by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
appeared in issue 233.
Chapter 19: Red Lodge, Montana
As Toni was settling down in the hotel bar for his final lunch in Columbia, the taxi which had ferried Salvatore and the still-livid Maelene from their own hotel in Red Lodge towards dark and heavy clouds, piled up in the big skies beyond the Beartooth Mountains, was drawing to a halt outside the small administration building at Bearbite Mines. Lucia had, of course, carefully and invisibly followed their dusty trail.
Just as Norman had recommended, Salvatore had brought along a little gift for Jack McGarran: a big bottle of something strong, purchased at one of the stopover airports. And during the near-silent drive, he had promised himself that he was going to take control of this assignment from the outset, and do it so well that Maelene could not fail to be impressed, and would then drop her latest crazy attitude towards him.
So he rapped smartly on the front office door and walked straight in, leaving his colleague to push it open again for herself as she followed him through.
‘That’s me, son. Sal, ain’t it? Good to meet you. Call me Mac, OK? But who the heck’s this? Norm never mentioned ...’
‘Good morning, sir. I’m the cab driver.’
‘Only joking, Mr McGarran. My name’s Maelene Bay. I’m a professional geologist, just like Sal, and we’re working closely together on this research.’
‘Ah — look, I’m not too sure about having a ... ah, about having a woman around the place, you know ...’
‘No, I don’t know.’ Maelene was certainly not in the mood for this sort of nonsense, on top of everything else. ‘Do I maybe have to promise not to knock anything over, or ask silly questions? Or is it something else, not just that I’m a woman ...?’
Salvatore had lost his planned control of the meeting after uttering just two words. But his adrenalin and antennae were, for once, still working in the right direction.
‘Look, Mac, I’ve brought you a present, to say thank you for looking after us ...’
‘Well that’s mighty thoughtful of you, Sal. I can see we’re gonna get along fine. But ...’
‘But what, Mr McGarran ...?’ Maelene interrupted.
Salvatore realised his first intervention had been a good start, but not good enough. Inspiration for the follow-through hit him just in time.
‘Look, let’s all cool it for a moment, eh? I see you have a radio on the shelf there, Mac. Why don’t you switch it on, and we can maybe have a little music for a few moments. I’m sure it will calm us all down ...’
McGarran looked at him in stunned surprise, and then surprised himself still further by reaching over and doing exactly what Salvatore had suggested. And as the local station filled the room with one of the county’s favourite songs, Salvi played his final card.
‘That’s very nice, Mac. And I wonder if you’ve ever heard of my favourite singer? Her name’s LUCIA ...’
The Mater had got the message. They had been hoping that this opening meeting would go ahead without their direct intervention, but clearly that was not to be. So as Mac shook his head in vague reply, and contemplated with relish the large bottle of liquor now sitting in front of him, Lucia engaged his full attention without bothering to re-make, and Salvatore and Maelene sat back to wait for calmer waters.
‘Feels like one. But it’s Mac. Call me Mac.’
OK, Mac. Call me “Chief”. I have much experience in your field of work.
Thank you, Mac, for accommodating us at such short notice.
‘Didn’t have much say in the matter, did I? But a pal of Cousin Norm is a pal of mine. Not sure where he got these two from, though ...’
They are both very able geologists, and I trust you will soon come to appreciate their company.
‘Hmm. Anyhow, tell me just what it is you’re all after here.’
We need your assistance in a number of areas, Mac. It will probably require you to give us your close attention, with perhaps some help from your staff, for the rest of today and much of tomorrow. I appreciate that this will be inconvenient, but is it at least feasible?
‘D’you mean can I spare the time? No, I can’t. But I ain’t going nowhere else this weekend, and I get the impression I’ll be doing whatever you ask!’
That’s very good. Thank you again. And I feel I can safely hand the discussion back to Salvatore and Maelene at his point. I trust you will now give them both your full co-operation and support throughout their short stay here ...
‘Sure thing, Chief.’
From the suddenly normal look appearing in his eyes, Jack McGarran’s unsolicited guests quickly detected that he was back on their own frequency.
‘Right,’ said Salvatore, seizing the moment again. ‘First, Mac, we need to focus on your platinum ore deposits which contain the richest concentrations of rhodium.’
