“A most peculiar situation…” JJ disclosed to Marsha and Al, hastily called to a meeting with him at Meerkat restaurant in the town; conveniently close to de Villiers attorneys. Pieter the attorney was already drawing documents to affirm the matters under discussion;
“I just got a call from the Vermaaks, from Neels’ parents. It seems their son’s landed himself in very hot water in Kentucky and needs to be extracted in a hurry. I already have wheels in motion… my wife’s visiting family one state over and she’s already taking care of things over there for us. I’m hoping to get your agreement on this, he’s returning.”
The Vermaaks had, after agonized discussions with Dominee Gert, concluded that their son needed to be removed from serious repercussions in the United States. It was clear that the only person with the resources to do this in an emergency was JJ Kruger.
Angling to pre-empt what was generally considered JJ’s traitorous shift of allegiance to outsiders, they’d pitched their plea to strum his deep cultural roots and family history in the community.
Long before they’d come to their point, JJ had seen through their convoluted Afrikaner-against-the-oppressors appeal, and it lent him levers to milk their desperation for favorable terms.
“What’s the scoop?” Al was bursting with curiosity.
“That proverbial old leopard hasn’t change his spots,” JJ bopped his head in a nod of victory. “Neels has been involved in exactly the kind of thing in the States that we’ve uncovered about him here. Happily this time, he seems to have come off worst.”
A waitress arrived and set down coffees, fussing with minor arrangements, clearly trying to pick up threads of gossip. JJ paused till she left.
“The details I have are that he went to a house party, got out of hand… drunk… was dancing with a girl, and… same-old, same-old… The pair went out to the back garden… Next thing she shouts for help and a bunch of home-boys jump in and beat the tar out of him. He put two of them in hospital, but they knocked him out cold, and he’s been brought down a good few notches.”
“This lunatic’s a real loose cannon,” Al observed.
“…It gets better; we know there’s a connection to Broad’s crowd. Latest in from the gossip mill, things aren’t going swimmingly here for Broad with the Dominee, so, all of a sudden there’s muttering from Kentucky that she has the option to claim attempted rape… you know, if Broad’s hosts don’t warm to him over here.”
“Good… let him rot,” Marsha folded her arms.
“It’s an option,” JJ shrugged in agreement, “He’s discharged from hospital, and of course claiming it’s a setup. So… yeah… we could let it be… let him sit… but will sitting fix him or this situation here? It’s retribution, but is it rehabilitation?” JJ posed.
“What’s a better option?” Marsha kept her arms folded.
“I think there’s a win to be had… Whatever he’s done there he already got swift justice… physical justice, the kind he’s used to dishing out… I’ve talked to him and he’s really shaken; rightly terrified and sheered off his foundation… So… we could leave him there, sure. Even if what they’re muttering about is trumped up, he certainly deserves justice for what he’s done on this side of the pond, yes. That’s the one option, but maybe it’s the option that pushes him the wrong way… and nothing actually gets learned?”
Marsha unfolded her arms and joined Al with her forearms on the table, listening intently.
The waitress was in conference with her colleague, glimpsing their way, clearly plotting a new strategy to get a toe-hold on the tantalizing conversation at table seven.
“I think that while he’s rocked we get him on our turf.”
“Hmmm…” Marsha was grappling with the notion, “…and? To what ends?”
“Well, the objective… your objective… is, what? To get an apology? To see him rehabilitated…?” JJ countered. “To have him pay… and I mean money and more… for what he’s done? I think we can get it all.”
“I don’t care about money,” Marsha insisted.
“Well, I think the money does matter. They have to pay… his folks… for all the medical at the least. And this is our moment to turn the screws. He’s on the run, scared as hell… way out of his depth. There’s no friendly ‘Andre’ the policeman to make it go away...”
Al saw as JJ uttered his father’s name that he did not flinch; this was about business and not emotion.
“…he’s a typical bully;” JJ continued, “…a dog behind a fence. His family’s wealth and influence has let him throw his weight around.”
“What exactly are you proposing?” Al chimed in.
“Between my US partners in my business and some strings my wife, Morgan, has, we can make things happen quickly. As I speak he’s being bundled off to the airport. I have agreement from his parents already that if he returns here the civil and Equality Court cases against him will be suspended but only with their and his agreement to undergo anger management and other psych evaluations.”
Both listeners were nodding and the waitress was hovering.
“…His parents will pay full medical… plus a very handsome grant to a charity… a charity that makes sense to this cause.”
“You have that agreement? In writing?” Al asked.
“Not in writing… yet. That’s what Pieter is doing now.”
“Anger management and psychological assessment, in a town like this?” Marsha huffed her doubt.
“Definitely not. No. There’s no way he can be rehabilitated here. No, no, and no. The terms are that he is extracted from this environment for at least two years. I watched him grow up, I know how to handle this boy. He’s pretty much me fifteen years ago.”
