Authors: Ian Patrick
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Thrillers
She had let it go, and left the
station just a little embarrassed. It was only a week later that she
felt embarrassed. This was when
she received a letter and a pamphlet in the post-box from a charity called
. The letter declared that
they understood Fiona had been a victim of crime in Oxford and it offered her
emotional support and practical information
and the pamphlet included
about your rights and the Code for Victims
He had teased her mercilessly about
not underestimating the post-traumatic stress that can be caused by the loss of
one’s beloved succulents, but she had got over the embarrassment and in fact
got used to dining out on the story, especially with South African friends,
once they had returned years later to the country of their birth.
After Detectives Koekemoer and
Dippenaar had also heard the story they, especially, had referred back to it
time and time again.
on another planet.
those guys in England know nothing
, KoeksnDips would say.
Next thing, there was Ryder, on a
mission back to the UK to see some old friends in the Thames Valley Police, to
pick the brains of some prominent academics in crime management, and to link up
with a few top people studying the intricacies of crime networks. All at the
behest of a private donor, a businessman wanting to see an improvement in
police work in KwaZulu-Natal. As if we know nothing and need the Brits to teach
us, Ryder mused. We could teach
thing or two about crime.
Crime much darker
than anything they experience on a day-to-day basis.
He was served another whisky on the
plane. He had asked the steward offering passengers cups of water or juice
whether he could get a whisky instead. The man next to him, mercifully, was not
the talking type. So Ryder sipped and drifted back into his thoughts.
It had been a few very busy days for
him in England. He thought back on one of the highlights of the visit, one that
was of particular interest to him because it reminded him why he had some years
ago left a career in higher education to move into policing. As his plane now
flew somewhere over central Africa, Ryder began recalling the experience: a
visit to one of the ‘new’ universities in England.
Ryder had arrived early for his
appointment to see Professor Hutchinson. The professor had apologised, told him
he would be detained for only a few more minutes but would join him very soon,
and asked his secretary to point Ryder in the direction of the room where they
would be meeting. He apologised further for the fact that his own office wasn’t
going to be available, as he had offered it to a post-graduate assistant for an
interview he was conducting. Then he apologised for not offering any tea or
coffee, but their scullery area was being painted. He was about to apologise
for something else, but Ryder precluded it with a
No problem at all, really, Prof. I’ll go and grab myself a coffee at
the counter in the Students’ Union, and
The secretary was charming, and
responded to Ryder’s comment by walking with him, grabbing a takeaway coffee
for both Ryder and herself, and settling him into the meeting room. She assured
him that the professor was a very sweet man, a highly regarded academic and a
very charitable man, but that he spent an inordinate amount of time apologising
She left Ryder alone in the room
with his coffee. She, too, apologised for the fact that the meeting between
just the two of them had to take place in a meeting room around a table clearly
designed for 14 or 16 people. The only meeting room available on the timetable,
she had said.
Left alone in the room Ryder noticed
that a couple of people from an earlier meeting had left their papers at the
far end of the table. One of them was just the Agenda paper. The other was the
same Agenda paper stapled to what appeared to be the full set of papers for the
meeting in question. Ryder took a look at the stapled collection.
Agenda for a
meeting of the something-or-other committee or group with an impenetrable
intrigued Ryder was the structure of the
to the agenda.
Approval: Minutes of the previous meeting.
12.50 - Costs of printing and
13.15 - Travel policy.
13.18 - Departmental
13.20 - Equipment budgets.
13.25 - Financial report: overview.
- Team updates.
- Arrangements for Directorate end-of-year party.
13.58 - AOB and Date of Next Meeting.
Ryder was intrigued. Do all
universities function in this way, he wondered? He couldn’t help wondering
whether the precise timing on agenda items was the product of an anally retentive
chairman of this particular committee, or whether it was a characteristic of
the institution more generally. What if someone on the committee was in
mid-sentence on travel policy at 13.18? Would the chairman say
Sorry, Bill. Time up. We need to move now on
to the urgent matter of departmental notice boards!
