Black Diamonds

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


The saga of a "Captain of Industry" from Hamburg, Germany.

Submitted: December 14, 2017

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Submitted: December 14, 2017

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Black Diamonds

 

The revolver lays hard and cold in his hand. The weight of thirty four turbulent years seems to pull it to his temple. Sorrow and guilt move his finger. He ponders on what brought him to this moment.

A single shot rings out through the harsh night...

*

Rain and sleet pour from the stony sky, but a fire burns in the grim streets of Hamburg. The source of these flames but is a man, and a young man at that. He has long envisioned a way to escape the cold walls of Hamburg, and the ghosts they contain within. His egress has finally arrived, salvation in the form of a ship; a ticket for Dar es Salaam, East Africa. With the last of his money spent on this ticket, there would be no turning back.

A crisply uniformed sailor takes his ticket, and inquires, “Name, sir?”

“Jakob Heftig”, the passenger answers.

As Mr. Heftig boards the gray, somber vessel, he takes a last glimpse at the city, which had so long been a home, and a prison. Though dreary, in the eyes of Mr. Heftig the Kaiserin Sofie is far more palatial than any home of the monarch she is named after. She alone has the power to enable him to begin his life anew. The drone of the ship’s foghorn seems like the bugle ushering in a new day, not only for himself, but for the world.

*

A month and twelve thousand kilometers later, the Kaiserin Sofia docks in Dar es Salaam Harbor. Bright, warm turquoise water greet the sea-weary crew and passengers, a thousand voices in a hundred different tongues greet their ears. Though the town was tropical and friendly--in appearance at least--a certain tenseness is apparent. German soldiers in their Prussian Bleu keep hands on their Mauser Rifles, warily eyeing the surrounding natives. Beyond the stern eyes of the German warships in the harbor, natives scowl at the German Flag flying above them.

Mr. Heftig bids farewell to his Angel of Delivery, and walks down the gangplank, the very same by which he boarded the Kaiserin. When he first entered the vessel that gray day in Hamburg, he was a poor man with little future in any career.  As he walks through the lively city, passing baskets of mangoes, bananas, and pineapple, mounds of spices, and the occasional diamond, he realizes the vast potential in this new land.

Entering the local branch of the Bank of Hamburg, he acquires a loan for rubber tapping, not without difficulty, (rubber tapping in those days was a very risky business). The process is greatly smoothed by the arrival of a Bank of Hamburg employee that Heftig had conversed with frequently aboard the Kaiserin Sofia by the name of Mr. Otto Brünner. Mr. Brünner had been very impressed with Mr. Heftig’s drive and convinces the manager to carry out the loan.

*

Newfound money in hand, Mr. Heftig arranged for several carts filled with equipment necessary for rubber tapping (a process where the bark is stripped from part of a Rubber Tree, upon which a white sap flows forth. This sap is known as latex, and is used in a variety of products). As was the practice of the day, he also hires several poor natives to help him with this labor.

They set out towards jungle near the tiny village of Tanga, whereupon they began to tap for rubber. The rubber flows freely, and soon, several buckets are filled. Mr. Heftig pays his labourers well, knowing himself what it is like to be impoverished. The original five labourers swell to twenty, then thirty, and as the rubber flows, so does the monetary income.

Within six months of his arrival, Heftig hires a fellow German to maintain the Tanga plantation and expands his rubber operations to another location halfway across German East Africa. This location, unlike Tanga, is populated by an indigenous tribe. Mr. Heftig forces the tribe to work tapping rubber, albeit with ample pay and leave.

Now with rubber plantations in two locations, Mr. Heftig expands even further, setting up a location near the village of Iringa. The British Rubber Company, founded in 1867 in India, had sent agents to Iringa in order to expand their operations, and immediately came into conflict with Mr. Heftig’s rapidly growing company. Mr. Heftig hired natives to burn the BRC’s trees and damage their tapping equipment. However, Heftig’s natives were so terrified by BRC’s Indian workers (they had never seen an Indian before) that they attacked the workers. Mr. Heftig intervened, but not before several were killed.

