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The Duster

Copyright © Arno Le Roux 2017

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronically, electrostatic magnetic tape or mechanically; including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the author. Although this is a fictional work, both the locations, organisations and events are factual. The characters and times in the story line are fictional; therefore, all resemblances to actual people present or past are purely coincidental. Should you wish to contact the Author: [email protected]

All Rights Reserved.

THE DUSTER

Synopsis

Ever wonder about those unassuming vehicles as they drive between the peaceful sleepy suburbs and the airports? Ever wonder why they seem so much more purposeful at midnight or a while after? I’m sure there are a great many that would hate to miss a flight to a happy and well deserved holiday destination. But I listen attentively to an old Professor over bitter black coffee sometimes who says he doesn’t wonder about things that doesn’t concern him. He doesn’t sleep much he says, because he’d seen those seemingly unassuming vehicles pass, and above all… he’d seen some of them park at his office during the sleepy moments he doesn’t want to talk about too often. But let me tell you, he still makes the best lonely cup of coffee at night because of them…

Prologue

When the voters sleep a deep sleep, a wonderful forever sleep, Gregg is still awake looking, staring at his phone. He knows that the phone will ring. If not tonight maybe tomorrow, but it will ring. It always does.

At 9pm Tuesday on a rainy chilly Johannesburg evening, deserving of good old Indian curry and Gregg was home, slicing away patiently on two large fresh onions that he sautéed with ginger and garlic before he added a generous measure of cumin and star aniseed. “Shop Marsala, or my own cocktail from my mother’s recipe mixed with it?” He looked up from the fragrant pot that was fast filling his home with a mouthwatering aroma. He aimed the look from the stove towards the lounge area, awaiting an answer…

The previous morning.

“Are you up?” It was the second call for the morning and Gregg was already contemplating the hours ahead over a steamy cup of imported coffee while he was debating the strangeness of the first call. The voice was equally resolutely thankless as the one before, and he couldn’t wait to just once detect a measure of appreciation in it. The call was unwelcome and the request untimely and really framed how cold the world was.

“Does it matter, it’s 3am…”

“Good, our instructions are at the usual place. Oh, and dress warm. Cold front on its way.” The voice warned and abruptly hung up.

“That was a nice surprise, and nice talking to you too. Please send my regards to the guys at the office.” Gregg Padiachee carried on his sarcasm into the mute mobile phone. “Better get dressed then don’t I?” He carried on the conversation with himself. After an icy shower, to push him properly out slumber land’s door and onto the creepy streets of his world, he carelessly wrapped a fresh towel around him and walked barefooted down the dark passage to his lounge. Having lit an incense stick after taking the lotus position he tried to cut himself off from his surroundings and exhaled as he closed his eyes. As much as he needed to he couldn’t. No amount of his vital meditation or yoga was going to eradicate his thoughts. He looked back at the photo of Mark fooling around at a recent birthday party, having thought it apt to inhale from helium filled balloons and staged an unforgettably funny impression of Donald Trump. Gregg managed just the hint of a smile, rose to his feet while eyeing the memorable photo, and turned his head away as he walked over to the kitchen to boil the kettle. “Going to miss him…” Gregg said to himself and put his hands up to cover his eyes, almost signifying praying for forgiveness in advance.

Thirty minutes later he was spaying rainwater back onto the embankment and testing the limits of his Audi R8 as he swerved sharp right for a goods truck that in turn served out for a broken down vehicle in the far left lane. After bypassing the truck he aimed back into the much preferred middle lane to head east, away from the N3 highway past Eastgate towards Johannesburg International Airport. Gregg thought the accident he narrowly averted as symbolic of the mechanics of his career, having to constantly improvise for unanticipated obstacles.

