Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chapters 15 and 16- The Vanishings

Chapter 15
Dambuza and Nana drove out to Audi Camp to get away from the weekend mall madness. Unfortunately it looked like others had the same idea and the outdoor bar was full of a bunch of local expatriates, the whites who controlled most of the safari companies in Maun. Mostly South Africans of a hunting persuasion with little time for such concepts as “local empowerment” or “community involvement”. They wanted one thing from Maun and the pristine Okavango Delta- as much money as they could get as quickly as possible.

When Nana and Dambuza arrived, the bar became quiet. They all knew Nana since she was Delly’s daughter. Though Nana was not completely white, she was still part of their club thanks to Delly and seeing her with a black man was something they didn’t care much for; they tried their best to hide it.  

“Hiya Nana, didn’t know you were back?” a huge red faced man with white hair and a massive stomach said.

“Yeah Venter I’m back. See you and the boys are having some fun,” Nana said.

“Sure why not? It’s a Friday.”

Nana kept walking ignoring the others, making her way down toward the pool where it was quieter. Dambuza looked over the crowd. He knew they were the sort that didn’t care to have a black man in their midst. He noticed a man sitting alone at the edge of the open bar, hiding in the shadows. He was white but not part of the boisterous group, middle aged with thinning hair that lay plastered with sweat to his head. He sat stiffly with his arms at his side a half empty glass of beer in front of him. He stared straight ahead.

“Who’s that one all alone?” Dambuza asked Nana who turned and looked.

“Don’t know him; he must be new around here. An odd ball from the looks of him.”

“Greet your mum!” Venter shouted after them as they made their way to the farthest point from the bar.

They found a table down the steps next to the pool and the waitress came to take their drinks order. Dambuza could see Nana was upset. “God I hate that crowd! And so does Mum.”

“Sorry. If you want, we can go somewhere else,” Dambuza offered.

“Are you kidding? They’d win then. We’re staying put. I just get so furious with all of their crap.”

“What do you mean?” Dambuza didn’t know Maun well enough to understand the unspoken dynamics but he thought he might have a clue about what she was on about. 

“They’re a bunch of racist pricks, that’s what. They think they own this town, a town in Botswana, imagine? It’s their little apartheid.  Mum hates their guts. They keep getting concessions because they bribe everyone they need to. If you’re a civil servant in Maun and you have anything to do with tourism, you might come here clean, but you are leaving this place dirty, or you’ll be fired... or dead. These people don’t joke.”

Dambuza had heard about the corruption in Maun, but since he never expected to be here he hadn’t given it much notice. “Who cares what they think? Ignore them.” He tried to change the subject. “Nice insight on the politics at Hope Institute back there at your little party.”

“Yeah, now you’ve seen the strings. Every place has politics.” She took a sip of her beer and sighed. “I was surprised the way Gopolong spoke about Portia. From what I see they’re pretty good friends.  Every time I see her he’s tagging along behind her. Maybe he’s hoping to bask in her glory.  Anyway, I haven’t been there very long, I don’t know all of the games being played.”

“I like Neo.”

“Ee...yeah, she’s great. My bud. We went to school together. She’s brilliant, always top of the class, top at university. Amazing woman actually. And she has such a stake in this project. Her little sister died of AIDS. It was truly awful.”

They sat under the stars, the craziness of the bar almost completely silenced by the small hill between it and where Dambuza and Nana sat. They ate dinner, bream and steamed veggies, and shared a hot fudge sundae.

“So when are you going to tell me about your father? Was he a black Motswana?” Dambuza asked.

Nana sat back in her chair and looked up at the sky. “Can you see Orion?”

Dambuza looked up and saw only stars. Nana pointed the main stars of Orion out to him. “Mum taught me all that. She knows everything- almost.”

Dambuza waited then tried again. “I feel like you want to dodge my question, like it’s a secret.”

“You know what Dambuza, that’s Mum’s story to tell, you ask her.”

Dambuza had already asked her and Delly dodged him too. Another mystery he had no answer to. They were piling up.

