Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#9)

Robinson R66 small 1“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.”

“Lead boxes?”

“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….”

Higgs at CERN

Higgs at CERN

“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…)

Trusting Liar (#8)

Sieve used on Herman's claim to separate gravel and sand.

Sieve used on Herman’s claim to separate gravel and sand.

Liar tells the story with agitated gestures and a worried frown.

“When I walked out of the bank, these three guys waited on the sidewalk. Smart suits, dark glasses, expensive watches. They told me they know all about me and that I’ve been selling diamonds to an overseas buyer. This, they said, was highly illegal and that I should be jailed for my crimes.

“I asked them what they were talking about and showed them my prospector’s licence. The one guy laughed so much he had to wipe tears from his eyes. Said they were from the Revenue Service and they’ve been going through prominent client’s accounts at the bank. Mine, he said, was so incriminating that Pretoria sent the three of them to investigate.”

“Sure sounds funny to me,” Gertruida mumbles.

“Anyway, he said, if I revealed the source of the diamonds and cut a deal with them, they’d make the problem disappear. Either I do it their way, or face years in jail.” Liar shrugs. “What could I do? I told them I’d meet them at their hotel the next morning and bring them here. They said that would be fine. And then I got my bag, hitched a lift with Kalahari Vervoer, and that’s when I rocked up at Boggel’s Place – where you saw me a few days ago. There was no way I’d tell them about this.” He spread his arms wide to encompass the region. “This is mine. Mine!. I’ve paid for it with my life.”

“Klasie, those men were trying to con you.” Gertruida’s tone is firm. “SARS would never act the way they did. And the part of cutting a deal with you if you showed them the source of the diamonds? It smacks of old-fashioned thievery. I’ll tell you what happened: somebody at the bank noticed the payments coming from London. Large amounts. A discreet question here and there, and it would have been easy to tell that the payments were for packets of diamonds. Now – there are no longer any prospectors in the region, as you well know. Only you disappear for months and then the bank gets rather large amounts deposited into your account. Seeing the way you live, that balance must be quite spectacular now…?

“Twenty-five…” Liar stares at his boots.

“Thousand? That’s impossible!”

“No, Gertruida. Million…”

Vetfaan lets out a low whistle while Servaas gasps.

“And that’s only in that bank. I’ve got a few other accounts as well.” Liar adds before saying something about eggs in one basket, but the group doesn’t pay attention. Nobody has that much money! Maybe the president, but he didn’t work for it, did he?

“Okay.” Gertruida sums it up. “A clerk in the bank tells somebody, who tells somebody else. They add up two and two. Then they wait for your next visit and confronts you with a bluff, hoping you’d be gullible enough to fall for their story. Then you disappear and they start looking for you with an aeroplane and a chopper. Mmmm…” Gertruida’s mind works at top speed to piece the puzzle together. “That means these guys have access to money – lots of it – to fund such a search party. And…those guys? They’re just frontmen for somebody else. Someone with a lot of clout is behind all this, I’m sure.”

“A businessman?” Servaas gathers his bushy brows high on his forehead.

“No, Servaas. This smells like somebody in government. A minister possibly. Even a general. Gangsters wouldn’t be so subtle and true businessmen won’t be so crude. But somebody who imagines himself untouchable…well, that’d be my bet.”

“But why keep on looking, Klasie? You won’t be able to spend all that money in your lifetime?”

IMG_2958Liar looks up, a pained expression clouding his face. “And then do what, Servaas? Sit in a retirement home, with sunset the high point of excitement every day? Play Bingo for peanuts? Think out more lies about who I am and what I did with my life? Wait for the police to arrest me for the murder of my stepfather?” He flashes a sad smile before continuing. “No, here I have a purpose. It’s not about the money. It’s about Walter – my real father. He believed in something and gave his life for that purpose. Maybe you look back at history and think about how misguided he was. Or how wrong. That’s history. But I believe in the man…the person. He had a good heart. He wanted to find these diamonds and then marry Mom. This,” he says as he looks out over the dunes, “is his legacy, his memory. It’s all I’ve got of him. This is where I belong.”

A sad silence follows his words as the group tries to get to grips with Liar’s lifetime of searching for lost diamonds – and the father he never knew.

Then the distinct sound of a helicopter approaching makes them all look up.

