Just because I am paranoid does not mean that there isn’t someone out to get me. Anonymous.
“I need your opinion on some woodwork.” Terry certainly had no need of my advice so it was clear he wanted to speak with me alone and certainly out of earshot of both Anne and the children, so I dutifully followed him toward the opposite end of the yard.
“I know of well-paying job you may be interested in.” Terry knew that we were short of cash, and that I would be willing to do almost anything to bolster our shrinking finances since we had discovered that the yacht that we had bought was not as seaworthy as the surveyors report had indicated and that our caravan had been decimated in a series of freak accidents. I also had the uneasy feeling there was something else which he was not telling me as I sensed that he wanted to tell me something and then reconsidered.
“Before you ask -yes it is legal, -as far as South African law is concerned anyway. Although the Harbour Police may not think so, -they still apply some of the old World War Two regulations.” Terry’s crooked smile did not give me a good feeling.
“It’s worth a grand to you, less my finder’s fee -of course!” He gave his crooked smile again.
I had been under the water for a few minutes when the throbbing heartbeat of the approaching behemoth numbed me with fear as it filled my head with its overwhelming thrumming sound. The shock wave of its powerful beats vibrated though my body, triggering a wave of queasiness that pressed against the rubber mouthpiece of my scuba gear. Forced to inhale sharply as I panicked, my facemask pinched painfully squashing it against my nose. If I lost control I knew that I would have little alternative but to fin frantically upward to the surface, risking “the bends” or being sucked into the gigantic blades of the approaching ocean liner’s propeller and then being shredded into its crimson frothing wake like a frog run over by a lawn mower.
“Clank! Clank! Clank! The staccato sound of a prearranged signal made by beating a hammer against a length of steel bar alerted me to the fact that I was approaching the limit of my planned dive. I still had not found the brass propeller dropped by the yacht Pegasus as it motored toward the harbour entrance. Peter its charismatic skipper, had promised me a thousand Rands if I could retrieve it. Despair washed over me as the poor visibility and the cluttered harbour bottom, littered with debris, made my task virtually impossible. The lure of the cash paled as I considered how once again I had acted without thinking it through properly. To make matters worse, I was sure I could see a dark shadow of one of the deadly Zambezi sharks hovering just out of sight waiting for the right moment to come up behind me to sink its ragged teeth into my thigh and shake me like a dog mauling a rabbit. Besides what I was doing was illegal, if the harbour police caught me -it could mean jail. Two clanks reverberated through the water. It was the recall signal summoning me to the surface again. The prospect of defeat gave me new strength. Finning strongly, I covered a lot of ground in an all-out effort. A dull glint caught my eye and the propeller seemed to beckon to me from the spot where it had come to rest next to a rusting oil drum. A small grouper mouthed defiance before retreating into its lair. Elated I had difficulty in forcing myself to stop and decompress, hanging suspended a few metres below the surface to purge my blood of its expanding air bubbles, before rising into the sunshine, propeller first, triumphantly mocking king Arthur’s lady of the lake brandishing a sword.
“I’ll draw your cash and meet you at the Point Yacht Club bar this afternoon to celebrate” said Peter slapping me on the back with enthusiasm. My heart sank. During our brief residence in Durban, we had learnt some of the quirks of “The last Outpost”, as we were gradually admitted to some of the lower echelons of the yachting community. Unwritten rules determined a pecking order incorporating your financial status, your job or profession, the yacht you owned, the school you attended and your sporting achievements. These determined your status in the inbred community and by implication to which yacht club you could aspire. Nevertheless, membership of one of the recognised clubs was mandatory if one wished to secure a berth in the crowded yacht basin. So I joined Durban Boat Owners Association on the basis of their more relaxed rules and significantly lower membership fees. Membership of this club, together with the fact that I was a despised Vaalie, a member of the reviled migratory up-country holiday makers that came down from the gold producing inland cities on the opposite side of the Vaal River, automatically relegated me to the bottom rung of their social ladder.
Although the Point Yacht club was not the pinnacle of the yachting community’s elite, it outranked the lowly status of the “Boat Owners Association” members and I could not help feeling that I would be recognised as an impostor by its members who would surround me hissing “Unclean, Unclean!” as they made signs at me ward off the evil eye.
“Don’t be silly. It’s all in your mind. This is a great opportunity to make some new friends,” Anne kissed me on the forehead as I dressed in a clean white shirt, black slacks and tie before setting off to meet Peter . Hopefully to get paid. The level of noise issuing from the crowded bar indicated that I was at least three rounds of drinks in arrears as I entered the smoke filled room where the inhabitants squabbled raucously, dispensing testosterone like jostling walruses and butting each other in the hope of soliciting the favours of a few battle scarred females who lounged in a corner nursing chilled white wine and soda water cocktails.
“Hey Brian! I told you I wouldn’t have to pay your thieving rates to get you to make me another propeller, even though it’s your fault it fell off in the first place,” bragged Peter, brandishing the bronze propeller I had lifted from the harbour floor earlier that day.
“And this is the guy you have to thank for it”, he said pointing at me with a thumb over his shoulder. Brian glowered at me, marking me indelibly in his mind as the cause of his being cheated him out of his rightful due and therefore as another enemy.
“How about a drink for Durban’s answer to Jacques Cousteau?” roared Peter, instantly forgetting me as he assumed his place at the head of the walrus pack, allowing me to merge into the background as the beer and banter flowed.
My face reddened as I tuned into a fragment of gossip on the fringes of the posturing macho walrus herd.
“Did you hear that some idiot Vaalie bought Pisces? Snorted one of the lesser walruses.
“Yes, I wonder if he knows that he’s bought a Jonah -the most jinxed boat in the Bay?” grunted his companion.
“Remember how those four youngsters that built her hull were all killed in a car smash?” belched his buddy.
“Yes, -and what about that croupier from the Transkei casino who bought the hull at the auction and then ran out of money fitting it out? Do you remember how he used to drive the bare hull around the bay like a motor boat because he could not afford the masts and sails?” snorted the first walrus.
“Yes!” He snuffled and snorted slopping his drink as he did so.
“Do you remember what he did when we kicked him out of the club?” wheezed his pal.
“Do you mean the time he mooned the commodore of the club and the fancy ladies taking the salute at the Yacht Club’s annual Sail-Past ceremony?” Guffawed the first walrus.
“No, I’m referring to what happened after he slipped and fell overboard, got crushed against the dock and ended up paralysed in Addington hospital? Do you remember how Brian, the engine mechanic, pulled a fast-one and had the boat “arrested” so that he could force it to be auctioned, just so that he could get the two grand he was owed?” snuffled the second walrus.
“No flies on Brian eh?” Cackled his crony slapping his knee with admiration.
“What about the guy who finally got Pisces finished and took it on its maiden voyage?” Croaked walrus one.
“How could I forget? Damn boat nearly killed my buddy Gunter and the owner. They had to get the National Sea Rescue Institute to tow them, barely afloat into Richards Bay. The owner never set foot on a yacht ever again.” His companion shook his head and slobbered with glee.
“Never mind that, do you recall how Pisces fell off her cradle in the boatyard and flattened that Zulu?” Frowned walrus one.
“Yes, I remember that. Do you remember the witchdoctors charms and bones and the muthi they found hidden inside her hull whilst they were making repairs?” Wheezed the smaller walrus.
“I do, I also remember how they had to import labourers from Johannesburg because the local men refused to work on her after they found the cursed charms.”
“Bad news, a jinxed boat. I wonder what kind of fool has ended up with that Jonah now? Snorted walrus one.
“That would be me.” I said gritting my teeth as I entered into their conversation for the first time.