After years of stultifying office work, Joseph Wiley will try anything to get rich in a hurry. He’s hustled all kinds of products, but each venture has left him deeper in debt, chained tighter to his office desk. When his latest moneymaker goes up in smoke, Wiley doesn’t even bother to quit his job. He takes every cent he has to the airport and flies south, landing in Colombia, where he will make his millions—or lose his life.
In the mountains of Colombia, even an amateur can make a mint digging for emeralds, but an all-powerful syndicate, the Concession, controls the gems. Wiley and his new partner, heiress Lillian Holbrook, play a dangerous, double-crossing game with the Concession and its watchdogs because, for different reasons, they’re both willing to risk everything for the brilliant green stones.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Gerald A. Browne
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Pulse Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Nothing more than that from the looks of them. They had bedrolls and backpacks, with canteens and cooking pans dangling behind, clunking. One had on a bright blue sweater. Another wore a yellow, orange, green patterned poncho, known as a ruana. They certainly were not trying to go unnoticed.
Five hikers in a line, picking the easiest way down. The slope was so steep they had to traverse back and forth, and it was covered entirely with long grass in neat overlapping layers that seemed to resent being disturbed, retaliated by causing the hikers to slip.
From where they were, the town of Chiquinquirá should have been in sight. Only three miles away. However, an early morning mist lay like a silvery lid over the mountain basin the town occupied. The surrounding Andean peaks and snowfields were decapitated by a high haze. In the clear between the sky mist and the ground haze the hikers felt caught, pressed. There was the urge to give in to the pitch of the slope, to hurry by sliding straight down. Instead, they kept their nerve, patiently zigzagged, and finally, after nearly half an hour, they reached bottom, where the sharp angle of the slope met another similar, forming a wedgelike trough. Easier going then, much less of an incline. The hikers made better time, were encouraged, nearly sure. Chiquinquirá soon. When they got there they would have time to spare. The train to Bogotá wasn't scheduled until two. They planned to split up, go sightseeing, shop around for religious mementos, relax in a park or at a table at a cantina. Do ordinary things. They wouldn't be with one another again until Bogotá.
By now the sun had won out over the haze and was burning away the mist. The hikers made shadows which preceded them, evaded their steps, led them on down the mountain trough to a road. Raw dirt, rain-holed and rutted, it just barely qualified as a road, was not even acknowledged on local maps. Created merely by use, it had perhaps once been a route for the Spaniards to and from the mines.
The hikers didn't intend to take the road. They would cross over and continue more directly down to the town.
They didn't see the jeep until they were crossing, out in the open. It was parked off to the side, less than a hundred feet away, nearly concealed by bushes. Four soldiers were standing near the jeep, casually, as though waiting. Three of them carried automatic rifles; the other was a Lieutenant.
There was the shout to halt.
The hikers obeyed.
Three of the soldiers walked over to them, took separate positions around. Then the Lieutenant came over. He was taller than any of his men. His uniform was wrinkled and there were wine spots on his shirt, but his Lieutenant bars were polished.
Lieutenant Costas. He appeared indifferent while actually scrutinizing the hikers with experienced eyes.
Three young men, a young woman and an older man. He decided they probably weren't carrying weapons, although he wasn't sure about the one wearing the ruana.
"What were you doing up there?" Lieutenant Costas asked the older hiker.
"For how many days?"
"You were reported seen up there two weeks ago."
"Perhaps it really has been that long. It is healthy to lose track of time."
The Lieutenant agreed. "Show me your identity."
Papers were handed over. The Lieutenant glanced at a photograph of the man he was facing. He read the accompanying name aloud: "Professor Julio Santos."
"Are you related to Senator Santos?"
"He is a cousin."
"Then, no doubt you had official permission."
"You have my word, Lieutenant, we are an expedition from the university. These are students." Professor Santos spoke evenly, in a tone that conveyed understanding for a man performing his duty.
The Lieutenant appraised the students. The girl was pretty. They all appeared frightened. From being at gunpoint. That was natural.
"I will be spending some time with my cousin next Sunday," the Professor said.
Lieutenant Costas yawned without bothering to cover his mouth. He'd gotten up at dawn for this. If it hadn't been for that imposition, perhaps ...
"We must search you," he said.
Professor Santos continued to be mild-mannered.
"Surely you do not want to cause us to miss the twelve o'clock train to Bogotá."
"Two o'clock," the Lieutenant corrected.
Professor Santos removed his backpack. So did the others. They placed the packs together on the ground and moved aside. Two of the soldiers went through the packs. A dutiful, rather than methodical search, although they did feel into the toes of shoes and unroll pairs of socks. They found that most of what the packs contained was food. Soon they had everything strewn about.
