“I can hear them. They’re coming,” George whispered in Baleka’s ear as she lay on the bed. She looked up at the high window and it was still dark. They never came for them in the dark. She suspected it was early morning, maybe three or four but couldn’t be sure.
George also knew it was odd. “Maybe they’re bringing Phatsimo back.”
Baleka kept quiet. She knew that was doubtful. She’d been gone seven days. She had either been let out or she died. They hadn’t been to take either one of them since they took Phatsimo out. Baleka thought maybe Phatsimo died and now they had far too many human bits to sell for their muti, they didn’t need to take their blood and pieces of their flesh.
The footsteps came closer. They were definitely two people. They were coming closer and they were coming for one of them. Baleka stood up readying herself.
The door opened. The taller one entered first. Baleka knew now, since she’d grabbed him that day, that he was a Motswana and he was a man. A married Motswana man. Baleka stood in the shadow under the window. The man said nothing but looked around. George was there, but he had no interest in him. He’d come for Baleka but couldn’t see her.
George asked, “When are you bringing Phatsimo back?”
The man said nothing. The shorter one behind had locked the door. The two captors looked at each other. Baleka could tell they couldn’t see her. The shorter one reached for the chain of the one bulb in the long room and turned it on. As soon as the light came on, Baleka spoke in Setswana. “How can you do this to your own people? You’re dirt!”
“Voetsek you bitch!” the man spat out.
“Shut up!” the shorter one said. Now Baleka knew. As she suspected, the shorter one was a woman, and a foreigner. Every bit of information was important. Baleka knew it would help her, help her to survive, to escape.
The man came forward with the cloth and Baleka kicked him hard between the legs many times. Her feet hit his legs and his arms as he tried to use them to protect himself. He bent over in pain but still managed to hold her arms tightly. The woman took only seconds to grab the cloth from the man’s hand and push it over Baleka’s mouth then everything went black.
Dambuza and Delly went back to her house. They’d spoken with the university administration and apparently the human foetus in Renet’s lab belonged to the department. They had nothing on the man yet, but Dambuza knew he was hiding something. And like Delly had said, he was very creepy.
It had been a scorching hot day, the kind Maun had in numbers during the long summer. The sun had set and the cool breeze coming off the river blew across the veranda like a welcomed gift. Delly had one of the prime spots in Maun. When she got it shortly after coming to Maun, she’d been out in the bush. Now the town had grown to meet her.
“I think he was sleeping with that woman. I bet it,” Delly said. “He was lying.”
“Maybe…By the way, I was going to ask you when you managed to open your private investigating firm.”
Delly looked at him. “That fucker wanted to bully me. I needed a plan, that’s the plan that came to me. Sue me. Anyway, who’s to say I don’t have a private investigating firm?”
“Well, one thing I can say, there was indeed some lying going on in that office, that’s one thing I can say with certainty, and it wasn’t only coming from the good doctor.”
“So what do you think? Is he involved?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t like the guy. Arrogant, ugly, and rude all in one package, just doesn’t seem fair.” Dambuza finished his beer. Delly got up to get another one and Dambuza raised his hand to stop her. “Nope, I’m off.”
“Off to where?”
Delly laughed and Bob woke up in the corner and howled twice and fell back down to sleep. “You? To church? You don’t seem like the church going type.”
“We all have to start somewhere.”
It’d been almost two weeks since Dambuza had last visited the Spiritual Awakening Church and those two weeks had been a time of transformation. The walls of the church had all been plastered and painted a golden yellow. Glass had been fitted in the windows and the window frames painted white. A new face brick stop nonsense wall encircled the plot with a wrought iron gate at the front. Yes, business was good in the God business.
Plenty of cars were parked in the plot and Dambuza could hear he was late. Voices sang from inside and, from the sound, he suspected the place was packed. He slipped in and stood at the back. The place couldn’t even be recognised as the same church. Inside, the walls had been plastered and electric lights and ceiling fans were installed. There were rows and rows of new benches, but even those were not enough to hold the gathering. People lined the walls and sat at the front. The place was overflowing.
