Chapter 4 (Do you like ICE-CREAM?)
The cool interior iced the sweat on Deric’s forehead before her reached the lifts. He doesn’t need any directions to the cancer ward, his finger automatically pressed four. Judy died over eight years ago in this hospital and in his “blame-someone”- period, he even pointed a finger at the hospital and its staff. Not enough of this or too much of that. He blamed everyone and anyone who’d wanted to help him feel better. The fact remained: she died. He’d moved on since. His family and friends (although he didn’t make it easy for them) dragged him through and kept him from running mad. For years he felt guilty just looking at another woman, never mind dating. Then he met Mae. Actually, they worked together for quite some time before he’d plucked up the courage to do something about it. They got married eleven months ago, and he now has an instant family courtesy of her little boy, Nathan, from her first, short-lived, marriage. He liked the whole father-thing, though he never went through the “nappy-dummy-sleepless” night stages. He tried to be home at seven - most nights, at least - for the dinner, bath-time and story bit. It only lasts an hour, but he liked the love, closeness and routine.
Mae transferred to forensics, however, she still joins the team on special cases, to the absolute delight of Latisha Jacobs and Tim Monty.
‘Coming or going?’ A round young face in a white uniform smiled at him.
Deric realized he was standing stupidly staring at the open door and quickly stepped out of the lift. He smiled back, ‘Just felt like riding the lift up and down for a bit today, but you’ve caught me.’
‘So, an up-and-down day then, huh?’ The door closed on her smile.
At the counter he asked for Brenda Blignaut’s room number.
‘Only family allowed.’
The on-duty sister didn’t even look up properly.
Deric produced a badge and placed it under her nose.
With a shoulder shrug she said, ‘405’
The “beep-beep” of the heart monitor sounded terrifyingly familiar. Along with the sucking-noise of the oxygen-machine it made ugly, but essential, proof-of-life music. The woman on the bed was thin and nearly as white as the sheet. Her long white hair blended whiter shades of pale against the pillow. One hand was covered with plasters and needles and tubes. The other lied blue-veined, and dead-still next to her rake-thin body. If the awful monitor sounds didn’t gave it away, he thought he might’ve been too late anyhow.
His eyes drifted to the corner where a slight snoring-sound suddenly occurred. A Cherry-haired, eighteen-something girl was curled up in a foetus position.
He knew all about that, too.
He spent many a night in a hospital chair.
Deric wasn’t sure what he should do. Wait for the girl to wake up, or the woman on the bed to come out of her comatose state, or worse, die.
What the hell was this all about?
A hoarse sound pulled his eyes back to the bed.
‘Captain…’ Deric waited till a dry little cough stopped, ‘Offbach?’
‘Yes.’ He said softly, ’did you want to talk to me?’
Her eyelids affirmed it as a few more faint coughs retched through her frail body.
‘You found him? I mean Jackson? You’ve found him?’ Her watery blue eyes looked for conformation in his face.
For a moment Deric was absolutely flabbergasted.
‘Yes, we did.’ Deric said surprised and quizzical, ’But…how…how do you know about that, about him?’
A cold, satisfied smile adorned her tired mouth as she closed her eyes. Then she opened them again, raised a little from the pillow as much as her energy level allowed her too, and said, ‘Do you like ice-cream, Captain?’ She fell back against the pillow and took a few, deep breathes, as deep as she was able too, before she continued ‘I…we did that.’
Her eyes closed.
‘Hey, what are you doing?’ The loud voice from the corner made Deric jumped, sending a stainless-steel kidney bowl flying. It hit the ground with an almighty vibrating thunder.
‘Are you planning on waking the dead? Who are you?’ The young girl with the awful cherry-red hair hissed and suddenly stood right next to Deric.
‘Are…are you Mila Jordan - you the one that phoned then? I’m Captain Deric Offbach.’ He said a little taken aback.
The anger spilled out of her green eyes, ‘Sorry, I fell asleep and was a little startled when I woke up and saw a man crouched over her. You didn’t look like any of the doctors I’ve seen before.’
He looked again at the old woman on the bed. She was lying exactly as she was when he came in – as if she never said anything to him.
’What’s this all about? Why did she ask about Chuba Jackson, saying that she did that, or we?’
The girl’s green eyes turned credulously towards the bed and then back to Deric again.
‘She talked to you?’ She looked at him with the same credulous expression. ‘Who’s Chuba Jackson?’
‘Captain,’ the hoarse voice came back and they both swung towards the bed, ‘you’ve got one chance (cough, cough) to save a life, to find a killer…thirty days…from…from…’
A long piecing beep made both the girl and Deric jumped and in a synchronised movement they stared at the monitor. A continuous white line stretched from side to side. Despite the moderate regulated air Deric started to sweat again as a health worker pushed them aside.
