Chapter 23 – You Can Call Me Vince
Punctuality was a key part of being a policeman, at least it worked like that to Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus. He ran his life on time.
Unfortunately, since 1994, South Africa had drifted into the new dispensation based on what was known as ‘African Time’. Many people simply did not care about whether they were late for an appointment or not. Some even arrived late for job interviews and then could not understand why they never got the position.
“Fokken verkeer (fucking traffic),” muttered Pieter as he drove his Toyota Corolla on John Vorster Drive, towards the Centurion Country Club.
With one hand on the steering wheel, he checked the time on his mobile phone. It was 15h58 and he was still a good two kilometres from the club. The traffic was moving at snails-pace. What was going on? Was there an accident ahead or were some of the traffic lights out of order?
Or were the drivers of the vehicles in front of him simply driving like a bunch of asses? As Pieter edged his vehicle forward, he soon realised what the holdup was.
A taxi was stuck in the fast lane with its hazard lights flashing. All its passengers stook on the curb chatting. Pieter shook his head as he passed by the taxi which had a flat rear wheel.
He did a quick count of the number of blacks standing on the pavement. There must have been about twenty-three of them. That was just the problem. Twenty-three people trying to fit into a 16-seater taxi. Little wonder the taxis often overturned or had tyre problems.
Finally, Pieter managed to manoeuvre his vehicle to the turn into the entrance gate at the Centurion Country Club. The queue to get approved by the security personnel was quite a long one and the Lieutenant was ongoingly harassed by street venders who wanted to sell golf balls to him.
The day might have been drawing towards the sunset zone, but the entrepreneurs were always looking at ways and means to make a quick buck.
Once through the security process, Pieter parked his vehicle in the main parking area and headed into the clubhouse.
The Centurion Country Club was a plush place. It was not the type of residence where a cop could afford to live. Maybe I can use some of my R200 000 to pay a deposit for a place here, thought Pieter.
He was convinced that he would be the first member of his meeting to arrive. He had never been beaten by the African timers before.
How wrong he was. As he walked into the bar area, a tall black man dressed in a tweed colour jacket tapped him on the shoulder.
“Are you Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus?” asked the man, who had a beer glass in his left hand.
“I am Vincent Khoza, but you can call me Vince,” said the smooth-talking guy, who had such a tight handgrip on Pieter, that the Lieutenant thought that the man would never let go.
Pieter looked at the man. The fellow did not look like a millionaire businessman or top-class consultant. He resembled more of a ticket tout who was about to offer Pieter good odds-on Saturday’s main horse race at the Turffontein racecourse.
“Let’s have a seat at a table,” said Vince with a smile that could light up the room.
Once seated, the pleasantries continued.
“So, how is the family?” asked Vince.
The niceness of Vince was almost too good to be true. He seemed to care about Pieter’s family, health, business life and more.
“Here’s my card,” said Vince, as he handed his business contacts to Pieter.
What was Vince’s game? Was he trying to prove to Pieter that he was a legitimate character, or did he have something to hide?
Eventually, with a beer glass in his hand, Pieter could not hold back.
“Vince, I have to ask you about Ace Mabuza,” quipped the Lieutenant.
Vince kept his eyes firmly focused on Pieter, but the smile that had covered the businessman’s face seemed to drop to the floor with a clanging sound.
“So, Google is your friend, I take it?” replied Vince.
“It is alright, I also did some background checking on you before I called,” quipped Vince.
“So, where is the black girl that you used to hang out with?”
Pieter gulped in some beer and nearly choked as it went down his windpipe. He was not expecting Vince to ask questions about Lindiwe.
Vince stood up from his seat and clapped Pieter on the back to free the air through the windpipe.
“Don’t choke it, it wasn’t that bad a question,” said the businessman.
Eventually, Pieter’s eyes stopped watering from the coughing and he was able to speak.
“Why are you asking about the girl?” he questioned.
