Authors: Caryl Ferey
“Nicole lied to everyone: she'd stopped hanging out with young people from her social set, she'd dropped out of her classes, she went out on the sly, her parents thought she was a virgin but she was collecting sex toys, and she had intercourse with one or more unknown men.”
Zina wasn't the kind of person to be taken aback by any of that. “She was of age, wasn't she?”
There was a knock at the door, and one of the musicians came inâJoey, a thickset Zulu with a Che Guevara T-shirt and a joint in his mouth.
“I didn't tell you to come in,” Zina said.
“This show is making me deaf! Are you joining us? We're eating in the restaurant down the street.”
The musician glanced cautiously at the big black man leaning against the wall, and disappeared in a cloud of acrid smoke.
“Any more pathetic questions to ask me?” Zina said bluntly. “I'm starving.”
He shook his head. “No. Not for the moment.”
“You mean you're planning to come back?”
Sinjalo thina maZulu
She smiled with a knowing air. “I didn't think you looked much like a cop.”
With these words, Zina grabbed her linen bag from next to the dressing table and stood up. Her body was supple, her muscles a thousand little animals rumbling inside the material of her dress.
Neuman looked down at her bare feet. “Do you go outside like that?”
“What did you thinkâthat I can dance on fire because of my supernatural powers?”
A tropical downpour was beating on the sidewalk of Lower Main Street. The night owls had deserted the terraces like a flock of sparrows and packed into the bars. Zina measured the distance separating her from the restaurant where the musicians were waiting for her, and looked one last time at Neuman, who seemed indifferent to the rain.
“How much longer will you be performing here?” he asked.
“This was our last show at the Sundance,” she said. “Next weekend we're opening at the Armchair, down the street.”
The rain had made new patterns on her dress. It was time to say goodbye.
“I'm sorry if I annoyed you,” he said.
“It's not you, it's what brought you.”
“I'm looking for the person who killed that girl, that's all.”
“Should I wish you luck?”
The rain clung to her hips. Or vice versa. Neuman looked at it streaming down her ankles onto the asphalt. He and she were both soaked by now.
“Right, I'll say goodnight,” she said, “or my feet will drown.”
Zina extricated herself from the gutter, now overflowing with rain, and left to join the rest of her group. Neuman watched her walk away down the deserted street, in an even more somber mood than beforeâa cloak of rain had descended over his life.
s the police forces and the intelligence services were constantly stepping on one another's feet, the ANC had had to create the Presidential Intelligence Unit, a special unit to keep an eye open for their disagreements as well as to collect information both inside the country and abroad. Janet Helms had been working for this unit when Dan Fletcher had headhunted herâthis young colored woman was a genius with computers, a hacker without equal, who might look like a kindly seal but was nobody's fool. At Fletcher's insistence, and with Superintendent KrÃ¼ge's help, Neuman had obtained her transfer.
The Fletcher/Helms team had soon proved its efficiency. His tortured eyes, his fragile elegance, his almost feminine ways. Janet had quickly fallen in love with the young sergeant. Yet another blind alley for her: Dan Fletcher had children, and a wife he was apparently madly in love with. Janet had seen her photo on his desk, a pretty girl, you had to hand her that. One more prospect blocked off, as if her size wasn't enough.
Janet Helms had always thought of herself as fat. There was nothing she could do about it. Whatever she had triedâfood supplements, psychiatrists, women's magazines, TV shows, the advice of expertsâher outward appearance remained far too big for her liking. Janet had drawn the wrong costume in the wrong size. She would always be a colored girl with a rather ordinary face, with hips she'd inherited from her mother and a big posterior that no trick could reshape. She'd have to make do with this model. Disappointmentâsize XXL.
The rumors about his wife's cancer had struck her to the heart. Commiseration, hope, shame, Janet hated her thoughtsâlet her die!âbut her imagination had started running away with her. She'd been twenty-five years without a boyfriend, she could wait a little longer. One day, she would be the only one able to console him. Janet would take it all on: her share of mourning, the children, his hands on her body, all the rest. The love she felt was beyond shame. Dan smelled so good, leaning over her shoulder.
“Looks like we've caught ourselves a fish,” he said, staring at the screen.
They were viewing the tapes from the Sundance. There was Nicole, a few hours before the murder, in the company of a man, a young black who hadn't come forward as a witness.
“I'll start looking in the headquarter records,” Janet said, sliding her chair over to her computer.
She had drawn up a Photofit of the suspect and was beginning her search when Neuman came into the office. She nodded to himâshe barely knew himâand got on with her work. She was a little in awe of him. He peered at the screen. Through the gray stripes on the video image, he recognized Nicole Wiese outside the Sundance, in the company of a tall, well-built young black, wearing gangster-style clothes and jewelry. He muttered to himselfâher father was not going to be happy.