Reverend Tladi stood at the front. Next to him stood a shorter, smartly dressed, middle aged white woman. As the music died down Reverent Tladi moved to the pulpit. He spoke in Setswana which he immediately translated into English for his guest.
“Welcome my sisters and brother. I am warm in my heart to see how many of you have come to pray for the vanished ones. We live in fear in Maun. Evil walks among us. We do not know who they are, but know they are here. Do not doubt that. They live with us. Only God can keep us safe, only God can keep us from joining the vanished ones. Let us pray.”
He prayed and Dambuza looked around. He saw MmaShorty at the front. In the middle was Phatsimo’s mother. Even Les was in the crowd. Everyone was hoping God would find their lost loved ones.
“I want to introduce our guest who really needs no introduction. Church members know her as our mother.” The crowd answered back with a hail of Hallelujahs and Amens. “For those new to the church, this is Mma Johnson. She has come back to us to help us in our fight.”
Dambuza looked up at the woman. She waved her hands at the crowd, her fingers heavy with rings of gold and diamonds. She’d come back, Dambuza suspected, not to fight evil and help find the disappeared people but because the money was rolling in and she didn’t want to miss the gravy train-but then he was suspicious by nature.
Dambuza tried to stay hidden behind people. He didn’t want Tladi to know he was there. The good Reverend moved to the side and let the American woman speak, while he translated into Setswana. She piled on more about the evil and the saving by God. Stoke up the fear, show them where to be safe, get them dependent. Dambuza had to admit she was good.
Dambuza was just about to leave when the collection baskets came out. The congregation sang while the baskets were passed. Dambuza was shocked. People who looked as if they hardly had a Pula to their names were pulling out pink P200 notes and dropping them in the basket. The collection men carried the full baskets to the front and dumped the money on a table. Reverend Tladi pushed the cash into a big bin at the end of the table.
Dambuza slipped out of the service before it ended, he didn’t want to be spotted. He stopped at Chuck’s on the way home. It was a Tuesday night so the crowd was thin. Dambuza got a beer and a shot and sat at the end of the bar in the shadows to watch a repeat of a Zebras game.
After some minutes a woman came up next to him. “Anyone sitting here?”
“No.” Dambuza could tell she was not just looking for a place to sit, she wanted that bar stool, despite the fact there was almost a bar full of empty ones. He looked back at the TV.
She ordered a Hunter’s and poured it in a glass. “You new here?”
“Yep.” Dambuza turned to her. She looked about 35, a rough 35 trying to cover the bumpiness of life with far too much make-up. She wore a low cut, tight fitting shirt and a push-up bra that was doing serious overtime. He went back to looking at the TV.
He knew this woman. He’d met her a hundred times before. They were in bars all over Botswana, maybe all over the world. They were not bad women, they were playing a game. She was just testing if he was playing it too. It would be easy. God knew he could use the relief. Sex had made an exit from his life since he’d moved to Maun.
He’d heard nothing from Nana since their date on Friday. In a way he was thankful. It was too much. He was feeling too much. Right now he needed numbness. His life was upside down. He missed his kids and, despite the fact that he told himself he didn’t give a shit about Bontle, he did. He missed her. She’d been a constant in his life for as long as he could remember. Now where she was supposed to be was empty and he felt lost, drifting away without his anchor. When he thought of her with someone else he became furious. Just the thought that someone else was touching her body drove him wild with fury. He had enough emotions from all sides of the spectrum, the only thing he needed was a tall, cold, glass of numb.
He called the bartender over. “Bring another shot and a beer for me and whatever the lady’s having.”
“Well thanks, baby.” When the bartender set their drinks on the counter, she picked up her pink shot and held it up to Dambuza’s whiskey. “Cheers!”
