The last time I visited my Babu at the farm it was right in the middle of harvest time. The man had dropped out of sight in Nai and travelled up to Cheptiret some two weeks earlier. He had then telephoned me to say that he had taken charge of the predicted bumper crop and would be away from the office. His reason for calling? Well, he wondered if I would be interested in taking a short likizo from work. I agreed at once.
Babu welcomed me eagerly on the Sunday morning and I was swiftly ushered to my quarters where I would be staying for the next week or so. I put away my stuff and went to meet Babu at the verandah where we sat down to a hearty breakfast. The farm house breakfast was something more akin to a feast. There was plenty of fresh fruit and juice and an endless supply of eggs and bacon with fried tomatoes. There was also lightly grilled trout caught in the stream that same morning. Babu pointed to his wife’s famous mahamris, her enormous buns and the lightest pancakes I had ever sampled. There was a roast leg of Molo lamb on a platter which sadly I could not touch. We washed it all down with giant mugs of sweet steaming milky tea.
After breakfast Babu whipped out his pipe and filled it with baccy stroking it lovingly. I watched in envy as he lit it and started puffing smoke like an old train. A few weeks before I had given up smoking for good. The nicotine cravings were particularly harsh when I watched someone who took his art seriously. We sat and talked for a while as I gave him the news from the big city. He told me that my arrival was quite fortunate as they needed every available pair of hands for this year’s huge harvest.
After a bit more chatting Babu’s wife came up and said that I could go and rest in my room. She knew that I had travelled most of the night so if I wanted to I could lie down for a bit. She had recently installed WiFi in her home so I logged on with my lappy to deal with work-emails. There were just a handful that required any serious response and I was done in a matter of minutes. I caught up with some of my favourite news and entertainment sites before looking up a few blogs at random.
I looked in at Savvy’s to get an update on the analogue – digital migration. After that it struck me that I needed to give a junior colleague at work some support over some issues he was going through with his new girl. Where better to visit for relationship questions than the project? Relationships come in all shapes and sizes and there was always the chance that my colleague would need to dig a little deeper to find the solution to his conundrum. Perhaps he needed the scientific approach.
What had started as random browsing to kill time in a farmer’s cottage in shags had sent me down long and winding paths and here I was now reading a post on guns. It was a disturbing post especially because of the casual way in which these gunmen whipped out their tools at the slightest provocation. I made a mental note to discuss the matter with my Babu. I was really tired now and so I logged off before slipping into a deep sleep.
After dinner that evening I asked my Babu about the allegedly high prevalence of guns in private hands. He shook his head sadly and asked if I too had read the post about the man with a gun. He told me it was a very serious matter. The issue was a growing crisis. He poured our drinks and we settled comfortably in his old sitting room. I waited patiently for the story that I knew was to come but I would be a liar if I wrote on these pages that I was prepared for the tragic tale that he was about to tell me.The story involved a local family who lived just beyond the hills to the north of Cheptiret.
The Srill family were well known in all the surrounding area. They were successful land owners, rich beyond belief. They also had interests in banking, insurance, property letting, and charcoal exports; old money with connections in the heart of government. Babu told me how the shrewd old Mzee Srill had created an empire “with his bare hands.” His business success gave his family a life of priviledge and respectability. Old man Srill was preparing his eldest son, Donovan to start taking control of the family business. As time went by Donovan Srill married Julia, a local girl from a staunchly religious and well-respected family in what became the wedding of that year in Nakuru.
It soon became clear that young Srill liked to beat on his sweetheart when he was drunk. He would later apologise, buy her some expensive jewellery and swear never to do it again. But he drank more and the beatings got worse, brutal. When she was hospitalised for a month the marriage was over. There was a collective sigh of relief that there had been no children.
Srill’s family came together, closed ranks and found him another bride. However old mzee Srill issued him with an ultimatum: mess this one up and you can say good bye to your inheritance. Donovan Srill could not afford to get divorced again. So he never laid a finger on Vanessa. This was when he bought the gun. According to records he applied for and obtained a firearms licence. He would later acquire several more hand guns, join a shooting club and style himself as a collector of small firearms. He said that his guns were for the protection of his family and property. He became known locally as the gun nut. Whenever the dogs barked at night he would stand on a balcony and let off several rounds into the air “to scare off the would be attackers” Srill liked to pull out his gun in public places, bars and night-clubs having first made sure that there were no armed police nearby. Matatu drivers and touts were his favourite prey. He would come up to the driver’s window and point a pistol at the driver – just for a laugh. Srill was becoming a social nuisance and a bully but because of who he was he was able to get away with it.
Srill’s drinking problems deteriorated quite quickly after the birth of their daughter. He crashed his new car into a wall one evening, fracturing his ankle in several places. At first this seemed to be a blessing. He had smashed up his right ankle and so could no longer drink and drive. Vanessa’s joy was short-lived however as she discovered that Srill required her to act as his chauffeur driving him around every day from pub to seedy pub. He had this bizarre need to have his wife present to witness his power when he made grown men cower in fear at the sight of his guns.
Late one Saturday night the Srills were driving home after visiting friends. It had been raining all afternoon. A steady downpour falling on already soaked ground. Vanessa was at the wheel with Don as usual in the passenger seat in his normal drunken stupor. In the back sat the baby’s maid. It was quite cold and she had placed a woolly throw over the baby girl. As they turned a corner the headlights caught what seemed to be boulders or obstructions on the road. Vanessa brought the car to a halt. It appeared that there had been some sort of a land slip. Rocks and soil had slipped off the hill side and onto the road.
The sudden stop jerked Don back to life. He too saw the boulders on the road. His demons screamed at him that they were in the valley of death, a place crawling with vicious car jackers and highway men. And they were under attack! It was up to him to protect his family. He reached into his glove compartment and pulled out several guns kicking open his door and rolling out commando style onto the wet road. He was firing from all barrels and in all directions. The women screamed in horror as Don continued firing like a man possessed. All the while he was shouting AAAAHHHHH!! like a US Marine in the movies.
