فصل 11

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فصل 11

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Chapter eleven

Oswald Ranta

‘I have read your report,’ said Mma Ramotswe, when Mma Makutsi arrived for work the next morning. ‘It is complete and well written.’

‘Thank you, Mma,’ said Mma Makutsi. ‘I am happy that my first case was not a difficult one. I mean, it was not difficult to find out what we needed to know. But those questions at the end of my report - they are difficult. I don’t know how to solve them.’

‘Yes,’ said Mma Ramotswe, looking at the report. ‘They are difficult for me too. I am older than you, but I do not have the answer to every problem that comes along.’

‘But what can we do?’ said Mma Makutsi. ‘If we tell Mr Badule about this man, he may make trouble. Then the boy might not get money for school. That would not be good for the boy.’

‘I know,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘But we cannot lie to Mr Badule. A detective must not lie to a client.’

‘Yes, but should we tell him everything? We could say, “You are right, your wife is seeing another man,” and stop there. We are not lying, are we? We are just not telling all the truth.’

In this case, thought Mma Ramotswe, the most important thing was what happened to the boy. He should not suffer just because his mother had behaved badly. But was anyone really unhappy in this situation? The well-dressed wife was happy because she had a rich man to buy her clothes. The rich man was happy because he had a stylish lady friend. The religious wife was happy because she could live in her village and her husband came home every weekend. The boy was happy because he was going to an expensive school.

‘It’s Mr Badule,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘We have to make him happy. We have to tell him what is happening, but we must make him accept it. If he accepts it, then the whole problem goes away.’

Mma Makutsi was not sure that this was possible. But she was happy that Mma Ramotswe had made a decision, and she would not have to tell any lies.

But there were other cases too. Mrs Curtin had sent a letter, asking Mma Ramotswe if she had found anything out about her son. ‘I have the feeling,’ she wrote, ‘that you will discover something for me.’

Mma Ramotswe knew that the young man had died on the commune. Someone had harmed the boy, and now she had to find someone who could do harm: Mr Oswald Ranta.

The little white van entered the university car park. Mma Ramotswe got out and looked around. She passed the university every day but she had never been inside. She had not gone to university. But here there were teachers and doctors, people who had written books, people whose heads contained more knowledge than the heads of most people.

She found a map of the university on a wall. The Department of Mathematics was here. The Department of Engineering was over there. And there, something called Information.

She went looking for Information and came to a small building near the African Languages department. Mma Ramotswe knocked on the door and went inside.

A thin woman was sitting behind a desk. She looked bored.

‘I am looking for Mr Ranta,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘I believe he works here.’

‘Dr Ranta,’ said the woman. ‘He is not just Mr Ranta. He is Dr Ranta.’

‘I am sorry,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘Where is he, please?’

‘He is here one moment and then he is gone. That’s Dr Ranta. But you could try his office. He has an office here. But most of the time he spends in the bedroom.’

‘Oh,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘He is a ladies’ man, this Dr Ranta?’

‘You could say that,’ said the woman. ‘And one day the university will catch him. But until then, nobody dares complain.’

So often, thought Mma Ramotswe, other people did your work for you, as this woman was now doing.

‘Why do people not complain?’ she asked.

‘The girls are afraid to speak,’ said the woman. ‘And the other teachers all have secrets too. There are a lot of people like Dr Ranta here. I can say this because I’m leaving tomorrow. I have found a better job.’

Then the woman told her how to find Dr Ranta’s office. As she was leaving, Mma Ramotswe had an idea.

‘Perhaps, Mma, Dr Ranta has done nothing wrong,’ she said.

She saw immediately that it was going to work. The woman had suffered because of Dr Ranta.

‘Oh, yes, he has,’ she said angrily. ‘He showed an examination paper to a student if she would do what he wanted. I know because the student was my cousin’s daughter.’

‘But can you prove this?’ asked Mma Ramotswe.

‘No,’ she said. ‘He would lie and then nothing would happen.’

‘And this girl, Margaret, what did she do?’

‘Margaret? Who is Margaret?’

‘Your cousin’s daughter,’ said Mma Ramotswe.

‘She is not called Margaret,’ said the woman. ‘She is called Angel. She did nothing, and he was never caught. Men never get caught, do they?’

‘Sometimes they do,’ Mma Ramotswe thought. But she only said goodbye and went to look for Dr Ranta’s office.

The door was slightly open. Mma Ramotswe listened and heard the sound of someone typing on a computer keyboard. Dr Ranta was in.

He looked up quickly as she knocked on the door and opened it more.

‘Yes, Mma,’ he said. ‘What do you want?’

‘I would like to speak to you, Rra. Have you got a moment?’

He looked at his watch.

‘Yes,’ he said politely. ‘But I haven’t got a lot of time. Are you a student?’

Mma Ramotswe sat down. ‘No, I am not. I have not been to university. I was busy working for my cousin’s husband’s company.’

‘It is never too late, Mma,’ he said. ‘We have some very old students here. Of course, you are not very old, but I mean that anybody can study.’

‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘Maybe one day.’

‘You can study many things here.’

‘Can someone study to be a detective?’

He looked surprised. ‘Detective? You can’t study that at a university.’

