the stone (part one)
By Baker Street
It was a fine, sunny day in Port Nolloth. The small seaside village on the north west coast of South Africa lay tranquil and serene under the hot sun and blue sky. Early in the morning the mist lay in a thick bank across the town, but now that the sun was up it had all evaporated, and the air was clear.
James was sitting on the porch of his old two bed roomed house, which was situated in the old residential area. From his porch he had a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean, even though his house was situated far from the shoreline. He sat and drank his coffee, and contemplated his circumstances.
When he was young he had joined the air force, and became a clerk. He had stayed in the air force for about twenty years, and had worked his way up to the rank of staff sergeant. He had always been in the clerical department of the HQ of his unit. After twenty years service the new dispensation had taken over, and he decided to take a package and leave the air force.
He had bought the small house in Port Nolloth with the money, and had settled down comfortably with his small pension. That was ten years ago in the mid-nineties, now his pension was virtually depleted, and he was in serious need of some money to survive another year or so. He pondered his options.
He had an old friend that lived in town that may be able to help him. The guy was called Freddy, and he was known to make his living doing small illegal dealings. James would approach him, and see what he could organize. That would be tomorrow, for now he just sat and looked over the sea and relaxed with his own thoughts.
It was going to be a lovely day, he could tell. He could tell by the crisp, clear morning air. The way the sun shone in the sky, while the wind lay still. The way the birds flew in air, and sang their full-breasted songs in the trees. Yes, it was going to be fine, sunny day.
Today he would just sit here and drink his coffee, and smoke his cigarettes. Tomorrow he would meet Freddy at the local pub. He hoped he was doing the right thing, as he was not a criminal. He didn't do drugs, and had never been in trouble with the law. He was just going to do a small job, just to make ends meet a while longer. Everything would work out fine, he reassured himself.
He sat and watched the tops of the white breakers out at sea. The sea was not rough today, but fairly calm. The dark blue waters spread out before him as far as he could see, to the distant horizon.
He switched on the radio and listened to the morning news of the local radio station. There were the usual reports concerning politics and crime. After the news bulletin, the weatherman came on and promised a fine and sunny day.
The swells of the mighty sea lay dark blue and white crested before him, as the waves broke on the beach.
The bar was in center of town. It was old, and was beginning to look dilapidated, James reflected to himself as he entered.
He went and sat in the bar at corner table, and waited for Freddy to arrive. He went and ordered a beer at the bar, and then returned with it to his seat. He was about half way through his first beer, when Freddy arrived. He greeted the barman and the other patrons, who were all regulars, and knew him well. Then he went over to where James sat in the corner.
"Howzit James, what's up? said Freddy.
"Not much, and you? said James.
"SOS, said Freddy " Same old shit. And they both laughed a bit.
"So what can I help you with? asked Freddy.
"I need to do a small job to make some money, I'm in dire need of some cash, explained James.
"How much do you need? Freddy asked.
"I need to make about ten or fifteen grand quick. My pension is almost finished, and I need the money to able to survive another year, said James.
Then Freddy lowered his voice a bit and said to James "I know a guy who deals in 'klippies', you know, stones, and he is always looking for guys to take them across the border for him. I'll give him a call and hear if he has anything to offer.
"Thanks, said James.
Thereafter they did not discuss the matter much, but played a game of darts, and had a few more beers. At about five in the afternoon the two men left the pub and went their separate ways, but they had arranged to meet there the following day.
James walked along the narrow tarred street slightly intoxicated, towards his little home. When he arrived home he recognized the familiar sight of his little light blue corrugated roof. He opened the front door, and walked along the little passage towards his bedroom. He lay down on top of his bed and relaxed a while, smoking a cigarette as he did so.
The next day he went down to the bar at the same time. He ordered a beer went and sat at the corner table, and waited for Freddy. True to form, Freddy arrived half way through his first beer. Freddy greeted everyone in the bar, and then came over to speak to him.
"Howzit, said Freddy.
"Fine, and you? said James. Then they resumed the discussion of the previous day in low voices.
"Could you find out anything? asked James.
"You're in luck, seems like the guy has something he wants taken over the border soon, and he needs someone to do it for him, said Freddy.