Don’s ammunition was soon spent and the night fell silent again save for the falling rain. Vanessa could not believe that she had not been hit. There were several holes in the windscreen and the car body work. She went to the back calling out to her baby. The maid had placed her own body over the child to protect her. A stray bullet had entered the maid’s back and exited just below her heart. It was this bullet that killed the sleeping baby too.
Babu was silent for a moment and I stood up to throw some more logs into the fire. With our glasses refilled Babu said that this version of events as he had recounted it to me were not known to the general public. Babu had learned that Vanessa had told her father exactly what had happened. Vanessa’s pa also told Babu that Mzee Srill had influenced the official statement that was later issued.
The official report suggested that passers-by had raised the alarm and police had arrived at the scene some twenty minutes after the shootings. Donovan Srill was found squatting at the roadside rocking back and forth, his head held in his hands. They found Vanessa in the back of the car cradling her dead baby. She had covered the baby’s maid with the woollen throw. The police officers had called their superiors and mzee Srill had been informed.
That night police officers acting on a tip-off had intercepted four suspects who opened fire when challenged by police. They had all been shot dead. It is believed that these suspects had earlier on that evening been involved in an attempted car-jacking where a young woman and a baby had been fatally wounded.
Donovan Srill is now hospitalised in a private psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period.
It was about 10:00 am on Sunday morning and as I waited at the crowded airport arrivals hall my Babu emerged from behind the sliding doors. I almost slipped and fell on the smooth polished floor as I ran forward to greet him and relieve him of his large battered suitcase. He beamed at me, happy that for once I had registered the correct date and time of his arrival and we walked out into the bright Nairobi sunshine. The Jacaranda trees were in bloom and birds were singing high up there in the shade. I got the sense that Babu was happy to be back home.
I guided the old man towards my even older fluorescent green Fiat Strada which I had parked with a small rock wedged carefully against the near-side front wheel in lieu of a functioning hand-brake. I placed his suitcase in the boot and as Babu put away his rain coat and fedora in the back I stealthily obtained the rock and hid it under my driver’s seat.
We drove out of the airport and quickly joined the Mombasa Road traffic as we headed for Babu’s ‘South C’ residence. I kept to the speed limit in the near-side lane allowing plenty of room for the comedians, clowns, matatu driver’s and other maniacs of our roads to perform their stunts. The short journey was uneventful unless you consider the two elderly pedestrians who narrowly escaped with their lives right before our eyes after running across the road in some mad kamikaze effort to get to the other side of the Msa bound carriageway near the Air-tel buildings. The speeding ambulance that was hurtling towards them had screeched to a halt just before impact and the two wazee totally oblivious had just hobbled along to the other side of the road.
We dropped of Babu’s things and after a quick freshen up we headed off to his club next to the Police Mounted section headquarters for an early Sunday lunch. Most people know that my Babu was a former detective in the Police force where he spent nearly forty years working with the homicide department in various postings around the country. He is not my Babu in the real sense of a grandpa. He went to school with my dad and when I came to the city to find work the detective took me under his wing. I lived with him and his gracious wife before I went off on my own and when he started a private investigations consultancy I was happy to join the firm and was soon employed in discreet surveillance.
We ordered lunch and then took our drinks and sat on the veranda facing the deserted tennis courts. I had long ago learned that Babu would not start on a story until he was ready. So as we sucked at our tall glasses of madafu water by straw I gave him the usual small-talk of what had been happening whilst he was away. A few moments later the waiters came round and brought us warm water to wash our hands.
The waiter had recommended the chef’s special and we were not disappointed. As we silently attacked the spicy beef stew and ugali with fresh sukuma wiki, peas, carrots and potatoes, I realised that I had not had a decent meal since Babu’s departure over a month ago. Surveillance work tends to involve long hours of sitting, waiting and watching and drinking lots of coffee. One often lacks the required motivation to cook decent food at the end of such a cramped day and sadly we are only kept alive by unhealthy take aways.
The beef was so fresh you actually sympathised with the cow and the vegetables must have come from a garden just outside the kitchen. The ugali had been prepared in a revolutionary method that is still under patent pending rules and so I cannot divulge the actual process here. All I will say is that it was formed in the shape of a dome and was very soft and tasty with a hint of classical seasoning.
Lunch was cleared away quickly to make room at the table for our proper drinks. Babu pulled out a brand new pipe from his jacket pocket and filled it with exaggerated care. He had some strange foreign tobacco which he took out of a small plastic pouch. The picture on the pouch was a black eagle on a red background. When he lit the pipe he coughed twice as the smoke punched him in the chest. He squinted his eyes when the smoke rose up now spreading across the small veranda. A few patrons looked in our direction with renewed interest. The pipe smoke and Babu’s strong aftershave together smelled of power and influence.
Babu liked to have a glass of good whiskey by his elbow when doing a debrief. We talked and drank until the sun hid behind the tall cypress trees at the perimeter of the compound. His trip to Europe had been a resounding success by all accounts. He had accomplished his objectives and now he explained it all to me.
Months before, Rubina, a young lawyer from the firm that Babu used for legal work had approached us with an unusual assignment. Her friend, Katarzyna, from Poland, now living in Nairobi was in great difficulty. Her grandmother had passed away. It had come as a surprise that the granny was a woman of quite substantial wealth. She had left a huge inheritance for Katarzyna and her 13 year old son Pawl. There was a small problem. The young boy could not travel to Poland as required by the terms of the will because he did not have a passport. His father had refused to sign the necessary documents required by the Polish authorities.
Pawl’s father was from Poland. He met and married Katarzyna in the port city of Gdansk where he was in the Polish Navy. Pawl’s dad travelled the world as a sailor and he had fallen in love with Mombasa. After leaving the navy he came back to Mombasa with Katarzyna and their baby son and opened a bar which catered for visiting navy and merchant sea men. It was in a seedy part of town where vice of all sorts was never far away. Pawl’s father developed a drink and drugs problem and beat his wife about. With the help of friends she left him and moved away to Nairobi where she found work and settled. Her divorce papers were handled by Rubina. A year later Pawl’s dad returned to his native Poland where he married again and had several children.
