor unnoticed for the moment. The voices of those upstairs were becoming muted, fading into a quiet jumble of words as the people fell into heavy, exhausted slumber. Flickering candles were extinguished one by one, points of light swallowed up by darkness. Outside, the rain continued its steady tattoo, dimpling the surface of the water pooled in the streets. Softly, Neil’s hand stroked her hair, twining its fingers in the tangled strands, and pulling them away from her damp cheeks. Helena sighed, turning her face to meet his, just as he bent to press his mouth against hers. Gently, his tongue probed her mouth. She slid over to make room for him on their make-shift bed, just as he shifted his body to lie against hers. The last light twinkled out and the room plunged into darkness. Helena felt Neil’s warm breath against her ear as he whispered to her.
“We’ll have to be quiet or we’ll wake the parents,” he teased softly.
She laughed quietly, the fear and tension of the day fading with their small shared joke. Her giggle turned to a moan of pleasure as his hand worked against the hem of her t-shirt, moving leisurely under the fabric and over the soft curves of her belly. Shifting her hips to ease his movement, she felt the warmth of his hand cup her breast through her flimsy bra. His breath against her ear quickened as he stroked her, and tightened the fit of his leg against hers. They writhed entwined, each plundering the other’s clothing as their hands sought the touch of bare flesh. Struggling to a seated position, Helena pulled her t-shirt over her head, and hastily unclipped her bra. She tossed the garments to her side and reached for the second blanket, snapping it open and draping it lightly over them.
“Just a cautionary measure, you know,” she whispered, “in case of sudden parental appearances.” Neil laughed, smothering the sound in a stagy cough.
“Now – where were we,” he murmured into her ear, his tongue beginning to trace a slow line down her neck.
“I think here…”
Her words trailed off as she placed his hand against her breast, and felt his work-worn fingertips tease her nipples into hardness. His lips quickly replaced his hands, his tongue flicking heat over her damp breasts. Against her moistened skin, the cool wafts of night air played in sensuous duet with the ministrations of her lover. Eyes open in the indigo blue of the evening sky, Helena caught the flash of Neil’s irises as he gazed openly at her. She arched her back with pleasure as he gripped her about the waist, moving up her body to caress the curve of her neck and shoulder with his mouth. Shuddering, she felt the light tough of Neil’s hand against her belly, and moaned as he struggled to release the fastening of her shorts. Impatiently, she jerked at the zipper, pulling the garment down past her hips. Then, his hand was inside her cotton panties, stroking her to a level of arousal that had her snatching greedily at the hardness straining taut against his jeans. With a sharp intake of breath, he fumbled with his fly, tearing open the buttons and shucking off his jeans in a fury of impatience. Helena pulled at his loose-fitting t-shirt, drawing it over his head and then reaching for him, relishing the smooth fit of his body as it tumbled against hers. His hand returned to her panties, pushing them aside as he explored her wetness with eager fingers. Panting, teetering crazily on the edge of her pleasure, Helena reached for the length of his cock, gripping the silky heat with trembling hands. She guided him toward her slick opening, thrusting her hips sharply upward as he slid inside. He rocked against her as she held him tight, grabbing his buttocks as he plunged into the depths of her. Covering her mouth with his, he matched the surging rhythm of his body with the darting of his tongue. Then, he pushed himself up on his knees, grasping her by the hips to hold their connection as he pulled her higher, onto his lap. Slowly, Neil continued the gyrations of his body as his fingers sought out her hard clit. Gently, he rotated his thumb over her eager nub as he continued thrusting into her. Running her hands across his tightly muscled chest, she began to stroke and pull at his nipples, and tightened the walls of her canal around his hardness, squeezing him as hard as she could. A hot wave surged suddenly through her as her body tightened and climax became inevitable. Helena bit her lip hard, stifling the scream rising up from her throat. Then his full weight was upon her, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist, pulling him into her as her body exploded with pleasure. His warmth flooded her as he groaned Helena’s name against her ear. They collapsed together, sweat-slick bodies entwined on the floor of the old school house. Lying together, still connected, each panted softly as they explored the other’s unfamiliar shape. Helena giggled as she whispered.
“I only just noticed: this certainly isn’t the most comfortable bed I’ve ever used.”
Neil murmured back, “Sorry, too busy to notice.”
His hands and mouth continued their idle exploration, raising excited goose-flesh with every light stroke, until Helena pulled away abruptly.
“What’s the matter?” whispered Neil anxiously as he reached for her.
Helena was on her hands and knees, groping about in the darkness for her discarded garments. Locating her clothing, she began the awkward dance of pulling on, zipping up, and re-fastening. Then, she leaned over and kissed Neil lightly on the forehead. Helena whispered back softly,
“Purely routine, Sweetheart. Lonely schoolmarms can’t afford idle gossip, especially not when it involves mysterious drifters.” With those words, she rose and began making her way furtively back up the stairs.
Pulling himself up on an elbow, Neil watched her go. A stray shaft of moonlight caught her as she mounted the steps, and he laughed suddenly, smothering the sound behind his hand. The smooth line of her naked back in retreat was not conducive to the demeanor of a prim schoolmarm. At the sound of his laughter, she pivoted abruptly on her heel. Her light footsteps echoed as she ran back down the stairs, and Neil ducked just in time to avoid her playful slap. Then, she snatched her balled-up t-shirt from Neil’s hand, pulled it over her head, and disappeared into the velvety night.

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baby bonanaza-part 2

come from me. It’s an amazing feeling. Two tiny boys—
one minute they’re not there, and the next, they’re
breathing and crying and completely capturing my
heart. I fell in love so completely, so desperately, that I
knew instantly I would never allow anyone or anything
to hurt them.
criticizes my kids. Nobody.”
“Yeah,” he said, with a thoughtful look in his eyes.
“I get it.”
His hand at her waist flexed and his fingers began to
rub gently, and through the thin fabric of her summery
dress, Jenna swore she could feel his skin on hers. Her
heartbeat jumped into high gear, and her breathing was
labored. Meeting his gaze, she saw confusion written
there and she had to ask, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Quickly he said, “Nothing. It’s just…” He stopped,
though, before he could explain. Then, shaking his
head, he said, “Come on, we’ve still got a long walk
ahead of us.”
A half hour later Jenna’s feet were aching and she
was seriously regretting jumping out of that cab. But
there were compensations, too. Such as walking beside
Nick, his arm around her waist as if they were really a
couple. She knew she should step out of his grasp, but

truthfully, she was enjoying the feel of him pressed
closely to her too much to do it.
It had been so long since their week together. And
in the time since, she hadn’t been with anyone else.
Well, she’d been pregnant for a good part of that time,
so not much chance of hooking up with someone new.
But even if she hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have been
looking. Nick had carved himself into her heart and
soul in that one short week and had made it nearly im-
possible for her to think about being with anyone else.
Which was really too bad when she thought about it.
Because he’d made it clear they weren’t going to be getting
together again. Not that she wanted that, or anything….
“Oh!” She stopped suddenly as they came abreast of
the street market they’d passed on their way to the lab.
An excellent way to clear her mind of any more disturb-
ing thoughts of Nick. “Let’s look in here.”
Frowning some, like any man would when faced
with a woman who wanted to shop, Nick said, “What
could you possibly want to buy here? It’s a tourist trap.”
“That’s what makes it fun,” she told him, and slipped
out of his grasp to walk beneath the awning and into
the aisle that wound its way past at least thirty different
She wandered through the crowd, sensing Nick’s
presence behind her. She glanced at tables set up with
sterling silver rings and necklaces, leather coin purses
and crocheted shawls that hung in colorful bunches
from a rope stretched across the front of a booth. She
smiled at the man selling tacos and ignored the rum-

bling of her stomach as she moved on to a booth selling
Nick came up behind her and looked over her head
at the display of tacky shirts silk-screened with images
of Cabo, sport fishing and the local cantinas. Shaking
his head at the mystery that was women, he wondered
why in the hell she’d chosen to shop here.
“Need a new wardrobe?” he asked, dipping his head
so that his voice whispered directly into her ear.
She jumped a little, and he enjoyed the fact that he
made her nervous. He’d felt it all day. That hum of
tension simmering around her. When he touched her, he
felt the heat and felt her response that fed the fires burn-
ing inside him. The moment he’d wrapped his arm
around her waist, he’d known it was a mistake. But the
feel of her body curved against his had felt good enough
that he hadn’t wanted to let her go.
Which irritated the hell out of him.
He’d learned his lesson with her a year ago. She’d
lied to him about who she was. Who was to say she
hadn’t lied about her response to him? Wasn’t lying
still? But even as he thought that, he wondered if anyone
could manufacture the kind of heat that spiraled up
between them when their bodies brushed against each
“The shirts aren’t for me,” she was saying, and Nick
pushed his thoughts aside to pay attention. “I thought
maybe there’d be something small enough for the boys
She pulled a shirt out from a stack and it was so

small, Nick could hardly believe that it could actually
be worn. There was a grinning cartoon burro on the
front and the words Baby Burros Need Love Too sten-
ciled underneath it. “It’s so cute! Don’t you think so?”
Nick’s breath caught hard in his chest as she turned
her face up to his and smiled so brightly the shine in her
eyes nearly blinded him. He’d given women diamonds
and seen less of a display of joy. If this was an act, he
thought, she should be getting an Oscar.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess it is.” Then he looked past
her to the woman who ran the booth and in Spanish told
her they’d be needing two of the shirts.
Smiling, the woman found another matching shirt,
dropped them both in a sack and held them out. Nick
paid for the shirts before Jenna could dig in her purse.
Then he took hold of her hand and, carrying the bag,
led her back out onto the street.
“You didn’t have to buy them,” she told him once
they were on their way to the dock again.
“Call it my first present to my sons.”
She stumbled a little and he tightened his hold on her
hand, steadying her even while he felt his own balance
getting shaky.
“So you believe me?”
Nick felt a cold, hard knot settle into the pit of his
stomach. He looked into Jenna’s eyes and couldn’t find
the slightest sign of deception. Was she too good at hiding
her secrets? Or were there no secrets to hide? Soon
enough, he’d know for sure. But for now “I’m starting to.”

hree days later the ship docked in Acapulco.
“Oh, come on,” Mary Curran urged, “come ashore
with Joe and me. He’s going scuba diving of all things,
and I’d love some company while I spend all the money
we saved by having this cruise comped.”
Laughing, Jenna shook her head and sat back on the
sofa in the living room of Nick’s spectacular suite. “No,
thanks. I think I’m going to stay aboard and relax.”
Mary sighed in defeat. “How you can relax when
you’re staying in this suite with Nick Falco is beyond
me. Heck, I’ve been married for twenty years and just
looking at the guy gives me hot flashes.”
Jenna knew just what her friend meant. For the past
few days she and Nick had been practically in each

other’s pockets. They’d spent nearly every minute
together, and when they were here in this suite, the
spacious accommodations seemed to shrink to the size
of a closet.
Jenna felt as if she were standing on a tight wire,
uneasily balanced over a vat of lava. She was filled with
heat constantly and knew that with the slightest wrong
move, she could be immolated.
God, great imagery.
“Hello? Earth to Jenna?”
“Sorry.” Jenna smiled, pushed one hand through her
hair and blew out an unsteady breath. “Guess my mind
was wandering.”
“Uh-huh, and I’ve got a good idea where it wan-

“Oh, honey, you’ve got it bad, don’t you?” Mary
leaned forward and squeezed Jenna’s hand briefly.
Embarrassed and just a little concerned that Mary
might be right, Jenna immediately argued. “I don’t
know what you mean.”
“Sure you don’t.” Mary’s smile broadened. “I say
Nick’s name and your eyes flash.”
“Oh God…”
“Hey, what’s the trouble? You’re both single. And
you’re clearly attracted to each other. I mean, I saw
Nick’s face last night at dinner whenever he looked at
The four of them had had dinner together the night
before, and though Jenna had been sure it would be an

uncomfortable couple of hours—given the tension
between her and Nick—they’d all had a good time. In
fact, seeing Nick interacting with Joe Curran, hearing
him laugh and tell stories about past cruises had really
opened Jenna’s eyes.
For so long, she’d thought of him only as a player.
A man only interested in getting as many women as
possible into his bed. A man who wasn’t interested in
anything that wasn’t about momentary pleasure.
Now she’d seen glimpses of a different man. One
who could enjoy himself with people who weren’t
members of the “celebrity crowd.” A guy who could buy
silly T-shirts for babies he wasn’t even sure were his. A
guy who could still turn her into a puddle of want with
a glance.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Mary asked quietly.
Jenna took a long, deep breath and looked around the
room to avoid meeting Mary’s too-knowing gaze.
Muted sunlight, diffused by the tinted glass, filled the
room, creating shadows in the corners. It was quiet now,
with Nick somewhere out on deck and the hum of the
ship’s powerful engines silenced while in port.
Shifting her gaze to Mary’s, Jenna thought about
spilling the whole story. Actually she could really use
someone to talk to, and Mary had, in the past several
days, already proven to be a good friend. But she
couldn’t get into it now. Didn’t want to explain how she
and Nick had come together, made two sons and then
drifted apart. That was far too long a story.
“Thanks,” she said, meaning it. “But I don’t think so.

Anyway, you don’t have time to listen. Joe will be wait-
ing for you.”
Mary frowned at her, but apparently realized that
Jenna didn’t feel like talking. Standing up, she said,
“Okay, I’ll go. But if you decide you need someone to
talk to…”
“I’ll remember. Thanks.”
Then Mary left and Jenna was alone. Alone with her
thoughts, racing frantically through her mind. Alone
with the desire that was a carefully banked fire deep
inside. Suddenly antsy, she jumped to her feet, crossed
the room and left the suite. She’d just go up on deck.
Sit in the sun. Try not to think. Try to relax.
The business of running a cruise line kept Nick mov-
ing from the time he got up until late at night. People
on the outside looking in probably assumed that he led
a life of leisure. And sure, there was still time for that.
But the truth was he had to stay on top of everything.
This cruise line was his life. The one thing he had. The
most important thing in the world to him. He’d worked
his ass off to get this far, to make his mark. And he
wasn’t about to start slowing down now.
“If the band isn’t working, contact Luis Felipe here
in town,” he told Teresa, and wasn’t surprised to see her
make a note on her PDA. “He knows all the local bands
in Acapulco. He could hook us up with someone who
could take over for the rest of the cruise.”
The band they’d hired in L.A. was proving to be
more trouble than they were worth. With their rock star

attitudes, they were demanding all sorts of perks that
hadn’t been agreed on in their contracts. Plus, they’d
been cutting short their last show of the evening because
they said there weren’t enough people in attendance to
make it worthwhile. Not their call, Nick thought. They’d
been hired to do a job, and they’d do it or they’d get off
the ship in Mexico and find their own way home.
“Got it,” Teresa said. “Want me to tell the band their
days are numbered?”
“Yeah. We’ll be in port forty-eight hours. Give ’em
twenty-four to clean up their act—if they don’t, tell
’em to pack their bags.”
“Will do.” She paused, and Nick turned to look at her.
They were standing at the bow of the ship on the Splen-
dor Deck, mainly because Nick hadn’t felt like being
cooped up in his office. And he couldn’t go to his suite
because Jenna was there. Being in the same room with
her without reacting to her presence was becoming
more of a challenge.
The last few days had been hell. Being with her every
day, sleeping down the hall from her at night, knowing
she was there, stretched out on a king-size bed, probably
wearing what she used to—a tank top and a pair of tiny,
bikini panties—had practically killed him. He’d taken
more cold showers in the last three days than he had in
the past ten years.
His plan to seduce Jenna and then lose her was back-
firing. He was the one getting seduced. He was the one
nearly being strangled with throttled-back desire. And
he was getting damned sick of it. It was time to make

a move. Time to take her to bed. Before they got the
results of that DNA test.
Tonight, he decided. Tonight he’d have Jenna Baker
back in his bed. Where he’d wanted her for the past year.
He was almost surprised to hear Teresa’s voice. Hell,
he’d forgotten where the hell he was and what he was
doing. Just thinking about Jenna had his body hard and
“What is it?” He half turned away from the woman
and hoped she wouldn’t notice the very evident proof
of just how hungry for Jenna he really was.
“The lab in Cabo called. They faxed the results of the
DNA test to the lab in L.A.”
“Good.” His stomach fisted, but he willed it to
loosen. Nothing to do about it now but wait for the
results. Which would probably arrive by tomorrow. So,
yeah. Tonight was the night.
“Do you want me to tell Jenna?”
Nick frowned at his assistant, then let the expression
fade away. Wasn’t her fault he felt like he was tied up
in knots. “No, thanks. I’ll do it.”
“Okay.” Teresa took a deep breath, held it, then blew
it out. “Look, I know this is none of my business…”
“Never stopped you before,” he muttered with a smile.
“No, I guess not,” she admitted, swiping one hand
through her wind-tousled hair. “So let me just say, I
don’t think Jenna’s trying to play you.”
He went perfectly still. From the shore came the
sounds of car horns honking and a swell of noise that

only a crowd of tourists released for the day could
make. Waves slapped halfheartedly at the hull of the
ship, and the wind whipped his hair into his eyes.
He pushed it aside as he looked at Teresa. “Is that
She lifted her chin, squared her shoulders and looked
him dead in the eye. “That’s right. She’s just not the type
to do something like this. She never did give a damn
about your money or who you were.”
“Teresa—” He didn’t want to talk about this and he
didn’t actually care what his assistant thought of Jenna.
But knowing Teresa, there was just no way to stop her.
An instant later, he was proved right.
“—still talking. And if I’m going to get fired for
shooting my mouth off,” she added quickly, “then I’m
going to get it all said no matter what you think.”
“Fine. Finish.”
“I didn’t say anything when you fired her, remember.
I even agreed with you to a point—yes, Jenna should
have told you she worked for you, but from her point
of view I can see why she didn’t.”
“That’s great, thanks.”
She ignored his quips and kept talking. “I didn’t even
say anything when you were so miserable after she left
that it was like working for a panther with one foot
caught in a steel trap.”
“But I’m saying it now,” she told him, and even
wagged a finger at him as if he were a misbehaving
ten-year-old. “You can fire me for it if you want to, but

you’ll never get another assistant as good as I am and
you know it….”
Gritting his teeth because he knew she was right,
Nick nodded and ordered, “Spit it out then.”
“Jenna’s not the kind to lie.”
A bark of laughter shot from his throat.
“Okay, fine, she didn’t tell you she was an employee.
But that was one mistake. Remember, I knew her then,
too, Nick. She’s a nice kid with a good heart.”
He shifted uncomfortably because he didn’t want
her to be right. It was much easier on him to think of
Jenna as a liar and a manipulator. Those kind of women
he knew how to deal with. A nice woman? What the hell
was he supposed to do with one of those?
Teresa added pointedly, “I saw the pictures
of your sons—”
“That hasn’t been confirmed yet,” he said quickly.
“They look just like you,” she countered.
“All babies look like Winston Churchill,” Nick ar-
gued, despite the fact that he knew damn well she was
“Yeah?” She smiled and shook her head. “Winston
never looked that good in his life, I guarantee it. They’ve
got your eyes. Your hair. Your dimples.” Teresa paused,
reached out and laid one hand on his forearm. “She’s
not lying to you, Nick. You’re a father. And you’re going
to have to figure out how you want to deal with that.”
He turned his face toward the sea and let the wind
slap at him. The wide stretch of openness laid out in
front of him was usually balm enough to calm his soul

and soothe whatever tensions were crowded inside him.
But it wasn’t working now. And maybe it never would
Because if he was a father…then his involvement
with those kids wasn’t going to be relegated to writing
a check every month. He’d be damned if his children
were going to grow up not knowing him. Whether Jenna
wanted him around or not, he wasn’t going anywhere.
He was going to be a part of their lives, even if that
meant he had to take them away from their mother to
do it.
The ship felt deserted.
With most of the passengers still on shore explor-
ing Acapulco, Jenna wandered decks that made her
feel as if she were on board a ghost ship. That evening,
she was back in Nick’s suite and feeling on edge. She’d
showered, changed into a simple, blue summer dress
and was now fighting the fidgets as she waited for Nick
to come back to the suite for dinner.
Funny, she’d spent nearly every waking moment
with him over the past few days, feeling her inner ten-
sion mount incrementally. She’d convinced herself that
what she needed was time to herself. Time away from
Nick, to relax. Unwind a little, before the stress of being
so close to him made her snap.
So she’d had that time to herself today and she was
more tense than ever.
“Oh, you’re in bad shape, Jenna,” she whispered as
she walked out onto Nick’s balcony. She was a wreck

when she was with him, and when she wasn’t, she
missed him. Her hair lifted off her neck in the wind, and
the hem of her dress fluttered about her knees. Her
sandals made a soft click of sound as she walked across
the floor and she wrapped her arms around herself more
for comfort than warmth.
From belowdecks, a soft sigh of music from the ball-
room reached her, and the notes played on the cool
ocean breeze, as if they’d searched her out deliberately.
The plaintive instrumental seeped into her soul and
made her feel wistful. What if coming on this trip had
been a big mistake? What if telling Nick about their
sons hadn’t been the right thing to do? What if—she
stopped her wildly careening thoughts and told herself
it was too late to worry about any of that now. The deed
was done. What would happen would happen and there
wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it now.
She sighed, leaned on the balcony railing and stared
out at the sea. Moonlight danced on the surface of the
water in a shimmer of pale silver. Clouds scuttled across
a star-splashed sky, and the ever-present wind lifted her
hair from her shoulders with a gentle touch.
“This reminds me of something.”
Nick’s deep voice rumbled along Jenna’s spine, and
she had to pull in a deep breath before she turned her
head to look at him. He stood in the open doorway to
the balcony. Hands in his pockets, he wore black slacks,
a gleaming white shirt and a black jacket that looked as
if it had been expertly tailored. His dark hair was wind
ruffled, his pale eyes were intense, and his jaw was tight.

Her heart tumbled in her chest.
“What’s that?” she whispered, amazed that she’d
been able to squeeze out a few words.
He stepped out onto the balcony, and with slow,
measured steps, walked toward her. “The night we met,”
he said, taking a place beside her at the railing. “Re-
How could she forget? She’d been standing on the
Pavilion Deck of
Falcon’s Treasure,
the ship she’d been
working on at the time. That corner of the ship had
been dark and deserted, since most of the passengers
preferred spending time in the crowded dance club at
the other end of the deck.
So Jenna had claimed that shadowy spot as her own
and had gone there nearly every night to stand and
watch the sea while the music from the club drifted
around her. She’d never run into anyone else there, until
the night Nick had stumbled across her.
“I remember,” she said, risking a sidelong glance at
him. She shouldn’t have. He was too close. His eyes too
sharp, his mouth too lickable. His scent too rich and too
tempting. Her insides twisted and she dropped both
hands to the cold, iron railing, holding tight.
“You were dancing, alone in the dark,” he said, as if
she hadn’t spoken at all. As if he were prompting her
memory. “You didn’t notice me, so I watched you as
you swayed to the music, tipping your head back, your
hair sliding across your shoulders.”
“You had a smile on your face,” he said, his voice

lower now, deeper, and she wouldn’t have thought that
was possible. “As if you were looking up into the eyes
of your lover.”
Jenna swallowed hard and shifted uneasily as her body
blossomed with heat. With need. “Don’t do this, Nick.…”
“And I wanted to be the lover you smiled at. The
lover you danced with in the dark.” He ran the tip of one
finger down the length of her arm, and Jenna shivered
at the sizzle of something deliciously hot and wicked
sliding through her system.
She sucked in a gulp of air, but it didn’t help. Her
mind was still spinning, her heart racing and her body
lighting up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “Why
are you doing this?” she whispered, and heard the des-
perate plea in her own voice.
“Because I still want you,” he said, moving even
closer, dropping his hands onto her shoulders and turn-
ing her until she was facing him, until their bodies were
so close only a single lick of flame separated them.
“Because I watched you standing in the moonlight and
knew that if I didn’t touch you, I’d explode. I want you.
Just as I did then. Maybe more.”
Oh, she felt the same way. Everything in Jenna clam-
ored at her to move into him. To lean her body against his.
To feel the strength and warmth of him surrounding her.
But she held back. Determined to fight. To hold on to the
reins of the desire that had once steered her down a road
that became more rocky the further along she went.
“It would be a mistake,” she said, shaking her head,
trying to ignore the swell of music, the slide of the

trombone, the wail of the saxophone, that seemed to call
to something raw and wild inside her. “You know it
“No,” he said, sliding his hands up, along her shoul-
ders, up the length of her throat, to cup her face between
his palms. “This time would be different. This time, we
know who we are. This time we know what we’re getting
into. It’s just need, Jenna.” His gaze moved over her
features, and her breath caught and held in a strangled
knot in her chest. “We both feel it. We both want this.
Why deny ourselves?”
Why indeed?
Her mind fought with her traitorous body, and Jenna
knew that rational thought was going to lose. The need
was too great. The desire too hot. The temptation too
strong. She did want him. She’d wanted him from the
moment she first saw him more than a year ago. She’d
missed him, dreamed of him, and now that he was here,
touching her, was she really going to turn him down?
Walk away? Go to her solitary bed and pray she dreamed
of him again?
Was she going to regret this?
Maybe. Eventually.
Was she going to do it?
Oh, yeah.
“There are probably plenty of reasons to deny our-
selves,” she finally whispered. “But I don’t care about
any of them.” Then she went up on her toes as Nick
smiled and flashes of hunger shone in his eyes.

“Atta girl,” he murmured and took her mouth in a
kiss that stole her breath and set her soul on fire.
His tongue slipped between her lips, stealing into her
warmth, awakening feelings that had lain dormant for
more than a year. His arms slid around her waist, pulling
her in tight. Jenna lifted her own arms and linked them
around his neck, holding him to her, silently demand-
ing he deepen the kiss, take more from her.
He did.
His arms tightened until she could hardly draw
breath. But who needed air? Jenna groaned, moved into
him, pressing her body along his, and she felt the hard
length of him jutting against her. That was enough to
send even more spirals of heat dancing through her
Again and again, his tongue dipped into her mouth,
tasting, exploring, divining her secrets. She gave as
well as took, tangling her tongue with his, feeling the
molten desire quickening within. He loosened his grip
on her and she nearly moaned, but then his hands were
moving, up and down her spine, defining every line,
every curve. When his palms cupped her bottom and
held her to him, she sighed into his mouth and gave
herself up to the wonder of his touch.
“I need you,” he whispered, dropping his mouth to
the line of her jaw, nibbling at her throat.
She turned her head, allowing him easier access, and
closed her eyes at the magic of the moment.
Around them, music swelled and the ocean breeze
held the two of them in a cool embrace. Moonlight

poured down on them from a black, starlit sky, and
when Nick lifted his head and looked down at her, Jenna
was trapped in his gaze. She read the fire in his eyes,
sensed the tautly controlled tension vibrating through
his body and felt his need as surely as she did her own.
“Now. Here.” He lifted his hands high enough to take
hold of the zipper, then slid it down, baring her back to
the night wind. Then he pushed the thin straps of her
dress down over her shoulders, and Jenna was suddenly
glad she hadn’t worn a bra beneath that thin, summer
Now there was nothing separating her from his
touch. From the warmth of his hands. He cupped her
breasts in his palms and rubbed her tender, aching
nipples until she felt the tug and pull right down to the
soles of her feet. She swayed into him, letting her head
fall back and her eyes close as she concentrated solely
on what he was doing to her.
It was everything. His touch, his scent filled her,
overwhelming her with a desire that was so much more
than she’d once felt for him. In the year since she’d seen
him, she’d grown, changed, and now that she was with
him again,
was more, so she was able to
“Beautiful,” he said, his voice no more than a raw
scrape of sound. His gaze locked on her breasts, he
said, “Even more beautiful than I remembered.”
“Nick,” she whispered brokenly, “I want—”
“I know,” he said, dipping his head, taking first one
hardened nipple, then the other into his mouth. His lips
and tongue worked that tender flesh, nibbling, licking,

suckling, until Jenna’s head was spinning and she knew
that without his grip on her, she would have fallen into
a heap of sensation at his feet.
He pushed her dress the rest of the way down, let-
ting it fall onto the floor, and Jenna was standing in
the moonlight, wearing only her high-heeled sandals
and her white silk bikini panties. And she felt too
covered. Felt as if the fragile lace of her underwear
were chafing her skin. All she wanted on her now was
Nick. She wanted to lie beneath him, feel his body
cover hers, feel him push himself deeply inside her.
She loved him. Heaven help her, she still loved him.
Why was it that only Nick could do this to her? Why
was he the man her heart yearned for? And what was
she going to do about it?
Then he touched her more deeply and those thoughts
fled along with any others. All she could do was feel.
“Please,” she said on a groan, “please, I need…”
“I need it, too,” he told her, lifting her head, looking
down into her eyes as he slid one hand down the length
of her body, fingertips lightly dusting across her skin.
He reached the elastic band of her panties and dipped
his hand beneath it to cup her heat.
Jenna rocked into him, leaning hard against him, but
Nick didn’t let her rest. Instead, he turned her around
until her back was pressed to his front and she was
facing the wide emptiness of the moonlit sea.
He used one hand to tease and tweak her nipples
while the other explored her damp heat. His fingers
dipped lower, smoothing across her most tender, sensi-

tive flesh with a feathery caress that only fed the flames
threatening to devour her.
Jenna groaned again, lost for words. Her mind had
splintered, no thoughts were gathering. She was empty
but for the sensations he created. He dipped his head and
whispered into her ear, “Watch the sea. See the moon-
light. Lose yourself in them while I lose myself in
She did what he asked, fighting to keep her eyes
open, and focused on the shimmering sea as he dipped
first one finger and then another into her heat. Jenna’s
breath hitched and she wanted to close her eyes, the
better to focus on what he was doing, but she didn’t.
Instead, she stared unseeing at the broad expanse of sea
and sky stretching out into infinity in front of her and
fought to breathe as his magic fingers pushed her along
a road of sensual pleasure.
He stroked, he delved, he rubbed. His fingers moved
over her skin as a concert pianist would touch a grand
piano. Her body was his instrument, and she felt his
expert’s touch with a grateful heart. Again and again,
he pushed her, his fingers stroking her from the inside
while his thumb tortured one particularly sensitive spot.
And while Jenna moaned and twisted in his grasp, her
eyes locked on the shimmering sea, she let herself go.
She dropped any sense of embarrassment or worry. She
pushed aside every stray thought of censure that leaped
into her mind, and she devoted herself to the sensory
overload she was experiencing.
“Come for me,” Nick whispered, his voice no more

than a hush in her ear. His breath dusted her face, her
neck, while his fingers continued the gentle, determined
invasion. “Let me see you. Let me feel you go over.”
His voice was a temptation. Because she was so
close to a climax. Her knees trembled. Her body weak-
ened even as it strove to reach the peak Nick was
pushing her toward. Her breath came in ragged gasps,
her heartbeat thundered in her ears and the tension
coiling within was almost more than she could bear.
And when she thought she wouldn’t survive another
moment, she cried out his name and splintered in his
arms. Her body shattered, she rode the exquisite wave
of completion until she fell at the end only to be caught
and held in his strong arms.
Jenna dropped her head onto his shoulder, swallowed
hard and fought to speak. “That was—”
“Only the beginning,” Nick finished for her and
picked her up, swinging her into his arms and stalking
back into the suite. He was teetering on the edge of
reason. Touching her, feeling her climax roar through
her, sensing her surrender, had all come together to
build a fire inside him like nothing he’d ever known
Seduction had been the plan.
But whose?
He’d thought to use her, feed the need that she’d
caused, then be able to let her go. Get her out of his
head, out of his blood. But those moments with her on
the balcony only made him want more. He had to have
her under him, writhing beneath him as he took her.

She lay curled against his chest, in a trusting manner
that tore at him even as it touched something inside him
he hadn’t been aware of. She was trouble. He knew it.
Felt it. And couldn’t stop himself from wanting.
From having.
In his bedroom Nick strode to the bed, reached down
with one hand and grabbed the heavy, black duvet in
one fist. Then he tossed it to the foot of the mattress and
forgot about it. He laid Jenna down on the white sheets
and looked at her for a long moment. The moonlight
caressed her here, as well, sliding in through the wide
bank of glass that lined his bedroom suite. A silvery
glow coated her skin as she stretched like a satisfied cat
before smiling up at him.
“Come to me, Nick,” she urged, lifting both arms
in welcome.
He didn’t need a second invitation. Tearing off his
clothes, he joined her on the bed, covered her body
with his and surrendered to the inevitable. More than a
year ago, their first encounter had ended in his bed.
Now, it seemed, they’d come full circle.
Nick ran his hands up and down her body and knew
he’d never be able to touch her enough. He drew a
breath and savored her scent. Dipped his head and
tasted her skin at the base of her throat. Her pulse
jolted beneath his mouth and he knew she was as eager
as he, as needy as he.
He touched her core, delving his fingers into her
heat again, and she lifted her hips from the bed, rocking
into his hand, moaning and whispering to him.

His body ached and clamored for release. Every inch
of him was humming, just touching her. Lying beside
her. Jenna. Always Jenna who did this to him. Who
turned him into a man possessed, a man who could
think of nothing beyond claiming what he knew to be
With that thought, Nick tore away from her arms,
ignoring the soft sound of disappointment that slipped
from her throat. Tugging the drawer on the bedside
table open, he reached in, grabbed a condom and, in a
few quick seconds, sheathed himself. Then he turned
back to her, levering himself over her, positioning
himself between her thighs.
He gave her a quick smile. “Last time we forgot that
part and look what happened.”
“You’re right,” she said, reaching down to stroke his
length, her fingers sliding over the thin layer of latex in
a caress that had Nick gulping for air. “Now, will you
come to me?”
He spread her thighs farther apart, leaned in close
and locked his gaze with hers as his body entered hers.
Inch by inch, he invaded her, torturing them both with
his deliberately slow thrust.
Her hips moved beneath him, her eyes squeezed shut
and she bit her bottom lip. Reaching up, her hands
found his upper arms and held on, her short nails
digging into his skin, and that was the last straw. The
final touch that sent Nick over the edge of reason.
He pushed himself deep inside her and groaned at the
tight, hot feel of her body holding his. His hips rocked,

setting a rhythm that was both as old as time and new
and exciting. She held on tighter, harder, her nails biting
into his flesh with a stinging sensation that was coun-
terpoint to the incredible delight of being within her.
Nick moved and she moved with him. Their rhythm
set, they danced together, bodies joined, melded, be-
coming one as they reached for the same, shattering
end that awaited them. He stared down into her eyes,
losing himself in their depths. She met his gaze and
held it until finally, as he felt her body begin to fist
around his, she closed her eyes, shrieked his name and
shuddered violently as her body exploded from the
His own release came a scant moment later, and
Nick heard himself shout as the tremendous relief
spilled through him again and again, as if the pleasure
would never end.
When he collapsed atop her, he still wasn’t sure just
who had seduced whom.

t was a long night.
As if they’d destroyed the invisible barrier keeping
them separate, Jenna and Nick came together again and
again during the night. Until finally, exhausted, they fell
into sleep just before dawn.
When Jenna woke several hours later, she was alone
in the big bed. Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she sat
up, clutched the silky white sheet to her chest and stared
around Nick’s room as if half expecting him to appear
from the shadows. But he didn’t.
Carefully, since her muscles ached, she scooted off
the bed, wandered down the hall to her own room and
walked directly to the bathroom. As she took a long, hot
shower, her mind drifted back to the night before and she

wondered if things would be different between them now.
But if she thought about that, hoped for it, how much
more disappointed would she be if it didn’t happen?
Nick had made no promises.
Just as he had made no promises last year during
their one amazing week together.
So basically, Jenna told herself, she’d made the same
mistake she had before. She’d fallen into bed with a man
she loved—despite the fact that he didn’t love her.
“Oh, man.” She rested her forehead against the aqua
and white tiles while the hot, pulsing streams of water
pounded against her back. “Jenna, if you’re going to
make mistakes, and hey, everyone does…at least make
Out of the shower, she dried off and dressed in a pair
of white shorts and a dark green tank top. Then she sat
on her bed and tried to figure out her next move. The
only problem was, she didn’t have a clue what to do
about what was happening in her world. This had all
seemed like such a simple idea. Come to Nick. Tell him
about the boys. Go home and slide back into her life.
But now, everything felt…complicated.
Muttering under her breath about stupid decisions
and consequences, Jenna glanced at the clock on the
bedside table and noticed the phone. Instantly her heart
lifted. That’s what she needed, she realized. She needed
to touch base with the real world. To talk to her sister.
To listen to her sons cooing.
Grabbing the receiver, she immediately got the ship’s
operator, gave them the number she wanted and waited

while the phone on the other end of the line rang and
rang. Finally, though, Maxie picked up and breathlessly
said, “I don’t have time for salesmen.”
Laughing, Jenna eased back against the headboard
of her bed and said, “Hello to you, too.”
“Oh, Jenna, it’s you.” Maxie chuckled a little. “Sorry
about that, but your babies are making me a little
She jolted away from the headboard, frowning at the
phone in her hand. “Are they okay?”

fine,” Maxie assured her. “I’m the one
who’s going to be dead soon. How do you do this every
day? If I ever forget to tell you how amazing I think you
are, remind me of this moment.”
“Thanks, I will. So the boys are good?”
“Happy as clams,” her sister said, then paused and idly
asked, “although, how do we know clams are happy? It’s
not like they smile or whistle or something….”
“One of the great mysteries of the universe.”
In the background, Jenna heard both the television
set blaring and at least one baby crying. “Who is that
crying?” she asked.
“Jacob,” Maxie told her and her voice was muffled
for a minute. “I’m holding Cooper and giving him a
bottle and Jake wants his turn. Not exactly rating a ten
on the patience scale, that boy.”
“True, Jake is a little less easygoing than Cooper.”
Jenna was quiet then as Maxie brought her up to date
on the twins’ lives. She smiled as she listened, but her

heart ached a little, too. She wanted to be there, holding
her sons, soothing them, feeding them. And the fact that
she wasn’t literally tore at her.
“Bottom line, everything’s good here,” her sister said
finally. “How about you? How did Nick take the news?”
“He doesn’t believe me.”
“Well, there’s a shocker.”
Jenna rolled her eyes. Maxie wasn’t a big fan of
Nick Falco. But then, her sister had been wined, dined
and then dumped by a rich guy a couple of years before,
and ever since then she didn’t have a lot of faith in men
in general—and rich men in particular.
“He took the DNA test, though, and was going to
have the results faxed to our lab. He should have proof
even he can’t deny in the next day or two.”
“Good. Then you’re coming home, right?”
“Yeah.” Jenna plucked at the hem of her shorts with
her fingertips. She wouldn’t stay on board ship for the
whole cruise. She’d done what she’d come here to do,
and staying around Nick any longer than was necessary
was only going to make things even more complicated
than they already were.
“I love my nephews,” Maxie was saying, “but I think
they’re as ready to see you as I am.”
“I miss them so much.” Her heart pinged again as she
listened to the angry sound of Jake’s cry.
“Uh-huh, now tell me why you really called.”
Jenna scowled. “I called to check on my sons.”
“Oh, that was part of it. Now let’s hear the rest,”
Maxie said.

“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Hold on, have to switch babies. Cooper’s finished
and it’s Jake’s turn.”
Jenna waited and listened to her sister talking to both
of the boys, obviously laying Cooper down and picking
Jake up as the infant’s cries were now louder and more
demanding. She smiled to herself when his crying
abruptly shut off and knew that he was occupied with
his bottle.
“Okay, I’m back,” Maxie said a moment later. “Now,
tell me what happened between you and Nick.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean and the fact that
you’re avoiding the question tells me just what hap-
pened,” her sister said. “You slept with him again, didn’t
Jenna’s head dropped to the headboard behind her
and she stared unseeing up at the ceiling.
“There wasn’t a lot of sleeping, but yeah.”
“Damn it, Jenna—”
She sat up. “I already know it was a mistake, so if
you don’t mind…”
“A mistake? Forgetting to buy bread at the market is
a mistake. Sleeping with a guy who’s already dumped
you once is a disaster.”
“Well, thanks so much,” Jenna said drily. “That
makes me feel so much better.”
Maxie blew out a breath, whispered, “It’s okay, Jake,
I’m not yelling at you. I’m yelling at your mommy.”

Then she said louder, “Fine. Sorry for yelling. But
Jenna, you know nothing good can come of this.”
“I know.” Hadn’t she awoken in an empty bed, with
no sign of the tender lover she’d spent the night with?
Nick couldn’t have been more blatant in letting her
know just how unimportant she was to him. “God, I
“Come home,” Maxie urged.
“I will. Soon.”
“No,” Jenna said, shaking her head as she swung her
legs off the bed and sat up straight. “I have to talk to him.”
“Haven’t you said everything there is to say?”
Probably, Jenna thought. After all, it wasn’t as if she
was going to tell him she loved him. And wasn’t that
the only piece of information he was missing? Hadn’t
she done what she’d come here to do? Hadn’t she ac-
complished her mission and more?
Her sister blew out a breath, and Jenna could almost
see her rolling her eyes.
“I just don’t want to see you destroyed again,” Maxie
finally said. “He’s not the guy for you, Jenna, and some-
where deep inside, you know it. You’re only asking to
get kicked in the teeth again.”
The fact that her sister was right didn’t change
anything. Jenna knew she couldn’t leave until she’d
seen Nick again. Found out what last night had meant
to him, if anything. She had to prove to herself one way
or the other that there was no future for them. It was the

only way she’d ever be able to let go and make a life
for herself and her children.
“If I get hurt again, I’ll recover,” she said, her voice
firming as she continued. “I appreciate you worrying
about me, Maxie, but I’ve got to see this through. So
I’ll call you when I’m on my way home. Are you sure
you’re okay to take care of the boys for another couple
of days?”
There was a long moment of silence before her sister
said, “Yeah. We’re fine.”
“What about work?” Maxie was a medical transcri-
ber. She worked out of her home, which was a big
bonus for those times when Jenna needed a babysitter
fast. Like now.
“I work around the babies’ nap schedules. I’m keep-
ing up. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay, thanks.”
“Jenna? Just be careful, okay?”
The door to the suite opened and a maid stepped in.
She spotted Jenna, made an apologetic gesture and
started to back out again.
“No, wait. It’s okay, you can come in now.” Then to
her sister, she said, “The maid’s here, I’ve got to go. I’ll
call you soon. And kiss the boys for me, okay?”
When she hung up, Jenna didn’t know if she felt
better or worse. It was good to know her sons were fine,
but Maxie’s words kept rattling around in her brain.
Yes, her sister was prejudiced against wealthy men, but
she had a point, too. Jenna
been nearly destroyed
after she and Nick had split apart a year ago.

This time, though, she had the distinct feeling that
the pain of losing him was going to be much, much
Nick had never thought of himself as a coward.
Hell, he’d fought his way to the top of the financial
world. He’d carved out an empire with nothing more
than his guts and a dream. He’d created a world that was
everything he’d ever wanted.
And yet…a couple of hours ago, he’d slipped out of
bed and left Jenna sleeping alone in his room because
he hadn’t wanted to talk to her.
“Women,” he muttered, leaning on the railing at the
bow of the Splendor Deck, letting his gaze slide over
the shoreline of Acapulco, “always want to
morning after. Always have to analyze and pick apart
everything you’d done and said the night before.”
But there was nothing to analyze, he reminded him-
self. He’d had her, just as he’d planned, and now he was
through—also as he’d planned.
Of course his body tightened and his stomach fisted
at the thought, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was
that he’d had Jenna under him, over him, around him, and
now he could let her go completely. No more haunted
dreams. No more thinking about her at stray moments.
It was finished.
Scowling, he watched as surfers rode the waves into
shore while tourists on towels baked themselves to a
cherry-red color on the beach. Brightly striped umbrellas
were unfurled at intervals along the sand, and waiters

dressed in white moved among the crowd delivering
tropical drinks.
So if it was finished, why the hell was he still
thinking about her?
Because, he silently acknowledged, that night with
her had been unlike anything he’d experienced since the
last time they’d been together. Nick wasn’t a monk.
And since he was single, he saw no problem in indulg-
ing himself with as many women as he wanted. But no
woman had ever gotten to him the way Jenna had.
She made him feel things he had no interest in. Made
him want more than he should. That thought both in-
trigued and bothered him. He wasn’t looking for anything
more than casual sex with a willing woman. And nothing
about Jenna was casual. He already knew that.
So the best thing he could do was stay the hell
away from her.
Better for both of them. He pushed away from the
railing in disgust. But damned if he’d hide out on his own
blasted ship. He’d find Jenna, tell her that he wasn’t
interested in a replay of last night—and
who was
lying? Turning, he was in time to see Jenna walking
toward him, and everything in him tightened uncom-
In the late-morning sunlight, she looked beautiful.
Her blond hair hung loose about her shoulders. Her
tank top clung to her breasts—no bra—and his mouth
went dry. Her white shorts made her lightly tanned skin
look the color of warmed honey. Her dark blue eyes
were locked on him, and Nick had to force himself to

stand still. To not go to her, pull her up close to him and
taste that delectable mouth of hers again.
She hitched her purse a little higher on one bare
shoulder and tightened her grip on the strap when she
stopped directly in front of him. Whipping her hair back
out of her eyes, she looked up at him and said, “I won-
dered where you disappeared to.”
“I had some things to take care of,” Nick told her and
it was partially true. He’d already fired the band that had
refused to clean up their act, hired another one and was
expected at a meeting with the harbormaster in a half
But he’d still been avoiding her.
“Look, Nick—”
“Jenna—” he said at the same time, wanting to cut off
any attempt by her to romanticize the night before. Bad
enough he’d done too much thinking about it already.
“Me first, okay?” she spoke up quickly, before he
had a chance to continue. She gave him a half smile, and
Nick braced himself for the whole what-do-I-mean-to-
you, question-and-answer session. This was why he
normally went only for the women who, like him, were
looking for nothing more complex than one night of
fun. Women like Jenna just weren’t on his radar, usually.
For good reason.
“I just want to say,” she started, then paused for a
quick look around to make sure they were alone. They
were, since this end of the Splendor Deck was attached
to his suite and not accessible to passengers. “Last night
was a mistake.”

“What?” Not what he’d been expecting.
“We shouldn’t have,” she said, shaking her head.
“Sex with you was not why I came here. It wasn’t part
of my plan, and right now, I’m really regretting that it
happened at all.”
Instantly outrage pumped through him. She
reg ret-
being with him? How the hell was that possible?
He’d been there. He’d heard her whimpers, moans and
screams. He’d
her surrender. He’d trembled with
the force of her climaxes and knew damn well she’d had
as good a time as he had. So how the hell could she be
regretting it?
More, how could he dump her as per the plan if she
was dumping him first?
“Is that right?” he managed to say through gritted
“Oh, come on, Nick,” she said, frowning a bit. “You
know as well as I do that it shouldn’t have happened.
You’re only interested in relationships that last the
length of a cruise, and I’m a single mom. I’m in no posi-
tion to be anybody’s babe of the month.”
“Babe of the month?” He was insulted, and the fact
that he’d been about to tell her almost exactly what she
was saying to him wasn’t lost on him.
She blew out a breath and tightened the already death
grip she had on the strap of her purse. “I’m just saying
that it won’t happen again. I mean, what happened last
night. With us. You and me. Not again.”
“Yeah, I get it.” And now that she’d said that, he
wanted her more than ever. Wasn’t that a bitch of a thing

to admit? Not that he’d give her the satisfaction of
knowing what he was thinking. “Probably best that way.”
“It is,” she said, but her voice sounded a little wistful.
Or was he hearing what he wanted to hear?
Strange, a few minutes ago, he’d been thinking of
ways to let her go. To tell her they were done. Now that
she’d beaten him to the punch, he felt different. What
the hell was happening to him, anyway?
Whatever it was, Nick told himself firmly, it was
time to nip it in the bud. No way was he going to be
tripping on his own heartstrings. Not over a woman he
already knew to be an accomplished liar.
Besides, she hadn’t come on this trip for him, he told
himself sternly, but for what he could give her. She’d
booked passage on his ship with the sole purpose of
getting money out of him. Sure, it was for child support.
But she still wanted money. So what made her differ-
ent from any other woman he’d known?
“I’m attracted to you,” she was saying, and it looked
like admitting that was costing her, “but then I guess
you already figured that out.”
Was she blushing? Did women still do that?
“But I’m not going to let my hormones be in the
driver’s seat,” she told him and met his gaze with a
steely determination. “Pretty soon, you’ll be back sail-
ing the world with a brunette or a redhead on your arm
and I’ll be back in Seal Beach taking care of my sons.”
The babies.
Hers? His?
He wasn’t going there until he knew for sure. Instead,

he decided to turn the tables on her. Remind her just
whose ship she was on. Remind her that he hadn’t come
to her, it had been the other way around.
“Don’t get yourself tied up in knots over this, Jenna,”
he said, reaching out to chuck her under the chin with
his fingertips. “It was one night. A blip on the radar
She blinked at him.
“We had a good time,” he said lightly, letting none
of the tension he felt coiled inside show. “Now it’s over.
End of story.”
He watched as his words slapped at her, and just for
a minute he wished he could take them back. Yet as that
feeling rushed over him, he wondered where it had
come from.
“Okay, then,” Jenna said, her voice nearly lost in the
rush and swell of the sea below them, tumbling against
the ship’s hull. “So now we know where we stand.”
“We do.”
“Well, then,” she said, forcing a smile that looked
brittle, “maybe I should just fly home early. I can catch
a flight out of Acapulco easily enough. I talked to my
sister earlier and she’s going a little nuts—”
He cut her off instantly. “Are the babies all right?”
She stopped, looked at him quizzically and said
slowly, “Yes, of course. The boys are fine, but Maxie’s
not used to dealing with them twenty-four hours a day
and they can be exhausting, so—”
“I’d rather you didn’t leave yet,” he blurted.
“Why not?”

Because he wasn’t ready for her to be gone. But
since admitting that even to himself was too lowering,
he said, “I want you here until we get the results from
the DNA test.”
Her gaze dropped briefly, then lifted to meet his again.
“You said we’d probably hear sometime today, anyway.”
“Then there’s no problem with you waiting.”
“What’s this really about, Nick?” she asked.
“Just what I said,” he told her, taking her arm in a
firm grip and turning her around. Heat bled up from the
spot where his hand rested on her arm. He fought the
urge to pull her into him, to dip his head and kiss the
pulse beat at the base of her throat. To pull the hem of
her shirt up so he could fill his hands with her breasts.
Damn, he was hard and hot and really irritated by
that simple fact.
Leading her along the wide walkway, he started for
his suite. “We’ve got unfinished business together,
Jenna. And until it’s done and over, you’re staying.”
“Maybe I should get another room.”
“Worried you won’t be able to control yourself?” he
chided as he opened the door and allowed her to precede
him into the suite.
“In your dreams,” she said shortly, and tossed her
purse onto the sofa.
“And yours,” he said.
Jenna looked at him and felt herself weakening. It
wasn’t fair that this was so hard. Wasn’t fair that her
body wanted and her heart yearned even as her mind
told her to back away. She had to leave the ship. Soon.

In the strained silence, a beep sounded from another
room, and she glanced at Nick, a question in her eyes.
“Fax machine.”
She nodded and as he walked off to get whatever had
come in for him, Jenna headed for his bedroom. All she
wanted to do was get the underwear she’d left in there
the night before. And better to do it while he was
occupied somewhere else.
Opening the door, she swung it wide just as Nick
called out, “It’s from the lab.”
If he said anything else, she didn’t hear him. Didn’t
even feel a spurt of pleasure, knowing that now he’d
have no choice but to believe her about the fact that he
was the father of her sons.
Instead Jenna’s gaze was locked on his bed, and her
brain short-circuited as she blankly stared at the very
surprised, very
redhead stretched out on top of
Nick’s bed.

enna?” Nick’s voice came from behind her, but she
didn’t turn.
“Hey!” The redhead’s eyes were wide as she scram-
bled to cover herself—a little too late—with the black
duvet. “I didn’t know he already had company….”
Nick came up behind Jenna, and she actually felt him
tense up. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded, push-
ing past Jenna to face the woman staring up at him
through eyes shining with panic.
“Babe of the month?” Jenna asked curtly.
“Look,” the redhead was saying from beneath the
safety of the duvet, “I can see I made a mistake here
“Oh,” Jenna told her snidely, “don’t leave on my

account,” then she spun on her heel and marched down
the long hall toward her own bedroom.
“Jenna, damn it, wait.” Nick’s voice was furious but
she didn’t care. Didn’t want to hear his explanation.
What could he possibly say? There was a naked woman
in his bed. And he hadn’t looked surprised, just angry.
Which told Jenna everything she needed to know. This
happened to him a
That simple fact made one thing perfectly clear to
It was so past time for her to leave.
God, she was an idiot. To even allow herself to
that she loved him. Was she a glutton for punishment?
She marched into her room on autopilot. Blindly she
moved to the closet, grabbed her suitcase and tossed it
onto the bed. Opening it up, she threw the lid back, then
turned for the closet again. Scooping up an armful of
her clothes, she carried them to the suitcase, dropped
them in and was on her way back to the closet for a
second load when Nick arrived.
He stalked right up to her, grabbed her arm and spun
her around. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
She wrenched herself free and gave him a glare that
should have fried him on the spot. Jenna was furious
and hurt and embarrassed. A dangerous combination.
“That should be perfectly obvious, even to you. I’m
“Because of the redhead?”
“What’s the matter, can’t remember her name?”
“I’ve never even
her for God’s sake,” he shouted,

shoving one hand through his hair in obvious irritation,
“how the hell should I know her damn name?”
“Stop swearing at me!” Jenna shouted right back.
She felt as if every cell in her body was in a strangle-
hold. Her blood was racing, her mind was in a whirl of
conflicting thoughts and emotions, and the only thing
she knew for sure was she didn’t belong here. Couldn’t
stay another minute. “I’m leaving and you can’t stop
“Jenna, damn it, the results from the lab came in—”
Not exactly the way she’d imagined this conversa-
tion going, she told herself indignantly. Somehow she’d
pictured her and Nick, reading the results together. In
her mind, she’d watched as realization came over him.
As he acknowledged that he was a father.
Of course, she hadn’t pictured a naked redhead being
part of the scene.
“Then you know I was telling you the truth. My
work here is done.” She grabbed up her sneakers, high
heels and a pair of flats and tossed them into the suitcase
on top of her clothes. Sure it was messy, but she was
way past caring.
“We have to talk.”
“Oh, we’ve said all we’re going to say to each other,”
Jenna told him, skipping backward when he made a
grab for her again. She didn’t trust herself to keep her
anger fired if he touched her. “Have your lawyers con-
tact me,” she snapped and marched into the connecting
bathroom to gather up the toiletries she had scattered
across the counter.

“Damn it,” Nick said, his voice as tight as the tension
coiled inside her. “I just found out I’m a
God’s sake. I need a minute here. If you’ll calm down,
we can discuss this—”
“Shouldn’t you be down the hall with Miss Ready-
And-Willing?” Jenna inquired too sweetly as she
pushed past him, her things in the crook of her arm.
He shook his head. “She’s getting dressed and get-
ting out,” he said, grabbing Jenna’s arm again to yank
her around to face him.
God help her, her body still reacted to his hands on
her. Despite everything, she felt the heat, the swell of
passion rising inside to mingle with the fury swamping
her, and Jenna was sure this wasn’t a good thing. She
had to get out.
But Nick only tightened his grip. “I didn’t invite her.
She bribed a maid.”
She swallowed hard, lowered her gaze to his hands
on her arms and said, “You’re hurting me.” He wasn’t,
but her statement was enough to make him release her.
“It’s a wonder the woman had to bribe anyone. I’m
sure the maids are used to letting naked women into
your suite. Pretty much a revolving door around here,
isn’t it?”
“Nobody gets into my suite unless I approve it,
which I didn’t in this case,” Nick added quickly. “And
I hope for the maid’s sake that it was a
because it just cost her her job.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Jenna said as she turned to zip her

suitcase closed. “Fire a maid because you’re the horn-
iest male on the face of the planet.”
“Excuse me?”
Jenna straightened up, folded her arms across her
chest and tapped the toe of her sandal against the floor
as she glared up at him. “Everyone on this ship knows
what a player you are, Nick. Probably wasn’t a big sur-
prise to the maid that a woman wanted into your suite
and for all she knew, you
want her here.”
He glared right back at her. “My life is my business.”
“You’re right it is.” She grabbed the handle of her
suitcase and slid it off the bed. Jenna didn’t even care
if she’d left something behind. She couldn’t stay here
a second longer. She had to get away from Nick, off this
ship and back to the world that made sense. The world
where she was wanted. Needed.
“And I don’t owe you an explanation for anything,”
he pointed out unnecessarily.
“No, you don’t. Just as you don’t have to fire a maid
because she assumed it was business as usual around
here.” Jenna shook her head, looked him up and down,
then fixed her gaze on his. “But you do what you want
to, Nick. You always do. Blame the maid. Someone
who works hard for a living. Fire her. Make yourself feel
better. Just don’t expect me to hang around to watch.”
“Damn it, Jenna, I’m not letting you walk out.” He
moved in closer and she felt the heat of his body
reaching out for her. “I want to know about my sons. I
want to talk about what we’re going to do now.”
Tightening her grip on the suitcase handle, Jenna

swung her hair back behind her shoulders and said
softly, “What we’re going to do now is go back to our
lives. Contact your lawyer, set up child support. I’ll
send you pictures of the boys. I’ll keep you informed
of what’s happening with them.”
“It’s not enough,” he muttered, his voice low and
deep and hard.
“It’ll have to be, because it’s all I can give you.”
Jenna walked past him, headed for the living room and
the purse she’d left on a sofa. But she stopped in the
doorway and turned for one last look at him.
Diffused sunlight speared through the bank of win-
dows and made his dark hair shine. His eyes were
shadowed and filled with emotions she couldn’t read,
and his tall, leanly muscled body was taut with a fury
that was nearly tangible.
Everything in her ached for him.
But she’d just have to learn to live with disappointment.
“Goodbye, Nick.”
Jenna was gone.
So was the redhead.
And he didn’t fire the maid.
Nick hated like hell that Jenna had been right about
that, but how could he fire some woman when everyone
on the damn ship knew he had women coming and
going all the time? Instead, he’d had Teresa demote the
maid to the lower decks and instructed her to make it
clear that if the woman ever took another bribe from a
guest, she’d be out on her ass.

Sitting at the desk in his office, he turned his chair
so that he faced the sprawl of the sea. He wasn’t seeing
the last of the day’s sunlight splashing on the water like
fistfuls of diamonds spread across its surface. He didn’t
notice the wash of brilliant reds and violets as sunset
painted a mural across the sky. Instead his mind con-
tinued to present him with that last look he’d had of
Jenna. Standing in the open doorway of her bedroom,
suitcase in her hand, wearing an expression that was a
combination of regret and disappointment.
“What right does she have to be disappointed in me?
And why the hell do I care what she thinks?” he mut-
tered. He’d meant to have her and let her go. It had been
a good plan and that’s exactly what had happened. He
ought to be pleased. Instead, his brain continued to ask
him just why Jenna had been so pissed about the
Was she being territorial?
Did she really care for him?
Did it matter?
Then he glanced down at the single sheet of paper
he still held in his hand. The fax from the lab in San
Pedro was clear and easy to read.
His DNA matched that of Jenna’s twins.
Nick Falco was a father.
He was both proud and horrified.
“I have two sons,” he said, needing to hear the words
said aloud. He shook his head at the wonder of it and
felt something in his chest squeeze tightly until it was
almost impossible to draw a breath.