He shook his head in despair as he
noticed that there was more time allocated on the agenda to the end-of-year
party than there was to strategic planning in the directorate. Maybe the
previous end-of-year party had been a disaster and they wanted to get it right
the next time, he mused.
He was even more astounded to see
the list of names and titles of the people who attended such a meeting. It
appeared that the vast majority of them were senior ‘Directors’ and ‘Assistant
Directors’ of some sort, and all presumably well paid. The dates of future
scheduled meetings suggested they met almost once a fortnight. He did a rough
calculation of possible salaries and time spent on this stuff by more than a
dozen highly paid employees and he began to understand why there was so much
debate about university finances in the country.
But the biggest chuckle for Ryder
was in relation to scribbles in the margins of one of the attached pages. The
page in question had columns of figures and appeared to be a report by the
chairman proudly boasting about the fact that their directorate had come in
significantly under budget on expenditure for equipment in the previous year,
and that they had been able to return a couple of hundred thousand pounds to
the university on savings accrued against the directorate’s allocation for
equipment. The angry scribbles in question included the words:
this is to be applauded????
what if students are outraged because nothing works and most rooms have broken
complete and utter anal retention!
to score brownie points with the Director of Finance
while we struggle with no equipment!
The five scribbled comments were in
three different sets of handwriting. Clearly some committee members were
passing this back and forth among themselves during the meeting in question,
and adding their scribbles.
Like naughty children talking
behind the head teacher’s back.
Surely this set of papers was left
here deliberately, and not by oversight? Ryder couldn’t help chuckling at the
let the next meeting
find out what we have to put up with
, perhaps? But on the face of it the
angry scribbles appeared fully justified. Maybe Sergeant Piet Cronje back home
would be interested in how this particular institution ran its administration,
Ryder thought. So he folded the stapled papers and tucked them into his pocket,
leaving the other copy of the single agenda paper on the table.
A present for Piet, he mused. Must
ask him to follow this practice and allocate precise timing to the agenda of
meetings. He could see it now:
Welcome: ‘Hi guys.’
Jokes from KoeksnDips.
Break for Coffee.
What to do today.
Break for tea.
That’s it. See you tomorrow.
Professor Hutchinson arrived,
breaking Ryder’s train of thought.
‘Sorry. So sorry, I was just….’
I was just playing
detective. I was looking with some interest at the agenda paper someone left
over there. It’s from some meeting.’
The professor walked over and looked
at the single page as he spoke.
‘Oh. Yes. Well. Sorry to see the
university displaying its dirty laundry like this. I could tell you about some
of this. But I won’t. Not worth my while. Hmmmm. Or maybe I will. Hmmmm. You
probably picked up the fact that they spent less time on strategy than they do
‘Yes. Couldn’t help notice that.’
Well. I’m only an academic, of course.
Some of us, the lesser mortals, do ask questions about some of our other
colleagues in the institution. Colleagues who are charged with looking after
our corporate identity.’
‘Yes. They look after what they call
our corporate – um – affairs. This is the time of year when they do
their strategic planning, so they’re quite busy.’
‘It’s an annual thing?’
‘Yes. This is what they call the
strategic planning season. When do you in the South African Police Service do
your strategic planning?’
‘Oh. Well… let me see…when do we do
our strategic planning? Hmmmm. I suppose… yes. I would say between 6.30 am and
‘Yes. Ha. Yes, I see. We could do
with a bit of that kind of thinking here. Anyway, some of our colleagues like
to think that they are ensuring our corporate identity.’
Sounds like a
factory rather than a university...’
‘Yes. Well, perhaps the less said
‘Well, thanks, Professor, anyway,
for seeing me...’
‘Please call me Richard. It’s
Jeremy, is it?’
‘Yes. Thanks, Richard, I appreciate
you giving up your time.’
