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Observation Two

Standing Divided

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Chapter 13
Chapter 14, part 1
Chapter 14, part 2
appeared in issue 231.

Chapter 14: True Grit

part 3 of 3

And now, Norm, let us move on to the second part of your researches.

I see that you have done precisely as we asked, and have committed everything you have learned to memory. A remarkable thing, the brain, is it not?

So we now see, from what you are providing, a much fuller set of truths about the world’s reserves of minerals and metals of every shape and form. Fascinating. In some cases, Norm, very close to what we had previously understood. But in many others, very different from the public portrayals. Do you have a general view on that?

‘Usual thing, Chief. Keep people uncertain, ya keep control. Tell ’em we got vast supplies of everything they’re consuming, they’ll just eat it up even faster. Ask ’em to worry about something running out, they’ll think again. Tell ’em it nearly has all gone, ya just get panic in the streets. It’s all a question of management.

‘And as long as everyone believes something’s in short supply, the price stays high ...’

Indeed. Well, Norm, we now have the advantage over the rest of the unfortunate outsiders. Let us first see what more you can reveal about the items of greatest interest to us ...

Ah, yes — I observe that rhodium truly is rare and expensive on Earth. Up to ten times the price of gold! But there appears to be no present crisis in its supply. Mined along with platinum in many other countries, and especially South Africa; but rather surprisingly, only in the state of Montana here. We must return to that subject in a moment ...

Let us turn to sand. Just as we thought — vast quantities of it all over the Earth, some with extremely high levels of silicon content. And California is the state with the highest production of construction sand in the USA! How convenient, after our last little discussion ...

As for aluminium, I see the data we already held is also solidly confirmed: there are clearly huge deposits of bauxite ore throughout the world, especially in Australia — so aluminium is the third most common element in the Earth’s crust! This is excellent news, Norm. But I notice there is only negligible bauxite mining in the USA — you appear instead simply to process imported ores.

And magnesium — again, how gratifying: it is even more abundant than we understood, with all those dolomite ores in China, and all that sea-water for you to process over here! We shall be taking an urgent interest in this healthy situation ...

‘Ya seem very pleased, so far, Chief.’

Yes, Norm, we could not have wished for a better profile of the elements which we seek most urgently.

But let us look now at those which appeared from our original study to be in very short supply to meet the Earth’s own requirements.

Firstly, iridium. In truth, I see there is a far greater need and secret demand here than is publicly acknowledged. Our previous information must perhaps have been a little out of date. Or perhaps not. And the iridium obtained from nickel mining in Canada and Russia, and from platinum ore processing elsewhere, is clearly dwindling very fast indeed. Only a few years’ confirmed reserves remaining! Well, we may have some very good news ...

Now, to silver. You use this a lot on Earth, we know — especially for its supreme electrical conductivity properties. But your public databases are suggesting its known reserves are close to depletion. Not true, I now see. Large supplies still able to be exploited if the will were there. In Mexico, Canada, Peru, Australia, and plenty here, in Alaska and Nevada and so on. But silver is not often mined on its own, is it Norm? So you probably never have as much available as you would like. Perhaps we can help there too ...

But your gold reserves seem to be in much poorer shape than your public records suggest — across the globe. I wonder why that is, Norm, considering what you said just now about availability and price? Perhaps this information is being actively suppressed to avoid starting a broader international crisis? Anyway, you clearly have a rapidly dwindling supply, even in your own western states and up in Alaska, but a solid and increasing industrial need. We may be able to offer you something here as well ...

Zinc presents a similar picture, does it not? Apparently lots of it still around, in Australia and Canada and China and Peru — and over here too, of course. But again, there is far less actually available than the public data suggests. Is this also to avoid panic? It is a very important industrial metal, of course, but certainly less glamorous than gold. At least it is for us! Who knows the true views of your world? Fortunately for you, we still have an abundance of zinc on ours ...

And finally, there is lead. Hmm — the position here is essentially as we had understood it. There seems to be less interest in bending the truth on this particular metal. Perhaps it really is sufficiently unfashionable here and now! But lead production is basically dependent on your zinc and silver and copper mining operations, is it not? And your reserves of it are definitely running down rather fast ...

‘Yeah Chief, we certainly got a bunch of problems with supply and demand of lots of important commodities, over the next twenty to fifty years. Ya definitely picked up on some of the biggest.’

Well, as I have hinted, we hope to be able to help each other out with this shared problem, in the fullness of time ... or preferably, sooner.

Now, Norm, it is clear that Montana is the place to go to investigate your country’s production of rhodium. And I appreciate that there is significant mining of zinc and lead there too, as well as some gold and silver. And plenty of sand processing!

So, do you happen to have any good acquaintances in the business in that particular state, or does anyone there maybe owe you a favour or two?

‘Well, that’s the best news I have for ya. I got a cousin up there. Jack McGarran. Everyone calls him “Mac”. He’s the Head of Production at Bearbite Mines.