They downed them and she smiled. “So what’s your name?”
“Dambuza, Dambuza Chakalisa.”
Just then the door at the front opened. Hamilton Ride walked in with his arm around Nana’s shoulders. Dambuza quickly looked away. He hit his shot glass on the bar and the bartender filled it up. He looked at Nana but she couldn’t see him. She stood behind Hamilton as he ordered drinks at the far end of the bar. Her body pressed against his, her arms wrapped around his waist.
“What’s your name?” Dambuza asked the woman next to him.
“Tebogo. But my friends call me Tebby. If you want you can call me Tebby.” She drank another pink shot and then sipped at her Hunter’s.
Dambuza kept quiet as he watched Hamilton and Nana move to a table around the corner where he couldn’t see them anymore. Another whiskey shot maybe two and he’d be about where he needed to be, Dambuza thought. He watched the game and drank his whiskey.
He was sure that was all he needed to get through the night. In the end, he was wrong on both counts. It took five more shots to get him to the place he needed and the whiskey was not going to be enough.
“So Tebby, how about we go to my house for drinks. This place is getting crowded.”
Tebby looked around at the empty bar and laughed. “Okay… sure.”
The alarm went and the sound banged against the inside of Dambuza’s head like a hammer on a piece of iron. He sat up and waited as his parts recognised the new vertical position they were in before opening his eyes and letting in the blast of light he was sure would send another spike through his brain. His guest was gone. Thankfully, Tebby had insisted she had to bring her own car as she had to work in the morning and slipped away in the early hours.
He downed a Grand-pa with half a beer and stumbled to the shower. As the water beat against his face he wondered if he had a gene that dictated that he would be a fuck-up. Maybe he was fighting a losing battle. Perhaps everything had been set the moment his father’s sperm met his mother’s egg. You couldn’t mess with genetics, and you couldn’t be blamed either. If that wasn’t the case, why did he keep doing the same thing over and over like a hamster on a metal wheel? Couldn’t he just step off?
He kept seeing Nana hugging Hamilton. Even though she said he wasn’t her type, he certainly seemed her type the night before. Why had he even got himself in the position that he cared who Nana’s type was? He wasn’t Nana’s type. He knew that the first day he saw her, how had he forgotten? And besides, he was fucked-up. He didn’t need anyone like Nana. He needed Tebbys -a long, long line of Tebbys one after another. He wanted no feeling. Tebbys let him coast. But Bontles and Nanas were another story. They pushed his emotional buttons and sent him to the place where all he was were feelings. No Bontles, no Nanas. That was his new policy. He hoped he’d stick to it.
He wiped himself off and threw on some clothes. He felt refreshed. He had a new plan and he was backdating it so today was day two of Operation No Feelings. Good. He drank a cup of coffee with a beer chaser, brushed his teeth and left for work.
He decided he needed to head back to Makalamabedi. He needed to speak to Tiny Thebeetsile’s family. Maybe they knew something about her relationship with Dr Renet. He asked around once he was in the village and got directions to the compound. It had three small cement houses. He saw a broken car at the back of the plot. When he pulled up a woman came out of the house. She looked about forty, dressed in a letaise and a doek.
“Dumela Rra,” she said when he entered the yard. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, is this the compound for Tiny Thebeetsile?” Dambuza asked.
“Who is asking?”
“I’m Detective Dambuza from the Maun Police.”
She went in the house to fetch some chairs. When she came out she was followed by a very old woman, hunched over and walking with a stick. “This is my mother-in-law, Tiny’s mother,” the woman said.
They pulled the chairs out of the hot sun and sat down. “I wonder what the police want about Tiny. They said the lion got her. We had a funeral,” the old woman said as if speaking to herself.
“I’m just trying to clear up a few issues.” Dambuza had no interest in reopening wounds that were starting to heal. “Did you know a friend of Tiny’s, a white man from the university called Dr. Renet?”
The older woman nodded. “Ee, he’s a very good man. A good man.”
