A TROJAN AFFAIR - The S.K.A. at Carnarvon

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Chapter 16

They kept Dara heavily sedated for the first four days, and Marsha held vigil by his bedside round the clock.

The doctors understood and let her remain, moving a bed in beside him. Her employer footed the bill for additional medical staff to be flown in.

Moving Dara to another hospital was considered, but the decision to avoid an arduous road or air trip proved to be the right option.

The police had an open docket and wanted answers; Dara was an unlicensed motorist on a public road, albeit a secondary un-tarred one. In a farming district the police generally turned a blind eye to a farm boy commuting between farms who stuck to the dirt, but Dara was not a farm boy and his only access to the dirt road on which he’d been found was by a significant distance down a national highway. According to Constable Andre Kruger who delivered the charge, his boss, the Station Commander, was taking a very dim view of the whole affair.

Considering the extent of Dara’s injuries, “He must have been going on a hell of a lick,” the hulking Constable told Marsha in broken English, “and I’m sorry Madam, but the Captain will make an example of your boy. So much is changing around here,” he added bitterly, “we can’t have every newcomer thinking it’s a wild-west show with no laws.”

The case was by all accounts cut and dried in the mind of the Constable. But Marsha couldn’t understand why the recovered motorbike had virtually no scratch on it. The farmer who had found Dara, reported he’d found it laying only a very short stretch from the boy. The bike only evidenced a scratch or two and a minor bend to its crash bar against its rider’s pummeling; the whole affair made no sense.

Marsha was no forensic expert, but she went toe-to-toe with the big policeman, insisting that any reasonable person would see the glaring disparity in damage between the rider and the machine; one virtually unscathed, the other severely trashed.

The constable grunted and said he couldn’t comment. He did offer her friendly advice; that she shouldn’t take it up with the Captain for fear of inflaming the situation.

Once he’d stabilized, Marsha left Dara’s bedside long enough to visit the scene of the crash to take photographs and some quick measurements of her own. It was clear that although the police were treating the run-up to the accident as serious, they were disinterested in the details of what they’d already judged to be pure recklessness.

At the crash site, there was not much evidence for her untrained eye to see. No skid or slide marks in the gravel, no pieces of the bike; though she hadn’t expected any of these since the bike itself and protective wear Dara was wearing showed none of these things. All of her hopes for some obvious visual clues had drawn a blank, but she kept the camera clicking at every angle and minute detail that she’d imagined an actual investigator might record.

Jakob, the farmer who was effectively her landlord, had arranged for Frik, the farmer who had found Dara, to meet up at the site.

The two farmers offered invaluable insight:

Frik showed where and how he’d found Dara, even laying down for her in the scrub to photograph his position and posture. Jakob crouched where the bike had been found lying—the impression of it still pressed visibly into the scrubby weeds days later.

Frik fancied himself as something of a game tracker and he pointed out a place where a vehicle had recently been parked off the road, hard up against a thick thorn bush adjacent to the incident.

He pointed out the discernible tire marks in the dust. There was also a crush of grasses and foliage where the vehicle had stood. “It’s within the last few days,” he assured. “Since the rains for sure. I don’t know what it means or if it can help, but a car has backed in here.”

They’d decided that Dara was stable enough to reduce his medication and bring him out of an induced coma.

He groaned, and much as Marsha wanted to scream with joy that the candle of his life was beginning to re-ignite, his labored wincing at every breath and muted whimpers ripped at her heart.

She smoothed the jet-black hair at his temples, shooshing and cooing soft motherly sounds close to his ear.

Then the moment she’d begged fate to grant; his lids parted tentatively, testing the light, his eyeballs tracking slowly and worriedly—bloodshot and fearful.

“It’s okay baby, you’ve had an accident but you’re safe…. You’re safe.” Marsha found herself crying, teardrops falling onto his pillow and she wiped them away, she didn’t want the first thing Dara would see to be her fear.

An hour later, Dara was fully awake, clutching for breath through shattered ribs, every movement an agony in another body quadrant.

“What possessed you,” Marsha gently lamented. She’d gone through an internal whirlwind of emotions in the past few minutes—gratitude that the doctors said he’d recover fully, anger that he’d done this to himself, urgency to get the answers out of him—and she’d kept a lid on them all, but now she was cautiously testing how far she could push him in this delicate state.

“I’m sorry mum,” he winced, his words stilted and slow in coming. “I should have told you. I’m sorry… It was stupid of me, I just wanted to do something on my own… I just wanted to meet with a man I knew from the Internet. We thought it best we meet out of town.”

“A man from the internet…!” Marsha’s mind went into overdrive—his hadn’t been an aimless joy ride—“A man from the internet!” Alarm bells were ringing in her head, but she held back and calmed herself.

“What are you talking about, Dara? What man? Why were you on that road? Is he a farmer? You’re making no sense.” In spite of herself, her rapid-fire thoughts barraged him.

“I was coming back… back from Loxton.”

“From Loxton? The town Loxton? Sixty kilometers away?!”

“Yes, sorry mum.” He adjusted his position and almost cried out, his arm in plaster, his leg in traction.

