Everybody knows about Vrede, the town-dog that absconded from the police force. Couldn’t take the corruption anymore. After he exposed the commissioner, he had no choice: either he had to create his own witness protection plan, or they’d dispatch him to doggy heaven.(1) Vrede isn’t just any old dog or even the town’s mascot – he’s a survivor in the chaos of the New South Africa; a rare example of having enough courage of your conviction to bark loudly at the farce politics have turned out to be.
Gertruida said (only yesterday) that Vrede would have solved the entire FIFA fiasco by sniffing out the bribes everybody is talking about. The group at the bar laughed at that while the radio played ‘Jordan, we are going down…’ Boggel then slipped a piece of biltong to Vrede, who took his time gnawing through a sinewy bit. But that was before Liar arrived to start a brand new adventure that made them forget all about yet another scandal developing in the country.
Now, with the eastern sky tinged in red and orange, Vrede has his nose to the ground while he follows the scent. Yes, Liar had been here, and yes, he stepped here…and there…and there…
The Kalahari Desert is like no other. Large parts of the region are covered by sparse bushes and grass. The dunes occurring in such regions are stable and remain static for centuries. However, in some areas the arid ground can sustain no plants; so the dunes have nothing to hold them down when the wind starts howling over the mounds of sand. In some parts of the Namib, dunes move more than 2 metres per year. In the Kalahari, however, dune movement varies far too much to try to put a figure to it. Suffice to say that some dunes move more than others.
Fortunately for Vrede’s quest to find Liar, the night’s wind has been gentle and the rocks still carried the strong scent of the feet of the fleeing man. Vrede adopts his professional attitude: no howling, yelping or barking: he is a silent tracker on the spoor of his quarry. The same cannot be said for the Rolbossers panting heavily behind Vrede. The speed of the dog is quite astounding, leaving the group grunting and sweating in their efforts to keep up.
Vetfaan puts two fingers to his lips to produce a piercing whistle.
“Stop, Vrede! For goodness’ sakes, dog, do you want to kill us all? Slow down! We can’t run like you do.!”
Vrede skids to a halt and looks back at the struggling followers. That’s what you get from sitting around, drinking beer every day. He lets his tongue hang out in a doggy smile. If he could laugh, he would have. While he waits for them to catch up, he flops down in the shade of one of the bushes scattered between the dunes.
“That’s strange,” Gertruida says as she sits down next to Vrede. “A Nara bush! I thought they only occurred near Sossus Vlei in Namibia. That means there must be some water below the surface.”
“Huh?” Vetfaan gasps as he stands bent forward, his hands on his knees.
“Water, Vetfaan. And the fruits of the bush are very nutritious. This could at least partly explain how Liar survives in this part of the Kalahari.”
Vrede isn’t keen on resting. He gives the humans a minute or so before resuming his task. He does, however, proceed more slowly.
It is way past midday when Vrede stops again: this time looking up at the sky. A minute later, they hear the thump-thump-thump of rotor blades. A helicopter? Here?
“They’ve narrowed the search,” Vetfaan says grimly. “That Cessna must have spotted something and now they’re using a helicopter. We must hurry.” He closes his eyes to get rid of the memories of the search-and-rescue operations during the Border War when a patrol landed itself in trouble.
“I…I think we should hide,” Kleinpiet doesn’t like it either. “Whatever Liar is up to, I don’t fancy being caught in the middle – or in the open. See those dead trees? Let’s go!”
A minute later a helicopter appears momentarily some distance away on their left, heading north. The group remains where they are, each of them leaning against the withered trunk of a stunted tree. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the helicopter returns, flying south – nearer this time.
“They’ve not found him. Maybe they’ve narrowed the search, but that helicopter is flying a search pattern. A grid. On the next leg, he’ll be to our right.”
“Would anybody mind telling me what we’re doing here?” Servaas wipes the crusted sweat from his brow. What seemed like a good idea yesterday, has turned out to be an exhausting trek through thick sand. He is not impressed.
The rest of the group remains silent, some nodding, others suppressing a smile. When Servaas gets kantankerous, laughter can be extremely dangerous.
Gertruida gasps as she bends down to pick up a pebble. A very shiny pebble, which she holds up for all to see.
“This,” she says, “this is what it’s all about.”
(1) Much more of Vrede’s history is told in Rolbos, the book.
South Africa’s FIFA song…