The sun is weak, watery, it dims and brightens as wispy clouds pass overhead. The traffic is strangely muted and it seems as if that only sound is that of the internal crunch of the samosa that I am eating. I come here to this small curry shop on Durban road to get away from the black roofs, the dull hiss of aircons and the earphone subdued chatter of my colleagues as they pass the day, waiting for home time when they will disperse and forget about work for a while. A gentle, cool northerly wind tugs at my shirt like and impatient child, ruffles my hair like a fond mother and chills me like the words of a lost love.

"You are too boring. Too predictable".

Everything you do is predictable. Ordered. You will DIE in a boring, predictable way".

Guiltily I look at my watch and note sadly that she is right, just after 11:30 on a Friday and I am eating the second of two samosas in Durban Road. You could probably set your watch by the time that I finish the samosa, stand up, brush away the crumbs and head back to the office. She didn't say that but mainly because she doesn't know that I go for samosas on Fridays. She made me conscious of my rigid time keeping as she stormed out of the flat and out of my life.

I most certainly would not have met Rachel if my company had not moved out to Bellville extending my travelling time from a brisk 10 minute walk  to a thirty minute stress inducing drive along the maniac populated N1. I had a flat in a beautiful Art Deco building with the typical round windows of Ship Architecture. Before I moved in after graduating 5 years previously I had had it decorated by a well known interior decorator who spent more time trying to seduce me than actually concentrating on the job at hand. When I remonstrated with him about that, he murmured, "I wish you were at hand rather".

The finished product however was brilliant but it was an inordinately stressful experience that I was reluctant to repeat by moving but a month of driving between Gardens and Bellville persuaded me to move and I went looking for a flat in Bellville.

I was horrified. The place was awful, low brow, a slum waiting to happen. I said that to the rental agent I had found to help me find a place and she produced a beautiful but completely rundown flat in a moderately well kept block. And she produced Rachel, whom she touted as "The finest interior decorator in Cape Town.

I met with Rachel and the rental agent twice. The second time we met I signed the purchase offer and a contract with Rachel to "make a small piece of paradise".

Three months later I realized that Rachel's abilities as an interior decorator were, in a word, pathetic.

Eventually I summoned her to my Rachel inflicted disaster of a flat and summarily fired her, then in the crude words of Brian a senior colleague I f*cked her. "Effed her twice you did. Fired and f*cked the woman".

I didn't tell him that the second eff was her idea, I was too embarrassed by the whole incident to do anything but smile and hurry off to a fictitious meeting with Brian  laughing his head off.  I got the gay interior decorator in to rescue the flat. He did his usual theatrics, passes and beautiful work. And then he met Rachel.  They got on like a house on fire, lunches, gossip and risqué stories. He started calling her "Lucky B*tch" and left me alone. I even felt vague pangs of jealousy which I would not admit to, especially when I realized that I missed his flirting with me".

Eventually on the topic of furniture he insisted on a double bed.

"Why?" I asked; "Takes up too much space".

"Are you completely blind, deaf and stupid? She is moving in with you. Didn't she tell you? Been talking about it for ages" And she did move in and that is how I know exactly how long we have been together, the rent is almost due for renewal again but she is gone and the flat is almost as empty as my heart.

I walk back into the foyer of the building to find pandemonium. Brian is flat on his back, a ghastly blue colour, he isn't breathing and from the frantic actions of Nelly the company appointed first aider pressing on his chest, his heart wasn't doing much either. Nelly like most company appointed first aiders had no idea what she was doing, hands in the wrong place, arms flexing at the elbows. Panic and strain showed on her face, she kept wiping at the strand of hair dropping onto her face every time she thrust.

Training that was at least a decade old took over. I pushed her out the way and hit the man full on the chest, tilted his head back and felt for a pulse. One more cardiac slap and his heart started, erratically, but it starts. I stayed crouched holding his head tilted back keeping his airways open and monitoring the irregular pulse. I looked around at the gawkers, see my boss standing there.

"On your knees at his feet. Lift his feet onto your shoulders. Stay there".

I flinch realizing what I have just done, but my boss gets on his knees and obediently lifts Brians feet onto his shoulders and doesn't move.

Five minutes later the paramedics arrive in a blaze of sirens and take over with all the mod cons of rescue equipment. Seeing Brian in good hands, I get up and go back to work.

I knew that I had put Nellys nose out of joint, ordered my boss around like a skivvy so I wait nearly an hour for the summons to come. I walk into the conference room. My boss, his boss and his boss sat there.

"Why did you push the Nelly out of the way? She is the official first aider". My boss asked.

"Did you want a dead colleague or a live colleague? I chose the live colleague option. Was I wrong?".

"You knew what you were doing?" .

I nod.

"The paramedics said the same. Said he is alive because of you. Seems Brian he and the company need to thank you.

"I have another question. Where did that other person come from?" .

I blink, "Other person?".

"It is a long time since anyone has issued an order to me. And an even longer time since I obeyed immediately and without question.".

"Training, experience. Blame the man who trained me in emergency response.".

"No blame. Nelly will be consoled, sent for better training and you will be officially commended. Thank you.".

They get up, shake my hand and leave me sitting there. For the first time in years, decades, I weep.