‘But I have read that you can, at universities in America.’

‘Oh, yes, at American universities you can study anything. Swimming, if you like. But not at the good universities. I studied at Duke, a very good American university.’

He paused. ‘He wants me to admire him,’ thought Mma Ramotswe. ‘That is why he needs all the girls - he needs people to admire him.’

‘I would like to spend more time talking with you, Mma,’ he said, smiling. ‘But I am busy, so I must ask you what this is about.’

‘I am sorry to take your time, Rra,’ she said. ‘I am sure you are very busy. I am just a lady detective…’

He stopped smiling. ‘You are a detective?’ His voice was colder now.

‘It is only a small agency. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It is over by Kale Hill. Perhaps you have seen it.’

‘I do not go over there,’ he said, looking nervous. ‘Why do you want to talk to me? Has someone told you to come and speak to me?’

‘No. I have come to ask you about something that happened a long time ago. Ten years ago.’

He stared at her. She thought she could smell fear on him. ‘Ten years is a long time. People do not remember.’

‘No,’ she agreed. ‘They forget. But some things are difficult to forget. For example, a mother will not forget her son.’

As she spoke, he changed again. He got up from his chair and laughed.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I see now. It’s that American woman, the one who always asks questions. She is paying you to dig up the past again. Will she never stop? Will she never learn?’

‘Learn what?’ asked Mma Ramotswe.

He was standing at the window, looking at the students on the path below.

‘Learn that there is nothing to learn,’ he said. ‘That boy is dead. Probably lost in the Kalahari. He went for a walk and never came back. It’s easy to get lost in the desert, you know. All the trees look the same and there are no hills to guide you, so you get lost. Especially if you are a white man in a foreign land.’

‘But I don’t believe that he got lost and died,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘I believe something else happened to him.’

He turned to look at her.

‘For example?’ he said angrily.

‘I am not sure,’ she said. ‘How could I know? I wasn’t there.’ She paused, and then added quietly, ‘But you were.’

She could hear his breathing as he returned to his chair. From the window, she could hear the students outside laughing and shouting.

‘You say I was there,’ he said, staring at her. ‘What do you mean?’

She stared back. ‘I mean that you were living there. You saw him every day. You saw him on the day that he died. I’m sure you know something.’

‘I told the police, and I have told the Americans who came asking questions. I saw him that morning, once, and I saw him at lunch. I told them what we had for lunch. I described the clothes he was wearing. I told them everything.’

He was lying, thought Mma Ramotswe. It was easy to see. How could other people not know he was lying?

‘I do not believe you, Rra,’ she said. ‘You are lying to me.’

He opened his mouth slightly, then closed it.

‘Our talk has ended, Mma,’ he said. ‘I am sorry I cannot help you.’

‘Very well, Rra,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘But you could help that poor American woman. She is a mother. You had a mother. But I know that you do not care. And not just because she is a white woman from America. If she was a woman from your own village, you wouldn’t care about her, would you?

He smiled at her. ‘We have finished our talk.’

‘But people can sometimes be made to care,’ she said.

‘In a minute, I am going to telephone the university police.

I think I will say that you were trying to steal something. They would come quickly. It might be difficult for you, Mma.’

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Rra,’ she said. ‘You see, I know all about Angel.’

Her words had an immediate effect. He sat up straight in his chair and she could smell the fear again. This time it was stronger.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I know about Angel and the examination paper. I have a letter that describes everything that happened. It is back in my office right now. What are you going to do, Rra? What will you do in Gaborone if you lose your university job? Will you go back to your village? Help with the cows again?’

Blackmail, she thought. That was what she was doing, blackmail. And this is what a blackmailer feels. The feeling of complete power over another person.

‘You cannot do that… I will say I didn’t do it… You cannot prove anything…’

‘But I can prove it,’ she said. ‘There is Angel, and there is another girl, who will he and say that you gave her examination questions too. She is cross with you and she will he. There will be two girls with the same story.’

His lips were dry, she noticed. He moved his tongue over them. His shirt was wet under the arms.

‘I do not like doing this, Rra,’ she said. ‘But this is my job. Sometimes I have to do things like this. There is a very sad American woman who only wants to say goodbye to her son. You don’t care about her, but I do. I think her feelings are more important than yours.

‘So I am going to offer you something. You tell me what happened. If you do, I promise you that Angel and her friend will say nothing.’

His breathing was strange, now - short, quick breaths.

‘I did not kill him,’ he said. ‘I did not kill him.’

‘Now you are speaking the truth,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘But you must tell me what happened, and where his body is. That is what I want to know.’

‘Are you going to the police?’ he asked.

‘No, this story is just for his mother. That is all.’

He closed his eyes. ‘I cannot talk here. You can come to my house.’

‘I will come this evening.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow evening.’

‘I shall come this evening,’ she said. ‘That woman has waited for ten years. She must not wait any longer.’

‘All right. I shall write down the address. You can come tonight at nine o’clock.’

‘I shall come at eight,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘Not every woman will do what you tell her to do.’

She felt her heart jumping as she walked back to the little white van. She did not know where she had found the strength, but it had been there, deep inside her.

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