Luc O’Neil was lost.
He wasn’t particularly worried.
His cell phone wouldn’t work down in the labyrinth nine hundred feet below the frozen layer of earth, but the homing device required of everyone entering the mine was glowing bright green. The pipe, the vein of rock that contained the diamonds, was a reasonably rich one. Nothing exceptional but productive, small, brown gems that would go mainly into industrial tools and the vast stockpile of the Russian diamond monopoly Alorosa, which in turn sold its holdings to DeBeers.
Twenty percent of all diamonds mined worldwide were from Russia and all of the mines, Luc knew, were located in Siberia. If they dared, which they would not do because there would be no profit in it, Alorosa could challenge DeBeers and flood the market with relatively inexpensive diamonds of all quality levels. It was a standing, unspoken suicidal threat, a doomsday scenario for the diamond market. The price paid by
the world for diamonds allowed Russia a preferred seat at the table.
The value of diamonds, as Luc knew, was not dependent on their rarity, but on the ability of the diamond cartel to control their flow and price. Luc was well aware that diamonds are nothing but pieces of compressed carbon found not only in Siberia but in Botswana, Australia, South Africa, and, to a smaller degree, all over the planet.
But production was down in this mine. Or at least that was what Luc had been told. His job was to find out if the mine was so tapped out that it would not pay to keep it operating.
Luc was a geologist with a good underground sense of direction. But if that failed him, he could always follow the dull yellow lights that glowed indifferently every fifty yards or so on the jagged walls of the tunnel.
He was contracted with and well paid by the Canadian company that owned a piece of this operation. And so, screw ’em. He had a job to do, plain and simple. He would get it done and get out of here, e-mail his report to London, let DeBeers deal with it, and get the hell back to Toronto. Luc had missed his son’s birthday only two months ago, when he was in Australia. Collette had not bothered to reproach him. What was the point? Let the boy know what kind of father he had, she had said. Well, she was right. Luc scanned
the walls for signs. He had been doing this for a decade. He didn’t have to think about what he was looking for. It either felt right or it didn’t. The diamond sense was a part of him. He was a human detector.
Dobson had told Luc he had been selected because he had more experience in this sort of thing. What sort of thing? Going into underground diamond mines, finding out why production was down, and determining if the mines were finally tapped out?
Dobson was at a surface mine in Botswana. Hundreds of thousands of tons of fickle rock did not threaten above Dobson’s head.
Dobson could get to Capetown in less than three hours from even the most distant company mine in Southern Africa. There were places in Capetown, good food, warm beds, and warmer women ranging from pale, ghostly white to dark, smooth ebony. And then Dobson would be stopping to meet with diamond cutters in Tel Aviv where, in spite of the slight threat of suicide bombers, he would stay overnight in a luxury suite in the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel. Luc, on the other hand, would spend the night in a visitor’s room in the four-story concrete block that housed the mine’s middle-management workers here in Devochka.
Luc knelt next to the wall to his right. He had insisted on coming this way, even climbing over the dust-covered yellow machinery and down the slight incline. There was a feel of something this way.
His guide, an old night-duty mine watchman, Boris Antonovich, had told him that this shaft needed shearing up. Boris, tall, sullen, hulking, and bearded would not have been Luc’s choice as a guide, but Boris had one advantage. He could speak a little French.
Luc had not even bothered to answer when Boris issued his warning about the shaft. The geologist had simply gone down the tunnel, examining the walls, taking samples, seeing nothing of great interest, going deeper and deeper, farther and farther. And then he had noticed that Boris was not behind him.
Probably back there sulking because Luc had come this way instead of to the tunnel to the right that Boris had suggested.
"This is an old shaft," Boris had said. "It’s not worked anymore."
Luc had known this.
"It is dangerous," Boris had said.
"Danger is relative," Luc answered.
"Physical danger is absolute."
A Russian philosopher in Siberia. Just what Luc needed.
in," Luc had said.
Boris had shrugged and shook his head.
The large tunnel was arched, with a craggy roof and wall and an even, flat floor. Rubber-reinforced trucks, with beds that could hold 10,000 tons of ore, had ample room to rumble into the darkness at the end of the yellow tunnel.
Boris’s arguments for not going into this particular shaft were very persuasive, but not in the way the Russian desired. The more Boris warned, the more determined Luc had been to go this way. In a battle of wills between a Russian and a Canadian, the man with the money and the gun will always win. Luc had a gun.
Luc was no fool. He had started carrying the weapon at first because of the stories others had told about being threatened, attacked. Rumor was that an Australian geologist who worked for the company had been beaten to death at a mine site in the Outback.
Luc, on his third trip to a site, had been attacked by a black mine worker in Namibia. The man was tall, lean, his open shirt revealing taut muscles, his face revealing rage, his mouth spewing, cracking with a babble of language Luc didn’t understand.