I detest hospitals. Visiting hours, nurses, all the paraphernalia that keeps us alive. I'm visiting Brian, the "two effs" colleague in ICU at his urgent, repeated request. I walk in and find that his wife is visiting, relieved, I turn to walk away "Wait.

I turn.

"Please wait. You are Ronald? The man who save Brian's life?" .

His wife is standing, looking at me.


"Please. Brian wants to talk to you.

Trapped. I reluctantly walk back to his bedside.".

"You bruised my chest.

He chuckles and then winces.

"Broken ribs too. You pack a mean punch.


"I'm not complaining.".

Silence falls.

"She left you.

Not a question, a statement. I nod .

"Go find her.".

"She's gone." Flatly, like my emotions. Flat.

"Where she gone to?".

"I don't know.".

"You are a good accountant but a terrible liar. You know where she is and I am willing to bet you that I do too. Why would a boring, staid accountant who never leaves Cape Town have a google maps screen open showing a Karoo dorpie?".

"It is just a guess.".

"Guesses are a good place to start. Her family is there?" .

I nod.

"They will know where she is and she will not have sworn them to secrecy either because she doesn't think you will leave Cape Town or because she is hoping you will pursue her. And if she is hoping you will follow then she will make damn sure they will talk.".

Visions of dry dust roads, wind and sun burnt men in khaki rise up in my mind. I shake my head.

"They won't accept me. They won't talk to me.".

"You have no idea till you ask. Take a chance. Go, it can only do you good, even if you fail. Life is too short and too precious to waste in regret.".

I agree to pursue Rachel and head out into the dark away from the hospital and back to the black ceilings, the whispering aircons and chattering colleagues.

Days pass and I have forgotten my agreement with Brian and I am battling to do a sensible days work when I am summoned again to the boardroom. The air in the room is tense, the same managers sitting upright, grim faced.

My boss clears his throat, looks around. Uncomfortable. I panic. They have noticed my distraction, my rising incompetence.

"I know I have made a couple of mistakes in the last two weeks . . . I am sorry, I have been distracted. I will do better." I am gabbling, unnerved by the tension in the room.

My boss holds his hands up, wait. I wait. He clears his throat again.


He stops, clears his throat again. "Brian died in the early hours of this morning.".

Two hours later I am back at my flat, two weeks compassionate leave and the assurance that the company values my input. I am still staring at the opposite wall when my phone rings.


"Ronald? It is Macy. Macy the rental agent from Gardens? Remember me?" I nod. Of course I remember her and the beautiful flat overlooking De Waal park.

She waits.

"Yes, yes. Of course I do remember you.".

What can I do for you?".

"That old flat of yours is up for grabs again. Are you interested?" My Bellville flat reeks of Rachel. I hear her voice, I see her floating through the rooms. I smell her perfume on the early morning air. I realise I cannot live here anymore ".

"Yes, I am interested.  What condition is it in?".

"Not good. Students. We had to evict them.".

The owner has agreed to keep the rental low for a year if you agree to take it and return it to, in his words, "Its former glory.".

We arrange to meet the next day and I make sure my interior decorator will be there. The flat has been trashed. It is heart rending. I shake my head. I cannot bear it. Not in the mental condition I am in.

"I don't know. It will cost a fortune.

I dither, I am undecided.

Macy murmurs of other more lucrative tenants.

Then Jake rests his hand on my shoulder, smiles at the rental agent.

"He will take it darling. He just needs some time to recover from the shock.".

Dumbfounded, I nod.

"Give us an hour to discuss it we will give you a definite answer.

Jake speaking again. The rental agent looks relieved.

We retire to a coffee shop around the corner.

Jake sits opposite me.  "Where is she?".


"Rachel. Who else?".

"Gone?" Jake goes into hysterics. Where, when, who, what and I find myself telling the story.

Somehow it includes Brian's last command to me.

I end up sitting dry mouthed looking at my coffee cup. The silence extends and extends. Jake is not the most silent person in the business so the silence is unnerving. I look up and find him staring at me fixedly.

"What in Gods good name are you doing looking at flats in this state?".

"I want my old flat back. The new one has memories of her and I cannot stand it.

He flaps his hands "The flats are meaningless. She is your home now. Go find her I will make this flat a place for you to return to when you have found her and won her back. Now f*ck off.".

I was right. The roads are dry, dusty, I just didn't know about the straightness or the distances. Both come as horrible surprises. I had heard of straight roads stretching far into your future, in reality they are terrifying. I am following the last set of instructions I was given by a wizened old man walking far from any habitation I could see.

"Drie Kopppies? Follow the R326. The farm road turns off after the third cattle gate. You get to Calvinia, you gone too far, chesty chuckle and he starts to walk in the opposite direction. Looking at the map I realise why he laughed about Calvinia being too far. It is over 200 km away with not another town between.

When I pull to a stop, the dust from my journey hangs in the still air like a drifting wall. The air still, achingly hot and nothing moves. Not even the enormous dog that lies on the deep veranda surrounding the farm house. I walk up to the steps and walk slowly up the stairs, keeping a weather eye on the dog. As I get almost to the top of the steps, it raises its head and looks at me with bored indifference and is slumping back in somnolence when a tiny dog comes hurtling out of the house, barking furiously. The huge dog leaps to its feet, looks around barks loudly once or twice at nothing in particular and then ambles across to me and licks my face.