Babu explained how he had used his extensive police contacts overseas to get the errant father to do his duty by his son. He got him to sign the official documents and Pawl would soon have a passport. From Poland, Babu visited England where he was invited by an old police colleague to visit his cottage in rural Oxfordshire. He found that his friend lived alone and used ordinary kuni to keep the house warm. The retired copper was now a coach driver and spent his days driving holidaymakers all over the place. Babu had accompanied his friend on one such journey which had taken them on a sight-seeing day trip to France. They got back quite late and took the coach to the depot. The friend had his own little van to get them back home.
They had got into the friend’s van for the 20 mile drive back to the cottage at 11.45.pm The country roads were dark and deserted. They had to drive through the lonely Wytham woods. The car started to judder a little like some older diesel cars when they are about to break down. This was just as they were out in the middle of nowhere. Babu’s friend decided to call his grandson who lived nearby. He asked him to come out in his car and follow them back to the cottage – just to make sure they got home ok. The twenty-something year old grandson declined saying he was already in bed and could not come. Even his granddad’s offer to fill up his car for him would not persuade him to leave his bed. Babu told me how depressed he had felt. The boy had totally lengad his grandpa at his hour of need.
The two coppers having no other option had driven on with fading headlamps and thick fog setting in. The car crawled at a snail’s pace but they eventually got to the cottage. The tired men could hardly stand after their long day and they went straight to bed. Babu says that his friend was snoring in under five minutes.
At about 03.00am Babu heard the phone ring. His friend answered it at once and almost immediately he was cursing and swearing. Babu heard his friend moving about and getting dressed and switched on a light. He asked if everything was ok. His friend could not help himself. It was as if a red mist had descended over his face. He explained that the caller was none other than his grandson. He who would not come to our rescue earlier in the evening. Some mates had called round to his house where they had played cards for ages before he decided to drop them off home. He had run out of diesel in the middle Wytham woods. He wondered if his grand dad would mind bringing him a gallon of diesel.
Babu and his friend had put on their coats and driven off into the dark cold night to rescue the ungrateful grandson.
As Babu recounted this tale to me Whitney Houston’s version of The Greatest Love of All was playing in my mind. The first line about the children being the future and how we teach them well and let them lead the way, seemed so apt somehow. One of the finest bloggers in town has really managed to marry music and the story in such a way that sometimes when you really listen you can hear the story being told in someone else words. I hope to be able to do that too, someday.
There are few things that I fear more than driving myself to Nairobi. When I first learned to drive I was living in a foreign country where they all drove on the wrong side of the road. The cars there were funny left-hand drives and that was what I became accustomed to. My sojourn in the foreign land soon ended however and I returned home to find that traffic rules were rarely obeyed and in any case matatu drivers were a law unto themselves. Driving into town became a nerve racking ordeal and to this day I avoid it as much as possible.
My Babu’s office had scheduled an early morning meeting for me last Thursday with one of their lawyers about an ongoing land tussle. The plan was to meet at their offices near the 20th Century down town. Parking anywhere in the CBD is always a nightmare and so I decided to take an early bus into town from my digs about forty miles away on the Nakuru highway. It was just before dawn and still quite dark when I boarded the warm bus. My fellow passengers seemed to be city worker types – all in suits and ties. Many were fast asleep, some with earphones plugged in. To my surprise and delight there were no bags of vegetables or live chickens on board and the trip into town was smooth and pleasant.
The lawyer was waiting for me at the entrance to the large building. She was in her mid-thirties, smartly dressed with a confident manner. We shook hands and she told me that her name was Rubina as she ushered me towards the big lifts. I was delighted to note that she already knew my name and had pronounced it perfectly. She asked whether I had encountered any difficulty in finding them and I replied that her directions on the phone had been first-class. The lift door opened at the 7th floor and we crossed over to her office.
Rubina ordered tea for me and coffee for herself. She was friendly and easy going and we chatted about this and that for a bit. She was expecting visitors at home later that afternoon. Her nephew and niece were visiting from Mombasa all on their own for the first time. They were sensible kids and Rubina had promised to bake them a nice cake.
We settled down to discuss the legal issues at hand and it soon became apparent that Rubina would need to take a look at the actual site that was in dispute. I had brought photographs and plans but Rubina would need to see it first hand before deciding whether to engage the services of a surveyor. I knew that she was right. She said we could go down there right away and I was quite happy to do that. I warned her that the area was at the bottom of a valley where it was always very swampy. She would need some strong wellingtons. Rubina did not see any problem with that. We would stop by her place, pick up her wellies and head off to my shamba. I now realised why Babu had recommended her.
A valet quickly brought up Rubina’s car from the car- park deep in the bowels of the building. She negotiated the city streets with a relaxed ease and soon we were heading up the Valley Road. At the top of the road Rubina turned to join the Ngong Road and after a few minutes we turned off into a quiet lane which brought us to the entrance to her apartment. She eased the car into a parking space and we went together to her apartment on the first floor.
She led the way into the well furnished flat and threw her keys on the table. She offered me a beer got herself one before turning on the pc in the corner of the room. She was looking for some important email when there was a knock at the door. She went to answer it and stood at the door talking to someone for about five minutes.
When she came back I knew there was something wrong. She explained that her neighbour’s boy from the block just across had come to tell her that his mum was unwell. Rubina told me she would quickly pop over to see her and then come back so that we could be on our way to my shamba. I suggested that perhaps I could leave and meet some other time but she would not hear of it. She promised to be back in twenty minutes. She asked me to feel at home and help myself to more beer.
After about half an hour I was getting slightly anxious. She had said 20 minutes. Where was she?. I started wandering about the flat and getting more impatient. Perhaps she had taken the poor mama to hospital. She would be back soon, I figured and poured myself some more beer. I switched on the telly and after fiddling with the remote control chanced upon a Mexican soap. I watched that for a few minutes before switching it off in dismay. I was pacing my beers now – half an hour to each beer. Nice and slow.
Another hour went by and I feared the worst. Should I call Rubina on her cell-phone? I did not want her to think I was unduly worried but she really should have got back by now. And why had she not called me? Here I was all alone a stranger in a strange house. What if someone – friend, lover should come and find me here slowly drinking the afternoon away?
