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“A dame! Can you believe it? They are sending a god damned dame down here!” Joe Hundretti kicked at a rock on the dirt path, clenched fists jammed deep in his pockets.
“Makes no sense to me, Joe. What the hell are they sending her down here for?”
Joe stopped, glared at Paulie Zaputo before he looked past him at the small dirty faces staring at him from the shack where they had stopped. “Lazy brats! Don’t you have work to be doing?” The faces disappeared inside the hovel. The men started walking again. “She’s some sort of security specialist who is coming down here to tell us how to do what we do… from a fucking skirt! She’ll know suntans and fucking shoe designers but what the fuck is she going to know about mining? Not a fucking thing… but we have to listen to her?”
Paulie waved it off. “She is a bean counter. Permita a su conde nuestros frijoles.” He laughed then swiped a huge hand across a brush bristle moustache. “Enrico will meet us at the helipad with the truck. We would hate to see her high-heels get dirty.”
Joe frowned. “It’s bad enough them coming down here without a fucking clue, trying to tell me how to run the mine… I’ve done it for fucking years. I know more about this Oro Verde than anyone… but to send a god damned dame down here, and tell me I have to answer to her? That isn’t going to happen.”
Paulie shrugged. Whatcha gonna do? We have to deal with it.”
Joe hitched up his waistband, straightened his spine. He licked his palm, ran it through his thinning hair then smiled. “I will charm her. She is a woman. She thinks with her panties.” He stopped again, eyeing Paulie. “You will be on your best behavior? She is here to talk primarily about security; that’s your department.”
“She will find nothing wrong.”
“Tarleton says it’s because of the economic climate and that they are getting some information that there could be problems with the Columbians. If that’s the case, she is just going to look at the security set-up then leave… I hope.”
“She will find nothing wrong,” Paulie repeated, nodding towards the helicopter approaching.
Dust was kicked up, blurring the sight of the blue bird for a moment. Once it had set down, Andi Matthews stepped down.
“Ai chi wa wa! Look at that!”
“Mi Dios.” Joe straightened again, wiped the sweat from his palms onto his suit pants. His wide smile deepened the creases at the corner of his eyes. “She can count my beans any day.” He cupped his hand over his mouth, breathed into it then smelled. With a nod of satisfaction, he strode towards her. “Welcome to Oro Verde, Miss Johnson. It is an absolute pleasure to meet you.”
Andi smiled, her blonde hair buffeted about her face by the backwash of the rotors. “Senor Hundretti?”
“Call me Joe.”
“Joe, I’m Andi.” Hands on hips, she took in her surroundings. “I’m looking forward to the tour.”
“Is this your first time at a mine?” The words dripped from his lips.
“An emerald mine, yes.”
“What qualifies you to come down here to look at our security?” Paulie demanded, his eyes running over her repeatedly.
She stopped, turned to him with a smile. “Mr…?”
“Zaputo. Paulie Zaputo.” He offered his hand. She did not shake it.
“Paulie has been in charge of security here for many years, Miss Johnson. He is very qualified and competent.” Joe’s eyes bounced from the stony face to her smiling one.
She moved to stand eye to eye with Zaputo. “My qualifications are that I was asked to come down here by the President of Cabochon Incorporated to review what is in place here. He has my resume. I would expect that you would be more than happy with that for now, and not question him or the senior management, at least not in that tone. If you want to see it, to reassure yourself that I might know my ass from a hole in the ground, please feel free to call him and ask for a copy of it.”
Joe pushed his way between them, smiling at Andi, turning his head to glare at Paulie. “Now, now. Enrico is on his way up here with the jeep. We can drive you back to the house so you can freshen up and perhaps rest before the tour? Treza will have a wonderful meal prepared as well for you. You must be tired from your trip.”
Andi turned her back on Zaputo. “That would be very nice, but I would prefer to walk, if that’s okay. I have been sitting for too long.”
Joe nodded, fanned his arm to the side, presenting the roadway they would walk down. “As you wish.”
“This is where you’ll be staying.” He pointed to a large two-storey home at the end of the street. “This is the foreman’s home… my home… but the top floor is prepared for visiting guests. I am sure you’ll find it most comfortable.”
Andi nodded. “I almost feel guilty staying in something so opulent… the staff houses are, well, some of them are in need of…”
Joe waved off her concern with a chuckle. “I have to keep them that way. The weather here is agreeable, so they suffer no harm. If I fix everything the minute they break it, they come to expect it, are careless, deliberately break the doors, the windows… this way they respect that they have to be careful with Cabochon property.”
