Jan 11 2012 10:30am
Those Who Love Night: New Excerpt
When Abigail Bukula, a young lawyer in the South African Justice Department, learns that the secret son of her aunt, who died in a massacre years ago, has been arrested by the Zimbabwean government, she races to his aid. She’s as determined as ever but perhaps a bit naive as well. Accused of being a part of the so-called Harare Seven, her cousin is being held as a political prisoner in the country’s most brutal prison.
With only an eager young lawyer as an ally and a director of the country’s intelligence agency either helping her or setting her up, Bukula will not leave without winning her cousin’s freedom and learning what really happened to her aunt so many years ago. By cunning, by bribery, by sheer audacity—and with the help of her friend prison psychologist Yudel Gordon—Abigail is determined to prevail.
She had heard the sound made by engines for at least five minutes now. By her reckoning, they should already have arrived in the village.
On most evenings, especially on Fridays, someone would arrive from Bulawayo or Plumtree, and you could hear their approach from the time they came round the low hill on the far side of the open stretch of savannah where the cattle grazed. The sound would start as a soft humming, then gradually grow louder. It would be perhaps two or three minutes before the vehicle arrived in the village.
Tonight was different. The sound was clearly that of more than one vehicle, and she had been hearing it for longer than she would have expected on other nights. It also had a deeper note. She knew the sound made by diesel engines and thought that must be the reason for the sound’s rumbling nature. It was much louder than that made by just a single car or even a truck.
Janice had been asleep, but now that she had children, she found that she was woken by anything unusual. A new sound or a change in a familiar one, an unexpected smell of smoke, a movement in the house—anything that should not be there, no matter how minor, was enough to rouse her from her sleep.
Someone was shouting, the voice deadened by distance and the clay walls of the houses in between. The house was one of only two in the village with both wooden floors and ceilings, but the walls were of the same clay as the others. Both had been built in colonial days, one for the district administrator and the other for the village police officer. The voice was male, but young and not fully formed: possibly Benjamin, the teenage boy from the next house up the track. She could not yet make out the words, but his agitation was unmistakable.
For the first time she saw that Wally was not in bed. His place was vacant and the sheet had been pulled back into position. The only blanket had been pushed off much earlier, doubtless as unnecessary in the warm summer night. Wally did not seem to have left in a hurry. The jacket of his uniform was still carefully hung over the chair where he had left it when he got undressed, but his trousers were gone.
None of this was surprising to Janice. He spent hours on most nights wandering the house or sitting outside on the veranda. She had long since given up trying to lure him back to bed at such times.
She got slowly out of bed, turning carefully and allowing her feet to slide gently to the floor. No matter who was coming, she could not afford to hurry and risk falling. The precious cargo, already eight months old, the child she was carrying inside her, could not be put at risk.
Once on her feet, wearing the knee-length nightdress in which she usually slept, she crossed the room, reaching for the door frame to steady herself, and entered the hall. Through the glass panel in the front door she could see Wally in the faintest of moonlight. He was wearing only the trousers of his uniform. His head was raised, like an animal sensing the wind, and he was staring in the direction of the main road from which the sound was coming. He was holding on tightly to the wooden rail that ran along the edge of the veranda, and seemed to have risen to the balls of his feet. To Janice, it was the posture of a man ready to take flight.
As she opened the door, the sound increased in volume. In the distance and below them on the flat ground, she could see the first of the headlights, sending twin beams back and forth through the darkness as the track twisted. Acacia bushes and clusters of hard veld grass stood out in momentary, sharp silhouette as the lights flashed over them. “Is it . . .” she tried to ask. “Is it them?” Wally’s attention was held so closely by the approaching column that he could not respond immediately. “Is it them?” she asked again, this time touching his naked back.
“Yes, I think so. It must be.” She could hear the breathless sound of fear in his voice. “Get the children. I’ll get the truck.”
There was only one track into the village. It passed alongside the house and would now be blocked by the column. She thought she could make out at least five, perhaps six sets of headlights, the ones at the back obscured by the dust stirred up by those in front. “Where will we go?”
