The alarm went off and Dambuza jumped out of bed, his feet hitting the floor and kicking the empty tins from the six-pack he finished before falling asleep. He was immediately confused about where he was. After a few seconds it all came back into focus. He was in Maun. He was in the process of getting a divorce thanks to Bontle. And his head was pounding from finishing a second bottle of wine with Delly and her daughter, Nana, before coming home. Mixing wine and beer didn’t work in his 49 going on 50 body the same way it did when he was in his 30s. He was sure there was an angry little man with a metal club inside his head. He grabbed a packet of Grand-pa powder, dumped it on his tongue, and washed it down with the beer dregs from the tin on his bedside table.
As he showered, he thought about Delly and her daughter. Interesting duo. So for a crazy few moments he thought he had a chance with a woman like Nana? So what? Why not? We all have to dream, he tried to tell his embarrassed self. Dream he could do, but the reality was there and hard to ignore.
Nana was cool though, not like most of those incredibly beautiful women. Not snotty at all, not stuck on herself. Down to earth like her mum. She was a part-time actress when she was in London. Why she had to suddenly pack up and leave UK and come back to Botswana seemed to be a bit of secret. Dambuza asked her twice, and twice she dodged the question with, “You know, shit happens.”
Much like her mother she didn’t look her age. He was surprised she was 42; he put her in her early 30s at best. She guessed he was 55, and he didn’t correct her, he was embarrassed to. They’d sat at the table until almost everyone had cleared out and the catering staff started dismantling the tables.
“Well, it looks like they want us to go,” Delly said.
“No, wait a minute, I want you to meet Hamilton,” Nana said. “You too Dambuza, you’ll love him.” He doubted that. She’d been enthusing about him for most of the time they were sitting there. Hamilton this, Hamilton that. Dambuza got the impression something was on between them and when she brought him around it was confirmed.
He held out his hand to Delly. “I’m delighted to finally meet the famous Delly Woods. You’re almost a legend here in Maun.” He smiled and Dambuza wondered how someone got to his age with such white teeth. Didn’t he eat?
Dambuza couldn’t help noticing Hamilton’s hand causally, though persistently, remaining around Nana’s waist. Is that even appropriate for the MD of a company to be holding the company’s marketing manager’s waist? Apparently things were lax at Brown University.
“And Detective Dambuza, I’m always happy to meet members of law enforcement. You have the most difficult job in the world, I really respect that.” Dambuza shook his hand and wondered how he moved from thinking Hamilton was a slightly too smooth potential sexual harassment perpetuator to a pretty good guy in such a short period of time. “We should go out for a beer one of these nights? I’m a big football fan and have really taken a liking to your Zebras.”
Likes beer, likes the Zebras even with their sorry performance. Two points for Dr. Hamilton. “Yeah, sure,” Dambuza was surprised to hear himself saying.
Hamilton looked toward the doorway where Ms Delany was waving. Up close she was a brittle looking woman with thick blonde hair she was overly proud of, if the constant flicking was anything to go by. “Oh Portia’s calling me. I wish I could stay and talk a bit more, but I need to take a rain check. The Minister is touring the facility and I need to get back. Great to meet you both. Nana, I’ll see you tonight?”
Nana only smiled. As if that smile was not enough to say everything. For Dambuza it was. They were sleeping together- that was obvious. He wondered what the hard-faced Ms Delany thought of that.
While Delly and Dambuza were walking out to their cars, Dambuza thought about how the way people look shouldn’t taint your view of them. He liked Hamilton, even in spite of his jealousy at him getting the girl. Dambuza knew he never really had a chance, but still the sting was there.
“I don’t like him,” Delly said.
Dambuza was confused by who she could mean. They’d only met one him and that was Hamilton, and she certainly couldn’t mean him. He’d been so complimentary to both of them.
“That one. What’s he on about? And it looks like Nana is smitten with the snake.”
