Category Archives: smalltown short stories

The Rape of Religion

Credit: cbc.ca

Credit: cbc.ca

“Of all the subjects to talk about, you may choose anything…except religion. Of that you shall not speak. It is the modern-day apple in Paradise. Unless, of course, you want to go overboard and talk about racism – then you venture into really dangerous territory.”

The group in the bar has been discussing the events in Ottawa and the possible connection with ISIS, after Gertruida explained the issues in the Middle East. Servaas said something about the danger of a Jihad, prompting Oudoom to caution against prejudice.

“Look,” Oudoom says, “religion is about many things. We can talk about the creation of the universe – and the world – and marvel at the Creator. Or we can talk about the directives – in all religions – about love and tolerance. Most religions – the exception I know of is the way the Aztecs thought about time – accept that the world has a beginning and an end. And all religious teachings say something about Life after Death. Those communalities are enough for me. I’d like to accept that and then to stop thinking about the differences. Surely the concept of God is an universal one – something that calls us all to be more circumspect in our denouncement of ‘other’ religions?”

“Ja, Oudoom, that might be true. But what about terrorists acting in the name of faith?”

“That’s the oldest story ever told, Servaas. Go back in history: more wars were fought in the name of religion than anything else. The land disputes and greed of kings and rulers pale into insignificance once you add religion. Since Biblical times this hasn’t stopped. Joshua invaded Canaan. The Israelites fought the non-believers. The Muslim conquests in the 7th and 8th century were followed by the Christian Crusades. Today we have similar situations in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria…and now in Canada.

“The question, of course, is whether we must condemn the religion…or the people. My take is that people use religion to justify their means. Faith, my friends, has become a shield to hide behind when you promote certain ideals.”

Gertruida nods -yes, she knew all this – but still she frowns. “What I don’t understand, is why religion – which ostensibly preaches love and tolerance – reverts to violence? And if terrorism isn’t in line with the ideology of religion, why do people shoot at soldiers standing guard at the memorial for the Unknown Soldier?”

“Let me tell you, Gertruida, that the most dangerous thing in this world, is faith. Once you start believing everything that is preached from the pulpit, you must remember that there is a human element to such sermons. Remember how some churches justified Apartheid? And how they led a whole country astray – for purely political goals? No, we must not jump on the bandwagon and condemn all people who follow other religions. It’s not about Muslims or Christians or Shiites or Sunnis. It’s about the rape of faith, the corruption of an age-old message to live and let live. And that, my friends, has been the polarising factor in our world since the dawn of time.”

“But why then attack innocent bystanders – or wage war in Syria?”

“Money, Servaas, and power. There will always be people who are suppressed by others in the name of capitalism or politics. We live in a world where differences in ethnicity and status are defined  and accentuated by financial factors. The person who controls the purse, is the boss. So you take people who have nothing to lose, give them the blessing of their faith, and what happens? They believe a martyr’s death is the key to salvation. The’ll wage your war for you and you end up with the spoils. Do you think any religious war has ever benefitted the poor? Of course not! The poor remained poor, but the new emperor or king  – or whatever you call the leader – he’s the one who ends up sipping the champagne.”

“I’ve never understood war.” Vetfaan remembers his days in the army. “How do you convince somebody of your ideology by killing people? I mean: is it right for the side that kills the most, to come out tops? Will a thousand dead bodies convince a million live ones that the aggressor was right all along? It doesn’t make sense.”

“If I understand you right, Oudoom, you’re saying the real enemy isn’t religion, but the people who corrupt the message of faith? That the head of the snake is the problem, not the rest of the body?”

Oudoom smiles at this. Yes…ever since the Garden of Eden it has been like this. Did not the snake speak to Adam and Eve…with it’s head? And does not a snake kill with it’s fangs and not it’s body? Yes, somewhere in the world the head of the snake is hiding while we insist on being horrified by the body we can see.

“There’s the myth of Typhon, of course.” Gertruida switches to her lecture voice. “Typhon was a snake-like creature in Greek mythology – the enemy of the Greek deities. Zeus didn’t like it very much, conquered the monster, and confined it beneath the ground. Typhon rumbled and roared his displeasure, causing volcanoes to erupt. Since then  – according to mythology – Typhon is responsible for the fire and lava that erupt from mountains.” She pauses, allowing the story to sink in. “There’s a lesson in that myth: even if you drive such a creature underground, it won’t go away. Instead, it’ll cause untold misery by erupting a volcano when you least expect it – killing innocent men and women in the process.”

Oudoom sighs. “There’s no real answer to this. Religion is the road to salvation, but it also holds the seeds of destruction. The only thing any individual can do, is to be critical about his or her belief. Like St James said: your actions must tell the world what you believe in. Let’s pray that those guys with the guns and the bombs think about this before they put on their balaclavas next time…”

Everybody has a You (#15)

Gertruida gasps in surprise when she opens the door to find Sersant Dreyer standing there, an uncertain smile hovering below his trimmed moustache.

“Oh…Gertruida?” He seems surprised to find her there. “I need to talk to Mary. About the dead man, understand? This is business, nothing personal.”

Gertruida wants to tell the policeman to go away, this isn’t the time – but Mary’s tired voice calls from the bedroom.

“Let him come in, Gertruida. After talking to you all tonight, I realise I must face my life as it is. Face the consequences and take my punishment. I simply can’t…can’t live a lie any more.” She sobs the last words out.

Sersant Dreyer squeezes past Gertruida to sit down on the old settee. Waiting patiently for Mary to emerge from the bedroom, he proceeds to stuff his short-stemmed briar before putting a match to the tobacco. When Mary finally shuffles into the room, she has the look of defeat written all over her face.

“Go on, Dreyer. Arrest me and be done with it.?”

Sersant Dreyer shakes his head. “No, Mary. There’ll be an inquest, but that’s all…”

He tells the two women that something Mary said, rang a bell and made him reconsider the way they handled Brutus’s death.  “You mentioned his irregular heartbeat, the cocaine, and heart medication. We know that Brutus and Boggel endured a lot during the time they stumbled through the desert. So, when I left you in the bar, I went to phone a colleague – Dr Strauss – one of the top forensic experts in the police service. We go back a long time, but that’s not the point.

“You see, I think Brutus was responsible for his own death. Sure, you kicked him…but it is possible that his heart was already in irreversible failure. The lack of medication, the obvious dehydration and the extreme physical demands of walking that distance almost killed Boggel – and I think it was the last straws for Brutus. Your kick, Mary, was incidental. At most one can think of is a complaint of assault – if the victim was around to lay a charge, that is.

“Dr Strauss is sending a team of experts to dig up the corpse. I’ll accompany them tomorrow to show them the spot. I explained that we’d have brought the body here, but that we had no proper means of transport. He actually agreed that – under the circumstances – we did the right thing to bury the body, otherwise the jackals would have had a feast. The postmortem will show the condition of the heart muscle and probably establish the cause of death due to myocardial arrest due to infarction. Apparently – and I don’t understand everything that Strauss said – cocaine use has many effects on the heart muscle which may be seen both clinically and under the microscope. Coupled with blood and tissue samples, it should be no problem to make the diagnosis of cocaine-related terminal cardiac failure.  In short – an unnatural death due to natural – if induced – factors.

“So, Mary…that’s my news. Brutus is now legally dead and the blame of his sudden demise rests completely on his own shoulders.” Sersant Dreyer gets up to leave. “I thought you’d like to know that.”

