Tag Archives: treasure

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…

Advertisements

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 7)

images (65)General Matotsi comes from a long line of shepherds: he’s used to being obeyed.  Running DEAD is a simple affair for him: you issue orders and await results. This time, however, reality didn’t fit into the scenario he had hoped for. Surely warning off an old lady cannot be this complicated?

He gets off the helicopter. trying to look grim. Unfortunately, his features pucker themselves up in a cartoon-like resemblance of Nemo, which is why Gertruida has to concentrate to keep her face straight. The little general stomps in to Boggel’s Place, comes to a halt, and studies the bemused faces studying him.

“What is this all about?” Attack being the best form of defense, he doesn’t bother introducing himself.

“Ah yes. You must be the general?” Syrup dripping from Gertruida’s words. “Come in, dear man. Sit down. It’s so hot outside, you must be thirsty? What can Boggel get you, sir?”

Matotsi cannot decide whether the woman is stupid or being sarcastic. Nevertheless, he sits down at the counter, refusing the beer Boggel is waving at him, growling “Not while I’m on duty.”

Boggel nods with his understanding barman face, suggests a cooldrink, and excuses himself to fetch it from the storeroom.

“We still have the other chap.” Vetfaan seems to be talking to his glass. “A veritable fountain of information he’s been. I actually like him. Pity he isn’t here. Not feeling well, he said.”

“Wha…?” Matotsi swings around to face Vetfaan. “Where is he?”

“Listen, General, let’s get something straight. This is Boggel’s Place. Maybe you’ve never heard about it, which explains your confusion. The first rule upon entering here, is that you stomp the dust off your boots, take off your hat and say hello. Then, if you don’t know the people, you introduce yourself. Thirdly, we only drink cooldrink when the cactus runs out. Otherwise we’d think you’re a bit of a whimp, see?’

Matotsi can only stare at the big man.

“So, let’s start over, shall we? I’m Vetfaan and you’re…?”

The general gives his surname, but Vetfaan shakes his head. “First name?”

“Alpheus.” By now the general is completely unsettles. Who are these people?

“Okay, Alphie, this is how it’s going to play out. We’re a peaceful bunch over here. We don’t pick fights – especially the ones we cannot win. But we do believe in peace and harmony and we subscribe to equal opportunities. See? We have women in the bar and a disabled barman. We also practice religious freedom, which explains why Oudoom’s church isn’t always full on Sundays.

“But we don’t assault old men, and we don’t threaten mature ladies. That’s what your men have been doing. We don’t take kindly to that. Gertruida – she’s the one over there – knows all about DEAD and she’s written a most entertaining letter about it and it’s recent activities regarding the lady over there, Elsie. Now she’s waiting to see if she must post it to The Mail and Guardian.

“I suggest we all sit down, relax, and share a brandy. Then, as becomes civilised men, let’s have a friendly chat.”

This is the longest speech anybody has ever heard Vetfaan make, and it is so eloquent that he receives muted applause from the Rolbossers.

“Ja. And tell your three men – the bodyguards outside – to take a scenic tour of the town and its surroundings. They make me nervous.” Kleinpiet feels he has to say something, anything, to show everybody he’s brave, too. He puts on his Basset face when he gets no response from the little crowd…

Gertruida says you mustn’t think shepherds are stupid. They live in the veld, get to know the weather very well, and understand risks. Matotsi weighs up the odds as he accepts his cooldrink from Boggel. If he tastes the generous tot of Vodka in the orange juice, he shows no sign of it.

***

Gertruida is fond of saying alcohol is the greatest social lubricant ever invented. She also says smaller quantities are the source of great wisdom – before the next glass brings out the imbecile in you.

So it’s no surprise to find the bar a rather rowdy place two hours later. Vetfaan discovered that he and Matotsi must have had each other in their sights during the bush war. Strangely, it forms a bond between the two men.

“You were at Cuito Cuanaval? Hey man, that time I was really scared! Eish…I think we all were.”

Vetfaan nods, orders another round, and tells Matotsi he still wakes up at night, hearing the mortars explode.

“I do, too,” Alpheus Matotsi admits, clinking his glass with Vetfaan’s.

“Now tell me, Alphie. What’s this with you being involved with scaring old ladies? You guys fought bravely in Angola…what’s with you now?”

 ***

Matotsi remains silent for a long time.

“I’ll tell you,” he says after obviously coming to a decision. “But what I say now, remains here. I have the power – and the influence – to make your lives…very difficult. Understand?”

Oudoom assures the general that they won’t whisper a single word of the conversation. He doesn’t lie – he didn’t say anything about talking or writing.

The general’s account tends to drift off the subject every now and then, but Gertruida manages to piece it together.

