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:
STAY ALERT. STAY ALIVE.
WITH YOUK COOPERATION THIS MINE HAS WORKED l6 FATALITY FREE DAYS.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
“Mining his gold.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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 Raay.ooo 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.
“Jesus!” said Dan with rare approval. “Which one Is mine?”
“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?”
“No, not me. I am invulnerable. I am a Hirschfeld – but you, it could destroy you.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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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