“But I thought he seemed alright,” Dambuza tried.
“Nope. I know those kinds. No good.”
“So are you going to talk to Nana then?”
“She’s stubborn that one. One word from me and she’ll be walking down the aisle with him just to piss me off. No this one we’ll have to move very carefully.” Suddenly with a word, Dambuza was in collusion with Delly to rid Nana of Hamilton. Though she presumed his cooperation, he didn’t mind. He’d seen Delly in action and he decided then he always wanted to be on her side- no matter the fight. And besides he’d be more than happy to see Nana parting ways with Hamilton.
Dambuza got out of the shower, threw his clothes on, downed his prerequisite creamy instant coffee with five sugars, and rushed to the station. No being late today.
He found a note waiting for him on his desk to see Tito as soon as he got in. He found his boss behind his desk already busy at his computer. Station commander involved a lot of paperwork. “Okay you’re here, close the door.”
Tito pulled five files from the tidy stack on his desk and handed them to Dambuza. “What’s this?” Dambuza asked.
“That is your first case or cases- I’m not sure. They’re five missing people. We’ve been dealing with them like they’re separate cases, but I’m starting to get the feeling that they’re related. Not based on anything except that for the last five years I’ve been here we’ve had three missing persons cases. Now in ten months we’ve had five. Five. Something is going on. I want you to find out.”
Dambuza paged through the files. “But they’re all over the place. Kids and older people; from Maun, Makalamabedi. So what are you thinking?”
“I don’t know what to think. We haven’t recovered anything, no bodies, nothing. You know if it’s muti killing the body eventually shows up with the parts taken that they need. In one of those cases we found a hat with some blood. The police officer on the case was in a big hurry and told the family wild animals must have taken the woman. They bought it, but I didn’t. Even wild animals leave the body somewhere, at least pieces. Eventually it turns up, but in all of these- no bodies. It doesn’t make sense.”
“And any leads for it being murder?” Dambuza asked.
“They followed a few leads, but nothing panned out. You know we don’t have serial killers in Botswana, I can’t remember any at least. That’s something for America or for television. But these cases are making me think otherwise.”
“A serial killer?” Dambuza sat back in the chair. Here he thought he was going to be having things easy here in Maun, and now the boss was giving him five suspected murder cases to solve.
“Yeah, maybe. Keep your mind open to anything, to everything. I suggest you start with the most recent. Baleka Phatshwane from Makalamabedi. She went missing a few days ago. Feel free to talk to any of the officers who have worked on the cases, I told them I’ve handed all of the cases over to you. You seem to have a way of getting to the bottom of things, I hope you manage this time.”
Dambuza decided before going out to Makalamabedi, he’d take time to go through the files. He got out his notebook. They were five missing persons cases in total: two males, three females. They ranged in age from 65 to 15. Two from Makalamabedi, one from the cattleposts near Maun, two from Maun. Four Batswana, one Zimbabwean. The only thing in common, they seem to have all disappeared in the bush, but even that was not certain.
Could there be some rogue animal or group of animals taking them? Dambuza wrote in his notebook. Being a city boy he knew nothing about the Botswana bush and all of its wild animals. He had wanted to keep it that way.
Two of them may not be dead at all. Phatsimo Ditiragalo, the fifteen year old girl from Maun, went missing out collecting wood. Her family believes she may have run off with her boyfriend one Ray Selato, from Gaborone. The Gaborone police investigated but didn’t find her. Still the family sticks to their story.
The Zimbabwean, George Ndlovu, worked as a herd boy for Modisa Johane, a Maun resident. He was the one who reported Ndlovu missing. He suspects he may have gone back to Zimbabwe, but he left his belongings which caused Mr. Johane to report the case. Again Dambuza wondered- were these people really missing, or just somewhere else? There might not be much of a mystery to solve in the end.