In the uproar that followed the deaths, Mr. Heftig was brought to trial in Dar es Salaam. Of course, both the Judge and the Jury had been heavily bribed by Mr. Heftig’s subordinates and by his ally in the Bank of Hamburg, Mr. Brünner; and Heftig was swiftly acquitted. This far along on his path to wealth, Mr. Heftig could not tolerate any barriers in his way.

*

Like a great Octopus, Mr. Heftig’s Company took more plantations in German East Africa, then reached out to Kameroon, another German Colony. With Plantations across the continent, Mr. Heftig decided that it was time to enter the lucrative, yet dangerous, Diamond Industry.

He personally opened mines in German Southwest Africa, hiring the best mining engineers of the day. Although diamonds were soon found in the mines, there was nowhere near the quantity nor quality of diamonds found in mines farther west, in Kimberley, and De Beers. These mines had turned pauper into Prince, and nearly crashed the global diamond market by the sheer quantity of diamonds. These mines created men such as the mighty Cecil Rhodes, the “Colossus” of Africa.

In these dusty, arid camps, wealth would be created and destroyed, and great powers would clash.

*

Boarding a train from his Company Headquarters in Dar es Salaam, Mr. Heftig set his course for the Mines at Kimberley. Here resided the famed Cecil Rhodes, owner of the British South Africa Company, and one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Heftig knew that blood would be shed if he bought a share in Kimberley without Rhodes’ approval. However, Rhodes was famously unkeen to allow others to buy shares, especially not a rival, like Heftig. More so, Heftig was a German and Rhodes was, as well a businessman, the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, a British territory. Mr. Heftig would need to use all of his charm and tact in order to acquire a share.

As he strode into Rhodes’ handsomely furnished office, he noticed the extreme wealth exhibited there. A 64 carat diamond served idly as a paperweight, a Lion skin as a rug. The windows were made from the finest imported Venetian Glass, the chairs of night-like Ebony. In the chair behind the elaborate sandalwood desk sat a man at the midpoint of his life and the peak of his power, one who was used to things going his way, and one who ate the equivalent of a miner’s weekly income for dinner.

Settling into the fine ebony seat twin to the one in which sat Cecil Rhodes. Leaning forwards in his chair, Mr. Heftig fixed his his piercing gray eyes on Rhodes and, speaking in heavily accented English (Rhodes did not speak German), said:

“Would you allow Heftig Industries to acquire a share in the Kimberley Mine Company?”

At this Rhodes’ eyes shrunk in shrewd calculations; Mr. Heftig became very aware of the man to his left with a revolver in his hand and a bandolier strung across his chest.

“And why would that be?” inquired Rhodes. “Don’t you have your own mines in Southwest Africa?”

Of course Heftig was unable to reveal the failings in his mines. That would leave him open to hundreds of business sabotages. In the great Game that is business, one must often wait until the perfect opportunity to strike. In this moment Heftig would bide his time, and complete his job.

Standing up, Heftig inclined his head to Rhodes and respectfully said, “Sir, it appears I have little to offer you currently and must leave”.

Sneering, Rhodes said, “Remember, I control Southern Africa, and no Fritz from the slums of Hamburg can take it away from me. If you come back in here, you will be shot on sight. Now leave!”

At this the bodyguard fired a shot into the floor directly behind Heftig, causing him to leap in alarm. Rhodes laughed in mockery.

Though he left the office defeated, Heftig would not forget how he had been slighted. Rhodes had made a very dangerous enemy.

*

After this incident, Mr Heftig resolved to bring down Rhodes, while building his own company up. For this, he hired his longtime ally, Otto Brünner, from the powerful Bank of Hamburg. Mr. Brünner was very experienced in the art of covert bribery, and together the two Germans hatched a scheme.

Brünner would pay an exorbitant amount to stockholder of Kimberley on Rhodes’ payroll, who would then transfer his stocks to Mr. Brünner, who would act as a secret agent of Heftig.

However, this plan proved difficult to achieve, as all of the major stockholders were skittish, and rightly so. Rhodes was known to be very harsh to ‘traitors’.

Fearing for his life, Heftig left Africa and resolved to hurt Rhodes at his source: Europe. He left Brünner in charge of mining operations in German Southwest Africa and decided to build factories and refinement plants in Germany itself, in order to further compete with Rhodes. Heftig boarded a ship to Hamburg--first class this time. Once in Hamburg, he bought a mansion and joined the city aristocracy. Here he met his wife, Eva Hoffman, from a wealthy merchant family. Here he raised his two sons, Leopold and August.