I walked into the kitchen realising that I was a bit hungry. I spotted a couple of chapos in the fridge which I placed on a plate ready to warm in the microwave. Wait. Chapo now and I could say good bye to beer. Ha! The hunger would have to wait. I smiled at my own intelligence and took a long sip of the amber nectar.
On the counter top lay a recipe for the cake that Rubina was going to bake for the children. She had printed it straight off her lappy. I looked at the ingredients list again and performed a quick inspection of the contents of her store. I was in luck – I had everything that I needed to make a beautiful sponge cake.
I don’t know whether it was the beer or just my carefree attitude. I rolled up my sleeves and found an apron hanging on a hook behind the kitchen door. I gathered all the ingredients together and checked the cupboards for baking trays. Hidden in there was a dark green bottle of London Dry.
I blessed Rubina and all the planets and stars and got to work.
The first thing that I did was to mix a little oil with 180ml of cold water and 3 medium eggs.
I then added the cake mix, a little at a time, whisking the whole lot together for about 3 minutes to give a smooth and creamy mixture. I stopped to open the bottle of gin and poured myself a generous glug. It was getting near to the time when the visitors were expected. I needed to move fast and nothing helped to focus the mind like a good gin.
Next I greased the two cake tins with margarine using a piece of grease-proof paper. The instructions say grease the tins evenly and completely – I was in a hurry and the consequences of not reading that bit properly would only become apparent later.
I poured the cake mixture into the 2 tins dividing it out as evenly as possible. The tins were then placed in the middle of a preheated oven at 160 degrees. I baked them for 25 minutes until they were well risen. Once baked I removed them and turned them out of the tins. The importance of even greasing now showed itself. One of the cakes had stuck to the bottom of the tin and I had to be very careful when reconstructing it.
I spread some butter icing on the first cake and strawberry jam on the other. I placed one on top of the other to join them together. Finally I dusted the top with fine icing sugar for a frosted finish
I was still admiring my handiwork when the kids knocked at the door. I had been expecting them so I knew what to do. I got rid of the gin and beer bottles and invited them in, explaining that I was the cook. I told them that their aunt had been held up at work but she had wanted to make sure that somebody would be here to meet them when they arrived. Come and see the cake that aunty wanted us to have when she got back. That broke the ice. Soon they were telling me about their journey and how they had seen elephants, giraffe and baboons on the way.
It was nearly six pm now and I was getting anxious again. Kids are remarkable in so many ways. In a few moments they had forgotten that they were in a strange house. The young boy switched on the telly to his favourite channel. Moments later we were all 3 of us sitting there watching TV quite happily when a completely stressed out Rubina walked in. The kids jumped into her outstretched arms and she was genuinely pleased and relieved to see them.
The young girl told her aunt that cook here had baked a nice cake and could we have some now that she was home. Rubina looked at me and smiled. We had tea with lots of cake. Rubina then told the children that we would all get into aunties car to take cook back to his home.
the missing guest
Once the police had concluded their formal interviews they retired again in private conference in the dining room.
Woolie said..” I have finished going through the notes and err…now why is there no reference to the chap whom the nurse referred to as Maramba’s nephew…..did any of you get to interview him?”
Babu and the commander both shook their heads. None of the house guests, it seemed, had mentioned Maramba’s nephew during their interviews. Mary, the house nurse was called back to see if she could clear this up.
Commander Ruby said to her, “Mary, you told us earlier that when you were unable to get a response from Mr Maramba you had sought assistance from the guests who were having breakfast nearby. You said one of these guests was Maramba’s nephew. Are you absolutely sure about that?”
Mary nodded, looking somewhat surprised at the question. The commander went on, “So what has happened to this nephew, where is he?”
Mary seemed puzzled. She said “Have you not interviewed him yet? He must be here in the house somewhere, surely. Nobody has left this house since the body was discovered this morning.
It was important to get to the bottom of this and the guests were all summoned back to the dining room. Monica was adamant that none of the guests who had been there the previous day were any relation of hers or Maramba’s for that matter. Rita the journalist said that there was a man who had been at breakfast but was not here now. She remembered talking to him briefly on Sunday just after lunch. He had told her that he was a senior executive in an energy company in Jinja – a company in which Maramba was a big investor. Another guest said that he had spoken to a man who said he was from Dar es Salaam and was in partnership with Maramba in the shipping business. It was the same man who had been at breakfast but was now missing. A final guest revealed to the police commander that a man fitting the same description had introduced himself as a professor of Mathematics from Cape Town.
The Commander ordered her officers to carry out a thorough search of the big house. Others were dispatched to search the out buildings and any other areas that the mystery man could be hiding. The staff were interviewed again. The farm manager now declared that one of his tractors, a John Deere, was missing. It had been parked in the garage that morning and he had seen it when he arrived for work just before 7.00am. The police then discovered from the security guard that just after 8.25 am he had opened the gate allowing a tractor to leave the farm. It had joined the main road turning left and heading for “Baraka farm”, he had thought. The farm manager confirmed that Baraka farm formed part of the estate’s land about 2 kilometres down the road.
The police commander got into a car with the farm manager and some officers and raced off towards Baraka farm. Less than a kilometre down the road the farm manager asked the driver to slow down. They came upon was a gap in the hedge. They stopped the car and got out. There were huge tyre tracks on the soft verge leading into the field. They followed the tracks and found the tractor parked inside the field right against the hedge and completely hidden away from the road. The police discovered more tyre tracks. It was apparent that a smaller car had once been hidden here too. This must have been the suspect’s get away vehicle.
The following week the police would once again descend on Maramba Manor. They were hundreds of officers, uniformed and plain clothes. It was Wednesday the day of the burial. Thousands of people had turned up to pay their respects. Babu, of course was there. So too was Ruby as the police commander for the County. She spent most of the time fielding questions from reporters who wanted to know how the murder investigation was moving. Babu would tell Woolie later that Ruby had the makings of a politician. She had handled herself well saying that “investigations had progressed well”, to one reporter and to another that they were at a “critical stage”. Before telling the last one that it was now “anticipated that an arrest was imminent.”