The most recent case occurred on the 15 of January, four days previously. The woman, 26 year old Baleka Phatshwane, was out searching for goats and never returned. There’s a boyfriend who she fought with the night before her disappearance, and from what Dambuza knew from experience, in Botswana if there is foul play regarding a woman, you best start with the boyfriend or husband, 9 out of 10 time they’re the culprits.
Dambuza couldn’t see anything linking the cases, but it was odd to have so many missing people in one area over such a short time. He opened his notebook to brainstorm ideas. That was how he liked to approach cases, write out all of this thoughts first.
Any new, odd people arrive in the last ten months?
Is this a different kind of muti? Maybe a “muti factory”? Is there such a thing?
They could be independent, think of them alone too
Where are the bodies???
He closed the files and his notebook. He called a few of the officers involved in the cases to get more information. There wasn’t much though. No one seemed to know what happened to these people. They seemed to have vanished.
It was a coincidence that the last disappeared person, Baleka Phatshwane, had a boyfriend that worked for Delly. By the time Dambuza spoke to the other police officers who had worked on the cases, it was already nearly three and driving out to Makalamabedi was out of the question, so he decided to start with the boyfriend.
He found Delta Tours along the road leaving town perched on the bank of the Thamalakane River. He followed the signs through the small forest between the road and the river. The office had a circular drive at the front with a few safari cars parked to the side. The office was toward the road side of the building and Delly’s home was on the river side. It was a basic building, nothing fancy. Cement walls with a thatch roof, the floors painted with red floor paint and polished to a shine. Much like its owner, the house was all function and no fluff.
Dambuza parked his car and got out. He still wasn’t sure where it was safe to walk. All the trees and tall grass spooked him. He expected a lion to fly out and grab him or a snake to appear at his feet. His preferred habitat was concrete and crowds of buildings.
As he made his way carefully toward the open door of the office, Delly appeared.
“It’s fine. Quit looking over your shoulder, nothing’s gonna eat you,” she said walking toward him laughing. “Nice to see you again, Dambuza. Come on in.”
She walked him through the empty one room office, the kitchen, and into a wide room that appeared to act as sitting and dining room as well as a bedroom for Delly. The whole length of it opened onto a wide veranda, a folding glass wall was pushed back to show the river only a few metres away. Bob lay sprawled out sound asleep, snoring slightly through loose lips, under which a pool of saliva was forming.
“Aren’t there animals down there?” Dambuza asked looking out at the bush behind the house and the river beyond it.
“We’ve got a resident hippo, Kgosi, he keeps to himself mostly. Occasionally a few crocs. But they don’t trouble me if I don’t trouble them.”
Dambuza shrugged his shoulders, to each his own he thought but he wasn’t sure he’d be visiting Delly in the night if he didn’t have to. And he didn’t think it was very wise to leave the glass doors wide open as if welcoming the wildlife in. He wouldn’t mention it though. After all of the time she’d been in Maun, Dambuza assumed Delly knew what she was up against.
“I’m actually here on business.”
“About the fellow who tried to take my cellphone?” Delly asked as she opened a fridge in the corner and took out two beers, she handed one to Dambuza without asking. He took it. She ushered him toward the sitting room section of the massive room.
“No, something else. I understand a man named Les Molelekedi works for you.”
“Yep.” She sat down in a battered arm chair and motioned for Dambuza to take a seat in the one opposite which in terms of pattern or design had no relation to hers. “He’s a cook’s assistant, with me for about seven years or so. What’s he done?”
“Why is he often in problems with the law?”
“No, not really. He drinks and more often than not he’s an innocent bystander in the normal bar brawls that go on. No, he’s a good guy, likes fun.” Then Delly seemed to remember something. “Is it about Baleka?”
“Yes, you know her?”
“Sure, she and Les have two kids together. Not quite married, not quite not. Have they found her?”