He knew all about straight, white lines too.
Brenda Blignaut died – aged 73.
Cherry-hair hovered around until the doctor declared her dead and stated the time. A slow breath came from the girl’s lungs and she nearly looked relieved. The doctor put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder as well as Deric’s and a sister said they should take all the time they needed.
Deric didn’t feel the need to explain who he was or what he was doing there.
The staff left the room after removing the life support. The girl bent down and kissed the old woman’s forehead, ‘I hope you’ll find the peace you’d so desperately seek through all the years.’ She said softly and with deep sadness.
Deric watched her as she wearily put all the bits and pieces of the old woman in a small bag and looked at the room as if she’s saying goodbye to a place she’ll never see again, which of course, God forbid, she might not. Then, ignoring Deric, she turned to the chair, picked up a small back-pack and headed out the door.
‘Excuse me,’ Deric called from behind, but she just kept walking faster and faster till she reached the lifts. She pressed the buttons impatiently and continuously until the door opened. Deric stepped into the lift right behind her.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said softly, ’I understand that you’d just lost someone close to you - your Gran or Aunt? But it was you who called me, wasn’t it?’
’What does it matter now, it was for her! And besides, you were late, weren’t you?’ She nearly poked him with her finger.
The door opened and she stepped out as if he didn’t exist. He never thought anyone this small can walk this fast.
‘Wait up,’ he said as he got hold of her arm just outside the cafeteria. She looked at the hand on her arm as if it was a snake curling around it.
‘I think we’ve got off on the wrong foot, or no foot at all. I’m Deric…Deric Offbach.’ He took his hand off her arm and held it out. She slowly put her hand out and said, ‘Ge…Mila…Mila Jordan.’
‘Mila, you want coffee or something?’ He steered her towards the cafeteria and she didn’t resist. After ordering a Peach ice-tea for her and a Strawberry milkshake for him, Deric looked curiously at the girl.
‘How are you related to Brenda Blignaut? That’s her name, not so? And why did you call me?’
’We are not related at all. She asked for you, specifically. Call Captain Deric Offbach, she said. I haven’t the faintest idea why she wanted to talk to you, or about what. Yesterday was the first time…M…I ever I’ve heard of you. Thought she had some kind of hallucination, and at first, well, I didn’t call. Since then, every time she woke up, or came too, she asked someone to call you, so this morning…M…I…did, just to see if you existed, you know. You did,’ she waved a hand at him, ‘obviously, but it turn out you’re be hard to get in touch with. Thought you wouldn’t come. Then you did, however too late, so, we’ll never know what this was all about.’
‘Well, she’d made perfect sense when she asked me if we’ve found Chuba Jackson, and then she asked me “Do you like ice-cream”. It seemed she just waited to hear about Jackson’s death before she…she died herself.’
’His death? Who the hell is he and how did he die?’ she asked between sips.
‘He was killed, murdered, in quite a gruesome way. He was found three days ago.’
‘You don’t sound too broken-up about it.’
‘He’s a serial rapist and killer.’
’Not alleged serial killer and rapist?’
’No, convicted rapist and killer.’
‘You said he was found - was he killed in jail?’
‘No, he wasn’t in jail.’
‘So, why wasn’t he in jail? I don’t understand if he was a convicted...’ She slurped the last sips out of the tin.
‘He escaped from police custody the same day he was to begin his life- sentence. On his way to jail…well, no-one really knows what happened but…’
She stared at him with narrowed eyes.
‘You want another?’ He pointed at the can.
’Again, that “escaped from police custody” bit,’ she said softly but, with contempt, ’he had help of course, convicted killers don’t just escape from the back of a police van like as if they were Harry Houdini or Dracula! If criminals were giving the same “protection” some political leaders got, not one would ever “just” escape!’ She put the words in finger converted commas. She suddenly looked down at the empty can, ‘Yes, please.’
Deric said nothing as he asked the waitress for another Ice-tea and looked down into the bottom of the tall glass at the last bit of pink froth. When he looked up she was staring at him as if it was his fault entirely that Chuba Jackson escaped custody.
The waitress put the Ice-tea down and she opened it with a crack.
‘Look, I cannot say that I’m sorry that Jackson’s dead, but people cannot just go around and kill…well,’ he tapered off, ‘or anyone else for that matter, like a bunch of vigilantes because they feel that the police didn’t do their work-’
’So, you’ll waste taxpayer’s money to find the killer of this Cuba, or whatever the hell his name is-’
’While law-abiding citizens of the country sit in fear behind their own bars, anxiously waiting for the next attack, or murder or rape – hoping against hope that it’s not them. The law, my friend, is flawed and not only that,’ she leaned forward on her thin elbows, ‘it’s tainted, if you ask me. Good for the bad, but bad for the good!’
