“Don’t get up,” Gertruida hisses. “Just sit where we are and let’s see what happens. If they land, I’ll handle it.”
Gertruida is one of those rare persons that relish awkward situations. During her time at National Intelligence, she was the one to bring calm to the negotiations in Dakar and London. Whenever a discussion threatened to get out of hand, she was the voice of reason, placating the flaring tempers by sheer logic. Now, she realises, she might be facing one of the most challenging scenarios of her life. She is sure Liar’s adversaries have some government connection – especially after Liar mentioned that they said something about ‘Pretoria’. Who…? She’s mulling the thought in her mind when the helicopter approaches the group, hovers some distance off, and then lands.
“It’s a Robinson R66, five-seater, but only this one only carries the pilot and two passengers.” Vetfaans whisper sounds strained after the rotors stop turning. He remembers seeing one at the recent agricultural show in Upington, where it was on exhibit as part of a game lodge’s display. He also remembers the R10-million price tag.
The two passengers alighting from the craft could not be more dissimilar. The one man striding purposefully to them seems to have been built out of circles: round body and face stuck on podgy legs. Number Two, panting a few yards behind, is tall, reedy and his face looks like it’s been flattened by a sudden stop against a solid object.
Roundface stops a few yards away, surveys the group and lets his gaze rest on Liar.
“You failed to keep your appointment, Mister Louw. I’m disappointed.”
Liar doesn’t bat an eyelid. “I lied,” he says quietly.
Gertruida wants to say something but Flatface shuts her up. “Nobody interrupts the Boss, understand?” He whips out a snub-nosed .38 to emphasise his point. Gertruida closes her mouth with an audible click of her teeth.
“Why, Mister Louw? Why force me to go to the expense of hiring this chopper and searching for you? It is so childish to play games with us – in fact, it’s downright stupid!”
“Excuse me, sir, but who are you?” Boggel flinches as Flatface swivels to point the gun at him.
“Who I am, is of no consequence. Who I represent, is important.” Roundface ponders the question for a second before going on. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. As soon as Mister Louw has shown us the location of his mine, our problem is solved. So….Mister Louw…?”
Liar shrugs. “No mine, sorry. Not out here.”
“You have been sending diamonds worth millions to Antwerp, receiving the money from a bank in London. We know that. And you’re the only one doing that from this region. We have contacts with the Reserve Bank, Mister Louw, you can’t fool us.”
“Ag! Diamonds? You think I dig for diamonds? Boy, are you guys confused! Who sends out diamonds in lead-lined boxes, huh?” Liar’s honest and incredulous stare seems to upset Roundface. “In fact, I’ve got the manufacturer of those boxes right here. Ask him, his name is Servaas.”
“What…?” Roundface glares at Servaas.
Servaas has never worked with lead, let alone built boxes with the material. The old man now crosses his fingers as he nods. “Sure, been making those boxes for years now. And you know what, L…Klasie never pays me. Always promises, promises. Last time I told him it’s the last time. That’s why I’m here, to demand payment – he owes me ….let me see…just over two thousand rand. It’s a lot of money.”
“Yessir!” Liar is in his stride now, quite comfortable in the talent he’s developed over the years. “Radioactive Boron. Very rare. There’s an outcrop not far from where we are right now. Highly radioactive, a rare El-Ac material.”
“El-Ac…what the hell is that?”
Liar rolls his eyes at the stupidity of the round man. “Electron-Accelerator material. sir.” Seeing the big man still gaping at him, he continues. “When an El-Ac substance is brought into contact with one of the halogen gasses, like Chlorine for instance, it speeds up the electrons. It’s just one of those strange phenomenons of Nature. Now – and this is important – there are scientists that are very interested in doing such things…speeding up electrons…in Switzerland somewhere….”
“The place is CERN, where they’re trying to find the Higgs-boson.” Gertruida interrupts. By now their two visitors are clearly off balance. “That’s the particle that holds the key to how energy is turned into mass.”
“But there is a problem,” Liar continues, eyeing the men carefully. “The radioactive Boron has certain….effects on the male physiology. Bad effects. If you come into contact with it, it’ll…er…change you.”
Roundface has lost his threatening demeanour. All he had to do was to find the source of some diamonds, and now…? “Change? Change? What change?”
“Um…you know?”Liar shoots an apologetic glance towards Gertruida. “Er…let me put it this way. Here I am, working all alone. Never been interested in a woman all my life. Isn’t that strange?”
“”It takes away your…manhood?”
Liar nods cheerfully. “Never missed it. Just as if it never existed, you know? It’s a wonderful freedom.”
Roundface turns to his companion and an urgent, whispered conversation follows.
“I think we’ve been misinformed,” he says at last. “The reports mentioned diamonds…”
“Oh, please! Sending over legit diamonds with a trusted courier doesn’t raise eyebrows. But…have you ever tried to mark such a parcel as “Radioactive Material”? Nobody would touch it.” Liar’s contempt at their ignorance drips from the words.
Gertruida tries again. “So, who sent you, anyway?”
A thoroughly deflated Roundface sits down heavily. “I can’t tell you that. All I can say is that a very important man is interested in acquiring a lot of money, and get it quickly. We work for him. He needs the money urgently.”
“Why? Because of some recent developments?” A glimmer of understanding appears in Gertruida’s eyes.
“Yes. Some men need to be paid off. To keep quiet. There’s nothing money can’t buy, see? So our boss…well, he has a friend in the Reserve Bank, Asked him about individuals who receive large amounts of money from overseas, especially if such individuals seemed to be working alone and if they might be persuaded to share their income. He – the Boss – doesn’t want to send out money from South Africa; the exchange regulations are just too strict for the large amounts needed in these transactions. Diamonds are easy to transport and can be exchanged for currency anywhere in the world – it’ll solve a lot of problems. Mister Louw came up trumps – diamonds, no family, working alone…understand? But diamonds…yes! This radioactive stuff? No!”
“That’s a hare-brained scheme, Sir.” Gertruida goes tut-tut. “This man, your boss, wouldn’t be associated with some sport, would he? Like soccer, for instance?”
Roundface doesn’t answer. He gets up slowly to plod back to the helicopter, motioning his companion to follow.
The group on the ground waits for the helicopter to lift off before collapsing in laughter.
(To be continued…)