The Nationalist government realised it was in trouble in the 70’s. The world was turning against them, their funds were drying up, and civil unrest took it’s toll. They were still firmly in the saddle, though – but they needed a lot of money to keep them there.

images (66)It was general van den Bergh who remembered the story of the City of Baroda. It was one of the bits of gossip making the rounds in the internment camp where the pro-British government of the 40’s held the members of the Ossewabrandwag (who sympathised with Germany).

According to the talk in the camp where van den Bergh and John Vorster were locked up, the Third Reich was crumbling under the combined assault of the Allies. However, the die-hard members of the Hitler regime refused to believe the end of the war would be the end of the Nazi dream. No, they planned a Fourth Reich.

“The Germans smuggled out something to South West Africa.” By now Matotsi had to concentrate really hard to keep the narrative together. “Had a lot of sympathy there amongst the people – most of whom still spoke German as a first language. And then they wanted to let their sympathisers in South Africa know about it. So a letter and a box containing evidence of what they’ve done, was sent to a member of the South African parliament – somebody they trusted. But…” he waves a wobbly finger in the air, “the box was on a ship. Ironically, the ship was sunk by a German U-boat.”

Matotsi’s eyes, set high and wide on his pointed face, starts drooping. Boggel immediately serves a mug of strong, black coffee.

$T2eC16F,!yMFIcTu(VTBBSM22eyPyQ~~60_35“Van den Bergh guessed this had to do with a massive fortune. Gold. He knew the Nazi’s already established a bank in Monaco in 1943 where they tried to hide their treasures. Later, in an investigation by the Americans into the way Germany tried to secrete away money for later use, they confirmed that a shipment of gold was smuggled to South West Africa.”

“Operation Safehaven,” Gertruida whispers. “The West stealing the assets the Germans stole…”

General Matotsi almost loses his balance as he spins around to face Gertruida.

“You know about this?”

Boggel laughs. “She knows everything, Alphie. Everything. Get used to it.”

“Oh.” Matotsi sipped the scalding coffee. “Well, that was what Boss was looking for back in the 70’s. The Minister of Finances sent an expedition. They died in the desert. That was the end of it, until this woman started poking around.” His one eye focussed on Elsie. “And we couldn’t have that. No sir. Not at all.”

“Why, Alphie?”

“Because we’re looking for it, too…”

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 2)

Approx 4000 years ago, The Holy Cave

1a“My father…?” 

//Xi stands trembling while he waits for the old man’s response. When !Xuiram works in his trance-like state, one does not interrupt his drawing. However, the news he has to impart is too terrible, too overwhelming, to keep to himself.

2a“Yes, my son?” !Xuiram puts down his brush with a smile. The impatience of youth! It makes them forget their manners.

“The Holy Cave! The Holy Cave has fallen, my Father.”

IMG_3147Old !Xuiram closes his eyes. He knew it was going to happen. In his dream the giant cave collapsed in a jumble of rock, robbing them of their most potent place of magic.  Only a skeleton of the cave will remain, an arched rock, as a reminder of their way of life. The magic will die..

This, he understands, is the signal for them to leave the lush fountain and seek refuge in the desert. It may take many, many seasons, but their days of peaceful existence is over.

“The hunters, dear //Xi, have become the hunted. From now on, this place is cursed. It has been foretold for many generations… The fountain will dry up. Men will come, many men, and they will die here. I saw that in my dream.”

But, !Xuiram tells the youth, this is their spiritual home. They will never, ever, leave it. Even after death…

And //Xi sits down next to the old man, and they weep together.

***

Bogenfels, 1943

Captain Wilmott gathers the men and women on the beach, telling them that the radio operator did, indeed, get a message out.

“We shall be saved in a few days. We have some food and hopefully enough water in the lifeboats. The ship, alas, is lost – but fortunately we got near enough to the shore before she sank. It is a miracle so many have survived the cold waters of the Atlantic.” He takes off cap and bows his head. “Let us say a prayer for the ones who didn’t make it…and also offer our thanks for those who did.”

Way out in the ocean, the prow of the City of Baroda hesitates a while above the water – as if in a mock salute – before it slips quietly below the surface.

***

Boggel’s Place, 2014

Elsie and Servaas has a lot of catching up to do. Boggel serves the drinks while the rest of the townsfolk stop pretending that they’re not eavesdropping. Even Oudoom is there, Old Brown in hand, listening to Elsie telling her old school friend about the search for her father.

“You know, Servaas, when my Dad got lost in the Sperrgebiet, our world collapsed. My Mom moved us to Pretoria to be with her family. This was just before you met Siena – I suppose – and you stopped writing. Oh, you were such a gentleman, telling me about your new-found love and how you felt it is better if we stopped corresponding. Back then I was furious, but later I understood your loyalty and even came to respect it.