“Les is out there in Makalamabedi now. He’s asked for the week off. He’s taking care of the kids and trying to get people out looking for Baleka. I was surprised actually. He always acted like it wasn’t that serious, but this really shook him up. Me, I thought she just ran off for a while to get a breather. They were always at each other. Do you think something untoward has taken place?”
“Yes, actually. There have been quite a few people who have gone missing lately. Have you heard about it?” Dambuza suspected Delly was fairly connected in the community and could be a good source of information.
“Yeah, sure, people talk. But I didn’t think it was serious. Like the girl - ran off with the boyfriend I heard. The other one, the Zimbabwean. You know these illegal Zimbabweans are always forced to be on the move with you police out on your raids. The other one was crazy or something I heard. And then you have Bakang. He was always on the move; he might turn up any day now. I don’t think you should take it too seriously. Batswana move- home, cattlepost, masimo, it’s their life.”
“Maybe, still I need to investigate. It’s my first case; I want to show my new boss I’m up to it.”
Delly smiled. “Yeah, but don’t worry too much, Tito’s one of the good guys. He’s done a lot for Maun. I think he’s been here about ten years now. The place has changed. People know the police are on the job now. It’s good.”
Delly stood up, and got them two more beers from the fridge though Dambuza’s was only half done. “What can you tell me about Baleka and Les?”
“I met Baleka a handful of times. Mostly she was here trying to get some money from Les. But I liked her. She seemed focused and serious. She’s quite well known as a goat farmer. Good mother.”
“He’s a hard enough worker, plays hard too. One of those who lives in the moment types. Lots of friends. I always hoped Baleka and Les might marry. It’s time he grows up a bit if you ask me. ”
“Could he be a killer?”
“Les?” Delly laughed. “Nope. Not Les, no need to go down that road.”
Dambuza finished the last of his first beer. “In any case, I’ll speak with him tomorrow.”
“I could take you out there if you want. I’ve got nothing going. Two safari groups out until the weekend and no new ones until Monday. I’d like to see how the search is going. Maybe I could help.”
“Yeah, fine. That’ll be a big help, I don’t know my way around this side of the country.”
“So born and bred in Francistown then?” Delly stretched her long legs, clad in knee length khaki shorts, out across the sturdy coffee table.
“Ee, that’s me. So where are you from originally?”
“South Africa. But nothing there anymore. I’m a Motswana now.”
A loud roar came in through the open glass wall. Dambuza jumped, his head whipping toward the river. Delly laughed. “It’s nothing. They’re fighting. A young male is trying to take over Kgosi’s place. They’ve been at it off and on for about two weeks now.”
Bob came walking toward them, still half asleep, woke up by the fight. He looked around, saw Dambuza and laid his big block head on his lap for a moment for the prerequisite pats and then lumbered back. He climbed into a dog basket in the corner of the room by a large double bed, and immediately fell asleep.
“So is this common?” Dambuza asked concerned looking back out over the river.
“Has been. They’ll sort it out one way or another. One will move off or be stubborn and get itself killed. Come let’s watch. A good hippo fight is nice.” She headed for the veranda with her beer and sat down on a low kgotla chair.
Dambuza followed carefully. He sat down next to Delly in a matching low wooden chair. Now that he was nearer he could see there was a fence between the river and the house, but it seemed fragile when compared with the two monsters going at it in the river. Water splashed as they pushed and knocked against each other, their mouths wide open showing massive, thick incisors, as thick as Dambuza’s upper arm. The smaller hippo was bleeding from the side of its mouth and the bigger one seemed to lack energy for a fight.
“Ma? Ma you around?”
Dambuza heard the call and turned to see Nana walking through the door from the office. She grabbed a plastic chair from the corner and a beer from the fridge and joined them on the veranda.
“Hey Dambuza, nice to see you again.” She bent down and kissed Delly on the forehead. “So Willy and Kgosi are at it again.”
“When did the intruder become Willy?” Delly asked indignantly.
