‘But we’re only staying here for one night, Mr Lemmer.’


‘I have to know what’s going on, Mr Lemmer. It… I find it all so disturbing. I can’t just sit here and wonder. Is it OK for us to travel? Can you travel with me? Because I’m going to the Lowveld tomorrow.’


It was dark outside, but the street lights were bright. I walked around the house. It was no fortress. There was burglar-proofing on the ground floor only, subtle enough not to offend the aesthetics. The weakest point was the sliding glass doors that opened on to the big veranda overlooking the sea. Tuscan pillars, corners and protuberances offered four or five alternatives to access the windows on the first and second storeys.

Inside, I knew, was the usual alarm system with motion sensors and a connection to a local private security firm. Their blue-and-white sign was prominently displayed beside the garage. It was holiday home security, designed as an optimistic deterrent and to keep insurance premiums down.

The house was about three years old. I wondered what had been here before, what did they knock down to build this excess and splendour, and what that had cost.

Lemmer’s Law of Rich Afrikaners: If a Rich Afrikaner can show off, he will.

The first thing a Rich Afrikaner buys is bigger boobs for his wife. The second thing a Rich Afrikaner buys is an expensive pair of dark glasses (with brand name prominently displayed), which he only removes when it is totally dark. It serves to create the first barrier between himself and the poor. ‘I can see you, but you can’t see me any more.’ The third thing the Rich Afrikaner buys is a double-storey house in the Tuscan style. (And the fourth is a vanity number plate for his car, with his name or the number of his rugby jersey.) How much longer will it be before we outgrow our inherent feeling of inferiority? Why can’t we be subtle when Mammon smiles on us? Like our rich English-speaking compatriots whose nose-in-the-air snootiness so offends me, but who at least bear their wealth in style. I stood in the dark and speculated about Carel-the-owner. Apparently he was already a client of Jeanette’s. The Rich Afrikaner does not use bodyguards, only home security – high fences, expansive alarms, panic buttons, and neighbourhood security companies with armed response. What requirements did Carel have for protection?

I had my answer at the dining table, later.

When I entered the room, most were seated at the big table. Emma did the introductions. She was apparently the only one who was not part of the family.

‘Carel van Zyl,’ said the patriarch at the head of the table, his handshake unnecessarily firm, as if he needed to prove something. He was a big man in his fifties, with fleshy lips and broad shoulders, but the good life had already left its mark on his cheeks and midriff. There were three younger couples – Carel’s children and their spouses. One of them was Henk, who had met me at the door. He was seated beside his wife, a pretty blonde with a baby on her lap. There were four other grandchildren, the oldest a boy of eight or nine. My seat was beside his.

Carel’s wife was tall and attractive and unbelievably well preserved. ‘Feel free to take off your jacket, Mr Lemmer,’ she said with exaggerated warmth as she placed a plate of steaming turkey on the table.

‘Mamma …’ said Carel reprovingly.

‘What?’ she asked.

He made a pistol of his hand and pushed the finger barrel down his shirt. He wanted to tell her I was wearing a firearm, and would be reluctant to show it.

‘Oh! Sorry,’ she said, as though she had committed a social blunder.

‘Come, let’s ask the blessing,’ said Carel sombrely. Everyone held hands and bowed their heads. The boy’s hand was small and sweaty in mine, his father’s cool and soft on the other side. Carel prayed with comfortable eloquence, and in bullet points, as though God were a fellow member of the board.

‘Amen’ echoed around the table. Dishes were offered, children encouraged to take vegetables. There were short silences: a secret consciousness of the stranger in their midst and a subtle insecurity about the correct form of interaction. I was a guest, but also an employee, an intruder with an interesting job. The boy watched me with unashamed curiosity. ‘Have you really got a gun?’ he asked. His mother hushed him and said, ‘Don’t mind him.’

I forked turkey on to my plate. The hostess said, ‘It’s just leftovers.’ Carel said, ‘It’s delicious, Ma.’

Someone introduced the weather forecast as a topic and conversation began to flow – plans for the next day, how the children could be kept occupied, whose turn it was to braai. Emma did not join in. Her attention was on her food, but she ate little.

I became aware of an unnatural geniality between them, despite my presence. There was no conflict here, no fraternal rivalry, and none of the usual banter between couples. It was rather like one of those ideal families portrayed on an American TV programme. It was emanating from the way Carel had the final say, the casting vote. Their submission was barely noticeable, interlaced with a cheerful, practised pattern of interaction, but it was there, bowing to the benign despot – the one with the wallet and the fortune.

How did Emma fit into all this?

Once the plates were emptied and a discussion of the next day’s golf had ended, Carel decided that it was time to engage me. He waited for a moment of quiet and gave me an intimate smile.

‘Now we know what the ghosts looks like, Mr Lemmer.’

For a fraction of a second I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I got it. He had had previous dealings with Body Armour but had the wrong end of the stick.

To all appearances Jeanette Louw is a lesbian in her fifties with big bottle-blonde hair, a dreadful smoking habit – Gauloise was her brand of choice – and an outspoken preference for seducing recently divorced, hurting, heterosexual women. But hidden behind that front was a razor-sharp intellect and a brain for business.

She had been the legendary regimental sergeant-major of the Women’s Army College in George, before taking her package seven years ago. After months of market research she had opened her own business on the sixteenth floor of a luxury office building in the Cape Beachfront area. On the glass double doors, through which you could see Jolene Freylinck, the manicured receptionist, BODY ARMOUR was printed in bold, masculine letters and the explanatory ‘Personal Executive Security’ below in slim sans serif.

Initially, her clients were foreign businessmen, the senior executives of international corporations who came to find out how a quick buck could be squeezed from Africa. Their embassies had whispered in confidential reports that the country was stable enough for investment, but safety on the streets was not quite up to Western standards. Jeanette aimed her marketing at the diplomats, the economic attaches and consuls, the embassy clerks and switchboard operators. Would their important visitors prefer to avoid the long list of personal threats, the muggings, car hijackings, assaults, rapes, abductions and break-ins? Body Armour was the answer. The first few clients went home safely and her reputation grew. Gradually the whole spectrum from East to West had hired her specialists: Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Germans, French, Brits and Americans.

Then the foreigners began to make movies in the Cape, and the pop stars of the world came to sell their concert tickets to the boere and her client list took on a new dimension. Snapshots of Jeanette with Colin Farrell, Oprah, Robbie Williams, Nicole Kidman and Samuel L. Jackson preened on her walls. She would sit behind her desk and tell you about the big ones that got away. Will Smith and his huge entourage, including his own American bodyguards who travel around him like African praise singers. Sean Connery had earned her eternal admiration by turning down her service with a ‘Do you think I’m a fucking wimp?’

As with similar services the world over, Jeanette’s portfolio of hand-picked freelance bodyguards took on a two-part character. First, there were the deterrents – those highly visible, muscle-bound, thick-necked, steroid- bulked colossi that accompany the famous and keep hoi polloi at bay through visual intimidation. Their sole qualifications were the intimidating size of their torso and limbs and the ability to scowl in a menacing manner.

In the other branch of Jeanette’s service were those whose job was to manage more subtle but also largely imaginary threats. They had to flatter the client’s ego with a curriculum vitae reflecting both official training and high-profile experience. They preserved the illusion of danger by moving in the periphery, incessantly observing and evaluating. Sometimes they worked in teams of two, four or six with tiny concealed ear- and microphones. Sometimes they worked alone, depending on the size of the client group, the financial means, or the nature of the

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