Excerpt for Wet by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

WET

- by Wolf Scherman



Copyright © All Rights Reserved

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, some 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.

"The connoisseur does not drink wine, but tastes of its secrets" – Salvador Dali

Synopsis



It's Paradise... Our soul's nostalgic urge to pause a lazy summer Sunday's orange brush at dusk, aided by a waiting Cabernet. As would be a fit pairing with maybe succulent but humble lamb, for some, and that would do. But for Ariel, a bottomless glass of sweetly labelled, matured revengeful Pinot Noir, was right on the nose... And a recent harvest, even better.

Prologue



Scrawny little Ariel eventually came second as she duelled gravity and dropped to her knees, and with her small hands clutching her stomach, she surrendered and drowned in the stinging hope that she kept sufficient pressure on her gaping wound. Momentarily oblivious to what would normally be mind-altering pain, and surrendering wholly to the remaining warmth of the final seconds of sun rays, dyed in its awesome reddish-orange, she wished time on hold... Her pale face stared uphill as she attempted countering her pain by forcing a skewish smile...



'White Pinot Noir will would pair well with that... but then, they're birds, what do they know?' Ariel thought.



Uphill from her, from the drenched barnacle dotted rocks; in the dark damp corner of a dilapidated fishery where neither the blinding morning sun, nor the softer peaceful evening glare ever bothered, a precariously bent over backwards attorney stared up blankly at two overly talkative seagulls on his lap. Seemingly mocking his helpless state, the hungry curious mother bird took the brave leap and positioned herself on his chest. The man's one leg was interwoven with the leftovers of weather-beaten wooden pallets and a smutty forgotten cargo net that somehow still hugged the eternal stank of fish guts. Taking carefully timed turns, the birds eventually mustered enough will, and pecked at his face then his eyes, unsure whether he'd still waive them away like a few minutes before...

Chapter 1



“If I may suggest sir, you have to rotate the map one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, it's easier if North is at the top” The normally patient pilot of the Bell 47J Ranger helicopter wasn't sure how much longer he could hide his astonishment that his passengers had; for the second time, and in so many weeks, spent substantial Tax money to charter a private flight, evidently with still no clear sense of direction of an all too familiar part of Johannesburg. A glance at the fuel quantity indication, reminded him that it had already been twenty minutes of enduring revelations, camouflaged by the rudeness of speaking another language in his presence. In an ever repeating fashion, he crayoned out the same imaginary flight path for his oblivious passengers, as they circled the stretch of land over the Alberton residential suburbs between the Golf course and the new Mall Of The South shopping centre.



'Growing up on a sugar-cane farm in the then province of Natal has its advantages later in life...' He reminded himself - as he had been fluent in Zulu since his sixth birthday, which for once, in a strange way, today he wished he'd been oblivious to the Eisteddfod-like boasting which dominated the rotor-fanned stage, three-thousand feet up in the air from what was soon to be a future mining town.



"How far are your attorneys with the land claim, it has been six months? You know how impatient the Russians were with the other mines. Public reaction to possible future mining in the local Alberton Record wasn't as grave as we anticipated, when we leaked the geological-study results of gold deposits around the residential suburb of Alberante. After the unsuccessful meeting with irate residents and property developers, it seemed our land claim would be the best approach to satisfy our partners' appetite for gold. At least during February 1995, our predecessors put an end to private entitlement to mineral rights for the ones who neglected following the Government Gazette, and submit their claims they inherited. My compliments for your role in making sure it was front page news, I mean the Alberton saga. By the way, all-in-all, how many stands does Alberton consist of?" Having overseen bank-breaking decisions the Department of Minerals and Energy for two years already, it seemed to the pilot, that barking out orders that would benefit this man, became second nature in record time.



"Just a few more months sir. Just a few. We at the banks, were assured that by early 2018, the last phase to gauge the level of public outcry would be ready. If the team at Intelligence are still on board? Unlike the recruitment and payment for locals as part of seemingly random terror attacks on agricultural holdings, we suggest we keep with the original plan. And to answer your enquiry on the volume of stands - our figures show, just over fourteen-thousand. At approximately one billion Rand annual sales figures that we as the banks are financing for the area, we'd agree to, as your team have put it... for the papers at least, take 'the proverbial knock' - at ten times this figure..".



"That's ten billion Rand for each of you?! You know the Russians will never pay more than five...? We'll meet in November, we can talk then".



"Of course sir, but our shareholders.."..



"Let me see... We'll talk then. OK, I've seen what I needed to see. Tell the pilot we can head back to Rand Airport. You realise of course that these meetings in the air are cash funded and we have an audit in two weeks?"



"He says thank you, we can go back. And the suitcase in the back... It's for your trouble. Our apologies, the trip took longer than what we thought - Also, he asks, whether you'd be available next Tuesday? He has a meeting in the Karoo?" The new and nervous bodyguard, who apparently didn't share the joy of hovering so far above the steadiness that only earth could offer - with a shaky hand, twice patted the shoulder of the pilot who barely managed to release his gripping frown, hidden behind his wide rimmed sunglasses, and turned the noisy beast back into the eight o'clock sun.



"We suggest a national Sunday newspaper, sir. And have two reporters in mind. Looking at property..". The pilot couldn't imagine more insanity to follow and continued contacting the airport tower.



Ariel inspected and memorised every detail of the scene unfolding before her as she hugged her morning roasted coffee tighter, while intermittently, blowing over the steamy surface that she followed up with tiny sips. From her own transparent office, through the immaculately clean, green-tinted glass panes separating her work environment from the expansive overly decorated boardroom, she studied him. He was KALINKA's new legal eagle and deal broker, tasked with procuring new business and keeping the powers that be, satisfied. But unassuming Ariel, discovered how Harold gradually tightened an invisible noose around the shareholders and the firm's high-flyer clientele... until...