“Yes, he was Tiny’s friend. He came for the funeral. He gave my husband a lot of money to pay for things,” the younger woman said.
“Do you know what his relationship with Tiny was?”
“Do you mean were they lovers?” the younger woman asked and Dambuza nodded. “Tiny used to say that and we teased her about it. We thought she was talking nonsense. You know she was not well mentally so sometimes she said things that made no sense. We wondered what an educated, rich, white man would want with Tiny. But after the funeral we thought otherwise. The way he behaved. Maybe they were lovers, I don’t know. She spent a lot of time in Maun, we thought it was with that church of hers, maybe she was with him.”
“And the church?” Dambuza asked. “What did you think of it?”
“I went with her for a while. I liked that young priest, the black one, but those whites- no.”
The younger woman shook her head. The old woman spoke. “They’re greedy. They liked making you feel like if you don’t do what they say you’re going to hell. A lot of nonsense! I told Tiny the ancestors don’t like her being with those kinds of people. I even took her to Rre Khathurima to try and get her some help, to get her away from them. But he failed. They’re very strong those white people. Maybe they sent the lion when they heard Tiny might leave the church. They are powerful with their magic. Look how the people give them all of their money until they can’t even feed their children.”
Dambuza left the two women and started heading back to Maun but then thought twice and turned back to the village. He wanted to speak to the traditional doctor again. He wanted to hear if he’d learned anything else about Tiny and Dr Renet during the sessions he had with Tiny. Or even something else that might help the case.
When he pulled up to the shady compound the doctor was already waiting at the gate. “Policeman, you are here.”
“Yes, I wondered if you had any time to talk to me or were you on your way somewhere?”
“No, I was waiting for you.”
Dambuza felt a chill run through his body when the doctor said that. He followed the old man into the consultation hut. “Have you found them yet?” the doctor asked.
“Time is going. You must find them. They will soon all be dead.”
Dambuza didn’t want to believe that Khathurima had special powers that let him see things others couldn’t but how did he know Dambuza was coming to him? But then Dambuza reminded himself that news travelled quickly in small villages. The doctor likely knew Dambuza was around.
“I understand one of the missing, Tiny Thebeetsile, came to you for help before she disappeared.”
He nodded his head, closing his eyes as if trying to remember. “Her mother brought her, she was the one wanting help. Tiny was happy. She didn’t need anything from me.”
“You spoke to her about her church.” Dambuza was trying to get information that the doctor seemed unwilling to part with.
“Did she tell you anything that might help us find her?”
“No, you can’t find her, she’s dead.”
“Yes, I know there was a funeral and the family believe she was killed by lions….”
“No, no lions,” the doctor interrupted.
“How do you know she’s dead?”
Dambuza was getting annoyed. “Perhaps you know because you’re involved. Many doctors use human parts to make powerful medicines. Is that it then Rre Khathurima? Is this why you know so much about this case?”
The doctor smiled. “You’re frustrated. You can’t find these people. That’s fine. I will accept that. There are doctors who do as you say, but I’m not one of them. Spend your time finding that answer to the wrong question, but it will be a waste. Wasted time is what you don’t need right now.”
Dambuza sat back against the low chair he’d been given. “Do you know anything about the white man Tiny was seeing?”
“They were lovers. Her troubled mind was finally settled and then she was taken.”
“Did she tell you that?”
“Not exactly, but I knew. But didn’t you come to ask me about the church?”
Again Dambuza was caught off guard. “Yes. Was Tiny going to leave the church?”
“I doubt it, she believed them. They have a powerful pull for people who are weak.”
“Do you think the church is involved in these disappearances?”
“I can’t say. I see nothing in my dreams. It could be anyone.” The doctor suddenly reached forward, his eyes focussed, and grabbed Dambuza’s arm. “I told your white friend, they’re dangerous and they are close. You must be vigilant. And you must hurry. They will not last much longer.”
