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Authors: Caryl Ferey

Zulu (4 page)

BOOK: Zulu
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Brian turned at the corner of the avenue and took the M3 in the direction of Kirstenbosch.

 

Two police vehicles were blocking access to the Botanical Gardens. Brian saw the forensics van in the parking lot, Neuman's car parked close to the souvenir shops, and groups of tourists disconcerted by the irritability with which they were being turned away. The clouds were tumbling from the top of the mountain like frightened sheep. Brian showed his badge to the constable manning the barrier, passed under the arch of the big banana tree at the entrance, and, pursued by swarms of insects, followed the birdsong to the main path.

Kirstenbosch was a living museum, a multicolored tide of plants, trees, and flowers stretching to the foot of the mountain. On the English-style lawn, a pheasant flew off as he passed, making a mocking sound as it did so. Brian reached the acacia grove.

A little farther on, he saw His Majesty, his tall frame stooped beneath the branches, talking in a low voice with Tembo, the medical examiner. An old black in green overalls was standing behind them, cut in half by the shade and his overlarge cap. One lab team was taking prints from the ground, another had nearly finished taking photographs. Brian nodded to Tembo in his jazzy felt hat—he was just leaving—and the old man in his municipal overalls. Neuman was waiting for him before he himself left.

“You're not looking too good,” he said when he saw him.

“In ten years, my friend, just you wait.”

At that moment, Brian saw the body in the middle of the flowers, and the front he had been keeping up since the minute he woke up this morning, already somewhat undermined, now crumbled a little more.

“It was this gentleman who found her this morning,” Neuman said, indicating the gardener.

The old black said nothing. It was obvious he didn't want to be there. Brian bent over the irises, taking deep breaths to steady his nerves. The girl was lying on her back, but it was the sight of the head that made him recoil. You couldn't see her eyes, or her features. She'd been wiped off the map, and her tensed hands, which seemed to be reaching toward an attacker both unseen and omnipresent, made her look as if she was petrified with fear.

“The murder took place about two o'clock last night,” Neuman said, in a mechanical voice. “The ground's dry, but the flowers are trampled and stained with blood. Probably the victim's. There are no bullet holes. All the blows are concentrated on the face and the top of the skull. Tembo thinks it was a hammer, or something similar.”

Brian was looking at the white, blood-spattered thighs, the slightly plump legs—a girl David's age. Chasing away these visions of horror, he saw that she was naked under her dress.

“Rape?”

“Hard to say,” Neuman replied. “We found her panties beside her, but the elastic is intact. We know she had sexual intercourse. What we still have to establish is if it was consensual or not.”

Brian moved a finger over the girl's bare shoulder and lifted it to his lips. The skin had a slightly salty taste. He put on the latex gloves Neuman handed him, examined the victim's hands, her bizarrely retracted fingers—there was a little earth under the nails—and the marks on her arms: small grazes, in almost straight lines. The dress was torn in places, leaving big holes.

“Two fingers broken?”

“Yes, on the right hand. She must have been trying to defend herself.”

Two male nurses were waiting on the path, their stretcher on the ground. Standing in the sun all this time was starting to get on their nerves. Brian straightened up, his legs like mercury.

“I wanted you to see her before they took her away,” Neuman said.

“Thanks a lot. Do we know who she is?”

“We found a video club membership card in the pocket of her cardigan, registered to Judith Botha. A student. Dan's gone to check it out.”

Dan Fletcher, their protégé.

The insects were buzzing under the acacias. Brian swayed for a moment to avoid them. Neuman's eyes were like two black suns—the sense of foreboding that had been with him since dawn hadn't left.

 

 *

 

Outside the 7-Eleven in the working-class district of Woodstock, the wailing siren of an ambulance had attracted a crowd. There was a body on the sidewalk, people were holding their heads in alarm, the men from the Explosives Unit had arrived in their bulletproof vests. Dan Fletcher drove along the seedy avenue before turning onto the M3. Although up until now Cape Town had largely avoided
brinks
, those everyday acts of terror of which Johannesburg was the epicenter, this kind of scene was becoming increasingly frequent, even in the center of the city. It was a worrying development, and the press were having a field day with it.

