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Authors: Alexander Mccall Smith

Tags: #Ramotswe; Precious (Fictitious Character), #Detectives, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Ramotswe; Precious, #Mystery & Detective, #Today's Book Club Selection, #Africa, #Women Privat Investigators, #Women Private Investigators, #No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Imaginary Organization), #Fiction, #Women Private Investigators - Botswana, #Mystery Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Women Detectives, #General, #Botswana

Ladies' Detective Agency 01 - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

BOOK: Ladies' Detective Agency 01 - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
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THE NO.
1
LADIES’
DETECTIVE AGENCY

Alexander McCall Smith

Anchor Books

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York

This book is for

Anne Gordon-Gillies

in Scotland

 

and for

Joe and Mimi McKnight

in Dallas, Texas

CHAPTER ONE

THE DADDY

M
MA RAMOTSWE had a detective agency in
Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two
desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot,
in which Mma Ramotswe—the only lady private detective in
Botswana—brewed redbush tea. And three mugs—one for herself, one
for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency
really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both
of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those,
of course.

But there was also the view, which again could appear on
no inventory. How could any such list describe what one saw when one looked out
from Mma Ramotswe’s door? To the front, an acacia tree, the thorn tree
which dots the wide edges of the Kalahari; the great white thorns, a warning;
the olive-grey leaves, by contrast, so delicate. In its branches, in the late
afternoon, or in the cool of the early morning, one might see a Go-Away Bird,
or hear it, rather. And beyond the acacia, over the dusty road, the roofs of
the town under a cover of trees and scrub bush; on the horizon, in a blue
shimmer of heat, the hills, like improbable, overgrown termite mounds.

Everybody called her Mma Ramotswe, although if people had wanted to be
formal, they would have addressed her as Mme Mma Ramotswe. This is the right
thing for a person of stature, but which she had never used of herself. So it
was always Mma Ramotswe, rather than Precious Ramotswe, a name which very few
people employed.

She was a good detective, and a good woman. A good
woman in a good country, one might say. She loved her country, Botswana, which
is a place of peace, and she loved Africa, for all its trials. I am not ashamed
to be called an African patriot, said Mma Ramotswe. I love all the people whom
God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place.
They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to
solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.

In
idle moments, when there were no pressing matters to be dealt with, and when
everybody seemed to be sleepy from the heat, she would sit under her acacia
tree. It was a dusty place to sit, and the chickens would occasionally come and
peck about her feet, but it was a place which seemed to encourage thought. It
was here that Mma Ramotswe would contemplate some of the issues which, in
everyday life, may so easily be pushed to one side.

Everything, thought
Mma Ramotswe, has been something before. Here I am, the only lady private
detective in the whole of Botswana, sitting in front of my detective agency.
But only a few years ago there was no detective agency, and before that, before
there were even any buildings here, there were just the acacia trees, and the
riverbed in the distance, and the Kalahari over there, so close.

In
those days there was no Botswana even, just the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and
before that again there was Khama’s Country, and lions with the dry wind
in their manes. But look at it now: a detective agency, right here in Gaborone,
with me, the fat lady detective, sitting outside and thinking these thoughts
about how what is one thing today becomes quite another thing tomorrow.

Mma Ramotswe set up the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with the
proceeds of the sale of her father’s cattle. He had owned a big herd, and
had no other children; so every single beast, all one hundred and eighty of
them, including the white Brahmin bulls whose grandparents he had bred himself,
went to her. The cattle were moved from the cattle post, back to Mochudi where
they waited, in the dust, under the eyes of the chattering herd boys, until the
livestock agent came.

They fetched a good price, as there had been
heavy rains that year, and the grass had been lush. Had it been the year
before, when most of that southern part of Africa had been wracked by drought,
it would have been a different matter. People had dithered then, wanting to
hold on to their cattle, as without your cattle you were naked; others, feeling
more desperate, sold, because the rains had failed year after year and they had
seen the animals become thinner and thinner. Mma Ramotswe was pleased that her
father’s illness had prevented his making any decision, as now the price
had gone up and those who had held on were well rewarded.

“I want
you to have your own business,” he said to her on his death bed.
“You’ll get a good price for the cattle now. Sell them and buy a
business. A butchery maybe. A bottle store. Whatever you like.”

She held her father’s hand and looked into the eyes of the man she
loved beyond all others, her Daddy, her wise Daddy, whose lungs had been filled
with dust in those mines and who had scrimped and saved to make life good for
her.

It was difficult to talk through her tears, but she managed to
say: “I’m going to set up a detective agency. Down in Gaborone. It
will be the best one in Botswana. The No. 1 Agency.”

For a moment
her father’s eyes opened wide and it seemed as if he was struggling to
speak.

“But … but …”

But he died
before he could say anything more, and Mma Ramotswe fell on his chest and wept
for all the dignity, love and suffering that died with him.

 

SHE HAD a sign painted in bright colours, which
was then set up just off the Lobatse Road, on the edge of town, pointing to the
small building she had purchased:
THE NO
. 1
LADIES

DETECTIVE AGENCY
.
FOR ALL
CONFIDENTIAL MATTERS AND ENQUIRIES
.
SATISFACTION GUARANTEED FOR
ALL PARTIES
.
UNDER PERSONAL MANAGEMENT
.

There
was considerable public interest in the setting up of her agency. There was an
interview on Radio Botswana, in which she thought she was rather rudely pressed
to reveal her qualifications, and a rather more satisfactory article in
The
Botswana News,
which drew attention to the fact that she was the only lady
private detective in the country. This article was cut out, copied, and placed
prominently on a small board beside the front door of the agency.

