Chapter 32 (Magical, kind, innocent, naïve, effulgent – MINKE)
‘Mae, the floor is yours.’ Deric said as he sat down.
Brooke Sheffield was there. Deric couldn’t help but notice his eyes gliding over Mae from top to bottom and back. The man had an eye for a beautiful woman and although Mae still wasn’t feeling one hundred percent, she looked stunning, to him anyway. He surely wasn’t the only one who thought so, judging by Sheffield’s approval. He didn’t felt jealous, maybe a little proud even.
Mae was playing around with the cross-word over the weekend and came up with something that could prove to be important to the case. She and Monty were busy for the last thirty minutes to update all the information about the victims and the words that accompanied them.
She gave a little nervous look at Deric, who gave her an encouraging smile, before she started out with a strong voice.
She pointed to the first name and crime-scene photo on the board that Monty projected.
CHUBA JACKSON - Sept 2013 - Monster Mash – Taloin (Revenge)
’He was the first we found, and his murder opened up this whole can of worms. As we’ve learned since, all of these are connected but, according to the “Head-Hon-Shoe” and “Coordinator” Brenda Blignaut, none was murdered by the same person. How it has been done we just don’t know as of yet. Maybe she contracted people, maybe they contracted her. It’s still a mystery but, she confessed on her deathbed that she knew about Jackson’s death. His murder led to…’ Mae pointed to the next name.
BENJAMIN JAVID - April 1992 - WICKED CARAMEL – No word
‘…The first murder in the series, also confessed by Blignaut, however, she stated that it was a wrongful death. At the time we didn’t know why she said so. But again, she turned out to be right. The next…’
GEMMA SAUNDERS - 9 April 1999 – NOUGAT CRUNCH - No word
‘She had a partner in crime, Henry Plats, her then boyfriend and most probable the instigator and shooter of her family. He was never charged seeing that Emma Saunders swore she was the shooter. Plats could only be charged with accomplice to murder, which he wasn’t convicted for. We believe that Plats also got the treatment from the “Ice-cream Club” although his death was put sown to suicide.’
HENRY PLATS - 20 April 1999 - BITTERSWEET MINT – BLACKHEART (Wicked and evil)
‘That was followed by…’ She pointed again to the appropriate name.
KABELO ROGOBA - 3 Sept 2005 - BLOOD ORANGE - IGNOBLE (Outrageous and vile)
’Each of these murders was attributed to different causes of death. Javid to his head-injuries, Saunders assisted-suicide (they thought Plats helped her back then, and it might’ve been just that, seeing that he was heir to Saunders money). Plats to another suicide as he screamed, to all and everyone in hearing distance when taken to the cells, he won’t go back to jail. Rogoba’s death was attributed to taxi-violence. These murders were few and far between – over a period of twenty-four years and committed all over the country - none really connected them, or saw them, as serial murders.’
‘And I don’t think anyone would’ve done so, if it weren’t for the letter and other information provided by Brenda Blignaut herself.’ Deric interrupted quickly before nodded to Mae to continue.
‘The next victim was…’ Mae continued as she pointed, ‘Conrad Camphor.’
CONRAD CAMPHOR - 19 May 2007 - ROCKY ROAD - ANATHEMATISE (Cursed and damned)
’Then we come to Patsy Javid - not murdered – but on the list. Brenda Blignaut didn’t really say anything about her. Though she was suspected by the “Ice-Cream Club” to be the real killer of baby Lulu at a later stage. Maybe they wanted to rectify the mistake of Benjamin Javid by letting her live, who knows? Maybe they couldn’t find her - name changes and moving around a lot. What happened to her, however, was planned, that’s a fact. Maybe the assassin didn’t have the heart to go through with the murder, who knows but she’s certainly connected to all of this. As we all know by now, she confessed that she was actually the murderer of her Lulu Javid, claiming it to be an accident. Other charges were laid against her about the death of her third child, Chevron Maart. Due to the difficulty of proving “Munchausen by Proxy” she’d only spent some time in an institution for observations and “psychiatry” help. She had a bit of a loose tongue and as id known she said a lot of things to some of the patients in there. Maybe she’d spill the beans about her contributions to the death of Lulu to the wrong people. Her second husband, Jakes January, made noises back then that she was responsible for the death of his child. However, he was an alcoholic and abuser and none minded him.’
’If this was a copy-cat attempt, information must’ve been leaked from somewhere. Maybe one of those already involved in all of this – difficult at this stage to say,’ Latisha added, because not even the police connected these crimes until recently.’