Trusting Liar (#7)

lancaster_desert_500Klasie (liar) Louw remembers the fights, the blows, and the screams all too vividly. Herman would return from yet another trip into the Kalahari in the most foul of moods, empty-handed. He blamed Nikolaas. He blamed Mattie. He scolded young Klasie, often adding a hiding for good measure. He liked to shout at them, telling them they ruined his life.

***

“Then, just after my eleventh birthday, it happened again. Mom stood her ground for a while, but Herman wouldn’t let up. He called her names…horrible names. Then he felled her with a vicious uppercut, straight to the chin, She fell backwards, hitting her head on the sorting table. I knew then that he had killed her.”

Liar is sobbing now, reliving the most horrible moments of his life.

“I was hiding under the bed at the time. Walter’s pistol – the one he had used to kill the snake – was under Mom’s pillow. I don’t remember much of what happened. When I came to my senses, Herman was down, flat on the ground, bleeding from his chest. In his last breath he cursed me, saying I’m a bastard and a low-life scum.”

***

The boy didn’t know what to do. His mother was dead and he had just killed his stepfather. He was still sitting there when a trader stopped by, like he did once a month. The trader – Harry Isaacs – took one look at the scene and rushed off to Upington to report the incident to the police. 

A constable was dispatched to investigate. His report:

I, Constable Abel Malherbe, arrived at the claim of Herman Louw at 3 pm on the 3rd of August 1954. On my arrival I found a boy – Nikolaas Louw (called Klasie) sitting on a camp bed in the hut on the premises. He wasn’t able to speak and I assume he was born deaf and dumb. I also found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Louw. Mrs Louw appears to have died from a blow to her head, although she had multiple other bruises. Mr Louw had a gunshot wound to his chest. A pistol was on the floor between the two bodies.

My conclusion merely states the obvious. Mr Louw is a known felon with multiple convictions, including assault. It appears that he was attacking Mrs Louw when she fired the pistol in self-defence. There was nothing on the scene to suggest any other explanation. 

The boy is clearly incapable of comprehensible speech and unable to assist any further investigation. He’ll need to be taken to a foster home. My superior officer suggested the facility in Worcester.

Signed:

A. Malherbe.

***

School for the deaf, Worcester.

School for the deaf, Worcester.

“And so I was sent to the School for the Deaf in Worcester. For a while it suited me just fine. For the first time in my life, I had a warm bed, clean linen and three proper meals a day. I didn’t have to dig up the banks of the Orange River and I wasn’t afraid that Herman would rock up and beat me. All I had to do, was act deaf and dumb. 

“That’s where my lying really took off. I had them all fooled for three long years – the best years of my life. Then, one day, I overheard the teachers discussing me. They were concerned, they said, that I might have more hearing than I gave out to have. That I might be pretending because I was an orphan. That they’d get a special doctor to come and test me, just to make sure…

louw“That night I ran away. I returned to the only place I know: my stepfather’s claim. I was only fourteen, but big and strong. I managed to convince the local magistrate that I was the legal heir to Herman’s claim and that he had been a known prospector in the Kalahari. He checked the records, found Constable Malherbe’s report, and took pity on me. How he did it, I’m not sure – but in the end he handed me a piece of paper that gave me the right to ‘investigate and prospect mineral possibilities in the region’. He even paid the fee…”

“But didn’t he ask you where you had been all that time?”

“He did, Servaas. I told him I had been taken care of by an aunt in Cape Town, but that she had passed away. Without the licence, I said, I would have no income and no means to support myself. He asked about inheritance, and for once I told the truth: my ‘aunt’ had left me nothing.” A wry smile lightened his features for a second. “The rest were – just like you’ve become accustomed to me – pure lies.”

Servaas scratches his head, overawed by the tale of woe. “So you’ve been looking for the wreck all these years – almost six decades of searching?”

“Oh, I found the wreck, all right. It’s not far from here.” He points up the valley between the two large dunes. “But there was a flood in 1956. One of those rare thunderstorms that turned this valley into a mass of swirling water. It washed over the wreck and almost buried it. It took me some time, but eventually I uncovered enough to examine the wreckage. The boxes were gone. For a while I thought my stepfather had found it, but then I discovered a diamond some distance off. Then another.

