I have been asked for part two.
Here it is.
Willems drew the last line of cheap tobacco from his Princeton Filter. The coal threatened the tips of him thumb and index finger. The heat on his skin always reminded him of how, as a child, he would imitate the uncles as they sat on the electricity box outside the house-shop down the road from where he stayed. He studied their behaviour closely. The way they spoke; the way they manoeuvred their cigarettes between their fingertips. The way they stored singular Gunston entjies behind their ears, while the soft-packet of 20 contorted in their pockets.
The same men frequented his mother’s Wendy-house, from Thursday afternoons to Sunday evenings when their wives would send their children to call them to come home. He would sit with them in the lounge while his mom would take one of the uncles to the room. She never let him follow her to the back when they had guests over. He would make sure to keep an eye on the door and listen out for her though, while the other uncles taught him swearwords and let him try small sips of their beers. They always thought it was hilarious when he joined them in their indulgences. By the time he was a teenager he had perfectly mastered the art of imitating the way ‘real men’ behaved on the Cape Flats. At 15, he had even inherited their taste for Mandrax.
“Your files for Wittemore”, Shiela broke his nostalgia. She placed the heavy folder on the cabinet next to Willems’ door.
He sat down at his desk with the last three years of work in his lap. The blood sweat and tears that he had exhausted to put Cayden behind bars had all culminated to this; a folder.
Cayden Wittemore was a name he had hoped to never hear again. All his years on the force he had been haunted by two things; the faces of the young victims who were left mutilated by a mad man, and what had happened at the Pavillion on his first day.
November 5th was the best day of the year for the laaities of Mitchell’s Plain in the early 90s. The klappertjies mesmerized the younger children, but with the new regulations, only certain places were greenlit for proper celebrations. The Strandfontein pavilion was a government approved venue, and this meant that the cars lined up across beach road from before sunset, as the youngsters from Eastridge, Tafelsig, Westridge, Colorado and all over the Plain made their way onto the parking lot of the well-known landmark. Even the boys from Grassy Park, Bishop Lavis and Steenberg brought their cars to show off at the pre-fireworks dice.
The younger boys scurried through the streets, chasing each other with eggs that had been kept in the ground for days before. The more rotten the eggs became in the earth’s heat, the longer the stench that would linger on the victim’s head.
The rougher children smeared the faces of the members of their imaginary Guy Fawkes rival gangs with black nugget. Urban legends of Minora blade toting hooligans were whispered in houses by parents trying to deter the youth from participating in the unofficial coloured-folk traditions, but each year no casualties would be reported – none with evidence at least.
Willems wasn’t a fan of neither Guy Fawkes nor the Pavillion. On the Cape Flats, November 5th meant murder. A ballistics expert would tell you that the only difference between a gunshot and a firecracker is the tail of the echo. But when the sounds created a symphony from Khayelitsha, up until Muizenberg, it was hard for the residents to distinguish between someone’s joyous celebration and someone’s death.
Willems was 21 when he was sent on his first field assignment. It wasn’t like in the shows he would watch as a young man. He had dreamed of being a detective like Columbo. But the cases were always the same. There were no fantastic masterminds leaving clues for an expert eye. Most of his cases were of brutal gang violence, informed by abject poverty. It was hard to stay honest when your children were starving.
Gang violence was at its peak that year, as the turf war for buttons escalated between the Americans and the Mongrels. The bodies of ‘soldiers’ were scattered in the bushes that then covered yet to be developed land. This when the plague of RDP housing emerged to insult the lower classes. He remembered the duplicated design as if he and his mother had moved in yesterday. The doorway lead straight into a tiny lounge. Stairs on the right lead up to a bathroom, and a small room on either side. There wasn’t enough space to turn around and go back downstairs, without your elbows touching the entrance of both of the room doors. But as coloureds knew better than anyone, beggars couldn’t be choosers. But thieves could choose. And on the Cape Flats there was more honour in being a well-off thief than watching your family suffer. His ma always warned him that if you’re a thief long enough, you’ll eventually have to kill someone. Crime was a revolving door, she would say.