He was a
He had
Two tiny boys who weren’t even aware of his exis-
tence were only alive because of
Pushing up from
his chair, he walked to the wide bank of glass separat-
ing him from the ocean beyond and leaned one hand on
the cool surface of the window. Sons. Twins. He felt that
twist of suppressed emotion again and murmured, “The
question is, how do I handle it? What’s the best way to
manage this situation?”
Jenna had left, assuming that he’d keep his distance.
Deal with her through the comforting buffer of an attor-
ney. He scowled at the sea and felt a small but undeni-
able surge of anger begin to rise within him, twisting
with that sense of pride and confusion until he nearly
shook with the rush of emotions he wasn’t used to
He was a man who deliberately kept himself at a
distance from most people. He liked having that comfort
zone that prevented anyone from getting too close. Now,
though, that was going to change. It had to change.
Jenna thought she knew him. Thought he’d be con-
tent to remain a stranger to his sons. Thought he’d go
on with his life, putting her and Jacob and Cooper aside.
Knowing her, she thought he’d be satisfied to be nothing
more than a fat wallet to his sons.
“She’s wrong,” he muttered thickly, and his hand on
the glass fisted. “I may not know anything about being
a father, but those boys are
And I’ll be damned if
I let
keep me from them.”

Turning around, he hit a button on the intercom and
ground out, “Teresa?”
“Yes, boss?”
He folded the DNA report, tucked it into the breast
pocket of his shirt and said, “Call the airport. Hire a
private jet. I’m going back to California.”
By the following morning, it was almost as if Jenna
had never been gone. She’d stopped on the way home
from the airport the night before to pick up the boys at
Maxie’s house. She hadn’t been able to bear the thought
of being away from them another minute. With the
twins safely in their rooms and her suitcase unpacked,
Jenna was almost able to convince herself that she’d
never left. That the short-lived cruise hadn’t happened.
That she hadn’t slept with Nick again. That she hadn’t
left him with a naked redhead in his bedroom.
The pain of that slid down deep inside, where she
carefully buried it. After all, none of that had anything
to do with reality. The cruise—Nick—had been a short
jaunt to the other side of the fence. Now she was back
where she belonged.
She’d been awake for hours already. The twins didn’t
take into consideration the fact that Mom hadn’t gotten
much sleep last night. They still wanted breakfast at six
o’clock in the morning. Now she was sitting on the
floor in the middle of her small living room, working
while she watched her boys.
“I missed you guys,” she said, looking over at her sons
as they each sat in a little jumper seat. The slightest

motion they made had the seat moving and shaking,
which delighted them and brought on bright, toothless
Jake waved one fist and bounced impatiently while
Cooper stared at his mother as if half-afraid to take his
eyes off her again for fear she might disappear.
“Your aunt Maxie said you were good boys,” she
said, talking to them as she always did. Folding the first
load of laundry for the day, Jenna paused to inhale the
soft, clean scent of their pajamas before stacking them
one on top of the other. “So because I missed you so
much and you were so good, how about we walk to the
park this afternoon?”
This was what Jenna wanted out of her life, she
thought. Routine. Her kids. Her small but cozy house.
A world that was filled with, if not excitement, then lots
of love. And if her heart hurt a little because Nick
wasn’t there and would never know what it was to be
a part of his sons’ lives, well, she figured she’d get
over it. Eventually. Shouldn’t take more than twenty or
thirty years.
The doorbell had her looking up, frowning. Then
she glanced at the twins. “You weren’t expecting any-
one, were you?”
Naturally, she didn’t get an answer, so she grinned,
pushed herself to her feet and stepped around them as
she walked the short distance to her front door. Glancing
over her shoulder, she gave the living room a quick
look to make sure everything was in order.
The couch was old but comfortable, the two arm

chairs were flowered, with bright throw pillows tucked
into their corners. The tables were small, and the rag rug
on the scarred but polished wooden floors were
handmade by her grandmother. Her home was just as
she liked it. Cozy. Welcoming.
She was still smiling when she opened the front door
to find Nick standing there. His dark hair was ruffled
by the wind, his jeans were worn and faded, and the
long-sleeved white shirt he wore tucked into those
jeans was open at the throat. He looked way too good
for her self-control. So she shifted her gaze briefly to
the black SUV parked at the curb in front of her house.
That explained
he’d gotten there. Now the only
thing to figure out was
he was there.
Looking back up into his face, she watched as he
pulled off his dark glasses, tucked an arm into the vee
of his shirt and looked into her eyes. “Morning, Jenna.”
“Good to see you, too,” he said, giving her a nod as
he stepped past her into the house.
“Hey! You can’t just—” Her gaze swept over him and
landed on the black duffle bag he was carrying. “What
are you doing here? Why’re you here? How did you find
He stopped just inside the living room, dropped his
duffel bag to the floor and shoved both hands into the
back pockets of his jeans. “I came to see my sons,” he
said tightly. “And trust me when I say it wasn’t hard to
find you.”

“And I brought you this.” He pulled a small, sealed
envelope out of his back pocket and handed it over.
“It’s from your friend Mary Curran. She was upset
when she found out that you’d left the ship.”
Jenna winced. She hadn’t even thought of saying
goodbye to the friend she’d made, and a twinge of guilt
tugged at her.
“She said this is her telephone number and her
e-mail address.” He stared at her. “She wants you to
keep in touch.”
“I, uh, thanks.” She took the envelope.
He looked at her, hard and cold. His pale eyes were
icy and his jaw was clenched so tightly it was a wonder
his teeth weren’t powder. “Where are they?” he de-
Her mouth snapped closed, but she shot a look at the
boys, jiggling in their bouncy seats. Nick followed her
gaze and slowly turned. She watched as the expression
on his face shifted, going from cool disinterest to un-
certainty. Jenna couldn’t remember ever seeing Nick
Falco anything less than supremely confident.
Yet it appeared that meeting his children for the first
time was enough to shake even his equilibrium.
Walking toward them slowly, he approached the
twins as he would have a live grenade. Jenna held her
breath as she watched him gingerly drop to his knees
in front of the bouncy seats and let his gaze move from
one baby boy to the other. His eyes held a world of
emotions that she’d never thought to see. Usually he
guarded what he was thinking as diligently as a pit bull

on a short chain. But now…Jenna’s heart ached a little
in reaction to Nick’s response to the babies.
“Which one is which?” he whispered, as if he didn’t
completely trust his voice.
“Um—” She walked a little closer, her sneakers
squeaking a bit as she stepped off the rug onto the floor.
“No, wait,” he said, never looking at her, never taking
his gaze off the twins, “let me.” Tentatively, Nick
reached out one hand and gently cupped Jacob’s face
in his big palm. “This one’s Jake, right?”
“Yes,” she said, coming up beside him, looking down
at the faces of her sons who were both looking at Nick
in fascination. As usual, though, Jacob’s mouth was
open in a grin and Cooper had tipped his little head to
one side as if he really needed to study the situation a
bit longer before deciding how he felt about it.
“So then, you’re Cooper,” Nick said and with his free
hand, stroked that baby’s rounded cheek.
Jenna’s breath hitched in her chest and tears
gathered in her eyes. God, over the past several months,
she’d imagined telling Nick about the boys, but she’d
never allowed herself to think about him actually
meeting them.
She’d never for a moment thought that he would be
interested in seeing them. And now, watching his gentle
care with her boys made her heart weep and every
gentle emotion inside her come rushing to the surface.
There was just something so tender, so poignant about
this moment, that Jenna’s throat felt too tight to let air
pass. When she thought she could speak again without

hearing her voice break, she said, “You really were lis-
tening when I told you about them.”
“Of course,” he acknowledged, still not looking at
her, still not tearing his gaze from the two tiny boys who
had him so enthralled. “They’re just as you described
them. They look so much alike, and yet, their person-
alities are so obvious when you’re looking for the dif-
ferences. And you were right about something else, too.
They’re beautiful.”
“Yeah, they are,” she said, her heart warming as it
always did when someone complimented her children.
“Nick,” she asked a moment later, because this was def-
initely something she needed to know, “why have you
come here?”
He stood up, faced her, then glanced again at his
sons, a bemused expression on his face. “To see them.
To talk to you. After you left, I did a lot of thinking. I
was angry at you for leaving.”
“I know. But I had to go.”
He didn’t address that. Instead he said, “I came here
to tell you I’d come up with a plan for dealing with this
situation. A way for each of us to win.”
“Win?” she repeated. “What do you mean ‘win’?”
Shifting his pale blue gaze back to hers, his features
tightened, his mouth firming into a straight, grim line.
A small thread of worry began to unspool inside of her,
and Jenna had to fight to keep from grabbing up her
kids and clutching them to her chest.
Only a moment ago she’d been touched by Nick’s

first sight of his sons. Now the look on his face told her
she wasn’t going to be happy with his “plan.”
“Look,” he said, shaking his head, sparing another
quick glance for the babies watching them through
wide, interested eyes, “it came to me last night that
there was an easy solution to all of this.”
“I didn’t come to you needing a solution. All I
wanted from you is child support.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll get that.” He waved one hand as
if brushing aside something that didn’t really matter.
“But I want more.”
That thread of worry thickened and became a ribbon
that kept unwinding, spreading a dark chill through her
bloodstream that nearly had her shivering as she asked,
“How much more?”
“I’m getting to that,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve been
doing a lot of thinking since you left the ship. And fi-
nally, last night on the flight up here, it occurred to me
that twins are a lot of work for any one parent.”
What was he getting at? Why was he suddenly shift-
ing his gaze from hers, avoiding looking at her directly?
And why had she ever gone to him? “Yes, it is, but—”
“So my plan was simple,” he said, interrupting her
before she could really get going. “We split them up,
each of us taking one of the twins.”

ick couldn’t blame her for the outrage.
She jumped in front of the babies and held her arms
up and extended as if to fight him off should he try to
grab the twins and run. “Are you insane? You can’t split
them up,” she said, keeping her voice low and hard. “They
You don’t get the pick of the litter. They’re
little boys, Nick. Twins. They need each other. They need
And you can’t take either of them away from me.”
He’d already come to the same conclusion. All it
had taken was one look at the boys, sitting in their little
seats, so close that they could reach out and touch each
other. But he hadn’t known until he’d seen them.
“Relax,” he said, lifting one hand to try to stop her

from taking off on another rant. “I said that’s the plan
have. Things have changed.”
“You’ve been here ten seconds. What could have
changed?” She was still defensive, standing in front of
her sons like a knight of old. All she really needed was
a battle-ax in her hands to complete the picture.
“I saw them,” he said, and something in his voice
must have reached her because her shoulders eased
down from their rigid stance. “They’re a unit. We can’t
split them up. I get that.”
“Good.” She blew out a breath. “That’s good.”
“I’m not finished,” he told her, and watched as her
back snapped straight as a board again. “I came here to
see my sons, and now that I have, I’m not going any-
She looked stunned, her mouth dropping open, her
big, blue eyes going even wider than usual. “What do
you mean?” Then, as she began to understand exactly
what he meant, she shook her head fiercely. “You can’t
possibly think you’re going to stay here.”
This was turning out to be more fun than he’d
thought it would be.
“Yeah, I am.” Nick glanced around the small living
room. You could have dropped two entire houses the
size of hers into his suite on the ship, and yet there was
something here that was lacking in his place, despite the
luxury. Here, he told himself, she’d made a home. For
her and their sons. A home he had no intention of
leaving. At least not for a while. Not until he’d gotten
to know his sons. Not until he’d come up with a way
that he could be a part of their lives.

“That’s crazy.”
“Not at all,” he said tightly, his gaze boring into hers.
“They’re my sons. I’ve already lost four months of their
lives and I’m not going to lose any more.”
“But Nick—”
He interrupted her quickly. “I won’t be just a check
to them, Jenna. And if that’s what you were hoping for,
sorry to disappoint.”
She chewed at her bottom lip, folded her arms over
her chest as if she were trying to hold herself together
and finally said, “You can’t stay here. There’s no room.
It’s a two-bedroom cottage, Nick. One for the boys, one
for me and you’re
staying in my room, I guarantee
His body tightened and he thought he just might be
able to change her mind on that front, eventually. But
for now, “I’ll bunk on the couch.”
“Look,” Nick said. “It’s simple. I stay here, get to
know my kids. Or,” he added, pulling out the big guns,
“I sue you for sole custody. And which one of us do you
think would win that battle? Your choice, Jenna. Which
will it be?”
Her face paled, and just for a second Nick felt like a
complete bastard. Then he remembered that he was
fighting for the only family he had. His sons. And
damned if he’d lose. Damned if he’d feel guilty for
wanting to be a part of their lives however he had to
manage it.
“You would do that?”

“In a heartbeat.”
“You really are a callous jerk, aren’t you?”
“I am whatever I have to be to get the job done,” Nick
told her.
“Congratulations, then. You win this round.”
One of the babies began to cry, as if sensing the sud-
den tension in the room. Nick glanced down to see that
it was Jacob, his tiny face scrunched up as fat tears ran
down his little cheeks. An instant later, taking his cue
from his brother, Cooper, too, let out a wail that was
both heart wrenching and terrifying to Nick.
He threw a panicked look at Jenna, who only shook
her head.
“You want a crash course in fatherhood, Nick?” She
waved a hand at the boys, whose cries had now reached
an ear-splitting range as they thrashed and kicked and
waved their little arms furiously. “Here’s lesson one.
You made them cry. Now you make them stop.”
Then, while he watched her dumbfounded, she
scooped up the stack of freshly folded baby clothes and
walked off down a short hallway to disappear into what
he guessed was the boys’ bedroom, leaving him alone
with his frantic sons.
“Great,” Nick muttered as he dropped to his knees
in front of the twins. “This is just going great. Good job,
Nick. Way to go.”
As he dropped to his knees, jiggled the bouncy seats
and pleaded with the boys to be quiet, he had the distinct
feeling he was being watched. But if Jenna was standing

in the shadows observing his performance, he didn’t
really want to know. So he concentrated on his sons and
told himself that a man who could build a cruise ship
line out of nothing should be able to soothe a couple of
crying babies.
After all, how hard could it be?
By the end of the afternoon, Nick was on the ragged
edge and Jenna was enjoying the show. He’d fed the
boys, bathed them—which was entertainment enough
that she wished she’d videotaped the whole thing—and
now as he was trying to get them dressed. Jenna stood
in the doorway to the nursery, silently watching with a
delighted smile on her face.
“Come on, Cooper,” Nick pleaded. “Just let me get
this shirt on and then we’ll—” He stopped, sniffed the
air, then turned a horrified look on Jacob. “Did you?”
He sniffed again. “You did, didn’t you? And I just put
that diaper on you.”
Jenna slapped one hand over her mouth and watched
Nick in a splash of sunlight slanting through the opened
louvred blinds. The walls were a pale green and boasted
a mural she’d painted herself while pregnant. There
were trees and flowers and bunnies and puppies, painted
in bright, primary colors, racing through the garden. A
white dresser stood at one end of the room and an over-
stuffed rocking chair was tucked into a corner.
And now there was Nick.
Staring down into the crib where he’d laid both boys
for convenience sake, Nick shoved both hands through

his hair—something he’d been doing a lot—and
muttered something she didn’t quite catch.
Still, she didn’t offer to help.
He hadn’t asked for any, and Jenna thought it was
only fair that he get a real idea of what her days were
like. If nothing else, it should convince him that he was
not ready to be a single parent to twin boys.
“Okay, Coop,” he said with a tired sigh, “I’ll get
your shirt on in a minute. First, though, I’ve got to do
something about your brother before we all asphyxiate.”
Jenna chuckled, and Nick gave her a quick look.
“Enjoying this, are you?”
“Is that wrong?” she asked, still grinning.
He scowled at her, then shook his head and wrinkled
his nose. “Fine, fine. Big joke. But you have to admit,
I’m not doing badly.”
“I suppose,” she conceded with a nod. “But smells
to me as if you’ve got a little problem facing you at the
“And I’ll handle it,” he said firmly, as though he was
trying to convince himself, as well as her.
“Okay then, get to it.”
He scrubbed one hand across his face, looked down
into the crib and murmured, “How can someone so cute
smell so bad?”
“Yet another universal mystery,” she told him.
“Never mind,” Jenna said, thinking back to her con-
versation with Maxie when Jenna was still on the ship.
Before the redhead. Before she’d left in such a hurry.

Oh God. Jenna straightened up and closed her eyes.
Maxie. Wait until
found out that Nick was here.
“You okay?” he asked.
Opening her eyes again, she looked at him, so out of
place there in her sons’ nursery, and told herself that this
was just what he’d said their night together was. Nothing
more than a blip on the radar. One small step outside the
ordinary world. Once he’d made his point, got to know
his sons a little, he’d be gone again and everything
would go back to the way it was supposed to be.
Which was good, right?
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. I’m fine. Just…thinking.”
He looked at her for a long second or two as if trying
to figure out just what she’d been thinking. Thankfully,
mind reading was
one of his skills.
“So,” Jenna said softly, “are you going to take care
of Jake’s little problem or do you need a rescue?”
He didn’t look happy, but he also didn’t look like he
was going to beg off.
“No, I don’t need a rescue. I said I could take care
of them and I can.” He took a breath, frowned again and
reached into the crib.
Jenna heard the tear of the Velcro straps on the dis-
posable diaper, then heard Nick groan out, “Oh my God.”
Laughing, she turned around and left him to his sons.
Though it made her crazy, Jenna spent the rest of the
day in her small garage, working on a gift basket that

was to be delivered in two days. If Nick wanted to play
at being a father, then she’d just let him see what it was
like dealing with twin boys.
It felt strange to be right there at the house and still
be so separate from the boys, but she had to make Nick
see that he was in no way prepared to be a father. Had
to make him see that taking her sons away from her
would be a bad idea all the way around.
Just thinking about his threat sent cold chills up and
down her spine, though. He was rich. He could afford
the best lawyers in the country. He could hire nannies
and bodyguards and buy whatever the court might think
the boys would need.
“And where does that leave me?”
A single mom with a pitifully small bank account
and an office in her garage. She’d have no chance at all
if Nick really decided to fight her for their sons.
But why would he? That thought kept circling in her
mind and she couldn’t shake it. Was this all to punish
her? Was it nothing more than a show of force? But why
would he go to such lengths?
Shaking her head, she wrapped the completed basket
with shrink-wrap cellophane, plugged in her travel-size
hair dryer and focused the hot air on the clear plastic
wrap. As she tucked and straightened and pulled, the
gift basket began to take shape, and she smiled to herself
despite the frantic racing in her mind.
When she was finished, she left the basket on her
worktable where, in the morning, she’d affix a huge red
bow to the top before packing it up to be delivered. For

now, though, she was tired, hungry and very curious to
see how Nick was doing with the boys.
She slipped into the kitchen through the connect-
ing door and stopped for an appalled moment as she
let her gaze sweep the small and usually tidy room.
The red walls and white cabinets were pretty much
all she recognized. There was spilled powdered
formula strewn across the round tabletop, discarded
bottles that hadn’t been rinsed and a
of dirty re-
ceiving blankets that Nick had apparently used to
wipe up messes.
Shaking her head, she quietly walked into the living
room, half-afraid of what she would find. There wasn’t
a sound in the house. No TV. No crying babies. Nothing.
Frowning, she moved farther into the room, noticing
more empty baby bottles, and a torn bag of diapers
spilled across a tabletop next to an open and drying-out
box of baby wipes. Then she rounded the sofa and
stopped dead. Nick was stretched out, fast asleep on her
grandmother’s rag rug and on either side of him lay a
sleeping baby.
“Oh, my.” Jenna simply stood there, transfixed by the
sight of Nick and their sons taking a nap together. A
single lamp threw a puddle of golden light across the
three of them even as the last of the sunlight came
through the front window. Nick’s even breathing and the
soft sighs and coos issuing from the twins were the
only sounds in the room and Jenna etched this image
into her mind so that years from now she could call up
this mental picture and relive the moment.

There was just something so sweet, so
about the
little scene. Nick and his sons. Together at last.
Her heart twisted painfully in her chest as love for
all three of them swamped her. Oh, she was in so much
trouble. Loving Nick was not a smart thing to do. She
knew there was no future there for them. All he wanted
was to be a part of her sons’ lives—that didn’t include
getting close with their mother. So, what was she sup-
posed to do? How could she love Nick when she knew
that nothing good could come of it? And how could she
keep her sons from him when she knew, deep down, that
they would need a father as much as Nick would need
“Why does it have to be you who touches my heart?”
she whispered, looking down at the man who’d invaded
her life and changed her world.
And as she watched him, Nick’s eyes slowly opened
and his steady stare locked on her. “Do I?” he asked
Caught, there was no point in trying to deny what
she’d already admitted aloud. She dropped to her knees.
“You know you do.”
Carefully, so as not to disturb the twins, Nick sat up,
wincing a little at the stiffness in his back. But his gaze
didn’t waver. He continued to meet her eyes, and Jenna
wished she could read what he was thinking. What he
was feeling.
But as always, Nick’s thoughts were his own, his
emotions so completely controlled she didn’t have a
clue what was going on behind those pale blue eyes.

“Then why’d you leave the ship so fast?” Nick asked
“You know why.” Just the memory of the naked red-
head was enough to put a little steel back into her spine.
“I didn’t even know her,” he reminded her with just
a touch of defensiveness in his voice.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, lowering her voice
quickly when Jacob began to stir. She hadn’t meant to
wake him up. Hadn’t wanted to get into any of this
right now. But since it had happened anyway, there was
no point in trying to avoid it. “Nick, don’t you see? The
redhead was just a shining example of how different we
are. She brought home to me how much out of my ele-
ment I was on that ship. With you.”
He reached out, skimmed his fingertips along her
cheek and pushed her hair back behind her right ear.
Jenna shivered at the contact, but took a breath and
steadied herself. Want wasn’t enough. A one-sided love
wasn’t enough. She needed more. Deserved more.
“I don’t belong in the kind of life you lead, Nick. And
neither do the boys.”
“You could, though,” he told her, his voice a hush of
sound that seemed intimate, cajoling. “All three of you
could. We could all live on the ship. You know there’s
plenty of room. The boys would have space to play.
They’d see the world. Learn about different cultures,
different languages.”
Tempting, so tempting, just as he’d meant it to be.
A reluctant smile curved her mouth, but she shook her
head as she looked from him to the twins and back

again. “They can’t have a real life living on board a
ship, Nick. They need a backyard. Parks. School.
Friends—” She stopped, waved both hands and added,

He tore his gaze from hers and looked at first one
sleeping baby to the other before shifting his gaze back
to hers. “We’ll hire tutors. They can play with the pas-
sengers’ kids. We could even have a dog if they want
one. It could work, Jenna. We could make it work.”
Though a part of her longed to believe him, she
knew, deep down, that this wasn’t about him wanting
to be with her—finding a way to integrate her into his
life—this was about him discovering his sons and want-
ing them with him.
“No, Nick,” she whispered, shaking her head sadly.
“It wouldn’t be fair to them. Or us. You don’t want me,
you want your sons. And I understand that. Believe me
I do.”
He grabbed for her hand and smoothed the pad of his
thumb across her knuckles. “It’s not just the boys,
Jenna. You and I…”
“Would never work out,” she finished for him, de-
spite the flash of heat sweeping from her hand, up her
arm, to rocket around her chest like a pinball slapping
against the tilt bar.
She wished it were different. Wished it were possible
that he could love her as she did him. But Nick Falco
simply wasn’t the kind of man to commit to any one
woman. Best that she remember that and keep her heart
as safe as she could.

“You don’t know that. We could try.” His eyes were
so filled with light, with hunger and the promise of
something delicious that made Jenna wish with every-
thing in her that she could take the risk.
But it wasn’t only herself she had to worry about
now. There were two other little hearts it was her job to
protect. And she couldn’t bring herself to take a chance
that might bring her sons pain a few years down the
But instead of saying any of that, instead of arguing
the point with him, she pulled her hand free of Nick’s
grasp and said softly, “Help me get the boys up to bed,
He drew up one leg and braced one arm across his
knee. His gaze was locked on her, his features half in
shadow, half in light. “This isn’t over, Jenna.”
As she bent over to scoop up Jacob, Jenna paused,
looked into those pale blue eyes and said, “It has to be,

ere?” Maxie repeated. “What do you mean he’s
here? Here in Seal Beach here?”
Jenna glanced back over her shoulder at her closed
front door. She’d spotted Maxie pulling up out front and
had made a beeline for the door to head her off at the
pass, so to speak. “I mean he’s
here. In the house
here. With the boys here.”
For three days now. She’d been able to avoid Maxie
by putting her off with phone calls, claiming to be busy.
But Jenna had known that sooner or later, her older
sister would just drop by.
“Are you
” Maxie asked. Her big, blue eyes
went wide as saucers and her short, spiky, dark blond
hair actually looked spikier somehow, as if it were

actually standing on end more than usual. “What are
you thinking, Jenna? Why would you invite him here?”
“I didn’t invite him,” Jenna argued, then shrugged.
Maxie stopped, narrowed her eyes on Jenna and
asked, “Are you sleeping with him?”
Disappointment and need tangled up together in the
center of Jenna’s chest. No, she wasn’t sleeping with
him, but she was dreaming of him every night, experi-
encing erotic mental imagery like she’d never known
before. She was waking up every morning with her
body aching and her soul empty.
But she was guessing her older sister didn’t want to
hear that, either, so instead, she just answered the question.
“No, Saint Maxie, defender of all morals,” Jenna
snapped, “I’m
sleeping with him. He’s been on the
couch the last couple of nights and—”
“Couple of nights?”
Jenna winced, then looked up and waved at her
neighbor, who’d stopped dead-heading her roses to stare
at Maxie in surprise. “Morning, Mrs. Logan.”
The older woman nodded and went back to her
gardening. Jenna shifted her gaze up and down the
narrow street filled with forties-era bungalows. Trees
lined the street, spreading thick shade across neatly
cropped lawns. From down the street came the sound
of a basketball being bounced, a dog barking maniacally
and the muffled whir of skateboard wheels on asphalt.
Just another summer day. And Jenna wondered just
how many of her neighbors were enjoying Maxie’s little

rant. Shooting her sister a dark look, Jenna lifted both
eyebrows and waited.
Maxie took the hint and lowered her voice. “Sorry,
sorry. But I can’t believe Nick Falco’s been here for two
nights and you didn’t tell me.”
Jenna smirked at her. “Gee, me, neither. Of course,
I only kept it a secret because I thought you might not
understand, but clearly I was wrong.”
Jenna blew out a breath and hooked her arm through
her sister’s. No matter what else was going on in her life,
Maxie and she were a team. They’d had only each other
for the last five years, after their parents were killed in a
car accident. And she wasn’t going to lose her only sister
in an argument over a man who didn’t even
“Max,” she said, trying to keep her voice even and
calm, despite the whirlwind of emotions she felt churn-
ing inside, “he’s here to get to know the boys. His sons,
remember? We’re not together that way, and believe me
when I say I’m being careful.”
Maxie didn’t look convinced, but then she wasn’t ex-
actly a trusting soul when it came to men. Not that
Jenna could blame her or anything…not after she was
so unceremoniously dumped by that jerk Darius Stone.
“This is a bad idea,” Maxie said, as if she hadn’t
already made herself perfectly clear.
“He won’t be here long.”
“His kind don’t need much time.”
“You sure he’s not staying?”

“Why would he?”
“I can think of at least three reasons off the top of my
head,” she countered. “Jacob, Cooper and oh, yeah,
So I ask it again. Are you sure he’s not staying for
Hmm. No, she wasn’t. In fact, Jenna would have
thought that Nick would have had his baby fix by now
and be all too glad to go back to his life. But so far he
hadn’t shown any signs of leaving.
Was it just the boys keeping him here?
Or did he feel something for her, too?
Oh God, she couldn’t allow herself to start thinking
that way. It was just setting herself up for more damage
once he really did leave.
“Jenna—” Nick called to her from the front porch,
then stopped when he saw Maxie and her talking and
added, “Oh. Sorry.”
No way to avoid this, Jenna thought dismally, al-
ready regretting putting her sister and her ex-lover in the
same room together. But she forced a smile anyway.
“It’s okay, Nick. This is my sister, Maxie.”
When neither of them spoke, Jenna gave Max a
nudge with her elbow.
“Fine, fine,” Max muttered, then raised her voice
and said grudgingly, “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah. You, too.”
“Well, isn’t this special?” Jenna murmured, and
wondered if she could get frostbite from the chill in the
air between these two. “Come on in, Max,” she urged,
wanting her sister to see that she had nothing to worry

about. That Nick wasn’t interested in her and that she
wasn’t going to be pining away when he left. Surely,
Jenna thought, she was a good enough actor to pull that
off. “See the boys. Have some coffee.”
Still looking at Nick, Maxie shook her head and said,
“I don’t know…”
“I went out for doughnuts earlier,” Nick offered.
“Is he trying to bribe me?” Maxie whispered.
Jenna snorted a laugh. “For God’s sake, Max, be
nice.” But as she followed her sister into the house,
Jenna could only think that this must have been what it
felt like to be dropped behind enemy lines with nothing
more than a pocketknife.
Nick knew he should have left already.
Then he wouldn’t have had to deal with Jenna’s
sister. Although, she’d finally come around enough that
she hadn’t looked as if she wanted to stab him to death
with the spoon she used to stir her coffee.
The point was, though, with access to a private jet,
he could catch up with the ship in Fort Lauderdale in
time to enjoy the second half of the cruise to Italy. Then
he wouldn’t have to play nice with Jenna’s sister—who
clearly hated his guts. And he wouldn’t be tormented
by the desire he felt every waking moment around
Jenna herself.
The last couple of nights he’d spent on her lumpy
couch had been the longest of his life. He lay awake late
into the night, imagining striding down the short hall to
her bedroom, slipping into her bed and burying himself

inside her. He woke up every morning so tight and hard
he felt as if he might explode with the want and frus-
tration riding him. And seeing her first thing in the
morning, smelling the floral scent of her shampoo,
watching her sigh over that first sip of coffee was
another kind of torture.
She was here.
But she wasn’t his.
Now Jenna was off to a packaging store, mailing out
one of her gift baskets, and he was alone with his sons.
Nick walked into the boys’ nursery to find them both
wide awake, staring up at the mobiles hanging over
their beds. The one over Jake’s crib was made up of
brightly colored animals, dancing now in the soft breeze
coming in from the partially opened window. And over
Cooper’s bed hung a mobile made up of bright stars and
smiling crescent moons.
He looked from one boy to the other, noting their simi-
larities and their differences. Each of them had soft, wispy
dark hair and each of them had a dimple—just like
Nick’s—in their left cheek. Both boys had pale blue eyes,
though Cooper’s were a little darker than his brother’s.
And both of them had their tiny fists wrapped around
his heart.
“How am I supposed to leave you?” he asked quietly.
“How can I go back to my life, not knowing what you’re
doing? Not knowing if you’ve gotten a tooth or if you’ve
started crawling. How can I not be here when you start
to walk? Or when you fall down for the first time?”
Soft sunlight came through the louvered blinds on the

window and lay across the shining wood floor like gold
bars. Outside somewhere on this cozy little street, a lawn-
mower fired up and Jake jumped as though he’d been
Instantly Nick moved to the crib, leaned over and
laid one hand on his son’s narrow chest. He felt the
rapid-fire thud of a tiny heart beneath his palm, and a
love so deep, so pure, so all encompassing, filled him
to the point that he couldn’t draw a breath.
He hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t thought to fall so
helplessly in love with children he hadn’t known existed
two weeks ago. Hadn’t thought that he’d enjoy getting
up at the crack of dawn just so he could look down into
wide eyes, eager to explore the morning. Hadn’t thought
that being here, with the boys, with their mother, could
feel so…right.
Now that he knew the truth, though, the question
was, what was he going to do about it?
Moving across the room to Cooper, he bent down,
scooped his son up into his arms and cradled him
against his chest. The warm, pliant weight of him and
his thoughtful expression made Nick smile. He drew the
tip of one finger along Cooper’s cheek, and the infant
boy turned his face into that now-familiar touch. Nick’s
heart twisted painfully in his chest as he stared down
into those solemn blue eyes so much like his own.
“I promise you, I’ll always be here when you need
me.” His voice was as quiet as a sigh, but Cooper
seemed almost to understand as he gave his father one
of his rare smiles. Nick swallowed hard, walked to

where Jacob lay in his crib watching them and whis-
pered, “I love you guys. Both of you. And I’m going to
find a way to make this work.
When Jake kicked his little legs and swung his arms,
it was almost a celebration. At least, that’s what Nick
told himself.
That night Jenna pulled on her nightshirt and made
one last check on the twins before going to bed herself,
as was her habit. Only, this time when she stepped into
the room lit only by a bunny nightlight, she found Nick
already there.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Just a pair of jeans that
lay low on his hips and clung to his legs like a lover’s
hands. He turned when she stepped into the room, and
she felt the power of his gaze slam into her. In the dim
light, even his pale eyes were shadowed, dark, but she
didn’t need to see those eyes to feel the power in them.
Her skin started humming, her blood sizzling, but she
made herself put one foot in front of the other, walking
past Nick first to Cooper’s crib, then Jacob’s, smooth-
ing each of the boys’ hair, laying a gentle hand on their
tummies as they slept.
And through it all, she felt Nick’s gaze on her as
surely as she would have a touch. Her breath came in
shallow gasps and her stomach did a quick enough spin
that she felt nearly dizzy. What was he doing in here?
Why was he watching her as he was? What was he
Her hands were shaking as she turned to leave the

nursery with quiet steps. She got as far as the hallway
when Nick’s hand came down on her arm.
“Wait.” His voice was hard and low, demanding.
She looked up at him, and here in the dark, where
even the pale light from the plugged-in plastic bunny
couldn’t reach, Nick was no more than a tall, imposing
figure moving in close to her.
“Nick—” Could he hear her heartbeat? Could he
sense the fires he kindled inside her? Could he feel the
heat pouring off her body in thick waves? “What are
you doing?”
Heaven help her, she knew what he was doing. And
more, she was glad of it. Just standing with him in the
dark filled her with a sense of expectation that had her
breath catching in her lungs.
“Don’t talk,” he whispered, moving in even closer,
until their bodies were pressed together, until he’d
edged her back, up against the wall. “Don’t think.” He
lifted both hands and covered her breasts.
She sucked in air and let her head thunk back against
the wall. Even through the thin cotton fabric of her
nightgown, she felt the thrill of anticipation washing
through her. His hands were hot and hard and strong.
His thumbs moved across the tips of her nipples and the
scrape of the fabric over her sensitive skin was another
kind of sweet agony.
“Yes, Nick,” she whispered, licking dry lips and
huffing in breaths as if she’d just finished running a
marathon. “No thinking. Only feeling. I want—”
“Me, too,” he said, cutting her off so fast, she knew

instinctively that he was feeling the immediacy of the
moment. “Have for days. Can’t wait another minute. I
need to be in you, Jenna. To feel your heat around me.”
He dropped his head to the curve of her neck and swept
his tongue across the pulse point at the base of her
She jerked in his arms, then lifted her hands until she
could cup the back of his head and hold him there. While
her fingers threaded through his thick, dark hair, he
dropped one hand down the front of her body, skimming
her curves, lifting the hem of her nightshirt. Then he was
touching her bare skin and she arched into him as he slid
his magical fingers beneath the elastic band of her panties.
He touched her core, slid his fingers into her heat and
instantly, she exploded, rocking her hips with the force
of an orgasm that crashed down on her with a splinter-
ing fury. Whimpering his name, she clung to him with
a desperate grip until the last of the tremors slid through
her. Then she was limp against him until he picked her
up and walked to her bedroom.
Holding on to him, Jenna smoothed her hands over
his skin, his broad back, his sculpted chest, and when
he sucked in a gulp of air, she smiled in the dark, pleased
to know she affected him as deeply as he did her.
In moments she was on her bed, staring up at him as
he tore his jeans off and came to her. In the next instant
he’d pulled her nightshirt up and off, and slid her white
lace panties down the length of her legs and tossed
them onto the floor.

Since the second he’d walked, unannounced, into
her home, Jenna had wanted this. She’d lain awake at
night hungering for him, and now that he was here, she
had no intention of denying either of them. Though,
for all she knew, this was his way of saying goodbye.
He might be getting ready to leave, to go back to his
And if that was the case, then she wanted this one
last night with him. Wanted to feel him over and around
her. Wanted to look up into those pale eyes and know
that at least for this moment, she was the most impor-
tant thing in the world to him.
Tomorrow could take care of itself.
He moved in between her legs and stroked her now
all-too-sensitive center. She moaned softly, spread her
legs farther and rocked her hips in silent invitation. All
she wanted was to feel the hard, strong slide of his body
into hers. To hold him within her.
Then he was there, plunging deep, stealing her breath
with the hard thrusts of his body. He laid claim to her in
the most ancient and intimate way. And Jenna gave him
everything she had. Her hands stroked up and down his
spine. Her short nails clawed at his skin. Her legs
wrapped themselves around his hips and urged him
deeper, higher.
When he bent his head to kiss her, she parted her lips
and met his tongue with her own in a tangle of need and
want that was so beyond passion, beyond desire, that
she felt the incredible sense that
is where she’d
always been meant to be.

He tore his mouth from hers, looked down into her
eyes and said on a groan, “Jenna…I need you.”
“You have me,” she told him and then arched her
spine as a soul-shattering climax hit them both hard.
Holding him tight, Jenna called out his name as wave
after wave of sensation crashed, receded and slammed
down onto them again and again. She felt his release as
well as her own. She held him as his body trembled and
shook with a power that was mind numbing.
It seemed the pleasure would never end.
It seemed they were destined to be joined together
for the rest of time.
But finally, inevitably, the tantalizing pressure and
delight faded and they lay together in a silence so
profound, neither of them knew how to end it.
Nick was gone when she woke up.
Not gone gone. His duffle bag was still in one cor-
ner of the living room, so he hadn’t gone back to the
ship. He was just nowhere to be found in the house.
That shouldn’t have surprised her. After all, he’d
avoided her the morning after their night together on
board ship, as well. But somehow, disappointment
welled inside her, and she wondered if he was deliber-
ately distancing himself from her. To make the in-
evitable leaving easier.
With the sting of unshed tears filling her eyes, she
slipped into her normal routine of taking care of the
boys, and tried not to remember how it had felt to have
Nick there, sharing all of this with her.

Once the twins were fed and dressed, Jenna decided
to get out of the house herself. Damned if she’d sit around
the house moping, waiting for Nick to return so that he
could break her heart by telling her he was leaving. She
had a life of her own and she was determined to live it.
Buckling the boys into their car seats, she then
grabbed up a stuffed diaper bag and her purse and fired
up the engine on her car.
“Don’t you worry, guys,” she said, looking into the
rearview mirror at the mirrors she had positioned in
front of their car seats so that she could see their faces,
“we’re going to be fine. Daddy has to go away, but
Mommy’s here. And I’m never going to leave you.”
Those blasted tears burned her eyes again and she
blinked frantically to clear them away. She wasn’t going
to cry. She’d had an incredible night with the man she
loved and she wasn’t going to regret it. Whatever hap-
pened, happened.
When her cell phone rang, she assumed it was Maxie
until she glanced at the screen and didn’t recognize the
number. “Hello?”
“Nick,” she said, and tried not to sigh at the sound
of his deep, dark voice murmuring in her ear.
“You at home?”
“Actually,” she said, lifting her chin as if that could
help her keep her voice light and carefree, “I’m in the
car. I’m taking the boys to the mall and—”
“Perfect,” he said quickly. “Have you got a pen?”
“Yes, I have a pen, but what is this—”

“Write this down.”
Both of her eyebrows lifted at the order. But she
reached into her purse for a pen and a memo pad she
always carried. Behind her Jacob was starting to fuss,
and pretty soon, she knew, Cooper would be joining in.
“Nick,” she asked, pen poised, “what’s this about?”
“Just…I want to show you something and I need
you and the boys to come here.”
“Here where?”
“Here in San Pedro.”
She nearly groaned. “San Pedro?”
“Jenna, just do this for me, okay?” He paused, then
added, “Please.”
Surprise flickered through her. She couldn’t remem-
ber Nick
saying please before. So when he gave
her directions, she dutifully wrote them down. When he
was finished, she frowned and said, “Okay, we’ll come.
Should be there in about a half hour.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
He hung up before she could ask any more questions,
and Jenna scowled at her cell phone before she set it
down on the seat beside her. “Well, guys, we’re off to
meet your father.” Cooper cooed. “No, I don’t know what
this is about, either,” she told her son. “But knowing
your daddy, it could be anything.”
It turned out to be a house.
Cape Cod style, it looked distinctly out of place in
Southern California, but it was the most beautiful house
Jenna had ever seen. It was huge, and she was willing

to bet that five of her cottages would have fit comfort-
ably inside. But for all its size, it looked like a family
home. There was a wide front lawn, and when she
stepped out of the car in the driveway, she heard the
sound of the ocean and knew the big house must be right
on the sea.
“What’s going on here?” she wondered aloud. But
then Jacob’s short, sharp cry caught her attention and
she turned to get her sons out of their seats.
She looked up and watched as Nick ran down the
front lawn to her. He looked excited, his pale eyes shin-
ing, his mouth turned into a grin so wide, his dimple dug
deeply into his left cheek. Naturally, Jenna felt an in-
voluntary tug of emotion at first sight of him, and she
wondered if it would always be that way.
God, she hoped not.
“Let me help with the boys,” he said after giving her
a quick, hard, unexpected kiss that left her reeling a
“Um, sure.” She watched as he rounded the back of
her car, opened the other back door and began undoing
the straps on Cooper’s car seat. “Nick, what’s going on?
Where are we? Whose house is this?”
He shot her another breath-stealing grin and scooped
Cooper up into his arms. “I’ll tell you everything as
soon as we get inside.”
“Inside?” Finished with Jacob’s seat straps, she
picked him up, cuddled him close and closed the car
door with a loud smack of sound.

“Yep,” Nick said. “Inside. Go on ahead. I’ll get the
diaper bag and your purse.”
She took a step, stopped and looked at him. Dappled
shade from the massive oak tree in the front yard fell
across his features. He was wearing a tight black
T-shirt and those faded jeans he’d been wearing the
night before when they—
Okay, don’t go there,
told herself. “I can’t just go inside. I don’t know who
lives here and—”
“Fine,” he said, coming around the hood of the car,
her purse under his arm and the diaper bag slung over
that shoulder, while he jiggled Cooper on the other.
“We’ll go together. All of us. Better that way, anyway.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see.” He started for the house and she had
little choice but to follow.
The brick walkway from the drive to the front door
was lined with primroses in vibrant, primary shades of
color. More flowerbeds followed the line of the house,
with roses and tall spires of pastel-colored stocks scent-
ing the air with a heady perfume.
Jenna kept expecting the owner of the house to come
to the front door to welcome them, but no one did. And
when she crossed the threshold, she understood why.
The house was empty.
Their footsteps echoed in the cavernous rooms as
Nick led her through the living room, past a wide stair-
case, down a hall and then through the kitchen. Her
head turned from side to side, taking it all in, delighting

in the space, the lines of the house. Whoever had
designed it had known what they were doing. The walls
were the color of rich, heavy cream, and dark wood
framed doorways and windows. The floors were pale
oak and polished to a high shine. The rooms bled one
into the other in a flow that cried out for a family’s
This house was made for the sound of children’s
laughter. As Jenna followed Nick through room after
room, she felt that there was a sense of ease in the
house. As if the building itself were taking a deep breath
and relishing the feel of people within its walls again.
“Nick…” The kitchen was amazing, but she hardly
had time to glance at it as he led her straight through
the big room and out the back door.
“Come on, I want you to see this,” he said, stepping
back so that she could move onto the stone patio in front
of him.
A cold ocean wind slapped at her, and Jenna realized
she’d been right, the house did sit on a knoll above the
sea. The stone patio gave way to a rolling lawn edged
with trees and flowers that looked as she imagined an
English cottage garden would. Beyond the lawn was a
low-lying fence with a gate that led to steps that would
take the lucky people who lived here right down to the
As Jenna held Jacob close, she did a slow turn, taking
it all in, feeling overwhelmed with the beauty of the
place as she finally circled back to look out at the sea,
glittering with golden sunlight.

Shaking her head, she glanced at Nick. “I don’t
understand, Nick. What’s going on? Why are we here?”
“Do you like it?” he asked, letting his gaze shift
around the yard as he dropped the diaper bag and her
purse to the patio. “The house, I mean,” he said, hitching
Cooper a little higher on his chest. “Do you like it?”
She laughed, uncertainty jangling her nerves.
“What’s not to like?”
“Good. That’s good,” he said, coming to her side.
“Because I bought it.”

Nick nearly laughed at the stunned expression on her
face. God, this had been worth all of the secretive phone
calls to real estate agents he’d been making. Worth get-
ting up and leaving her that morning so that he could
finalize the deal with the house’s former owners.
This was going to work.
It had to work.
“Why would you do that?”
“For us,” he said, and had the pleasure of watching
her features go completely slack as she staggered un-
steadily for a second.
“Yes, Jenna. Us.” He reached out, cupped her cheek
in his palm and was only mildly disappointed when she
stepped back and away from him. He would convince
her. He
to convince her. “I found a solution to our
situation,” he said, locking his gaze with hers, wanting
her to see everything he was thinking, feeling, written
in his eyes.

“Our situation?” She blinked, shook her head as if
to clear away cobwebs and then stared at him again.
The wind was cold, but the sun was warm. Shade from
the trees didn’t reach the patio, and the sunlight dancing
in her hair made him want to grab her and hold her close.
But first they had to settle this. Once and for all.
“The boys,” he said, starting out slowly, as he’d
planned. “We both love them. We both want them. So
it occurred to me that the solution was for us to get
married. Then we both have them.”
She took another step back, and, irritated that she
hadn’t jumped on his plan wholeheartedly, Nick talked
faster. “It’s not like we don’t get along. And the sex is
great. You have to admit there’s real chemistry between
us, Jenna. It would work. You know it would.”
“No,” she shook her head again and when Jacob
picked up on her tension and began to cry, Nick moved
in closer to her.
He talked even faster, hurrying to change her mind.
Make her see what their future could be. “Don’t say no
till you think about it, Jenna. When you do, you’ll see
that I’m right. This is perfect. For all of us.”
“No, Nick,” she said, soothing Jacob even as she
smiled sadly up at him. “It’s not perfect. I know you
love your sons, I do. And I’m glad of that. They’ll need
you as much as you need them. But you don’t love

“No.” She laughed shortly, looked around the back-
yard, at the sea, and then finally she turned her gaze on
Nick again. “It doesn’t matter if we get along, or if the

sex and chemistry between us is great. I can’t marry a
man who doesn’t love me.”
Damn it. She was shutting him down, and he couldn’t
even find it in himself to blame her. Panic warred with
desperation inside him and it was a feeling Nick wasn’t
used to. He was
the guy scrambling to make things
work. People cowtowed to
It didn’t go the other
Yet here he stood, in front of this one woman, and
knew deep down inside him that the only shot he’d have
with her was if he played his last card.
“Oh, for—” Nick reached out with his free arm, snaked
it around her shoulders and dragged her in close to him.
So close that their bodies and the bodies of their sons all
seemed to be melded together into a unit. “Fine. We’ll do
it the hard way, then. Damn it Jenna, I
love you.”
“What?” Her eyes held a world of confusion and
pain and something that looked an awful lot like hope.
She hadn’t even looked that surprised when he’d
shown up at her house a few days ago. That gave him
hope. If he could keep her off balance, he could still win
this. And suddenly Nick knew that he’d never wanted
to win more; that nothing in his life had been this im-
portant. This huge. He had to say the right things now.
Force her to listen. To really hear him. And to take a
Staring down into her eyes, he took a breath, and then
took the plunge. The leap that he’d never thought to
make. “Of course I love you. What am I, an idiot?” He
stopped, paused, and said, “Don’t answer that.”

“Nick, you don’t have to—”
“Yeah, I do,” he said quickly, feeling his moment
sliding by. He hadn’t wanted to have to admit to how
he felt. He’d thought for sure that she’d go for the
marriage-for-the-sake-of-the-boys thing and then he
could have had all he wanted without mortgaging his
soul. But maybe this was how it was supposed to work.
Maybe you couldn’t
love until you were willing to
“Look, I’m not proud of this, but I’ve been trying to
hide from what I feel for you since that first night we
met more than a year ago.” His gaze moved over her
face and his voice dropped to a low rush of words that
he hoped to hell convinced her that what he was saying
was true. “I took one look at you and fell. Never meant
to. Didn’t want to. But I didn’t have a choice. You were
there, in the moonlight and it was as if I’d been waiting
for you my whole damn life.”
“But you—”
“Yeah,” he said, knowing what she was going to say.
“I pulled away. I let you go. Hell, I told myself I
you to go. But that was a lie.” Laughing harshly, he said,
“All this time, I’ve been calling you a liar, when the truth
is, I’m the liar here. I lied to you. I lied to myself.
Because I didn’t want to let myself be vulnerable to
“Nick—” She swallowed hard and a single tear
rolled down her cheek. He caught it with the pad of his
“It would have been much easier on me,” he ad-

mitted, “if you’d accepted that half-assed, marriage-of-
convenience proposal. Then I wouldn’t have had to ac-
knowledge what I feel for you. Wouldn’t have to take
the chance that you’ll throw this back in my face.”
“I wouldn’t do that—”
“Wouldn’t blame you if you did,” he told her. “But
since you didn’t go along with my original plan, then I
have to tell you everything. I love you, Jenna. Madly.
Completely. Desperately.”
Fresh tears welled, making her eyes shine, and ev-
erything in him began to melt. What power she had
over him. Over his heart. And yet he didn’t care any-
more about protecting himself.
All that mattered was her.
“You walk into a room and everything else fades
away,” he said softly. “You gave me my sons. You gave
me a glimpse into a world that I want to be a part of.”
Another tear joined the first and then another and
another. In her arms, Jacob hiccupped, screwed up his
little face and started to cry in earnest. Quickly, Nick
took the boy from her and cradled him in his free arm.
Looking down at his boys, then to her, he said, “Just so
you know, I’m not prepared to lose, here. Nick Falco
doesn’t quit when he wants something as badly as I
want you. I won’t let you go. Not any of you.”
He glanced behind him at the sprawling house, then
shifted his gaze back to her again as he outlined his
master plan. “We’ll live here. You can do your gift
baskets in the house instead of the garage. There’s a
great room upstairs that looks over the ocean. Lots of

space. Lots of direct light. It’d be perfect for you and
all of your supplies.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Nick kept going
before she could.
“I figure until the boys are in school, we can live half
the year here, half on board ship. It’ll be good for ’em.
And if they like the dog I bought them, we’ll take her
along on the ship, too.”
“You bought a d—”
“Golden retriever puppy,” Nick said. “She’s little
now, but she’ll grow.”
“I can’t believe—”
The words kept coming, tumbling one after the other
from his mouth as he fought to convince her, battled to
show her how their lives could be if she’d only take a
chance on him.
“Once they’re in school, we can cruise during the
summers. I can run the line from here and I have Teresa.
I’ll promote her,” he said fiercely. “She can do the on-
board stuff and stay in touch via fax.”
“But Nick—”
“And I want more kids,” he said, and had the pleasure
of seeing her mouth snap shut. “I want to be there from
the beginning. I want to see our child growing within
you. I want to be in the delivery room to watch him—
or her—take that first breath. I want in on all of it,
Jenna. I want to be with you. With them,” he said,
glancing at the twins he held cradled against him.
The boys were starting to squirm and he knew how
they felt. Nick’s world was balanced on a razor’s edge,

and he figured that he had only one more thing to say.
“I’m not going to let you say no, Jenna. We belong
together, you and me. I know you love me. And damn
it, I love you, too. If you don’t believe me, I’ll find a
way to convince you. But you’re not getting away from
me. Not again. I won’t be without you, Jenna. I can’t
do it. I won’t go back to that empty life.”
The only sound then was the snuffling noises the
twins were making and the roar of the sea rushing into
the cliffs behind them. Nick waited what felt like a
lifetime as he watched her eyes.
Then finally she smiled, moved in close to him and
wrapped both arms around him and their sons. “You
really are an idiot if you think I’d ever let you get away
from me again.”
Nick laughed, loud and long, and felt a thousand
pounds of dread and worry slide from his shoulders.
“You’ll marry me.”
“I will.”
“And have more babies.”
“Yes.” She smiled up at him, and her eyes shone
with a happiness so rich, so full, it stole Nick’s breath.
“A dozen if you want.”
“And sail the world with me,” he said, dipping his
head to claim a kiss.
“Always,” she said, still smiling, still shining with
an inner light that warmed Nick through. “I love you,
Nick. I always have. We’ll be happy here, in this won-
derful house.”