“What happened was that the flood washed away the boxes, scattering the stones down the ‘river’ it had formed.” He sighs. “And that’s why I’ve been busy here all my life – searching, searching, searching for the lost treasure of Walter Kempf amongst these dunes…”

“And finding diamonds here and there?”

“Yes. I’ve found two hundred and thirty-six stones so far. It’d fill one small box. There must be much more still…”

“But who are the people in the plane and the chopper?” Vetfaan lets his eyes roam the empty skies. “Why…?”

“It’s some government men. Bad ones. Once they know where to look, they’ll probably kill me.”

“But…how did they know?”

“SARS…the revenue people. They got onto my trail after the last packet I sent to London. When I went to the bank in Upington to check on the payment, they were waiting for me outside the bank. They said they wanted to make me an offer I can’t refuse.”

“And….?

“I refused.”

(to be continued)

Trusting Liar (#6)

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Gertruida gasps. “You’re…you’re Walter Kempf’s son?”

Liar, still staring at the endless horizon, nods. “The one and only.”

“But your surname is Louw – where did that come from?”

***

Mattie was devastated. With Walter dead, her hopes for the future had turned to ashes. Oom Nikolaas initially did what all fathers do when confronted with his daughter’s pregnancy: he exploded. A heated argument followed. He accused her of being too forward, while she blamed their poverty on Nikolaas’s inability to farm properly. She even told him her mother’s death was due to the old man’s negligence. The wordy skirmish didn’t last long – they both ended up in tears, apologising for hurting each other so much.

Oom Nikolaas considered the problem of his daughter’s pregnancy very carefully. He was getting on in years and would not be able to assist Mattie in bringing up the child. A man had to be found, but how? Who? And why would a man marry a woman pregnant with another man’s baby? Then he had a brilliant idea.

Somewhere, out in the desert, an aeroplane wreck contained two shoeboxes full of diamonds. Surely that would be enough to entice some gentleman to search for it, find it, and become fabulously rich? Such a man might – with a bit of luck – be willing to marry his daughter in exchange for information leading to the treasure hidden in the dunes? Oom Nikolaas would have preferred to search for the wreck himself, but at his age it would have been suicide. No, he’ll find someone…

But…such a man had to be somebody with enough knowledge of the desert, know something about diamonds, and be able to dispose of his find in a legal way. That, oom Nikolaas decided, narrowed the possibilities down to the few prospectors next to the Orange River. Those men, he knew, barely made a living with the few diamonds they found, so surely they would jump at the chance of acquiring the treasure in the wreck? Although these prospectors had a reputation for hard living and sometimes unscrupulous behavior, oom Nikolaas felt sure he’d be able to find the best of them all. Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Mattie didn’t like the idea. She had fallen in love with Walter and just couldn’t imagine being with another man. Another argument followed. What, oom Nikolaas asked, would happen to Mattie and the infant once he (Nikolaas) died? How would she – an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child –  survive? Surely the infant should have a better chance in life than the two of them had? No, he said, Mattie had no choice. A man had to be found, and quickly. If his plan worked out, they could still be married in church and the baby would be accepted as her new husband’s. She would have a home, a caring man to look after her, and a child with a future. No more arguments, case closed. 

Orange River mouth - rich source of diamonds

Orange River mouth – rich source of diamonds

Despite his failing health, oom Nikolaas set out to find a husband for his daughter. He trekked along the banks of the Orange River, looking for the prospectors he had heard about. What he found, disappointed him. Most of the men were unschooled. They all drank too much. Some were too old. Some, too young. And there weren’t nearly as many as he had hoped to find – the war had seen to that. When he eventually shuffled towards a shabby hut next to a digging at the water’s edge, oom Nikolaas had all but given up hope.

***

“And so oom Nikolaas bought a husband for my mother. Marriage in exchange for information about a lost treasure. Herman Jacobus Louw jumped at the chance. He was…more or less…presentable. What oom Nikolaas didn’t know, was that this same H.J. Louw was a fugitive from the law. He had a string of convictions, ranging from theft to assault. He could be as charming as a prince and change to a ball of fury at the drop of a hat. When oom Nikolaas met him, my future stepfather was in his charming mode. He seemed the nicest guy on earth. But that….changed…afterwards.

“Anyway, the deal was struck. Mattie got a husband in exchange for a vague description of where the plane went down. The very modest wedding ceremony followed within a week.