Cape Town born, lateral-thinking fast talking attorney, Harold Ashton's eloquence had been commanding the atmosphere in the classy boardroom for an hour already, and he again rose from his favourite chair to navigate his imposing almost seven foot figure around the 24-seater heavy ebony boardroom table. The captivated members of the board grew addicted to his electrifying charm already a few short months before when he introduced himself. The once drowning commercial property development company; housing its very own well staffed and highly competent legal division, were filing for liquidation when it literally scraped the bottom of the conveyancing barrel. Political turmoil and an ever declining volatile currency saw the property market in Johannesburg going belly up in a single horrid financial season. But then, one early business morning they discoverer Harold, of rather, he discovered them… Ariel recalled once overhearing one of the shareholders talk that "Hell opened briefly and the next moment Harold was smilingly seated in reception, waiting... With a single paged double-folded resume in hand, he landed one of the most bankable positions for which KALINIA had ever advertised. The firm generously upped the initial advertised remuneration at his request, immediately following his single-handed pulling the company from the gutters to one of the preferable ones that government had done business with. In desperation, all initially looked the proverbial "other way" and allowed him free rein to put them back on the map, so to speak. For pushy Harold, underhanded dealings were mere technicalities justifiable in the name of survival, and that meant money. And when Harold rounded up clients, it was synonymous with wealth creation. At his interview stage, lengthy and impressive applications from no less than thirteen different countries; for two entire taxing months, had Human Resources staff work even on weekends while fine-combing competing candidates' track records. No one outside the glassed boardroom knew what had been discussed, but his charm during a brief mere fifteen minute interview with the 24 normally difficult-to-please shareholders, was a scene to behold. Harold swept the boardroom in continuous clockwise motion around them, as he clenched their undivided attention; now and then pointed his index finger out the window towards the horizon, as if promising them the world. When finally shaking each member's hand and faultlessly recalling each and every of the two dozen's names and surnames, his magic was done. He politely smiled, left the board room, then winked a smile in Ariel's direction and disappeared down with the elevator. The next morning at 8am he was back to conjure, and he never left since.



"Greedy ignorant governmental vultures". Was how Harold always made reference to his favourite "prey". Earlier in the year, the company had entertained Harold's clients at the Grand Central Airport where much to his colleagues and to two members of the board's surprise, Harold owned one of the larger hangers where he stored his 'toys'. It became quite apparent how high the rewards were for his shrewd business tactics. The officials were rewarded with a fun-filled afternoon that included a massive spread of eats ordered in from the Sandton based Michael Angelo Hotel, collector's wine as gifts, and the well-designed program ended with well-planned flights over southern Johannesburg. The latter, had been his strategy to clearly point out the scope of the land at stake for the impending land claim by an alleged family whose ancestors were supposedly displaced by the government in the previous political era. Harold's deals habitually ended in typical fashion, where all shared anxious agreement to his suggested approach even before Harold rolled out the remainder of his genius schemes. His clients could normally barely wait to sign off on his deals. It had been the kind of deal-brokering that pushy but lateral-thinking fast talking Harold was known for in all the right circles in government. The guests to his large and deliberately complicated schemes were normally businessmen who usually backed two or more opposing political persuasion's election campaigning and his usual small handful of Moscow invitees.



Ariel recalled the initial meeting she was part of, and how much she despised Harold after she overheard him on the phone with one of his investors.



"She was there as something sweet to look at" Was his phrase. At the outset, when he took stage, he had convincingly wrapped them all up in his mind-blowing sticky web of deceit.



"The polarised political climate is ideal! It's perfectly conducive to a landmark land-claim, to shake up the country, insert the new banking system, lure investors and turn property prices on its head, but only for a brief period, we estimate four years maximum. After mining will commence in these areas, we're quite confident that the surrounding areas would be achieving closer to 60% of today's real value. But let's be honest comrades, it's in line with the old Soviet agreement on South African minerals and land, made with this regime already in the early 1900s. Today, Russia is contemplating writing off South African indebtedness, in return for the largest of nuclear plants in the northern Cape, and that a springboard for the rest of Africa". Harold's introduction to his sales pitch was almost unnecessary, as he knew more about the current regime’s actual history from the days of reigning Paul Kruger and the Russian long-term land-chess game, than what their members had. That, in addition to the fact that all in attendance had already had a taste of Harold's generosity... But to be crystal clear, Harold continued anyway...



"Since agricultural land Title Deeds for Johannesburg and surrounding were stored at the Pretoria Deeds Office..".



He went on to explain how a Government Gazetted fake land claim would pave the initial scare-tactic-way to gauge public readiness for the following genius step. He further filled the money hungry decision makers in, on how the (crowd) who'd pack up and sell too late, would receive the later far lower market related purchase prices. The final stage of the highly lucrative prospective treasure chest, would be the crucial oversight) required at the Deeds Office. According to Harold's scheme, the claimants' newly acquired land had span from Johannesburg's affluent suburbs, and included amongst others a golf course, equestrian farm, and the surrounding vast government owned land where residential developments would not otherwise been approved by local Town Councils. The actual claimants, who were already set up and living a high life of careless luxury elsewhere in Africa, had technically already sold the land to the Russian infiltrated KALINKA-Trading, as if the name change wasn't sufficiently indicative. At the time the re-baptised ĶALINKA was desperate and lapped up the fantastic two hundred million Rand loan from a Russian associate of Harold's as the firm already had their eyes on key commercial development land, earmarked for a massive shopping mall. And so ambitious forward thinking Harold, closed deal upon deal that crossed his desk with genius.