I freeze as the little dog dances a furious war dance around the big dog and I. The big dog looks at me, then at the little dog, barks once more and collapses in a heap on the veranda floor.

"Kuifie! Kuifie!" A harsh cigarette damaged voice growls out from the darkness of the house. "Shurrup.

Dorner. Jy raas te veel.

"Sorry man, that blerry dog.

A tiny woman strides out of the house, Kuifie skitters away into the darkness. A single thump of the big dogs tail indicates his pleasure at seeing the woman.

"You got here sooner than I expected. Come help me then we can talk.".

She strides out into the sun and across to a barn. She gets to the barn looks around and gestures imperiously at me. "Kom, kom. Ons het nie die hele dag nie.".

I walk across the sun blasted soil to the dark barn which smells of cow pats, diesel and straw. A huge cow is standing at one of the feeding troughs munching stolidly. The woman walks across to the cow and starts to push it sideways.

"Cummon, help me." she says as she launches herself at the back hip of the cow which moves placidly. I add my weight and the cow moves slowly into a position not unlike that which it was in before we started pushing.

"Hold her still" Mutters the woman who, from some place has conjured a long thing tube with an injection needle plunger on one end.

How does one hold a cow still I wonder, so I lean against the haunch of the cow and push uncertainly. My efforts are obviously appreciated because the woman nods, and then lifts the tail of the cow. I check out the cow hoping it is not going to be enraged by this action, but it seems not to notice. It also doesn't seem to notice either when the woman pushes her hand up into the rectum of the beast. She gets to armpit depth before green cow dung starts to drip out from under the womans armpit and onto her boo.t.

She takes the long tube from between her teeth and inserts it into the cows genitals. The tube disappears until only the plunger is visible. The woman moves her embedded arm a couple of times, then with her other hand presses the plunger down,.


She extracts her arm, slaps the cow on the haunch, "Did you enjoy that as much as I did?" She asks the cow and walks over to a tap to wash.

She looks at me and sees something that amuses her.

"You never seen an artificial insemination before have you?" I shake my head.  "The hand up her bum was to position the tube correctly in the cervix. Strange that a good co-op worker hasn't seen an AI before.".

She pauses.

"You are George, the new guy from the Co-op aren't you? You don't look like a co-op worker come to think about it.".

I shake my head.

"If you are not George, who are you?" .

She smiles and sticks out a hand, "I am Annetjie, by the way.

"Ronald. Ronald Lake.

She goes still for a moment and her eyes slowly narrow. You can see the cogs moving, slowly processing something. She leans forward as if she is about to attack me and then starts to look me up and down like a prize bull being assessed for the barbecue.

Finally she looks at my feet and legs which are covered in green splatter from our recent co-operation. Without looking up she starts to wheeze. The wheeze turns into a choking sound, which finally migrates into peals of laughter until she is leaning helplessly against the cow trough, wiping tears out of her eyes.

I am saved from making a decision as to whether to flee or stay when a man appears at the barn door. Dressed in farmer style clothing, he looks around uncertainly, his eyes still adjusting from the harsh sunlight to the relative darkness of the barn.

The tiny woman gains control of her laughter and looks at the newcomer.

"You are George from the co-op?".

"Yes ma'am. Just showing my face and getting to know our customers. I heard you wanted me to help with some AI?" He looked serious and worried all at the same time.

"Ag, that is Andre. He was pulling your leg. I got him to help out some time back and he nearly threw up, so he was just getting at the new boy on the block. Sorry, new man. But don't worry, I got my accountant to help out. Seems accountants are made of much sterner stuff. He didn't even flinch. Probably enjoyed our threesome as much as the cow did.

Turning to me and keeping her face straight with what appeared to be a huge effort, "Please. A terrible way to greet someone who has come all the way from the big city. Please come in and have some coffee while I talk to George here. I will organise for someone to show you to the guest room where you can get yourself cleaned up. You are staying the night? I know my husband would like to meet you.".

I change the spattered pants and shoes which are immediately whisked away by a smiling maid, "To be cleaned.".

I change and head out to the veranda. I slowly regain my composure and wonder how much longer I will be left to stare at the shimmering, desert that seems to stretch away forever. For the first time in my life I understand the expression, big sky country. The sky is not big, it is a vast, enormous, a coppery bowl that seems to hurl down chunks of implacable heat. Nothing moves under its sledge hammer blows, even the cicadas are silenced.

I am still sitting on the veranda with the big dogs head in my lap an hour later when a large, dusty, battered bakkie hurtles into the compound shrouded in a veil of dust and lurches to halt almost on the steps. Almost simultaneously the door flies open and a huge man erupts from the cab. He storms up the stairs followed by a wall of dust. The dog lifts its head, snorts as if commenting on the dust that follows him up the steps, bangs its tail on the floor and drops its head back onto my lap.

I struggle to escape from under the dog, who slowly, reluctantly gets up, and ambles a little deeper into the shadow before collapsing.

The man watches with wary eyes as I climb to my feet and step forward.

I stretch out a hand which he eyes as one might look at a cattle prod.

"Ronald Lake.".

He decides the cattle prod is either switched off or will be ineffective on him and takes my hand in a huge work hardened hand.