“Into the bushes; just into the bushes. Get the children.”
“They’ll see our lights.”
For the first time he turned to her. “We’ll go without lights. Please, get the children.”
All over the village, people were appearing from their houses. Most were women. Some had children in their arms. The boy whose voice Janice had first heard was crying now, loud enough to be heard above the voices of others.
Both children were asleep when Janice reached them. The girl was four and the boy not yet three. They were sharing a bed, their heads at opposite ends. She bent to pick up the boy, but she felt the child inside her move, and shook them both instead. “Wake up—wake up quickly. We have to run away.”
She pulled the girl by one arm until the child, not yet fully awake, slipped from the bed, landing gently on her knees. “Mama?” The word came out as a question.
“We have to go. We have to run away.”
“Why?” She was slowly wakening. “Where’s Papa?”
Outside and below them, Janice thought she heard the sound of their pickup starting. The boy was sitting up now and seemed to be blinking in the darkness. “Come.” She dragged them toward the door, the girl in a white ankle-length nightdress and the boy in underpants. “Come, we have to go.”
“But my clothes,” the girl said.
“You don’t need clothes. Come.”
She got back to the veranda with the children stumbling sleepily next to her, the boy hanging on to her nightdress for support. The column was much closer; more than halfway across the flat ground, the headlights of the back trucks turning the dust of those in front into clouds of light. They were coming fast. They knew that their approach would be heard in the village and that they had to come fast to prevent the villagers escaping.
The veranda was only a few shallow steps above the ground. The boy was holding tightly on to one of his mother’s legs, but his sister was moving on her own now. People were running past the front of the house. Janice thought she heard Wally’s voice, but she was not sure. It was only as she reached the ground that she realized he was trying to get into the driver’s seat, but that the truck was swarming with people. They had filled the back and another three or four had somehow crowded into the front, leaving no room for him to drive. And no room for Janice and the children either. “You can’t all . . .” Wally was shouting. “No.”
The instinct to protect the children and the child inside her drew her away from the truck and down the side of house. Staying in the cover that the house provided, she moved deeper into the village. She knew that Wally was wrong to be fighting over the truck, but that he had been right about the direction in which to flee. Disappearing into the bushes was the only way to keep them all safe. If she could get only a few hundred meters away from the village and lie down with her children in the long grass, they would not see her. They would have to stumble over her to find her. She would far rather take her chances with the snakes than with the men of the approaching column.
The convoy was moving toward the main track where it went through the center of the village. Janice had taken the rougher path on the other side of the huts. If she moved farther to her right she would be out of the village and the huts would shield her for the moment. The headlights were her enemies. If they fell on her once, she would become a target. The soldiers would see her and probably pursue her. But how far away were they now? How long before they reached the first row of houses where, when she had last seen him, Wally was struggling to get people off the truck?
The girl was running next to her mother now, her eyes open so wide that the whites were visible right round the irises. The boy was stumbling and had to be helped.
“Papa?” Janice heard the girl ask. “Where’s Papa? Why isn’t he coming?” Her voice sounded even more fearful than Wally’s had.
“He’s coming in the truck.”
“I want to go in the truck too.”
“Papa will fetch us.”
“When will he fetch us?”
“Run, Katy, just run.”
In a moment, as if with the throwing of a switch, the bouncing beams of headlights were lighting up the track in the center of the village. Janice glanced at the girl. In her white nightdress she looked almost luminous in the darkness. She knew that she must also be as conspicuous.
“Give me your dress.” She was already pulling it off the child.
“But Mama, I haven’t even got pants on!”
“Give it to me.”
Janice tore the nightdress away from her daughter and slipped off her own. She rolled the clothes into a tight ball and pressed them into the child’s arms. Now they would be much harder to see. “You carry our nightdresses. I need my hands to help you two.”
“But everyone can look at us,” the girl wailed.
“It doesn’t matter. Be quiet now. Don’t look back.”