***

Back in the bar, Boggel and Smartryk remain seated after the rest of the customers had gone home. Although they are both dog-tired, Mary’s story upset them to such an extent that they prefer to have another drink before retiring.

“What do you think, Boggel?”

Boggel can – when he relaxes – have the most disarming smile. It’s as if his face relaxes, the eyes light up and the crow’s feet around the eyes wrinkle with a secret, inner amusement.

“It’s up to her, Smartryk, not us. You know my – our – history and I appreciate the way you respect that. I also saw the way she looked at you. There’s a hunger in her eyes, a desire, that I’ve never seen before. To be honest, I wish that she’d look at me that way, but she doesn’t. For me, there’s kindness. For you – so much more. I can offer her a life in Rolbos but you can make her start afresh.

“The issue , of course, is how you weigh her past. If that burden is too much, you’ll have to be honest with her. On the other hand – if you think the two of you have a fighting chance to make it work, you have my blessing.”

***

Precilla was so mad at the little barman that she didn’t talk to Boggel for a whole week. She said he should have done more, said more, showed more of his real feelings – and maybe she’s right. But Gertruida sought him out, one evening after Smartryk, Dreyer, Mary and the forensic team had left to complete the formalities surrounding the aircraft’s crash and Brutus’s death in Upington.

***

“Are you okay, Boggel?” The concern in Gertruida’s question is unmistakable.

“I suppose.” Boggel played with the Voortrekker Monument sugar bowl on the counter, absently thinking that he must fill it up with peanuts again. “C’est la vie. Mary needed more than I could give.”

“No, Boggel, she’d have given you less than you needed. Rolbos is too small for her, my friend.” Gertruida nods her thanks when he pushes a beer over the counter. “You see, when you upset a pail of water, you can’t dry the floor with a small sponge. You need a large rag to absorb all the moisture. It’s like that with Mary. No matter how much you love her, she needs to disappear in a larger society. Over here in Rolbos, she’d have a label – The Good Girl Gone Bad. Oh, we won’t think about her like that consciously, not at all. But the stigma will remain in her own mind and it’ll eat away at her very core. But, in a different place, amongst new friends and people, she can start all over again. That’s what she needs and that’s what Smartryk can supply.

“Add to that the spark between them – we were all aware of it, weren’t we? It is only right for them to explore the promise of a relationship. If it works…well, good for them. If it doesn’t, she’ll come back. You, Boggel, have given her a chance. It’s up to her – and Smartryk – to make it work.

“We all have a you, Boggel, but only a few end up with that person. Sometimes that ‘you’ will forever remain beyond your grasp…and that may very well remain the most beautiful love story of your life.”

Boggel is no fool. He knows Gertruida is trying to cheer him up. He also knows that it would have been wrong to force Mary to stay. So he nods his agreement, telling Gertruida that she’s very wise and that he appreciates her concern. Later, after she leaves, he locks up his bar.

Then he sits down on his cushion below the counter to rub Vrede’s back. The dogs stirs in his sleep, opens a lazy eye, and thumps his tail on the wooden floor.

“Ja, Vrede. Love…” Vrede settles his head on Boggel’s lap, understanding every word. “I think the best love stories have no ending. Saying ‘I love you‘ seems so easy…The ‘love’ part isn’t the problem: finding the right ‘you’, is. At least I have…you.” He smiles wryly at the play of words as he pats the faithful dog’s head. “Damn it all, Vrede, why can’t the chapters of that book be written in plain language? If only I could read the words…”

Thump! Thump! Thumpity…Thump...

The End…

Everybody has a You (#14)

Credit: nationalgeographic.com

Credit: nationalgeographic.com

Mary Mitchell swallows hard before being able to continue her story. To bare her soul before the group in the bar is the hardest thing she’s ever done…and yet it seems the most natural thing to do. Here, in Rolbos, honesty lives at a lower level of society – in fact, it is the foundation these people build on. Unlike life in the cities where she has lived – where you create an image, a mirage, of the you, you want people to see – the Rolbossers care about the real you, the you hiding behind the facade. And somehow it’s so right, so proper to grant them the honesty they deserve – even if it meant their scorn and disapproval in the end. That, at least, would be real, too.

“One pill! One, lousy, stupid pill…and I was hooked. When I woke up that Sunday morning, I had no idea what happened. Brutus laughed at that, told me I simply dozed off – but I knew that wasn’t true. I had bruises and aches…my body told me something horrible had happened. We had a fight then, Brutus and I, and I dressed and stormed out. I finally found my little flat and slept for the rest of the day. The next morning – Monday – I tried to do my job at Dr Hartslief’s, but I was jittery. Couldn’t concentrate. Made mistakes with the bookings.

“I asked for the week off and went home. And there I….I knew I had to return to Brutus. I had to get something to make me feel better. I had to talk to him.  Oh! I told myself a thousand reasons why I should go back to that horrible man, but the real reason was this craving…the desperate need…for release. Something inside me wanted another of those pills. Just one – because the one thing I remembered about that Saturday night, was that I felt good about myself. Whatever happened after I had passed out didn’t matter so much. I wanted that feeling again..

“Brutus was waiting for me. Can you believe the nerve? And he was sooo friendly and nice again, asking me how I felt and whether I was all right and so on. And I…I hated myself, despised myself…but I begged him for another pill.

“I won’t bore you with details. Those pills gave me the strength to go on. After the third one, I didn’t pass out anymore. I felt good and strong and righteous. I could return to work and get things done. At night Brutus would entertain me in his penthouse, we’d have some pills – I knew then that it was Ecstasy – and later he had…friends…come over. Just to liven things up, Brutus said. The things we did…”

Of all the people in the bar, only Gertruida has a very good idea of what Mary was telling them. Reading between the lines is one of her gifts, and she feels an icy hand squeezing at her heart as the story unfolds. The poor, poor woman….

“He – that’s Brutus – had this irregular heartbeat. I only learnt later that Dr Hartslief was his cardiologist and that was  where he first saw me. I was one of the receptionists, see? Brutus told me one night that, when he saw me there for the first time, he knew we’d be ‘doing business together’, as he put it. The following day I peeked in his file, and saw that Dr Hartslief diagnosed an irregular rhythm due to cocaine use. That’s when I realised how deep in trouble I was…

“Things went seriously wrong after that. I had to have more and more of the Ecstasy. Brutus said it wasn’t a free ride, I had to help him. I…I was beyond caring. Sure, I said, anything. That’s when the real parties started.”

Brutus explained that he had some very influential friends he had to entertain: government ministers, senior police officers, politicians.

“At that stage I couldn’t care anymore. I didn’t even resign my job – I just stopped going to work. At night I was the plaything for these important men and for my…services…I was paid handsomely…and got pills. My mind went into a shut-down mode – I simply stopped thinking. And, as I started needing more and more pills, Brutus demanded more and more of me. I…” Mary lifts her chin, defying the group to say anything. “I slept with them all. I can name them, those important men, all of them. You think your ministers are upright citizens? Bah! If I told you what happened in that penthouse, you’d be nauseated…”

“Come, dear, sit down.” Gertruida leads the distraught woman to a chair. “Servaas, bring a glass of water. Oudoom, stop looking so pious and holy. Go fetch a blanket. Can’t you see she’s shivering? And you, Vetfaan? You can light the fire in the hearth. It’s getting chilly outside.”

