Dambuza sat at his desk going over the coroner’s report. When he looked up Neo was standing in the doorway. It had been four days since Gopolong beat her up and Dambuza was surprised she looked worse than she had that first night. Her lip was cut and still swollen, but the eye was what looked the worst. It was purple and green around the edge and her eye was still bloodshot from the blow.
“Neo,” Dambuza said as he got up to give her the good chair and he took the one with three legs. “Did you have a doctor look at that eye?”
“Yes, it’s okay, it just needs to visit every rainbow colour before it decides to heal.”
Dambuza smiled. At least she had her sense of humour back. “So how are you doing?”
“I’m fine actually. I’m back at work today, though I’m still staying by Nana’s.”
“I think it’s better you do for a while.”
“Yeah…well, actually I came to thank you. Delly told me what you did. You didn’t need to, I think he was pretty much done with me, but thanks,” she said.
“I had my own selfish motives for sorting him out. I don’t care for someone like him.” Dambuza stood up and the chair tried to fall over but he grabbed it in time. “Can I get you some coffee?”
“No, I just wanted to thank you. And… there’s something else actually.”
Neo got up and closed the office door. “Nana told me that she gave you the papers I had.”
“Papers?” At first, Dambuza didn’t know what she was referring to.
She lowered her voice even further. “The communications about the biological weapons.”
“Yes, yes she did. Do you really think it’s true? Could Hope Institute be a front for something like that?”
“I don’t know what to think. I wanted to find out, I knew that Gopolong was involved in something, and when I found those papers I got scared. But Nana wants to get Gopolong more than ever now. She’s positive he’s the one, that he’s Carl. But I’m worried. I think we all know now he’s a dangerous person. I told her, but she’s not listening. I’m worried even more now.”
“Nana wants to take everything to Portia. She thinks Hamilton and Gopolong are working together.” Dambuza remembered the day he saw Gopolong and Hamilton going to lunch, talking as if they were long time friends.
“But why would she think that was a good idea? If Hamilton and Portia are as close as they are, if one is in, they likely both are.”
Neo became more agitated. “I told her this, but she won’t listen. She’s decided Portia can help. She thinks maybe Portia already knows something and has been trying to get information from Gopolong. It’s crazy. I know Gopolong likes spending time with Portia, but I think he was just hoping they’d hook up. Portia is a straight arrow, she’s committed to fighting HIV, she would never allow anyone to destroy her dream... even Hamilton.”
Dambuza couldn’t believe Nana was being so reckless. Maybe she knew something she hadn’t told Neo. “Listen Neo, I’ll speak to her. There’s no need to rush everything. We need to know what’s going on first. This is a complicated thing, a dangerous thing. It looks like powerful people in the States could be involved if those emails are anything to go by. We need a lot more evidence before we make any moves. I’ll speak with her.”
Neo stood to go, at the door she turned to Dambuza and hugged him. “I know she’ll listen to you. She cares quite a lot about you, I hope you know that.”
After Neo left, he tried Nana’s cell but she didn’t pick up. He had an appointment at the morgue and would try her later.
“Manga, I wanted to see the guy who hung himself,” Dambuza said to the massive person that was the Maun coroner.
“Ya, he’s over here. I was just putting him away.” He waddled over to the metal table and zipped open the black bag with his fat sausage fingers. “They messed him up.”
“Messed him up? I thought he hung himself.”
The big man looked down at Dambuza. “Nope. He was hung up on the tree, but he was already dead. They crushed him with something; I think it might have been a car, if he was lucky. But they crushed everything in him. Then they hung him up on that tree like a Christmas decoration.”
Dambuza looked down at the dead man. So he hadn’t hung himself out of guilt, someone wanted him shut up for good. That put a different spin on everything. He looked familiar but Dambuza couldn’t place him right away. He seemed to be a professional thug like his friend Lebo, maybe he did a few jobs in Francistown. But that didn’t seem right. It was something else. Then he remembered- he had offered his car that day in Makalamabedi when they were organising a search party to go out and look for Baleka. He had been there!
What did it all mean? Pops killed Annah and then someone kills him? Why? Dambuza was positive Pops was involved in the disappearances. But there had to be others. Who were they and what did they want with these people? The only one who could tell him was Lebo. He needed to get to Lebo.
“Okay, thanks Manga,” Dambuza said and made to leave. Then he stopped and turned back. “When do you think this guy was killed?”
“This body’s pretty ripe. I’d say at least three days ago, more likely four.”