In the man’s right hand had been a rock. He had run at Luc, who was aware of voices, dark faces behind the man with the rock. Luc had fired. Once. The lean man fell to his knees, still looking at Luc, still babbling. The lean man didn’t die. He had attacked Luc because he was the only white man present. He had attacked Luc because the man’s wife had died and the man didn’t have enough money to bury her properly. He blamed the mine, the humming, dark, maddening tunnels. He blamed the managers, the vague sense of the mine’s white owners.
The doctor who operated on the crazed man to remove the bullet told Luc that his patient’s babbling had been a rant ending with, "It is alive. It breathes. It waits."
So Luc carried a small but effective gun in the leather bag over his shoulder.
He knelt. He looked. He focused his laser flashlight on the wall in front of him. Someone had covered a four-foot section of the wall with dirt that almost matched the rest of the wall. Most people wouldn’t have noticed.
Luc rubbed at the dirt-covered wall, took out a chemical spray, and washed a section. Even before the spray finished its work, Luc could see what had been hidden, a wooden panel about three-feet square. The panel had been carefully covered with chips of rock and dirt to simulate the surrounding wall.
Luc removed the panel and placed it against the tunnel wall. Then he shined his light inside a cave that extended about six feet into the rock. Luc crawled into the cave, coughed, and examined the walls around him.
He could see immediately. He needed no tests. An untrained eye would see nothing. Luc saw everything. He chipped away a small outcrop to his right, just above his head. Bits of rock rained down on his head and back. He examined the rocky ore in his hand
and decided. It was, if he were not mistaken, a reasonably rich outcropping.
Considering the size of the cave and the quality of what he had in his hand, Luc concluded that someone had removed millions of rubles worth of uncut jewelry-quality diamonds from the—
Someone was singing.
Luc, still holding the rock sample, crawled back out of the small cave and took out his gun. He sat with his back against the tunnel wall and listened.
It sounded like the voice of a child, a child singing in Russian in a beautiful, clear voice that echoed sweetly through the tunnel, a funereal cathedral echo.
The voice was coming closer.
Luc got to his feet, dropped the rock into his case, and ripped the filter mask from his face.
The tunnel lights went out.
Luc was not a whimpering baby. He had served in the army, saw combat in Bosnia, had his share and more of barroom fights. Someone was playing games in the darkness. Fine, he would play too.
Luc turned on his flashlight and aimed it down the tunnel. The child’s voice came closer and Luc could see a flickering light heading toward him, casting shadows on the tunnel walls.
He waited, cursing his heavy breathing.
It was definitely the voice of a child, singing a Russian song he thought he had heard before.
"Who are you?" he called out, his voice determined, strong, echoing.
The child kept singing.
Then she appeared. Alone. Small. Hair brushed down, dark, streaming over her shoulders and down the front of her white, white dress. In her left hand was a lamp, an old oil mining lamp, a kind that, Luc was certain, had never been used down here.
The child stopped. She was no longer singing.
Luc could see no one behind her.
The diamond thieves probably thought he wouldn’t shoot a child. Maybe they were right. But there had to be adults not far behind her. He could simply walk past her, gun in hand, at the ready, and make his way back down the tunnel.
Did they know he had a gun?
Did they know he had found the small cave?
And where the hell was Boris?
The child smiled at him showing unexpectedly clean and even small white teeth. Russians did not have clean, even white teeth, not even the children.
Luc inched his way along the wall looking for trouble, ready for trouble, deciding not to send a warning shot into the darkness, deciding not to let them know he had a gun.
He was even with the child now. She had watched him move along the wall, scraping his head on the jagged rocky surface. She couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old. The light from the lamp in her hand cast shadows on her face, her eyes showing clear and blue.
She looked at his gun and kept smiling.
A sound down the shaft. Luc turned his flashlight toward it. There was nothing there. He sensed a scuffling, turned the light back to where the girl had been standing. She was gone. He aimed the beam toward the cave he had uncovered. The girl was standing before it, her lamp now held low. The shadows had turned her face hooded and skull- like.
Luc was afraid, undecided. Should he leave her and run? Should he shoot her? Should he take her hand and lead her out of
No. He couldn’t bring himself to touch her.
The hell with it. He hoped he had enough bullets for whoever was waiting in the black oblivion. He turned his back on the girl, aimed his flashlight toward wherever disaster was lurking, and took a step.
Behind him the girl started to sing again.
It struck him in the dark of a diamond mine in Siberia that he had never heard his five- year-old son sing. Luc wondered if he ever would.
Excerpted from People Who Walk in Darkness by Stuart M. Kaminsky
Copyright © 2008 Double Tiger Productions, Inc.
Published in August 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.