“The doctor says you’re to lay still. I’m sorry baby, I… I’m just… I really don’t understand what you’re saying. You went to Loxton and you met someone?”

“Yes Mum—a guy from here, from Carnarvon, but he lives in Cape Town now. That’s why Loxton, it’s on his way here.”

“But why not meet in Carnarvon? Why didn’t he just come to the house?”

“It’s stupid; now I realize he should have come to the house. I jus…. I didn’t want him to know I’m a kid. He was a stranger, I didn’t know how it would turn out.”

The alarm bells were still going off in Marsha’s—her mind still racing to all and any manner of shocking conclusion, “A man off the internet, meeting my son and he doesn’t want the man to know his age...!” her internal dialogue was a babbling crowd of insistent panic.

“He just said he’s too well known in Carnarvon, and our business… the things we wanted to discuss, we didn’t want anyone here knowing. It’s complicated.”

“What business, Dara?” She was agitated and let it show, he was making no sense, “Perhaps he’s still delirious?” she told herself and decided to back off and just let him talk even if he was sounding deranged. “I’m sorry sweetie. Sorry.”

“No mum, I’m sorry. I know what you’re thinking and I can’t blame you. It’s nothing like that, he’s married. It’s just the stuff I like to write about on blogs and in social media. I’ve developed cyber friends and he’s one of them.”

Marsha relaxed; “Of course!” she wanted to say out aloud, but kept the anonymity of her own pseudonym observations of him with her silence. But she did want to know who this man was; his pen name. “Does he have a name Dara? I’m not prying but… under the circumstances, though....”

“He also a pseudonym—it’s an Afrikaans one, spelled V-o-o-r-v-e-l… It’s hard to pronounce.”

Marsha had seen that character making comments under the name, a name whose silly provocative meaning was lost on her. She’d enjoyed his dry wit and incisive thoughts but kept this to herself for now.

She nodded, “Okay.”

“He was at school here years ago. He lives in Cape Town. He’s like, forty or something… buys hospitals, his dad’s that big policeman; Kruger; the one from the day we stopped at the station.”

The connection slapped her like a wet eel in the face. In her limited interactions with him, Constable Andre Kruger had creeped her out. She willed herself to remain deadpan, but it betrayed in her expression;

“He’s a very nice guy mum... my friend. He’s very different from his dad and the others round here. We just chatted, it was innocent. I’d have been home and nobody’d have known. I was heading home when I nearly had an accident…”

“You did have an accident Dara” his mother corrected him.

“No mum. I got spooked out on the tar road about twenty kilometers before the dirt, and I hit the barrier; that’s how I hacked my knee. But I had to turn off onto the dirt road because the police had closed the last stretch… because of the bad accident. And then a few kilometers on the dirt road I was… something happened… I was attacked… ambushed.”

“Ambushed? What...?!” Marsha’s mind was doing somersaults again. “Dara. I… what is… just hang on a second.” She stood up and paced, telling herself to get a grip. “Dara, you got ambushed? Hang on… What accident closed the road that caused you to get ambushed?”

“The accident on the road coming into town. The police stopped me—JJ’s dad, Kruger; he diverted me onto the gravel road that links across to the R63—that’s why I was on that road,” he said with conviction.

It took a lot of sorting out as Marsha cross-questioned him and Dara tried to explain the sequence of events as they had unfolded. Eventually they had the story straightened out; he got to the point when he’d ridden into the trip-wire that had plucked him from the bike.

She opened the sheets and stared with fresh horror at the livid bruising across his chest. His story fitted, the straight angle spanning his breadth from bicep to bicep had made little sense to the doctors when they’d speculated the cause. The medical staff had assumed he’d hit the handlebars with his chest, but now his claim was that he’d been clothes-hangared by a trip wire perfectly fitted the arrangement of, and the proximity between, where Dara and his bike were found.

“Do you know what you’re saying?” She confirmed. “Attempted murder... If that was a wire pulled across a road, it could have taken your head off!”

“I’m certain of what I’m saying, mum. I’m saying what happened.”

“This is very serious… and I’m bewildered… I… I’m surprised. Nobody’s mentioned any accidents or road closures. In a small place like this, that would be big news.”

She paused a moment, her mind racing, her emotions wanting to explode but she kept them firmly suppressed in favor of lucidity; this was not the time to react like a mother as her emotional irrationality begged her to do;

“You said it was the Constable that diverted you to the gravel, that he’d said there was an accident?”

“Yes.”

“Because I gave a statement to him, to Kruger and he said absolutely nothing to me about either a road closure or having seen you. Did you actually talk to him when he redirected you?”

“Yes mum.”

“So he knew it was you?”

“I was covered up and kept the visor down—but you’d think he’d know my accent…” Dara cocked his head, “And he immediately spoke to me in English… They always first speak in Afrikaans. He knew it was me…”

Marsha caught herself scowling, horror in her eyes and turmoil in her mind. She sat down again and felt her hands shaking uncontrollably. She needed to arrest them, to not let Dara see the depths of her distress, so she quickly cupped his hand with hers and held it tight. “There is something going on here Dara and I dread to admit to myself what it is.”