Babu himself had not expected such a huge turn out. Mr Maramba was not a politician but he had done much for his local community and his strong business ties ensured him a good send off. Babu was not surprised to see the smart executive limousines that drew up in motorcade with fluttering flags and bodyguards in tow. The huge police presence so early on had suggested there would be some VIPs in attendance. In fact the team captains from 1978 to the present had all come to pay their respects. As Babu said later to Woolie “It was as if Savimbi himself was back in town”
The Paper plot
Woolie was back in the study. He felt that the answers to his questions must lie in the documents that Maramba kept here. The police believed that they had a suspect and they were fairly confident that they would soon have him in custody. For Woolie it was not that simple. Who was this man? The phantom described by various witnesses as a shipper, an academic and an industrialist? Woolie needed to find any information that linked Maramba with the said suspect and which could therefore suggest a motive for this crime. He noticed a huge folder at the bottom of the cabinet that looked promising. He would not be able to take any documents out of the study and so he sat in Maramba’s chair and opened the folder.
The folder contained files all labeled Daily Eye which was the name of Maramba’s newspaper. Documents showed that when he took it over circulation was falling and advertising revenues had taken a hit. He had overhauled the paper getting rid of dead wood and modernising their publication processes. Maramba had invested in spanking new premises spending huge sums on new equipment too. Staff moral had gone up and readership numbers were now challenging the older dailies. Woolie read that the paper’s success had made it a prime target for a takeover. There was plenty of money about, banks had cash and could lend it for anything one wanted to do. Maramba had rejected any buy offers saying the Daily Eye was not for sale. He called his paper – macho ya simba (Lion’s eyes).
Woolie picked up a file labeled close surveillance. It contained printed A4 pages of cctv images taken in various locations which Woolie did not immediately recognise. There were hundreds of images, all printed out. At the back of the file an instructions leaflet on how to install the Chinese Tzinqui micro cam. Woolie looked at the photo prints again. Aha! It seemed that the paranoid Maramba had installed cctv in his home. The images in the prints were from the kitchen, the dining room, the main lounge and various other rooms in this big house. There were also stills from the farm yard and the garage. Maramba had secretly installed the cameras and only he knew of their existence!
* * * *
end of part two
We can play around with a story that a young friend told at a recent reunion party. My version is kidogo twisted but pay attention because we will ask questions at the end.
Three travellers sat idly in the sun by the dusty roadside in the middle of the day. The matatu in which they were travelling has just died nearby. The engine had siezed, the tyres were busted and a viscous black fluid oozed from under the mat’s belly flowing onto the dusty road.
Our friends were in the middle of the Chalbi desert, one of the hottest and most fearsome places in Kenya. Earlier on their mat had been making good progress and the travellers expected to be in Turkana by early evening. The miraa chewing driver was the only one awake when the old Nissan suddenly let out a loud, desperate scream which cut short our passengers’ dreams.
Thick black smoke poured out from under the bonnet. Orange flames were now licking at the windscreen. The cool, expert driver brought the vehicle to a halt, commanded everyone to jump out and pulled out his small extinghuisher to tackle the flames. Next moment the passengers and touts were struggling to put out the flames that had caught the driver’s jacket.
Whilst all this was happening a military helicopter was landing nearby whipping up a mini tornado of sand and dust that choked our travellers. They asked if there were any casualties. There were none. The helicopter could not accommodate everyone. The helicopter captain agreed to take the mat driver and his 2 accomplices and 18 passengers to seek help at the nearest town or settlement. The soldiers gave the 3 stranded passengers a large bottle of water and a small tin of Golden Virginia rolling tobacco and a small revolver with several rounds. The helicopter then took off in the same cloud of dust, sand and awe and within minutes had disappeared from site or sound.
Now that had been some three long hours ago. Our travellers were all unacquainted with one another. Now they chatted away to pass the time and they wondered aloud how long it would take for help to arrive. What if the driver and his boys had just abandoned them. It became clear that their position was quite a mess.
As they talked it was also readily apparent that all three hailed from different parts of Kenya. Each man realised how little he knew about the others’ communities except what stereotypes were passed on and yet they all lived in the same country. In talking each man reflected upon how they all had the same aspirations, expectations and fears.
They shared the water but none was a smoker so the first man said smoking was disgusting and ungodly and they should throw away the tobacco. The second man said they should keep it incase they could use it to trade for food or water.
The third man agreed and asked to see the tin. As he rubbed the dust off to read the list of ingredients on the side of the tin an amazing thing happened. The lid flew off and a tiny djinni jumped out of the tin. The djinni made the customary thank you for releasing me speech and promptly granted one wish to each of the three men who by now were the best of mates.
The men gratefully accepted the djinni’s offer and the first man made his wish. He had only ended up here because someone had promised him some precious stones. He said that he would like to be back at his home town where he owned a small bar-cum-nyama choma joint. He wanted to sit at the counter and watch the drinkers spend and spend. His wish was granted and he was instantly whisked away.
The second man asked to be allowed to go back to his home. He missed his wife and children dearly and he wanted to be with them and to provide for them a comfortable life. The djinni granted the wish and the man was on his way.
The third man thought long and hard before making his request. The djinni was getting impatient. finally the man said “All I want is for you to bring those two friends of mine back here…..”
I have often heard that one of the worst things for a blogger is to break their blog schedule or routine. For new and seasoned bloggers alike the golden rule is to blog and blog often. It is this that keeps visitors coming back. I am told that nothing is more frustrating for the keen blogger than failing to make the deadline for their new post.
Many bloggers, I am told will spend long sleepless nights worrying about how their readers will visit their blog only to find that nothing new has been posted for a week. The more they worry, the more difficult it gets to write. This causes even more worry and feeds further anxiety. As days and weeks go by the worried bloggers, loners by definition, become unwell quite quickly. Enlightened doctors up and down the country have come to recognise certain symptoms. If a patient visits a doctor presenting with insomnia, temperature fluctuations, nervous twitches, poor appetite, weigh-loss, amnesia and sometimes substance abuse, the first thing doctors will ask these days even as they take your blood pressure is whether you have updated your blog.