Vince shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, just curious, Pieter. The world will struggle to believe that a sister disappeared into thin air at the Vosloo Grill.”
“That is exactly what happened,” confirmed the Lieutenant.
Vince cleared his throat.
“So down to business, are you in or are you out?” asked Ace Mabuza’s mouthpiece.
Pieter took in a few peanuts from a plate on the table.
“How about you first tell me of the risk involved, and by risk, I mean what role does Ace Mabuza play in this,” said Pieter.
The response seemed to startle Vince. Very few people would question before agreeing to a R4 million job.
“Ace Mabuza is the mastermind behind the business pitch,” explained Vince.
“He has the ear of key decision-makers at Loxton Mines.”
Pieter kept his eyes firmly on Vince. As a well-trained cop, he knew when a person was telling the truth or not.
“Mabuza is key to this tender,” went on Vince.
“With Mabuza, we have a chance, without him, we can pack up and go home. Everybody in the business world knows Ace Mabuza.”
That was just the problem, thought Pieter. Ace seemed to be the king of bribes. Now was the time for the Lieutenant to ask a few pertinent questions.
“What other companies will be pitching for the work?” he asked.
Vince shook his head.
“I believe that there are two or so other small-time security firms in the mix, but they don’t stand a chance against us,” said Vince.
Pieter’s hearing caught on the ‘us’ word uttered by Vince. Was Vince so sure of himself that Pieter would be a part their tender preparations and presentation?
Vincent Khoza came across as that sort of guy. It seemed clear that in Vince’s mind, one had to think long and hard back to the last time that a person had said ‘no’ to Ace Mabuza.
“Look, Pieter, we can’t lose, especially with someone with your expertise on our team,” said Vince, again showing the smile of a champion.
“I certainly hope that you will take our offer and won’t go with any other consortium. Why back a loser when you can back a winner?”
The words dug deep in Pieter’s heart. Did Vince know more than he was letting on? Did he know about Pieter’s deal with Lucas Sithole?
“Are you one hundred percent sure that no other big-name role-players are pitching on the business?” asked Pieter, as he tried to lure some more information out of Vince.
Vince put down his drink on to the table between them.
“Why would you ask something like that?” questioned Ace Mabuza’s spokesperson.
“Well, it’s just that this is a huge business tender, and I would imagine that the world and his wife would be queuing up to pitch on it,” replied Pieter.
Vince sat back on his chair.
“Believe me, Pieter, Ace Mabuza does not lose tenders,” said Vince.
“He is a born winner. I think he is pitched on over eighty tenders in his life and won all of them. He knows how to win.”
I just bet he does, thought Pieter. So, if Ace Mabuza has won all those tenders through kickbacks to decision-makers, it means that the No 1 is a wealthy guy. Little wonder that he is happy to throw R4 million at a man that he has not even met, in the form of Pieter.
“Look, this is a done deal,” confirmed Vince.
“In two weeks from now, we will have a copy of our appointment letter and the work will begin. Here is the deal. We are so sure of the win that we are prepared to pay your deposit today. That is R400 000 straight to your bank account. You give me your banking details and our office will make the payment. It will be done before we leave this meeting.”
Wow, how efficient was Vince’s office. Life could not get any better.
Pieter threw in the curveball.
“What if by any chance this project gets called off?” he asked.
Vince fidgeted in his chair before answering.
“Look, whatever happens, we will not ask you for the R400 000 back,” said the shrewd Vince.
Pieter thought that he was going through a state of déjà vu. Lucas Sithole had applied the same principle and put R200 000 into Pieter’s bank account having promised not to expect it back if the job did not go their way. Now Vince was going to do the same with R400 000.
Vince picked up his beer glass and tapped it against the one held by Pieter.
“The ball is in your court, Pieter, but I can’t leave here without a principle answer of if you are with us or not,” said Vince.
“If it is no, then I understand, but then don’t believe that the world owes you a favour. You need to take the opportunities that are right in front of your nose like this one. We are honest people to work with as you can see, by our deposit offer.”
