Chapter Three – Back with a bang
Back from her long weekend in Cape Town, Lindiwe Buthelezi was working double shifts at the Vosloo Grill. The chef had called in sick at the last minute, so the manager, Jacques Visser had asked for the bar lady to assist with the frying of chips in the kitchen.
It was just after noon in Pretoria and the bar was almost empty. The big rush for drinks would come in about five hours’ time.
Lindiwe was battling to concentrate on her work. Her mind was running in different directions as she thought about Pieter and the trip to Cape Town. Then there was the strangeness of Nelson Mandela’s voice in her head.
Even though Pieter was many years older than her, being with him felt so right. Of course, many of her colleagues would pass remarks about their relationships. Some would say she was nothing more than a gold-digger, trying to live a white life with a white man.
Little would they know that Pieter Erasmus was a lower-end policeman in terms of salary. People be people, she thought. They would always gossip and jump to the wrong conclusions.
Lindiwe gave the bar counter a wipe down with her cloth before heading off to the kitchen to begin peeling potatoes in preparation for the frying of chips. She would later return to the bar area to help with the serving of drinks when the venue filled up.
The girl had a phobia about working with a gas stove. Gas, electricity, and lightning with things that one should not play around with. They had the potential to kill.
Her mind returned to Pieter. He was a good Afrikaner, not the racist type that she had read about. Her experience of men was not huge, but there was something about Pieter that made her heart flutter. He was handsome, well-built and had a sense of maturity about him.
Poor innocent Lindiwe. Would she have thought the same if she knew that she was sleeping with her biological father?
How she wished that her mother, Lindiwe Senior, who died giving birth to her, was here to give her advice on men.
Like Lindiwe, Pieter too, had been hard at work in catching up on time following his few days’ off in Cape Town.
At 5pm, the Lieutenant strode through the door of the Vosloo Grill with a spring in his step. Pieter was the man, he thought. Something told him that today would end completely different to the rest. He thought it was because he would spend some more bar time with Lindiwe. He would soon discover that things would turn out differently.
The cop performer his usual routine in greeting the locals before heading over to the far right of the bar, where he shook hands with Colonel Jaap Cornelius.
“Is jy reg vir n dop (are you ready for a drink)?” asked Jaap.
“Gooi maar (make it happen),” replied Pieter, gratefully.
Jaap ordered two beers and took his in a bottle, while Pieter preferred drinking his beer from a glass.
“Nog n dag in die nuwe Suid-Afrika, God asseblief help ons met die spul (another day in the New South Africa, God please help us with this bunch),” said Jaap, as he passed a glass full of beer to Pieter.
The ‘bunch’ that Jaap was referring too, was the black people of the country. Jaap had never been a fan of them.
“So, hoe was die naweek in the Kaap (so how was the weekend in the Cape)?” asked the Colonel.
“Lekker (nice),” replied Pieter, with a glance towards Lindiwe at the bar.
“Ok, dis jou keuse, maar hulle is nie my sort nie (alright, it is your choice, but they are not my type),” replied the Colonel, as he stared at Lindiwe.
“Ek kan nie lank bly nie. Die heks is terug van die skoonouers af (I can’t stay too long; the witch is back from the in-laws).”
In using the term ‘witch’, Jaap was referring to his wife of twenty-five years who had spent the long weekend with her parents. He avoided going to the in-laws at all costs. Many spouses felt the same.
Pieter noticed that Lindiwe made several trips to the back corridor behind the bar and could not understand why. Eventually, she went to the back and did not return for a good fifteen minutes.
Not for a moment did he think that she could possibly be seeing another guy at the back, but he was just curious as to what was going on.
Eventually, he could not hold back his curiosity and made his way over to the bar, through the swinging half door, and to the back corridor.
He found Lindiwe frying chips in the kitchen.
“You are missing me already?” she teased.
“I was just wondering why you are not on your normal post out in the front,” replied the Lieutenant.
Lindiwe pointed at the chips in the hot oil on the gas stove in front of her.