Dan had searched Judith Botha's studio apartment without finding any vital clues as to her disappearance. The neighbors hadn't seen her over the weekend, and the apartment seemed to be a typical student pad—law books, paperwork from college, stupid postcards, DVDs, slices of pizza, a photo of a blonde who fit the description of the victim smiling at the camera. Dan had found a number for her parents, Nils and Flora Botha. The servant who had finally answered the phone didn't have any idea where Mrs. Botha was, but her husband, Nils, must be “at rugby.”

Fletcher didn't know Nils Botha, and didn't know anything about rugby, but Janet Helms, who was steering the investigation from headquarters, brought him up to speed. A former selector for the national team, the Springboks, and himself a player at the time of the embargo and the sporting boycott, Nils Botha had for the last twenty years been the celebrity coach for the Western Cape team, the Stormers. He and his wife, Flora, had two children: a son, Pretorius, who lived in Port Elizabeth, and Judith, who had just started university at Observatory.

Dan remembered the disfigured face surrounded by flowers, the viscous lianas of her blonde hair, the lumps of brain escaping from the skull. He thought he had hidden his squeamishness from Neuman but he didn't fool anyone, especially not the old cops at headquarters, who had been there and done that. “Hot Lips” was the nickname given him by Sergeant Van Vlit, the shooting instructor, terror of the young recruits. The name had made the rounds of the force, and Dan had even found gay magazines in the drawer of his office, the pages stuck together, but then it had calmed down. Dan had assumed the hazing was over, but he was wrong. Neuman had recruited him for his talents as a sociologist, and had no intention of putting up with the homophobic remarks of the rednecks at headquarters. He had knocked out Sergeant Van Vlit with a blow to the back of the neck, pulled down his pants in front of everyone, grabbed his famous chromium-plated Colt, of which he was so proud, stuck the barrel of it into his big pimply ass, and left him there. His cold fury said it all—no need for warnings. That was the end of the nicknames, and the beginning of their collaboration.

Dan extricated himself from the M3 overlooking the city, drove onto the other side of the mountain, and reached the sports complex.

The Stormers were preparing for the Super 14, the southern hemisphere championship. They were still in the early stages of training, and had a lot of catching up to do if they were going to beat the New Zealanders. Fletcher found Botha on the touchline, hurling abuse at his big sweaty babies as they practiced their maul. Every time the ball was dropped he flew into a rage. Only the waving of Dan's police badge persuaded the coach to shift his attention to this runt with eyes like a woman's who had just appeared. He left his assistant to continue training the forwards on the yoke until they dropped.

Botha was sixty years old, stocky, with graying hair, his trapezius muscles bulging from his T-shirt. He sported a cap with the club colors and lots of hair on his forearms.

“What's up?” he asked, alerted by the expression on Dan's face.

“We're looking for your daughter, Judith. Do you know where she is?”

Botha's face turned red. “At home! Why?”

“I've been to her apartment in Observatory, there's no one there,” Dan replied, calmly. “And there's no answer from her cell phone.”

Botha sensed immediately that something serious had happened. “What do you mean, there's no answer on her cell phone?” He felt in the pockets of his beige shorts for his phone, as if that was a solution to the problem.

“Could you describe Judith for me?” Dan asked. “Physically, I mean.”

“Well, she's blonde, she has blue eyes, she's five and a half feet. Why are you looking for my daughter? Has she done something wrong?” Botha was looking at him incredulously.

Dan's pulse beat faster. “We found the body of a young woman this morning,” he said, “in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The body hasn't been identified yet, but there was a video membership card in her cardigan, with Judith's name on it. The description of the victim fits your daughter, but we're not sure of anything yet. Do you know how your daughter spends her time—what she was planning to do last night, for example?”

The coach's red face slowly fell. Botha was known for his halftime rants and his liking for a rough game, but this effeminate little cop had knocked him for six.

“Judith . . . Judith was supposed to be revising for her midterm exams with her friend Nicole. In Nicole's apartment. It had all been arranged.”

“Nicole who?”

“Wiese. Nicole Wiese. They're at university together.”

The forwards were dropping like flies in the sun.

“Do you have her cell number?” Dan asked.

“Nicole's? No. But I have her father's number. The girls have known each other since they were little.”

“Any idea where they might have gone?”

“No.”

“Does Judith have a boyfriend?”

