Salt Lake City looked so damn beautiful, a jewel against the breathtaking backdrop of the Wasatch Mountains. The view was heavenlyĖit was no wonder Brigham Young stopped his caravan some one hundred and fifty years ago and decided that this was the place for the Mormons to stake their claim.
The staking of claims was a big part of Utahís history, whether it was for land or minerals. Utah sucked untold fortunes from the earth: gold, iron ore, molybdenum, potash, magnesium. In the 1990s the state led the nation in beryllium and Gilsonite production. But as far back as Sonny could remember, platinum claims were not among Utahís fabled stories.
"Platinum?" Sonny asked, his face wrinkling incredulously under his now neatly trimmed beard. The expression added wrinkles to his leathery look. "You sure, Herb? I thought it was silver."
"Yes, Iím sure, Sonny," Herbert Darker said in a conspiratorial whisper. Herbert was one of the few men that Sonny could look down at. Herbert stood all of five-foot-five, just a hair under Sonnyís diminutive stature. They sat on opposite sides of a black lab table, the sample result printout lying between them. Herbertís eyes revealed his excitement over the find.
"It looks like a very rich source," Herbert said. "The stuff you found is almost pure. Thatís unheard of. And one of the impurities is iridium, which is also valuable. This is an amazing find."
Sonny found himself whispering as well. "Are you telling me this is my biggest find yet? Bigger than the Jorgensson mine?"
"Well, itís the biggest find Iíve analyzed for you, anyway."
"Oh shut up, Herb," Sonny said jokingly. "You know damn well youíre the only one I let touch my samples for going on, what, fifteen years now?"
Herbert looked away for a secondĖaway and down. Then just as quickly, he looked up, looked Sonny in the eye, and smiled. "Sixteen years, actually," Herbert said. "Iím not an expert on platinum, but from what Iíve readĖ" his voice dropped to a breathless whisper, and Sonny strained to hear "Ėyou may have the purest vein in the world."
"So my little findiní looks good, eh?" A proud smile broke across his wrinkled face.
Herbertís whispered answer was almost inaudible. "Sonny, if thereís any size at all to the vein that produced this, youíre going to be a very, very rich man."
An ounce of truth. Sonny just smiled.
Thirty minutes later, Herbert Darker sat in the privacy of his locked office, a stunning view of the Wasatch Mountains filling the room with amber light. The sun set slowly, its baking heat abating as it gave way to yet another crystal clear night. He spoke into the phone, still whispering despite the fact that Sonny had left twenty minutes earlier.
"Iím telling you, Mr. Kirkland, this is big," Herbert said, his hand cupped over the mouthpiece.
"Whatís the ore grade, Herbert?" Connell Kirkland asked briskly.
"I donít know. He didnít bring in an ore sample, just the dust he panned. For there to be that much dust and have it be that pure, it would have to come from a very concentrated source. Thereís no impurities, except for about thirty percent iridium, but thatís almost as valuable as the platinum. If I had to guess, Iíd say at least ten ounces per ton of ore, maybe higher."
"Bullshit, Herbert. Thereís no platinum vein that high." The sound of Connellís cold tone always made Herbert nervous. He hated talking to the man, but Connell always paid so well.
"You think I donít know that?" Herbert said. "Why do you think I called you so quickly?" Tension gripped his body. Stress guided his every movement, making him fidget in his chair. His temples throbbed, as did the back of his neck. He knew he shouldnít have called Connell, but now it was too late.
Heíd met Connell only once, mostly because the man rarely left his office, ruling the mining industry like some dark magician from his tower of doom. Connell was tall and lanky, just a hair over six-foot-four. His carriage gave off predatorial waves. He moved quickly, definitively, with a slight limp but little wasted motion, his black curly hair framing remorseless gray eyes, the eyes of a bird of prey casually tearing bloody flesh from a captured mouse.
"Okay," Connell said. "Where did he get it?"
"Hell if I know. Heís a crafty old bastard."
"How can you not know, Herbert? Itís got to be in the area, right? I mean youíre in Salt Lake City, and he came to you."
Herbert took a breath. The pain in his temples throbbed in time with his heartbeat. "He always comes to me. He does it so no one can guess the location of his finds."
A little more than a year earlier Sonny had discovered gold in Wyoming. The prospector carried the sample all the way to Salt Lake City, all the way to Darker, Inc., for analysis. The word is Ďtrust,í Herbert thought. Youíre the only one he trusts, the only one. Now youíre betraying that trust.
Connellís flat, no-nonsense voice grabbed Herbertís attention. "I need to talk to this man immediately. Give me his name and number."
"I canít do that!" Herbert heard a whining quality enter his voice, but he couldnít help it. "You have to wait. Heís only been in town for a couple of days. He only found out about the platinum quality thirty minutes ago, for Christís sake. Heíd know I gave you the information!"
"Youíre a piece of work, you know that?" Connellís words rang with annoyance. "You donít have any idea where he got it, it may be the richest find of the century, and now youíre telling me I shouldnít call him?"
"But Mr. Kirkland, heíll know it was me! I could go to jail if he wanted to press charges."
"Oh donít be an idiot," Connell said with disgust. "He couldnít prove anything, and there is nothing connecting you with us. I havenít got time for this bullshit. I need his number, and I need it now. Would an extra ten grand change your mind?"
