“The Radical Action United Taskforce…” Gertruida has a puzzled frown. “Now why does that ring a bell?”
“I though you’d know, Gertruida?” Boggel holds a glass up to the light after shining it. “It sounds so much like the old government.”
“I’ll have to think back, Boggel. It’s been a long time.”
“And that’s all that I found in the archives.” Elsie pushes back her glass, nodding for a refill. “The Minister of Finances set up an expedition to go to Bogenfels to get something – what? Why? It was done in secret – why? My father was killed – why? And then I added the Nationalists mad scramble for money, got snippets on the Smit murders and the nebulous Radical Action United Taskforce.
“What was it with Bogenfels? It’s in one of the most inhospitable places in Southern Africa. While reading up on it, I found that a Spanish galleon sank there hundreds of years ago. The City of Baroda was torpedoed near it. I couldn’t see why it was so important?” Elsie took a small sip of her drink, waiting to see if a penny dropped amongst the listeners.
“But it is in the middle of the Sperrgebiet. Diamonds…?” Gertruida, of course.
“Yes!” Elsie smiles as she watches the reaction of her audience. “At first I thought so, too. Bogenfels is in the middle of one of the richest diamond deposits on this earth, so naturally…” She pauses dramatically. “Then, neatly filed under ‘Sperrgebiet, Miscellaneous, , 1975-1980’, I found an item they labelled ‘Book, Sperrgebiet, 1978’. I wouldn’t have picked it up if the word Sperrgebiet and the date didn’t feature.”
I suppose this will be the last entry. We have no water left. Food finished three days ago. Captain Parker left us this evening. Wandered off. Only two of us left now. Mission failed.
If found, please tell Margie I loved her. Bitterly cold. No fire. I wanted to go home…
“The sad thing is: the front page and a lot of the rest had been destroyed by wind and sun and weather. They didn’t know who wrote these words, nor who ‘Margie’ was. In fact, when I asked about the ‘diary’, the archivist looked at me blankly and said he didn’t have a clue. Then he looked it up in his computer – and told me it came to the archives from the office of General van den Bergh.”
Gertruida gasps. “ The boss of BOSS? The Bureau of State Security?”
“Exactly. In the post-Apartheid era, many of the former government’s offices had to be cleared out to make room for the new dispensation. Apparently the archives received masses of papers, documents, books and letters they had to sort and archive somehow. This book came from the BOSS offices, was neatly placed in its plastic envelope, labelled as best as they could…and left to rot on the shelf. And, because it only contained one or two pages of legible writing, it was left to be forgotten.”
“But it tells us a lot, Elsie.” Gertruida just loves a mystery. “On that page you have confirmation of an expedition, men dying of hunger and thirst, and it was found in the Sperrgebiet. Above all, it mentions your father. Obviously it is connected with BOSS. And don’t forget: it says mission failed. That means they didn’t succeed in doing – or finding – what they set out to do.”
“Exactly.” Elsie fishes out a cigarette, lights it and inhales deeply. “I was still puzzling about it, when two nights later I had some visitors…”
They were typical of the men BOSS employed back in its heyday. Suited, hats, 70’s long hairstyles. On the streets of Pretoria in 1978, they would have been labelled as “well-dressed ducktails’. Ferret faced; black pointed shoes. Overconfident. Sadly, not as handsome as some movie stars.
She was, they said, to stop prying. Go on a holiday. Forget the past. “We mean you no harm, understand? It would be a pity if something happened to you.”
That’s all. They left before she could ask a question.
“That’s when I knew I was onto something big. These men came to warn me off – but I had no idea why…or what.”
“I’m sure you pieced it together, Elsie.” Gertruida doesn’t like the way this woman is playing it out. Obviously she knew more than she was letting on. By acting the broken wing role, she was hoping for sympathy and help – and that’s okay…as long as she remains honest. “What were your thoughts, Elsie? Why did you come here?”
Elsie fixes Gertruida with a knowing stare. She’ll have to be careful with this one…
“I think something of great value is hidden at Bogenfels. Something so big, so secret, that the Nationalists kept it away from their own people. And I think the old secret service structures are still aware of it and wouldn’t like amateurs prodding at something they’ve buried. And…no matter what that might be…I’d like to know what happened to my father. I need to get closure on that, see?
“So, where do I turn to? Who do I ask to help? I can’t tackle the Sperrgebiet on my own, can I? I needed somebody who understands the way of the desert. I needed somebody I can trust. I needed that somebody to be a nobody – a person so far below the intelligence services’ radar, they’d never think he’d assist me. And I needed to disappear, as well.
“Those men scared the hell out of me, I can tell you. They were so casual and off-hand..but their eyes were cold and hard. I understood them perfectly – if I didn’t lay off, I’d come to grief.
“So, what could I do? I disappeared. Came here – to a place few people know of. And linked up with Servaas, the only man I really can trust. So there. Satisfied?”
A single tear coursed its way down her cheek, causing Boggel to offer a box of tissues.
Somehow, they all turn to Servaas, who has been listening quietly. He shrugs, spreads his arms wide…and says nothing.
“Well,” Gertruida sums up the situation, “either we do something, or we don’t. Easy as that. Doing nothing is maybe the wisest choice. I know,” she emphasises her statement by lowering her voice, “that the old and the new intelligence services are not much different. They even have a number of the old agents still active in the field.
“Taking into consideration the visit Elsie had, I think it would be short-sighted to make enquiries – however discreet. She’s right: we can’t trust anybody. If Bogenfels is the place where something of value is hidden, and if Captain Parker was sent to retrieve it…well, I don’t know? Basically: either we go find it or we remain right here downing Green Ambulances.”
Gertruida drums the counter with restless fingers. “That unit? The Radical Action United Taskforce? I remember something about them. They took out opponents of the State. Palme, Lubowski, even John Vorsters’ ‘stroke’. And of course, Dulcie September…people like that. They did it in such a way, nobody knew who did it, why, how, and so on. But they slipped up once. Only once. Two men, only known by their code names – Erlank and MacDougle – left a calling card at the Smit murder scene.”
Boggel grasps it immediately. “The RAU TEM spray-painted on the wall of the Smit home after the murders?”
“Yes, Boggel. They left an explicit warning to anybody opposing the government – or exposing any of their underhand dealings. Those guys played for keeps. I suspect they still do…”
An uneasy silence descends on Boggel’s Place.. The mysterious visitor to Rolbos may well be threatening to end their peaceful existence…