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Authors: Tom Sharpe

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BOOK: Riotous Assembly
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The next moment his wrists were handcuffed behind him and he was swung round.

“That is the swine all right. Take him into the house,” said the Kommandant, and the
Bishop was frogmarched by several konstabels across the drive and into the family home.
Naked and wet, Jonathan Hazelstone stood among the potted plants in the great hall still
wearing the bathing-cap. From a great distance and far beyond the frontiers of sanity he
heard the Kommandant whisper, “Jonathan Hazelstone, I charge you with the wilful murder
of one Zulu cook and God knows how many policemen, the wilful destruction of Government
property and being in unlawful possession of weapons calculated to harm life and
limb.”

He was too dazed and too deaf to hear the Kommandant tell Sergeant de Kock to take him
down into the cellar and keep him safely under guard until morning.

“Wouldn’t he be safer down at the police station?” the Sergeant suggested.

But Kommandant van Heerden was too exhausted to leave Jacaranda House and besides he
was looking forward to spending the night in a house renowned throughout South Africa for
refined living.

“The place is ringed with men,” he said, “and besides, we’ve been having complaints from
the neighbours about the screams from the cells. Up here nobody will hear him when he yells.
I’ll cross-examine him in the morning.”

And as the Bishop of Barotseland was led down into the cellar of Jacaranda House,
Kommandant van Heerden wearily climbed the staircase to find himself a nice comfortable
bedroom. He chose one with a blue bedspread on an enormous double bed, and as he stepped
naked between the sheets, he considered himself a lucky man.

“To think that I can commandeer the house that once belonged to the Viceroy of
Matabeleland,” he said to himself and turning on his side between the remarkably smooth
sheets, promptly fell asleep.

Chapter 9

Few other people in Piemburg dropped off to sleep so easily that night. Too many
disturbing things were happening around them for their sleep to be anything but fitful.
In Upper Piemburg the searchlights swung slowly to and fro around the perimeter of
Jacaranda Park, illuminating with quite astonishing brilliance the great hoardings
that announced the arrival of death by two of its most awful means. Designed originally
for the Army before being turned over to the police force, the searchlights did a great
deal more than that. As they traversed the Park, the neighbouring suburbs and the city
itself, they turned night into brilliant day with some remarkable results,
particularly in the case of a number of chicken farms whose battery hens were driven to
the verge of nervous breakdown by finding their already short nights suddenly
diminished to something like four minutes.

Families which had taken the precaution of locking their dogs in the backyard and of
sprinkling their sheets with DDT and whose bedrooms lay in the path of the searchlights
found dawn break upon them with a rapidity and brilliance they had never before
experienced, to be succeeded by a duskless night, and the process repeated endlessly
while they tossed and turned in their itching beds. Outside along the roads rumbled the
armoured cars and trucks of the police and bursts of firing interrupted the silence of
the night, as the crews followed the Kommandant’s instructions to shoot any small bush
resembling Luitenant Verkramp.

The switchboard at the Piemburg Hospital was deluged with calls from agitated callers
who wanted to know the symptoms of bubonic plague and rabies and how to treat the
diseases. In the end the frantic telephonist refused to take any more calls, a
dereliction of duty that had fatal results in two cases of heart attack.

Only Konstabel Els slept soundly in the isolation hospital. Occasionally he
twitched in his sleep but only because he was dreaming of battle and sudden death. On the
Vlockfontein road families whose cars had broken down in the long queue trudged towards
Piemburg. It was a hot night and as they walked they sweated.

 Kommandant van Heerden sweated too but for a rather different reason. He had
been too exhausted when he climbed into bed to take much notice of his surroundings. He
had noticed that the sheets felt peculiar but he had put their smoothness down to the fact
that Miss Hazelstone’s bed linen would naturally be of the finest quality and unlike his
own ordinary sheets.

Kommandant van Heerden slept like a babe for an hour. When he awoke it was to find the
bed dripping with moisture. He climbed out of bed horribly enbarrassed.

“It isn’t as though I’ve been on the booze,” he muttered as he grabbed a handtowel from
the washbasin and began to mop the bed out, and wondered how he was going to explain the
mishap to Miss Hazelstone in the morning. He could imagine the sort of caustic comments
she would make.

“Thank heaven the sheets seem to be waterproof,” he said and climbed back into bed to
dry them out. “It’s a terribly hot night,” he thought tossing and turning. He just couldn’t
make himself comfortable. As he drifted off and woke again and drifted off he gained the
definite impression that the bed was getting no dryer. If anything it was getting
wetter. He could feel the sweat running down his back as he slithered from side to side in
the infernally slimy sheets.