Pieter nearly choked on his beer again.
Did Vince just say that they were honest people? Did he think that the world did not know about Ace Mabuza’s way of winning contracts?
Pieter had to think fast. There was nothing to think about. R400 000 was a pretty large sum of money to turn down. He could not walk away from this R4 million deal.
The Lieutenant stretched out his hand and again felt the firm handshake of Vince.
Pieter had to accept the offer. What about Lucas Sithole and his R200 000 deposit? He would scheme that one out a bit later.
“Great to have you on our team, Pieter, now please give me your bank details so that I can honour my commitment,” grinned Vince.
Pieter reached for his wallet and read out his bank account details that were printed on his Capitec bank card.
Vince typed the bank details on to a text message on his phone and sent it off to his office.
Within five minutes, Pieter heard a bleeping sound on his mobile phone. Sure enough, a R400 000 deposit had been made into his account.
If only Vince knew what Pieter’s real motive was. Black people were going to die in great numbers at the Loxton Mine when the Lieutenant actioned his plan.
Pieter was still trying to find out why people like Lucas Sithole and Vince Khoza had so much faith in his abilities. Neither of the so-called gentlemen knew him too well, yet they were both prepared to pump large sums of money into his bank account.
“Pieter, I am taking it that you are a man of your word, please don’t double cross us,” said Vince in a tone that had changed from friendly to stern.
“This is a high stakes game that is being played here and some of my brothers will not take it too well if you sell us out to the opposition.”
Pieter began to sweat. He did not doubt Vince’s warning for a moment. The cop had never been this deep in business before. He felt like he was swimming against a strong current. Or maybe he was paddling in a canoe and going nowhere slowly.
Pieter nodded and stood up.
“I will get the bill here,” said Vince.
“I know you can afford it now, but this one is on me.”
Pieter grinned and shook Vince’s hand one last time.
“Once the deal is official, I will be in touch with you,” said Vince.
“Let’s make this project into a winner.”
Pieter agreed and left the golf club. His heart was thumping, and he was edgy all the way to his car, half-expecting to bump into Lucas Sithole along the way.
He always planned his life one step ahead of where he was today but right now, he didn’t know what to do next.
Should he call Lucas Sithole and return the R200 000 deposit? If he did that, Colonel Jaap Cornelius would probably never speak to him again. Then what about the prospect of him pulling out of the Lucas Sithole consortium and going with Ace Mabuza and Vince Khoza, only to find that Lucas wins?
Pieter put on his sunglasses and started the ignition of the car. He did not really need to wear sunglasses now as the sun was low, but he felt that he needed to hide from the world for a moment or two.
He now knew how the big rollers felt. He thought that being rich would allow him to sleep with ease at night, but clearly this was not the case. Pieter Erasmus may have had R600 000 of fresh cash in his bank account, but he was a troubled man.
Again, he needed that guardian angel to show him the way. He immediately turned off his mobile phone, not that he feared being traced but he had an instant fear of a third party calling him up to set up a meeting to pay money into his bank account.
Pieter tried to keep a grip on the steering wheel, but his hands were trembling. This had never happened to him before. He was always a man who knew exactly what decision to take next. However, this felt all different.
It was like someone upstairs was setting up to achieve his goal. Was God and the devil wrestling over the soul of Pieter Erasmus? It certainly felt that way.
As he made his way back through the heavy traffic to his flat in Pretoria, Pieter stared into the rear-view mirror of his car more than ever before. Perhaps he had watched too many action movies of car chases and assassinations?
Who would be the first to take a pot shot at him? The Lucas Sithole consortium? The Ace Mabuza group? Or how about one of his own cop colleagues who was jealous of his sudden wealth and rise in the business world?
Perhaps he should have taken his chances and the shots at Lillian Ngcoyi Square after all.
Would the sun still shine tomorrow for Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus?