Chapter 49 (Ultimate PRANK)
Rodney Gust looked calmer than his lawyer Manny Pereira. They seized talking when Deric and Jim entered. They’ve made Mark Rose comfortable on the other side of the glass so he can “notarize”, along with the DA Peter Mokwena, Lt-Col Brooke Sheffield, Danny, Mae and Latisha as well as Monty who was, as per usual, running the proceedings on the technology side.
Monty gave them a verbal “thumbs-up” into the ear and then one by one the four people in interview room number seven stated their names for the record before the interview commenced.
‘Before my client has anything to say I want to make a statement.’ Manny Pereira said seriously, ‘Against my advice, he will cooperate fully today. I hope this will be taken into consideration that he did so of his own free will. That he was, since the incident, a model citizen, husband and father. He did his work at first as advocate and later as Judge with the highest distinction. I will seek a deal for him for above mentioned reasons.’
‘So noted.’ Deric said before turning to the Judge. If he’s going to be upfront about what he did thirty-five years ago the DA and Pereira could duke out the deal. If no excuses of forced admissions or any dismissals of the happenings of Saturday night - or as Mark Rose had stated, with bobbing Adam’s apple and all, Sunday morning the 30th of January – are going to be used, he’s fine with it. The DNA-matching would make it very unlikely and difficult. Gust himself handed the glass over without any pressure from them. And, of course, there’s the video itself. Then there’s the photo of his daughter - which could end up, in the unlikely event that he denies everything - on any media outlet. Maybe many things stacked up against him for denying, Deric thought.
On the other side of the glass Sgt Latisha Jacobs gave a big snort and whispered to Mae, ‘Free-will my ass, he’s been outdone by a dead lady.’ Mae had a hard time keeping a straight face. When it comes to the opposite quote “Presumed guilty until proven innocent” Latisha was a prophet. Of course, according to what they know, he was guilty as hell. Quite a few misconducts were stacked up against him, including murder and incriminating a fellow student with cunning calculation who’d spent ten years in jail. As Brenda Blignaut herself knew, the justice system was a fickle friend! It had happened before and it will happen again that guilty people will go free and innocent people will pay the prize!
‘Your Honour, I think we should go back to Friday, 12 November 1980, two days before the murder of Minke Blignaut.’ Deric said as he prepared himself for resistance.
Gust said nothing for a good few seconds.
Deric placed the photo of the painting of his daughter before Gust, ‘This is your daughter Kimberley Gust, not so?’
‘Yes, that is my daughter.’ He said with a hoarse, but clear, voice.
‘Do you recognise the butterfly hairpin in her hair, and if you do, can you tell us were and how she’d acquired it.’
Rodney Gust had a surprised expression on his face when he looked up as if to say “How the hell did you find out about that?” but he went ahead nevertheless. Deric could see that the lawyer was also in the dark about the pin. Gust wasn’t going to mention it at all if not confronted by it as had been done now.
Manny Pereira held up a hand and said, ‘Wait a moment, what does this have to do with anything. Let me confer with my client here, what-’
Deric think it was at that moment that Rodney Gust had realised that there were much more evidence around than he thought. He went ahead as if Pereira hadn’t spoken at all.
‘I bought that pin in September 1980, in a jewellery shop in Pretoria. The chain of stores still exists, but that specific shop is no longer there.’
‘Why did you buy the pin and what happened?’
’I bought it for a girl I was in love with at the time. I’d intended to – or I sort off did - declare my love for her with that pin.’
‘You did?’ Deric said encouraging.
Again Pereira opened his mouth but Gust waved him away, ‘Manny, it’s okay, I know the law and I know my rights. However, seeing that I’ve already confessed to everything else and the evidence at hand…let me clear all this up’ He pointed at the photo.
‘Sir, I think you should tell us exactly what happened on the last weekend - Friday to Sunday - of November 1980.’ Deric said as if he didn’t hear the lawyer protesting. Deric wasn’t about to ask any leading questions. He knew from experience the defence can turn it around in court and strangle you with your own words.
Manny Pereira put a cautionary hand on Rodney Gust’s arm, ‘You sure you want to do this?’
‘Yes, and I actually already did, remember. Too late now to retracted, don’t you think’ The Judge said with determination before looking back at Deric.
‘I was wildly in love with Minke Blignaut back then. However, I think it was a fact I kept well under wraps. She hadn’t had a boyfriend at the time however, I was involved with her best friend for nearly two years by then. It was a bit of a situation.’
‘Did she show any other feelings, besides friendship, towards you?’
‘No, she didn’t. I thought, at the time, it was because I was in a relationship with her friend.’
‘That would be with Rita le Roux?’ Deric confirmed. Again the Judge looked a little credulous.
‘Seems you know the history better than I do, Captain Offbach, maybe you should tell it.’ He gave a weary smile.
