Chapter 38 (The PARTY-PLANNER)
Trina Coetzee may have put on a few kilos through the years but her skin stood the test of time. At sixty-eight years of age she displayed remarkable smooth skin despite the extra chin. Two powder-blue eyes - with the same colouring eye-shadow - looked at them with curiosity.
‘Why would you want to know that? Why now?’ She asked warily.
‘We’ve come in possession of some information, which may or may not have bearing on this particular case. However, we’re speaking not only with you, but with as many people who were at the party that fateful night. That includes the regular- and catering staff. As you’ve mentioned it has been a long time ago. Some of the people moved to different provinces, some overseas, and a few are not even with us anymore. Nevertheless, we’re always working on cold cases and if any new information comes to light-’
‘But this isn’t… or rather wasn’t a cold case, not so? I mean, the murderer…’ Her voice dwindled down, she looked at Jim as if he was a bit delusional, ‘…that boy they found next to her, he was found guilty, wasn’t he?’ She bit her lower lip.
‘I’m afraid you haven’t followed the case all that well. Burger Steenkamp-’
‘Yes, that’s the one!’ She said with sudden clarity.
‘Was found not guilty after ten years in jail - in 1990. DNA evidence cleared him of the crime.’ Jim finished his sentence.
She uttered a soft ‘Oh.’
‘So, it became a cold case. The real murderer has not yet been found.’ Latisha added.
’We understand some relation of yours was the barman at this specific party. At least, someone provided by your catering service.’ Jim went on with a soft, soothing voice.
Latisha looked at Jim and thought for the hundredth time that he would never do for the “bad cop” part in the “bad cop-good cop” interview-scenarios which are so often depicted in nearly all police-dramas on telly and in movies. That laid-back laissez-faire demeanour and soft voice could never-ever scare anyone into submission. Yet, he was a damn good interviewer. Maybe his calmness scare criminals more that the “screaming in-your-face” type.
Trina Coetzee pulled at her neat shoulder-length blonde-from-a-bottle hair and bit her lip. She gave a big sigh before going on, ‘Well, yes, Neill is my nephew. He’s my sister’s son. He was a first year student at the time and needed the money. Neill was a damn good bartender. He’d done so on many occasions to help me out. He’d done so since his eighteenth birthday. Extra money, you know – students and all that - always needed money. Still does, I suppose.’
‘Did he work for your catering company exclusively?’ Latisha wanted to know.
‘No, no, he mostly worked for some hoity-toity restaurant up at the dam, the “Three Olives” it was called. All the rage back in the eighties and nineties but closed in 2003. I sometimes hired the place for parties, usually for some up-class clientele.’ The boast came through in her voice.
‘Which dam would that be?’ Latisha wanted to know.
‘Harties. I mean Hartebeespoort.’
’You kept on catering after that party?’ Jim asked.
’You mean Minke Blignaut’s murder, that party?’
‘Yes, it’s my life’s work up to ten years ago. My business and my dream.’ She looked from Latisha to Jim and back, ‘Anyway, the party had nothing to do with her getting murdered!’ Now she sounded a little defensive.
‘No, of course not. No-one’s suggesting that,’ Jim soothed again, ‘but we’d like to speak to your nephew, if at all possible.’
She hesitated a moment. Then apparently decided it could do no harm and provided them with an address in some or other estate halfway between Pretoria and Johannesburg.
‘But,’ she added, ‘he’s overseas at the moment. Anyway, Neill had absolutely nothing to do with anything.’
‘Probably not, but we still want to talk to him. We’re talking, like we said, to all those who were there and we can locate.’ Latisha said as she wrote the last of the info in her notebook. She then looked straight at Trina Coetzee.
‘How did he seem that Sunday after the murder?’ She inquired.
‘Shocked, shaken, we all were!’
Jim thanked her and she walked them to the door and out on the veranda. Halfway down the walkway Jim turned around, ’By the way Miss Coetzee, were you there - at the party - I mean ’til the end?’
‘No, I wasn’t,’ a blush flecked her smooth skin, ’I had a sixtieth birthday breakfast at ten the next morning. A venue not far from there. Actually, just about ten kilo’s down the road. As soon as I thought everything was running smoothly and under control at the 21st, I made my way there. Shortly after dessert was served, that is. The staff was well trained and they knew what to do. I’ve done that quite a few times before and after, for that matter. Three staff-members stayed on, that was enough to handle the rest of the evening. My nephew, obviously, he was the bartender, and two waiters.’
‘You still have contact with any of the staff of way back then, except your nephew that is?’
‘No, sorry I don’t. Help comes and goes – mostly students.’
‘Can you remember what you’re staff had to say about the party-goers behaviour that evening?’ Latisha wanted to know.
‘What do you mean?’
’Well, the help, what were their impression of the party guests. I mean you must’ve been talking to each other about the events. There was, after all, a murder.’
Trina Coetzee shuffled from her left foot to her right, then back to the left. She scratched the back of her left hand.
‘Well, it’s a long time ago and it’s not my place to tell people how to behave at a party, or even to gossip about it afterwards. But, yes, there were stories amongst the staff and it did reached my ears. As I understood at the time, and as it came out in the trial afterwards as well, they did go a bit wild and a lot of them were drunk.’
‘Anything really bizarre that you can think off? Or just the usual too much to drink and forget you’re manners type of thing?’ Jim asked.
She did the foot-shuffle and hand-scratching again.
‘Well, at the time, or so one of the kitchen workers told me later…well, you know…the murder… and the arrest and so on, she said the guests, mostly students, were so drunk, some of them fell asleep in the main area, others even in the garden. Some couples quite obscenely clothed the next morning, as I understood back then.’
Jim stopped in his tracks, ‘Obscenely? What do you mean obscenely?’
A scarlet colour again adorned Trina Coetzee’s face.
‘Well…I suppose young people…hormonal and drunk…some girls were in wild embraces, with open blouses and pulled-up dresses, with…well, some of the young men who had open… eh…trousers and shirts…hands… Hands in inappropriate places, that sort of thing. I haven’t seen it, though. When I got there it was well after eleven. They were all sitting and standing quite quietly and bleak around.’
Jim and Latisha exchanged knowing looks.
‘Thank you again, miss Coetzee, we’ll be in touch if we’ll need anything more from you.’
‘You’re welcome.’ She said but her tone indicated otherwise.