"Vince Viljoen.".

He looks at me then at the dog and back at me again.

"The dog likes you.".

"I am glad of that. Being on the wrong side of him would be dangerous.".

"He hated Rachels previous scoundrel. Would have killed the man if he wasn't so damned lazy.".

I wasn't sure if it was the scoundrel or the dog who was lazy. I decided on weight of evidence it was probably the dog.

Realising he is the topic of conversation, the dog looks up, groans loudly and collapses again with a sigh.

"You come looking for her?" I assume that "her" is Rachel and am not sure if admitting that I was "looking for her" was the safest admission I could make but I nod anyway.

"She said you wouldn't. She secretly hoped you would. And she was afraid that you would. Women.".

He sighs.

"Come on in and have lunch. Excuse me while I wash up" He disappears into the darkness and as he does so he yells, "Annetjie?" which is met with an inaudible response which obviously has meaning because he laughs loudly. Silence descends in the ever present heat.

I am left alone once again to contemplate the issue of being lumped in the category of Scoundrels. Rachel never spoke of her previous loves and romances. I had had so few that I had little to tell, so the topic never arose. Knowing that she had had another "scoundrel" did not please me much but I decided to let it be. The past is the past and as someone wisely said, "you need only study the past if you intend going there" and I had no intention of going back into my past, let alone hers.

There are nearly a dozen people at the lunch table and Vince presides at the head of the table. Prayers and a bible reading then a gargantuan meal is served. It soon becomes apparent that it is a business lunch. George from the co-op is there and is quizzed about his past, his future and the present. A quiet dangerous looking man discusses the problem of sheep thieves along the northern boundary fence where the Williston Calvinia road cut across the escarpment. A heated discussion breaks out about water rights and the new farmer who has only been around for 10 years.

Rachel is not mentioned. I am not introduced though everyone at the table seems to accept my presence and my exclusion.

The meal ends with more prayers and instructions to various people about the afternoon's activities. I am just wondering about what I should do when Vince says, "Annetjie says you are staying the night.".

"Good. We can talk then. Come see the farm. I need to visit that northern boundary and that is the high side of the farm. It has a good view too.".

As we leave he tosses me a hat, "You going to need that. This isn't Cape Town.

It turns out that the precipitousness his arrival was nothing unusual, he drives like that normally and I literally hit the roof a couple of times before we stop at a fence that appears out of nowhere and seems to have no reason to exist except to stop Vince from driving all the way to Calvinia.

"This is the narrow side of the farm. Extends about 10 km in each direction from here. The eastern fence cuts across to that rise over there. The western fence stops at the edge of the river and then follows it back to the eastern fence.".

I nod despite being able to see any of the land marks he has just pointed out. The silence is overwhelming. A living breathing thing that seems to enfold you, comfort you and somehow bring peace to your soul. I stand transfixed and the silence between us grows blending in with the silence of the Karoo. Being an only child I am comfortable with silence, I welcome its presence, I understand silence and grieve when it is broken. Eventually I look at Vince and find him watching me intently.

I try to speak, but my voice has dried up. I try again.

"Your land is beautiful. You are more fortunate than anyone I have met. Thank you for bringing me here.

He nods and heads toward the bakkie, it is already starting to move when I climb in and is well on its way to full tilt as my door closes. Sometime during the afternoon my mind goes into overload, not from the immensity of it all, but on a micro scale.

Tiny flowers where none should exist, insects scurrying between clumps of sun blasted bush, being harried by circling kites. A tall grey bird, rips and tears at the body of a snake while another circles the kill hoping for a chance. I drink water from a dam. Green stuff floats in the water like yeast in a sherry barrel. The water tastes wonderful, cold, refreshing at a primordial level and awful at an epicurean level. Serve me water like that in Cape Town and I would leave without looking back. Here I immerse my head and shoulder in it, taste the calcium from the ground and the salt from my sweat as it mingles and runs down my cheeks. I ride the last few kilometres back to the farmstead standing on the back of the bakkie, riding it like I once rode the peaks surging through the Outer Kom break in Kommetjie, almost howling at the adrenalin rush.

When we come to a halt, Vince looks at me with more interest in his eyes than he did when we first met, nods.  "See you at dinner. 7 sharp. I have a long night ahead." And disappears into the house.

It is with complete amazement that I realize that it is almost sunset, a day has gone and I did not think to measure it. I am exhausted, grubby and elated. I have not felt so alive in years.

Dinner is a much smaller event. Vince and Annetjie, myself and the hard man who talked of sheep thieves at lunch. The hardman is introduced as "Don, my big brother.

It seems a contradiction in terms. Vince is big in all sorts of ways and Don is smaller, more intense and as I sensed at lunch, far more dangerous. I wonder if the "Scoundrel" had run afoul of Don and if he had survived the meeting. We had just sat down when there was the sound of thundering feet on the wooden floor. The door bursts open and small boy hurtles into the room with a maid rushing to avert the intrusion.

"No, don't worry. Leave him.".

Annetjie shoos the maid out and gathers the little boy up in her arms.

"Say hello to Uncle Don.

The little boy smiles and waves furiously "Hewwooooo".

"And say hello to Ronald.

The little boy looks surprised. An unexpected stranger. He tucks his chin in, tilts his head to one side and softly says, "Hello".

