Gertruida withdraws into herself despite the buzz in the bar. The situation just doesn’t make sense. Married to this stranger – and children, too? Visits to Singapore and accounts in tax havens?
Herman Grove is equally baffled, but he is the center of attention amongst the group at the counter. Servaas has done a good job at interrogating their visitor and everybody agrees that his story is true. Somehow – for some reason – he and Gertruida are the victims of identity theft, simply because they shared time in Kimberley hospital in 2009. It seems as if that is the only time their worlds connected in the past…
“That points a finger at the time in the hospital…or, more precisely…at the people who worked there. It’s unlikely to be one of the doctors or even the nursing staff; mostly because they were in different wards and had different nurses taking care of them. The point of confluence – in a manner of speaking – is the admissions area. That’s what I think.” Servaas has appointed himself as chief analyst, surprising even Gertruida.
“I think Bertus is exploring the possibility, Servaas.” Gertruida rejoins the group at the bar and accepts the beer Boggel pushes over to her with a grateful smile. “I must say: I’m surprised at his enthusiasm. Yes, we worked together a long time ago, but I only expected him to be mildly interested. But no! He jumped into this case, boots and all.”
“Well, I think we should at least phone the hospital and hear what they have to say.”
“And say what, Servaas? That we want a list of the admin staff in 2009? Because two patients think they did something wrong?”
Before the argument heats up, the phone rings again. This time the conversation lasts only a few seconds.
“Well, Servaas, you might be right.” Gertruida almost manages to not look embarrassed. “Bertus wants us to meet him at the hospital. In kimberley, tomorrow at noon. He says he’s on to something.”
Having decided that there is no longer any reason to speculate, the patrons in Boggels Place settle down to yet another round of beers. Ironically, Gertruida finds herself next to Herman, who is anxious to learn more about Rolbos in general – and Gertruida in particular. Like he says: even though the two of them aren’t married, it doesn’t mean they must remain strangers.
It is a well-known fact that alcohol is the best social lubricant ever invented by mankind. Herman turns out to be a very funny man, who regales the little crowd with the stories of his life. That’s the other thing about alcohol, of course: it is a concentrated form of liquid self confidence. Herman, the uncertain, stuttering man that walked into Boggel’s Place a few hours ago, has changed into an eloquent story-teller. At first he seemed surprised that his audience enjoyed his humor, but as the evening drags on, he becomes more and more comfortable.
Herman even – after telling them about the farmer who thought solar energy was a Satanic invention to bring Ra into the homes of unsuspecting buyers – laughed so much that Gertruida had to reach over to help him stay on his bar stool. He then surprised them all by getting off his chair, hugging Gertruida and kissing her cheek. To prove he’s sober, he closed his eyes and stood on one foot. This time even Gertruida’s steadying hand didn’t help much as he staggered this way and that before landing in Vetfaan’s arms.
“Time to go home, chaps.” Oudoom, the least bleary-eyed of them all, holds up a hand. “We’ve got an early start tomorrow, and a good night’s rest won’t do any harm. As I see it, the newly-weds can either decide to spend their first night in each other’s arms, or Herman can come and sleep on my couch.”
Herman, of course, does the right thing…
And so we find the group, jammed into Vetfaan’s Land Rover, entering the grounds of Kimberley Hospital at about 11 am the next day. Herman is the only one still complaining about a hangover, while the Rolbossers all seem happy to continue where they’ve left off the previous night. The cooler box crammed between Boggel’s knees is almost empty.
Gertruida is the first to scramble out. She’s recognised Bertus Cronje sitting on a bench under a tree next to the parking lot and rushes over to greet her old friend. They share a laugh at the way the years have changed them – Bertus being twice the size he used to be and Gertruida still as trim as ever – before she introduces Bertus to the rest.
“Well, let me get straight to the point,” Bertus takes charge immediately. “I have been retained as a consultant to the new police commissioner. The government insists on appointing the most inappropriate people to high posts, then they have to shore up the person with old-timers who know the ropes. They don’t advertise this, of course, but it seems the only way to create a semblance of efficiency.
“Now, we’ve been worried about identity theft for some time now. Not any old identity theft, mind you – identity theft with an extremely worrying undertone. This I will explain in a moment.
“I’ve had several investigators going through the records here, and it seems that only two people had their details used: Gertruida and Herman. About a month after their respective discharges, two separate individuals approached Home Affairs, informing them that their identity cards got stolen. Identical stories, with police statements, docket numbers and everything. This is something Home Affairs hears every day, of course, and so new ID documents were issued in both cases, complete with the supplied photographs. The fingerprints on their cards, incidentally, are identical to the real ones. I think it was lifted off something you must have handled while you were in hospital – cutlery or a glass or something.
“The facts spoke for themselves: there were two people involved. One person had to have access to the details – and the fingerprints – in hospital; while the other had to be able to create the case dockets and be involved with the copying of the finger prints.
“The rest, like the famous detective said, was elementary, my dear friends. Oh, they were devilishly clever and carried out their dastardly plans with masterful planning. Had it not been for your help, they would maybe never have been caught. “
Bertus pauses and looks up as two burly policemen lead a middle-aged woman from the hospital.
“Ah yes,” he beams proudly, “Gertruida, I’d like you to meet Gertruida. Shake hands with your namesake, will you? It’s not often that you get to meet yourself…”
(To be continued…)