Elephant Teeth

Author: Kylie Andrews

The first time he came in to contact with the contraband ivory was in the winter of 2003. The weather was at an all time low and everyone was staying in, it was just too cold to go out. Mendel was getting ready to close up his work room for the night and let his staff go home. He was an ex Doctor turned carpenter and his work was becoming well known and in demand. He was battling keeping up with the constant flow of new orders and wondering about where to find new reliable staff he answered a knock on the door. His pit-bull and constant companion, Stelios barked and followed his master.

He was always very happy to see his oldest friend in the world, Andras. It was a long time since Mendel had seen him and their reunion was warm. They had been friends since Mendel was a boy; Andras was mentor and father figure to him as he grew up. He had taught him how the world worked and showed him the criminal element and dark underworld where Andras spent his time. He was an ex mercenary and a current drug lord and had spent a large amount of his twenties behind bars in various prisons. While incarcerated he had not been idle, on the contrary he had put himself through literature courses and had read everything he could get his hands on. This made him a fascinating person to spend time with, a combination of sharp wit and resourceful adventure stories.

He was armed with not only one of his many weapons, but also a bottle of whisky which piqued Mendel’s interest, he brought drink when there was a proposition to put forward.

After they had settled in front of the hastily built fire, it was not long before the proposal was on the table. Andras, knowing what a skilled carpenter Mendel was, asked if he could take a look at some ivory he had hidden in his truck and if it were possible to make a coffee table out of it to take away a portion of the element of suspicion that always surrounds ivory, to make it look more legitimate.

Mendel quickly went around to the back of the workshop, to where his most trusted worker, Thomas lived. He helped him out with accommodation for a couple of reasons; the first a selfish one, he wanted him available all day to help with the wood work and the second was to watch Thomas’s drinking which seemed to be getting worse than ever this cold winter. He found him in front of a gas heater drinking a pint of local beer, hauling him up and setting aside the drink, he told him that whatever he saw here tonight must never be mentioned outside of the property. Being a trusting man, Mendel believed his fervent head nodding and confirmation that he could be trusted completely, what reason had he to think otherwise.

They went together to Andras’s truck, he did not seem too pleased with the arrival of Thomas, but once the items were uncovered they all realized that his help was necessary at this stage. Mendel stood transfixed as they pulled the two incredibly long tusks from the rear; he had never seen anything like it. It must have been a massive bull and the ivory was in an exceptionally good condition. He calculated that it must have been worth about R150 000.00 street value. He was intrigued as to where Andras had procured this, but decided to hold his tongue especially in front of Thomas. They hauled the ‘teeth’ inside and stood panting over them feeling relieved that they were once again away from prying eyes. Paranoia is the closest friend of deceit.

Mendel did some measuring of them and once this was done he got Thomas to help him hide the tusks inside a massive cupboard in his work room. He did not have a lock on it; instead he threw an unused tarpaulin over the cupboard and some half complete furniture in front. Thomas was sent off and the two friends settled back in front of the fire to discuss the table plans and to catch up on each other’s news. The evening wore on and by the time Andras left it was well after midnight. Mendel stumbled home to his unforgiving wife.

Over the next few weeks Mendel worked furiously filling furniture orders by day and by night, when he was not too exhausted he worked on the design of Andras’s table. He worked off the measurements they had taken the first night and left the ‘teeth’ in their hiding place. He kept in contact with Andras to fill him in on his progress when he could and eventually set up a completion date three weeks ahead when they could meet.

During this time, Thomas had a horrendous accident with one of the wood working blades. He was working on a set of complicated chairs and lost concentration for a split second. The machine’s blade slipped on to his right hand and as a knife through butter it cut through the tendons and bone between the thumb and the remainder of the hand. Almost severed, Mendel wrapped the hand in a towel and raced off to the emergency room.

The Doctor’s worked furiously on the injury and Thomas was taken in to theatre where they did what they could to re-attach the limb and save the movement of his hand. A long night spent at the hospital and Mendel eventually left after Thomas came out of the operation to get some much needed rest and a change of clothing.

After a full week, they released Thomas in to Mendel’s care, he took him home. They had managed to re attach the hand and nerves, but it would be a long time before he was able to work again, the Doctor’s predicted at least six weeks. Mendel put Thomas in charge of supervising the rest of the staff and keeping an eye on operations when he was out.

This worked for about two days. On his return, Thomas found comfort in the drink again and was soon lost to it. He could not work and spent the day lolling on the grass barking misplaced orders at the rest of the staff. Mendel tried to reason with him, but he was too far gone. It culminated in a massive fight and a week after he was released from hospital, Thomas had disappeared.

The set date arrived; Andras arrived after dark armed once again with a bottle of ‘the good stuff’, Mendel, whose wife had finally had enough of his absence and left him, was now living permanently at the factory. He needed to start renovating to make it more livable. After the usual slating of an ex lover, the friends decided to get the tusks and attach them to the completed design. Mendel moved the furniture and the tarpaulin and opened the doors of the cupboard.

To their combined horror, all that was found inside were a few wood carvings from a previous order and no tusks. Almost retching with shock, Mendel turned to see the effect this had on Andras, almost fearful now. Andras immediately saw the honest reaction on his face and realized that something bigger was at play here.

Sitting down heavily, both pouring huge glasses of scotch they started trying to work out what could have happened. The only suspect was Thomas, he was the other person who knew of the spoils and being a foreigner he might have caught wind of their value via one of his dubious sources. The fact that he was now missing dispelled any doubts that he was guilty.

Now, to find a person like Thomas who had no doubt slipped off in to one of the many squatter camps that surrounded the city was going to be a very arduous task and they had to come up with a watertight plan. It was Mendel who figured out what they were going to do and the next morning, he put his plan in motion.