“Nice to see you join us in person now and then Sir, not only sending business our way. Monday 05:25am return flight to Cape Town International, return flight Tuesday 01:10pm. Is that in order? Oh and here is a second ticket for a second passenger. You have a copy of the passenger details please?” The tall South African Airways ticket sales consultant remarked with a practiced smile. Gregg handed her a folded page and winked. “Yes, a different employee returning.” Smiling as he thanked her and made his way to the sleepy domestic boarding hall, having had a peek at his wristwatch.

At 10:10am in a stormy grey Cape Town, Gregg stared from the window which overlooked the rough fuming waves, mercilessly breaking onto the jagged rocks below. “Even the seagulls are hiding today” he thought but noticed a small persistent white bird, repeatedly dodging as it walked in between the billowing foam on the frozen beach, pecking at whatever had washed up. “Want to come work for me? We need guys like you… you’ll fit right in…” Rhetorically having a conversation with the far off wet bird. He looked back at his mobile phone and away again into the distance where the tiny lost but resilient bird braved the elements. Two pressing calls required his undivided attention. The financial call he felt deserved second place.

“Professor Vanesh Singh please…” A younger official sounding man answered Gregg’s call. “Prof will be with you momentarily, mind holding?”

“Of course, thank you.”

“Vanesh speaking?”

“Gregg here, how are you holding up Prof?”

“Hey Gregg, not too bad, then again… it’s only Monday, plus you’re calling…”

Gregg was positive that there was an uncertain tone in his old colleague’s creaky smoker’s voice.

“15mil’s, no more, and please, as discussed, I will be in touch. Oh, and keep him warm, he’s dear to me.”

“And the matter of compensation…?”

“With me.” And the call ended.

Gregg made a point of memorising important numbers and had no telephone numbers on his mobile phone. As he punched the numbers, almost instantaneously the rude voice on the other side answered.

“Is it done?” The rude voice on the other side needed to know.

“We don’t chit-chat and I’ve never let you down, why else would I call?” Gregg served the man a helping of his own bitter medicine.

“I’m arranging for payment, hang on.” It was as if the man on the other side was immune to verbal abuse and had a job to do and nothing else mattered. Payment had always been generous, and more to the point, it was immediate. “Ok it’s done. And by the way, you will have a briefcase I need, will meet at the airport.” Gregg had already made careful alternative arrangements. “Actually, I’m at the Groote Schuur hospital for a meeting. Will meet you there.” For a refreshing change Gregg was the unceremonious one who ended the call before any resistance could be offered about the already arranged venue.

Gregg could never know precisely how high up the ladder these requests that really came across as orders, had their origin. Never before would he needed to know, and probably never in future. And to be frank, it never mattered before. But this time was different… Attempting to find the little wet creature in the dim light, he scanned the rocky beach up and down. He tried quantifying his role in society and placed it on an imaginary scale of ethics. “Can’t be done.” He said to himself. To “wipe up” after intelligence botched up what was supposed to be a well-rehearsed suicide plot, was Gregg’s world. It was protocol to make a call to Gregg, and he was thankful that “his” weren’t the shoes on the red carpet now. Having made the call, the caller had to have run out of some very unpleasant options before his services were, as a last resort employed. Doctor Gregg Padiachee hurriedly walked down the thickly carpeted hotel stairs, thinking back to his early days at Indian Intelligence.

“I’ll have the file now, thank you Jason, come you can go and enjoy your holiday. While you’re meeting him, hand that briefcase in at the Cape Town offices. Good luck and travel safe.” The supervisor looked at the thick ream of paper, stamped the top page and closed the file.” When Jason left the building his supervisor looked down from the 13th floor to ensure Jason got into his car and the rear lights disappeared into the dark distance. He hurried over to the shredder and pulled Jason’s chair closer. Page after page was swallowed by the gluttonous machine until it finally dined on the thick cardboard cover of the file. The supervisor watched anxiously as the bold letters “The Duster” vanished into the hungry monster.

In Cape Town Gregg instinctively paused and looked down at the rugged black leather briefcase, lit well by the overhead ornate lights. In his mind he replayed his last deliberate and meticulous behavior. Behavior is what it became after eleven years freelancing for whoever pays, he thought.

