The Adventures of Tommy Bosman


Tommy Bosman was born in Rhodesia of Afrikaner stock. Thus, English was his third language behind Afrikaans and the local Shona. He spoke it slowly and reluctantly, and with a heavy accent. Growing up on a farm in the west of the country, he roamed the veld from an early age with a gun but no shoes. The Bosmans only made do. There was little money, but as with most Afrikaans, the family was tightly knit. There was great faith placed in the Almighty, who would see to it that the family was taken care of. Tommy and his younger sister Marie loved their simple home, each other, and their parents.

Church on Sundays was a social occasion when the family would put on their best clothes and go to the country parish church to listen to the predikant (preacher). The hard part for young Tommy was squeezing his hard, flat feet into tight fitting leather shoes. He hated them, but for God he was prepared to make the sacrifice.

Church was the one time in the week when the family would socialize, and Tommy enjoyed his outings, although he did not need much exposure to other people. They spoke of unfamiliar subjects, and there were always girls there, with whom he had nothing in common. When they looked at him, he felt the urge to kick off his shoes and run into the bush.

Despite the fact that blacks were not considered the equals of whites, his best friend was Kephas, the son of the farm “bossboy.” Tommy and Kephas did everything together, and it was Tommy’s fervent hope that the two of them would find a way to spend the rest of their lives in each other’s company. However, an unfortunate development dashed those hopes. Tommy was packed off to boarding school in the nearby town of Sinoia. His protests fell on deaf ears, for it was against the law of the land not to be educated. It was also against the law for Kephas to go to the same school. His friend would have to go to a school for Africans.

School was every bit as bad as expected. Most of the boys spoke English, and the subjects were of little interest to him—even if he could have understood the language better. All through school he longed only for the weekends and a return to the farm, to fishing, and to hunting with Kephas.

No sooner had puberty arrived than his father explained to him that black people called “terrorists” had come into the country from Zambia to the north to kill white men, women, and children. Henceforth, the family would have to be very careful, especially at night. The community had been warned that farms were preferred targets.

Tommy asked his father what the white man had done that these people wanted to kill them, and his father explained that their assailants were “communists” and that was what they believed in—but that made even less sense. He discussed the issue with Kephas, who was even more confused than Tommy but assured him that, although black, he was definitely not a communist.

The arrival of the communists, however, was not all bad; in fact, it brought with it an unexpected deliverance. His father had to go on periodic patrols with the Police Reserve looking for terrorists, and when that occurred Tommy was discharged from school to look after his mother. He was good with his weapon and longed for a communist to step into his sights. It came as a relief to have it explained to him that communists did not believe in the Bible or God, so that it was quite in order to kill them.

By the time Tommy was sixteen, school had run its course. The war had made farming even more difficult than under normal conditions, forcing his father to scale back operations. This left young Tommy with little opportunity to contribute. He urgently needed a job that would allow him to stay in the bush and away from arithmetic and English literature.

Donning his most presentable clothes, the ones he had worn to Annie Erasmus’s wedding, he prepared for a trip to the capital. The purple tie and shiny jacket were not exactly him, but it was the best his wardrobe had to offer. Having been to the city only once before and having been unnerved by all the traffic and people, he undertook the journey with trepidation. But if he wanted to work for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, no other option was open to him.

After much confusion in the traffic, he eventually made his way to their offices and found a lady at a desk with yellow hair piled high on her head. He had never seen a hairstyle anything like it, and in a bewildered daze he caught himself staring in wonder. That irritated her. If she had not spoken, he might have gone on gazing at it.

“Well, can I help you?” the lady snapped, forcing him to drop his eyes from the northern tip of the summit on her head.

Nervously, he explained that he was looking for a job.

“What kind of job?” she asked.

“I’m from a farm in Doma, but the terrorists are forcing us to stop farming.”

“So?” Her eyes bored into his.

“Well, I want to work in the bush.”

“Fill out a form there.” She pointed to a counter dismissively, and Tommy shuffled over to it.

Of immediate concern was the request for details of academic qualification. With a heavy heart and suddenly regretful at having underperformed at school, he entered the word none in a large space. He handed the form to the receptionist with the yellow mountain on her head, and she told him to return in the afternoon to see the chief warden. He thanked her and walked out into the parking lot.

