When they walk into Boggel’s Place, all conversation ceases. Fanny looks…gorgeous. As for Vetfaan, one can only look at his smile to guess what has happened. The two of them are, however, mildly surprised at the gloomy atmosphere.
“Welcome back,” Boggel says unenthusiastically as he slides over two cold beers.
“Ja, we’re glad to see you guys again,” Precilla adds in a quiet voice.
Vetfaan stops, lets go of Fanny’s hand and scrutinises the small crowd. He exchanges a worried glance with Fanny before asking the obvious question.
“Oh…nothing. Not much really.” Gertruida seems uncommonly uncomfortable. “We’re okay, I guess.”
“Come on, guys. Don’t do this to us. Something terrible happened, didn’t it?” By now Vetfaan doesn’t have to speculate – he knows: whatever it is, it affects them all.
“Well,” even Gertruida seems at loss for words, “It’s complicated…”
Fanny’s father phoned, soon after she and Vetfaan had set off into the veld. Nobody understood what was going on and when the man asked where his daughter was, they could honestly say they didn’t know.
“And then, Fanny, he told us why he phoned. It’s about Henry…”
The yearly audit was scheduled for the beginning of May. Three days ago, the chauffeur dropped Henry at work, as usual. Everybody has to check in at Security before entering the massive building, but Henry didn’t. Somewhere between the curb and the check-point, Henry disappeared. Just like that. Into thin air. Not only is his family frantic about his safety, but as the Chief Financial Officer of his family’s conglomerate of companies, his presence is crucial for the audit.
“So, Fanny, Henry is missing. I’m sorry I have to break this news to you, but there’s no other way. They don’t know where he is. You have to phone your father immediately, my dear. He’s hoping you might give them a clue about his plans, whereabouts, you know?”
Fanny blanches, sways and collapses against Vetfaan’s chest. For a moment he is confused, upset, for why is she reacting this way? Surely their talk last night settled a lot of issues? She said Henry is a good, boring, friend – and that saying goodbye to him would be the easiest thing in the world. Now, however, she seems unsettled at the thought he might be in danger. Nevertheless, he escorts her to a chair, sits her down, and nods at Boggel. He knows what to do. In times like these, he serves double Cactuses, (Gertruida calls it Cacti) – the nodder will settle the bill later.
“The phone is here, behind the counter, Fanny.” Boggel puts his crate down next to it. “You can use it to call your dad.”
Everybody suddenly remembers they had something to do. Servaas wants to see Oudoom in connection with Sunday’s service. Gertruida wants to fetch her knitting, it’s such a nice day on the veranda. Kleinpiet and Precilla has to check on something. (?) And Boggel says he has to get some dog food for Vrede at Sammie’s, he’s all out.
Of course they do nothing of the sort. They all gather on the veranda and take turns to peek through the window. They won’t hear a word, but will know when Fanny is finished with the call.
Fanny’s father is overjoyed to hear his daughter’s voice.
Yes, Henry went missing. Not the faintest idea where he went, but apparently his passport is gone, as well. Oh, they’ve alerted all the airports, but so far, nothing has turned up.
And yes, everybody’s worried. The provisional data – prepared for the audit – reveals a shocking state of affairs. There are major discrepancies in the figures.
Henry, who controlled the financial aspects of his family’s companies, had apparently withdrawn huge amounts of cash since the last audit. With their suspicions aroused, the team of accountants employed to work under Henry now started following the trail of these funds.
I’m sorry to tell you, Fanny, but Henry has been gambling with Futures and Forex on a massive scale. Hugely so. In the beginning he apparently had some success, but then the market turned and he lost almost all of the initial investments. Then he fell into the oldest gambler’s trap: using more and more money just to get back to square one.
Banks have floundered because of such things. Somewhere along the line, the situation becomes completely unrecoverable. Their empire won’t survive this knock, Fanny, they’re practically bankrupt.
Fanny replaces the receiver with trembling hands. Henry? A crook? A fraudster? Quiet, boring Henry – a gambler?
Boggel shuffles in to refill her glass. Vetfaan is at her side, laying a soft hand on her shaking shoulder. Her eyes search the face of the burly man as if she wants to draw strength from his presense. Struggling with the words, she tells them the news.
“I trusted him, Fanie. I thought he was a good man.”
“Harrumph!” Gertruida lets out one of her rare snorts. “Good men? I’d like to see one.” Her attempt at humour fails miserably. “Listen Fanny, there’s something wrong with the thought that people are inherently good. Somewhere inside each of us is an invisible line we should never cross. But we do. Whether we gossip or steal or murder – it’s all the same. Once that line is crossed people change: maybe it’s something small or maybe it’s planting a bomb in Boston – the potential is always there that some person will do the unthinkable.
“Now, whatever Henry did, we’ll only know when the facts emerge. The question that must be answered, is why? Why would a young man with a bright future take such risks? He did – and there must have been a reason.”
“Well, he certainly made a cock-up with this.” Servaas knits his furry eyebrows together indignantly. “His poor family. All those companies. That vast wealth…”
Fanny nods. “Dad says their assets aren’t enough now. Apparently they borrowed heavily when they expanded the hotel chain, and now their liabilities are just too much.”
“I have a feeling…” This time it’s Gertruida’s nod that sets up the next round. “Just a feeling… It is quite possible that Henry might rock up here sometime.”
This time, the fear in Fanny’s eyes is unmistakable.