“Mattie told me it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Herman left the morning after the marriage to start looking for the plane. He came back a month later in the worst possible mood and got into a heated argument with Nikolaas. Said the old man had tricked him. Blows followed. Nikolaas died a week later – and was buried on the farm. Nobody could prove that the fight had anything to do with his death, but to this day I’m convinced it did. Mattie told me how bruised and battered her father had been after the assault…

“Well, Herman didn’t give up. He moved Mattie to his claim and left her there to do the digging while he went on trip after trip to look for Walter’s diamonds. I was born there; Mattie somehow managed the delivery herself while Herman was on one of his expeditions.”

“What,” Gertruida asks, “happened? With Herman, I mean? Did he find the aircraft?'”

Liar wipes away a tear before answering. “He never found it. I killed him…when I was eleven…”

Trusting Liar (#5)

as31-iGertruida is the first to recover. “Klasie…?”

“Ag drop the pretence, Gertruida. You all call me ‘Liar’ behind my back, so why stop now? Might as well be on the same page, yes?” Liar’s face is flushed with anger; the muscles in his thin neck prominently bulging. “That diamond belongs to me. Hand it over.”

“What are you doing? Put away the gun…”

“No! This…,” Liar sweeps his one hand towards the horizon, “…is my place. Mine!  I earned it! And you…you have no right to be here!”

“Listen, Liar, we’re not the enemy. Whoever is looking for you with the aeroplane and the chopper….well, it isn’t us. In fact, we were worried about you and that’s why we followed you. We’re here to help, man!” Vetfaan’s voice is pleading as he takes a step closer to the distraught man. “Now, put down the gun and let’s chat about all this.”

Liar hesitates, taken aback after clearly being convinced that the group  had hostile intentions. “I…I’m not sure I believe you…”

“And we’re never sure whether we can believe you, either.” Servaas’s remark lessens the tension as a few suppressed guffaws escape. Even Liar has to smile.

“Here, here’s the diamond.” Getruida holds it out to Liar. “You take it and put down the gun. We need to talk.”

Liar seemed to deflate the moment he realised the group didn’t represent a threat of any kind. He took the diamond, stuck it in his pocket, and sat down next to his rifle. Gertruida carefully detailed their quest  to warn Liar about the  Cessna –  and to help if they could. It takes a long time to convince Liar, but such are Gertruida’s skills that he eventually apologized for his behaviour.

“I…I suppose you deserve an explanation,” Liar sighs – then he tells them a story they’ll never forget.

***

After Robey Leibrandt was arrested, Walter Kempf gained access to the only aircraft available and took off, heading for Windhoek. He left in a considerable hurry, of course, and had didn’t have the time or opportunity to plan the trip. As soon as he had the plane cruising at about 2,000 feet, he took stock of his situation. In the bulky suitcase rammed into the hold, was a number of gold coins and two shoeboxes filled with diamonds. While he was confident that he would be able to bribe his way into South West Africa to get past the officials in Windhoek, his immediate problem was fuel. The Gloster was (at that time) quite famous as a survey plane but Walter had no idea how far he could fly with the two full tanks.

He switched off the left tank and flew only on the right-side fuel supply, reckoning that would give him an idea of range. Figuring out that he might make Kimberley, he headed west. It was late afternoon when he landed near the city of diamonds, where he used some gold coins to convince a lone attendant to fill up his tanks. Not wanting to stay too long, he took off almost immediately. The police interviewed the attendant the next day, documenting the last official sighting of the Gloster.

The modern runway at Upington

The modern runway at Upington

Walter knew that flying at night would be dangerous, but fortunately the skies were clear and the moon almost full. His plan was to follow the Orange River to Upington, where he hoped to refuel again. However, when he estimated that he was about a hundred miles from Upington, the oil-pressure gauge started dropping. Peering from the open cockpit, he could see smoke from the left engine. He knew then: he was in deep trouble.