‘Sgt Jacobs and I made that deduction after the trip to Cape Town. Anyway, Patsy January, or Semper as is known now, had the following words on her hands.’ She pointed to the information.
PATSY (JAVID) JANUARY - 2014 - CHOCOLATE THERAPY - CONTAMINATED (Tainted and undissolved)
‘That’s the confirmed information we have up to now. The rest of the words on the crossword puzzle we’ve figured out and it shows two sides – the “good side” and the “bad side” - light oppose to dark.’ Mae turned back to the power-point and pointed out the rest of the words that were written in two columns.
‘We figured the words in column one relates to the good attributes of her daughter and thus column two indicates the evil that had been done…well to the victims of the “Ice-Cream Club’s” members, if that make any sense.’ Monty added.
5 Effulgent (lustrous and shining)
GAVEL (for justice?)
3 Obfuscation (Darkened)
7 Talion (Revenge)
10 Ego (self-seeker)
11 Yen (Impulse/Craving)
‘Most of these words have familiar meanings. The more unusual ones we’d put the easy meaning next to the word.’ Mae said as she looked back at them.
‘But, does it tell us anything about victim number seven, who it’s going to be?’ Latisha said.
‘Well, no, not quite,’ Monty granted, ’but Mae had figured out that the first letter of all the “good” words spelled out the name “Minke”,’ Monty said as he got up and pointed at the letters, ‘if you shuffle it around, you get the name Minke.’
‘Which make sense,’ Jim said, ’all those refer to qualities she felt her daughter possessed?’
‘Precisely,’ Deric added.
‘Very clever,’ Sheffield said, highly impressed. Not sure if he meant Mae and Brenda Blignaut, ‘God knows how long Blignaut busied herself with all this?’
‘The cross-word puzzle? Apparently since the day she found out she hadn’t had long too live, I would say.’ Jim said, ‘I think she’d done all this just to make sure her daughter’s killer doesn’t get away with the murder, again. She decided before she dies he was to be revealed and revenged. I’m making an educated guess here, but we would‘ve ever connect the dots to these crimes and murders if she didn’t tell us about it? I don’t think so.’
’You’re absolutely correct. She still wants to “see” him suffer, one way or another, even after her death, so she “contracted it out” to someone, somewhere out there.’ Deric confirmed.
‘But what about victim number seven,’ Danny chipped in, ‘we’re still not any closer to his name or identity, are we?’
’No, not really, but we’ve figured, if the “good” words spell her daughter name, maybe the “bad” words will somehow spell the killer’s name.’ Mae said.
Silence fell across the group for a moment.
‘Of course,’ Jim exclaimed, ‘it stands to reason! Could you figure out any names?’
‘Well, we’ve tried a number of combinations on the computer, got a great deal of names, but none matches up with any on the guest-list or actually the witness-list.’ Tim said a little irritated. He always relies on the computer to fix everything and swore by it, ‘But we’re still trying.’
‘Good work, people,’ Sheffield said, ‘however, we’re not there yet, so noses to the grindstone. What’s the next step?’
‘Well, for me, the next step is talking to Burger and Rita le Roux, or at least Rita le Roux first. If deemed necessary, to her husband. The rest must keep going at what we’ve got so far.’ Deric said.
The phone was answered on the second ring.
‘Hi,’ a calm rounded voice answered, ‘Rita speaking.’
‘Hallo, Mrs Le Roux,’ Deric said as pleasantly as possible, ‘this is Captain Offbach of the South African Police-’
‘Oh no, God, no, what happened!’ the voice changed to immediate hysterics, ‘Did something happened to Gerta? What happened? Is she all right? I knew I shouldn’t let her go, I knew it!’
‘No, no, please calm down ma’am, nothing happened to anyone. Nothing happened to…a…Gerda…as far as I know,’ Deric tried to be soothing, ‘Nothing happened to anyone I know by that name. I’m calling about another matter altogether.’
The duration of the silence was so lengthy Deric thought they were cut off. Then he heard a deep intake of breathe.
‘Mrs Le Roux?’
‘Yes, sorry,’ she said with a trembling voice, ‘I’m…sorry, Captain…’
‘Captain Offbach,’ she said, still with a quaking in her voice, ‘my daughter is on holiday in South Africa. The only reason I could think off the South African police to contact me…was…well, you know, violence…accidents…’
‘I’m sorry too have shaken you up like that, Mrs Le Roux, I didn’t know that your daughter was somewhere in South Africa. This is totally about another matter. It has nothing whatsoever to do with…’ It was Deric’s turn to search for a name, ‘…Gerda?’
