Chapter 31 (The ALIBI)
Deric placed a cup of coffee next to Tim Monty.
‘Well, this must be a first,’ Jim said as he came through the door, ‘what brought this on?’ He nodded his head towards the coffee.
‘Skills that you don’t have.’ Deric said with a smile.
Tim smiled at Jim and mouthed the words, ‘Skills that you don’t have.’
‘Watch it surfer-boy,’ Jim said sternly, ‘I’ve got more skills than you and your Captain put together, if you’re lucky you might see them one day!’
Deric and Tim exchanged an overly-exasperated look before Monty turned back to the screen again.
‘Got something here, boss.’ Monty said moments later as his fingers moved rapidly over the keyboard.
Both Deric and Jim looked at the screen.
‘Mae’s right,’ Monty said, ‘he is a lawyer in Canada under the name Burger le Roux and not Steenkamp – must have adopted his wife’s maiden name.’
‘It seems he’s doing alright.’ Latisha said with sympathy as she read the details, ‘It feels wrong to bother them, doesn’t it?’
‘It does, but it cannot be avoided.’ Deric said.
‘What did the doctor say, FC?’ Jim asked.
‘Not available, operation, the receptionist said. She’ll give him the message as soon as he’s in.’ Deric said a little distracted. He’s in agreement with Latisha, it is a shame to put Burger Steenkamp right back in the middle of his worst nightmare.
‘Doctor van der Westhuizen, good of you to phone back.’ Deric said as he closed the door behind him, ’there is something we’ve forgot to ask last time. I hope you can shed some light on this, or, at least give us an opinion.’
The Doctor said nothing and Deric went on.
’Doctor, can you remember anything weird or specific about that evening - I mean this twenty-first of Minke Blignaut - especially later, let’s say from around eleven, eleven-thirty?’ Deric didn’t want to lay words in the man’s mouth or having him recall something that was suggested. ’The estimated time of death was around twelve-thirty to one-thirty, maybe two. Can you remember where you were at that point?’
‘You think I had something to do with it?’ The doctor asked mockingly but continued without any denial or disgust, ‘of course I can remember where I was. I was in my bed in the dorm.’ The doctor said with acclamation, ‘Sleeping! What happened at the party after eleven- thirty I cannot tell you, because I went home with some friends. Burger Steenkamp was supposed to come back with us, but he didn’t. He was head-over-heels with Minke Blignaut and instead of keeping to the plan to come back with us to the dorm, he stayed on. Things progressed so well between the two of them that he decided…well, I guess, like every other red-blooded male-student, no, make that every male student - he hoped to get lucky. As it turns out, he got screwed, all right. Not in a good way though!’
‘Doctor, wait,’ Deric said a little taken aback, ’I think it would be best if you tell me your version of that evening. I was under the impression that all the guests stayed over?’
A few seconds of silence followed.
‘I never thought this would be necessary to repeat but, if it can shed any light on your investigation, here goes.’ He cleared his throat a little dramatically.
’The four of us, Burger, Rodney, Ned and myself had a huge exam on Monday. At first, only Rodney and Ned had plans to attend the party seeing that their girlfriends were best friends with Minke Blignaut. Burger was invited but for reasons of his own – I personally think it was a lack of confidence on how Minke Blignaut felt about him, or how to handle the feelings he had for her – anyway, whatever, he’d only decided the Friday to go. Actually…I talked him into going and he talked me into going along. I wasn’t really invited, you see, he…I guess, needed a clear head, which was mine. Support, which of course, was me again. As I’ve stated earlier, he was wild about Minke and it was a first for him. And I actually thought it was kind of cool, this whole gate-crashing thing, especially for me because…well, it was not totally gate-crashing, for he phoned ahead of time and told her that I was coming along. It’s a long story, Captain, but, I agreed to go on one condition and one condition only, that we’ll come back that same evening…night, so we could study for the exams on Sunday. I was…make that, I am a little OCD about my work. Even as a student I was a stick in the mud, so go “gate-crashing” was absolutely daring for me! Ned and Rodney decided on Friday not to stay over but rather come back with us.’
‘You and Steenkamp were both medical students, am I correct?’
‘That’s right Captain Offbach, and so was Ned. It was our last exam of the year. Rodney was law, it was his second last paper of the year as well.’ Doctor van der Westhuizen said with a serious voice, ’Captain, I’m sure you also have moments of “If only…” this one is my big “If only…” If only I stood steadfast and forced the issue with Burger, but…’ he went silent for a moment, ’Besides, Burger, as I’ve said was one of the brightest students. I have no qualms whatsoever he would’ve aced that paper without too much effort. Well, as it turned out, Minke asked him to stay and he did. As the sad story goes, he didn’t even had the change to finish his exam, nevermaaind aced it.’
Deric didn’t say a word. He waited for the Doctor to continue.
