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By Guy Goes
Partridge AfricaCopyright © 2015 Guy Goes
All rights reserved.
Mike Marshall learned to sail from an early age. His father, John, owned a small steel yacht and taught him the art. His mother, Millie, was not keen on being on the ocean in a small boat, but became a sailor by default because she found herself in a situation where she could either come along or sit at home.
Mike fondly remembered the fun they had on the Langebaan lagoon and the trips they made from Cape Town around to Houtbay. When he got older, the family ventured further from their home port, sailing up the coast via Port Elizabeth and Durban to Mozambique.
Being a schoolteacher, his father used the long summer holidays to satisfy his insatiable wanderlust. He taught Mike to navigate, and by the age of fourteen he was able to stand his watches. Mike would feel huge pride entering the distances he covered in the logbook and compare them with those of his dad.
Later, as an engineering student at UCT he crewed on racing yachts doing the Sunday and Wednesday club races, deciding that one day he would have his own yacht and go exploring.
When Mike was twenty, his dad was offered a headmaster position at a prestigious boarding school in Johannesburg. His parents sold their house and moved into the principal's dwelling on the school grounds. They helped Mike to find a room with a relative close to the university. He lived there for several years until he qualified with a degree in mechanical engineering. Mike met Patricia at a party in his final year. She was a good-looking, dark-haired girl who could dance like mad, drank beer and studied for a B com. They hit it off immediately and began dating, getting married after his twenty-fifth birthday a year after he qualified from the university.
Mike and his new father-in-law Peter became good friends; both being engineers and having a lot in common. Mike started working for Peter at his engineering firm in Cape Town.
Patricia and he were a happy, loving couple, he thought. Until one morning fourteen months after their wedding while sitting at the breakfast table, Pat told him that she wanted a divorce. She had realised that she did not love him, and their marriage was a mistake because he was simply not interested enough in her.
Mike was speechless. He had been unaware of his wife's apparently ongoing unhappiness. Pat wanted to travel, and found the right candidate to accompany her in her quest to widen her horizons. She met Anthony at the tennis club, he truly loved her and she felt that he was more deserving of her. 'He's not just interested in work, like you. Anthony wants to take me to different places all over the world and have fun.'
Mike listened to his wife in silence, unbelieving and felt hurt by what she said. Patricia never mentioned that she was unhappy. They did have a few arguments, but nothing serious, and their lovemaking always felt good. He often told Patricia that he loved her, they went regularly out to dinner and interacting with friends. Maybe he was just stupid, hopeless with women and clueless how to really love and appreciate them. Mike thought that he had been treated badly by Patricia, and didn't deserve the unfair things she said about him.
Patricia's dad Peter was beside himself when he heard about the course of action his daughter intended to pursue. He tried to change her mind, but was ignored. He shouted at his daughter and told her she was spoilt rotten, but it made no difference. Pat was like her mother: when her mind was made up, nothing but a cataclysmic situation would change it.
Mike tried for several months to persuade Pat differently, suggesting counselling, but eventually, when he saw there was absolutely no hope to save his marriage, he gave up, and they divorced. He had not seen or heard from her over the five months since he had become single again. Mike was convinced that he had loved Patricia, and found it hard not to think of her with sadness. He and his father-in-law kept working together until he received a call that was to change his life.
Attorneys Grant and Deville contacted him with the news that he was the sole inheritor of his Uncle Andy Marshall's estate. Mike had always liked his Uncle Andy, despite the fact that his mother spoke of him in a hushed voice, as if, just by her talking about him, Mike would in some unexplained way adopt the same lewd lifestyle Uncle Andy was supposed to lead. The two men met regularly while Mike was a student. Uncle Andy would come to town once a month and they would go out for drinks and a meal.
Andy would do business in Cape Town selling the wines, olive oil and pecan nuts produced on his farm. His Uncle was gloriously opinionated man, very bright, and 'colour blind'. He kept one or sometimes two young coloured women in his farmhouse as 'friends', and when they left on their own accord or otherwise, they would invariably receive a reward.
The local white community did have serious reservations about this situation and valiantly tried to find a suitable white woman for Andy. To his credit, Uncle Andy did enthusiastically interact with these selected women. Some, apparently, not at all too shabby, but in the end, they suffered the same fate as their darker-hued sisters, receiving a golden handshake on their way out.
Mike and Uncle Andy would go on hunting and fishing trips together, and took part in unrestrained boozing sessions. After he began working, Mike would make a point of visiting his Uncle regularly.