“We will,” he assured her, stealing another kiss.
“But you’re going to be housetraining that puppy,”
she teased.
“For you, my love,” Nick whispered, feeling his
heart become whole for the first time in his life,
* * * * *

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Gold Mine-part 2

“All levels clear, Mr Ironsides. She’s ready to burn.”
“Cheesa!” said Rod, the traditional command that had come down from the days when each fuse had been individually lit by a hand-held igniter stick.
“Cheesa‘ was the Bantu word for ’burn‘.
The mine captain crossed to the control board and opened the cage that guarded a large red button.
“Cheesa!” echoed the mine captain and hit the button with the heel of his hand.
Immediately the row of green lights on the control board were extinguished, and in their place showed a row of red lights. Every circuit had been broken by the explosions.
The ground under their feet began to tremble. Throughout the workings the shots were firing. In the stopes the head charges fired at the top of the inclines, then in succession the other shots went off behind them. Each charge taking a ten-ton bite of rock and reef out of the face.
At the end of the development drives, a more complicated pattern was shooting. First a row of cutters went off down the middle of the oval face. Then the shoulder charges at the top corners, followed by the knee charges at the bottom corners. A moment’s respite with the dust and nitrous fumes swirling back down the drive, then a roar as the easers on each side shaped the hole. Another respite and then the lifters along the bottom picked up the heap of broken rock and threw it back from the face.
Rod could imagine it clearly. Though no human eye had ever witnessed the blast, he knew exactly what was taking place down there.
The last tremor died away.
“That’s it. A full blast,” said the mine captain.
“Thank you.” Rod felt tired suddenly. He wanted that drink, even though their brief exchange that morning had warned him that Dan would probably be insufferable. He could guess the conversation would revolve around Dan’s new-found love.
Then he smiled as he thought about what waited for him in Johannesburg later that night, and suddenly he wasn’t all that tired.
They sat facing each other.
“Only three things worry me,” Terry told Rod.
“What are they?” Rod rubbed soap into the face flannel.
“Firstly, your legs are too long for this bath.”
Rod rearranged his limbs, and Terry shot half out of the water with a squeak.
“Rodney Ironsides, would you be good enough to take a bit more care where you put your toes!”
“Forgive me.” He leaned forward to kiss her. “Tell me what else worries you.”
“Well, the second thing that worries me is that I’m not worried.”
“What part of Ireland did you say you were from?” Rod asked. “County Cork?”
“I mean, it’s terrible but I’m not even a little conscience-stricken. Once I believed that if it ever happened to me I would never be able to look another human being in the eyes, I’d be so ashamed.” She took the flannel from his hands and began soaping his chest and shoulders. “But, far from being ashamed, I’d like to stand in the middle of Eloff Street at rush hour and shout ”Rodney Ironsides is my lover“.”
“Let’s drink to that.” Rodney rinsed the soap from his hands and reached over the side of the bath to pick up the two wine glasses from the floor. He gave one to Terry and they clinked them together, the sparkling Cape Burgundy glowed ruby red.
“Rodney Ironsides is my lover!” she toasted him.
“Rodney Ironsides is your lover,” he agreed and they drank.
“Now, I give you a toast,” he said.
“What is it?” She held her glass ready, and Rod leaned forward and poured the red wine from the crystal glass between her breasts. It ran like blood down her white skin and he intoned solemnly:
“Bless this ship and all who sail in her!”
Terry gurgled with delight.
“To her Captain. May he keep a firm hand on the rudder!”
“May her bottom never hit the reef!”
“May she be torpedoed regularly!”
“Terry Steyner, you are terrible.”
“Yes, aren’t I?” And they drained their glasses.
“Now,” Rod asked, “what is your third worry?”
“Manfred will be home on Saturday.”
They stopped laughing, Rod reached down for the Burgundy bottle and refilled the glasses.
“We still have five days,” he said.
It had been a week of personal triumph for Manfred Steyner. His address to the conference had been the foundation of the entire talks, all discussion had revolved upon it. He had been called upon to speak at the closing banquet which General de Gaulle had attended in person, and afterwards the General had asked Manfred to take coffee and brandy with him in one of the ante-rooms. The General had been gracious, had asked questions and listened attentively to the answers. Twice he had called his finance minister’s attention to Manfred’s replies.
Their farewells had been cordial, with a hint of state recognition for Manfred, a decoration. In common with most Germans, Manfred had a weakness for uniforms and decorations. He imagined how a star and ribbon might look on the snowy front of his dress shirt.
There had been a wonderful press both in France and at home. Even a bad-tempered quarter column in Time Magazine, with a picture, De Gaulle stooping over the diminutive Manfred solicitously, one hand on his shoulder. The caption read:
“The huntsman and the hawk. To catch a dollar?”
Now standing in the tiny cloakroom in the tail of the South African Airways Boeing, Manfred was whistling softly as he stripped his shirt and vest, crumpled them into a ball and dropped them into the waste bin.
Naked to the waist, he wiped his upper body with a wet cloth and then rubbed 4711 Eau de Cologne into his skin. From the briefcase he took an electric razor. The whistling stopped as he contorted his face for the razor.
Through his mind ran page after page of the report that Andrew had delivered that morning to his hotel room. Manfred had total recall when it came to written material. Although the report was in the briefcase beside him, in his mind’s eye he could review it word for word, figure for figure.
It was a stupendous piece of work. How the authors had gained access to the drilling and exploration reports of the five Kitchenerville field companies he could not even guess, for the gold mining companies’ security was as tight as that of any national intelligence agency. But the figures were genuine. He had checked those purporting to be from CRC carefully. They were correct. So therefore the other four must also be genuine.
The names of the authors of the report were legend. They were the top men in the field. Their opinions were the best in Harley Street. The conclusion that they reached was completely convincing. In effect it was this:
If a haulage was driven from 66 level of the Sender Ditch
No. i shaft through the Big Dipper dyke, it would pass under the limestone water-bearing formations, and just beyond the fault it would intersect a reef of almost unbelievable value.
It had not needed the lecture that Manfred had received from his corpulent creditor to show him the possibilities. The man who gave the order to drive through the Big Dipper would receive the credit. He would certainly be elected to the Chairmanship of the Group when that office fell vacant.
There was another possibility. A person who purchased a big packet of Sonder Ditch shares immediately before the reef was intersected would be a very rich man when he came to sell those shares later. He would be so rich that he would no longer be dependent on his wife for the means to live the kind of life he wanted, and indulge his own special tastes.
Manfred blew the hairs from his razor and returned it to his brief case. Then as he took out a fresh shirt and vest, he began to sing the words to the tune:
“Heute ist der schonste Tag In meinem Leben.”
He would telephone Ironsides from Jan Smuts Airport as soon as he had passed through customs. Ironsides would come up to the house on Sunday morning and receive his orders.
As he knotted the silk of his tie Manfred knew that he stood at the threshold of a whole new world, the events of the next few months would lift him high above the level of ordinary men.
It was the chance for which he had worked and waited all these years.
Circumstances had changed completely since his last visit, Rod reflected, as he took the Maserati up the drive towards the Dutch gabled house.
He parked the car and switched off the ignition, sitting a while, reluctant to face the man who had sponsored his career and whom Rod in turn had presented with a fine pair of horns.
“Courage, Ironsides!” he muttered and climbed out of the Maserati and went up the path across the lawns.
Terry was on the veranda in a gay print dress, with her hair loose, sprawled in a canvas chair with the Sunday papers scattered about her.
“Good morning, Mr Ironsides,” she greeted him as he came up the steps. “My husband is in his study. You know the way, don’t you?”
“Thank you, Mrs Steyner.” Rod kept his voice friendly but disinterested, then as he passed her chair he growled softly, “I could eat you without salt.”
“Don’t waste it, you gorgeous beast,” Terry murmured and ran the tip of her tongue over her lips.
Fifteen minutes later, Rod sat stony-faced and internally chilled before Manfred Steyner’s desk. When at last he forced himself to speak, it felt as though the skin on his lips would tear with the effort.
“You want me to drive through the Big Dipper,” he croaked.
“More than that, Mr Ironsides. I want you to complete the drive within three months, and I want a complete security blanket on the development,” Manfred told him primly. Despite the fact that it was Sunday he was formally dressed, white shirt and dark suit. “You will commence the drive from No. i shaft 66 level and make an intersect on reef at 6,600 feet with the S.D. No. 3 borehole 250 feet beyond the calculated extremity of the serpentine intrusion of the Big Dipper.”
“No,” Rod shook his head. “You can’t go through that. No one can take the chance. God alone knows what is on the other side, we only know that it is bad ground. Stinking rotten ground.”
“How do you know that?” Manfred asked softly. “
“Everybody on the Kitchenerville field knows it.”
“Little things.” Rod found it hard to put into words. “You get a feeling, the signs are there and when you’ve been in the game long enough you have a sixth sense that warns you when—‘
“Nonsense,” Manfred interrupted brusquely. “We no longer live in the days of witchcraft.”
“Not witchcraft, experience,” Rod snapped angrily. “You’ve seen the drilling results from the other side of the fault?”
“Of course,” Manfred nodded. “S.D. No. 3 found values of thousands of penny-weights.”
“And the other holes went dry and twisted off, or had water squirting out of them like a pissing horse 1‘
Manfred flushed fiercely. “You will be good enough not to ”employ bar-room terminology in this house. “
Rod was taken off balance, and before he could answer Manfred went on.
“Would you put the considered opinions of,” Manfred named three men,“before your own vague intuitions?”
“They are the best in the business,” Rod conceded reluctantly.
“Read that,” snapped Manfred. He tossed a manila folder onto the desk top, then stood up and went to wash his hands at the concealed basin.
Rod picked up the folder, opened it and was immediately engrossed. Ten minutes later, without looking up from the report, he fumbled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Please do not smoke!” Manfred stopped him sharply.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Rod closed the folder.
During that time Manfred Steyner had sat with reptilian stillness behind his desk, with the glitter of his eyes the only signs of life.
“How the hell did you get hold of those figures and reports?” Rod asked with wonder.
“That does not concern you.” Manfred retrieved the folder from him, his first movement in forty-five minutes.
“So that’s it!” muttered Rod. “The water is in the lime stone near the surface. We go in under it i‘ He stood up from the chair abruptly and began to pace up and down in front of Manfred’s desk.
“Are you convinced?” Manfred asked, and Rod did not answer.
“I have promoted you above older and more experienced men,” said Manfred softly. “If I tear you down again, and tell the world you were not man enough for the job, then, Rodney Ironsides, you are finished. No one else would take a chance on you again, ever!”
It was true. Rod knew it.
“However, if you were to follow my instructions and we intersected this highly enriched reef, then part of the glory would rub off on you.”
That was also true. Rod stopped pacing, he stood with shoulders hunched, in an agony of indecision. Could he trust that report beyond his own deep intuition? When he thought about that ground beyond the dyke, his skin tickled with gooseflesh. He almost had the stink of it in his nostrils. Yet he could be wrong, and the weight of the opposition was heavy. The eminent names on the report, the threats which he knew Manfred would not hesitate to put into effect.
“Will you give me a written instruction?” Rod demanded harshly.
“What effect would that have?” Manfred asked mildly. “As General Manager, the decision to work certain ground or not to work it is technically yours. In the very unlikely event that you encountered trouble beyond the fault, it would be no defence to produce a written instruction from me. Just as if you murdered my wife you could not defend yourself by producing a written instruction from me to do so.”
This again was true. Rod knew he was trapped. He could refuse, and wreck his career. Or he could comply and take the consequences whatever they may be.
“No,” said Manfred, “I will not give you a written instruction.”
“You bastard,” Rod said softly.
Manfred answered as gently. “I warned you that you would not be able to refuse to obey me.”
And the last twinge of remorse that Rod felt for his association with Terry Steyner faded and was gone.
“You’ve given me three months to hit the Big Dipper. All right, Steyner. You’ve got it!”
Rod turned on his heel and walked out of the room.
Terry was waiting for him among the protea plants on the bottom lawn. She saw his face and dropped all pretence. She went to meet him.
“Rod, what is it?” Her hand on his arm, looking up into his eyes.
“Careful!” he warned her, and she dropped her hand and stood back.
“What is it?”
“That bloody Gestapo bastard,” Rod snarled, and then, “I’m sorry, Terry, he’s your husband.”
“What has he done?”
“I can’t tell you here. When can I see you?”
“I’ll find an excuse to get away later today. Wait for me at your apartment.”
Later she sat on the couch below the Paravane painting and listened while he told her about it. All of it, the report, the threat and the order to pierce the Big Dipper.
She listened but expressed neither approval nor disapproval of his decision.
Manfred turned away from the window and went back to his desk. Even at that distance there had been no doubt about his wife’s gesture. The hand outstretched, the face turned up, the lips parted in anxious inquiry, and then the guilty start and withdrawal.
He sat down at his desk, and laid his hands neatly in front of him. For the first time he was thinking of Rodney Ironsides as a man and not a tool.
He thought how big he was, tall and as wide across the shoulders as a gallow. Any reprisal on Ironsides could not be physical, and it could not be immediate. It must be after the drive to the Big Dipper.
I can wait, he thought coldly, there is time for everything in this life.
Johnny and Davy Delange sat in the two chairs before Rod’s desk. They were both awkward and uncomfortable up here in the big office with picture windows looking out over the Kitchenerville valley.
I don’t blame them, Rod thought, even I am not accustomed to it yet. Wall-to-wall carpeting, air-conditioning, original paintings on the wood-paneled walls.
“I have sent for you because you two are the best rock breakers on the Sonder Ditch,” Rod began.
“Tin ribs wants something,” thought Davy, with all the suspicion of the union man for management.
“We will now have a few words from our sponsor,” Johnny grinned to himself. “Before we start the programme.”
Rod looked at their faces and knew exactly what they were thinking. He had been on daily pay himself once. Cut out the compliments, Ironsides – he advised himself – these are two tough cookies and they are not impressed.
“I am pulling you out of the stopes and putting you onto a special development end. You will take it in turns to work day and night shift. You will be directly responsible to me and there will be a security blanket on your activity.”
They watched him without reaction, their expressions guarded. Johnny broke the short silence.
“One end, one blast a day?” He was thinking of his pay. Calculated on the amount of rock broken, he would earn little more than basic salary with a blast on one small face daily.
“No.” Rod shook his head., “Ultra-fast, multi-blast, and shaft sinkers’ rates.”
And both the Delange brothers sat forward in their chairs.
“Multi-blast?” Davy asked. That meant that they could shoot just as soon as they were ready. A good team could blast three – maybe four times a shift.
“Ultra-fast?” Johnny demanded. That was language Johnny understood. It was a term employed only in emergency, as when driving in to rescue trapped men after a fall. It was tacit approval from management to waive standard safety procedure in favour of speed. Christ, Johnny exulted, I can shoot her four – maybe five times a shift.
“Shaft sinkers’ rates?” they asked together. That was a 20 per cent bonus on stopers’ rates. It was a fortune they were being offered.
Rod nodded affirmative to their questions, and waited for the reaction which he knew would follow. It came immediately.
The Delange brothers now began to look for the catch. They sat stolidly turning the deal over in their minds, like two cautious housewives examining a tomato for blemishes because the price was too cheap.
“How long is this drive?” Johnny asked. If the drive was short, a few hundred feet, then it was worth nothing. They would hardly get into their stride before it was completed.
“Close on six thousand feet,” Rod assured him. They looked relieved,
“Where is it headed?” Davy discovered the rub.
“We are going to drive through the Big Dipper to intersect on reef at 6,000 feet.”
“Jesus!” said Johnny. “The Big Dipper!” He was awed but unafraid. It excited him, the danger, the challenge. Had he been born earlier, Johnny Delange would have made a fine spitfire pilot.
“The Big Dipper,” Davy murmured, his mind was racing. Nothing in this world or beyond would entice Davy Delange to drive through the Big Dipper. He had an almost religious fear of it.The name alone conjured up all sorts of hidden menace and unspeakable horror. Water. Gas. Friable ground faults. Mudrushes. All a miner’s nightmare.
There was no question of him doing it, yet the money was too good to pass up. He could net ten or eleven thousand Rand on those terms.
“All right, Mr Ironsides,” he said. ‘I’ll take the first night shifts. Johnny can start the day shifts. “
Davy Delange had made his decision. He would work until his drills hit the greenish-black serpentine rock of the dyke. He would then walk out of the drive and quit. He would go up to, but not beyond the dyke.
Afterwards, any of the other mines would snap him up, he had an impeccable record and he would force Johnny to follow him.
“Hey, Davy!” Johnny was delighted, he had expected Davy to turn the deal down flat.
Now he would be able to buy the Mustang for certain – perhaps an MGB GT for Hettie – and take a holiday to Durban over Christmas, and…
Rod was puzzled by Davy’s easy agreement. He studied him a moment and decided that he had ferrety eyes. He’s a sneaky little bastard, Rod decided, I’ll have to watch him.
It took one shift only to prepare for the development. Rod selected the starting point. The main haulage curved away from the shaft on 66 level. Three hundred feet along this tunnel there was a chamber that had been cut out as a loco repair station but which was now out of use. Two large batwing ventilation doors were fitted to the opening of the chamber to provide privacy and behind them the chief underground surveyor set up his instruments and marked out the head of the tunnel that would fly arrow straight a mile and more through the living rock to strike through the Big Dipper into the unknown.
The area surrounding the head chamber was roped off and sign-posted with warnings.
The mine captains were instructed to keep their men well away, and all loco traffic was rerouted through a secondary haulage.
On the doors of the chamber another notice was fixed. “FIERY MINE PROCEDURE IN FORCE NO NAKED LIGHTS BEYOND THIS POINT,”
Owing to small deposits of coal and other organic substance in the upper stratas of rock, the Sonder Ditch was classed as a fiery mine and subject to the Government legislation covering this subject. No matches, lighters or other spark-generating devices were allowed into a new development end, because the presence of methane gas was always suspected.
Colourless, odourless, tasteless, detectable only by test with a safety lamp, it was a real and terrifying danger. A nine per cent concentration in air was highly explosive,
Stringent precautions were taken against accidental triggering of methane that may have oozed out of a fissure or cavity in the rock.
From the main compressed air-pipes running down the corners of the shaft were taken leads to air tanks in the haulage, ensuring that sixty pounds per square inch of pressure was available for the rock drills. Then drills, pinch-bars, hammers, shovels, and the other tools were unloaded from the cage at 66 level and stored at the shaft head.
Lastly, explosive was placed in the red lockers at the head of the development, and on the evening of October 2yd 1968, thirty minutes after the main blast, Davy Delange and his gang disembarked from the cage and went to the disused loco shop.
Davy, with the surly little Swazi boss boy beside him, stood before the rock wall on which the surveyor had marked the outline of the tunnel. Behind him his gang had fallen unbidden to their labour, each man knowing exactly what was expected of him.
Already the machine boys and their assistants were lugging their ungainly tools forward.
“You! You! You! You!” Davy indicated to each of them the hole on which he was to begin and then stepped back.
“Shaya!” he commanded. “Hit it!” And with a fluttering bellow that buffeted the eardrums the drive began.
The drilling ceased and Davy charged the holes. The fuses hung like the tails of white mice from their holes. Each length carefully cut to ensure correct firing sequence.
“Clear the drive!” The boss boy’s whistle shrilled, the tramp of heavy boots receded until silence hung heavy in the chemically cleaned air.
“Cheesa!” Davy and the boss boy, with the igniters burning like children’s fireworks in their right hands, touched them to the hanging tails until the chamber was lit by the fierce blue light of the burning fuses. The shadows of the two men flickered gigantic and distorted upon the walls.
“All burning. Let’s go!” And the two men walked quickly back to where the gang waited along the haulage.
The detonations sucked at their ears, and thrust against their lungs, so that afterwards the silence was stunning.
Davy checked his wristwatch. By law there was a mandatory thirty minutes’ wait before anyone could go back to the face. There may be a hang-fire waiting to blow the eyes out of someones’s head. Even if there were not, there was still the cloud of poisonous nitrous fumes that would destroy the hair follicles in a man‘s nostrils and render him still more vulnerable to the fine particles of rock dust that would seek to enter his lungs.
Davy waited those thirty minutes, by which time the ventilation had sucked away the fumes and dust.
Then, alone, he went up the haulage. With him he carried his safety lamp, its tiny blue flame burning behind the screen of fine brass wire mesh. That mesh was flash proof and insulated the flame from any methane in the air.
Standing before the raw circular wound in the rock wall, Davy tested for methane gas. Watching the blue flame for the tell-tale cap. There was no sign of it, and satisfied he extinguished the lamp.
“Boss boy!” he yelled, and the Swazi came up uncoiling the hose behind him.
“Water down!”
Only when the rock face and all the loose rubble below it was glistening and dripping with water was Davy satisfied that the dust was laid sufficiently to bring up his gang.
“Bar boys!” he yelled, and they came up, carrying the twelve-foot long pinchbars, a tool like a giant crowbar.
“Bar down. Make safe!” And the bar boys attacked the bunches of loose rock that were flaking and crumbling from the hanging wall. Two of them manipulating one bar between them, with the steel point striking sparks from the rock. The dislodged fragments rained down, heavily at first and then less and less until the rock above their heads was solid and clean.
Only then did Davy scramble over the pile of rubble to reach the face and begin marking in the shot holes.
Behind him his gang were lashing the stuff into the waiting coco pans, and his machine boys were dragging the drills up to the face.
Davy’s gang made three blasts that first night. As he rode up in the cage into a pink, sweet-smelling dawn, Davy was satisfied.
“Perhaps tonight we will get in four blasts,” he thought.
In the Company change house he showered, running the water steaming hot so his skin turned dull angry red, and he worked up a fat white lather of soap suds over his head and at his armpits and crotch.
He rubbed down with a rough thick towel and dressed quickly. Crossing the parking lot to his battered old Ford Anglia he felt happy and good-tired; hungry and ready for bed.
He drove into Kitchenerville at a steady forty miles an hour, and by this time the sun was just showing over the Kraalkop ridge. The dawn was misty rose, with long shadows against the earth, and he thought that this was how it would be in the early mornings on the farm.
On the outskirts of the town Johnny’s Monaco roared past him going in the opposite direction. Johnny waved and blew the horn, shouting something that was lost in the howl of wind and motor.
“They’ll catch him yet.” Davy shook his head in disapproval. “The speed limit is forty-five along here.”
He parked the Anglia in the garage and let himself in through the kitchen door. The Bantu maid was busy over the stove.
“Three eggs,” he told her and went through to his bedroom. He shrugged off his jacket and threw it on the bed. Then he returned to the door and glanced quickly up and down the passage. It was deserted, and there was no sound besides the clatter of the maid in the kitchen.
Davy sidled into the passage. The door to Johnny’s bedroom was ajar, and Davy moved quietly down to it. His heart was pounding in his throat, his breathing was stifled by his guilt and excitement.
He peered around the edge of the door and gasped aloud. This morning it was better than usual.
Hettie was a sound sleeper. Johnny always maintained it would take a shot of Dynagel to wake her. She never wore night clothes and she never rose before ten-thirty in the morning. She lay on her stomach, hugging a pillow to her chest, her hair a joyous tangle of flaming red against the green sheets. The morning was warm and her blankets had been kicked aside.
Davy stood in the passage. A nerve in his eyelid began to twitch, and under his shirt a drop of perspiration slid from his armpit down along his flank.
On the bed Hettie mumbled unintelligibly in her sleep, drew her knees up and rolled slowly on to her back. One arm came up and flopped limply over her face, her eyes were covered by the crook of her elbow.
She sighed deeply. The twin mounds of her bosom were pulled out of shape by their own weight and the angle of her arm. The hair in her armpit and at the base of her belly was bright shiny red-gold. She was long and smooth and silky white, crowned and tipped with flame.
She moved her body languorously, voluptuously, and then settled once more into slumber.
“Breakfast ready, master,” the maid called from the kitchen. Davy started guiltily, then retreated down the passage.
He found with surprise that he was panting, as though he had run a long way.
Johnny Delange leaned against the sidewall of the haulage, his hard helmet tilted at a jaunty angle and a cigarette dangling from his lips.
Down at the face the shots began to fire. Johnny recognized each detonation, and when the last dull jar disrupted the air about them, he pushed himself away from the wall with his shoulder.
“That was the lifters,” he announced. “Come on Big King!”
Not for Johnny Delange a thirty-minute waste of time. As he and Big King set off down the haulage together they were binding scarves over their noses and mouths. Ahead of them a bluey-white fog of dust and fumes filled the tunnel, and Big King had the hose going, using a fine mist spray to absorb the fumes and particles.
They pushed on up to the face, Johnny stooping over the safety lamp. Even he had a healthy respect for methane gas.
“Bar boys!” he bellowed, not waiting for Big King to finish watering down. They came up like ghosts in the fog. Hard behind them the machine boys hovered with their drills.
Taking calculated risks Johnny had his drills roaring forty-five minutes sooner than Davy Delange would have in the same circumstances.
When he came back to the face from cutting fuses and priming his explosives, he found his lashing gang struggling with a massive slab of rock that had been blown intact from the face. Five of them were beating on it with fourteen-pound hammers in an attempt to crack it into manageable pieces. As Johnny reached them, Big King was berating them mercilessly.
“You look like a bunch of virgins grinding millet.”
The hammers clanged and struck sparks from the slab. Sweat oozed from every pore of the hammer boys’ skin, greasing their bodies, flying from their heads in sparkling droplets with each blow.
“Shaya!” Big King goaded them on. “Between you all you wouldn’t crack the shell of an egg. Hit it, man! Hit it!”
One by one the men fell back exhausted, their chests heaving, gulping air through gaping mouths, blinded by their own sweat.
“All right,” Johnny intervened. The rock was holding up the whole blast. It warranted drastic measures to break it up.
“I’ll pop her,” he said, and any government inspector or mine safety officer would have paled at those words.
“Stand far back and turn your faces away,” Big King instructed his gang. From the forehead of one of his men he took a pair of wire mesh goggles, designed to shield the eyes from flying splinters and rock fragments. He handed them to Johnny who placed them over his eyes.
From the canvas carrying bag he took out a stick of Dynagel. It looked like a candle wrapped in yellow greased paper.
“Give me your knife.” Big King opened a large clasp knife and handed it to Johnny.
Carefully Johnny cut a coin-shaped sliver of explosive from one end of the stick, a piece twice as thick as a penny. He returned the remains of the stick to the bag and handed it to Big King.
“Get back,” he said and Big King moved away.
Johnny eyed the slab of rock thoughtfully and then placed the fragment of Dynagel in the centre of it. He adjusted the goggles over his eyes, and picked up one of the fourteen-pound hammers.
“Turn your eyes away,” he warned and took deliberate aim. Then with a smooth overhead two-handed swing he brought the hammer down on the Dynagel.
The explosion was painful in the confined space of the drive, and afterwards Johnny’s ears hummed with it. A tiny drop of blood ran down his cheek from the scratch inflicted by a flying splinter. His wrists ached from the jolt of the hammer in his hands.
“Gwenyama!” grunted Big King in admiration. “The man is a lion.”
The explosion had cracked the slab into three wedge-shaped segments. Johnny pushed the goggles on to his forehead and wiped the blood from his cheek with the back of his hand.
“Get it the hell out of here,” he grinned, then he turned to Big King.
“Come.” He jerked his head towards the end of the tunnel. “Help me charge the holes.”
The two of them worked quickly, sliding the sticks of Dynagel into the shot holes and tamping them home with the charging sticks.
For anyone who was not in possession of a blasting licence, to charge up was an offence punishable by a fine of one hundred Rand or two months’ imprisonment, or both. Big King had no licence, but his assistance saved fifteen minutes on the operation.
Johnny and his gang blew the face five times that day, but as they rode up in the cage into the cool evening air he was not satisfied.
“Tomorrow we’ll shoot her six times,” he told Big King.
“Maybe seven,” said Big King.
Hettie was waiting for him in the lounge when he got home. She flew to him and threw her arms about his neck.
“Did you bring me a present?” she asked with her lips against his ear, and Johnny laughed tantalizingly. It was very seldom that he did not have a gift for her.
“You did!” she exclaimed, and began to run her hands over his pockets.
“There!” She thrust her hand into the inside pocket of his jacket, and brought out the little white jeweller’s box.
“Oh!” She opened it, and then her expression changed slightly.
“You don’t like them?” Johnny asked anxiously.
“How much did they cost?” she inquired as she examined the porcelain and lacquer earrings, representing two vividly coloured parrots.
“Well,” Johnny looked shamefaced, “you see, Hettie, it’s the end of the month, you see, and well, like I’m a bit short till pay day, you see, so I couldn’t—‘
“How much?”
“Well, you see,” he took a breath, “two Rand fifty.”
“Oh,” said Hettie, “they’re nice.” And she promptly lost interest in them. She tossed the box carelessly on to the crowded mantelpiece and set off for the kitchen.
“Hey, Hettie,” Johnny called after her. “How about we go across to Fochville? There’s a dance there tonight. We go and twist, hey?”
Hettie turned back, her expression alive again.
“Gee, yes, man!” she enthused. “Let’s do that. I’ll go and change, hey!” And she ran up the passage.
Davy came out of his bedroom, on his way to work.
“Hey, Davy.” Johnny stopped him. “You got any money on you?”
“Are you broke again?”
“Just ‘till pay day.”
“Hell, man, Johnny, you got a cheque for eleven hundred the beginning of the month. You spent it all?”
“Next month,” Johnny winked, “I’m going to get a cheque for two or three thousand. Then watch me go I Come, Davy, lend me fifty. I’m taking Hettie dancing.”
For Rod the days flicked past like telegraph poles viewed from a speeding automobile. Each day he gained confidence in his own ability. He had never doubted that he could handle the underground operation and now he found that he had a firm grasp on the surface as well. He knew that his campaign to reduce working costs was having effect, but its full harvest would only be apparent when the quarterly reports were drafted.
Yet he lay awake in the big Manager’s residence on the ridge in which he and his few sticks of furniture seemed lost and lonely, and he worried. There were always myriad nagging little problems, but there were others more serious.
This morning Lily Jordan had come through into his office.
“Mr Innes is coming up to see you at nine.”
“What’s he want?” Herbert Innes was the Manager of the Sender Ditch Reduction works.
“He wouldn’t tell me,” Lily answered. The end of the month had come and gone and Lily was still with him. Rod. presumed that he had been approved.
Herby Innes, burly and red-faced, sat down and drank the cup of tea that Lily provided, while he regaled Rod with a stroke by stroke account of his Sunday afternoon golf round. Rod interrupted him after he had hit a nine-iron short at the third, and shanked his chip.
“Okay, Herby. What’s the problem?”
“We’ve got a leak, Rod.”
“Bad enough,” Herby grunted. To him the loss of a single ounce of gold during the process of recovery and refinement was catastrophic.
“What do you reckon?”
“Between the wash and the pour we are losing a couple hundred ounces a week.”
“Yes,” Rod agreed. “That is bad enough.”
Twenty thousand Rand a month, one hundred twenty thousand a year.
“Have you any ideas?”
“It’s been going on for some time, even in Frank Lemmer’s day. We have tried everything.”
Rod was a little hazy about the workings of the reduction plant, not that he would admit that, but he was. He knew that the ore was weighed and sampled when it reached the surface, from this a fairly accurate estimate of gold content was made and compared with actual recovery. Any discrepancy had to be investigated and traced.
“What is your recovery rate for the last quarter?”
“Ninety-six point seven-three.”
“That’s pretty good,” Rod admitted. It was impossible to recover all the gold in the ore that was surfaced but Herby was getting most of it out. 96-73 per cent of it, to be precise. Which meant that very little of the missing two hundred ounces was being lost into the dumps and the slimes dam.
“I tell you what, Herby,” Rod decided. “I’ll come down to the plant this afternoon. We’ll go over it together, perhaps a fresh eye may be able to spot the trouble.”
“May do.” Herby was skeptical.“We’ve tried everything else. We are pouring this afternoon. What time shall I expect you?”
“Two o’clock.”
They started at the shaft head, where the ore cage, the copie, arrived at the surface every four minutes with its cargo of rock which it dumped into a concrete shute. Each load was classified as either ‘reef or ’waste‘.
The reef was dropped into the massive storage bins, while the waste was carried off on a conveyor to the wash house to be sluiced down before going to the dump. Tiny particles of gold sticking to the waste rock were gathered in this way.
Herby put his lips close to Rod’s ear to make himself heard above the rumbling roar of rock rolling down the chute.
“I’m not worried about this end. It’s all bulk here and very little shine.” Herby used the reduction plant slang for gold. “The closer we get to the end, the more dangerous it is.”
Rod nodded and followed Herby down the steel ladder until they reached a door below the storage bins. They went through into a long underground tunnel very similar to the ore tunnel on 100 level.
Again there was a massive conveyor belt moving steadily along the tunnel while ore from the bins above was fed onto it. Rod and Herby walked along beside the belt until it passed under a massive electro magnet. Here they paused for a while. The magnet was extracting from the ore all those pieces of metal which had found their way into the ore passes and bins.
“How much you picking up?” Rod asked.
“Last week fourteen tons,” Herby answered, and taking Rod’s arm led him through the door beside them. They were in an open yard that looked like a scrap-metal merchant’s premises. A mountain of pinch bars, jumper bits, shovels, steel wire rope, snatch blocks, chain, spanners, fourteen-pound hammers, and other twisted and unrecognizable pieces of metal filled the yard. All of it was rusted, much of it unusable. It had been separated from the ore by the magnet.
Rod’s mouth tightened. Here he was presented with indisputable evidence of the carelessness and it-belongs-to-the-company attitude of his men. This pile of scrap represented a waste that would total hundreds of thousands of Rand annually.
“We will see about that!” he muttered.
“If one of those hammers got into my jaw mills it would smash it to pieces,” Herby told him dolefully and led him back into the conveyor tunnel.
The belt angled upwards sharply and they followed the catwalk beside it. They climbed steadily for five minutes and Herby was puffing like a steam engine. Through the holes in the honeycomb steel plate under his feet. Rod could see that they were now a few hundred feet above ground level.
The conveyor reached the head of a tall tower and dumped its load of ore into the gaping mouths of the screeners. As the rock fell down the tower to ground level again it was sorted for size, and the larger pieces diverted to the jaw crushers which chewed it into fist-size bites.
“See anything?” Herby asked, barely concealing the sarcasm.
Rod grinned at him.
They climbed down the steel ladders that seemed endless. The screeners rattling and the crushers hammering, until Rod’s eardrums pleaded for mercy.
At last they reached ground level and went through into the mill room. This was a cavernous galvanized-iron shed the size of a large aircraft hangar. At least one hundred yards long and fifty feet high, it was filled with long rows of the cylindrical tube mills.
Forty of them in all, they were as thick as the boiler of a steam locomotive and about twice as long. Into one end of them was fed the ore which had been reduced in size by the jaw crushers. The tube mills revolved and the loose steel balls within them pounded the rock to powder.
If the noise before had been bad, it was hideous in the mill room. Rod and Herby made no effort to speak to each other until they had walked through into the comparative quiet of the first heavy-media separator room.
“Now,” Herby explained. “This is where we start worrying.” He indicated the rows of pale blue six-inch piping that came through the wall from the mill room.
“In there is the powdered rock mixed with water to a smooth flowing paste. About forty per cent of the gold is free.”
“No one can get into those pipes and you’ve checked for any possible leak?” Rod asked. Herby nodded,
“But,” he said, “have a look here!”
Along the far wall was a, series of cages. They were made of heavy steel mesh, the perforations would not allow a man’s finger through. The heavy steel doors were barred and locked. Outside each battery of cages stood a Bantu attendant in clean white overalls. They were all concentrating on the manipulation of the turncock that obviously regulated the flow of the powdered ore through the pipes.
Herby stopped at one of the cages.
“Shine!” he pointed. Beyond the heavy guard screen the grey paste of rock powder was flowing from a series of nozzles over an inclined black rubber sheet. The surface of the rubber sheet was deeply corrugated, and in each corrugation the free gold was collecting, held there by its own weight. The gold was thick as butter in a Dagwood sandwich, greasy yellow-looking in the folds of rubber.
Rod laid hold of the steel screen and shook it.
“No,” Herby laughed. “No one will get in that way.”
“How do you clean the gold off that sheet? Does someone have access to the separator?” Rod asked.
“The separator cleans itself automatically,” Herby answered. ”Look!“
Rod noticed for the first time that the rubber sheet was moving very slowly, it was also an endless belt running round two rollers. As the belt inverted, so fine jets of water washed the gold from the corrugations into a collection tank. “I’m the only one who has access. We change the collection tanks daily,” said “Herby.
It looked foolproof, Rod had to admit.
Rod turned and glanced down the row of four Bantu attendants. They were all intent on their duties, and Rod knew that each of them had a high security rating. They had been carefully selected and screened before being allowed into the reduction works.
“Satisfied?” Herby asked.
“Okay,” Rod nodded, and the two of them went out through the door in the far wall. Locking it behind them.
Immediately they had gone the four Bantu attendants reacted. They straightened up, the scowls of concentration smoothed out to be replaced by grins of relief. One made a remark and they all laughed, and opened the waist bands of their tunics. From inside each trouser leg they drew a length of quarter-inch copper wire and began probing them through the steel screen.
It had taken Crooked Leg, the photographer, almost a year to work out a means of milking gold from the heavily screened and guarded separators. The method which he had discovered was, like all workable plans, extremely simple.
Mercury, quicksilver, absorbs gold the way blotting paper sucks up moisture. It will suck in any speck of gold that comes in contact with it. Mercury has a further property, it can be made to spread on copper like butter on bread. This layer of mercury on copper retains its powers of absorbing gold.
Crooked Leg had devised the idea of coating lengths of copper wire with mercury. The wire could be inserted through the apertures in the steel mesh and the wire laid across the corrugated rubber sheet, where it set about mopping up every speck of gold that flowed over it. The lengths of wire could be quickly slipped down the trouser leg at the approach of an official, and they could be smuggled in and out of the reduction works the same way.
Every evening Crooked Leg retrieved the gold-thickened wire, and issued his four accomplices with newly coated lengths. Every night in the abandoned workings beyond the ridge he boiled the mercury to make it release its gold.
“Now,” Herby could speak normally in the blessed quiet of the cyanide plant,” we have skimmed off the free gold – and we are left with the sulphide gold. “He offered Rod a cigarette as they made their way between the massive steel tanks that spread over many acres.” We pump this into the tanks and add cyanide. The cyanide dissolves the gold and takes it into solution. We tap it off and run it through zinc powder. The gold is deposited on the zinc, we burn away the zinc and we are left with the gold. “
Rod lit his cigarette. He knew all this but Herby was giving him a Cooks’ tour for visiting V.I.P.s. He flicked his lighter for Herby. “There is no way anyone could swipe it when it’s in solution.”
Herby shook his head, exhaling smoke. “Apart from anything else, cyanide is a deadly poison.” He glanced at his watch. “Three-twenty, they’ll be pouring now. Shall we go across to the smelt house?”
The smelt house was the only brick building among all the galvanized iron. It stood a little isolated. Its windows were high up and heavily barred.
At the steel door Herby buzzed, and a peephole opened in the door. He and Rod were immediately recognized and the door swung open. They were in a cage of bars which could only be opened once the door was closed behind them.
“Afternoon, Mr Ironsides, Mr Innes.” The guard was apologetic. “Would you sign, please?” He was a retired policeman with a paunch and a holstered revolver on his hip.
They signed and the guard signalled to his mate on the steel catwalk high above the smelt room floor. This guard tucked his pump action shotgun under one arm, and threw the switch on the walk beside him.
The cage door opened and they went through.
Along the far wall the electric furnaces were set into the brickwork. They resembled the doors of the bread ovens in a bakery.
The concrete floor of the room was uncluttered, except for the mechanical loader that carried the gold crucible in its steel arms, and the moulds before it. The half dozen personnel of the smelt house barely looked up as Rod and Herby approached.
The pour was well advanced, the arms of the loader tilted and a thin stream of molten gold issued from the spout of the crucible, and fell into the mould. The gold hissed and smoked and crackled, and tiny red and blue sparks twinkled on its surface as it cooled.
Already forty or fifty bars were laid out on the rubber-wheeled trolley beside the mould. Each bar was a little smaller than a cigar box. It had the knobby bumpy look of roughly cast metal.
Rod stopped and touched one of the bars. It was still hot and it had the slightly greasy feeling that new gold always has.
“How much?” he asked Herby, and Herby shrugged.
“About a million Rand’s worth, perhaps a little more.”
So that’s what a million Rand looks like, Rod mused, it’s not very impressive.
“What’s the procedure now?” Rod asked.
“We weigh it, and stamp the weight and batch number into each bar.” He pointed to a massive circular safe deposit door in the near wall. “It’s stored there over-night, and tomorrow a refinery armoured car will come out from Johannesburg and pick it up.” Herby led the way out of the smelt house. “Anyway, that’s not the trouble. Our leak is sucking off the shine before it ever reaches the smelt house.”
“Let me think about it for a few days,” Rod said. “Then we’ll get together again, try and find the solution.”
He was still thinking about it now. Lying in the darkness and smoking cigarette after cigarette.
There seemed to be only one solution. They would have to plant Bantu police in the reduction works.
It was an endless game involving all the mining companies and their reduction plant personnel. An inventive mind would devise a new system of sucking off the shine. The Company would become aware of the activity by comparison of estimated and actual recover? and they would work on the leak for a week, a month, sometimes a year. Then they would break the system. There would be prosecutions, stiff gaol sentences, and the Company would circularise its neighbours, and they would all settle back and wait for the next customer to appear.
Gold has many remarkable properties, its weight, its non-corruptibility and, not least, the greed and lust it conjures up in the hearts of men.
Rod stubbed his cigarette, rolled onto his side and pulled the bed-clothes up over his shoulders. His last thought before sleep was for the major problem that, these days, was never very far from the surface of his mind.
The Delange brothers had driven almost fifteen hundred feet in two weeks. At this rate they would hit the Big Dipper seven weeks from now, then even the theft of gold would pale into insignificance.
At the time that Rod Ironsides was composing himself for sleep, Big King was taking a little wine with his business associate and tribal brother Philemon N’gabai, alias Crooked Leg.
They sat facing each other in a pair of dilapidated cane chairs with a lantern and a gallon jug of Jeripigo set between them. The bat stench of the abandoned workings did little to bring out the bouquet of the wine, which was of small concern to either man, for they were drinking not for taste but for effect.
Crooked Leg refilled the cheap glass tumbler that Big King proffered, and as the wine glug-glugged from the jar he continued his attack on the character and moral fibre of Jose Almeida, the Portuguese.
‘ For many months now I have had it in my heart to speak to you of these matters,“he told Big King, ”but I have waited until I could set a deadfall for the man. He is like a lion that preys upon our herds, we hear him roar in the night and in the dawn we see his spoor in the earth about the carcases of our animals, but we cannot meet him face to face. “
Big King enjoyed listening to the oratory of Crooked Leg and while he listened he drank the Jeripigo as though it were water, and Crooked Leg kept refilling the tumbler for him.
“In counsel with myself I spoke thus: ” Philemon N’gabai, it is not enough that thou should suspect this white man. It is necessary also that you see with your own eyes that he is eating your substance“.”
“How, Crooked Leg?” Big King’s voice was thickening, the level of the jug had fallen steadily and now showed less than half. “Tell me how we shall take this man.” Big King showed a fist the size of a bunch of bananas. “I will…”
“No, Big King.” Crooked Leg was scandalized. “You must not hurt the man. How then would we sell our gold? We must prove he is cheating us and show him we know it. Then we will proceed as ever, but he will give us full measure in the future.”
Big King thought about that for some time, then at last he sighed regretfully. “You are right, Crooked Leg. Still, I would have liked to…‘ He showed that fist again, and Crooked Leg went on hurriedly.
“Therefore, I have sent to my brother who drives a delivery van for S.A. Scale Company in Johannesburg, and he has taken from his Company a carefully measured weight of eight ounces.” Crooked Leg produced the cylindrical metal weight from his pocket and handed it to Big King who examined it with interest. “Tonight, after the Portuguese has weighed the gold you take to him, you will say, ”Now, my friend, please weigh this for me on your scale,“and you will watch to see that his scale reads the correct number. Each time in the future he will weigh this on his scale before we sell our gold.”
“Haul‘ Big King chuckled. ”You are a crafty one, Crooked Leg. “
Big King’s eyes were smoky and blood-shot. The Jeripigo was a raw rough fortified wine, and he had drunk very nearly a gallon of it. He sat opposite the Portuguese storekeeper in the back room behind the concession store, and watched while he poured the gold dust into the pan of the jeweller’s scale. It made a yellow pyramid that shone dully in the light from the single bare bulb above their heads.
“One hundred and twenty-three ounces.” Almeida looked up at Big King for confirmation, a strand of greasy black hair hung onto his forehead. His face was pale from lack of sun so that the blue stubble of beard was in heavy contrast.
“That is right,” Big King nodded. He could taste the liquor fumes in the back of his throat, and they were as strong as his distaste for the man who sat opposite him. He belched.
Almeida removed the pan from the scale and carefully poured the dust back into the screw top bottle.
“I will get the money.” He half rose from his chair.
“Wait!” said Big King, and the Portuguese looked at him In mild surprise.
Big King took the weight from the pocket of his jacket. He placed it on the desk.
“Weigh that on your scale,” he said in Portuguese.
Almeida’s eyes flicked down to the weight, and then back to Big King’s face. He sank back into his seat, and pushed the strand of hair off his forehead. He began to speak, but his voice cracked and he cleared his throat.
“Why? Is there something wrong?” Suddenly he was aware of the size of the man opposite him. He could smell the liquor on his breath.
“Weigh it!” Big King’s voice was flat, without rancour. His face was expressionless, but the smoky red glare of his eyes was murderous.
Suddenly Almeida was afraid, deadly, coldly afraid. He could guess what would happen once the error in his balance was disclosed.
‘ Very well,” he said, and his voice was forced and off key. The pistol was in the drawer beside his right knee. It was loaded, with a cartridge under the hammer. The safety-catch was on, but that would only delay him an instant. He knew it would not be necessary to fire, once he had the weapon in his hand he would have control of the situation again.
If he did have to fire, the calibre was .45 and the heavy slug would stop even a giant like this Bantu. Self defence, he was working it out feverishly. A burglar, I surprised him and he attacked. Self defence. It would work. They’d believe it.
But how to get the pistol? Try and sneak it out of the drawer, or make a grab for it?
There was a desk between them, it would take a few seconds for the Bantu to realize what he was doing, a few more for him to get around the desk. He would have plenty of time.
He snatched the handle of the drawer, and it flew open. His fingernails scrabbled against the wood work as he clawed for the big black U.S. Navy automatic, and with a surge of triumph his hand closed over the butt.
Big King came over the top of the desk like a black avalanche. The scale and the jar of gold dust was swept aside to clatter and shatter against the floor.
Still seated in his chair, with the pistol in his hand, Almeida was borne over backwards with Big King on top of him. Many years before, Big King had worked with a safari outfit in Portuguese East Africa, and he had seen the effect of gunshot wounds in the flesh of dead animals.
In the instant that he had recognized the weapon in Almeida’s hand, he had been as afraid as the Portuguese. Fear had triggered the speed of his reaction, it was responsible for the savagery of his attack as he lay over the struggling body of the Portuguese.
He had Almeida’s pistol hand held by the wrist and he was shaking it to force him to drop the firearm. With his right hand he had the Portuguese by the throat, and instinctively he was applying the full strength of his arms to both grips.
He felt something break under his right hand, cracking like the kernel of a nut, and his fingers locked deeper into the quivering flesh. The pistol flew from fingers that were suddenly without strength, and skittered across the floor to come up against the far wall with a thump.
Only then did Big King begin to regain the sanity that fear had scattered. Suddenly he realized that the Portuguese was lying quietly under him. He released his grip and scrambled to his knees. The Portuguese was dead. His neck was twisted away from his shoulders at an impossible angle. His eyes were wide and surprised, and a smear of blood issued from one nostril over his upper lip.
Big King backed away towards the door, his gaze fixed in horror on the sprawling corpse. When he reached the door, he hesitated, fighting down the urge to run. He subdued it, and went back to kneel beside the desk. First he picked up the controversial cylindrical weight and placed it in his pocket, then he began sweeping up the scattered gold dust and the shattered fragments of the screw-topped container. He placed them into separate envelopes that he found among the papers on the desk. Ten minutes later he slipped out through the back door of the concession store, into the night.
At the time Big King was hurrying back towards the mine hostel, Rod Ironsides thrashed restlessly in a bed in which the sheets were already bunched and damp with sweat. He was imprisoned in his own fantasy, locked in a nightmare from which he could not break away. The nightmare was infinite and green, quivering, unearthly, translucent. He knew it was held back only by a transparent barrier of glass. He cowered before it, and he knew it was icy cold, he could see light shining through it, and he was deadly afraid.
Suddenly there was a crack in the glass wall, a hairline crack, and through it oozed a single drop. A large, pear-shaped drop, as perfect as though it had been painted by Tretchikoff, It glittered like a gemstone.
It was the most terrifying thing that Rod had ever seen in his life. He cried out in his sleep, trying to warn them, but the crack starred further, and the drop slid down the glass, to be followed by another and another. Suddenly a jagged slab of glass exploded out of the wall, and Rod screamed as the water burst through, in a frothing jet.
With a roar the entire glass wall collapsed, and a mountain high wave of green water hissed down upon him, carrying a white plume of spray at its crest.
He awoke sitting upright in his bed, a cry of horror on his lips and his body bathed in sweat. It took minutes for him to steady the wild racing of his heart. Then he went through to the bathroom. He ran a glass of water and held it up to the light. “Water. It’s there!” he muttered. “I know it’s there!” He drank from the tumbler.
Standing naked, with his sweat drying cold on his body, the tumbler held to his lips, the idea came to him. He had never heard of anyone trying it before, but then nobody he knew would be crazy enough to drive into a death trap like the Big Dipper.
“I’ll drill and charge a matt of explosive into the hanging wall of the drive. I’ll get the Delange boys on to it right away. Then at any time I choose I can blast the whole bloody roof in and seal off the tunnel.”
Rod was surprised at the strength of the relief that flooded over him. He knew then how it had been worrying him. He went back to the bedroom and straightened out his bedclothes. However, sleep would not come easily to him. His imagination was overheated, and a series of events and ideas kept playing through his mind, until abruptly he was presented with the image of Terry Steyner.
He had not seen her for almost two weeks, not since Manfred Steyner’s return from Europe. He had spoken to her twice on the telephone, hasty, confused conversations that left him feeling dissatisfied. He was increasingly aware that he was missing her. His one attempt to find solace elsewhere had been a miserable failure. He had lost interest half way through the approach manoeuvres and had returned the young lady to the bosom of her family at the unheard of hour of eleven o’clock on a Saturday night.
Only the unremitting demands of his new job had prevented him from slipping away to Johannesburg and taking a risk.
“You know, Ironsides, you’d better start bracing up a little, don’t lose your head over this woman. Remember our vow – Never Again ‘t’
He punched the pillow into shape and settled into it.
Terry lay quietly, waiting for it. It was after one o’clock in the morning. It was one of those nights. He would come soon now. As never before she was filled with dread. A cold slimy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Yet she had been fortunate. He had not been near her since his return from Paris. Over two weeks, but it could not last. Tonight.
She heard the sound of the car coming up the drive and she felt physically ill. I can’t do it, she decided, not any more, not ever again. It wasn’t meant to be like this, I know that now. It’s not dirty and furtive and horrible, it’s like… like… it’s the way Rod makes it.
She heard him in his bedroom, suddenly she sat up in bed. She felt desperate, hunted.
The door of her room opened softly.
“Manfred?” she asked sharply.
“It’s me. Don’t worry.” He came briskly towards her bed, a dark impersonal shape and he was undoing the cord of his dressing-gown.
“Manfred,” Terry blurted, “I’m early this month, I’m sorry.”
He stopped. She saw his hands fall back to his sides, and he stood completely still.
“Oh!” he said at last, and she heard him shuffle his feet into the thick pile of the carpet. “I just came to tell you,” he hesitated, seeking an excuse for his visit, “that… that I’ll be going away for five days. Leaving on Friday. I have to go to Durban and Cape Town.”
“I’ll pack for you,”she said.
“What? Oh, yes – thank you.” He shuffled his feet again. “Well, then.” He hesitated, then stooped quickly and brushed her cheek with his lips. “Good night, Theresa.”
“Good night, Manfred.”
Five days, she lay alone in the darkness and gloated. Five whole days alone with Rod,
Detective Inspector Hannes Grobbelaar of the South African Criminal Investigation Department sat on the edge of the office chair with his hat tipped onto the back of his head and spoke into the telephone, which he held in a handkerchief-covered hand. He was a tall man with a long sad face and a mournful looking moustache that was streaked with grey.
“Gold buying,” he said into the receiver, and then in reply to the obvious question, ” There’s gold dust spilled all over the place and a jeweller’s scale, and a .45 automatic with a full magazine and the safety-catch still on, dead man’s prints on it. “He listened. ”Ja, Ja. All right, ja. Broken neck, looks like. “Inspector Grobbelaar swivelled his chair and looked down at the corpse that lay on the floor beside him. ”Bit of blood on his lip, but nothing else. “
One of the finger-print men came to the desk and Grobbelaar stood up to give him room to work, the receiver still held to his ear.
“Prints?” he asked in disgust. “There are finger prints on everything, we have isolated at least forty separate sets so far.” He listened a few seconds. “No, we will get him, all right. It must be a Bantu mine worker and we have got all the finger prints of the men from outside the Republic. It’s just a matter of checking them all out and then questioning. Ja, we’ll have him within a month, that’s for sure! I’ll be back at John Vorster Square about five o’clock, just as soon as we finish up here.” He hung up the receiver, and stood looking down at the murdered man.
“Ugly bastard,” said Sergeant Hugo beside him. “Asked for it, buying gold. It’s as bad as diamonds.” He drew attention to the large envelope he carried in his hand. “I’ve got a whole lot of glass fragments. Looks like the container the gold was in. The murderer tried to clean up, but he didn’t make a very good job. These were under the desk.”
“Only one piece big enough. It’s got a smeary print on it. Might be of use.”
“Good,” Grobbelaar nodded. “Get cracking on that, then.”
There was a feminine wail from somewhere in the interior of the building, and Hugo grimaced.
“There she starts again. Hell, I thought she’d exhausted herself. Bloody Portuguese women are the end.”
“You should hear them having a baby,” grunted Grobbelaar.
“Where did you hear one?”
“There was one in the ward next door to my old girl at the maternity home. She nearly brought the bloody roof down.”
Grobelaar’s moustache took on a more melancholy droop as he thought about the work that lay ahead. Hours, days, weeks of questioning and checking and cross-checking, with a succession of sullen and uncooperative suspects.
He sighed and jerked a thumb at the corpse. “All right, we’ve finished with him. Tell the butcher boys to come and fetch him.”
It had taken Rod almost two days to design his drop-blast matt. The angle and depth of the shot holes were carefully placed to achieve maximum disruption of the hanging wall. In addition he had decided to drill and charge the side walls of the drive with charges timed to explode after the hanging wall had collapsed. This would kick in on the rubble filling the tunnel and jam it solid.
Rod was fully aware of the power of water under pressures of 2,000 pounds per square inch and more and he had decided it was necessary to block at least three hundred feet of the tunnel. His matt blast was designed to do so, and yet he knew that this would not seal off the water completely. It would, however, reduce the flow sufficiently to allow cementation crews to get in and plug the drive solid.
The Delange brothers did not share Rod’s enthusiasm for the project.
“Hey man, that’s going to take three or four days to drill and charge,” Johnny protested when Rod showed him his carefully drawn plan.
“Like hell it will,” Rod growled at him. “I want it done properly. It will take at least a week.”
“You said ultra fast. You didn’t say nothing about drilling the hanging wall with more holes than a cheese!”
“Well, I’m saying it now,” Rod told him grimly. “And I’m also saying that you will drill, but you won’t charge the holes until I come down and make sure that you’ve gone in as deep as I want them.”
He didn’t trust either Johnny or Davy to spend time drilling in twenty feet, when he could go in six feet, charge up and nobody would know the difference. Not until it was too late.
Davy Delange spoke for the first time.
“Will you credit us bonus fathomage while we fiddle around with this?” he asked.
“Four fathoms a shift.” Rod agreed to pay them for the removal of fictitious rock.
“Eight?”said Davy.
“Hell, no!” Rod exclaimed. That was robbery.
“I don’t know,” Davy murmured, watching Rod with sly ferrety little eyes. “Maybe I should talk to Brother Duivenhage, you know, ask his advice.”
Duivenhage was No. 1 shaft shop steward for the Mine Workers’ Union. He had driven Frank Lemmer to the edge of a nervous breakdown and was now starting on Rodney Ironsides. Rod was pleading with Head Office to offer Duivenhage a fat job in management to get him out of the way. The last thing in the world that Rod wanted was Brother Duivenhage snooping around his drive on the Big Dipper.
“Six,” he said.
“Well…‘ Davy hesitated.
“Six is fair, Davy,” Johnny interrupted, and Davy glared at him. Johnny had snatched complete victory from his grasp.
“Good, that’s agreed.” Quickly Rod closed the negotiations. “You’ll start drilling the matt right away.”
Rod’s design demanded nearly twelve hundred shot holes to be filled with two and a half tons of explosive. It was a thousand feet down the drive from the main haulage on 66 level to where the matt began.
The drive now was a spacious, well lit and freshly ventilated tunnel, with the vent piping, the compressed air pipe, and the electrical cable bolted into the hanging wall, and a set of steel railway tracks laid along the floor.
All work on the face ceased while the Delange brothers set about drilling the matt. It was light work that demanded little from the men. As each hole was drilled, Davy would insert his charging rod to check the depth and then plug the entrance with a wad of paper. There was much time for drinking Thermos coffee and for thinking.
There were three subjects that endlessly occupied Davy’s mind as he sat at ease, waiting for the completion of the next shot hole. Sometimes for half an hour at a time Davy would hold the image of that fifty thousand Rand in his mind. It was his, tax paid, painstakingly accumulated over the years and lovingly deposited with the local branch of the Johannesburg Building Society. He imagined it bundled and stacked in neat green piles in the Society’s vault. Each bundle was labelled ‘ David Delange’.
Then his imagination would pass automatically on to the farm that the money would buy. He saw how it would be in the evenings when he sat on the wide stoep, with the setting sun striking the peaks of the Swart Berg across the valley, and the cattle coming in from the paddocks towards the homestead.
Always there was a woman sitting beside him on the stoep. The woman had red hair.
On the fifth morning Davy drove home in the dawn, he was not tired. The night’s labours had been easy and unexacting.
The door of Johnny and Hettie’s bedroom was closed. Davy read the newspapers with his breakfast, as always the cartoon strip adventures of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin intrigued him completely. This morning Modesty was depicted in a bikini and Davy studied her comparing her to the big healthy body of his brother’s wife. The thought of her stayed with him as he rolled into his bed, and he lay unsleeping, daydreaming an adventure in which Modesty Blaise had become Hettie, and Willie Garvin was Davy.
An hour later he was still awake. He sat up and reached for the towel which lay across the foot of his bed. He wrapped the towel around his waist as he went down the passage to the bathroom. As he reached for the handle of the bathroom door, it opened under his hand and he was face to face with Hettie Delange.
She wore a white lace dressing-gown with ostrich-feather mules on her feet. Her face was innocent of make-up and she had brushed her hair and tied it with a ribbon.
“Oh!”she gasped with surprise. “You gave me a fright,”man. “
“I’m sorry, hey.” Davy grinned at her, holding the towel with one hand. Hettie let her eyes run quickly over his naked upper body.
Davy was muscled like a prize fighter. His chest hair was crisp and curly. On both arms the tattoos drew attention to the thickness and weight of muscle.
“Gee, you are built,” Hettie murmured in admiration, and Davy sucked in his belly reflexively.
“You think so?” His grin was self-conscious now.
“Yes.” Hettie leaned forward and touched his arm. “It’s hard too!”
The movement had allowed the front of her dressing-gown to gape open. Davy’s face flushed as he looked down into the opening. He started to say something, but his voice had dried up on him. Hettie’s fingers stroked down his arm, and she was watching the direction of his eyes. Slowly she moved closer to him.
“Do you like me, Davy?” she asked, her voice throaty and low, and with an animal cry Davy attacked her.
His hands ripping at the opening of her gown, pinning her to the wall of the bathroom with his mouth frantically hunting hers. His body pressing hard and urgent, his eyes wild, his breathing ragged.
Hettie was laughing, a breathless gasping laugh.
This was what she loved. When they lost their heads, when they went mad for her.
“Davy,” she said, jerking loose his towel. “Davy.”
She kept wriggling away from his thrusting hips, knowing that it would inflame him further. His hands were tearing at her body, his eyes were maniacal.
“Yes!” she hissed into his mouth. He threw her off balance and she slid down the wall onto the floor.
“Wait,” she panted. “Not here – the bedroom.”
But it was too late.