He no longer had the luxury of time to follow the bends in the river below him; now he had to plot and guess the shortest way to Upington. He veered off to the north, which was a mistake. Had he gone south, he would have picked up the road to Upington, which would have at least offered him a chance to land. Soon, however, he only had the expanse of desert beneath his wings as he switched off the overheated engine. The aircraft was still maintaining altitude, but flying the cumbersome craft under the power of the single remaining engine was beyond the capabilities of Walter Kempf. He had to find somewhere safe to land…

Walter later described his landing as a miracle. He found a straight, narrow passage between two dunes and managed to make an almost perfect touchdown. Almost. An unseen mound of sand snapped off the left wheel, causing the craft to slew around and wedge itself into a dune. With the wheel off and the propellers bent, the aircraft’s flying days were over.

The exhausted pilot surveyed the damage, correctly decided that he was marooned in the desert, and decided to wait for sunrise. Curling up in the hold behind the pilot’s seats, he slept until he was awakened by the hushed voices of three Bushmen who stood talking around the crashed plane.

***

“So there he was, surrounded by Bushmen in the middle of the desert, fleeing for his life.” Liar pauses as another thought strikes him. “You know that Robey Leibrandt was sentenced to death, yes?”

Only Gertruida nods – she knows the history. Jan Smuts eventually commuted the sentence to life imprisonment; but when DF Malan became Prime Minister, Leibrandt was released from jail.

“I still don’t see how you tie up with all this, Klasie…I mean Liar?”

Servaas gets a weak smile from the man. “Ag , you can call me anything. Truth be told, my entire life had been a lie, so I don’t object to being called what I am.” He falls silent for a moment before continuing. “You see, those Bushmen helped Walter to get back to civilisation. He only took a few gold coins with him, leaving the rest of the treasure in the hold of the plane – he thought he’d go back sometime. Anyway, after three days of heavy walking, they reached a farm, called Breekyster. The farmer and his wife took good care of Walter and he stayed there for more than a month.

“Also on the farm was an old man – a bywoner – and his daughter: Nikolaas Cronje and Mathilda, or Mattie as everybody called her. They were common, poor labourers on the farm, a struggling father-and-daughter family impoverished by the recent Great Depression and the subsequent droughts. Oom Nikolaas, I was told, used to farm with sheep near Loxton, in the Karoo, before he lost everything. His wife died from pneumonia while they trekked from farm to farm, looking for work. Eventually they found refuge on Breekyster, where they were allowed to stay in the barn. The farmhouse was a modest affair and Walter shared accommodation with the Cronje’s.

“Walter told the old man – he had been a rebel in 1914, objecting against the government’s plans to fight the same Germans who helped the Afrikaners during the Anglo-Boer War – the whole story. Everything. As a Nazi sympathizer, the old man was overjoyed to lend a hand. He helped Walter to get ready to return to the earoplane – and he left one morning early with a backpack, a pistol and a compass.

aa3“Walter was never seen alive again. His body was found ten days later, a day’s walk from the farm. The desert had been too treacherous, too wild for him. A sidewinder snake was found nearby with a bullet hole through it’s neck. Surprisingly, both escaped being ravaged by scavengers.

“Needless to say, nobody reported the issue. Walter Kempf simply disappeared as far as the authorities were concerned.

“Old oom Nikolaas was saddened by the passing of his new friend – but not as much as the grieving Mattie, who realised she was pregnant on the very same day Walter was found. In fact, she almost miscarried… ” Liar sighs, staring at the diamond. “Maybe it would have been better if she did – I would have been spared a lifetime of misery…”

Trusting Liar (#4)

The Gloster AS.31

The Gloster AS.31

“A…a diamond?” Vetfaan squints at the stone, marvelling at the way the son reflected from within.

“Yes…” Gertruida frowns, her puzzled expression lifting her brow towards her hairline. “And not just any old diamond!”

“Wha…?”

“It’s a polished stone, Vetfaan. A very strange and unique stone. See the imperfection in the middle?”

adThe diamond is the size of a rather large pea, brilliantly polished, but in its center the yellow-brown immediately draws attention. “It looks like an eye…” Vetfaan says.

The helicopter makes another pass, but now too far away to worry the group.

“A flawed diamond?”

Gertruida remains silent for a long time while she turns the stone around between her fingers. The she whispers a single word…

“What? What did you say, Gertruida?” Kleinpiet holds a hand behind his ear, his eyes full of question marks.

Hitler…” She looks up suddenly, remembering the history she studied many years ago. “The Tears of the Wolf…” Then, hesitantly and in a hushed voice, she tells them the most amazing story.

