Chapter Twenty-Three – Pieter Keeps his Secret
The problem was that if he did not kill Mandela, someone else could do the evil task and steal the show one way or another. How could he look his police comrades in the eyes again if he sold them out and joined the New South Africa regime? Pieter was no closer to finding out the whereabouts of Nelson Mandela. He was sure that the ANC man was not on Robben Island, and all of his attempts to find out information from his police colleagues had brought no results.
Before he had left for the meeting with Albertina Buthelezi in Mamelodi West, he had tried to contact his mentor, Colonel Jaap Cornelius, but he too, seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth, or was simply keeping his distance from Pieter until the assassination of Mandela was completed.
Erasmus, what would a real assassin do in this situation?
When he failed to come up with answers to the question, he moved on to the next part but this time it was a solution rather than a question.
He had thought about the new trip a while back but it was now making more and more sense to him. He needed to visit the site near the Natal border where the laboratory had been where Albertina Buthelezi had worked. He had no plans of taking the old lady with, but Lindiwe would be a part of the trip for both professional and love reasons.
As the police vehicle neared Pretoria, Pieter noticed a roadblock up ahead. He eased the car towards the beacons that marked the area and stopped, before winding down the driver’s window.
“Luitenant (lieutenant),” said a young police officer who was on duty at the stop point.
He looked at the passenger in the back.
“Nog n mooilikheidmaaker (another troublemaker)?” said the youngster to Pieter.
The Lieutenant nodded.
“Ek vat haar hoofkantoor toe maar my brandstof in hierdie wa is lag, mag ek een van julle voortuie asseblief vat (I am taking her to headquarters but the fuel in this vehicle is low, may I please take one of your vehicles)?”
“Sekelik, vat daardie wit polisiewa (sure, take that white police vehicle),” said the policeman just behind the younger one.
Pieter transferred his ‘prisoner’ into the back of the white van, as well as their belongings before thanking his colleagues and heading off.
However, the Lieutenant had no plans of going to the police headquarters. He drove until he was well out of sight of the cops at the roadblock and then changed the direction of the vehicle.
Pieter prepared his mind for a 618 kilometre drive to Durban, before a good hour and a half of further travel to where the laboratory was thought to have been.
The Lieutenant always believed that he was one of the more committed and cleverer cops around. Nobody would have noticed his plan.
“Ja, dis Spioen hier, ja hulle is terug van Swaziland (yes it is Spy here, yes, they are back from Swaziland),” said the watcher of the pair.
“Hulle het motor verander by the padblokkade maar dit lyk my hulle is nie oppad hoofkantoor toe nie. Ek weet nie waar hulle nou gaan nie maar ek sal hull agtervolg, praat later (They changed vehicles at the roadblock but it looks like they are not on their way to the headquarters. I don’t know where they are headed but I will follow, chat later).”
Being back in the heart of the land of apartheid, Pieter could not take the chance of bringing Lindiwe out of the back of the police vehicle and to the passenger seat in the front next to him.
“Pieter, don’t leave me in the back here!” screamed Lindiwe, as she bashed her fists against the caged window between the driver’s cab and the prisoner section of the vehicle.
“I can’t let you out now, Lindiwe; it is just too risky, try and catch some sleep until we get to the border.”
Border, what border, thought Lindiwe. Of course, Pieter was referring to the Natal border where the laboratory used to be but Lindiwe was not to know that.
In the driver’s seat, Pieter’s mind cast back to Jaap Cornelius. Why couldn’t he get hold of the Colonel? Surely his mentor who had supplied him with the pistol to assassinate Mandela, would not sell him out? Then again one never knows. Was the trap set and Pieter would be the fall guy?
Suddenly, the Lieutenant felt vulnerable. For the first time on the past two trips he began to check his rear view mirror to see if his vehicle was being followed.
Luckily, Die Swartgevaar was on top of his game and with the sun having dipped, Pieter could not see any sign of followers.
Pieter felt that his secret was eating the inner lining of his stomach.
As the police vehicle approached the Natal provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg (named after the Afrikaner Voortrekker leaders Piet Retief and Gert Maritz), the Lieutenant pulled the steering wheel to the left. There was simply no time for a few hours of sleep which he so desperately needed. The stakes were too high. What if someone else worked out the game plan or got to Mandela before he did?
“Where are we going?” said a frustrated Lindiwe, who had been awakened by the way that Pieter turned the steering wheel.
“Lindiwe, we have to get to the Natal border to check out the spot where the laboratory used to be,” said the cop.
“I just hope that we get there before the wrong people do.”
Erasmus, are you listening to yourself. You are the ‘wrong person’.
“Let me out of here, I feel like an animal in a cage!” shouted Lindiwe from the back of the vehicle.