“Wiped the kitchen counter, washed the dishes, closed the curtains properly, tied the guest’s shoes, zipped him up, tied his belt, loosened his tie and unbuttoned the very top two buttons of his shirt, slumped him sideways over the bed, left his heart pills on the bed…” those were his last careful movements before he closed the guest’s hotel room door, ending his visit by wiping the door handle down and made his way to the staircase. Downstairs in reception he walked passed a nervous, twenty something clean shaven man in a navy blue Giorgio Armani suit and wondered if maybe this had been the escort he booked for the business man from Cape Town. Gregg’s voice was unmistakably English when he made the tactical phone call and he recalled asking specifically for a red head. He could see up close as he passed the young man that he missed a spot near his temple where the hair dye didn’t quite take and seemed a bit too light. “Terrible this world we live in, to dye your hair in a flurry not to lose out on a deal that your opposition may scoop up.” Gregg thought and looked back at the young man. The man’s shoes were brand new and Gregg noticed that he was still walking them in. The man briefly paused, adjusted his heel, slipped it back into the shoe and carried on with his uncomfortable walk to the elevator where he waited. Waiting for the elevator, he curiously peeked around, then focused seemingly in awe of the cheerfully decorative flowers balancing in a vase on an elegant tapering glass stand next to the elevator. After smelling them, he looked around and pulled a white carnation from the neat display, broke off the stem, and tucked the fresh flower into the lapel hole of his jacket near the top and stepped into the opening elevator. “Who am I to judge?” Ray thought and left to the basement to his waiting transport…”

