Even though she appreciated the allure of it, Vanessa hated flying. Not necessarily flying but landing rather, she always found herself nursing a headache during landing. It was something she would try to avoid at all costs but she preferred it over driving long distances. From Cape Town to Johannesburg was a 14-hour drive. Pit stops and awkward small talk was what she feared would happen if she and Thabo drove instead of flying, they had just met and still had to get to know one another.
She quickly rushed to the bathroom and freshened up then went to luggage claim. She picked up her bags and walked out, ready to call herself an Uber. The rental car was booked under Thabo’s name and since he wasn’t there, she didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing the driver details. She didn’t want to be late for her meeting. As she turned her phone on, she felt someone’s hand rest gently on her shoulder.
“How was your flight?”, he asked, “I parked one level up.”
Vanessa turned to look at him but before she could say a word, he had picked up her bags and was leading the way.
She was surprised by Thabo’s presence.
They walked in silence while Vanessa tried to play a game of catch up, the two-hour flight meant that while business was happening, she was out of the loop and had to go through the flood of messages.
Once they got to the car, he placed her bags in the boot and like a gentleman, opened the door to the backseat for her. Instinctively she entered and put on her headphones. Only a few minutes after the car took off did she realise this wasn’t an Uber ride. Normally she would sit in the backseat with her headphones on to avoid speaking to the driver. The continuous remarks and comments were always tacky, most Uber drivers were not ashamed in how they would objectify her. She didn’t mind being wanted for sex, she just couldn’t stand being made to feel less than human.
“Sorry, force of habit.”, she said embarrassed as she took off the headphones.
“No problem.”, he laughed, “I thought you were still working. So what snapped you out of it?”
“Usually, drivers avoid silence. I believe it is their way of trying to get a good rating. So when I couldn’t hear someone trying to talk to me, it brought me back. You can pull over when you get the chance and I can come sit in front.”
“No, please. Don’t worry about it. This is fine and before you ask, yes, I am sure.”
The car was silent, and the radio was off. Vanessa assumed the reason Thabo didn’t turn it on was because he was either hoping to talk to Vanessa or he was worried that his choice in music would offend her, so now she had no choice but to start a conversation.
“Did you take a different flight? I didn’t see you on the plane, so I thought you weren’t coming anymore.”
“No, I got to Joburg two days ago for a tombstone unveiling and I am not a huge fan of flying so I decided not to fly back and forth I’d rather go through the ordeal once. I’ve been working from the Gauteng branch in the meantime.”
“You know you could have said something.”, Vanessa remarked.
“We were texting last night… Talking about the meeting, as well as talking points.”, he responded, “I didn’t think it would be an issue since I bought my own plane ticket and I thought the most important matter was me making it to the meeting.”
Vanessa acknowledged that he was right and didn’t pursue the matter further. She didn’t want it to seem like she was being pushy or trying to make him feel like he didn’t have freedom because she was his boss. For the rest of the ride, they continued with general conversation, talks on the weather and what Thabo had been up to since he got to Johannesburg.
They arrived outside an estate. Thabo rolled down his window to give his license to the security guard and then looked back at Vanessa.
“Why are we here? I thought we were going to meet the client in a public place, due to the nature of our business. I didn’t know you do home visits.”
“Home visits are allowed.”, she responded, “After all we operate under the guise of being event planners. So meeting with clients in their homes to hear their visions isn’t weird at all.”
“So what exactly is the business model.”
“To be honest, it’s a lot of hide and seek. We hide our illegal clients and show off our legal ones.”
“So some of the events are real?”, he asked surprised.
She forgot that she hadn’t explained to Thabo the full scope of the business. All he knew was that the real income came from money laundering for bank robbers, drug dealers, prostitutes and other crimes.
“Yes, like all the ones we post on Instagram. They are real weddings, birthdays or events we cater for. We use the events to clean the money.”
Vanessa thought of events as a sort of illusion, a great way to move large sums of money with a visible paper trail. You can claim an event cost a fortune when in actual fact everything was homemade or sourced from cheap suppliers. She and her suppliers would work together to create overpriced invoices to justify the large transactions of money coming in and out of the business from clients all over the world.
“With events, people care about how beautiful things look.”, she paused. Trying to think of an easy way to explain things to him, “We live in a world where everyone cares about how their venue and event looks but also want the bragging right to say that their event wasn’t cheap. It’s something that was only reserved for the elite. Basically anyone can audit our books and see a million rand payment from a single client and not have a heart attack. The invoice will have all the fluff to justify it and pictures from our Instagram account and testimonials from our real clients prove that we do throw extravagant events.”
Vanessa was still sceptical of Thabo. She was unsure whether or not he was a cop but she knew in order for him to effectively do his job, she needed to be as honest as possible.
“What about our other clients? The criminals who use us to pay their drug constitutes and their criminal associates?”
“Can they really force us to take pictures of every event we attend? We simply say our portfolio is full and doesn’t require us to now record everything except those we find exceptional and also we have to respect our clients’ privacy. If they don’t want us taking pictures at their events, we must respect that. They are welcome to take it up with our clients.”
“Whom, I guess, will of course attest to having the party of their lives and for some or other reason, no longer have images from the event because their footage was stolen or deleted and they don’t have any backups.”
“Exactly, turn right at the stop. It’s the third house on the left. You can park in the driveway. Mavis just texted, she is waiting for us on the back patio.”
Mavis was sitting next to a young woman. Vanessa could tell there was a bit of friction between the two, it seemed like Mavis was scolding her. The woman was dressed in an all-black tight evening gown, while Mavis wore a bright red jumpsuit.
“Hi Mavis, I feel so underdressed.”, Vanessa said while giving Mavis a hug and kiss on the cheek.
“No, please don’t.”, She said gently, “I am just training Ada. She’s one of the new girls.” Mavis’ mood changed as she turned to face Ada. Her voice erupted. “You, make you stand and greet before I scatter your head! You no dey get manners?”
“Training?”, Thabo asked.
“Yes, training… And you are?”
“Sorry, I’m Thabo, Vanessa’s accountant.”
“We be in business where men dey unwrap women like moimoi.”, Ada said with a smirk.
“Moi moi?”, Thabo asked
“City boy… Hmm… You see chicken folder over? Na dat one we dey do for bedroom and let customer chop till him finish.”
“Ada. Enough now. Please don’t mind her Nessa. Ada is here because her uncles in Nigeria took everything from her after her father died. She asked me to bring her here so she could make some money and go to school.”
“I swear, one day I go kill those men.” Ada shouted then licked her finger and pointed to the sky.
“Ada, Vengeance is for the Lord.”, Mavis reprimanded.
“Then abeg, make the Lord make me an avenger. I go punish am. Make I black panther am for my peace of mind.”
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