Dambuza shot to his feet as soon as the old man let go of his arm. He rushed to his car and sped away from the village. He wanted to get away from Makalamabedi and back to Maun.
As he drove back to Maun his hangover tried to regroup and his head pounded. He tried to concentrate on pulling all of the connections together. Was the church somehow involved? Could they really kill people to make money for the church? It seemed impossible but then money was a common, powerful motive for murder.
Something was up with Renet too, but his only connection was to Tiny. Dambuza reminded himself he still had no solid reason to think the disappearances were linked. Maybe he had five cases not one. But what was Renet sleeping with Tiny for, an uneducated village woman? And then what was this doctor on about? Was Delly in some sort of danger?
Just then his phone rang, it was Delly. “Dambuza, I’m out ferrying tourists to South Gate and guess who I just spotted?”
“I don’t know, who?”
“Renet! Creeping around in the bush like some weirdo. Meet me about fifty kilometres along the road in about an hour- I think we should follow him.”
Dambuza hung up but wondered if Delly’s new image of herself as a private investigator had not gone to her head. Now she was following suspects.
By the time Dambuza found Delly’s Land Rover parked at the side of the road, the sun was setting. He was sure they were wasting their time. He parked the Corolla which settled itself with an unhealthy sounding rattle and climbed into the Land Rover next to Delly. She had her binoculars out and was staring into the bush.
“He’s burying something,” Delly said keeping her eyes firmly on her suspect. “He’s been at it for more than an hour.”
“You have been sitting here watching him all that time?”
She put the binoculars down and looked at him. “Sure, I’m on stakeout.”
“A stakeout?” Dambuza took the binoculars. Renet was out there and he was digging. He seemed to be digging all over and then covering the holes up. Dambuza put the binoculars down. “I think he’s looking for bugs. Let’s go.”
“Nope. Yeah, now he’s doing that, but I’m telling you for about an hour he was digging a big hole and then covering it up. A grave, I bet.”
“Okay, Delly, I think you need to chill a bit. It would mean he brought a dead body out here in broad daylight. Even an inexperienced killer wouldn’t do that. You seem to have watched a lot of detective movies, I would have thought you’d have picked up on that.”
She ignored his jibes. “Maybe. Or maybe he thought nobody would expect him to do that so he did it. Reverse psychology. So now- what do we do?”
“Why don’t we walk over there and ask him what he’s doing?” Dambuza suggested and Delly’s enthusiasm took a dive. “So what now you want car chases and gun fights?”
“Not really… well, maybe a car chase.”
“In these heaps of ours?” Dambuza asked.
They locked up the cars and started walking towards Renet. Without the binoculars, Renet was much further away than Dambuza had expected. Deep in the bush where the snakes and the other wild animals were waiting with empty stomachs. “Don’t you have a gun in the Rover?”
“They don’t let us have guns. It’s the law. What about you? Police must have a gun somewhere.”
“Only in a locked cabinet back at the station. It’s the law. I guess if we don’t get eaten by lions, we’ll get killed by the criminals.”
“Comforting thought.” They walked a bit further and Delly said, “But lions won’t trouble us here. It’s elephants we need to keep our eyes open for.”
Great, Dambuza thought. Trampled to death by an elephant Dambuza suspected was one of the worst kinds of deaths. He could just see Renet through a patch of trees ahead. He was still busy with his shovel, but Dambuza couldn’t see exactly what he was doing. There seemed to be a long case of some sort on the ground and Renet kept bending down and doing something in it.
When they came out of the patch of trees Dambuza stepped on a stick that cracked loud enough for Renet to hear. He looked up and saw them. He immediately bent down to close the case and then stood with his shovel waiting. He was far too arrogant to run.
When they got up to him, he said nothing just looked at them with his empty eyes. Dambuza could see that Delly was right. He had dug quite a long trench and then filled it back up again. There were also several smaller holes recently dug and refilled. There was no pattern to the holes. The case he’d been fiddling with was very long, much like a wooden tool box, with six small drawers at the front. Dambuza could see it was closed tightly and padlocked.