“Oh, are you taking Kgosi’s side then? What about the unobtrusive observer you say all of us who enter the bush need to be?” Nana teased.
“This is not exactly the bush, Kgosi is a friend, we live together basically. And besides us old guys need to stick together.” Delly laughed her always ready hearty laugh that brought Bob to her side. He rested his head on her lap and she ran her hand over it. “So how’s work?”
“Work is crazy. Politics got to me, so I told them I needed to see a client and bunked off for the afternoon. I hoped you’d be here.”
“What kind of politics?” Delly asked.
“My mother has entered detective mode,” Nana said to Dambuza. “You ought to hire this one. She’d solve all of your cold cases. Can’t leave anything alone until she has the answer.”
“I have a feeling it has to do with Mr. Smooth Pants,” Delly said.
“Ma, that’s not fair. Hamilton is lovely. Don’t you think so Dambuza?”
“Please don’t get me involved,” Dambuza begged holding his hands in the air.
“Fine, be that way. Just when I thought you were a good guy,” Nana said. Dambuza hoped she was only joking. “Yes, Mommy Dearest, it does have to do with Hamilton. I think he’s lovely, and we’re…. you know, having a bit of fun, nothing serious. God knows I cannot do serious right now, but then we have Portia-the-Pain.”
“And who is Portia-the-Pain?” Delly turned to Dambuza. “One thing you must know about my daughter Dambuza, is her whole life takes place on the stage. If it is not physically there she moves it there, and we all become characters in the play called Her Life.”
“Mother! That’s unfair….” She considered it for awhile. “Well sort of unfair I guess.”
“Go on, we want to know all about Portia-the-Pain,” Delly said.
“You saw her at the thingy. The one who called Hamilton when we were having fun. You remember her?”
“The blonde, tough-ish, mouth like a bullet?” Delly asked.
“Yeah that’s her. Portia Delaney. Apparently she is some very important person in HIV/AIDS circles. Very serious. Brainy. She like runs 10 kms every morning, like some exercise Nazi. She’s Hamilton’s partner in the lab. He’s assured me they are only business partners, but she obviously didn’t get the memo. She has been in my face since Hamilton and I started seeing each other. So today she finds Hamilton in my office, well… you know… in a slightly awkward moment…”
“Were you having sex with your boss at work?” Delly asked.
“No! Mother! We were kissing. Actually he was kissing me goodbye. He’s off to America for a few days. Any way PP enters without knocking and blammo! She goes all rule-book.”
“And what did your boss say?”
“He tried to calm her down. He walked with her out of the office and they were still talking when I made my getaway. He’ll sort it out, but I was just tired of the crap. Human beings! So complicated!” Nana turned to Dambuza and despite all rational thoughts to the contrary his stomach jumped. “It’s all crap isn’t it Dambuza? I mean we’re human beings we have attractions. Let’s just get over the drama.”
She put her hand on his knee and he feared for a moment that things may reinforce her point in a very visual way. He moved his beer strategically and pointed to the river. “Look they’re at it again.”
Everybody turned to the hippos fight and for a moment Nana’s hand on his leg was not the focus for every nerve in his body.
“You know, Dambuza, I like you. We should go out for a beer sometime. I usually hang out at Chuck’s on the mall. Let’s meet up. How’s about tomorrow?” Nana asked.
Dambuza found looking at the scary wild animals in the river far more comforting than looking at Nana who appeared to be asking him out on a date. His mouth spoke without instruction from his head. “Okay… yeah sure.”
All three continued watching the hippos fighting it out down below them. Dambuza let the silence calm his insides, which were jumping up and down in celebration.
“It’ll be sad if Kgosi loses and has to move off. He’s been here for almost twenty years now. But nature doesn’t tolerate weakness,” Delly said.
They watched the fight go on for a quarter of an hour longer until finally the younger hippo gave up, at least for the day. Dambuza had a feeling he would be coming back. The changing of the guard seemed an almost certainty.