I got to Woolie’s front door, clutching a small bag of groceries. It was a cold evening and the streets were full of people rushing home before the rains came again. I picked up some small pebbles and threw them at the first floor window above me. There was no response and so I tried again with a larger pebble. There was such a loud crack that I thought I had broken the window. Moments later my friend’s angry face appeared at the window shouting some very naughty words. He recognised me and tossed the front-door key down with a loud mscheeeeew.
The first-floor bed-sit looked much smaller than it had been the last time I was there. Perhaps it was all the clothes, bags and other rubbish lying about all over the room. His unmade bed was at the far corner of the room. An overfull ashtray lay in the middle of the bed. Against the far wall the tv was tuned to Al Jazeera with the volume turned down. It was stuck on the same image of the Westgate mall. With shoes, socks and underwear strewn all over the floor space it was quite difficult to move in the room. It pained me to see my friend living like this. He looked rough and unshaven and it may have been a while since he had washed. We cleared some clothes from the large sofa where I sat down carefully.
“I have to write something. My blog is crying out….” Woolie said.
“Look at all this madness…”. He was scratching his groin and staring at the telly which was showing different scenes of the Westgate now. Helicopters hovered above the mall as armoured personnel carriers appeared driving down deserted side-streets. Now we saw a group of terrified civilians being led out of the building by plain clothes policemen. Woolie reached for his pack of cigarettes and lit one. I could not help looking at his shaking hands. His gaunt features were frightening.
“Have you had something to eat?” I asked, looking around for evidence. I noticed several empty cheap whisky bottles under the table. There was also a litre bottle of mineral water containing an amber liquid which was by the door and next to it dried banana peel.
Woolie shook his head wistfully. He turned to me and said “No energy to cook or go shopping. I’ve had nothing all day except whiskey ha!”
“Well then you are in luck, Woolie my boy.” I said.
I explained that we would tidy up the room together and then while he got himself washed up shaved and dressed I would prepare something small for our supper. He thought it was a good plan so we switched of the telly, cranked up the music and got to work.
When Woolie went off to the bathroom taking away the big mineral water bottle I headed for their shared kitchen which was at the end of the corridor. The cold building had six bed-sitting rooms all occupied by “professional tenants.” There were 2 small well-equipped kitchens where they made their meals. The tenants were expected to clear up after using the kitchen. Some did and some did not.
I found that everything I needed was here and I was ready to go. I could not get the image of my suffering friend out of my mind. I would have to make him something that he could eat today and perhaps for 2 or 3 more days. I racked my soft brain for inspiration wondering idly if chefs suffered from cooking block. Eureka! I thought. I would make Woolie a jua kali chicken and mushroom pie
From my shopping bag I took out a small tray of diced chicken pieces. There was a small onion on a shelf marked Woolie which I took and finely chopped before frying it with some ginger and garlic in a wok using a couple of spoons of vegetable oil. I dropped the Kuku pieces into the wok now and fried them for several minutes, sprinkling a bit of Rosemary and Thyme and ground white pepper. I also added a pinch of salt to this and after a couple more minutes I added 100g of chopped mushrooms. I added my secret ingredient now and 300ml of chicken stock and brought it to the boil. I let this simmer for a bit before turning off the fire.
The next step was making the pastry from scratch. People often say this is difficult but I found it very easy. I sifted 400g of plain white flour into a bowl adding a pinch of salt. To the flour I added 80g each of butter and lard. Using clean hands I mixed the floor and fats together squeezing between the fingers until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs. I added 2 tablespoons of ice-cold water and brought the mixture together into a dough. I remembered not to knead the mixture. I rolled it into a small piece of cling film and placed it in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes.
As I waited for the pastry to cool I took a small 100g bag of frozen mixed vegetables – peas, carrots and sweetcorn and added them into the chicken and mushroom filling. This was useful because it helped to cool the filling even further. The pastry needs to be worked when very cold to avoid melting the butter and breaking everything down.
I got the pastry out of the fridge. It was nice and cold now and easy to roll out. I rolled it into the shape of a baking dish and placed it inside. I rolled out another piece of pastry to use as the top. I poured the filling into the pastry and then covered it. I had enough filling and pastry for 2 more pies because Woolie’s pie dish was quite small.
I placed the pies in the middle shelf of a hot oven at 220 degress celsius (gas mark 7) for 30 minutes until the pastry was golden brown. The pies were now ready.
I went back to the room and found Woolie seated at his desk typing away at his laptop. He looked clean and smart and like a man without a care in this world
“What you typing?” I asked…..
The Manor house was situated at the top of the hill. It had taken Woolie just over twenty-five minutes to walk up from the gate where the yellow-and black Nissan matatu had dropped him off. The long, asphalt drive-way was lined with tall match-wood trees on either side. Beyond the trees were open fields. Woolie observed black-and-white dairy cattle grazing in the deep grass. There was also a small flock of sheep feeding happily in the sun on this Monday morning in late march.
There was nobody in sight as Woolie made his way to the open front door. Just inside the door-way stood his friend the retired detective Inspector. He was in quiet conversation with a young woman police officer. They turned to look at him when he got to the top of the stairs. The retired cop did that irritating thing and looked pointedly at his watch.
“It’s a long way from the main road”, Woolie said. “Perhaps I should have taken a taxi.”
“Well you are here now so we are ready to begin.” said the former detective. “I would like you to meet Commander Ruby Mwekundu here. She heads the County Crime Squad and is in charge of this investigation.” Woolie put out his hand as the detective said “This is my associate Mr Woolie Kondoo.”
“So they have brought in the big guns, eh?” Woolie asked, noting that commander Ruby had a firm handshake.
“Mr Maramba was a powerful business man with important friends in high places. There is a lot of pressure from upstairs for us to solve this matter quickly.” said the commander.
Woolie smiled and said, “ I thought you police treated every murder investigation as a priority irrespective of the victim’s social standing.”
The commander gave him a withering look and turned to ask the former cop “Babu, what is it exactly that Mr Mbuzi here does for your outfit?”
The retired detective seemed to be enjoying the tension. He said “Mr Kondoo is a behavioural psychiatrist. He has invaluable knowledge on the criminal mind.”
The commander nodded impatiently and led the way into the house where the murder victim’s body still lay. They walked into the room which resembled some macabre abattoir. The late Mr Maramba was lying face up on the bed. His throat had been slit wide open and the voice-box had been plucked out. There was dark blood on the bed, on other furniture and all over the floor. The police forensic team had finished taking their prints, samples and photos.