He is suddenly not a 4 year old. He becomes a young male version of Rachel. Her eyes, her smile, her every gesture explode from that simple movement.

I am speechless. I manage to smile, wave and eventually say, "Hello".

Annetjie, carries him across to Vince, "Say good night to Oupa and then it is time for bed. Rascal.".

The silence in the room is palpable as Annetjie takes the child to his bedroom. I feel the brothers eyes on me, but I cannot meet their eyes. Not yet. They wait, patiently as hunters do.".

I draw in a breath, and finally look at Vince.

"He looks so much like her. A beautiful child.".

"You were not supposed to know. Not till" His voice tails off.

"Not yet anyway." Annetjie provides from the doorway.

"Not till you had assessed me? Just in case I am another scoundrel?" I smile to take the sting from the words.

"Something like that.".

Don's voice is quite, controlled and weary. "You leaving in the morning? Back to the big city and your safe life? No entanglements? Fear of commitment. Find another woman to use?" Scorn drips from his voice.

I don't answer immediately. I think. Carefully, hard, precisely. The decision was made long before I thought, but habit is habit and I check everything carefully.

"I have another week of leave and I would like to stay but it is up to Annetjie and Vince. I will tell you a story. A story I did not have the courage to tell Rachel. At the end of the story I will leave the decision up to Annetjie and Vince. If they ask me to leave, I will do so immediately and will never attempt to contact Rachel again. Agreed?".

Silence. Vince looks at me for a long time.

"Agreed. We may need till tomorrow morning to discuss it though. We will tell you tomorrow morning.

I nod, draw a deep breath and start on a story I have never told out loud. Not to anyone, but this is important. These people must understand.

"I was born an only child, loved cossetted and spoilt. But underlying all that was a simple philosophy A child must be pushed both physically and mentally. Challenged to be the best in both sport and the intellectual life.

Every time I took notice of a sport, I was enrolled and helped. Every time I asked a question I was taught by the best person available or affordable. I grew like a wild fire in all directions. I won sports events, I won chess tournaments, I was everything and everywhere. And universally disliked at school.

Jealousy, fear, anger, competitiveness, call it what you will, I was exiled by my fellows. I grew to despise them. I believed that they were unworthy, worthless. Then I found the rescue services and found that my swimming and surfing and rock climbing, all the things my parents had allowed me to learn and experience made me an ideal candidate. I ended up working with the elite, the best and I found a home. My fellows in the rescue services didn't care about intellectual stuff, but they did care about getting difficult, dangerous jobs done safely and effectively. I delivered. Around this time I met and married a woman. We were young, enthusiastic and wild and soon we were parents. A little girl. The image of her mother she grew, fast as all children do. Three, nearly four. A gem of a child.

We loved her dearly. One night a winter storm ravaged the Cape and I was called to rescue people drowning, people fleeing storm waters. It was 4 or 5 hours into emergency that we were called to Fish Hoek where I lived. A mud slide the controller said. Hurry. Houses inundated. My house was perched on a side of Elsies Peak just below where a huge fire has swept through and was vulnerable. I phoned my wife first on cell phone and got no answer. Then on landline, the phone rang and rang and rang. I breathed easier. She had fled to safer ground. Good woman. It was only when we got there I realised that it was my area, my road, my house that was gone. The ground was unstable and we had been warned of mudslides and the mudslide happened. They would not let me dig. They said I was dangerous. They found my wife and daughter the next day. Crushed by the mud and the walls. Together in bed. Unprotected by me. They died alone while I "was being the best".

Something in my soul died in that time and something else was born. The careful, considerate, inscrutable, non risk taking Ronald was born. I got a bursary to University, I qualified as an accountant, sank into obscurity where my indifference could not harm or kill anyone. I lived in a numb dull grey world. But I was safe. I was harmless. I lived by rote, by the clock.

Predictable. Unexciting. Then Rachel arrived and for the first time in my life I was afraid. Torn by fear of losing her and fear of not being able to protect her, I dithered and she left me."

I draw a shuddering breath and stand up. "Excuse me please".

Vince nods and I leave them there to decide my fate.

"Wake up, wake up!" Banging on my door, I rise groggily from the depths of sleep. It feels as if I have just fallen asleep and my mind is fuddled. I roll out of bed, open the door. Vince.

"Get dressed and come outside, we need you."

I throw on a miscellany of clothes and head out the front door. The night is still warm and alive with noise and movement.

"On the back!" roars Vince and, as I scramble onto the back of the bakkie we take off. I find myself holding onto the roll bars next to Don.

"Strap in."

He hands me a belt attached to the roll bars. I tie it around my waist and feel more secure. Don hands me a hunting rifle. "Can you handle one of these?"

I pull back on the cocking handle, squint down the chamber, snap the rifle closed and release the firing spring. Don nods, reassured and hands me a magazine.

"Don't fire unless you are being shot at or you can prove later your life is in danger.

I nod. Soon we are on the disputed northern boundary speeding along the road that Vince and I were on earlier. Suddenly there is a vehicle moving up ahead of us. Lights on, bouncing all over the place slewing side to side.

"Blerry thieves. Caught them at it."