“How’s your case going?” Nana said changing the subject.

“Not so great, but I’m trying. I got to catch a break soon. I’ve never had such terrible luck before.”

“Do you think they’re all dead? The disappeared people?”

Dambuza didn’t want to think that, but he did. He thought they were dead. “Maybe.” He put his hand of Nana’s. “Let’s go.”

Nana leaned forward and kissed him gently on the lips. “Where to?”

“I was going to take you home. Wasn’t that the plan?”

She kissed him again. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to take much more of that.  “You want to sleep over?” she asked.

“What happened to fun and lightness?”

“Nothing happened to fun and lightness. We can still have fun and lightness if you sleep over at my house.”

Dambuza so wanted to agree. He wanted to think that he could sleep with Nana and he’d be just fine. They’d sleep together and he wouldn’t mind her seeing Hamilton. They’d be lovers but he wouldn’t start picturing their future together. He wanted to see a Dambuza that could sleep with her and still remain her friend, expecting nothing else, nothing more. But every time he tried to see it, the outlines wouldn’t form. It was just a haze of wants, not able to get situated into firm reality. He knew what would happen if they slept together. He might not be his own friend, as Bontle loved to parrot, but he did have a passing acquaintance with himself,  and that was enough to know that he couldn’t sleep with Nana. He was already falling in love with her, and sleeping with her would very likely kill him.

“I don’t think I can,” Dambuza finally said. “I can play at your game, I can pretend- but making love to you would put an end to that. So let’s just act like everything is just like you say it is. Fun and lightness. Deal?”

Nana sat back in her chair and looked at him for a long time without saying anything. “Dambuza you are one complex man. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone like you.”

“I’m positive I’ve never met someone like you, so I think we’re about even.”

Chapter 16
Like usual, Tito was already at his desk busy at the computer when Dambuza arrived. Dambuza sat down and took out his notebook paging through it while his boss finished up what he was doing. It was a notebook of failure as far as the case was concerned.

No leads on any of the missing people. A traditional doctor who could be involved but no evidence to say he was. A church minister making a killing- more each time another one disappeared and, coincidentally, has a personal connection with each of the missing people. A boyfriend who seems completely innocent. He had got nowhere on his first case and he was not looking forward to telling his boss that. He’d had the case for two weeks and had basically nothing to update Tito on.

Tito closed his computer. “I can see from you face things aren’t going very well.”

“Yeah that’s about it, I have a bit though. I know the young girl, Phatsimo is not with the boyfriend in South Africa. Her mother has spoken to him; he calls her to ask if the girl has been found.”

“That doesn’t mean anything really. He could be doing it to get us off his trail.”

“Yes, but I don’t think so. He left the village before the girl even left the house and he was with others. I spoke to some of the others and they confirm straight from the girl’s house they left for Gaborone.”

Tito sat back in his chair. “Anything else?”

Dambuza told his boss what he’d done so far and how nothing seemed solid. “I’m not even sure these cases are related, it’s only a gut feeling that tells me they are.”

“I have that same gut feeling. Follow up on that minister. It’s funny that he knows all of the missing people. I’ve found in my career there is nothing like a coincidence. Anything else?”

“There is a guy at UB. But I really don’t know…”

“What is it?”

“Delly suggested I check this guy out. He’s odd and apparently knows one of the missing people.” Dambuza paged through his notebook. “He’s called Claude Renet.”

“Claude Renet? Why is that name sounding familiar?” Tito opened his computer. Others had told Dambuza that their station commander was a computer whiz. He’d made a database of all of their cases, witnesses, victims, perpetrators. Very efficient and handy. “Yes… I knew it sounded familiar. He’s new around here right?”

“Ee, he arrived last year in February. Why has he had police problems?”

“Yes, in fact he has. Twice we had complaints about him moving around in the bush at night. It’s not a crime but people just wondered what he was up to. On both occasions officers visited him. And on both occasions they stated that he seemed to be hiding something. He told them he was searching for insects; apparently he’s an insect researcher….an entomologist.  French it says here. But there is another case. It looks like Mr Renet has an interest in our local women. He had a girlfriend, quite younger than him. She stayed at his house. He beat her up. Quite badly. We couldn’t prosecute because the woman dropped the charges.”

