Harbouring Fugitives

(WARNING: don’t share this story, in case they come and get me)

Sadly, this is a true story. Well, actually, all my stories are true. But this one is just bizarre enough to sound like a fabrication. It’s not.

Our house has three outside rooms which I rent out to students (or anyone willing to brave the conditions in this 60 year old house…). Some years ago, one of my tenants had to leave without giving one month notice, but reassured me that he had a friend who would like to take over his lease. I don’t normally go for this kind of arrangement, but agreed to meet the guy.

So, the guy, let’s just call him John Smith (to protect my identity), comes to meet me so I can look him over. I look, and my first reaction is “Eeww.” Let me take this opportunity to say: ALWAYS go with your gut feel. If you don’t, this is what can happen:

The young man (Caucasian, late twenties) looks a bit like he came from the wrong end of town. He says he works with disadvantaged kids. Corny fake gold chain around the neck, speaks a bit like… I don’t know, just not the kind of people I hang out with. But I don’t want to be an old fuddy duddy and discriminate on the grounds of accent, hairstyle, gold chains or dress sense. So I agree. The nagging is there, but I silence it with some chocolate and a bundle of cash for his deposit.

Some weeks pass. Things are pretty quiet. Rent is paid on time, and the guy is very courteous. One day he brings me a saucepan, saying they had this fundraiser with sponsors and so on, and this one was left over. Oh. Well. Uhm, OK, thanks. (That’s a bit odd, I think, but I could use it, so, whatever.)

Some time later he asks, very politely, if he can install a little security camera at the gate the tenants use, just for added security. Well, what’s the harm? I say yes. Then he asks if it’s OK to put some lights outside the room, it’s a bit dark there when he comes home late. Of course! Glad someone’s doing it, because it should have been done long ago. I notice other small things, but don’t pay much attention. The gate no longer squeaks. Someone has kindly oiled it for me! Great.

Other things, though, are a bit more sinister: there seems to be a lot of traffic coming from and going to his room. Mostly teenagers on bikes. And they come and visit at odd times – 2 am or 5 am… but they do so very quietly, they just pop in and leave very soon. I see a pretty young coloured girl with a baby very often.  I see that the windows have been covered with black paper. I think, that’s a bit weird… but then, some people like their privacy. One day I had to go and ask him something, and and noticed an interesting flourescent glow in the room – but he was standing fully in the way and didn’t open the door very much so I couldn’t really see. I thought perhaps it was for creating a bit of atmosphere, some people have lava lamps…

Then, a complete coincidence sets a bizarre chain of events in motion. My ex, doubling up as a home renovator, goes to paint someone’s flat in town. The place is trashed. He asks the owner, “What happened here?!”

She tells the disturbing tale of how some really low life tik dealers stayed there and ruined the place before bailing out rather unexpectedly. She talked of blocked out windows, flourescent lights, young guys on bikes, a young girl and a baby. Understandably distraught, my ex asks the name of the guy. John Smith. Oh boy.

This news comes as quite a shock to me: An upstanding, law-abiding mother of three, harbouring a bunch of criminals. Tik smouse! Finally, the odd pieces of this puzzle start to fall in place and it all starts to make sense. The blocked windows. The security camera. The oiled gate. People coming and going at strange hours. The lights, used in the manufacturing process. But what to do??

I phone the police.

“Uhhmm, hello. I wonder if you can help me. I think I might be harbouring some fugitives.”

“Eh, sorry, what is this?”

“Well, I think I have a drug dealer living on my property. What must I do? I have his name and ID number. Can you run a check on this guy?”

“Eh, no medem, we cannot do that, it is not allowed.”

“Well, what can I do?”

“There is nothing you can do. You just have to wait.”

Ooooh Kaayyyy…

The Moonman says, “What?? Do nothing? No way. I’m calling  my detective tjommie.”

A call is made a safe distance away from the drug den. He comes back looking both excited and angry. His friend in the police knows all about this guy! They have, in fact, been trying to catch him for some time.

Man, this is just getting better and better. I’m almost feverish. The police dude knows about the girl and the baby, the boys on bikes, even their names, the whole thing. They ask us to meet them at a secret location so that we can discuss details of how to proceed.