“Deblink. Peter Deblink. He lives in Camps Bay.” He made Deblink's address sound like a guarantee of moral rectitude. “His parents have a restaurant. My wife and I often eat there.”

“Were they together last night?”

“I told you, Judith was revising for her exams with her friend from university.”

“Your daughter lied to you,” Dan replied.

The players were still laboring under the yoke, but Botha had stopped watching them. The body they'd found was his daughter . . . He could feel his thighs harden, his hair stand on end. At that point, Dan's cell phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. He apologized to the coach, whose face had by now turned white, and took the call. It was his colleague Janet Helms.

“I just got through to Judith Botha,” she said immediately. “She's in Strand with her boyfriend and only just switched on her cell phone.”

Dan's insides relaxed. “Did you put her in the picture?”

“No. I thought you'd prefer to question her yourself.”

“Well done. Tell her I'll see her at her parents' house.”

On the touchline, Botha had pricked up his ears, and was trying to read Dan's lips, looking for a clue, anything that would tell him she was alive.

“Your daughter's at the beach,” Dan said.

Botha's shoulders sagged. The relief was short-lived—Dan called Neuman, who picked up immediately.

“Ali, it's me. I think I have the dead girl's name. Nicole Wiese.”

5.

 

 

 

I
t's her.” Stewart Wiese's fingers were twisting like boa constructors as he stood by the gray marble slab. The room smelled of antiseptic, and the medical examiner's efforts to make his daughter presentable certainly weren't going to lessen his anger—as for his sadness, he'd save that for his wife.

Stewart Wiese was a former second row player for the Springboks—world champion in '95, selected about fifty times for the national team, with thighs like buffaloes and a skull that could break stones. The rugby fields had accustomed him to blows, he had taken plenty himself and had given out more than his fair share, but he was in a good position to know that those you didn't see coming were the worst of all. Now the apple of his eye no longer had any eyes, or anything that reminded him of his daughter.

“Would you like to sit down?”

“No.”

Wiese must have put on more than thirty pounds since his days as a prop forward, but he hadn't lost his readiness for a fight. He refused the glass of water that the medical examiner's assistant offered him, and glared at Neuman. He thought about his wife, mad with grief even before the death had been confirmed, and the chasm opening beneath his feet.

“Any idea of the bastard that did this?”

It wasn't so much a question as a threat.

Neuman looked at the photograph of the young blonde woman, just turned eighteen, residing at 114 Victoria in the chic suburb of Camps Bay. Nicole Wiese, a nicely dressed little doll—you wanted to buy her an ice cream, not bash her head in with a hammer.

“I don't suppose your daughter had any enemies,” he said.

“Not like that.”

“Did she have a driver's license?”

“No.”

“She didn't get to Kirstenbosch on foot. Any idea who might have driven her?”

Wiese was kneading his big hands to stop them shaking. “Nicole would never have been out at night with strangers,” he said.

He was looking at his daughter's mashed-up face as if it were someone else's. He didn't want to believe that the world was nothing but an illusion. A house of cards.

“You think she was in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Neuman asked.

The rage Wiese had been containing exploded suddenly. “No, I think a savage did this! A savage slaughtered my daughter!” His voice boomed in the cold air. “Who else could have done something like this? Who else? Can you tell me that?”

“I'm sorry.”

“Not as sorry as I am,” Wiese retorted, his jaws still clenched. “But I won't let this happen. No, not like this.”

The color had drained from his face, and his temples were throbbing with anger. He had thought his daughter was with Judith Botha, the two of them were supposed to be spending the evening studying for their midterm exams over a pizza. Instead, she'd been found dead miles away from there, murdered in the botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch in the middle of the night.

“Was Nicole . . . was she raped?”

“We don't know yet. The postmortem will tell us.”

Wiese rose to his full height—he was slightly taller than Neuman. “You ought to know,” he bellowed. “What the hell's your medical examiner doing?”

“His job,” Neuman replied. “Your daughter had sexual intercourse last night, but there's nothing to show that she was raped.”

Wiese went red, as if stunned. “I want to see the chief of police,” he said, in a toneless voice. “I want him to deal with this personally.”

“I'm the head of the Crime Unit,” Neuman said, “and that's precisely what I'm going to do.”

Thrown by this, Wiese hesitated. The medical examiner's assistant had put the sheet back over the corpse, but he continued to stare at it, a faraway look in his eyes.