“The authorities handled us like dirt, unfortunately. Nobody seemed to know anything about my father or where he was sent. Some Colonel arrived at the house one evening and told my mother there was nothing they could do. My Dad, he said, had been sent on a secret mission, mentioning the Sperrgebiet but saying it was something he wasn’t at liberty to discuss. He did, however, mention that the project was authorised by the Minister of Finances. However, he regretted to inform us that the entire expedition had been killed. He wouldn’t say anything more, except that my Mom would receive a generous state pension and that we children would be able to study at any university at no cost.

“What could we do? It was 1974 then, and strange things were happening all over the country. People died in bomb blasts. People disappeared. It was a terrible time – for Black and White. Well, Mom received the pension and I went on to study architecture. While at university, I met Barend, got married, had two children of my own. Life went on, you see, and with time I just sort of accepted the way things turned out to be.”

Elsie sighs as she stares at her neatly manicured nails. Servaas, in turn, stares at her. Yes…Elsie. Elsie Parker. He tries to remember if he had ever been bold enough to hold her hand. Yes, he hugged her that day when she cried…but that’s not the same, is it? He shakes his head…it’s just too long ago.

“But…Elsie?” Her name makes his cheeks tingle. Even after all these years, the very sound of her name has a profound influence on him. “What brings you to Rolbos? I mean, I’m glad to see you and all that, but…?”

Elsie lights another cigarette, exhaling a thin line of smoke to the ceiling. “Because you’re the only one I can trust, Servaas. That’s why.”

She proceeds to tell him about her architectural firm, which did very nicely, thank you. Barend, a sweet, portly man who indulged in all her whims, died two years ago.

“…and suddenly my life was empty. My kids are all grown up and have families of their own. The architectural firm is run by young men with ponytails and earrings. They wear Raybans indoors and smell like the cologne counter at Woolworths. I am independent and don’t really have to work any longer – and in fact, my ideas are….well, let’s say…old-fashioned? That’s why I looked in the mirror one day – and saw a dinosaur. I just didn’t belong any more.”

She had to do something, she says, to keep going. And then, one night, she dreamt of her father. He seemed happy enough, all decked out in some sort of white outfit, and he told her it is time.

“Time for what, I asked? And he smiled and said I should know…and then he was gone. You know Servaas, I had never had a dream like that one before. It was so lucid, so clear, that I could smell the old pipe he used to smoke.

“Anyway I woke up and made a cup of coffee. The dream bothered me. My Dad wanted me to do something – but what? And then I remembered 1973 and the way he disappeared and I knew…just knew…that I must find out what happened.

“So I did. Went to the archives in Pretoria and started digging. At first I found nothing – but later on I stumbled across the Smit murders in 1977. You know? Robert and Jeanne-Cora Smit? The financial guru for the Nationalist government? At first I thought it was too far-fetched to be a connection, but then I started looking at Dr Nico Diederichs, the man who – ostensibly – authorised my father’s secret mission. And then…then I started thinking maybe…just maybe…”

By this time, Gertruida sits with her hand over her mouth. Yes she knows about the gossip and rumours surrounding the Smit murders – but has this woman dug up something concrete?

Gertruida isn’t superstitious – she knows far too much to dabble with such things. But here, she realises, is the foundation for something extraordinary.

“Boggel! A round of Green Ambulances, please. I think we’ll need it!”

Fanny’s Surprise (# 18)

“Now, you won’t get lost, will you? We’ve only got so much water, remember?” Henry is a changed person. Lat night’s remorse has changed to overconfidence; his demeanour suddenly that of a conquering hero rather than shame-faced crook. “Oh, and I’ll take the water, thank you very much.” He holds out his hand to receive the bottle from Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan and Fanny walks ahead, with the smirking Henry a few yards behind them. This is how one should conduct business – catch them by surprise when you slap your four aces on the table. Yes, this feels like the good old days when the deals were sweet and the profits huge. Life owes him a break. It owes him big time…

“He’s not normal,” Vetfaan whispers, “the way he changes from Jeckyll to Hyde is frightening. Last night…this morning – it doesn’t make sense.”

Fanny lengthens her stride so that they are even farther ahead of Henry. “I know. In the past I saw glimpses of that. He’d be shy and quiet, but when it came to financial matters, he wanted to take over the conversation. Maybe he was just trying to assert himself in front of others. What I realise – and isn’t it ironic that I only do so now – is that you can’t believe a word he says. I think he’s a pathologic liar, Fanie. He’s the ultimate actor: he only says what you want to hear. It’s uncanny. Maybe it’s the result of all those lonely childhood years filled with intense feelings of inferiority. Whatever it is: he’s dangerous.”

“I agree, Fanny. Unstable is the word that comes to mind. He switches from one personality to another with such ease… Who is he, really?”

