#62 – Sound of pain

In a second, Jamie was towering over Van der Merwe. He pulled the thin figure into the air and held him up
to eye level. “I’m going to make you sorry you ever laid eyes on me.” He dropped Van der Merwe to his feet,
flung the money on the table and stormed out.
When Jamie McGregor walked into the Sundowner Saloon, it was almost deserted, for most of the
prospectors were on then-way to Paardspan. Jamie was filled with anger and despair. It’s incredible, he
thought. One minute I’m as rich as Croesus, and the next minute I’m dead broke. Van der Merwe is a thief,
and I’m going to find a way to punish him. But how? Van der Merwe was right. Jamie could not even afford a
lawyer to fight his case. He was a stranger there, and Van der Merwe was a respected member of the
community. The only weapon Jamie had was the truth. He would let everyone in South Africa know what
Van der Merwe had done.
Smit, the bartender, greeted him. “Welcome back. Everything’s on the house, Mr. McGregor. What would
you like?”
“A whiskey.”
Smit poured a double and set it in front of Jamie. Jamie downed it in one gulp. He was not used to drinking,
and the hard liquor scorched his throat and stomach.
“Another, please.”
“Comin’ up. I’ve always said the Scots could drink anybody under the table.”
The second drink went down easier. Jamie remembered that it was the bartender who had told a digger to
go to Van der Merwe for help. “Did you know Old Man Van der Merwe is a crook? He’s trying to cheat me
out of my diamonds.”
Smit was sympathetic. “What? That’s terrible. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“He’ll nae get away with it.” Jamie’s voice was slurred. “Half
those diamonds are mine. He’s a thief, and I’m gonna see that everybody knows it.”
“Careful. Van der Merwe’s an important man in this town,” the bartender warned. “If you’re goin’ up against
him, you’ll need help. In fact, I know just the person. He hates Van der Merwe as much as you do.” He
looked around to make sure no one could overhear him. “There’s an old bam at the end of the street. I’ll
arrange everything. Be there at ten o’clock tonight.”
“Thanks,” Jamie said gratefully. “I won’t forget you.”
“Ten o’clock. The old barn.”
The barn was a hastily thrown-together structure built of corrugated tin, off the main street at the edge of
town. At ten o’clock Jamie arrived there. It was dark, and he felt his way carefully. He could see no one
around. He stepped inside. “Hello …”
There was no reply. Jamie went slowly forward. He could make out the dim shapes of horses moving
restlessly in their stalls. Then he heard a sound behind him, and as he started to turn, an iron bar crashed
across his shoulder blades, knocking him to the ground. A club thudded against his head, and a giant hand
picked him up and held him while fists and boots smashed into his body. The beating seemed to last forever.
When the pain became too much to bear and he lost consciousness, cold water was thrown in his face. His
eyes fluttered open. He thought he caught a glimpse of Van der Merwe’s servant, Banda, and the beating
began anew. Jamie could feel his ribs breaking. Something smashed into his leg, and he heard the crunch
of bone.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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