That is exactly why the cage was put on to the police vehicles in South Africa. The aim was to make blacks who didn’t toe the line according to apartheid rule, to feel like animals when captured.
“Let’s get to the laboratory site first,” replied Pieter, who was also getting hungrier by the kilometre that he drove.
“What are we going to do when we get to the site?” asked Lindiwe through the cage window.
Pieter thought about the question for a moment as he didn’t actually know what to expect when they reached the place.
The laboratory was no longer functioning but he was sure that the building would still be standing. What would be inside the building was anyone’s guess.
“Let’s just get there, Lindiwe, and take it from there,” said Pieter, who was hoping that the site would give him a clue in one of two ways.
Either he would find something that would allow him to know the whereabouts of Mandela and give him more reason to execute the ANC man. Or he would be finally convinced to throw his weight behind the New South Africa and turn his back on his family beliefs and the apartheid regime.
Lindiwe lay on her back in the cage area of the police vehicle.
She too was tired and hungry. Different thoughts flowed through her mind. What was she expecting to find at the laboratory site where Albertina Buthelezi had once worked? Was the site safe to visit or were other supporters of the future or retainers or the present also on a mission to find the site?
Something made Lindiwe look out of the back caged window of the vehicle. The road was very quiet with only two of three cars behind the cop vehicle. Lindiwe did not suspect anything suspicious. She saw a white Toyota Corolla trailing their vehicle by six hundred or so metres. By now, all the cars on the road had their head lights on which pierced through the darkness outside.
How many people had been inside the laboratory since it closed down, wondered Lindiwe. Had any clues been removed? Were there any security officials on site which would stop Pieter and her from entering the area? What was the government hiding other than what she knew?
In the front of the vehicle, Pieter’s feet were numb. The cars in front of his were driving slowly which meant that his left foot spent much time alternating between the clutch and brake pedals. His right foot was hardly touching the accelerator pedal or at least that is how it felt to him.
Pieter knew that the laboratory had been closed down many years now so the area should be free of any radiation activity. He wondered if there was a graveyard nearby where many of those killing during the experiment were buried.
Again, he glanced at the rear view mirror of the car. He saw the white Toyota Corolla vehicle in the difference but like Lindiwe, did not suspect that they were being followed.
“Lindiwe!” shouted Pieter.
There was no response. The Mamelodi resident had drifted back to sleep. It was probably for the best, thought Pieter. Firstly, she needed to conserve energy, and secondly the less questions that she asked him the better.
A few rain drops began to fall on the windscreen of the police vehicle and eventually Pieter was forced to turn on the windscreen wipers so that he could have a clear vision of the road in front of him.
He worked out that they were now about ten kilometres from the laboratory site. There were no streetlights next to the road. It appeared that they were really out in the bush. The only sign of normality was the tar road that they were travelling on.
Suddenly a huge thought went through his mind. What if the laboratory was a security centre where Nelson Mandela was being held captive? Not many people knew about the laboratory and few would think of looking out here for Mandela?
Pieter slid his right hand to his right hip where his 9mm service pistol was sitting safely in its holster. He realised that he would need to be ready for anything when he and Lindiwe climbed out of the vehicle at the site.
The police vehicle went over a pothole and seemed to jump more than half a metre in the air. As it landed, the force awoke Lindiwe.
“Are we there yet?” she asked.
“Almost,” replied Pieter.
Again, he checked the rear view mirror. There were still three cars behind them, including that white Toyota Corolla. So what, he thought. Other people had as much a right to use the public roads as he did. He patted the pistol on his right hip. Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus was reading for anything.
He was a top pistol shooter in the police force and was the owner of a pretty solid right-hook if it came to a fight. His pain thresh-hold was always quite high. He had been in a few bar fights in his life and was still alive to tell the story. Sure, he had suffered a few broken ribs over the years, but he saw that as being a part of manhood and character building.
Suddenly, he noticed a light on a pole in the distance. It seemed to shine over an area where a security guard hut stood. The guard post was unmanned and the gate was no longer on its hinges but stood next to the gate house.
Pieter slowed the vehicle down and drove through the gateway. The vehicle travelled for a further three kilometres before the road reached an end. The policeman’s eye’s checked out the area. Everything seemed normal albeit in the dark.
He looked into the rear view mirror. There were no cars behind him anymore. All was good for now, but something told him that both he and Lindiwe were in for a long night or few days ahead.
They had arrived. Pieter’s secret was still eating away in his stomach. He hoped that whatever was going to happen would be carried out at great speed. He needed a solution to his life. Was he going to live out his days as a part of the Old South Africa or the New South Africa?
One last question remained. Where was Mandela?
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