“You know how those guys are, man.” Vetfaan was leaning on his one elbow while sipping his beer. “They’ve got family all over the world. Jo’ burg may be miles away, but if Sammy tells me he’s got a nephew over there, I believe him. I think most places have an Abramovitz of a Hurwitz behind a till somewhere.”
“But is it legal?” Gertruida frowned. “Why doesn’t he do it himself?
“Sammie says nobody will believe rhino horn coming from a major city. Rhino’s live in the veld, see? So he has to have a supplier from somewhere nobody has heard of. That, and it must be hard to check. So Rolbos is an obvious choice.’
Kleinpiet wasn’t convinced. “So, we all get to form the Rhino Horn Industrial Co, or RHIC as you call it, and put the product on the train in Upington? Then, within a week, we get paid? Sounds too easy.”
“It almost is. But Sammie says those Chinese gentlemen will pay almost anything for some horn. They really believe it helps them…” he faltered, looking at Gertruida, “well they feel better after taking it, see? And they so much want to feel better, that they’re willing to pay for it.” Vetfaan smiled happily. “The beauty is: it’s going to cost us nothing. Money for nothing, chaps, and the chips for free. And, may I remind you, we’ll be helping the abattoir to get rid of all those hooves.”
And so it started. The lorry from Upington brought the hooves from Upington’s abattoir every Tuesday. Servaas had worked on the hammer-mill that lay rusting on Kleinpiet’s farm, hooked it up to Vetfaan’s old Massey Fergusson – and Platnees fed the cow’s feet through the mill. They produced three sacks of ground hoof every week, which the lorry picked up on its return journey to Upington. At the end of the month Sammie distributed the dividends, causing wolf-whistles of surprise.
Two months went by. Boggel never, in his wildest dreams, thought business could be so good. Every night was a party with even Kleinpiet paying for others.
The day the black minibus arrived in Rolbos will be remembered for a long time. The tinted windows prevented the onlookers from seeing its passengers, but when the driver got out, Vrede, the town dog, whimpered and hid himself behind Boggel’s cushion below the bar counter. Instinct told him to beware.
The man walked uncertainly down the street and then threw back the doors of Boggel’s Place. Vrede took refuge in the kitchen.
“I’m looking for…,” he consulted a slip of paper, “..Sammie.” A flat statement, directed at Boggel. Gertruida sat at her usual place, in the corner, next to the window so that she can read her National Geographic. Boggel hunched his shoulders even more, spreading his hands wide. He knew trouble when he saw it. This man, dark shades, black bowler hat and straining suit, reminded him of Oddjob, the James Bond character with the vicious karate moves. Better know nothing, he thought.
Oddjob calmly walked over to the cash register, picked it up with uncanny ease, and dropped it to the floor. The drawer flew open, spilling the cash on the floor.
“Oops,” the man said in an almost-believable voice. “I suppose accidents will happen. Now, let me ask you again about Sammie…” Maybe because he was so cool and calm about it, the undercurrent of threatening danger was so much more obvious.
Boggel found his voice, and started stammering an answer. He tried to tell the man he didn’t really know, but the words got fumbled and made no sense.
“You know that cash register was antique?” Gertruida put down her magazine. “That is – was – an original Gross cash register, manufactured by the brothers Gross in England. It was the model that could do pounds, pennies and shillings, as well as decimal functions. They are quite unobtainable these days and you broke it. I suppose that means you owe Mister Boggel here at least R 50,000 or so. How do you intend to remunerate mister Boggel?” When you get to know Gertruida well, you’ll know that she is at her most dangerous when she is as calm as this. Boggel even smiled a little.
For a moment Oddjob stood transfixed. Then: “I-don’t-give-a-flying-vetkoek, lady. Where is Sammie?” He walked over to her table, towering above the seated woman.
Gertruida turned a page. “Oh he died last week. Some Japanese gentleman shot him, right through here.” She tapped a delicate finger on a spot above her ear. “Quite a mess, that was. Apparently the rhino horn he sold was not up to international standards. The police said they’d be here today to investigate his business. Can’t think why they haven’t arrived yet. Should be here any moment. Said they were coming by helicopter.”
By this time Boggel’s jaw had dropped so far that his throat was visible where it stretched over his bent back. He was making funny, squawking noises.
Oddjob considered this for exactly five seconds. He turned back to Boggel, gesturing to the broken till.
“You say anything – anything – about this, and you’ll look like that.” He pointed at the cash register while drawing a finger across his throat. Then he turned for the door, thought for a while and turned back. Taking a roll of notes from his pocket, he threw it on the counter. “Go buy yourself a new piggy bank.”
Sammie remained ‘dead’ for a full three months. Oudoom kept him in the rondawel behind the pastorie and the townsfolk took turns to bring food or take away washing. Platnees was appointed to be the lookout and he spent those days watching the road to Grootdrink with orders to report any approaching vehicle at once. Gertruida ran his shop and did quite well during those months. Sammie later said that his nephew in Jo’ burg had gone back to Israel as a rich man, but that he lived as a recluse somewhere outside Jerusalem. Apparently he had developed a phobia for strangers with slanted eyes.
The cash register doesn’t work anymore. Servaas and Vetfaan spent a whole week on its mechanism, but it still refused to work properly. It now opens the drawer, but all calculations are done with the aid of the pocket calculator Precilla presented to Boggel.
They don’t talk about the Rolbos Rhino Horn Industrial Company any more. It is old news – but the still giggle about how Oddjob finally met the law. Sersant was the one who tipped off his colleagues in Upington, who in turn set up the roadblock outside Grootdrink. The district commissioner was awarded the Order of the Baobab for that action. An entire rhino-horn smuggling ring was exposed. Sersant Dreyer still maintains he shouldn’t have made that call anonymously.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Boggel said once. “Here we were innocently smuggling cow’s hooves and we almost got killed because of that. Oddjob and his mates got nabbed because they bought cattle feet. Sammie’s shop is better than ever. Maybe we should form the Rolbos Ivory Syndicate and sell horns as elephant’s teeth?”
That was the second time he almost got beaten up in the space of a few weeks.
Outside Sammie’s shop a heap of hooves remain, a source of great joy for Vrede. He gets a hoof every week to chew on. Gertruida worked out it’ll be another two years before he works his way through the last of the Rhino Horn Industrial Company.
Gertruida has, as always, the last word. “I read an article in the National Geographic about the diminishing numbers of rhino’s. It is sad to think people kill animals because men want to be better than they are. But, then again, if we keep the men thinking they need rhino horn to procreate, they won’t be able to do so all by themselves. In that case hornless men will die out eventually. In fact, that makes them an endangered species. That’s what Darwin’s evolution is all about. The stupid ones don’t last.”
That’s the thing about Gertruida. You never know when she’s serious or when she’s actually lying. Even Oddjob still believes she told the truth, that day when the Gross was broken. Maybe it’s better that way.
She would have made a great politician – if she cared less for the people and animals of this continent.