“He said he we could expect him today,” Vetfaan says as he watches the sun approaching the western horizon.
“The day isn’t done yet.” Boggel slides over a new beer to the burly farmer. “I like Herman. If he said he’d be here, I believe him. He’s a straight shooter.”
It’s been six weeks since they returned from that extraordinary visit to Kimberley. The events they lived through have provided them with ample material to talk about – in fact, even the performance of the Springboks in England had to take a backseat.
“They sure took care of that minister,” Servaas says for the umpteenth time. “Not very imaginative, as usual. Calling it a botched hijacking is so old-school! Ten years ago one expected at least some suspects to be taken into custody, but this time the police didn’t even bother. It’s like that Dewani case – somehow it simply got smoothed over. Still, it was a nice funeral and all that.”
“At least he got what he deserved,” Kleinpiet shrugs. “Just like Herman and the businessman from Kimberley. They blamed a faulty gas connection, which is more original, I’d say. I think the two of them must have suffered a lot in that fire; but we’ll never know. There wasn’t even enough left of them to do proper forensics, so the cause of death is a guess at best. And Bertus must have pulled a few strings with the insurance company. Their refusal to pay out because of the negligence of the owner was a stroke of genius. I hear the place was auctioned off yesterday – wonder who bought up a burnt-down ranch?”
The conversation is suddenly interrupted by the barking of Vrede, the town’s dog. They know what it means: he’s heard an approaching vehicle. Herman! He’s kept his word… Storming outside, they are thrilled to see the new Land Rover – with an unfamiliar logo on the door – coming to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. When the old man gets out, they can’t help staring.
“Herman?” Gertruida gasps at the transformation. The unkempt old man is no more. Dressed in a smart suit, he looks ten years younger. He’s had his hair cut, the beard is gone and the moustache is neatly trimmed. Has he had some dental work done? “Gosh! You look great!”
Herman Grove walks over with a brilliant smile before hugging her and shaking hands with the men. Everybody starts talking at the same time, but he holds up a hand.
“Lets go inside, shall we? I am as dry as a bone, tired as a dog and hungry as a wolf!” Gone, too, is the uncertainty, the stammer and the down-cast look. This is a new Herman, a revived man, whose eyes shine with enthusiasm. Life – very obviously – has a completely new meaning and purpose for the erstwhile directionless man. The men are obviously impressed, but Gertruida can’t keep her eyes off him.
Boggel serves a generous round and places bowls of biltong and peanuts on the counter. Having gathered around Herman, the Rolbossers eagerly await his tale. He complies with a happy grin.
“Well, you know how Bertus explained it all? He said we had to remain silent about those….events…and that he’d sort out the ID fiasco? And that bit about the overseas accounts?”
Yes, they nod, of course they remember. Bertus told them that the government preferred to keep everything at arm’s length – they didn’t want to get involved, especially not with their own minister running an international child trafficking cartel. The money was safe and sound, deposited in the name of Herman Grove in the banks in the Cayman Islands and Zurich. “If, for instance, a man arrived at the bank and presented an authentic ID and passport, he would theoretically be able to withdraw all the money from those accounts, not so? Such a person could then return to South Africa, pay his taxes on income earned abroad, and be left with a considerable amount to spend as he pleased. This is not something one would advertise, of course, but who knows what a difference this could make to the life of a lonely old man?” They remember the off-hand way Bertus said this, his features completely neutral, as if he was talking to himself. After that, Bertus greeted them all cordially, wished them a safe journey home and left them standing there in the empty office in the hospital.
“It was a piece of cake, I tell you. Bertus must have pulled a few strings. When I arrived back at the airport, the customs people drew me aside. They had all the papers ready and I simply had to sign. They knew exactly how much I withdrew from those accounts and sorted out the tax there and then. Very smooth, extremely efficient. Didn’t take half an hour. I walked out in the sunshine a rich man!”
Vrede, who has been begging at his feet, lets out a happy yelp as Herman feeds him some biltong.
“So, what are your plans, Herman? I see you’ve had a make-over and bought a Landy?”
“And that’s not all Gertruida. I put in a bid on that ranch yesterday and am now the proud owner of a prime piece of land. There are horses, chalets, a dam, a lovely swimming pool…and a burnt-down lodge. This, I am working on. The builders will be on site by Monday. It’s amazing what you can do if money isn’t a problem.”
“Wow! You’re going to farm?” Vetfaan wonders about this. Herman – the solar geyser salesman – has no experience of farming, after all.
“Oh, no, my friends. That farm is going to change. Part of it is going to be allocated to be developed as a solar energy setup. Quite big, if I say so myself. Bertus was tremendous – when I phoned him about my plans, he sorted out the approval and everything within a week. He’s a very influential man, that one.”
“And the rest of the farm, Herman?” Gertruida has to know.
“A safe haven for homeless children, Gertruida. There are thousands of them in the country. They’ll be housed, fed, and schooled right there on the property. Maybe I won’t be able to help all the kids in need, but those that I can accommodate, I will – and they’ll have a better future, thanks to Kromhout and Myrtle.”
Gertruida is aware of the tears welling up, but she doesn’t care. How rare it is that heinous crimes produce such wonderful results? Evil turned to good; heartache, the source of hope? Herman could have used the money himself, but he chose not to…
“You’re a good man, Herman Grove,” she says softly, desperately trying to keep her voice even.
“Ja,” Vetfaan smiles, “now the two of you must unwed, hey? That’s the only bit of the situation that hasn’t been cleared up properly yet.”
And Gertruida, with a wan smile that belies her true feelings, nods slowly. “Yes,” she whispers, “I suppose so…” She meets Herman’s gaze and is almost not surprised when he suddenly turns away to stare at the last red glow of sunset.