As they passed an opening between two houses, Janice saw people in the headlights running up the track. An old man, Mr. Makaleka, wearing a pair of shorts that reached almost to his knees, stumbled and went down in the dirt. Janice suppressed a momentary impulse to go to his aid. The children were more important.
“What about Papa?”
“Be still, child. You must be still.”
At that moment Janice heard what she thought was the engine of their truck. It was racing unmercifully. Then she saw it flash between the houses, traveling parallel to them, but much faster. The angle was wrong for her to see who was driving. Perhaps it was Wally. Too many people were pressed into the cab. The frightened faces of those on the back were lit by the headlights of the first vehicle in the approaching column.
Janice stopped, out of breath, in the shadow of a shack made largely of corrugated iron. She was not conscious of the boy wrapping both arms around one of her legs. From her position she could see the first of the personnel carriers as it entered the village. It continued up the main track, engine roaring. Almost immediately, the second vehicle in the convoy came to a halt. Soldiers leaped from the back, their rifles held in both hands, the fixed bayonets flashing in the lights of the next vehicle.
She knew who they were. This was five Brigade. Everyone knew about them and what they were doing in her part of the country. She had been told that their orders were to crush all dissidents. They were doing it in the most fundamental way. She had heard about their bayonets and the way they used them. The orders by which they functioned demanded that, if the rebel women were pregnant, they were to be killed and their dissident sons with them before they were born.
Could such a thing be true? she had wondered.
The main track through the village was brilliantly lit by now. The driver of each invading vehicle had left his headlights burning after he brought it to a halt. She could see the soldiers, but they were not yet coming in her direction. The first wave, perhaps twenty of them, was moving straight down the track. The rest would probably spread the net wider.
The dense bush was too far away for her to reach it unnoticed. There was only the shed that the young Anglican priest had built. It was twenty or thirty paces away across open ground. But it was an obvious place for someone to hide. On the far side of the shed, the remains of a pigsty, rimmed by light scrub on the near side, were barely visible. It had not been in use since the pigs had sickened and died.
Night sounds that had consisted only of internal combustion engines, the grunting of people running and the occasional crying of a child, changed into something entirely different. The first scream was followed almost immediately by another, and then a third. But there had been no gunshots. They’re using the bayonets, Janice thought. They’re using them not to waste bullets or to make a noise.
The crash came from beyond the edge of the village. It was in the direction taken by Wally’s truck. There were too many crowded into it, she thought, just too many. Why could they not have found their own way? Why did they have to crowd into our truck?
But where was Wally now? Had he been driving?
There was more screaming from the center of the village. The people were not dying quietly.
The pigsty was the only possibility. It meant they would have to cross open ground. They would be in clear sight for a minute, maybe less. If the soldiers’ attention was on what they were doing, the chance of them reaching the sty safely was good.
Outrunning anyone was impossible. The very act of running was impossible. The only chance was to walk quickly and carefully to the shelter of the pigsty and then sit down on the nightdresses in the densest possible cover.
Janice carefully unfolded her son’s arms where they held her leg. Taking her children by the hand, she stepped into the open. Katy was still holding the nightdresses against her chest. She was running a step ahead, pulling Janice. The screaming from the village had intensified, but Janice tried not to hear it. Let me concentrate only on picking my steps carefully, very carefully, she thought.
The possibility of snakes flitted through her mind, but only for an instant. She looked back for the first time when she reached the light scrub at the edge of the sty. There was no sign of pursuit. She could also see nothing of Wally’s truck, but her view was obscured by the nearer huts. She wondered about the time. Dawn would bring light, and perhaps light would not be in her interest. She sank carefully into a crouching position, one arm holding the boy close against her and the other around her distended stomach. She could feel the girl pressing against her on the other side. Perhaps tonight darkness would be her good friend.
For an ambitious woman who had risen so fast in the organization that most of her male colleagues felt uncomfortable in her presence, Abigail Bukula was surprisingly unhappy. She felt that recent government decisions that affected her work were both wrong in principle and operationally unsound. She had just spent half an hour explaining her position to the director general of the Department of Justice in which she worked.