Outside, night has indeed settled over the barren wastes of the Kalahari, followed – as usual – by the chill the darkness always brings. Still, the cold inside the bar isn’t just due to the temperature dropping outside – it was more – much more – than that. Everybody in the bar experienced the fear, the loathing, the horror of the story Mary has been telling them. And they knew: there wasn’t a fire big enough to fight off the chill that reality brought to the humble village of Rolbos that night.

“And that’s what you knew and what Brutus tried to silence?”

Mary ignores Sersant Dreyer’s question.

“So I went to those places quite willingly, knowing exactly what the score was. I also knew that Brutus would kill me if I didn’t cooperate or if I breathed a word about his activities. When they apprehended me in Rio, I was almost relieved.

251005_det“Prison? It was hell. It was also a blessing. They don’t dish out drugs in prison. Not at all. I had to go cold turkey – suddenly and terribly so. I went through it all – the sweats, the nausea, the cramps – everything. It was the purest form of hell imaginable. But somehow I made it. The other inmates were convinced that I was mad – and maybe I was, for a time. Over the weeks and months the cravings became less and less, and I started feeling human again. I changed from a jabbering idiot into a model prisoner, teaching the other women things I know, like crocheting and knitting and such. I even started a choir and taught them some Afrikaans songs!” For the first time this evening, Mary manages a real smile. “I think my conduct contributed to my early release. The mad witch became Pollyanna.”

It is quite possible that only Gertruida connected the dots to understand that Mary refers to Eleanor Potter’s story, but the group is so involved in Mary’s tale that she doesn’t interrupt.

“And that’s why Brutus came here. During my ‘introduction stage’, when I was plied with Ecstasy, Brutus wanted to know everything about me. At the time I thought he was genuinely interested in me, but of course he was doing a background check. When he learnt that I had no family, no close friends and no attachments, he must have been overjoyed. But the one name that cropped up all too often, was your’s, Boggel.” A soft sob ends the sentence.

***

Gertruida escorts the crying Mary back to Precilla’s bungalow behind the little pharmacy. After Mary’s telling of her life with Brutus and the drugs, Mary is exhausted, empty, drained of all emotion except for the incredible sadness that now has settled in her mind. What she now needs, Gertruida knows, is silence – and time to accept that finally her secrets are shared and the burden of guilt has shifted somewhat. She says a silent prayer that Mary will now accept her past, forgive herself and move on.

What Gertruida doesn’t understand, is the way Boggel – and even Smartryk – kept their distance during the time Mary was telling them everything she had lived through. She did, however, notice the two men exchanging glances and worried looks. And that Sersant Dreyer! Towards the end of Mary’s confession, he had the gall to get up and leave the bar! So, so unkind! Shaking her head at the men’s lack of insight, she puts on the kettle. A  cup of tea before putting Mary to bed is a good idea.

She looks up, startled, when there is a knock at the door.

“Mary? I have to talk to you.” It’s a man’s voice, muffled by the closed door. Not sure who it might be, Gertruida reaches for the door handle…

Everybody has a You (#13)

Ecstacy pills

Ecstacy pills

Neither Smartryk nor Boggel remebers much about the trip back to Rolbos. Smartryk, after the dose of painkillers and a herbal tea from Dawid Loper – and Boggel due to sheer fatigue – dozed, slept and rested during the long ride home. Sersant Dreyer took them on a detour to pick op Kleinpiet’s bakkie, which they refuelled. Then, with Dawid acting as guide, they drove through the night. When at last they stopped in front of Boggel’s Place, it was difficult to distinguish between the injured and the rest – they were all completely exhausted.

Gertruida got hold of Oudok, who examined the two men. Boggel – he said – only needed rest and liquids. Smartryk surprised the old doctor: when the bandages were removed, the wound was well on it’s way to complete healing. Dawid Loper nodded happily: it was exactly what he expected.

Now, after a good nights rest, the townsfolk gather in the shade of Boggel’s verandah, with Servaas doing duty as barman. They wait until noon before they send Kleinpiet to see how the patients are doing…

***

However, Bioggel and Smartryk have been awake since dawn. They shared Gertruida’s spare room, where she accommodated them in style – or whatever would pass as such in Rolbos. Two mattresses on the floor, clean linen and a huge jug of orange juice far surpassed their needs for the night. When dawn streaked the eastern sky with orange and red, Gertruida started serving strong, sweet tea, a huge platter with scrambled eggs and bacon and followed that with a Thermos filled with the strongest coffee possible.

What more could a man ask?

“Boggel?” Smartryk burped softly after finishing his breakfast. “We have to talk…”

“About Mary?”

“Yes…”

And talked they did. About Mary, about life…and about love. Smartryk described the strange emotion he discovered after meeting and spending time with Mary. He talked about serendipity, coincidence, chance and divine intervention. “Boggel, for all my life I knew there had to be more. And now…well, now I think I’ve found it.”

But, Smartryk said, he also understood that Mary came to Rolbos to see Boggel. He had been the compass that directed her journey back to her roots and to the Kalahari. And he, Smartryk, understood now why Mary had such a deep-rooted respect for the hunchbacked barman. “You saved her life…again, Boggel. You were prepared to perish in the wilderness to save Mary. I know of no other man that would have led Brutus into the desert like you did, knowing that his death would allow Mary to live. And that, Boggel, tells me her trust in you is not only justified, it runs far deeper than even she would admit.”

Boggel waited and listened patiently. Although he had a very good idea where all this was leading up to, he allowed Smartryk the opportunity to transform his deepest feeling from thoughts to words. This is, of course, something that is often required from barmen all over the world, and Boggel has plenty experience of this. Smartryk rambled, lost track, stumbled, gathered his wits time and again and eventually fell silent.

“Okay.” Boggel finished the last of the coffee with a sigh. “You think you love Mary. And you want my blessing.” He waited for Smartryk to nod before going on. “Well, it’s not up to me, Smartryk. It’s up to Mary. She’s the one to choose which which horse she wants to saddle up. I’d suggest you talk to her, not to me.”

***

One of the most important lessons in Barman 101 concerns the requirement to listen to problems and then to offer simple advice. For this, you don’t need an IQ of more than 160 at all. No sir. Most problems dispensers of drinks are faced with, involve the intricate and complicated relationships between men and women – and lately even the gender-tag has faded away, so that one may safely condense that statement to simply refer to ‘relationships’.

Boggel’s remark – about Mary having the last say – must therefore not be seen as abundantly chivalrous or altruistic, not at all. After all, does the nearness of Mary not cause his heart to skip a beat, and does something not melt inside his heart whenever he looks at her? But, like he sometimes has to tell a teary customer: you cannot force Love. If Love is meant to be, it’ll find a way. There is no force known to man that will stamp out the glowing embers of affection once that fire starts blazing, bringing light to the darkness we call loneliness.

Some may think that Boggel’s handling of Smartryk’s declaration of intent was short-sighted and stupid. Others – more wise and bearing the scars to prove it – will understand the depth of his wisdom when he encouraged Smartryk to follow his heart. It’s the old story about setting Love free to fly…and then waiting patiently to see if it returns to the safety of its origin.

***

It’s late afternoon when the two patients sit down in Boggel’s Place. The rest of Rolbos is there to welcome them with a hearty dose of peach brandy – which, for once, doesn’t have to be smallowed with one grimacing gulp. The talk – of course – is about the last few day’s adventure. Smartryk reminds them that he still has to complete his report on the Cessna’s crash.