‘Not at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your first email and
then the material you sent me after that. Most intriguing. I think I can offer
Ryder’s memory of the discussion was
ruptured. He realised that he had, in fact, dropped off to sleep somewhere
along the route traversed by these memories. He had slept fitfully and had then
resumed the memory of his visit to Oxford, recalling the range of characters
and personalities he had encountered. At one point he had found himself being
chased by a mad committee chairperson carrying a rolled-up agenda paper, with
flecks of white foam in the corners of her mouth. As scared as he was, he had
refrained from drawing his pistol.
Passengers yawned and groaned and
rubbed their eyes and lowered shelves for breakfast trays. Ryder declined
breakfast, but asked for more coffee. Then he tried to watch that movie he had
promised himself. He fell asleep after just a few minutes.
Eventually the breakfast trays were
cleared. Final calls were made, and passengers started preparing themselves for
the last leg of the journey into Johannesburg. Ryder put his head back and
closed his eyes as he thought back further on the last few days.
Thabethe was woken by the sound of
metal dragging across metal. As his eyes fluttered open he heard the man
whispering from the cell across the passage. He glanced back, over his
shoulder, and immediately leaped to his feet. Both of the man’s hands sported
bulky white plaster casts. One of them was a full solid plaster cast and the
other, on the right hand, was a partial cast with a couple of fingers
protruding independently and supported by splints. The man clutched a gleaming
prize between the two casts. He was stroking the spoke, taken from a
wheelchair, across the iron railings of his cell.
He had not needed the spoke wrench,
he said to his new friend. When he had woken up in there, his hands were
encased in plaster and he found himself alone. He had remembered the words
about the wheelchair and the spokes. But someone had already started repairing
the broken wheelchair, he told Thabethe. The spokes were just lying there on
the windowsill. He had struggled. He had knocked four of them off the windowsill
onto the floor, from where they were impossible to pick up. Then he had finally
succeeded with the fifth attempt. He had managed to roll it off the sill and
then clasp it between his two clubbed hands and tuck it down into his trousers,
next to his right leg. But he hadn’t been able to use his hands to secure it.
He had poked it through the material of his trousers in two places, to try and
secure it that way. Lucky for him the nurse hadn’t noticed anything and he was brought
back to the cell. He had simply walked stiff-legged to his bed and they had
left, locking the cell.
Thabethe was ecstatic. He shook
Mgwazeni, who had slept through the exchange and now woke, immediately
surprised at what he saw. He joined Thabethe at the bars, both of them whispering
urgent instructions and advice. They got the man to clasp the spoke upright between
his two cumbersome plastered mitts and fling it across. It took ages. He
struggled, nearly dropping it. Thabethe knew that if it fell on the floor the
man would never be able to retrieve it. Eventually he managed to secure it
between his huge plaster casts and fling it across. It clattered through the
railings into the cell opposite. Mgwazeni picked it up and gave it to Thabethe,
who quickly studied it. The next few minutes saw him sharpening the point of
the spoke by rubbing it energetically against the concrete floor of the cell.
Still conversing in Zulu, Thabethe
ascertained the man’s name.
Wakashe, Thabethe and Mgwazeni were
going to become good friends, said Philemon Wakashe.
Ryder tensed as the plane hit the
ground at Oliver Tambo International Airport thirty minutes behind schedule. He
had never got used to landing. There was always a moment of deep apprehension
for him as the pilots brought the throttles to idle and engaged full thrust
reversers. Even if the autopilot was doing everything else, and keeping the
aircraft centred on the runway, Ryder always at this moment prepared for a
possible slewing sideways. What exactly he would do under such circumstances,
he didn’t know.
At about eighty knots he could feel
the reversers being disengaged, and he started to relax. Johannesburg.
A couple of cups of coffee in the airport building and then a
switch to his Durban flight.
As the plane slowed for the long taxi in,
he mused further on his five-day sojourn in England.
He and the professor had hit it off
so well that after their meeting they decided to have lunch together in the
Students’ Union and continue some of the conversation they had started.