“The decision was not yours and it was not mine, Abigail,” he had said. “It was made by other people for us to implement. We simply have to abide by it.”
“But we were so successful. Everyone says so.”
“The media says so.”
“But we were.”
“Maybe so, but the decision is made.”
“Could I speak to the minister?”
The director general sighed. He had been Abigail’s senior for not much more than a year, but already he knew her well. “Don’t be foolish,” he said. “The minister himself is carrying out policy that has been decided in cabinet. You can’t debate policy with him. I can’t debate policy with him. Even he can’t change this.”
She had tried to argue the matter further, but he had ended the discussion with: “This is no time to choose the wrong side.”
That was where it had ended. As the director general had explained, that was where it had to end.
The arm of the justice system that had been closed was the Directorate of Special Operations, known to the public as the Scorpions. Their cars were black and each bore a large white scorpion on either side. The organization had been made up of both police officers and lawyers. And their success rate had been almost as good as their sense of drama.
They had loved to make arrests in major cases in the bright light of television cameras. Not all heroes of the liberation struggle admired that characteristic, but they seemed to have decided to live with it. It only turned out to be an unforgivable sin when some of those arrested came from their own ranks.
The Scorpions were being replaced by something called the Hawks. In Abigail’s view, the leadership of the new body had been carefully chosen, not for their effectiveness, but because they would give their political overlords the least trouble.
For the last year she had served under a talented, but little trusted, senior advocate by the name of Gert Pienaar. He and Abigail had formed a formidable combination. Gert’s matchless investigative skills had combined brilliantly with Abigail’s singular presence in the courtroom. “I provide the facts and you tear the enemy apart,” he had once said to her. She was not sure that she liked the inference that she was the bulldog while he was the brain, but had forgiven him a week later when she heard that he had described her as the finest analytical brain in the country in the field of criminal law.
Pienaar was, in his own words, “a refugee from the old regime,” having played an almost identical role in the apartheid government. “There were criminals in those days too,” he had told Abigail with a shrug.
The leaders of the new regime had decided that if they wanted to keep some sort of rein on organized crime they had better retain people like him. Now that he, and others like him, had started arresting some of their own members on charges of corruption, they were no longer sure of the wisdom of their decision. “We have given this apartheid spy the chance to attack us,” a party functionary had said in a recent speech, and the papers had reported it countrywide.
Damn, Abigail thought, how is it I always get involved with problem people? Why did he have to be a white Afrikaner and, most especially, why did he have to come from employment in the justice department of the old regime?
She knew that he was a good man. She had met others; men as good, who had stayed in the employ of the old regime right to the end. She had never understood any of them.
Pienaar’s sin had been the single-mindedness with which he had gone after the corrupt practices of a certain group of politicians. She had worked next to him for all of twelve months. They had dug through evidence together and she had agreed with all his conclusions. The difference between them was that Pienaar had only seen it as his job, while she had been outraged that people who had been her seniors during the days of the liberation struggle should be behaving in this way. Pienaar had wanted to collect the evidence and pass it on to someone else to handle. She had wanted to prosecute them herself.
“It’s different for you,” he had said. “You have a history in the struggle.”
“This is not about politics,” she had told him, admitting later to herself that it was a pretty naïve statement.
If Pienaar had characteristics that would always keep him an outsider, Abigail had a few of her own. Chief among these was the fact that growing up in exile in the United Kingdom had resulted in English being her primary language. She had spent a year in Matabeleland, the province of Zimbabwe’s minority Ndebele. Those were the latter years of the apartheid regime and she had not felt safe in her own country. Her time there had given her a knowledge of Zulu that was less than rudimentary. All of the country’s other African languages were unintelligible to her. When approaching a group of her colleagues engaged in conversation in one of the vernacular languages, they would switch to English for her benefit. She was grateful for the considerate way she was dealt with, but it also emphasized the differences between them.
She got up to go in search of Pienaar. For a long time, the rumors around the closure of the Scorpions had been threading their insidious way through the passages of the department, some of them even reaching the press. Today, for the first time, it was official. By the time the evening papers were out, the whole country would know it.