‘Well, Sal, even the best ones only yield small amounts of rhodium, as a by-product of our main business — the recovery of palladium and platinum metals ...’
‘That’s not a problem, Mac. This little corner of Montana appears to have more reserves of rhodium than the rest of the USA put together! So we are particularly keen to establish precisely where those platinum ores are located, viewed from the surface. Please arrange to supply us, as soon as possible after this meeting, with full documentary details on the locations, extents and depths of the best deposits you are aware of — both on your site and anywhere else around these mountains.’
As McGarran began taking notes, Maelene jumped in.
‘We also understand that gold and silver are, as is normal, additional by-products from your platinum ores.’
‘Yeah, that’s correct, ma’am — but again, only in small quantities compared with the platinum and palladium. You want gold and silver, you go elsewhere in Montana — it’s the sixth largest producer of them in the States!’
‘Let’s just stick with your gold and silver for now, Mr McGarran. Are they in the same seams as the best reserves of rhodium?’
‘Yeah, sure they are, just as you’d expect — wouldn’t you, ma’am??’
‘Naturally, sir. But it’s always worth checking, as I’m sure you’d agree. Now, let us move on. I believe that back in Columbia, Norm suggested to the Chief that you do not have any deposits of iridium, zinc or lead at this particular mine ...’
‘He’s right. We do get copper, nickel, and cobalt spin-offs, along with the others I’ve told you about. So if there’s any iridium around, you get it from the downstream nickel processing, right? But for zinc and lead in Montana, you gotta go elsewhere again. You’ll find them in the gold mines out further west in Jefferson, and other places — this state’s the USA’s fifth largest producer of both!’
Salvatore grabbed the baton.
‘As we already understood, Mac. And that is a very useful confirmation — thank you.
‘Next, let’s look at construction sand, and its very useful silicon. This state really is big in many of the materials we’re interested in, isn’t it?’
‘Sure. Sand and gravel’s our fifth most important mineral, by value of total production. You won’t find any quarries hereabouts, but there’s plenty of them all over Montana. Of course, you want big league, you go to California — Sacramento and Los Angeles Counties especially.’
‘We may well do exactly that, Mac.’
‘And finally,’ Maelene chipped in, still not to be outdone, ‘I understand we shall not find much magnesium around here ...’
‘Nope. Sea water’s the best source. But I’m sure you knew that very well too.’
‘... nor much aluminium in the ground?’
‘Nah, there’s very little bauxite in Montana. But there is an ore processing plant upstate at Columbia Falls, near the Glacier Park.’
The Chief could not resist joining in again.
Now that is fascinating ...
The look in McGarran’s eyes told his human visitors of this new intervention, and they bided their time in silence once more ...
... yes, quite fascinating, Mac. Our researches in this country took us initially to Columbia, South Carolina, and I am well aware that we are at this moment only a few miles from Columbus, Montana, and now you mention yet another place of interest named Columbia!
‘Awful lot of people must have wanted to remember that guy, Chief ...’
Yes, indeed. Anyway, to continue — presumably the Falls are not too far away?
‘Only five hundred miles. Just south of the Canadian border.’
Ah. I see. Oh well, it was a nice idea ...
McGarran appeared to have been re-released from the Chief’s intellectual clutches, and Maelene decided it was now time to firmly don her project manager’s hat and get this show properly on the road.
‘Right, we need to move ahead fast, now. Please pull together all the reference materials about your own site first, as quickly as possible. Then you can help us conduct some direct surface observations. We don’t want to send you off to do it all on your own — your people would wonder what you were up to, and Sal and I would both just be kicking our heels!’
‘And Mac — I trust you will ensure we receive all the respect we both deserve from your entire workforce ...’
Everyone aboard the Mater was feeling very pleased with the individual performances of their duo of Illuminators, especially considering the extreme tensions that still clearly dominated their personal relationship.
Salvatore had rescued their initial encounter with Mac with strokes of genius worthy of Toni himself. And Maelene, despite altogether too much sister-attitude at the start, had taken superb control of the situation towards the end of the engagement.
Perhaps, just for once, things would go smoothly for them here ...