After another quick look around the room Ruby led them out again along a wide corridor and into a large dining room. This room was bright and sunny with ceiling to floor windows looking out to the formal gardens at the south face of the house. They sat at the table where the commander gave them a summary of the events that had taken place at the Maramba Manor.
Mr Maramba had hosted a weekend party. It was common knowledge that Maramba enjoyed entertaining and liked a good party. There was good food and wine. He liked to hire in the catering and music for the Saturday bash. Most guests stayed on for a formal Sunday lunch. Maramba Manor would hold seven or eight such weekend parties throughout the year. Guests were usually business and social contacts and a few political big wigs. There was often a journalist or two hoping to snatch exclusive interviews.
Maramba had placed great significance on this particular weekend because his eldest child and heir would be formally introduced to the distinguished guests having just returned home from a long sojourn in the Netherlands. There had been about a dozen guests who stayed on for the Sunday dinner. Just after 6.00 pm on Sunday evening a jovial Maramba had gone into his study to complete some urgent paper-work for one of the guests to take with him the following morning. At 8.00 am this morning the home-nurse had gone to fetch Maramba for his morning physiotherapy. She got no reply to her knock at the door which appeared to be locked from the inside. Maramba’s nephew and some of the other guests were having breakfast in the dining roon nearby and the nurse went to ask for their help to get the study door open. They had broken down the door and gone through the connecting door into the bedroom where they found the deceased. The nurse is adamant that the door was locked from the inside. Another of the guests found the key on the floor where it had been knocked out of the door when they broke it down.
Commander Ruby now sat back, took a deep breath and looked at the two men seated opposite her. “Babu, the windows in the study and bedroom are barred. There is no way that anybody could have entered or left the room other than through the door nkt.”
Babu said, “I think we are ready to interview the guests now – then we can let them go home.” He asked a police Constable to ask the guests in one at a time. Please ask the young Maramba to come in first.
The young Maramba was called Monica and she was still in a state of shock and disbelief. she answered the questions that were put to her using simple sentences, offering mainly one-word answers. Her father was kind and just and as far as she knew, he did not have any enemies. Monica did not have any idea who would do such a thing or how the killer had entered and left the locked study. The other guests were interviewed and their responses followed a similar fashion expressing shock, horror and disbelief at the crime.
The house nurse described Maramba as a good employer and patient. She had come to live in the home just after he was diagnosed with diabetes and gout. He took his physiotherapy very seriously and had managed to bring his weight and blood pressure almost as low as someone half his age. She knew many of the guests by sight but did not know any of them well. The other members of the household were happy and loyal. She could not think of anyone who would have committed this heinous act
Next to be interviewed was the journalist. She gave her name as Rita. She had arrived on the Saturday night and had been at the party until the small hours. This was her third time at the Marambas. She knew Maramba quite well and had also known his late wife. Rita revealed that Maramba was a shrewd business man with a somewhat ruthless streak. When he had taken over the small newspaper where she worked he had walked in and fired the editor on the spot. The editor, a chain-smoking alcoholic started talking about going to the employment tribunals and such like but Maramba cut him short and said to him “Go to the tribunal if you like. I will sue you for taking company money under false pretenses. You claim to have been an editor here for six years. It is patently clear that this newspaper could not possibly have had an editor, what with the shoddy writing lousy spelling, and the shallow news reporting over the years…… and yet you have happily taken a pay-cheque every month.”
So the angry editor had walked away…
* * * *
end of part one
It seems like it is nearly 100 years now since the introduction of the first mobile phones for us ordinary folk. Back then Safaricom was still the leading player. I remember with great fondness and some mist in my eyes how I acquired a shiny new sim-card with a beautiful 0722 number whose memory I will always cherish.
It took me a little while back then to familiarise myself with the normal use of a cell-phone. Safaricom operated a sim-lock system. One needed a pin to unlock the sim each time the phone was switched on. Also when you inserted the sim into a different phone you needed to enter the sim-lock pin.
This all seemed unusual and cumbersome to me, having become accustomed to the operations in other countries where the sim card was not locked. It was annoying and irritating to keep having to enter this pin and I cursed whoever had put such an unfriendly system in place.
As with most things in life it was just a matter of getting used to it and in a short period of time that which was originally an irritation simply became a matter of fact. Imagine then my surprise and delight when I saw a recent article in the paper that has got me singing the praises of the wise people who created this clever sim-lock to protect us from all manner of crooks and evil-doers.
The article relates how people are becoming victims of fraud when their sim cards falls into dirty criminal hands. I will not spoil the story for you but I am sure that you will be as relieved as I am that we have such a lock system in place if you are with any of the major phone companies. I understand that sadly Orange is the exception.
The noisy overloaded matatu pulled up at the side of the road to pick up a large lady in a red flowery dress. There were two big suitcases, a mattress and a small chicken cage by her side. Thomas took this chance to squeeze through the minibus and stepped off. The matatu with the new passenger and luggage duly loaded roared off in a cloud of smoke and dust. Thomas straightened his crumpled suit cursing softly. He realised that he had left his unread copy of the Nation with a fellow passenger. There was a small parade of shops just across the road. He needed some cold water after that dusty ride. From here one could see the four-storey building that housed the offices of Mali & Fumi accountants where he worked.
He stepped into a little shop which was surprisingly bright and airy. There were hardly any customers in the store. The cold beers at the refrigerated section looked particularly tempting but it was nine o’clock on a Monday morning. He picked up a large frosty bottle of water, found the newspapers and went up to the checkout. The young lady at the desk was looking at some paperwork. She put it down and turned to him and smiled. She said, ‘Hi, nice day today, isn’t it?’ Thomas nodded, smiling. She scanned his purchases quickly and put them in a bag. Thomas paid and took his change. He wished the lady a good day and walked out into the street.
Thomas worked through the day, not even stopping for lunch. With clients to see, phone-calls to make and heavy files to look at this took all day. He enjoyed all these aspects of his work. He considered himself very fortunate to be doing something that he truly loved. He knew he could easily be digging in some mine deep in the ground. He had been acting in a temporary position ever since the senior partner, Abdul Fumi had gone off on sick leave.