***

images (13)In 1934 South Africa was proud of their new boxing wonder. Robbie Leibrandt won gold at the Commonwealth Games to become a national hero. In 1936 he was part of the Olympic team to compete against the rest of the world in Berlin.

“Apparently he met Adolf Hitler while he was there and was fascinated by the man. He returned to Germany in 1938 to study at the Reich Academy for Gymnastics. When the war broke out, he joined the German army and was trained to fly and use a parachute. Most of his training involved sabotage techniques, however – his German commanders had a very special project in mind.”

Operation Weisshorn involved dropping Leibrandt on the Namaqualand coast (using a confiscated French yacht), after which he set up a rebel movement, aimed at destabilising the government led by Jan Smuts. His plans almost succeeded, but he was betrayed and caught by the police.

“But,” Gertruida continues, “there was a bizarre twist to the story. Leibrandt was assisted by a man with strangely similar features, one Walter Kempf. Even their commanding officer could not always tell them apart. This is presumably why “Leibrandt” was often seen at two places at the same time, adding to the confusion of the authorities trying to catch him.  Anyway, their efforts in South Africa were funded by gold coins and diamonds the Third Reich provided.

“Once Robey was imprisoned, Walter fled with the loot. He managed to bribe his way into the airforce base near Pretoria, where he stole a rather dilapidated Gloster plane used for aerial photography. Apparently his aim was to flee to South West Africa (Namibia), where he hoped to link up with German sympathisers. The aeroplane never made it to Windhoek and the lost gold and diamonds were never found.”

***

“Thanks for the history lesson, Gertruida.” Servaas pulls up his shoulders to spread his arms wide. “But what the Dickens does that have to do with this diamond?”

“This diamond, Servaas, may very well be the one that the Fuhrer, himself, gave to Leibrandt on the eve of his departure from Germany. It was supposed to be a good luck charm, one of Hitler’s favourites. Hitler often likened himself to a wolf, and these diamonds was named after him. Legend has it that a small collection of these stones came from one of the pyramids and that they were amongst the valuables the Nazi’s ‘collected’ during their campaigns. If I remember correctly, there was quite a lot of excitement lately amongst fortune seekers in the town of Mittenwald in Austria, where some of the treasure might still be hidden.”

“So…are you sure this diamond is part of Leibrandt’s treasure?”

“I’m assuming it, Servaas. Think about it: an unique, expertly polished diamond with the exact characteristics, appearing in the desert where an aeroplane might have crashed almost eighty years ago….it sounds more plausible than anything else I can come up with. Unless you have a better explanation…?”

Servaas shakes his head. He knows better than to argue with Gertruida – who knows everything, anyway.

“But I still don’t get it.” Vetfaan stares at the horizon. The sound of the helicopter has faded away, leaving them in the vast silence of the desert. “How does this tie up with Liar? He can’t possibly be involved with all this history?”

Even Gertruida has to shake her head. She’s fairly sure about the diamond – the unique stone was described in fine detail in a report she had read during her training as an agent for National Intelligence. The history of spying in South Africa provided many lessons for new agents and (back then) the study of erstwhile projects and agents had been mandatory. But…tying up the diamond with Liar just doesn’t make sense. Could it be that they have stumbled across the diamond in one of the strangest coincidences of all time? Or…not?

She’s still thinking about this when they hear the distinct clack! of a rifle bolt ramming the bullet into the chamber behind them.

“Okay folks! Turn around. Slowly. Hands where I can see them. And no funny business, thank you.”

They all freeze as they recognise the voice…

Trusting Liar (#3)

begin 2004 207Everybody knows about Vredethe 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…

***

modThe 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.!”

60nara1[1]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.

begin 2004 130“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.

Then…

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…

Trusting Liar (#2)

1The thing about Liar is what Vetfaan calls the “double-reverse chicken gambit”, the only thing in Rolbos that manages to confuse Gertruida. Vetfaan explains that you have to believe the unbelievable before discarding it as nonsense. Or vice versa. The trick is the ‘gambit’ – when to attack or withdraw. For instance: it’s like exonerating the presidency for all blame for Nkandla before finding them all guilty.