After
a slow start, she was rather surprised to find that her services were in
considerable demand. She was consulted about missing husbands, about the
creditworthiness of potential business partners, and about suspected fraud by
employees. In almost every case, she was able to come up with at least some
information for the client; when she could not, she waived her fee, which meant
that virtually nobody who consulted her was dissatisfied. People in Botswana
liked to talk, she discovered, and the mere mention of the fact that she was a
private detective would let loose a positive outpouring of information on all
sorts of subjects. It flattered people, she concluded, to be approached by a
private detective, and this effectively loosened their tongues. This happened
with Happy Bapetsi, one of her earlier clients. Poor Happy! To have lost your
daddy and then found him, and then lost him again …

 

“I USED to have a happy life,” said
Happy Bapetsi. “A very happy life. Then this thing happened, and I
can’t say that any- more.”

Mma Ramotswe watched her client
as she sipped her bush tea. Everything you wanted to know about a person was
written in the face, she believed. It’s not that she believed that the
shape of the head was what counted—even if there were many who still
clung to that belief; it was more a question of taking care to scrutinise the
lines and the general look. And the eyes, of course; they were very important.
The eyes allowed you to see right into a person, to penetrate their very
essence, and that was why people with something to hide wore sunglasses
indoors. They were the ones you had to watch very carefully.

Now this
Happy Bapetsi was intelligent; that was immediately apparent. She also had few
worries—this was shown by the fact that there were no lines on her face,
other than smile lines of course. So it was man trouble, thought Mma Ramotswe.
Some man has turned up and spoilt everything, destroying her happiness with his
bad behaviour.

“Let me tell you a little about myself
first,” said Happy Bapetsi. “I come from Maun, you see, right up on
the Okavango. My mother had a small shop and I lived with her in the house at
the back. We had lots of chickens and we were very happy.

“My
mother told me that my Daddy had left a long time ago, when I was still a
little baby. He had gone off to work in Bulawayo and he had never come back.
Somebody had written to us—another Motswana living there—to say
that he thought that my Daddy was dead, but he wasn’t sure. He said that
he had gone to see somebody at Mpilo Hospital one day and as he was walking
along a corridor he saw them wheeling somebody out on a stretcher and that the
dead person on the stretcher looked remarkably like my Daddy. But he
couldn’t be certain.

“So we decided that he was probably
dead, but my mother did not mind a great deal because she had never really
liked him very much. And of course I couldn’t even remember him, so it
did not make much difference to me.

“I went to school in Maun at
a place run by some Catholic missionaries. One of them discovered that I could
do arithmetic rather well and he spent a lot of time helping me. He said that
he had never met a girl who could count so well.

“I suppose it
was very odd. I could see a group of figures and I would just remember it. Then
I would find that I had added the figures in my head, even without thinking
about it. It just came very easily—I didn’t have to work at it at
all.

“I did very well in my exams and at the end of the day I
went off to Gaborone and learned how to be a bookkeeper. Again it was very
simple for me; I could look at a whole sheet of figures and understand it
immediately. Then, the next day, I could remember every figure exactly and
write them all down if I needed to.

“I got a job in the bank and
I was given promotion after promotion. Now I am the No. 1 subaccountant and I
don’t think I can go any further because all the men are worried that
I’ll make them look stupid. But I don’t mind. I get very good pay
and I can finish all my work by three in the afternoon, sometimes earlier. I go
shopping after that. I have a nice house with four rooms and I am very happy.
To have all that by the time you are thirty-eight is good enough, I
think.”

Mma Ramotswe smiled. “That is all very interesting.
You’re right. You’ve done well.”

“I’m
very lucky,” said Happy Bapetsi. “But then this thing happened. My
Daddy arrived at the house.”

Mma Ramotswe drew in her breath. She
had not expected this; she had thought it would be a boyfriend problem. Fathers
were a different matter altogether.

“He just knocked on the
door,” said Happy Bapetsi. “It was a Saturday afternoon and I was
taking a rest on my bed when I heard his knocking. I got up, went to the door,
and there was this man, about sixty or so, standing there with his hat in his
hands. He told me that he was my Daddy, and that he had been living in Bulawayo
for a long time but was now back in Botswana and had come to see me.

“You can understand how shocked I was. I had to sit down, or I think
I would have fainted. In the meantime, he spoke. He told me my mother’s
name, which was correct, and he said that he was sorry that he hadn’t
been in touch before. Then he asked if he could stay in one of the spare rooms,
as he had nowhere else to go.

“I said that of course he could. In
a way I was very excited to see my Daddy and I thought that it would be good to
be able to make up for all those lost years and to have him staying with me,
particularly since my poor mother died. So I made a bed for him in one of the
rooms and cooked him a large meal of steak and potatoes, which he ate very
quickly. Then he asked for more.

“That was about three months
ago. Since then, he has been living in that room and I have been doing all the
work for him. I make his breakfast, cook him some lunch, which I leave in the
kitchen, and then make his supper at night. I buy him one bottle of beer a day
and have also bought him some new clothes and a pair of good shoes. All he does
is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him
next.”

“Many men are like that,” interrupted Mma
Ramotswe.

Happy Bapetsi nodded. “This one is especially like
that. He has not washed a single cooking pot since he arrived and I have been
getting very tired running after him. He also spends a lot of my money on
vitamin pills and biltong.

“I would not resent this, you know,
except for one thing. I do not think that he is my real Daddy. I have no way of
proving this, but I think that this man is an impostor and that he heard about
our family from my real Daddy before he died and is now just pretending. I
think he is a man who has been looking for a retirement home and who is very
pleased because he has found a good one.”

BOOK: Ladies' Detective Agency 01 - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
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