Dambuza stopped. Three days ago? That meant Pops was not Annah’s killer. Even if Dambuza had collected Pops that night he promised Annah he would, she would still be dead. That meant there was someone out there ready to kill anyone who got in his way and he knew now that they were closing in on him. Someone like that was very dangerous.
Lebo had obviously not been brought up-to-date with the latest information. He was acting a bit too cocky for someone with a target on his back. Dambuza sat across from him. “So how’s lockup, Lebo?”
The young man shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not nothing to me, I been in here before.”
“So that girl, the one you were trying to get, did you hear she’s dead?” Dambuza asked. He watched Lebo’s response. He seemed almost proud; maybe he thought his cohorts had his back.
“Now no witness, no case. Right?” he said.
“Yes, I think you’re right.” Dambuza waited, spinning a pen in a circle on the table. “You might find it a bit lonely outside though.”
“Oh? No one told you then?”
“Told me what?”
“Your pal, your buddy Pops, they found him out in the Delta.”
“Found him? What’s that mean? You arrest him or what?”
“No, he was hanging from a tree out there.”
“He killed himself?” Lebo asked not believing it.
“It looked that way,” Dambuza said.
Lebo hit the table with his hand. “No ways! Pops was not like that. You cops musta done it to him. I know how you people operate.”
“Like I said it looked like he hung himself, but he didn’t. Looks like the same people that killed our witness, must have killed your friend Pops.”
Lebo was slow, but soon he understood what was going on. Dambuza saw the shadow of fear pass through Lebo’s eyes, he pushed it away with false bravado. “And yeah… so, what’s that mean to me?” he asked, though he knew full well what that meant to him.
“Well.” Dambuza stood up. “I guess it doesn’t mean anything to you. But, like I said, without a witness, we don’t have a case against you. So you’re free to go. Let me call an officer to come and take off those cuffs and leg irons so you can be on your way.”
Dambuza waited for Lebo to make all of the connections he needed to.
“No! Let’s wait a minute. I don’t think we need to be in a hurry and all,” Lebo said. “You know maybe I can help you.”
“Help us? We’ve had you here for almost a week and you didn’t seem very keen on helping us. Why would you change your, mind now?”
“Yeah, but things change, eh?”
“Okay, Lebo, what do you have?” Dambuza sat back, crossed his arms, and waited.
“I… you know these people, they’re not joking around. I mean fuck, they killed Pops. They don’t care about nothing. Nobody means nothing to them. You must see what they do.”
“Who are these people, Lebo?”
“I don’t know the guy’s name. Pops organised everything, I was just helping out. But I’d know him if I saw him.”
Dambuza just wanted to confirm Renet was out. “You haven’t seen him in the cell with you?”
“No ways. You think I’d stay in a cell with that guy around. No, listen I can be a witness, when you collect him. Just keep me in here. Come on man, you know I’m dead if I walk out that door.”
“How many people did you collect for this guy?”
Lebo sat back, suddenly confidant. “Don’t I need a lawyer or something to make a deal before I speak?”
Dambuza jumped up and pulled Lebo from his chair banging him against the wall. “You want a fucking lawyer? Is that it? Just forget it then. Forget any deal. I can’t be messing around with you when people are dying out there. I think I’ll just let you out on the street and wait for the fucker to come and kill you. What about that? Now I want information and I want it now. I’m not fucking around. Now are you playing or not?”
Lebo nodded his head since the arm pressed across his neck ruled out speech.
Dambuza threw him back into his chair. “Now, how many people did you get for this man?”
“Were they alive or dead when you handed them over to him?”
“Alive, but the first one was hurt. We weren’t so good at capturing them at first. Maybe he died later. I don’t know.”
“How much did he pay you?”
“P1000, each of us for each person.”
“What was he doing with these people?”
“I don’t know.”
Dambuza reached across the table and grabbed Lebo’s shirt. “Don’t fuck me around, you piece of shit!”
“I mean it. I don’t know. Pops didn’t know either. No questions. That was part of it. No talking, we just give this guy the person, he gives us the money.”
“We’d meet him different places. Usually out of town. In the bush and stuff.”
“Where was he from? Is he from Maun?”
“Ga ke itse. I thought maybe, but I never seen him anywhere.”
Whoever it was he’d been smart to keep the information away from petty thugs like Lebo. “Okay, you stay locked up until we find the guy. We’ll see what happens after that. Anything you remember you tell me, only me. Don’t be flapping your lips in the cell or you’ll get yourself killed. People can get to others inside and money is a powerful motivator as you know. So keep it shut.”