Davy had spent the afternoon locked in his bedroom, lying on his bed in an agony of black all-pervading remorse and guilt.
“My brother,” he kept repeating. “Johnny is my brother.” Once he wept, each sob tearing something in his chest. The tears squeezed out between burning eyelids, leaving him feeling exhausted and weak.
“My own brother,” he shook his head slowly in horrified disbelief. “I cannot stay here,” he decided miserably. “I’ll have to go.”
He went to the washbasin and washed his eyes. Stooping over the basin, water still dripping from his face, he decided.
“I will have to tell him.” The burden of guilt was too heavy. “I’ll write to Johnny. I’ll write it all, and then I’ll go away.”
Frantically he searched for pen and paper, it was almost as though he could wipe away the deed by writing it down. He sat at the table by the window and wrote slowly and laboriously. When he had finished it was three o’clock. He felt better.
He sealed the four closely written pages into an envelope and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket. He dressed quickly, and crept out of the house, fearful of meeting Hettie, but she was nowhere about. Her big white Monaco was not in the garage, and with relief he turned out of the driveway and took the road out to the Sender Ditch. He wanted to reach the mine before Johnny came off shift.
Davy listened to his brother’s voice, as he kidded and laughed with the other off-duty miners in the company change house. He had locked himself in one of the lavatory closets to avoid meeting his brother, and he sat disconsolately on the toilet seat. The sound of Johnny’s voice brought his guilt flooding back in its full strength. His letter of confession was buttoned into the top pocket of his overalls, and he took it out, broke open the flap and reread the contents.
“So long, then.” Johnny’s voice sang out gaily from the change room. “See you bastards tomorrow.”
There was an answering chorus from the other miners, then the door slammed.
Davy went on sitting alone for another twenty minutes in the stench of stale bodies and urine, dirty socks and rank disinfections from the foot baths. At last he tucked the letter away in his pocket and opened the closet door.
Davy’s gang were at their waiting place at the head of the drive. They were sitting along the bench laughing and chatting. There was a holiday spirit amongst them for they knew it would be another shift of easy going.
They greeted Davy cheerfully, as he came down the haulage. Both the Delange brothers were popular with their gangs and it was unusual that Davy did not reply to the chorused greeting. He did not even smile.
The Swazi boss boy handed him the safety lamp, and Davy grunted an acknowledgement. He set off alone down the tunnel, trudging heavily, not conscious of his surroundings, his mind encased in a padding of guilt and self-pity.
A thousand feet along the drive he reached the day’s work area. Johnny’s shift had left the rock drills in place, still connected to the compressed air system, ready for use. Davy came to a halt in the centre of the work area, and without a conscious command from his brain his hands began the routine process of striking the wick of the safety lamp.
The little blue flame came alight behind the protective screen of wire mesh, and Davy held the lamp at eye level before him and walked slowly along the drive. His eyes were watching the flame without seeing it.
The air in the tunnel was cool and refrigerated, scrubbed and filtered, there was no odour nor taste to it. Davy walked on somnambulantly. He was wallowing in self-pity now. He saw himself in a semi-heroic role, one of the great lovers of history caught up in tragic circumstances. His brain was fully occupied with the picture. His eyes were unseeing. Blindly he performed the ritual that a thousand times before had begun the day’s shift.
Slowly in its wire mesh cage the blue flame of the safety lamp changed shape. Its crest flattened, and there formed above it a ghostly pale line. Davy’s eyes saw it, but his brain refused to accept the message. He walked on in a stupor of guilt and self-pity.
That line above the flame was called ‘the cap’, it signified that there was at least a five per cent concentration of methane gas in the air. The last shot hole that Johnny Delange’s gang had drilled before going off shift, had bored into a methane-filled fissure. For the previous three hours, gas had been blowing out of that hole. The ventilation system was unable to wash the air fast enough and now the gas had spread slowly down the drive. The air surrounding Davy’s body was heavy with gas, he had breathed it into his lungs. It needed just one spark to ignite it.
Davy reached the end of the drive and snapped the snuffer over the wick, extinguishing the flame in the lamp.
“All safe,” he muttered, not realizing that he had spoken. He went back to his waiting men.
“All safe,” he repeated, and with the Swazi boss boy leading them the forty men of Davy Delange’s gang trooped gaily into the mouth of the drive.
Moodily Davy followed them. As he walked he reached into his hip pocket and took out a pack of Lexington filter tips. He put one between his lips, returned the pack and began patting his pockets to locate his lighter.
Davy went from team to team of his machine boys, directing them in the line and spot to be drilled. Every time he spoke, the unlit cigarette waggled between his lips. He gesticulated with the hand that held his cigarette-lighter.
It took twenty minutes for him to set all his drills to work. And he stood and looked back along the tunnel. Each machine boy and his assistant formed a separate sculpture. Most of them were stripped to the waist. Their bodies appeared to be carved and polished in oiled ebony, as they braced themselves behind the massive rock drills.
Davy lifted his cupped hands, holding the cigarette-lighter near his face and he flicked the cog wheel.
The air in the tunnel turned to flame. In a flash explosion, the flame reached the temperature of a welding torch. It seared the skin from the faces and exposed bodies of the machine boys, it burned the hair from their scalps. It turned their ears to charred stumps. It roasted their eyeballs in their sockets. It scorched their clothing, so as they fell the cloth smouldered and burned against their flesh.
In that instant, as the skin was licked from his face and hands, Davy Delange opened his mouth in a great gasp of agony. The flame shot down his throat into his gas-drenched lungs. Within the confines of his body the gas exploded and his chest popped like a paper bag, his ribs fanning outward about the massive wound like the petals of a sunflower.
Forty-one men died at the same moment. In the silence after that whooshing, sucking detonation, they lay like scorched insects along the floor of the drive. One or two of them were moving still, an arched spine relaxing, a leg straightening, charred fingers unclenching, but within a minute all was absolutely still.
Half an hour later Doctor Dan Stander and Rodney Ironsides were the first men into the drive. The smell of burned flesh was overpowering. Both of them had to swallow down their nausea as they went forward.
Dan Stander sat at his desk and looked out over the car park in front of the mine hospital. He appeared to have aged ten years since the previous evening. Dan envied his colleagues the detachment they could bring to their work. He had never been able to perfect the trick. He had just completed forty-one examinations for issue of death certificates.
For fifteen years he had been a mine doctor, so he was accustomed to dealing with death in its more hideous forms. This, however, was the worst he had ever encountered.
Forty-one of them, all victims of severe burning and massive explosion trauma.
He felt washed out, exhausted with ugliness. He massaged his temples as he examined the tray of pathetic possessions that lay on the desk before him. This was the contents of the pockets of the man Delange. Extracting them from the scorched clothing had been a filthy business in itself. Cloth had burned into the flesh, the man had been wearing a cheap nylon shirt under his overalls. The fabric had melted in the heat and had become part of his blistered skin.
There was a bunch of keys on a brass ring, a Joseph Rogers pen-knife with a bone handle, a Ronson cigarette-lighter which had been clutched in the man’s clawed and charred right hand, a springbok skin wallet, and a loose envelope with one corner burned away.
Dan had already passed on the effects of the Bantu victims to the agent of the Bantu Recruiting Agency, who would send them on to the men’s families. Now he sighed with distaste and picked up the wallet. He opened it.
In one compartment there were half a dozen postage stamps, and five Rands in notes. The other flap bulged with paper. Dan glanced through salesmen’s cards, dry-cleaning receipts, newspaper cuttings offering farms for sale, a folded page from the. Farmers’ Weekly on the planning of a dairy herd, a J.B.S. Savings Book.
Dan opened the Savings Book and whistled when he saw the total. He fanned the remaining pages.
There was a much-fingered envelope, unsealed and tucked behind the cardboard cover of the Savings Book. Dan opened it, and pulled a face. It contained a selection of photographs of the type which one found offered for sale in the dock area of the Mozambique port of Louren9o Marques. It was for this type of material that Dan was searching.
When the man’s possessions were returned to his grieving relatives, Dan wanted to spare them this evidence of human frailty. He burned the photographs and the envelope in his ashtray and then crashed the blackened sheets to powder before spilling it into his waste-paper bin.
He went across to the window and opened it to let the smell of smoke escape. He stood at the window and searched the car park for Joy’s Alfa Romeo. She had not arrived as yet and Dan returned to his desk.
The remaining envelope caught his eye and he picked it up. There was a smear of blood upon it, and the corner was burned away. Dan removed the four sheets of paper and spread them on the desk:
“Dear Johnny, When Pa died you were still little – and I always reckoned you were more like my son, you know, than my brother.
Well, Johnny, I reckon now I’ve got to tell you something…‘
Dan read slowly, and he did not hear Joy come into the room. She stood at the door watching him. Her expression fond, a small smile on her lips, shiny blonde hair hanging straight to her shoulders. Then she moved up quietly behind his chair and kissed his ear. Dan started and turned to face her.
“Darling,” Joy said and kissed him on the mouth. “What is so interesting that you ignore my arrival?”
Dan hesitated a moment before telling her.
“There was a man killed last night in a ghastly accident. This was in his pocket.”
He handed her the letter and she read it slowly.
“He was going to send this to his brother?” she asked, and Dan nodded.
“The bitch,” Joy whispered, and Dan looked surprised,,
“The girl – it’s her fault, you know.” Joy opened her purse and took out a tissue to dab her eyes. “Damn it, now I’m messing my make-up.” She sniffed, and then went on. “It would serve her right if you gave that letter to her husband.”
“You mean I shouldn’t give it to him?” Dan asked. “We have no right to play God.”
“Haven’t we?” asked Joy, and Dan watched quietly as she tore the letter to tiny shreds, screwed them into a ball, then dropped them into the waste bin. “You are wonderful,” he said. “Will you marry me?” ‘I’ve already answered that question, Dr Stander. “And she kissed him again.
Hettie Delange was in a turmoil.
It had started with the phone call that had roused Johnny from their bed. He had said something about trouble at the shaft as he pulled on his clothes, but she had come only briefly awake and then drifted off again as Johnny hurried out into the night.
He had come in hours later and sat on the edge of the bed, his hands clasped between his knees and his head bowed.
“What’s wrong, man,” she had snapped at him. ” Come to bed. Don’t just sit there. “
“Davy’s dead.” His voice had been listless.
There was a moment’s shock that had convulsed the muscles of her belly, and brought her fully awake. Then, immediately she had felt a swift cleansing rush of relief.
He was dead. It was as easy as that! All day she had worried. She had been stupid to let it happen. Just that moment of weakness, that self-indulgent slip and she had been dreading the consequences all that day. She had imagined Davy trailing after her with puppy eyes, trying to touch her, making it so obvious that even Johnny would see it. She had enjoyed it but just the once was enough. She wanted no repeat performance and certainly no complications to follow the original deed.
Now it was all taken care of. He was dead.
“Are you sure?” she had asked anxiously, and Johnny heard the tone as concern.
“I saw him!” Johnny had shuddered, and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
“Gee, that’s terrible.” Hettie had remembered her role, and sat up to put her arms about Johnny. “That’s terrible for you.”
She had not slept again that night. Somehow the thought of Davy going directly from her to his violent death was exciting. It was like in the movies, or a book, or something. Like he was an airman and he had been shot down, and she was his girl. Perhaps she was pregnant and all alone in the world, and she would have to go to Buckingham Palace to get his medal for him. And the Queen would say…
The fantasies had played out in her mind until the dawn, with Johnny tossing and muttering beside her. She woke him when it was first light in the room. “How was he?” she asked softly. “What did he look like, Johnny?”
Johnny shuddered again, and then he started to tell her. His voice was husky, and the sentences broken and disconnected. When he stumbled into silence, Hettie found herself trembling with excitement.
“How terrible,” she kept repeating. “Oh, how awful!” And she pressed against him. After a while Johnny made love to her, and for Hettie it was better than she had ever known it to be.
All that morning there were phone calls, and four of her friends came over to drink coffee with her. A reporter and photographer from the Johannesburg Star called and asked questions. Hettie was the centre of attraction, and again and again she repeated the story with all its grisly details.
After lunch Johnny came home with a little dark-haired man in a charcoal suit and black Italian shoes, with a matching black briefcase.
“Hettie, this is Mr Boart. He was Davy’s lawyer. He’s got something to tell you.”
“Mrs Delange. May I convey to you my sincere condolences in the tragic bereavement you and your husband have suffered.”
“Yes, it’s terrible, isn’t it?” Hettie was apprehensive. Had Davy told this lawyer about them? Had this man come to make trouble?
“Your brother-in-law made a will of which I am the executor. Your brother-in-law was a wealthy man. His estate is in excess of fifty thousand Rand.” Boart paused portentously. “And you and your husband are the sole beneficiaries.”
Hettie looked dubiously from Boart to Johnny.
“I don’t – what’s that mean? Beneficiary?”
“It means that you and your husband share the estate between you.”
“I get half of fifty thousand Rand?” Hettie asked in delighted disbelief.
“That’s right.”
“Gee,” exulted Hettie. “That’s fabulous!” She could hardly wait for Johnny and the lawyer to go before she phoned her friends again. All four of them returned to drink more coffee, to thrill again and to envy Hettie the glamour and excitement of it.
“Twenty-five thousand,” they kept repeating the sum with relish.
“Hell, man, he must really have liked you a lot, Hettie,” one of the girls commented with heavy emphasis, and Hettie lowered her eyes and contrived to look bereft and mysterious.
Johnny came home after six, unsteady on his feet and reeking of liquor. Reluctantly Hettie’s four friends left to rejoin their waiting families, and almost immediately after that a big white sports car pulled up in the driveway and Hettie’s day of triumph was complete. Not one of her friends had ever had the General Manager of the Sonder Ditch Gold Mining Company call at their home.
She had the front door open the instant the doorbell rang. Her greeting had been shamelessly plagiarized from a period movie that had recently played at the local cinema.
“Mr Ironsides, how good of you to come.”
When she led Rod through into the over-furnished lounge, Johnny looked up but did not get to his feet.
“Hello, Johnny,” said Rod. “I have come to tell you that I’m sorry about Davy, and to…‘
“Don’t give me that bull dust, Tin Ribs,” said Johnny Delange.
“Johnny,” gasped Hettie, ”you can’t talk to Mr Ironsides like that. “And she turned to Rod, laying a hand on his sleeve. ”He doesn’t mean it, Mr Ironsides. He has been drinking. “
“Get out of here,” said Johnny. “Get into the bloody kitchen where you belong.”
“Johnny I‘
“Get out!” roared Johnny, rising from his chair, and Hettie fled from the room.
Johnny lurched across to the chrome and glass liquor cabinet that filled one corner. He sloshed whisky into two glasses and handed one to Rod.
“God speed to my brother,” he said.
“To Davy Delange, one of the best rock hounds on the Kitchenerville field,” said Rod, and tossed the drink back in one gulp.
“The best!” Johnny corrected him, and emptied his own glass. He gasped at the sting of the whisky, then leaned forward to speak into Rod’s face.
“You’ve come to find out if I’m game to finish your bloody drive for you, or if I’m going to quit. Davy didn’t mean nothing to you and I don’t mean nothing to you. Only one thing worrying you – you want to know about your bloody drive.” Johnny refilled his glass. “Well, hear this, friend, and hear it well. Johnny Delange don’t quit. That drive ate my brother but I’ll beat the bastard, so you got nothing to worry about. You go home and get a good night’s sleep, ”cos Johnny Delange will be on shift and breaking rock tomorrow morning first thing. “
A Silver Cloud Rolls Royce was parked amongst the trees in the misty morning. Ahead was the practice track with the white-painted railings curving away towards the willow-lined river. The mist was heavier along the river and the grass was very green against it.
The uniformed chauffeur stood away from the Rolls, leaving its two occupants in privacy. They sat on the back seat with an angora wool traveling rug spread over their knees. On the folding table in front of them was a silver Thermos of coffee, shell-thin porcelain cups, and a plate of ham sandwiches.
The fat man was eating steadily, washing each mouthful down with coffee. The little bald-headed man was not eating, instead he puffed quickly and nervously at his cigarette and looked out of the window at the horses. The grooms were walking the horses in circles, nostrils steaming in the morning chill, blankets flapping. The jockeys stood looking up at the trainer. They wore hard caps and polo-necked jerseys. All of them carried whips. The trainer was speaking urgently, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his overcoat.
“It’s a very fine service,” said the little man.” I particularly enjoyed the stop in Rio. My first visit there. “
The fat man granted. He was annoyed. They shouldn’t have sent this agent out. It was a mark of suspicion, distrust, and it would seriously hamper his market operation.
The conference between trainer and jockeys had ended. The diminutive riders scattered to their mounts, and the trainer came towards the Rolls.
“Good morning, sir.” He spoke through the open window, and the fat man grunted again.
“I’m giving him a full run,” the trainer went on. ”Emerald Isle will make pace for him to the five, Pater Noster will take over and push him to the mile, I’ve Tiger Shark to pace him for the run in. “
“Very well.”
“Perhaps you’d like to keep time, sir.” The trainer proffered a stop-watch, and the fat man seemed to recover his urbanity and charm.
“Thank you, Henry.” He smiled, “He looks good, I’ll say that.”
The trainer was pleased by the condescension.
“Oh! He’s red hot! By Saturday I’ll have him sharpened down to razor edge.” He stood back from the window. “I’ll get them off, then.” He walked away.
“You have a message for me?” asked the fat man.
“Of course.” The other wriggled his moustache like a rabbit’s whiskers. It was an annoying habit. “I didn’t fly all this way out here to watch a couple of mokes trotting around a race-track.”
“Would you like to give me the message?” The fat man hid his affront. What the agent had called a moke was some of the finest horseflesh in Africa.
“They want to know about this gas explosion.”
“Nothing.” The fat man dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. “A flash explosion. Killed a few men. No damage to the workings. Negligence on the part of the miner in charge.”
“Will it affect our plans?”
“Not one iota.”
The two horses had jumped away from the start, shoulder to shoulder, with the wreaths of mists swirling in their wake. The glossy bay horse on the rails ran with an easy floating action while the grey plunged along beside it.
“My principals are very concerned.”
“Well, they have no need to be,” snapped the fat man. “I tell you it makes no difference.”
“Was the explosion due to an error of judgement on the part of tin’s man Ironsides?”
“No.” The fat man shook his head. “It was negligence of the miner in charge. He should have detected the gas.”
“Pity.” The bald man shook his head regretfully. “We had hoped it was a flaw in the Ironsides character.”
The grey horse was tiring, while the bay ran on smoothly, drawing away from him. From the side rail a third horse came in to replace the grey, and ran shoulder to shoulder with the bay.
“Why should the character of Ironsides concern you?”
“We have heard disturbing reports. This is no pawn to be moved at will. He is taking the job of general manager by the throat. Already our sources indicate that he has reduced running costs on the Sonder Ditch by a scarcely believable two per cent. He seems to be tireless, inventive -a man, in short, to reckon with.”
“Well and good,” the fat man conceded. “But I still fail to see why your – ah, principals – are alarmed. Do they expect that this man will hold back the flood waters by the sheer force of his personality?”
The second pacemaker was faltering, but still the big bay ran on alone. A far figure in the mist, passing the mile post, joined at last by the third pacemaker.
“I know nothing about horses,” said the bald man watching the two flying forms. “But I’ve just seen that one,” he pointed with his cigarette at the far-off bay. “I’ve just seen him run the guts out of the other two. One after the other he has broken their hearts and left them staggering along behind him. We would call him an imponderable, one who cannot be judged by normal standards.” He puffed at his cigarette before going on. “There are men like that also, imponderable. It seems to us that Ironsides is one of them, and we don’t like it. We don’t like them on the opposing team. It is just possible that he could upset the entire operation, not, as you put it, by sheer force of personality, but by suddenly doing the unexpected, by behaving in a manner for which we have not allowed.” . Both men fell silent watching the galloping horses come round the last bend and hit the straight.
“Watch this.” The fat man spoke softly, and as though in response to his words -the big bay lengthened his stride, reaching out, driving strongly away from the other horse. His head was going like a hammer, twin jets of steam shot from wide flaring nostrils, and thrown turf and dirt flew from his hooves. Five lengths clear of the following horse he went slashing past the finish line and the fat man. clicked his stop watch.
He scrutinized the dial of the watch anxiously and then chuckled like a healthy baby.
“And he wasn’t really being extended!”
He rapped on the window beside him, and immediately the uniformed chauffeur opened the driving door and slid in behind the wheel.
“To my office,” instructed the fat man, “and close the partition.”
When the sound-proof glass panel had slid closed between driver and passengers, the fat man turned to his guest,
“And so, my friend, you consider Ironsides to be an imponderable. What do you want me to do about him?”
“Get rid of him.”
“Do you mean what I think you mean?” The fat man lifted an eyebrow.
“No. Nothing that drastic.” The bald head bobbed agitatedly. “You have been reading too much James Bond. Simply arrange it that Ironsides is far away and well occupied when the drive holes through the Big Dipper Dyke, otherwise there is an excellent chance that he will do something to frustrate our good intentions.”
“I think we can arrange that,” said the fat man and helped himself to another ham sandwich.
As he had promised, Manfred caught the Friday evening flight for Cape Town. On the Saturday night Rod and Terry took a wild chance on not being recognized and spent the evening at the Kyalami Ranch Hotel. They danced and dined in the Africa Room, but were on their way back to the apartment before midnight.
In the dawn a playful slap with the rolled-up Sunday papers which Rod delivered to Terry’s naked posterior as she slept triggered off a noisy brawl in which a picture was knocked off the wall by a flying pillow, a coffee table overturned and the shrieking and laughter reached such a pitch that it called down a storm of indignant thumping from the apartment above them.
Terry made a defiant gesture at the ceiling, but they both subsided gasping with laughter back onto the bed to indulge in activity every bit as strenuous if not nearly so noisy.
Later, much later, they collected Melanie and once again spent the Sunday at the stud farm on the Vaal. Melanie actually rode a horse, a traumatic experience which bade fair to alter her whole existence. After lunch they launched the speedboat from the boat house on the bank of the river and water-skied down as far as the barrage, Terry and Rod taking turns at the wheel and on the skis. It occurred to Rod that Terry Steyner looked good in a white bikini. It was dark before Rod delivered his sleeping daughter to her mother.
“Who is this Terry that Melanie talks about all the time?” demanded Patti, she was still sulking about Rod’s promotion. Patti had a memory like a tax collector.
“Terry?” Rod feigned surprise. “I thought you knew.” And he left Patti glaring after him as he went back down the stairs.
Terry was curled up in the leather bucket seat of the Maserati, just the tip of her nose protruding from the voluminous fur coat she wore. “‘ I love your daughter, Mr Ironsides,” she murmured.
“It would appear that the feeling is reciprocated.”
Rod drove slowly towards the hillbrow ridge, and Terry’s hand came out of the wide fur sleeve and lay on his knee.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a daughter of our own one day?”
“Wouldn’t it,” Rod agreed dutifully, and then found to his intense amazement that he really meant it.
He was still investigating this remarkable phenomenon as he parked the Maserati in the basement garage of his apartment and went round to open Terry’s door.
Manfred Steyner watched Terry climb out of the Maserati and lift her face towards Rodney Ironsides. Ironsides stooped over her and kissed her, then he slammed and locked the door of the Maserati, and arm in arm the two of them crossed to the elevator.
“Peterson Investigations always delivers the goods,” said the man at the wheel of the black Ford parked in the shadows of the garage. “We will give them half an hour to get settled in comfortably, then we will go up and knock on the door of his apartment.”
Manfred Steyner sat very still and unblinking on the seat beside the private detective. He had arrived back in Johannesburg three hours previously in answer to the summons from the investigation bureau.
“You will leave me here. Drive the Ford out and park at the corner of Clarendon Circle. Wait for me there,” said Manfred.
“Hey? Aren’t you going to…?” The detective was taken aback.
“Do as I tell you.” Manfred’s voice stung like thrown vitriol, but the detective persisted.
“You will need evidence for the court, you need me as a witness.”
“Get out,” Manfred snapped, and opening the door of the Ford he climbed out and closed the door behind him. The detective hesitated a moment longer, then started the engine and drove out of the garage leaving Manfred alone.
Manfred moved slowly towards the big shiny sports car. From his pocket he took a gold-plated pen-knife and opened the large blade.
He had recognized that the car was of special significance to the man. It was the only form of retaliation he could make at the moment. Until Rodney Ironsides completed the drive on the Big Dipper Dyke, he could not confront him nor Theresa Steyner. He could not let them know he even suspected them.
Such human emotions as love and hate and jealousy Manfred Steyner seldom experienced, except in their mildest manifestations. Theresa Hirschfeid he had never loved, as he had never loved any woman. He had married her for her wealth and station in life. The emotion that gripped him was neither hatred nor jealousy. It was affront. He was affronted that these two insignificant persons should conspire to cheat him.
He would not rush in blindly now with threats of physical violence and divorce. No, he would administer an anonymous punishment that would hurt the man deeply. This would be part payment. Later, when he had served his purpose, Manfred would crush him as coldly as though he were stepping on an ant.
As for the woman, he was aware of a mild relief. Her irresponsible behaviour had placed her completely at his mercy, both legally and morally. As soon as the strike beyond the Big Dipper had made him financially secure and independent, he could throw her aside She would have served her purpose admirably.
The journey which he had interrupted by this hurried return to Johannesburg was connected with the purchase of Sender Ditch shares. He was touring the major centres arranging with various firms of stock brokers that on a given date they would commence to purchase every available scrap of Sender Ditch script.
As soon as he had completed this business he would tell the private detective to drive him out to Jan Smuts Airport where he had a reservation on the night plane to Durban where he would continue his preparations.
It had all worked out very well, he thought, as he slipped the knife blade through the rubber buffer of the triangular side window of the Maserati. With a quick twist he lifted the window catch, and pushed the window open. He reached through and turned the door handle. The door clicked open and Manfred climbed into the driver’s seat.
The blade of the pen-knife was razor sharp. He started on the passenger seat and then the driver’s seat, ripping the leather upholstery to shreds before moving to the back seat and repeating the process there. He slid the panel that concealed the tray of tools each in their separate foam rubber padded compartment, and selected a tyre lever.
With this he smashed all the dials on the dashboard, broken glass tinkling and falling to the carpeted floor. With the point of the tyre lever he dug into the rosewood paneling and tore out a section, splintering and cracking the woodwork into complete ruin.
He climbed out of the Maserati and struck the windshield with the tyre lever. The glass starred. He rained blows on it, unable to shatter it but reducing it to a sagging opaque sheet.
Then he dropped the tyre lever and groped for his penknife again. On his knees he slashed at the front offside tyre. The rubber was tougher than he had allowed. Annoyed, he slashed again. The knife turned in his hand, the blade folding against the blow. It sliced the ball of his thumb, a deep stinging cut. Manfred came to his feet with a cry, clutching his injured thumb. Blood spurted from the wound.
“Mein Gott! Mein Gott!” Manfred gasped, horrified by his own blood. As he staggered wildly from the basement garage, he was wrapping a handkerchief around his thumb.
He reached the waiting Ford, hauled the door open and fell into the front seat beside the detective.
“A Doctor! For God’s sake, get me to a Doctor. I’m badly hurt. Quickly 1 Drive quickly!”
Terry’s husband is due back in town today, Rod thought, as he sat down at his desk. It was not a thought that gave him strength to work through a day he knew would be filled with hectic activity.
The quarterly reports were due at Head Office tomorrow morning. In consequence the entire administration was in its usual last-minute panic. Already there was a mob in the waiting-room outside his office that Lily Jordan would soon need a stock whip to control. At three o’clock he was due at a consultants’ meeting at Head Office, but before that he wanted to go underground to check the drop-blast matt that Johnny Delange had now completed and charged up.
The phone went as Lily led in his first visitor, a tall, thin, sorrowful-looking man with a droopy moustache.
“Mr Ironsides?” said the voice on the phone.
“Porters Motors here. I’ve got an estimate on the repairs to your Maserati.”
“How much?” Rod crossed his fingers.
“Twelve hundred Rand.”
“Wow!” Rod gasped.
“Do you want us to go ahead?”
“No, I’ll have to contact my insurance company first. I’ll call you.” He hung up. That act of unaccountable vandalism still irked him terribly. He realized that he would be reduced to the Company Volkswagen for a further indefinite period.
He turned his attention to his visitor.
“Detective Inspector Grobbelaar,” the tall man introduced himself. ” I am investigating officer in the murder of Jose Almeida, the concession store proprietor on this mine. “
They shook hands.
“Have you any ideas on who did it?” Rod asked.
“We have always got ideas,” said the Inspector, so sadly that for a moment Rod had the impression that his name was on the list of suspects. “We believe that the murderer is employed by one of the mines in the district, probably the Sonder Ditch. I have called on you to ask for your cooperation in the investigation.” ‘Of course. “
“I will be conducting a great number of interrogations amongst your Bantu employees. I hoped you might find a room for me to use on the premises.”
Rod lifted his phone and while he dialled he told Grobbelaar,“I’m calling our Compound Manager.” Then he transferred his attention to the mouthpiece. “Ironsides here. I am sending an Inspector Grobbelaar down to see you. Please see that an office is placed at his disposal and that he receives full co-operation.”
Grobbelaar stood up and extended his hand.
“I won’t take up more of your time. Thank you, Mr Ironsides. “
His next visitor was Van der Bergh, his Personnel Officer, brandishing his departmental reports as though they were a winning lottery ticket.
“All finished,” he announced triumphantly. “All we need is your signature.”
As Rod uncapped his pen, the telephone squealed again.
“My God,” he muttered with pen in one hand and telephone in the other. “Is it worth it?”
It was well after one o’clock when Rod fled his office, leaving Lily Jordan to hold back the tide. He went directly to No. i shaft where he was welcomed like the prodigal son by Dimitri and his old Line Managers. They were all anxious to know who would be replacing him as Underground Manager. Rod promised to find out that afternoon when he visited Head Office, and changed into his overalls and helmet.
At the spot where Davy Delange had died, Rod found a gang fixing a screen of wire mesh over the hanging wall to protect the fuses of his drop-blast. The electric cable that carried the blasting circuit to the surface was covered with a distinctive green plastic coating and securely pegged to the roof of the drive.
In the concrete blast room at the shaft head, his electrician had already set up a separate control for this circuit. It would be in readiness at all times. He could fire it within minutes. Rod felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders as he passed through the swinging ventilation doors and tramped on up the drive to speak to Johnny Delange.
Half-way to the face he met the gigantic figure of Big King coming back towards him with a small gang of lashing boys under his command. Rod greeted him, and Big King,stopped and let his gang go on out of earshot before he spoke.
“I wish to speak.”
“Speak then.” Rod noticed suddenly that Big King’s face was gaunt, his eyes appeared sunken and his skin had the dusty greyish look of sickness so evident in an ailing Bantu.
“I wish to return to my wives in Portuguese Mozambique,” said Big King.
“Why?” Rod was dismayed at the prospect of losing such a valuable boss boy.
“My blood is thin.” This was as non-committal an answer as any man has ever received. In essence it meant,“My reasons are my own, and I have no intention of disclosing them.”
“When your blood is thick again, will you return to work here?” Rod asked.
“That is with the gods.” An answer signifying no more than the one preceding it.
“I cannot stop you if you wish to go, Big King, you know that,” Rod told him. “Report to the Compound Manager and he will mark your notice.”
“I have told the Compound Manager. He wants me to work out my ticket, thirty-three more days.”
“Of course,” Rod nodded. “You know that it is a contract. You must work it out.”
“I wish to leave at once,” Big King replied stubbornly.
“Then you must give me your reason. I cannot let you break contract except if there is some good reason.” Rod knew better than to set a dangerous precedent like that.
“There is no reason.” Big King admitted defeat. “I will work out the ticket.”
He left Rod and followed his gang down the drive. Since the night he killed the Portuguese, Big King had slept little and eaten less. Worry had kept his stomach in a turmoil of dysentery, he had neither danced nor sung. Nothing that Crooked Leg nor the Shangaan Induna could say comforted him. He waited for the police to come. As the days passed, so the flesh melted from his body, he knew that they would come before the thirty-three days of his contract expired.
His approach to Rod had been a last despairing effort. Now he was resigned. He knew that the police were inexorable. One day soon they would come. They would lock the silver chains on his wrists and lead him to the closed van. He had seen many men led away like that and he had heard what happened to them after that. The white man’s law was the same as the tribal law of the Shangaans. The taking of life roust be paid for with life.
They would break his neck with the rope. His ancestors would have crushed his skull with a war club, it was the same in the end.
Rod found Johnny Delange drinking cold tea from his canteen while his gang barred down the face.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Now we have finished messing about, it has started moving again.” Johnny wiped cold tea from his lips and recorked the canteen. “We have broken almost fifteen hundred feet since Davy died.”
“That’s good going.” Rod ignored the reference to the methane explosion and the drop-blast matt.
“Would have been better if Davy were still alive.” Johnny disliked Campbell, the miner who had replaced Davy on the night shift. “The night shift aren’t breaking their fair ground.”
“I’ll chase them up,” Rod promised.
“You do that.” Johnny turned away to shout an order at his gang.
Rod stood and stared at the end of the drive. Less than a thousand feet ahead lay the dark hard rock of the Big Dipper – and beyond it… ? Rod felt his skin creep as he remembered his nightmare. That cold green translucent thing waiting for them beyond the dyke.
“All right, Johnny, you are getting close now.” Rod tore his imagination away from that green horror. “As soon as you hit the Serpentine rock you are to stop work immediately and report to me. Is that understood?”
“You’d better tell that to Campbell also,” said Johnny. “The night shift may hit the Big Dipper.”
“I’ll tell him,” Rod agreed. “But you make sure you remember. I want to be down here when we hole through the dyke.”
Rod glanced at his watch. It was almost two o’clock. He had an hour to get to the consultants’ meeting at Head Office.
“You are late, Mr Ironsides.” Dr Manfred Steyner looked up from the head of the board-room table.
“My apologies, gentlemen.” Rod took his seat at the long oak table. “Just one of those days.”
The men about the table murmured sympathetic acknowledgement, and Dr Steyner studied him for a moment without expression before remarking.
“I would be obliged for a few minutes of your time after this meeting, Mr Ironsides.” ‘ Of course, Dr Steyner. “
“Good.” Manfred nodded. “Now that Mr Ironsides has graced the table with his presence, the meeting can come to order.” It was the closest any of them had ever heard Dr Steyner come to making a joke.
It was dark outside when the meeting ended. The participants shrugged on their coats, made their farewells and left Manfred and Rod sitting at the table with its overflowing ash trays and littered pencils and note pads.
Manfred Steyner waited for fully three minutes after the door had closed on the last person to leave. Rod was accustomed to these long intent silences, yet he was uneasy.
He sensed a new hostility in the man’s attitude. He covered his awkwardness by lighting another cigarette and blowing a series of smoke rings at the portrait of Norman Hradsky, the original chairman of the company. Flanking Hradsky’s portrait were two others. One of a slim blond man, with ravaged good looks and laughing blue eyes. The caption read; ‘Dufford Charleywood. Director of CRC from 1867-1872. “The other portrait in its heavy gilt frame depicted an impressively built man with mutton-chop whiskers and black Irish features. ”Sean Courtney’ said the caption, and the dates were the same as Charleywood’s.
These three had founded the Company, and Rod knew a little of their story. They had been as pretty a bunch of rogues as would be found in any convict settlement. Hradsky had ruined the other two in an ingenious bear raid on the stock exchange, and had virtually stolen their shares in the Company.
We have become a lot more sophisticated since then, thought Rod. He looked instinctively towards the head of the long table and met Dr Steyner’s level, unblinking stare. Or have we? he wondered. Just what devilment has our friend in mind?
Manfred Steyner was examining Rod with detached curiosity. So remote from any emotional rancour was Manfred, that he intended using the relationship that had developed between this man and his wife to further the instructions he had received that morning.
How far is the end of the drive from the dyke?“he asked suddenly.
“Less than a thousand feet.”
“How much longer before you reach it?”
“Ten days. No more, possibly less.”
“As soon as the dyke is reached, all work on it must cease immediately. The timing of this is important, do you understand?”
“I have already instructed my miners not to hole through without my specific orders.”
“Good.” Manfred lapsed into silence for another full minute. Andrew had called him that morning with instructions from the man. Ironsides was to be well away from the Sonder Ditch when they pierced the dyke. It was left to Manfred to engineer his absence.
“I must inform you, Mr Ironsides, that it will be at least three weeks before I give the order to drill through. When you reach the dyke, it will be necessary for me to proceed to Europe to make certain arrangements there. I will be away for at least ten days during which time no work of any type must be allowed in the drive to the Big Dipper.”
“You will be away over Christmas?” Rod asked with surprise.
“Yes,” Manfred nodded, and could read Rod’s mind.
Terry will be alone, Rod thought quickly, she will be alone over Christmas. The Sonder Ditch goes onto essential services only for a full seven days over Christmas. Just a skeleton crew to keep her going. I could get away for a week, a whole week away together.
Manfred waited until he knew that Rod had reached the decision to which he had been steered, then he asked: ‘ You understand? You will await my order to hole through. You need not expect that order until the middle of January. “
“I understand.”
“You may go.”Manfred dismissed him.
“Thanks,” Rod acknowledged drily.
There was a coffee bar in the ground-floor shopping centre of Reef Building. Rod beat a bearded hippie to the telephone booth, and dialled the Sandown number. It was safe enough, he had just left Manfred upstairs.
“Theresa Steyner,” she answered his call.
“We’ve got a week to ourselves,” he told her. “One whole glorious week.”
“When?” she demanded joyously.
And he told her.
“Where shall we go?” she asked.
“We’ll think of somewhere.”
At 11:26 a.m. on December 16th, Johnny Delange blasted the face of the drive, and went forward in the fumes and dust.
In the beam of his lantern, the new rock blown from the face was completely different from the bluish Ventersdorp quartzite. It was a glassy, blackish green, veined with tiny white lines, more like marble than country rock.
“We are on the dyke.” He spoke to Big King, and stooped to pick up a lump of the Serpentine rock. He weighed it in his hand.
“We’ve done it, we’ve beaten the bastard!”
Big King stood silently beside him. He did not share Johnny’s elation. “Right!” Johnny tossed the lump of rock back onto the pile. “Bar down, and make safe. Then pull them out of the drive. We are finished here until further orders.”
“Well done, Johnny,” applauded Rod. “Clean her up and pull out of the drive. I don’t know how much longer it will be till we get the order to hole through the dyke. But take a holiday in the meantime. I’ll pay you four fathoms of bonus a day while you are waiting.” He broke the connection with his finger, keeping the receiver to his ear. He dialled and spoke to the switchboard girl at Head Office. “Get me Dr Steyner, please. This is Rodney Ironsides.” He waited a few seconds and then Manfred came on the line.
“We’ve hit the Big Dipper,” Rod told him.
“I will leave for Europe on tomorrow morning’s Boeing,” said Manfred. “You are to do nothing until I return.” Manfred cradled the receiver and depressed the button on his intercom.
“Cancel all my appointments,” he told his secretary. “I am unavailable,”
“Very well, Dr Steyner.”
Manfred picked up the receiver of his unlisted, direct-line telephone. He dialled.
“Hello, Andrew. Will you tell him that I am ready to discharge my obligations. We have intersected the Big Dipper.” He listened for a few seconds, then spoke again. “Very well, I will wait for your reply.”
Andrew replaced the telephone and went out through the sliding glass doors onto the terrace. It was a lazy summer’s day, hushed with heat, and the sun sparkled on the crystal clear waters of the swimming-pool. Insects murmured languidly in the massed banks of blooms that surrounded the terrace.
The fat man stood before an artist’s easel. He wore a blue beret and a white smock that hung like a maternity dress over his jutting stomach.
His model lay face down on an air mattress by the edge of the pool. She was a dainty, dark-haired girl with a pixy face and a doll-like body. Her discarded bikini lay in a damp bundle on the flags of the terrace. Drops of water caught the sun and bejewelled her creamy buttocks, giving her a paradoxical air of innocence and oriental eroticism.
“That was Steyner,” said Andrew. “He reports that they have Mt the Big Dipper.”
The fat man did not look up. He went on laying paint upon the canvas with complete concentration.
“Please lift your right shoulder, my dear, you are covering that utterly delightful bosom of yours,” he instructed, and the girl obeyed him immediately.
Finally he stepped back and regarded his own work critically.
“You may have a break now.” He wiped his brushes while the naked girl stood up, stretched like a cat and then dived into the pool. She surfaced with the water slicking her short dark hair against her head like the pelt of an otter, and swam slowly to the far end of the pool.
“Cable New York, Paris, London, Tokyo and Berlin the code word ”Gothic“,” he instructed Andrew. This was the word which would unleash the bear offensive on the financial markets of the world. On receipt of those cables, agents in the major cities would begin to sell the shares of the companies mining the Kitchenerville field, sell them by the millions.
“Then instruct Steyner to get Ironsides out of the way, and hole through the dyke.”
Manfred answered Andrew’s return call on the unlisted line. He listened to, and acknowledged, his instructions. Afterwards he sat still as a lizard, running over his preparations. Reviewing them minutely, examining them for flaws. There were none.
It was time to begin the purchase of Sonder Ditch shares. He called his secretary on the intercom and instructed her to place calls to numbers in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg itself. He wanted the purchase orders to come through a number of different brokers, so that it would not be obvious that there was only one buyer in the market. There was also the question of credit; he was not covering his purchase orders with Banker’s guarantees. The stock brokers were buying for him simply on his name and reputation and position with C.R.C. Manfred could not place too large a buying order with any one firm lest they ask him to provide surety. Dr Manfred Steyner had no surety to offer.
So, instead, he placed moderate orders with dozens of different firms. By three o’clock that afternoon Manfred had ordered the purchase of three quarters of a million Rands’ worth of shares. He had no means of paying for those shares but he knew he would never be called upon to do so. When he sold them again in a few weeks’ time they would have doubled in value.
A few minutes after his final conversation with the firm of Swerling and Wright in Cape Town, his secretary came through on the intercom.
“S.A.A. have confirmed your reservation on the Boeing to Salisbury. Flight 126 at nine a.m. tomorrow morning. You are booked to return to Johannesburg on the Rhodesian Airways Viking at 6 p.m. tomorrow evening.”
“Thank you.” Manfred grudged this wasted day but it was imperative that Theresa believed he had left for Europe. She must see him depart on the S.A.A. flight. “Please get my wife on the phone for me.”
“Theresa,” he told her,“something important has come up. I have to fly to London tomorrow morning. I am afraid I will be away over Christmas.”
Her display of surprise and regret was unconvincing. She and Ironsides had made their own arrangements for the time he was away, Manfred was convinced of this.
It was all working out very well, he thought, as he cradled the receiver, very well indeed.
The Daimler drew up under the portico of Jan Smuts Airport and the chauffeur opened the door for Terry and then for Manfred.
While the porter removed his luggage from the boot of the Daimler, Manfred swept the car park with a quick scrutiny. So early in the morning it was less than half filled. There was a cream Volkswagen with a Kitchenerville number plate parked near the far end. All the line and senior managers of the Sonder Ditch had cream Volkswagens as their official vehicles.
“The bee has come to the honeypot,” thought Manfred, and smiled bleakly. He took Terry’s elbow and they followed the porter with the crocodile-skin luggage into the main concourse of the airport.
Terry waited while Manfred went through his ticket and immigration formalities. On the outside she was a demure and dutiful wife, but she also had seen the Volkswagen and inside she was itching and bubbling with excitement,
Darting surreptitious glances from behind her sunglasses, looking for that tall broad-shouldered figure among the crowds.
It seemed a lifetime until she stood alone on the observation balcony with the wind whipping her piebald calf-skin coat around her legs, and blowing her hair into a snapping, dancing tangle. The Jong shark-like shape of the Boeing jet crouched at the far end of the runway and as it started forward Terry turned from, the balcony rail and ran back into the main building.
Rod was waiting for her just inside the doors, and he swung her off her feet,
With her feet dangling, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him.
The watchers paused and smiled, and there was a minor traffic jam at the head of the stairs.
“Come on,” she entreated, “let’s not waste a minute of it.”
He put her on her feet, and they ran down the staircase hand in hand. Terry paused only to dismiss the chauffeur, and then they ran through the car park like children let out of school, and clambered into the Volkswagen. Their luggage was on the back seat.
“Go,” she said, “go as fast as you can!”
Twenty minutes later Rod pulled the Volkswagen to a tyre-squealing halt in front of the hangars at the private airfield.
The twin-engined Cessna stood on the tarmac. Both engines were ticking over in readiness, and the mechanic climbed down from the cockpit when he recognized Terry.
“Hello, Terry, right on time,” he greeted her.
“Hello, Hank. You’ve got her warmed up already. You are a sweety!”
“Filed your flight plan also. Nothing too good for my most favourite customer.” The mechanic was a chunky grizzled little man, and he looked at Rod curiously.
“Give you a hand with the bags,” he said.
By the time they had the luggage stowed away in its compartment, Terry was in the cockpit speaking to the control tower.
Rod climbed up into the passenger seat beside her.
Terry switched off her radio and leaned over Rod’s lap to speak to Hank.
“Thanks, Hank.” She paused delicately, and then went on with a rush. “Hank, if anyone asks you, I was on my own today, okay?”
“Okay.” Hank grinned at her. “Happy landings,” And he closed the cockpit door, and Terry taxied out onto the runway.
“Is this yours?” Rod asked. It was a hundred thousand Rands’ worth of aircraft.
“Pops gave it to me for my birthday,” Terry replied. “Do you like it?”
“Not bad,” Rod admitted.
Terry turned upwind and applied the wheel brakes while she ran the engines up to peak revs, testing their response.
Suddenly Rod realized that he was in the hands of a woman pilot. He fell silent and his nerves began to tighten up.
“Let’s go,” said Terry and kicked off the brakes. The Cessna surged forward, and Rod gripped the arm rests and froze with his gaze fixed dead ahead.
“Relax, Ironsides,” Terry advised him without taking her eyes off the runway, ” I’ve been flying since I was sixteen. “
At three thousand feet she leveled out and banked gently onto an easterly heading.
“Now that didn’t hurt too much did it?” She smiled sideways at him.
“You are quite a girl,” he told her. “You can do all sorts of tricks.”
“You just wait,” she warned him. “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
They flew in silence until the Highveld. had fallen away behind them, and they were over the dense green mattress of the Buchveld.
“I’m going to divorce him.” She broke the silence, and Rod was not surprised that they were experiencing the mental telepathy of closely attuned minds. He had been thinking about her husband also.
“Good,” he said.
“You think I’d have a chance with you if I did?”
“If you played your cards right, you might get that lucky.”
“Conceited swine,” she said.” I don’t know why I love you. “
“Do you?” he asked.
“And I you.
They relapsed into a contented silence, until Terry put the Cessna in a shallow dive.
“What’s wrong?” Rod asked with alarm,
“Going down to have a look for game.”
They flew low over thick olive-green bush broken by vleis of golden brown grass.
“There,” said Rod, pointing ahead. A line of fat black bugs moving across one of the open places. “Buffalo!”
“And over there.” Terry pointed left.
“Zebra and wildebeeste,” Rod identified them. “And there is a giraffe.” Its long stalk of a neck stuck up like a periscope. It broke into an awkward stiff-legged run as the aircraft roared overhead.
“We have arrived.” Terry indicated a pair of round granite koppies on the horizon ahead. They were as symmetrical as a young girl’s breasts, and as they drew nearer Rod made out the thatched roof of a large building standing in the hollow between the koppies. Beyond it a long straight landing-strip had been cut from the trees, and the fat white sausage of a wind sock flew from its pole.
Terry throttled back and circled the homestead. On the lawns half a dozen tiny figures waved up at the Cessna, and as they watched, two of the figures climbed into a toy Landrover and set off for the landing-strip. A ribbon of white dust blew out from behind it.
“That’s Hans,” Terry explained. “We can go down now.”
She lined the Cessna up for its approach, and then let it sink down with the motors bumbling softly. The ground came up and jarred the undercarriage, then they were taxiing to meet the racing Landrover.
The man who piled out of the Landrover was white-haired, and sunburned like old leather.
“Mrs Steyner!” He was making no attempt to conceal his pleasure. “It’s been much too long. Where have you been?”
“I’ve been busy, Hans.”
“New York? What the hell for?” said Hans surprisingly.
“This is Mr Ironsides.” Terry introduced them. “Rod, this is Hans Kruger.”
“Van Breda?” asked Hans as they shook hands. “You related to the van Bredas from Caledon?”
“I don’t think so,” Rod muttered weakly and looked at Terry appealingly.
“He is stone deaf,” Terry explained. “Both his ear drums blown out by a hangfire in the 1930’s. He won’t admit it though.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Hans nodded, happily. “You always were a healthy girl. I remember when you were a little piccanin.”
“He is an absolute darling though, so is his wife. They look after the shooting lodge for Pops,” Terry told Rod.
“Good idea!” Hans agreed heartily. “Let’s get your bags into the Landrover and go up to the house. I bet Mr van Breda could use a drink also.” And he winked at Rod.
The lodge had thatch and rough-hewn timber roofing, stone-flagged floors covered with cured animal skins and Kelim rugs. There was a walk-in fireplace flanked by gun racks on which were displayed fifty fine examples of the gunsmith’s art. The furniture was massive and masculine, leather-cushioned and low. The Spanish plaster walls were hung with trophies, horned heads and native weapons.
A vast wooden staircase led up to the bedrooms that opened off the gallery above the main room. The bedrooms were air-conditioned and after they had got rid of Hans and his fat wife, Rod and Terry tested the bed to see if it was suitable.
An hour and a half later the bed had been judged eminently satisfactory, and as they went down to pass further judgement on the gargantuan lunch that fat Mrs Hans had spread for them, Terry remarked, “Has it ever occurred to you, Mr Ironsides, that there are parts of your anatomy other than your flanks which are ferrous in character?” Then she giggled and added softly, “And thank the Lord for that!”
Lunch was an exhausting experience and Terry pointed out that there was little sense in going out before four o’clock as the game would still be in thick cover avoiding the midday heat, so they went back upstairs.
After four o’clock Rod selected a .375 magnum Holland and Holland rifle from the rack, filled a cartridge belt with ammunition from one of the drawers, and they went out to the Landrover.
“How big is this place?” Rod asked as he turned the Landrover away from the gardens and took the track out into the virgin bush.
“You can drive for twenty miles in any direction and it’s all ours. Over there our boundary runs against the Kruger National Park,” Terry answered.
They drove along the banks of the river, skirting sandbanks on which grew fluffy-headed reeds. The water ran fast between glistening black rocks, then spread into slow lazy pools.
They saw a dozen varieties of big game, stopping every few hundred yards to watch some lovely animal.
“Pops obviously doesn’t allow shooting here,” Rod remarked, as a kudu bull with long spiral horns and trumpet-shaped ears studied them with big wet eyes from a range of thirty feet. ”The game is as tame as domestic cattle. “
“Only family are allowed to shoot,” Terry agreed. “You qualify as family, however.”
Rod shook his head. “It would be murder.” Rod indicated the kudu. “That old fellow would eat out of your hand.”
“I’m glad you feel like that,” Terry said, and they drove on slowly.
The evening was not cool enough to warrant a log fire in the cavernous fireplace of the lodge. They lit one anyway because Rod decided it would be pleasant to sit in front of a big, leaping fire, drink whisky and hold the girl you love.
When Inspector Grobbelaar lowered his teacup, there was a white scum of cream on the tips of his moustache. He licked it off carefully, and looked across at Sergeant Hugo.
“Who have we got next?” he asked.
Hugo consulted his notebook.
“Philemon N’gabai.” He read out the name, and Grobbelaar sighed.
“Number forty-eight, only sixteen more.” The single smeary fingerprint on the fragment of glass from the gold container had been examined by the fingerprint department. They had provided a list of sixty-four names anyone of which might be the owner of that print. Each of them had to be interrogated, it was a lengthy and so far unrewarding labour.
“What do we know about friend Philemon?” Grobbelaar asked.
“He is approximately forty years old. A Shangaan from Mozambique. Height 5‘ 7’t”, weight 146 Ib. Crippled right leg. Two previous convictions. 1956: 60 days for bicycle theft. 1962: 90 days for stealing a camera from a parked car,“Hugo read from the file.
“At one hundred forty-six pounds I don’t see him breaking many necks. But send him in, let’s talk to him,” Grobbelaar suggested and dunked his moustache in the tea cup again. Hugo nodded to the African Sergeant and he opened the door to admit Crooked Leg and his escort of an African constable.
They advanced to the desk at which the two detectives sat in their shirt sleeves. No one spoke. The two interrogators subjected him to a calculated and silent scrutiny to set him at as great a disadvantage as possible.
Grobbelaar prided himself on being able to sniff out a guilty conscience at fifty paces, and Philemon N’gabai reeked of guilt. He could not stand still, he was sweating heavily, and his eyes darted from floor to ceiling. He was guilty as hell, but not necessarily of murder. Grobbelaar did not feel the slightest confidence as he shook his head sorrowfully and asked, “Why did you do it, Philemon? We have found the marks of your hand on the gold bottle.”
The effect on Crooked Leg was instantaneous and dramatic. His lips parted and began to tremble, saliva dribbled onto his chin. His eyes for the first time fixed on Grobbelaar’s face, wide and staring.
“Hello! Hello!” Grobbelaar thought, straightening in his chair, coming completely alert. He sensed Hugo’s quickening interest beside him.
“You know what they do to people who kill, Philemon? They take them away to…‘ Grobbelaar did not have an opportunity to finish.
With a howl Crooked Leg darted for the door. His crippled gait was deceptive, he was fast as a ferret. He had the door open before the Bantu Sergeant collared him and dragged him gibbering and struggling back into the room.
“The gold, but not the man! I did not kill the Portuguese,” he babbled, and Grobbelaar and Hugo exchanged glances.
“Pay dirt!” Hugo exclaimed with deep satisfaction.
“Bull’s eye!” agreed Grobbelaar, and smiled, a rare and fleeting occurrence.
“You see it has a little light that comes on to show you where the keyhole is,” said the salesman pointing to the ignition switch on the dashboard.
“Ooh! Johnny, see that!” Hettie gushed, but Johnny Delange had his head under the bonnet of the big glossy Ford Mustang.
“Why don’t you sit in her?” the salesman suggested. He was very cute really, Hettie decided, with dreamy eyes and the most fabulous side burns.
“Ooh! Yes, I’d love to.” She manoeuvred her bottom into the leather bucket seat of the sports car. Her skirt pulled up, and the salesman’s dreamy eyes followed the hem all the way.
“Can you adjust the seat?” Hettie asked innocently looking up at him.
“Here, I’ll show you.” He leaned into the ulterior of the Mustang and reached across Hettie’s lap. His hand brushed over her thigh, and Hettie pretended not to notice his touch. He smelled of OH Spice after-shave lotion.
“That’s better!” Hettie murmured, and wriggled into a more comfortable position, contriving to make the movement provocative and revealing.
The salesman v,”as encouraged, he lingered with his wrist just touching a sleek thigh.
“What’s the compression ratio on this model?” Johnny Delange demanded as he emerged from the engine, and the salesman straightened up quickly and hurried to join him.
An hour later Johnny signed the purchase contract, and both he and Hettie shook the salesman’s hand. .
“Let me give you my card,” the salesman insisted, but Johnny had returned to his new toy, and Hettie took the cardboard business card.
“Call me if you need anything, anything at all,” said the salesman with heavy significance.
“Dennis Langley. Sales Manager,” Hettie read out aloud, “My! You’re very young to be Sales Manager,”
“Not all that young!”
‘ I’ll bet,“Hettie murmured, and her eyes were suddenly bold. She ran the tip of a pink tongue over her lips.” I won’t lose it,” she promised, and placing the card in her handbag, walked to the Mustang, leaving him with a tantalizing promise and a memory of swaying hips and clicking heels.
They raced the new Mustang as far as Potchefstroom; Hettie encouraging Johnny to overtake slower vehicles with inches to spare for oncoming traffic. With horn blaring he tore over blind rises, forking ringed fingers at the protesting toots of other drivers. They had the speedometer registering 120 m.p.h. on the return run, and it was dark as they pulled into the driveway and Johnny hit the brakes hard to avoid running into the back of a big black Daimler that was parked outside their front door.
“Jesus,” gasped Johnny. “That’s Dr Steyner’s bus!”
“Who is Dr Steyner?” Hettie demanded.
“Hell, he’s one of the big shots from Head Office.”
“You’re kidding!” Hettie challenged him.
“Truth!” Johnny affirmed. “One of the real big shots.”
“Bigger than Mr Ironsides?” The General Manager of the Sender Ditch was as high up the social ladder as Hettie had ever looked.
“Tin Ribs is chicken feed compared to this joker. Just look at his bus, it’s five times better than Tin Ribs’ clapped-out old Maserati.”
“Gee!” Hettie could follow the logic of this line of argument. “What’s he want with us?”
“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted with a twinge of anxiety. “Lets go and find out.”
The lounge of the Delange home was not the setting which showed Dr Manfred Steyner to best advantage.
He sat on the edge of a scarlet and gold plastic-covered armchair as stiff and awkward as the packs of china dogs that stood on every table and shelf of the show cabinet, or the porcelain wild ducks which flew in diminishing perspective along the pale pink painted wall. In contrast to the tinsel Christmas decorations that festooned the ceiling and the gay greeting cards that Hettie had pinned to strips of green ribbon, Manfred’s black homburg and Astrakhan-collared overcoat were unnecessarily severe.
“You will forgive my presumption,” he greeted them without rising. “You were not at home and your maid let me in,”
“You’re welcome, I’m sure,” Hettie simpered.
“Of course you are, Dr Steyner,” Johnny supported her.
“Ah! So you know who I am?” Manfred asked with satisfaction. This would make his task much easier.
“Of course we do.” Hettie went to him and offered her hand. “I am Hettie Delange, how do you do?”
With horror Manfred saw that her armpit was unshaven, filled with damp ginger curls. Hettie had not bathed since the previous evening. Manfred’s nostrils twitched and he fought down a queasy wave of nausea.
“Delange, I want to speak to you alone,” He cowered away from Hettie’s overwhelming physical presence.
“Sure,” Johnny was eager to please. ”How about you making us some coffee, honey,” he asked Hettie.
Ten minutes later Manfred sank with relief into the lush upholstery of the Daimler’s rear seat. He ignored the two Delanges waving their farewells, and closed his eyes. It was done. Tomorrow morning Johnny Delange would be on shift and drilling into the glassy green rock of the Big Dipper.
By noon Manfred would own quarter of a million shares in the Sonder Ditch.
In a week he would be a rich man.
In a month he would be divorced from Theresa Steyner. He would sue with all possible notoriety on the grounds of adultery. He no longer needed her.
The chauffeur drove him back to Johannesburg.
It began on the floor of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange,
For some months nearly all the activity had been in the industrial counters, centring about the Alex Sagov group of companies and their merger negotiations.
The only spark of life in the mining and mining financials had been Anglo American Corporation and De Beers Deferred rights issues, but this was now old news and the prices had settled at their new levels. So it was that nobody was expecting fireworks when the, call over of the gold mining counters began. The brokers’ clerks crowding the floor were quietly spoken and behaved, when the first squib popped.
“Buy Sender Ditch,” from one end of the hall.
“Buy Sonder Ditch,” a voice raised.
“Buy I‘ The throng stirred, heads turned.
“Buy.” The brokers suddenly agitated swirled in little knots, broke and reformed as transactions were completed. The price jumped fifty cents, and a broker ran from the floor to confer with his principal.
Here a broker thumped another on the back to gain his attention, and his urgency was infectious.
“Buy! Buy!”
“What the hell’s happening?”
“Where is the buying coming from?”
“It’s local!”
The price hit ten Rand a share, and then the panic began in earnest.
“It’s overseas buying.”
“Eleven Rand!”
Brokers rushed to telephone warnings to favoured clients that a bull run was developing.
“Twelve fifty. It’s only local buying.”
“Buy at best. Buy five thousand.”
Clerks raced back onto the floor carrying the hastily telephoned instructions, and plunged into the hysterical trading.
“Jesus Christ! Thirteen Rand, sell now. Take your profit! It can’t go much higher.”
“Thirteen seventy five, it’s overseas buying. Buy at best.”
In fifty brokers’ offices around the country, the professionals who spent their lives hovering over the tickers regained their balance and, cursing themselves for having been taken unawares, they scrambled onto the bull wagon. Others, the more canny ones, recognized the makings of a sick run and off-loaded their holdings, selling industrial shares as well as mining shares. Prices ran amok.
At ten-fifteen there was a priority call from the offices of the Minister of Finance in Pretoria to the office of the President of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
“What are you going to do?”
“We haven’t decided. We won’t close the floor if we can possibly help it.”
“Don’t let it go too far. Keep me informed.”
Sixteen Rand and still spiraling when at eleven o’clock South African time, the London Stock Exchange came in. For the first fifteen wild minutes the price of Sonder Ditch gold mining rocketed in sympathy with the Johannesburg market.
Then suddenly and unexpectedly the Sonder Ditch shares ran head-on into massive selling pressure. Not only the Sonder Ditch, but all the Kitchenerville gold mining companies staggered as the pressure increased. The prices wavered, rallied a few shillings and then fell back, wavered again, and then crashed downwards, plummeting far below their opening prices.
“Sell! was the cry.” Sell at best!“Within minutes freshly-made paper fortunes were wiped away.
When the price of the Sonder Ditch gold mining shares fell to five Rand seventy-five cents, the committee of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange closed the floor in the interests of the national welfare, preventing further trade.