Chapter 2



"I need someone I can trust, I think I'm in... over my head..". A deep brown plash of steamy coffee covered Ariel's scribbled notepad as she jerked back alarmed when she discovered Harold towering over the opposite side of her desk.



"Damn Harold!" Ariel was deep in thought trying to figure him out and hadn't noticed he left his clients waiting in the boardroom and closed her door as he entered her office.



"Free for supper? My treat, I can't safely talk here..". Ariel just stared at his abruptness, followed by her typical uncomfortable silence.



"Apologies..., should you be willing to meet, I mean if it's convenient, I'd like your company, it's really important... please?" Harold rephrased, since Harold learned from day one that short-in-stature Ariel didn't tolerate rudeness and what she lacked in stature, she compensated for with brilliance and stark piercing looks. She was the youngest senior partner but commanded the contractual side of the business with an iron hand. As a rule, she had a preference keeping to herself, and had invariably always been absent, both from elaborate prize giving events and company socials designed to promote teamwork.



Brilliant Ariel knew Harold had a meeting an hour drive away from their office and made a lighting-fast decision.



"If 'I' choose the venue, then yes. I have a client at 6pm". She lied.



"So... 7pm to 8pm tonight, otherwise next week Wednesday?" Ariel gripped the diary pages in between the two dates together like they were glued; offering only two choices and looked up at Harold's apparent urge to meet, as she waited for him to make the anticipated choice.

Chapter 3



"Access to Master-Lab from this IP address 2A03:2889:3010:BFF5:FACE99889970 was blocked by the Webmaster". Was an unexpected message displayed on Harold's laptop as the screen lit up, washing a blue haze towards the back of his book-shelved office. It seemed to her, that creative Harold had figured out an unauthorised way to access a recently recorded security feed that he modified and saved. But then, as the password needed updating with a pin number each time the system had been accessed, Harold's second attempt for a different date hit a brick wall. A single tiny arrow pointed to what he'd been up to. The last and probably only record of his tracks were still there.



'Pedestrian -^ parkade-^ elevator-^ Cam 13's recording between 4:25:22 - 4:29:12 re-recorded.'



Ariel discovered that it was from two afternoons before and that somehow Harold managed to create and backdate a security recording. Security footage had been illegally altered by recording over whatever had been initially recorded between 4:25:22 - 4:29:12.



'Well...' Ariel thought as she pulled the flash drive free from the machine and hastily stuffed the powdery latex gloves that she stripped off, in her jacket pocket.



"Working late Ma'am?" Old Dorris was tirelessly cleaning out the office dustbins in between vacuuming around the call centre chairs on the other side of the glassed dark office.



"Looking for a stapler Dorris, any on your side?" Ariel lied and asked, while momentarily ignoring the beep from her mobile phone and in an almost reflex, scooped the one on his desk pad into her jacket pocket.



"Yes Ma'am, here.". Loyal Dorris held up a grey plastic one from the desk she was tidying.



"Ah perfect!" Ariel left Harold's office in a hurry, briefly scanning over her shoulder that she didn't leave anything behind.



"Thank you darling", she punctured two note pad pages she had quickly removed from a thick property law volume, protruding at the end of his book-shelved wall. With a friendly smile she bid the cleaning lady a good evening.



"Is it done?" Was the message demanding her urgent reply as the screen lit up the dimly globed elevator.



"Yes, also, there is something else..". A bewildered Ariel abruptly tucked her mobile phone in her jacket pocket, fixated on the note pad pages she was about to scrunch and dart into metal corner dustbin. (430667, also a threat, meeting her this evening. H.A. Other issue was dealt with...) Ariel recognised Harold's too neat handwriting and wondered why on earth (her) personnel number was discussed, and with whom? Equally, puzzling was whether he was supposed hand deliver it to someone as opposed to a mobile message or phone call. Below her personnel number, was a small rectangular diagram penned with Ronnie in IT's name and personnel number next to her's and an arrow doodled, pointing to Viper Applications. Viper had been appointed by unscrupulous legal firms for the anonymous collecting valuable emails, bank-, mobile phone records, and other data as well as phone recordings, to help discredit opposition clients, ensuring an unfair advantage already prior to Court proceedings. She recalled the recent news-web published fiasco in the High Court that involved one of Harold's high-flyers. Viper was later fingered for illegally obtaining evidence and meddling into a commercial police investigation where police dockets mysteriously disappeared and all felt that (they) were instrumental, when the leading witness, an IT specialist whose brakes had failed, that had led to his tragic accident. At the time the matter was postponed as the witness did not arrive for the enquiry on the court date.



"Ah you look dashing!" Ariel almost fainted as she hadn't noticed the elevator doors opened onto the vast and usually eerily quiet basement parking area and of all people, Harold took a large step into the small elevator.



"Working late as usual? I hope you're not looking as awesome as this for another engagement? We're still on for tonight, right...?" Ariel wasn't expecting him, not then, and not there of all the strangest times.



"Oh, thank you for the compliment". And she allowed the doors to close behind him as she displayed an uncomfortable forced smile.



"No, I came to fetch my hard drive, was at a client until six o'clock", she tried to lie convincingly.



"I'm just going up to fetch something, would you mind accompanying me upstairs?" Ariel thought that he made a suspiciously targeted effort to block her from leaving the elevator earlier and in that instant ignored something that drew her attention outside. Startled Dorris' eyes shot up from the floor as they left the elevator into reception. Harold, demonstrated his usual lack of chivalry, taking the lead out of the elevator, almost tripping over the flowerpot that had been moved out of place by Dorris.



"Hell woman!" He let poor Dorris have it.