"O.k., what is it and when do we do it? asked James.
"I don't know the details, this guy, the seller, will finalize it with you, said Freddy and handed him a small slip of paper with a meeting place and time on it. James opened it and read it. The meeting with the seller was set for Tuesday twelve pm, two days from now, down at the parking lot of the beach.
"Thanks, said James and asked, "What is his name?
"The man's name is Hopkins, a rich farmer from up north, said Freddy.
Thereafter they did not discuss the matter again, but played a few games of darts, and drank a few beers. Then at about five in the afternoon they both went their separate ways again. James walked along the narrow streets towards his home.
Tuesday at twelve in the afternoon, James was waiting for the seller in the parking lot down at the beach. He was sitting on the hood of his old run down Nissan 1400 bakkie. There were a few other cars scattered throughout the parking lot. He felt a little nervous as he waited.
A large, new, white Mercedes Benz pulled up alongside him and a bald man climbed out of the car. He was late middle aged, short and stout. He wore and expensive suit, and equally expensive shoes. The man greeted him.
"Hello, are you James? the man asked him.
"Yes, you must be mister Hopkins, said James, and the two men shook hands.
"Fine day, said mister Hopkins, indicating out to sea.
"Yes, it is, said James
Then the old man got down to the business at hand.
"I hear you would be willing to take something across the border for me, said the old man.
"Yes, said James.
"Well, then this is the deal, said old man Hopkins, "You take a stone across for me to Walvisbay. Just one large, but very valuable stone. Her name is 'la senorita', and she is worth a lot of money. You take the stone to Walvisbay, and hand it to the buyers contact. They will give you no money, but will pay me by wire transfer. I will pay you your fee in cash, when you return.
"How much will you pay me for this, asked James.
"Twenty five thousand rand, said Hopkins "Is it a deal.
"Yes, said James, and the two men shook hands.
Then Hopkins handed him a piece of paper and said, "Here is the time and date of our next meeting. I will give you the stone then. It has to be in Walvisbay by the 15th of May, which is in about two weeks time. You must arrange your visa ad travel arrangements by then. That is all for now, until next time, said Hopkins and they shook hands again before he left.
As the white Mercedes pulled out of the parking lot, James stood by his bakkie and watched the sea and the people on the beach a while longer. He hoped he was doing the right thing, and that everything would go off smoothly.
Two young girls came running past him bouncing a large beach ball in front of them as they ran. They ran off towards their parents on the beach, shouting and laughing with delight.
While the two men were talking in the parking lot, they were being observed by two policemen from the gold and diamond branch. They were sitting in a metallic red Nissan sedan watching the men as they spoke. They took a few pictures.
The senior man was Inspector Papenfus. He was a short man with black curly hair. He bore a striking resemblance to a pug, and had a pugnacious attitude to go along with it. He had gotten into the police force, and was speedily promoted thereafter, all because his father was a general in the old apartheid police. It opened a lot of doors for him, and this is how he got the job in gold and diamond branch.
He was convinced of his indomitable toughness, even though he was only five and half feet tall. He was a match for any man, he constantly reassured himself, and acted out his fantasy as well. He used to strut up and down with a mean and cocky little attitude wherever he went. This was a sure sign of his manliness, he told himself. No one would ever dare to take on an inspector in the police physically, in any case, he smiled confidently to himself.
His partner was Sergeant Johannes Cornelius Germshuizen, or JC for short. Papenfus was JC's brother in law, and was married to one of his sisters. That is how the two of them came to work together. Papenfus's father helped organize JC a job when he came out of school. JC was a tall, fat man with blonde hair and blue eyes. He went along with everything that Papenfus said or did.
The two men sat and watched the meeting between James and Hopkins with interest. They took a few photos and found out who James was once they were back in the office. It was difficult keeping track of all the people that Hopkins met. And then sifting possible couriers for him, from harmless acquaintances. They opened a file on James and got his background information.
He seemed to be a hard working honest citizen who had taken an early pension. He had no criminal record, and was not known to associate with criminals. He was probably just a harmless acquaintance, Papenfus thought to himself as he put away the file in the cabinet.
