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