"I'll be back in a short few seconds" He chucked over his shoulder to Ariel, as he brushed past Dorris and nearly bumping her to the side.



"Wow! Rude!" Dorris exclaimed when she noticed he was beyond hearing distance and glanced back at Ariel.



"Don't tell him I was looking for a stapler over there" Ariel whispered her plead while motioning to Harold's offices.



"You mean Mr. Rudeness? Of course not" Dorris elbowed Ariel with joking wink. The two woman shared a smile much to Ariel's consolation but the humour was short-lived as Harold; in seconds, barged back into reception.



"Have you emptied my dustbin already?!" He demanded, still without so much as a greet.



"Your dustbin was empty sir, as always" she reluctantly reminded him as she carried on with her duties and switched the noisy vacuum cleaner back on. Her back had been turned to Harold, demonstrating her lack of time for his infinite rudeness, and she didn't bother looking back.



"F..". He was biting his bottom lip when, when for a second time again, he almost tripped over the flowerpot that she again had moved to clean better. Both woman stared on in disbelief as they've grown accustomed to his bluntness, but never seen him in such a flustered panic. Looking at one another, their stares darted to Harold who in the meantime proceeded towards the elevator and summoned the elevator by slamming his open hand hard onto the button. Ariel looked at his laptop pinched under his armpit, but was convinced that she knew what else he had searched for in vain, and closed her small hand quietly around the folded page in her pocket.



"I'm sorry Ariel, I'm looking for something... never mind, sorry..". He was rubbing his face with both hands and seemingly half-gathered his thoughts when he over-compensated for his rude behaviour by motioning for Ariel to enter the elevator first. Downstairs in the chilly concreted basement parking, Ariel's voice echoed back at her.



"Strange?" Ariel remarked, passing an older shape Audi on the way to where Harold had parked next to her car.



"What is?" Harold slowed down, his paces were too lengthy and allowed her to catch up.



"Thought Ronnie was sick, since his staff said this morning he wasn't in the office yesterday or today, but his car's here... odd".



"Who's Ronnie?" Harold paused briefly then carried on again when Ariel didn't reply instantly. She knew self-centred Harold was as frigid towards staff in other departments as his own, but she highly doubted that it could've slipped his mind that he gave Ronnie; as IT manager, specific instructions as recently as a month before, not to bother with a company laptop. Seemingly paranoid Harold declined a sought after perk, ordered his own, for his personal account and furthermore preferred utilising his own data as opposed to the company Wi-Fi or network cables.



"Our IT manager?" Ariel replied almost under her breath, knowing he was either not listening to her or was still heavily chocked up over the missing note he apparently and recklessly hid in his office.



"Did you hear that?", Ariel paused and had her open hand up to show Harold to pause as she turned her head, facing towards elevator where she imagined the two loud thuds originated from.



"No, what are we listening for?" Harold whispered with a hint is sarcasm in his voice.



"Like someone was banging the elevator doors" Ariel frowned at him for making fun of her and continued walking right passed him and opened her car.



"Don't... I mean it's silly two drive in two cars, a mere few block away, then right past the office building to the highway again. We can go with mine and I'll bring you back after". Pushy Harold was already at his Jaguar, holding the passenger door open for her to enter.



"It's fine, I'm stopping for fuel after and have a birthday gift for a friend I need to deliver. But I appreciate the idea Harold. Thank you". She astounded herself that she could double-tap two lies as rapid as that.



"Peculiar?" She thought as she again spotted Ronnie's car growing smaller in her rear view mirror. "He'd always park very close to the elevator after his knee operation..".

Chapter 4



"Ah! Bella! Miss Ariel, how kind of you to visit!" Giuseppe, the hefty owner-chef was all smiles and hugged his favourite patron then lifted her slightly off her feet and turned around with her to face his busy wife.



"Maria! Look!" He called his wife over from the bar to show that their God child had arrived. Maria had been serving refreshments to guests waiting to be seated, and waved one of the waiters over to assist.



"Miss Ariel". Maria's face lit up, and she leaned over and whispered...



"What do we have to do to get you up from a size 6?" And Maria play-pinched Ariel's waist.



"Oh, and we've prepared something special that would go perfectly with your favourite wine", Maria, Giuseppe's wife, leaned over once more, and hugged her tight.



"Come dear, your table is waiting" walking Ariel to the far back dimmer side where a recently lit candle marked her apparent favourite spot, Harold remained with Giuseppe talking at the bar and enjoyed a few minutes of soccer on the overhead TV.



"Ariel, where are you?" Harold caught her off guard while she was unable to wrap her mind around the coincidence of the information on the note pad page and the out of character missing Ronnie. But Harold was all business, and as always a hint of rudeness was waiting right around the next corner. Before she could reply, he fired again.



"So anyway, white or red? How is your wine knowledge?" And in his typical flashy manner, pointed out to the top two, most pricey bottles on the wine list.



"Well a 30 Rand bottle of Tall Horse from the corner supermarket would match that specific Cabernet Sauvignon any day... if you really want my opinion". Harold's face fast turned a shameful bright red, visible even in the dimly lit back of the Italian restaurant.



"I apologise, I forgot, my mind is elsewhere this evening. Of course your parents supply Giuseppe and Maria's restaurant directly from their wine farm.



"You choose..., my apologies again" In apology, he offered his large right hand over the table and in his left hand he presented the wine list; he too eagerly scooped up from the menu display counter.



"All good, I'm sure you are eager to get to the point, let's have it, why would you need my help?" She unenthusiastically shook his hand; her small narrow hand felt lost in his, and handed the wine list to a waiter she winked closer a moment before.



"Cape Riesling please, anything pre 1994, just one bottle for now..". The friendly waiter returned her smile, not leaving the table, knowing well she was testing him, never ordering the same as before.