“This video was taken on Saturday night,” Dan said, “at 9:50, when they arrived. The next time we see them is two hours later, just before midnight, coming out of the club. We don't yet know who this guy is, but we know he was with Nicole on Tuesday evening.”
“Yes, I know it was Wednesday that Nicole didn't come back to Judith's. Anyway, these two were together an hour before the murder.”
Neuman paused the image on the slender figure of the young black.
“If he's in our records, Janet should find him soon enough,” Dan said.
Janet, who was still tapping away in a corner of the office, did not react, absorbed as she was by the play of her fingers on the keyboard.
Neuman let the tape run on. Nicole did not seem to be behaving unusually. She and the man just looked like two young people coming out of a club.
“Have you looked at the Wednesday tapes?”
“Yes,” Dan replied. “Nicole arrived at nine-thirty, and left around midnight. But she was alone that evening. No boyfriend or girlfriend.”
While waiting, the two men put together a first scenario with the information they had at their disposal. Nicole leaves the family home on Saturday afternoon, supposedly to go shopping with her friend Judith, instead of which she meets her black boyfriend on one of the beaches on the peninsula, probably Muizenberg. Nicole withdraws a thousand rand from an ATM at eight o'clock, they eat somewhere on the way, and get back to Cape Town without even stopping at Judith's apartment to freshen up. They spend the evening at the Sundance, watch the show by the Zulu group that Nicole saw three days earlier, and leave the club just before midnight. Nicole dies an hour later, in Kirstenbosch.
The park was half an hour's drive from Observatory. That left about forty minutes unaccounted for. What had they done during that time? Made love under the stars, after Nicole had been initiated into the joys of methamphetamine? Or had she been drugged in order to be taken advantage of? Why bother, if she was willing?
led its users to neglect the elementary rules of safe sex, but GHB was easy to obtain and a surer way to rape girls without their knowing. A third party might have followed them, or come across them by chance in the gardens. In that case, what had become of the young black?
Officer Helms, pounding her keyboard a few feet away, suddenly stopped.
“I've got him,” she said. “Stanley Ramphele. A small-time marijuana dealer, currently on a suspended sentence. We have an address for him. A mobile home in Noordhoek.”
A village on the coast of the peninsula.
Brian Epkeen arrived as they were leaving. Neuman decided to take him alongâhe looked as if he could do with some fresh air.
“I see your car's still as much of a dump as ever,” Dan commented, opening the glove compartment of the Mercedes, where ants were sharing some old pieces of cake.
“It's my son's last snack,” Brian lied.
There was a bit of everything in the glove compartment: cassettes with cracked cases, pencils, pre-stamped envelopes, a flashlight, a toothbrush, condoms, a book with its pages ruined by sand, even a
âa thong of hippopotamus hide attached to a copper loop, which his ancestors had used for whipping cattle. Dan extracted the Colt .45 from the mess, wiped off the cake crumbs stuck to the barrel, and noted that the cylinder was empty. Brian never loaded it. But he could kill people if he had to. He already had, and he didn't regret itâbut he had enough memories weighing him down as it was.
In the back seat, blind to the imposing view of Chapman's Peak, Neuman was collating the information from headquarters. Stanley Ramphele, twenty-one, was the younger brother of Sonny, a dealer with a record as long as your arm who was currently serving a two-year sentence in Pollsmoor Prison in the Western Cape. Stanley was also selling dope, that was what he'd been given the suspended sentence for. He had no qualifications, and wasn't involved with social services, but he seemed to have kept his head down since his arrest six months earlier. A government allowance paid the rent for the mobile home he shared with his brother in Nordhoek, an isolated village on the wildest bay of the peninsula. According to the local police, the brothers limited themselves to dealing the local grass.
“They may have graduated to meth,” Fletcher commented.
“The surfers on the coast are more into ecstasy or coke.”
“Unless they're being sold
under another name.”
The Mercedes had to slow down behind a tourist bus. They passed the bronze statue of the last leopard killed in the region a century earlier, and reached the coast road. Sandstone cliffs plunged into the raging sea, which could be heard roaring below. A dusty road ran alongside the ocean, cutting across the immaculately white dunes.
Dan bent over the map. “It must be this way,” he said. “After the stud farm.”
Noordhoek Bay was a dangerous place that didn't attract many visitors. The rollers and the sharks made bathing impossible, and, as a number of crimes had been committed on the beach, a sign advised walkers not to stray too far from the parking lot. The Mercedes passed the village and bounced over the worn trail that ran parallel to the sea. A few houses nestled in the hollow of the dunes, some of them just dilapidated shacks. Brian finally pulled up next to an old pickup truck parked a few yards from a run-down mobile home half eroded by salt. Ramphele's house, according to their information. The curtains, yellow with nicotine, were drawn. They got out of the car. Neuman made a sign to Brian, who walked around to the other side of the makeshift dwelling.