While Heftig led a comfortable life in Hamburg, the situation in Africa was very different. Brünner had, in Heftig’s absence, taken over the rubber plantations, and now wielded immense power.

Due to fierce competition in the rubber and diamond industries, Brünner used severe punishments and slavelike conditions to squeeze as much as possible out of his completely native African laborers. He cut their wages, and created quotas for every day. If a laborer failed to meet their quota, they could lose their hand to Brünner’s overseers. The laborers would sometimes not receive food for days, especially in the mines.

With word of the atrocities slowly spreading, Cecil Rhodes sought to strike such a blow to Heftig Industries that it could never recover. For the last several years, Rhodes and his De Beers Company had been constantly harassed by gunmen hired by Brünner. With none of the regard for men’s lives that Heftig always displayed in his business ventures, Brünner sent the gunmen (largely French and German) to kill workers and steal raw diamonds.

To end these attacks, Rhodes hired a well-known reporter for the largest British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph (which was owned by one of Rhodes’ childhood friends), to publish a scathing article about the atrocities committed by the Heftig Company. This, hopefully, would lead to the demise of the company--and of Rhodes’ largest competition in Africa. The reporter also happened to be the only son of his late sister, Marie Rhodes Faulkner, who had died in a house-fire several years past.

With Rhodes’ money in his pocket, the reporter, James Faulkner, boarded a ship for the town of Luderitz, German Southwest Africa. It was near Luderitz that reports of atrocities were the most prevalent. Posing as a diamond engineer looking for work, Faulkner was able to witness emaciated natives whipped for failing to secure their daily quota. He witnessed European engineers dining on imported foods in front of a crowd of hunched natives, ribs nearly cutting through their skin. In a rubber plantation in Kameroon, he watched as a laborer’s hand was cut off for failing his quota for the fourth time. In the plantation at Tanga, where the Company was founded, he watched a laborer shot for loudly demanding food for himself and his fellows (they had not had food in a week).

Eventually, Faulkner’s snooping became known to Brünner, who sent a small force of mercenaries to catch him, kill him, and bury him in an unmarked grave. Such was Brünner’s avarice that he was prepared to kill to keep his position in the Company.

Soon, Faulkner was on the run, spurring his horse through the plains of southwestern German East Africa, with Brünner’s mercenaries not far behind. His goal, Northern Rhodesia, a territory that was a literal fief of his uncle, Rhodes. Even Brünner’s mercenaries wouldn’t dare to cross the border, as it could leave to outright war between Rhodes and the Heftig Company.

Approaching a small stream, Faulkner heard a shot a thousand feet behind him. His pulse quickened rapidly, and he began to sweat profusely, as he realized that this might be the end, that he might die here, in the midst of the savannah. Leaping his horse over the stream and charging up a craggy bluff, he heard a shot in front of him. His fears seemed confirmed; had he been surrounded?

When he cleared the crest, he saw of group of men in sun-faded clothing, wide-brim hats, and in their hands, guns, which they clearly were experienced using and were firing...behind him!

Bullets sprayed around him, kicking up plumes of soil; it appeared that he was caught in a crossfire, with Brünner’s mercenaries firing to kill him, and Rhodes’ mercenaries firing to protect him.

With death on either side, Faulkner remembered a scene on a dusty slope at Mafeking, during the Second Boer War. Here too, stray bullets created fountains of dust, while many others struck their targets, dropping the scarlet-coated British where they stood, stark against the sandy ground.

So consumed was Faulkner with this flashback, that he barely comprehended his reaching the line of his protectors. So dazed was he from his near miss with Death that he had to be forcibly pulled down from his horse so that he would not be shot by Brünner’s mercenaries.

Once Brünner’s mercenaries had cleared the crest, they paused, realizing that Faulkner was now safe. The two groups watched each other, hands tensely gripping rifles; it seemed that all Hell was about to break loose. Suddenly, the leader of Brünner’s mercenaries shouted a command in German, and they wheeled their horses around and retreated, leaving Faulkner in the hands of their enemy. For now, he was safe.