A uniform took Lebo back to his cell. Dambuza knew all the information he’d got was getting him no closer to the killer. It would help if he could find him and Lebo could ID him, but how to find him? That was his problem.
Dambuza opened all of the windows and doors of his tiny house. Though the sun had gone down, it was still sweltering. Not a breeze in the air and no hint of the rain that might have cooled things down. He lay back on his sofa, sipping at a beer. His cellphone rang and he could see it was Bontle. They hadn’t spoken since he left her in his house that morning. He didn’t want to speak to her now, but he feared it might be something about the kids, so picked up.
“How are the kids?”
“They’re fine. I….”
“Listen, Bontle. I’m beat. I’m in the middle of a serious case and it is hotter than shit here. I really am not in the mood to get into everything. Not now.”
“Yeah…okay. I just wanted to check you were okay. I… I mean Dambuza I didn’t want things to go like that okay? I don’t know…maybe we can’t do anything else.”
“Bontle, please. When this is over, when I’m ready I’ll call, we can talk then. I promise. I just can’t do this now.”
He hung up. He only had so much energy and right now he needed every bit for this case. Somehow he felt time closing in on him. Were any of the missing people still alive? If they were, where the hell were they? If the guy wasn’t from Maun, they could be anywhere in the country, even over the border in Zimbabwe or Namibia. God knew what kind of suffering they were going through. If it was for muti, the belief was that the more the victim suffered, the more powerful the medicine made from the parts. Ears, fingers, eyeballs and private parts were routinely removed while the person was alive and conscious. Dambuza tried not to think about that.
Shocked out of his morbid thought, Dambuza sat up and saw Delly at the door. She’d never been to his place before, at least not inside. He wondered if what he revealed to Nana had brought her to his house. He knew he’d breeched their trust, and he felt bad about that, but also in this case he thought it was the right thing to do.
“Come in,” Dambuza said, looking for his T-shirt he’d removed. He moved around trying to move newspapers and beer tins to make space for Delly to sit down. “Can I get you a beer?”
“Sure.” Delly sat down on the only other seat in the house. She had some papers in her hand.
“I guess Nana spoke to you about her Gran,” Dambuza said.
“Yeah, she did, it’s okay, Dambuza. I would have liked to tell her myself, but I guess I’ve just been putting it off. You likely did us both a favour…but that’s not why I’m here. I have these. Nana gave them to me for safe keeping. They seem to implicate Hamilton and Gopolong.”
Dambuza read through the papers. They were more tables of data like the ones Nana had shown him before. There were comments written in the margins initialled GT, Gopolong Tlholego. He couldn’t see any reference to Hamilton. “So how does this implicate Hamilton?”
“She found them in his office.”
“And now? Where is she? I’ve been trying to call her?”
“She told me she was going for a meeting with Portia. She thinks Hamilton and Gopolong are doing this behind Portia’s back.”
“Why would she think that?” Dambuza felt something was missing in the picture. Why couldn’t all three of them be involved? To do something like they were doing could involve many people, it would have to.
“Did you read everything? There is a comment at the end somewhere?” Delly leaned forward and took the papers, paging though until she found what she wanted. “Here, ‘just between you and me is best. GT’. That made Nana think Portia must be out of the loop and therefore the only person who could help.”
Dambuza looked at the last message. Maybe Nana was right. He certainly didn’t know anything about handling such a case. “So when was the meeting?”
“This evening. She stopped by my place and left these, told me to show you, and then she was off.”
Dambuza tried Nana’s cellphone but she didn’t answer. “I wonder why she’s not picking up it’s nearly nine, she must have been done with the meeting by now.”
“Let me call Neo, maybe Nana’s back home and her phone is off. She does that sometimes.” Delly dialled and waited. She spoke to Neo for a few minutes and hung up.
“Neo thinks she might have left for South Africa. Neo moved back home today and Nana told her she’d be leaving for South Africa to look for her grandmother straight away.”
“But would she go without telling you?” Dambuza asked.
“We did talk about it. I gave her some addresses; a few phone numbers in Kimberly. She did say that as soon as Neo was ready to move home, she was going to leave. She felt everything was urgent, so much time had been wasted already. To be honest Dambuza, I didn’t ask much, I was feeling guilty. Yeah, I know Nana, she operates like that. All emotion that girl.”
Still Dambuza thought it was strange for her to just disappear. “Do you have keys for her house?”