Upon his return, the lady at the desk led him down a corridor to a waiting room. No sooner was he seated then a tall, white-haired gentleman with a sharp, pointed nose and clear blue eyes appeared. He was crisply dressed in khaki shorts and shirt with green epaulettes, and Tommy immediately wished away his colorful wedding apparel.

“Tommy Bosman?” the chief warden said in a clear voice. Tommy noted an English accent with distress.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m Barry Smith, the chief warden. Come in.”

Tommy walked in and took his seat across the desk gingerly. The warden put on his glasses, studied the form in silence, then looked at Tommy. Tommy returned his look and tried to fathom the man’s mood. The room was terribly quiet.

“You want to join Parks?” snapped the warden, who was glaring at him. Tommy did not like his tone.

“Yes, sir,” he replied quietly.

“Well, why do you dress like a damn pimp?”

Tommy took such a fright at this outburst that his chair made a distinct crack as his head and upper body snapped back, as from a punch. To make matters worse, the word pimp was new to him, and that added to his general sense of despair.

He broke what seemed an endless silence.

“Excuse me, sir, but what is a pimp?”

His interrogator said nothing, remaining perfectly immobile.

Feeling utterly out of his depth and thoroughly demoralized, Tommy suppressed the urge to head for the door. The renewed silence was broken by another unlikely question.

“Where the hell did you get that bloody purple tie? I’ve never seen anything so ugly in my life.” The warden’s head shook slowly in feigned disbelief.

His chair creaked again. Tommy stared disconsolately at the offending tie, not wanting to look up. Embarrassed, he missed his home very badly. There was another lull.

“Relax, Tommy, and tell me what you’ve been up to the last sixteen years.”

The smile that broke on the man’s face drained some of the tension out of the air.

“I’ve been on the farm all my life, sir—apart from school, that is where I’ve been.”

“So why do you want to join the department?”

“I love being in the bush, sir. I would like to stay on the farm, but the terrorists have rustled most of our cattle. We are struggling to plant, so there is not much work for my dad and me.”

“How much hunting have you done?”

“I’ve been hunting all my life, sir. I can track and I can shoot. I am not too good with the books, but in the bush I’m OK.” He was starting to feel a little more comfortable, and he noticed the chief warden’s eyes soften.

“OK, Tommy, I’m going to give you a chance. Get back here Monday with your kit—and for God’s sake, boy, leave the jacket and tie at home.”

And so it was that Tommy, albeit a little shaken, started his career as a game ranger in the Rhodesia Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

Once in the field, it was like being at home again. He was back in his element and excelled, and although his social skills were limited, he quickly earned the respect of the senior rangers. Most of them were English speaking, and off duty they liked to drink and talk about women. Tommy did not like to drink and knew nothing of women, so he preferred to keep to himself. For reading, his Bible was always available. The others were not religious, but they let him be.

For conversation, Tommy was happiest with the African staff, with whom he seemed to have more in common. Apart from his Bible, he treasured his Afrikaans books, mainly the ones about the old Afrikaner hunters who had hunted far into the north in the very early days. Tommy longed to retrace their steps into the wild country of East Africa, but that would have to wait. The department was a home away from home, and life was very much to his liking.

The antipoaching patrols he was sent on were particularly to his liking. With only mules and African scouts for company, he savored the freedom of movement and relished going after the poachers. He had concluded that they were very much like the communists, and he was happy to track them down, no matter how long it took, and to deal with them as he saw fit. He soon acquired a reputation for proficiency in that sphere of operations, and, unlike the other rangers, he was happier the longer the deployment.

He was on one of his patrols in the Zambezi Valley when a stroke of bad luck occurred. Accompanied by three scouts, he was patrolling eastward toward the Mozambique border and looking for the tracks of poachers entering the country from Zambia to the north. Zambia, he had discovered to his dismay, was run by a “communist” called Kenneth Kaunda who hated white people, so Tommy was only too happy to engage Kaunda’s followers when they dared to cross the river to shoot the black rhino and elephant that fell under his guardianship.

Having found no sign of interlopers for some days, however, Tommy’s interest was diverted to all the other forms of life around him. He was always on the prowl for an opportunity to add to his collection of birds’ eggs, and on this occasion an eagle owl flushing from a hollow inside a huge baobab tree immediately caught his attention, causing him to halt, look, and ponder. Thinking there might be a nest inside, he stepped closer and looked into the cavity. Inside it was pitch black, and seeing nothing he decided to get in for a closer look.