‘We really work hard and under tremendous pressures sometimes-’
‘Look, you look like a nice guy but, that’s not good enough for me! I’m not sold at all! So if you don’t mind me, I’m going to say “sod off” in the nicest possible way – if there’s a nice way!’ She looked him straight in the eye. He noticed the most amazing green eyes speckled with brown spots.
Armed with her name and address – for she was as clueless as he was about what Brenda Blignaut wanted to convey – Deric arrived at the station. He felt a little deflated, and totally in the dark about the dying woman’s words. Mila Jordan, although she heard the last words, had no idea what she meant by “thirty days to save a life or find a killer”. He’ll put Monty on finding out more about Brenda Blignaut, Mila Jordan and their connection, if any, to Chuba Jackson.
‘Hi, gorgeous,’ he greeted Patricia Mabone who was manning the front desk.
‘Hi, handsome, how’s Mae? I miss her. Tell her to come by and have a chat.’
‘She’s doing well, enjoy the forensic work and enjoy working with Dr Hargraves.’
‘I would too, that’s one interesting man.’
‘So he is.’ He said as he headed for the stairs. The stairs usually gave him time to think although it was just one flight.
Again he wished that Jim was back.
‘Cappie, you’re not going to believe this,’ Monty was his energetic, optimistic self as Deric entered the office, ‘while you were at the hospital Doc Hargraves called.’
‘What? Don’t tell me he found something worthwhile on the Jackson crime-scene?’
‘Oh, he found something all right,’ Monty said smugly, ’First of all, Jackson had Zolpidem Hemitartrate in his system, which could explain how he could’ve been strapped to the board without a struggle, but, get this – they found forty different hairs on the scene! Forty hairs, but only one fingerprint up to now, no matches – hairs or print.’ Monty was nearly out of breath after rattling off the astonishing news.
‘Forty! The owner said only a few people had access to the boathouse.’
‘Yeah, but the fingerprint doesn’t match the owner – who’s in any case overseas for the last month – or any of the gardeners or staff. If there’s only one fingerprint, and that many hairs, the crime scene had been staged, so said Doc.’
‘Dammit, you’re telling me the crime scene was polluted on purpose?’ Deric asked astonished.
‘Look that way. Can you imagine how long forty hairs will keep forensics busy?’ Monty smiled in admiration before he caught Deric’s eye. He shrugged his shoulders and said laconic, ‘You have to admit, that’s a genius ploy.’ He turned his chair around, ‘Cappie, if the fingerprint doesn’t belong to any of the regular workers it meant that someone, or more than one someone, had wiped everything meticulously down and then planted the evidence. So the print must’ve been planted too. It must mean something!’
’But why this one print?’ Deric meditated out loud, ‘To frame someone?’
‘Either to frame someone or they’ve missed it in the cleaning process - NOT!’ Latisha chimed in.’
‘Or, maybe, just another thing to keep forensics busy.’ Monty added.
Deric reached for his jacket that he’d just hung over the chair five minutes ago. He must admit, whoever the murderer(s) is, he, or they, seemed to be extremely resourceful and had planned ahead. Why did he think them? One man with a gun could possibly have done all that on his own. No, no, it had to be more than one to tie a sleeping ninety kilos to that table!
‘Where’d they get forty hairs?’ Latisha wondered out loud.
‘Sergeant Jacobs, you want to be Lieutenant Cruse today?’ Deric asked as he passed Latisha’s desk.
‘Yes, I want to be tall and thin and nearly bald today. Are we going where I think we’re going?’ she said eagerly, grabbing everything needed for the trip, ‘especially the tall and thin part. Bald? Not so much.’ She smiled.
‘Hey, I broke the news, why can’t I be Lieutenant Cruse today. I can be thin and tall and bald!’ Monty objected.
‘Oh, you can never be bald, lover-boy.’ Latisha said as she patted him on his curly, blonde hair, ‘I’ll tell her you sent love and kisses.’
’Thank you very much for nothing.’ Monty exclaimed with a pouting lower lip.
Wish Jim was back.
Doc Hargraves was elbow deep in some or other cadaver. How the man could stand the smell of death day in and day out was beyond Deric. On the other hand, they, the police, dealt with assault, rape and murder on a regular basis. Was it worse or better than this?
‘Doc, I heard we’ve got more evidence than we’ve bargained for in the Jackson case.’ Deric said fighting nausea as an unpleasant “splosh” sound came from the table and Doc pulled out, what looked like, the liver. He plonked it un-ceremoniously in a stainless steel bowl and wiped his hands on the plastic apron. No matter how hard Deric pressed the mask to his nose, he can still smell dead-matter.
