The man takes off his shades when he walks in to Boggel’s Place. Despite the heat, he is dressed in a dark suit, and shoes with the longest points Boggel has ever seen.
“I, Miguel Francisco Santos D’Almeida. You call me Frankie. My father was sailor.”
Vetfaan has to concentrate to keep his mouth closed. He glances over to Kleinpiet, who shrugs his shoulders: no, he doesn’t know what this is all about either.
The rather short, handsome chap taps his broad forehead. “You don’t understand, I see. Me, I come from long and proud line of men who are not afraid of life. We get things done.” Accepting the beer Boggel pushes over the counter, he goes on: “I have bought farm.”
Gertruida snaps her fingers. Of course! Gert Beetge – the man who’s funeral turned out to be so weird – stipulated in his will that his farm had to be sold. The money raised, he said, had to go to charity. This…Frankie… must have bought the farm.
“Yes, it is good farm.” Frankie spreads his short arms as wide as he can. “The ground perfect for Glaze Purple Stripe, if you know what you’re doing.”
“You want to grow garlic here? In the Kalahari? With this climate? Without water?” Now it’s Gertruida’s turn to be surprised.
“Frankie not afraid. The ground so fertile, only need water. And, because there are few weed to worry about, I save a fortune in production costs. The heat? That’s a bonus. Garlic grows faster in warm place. Also, I like to work in Kalahari. Nobody bother me, understand?”
“Listen Mister Miguel, you can’t just come and farm here. Before you start planting anything, I suggest you stay on the farm for a week or so. Just to get the feel of the place, see? People don’t understand what drought is until they live here for a while. You stay, then you decide. Understand?” Vetfaan tries to look concerned. He doesn’t like overconfident people.
“No, I understand everything. I know my garlic. I plant. I have buyers who wait. No can stay and do nothing. Not Frankie Fingers. I plant.”
Over the next month, the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer brings in pipes, scaffolding and solar panels. Whatever else they can say about Frankie – he doesn’t seem to be poor. Huge fans, batteries, a massive roll of shade-net-like material and several electric engines get delivered, while Frankie supervises the construction.
“It’s a hydroponics tunnel,” Gertruida tells them. “The National Geographic had a whole series of articles about it a while back. During the day the fans will cool the plants, and at night he’ll use the batteries to provide light. Out here, those solar panels will work wonderfully well. That way, the plants grow faster, see? And he’ll most probably be able to recycle the water used for irrigating the plants, so the requirement for huge volumes of water falls away. My, my…this Frankie is quite an inventive guy. I’m impressed. Won’t be surprised if he starts using recycled waste as compost, either.”
“I still don’t like the idea. Plants need rest too, you know? It isn’t fair to keep them thinking its daytime, all the time. It sounds like slavery.” Kleinpiet draws a sleeping man on the counter with a couple of zzz’s above him.
And so, Gert Beetge’s farm undergoes a transformation. The long tunnel stretches from the borehole to the barn, shimmering in the midday heat. Frankie has invited the townsfolk to come and have a look, and Vetfaan cannot believe how cool it is with the fans on.
“You see, I grow garlic here.” Frankie shows them the neat rows of growth areas, the micro-irrigation system, and the storage area where the recycled water gets pumped back to the plants. Despite Kleinpiet’s doubts, he has to admit the set-up is extremely impressive. “Now I put up fence, and start planting. And now you’ve seen it, I no want many visitors. These plants, they grow better in quiet, understand? It’s part of secret to have good harvest.”
Vetfaan, whose farm is next door to the new enterprise, keeps the customers in Boggel’s Place up to date with developments. Frankie did, indeed, put up a fence. “But it’s not like our fences, Kleinpiet. It’s like you have around the prison in Upington – high, barbed and electrified. It’s strange…”
“Maybe he doesn’t want his equipment stolen. He must have spent a lot of money to get this far.”
“No, man…nobody steals stuff here. We may borrow the occasional tractor or drill without the owner knowing, but we always give it back, don’t we? Putting up a fence like that is a waste of time and money.”
“And I hear the gate to the farm is also padlocked these days. That’s weird, too. Maybe he’s paranoid.”
This leads to lengthy discussions. Maybe he’s in on fracking? What about medicinal plants for the pharmaceutical industry? Or is he simply producing garlic for a huge network of chain stores? Even Oudoom adds his two cent’s worth by saying those who shelter behind locks, usually have something to hide.
Sammie, of course, cannot give a hoot. Frankie spends a lot of cash in his store, while Boggel’s turnover almost doubles when the garlic grower starts paying for the drinks in Boggel’s Place.
“That man has too much money,” Gertruida says on the last day of Frankie’s freedom. “Something is wrong with this picture.”
Kleinpiet looks around, doesn’t see any paintings, and coughs politely. “There is no picture, Gertruida. That’s what’s wrong.”
It’s Vrede, the ex-police dog, whose nose points them in the right direction. Whenever Frankie comes to town, Vrede starts barking. Angry barks, not his usual Grrr-arf that begs for a piece of biltong. Barks, that tell the Rolbossers something ominous is afoot. He recognises that scent from his training, many years ago. Gertruida talks to Sersant Dreyer about it. And it is the sergeant, who knows Vrede’s background, puts two and two together.
Even the SABC reports on the swoop. They need a convoy of trucks to cart off the marijuana plants and equipment for evidence in the trial. The only reminder remaining of South Africa’s biggest hydroponics dagga farm, is the large, covered tunnel on Gert Beetge’s old place.
Vetfaan now keeps his sheep in there in the winter. When Woolworths hears he was the only supplier of free-range, organic, hydroponics sheep in the world, they make him an offer he cannot refuse.
After all, he has the fattest sheep in the country – if not the world… Gertruida says so.