After removing his boots and handing his rifle to one of the scouts, he limbered up and, being light of foot, leaped into the air. He clutched the tree and steadied himself on the lip of the hollow. Proceeding slowly but deliberately, he moved to lower himself into the cavity, but it was deeper than expected. His feet found no footing, so, discarding caution, he released his grip on the tree and jumped boldly into the unknown.

It was clear that trouble was upon him the moment his descent ended. Just before the explosion, his bare feet bore uncomfortable witness to a living object—though unseen, it was soft, furry, and warm. Unfortunately for Tommy, it also had sharp claws and powerful jaws. His drop into the abyss had ended atop a slumbering leopard, which, unsurprisingly, reacted ungraciously to the violation of its privacy. The cat let out a chilling scream and unleashed itself upon him in a rage of feline fury.

Beyond the blows from the ripping claws, the shrill rasping of the enraged predator pummeled his senses, and the stench of rancid breath and rotting meat filled his nasal passages and sickened him. Shielding his face with his arms, he cowered into a submissive ball at the base of the tree while the cat savaged him. God’s position in all of this briefly crossed his mind, but he acknowledged that his Savior was a long way off and unlikely to assist at the present time. His only chance lay with his companions outside what had become, for him, a torture chamber.

“Jairos,” he yelled to the senior scout. “The leopard is eating me!”

Jairos, hearing the screams, did not have any intention of joining the fray in the dark of the tree, but he fired off a shot that caught the cat’s attention. The leopard gave Tommy a parting smack on the head before bounding effortlessly out of the tree, leaving a bleeding, disheveled, and dissolute egg collector at its bottom. The disgusted leopard’s emergence from the tree scattered the scouts. In the silence could be heard the sound of retreating footsteps.

After a time a subdued voice reached him from outside. “What happened, Baas Tom?”

Tommy heard the question and looked at himself in the gloom. His wounds were on fire, but his physical pain caused him less immediate discomfort than his damaged pride. Embarrassed and angry at himself, he found his thoughts passing to what the scouts were making of this debacle. Swearing had never been one of his weaknesses, but under the prevailing circumstances it occurred to him that God would allow him the indiscretion.

“What the hell do you think? The damn leopard has bitten me all over.”

His voice, echoing from the dank chamber into the bright sunlight, made his circumstances slightly surreal. The scouts outside looked at one another glumly, but white men confused them. Why on earth had he wanted to go in there?

A hesitating Jairos eventually felt inclined to do something. He approached the tree with caution. “Baas, I’m here,” he called into the dark.

Tommy looked up and could just see an outstretched hand, toward which he moved a lacerated hand. “Pull me up, Jairos.”

Emerging into the daylight, Tommy could think only about how he would explain his actions. He studied his cuts, the blood, the dirt, and the state of his clothes. Just as his star had been rising, he’d gone and made a mess. This little blunder would surely rank as one of the more outstanding acts of stupidity ever committed by a member of his respected department. Then he caught a smirk on the face of one of his scouts. Seeing it caused the blood to rush back into his head. He didn’t know whether to cry, or to call the scout a communist and shoot him.

The party, with their wounded leader at the fore, trudged to the nearest road, where they made a radio call. The wounded naturalist was taken to the hospital in Karoi, where his wounds were cleaned and his torn body was placed into a bed to rest while the doctor treated him against infection.

“No stitches, Tommy,” the doctor announced. “If I sew up those cuts, I trap all the parasites inside. We will leave them open and feed you plenty of antibiotics.”

Someone brought him a book by entitled The Leopard Hunts in Darkness, but he declined to read it.

* * * * *

A week later the wounded ranger was discharged. He was relieved to be back at his station in the Zambezi Valley, well away from visitors who all asked the same questions. However, it was not long before he was posted to the management unit based in Wankie National Park (today Hwange Park). That arm of the department was tasked with capture and relocation, PAC (problem animal control), and population control (culling). It was a mobile unit consisting of a warden, six rangers, and twenty scouts.

A novel problem awaited him there. Two of the rangers at his new station, of sardonic inclination and irreverent disposition, took great delight in extracting laughter at Tommy’s expense. One was a farmer’s son from New Zealand who had ended up in Rhodesia by accident. His name was Terry Roach. On leaving school, Roach had become involved in a spat with his father over going to university. His father had insisted that his son find a job and prove his mettle before being indulged with a university education.

