They looked over at the captain, swimming in the waters of eternity. A dead white hand waved at them from the shallows.
"Did you find the body, Constable Hepple?" Emmanuel asked.
"No." The Afrikaner youth teared up. "Some kaffir boys from the location found the captain this morning...he's been out here all night."
Emmanuel waited until Hansie got control of himself. "Did you call the Detective Branch in?"
"I couldn't get a phone line to district headquarters," the boy policeman explained. "I told my sister to try till she got through. I didn't want to leave the captain by himself."
A knot of three white men stood farther up the riverbank and took turns drinking from a battered silver flask. They were big and meaty, the kind of men who would pull their own wagons across the veldt long after the oxen were dead.
Emmanuel motioned toward the group. "Who are they?"
"Three of the captain's sons."
"How many sons does the captain have?" Emmanuel imagined the mother, a wide-hipped woman who gave birth between baking bread and hanging up the laundry.
"Five sons. They're a good family. True volk."
The young policeman dug his hands into his pockets and kicked a stone across the bank with his steel-capped boot. Eight years after the beaches of Normandy and the ruins of Berlin, there was still talk of folk-spirit and race purity out on the African plains.
Emmanuel studied the murdered captain's sons. They were true Afrikaners, all right. Muscled blonds plucked straight from the victory at the Battle of Blood River and glorified on the walls of the Voortrekker Monument. The captain's boys broke from their huddle and walked toward him.
Images from Emmanuel's childhood flickered to life. Boys with skin white as mother's milk from the neck down and the elbow up. Noses skewed from fights with friends, the Indians, the English, or the coloured boys cheeky enough to challenge their place at the top.
The brothers came within shoving distance of Emmanuel and stopped. Boss Man, the largest of the brothers, stood in front. The Enforcer stood to his right with his jaw clenched. Half a step behind, the third brother stood ready to take orders from up the chain of command.
"Where's the rest of the squad?" Boss Man demanded in rough-edged English. "Where are your men?"
"I'm it," Emmanuel said. "There is no one else."
"You joking me?" The Enforcer added finger pointing to the exchange. "A police captain is murdered and Detective Branch send out one lousy detective?"
"I shouldn't be out here alone," Emmanuel conceded. A dead white man demanded a team of detectives. A dead white policeman: a whole division. "The information headquarters received was unclear. There was no mention of the victim's race, sex, or occupation -- "
The Enforcer cut across the explanation. "You have to do better than that."
Emmanuel chose to focus on the Boss Man.
"I was working the Preston murder case. The white couple shot in their general store," he said. "We tracked the killer to his parents' farm, an hour west of here, and made an arrest. Major van Niekerk called and asked me to check a possible homicide -- "
"'Possible homicide'?" The Enforcer wasn't about to be sidelined. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means the operator who logged the call got one useful piece of information from the caller -- the name of the town, Jacob's Rest. That was all we had to work with."
He didn't mention the word "hoax."
"If that's true," the Enforcer said, "how did you get here? This isn't Jacob's Rest, it's Old Voster's Farm."
"An African man waved me off the main road, then another one showed me to the river," Emmanuel explained, and the brothers shared a puzzled look. They had no idea what he was talking about.
Copyright © 2009 by Malla Nunn
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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