‘Gerta,’ she helped, ‘sorry, so sorry for the over-reacting, Captain, how can I be of service?’
‘Ma’am, I really didn’t want to intrude on you, but it cannot be helped. I don’t like to…well…dish out yesterday’s dinner, but as I said, unfortunately it cannot be helped. I do not want to bother your husband with all this if at all possible. That’s why I’m calling to talk to you first.’
Deric continued to tell her some of the details, as he couldn’t see any other way to make her understand his dilemma. He decided not to tell her about victim number seven – not yet, at least.
‘I thought best not to call your husband about this matter, especially after talking to Doctor Martin van der Westhuizen.’ He apologised again.
‘I appreciate that Captain.’ He heard relieve in her voice.
‘What we want to know is this,’ Deric gave a little cough, ’Doctor van der Westhuizen told us that, at first, you’ve been one of the most harshest in your…hmm…let’s call it…condemnation towards Burger Ste…you’re husband.’ Dammit, he sounded like a stuttering schoolboy trying to ask a girl out, ’Then, after…well, after you’ve made some enquiries about…hmm…shall we call it “group-amnesia”, by lack of a better word, you’ve changed your mind. Several months after the trial you’ve hatched this idea although quite too late to change your evidence or the outcome. As far as we can establish there was no real evidence as such, was there? What changed your mind so dramatically?’
’I would not call it dramatically or immediate, Captain, it was a slow process. I was so grieve-stricken and angry at the time of the murder, and make no mistake, Captain, very angry at Burger. I’m sure if they’ve left me alone with him for a few minutes anytime in the following weeks after Minke’s death, I would’ve gladly killed him with my bare hands.’ She took a deep breathe, ’secondly, I didn’t think at the time of the murder. I was looking for someone to blame, a scapegoat, and I wanted it quickly. All, me included, thought him guilty, and that was that. Amen! No ifs or buts! Including the police, Captain.’ she sounded a little accusing, ’however, what murderer and rapist would be so stupid to stay with the victim? Lie down and sleep next to her? Woke up the next morning, one hand still round her neck, with the feeble excuse of “I can’t remember”. Those were questions we didn’t even dare to ask. Well, I didn’t. We’re like a pack of hounds around a carcass, Captain.’ Her voice sounded shrill, ‘Later, after the trial, when the immediate effect of hurt and guilt and revenge dies down a little, II contemplated that night in long silences. Still trying to see how I could’ve been of more help to my loving friend Minke? What I could’ve done differently to save her? All that guilt stuff. At some point, I realised that I could remember from a certain point clearly. I could account for my every move up to a certain point somewhere just after midnight, but, try as I might from then on, absolutely nothing! The events after midnight seemed to have taking place in the mist. It was as if I was the only one standing and walking in the middle of nothing! It was as if my thoughts and actions were done in slow-motion, caught in quicksand, and then POOF, absolutely nothing, zero. I could remember an aroma, a vague smell which might’ve been in my dreams or imagination. Somewhere in my head the smell stood out as if it had happened in the mist, not before. I don’t know when, I don’t know where, I don’t know who, just a clouded, misty recollection of someone with me there in the chalet before I totally and completely blacked out. You know any policeman who would go on that evidence-’
‘Someone?’ Deric enquired.
‘Someone, Captain, something, but for the life of me I don’t know who it could’ve been or even if it was real. In the morning I thought it could’ve been Minke. However, my head told me it was a man. The smell of a man’s smell.’ She kept quiet for a moment, ’When I woke the following morning there was only this idea of a smell and a person or a presence. This, mind you, I didn’t connect to the murder, for the murder took place outside, under the trees about hundred metres from the chalet. After all, what connection could there have been between my chalet and a murder that took place on the river bank. This faint scent that seemed so familiar, and yet, so far-off like a dream, stayed somewhere in my brain, but I couldn’t pinpoint it.’ Her voice seemed to taper off into a lost memory.
‘And you still haven’t make a connection? Or did you at some point find out what or who it could’ve been?’ Deric tried to get her back on track.
‘Aftershave, Captain, aftershave. It was “Brute” aftershave. I didn’t know the name of the aroma at the time and what the hell would Burger have been doing in the chalet that Minke and I shared? They sure as hell didn’t came back to the chalet. However, after the murder and shock, I contributed the smell to him! Who else? That’s how my thinking went at the time. I only later found out all four of them wore Brute-’
‘All four of them?’
