Monday, March 26, 2018

The Abduction by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Christina du Plessis is spooked by an abduction in the nearby South African town of Waterfontein, and gets a little jumpy on her next trip to the mall; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Hans du Plessis had hardly arrived home after a frustrating morning spent in Waterfontein where he had gone to pay a parking fine when he was pounced upon by Christina, his wife. Taking one look at her agitated face, he knew she was on the brink of an hysterical outburst which would make heavy demands on him. Calling upon every ounce of patience he possessed, he asked calmly:

"What's upset you, my girl?"

"Hans, criminals are now targeting towns in farming areas like ours! A horrible incident in Waterfontein was broadcast on the local news station." Christina was in such a state she was hyperventilating. "In the parking area at the main shopping mall, when a woman opened her boot to offload her shopping, she was grabbed from behind and hurled into it. She was found traumatised some miles along the N1 to Johannesburg, dumped on the verge minus her handbag, the devil driving off in her new top-of-the-range Mercedes! Oh, Hans, I go to that mall. Is this how I will meet my end?" she wailed.

"No, angel," he said soothingly, knowing he was in for the long haul but hoping, nevertheless, to cut it short with his next comment. "You go there only rarely, in our old Audi, which will hold no interest for car thieves. And the woman is fine now, in the safety of her home."

"How can you be so sure? She may be permanently deranged." Christina was heading for a complete melt-down. "Audis are popular cars. Ours could be targeted for spare parts. I may be the next victim!"

"I'll make coffee and we'll discuss this rationally," Hans suppressed a sigh. "Come and sit down, Christina, and I'll tell you exactly why you have nothing to fear."

Which he did, for the next hour, unfortunately not being able to give her the most compelling reason; it would take a carjacker of great determination and superhuman strength to upend the grossly overweight Christina into the boot of even a low-slung car, never mind the high-off-the-ground hatchback they owned. Once he had managed to calm her down, Christina took to bed with a tranquilliser. Hans made straight for the drinks cabinet. Only a couple of stiff whiskeys would enable him to face the rest of the day!

The staff of the old age home in Prentburg had met their match with their latest "guest" as they called the residents. Malan Bester had been with them for two weeks before they faced the fact that his daughter, who had arranged his removal from her home into their facility, had not been entirely honest in her reasons for transferring him into their care. It was true, as she had told them, that he was somewhat absent-minded, but this was more because his thoughts were taken up with causing havoc to his care-givers than because he was "losing it", as she put it. She had clearly had enough of his nonsense and wasn't prepared to put up with any more. Malan was a handful simply because he found life boring and tried to find ways to entertain himself.

"For such a small man, he certainly makes his presence felt!" Matron declared with exasperation.

"Do you think it wise for us to include him in the outing to Waterfontein?" Sister Marchant asked. "He isn't inclined to do as he's told, as you know, and there will be only two of us shepherding the group. He needs to be watched every second of the time."

"We can hardly leave him here with the incapacitated," Matron pointed out. "He gets around amazing well with the aid of his walking stick. You are, after all, only taking a group of about a dozen to the ice-cream parlour at the mall for a milkshake, the drive there being the main attraction, a change of scenery for the old dears." Matron was, in fact, looking forward to having a break from the constant complaints of her staff about Malan's delinquent behaviour. "He will be in the minibus and the ice-cream parlour, nowhere else, so should pose no problem to you."

Sister Marchant bit back a retort to the effect that the group they were taking was closer to twenty than a dozen, and that the very existence of Malan was a problem; but Matron had 'that look', which meant protests were a waste of time. They would just have to bite the bullet and do their best to control him.

It was unfortunate that the outing took place on the very day Christina plucked up enough courage to venture to the Waterfontein mall six weeks after the traumatic experience of the Mercedes lady, who, fortunately, had made a full (and vengeful) recovery and was now harassing the police with her constant demands that they find the perpetrator and string him up by his privates.

