"Can't be." The Boss Man spoke directly to the boy constable. "You told them a police captain had been murdered, hey, Hansie?"
The teenager scuttled behind Emmanuel. His breathing was ragged in the sudden quiet.
"Hansie..." The Enforcer smelled blood. "What did you tell them?"
"I..." The boy's voice was muffled. "I told Gertie she must say everything. She must explain how it was."
"Gertie...Your twelve-year-old sister made the call?"
"I couldn't get a line," Hansie complained. "I tried..."
"Domkop." The Boss Man stepped to the side, in order to get a clear swing at Hansie. "You really that stupid?"
The brothers moved forward in a hard line, cabbage-sized fists at the ready. The constable grabbed a handful of Emmanuel's jacket and burrowed close to his shoulder.
Emmanuel stood his ground and kept eye contact with the head brother. "Giving Constable Hepple a smack or two will make you feel better, but you can't do it here. This is a crime scene and I need to start work."
The Pretorius boys stopped. Their focus shifted to the body of their father floating in the clear water of the river.
Emmanuel stepped into the silence and held out his hand. "Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper. I'm sorry for the loss of your father."
"Henrick," the Boss Man said, and Emmanuel felt his hand disappear into a fleshy paw. "This here is Johannes and Erich, my brothers."
The younger brothers nodded a greeting, wary of the city detective in the pressed suit and green-striped tie. In Jo'burg he looked smart and professional. On the veldt with men who smelled of dirt and diesel fuel, he was out of place.
"Constable Hepple says there are five of you." He returned the brothers' stares and noticed the areas of redness around their eyes and noses.
"Louis is at home with our ma. He's too young to see this." Henrick took a swig from the flask and turned away to hide his tears.
Erich, the Enforcer, stepped forward. "The army is letting Paul out on compassionate leave. He'll be home tomorrow or the day after."
"What unit is he in?" Emmanuel asked, curious in spite of himself. Six years out of service and his own trousers and shirtsleeves were still ironed sharp enough to please a sergeant major. The army had discharged him, but it hadn't let him go.
"Paul's in intelligence," Henrick said, now flushed pink from the brandy.
Emmanuel calculated the odds that brother Paul belonged to the old guard of the intelligence corps -- the one that broke fingers and smashed heads to extract information. Exactly the kind you didn't want hanging around an orderly murder investigation.
He checked the brothers' posture, the slack shoulders and unclenched hands, and decided to take control of the situation while he had a moment to do so. He was on his own with no backup and there was a murder to solve. He started with the classic opener guaranteed to raise a response from idiots and geniuses alike:
"Can you think of anyone who would do this to your father?"
"No. No one," Henrick answered with absolute certainty. "My father was a good man."
"Even good men have enemies. Especially a police captain."
"Pa might have got on the wrong side of some people, but nothing serious," Erich insisted. "People respected him. No one who knew him could do this."
"An outsider, is your guess?"
"Smugglers use this stretch of river to go in and out of Mozambique," Henrick said. "Weapons, liquor, even Commie pamphlets, they all come into the country when no one is looking."
Johannes spoke for the first time. "We think Pa maybe surprised some criminal crossing over into SA."
"A lowlife bringing in cigarettes or whiskey stolen off the docks in Lorenzo Marques." Erich took the flask from Henrick. "Some kaffir with nothing to lose."
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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