At S&LC Mark was firing more people than hiring. Thomas was one of them, can’t say I was sorry to see him go. He also down-scaled the shop and we no longer did car-radios and TVs. Good thing I was in the Professional Sound division by now. We moved to smaller premises in a complex called Midrand Junction. Interestingly, our neighbour was a tiny little shop-come-warehouse called Sahara Computers; any South African will know how large that company is today, but it had small beginnings. We had a duplex shop: the ground floor was a showroom, the demo room and stockroom. Denis manned the floor and I was in the office upstairs. There were two offices. Ashleen the secretary and I shared one; Marc and Frederick shared the other. The kitchenette and toilets were also on that floor. Ashleen and I got on very well together. She was an exceedingly beautiful Indian woman and lived near my house. I taught her how to drive as her husband would not.
It was 9.30 on a Tuesday morning. I was on the phone to my mate Angus. As the toilet was upstairs and customers used it, I took no notice of a man coming up the stairs. I was not looking at him but heard the unmistakable sound of a semi-auto pistol being cocked. He shoved it against my head, shouting I must put the phone down. I did not say goodbye to Angus, just did as he said. Another man rushed into Marc’s office. Ashleen was as still as a rabbit caught in the headlights. My guy was shaking so badly that the gun was tap-tapping against my head. I was still on my pacifist plak and therefore unarmed. Time seemed to slow down. I noticed that the weapon he had was a brand new Taurus Millennium 9mm. I hoped he would not pull the trigger by accident or from shaking so badly.
The other guy was man handling Marc and Frederick out their office and down the stairs. He shouted at my guy to bring Ashleen and me. The guy left me and grabbed the 8-month pregnant Ashleen. By himself he would have been easy to overpower, but the other guy, also armed, had Marc and Frederick, and I knew they would have friends downstairs as well. I was ordered to follow my guy and Ashleen. Real dummy, this one. Downstairs, Rachel, the cashier, was behind her till, eyes closed and praying. The rest of the staff and two other gunmen were in the sound demo room. This room was set up as a miniature disco and soundproofed.
My cell phone rang. All the gunmen started shouting. My guy shoved his gun nearly up my nostril. I handed him the phone. Another guy collected everyone’s wallets and watches but forgot about me. The leader was demanding the safe keys from Marc. Marc told him to fuck off and got pistol-whipped for his trouble. He still wouldn’t tell where the key was. I told Marc to give them what they wanted but he stubbornly refused. The leader started to punch Ashleen in the stomach. I moved, purely by instinct, only a fraction of a step, and got two guns shoved in my face. I could do nothing. Frederick also knew where the key was and as Marc was still refusing to tell, he told them where it was. One of the gunmen took the key. They knew where the safe was: under the stairs. Marc protested and got beaten to the floor. My nervous chap re-cocked his gun and the chambered bullet flew through the air. The leader picked it up. The other guy came back; he had broken the fucking key in the safe! There was a lot of shouting and the leader demanded we lie on the floor. I thought, ‘This is it, we will either live or we will die in the next few minutes’. I believed that they would not shoot us, that at this point, they just wanted to get away. I could only hope if they did start shooting I wouldn’t be first, and hoped I could move fast enough to get at least one of them. Not much of a fucking plan, I know. They all left. I waited a few moments then cautiously got up to take a look.
Rachel was all alone, eyes still closed. I told her they were gone. She immediately went to make tea for everyone. Now there is a faith I respect: no matter what they threatened her with, she was not going to move and believed that if she died right there, praying, she would go to heaven. Best Christian I have met, then and since. I also found out that she was on the phone to my agent in Bloemfontein when ordered to put the phone down. She calmly informed him that we were being robbed and asked would he call the police. This small lady is much braver than the Mexican Horse Thief. The gunman had to rip the phone wires out of the wall! She risked her life in vain.
I got a call later from the agent and this is what he told me. He had immediately called the Bloemfontein Flying Squad, they’d informed him it was not their problem and that he should call Johannesburg. He asked for the number. They could not give it to him and told him to look it up! He did find the number and called them. They NEVER arrived. We had called the police from our side and they came four days later after we called them a few more times, then accused Marc of trying to set up an insurance scam because we did not call the robbery in immediately. The gunmen had fled taking only a few high-end Technics turntables. I had a huge fight with Marc about the whole business. I knew that the safe had just over R10 000.00 in it, which was insured. He had risked all of our lives, and that of an unborn child, for that! Fucking unacceptable. He was no longer a friend of mine.
When I went home that night, I was in a bad head-space. I had thoughts of taking my sniper rifle, climbing up one of the billboards, and taking pot-shots at taxis. All the gunmen had been black men and in this country it is sometimes VERY hard not to be racist. I called my friend Charmaine and we went out to supper instead; good thing I was still on coffee. With some vodka in me…. who know what I would have done?
Extract from The Chronicles of The Mexican Horse Thief II.
You may obtain a copy of The Chronicles of The Mexican Horse Thief I here.