If my brushes with the law were worrying my parents, I would not have been surprised. What was more important, they were beginning to worry me!
Getting the most boring job in the world – well, almost – had one thing going for it. It made a yardstick for all my other employment for the rest of my life, and when I left it, I felt a bit like I did when I left prison.
I became a motor spares salesman. Standing all day behind a counter, serving customers that often didn’t know what they wanted, then fetching spares from racks to show to people who then didn’t want what I offered.
“I want a new one of these.” The customer might show me the segment of a piece of worn metal.
“I’m not surprised. What is it?”
“It’s from the gearbox.” (How could I not recognise it?)
“OK, that’s a start. So, what kind of car, Sir?”
“ Er, green.”
Akin to milking a cat. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to tell you about.
Remember my friends, Kees Korndorffer and Lawrence Brown? I had found an abandoned tin-mine in the wild bush of the Waterberg hills and I wanted to explore the old workings. One Sunday Lawrence, his fiancé, Amanda, Kees and I drove on metalled backroads to the old mine to have a barbeque and explore. There was nobody about. Littered about amongst the acacia and combretum bushes were rusting vehicles, engine parts and a corrugated iron shed that had once been the office, beside the overgrown adit. The door was closed by a bent nail.
With the fire going under some old valve rods we’d found, I went off for a bit of lavatorial privacy while Lawrence scouted the office. It was empty but for some old newspapers on the floor, a calendar on the wall and a couple of badly dented aluminium miners’ helmets. I joined them there to find out from the calendar how long ago it had been since the mine had been in operation. We lifted the helmets as souvenirs.
After lunch, we had a look at the adit, but there was nothing too exciting and we were too wary of creepy-crawlies to go in very far. We scouted the junk and picked up a strange bell-like item. Some sort of spring-loaded mechanical timer, I suppose.
All in all, a pleasant day.
Monday was different. I was at the counter, serving medicine for sick motors, when a cop walked in and arrested me. Maybe ‘took me in for questioning’ would be more accurate. He drove me back the hundred miles to Warmbaths, my home town, but I was not cuffed, sitting in front with him and he chatted quite amiably about what had transpired. Apparently, there had been a watchman of sorts lurking near enough to take Lawrence’s vehicle licence plate down. The mine/farm owner passed that to the police and demanded that we be brought to justice!
It was all rather ridiculous, but he pressed charges of breaking-and-entering, malicious-damage-to-property, theft and trespass.
Kees, once again, avoided the debacle with his Diplomatic Immunity, his father being a member of the Dutch Diplomatic Corp. Amanda’s father pulled some strings to keep her out of it, so it was just Lawrence and I who wound up in court. We had separate lawyers representing us.
My Dad, who also thought it to be a storm in a tea-cup, came along to support me. It was a warm day; soporific, almost. The courtroom in the Warmbaths Magistrates Courts buzzed with flies against the windows and the murmur of justice being traded. The evidence lay on a table at the front of the court, guarded by an overweight police sergeant.
The loot from the robbery: the mine helmets, a bent screw-driver, the timer…
Turning that bent nail and pushing open that office door constituted the B & E…
Cooking our chops on the valve-lifter rods, savagely and coldheartedly destroying the temper of the hardened metal, was malicious damage…
Suddenly the whole court rose an inch off their chairs as the timer went off with a clamorous ringing of its built-in bell.
The face of the sergeant, who had been absentmindedly fiddling with it, turned crimson. Stifled giggles were heard shortly thereafter and the magistrate hid his mouth behind his hand.
I was acquitted of the B & E charge, as my lawyer explained that I was answering a call of nature in the bushes. More smiles. Everyone knew that he meant I was having a bos-kak.
Lawrence wound up with a fine and a criminal record, and whatever it was I was given (No fine, but I didn’t catch what else it was and was too keen on a low profile to ask) was suspended for six months.
This criminal stuff was getting to be a habit and I was determined that this, while not exactly much more than a misdemeanour, would be the last.