Hutchinson’s many research interests included things ranging from criminal and
social justice to issues surrounding public order, community and urban renewal,
substance misuse and rehabilitation programmes. He had led research projects
for the Thames Valley Police, Health Authorities and voluntary organisations.
He and his graduate research students had studied crime, crack-cocaine and
heroin use, homelessness, and had worked with community development projects
supported by the Communities Against Drugs initiative of the
Crime Reduction Unit. He had been a member of the Drugs Prevention Advisory
Service Regional Training Forum and was actively engaged in developing training
strategies for drug workers. He was even more interesting, Ryder thought, than
the helpful people he had met at Oxford University’s Centre for Criminology the
previous day, and the broad tapestry the professor had woven for his visitor
from South Africa had been extraordinarily helpful. Before they concluded
lunch, they had agreed that Ryder would invite the Professor’s research
colleague, Joyce, who happened to be in Durban during the coming week, to
dinner at the Ryder home. Joyce, he told Ryder, was doing research on precisely
the kind of thing they were discussing.
How was he going to distil
everything into a short report for the benefit of both Nyawula and those to
whom he reported on the one hand, and the donor on the other? Ryder
contemplated how he might draw the various threads together. Could the day-to-day
work in criminal policing in Durban learn anything from a study of the
theoretical domains of rights, justice and security?
an esoteric study of penal culture, policy and practice?
He could see already what Detective
Koekemoer might have to say about that last one.
Would the Brigadiers and others in
the Cluster Commands in KwaZulu-Natal have any interest at all in United
Kingdom studies of the intersections between public policy and criminology, or
sociological and normative approaches to the analysis of crime and justice? Ryder
and Nyawula had had many discussions about the politics of policing. On one
matter they were in total agreement: in South Africa there was a desperate need
for a movement toward citizens consenting to being policed. Without consensus
law enforcement would remain mired in controversy and accusations about police
brutality, rumours of hit squads and demonstrable political interference.
Nyawula’s constant refrain was that the South African Police Service had to be
seen not as the armed wing of state control or as a single monolithic
organisation charged with maintaining law and order. It had to be viewed,
instead, as one among many players in the complex chemistry of peace and
security. It had to achieve this position through an attitude of community
engagement rather than community control. Easier said than done, they agreed,
because while engaging they still had to put out fires.
The aircraft came to a halt and
passengers stood up as one to collect their possessions from the overhead
cabinets. Thoughts of the place of criminal justice in the social sciences gave
way in Ryder’s head to thoughts about coffee.
Wakashe, Mgwazeni and Thabethe
discussed the plan carefully. Thabethe and Mgwazeni had studied the pattern
virtually every morning during the ten days they had been in this cell, they
told their new companion. They had both been moved there from an overcrowded
cell after a major brawl among the prisoners, and since then they had watched
carefully to see how this more isolated wing of the prison was managed.
The next guard to come strolling
along would be the one with the keys. The other guards, normally down the
passage and in the front hall, would be in the canteen with most of the guards
from the other sectors, having their breakfast. The normal schedules had been
disrupted by the builders and all the contractor lorries and
coming and going. Instead of becoming more vigilant during the disruptions,
Mgwazeni said, the prison had become less vigilant. Confusion reigned outside
in the common areas, and the patterns normally followed by the guards had also
been disrupted. But they always came checking this section at around this time,
before the prisoners had their breakfast, added Thabethe. This was the best
time to do it. Five minutes from now. Maybe ten.
‘How come they put us over here in
this section? Why not in the main section?’
‘Because of these same renovations,’
Thabethe replied. ‘They’re building a whole new section.’
‘You, Wakashe,’ added Mgwazeni, ‘you
don’t know how lucky you are. You could be in Mangaung. You could be in the
main section here at Westville. There, they put the electrics on the prisoners.
You remember that guy he was saying to you last night about electricity? I’m
, they do that. They
put electricity on the guys. You are lucky to be in this section, my friend.’
‘Us too,’ said Thabethe. ‘We don’t
know why they put us here. But we hear they’re finishing with the renovations
next week. Then they’ll put us back in there with the crowds. Here, now, it’s
quiet. We’re lucky, I’m telling you...’