*

Boarding a ship at Cape Town, Faulkner returned to London armed with his findings. Upon reaching his London office, he immediately began to write his article, working around the clock to complete it. Within a week it was completed and published in the Telegraph. Within little time, the news spread far beyond London. The scandal was one of the few topics discussed in the fashionable Paris salóns, even replacing the Dreyfus Affair as the largest talking point. In New York City, groups of businessmen would discuss it as they walked down Wall Street. Bureaucrats in Moscow changed Russian Trade Agreements because of it.

Back in Dar es Salaam, Brünner grew extremely worried. He feared that he would be fired by Heftig and lose everything he had built for himself. In his paranoia, he decided that the the best and only thing that he could do was to silence Faulkner once and for all, even though the news of the atrocities was irreversibly spread.

Rhodes, sitting in Kimberley, watched in pleasure as Heftig Company stock fell; he complimented himself and Faulkner on a job well done. In Dar es Salaam, Brünner boarded a ship for Hamburg to assist Heftig in saving the drowning Company, but in actuality in order to direct the murder of Faulkner. Faulkner, in London, attended lavish galas celebrating his success and that of the Telegraph. Traveling hectically around Europe, Heftig met personally with his largest stockholders and financial allies, barely holding the Company together. Their paths would intersect once again, this time tragically.

*

Brünner arrived in Hamburg, whereupon he immediately headed for the Heftig Company Headquarters. Unaware that Brünner was the source of the atrocities, Heftig placed him in charge of the factories and refining plants in Germany. Heftig himself had decided to return to Africa for the first time in sixteen years, with a task to repair the Company from the evil it had suffered during his absence. In order to watch Brünner, Heftig left his wife and two sons. At his departure for Dar es Salaam, he bid farewell to his family. The four of them wept at the destruction of the life they had built together. They all knew that from that day forth, everything would change. Heftig’s task would prove to be of Herculean proportions and he would not return the same man.

While Heftig was departing for Africa, Brünner was walking through the darkest slums of Hamburg. Here he could find men who knew how to fire a gun, men desperate enough to kill for pay.

At Brünner’s home in Hamburg, the hired killers were given expensive clothing so as not to stand out in the Business Section of London. They were also given revolvers, small enough to fit under a jacket without raising any scepticism. Lastly, they were each given a two way ticket from Hamburg to London.

*

 Four days from the departure of Heftig, James Faulkner was hard at work in his Daily Telegraph office. Footsteps sounded from the street; indistinct forms could be seen through his frosted glass window. A rustling of cloth--something was not right.

Faulkner threw himself down on the floor as a cascade of shots smashed through the window. Pulling a carbine from underneath his desk, Faulkner fired back through the window, but the would-be killers were already gone.

Shakily standing up, he felt the bullet-shredded surface of his desk, the bullet hole in his chair where his head had been but a moment before. It seemed his flirtation with Death had not ended.

The London Police soon arrived, having heard the gunshots, but as Faulkner had not seen any of the shooters, and there were no witnesses, the most the Police could do was provide security for Faulkner. For a week, Faulkner’s home was guarded at night, and was himself surrounded by a troop of Police whenever he walked in the street. By the end of the week, with no attempts on Faulkner’s life, his bodyguard was brought down to two Policemen. This would prove to be a fatal mistake.

Eight days after the first attack, Faulkner was walking to his office when a bullet narrowly missed the Policemen to his left. The Policemen and Faulkner all drew their pistols, but the street was so crowded that they could not distinguish innocent civilians from gunmen. The Policeman on Faulkner’s left fired, hitting a gunman, but instantaneously, four shots hit him, staining the Royal Blue of his coat with blood.

Faulkner scanned the crowd (most of whom were now running for cover), aimed, but was forced to duck when a shot came over his head. The remaining Policeman fired three times, hitting a gunman with every shot. Suddenly a rifle barrel poked out of an above window; it cracked and the Policeman fell.

Faulkner, now alone, wheeled around, firing rapidly, appearing to hold his attackers at bay. He pulled the trigger again--click--he had spent all of his bullets. The gunmen fired; Faulkner paused as if listening--and fell.

*

Once Faulkner had fallen, the gunmen melted away, but the Police were able to capture and interrogate a gunman who had been wounded in the fight, a Mr. Jan Schmidt. He, in turn, incriminated Brünner himself.