He adjusted his position in the bed and it caused him to cough. With broken ribs and so much abused flesh, it was an agonized and protracted process.

Marsha cringed but tried to maintain the poker face. Her eye teared for her son and she wiped it so he wouldn’t see.

“Dara?” Marsha startled and whirled to face the voice from the doorway. There was a big man with a beautiful girl at his side filling the doorway, just inside the room.

Dara looked their way and smiled a lopsided and pained greeting, “JJ!”… He heaved as he battled to prop himself up to properly greet the man and girl at the threshold, “This is my mother, Marsha.”

Dara instantly recognized the girl, she was the one with the hair from the school.

“It’s a pleasure, Ma’am. JJ… JJ Kruger,” he offered a hand the size of a paddle.

He was very good looking, Marsha saw it at once. His grip was firm, dry and gentle, his eyes his father’s; but his body taught and his jaw chiseled. The girl had lustrous hair and an angel’s face—the two bore a strong resemblance to one another.

“This is my sister, Sonja”

“It’s my pleasure,” said Marsha. She was still shaking slightly, so she clasped her hands together in her lap.

Dara’s face etched over with growing shock; the coincidences mounting at an uncomfortable pace, friend and foe too closely related to make sense of it all.

His mind raced to the possible agendas; Sonja could be here on behalf of Vermaak to confirm Dara’s condition… JJ might be doing his father’s bidding to see what story Dara was telling.

It could be very sinister he realized; he hoped his mother understood this too.

Marsha was guarded as she gave an account of Dara’s condition, and they reacted with genuine care.

“You did a real number on yourself,” JJ summarized it. “You look strong though, you’ll be better soon. I just brought Sonja along because she says she remembers you from school, when you had that, uhmm… incident.”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t say it then because of the Principal at the hearing…” Sonja spoke for the first time, looking directly at Dara. “He warned me that my father would expect me to stand by my people and the community. I feel terrible that they forced me to lie. Neels...”

She was beginning to win Dara’s trust.

“…Neels has got so many friends… especially with the teachers. I asked them to check the cameras… the CCTV, but…” She huffed and paused, “…He’s the Dominee’s special...” she didn’t finish her sentence.

“I’m afraid it’s all a bit sick… small town politics,” JJ said apologetically. “Sonja told me about it and didn’t know what to do. Our parents and the Vermaaks are old friends… complicated.”

“I’m certain,” Marsha agreed, warming slightly to their earnest appearance and genuine expressions of concern, “…it takes courage to speak up.”

“I understand you’re on Jakob van Breda’s farm?” JJ asked.

“Indeed,” Marsha agreed. “Why do you ask?”

“I heard Dara had his accident on the dirt road over to the R63.” He was about to mention that it made no sense for him to be on that road if he was returning from Loxton, but thought better of it if the mother didn’t know about their meeting, so the statement hung in the air.

“I had to divert because of the accident on the main route into town…” Dara volunteered.

JJ looked at Dara quizzically, his head slightly cocked.

“…when your dad said there’d been an accident and diverted me, I was worried it might be you.”

“I don’t know about an accident or diversion?” JJ frowned.

“That’s what I said too,” Marsha added.

“Well—I was diverted. Your dad had the police van parked across the road. He said the main road into Carnarvon was closed.”

“That’s very strange…” JJ said, but he omitted to confirm something that this new piece of information suggested, a detail within his own mind falling into place:

On his way toward Carnarvon that day, JJ had passed his father coming the other way at great speed in the police van.

When he’d recognized his dad he’d flicked his headlights but his father was on the radio and had an intent expression—he’d just lifted a finger on the wheel in greeting and flashed headlong past.

At the time, JJ had imagined that there was some kind of an emergency out of town and he’d thought nothing more of it… until now.

But now, this new piece of information pushed that occurrence into a much more sinister direction.

Sonja read JJ’s expression, “Ernstig..?” She asked in a single word that the foreigners wouldn’t understand.

JJ nodded just perceptibly, “Yes, it’s serious,” his nod confirmed.

“I’ve been too busy to chat much around town,” JJ told them, “…but nobody’s mentioned any recent accidents that would close the highway, and I’m sure they would… I’ll look into it.”

He needed time to think and find out more before committing his thoughts.

Marsha had seen the exchange between the siblings but the Afrikaans word had been too quick and obscure to betray anything more than the girl’s surprise and worry.

“Is there something we need to know?” Marsha made it clear that she knew something was up.

“No, it’s just we only stopped in for a quick visit and we must go. I have to drop Sonja out of town but I wanted to see how my friend here is doing. I also thought Sonja and Dara should meet.”

Marsha could also play poker, JJ’s ruse and cover hadn’t fooled her.

“I do intend to find out what’s going on,” she was deadly focused in her delivery.

“I really do intend to find out too,” JJ looked her directly in the eye and she saw that he grasped the full scope of her meaning, and meant what he said too.

“We’d better get a move on—I’ll stop by again... You get better my friend,” he said to Dara.

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