“Point of no return…” It sang in his head.
‘Give me a few minutes to clean up and I’ll be with you. Go wait in my office or visit you’re wife, just don’t throw up on my floor.’
‘I’m not quite such a rookie, Doc, but I prefer not to look at the insides of dead people if I can avoid it.’ Deric said with a wry smile as he headed for the door.
’Well, we certainly do not look at the insides of live people in here.’ Doc said with a giggle in his crystal-bell voice.
Deric walked down the corridor to an office where Mae and Latisha were catching up on gossip, and family, and what’s on sale, like only women can.
‘Hi, sweetheart,’ she smiled and Deric’s heart skipped a beat as it did every time he saw her. She kissed him sweetly and put her arm around his waist. ‘Good to see you halfway through the day. This is an interesting case, this Chuba Jackson one.’
’Yes, it seems to be. First for me, getting more evidence that one can handle. Just as useless as no evidence at all. However, you don’t even know the half of it!’
‘Mae just gave me an idea,’ Latisha interrupted, ‘We should look back and see if there’re other cases that had the same MO. I mean, where evidence where deliberately been planted, or words were hidden on the body.’
‘Can’t think of any resent ones, but it is something worthwhile to do when we get back,’ Deric said, ‘and if we find any, let’s also look into who handled the case and had it been solved or not.’
‘How’s Jim doing? There’s nothing as bad as flu in the summer.’ Mae asked.
’Well, he sounded much better earlier this morning. He said Josie is fed-up with his tantrums and her pampering is getting a bit rough now. She wants him out of the house – pronto.’ Deric smiled, ‘Well, that’s what he said.’
‘Ain’t that the truth? All men are babies when it comes to illness. That giant of mine needs a nappy and a dummy every time he comes down with something silly like a headache, which luckily is not often.’ Latisha said tongue in cheek, ‘but, when I complain about something it’s like: “Yes, yes, drink a Disprin or something and what’s for dinner?”’
‘Well, I don’t know what Deric’s like when he’s under the weather. Yet! Guess I’ll find out sooner or later, won’t I, Honey?’ Mae smiled that heart-melting smile and kissed him on the cheek.
‘That’s right, pick on us, two against one, as per usual.’ Deric pouted but hold out the other cheek as well, ‘Stereotyping us defenceless men again!’
‘Oh, Daarlin’,’ Latisha snubbed, ‘you two are still in the honeymoon stage – just starting out with that sack of proverbial ole salt, you don’t know the half of it!’ She gave an “I-know-it-all” sniff and puffed her cheeks.
Doc appeared in the door, ‘Right Deric, I’m all yours.’ He said with his usual upbeat attitude and Tinkerbell voice.
‘Had the weirdest thing this morning,’ Deric said as they all walked to Doc’s office, ‘some girl phoned from East Memorial Hospital, via Sheffield’s phone-’
‘Yours off again,’ Mae asked with a teasing smile, looking at Latisha, ‘he was doing reports again – we know that trick.’ The two women shared a knowing peek and laughed.
’It’s the only way to get some work done! Anyway, this girl insisted if she cannot speak to me directly, she wanted to speak to the “next best thing”, so Patricia, bless her soul, called Sheffield. You can just imagine the field day Sheffield’s had with that one. That man can be a stand-up comedian if he puts his mind to it!’ Deric said a little sarcastic.
‘Why didn’t Pat call your desk phone?’ Mae asked.
‘Apparently she did-’
‘Bet you went for coffee.’ The women said it simultaneously and nearly rolled around with laughter.
‘Listening to you two it sounds as if I’m never answering a phone or working!’ he sounded outraged, but said with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘But, yes, as a matter of fact, I think I was getting coffee.’
’And what did she want when they finally found you?’ Doc chimed in.
’That’s the weird thing. Apparently, a dying woman in the cancer ward wanted to talk to me urgently.’
An awkward silence followed momentarily. The women didn’t look at each other or laughed this time.
Deric immediately felt the unease and went on, ‘When I got there she uttered a few confusing sentences and died moments later. The girl who phoned - a Mila Jordan - hadn’t had the faintest idea why she wanted to talk to me, or what she meant.’
‘This Mila Jordan family of hers?’ Doc asked as he bade them to sit down.
‘No, according to her, this Brenda Blignaut - the woman who died - had no family, or at least, no close family. This Jordan girl’s a pre-med student who lived with her for the last two years. The two of them grew close. Brenda Blignaut had cancer, and Miss Jordan was looking after her whenever she could. Anyway, to make a long story short, Brenda Blignaut said some weird things to me and then she died on me before finishing whatever she was trying to say.’