He began to wonder if he had fallen sick with a fever brought on by the strain of the
day. He certainly felt feverish and his thoughts bore all the marks of delirium.
Uncertain whether he was dreaming or recalling what had actually happened, pursued by
elephant guns, Miss Hazelstone with a scimitar, Mings and a demented Konstabel Els,
Kommandant van Heerden thrashed on through the night in a froth of agitation.

At two in the morning he took the blankets off the bed. At three he mopped the bed out
again. At four, convinced that he was dying in a raging fever and with a temperature of
one hundred and ten he stumbled to the bathroom in search of a thermometer. He had begun
to think that he had shown remarkable foresight in ordering the plague notices to be put
up round the Park. Whatever disease he had caught he had no doubt it must be both
infectious and fatal. But when he took his temperature he found it to be subnormal.

“Odd,” he thought. “Very odd,” and after drinking several pints of water out of a
tooth-mug went back to his room and climbed back into bed. At five o’clock he gave up all
idea of sleeping and went along to the bathroom and had a cold bath. He was still debating
what was wrong with him as he began to dress. He noticed that the room had a funny sort of
smell about it, and for a moment he looked suspiciously at his socks. “It isn’t that sort
of smell,” he said to himself and crossing to the windows pulled back the curtains.

Outside the sun was up and the jacaranda trees bright with flowers in the morning light.
But Kommandant van Heerden wasn’t interested in the view from his window. He was much
more concerned with the curtains. They felt just like the sheets. He felt them again. “The
bloody things stretch,” he thought, and found that the sheets were elastic too. He smelt them
closely and recognized the smell now. The sheets and the curtains were made of latex.
Everything in the room was made of thin blue rubber.

He opened the wardrobe and felt the suits and dresses that hung there. They too were made
of rubber. Kommandant van Heerden sat down on the bed astonished. He had never run
across anything like this in his life. Certainly his annual acquaintance with latex had
hardly prepared him for this encounter, and as he sat there he began to think that there
was something definitely sinister about the room. Finally he examined the contents of
the chest of drawers and found the same thing there. Shirts, pants, and socks were all made of
rubber. In one small drawer he found several latex hoods and two pairs of handcuffs. Very
definitely the room had a sinister purpose, he thought and went downstairs to have
breakfast.

 “How’s the prisoner?” the Kommandant asked Sergeant de Kock when he had finished
his toast and coffee.

“Looks insane to me. Keeps talking about animals all the time. Seems to think God is a
guard dog or a vulture or something,” said the Sergeant.

“Won’t do him much good. How many men did we lose yesterday?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Twenty-one and a Zulu cook. Say twenty-one and a quarter. No man who shoots
twenty-one policemen can plead insanity.”

Sergeant de Kock wasn’t convinced. “Any man who shoots twenty-one policemen and leaves
his wallet behind at the scene of the crime sounds insane to me.”

“We all make mistakes,” said the Kommandant, and went upstairs to begin his
cross-examination.

 Down in the cellar the Bishop of Barotseland had spent the night chained to a
pipe. He had slept even less than the Kommandant and had been guarded by four konstabels
and two dogs. During the sleepless hours he had wrestled with the intellectual and moral
problem implied by his predicament and had finally come to the conclusion that he was
being punished for not getting out of the swimming-bath fast enough. For a while he had
even considered the possibility that what was apparently happening to him was a
symptom of delirium tremens brought on by drinking a bottle of bad brandy neat. When
finally he was dragged to his feet and taken upstairs and down the corridor to his
father’s study he was certain that he was having hallucinations.

Kommandant van Heerden had not chosen Judge Hazelstone’s study for interrogating
the prisoner by accident. His unerring sense of psychology had told him that the study,
redolent with judicial severity and the associations of childhood, would prepare
Jonathan Hazelstone for the grilling the Kommandant intended to give him. Seating
himself at the desk in a large leather-covered chair, the Kommandant assumed a posture
and mien he felt sure would remind the prisoner of his father. To this end he toyed with a
miniature brass gallows complete with trap and dangling victim which he found on the desk
serving as a paperweight. It was a gift, he noted, from “The Executioner in gratitude
for Judge Hazelstone’s many favours”. Confident that he looked very much as the great
lawmaker must have done when he interrogated his son about some childish misdemeanour,
the Kommandant ordered the prisoner to be brought in.

Whatever resemblance there might have been between the Kommandant and Judge
Hazelstone of the Supreme Court, and it was practically non-existent, there was
absolutely none between the manacled and naked creature that hobbled into the study
still wearing the absurd bathing-cap, and any High Church dignitary. Staring wild-eyed
at the Kommandant, the Bishop looked the picture of depravity.