Just then a star of light appears next to the vehicle in front of us and a bullet whines over head. The next one hits the roll bar between Don and I. A chunk of metal hits my cheek, drawing blood. Don is bleeding from a shoulder wound and I lose my patience, I lose my control on life, I lose everything. I snap the magazine into the hunting rifle, slam the first round into the chamber and, as the vehicle in front of us slews sideways on a bend, I fire at the rear wheel. The weapon fires high and to the right but not enough to make me miss and the tire of the rear wheel disintegrates, the driver loses control of the vehicle and it rolls, flipping over hurling sheep carcasses out over the ground. We arrive in time to see the occupants of the vehicle crawling out of the cab, looking for weapons or just plain safety. They stop moving when they realise they are surrounded by armed men.

The police arrive shortly thereafter having been alerted to the raid earlier. They take statements, lots of pictures and we head on off back to the farmstead. They don't check our weapons. They assume the vehicle blew a tire and I don't volunteer anything.

"My weapon needs a special cleaning." I mutter to Don as we walk inside. He nods, holds out a hand for it and disappears quietly. 10 minutes later he is back, nods at me and asks for some attention to his shoulder.

As we sit there, he looks at me, then at Vince and Annetjie. "Our Ronald missed out a chunk of his story. The last bit. He confirmed it this evening on the bakkie.

Looks at me. "You did didn't you?"

Reluctantly I nod.

"After the mudslide, I ran away. I found work as in security in the most dangerous places in the world. Hoping someone would get me. End my misery. No one did. Eventually no one would work with me because I was dangerous. My partners died, I survived. I was cursed. Eventually I could find no one who would hire me so returned to Cape Town and found to my horror that my parents had died while I was rampaging my grief around the world. Again I was not where I should have been when I was needed. I was still out being the best. The rest you know."

"That story sounds like an edited version of someone I heard of. His name was Corbell. Now, either you are a scam artist, or you are the genuine article. I think you are genuine, but there is one last proof."

I look at him without moving for a long while.

He doesn't flinch.

"What proof do you want?" I ask eventually.

"The scar of bullet wound in your right shoulder.

I hesitate.

"He doesn't need to. Seen it and wondered where an accountant got a bullet scar."

Vince must have seen as I dunked my head in the water.

"Show it."

Annetjie. Vince looks at her. She pouts rather prettily. "Girls gotta perve sometime. Gotta see what my daughter has been seeing all that time in Cape Town."

Vince opens and closes his mouth a couple of times then bursts out laughing.

"Off with the shirt. Let her see."

It isn't much to see at the front. A neat little dot of scar tissue. The back is different so I show my front.

Annetjie isn't fooled. She gets up and walks behind me. There is an indrawn breath. "F**k. Vince? I need a drink. So does Ronald."

She looks at Don. "Well, you seem to know him better than us. We keep him or throw him back?"

Don shrugs, offhanded. "So long as he treats Rachel right. Keep him."

The gathering breaks up without any more mention of Rachel and I assume that the topic will be raised in the morning.

I find myself alone in the kitchen staring at the biggest sugar jar I have ever seen in my life. It is huge. Completely over the top. I open it, look in. Shake it, sniff. Just pure sugar. Suddenly I realise I am distracting myself from the issue at hand. I am not going to get an answer tonight, I might as well go to bed. On my way to bed I look out the front door and see the stars. They glow with a brightness you do not see in the city and I decide to sit out on the veranda and just be still.

I sit out there watching the stars, listening to the night noises and sleep slowly creeps up on me. I shake myself awake a couple of times and am just about to get up and go to bed, when I hear a voice.

"Uh, oh-uh. OH. OH."

Sleep flees before the sound of a womans passion. I wait, listening, growing cold as I recall the last time I heard that sound. In Cape Town. In my flat. It sounds like her. If it is her, she will say "Oh, yesss." in a about a minute. I wait, scarcely breathing. Praying for silence.

When the sound comes it sounds as if it is loud enough to wake the dead. It isn't it just that I am straining not to hear it.

Rachel. Here. Somewhere close. Making love with someone else.

My mind looks for excuses. Her sister? Annetjie?

Not her. She loves me, she cannot have replaced me so soon.

I get up and quietly walk indoors, the echo of her voice rampaging in my head.

When I get to my room, I break out my cell phone and switch it on. I do have signal, I do have battery. I do what I ought to have done ages ago. Ask her cell phone where she is.

"Rachel is less than 50 m away." the app on my cell phone announces cheerfully. I stare at the message, numb, confused, anger starts to rise up in me so that when the WhatsApp notifier starts going mad, I angrily mute the sound. It continues to vibrate in my hand. A subconscious process in my head has been counting sounds then vibrations. Eight WhatsApp messages. Eight? I seldom get one in a week. Curiousity makes me open the app. All the messages are from Jake. Starting with "please phone me." , slowly getting more and more hysterical till I read, "For f*ck sake, makecontact. B*tch."

He cannot be that excited about a paint colour I think to myself.

All the messages have happened in the last 12 hours. He was last seen online 10 minutes ago when he sent the last message. Night owl that he is, he will still be awake.

"What?" I write. Not polite, impatient, I have other problems to worry about other than an hysterical interior designer.

He comes back almost immediately.

"I am doing another job for the Bellville agent."