’Yes, all four friends, as in Burger, Ned, Rodney and Martin. Only one of them stayed on that night – not so, Captain? Just another nail in Burger’s coffin, according to my useful youth at the time.’ She said sarcastically, ‘All the obvious discrepancies we ignored blatantly. How stupid of us all, including the police. I guess they can only go on what they had and they had a lot of fingers pointing to Burger Steenkamp!’
‘The police go on evidence, Mrs Le Roux. But, as you’ve just stated, all swore high and low that he was last seen with her. None saw her alive after that. I’m not saying that it was great police work at the time, but…’ Deric said, but he was still contemplating the smell, ‘Can I get back to the aroma you’re talking about. How did you know the smell was Brute?’
’I must’ve been aware of the fragrance long before that evening, I never knew exactly what the name was, but it was familiar. I’ve definitely smelled it often enough just couldn’t place it. I know when something smells nice or when I don’t like a smell, but I’m certainly not one who can pick any out of a line-up, if you get my drift. I cannot tell you the difference between “Diamonds” or “Chanel no 5” for instance. Great on smells and names is not my department, Captain. You know, sweet or lemony or spicy or flowery, that kind of thing – not my talent. However, one evening, the first sort of normal evening we - Rodney and I - had after the turmoil of the murder, the trail and sentence, something kept tinkering in the back of my head. He had his arm around me, we were watching a movie or something. Suddenly it hits me. It was something about Rodney! It was the same smell I had in the back of my mind the whole time. Rodney was my then boyfriend and I thought of his smell as manly. Till that moment. I asked him casually about what he was wearing and he, at first, jokingly said that I knew him badly for he’s been wearing the same aftershave for the last two years we’ve been dating. He told me, as a matter of fact that most of the guys wore the same aftershave because it was convenient. If you’re out, you just borrowed from one of your friends! I inquired who all may be and he said Ned, Martin and half of the guys in the dorm. Then, as an afterthought he said: ‘So did Burger, he wore the same aftershave”. He made a bad joke about his jail-sentence, said something like: “Now it may be just Lifeboy”.’ I didn’t get it until he started to apologised profoundly for he, Rodney, still regarded Burger Steenkamp as a friend and was sad to see him in these circumstances. They – the friends - often went to see him. Or so he said.’
She went on, ‘He asked me what it was about the smell, and I told him about my awareness of that vague smell the evening Minke was killed, but, in the chalet. He was sort of shocked and asked why I’d never mentioned it before. I told him that even if it may be so, as far as I was aware off, it had nothing to do with the murder. I don’t even know if all this was only my imagination.’ She kept quiet for some time, ‘He shortly afterwards changed his aftershave. I thought him thoughtful at the time,’ she added slowly, ‘…at the time-’
‘You said they all wore the same aftershave?’
‘Yes, Captain, like I said, it was one of the most popular fragrances of the time amongst the male students. Why I remembered the smell so vividly when I couldn’t remember squad about anything else, bothered me. Anyway,’ she went on soberly, ’I woke up the next morning with the mother of all hangovers – my first and my last - and blamed the first thing that came to mind, booze, because I did drink far too much. What would anyone care about a smell I remember in my delirium.’
’So later, when you started your campaign, as Doctor van der Westhuizen called it, about this amnesia-thing, what did you find?’ Deric wanted to know, ‘Did you come to any kind of conclusion?’
‘Yes, Captain, I did.’ She said matter-of-factly, ’Admittedly, I didn’t talk to each and every person who stayed over that night, but of the twenty or so that I did spoke too, not ONE could remember and iota of anything after twelve-thirty. My conclusion, for what it’s worth: firstly someone must’ve have been in tacked of his wits that night - namely the murderer – and secondly: he knew that we would’ve been out of ours. Burger Steenkamp was framed like a bad picture.’ She again was just a shallow breathe on the phone before going on, ‘It could’ve been anyone, Captain, but I still wonder what this person need with me, or the chalet? Well, if Brute had anything to do with anything, that I can’t tell you. Absolutely no idea, not a shred of proof! But still, after all these years there’s a gnawing suspicion in the back of my mind…’ She was choosing her words slowly, ’The only thing I know now for certain was that we’ve hanged the wrong person out to dry!’
‘If I can push this point, Mrs le Roux, who do you think it could’ve been? Just take a guess here. I’m interested what you think.’ Deric pushed the issue.
