Bertus Cronje, former intelligence officer and now advisor to the commissioner of police, is a man who has seen it all. Blood, gore and mutilated bodies have long ceased to upset him. He simply refuses to allow emotion in his work, simply because it makes it so much easier. But here, now, faced with the sad-and-dismayed expressions on the group’s faces, he finds himself amazed to share some of their feelings.
“Yes, well…” he swallows hard, “I know how upsetting all this might be. Hardus Kromhout is a psychopath with absolutely no sympathy for his fellow man.” The sentence strikes him as odd. Has he not become something like that? Has his lifelong fight with crime and his involvement with subterfuge scraped through the thin veneer of the pretence all people use to create an acceptable society? Is the factor missing in the world of today, not exactly that: a responsibility to feel other’s discomfort? He shakes his head. No, these thoughts must be explored later…if at all. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that you cannot imagine the way such people live. They care for nothing. Their only object is to control others, and all too often that implies money and power. Kromhout had power over these children. He got money for them – lots of it. Result: one happy psychopath…if he were able to experience happiness, that is…”
“But you have him in custody, don’t you?” Gertruida has to know.
“Unfortunately – or not – the answer is no. Let me explain…”
Bertus tells them that he put out an alert for anybody travelling with Gertruida’s or Herman’s passport. By sheer luck he struck gold almost immediately, when a woman with Gertruida’s details passed through customs at O.R. Tambo Airport near Johannesburg.
“It happens like that sometimes. You can work a case for years and years and get nowhere. And then – very rarely – a case simply bursts wide open without any effort at all. The luck of the draw, I suppose. I gave instructions to detain her and I immediately went there. She was travelling under your name, Gertruida, and so I alerted the airport to be on the lookout for the man using Herman’s details – but he apparently passed through customs ahead of her and was nowhere to be found.
“Well, I sat down with Myrtle and had a...little chat...with her.” Gertruida has to smile at the choice of words. She knows exactly how Bertus would have approached the woman. Subtle tactics can be so much more effective than torture. A short lecture on the lack of security in the country’s prisons, the threat of having to share a cell filled with criminals, the prevalence of AIDS…one doesn’t have to spell out anything – imagination is the most powerful tool in any experienced interrogator’s hands.”Eventually she agreed to cooperate, in return for which I promised her a lighter sentence and a single cell. I calmed her down and had her phone Kromhout, saying that there’s been a problem. She couldn’t meet him at the long-term parking lot where they were supposed to reunite, as the airport had received a bomb threat. She told him she was in the toilets when the police sealed off the area, but that they weren’t too worried. It was most probably a hoax, she told him. Be that as it may, she’s just waiting for the police to give the all clear, then she’d be out of there. Maybe, she suggested, Kromhout should rather clear out. The place was crawling with police – very subtle, most in plain clothes, very careful not to cause panic – and she didn’t want to draw attention to either of them. Go on, she said, I’ll catch up in Kimberley.”
“So they stayed here all the time? In Kimberley, where they started all of this?”
“Yes, Servaas, and with good reason, too. You see, they were in cahoots with the gentleman Kromhout originally approached when the idea of child trafficking was hatched. Not only is he a prominent businessman in town, but he is part of an international cartel involved in the smuggling of children. The market is huge, especially in the East. These children are sorted over there: either they are sold to childless couples, or they are brought up to be addicted sex slaves. On average, the Kromhouts netted $100,000 per child they delivered, of which 25% went to our local kingpin.
“So, Kimberley was their head office, with the two of them appointed as ‘managers’ on the extensive ranch this kingpin has in the district. All above board, nothing illegal.”
“Phew! So you got them both?”
“Not yet. We’re tailing Kromhout as we speak. He’s in town all right, but we want to nab the both of them when they meet. A few minutes ago I had Myrtle phone him again. She told him she has a little girl with her – picked up in Johannesburg – and they must plan the next trip. So we expect Kromhout to go out to the ranch, meet up with his contact and wait for Myrtle. Then, my friends, we would have them all.”
An uncomfortable silence settles in the room. Then:
“Bertus, I appreciate all that you’ve done. But why bring us here? You could have smoothed the situation over, talked about it on the phone, whatever. Why are we here?”
“Gertruida, you know how this works. I have to swear you to silence. You see, the kingpin we know of, is not the head of the snake. That person is in parliament – a very, very influential figure. The political fall-out of such a revalation is unthinkable and the government simply cannot afford yet another scandal. You may not – under any circumstances – ever breathe a word about this”. He pauses, weighing up his next statement carefully. ” In a few day’s time the country will mourn the loss – in a tragic accident – of a stalwart of our democracy. We have to keep this under wraps, people. Not a word. Accidents are easy to arrange.”
The group facing Bertus listens to the message hidden on those words. Yes, they understand. No, they don’t want to be involved in any ‘accidents’. They Herman holds up a hand.
“Yes, I know, Herman. You’re still ‘married’ to Gertruida. I have the most extraordinary proposal for the two of you…”
The glint in his eyes should have warned them. Nothing Bertus does is ever straightforward…or completely above board…
(To be continued…)
“I bet there’s rich folks eatin’,
In a fancy dining car,
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee,
And smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’,
I know I can’t be free,”