‘Pinetown. Shit.’ He thought to himself.
“Your partner is already there. You would be too if answered your phone.” The chief said darkly.
Daniels’s eyes went flat and he didn’t rise to the bait. “I’m taking a squad car.” He got up and started out of the office.
“You have a car.” The chief said.
“If I’m going to Pinetown then it sure as hell isn’t going to be my car that gets stripped and otherwise violated.” He let the door slam shut behind him.
When he went to sign out the car, the attendant said, “Pinetown huh? Going home then?”
Daniels, who had been turning to go out the door froze, turned slowly to look at the man and then left. Reynolds, the attendant, shuddered at the look in the other man’s eyes and reminded himself to keep his mouth shut around Daniels.
Going home?’ Daniels thought to himself, ‘Going Home? Fuck. Just because I was born in that septic hole doesn’t mean I live there now. Just because I played in a dump and was exposed to a few dozen toxic chemicals in the womb doesn’t mean it’s my fucking home! Fuck! Son of a bitch. I never should have stayed in South Africa, I should have gotten out when I had the chance.’
As he drove he could see the new tenements rising over the dilapidated wall surrounding Pinetown. Both were gifts of the government. The wall was very old and had been built to block the sight of the shantytown from the sensitive eyes of the Afrikaners. The tenements were new, even if they didn’t look it. Free public housing with electricity, running water and functioning sewer. Never mind that they quickly became filthy and overcrowded and only moderately less of a breeding ground for disease. Never mind that they were soon ruled by gangs and rife with crime. They gave the residents a wonderful view of all the places they would never live. The tenements had been built after Daniels had moved out and cut all ties with his family; he still remembered the rickety wooden shacks and trash heaps.
He parked the car as close to the scene as possible. He winced at the smell that met him once he was out of the car. Pinetown was easily one of the worst slums in Durban. The open-air market was only a few blocks away; the varying odors drifting up the street. The stench coming out of the tenements was, by comparison, much worse. From experience he knew that when the wind shifted it would bring the smell of the industrial area or the commercial fishing docks. The only redeeming quality about Pinetown, which was also the worst thing for the residents, was the fact that a person could see the heights of the Kloof from every intersection.
The Kloof. The White Peaks. Where the rich, white Afrikaners had their mansions. Where a child born in Pinetown could never hope to live, could never dream of being anything more than a servant. For a child born in Pinetown the dream of owning a house of the Kloof was a more impossible dream than climbing Everest, going to the moon or being elected president. The Kloof was the White Peaks, the rich white man’s island in the rising tide of black people.
Daniels lit a cigarette to block the smell and entered the alley where the body was. There was blood everywhere, splashed on the walls and dumpsters and collected in puddles on the ground. The victim was an obviously wealthy white man in a business suit. He was sprawled facedown in a pool of his own blood and his shoes were gone.
Daniels walked around the body to get a look at the dead man’s face. As he did his eleventh toe twitched and tingled. When he looked into the dead man’s eyes he saw a farm field, plowed and waiting to be planted. He blinked and saw only the corpse.
He looked over at his partner who held up an evidence bag containing a blood covered kitchen knife. “Simple enough.” Baker said, “They left the knife with plenty of fingerprints.”
“Not so simple.” Daniels replied. “What did he think he was doing coming here? Do we know who he was?”
Baker shook his head. “They took his wallet and any i.d. he might have had on him.”
Daniels shrugged. “He won’t stay that way for long. With the kind of money he’s wearing somebody will miss him soon enough. What interests me right off is the knife.”
“They picked it out of the dumpster, I would imagine the killer tossed it there when he finished picking over the corpse.” Baker looked amused.
Daniels shook his head and took the bag containing the blood covered weapon, examining it. “It’s reasonable I suppose. I hate to imagine us getting a straightforward case.”
Baker’s mouth twisted into something that might have been a smile, then he said, “The uniforms picked up a kid who might have seen something. They said he seemed pretty shaken up but maybe you can get something out of him.”
Daniels nodded and headed over to the squad cars. In the back door of one cruiser there was a boy of about eleven or twelve. The kid was wearing grubby clothes and staring at the ground between his bare feet.
