Some of Jan’s acquaintances were talking about the private security business, which seemed likely to boom in the years ahead. People who would guard buildings, or rich businessmen, or armored cars and the like. Men like him were logical candidates for such work, and Jan knew people who would be able to fix him up with such a position.
Some of Piter’s better-connected friends were getting involved with a company that would do what they’d once done for the government on a private basis for paying customers.
“A proper combat unit, with air and armor support,” Piter explained. “They’re going to provide training and intelligence services, too,” he added, implying there might be a place for him there.
Jan had heard about the company before, but he hadn’t known they meant to operate on that level. “Sounds ambitious,” he said.
“The Soviets are gone, and the Chinese care only about doing business. The French are more interested in Europe now, their project of uniting the continent. And the Americans have other things on their minds, too – Latin America, the Middle East, the Pacific rim. Africa was always on their backburner, and they will become more rather than less neglectful of the region with the competition over.
“Someone has to provide the services they used to. Why not a private company?”
Maybe. But Jan didn’t think it would be a group like that. A Black-led South African government, still richer and more powerful than the neighbors in spite of its certain corruption and incompetence, would likely aspire to dominance over the brethren with which its leaders had proclaimed such solidarity just a few years earlier. A formidable, commercially-minded mercenary force might look to them like rivals.
Besides, the Blacks in the country had little love for White soldiers of fortune. That went double for the regimes in the neighboring states Jan and his comrades had personally fought for so many years. They would put up with ex-soldiers playing bodyguard and rent-a-cop, but private armies were something else. Sooner or later the new government would turn on them, and Jan didn’t count on the mercenaries winning.
No, the company Piter talked about wasn’t the thing for him, even if he was staying in the country, which seemed less and less likely as time went on.
After he got home from work Jan nerved himself up to phone New Zealand’s High Commission in the city to ask for information about applying to immigrate there. The official he spoke to said he would mail him the papers to look over.
Jan was still thinking about the phone call when he heard his doorbell ring, and went to answer it.
“Hello, Captain Vandergriff.”
It took Jan a moment to recognize the man on his doorstep as Felix Candito, the man the Americans sent to pick up a Soviet prototype crashed in Angola a few years earlier. There had been some tense moments during that affair, but they completed the job, putting the crashed craft into Candito’s cargo plane and sending it off without incident.
However, while they were recovering the downed craft, the Communists launched a massive offensive southward, five brigades, lavishly equipped with armor and backed by air power provided by their Soviet patrons. UNITA stood little chance against that, by itself, and so the South African Defense Forces came to their rescue.
What happened after that, no one expected.
Of course, Jan knew the fight was different when he reached the bank of the Lomba, and saw it carpeted with the bodies of fallen enemy, thousands of them, mowed down as they’d tried to force their way across the river. Jan was no stranger to death or to killing, but he’d never personally seen it on such a scale, and his stomach turned, but the enemy fought on all the same, through their pursuit of the Communists northward, all the way to the fortress town of Cuito Cuanavale, from which the offensive had been launched.
Looking down from the Chambinga Heights into the valley below during the siege that followed, Jan had thought victory was near, that it was just a matter of time before the town fell and the enemy conceded defeat. But once, twice, several times he heard that they’d captured it, only to see the fighting dragging on as if nothing had changed.
In March an order called most of the South Africans back.
They hadn’t taken the town, but then General Malan said their offensive had never been meant to do that. And sure enough, Jan had seen with his own eyes how’d they handed the enemy one costly and humiliating defeat after another, saving their friends from the annihilation that had earlier seemed certain.
However, the Communists crowed about the routing of apartheid’s defenders. The “African Stalingrad” they called it. He heard stories about the battle quite different from what he remembered. Not just conflicting reports about casualties and losses, but tales of mutinies by his army’s own Black troops, and South African heavy equipment getting bogged down in the rainy season, and rumors about generals and government officials debating a resort to nuclear weapons to force the West to come to their assistance.
Then there was talk of Cuban troops rolling into southern Angola, entering areas that had earlier been no-go for them. Cuban MiGs not only threatened Jamba but positions further south than that. They actually bombed the dam at Calueque that South African troops had held without challenge from the start of the war in 1975, killing a dozen of their soldiers. They were even seen over Namibia.
If they had won, then they’d been cheated of the fruits of their victory, a fact he’d been coping with on his job and in his own life ever since, and the memory of his little adventure with Candito was all but swallowed up in those much larger events. He doubted he’d thought of it so much as a half dozen times these four years.
“Who’s that?” Gerda asked from behind Jan.
“An old colleague of mine. Mr. Candito.”
Gerda had never even heard about Candito. Excepting men he associated with socially, he never mentioned any of his acquaintances from his work to her. (Jan regarded his job as off-limits to conversation.) Still, she remembered their duties toward a guest. “We were going to sit down to dinner,” she said to the man at their door. “Would you care to join us?”
“Yes, of course,” Candito said. “Thank you.”
Jan let him into the house and showed him to the small but clean and well-kept dining room, where Gerda set a place for him. Candito played the good guest, praising Gerda’s stew and the manners of his children and the loveliness of their home and in general making polite conversation. Then when the meal was done Jan’s wife ushered Dricky and Ingrid out of the room, cleared away the dishes and left them alone so that the two men could talk business.
“I understand the Defense Forces are likely to be cut,” Candito said.
“Here, like everywhere else,” Jan said.
“Have you given any thought to what you might do if you left them?”
“Some,” Jan said, understating it.
“Would you care to continue working in the same field?”
“It’s the work I know.” The opportunities in his field probably would be narrower in New Zealand, but at least that country seemed a decent place to live. And surely they had use for private security personnel there too.