All set?” The driver of a black Mercedes-Benz SUV politely enquired through the open driver’s side window as he habitually released the boot from inside. Gregg winked and closed the boot after he placed his briefcase inside, keeping his hand in a fist. “Don’t you miss South Africa Doc?” The driver asked. “I was actually thinking of coming home, but then Mark, where exactly is home for us. India, China, England..?” “True that Doc. True.” The driver had a distinctively distinguished English accent. It was common for the company’s staff to practice refining their speech in each other’s company as often as working environments allowed. “Your ticket to Johannesburg for Tuesday and here’s one for India again in two weeks.” “Thank you Mark, but how do you mean “again”, I haven’t been to India in… My apologies Mark, I forgot…” Gregg had to think about that Mark was unknowingly out the loop since the day before. He couldn’t just do it at first. But it’s been two weeks that he knew about Mark joining National Intelligence and leaving CUMIN Travels. Doctor Gregg Padiachee was sad that he had to let Mark go as they became quite close working at least four contracts a month on a quiet one. Some of the recent business was from South Africa, procured by Mark and eventually vetted by London first. Mark felt a sudden hellish stinging sensation in his neck behind his ear and looked up bewildered at Doctor Ray Padiachee, his mentor, as Mark’s vision started blurring and he fell forward hard towards the steering wheel. In the nick of time Gregg’s hand shot out and blocked Mark from injuring his head on the steering wheel. “But Doc…!?” Were Marks last slow and anguishing words, seemingly ending a great relationship based on keeping the secrets of political and economic decision makers. “I’m sorry my friend, I really am.” Ray whispered in his true and normal, unmistakably seldom used Bangladeshi accent. “There’s been a problem.” “What!?” “No the job is done, a male escort is discovering the CEO of Blue Horizon Cellular’s untimely demise due to his plaguing heart condition as we speak. It’s Mark…” “I’m sorry for your loss Doc, I know you were close. I’m sending someone. Would you need alternative transport?” Stacey was warm and empathic and being Gregg’s right hand she also knew it was a decision that had to be taken. When she needed to be, she could be and as cold and remorseless as a Swiss avalanche crushing a baby pine tree. And that’s why she was stolen from the Israeli military. “Ruth” at home and around her loving husband and dear four year old daughter and friends over weekends, and proficient “Stacey” at the “travel agency front” which Gregg headed since he left India. Actually yes, from the Mount Nelson to the airport please Stacey” “Done while we’re on the phone already Doc, and I’m letting his family know the minute we get the call from hotel security. I’m guessing that you..?” “Very perceptive, thank you, and no, let me speak to them, thank you Stacey. Have a good day Stacey.” “And you Doc. Travel safe.” Both ended the call. Ray opened the boot, removed the briefcase, had his stethoscope removed and timed Mark’s pulse. Satisfied, he called the emergency services to report that one of his staff suffered what seemed to be a heart attack. “Serious? Second one this morning, we’re dispatching a unit. Is the person unconscious? Is he breathing? “A clearly surprised call operator needed to know. “No, he’s lying back, I adjusted the driver’s seat and unclipped the safety belt. He’s breathing very raced but shallow, please rush!” “Please don’t move the patient, our unit is almost there, you say you’re on the back side of the hotel?” “Ok thank you, I won’t move him anymore, and thank you. Please rush!” Gregg let Mark lay back and undone his safety belt. “I really am so sorry.” He said for a last time while feeling and timing Mark’s pulse slow down to forty beats per minute. Ray looked up over the bonnet from where he was sitting next to Mark as he heard the Paramedic response car revving as it geared down to take the turn after it swerved out for a pedestrian. After placing his stethoscope back he closed and locked his briefcase and waited. Satisfied that the Medics would do what they were trained for; checking for airway obstructions, pulse, asking whether he’s on any medication, known allergies, etc. Gregg’s cocktail would have had time and slowed his heart rate down and attached itself to the internal walls of Mark’s arteries, not showing up on the normal post-autopsy blood screening. It would be an obvious choice that his enlarged heart, due to years of steroids, needed a resting place. “At least he went to the other side in the company of a good friend who cared” or so Gregg thought. Bit that would have been cold and heartless and be exactly what was expected of Doctor Gregg Padiachee. “But today is different…” He patted Mark on the shoulder and rose to his feet from where he sat. Stepping back a few steps, he allowed the medical staff unhindered space to work while he patiently watched his art coming to life. “So to speak.” He thought and forced not to show his hint of a smile. Both paramedics worked long and hard to get their patients’ heart rate up, but ten minute later, having opened a variety of ampules and thin plastic tubes and swabs over and around their patient, the exhausted men in bright overhauls, shook their heads and looked up at Gregg and witnessed the normal shocked behavior, fitting of the circumstances.

Gregg, being the ultimate time keeper, estimated he had twenty minutes to sacrifice before his next call and hurried around the back of the hotel and found a set of steep cement stairs leading down to the icy rocky beach. As he reached the bottom he pulled his shoes off and stuck his socks into them, leaving them on the last step. Five freezing minutes later he was still jogging while scanning the stormy beach for the bird he saw earlier. A commotion behind him pulled his attention. The tired bird was putting up a fight, trying to escape a crow’s nest of fishing line and sea weed that it got entangled in. Gregg rushed over the deep soaked sand and pulled his pocket knife from his pocket. “It’s ok tiny creature, here…” And he cut the tough plastic line away from the frantically wriggling bird. The bird hopped off and ran for the nearest clump of sea debris that had just washed up. The bird paused as if looking in Gregg’s direction, seemingly satisfied and carried on pecking into and around the sea weed. Gregg smiled “It’s a pleasure.” And turned towards where he left his shoes as he swapped his pocket knife for his mobile phone and dialed.

The following morning had been wrapped in the routine chaos the old pathologist had grown accustomed to over many years.

“What do you mean the file is missing!? Nothing goes missing here!!” The apparently surprised pathologist looked up from his work towards the doorway and put the blooded scalpel on the chest of a recent addition to his unsettling morning. He frowned and shook his head. “Fuck…!!” He aimed his irritation towards where a pale staff member was holding the door open. “Find it, I have a meeting at Groote Schuur hospital on an hour. Don’t phone me unless it’s important or if you found the file… And you will find it!!” The perplexed staff at the hospital mortuary still stood swearing and waving their arms wildly as blaming continued. Outside, the irate pathologist was fast aiming his vehicle past the administration block’s window to the exit gate and made his way to Milnerton.

