Chapter 37 (With a little help from my FRIENDS)
‘This happened around five years ago?’ Deric said as he looked at the report Doc gave him.
‘Yes, five years ago this DNA was requested by a research team at the – get this - East Memorial Hospital.’ Doc said staring over his glasses that sat on his bulldoggish cheeks.
‘The same hospital Brenda Blignaut died in?’ Deric said.
‘The one and only!’ Doc said smugly.
‘Requested by whom and for what reason?’ Deric asked curious – he knew he could read all the information in the report. If nothing else, Doc Hargraves was absolutely precise, however, he wanted the short version.
Mae answered, ‘The reason given was comparison to a John Doe found dead in a park, but we think it was just a masquerade. It had been compared all alright, but not with any John Doe. We think someone wanted an example of this DNA for a totally different comparison or reason.’
‘The person requested it was a Dr Delia le Roux.’ Doc said, ‘Ring any bells?’
‘As in Rita le Roux…any relation there?’
’As in her Aunt, as in a close friend of Brenda Blignaut.’ Doc pressed his glasses back with one finger over his two chubby cheeks and looked smug.
Okay, so five years ago this specific DNA example was placed on Dr le Roux’s data-base-’
’No, she was just part of a team working on a few cold cases with the police. Remember, she was already around seventy-something at the time. They were helping out with some rape-cases. It was placed on the data-base – first time – by her. She was the one who requested it, along with some other, unidentified DNA. I think to make it look more authentic of course, but now, it is, or was in the system.’
‘So, they knew for five years long about Rodney Gust?’ Deric asked credulously.
‘Well, yes, I think they’ve suspected,’ Doc said, ’I think they wanted it on hand if they’d ever got their hands on the DNA of Rodney Gust! But, this time, I guess, they wanted to make sure beyond a shadow of doubt. Before any action was taken, so to speak. He was, is, after all a big-wig, and they did make an unfortunate mistake before. I mean the error regarding Benjamin Javid? You see, back then they had three DNA’s on the lamp that Javid had been hit with: Javid’s, the baby’s and Patsy’s. Not that it would’ve made a huge difference. The police accepted the evidence by explanation of Patsy and the neighbour – who actually hadn’t seen anything happened– how her DNA got to be on the lamp. An honest mistake. None even thought that it could’ve been the mother who’d kill the baby. The “Ice-Cream Club” was so sure Javid did it, he received the death sentence nearly immediately. By who? Not a clue! T As it turned out they’ve made a huge mistake. It was only later on, when her other children died so mysteriously that the “Ice-Cream Club” investigated it in depth. Nothing could be proven beyond any doubt about Lulu. They didn’t want to make the same mistake with Gust. Burger Steenkamp and Benjamin Javid was already victims of wrongfully accused.’ Doc took his glasses off and looked at Deric, ’To the 1980’s police’s credit, DNA-profiling hadn’t been around.
Doc pushed his glasses back and looked at Deric.
Now, I’m nearly willing to place my wife on the stake for this, but this Doctor Delia le Roux might’ve had a hand in Javid’s death back then. She was a doctor in that particular hospital where Javid met his Maker. It would’ve been easily enough for a doctor to slip into his room. This time round everyone wanted to make very sure about Rodney Gust before anything was done. However, I think, the final evidence evaded them, like positive identification of the DNA or whatever. In the meantime, members of the club got old and died one after the other until only Brenda Blignaut was left.’
‘And then, about a month or so ago,’ Mae went on, ‘this DNA was requested by another Doctor for comparison to – get this – to Chuba Jackson!’
‘Jackson?’ Deric exclaimed, ‘but he was already, without a doubt, connected to the girl in the alley by DNA, wasn’t he?’
’Yes, he was. He was also connected to quite a few other women, remember, but because of lack of DNA evidence in their cases, he wasn’t convicted for their deaths. It was, nevertheless, the reason the DNA had been request.’
‘So, it’s a reasonable request, not so’ Deric said a little confused, ‘what does this prove?’ Some doctor might’ve thought that Jackson could’ve been active since 1980? Although, I’m not so sure about that. He was what, fourteen, fifteen at the time? I know it doesn’t hurt to make sure. This request was done when – before or after Jackson’s death?’
Doc Hargraves looked at Mae a little smugly.
She smiled at him.
’After his death. Aah, but this is not really about Jackson, it’s about the doctor who requested the DNA.’ Doc said and leaned back in his chair, giving Mae a little nod.
