Authors: Chris Marnewick
Tags: #The Soldier Who Said No
WHO SAID NO
The Soldier Who Said No
is fiction. Names, characters, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. The words or actions in the book are not to be ascribed to any of the characters named in it.
The lyrics on p.214 are from ‘Gold Watch Blues’ by Mick Softley on the album
Catch the Wind
by Donovan Leitch.
Published in 2010 by Umuzi
an imprint of Random House Struik (Pty) Ltd
Company Reg No 1966/003153/07
80 McKenzie Street, Cape Town 8001, South Africa
PO Box 1144, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
© 2010 Chris Marnewick
Chris Marnewick has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or be stored in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.
Cover design by mallemeule
Text design by William Dicey
To the ones I love. They know who they are.
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
‘The Arrow and the Song’ (1845)
Monday 17 December 2007
It began on the day someone took a shot at the Prime Minister and an ill Pierre de Villiers was suspended from work for making a racist remark to a colleague.
Six months later it was all over – the investigation, the disciplinary enquiry, and the first round of the treatment that De Villiers was going to have to endure for the rest of his life.
In those six months De Villiers had to come to grips with his own mortality, with his physical and mental fallibility and with a past he had not previously had the courage to face.
Even so, at the expiry of those six months, some unanswered questions and unfinished business would remain.
An emigrant can never escape the pull of the country of his birth, the place that shaped his destiny, the place he chose to leave. But an immigrant is doomed by his past to be forever an outsider who never quite fits into his new environment.
Pierre de Villiers was both emigrant and immigrant, and a foreigner in both places.
At the office where he worked, a single word had started it.
What Tau Kupenga meant was, ‘Hey, Japie, the boss wants to see you.’
What Pierre de Villiers heard was, ‘Hey, japie, the boss wants to see you.’
That word triggered it.
De Villiers was in a sour mood already. He was ill and an earlier encounter in his boss’s office had ended with him being shown the door. He had arrived at the office late and suspected that that was in part the reason for the rudeness displayed by his superior.
He stood up slowly and made his way across the room. His colleagues followed his progress with their eyes.
When De Villiers reached Kupenga’s desk, he stooped low and whispered in his ear.
The reaction was instantaneous. Kupenga leaped up from his chair and rushed at him.
Their colleagues watched the unfolding scene in astonishment. They had expected trouble, but not an eruption like this.
De Villiers immediately went into defensive mode. He had been trained to kill and could kill with his bare hands. But killing was not an option here. He was tall and lean, with an angular bone structure and long muscles, built like a welterweight boxer, with the long reach that could deliver a knockout punch from a distance. Kupenga, on the other hand, was shorter by a good few centimetres and built like a wrestler, with bulky muscles overlaid by several layers of fat.
A boxer and a wrestler, squaring up: the boxer wanting to end the fight quickly, before he has taken too much punishment; the wrestler planning to slow things down, to catch his opponent in a firm grip, squeeze the air out of his lungs, make him suffer.
Kupenga rushed forward with his arms extended like a buffalo’s horns. De Villiers held him off with a clean left to the nose. Cartilage crackled under his fist and blood spurted from Kupenga’s nose.
The man at the nearest desk stood up to intervene, distracting De Villiers, who thought that he would have to fight on two fronts. Kupenga caught De Villiers on the throat with a wild swing of the forearm. He tried to stop Kupenga with a solid punch through the layers of fat over the man’s solar plexus, but Kupenga lurched towards him, trapping him in a bear hug.
The fight ended as quickly as it had started.
Kupenga threw De Villiers over his leg in a practised Judo move while De Villiers held on to Kupenga’s jacket. The two of them crashed through the safety glass of the door of their boss’s office, scattering glass shards to the far corners of the room.
‘What the … I’ll phone you back,’ Detective Inspector Douglas Henderson said and carefully replaced the phone on its cradle.
He stood up and walked to the side of his desk. De Villiers stood up quickly but Kupenga was winded and remained heaving on all fours.
‘What the hell is going on here?’ Henderson demanded. He looked down at Kupenga. ‘I asked you to call him, not throw him through the door!’
‘He called me a cannibal,’ Kupenga croaked, still facing the floor.
Henderson didn’t hear, or couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He turned to De Villiers. ‘What’s going on here? You’re a policeman but you behave like a schoolboy.’
De Villiers tried to speak, but his throat was on fire.
Kupenga recovered sufficiently to stand up. He sat down uninvited in one of the visitors’ chairs in front of the desk. De Villiers remained standing.
‘He called me a cannibal,’ Kupenga said.
The phone on Henderson’s desk rang but he ignored it. He looked at the two men. Detective Sergeant Kupenga and Detective Constable Pierre de Villiers had desks in opposite corners of the room. They were not only at opposite ends of the squad room, but were also opposites in appearance. Kupenga had dark hair and skin, while De Villiers was light-skinned with unusually blond hair.