“What’s your name kid?” Daniels asked. The kid flinched like he’d been slapped and hunched down even more. Daniels glared at the white officers milling around, the kid probably thought he was in trouble, probably thought he was a suspect. Daniels squatted in front of the kid and attempted to make his voice friendlier, “I’m Inspector Daniels, what’s your name?”
The kid looked up at him, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head. Daniels’s extra toe twitched and he saw a hawk soaring over autum-brown grass. Then Daniels blinked and saw the kid staring at him, scared out of his mind.
“It was Lem.” The kid said in a near whisper, “Lem did it, I saw him do it.”
Daniels looked at the kid for a long moment, then got a blanket out of the cruiser’s trunk and draped it over the kid’s skinny shoulders. Then he went back to Baker who was watching as men zipped the corpse into a bag.
“It was Lem. The kid saw the whole thing, scared the little rat half out of his mind.” Daniels said.
Baker nodded, “Have someone take the kid in and get a statement,” he said to a uniform standing nearby, “Try to be nice about it.” He turned to Daniels, “Let’s get Lem.”
Daniels nodded and took Baker’s car the two blocks to Lem Thompson’s building. A repeat offender, Lem had never been the smartest of small time criminals, this fact was born out when they got to his apartment. Lem wasn’t home but had left the door ajar. Just inside they found a shirt and a pair of pants, both liberally splashed with blood. They questioned the neighbors, who said that Lem was probably at the bar, as that was where he spent most of his time.
Daniels didn’t bother to thank the gods for stupid criminals when they found him at the bar with a large drink in his hand. Daniels clapped a hand on Lem’s shoulder and spun him around on the stool, “Nice shoes Lem. Mind telling me where you got them?” His toe tingled again and for an instant he saw the ocean at sunset, the light reflecting off the clouds turning the water red. Then he blinked and saw a pathetic murderer.
Baker peered at them in the half light of the tavern. “Kinda dirty though, aren’t they Lem? Looks like they’ve got blood on them.”
Lem tried to stammer out a response but Daniels cut him off, “Save it jackass, you’re under arrest.” Daniels shoved him up against the bar and handcuffed him, “Whatever excuse you have, save it. Whoever he was, he’s dead now, and they’re going to make it stick.”
Baker shoved Lem out the door and into a waiting squad car and Daniels followed, a sick feeling in his stomach. The scene was too much like any of a dozen of his childhood memories. He tasted bile in the back of his throat as Lem was taken away and Baker answered a call on the radio.
Daniels started to turn away when a young girl crashed into his legs and staggered back into the street. She only laughed as he snatched her out of the way of an advancing car. He swung her up in the air and settled her against his hip while she laughed in the kind of pure joy that he couldn’t remember ever having experienced. She was wearing a dirty smock and thick braids. When he looked in her eyes his extra toe tingled madly and he saw an icy stream, glittering as it flowed over rocks. He blinked and the girl laughed again.
“You should be more careful, you almost got hit by a car. Your Poppa would be very upset if that happened.” He was trying to be serious, but the little girl’s smile was infectious. She just laughed and hugged him impulsively. He tried to frown at her, “What’s your Poppa’s name? I want to tell him to keep a closer eye on his little girl.”
“My Poppa’s name is Tall Bob.” she said, giggling. The words hit him like a load of bricks, surprising him so much that he had to put the little girl down before he dropped her. He just stared after her as she ran off .
Baker came up while he was standing there and said, “They found the victim’s car trashed a coupe of miles from here. They identified the guy from the registration.”
“Rich?” Daniel’s asked, only halfway paying attention.
“Yeah, lives up in the hills, God only knows how he ended up here. We should go and notify the family.”
“Right.” Daniels muttered.
Baker gave him a strange look and said, “I’ll drive, I think someone took your squad car back to the garage.”
Daniels shook his head and said, “Right, let’s get to it.”
As they were driving out of the slum Daniels couldn’t keep a smile from tugging at the corners of his mouth. Baker kept glancing over at him and finally asked, “What the hell are you smiling about? I’ve never seen you smile before.”
Daniels glanced over at his partner and then back at the Kloof where they were headed, finally he just let himself smile and said, “It seems I have a niece.”
- ► 2005 (18)