The arrival of Mary Mitchell and Smartryk Genade in Rolbos might just go down in the town’s history as one of the strangest the inhabitants have ever experienced. Of course the patrons at the bar all knew about Mary – she’s visited Rolbos before – but they have to look twice to recognise the once-vivacious girl they’ve met before.
“I don’t believe it,” Precilla breathes as Mary gets out of the Golf. “Is it who I think it is?”
“Yes, it is, Precilla. And I think a lot of water has run into the sea since last we saw her.” Gertruida takes in the mousy hair, the unkempt appearance and the wrinkled brow. “Whatever she’s done during the last few years hasn’t done her any good, I’d say.”
Still, when the two travellers walk into the bar, Smartryk hardly gets the opportunity to introduce himself. In rural South Africa there is an unwritten law regarding such events: you first act overjoyed – saying how well the years treated the new arrival – then you offer something to drink while making small talk, and only then is one permitted to ask questions. Today, however, that rule is completely ignored as Mary shuts them all up, to ask about Boggel.
They don’t know.
“Maybe…,” Mary draws a deep breath, “I should tell you my story.
“You see, I only landed in Cape Town a few days ago – and that same night you guys get an aeroplane landing in Rolbos and Boggel disappears. That – to me – is just too much of a coincidence. I fear it has something to do with my return.” She proceeds to tell them everything she told Smartryk the previous evening. The townsfolk listen in complete silence, exchanging worried looks while she’s talking. When she finishes at last, nobody says a word either.
“Mmmmm….” Gertruida has that look. “Servaas, pour me a double, I need to think.”
While the others converge around the two new arrivals, Gertruida takes her drink to sit outside on the veranda. She knows about the drug scene in Rio and have read about Fernandinho, but he’s still in jail, isn’t he? Now, that Brutus Malherbe….he stood trial, got sentenced, and was released on grounds of a medical condition. Even if he wasn’t locked up any more, he still had to comply with his parole restrictions, hadn’t he?
“Sersant! Dreyer…come here.”
A few minutes later, Dreyer trots off to his office to make a phone call. Gertruida rubs the frown between her eyes, sighs, and returns to the bar for a refill.
“Look, all we know is that whoever flew that plane, took Boggel along. We have no proof of abduction, no letter of demand , to know that Boggel went against his will. The frightened face Dreyer saw? Well, we all know Boggel hates flying, anyway. The aircraft crashes for whatever unknown reason… and then we know they raced off towards Grootdrink, but they never got here. We all drove that road, and we know there hadn’t been an accident to explain why they never got to the roadblock. Deduction? They veered off into the Kalahari and are lying low.
“Who was the pilot? Person unknown, as far as I’m concerned at this stage, but… He – let’s assume it’s a man – could logically have something to do with Mary…or not. Boggel doesn’t have any enemies. So let’s go with Mary’s suggestion that her presence in the country could have something to do with this fiasco. Now that, my friends, opens another set of questions. Who knew about Mary’s involvement with Boggel? Who connected those dots? And, assuming somebody did so, why abduct Boggel? What possible value could our Boggel have in this situation?
“I’ll give you a hypothesis…” Everybody stares at Gertruida while she waits for Servaas to fill her glass. They know she just loves to parade her superior intellect about and that it won’t help to rush her along.
“I’ll tell you what I think. Somebody – and it could be the pilot – knows a heck of a lot about Mary. Intimately so, I might add. This somebody knew she was back in the country. He had no way of knowing what her movements here would be…unless he guessed that she would want to come to Rolbos – which is farfetched. But he knew about the loyalty between Boggel and Mary, so he kidnaps Boggel to use as bait. He wants to lay his hands on Mary, see? If he wanted Mary to come to him, he only had to make it known hat Boggel was in his care.
“Now why would a person do that?” She pauses dramatically, a cynical smile hovering on her lips. “Why land an aeroplane here – at night – take all the risks, and steal our Boggel? Only to get Mary to come to him for a chat? Noooo, my friends. It’s because he needs something from Mary, that’s why. This man is so desperate to talk to Mary, that he hatches an evil, criminal plan to get her to come to him. Using Boggel is as brilliant as it is stupid. Brilliant, because the police would never have connected the disappearance of our barman with the return of a criminal from Rio. Stupid…because he obviously planned in haste – hence the aeroplane and the risks. This man knew about Mary, but didn’t know about her return until the last minute.
“We have two men she told us about. Fernandinho – as far as we know – is still locked up in Rio. And anyway, he would have known about her release. Didn’t she tell us that he took care of her in prison? No, he kept tabs on her and would have known.
“But Brutus? Now there’s a possibility. He got her involved in the first instance, didn’t he? He spent months dating her – softening her up to be a courier – and I’m sure he knew as much about her as anybody ever did. He would, I’d guess, have known about Boggel…”
“Oh. My. Word.” Mary sits down heavily, ashen-faced and distraught. “Yes… I…I told him everything…”
They all start talking together when Dreyer storms in.
“You’re right, Gertruida! Brutus Malherbe has skipped. His parole officer reported him missing last night: he last visited Malherbe a week ago. And…that aeroplane, the Cessna? It was stolen from Lanseria the same day Mary landed in Cape Town. Malherbe’s home is five kilometres away from that airport…”
“Okay then.” Gertruida sits down next to Mary. “Suppose you tell us what Malherbe wants from you? What have you got that he wants so desperately? Come on, Mary, Boggel’s life may very well depend on you being honest with us?”
At this point Mary starts crying uncontrollably. Her life is a mess – always has been, always will be. And now she quite possibly have ruined Boggel’s life – if not all the people of this little town…