“These fuckin’ local yok’ls,” Broad spat. “…Tryin’ t’ go it alone.”
He was livid.
Earlier, he’d struck up a conversation with the guesthouse owner who was a devoted NG Churchgoer. Her husband was close enough to the inner circle to hear what was going on behind the scenes.
Gabriel Broad had poured on the Southern-Charm and warmed the plump old lady to give him all the dirt on the town. He’d successfully convinced her that the two branches of Christianity that they respectively sat on were mostly adjacent with only small cosmetic differences. With that notion and thickly laid charisma, he’d won the lady’s confidence.
With great pride she’d let Broad in on a secret—that the Church Elders were well advanced with their cunning and devious plan to lock the SKA development up in Land Claims Court for long enough to send it somewhere less offensive—like Australia.
He’d smiled and thanked her warmly, congratulating her that she’d secured a husband who associated himself with people so wile and devious, and then he’d stalked off to find Bud.
But, before he got back to the room, his mobile had rung with interesting news from Neels’ hosts in Kentucky. Indeed, the news was spectacular; with the mood of stubbornness he could see brewing within his host, the Dominee, the news in from States-side could not have been better; it gave Broad a brilliant idea to swing the shifting balance of power back into his own favor, so he issued his strategic instructions on what ought to happen next and then he’d headed once more in search of Bud.
“If these clowns lock that land up und’r a Land Claim… worse yet… some kinda indig’nous Sacr’d Site,” Broad had ranted, “that’ll lock the nat’ral gas ind’stry out’a here for the rest’a time.”
He’d barely finished venting his anger and had begun to reveal the details to Bud of an unexpected new ace that the call from Kentucky had suddenly slipped up his sleeve, when there’d been a knock at the door.
It was Andy Selbourne.
The men had first met years earlier and become associated. Two months ago, Selbourne had visited Kentucky. They’d assembled at the Genesis Museum with Bacon and others of the inner circle, and Selbourne had reported on his progress in Southern Africa, setting up a ‘Religious Freedom SA’—RFSA—with powerful government ties that would push through favorable legislation to benefit them.
Andy had been instrumental in making first contact on Gabriel Broad and his associate’s behalf. He’d acted as intermediary and now felt rather smug knowing that pretty soon his influences would extend into this region too, as they ousted the local church in favor of his Evangelist Faith; so much more loyal as he knew they were to The Word than the incumbent.
“Now I heard me a strange rum’r,” Broad was smiling at Andy, but his eyes weren’t, “…that there’s some kinda Land Claim ya’all got goin’ on in these here parts? A Sacr’d Her’tage Claim?”
“Yes,” Andy confirmed with some surprise at the man’s knowledge of an initiative he personally had conceived and sold to the Dominee.
But it shocked him to now see the death in Broad’s eyes, so he quickly covered his surprise, feigning matter-of-fact neutrality in his reply; giving him the stance to leap in any direction that the flow of conversation might require.
“You certainly keep your ear to the ground!” he complimented Broad, “…I think the Dominee intended to disclose and discuss it at the meeting later. The local preacher thought it a good idea to stall the SKA process by bringing in a Heritage claim that wi...”
“Y’all don’t think it’s somethin’ we should’a discuss’d b’forehand?” Broad’s voice was brittle.
“I… we… never thought it an issue. You know, the situation is local, the best solution will be local. We’re well placed—the local church is well placed—to have influence over the claimants. It’s a pretty solid plan.”
“That’s presumin’ ya’all know what the plan is…,” Broad bit back, and Bud shot him a look that said, “shut up—don’t pique his curiosity.”
“The plan seemed pretty clear to me,” Andy stammered, but tried to sound authoritative. “We want to bring the Word to the people, we need to save the youngsters here who have lost their Faith in a church that history is leaving behind. Particularly here where there is now so much distraction from the scientific community who are pouring money in and winning hearts with it. We talked about this when…”
“That’s the plan ya’all work’ng on, yes,” Broad cut him off disdainfully, then reigned himself in from betraying any more than that. He admonished himself internally for being so emotionally rocked by what amounted to a business management error in communication. “That’s th’ plan ya’all working for us toward, yes, boy. That’s th’ goal we’ll be want’n. But there’s gotta be cohe’sion in our implementation of th’ plan. Y’all understand?”