’If only we stuck to our original plan…if only, know what I mean?’
‘I know exactly what you mean, Doctor.’
‘Well, the three of us - that is Rodney, Ned and me came back to the dorm. Burger stayed. Ned, Rodney and I heard the news around ten, ten-thirty Sunday morning. Rita phoned. We were all in shock. Poor Ned, I remember he violently threw up. I guess it was a combination of his drinking the previous evening and the total shock.’
‘So you have no idea about anyone else’s whereabouts at the time.’ Deric stated unnecessarily.
’Not at all, Captain, I…we didn’t. What I can tell you is this: Rita, who was the harshest on Burger during the trial, later nagged us all nearly silly with her so-called “Memory-loss Syndrome” as Rodney later named it. She questioned nearly each and every one who’d attended the party and stayed over about their drinking history and what they can remember about that night. Again and again, like a damn journalist. After the trial, I might add! It did Burger no good! She, who nearly single-handily, nailed his ass to the wall on the stand with her cold, hard evidence. Her antics about the amnesia came rather after the fact. I have to admit that I’d gotten very irritated with her. Most of us did.
She just didn’t stop! According to her, nearly everyone she talked to afterwards, told her they couldn’t recall a lot and most attributed it to, at a lack of a better word, drunkenness. She actually ruined her relationship at the time with Rodney with this obsession. I was so mad at her that I didn’t care a monkey’s ass about her ramblings. I actually told her straight, a few times, that she was just trying to soothe her own conscience. Anyway, it was only later that I’d give it some thought.’ He stayed silent for a moment, ‘It did seem odd that none – I mean, those who were there - seemed able to recall anything at all after a certain time.’
‘As in…’ Deric prompted.
’As in odd-couples waking up in each other’s arms, not having the faintest idea how it had happened. Or if and what had gone on between them. Some were sleeping on couches in the big party area. Some were lying on the floor and they didn’t know how they’d gotten there - things like that. Those in the hall could remember why they didn’t go to their accommodated chalets. A few of the morning staff said during the trial that the guests were so drunk they slept on the floor. Some even on the grass. But, it wasn’t, according to them, the worst they’d ever seen. God forbid!
In other words, they were sort of use to people making pigs out of themselves at parties and weddings. Drugs were suggested, but all swore they didn’t touch anything. And, be real Captain, who, in his right mind would tell the police that they’ve done drugs? Even if they had. However, all of them stoned out of their wits? It just doesn’t make sense but nothing could be proven!’
‘Did you take anything?’ Deric asked warily.
‘Except for an excess of caffeine to stay awake, not so much,’ he gave a snort-laugh, ‘you trying to catch me out or something, Captain Offbach?’
‘But, you must’ve been drinking too? And yet, you were able to drive home.’
‘No, no, Captain, sadly, you are talking to one of the most boring people on this planet! At least, as far as parties are concerned. The simple reason’s that I’m a teetotaller. I hardly take a Disprin and I certainly do not drink. That’s why I wasn’t invited to parties a lot, and if I was, I was always the designated driver. My buddies sometime called me at the dorm to come and fetch them after some or other binge-drinking event, especially Ned. I think I’ve toasted Minke Blignaut with Grape Juice. What I can remember very well, Captain, is that the party was still in full swung when we left.’
‘And this Ned guy?’ Deric went on, ‘where can we make contact with him? I do recall him been one of the witnesses for the defence?’
‘Ned Dunn died in 1997 in a car accident, so,’ the Doctor said with a morbid humour, ’I think he’s a dead end, don’t you? However, I can tell you he liked drinking and he had quite a few that evening. Way, way over a few. Beer, bubbly, whiskey, you name it, he drank it. And, to top it off a Tequila just before we went home. Rodney’s parting gift. A tequila for everyone. Then we went home. I was wondering how the hell Ned was going to study the next day with a head as big as a house. All were way, way over the limit by that time. I looked at them as the Tequila was counted down, you know, on “THREE” and everyone salted, drink and lemon. Some nearly fall off their chairs by that time. If I have to venture a guess, I would say Rodney was just as drunk as Ned. They both slept all the way home. I left them both in the car to sleep it off. They came too somewhere through the early morning and stumbled to their room around dawn they said. Ned, especially, had the master and commander of all hangovers the next day. He really felt it and I had no sympathy.’ He gave a little sour laugh.
‘Can you provide me with this Rodney’s details, that is, if he’s not deceased as well. Because, well, I don’t seem to recall any Rodney on the witness list, defence or otherwise.’
‘No, he’s not deceased Captain, he wasn’t a witness either for the state or defence. We were not there, remember.’ Doctor van der Westhuizen went quiet again before he said, ‘I must say I’m surprised that you’re not familiar with Rodney’ he said credulously.
Deric said nothing as he searched his brain for a connection.
The doctor said, ‘He is Judge Rodney Gust.’