Читать онлайн "Vortex" автора Бонд Ларри - RuLit - Страница 29

 
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That was a comforting image to hold on to in the midst of a series of much more depressing visions of his likely future. Ian had no illusions left about his network’s compassion or generosity. A reporter who got himself beaten up and deported while getting an exciting story would be embraced with open arms. But a reporter who got tossed out without anything to show for it, save a few bruises, was a has-been heading straight for the television trash heap.

Ian groaned softly. Being kicked out of South Africa without the chance to see Emily again was bad enough. The thought of being sent to read the weather in somewhere called Lower Podurtkia made his almost certain deportation even worse.

“Hey, you! Amerikaan! On your feet. The new kommandant wants to see you.”

Ian turned his head. A warder stood just outside his cell door. Keys dangled from the man’s plump hand.

Head pounding again, Ian slowly sat up and levered himself off the concrete slab. The cell door slammed open.

“Come on, man. Don’t keep the kommandant waiting. You’re in enough blery trouble as it is. ” The warder motioned him out into the corridor where

Knowles and three other guards stood waiting.

Fifteen minutes later, the two men found themselves standing in front of the detention-center commandant’s enormous, highly polished desk. Two bearlike guards stood to either side. Ian wondered whether they really expected Sam and him to try to jump their chief, or whether they were simply posted as part of a general pattern of intimidation. More the latter than the former, he suspected.

At first glance, the new commandant himself looked more like someone’s kindly, mild-mannered junior clerk than a secret policeman. But that pleasant resemblance dissolved on closer examination. The man’s pale blue, almost reptilian eyes rarely blinked behind thick, wire-rimmed glasses. And his puffy, thin-lipped face seemed permanently set in a sour scowl. He wore a plain uniform devoid of any badge of rank or other ornamentation-except for a single red, white, and black pin fastened to his tunic. The

Afrikaner’s fingers drummed rhythmically while he leafed through the single document blotting the surface of his desk.

Ian focused his still-blurry vision, trying to make out the insignia embossed on the man’s lapel pin. For a second, it wavered in and out of focus. Then he recognized the symbol-the three-armed swastika of the

Afrikaner Resistance Movement, the AWB. Jesus Christ. He struggled to keep the shock he felt off his face. The AWB’s fanatics were supposed to be nothing more than a lunatic fringe groupa group despised as much by the ruling National Party as by anyone else in South Africa. So what the hell was a high-ranking official doing wearing their insignia? Not only wearing it, but wearing it proudly, he thought, studying the commandant’s arrogant profile.

Things began failing frighteningly into place. The brownshirts who’d beaten them up were undoubtedly members of the AWB’s Brandwag, or

Sentry-a heavily armed paramilitary organization. The AWB’s leaders had sworn to use their private army of storm troopers against those they labeled communists and black troublemakers. Now they seemed to be actually putting their threats into violent practice. And doing so with the active approval of those in the new government.

Ian shivered involuntarily at the thought of the AWB’s ignorant, torch-carrying hatemongers running wild through South Africa’s townships and city streets. What kind of madman would give such thugs free rein?

He lifted his eyes from the commandant’s tunic and saw the harsh, unsmiling visage of Karl Vorster staring back at him from the wall.

My God, he realized, they’ve already taken the time to manufacture idealized portraits of the new president. And for the first time, he began to consider the possibility that Vorster was something much worse than a somewhat simpleminded political hard-liner.

“My, my, Meneer Sheffield, what a shocking list of crimes. Violating a police line, brawling with appointed representatives of the government, breaking the Emergency Decree’s restrictions on press coverage… what am I going to do with you?” The commandant’s dry, sneering voice brought

Ian back to the more basic consideration of his own personal fate.

Oh, oh. Decision time. Should he play it safe and act suitably meek and apologetic in the hope that they’d let him stay in South Africa? Or show the sons of bitches that they couldn’t scare him and probably get strapped into the first

plane heading overseas’? He found the decision surprisingly easy to make.

Somehow he found the thought of kowtowing to the prim little neo-Nazi in front of him too sickening to contemplate seriously. He mentally kissed both Emily and his career good-bye.

Ian leaned closer to the desk.

“I’ll tell you what you can do, you .. ” He closed his mouth on the term he’d been about to use. Even as angry as he was, it didn’t seem very wise to call the prison commandant a son of a bitch to his face.

He swayed upright.

“All right. Here’s the deal. First, you let us out of your damned jail. Then you arrest those bastards who attacked us. “

Ian took a shallow breath, calmer now.

“And after that’s done, we’ll talk about how you can pay us back for the damage to our stuff and for this.

” His fingers gently brushed the painful swelling behind his left ear.

Finished, he stood waiting for the expected explosion and immediate order for his expulsion.

It didn’t come.

Instead, the commandant simply smiled coldly.

“I shall not debate the matter with you, Meneer Sheffield. I reserve that for those I consider equals. And you are most emphatically not my equal.” His hands idly caressed the polished surface of his desk.

He stared straight into Ian’s eyes.

“You are a guest in this country, meneer. You exist at my sufferance. I suggest you remember that in the future.”

Ian held his breath, surprised into silence. Were they going to let him stay?

The commandant’s thin, cold smile vanished.

“You have much to learn about the role you can play in South Africa, Meneer Sheffield. We Afrikaners are not the kind of weak willed decadent, impoverished tribesmen with whom you socalled journalists can play god. We do not care in the least what you and your prating colleagues think of us or our policies. “

A fanatical gleam appeared in the man’s pale, un winking eyes.

“The true God alone shall judge our actions to save our folk. “

“If that’s the case, why not just kick us out and have done with it?” Ian heard Knowles choke back a muttered warning to shut up.

The Afrikaner steepled his hands.

“I assure you most solemnly, meneer, if it were up to me alone, I would gladly send you back to your own godless land by the next available transport.

“But”—the hands separated and spread into the semblance of an uncaring shrug-“it seems that there are those in higher places who have some small interest in you and your friend. So I shall be merciful this once. You’re free to go. Immediately. ” The commandant jerked his head toward the office door and lowered his eyes to the open file on his desk, apparently dismissing the whole matter from his mind.

Scarcely able to believe his good fortune, Ian was halfway to the door before he remembered their damaged gear. The green-eye shade boys in New

York were bound to squawk unless he and Knowles made every effort to find another way to pay for the needed repairs and replacements. It was the same old story. If the network bosses liked you, you could even get away with writing off a trip to the south of France as a research expense. But woe betide anyone else who turned in an expense account showing anything more pricey than lunches at the local equivalent of McDonald’s.

     

 

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