Chapter 50 (See the PUZZLE-PICTURE)
The rest of the story came through tersely. Most of it wasn’t new to them. Brenda Blignaut made sure of that. When Rodney Gust ended his statement he looked sad but somewhat relieved.
’Just two last questions Judge: Ned Dunn and Neill Kruger had absolutely no part in the murder itself?’
‘No, absolutely not,’ at least the man acquired some integrity through the years since he left Burger Steenkamp high and dry to take the rap, ‘both of them had only heard about it the next day.’ He lifted his head a little and looked at Deric, ‘I assume you know about Ned Dunn - how he died?’
’He always loved the odd drink. Since that day…well, he…they just knew it was me. We’d never talked about it at all, but they knew. The two of them never uttered a word to anybody about our presence or purpose at the party late that night. Every photo that had been taken had been destroyed. Don’t think they were that loyal - maybe, just I did - trying to save their own skins. However, since that day Ned became a total alcoholic. He dropped out the next year and drunk himself into an early grave.’ He looked down at his hands again as if he could find some answers there, ‘He was totally inebriated when he folded his car around that tree. Guess he’s also been weighing on my conscience.’
They sat in an awkward silence for a moment. Deric didn’t tell him that Neill Kruger spent half of his life in therapy and that his wife called it “overseas trips”. Maybe Gust knew, maybe he didn’t.
Deric looked at the photo of Kimberley Gust.
’Then, suddenly there’s the hairpin you retrieved that night. You’ve kept it all these years. How did this come about?’ Deric pointed to the picture, ‘were you that sure nobody else knew?’
Gust let his hand glide over the photo, ’I kept the pin thirty-five years in a small box, locked away. At first I wanted to take it back to the jewellers. I was, however, scared that someone might’ve seen it and connected it to the murder and to me. Maybe Rita. She, however, never mentioned it and I just assumed that Minke never told anyone about it. I thought a few times of selling it - never did. It was sort of my connection and conscience to her. When Mirna and I got married I took it to my office – locked away in a little safe where I kept very private documents. It travelled with me from my first office to the next office. About five years ago, when I became Judge, they had my office refurnished. I took the pin home and lock it up in my desk in the study. Shortly before my daughter’s sixteenth birthday my wife, ironically enough, at my own doing, found the pin. I needed some documents urgently that I worked on at home and asked her to retrieved it for me and send it to my chamber via courier which I send around with the key. For one moment, my constant vigil over the box had lapsed! Well, she later told me she didn’t mean to prowl as she rummaged around for the document, but she found the little black box at the back. She curiously opened it and came across this butterfly-pin. She just assumed it was gift – some antique pin I’d acquired for Kimberley’s sixteenth birthday and wanted to surprise her with. I played along and pretended that it was just that. What was I to do? I knew kids these days don’t actually wear things like that anymore, and hoped and believed that Kim would treasure it as a gift from me, but not been seen dead in it. So, Kimberley received the pin for her sixteenth birthday. On her mother’s insistence wore it once - for a family portrait we took on Kim’s birthday. A year later my wife painted our daughter from that family photo. A beautiful picture,’ he said mournfully as he touched the picture again, ‘she’s beautiful.’
He looked mournful at the picture and then at Deric, ’At the moment she’s very angry and hurt with me, just like my wife.
He started to cry softly, ‘Thank God she’s okay.’
‘Maybe now you can understand the grieve Brenda Blignaut – Minke’s mother - went through and why she never could let go. How she felt, especially after Burger Steenkamp was exonerated. She felt the law had let her down, in more ways than one.’ Jim said softly, not without sympathy.
He just nodded.
‘You really never worried about the pin – I mean that someone could or would see it somehow?’ Deric couldn’t stop himself from asking.
Gust cleaned his throat before he went on. He suddenly looked a very old man, ‘I was sure the pin was of no consequence anymore. It never came to the fore. Nobody mentioned it ever! It never occurred to me that someone might be looking for it, or even knew about it. Nevertheless, I made my wife promise not to sell the painting ever. I said it should be an heirloom. Kimberley’s heirloom. Of course it wasn’t totally a lie and she agreed. It was ours to be admired, and one day it would be Kimberley’s. It hung in Kim’s room above her bed.’
Jim said with no venom, ‘How’d the picture ended up on a wall at an exhibition?’
‘Mirna lent it, without my knowledge - of course she needn’t ask my permission - for some or other exhibition. I only found out about this much later. Actually, at the opening night of this exhibition. It was supposed to be a surprise and it surely was. I was so nervous at first, but by the time the exhibition ended nothing happened. No-one asked about it and the label next to the picture stated very clearly that it was not for sale. Well, we’ve got the painting back and that was that. Or so I thought…however, someone noticed and someone knew…’
‘Yes, someone knew. This photo was send to us along with letters written by Brenda Blignaut. It was send to us after her death.’ Deric said barely audible.
It went quiet.
‘Can I ask you something Captain, how did you know? Why were you and your people at the Restaurant Saturday? Who alerted you?’
Deric looked at Jim and then told Gust and Pereira everything that concerned their case about Brenda Blignaut. Nothing that concerned the other murders or the puzzle or the “Ice-Cream Club” – just the facts about Gust.