But in New York, Paris and London the investing public continued to beat South African gold mining shares to death.
In the air-conditioned office of a skyscraper building, the little bald-headed man was smashing his balled fist onto the desk top of his superior officer.
“I told you not to trust him,” he was almost sobbing with anger. “The fat greedy slug. One million dollars wasn’t enough for him! No, he had to blow the whole deal!”
“Please, Colonel,” his chief intervened. “Control yourself. Let us make a fair and objective appraisal of this financial activity.”
The bald-headed man sank back into his chair, and tried to light a cigarette with hands that trembled so violently as to extinguish the flame of his lighter.
“It sticks out a mile.” He flicked the lighter again, and puffed quickly. “The first activity on the Johannesburg Exchange was Dr Steyner being clever. Buying up shares on the strength of our dummy report. That was quite natural and we expected it, in fact we wanted that to happen. It took suspicion away from us.” His cigarette had gone out, the tip was wet with spit. He threw it away and lit another.
“Fine! Everything was fine up to then. Doctor Steyner had committed financial suicide, and we were on the pig’s back.” He sucked at his new cigarette. “Then! Then our fat friend pulls the big double-cross and starts selling the Kitchenerville shares short. He must have gone into the market for millions.”
“Can we abort the operation at this late date?” his chief asked,
“Not a chance.” The bald head shook vigorously. “I have sent a cable to our fat friend, ordering him to freeze the work on the tunnel but can you imagine him obeying that order? He is financially committed for millions of dollars and he will protect that investment with every means at his disposal.”
“Could we not warn the management of the Sender Ditch company?”
“That would put the finger squarely on us, would it not?”
“Hmm!” the chief nodded. “We could send them an anonymous warning.”
“Who would put any credence on that?”
“You’re right,” the chief sighed. “We will just have to batten down our hatches and ride out the storm. Sit tight and deny everything.”
“That is all we can do.” The cigarette had gone out again, and there were bits of wet tobacco in his moustache. The little man flicked his lighter.
“The bastard, the fat, greedy bastard!” he muttered.
Johnny and Big King rode up shoulder to shoulder in the cage. It had been a good shift. Despite the hardness of the Serpentine rock that cut down the drilling rate by fifty per cent, they had been able to get in five blasts that day. Johnny reckoned they had driven more than half-way through the Big Dipper. There was no night shift working now. Campbell had gone back to the stopes, so the honour of holing through would be Johnny’s. He was excited at the prospect. Tomorrow he would be through into the unknown.
“Until tomorrow, Big King,” he said as they reached the surface and stepped out of the cage.
They separated, Big King heading for the Bantu hostel, Johnny to the glistening new Mustang in the car park.
Big King went straight to the Shangaan Induna’s cottage without changing from his working clothes. He stood in the doorway and the Induna looked up from the letter he was writing.
“What news, my father?” Big King asked.
“The worst,” the Induna told him softly. “The police have taken Crooked Leg.”
“Crooked Leg would not betray me,” Big King declared, but without conviction.
“Would you expect him to die in your place?” asked the Induna. “He must protect himself.”
“I did not mean to kill him,” Big King explained miserably. “I did not mean to kill the Portuguese, it was the gun.”
“I know, my son.” The Induna’s voice was husky with helpless pity.
Big King turned from the doorway and walked down across the lawns to the ablution block. The spring and swagger had gone from his step. He walked listlessly, slouching, dragging his feet.
Manfred Steyner sat at his desk. His hands lay on the blotter before him, one thumb wearing a turban of crisp white bandage. His only movement was the steady beat of a pulse in his throat and a nerve that fluttered in one eyelid. He was deathly pale, and a light sheen of perspiration gave his features the look of having been sculptured from washed marble.
The volume of the radio was turned high, so the voice of the announcer boomed and reverberated from the paneled walls.
“The climax of the drama was reached at eleven forty-five South African time when the President of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange declared the floor closed and all further trading suspended.
“Latest reports from the Tokyo Stock Exchange are that Sender Ditch gold mining shares were being traded at the equivalent of four Rand forty cents. This compares with the morning’s opening price of the same share on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange of nine Rand forty-five cents.
“A spokesman for the South African Government stated that although no reason for these extraordinary price fluctuations was apparent, the Minister of Mines, Doctor Carel De Wet, had ordered a full-scale commission of enquiry.”
Manfred Steyner stood up from his desk and went through into the bathroom. With his flair for figures he did not need pen and paper to compute that the shares he had purchased that morning had depreciated in value by well over one million Rand at the close of business that evening.
He knelt on the tiled floor in front of the toilet bowl and vomited.
The sky was darkening rapidly, for the sun had long ago sunk below a blazing horizon.
Rod heard the whisper of wings, and strained his eyes upwards into the gloom. They came in fast, in vee formation, slanting down towards the pool of the river. He stood up from the blind and swung the shotgun on them, leading well ahead of the line of flight.
He squeezed off both barrels, Wham! Wham! And the duck broke formation and rocketed upwards, whirring aloft on noisy wings.
“Damn it!” said Rod.
“What’s wrong, dead-eye Dick, did you miss? asked Terry.
“The light’s too bad.”
“Excuses! Excuses!” Terry stood up beside him, and Rod pushed a balled fist lightly against her cheek.
“That’s enough from you, woman. Let’s go home.”
Carrying the shotguns and bunches of dead duck, they trudged along the bank in the dusk to the waiting Land-rover.
It was completely dark as they drove back to the lodge.
“What a wonderful day it’s been,” Terry murmured dreamily. “If for nothing else, I will always be grateful to you for teaching me how to enjoy my life.”
Back at the lodge, they bathed and changed into fresh clothes. For dinner they had wild duck and pineapple, with salads from Mrs Fat Hans’ vegetable garden. Afterwards, they sprawled on the leopard-skin rugs in front of the fireplace and watched the log fire without talking, relaxed and happy and tired.
“My God, it’s almost nine o’clock,” Terry checked her wrist-watch. ‘I fancy a bit of bed myself, how about you, Mr Ironsides?“
“Let’s hear the nine o’clock news first.”
“Oh Rod! Nobody ever listens to the news here. This is fairyland!”
Rod switched on the radio and the first word froze them both. It was ‘Sander Ditch’.
In horrified silence they listened to the full report. Rod’s expression was granite hard, his mouth a tight grim line. When the news report ended, Rod switched off the radio set and lit a cigarette.
“There is trouble,” he said. “Big trouble. I’m sorry, Terry, we must go back. As soon as possible. I have to get back to the mine.”
“I know,” Terry agreed immediately. “But Rod, I can’t take off from this landing-strip in the dark. There is no flare path.”
“We’ll leave at first light.”
Rod slept very little that night. Whenever she woke, Terry sensed him lying unsleeping, worrying. Twice she heard him get up and go to the bathroom.
In the very early hours of the morning she woke from her own troubled sleep and saw him silhouetted against the starlit window. He was smoking a cigarette and staring out into the darkness. It was the first night they had spent together without making love. In the dawn Rod was haggard and puffy-eyed.
They were airborne at eight o’clock and they landed in Johannesburg a little after ten.
Rod went straight to the telephone in Hank’s office and Lily Jordan answered his call.
“Miss Jordan, what the hell is happening? Is everything all right?”
“Is that you, Mr Ironsides. Oh! Thank God! Thank God you’ve come, something terrible has happened!”
Johnny Delange blew the face of the drive twice before nine o’clock, cutting thirty feet further into the glassy green dyke.
He had found that by drilling his cutter blast holes an additional three feet deeper, he could achieve a shatter effect on the serpentine rock which more than compensated for the additional drilling time. This next blast he was going to flout standard regulations and experiment with double charging his cutter holes. He would need additional explosives.
“Big King,” he shouted to make himself heard above the roar of drills. “Take a gang back to the shaft station. Pick up six cases of Dynagel.”
He watched Big King and his gang retreat back down the drive, and then he lit a cigarette and turned his attention to his machine boys. They were poised before the rock face, sweating behind their drills. The dark rock of the dyke absorbed the light from the overhead electric bulbs. It made the end of the drive a gloomy place, filled with a sense of foreboding.
Johnny began to think about Davy. He was aware suddenly of a sense of disquiet, and he moved restlessly. He felt the hair on his forearms come slowly erect, each on a separate goose pimple. Davy is here. He knew it suddenly, and surely. His flesh crawled and he went cold with dread. He turned quickly and looked over his shoulder. The tunnel behind him was deserted, and Johnny gave a sickly grin.
“Shaya, madoda,” he called loudly and unnecessarily to his gang. They could not hear him above the roar of the drills, but the sound of his own voice helped reassure him.
Yet the creepy sensation was still with him. He felt that Davy was still there, trying to tell him something.
Johnny fought the sensation. He walked quickly forward, standing close to his machine boys, as though to draw comfort from their physical presence. It did not help. His nerves were shrieking now, and he felt himself beginning to sweat.
Suddenly the machine boy who was drilling the cutter hole in the centre of the face staggered backwards.
“Hey!” Johnny shouted at him, then he saw that water was spurting in fine needle jets from around the drill steel. Something was squeezing the drill steel out of its hole, like toothpaste out of a tube. It was pushing the machine boy backwards.
“Hey!” Johnny started forward and at that instant the heavy metal drill was fired out of the rock with the force of a cannon ball. It decapitated the machine boy, tearing his head from his body with such savagery that his carcass was thrown far back down the drive, his blood spraying the dark rock walls.
From the drill hole shot a solid jet of water. It came out under such pressure that when it caught the machine boy’s assistant in the chest it stove in his ribs as though he had been hit by a speeding automobile.
“Out!” yelled Johnny. “Get out!” And the rock face exploded. It blew outwards with greater force than if it had been blasted with Dynagel. It killed Johnny Delange instantly. He was smashed to a bloody pulp by the flying rock. It killed every man in his gang with him, and immediately afterwards the monstrous burst of water that poured from the face picked up their mutilated remains and swept them down the drive.
Big King was at the shaft station when they heard the water coming. It sounded like an express train in a tunnel, a dull bellow of irresistible power. The water was pushing the air from the drive ahead of it, so that a hurricane of wind came roaring from the mouth of the drive, blowing out a cloud of dust and loose rubbish.
Big King and his gang stood and stared in uncomprehending terror until the head of the column of water shot from the drive, frothing solid, carrying with it a plug of debris and human remains.
Bursting into the T-junction of the main 66 level haulage, the strength of the flood was reduced, yet still it swept down towards the lift station in a waist deep wall.
“This way!” Big King was the first to move. He leapt for the steel emergency ladder that led up to the level above. The rest of his gang were not fast enough, the water picked them up and crushed them against the steel-mesh barrier that guarded the shaft. The crest of the wave burst around Big King’s legs, sucking at him, but he tore himself from its grip and climbed to safety.
Beneath him the water poured into the shaft like bath water into a plug hole, forming a spinning whirlpool about the collar as it roared down to flood the workings below 66 level.
Leaving Terry at the airfield to solicit transport from Hank, the mechanic, Rod drove directly to the head of No. i shaft of the Sender Ditch. He jumped from the Volkswagen into the clamouring crowd clustered above the shaft head.
Dimitri was wide-eyed and distracted, beside him Big King towered like a black colossus.
“What happened?” Rod demanded.
“Tell him,” Dimitri instructed Big King.
“I was at the shaft with my gang. A river leaped from the mouth of the drive, a great river of water running faster than the Zambesi in flood; roaring like a lion the water ate all the men with me. I alone climbed above it.”
“We’ve hit a big one, Rod,” Dimitri interrupted. ”It’s pouring in fast. We calculate it will flood the entire workings up to 66 level in four hours from now. “
“Have you cleared the mine?” Rod demanded.
“All the men are out except Delange and his gang. They were in the drive. They’ve been chopped, I’m afraid,” Dimitri answered.
“Have you warned the other mines we could have a, burst through into their workings?”
“Yes, they are pulling all their shifts out.”
“Right.” Rod set off for the blast control room with Dimitri trotting to keep up with him. “Give me your keys, and find the foreman electrician.”
Within minutes the three of them were crowded into the tiny concrete control room.
“Check in the special circuit,” Rod instructed. “I’m going to shoot the drop-blast matt and seal off the drive.”
The foreman electrician worked quickly at the control panel. He looked up at Rod.
“Ready!” he said.
“Check her in,” Rod nodded.
The foreman threw the switch. The three of them caught their breath together.
Dimitri said it for them: ‘Red!“
On the control panel of the special circuit the red bulb glared balefully at them, the Cyclops eye of the god of despair.
“Christ!” swore the foreman. “The circuit is shot. The water must have torn the wires out.”
“It may be a fault in the board,”
“No,” The foreman shook his head with certainty,
“We’ve had it,” whispered Dimitri. ”Goodbye the Sonder Ditch!“
Rod burst out of the blast control room into the expectant crowd outside.
“Johnson!” He singled out one of his mine captains. “Go down to the Yacht Club at the dam, get me the rubber rescue dinghy. Quick as you can, man,”
The man scurried away, and Rod turned on the electrician foreman as he emerged from the control room.
“Get me a battery hand-operated blaster, a reel of wire, pliers, gloves, two coils of nylon rope. Hurry!”
The foreman went.
“Rod,” Dimitri caught his arm. ”What are you going to do?“
“I’m going down there. I’m going to find the break in the circuit and I’m going to blast her by hand,”
“Jesus!” Dimitri gasped. “You are crazy, Rod. You’ll kill yourself for sure!”
Rod completely ignored his protest.
“I want one man with me. A strong man. The strongest there is, we will have to drag the dinghy against the flood,” Rod looked about him. Big King was standing by the banksman’s office. The two of them were tall enough to face each other over the heads of the men between them.
“Will you come with me, Big King?” Rod asked.
“Yes,” said Big King.
In less than twenty minutes they were ready. “Rod and Big King were stripped down to singlets and bathing-trunks. They wore canvas tennis shoes to protect their feet, and the hard helmets on their heads were incongruous against the rest of their attire.
The rubber dinghy was ex-naval disposal. A nine-foot air-filled mattress, so light that a man could lift it with one hand. Into it was packed the equipment they would need for the task ahead. A water-proof bag contained the battery blaster, the reel of insulated wire, the pliers, gloves and a spare lantern. Lashed to the eyelets along the sides of the dinghy were two coils of light nylon rope, a small crowbar, an axe and a razor-sharp machete in a leather sheath. To the bows of the dinghy were fastened a pair of looped nylon towing lines.
“What else will you need, Rod?” Dimitri asked.
Rod shook his head thoughtfully. “That’s it, Dimitri. That should do it.”
“Right!” Dimitri beckoned and four men came forward and carried the dinghy into the waiting cage.
“Let’s go,” said Dimitri and followed the dinghy into the cage. Big King went next and Rod paused a second to look up at the sky. It was very blue and bright.
Before the onsetter could close the shutter door, a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce came gliding onto the bank. From the rear door emerged first Hurry Hirschfeld and then Terry Steyner.
“Ironsides!” roared Hurry. “What the hell is going on?”
“We’ve hit water,” Rod answered him from the cage.
“Water? Where did it come from?”
“Beyond the Big Dipper.”
“You drove through the Big Dipper?”
“You bastard, you’ve drowned the Sender Ditch,” roared Hurry, advancing on the cage.
“Not yet, I haven’t,” Rod contradicted.
“Rod.” Terry was white-faced beside her grandfather. “You can’t go down there.” She started forward.
Rod pushed the onsetter aside and pulled down the steel shutter door of the cage. Terry threw herself against the steel mesh of the guard barrier, but the cage was gone into the earth.
“Rod,” she whispered, and Hurry Hirschfeld put his arm around her shoulders and led her to the Rolls Royce.
From the back seat of the Rolls, Hurry Hirschfeld was conducting a Kangaroo Court Trial of Rodney Ironsides. One by one he called for the line managers of the Sender Ditch and questioned them. Even those who were loyal to Rod could say little in his defence, and there were others who took the opportunity to level old scores with Rodney Ironsides.
Sitting beside her grandfather, Terry heard such a condemnation of the man she loved as to chill her to the depths of her soul. There was no doubt that Rodney Ironsides, without Head Office sanction, had instituted a new development so risky and contrary to company policy as to be criminal in concept.
“Why did he do it?” muttered Hurry Hirschfeld. He seemed bewildered. “What could he possibly achieve by driving through the Big Dipper. It looks like a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Sender Ditch.” Hurry’s anger began to seethe within him. “The bastard! He has drowned the Sonder Ditch and killed dozens of men.” He punched his fist into the palm of his hand. “I’ll make him pay for this. I’ll break him, so help me God, I’ll smash him! I’ll bring criminal charges against him. Malicious damage to property. Manslaughter. Culpable homicide! By Jesus, I’ll have his guts for this!”
Listening to Hurry ranting and threatening, Terry could keep silent no longer.
“It wasn’t his fault. Pops. Truly it wasn’t. He was forced to do it.”
“Ha!” snorted Hurry. “I heard you at the pithead a few minutes ago. Just what is this man to you, Missy, that you spring to his defence so nobly?”
“Pops, please believe me.” Her eyes were enormous in her pale face.
“Why should I believe you? The two of you are obviously up to mischief together. Naturally you will try and protect him.”
“Listen to me at least,” she pleaded, and Hurry checked the run of his tongue and breathing heavily he turned to face her.
“This better be good, young lady,” he warned her.
In her agitation she told it badly, and half-way through she realized that she wasn’t even convincing herself. Hurry’s expression became more and more bleak, until he interrupted her impatiently.
“Good God, Theresa, this isn’t like you. To try and put the blame for this onto your own husband! That’s despicable! To try and switch the blame for this…‘
“It’s true! As God is my witness.” Terry was almost in tears, she was tugging at Hurry’s sleeve in her agitation. “Rod was forced to do it. He had no option.”
“You have proof of this?” Hurry asked drily, and Terry fell silent, staring at him dumbly. What proof was there?
The cage checked and slowed as it approached 65 level. The lights were still burning, but the workings were deserted. They lugged the dinghy out onto the station.
They could hear the dull waterfall roar of the flood on the level below them. The displacement of huge volumes of water disturbed the air so that a strong cool breeze was blowing up the shaft.
“Big King and I will go down the emergency ladder. You will lower the dinghy to us afterwards,” Rod told Dimitri. “Make sure all the equipment is tied into it.”
“Right.” Dimitri nodded.
All was in readiness. The men who had come down with them in the cage were waiting expectantly. Rod could find no reason for further delay. He felt something cold and heavy settle in his guts.
“Come on, Big King.” And he went to the steel ladder.
“Good luck, Rod.” Dimitri’s voice floated down to him, but Rod saved his breath for that cold dark climb downwards.
All the lights had fused on 66 level, and in the beam of his lamp the water below him was black and agitated. It poured into the mouth of the shaft, bending the mesh barrier inwards. The mesh acted as a gigantic sieve, straining the floating rubbish from the flood. Amongst the timber and planking, the sodden sacking and unrecognizable objects, Rod made out the waterlogged corpses of the dead pressed against the wire.
He climbed down and gingerly lowered himself into the water. Instantly it dragged at his lower body, shocking in its power. It was waist deep here, but he found that by bracing his body against the steel ladder he could maintain his footing.
Big King climbed down beside him, and Rod had to raise his voice above the hissing thunder of water.
“All right?”
“Yes. Let them send down the boat.”
Rod flashed his lamp up the shaft, and within minutes the dinghy was swaying slowly down to them. They reached up and guided it right side up to the surface of the water, before untying the rope.
The dinghy was sucked firmly against the wire mesh, and Rod checked its contents quickly. All was secure.
“Right.” Rod tied a bight of the nylon rope around his waist, and climbed up the wire mesh barrier until he could reach the roof of the tunnel. Behind him Big King was paying out the nylon line.
Rod leaned out until he could get his hands on the compressed air pipes that ran along the roof of the tunnel. The pipes were as thick as a man’s wrist, bolted securely into the hanging wall of the drive they would support a man’s weight with ease. Rod settled his grip firmly on the piping and then kicked his feet free from the barrier. He hung above the rushing waters, his feet just brushing the surface. Hand over hand, swinging forward with his feet dangling, he started up the tunnel. The nylon rope hung down behind him like a long white tail. It was three hundred feet to where the water boiled from the drive into the main haulage, and Rod’s shoulder muscles were shrieking in protest before he reached it. It seemed that his arms were being wrenched from their sockets, for the weight of the nylon rope that was dragging in the water was fast becoming intolerable.
There was a back eddy in the angle formed by the drive and the haulage. Here the flood swirled in a vortex, and Rod lowered himself slowly into it. The water buffeted him, but again he was able to cower against the side wall of the haulage and hold his footing. Quickly he began tying the rope onto the rawlbolts that were driven into the sidewall to consolidate the rock. Within minutes he had established a secure base from which to operate, and when he flashed his lamp back down the haulage he saw Big King following him along the compressed air piping.
Big King dropped into the waist deep water beside Rod, and they gripped the nylon rope and rested their burning arm muscles.
“Ready?” asked Rod at last, and Big King nodded. They laid hold of the rope that led back to the dinghy and hauled upon it. For a moment nothing happened, the other end might just as well have been anchored to a mountain. “Together!” grunted Rod, and they recovered a foot of rope.
“Again!” And they drew the dinghy inch by inch up the haulage against the rush of water.
Their hands were bleeding when they at last pulled the laden dinghy up to their own position and anchored it to the rawlbolts beside them. It bounced and bobbed with the water drumming against its underside.
Neither Rod nor Big King could talk. They hung exhausted on the body lines with the water ripping at their skin and gasped for breath.
At last Rod looked up at Big King, and in the lamp light he saw his own doubts reflected in Big King’s eyes. The drop-blast matt was a thousand feet up the drive. The strength and speed of the water in the drive was almost double what it was in the haulage. Could they ever fight their way against such primeval forces as these that were now unleashed about them?
“I will go next,” Big King said and Rod nodded his agreement.
The huge Bantu drew himself up the rope until he could reach the compressed air pipe. His skin in the lamp light glistened like that of a porpoise. Hand over hand he disappeared into the gaping black maw of the drive. His lamp threw deformed and monstrous shadows upon the walls of rock.
When Big King’s lamp flashed the signal to him, Rod climbed up to the pipe and followed him into the drive. Three hundred feet later he found Big King had established another base. But here they were exposed to the full force of the flood, and they were pulled so violently against the body lines that the harsh nylon smeared the skin from their bodies. Together they dragged the dinghy up to them and anchored it.
Rod was sobbing softly as he held his torn hands to his chest and wondered if he could do it again.
“Ready?” Big King asked beside him, and Rod nodded. He reached up and placed the raw flesh of his palms onto the metal piping, and felt the tears of pain flood his eyes. He blinked them back and dragged himself forward.
Vaguely he realized that should he fall, he was a dead man. The flood would sweep him away, dragging him along the jagged side walls of the drive, ripping his flesh from the bone, and finally hurling him against the mesh surrounding the shaft to crush the life from his body.
He went on until he knew he could go no farther. Then he selected a rawlbolt in the side wall and looped the rope through it. And they repeated the whole heart-breaking procedure. Twice as he strained against the dinghy rope.
Rod saw his vision explode into stars and pinwheels. Each time he dragged himself back from the brink of unconsciousness by sheer force of will.
The example that Big King was setting was the inspiration which kept Rod from failing. Big King worked without change of expression, but his eyes were bloodshot with exertion. Only once Rod heard him grunt like a gut-shot lion, and there was bright blood on the rope where he touched it. Rod knew he could not give in while Big King held on. Reality dissolved slowly into a dark roaring nightmare of pain, wherein muscles and bone were loaded beyond all endurance, and yet continued to function. It seemed that for all time Rod had hung on arms that were leadened and slow with exhaustion. He was inching his way along the compressed air pipe for yet another advance up the drive. Sweat running into his eyes was blurring his vision, so at first he did not credit what he saw ahead of him in the darkness.
He shook his head to clear his eyes, and then squinted along the beam of his lamp. A heavy timber structure was hanging drunkenly from the roof of the drive. The bolts that held it were resisting the efforts of the water to tear it loose. Rod realized abruptly that this was what remained of the frame which had held the ventilation doors. The doors were gone, ripped away, but the frame was still in position. He knew that just beyond the ventilation doors the drop-blast matt began. They had reached it!
New strength flowed into his body and he swung forward along the pipe. The timber frame made a fine anchor point and Rod secured the rope to it, and flashed back the signal to Big King. He hung in the loop of rope and rested awhile, then he forced himself to take an interest in his surroundings. He played the beam over the distorted timber frame and saw instantly why the blasting circuit had been broken. In the lamp light the distinctive green plastic-coated blasting cable hung in festoons from the roof of the drive, clearly it had become entangled in the ventilation doors and been severed when they were ripped away. The loose end of the cable dangled to the surface of the racing water.
Rod fastened his eyes on it, drawing comfort and strength from the knowledge that they would not have to continue their agonized journey down the drive.
When Big King came up out of the gloom, Rod indicated the dangling cable.
“There!” he gasped, and Big King narrowed his eyes in acknowledgement; he was unable to speak.
It was five minutes before they could commence the excruciating business of hauling the dinghy up and securing it to the door frame.
Again they rested. Their movements were slowing up drastically. Neither of them had much strength left to draw upon.
“Get hold of the end of the cable,” Rod instructed Big King, and he dragged himself over the side of the dinghy and lay sprawled full-length on the floor boards.
His weight forced the dinghy deeper, increasing its resistance to the racing water, and the rope strained against the wooden frame. Rod began clumsily to unpack the battery blaster. Big King stood waist-deep clinging with one arm to the wooden frame, reaching forward with the other towards the end of the green-coated cable. It danced just beyond his finger tips, and he edged forward against the current, steadying himself against the timber frame, placing a greater strain on the retaining bolts.
His fingers closed on the cable and with a grunt of satisfaction he passed it back to Rod.
Working with painstaking deliberation, Rod connected the crocodile clips from the reel of wire to the loose end of the green cable. Rod’s plan was for both he and Big King to climb aboard the dinghy and, paying out the nylon rope, let themselves be carried back down the drive. At the same time they would be letting the wire run from its reel. At a safe distance they would fire the drop-blast matt.
Rod’s fingers were swollen and numbed. The minutes passed as he completed his preparations and all that while the strain on the wooden frame was heavy and consistent.
Rod looked up from his task, and crawled to his knees.
“All right, Big King,” he wheezed as he knelt in the bows of the dinghy and gripped the wooden frame to steady the dinghy. “Come aboard. We are ready.”
Big King waded forward and at that instant the retaining bolts on one side of the heavy timber frame gave way. With a rending, tearing sound the frame slewed across the tunnel. The beams of timber crossed each other like the blades of a pair of gigantic scissors. Both Rod’s arms were between the beams. The bones in his forearms snapped with the loud crackle of breaking sticks.
With a scream of pain Rod collapsed onto the floorboards of the dinghy, his arms useless, sticking out at absurd angles from their shattered bones. Three feet away Big King was still in the water. His mouth was wide open, but no sound issued from his throat. He stood still as a black statue and his eyes bulged from their sockets. Even through his own suffering Rod was horrified by the expression on Big King’s contorted features.
Below the surface of the water the bottom timber beams had performed the same scissor movement, but this time they had caught Big King’s lower body between them. They had closed across his pelvis and crushed it. Now they held Mm in a vicelike grip from which it was not possible to shake them.
The white face and the black face were but a few feet apart. The two stricken companions in disaster, looked into each other’s eyes and knew that there was no escape. They were doomed.
“My arms,” whispered Rod huskily. “I cannot use them.” Big King’s bulging eyes held Rod’s gaze.
“Can you reach the blaster?” Rod whispered urgently. “Take it and turn the handle. Burn it, Big King, burn it!”
Slow comprehension showed in Big King’spain-glazedeyes.
“We are finished, Big King. Let us go like men. Burn it, bring down the rock!”
Above them the rock was sown with explosive. The blaster was connected. In his agitation Rod tried to reach out for the blaster. His forearm swung loosely, the fingers hanging open like the petals of a dead flower, and the pain checked him.
“Get it, Big King,” Rod urged him, and Big King picked up the blaster and held it against his chest with one arm. “The handle!” Rod encouraged him. “Turn the handle!” But instead Big King reached into the dinghy once more and drew the machete from its sheath.
“What are you doing?” Rod demanded, and in reply Big King swung the blade back over his shoulder and then brought it forward in a gleaming arc aimed at the nylon rope that held the dinghy anchored to the wooden frame. Clunk! The blade bit into the wood, severing the rope that was bound around it.
Freed by the stroke of the machete, the dinghy was whisked away by the current. Lying in the dancing rubber dinghy, Rod heard a bull voice bellow above the rush of the water.
“Go in peace, my friend.”
Then Rod was careening back along the drive, a hell ride during which the dinghy spun like a top and in the beam of his lamp the roof and walls melted into a dark racing blur as Rod lay maimed on the floor of the dinghy.
Then suddenly the air jarred against his ear drums, a long rolling concussion in the confines of the drive and he knew that Big King had fired the drop-blast matt. Rodney Ironsides slipped over the edge of consciousness into a soft warm dark place from which he hoped never to return.
Dimitri squatted on his haunches above the shaft at 65 level. He was smoking his tenth cigarette. The rest of his men waited as impatiently as he did, every few minutes Dimitri would cross to the shaft and flash his lamp down the hundred foot hole to 66 level.
“How long have they been gone,” he asked, and they all glanced at their watches,
“An hour and ten minutes,
“No, an hour and fourteen minutes,”
“Christ, call me a liar for four minutes!”
And they lapsed into silence once more. Suddenly the station telephone shrilled, and Dimitri jumped up and ran to it,
“No, Mr Hirschfeld, nothing yet)‘
He listened a moment.
“All right, send him down then.”
He hung up the telephone, and his men looked at him enquiringly.
“They are sending down a policeman,” he explained,
‘What the hell for?“
“They want Big King,”
“Warrant of arrest for murder.”“
“Ja, they reckon he murdered that Portuguese storekeeper.”
“Big King, is that so!‘ Delighted to have found something to pass the time, they fell into an animated debate.
The police inspector arrived in the cage at 65 level, but he was disappointing. He looked like a down-at-heel undertaker, and he replied to their eager questions with a sorrowful stare that left them stuttering.
For the fifteenth time Dimitri went to the shaft and peered down into it. The blast shook the earth around them, a long rumbling that persisted for many seconds.
“They’ve done it!” yelled Dimitri, and began to caper wildly. His men leapt to their feet and began beating each other on the back, shouting and laughing. The police inspector alone took no part in the celebrations,
“Wait,” yelled Dimitri at last, “Shut up all of you! Shut up! Damn it! Listen!”
They fell silent.
“What is it?” someone asked. “I can’t hear anything.”
“That’s just it!‘ exulted Dimitri, ”The water! It has stopped!“
Only then did they become aware that the dull roar of water to which their ears had become resigned was now ended. It was quiet; a cathedral hush lay upon the workings. They began to cheer, their voices thin in the silence, and Dimitri ran to the steel ladder and swarmed down it like a monkey.
From thirty feet up Dimitri saw the dinghy marooned amongst the filth and debris around the shaft. He recognized the crumpled figure tying in the bottom of it.
“Rod!” he was shouting before he reached the station at 66 level. “Rod, are you all right?”
The floor of the haulage was wet, and here and there a trickle of water still snaked towards the shaft. Dimitri ran to the stranded dinghy and started to turn Rod onto his back. Then he saw his arms.
“Oh, Christ!” he gasped in horror, then he was yelling up the ladder. “Get a stretcher down here.”
Rod regained consciousness to find himself covered with blankets and strapped securely into a mine stretcher. His arms were splinted and bandaged, and from the familiar rattle and rush of air he knew he was in the cage on the way to the surface.
He recognized Dimitri’s voice raised argumentatively.
“Damn it! The man is unconscious and badly injured, can’t you leave him alone?”
have my duty to perform,“a strange voice answered,
“What’s he want, Dimitri?” Rod croaked.
“Rod, how are you?” At the sound of his voice Dimitri was kneeling beside the stretcher anxiously.
“Bloody awful,” Rod whispered. “What does this joker want?”
“He’s a police officer. He wants to arrest Big King for murder,” Dimitri explained.
“Well, he’s a bit bloody late,” whispered Rod, and even 2.
through his pain this seemed to Rod to be terribly funny. He began to laugh. He sobbed with laughter, each convulsion sending bright bursts of pain along his arms. He was shaking uncontrollably with shock, sweat pouring from his face, and he was laughing wildly.
“He’s a bit bloody late,” he repeated through his hysterical laughter as Dr Dan Stander pushed the hypodermic needle into his arm and shot him full of morphine.
Hurry Hirschfeld stood in the main haulage on 66 level. There was bustle all around him. Already the crews from the cementation company were manhandling their equipment up towards the blocked drive.
These were specialists from an independent contracting company. They were about to begin pumping thousands of tons of liquid cement into the rock jam that sealed the drive. They would pump it in at pressures in excess of 3000 pounds per square inch, and when that concrete set it would form a plug that would effectively seal off the drive for all time. It would also form a burial vault for the body of Big King, thought Hurry, a fitting monument to the man who had saved the Sender Ditch.
He would arrange to have a commemorative plaque placed on the outer wall of the cement plug with a suitable inscription describing the man and the deed.
The man’s dependants must be properly taken care of, perhaps they could be flown down for the unveiling of the plaque. Anyway he could leave that to Public Relations and Personnel.
The haulage stank of wetness and mud. It was dank and clammy cool, and it would not improve his lumbago. Hurry had seen enough; he started back towards the shaft. Faintly he was aware of the muted clangour of the mighty pumps which in a few days would free the Sonder Ditch of the water that filled her lower levels.
The laden stretchers with their grisly blanket-covered burdens stood in a row under the hastily rigged electric lights along one wall of the tunnel, Hurry’s expression hardened as he passed them.
“I’ll have the guts of the man responsible for this,” he vowed silently as he waited for the cage.
Terry Steyner rode in the rear of the ambulance with Rod. She wiped the mud from his face.
“How bad is it, Dan?” she asked.
“Hell, Terry, he’ll be up and about in a few days. The arms of course are not very pretty, that’s why I’m taking him directly to Johannesburg. I want a specialist orthopaedic surgeon to set them. Apart from that he is suffering from shock pretty badly and his hands are superficially lacerated. But he will be fine.”
Dan watched curiously as Terry fussed ineffectually with the damp hair of the drugged man.
“You want a smoke?” he asked.
“Light me one, please Dan.”
He passed her the cigarette.
‘I didn’t know that you and Rod were so friendly,” he ventured.
Terry looked up at him quickly.
“How very delicate you are, Dr Stander,” she mocked him.
“None of my business, of course.” Hurriedly Dan withdrew,
“Don’t be silly, Dan. You’re a good friend of Rod’s and Joy is mine. You two are entitled to know. I am desperately, crazily in love with this big hunk. I intend divorcing Manfred just as soon as possible.”
“Is Rod going to marry you?”
“He hasn’t said anything about marriage but I’ll sure as hell start working on him,” Terry grinned, and Dan laughed.
“Good luck to you both, then. I’m sure Rod will be able to get another job,”
“What do you mean?” Terry demanded.
“They say your grandfather is threatening to fire him so high he’ll be the first man on the moon.”
Terry relapsed into silence. Proof was what Pops had asked for, but what proof was there?
“They’ll be waiting on the X-Ray reports.” Joy Allbright gave her opinion. Since her engagement to Dan, Joy had suddenly become something of a medical expert. She had rushed down to the Johannesburg Central Hospital at Dan’s hurried telephonic request. Dan wanted her to keep Terry company while she waited for Rod to come out of emergency. They sat together in the waiting-room.
“I expect so,” Terry agreed. Something Joy had just said had jolted in her mind, something she must remember.
“It takes them twenty minutes or so to expose the plates and develop them. Then the radiologist has to examine the plates and make his report to the surgeon.”
There, Joy had said it again. Terry sat up straight and concentrated on what Joy had said. Which word had disturbed her?
Suddenly she had it.
“The report!” she exclaimed. “That’s it! The report, that’s the proof.”
She leapt out of her chair.
“Joy! Give me the keys of your car,” she demanded.
“What on earth?” Joy looked startled.
“I can’t explain now. I have to get home to Sandown urgently, give me your keys. I’ll explain later.”
Joy fished in her handbag and produced a leather key folder. Terry snatched it from her.
“Where are you parked?” Terry demanded.
“In the car park, near the main gate.”
“Thanks, Joy.” Terry dashed from the waiting-room, her high heels clattered down the passage.
“Crazy woman.” Joy looked after her bewildered.
Ten minutes later Dan looked into the waiting-room.
“Rod’s fine now. Where’s Terry?”
“She went mad—‘ And Joy explained her abrupt departure. Dan looked grave. ”I think we’d better follow her, Joy. “’I think you’re right, darling.” ‘ I’ll just grab my coat,“said Dan.
There was only one place where Manfred would keep the geological report on the Big Dipper that Rod had told her about. That was in the safe deposit behind the paneling in his study. Because her jewellery was kept in the same safe, Terry had a key and the combination to the lock.
Even in Joy’s Alfa Romeo, taking liberties with the traffic regulations, it was a thirty-five minute drive out to Sandown. It was after five in the evening when Terry coasted down the long driveway and parked before the garages.
The extensive grounds were deserted, for the gardeners finished at five, and there was no sign of life from the house. This was as it should be, for she knew Manfred was still in Europe. He was not due back for at least another four days.
Leaving the ignition keys in the Alfa, Terry ran up the pathway and onto the stoep. She fumbled in her handbag and found the keys to the front door. She let herself in, and went directly to Manfred’s study. She slid the concealing panel aside and set about the lengthy business of opening the steel safe. It required both key and combination to activate the mechanism, and Terry had never developed much expertise at tumbling the combination.
Finally, however, the door swung open and she was confronted by the voluminous contents. Terry began removing the various documents and files, examining each one and then stacking them neatly on the floor beside her.
She had no idea of the shape, size nor colour of the report for which she was searching, it was ten minutes before she selected an unmarked folder and flicked open the cover. “Confidential Report on the geological formations of the Kitchenerville gold fields, with special reference to those areas lying to the east of the Big Dipper Dyke.”
Terry felt a wonderful lift of relief as she read the titling for she had begun doubting that the report was here. Quickly she thumbed through the pages and began reading at random. There was no doubt.
“This is it!” she exclaimed aloud.
“I’ll take that, thank you. “The dreaded familiar voice cut into her preoccupation, and Terry spun around and came to her feet in one movement, clutching the file protectively to her breast. She backed away from the man who stood in the doorway.
She hardly recognized her own husband. She had never seen him like this. Manfred was coatless, and his shirt was without collar or stud. He appeared to have slept in his trousers, for they were rumpled and baggy. There was a yellow stain down the front of his white shirt.
His scanty brown hair was disheveled, hanging forward wispily onto his forehead. He had not shaved, and the skin around his eyes was discoloured and puffy.
“Give that to me.” He came towards her with hand outstretched.
“Manfred.” She kept moving away from him. “What are you doing here? When did you get back?”
“Give it to me, you slut.”
“Why do you call me that?” She asked, trying for time.
“Slut!” he repeated, and lunged towards her. Terry whirled away from him lightly.
She ran for the study door, with Manfred close behind her. She beat him into the passage and raced for the front door. Her heel caught in one of the persian carpets that covered the floor of the passage, and she staggered and fell against the wall.
“Whore!” He was on her instantly trying to wrestle the report out of her hands, but she clung to it with all her strength. Face to face they were almost of a height, and she saw the madness in his eyes.
Suddenly Manfred released her. He stepped back, bunched his fist and swung it round-armed into her cheek. Her head jerked back and cracked against the wall. He drew back his fist and hit her again. She felt the quick warm burst of blood spurt from her nose, and staggered through the door beside her into the dining-room. She was dizzy from the blows and she fell against the heavy stinkwood table.
Manfred was close behind her. He charged her, sending her sprawling backwards onto the table. He was on top of her, both his hands at her throat.
“I’m going to kill you, you whore,” he wheezed. His thumbs hooked and pressed deep into the flesh of her throat. With the frenzied strength of despair, Terry clawed at his eyes with both hands. Her nails scored his face, raking long red lines into his flesh. With a cry Manfred released her, and backed away holding both hands to his injured face, leaving Terry lying gasping across the table.
He stood for a moment, then uncovered his face and inspected the blood on his hands.
“I’ll kill you for that!”
But as he advanced towards her, Terry rolled over the table.
“Whore! Slut! Bitch!” he screamed at her, following her around the table. Terry kept ahead of him.
There were a matched pair of heavy Stuart crystal decanters on the sideboard, one containing port, the other sherry. Terry snatched up one of them and turned to face Manfred. She hurled the decanter with all her remaining strength at his head.
Manfred did not have time to duck. The decanter cracked against his forehead, and he fell backwards, stunned. Terry snatched up the report and ran out of the dining-room, down the passage, out of the front door and into the garden. She was running weakly, following the driveway towards the main road.
Then behind her she heard the engine of an automobile roar into life. Panting wildly, holding the report, she stopped and looked back. Manfred had followed her out of the house. He was behind the steering wheel of Joy’s Alfa Romeo. As she watched he threw the car into gear and howled towards her, blue smoke burning from the rear tyres with the speed of the acceleration. His face behind the windscreen was white and streaked with the marks of her nails, his eyes were staring, insane, and she knew he was going to ride her down.
She kicked off her shoes and ran off the driveway onto the lawns.
Crouched forward in the driver’s seat of the Alfa, Manfred watched the fleeing figure ahead of him.
Terry ran with the full-hipped sway of the mature woman, her long legs were tanned and her hair flew out loosely behind her.
Manfred was not concerned with the return of the geological report, its existence was no longer of significance to him. What he wanted was to completely destroy this woman. In his crazed state, she had become the symbol and the figurehead of all his woes. His humiliation and fall were all linked to her, he could exact his vengeance by destroying her, crushing that revolting warm and clinging body, bruising it, ripping it with the steel of the Alfa Romeo’s chassis.
He hit second gear and spun the steering-wheel. The Alfa swerved from the driveway, and as its rear wheels left the tarmac, they skidded on the thick grass. Deftly Manfred checked the skid and lined up on Terry’s running back.
Already she was among the protea bushes on the lower terrace. The Alfa buck-jumped the slope, flying bird-free before crashing down heavily on its suspension. Wheels spun and bit, and the sleek vehicle shot forward again.
Terry looked back over her shoulder, her face was white and her eyes very big and fear-filled. Manfred giggled. He was aware of a sense of power, the ability to dispense life or death. He steered for her, reckless of all consequences, intent on destroying her.
There was a six-foot tall protea bush ahead of him, and Manfred roared through it, bursting it asunder. Scattering branches and leaves, giggling again, he saw Terry directly ahead of him. She was still looking back at him, and at that moment she stumbled and fell onto her knees.
She was helpless. Her face streaked with tears and blood, her hair falling forward in wild disorder, kneeling as though for the headsman’s stroke. Manfred felt a flood of disappointment. He did not want it to end so soon, he wanted to savour this sadistic elation, this sense of power.
At the last possible moment he yanked the wheel over and the car slewed violently. It shot past Terry with six inches to spare, and its rear wheels pelted her with clods of turf and thrown dirt.
Laughing aloud, wild-eyed, Manfred held the wheel hard over, bringing the Alfa around in a tight skidding circle, crackling sideways through another protea bush.
Terry was up and running again. He saw immediately that she was heading for the change rooms of the swimming-pool among the trees on the bottom lawn and she was far enough ahead to elude him, perhaps.
“Bitch!” he snarled, and crash-changed into third gear, with engine revs peaking. The Alfa howled in pursuit of the running girl.
Had Terry thrown the bulky report aside, she might have reached the brick change rooms ahead of the racing sports car, but the report hampered and slowed her. She still had twenty yards to cover, she was running along the paved edge of the swimming-pool, and she sensed that the car was right on top of her.
Terry dived sideways, hitting the water flat on her side, and the Alfa roared past. Manfred trod heavily on the brakes, the Michelin metallic tyres screeched against the paving stones, and Manfred was out of the driver’s seat the moment the Alfa stopped.
He ran back to the pool side. Terry was floundering towards the far steps. She was exhausted, weak with exertion and terror. Her sodden hair streamed down over her face, and she was gasping open-mouthed for air. Manfred laughed again, a high-pitched, almost girlish giggle, and he dived after her, landing squarely between Terry’s shoulder blades with his full weight. She went under, sucking water agonizingly into already aching lungs, and when she surfaced she was coughing and gagging, blinded with water and her own wet hair.
Almost immediately she felt herself seized from behind and forced face down into the water. For half a minute she struggled fiercely, then her movements slowed and became weaker.
Manfred stood over her, chest deep in the clear water, gripping her around the waist and by a handful of her sodden hair, forcing her face deep below the surface. He had lost his spectacles, and he blinked owhshly. The wet silk of his shirt clung to his upper body, and the water had slicked his hair down.
As he felt the life going out of her, and her movements becoming sluggish and slow, he began to laugh again. The broken, incoherent laughter of a madman.
“Dan!” Joy pointed off through the trees. “That’s my car down there, parked by the swimming-pool!”
“What the hell is it doing there?”
“There’s something wrong, Terry wouldn’t drive through her beloved garden, unless there was!”
Dan braked sharply and pulled his Jaguar to the side of the driveway.
“I’m going to take a look.” He slid out of the car and started off across the lawns. Joy opened her own door and trotted after him.
Dan saw the man in the water, fully dressed, intent on what he was doing. He recognized Manfred Steyner.
“What the hell is he up to?” Dan started running. He reached the edge of the pool, and suddenly he realized what was happening.
“Christ! He’s drowning her,” he shouted aloud, and he sprang into the water.
He did not waste time struggling with Manfred. He hit him a great open-handed, round-armed blow, that cracked against the side of Manfred’s head like a pistol shot and sent him lurching sideways, releasing his grip on Terry.
Ignoring Manfred, Dan picked Terry from the water like a drowned kitten and waded to the steps. He carried her out and laid her face down on the paving. He knelt over her and began applying artificial respiration. He felt Terry stir under his hands, then cough and retch weakly.
Joy came up at the run and dropped on her knees beside him.
“My God, Dan, what happened?” ‘That little bastard was trying to drown her. “Dan looked up from his labours without interrupting the rhythm of his movement over Terry. She spluttered and retched again.
On the far side of the pool Manfred Steyner had dragged himself from the pool. He was sitting on the edge with his feet still dangling into the water, his head was hanging and he was fingering the side of his face where Dan had hit him. On his lap he held a wet pulpy mess that had been the geological report.
“Joy, can you take over here? Terry’s not too far gone, and I want to get my hands on that little Hun.”
Joy took Dan’s place over Terry’s prostrate form, and Dan stood up.
“What are you going to do to him?” Joy asked. “I’m going to beat him to a pulp.” ‘ Good show!“Joy encouraged him.” Give him one for me. “Manfred had heard the exchange and as Dan ran around the edge of the pool he scrambled to his feet, and staggered to the parked Alfa. He slammed the door and whirred the engine to life. Dan was just too late to stop him. The car shot forward across the lawns, leaving Dan running, futile, behind it.
“Look after her, Joy!” Dan shouted back. By the time Dan had run up the terrace to his Jaguar and reversed it to point in the opposite direction, the Alfa had disappeared through the white gates with a musical flutter of its exhaust.
“Come on, girlie,” Dan spoke to his Jaguar. “Let’s go get him.” The rear wheels spun as he pulled away,,
Without his spectacles Manfred Steyner’s vision was blurred and milky. The outlines of all objects on which he looked were softened and indistinct.
He instinctively checked the Alfa at the stop street at the bottom of the lane. He sat undecided, water still streaming from his clothing, squelching in his shoes. Beside him on the passenger seat lay the sodden report, its pages beginning to disintegrate from its soaking and the rough handling it had received.
He had to get rid of it. It was the shred of incriminating evidence. That was the only clear thought Manfred had. For the first time in his life the crystalline clarity of his thought processes was interrupted. He was confused, his mind jerking abruptly from one subject to another, the intense pleasure of inflicting hurt on Terry mingled with the sting and smart of his own injuries. He could not concentrate on either sensation for overlying it all was a sense of fear, of uncertainty. He felt vulnerable, hunted, hurt and shaken. His brain flickered and wavered as though a computer had developed an electrical fault. The answers it produced were nonsensical.
He looked in the rear view mirror, saw the Jaguar glide out between the white gates and turn towards him.
“Christ!‘ he panicked. He rammed his foot down on the accelerator and engaged the clutch. The Alfa screeched out into the main highway, swerved into the path of a heavy truck, bounded over the far kerb and swung back into the road.
Dan watched it tear away towards Kyalami.
He let the truck pass and then swung into the traffic behind it. He had to wait until the road was clear ahead before he could overtake the truck, and by that time the Alfa was a dwindling cream speck ahead of him.
Dan settled back in the leather bucket seat, and gave the Jaguar its head. He was furious, outraged by the treatment he had seen Manfred meting out to Terry. Her swollen and bruised face had shocked him and his feet were firmly set upon the path of vengeance.
His hands gripped the steering-wheel fiercely, he was muttering threats of violence as the speedometer moved up over the hundred mile per hour mark and he began relentlessly overhauling the cream sports car.
Steadily he moved up behind the Alfa until he was driving almost on its rear bumper. The Alfa was held up by a green school bus. Dan could not pass, however, for there was a steady stream of traffic coming in the opposite direction.
He fastened his attention on the back of Manfred’s head, still fuming with anger.
Dan dropped down a gear, ready to pull out and overtake the Alfa when the opportunity arose. At that moment Manfred looked up into his rear view mirror. Dan saw the reflection of his white face with disordered damp hair hanging onto the forehead, saw his expression change immediately he recognized Dan and the Alfa shot out into the face of the approaching traffic.
There was the howl and blare of horns, vehicles swerved to make way for Manfred’s wild rush. Dan glimpsed frightened faces nicking past, but the Alfa had squeezed around the green bus and was speeding away.
Dan dropped back, then sent the Jaguar like a thrown javelin through the gap between bus and kerb, overtaking on the wrong side and ignoring the bus driver’s yell of protest.
The Jaguar had a higher top speed, and on the long straight Pretoria highway Dan crept up steadily on the cream Alfa.
He could see Manfred glancing repeatedly into his driving-mirror, and he grinned mirthlessly.
Ahead of them the Highway rose and then dipped over a low rounded ridge. A double avenue of tall blue gum trees flanked each side of the road.
Traveling in the same direction as the two high performance sports cars was a mini of a good vintage year. Its elderly driver was triumphantly about to overtake an overloaded vegetable truck. Neck and neck they approached the blind rise at twenty-five miles per hour, between them they effectively blocked half the road.
The horn of the Alfa wailed a high-pitched warning, and Manfred pulled out to overtake both slower vehicles. He was level with them, well out over the white dividing line, when a cement truck popped up over the blind rise.
Dan stood on his brake pedal with all the strength of his right leg, and watched it happen.
The cement truck and the Alfa came head on towards each other at a combined speed of well over a hundred miles per hour. At the last moment the Alfa began to turn away but it was too late by many seconds.
It caught the heavy cement truck a glancing blow and was hurled across the path of the two slower vehicles, miraculously touching neither of them; it skidded sideways leaving reeking black smears of rubber on the tarmac, and hurdled the low bank. It struck one of the blue gums full on, with a force that shivered the giant tree trunk and brought down a rain of leaves. Dan pulled the Jaguar into the side of the road, parked it, and walked back.
He knew there was no hurry. The drivers of the mini and the vegetable truck were there before him. They were attempting to talk each other down, both of them excited and relieved by their own escapes.
“I’m a doctor,” said Dan, and they fell back respectfully.
“He doesn’t need a doctor,” said one of them. “He needs an undertaker.”
One look was sufficient. Dr Manfred Steyner was as dead as Dan had ever seen anybody. His crushed head was thrust through the windscreen. Dan picked up the sodden bundle of paper from the seat beside the huddled body. He was aware that some particular importance was attached to it.
Dan’s anger had evaporated entirely, and he felt a twinge of pity as he looked into the wreckage at the corpse. It appeared frail and small – of such little consequence.
The sunlight was sparkling bright, broken into a myriad eye-stinging fragments by the rippling surface of the bay.
The breeze was strong enough for the Arrow class yachts to fly their spinnakers as they came down on the wind. The sails bulged out blue and yellow and bright scarlet against the sombre green of the great whale-back bluff above Durban Bay.
Under the awning on the afterdeck of the motor yacht it was cool, but the fat man wore only a pair of white linen slacks with his feet thrust into dark blue cloth espadrilles.
Sprawled in a deck-chair, his belly bulged smooth and hard over the waistband of his slacks; he was tanned a dark mahogany colour and his body-hair grew thick and curly from chest to navel.
“Thank you, Andrew.” He extended his empty glass, and the younger man carried it to the open-air bar. The fat man watched him as he mixed another Pimms No., 1 cup.
A white-clad crew member clambered down the companion way from the bridge. He touched his cap respectfully to the fat man.
“Captain’s respects, sir, and we are ready to sail when you give the order.”
“Thank you. Please tell the captain we will sail as soon as Miss du Maine comes aboard.” And the crew man ran back to the bridge.
“Ah!” The fat man sighed happily as Andrew placed the Pimms in his out-stretched hand. “I have really earned this break. The last few weeks have been nerve-racking, to say the least.”
“Yes, sir,” Andrew agreed dutifully. “But, as usual, you snatched victory from the ashes.”
“It was close,” the fat man agreed. “Young Ironsides gave us all a nasty fright with his drop-blast matt. I was only just able to make good my personal commitments before the price shot up again. The profit was not as high as I had anticipated, but then I have never made a habit of peering into the mouths of gift-horses.”
“It was a pity that our associates lost all that money,” Andrew ventured.
“Yes, yes. A great pity. But rather them than us, Andrew.”
“Indeed, sir.”
“In a way I am glad it worked out as it did. I am a patriotic man, at heart. I am relieved that it was not necessary to disrupt the economy of the country to make our little profit.”
He stood up suddenly, his interest quickening as a taxi cab came down onto the Yacht Club jetty. The cabby opened a rear door and from it emerged a very beautiful young lady.
“Ah, Andrew! Our guest has arrived. You may warn the captain that we will be sailing within minutes; and send a man to fetch her luggage.”
He went to the entry port to welcome the young lady.
In mid-summer in the Zambesi Valley the heat is a solid white shimmering thing. In the noon day nothing moves in the merciless sunlight.
At the centre of the native village grew a baobab tree. A monstrous bloated trunk with malformed branches like the limbs of a polio victim. The carrion crows sat in it, black and shiny as cockroaches. A score of grass huts ringed the tree, and beyond them lay the tilled fields. The millet stood tall and green in the sun.
Along the rude track towards the village came a Land-rover. It came slowly, lurching and jolting over the rough ground, its motor growling in low gear, Printed in black on its sides were the letters A.R.C., African Recruiting Corporation.
The children heard it first, and crawled from the grass huts. Naked black bodies, and shrill excited voices in the sunlight.
They ran to meet the Landrover and danced beside it, shrieking and laughing. The Landrover came to a halt in the meagre shade under the baobab tree. An elderly white man climbed from the cab. He wore khaki safari clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. Complete silence fell, and one of the oldest boys fetched a carved stool and placed it in the shade.
The white man sat on the stool. A girl came forward, knelt before him and offered a gourd of millet beer. The white man drank from the gourd. No one spoke, none would disturb an honoured guest until he had taken refreshment, but from the grass hats the adult members of the village came. Blinking into the sunlight, winding their loin clothes about their waists. They came and squatted in a semi-circle before the white man on his stool.
He lowered the gourd and set it aside. He looked at them.
“I see you, my friend,” he greeted them, and the response was warm.
“We see you, old one,” they chorused, but the expression of their visitor remained grave.
Let the wives of King Nkulu come forward,“he called. ” Let them bring each their first-born son with them. “
Four women and four adolescent boys left the crowd and came shyly into the open. For a moment the white man studied them compassionately, then he stood and stepped forward. He placed a hand on the shoulder of each of the two eldest lads.
“Your father has gone to his fathers,” he told them. There was a stirring, an intake of breath, a startled cry, and then, as was proper, the eldest wife let out the first sobbing wail of mourning.
One by one each wife sank down onto the dry dusty earth and covered her head with her shawl.
“He is dead,” the white man repeated against the background of their keening lament. “But he died in such honour as to let his name live on forever. So great was his dying that ‘ for all their lives money will each month be paid to his wives, and for each of his sons there is already set aside a place at the University that each may grow as strong in learning as his father was in body. Of Big King there will be raised up an image in stone,
“The wives of Big King and his sons will travel in a flying machine to I’Goldi, that their eyes also may look upon the stone image of the man who was their husband and their father.” The white man paused for breath, it was a lengthy speech in the midday heat of the valley. He wiped his face and then tucked the handkerchief into his pocket.
“He was a lion!”
“Ngwenyama!” whispered the sturdy twelve-year-old boy standing beside the white man. The tears started from his eyes and greased down his cheeks. He turned away and ran alone into the millet fields.
Dennis Langley, the Sales Manager of Kitchenerville Motors who were the local Ford agents, stretched his arms over his head luxuriously. He sighed with deep contentment. What a lovely way to spend a working day morning.
“Happy?” asked Hettie Delange beside him in the double bed. In reply Dennis grinned and sighed again.
Hettie sat up and let the sheet fall to her waist. Her breasts were big and white, and damp with perspiration. She looked down on his naked chest and arm muscles approvingly,
“Gee, you’re built nicely.”
“So are you,” Dennis smiled up at her,
“You’re different from the other chaps I’ve gone out with,”
Hettie told him. “You speak so nicely – like a gentleman, you know.”
Before Dennis Langley could decide on a suitable reply, the front door bell shrilled, the sound of it echoing through the house. Dennis shot into an upright position with a fearful expression on his face. “Who’s that?” he demanded. “It’s probably the butcher delivering the meat.” ‘ It may be my wife!“Dennis cautioned her. ”Don’t answer it. “
“Of course I’ve got to answer it, silly.” Hettie threw back the sheet, and rose in her white and golden glory to find her dressing-gown. The sight was enough to momentarily quiet Dennis Langley’s misgivings, but as she belted her gown and hid it from view he urged her again.
“Be careful! Make sure it’s not her before you open the door.”
Hettie opened the front door, and immediately drew her gown more closely around her with one hand, while with the other she tried to pat her hair into a semblance of order. “Hello,” she breathed.
The tall young man in the doorway was really rather dreamy. He wore a dark business suit and carried an expensive leather briefcase.
“Mrs Delange?” he inquired. He had a nice soft dreamy voice.
“Yes, I’m Mrs Delange.” Hettie fluttered her eyelashes. “Won’t you come in?”
She led him through to the lounge, and she was pleasantly aware of his eyes on the opening of her gown. “What can I do for you?” she asked archly. “I am your local representative of the Sanlam Insurance Company, Mrs Delange. I have come to express my company’s condolences on your recent sad bereavement. I would have called sooner, but I did not wish to intrude on your sorrow.”
“Oh!‘ Hettie dropped her eyes, immediately adopting the role of the widow.
“However, we hope we can bring a little light to disperse the darkness that surrounds you. You may know that your husband was a policy-holder with our Company?”
Hettie shook her head, but watched with interest while the visitor opened his briefcase.
“Yes, he was. Two months ago he took out a straight life policy with double indemnity. The policy was ceded to you.” The Insurance man extracted a sheaf of papers from his case. “I have here my company’s cheque in full settlement of all claims under the policy. If you will just sign for it, please.”
“How much?” Hettie abandoned the role of the bereaved.
“With the double indemnity, the cheque is for forty-eight thousand Rand.”
Hettie’s eyes flew wide with delight.
“Gee!” she gasped. “That’s fabulous V
Hurry’s original intentions had expanded considerably. Instead of a plaque on the cement plug at 66 level, the monument to Big King had become a life-sized statue in bronze. He sited it on the lawns in front of the Administrative offices of the Sender Ditch on a base of black marble.
It was effective. The artist had captured a sense of urgency, of vibrant power. The inscription was simple, just the name of the man – ‘ King Nkulu’ – and the date of his death.
Hurry attended the unveiling in person, even though he hated ceremonies and avoided them whenever possible. In the front row of guests facing him his granddaughter sat beside Doctor Stander and his very new blonde wife. She winked at him and Hurry frowned lovingly back at her.
From the seat beside Hurry, young Ironsides stood up to introduce the Chairman. Hurry noted the expression on his granddaughter’s face as she transferred all her attention to the tall young man with both his arms encased in plaster of Paris and supported by slings.
“Perhaps I should have fired him, after all,” thought Hurry. “He is going to cut one out of my herd.”
Hurry glanced sideways at his General Manager, and decided with resignation, “Too late‘. Then went on to cheer himself. ”Anyway he looks like good breeding stock. “
His line of thought switched again. “Better start making arrangements to transfer him up to Head Office. He will need a lot of grooming and polishing.”
Without thinking he fished a powerful-looking cigar from his breast pocket. He had it half-way to his mouth when he caught Terry’s scandalized glare. Silently her lips formed the words: ‘Your doctor!“
Guiltily Hurry Hirschfeld stuffed the cigar back into his pocket.