“Tshepo the chef called in sick, so the manager asked me to take charge of the food,” the girl explained.
“It is great to see that you are so handy in the kitchen,” quipped Pieter.
“Don’t get any ideas,” replied Lindiwe.
“I am more than just the breakfast, lunch and supper type girl.”
The chips were frying a bit slow and at that point Lindiwe increased the amount of gas to the fryer.
“So, when is our next trip to Cape Town?” she asked.
Pieter took in a sip of beer before answering.
“I need two or three promotions at work for my bank account to recover,” he said.
“Hopefully, we will be able to go on another trip soon though.”
“I really hope so too,” smiled Lindiwe.
“Anyway, let me leave you to the frying of chips,” said the Lieutenant.
As he turned to leave, his right foot caught on the bottom edge of the structure that supported the wash basin and he stumbled forward. In attempting to avoid falling to the ground, he grabbed for whatever, he could get a grip on. That happened to be the gas pipe on the wall.
The piping sampling could not handle his weight and snapped, sending a bright flash across the kitchen and corridor area.
Pieter fell forward knocking his head hard on the wash basin, as he tumbled to the floor.
Hearing the explosion in the kitchen, Colonel Jaap Cornelius charged to the back room behind the bar.
“What the hell, somebody call an ambulance!” he screamed as he saw Pieter lying on the floor with a gash wound on his forehead. He turned off the main gas supply and put a kitchen cloth over his mouth and nose. The gas was enough to make grown men cry.
Ten minutes later, the Vosloo Bar had turned into a crime scene. The beer-drinking crowd inside the venue had been evacuated and the doors of the bar were closed for business.
Two paramedics were doing their best to assist the unconscious Pieter.
As he attempted to open his eyes, he tried to call Lindiwe’s name, but his lungs were filled with gas and he could not get the word out.
Eventually when he did, the paramedics were stunned.
“Lindiwe?” one asked.
“Who is Lindiwe?”
The reason this question was asked is because Pieter had been the only casualty in the kitchen. There was no sign of anyone else when the paramedics arrived on the scene.
The Vosloo Bar manager, Jacques Visser, was one of the first on the scene in the kitchen. He battled to come to terms with what had just happened.
Once back in the bar area, Colonel Jaap Cornelius questioned him.
“I can’t believe it,” muttered the manager, in his late thirties and dressed in a black golf shirt and blue denim jeans.
“We had the gas pipes checked two months back. Everything we do here is in line with the law.”
Meanwhile outside the closed front door of the venue, a crowd had gathered to see what was happening. News reporters and photographers from the daily Pretoria News and Beeld (Afrikaans) newspapers were trying to force their way inside to get the biggest story in Pretoria in years.
The last time a story in Pretoria had attracted this much attention was when 23-year-old right winger Barend ‘Wit Wolf’ (White Wolf) Strydom, dressed in camouflage, had walked across Strijdom Square, shooting anyone who was born black. This was back on 15 November 1988. Strydom killed eight blacks and injured another sixteen that day, before being stopped by a black taxi driver, while the assassin reloaded the magazine on his weapon.
Strydom was sentenced to death for his crime, but this was converted to life in prison when the death penalty was abolished.
He received his freedom in 1992, in a direct exchange between the Apartheid government and the ANC. In return for Strydom, then-President F.W. de Klerk allowed the freedom of liberation struggle bomber Robert McBride.
McBride was locked up for his involved in the McGoo’s Bar bombing in Durban, which killed three whites and wounded another sixty-nine, people on 14 June 1986.
“Where is the bar lady?” asked Jaap Cornelius to Jacques Visser.
Jacques ran his hands over his short black hair.
“I asked her to fry some chips in the kitchen as the chef called in sick,” said the manager.
“Well, the paramedics told me that the only person in the kitchen was Lieutenant Erasmus, so where is the girl now?”
Jacques was stunned. Lindiwe must have been in the kitchen frying the chips. How could she not be there, particularly if the gas on the fryer was on turned on?