’It is better that you tell it, your Honour. I will just fill in if you forget something of importance.’
If the man heard the sarcasm in Deric’s voice he didn’t let on, ‘Yes, it was Rita. However, if Minke had accepted me back then I would’ve ended it with Rita there and then. My fickle friend,’ he placed a hand on his heart, ‘insisted and you know, the storminess of youth. My brain was sitting next to my hormones and heart - willing me on - instead of talking some sense into me.’ He gave it a moment’s thought, ‘Minke turned twenty-one that weekend. I thought it would be the perfect time for such an important step. I mean, to let her know how I feel – declaring my love and to measure her reaction - so to speak.’
‘Except,’ Jim added in his laid-back way, ‘she was crazy about someone else. One of your best friends, to be exact - Burger Steenkamp.’
His looked down as it all came rushing back at him like a tsunami. With a little murmur he answered ‘Like I said, maybe you should tell the story. You seem to know all the details…’
Deric gestured for him to go on.
’I thought that he was the only fly in my ointment. She was infatuated with Burger Steenkamp. Burger was a ladies-man, a real heart-breaker. I thought she would come around after Rita warned her about his philandering ways Anyway, as you may well know, I was rejected. She phoned me shortly after receiving the gift. To let me down easy, so to speak. She told me how beautiful the pin was and how flattered she was but that she wasn’t interested and how disappointed she was in me - for various reasons - but specifically about Rita. She didn’t want to spoil the mood so shortly before her birthday party. Don’t I think it best to stay friends - for Rita’s sake? She would never, ever betrayed Rita’s friendship she said and although Burger’s reputation preceded him, she was willing to risk it. She told me that the butterfly was really special and she was going to give it back to me over the weekend. That I should keep it until such time I find someone really special enough to wear it. Even if it turned out not to be Rita. She, however, will certainly not be the owner.’
‘So, the intention was to give you the pin back over the weekend?’ Jim interrupted.
‘Yes.’ Gust said softly. He’d turned a greyish kind of colour and didn’t look calm anymore.
‘You want some water, sir?’ The first bottle was empty.
He smiled a defeated smile and said, ‘Why? You’ve already got my DNA.’
There was a knock on the door and Danny appeared with water.
Gust glanced at the two-way mirror before he took a few long sips of water.
’I’m not going to deny it, even if it was that long ago. I was angry. Very angry. Angry because things seemed to come so easily to Burger Steenkamp. He was the top medical student. Women seem to found him irresistible, and now, the only girl that I could every love – so I thought at the time – wants him and not me! I was devastated about a lot of things, but mostly because my heart and my ego were crushed. My very expensive gift was of no consequence and I was supposed to pretend as if nothing had happened at the party! To be a friend! She begged me to act normal, at least for one last time at the party. I promised I will. Well, concurrence of circumstances and a very low, dented self-esteem, turned into the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had a whole day too brood and, well…I wanted all to suffer. Those who were going to laugh behind my back, those who’d gossip with their smirks and whispers behind cupped hands and even worse, those with their pretend sympathy in their eyes and gestures. Those who will tell me there’s a lot of fish in the sea. Everything always has a way to come out.’ He waved his hands to indicate his present circumstance, ’Even if it takes thirty-five years. There’s always someone who can’t keep a secret or who knows something or someone. I was afraid it might be Rita. I knew Minke wouldn’t spoil her own party by conveying the news to Rita beforehand, so, the party seemed the perfect setting for my revenge.’ He closed his eyes for a moment, ‘Actually, we’ve had a surprise planned for the guests, but it didn’t worked out as planned, did it now.’
His lawyer was a wreck.
Rodney Gust sighed deeply before continuing, ‘The perfect moment Ned, Krugertjie and I had been waiting for a long time. But now, the reward would be so much sweeter. Or so I thought. Somehow it would turned out to be, not only my embarrassment but all who’d attended the party. All those who dared to laugh and snicker, or gossip behind my back. I will see to it personally. Krugertjie and Ned did it for the pure fun of a cruel prank. I had something else in mind. However, murder never entered my mind!’
‘It wasn’t premeditated in other words, Captain Offbach.’ Manny Pereira said visibly sweating.
‘Believe it or not sir, I know what premeditate means.’ Deric said softly.
‘Yes, yes, of course Captain, I’m just stating it for the record.’ Pereira looked at the two-way mirror as if to say “Did you get that on tape?” He wasn’t sure what to do with a high-winged client who is confessing to a thirty-five year old murder and won’t take any advice.
‘At that point I never even knew that Steenkamp was going to be at the party.’ The Judge went on, ’When he did show up, I was of the understanding that he will be returning with us. He was supposed to go back to the dorm. He didn’t and I think I know what that had implicated. I think that made me even more angry and determined.