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Gold mine part 1

It began in the time when the world was young, in the time before man, in the time before life itself had evolved upon this planet.
The crust of the earth was still thin and soft, distorted and riven by the enormous pressures from within.
What is now the flat, compacted shield of the African continent, stable and unchanging, was a series of alps. It was range upon range of mountains, thrown up and tumbled down by the movements of the magma at great depth. These were mountains such as man has never seen, so massive as to dwarf the Himalayas, mountains of steaming rock from whose clefts and gaping wounds the molten magma trickled.
It came up from the earth’s centre along the fissures and weak places in the crust, bubbling and boiling, yet cooling steadily as it neared the surface so that the least volatile minerals were deposited deeper down, but those with a lower melting point were carried to the surface.
At one point in the measureless passage of time, another series of these fissures opened upon one of the nameless mountain ranges, but from them gushed rivers of molten gold. Some natural freak of temperature and chemical change had resulted in a crude but effective process of refinement during the journey to the earth’s surface. The gold was in high concentration in the matrix, and it cooled and solidified at the surface.
If the mountains of that time were so massive as to challenge the imagination of man, then the storms of wind and rain that blew around them were of equal magnitude.
It was a hellish landscape in which the gold field was conceived, cruel mountains reaching stark and sheer into the clouds. Cloud banks dark with the sulphurous gases of the belching earth, so thick that the rays of the sun never penetrated them.
The atmosphere was laden with all the moisture that was to become the seas, so heavy with it that it rained in one perpetual wind-lashed storm upon the hot rock of the cooling earth, then the moisture rose in steam to condense and fall again.
As the years passed by their millions, so the wind and the rain whittled away at the nameless mountain range with its coating of gold-rich ore, grinding it loose and carrying it down in freshets and rivers and rushes of mud and rock into the valley between this range and the next.
Now as the country rock cooled, so the waters lay longer upon the earth before evaporating, and they accumulated in this valley to form a lake the size of an inland sea.
Into this lake poured the storm waters from the golden mountains, carrying with them tiny particles of the yellow metal which settled with other sand and quartz gravel upon the lake bed, to be compacted into a solid sheet.
In time all the gold was scoured from the mountains, transported and laid down upon the lake beds.
Then, as happened every ten million years or so, the earth entered another period of intense seismic activity. The earth shuddered and heaved as earthquake after mammoth earthquake convulsed it.
One fearsome paroxysm cracked the bed of the lake from end to end draining it and fracturing the sedimentary beds, scattering fragments haphazardly so that great sheets of rock many miles across tilted and reared on end.
Again and again the earthquakes gripped and shook the earth. The mountains tottered and collapsed, filling the valley where the lake had stood, burying some of the sheets of gold-rich rock, pulverizing others.
That cycle of seismic activity passed, and the ages wheeled on in their majesty. The floods and the great droughts came and receded. The miraculous spark of life was struck and burned up brightly, through the time of the monstrous reptiles, on through countless twists and turns of evolution until near the middle of the pleistocene age a man-ape -australopithecus – picked up the thigh bone of a buffalo from beside an outcrop of rock to use it as a weapon, a tool.
Australopithecus stood at the centre of a flat, sun-seared plateau that reached five hundred miles in each direction to the sea, for the mountains and the lake beds had long ago been flattened and buried.
Eight hundred thousand years later, one of australopithecus’ distant but direct line stood at the same spot with a tool in his hand. The man’s name was Harrison and the tool was more sophisticated than that of his ancestor, it was a prospector’s pick of wood and metal.
Harrison stooped and chipped at the outcrop of rock that protruded from the dry brown African earth. He freed a piece of the stone and straightened with it in his hand.
He held it to catch the sun and grunted with disgust. It was a most uninteresting piece of stone, conglomerate, marbled black and grey. Without hope he held it to his mouth and licked it, wetting the surface before again holding it to the sun, an old prospectors’ trick to highlight the metal in the ore.
His eyes narrowed in surprise as the tiny golden flecks in the rock sparkled back at him.
History remembers only his name, not his age nor his antecedents, not the colour of his eyes nor how he died, for within a month he had sold his claim for £10 and disappeared – in search, perhaps, of a really big strike.
He might have done better to retain his title to those claims.
In the eighty years since then an estimated five hundred million ounces of fine gold have been recovered from the fields of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. This is a fraction of that which remains, and which in time will be taken from the earth. For the men who mine the South African fields are the most patiently persistent, inventive and pig-headed of all Vulcan’s brood.
This mass of precious metal is the foundation on which the prosperity of a vigorous young nation of eighteen million souls is based.
Yet the earth yields her treasure reluctantly – men must coax and wrest it from her.
Even with the electric fan blowing up a gale from the corner it was stinking hot in Rod Ironsides’ office.
He reached for the silver Thermos of iced water at the edge of his desk, and arrested the movement as the jug began to dance before his finger tips touched it. The metal bottle skittered across the polished wooden surface; the desk itself shuddered, rustling the papers upon it. The walls of the room shook, so that the windows rattled in their frames. Four seconds the tremor lasted, and then it was still again.
“Christ!” said Rod, and snatched up one of the three telephones on his desk.
“This is the Underground Manager. Get me the rock mechanic’s lab, honey, and snap it up, please.”
He drummed his fingers on the desk impatiently as he waited to be connected. The interleading door of his office opened and Dimitri put his head around the jamb.
“You feel that one, Rod? That was a bad one.”
“I felt it.” Then the telephone spoke into his ear.
“Dr Wessels here.”
“Peter, it’s Rod. Did you read that one?”
“I haven’t got a fix on it yet – can you hold on a minute?”
“I’ll wait.” Rod curbed his impatience. He knew that Peter Wessels was the only person who could read the mass of complicated electronic equipment that filled the instrument room of the rock mechanic’s laboratory. The laboratory was a joint research project by four of the major gold-mining companies; between them they had put up a quarter of a million Rand to finance an authoritative investigation of rock and seismic activity under stress. They had selected the Sonder Ditch Gold Mining Company’s lease area as the site for the laboratory. Now Peter Wessels had his microphones‘’ sited thousands of feet down in the earth, and his tape-recorders and stylus graphs ready to pinpoint any underground disturbance.
Another minute ticked by, and Rod swiveled his chair and stared out of the plate glass window at the monstrous head gear of No. i shaft, tall as a ten-storey building.
“Come on, Peter, come on, boy,” he muttered to himself. “I’ve got twelve thousand of my boys down there.”
With the telephone still pressed to his ear, he glanced at his watch.
“Two-thirty,” he muttered. “The worst possible time. They’ll still be in the stopes.”
He heard the receiver picked up on the other end, and Peter Wessels’ voice was almost apologetic.
“I’m sorry, Rod, you’ve had a force seven pressure burst at 9,500 feet in sector Sugar seven Charlie two.”
“Christ!” said Rod and slammed down the receiver. He was up from his desk in one movement, his face set and angry.
“Dimitri,” he snapped at his assistant still in the doorway. “We won’t wait for them to call us, it’s a top-sequence emergency. That was a force seven bump, with its source plumb in the middle of our eastern longwall at 95 level.”
“Sweet Mary Mother,” said Dimitri, and darted back into his own office. He bent his glossy black head of curls over the telephone and Rod heard him start his top-sequence calls.
“Mine hospital… emergency team… Chief Ventilation Officer… General Manager’s office.”
Rod turned away, as the outer door of his office opened and Jimmy Paterson, his electrical engineer, came in.
“I felt it, Rod. How’s it look?”
“Bad,” said Rod, then there were the other line managers crowding into his office talking quietly, lighting cigarettes,coughing and shuffling their feet, but all of them watching the white telephone on Rod’s desk. The minutes crawled by like crippled insects.
“Dimitri,” Rod called out to break the tension, “Have you got a cage held at the shaft head?”
“They’re holding the Mary Anne for us.”
“I’ve got five men checking the high tension cable on 95 level,” said Jimmy Paterson, and they ignored him. They were watching the white phone.
“Have you located the boss yet, Dimitri?” Rod asked again, he was pacing in front of his desk. It was only when he stood close to other men that you saw how tall he was.
“He’s underground, Rod. He went down at twelve-thirty.”
“Put in an all-stations call for him to contact me here.”
“I’ve done that already.”
The white phone rang.
Only once, a shrill note that ripped along Rod’s nerve ends. Then he had the receiver up to his ear.
“Underground Manager,” he said. There was a long silence and he could hear the man breathing on the other end.
“Speak, man, what is it?”
“The whole bloody thing has come down,” said the voice. It was husky, rough with fear and dust.
“Where are you speaking from?” Rod asked.
“They’re still in there,” said the voice. “They’re screaming in there. Under the rock. They’re screaming.”
“What is your station?” Rod made his voice cold, hard, trying to reach the man through his shock.
“The whole stope fell in on them. The whole bloody thing.”
“God damn you! You stupid bastard!” Rod bellowed into the phone. “Give me your station!”
There was stunned silence for a moment. Then the man’s voice came back, steadier now, angry from the insult.
“95 level main haulage. Section 43. Eastern longwall.”
“We’re coming.” Rod hung up, picked up his yellow fibre-glass hard helmet and lamp from the desk.
“43 section. The hanging wall has come down,” he said to Dimitri.
“Fatals?” the little Greek asked.
“For sure. They’ve got squealers under the rock.”
Rod clapped on his hat.
“Take over on surface, Dimitri.”
Rod was still buttoning the front of his white overalls as he reached the shaft head. Automatically he read the sign above the entrance:
“We’ll have to change the number again,” Rod thought with grim humour.
The Mary Anne was waiting. Into its heavily wired confines were crowded the first-aid team and emergency squad. The Mary Anne was the small cage used for lowering and hoisting personnel, there were two much larger cages that could carry i2d men at one trip, while the Mary Anne could handle only forty. But that was sufficient for now.
“Let’s go,” said Rod as he stepped into the cage, and the onsetter slammed the steel roller doors closed. The bell rang once, twice, and the floor dropped away from under him as the Mary Anne started down. Rod’s belly came up to press against his ribs. They went down in one long continuous rush in the darkness. The cage jarring and racketing, the air changing in smell and taste, becoming chemical and processed, the heat building up rapidly,
Rod stood hunch-shouldered, leaning against the metal screen of the cage. The head room was a mere six foot three, and with his helmet on Rod stood taller than that. So today we get another butcher’s bill, he thought angrily.
He was always angry when the earth took its payment in mangled flesh and snapping bones. All the ingenuity of man and the experience gained in sixty years of deep mining on the Witwatersrand were used in trying to keep the price in blood as low as possible. But when you go down into the ultra-deep levels below eight thousand feet and from those ‘ depths you remove a quarter of a million tons of rock each month, mining on an inclined sheet of reef that leaves a vast low-roofed chamber thousands of feet across, then you must pay, for the stress builds up in the rock as the focal points of pressure change until the moment when it reaches breaking point and she bumps. That is when men die.
Rod’s knees flexed under him as the cage braked and then yo-yoed to a halt at the brightly lit station on 66 level.
Here they must trans-ship to the sub-main shaft. The door rattled up and Rod left the cage, striding out down the main haulage the size of a railway tunnel; concreted and whitewashed, brightly lit by the bulbs that lined the roof, it curved gently away.
The emergency team followed Rod. Not running, but walking with the suppressed nervous energy of men going into danger. Rod led them towards the sub-main shaft.
There is a limit to the depth which you can sink a shaft into the earth and then equip it to carry men suspended on a steel cable in a tiny wire cage. The limit is about 7,000 feet.
At this depth you must start again, blast out a new headgear chamber from the living rock and below it sink your new shaft, the sub-main.
The sub-main Mary Anne was waiting for them, and Rod led them into it. They stood shoulder to shoulder, and the door rattled shut and again the stomach-swooping rush down into darkness.
Down, down, down.
Rod switched on his head lamp. Now there were tiny motes in the air – air that had been sterilely clean before.
Dust I One of the deadly enemies of the miner. Dust from the burst. As yet the ventilation system had been unable to clear it.
Endlessly they fell in darkness and now it was very hot, the humidity building up so the faces about him, both black and white, were shiny with sweat in the light of his head lamp.
The dust was thicker now, someone coughed. The brightly lit stations flashed past them – 76, 77, 78 – down, down. The dust was a fine mist now. 85, 86, 87. No one had spoken since entering the cage. 93, 94, 95. The deceleration and stop.
The door rattled up. They were 9,500 feet below the surface of the earth.
“Come on,” said Rod.
There were men cluttering the lobby of 95 station, 150, perhaps 200 of them. Still filthy from their work in the stopes, clothing sodden with sweat, they were laughing and chattering with the abandon of men freshly released from frightful danger.
In a clear space in the centre of the lobby lay five stretchers, on two of them the bright red blankets were pulled up to cover the faces of the men upon them. The faces of the other three men looked as though they had been dusted with flour.
“Two‘ – grunted Rod – ’so far.”
The station was a shambles, with men milling aimlessly, each minute more of them came back down the haulages as they were pulled out of the undamaged stopes, which were now suspect.
Quickly Rod looked about him, recognizing the face of one of his mine captains.
“McGee,” he shouted. “Take over here. Get them sitting down in lines ready to load. We’ll start hauling the shift out immediately. Get onto the hoist room, tell them I want the stretcher cases out first,”
He paused long enough to watch McGee take control. He glanced at his watch. Two fifty-six. He realized with astonishment that only twenty-six minutes had passed since he felt the pressure burst in his office.
McGee had the station under a semblance of control. He was shouting into the hoist room telephone, on Rod’s authority demanding priority to clear 95 station.
“Right,” said Rod. “Come on.” And he led into the haulage.
The dust was thick. He coughed. The hanging wall was lower here. As he trudged on once more, Rod pondered the unfortunate choice of mining terminology that had named the roof of an excavation ‘ the hanging wall’. It made one think of a gallows, or at the best it emphasized the fact that there were millions of tons of rock hanging overhead.
The haulage branched, and unerringly Rod took the right fork. In his head he carried an accurate three-dimensional map of the entire 176 miles of tunnels that comprised the Sonder Ditch’s workings. The haulage came to a ‘T’ junction and the arms were lower and narrower. Right to 42 section, left to 43 section. The dust was so thick that visibility was down to ten feet. The dust hung in the air, sinking almost imperceptibly.
“Ventilations knocked out here,” he called over his shoulder. “Van den Bergh!”
“Yes, sir.” The leader of the emergency squad came up behind him.
“I want air in this drive. Get it on. Use canvas piping if you have to.”
“Then I want pressure on the water hoses to lay this dust.”
Rod turned into the drive. Here the foot wall – the floor -was rough and the going slower. They came upon a line of steel trolleys filled with gold reef abandoned in the centre of the drive.
“Get these the hell out of the way,” ordered Rod, and went on.
Fifty paces and he stopped abruptly. He felt the hair on his forearms stand on end. He could never accustom himself to the sound, no matter how often he heard it.
In the deliberately callous slang of the miner they called them ‘ squealers’. It was the sound of a grown man, with his legs crushed under hundreds of tons of rock, perhaps his spine broken, dust suffocating him, his mind unhinged by the mortal horror of the situation in which he was trapped, calling for help, calling to his God, calling for his wife, his children, or his mother.
Rod started forward again, with the sound of it becoming louder, a terrifying sound, hardly human, sobbing and babbling into silence, only to start again with a blood-chilling scream.
Suddenly there were men ahead of Rod in the tunnel, dark shapes looming in the dust mist, their head lamps throwing shafts of yellow light, grotesque, distorted.
“Who is that?” Rod called, and they recognized his voice.
“Thank God. Thank God you’ve come, Mr Ironsides.”
“Who is that?”
“Barnard.” The 43 section shift boss.
“What’s the damage?”
“The whole hanging wall of the stope came down.”
“How many men in the stope?”
“How many still in?
“So far we’ve got out sixteen unhurt, twelve slightly hurt, three stretcher cases and two dead ‘uns.”
The squealer started again, but his voice was much weaker.
“Him?”asked Rod.
“He’s got twenty ton of rock lying across his pelvis. I’ve hit him with two shots of morphine but it won’t stop him.”
“Can you get into the stope?”
“Yes, there is a crawling hole.” Barnard flashed his lamp over the pile of fractured blue quartzite that jammed the drive like a collapsed garden wall. On it was an aperture big enough for a fox terrier to run through. Reflected light showed from the hole, and faintly from within came the grating sounds of movement over loose rock and the muffled voices of men.
“How many men have you got working in there, Barnard? ”
“I‘ – Barnard hesitated, ” I think about ten or twelve. “
And Rod grabbed a handful of his overall front and jerked him almost off his feet,
“You think!” In the head lamps Rod’s face was white with fury. “You’ve put men in there without recording their numbers? You’ve put twelve of my boys against the wall to try and save nine?” With a heave Rod lifted the shift boss off his feet and swung him against the side wall of the drive, pinning him there.
“You bastard, you know that most of those nine are chopped already. You know that stope is a bloody killing ground, and you send in twelve more to get the chop and you don’t record their numbers. How the hell would we ever know who to look for if the hanging fell again?” He let the shift boss free, and stood back. “Get them out of there, clear that stope.”
“But, Mr Ironsides, the General Manager is in there, Mr Lemmer is in there. He was doing an inspection in the stope,”
For a moment Rod was taken aback, then he snarled. “I don’t give a good damn if the State President is in there, clear the stope. We’ll start again and this time we’ll do it properly.”
Within minutes the rescuers had been recalled, they came squirming out of the aperture, white with dust like maggots wriggling from rotten cheese.
“Right,” said Rod, “I’ll risk four men at a time.”
Quickly he picked four of the floury figures, among them an enormous man on whose right shoulder was the brass badge of a boss boy.
“Big King – you here?” Rod spoke in Fanikalo, the lingua franca of the mines which enabled men from a dozen ethnic groups to communicate.
“I am here,” answered Big King,
You looking for more awards?“A month before, Big King had been lowered on a rope 200 feet down a vertical orepass to retrieve the body of a white miner. The bravery award by the company had been 100 Rand.
“Who speaks of awards when the earth has eaten the flesh of men?” Big King rebuked Rod softly. “But today is children’s play only. Is the Nkosi coming into the stope?” It was a challenge.
Rod’s place was not in the stope. He was the organizer, the coordinator. Yet, he could not ignore the challenge, no Bantu would believe that he had not stood back in fear and sent other men in to die.
“Yes,” said Rod, “I’m coming into the stope.”
He led them in. The hole was only just big enough to admit the bulk of Rod’s body. He found himself in a chamber, the size of an average room, but the roof was only three and a half feet high. He played his lamp quickly across the hanging wall, and it was wicked. The rock was cracked and ugly, “a bunch of grapes’ was the term.
“Very pretty,” he said, and dropped the beam of his lamp.
The squealer was within an arm’s length of Rod. His body from the waist up protruded from under a piece of rock the size of a Cadillac. Someone had wrapped a red blanket around his upper body. He was quiet now, lying still. But as the beam of Rod’s lamp fell upon him, he lifted his head. His eyes were crazed, unseeing, his face running with the sweat of terror and insanity. His mouth snapped open, wide and pink in the shiny blackness of his face. He began to scream, but suddenly the sound was drowned by a great red-black gout of blood that came gushing up his throat, and spurted from his mouth.
As Rod watched in horror, the Bantu posed like that, his head thrown back, his mouth gaping as though he were a gargoyle, the life blood pouring from him. Then slowly the head sagged forward, and flopped face downwards. Rod crawled to him, lifted his head and pillowed it on the red blanket.
There was blood on his hands and he wiped it on the front of his overalls.
“Three,” he said, ”so far. “And leaving the dying man he crawled on towards the broken face of the fall.
Big King crawled up beside him with two pinch bars. He handed one to Rod.
Within an hour it had become a contest, a trial of strength between the two men. Behind them the other three men were shoring up and passing back the rock that Rod and Big King loosened from the face. Rod knew he was being childish, he should have been back in the main haulage, not only directing the rescue, but also making all the other decisions and alternative arrangements that were needed now. The company paid him for his brains and his experience, not for his muscle.
“The hell with it,” he thought. “Even if we miss the blast this evening, I’m staying here.” He glanced at Big King, and reached forward to get his hands onto a bigger piece of rock in the jam. He strained, using his arms first, then bringing the power of his whole body into it, the rock was solid. Big King placed huge black hands on the rock, and they pulled together. In a rush of smaller rock it came away, and they shoved it back between them, grinning at each other.
At seven o’clock Rod and Big King withdrew from the stope to rest and eat sandwiches, and drink Thermos coffee while Rod spoke to Dimitri over the field telephone that had been laid up to the face.
“We’ve pulled shift on both shafts, Rod, the workings are clear to blast. Except for your lot, there are fifty-eight men in your 43 section.” Dimitri’s voice was reedy over the field telephone.
“Hold on.” Rod revolved the situation in his mind. He worked it out slower than usual, for he was tired, emotionally and physically drained. If he stopped the blast on both shafts for fear of bringing down more rock in 43 section, it would cost the Company a day’s production ten thousand tons of gold reef worth sixteen Rand a ton, the formidable sum of Ri6o,ooo or £80,000 or $200,000 whichever way you looked at it.
It was highly probable that every man in the stope was already dead, and the original pressure burst had de-stressed the rock above and around the 95 level, so there was little danger of further bumps.
And yet there might be someone alive in there, someone lying pinned in the womb-warm darkness of the stope with a bunch of loose grapes hanging over his unprotected body. When they hit all the blast buttons on the Sonder Ditch Mine, they fired eighteen tons of Dynagel. The kick was considerable, it would bring down those grapes.
“Dimitri,” Rod made his decision, “burn all longwalls on No. 2 shaft at seven-thirty exactly.” No. 2 shaft was three miles away. That would save the Company R8o,ooo. “Then at precisely five minute intervals burn south, north and west longwalls here on No. i shaft.” Spreading the blast would reduce the disturbance, and that put another R6o,ooo in the shareholders’ pockets. The total monetary loss inflicted by the disaster was around R2o,ooo. Not too bad really, Rod thought sardonically, blood was cheap. You could buy it at three Rand a pint from the Central Blood Transfusion Service.
“All right,” he stood up, and flexed his aching shoulders, “I’m pulling everybody back into the safety of the shaft pillar while we blast.”
After the successive earth tremors of the blast, Rod put them back into the stope, and at nine o’clock they uncovered the bodies of two machine boys crushed against the metal of their own rock drill. Ten feet further on they found the white miner, his body was unmarked, but his head was flattened.
At eleven o’clock they found two more machine boys. Rod was in the haulage when they dragged them out through the small opening. Neither of them were recognizable as human, they looked more like lumps of raw meat that had been rubbed in dirt.
A little after midnight Rod and Big King went into the stope again to take over from the team at the face, and twenty minutes later they holed through the wall of loose rock into another chamber that had been miraculously left standing.
The air in here was steamy with heat. Rod recoiled instinctively from the filthy moist gush of it against his face. Then he forced himself to crawl forward and peer into the , opening.
Ten feet away lay Frank Lemmer, the General Manager of the Sender Ditch Mine. He lay on his back. His helmet had been knocked from his head, and a deep gash split the skin above his eye. Blood from the gash had run back into his silver hair and clotted black. He opened his eyes and blinked owlishly in the dazzle of Rod’s lamp. Quickly Rod , averted the beam.
“Mr Lemmer,” he said.
“What the bloody hell are you doing with the rescue team?” growled Frank Lemmer. “It’s not your job. Haven’t ; you learned a single goddamned thing in twenty years of mining?”
“Are you all right, sir?”
“Get a doctor in here,” replied Frank Lemmer. “You’re going to have to cut me loose from this lot.”
Rod wriggled up to where he lay, and then he saw what Frank Lemmer meant. From the elbow his arm was pinned under a solid slab of rock. Rod ran his hands over the slab, feeling it. Only explosive would shift that rock. As always Frank Lemmer was right.
Rod wriggled out of the opening and called over his shoulder.
“Get the telephone up here.”
After a few minutes’ delay he had the receiver, and was through to the station at 95 level which had been set up as an advance aid post and rest station for the rescuers.
“This is Ironsides, get me Doctor Stander.”
“Hold on.”
Then moments later, “Hello, Rod, it’s Dan.”
“Dan, we’ve found the old man.”
“How is he, conscious?”
“Yes, but he’s pinned – you’ll have to cut.”
“Are you sure?” Dan Stander asked.
“Of course I’m bloody well sure,” snapped Rod.
“Whoa, boy!” admonished Dan.
“Okay, where’s he caught?”
“Arm. You’ll have to cut above the elbow.”
“Charming!” said Dan.
“I’ll wait here for you.”
“Right. I’ll be up in five minutes.”
“It’s funny, you see them chopped time and again, but you know it will never happen to you.” Frank Lemmer’s voice was steady and even, the arm must be numb, Rod thought as he lay beside him in the stope.
Frank Lemmer rolled his head towards Rod. “Why don’t you go farming, boy?”
“You know why,” said Rod.
“Yes.” Lemmer smiled a little, just a twitching of the lips. With his free hand he wiped his mouth. “You know, I had just three months more before I went on pension. I nearly made it. You’ll end like this, boy, in the dirt with your bones crunched up.”
“It’s not the end,” said Rod.
“Isn’t it?” asked Frank Lemmer, and this time he chuckled. “Isn’t it?”
“What’s the joke?” asked Dan Stander, poking his head into the tiny chamber,
“Christ, it took you long enough to get here,” growled Frank Lemmer.
“Give me a hand, Rod.” Dan passed his bag through, then as he crawled forward he spoke to Frank Lemmer.
“Union Steel closed at 98 cents tonight. I told you to buy.”
“Over-priced, over-capitalized,” snorted Frank Lemmer, Dan lay on his side in the dirt and laid out his instruments, and they argued stocks and shares. When Dan had the syringe full of pentathol and was swabbing Frank Lemmer’s stringy old arm, Lemmer rolled his head towards Rod again.
“We made a good dig here, Rodney, you and I. I wish they’d give it to you now, but they won’t. You’re still too young. But whoever they put in my place, you keep an eye on him, you know the ground – don’t let him balls it up,”
And the needle went in.
Dan cut through the arm in four and a half minutes, and twenty-seven minutes later Frank’Lemmer died of shock and exposure in the Mary Anne on his way to the surface.
Once he had paid Patti’s alimony there was not too much of Rod’s salary left for extravagances, but one of these was the big cream Maserati. Although it was a 1967 model, and had done nearly thirty thousand miles when he bought it, yet the installments still took a healthy bite out of his monthly pay cheque.
On mornings like this he reckoned the expense worthwhile. He came twisting down from the Kraalkop ridge, and when the national road flattened and straightened for the final run into Johannesburg he let the Maserati go. The car seemed to flatten against the ground like a running lion, and the exhaust note changed subtly, becoming deeper, more urgent.
Ordinarily, it was an hour’s run from the Bonder Ditch Mine into the city of Johannesburg, but Rod could clip twenty minutes off that time,
It was Saturday morning, and Rod’s mood was light and expectant.
Since the divorce Rod had lived a Jekyll and Hyde existence. Five days of the week he was the company man in top-line management, but on the last two days of the week he went into Johannesburg with his golf clubs in the boot of the Maserati, the keys to his luxury Hillbrow apartment in his pocket, and a chuckle on his lips.
Today the anticipation was keener than ever for, in addition to the twenty-two-year-old blonde model who was prepared to devote her evening to entertaining Rodney Ironsides, there was the mysterious summons from Dr Manfred Steyner to answer.
The summons had been delivered by a nameless female caller describing herself as ‘Dr Steyner’s Secretary’. It had come the day after Frank Lemmer’s funeral, and was for Saturday at 11 a.m.
Rod had never met Manfred Steyner, but he had, of course, heard of him. Anyone who worked for any of the fifty or sixty companies that comprised the Central Rand Consolidated Group must have heard of Manfred Steyner, and the Sender Ditch Gold Company was just one of the Group.
Manfred Steyner had a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Berlin University, and a Doctor’s degree in Business Administration from Cornell. He had joined CRC a mere twelve years previously at the age of thirty, and now he was the front runner. Hurry Hirschfeld could not live for ever, although he gave indications of doing so, and when he went down to make a takeover bid on Hades, the word was that Manfred Steyner would succeed him as Chairman of CRC.
Chairmanship of CRC was an enviable position, the incumbent automatically became one of the five most powerful men in Africa, and that included heads of state.
The betting favoured Dr Steyner for a number of good reasons. He had a brain that had earned him the nickname of ‘ The Computer’; no one had yet been able to detect in him the slightest evidence of a human weakness, and more than this he had taken the trouble ten years previously to catch Hurry Hirschfeld’s only granddaughter as she emerged from Cape Town University and marry her.
Dr Steyner was in a strong position, and Rod was intrigued with the prospect of meeting him.
The Maserati was registering 125 miles an hour as he went under the over-pass of the Kloof Gold Mining Company property.
“Johannesburg, here I come!” Rod laughed aloud.
It was ten minutes before eleven o’clock when Rod found the brass plaque reading ‘Dr M. K. Steyner’ in a secluded lane of the lush Johannesburg suburb of Sandown. The house was not visible from the road, and Rod let the Maserati roll gently in through the tall white gates, with their imitation Cape Dutch gables.
The gates, he decided, were a display of shocking taste but the gardens beyond them were paradise. Rod knew rock, but flowers were his weak suit. He recognized the massed banks of red and yellow against the green lawns as cannas, but after that he had no names for the blazing beauty spread about him.
“Wow!” he muttered in awe. “Someone has done a hell of a lot of work around here.”
Around a curve in the macadamised drive lay the house. It also was Cape Dutch and Rod forgave Dr Steyner his gates.
“Wow!” he said again, and involuntarily braked the Maserati to a standstill.
Cape Dutch is one of the most difficult styles to copy effectively, where one line in a hundred out of place could spoil the effect; this particular example worked perfectly. It gave the feel of timelessness, of solidarity, and mixed it subtly with a grace and finesse of line. He guessed that the shutters and beams were genuine yellow wood and the windows hand-leaded.
Rod looked at it, and felt envy prickle and burn within him. He loved fine things, like his Maserati, but this was another concept in material possessions. He was jealous of the man that owned it, knowing that his own entire year’s income would not be sufficient for a down payment on the land alone.
“So I’ve got my flat,” he grinned ruefully, and coasted down to park in front of the line of garages.
It was not clear which was the correct entrance to use, and he chose at random from a number of paved paths that all led in the general direction of the house.
Around a bend in this path he came on another spectacle. Though smaller it had, if anything, more profound effect on Rod than the house had. It was a feminine posterior of equal grace and finesse of line, clad in Helanka stretch ski-pants, and protruding from a large and exotic bush.
Rod was captivated. He stood and watched as the bush shook and rustled, and the bottom wriggled and heaved.
Suddenly, in ladylike tones there issued from the bush a most unladylike oath and the bottom shot backwards and its owner straightened up with her forefinger in her mouth, sucking noisily.
“It bit me!” she mumbled around the finger. “Damned stinkbug bit me!”
“Well, you shouldn’t tease them,” said Rod,
And she spun round to face him. The first thing Rod noticed were her eyes, they were enormous, completely out of proportion to the rest of her face.
“I wasn’t—‘ she started, and then stopped. The finger came out of her mouth. Instinctively one hand went to her hair, and the other began straightening her blouse and brushing off bits of vegetation that were clinging to her.
“Who are you?” she asked, and those huge eyes swept over him. This was fairly standard reaction for any woman between the ages of sixteen and sixty viewing Rodney Ironsides for the first time, and Rodnev accepted it grace-fully.
“My name is Rodney Ironsides. I’ve an appointment to see Dr Steyner.”
“Oh.” She was hurriedly tucking her shirt-tails into her slacks. “My husband will be in his study.”
He had known who she was. He had seen her photographs fifty times in the Group newspaper; but in them she was usually in full-length evening dress and diamonds, not in a blouse with a tear in one sleeve nor pig-tails that were coming down. In the pictures her make-up was immaculate, now she had none at all and her face was flushed and dewed with perspiration.
“I must look a mess. I’ve been gardening,” said Theresa Steyner unnecessarily.
“Did you do this garden yourself?”
“Only a very little of the muscle work, but I planned it,” she answered. She decided he was big and ugly – no, not really ugly, but battered-looking.
“It’s beautiful,”said Rod.
“Thank you.” No, not battered-looking, she changed her mind, tough-looking, and the chest hair curled out of the vee of his open neck shirt.
“This is a protea, isn’t it?” He indicated the bush from which she had recently emerged. He was guessing.
“Nutans,” she said; he must be in his late thirties, there was greying at his temples.
“Oh, I thought it was a protea.”
“It is. ”Nutans“is its proper name. There are over two hundred different varieties of proteas,” she answered seriously. His voice didn’t fit his appearance at all, she decided. He looked like a prize fighter but spoke like a lawyer, probably was one. It was usually lawyers or business consultants who came calling on Manfred.
“Is that so? It’s very pretty.” Rod touched one of the blooms.
“Yes, isn’t it? I’ve got over fifty varieties growing here.”
And suddenly they were smiling at each other.
“I’ll take you up to the house,” said Theresa Steyner.
“Mr Ironsides is here, Manfred.”
“Thank you.” He sat at the stinkwood desk in a room that smelled of wax polish. He made no effort to rise from his seat.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Theresa asked from the doorway. “Or tea?”
“No, thank you,” answered Manfred Steyner without consulting Rod who stood beside her.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” she said.
“Thank you, Theresa.” And she turned away. Rod went on standing where he was, he was studying this man of whom he had heard so much.
Manfred Steyner appeared younger than his forty-two years. His hair was light brown, almost blond, and brushed straight back. He wore spectacles with heavy black frames, and his face was smooth and silky-looking, soft as a girl’s with no beard shadow on his chin. His hands that lay on the polished desk top were hairless, smooth, so that Rod wondered if he had used a depilatory on them.
“Come in,” he said, and Rod moved to the desk. Steyner wore a white silk shirt in which the ironing creases still showed, the cloth was snowy white and over it he wore a Royal Johannesburg Golf Club tie, with onyx cuff links. Suddenly Rod realized that neither shirt nor tie had ever been worn before, that much was true of what he had heard then. Steyner ordered his shirts hand-made by the gross and wore each once only.
“Sit down, Ironsides.” Steyner slurred his vowels slightly, just a trace of a Teutonic accent.
“Dr Steyner,” said Rod softly, “you have a choice. You may call me Rodney or Mr Ironsides.”
There was no change in Steyner’s voice nor expression.
“I would like to go over your background, please, Mr Ironsides, as a preliminary to our discussion. You have no objection?“
“No, Dr Steyner.”
“You were born October 16th, 1931, at Butterworth in the Transkei, Your father was a native trader, your mother died January 1939. Your father was commissioned Captain in the Durban Light Infantry and died of wounds on the Po River in Italy during the winter of 1944. You were raised by your maternal uncle in East London. Matriculating from Queen’s College, Grahamstown, in 1947, you were unsuccessful in obtaining a Chamber of Mines scholarship to Witwatersrand University for a BSc (Mining Engineering) degree. You enrolled in the GMTS (Government Mining Training School) and obtained your blasting ticket during 1949. At which time you joined the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mining Company Ltd as a learner miner.”
Dr Steyner stood up from his desk and crossing to the panelled wall he pressed a concealed switch and a portion of the panelling slid back to reveal a wash basin and towel rack. As he went on talking he began very meticulously to soap and wash his hands.
“In the same year you were promoted to miner and in 1952 to shift boss, 1954 to mine captain. You successfully completed the examination for the Mine Manager’s ticket in 1959, and in 1962 you came to us as an Assistant Section Manager; in 1963, Section Manager, 1965, Assistant Underground Manager, and in 1968 you achieved your present position as Underground Manager.”
Dr Steyner began drying his hands on a snowy white towel,
“You’ve memorized my company record pretty thoroughly,” Rod admitted.
Dr Steyner crumpled the towel and dropped it into a bin below the wash basin. He pressed the button and the panelling slid closed, then he came back to the desk stepping precisely over the glossy polished wooden floor, and Rod realized that he was a small man, not more than five and a half feet tall, about the same height as his wife.
“This is something of an achievement,” Steyner went on, “The next youngest Underground Manager in the entire Group is forty-six years of age, whereas you are not yet thirty-nine.”
Rod inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“Now,” said Dr Steyner as he reseated himself and laid his freshly washed hands on the desk top. “I would like briefly to touch on your private life – you have no objections?”
Again Rod inclined his head.
“The reason that your application for the Chamber of Mines scholarship was refused, despite your straight A matriculation was the recommendation of your headmaster to the selection board in effect that you were of unstable and violent disposition.”
“How the hell did you know that?” ejaculated Rod,
“I have access to the board’s records. It seems that once you had received your matric you immediately assaulted your former headmaster.”
“I beat the hell out of the bastard,” Rod agreed happily.
“An expensive indulgence, Mr Ironsides. It cost you a university degree.”
And Rod was silent.
“To continue: In 1959 you married Patricia Anne Harvey. Of the union was born a girl child in the same year, to be precise, seven and a half months after the wedding.”
Rod squirmed slightly in his chair, and Dr Steyner went on quietly.
“This marriage terminated in divorce in 1964. Your wife suing you on the grounds of adultery, and receiving custody of the child, alimony and maintenance in the sum of R450.00 monthly.
“What’s all this about?” demanded Rod.
“I am attempting to establish an accurate picture of your present circumstances. It is necessary, I assure you.” Dr Steyner removed his spectacles and began polishing the lens on a clean white handkerchief. There were the marks of the frames on the bridge of his nose.
“Go on, then.” Despite himself, Rod was fascinated to learn just how much Steyner knew about him.
“In 1968 there was a paternity suit brought against you by a Miss Diane Johnson and judgement for R5o.oo per month.”
Rod blinked, and was silent.
“I should mention two further actions against you for assault, both unsuccessful on the grounds of justification or self-defence.”
“Is that all?” asked Rod sarcastically.
“Almost,” admitted Dr Steyner. “It is only necessary to note further recurrent expenditure in the form of a monthly payment of R5o.oo on a continental sports car, and a further Rioo.oo per month rental on the premises 596 Glen Alpine Heights, Corner Lane, Hillbrow.”
Rod was furious, he had believed that no one in CRC knew about the flat.
“Damn you! You’ve been prying into my affairs!”
“Yes,” agreed Dr Steyner levelly. “I am guilty, but in good cause. If you bear with me, you’ll see why.”
Suddenly Dr Steyner stood up from the desk, crossed the room to the concealed wash basin, and again began to wash his hands. As he dried them, he spoke again.
“Your monthly commitments are R85O. Your salary, after deduction of tax, is less than one thousand Rand. You have no mining degree, and the chances of your taking the next step upwards to General Manager without it are remote. You are at your ceiling, Mr Ironsides. On your own ability you can go no further. In thirty years’ time you will not be the youngest Underground Manager in the CRC Group, but the oldest.” Dr Steyner paused. “That is, provided that your rather expensive tastes have not landed you in a debtors’ prison, and that neither the quickness and heat of your temper, nor the matching speed and temperature of your genitalia have gotten you into really serious trouble.”
Steyner dropped the towel in the bin and returned to his seat, they sat in absolute silence, regarding each other for a full minute.
“You got me all the way up here to tell me this?” asked Rod, his whole body was tense, his voice slightly husky, it needed only one ounce more of provocation to launch him across the desk at Steyner’s throat.
“No.” Steyner shook his head. “I got you up here to tell you that I will use all my influence, which I flatter myself is considerable, to secure your appointment – and I mean immediate appointment – to the position of General Manager of the Sender Ditch Gold Mining Company Ltd.
Rod recoiled in his chair as though Steyner had spat in his face. He stared at him aghast.
“Why?” he asked at last. “What do you want in exchange?”
“Neither your friendship, nor your gratitude,” Dr Steyner told him. “But your unquestioning obedience to my instructions. You will be my man – completely.”
Rod went on staring at him while his mind raced. Without Steyner’s intervention he would wait at the very least ten years for this promotion, if it ever came. He wanted it, my God, how he wanted it. The achievement, the increase in income, the power that went with the job. His own mine! His own mine at the age of thirty-eight – and an additional ten thousand Rand per annum.
Yet Rod was not gullible enough to believe that Manfred Steyner’s price would be cheap. When the instruction came that he was to follow with unquestioning obedience, he knew it would stink like a ten-day corpse. But once he had the job he could refuse the instruction. Get the job first, then decide once he received the instruction whether to follow it or not.
“I accept,” he said.
Manfred Steyner stood up from the desk.
“You will hear from me,” he said. “Now you may go.”
Rod crossed the wide-flagged step without seeing or hearing, vaguely he wandered down across the lawns towards his car. His mind was harrying the recent conversation, tearing it to pieces like a pack of wild dogs on a carcass. He almost bumped into Theresa Steyner before he saw her, and abruptly his mind dropped the subject of the General Managership.
Theresa had changed her clothing, made up her face and eyes, and the pig-tails were concealed under a lime-coloured silk scarf, all this in the half hour since their last meeting. She was hovering over a flower bed with a flower basket on one arm, as bright and pleasing as a hummingbird.
Rod was amused and flattered, vain enough to realize that the change was in his honour, and connoisseur enough to appreciate the improvement.
“Hello.” She looked up, contriving successfully to look both surprised and artless. Her eyes were really enormous, and the make-up was designed to enhance their size.
“You are a busy little bee.” Rod ran a knowledgeable appraisal over the floral slack suit she wore, and saw the colour start in her cheeks as she felt his eyes.
“Did you have a successful meeting?”
“Are you a lawyer?”
“No. I work for your grandfather.”
“Doing what?”
“Mining his gold.”
“Which mine?”
“Sender Ditch.”
“What’s your position?”
“Well, if your husband is as good as his word, I’m the new General Manager.”
“You’re too young,” she said.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Pops will have something to say on the subject.”
“Pops?” he asked.
“My grandfather.” And Rod laughed before he could stop himself.
“What’s so funny?”
“The Chairman of CRC being called ”Pops“.”
“I’m the only one who calls him that.”
“I bet you are.” Rod laughed again. “In fact I’d bet you’d get away with a lot of things no one else would dare.”
Suddenly the underlying sexuality of his last remark occurred to them both and they fell silent. Theresa looked down and carefully snipped the head off a flower.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” apologized Rod.
“What way, Mr Ironsides?” She looked up and inquired with mischievous innocence, and they laughed together with the awkwardness gone again.
She walked beside him to the car, making it seem a completely natural thing to do, and as he slipped behind the steering-wheel she remarked:
“Manfred and I will be coming out to the Sonder Ditch next week. Manfred is to present long service and bravery awards to some of your men.” She had already refused the invitation to accompany Manfred, she must now see to it that she was re-invited. “I shall probably see you then.”
“I look forward to it,” said Rod, and let in the clutch.
Rod glanced in the rear view mirror. She was a remarkably provocative and attractive woman. A careless man could drown in those eyes.
“Dr Manfred Steyner has got himself a big fat problem there,” he decided. “Our Manfred is probably so busy soaping and scrubbing his equipment, that he never gets round to using it.”
Through the leaded windows Dr Steyner caught a glimpse of the Maserati as it disappeared around the curve in the driveway, and he listened as the throb of the engine dwindled into silence.
He lifted the receiver of the telephone and wiped it with the white handkerchief before putting it to his ear. He dialled and while it rang he inspected the nails of his free hand minutely.
“Steyner,” he said into the mouthpiece. “Yes – yes.” He listened.
“Yes… He has just left… Yes, it is arranged… No, there will be no difficulty there, I am sure.” As he spoke he was looking at the palm of his hand, he saw the tiny beads of perspiration appear on his skin and an expression of disgust tightened his lips.
“I am fully aware of the consequences. I tell you, I know.”
He closed his eyes and listened for another minute without moving as the receiver squawked and clacked, then he opened his eyes.
“It will be done in good time, I assure you. Goodbye.”
He hung up and went to wash his hands. Now, he thought, as he worked up lather, to get it past the old man.
He was old now, seventy-eight long hard years old. His hair and his eyebrows were creamy white. His skin was folded and creased, freckled and spotted, hanging in unexpected little pouches under his chin and eyes. His body had dried out, so he stood gaunt and stooped like a tree that has taken a set before the prevailing winds; but there was still the underlying urgency in the way he held himself, the same urgency that had earned him the name of ‘Hurry’ Hirschfeld when first he bustled into the gold fields sixty years ago.
On this Monday morning he was standing before the full length windows of his penthouse office, looking down on the city of Johannesburg. Reef House stood shoulder to massive shoulder with the Schlesinger Building on the Braamfontein ridge above the city proper. From this height it seemed that Johannesburg cowered at Hurry Hirschfeld’s feet, as well it should.
Long ago, even before the great depression of the thirties, he had ceased to measure his wealth in terms of money. He owned outright a little over a quarter of the issued share capital of Central Rand Consolidated. At the present market price of Riao per share, this was a staggering sum. In addition, through a complicated arrangement of trusts, proxy rights and interlocking directorates, he had control of a further massive block of twenty per cent of the company’s voting rights.
The overhead intercom pinged softly into this room of soft fabrics and muted colours, and Hurry started slightly.
“Yes,” he said, without turning away from the window.
“Dr Steyner is here, Mr Hirschfeld,” his secretary’s voice whispered, ghostly and disembodied into the luscious room.
“Send him in,” snapped Hurry. That goddamned intercom always gave him the creeps. The whole goddamned room gave him the creeps. It was, as Hurry had said often and loudly, like a fairy brothel.
For fifty-five years he had worked in a bleak uncarpeted office with a few yellowing photographs of men and machinery on its walls. Then they had moved him in here – he glanced around the room with the distaste that five years had not lulled. What did they think he was, a bloody ladies’ hairdresser?
The panelling door slid noiselessly aside and Dr Manfred Steyner stepped neatly into the room.
“Good morning, Grandfather,” he said. For ten years, ever since Terry had been bird-brained enough to marry him, Manfred Steyner had called Hurry Hirschfeld that, and Hurry hated it. He remembered now that Manfred Steyner was also responsible for the design and decor of Reef House, and therefore the author of his recent irritation.
“What ever it is you want – No!” he said, and he moved across to the air-conditioning controls. The thermostat was already set at ‘high’, now Hurry turned it to ‘highest’. Within minutes the room would be at the correct temperature for growing orchids.
“How are you this morning, Grandfather?” Manfred seemed not to have heard, his expression was bland and neutral as he moved to the desk and laid out his papers,
“Bloody awful,” said Hurry. It was impossible to disconcert the little prig, he thought, you might as well shout insults at an efficiently functioning piece of machinery.
“I am sorry to hear that.” Manfred took out his handkerchief and touched his chin and forehead. “I have the weekly reports.”
Hurry capitulated and went across to the desk. This was business. He sat down and read quickly. His questions were abrupt, cutting and instantly answered, but Manfred’s handkerchief was busy now, swabbing and dabbing. Twice he removed his spectacles and wiped steam from the lens.
“Can I turn the air-conditioning down a little, Grand-father?”
“You touch it and I’ll kick your arse,” said Hurry without looking up.
Another five minutes and Manfred Steyner stood up suddenly.
“Excuse me, Grandfather.” And he shot across the office and disappeared into the adjoining bathroom suite. Hurry cocked his head to listen, and when he heard the taps hiss he grinned happily. The air-conditioning was the only method he had discovered of disconcerting Manfred Steyner, and for ten years he had been experimenting with various techniques.
“Don’t use all the soap,” he shouted gleefully. “You are the one always on about office expenses!”
It did not seem ludicrous to Hurry that one of the richest and most influential men in Africa should devote so much time and energy to baiting his personal assistant.
At eleven o’clock Manfred Steyner gathered his papers and began packing them carefully in his monogrammed pigskin briefcase.
“About the appointment of a new General Manager for the Sender Ditch to replace Mr Lemmer. You will recall my memo regarding the appointment of younger men to key positions—‘
“Never read the bloody thing,” lied Hurry Hirschfeld. They both knew he read everything, and remembered it.
“Well—‘ Manfred went on to enlarge his thesis for a minute, then ended,” In view of this, my department, myself concurring entirely, urges the appointment of Rodney Barry Ironsides, the present Underground Manager, to the position. I hoped that you would initial the recommendation and we can put it through at Friday’s meeting. “
Dexterously Manfred slid the yellow memo in front of Hurry Hirschfeld, unscrewed the cap of his pen and offered it to him. Hurry picked the memo up between thumb and forefinger as though it were someone’s dirty handkerchief and dropped it into the waste-paper bin.
“Do you wish me to tell you in detail what you and your planning department can do?” he asked.
“Grandfather,” Manfred admonished him mildly, “you cannot run the company as though you were a robber baron. You cannot ignore the team of highly trained men who are your advisers.”
“I’ve run it that way for fifty years. You show me who’s going to change that.” Hurry leaned back in his chair with vast satisfaction and fished a powerful-looking cigar out of his inner pocket.
“Grandfather, that cigar! The doctor said—‘
“And I said Fred Plummer gets the job as Manager of the Sonder Ditch.”
“He goes on pension next year,” protested Manfred Steyner.
“Yes,” Hurry nodded. ”But how does that alter the position? “
“He’s an old dodderer,” Manfred tried again, there was a desperate edge to his voice. He had not anticipated one of the old man’s whims cutting across his plans.
“He’s twelve years younger than I am,” growled Hurry ominously. “How’s that make him an old dodderer?”
Now that the weekend was over, Rod found the apartment oppressive, and he longed to get out of it.
He shaved, standing naked before the mirror, and he caught a whiff of the reeking ashtrays and halt-empty glasses in the lounge. The char would have her customary Monday-morning greeting when she came in later today. From Louis Botha Avenue the traffic noise was starting to build up and he glanced at his watch – six o’clock in the morning. A good time to examine your soul, he decided, and leaned forward to watch his own eyes in the mirror.
“You’re too old for this type of living,” he told himself seriously. “You’ve had four years of it now, four years since the divorce, and that’s about enough. It would be nice now to go to bed with the same woman on two consecutive nights.”
He rinsed his razor, and turned on the taps in the shower cabinet.
“Might even be able to afford it, if our boy Manfred delivers the goods.” Rod had not allowed himself to believe too implicitly in Manfred Steyner’s promise; but during the whole of these last two days the excitement had been there beneath the cynicism,
He stepped into the shower and soaped himself, then turned the cold tap full on. Gasping he shut it off and reached for his towel. Still drying himself, he went through and stood at the foot of the bed; as he toweled himself he examined the girl who lay among the tousled sheets.
She was tanned dark toffee brown so she appeared to be dressed in white transparent bra and panties where the skin was untouched by the sun. Her hair was a blonde-gold flurry across her face and the pillow, at odds with the jet black triangle of body hair. Her lips in sleep were fixed in a soft pink pout, and she looked disquietingly young. Rod had to make a conscious effort to remember her name, she was not the companion with whom he had begun the weekend.
“Lucille,” he said, sitting down beside her. “Wake up. Time to roll.”
She opened her eyes.
“Good morning,” he said and kissed her gently.
“Mmm.” She blinked. “What time is it? I don’t want to get fired.”
“Six,”he told her.
“Oh, good. Plenty of time.” And she rolled over and snuggled down into the sheets.
“Like hell.” He slapped her bottom lightly. “Move, girl, can you cook?”
“No—‘ She lifted her head. ”What’s your name again?“she asked.
“Rod,”he told her.
“That’s right – Piston Rod,” she giggled ‘What a way to diet Are you sure you aren’t powered by steam?“
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Nineteen. How old are you?”
“Daddy, you’re vintage!” she told him vehemently.
“Yes, sometimes I feel that way.” He stood up. “Let’s go.”
“You go. I’ll lock up when I leave.”
“No sale,” he said, the last one he had left in the flat had cleaned it out – groceries, liquor, glasses, towels, even the ashtrays. “Five minutes to dress.”
Fortunately she lived on his way. She directed him to a run-down block of flats under the mine dumps at Booysens. “
“I’m putting three blind sisters through school. You want to help?” she asked as he parked the Maserati.
“Sure.” He eased a five-Rand note out of his wallet and handed it to her,
“Ta muchly.” And she slipped out of the red leather seat, closed the door and walked away. She did not look back before she disappeared into the block, and Rod felt an unaccountable wave of loneliness wash over him. It was so intense that he sat quiescent for a full minute before he could throw it off, then he hit the gears and screeched away from the kerb.
“My little five-Rand friend,” he said. “She really cares!”
He drove fast, so that as he topped the Kraalkop ridge the shadows were still long, and the dew lay silver on the grass. He pulled the Maserati into a layby and climbed out. Leaning against the bonnet he lit a cigarette, grimacing at the taste, and looked down at the valley,
There was no natural surface indication of the immense treasure house that lay below. It was like any of the other countless grassy plains of the Transvaal. In the centre stood the town of Kitchenerville, which for half a century had rejoiced in the fact that Lord Kitchener had camped one night here in pursuit of the wily Boer: a collection of three dozen buildings which had expanded miraculously into three thousand, around a magnificent town hall and shopping complex. Dressed in public lawns and gardens, wide streets and bright new houses, all of it paid for by the mining houses whose lease areas converged on the town.
Out of the bleak veld surrounding the town their headgears stood like colossal monuments to the gold hunger of man. Around the headgears clustered the plants and workshops. There were fourteen headgears in the valley. The field was divided into five lease areas, following the original farm titles, and was mined by five separate companies. Thornfontein Gold Mining, Blaauberg Gold Mining, West Tweefontein Mining, Deep Gold Levels, and the Sender Ditch Gold Mining Company.
It was to this last that Rod naturally directed his attention.
“You beauty,” he whispered, for in his eyes the mountainous dumps of blue rock beside the shafts were truly beautiful. The complex but carefully thought out pattern of the works buildings, even the sulphur-yellow acres of the slimes dam, had a functional beauty.
“Get it for me, Manfred,” he spoke aloud. CI want it. I want it badly. “
On the twenty-eight square miles of the Sender Ditch’s property lived fourteen thousand human beings, twelve thousand of them were Bantu who had been recruited from all over Southern Africa. They lived in the multi-storied hostels near the shaft heads, and each day they went down through two small holes in the ground to depths that were scarcely credible, and came up again out of those same two holes. Twelve thousand men down, twelve thousand up. That was not all: out of those two same holes came ten thousand tons of rock daily, and down them went timber and tools and piping and explosive, ton upon ton of material and equipment. It was an undertaking that must evoke pride in the men who accomplished it.
Rod glanced at his watch, 7.35 a.m. They were down already, all twelve thousand of them. They had started going down at three-thirty that morning and now it was accomplished. The shift was in. The Sonder Ditch was breaking rock, and bringing the stuff out.
Rod grinned happily. His loneliness and depression of an hour ago were gone, swallowed up in the immensity of his involvement. He watched the massive wheels of the headgears spinning, stopping briefly, and then spinning again.
Each of those shafts had cost fifty million Rand, the surface plant and works another fifty million. The Sonder Ditch represented an investment of one hundred and fifty million Rand, two hundred and twenty million dollars. It was big, and it would be his.
Rod flicked away the butt of his cigarette. As he drove down the ridge, his eyes moved eastward down the valley. All mining activity ceased abruptly along an imaginary north-south line, drawn arbitrarily across the open grassland. There was no surface indication why this should be so, but the reason was deep down.
On that line ran a geological freak, a dyke, a wall of hard serpentine rock that had been named ‘the Big Dipper’. It cut through the field like an axe stroke, and beyond it was bad ground. The gold reef existed in the bad ground, they knew this; but not one of the five companies had gone after it. They had prospected it tentatively and then shied away from it, for the boreholes that they sank were frightening in their inconsistency.
A big percentage of the Sender Ditch lease area lay on the far side of the Dipper, and there was a diamond-drilling team working there now. They had already completed five holes.
Rod could remember accurately the results:
Borehole S.D. No. i. Abandoned in water at 4, ft. S.D. No. 2. Abandoned in dry hole at,250 ft. S.D. No. 3. Intersected carbon leader reef at 6,600 ft.
Assay valve 27,323 inch penny-weights. First deflection 6,212 inch penny-weights. Second deflection 2,114 inch penny-weights. S.D. No. 4. Abandoned in artesian water at 3,500 ft. S.D. No. 5. Intersected carbon leader at, n6ft. Assay valve 562 inch penny-weights.
And they were drilling the deflections on that one now.
The problem was to build up a picture from results like that. It looked like a mess of faulted and water-logged ground with the gold reef fragmented and fluky, showing unbelievably high values at one spot, and then more than likely pinching out fifty feet away.
They may mine it one day, thought Rod, but I hope to hell I’m on pension by the time they do.
In the distance beyond the slimes dam he could just make out the spidery triangle of the drilling rig against the grown grass.
“Go to it, boys,” he muttered. “Whatever you find there won’t make much difference to me.”
And he went in through the imposing gates at the entrance to the mine property, halting carefully at the stop sign where the railway line crossed the road and he forked two fingers at the traffic policeman lurking behind the gates.
The traffic cop grinned and waved, he had caught Rod the previous week, so he was still one up.
Rod drove down to his office.
That Monday morning Allen ‘ Popeye’ Worth was preparing to drill his first deflection on the S.D. No. 5 borehole. Allen was a Texan – not a typical Texan. He stood five feet four inches tall, but was as tough as the steel drill with which he worked. Thirty years before he had started learning his trade on the oilfields around Odessa and he had learned it well.
Now he could start at the surface and drill a four-inch hole down thirteen thousand feet through the earth’s crust, keeping the hole straight all the way, an almost impossible task if you took into account the whippiness and torque in a jointed rod of steel that long.
If, as happened occasionally, the steel snapped and broke off thousands of feet down, Allen could fit a fishing tool on the end of his rig, and patiently grope for the stump, find it, grapple it and pull it out of the borehole. When he hit the reef down there, he could purposely kick his drill off the line and pierce the reef again and again to sample it over an area of hundreds of feet. This was what was meant by deflecting.
Allen was one of the best. He could command his own salary and behave like a prima donna, and his bosses would still fawn on him, for the things he could do with a diamond drill were almost magical.
Now he was assessing the angle of his first deflection. The previous day he had lowered a long brass bottle to the end of his borehole and left it overnight. The bottle was half filled with concentrated sulphuric acid, and it had etched the brass of the bottle. By measuring the angle of the etching he knew just how his drill was branching off from his original hole.
In the tiny wood and iron building beside the drilling rig he finished his measurements and stood back from the work bench, grunting with satisfaction.
From his hip pocket he drew a corncob pipe and pouch. Once he had stuffed tobacco into the pipe and lit it, it became very clear as to why his nickname was ‘ Popeye’. He was a dead ringer for the cartoon character, aggressive jaw, button eyes, battered maritime cap and all.
He puffed contentedly, watching through the single window of the shack as his gang went about the tedious business of lowering the drilling bit down into the earth. Then he took the pipe from his mouth and spat accurately through the window, replaced the pipe and stooped to minutely check his measurements.
His foreman driller interrupted him from the doorway,
“On bottom, and ready to turn, boss.”
“Huh!” Popeye checked his watch. “Two hours forty to get down, you don’t reckon to rupture a gut do you?”
“That’s not bad,” protested the foreman.
“And it sure as hell isn’t good either! Okay, okay, cut the cackle and let’s get her turning.” He bounced out of the shed and set off for the rig, darting quick beady little glances about him. The rig was a fifty-foot high tower of steel girders and within it the drill rod hung down until it disappeared into the collar. The twin two hundred-horsepower diesel engines throbbed expectantly, waiting to provide the power, their exhausts smoking blue in the early morning sunlight. Beside the rig lay a mountainous heap of drilling rods, beyond them the ten thousand-gallon puddling reservoir to provide water for the hole. Water was pumped into the hole continuously to cool and lubricate the tool as it cut into the rock.
“Stand by to turn her,” Popeye called to his gang, and they moved to their stations. Dressed in blue overalls, coloured fibreglass helmets, and leather gloves, they stood ready and tensed. This was an anxious moment for the whole team, power had to be applied with a lover’s touch to the mile and a half length of rod, or it would buckle and snap.
Popeye climbed nimbly up onto the collar, and glanced about him to make sure all was in readiness. The foreman driller was at the controls, watching Popeye with complete absorption, his hands resting on the levers.
“Power up!” shouted Popeye and made the circular motion with his right hand. The diesels bellowed harshly, and Popeye reached out to lay his left hand on the drilling rod. This was how he did it, feeling the rod with his bare hand as he brought in the power, judging the tension by ear and eye and touch.
His right hand gestured and the foreman delicately let in the clutch, the rod moved under Popeye’s hand, he gestured again and it revolved slowly. He could feel it was near breaking point and he cut down the power instantly, then let it in again. His right hand moved eloquently, expressively as an orchestral conductor, and the foreman followed it, the junior member of a highly skilled team.
Slowly the tension of the gang relaxed as the revolutions of the drill built up steadily, until Popeye gave the clenched fist ‘okay’ and jumped down from the collar. They scattered casually to their other duties, while Popeye and the foreman strolled back to the shed, leaving the drill to grind away at a steady four hundred revolutions a minute.
“Got something for you,” said the foreman, as they entered the shed,
“What?” demanded Popeye.
“The latest Playboy,”
“You’re kidding!” Popeye accused him delightedly, but the foreman fished the rolled magazine out of his lunch box.
“Hey, there!” Popeye snatched it from him and turned immediately to the coloured foldout.
“Isn’t that something!” He whistled. “This dolly could get a job in a stockyard beating the oxen to death with her boo-boos!”
The foreman joined the discussion of the young lady’s anatomy, and so neither of them noticed the change in the sound of the drill until two minutes had passed. Then Popeye heard it through an erotic haze. He flung the magazine from him, and went through the door of the shed white-faced.