“Really?” Al seemed aghast. “Surely not literally?
“As close as dammit, yes.” JJ assured. “I was… well, very unpleasant.... a bully, headstrong, and I’m ashamed to say I… well… I’m ashamed, let’s leave it at that.”
“That makes it sounds like we’ve got bigger problems than one renegade,” Marsha observed.
“We do… yes. Absolutely we do. It’s a culture of this nonsense, and this is an opportunity to break it. It’s guys like me who are to blame; when I left and got enlightened, I never came back to face down others like me. That’s the mistake, and that’s why the Neels’ of this world keep cropping up in little forgotten villages all over the place. The few who recover from bigotry want nothing to do with it.”
JJ covered his mouth, looking away, feeling ashamed to admit who he had been.
The restaurant owner came over to ask if they had everything they needed and they assured him they were happy. When he went to the kitchen, the two waitresses followed.
“Now’s the time for change,” JJ went on. “Let me pick it apart for you; my dad, whom I loved dearly, represented that ongoing thread of infection into the youngsters. He was assisted by it in this Calvinist tradition of stern old men who are a sort of cabal—they’re the Church Elders. They’ve celebrated in it for decades, they have the whole system down to a fine art; the school principal handpicks the alpha personalities in the next generation, they groom them through sport and captaincy, and refine it in the Youth Group of the church. With my dad gone and not replaced, they lose their grip on smoothing over any abuses that crop up.”
Al could see emotions written across JJ’s face as he disclosed his culture’s deepest secrets to outsiders; “I’m sorry you have to admit all of this.”
“Yeah… admitting it’s not fun. They got it so deep in me that even now it feels like I’m betraying something sacred… makes me feel treasonous, and that gets me angry...”
He paused a moment, his head shaking minutely with internal dialog.
“…It really starts with the Dominee; he plays the pivotal role… everything that’s done round here is because God wants it thus. You heard it from Dara when he laughed about it from the staff… ‘When the Dominee’s angry, we must all be angry…’ It’s a crazy mantra. It’s the source of years of tension between my dad and I. When I think about it, he was actually the victim… a puppet always dancing to that tune. And of course, I’m from a line of cops—they’re the henchmen who perpetuated it. And it’s just like this across every town and back through time. I suppose, like the sheriff in the old West always running interference for ‘his people’ to have things go their way. It’s convenient when the law looks the other way, and the preacher justifies bad behavior with Old Testament assertions of the right bigotry has to impose itself.”
“Wow… That’s a hell of an assessment,” Marsha said just as the waitress’s ears arrived to straighten the already impeccable tablecloth on the adjacent table, so conversation dried till she left.
“It’s necessary, Marsha,” JJ looked her in the eye. “And, the Dominee is now reeling because he’s been caught in a trap of his own ego… and this has given me a plan. I’d prefer him as an ally.”
“Will he get behind it?” Al asked.
“Hard to know. He’s a stubborn old bastard… On the other hand, I’ll say this for him; he’s a very moral man—it’s sometimes very odd morals, but if he decides Broad’s dishonest...” he left the thought without conclusion.
“Since your disclosure I dug around about Broad and he does seem rather checkered,” Al said.
“Checkered would be quite a euphemism,” JJ suggested. “This is my game, digging into facts and looking for legal loopholes, and this guy is buried in a tangle of them and I mean a really ugly birds-nest of fraud, and corruption and outright hijacking of decency.”
“Why’s it not come to light before?” Marsha posed.
“It’s there if you scratch enough, Marsha,” JJ began, “…but the press won’t touch it when the big fish are involved. With Broad, too much rides on his philanthropy and connections to make waves. The trail isn’t easy to follow…”
JJ was cut short; the waitress had come back yet again to see if anyone needed anything; clearly consumed by curiosity from the juicy tidbits her earlier foray had yielded.
“Do you want to pull up a seat?” JJ offered her and she scuttled away.
They all had a mild chuckle around the table as the other waitress and owner simultaneously evaporated to the kitchen to hear what she’d discovered.
“Believe me, I’m even shocked; Broad is knee deep in it all; in coup plots to install puppet leaders of tin-pot dictatorships in Middle America and Africa—anywhere there is a whiff of oil or diamonds… and God-knows what else. I’ve traced him to financing completely bogus climate change denial organizations running fraudulent petitions by scientists who are dead or never existed. As you know, he’s up and down Africa agitating against homosexuals in countries like Uganda and Nigeria… And of course here through front companies, trying to get his hands on a piece of the fracking action they’re angling for.”
“Wow… but how will we use this? Your information? This Neels situation?” Al was not a strategist and didn’t pretend at it, and he’d sensed that JJ had a plan formulating.