Christina, a bundle of nerves, was on full alert as she parked the car as close to the centre as she could get, studying the terrain around her for suspicious lurkers before stepping from the car and, after locking it carefully, testing that the doors had indeed locked. With another look in all directions, she made her way to the nearest entrance preparatory to an enjoyable amble through the up-market clothing boutiques and an upgrade to her already overfull wardrobe. She was hoping to meet someone she knew who would join her for a cup of coffee and a slice of carrot cake before parting ways to return home.

The excursion did not live up to expectations as she was frustrated by finding very little she liked in her size (everything seemed to be made in the Far East for midgets!) and seeing only strange faces in the mall. Disconsolate, after an hour or two she made her way back to the car park.

Meanwhile the minibus from the Prentburg retirement home had disgorged its passengers who had been herded towards the ice-cream parlour by Sister Marchant and her young helper, both keeping an eye on Malan to make sure he remained in the group. The grumpy old man made his displeasure known to anyone who would listen.

"This is supposed to be a treat? Taking us a long way in that broken down apology for a bus; my backside is completely numb!" A pity it wasn't his mouth, Sister Marchant thought uncharitably, urging her charges into the parlour. "Decide what flavour milkshake you want before the waitress comes to take our order," she commanded, knowing from past experience what a protracted business it could be with indecisive, dithery oldies.

Malan glared at those around him and decided it was time to make an escape. He wanted a beer, not a milkshake. That was a kid's drink! He knew it would be a waste of time suggesting a change of venue, so he waited until Sister Marchant's attention was on someone else and told her nervous, inexperienced helper that he needed a pee. Before she could react, he disappeared back into the mall and took off at great pace with the aid of his walking stick, searching for a bar. No such luck, but near one of the exits he found a bottle-store, rooted around in his pockets and unearthed enough to buy a six-pack and a bottle opener. He would never insult a good beer by drinking it out of a can! By now, he reckoned, even allowing for the slow "flow" of old age, he should have been back in the group and any minute someone would come looking for him. Time to disappear, and the best place would be outside among the cars where he could hide while he drank some of his booty.

Unfortunately for Malan, he chose to hide behind Christina's Audi. He tore open the six-pack, removed one of the beers, opened it and went round the side of the car to place the rest in the shade next to the right rear wheel. It was at this precise moment that Christina walked round from the left and opened her boot to deposit her meagre purchases, nearly dying of fright when Malan appeared next to her clutching a beer in one hand and his walking stick in the other. Adrenalin surged through her and, acting instinctively, she plucked him up, threw him into the boot and slammed the overhead door closed. It was only after she had taken off, burning rubber, and was once again in the town's main road that she calmed down enough to begin to think. She should take the felon to a police station but did not know where to find one in Waterfontein. She would drive back to Prentburg and hand him over to Sergeant Mostert at the local nick where he would be locked up and charged. Having come to that conclusion, Christina slowed down to a safer speed, noticing in alarm that her prisoner was not coming quietly. He was yelling and banging away in the boot loudly enough to wake the dead. She had three traffic lights to negotiate before reaching the highway off-ramp and would attract a lot of the wrong kind of attention if she didn't think of something. Oh, to be a Muslim woman wearing a burka to hide behind!

The 'something' she resorted two was two-fold. She found Hans' fishing hat beneath the driver's seat and jammed it onto her head. It was one her brother-in-law had brought back from Australia as a novelty gift for Hans, with corks attached on strings all the way round the brim to keep midges away. This, together with her dark glasses, would hide her face. Her second measure was to switch on the radio. Normally she played CDs of her favourite opera arias, but luckily chanced upon a programme of African music with pounding drums and women ululating at the top of their voices. She turned up the volume and the din her prisoner was making blended very well with the general level of sound. Christina opened all four windows to allow the 'racket', as she thought of it, to surround the car. When she was stopped by traffic lights she certainly drew the attention of pedestrians and drivers all around her, but by staring straight ahead and bobbing her head in time to the raucous drumming, setting the corks jiggling in all directions, her features were obscured.