It was fifty yards from the shed to the rig, but even at that distance Popeye could see the vibration in the drilling rod. He could hear the labouring note of the diesels as they carried increased load, and he ran like a fox terrier, trying to reach the controls and shut off the engines before it happened,
He knew what it was. His drill had cut into one of the many fissures with which this badly faulted ground was crisscrossed. The puddling water from his borehole had drained away leaving the bit to run dry against dry rock. The friction heat had built up, the dust from the cut was not being washed away – and in consequence the rod had jammed. It was being held tightly at one end while at the other the two big diesels were straining to turn it. The whole rig was seconds away from a twist-off.
There should have been an operator at the controls to meet just such an emergency, but he was a hundred yards away, just emerging from the wood and iron latrine beyond the puddling dam. He was desperately trying to hoist his pants, clinch the buckle of his belt and run all at the same time.
“You whore’s chamber pot!” roared Popeye, as he ran. “What the hell you goofing off—‘
The words choked off in his throat, for as he reached the door of the engine room there was a report like a cannon shot as the rod snapped, and immediately the diesels screamed into over-rev as they were relieved of the load. Just too late, Popeye punched the earth buttons on the magnetos, and the engines spluttered into silence.
In that silence Popeye was sobbing with exertion and frustration and anger.
“A twist-off,” he sobbed,“A deep one. Oh no! God, no!” It might take two weeks to fish out the broken rod, pump cement into the fissure to seal it, and then start again.
He removed the cap from his head, and with all his strength hurled it on the engine room floor. He then proceeded to jump on it with both feet. This was standard procedure. Popeye jumped on his cap at least once a week, and the foreman knew that when he had finished doing that he would then assault anybody within range.
Quietly the foreman slipped behind the wheel of the Ford truck, and the rest of the gang scrambled aboard. They all bumped away down the rutted track. There was a roadhouse on the main road where they went for coffee at times like this. When the mists of rage had dispersed sufficiently from his mind for Popeye to start seeking a human sacrifice, he looked about to find the drilling area strangely still and deserted.
“Stupid bunch of yellow-bellied baboons!” he bellowed in frustration after the retreating truck, and, as the next best thing, went into the shed to phone his Managing Director,
This gentleman sitting in the air-conditioned offices of ‘ Hart Drilling and Cementation’ high above Rissik Street in Johannesburg was a little taken aback to learn from Popeye Worth that he, the Managing Director, was directly responsible for the twist-off of an expensive diamond drill at the Sender Ditch No. 5 hole.
“If you used that sack of custard that passes for a brain, you’d fight shy of trying to sink holes into this bunch of knitting.” Popeye yelled into the mouthpiece. “I’d prefer to stick my old man into a meat grinder, than put a drill into this ground. It stinks, I tell you! It’s really ugly down there. God help the poor son of a bitch who tries to mine it!”
He slammed down the phone and stuffed his pipe with trembling ringers. Ten minutes later his breathing had returned to normal and his hands were steady. He picked up the phone again and dialled the number of the roadhouse. The proprietor answered.
“Jose, tell my boys it’s okay, they can come home now,” said Popeye.
For Rod Ironsides there was more excitement than usual in meeting and solving the dozen paper problems that lay on his desk to welcome him back to the office. As he worked he kept remembering that Manfred Steyner might be able to do it, might just be able to do it.
The Sonder Ditch might really belong to him soon. He dispatched the last problem and lay back in his swivel chair. His mind was clear of the last cobwebs of dissipation and, as always, he felt purged and cleansed.
If I get her, I’ll make her the star performer in the whole field, he thought greedily, they’ll talk about the Sonder Ditch from Wall Street to the Bourse, and about the man who is running her. I know how to do it too. I’ll cut the costs to the bone, I’ll tighten her up solid. Frank Lemmer was a good man, he could get the stuff out of the ground, but he let it creep up on him. It cost him almost nine Rand a ton to mill it.
Well, I’ll get it out as well as he did and I’ll get it out cheaper. An operation takes its temperament from the man at the head. Frank Lemmer would talk about costs every now and then, but he didn’t mean it and we knew he didn’t mean it. We have become a wasteful operation because we are on a rich reef, we have become big spenders. Well, I’m going to talk costs, and I’ll skin the arse of anybody who thinks I’m joking.
Last year Hamilton at Western Holdings kept his working costs per ton milled down to just a touch over six Rand. I could do the same here! I could jump our profits twelve million Rand in one year, if only they give me the job I’ll shout the Sonder Ditch’s name across the financial markets of the world.
The problem that Rod was pondering was the nightmare of the gold mining industry. Since the 1930 the price of gold had been fixed at $35 a fine ounce. Each year since then the cost of mining had crept up steadily. In those days they reckoned four penny-weights of gold in a ton of ore was payable value. Now around eight penny-weights was the marginal value.
So in the interim all those millions of tons of ore whose values fell between four and eight penny-weights had been placed beyond the reach of man until such time as they increased the price of gold.
There were many mines with vast reserves of gold-bearing ore, millions in bullion, whose values lay just below the magical number eight. Those mines stood deserted and forlorn, rust reddening their headgears, and the corrugated iron roofs of the buildings collapsing wearily. Rising costs had shot the guts out of them, they were condemned by the single word ‘UNPAY’
The Sonder Dam was running twenty to twenty-five penny-weights per ton. She was fat, but she could be fatter, Rod decided.
There was a knock at the door,
“Come in!‘ called Rod, and looked at his watch. It was nine o’clock already. Time for the Monday meeting of his mine captains.
They came in singly and in pairs, twelve of them. These were Rod’s front-line men, his combat officers. They went down there each day, each to his own section and directed the actual assault on the rock.
While they chatted idly, waiting for the meeting to begin, Rod looked them over surreptitiously and was reminded of a remark that Herman Koch of Anglo American had made to him once.
“Mining is a hard game, and it attracts a hard breed of men.”
These were men of the hard breed, physically and mentally tough, and Rod realized with a start that he was one of them. No, more than one of them. He was their leader, and with a fierce affection and pride he opened the meeting.
“Right, let’s hear your gripes. Who is going to be first to break my heart?”
There are some men with a talent for controlling, and getting the very best results out of other men. Rod was one of them. It was more than his physical size, his compelling voice and hearty chuckle. It was a special magnetism, a personal charm and unerring sense of timing. Under his Chairmanship the meeting would erupt, voices crackle and snap, then subside into chuckles and nods as Rod spoke.
They knew he was as tough as they were, and they respected that. They knew that when he spoke it made sense, so they listened. They knew that when he promised, he delivered, so they were placated. And they knew that when he made a decision or judgement, he acted upon it, so every man knew exactly where he stood.
If asked, any. one of these mine captains would have admitted grudgingly that ‘there was no bulldust in Ironsides’. This was the equivalent of a presidential citation.
“Very well then.” Rod terminated the meeting. “You have spent a good two hours of the company’s time beating your gums. Now, will you kindly haul arse, go down there and start sending the stuff out.”
As these men planned the week’s operation, so their men were at work in the earth below them.
On 87 level, Kowalski moved like a great bear down the dimly-lit drive. He had switched off the lamp on his helmet, and he moved without sound, lightly for a man of such bulk. He heard their voices ahead of him in the dimly-lit tunnel, and he paused, listening intently. There was no sound of shovel crunching into loose rock, and Kowalski’s Neanderthal features convulsed into a fearsome scowl.
“Bastards!” he muttered softly. “They think I am in stopes, hey? They think it all right if they sit on fat black bum, no move da bloody rock, hey?”
He started forward again, a bear on cat’s feet.
“They find plenty different from what they bloody think, soon!” he threatened.
He stepped round the angle of the drive and flashed his lamp. There were three men Kowalski had put on lashing, shoveling the loose stuff from the footwall into waiting cocopans. Two of’them sat against the cocopan, smoking contentedly while the third regaled them with an account of a beer drink he had attended the previous Christmas. Their shovels and sledge hammers leaned unemployed against the side wall of the drive.
All three of them froze into rigidity as the beam of Kowalski’s lamp played over them.
“So!” The word burst explosively from Kowalski, and he snatched up a fourteen-pound hammer in one massive fist, reversed it and struck the butt of the handle against the foot wall. The steel head of the hammer fell off and Kowalski was left with a four foot length of selected hickory in his hand.
“You, boss boy!” he bellowed, and his free hand shot out and fastened on the throat of the nearest Bantu. With one heave he jerked him off his feet onto his knees and began dragging him away up the drive. Even in his rage, Kowalski was making sure there were no witnesses. The other two men sat where they were, too horrified to move, while their companion’s wails and cries receded into the darkness.
Then the first blow reverberated in the confined space of the drive, followed immediately by a shriek of pain.
The next blow, and another shriek.
The crack, thud, crack, thud, went on repeatedly, but the accompanying shrieks dwindled into moans and soft whimperings, then into complete silence.
Kowalski came back down the drive alone, he was sweating heavily in the lamp light, and the handle of the hammer in his hand was black and glistening with wet blood.
He threw it at their feet.
“Work!” he growled, and was gone, big and bearlike, into the shadows.
On 100 level, Joseph M’Kati was hosing down and sweeping the spillings from under the giant conveyor belt. Joseph had been on this job for five years, and he was a contented and happy man.
Joseph was a Shangaan approaching sixty years of age, the first frost was touching his hair. There were laughter lines around his eyes and at the corner of his mouth. He wore his helmet pushed to the back of his head, his overalls were hand-embroidered and ornamentally patched in blue and red, and he moved with a jaunty bounce and strut.
The conveyor was many hundreds of yards long. From all the levels above the shattered gold reef was scraped from the stopes and trammed back down the haulages in the coco-pans. Then from the cocopans it was tipped into the mouths of the ore-passes. These were vertical shafts that dropped down to 100 level, hundreds of feet through the living rock to spew the reef out onto the conveyor belt. A system of steel doors regulated the flow of rock onto the conveyor, and the moving belt carried it down to the shaft and dumped it into the enormous storage bins. From there it was fed automatically into the ore cage in fifteen-ton loads and carried at four-minute intervals to the surface.
Joseph worked on happily beneath the whining conveyor. The spillings were small, but important. Gold is strange in its behaviour, it moves downwards. Carried by its own high specific gravity it works its way down through almost any other material. It would find any crack or irregularity in the floor and work its way into it. It would disappear into the solid earth itself if left long enough.
It was this behaviour of gold that accounted in some measure for Joseph M’Kati’s contentment. He had worked his way to the end of the conveyor, washing and sweeping, and now he straightened, laid his bast [sic] broom aside and rubbed his kidneys with both hands, looking quickly around to make certain that there was no one else in the conveyor tunnel. Beside him was the ore storage bin into which the conveyor was emptying its load. The bin could hold many thousands of tons.
Satisfied that he was alone, Joseph dropped onto his hands and knees and crawled under the storage bin, ignoring the continuous roar of rock into the bin above him, working his way in until he reached the holes.
It had taken Joseph many months to chisel the heads off four of the rivets that held the seam in the bottom of the bin, but once he had done it, he had succeeded in constructing a simple but highly effective heavy media separator.
Free gold in the ore that was dumped into the storage bin immediately and rapidly worked its way down through the underlying rock, its journey accelerated by the vibration of the conveyor and bin as more reef was dropped. When the gold reached the floor of the bin, it sought an avenue through which to continue its downward journey, and it found Joseph’s four rivet holes, beneath which he had spread a square of Polythene sheet.
The gold-rich fines made four conical piles on the sheet of polythene, looking exactly like powdered black soot.
Crouched beneath the bin, Joseph carefully transferred the black powder to his tobacco pouch, replaced the Polythene to catch the next filtering, stuffed the pouch into his hip pocket, and scrambled out from under the bin. Whistling a tribal planting tune Joseph picked up his broom and returned to the endless job of sweeping and hosing.
Johnny Delange was marking his shot holes. Lying on his side in the low stope of 27 section he was calculating by eye the angle and depth of a side cutter blast to straighten a slight bulge in his longwall.
In the Sonder Ditch they were on single blast. One daily, centrally fired, blast. Johnny was paid on fathomage, the cubic measure of rock broken and taken out of his stope. He must, therefore, position his shot holes to achieve the maximum disruption and blow-out from the face.
“So,” he grunted, and marked the position of the hole in red paint. “And so.” With one bold stroke of the paint brush he set the angle on which his machine boy was to drill.
“Shaya, madoda!” Johnny clapped the shoulder of the black man beside him. “Hit it, man.”
Machine boys were selected for stamina and physique, this one was a Greek sculpture in glistening ebony.
“Nkosi!” The machine boy grinned an acknowledgement, and with his assistant lugged his rock drill into position. The drill looked like a gargantuan version of a heavy calibre machine gun.
The noise as the big Bantu opened the drill was shattering in the low-roofed, constricted space of the stope. The compressed air roared and fluttered into the drill, buffeting the eardrums. Johnny made the clenched-fist gesture of approval, and for a second they smiled at each other in the companionship of shared labour. Then Johnny crawled on up the stope to mark the next shot hole.
Johnny Delange was twenty-seven years old, and he was top rock breaker on the Sonder Ditch. His gang of forty-eight men were a tightly-knit team of specialists. Men fought each other for a place on 27 section, for that’s where the money was. Johnny could pick and choose, so each month when the surveyors came in and measured up, Johnny Delange was way out ahead in fathomage.
Here was the remarkable position where the man at the lowest point of authority earned more than the man at the top. Johnny Delange earned more than the General Manager of the Sonder Ditch. Last year he had paid super-tax on an income of twenty-two thousand Rand. Even a miner like Kowalski, who brutalized and bullied his gang until he was left with the dregs of the mine, would earn eight or nine thousand Rand a year, about the same salary as an official of Rod Ironsides’ rank.
Johnny reached the top of his longwall and painted in the last shot holes. Down the inclined floor of the stope below him all his drills were roaring, his machine boys lying or crouching behind them. He lay there on one elbow, removed his helmet and wiped his face, resting a moment.
Johnny was an extraordinary-looking young man. His long jet black hair was swept back and tied with a leather thong at the back of his head in a curlicue. His features were those of an American Indian, gaunt and bony. He had cut the sleeves out of his overalls to expose his arms – arms as muscular and sinuous as pythons, tattooed below the elbows, immensely powerful but supple. His body was the same, long and sinewy and powerful.
On his right hand he wore eight rings, two on each finger, and it was clear from the design of the rings that they were not merely ornamental. They were heavy gold rings with skull and cross-bones, wolves’ heads and other irregularities worked into them, a mass of metal that formed a permanent knuckle-duster. Of the big eyes in the one skull’s head Rod Ironsides had once asked: ‘Are those real rubies, Johnny?“And Johnny had replied seriously:
“If they aren’t, then I’ve sure as hell been gypped out of three Rand fifty, Mr Ironsides.”
Johnny Delange had been a really wild youngster, until eight months ago. It was then he had met and married Hettie. Courtship and marriage occupying the space of one week. Now he was settling down very well. It was all of ten days since he had last fought anybody.
Lying in the stope he allowed himself five minutes to think about Hettie. She was almost as tall as he was, with a wondrously buxom body and chestnut red hair. Johnny adored her. He was not the best speechmaker in Kitchenerville when it came to expressing his affection, so he bought her things.
He bought her dresses and jewellery, he bought her a deep-freezer and a fifteen cubic foot Frigidaire, he bought her a Chrysler Monaco with leopard-skin upholstery and a Kenwood Chef. In fact, it was becoming difficult to enter the Delange household without tripping over at least one of Johnny’s gifts to Hettie. The congestion was made more acute by the fact that living with them was Johnny’s brother, Davy.
“Hell, man!” Happily Johnny shook his head. “She’s a bit of all-right, hey!”
There was an eye-level oven he had spotted in a furniture store in Kitchenerville the previous Saturday.
“She’ll love that, man,”‘ he muttered, ” and it’s only four hundred Rand. I’ll get it for her on pay day. “
The decision made, he clapped his helmet onto his head and began crawling out of the stope. It was time now to go up to the station and collect the explosives for the day’s blast.
His boss boy should have been waiting for him in the drive, and Johnny was furious to find no sign of him nor the piccanin who was his assistant.
“Bastard!” he grunted, playing the beam of his lamp up and down the drive. “He’s been acting up like hell.”
The boss boy was a pock-marked Swazi, not a big man, but powerful for his size and highly intelligent. He was also a man of mean disposition, Johnny had never seen him smile, and for an extrovert like Johnny it was galling to work with someone so sullen and taciturn. He tolerated the Swazi because of his drive and reliability, but he was the only man in the gang that Johnny disliked.
“Bastard!” The drive was deserted, the roar of the rock drills was muted.
“Where the hell is he?” Johnny scowled impatiently. “I’ll skin him when I find him.”
Then he remembered the latrine.
“That’s where he is!” Johnny set off down the drive. The latrine was a rock chamber cut into the side of the drive, a flap of canvas served as a door; beyond was a regular four-holer over sanitary buckets.
Johnny pulled the canvas aside and stepped into the cubicle. The boss boy and his assistant were there. Johnny stared in surprise, for a moment not understanding what they were doing. They were so absorbed they were unaware of Johnny’s presence.
Suddenly realization dawned, and Johnny’s face tightened with revulsion and disgust.
“You filthy—‘ Johnny snarled, and catching the boss boy by the shoulders pulled him backwards and pinned him against the wall. He lifted his heavily metalled fist and drew it back ready to hurl it into the boss boy’s face.
“Strike me and you know what happens,” said the boss boy softly, his expression flat and neutral, looking steadily into Johnny’s eyes. Johnny hesitated. He knew the Company rules, he knew the Government labour officers’ attitude, he knew what the police would do. If he hit him, they would crucify him.
“You are a pig!” Johnny hissed at him.
“You have a wife,” said the boss boy. “My wife is in Swaziland. Two years I have not seen her.”
Johnny lowered his fist. Twelve thousand men, and no women. It was a fact. The actuality sickened him, but he understood why it happened.
“Get dressed.” He stepped back, releasing the boss boy. “Get dressed both of you. Come to the station, I will meet you there.”
For a week now, since the fall of hanging in 43 section, Big King had been out of the stopes.
Rod had ordered it that way. The excuse was that Big King’s white miner had been killed in the fall and now he must await an allocation to another section. In reality Rod wanted to rest him. He had seen the strain both physical and emotional that Big King had undergone during the rescue. When together they had unearthed the miner’s corpse, the man with whom Big King had worked and laughed, Rod had seen the tears roll unashamedly down Big King’s cheeks as he picked up the body and held it easily against his chest,
“Hamba gahle, madoda,” Big King had muttered. “Go in peace, man.”
Big King was a legend on the Sender Ditch. They boasted about him; how much Bantu beer he could drink in a sitting, how much rock he could lash single-handed in a shift, how he could dance any other man off his feet. He had been awarded a total of over a thousand Rand in bravery awards. Big King set the pace, others tried to equal him.
Rod had put him in charge of a transport team. For the first few days Big King had enjoyed the opportunity of showing off his strength and socializing, for the transport team moved about the workings allowing Big King to visit most of his numerous friends during a shift. But now Big King was becoming bored. He wanted to get back into the stopes.
“This,” he told his transport team contemptuously, “is work for old men and young women.” And with one snatch and lift he picked up a forty-four gallon drum of dieseline and unaided placed it on the platform of the loco,
A forty-four gallon drum of dieseline weighs a little over eight hundred pounds avoirdupois.
All this fuss for that, Davy Delange paused in his labour of tamping the Dynagel into the shot holes. He leaned forward to inspect the reef. In the face of the stope it was a black line, drawn against the blue quartz rock.
The Carbon Leader Reef, it was called. A thin layer of carbon never more than a few inches thick, more often half an inch. Black soot, that’s what it was. Davy shook his head thoughtfully. You could not even see the gold in it.
Davy was two years older than his brother Johnny, and there was no physical or mental resemblance between the two of them. Davy’s sandy hair was cropped into a conventional ‘short back and sides’. He wore no personal jewellery, and his manner was quiet and reserved,
Johnny was tall and lean, Davy squat and muscular. Johnny was extravagant, Davy careful beyond the point of meanness. Their only common trait was that they were both first-class miners. If Johnny broke more rock than Davy, it was only because Davy was more careful than Johnny; he did not take the same chances, he observed all the safety procedures which Johnny frequently flouted.
Davy earned less money than Johnny, but saved every penny he could. It was for his farm. Davy was going to buy a farm one day. Already he had saved a little over R49,ooo towards it. In five more years he would have enough. Then he could get himself a farm and a wife to help run it. Johnny, on the other hand, spent every penny he earned. He was usually in debt to Davy by the end of each month.
“Lend us a hundred ‘till pay day, Davy.” Disapprovingly, Davy lent him the money. Davy disapproved of Johnny, his appearance, attire and habits.
Abandoning his microscopic inspection of the Carbon Leader Reef, Davy resumed tamping in the explosive, working carefully and precisely on this highly dangerous procedure. The sticks of explosive were charged with detonators and ready to burn. By law, nobody but the miner-in-charge could perform this operation, but Davy did it automatically while he thought about Johnny’s latest trespass. He had raised Davy’s rent.
“A hundred Rand a month!” Davy protested aloud. “I’ve got a good mind to move out and find my own digs.”
But he knew he would do no such thing. Hettie’s cooking was too good, and her presence too feminine and alluring. Davy would stay on with them.
“Rod.” Dan Stander’s voice was serious and low. “I’ve got a nasty one for you.”
“Thanks for nothing.” Rod made his own voice weary and resigned as he spoke into the telephone. “I’m just going on my underground tour. Can’t it wait?”
“No,” Dan assured him. “Anyway, it’s on your way. I’m speaking from the first-aid station at the shaft head. Come across.”
“What is it?”
“Assault. White on Bantu.”
“Christ.” Rod jerked upright in his chair. “Bad?”
“Ugly. Worked him over with the handle of a fourteen-pound hammer. I’ve put in forty-seven stitches, but I am worried about a fracture of the skull.”
“Who did it?”
“Miner by the name of Kowalski.”
“Him!” Rod was breathing heavily. “All right, Dan. Can he make a statement?”
“No. Not for a day or two.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes. “
Rod hung up the phone and crossed the office.
“Pull Kowalski out of the stopes. I want him in my office soonest. Put someone in to finish his shift.”
“Okay, Rod, what’s the trouble?”
“He beat up one of his boys.”
Dimitri whistled softly, and Rod went on.
“Call personnel, get them onto the police.”
“Okay, Rod.”
“Have Kowalski here when I get back from my tour.”
Dan was waiting for him in the first-aid room.
“Take a look.” He indicated the figure on the stretcher. Rod knelt beside him, his mouth tightening into a thin pale line.
The catgut stitches lay neatly across the dark swollen gashes in the man’s flesh. His one ear had been torn off, and Dan had sewn it back on. There was a black gap where teeth had been behind the swollen purple lips.
“You will be all right now.” Rod spoke gently, and the Bantu’s eyes swiveled towards him. “The man who did this will be punished.”
Rod stood up. “Let me have a written report on his injuries, Dan.”
“I’ll fix it. See you for a drink at the Club after work?“
“Sure,” said Rod, but underneath he was seething with anger, and it stayed with him during the whole of his underground tour.
Rod dropped straight down to 100 level. His first duty was to get the stuff out, and he wanted to check the reserve in the ore storage bins. He came into the long brightly-lit tunnel beneath the ore passes, and paused. The loaded conveyor belt whined monotonously, speeding the broken reef towards the bins.
The tunnel was deserted, except for the lonely figure of the sweeper at the far end. It was one of the phenomena of a well-run gold mine that in a tour through the workings you encountered so few human beings. Mile after mile of haulage and drive were silent and devoid of life, and yet there were ‘ twelve thousand men down here.
Rod set off towards the bins at the shaft end of the tunnel,
“Joseph,” he greeted the old sweeper with a smile.
“Nkosi.” Joseph ducked and bobbed with shy pleasure.
“All is well?” Rod asked. Joseph was one of Rod’s favourites, he was always so cheerful, so uncomplaining, so patently honest and without guile. Rod always made a point of stopping to chat to him.
“It is well with me, Nkosi. Is it well with you?
Rod’s smile died suddenly, he had noticed the fine white powdering of dust on Joseph’s upper lip.
“You old rogue!” he scolded him, “How often must I tell you to hose down before you sweep? Water! You must use water!”
This was part of the ceaseless battle of the miner to keep down the dust.
“The dust will eat your lungs!”
Phthisis, the dread incurable occupational disease of the miner, caused by silica particles being drawn into the lungs and there solidifying,
Joseph grinned shamefaced, shifting from one foot to the other. He was always embarrassed by Rod’s childish obsession with dust. In Joseph’s opinion this was one of the few flaws in Rod Ironsides’ character. Apart from this weird delusion that dust could hurt a man, he was a good boss.
“It is much harder to sweep wet dirt than dry dirt,” Joseph explained patiently. Rod never seemed to understand this self-evident fact, Joseph had to point it out to him every time they had this particular discussion.
“Listen to me, old man, without water the dust will enter your body.” Rod was exasperated. “The dust will kill you!”
Joseph bobbed again, grinning at Rod to placate him,
“Very well, I will use plenty water.”
To prove it he picked up the hose and began spraying the floor with enthusiasm.
“That is good!” Rod encouraged him. “Use plenty of water.” And Rod went on down to the storage bins.
When Rod was out of sight, Joseph turned off the hose and leaned on his broom.
“The dust will kill you!” he mimicked Rod, and chuckled merrily, shaking his head in wonder at the childishness of it.
“The dust will kill you!” he repeated, and burst into delighted laughter, slapping his thigh.
He did a few shuffling dance steps, it was so funny.
The dance steps were awkward, for under his trousers, strapped to the calves of both legs, were heavy polythene bags filled with gold fines from under the bins.
Rod stepped out of the Mary Anne at 85 level, and paused to watch Big King loading a baulk of timber onto the loco while his transport team stood back respectfully and Watched him. Turning from his task Big King saw Rod standing on the station landing and marched up to him.
“I see you,” he greeted Rod. Big King was not one to make hasty judgements, it was only after the rescue operations in section that he had decided Rod was a man. He was now ready to accept him as an equal.
“I see you also. King Nkulu.” Rod returned the greeting,
“Find me work with men. I sicken of this.”
“You will be back in the stopes before the week is ended,”
Rod promised. “You are my father,” Big King thanked him and went back to the transport team.
Johnny Delange saw the Underground Manager coming up the haulage towards him. There was no mistaking that tall wide-shouldered silhouette, nor the man’s free swinging stride,
“Whee!” Johnny whistled with relief, grateful for the premonition that had warned him to pack the fifty-pound cardboard cartons of Dynagel into the explosives locker of the railway truck, rather than, as he usually did, pile them haphazard onto the platform in defiance of safety standards,
“Stop!” Johnny commanded the boss boy and his assistant who were pushing the truck, and it trundled to a halt beside Rod.
“Morning, Johnny,
“Hello, Mr Ironsides.”
“How’s it going?”
Johnny hesitated before replying, and immediately Rod was aware of the tension between the three men. He glanced at the two Swazis, they were sullen and apprehensive.
“There’s been trouble,” he thought. “Not like Johnny, he’s too clever to let tension cut down his fathomage,”
“Well—‘ Johnny paused again. ”Look, Mr Ironsides, get rid of this bastard for me. “He jerked his thumb at the boss boy. ” Give me someone else. “
“What’s the trouble?”
“No trouble, I just can’t work with him.” Rod raised an eyebrow in disbelief, but turned to the boss boy,
“Are you happy in this section, or do you want transfer?”
“I want transfer!” growled the boss boy.
“Right.” Rod was relieved, sometimes in a case like this the Swazi would refuse transfer. “Tomorrow you will be told your new section.”
“Nkosi!” The boss boy glanced sideways at his assistant. “It is the wish of my friend that he transfers with me.”
So that’s it, Rod thought, the ever-present spectre which we must ignore because we can find no way to lay it. Johnny had probably caught them at it.
“Your friend shall go with you,” Rod nodded, telling himself that this was not condonation, but merely practical politics. If he separated them, the boss boy would pick on someone else who might not be receptive. Then there would be more trouble, stabbings, faction fighting.
“I’ll get you a replacement,” he told Johnny, and then suddenly a thought occurred to him. My God, yes! What a team they would make!
“Johnny, how would you like Big King?”
“Big King!” Johnny’s gaunt bony features split into a wide smile. “Now you’re talking, boss!”
At three o’clock Rod had finished his tour and was in the cage on the way to the surface. The cage was crowded, men pressed shoulder to shoulder, the stench of sweat almost overpowering. They were hauling shift now, the day’s work was over, the stopes were scraped and washed down, the shot drilled and charged, the fuses connected into the electrical circuit.
The men were out of the stopes now, falling back in orderly companies and battalions along the haulages to the stations. There to wait patiently for their turn to enter the cages and be whisked to the surface.
Rod was mulling over the myriad problems he had encountered during the day, and the solutions he had dreamed up. He had opened a new section in the back pages of his notebook and headed it simply ‘COSTS ’.
Already there were two entries there. Let them give me the job, he thought fervently, just let me have it one month and I’ll move the world.
“Mr Ironsides.” The man beside him spoke. Rod glanced down at him recognizing him.
“Hello, Davy.” It was remarkable how dissimilar the two brothers were.
“Mr Ironsides, my boss boy has worked his ticket. He’s going home at the end of the month. Can you see that I get a good man to replace him?”
“Your brother’s boss boy has asked for transfer. Will you take him?”
“Ja!” Davy Delange nodded. “I know him, he’s a good boy.”
And that takes care of one more detail, thought Rod, as he stepped out of the cage into a bright summer’s afternoon and tasted the fresh sweet air with pleasure. Now there are only the butt ends of the day’s work to tidy up. Then I can go and fetch the drink that Dan promised me.
Dimitri met him in the passage outside the office.
“I’ve got Kowalski in my office.”
“Good,” said Rod grimly. He went into his own office and sat on the edge of his desk.
“Send him in,” he called through to Dimitri.
Kowalski came through the door and stopped. He stood very still, his long arms hanging slackly at his side, his belly bulging out over his belt.
“You call me,” he muttered thickly, his English hardly intelligible. It was a peasant’s face, coarse-featured, dull-eyed. He had not shaved, dirt from the stopes clung in the thick black stubble of beard.
“You beat a. man today?” Rod asked softly.
“He no work,” Kowalski nodded. “I beat him. Maybe next time his brothers they work. No bloody nonsense!”
“You’re fired,” said Rod. “Pull your time and get the hell off this property.”
“You fire?” Kowalski blinked in surprise.
“There will be criminal charges’pressed against you by the company.” Rod went on. “But in the meantime I want you off the property.”
“Police?” Kowalski growled. There was expression on his face now.
“Yes,” said Rod, “police.”
The spade-sized hands at the end of Kowalski’s arms balled slowly into massive fists.
“You call da bloody police!” He took a step towards the desk, big, menacing.
“Dimitri,” Rod called sharply, ”close the door. “
Dimitri had been listening intently, now he jumped up from his desk and closed the interleading door. He stood with his ear pressed to the panelling. For thirty seconds more there was the growl and mutter of voices, then suddenly a thud, a bellow, another thud and a shattering crash.
Dimitri winced theatrically.
“Dimitri!” Rod’s voice, and he pushed the door open.
Rod sat on the edge of his desk, swinging one leg casually, he was sucking the knuckle of his right hand.
“Dimitri, tell them not to put so much polish on the floor. Our friend slipped and hit his jaw on the desk.”
Dimitri clucked sympathetically as he stood over the reclining hulk of the big Pole. Kowalski was snoring loudly through his mouth.
“Gave himself a nasty bump,” said Dimitri. “Shame!”
Dr Steyner worked on quietly for the remainder of Monday morning. He favoured the use of a tape recorder, for this cut out human contact which Manfred found vaguely repellent. He disliked having to speak his thoughts to a female who sat opposite him with skirts up around her thighs, squirming her bottom and touching her hair. However, what he really could not abide was the odour. Manfred was very sensitive to smells, even his own body smell of perspiration disgusted him. Women, he found, had a peculiar cloying odour that he could detect beneath their perfume and cosmetics. It nauseated him. This was why he had insisted on separate bedrooms for Theresa and himself. Naturally he had not told her the reason, but had insisted instead that he was such a light sleeper that he could not share a room with another person.
His office was in white and ice-blue, the air clean and cold from the air-conditioning unit, his voice was crisp and impersonal, the whirr of the recorder subdued, and with the conscious portion of his mind Manfred was happily absorbed in his conjuring tricks with figures and money, past performance and future estimates, a three-dimensional structure of variables and contingencies which only a super-normal brain could visualize. But beneath it was a sense of disquiet, he was waiting, hanging in time, and the outward sign of his agitation was the way the fingers of his right hand ran up and down his thigh as he worked, a caressing narcissistic gesture.
A few minutes before noon the unlisted direct telephone on his desk rang, and the movement of his hand stilled. Only one caller could reach him here, only one caller had that number. For a few seconds he sat unmoving, delaying the moment, then “deliberately he switched off the recorder and lifted the telephone,
“Dr Manfred Steyner.” He identified himself,
“You have got our man in?” the voice inquired.
“Not yet, Andrew.”
There was silence from the other end, a dangerous crackling silence.
“But there is no cause for alarm. It is nothing. A delay merely, not a setback.”
“How long?”
“Two days – at the latest by the end of the week.”
“You will be in Paris next week?”
“Yes.” Manfred was an adviser to the Government team which was to meet the French for gold price talks.
“He will meet you there. It would be best for you that your side of the bargain were completed by then. You understand?”
“I understand, Andrew.”
The discussion was ended, but Manfred interjected to prevent the caller from hanging up.
“Will you ask him if—‘ Manfred’s tone had changed almost imperceptibly, there was an obsequious edge in it. ”Ask him if I may play tonight, please, Andrew. “
The minutes drifted by, and then the voice came back on the line.
“Yes, you may play. Simon will inform you of your limits.”
“Thank you. Tell him, thank you.”
Manfred made no effort to conceal his relief as he cradled the receiver. He sat beaming at the ice-blue paper on the far wall of his office, even his spectacles seemed to sparkle.
There were five men in the opulently furnished room. One of the men was subservient to the others, he was younger than they, attentive to their moods and wishes. Clearly he was a servant. Of the remaining four, one was just as obviously the host. He was seated at the focus of all their attention. He was fat, but not excessively so, the fat of good living not of gluttony. He was speaking, addressing himself to his three guests.
“You have expressed doubts as to reliability of the tool I intend using in the coming venture. I have arranged a demonstration which I hope will convince you that your concern is groundless. That is the reason for the invitation that Andrew here conveyed to you this afternoon.”
The host turned to the younger man. “Andrew, would you be good enough to go through and wait for Dr Steyner to arrive, as soon as that happens, please let Simon seat him while you come through and inform us.” He gave his orders with dignity and courtesy, a man accustomed to command,
“Now, gentlemen, while we wait may I offer you a drink?”
The conversation that sprang up between the four of them as they sipped their drinks was knowledgeable, and extraordinarily well informed. At its root was one subject: wealth. Mineral wealth, industrial wealth, the harvest of the land and the sea. Oil, steel, coal, fish, wheat and – gold.
There were clues to the stature of these men in the cut and quality of the cloth they wore, the sparkle of a stone on a finger, the tone of authority in a voice, the casual unaffected use of a high name.
“He is here, sir,” Andrew interrupted them from the doorway.
“Oh! Thank you, my boy.” The host stood up, “Would you mind stepping this way, please, gentlemen,”
He crossed the room and drew aside one of the gold and maroon drapes. Behind it was a window.
The four men clustered about the window and looked through into the room beyond. It was a gaming room of an expensive gambling establishment. There were men and women sitting about a baccarat table, and none of them so much as glanced up at the window overlooking them.
“This is a one-way glass, gentlemen,” the host explained. “So you need not worry about being seen in such a den of iniquity.”
They chuckled politely,
“What kind of profit does this place show you?” one of them asked.
“My dear Robert!” The host feigned shock. “You don’t for a moment believe that I would be in any way associated with an illegal undertaking?”
This time they chuckled with genuine amusement.
“Ha!” explained the host. “Here he is.”
Across the gaming room Dr Manfred Steyner was being ushered to a seat at the table by a tall sallow-faced young man, who in his evening dress looked like an undertaker.
“I have asked Simon to place him so that you may watch his face as he plays.”
They were intent now, leaning forward slightly, scrutinizing the man as he arranged the plaques that Simon had stacked at his elbow,
Dr Manfred Steyner began to play. His face was completely devoid of expression, but the pallor was startling. Every few seconds the pink tip of his tongue slipped out between his lips, then disappeared again. In the intervals between each coup, there was a reptilian stillness about him, the stillness of a lizard or an iguana. Only a pulse beat steadily in his throat and his spectacles glittered like a snake’s eyes.
“May I direct your attention to his’right hand during the play of this coup,” the host murmured, and all their eyes flicked downwards.
Manfred’s right hand lay open beside the pile of his chips, but as his card was laid before him so his fingers closed.
‘Carte. “Soundlessly he mouthed the word, and now his hand was a fist, the knuckles whitened, the tension was so fierce-that his fist trembled. Yet, still his face was neutral.
The banker flipped his card.
‘Sept!“The croupier’s mouth formed the number. He faced Manfred’s card, then he swept Manfred’s stake away. Manfred’s hand flopped open and lay soft and hairless as a dead fish on the green baize,
“Let us leave him to his pleasures,” suggested the host and drew the curtains across the window. They returned to their chairs, and they were strangely subdued.
“Jesus,” muttered one of the guests. “That was ugly. I felt like a peeping torn, like watching someone, you know, pulling his pudding.”
The host glanced at him quickly, surprised at his perception.
“In effect, that is exactly what you were watching,” he told him. “You will excuse me playing the role of lecturer, but I know a little about this man. It cost me nearly four hundred Rand for an analytical report on him by one of our leading psychiatrists.”
The host paused, assuring himself of their complete attention.
“The reasons are obscure, probably arising from an event or series of events during the period in which Dr Steyner was an orphan wandering through the smoking ruins of war-torn Europe.” The host coughed, deprecating his own flight of oratory. “Be that as it may. The results are there for all to see. Dr Manfred Kurt Steyner’s intelligence quotient is a genius rating of 158. He neither smokes nor drinks. He has no hobbies, plays no sport, has never made so much as an improper remark to any woman other than his wife, and there is some doubt as to just how often or to what extent she is favoured by his attentions.” The host sipped his drink conscious of their intense interest. “Mechanically, if that is the correct term, Dr Steyner is neither impotent nor deficient in his manhood. However, he finds all bodily contact, and especially the secretions that may arise from such contact, to be utterly loathsome. For arousal he relies on the baccarat cards, for release he might endure a brief contact with a member of the opposite sex, but more likely he would – oh, what was the expression you used, Robert?”
They absorbed this in silence.
“He is, to be precise, a compulsive gambler. He is also a compulsive loser.”
They stirred with disbelief.
“You mean he tries to lose?” demanded Robert incredulously,
“No,” The host shook his head. “Not on the conscious level. He believes he is trying to win, but he lays bets against odds that, with his magnificent brain, he must realize are suicidal. It is a deep-seated sub-conscious need to lose, to be humiliated. A form of masochism.”
The host opened a black leather notebook and checked its contents.
“During the period from 1958 to 1963 Dr Steyner lost the total sum of at this table. In 1964 he was able to arrive at an arrangement with his sole creditor to discharge the debt plus the accumulated interest.”
You could see the faces change as they rapidly searched their memories for a set of circumstances which would fit the dates and principals. Robert reached the correct deduction first. In 1964 their host has sold his majority holdings in the North Maun Copper Co. to CRC at a price that could only be considered advantageous. Just prior to this Dr Steyner had been made head of finance and planning at . CRC.
“North Maun Copper,” said Robert with admiration. That is how he had done it, the cunning old fox! He had forced Steyner to buy well above market value.
The host smiled softly, deferentially, neither confirming nor denying.
“Since 1964 to the present Dr Steyner has continued to patronize this establishment. His gambling losses for this further period amount to—‘ he consulted his notebook again, pretending surprise at the figure, ”to a touch over K.3oo,ooo. “
They sighed and moved restlessly. Even to these men it was a very large sum of money.
“I think we can rely on him.” The host closed his notebook with a snap, and smiled around at them,
Theresa lay in the dark. The night was warm, the stillness spoiled only by the klonking of a frog down at the fishpond. The moonlight came in through the window, playing shadow pictures through the branches of the Pride of India tree onto the wall of her bedroom.
She threw back the single sheet, and swung her legs off the bed. She could not sleep, it was too warm, her nightdress kept binding under her armpits. She stood up and on a sudden reckless impulse she drew the nightdress off over her head and tossed it through the open door of her dressing-room, then, naked, she walked out onto the wide veranda. Into the moonlight, with the cool stone flags under her bare feet, and the warm night air moving like the touch of fairy hands on her skin.
She felt suddenly devilish and daring, she wanted to run down across the lawns and to have someone catch her doing it. She giggled, uncertain of this mood. It was so far removed from Manfred’s conception of a good German Hausfrau’s behaviour.
“He’d be furious,” she whispered with wicked delight, and then she heard the motor of the car.
She froze with horror, the headlights flicked through the trees as the car came up the driveway and she darted back into her room; in panic she dropped to her knees and searched for her nightgown, found it and ran to the bed as she dragged it on over her head.
She lay in the darkness and listened to the car door slam. There was silence until she heard him pass her door. His heels clacked on the yellow wood floor, he was almost running. Theresa knew the symptoms, the late night return, the suppressed urgency, and she lay rigid in her bed, waiting.
The minutes passed slowly, and then the interleading door from Manfred’s suite swung open silently.
“Manfred, is that you?” She sat up and reached for the switch of the bedside lamp.
“Don’t put the light on.” His voice was breathless, slurred as though he had been drinking but there was no trace of liquor on his breath as he stooped over her and kissed her. His lips were dry and tightly closed, as he slipped off his dressing-gown.
Two and a half minutes later he stood up from the bed, turning his back to Theresa as he quickly shrugged into the silk dressing-gown.
“Excuse me a minute, Theresa.” The breathlessness was gone from his voice. He went through the door of his own suite, and seconds later she heard the hiss of the shower and the tinkling splash of water.
She lay on her back and her fingernails cut into the palms of her hands. Her body was trembling with a mixture of revulsion and desire, it had been so fleeting a contact -enough to stir her, but so swift as to leave her with a feeling of having been used and sullied. She knew that the rest of the night would pass infinitely slowly, with restless burning tension, remorse and self-pity alternating with wild elation and half-crazed erotic fantasy.
“Damn him,” she screamed silently within her skull. “Damn him! Damn him!”
She heard the shower stop, and then Manfred returned to her room. He smelt of 4711 Eau de Cologne, and he sat down carefully on the end of the bed.
“You may turn on the light, Theresa.”
It required a conscious effort for her to unclench her hand and reach out for the lamp switch. Manfred blinked behind his spectacles at the flood of light. His hair was damp and freshly combed, his cheeks shone like ripe apples.
“I hope you had an enjoyable day?” he asked, and listened seriously to her reply. Despite her tension, Theresa found herself falling under the almost hypnotic influence he wielded over her. His voice precise, almost monotonous. The glitter of his spectacles, the reptilian stillness of his body and features.
As she had so many times before, she thought of herself as a warm fluffy rabbit sitting tense and fascinated before the cobra.
“It is late,” he said at last and he stood up.
Looking down at her as she lay cuddled into the white silk sheets, he asked with as little emphasis as if he were requesting her to pass the sugar: ‘Theresa, could you raise three hundred thousand Rand without your grandfather knowing?“
“Three hundred thousand!” She sat up startled.
“Yes. Could you?”
“Good Lord, Manfred, that’s a small fortune.” She truly saw nothing unusual in her choice of adjective. “You know it’s all in the Trust Fund, well, most of it. There is the farm and the – no, I couldn’t find half of that without Pops knowing.”
“Pity,” murmured Manfred,
“Manfred, you aren’t in – difficulties?”
“No. Good Lord, no. It was just a thought. Forget that I asked. Good night, Theresa, I hope you sleep well.”
Involuntarily she lifted her hands towards him in invitation.
“Good night, Manfred,”
He turned and left the room, she let her hands fall to her sides. For Theresa Steyner the long night had begun.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is customary for the General Manager to introduce the distinguished guest who presents our special service awards. Last week, in tragic circumstances our General Manager, Mr Frank Lemmer, was killed in the Company’s service, a loss which we all bitterly regret, and I am sure you all join me in sincere condolence to Mrs Eileen Lemmer,” Rod paused for the acknowledging murmur from his audience. There were two hundred of them packed into the mine club hall. “It falls upon me, therefore, as Acting General Manager, to introduce to you Dr Manfred Steyner who is a senior Director of Central Rand Consolidated, our parent company. He is also head of the Departments of Finance and Planning.”
Sitting beside her husband, Theresa Steyner had noticed Manfred’s irritation at Rod’s mention of Frank Lemmer. It was company policy not to draw public attention to accidental death or injury inflicted on employees by the Company’s operation. She liked Rod the better for his small tribute to Frank Lemmer.
Theresa was wearing sunglasses, for her eyes were swollen and red. In the dawning, after a sleepless night, she had succumbed suddenly to a fit of bitter weeping. The tears were without cause, or reason, and had left her feeling strangely lightheaded and with a brittle sense of well-being. However, her enormous eyes always showed up badly for hours after she had wept.
She sat with her legs demurely crossed, immaculate in a suit of cream shantung, a black silk scarf catching her hair and then letting it fall in a dark glossy brown cascade onto her shoulders. She leaned forward in polite attention to the speaker, one elbow on her knee, her chin cupped in her palm, one long tapered finger lying against her cheek. A lady with diamonds on her fingers and pearls at her throat, smiling an acknowledgement at Rod’s reference to ‘the lovely granddaughter of our Chairman’.
Except for the slight incongruity of the sunglasses, she was the perfect image of the young matron. Polished, poised, cosseted, secure in her unassailable virtue and duty,
However, the thoughts that were running through Theresa Steyner’s head, and the flutterings and sensations that were prickling and tickling her, had they been known, would have broken up the assembly in disorder. All the formless fantasy and emotional disturbance of the previous night were now directed at one target – Rodney Ironsides.
Suddenly, with a start of amusement and alarm, she was aware of a phenomenon that she had last experienced many years ago. She moved quickly, shifting her seat for the cream shantung marked so easily with any moisture.
“Terry Steyner!” she thought, deliciously shocked at herself, and found with relief that Rod had finished speaking and Manfred was standing up to reply. She joined in the applause enthusiastically to distract her errant fancy.
Manfred briefly mentioned the six gentlemen sitting in the front row of seats whose courage and devotion to duty they had come to honour, he then went on into an exploration of the prospects of an increase in the price of gold. In measured, carefully considered terms, he set out the advantages and benefits that would accrue to the industry, the nation and the world at large. It was an erudite and convincing dissertation, and there was a large contingent of newspaper men to record it. The press had been alerted by the public relations department of CRC to the text of Dr Steyner’s speech and all the leading dailies, weeklies, financial gazettes and journals were represented.
At intervals a photographer would come to crouch below the platform and pop a flash bulb up at Dr Steyner. On the eve of the gold price talks with France this would make good copy, for Steyner was the boy genius in the South African team.
The six heroes sat uncomfortably, forlorn in their best suits, scrubbed like schoolboys at a prize-giving ceremony, staring up at the speaker, not understanding a single word of the foreign language, but maintaining expressions of grave dignity.
Rod caught Big King’s eye and winked at him. Solemnly Big King’s right eyelid drooped and rose in reply, and quickly Rod averted his gaze to prevent himself laughing out loud.
He looked straight into Theresa Steyner’s face, taking her completely off her guard. Not even the dark glasses could conceal her thoughts, they were as clear as if she had spoken them aloud. Before she could drop her eyes to examine the hem of her skirt, Rod knew with a stomach swoop of excitement how it could be if he chose.
With a new awareness he examined her from the corner of his eye, seeing her for the first time as an accessible woman, a highly desirable woman, but nevertheless still the granddaughter of Hurry Hirschfeld and the wife of Manfred Steyner, This made her as dangerous as a force ten pressure burst, he knew, but the desire and temptation was hard to deny, inflamed perhaps rather than dampened by the danger.
He saw that she was blushing now, her fingers picking nervously at the hem of her skirt. She was as agitated as a school-girl, she knew he was watching her. Rod Ironsides, who until five minutes before had been thinking of nothing but his speech, now found himself impelled into a completely new and exciting dimension.
After the awards had been made, tea had been drunk, biscuits consumed and the crowd had dispersed, Rod escorted the Steyners down across the vivid green lawns of Kikuyu grass to where the chauffeur was holding the Daimler.
“What a magnificent physique that Shangaan has, what was his name – King?” Terry was walking between the two men.
“King Nkulu. Big King, we call him.” Rod found his speech unsteady, he had stuttered slightly. This thing between the two of them was suddenly overpowering, it hummed like a turbine, making the space between them crackle with tension. Unless he were deaf, Manfred Steyner must be aware of it.
“He is pretty special. There is nothing he can’t do, and do it far and away better than his nearest rival. My God, you should see him dance.” ‘Dance?“inquired Terry with interest. ”Tribal dancing, you know,“
“Of course.” Terry hoped the relief in her voice was not obvious, she had been racking her badly flustered brains for an excuse to visit the Sonder Ditch again or have Rod Ironsides come to Johannesburg. “I have a friend who is absolutely mad keen on seeing the dances. She pesters me every time I see her.”
Quickly she selected a name from her list of friends, she must have one ready should Manfred ask.
“They dance every Saturday afternoon, bring her out any time.” Rod fielded the ball neatly.
“What about this Saturday?” Terry turned to her husband, “Would that be all right, Manfred?”
“What’s that?” Manfred looked at her vaguely, he had not been following the conversation. Manfred Steyner was a worried man, he was pondering his obligation to gain control of the management of the Sender Ditch within two days.
“May we come out here on Saturday afternoon to watch the tribal dancing?” Terry repeated her request.
“Have you forgotten that I fly to Paris on Saturday morning, Theresa?”
“Oh, dear.” Terry bit her lip thoughtfully. “It had slipped my mind. What a pity, I would have enjoyed it.”
Manfred frowned slightly, irritated.
“My dear Theresa, there is no reason why you shouldn’t come out to the Sonder Ditch without me. I am sure you will be safe enough in Mr Ironsides’ hands.”
His choice of words brought the colour to Terry’s cheeks again.
After the award ceremony, Big King’s first stop was the Recruiting Agency Office at the entrance to the No. i shaft hostel. There were men clustered about the counter, but they stood aside for Big King and he acknowledged the courtesy by slapping their backs indiscriminately and greeting them with:
“Kunjane, madoda. How is it, men?”
The clerk behind the counter hurried to serve him. Up at the Mine Club Big King might be a little out of his depth, but here he was treated like a reigning monarch.
In two neat bundles Big King placed the award money on the counter.
“Twenty-five Rand you will send to my senior wife.” He instructed the clerk. “And twenty-five Rand you will put to my book.”
Big King was scrupulously fair. Half of all his earnings was remitted to the senior of his four wives, and half was added to the substantial sum already credited in his savings bank passbook.
The Agency was the procurer of labour for the insatiably man-hungry gold mines of the Witwatersrand and Orange Free State. Its representatives operated across the southern half of the continent. From the swamps and fever lagoons along the great Zambezi, from among the palm groves fringing the Indian Ocean, out of those simmering plains that the bushmen called ‘the big dry’, down from the mountains of Basutoland and the grasslands of Swaziland and Zululand they gathered the Bantu, the men themselves completing the first fifty or sixty miles of the journey on foot. Individuals meeting on a footpath to become pairs, arriving at a little general dealer’s store in the bleak scrub desert to find three or four others already waiting, the arrival of the recruiting truck with a dozen men and their luggage aboard, the long bumping grinding progress through the bush. The stops at which more men scrambled aboard, until a full truck load of fifty or sixty disembarked at a railway siding in the wilderness.
Here the tiny trickle of humanity joined a stream, and at the first major centre they trans-shipped and became part of the great flood that washed towards ‘Goldi’.
However, once they had reached Johannesburg and been allocated to one of the sixty major gold mines, the Agency’s obligations towards its recruits were not yet discharged. Between them the employing mine and the Agency must provide each man with employment, training, advice and comfort, maintain contact between him and his family, for very few of them could write, reassure him when he worried that his goats were sick or his wife unfaithful. They must provide a banking and savings service with a personal involvement unknown to any commercial banking institute. They had, in short, to make certain that a man taken from an environment that had not changed in a thousand years and deposited into the midst of a sophisticated and technological society would retain his health, happiness and sanity, so that at the end of his contract he would return to the place from which he had come and tell them all how wonderful it was at ‘Goldi’, He would show them his hard helmet, and his new suitcase crammed with clothes, his transistor radio and the little blue book with its printed figures, inflaming them also with the desire to make the pilgrimage, and keep the flood washing towards ‘ Goldi’.
Big King completed his business transactions and went in through the gates of the hostel, he was going to take advantage of the fact that he had missed the shift and would be among the first at the ablutions and dining-hall.
He went down across the lawns to his block. Despite the size of an establishment that housed six thousand men, the Company had tried to make it as attractive as possible. The result was an unusual design, half-way between a motel and an advanced penitentiary.
As a senior boss boy, Big King rated a room of his own. An ordinary labourer would share with five others.
Carefully Big King brushed down his suit and hung it in the built-in cupboard, wiped down his glossy shoes and racked them, then with a towel around his waist he set off for the ablution block and was irritated to find it already filled with new recruits up from the acclimatization centre.
Big King ran an appraising eye over their naked bodies and judged that this batch must be nearing the completion of their eight-day acclimatization. They were sleek and shiny, the muscle definition showing clearly through the skin.
You could not take a man straight out of his village, probably suffering from malnutrition, and put him down a gold mine to lash and bar and drill in a dry bulb heat of 91° Fahrenheit and 84% relative humidity, without running a serious risk of killing him with heat stroke or exhaustion.
Every recruit judged medically fit to work underground went into acclimatization. For eight days, eight hours a day, he and hundreds of others stood with only a loin cloth about his middle in a vast bam-like hall stepping up onto and down from a platform. The height of the platform was carefully matched to the man’s height and body weight, the speed of his movements was regulated by a flashing panel of lights, the temperature and humidity were controlled at 91° and 84%, every ten minutes he was given water and his body temperature was registered by the half dozen trained medical assistants in charge of the room.
At the end of the eighth day he emerged as fit as an Olympic athlete, and quite able to perform heavy physical labour in conditions of high temperature and humidity without discomfort or danger.
“Gwedeni!” growled Big King, and the nearest recruit, still white with soap suds, hurriedly vacated his shower with a respectful‘ Keshle!“in deference to Big King’s rank and standing. Big King removed his towel and stepped under the shower, reveling as always in the rush of hot water over his skin, flexing the great muscles of his arms and chest.
The messenger found him there,
“King Nkulu, I have word for thee.” The man used Shangaan, not the bastard Fanikalo.
“Speak,” Big King invited, soaping his belly and buttocks.
“The Induna bids you call at his house after you have eaten the evening meal.”
“Tell him I will attend his wishes,” said Big King and held his face up into the rush of steaming water.
Dressed in a white open-neck shirt and blue slacks, Big King sauntered down to the kitchens. Again the recruits were ahead of him, queuing with bowls in hand outside the serving hatches. Big King walked past them through the door marked ‘ No Admittance – Staff only’.
The kitchens were cavernous, glistening with white porcelain tile and stainless steel cookers and bins that could serve eighteen thousand hot meals a day.
When Big King entered a room, even one as large as this, no one was unaware of his presence. One of the assistant cooks snatched up a bowl not much smaller than a baby’s bath, and hurried across to the nearest stainless steel bin. He opened the lid and looked expectantly at Big King. Big King nodded and the cook ladled about two litres of steaming sugar beans into the bowl, before passing on to the next bin where he again looked for and obtained Big King’s approval. He added an equal quantity of mixed vegetables to the bowl, slammed down the lid and scampered across to where a second assistant waited with a spade beside yet another bin.
The spade was the same as those used for lashing gold reef underground, but the blade of this one had been polished to gleaming cleanliness. The second cook dug into the bin and came up with a spadeful of white maize porridge, cooked stiff as cake, the smell of it as saliva-making as the smell of new bread. This was the staple of Bantu diet. He deposited the spadeful in the bowl.
“I am hungry.” Big King spoke for the first time, and the second cook dug out another spadeful and added it to the bowl. They passed on to the end of the kitchens, and at their approach another cook lifted the lid on a pressure cooker the size of a washing machine. From it rose a cloud of fragrant steam.
Apologetically the cook held out his hand and Big King produced his meat ticket. Meat was the only food that was rationed. Each man was limited to one pound of meat a day; the Company had long ago discovered to its astonishment and cost that a Bantu, offered unlimited supplies of fresh meat, was quite capable of eating his own weight of it monthly.
Having ascertained that Big King was entitled to his daily pound, the cook proceeded to ladle at least five pounds of it into the bowl.
“You are my brother,” Big King thanked him, and the little procession moved on to where yet another cook was filling a half-gallon jug of thick, gruel-like, mildly alcoholic Bantu beer from one of the multiple spiggots beneath the thousand-gallon tank.
The bowl and jug were ceremonially handed to Big King and he went out onto the covered terraces where benches and tables were set out for alfresco dining in mild weather.
While he ate, the terrace began to fill, for the shift was out of the mine now. Every man who passed his table greeted Big King, but only a few privileged persons took the liberty of seating themselves at the same table. One of them was Joseph M’Kati, the little old sweeper from 100 level.
“It has been a good week, King Nkulu.”
“You say so.” Big King was non-commital. “I go now to a meeting with the Old One. Then we shall see.”
The Old One, the Shangaan Induna, lived in a Company house. A self-contained residence with lounge and dining-room, kitchen and bathroom. He was handsomely paid by the Company, provided with servants, food, furniture and all the other appurtenances of his rank and station.
He was the head of the Shangaan community on the Bonder Ditch. A chief of the blood, a greybeard and member of the tribal councils. In similar houses and with the same privileges and in equal style lived the Indunas of the other tribal groups that made up the labour force of the Bonder Ditch. They were the paternal figureheads, the tribal jurists, ruling and judging within the framework of law and custom. The Company could not hope to maintain harmony and order without the assistance of these men.
“Baba!” Big King greeted his Induna from the doorway of his house, touching the forehead in respect not only for the man but also for what he represented.
“My son.” The Induna smiled his greeting. “Come and sit by me.” He gestured for his servants to leave the room, and Big King went to squat at the feet of the old man. “It is true you go now to work with the mad one?” That was Johnny Delange’s nickname.
They talked, the Induna questioning him on fifty matters that affected the welfare of his people. For Big King this was a comforting and nostalgic experience, for the Induna stood in the place of his father.
At last, satisfied, the Induna went on to other matters.
“There is a parcel ready tonight. Crooked Leg waits for you.”
“I shall go for it.”
“Go in peace then, my son.”
On his way through the gates of the hostel Big King stopped to chat with the guards. These men had the right of search over any person entering or leaving the hostel. Particularly they were concerned with preventing either women disguised as men or bottles of spirits entering the premises, both of which tended to have a disruptive effect on the community. As an after-thought they were also instructed to look out for stolen property entering or leaving. Big King had to ensure that none of them would ever, under any circumstances, take it into his head to search Big King.
While he stood at the gates, the last glow of the sunset faded and the lights began to come on across the valley. The clusters of red aerial warning lights atop the headgears, the massed yellow squares of the hotels, the strings of street lamps and the isolated pinpricks of the residential areas up on the ridge.
When it was truly dark, Big King left the guards and sauntered down the main road, until a bend in the road took him out of their sight. Then Big King left the road and started up the slope. He moved like a night animal, swiftly and with certainty of the path he followed.
He passed the ranch-type split-levels of the line management officials with their wide lawns and swimming-pools, pausing only once when a dog yapped nearby, then moving on again until he was into the broken rock and rank grass of the upper ridge; he crossed the skyline and started down the far side until he made out the grass-covered mound of rubble in the moonlight. He slowed and moved cautiously forward until he found the rusty barbed wire fence that guarded the entrance. He vaulted it easily and went on into the black mouth of the tunnel.