Herbert fell silent. He could still back out and protect Sonnyís find, at least for a while. Perhaps give Sonny time to properly sell the claim; Connell was ruthless and would find a way to own the site within days. Sonny might very well wind up with nothing.
"Okay, Herbert, youíre playing hardball. My courier will deliver twenty-five grand to your hot little hands the moment I have a chat with this man. This is a one-time offer. I need a decision right now."
Herbertís head throbbed. So much money in one shot, but only if he served up Sonny on a plate. Connell didnít make idle threats; it was now or nothing.
"Well, thanks for wasting my time," Connell said. "Iíll get my information elsewhere."
"Wait!" Herbert said, realizing how loud he sounded in his quiet office. "Iíll give it to you." Herbert gave Connell the number. Even as he did it, he knew he was doing something wrong, but Connell would just find another way to get the information. Wrong or right, Herbert had already given up the goods on Sonny McGuiness. To not get anything out of that mistake was just plain bad business.
"Youíre a smart man, Herbert," Connell said. "A very smart man. I also need any information you can give me on Sonny himself. What other sites has he discovered, and what companies does he usually work with?"
Herbertís jaw opened in astonishment. Connell had never asked for such details before.
"I . . . I canít tell you that."
"I want that information and I want it now, Herbert," Connell said in a cold, detatched voice. "Give me all the information you have on Sonny McGuiness. Iíll double my offer. Fifty thousand dollars."
"That information isnít part of the deal," Herbert whined. "The deal is I come across info on any big finds and I call you. Thatís it."
"The dealís changed," Connell said. "Youíll give me all the info right now, or youíre out of the stable. No more payoffs."
Herbert felt his face growing red with anger. "You . . . you wouldnít do that! Iíve given you great information!"
"Donít be stupid, Herbert. You think youíre the only one on the payroll? You think I do this shit for my health? I have a system, a system that gives me major finds, and if youíre not part of that system, than youíre out of that system."
Herbert paused, then clenched his teeth. His head felt hot. He knew heíd bitten off way more than he could handle this time. "I think Iíll take my twenty-five thousand and call it finished, Mr. Kirkland."
This time it was Connellís turn to pause.
"Itís a one-time offer," he said finally. "When youíre out, youíre out for good. I want that information."
"I gave you his number."
"I wonít forget this, Herbert."
Herbert swallowed and wiped sweat from his forehead. "I know that, Mr. Kirkland."
Herbert hung up the phone, then dropped his face into his hands. Guilt perched on Herbertís conscience like a buzzard on a coyoteís carcass. Heíd sold Sonny out. Just like that. And to Connell Kirkland, no less. Connell was not a nice person, to put it lightly, and he would stop at nothing to possess this find. In mining circles Connellís nickname was "Cutthroat."
Connell wanted this one, wanted it bad. Sonny was in deep shit. And Herbert knew he was the one to blame.
Connell hated Herbert Darker.
He hated whiners, and Herbert was most definitely a whiner. Business was business, and if you had to sell someone out to make money thatís what you did. But you didnít whine about it, you didnít try to rationalize it, try to justify it in order to assuage your guilt.
Connell had dozens of agents performing the same task as Herbert Darker. He referred to the numerous informants as his "stable," as if he were a pimp and the spies his whores. Heíd created the network four years ago with only three people, two in America and one in South Africa. The system was illegal but profitable, and heíd gradually added to the roster. Now his stable encompassed twenty-seven geologists and environmental analysts from across the globe, all of whom knew that any potential find they reported to Connell would earn them a quick five grand.
Those calls usually amounted to nothing. Sometimes they were outright bullshit, people trying to scam him. The one thingĖthe only thingĖhe liked about Herbert Darker was that the man never tried to run a scam.
Herbert never called with low-grade sites, never called with finds that amounted to nothing, and never, ever called with erroneous data. Each time Connell took a call from Herbert, it merited special attention. Herbert triple-checked every sample, and on top of that often researched the site himself before calling.
This time, however, Herbert had called after only one test, and less than three hours after completing it. Very amateurish. Or at least it would be from anyone else. It meant Herbert had almost pissed himself from excitement. Ten ounces of platinum per ton of ore would do that to a fella.
If the numbers held true, the find would be by far the richest vein ever discovered. Connell smiled at Herbertís petty greed. The man risked jail and the destruction of his business for a lousy twenty-five grand when the platinum veinís worth might measure in the hundred-million range.
Connell paced his office, staring out his window on the fifty-sixth floor of the Renaissance Center building. It was dank and drizzly above the Detroit River, thick clouds blotting out the stars. His cheap suit itched. He ignored the distraction. He could afford far better clothing, better even than the custom-tailored affairs sported by EarthCoreís other executives. Hell, by now he could probably afford almost anything, although he hadnít checked his bank statement in over two years. Connell had more important things to do with his time than spend it worrying about appearances.
He felt anxious. If this find was even half as big as Herbert Darker estimated, it would be one of the richest sites on the face of the planet. It would definitely be EarthCoreís biggest asset. A sense of urgency filled himĖany rival company that discovered the site would move fast to buy or lease the property. At the moment, Connell held the edge. He had to get to Sonny McGuiness and he had to get to him fast.
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