“That’s easy, Smartryk. You attribute the accident to pilot error. Then Sersant Dreyer adds his statement that the unknown pilot seems to have disappeared. Yes, his tracks led to Kleinpiet’s farm and yes, he apparently stole a vehicle. The said vehicle was found in the desert after an exhaustive search, but the exact whereabouts of the pilot is still uncertain at this point in time…”

“Ja, he could be in heaven…or in hell. Who knows?” Vetfaan is on his fourth drink and seems to think he’s just made an extremely funny remark. The rest of the patrons ignore him.

“I have something to say.” Mary’s voice – soft and uncertain – makes them all turn to her. “I…I must confess, I suppose.”

“About what, Mary?” Smartryk puts his hand on her shoulder, concern written over his face.

“I… Oh hell! How do I do this?” Mary shakes off the hand, gets up, and walks to the door. There, framed by the doorway, she turns to address them.

“I’ve only told you half the story…I’m sorry. You see, this is all my fault. Yes, I wanted to see Boggel, and yes, I wanted to hide here and hope to start a new life. But, you see…” She stifles a sob, squares her shoulders. “I wasn’t the naive courier I made out to be. That trip was my third, not my first. Once I went to Hong Kong, and once to Bangkok. Every time the same – documents and cash.

“Did I love Brutus? The answer is an emphatic ‘No!’. But….when I met him, my life was in shambles. I did work at Dr Hartslief, the cardiologist, that’s true. But that was during the daytime. At night…I went to clubs. It was my way of escaping from the small flat I rented. I so desperately wanted company, but in a big city you can live between hordes of people, and still be lonely. It’s not like here…

“Anyway, one night some guy got fresh with me. I had a few drinks too many, and didn’t see it coming. Then, suddenly, the man started steering me to the door, saying we must go to his place. I didn’t want to go. The man insisted. And then Brutus stepped in and told the guy to bugger off. That’s how we met.” She shakes her head. “Swallowed by my own stupidity… It had all been a setup! Brutus was always on the lookout for lonely girls like me – and he had this way of picking them up, see? He gets one of his men to harass the girl, then he steps in as the hero. Anyway, how was I to know? So one thing led to the other and we ended up drinking far too much. He was good, I’ll give him that. At the end of the evening I thought he was the nicest man I’ve ever met.

b98f4057-a575-4ef5-99a2-6ebbd7bf1790“We started seeing each other. That Saturday evening we had dinner and then he took me to his penthouse in the Waterfront. His place blew me away! I’ve never seen so much opulence in my life! The carpets! The furniture! It was like a dream come true…” She sighs, remembering her wide-eyed wonder. “He offered me a pill after we had a few drinks. I remember it was white, with a dove imprinted on it. Said it was something innocent to prevent a hangover. Said he took it all the time, himself. And I…I didn’t want to look as if I didn’t trust him. I really wanted to believe…

“So I took the pill. And I woke up the next morning and my nightmare started…”

(To be continued…)

Everybody has a You (#12)

randall 002aDespite the dry mouth, the almost unquenchable thirst and still feeling dizzy, Boggel manages to stumble through the events leading up to his friends finding him. He has to pause frequently to sip water from the canteen Sersant Dreyer offers from time to time. Even the wounded Smartryk seems a bit better, sitting next to Precilla. If Boggel noticed them holding hands, he doesn’t remark on it.

He was closing the bar that night, he tells them, when the huge bulk of Brutus was framed in the doorway. The man seemed friendly…but he had a problem. Would Boggel please help him? His aeroplane had developed an uncommon splutter – something the man said he had noticed while on his way to Upington. To err of the safe side, he landed not far from town on an even patch of veld. He thought it’s the carburettor, but needed a specific spanner to get to it. A number 15, he said.

“Well, you all had left and there I was, talking to this guy. I didn’t want to wake anybody and I had just such a spanner in my toolbox. So, naturally, I agreed to help. That’s what we do in these parts, isn’t it? But when we got to the aircraft, the lights went out.”

Boggel says he was near the Cessna when he felt a tremendous blow to the back of his head.  “Must have been that spanner, I think. The next thing I knew, I woke up to the roar of the engine. I was strapped in one of the back seats, and I thought I saw somebody outside, waving.”

“That was me,” Sersant Drayer remarks. I thought I recognised you…”

Boggel nods before continuing. “Yes, that makes sense. Anyway, I took a particularly dim view of the situation, and whacked the pilot a proper one on his head with my fist. He let out a yelp of surprise – must have thought I was still out cold – and turned to belt me back. I must say: if I had known we were in the air at the time, I might have reconsidered my attack. Still, that’s what I did, and that’s what he did. To get to me, he had to let go of the controls, of course, which isn’t a nice thing for a pilot to do.

“But this man – Brutus? He has a nasty temper, as I was to find out later. Or maybe I already found that out when he turned to strike me. Once he gets angry, he retaliates immediately. Not clever, not clever at all. Especially not under those circumstances. He immediately realised his dilemma, of course. When the Cessna slewed to one side, he turned back to the controls, but by then it was too late.

“I suppose one must give the devil his due: he is – was – a great pilot. How he managed to belly-land that Cessna is a pure miracle. I gashed my shoulder during the landing and he banged his head on the control panel – but that was all. We could have…should have been killed.”

Despite Brutus’s injury, he remained a formidable, strong, giant of a man. Boggel tried to escape, but Brutus simply felled him with an almighty blow to the head.

“I had no chance, no idea what was going on, and no way to escape. He pinned me to the ground and told me to take him to the nearest vehicle.” Boggel shoots a guilty glance towards Kleinpiet. “I knew Kleinpiet always leaves the keys in the ignition and that we were somewhere near his homestead. With Brutus frogmarching me along, I had no choice but to lead him there.” He pauses, smiling shyly. “I’m sorry, Kleinpiet.”

“I would have done the same, Boggel. Don’t worry.”

Boggel bobs his head. “Thanks. Anyway, the man said we were going to Upington. He asked directions. And I thought: bugger you, laddie. Whatever you’re up to, I’m certainly not going to help you. And, because it was still quite dark, I had him drive towards the desert. It’s a shortcut, I said. He believed me – must have thought I was sufficiently scared to tell the truth all the time.”

With Boggel promising that they’d reach the tarred road any minute now, Brutus drove on through the desert…until the petrol ran out.

“Man, you should have seen him then! He was beside himself! I told him he should have let me know, and I would have filled up the tank properly, but he didn’t think it was funny. But then, my friends, the tables were turned. He knew I was his only hope to get him back to civilisation. He calmed down and then, ever so friendly-like told me to lead the way. I said no way, not until he told me what this was all about.

“We had a heated debate about that, as you can imagine. But I sat down on the sand, refusing to budge. He ranted and raved, but I knew I had him. He tried to lie initially – and later when I found out that he was a lawyer, I understood why. Still, after while, I told him to tell the truth or be prepared to die in the desert. That made him blanche. He told me not to say such things. Death, he said, is the only thing he was afraid of.”

Boggel shrugs,. The man’s sudden change from being the self-assured aggressor to confessing his fear of mortality shook the small barman. Brutus sank down on the sand next to him, suddenly all friendly and coy.

“He’s a psychopath,” Gertruida says. “Anything to manipulate you. No remorse, no conscience. At first he tried to scare you to do his will, then he swung around, trying to gain your confidence through pity. Typical.”