In a fit of pique, the young fellow went to a travel agent, looked at a map, and pointed at a town in Canada. He made it there and worked for a while on a ranch, but the extreme cold got to him and he next found himself in Salisbury, Rhodesia. He had been on his way to Cape Town when a friendly official told him that Rhodesia was happy to have him visit, for as long as it suited him. Unknown to Terry there was a war on, and strapping young white males were an esteemed commodity.

Intrigued, and warming to the place, Terry made his way to town and went into a bar at the Jameson Hotel. There he met up with a group of farmers on their weekly jaunt to town, and when one of them discovered that the new arrival was a “Kiwi” from farming stock, Terry found he had a job. The farmer wanted to go fishing at Lake Kariba and asked Terry to run his farm in his absence. When the farmer returned a fortnight later all appeared well, so the farmer took himself off for another two weeks. Thus Terry found a new home and some time later joined the department of National Parks.

The other was the park’s pilot, a lanky, lithesome fellow with a ready smile and breezy personality by the name of Richard Clough. He was a great joker who took life in easy stride and was very much the antithesis of Tommy. Both were fond of Tommy, but neither could resist an opportunity to taunt him; the leopard incident would remain a top topic of conversation for as long as they were together.

At this time park ecologists had produced alarming figures on elephant numbers in the protected zone, and the management unit received instructions to reduce the herd within its confines by some ten thousand animals. This meant that the team was to be deployed on intensive culling operations led by the warden, a legendary figure by the name of Clem Coetzee. In a body of hard men where respect is difficult to come by, Coetzee was revered. He was an extraordinarily competent man who led from the front, made quick and firm decisions, and commanded undivided loyalty from all who worked under him. Few African personalities have contributed as much to conservation and received as little credit as Clem Coetzee.

The tactics for the culling were simple but dangerous. Clough, flying a Super Cub, would locate the animals, normally a breeding herd, and radio in their position and proximity to a road. The hunters would then deploy to the area, and when they were ready the pilot would drive the herd into the hunters, who would kill the animals as expeditiously as humanely possible. It was a brutal undertaking unloved by its practitioners, but one that was considered by researchers vital for the greater good, of both the elephant and most other species of wildlife in the park.

The keys to the success of this tactic were excellent organization, teamwork, cool nerves, and precise marksmanship. With only four riflemen on the ground to deal with a herd of forty to fifty panic-stricken elephant, there was no margin for error. The linchpin was Coetzee, who would stand in the midst of everything and have the herd run into him, normally led by a matriarch. The warden would wait calmly before downing her until only metres separated him from a trampling and death. An errant bullet would almost certainly be his last. His survival is testament to his unusual skill and courage.

As it turned out Coetzee did not fail, and his shot would bring the lead animal to its knees. With the herd leaderless and in disarray, the other three hunters on the flanks would then engage as the rest tried to break and run from the killing field. It was an extremely hazardous proposition, with rampant elephant everywhere. Added to this was the risk of being hit in the crossfire, which made understanding amongst the riflemen an absolute imperative. Sadly, there were inevitable lapses resulting in tragedies that saw good men die in the line of duty.

On one of these outings it all went wrong for Tommy. It was a particularly dry day when they found the herd; the sun was hot and high in the sky when the shooting started. As usual all hell broke loose, and Tommy found himself on the same flank as Terry, gunning down animals in a furious volley of fire. Then Tommy’s aim went wide and he missed an elephant fleeing the deadly melee, causing him to track it in his sights while firing additional rounds into its rump as it broke the cordon.

Focusing on that animal, however, Tommy was forced to take his eyes off the rest of the herd, and a charging cow that had been moving invisibly in the dust flattened him from behind. The cow impaled him in one thrust and then struck off into the brush with Tommy hanging face down from a tusk. With a tusk through his buttock and skewed through his thigh into his scrotum, Tommy did find his predicament an unusual one, but there was little doubt in his traumatized mind that his embarrassment was destined to be short-lived, as death would surely soon follow.

The rest of the team were oblivious to his predicament, and just when Tommy thought it was all over an unlikely angel of mercy appeared overhead in the form of his erstwhile tormentor, Richard Clough, in his Super Cub. Clough had seen the cow break out and hit the ranger and had radioed his observation, but when there had been no response from the team on the ground it was clear that something had to be done.