Broad’s mind was racing to weigh up the angles, so he culled the conversation to buy himself more time to think;
“…But y’all put it aside f’r now. It jus’ caught me unawares. Just stay ‘way from that there topic today with y’re pastor, I’ll give y’all instructions when I’ve considr’d it by its merits.”
“How do you like him… the Pastor?” Andy was keen to leap far from the morass and minefield he’d suddenly found himself in. The look on the two American’s faces had shocked him, the devil was in them and he welcomed the backdoor that Broad had opened for him to avoid what looked like an ugly and evidently ego-driven power play. “He didn’t come up with the Heritage Claim—which is inspired,” he was thinking to himself, “…so it’s a bad plan? Typical… egotist!”
“How did you like the Dominee?” he repeated.
“Not’a bad sort, but I don’t gi’t that he likes me a whole great deal,” Broad volunteered. “He didn’t ‘preciate the adv’tising of the debate.”
“He said so?” Andy asked.
“He said nothin’… that said it all.”
Gert had been on his knees in the pew for longer than he had ever knelt in his life. At his age it would normally have seized his ailing back, but he felt nothing.
He’d prayed earnestly for direction. In his mind he’d mulled what was at stake and how much he’d exposed himself to sanction from the synod. The more he’d thought about it, the more he’d convinced himself he was free and clear. All he’d done was interpret the scriptures literally—that the earth, heavens and man were made when the bible said they were; and from this perspective he had preached against the newcomer scientists seeking to entrench an alternative claim.
Indeed, he’d convinced himself, the synod might well thank him for taking the stand afterall.
He’d also been in dialogue with Selbourne and his Religious Freedom group—but that was not a violation of any kind? He had not committed the church or its members to any official course—or, not yet officially committed it at any rate.
“Indeed,” he thought, “when the troublesome female scientist, the mother of the black devil child, had brought the matter up with the Minister for Science and Technology at a recent engagement, he’d brushed it aside.” The Dominee was very pleased to have such a network of informers feeding him vital information like this.
The more he thought about it, the more he diminished in his own mind the negative impact to the church. Indeed, the more he thought about it, the more he began to feel that this whole sojourn was going to pay off in positive outcomes for him. He gained strength from it, prayer had worked for him as it always did.
At last he had his answers… he would face the Americans down and send them packing; but then the issue of Neels popped into his mind.
Neels was in the Americans’ hands, at their whim. It wasn’t exactly a hostage situation, but it did make it awkward. Neels was emotionally brittle right now and Gert didn’t want to create any situation to aggravate that. It was a delicate situation, he realized; it just might cause an issue if his emotions ran from him and he became confrontational with the boy’s benefactor today… What to do about that…?
Neels coming back at this time was out of the question; Beatrice, the legal secretary of that turncoat Pieter de Villiers, was keeping Gert well informed of the meetings and correspondence being produced against the lad, and it was ugly; it seemed half the girls in the area were coming forward now that Sonja had gone against him and alleged his sexual predations. It made him wonder if the stories she was making up were the result of grief at her father’s loss and bitterness toward the boy who had such a strong bond with him. But it seemed inconceivable that she could have turned the whole community against a boy whose reputation had always been impeccable; and, not just the girls, many of the boys too, especially the coloured and black ones had jumped on the bandwagon claiming Neels was a racist and filled with hate.
The hate was theirs, Gert decided; venom they were producing to bring down a boy who represented an older, purer, better era.
So—Neels could not come home and Gert was loath to make waves for him.
Just then the three men arrived through the church door.
“Whad’a place, huh?” Broad bellowed. “Like something from th’ Ark, not that it’d be a bad thing if all y’all want is creakin’ agin’ bones on the pews.”
A worshipper who had quietly and privately kneeling in silent prayer startled at the brashness of the man’s loud voice. She gathered her belongings and hastily made to leave.
The church was austere—it was in keeping with every other NG Church one would enter and it was precisely the way Gert liked it. He didn’t appreciate the bombastic insult.
“We keep our voices down out of re-spect,” Gert hissed ‘respect’ in two syllables.
“Oh, gotcha… I’m used t’ a more lively house’a-prayer; ya’all gotta know the lord’s a lively fella’ and it comes kinda nat’rally t’ me.”
“The Evangelist churches are much more flamboyant,” Andy tried to quell the obvious tensions already entrenched between the two men.