“It’s the same with Liar. It’s wrong to say his stories are untrue. He might apply some factual gymnastics to his tales, but they’re not necessarily lies – unless you don’t believe him.” This concept, he explains, makes it easy to understand why more than 60% of the voters chose the governing party during the last election. “But,” he hastens to add, “this is about to change. The second reverse of the double reverse is a slower phenomenon, it’ll only occur once the government starts telling the truth.”

This, of course, doesn’t help to explain why they all jumped on to the Land Rover as the ancient engine spluttered clouds of blue smoke down Voortrekker Weg. Maybe they were just bored, sitting around in Boggel’s Place all day long. Or perhaps they really cared about what happened to Liar. Probably they did the second reverse…?

“When last did he find a diamond?” Kleinpiet has to shout to be heard above the clatter of the straining engine.

“Oh, last year. He showed it to me.” Gertruida puts on her superior look. How she loves knowing things the others don’t! “A blue-white, this big.” She uses her fingers to indicate a large, marble-sized stone. “The purest I’ve ever seen. And several yellows, slightly larger but not as nice.”

“But having an uncut diamond in your possession is a crime! He can’t sell it? They’ll pop him into jail.”

neumap6“Not Liar, Vetfaan. He has a prospecting permit dating back to his father’s time. The old man used to prospect near the Orange River near Grootdrink, but somehow Liar convinced the authorities that he not only inherited the licence, but that it applies to the Kalahari as well. You know him: he probably lied his way to success. Point is: he’s a legit diamond prospector and so he has the right to sell his uncut diamonds to any of the world’s bourses that buy such stones. Apparently he sends over a packet once a year to Antwerp, using the contacts his father had built up after WW ll. The old man served in Egypt, where he met some chaps from the Netherlands. One thing led to another….old comrades, that sort of thing.”

“But then Liar must be a rich man?”

“Depends on whether you can believe him.” Gertruida shrugs and smiles quietly. “If he’s so rich, why is he still tramping the dunes?”

“Greed.” Boggel shouts above the noise, using his handkerchief to wipe the dust from his eyes. “It’s a disease: once diamond-fever gets you, it doesn’t let go. Liar will go on searching for diamonds until the end. He won’t – can’t – stop. There’ll always be the big one just around the corner – just like the gamblers in Oasis Casino.”

Vetfaan drives slowly, picking out Liar’s tracks in the loose sand. The Cessna is flying ahead, sometimes disappearing over the horizon before circling back.

“Liar has done it again,” Vetfaan says grimly as he watches the aeroplane flying to and fro. “He simply disappears…”

A few years ago, after Liar had bragged about a particularly large stone in Boggel’s Place, Sersant Dreyer tried to follow his tracks. They led straight into the desert for several miles – and then disappeared completely. Vetfaan remarked at the time that Liar must be an expert at anti-tracking, which made Dreyer blush under his deep tan, saying nobody can fool him that easily. Still: the fact remains that Liar’s secrets remained intact, allowing the group at the bar many hours of speculating about his whereabouts.

“This is it,” Dreyer points at the dry riverbed. “He leaves the sand, hops from boulder to boulder, and gets away without leaving a spoor.”

The group gets out stiffly, stretching legs as they watch the Cessna disappear towards Upington.

“The end of the road, chaps.” Kleinpiet sighs loudly. “We might as well give up.”

Gertruida goes harrumph!. It’s an ominous sign. She hates unanswered questions.

“Look, it’s late anyway. We’re not equipped to spend the night out here. I suggest we return to Rolbos and gear up for a proper expedition, then we can follow this man to wherever he is. Who’s in?”

“Follow his where, Gertruida? We have no idea where he might be! It’s useless…”

“Ah….you’ve stopped thinking again as usual, Vetfaan. Whether you join me or not, I’ll be back here tomorrow at first light….with Vrede.”

Of course! Vrede! Their very own town-dog with the superb nose!

***

The eastern sky has the faintest tinge of orange above the black horizon when the group gathers at the rocky riverbed. Vrede loves it out here – he’s done all the wheels on the ‘Rover, four bushes and one rock.

“Now, Vrede!” Boggel sits down next to the excited dog. “You remember Liar? That sweaty, stinky man that walked out this way? Well….you got to find him.” The dag lifts one ear as he listens to Boggel explaining the mission. “Oh…and if you find him, you’ll have a month’s worth of biltong waiting for you.”

