“Money.” Gertruida has that look again. She ticks off the points as she continues: “It must be about money. Whatever they went to look for, has to tie up with finances somehow. Nico Diederichs was known as Mister Gold. Dr Robert Smit was a financial genius. He was murdered because he found something wrong with overseas funding. The Radical Action United Taskforce silenced him because he found out. Captain Parker was sent on a mission to find something, and this ultra-secret mission – somehow – has something to do with all of these.”
“It doesn’t make sense.” Boggel downs his beer and reaches for a new one. “The only things worth money in the Sperrgebiet, are diamonds. Now, if the government needed diamonds, they could have taken them – South West Africa used to belong to us in the 70’s. And, remember, we have Oranjemund, Cullinan and Kimberley – why send a secret mission to a godforsaken place when they had all the diamonds they needed right here?”
“That’s the point, Boggel. It can’t be about diamonds.” Gertruida frowns, obviously lost in thought. “That means…if it wasn’t about diamonds…that they were looking for something else. Something valuable.”
“I agree,” Elsie lights another cigarette despite Boggel’s disapproving look. “It doesn’t make sense. Except for a few shipwrecks, the Sperrgebiet has nothing except those diamonds…”
“Whoa!” Gertruida’s hand shoots up to stop the chatter. “Shipwrecks…? What shipwrecks?”
Gertruida reads up. She phones a few friends, pulls a few strings, calls in one or two favours. The only shipwreck she traces, is that of a 500 year old galleon discovered in 2008 – containing brass canons, Iberian coins, copper and some ivory. Surely, she realises, this isn’t the answer she’s looking for.
Then one of her old friends, an retired admiral, mentioned toe City of Baroda. A passenger ship? Sunk in WW ll? Soooo…?
After a good night’s sleep, the Robossers are back in Boggel’s Place, sipping Boggel’s special wake-up coffee and discussing possibilities. Elsie is in mid-sentence, busy saying that the whole story is a big puzzle, when a new Range Rover Sport with tinted windows stops outside.
“It’s them!” Elsie’s fear is tangible. “Dammit, I’ve got to hide!”
Gertruida pushes her back on to her chair. “If it’s them, Elsie, you can’t. I know. If they found you here, they’ll find you anywhere. Let’s see what we get out of them.” She can be rather imposing when she wants to. “Okay, everybody, relax. Just be yourselves.”
Elsie is right. The two men walk briskly to the counter, scanning the faces and then sitting down next to Elsie. She recognises them, of course. The Ducktails. How can she forget the them?
‘Told you to lay off, didn’t we?” The taller one sneers. “Whatcha doin’ here, lady?” Obviously he’s a fan of gangster movies.
“Now wait a second, gentlemen. Elsie is a guest in our town. There’s no law against it. What I’d like to know, is what the hell you think you’re doing?” Gertruida never uses foul language. Never.
“Stay out of this, woman. It may become…ugly, if you follow my drift.” The slightly smaller one bunches his shoulders while flexing his muscular arms.
This man, Boggel realises, is the dangerous guy. Barmen know these things. Cold eyes, thin, unsmiling lips, an almost distracted way of looking at people, The kind of guy who likes hurting puppies.
“You come in here, threatening us? Why?” Servaas brings his bushy brow together to show his disgust.
Servaas doesn’t see the hand flashing out. He staggers back, wiping the blood from his lips before sitting down heavily. Only then does he realise he’s been slapped – hard.
“Cos it’s none of ya business, ole man.”
Vetfaan lives a simple life with simple rules. The Kalahari taught him that. When it’s cold, you make a fire. If it’s hot, you look for shade. You don’t shoot anything unless you want to eat it. Sundays belong to Oudoom and the church. And somewhere on that list, it says something about assaulting older people.
He gets up slowly, walks over to the two newcomers. He gait is casual, non-threatening. He asks if he can buy them a beer. They relax, thinking they have scared everybody into submission. The taller one nods.
It’s the last thing he remembers.
Vetfaan simply reaches out, as if wanting to place his big hands on the counter. Boggel reaches for the beers. And then…
The crack! of the two agent’s heads smashing together is – one has to admit – rather sickening. Even Gertruida doesn’t realise what is happening until the two men collapse on the floor.
“Vetfaan…?” Fanny looks at her husband, her eyes wide in shock and wonder.
“Sorry, Fanny.” He seems genuinely embarrassed. “But this is Boggel’s Place.” As if it explains everything. Then again, maybe it does, come to think of it.
“I’ve got some cable ties in my bakkie,” Kleinpiet says innocently.
Namib Desert, 2014
//Xuiram is proud of his name. Legend has it that the first //Xuiram was a wise and powerful leader, the founder of the clan. He was the one who gave them the mind-maps to find water, to know where the hidden fountains are and where to hunt in the different seasons. Now, with the wisdom accumulated in his long life (at 55 summers he is by far the oldest of the tribe) he knows it is time to return to the Holy Place, the spiritual stronghold he last saw when he was a boy.
“We shall leave here when the moon is full,” he tells his family. “It is time.” He allows his eyes to travel over his small family. They are the last ones – him, his wife, the three boys and the girl. “I have to show you the way before it is my time to leave.”
Mentioning his death does not upset the family. For some time now, the old man has been complaining about his eyesight. And, as they all know, the biggest curse on a hunter, is blindness. Is it not so, they spoke amongst themselves a while ago, that the spirit-world knows no illness, no fatigue, no hunger? When old //Xuiram departs this world, they will rejoice, for he’ll be a hunter with strong legs and eyes to see. Yes, when the time comes, they’ll be glad for him..
“It shall be so, my father” the oldest son says.
Vetfaan can be extremely convincing. He once told the speedcop outside Upington how wrong it is for a traffic policeman to hide behind a bush and then issue a fine for speeding. How can you fine me when you are ashamed of your work? Huh? You’re dishonest, man! Hiding like that is the mark of a law-breaker, a skelm! And then you jump out and you put on your holy-holy face to tell me I’m a crook? You need your head read, man! No offence, officer, but two wrongs don’t make a right. The cop shared a beer with Vetfaan and let him go.
Now, however, Vetfaan picks up the smaller guy by the scruff of his neck, sits him down on a bar stool, and – still holding on to the back of the man’s neck – proceeds to tap out a rhythm on the counter with the man’s nose. Vetfaan isn’t cruel – he just taps hard enough to bring tears to the man’s eyes.
“Gee, you remind me of the Radetsky March. Did you know I’m musical? Well, let me show you. I just love that melody – can listen to it over and over again. Should have heard the army band playing it in Pretoria… Maybe….” he stops the tapping, turning the man’s bruised nose towards him, “maybe you want to tell me stuff? Nothing much, you understand? Just who you work for.”
Then, keeping time with his humming, he starts drumming again with what he later describes as his friend’s nasal metronome.