"You're putting me in a precarious position Gregg" The old pathologist frowned as he got out and opened the boot. "A little help old friend, please?" Gregg pulled the hospital trolley closer and the reluctant pathologist held onto the trolley, preventing it moving away as Gregg battled but pulled the body from the gaping boot, which he continued covering carefully with a double folded camping silver space blanket, then took it under its arms, loading the trolley. "You don't mind, I paid twice the amount for the effort, I realise you went out of your way this time. Here." Gregg handed the old pathologist a brown paper bag displaying the hospital's logo. "What were you doing at my hospital, or shall I rather not ask?" Gregg responded only by pointing to the paper bag. "If you're going to count, you'd better start" and turned around with the loaded trolley and pushed it into the derelict old warehouse. "Ok, talk again..." The pathologist replied after peering inquisitively into his reward and left the industrial area. "What!! The body is also gone, what the hell...?? I'm turning back. I'll be there in a few." At the hospital, mortuary staff was going through the security video footage up to the previous night when recording unexplainably stopped. Outside hung loose electrical wires where a mounted camera had been. It was seemingly violently pulled from the top of the high wall.

“D… Doc…? What the h…, where am I… Oh my G… this headache… it’s…” A disorientated man held his head hoping it would relieve the tremendous pain he was experiencing and tried to focus on Gregg and his unfamiliar surroundings. “It’s ok, here, take it slow young man. It will be another hour or so before your headache is at least bearable. Don’t be too active with your arm. That’s the only place we could find a vein.” Gregg was at his side pushing a second pillow behind his back and adjusted the milky looking liquid in the transparent bag hanging from a metal coat hanger. “You don’t have to stress, it should be hazy but your memory will take at least a day to fully return. What’s the last you remember?” A perplexed man, occupying the realm of immense pain, stared in disbelief up from the hospital bed at Gregg and scanned the gritty interior of the dilapidated warehouse for any clues to make sense of his new reality. “Your voice, it’s familiar..?” The man managed, still clutching his head as he closed his eyes again. “Oh I bet it is” and Gregg laughed” “What’s so funny?” The man opened one eye, trying to figure out where they have met and closed his eye again. “Right about now you’re wondering if we met before and how you got here, right?” Gregg paused and sat on the far corner of the bed. “Yes… please is there anything for this headache” The man begged. Gregg for the moment, ignored the man’s earnest plight. “Not sure how much you will absorb now, but allow me to continue anyway. I have a flight to catch in a few hours so I’ll be out of your life if you wish. But I guess we are going to become very close in future. “What gives you that idea?” The man lay back still holding his head. “You see my new friend; you and I operate in a world where information and misinformation are mixed with deceit and greed…” Gregg continued. “You don’t mind, but you know nothing about me and I doubt that we’ve met.” The man let go of his temples he’d been rubbing to relieve the pain and felt for something to grab andpull himself up from. “Good, I see my cocktail is working. Let me help you to sit up. So, where was I? Oh yes, the nasty world I was referring to. I get calls, then I fetch packages, thereafter I formulate strategies to save the backsides of people who are trained to make problems go away. The world outside this warehouse refers to my services as leveling the political playing field. Then I get paid and disappear till I get a call again. And so life continues out there thanks to individuals like you and like me.” Gregg was curiously eyeing the man’s reaction. “Oh… G… another conspiracy theorist…” The man hinted a small measure of a smile he was attempting to hide. “And you my friend are one of the people, like me, who never stop for a brief moment to ask who we are working for. Calmly driving on William Nichol Drive, giving change to the beggar at the traffic light and off to work you go. Continuously and deliberately scanning your rear view mirror as you were trained, never leaving home at the exact same time and always taking a different route to work. Then you’ll get, which by now you view as purely routine assignments, and make a call and follow up and hand the file to your supervisor. By the way, you’re very rude on the phone if I may say? You don’t mind?” “What the F… who are you?” “Your office refers to the front company I own and operate as merely “D” section. Obviously I don’t need to refresh your memory what the “D” signifies? It’s better maybe to make it seem like I exist as part of you and your government, you know, for invoicing or rather the lack of. All those miles the politicians fly all over, and all those extravagant holidays booked by travel agencies. My idea by the way, all of it. Please you must stop me when your memory is catching up to my elaborate fictional spin on where you and fit into the gears of the big machine…?” Gregg saw he clearly had captured the man’s undivided attention as he sat up on the bed and already tried to form an escape strategy. “Of course the first duty of a prisoner is to escape, isn’t that what they taught you my new free friend?” “Free…?” The man had just discovered with shock that his ankles had been cuffed to the metal frame of the bottom end of the bed. “Oh relax my friend, the minute I’m done talking I’m unlocking that and I’m off. Here is a welcome present, a passport to my world if you want. You’ll find everything you need in this suitcase and here is a ticket to Johannesburg. What type of curry do you think I’d prepare for supper?” Gregg stood up from the corner of the bed and removed the keys to the cuffs from his pocket. “You have no idea that I will follow you out of here when you take those off.” The man was pointing to the bottom of the bed.” Please forgive me Jason, I’m forgetting the punchline. You see the cellular world is not what it seems. There is technology on its way that are cancer causing beyond belief and your poor luck was that inside your office file, you had a copy of a MIT researched report that your level of security clearance was… let’s say unfit for. When you became aware of the leaking of the report to the media by the CEO of Blue Horizon Cellular, you were the target too. The call I received before you called me was a confirmation that your demise was… how did your supervisor phrase it? Oh, it’s sad but it’s a GO. I had a burdensome business decision to make. “You did?” The uneasy man asked. “Oh Indeed. You see, an awaiting clarification on delicate information that left my sphere without my permission needed my attention.