With unusual skill and nerve, he put his little aircraft into a dive aimed at the fleeing elephant. Clough bore down on her head, pulling out mere metres above. His stunt triggered an enraged reaction that saw her swing her head skyward, sending Tommy flying high but free of the tusk. The wounded ranger hit the ground hard, then noticed that the little aircraft was making a tight turn to harass the offending elephant again. Suddenly there were two shots nearby, and the elephant crumpled. Roach came romping up with an annoying grin on his face. It did occur to Tommy that if nothing else, he did give people something to smile about, but he was in considerable pain and wondered aloud how bad his injuries were.

“Terry, I’m hurt,” he explained.

“Yes, I know. You’ve just had an elephant’s tusk jammed up your arse.”

Roach knelt down to take a closer look and was pleased to see that the bleeding was not excessive. It seemed that the femoral artery was intact, which had been his main concern. He was just reassuring Tommy that he would be all right when, in the process of loosening Tommy’s belt, he saw something white, round, and shining lying in the sand between the wounded man’s legs. Roach looked closer and to his surprise realized that it was a tenuously connected testicle that had been dislodged from its bag when the scrotum had been ruptured.

“Hey, Tommy, here’s one of your balls.” He plucked the testicle out of the sand with the reverence one would accord the discovery of a lost golf ball and tried to dust the sand from it.

“Jeepers, Terry, is it OK?”

“Well, Tommy, it’s full because it’s never been used, and either way it don’t make a whole lot of difference to you because you’re probably never going to need the damn thing anyway. Do you want it?” He held it up for Tommy to see.

“Yes please, Terry.” He nodded vigorously and thanked him profusely for being kind enough to give him back his ball. Terry produced water from a flask to wash the sand off Tommy’s family jewel and replaced it neatly in its pouch. Meanwhile a helicopter had been called from a nearby air force base, and within twenty minutes Tommy was airborne and on his way to the hospital. He was grateful for delivery from death but perplexed by his penchant for finding himself in compromising positions.

Fortunately for Tommy the damage was mainly muscular, and he was assured that all would eventually be well. Just in case a breeding program was on his list of things to do, the doctor told him that all the necessary tools appeared to be back in position and in working order. Tommy thanked him sheepishly.

* * * * *

While recuperating, Tommy received word that, once back on his feet, it might be a good time to take a holiday. Since joining the department Tommy had given no thought to leave. Coming from a family in which work was a way of life—apart from the odd weekend fishing—he had never really given much thought to a vacation. His colleagues talked about the coastal resort city of Durban in South Africa. Although Tommy had never been out of the country, had never seen the sea, and had never had any intention of doing so, he listened to the suggestion with interest when a colleague by the name of Basil Maine insisted they go together. The more Basil pressed him, the more exciting the prospect became.

Basil was the same age as Tommy and also from farming stock, but he had been to South Africa before. The shops there were full of merchandise never seen in sanctions-ridden Rhodesia, and Tommy’s longstanding wish to purchase a tape player on which to play music seemed suddenly within his grasp.

There was the problem of a car, but Basil’s brother offered to lend them his. A little the worse for wear, it would be good for the trip south, he told them. A more pressing problem was money. Rhodesia was battling international isolation, and foreign currency of any denomination was a rare commodity. Rhodesian dollars would be useless for a trip to South Africa, so a solution had to be found. Basil announced that he had found it.

Word had it that biltong (dry salted meat) was highly sought after in South Africa and fetched high prices. The two considered the return they might realize from selling the meat of one elephant and were thrilled by the thought. They knew there was a fortune to be made, and it looked easier than falling off a log. Their imaginations filled with scenes of fun-filled days on the Indian Ocean in opulent accommodations with access to all the indulgences of which they had only heard—movies, restaurants, and discotheques where they could expect to meet pretty girls.

When instructions arrived to travel to the Tsholotosho Tribal Trust Land to shoot crop-raiding elephant, the pair jumped at the opportunity. At dawn they were up and ready. Speed was essential to give them a chance of making it to the problem area, finding the offending animal or animals, and returning that same day so as to be ready to leave promptly for their holiday. Full of anticipation they raced off, emphasizing all the way to the scouts that they wanted to find tracks and kill at least one elephant as soon as possible. There would be no dithering.

The rangers arrived at the village from which the complaint had come and were pleased to discover that the elephant had been in the maize lands again the previous night. With one of the villagers to guide them, they found and followed the fresh tracks of three bulls. Tommy set a swift pace, and the soft sand underfoot made the pursuit easy. He decided that he would close in and shoot one, sparing the others in the hope that they would get the message and depart.