‘Bearbite’s a small, fairly new operation out to the east of the Beartooth Mountains. There’s a much bigger group of mines a few miles away — they’ve been a major producer of platinum and palladium for a long time. But a few years ago, Bearbite’s founders identified a good unexploited platinum ore seam in an old coal mine near Red Lodge, and they eventually bought the rights.

‘So if ya want a good look, on the ground and off the beaten track, at a nice little operation with rhodium as one of its by-products, Mac’s the man. He can even tell ya about the gold and silver and other metals they pick up in the process ...’

Excellent. And how about sand and silicon? And aluminium and magnesium?

‘Well, he don’t work with any of those! But he can tell ya about some people who do!’

That all sounds very promising, Norm.

So, your second task, please, is to contact Mac as quickly as you can, and persuade him to take a visit from one of your temporary employees — a young Geological Sciences major who is now doing post-graduate work on rhodium, and would like to discuss certain aspects of the mining process with a real expert ...

‘This graduate have a name, Chief?’

Of course. It’s Salvatore Pirone.


So, how quickly can you complete this task for us?

‘Can’t say. If Mac’s above ground, should be easy. If he’s not, or if he’s got any sort of problem to handle, could take hours. Should definitely have it done by the morning ...

Fair enough, Norm. A sensible timetable. Let us all meet again, by the bench in Finlay Park, at ten o’clock tomorrow.

Norman rubbed his eyes, blinked and saw only Toni, sitting exactly where he had been sitting at some strangely undefined time earlier that morning, and looking rather bored.

‘So, Tony — where were we? Oh yeah, I musta misunderstood. Not a journalist, right? Good thing too, if y’ask me! So what’s ya favorite kinda music ...?’

Toni could certainly handle a question like that, and spend all day answering it if given the chance. In fact he did so for less than five minutes, with Crofton hardly getting a word in edgeways, before a gentle whispering in his ear encouraged him to close the meeting down at once.

‘Anyway, Norm, I know you have lots of work to do. I’ll get back to the library. And thank you for allowing me to spend some time with you at Forretan.’

‘No problem, Tony. Have a nice day, now.’

As he made his way back down the corridor, Carla whispered to him once again. ‘Nice work, caro amigo. You’re free until further notice. And maybe I’ll join you for a stroll later ...’

Then Toni and Salvatore finally did pick up their coffees, and sat together in the quiet library, getting to know each other properly over a long, intensive discussion of jazz and many other flavours of the food of love.

Just before one o’clock, they broke off for a little tour of familiarisation around the ground floor of the building. Then they dropped into the small cafeteria for a microwaved lunch.

They had finished their meals, and everyone else had returned to work.

‘So, what are you planning to do for the rest of the day?’

‘No idea, Salvi. I don’t think I’m needed till tomorrow. I guess I’ll go for a little walk around town ...’

The door swung open and Maelene Bay strode through in all her intense glory, then stopped dead in her tracks.

‘Ah, Sal, you’re in here! Oh heck, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound like that! Well, anyhow ...’

Salvatore did not fail to notice that Maelene had suddenly transferred all her attention to his new operational partner, and that they both seemed to be looking a lot happier than usual.

‘Ah, right ... so, Toni, this is Maelene Bay. Maelene, this is Toni Murano. He’s a friend of a friend in Europe — and he’s joining up with me for a while over here ...’

Maelene Bay, assistant to the PR Manager and uninhibited songwriter, needed no further prompting. She walked straight over and took the smiling visitor’s hand in hers.

‘Hey, Toni, welcome to Columbia!’

‘Thanks! I’m getting used to these warm welcomes ...’

‘Oh, that’s good! So, tell me ...’

Salvatore loudly pushed back his chair, and stood up.

‘I’m sorry, you two, but I have to get back to work.’

‘Huh?’ joked Maelene, with a very different, mischievous smile on her face. ‘I thought you were just playing games of doom on the Internet, Sal ...’

‘Very funny,’ said the unhappy young man who had completely failed to take the joke. ‘I’m actually doing some really important research right now. I’ll see you both later.’

And he was gone.

‘That wasn’t very fair, Miss Bay.’

‘That was very direct, Toni.’

‘So was that.’

‘Like another coffee?’

‘If you twist my arm ...’

‘Wow, you must be exhausted! All that travelling in three days! So, how long will be staying here?’

‘I really don’t know. As long as they let me ...’

‘Who are “they”?’

‘It’s hard to explain. I’m sort of working indirectly for some people who seem to be really keen to find some big answers. That’s the only way I can put it — seriously!’

Maelene was looking him straight in the eyes.

‘Yeah. I can see that. Looks to me like you’re rather confused ...’

‘You got it!’

‘Bilbao, did you say? ¿En España, verdad?

‘Yes! So you speak Spanish!’

‘A little. But I won’t embarrass myself any further in front of you, chico. And you’re a musician! Hey, so am I ...’

‘Oh, that’s great. We must ... wait a minute, aren’t you having any lunch?’

‘Nope. No time for it today. No problem, anyway — I need to slim down ...’

‘Nonsense! You’re absolutely perfect. And you’ll need a good dinner tonight!’

