As he walked to the bungalow after a days work in the Mining Company he could feel the weight of the gun. It made him uneasy as though, now he had agreed to carry it, there was more likelihood of him having to use it.

The Company Chief of Police had recommended he be issued with the firearm after a disgruntled mine employee had pulled a gun on him over a discussion about the man’s accommodation. The Management of the mine had gone along with the idea.

This was not the first time he had been threatened since starting his new job  but the incident had been the first involving a weapon; in an earlier case a miner had dragged him through a window on to the outside verandah and they had rolled over and over on the floor until separated by his staff. There were other verbal threats which he had only partly understood because he was still learning to speak Portuguese. He remembered wryly his predecessor’s warning.

Not so very long ago he had been working in a London office,  newly married and now with a baby girl and he had exchanged that safe tranquillity for this job at an isolated Gold Mine in the Brazilian mountains.

It had all been spelled out by Arthur Gould, the man who had the job before. Arthur was a qualified Estate Administrator and an ex-army Major and was not inclined to conceal his contempt for the Mine’s Management. ‘They are a mealy mouthed lot; afraid of their own shadows,’ he told B. ‘It was impossible to do the job due to their interference. All mixed up with local politics; The Business Manager Senior, is the one to watch. When I tried to point this out they took over the housing allocation and gave it to a Company lawyer.’

‘Is he still doing the work?’

‘Nobody’s doing it.’ A sardonic chuckle. ‘Since he was shot and paralysed by someone on the wrong side of a deal. You’ve probably seen him around in a wheelchair. Now Senior tries to send all applications to me and I just send them back to him. I’ll be out of here and he’ll be the next one for a bullet if you manage to keep away from that part of the job.’

So he couldn’t say he hadn’t been warned. Being young and up for challenges, after sizing up the problem he had accepted the inevitable offer rather than an alternative of working in the Stores or Accounts. He realised he was pushing on an open door when he made his first proposals on how to deal with the department. And what a Department it was. An area of property the size of Luxembourg, 3,000 houses in three different towns and all the infrastructure that entailed; a miniature railway line between two of the towns and road maintenance. It was an Estate Manager’s job and he knew as much about Estate Management as the next man. But what he did have was a total confidence in his own abilities to sort out the mess that the Management had prevented his predecessor doing. However, he was too inexperienced to extract all the possible demands that occurred to him later when he came to grapple with the issue.

Back at the bungalow with his gun he met a security guard at the gate. ‘Hello  Joao, what are you doing here?’ ‘Senhor Pires sent me to guard your house during the night, Senhor.’ This was a shock. He was prepared to take risks with his own life, but not Ursula and baby Julia. ‘Will that be necessary?’ ‘Those are the orders, Senhor.’ ‘Every night?’  ‘Until the orders change.’ All this dialogue was carried out in his basic Portuguese with the aid of the dictionary he always carried with him. He shrugged his shoulders and went in. Talking it over with Ursula she thought it was excessive but worried about his safety.

Next day at work his staff of 300 office workers and craftsmen knew their new Chefe was in danger. Their attitude seemed to be to sympathise but ensure they kept out of the danger zone – which was too close a proximity with the potential target. He set up a system where any Mine  worker who wished to apply for a Company house or exchange Company houses could come for an interview on every Wednesday afternoon. His Head Clerk, Lole, who was also the Town’s deputy Mayor, would sit in the same office with the Kardex information available and as a source for any other information required. There was no possibility for having an interpreter as not one of his staff spoke English.

The first Wednesday arrived and a queue stretching several hundred metres formed and waited. This frightened an already anxious Lole and he sent for a security guard before he would agree to start the interviews. This first day was to show the extent of the problem. Within half an hour B. discovered that the Kardex information was not up-to-date nor did it contain some information he considered necessary. After four hours at five o’clock his staff prepared to go home and Lole could not be prevailed to remain even though more than half the queue were still to be attended.

He thought of asking Lole to tell the waiting crowd that they could come back the following day and run these interviews on a daily basis but whilst doubting that he would accept what had been a strained and stressful afternoon, every working day, it was necessary first to get the Kardex updated. Fortunately, the people in the queue, men, women and children, had taken the waiting time to engage in a communal get together and were in a good humour especially with the idea that this new English Chefe was going to give them a proper hearing.

‘Can you get the ‘fichas’ up-to-date in two weeks, Lole?’ ‘Possibly, Senhor.’   ‘Well, tell the people outside that because we haven’t got all the details they should come back on Wednesday in two weeks time.’ Lole went out to the verandah to do this but the crowd wanted further confirmation so he went out to say – ‘Sim, Terca-feira – dois semanas.’ There was some grumbling but the majority seemed to accept this in a favourable light.

He hit some snags about some of the  information he wanted put on the ‘fichas.’ Whether an applicant requesting a Company house or already  living in one, owned any private residential property. This frightened Lole who was part of the Town’s Establishment, especially when admitting that many owners of private housing were living in subsidised Company houses and renting out their properties to Mine employees. This is what Gould meant by political interference by the Management. But B. was adamant – there were 5,000 Company employees and 3,000 Company houses with rentals one tenth  a private rental so the  problem could not be solved if he could not screen out what he considered unjustified or restricted applicants.

This brought a session with George Senior who tried to get B. to back off by saying the Management needed the goodwill of the Town authorities against the Unions who were creating Labour unrest. But he wasn’t going to quit like Gould. ‘Could you not find other ways to sweeten them than putting me at risk?’ This had annoyed Senior. ‘That is the wrong attitude to take and perhaps we shall have to review policies.’ He came back. ‘By all means but first I must know that I have the Management’s backing in what I’m doing.’ Senior paused, incensed, ‘Of course you do.’ B. knew that this would be a battle on two fronts.

With the revised and up-dated Cards the Wednesday interviews started again and were to continue for a little more than a year. The staff would leave at 5 o’clock and he would continue on his own until the last applicant had been seen, sometimes not until after 8 o’clock. His halting Portuguese improved, his constant use of the information he had enabled him to dispense with the ever reluctant Lole. All his staff now needed to do was to keep the Cards up-to-date.  And importantly he was able to separate the genuine applicants from the chancers. His relationship with individuals widened so that any residual hostility changed to good humour with the majority and away from his office he was regularly greeted in the streets of the town by known and sometimes unknown people.

During the course of that difficult year he had received other threats but by this time with his fluent Portuguese he had been able to deflect or neutralise the underlying feelings. What became more difficult was the feeling at all times that the main opposition were the Company’s Management in alliance with the Town’s Authorities. It was a lesson that was to sink deep. Somewhere along this line when he had the first feeling that he was going to  succeed; with the dwindling queues and the friendlier interviews, the wife of a miner came with two small children, and B saw that the husband had just been allocated a Company house. ‘Will you visit us in our house before we move, Senhor?’ She asked after thanking him. He accepted the invitation and was able to see the pitiful shack they were moving from to a three bedroom, brick built Company house with running water, electricity, sewage and a garden.

The visit convinced him to do two things. He started visiting the houses of all future applicants to see their  circumstances. Afterwards he took out the licence he had been given for carrying a gun. He asked Pires to send someone to collect the gun  and immediately felt as though a load had been lifted from his shoulders.