Mae took the file in front of Deric and opened it.
She turned to the last page and pointed at the signature.
It took a few moments for Deric to decipher the signature.
The tall, skinny black man gave a grimace as he recalled the events of November 1980. He wore a neat black suit, white shirt and black tie. He sat ramrod straight on the chair. His hands clenched in his lap.
‘I saw him first as I came round the bushes’ he said as he pulled at his tie with a quick, nervous movement, ‘I thought he was drunk. The party had an open bar and…well, they made very good use of it. After all they were…young.’
He looked up at Jim. Elias Kekana was around sixty years old with skin nearly as black as his suit. He had bushy greyish eyebrows and short, cropped salt and pepper hair.
‘You saw Steenkamp first…’ Jim encouraged him to go on.
’Yes, that was his name, wasn’t it? I wanted to shake him by the shoulders just to make sure it was only the liquor he was sleeping off. Maybe help him inside somehow before the Sunday guests arrived for breakfast and lunch, you know, that sort of thing. I wasn’t actually sure if he was drunk or…well…dead…and then…then I saw the two red shoes on the other side of the bush. I knew she was dead just by looking at her’ He pinched his eyes underneath his glasses with his right hand, ‘I…I was so scared, you know. The dead, half-naked lady, the drunk man and…well…me.’ He went on, ‘This…Steenkamp started to come around when I kicked his foot a little bit, and that’s when…well, I started to scream to someone to call the police.’
‘There was nobody else close by. Anything else out of place that you’ve noticed?’ Latisha asked.
’Not at that precise moment. No. As I said, I was scared and it got very busy, very quickly. The whole place looked like a war-zone after the party. Some of the kitchen personnel were in the kitchen. The cleaning-staff had just cleared the place and had complaint about the fact that they had to clean around some of the students. Lucky thing we served breakfast in the dining-room and not in the hall, it looked like a disaster zone.’
‘How come you came from the river’s side?’ Jim asked.
‘Well, I went home when we were finished for the night. Over the footbridge to the other side of the river, I always went that way. The others slept in the quarters on the other side of the centre. I came in a little later as usual as my place was further down. The man and the dead lady weren’t there when I went home Saturday night. It must have happened after I went home.’
‘Mister Kekana, who stayed on? I mean of the staff, who stayed later or till the end?’
He looked up at the ceiling before he went on, ‘When I left that night only the bar-tender and two waiters. The party-lady said we could go. Not needed anymore. I was busboy at the time. We, there were two of us, cleaned tables and washed dishes till round ten-thirty. When we were finished we went home as she told us. The glasses and stuff, ashtrays and that, were cleared and cleaned early the next morning by the first shift at around seven, seeing that the place was hired out for the whole weekend.’ His hand did the quick tie-movement again, ‘Like I said the party were very busy, very busy when the kitchen staff left.’
‘Do you remember who the bar-tender was that night?’
‘Don’t know his name. He was working hired for the party-lady. She organised the whole business. She should know who he was. He was…I think family of hers, or so I’ve heard at the time.’
‘How many students – people - would you say were still on the premises the next morning, I mean if you have to take a guess?’ Jim asked again.
‘Nearly all, I would say,’ a quick swipe of his handkerchief over his face, ’I guess they didn’t want the students to drive home under the influence. Which was good thinking. They were very drunk and rowdy. That was the rumour going round that morning amongst the kitchen staff, anyway, after the body was gone and the police. Some of the staff told me that a lot of them didn’t even make it to their beds in the rondawels (he used the Afrikaans word for the chalets) some passed out around the tables and some on the sofas in the main area. The staff said they only woke up when they started to clean around them. Most went to sleep it off in the rondawels. Some were still sleeping it off by the time I started to scream about the dead girl. Some had to be woken by the police!’
’You said “passed out”’ Jim made inverted commas with his fingers, ‘what does that mean?’
‘That’s what I’ve been told by the workers – passed out! Too much to drink! If you allow some people free liquor they just don’t stop, do they now? Those I’ve seen that morning looked pretty yellow in the face when they had to talk to the police. I knew better than the police that all the stories were no good – none of them could think or remember straight!’
It was clear that James Elias knew no more. They will try and find this caterer who was responsible for the planning.
Doctor Martin van der Westhuizen tinkered with a glass paper-weight before he answered the question. He looked at them with serious eyes as he put the paper-weight down quietly.
