An exerpt from "The Return"
by Bernard Preston
Keywords: Santie takes the bait, Setting the honeytrap, bernard preston, a family affair
Bev has an usual profession; blackmail. She's paid exorbitant amounts of money to entice high flying women into a honeytrap - and capturing the affair on film. Will the judge-to-be fall for it?
Santie Veenstra on the other hand, is Dean of the law faculty at Gauteng University. Santie's relationship with her partner, Janet Twycross, has grown rather stale...
Santie's mother dies when she is only twelve. Santie inherits a trunk of her mother's personal belongings; but she dares not open it. Will Bev help?
It was in fact more than six months before Santie made the decision to meet with Bev again. She arrived at the old dance school promptly at six-thirty one Friday evening.
‘Santie, this is so nice! Are you really going to join us at Dance with Style?’ Bev was enthusiastic. When she had heard no further from Santie after their evening at Twiggies together, she wondered whether to phone, but decided that there was no point. She could always try again in the future.
Santie nodded. ‘May I? Where do I sign up?’
‘Toni will give you the forms. She’s over there,’ said Bev, pointing to a woman of about her age. ‘What made you decide to come dancing?’
‘I’m a bit embarrassed, but I’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing on TV. It looks fun.’
‘That’s another league, hey, and this is a kid’s class. Would you rather join an adult class?’
‘You said you needed boys. I’m a boy!’ She lifted her arms and gave a little shuffle. She was dressed in a pair of formal black trousers, and a long-sleeved white shirt.
‘You’ll pass muster. Okay, join the boys!’
Thus followed six Fridays of recall as Santie swung very quickly into an old rhythm that lay buried, deep under the rubble of nearly forty years. It was like rediscovering how to ride a bicycle again. She was surprised to discover that she hadn’t forgotten what her mother had taught her, though of course it was covered with layers and layers of rust and dust. Each evening Santie and Bev enjoyed a drink together afterwards and Santie made sure she was always home before Janet. On the seventh Friday, after their second glass of wine, Santie said to Bev: ‘It’s quite strange. I feel I have reconnected with my mother. It’s as though she is dancing next to me, with me, in me. Watching. It’s a weird feeling.’
Bev smiled, saying nothing.
‘So today I’ve brought an old trunk of my mother’s things. I’ve never had the courage to open it. Would you help me deal with it? I need someone by!’
‘I would feel privileged to help you open your mother’s trunk, Santie, but not here. Would you like to bring it to my house and we can open it there in private? I wouldn’t want you balling your eyes out in front of all these people!’
‘Oh, that’s thoughtful of you.’
‘We’ll stop in at Gino’s and grab a pizza. Mushroom and tomato?’
Santie nodded. They finished up their drinks and helped themselves to a samoosa each on the way out of the door. ‘You follow me, Santie. It’s not far.’ It was in fact no more than fifteen minutes drive to Bev’s home. Santie was surprised at both the address and the lovely outlook over a small lake, along with a dozen other GASH homes. The house was small, but beautifully styled and kept, built in a neo-colonial style. The old-fashioned roof tiles, made of clay, and tiny lead-paned bay windows spoke of money. Plenty of money. Bev drove up to a double garage door, and Santie pulled up next to her in front of the second door. Both doors rose simultaneously. Unlike Santie and Janet’s garage, it was neat and tidy, with only a mower and a few garden tools in one corner.
‘Shall I give you a hand with the trunk?’ asked Bev.
‘Thanks, it’s heavy.’ The old trunk wasn’t as heavy as Bev expected, but it was awkward lifting it out of the trunk. A connecting door led them through into an immaculately fitted kitchen. Santie noticed that it was tiled in sandy-coloured Liebermann tiles, with quaint English scenes in dark greens and deep rustic browns. The solid oak kitchen cupboards, gas hob and electric oven again spoke of money.
‘Wow, this is beautiful, Bev. How long have you lived here?’
‘Almost five years now. I did the kitchen up last year. It needed it.’ She pulled a couple of beers out of the fridge, and slipped the pizza in the oven. They took the trunk through into the lounge. The room was equally impressive with rich black leather furniture and a huge painting of a black and gold dancing figure hung tastefully over the fireplace. A large wall hanging, embroidered in mohair, displaying dancing Bushmen and other mystical figures, hung suspended from the roof to the floor. In a corner, on a glass table, stood a simple vase of Poppies. A few petals had fallen to the woven wool carpet, and this gave the somewhat intimidating room a homely touch.