Willems remembered how his blue uniform was too wide around his waist. The shoulder pads drowned out his skinny frame. He could still smell the burn from the tires as the crowds cheered on the boys doing donuts with their Boesman Escorts.
“Willems, looking spiffy”, Abigail Brookes giggled as she bit into her boerewors roll. She didn’t wait for him to retort, walking off to the bakkie to grab an Oros before their shift.
Brookes was Willems’ first partner at Strandfontein Depot. Six months at the academy gave them time to bond over their years on the other side of the law.
Brookes was a vision, even in the unflattering unisex pant suit that the new recruits had to wear. When she was off duty, her curly hair cascaded down her shoulders, even though she would always complain of how much it made her neck sweat. She was adamant on being one of the guys, but Willems knew from the moment she introduced herself to him at the training campsite at the academy that she would become his wife.
Watching his mother grow older and darker as the years passed only made him vow to treat women with respect. In his teens he heard her moaning when her gentlemen callers were in her bedroom. His Walkman usually drowned out the sound of her pleasuring the neighbourhood’s well known Casanovas in exchange for money for food and school fees. She was a kind woman, but her life had taught her very few things. Beauty paid the bills, but a woman with a child would have to settle for second best. No respectable man would place his ring on a tarnished woman’s finger.
Even when they moved into the council house, the walls were paper thin. Her moans were sometimes from crying about how the years had passed her by. Until the day she died, Willems had been the only man to tell his mother that she was beautiful, and that he loved her.
“Briggs, take the back exit from the shop to the lifeguard’s building”, the lieutenant handed out the evening’s orders.
“Jacobs and Salie, over the parking lot at the entrance. Klom laaities smoking slow boats behind the barricades. Confiscate anything smaller than a stop, otherwise anything bigger and they in the van”.
Willems and Brookes were assigned to the bridge.
At 7.45pm, the officers moved to take their first positions at their stations, as the sun set on Strandfontein Beach, the first of the explosions coloured the sky, stopping all other commotion. Or so they thought for those few seconds.
A child’s scream, broke the awe.
‘Brookes, there next to the pillar” Willems shouted. Brookes ran towards the action. A man lay flat on his back in the sand, covered in glitter, and the Fanta Orange that he had been holding.
Whoever had planned the hit had waited for the noise of the fireworks to drown out the gunshot that laid to rest between the eyes of the man who would from that night onwards be known only as the Guy Fawkes John Doe. Willems was certain he had seen that very man, minutes before finding him wounded under the walk bridge.
“Joel”, Cliff thought he heard the man say as he stared straight up at the sky.
Willems and Brookes looked around the scene for anyone suspicious, but people were all scattering in different directions. The beach was full, like Guy Fawkes always left it; filled with children, horny teen boys with cars, girls who had snuck out in Salah tops, with miniskirts underneath. And as of the next ten minutes; a murderer and a dead man.
Willems never let it go, and as the years passed, he looked out for any suspects named Joel. Anyone who fit the description that was given that night had checked out with an alibi. The trail remained cold. When he was promoted to detective, his caseload was a never ending influx of new murders, with new victims. He never had the time to look back into the Guy Fawkes John Doe case. But he didn’t let the memory fade. At 21, Willems had seen the life drain from the eyes of a man his age, his race. A man who, perhaps with only a few wrong decisions in his life, could easily have been Willems.
Willems, now a seasoned detective in his forties sighed at the casework.
He first encountered the work of Cayden Wittemore in 2014.
“Kimlynne Baatjies. Age seven. Evidence of forced vaginal and anal penetration, both post-mortem and while alive.”
The coroner was monotone when he said it.
“She was found in a shallow grave on the footpath between the Wespoort Bridge and the Town Centre Taxi rank in Mitchell’s plain. Victim was naked, except for one white Oliphant sandal. Children’s size 9. Left foot.”
Willems wrote his observations into his black, A5 notebook. He circled her like a vulture, picking off every clue left by a sinister, calculated monster.
Kimlynne had gone missing four days earlier, in the first week of the new school year. Her home, a Wendy house in front of a semi-detached Maisonette had been the first port of call for the investigation. She lived with her mother, baby sister and Wittemore. She had known Wittemore since she was a toddler, and had called him ‘daddy’.