"So? You want me to congratulate you?"

"I didn't understand why she chose Rachel originally cos Rachel was an unknown and totally f**king useless."

"Professional Jealousy?"

"F*ck off. So I got the agent drunk and asked her."


"She was paid to recommend Rachel despite her lack of history."


"Another interesting thing. She kept getting your name wrong."


"Kept calling you Mr Corbell."

"Oh. Sh*t. Ah. I owe you. Big time. Wish me luck and submit an invoice for work completed. Bye."

I shut the phone down before he can answer and I sit on the bed thinking.

I switch the phone on again, ignore Jakes new WhatsApp messages and get the maps up and study the problem. My refuge is Cape Town, I have friends, contacts, a network. Here I have nothing and only one direct road back. I have no idea who is after me, but it is obvious I have been set up. Isolated on this farm, I must assume all roads leading to Cape Town are going to be covered and this is my only chance. I must run now, but I must not be obvious and I must prevent pursuit if possible.

I find the hunting rifle first. It is uncleaned, my finger prints all over it. I drop it into the well out back,

I hit the kitchen, grab the biggest jug I can find and mix a thick but still fluid mix of sugar water. The fluid is just enough for about half a litre for each vehicle that could be used for pursuit. I sneak into the big barn and check that the motor bike I saw there is tanked up. It looked in remarkably good condition last I looked at it. The tank is full, then I scrabble around in the workshop, find some resin glue and push the motor bike stealthily out of the compound, locking the gate and pushing the resin glue into the slot of the lock, incapacitating it. I keep pushing the bike, a kilometre passes, and another. It is starting to get light when I heard shouting, vehicles starting. I turn the head light off and then kick start the bike and take off hard and fast.

Getting to the Calvinia road I turn away from Cape Town driving in the dark using only the whiteness of the road to guide me. The dust I leave will soon be noticeable and give my direction away so I keep hammering as fast as I can. In the rear view mirror I can see a truck coming down the road after me and I push harder but the truck is gaining, soon it will be in gunshot range, then I hear the engine starting to cough, splutter and finally die as the sugar solution I put into the fuel tank forms carbon deposits in the cylinders, clogs up inlets and jams outlets. Truck slows then stops and soon I am alone.

Bloukom Pass allows me to look back over the vast, flat plane, no shimmering with heat. I see no sign of pursuits.

My only worry is that someone may be waiting where the road meets the Nieuwoudtville road. I have no options and I just ride, suddenly the road dips, into a donga which is full of muddy water. I hit the water at speed and a wall of brown water and mud erupts around me, on me and on the bike. The bike sputters and dies, the cloak of wet mud shorting the plug cables. I push the bike off the road, build as much of a hide as possible and start cleaning the motor which might have been difficult, but for the extreme heat. The mud is soon drying and eventually flakes off under my hands. Just as I am contemplating getting back on the road a truck thunders down the road from the Calvinia side, in the back are a couple of armed men. I sit still in my pathetic hide and wait. They don't see me and soon are just a trail of dust in the sky.

I get back on the road to Calvinia and refuel in the township, paying an exorbitant fee to the local taxi boss. I have to just hope that they don't have resources here and get back on the road, heading east towards Williston then turn back circling back behind Calvinia and heading toward Brandvlei. The sun is up and hot and the road is bad, but I keep on riding despite my exhaustion.

 Brandvleis is a tiny town, one general dealer store. I stop for water, make enquiries about Springbok and the Namibian border. I refuel and am heading out when a truck comes hurtling into town, stops at the petrol station. I don't stick around to see if they are pursuing me. I make the tar road moving fast watching for a sign. It seems to take forever to arrive. LUI 21, I swing down the dirt road across the flat Namaqualand planes. I catch up with a huge mining carrier and tuck in in his dust and hope the dust I caused will be written off to the mining carrier dust.

As the truck rises to cross the Sishen Saldhana railway line, I dodge left and under the bridge. I run back erase the bikes track and hide under the bridge just in time to avoid being seen by the truck that hurtles through after the mining carrier, I wait, patiently, hoping. Soon out of the distance the ore train comes rushing in. It is a typical ore train, nearly a kilometre long carrying ore down to Saldhana. The track curves off to the right and the moment the driver cannot see me I start the bike, ride parallel to the train, trying to match speed with the heavily loaded trucks. At what appears to be a propitious moment, I stand up and make a grab for a fastening loop on the side of the truck, my hand nearly misses, I scrabble frantically, the sweat makes me slip, I end up swinging, swaying on the side of the train, the bike takes off across country, hits a rock and leaps high into the air, somersaults and disappears in a cloud of dust. I pull myself under the truck onto the rods that provide stability. The rails and supporting gravel are less than a metre under my back and I scrabble higher until I have a modicum of stability and more importantly a hiding place.

The noise of the train is enormous, deafening and exhaustion starts to become the overwhelming danger, that and dehydration. The heat is ferocious, I have been riding for nearly 8 hours with only one drink. Somehow I hold on until the long flat estuary of the Berg river comes into view. I swing myself up onto the side of the truck again as we approach the bridge over the Berg river. As we start to cross the bridge, I hurl myself out and away from the train, I seem to be flying, I had not taken the train speed into account when I timed my jump and I am moving far too fast toward the bank of the river. Suddenly  my feet hit the water and I slam down face first with mighty splash. My impetus makes me skate for a few meters on the surface and then as I start to sink, I collide with a bit of sharp crumbly rock that tears a hole in my shoulder, the salty water stinging like fury, I drag myself out of the water and onto the bank, lacerating my hands on the crumbly rock as I do so.

