“We have to get everyone in here.” Sergeant Dreyer scans the worried faces in Boggel’s Place. “Everyone. That Lapua gun worries me – if we have a sniper out there, anybody who moves around may risk being shot.”
“I wish I knew what is going on.” Oudoom holds out his glass for a refill. For once, Mevrou doesn’t object. ”
“Well, let’s take stock.” Gertruida ticks off her outstretched fingers as she summarises the recent events. “Two days ago we lived in a sleepy little town. Then Bianca arrives, acting like a recently divorced harlot. She tells us a bit about her life, but leaves out a gap of twenty years.” She pauses, reflecting on the point. “Look, a woman who gets divorced, can’t wait to tell everybody and anybody what a scumbag she was married to. But not Bianca. She leaves the man out of the story completely. Strange, that.
“Anyway. She did mention the import and export company. I checked up and realised that company was involved in massive poaching operations in Southern Africa. Diamonds and drugs were involved, too.
“It seems logical that she knows something important – something so dangerous that somebody wants her dead. We didn’t know it at the time, but we guessed there might be trouble brewing – so we were vigilant.
“The next thing we know, is that two men stalked about in the middle of the night, apparently intent on abducting or killing Bianca. Servaas gets shot. The other man is out there with a sniper rifle.
“We have one trump card – the prisoner. Sergeant Dreyer says the man clammed up completely and wants to see his lawyer. We can’t take the law into our own hands, so we can’t force him to talk.
“The way I see it, we’ll just have to wait for Dreyer’s backup to arrive.”
“That’s the problem.” Dreyer sighs and motions with his empty glass towards Boggel. “Usually – with cattle theft and such – I’ve had no problems getting help from Upington. This time, however, I get a thousand excuses. Lack of resources. Not enough manpower. No vehicles available. It’s almost as if they just don’t want to help us…”
Gertruida gets that look. “Somebody high up is pulling strings. Yes, that’s it! We’re being black-balled behind a veil of bureaucracy – because somebody is worried that Bianca might tell the world what she knows…”
“Isn’t that a bit far-fetched, Gertruida? It sounds like a conspiracy theory to me.” Mevrou still believes that most people are inherently good, honest, God-fearing folk. Living in rural isolation like she does, one cannot really blame her…
“Okay, then. We’ll wait it out. We have food and plenty to drink. We’ll get everybody in here, baricade ourselves in, and wait. That man, whoever he is, did not plan on an extended stay in the desert. With luck, thirst will force him to abandon his mission.
“Once Servaas and the women get back here, we’ll decide on the way ahead.”
“Yes, if Servaas comes back. I hope the old bugger is allrght.” Boggel can’t imagine what the town would be like without the cantankerous old man.
Dr Welman pats Servaas’s good shoulder. “You’ve been very lucky, Servaas. Flesh wound, low velocity, in and out. Severed the Deltoid Artery, most probably, but it stopped, like arterial bleeding often does, when pressure is applied. Miss Smuts – Bianca – saved your life.
“I don’t have to do much. Antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory and a sling. Give it a week or two, and you’re as good as new. You’ve lost a lot of blood, but it’s nothing a few steaks and a heap of biltong won’t cure.”
“So, can we take him back, Doctor?”
“Sure thing. But…there’s one question, though: where did you learn to put up an infusion? And that saline-and-sugar infusion? I find that most unusual?”
“It’s a long story, Doc. Long. Maybe I’ll tell you one day.”
Dr Welman watches as the women help Servaas back into the Land Rover. What a woman, he thinks, what a gorgeous, wonderful, sexy woman…
With Servaas asleep on the back seat, Precilla glances over at Bianca. In the rush of the morning’s evens, neither woman has had time for cosmetics or worrying about colour-coding their clothes. Bianca, dressed in a grey track suit, is one of those rare women who doesn’t need much to amplify her natural beauty.
“You’re not really the person you want other people to see, are you?” With typical female curiosity, Precilla approaches the subject with care. “You are much more.”
Bianca seems to be taken aback and gives her new friend a puzzled look.
“Well aren’t we all? Look at your town…I thought it was a sleepy, out-of-the-way little place. And yet…you have Gertruida and Boggel and Servaas and…”
“We’re just ordinary people looking out for each other, Bianca.” Precilla’s tone is soft, kind. “But you…you…” She falters.
“I come from a different background. I come with a history. I have baggage. Secrets.” For the first time, Bianca’s voice is edged with emotion. “I’ve seen too much, lived through too much. I want to be somebody else…”
Bianca didn’t seek refuge in South Africa. Namibia was an independent state, with its own police force. Back home, she reckoned, the risk of being arrested would be greater. No, she’d settle in Windhoek for a while, sort out her life, and wait. Maybe, in a year or so, it’d be safer to return.
She had to stay somewhere, so she sat down in the Wimpy with a copy of the Windhoek Observer, to page through the classifieds and to scan the Employment and Accommodation columns. Please God, show me the way? It was the first prayer she’d prayed in years.
Windhoek Hospital. Application for this years’ nursing course: contact Matron Delport. Basic salary. Accommodation in the nurse’s hostel available.
She read and reread that advertisement a hundred times. Ordered more coffee. Thought about it.
Maybe this is it? Maybe God heard her prayer? Maybe this is the way to get rid of her past? The more she thought about it, the more sense it made. That afternoon, she had an interview with the matron.
“I used to be a nurse.”
Bianca’s sudden statement makes Precilla gasp a silent ‘Really?’
“Yes. I did my training in Wndhoek, Finished the basic course and then went on to do Intensive Care.”
“So that’s where you learnt…?
“Oh no!” Bianca manages a wry smile. “That was Afghanistan. And Uganda. And Darfur.” She pauses a while, deep in thought. “You see, I’m not proud of some of the things I’ve done in the past. Bad history. I met a woman in Windhoek when I was much younger – Matron Delport. She was very good to me; she was the mother I never had…
“Anyway, she told me something important: life is only meaningful if you devote it to others. This shook me, because in the past my life was about myself. It was about my ego and my survival. – and when I looked back, I saw only disappointment and grief. I realised Matron was right: the only way I’d find fulfilment, is by caring for others. That way, I hoped to wipe the slate clean.
“Well, I studied nursing as far as Windhoek could take me, and then I started applying for jobs in the places they needed nursing most. I didn’t want to be a sister in a crisp, white uniform, working in ideal circumstances. I wanted to be where I can make a real difference.
“And I did…” She sighs, recalling the harrowing images of her nursing career.
“I’ve seen the worst man can do. I held dying babies and bleeding men in my arms. I suffered alongside refugees and ducked every time I heard a mortar drop in it’s tube. And when I finally came home, I hoped to return to some sort of normality.
“It didn’t work out that way, did it?’
Precilla sits in stunned silence. They’re quite near Rolbos now and she instinctively knows the conversation will stop there. “But…but why the façade? What about the divorce? And who – or what – are you running from?”
Bianca glances over to the younger woman next to her. Oh, to live a simple life; to have a husband; to wake up in the morning to a welcoming smile….
The window on the passenger side shatters into a million pieces when the bullet strikes the glass.
Way out in the veld, holding the smoking, silenced Lapua, the assassin smiles his satisfaction as he watches the speeding Land Rover spin around in a cloud of dust…