“Sure. That’s what I thought as well. He started telling me about his irregular heartbeat, his visits to the cardiologist and goodness knows what else. I thought he was mad. Didn’t believe a word he said, even after he told me he needed to get to his pills as soon as possible. That, I thought, was a blatant lie. A big guy like that, dependant of cardiac medication? So I said I was sorry to hear about his troubles, but what was the idea behind him abducting me in the way he did?

“And he said – I remember the words – there is a woman he needed to talk to. What woman, I asked? And he said Mary Mitchell.” Boggel closes his eyes. “The bottom fell out of my world, right then, right there. After a while, I managed to ask why? And he said she knew stuff about him, he’d rather keep to himself. I was the key, he said. If Mary knew I was with him, she’d come immediately.

“That’s when I decided to walk him to death. A man who is prepared to use me as bait to get to Mary,” and here he allows his gaze to rest on her, “must be crazy. I will do no such thing. By then I had serious doubts about his sanity…but no doubt at all about his violent tendencies. No, I thought, let me play along for a while, lead his deeper and deeper into the desert, and get us both completely lost. We had one water bottle – courtesy of Kleinpiet’s pickup – how long can we last?

“So we walked. On and on and on. Eventually – the next day or the next – I lost track of time – we rested under a bush like we so often had to. I woke up to find him gone. You know what? I couldn’t care anymore. I thought – so be it. There was no way he’d get much farther and I wasn’t up to much, either. So I closed my eyes. The next thing I know, you guys buried me and here I am…”

Gertruida fixes the bent little barman with a knowing look. She knows he’s left out a lot. The two days walking under the scorching sun, the freezing nights, the arguments along the way… Typical of Boggel, she thinks, to avoid telling them about the hardships along the way.

“It’s all my fault…” Mary’s eyes brim with tears. “Oh, Boggel, I’m the poison, the bane of your life. I’m so terribly sorry.”

Boggel shrugs. “I would have done the same for Gertruida, or Sersant, or…even for Servaas.” He smiles his lopsided smile again, takes a swig from the bottle, and sighs. “Life is never fair, Mary. You and I were dealt a hand of cards when we were born. Some people get winning hands, some don’t. We have no choice, really. Play with what we have is what we must do.”

“But…” Mary wants to protest, but Smartryk holds up a hand.

“Boggel, you’ve been incredibly brave…and unbelievably lucky. There’s a lot we have to talk about…a lot. But, seeing the sun is burning us all to a crisp, I suggest we prepare to get back to Rolbos. Maybe there, after cleaning up and with something cool to drink, the two of us can have a chat. Man to man…if you know what I mean.”

And Boggel, with the look you find on the face of a sad Basset, finds himself nodding. Yes, that’s what they must do. Mano a mano. He also realises that the hardships of the past days may fade in comparison with what lies ahead.

Everybody has a You (#11)

558“Is he…”

“Yes.” Sersant Dreyer drops the lifeless hand back in the sand. Getting up slowly, he walks to his van, where he gets into the cab and shuts the door. He needs time to think.

“I…I killed him… His heart…” Mary Mitchell stares down at the body of Brutus, the man she once thought loved her. The man who sent her on the mission that saw her spend time in that cesspool of a prison in Rio. The man who betrayed her, belittled her, disrespected her, The man who…used her. And she closes her eyes for a second, deep in thought, marvelling at the fact that she feels no remorse.

“Aaargh…..” Boggel opens his eyes, stares at the group with uncomprehending and unfocussed eyes. “Wha….?”

Servaas, still rubbing his head after his heroic storming of Brutus’s Bastille (or whatever you want to call the man’s reason d’etre) , bends down to smile at the barman: “Like a Cactus?”

He’s rewarded by a weak twist of the chapped lips – a feeble but honest effort to return the smile. Boggel tries to move, finds himself buried, and starts wriggling out of the sand.

“I’m not dead yet, you guys. Can’t you wait with the funeral?” His voice is hoarse and cracked, but everybody gives a little cheer. Boggel is back! Weak, barely able to sit up, but still…

“When you lot have stopped fussing over Boggel,” Gertruida pauses while they turn to her, “I might remind you that we have to get a pressure bandage on Smartryk’s wound. Now, if you don’t mind, I need some help.” She’s still bent over her patient, applying pressure to the rupture artery.

“Here.” Dawid, who has stood quietly watching, while rubbing his neck where Brutus’s fingers bruised the tissue, holds out the small pouch he always carries on the piece of leather that holds his loincloth in place. “Press this leaf on the bleeding.”

Gertruida stares at the leaf for a moment. It’s a leaf – a nondescript, common, everyday leaf. The type of leaf you’d see on the ground and never think twice about it. Heart-shaped and small, it looks like a thousand others one would find on the stunted bushes in the Kalahari. Still, when she sees the imploring eyes of the Bushman, she shrugs and places the leaf on the spurting artery.

The bleeding stops immediately.

“Now put this on the wound,” Dawid says, “before you put on a bandage. It’ll help healing.” This time he pours an ash-like powder from an even smaller bag  in the pouch.

Gertruida needs no convincing. Using a bandage from Precilla’s first-aid kit, she binds up the wound. Smartryk, who has been silent for the whole time, now sits up, looks over to Boggel, and waves a fluttering hand in the barman’s direction. “You must be Boggel?”

“The same,” Boggel’s voice has improved to beyond the croaking stage. “Will somebody please tell what is going on here? I thought I was going to die…”

While Gertruida tries to put the Rolbosser’s reaction to Boggel’s disappearance and Mary’s visit into some perspective, Mary plops down on the sand. Drawing her knees to her chest and resting her chin on her folded arms, she now stares at Boggel and Smartryk in turn. She, too, has to organise her thoughts. Sure, the reason for her coming to Rolbos, was to see Boggel. And yes, she is glad to see him…or is she? Was he not, just a few moments ago, one of the reasons why she kicked that despicable man? And wasn’t it silly to hope that he – Boggel – would await her with open arms and that they could pick up where they left off, all those years ago? A sudden flurry of doubt creases her brow.

And Smartryk? Well, now there’s a question, isn’t there? After all, she hardly knows the man… Travelling with a stranger for two days is hardly a foundation for a long-term relationship. What she needs, is security – not only financially, but especially emotionally. Smartryk seems nice enough, but…

Her thoughts and Gertruida’s lecture are interrupted when Sersant Dreyer gets out of the van, slamming the door.

“I’ve got it,” he says triumphantly. “Come, let’s bury this piece of scum.And we have to talk…”

***

“Let’s just think for a minute. If we involved the authorities, we’ll have to explain why Boggel is in the state he’s in, what happened to Smartryk…and that.” He jerks his thumb towards Brutus. “I don’t have to tell you: there’d be questions – a million of them – and investigations and interviews and goodness knows what else. Brutus’s affairs will be under a microscope, end there’d be the issue of manslaughter…or murder.”

Smartryk nods weakly. The last thing he’d want is to see Mary go through a protracted – even a sensational – court case. He has sensed her vulnarability over the past two days – and her pent-up fury of a few minutes ago underscored her utter fragility.

“So here’s what I think. First, we make sure that Smartryk and Boggel are fit to travel – that is, after we’ve buried that corpse. Then we take the two patients to Oudok, and get them fixed up. Like Dawid said: it may involve a two-day trip, but that’s what we’ve got to do. Once we’re all safely back in Rolbos, we simply continue with life as we know it.” He flashes a rare, but disarming smile. “Brilliant, isn’t it?”

Complete silence.

“But then…what…what about….this?” Oudoom makes a vague gesture to encompass them all, the area, and Brutus.