“Okay… he’s getting more interesting by the moment. Maybe I need to check him out.”

“Yes, I think that’d be a good idea.”
On his way out the door of the station Dambuza got a call from Delly. She asked if she could ride with to the university. She had a feeling about this guy. Dambuza agreed and collected her on the way.

At the university, they asked the watchman at the gate where they could find Claude Renet and were directed to a building toward the back of the campus. As they walked toward the building they could see the door was open and Dambuza saw the man inside sitting at the desk. He looked familiar. Then he remembered- he was the man sitting alone at Audi when Nana and he were there. The odd sweaty one.

“Koko!” Delly said.

The man at the desk looked up. He didn’t speak he just looked at them and Dambuza realised Delly had been right about his eyes. They were dead.

“Can we come in?” Delly asked.

Claude Renet nodded his head. Dambuza stepped inside the small office. It seemed to act as a combination office and laboratory. To the side were numerous bottles of chemicals and insects pinned to boards. “Dr Renet, I’m Detective Dambuza from the Maun Police.”

Renet nodded but still said nothing. When Delly looked at the papers he had open on his desk he moved them to the side and covered them with a book, face down.  “And her? Don’t you own the safari company?”

“Yes, I do,” Delly said.

“So what do you want here? Are you some sort of police officer now? A private investigator of some sort?”

Delly hesitated for only a moment. “Well, yes, in fact I am.”

Dambuza looked at her and said nothing. “Dr. Renet, we wanted to ask you a few questions.”

“I don’t know what you want with me now. Mary has dropped the case so you have nothing to talk to me about.”

For a moment Dambuza wondered what he meant and then remembered Mary was the name of the woman he nearly beat to death. “It’s not about that. We understand you know Tiny Thebeetsile.”

“Yes? So?” He was annoyed by their questions.

Dambuza was getting tired of this guy’s attitude and they hadn’t been in his office for more than a few minutes. They’d been standing because he never offered them a chair. Dambuza pulled two chairs from the lab bench and offered one to Delly and he sat on the other. “So she’s disappeared. Did you know that?”

“Yes. I’m very busy here, is there anything else?” He shifted some files on his desk.

“What did you and this woman have in common?” Delly asked.

Renet sneered at her. “I do not need to answer any questions from you.”

“Why you got something to hide?” Delly asked.

Renet looked away from her as if he heard nothing.  “I really am busy and I have an appointment in ten minutes so if you can go,” he said to Dambuza.

“No, I don’t think we will just yet.” Dambuza stood up and started looking at the bottles above the bench. They seemed to be specimens he’d gathered from the bush and kept in formaldehyde. There were large dung beetles and curled up millipedes. But there were other things that were not insects. One looked like a heart, maybe of a lion or another large animal. Dambuza moved down the line and then his eye caught something. “What’s this?”

Renet jumped up from his desk and came around to the lab bench grabbing the bottle from Dambuza’s hand and putting it back in its place on the shelf. “It’s mine, it is for research.”

Dambuza pushed him aside and took the bottle again. He carried it over to Delly. “What does that look like to you?”

Delly looked at it and looked up at Dambuza. “It looks like a human foetus.”

“Dr Renet,” Dambuza asked. “What does an entomologist do with a human foetus?”

Renet grabbed the jar back, but this time he held on to it. “I can’t explain the intricacies of my research to a layman like you. I want you to leave. I want you to leave now.”

“Okay fine,” Dambuza said. “You want to be a hard case, no problem. I can play it like that. But I can promise you we’ll be meeting again.”

Delly stood and followed Dambuza out the door. Renet shouted after them, “And don’t bring that old lady next time!”

They kept walking toward the parking lot. “I don’t like him,” Delly said.

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t seem to like you much either,” Dambuza said.

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