‘Well, I really don’t want to make the same mistake twice, so, I’m not going to accuse anyone, however, I will give you a few facts. Martin didn’t drink and he wasn’t invited to the party in the first place. However, I don’t think he…well, I could be wrong. Ned, one the other hand, well…he had a girlfriend, but he was wild about Minke as well and would’ve dumped Hettie in a heartbeat if Minke showed any interest. If it was Ned, the secret died with him.’
‘Yes, I heard he died in a car accident.’ Deric said.
‘As drunk as a skunk. He became a total alcoholic in later years, Captain, never finished his degree.’
‘Maybe out of guilt?’ Deric pressed.
‘I wouldn’t know, Captain, but…’
Deric heard a deep inhale of breathe before she continued, ‘So you think it was one of the other musketeers?’
’The question is still why? I have to mention that all four,’ she said as if out of breathe, ’had the “hots” for Minke Blignaut. However, only one had been severely punished and found not guilty along the way. That leaves three. The four of them were quite a competitive bunch, I don’t think they would’ve taken it lightly that one of them had struck gold and the others had struck out, if you get my meaning. But murder?’
‘Wait a minute didn’t you just said Rodney was your boyfriend back then?’ Deric asked a little stunned.
‘Yes, he was,’ she said a little resigned, ’but I wasn’t blind, Captain. Just as Ned would’ve given his girlfriend up in a heartbeat, Rodney would’ve dropped me like a hot potato if Minke showed him any interest. I think, even the level-headed Martin would’ve left his studies seriously to one side if he had half a change with Minke. However, at the time I thought Rodney and Martin was just too “realistic” and “down to earth” to think that she would be interested in any of them. You know the saying Captain “Birds of a feather flock together”…Rodney and I were birds of a feather, Minke… she was a bird of Paradise species altogether.’
‘And you’re not jealous?’
’Oh, of course I was! Minke Blignaut was gorgeous! Any man would’ve looked twice and all girls were a tad jealous. Until they know her – that is. She was such a lovely person, such a good friend, one couldn’t help but like and love her! In any case, she wasn’t one to hurt or harm another person. That was just not part of who she was. She was capable of getting any man but, in the same breathe, not capable, if you get my drift……well…in any case she and Burger were made for each other. Oh, and I have to tell you that I had warned her quite often about his womanising and how wrong he was for her. Didn’t make a dent at the time – she was in love!’
‘But, you’re married to Burger Steenkamp,’ Deric said, still with some doubt in his voice, ‘then I could regard you as a suspect as well. There’s no-one that could corroborate your alibi?’ he questioned.
She gave a little cackle, ‘Well, yes, if I was capable of rape – maybe. Or, maybe I could’ve hired someone to do my dirty work. It does seem common practise these days, not so?’
She stayed silent for a long time before she said.
’I am married to Burger for twenty-two years, and yes, I love him with all my heart. I know he loves and cares for me in his own way. However, he’s still, and will always be, in love with Minke Blignaut – or the thought of her. I can live with that,’ her voice was soft, ‘that’s okay, Captain, I was partly responsible for him rotting in jail for ten years, and I’m happy to be second choice. Happy to be “a second change” in life. If it gives me a little chance to make up for what he had lost and had to endure! I at least know I’m “Second-hand-Rose”, but I can handle it. That’s my cross to bear and I’m doing it gladly.’
‘Not you alone. I mean you’re not the only one who had accused him and testified against him.’ Deric said with empathy.
‘Yes, you’re right. And you’re also right to suggest that I could be a suspect. But, I’ll suggest you look for the names I’ve mentioned in that…letter, or whatever Aunt Brenda had send you, I would be very surprised if you find mine hidden amongst the letters.’
‘No, I don’t think so and thank you for your time, Mrs le Roux, you’ve cleared up quite a few things for me along the way.’
‘Captain, can I ask a favour? Two favours.’
‘If at all possible, Mrs le Roux, go ahead.’ Deric said.
‘Please, if it can be avoided, do not contact my husband. If you need more information from me I’ll try my best to answer, and…’ Rita le Roux hesitated.
’…If anything came to light…I mean about the real killer, will you let me know?’
‘Will do so if, or rather when this case is closed – and it seems that it will be somehow.’
Deric put the phone down and looked at the window.
It will be closed, by hook or by crook. Brenda Blignaut will make sure of that even from beyond the grave!
It started to rain.
“What I did for love, what I did for love…” his mind sang.