“So Dr. Renet, what a strange place for us to happen upon you,” Dambuza said.
“I could say the same for you. I think you’re following me,” Renet said.
“What are digging out here?” Delly asked. Renet ignored her.
Dambuza could see a university vehicle parked behind some low bushes. It looked like it had been parked so as to be hidden. “Could I borrow your shovel, Doctor?”
“No.” Renet held the shovel with two hands.
“You can continue to be uncooperative but you’re not making any friends. I can get a shovel and dig up what you buried. Or you can tell me and we all go home nice-nice,” Dambuza said.
“This is my work. Why do you want to interfere with it?” Renet snapped.
Delly moved closer and looked at the case. “The question is -what is your work?”
“You know my work- don’t play at being stupid. I really don’t know what this old woman wants here.” He started walking to his car with the shovel.
Delly made to go after him but Dambuza held her back.
“Open the case,” Dambuza said. He knew he had no authority to force him to do it but hoped a foreigner instructed by a police officer to do something might be enough, though it hadn’t worked with the shovel.
“No, there is nothing in there you need to see.”
“Why lock it if it’s only bugs?” Delly asked while walking toward it. Renet was still at the car so took a moment to get back to guard his case. By then Delly had opened the drawers at the front. The lock was only for the bigger middle part. In the drawers were vials with insects in. Maybe he was telling the truth, Dambuza thought, but if he was, why was he being so troublesome?
“Why did you say you hardly knew Tiny Thebeetsile?” Dambuza asked.
Renet was on the ground closing the drawers in his case and then he lifted the heavy box and struggled to get it in the back of the vehicle. Once done he turned to Dambuza. “I don’t need to tell you anything.”
Dambuza walked over to where Renet stood and moved closer and closer toward him as he spoke. “I’ve always hated a coward. A man who beats a woman is a coward and, worst still, when he beats his own woman, the one he claims to love and protect. Did you beat Tiny until you killed her? Is that why you felt so fucking guilty you emptied your pockets out at Makalamabedi? Is that it, you piece of trash?”
By the time he was through, he had Renet by the neck and was pushing his head into the side of the van. Delly rushed in just before Dambuza started bouncing Renet’s head off the metal.
“Okay, I think he gets it,” she said removing Dambuza’s fingers from around Renet’s neck. Red marks, preparing to turn purple, were left behind.
Delly pulled Dambuza away and Renet quickly packed up his van and sped off through the bush.
“What was that about?” Delly asked.
Dambuza shook his head. He didn’t know. He never knew where that anger came from, but when it came he had little control over it. It frightened him. It made him feel weak; a real man can control himself, he doesn’t lose his head like that. He sat down on a rock. It was getting dark now, they needed to go, he thought vaguely.
“I have a couple shovels and a torch in the car. You want to do some digging? It might wear off a bit of that excess energy you got?” Delly asked.
Dambuza nodded but stayed sitting. Delly pulled out her pocket torch and headed to the car. Dambuza felt weak from the sudden adrenaline rush. His head was pounding and what he really needed was a beer, not to be out here shovelling in the dark.
“Here.” Delly handed him a shovel. “I think we should start on the big one.”
They both started digging as the heavy orange moon whitened and rose in the sky. Soon they didn’t even need the torch the moon was so bright. They dug for about a half hour and found nothing. “Maybe the asshole was telling the truth,” Dambuza said.
“Don’t speak so quickly. What the hell is this?” Delly held her shovel out for Dambuza to see.
He grabbed the torch from where they’d dropped it and shown a light on the soil on her shovel. There was something in there. He pushed the soil to the side and then he saw it. It was a finger and it was from a human.
“He killed her, the sonofabitch. He killed Tiny,” Delly said. “And then he cut her up and buried her out here.”