“And us evangelic’ls also go in for a bit more col’r ‘n glam’r. Somthin’ w’all can help out with if ya’all want th’ good advice.”
“We are quite fine without any help, thank you,” Gert said curtly. “Let us go to my office.”
Gert did not want them defiling the sanctity of his church another minute, so he led them back out through the doors and up the side to his office at the back.
He crowded them around the table and did not offer them refreshments—what he had in mind would have them off the grounds and preferably out of town in quick order.
“There seems t’ be a problem?” Broad went directly to the issue.
“I am afraid that I may have overstepped my jurisdiction,” Gert responded plainly.
“This was somethin’ we were plannin’ to take up with ya’all. Ya’all mean this Land Claimin’ business?” Broad made a snap decision to broach the topic himself.
“That… and the challenge to the SKA project. I did it without authorization from the synod.”
“Ya’all did what I told ya’ll to t’do… that’d be the best strat’gy. Take them head-on, they’re a-violatin’ y’r jurisd’ction.”
“Well that’s not how we work in our church and I made a serious error of judgment which I must now correct. It is also not policy that I pursue this discussion with other denominations without direction from my superiors,” Gert was angling to bring the entire discussion and matter to a hasty close.
“So ya’all gonna run? They got’cha licked? All the fight outa ya’all? I’m mighty diss’pointed. Thought ya’all made of sterner stuff?”
Broad had done his homework on the mindset of the Afrikaner—there is no more certain way to strum his ego and drive him in a direction you want him to go than to effectively call him a coward who is not up for a fight.
Gert was up for a fight, and he still firmly believed the SKA’s objectives threatened to violate his deepest held Faith, but he did not want this foreigner as his fight manager. It took all of his self control not to lash out at this brash and arrogant man trying to toy with him, here, on his own turf. He would fight, but he would now only do so under the direction of his own church. He would convince them that this was a fight they needed to allow him to take up.
“I think we have taken this as far as I can take it,” he was being genial, not wanting a total confrontation. “I am sorry for the disappointment, but I’m certain that if I can convince my superiors as to the urgency of this, they will give me the authority to proceed again to work closely with you.”
Andy saw his opportunity to gain a foothold in this region starting to slip.
Since he’d gone in league with the Americans, he had only seen success; moving in and taking over every suburb or town they’d targeted.
But the last few moments were unsettling and he was about to venture an opinion to smooth the path and bring the old Dominee back into the fold when Broad beat him to it.
“Well I’m real sorry that ya’all gotta create such a difficulty at this time. I’m p’rticularly sorry to give ya’ll the bad news I only just received m’self minutes before we left t’ come on over… It’s about y’r boy back in Kentucky.”
“Neels?!” Gert had detected the severity in Broad’s voice and his face was a mask of horror, “Bad news?”
“‘Fraid so… that boy’s gotten h’mself into some seeeeri’us tr’ubles. Seeeri’us, seeeeri’us tr’ubles…” Broad had sunk the hook deep and was letting the old man stew and work for the details.
“Is he all right? I’ve heard nothing like that. His parent’s would have called me,” Gert insisted, suspicious of the American’s maneuvering.
“Oh, they’d not be a-know’n yet,” Broad pointed out. “Th’ boy’s ‘wake but not discharged yet from th’ hospital. I have t’ tell y’all that there’s a-high prob’bility there’ll be chaaarges pressed… chaaarges for rape.”
“For rape!?” Gert stood from his chair and started to pace. “Rape...? Impossible!”
“I’m ‘fraid it’s not. Seems y’r boy pushed one of the little coloured girls’a bit further than she wan’d t’ go.”
“A coloured girl?” Rape was one thing, but Neels having sexual liaisons with a coloured girl was entirely out of the question.
“It’s ‘a seeeerious matter. My people c’n take most’a th’ sting outta it. But I understand he’s in a little spotta-bother this side o’ th’ water too?” Broad ground away at his advantage. Now the preacher needed him and would have to kowtow and toe the line.
“I, I… I really don’t know what to think. I need more information and to talk to his parents immediately.”
“My people are a’callin’ his people riiight now. I’m pretty sure ya’ll can have a discussion t’ see how ya’all wan’a work it out. Under th’ circ’mstances, we can rec’nvene later t’ discuss th’ upcoming debate.”
Gert agreed; he could see no other option. In agreeing, he’d agreed to the debate too.