Monday, September 05, 2005

The Lucky Stiff Mine and Smelter, Or, the Consequences of Invading Paraguay


"I think - rather, I know - I escaped with my life," I said to Dad. It was the first time I actually admitted it. "I didn't have a plan except to market industrial equipment and chemicals. Little did I know I would be considered something weird - a spy or something -- especially after I doing market research."

"Asking questions, you mean," commented Dad. We were driving in his specially equipped Suburban and the frequency analyzer and other geophysical equipment clicked and hummed in a way I had come to consider comforting. The leather seats felt cool against the deep bruises that, two weeks later, still twinged.

"The worst part was when someone came up with the dumb idea that security contractors from Texas were in the country to pave the way for border countries to invade Paraguay and take over the supposedly oil-rich Chaco," I said.

"I thought they already fought one war of that, and there was no oil after all," said Dad.

"True enough. But, sometimes the truth doesn't matter. After all, there's oil to the south in Argentina, and oil and gas to the west in Bolivia," I said.

"It always amazes me how much political hay one can make by bandying about a ridiculous lie. Why would Argentina and Bolivia want to invade Paraguay at this moment in time?" pondered Dad.

As we made our way across the Nevada desert toward Tonopah, I looked at the mesquite, the thorny locust bushes, and saw a pair of lizards scamper away. This landscape echoed the Chaco, except in scale. The Chaco was wilder and more exotic, where everything was sharper, thornier, and more venomous. I remembered the grasshoppers that were easily as long as my hand. I took photos, knowing that no one would possibly believe me without evidence.

"Dad, I'm not political. I have no idea. I can't understand why anyone would even begin to contemplate invasion. People can make deals with each other, can't they? If they're talking about wanting to feed Brazil's insatiable hunger for energy, well, it seems easy enough for the governments to come up with some sort of agreement," I said.

"You've got a point. But, if someone can get someone important to believe the rumor mill, it could help advance someone's hidden agenda," pointed out Dad.

"I hate politics," I said. "It gives me a stomachache to think of this stuff."

"Yes, and your head in the sand approach is what caused you to play right into their hands. You asked questions, did what you considered to be very focused market research for your product lines, and you had absolutely no idea of how you'd be interpreted," said Dad.

"Give me some credit," I said.

"You've had a hard life, Ophelia," said Dad. "But not in a way that anyone would understand. It has not made you street smart. If anything, the things you study make you more vulnerable. Let's take your interest in Spanish literature."

"Ha," I had to laugh. "Sure. My Spanish vocabulary is impeccable. That is, if you're from 16th-century Spain and you love the Siglo de Oro theater."

"You probably sounded like an actor butchering Shakespeare," laughed Dad.

"Hey, that's not funny," I smiled. I frowned as I remembered the sound of footsteps on cobbled streets, the sound of AR-15s going "locked and loaded."

"Don't forget the Ambassador's little questionnaire and the statistics he wanted me to gather," I said. My bruises ached again. "What a nightmare. Why couldn't he ask the questions himself?"

We drove the next 50 or so miles in silence. The trip had involved a detour through Las Vegas, and a trek down the Extraterrestrial Highway, where I had spent a few days working on a survey with my brother. Tonopah was north, and the wind whipped the Suburban as we went through a narrow valley.

I took a deep breath.

"So, Dad. To make a long story short, I'm ready to give up that line of work."

"I thought you already did," said Dad, a bit suspiciously, I thought.

"Hmm, right." Organ pipe cactus and Joshua trees became larger as we ascended a pediment into a ragged end of a piece of the Basin and Range geological province. We were going to investigate the old Lucky Stiff mine and smelter to see if Dad's equipment could detect any undiscovered extensions of the veins of gold or mineralization. It also could help determine if there were commercial quantities of minerals left behind, previously considered unrecoverable.

"I'm ready to try the exploration business again. I'd like to continue to do research on historical mines and properties, like the Lucky Stiff."

"That's what I thought," said Dad. "I'm glad you're still wanting to do that. There is much more potential in this than what you were doing before."

"Well, I'm sorry about what I've put you and Mother through," I said. While I felt a sense of relief that I had escaped with only bruises, nightmares, and intrusive images of violence and gore, I knew that I was unable to fully divorce myself what it was that drove me to such business in the first place. And, to make things worse, I had a feeling Dad would take a dim view of Stanton, if the moment ever presented itself that I would introduce him.

A cold chill washed over me, and I watched goose bumps rise up on my arms as I thought of Stanton and the way he kissed me in South Florida.