“Several ways. I’ll handle the Dominee and put an end to this undercover nonsense they’re up to with the Bushmen. We can expose the pressure groups fronting with faith to cover their tracks. The implications of why countries stayed out of the SKA funding could be far reaching; maybe it shoots dirty politicians in the foot… I’ve found that there’s insider trading going on here too, snapping up cheap land… everyone knows it’s earmarked for radio silence, so the value’s tanking, but if they bulldoze their objectives through and overturn the moratoriums on radio silence in place, the land explodes in value. If we throw a spanner in those works, we leave crooks holding worthless land and we even put a spoke in the fundamentalist juggernaut. And then there’s finding other Neelses in other regions.”
“Quite a list,” Marsha rolled her eyes.
“Quite a list…” JJ paused. “…And Neels…? I have another plan… it’s going to sound a bit crazy at first… Remember I told you I was ‘a’ Neels? I know how a bully thinks and I know how a bully reacts when he’s put in an environment that’s tougher than him? I’m going to propose that we have a six-month trial of something—an experiment. The school Dara is going to is just around the corner from a house I own…”
“He’s going to school in the Southern Suburbs,” Marsha pointed out. “Don’t you live on the Atlantic Seaboard?”
“That’s my beach cottage,” JJ corrected her, “…An investment we enjoy on weekends and summer; but our main family home’s in the Southern Suburbs, I run my office from it…. Well, I think I told you before, that Morgan has a psychology degree? She’s not in active practice anymore, so she’s very excited to get back to it... I’ve been talking to her about this plan as it formed. Let me first say that she’s tough as hell; takes no nonsense, so she’s keen to make what I’m going to tell you a project...”
Marsha sucked air and emitted a light groan of concern, guessing at what might come next.
“I want to put all three boys under the same roof for a time; Dara and Neels… and Dawie if he wishes. Morgan’s behind it… feels she can take it on full time.”
Marsha’s mouth began to hang agape, “You’re not serious?”
“Well… I sort of was… Morgan said the same thing at first.”
“Before you did a sales job on her?” Marsha challenged.
Al’s brow was furrowed, calculating the possibilities, “Let’s hear him out, Marsh.”
“I’m really not selling it… just putting it on the table. It’s up to you....”
“Maybe Dara should be part of this discussion… and Dawie,” Al suggested.
“Dara always thinks he can cope,” Marsha added with concern.
“Please… I’m just offering and suggesting,” he held up his hands, surrender style. “These aren’t snap decisions, they’re possible courses.”
“The outcome?” Al tilted his head.
“Constructive engagement, you can’t change anything when it remains in isolation.”
“Hmmm…” Marsha’s hand muzzled her mouth, her eyes betraying cogs clicking over.
“Dawie…? Could he really cope… with the city, under these circumstances…. Should he have to cope in his second last year of school?”
“I’ve chatted again with Fiske… the science teacher. He’s adamant that boy is gifted and incredibly stable—‘wasted here’ is what he repeated… those were his exact words. So…. sure, you can leave him here, as he is—he can battle forward… I’m sure he’ll be fine. Or… you can open the cage and see if he wants to fly. There are no guarantees and it’s a compromise whichever way it goes. We can’t prescribe… let’s leave it up to him.”
“And you’re not selling this?” the first twinkle of smile returned to Marsh’s eye, JJ returned it;
“I’m going to start selling now,” JJ assured. “…He’s the right age for his grade, so that even if he loses a year… if he re-does this year in a new environment… he really loses nothing.”
“And culturally? We talked about this… you take him away from it, and…?”
“I’ve spoken again to Dawie, he’s keen. His grandfather’s his only positive influence and, uhm…. Well, that’s not looking good… the old man’s health. If he goes…?” He let the statement hang. “…Anyway…” He gathered his keys off the table, “It’s food for thought; we have a few weeks before we need decisions. Right now I’ve got to go across to the clinic to see the situation with Oom Karel, I just heard that they’ve booked him in as an inpatient, which is about the worst thing they could have done...”
“Hmmm…?” the same sound came from Marsha, but now it was quizzical with a question mark that lifted both her eyebrows.
“Let’s think it over,” Al spoke for them both.
JJ looked at his phone and nodded at what he saw there; “So if we have agreement…? Pieter said he’ll explain the documents he’s been drawing for Neels… It needs your signature, can you stop on by there?”
Marsha looked at Al and they both nodded, “The Neels bit…” Al already nodded agreement to what she was going to say, “…I think we can go with it, I… we… we trust your insight.”
Al checked his watch. “Oooh… for a lawyer’s meeting you have to count me out, it’s too tight now, I’m flying later and haven’t packed yet.”
JJ sucked air through his teeth and they both read that it meant urgency.
“I could do it,” Marsha volunteered to Al, “…if you drop me and collect me later?”
“I could play taxi if it helps…?” JJ suggested, “Pieter says he’ll only need you for twenty minutes. By then I’ll be done with my first errand and can pick you up on my way back, then drop you at home after I’ve popped by the clinic, if you don’t mind waiting.”