Wakashe stopped him in mid-sentence.
Then came the sound of the gate at the end of the passage. Thabethe readied
himself. Mgwazeni stood rigid, right next to him. Both men stood pressed
against the railings of their cell, directly opposite Wakashe, and told him to
do the same.
The guard came strolling down the
passage. It was the one who had struck the new prisoner with the iron pipe. He
stopped in front of Wakashe.
‘New man Mofokeng.
Or some call you Wakashe.
Which one is the new man? Which one is the old one?
Wakashe, or Mofokeng?’
Wakashe offered no reply, so the
‘New man with new
Now maybe you will
Show me your hands.’
Wakashe obliged. Thabethe readied
himself, directly behind the guard, across the passageway.
‘I’m wanting to ask you something,’
said Wakashe, holding his hands out between the bars. ‘You see these hands?’
‘What you wanting, my friend?’ said
the guard, taking one step toward the prisoner, looking down at his plaster
Without replying, Wakashe suddenly
thrust forward with both hands, smashing the guard in the chest with his
plaster-covered mitts and pushing him back off balance. The guard stumbled back
Thabethe had sharpened the spoke to
a fine point. A point as fine as any weapon needed to be if it was to be
inserted through the tough fabric of a prison-guard uniform and the easier
fabric of the cotton shirt beneath, through the fat and muscle and sinew
concealed by such clothing, and through the kidney that lay beneath. As the
cold penetrating steel made its passage forward through the layers of astounded
human tissue, Thabethe’s wiry left arm snaked out around the guard’s neck and
pulled him backward. Thabethe’s words rasped into his ear.
But this kebab is too fat
thrust the spoke deeper and deeper,
until with the last push the sharp steel point burst through the front of the
man’s tunic. The guard stared in anguished horror at the bloody spike
protruding from his belly and felt Mgwazeni’s hand reaching down to the keys
that were attached to his belt. As the keys were lifted, he fell down onto his
knees with wide staring eyes, facing Wakashe, who stared back at him, devoid of
any feeling other than admiration for the skills of his new friends opposite.
Thabethe bent down as the guard
fell, his right arm still reaching through between the bars, and withdrew the
spoke. The guard toppled forward onto his face.
Within seconds Thabethe had flung
aside the spoke and Mgwazeni had their cell-door open. As Mgwazeni went across
to free Wakashe, Thabethe pulled the guard over onto his back and rifled
through his pockets. He ripped open the wallet he found in the breast pocket
and a quick look through the contents told him that it contained cash, credit
card, and two debit cards. Searching further through the wallet produced a
scrap of paper in the coin-pouch. Astounding. Here was a man who wrote his pin
numbers on a piece of paper and kept them, along with the cards, in the same
Thabethe pocketed the wallet. Then
he snatched the keys back from Mgwazeni as Wakashe emerged from his cell.
‘Quick. They’ll come back soon.’
The three men ran down the passage
to the first gate, and tried three keys before they struck the right one. They
burst through, and then immediately skidded to a halt. Thabethe saw a briefcase
tucked in under the small desk fronting the security gate. He snatched it and
continued on the frenetic journey to gate number two. They got through the
second gate with the first key they tried, then they continued on down the next
passage. Within seconds they found that the renovations taking place had resulted
in three of the normally closed barricades being propped wide open - barricades
that Thabethe and Mgwazeni had studied on their first arrival and that they had
thought, pessimistically, would be their final undoing even if they managed to
get this far. But for now the gods were smiling.
With Thabethe still clutching the
briefcase they dashed toward the first vehicle they saw. No keys. They tried
the next vehicle. No keys. They tried the next.
Keys in the
Within seconds the car started and they churned up sand and
grass as they lurched forward, smashed against the partly-opened exterior gate,
and found themselves hurtling down the road toward freedom. The last thing
Thabethe remembered seeing was the gold-coloured lettering on the sign at the
front as they passed through.