It was almost noon. The young surveyors were enduring very strong cups of coffee, and waiting for Jack to finish preparing the documentation, when Maelene’s phone rang.
‘It’s me, honey.’
‘Hi, Toni! How you doing?’
‘Not too bad. I’m out of the hospital. Still aching all over, but I’m coping!’
‘Hey, that’s real good. So, resting up in your hotel room?’
‘Small chance! No, they’ve got me on the road already! I’m in a cab to the airport. Next stop Atlanta, then straight on to Los Angeles ...’
‘Well, lucky old you! I get sent out to the wilderness with our best friend here, and you get to hit Tinseltown!’
‘I don’t think it’ll be that exciting, honey! Anyway, how’s it going up there?’
‘Only just begun, really. Nothing much more to say ...’
‘OK. Now you keep smiling, and I’ll call you when I arrive, late evening.’
‘Looking forward to it. Bye, Toni!’
Salvi had turned his back when Maelene took the call, and walked a few paces away; but he had listened carefully to every word she had said. “Best friend” indeed! Huh!
Mac was back.
‘OK, guys — good news and bad news.
‘Good news first. Here’s a listing of all our main platinum ore pockets. I’ve shown the approximate horizontal area, the depth below ground, and the average layer thickness of each one. And the magnetic bearing and distance of the rough centre of each of them, based on the position of the flagstaff in the front yard, over there.
‘You’re gonna do your own surface mapping, right? So I’ve printed out a small chart of the local area. The seams are spread all around the central complex. The flagstaff’s marked right here on the map, see? You can walk in a straight line to all of them from that point, and the ground’s level enough to use a measuring wheel and compass.’
‘No GPS?’ asked Salvatore.
Mac gave him a strange look. ‘No, we use men’s tools around here, son.’
‘And the bad news?’ asked Maelene, deciding not to rise to the bait.
‘I’ve gotta go straight back underground. Big problem to handle. I can get one of the others to go round with you ...’
‘No, we’ll be OK,’ Salvatore interrupted.
‘I’m not sure about that ...’ said Maelene.
‘Look, I’m certain the Chief doesn’t want to go engaging someone else now.’
‘Hmm — you’re probably right. Yes, we’ll handle it ourselves, Mac. We’ll need a second copy of the map, please — and another compass and wheel ...’
‘Whatever you say, ma’am. And you definitely wanna do a full two hours in your first stint?’ ... ‘OK, I’ll make sure there’s a good lunch waiting for you here at two o’clock.’
‘Thanks. And good luck down below.’
They were all tooled up and had arrived at the flagstaff. Salvatore was peering around, taking in the vast scale of the terrain.
‘How do you think they plan to get the stuff out of the ground?’
‘No idea. And I’m not going to ask. Chances are I wouldn’t believe it, or I wouldn’t understand it — and probably both!’
‘But if you and I don’t, what about everybody else ...?’
‘Quit philosophising, Sal, and start concentrating!’
‘I am concentrating!’
‘Right, I’ll take the north-eastern sector before lunch, and you take the south-eastern, OK? We can do the western set this afternoon.’
‘Why does it have to be you giving the orders all the time?’
‘Because someone has to make things happen! Now for crying out loud, let’s get going, or we’ll be here all week ...’
They set out in opposite directions, both regularly re-checking their bearing from the central pole. And whenever one of them reached a designated point and waved an arm in the air, the ever-watchful, un-made Lucia hurried over, whispered ‘Here I am — hold still, now ...’ and the Mater captured the precise coordinates.
Their lunch was ready for them as promised, piping hot and with more on a single plate than Maelene normally ate in a whole day.
But she had done a lot of walking, and she gave it a very good shot. Salvatore had no such problems.
‘Right, let’s have a look at your map,’ she said as soon as she had put down her fork.
He passed it over, not at all happy with the continuing power play.
‘What the heck??’
‘What’s wrong now?’
‘You’ve only marked three spots. I got through nine! Were you really working that slowly?’
‘Oh, I don’t need this, Maelene!’
‘And yours are all much farther away from the centre than mine. They don’t fit the seam pattern I’ve established at all. Are you sure you’ve put these crosses in the right places?’