‘You have such a lovely home!’
‘Yes, it’s nice isn’t it?’ Bev added no further explanation. Santie thoughts were about money, and good taste, but where did Bev get it all? A dancer. Had she been that good?
Bev went on, ‘Let’s put the trunk over here next to the couch. What’s it to be? A beer first, and then the trunk? Or dinner, and then the trunk?’
‘Can … can we wait a bit? I’m not sure I’m ready to open it. Can I start with a glass of Dutch courage?’
‘Of course. How long have you had the trunk?’
Santie closed her eyes and thought. ‘My aunt brought it to me before Carlo was born. I suppose it must be nearly twenty years.’
‘Never wanted to open it?’
‘Oh, yes! Desperate to open it. But terrified.’
Santie rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. ‘Silly really, but every time I look at this trunk, all I can think of is my mother’s coffin, with the lid open, and my father forcing me to look in. I’m terrified that I will find my mother in the trunk! I know it’s stupid, but there it is.’
‘You will find her in the trunk. Not her body of course, just her presence. Maybe you’ll find yourself too. I could open it for you, but I think you should. In the end you will be pleased with yourself. Have a good slurp of some fine English, not Dutch, courage first.’ Bev gave her a long tall glass with the name Allsopp engraved in a wreath of hops.
‘Allsopp? Never heard of it.’
‘I’m an Allsopp. My family were brewers in England for hundreds of years before my great-grandfather emigrated to South Africa with the 1820 settlers. Cheers! To my family and yours. England and Italy!’
Santie raised her glass. ‘Your good health. Thank you for inviting me to your home. You’ve become a good friend.’
‘My pleasure.’ Bev stood up, and fetched the dinners from the oven. Once they had finished the pizza and a simple salad, she said: ‘Do you think it’s locked?’ gesturing at the trunk.
‘No, I’ve opened the catches several times. What do you think I will find?’
‘I don’t know. Perhaps yourself? What else would you like to find?’
‘I hope some photographs. I would love one day to meet my family in Italy. Perhaps some old letters?’
‘Well, come on. I can’t wait!’
The trunk was still covered with faded stickers of an old shipping line, a tramp steamer that travelled from Italy to Ethiopia, and on to South Africa. Reluctantly, looking at Bev and not at the old trunk, Santie clicked open the catches that held it shut. Both of them spat loudly open with no sign of rust or decay. Still watching Bev, her eyes avoiding the trunk, Santie slowly lifted the lid. Her first impression was of a musty smell.
‘Oh look! A skirt! Isn’t it beautiful! It must be your mother’s flamenco dress.’
Hesitantly, Santie looked into the old trunk. A black dress, embroidered with gold peacocks, lay covering the whole top of the trunk. Carefully, she fingered the old garment, tentatively lifting one corner. Underneath was a blanket. Nondescript, it too was black. ‘Everything’s black!’ she said. ‘Death!’
‘Not to worry. You are going to find some things of life. Keep going.’
Santie carefully lifted out the old dress and the blanket, laying them on the couch. Bev came to join her, both of them kneeling on the thick wool carpet, as they peered into the old trunk. In one corner lay a shoebox, and in another a large brown envelope, filled with photographs, faded and sepia-coloured. They moved on quickly, finding an assortment of old clothes, and a tennis racquet. Santie recognised it as the one her mother used when they’d played together. Several strings were broken and it had warped badly.
‘Oh look, her dancing shoes,’ said Bev, tugging them out of a packet, and passing one to Santie. ‘Castanets and all.’
‘’Fraid I wouldn’t fit into them,’ said Santie, fingering a shoe lovingly. They were worn and old, and memories came flooding back. She felt a lump forming in her throat. She could ~ just ~ remember her mother dancing around the kitchen floor in them. Cocking her head, she thought she could hear the castanets.
‘These framed photographs will be interesting,’ said Santie, tugging out a large plastic packet.
‘Look, that must be you as a child. Is that your Dad?’
Santie nodded, moving on quickly. She recognized a photo of her Italian grandparents that once stood on their mantelpiece, and another of a group of guitarists dressed up at a funeral, with her father standing in the centre holding a mike. She said nothing.