“Yeah…sure, you think we should go check?”
Dambuza stood up as an answer.
Inside Nana’s house everything was tidy. Delly looked around and Dambuza waited. Maybe Nana thought it was best she go now, right after spilling everything to Portia, so she wouldn’t be around when the whole thing fell apart. Hamilton would likely guess she was the one who had found the papers; she had access to his office thanks to their relationship. People didn’t question her going in and out of it.
Delly came out of the bedroom holding a small case of some sort. “It looks like her big suitcase is missing and there’s this.” She handed the case to Dambuza. “It’s her case for her passport. She took it. I think Neo’s right. She’s gone off to Kimberly. She’ll call us once she gets there. Honest, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”
“That’s an odd way to leave,” Dambuza said.
“That’s my Nana, never does anything in a conventional manner. Takes after her mother I’ve heard.”
Baleka tried to pull herself out of the deep sleep she was in. “Are you awake?” George asked.
“George…can I have some water?”
He picked up the nearby cup and held it to Baleka’s lips. “You’ve been sleeping since they brought you back, that was two days ago. I was so scared.”
Baleka struggled to sit. She looked at her arms. One had a bandage. She removed it and saw they’d taken blood as usual. Before they took her out she’d been very sick, vomiting and with a high fever. Though she’d been sleeping so long and they’d obviously done something to her when they took her out, she felt better.
“I made you something while you were sleeping.” George handed her a small bird he’d carved out of a tiny piece of wood he’d found in the corner. He rubbed it against the leg of the bed to carve it into the beautiful shape of a flying fish eagle.
Baleka held it in her hand. He’d smoothed all of the rough edges. The eagle looked so free, its wings outstretched, and she thought of how she used to walk in the bush with her goats and watch the pied crows play in the updrafts, sometimes if she was lucky she’d see an eagle too. They had the freedom of the entire sky, not bound to earth like humans. She held the bird to her heart and began to cry.
George grabbed her in his arms. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry, I thought it would make you happy. I was so scared when you were sleeping. I thought you were going to die and I would be all alone here. I even thought how if you died I would hang myself with a blanket. I couldn’t think of living with you gone. First Phatsimo and then you.”
Baleka pushed him away to arm’s length. “No! No! You must never ever say that. If I die, you must live. You must get out of here and tell everyone what they’ve done to us. Just like I will if I live. We must! We must promise that. You must promise me you will be strong no matter what, George.”
George looked down ashamed. “I’ll try, but I’m not like you Baleka. You’re so strong and brave, I’m not. You’re the one who keeps me alive here.”
Baleka took his face in her hands. She kissed him on the cheek. “No George. You are who keeps me alive. Promise me. Promise me you will survive no matter what.”
“Okay… I promise.”
Baleka held the bird to her lips and ran it slowly over them. The silky surface felt lovely. “Thank you for this, George. It’s beautiful. I cried from happiness.”
“Do you really like it then?” He smiled at her.
“Yes.” She stood up, though weak, she was pleased she was no longer sick. So much of their time in that place was spent in various kinds of sickness. She couldn’t decide if they were feeding them bad food or the water wasn’t good or it was just being in this dark, closed-in place with no fresh air and sunlight. “I’m hungry though, any food?”
George jumped to his feet. “You sit, I’ll get it. They just brought food. I didn’t eat. I hoped you’d wake up and we could eat together.”
George brought the basins of food. He dumped half of his on top of Baleka’s food. She tried to stop him, but he refused. They started eating. It was a kind of thick beef soup. Baleka stopped eating and raised her head.
“What is it?”
“I thought I heard something,” she said.
They both stopped eating and got quiet. Someone was coming. But why? George said they’d just brought food. They never came quickly after bringing food.
“They’re coming to take one of us. I can hear, they’re two,” George whispered.
Baleka listened, George was right, there were two, but there was something else, like they were dragging something maybe the food cart. Why would two of them come to bring food, especially since they only just brought food?
George grabbed Baleka’s hand and pulled her to the furthest corner of the room. “I don’t want them to take one of us again.”
Baleka let herself be led by him, but knew if they wanted to take her or George they would do it. They tried to fight and never won. They crouched in the darkness. The door opened and it was the same two people. They came into the room their faces covered as usual, but they carried something. They dropped it and turned and went out locking the door behind them.
George and Baleka waited until the steps were no longer audible, had disappeared back to where they’d come, and then approached. As they moved into the light, they could see it was a person. They had captured someone else and brought them to this horrible place.