“The opportunities may be broader than you think,” Candito said, explaining that he’d gone into the private sector as well and telling him a bit about his current employer. “You weren’t told the whole story about what we did in Angola.”
Jan took that to be a reference to the aircraft’s origins. Piter had mentioned to Jan an alternative to the explanation the Americans gave them, and laughed about it, unable to take it seriously himself. Jan took it even less seriously than that.
“I understand that, yes.” Jan shrugged, indifferent. “The details were not important. I was given my orders, and I followed them, and the nature of the item itself was ‘above my pay grade.’”
Candito seemed to be studying his expression. “Good. That’s what I was hoping to hear.
“Would you consider taking a job dealing with these matters specifically?”
That took Jan by surprise. “I should tell you I’m thinking of immigrating,” he said.
“I understand,” Candito said sympathetically. “You wouldn’t need to remain in the country, and it would actually be preferable if you were located in the States. In fact, were my company to hire you we would be in a position to assist you considerably in securing U.S. citizenship for yourself and your family.”
Jan hesitated to answer, not having expected this – or for that matter, hoped for it. The U.S. was fairly far down in the list of places where he was thinking of relocating his family.
Certainly some of the Americans he’d met were decent enough, but even they were unhappy with many of the things that bothered him about their country. There was the permissiveness of the movies, the television, the music. There was that “multi-culturalism” some people were talking about, which left no one even speaking proper English. The schools were notoriously bad, the drug problem was out of control, the streets overrun with criminals. And it all seemed likely to get worse, much worse.
In fact, it was much like what he was afraid his own country would become.
Still, he understood that not all parts of it were so bad. Apparently, things were better outside the cities, and in the interior there were still places that looked and sounded like America. Places where people went to church and lived quiet, decent lives.
He didn’t ask about that, for fear of giving offense. (Agreeable as Candito was, the fact remained that there wouldn’t be very many people with names and accents like his in the sorts of places Jan would have preferred to live, and it may have been a sore point for him.) Still, it seemed there were worse choices.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said. “When would you expect an answer?”
“The sooner the better.” Candito left him his business card before saying goodbye, and Jan spent the next few minutes mulling the issue over. Even if the United States wasn’t ideal, it couldn’t hurt having the job and the money that went with it, or the papers to live in the U.S.A. while looking for a more permanent home.
Yes, this was what he would do, he decided. He phoned the number Candito gave him and got a secretary, but she arranged for Candito to call him back. When he did so Jan let him know his answer, after which Candito sent notice that he’d be flying to the States.
It would be Jan’s first visit to the country. The American government had lifted the sanctions preventing direct flights between the two countries just the year before. So he caught the South Africa Airways flight to New York’s JFK airport, where he switched to a second plane for the trip down to Washington National Airport. When he disembarked from the plane a young man with the air of a privileged flunky approached him.
“Captain Vandergriff?” he asked.
Jan remembered that as the name of the man supposed to meet him. Together they collected his luggage, after which Weatherly led him to his car, a Mercedes.
Walking outside the heated building Jan noticed his breath condensing before his eyes. He’d seen snow before, but only rarely. It was an event when any snow fell in the Transvaal. None had been seen in Johannesburg for a decade, and it had been longer than that in Pretoria.
Jan knew it would be cold here in the mid-Atlantic states, but he didn’t expect the weather to bother him so much. (He supposed it was a matter of getting older, more vulnerable to extremes of temperature.) He thought about buying warmer clothes, but that would have to wait.
Driving from Washington National Weatherly played tour guide, pointing out sites of interest along their route. Jan listened and nodded politely, but was more interested in the environs, places where his family (staying put back in Pretoria for the time being) might make a home.
They crossed the river, into an area full of parks and older buildings, brownstone apartment houses and office blocks, the mansions where he imagined American blue bloods resided. His hotel was situated among these. It was a more elegant structure than he expected, which bore the historically confusing name of Renaissance Mayflower.
At Weatherly’s direction Jan stepped out of the car and was reminded of the cold between the car and the lobby. Weatherly handled the check-in, and then accompanied him and the bellhop up to his room. Weatherly tipped the hop after he finished the little tour, and then presented Jan with an assortment of papers. He would have an expense account during his stay in the city, which wouldn’t see him doing anything until Monday.
“We’ll send the car for you then, in the morning. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to call me if there’s anything you need.” Weatherly produced a business card, which Jan accepted.
“I will,” he assured him.
Only then did Weatherly depart, leaving Jan alone in his suite. Looking about his surroundings Jan decided he would be comfortable here, and felt a little more confident about making his family comfortable. This was something he wanted of course, but at the same time he felt a twinge of worry. Too much comfort made people forget what was really important.
Weatherly was the product of a comfortable background. He knew the type; there was no shortage of them in any government. He’d been well brought-up, perhaps educated as well as American institutions permitted. But he was soft, incapable of coping with an existence outside of air-conditioned office suites and expensive restaurants. Americans in general were like that, Jan thought. They’d done well fighting the Iraqis, to be sure, but that was a matter of better weapons and better logistics, and the incompetence of their enemy. And then they didn’t finish the job, because they feared international opinion, feared losses, feared difficulties – in short, feared a price at which his own people had never balked, because they could never afford to, because they didn’t have anyone else to do their fighting for them.
One mustn’t brood, Jan reminded himself. He also told himself that it would be best to not think such things about his present employers – and perhaps, future countrymen, odd a notion as that was. Eager to busy himself he started unpacking his clothes and thought about how he might get a good warm coat like the one he should have bought back home before getting on the plane here.