‘Was that an invitation, sir?’

‘You must be a songwriter, too, Maelene ...’

‘I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty. Which hotel?’

* * *

‘So, Salvi, I’m going out for that look around town. Want to come?’

‘No, Toni. I’ve done it all already. I’ll stay here.’

‘Fair enough. See you tomorrow ...’

Lucia had been on frustratingly passive watch ever since Carla had finished with Norman, and had observed all the events in the cafeteria. She was now feeling a lot more comfortable with the state of affairs. And the library was now nice and quiet again ...

Ciao, Salvi,’ she called, after surreptitiously taking up a position in a corner chair.

He looked up. ‘Oh, hello.’

‘Is that all you can manage?’

‘I’m busy, Lucia.’

‘Too busy to talk to me? I thought you’d really appreciate some company, right now ...’

‘Well, I ... no, I wouldn’t. I want to be alone.’

* * *

Toni started his afternoon tour with a contented little stroll around the nearby Finlay Park. Carla joined him after a while, showed him where he should meet her the following morning for their next engagement with Norman Crofton, and told him exactly what he would need to do. He took it all in without any fuss or debate.

Then he sought out several churches, especially the First Baptist, of course — like Salvatore, he was interested in studying the very different architectural styles of the buildings over here. And, unlike the Venetian, he went inside them whenever he could — they held no demons for him, but like those in Dublin they generated no religious passion either.

Carla stuck with him for some time at the start of his look round those churches. But she soon became very disappointed with his mood.

She was well aware of what Lucia had observed in the cafeteria (since it is very hard to keep a secret from another Doman), and was not at all pleased with what seemed to be happening. Toni was suddenly far more distant than he had normally been back in Europe, or indeed over here. Except when they’d had those standoffs in Paris and London, of course. Mind you, they’d all been due to another woman, too. And there had also been the silly confusion about her and that Frenchman ...

But Toni just didn’t seem to care very much about what she felt now. And he had obviously clean forgotten his plan to buy the extra speakers for his CD player, so that they could listen together to those very special songs he had mentioned in New York.

So she finally decided to take an early leave of him, before she said something she would quickly regret.

Completely unperturbed by her cool departure, Toni made for the Museum of Art, and approached its permanent collection in his usual focused way. He had been hoping, as always, to find some nineteenth-century French paintings, but he was largely out of luck. Instead he learned a lot about what the American school had been creating while Renoir and his friends were making their huge new impression on Europe.

And then the Museum was closing, and it was time to go and get ready for his evening out with Maelene. She had been in his thoughts all afternoon.

Toni had been in Homeland Security’s thoughts and sights throughout that time as well. And he was followed discreetly all the way back to his hotel.

* * *

Maelene had chosen the restaurant well. It was out to the west, away from the downtown crowds. Throughout the meal there were only three other diners in the whole place: a jovial young couple, already seated at a gratifying distance from them, and an older man who came in soon after they’d arrived, and ate alone at a corner table.

Their dinner conversation was polite and guarded. They restricted it to their favourite music, novels and works of art, and the South Carolina weather. For both of them, the brusque informality of their lunchtime repartee had been replaced by a more gingerly, prospecting second approach ...

The bill had been paid.

‘Like to go for a little drive, Toni? The moon’s shining beautifully up there ...’

The solitary diner in the corner decided to leave them alone for the rest of the evening, and ordered another glass of wine.

Carla, conversely, decided to stick with them.

They found a quiet parking meadow down by the river, and continued their cautious conversation: still from the front seats at first, then sitting on the dry grass with their backs up against the car, hidden from the deserted towpath, gazing up at the brilliant crescent moon.

Toni plucked up his courage at last.

‘Tell me about your song-writing, Maelene. I’ve been dying to ask, but ...’

‘Ah, you silly boy, don’t be so shy! I’ve been dying for you to ask me! But you can’t really tell someone about your songs, can you? Would you like me to sing one or two for you?’

Without waiting for his reply she jumped up, opened the car door, and produced her guitar from the back seat.

Toni listened with a pleasure he had never before experienced. As Maelene sat cross-legged in front of him, and sang and played, he felt she was talking directly to him. These were his songs. Not simply songs written by a woman about herself, and other men and women, and the huge problems of the world, and the hope that kept people struggling to resolve them. They were just his. He’d never be able to put it any better ...

After the third one was done, and the sound of its final chord had died away, he dared to speak.

‘Wonderful, Maelene. You’re a fine singer, and writer, and guitarist. Which of those songs is your favourite?’

‘None of those, Toni. It’s this one ...’

And she sang the first few lines of the song she had sung for Salvatore ...

‘Take me like a secret
Touch my chords
Hear the fire
Play my pages
Read the choir ...’

‘That’s beautiful! It’s the call of a songbook, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘But it’s also you calling to me. You sing like an angel ...’

Every pore of her body was breathing a new bliss. She put down the guitar, reached out and drew him over to her. And for the first time in his life, Toni found that undiluted passion he had read and heard so much about.

Proceed to chapter 15, part 1 ...

Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd

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