Once back on the highway to Prentburg, feeling more in control, she began to think about the man in the boot. Before slamming the door closed she had a dim recollection of seeing wispy white hair and a walking stick. A clever disguise, she told herself quickly, but there had been a musty old-age smell about him mixed with that of beer from the bottle in his hand that splashed all over him when she... helped him into the boot. Christina began to feel very cold and started shivering. Did a car thief drink while stealing a car? Also, she recalled that for the short time he was in her arms before being upended into the boot, he had felt as light and brittle as a bundle of twigs. By the time she reached Prentburg she had changed her mind about driving straight to the police station and made for home instead. Hans would know what to do.

Hans had spent the morning happily pottering around the garden enjoying the peace and tranquillity that reigned when his wife was not there, after which he leaned back in his recliner and dozed off. He awoke with a start to a series of noises, only some of which he could identify, such as the garage door grinding to a close, its worn electronics labouring to do the task. It took him a moment or two to realise that the cacophony of sound emanating from the garage, magnified in the confined space, was the radio blasting forth indigenous music at full volume, with women's voices keening shrilly above droning bass voices and drumming. What on earth was going on?

He was still trying to adjust the recliner to a sitting position when Christina burst into the room like a tornado, eyes wild behind the bobbing corks of his... fishing hat? While he was staring at her, mouth agape, she spluttered fearfully: "Hans, I've got a man in the boot of the car. He was making a lot of noise but now he's gone quiet. Do you suppose he suffocated?"

Galvanised into action, he beat her to the garage, switched on the garage light while yelling at her to turn the car radio off, and opened the boot. Christina joined him at the rear of the car and the pair stared at the little old man lying on his side, blinking furiously in the sudden light. He struggled up onto one elbow and peered into the horrified face of Hans, before transferring his gaze to Christina, still in disguise, dark glasses perched crookedly on the end of her nose. Turning back to Hans, he asked in a quavering voice, nodding his head in Christina's direction, "Man, woman, or beast?"

Christina made a strangled sound and rushed back into the house. Good question, thought Hans, as he gently lifted Malan out of the boot, the old man insisting, "And my walking stick. I might need it to fend off the Creature from the Black Lagoon! My beers too," grumbling about the one that had been spilt when he was unceremoniously bundled into the boot.

"I can do better than beer," Hans said, placing him carefully on his feet and supporting him while he stretched his stiff joints. "I have a twenty-year-old KWV brandy waiting to be opened."

"Let's go," Malan bid, hobbling towards the door into the house, then hesitated. "Where's the crazy woman in the fancy hat; you married to her?"

"I am," Hans replied, leading the way into the house, "but she'll be in the bedroom, no further trouble to you." He helped Malan into a comfortable seat in the lounge. "Man, I can't apologise enough about this. She's had a scare lately, and, well, I'm really, really sorry!" he ended lamely, as he splashed a generous amount of brandy into a snifter and handed it to the frail old man.

"Not nearly as sorry as I am for you," Malan retorted. "I'll be in big trouble with Sister Marchant for running off, but it will pass. You're stuck with Looney Tunes for ever!"

Hans latched onto the first part of Malan's comment.

"Sister Marchant from the old people's home in Prentburg?"

"That's the one. We went on an outing to Waterfontein. They'll be searching for me, you know, so you'd better get me back to that mall in one hell of a hurry. Where am I, anyway?"

"You're back in Prentburg," Hans admitted, seeing no point in trying to hide the fact. "We'd better get you to the retirement home."

"Not before I've had a pee and another 'dop'," Malan said firmly, holding out his glass for a refill.