‘There’s your mother again,’ said Bev, looking at a faded photo. The woman was holding a tennis trophy, and a baby girl, obviously Santie, proudly tucked in her right arm. ‘I’ll bet this racquet won some tournaments.’ She swivelled the old racquet in her hands. ‘Was she good?’
Santie nodded without saying anything.
One frame was tightly wrapped in an old cloth, carefully taped up. ‘I don’t recognize this one,’ she said, tugging at the tape. It fell apart in her fingers. Inside was a picture of a teenager, whom she recognised as her mother. She was holding a small boy.
‘That’s your mum, isn’t it?’
Santie nodded. ‘No idea who the baby is, though.’
‘Maybe your brother,’ said Bev with a laugh.
‘A brother?! Do you think so?’
‘Who knows? Or a nephew.’
Santie felt a wave of nostalgia enveloping her, unforced yet unrelenting and inescapable. Strong feelings engulfed her at seeing her grandparents and aunts and uncles, none of whom she had ever met, and a possible unknown brother.
‘That’s enough for the first day,’ she said. ‘Thank you for helping me. This has been a big step forward.’ Carefully, she put everything back in, keeping out only the picture frame of her mother with the trophy. She snapped the lid closed, with an air of finality.
‘Another beer?’ asked Bev. ‘Or wine?’
‘Another beer would be nice,’ said Santie, passing Bev her empty glass. ‘I enjoyed that. I don’t normally drink beer.’
After filling their
glasses, Bev said: ‘I have a little studio here. Come and take a look.’
A little tipsy, she led the way through to an adjoining room, originally designed as a family room. In the centre of the room, there was a small circular, wooden dance floor and, to one side, an expensive-looking sound system. On the opposite side sat a comfortable looking couch. Putting on some Spanish music, Bev opened a large built-in cupboard, revealing an array of dance dresses, shoes and other knick-knacks. ‘You won’t fit into your mother’s skirt, and I don’t have any real Spanish dresses, but this might do,’ she said pulling out a glamorous full length skirt, black, embroidered with huge gold poinsettias.
‘Wow, you have stuff here to fit all and sundry.’
‘From my dancing days. I was also responsible for fitting out the dancers, and gradually built up this stock over the years. Do you think these gold shoes will fit you? Try them.’ Without the slightest embarrassment, Bev dropped her jeans, and slipped into a full dark blue skirt, covered with bright silvery sequins. Heaving off her cotton shirt, she slung on a revealing bra, with matching sequins. ‘Right, I’m ready,’ she exclaimed, pulling on a pair of elegant high-heeled dancing shoes. ‘What about you?’ Turning her back on Santie, she said gaily: ‘Try that skirt, and I’ll see if I can find a top and shoes that might fit. Those gold shoes are too small, aren’t they? You do have big feet.’
Hesitantly Santie unzipped her silk dress, and slid into the black skirt. ‘It’s a touch loose, but it feels nice.’
‘This belt will hold you together,’ said Bev, handing her a shiny black woven-leather belt. ‘And this top will match your skirt nicely. But does it fit?’
The blouse, of a glittering gold-braid fishnet, revealed almost all, but Bev, quite unconcerned, helped Santie out of her blouse and bra, standing carefully behind her. Santie was astonished at the top, but felt unthreatened with Bev’s totally natural manner of speaking.
‘Now, for some nice earrings, and a cheap, gushy necklace. How about these bangles?’ she asked producing some large gaudy jewellery. Bev pulled out two silk dressing gowns in dark green, embroidered with peacocks in silver and gold, and passed one to Santie. ‘Shall we finish our beers first?’
It wasn’t long before Bev turned the music up loud, almost deafening, with a heavy base line. She slipped off the silk gown, and stepped out onto the little dance floor, beckoning Santie.
‘You look stunning!’
‘It goes with dancing. Half of the success is trying to create a beautiful image. Didn’t you notice that on Strictly Come Dancing? They’re all dressed up to kill,’ she said beckoning. ‘You don’t look bad yourself, mind you!’
Santie shyly slid out of her dressing gown. The far wall was covered with a bank of mirrors. With a start she realised that she did look equally enticing. Under the bright down-lighters beaming from the ceiling, Bev started off in a vibrant Samba, taking the lead. Santie found herself stirred and stretched as they rocked to the South American music. Then Bev led skilfully into a cha-cha. It wasn’t long before they were breathing hard, their skins glowing warmly under the lights. Santie started clapping to the music.