Patricia hated Andy. She thought of him as an uncouth moron with hopeless manners and far too much money, and was always getting into arguments with him. Andy once called Pat an uptight bitch, spoiled rotten and so much up herself that she thought the fluffy area between her legs was for peeing only. Patricia expected Mike to take her side in the argument, which he refused to do, telling her that she was a big girl and did not need his help.
They had angry words about it in the car on the way home. Mike told Pat that he had no idea why she and Andy were always fighting, and that he was really not interested in getting involved. Pat told him that he did not love her, because if he did, he would have supported her. With the utmost self-control, he shut up, not wanting to make an already spoilt day worse. They did not speak for several days, and Mike never took Patricia to visit Uncle Andy again.
Mike knew his Uncle was ill for the past two years, but Andy refused to discuss it, ignoring all warnings and insisting on drinking his favourite whiskey despite the chemotherapy he was on. During the final two weeks of his life, Mike sat next to Andy's bed, feeding him water and assisted the permanent nurse he organised. He felt deeply sad to see this funny, private, hugely capable man reduced to a skeleton, shivering in pain.
Andy never complained, and in his more lucid moments would smile, telling Mike what a fantastic life he had lived and all the lovely women he met. His death came as a huge relief to everyone, but mostly to Andy
The Attorneys made an appointment to see Mike in Cape Town; they explained that his Uncle had contacted them some years earlier, around the time he was diagnosed with cancer. They assisted him in making a comprehensive will, leaving smaller bits and pieces to different women, and the main bulk of his estate to him.
'You are now the owner of several farms, houses, shares, and some cash after duties and costs,' they told him. Mike could not believe his ears. He knew that Uncle Andy was wealthy, but the extent of his wealth became really apparent when the attorney took him on a tour of the farm and factories. Over a few days he was introduced to the managers and administrators of the enterprises he now owned.
Mike apprehensively overnighted in Andy's house after the tour, feeling a little like an intruder, but with the help of his Uncle's long-serving accountant Herbert, went through the books. It took him a while to understand the scope of the businesses. He drew up an organogram, adding the names of those employees which had signing powers. Mike thanked his luck that he had a good head for figures and that maths had been a favourite subject. They matched incomes and expenditures to the businesses, an exercise which, the accountant admitted, had not been done properly since Andy became ill.
To their surprise, the perception that the wine farm was the main money-spinner turned out to be incorrect. The wine was in fact not making enough money to pay for itself, and certainly not when considering the vast investments made in buildings and infrastructure.
The olive farm, on the other hand, made handsome profits and the pecan nuts showed positives. The elderly accountant had his own elegant way of telling Mike where he thought things needed his attention, pointing at certain incomes and expenditures, wordlessly circling them with his pencil and writing the names of the people in charge behind them. Mike would reference this information on his growing organogram.
On the frequent follow-up tours, he noticed signs of neglect, with grass growing under fences, eroded roads and buildings in need of paint. He saw the results of his Uncle's illness; being too sick to run his farms, leaving it to his managers whom simply did not have his critical eye and determination to keep up standards. He decided to resign from his job and start planning to get the vast enterprise back into its previous splendour.
Mike sat down with Peter, telling him what happened, and handed in his notice. His ex-father-in-law was devastated, saying that he saw Mike as his son and that the business would be his when he retired. Mike thanked Peter for his kindness, giving him the telephone number of a fellow engineer who might be interested in taking his place. They parted shaking hands. Mike never spoke to Patricia's mom, who blamed him for the divorce from her lovely baby girl.
'You men only want sex and will never understand the needs of women. Work is always much more important. I wanted to have a grandchild, but who cares what I want?' She told him when the divorce talks started.
Mike felt strangely detached as he walked out of his father-in-law's building. He had enjoyed working with him; Peter was a decent, capable man.CHAPTER 2
With the assistance of Herbert Mann, the accountant, Mike began to formulate a recovery plan. He sold all the shares in unrelated businesses and substantial amounts of the bottled wines stored in the cellars. He used the cash to modernise the wine farm, making it look pristine, replacing outdated equipment, and put himself in a position to have the final say on who would be employed.
Mike sold the wine farm when he received an unsolicited cash offer from a German company wanting to change the place into an exclusive gastronomic tourist destination. The 4 million dollars he received was paid half in South Africa and the other half went into a Swiss bank. He used the cash injection to pay off debts and consolidate the olive and pecan nut farms, buying 500ha of adjoining land initiating a huge planting spree, aiming to become one of the largest olive and pecan nut producers in the country.