By ten o’clock the two hunters had closed in and killed the animal bringing up the rear without problem. As usual there was great excitement from the surrounding villages as the tribespeople came hurrying in to get a slice of elephant meat. Before allowing them near, however, the rangers had the Land Rover brought to the scene. While the tusks were hacked out the villagers were told to restrain themselves until the vehicle was loaded. Thereafter it was all theirs.

Tommy and Basil could hardly hide their excitement as they watched the truck being loaded with the meat that would pay for the holiday of a lifetime. Without further ado, they raced back to camp with the vehicle well loaded, arriving just as the sun was going down.

“You know, Tommy, I figured that if we can load five hundred pounds of this meat into the car we should be able to clear two thousand rand. We’ll have more money to spend than we know what to do with!”

“Really, Basil?”

Tommy was a little unsure, but he trusted Basil’s judgment. He had little idea of money and none whatsoever when it came to a foreign land like South Africa. But his face brightened at the thought.

They stuffed elephant meat into every nook and cranny they could find in the little car. To take best advantage of the available space, they dispensed with containers. The meat went in as it lay: large, warm, bloody chunks of sinewy elephant. Tommy noticed that the weight was having an effect on the pitch of the car, but he was pleased to see that Basil was unconcerned.

“The more the merrier, Tommy!” Basil exclaimed. They grabbed a few hours’ sleep and then, at four in the morning, rose to commence their journey.

With the car packed to the gunnels, the happy twosome threw a few items of tatty clothing atop the motorized abattoir and set forth for the border in high spirits. They had agreed that they would replenish their tawdry wardrobes from the proceeds of the sale of their meat. The car was so heavily loaded that the engine strained and steering was a little unpredictable, so speed was at a premium. But they were on their way, and thrilled to be off. Once on the paved road the car picked up some speed, but both noted with a hint of concern that it was an exceptionally warm day.

“I hope the meat doesn’t go off, Basil.”

“Should be OK, so long as we get through the border today. We’ll go straight to the campsite in Messina, and you start cutting the slabs into strips. I’ll do the seasoning. If we work through the night we can hang it to dry in the morning, and with this heat we should be ready to start selling tomorrow.”

“Sounds good, Basil.” Tommy felt a lot better for this reassurance. He was pleased and proud of his friend, who seemed to have everything so carefully worked out.

It was late afternoon when the tired little car finally made it to the border. Relieved, the two went inside the building to fulfill exit formalities on the Rhodesian side of the frontier. That was speedy and, without problems, they then proceeded to South Africa across the Limpopo. Suddenly Tommy became excited. For the first time in his life he had crossed into another country, and he was intrigued to see signposts in Afrikaans. His excitement subsided, however, when he read one of the posted signs.

“Basil, that sign we just passed said something about meat being imported into South Africa. I’m not too sure, but I think it said you need a permit or some papers or something. Something about disease control?”

“Ag, forget it. We don’t need anything. Elephant cross this river all the time. Do they have to get a permit?” Tommy looked at Basil, and they burst out laughing. His fears allayed, he got back to enjoying himself.

They went first to the immigration officer, who after a few questions stamped their passports and told the pair to proceed to customs. On entering the customs hall, Tommy was again perturbed to see a sign warning against the importation of meat products without a permit.

“Basil,” he whispered, “that sign there in Afrikaans says NO MEAT PRODUCTS ARE TO BE IMPORTED INTO SOUTH AFRICA WITHOUT A VALID PERMIT.”

Basil was dismissive. “Don’t panic, Tommy. If they ask, just say we haven’t got any meat. They aren’t going to find out. These Dutchmen are famous for being stupid. Just tell them we’ve been shopping for our holiday, if you have to. Speak to them in Afrikaans—they’ll like that.”

Tommy was perplexed. He was a “Dutchman,” too, albeit an alienated one, and he was not in the business of lying to anyone. The Bible was very clear on that. He felt nervous and could feel a sweat coming to his brow. Because Basil couldn’t speak Afrikaans, he would have to do the talking, and he felt very uneasy.

Before him across the counter was an extremely large “Dutchman” of sullen countenance who glared at him. The pen in his fist looked like a toothpick. He too was sweating, but Tommy correctly deduced that his perspiration had nothing to do with fear. Basil was a safe, distressing distance to the rear.