Before she reached the door, her phone rang. Johanna, her trusted and irrepressibly curious pa, was on the line. “A call from Zimbabwe.”
“Put it through.”
“It’s a man. He wouldn’t tell me who he is.”
“Damn it, Johanna. Just put him through.”
“I’m putting him through,” Johanna said.
There was considerable background noise on the connection. “Abigail Bukula?” The voice reached her across an insecure connection. “Is that Abigail Bukula?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“Abigail Bukula of Zimbabwe?”
“No, I’m not a Zimbabwean. I practiced in your country for a year . . .”
“My name is Krisj Patel. I . . .” The voice faded in a shower of static and only returned when the crackling faded. “. . . are hoping you would be able to come to our country to represent them in this matter.”
“Mr. Patel, I can barely hear you. I think you want me to represent you in some matter?”
“Not me, my clients. I am Krisj Patel, of Smythe, Patel and Associates, attorneys at law. My clients were hoping . . .” Again the voice faded and the crackling grew, but not for as long this time. “I think we can get a high court injunction to have them released.”
“And you said you are . . .” Abigail was writing it down.
“Krisj Patel of Smythe, Patel and Associates.”
“You’re the Patel of Smythe, Patel and . . .”
“. . . Associates,” he said. “Yes, I am. Will you call me Krisj?” he asked. “People here are proud . . .” Again the voice was gone. When it came back, she heard him say, “. . . your cousin. So we thought you may want to help . . .”
“Tony Makumbe. As I understand it, he’s your Aunt Janice’s child.”
“No, she had a daughter.”
“She also had a son.”
“Mr. Patel, I don’t think . . .”
“He’s one of the seven dissidents. Our people . . .” Again the crackling rose, but the phone went dead, even the crackling disappeared. Abigail waited a few minutes for him to call again, but the phone remained silent. Mr. Patel was wrong about everything. As far as she knew, her Aunt Janice only had a daughter. In any event, she had no doubt that Patel could find an advocate in his own country. And the closing down of the Scorpions was, to her, a matter of far greater importance.
Usually, when Abigail left the building, she had Johanna send an e-mail to both Pienaar and the director general to keep them informed of her whereabouts. This time she walked past Johanna without responding to her question: “Is it true about the Scorpions?” The offices of the department were just too damned constricting this afternoon.
Abigail was a good-looking woman, a little above average height, with the leanness and easy stride of an athlete. Most men, when seeing her for the first time, took special interest. Her African curls were cropped close to her head. Time spent at the hairdresser was, in her view, time lost.
She was wearing a lavender-gray trouser suit, relieved only by an inexpensive turquoise brooch. Robert had given her many presents of jewelry that she felt were far too expensive. And this was neither the town nor the country in which it was wise to flash high-priced baubles. Robert’s paper had recently carried an incident in which a woman had lost a ring on which a large imitation diamond was mounted—and her finger along with it. It seemed that a pair of garden shears had been used. The result had not been a neat cut.
Abigail’s own diamonds stayed safely in the bank’s safe deposit box, only to be used two or three times a year for various state banquets. The only three skirts she possessed were part of the evening wear she had reluctantly invested in for those occasions.
Robert’s office was only a few blocks away, but Abigail took her 7-series BMW. It was something else Robert had insisted on paying for. She was not intending to return that afternoon.
The security man at the basement parking in his building recognized her immediately and opened the boom to let her in. She brought the car to a stop in the parking space Robert had reserved for the odd occasion when she visited him.
In the lift on the way to the top floor, two people, whom she was certain she had never seen before, greeted her with “Good afternoon, ma’am.”
The top floor of the building held only Robert’s office, that of the chairman, the deputy chairman, the financial director, the marketing director, the human resources director and the editor of the group’s major weekly, together with their personal assistants, of course. Before Abigail’s first visit to the building, she had heard what she thought were exaggerated stories of corporate extravagance—that on the executive floor the pile carpet was so deep you had to wade through it. It was only when she visited Robert for the first time that she realized her husband’s office was inherently a subject for satire. And the carpet really was so heavy that it slowed you down.