Deric looked back at the Judge, ‘That’s where Neill Kruger and his knowledge of Rohypnol and his catering Aunt came in?’
Gust went on, ‘Well, we knew he was going to be barman. We decided that the party would be the best venue for our first-class prank! Believe me, Captain, today, well, it would be a hit on the internet…’
’Except for the little glitz of murder.’ Deric ended the sentence.
Gust stared at his hands. ‘The two of them didn’t know about my…let’s say my troubles with Minke.’
He went on to tell them how they planned the so-called prank. The last Tequila toast, the going-back pretending to be drunk, the kinky photos of all those who irritated them, and just for the hell of it, all those who came to the party. Ruining reputations in the process and keeping people on their toes could just be fun.’
‘Up to this day students, for some stupid reason, do stupid things.’ Was all Pereira could add before the Judge continued.
’They say hell has no fury like a woman’s scorned! The woman can just as well be replaced by man. We’re all human, Captain Offbach, the difference just came in how you handle your rejection and scorn.’
‘What about the workers, those in the kitchen and the waiters?’ Jim asked.
‘Well, Neill arranged that. He knew his Aunt had this big bash the following – or by then – Sunday. Shortly after dessert was served she left, assured by him that everything will run smoothly. Only two waiters were at hand and, as decided beforehand, they will also receive a drink, with compliments from Neill.’
‘How did you know Martin van der Westhuizen will take you home? He wasn’t supposed to be at the party?’ Deric suddenly remembered that the doctor said he and Steenkamp wasn’t supposed to be there.
‘He was always part of our plan. We’ve phoned him quite a few times before to come and fetch us from some or other bash. He’s a non-drinker.’
‘So, the scene was set for you to prank the students at the party.’ Deric narrated for the Judge.
‘Yes, the scene was set, but we didn’t plan for the unexpected surprise. Shortly after the tequila did Steenkamp announced that he’s going to stay on. In my book that meant only one thing – he was going to sleep with Minke Blignaut. I’ve watched them all evening and could see everything went swimmingly well between the two of them. That, as you can imagine, just added oil to my fire. So, Burger Steenkamp was going to be shown up as well.’
‘So, you did go back to the dorm and then what, returned later on?’
‘Yes, we thought that to be the perfect alibi…which it had proven to be for thirty-five years.’
’Rodney, please we should discuss this...’Pereira’s voice pleaded now.
‘It’s far too late for that Manny. I’ve told you… And I’m not going to let Kim take the fall for my mistakes as well.’ he looked at Deric and Jim respectively, ‘The police, in any case, seem to know the story better than me. Am I right?’ He glanced at a stoic Deric and Jim.
‘But you’re incriminating yourself with all the details about establishing alibis and revenge!’
‘Will it change what I’ve done?’ He placed a hand on the lawyer’s shoulder, ‘I’m living with this for thirty-five years and it didn’t, by no means, get easier. And now I’ve dragged my innocent family in with me…’ He looked down.
Deric again narrated as he looked at Gust, ‘Let me get this right. It was only you, Ned and Neill in on this stunt? What about Martin van der Westhuizen?’
‘Just the three of us. Martin van der Westhuizen was Steenkamp’s best friend and wouldn’t hurt him for the world. He didn’t know and that’s how we kept it. Martin was far too sober and boring to pull something like that. How two people like Steenkamp and he ever became best friends, I don’t know. Of course Ned and I pretended to be as drunk as skunks. We did had a few and yes, we’ve been a little intoxicated, however, our Tequilas wasn’t doctored, again courtesy of Kruger.’
‘As was expected, Martin left us in the car at the dorm – as he did a few times before - because we were “out of it” and he wasn’t about to drag our heavy asses one by one to bed. Which of course, we’ve counted on.’
‘Seeing that Martin didn’t drink he was always the designated driver.’ Deric added.
‘Always, yes, and seeing that he was fanatical about his studies, we knew he wouldn’t stay over.’ He turned to the lawyer, ‘See Manny, he knows everything. He’s got a better grapevine than I.’ Gust said again with that glimpse of ironic surprise again. He gave a dry laugh but didn’t really pulled it off.
‘I do know some of the story, yes,’ Deric simply said, ‘but it’s certainly not through some gossip grapevine. But, you were saying?’
’Ned and I gave it fifteen minutes, just to make sure Martin wasn’t coming back, and then headed back in his car. It was a twenty-five minute drive back to the venue. We figured just enough for the Roofies and alcohol to work properly. Neill said the drug would start working from around fifteen to thirty minutes. When we got there, Neill was waiting nervously, but with a big smile at the door. Except for us, not a soul was stirring. He said he walked about and that there was no-one not out of it. Some made it to the chalets and we decided to let them be. A lot of them were strewn over sofas and tables and chairs – a few even on the floor. Some even on the grass surrounding the venue. I quickly established that Minke, Burger and Rita were not in the main area or on the grass. So, whilst the other two were setting scenes and taking photos I told them that I’ll took care of those outside and went looking for my main targets. I was especially worried about Rita, she wasn’t a big drinker. It might just backfire on me if she came across us. I found her passed out on the floor of the chalet she and Minke were supposed to share. Minke was nowhere.’