The best way to get news out quickly is through the recklessly fast human ‘grapevine’, he began telling people that knew Thomas that there was workman compensation for him for his injured hand. A few days passed and nothing. Andras was furious and kept a very close distance to Mendel awaiting word. A few more days went by and on a Friday evening a week later as predicted, Thomas sashayed back in to their lives.

He looked terrible, obviously favoring drink to any form of nourishment and he had lost an enormous amount of weight. Mendel welcomed him as a brother and took him in to the kitchen, offering him something to eat. He refused food, but had his eye on the full bottle of brandy Mendel had purchased for this very occasion. Unnoticed within the thick brown liquid lurked lysergic acid diethylamide that Mendel had spiked the drink with when Thomas arrived.

Mendel poured him a drink from the offending bottle and opened a beer for himself inviting him to join him in the lounge. Thomas immediately brought up the compensation, Mendel changed the subject. Asking instead where he had been. Thomas shifted in his seat and started to look slightly uncomfortable. He quickly recovered told Mendel he had been with his sick sister, he had received word that she had pneumonia and did not have time to settle things here before he left, he stated that he had buried her the week before and that the news of the money was great indeed as he had spent all his savings on the funeral.

Half an hour in to their meeting with at least a quarter of the brandy firmly ensconced in Thomas’s belly, Mendel got up to make a phone call noticing the drug starting to take effect.

He called Frederick, a man whose life he had saved many years ago when he found him unconscious in his car after a near fatal accident. Frederick felt he owed Mendel his life would do anything for him. Thirty minutes later he was there dressed in an ominous black trench coat; from within this he withdrew a shotgun. Mendel took the weapon from him as he found a chair in the corner and hunched down in to it, appearing to sleep.

Stelios then joined this strange party with his small partner, his wife’s Maltese poodle that he had now inherited. The poodle settled under the huge lounge table, Stelios by his master’s chair.

With one look at the gun, Thomas was on his feet ready to flee. The drug was too strong for him and he slipped back down in to his chair looking dejected and fearful. Looking astonishingly frightening, Mendel approached him, he tried to slink in to the chair, Mendel could see that the drug had now taken full effect and he smiled.

“Where are my tusks?” he roared. Thomas tried to stand again, but the newly polished Oregon pine floor called his bluff and he slipped on to it. Leaning against the chair the denial spilled out of his numb mouth, small specks of spittle following. Again he asked the question, this time pointing the gun at the poodle. “I will shoot this dog to prove how serious I am if you do not tell me the truth.” He fired at the floor, creating a huge crevasse. The dog ran for shelter, but Thomas thought it had been hit; he wet his pants and started to snivel.

It did not take long for a confession after that. Thomas admitted that he had indeed taken the tusks, the old adage that he was desperate and needed the money. Mendel only had to wait while this sniveling mess of a broken man told him that he had sold them for R2 000.00 to a man in the township of Soweto. He did know the buyer through relatives and eventually agreed that they would go and find him together that same night. Mendel made another call, to Andras this time telling him the evening’s events and he promised to be there as soon as he could.

One hour later, he arrived. Anger made his nostrils flare and his face flex. Thomas started to howl. Frederick, his role fulfilled, left at this point and Mendel, still brandishing the shot gun picked the pathetic Thomas from the floor and literally threw him in to the back of his car. Andras got in to the driver’s seat and they sped off, dust flying in their wake.

It took forty five minutes to get to Soweto. On arrival they immediately went to the bar that the client frequented. At this point Thomas could barely speak and the locals laughed and jeered at him, but eventually some sort of understanding was reached and they were directed to a corner table to wait. Thomas slumped in the corner seeing his own hallucinations and grabbing invisible objects from the air.

Sometime after midnight, he arrived. A small unassuming man who, in appearance seemed calm. He spoke directly to Thomas and asked what he wanted. Thomas spilled, in his broken speech, what they were doing there and how he needed the tusks back. The man laughed deeply and told him that they had been moved weeks ago, in fact, he chuckled they were probably already cut, polished and adorning a rich woman’s neck in Paris right now.

Andras leapt to his feet, unable to contain his fury any longer and grabbed the little man around the throat. Mendel pulled Thomas to his feet and they followed the others outside. What ensued can only be described as a blood bath. Andras first beat the buyer senseless, followed by Thomas. Mendel stood back, believing that this was their fight. He felt a pang of pity hearing the breaking of Thomas’s ribs and the crushing of his skull. Thomas died that night, by Andras’s hand. The buyer a few days later of a ruptured bowel, pierced lung.

Mendel went back to his wood and his empty life, contact with Andras infrequent, his wife disappeared. When he did see Andras, he appeared thoughtful and aloof. Their friendship getting more distant with each visit until even those dried up.

It was late in August when the wind had started to stop howling when Andras paid Mendel an unexpected visit. He was working on a very complicated order of fourteen beds for one of his most profitable clients when Andras swaggered in brandishing the familiar bottle of brandy. Mendel had been lonely and welcomed his visitor as if nothing had transpired between them. Twenty minutes later, the staff sent home early, they settled in front of the bottle. Mendel talking of his work. Andras spoke little and watched as Mendel drained half the bottle of spirit.

Feeling the call of nature, Mendel went to relieve himself smiling happily. On his return, he walked straight in to a loaded weapon. Andras’s intention finally becoming clear. Within a few minutes he had locked Mendel and himself in to a small room housing the safe, demanding payment for his lost ivory. Shocked and reeling, Mendel told him he had cash and diamonds and he could help himself to whatever he felt was just payment. He pleaded with his friend for an explanation of his behavior, but could not get through, the drug psychosis now complete, paranoia had firmly established itself within him.

Andras walked over to the safe, demanding the combination and getting it immediately.

A funny thing happened then.

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