THE PAWN

 

With army discipline drilled into me, as it had been for the past year, I followed. He led me to a small, featureless office where he motioned me to a seat opposite him.

‘Why are you asking questions about a man named Smit?’ No preliminaries, no introductions, just the bald question.

‘He approached me in a helicopter …’ I began, and went on to relate exactly what had happened in South West Africa; Smit’s few words which had reopened old wounds and how I had hoped that by finding out who Smit was was I might be able to find out what he knew about Sally’s abduction.

The man sat listening in complete silence, no flicker of expression on his face until I had finished.

‘Smit knew nothing.’ He said it almost with satisfaction. ‘There is nothing he could have told you. Your daughter died, probably pushed from the aircraft as it flew over the mountains. She was not on board when the Lesotho police shot the terrorists. You really must accept that and get over this ridiculous idea that we are not telling you the truth.’

‘But …’ I began, only to be silenced by an angry gesture.

‘Leave it alone, I tell you. It will do you no good probing into old sores. Meanwhile there is another matter which must be attended to.’ I had no difficulty recognising the document he extracted from his briefcase and opened on the table in front of me. It was the one Gert had given me to sign what seemed like a lifetime ago. ‘Please read the paragraphs marked in red. Read them carefully and don’t speak until you have finished.’ His speech was clipped and formal, and there was an air of authority about him that belied his size.

He had marked every paragraph which related to the fact that, as a mercenary, I officially didn’t exist; I had no rights of recourse should my contract be revoked; I was specifically forbidden to take my case to the press should I be unhappy with my lot in the armed forces, and so it went on. It took me ten minutes to read but every paragraph boiled down to the same thing. I had no rights, I didn’t officially exist. And if I did not abide by these conditions various unspecified penalties would be incurred.

The little man sat, completely unmoving, waiting for me to finish. Forestalling my next question, he proceeded to lay down the law.

‘I doubt very much whether that contract has any value in law, Mr Van Niekerk.’ He tore the document in half and, with a pocket lighter, ceremoniously burnt it, letting the pieces fall into an ashtray and on to the table. ‘And anyway, as of this moment you are no longer in the employ of the South African Government in any capacity whatsoever.’

He looked up, his eyes steel-grey and ice cold. ‘I wish to stress this point. Valid in law or not, that contract is binding on you for life. There is only one way it can be terminated and that is by your demise. Do I make myself absolutely clear?’ The question required no answer. The fact that the threat was made by a man almost half my size made it no less frightening. I could break the contract any time I liked – provided I was prepared to die for it.

‘We look after our people well, however. It is through no fault of your own that you are no longer fit to do the work you signed up for. Therefore you will receive your full pay until the end of the period when your services would normally have terminated. In return you will abide by the contract you signed and cease making enquiries about other members of 32 Battalion. Oh, and by the way, if I were you I would abandon any idea of renewing your career in journalism.’

‘But what about...’

‘Smit?’ he completed for me. ‘I almost forgot.’ He pulled a sheet of paper out of his briefcase, identical to the one he had burnt only moments before, and with a casual gesture put his lighter to the corner. I watched in horror as the flames consumed the identity of the man I needed so desperately to find.

‘If Mr Smit ever existed outside your imagination he exists no more. It would be in your own interests to forget all about him.’ He turned on his heel and left.


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Sample

An action adventure about the passions, fear, greed and ambition that drive men to unspeakable acts. The Pawn is also, equally, about the triumph of love and justice.

REVIEWS

A book for its time . . . Mr Wynne should pen some more. -- The Courier-Mail, Brisbane


Wynne tackles his tale with gusto, humour and a well-paced flow of action. -- Hobart Mercury


Wynne makes good use of familiar background in his entertaining first novel. -- Canberra Times


A racy, competent adventure -- Daily Dispatch, East London


A gripping thriller. -- Sunday Mail, Brisbane