Hans was wrong in assuming that Christina would stay closeted in their bedroom until things had been sorted out. She had phoned her best friend, Hilda van Dyk, sobbing uncontrollably. Hilda said that she and her husband Klause would be there within minutes. Christina did not like Klause, nor he her, but both put up with the other for Hilda's sake, so Christina tried to sound grateful before going in search of Hans to tell him that help was on the way.

"Are you crazy?" he asked in alarm.

"She is!" Malan, well on the way to becoming tipsy, affirmed. "Need you ask?" Christina had pulled the fishing hat back onto her head before coming to the living room but had forgotten to don her sunglasses. She bent on Malan her most venomous glare. He met it with one of defiance. "You're in big trouble," he told her, "kidnapping a helpless old man."

Christina was taken aback. She quickly jammed her sunglasses back into place. "I need to speak to you privately," she told Hans. "Now!"

She dragged him into the alcove of the bay window, hissing, "You'll need Klause to get this creature home, wherever it is. We can't take him in our car, he'll describe it to the police and they'll trace it back to us!"

"He'd already seen it, Christina, before you shoved him in the boot, and what about Klause's car? You don't see a problem there?"

"No, because there are dozens of similar models of that common make on the road and even if he gave them a clear description, Klause was not the one to, er, mistakenly... transport him here. Also, that boozy old man didn't see much of our car and the only thing he's likely to remember is that it's white. We'll concoct a story about my finding him at the mall and out of kindness, bringing him home. You and Klause can take him back to wherever he lives."

"We're telling Hilda and Klause exactly what happened," Hans informed her sternly, "and they can decide whether they still want to be involved."

"They will," she said tremulously, not at all certain about it.

Hilda was, surprisingly, the one with reservations once she saw Christina in her weird get-up and heard what she had done, but Klause, something of a maverick, was all for it. Malan had by that time nodded off to sleep in the big arm-chair and was snoring gently, unaware of their arrival.

"For heaven's sake, Christina, get rid of the hat and glasses, you look absurd," Hans told her impatiently, "the man's asleep!"

"I can't have him recognise me," she protested, appalled to hear that he was from their dorp. "Prentburg's a small place and we church sisters are very involved with the old age home. In fact," she wailed, "I'm on duty there next week when there's a show of residents' work for visitors."

"What kind of work?" asked Klause, astonished.

"Knitting, crocheting, embroidery, even art," Hilda replied, also being one of the involved church sisters. "Some of it's quite good, really." Klause looked sceptical, "I wouldn't fancy wearing a jersey knitted by a short-sighed old bat; it'd probably be bottle-green and full of holes through dropped stitches!"

Hilda tut-tutted, hiding a smile.

"We must get him back without further delay," Hans fretted. "He needs to be checked by a doctor after being confined in the boot, poor old fellow."

"We can't take him back drunk," Christina argued. "Let's work on a plausible story while he sleeps off the worst of it. He's fine, anyway; he's so small he had plenty of space to move around in."

"We will not lie, Christina," Hans warned, thoroughly put out that she had landed them in such a mess, a real nightmare by anyone's standards.

"No lies, but we'll bend the truth a little," Klause chortled. "It shouldn't be difficult to get him back without too much fuss," He was thoroughly enjoying the situation, which annoyed Hans even more.

"If it's so easy, you can do the explaining when we get there."

"Just leave it to me," Klause agreed breezily.

After a day or two, things more or less settled back to normal in the retirement home. Matron asked some difficult questions when Hans and Klause arrived with Malan, sober but jumpy because of the amount of caffeine in his blood-stream from the many cups of coffee he'd been persuaded to down. Faced with Matron's annoyance and Sister Marchant's thunderous face, he had resorted to sulky silence and was taken off to the frail care medical centre to be examined.

Klause was very convincing in his tale of Christina finding the confused old man in the car park at the mall and after trying to find who he belonged to, giving up the search and taking him home, learning on the way that he was a resident in their very own home for the aged; what a blessed coincidence! Matron gave him a glacial stare and asked why Christina had not immediately phoned to inform them that Malan had been found. Undeterred by her cheerless fa├žade, without so much as a blink Klause said she had unfortunately left her cell phone at home and had thought it wise to give the old man some sustenance before dropping him off at the retirement home.