He led her up the stairs; the door magically opened. A small girl stood on the other side, moving out of the way to allow entrance for the guests. Andi smiled down at her.
“Esmee will show you to where you will sleep.”
Enrico tossed Andi’s bags to the little girl, almost toppling her over in the process.
Esmee smiled valiantly, juggled to get a better hold. “Miss will please to follow me?”
As they started up the stairs, Andi’s hand found the little girl’s shoulder and rested there gently, but she said nothing until they had reached to top step. “Esmee, you speak English very well.”
The little girl beamed. “Thank you. I still have much to learn.” She opened a door then stood to the side to allow Andi through. The room was nicely appointed, as nice as any standard hotel room, but nothing more. A queen-sized bed with a beautiful hand-sewn quilt was front and center, with a dresser on one side, a desk on the other and a sitting area with a couch and two overstuffed chairs in front of the large picture window. It faced northwest, away from the town and the mine, but provided a view of the surrounding mountains and the majestic Sangay. “You can see the volcano from here. At night it is very boo… boo…”
Esmee nodded. “Yes.” She struggled to hoist the suitcases up onto the bed.
Andi reached out and helped her, smiling warmly and reassuringly at the girl to eliminate any thoughts that there would be repercussions for her lack of performance. “How old are you, Esmee?” Andi sat down on the edge of the bed and locked her eyes on the little girl. A thin face and long dark hair surrounded a pair of soft brown eyes.
Esmee thought for a moment, struggling with the numbers. She then counted her fingers, first in her own language then hesitatingly in English. “I am eight,” she finally announced proudly.
“Do you go to school, Honey?”
“No, Miss. There is no school here. My mother works in the house for Senor Hundretti and she teaches me when I am not working.”
Andi frowned slightly. “What other work do you do here?” She looked around her in an effort to coax the girl to talk. “The house is so clean and there is only one person living here. Senor Hundretti has no family here with him.”
Esmee beamed with pride. “I help with the laundry and the cooking. I help outside in the yard, I keep the fires lit and clean. I also do floors and I can even sew now.”
Andi laughed. “You are very talented and very smart, Esmee. Do you only do these things for Senor or does your family live here in the house as well?”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, no, Miss. We have our own home near where the heli… heli…”
“Helicopter?” Andi urged.
“Yes, near where the helicopter lands. We leave here after supper and come back in the morning to make breakfast for him and his company. Then we begin to clean up. We give Senor his…”
There was a knock at the door and the youngster’s eyes widened with fear. She ran to the door and opened it, trying to scoot through while avoiding the hand that she appeared to instinctively know was waiting to make contact with her. Joe’s hand found her ear and pushed her head into the doorframe. The child said nothing as she shook off the bump then ran down the hall.
“Dinner is ready. I must apologize for her. She forgets her place… often, but she is making some progress. I hope that she wasn’t too much of a nuisance.” Joe’s voice was smooth and condescending.
Andi pushed her way past him. “She was no bother at all. I like her. She’s sweet.”
Joe nodded. “We have a meal prepared in the dining room. I hope that you have a good appetite tonight. Treza is a very good cook.” He laughed and patted the slight bulge above his belt as if to offer proof. “I had thought of giving you a better tour of the camp but realize that perhaps you would rather have a soak in a tub and freshen up from your long trip. I believe that you are probably feeling the effects of the warmer climate, the higher elevation. That will drain you also.”
“I look forward to whatever Treza has created. After a meal I will be more than ready to see your camp.” She continued to smile. …You condescending prick.
“Very good.” He escorted her into the dining room, pulled out her chair. As she sat down, he politely pushed it towards the table. “Instead of drinks before we eat, I opted for wine with the meal. I hope that you approve.”
“That sounds wonderful.” She watched as the three men took their seats around her.
“I thought you would agree. You seem much too delicate, too classical to want anything other than wine.” A woman appeared and Joe nodded for her to fill the wine glasses. He went through the typical charade of smelling the cork, searching for the wine legs on the side of the glass as he swirled then sipping, rolling the liquid around in his mouth before acknowledging what a wonderful vintage it was. “This is from my own private reserve. I trust that you will find it exceptional.”
Andi raised one eyebrow then nodded. “I am sure I will.”