A motorbike stood sheltered from the wind, under a tarp. Neuman and Dan walked up to the battered door. In a few strides, Brian had reached the back of the mobile home. He glanced in at the window and made out a form through the filthy curtains. He placed his hands on the window. There was someone on the other side, a few inches away. A black, his head tilted against the back of the window seat, not sleeping. Flies were galloping over his skull.
Neuman did not have to force the lock, the door was open. A swarm of insects was buzzing inside. The young black sat at the plastic-coated table in the living room area, his half-closed eyes staring up at a particular point on the ceiling. Stanley Rampheleâhe looked like his mugshot. A used syringe lay on the cushion, and some whitish powder in a plastic sachet. Holding his breathâthe smell of shit was overpoweringâDan went over and took his pulse, and indicated with a sign that he was dead.
“I'll call it in,” he breathed, retreating to the door.
Neuman forgot the smell of shit and the flies. The young Xhosa's eyes were empty, as if drawn with a lead pencil, his body as cold as stone. He'd been dead for several daysâthe sphincters had relaxed and the excrement that had soiled his pants had seeped through to the window seat and dried. Neuman looked closely at the body. No sign of struggle, no bruises, no apparent wounds. A needle mark on the left arm. A tourniquet lay beside him. Neuman put on plastic gloves and examined the powder on the table. Presumably methamphetamine. He searched the mobile home.
A laptop, brand-name clothes on the unmade bed, a pair of Italian sunglasses, a few jewelsâpure pasteâa motorcycle helmet. Neuman found a little marijuana under the mattress, but no powder. He peered under the bed, and pulled out a dust-covered object. A woman's purse. There was a cell phone inside, a few Kleenex, three condoms in their wrappers, several small flasks, and some papers with the name Nicole Wiese on them.
There was also a coin purse, containing barely a hundred rand. He took the stopper from one of the flasks. The liquid was greenish, the smell difficult to identify. There were no labels on the flasks, but one of them had been emptied.
The roar of the sea could be heard through the open door of the mobile home. Neuman stood up, saw Brian inspecting the dusty ground, and headed for the toilet. He recoiled as soon as he stepped inside. A dark, furry trap door spider was looking at him from the cistern pipe. The spider was the size of his hand, the operculum open as if either ready to beat a retreat or to bite. Two little brown eyes staring at him, legs moving. The lid of the toilet bowl was down, the skylight closed with a latch. How had it gotten in here? Neuman closed the toilet door, cold sweat down his spine.
Brian was standing in the doorway of the mobile home, silhouetted in the noon sun. “The motorbike outside has two hundred and fifty miles on the meter,” he said. “A Yamaha that must be worth about thirty thousand rand. Not bad for an unemployed kid, eh?”
Neuman was looking distinctly odd.
“What's the matter?”
“I found Nicole's bag under the bed, and some dope,” he said. “There's also a spider in the toilet.”
“A hairy one.”
Dan arrived, his cell phone in his hand. “The forensics team will be here in twenty minutes,” he said.
Outside, a warm wind was stirring the sand. Neuman searched the pickup parked outside the mobile home. The papers in the glove compartment were still in the name of Sonny Ramphele. Chocolate bar wrappers lay on the seats, along with ice cream sticks and soda cans. The sand on the flooring was darker than in Noordhoek, where it was too cold to bathe anyway. Stanley hadn't been wearing a helmet when he arrived at the club on Saturday night, they must have taken this vehicle and gone to the east of the peninsula, where the coast was more hospitable.
His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. It was Miriam, the nurse from the dispensary. He took the call.
Overcrowded minibuses were trying to push their way through by hooting their horns, but it was noon and the N2 was quite congested. Neuman was fuming at being stuck behind a brand-new tank truckâhis mother having gotten into trouble again, he had left Brian to deal with things in Noordhoekâwhen he received a call from Tembo. He had finished the supplementary analyses of Nicole Wiese's postmortem.
“I've found the name of the plant she ingested a few days before the murder,” he said. “It's
, a plant from West Africa used in shamanic ceremonies. But we still don't know the name of the substance inhaled with the
“What do you mean, you don't know?”
“There's certainly a chemical molecule, but its composition isn't listed anywhere.”
“Some crap that was added to cut the drug?” Neuman suggested.
“It's possible,” Tembo replied. “Or else it's a new combination of products, a new drug.”
The traffic had slowed again. Neuman was brooding. The far right of the AWB
and the sectarian factions that had trafficked pills during apartheid to fuddle the brains of progressive-minded white kids didn't have the clout they had once had. Besides, Nicole Wiese came from the Afrikaner elite and her father was a major financial supporter of the National Party. It wasn't in the interest of these wolves to tear each other to pieces.