"Hmmm, Cape Riesling... that would be... Crouchen grapes, white grapes, originated in the western Pyrenees of France but is now virtually extinct there. It's a South African and Australian wine grape variety that is not related to the intentionally known variety of Riesling... Am I doing ok?" The submissive looking waiter awaited his favourite customer's response. Once a runaway abused orphan turned street child; having had his share of a dog's life, Ariel talked him off life on the street and convinced Giuseppe to take him in and let him have a chance at work. Initially he slogged frozen fish crates around at the fish market at the harbour, he worked his way up to a blossoming knowledgeable and dependable part of Giuseppe and Maria's proud upper-class establishment. Ariel saw to it that the young man finished his high-school career with handsome distinctions, and on Saturdays she spent hours teaching him on the different grape species, the regions they were grown in and the much detested European Union regulations that had been aimed at standardising wine labelling laws. At the time, it made sense to none but Ariel why it was paramount that he'd get filled in on the finer things in life, but mainly all things winery and distribution.



"Ten out of ten!" Ariel smiled wide and shook his hand.



"Dankie vir alles". (Thank you for everything) Gerome thanked Ariel in Afrikaans, smiled after a brief bow and left the table. Ariel noticed Harold's looking away out over the restaurant as if he really didn't care for the young man's achievements. An unpleasant repetition of what he had done during a lunch meeting with a client a month before when Gerome served him, Ariel had heard.



"You don't approve, I see?" Ariel's comment pulled him back to focus on their table.



"You know Ariel, call it luck call it something else, but you really don't have to mingle with low-life's. You're a very successful woman, attractive, and you're... well better than that. You can't save the whole world. Harold was looking straight at her.



"Harold, were you never given a chance? Did you just wake up one morning, with the means you have access to? I'm thinking back to your interview for example".



"Well, I've worked my backside off to get where I am today. It didn't happen overnight you know?"



"Let's leave that rather..". Ariel paged the menu, knowing Maria and Giuseppe had something special planned as always, but needed to show she was done debating the subject.



"It's really nice what you've for the community Ariel, the charity part I mean, but what's in it for you? You realise under that cover you created for people like him, he's still the same rough rubbish street child? I never understood charity really".



"My word, this buffalo clearly don't know where to draw the line". Ariel thought. After Harold's utter and poorly chosen comments, not a moment passed where Ariel hadn't wished him away during the evening as he explained his reason for the meeting.



Harold apparently got himself into debt with a Russian property developer and casino owner and it was payback time. The politicians who he promised a share of the profits of the massive residential developments had apparently been dragging their feet deliberately, while demanding more than what Harold had budgeted for. Apparently, on registration into the Russian developers' name, things went sour, as Harold's share of the initial funding had been derived from a common and accepted but technically illegal practise. As Transfer Duty to the Revenue Service was a legal requirement to effect change of land and property ownership, Harold's endless string of deals were totalling billions of Rands, but as Ariel learned from Ronnie a week before already, these had been showing worrying cracks. The transactions were becoming an increasingly tighter noose around the law firm's neck. Through Ronnie, Ariel learned of Harold's snake-like contract drafting, that ashamed as she was, hadn't picked up on. The land sellers had signed, with the actual buyers details ejected, and vica-verca. Harold would then act as proxy to both sellers and buyers in the other one's absence. Generously lining his own pocket while acting as an agent, absorbing vast profitable gaps between the price the sellers sold for and what the buyer's really purchased at. He continued submitting the paperwork to the authorities where the parties had unknowingly appointed him to act on their respective behalf, and no record of any Transfer Duties paid to the government had at any time existed. The profits Harold had accumulated over a three-year period before joining the firm, by setting up property transactions in that way where the legal system had been side-stepped, had been staggering. But it still fell perilously short of what he required as an own contribution to his Russian associate.



"So what we need as a matter of extreme urgency, is someone inside the Deeds Office... and someone inside the Revenue Service". Harold's blunt directness and utter disregard for the law, was equalled only by his infinite rudeness.



"I'd like you to go over the files if possible, if maybe you'd have another solution..".



On instruction from the firm's main partner, Ariel had been tasked; unbeknown to Harold, to work alongside the police's Commercial Crimes Unit as a matter of extreme urgency. She would diligently track and report any and all transactions relating to his irregular activities, with the aid of tiring hours of data Ronnie had supplied. But Ariel's keen intuition; which had never let her down, told her there had to be more. Harold was heartless enough to give names to his Russian associate of people to blame for the "red-tape" which hampered the legal process, as supposed to being fingered for not raising the money he alleged he had access to....



"Ariel? Are you still listening?" Harold saw her unexpected half ducking under the table.



"Sorry yes, dropped my phone" She replied; re-positioning herself on the chair again and placing her mobile phone on the table, she clutched the crumpled note which fell to the floor as she retrieved the vibrating handset from the jacket she had still been wearing.



"This is going to sound rude, but I need to take this call... excuse me for a few moments..". Harold mumbled over shoulder, already up from the table with his chair screeching across the polished wooden floor.



"May I..?" Gerome left a nearby guest's table whose dinner order he just jotted down and offered to push Harold's chair closer to the table.



"No, thank you, Gerome, the master of rudeness will be back in a few". Ariel winked and presented a slight smile at the helpful waiter who smiled back and returned to the busy kitchen.



"By the way Ariel, none of my business, but have you seen Ronnie?" Not that the other patrons in the now busier restaurant would have heard his whisper... "Said he'd been here this eve to set up my computer Giuseppe bought?"



"Actually no Gerome, he wasn't at the office all day, when did you speak to him?" A puzzled Ariel wanted to know.