Until this moment, Abigail had not seen Robert’s new PA. She would have been a surprise to most wives. It was not just the long blond hair, the milky-white complexion, the neckline that allowed her boss a view of just enough breast to keep him interested, the petite waist, the trim legs and tiny feet that fitted into stiletto- heeled shoes—the kind that showed both the toes and the heels, narrow leather bands encasing each ankle. Abigail was sure she had read somewhere that women who wore such shoes were on the hunt. It was not just the PA’s appearance, though. As she came round the desk, a question in her eyes, Abigail saw something insufferably confident in them. If these offices were the caricature of corporate splendor, this girl was the caricature of the trophy PA.
How did we come to this? she asked herself; our ostentatious cars, our ridiculous home with its acres of garden, three entertainment lounges and five bedrooms—for two people. And now this PA . . . worst of all, this PA. And to run into her today, after what she had already been through. On what did Robert base his hiring criteria? she wondered. Pictures in Cosmopolitan? More likely, Playboy.
Something had brightened in the PA’s face. “Oh, you must be Mrs. Mokoapi?” Mokoapi was Robert’s surname. Abigail had never adopted it. “I’m Abigail Bukula,” Abigail said. “Is my husband here?”
To Abigail’s satisfaction, the clear white skin deepened till it reached a full pink around the eyes and in patches on the neck. “I’m sorry, Mrs. . . .” She was visibly casting around in her mind. Clearly, Mrs. Bukula was not going to work either. “May I call you Abigail?” she asked.
But Abigail had not yet finished with the PA, she of the neat little white breasts peeping out at Abigail’s husband. “Ms. Bukula will do,” she said. “Where is my husband?”
“Robert is . . .” she started, but stopped immediately. “Mr. Mokoapi is in a meeting with the chairman and some of the institutional investors. They should have been out already.”
“Tell him his wife was here.” As she turned to go, another thought, or perhaps just a barb, came to her. “Tell him also that I’d appreciate him being home on time tonight.”
“Yes, Mrs. . . . Ms. Bukula.”
Abigail stopped in the doorway of the office and looked back at the still pink face of the PA. For the first time she realized that the kid was no more than twenty-two or twenty-three. Jesus, Robert, she thought, what were you thinking? What part of your body were you thinking with?
The gates of Abigail and Robert’s home opened at the touch of a button. The house was set back perhaps fifty paces into a garden that required two gardeners to keep it in trim. Abigail had tried to persuade Robert that neither a property that size, nor a house that magnificent, were necessary, but he had said the company expected it. If you were the beneficiary of an empowerment deal of this size, the company expected you to behave that way. What sort of impression would it make if the CEO lived in an ordinary town house? Where would he entertain clients and investors?
She still felt the same, but Abigail admitted both to herself and to Robert that she loved the garden. There was a beautiful lawn kids could play on, if there ever were going to be kids. There were summer seats in cool shady corners, hooks for a hammock, also in the shade, a spot in one corner that was sheltered from any wind but caught the winter sun for most of the day. She loved the flowers, the trees, the ponds with their frogs and crickets, and the birds that visited daily. She loved them not because they were hers, but because they were beautiful and they were alive.
The house, too, needed two servants, both of whom had soon learned that the fact that they shared skin color with the madam did not mean that they were going to get away with anything. To Abigail it was not a family relationship. They were well paid by the standards of the city in which they lived, their hours were reasonable and they were expected to work well. The first one to overstep her boundaries by extending three consecutive weekends by an extra day each, without permission or satisfactory reason, had been fired, bringing home the nature of the relationship to the others. They, in turn, would have passed on the news to the replacement. Since then, Abigail had no real staff problems.
She poured herself a glass of fruit juice and sat down in her favorite recliner on the patio. From where she was sitting, she had a view of the drive so that she would see Robert’s car when the gate opened. She could also see much of the garden where the two gardeners were busy closing up for the day. They were packing their implements onto the wheelbarrow to take them to the garden shed.