No, he had to focus on the known runners like Freddy Marais. One of them was sure to take the next consignment of diamonds for the old man. He had to keep an eye on the known couriers, because he had a hunch that the next deal would be a large one. If he could nail Hopkins he was sure to get another promotion.
Still, he could not help wandering if the meeting between Hopkins and James was entirely innocent.
The meeting between Hopkins and James was set for Thursday at twelve noon, down at the docks. James worried about whether he was doing the right thing, what if he got caught.
He could not afford to go to jail. Maybe the police were watching them. Still, he needed the money, and he needed it badly. The way he saw it, he had little option but to go through with the deal. He just had to calm down and settle his nerves. Everything would go smoothly. Hopkins knew what he was doing; he had done it a hundred times before.
But he was still nervous. One could not help being nervous and paranoid when you thought about it. The risk was very high. Getting caught would mean several years in prison. It was not a place he wished to be. He would lose everything, even his little house. But he was determined that he would go through with it. He had to take the risk. He needed the money to survive.
He was contemplating all these thoughts, as he sat on his porch in the late afternoon. The light blue corrugated roofs of other houses dotted the landscape in front of him. Over towards the horizon, the Atlantic Ocean shimmered dark blue in the setting sun. The red sun cast brilliant hues of scarlet and crimson over the thinly scattered clouds as it set into the sea.
Every day the sun would go down in this glorious cascade of red and pink, as the day came to a close. And every day James would sit on his porch drinking tea, and watch the beautiful spectacle of nature. Then he would retire to his room, and his thoughts.
Thursday at twelve noon James was waiting in his faded blue bakkie down at the docks. He was nervous as hell, as he sat and waited for Hopkins to arrive. At quarter past the hour and old beetle drew up next to him, and he was surprised when old man Hopkins got out, still immaculately dressed.
The old fox had made sure that he was not being followed today. There were no police observing them during this meeting, of that he had made sure. The two men greeted each other and shook hands.
"Hello Mister Hopkins, said James.
"Hello James, is everything well, asked the old man.
"I'm fine thank you. Is everything set?
"Yes, here she is, said mister Hopkins as he handed James a small leather pouch.
"Do you know anything about diamonds? asked Hopkins.
"Not really, said James.
"Well, this diamond is a very special diamond. She is called 'la senorita', and is the finest specimen of her kind. She is also very large, as you will see when you look at her. She is still uncut, but still extremely beautiful. Do not let temptation get the better of you, said Hopkins and continued, "You must put the diamond in a safe and undetectable place in your car, and take it across the border, through the border post. After that you will take it to Walvisbay and give it to the buyers contact at the following place and time, he handed James another slip of paper with instructions and said, "The man's name is Jonathan Forbes. He will introduce himself to you, and you are to hand him the stone. Is all this understood?
"Yes, said James.
"Finally, here's two thousand rand for traveling expenses. Let me know when you get back, and I will arrange to pay you, said Hopkins as he handed James an envelope with money.
James took the money and said, "Thank you mister Hopkins, I will see you when I get back. Then the two men shook hands and parted company. First Hopkins drove away with the old battered beetle, and shortly after him James drove out of the dock area with his bakkie.
All through the entire transaction James had felt extremely nervous. And now he was more nervous than ever, now that he had the stone in his possession. He drove home quickly with the old car through the deserted town streets.
Inspector Papenfus and Sergeant JC were not present during the deal. They were busy staking out other possible suspects, among whom was Freddy Marais.
They had given no notice to the old beetle that had come out of Hopkins' garage earlier that day. They knew it belonged to Hopkins' son, and he was not a suspect at present. If they had taken a good look at the car, they would have seen that Hopkins himself was driving it today. When his Mercedes left the home late in the afternoon, it was driven by his wife, and they followed her to his offices in town. They were surprised to see mister Hopkins at work, when his wife picked him up.
The two policemen had no idea that exchange had already taken place; neither did they have any clue as to who the courier was. James lay as a unimportant, forgotten file at the bottom of one of their filing cabinets.
But back home James was still as nervous as all hell. He was paranoid and was almost convinced that the police were on to him. His fears were unfounded, but he did not know it. He kept on worrying about getting caught...