"The day before yesterday. Yes two nights ago. He came round for a coffee and I think he left with..". Gerome suddenly paused.



"Sorry for that, my flight was changed to this evening. I have a meeting in Johannesburg in the morning".



"Harold's demeanour was as rude as they could cast them". She thought. When Harold brushed too close past Gerome and sat down.



"You were saying?" With Ariel's eyes still on Gerome, she wondered why he hadn't finished his sentence.



"Just want to fetch something from the kitchen". And Jerome strode backwards out of Harold's field of view, while signalling with his hand that he'd call her, and politely excused himself.



"What was that about?" Nosy Harold insisted.



"Oh, Ronnie was supposed to help him with his computer, but hadn't arrived. Ready to order?" Ariel changed the subject.



"Actually, yes". Harold scanned the menu and looked up to see if another waiter was closer and rudely waved one over.

Chapter 5



"Why are you still up?" Pulling her duvet over her shoulder, a confused Ariel lifted her head from warm pillow and looked over at the time on the alarm clock.



"I couldn't talk at work".



"I'm listening?" Ariel put her phone on speaker and with a frown, looked at the time again.



"You asked about Ronnie. Well he had been arguing with Harold over something and left without greeting or paying for his coffee. Harold paid for both his drinks and Ronnie's coffee, and rushed out after him probably a minute later. I followed them outside in the dark. I know it's none of my business. They got physical and Harold pushed him against his car then punched him in the face".



"Kind of you Gerome. Thank you for letting me know. I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this. You get some sleep now. Good night".



Overworked Ariel fell asleep with her mobile phone slipping off her thick down duvet onto the carpet, as she wondered how very different life could be. Once a rebellious spoilt teenager, and a runaway herself, she appreciated her privileged background, having had a place to have gone home to when things didn't work out the way she planned.



“Yes Gerome, I thought you were sleeping.” Ariel was used to offer her expert legal advice until the inconvenient early hours knocked on occasion, as she had bills to pay and her high lifestyle to maintain. But for ones she held dear, her sleep also took backstage on occasion.



“Pardon Ma’am, but who is this? And I do apologise for the early and I'm sure most inconvenient hour.” It had been a strange, deep but polite voice that greeted and ended with a seriously phlegm cough of an older man, typical of a heavy smoker.



“I'm sorry, but I thought you were someone else. This is Ariel. And to whom am I speaking?” Ariel replied somewhat startled as she had not noticed the number wasn't Gerome's but indicated "Unknown".



“Detective Hades, Ma’am. And again my apologies. But yours was the first number on the mobile phone contact list and seems the last sms was sent to your number too".



“Excuse me, contact and sms.” Startled and now wide awake Ariel pushed herself up against the two pillows she had just puffed up.



“Are you related in any way to Mr. Ronnie…” The detective ended with a repeated cough before he could get as far as the surname.



“In a way yes, not family though, but a colleague. I'm a partner at a legal firm Kalinka-Trading and Ronnie heads our IT department. Why?” Worried Ariel anticipated the worse and turned her head to face her alarm clock.



“Terrible news I’m afraid Ma’am, did he have any close family who we may contact?” The detective carried on.



“Sorry, you just said “did he”, and no not in South Africa, he has a sister in London. May I ask why?” Ariel knew precisely what the past tense phrase meant but couldn't bring herself to accept the news without more information.



“Again, I really am sorry for your loss Ma’am… he was found at work. Paramedics worked on him unremittingly for as long as they could, but in the end, seems they were mere moments too late to resuscitate him.” She had a suspicion that he was gauging her response to the news and although offering apparent support, was habitually looking for clues.



"I would hate for you to come down at this strange hour and meet..". The detective deliberately paused mid sentence, again to see what her response would be, grasping at everything that would be a later lead.



"I suppose there isn't much we can do now that can't have a turn when it's light in a few hours". He decided to continue.



"Please, by all means, we were good friends and according to staff in Ronnie's department, he hadn't been at his office for two days in a row. Quite contradictory for a workaholic like Ronnie. Please, if there's a way I can assist, I can be there in just a few minutes?" Curiosity more than concern got the better of Ariel.



"I'd hate to do this to you now, but I'm going to be up till the police photographers arrive at your firm. So if you really don't mind, I can do with some help around the premises, I believe the place is like a maize. I may need to look around his office if that's asking for too much?" The detective was hopeful to rake in as much info as quick as possible before the business day commenced and his crime scene would be flooded by curious staff.



"If I may ask, and since you still haven't explained... why our building? You do realise that no one is there now? It's deserted?" Ariel had already leaped over to her gym bag, divorcing the comfort of her bed and was halfway dressed in a tracksuit and had already tied her running shoes.



"My apologies, you're quite correct, I didn't. No. The victim was found at the building". Again the detective wasn't too generous with the information he shared.



"Our building then, say twenty minutes?" Pulling the front door closed slowly, she waited to end the call before she locked it and carefully and rushed down the slippery slate stairs to her car.



"He didn't say where in the building, how Ronnie had passed, nor how Ronnie was discovered". Her analytical mind was in high gear and somehow the fact that Ronnie's car had been parked in the parkade for possibly longer than anyone had noticed, stuck in her mind.



"Yes?" Odd time of the morning for him to call she thought and answered as she closed her garage door, aiming her Maserati at the on ramp to the highway leading to the mother city.



"Ariel, there is something I couldn't tell you at the restaurant. And earlier, well I don't know why, but also couldn't. I know you were close to Ronnie. As in boyfriend and girlfriend close".



"Yes...?" Ariel slowed down to 120 km/h and moved over to the middle lane to focus better on Gerome's strange tone.



