Chapter 35 (How do you solve a problem like a JUDGE?)
‘I’m getting real nervous, Jim,’ Deric said wearily, ‘we’ve scarcely a week to go. We have a very good idea of who the victim might be, but we’re sitting on our hands because of his so-called status.’
‘I’m also sure we’ve got the right person, but the circumstances and evidence are a problem,’ Jim said, ‘I say we tackle this man head-on.’
‘What do you mean? We walk up to him and say: “Hey sir, Mr Judge, a dying woman - who died in the meantime, so you only got our word for it - told us you’re the murdered her daughter thirty-five years ago. Sir, and according to our thin calculations you may or may not be dead in a week’s time. Just giving you a heads up, sir.”’ Deric said sarcastically.
’Yeah, it’s a problem but, let’s at least warn all on the guest-list. We pretend that it’s not only him who might be in some kind of danger, but all of them. At least that way he cannot say that we’ve picked on him. He won’t feel that threatened or suspicious.’
‘I think if he’d done it – which he most probable did - he would feel threatened anyway, story or no story!’ Deric said a little short tempered, ‘And I think he would blow smoke up our asses just to threw us off his scent.’
‘Oh, I know he won’t come up to us and say “Yes, it’s me, I’ve killed Minke Blignaut way back in 1980, please, cuff me”.’ Jim sarcasm back, ‘but at least we can warn him somehow to be on the look-out.’
‘So, this story, would be phrased how? I think I like what Danny suggested. Some threat about an unknown case from an unknown source. Nothing about a thirty-five year old murder!’
‘Okay, something like that. We can make it a believable one. Sticking as close as we can to the real deal. Hopefully these people don’t communicate with each other all these years later or about the murder.’
’Well, according to Mrs le Roux, most knew nothing. If her story of drugging is true!’
Deric put a hand through his hair. The rain the past few days was a wonderful reprieve, but summer is back with a vengeance and he felt sweaty and frustrated all over. If they do nothing and the man dies, this department will be hung them out to dry. If they accused the honourable Judge of murder and warned him of an imminent attempt on his life because he’s suspected of murder, and, again, nothing happens, they would still be at fault. What a damn predicament.
A proper Catch-22!
He stood up from behind his desk, walked to the window and looked down at the boring, bland view of paving and one lonely, sad tree.
‘Jim,’ he said as he turned back to face him, ‘besides from Rodney Gust himself, this Ned Dunn who died, and maybe Doctor Martin van der Westhuizen, who else could’ve been in on this?’
‘That’s a good question. Why framed their so-called best friend and then turn up to be character witnesses for the defence at the trial?’ Jim said calmness embodied as he sat staring at his fingernails.
‘Not Rodney Gust, he wasn’t on the list at all, only Dunn and Van der Westhuizen.’ Deric said, now staring up at the pale-blue, hot sky.
‘And, if the party-people were drugged, as suggested, I’m still sure the murderer couldn’t have acted alone.’
‘Okay,’ Deric said as he sat down again, ‘I cannot sit on my hands like this. The “story” must be ready for when, or if, we decide to send it out. Maybe I should call some of the people again.’
Deric got up, deep in thought, and sat back down again.
‘Jim… this is maybe a long shot, but what about the servants that worked there that evening. They said one of the servants stumbled upon the dead girl and Burger Steenkamp that morning. Who was that? It should be in the case-file, not so? He would’ve been a witness?’
Jim sat up, ’Okay, we can do that for now, if we can find them or this specific person. We can certainly interview him and hear what he has to say.’
Deric put one hand on his hip and shook the other index finger towards Jim without saying anything for quite a while. Jim just waited him out. He could nearly saw the gears going in Deric’s head.
‘Listen, Doctor van der Westhuizen talked about a certain last drink, tequila, if I remember correctly. He said “Rodney” bought it for all,’ he converted-comma the Rodney, ‘we now know it to be Judged Rodney Gust. He said a “one last toast” or something like that…but he also said both Ned and Rodney drank it…what if…?’
‘What if it was really the “One last toast” for Minke Blignaut,’ Jim said humourless, ‘which would make it a pre-meditated murder?’
‘…And,’ Deric kept going as if Jim didn’t interrupt him, ‘Van der Westhuizen said Gust and Dunn slept in the car until dawn. He said he left them down there and went to sleep in his dorm room. According to him they were so drunk he couldn’t wake them and he was not about to drag each one individually to their beds. What if…’ Deric looked at Jim credulously, ’…what if the two of them pretended to be drunk and then later went back to finish…whatever it was they’ve started? Someone’s lying!’
‘You don’t really think it was a pre-meditated murder, do you?’ Jim asked still baffled at his own words.
’No, I don’t think so, but it could’ve been “premeditated rape” that went very wrong for whatever reason.’ Deric said as he aimed for the door, ‘Maybe…Minke Blignaut woke up and recognised him, or them. Maybe she saw something she wasn’t supposed to see and…oh, I don’t know, I’m just speculating here… but it sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Let’s see if we can find this witness who stumbled upon the body.’
‘Cappie,’ Patricia Mabone said without the usual banter about Deric’s handsomeness, cute smile, or even Jim’s short temper or jealousy, ‘This just arrived by courier. It’s for you. It looks important judging by the heading of Bands, Bouwer and Rose…’
‘What?’ Deric roared as he nearly grabbed the envelope from her hand, ‘Another letter from her attorneys? What the hell do they – or she - want this time?’
‘Maybe Brenda Blignaut sent us the name of the murderer, how nice of her.’ Jim said laconic.
Deric gloved up.
The whole team was watching curiously.
‘Don’t bother with the envelope FC, a ton of people handled that. I don’t even think the inside will show any prints, but you’ll never know. What do you always say about luck in police work – ten percent sweat and ninety percent luck – let’s see if we’ve just got lucky!’ Jim said as he leaned over Deric’s shoulder.
Deric pulled the single paper out of the envelope.
It was a photograph of a painting. A beautiful, young girl, around sixteen or seventeen, where captured by an artist on canvas. The frame looked like a black embossed, ebony frame. She looked out at the viewer with lively and daring, dark eyes. Dark hair framed the heart-shaped milk-skin face and only a tint of peach was applied to the cheeks. In her hair an ornate blue-and diamante-stoned butterfly kept the hair at bay on the right side of her face. A long neck ended in different shades of blue smears at the bottom of the picture. The picture was on a wall somewhere when this photograph was taken. Underneath the picture a short note was written. Brenda Blignaut handwriting. Shaky.
This is the very last clue you’ll receive from me, Captain Offbach. Funny, isn’t it, a clue from the grave. It must be a first. Oh, of course not – I’ve given you a few from the grave. Let’s get on with it. This will be MY very last clue as well. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this might help. It was the last piece to MY puzzle. A hint: It’s not only who she is what matters but what she’s wearing. The note is tied in with this. I found the note a long time ago. Didn’t know what it meant, until I came across this painting.
‘Note, what note?’ Deric gave the envelope on mighty shake. A small tattered, crumpled card with a pink embossed rose on the right hand side fell to the ground. It had some age to it.
Deric picked it up.
“To the girl that sets my heart aflutter with her blue, diamond eyes”
They looked at the picture and the note on the table.
‘O, my Lord,’ Latisha grabbed her heart with the red and white, poison-toadstool, finger-nails before she let go with a, ’Cappie, I recognised this! Not as a painting, but as part of a photograph of a family. The last time, or the only time I’ve seen it, there were two more people sitting next to her. But, this girl sits in an ornate silver frame along with her family on Mirna de Wet’s mantelpiece!’