The Lieutenant reprimanded them for their carelessness, but possibly that was not really why he was angry.
His temper distracted the men, made them nervous, so they were not as thorough with their search as they could have been. They gathered the hikers' belongings into a pile and began stuffing them back into the packs.
The Lieutenant told them to forget that, to search the hikers.
Pockets were emptied. Legs were frisked all the way up, also arms, waists, backs and fronts. The girl, too, was searched in that manner. The soldiers took longer with her. Ignoring the protests of Professor Santos and the other hikers, they felt and handled her all over.
At first she just stood there, eyes set, body rigid, allowing it. But then, she reacted, pulled away, and when the soldiers tried to get their hands on her again, she clawed at them.
The Lieutenant wondered why the girl hadn't struggled at the start. Could it be she'd had a second thought, decided it would be more convincing if she put up a fight?
No matter. Suspicions were worthless. Nothing had been found.
Let them go catch their train.
At that moment a canteen slipped from where it had been precariously placed atop the piled contents of the packs. As it landed on the road it rattled in an unusual way.
The hikers made a move toward their belongings.
Lieutenant Costas snapped at them to stay as they were. He picked up the canteen, shook it.
He unscrewed the cap, inverted the canteen. Water flowed out and through his fingers. Eight green stones dropped into the cup of his hand.
Uncut emeralds. Each about the size of his index finger from first knuckle to tip.
Lieutenant Costas held one up to his right eye, up to the sun, sighted through it, saw a hint of the clear, brilliant green that lay within the rough stone. He approved with a sort of high-pitched humming grunt.
The soldiers were more alert now, rifles up.
The Lieutenant himself searched through everything again. He tore apart a partial loaf of corn bread to find twelve emeralds. A bag of dried prunes—fifteen prunes. Each contained an emerald instead of a pit. Four bars of homemade soap were broken open to reveal emeralds stuck inside. And there were more of the precious stones hidden in the other canteens.
Finally, Lieutenant Costas was satisfied that there were no more emeralds in any of the packs. He ordered the hikers—poachers now—to remove their clothes. They did as told. Their clothes were piled in the middle of the road. The Lieutenant set fire to them. He used rocks to knock the heels from their boots and made sure the boots didn't have false toe compartments. When the clothes were reduced to ashes, the Lieutenant got a forked stick, which he used to scratch and rake. Flakes of burned fabric were stirred to float up and then down upon him, flecking his back and shoulders. He didn't notice. He was preoccupied with the pleasure of finding eighteen more uncut emeralds among the ashes. They were hot. He poked them out of the ashes and poured water on them, causing a puff and a sizzle but no steam. He picked them up, placed them with the others he'd collected in his officer's cap.
The poachers, while they were being more and more exposed, had to stand there naked. They didn't seem to mind that. Rather than allowing it to humiliate them, they used their nakedness to communicate defiance. They stood straight and still, arms at sides, eyes level. It was more difficult for the girl, of course. She felt shame. But she knew it was better for her to keep still, that any movement, even as slight and innocent as shifting her weight, would only increase the attention the soldiers were already paying her. She covered herself with thoughts of times past in safe, pleasant places. A young man named Miguel.
The poachers thought next they would be questioned. They readied their minds for that. However, Lieutenant Costas walked by them without a word, went and sat alone in the jeep.
He had kept count of the emeralds, believed he knew how many there were: eighty-two. He counted again and was pleased to find he'd been wrong. Eighty-seven. He placed the cap containing the emeralds on the seat next to him. Chewed at his thumbnail to help him think.
These people he'd caught, they were not esmeralderos—the sort who spent full time after emeralds, stealing, killing for them. They didn't have that in their eyes or ways. These people weren't carrying weapons, not even knives. The moment he'd found the emeralds in the canteen, an esmeraldero would have begun bargaining, offering to split with him, then offering all, then trying to bluff his way out of it by claiming there were many more emeralds where these had come from, promising unlimited wealth. No, these people were novicios, inexperienced, but not without cleverness. Concealing the stones in the prunes, for example. An esmeraldero would never have thought of such a thing. Neither would an esmeraldero have hidden stones in a canteen. Such an obvious place he had almost overlooked it today. What were these three young men, and the older man, and the girl? Five together. Esmeralderos worked alone or at most in pairs. Because it was difficult enough for one man to trust just one other man when it came to emeralds.
Lieutenant Costas noticed the sooty particles on the shoulders of his shirt. He tried to brush them off, but that smudged them into the fabric, looked dirtier. He was scheduled for a four-day leave starting tomorrow. He would have some shirts made.