“It never happened, Oudoom. This incident didn’t occur. We’re not here.”

“But we can’t…”

“Oh yes, we can!” Gertruida’s emphatic statement swivels all the eyes in her direction. “Sersant Dreyer is right. The only thing that’d come from making this public, is a pack of investigators, followed closely by a court case, television crews and the Huisgenoot. And what will happen? Mary has a criminal record and could quite possibly end up in jail for manslaughter. You know how the legal system works – I don’t have to explain that to you. Even if Mary is acquitted, there might be a reaction from the drug cartel Brutus was involved with. In the end she’d be a target – either by the law – or the…others. If we go home quietly, the world will keep on turning. Cops will hunt robbers, politicians will lie and lovers will love.

“Look at the hullabaloo surrounding the Oscar Pistorius case. How many millions were spent by the news channels of the world and how many millions of people wasted days – weeks – following the trial? And what did it change? Nothing, that’s what. Reeva is dead, Oscar’s career is in tatters and the state spent 15 million Rands on the case for the prosecution. That, my friends, could have supplied water and electricity to quite a number of households.

“Justice…” Gertruida says the word slowly, almost dreamily. “What is justice – especially for the victim? Is it not to give him or her the life back…the life once lived, carefree and happy?”

It is, everybody agrees, one of Gertruida’s better speeches, earning her a number of nodding heads.

“Before we take the law in our own hands,” Servaas says, “I think we should hear Boggel’s story.”

This puts a lid on Gertruida’s plea for the time being. The group now turns to Boggel, who is still sitting up on his heap of damp sand.

“Okay, then,” the barman sighs. “It’s only fair. Let me tell you…”

‘Everybody wants to be understood
Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up because you are loved…’

Everybody has a You (#7)

thescientistThe events leading up to Dawid Loper’s visit to Vetfaan must be seen as one of those strange, inexplicable situations we all experience from time to time. If one tried to arrange these happenings in a logical fashion, it all seems to sound so farfetched and illogical – causing the sceptic to walk away with that superior smile that says one should not be so gullible and stupid: coincidences happen all the time, don’t they?

But in the Kalahari the people have long learnt to keep the doors of scepticism firmly closed. Oh, like Vladimir Nabokov, they retain a sense of humour when it comes to such things, and laugh at Gertruida when she quotes the great author when he writes: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” But they also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s famous words: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Boggel says both these men grasped the deeper truth behind a coincidence: sometimes Life mixes up laughter and tears to make us realise we will never be able to explain everything. Sometimes, Oudoom says, Boggel has the uncanny and surprising ability to condense complicated issues like Faith into a single sentence.

When Dawid wioke up three mornings ago in his simple hut in the dunes, he watched an eagle flying high overhead. And he felt the tapping in his chest – that strange unease, telling him about somebody who needs help. Who it was, and where, he wasn’t certain at first, but later when he saw the spoor of an eland leading off to the east, the tapping became more intense. He followed those tracks to the rise on the small hill on Vetfaan’s farm, where he immediately understood: this was where he had to be.

Now, just after the group in the bar has fallen silent – he opens the door to Boggel’s Place.

“I heard,” he said, looking at Vetfaan.

Tsamma melons (Citrullus ecirrhosus). Sesriem. Namibia.In Western society it is considered rude to be eavesdropping. Not so with the Bushman tribes. To survive, you have to gather as much information about your circumstances as possible. Wind, weather, spoor and veld provide clues to where the next meal might be found. That, and what other’s say. A family member might mention the field of tsamma plants in a deserted valley, or talk about a water source a grandfather mentioned a long time ago. Knowledge ensures survival as much in the Kalahari as in the stock exchanges all over the world.

The major difference between the so-called modern world and the Busman? The latter have retained the ability to listen – really listen – to nature, to their surroundings and to other people. The art of shutting up and paying attention was lost when Man invented the telephone – an instrument invented because we needed technology to force others to listen. Of course, poor Mister Bell meant well, but it only made matters worse: the telephone in reality created a platform to mostly broadcast one’s desires. And just when we thought our ego-driven society had reached the bottom rung, along came Facebook. We talk, we want others to see and listen…but it’s generally a one-way street.

The small, yellow people of the Kalahari avoided this downward spiral in communication. They actually use their ears – under all circumstances. Even under the window of Boggel’s Place.

“You were listening at the window?”

Dawid nods – a little shyly, because he knows the strange ways of the white people: they have this obsession with privacy.

“Good, then I won’t have to explain.”

“I felt him, mister Vetfaan, felt him here.” He taps a stubby finger against the creased skin of his chest. “I didn’t know who, but the spoor led to your farm.So…I came.”

“And now, Dawid, do you ‘feel’ Boggel? Please help us, man?”

The Bushman slowly sits down on the floor, resting his head on his hands. The people in the bar remain completely silent while they watch the man as he starts rocking to and fro. At first inaudible, they later hear the monotonous tune he hums. Vetfaan holds a finger to his lips while he watches – he’s seen this before when Dawid helped him find the lost ram.

It seems to take a long time. After the excitement of Mary and Smartryk’s arrival and the terrible realisation that Boggel may be in mortal danger, it is almost impossible to sit quietly while watching the shrivelled old man. But they have to – and they do. Servaas and Oudoom exchange glances:  their way of thinking shies away from the mystical and unexplained…yet this may very well be their only hope of finding Boggel again. This, they realise, is not the time to voice their concerns.

Eventually – after what seemed like an eternity – Dawid starts tapping his chest. Slow, deep, thudding taps. His eyes are closed when he starts talking.

“Yes, I feel him. Mister Boggel. He is…far. And I think he is injured. And…he needs help.”

“Where is he, Dawid? Can you help us?”

Again the old man is silent for a few long minutes.

“Yes. We must go.” The tapping stops. He looks up. “Immediately.”

The would-be rescuers assemble everything they need in record time. Blankets, sleeping bags, Precilla’s first-aid kit, tinned food, water and – of course – a solid supply of Cactus Jack. This gets loaded into Vetfaan’s pickup and Sersant Dreyer’s police van. Somehow, they all squeeze into the vehicles and are set to go within an hour.

“Where to, Dawid?”

“”Beyond the dunes, Mister Vetfaan. Near the dry river bed, I know the place. – we call it Zosi Plain.”

Gertruida feels a pang of panic rising in her chest. As the only Rolbosser to understand some of the San language, she knows ‘Zosi’ means ‘those without hooves‘. In other words, dangerous people, like predators. The Bushmen, she knows, associate themselves closely with the animal kingdom, where the eland reigns supreme. And, if a man ‘has no hooves’, it implies that he – unlike the Bushmen – is coupled with hunting animal with paws and nails and canines.

“Tell me about Zosi Plain,” she prompts the old man gently.

“Many summers ago, Miss Gertruida, there were men with guns. Many guns. They were hunting other men. Some of my family got shot there.”

This, Gertruida thinks, must have been during the 1914 Rebellion, when some South Africans refused to fight in WW I. They remembered the Anglo-Boer war, the burnt farms and the 26,000 women and  children who died in the concentration camps – and refused to battle alongside their former enemy, the British. Some of the rebels fled to the Kalahari,but were pursued and hunted down before they reached German West Africa – the country we know today as Namibia.

“And what did you see – or feel – about this plain, Dawid?”

Dawid Loper stares at the horizon, where the shimmering heatwaves cause heaven and earth to mix in a hazy line where it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other starts.

“Mister Boggel is weak, Miss Gertruida. He is alone. But he has a Zosi following him. We must hurry.”