"Well, we already cashed up and cleaned up at Giuseppe's, and I for no good reason decided to follow Harold. I thought I'd leave my silliness, but when he didn't get onto the highway I was curious..". Gerome was nervous and Ariel knew him well enough to have noticed.



"OK... go... go on..".



"Well, he slowed down and pulled into McDonald's. Which was peculiar right? I mean he just left a restaurant. Seems Ronnie, oddly, either had the same idea, or was waiting for him there".



"Quite strange, yes".



"So I parked across the street at the service station, not to make my stalking obvious. They had words that night and at a stage Harold shouted that Ronnie can't be trusted. Ronnie got into his Audi and sped away when one of the McDonald's staff approached them. Probably to enquire about the commotion. Harold left, followed at high speed and three blocks further both raced into the office park. Obviously I didn't go in but later when I tried, Ronnie didn't answer his mobile phone, neither had he for the past two days. Well three days, as of a few minutes ago".



"Gerome, can you recall, at all, whether Harold saw you? Think hard".



"No, well, I'm sure he didn't. Why?"



"I just got a call from a detective, they found Ronnie..".



"Thank heavens, where?" Gerome's relief could be felt, and he paused Ariel.



"No Gerome, you don't understand. I'm sorry, but they called to say that... they found..., his body".



Fifteen minutes later.



"Morning, I'm sorry for your loss. If I may, I'd like keep it informal, I'm Michael. Well everyone calls me Mike". The gauntest, palest looking man Ariel had ever laid eyes on, dressed in black shirt, black raincoat and matching pants was holding an umbrella over her door. Shielding her from the heavy downpour; as Ariel exited her car, the gaunt pale man offered his icy cold hand after he had just flicked his cigarette away behind him.



"Death. He looks and feels like death". She thought.



"That's what some say..". She thought he mumbled as she turned her head not to face a sudden waive of cold rain. Ariel looked up into the rain, and scanned the tall wet black building, wondering whether her comments was out loud or whether he had read her mind.



"I feel terrible that you came out in this weather". He was talking loud over the sound of the pelting rain. The pale cold man with his deep smoker's voice handed his umbrella over her while he walked in the drenching rain next to her like it was the most normal thing to do and lit yet another cigarette; covering it with his hand, as if his habit overruled the weather. Walking Ariel to the cover of the concrete overhang at the entrance of the parkade, Ariel noted Mike had a slight limp.



"Just waiting for the mortuary van to leave... should be any moment now". And as if the strange man timed it like that, a police mortuary van slowly approached the parkade exit and flashed its headlights.



"Evening Ma'am" a policeman opened and closed the passenger side window slightly and droved off down the road, disappearing into the unlit sodden road.



"Coming?" The detective held out his hand to help her up the steep disproportionate slippery steps to the nearby landing, and she followed him into the better lit inner parkade.



"This is where security found him. Apparently relentlessly banging against the inside of the locked boot for who knows how long. The guard alerted police who forced the vehicle open, sadly too late. As we understand from the paramedics, they tried everything but..".



"We past here last night between the office and our cars and I'm sure... this is too terrible..". Ariel dropped the umbrella and held both her hands to her mouth.



"I'm sorry? But what time was that?" Mike paused and faced her as the police photographer flashed his camera around the inside of the bloodied boot.



"Oh... a little after 6pm. I heard a noise, and since I couldn't determine the origin, continued to my car, and we left. I actually thought it sounded like a banging noise from the direction of the elevator. But it seized.



"We?"



"Yes, sorry Harold and I. We passed Ronnie's vehicle on the way to ours parked over there". Motioning to the farther parking bays.



"And Harold, where would I be able to reach him? Just a moment... Dobryj vyechyer... kahk dee-lah?" Before Ariel could answer or share Harold's number the detective's mobile phone rang. Without saying a word; and seemingly inspecting the boot while on the phone, apart from his unusual greet, the man ended the call.



"...Pah-kah..".



"Forgive my curiosity, but my family... we export our wine to Russia too. Your accent and your greet on the phone... (Hello... How are you... and... See you later?) Analytical Ariel couldn't help herself.



"I'm impressed" And the cold man smiled wide, displaying his perfect but stained yellow teeth.



"We came to South Africa when I was a small boy. So, the number for, Harold was it?" The detective apparently decided to be economical with his private life and held out a small notepad and pen - waiting for her to scribble down the number".



"I'm sorry, I'm rude. I must confess..". Lighting another cigarette, he pushed the notepad and pen back into his coat pocket. "The call I got... we've been conducting surveillance on your Harold. I was summoned through Head Office via Interpol. A shortage of Russian interpreters brought me down here from Johannesburg. We have it from your and Ronnie's phone conversions.... well, it's clear that you and Ronnie were also doing an investigation into our mutual friend? Care to share any info on the link between his Russian associates and the financing of the land purchase? I think we both are grown-up enough to realise that... How does one state the obvious in cases like these, without a callous tone? It will be swept under the carpet unless..". He suddenly paused and grabbed hold of both her wrists with his frigid right hand, and squinted past her into the darkness and squinted.



"Duck!" Before she could react Mike had pulled her off her feet, and she was lying on the cold cement floor, with him covering her as two loud bangs echoed back and forth through the deserted parkade. Ariel noticed that he blocked her fall with his forearm that he shot out just as her head almost collided with the unforgiving hard floor next to the police photographer, bleeding from his temple.



"Look at me, there's nothing to see that side". And his ice-cold hand in a strangely gentle way - pushed her head so that she would face him as opposed to the helpless police photographer caught in uncontrollable spasms and bleeding profoundly from his temple - his lifeless eyes staring past Ariel and Mike.



"What the hell..?!"



"Shussssss..". He covered her mouth.