“She must have been in the kitchen, there was no way that she couldn’t be there as she was not out front,” uttered Jacques, as he jumped to his feet to check the kitchen, and then the bathroom area in search of Lindiwe.
He returned to update the Colonel.
“I don’t know where she is, but I can tell you that she is a good worker and a good girl,” said Jacques.
“There is no way that she would have sabotaged the business by causing the blast. She is not like that.”
Jaap began to scribble down some notes on a piece of paper that he produced from his pocket.
The two paramedics who had been treating Pieter, carried the injured Lieutenant out on a stretcher, as they headed towards an ambulance parked out front.
“Meneer (Mr) Paramedic, are you totally sure that Lieutenant Erasmus was alone in the kitchen when you arrived there?” asked Jaap to the senior paramedic.
“Definitely, I would have noticed if another person had been in the kitchen,” said the paramedic.
“We took in two other women who had inhaled gas but those were not staff, I think.”
Jacques puffed out his cheeks.
The owners of the Vosloo Grill had gone away for the long weekend and had not yet returned. He would have some explaining to do when they did eventually arrive or call. The Vosloo Bar had been in business for over thirty years and had never encountered any form of situation such as this.
“When can we open for business again?” asked Jacques to Jaap.
“I suggest you keep the doors closed for today and if the investigating team has completed all its tasks, you may be able to open in the next day or two,” explained the Colonel.
Not that this was going to help much. Few people would be brave enough to return to the popular bar in the knowledge that there had been an explosion on the premises. It was simply too risky. Most of the regular customers would surely be looking for a safer watering hole.
Jacques rushed over to the front window of the venue and peered through it. The crowd of onlookers was getting bigger by the minute. There was no sign of Lindiwe among them.
The manager rushed back to his office behind the bar and looked for the girl’s mobile number on his whiteboard. He dialled it but there was no usual ringing tone or voicemail where a message could be left. It was as if Lindiwe Buthelezi had disappeared into cyberspace along with her phone.
When he returned to the main bar area, one of the cop investigators was in deep conversation with Jaap.
“It looks like one of the gas pipes snapped, but we will have to run tests for fingerprints which should give us an idea of whether this was done on purpose or not,” said the investigator.
“We might be able to get an idea of how much force was used on the pipe as it has a few dents in it.”
Unaware of the Lieutenant’s fall in the kitchen, Jaap was convinced that Pieter would not have broken the pipe, so that left him wondering about Lindiwe and why she had run away from the scene.
He would only be able to get some concrete answers when Pieter regained consciousness.
“Jacques, you keep trying to find Lindiwe and let me know the moment that you do,” said the Colonel.
“I will get down the hospital and try to get some information out of the Lieutenant the moment that he is able to speak.”
Jacques nodded and headed off to check on two of his other staff members who were drinking sugar water to calm their nerves. They were just lucky that they were not in the kitchen when the gas explosion happened.
The manager did not suspect Lindiwe of foul play but why had she left the venue? What did she know that he and the cops did not?
Again, he tried to get hold of Lindiwe on her mobile phone, but it was as if her number did not exist. Jacques shook his head. He was a NG Kerk Sunday regular and his dominee (Pastor) frowned on him for working in a bar with alcohol. Now that the blacks were mixing with the whites, was muti being used by the blacks to bewitch the venue? There were more questions than answers.
He kept watching his mobile phone, hoping that Lindiwe would call back, or Jaap would update him with some news to put him at ease.
Time seemed to come to a standstill for Jacques Visser. He seemed to be so alone in the world. His job could well be at risk too. The Afrikaner owners of the Vosloo Grill were not patient people, and the staff turnover was quite large. The owners had no time for unreliable people or those who could not follow orders and do their tasks diligently.
What Jacques did not know was that the gas explosion had forced Lindiwe to indeed leave the kitchen. Not only that but she had left Planet Earth and through time travel, had become someone else but with the same name!
Who would be more surprised? Pieter, the medical doctors or Lindiwe herself?