Some people scoff at the thought that dogs understand humans. Boggel isn’t one of those. He knows Vrede would have picked up on ‘stinky man’ and ‘biltong’. He’s right, of course. The dog wags his tail, licks Boggel’s cheek and starts sniffing around. Not even a minute later, he gives an excited yelp.

 

Trusting Liar (#1)

aa“I mean…escaping in a python? Really…?”

They’ve been discussing the technical details of Liar Louw’s latest tale. Liar (originally ‘Klasie’, but nobody calls him that behind his back) is an infrequent but most welcome visitor in Boggel’s Place. As the only diamond prospector in the Kalahari, Liar has a way of popping up unexpectedly, especially in winter when the nights can force the Mercury down to far below zero.

“Pythons,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “are capable of swallowing antelopes – surprisingly large ones, too.”

“But then the antelope doesn’t escape again by using a Swiss Army knife. That bit was hard to swallow.” Servaas shakes his head. “Also the way he says he rubbed gravy-flavoured Vaseline all over himself to make it impossible for the snake to ignore him.”

“Well, he said he was in a hurry. The terrorists had surrounded him on that isolated hill…and it the thunder storm was on its way. I just loved the little detail he added: hiding from the rain because he didn’t have a rain coat. Quite ingenious.”

“We have to give him credit.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “Liar’s stories aren’t one-dimensional. There he was, trying to lead the entire Cuban force away from the covert camp in Angola, outnumbered and outgunned. Then he got the snake to swallow him – not only because he had to use whatever camouflage available, but because he didn’t fancy getting his uniform wet!”

“….and so he smears goo all over himself? Gimme a break!” Boggel smiles at the way Liar had them all at the edges of their seats. “Still, he tells a good story. When the terries left, he slit open the stomach, climbed out and stitched up the wound. I liked that bit – not killing the poor snake, I mean.”

“Ja, he loves happy endings, Liar does.” Like the rest of them, Kleinpiet has a soft spot for the crazy prospector. The old man (impossible to guess his age) has a way of looking at you with his piercingly blue eyes and a frown that furrows his tanned forehead – and you’d think he is incapable of bending the truth. “The nice thing is: I think he actually believes his own stories.”

“Maybe the war blew out a few fuses in his head. It happened, you know? Some chaps came back as complete strangers to their families.” Precilla glances over at Vetfaan – she knows how the war had an influence on the burly farmer. “And look at the way he lives: he’s a nomad, walking the dunes in search of diamonds! Who lives like that? A backpack, a sieve, a few essentials…”

“…and a Swiss Army knife.” Servaas adds, hooting with laughter.

“And now he tells us the government is spying on him – using an aeroplane! He paranoid, I tell you.” Most of Liar’s stories are almost believable when taken with several pinches of salt, but the allegation that a spy-plane was tracking him, left them all unconvinced. Who cared what an off-beat character like Liar was doing in the desert? Surely Zuma’s problems with Escom, the railways, SAA, healthcare, the police service, Nkandla, nation-wide protests and Fifa were more pressing than worrying about somebody like Liar?

“Unless they want him to join the ANC,” Kleinpiet says, downing his beer. “They sure could use better liars than they’ve got now. At least our Liar is entertaining, which is more than you can say about our minister of police…”

The drone of an engine interrupts Kleinpiet’s sentence.

“An aeroplane? Here?” Gertruida’s brow shoots up in surprise.

They all rush out to the street, where they watch the Cessna fly overhead, heading in the direction Liar had taken.

“Well, I’ll be…” Vetfaan sits down heavily on the steps leading to Boggel’s veranda. “Does this mean…?”

“Yes, Vetfaan. Somebody is up to something. I have a bad feeling about this.” And, because she knows everything, the little crowd around Gertruida turns to Gertruida for an explanation. “We’ll have to help him.”

“You serious?” Incredulous, Vetfaan turns back to see the plane dip lower.

“When last did we see an aeroplane here, Vetfaan? And now Liar tells us a story and barely an hour later we have one – apparently following his tracks? What are the chances? No, I tell you, somebody is after Liar and there’d be a good reason for that. If there’s something I can’t live with, it’s an unexplained mystery. I want to know…”

Even while she’s talking, Gertruida is heading for Vetfaan’s old Land Rover.” Are you coming, or not?”

(To be continued…)