"You're not armed by any chance are you?" His frown pulled his jet black eyebrows closer, and she noticed he had pulled his silver pen apart, exposing a three-inch sharpened pike of sorts at the back of it.



"What the hell kind of policeman are you...? You mean you're not... armed?!" She squealed at him, as she hid between the rear tyre of Ronnie's Audi and Mike's body that he had curved to cover her better.



"Long story... but... if you make it out here, and you hear me shout run, you do exactly that, but you run like the devil's behind you, because he just might be. Make sure this car is between you and whoever is coming, as cover. I'm I making sense?"



"Yes". She whispered and for the first time realised, in the overhead florescent light that this stark creature had the softest blue eyes.



"I'm going to count back to zero when we can clearly hear footsteps". And with no warning...



"Oh shi.... Five... four... three... two..". Somehow Ariel was waiting for "one and zero... But they never came. Mike leaped up to his knees like something spring-loaded and an unnatural double crushing sound followed that made her cringe. His right elbow hammered into the outside of the gunman's knee, forcing it to snap inward towards his other knee. The awful follow-up sound was Mike's index and middle finger being forcefully rammed through or past the attacker's eyeballs right into the back of the attacker's eye sockets. A large barrel chested man dropped like a lifeless rag, face down and remained motionless. Ariel guessed the encounter lasted no more than two seconds and the surprised attacker; being caught off guard, hadn't had chance to draw his pistol from his underarm holster. She closed her eyes to the horrid sight and when she opened Mike had his fist harpooned into the second, a knife wielding attacker's throat and was gouging at his eyes with both thumbs.



"Run!"



Terrified Ariel needed no second invitation, and she jumped to her feet, pen in hand and bolted away from two more unholy crushing sounds which echoed past her into the darkness.



"Yes... and where are you off to in such a hurry?" An eerily too familiar voice greeted an out of breath Ariel; who skidded over the unlit cement floor, after receiving a massive blow to her jaw, then collided head first against a nearby unsympathetic concrete pillar.



"Well, so now it's just you left..". Ariel felt an unwelcome dizziness creeping though the darkness and couldn't make out exactly where Harold was. The damped metallic click she faintly heard was followed repeated thuds. Every thud ended with a deep long moan, as she lost consciousness.



Chapter 6



"There's been a murder, a shooting!" The out-of-breath, distressed caller seemed too anxious to adequately string a desperate plea for help together entirely.



"Are you OK? What's going on? Where?" A bewildered young police officer leapt forward to the opposed side of the charge office counter as he scrambled a pen closer to the Occurrence Book.



"KALINKA-Trading's parkade, shots were fired... policeman down!" And the caller hung up.



"Any vehicles close...? Apparent shooting in progress at KALINKA-Trading...!" The policeman broadcasted the message over the radio.



"Control, it's Charlie Tango 6, we're a block away. I know we're supposed to be on our way to collect for the mortuary, but we we're there earlier to transport a body to the state mortuary. We're a minute away!"



"No one else in the immediate area Charlie Tango 6, go!"



Dazed Ariel ended up hopelessly lost during her continued attempts to grab firmly onto her diminishing reality. Even familiar voices had soaked into her nightmare and disappeared before she could hold on to them. That she had been shaking around, possibly in a moving vehicle, was the last she recollected after a brief what felt like a sharp stinging prick to her inner forearm.



"Well?"



"I followed her OK!" The young man voiced somewhat defyingly.



"Why?"



"Silence"



"Fu.., we're going to have to reconstruct the entire fu... crime scene... Is he still breathing?"



"Shallow, but yes".



"Maybe a good thing for now. The roads are too busy. We're going to have to stage it closer to sundown. There will be less traffic. I have a place in mind. Also, the 15mil's morphine you administered..". The seemingly heartless man caringly stroked Ariel's forehead with the cleaner back of his hand and with a gentle brush, moved her hair to the side, out of her face. "I guess enough hours to work through her system, for later?"



"How is his pulse? I'm surprised he's still breathing".



"Faint" The one tired paramedic answered.



"Let's swap places... Young man, we never met, are we clear?"



"Crystal clear sir".



"Good, you can look away now, there's really nothing to see here. Well done by the way, if it hadn't been for you... and I thought I was handy with a knife. OK medics open the door, reward the young man with some fresh air. Young man, get out and go have a smoke or something, here, take my packet. Wait let me light one, OK now you can get out".



"We miss you down here in the Cape Mike..".



"No you don't..". Mike smiled up at the medical staff and waited for the young man to exit the ambulance and the door to be pulled closed by one of the paramedics, then closed both his hands tight over the helpless male patient's mouth and nose.



"So how are the wife and kids guys?" Mike carried on enquiring about the paramedics' private lives as the ambulance shook severely for a final time.



"Good job at stitching her up Mike. It will be a remarkable heal".



"Thanks".

Chapter 7



"It's OK you can lean back. Mike says the police are on their way. They will call him to open what he called an "inquest docket". He's meeting with the State Prosecutor later tonight. It's self-defence. You were out for most of the day if you're wondering where the day vanished to. Mike asked not to say anything to the police when they arrive, maybe your name, but to limit it to that. Sorry, I had to make you walk down here, but you had to see up there for yourself. He won't be a threat to you any more. Mike explained that the tremendous knock against your head in the parkade will sufficiently explain to doctors and the police why you won't accurately recall the event. Here... lean back. Paramedics will be here first, the stitches came loose when you tripped coming down the sand dune. Let me put more pressure on it".



"I think I know what happened. I'm in pain, but not stupid you know. Thank you... and I love you. Look at that beautiful sunset". Ariel held her hand on his.



"I love you too Mom..".



The End


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