“Can you tell me when you last saw Nicole?”

“About four in the afternoon. Saturday. Nicole was supposed to be going out shopping with that little bitch Judith Botha, and then revising for her exams.”

“Do you know if she had a boyfriend?”

“Nicole broke up with the last one before the summer,” he said. “Ben Durandt. Nobody since then.”

“When you're nineteen, you don't necessarily tell your father everything,” Neuman said.

“My wife would have told me. What are you implying? That I don't know how to keep my daughter under control?”

His metallic eyes misted over with anger—he'd find the man who'd slaughtered his daughter and bring him down, tear the bones from his body, destroy him.

“My daughter was raped and murdered by an animal,” he said, categorically. “A monster of the worst kind. He's out there somewhere, thinking he's gotten away with it, and that's something I can't accept. If you don't know who I am, you're going to find out. I don't give up easily, captain. I'll move heaven and earth till the bastard is caught. I want every department in your fucking police force involved, I want your bloody inspectors to move their asses, and I want them to get results, fast. Is that clear?”

“The law's the same for everyone,” Neuman said, with an emphasis that Wiese took for arrogance. “I'll find your daughter's killer.”

“I hope so, for your sake,” Wiese said, between clenched teeth. His bare neck was streaming with sweat. He threw a last glance at the sheet covering his daughter.

Neuman was starting to realize what had been bothering him in this interview. “An officer will be over to see you tomorrow morning,” he said before letting him leave.

A white officer.

 

 *

 

The hills and secluded inlets of Clifton, with their dense vegetation, had given way to luxury residences, villas with rooftop parking, security guards, and direct access to the beach. The area was now firmly part of the urban spread, and they were building ever higher up the side of the hill—it was already too late to save the landscape.

25 West Point. With its gilt and lacquer and profusion of mirrors, the Botha family apartment was as heavily made up as a Sydney drag queen, a monument to eighties glitz. In a living room with a panoramic view, Flora, her face drawn by the sun and foundation cream, was sitting on the couch waiting for Judith to return. Her husband, pacing restlessly around the coffee table, was talking for the two of them. In lying to everyone, the stupid girl had created a deep rift between the two families. Stewart Wiese had called a little earlier, and they'd had a heated argument that had solved nothing. The Springbok had finished his career in Nils Botha's Stormers, and the two men had remained friends. Their daughters had been at school together, had the same circle of friends, went out to the same places, they had never wanted for anything or ever caused the slightest concern. They were supposed to be revising for their exams, not spending the night on the streets, or going for weekends to the coast. Botha was boiling with anger, incomprehension, and a sense of betrayal. Dan Fletcher let him stew, while his wife sat on the flowered couch, twisting her fingers.

Dan was thinking about his wife, Claire—he'd be picking her up from the hospital in a while—when there was a ring from the entry phone. Flora jumped up like a spring, and trotted across the marble floor in her high heels, but Nils got there first. It was the doorman, announcing that their daughter had arrived.

After a few moments, the door of the private elevator opened and Judith appeared, together with her friend Peter, a local boy who had swapped his Ray-Bans for blond streaks.

“What's going on?” Judith asked when she saw her mother's distraught face. “Has something happened?”

Botha pushed his wife aside, swooped on his daughter, and slapped her across the face. Flora let out a stunned cry. With a whine, Judith collapsed on the floor.

“Nils!” Flora said. “You—”

“Shut up! And you, listen to me,” he roared at his daughter. “Yes, something's happened. Nicole has been murdered! Do you hear! Someone killed Nicole!”

The maid, who had been hiding at the end of the corridor, ran to the kitchen. Judith burst into tears. Peter retreated toward the elevator. Botha glared at him, then bent over Judith and grabbed her by the arm as if pulling a weed from the ground.

“Do you think this is quite appropriate?” Dan Fletcher said.

“I'll treat my daughter as I see fit!”

“Can't you see, she can hardly stand.”

Botha didn't give a damn. He had beaten men to the ground before. If you could do it in rugby, why not in life? All he could see was the lying, the deception, the rift with Stewart Wiese, the loss of business contacts, and all the other trouble that would ensue. All because of this young fool, his daughter.

Judith was still on the floor, her hands over her face. Flora went to her, ill at ease, not knowing how to deal with her.