“Name?” said the Kommandant putting down the paperweight and reaching for a pen.

“I’m hard of hearing,” said the Bishop.

“So am I,” said the Kommandant. “Comes of firing that bloody elephant gun.”

“I said I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Kommandant van Heerden looked up from the desk. “What the hell are you wearing that cap
for?” he asked, and signalled to a konstabel to take it off. The konstabel laid the
bathing-cap on the desk and Kommandant van Heerden looked at it suspiciously. “Do you
make a habit of wearing rubber clothes?” he inquired.

The Bishop chose to ignore the question. It had too much of the nightmare about it and
he wanted to get back to the everyday world.

“I must protest against the assaults made on my person,” he began, and was surprised at
the reaction this simple statement provoked.

“You want to do what?” yelled the Kommandant.

“I have been assaulted by several of your men,” went on the Bishop. “They have treated
me absolutely abominably.”

Kommandant van Heerden couldn’t believe his ears. “And what do you think you were doing
to them yesterday afternoon, playing kiss-in-the-fucking-ring? You butcher half my
bloody men, ruin a perfectly good Saracen and murder your sister’s Zulu bleeding cook
and you’ve got the nerve to come in here and protest at the assaults on…” Kommandant van
Heerden was at a loss for words. When he recovered his temper he went on more quietly.
“Anything else you would like to ask me?” he said.

“Yes,” said the Bishop. “I demand to see my lawyer.”

The Kommandant shook his head. “Confession first,” he said.

“I’m entitled to see my lawyer.”

Kommandant van Heerden had to smile. “You’re not.”

“I am entitled by law to consult my lawyer.”

“You’ll be bleating about Habeas Corpus next.”

“I most certainly will unless you bring me before a magistrate in forty-eight
hours.”

Kommandant van Heerden sat back in his chair and grinned cheerfully. “You think you
know your law, don’t you? Being the son of a judge, you’d know all about it, wouldn’t
you?”

The Bishop wasn’t going to be drawn. “I know my basic rights,” he said.

“Well, let me tell you something now. I’m holding you under the Terrorism Act and that
means you can see no lawyer and there’s no Habeas Corpus, nothing.” He paused to let this
sink in. “I can detain you till the day you die, and you never so much as get a whiff of a
lawyer, and as for charging you before a magistrate, that can wait for forty-eight years
or four hundred and eighty, for that matter.”

The Bishop tried to say something, but the Kommandant continued, “I’ll tell you
something else. Under the Terrorism Act you have to prove yourself innocent. I don’t
have to go to the bother of proving you guilty. Really rather convenient from my point of
view,” and the Kommandant picked up the paper-weight with what he hoped was a meaningful
gesture.

The Bishop groped for something to say. “But the Terrorism Act doesn’t apply to me. I’m
not a terrorist.”

“And what would you call a person who went round murdering twenty-one policemen if
not a bloody terrorist?”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’ll tell you what I am talking about,” shouted the Kommandant, “I’ll spell it out for
you. Early yesterday afternoon you attempted to destroy the evidence of a bestial
crime committed upon the person of your sister’s Zulu cook by shooting him with a
monstrous elephant gun. You then forced your sister to confess to the crime to save your
skin, while you went up to the main gate and shot down twenty-one of my men as they tried to
enter the Park.”

The Bishop looked wildly round the room and tried to pull himself together.

“You’ve got it all wrong,” he said at last, “I didn’t kill Fivepence-”

Kommandant van Heerden interrupted him quickly. “Thank you,” he said, and started to
write, “Confesses to killing twenty-one police officers.”

“I didn’t say that,” screamed the Bishop. “I said I didn’t kill Fivepence.”

“Denies killing Zulu cook,” continued the Kommandant painstakingly writing it
down.

“I deny killing twenty-one policemen too,” shouted the Bishop.

“Retracts previous confession,” said the Kommandant.

“There was no previous confession. I never said anything about killing the
policemen.”

Kommandant van Heerden looked at the two konstabels. “You men heard him confess to
killing twenty-one police officers, didn’t you?” he said. The two konstabels weren’t
sure what they heard but they knew better than to disagree with the Kommandant. They
nodded.

“There you are,” the Kommandant continued. “They heard you.”

“But I didn’t say it,” the Bishop yelled. “What would I want to kill twenty-one
policemen for?”

The Kommandant considered the question. “To hide the crime you’d committed on the
Zulu cook,” he said at last.

“How would killing twenty-one policemen help to hide Fivepence’s murder?” wailed the
Bishop.

“You should have thought of that before you did it,” said the Kommandant smugly.

“But I didn’t do it, I tell you. I never went anywhere near the main gate yesterday
afternoon. I was too drunk to go anywhere.”

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