“Good afternoon.” The official barked out a gruff, peremptory greeting and glared.

“Good afternoon, sir.” Tommy returned the compliment, noting the quiver in his own voice.

“Where are you going?” the big man asked.

“To Durban, sir.”

“I see. What are you going to do there?”

“Just holiday.”

“I see. How much South African currency do you have?”

“None, sir.”

“None! How can you go on holiday with no money?” Tommy had no answer.

“What do you and your friend do for a living?”

“We are game rangers.”

“I see.” The big customs man nodded in a fashion that seemed to indicate he had made some sort of deduction.

“What else do you have with you?”

“Nothing, sir. Just some clothes,” he lied. His voice shook.

He noted with concern that the big man seemed to grow bigger as he stretched his neck to stare out the window at their little car in the parking bay outside. He looked back at Tommy.

“Hell, you could have fooled me. Why does that car look so heavily loaded?”

Tommy was at a loss for words and was starting to hate Basil, who was now skulking outside. Then he heard the words he dreaded most.

“Let’s go and have a look.”

Tommy’s heart sank. He wished he had never left Rhodesia.

There was worse to come. Approaching the car Tommy noted with horror that blood was dripping out of one of the doors. The net was closing fast. A quick sideways glance at the huge official made him shudder. Obviously he too had seen the blood. His eyes widened, while angry red flush crept into large jowls.

Without hesitating, the customs man strode to the car and wrapped a huge hand around the handle before wrenching the offending door open with a contemptuous flourish. As he did so a huge chunk of elephant meat flopped loudly onto the tarmac. Blood splashed onto the man’s white shoes. The big official could scarcely believe what lay before him and looked on speechless. Then he noticed his blood-spattered shoes and gave a short guttural roar. Opening the trunk he discovered a spectacle even more gruesome. Inside was a mass of pungent pink elephant flesh wobbling around like a massive meat jelly. Taking time to come to terms with the enormity of the crime before him, the big man finally moved his lips.

“What the hell do you people think you are doing?” he asked. His face was an awkward mix of genuine confusion and blazing anger. The Afrikaners had long harbored a justifiable gripe against the Rhodesians, whom they rightly accused of believing they were all stupid. He believed he was correct in assuming that these two were typical of the genre.

His eyes bored into Tommy’s. Tommy glanced toward Basil, who had his head firmly in the depressed position. Completely at a loss as to what to say or do, his mind raced to Basil’s last instruction—to aver that they had been shopping. In a flash of brilliance he decided that in order to distance himself from culpability he needed a third person—and that his mother would have to come to his rescue.

Gathering his thoughts, he took a deep breath and looked at his tormentor. “You see, sir,” he said in his best, deferential Afrikaans, “my mom went shopping this morning, and I think she forgot to take the meat out the car. This is her car.”

No sooner had Tommy finished this rather pathetic tale than he saw a hand the size of a soup plate swinging toward his head at a furious speed, whereupon a thunder flash detonated and he staggered to the rear, holding his hot ear, which was now ringing. The force of the explosion in his head rendered him momentarily deaf.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” was the question he failed to respond to, because he had not heard it.

The killer eyes set in the red face remained focused.

“Your mother did what?” He noticed that the big man’s lips were scarcely moving.

Tommy thought seriously of running for it. Basil was ducking from view on the other side of the vehicle.

Tommy knew that his only chance was a plea for forgiveness.

“Sorry, very sorry, sir,” he murmured as he backed away, his hand glued to his burning ear. “It’s elephant meat. It’s elephant meat, for biltong.”

The sight of the smuggler suitably contrite and exhibiting the required submission slowed the big man’s advance. Tommy was still fixing to break into a run and break for the Limpopo and the border when a vice enveloped his shoulder. He looked up.

“Now listen to me, fool. You and that turd-for-brains there,” he pointed at Basil who lurked safely out of range, “have got just five seconds to get in this car, reverse, and beat it back to Rhodesia. If I ever see you two again, you will look very much like that meat.” He pointed at the blood and gore in the back of the car. An index finger torpedoed into Tommy’s sternum, taking his breath away.

The moment the vise loosened Tommy took one giant leap and made it into the car, whereupon Basil lit into the driver’s seat. In a wail of engine revs and thudding gear changes the little car hurtled out of the border post and back to Rhodesia, leaving chunks of elephant meat strewn in their wake.


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