English authorities pressured Germany to bring Brünner to trial, but the German Empire feared that doing so could hurt their most important company. However, when Britain threatened war, Germany acquiesced. Brünner was brought to trial in Berlin, and during the trial, his responsibility for the atrocities was revealed, as well as the killing of Faulkner. In a landmark case that portrayed the rampant corruption and greed in business, Brünner was sentenced to thirty years in prison, a sentence expected to last until his death.

For one man, the death of Faulkner hit him very hard. This man was the mighty Cecil Rhodes. Faulkner had been the only family that Rhodes had left, and his death devastated him. Rhodes, whose health was never good, would die within two weeks, a sad, broken man, for all his wealth and power.

*

By the time that Rhodes was dead and Brünner was sentenced, Heftig had arrived in Dar es Salaam. As he visited the Rubber Plantations, he saw how vastly everything had changed. Now, African laborers lived in fear of their European masters. They were treated as slaves, and many had forgotten the ‘good days’ when Heftig himself was their master. He visited the mines, where laborers would go without food for days, and could be whipped or even shot for talking back to their overseers. Heftig knew that this must change. He fired brutal overseers and managers, and made sure that laborers were not being mistreated by personally running many plantations and mines. He and his wife, Eva, missed each other terribly, writing long letters to each other. Eva visited Heftig several times, but she always returned to Hamburg; Jakob needed her in Germany.

*

By the year 1914, it appeared that Jakob Heftig had succeeded in cleaning his Heftig Industries, making it the company of good repute it had once been, before the Faulkner Scandal. Then, on July 28th, the War to end all Wars, the Great War began.

With the British Navy controlling the Ocean, Heftig was unable to leave Africa and rejoin his family in Hamburg. Once a bounty had been placed on his head (by the Prime Minister of British South Africa, Louis Botha, a man who had once been a large competitor of Heftig), Heftig joined the army of Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck, a famous soldier who was the foremost German General in Africa. During the war, Heftig watched as many of his plantations and mines were burnt by the British.

Heftig’s two sons, Leopold and August, now 20 and 19, joined the German Army in an attempt to clear their family name, leaving their mother Eva alone at the family home. In September of 1917, both sons were killed in the trenches of the Champagne region of France. Eva, grieving the loss of her sons, and her brothers (who also died in the war) locked herself in her Hamburg home.

In early 1918, she received word that her husband had been killed in Africa. Due to the inability to communicate between Africa and Germany (the British had cut all of the German telegraph wires leading to Africa), this was merely a rumour, but Eva had no reason to believe that it was not the truth.

Overwhelmed by grief and seeing no reason to continue living, Eva took her own life.

*

On November 11th, 1918, the War ended, allowing Heftig to finally return to Hamburg for the first time in more than six years. Disembarking in Hamburg a weary man, one very different than before he left, Heftig soon learned of the death of his sons, and the terrible rumour that had caused the death of his wife.

*

Alone in a cold room, Heftig recalls his past. He remembers the anguished cries of his young siblings as they died from Cholera. He remembers the tears of his mother as they attend the funeral of his alcoholic father, stabbed through the heart in a drunken pub fight. He remembers the haggard face of his mother as she brings him to the orphanage, no longer able to care for him. He remembers his friend Otto Brünner, before he treated men as disposable materials, cattle to drive. He remembers his friend before avarice and paranoia destroyed the man he once was. He remembers the first dance he had with his wife Eva, she rosy cheeked and breathless as they dance through the night. He remembers the first laugh of his sons, their infantile chortle breaking the silence like a angelic bell. He remembers the African laborer lying on the ground starved and beaten, his eyes staring beseechingly, but no help would come. He remembers the man he once was.

He opens a drawer; in it lays a revolver, paper and pen. On the paper he creates a scholarship, funded with the still large remains of his wealth. On the paper he creates a monument; a monument to the lives lost through avarice and greed, a testament to the sanctity to life.

His hand turns towards the revolver. Tears stream down his cheeks.

The revolver lays hard and cold in his hand. The weight of thirty-five turbulent years seems to pull it to his temple. Sorrow and guilt move his finger.

A single shot rings out through the harsh night...

 


© Copyright 2018 Eliezer Strausz. All rights reserved.

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