Miss Katie Malone hesitates for a moment. She’s just gone through Customs, and isn’t quite sure where to go now. Domestic Departures? Probably…
She has a bit of a start when a soft finger taps her on the shoulder.
“I believe you’re on your way to Upington?”
Katie looks up at the tall individual, noting the smart blue suit, matching tie and the nametag. A. Makoena – Passenger Services. Broad shoulders, brilliant smile. Friendly face.
“Er…yes, I am.”
“I’m sorry, Miss, your flight has been delayed.”
“Oh…” She doesn’t know what to say.”When…when is the flight due now?”
“Technical problems, Miss. Not sure how long it will take. However, if you wish, I can escort you to the VIP lounge, where you can wait. The flight will be announced within the next few hours. I’m sure.”
Katie Malone, new and alone in Africa, used to the way things are done back home, doesn’t suspect a thing. Nodding her thanks, she follows the big man through the departure hall allowing him to carry her heavy suitcase. Wow! And I thought Africa is a wild and scary place…
The transition from eager naivety to shocked terror takes place within a matter of seconds. When the man leads her through a side door (It’s a shortcut, Miss, much faster this way) she doesn’t see the shadowy figure behind her. It’s only when the sponge soaked in desflurane is clamped across her nose and mouth by a strong hand, that panic sets in. The pungent smell makes her want to cough, scream, fight back – but her rapidly diminishing consciousness only registers undiluted fear as she feels herself sinking to the floor.
It’s over in a minute. The two men drag her to another door, where a third man helps them bundle her into the back of a minibus.
“Go! Go!” An impatient hand slaps the roof of the vehicle.
Bearing the official Airports Company logo, the minibus passes through the security barrier without the attendant even looking up.
“I don’t understand it. She landed in Cape Town, went through Customs…and then – nothing.” Gertruida puts down the phone with a worried frown. “Maybe she simply got lost…?”
“I don’t believe that. She came from Heathrow, which is infinitely bigger and more complex than Cape Town’s airport. She may be naive, but she’s not stupid. She promised to phone as soon as she landed – and she didn’t…”
“Well, I’ve got them paging for her at the airport now, so maybe we’ll know more soon. We’ll just have to wait.”
Waking up is the hardest thing she’s ever done. Her eyelids feel like they weigh a ton while her brain still reels from the overdose of anaesthetic. At first she thought it was night time, but gradually she realised she had to open her eyes to see.
Clothes? Where are her clothes?
The horror of the situation dawns slowly as she desperately tries to make sense of her surroundings. Then she remembers the rough hand over her face…the sponge…the foul smell. And then the logic: she’s been kidnapped. Abducted. Taken against her will…
Where? Where is she? Why…what… Oh, God….
“Gee, I’m glad you woke up, Miss.” The voice is as unexpected as her new surroundings. Still, it is a kind voice, a soft voice, a female voice – a voice conveying…kindness? “Now, Miss, don’t you worry. You’re safe for now. Unfortunately, we had to take your clothes away. We don’t want you to think of…going away…shall we say? If you behave yourself, things will improve.”
Katie becomes aware of the cold concrete beneath her.
“What are you doing to me?” The edge of hysteria hovers in her tone as she fights to remain calm. “Why…”
“Don’t ask questions. Anyway, I don’t know answers. I’m a caretaker, that’s all. My job is to see you don’t harm yourself. Are you thirsty?”
She feels rather than sees the glass, takes it gratefully and swallows eagerly. Only afterwards the bitter taste hits her and she gags. Before she can object, the darkness comes swarming back.
“This isn’t happening,” Gertruida slams down the phone behind the counter in Boggel’s Place. When it became obvious that Katie Malone wasn’t on any scheduled flight to Upington, they returned to Rolbos to await further developments. “Nobody knows anything. They found a suitcase with her flight number on outside Cape Town, with a few copies of her book inside. The nametag says it belongs to K Malone, which is pretty conclusive. The police say yes, they’ve opened a docket, but it doesn’t seem as if they’re doing much else.”
“Do you think she was…hijacked?”
“Kidnapped, Fanny, kidnapped. I just don’t know why. Is she from a rich family?”
“Not really. The Malones are pretty much middle-of-the-road people – comfortable but not wealthy. And it’s not as if they are politically active or anything like that.”
Mevrou lets out a protracted sigh. “Human trafficking, Gertruida. It’s the world’s number one criminal sport these days. Take a woman, a child, a youth…and sell them to the highest bidder. There’s a lot of money to be made…”
“What? You can’t be serious!” Kleinpiet can’t imagine such things happening in modern times.
“Sorry Kleinpiet, she is.” Gertruida adopts her lecture-tone. “On average, very six hours, every day, the police receive a report of a missing child in this country – and almost 60% fall in to the 13 – 18 year age group. That’s 1460 cases per year – but that’s only the official figure. What about youths disappearing from the far-flung rural areas? The most common race group? White.
“When it gets to adults, the figure is more difficult to define. People disappear for all kinds of reasons: some even try to evade tax that way; others have all kinds of personal reasons to drop below the social radar. I read one report that about 500,000 Americans go missing every year – permanently. Of course, when taking into account that raped women are also abducted, then the abduction/kidnapping situation becomes horrifying.
“And in Europe, 270,000 persons are victims of human trafficking every year – generating an income of 21 billion Pounds for the traffickers. That’s so many zeros, I can’t even begin to think of what it translates to in Rands. Now…add China, Bangkok Vietnam, and the Arabian countries. Go figure…” She takes a deep breath before continuing.
“In Africa the situation is probably worse. People stay in isolated places with little or no contact with the authorities. When a child doesn’t come home at night, there’s no way of telling whether he’s lost his way, decided to visit the family in the next kraal, decided to run away, been eaten by some beast, struck by a snake…or abducted. Witchdoctors use the bodies of children in their concoctions. Some children are sold simply because the family can’t feed them. There is no way of even guessing what the statistics in Africa are like.”
“Oh for goodness’ sakes!” Vetfaan stares at his empty glass. “This is so bloody depressing! But…what has this got to do with Katie Malone?”
“Work it out, Vetfaan. The woman clears Customs, then doesn’t board her flight. The suitcase they found…. If only the luggage was stolen, she would have contacted us. But no – not a word. I have a bad feeling about this.”
The big man stares down at the sleeping body of Miss Katie Malone. She’s no beauty, but the right age and fairly attractive. Dress her up nicely, add some makeup, get the hair done… Yes, she’ll do.
But first they must re-educate her. Get her into the right frame of mind. Change this miserable woman with her fighting rebellious attitude to a docile, submissive creature. It’ll only be a short while before she’ll be begging to please him.
They’re all the same…