The worst thing about this huge house was being in it without Robert. When he was at home its absurd spaces did not seem that ridiculous. She hated being alone in the house, even if it was just for an afternoon. Very often she escaped into the garden or onto the patio on such days.
Abigail was a reader. She read novels, poetry, books about famous people and infamous ones, historical texts, wildlife studies, law reviews, case histories and newspapers. The newspapers she read were mostly those published by Vuna Corp., Robert’s company.
She had brought a book of Robert Frost’s poems out to the patio, but this afternoon the words made no sense. The picture of Robert’s so-called personal assistant rose in her mind, but she dismissed it. Worrying about this kid was foolishness.
The other matter was not. Oh God, she thought, how could they do this? She knew that this was not just an objective assessment. The liberation struggle, in which both her parents had died, had been intensely personal for her. Now, she felt, its legacy was being sullied. In the Scorpions they had created a crime-fighting force that, Abigail believed, was second to none anywhere in the world. They had delivered leaders of organized crime to the asset forfeiture unit, where the criminals had lost their ill-gotten fortunes. More than three-quarters of their cases had been successfully prosecuted. But then they had started to root out corruption in the state machinery. And, seemingly, that had been unforgivable.
Abigail put aside Frost’s poems and took up the afternoon paper. The front-page story was about the end of the Scorpions. Her eyes flicked across the columns, taking in the broad outline of the article. Opposition politicians were quoted as saying that this was a sure sign that government had no interest in bringing down the high crime rate. No spokesperson for either the Department of Justice, which was losing a division, or the police, which was gaining one, were available for comment at the time of going to press. A table compared the Scorpions’ excellent record to the relatively poor one of the regular police. In a sidebar, a criminologist she had never heard of compared the Scorpions to the FBI, coming to the conclusion that they were in the same category.
As she turned to page two, her cell phone rang. The voice on the other end told her that the caller was Sipho Dabengwa of the Sunday World. Abigail switched off her phone and went back to the newspaper.
It was on page five that she saw a story that she did read carefully. The headline read “Seven Zimbabwean Dissidents Still Missing.” Krisj Patel had managed to get in something about seven dissidents before the lines had gone down. This seemed to be his reason for calling her.
Abigail knew Zimbabwe well and loved it more than any place other than her own country, having lived there for a little more than a year, before the first democratic election made it possible for her to come home. She knew as much as any outsider about the Zimbabwean people’s struggle for their own democracy. Power was now being shared between the old dictator who had reduced the country to ruins, and the popular leader who, everyone hoped, despite the handicap of an unequal coalition, might have the strength and will to rebuild it.
According to the article, a few days earlier seven dissidents who had been particularly active before the power-sharing deal came into effect, had been picked up by the Central Intelligence Organization. She understood this body to be the political police that had often, during the previous twenty-nine years, been accused of providing violent solutions to the ruling party’s political problems.
The head of the CIO was quoted in the article as saying that the whole thing was a vicious slander; that they had not touched the seven in question. Even a representative of the popular co-leader had said that it was possible that the seven had left the country. One of the dissidents, who had asked not to be named, had said: “They were picked up by the CIO. We have witnesses to the arrests. The agents who arrested them are known to us.”
Abigail closed her eyes and lowered the newspaper till it came to rest over her face. Oh, my Africa, she thought. I’d hoped we were getting past this sort of thing.
It was almost dark when she was woken by Robert’s hand on her shoulder. He was bending over her. “Don’t sleep out here,” he was saying. “Let’s go inside.”
“Oh, you’re here.” She scrambled to her feet and into Robert’s arms. “Thank God you’re here.”
“Sorry about the Scorpions,” he said.
“Oh, Robert, what are they doing?”
“Let’s go inside,” he said. “It’ll soon be cold.”
© 2012 Wessel Ebersohn
Wessel Ebersohn was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Those Who Love Night is the second in the series that began with the widely acclaimed The October Killings. Visit him online at www.WesselEbersohn.com.