"Sustenance?" Matron snorted after the two men had left. "I smelt alcohol on his breath, masked by the coffee Mevrou later saw fit to give him. That woman is an enigma, one I fail to understand."

"She is rather eccentric," Sister Marchant agreed, "and how could she not have come across any of us searching frantically for him at the mall? We even had management staff hunting for him!"

"Carrying all that excess weight she probably didn't try very hard," Matron said. "It probably seemed less trouble to bring him to Prentburg, where no doubt she would have handed him in at the police station like lost property if he hadn't mentioned he was from here!"

The next day, feeling much more chirpy, Malan was full of the horrible experience he had lived through, going into great detail to his entranced audience at the breakfast table. Word soon spread and reached Matron's ears. She said nothing, knowing that Malan was prone to exaggeration. However, when later that week Christina arrived to help display the residents' handwork on the trestle tables in the entrance hall, she looked at her thoughtfully. Just then Malan wandered in from the garden and, walking past Christina, suddenly stopped in his tracks, stared at her and bellowed:

"That's the fiend who kidnapped me! I'd recognise that sickening perfume anywhere; I could even smell it in the car boot." Christina stood with sagging jaw as he looked down at her hands with their pink, varnished nails, adding, "and those are the piggy hands that grabbed me and threw me in!"

He sounded so convincing and Christina looked so rattled, almost afraid, that Matron wondered if Malan could possibly be telling the truth and was about to enquire further into his story when he added, aggrieved: "She wore a silly fishing hat and had the radio turned up full blast playing Zulu music with shrieking women. It was murder, I tell you! I had my hands over my ears all the way back to Prentburg."

That dispelled any doubts Matron may have had. "You're a wicked old man saying such things! Mevrou Du Plessis is always impeccably dressed and is an opry singer; she only listens to heavy classical music." (She should know. Christina had once given music appreciation classes to a group of hastily gathered unsuspecting oldies at the home. By the third session they were in open revolt and refused to attend.)

Christina's jaw snapped shut. An 'opry' singer indeed! What could you expect from the uncultured classes? She did not try to hide her indignation, which Matron mistook for offence at Malan's accusation.

"Apologies, Mevrou. Malan Bester has yet to adapt to our ways, which he will surely do."

She did not need to add 'if he knows what's good for him.'

Malan gave her a cheeky grin. Whatever the future held, he had lived through an adventure second to none and was not done with the telling of it. All the same, for the time being at any rate, he would not stir the pot even if it meant that Big Mama got away with snatching him. Someday he'd find a way to get even! He had liked her poor sap of a husband; a compassionate man of excellent taste when it came to brandy, but egregious taste when it came to women!

6 comments:

  1. excellent Beryl! the story deftly told and the many twists and turns skillfully incorporated.
    Mike McC

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  2. This is one of my favourite Prentburg stories - I loved the humour, the pace and the characterisations. A real celebration of rebel 'oldies'. Many thanks, Beryl,
    Best wishes,
    Ceinwen

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  3. What a riot! Well played, well set up, and how hilarious when the pieces all start to fall together. I sense that there may be more misadventures between Christina and the mischievous Malan! Just a fun read, Beryl - well done!

    Jim

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  4. A very good story. Only one negative: some of the dialogue seems a little bookish and needs to be more colloquial.

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  5. This story provides quite a ride...for the reader as well as Malan! Christina’s an unsympathetic character, but the story is nevertheless an enjoyable read.

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  6. Hi Mike, Ceinwen, Jim, Bruce and Dave,
    Thank you for reading my story and for your comments which are much appreciated; all valuable, and which will be borne in mind when I'm writing another!
    With best wishes to all of you,
    Beryl.

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