Servaas just can’t get the young woman out of his head. Those legs! Those curves! The skirt… That smile (when she’s not looking at him)! It’s 5 o’clock am and he’s given up on trying to sleep. Now, with the mug of coffee warming his arthritic fingers, he sits on his stoep in front of his little house, waiting for the sun to colour the eastern sky. What is it about Rusty he finds so alluring? She’s young enough to be his daughter (grand-daughter if he started earlier), yet he can’t keep his eyes off her. And his thoughts! Deliciously dark and tantalising… Oudoom guessed about them, but the poor clergyman will never know the extent of his sin. The visions floating around in Servaas’s grey head are far worse than Oudoom can ever imagine in his wildest fantasies…
The black BMW crawling into town interrupts his imaginary trip up those Cat-in-a-hat socks. The vehicle approaches almost silently, moving like a leopard stalking a prey. No lights. Only the crunch of gravel beneath the low-profile tyres.
Servaas gets up, hitches the baggy pyjama bottom to a respectful height, and walks down to his rusted front gate. This vehicle may very well be bad news. and he wants to know what it is doing here.
“Hey old man!” The BMW has stopped, and the voice freezes him next to his gate.
“Good morning…” His greeting is as hesitant as he is.
“You stay here?”
“No, I’m the local Father Christmas. Just arrived from the North Pole. A bit early this year.” Damn them for interrupting his voyeuristic daydream!
“We’re looking for someone.” The man doesn’t even react to his sarcasm. “Here, I have a photograph.”
Servaas takes his time getting to the car. When the driver turns on the interior light, Servaas notices that there are two men inside the vehicle – big, burly, strong men. He’ll have to be careful.
The photograph, inevitably, is of Rusty.
“Yes,’ Servaas says quickly. “Her car broke down. That’s it standing over there.” He points to the Volkswagen standing outside Boggel’s Place. “Yesterday. Yes, I think it was yesterday. Or the day before – at my age… But then some tourists came and she asked them for a lift. They went that-a-way,” he points towards Bitterbrak, “and that’s all I know.”
The man doesn’t thank him – simply nudges the driver, pointing down the road. Then they’re gone.
Within half-an-hour, they’re all in Boggel’s Place while he waits for the peculator to boil.
“Listen,” Servaas has their full attention, “those low-profile tyres won’t last on this road. They’ll be stranded by now. That means we have to move and move fast. What have you figured out, Gertruida?”
Servaas tries to see if Rusty is impressed. He explained he couldn’t very well have said she isn’t around – not with her car fitted with a tracking device standing out there in plain sight. If she appreciates his creativity, she isn’t show it. He sighs…
“Well,” Gertruida is still in a night gown, eyes heavy from lack of sleep. “The only thing I can think of, is to get Rusty out of town – but that doesn’t mean the cave is safe. Maybe we should set up an expedition to explore that cave. If needs be, we can destroy the documents. Or, better still, move them.”
“I’ll drive,” Servaas says hopefully.
Vetfaan says Fanny is almost due, and they can’t go. Kleinpiet also shakes his head after noticing the disapproving look from Precilla – she sees Rusty as serious trouble: she’s just too sexy.
“If Kleinpiet can watch the bar, I’m in,” Boggel peers over at his friend, and smiles happily when Kleinpiet nods.
In the sleepy town of De Rust, just east of Meiringspoort, an artist tilts her head sideways to view her latest painting. Living alone as she does, she likes getting up early to drive up into the mountains in order to catch the early morning light on the towering rocks of Swartberg. Lately, she’s been exploring the area north of Oudtshoorn to photograph the scenes that would become paintings during the long, lonely days in her studio.
Ever since her divorce – is it already ten years ago? – she has followed her life-long dream of being an artist. A real artist, mind you, living of the proceeds of her paintings – not one of those hopefuls that try to sell their shoddy work on Saturday markets and church bazaars. It was this obsession with perfection that contributed to the divorce in the first instance: her dear husband found it increasingly difficult to see her destroying canvas after canvas when the end result didn’t meet her expectations. That, and the endless secret meetings with men and…women…he never wanted to explain.
Life, according to her, is a simple question of doing your very best. As on canvas, so with relationships: if the picture isn’t perfect, it isn’t worth anything.
Ah, yes…this one will do. It’s exactly like the picture on the photograph. Now she’ll tackle that difficult one: the limestone outcrop she saw while hiking in the mountains with her water bottle and her camera a week ago. She likes the uneven surfaces of the rocks, the crags, nooks and crannies in the folds of these old stones. They resemble life in a manner of speaking, she thinks. We start off with shiny, smooth surfaces, only to be scarred and scoured by events until we’re old and wrinkled and…ugly. A beautiful ugliness, she calls it, a celebration of unprettiness.
She peers at the photograph, remembering the atmosphere of the moment. This is important, she likes to say. It’s of no use to paint a picture if you can’t convey the feelings caught up in it. Now, in this photograph, she has to depict loneliness, an eerie feeling of mystery and the grandeur of the mountains. Yes, she remembers exactly what she felt when she took this photo: an strangely upsetting feeling; like a foreboding of evil, caught up in the magnificence of the surroundings.
It’s going to be a challenge…
The trip to Oudtshoorn is a long and cramped journey. Boggel – with his bent back – gets the front seat next to Rusty, while Gertruida has to share the back seat with Servaas (who positioned himself so that he can see Rusty’s legs between the split in the front seats). Despite it’s age, the old Volkswagen makes good time trough the barren wastes of the Karoo.
“We’ll overnight at the Karoo National Park,” Gertruida announces. “They have a fantastic restaurant and nice chalets. Then we women can share, and so can you men.” She stares pointedly at Servaas, who sighs heavily. “Then it’s a short hop to Oudtshoorn tomorrow – especially if we start early.”
Kleinpiet is behind the counter when the two burly men stumble in to the bar.
“May I help you gentlemen? You seem parched.”
“Eish, you have no idea. Two flat tyres. Two! And we had to walk back all the way.” Patrick Ngobeni sits down heavily. “We need two beers – and we have to rent a car.”
“The nearest car rental is in Upington, my friends.” Kleinpiet has to struggle not to smile. “It’s a long way. Why not have a Green Ambulance – that’ll sort out your problems fast.”
Patrick has visions of a four-wheeled ambulance and nods eagerly. “Sure, anything.”
An hour later the lusty singing in the bar is loud enough to make Vrede scurry off to the shed behind Sammie’s Shop. Just like Kleinpiet hoped, the Cane-and-Crème-Soda mix made the two agents forget all about their mission.
“The light is wrong,” the artist tells herself. “It’s too vivid. Now, If I can get the sun at more of an angle, it’ll show up the cracks and crags even better. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll go back and get a better shot. An afternoon shot. Yes, That’s what I’ll do…”
A lonely artist. Three Rolbossers. One freckled and very sexy woman. And two very drunk agents. One would tend to say that it’s a random collection of non-related people.
How wrong would one be…