Gust nodded. ‘I received a note on Saturday along with the original note that I’ve sent to Minke all those years ago. Her mother must’ve found it later on. But how did she know about the pin?’ Gust asked credulously.
‘Rita le Roux knew about the pin. To the sender she had no idea. She asked Brenda Blignaut about the pin and was surprised to find out that it never surfaced or was found. She even drew a picture for Brenda Blignaut and told her the story. She never knew it was you who send the pin until recently.’
Gust blew his breathe out softly and slowly as he nodded. He looked up and said, ‘But, if Brenda Blignaut died last November, who did what they did to Kimberly? I mean…how she got home and…’
‘According to the party-goers she might’ve taken the drug herself. We think it to be unlikely, but a lot of party’s drugs are offered, like cocaine, for example. It’s nearly like booze – acceptable…’ Jim was cut off by Pereira.
‘Bullshit!’ he uttered, ‘someone fed her that drug!’
‘Of course someone fed her the drug Mr Pereira. It simulated the Minke Blignaut scenario!’ Deric said sharply, ’However, there were fifty or more people at that party. We’re still following up there, but as is, none saw anything as per usual. Without any concrete evidence we can’t prove a thing against anyone at the party. We haven’t a clue to who was behind this plan to expose the Judge. We only knew what Brenda Blignaut told us in her letter and she died more than two months ago. Since it’s the Judge’s choice to keep his daughter out of all this-’
‘She is very confused about all this and hasn’t got a clue what happened to her - or why,’ Gust said, ’maybe she knows the why by now – Mirna might’ve told her. She’s just another innocent bystander in the wake of my misjudgements.’
‘As was Minke Blignaut, Burger Steenkamp and Brenda Blignaut all those years ago!’ Deric said without remorse.
‘I would be thankful if we can keep Kimberley out of this. It’s enough that I’ve destroyed my family, I can’t destroy her as well.’ Gust said quietly.
Deric stared at the man. Gust had too many victims in his wake, Deric wasn’t about to let them in on the “Ice-Cream Club” doings going way back to 1992. He stuck to the facts regarding Rodney Gust, and that was all they needed to know.
‘We were basically there to protect you Saturday night, Judge-’
‘Courtesy of Brenda Blignaut who thought you needed a sporting change.’ Jim said in his laid-back way. He made damn sure both Gust and Pereira got the message: “More than you did for her child!”
‘But, as it is, we had it wrong. I think you and us should be very thankful that they – whoever planned this - didn’t go as far with your daughter as you did with Brenda Blignaut’s, not so?’
Rodney Gust swallowed audible.
’So, Brenda Blignaut basically knew that Rodney…? So she must’ve told someone about it, and they pulled the same stunt on Rodney.’ Pereira said with a frown.
‘Just with less devastating results.’ Deric retorted.
‘If she knew, why didn’t she go to the police with all of this?’
’It was hypothetical, Mr Pereira, no real, hard evidence. The police had the DNA but no-one to match it too. Even if someone did believe this crazed old lady with her senile stories they couldn’t just walk up to a distinguished Judge and say “Sorry Your Honour, do you mind to give us a sample of your DNA to test against a crime-scene of thirty-five years ago” now could they? They had to have a real good motive, not so? A lawyer like you wouldn’t have gotten it thrown out of court.’
‘She, or whoever, got me back where it hurt the most - my daughter.’ Gust said, ‘I thought a lot about Brenda Blignaut and how she might’ve felt. Especially after Kimberley was born,’ he gave a short ironic laugh, ‘last Saturday I think I must’ve had that same panic and disbelieve that she must’ve had all those years ago. Mine was just short-lived. I think I understand just a little. My child is still alive.’ His voice dwindled away.
It went quiet.
‘And Burger Steenkamp? You ever think of him?’ Jim said with no malice.
‘Burger Steenkamp.’ the Judge said softly, he looked up momentarily, ‘I’ve ruined a lot of lives, haven’t I?’ He went on with repentance, ‘and all this have ruined my own family as well.’ He looked totally miserable as he looked Deric straight in the eyes, ‘I’m sort of relieved, sort of glad it’s over. I’m so sorry for the grieve I brought on my wife and my daughter…and Brenda Blignaut and everyone involved.’
Manny Pereira cleaned his throat and said, ‘Culpable homicide, Captain Offbach. I think my client has earned at least that with his exemplarily life the last thirty-five years, trying to make amends for what he did in one drunken, angry moment. A youthful misconduct-’
‘Is that what he did?’ Jim chucked in his two cents, ‘trying to make amends for the murder of Minke Blignaut?’
‘It must count for something, at least. He was but a boy when all this occurred!’ Pereira went on loudly without as much as a glance in Jim’s direction.
‘He was an adult, Mister Pereira, but you’ll have to take that up with the DA, for now however…Jim.’
Jim got up, ‘Judge Rodney Gust, you are under arrest for the rape and murder of Minke Blignaut. You have the right…’
Gust listened in silence as Jim read him his rights, again.
Interesting how everyone always has rights. Always hammering away on how they know their rights. However, responsibility? Nobody wants those. Always rights! There’s always an excuse for bad behaviour, for murder. Very few stood up for their actions.
At least, give Rodney Gust did just that with a little push from the grave.
Would he have owned up if it weren’t for mother’s tenacity?