Fifty years before, a long-defunct mining company had suspected the existence of a gold reef in this area and had driven prospecting addits into the side of the ridge, exhausting its funds in the process, and finally abandoning the network of tunnels in despair.
Big King paused long enough to draw an electric torch from his pocket before going on into the tunnel, flashing the beam ahead of him. Soon the air stank of bats and their wings swished about his head. Unperturbed, Big King went on deeper and deeper into the side of the hill, taking a turning and fork in the tunnel without hesitation. At last there was a faint glow of yellow light ahead and Big King switched off his torch.
“Crooked Leg!” he called, his voice bounced and boomed along the tunnel. There was no reply.
“It is I, Big King!” he shouted again, and immediately a shadow detached itself from the sidewall and limped towards him, sheathing a wicked-looking knife as it came.
“All is ready.” The little cripple came to greet him. “Come, I have it here.”
Crooked Leg had earned his limp and his nickname in a rock-fall a dozen years ago. Now he owned and operated the concession photographic studio on the mine property, a flourishing enterprise, for dearly the Bantu love their own image on film. Not, however, as profitable as his nocturnal activities in the abandoned workings beyond the ridge.
He led Big King into a small rock chamber lit by a suspended hurricane lantern. Mingled with the bat stench was the acrid reek of sulphuric acid in high concentration.
On a wooden trestle table that occupied most of the chamber were earthenware jars, heavy glass bowls, polythene bags, and a variety of shoddy and very obviously second-hand laboratory equipment. In a clear space amongst all this clutter stood a large screw-topped bottle. The bottle was filled with a dirty yellow powder.
“Ha!” Big King exclaimed his pleasure. “Plenty!”
“Yes. It has been a good week,” Crooked Leg agreed.
Big King picked up the bottle, marveling once again at the unbelievable weight of it. This was not pure gold, for Crooked Leg’s acid reduction methods were crude, but it was at least sixteen carats fine.
The bottle represented the week’s collection of fines and concentrates by men like Joseph M’Kati from a dozen vulnerable points along the line of production; in some cases carried out from the company reduction works itself under the noses of the heavily armed guards.
All the men involved in this surreptitious milking off of the company’s gold were Shangaans, there was only one man in whom was vested sufficient authority and prestige to prevent the greed and hostility which gold breeds from destroying the whole operation. That was the Shangaan Induna. There was only one man with the physical presence and necessary command of the Portuguese language to negotiate the disposal of the gold. That was Big King.
Big King placed the bottle in his pocket. The weight pulled his clothing out of shape.
“Run like a gazelle, Crooked Leg.” He turned back into the dark tunnel.
“Hunt like a leopard, King Nkulu,” chuckled the little cripple, as he disappeared into the moving shadows.
“A packet of Boxer tobacco,” said Big King. The eyes of Jose Almeida, the Portuguese owner of the mine concession store and the local roadhouse, narrowed slightly. He took down the yellow four-ounce packet from the shelves and handed it across the counter, accepted Big King’s payment and counted the change into his palm.
He watched as the giant Bantu wandered down between the loaded shelves and racks of merchandise to disappear through the front door of the store into the night.
“Take charge,” he muttered in Portuguese to his plump little wife with her silky dark moustache, and she nodded in understanding, moving into Jose’s place in front of the cash register. Jose went through into his storerooms and living quarters behind the store.
Big King was waiting in the shadows. When the back door opened he slipped through and Jos6 closed the door behind him. Jos6 led him through into a cubicle of an office, and from a cupboard he took down a jeweller’s balance. Under Big King’s watchful eye he began to weigh the gold.
Jose Almeida purchased the gold from the unofficial outlets of each of the five major mines on the Kitchenerville field, paying five Rands an ounce and selling again for sixteen. He justified the large profit margin he allowed himself by the fact that mere possession of unregistered gold was a criminal offence in South Africa, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
Almeida was a man in his middle thirties with lank black hair that he continually pushed back from his forehead, bright brown inquisitive eyes and dirty fingernails. Despite his grubby and well-worn clothing and unkempt hair style, he was a man of substance.
He had been able to pay in cash the forty thousand Rand demanded by the Company for the monopoly concession to trade on the mine property. He had, therefore, an exclusive clientele of twelve thousand well-paid Bantu, and had recovered his forty thousand during his first year of trading. He did not really need to run the risk of illicit gold buying, but gold is strange material. It infects most men who touch it with a reckless greed.
“Two hundred and sixteen ounces,” said Jose1. His scale was set to record a twenty per cent error – in Jose’s favour.
“One thousand and eighty Rand,” agreed Big King in Portuguese, and Jose went to the big green safe in the corner.
Terry Steyner entered the ‘Grape and Gable’ bar of the President Hotel at 1.14 p.m. precisely, and as Hurry Hirschfeld stood to greet her he reflected that fourteen minutes was hardly late at all for a beautiful woman. Terry’s grandmother would have considered herself to be early if she was only that late.
“You’re late,” growled Hurry. No sense in letting her get away with it unscathed.
“And you are a big, cuddly, growly, lovable old bear,” said Terry and kissed him on the tip of his nose before he could duck. Hurry sat down quickly scowling thunderously with pleasure. He decided he didn’t give a good damn if Marais and Hardy, who further down the bar were listening and trying to cover their grins, repeated the incident to the entire membership of the Rand Club.
“Good day, Mrs Steyner.” The scarlet-jacketed barman smiled his greeting. “Can I mix you a Manhattan?”
“Don’t tempt me, Thomas. I’m on a diet. I’ll just have a glass of soda water.”
“Diet,” snorted Hurry. “You’re skinny enough as it is. Give her a Manhattan, Thomas, and put a cherry in it. Never was a Hirschfeld woman that looked like a boy, and you’ll not be the first of them.” As an afterthought, he added;‘ I’ve ordered your lunch also, you’ll not starve yourself in my company. “
“You are a shocker, Pops,” said Terry fondly.
“Now, young lady, let’s hear what you’ve been up to since I last saw you.”
They talked together as friends, very dear and trusted friends. The affection they felt for each other went beyond the natural duty of their blood tie. There was a kinship of the spirit as well as the flesh. They sat close, heads together, watching each other’s face as they talked, completely lost in the pleasure of each other’s company, the murmur of their voices interrupted by a tinkling burst of laughter or a deep chuckle.
They were so absorbed that Peter, the headwaiter, came through from the Transvaal Room to find them.
“Mr Hirschfeld, the chef is in tears.”
“Good Lord.” Hurry looked at the antique clock above the bar. “It’s almost two o’clock. Why didn’t someone tell me?”
The oysters had been flown up from Mossel Bay that morning, and Terry sighed with pleasure after each of them.
“I was out at the Sender Ditch with Manfred on Wednesday.”
“Yes, I saw the photograph in the paper,” Hurry engulfed his twelfth and final oyster.
“I must say I like your new General Manager.”
Hurry laid down his fork and a little flush of anger started in his withered old cheeks.
“You mean Fred Plummer?”
“Don’t be silly, Pops, I mean Rodney Ironsides.”
“Has that cold fish of yours been briefing you?” Hurry demanded.
“Manfred?” She was genuinely puzzled by the question, Hurry could see that. “What’s he got to do with it?”
“All right, forget it.” Hurry dismissed Manfred with a shake of his head. “Why do you like Ironsides?”
“Have you heard him speak?”
“He’s very good. I’m sure he must be a first-class mining man.”
“He is.” Hurry nodded, watchful and non-committed.
Peter whisked Terry’s plate away, giving her the respite she needed to gather her resources. In the previous few seconds she had realized that Rodney Ironsides was not, as she had believed, a certainty for the job. In fact, Pops had already chosen old plum-faced Plummer for the General Managership. It took another moment for her to decide that she would use even the dirtiest in-fighting to see that Rod was not overlooked.
Peter laid plates of cold rock lobster in front of them, and when he had withdrawn Terry looked up at Hurry. She had perfected the trick of enlarging her already enormous eyes. By holding them open like this she could flood them with tears. The effect was devastating.
“Do you know, Pops, he reminds me so much of the photographs of Daddy.”
Colonel Bernard Hirschfeld, Terry’s father, had burned to death in his tank at Sidi Rezegh. She saw Hurry Hirschfeld’s expression crack with pain, and Terry felt a sick little flutter of guilt. Had it been necessary to use such a vicious weapon to achieve her ends?
Hurry pushed at the rock lobster with his fork, his head was bowed so she could not see his face. She reached out to touch his hand.
“Pops—‘ she whispered, and he looked up. There was a restrained excitement in Hurry’s manner.
“You know, you’re bloody well right! He does look a bit like Bernie. Did I ever tell you about the time when your father and I—‘
Terry felt dizzy with relief. I didn’t hurt him, she told herself, he likes the idea, he really does. With a woman’s instinct she had chosen the only form of persuasion that could have moved Hurry Hirschfeld from his decision.
Manfred Steyner fastened his safety belt and lay back in the seat of the Boeing 707, feeling slightly nauseated with relief.
Ironsides was-in, and he was safe. Hurry Hirschfeld had sent for him two hours before to wish him farewell and good luck with the talks. Manfred had stood before him, trying desperately to think of some way in which he could bring up the subject naturally. Hurry saved him the trouble.
“By the way, I’m giving Ironsides the Sonder Ditch.
Reckon it’s about time we had some young blood in top management. “
It was as easy as that. Manfred had difficulty in persuading himself that those threats which had kept him lying awake during the past four nights were no longer of consequence. Ironsides was in. He could go to Paris and tell them. Ironsides is in. We are ready to go.
The note of the jets changed, and the Boeing began to roll forward. Manfred twisted his head against the neck rest and peered through the perspex porthole. He could not distinguish Terry’s figure amongst the crowd on the observation balcony of Jan Smuts Airport. They taxied past a Pan Am Boeing which cut off his view and Manfred looked straight ahead. Instantly his nostrils flared, he looked around quickly.
The passenger in the seat beside him had stripped to his shirt-sleeves. He was a big beefy individual who very obviously did not use deodorant. Almost in desperation Manfred looked about. The aircraft was full, there would be little chance of changing seats and beside him the beefy individual produced a pack of cigarettes.
“You can’t smoke,” cried Manfred. “The light’s on.” The combination of body odour and cigarette smoke would be unbearable.
“I’m not smoking,” said the man, “yet.” And placed a cigarette between his lips, his lighter ready in the other hand.
Nearly two thousand miles to Nairobi, thought Manfred, with his stomach starting to heave.
“Terry darling, why on earth should I go all the way out to Kitchenerville to watch a lot of savages prancing around?” ‘As a favour to me, Joy,“Terry pleaded into the telephone.
“It means mucking up my whole weekend. I’ve got rid of the kids to their grandmother, I’ve got a copy of A Small Town in Germany and I was going to have a lovely time reading and—‘
“Please, Joy, you’re my last hope.”
“What time will we be home?” Joy was weakening. Terry sensed her advantage and pressed forward ruthlessly,
“You might meet a lovely man out at the mine, and he’ll sweep you—‘
“No, thanks.” Joy had been divorced a little over a year ago, some people took longer than others to recover. “I’ve had lovely men in big fat chunks.”
“Oh, Joy, you can’t sit around moping for ever. Come on, I’ll pick you up in half an hour.”
Joy sighed with resignation. “Damn you, Terry Steyner.”
“Half an hour,” said Terry and hung up before she could change her mind.
“I’m playing golf. It’s Saturday, and I’m playing golf,” said Doctor Daniel Stander stubbornly.
“You remember when I drove all the way to Bloemfontein to—‘ Rod began, and Dan interrupted quickly.
“All right, all right, I remember. You don’t have to bring that up again.”
“You owe me plenty, Stander,” Rod reminded him. “All I am asking is one of your lousy Saturday afternoons. Is that so much?”
“I can’t let the boys down. It’s a long-standing date.” Dan wriggled to escape.
“I’ve already phoned Ben. It will be a pleasure for him to take your place.”
There was a long gloomy silence, then Dan asked,“What’s this bird like?”
“She’s a beautiful, rich nymphomaniac, and she owns a brewery,”
“Yeah! Yeah!” said Dan sarcastically. “All right, I’ll do it. But I hereby declare all my obligation and debts to you fully discharged.
“I’ll give you a written receipt,” Rod agreed.
Dan was still sulking when the Daimler came up the drive and parked at the front of the Mine Club. He and Rod were standing at the Ladies’ Bar, watching for the arrival of their guests.
Dan had just ordered his third beer,
“Here they come,” said Rod.
“Is that them?” Dan’s depression lifted magically as he peered through the coloured-glass windows. The chauffeur was letting the two ladies out of the Daimler. They were both in floral slack suits and dark glasses.
“That’s them.”
“Jesus!” said Dan with rare approval. “Which one Is mine?”
“The blonde.”
“Ha!” Dan grinned for the first time since their meeting. “Why the hell are we standing here?”
“Why indeed?” asked Rod, his stomach was tied up in knots that twisted tighter as he went down the front steps toward Terry,
“Mrs Steyner. I’m so glad you could come.” With a wild lift of elation he saw it was still there, he had not imagined it, it was there in her eyes and her smile.
“Thank you, Mr Ironsides.” She was like a schoolgirl again, uncertain of herself, flustered.
“I’d like you to meet Mrs Albright. Joy, this is Rodney Ironsides.”
“Hello.” He smiled at her as he clasped her hand. “It’s gin time, I think.”
Dan was waiting at the bar for them, and Rod made the introductions,
“Joy is so excited at the chance of watching the dancing,” said Terry as they sat down on the bar stools. “She’s been looking forward to it for days.” And for an instant Joy looked stunned.
“You’ll love it,” agreed Dan moving in to take up a position at Joy’s elbow. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Joy was a tall slim girl with long straight golden hair that hung to her shoulders, her eyes were cool green but her mouth when she smiled was soft and warm. She smiled now full into Dan’s eyes.
“Nor would I,” she said, and with relief Rod knew he could devote all his attention to Terry Steyner. Joy Albright would be more than adequately looked after. He ordered drinks, and all four of them promptly lost further interest in tribal dancing.
At one stage Rod told Terry Steyner, “I am going up to Johannesburg this evening. There is no point in having your unfortunate chauffeur sit around all afternoon. Let him go, and I’ll take you home.”
“Good,” Terry agreed immediately. “Would you tell him, please?”
The next time Rod looked at his watch it was half past three.
“Good Lord!” he exclaimed. “If we don’t hurry, it will be all over.” Reluctantly Joy and Dan, who had their heads close together, drew apart.
The overflow from the amphitheatre pressed about them, a merry jostling throng, all inhibitions long since evaporated in the primeval excitement of the dance, much like the crowd at a bull ring.
Rod and Dan ran interference for the girls, ploughing a path through the main gateway and down,to their reserved ! seats in the front row. All four of them were laughing and flushed by the time they were seated, the excitement about them was infectious and the liquor had heightened their sensibilities.
An expectant hum of voices.
“The Shangaans!” And the audience craned towards the entrance from which pranced a dozen drummers, their long wooden drums hung on rawhide straps about their necks, they took up stations around the circular earthen stage.
Tap, tap. Tap, tap – from one of the drummers, and silence gripped the amphitheatre.
Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Naked, except for their brief loin cloths, stooped over the drums that they clasped between their knees, they began to lay down the rhythm of the dance, It was a broken, disturbing beat, that jerked and twitched like a severed nerve. A compelling, demanding sound, the pulse of a continent and a people.
Then came the dancers, shuffling, row upon row, headdresses dipping and rustling, the animal tail kilts swirling, war rattles at the wrists and ankles, black muscles already oiled with the sweat of excitement, coming in slowly, rank upon majestic rank, moving as though the drums were pumping life into them.
A shrill blast on a duiker horn and the ranks whirled like dry leaves in a wind, they fell again into a new pattern, and through the opening in their midst came a single gigantic figure.
“Big King!” The name blew a sigh through the audience, and immediately the drums changed their rhythm. Faster, demanding, and the dancers hissed in their throats a sound like storm surf rushing up a stony beach.
Big King flung his arms wide, braced on legs like black marble columns, his head thrown back. He sang a single word of command, shrilling it, and in instantaneous response every right knee was brought up to the level of the chest. Half a second’s pause and then two hundred horny bare feet stamped down simultaneously with a crash that shook the amphitheatre to its foundations. The Shangaans began to dance, and reality was gone in the moving, charging, swirling, retreating ranks.
Once Rod tore his eyes from the spectacle. Terry Steyner was sitting forward on the bench, eyes sparkling, lips slightly parted, completely lost in the erotic turmoil and barbaric splendour of it.
Joy and Dan had a firm hold of each other’s hands, their shoulders and the outside of their thighs were pressed tightly together, and Rod was stabbed by a painful thrust of envy.
Afterwards, back in the Ladies’ Bar of the Club, there was very little conversation but they were all of them tensed up, restless, moved by strange undercurrents and interplays of primitive desires and social restraints.
“Well,” said Rod at last,“if I am to get you two ladies back to Johannesburg at a decent hour—‘
Dan and Joy spoke together.
“Don’t worry, Rod, I’ll—‘
“Dan says he will—‘ Then they stopped and grinned at each other sheepishly.
“I take it that Dan has suddenly remembered that he has to go to Johannesburg this evening also, and he has offered to give you a lift?” asked Rod dryly, and they laughed in confirmation.
“It looks as though we are on our own, Mrs Steyner.” Rod turned to Terry.
“I’ll trust you,” said Terry.
“If you do that, you’re crazy,” said Dan,
Outside the Maserati, darkness was falling swiftly. The horizon blending into the black sky, isolated lights winking at them out of the surrounding veld.
Rod switched on the headlights, and the instrument panel glowed softly, turning the interior into a warm secluded place, isolating them from the world. The wind whispered, and the tyres and the engine hummed a gentle intimate refrain.
Terry Steyner sat with her legs curled up under her, cuddled into the soft maroon leather of the bucket seat. She was staring ahead down the path of the headlights, and she seemed withdrawn and yet very close. Every few minutes Rod would take his eyes from the road and study her profile briefly. He did so again, and this time she met his gaze frankly,
“You realize what is happening?” she asked,
“Yes,” he answered as frankly.
“You know how dangerous it could be for you?”
“And you.”
“No, not me. I am invulnerable. I am a Hirschfeld – but you, it could destroy you.”
Rod shrugged.
“If we counted the consequences before every action, nobody would do anything.”
“Have you thought that I might be a spoiled little rich girl amusing myself? I might do this all the time.”
“You might,” Rod agreed. They were silent for a long while, then Terry spoke again.
“Rod?” she used his given name for the first time.
“I don’t, you know. I really don’t.”
“I guessed that.”
“Thank you.” She opened her bag. “I need a cigarette. I feel as though I’m standing poised on the edge of a cliff and I’ve got this terrible compulsion to hurl myself over the edge.”
“Light me one, Terry.”
“You need one also?”
They smoked in silence again, both of them staring ahead, then Terry rolled down the window and flicked the cigarette butt away.
“You’ve got the job, you know.” All day she had wanted to tell him, it had been bubbling inside her. Watching his face, she saw his lips stiffen, his eyes crease into slits.
“Did you hear me?” she asked at last, and he braked the Maserati, swinging it off onto the shoulder of the road. He pulled on the hand brake and turned to face her.
“Terry, what did you say?”
“I said, you’ve got the job.”
“What job?” he demanded harshly.
“Pops signed the instruction this morning. You’ll receive it on Monday. You’re the new General Manager of the Sender Ditch.” She wanted to go on and say – and I got it for you. I made Pops give it to you.
I never will, she promised, I will never spoil it for him. He must believe he won it fairly, not as my gift.
It was Saturday night, the big night in Dump City.
The Blaauberg Mine was the oldest producer on the Kitchenerville field. There were sections of its property which had been worked out completely, and the old waste dumps were now abandoned and overgrown. Among the scrub and head-high weed in the valleys between these man-made hills had grown up a shanty town. Dump City, the inhabitants had named it. The buildings were made of discarded galvanized iron sheets and flattened oil drums, there was no sanitation or running water.
Remote from the main roads, the residential communities of the neighbouring mines or the town of Kitchenerville, hidden among the dumps, accessible only to a man on foot, never visited by members of the South African Constabulary, it was ideally suited to the purposes for which its three hundred permanent inhabitants had chosen it.
Every one of the shacks was a shebeen, a clip joint where watered liquor was sold at inflated prices, where dagga was freely obtainable and where men from the surrounding mines gathered to carouse.
They came not so much for the liquor. Each of the mine hostels had a bar where a full range of liquor was on sale at club prices. Very few of them came for the dagga. There was little addiction amongst these well-fed, hard-worked and contented men. What they came for were the women.
Five mines in the area, each employing ten or twelve thousand men. Here at Dump City were two hundred women, the only available women within twenty miles. It was not necessary for the young ladies of Dump City to solicit custom, even the fat, the withered, the toothless, could behave like queens.
Big King came down the path that skirted the mine dump. Marijuana
With him were two dozen of his fellow tribesmen, big Shangaans wearing their regalia, carrying their fighting sticks and still tensed up from the dancing. They came at a trot, Big King leading them. They were singing, not the gentle planting or courting melodies, not the work chant nor the song of welcome.
They were singing the fighting songs, those their forefathers had sung when they carried the spear in search of cattle and slaves. The driving inflammatory rhythm, the fiercely patriotic words wrought so mightily on the delicate susceptibilities of the average Shangaan that the company had found it necessary to ban the singing of these songs.
Like a Scot hearing the pipes, when a Shangaan began singing these warlike chants, he was ready for violence.
The song ended as Big King led them down to the nearest shanty, and pushed aside the sacking that acted as a door. He stooped through the opening, and his comrades crowded in behind him.
A brittle electric silence fell on the large room. The air was so thick with smoke, and the light from the suspended hurricane lamps so feeble, that it was impossible to see the far wall. The room was filled with men, forty or fifty of them, the smell of humanity and bad liquor was solid. Among this press of men were half a dozen bright spots of the girls’ dresses, but with their curiosity aroused by the singing more girls were coming through from the interleading doorways at the back, some of them had men with them and were still shrugging into their clothing. When they saw Big King and his warriors in full war kit, they fell silent and watchful.
At Big King’s shoulder one of the Shangaans whispered:
“Basutos! They are all Basutos!” He was right, Big King saw that they were all men of that mountainous little independent state.
Big King started forward, swaggering just enough to make his leopard tail kilt swing and swirl and the heron feathers of his headdress rustle. He reached the primitive bar counter.
“Flying Bird,” he told the crone who owned the house, and she placed a bottle of Eagle Brandy on the counter.
Big King half filled a tumbler, conscious that every eye was on him, and drained it.
Slowly he turned and surveyed the room.
“What is it,” he asked in a voice that carried to every corner, “that sits on top of a mountain and scratches its fleas. Is it a baboon, or a Basuto?”
A roar of delight went up from his Shangaans.
“A Basuto!” they shouted, crowding forward to the bar, while a growl and mutter went up from the rest of the room.
“What is it,” shouted a Basuto jumping to his feet, “that has feathers on its head and crows from a dungheap? Is it a rooster, or a Shangaan?”
Without seeming to move, Big King picked up the bottle of Eagle Brandy and hurled it. With a crack it burst against the Basuto’s forehead and he went over backwards taking two of his companions with him.
The old crone snatched up her cash register and ran as the room exploded into violent movement.
There was not enough space in which to use the fighting sticks, Big King realized, so he lifted a section of the bar counter off its trestles and holding it in front of him like the blade of a bulldozer, he charged across the room, flattening all and everything before him.
The crash of breaking furniture and the yelp and squeal of men being struck down drove Big King beyond the frontiers of sanity into the red atavistic fury of the berserker.
Basuto is also one of the fighting tribes of the N’guni group. These wiry mountaineers rushed into the conflict with the same savage joy as the Shangaans, a conflict that raged and roared out of the single room to engulf the entire population of Dump City.
One of the girls, her dress ripped from her back so she was left with only a tattered pair of bloomers, had climbed on top of the remains of the bar counter from where, with her big melon breasts swinging in the lamp light, she shrilled that peculiar ululation that Bantu women used to goad their menfolk into battle frenzy. A dozen of the other girls joined in, trilling, squealing, and the sound was too much for Big King.
With the bar top held ahead of him he charged straight through the flimsy wall of the shack, bursting it open like a paper bag, the roof sagged down wearily, and Big King raged on unchecked down the narrow dirt street, striking down any man who crossed his path, scattering chickens and yelping dogs, roaring like a bull gorilla.
He turned at the end of the encampment and came back, his frustration mounting as he found the street deserted except for a few prostrate bodies, through the gaping hole in the wall he entered the shebeen once more to find that here also the fighting had died down. A few of the participants were crawling, or moaning as they lay on a carpet of broken glass.
Big King glared about him, seeking a further outlet for his wrath.
“King Nkulu!” The girl was still on the trestle table, her eyes bright with excitement, her legs trembling with it.
Big King let out another roar, and hurled the bar top from him. It clattered against the far wall and Big King started towards her.
“You are a lion!” She shrieked encouragement at him, and she took one of her big black velvety breasts in each hand and pointed them at him, squeezing them together, shaking with excitement.
“Eat me!” she screamed, as Big King swept her off the table and lifting her high, ran with her out into the night. Carrying her into the scrub below the mine dumps, holding her easily with one arm, ripping the leopard-tail kilt from his own waist as he ran.
It was Saturday night in Paris also, but there were men who were still working, for there were lights burning in the upstairs rooms of one of the big Embassies in the rue Royale.
The fat man who had been the host in the gambling establishment in Johannesburg was now the guest. He sat at ease in a leather club easy, his corpulence and the steel-grey hair at his temples giving him dignity. His face heavy, tanned, intelligent. His eyes glittery and hard as the diamond on his finger.
He was listening intently to a man of about the same age as himself who stood before a projected image on a screen that covered one wall of the room. There was that in the man’s bearing and manner that marked him as a scholar, he was speaking now, addressing himself directly to the listener in the easy chair, pointing with a marker to the screen beside him.
“You see here a plan of the working of the five producing gold mines of the Kitchenerville fields in relation to each other.” He touched the screen with a marker. “Thornfontein, Blaauberg, Tweefontein, Deep Gold Levels and Sender Ditch.”
The man in the chair nodded. “I have seen and studied this diagram before.”
“Good, then you will know that the Sonder Ditch property sits in the centre of the field. It has common boundaries with the other four mines and here,” he tapped the screen again, “it is intersected by the massive serpentine dyke which they call the Big Dipper.”
Again the fat man nodded.
“It is for these reasons we have selected the Sonder Ditch as the trigger point.” The lecturer touched a button on the wall panel and the image on the screen changed.
“Now, here is something you have not seen before.”
The man in the chair crouched forward.
“What is it?”
“It is an underground map based on the borehole results of the five companies who have been exploring the ground to the east of the Big Dipper. These results have been pooled and interpreted by some of the finest brains in the fields of geology and hydrophysics. You have here a carefully considered representation of exactly what lies on the far side of the Big Dipper fault.”
The big man moved uncomfortably in his chair.
“It’s a monster!”
“Yes, a monster. Lying just beyond the fault is an underground lake, no, that is not the correct word. Let us call it an underground sea, the size of, say, Lake Eyrie. The water is held in a vast sponge of porous dolomite rock.”
“My God.” For the first time the fat man had lost his poise. “If this is right, why don’t the mining companies arrive at the same conclusion and keep well away from it?”
“Because,” the lecturer switched off the image and the overhead lights came on, “because in their highly competitive attitudes none of them has access to the findings of the others. It is only when all the results are studied that the picture becomes clear.”
“How did your Government come to be in possession of all the results?” demanded the fat man.
“That is not important.” The lecturer was brusque, impatient of the interruption. “We are also in possession of the findings of a certain Dr Peter Wessels who is at present head of a research team in Rock Mechanics based on the Sonder Ditch mine property. It is Company classified information and consists of a paper that Dr Wessels has written on the shatter patterns and stresses of rock. His researches are directly related to the Ventersdorp quartzites which comprise the country rock of the Sonder Ditch workings.”
The lecturer picked up a pamphlet from his desk.
“I will not weary you by asking you to wade through its highly technical findings. Instead I will give it to you in capsule form. Dr Wessels arrives at the conclusion that a column of Ventersdorp quartzite 120 feet thick would shatter under a side pressure of 4000 pounds per square inch.”
The lecturer dropped the pamphlet back on the desk.
“As you know, by law, the gold mining companies are bound to leave a barrier of solid rock 120 feet thick along their boundaries. That is all that separates one mine’s workings from another, just that wall of rock. You understand?”
“Of course. It is very simple.”
“Simple? Yes, it is simple! This Dr Steyner, over whom you have control, will instruct the new General Manager of the Sender Ditch to drive a tunnel through the Big Dipper dyke. The drive will puncture the vast underground reservoir and the water will run back and flood the entire Sonder Ditch workings. Once they are flooded, the pressure delivered by a 6ooo-foot head of water at the lower levels will be in excess of 4000 pounds per square inch. That is sufficient to burst the rock walls, and flood the Thornfontein, the Blaauberg, Deep Gold Levels and Tweefontein gold mines.
“The entire Kitchenerville gold fields would be effectively and permanently put out of production. The consequences for the economy of the Republic of South Africa would be catastrophic.”
The fat man was visibly shaken.
“Why do you want to do it?” he asked, shaking his head in awe.
“My colleague here,” the lecturer indicated a man who was sitting quietly in one corner, “will explain that to you presently.”
“But – people!” the fat man protested. “There will be people down there when it bursts, thousands of them.”
The lecturer smiled, raising one eyebrow. “If I were to tell you that six thousand men would drown, would you refuse to proceed, and forfeit the million-dollar payment my Government has offered you?”
The fat man looked down, embarrassed, and muttered barely audibly. “No,”
The lecturer chuckled. “Good! Good! However, you may salve your aching conscience by assuring yourself that we do not expect more than forty or fifty fatalities from the flooding. Naturally, those men actually working on the face will be killed. But that tremendous volume of water under immense pressure should make it a merciful death. For the rest of them, the mine can be evacuated swiftly enough to allow them excellent chances of survival. The surrounding mines will have days to evacuate before the water pressure builds up sufficiently to burst through the boundary walls.” There was silence then in the room for nearly a minute. “Have you any questions?” The fat man shook his head.
“Very well, in that case I will leave it to my colleague to complete the briefing. He will explain the necessity for this operation, will arrange the terms of payment and conditions upon which you will proceed.” The lecturer gathered up the pamphlet and other papers from the desk. “It remains only for me to wish you good luck.” He chuckled again and left the room quickly.
The little man who up until then had remained silent, suddenly bounced out of his chair and began pacing up and down the wall-to-wall carpeting. He spoke rapidly, shooting occasional sideways glances at his audience, his bald head shining in the fluorescent lighting, wriggling his moustache like rabbit whiskers, puffing nervously at his cigarette.
“Reasons first. I’ll make it short and sweet, right? The South Africans and the Frogs have got together. They’re here in Paris now cooking up mischief. We know what they’re up to, they’re going to launch an all-out attack on my Government’s currency. Gold price increase, you know. Very complicated and very nasty for us, right? They might just be able to do it, South Africa is the world’s biggest gold producer. With the Frogs helping her, they might just be able to force an increase.”
He stopped in front of the fat man and thrust out an accusing finger.
“Are we going to sit back and let them have a free run?
No, sir! We are going to throw down our own curve ball! In three months time the Syndicate will be ready to attack. At that precise moment we will kick the chair out from under the South Africans by cutting their gold production in half. We will flood the Kitchenerville goldnelds and the attack will fizzle out like a damp squib, right?“
“As simple as that?” asked the fat man.
“As simple as that!” The bald head nodded vigorously. “Now. my next duty is to make clear to you that the agreed million dollars is all the reward you receive. Neither you nor your agents may indulge in any financial transactions that might, in retrospect, show that this was a planned operation, right?”
“Right.” The fat man nodded.
“You give your assurance that you will not deal in any of the shares of the companies involved?”
“You have my solemn word.” The fat man told him earnestly, and not for the first time in his life reflected how easily and painlessly a promise could be given.
With the assistance of the three men who had watched Manfred Steyner that night at the gambling club in Johannesburg, he intended launching a bear offensive on the stock exchanges of the world.
On the day that they drilled into the Big Dipper dyke he and his partners would sell millions of the shares of the five mining companies for one of the biggest financial killings in the history of money.
“We are agreed then.” The bald head bobbed. “Now, as for this Dr Steyner, we have had a screening and personality analysis and we believe that, despite the secure hold you have on his loyalties, he would jib at giving the order to drive on the Big Dipper if he were aware of the consequences. Therefore we have prepared a second geological report,” he produced from his brief case a thick manila folder, “incorporating those figures which he will recognize. In other words the drilling results of the CRC exploration teams, but the other figures are fictitious. This report purports to prove the existence of a fabulously rich gold no reef beyond the fault.” He crossed to the fat man and handed him the folder. “Take it. It will help you convince Dr Steyner, and he in turn to convince the new General Manager of the Sender Ditch gold mine.”
“You have been thorough,” said the fat man.
“We try to give a satisfactory service to our customers,” said the bald man.
The game was five card stud poker, and there were two big winners at the table, Manfred Steyner and the Algerian.
Manfred had timed his arrival in Paris to ensure himself an uninterrupted weekend before the rest of the delegates came in on the Monday morning flight.
He had checked in at the Hotel George Cinq on Saturday afternoon, bathed and rested for three hours until eight in the evening, then he had set out for the Club Chat Noir by taxi.
He had been playing now for five hours, and a steady succession of strong cards had pushed his winnings up to a formidable sum. It lay piled in front of him, a fruit salad of garish French bank notes. Across the table sat the Algerian, a slim dark-skinned Arab with toffee eyes and a silky black moustache. His teeth were very white against the creamy brown skin. He wore a turtle-neck shirt in pink silk, and a linen jacket of baby blue. With long brown fingers he kept smoothing and stacking his own pile of bank notes.
A girl sat on the arm of his chair, an Arab girl in a skintight gold trouser suit. Her hair was shiny black and hung onto her shoulders, her eyes were disconcertingly level as she watched Manfred.
“Ten thousand.” Manfred’s voice was explosive, like that of a teutonic drillmaster. He was betting on his fourth card which had just been dealt to him. He and the Algerian were in the remaining players in the game. The others had folded their hands and were sitting back watching with the casual interest of men no longer involved.
The Algerian’s eyes narrowed slightly and the girl leaned down to whisper softly in his ear. He shook his head, annoyed, and drew on his cigarette. He had a pair of queens and a six showing and he leaned forward to study Manfred’s cards.
The dealer’s voice prodded. “The bet is ten thousand francs, from four, five, seven of clubs. Possible straight flush.”
“Bet or drop,” said one of the uncommitted players. “You’re wasting time,”
The Algerian flashed him a venomous glance.
“Bet,” he said, and counted out ten thousand-franc notes into the pool.
‘Carte. “The dealer slid a card face down in front of each of them. Quickly the Algerian lifted one corner of his card with his thumb, glanced at it and then closed the face.
Manfred sat very still, the card lying inches from his right hand. His face was pale, calm, but he was seething internally. Far from a possible straight flush, Manfred was holding four, five, seven of clubs and the eight of hearts. A six was the only card that could improve his hand and one six was already showing among the Algerian’s cards. His chances were remote.
His lower belly and loins were tight and hot with excitement, his chest constricted. He drew out the sensation, wanting it to last for ever.
“Pair of queens still to bet,” murmured the dealer.
“Ten thousand.” The Algerian pushed the notes forward.
“He has found another queen,” thought Manfred, “but he is uncertain of my flush or straight.”
Manfred placed his smooth white hand over his fifth card, cupping it. He lifted it.
“Table,” said Manfred calmly, and there was a gasp and rustle from the watchers. The girl’s hand tightened on the Algerian’s sleeve, she stared with hatred into Manfred’s face.
“The gentleman has made a table bet,” intoned the croupier. “House rules. Any player may bet the entire stake he has upon the table.” He reached across and began to count the notes in front of Manfred.
Minutes later he announced the total. “Two hundred and twelve thousand francs.” He looked across at the Algerian. “It is now up to you to bet against the possible straight flush.”
The girl whispered urgently into the Arab’s ear, but he snapped a single word at her and she recoiled. He looked about the room, as if seeking guidance, then he lifted and examined his hole cards again.
Suddenly his face hardened, and he looked steadily across at Manfred.
“Call!” he blurted, and Manfred’s clenched right hand fell open upon the table.
The Arab faced his hand. Three queens. The whole room looked expectantly at Manfred.
He flicked over his last card. Two of diamonds. His hand was worthless.
With a birdlike cry of triumph the Algerian leaped from his seat and reaching across the table began raking Manfred’s stake with both arms towards him.
Manfred stood up from the table, and the Arab girl grinned maliciously at him, taunting him in Arabic. He turned quickly away and almost ran down the steps that led to the cloakrooms. Twenty minutes later, feeling weak and slightly dizzy, Manfred slipped into the back seat of a Citroen taxi cab.
“George Cinq,” he told the driver. As he entered the lobby of the hotel he saw a tall figure rise from one of the leather armchairs and follow him across to the lifts. Shoulder to shoulder they stepped into the lift and as the doors slid closed the tall man spoke.
“Welcome to Paris, Dr Steyner.”
“Thank you, Andrew. I presume you have come to give me my instructions?”
“That is correct. He wishes to see you tomorrow at ten o’clock. I will call for you.”
It was Saturday night in Kitchenerville and in the men’s bar of the Lord Kitchener Hotel the daily-paid men from the five gold mines were bellying up to the counter three deep.
The public dance had been in progress for three hours. At tables along the veranda the women-folk sat primly sipping their port and lemonade. Although they all were admirably ignoring the absence of the men, yet a constant and merciless vigil was kept on the door to the men’s bar. Most of the wives already had the automobile keys safely in their handbags.
In the dining-hall, cleared of its furniture and sprinkled liberally with french chalk, the local four-piece band who played under the unlikely name of the ‘Wind Dogs’ launched without preliminaries into a lively rendition of’ Die Ou Kraal Liedjie‘, and from the men’s bar, in various stages of inebriation, answering the call to arms came the troops.
Many of them had shed their jackets, the knots of their ties had slipped, their voices were boisterous and legs were a little unsteady as they led their women onto the dance floor and immediately showed to which school of the dance they belonged.
There was the cavalry squadron which tucked partner under one arm, very much like a lance, and charged. At the other end of the scale were those who plodded grimly around the perimeter, looking neither left nor right, speaking to no one, not even their partners. Then there were the sociables who reeled about the floor, red in the face, their movements completely unrelated to the music, shouting to their friends and attempting to pinch any feminine posterior that came within range. Their unpredictable progress interfered with the evolutions of the dedicated.
The dedicated took up their positions in the centre of the floor and twisted. A half dozen years previously the twist had swept like an Asian ‘flu epidemic through the world and then faded out. Gone, forgotten, except in places like Kitchenerville. Here it had been taken and firmly entrenched into the social culture of the community.
Even in this stronghold of the twist, there was one master. “Johnny Delange? God man, but he can twist, hey!” they murmured with awe.
With the sinuous erotic movements of an erect cobra, Johnny was twisting with Hettie. His shiny rayon suit caught the light and the lace ruffles of his shirt fluttered at his throat. There was a fierce grin of pleasure on his hawk features, and the jeweled buckles of his pointed Italian shoes twinkled as he danced.
A big girl with copper hair and creamy skin, Hettie was light on her feet. She had a tiny waist and a swelling regal bottom under the emerald-green skirt. She laughed as she danced, a full healthy laugh to match her body.
The two of them moved with the expertise of a couple who have danced together often. Hettie anticipated each of Johnny’s movements, and he grinned his approval at her.
From the veranda Davy Delange watched them. He stood in the shadows, clutching a tankard of beer, a squat, lonely figure. When another dancing couple cut off his view of Hettie’s luscious revolving buttocks he would exclaim with irritation and move restlessly.
The music ended and the dancers spilled out onto the veranda, laughing and breathless, mopping streaming faces; girls squealing and giggling as the men led them to their seats, deposited them and then headed for the bar.
“See you.” Johnny left Hettie reluctantly, he would have liked to stay with her, but he was sensitive about what the boys would say if he spent the whole evening with his wife.
He was absorbed into the masculine crowd, to join their banter of loud laughter. He was deeply involved in a discussion of the merits of the new Ford Mustang, which he was considering buying, when Davy nudged him.
“It’s Constantine!” he whispered, and Johnny looked up quickly. Constantine was a Greek immigrant, a stoper on the Blaauberg Mine. He was a big strong black-haired individual with a broken nose. Johnny had broken his nose for him about ten months previously. As a bachelor Johnny would fight him on the average of once a month, nothing serious, just a semi-friendly punch-up.
However, Constantine could not understand that nowadays Johnny was forbidden by his brand new wife from indulging in casual exchanges of fisticuffs. He had developed the erroneous theory that Johnny Delange was afraid of him.
He was coming down the bar room now, holding his glass in his massive hairy right hand with the little finger extended genteelly. On his hip rested his other hand and he minced along with a simpering smile on his blue-jowled granite-textured features. Stopping in front of the mirror to pat his hair into place, he winked at his cronies and then came on down to where Johnny stood. Pie paused and ogled Johnny heavily, fluttering his eyelids and wriggling his hips. His colleagues from the Blaauberg Mine were weak with laughter, gurgling merrily, hanging onto each other’s shoulders.
Then with a bump and grind that raised another howl of laughter Constantine disappeared into the lavatories, to emerge minutes later and blow Johnny a kiss as he went back to join his friends. They plied liquor on the Greek in appreciation of his act. Johnny’s smile was a little strained as he resumed the discussion on the Mustang’s virtues.
Twenty minutes and half a dozen brandies later, Constantine repeated his little act again on the way to the latrine. His repertoire was limited.
‘ Hold it, Johnny,“whispered Davy. ” Let’s go and sit on the veranda. “
“He’s asking for it. I’m telling you!” Johnny’s smile had disappeared.
“Come on, Johnny, man.”
“No, hell, they’ll think I’m running. I can’t go now.”
“You know what Hettie will say,” Davy warned him. For a moment longer Johnny hesitated.
“The hell with what Hettie says.” Johnny bunched his right fist with its array of gold rings as he moved down to Constantine and leaned beside him on the counter.
“Herby,” he called the barman, and when he had his attention he indicated the Greek. “Please give the lady a port and lemonade,”
And the bystanders scattered for cover. Davy shot out of the door onto the veranda to report to Hettie. “Johnny!” he gasped. “He’s fighting again.” ‘ Is he!“Hettie came to her feet like a red-headed Valkyrie. But her progress to the men’s bar was delayed by the crowd of spectators that jammed the doorway and all the windows. The crowd was tiptoeing and climbing onto the chairs and tables for a better view, every thud or crash of breaking furniture was greeted with a roar of delight.
Hettie had her handbag clutched in her right hand, and like a jungle explorer hacking his way through the undergrowth with a machete, she opened a path for herself to the bar room door.
At the door she paused. The conflict had reached a critical stage. Among a litter of broken glass and shattered stools, Johnny and the Greek were circling each other warily, weaving and feinting, all their wits concentrated upon each other. Both of them were marked. The Greek was bleeding from his lip, a thin red ribbon of blood down his chin that dripped onto his shirt. Johnny had a shiny red swelling closing one eye. The crowd was silent, waiting.
“Johnny Delange!” Hettie’s voice cracked like a mauser rifle fired from ambush. Johnny started guiltily, dropping his hands, half turning towards her as the Greek’s fist crashed into the side of his head. Johnny spun from the blow, hit the wall and slid down quietly.
With a roar of triumph Constantine rushed forward to put the boots into Johnny’s prostrate form, but he pitched forward to sprawl unconscious beside Johnny. Hettie had hit him with the water bottle snatched up from one of the table tops.
“Please help me get my husband to the car,” she appealed to the men around her, suddenly helpless and little-girlish.
She sat beside Davy in the front of the Monaco, fuming with anger.
Johnny lay at ease upon the back seat. He was snoring softly.
“Don’t be angry, Hettie.” Davy was driving sedately.
“I’ve told him, not once, a hundred times.” -Hettie’s voice crackled like static. “I told him I wouldn’t put up with it.”
“It wasn’t his fault. The Greek started it,” Davy explained softly and placed his hand on her leg.
“You stick up for him, just because he is your brother.”
“That’s not true,” Davy soothed her, stroking her leg. “You know how I feel about you, Hettie.”
“I don’t believe you.” His hand was moving higher. “You men are all the same. You all stick together.”
Her anger was fast solidifying into a burning resentment of Johnny Delange, one in which she was willing to take a calculated revenge. She knew that Davy’s hand was no longer trying to comfort her and quench her anger. Before she married Johnny Delange, Hettie had had every opportunity to learn about men, and she had been an enthusiastic and receptive pupil. She placed no special importance on an act of the flesh, dispensing her favours as casually as someone might offer a cigarette-case around.
“Why not?” she thought. “That will fix Mr Johnny Delange! Not all the way, of course, but just enough to get my own back on him.”
“No, Hettie. It’s true – I tell you.” Davy’s voice was husky, as he felt her knees fall apart under his hand. He touched the silky-smooth skin above her stocking top.
The Monaco slowed to almost walking pace, and it was ten minutes more before they reached the company-owned house on the outskirts of Kitchenerville.
In the back seat Johnny groaned. Immediately Davy’s hand jerked back to the steering-wheel, and Hettie sat up in the seat, straightening her skirt.
“Help me get him inside,” she said, and her voice was shaky and her cheeks flushed. She was no longer angry.
They were both a little tipsy. They had stopped to celebrate Rod’s promotion at the Sunnyside Hotel. They had sat side by side in one of the booths, drinking quickly, excitedly, laughing together, sitting close but not touching.
Terry Steyner could not remember when she had last behaved this way. It must have been all of ten years ago, her last term at Cape Town varsity, swigging draught beer in the ‘Pig and Whistle’ at Randall’s Hotel and talking the most inane rubbish, All the matronly dignity that Manfred insisted she maintain was gone, she felt like a freshette on a first date with the captain of the rugby team.
“Let’s get out of here,” Rod said suddenly, and she stood up unquestioningly. He took her arm down the stairs, and the light touch of his fingers tingled on her bare skin.
In the Maserati again she experienced the feeling of isolation from reality.
“How often do you see your daughter, Rod?” she asked as he settled into the seat beside her, and he glanced at her, surprised.
“Every Sunday.”
“How old is she?
“Nine next birthday.”
“What do you do with her?”
Rod pressed the starter.
“How do you mean?”
“Where do you take her, what do you do together?”
“We go rowing on Zoo Lake, or eat ice cream sundaes. If it’s cold or raining we sit in the apartment and we play mahjong.” He let in the clutch, and as they pulled away he added, “She cheats.”
“The apartment?”
I keep a hideaway in town,”
“I’ll show you,”said Rod quietly.
She sat on the studio couch and looked about her with interest. She had not expected the obvious care that he had taken in furnishing the apartment. It was in wheatfield gold, chocolate brown and copper. There was a glorious glowing autumn landscape on the far wall that she recognized as a Dino Paravano.
She noticed a little ruefully how Rod stage-managed the lighting for full romantic effect, and then moved automatically to the liquor cabinet.
“Where is the bathroom?” Terry asked.
“Second left, down the passage.”
She lingered in the bathroom, opening the medicine cabinet like a thief. There were three toothbrushes hanging in the slots, and below them an aerosol can of ‘Bidex’. Quickly she shut the cabinet. Feeling disturbed, not sure if it was jealousy or guilt at her own prying.
The bedroom door was open and so she could not help seeing the double bed as she went back to the lounge. She stood in front of the painting. ‘t
‘ I love his work,“she said.
Not too photographic for your taste?“
“No. I love it.”
He gave her the drink and stood beside her, studying the painting. She tinkled the ice in her glass, and he turned towards her. The feeling of unreality was still holding Terry as she felt him take the glass from her hand.
She was conscious of his hands only, they were strong and very practiced. They touched her shoulders, and then moved on to her back calmly. She felt a voluptuous shudder shake her whole body, and then his mouth came down over hers and the sense of unreality was complete. It was all warm and misty, and she let him take control.
She never knew how long afterwards she jerked back to complete, chilling reality. They were on the couch. She lay in his arms. The front of her slack suit was open to the waist and her bra was unhooked. His head was bowed over her and with a handful of his thick springy hair she was directing his lips in their quest. His mouth was warm and sucky on her breast.
“I must be mad!” she gasped, and struggled violently from his arms. She was trembling with fright, horrified with herself. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before.
“This is madness!” Her eyes were great dark pools in her pale face, and her fingers were frantic as she buttoned her blouse. As the last button slipped into its hole, anger replaced her fright.
“How many women have you seduced on that couch, Rodney Ironsides?”
Rod stood up, reaching out a hand to reassure her.
“Don’t touch me!” She stepped back. “I want to go home!”
“I’ll take you home, Terry. Just calm down. Nothing happened.”
“That’s not your fault,” she blazed.
“No, it’s not,” he agreed.
“If you had your way, you’d have—‘ she bit it off.
“Yes, I would have.” Rod nodded. “But only if you wanted the same thing.”
She stared at him, starting to recover her temper and her control.
“I shouldn’t have come up here, I know. It was asking for trouble, but please take me home now.”
The telephone woke Rod. He checked his wrist watch as he tottered naked and half asleep through to the lounge. Eight o’clock.
“Ironsides!” He yawned into the mouthpiece, and then came fully awake as he recognized her voice.
“Good morning, Rodney, How’s your hangover?”
He had not expected to hear from her again. , “Just bearable.”
“I called to thank you for an amusing and – instructive evening.”
“Hark at the girl!” He grinned and scratched his chest. “She changes with the wind. Last night I expected a bullet between the eyes.”
“Last night I got one big fright,” she admitted. “It comes as a bit of a shock to discover suddenly that you are quite capable of acting the wanton‘. Not all the names I called you were meant.”
“I am sorry for my contribution to your distress,” Rod said.
“Don’t be, you were very impressive.” Then quickly, changing the subject, “You are picking up your daughter today?”
“I’d like to meet her.”
“That could be arranged.” Rod was cautious.
“Does she like horses?”
“She’s crazy about them.”
“Would you like to take her and me out to my stud farm on the Vaal river?”
Rod hesitated. “Is it safe? I mean, being seen together?”
“It’s my reputation, I’ll look after it.”
“Fine!” Rod agreed. “We’d love to visit your farm.”
“I’ll meet you at your apartment. When?”
“Half past nine!”
Patti was still in her dressing-gown and she offered Rod her cheek casually to be pecked. There were curlers in her hair and from her eyes he could tell she’d had a late night.
“Hello, you’re getting thin. Melly is dressing. Do you want some coffee? Your maintenance cheque was late again this month.” And she took a swipe at the spaniel pup as it squatted on the carpet. “Damn dog pees all over the place. Melanie.” She raised her voice. “Hurry up! Your Papa is here.”
“Hello, Daddy!” Melanie’s voice shrieked delightedly from the interior of the apartment.
“Hello, baby.”
“You can’t come in, Daddy, I haven’t got any clothes on.”
“Well hurry up! I’ve come a million miles to see you.”
“Not a million’t‘ You couldn’t fool Melanie Ironsides.
“Did you say you wanted coffee? It’s no trouble, it’s made already.” Patti led him through into the sitting-room.
“How are things?” she asked as she filled a cup and gave it to him.
“They’ve made me General Manager of the Sonder Ditch.” He could not prevent himself, it was too good. He had to boast.
Patti looked at him, startled.
“You’re joking!” she accused, and then he saw her mind beginning to work like a cash register.
He almost laughed out loud. “No. It’s true.”
“God!” She sat down limply. “It will nearly double your salary.”
He looked at her dispassionately, and not for the first time felt a great wash of relief as he realized he was no longer shackled to her.
“It’s usual to offer congratulations,” he prompted her.
“You don’t deserve it.” She was angry now. “You are a selfish, philandering bastard, Rodney Ironsides, you don’t deserve the good things that keep happening to you.” He had cheated her. She could have been the General Manager’s wife, first lady of the goldfields. Now she was a divorcee, stuck with a miserable four fifty a month. It had seemed good before, but not now.
“I hope you will have enough conscience to make a suitable adjustment for Melanie and me. We are entitled to a share.”
The door burst open and Melanie Ironsides arrived at a gallop to wrap herself around Rod’s neck. She had long blonde hair and green eyes.
“I got nine out of ten for spelling!”
“You’re not clever, you’re a genius. Also you’re beautiful.”
“Will you carry me down to the car, Daddy?”
“What’s wrong? Your legs in plaster?”
“Please, please, pretty please times three.”
Patti interrupted the love feast.
“Have you got your jersey, young lady?” And Melanie flew.
“I’ll have her back before seven,” said Rod.
“You haven’t answered my question.” Patti was surly. “Do we get a share?”
“Yes, of course,” said Rod. “The same big juicy four fifty you’ve had all along.”
They had been in Rod’s apartment ten minutes when the doorbell announced Terry’s arrival. She was in jeans and a checked shirt with her hair in a plait, and she greeted Rod self-consciously. When he introduced her to Melanie, she did not look much older than his daughter.
The two girls summed each other up solemnly. Melanie suddenly very demure and refined, and Rod was relieved to see that Terry had the good sense not to gush over the child.
They were in the Maserati and half way to the village of Parys on the Vaal River before Melanie had completed her microscopic scrutiny of Terry.
“Can I come up front and sit on your lap?” she asked at last.
“Yes, of course.” Terry was hard put to conceal her relief and pleasure. Melanie scrambled over the seat and settled on Terry’s lap.
“You are pretty,” Melanie gave her considered opinion.
“Thank you. So are you.”
“Are you Daddy’s girl friend?” Melanie demanded. Terry glanced across at Rod, then burst out laughing.
“Almost,” she gurgled, and then all three of them were laughing.
They laughed often that day. It was a day of sunshine and laughter.
Terry and Rod walked together with fingers almost touching through the green paddocks along the willow-lined bank of the Vaal. Melanie ran ahead of them shrieking with glee at the antics of the foals.
They went up to the stables where Melanie fed sugar lumps to a winner of the Cape Metropolitan Handicap and then kissed his velvety muzzle.
They swam in the pool beside the elegant white-washed homestead, laughter mingling with the splashes, and when they drove back to Johannesburg in the evening Melanie curled in exhausted slumber on Terry’s lap, her head cushioned on Terry’s bosom.
Terry waited in the Maserati while Rod carried the sleeping child up to her mother, and when he returned and slipped into the driver’s seat, Terry murmured, “My car is at your apartment. You’ll have to take me with you.”
Neither of them spoke until they were back in Rod’s sitting-room. Then he said, “Thank you for a wonderful day.” And he took her to his chest and kissed her.
In the darkness she lay pressed to his sleeping body, clinging to him, as though he might be taken from her. She had never felt such intensity of emotion before, it was a compound of awed wonder and gratitude. She had just been admitted to a new level of human experience she had never suspected existed.
The sheets were still damp. She felt bruised internally, aching, a slow voluptuous pulse of pain that she cherished.
Lightly she touched his body, not wanting to wake him, running her fingertips through the coarse curls that covered his chest, marveling still at the infinity that separated this from what she had known before.
She shuddered with almost unbearable pleasure as she remembered his voice describing her body to her, making her proud of it for the first time in her life. She remembered the words he had used to tell her exactly what they were doing together, and the feel of his hands, so gentle, sure, so lovingly possessive upon her.
He was so unashamed, taking such obvious joy in her, that the reserves which the barren years of her marriage had placed in her mind were swept away and she was able to go with Rodney Ironsides beyond the storm into that tranquil state where mind and body are completely at peace.
She became aware of him awakening beside her, and she touched his face, his lips and his eyes with her fingertips.
“Thank you,” she whispered, and he seemed to understand, for he took her head and drew it gently down into the hollow of his shoulder.
“Sleep now,” he told her softly, and she closed her eyes and lay very still and quiet beside him, but she did not sleep. She would not miss one moment of this experience.
Rod’s letter of appointment lay on his desk when he arrived at his office at seven-thirty on the Monday morning.
He sat down and lit a cigarette. Then he began to read it slowly, savouring each word.
“Duly instructed by the Board of Directors,” it began, and ended,“it remains only to tender the congratulations of the Board, and to voice their confidence in your ability.”
Dimitri came through from his office, distracted.
“Hey! Rod! Christ what a start to the week! We’ve got a fault in the main high voltage cable on 90 level, and—‘
“Don’t come squealing to me,” Rod cut him short. “I’m not the Underground Manager.”
Dimitri gaped at him, taken by surprise,
“What the hell, have they fired you?”
“Next best thing,” said Rod and flipped the letter across the desk. “Look what the bastards have done to me.”
Dimitri read and then whooped.
“My God, Rod! My God!” He shot down the passage to carry the news to the other line managers. Then they were all in his office, shaking his hand. He judged most of their reactions as favourable, though occasionally he detected a false note. A twinge of envy here, one there who had recently had his ears burned by the Ironsides tongue, and an incompetent who knew his job was now in danger. The phone rang. Rod answered it, his expression changed and he cleared his office with a peremptory wave.
“Hirschfeld here.”
“Morning, Mr Hirschfeld.”
“Well, you’ve got your chance, Ironsides,”
“I’m grateful for it,”
“I want to see you. I’ll give you today to sort yourself out. Tomorrow morning at nine o’clock, my office at Reef, Buildings.”
“I’ll be there,”
Rod hung up, and the day dissolved into a welter of activity and reorganization, constantly interrupted by a stream of well-wishers. He was still running the Underground Manager’s job in addition to the General Manager’s. It would be some considerable time before a new Underground Manager was transferred in from one of the other group mines. He was trying to arrange his move to the big office in the main Administrative Block up on the ridge, when he had another visitor, Frank Lemmer’s secretary, Miss Lily Jordan, in a severe grey flannel suit looking like a wardress from Ravensbruck.
“Mr Ironsides, you and I have not seen eye to eye in the past.” This was the understatement of the year. “It is unlikely that we will in the future. Therefore, I have come to tender my resignation. I have made arrangements,”
The phone rang. Dan Stander’s voice, breezy and carefree, “Rod, I’m in love,”
“Oh Christ, no!” Rod groaned. “Not this morning,”
“I’ve got to thank you for introducing me to her. She’s the most wonderful—‘
“Yeah, yeah!” Rod cut him short. “Look, Dan, I’m rather busy. Some other time, all right?”
“Oh yes, I forgot. You are the new General Manager they tell me. Congratulations. You can buy me a drink at the Club. Six o’clock.”
“Right. By then I’ll need one.” Rod hung up, and faced the hanging-judge expression of Miss Lily Jordan.
“Miss Jordan, in the past our interests have conflicted. In -future they will not. You are the best private secretary within a hundred miles of the Sonder Ditch. I need you, the Company needs you.”
That was the magic word. Miss Jordan had twenty-five years’ service with the Company. She wavered visibly.
“Please, Miss Jordan, give me a chance.” Shamelessly Rod switched on his most engaging smile. Miss Jordan’s femininity was not so completely atrophied that she could resist that smile.
“Very well, then, Mr Ironsides. I’ll stay on initially until the end of the month. We’ll see after that.” She stood up. “Now, I’ll get your things moved up to the new office.”
“Thank you, Miss Jordan.” With relief he let her take over, and tackled the problems that were piling up on his desk. One man, two jobs. Now he was responsible for surface operation as well as underground. The phone rang, men queued up in the passage, memos kept coming through from Dimitri’s office. There was no lunch hour, and by the time she rang he was exhausted.
“Hello,” she said. “Do I see you tonight?” Her voice was as refreshing as a wet cloth on the brow of a prizefighter between rounds.
“Terry.” He simply spoke her name in reply.
“Yes or no. If it’s no, I intend jumping off the top of Reef Building.”
“Yes,” he said. “Pops has summoned me to a meeting at nine tomorrow morning, so I’ll be staying overnight at the apartment. I’ll call you as soon as I get in.”
“Goody! Goody!”said she.
At five-thirty Dimitri stuck his head around the door.
“I’m going down to No. I shaft to supervise the shoot, Rod.”
“My God, what time is it?” Rod checked his watch. “So late already.”
“It gets late early around here,” Dimitri agreed. “I’m off.”
“Wait!” Rod stopped him. “I’ll shoot her.”
No trouble. “Dimitri demurred. Company standard procedure laid down that each day’s blast must be supervised by either the Underground Manager or his Assistant.
“I’ll do it,” Rod repeated. Dimitri opened his mouth to protest further, then he saw that expression on Rod’s face and changed his mind quickly.
“Okay then. See you tomorrow.” And he was gone.
Rod grinned at his own sentimentality. The Sonder Ditch was his now and, by God, he was going to shoot his own first blast on her.
They were waiting for him at the steel door of the blast control room at the shaft head. It was a small concrete room like a wartime pillbox, and there were only two keys to the door. Dimitri had one, Rod the other.
The duty mine captain and the foreman electrician added their congratulations to the hundreds he had received during the day, and Rod opened the door and they went into the tiny room.
“Check her out,” Rod instructed, and the mine captain began his calls to the shaft overseers at both No. i and No. a for their confirmation that the workings of the Sonder Ditch were deserted, that every human being who had gone down that morning had come out again this evening.
Meanwhile, the foreman electrician was busy at the electrical control board. He looked up at Rod.
“Ready to close the circuits, Mr Ironsides.”
“Go ahead,” Rod nodded and the man touched a switch. A green light showed up on the board.
“No. i north longwall closed and green.”
“Lock her in,” Rod instructed and the electrician touched another switch.
“No. i east longwall closed and green.”
“Lock her in.”
The green light showed that the firing circuit was intact.
A red light would indicate a fault and the faulty circuit would not be locked into the blast pattern.
Circuit after circuit was readied until finally the foreman stood back from the control board.
“All green and locked in.”
Rod glanced at the mine captain.

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