Although Vertfaan and Sersant Dreyer have a lot of  experience about driving in the deep, loose sand of the Kalahari, their progress is slow. When at last they stop for the night, Dawid tells them they have only gone as far as the hips – his way of estimating halfway. Despite the urgency, the group realises the futility of attempting to cross the dunes at night.

“First thing in the morning,” Vertfaan says, “we’ll be off. According to Dawid, we should be at the plain at about midday. That’s the best we can do.”

Smartryk nods. He’s seen the Kalahari from the air while flying, and realises how dangerous the place is.

“Mary,” he now says, “tomorrow we’ll find your Boggel, don’t you worry.”

And Mary Mitchell, the woman scorned for so long by men and life alike, looks up to the kind eyes of this strange man she’s just met. She’s aware of a weird feeling welling up inside her – a warm, comfortable sensation she can’t define accurately – and finds herself smiling. Here she is, in the middle of nowhere, with somebody she hardly knows. And yet…he’s been there all day, sitting quietly next to her. Just his presence, it seems, made it possible to face the last two days. He doesn’t speak much…but even his silence was enough, made her stronger.

“You’re such a sweet man, Ryk,” she says, choosing to omit the first part of his name. ‘Grief’, she reckons, should not be part of the way she thinks of him. She toys with the name, coming up with ‘Liefryk’, blushes at the silly thought, and looks away. “I really do appreciate…”

“Shhh.” He interrupts her gently by laying a finger on her lips. “Rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day…”

Rolbos – The Book

Finally!

Rolbos-eng

Click picture to go to Amazon.com

Due to international demand Because I enjoyed sharing Rolbos with so many readers, my ego drove me  it seemed only natural to give Rolbos wings. And so, after exhaustive writing, editing, and months of effort…the book is available. Marinda Ehlers did a sterling job of compiling, correcting and coercing the text into a readable format – and I thank her for that.

The dream of an Afrikaans version will have to wait, though. (I personally think it is far superior slightly better than almost as good as the English version. Who knows what the future will bring? )

So, there you are. The story of Everybody has a You will continue tomorrow.

Everybody has a You (#5)

SadWomanThe arrival of Mary Mitchell and Smartryk Genade in Rolbos might just go down in the town’s history as one of the strangest the inhabitants have ever experienced. Of course the patrons at the bar all knew  about Mary – she’s visited Rolbos before - but they have to look twice to recognise the once-vivacious girl they’ve met before.

“I don’t believe it,” Precilla breathes as Mary gets out of the Golf. “Is it who I think it is?”

“Yes, it is, Precilla. And I think a lot of water has run into the sea since last we saw her.” Gertruida takes in the mousy hair, the unkempt appearance and the wrinkled brow. “Whatever she’s done during the last few years hasn’t done her any good, I’d say.”

Still, when the two travellers walk into the bar, Smartryk hardly gets the opportunity to introduce himself. In rural South Africa there is an unwritten law regarding such events: you first act overjoyed – saying how well the years treated the new arrival – then you offer something to drink while making small talk, and only then is one permitted to ask questions. Today, however, that rule is completely ignored as Mary shuts them all up, to ask about Boggel.

Silence.

They don’t know.

“Maybe…,” Mary draws a deep breath, “I should tell you my story.

“You see, I only landed in Cape Town a few days ago – and that same night you guys get an aeroplane landing in Rolbos and Boggel disappears. That – to me – is just too much of a coincidence. I fear it has something to do with my return.” She proceeds to tell them everything she told Smartryk the previous evening. The townsfolk listen in complete silence, exchanging worried looks while she’s talking. When she finishes at last, nobody says a word either.

“Mmmmm….” Gertruida has that look. “Servaas, pour me a double, I need to think.”

While the others converge around the two new arrivals, Gertruida takes her drink to sit outside on the veranda. She knows about the drug scene in Rio and have read about Fernandinho, but he’s still in jail, isn’t he? Now, that Brutus Malherbe….he stood trial, got sentenced, and was released on grounds of a medical condition. Even if he wasn’t locked up any more, he still had to comply with his parole restrictions, hadn’t he?

“Sersant! Dreyer…come here.”

A few minutes later, Dreyer trots off to his office to make a phone call. Gertruida rubs the frown between her eyes, sighs, and returns to the bar for a refill.

“Look, all we know is that  whoever flew that plane, took Boggel along. We have no proof of abduction, no letter of demand , to know that Boggel went against his will. The frightened face Dreyer saw? Well, we all know Boggel hates flying, anyway. The aircraft crashes for whatever unknown reason… and then we know they raced off towards Grootdrink, but they never got here. We all drove that road, and we know there hadn’t been an accident to explain why they never got to the roadblock. Deduction? They veered off into the Kalahari and are lying low.

“Who was the pilot? Person unknown, as far as I’m concerned at this stage, but… He – let’s assume it’s a man – could logically have something to do with Mary…or not. Boggel doesn’t have any enemies. So let’s go with Mary’s suggestion that her presence in the country could have something to do with this fiasco. Now that, my friends, opens another set of questions. Who knew about Mary’s involvement with Boggel? Who connected those dots?  And, assuming somebody did so, why abduct Boggel? What possible value could our Boggel have in this situation?

“I’ll give you a hypothesis…” Everybody stares at Gertruida while she waits for Servaas to fill her glass. They know she just loves to parade her superior intellect about and that it won’t help to rush her along.

“I’ll tell you what I think. Somebody – and it could be the pilot – knows a heck of a lot about Mary. Intimately so, I might add. This somebody knew she was back in the country. He had no way of knowing what her movements here would be…unless he guessed that she would want to come to Rolbos – which is farfetched. But he knew about the loyalty between Boggel and Mary, so he kidnaps Boggel to use as bait. He wants to lay his hands on Mary, see? If he wanted Mary to come to him, he only had to make it known hat Boggel was in his care.

“Now why would a person do that?” She pauses dramatically, a cynical smile hovering on her lips. “Why land an aeroplane here – at night – take all the risks, and steal our Boggel? Only to get Mary to come to him for a chat? Noooo, my friends. It’s because he needs something from Mary, that’s why. This man is so desperate to talk to Mary, that he hatches an evil, criminal plan to get her to come to him. Using Boggel is as brilliant as it is stupid. Brilliant, because the police would never have connected the disappearance of our barman with the return of a criminal from Rio. Stupid…because he obviously planned in haste – hence the aeroplane and the risks. This man knew about Mary, but didn’t know about her return until the last minute.

“We have two men she told us about. Fernandinho – as far as we know – is still locked up in Rio. And anyway, he would have known about her release. Didn’t she tell us that he took care of her in prison? No, he kept tabs on her and would have known.

“But Brutus? Now there’s a possibility. He got her involved in the first instance, didn’t he? He spent months dating her  – softening her up to be a courier – and I’m sure he knew as much about her as anybody ever did. He would, I’d guess, have known about Boggel…”

“Oh. My. Word.” Mary sits down heavily, ashen-faced and distraught. “Yes… I…I told him everything…”

They all start talking together when Dreyer storms in.

“You’re right, Gertruida! Brutus Malherbe has skipped. His parole officer reported him missing last night: he last visited Malherbe a week ago. And…that aeroplane, the Cessna? It was stolen from Lanseria the same day Mary landed in Cape Town. Malherbe’s home is five kilometres away from that airport…”

“Okay then.” Gertruida sits down next to Mary. “Suppose you tell us what Malherbe wants from you? What have you got that he wants so desperately? Come on, Mary, Boggel’s life may very well depend on you being honest with us?”