‘Enough, enough,’ cried Bev, after half a dozen cuts. ‘Time for more beer!’ They moved over to the couch and collapsed in breathless heaps. As Bev filled their glasses from a small bar fridge, she said: ‘Have you never met any of your Italian family?’
Santie shook her head. ‘My grandmother was going to come out to visit us, but she got sick not long before her trip, and it turned out to be cancer. My mother went for two weeks just before Granny died, but I suppose they decided there was no point in me going.’
‘Who do you think that little boy is? Your mum looked awfully young.’
‘Oh, a nephew I should think. In fact, she hardly talked about Italy for some reason. Perhaps a neighbour’s child.’
‘Time you went and hunted them all down.’
‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’
‘Oh, I bet one of those big envelopes will have masses of old letters in it.’
‘Maybe.’ They sipped their beers as the music played softer now in the background.
‘What else have you got in those cupboards?’
‘Oh, make-up and lots more outfits. Cheap jewellery, that sort of stuff, you know.’
‘Can I look?’
They rummaged through the draws. Santie found a gold scarf that she tied into her hair and some dark red lipstick. Bev pulled out a gilt tiara and a roll of what looked like lipstick. ‘This is an ultra-violet stick. It’s quite stunning under the strobe. Looking in the mirror, she did her lips, and her eyelids. She turned to Santie, and gestured that she would do hers too, and then lightly daubed their nails. Turning down the spots, she hit a button that started a UV-strobe that flashed in time to the music, giving them a surreal look. She flicked it off again.
‘Let me look,’ said Santie, taking the roll. Turning up the light, she read: ‘Safe on nails, skin, around the eyes and even on nipples.’
They giggled together. Taking the roll from Santie, Bev unhooked her own bra and carefully drew a circle around her small breasts, and then coloured in the nipples. Turning off the spots completely, she flicked the strobe again. In the dark the flash was almost blinding as Bev did a quick jig around the dance floor, laughing gaily. ‘Nice, but it would be better in some racy panties.’ Rummaging around in a drawer, she pulled out two brilliant white, tiny G-strings. Unembarrassed, she dropped her skirt and panties, and slipped one on. Turning to Santie, she reached behind her back, unzipping her blouse, slipping it deftly off. Using the UV stick, she playfully outlined Santie’s breasts, and passed her the other G-string. Turning her back on Santie, Bev took a gulp of beer, and turned up the music and the strobe. Moments later they were again on the floor once more, in total darkness, except for the dazzling ultra-violet strobe, dancing to the throbbing music, and shrieking with laughter. All that was visible were their lips and eyes and nails, G-strings and their bouncing boobs. They danced for perhaps ten minutes, finishing with some high can-can kicks as the music ended abruptly.
‘I haven’t had so much fun in years,’ said Santie, sitting hastily on a chair at a small, round table, breathing heavily. ‘Oh, that was gorgeous.’
‘No, please, I’ll be too drunk to drive home. Water, just a glass of water.’
Bev brought a large bottle from the fridge, and two fresh glasses. Cutting a slither of lemon into each glass, she filled them with water. Putting the glass in front of Santie, she gazed into her eyes, their faces only inches apart. Slowly she bent forward, kissing her gently full on the lips. Santie, startled, jerked backwards, but was unable to tear her eyes away from the glowing lips, outlined only by the strobe. Slowly she leaned forward, finding the lips once more, gently returning the kiss. Bev ran her hand lightly up Santie’s thigh. The goose flesh formed instantly.
‘May I?’ asked Bev, her hand continuing up Santie’s body, gently caressing around her right breast. Time seemed to be frozen as they tentatively explored each other, but in fact it was no more than a few short minutes before they were on the couch, eagerly embracing, releasing the ache that had grown to a crescendo as they cavorted in wild abandon around the dance floor.
It was more than an hour later, after Santie had left, that Bev picked up the phone. A sleepy voice answered: ‘It had better be good!’
‘It is, Tights. Success.’
‘Well done. Sure you got it on film?’
‘I haven’t checked it yet, but I see no reason why not.’
‘Congratulations, Bev. If this is as good as I think it will be, you can expect another good bonus.’
‘I’ll let you know tomorrow,’ said Bev, and hung up.
A Family Affair is a trilogy of intrigue and deception by Bernard Preston.
~ 99c each.