‘Of course I have! Look — here’s number ten on Mac’s list, right? Bearing from the flagstaff, 105 degrees magnetic. Happy? Distance, 1530 metres ...’
‘What? You idiot! This is America! We don’t do any of that metric crap. All Mac’s distances are in feet. What else? Look, even the scale on the chart’s shown in feet! Call yourself a geologist? And I thought you were a pilot! You can’t even read a freaking map. I told you to concentrate!’
Salvatore was dumbfounded.
‘But it seemed to tie up quite well with the measuring wheel values ...’
‘The wheels are calibrated in yards, you fool! It says so, next to the readout. But you never noticed that either, did you? So you decided point number ten was 1530 metres away, and then you measured out 1530 yards, and it was supposed to be 1530 feet!’
‘It’s not my fault ...’
‘Whose is it then, sunshine? Oh, forget it! We’ll have to do those points all over again, and then finish the rest of your sector, before we can move on to the western side. I’ll have a word with Lucia at the first stop, and tell her to cancel all your fixes ...’
They did not manage to finish the job that afternoon. When Maelene had had quite enough, she called for a cab, and they eventually sank into the comfort of its seats and went wordlessly back to the hotel.
An hour later, they walked in continued silence to a restaurant a couple of blocks down South Broadway. The long afternoon’s surveying had re-stimulated their appetites, but their huge lunch had not been forgotten, so they both ordered quite modest meals, and with no attempt at collaboration.
The waitress had gone off to the kitchen. Salvatore could stand it no longer.
‘What’s wrong, Maelene? You haven’t said a pleasant word to me since we left Columbia.’
‘I really have to spell it out, don’t I?’
‘What? Is this still about the feet and metres?’
‘No, you fool! It’s about Toni. You didn’t lift a finger to help him on Thursday night!’
‘Oh, is that it? OK, I’m sorry.’
‘Not much point in saying that to me, is there?’
‘All right, I’ll call him. Sometime ...’
‘You do that. Promise?’
They were in the restaurant for less than an hour, and they returned to the hotel in the same cold silence.
At ten o’clock, Maelene’s phone rang again.
‘It’s me — I’m in LA at last!’
‘Hi, Mr California! How are you feeling now?’
‘Still aching all over. Had a meal on the plane, and I’m going straight to bed.’
‘Poor baby. Big kiss!’
‘Thanks! How about you? Had a good day?’
‘It went OK — in the end. Just been for a lovely meal with Sal ...’
‘Oh, how nice for you.’
‘I don’t know. Doesn’t seem very fair ...’
‘Oh, thanks a bunch, Toni Murano. It wasn’t exactly the night of my life!’
‘Much better than mine, so far ...’
She cut the call.
Salvatore was brushing his teeth.
‘Oh, you made me jump, Lucia!’
‘What do you think?’
‘Why don’t you stop fretting about her? She’s stuck on Toni, and you’re at the bottom of every ladder on her board ...’
‘I’m always here for you, Salvi.’
‘I know that. Thank you.’
The Chief shook her head in a combination of empathy with Lucia’s frustration, and dismay with the over-tolerant line the Handler was still taking on Salvatore’s many failings. The Chief herself was developing a much stricter view of them, and was warming to their newest recruit by the hour.
Maelene and Salvatore started out again very early on the Sunday morning.
It took them over two hours to capture the remaining fixes. He dragged his feet the whole way, and she just got on with it.
By eleven o’clock it was finished, and they were back in the front office for another strong coffee and a short presentation from Jack McGarran on the end-to-end process of platinum ore extraction and its downstream smelting and refining.
Then Lucia took unseen control, and their uncomplaining host completed his task by giving the Chief, as previously requested, a direct and fuller picture of all the major platinum ore deposits in the wider area of the Beartooth Mountains.
Thank you, Mac. You have been extremely helpful to us throughout this little enterprise. Please now forget all that has happened here, other than the story of your support for two enthusiastic young Forretan researchers.
It was half-past noon. Despite the customary setbacks, Maelene and Salvatore had now enabled the Mater’s collection of all the information it needed from Jack McGarran and Bearbite Mines.
And things were going well in Los Angeles, too. As soon as the Captain spotted the next green light on that particular track, the Chief would be able to move the geologists on to their next little assignment ...
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd