BOOK EXTRACT: The Lost Boys of Bird Island - We called him 'Ore'
I head back to my office so that I can listen closely to the recording of the older brother's version of events. I will have to anchor my investigation on the evidence of both brothers. I don't have anything else to go on at this point.
I take solace in knowing that half a dozen cold beers are waiting for me in my mini fridge. Leaning back in my ultra-comfortable chair, I crack open a can. I'm quite chuffed with myself as I've accomplished a lot today. The beer is my reward.
I eye the tape recorder on my desk, lean across and press Play. The boy explains that it all started years before, when a man who called himself Uncle Dave approached him while he was playing pool at the City Snacks Pool Den. I know the place. It is a popular hangout for pimps, sex workers and drug dealers.
Of course, customers gather there too. It's a perfect spot for paedophiles to pick out a young boy left to his own devices. The witness, who was then only fourteen, says he had never met this "Uncle Dave" before. He knew all the other local moffies who would come to the den for a "quick one" – a handjob in a car in a quiet back street. "We get R20," the boy says.
The problem for the kid is that he has a drug debt. He owes the local dealer R5 for a bag of marijuana he had bought the night before. All such debts need to be settled within 24 hours. This I know. It's my job to bust these guys.
If you don't pay, the dealer sends a heavy to rough you up. It's the way it is and the way it has been for ages everywhere across the planet where crime thrives just below the apparently placid surface of everyday life.
It is easier for the boys to "do" a client when they are drunk or high. It doesn't feel real and the boys forget about it quickly. But it's a vicious cycle. Get out to your corner or the street or the pool bar, buy the dope, smoke it, do the client, get paid, pay the dealer. Repeat, over and over.
The boy tells me he went with this stranger to get the dealer off his back. Uncle Dave is a nice guy, says the boy. He drove the boy to a secluded spot not too far from the pool bar where the child jerked him off. Then the man paid him and dropped him off back at City Snacks.
I know lots of young boys like this. I have seen them while doing my undercover work. They are streetwise and often homeless. Many don't have parents, or if they do, they don't care. Many are addicts or alcoholics. That's how you survive in a country filled with violence and prejudice. There are two sides of the war: those who are the victims, and those who are called on to do the work of the existing government. White men like me. We're keeping it all in place in some way. It corrodes and perverts everyone.
Underneath the bureaucracy of it all, the brutal law, I know we are all the same. But I don't think about it too much. I just want to do my job.
Uncle Dave clearly fancied the older brother because the boy tells me the man came back regularly for more "quick ones". Soon the contact graduated from mutual masturbation to full-blown sex. The liaisons moved from the car to either a hotel or Uncle Dave's house.
And then comes the bombshell. The boy tells me he was taken to Bird Island for sex. Not only with Uncle Dave, but with other men as well.
Bird Island is the largest of the Algoa Bay islands just off the coast of Port Elizabeth. Seal Island and Stag Island lie nearby. The islands are a well-known breeding spot for a variety of bird species. They are also conservation areas. There is a lighthouse on Bird Island built in 1898. Desolate and isolated, Bird Island is one of only six breeding grounds in the world for the Cape gannet.
My ears prick up. This sounds more like an organised ring than an occasional casual pickup. Who are these men? I wonder as the boy's voice hesitates on the tape.
The boy says that Uncle Dave would regularly arrange for boys to be flown to Bird Island where they would "entertain" men. For the kid, these trips were a bit of an adventure because the boys would be picked up in a helicopter. It was hugely exciting, he says, and once on the island the boys would be treated to a braai with plenty of meat and alcohol.
When the boy's younger brother, Igor, turned twelve, he too began to hang out at the pool den at the weekends. By then Uncle Dave was a known regular. Soon he was insisting that Igor accompany them on the pickups. The man offered to pay double, the older brother confesses. The deal, however, is that the man leaves the younger boy out of it. Uncle Dave agrees to this but suggests that the younger brother watch them having sex. And so they drove to the man's home in Bendor Avenue, Schoenmakerskop, a picturesque suburb south-west of Port Elizabeth.
The presence of his younger brother, the boy tells me, seems to affect Uncle Dave. He is more aggressive in his sexual approach. He forces the older boy to kiss him, which he says he hates. The sex itself he described as almost feral with the older man grunting "like an animal". The anal sex was painful, the boy says, so much so that his anus was ruptured. But he claims that the payment afterwards, double the usual amount, made up for it.
I am taken aback by the boy's nonchalance, the matter-of- fact way he tells me this part of the story. He sounds numb as he recounts it on the tape.
Afterwards, when the man had dropped both boys off at the pool bar, he had bought food for his younger sibling. "We had a foot-long hot dog with chips and salad," he says. The details of the meal are clearly important to him. It is not often he can afford to be extravagant.
The older brother goes on to explain that as he grew older, Uncle Dave began to lose interest in him, preferring the younger brother, who had just turned thirteen. Uncle Dave began passing the older sibling off onto his friends.
It is then that the boy first talks of one particularly vicious "uncle", a man who all the boys reckoned was a sadist. I listen carefully, waiting to catch each detail. This man, the boy says, is well known because of his distinctive protruding ears. Because of this physical characteristic the boys call him Ore – Afrikaans for "ears".
Next the boy goes into detail about what happened to him just two days earlier. He says he can't remember much, apart from Uncle Dave approaching him at City Snacks and telling him that two of his friends would like to be "entertained". The man gave him an address on a slip of paper and R320, a tidy sum, which included the taxi fare. The address was a block of holiday apartments, the boy tells me. I know the spot.
The boy recalls that when he arrived at the apartment, there were two older men there. One was lying on the bed, and the other was in the bathroom, apparently taking a bath. The man in the bathroom instructed the guy on the bed to pour the boy a drink. This guy didn't seem happy about being told what to do and had muttered, "Bliksemse, Ore."
When the man went into an adjoining room to fetch the drink, the boy peeked inside the bathroom. There he had caught a glimpse of a man with protruding ears lolling in the tub.
The boy tells me that he recognised the man in the tub, which made him panic. He considered making a run for it. But how would he escape? And besides, he had already been paid a handsome sum.
The man who had been lying on the bed returned with a strong alcoholic drink. The boy says he thinks it was brandy and Coke. No one spoke as the child sipped the drink. The man with the jug ears remained in the bath.
"And then I remember nothing," the boy says. "I promise, sir. It's a blank. And now I am here in hospital. That's my story."
* The Lost Boys of Bird Island, by Mark Minnie and Chris Steyn, is published by Tafelberg Publishers and retails for R280. It is available from today.