He began using Andy's large study after a while, drinking the dark coffee his housekeeper Sally served. Mike liked the house; it had solid wooden furniture and cool spacious rooms overlooking the valley. A year raced past and he felt tired from the unabated work, seven days a week, learning to cope with the different challenges that kept cropping up.
Mike called his friend James Carter, a fellow graduate working in Cape Town, who inviting him to have a few drinks over the weekend and go to a rock concert. James would organise two girls to come along. Mike spotted him sitting in a corner of the restaurant where they arrange to meet, accompanied by two nice-looking women. James did the introductions: Kelly and Jenny. Mike had met Jenny before; she was James's sister, and studied marine biology.
Jenny must be about twenty-four by now, he thought, and would, he imagined, have finished her studies. She looked stunning, her luxurious red curly hair falling on to her shoulders. Jenny had blue eyes, had a clean, peachy complexion and a tall, shapely body. He could remember her lovely sensuous mouth, which he gave a hello kiss. The other woman was the same age, small – perhaps just 155 cm – but was extraordinary pretty, wearing high heels and a sharpish black dress bringing out the best of her stunning tiny body. Mike had to stop himself from staring at her, because Kelly was one of those rarely seen head-turners. They shook hands with hers feeling cool and tiny in his. They sat down and ordered
Kelly was an architect and had been friends with Jenny since primary school. Jenny qualified as a marine biologist and completed her doctorate. Bright and beautiful girls, he thought, wondering how much he had missed in the last few years. The meal was excellent, though Mike was sure that anything would have tasted good with this group – once the jokes started the laughter did not stop.
They went to the venue in James's car. The music was great, with people ending up dancing in the aisles and the girls showing that they could also really move. Mike looked his eyes out, with James joking that 'country bumpkins like him have to learn about the way things are done in town.' Mike fully agreed, telling he was a keen learner.
When the concert was finished, they made their way through the crowd to their car. Jenny asked Mike where he was staying, and he told her that he still owned his old flat, inviting them in for a nightcap. He felt self-conscious about them dropping him off at his Porsche, reluctant to show that he was driving such an expensive vehicle. James pulled up next to the Porsche, with both girls offering to accompany Mike to his flat. Kelly was out first and stepped into the passenger seat.
On the way he saw her smiling, and she told him she had always dreamed of driving a Porsche one day. Mike immediately stopped the vehicle, got out and wordlessly pointed to the driver's seat. The exquisite woman walked around and sat behind the wheel without hesitation. Mike helped her adjust the seat, and moments later Kelly was driving. He looked at her from the side; she was concentrating he thought of her as a small, glittering diamond. As he directed her into the building's parking, her face said it all; her eyes large and sparkling Kelly thanked Mike for letting him drive his beautiful car.
They sat down, and Mike fixed them drinks. Jenny opened the sliding door to the balcony and looked out over the lights of Cape Town. Mike handed her a glass of wine and asked if she liked the view.
'I love this flat,' she said. 'It's huge compared to mine. I live in a one-bedroom dump getting used to living small through my varsity years. My little flat has one big advantage, I can walk to the university it saves lots of time. The owner Judge Boucher has been good to me. He's an older man, a widower, and made me coffee when I studied late. Collin Boucher treats me like a daughter and asks me to accompany him to the movies once a month. He treats me to a meal afterwards and we talk about art and music. He's an ex-judge and very bright.'
Mike said she was lucky to find such a place and landlord. They joined the others inside, hearing Kelly telling James how awesome driving the Porsche was. Mike could see that everyone was getting tired and made coffee. They soon parted, with James dropping the women off, saying they must get together again soon.
He washed up and packed the glasses away. As he shook the cushions on the settee back into shape he noticed a woman's purse. He opened it to find out who owned it and saw from the cards that it was Kelly's. He searched through the side pockets, trying to find a contact number, seeing she bought food at Woolworth and purchased new clothes a few days earlier.
Behind the cards, he saw a small photograph of Kelly and a man, both smiling, younger, with the sea in the background; they looked happy. He spotted a mobile number on an invoice and dialled it, connecting after a few rings. He told Kelly he had found her wallet and would return it in the morning. She said she needed it early and would come to fetch it. He offered to bring it to her, which she refused, asking him to please wait, she would be over in fifteen minutes.
He took a quick shower and dressed in shorts and T-shirt. It was getting late. He opened the door, letting Kelly in when she pressed the bell. She had changed clothes, wearing a tight top, loose pants and heeled sandals. She looked like a miniature model, but with real curves and valleys. She had obviously showered and smelled delicious. Mike told her he had to go through the wallet to find her number.
Excerpted from Finders Keepers by Guy Goes. Copyright © 2015 Guy Goes. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
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