I find a scraggly salt bush, crawl half under it and, exhausted I pass out.

I come around surrounded by people. Neat, middle class people, arrayed with cameras, binoculars and ridiculous hats. I try get up, but my strength has gone. Suddenly I hear a familiar voice, "Ronald? What have you been up to. Really. Can I not let you out of my sight for more than a minute and you end up trying to drown yourself. And you have damaged your new shirt. You are such a klutz."

I look up and find myself up at Nelly. Nelly the ineffective first aider is also a birder.

"Sorry, I slipped into the water. Dunno how that happened. I wanted to see the bridge more clearly and I slipped."

"Can you walk?" Male voice, concerned.

I nod and get to my feet, stagger and Nelly, slips an arm around my waist before I fall on my face.

 "I will take care of the big klutz.

Nelly drags me off downriver.

We make it to her chalet in the riverside resort the bird club are staying in and she dumps me none too gently on a spare bed.

I look at her. "Big klutz?" She raises an eyebrow.

"Now I had two options, I could say Ronnie? You are a nice grey accountant, what are you doing here? and walk away, leaving you to the clutches of that lot, or I can pretend you are my partner who was supposed to be joining me. He stood me up. The evil mother f*ck*r. Which would have been more appropriate?" I close my eyes.

"Big klutz is good, but not safe for you. Leaving me to the others may have been safer for you."

I see her questioning look. I sigh.

"Long story. I think you need to get me to a car hire place and then tell them you tossed me out for bad manners. Or just toss me out and leave me to my own devices.

 She looks down at me completely inscrutable. Shakes her head.

"I pay my debts. You saved me from having Brians death on my hands. I owe you for that. But also, I have to admit, having you captive and in my power is something I fantasized about since you started there. Now lets see if I can stop you bleeding all over the place."

"I think I am dehydrated. You got some salt; that sort of stuff?"

"Rehydrate I have. Hold on. How badly dehydrated?"

"I drank some of the Berg River water just for the salt."

  "Eaughh. Rehydrate coming up."

An hour later, I am cleaned up, rehydrated and beginning to worry about the pursuit again.

"I must go. For your safety."

"Rachel after you for undisclosed sins?" softened with a smile.

"No, her family is. Or at least they made out to be her family."

"Shot gun wedding?"

"More like an AK47 recruitment drive. Nasty people. I must go."

Repeating myself does not help, Nelly just sits there and pushes me back down each time I tried to sit up.

"Talk." is all she says.

 So, I talk and she listens. At the end of my tale she stands up and starts packing. On the phone simultaneously. "The klutz seems to have broken something, I am taking him home. Yes, I will have to miss the outing. Nothing for it. Yes, thank you. See you next Thursday. Good luck for the rest of the outing."

In a very short time the car is packed, I am laid out on the back seat of the car under a blanket and an very innocent birder lady is driving back to Cape Town seemingly alone.

I spend the next two hours on the phone and the upshot is protection for Nelly and I until things "are resolved".

Nellie insists on my staying at her flat in Gardens. I make it up the stairs and onto the guest bed under my own steam, but only just. I crash out, sleep right through till the early morning light filtering in the windows wakes me. Nelly is once more there with more antiseptic cream, plaster and no sympathy.

A day later my friends phone. Things are resolve and can we meet? Nelly is included in the invite. I suggest Mixas in Kloof St which is the most inconspicuous place I can think of and we arrange to meet there the next day. The next morning I find that I am more mobile and less of an invalid than I expected to be and we so head on out to Mixas   I would probably have been inconspicuous, with Nelly, a little less so, but the two enormous black guys in leather jackets and dark glasses stand out like, like. Well, they just stand out. Everyone walks a big detour to miss walking close to our table.

I feel rather comforted, especially when the debriefing is done with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of attention to detail.

When the debriefing is over, I ask the obvious question.

"What was that all about? I have nothing of importance in my head."

"Seems there was a price on your head. Some people who don't have an extradition treaty with us wanted to speak to you very badly. Seems you upset their plans and they wanted to remonstrate with you about it. The guys you met were just bounty hunters, nothing more. We got them for money laundering, and a lot of other things that probably won't stick but will make them ineffective. We have been watching them for ages because they have been a bit of a pain, so you did us a bit of a favour causing the uproar you did. Gave us an excuse to break them up and extradite the two ring leaders.

Eventually the one who calls himself Paul looks at Nelly, "Please can you house him for the next while? At least until next Monday. We will ensure you are safe. Mind you, Ronny here has done enough to cause the small bad guys to scatter and we have the leaders locked up so there should be no trouble.

Nelly looks seriously at Paul. "Only with pleasure. He needs to clean the blood off my car for starters."

Paul looked from her to me and smiles hugely.

"We have a nice peaceful jail cell in Caledon Square if you want to use it.

I look at Nelly, shake my head. "Thanx, but I have a debt to pay off. Better start on that one now.

Nelly just smiles.