It’s like in the movies! Let’s go! Let me just grab my trench coat, wig and sunglasses. Tell the kids we’re off on a very important, very secret spy meeting and no-one must know where we’re going or why. Everyone is delighted.

So, we meet the leaders of the drug squad. They confirm all the identities and we give them the lowdown on the habits of this fugitive of ours. I can’t help it, I want to giggle the whole time. This is UNREAL.

So, now for the big bust. “Here’s the plan”, says the police dude. “Firstly, act normal. We don’t want them to suspect anything. Then, watch from the window looking down on their room, and report to us who comes and goes.” We’re told to keep the dogs inside the house, because the squad cars will be parked around the corner, the men will hop over the gate, sneak behind the house (dogs mustn’t bark or chase them), and then they will catch the crooks totally unaware and arrest the whole lot. Well, OK, whoever is there to be arrested.

“You got all that, ma’am?”


Imagine that. A real live Zone Reality drug bust. In my own house. Isn’t that just my luck.

Moonman and I hurry home and we start our lookout duty. We have about five kids with us. It’s like Spy vs. Spy in the MAD Magazine. We’re all stifling nervous giggles and almost wetting our pants with excitement. A bike boy arrives. Another one. We make a whispered call to the detective. Yes, our friend John Smith is here, I saw him going in and his bike is here. Looking good!

After what seemed like hours, we notice a flurry of movement in the garden. They’re here, they’re here!! We try not to shout or squeal or make any other noises from our look-out.

I think to myself, damn, they’re going to kick in the door, and that old door is such an odd size, it will be really hard to replace it. But I am disappointed: there is no kicking down doors. Or heavily armed SWAT team men rushing in, shouting “I’m going in, cover me!” No shouting, “Put your hands where I can see them!” Not even one gunshot.

No. There is a polite knock on the door. Then some quiet voices. I tad disappointed, the upstairs spy squad are now hanging out the window, no longer hidden. Then there is a knock at my front door. Now I have to face the criminal, and, very importantly,  I have to pretend like I knew nothing about this bust. So he doesn’t know it was me. They told him they’ve been watching him for weeks.

I’m not a good actress, and I don’t lie very well. I don’t know if I was at all convincing here, trying to look surprised and outraged at all this. I nod idiotically when the police pretend to inform me about the “situation”, and I feebly tell the guy I’m throwing him out of the room, he can’t stay here anymore. Yes. Well. I’ve never been involved in a drug bust before, gimme a break.

So,  with surprising compassion, the guys are led off. One is blubbering a bit, repeating he has nothing to do with this. The girl is upset. But not surprised, I guess. The police treat her very gently. They told me that she was just an innocent girl who got dragged into this whole mess by her boyfriend, the main smous, and then got pregnant. They’ve tried to get her out of his clutches, but she kept going back. Sad.

The police find enough evidence there to nail the bastard. Stolen cameras and cell phones and computer equipment, sports gear, pots and pans, tik lollies, tools for making the stuff… you name it.

So, finally, the dust settles and we try to come to terms with the whole drama. John Smith goes to prison. The girl is released and comes to fetch their belongings some time later. I try to think of something meaningful to say to her – but fail. What do I understand of her troubles? When she’s gone, I go and clear out the last few things she left behind. A lot of dust and grime, a disposable nappy and a fish knife. I bin the nappy but keep the knife. I don’t eat fish and have no need for a single fish knife. But I keep it, and every time is see it among the innocent, law-abiding knives in my kitchen, I think of John Smith and I remind myself: next time, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.

(PS: a few years later, a very shady looking Pakistani man wanted to rent the room.  He behaved very oddly when I asked for his ID numbers or other personal details like where he worked. I thought about the fish knife. I back-pedalled and told him I can’t rent the room to him after all. He became abusive. So I called our police friends, gave them all his details (probably fake) and breathed a sigh of relief.

Oh and by the way, I have a room available now, my tenant is getting married. Not the tik room, I’m afraid, but the one Koos Kombuis lived in for a while. Let me know.

™Erica Neser © 2011


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tanya
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 09:52:37

    ek lees te lekker. Elke nu en dan, wanneer ek nodig het om die werld ‘n bietjie te onstsnap, dan skuif ek agter die rekenaar in, trek my kop in dat niemand my kan sien nie, en lees. heerlik!


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