“Ow…” Servaas groans meekly as he peers from underneath the bushy eyebrows. Is Bianca paying attention?
They’re speeding towards Upington in Kleinpiet’s Land Rover, with Precilla driving. Fanny remained in Rolbos to look after the twins, while Gertruida set up a type of headquarters at the bar with Boggel. On the back seat, Servaas seems much better than an hour ago.. The bleeding, at least, has stopped.
“Men!” Precilla’s whisper is drowned by the rattling of the vehicle over the rutted track. She gets a knowing smile from Bianca.
Bianca allows her mind to wander back to another time, when the sun also rose while she was desperately racing to escape a life she hated. Yes, it’s been quite a journey: she’s seen so many sides of Life…
She was appointed as a girl Friday at her new job, but this mostly meant she had to do the filing. Charles da Silva, her new boss, had a thing about papers. There were quotations, invoices, clearing certificates, orders, correspondence and a seemingly endless stream of documents to sort out, retrieve and filed. She soon got the hang of it, though, and Charles remarked on more than one occasion that he didn’t know how they managed before she came.
The documents never mentioned anything about rhino horn. The merchandise, The consignment, Indigenous Products, Research Material, Geological Specimens…but never anything that would link the company to poaching. She reported this to the general, who said she had to redouble her efforts.
“Get nearer to this Charles. Get his confidence. Be seductive… Remember: this isn’t personal. You’re doing it for your country…”
Slowly, over a period of months, the plan worked. Charles – rest his soul – fell in love with her. He became more and more comfortable to confide in her. Bit by bit she pieced the organisation’s different ‘departments’ together. Jonas Savimbi, General Bok, General Dempsey, Colonel Botha, Minister du Plooy …the list grew as the months went by. However, the overseas connection remained a mystery. Aliases were changed so often that it was impossible to put a name and a face to any individual. To make it even more difficult: no two deliveries were done to the same address. It seemed a if the Eastern connections had an endless array of front companies and offices.
“If he proposes, you accept. We have to get to the bottom of the trade.” The general was adamant. “Once we nab them, the marriage will be wiped from the records. It’s just a sham, Miss, just a sham.”
They got married in January 1990. On the 21st of March that year, Namibia became an independent state. SWAPO gained control, which spelled the end of South Africa’s rule over the country. And suddenly, almost overnight, the South West African Import and Export Company became the target of the Namibian police, the CIA and Greenpeace.
Things were changing in South Africa, too. FW de Klerk surprised the nation by unbanning the ANC on the 2nd of February 1990. Transformation had begun, and with it, the White dominance in the army and police came to an abrupt end. Whites were retrenched and a whole new set of Black generals appointed.
Bianca was stranded. Her general got the boot, and without him, she had no protection. Charles, too, no longer had the clandestine support of the South African connection. In the space of three months, the carefully constructed web of crime in which Charles and his company made millions, collapsed. Bianca was in as much trouble as he was…
“This is getting too dangerous, my love.” Yes, Charles really loved her. “We have to split up and live below the radar for a year or so. I’m going to Mauritius, where I have several contacts. I think you should go back to South Africa and wait for the dust to settle. They’re not after you – you know that. I’m the one they want to nail down. This is the only way.”
Bianca still remembers that morning. She drove through the Namib to get to Windhoek. Somewhat to her own surprise, she cried all the way… Her quest to fight crime; her effort to clear her name; her desire to become a respected citizen once more, the patriotic undertones of her little spy game…all disappeared into the heat waves dancing across the desert that morning. Even the sham marriage – a totally dishonest move to get information and not based on love at all – remained to accuse her of wasting her time and her life… That morning, when the dawn revealed the endless gravel road in front of her, the metaphor of that moment was just too much to ignore: the road to nowhere indeed.
“Ow…” Servaas tries again, and this time Bianca turns around to lay a hand on the old man’s thigh.
“You’re going to be fine, ‘Vaasie. We’re almost there…”
“Shan’t we give him something for pain? Or to relax him? I’ve brought some painkillers and Valium along.” Precilla motions to her bulky hand bag.
“No, rather not. Let the doctor have a look first. Those pills might mask some of the symptoms… And anyway, if he’s quiet, he gets no attention.” She tweaks the old man’s cheek. “Right, sweetie?”
She gets a happy groan for an answer.
The tracks left in the dew are easy to follow and Vrede runs ahead to show the way.
“What the hell happened to our little town? Servaas shot, a man in custody and now we’re hunting a potential murderer?” Vetfaan clutches the ancient .303 as he strides along. “That Bianca has a lot to explain.”
“I have a feeling about this. Gertruida may well be right. Bianca is running away from something and inadvertently involved us in some sort of Mafia setup. I think she’s innocent.” Kleinpiet shrugs. “The wrong girl in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something like that.”
“There’s a vehicle!” Sergeant Dreyer points. “There, hidden behind the tree. See, it’s even camouflaged with grass and branches.” He pauses to use his binoculars. “The back door is open, but I can see nobody moving about. I think he abandoned the car.”
By now Vrede can’t stop himself. He rushes towards the vehicle, yelping with excitement. It is soon obvious that the shooter didn’t hang around. After approaching the vehicle cautiously, the men check out the interior.
“A gun-case?” Kleinpiet peers through the rear window. “Open the door, let’s look.”
“And look, he’s dropped something.” Dreyer picks up the box and lets out a low whistle.
“Lapua...oh, my word…” Dreyer turns the box around and around in his hands. “.338 Magnum. The deadliest sniper gun around, with a range of up to two kilometres in an expert’s hands. Two kilometres…! We have to call in backup – this guy is serious trouble. There’s no way we can continue following him – he’ll pick us off one by one.”
“He left the vehicle here…” Vetfaan calls Vrede back. “That means he might want to use it again. No, I’ll tell you what an operative like this would do. He’ll get the gun, make sure he’s safe, and then he’ll return to free his colleague. He was in a hurry, that’s why he dropped the bullets – but mark my words: he isn’t going to run away. If he wanted to escape, he would have been long gone.”
“We have to get back to town! Immediately. Oudoom and Boggel are no match for this man. Come on, guys, hurry!”
A song I know so well
The music of goodbye again
Note: Some names have been changed in this story to avoid stepping on political toes.