“I'd like to speak to Judith alone,” Dan said.

“I have a right to know why my daughter lied to us!”

“Please, Mr. Botha, let me do my job.”

Botha made a sour face. The little cop was talking in a low voice and looking at Judith with a compassion that set his nerves on edge. She huddled pitifully against the elevator door, while her mother tried awkwardly, and inaudibly, to console her.

Now Dan kneeled and looked at her, noticing the freckles behind her disheveled hair. He took her hand and helped her to her feet. Her mascara had run, staining her fingers. Peter Deblink stood with his back to the elevator and his eyes on the floor, as if counting the marble tiles.

“You too,” Dan said.

Swerving past Nils Botha, the young couple followed Dan out onto the terrace.

A cool wind was blowing, birds soared, turquoise waves crashed on the immaculate beach below, a little corner of paradise that had ended up in the wrong place. Judith, still in shock, collapsed onto a folding chair, where she could cry more freely.

There was a moment's silence, broken only by the sound of the rollers. Dan was as delicate-looking as Montgomery Clift, with a gleam in his eye that was only for his wife. He peered down at Judith. She was pretty, he thought, no more than that.

“You have to help me,” he said. “O.K.?”

Judith did not reply. She was gathering her tears. “What happened?” she sniffed.

“We don't know yet,” Dan replied. “Nicole's body was found in Kirstenbosch Gardens this morning.”

Judith looked up, incredulous. Her father's fingers had left Paleolithic marks on her cheeks.

“You were Nicole's best friend, from what I've been told.”

“We've known each other since we were kids,” Judith said, her throat tight with emotion. “Nicole lives in Camps Bay, on the other side of the hill.”

She made a movement with her head, which went no farther than the green plants on the terrace.

“Did you often cover for her?”

“No . . . No.”

Dan looked into her moist eyes, saw only shame and sadness. “Tell me the truth.”

“I . . . I have a studio apartment in Observatory, near the university. Nicole used to tell her parents that she was going to sleep over at my place so we could go through our course together.”

“And that wasn't true?”

“It was just an excuse to get out of the house. I don't like lying, but I did it for her, as a friend. I tried to tell her our parents would find out in the end, but Nicole begged me and . . . Anyway, I didn't have the heart to refuse. I feel terrible about it. It's awful.” She hid her face in her hands.

Dan turned to Deblink. “Were the two of you with her last night?” he asked.

“No,” the blond boy said. “We were at Strand diving in a cage with the white sharks. The excursion was due to start at seven this morning, so we spent the night in the guest house that organized it.”

That would be easy to check.

“And Nicole?”

“She had a duplicate key,” Judith said. “That way we were freer.”

“Did she tell you where was going, and who with?”

“No.”

“I thought you were friends.”

Her expression changed. “To be honest, we haven't seen much of each other lately.”

“You're in the same faculty.”

“Nicole hardly ever attended anymore.”

“I see.”

“She wasn't that crazy about law.”

“She preferred boys.”

“Don't put words in my mouth.”

“But she slept with boys.”

“Nicole wasn't a tramp!” her friend protested.

“I don't see anything wrong in her liking boys,” Dan said. “Was Nicole seeing someone?”

Disarmed, Judith shrugged. “I think so.”

“You think so?”

“She didn't tell me in so many words, but . . . I don't know. Nicole had changed. She'd become evasive.”

“How do you mean?”

“I don't know,” she said softly. “It's just a feeling. We've known each other a long time but something had changed in her. I couldn't say why, but Nicole wasn't the same anymore, especially lately. That's why I think she was seeing someone.”

“Strange she didn't talk to you. You were her best friend.”

“Yes, I was.”

A wind of sadness swept the terrace.

“Did Nicole often change boyfriends?”

“Oh, no. She wasn't a collector, I told you. She liked boys but like everyone, you know—in moderation.”

Deblink didn't bat an eyelid.

“Ben Durandt,” Fletcher said. “Know him?”

“A friend from Camps Bay,” she said, sullenly. “They were together for six months.”

“How was he with Nicole?”

“Good for driving a convertible.”

“The jealous type?”

“No.” She shook her head. “Durandt is too fascinated by himself to be interested in anyone else. Anyway, it was just a casual thing. Nicole was pissed off with him.” She was starting to relax a little.

“Do you know if they slept together?”

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