Despatched on assignment to the tropical nation of Kupro Marbordo, the Copper Coast, rich young broker, James Baxter is flabbergasted to discover that slavery is an established and traditional custom there. At first stunned, he soon ends up owning a delightful young slave-woman with all that suggests with regards to discipline and 'education.'
Of course, I had heard of Kupro Marbordo, the Copper Coast. A tropical country, famous for copper mines, marble quarries, beef cattle. And slaves. It is, I think, one of the very few countries now where that 'peculiar institution' still flourishes.
But that didn't concern me. I worked at my uncle's brokers house in the United Zones, up in the northern continent. Thousands of miles away from Kupro Marbordo. I knew we had interests in many cities and countries throughout the New World, but I never gave Kupro Marbordo much thought.
Until, one day a few weeks ago, my uncle called me into his office. As befitted a senior partner, his office was massive. Oak panelled with oil landscapes and portraits on the walls.
A huge mahogany desk stood on a Neo-Assyrian carpet.
"James," he said, "I want you to take over our brokerage down on Kupro Marbordo for a couple of years. Our current resident has retired and I need a man I can trust to take over.
I know it's only a backwater of a place at present, however, it has potential to expand.
Between you and me, I think he let our interests slide. If you can build up our business there, it will stand you in good stead for promotion to a more important posting later. What do you think?"
Well, when a man as important as my uncle asks you to do something, what can you say? Of course I agreed on the spot.
So, a few weeks later, I found myself walking down the steamship's gangway onto the quayside of Haveno Ananaso, Kupro Marbordo's capital city. The name Haveno Ananaso means Port Pineapple. The sultry tropical heat washed over me. I'd have to buy myself some lightweight clothes. The docks were very busy with ships of all sizes loading and unloading.
Didn't see any pineapples, though.
I pushed through the crowds to the Customs House. A large, ornate building that dominated this part of the docks. Outside, a gang of labourers carried sacks of oranges over to one of the ships. I stopped, in astonishment at the sight. A man bumped into me, mumbled something about stupid tourists before heading past me into the shade of the Customs House verandah.
This crew must be slaves, then. The men, at least a dozen of them, were chained together by their necks. The chain was loose, giving them freedom to work but not to vanish into the hustle and bustle. A few had red marks across their deeply tanned, bare backs. All the men wore in the heat was a pair of denim shorts, a straw sun hat and boots.
A man in a white jacket, a wide brimmed hat, carrying a whip stood nearby and directed the men's efforts. Occasionally, he tapped a man on the shoulder and gestured with his whip. All the direction he needed.
Now my eyes were opened, I saw another gang of slave labourers, also hard at work.
However, I couldn't stand and stare all afternoon. I made my way through to Customs, answered their questions about my stay. I tipped the bored official a few piastres, the local currency. Then my passport was stamped and I was through.
"Enjoy your stay. Do you want help with your bags, sir?" asked the official. I nodded.
The man gestured to a young man standing nearby. The man jumped to attention and picked up my trunk. Like the labourers outside, he wore denim shorts, boots but also a white t-shirt with the Customs logo printed on it. As he lifted the trunk, I saw a thin steel collar around his neck.
A second man, identically dressed, helped carry the rest of my bags. I followed them outside onto a main road running past the docks. Out of the shade, the heat crashed down on me again. A row of horse-drawn cabs waited. The two men, slaves, loaded my baggage onto the cab.
I thanked them both. I offered them a piastre each. They refused with horror.
"No, master," said one. "Slaves aren't allowed money. But thank you for offering." They ran back into the Customs House. Away from the crazy foreigner who might get them into trouble.
I glanced at my note book. My firm had already arranged accommodation for me.
"Kresto Abrikoto," I said in my best accent. Apricot Ridge. It sounds a nice area of the capital. My pronunciation must have been all right as the driver understood.
He flicked his whip at the horse and it trotted off. Slowly, we left the busy city centre and climbed up a steep hill. The views from the heights to the city and then over the sea were spectacular. But even better, there was a cooling breeze.
After a few kilometres we passed a few peach and apricot orchards, then the driver pulled up outside a small villa. It was set in its own gardens. Pink and purple tropical flowers festooned the villa. What I saw under the blooms impressed me.
It was whitewashed with green shutters under a red, pantiled roof. I paid off the cab driver as he helped me unload my baggage. He saluted me before flicking his whip and returning downhill.
I pushed open the gate, up the short path then knocked on the door. A moment later the door opened. A woman, several years older than me stood there in the dim light. She was maybe thirty with dark hair, chocolate brown eyes under arched brows, and a generous mouth.