Excerpt of A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn
(Page 4 of 7)
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"That casts the net pretty wide," Emmanuel said, and studied the full length of the riverbank. Farther upstream, an older black man in a heavy wool coat and khaki uniform sat in the patchy shade of an indoni tree. Two frightened black boys nestled close to him.
"Who's that?" he asked.
"Shabalala," Henrick answered. "He's a policeman, too. He's half Zulu, half Shangaan. Pa said the Shangaan part could track any animal, and the Zulu part was sure to kill it."
The Pretorius brothers smiled at the captain's old explanation.
Hansie stepped up eagerly. "Those are the boys who found the body, Detective Sergeant. They told Shabalala and he rode into town and told us."
"I'd like to hear what they have to say."
Hansie pulled a whistle from his breast pocket and blew a shrill note. "Constable Shabalala. Bring the boys. Make it fast."
Shabalala rose slowly to his full height, over six feet, and made his way toward
them. The boys followed in the shadow he cast. Emmanuel watched Shabalala approach and instantly realized that he must have been the policeman who'd set up the series of native men to guide him to the crime scene.
"Quick, man!" Hansie called out. "You see that, Detective Sergeant? You tell them to hurry and this is what you get."
Emmanuel pressed his fingers into the ridge of bone above his left eye socket where a headache stirred. The country light, free from industrial haze, was bright as a blowtorch on his retina.
"Detective Sergeant Cooper, this is Constable Samuel Shabalala." Hansie performed the introductions in his best grown-up voice. "Shabalala, this detective has come all the way from Jo'burg to help us find out who killed the captain. You must tell him everything you know like a good man, okay?"
Shabalala, a few heads taller and a decade or two older than any of the white men in front of him, nodded and shook Emmanuel's outstretched hand. His face, calm as a lake, gave nothing away. Emmanuel made eye contact, and saw nothing but his own reflection in the dark brown eyes.
"The detective is an Englishman." Henrick spoke directly to Shabalala. "You must use English, okay?"
Emmanuel turned to the brothers, who stood in a semicircle behind him.
"You need to move back twenty paces while I question the boys," he said. "I'll call you when we're ready to move your pa."
Henrick grunted and the brothers moved away. Emmanuel waited until they re-formed their huddle before continuing.
He crouched down to the boys' level. "Uno bani wena?" he asked Shabalala.
Shabalala's eyes widened in surprise, then he joined Emmanuel at child height and gently touched each boy on the shoulder in turn. Continuing in Zulu, he answered Emmanuel's question. "This one is Vusi and this one is Butana, the little brother."
The boys looked about eleven and nine years old, with close-shaven heads and enormous brown eyes. Their rounded stomachs pushed out their frayed shirts.
"I'm Emmanuel. I'm a policeman from Jo'burg. You are brave boys. Can you tell me what happened?"
Butana held his hand up and waited to be called on.
"Yebo?" Emmanuel prompted.
"Please, baas." Butana's finger twisted through a hole at the front of his shirt. "We came here fishing."
"Where did you come from?"
"Our mother's house at the location," the older boy said. "We came when it was just light because baas Voster doesn't like us to fish at this place."
"Voster says the natives steal the fish," Hansie said, and crouched down to join the action.
Emmanuel ignored him. "How did you get to the river?" he asked.
"We came down from that path there." Vusi pointed past the blanket and lantern that lay on the sand to a narrow pathway that disappeared into the lush veldt.
Copyright © 2009 by Malla Nunn