The detectives were in a nondescript section on one of the upper floors of the Auckland Police Region One Headquarters building on the corner of Vincent and Cook Streets. The mauve-grey building stood on rising ground above the main municipal buildings and housed ten storeys of offices, cells and interrogation rooms under its pagoda-style roof. A tall radio mast rose at least a hundred feet from the top of the roof. Inside, the work of the detectives of the International Crime Section was performed away from the public eye in an annexe.
Henderson turned his attention to De Villiers. ‘Is that true?’
De Villiers shook his head. He didn’t trust his voice.
‘You did! You know you did,’ Kupenga insisted.
De Villiers didn’t answer. He watched his unit commander. Detective Inspector Henderson was not a big man, but he had an unmistakable air of authority.
Henderson now looked from the one to the other. Kupenga was about to speak again but Henderson held up his hand. He looked De Villiers in the eye. ‘Did you call him a cannibal, yes or no?’
‘No,’ De Villiers answered without hesitation.
Kupenga rose from the chair and took a step closer to De Villiers. He poked a finger into De Villiers’s chest to lend emphasis to each word. ‘
De Villiers stood firm, chest to chest with the shorter man. He found his voice. ‘That’s not right,’ he said. ‘I called him a
He glared at Kupenga. ‘If you touch me again, I’ll break your arm. Don’t ever touch me again.’ The menace in his voice was unmistakable. ‘And don’t ever call me a japie again.’
‘That’s it. You’re suspended, De Villiers,’ Henderson said. ‘I won’t tolerate any racist abuse in my unit. Give me your warrant card.’
Henderson held out his hand as De Villiers extracted his warrant card from his wallet. ‘You’re suspended without pay or benefits until a disciplinary enquiry can be held. You’ll be informed of the charges in due course. Better get yourself a lawyer.’
De Villiers blinked. This was a gross overreaction, he thought. He ignored the outstretched hand and put the warrant card on the desk, turned on his heel and stepped over the broken glass into the squad room. He turned at the door. ‘You’re obviously not interested in my version,’ he said. ‘What goes for me should go for Kupenga too.’
Henderson shook his head and waved De Villiers away with a back-of-the-hand gesture. ‘You’ve been out of line all morning, and late. What’s going on with you?’
When there was no answer, he added, ‘Leave your office equipment and files on your desk.’
De Villiers headed for his desk. The eyes in the squad room openly followed his progress and watched as he unplugged his computer. They watched as he punched a number on his cellphone and spoke softly into the phone before snapping it shut. They waited in vain for De Villiers to give some indication that he was aware of their interest and continued to watch as he put his cellphone on his desk. He lifted his jacket from the back of his chair and left without a backward glance. He gave no sign of his near-irresistible impulse to tear the place down, nor of the burning pain in his groin.
It had been a busy morning for De Villiers and he had arrived at the office later than usual. When he arrived at his desk, there was a Post-it note on his computer screen saying Henderson wanted to see him. He was on the defensive when he entered Henderson’s office.
‘Close the door,’ Henderson said. ‘What the hell are you South Africans up to?’
‘I don’t know what you mean, Sir.’
‘Of course you do. You read the papers, don’t you?’
De Villiers sneezed into a handkerchief hastily retrieved from a pocket. His eyes were bloodshot and his nose red from constant blowing. His voice was hoarse from dehydration. He had not had a good night’s sleep and needed to visit the bathroom.
‘I read the papers, Sir.’
De Villiers’s thick hair was dishevelled. In his mid-forties, there was no sign of his hair greying or his athleticism fading. He stood before his commanding officer in the military at-ease position, his hands behind his back.
Henderson shifted in his chair. ‘Sit down.’
De Villiers complied and sat down, his back straight.
‘There have been three incidents of serious offences by South African immigrants in the last month alone,’ Henderson said. ’Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about.’
Pierre de Villiers folded his arms. He swallowed and had to blow his nose again.
‘Let me remind you,’ Henderson said. ‘There was that man, Fourie or Fouché or something, who smuggled those parrot’s eggs. Under his shirt. And that woman, Van Wyk, carrying a switchblade onto an aeroplane, for heaven’s sake! And to top all that, we have last Friday’s murder in Howick. They’re looking for boys who speak with South African accents, aren’t they?’
As each incident was mentioned, De Villiers had to nod in agreement.
‘Why do you ask me, Sir? How should I know? My work is here, in this unit.’
‘Don’t evade the question. You know what I mean. Something odd is happening in the South African community.’
Henderson pointed at De Villiers. ‘There are a hundred and fortyseven South Africans in the New Zealand Police and you are the most senior of them. Of course you know what’s going on.’