‘Yes, I requested the DNA -profile a month ago.’
‘Why?’ Deric wanted to know, ‘Doc, you already knew it had nothing to do with Chuba Jackson?’
Doctor van der Westhuizen looked at the paper-weight for a few seconds longer before he took a few keys out of his coat-pocket and unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk. He took out a brown envelope with the logo of “BANDS BOUWER and ROSE” and Deric knew instantly that Brenda Blignaut wasn’t solely relying on him to find her daughter’s killer.
’Ever since Burger was convicted I tried to wreck my brain about what had happened and whom could have done it. I knew it wasn’t him but at the time I think I was the only one. As the years went by one tends to put it all in the back of your mind. However, it lurked there, in every little dark, silent moment. Every now and then I go splattering about like a pig in mud about the “Who” and of course the “Why”? You don’t talk to others. Let sleeping dogs lie - don’t stir - just in case they might’ve forgotten all about it. Or pretended too! Burger and Rita had made a life for themselves in another country and it was going as well as can be expected. Maybe better than well. But I knew it will always be on his mind too. Who killed her? Who left him to rot for ten years?’ He fiddled some more with the paperweight, ‘They both suffered in silence, pretending that it didn’t matter anymore. Only a few times we spoke of it! You know, whispering, so not to upset Rita, not to let the children hear. Nothing should reach the ears of those who were ignorant about it all, like my own wife, for example. It was like a sore thumb. No matter how hard you try, you’re always go bumping it against something. In those very few and far between private moments Burger gave his views to me. I’m the only one he told because he didn’t want to burden Rita with this. And most importantly, he wasn’t going to burden his children with his past. However, none of us could come up with…’ He stopped and held the envelope up, ‘He still doesn’t know about any of this, and I’m not about to tell him.’
Deric decided it was time to level with the Doctor.
‘So you didn’t know, or suspect, until Brenda Blignaut.’ He simply said as he pointed to the envelope.
‘Until Brenda Blignaut…’ Van der Westhuizen echoed.
‘You’re not part of her “Renegades” then?’
An incredulous expression adorned the face of Martin van der Westhuizen.
Deric studied the Doctor’s face for a few seconds and decided that he knew nothing of her other deadly activities.
’Well, she did make it her life’s work to find this particular killer. And find him she did! This also came to light via letters and other paraphernalia we’ve received.’ Deric could see that the Doctor was intrigued, but decided to keep the details about the other victims to himself. ‘I also received an envelope,’ He pointed to the envelope the doctor placed on the desk, ’along with some interesting clues. She wasn’t about to make it easy for us and we’ve got a deadline. If you’ll excuse the pun! She made it very clear that if I don’t give my undivided attention to this - finding and arresting the real killer - someone would do it for me, or for her. She made very sure she’d gotten our full attention and not to place the case on ice again, as had been done before. We have a timeline of thirty days - in her words - and then she said she cannot guarantee this person’s safety.’
Martin van der Westhuizen gave a shrill little whistle, ‘For real? You think she’d arrange for something to happen to him?’
‘For real! And she gave me plenty of reason to believe that it’s not only talk!’
‘That sounds like her all right,’ he gave a little smile, ‘and please, if I may ask, Captain, have you made any headway?’
‘We have a very good inkling. More than that I’m not prepared to say. However, we’re still a little short of concrete evidence and we’re… Well, let me say, it feels like holding a life grenade in your lap, if you know what I mean.’ Deric said.
The Doctor said nothing but gave a short little smirk.
‘Were you surprised at whom it is…might be? Did you find definite evidence? I mean in the DNA?’ Deric wanted to know from the Doctor.
’No, it wasn’t quite a surprise to me too. But sadly, as you, I haven’t found a sample to compare it too. Thirty-five years ago I would’ve been caught off guard and told you that it simply can’t be true! But then, a month ago...’ His eyes wondered over the desk till it found Deric’s and just as quickly turned them back at the paperweight. ’Let me guess, your problem is how to address this man – I mean status and all.’
‘You said thirty-five years ago it would’ve surprised you. So, he wasn’t always in your scope?’ Deric asked without naming names or pointing fingers.
‘No…he was never in my scope. Let me put it this way, I didn’t suspect till…well, after this!’ He waved the envelope about, ‘After all, Captain,’ he again fiddled with the paper-weight, ‘you’re looking at his alibi, for God sakes.’