When Kimlynne disappeared, Wittemore was first in line to assist the police in finding her. He led the search party for three days, scouring the backyard dwellings of Eastridge, to no avail.
Even journalists from the local paper had joined in, as well as political leaders from neighbouring wards.
When Sherri-Anne Baatjies spoke to the news cameras, Wittemore was by her side.
“Kimmy is baie soet. Nog nooit sal ek gedink het ek sal my kind in die nag moet soek nie…. Bring haar huistoe, asseblief. Kimmy, mammie gat jou vind, ek belowe”. Sherri sobbed into Wittemore’s shoulder, raising her hand to stop the recording. The internet had eaten up the news stories of Mitchell’s Plain‘s missing Children. Images of the children’s bodies, along with posts on the sordid details of the children’s murders went viral on social media. It was exactly the type of filthy trauma porn that people expected from the ghetto. But no one was expecting the revelation that would come shortly after Kimlynne’s body was found.
A knock on his door startled Willems back into the present.
Brownwyn stood in the doorway of his office. She hadn’t expected anything glamorous, but the smoke had thickened the air with its frequency, leaving a brown film on most of the higher up objects. Or maybe it was just the strong odour overpowering all of her senses. She didn’t care enough to make sure. She suppressed an impolite cough.
“Detective Willems”, she nodded. “We met earlier at the coroner’s office. I’m Brownyn –
“Yes, Cliff’s underling. Please come in’.
Underling. That word made her root for whichever cancer was lurking in Willem’s vital organs.
“I’m here to take notes for the Nikita case. Clifford has been assigned to a different story”.
“Well, we better get caught up then”. Willems didn’t like the change to his team. He had gotten used to Clifford. They had a sort of unspoken understanding of the appropriate procedure for cases. Clifford was punctual and precise. Most importantly, he was quiet.
Bronwyn didn’t seems to harbour the same capacity for restraint.
“I have a meeting with him at 4, so I won’t take up too much of your time today”, she noticed the cold shoulder.
“You’re meeting, who?”
“Err, yeah, I’m meeting Cayden Wittemore”.
Willems nodded slowly. He lit another cigarette.
“They allow you to smoke inside?” Bronwyn attempted small talk.
Willems gestured for Bronwyn to take a seat at the other side of the desk. He pushed the pile of paperwork towards her, on top of it, the file from the Wittemore investigation.
“Why was he never convicted for the other murders?” Bronwyn didn’t look up from the file.
“He did it”.
“But you don’t know that for a fact?
Bronwyn had studied every news report and blog post about Cayden, the murders and the trial as soon as she was assigned to the story.
Many of the accounts had slight inconsistencies that made her question the investigation in its entirety. She believed that Wittemore was a murderer who deserved punishment, but there were small clues that just didn’t add up.
To start, she didn’t see any patterns linking the murders of the other children to the death of Kimlynne.
Leah Christianson was found in a black bag on a field in Pelican Heights, Loren Isaacs was found in an abandoned school building in Mandalay. Stacey Van Heerden was found on an open field in Westridge by a passer-by.
None of them were naked when they were discovered. Unbeknownst to the paper, the children were all found with paper cuts on parts of their bodies, a fact that had been withheld on purpose by the police commissioner. He had decided that the tiny detail would cause a panic, as it was too brutal to explain to people that the children may have been tortured by their captor. It was also never confirmed to be actual paper cuts, though small fragments of white paper were found inside some of the thin slices on the bodies. The incisions could have been made with an assortment of razor like objects.
Kimlynne however was the only exception. Kimlynne presented with several stab wounds, but they were not the cause of death. All the other victims had been deceased before they were placed in their shallow graves. Kimlynne had been disposed of in a panic, and had suffocated in the sand.
Willems wondered why he had overlooked this in the trial. It was a small detail, but significant enough to follow up on. Now, in Nikita’s neck, they had found pieces of white paper lodged in the wounds.
Besides the inconsistencies, Kimlynne was the only victim with Wittemore’s sperm inside of her. DNA tests confirmed the semen was present in her mouth, vagina and anus. The other children had definitely been sodomised, but there was no DNA evidence on the bodies.