‘Was it then you took the butterfly pin?’ Jim asked.
He gave a wry smile, ‘No, not then…but…how?’ He shook his head and again looked credulous, ‘I thought I was the only one that knew about the pin – Minke and me - that is?’
‘If you don’t mind, sir, we’ll share with you after you’ve finished sharing with us.’ Deric gave his own wry smile back.
’Well, I knew Minke and Burger would be together so I went looking for my two main targets. I found them wrapped-up in each other’s arms in a secluded spot with lots of shrubbery, under a tree - and then…’His head was hanging by now and his voice barely audible, ‘Even in their semi-comatose state they looked happy…I lost control, the anger… well, I was somewhat drunk… fuming at the mouth.’
‘He was drunk and he was very young.’ Manny Pereira had another feeble try.
’How come you’d killed her if it wasn’t premeditated?’ Deric looked at Manny Pereira and back at Gust ’It couldn’t have been just rage, anger and alcohol? You said you loved her.’ Deric questioned.
‘Combination of all those things. I felt humiliated, hurt, and I wanted to teach her a lesson and…well…lust. Like I said, murder never entered my mind until, well, not…not until…well…Minke came too - sort off - when I…when I…’ He couldn’t finish.
‘When you raped her?’ Deric finished it for him.
He nodded and all colour left his face.
‘An audible answer, please Judge.’ Jim reminded.
’I don’t know how, but she recognised me. She pleaded with me to stop. She was like a rag doll and yet, she recognised me. She said my name out loud and I clearly heard “Please Rodney, stop – don’t do that”. She said my name. She knew it was me and what I was doing to her. I was young…I was drunk. I couldn’t allow this girl to ruin my bright future. She kept crying and pleading: “Rodney, why?” or “Please, Rodney, stop”. I just lost my head!’ He shook his head from side to side as if erasing this particular bad moment, ‘I told her to shut up and I placed my hands round her neck - at first just to keep her quiet. Shut her up. I must’ve squeeze too hard. Next thing I knew she went quiet and totally limp. I thought she was out of it again…but…those blue eyes wasn’t closed, they stared up at me. Surprise! Disappointment! Disgust! I could see all those things before the life went out of her totally. She never thought I was capable of doing anything so terrible. I never thought myself that I was… able…something so terrible.’ Tears were forming in the corners of his eyes, ‘I sat around for a few moments and cried. Not knowing what to do and then…I guess…reality kicked in. I had to destroy all evidence of my presence. I placed Burger’s hands around her neck and squeezed once more, and...I’d undone his shirt and trousers…smear his shirtsleeves with semen and…’
‘And then I knew I had made sure I could not be implicated. I went back to the chalet and retrieved the pin. I couldn’t, however, find the note I send with the gift, anywhere. I hoped she’d destroyed it earlier. For some reason I put Rita on the bed and pulled the duvet over her body and face. I was scared she might recognised me as well. I cleaned up myself as well as the chalet and went back to the murder-scene to make sure Burger wasn’t awake, or that anyone had discovered it. I used a guest towel to pull her a little under the bush and went back to find Ned and Neill.’
‘Did you tell them anyone what had happened? What about Neill Kruger, did he go with you?’
‘Ned and I went back to the dorm and Neill - Neill drank a glass of tequila with Rohypnol to make it look like…well…as if…’
‘They didn’t ask any questions?’
‘Ned asked if I’d taken photos and I just said yes.’
’So, the next morning Burger Steenkamp was the obvious murderer. You and Ned were nowhere near and the third culprit passed out with the rest of them. No suspects there.’
‘Yes, pretty much.’ He said soft and slow.
Deric nodded to the glass. He’s got the murder on tape. The rest will follow.
‘Can I offer you something to drink, sir? Coffee?’ Jim asked. He just couldn’t get “Your Honour” out.
‘Coffee, please,’ Manny Pereira said a little defeated as he looked at Rodney Gust who were ghastly pale. He was absolutely of no use to his client today and he’d defended pretty nasty characters in his time with success. This was going to be bloody impossible. Why didn’t Rodney listen to him!
As they got up Gust said softly, ‘Her eyes will haunt me forever. I will never ever forget her eyes, staring up at me in disgust and surprise just before she…’ He let his head down in his hands and cried.
Some memories cannot be erased or forgotten no matter how hard one tried.