Seems a valued member of my staff thought it lucrative to part with delicate information; such as my old clients, to the French. I was reluctant, believe me, but I had to let him go. He just recently left my employment for his higher purpose he set out to pursue. So it happens that I have a vacancy. Loads of travel, a choice between our Indian or English offices and off course you’d be driving me to appointments. Nothing complicated I assure you… Apart from, keeping your office duties to yourself. Here is a business card. Call Stacey, she’ll arrange a formal interview. She’ll also see that you have a place to stay while we get you settled in a comfortable furnished apartment. Your old employer will no doubt keep looking till your body comes up. I’m working on that with an old friend. I can’t have you roam the desolate beach of some obscure place looking over your shoulder and hiding every time waves of your past breaks near you…” Gregg made himself clear that he wasn’t the monster his file apparently proved he had been. “You actually would do that for me?” The man wasn’t sure if he was relieved that he was going to live to see the remainder of the day or that finally he could disappear into a deeper unknown world where at least one person seemed to display a sign of a heartbeat.

The End


The Duster

Ever wonder about those unassuming vehicles as they drive between the peaceful sleepy suburbs and the airports? Ever wonder why they seem so much more purposeful at midnight or a while after? I'm sure there are a great many that would hate to miss a flight to a happy and well deserved holiday destination. But I listen attentively to an old Professor over bitter black coffee sometimes who says he doesn't wonder about things that doesn't concern him. He doesn't sleep much he says, because he'd seen those seemingly unassuming vehicles pass, and above all… he'd seen some of them park at his office during the sleepy moments he doesn’t want to talk about too often. But let me tell you, he still makes the best lonely cup of coffee at night because of them...

  • ISBN: 9781370232628
  • Author: Arno Le Roux
  • Published: 2017-01-27 15:20:09
  • Words: 4816
The Duster The Duster