“He slipped up with Kimlynne, and that’s how we got him”, but now that he said it out loud mostly to convince himself, Brownyn’s doubt had infiltrated Willems enough for his convictions to waiver.
“These are great, thank you” Bronwyn took scans of the documents before packing up her belongings. “Well, not great. They’re gruesome, of course. But…”
“I’ll see you at the station in the morning, Ms Abrahams. I’ll be ready to leave at 7”.
Willems watched her as she exited the office block, turning left towards the elevators.
She reminded him of Abi – less refined, or course, but just as beautiful.
He gave the framed photo on his desk the once over before getting up to make his afternoon coffee.
Willems vividly remembered the anguish on Sherri’s face on the day that Kimlynne’s body was found. She collapsed into the arms of her mother and sisters, as she approached the Yellow police tape that cordoned off her daughter from the living.
Willem’s found it strange that Cayden wasn’t by her side. They had been inseparable since the news that Kimlynne was missing; but when officers contacted the family to say that they had discovered a body that they thought was Kimlynne, Cayden was strangely unenthusiastic.
While the community comforted Sherri, Willems made his way back to the Wendy house in Cinderella Crescent, to find anything that could point to a killer.
“See you tomorrow, Boss”, one of the interns interrupted.
Willems reclined his office chair to see the whiteboard. He needed to focus on Nikita. Brownyn had made him uncomfortable with her questions earlier. Had he missed something?
If he had, he shuddered to think what it would mean, for the community, and for his career. When he arrested Cayden, Willems was hailed as a hero by his peers. It was the sort of validation he needed in his professional life, especially after his abysmal divorce from Abi that same year.
But had his personal life distracted him from the facts?
“Hi, Cliff”, he had wrestled with his better judgement before phoning Clifford. “I’m actually looking for Bronwyn’s number”, he needed an excuse; “She forgot a few of the files”.
“Sure, Ill WhatsApp her contact, just in a meeting, Detective”.
Willems paced. Still poised, but growing increasingly more anxious, he took his temporary marker and outlined the timeline of events that had lead up to the arrest. Children. Names. Dates. Clues. The next few hours were dedicated to recounting step by step what had unraveled from the day the first body was discovered in Pelican Heights.
“Leah, 12. Went missing from in front of the house shop in Danubi road, Portlands. The last person to see her was Meryl Steyn. She was buying bread at 4pm. Leah was also there to buy bread and milk for her mom, before her dad got home from work. Leah Christianson was found in a black bag on a field in Pelican Heights”. Willems wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
Next, “Loren Isaacs. 10 years old. Loren was found in an abandoned school building in Mandalay. She was last seen at the karaoke at Mondale High School with her older sister, 16. Loren went to the toilet, but didn’t return. Cameras from surrounding buildings show a man, with the same build as Cayden carrying a tog bag, believed to have Loren’s body inside. Camera footage from various angles map a route from Promenade Mall, all the way to Mandalay Primary.”
He kept writing.
“Stacey Van Heerden. 9 years old”. She was the next victim. “Kimlynne had already disappeared when Stacy was discovered on an open field in Westridge by a passer-by. A stone throw from where the notorious station strangler had disposed of his victims decades prior. Stacey went missing from her front yard when her mother sent her to take out the council bin. Her older brother saw her at the gate, through the lounge window and assured her mother that she was just outside. Five minutes later when she hadn’t returned inside, her mom went to look for her. She was gone.
“Nikita. Nikita was last seen outside of Montague Primary School in Portland. She was seven years old. She was waiting for the van that takes her to and from school to arrive, but it is believed that she exited at the wrong gate. The last person to see her was Aunty Shirley from the tuck shop at the fence. She had seen the child as she packed up at 2.15pm. When she returned at 3.30pm to serve the older kids, Nikita was gone.”
Then, he moved on to the children who had gone missing while Cayden was already incarcerated.
Since October, four children had been reported missing in the Eastridge area. Nikita had been found that morning. A week earlier, Monray, 8, was discovered.
Two children were still missing, and if the pattern that Willem’s had mapped out for the copycat was correct, their bodies were due to be found in the next few days.