As for that older man, the one who claimed he was a professor, no need to worry about him. He was no more a cousin of Senator Santos than he was a mere hiker, Lieutenant Costas thought.
Thought of his choices.
He could place the poachers under arrest, take them in for prosecution. He'd have to turn the evidence, all the emeralds, over to his commanding officer, who, if in a rare honest mood, might see that they were passed on to their legal owner: The Concession.
Or he could release the poachers, keep the emeralds for himself. Not even report the incident. Perhaps the poachers would be so grateful they would forget it happened, especially forget what he looked like. But would his men never mention it to anyone?
There was the other way to deal with it.
He called the soldiers over to the jeep one at a time. Gave them instructions and two emeralds each, two of the smallest ones. He had thought of giving them three but changed his mind at the last moment.
The men were glad to get anything. Their service pay was only a hundred pesos a month, about four dollars. The emeralds would bring ten times that from the local undercover dealer, who specialized in buying stones from enlisted men. He paid very little but never questioned.
The Lieutenant would turn in forty stones when he made his report. That would leave him forty- one to sell to a connection in Bogotá. Someone he did such business with regularly, could trust. God help him, though, if The Concession ever found him out. The mere thought made his stomach contract. Anyway, his men were now conspirators. And they also knew the penalty.
For a better view the Lieutenant stood up in the jeep, leaned forward against the top of the windshield, at ease.
One of the soldiers used the barrel of his rifle to force the girl aside. Then, facing the others, the soldiers took solid stances and pulled.
They fired in bursts, spraying point-blank. The poachers absorbed many bullets after they were already dead. They lay in contorted positions, extremities twitching.
The girl couldn't scream. She doubled over and vomited.
The soldiers waited until she was no longer retching. The Lieutenant had suggested she might have more emeralds hidden. If so, the men could have them.
They didn't feel any.
When they had each taken a turn with her, the first who'd had her wanted her again.
She never struggled. They demanded that she move, but she might as well have been dead.
Within minutes, she was.CHAPTER 2
In New York City that December morning, Joseph A. Wiley sat at his practically impervious desk.
It wasn't his desk, really, and he took care never to refer to it as his. He always called it the desk. "I left the marketing recommendations on the desk." He had the same attitude toward that portion of space where he was now, on the thirty-second floor. It was the office rather than his. No matter that the plastic nameplate outside, just to the left of the door, permanently said Joseph Wiley. It was in a metal bracket that would allow it to be removed at any second.
In the office there was also the swivel chair, upholstered in one kind of plastic and situated so it rolled about on a clear sheet of a harder kind to save the wall-to-wall carpet. The lithograph of a landscape that couldn't possibly offend or delight, the inevitable dying split-leaf rhododendron, and the ashtray stolen from Lutèce.
Wiley often ignored the ashtray, placed his lighted cigarettes on the edge of the desk. When a forgotten cigarette burned all the way down and out, it caused only a tarry residue that aggravated Wiley's smoker's guilt until wiped away. The desk's defiant veneer, Wiley knew, was also unaffected by coffee, vodka, and anger.
It was employee-proof.
Wiley had known more than his share of such desks. He'd had nine jobs in the past twelve years. Nine, not counting those he'd moonlighted. He'd worked at: two advertising, one real estate, two public relations, one insurance, two networks and a talent. All on the semimanagement level in the $20,000- to $40,000-a-year range.
Not once had Wiley been fired. Each employer had wanted him to stay on. Every time he'd gone after a new job, he'd landed it.
It helped that he doctored up his résumé, made up for any blank spots, amputated a job here, a job there. Stretched dates so his employment past appeared to have flowed nicely without too much jumping around, so they wouldn't say right off that something had to be wrong with him. If that was lying, Wiley reasoned it was for their benefit as much as his. He was merely shaping and presenting his history as they would want it. To match the way he looked.
That was it. His looks. He looked good. Doing business depended more on that than anyone wanted to admit. First impression was often first consideration. It was more pleasant to have confidence in a good-looking man; he was easier for a client to like. And if that man just happened to have ability, he was practically unbeatable.
Early enough, Wiley came to realize this value was the soft underbelly of the hard business world. And that was where he chose to cut it.
He wasn't too handsome. Strong, slightly imperfect features. There were those who said he reminded them of Paul Newman, though he didn't have Newman's blue eyes. Wiley's eyes were a variegated green, close to a deep forest shade. He still had all his hair, and it was still dark except at the temples. Looked his age. Forty-two. Squint lines. He was six feet exactly, with shoes on, and his weight was never more than a few pounds above or below one seventy-five.
Excerpted from Green Ice by Gerald A. Browne. Copyright © 1978 Pulse Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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