At this point Mary starts crying uncontrollably. Her life is a mess – always has been, always will be. And now she quite possibly have ruined Boggel’s life – if not all the people of this little town…

Everybody has a You (#4)

Crashed-Cessna1Smartryk glances down at the relaxed face of the woman on his bed. If she took care of her hair, used a bit of make-up and lost the disheveled look, she could be so pretty. He blushes at the thought.

After she had fainted on the veranda, several waiters helped to carry her to his room. His room. The lodge had no other accommodation available, so it was impossible to get her a suite of her own. His original thought – to sleep in his old Golf – is out of the question now; he cannot just leave her like this, can he? He orders some coffee and settles down next to the bed. Mary’s breathing is deep and regular, making him believe that the faint had progressed to a deep sleep. And, after what she’s told him, he realises how tired the poor woman must be. Best to let her sleep it off…

logo5391866While sitting there, watching the woman sleep, Smartryk thinks about the string of events leading to his being here. There must be some logic, some reason, for all this… Sighing heavily, he opens the envelope bearing the imposing emblem he received in Cape Town.

Always something new in Africa, he thinks as he opens the dossier. As an accident investigator, he’s seen it all: mechanical problems, human error, freak accidents. But this one – happening out here, for goodness’ sakes – seems to be quite unusual…

***

Under the usual heading and initial paragraph, the provisional report on the crash of the Cessna near Grootdrink follows. Smartryk reads his instructions again: investigate the cause of the crash; gather information on the report by one Sergeant Dreyer that foul play was involved – and cooperate with the South African Police Service if necessary. It sounds so simple. One paragraph stands out.

According to an unconfirmed statement by one Sgt Dreyer, a man was abducted from a small town near Grootdrink and forced into the aircraft. The pilot then took off on an unscheduled flight to destination/s unknown. A few minutes after take-off, the Cessna lost height spiralled to the ground and made a forced landing on a gravel road. The pilot and his passenger escaped with apparently no injuries. 

Abduction? In all the years Smartryk has been involved with the SACAA, he’s never had to investigate a crash of this nature. Well, tomorrow he’ll interview this sergeant and get on with his inquiry. For now, however, he is stuck with the sleeping woman on his bed. He orders more coffee.

***

Mary wakes up to the sounds of the birds outside. For a full minute, nothing makes sense. Where is she? The memory of the many mornings she woke up in the prison in Rio flood her mind and for a moment she is struck by a wild panic. Her stifled scream wakes the man next to her bed.

“Shhh…,” he says as he sits up. “You’re okay, Mary. Had a bit of a faint last night, didn’t you? But everything is all right now, you’ve had a wonderful sleep. Wait, I’ll get you some coffee.”

“Wha…?”

Smartryk recaps the outlines of the previous night. “I think it must have been the wine. You…well, you passed out and slept it off. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ordered that second bottle of wine. But…nothing a good sleep can’t cure, is there? You must be thirsty. Need something for a headache?”

Truth be told, Mary hasn’t felt so rested in many months. A night’s undisturbed sleep had been completely impossible in that hell-hole in Rio. She manages a weak smile.

“Coffee, please.” She hesitates, thinking deep. “Oh yes! I remember now. You told me about the crash.” A worried frown settles on her brow. “You said something about Boggel…”

She tries to explain over coffee. Smartryk, in turn, tells her of the phone call to Sersant Dreyer, the policeman in Rolbos who notified the Aviation Authority. By the time they’re on their third cup of steaming coffee, the picture starts to make sense.

“So…this Boggel…he’s the barman with the spinal problem? And you were on your way to see him? And now he’s been kidnapped or abducted or whatever, and this is the crash I have to investigate? This is most unusual…”

And unusual it is, too! The coincidences are just too many.

“I think,” Mary says at length, “that this incident – this crash and everything associated with it – has something to do with my coming back to South Africa. Why, for heaven’s sake, would somebody abduct Boggel? It doesn’t make sense?? And this within days of my return? I mean – come on – why the hell would a barman in a nothing town suddenly be so important as to be kidnapped?”

Smartryk can only shake his head.

***

To describe the chaos in Rolbos would be impossible. The townsfolk have all gathered in Boggel’s Place, where Servaas has taken over the duties of barman. As may be expected, Gertruida has appointed herself as chairperson of this emergency meeting.

“Come on guys, settle down. It’s no use everybody talking together. Sersant, please tell us – again – what happened?”

“I think you all know the story by now, Gertruida. I woke up four nights ago – thought I heard the sound of an aircraft overhead. It sounded low and near, but I didn’t think it was in trouble or anything like that. Well, the sound disappeared after a while and I went to the bathroom for a glass of water – you’ll remember that we celebrated the Springbok’s victory over the Kiwis that evening and I was thirsty – when I heard Vrede barking. It wasn’t his usual bark at all – he was clearly upset about something.

“So I went outside, see? And Vrede took hold of my pajama pants and started dragging me to Boggel’s rondawel. I thought the dog was mad or something, but I went along anyway. When I got there, the rondawel was empty. No Boggel.”  Dreyer tells them how he scouted around, looking for Boggel all over the place. “Then, suddenly, I heard the roar of an aircraft’s engine. It was quite dark still, but the moon was bright enough and I could just make out the Cessna in the veld outside town. That pilot must have glided the plane down when he landed, because nobody heard it arrive.” He waits for the heads to nod before going on. “The landing lights came on and for a second the interior was illuminated. I quite dimly saw the outline of the pilot, but Boggel I recognised immediately. He was staring through the window…. I have never seen such fear on a man’s face.

The pilot took off, flew in a lazy circle, and was heading back towards Grootdrink when it suddenly started losing height. “I don’t know what went wrong. For a few seconds I thought they’d crash headlong into the ground, but then, at the last minute, the pilot apparently got the nose up and they barrelled – belly first – into the ground. Of course I ran there as fast as I could, but when I got here, not a trace of Boggel or the pilot was to be found.”

“By that time we were all in the street,” Vetfaan interjects, “and eventually found you at the wreckage. And then, while you were telling us what you saw, we heard the sound of a vehicle roaring off in the direction of Grootdrink.”

“Ja, my bloody bakkie!” Kleinpiet looks suitably aggrieved. “Didn’t realise it was my pickup before I went home again.”

“You shouldn’t leave the keys in the ignition, Kleinpiet.” Dreyer’s frustration boils over. “Anyway, I contacted the chaps at Grootdrink, telling them to set up a roadblock – but nothing happened. They didn’t go there.”

“But we’ve looked all over, Dreyer. For the last few days we’ve searched high and low. No Boggel. They must be somewhere, damn it all!”  Precilla can’t understand why Dreyer couldn’t get a helicopter to help them search, and tells him so.

“A helicopter? Here? Sorry Precilla. This is the New South Africa. They have three helicopters in Upington. One is without landing gear after an rather unplanned landing, another is waiting for a new rotor due to a telephone pole the pilot didn’t see and the third is on standby for some minister who is entertaining some Chinese delegation. Oh, and they used to have a fourth ‘copter, but that has been stolen.”

“It’s up to us, then.” Gertruida takes charge again. “We’ll have to…”

“Look!” Servaas’s shout stops her in mid sentence as he points to the window. “There’s a car racing towards town. It looks like an old CitiGolf. I wonder who could it be…?”