Willems stood back, absorbing the details on his whiteboard. The outer edge of his right palm was black. He closed his marker and packed his bag. The day had been treacherous. Willems strapped his leather Finger bag over his chest and emptied his overfilled ashtray into the bin. As he exited the office, he turned to switch off the light. It was 9pm. Anyone who had a family or social life was long gone by now. The second floor of the Mitchell’s Plain Police Department was a ghost town. The officers on evening shift were all either on patrol, or downstairs booking in the druggies and whores who sold their bodies for drugs outside of the industrial area down the road from the back entrance of Promenade Mall. The same place the alcoholics and homeless people drink beer in the day light, against the fence that runs past the mall’s tax-rank.
He exited the work floor, turning left to catch the elevator down to the parking garage. Willem’s couldn’t stop thinking about Nikita.
“Shit”, he muttered. He had forgotten to call Bronwyn about the case. Willems patted himself down. No cell phone. The lift arrived to Willems rummaging through his belongings. His phone wasn’t in his bag either. Dragging his feet back towards the office, Willems stopped as he took the corner.
His light was on. He was sure he had switched it off as he left. He had surely reached for it when her locked up ten minutes ago?
Further inspection verified that the door was definitely locked. In his feeble attempt to rationalise the last couple of memories he had, and not quail at the idea of being followed, Willems decided that in his tired state he must have forgotten to click off the switch, just as he had forgotten his cell phone.
“Hi Bronwyn. Willems here. Please call me back when you can. Regarding the Cayden Case. Thanks”. He deleted his voicemail. He would see her at 7am anyway. He was too tired for any calls and wanted nothing more to go home, drink a glass of Johnny Walker Red Label and go straight to bed.
At 3am. Willems opened his eyes. He had collapsed into bed after being too liberal with the Johnny Walker, and his throat wasn’t letting him forget it. He swallowed the dry yet slimy film that had stretched throughout his mouth.
Water, he needed water. Willems pushed up from his black, Chinese symbol covered duvet.
Nothing. Had he injured himself in his drunken stupor?
He was unable to move, besides for tensing his muscles. Again, he attempted to lift himself up. He noticed the weight on his back.
Willems wasn’t completely sure that he was awake. The tired, dizzy feeling moved through him, closing and opening his eyes as it toyed with his senses.
“Help”, he attempted to shout to anyone who may have been outside of his Athlone home.
“Help”. His voice was muffled by his frozen lips.
“I’m dreaming. It’s just a dream. Just relax”.
He struggled for a few more seconds, still trying to calm himself down with the reassurance that he was having a very vivid dream.
Everything in his room looked exactly in place. The clothes he had put on the chair opposite his bed when he came home. The coat hanging from the cupboard handle. The room was admittedly very dimly lit, but seemed identical to his room in the real world.
The sound of his heartbeat had finally quietened down, no longer beating in his ears.
The room was silent.
No, it wasn’t.
The sound his breathing was heavy. He listened intently to the room’s ambience for about eight seconds, before he realised that for the last 20 seconds, he had been holding his breathe.
He moved his eyes further along the room. He moved them past the chair filled with clothes. He moved them past the coat. And at his feet, at the end of his bed, he saw the source of the breathing.
The headache from moving his eyes that far sideways felt real.
There, naked, besides for one white Oliphant, Nikita hung by his bed. Arms open, she mimicked the antichrist as she floated upside down. It looked as if water was dripping from mouth onto the bed. Nikita’s breathing was heavy for a 7 year old girl.
Willem’s felt himself start to shake. He had caught his breathe again, but the weight on his back increased as he felt himself sink into the bed. He attempted to lift himself up one more time but his arms, neck and head remained like lead. He closed his eyes. The breathing persisted for a few more minutes, until it just stopped.
At some point the weight lifted, and Willems must have drifted off into a different dream. When he awoke again at the sound of his 6am alarm, he was laying on his stomach, across from the chair full of laundry, adjacent to the coat hanging from the cupboard. But, for some reason, his feet were wet.
Willems grabbed his phone from the bed stand.
“Hi doctor Bihardi, Ricardo Willems here. You told me to call if, the… err…” Silence.
“Please have Cheryl call me back, I need to make an appointment”.