“I don’t know, Fanie. Damaged goods…”

They reach the dune before the Valley of the Buried Wagon  when the sun is almost directly ahead.

“Listen.” Vetfaan turns to their tormentor. “The wagon is in the next valley. We’ll climb to the top of the dune, and you’ll be able to see what is left of the skeleton of the wagon. Now me and Fanny? We’ll wait at the top of the dune. You go down and do whatever you have to. Tell you the truth: I don’t want to see what you do down there.”

“Oh no, mister wise-guy. I need hands and pockets to carry those coins out.” He taps the side of his head while shaking the water bottle with the other. “I thought about everything, my friend.” He hisses the last word. “You come along.”

Vetfaan sighs. He was hoping they’d be able to escape while the madman is busy with the gold. Then again: where would they go – especially without water?

***

Only the top of one wheel is visible above the sand when they reach the bottom of the valley.

“It’s there,” Fanny points towards the one side of the area. With down cast eyes and slumped shoulders, she seems a completely defeated woman. Vetfaan stands quietly to one side, jaw muscles working while a million thoughts cruise through his mind.  The lion, preparing to attack…

“Then, my sweet, you had better start digging, hadn’t you?”Henry’s sneer widens. “We don’t want mister farmer-boy jumping on my back, do we? Go on, let’s see you get down and dirty, my dear. I like my women like that.”

Fanny sinks to her knees and starts scooping the layer of sand away from what used to be the bed of the wagon. Tears make dusty streaks down her cheek. Henry turned out to be such a horrible person; and for a while she had been considering marrying this…this monster? How stupid can a woman be? How terribly wrong…?

When the ancient and worn timber is exposed, Henry commands her to lift the loose planks. She does.

And then it happens.

The puff adder has been using the space below these planks as a burrow for some time. Little pieces of bone – certainly from mice and other small animals – litter the lair. It certainly is the perfect home for a snake, especially in an area without rocks or other hiding places.

download (37)The snake rears it’s head. Vetfaan screams a drawn-out Nooooo!  He knows these adders are amongst the fastest strikers in the snake world, and if Fanny were to be bitten here, there’s no way he’d be able to save her.

Later, Vetfaan and Fanny will wonder about Henry’s reaction. When Fanny shrieks and falls back on the sand, the heinous smirk disappears from his haughty face. He drops the water bottle and dives towards the snake, trying to get hold of its neck.

Henry has no chance. The snake gets him three times: twice on the forearm and once on the wrist. The fangs penetrating the inside of the arm, just above the hand, do the damage. The potent venom gets injected directly into the venous complex beneath the skin, allowing the dose of venom to travel directly to the heart.

It’s over in three minutes. Oh, Vetfaan and Fanny try. They try for much, much longer. Without cortisone and antivenin, it is impossible.

***

“He saved my life.”

They’re back in the camp, sitting in shocked silence at the fire.  After they had given up hope of reviving Henry, they buried the body next to the other three skeletons they had found there – oh, it feels like ages ago. There was no way they could carry him across the sand in the heat of the day. They emptied his pockets before they covered him up. That’s when Vetfaan found the distributor cap  in the side pocket of Henry’s pants.

“Ja.” Vetfaan gets out the Cactus. He saw the look of horror on Henry’s face as he took that last, fateful dive. There’s no question about it – he reacted to save the one person in the whole world he loved. That, and his last words, croaked out when his eyes were dimming already: I’m…so terribly…sorry. He was desperately trying to say something else, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch Fanny’s face, when he sighed – and was gone. “I’m sorry.”

What else can he say?

“He was a troubled soul, Fanie. The way his personality swung to and fro – some psychologist will make sense out of it – I can’t. A sociopath? A psychopath? A nasty manipulator? Schizophrenic?  I can’t bear thinking about … And then, in his last act…”

Vetfaan moves over to share body warmth with her. “That’s who he really was, Fanny. The real Henry. The Henry his father killed when he was a small boy. He could have been such a different man, if only he had a chance to develop normally.”

“We’ll get a helicopter, won’t we, Fanie? To fetch him? Please?” Small-girl voice, plaintively pleading the hurt to stop.

“Of course we shall. We owe him that, at least.”

The soft night wind moves the sparse dry grass around the camp. It reminds Vetfaan of old !Tung’s almost-asthmatic breathing. A light gust swirls up a little winking cloud of sparks from the embers, carrying them high into the sky where they mingle with the stars. For a brief second, they form part of the milky way. Just for a moment – like we all do.

Fanny rests her head on the broad shoulder of Vetfaan.

“I wonder where !Tung is now,” she asks softly, looking at the stars.

Vetfaan doesn’t have to answer. The whisper in the wind tells him so.  

And something to read this weekend..

Also here: http://www.mybooks.co.za/book/41813/65-shades-of-guilt