At three-thirty, Mandy his secretary, came in with some letters for signing. She reminded him that he was using public transport and should start making a move if he wanted to avoid the evening crush – hour. Thomas picked up the phone and called Shira, the mechanic. The call was answered after a long while by a lady. It sounded as though she was at the horse races.. After a while Shira came to the phone. He apologised to Thomas and explained that he had come to see a customer whose car had broken down at Ngong. He assured Thomas that his car would be ready by the weekend. Another four days on the unpleasant matatus, thought Thomas.
At four o’clock Thomas pushed open the door to the little shop. He went to the cold section and picked up four beers. He knew he could easily have bought these closer to home. He glanced at the checkouts. There were three staff members working quickly to deal with the evening shoppers. There was a small office at the front of the shop. As Thomas waited in his queue the office door opened and lady from the morning emerged carrying a till tray. She opened a new checkout and Thomas moved quickly and was the second in her queue. She smiled at him as she scanned the bottles. ‘So have you just finished work?’ she asked him.
‘Yes. I am off home now. What time do you finish?’ Asked Thomas. He was aware of the people behind him in the queue and felt slightly embarrassed.
‘We close at nine o’clock. Here’s your change and see you again soon.’ She replied flashing Thomas her enigmatic smile once again. Thomas felt a warm glow in his heart as he left the shop.
Thomas’s wife opened the front door and relieved him of his shopping bag. As Thomas removed his shoes at the door she said, ‘That drunkard of a mechanic just called. Says you can pick up the car tomorrow afternoon.’
‘Oh but that is excellent news! Shira is a good man. Those matatus are a nightmare, bless them. Each journey to work is a struggle. Sometimes you meet the most amazing people, though.’ Thomas said.
Thomas was in a good mood when they later sat down to supper with his wife. The chef had prepared a lovely dish of Oxtail soup served with a soft, warm ugali and fresh leaf salad. They had fruit and ice-cream for dessert. After coffee they went into the living room and watched the evening news. An hour later Thomas watched as his beautiful wife sat at the dressing table applying moisturiser to her face and hands before she joined him in bed. He took her hands in his and said, ‘ I am truly a lucky man. His wife smiled and took a book from under her pillow.
Next morning Thomas stepped off the Matatu and crossed the road. He entered the shop and picked up a newspaper, an A4 writing pad, a bottle of water and a small jar of proper coffee. The stuff they served in the office tasted most unpleasant. The lady was alone at the checkouts looking at some paperwork. ‘Hello again, old friend’, she said, smiling in her unique way.
‘Hello, I bet you call everyone old friend.’ said Thomas as he placed his purchases on the band. ‘So what time do you open the store?’
“Seven o’clock, every morning sir.’ She said sweetly. ‘Do you work nearby?’
Thomas and the lady chatted for a while in the quiet shop but after about fifteen minutes or so morning shoppers started streaming in. Thomas took his leave and walked to the office with a spring in his step.
Thomas had been working in the office for about an hour when Mandy walked in followed by the lady from the shop. Thomas had not even noticed that he had left his shopping behind. He offered the lady a cup of decent coffee and she accepted. They had two coffees and all the time chatting about this and that. She took her leave and went back to the shop.
At two-thirty pm Mandy called the mechanic to confirm that the car was ready. They assured her that it was all ready for collection. When Thomas got to the garage he found that Shira had been true to his word. The car was purring beautifully and the mechanic had got his boys to give the car a complete valeting. He paid Shira and left a generous tip for the boys and went home. Supper that night was a delicate grilled Tilapia served on a bed of Coconut Rice the chef had made a steamed pudding with home-made custard. The evening went well and as Thomas and his wife retired to the bedroom. They talked of their forthcoming weekend trip to the upcountry farm
‘Daddy would like us to leave very early Friday morning. It is a six-hour drive, as you know.’ His wife said. ‘I am sure we will have a great time.’
Thomas was also looking forward to the trip. His father-in-law was a good man. He was the founder of Mali & Fumi accountants and had the most amazing analytical mind that Thomas had come across. Thomas expected to spend time discussing interesting accountancy ideas with this man whom he greatly admired and he said so to his wife.
Next morning Thomas drove himself to work. He stopped by the shop and picked up a newspaper and a bottle of water. The lady was not at the counter today. He asked the man who served him about this is a casual way but the man had no idea where the lady was. Perhaps it was her day off, he ventured. Thomas went on to the office. He noticed that Wendy had looked at his bottle of water with some interest. He got into his work but after going at it for an hour or so he realised that he was not making any progress. He called Mandy and explained that he was popping out for an hour.
At the shop there was no sign of the lady. The checkout girl who served him asked if he knew her name. He said he did not. She was genuinely apologetic that she could not help him. He learned that there were eleven girls who worked at the tills doing different shifts throughout the week. Thomas could not bear going back to work so he went home. He resolved to come back first thing in the morning. At home and idea came to his head. As the lady had come out of the office to open a new checkout he had noticed a huge poster on the office wall. There were photos of all the staff and management. He would ask about it tomorrow. That evening he could not eat. The beer tasted foul and the whiskey smelled like medicine. When his wife asked what the matter was he said they were fast approaching a deadline set by the Revenue Authority and it placed everyone under tremendous stress.
Morning could not come soon enough for Thomas. He showered and shaved and then sowed the seeds of a fresh domestic scandal by making his own tea. He drove to the shop getting there half an hour before opening time. As he sat in the car, waiting and watching he paused to consider his ridiculous situation. Here he was, married and successful. What business did he have stalking a a shop staff member who he had only met a couple of days before. This was utter madness. He started the car and drove down to the office. He worked right through until five.
It was Friday morning. Thomas picked up his paper at the stand and got a bottle of water from the cold section. There was no sign of the lady at the till. As he was collecting his change the young man who had served him previously emerged from the office. ‘The manager asked me to give you this.’ He said handing Thomas a white envelope.
‘Thanks’. Thomas said, pocketing the envelope. He went straight to his office and shut the door. The envelope contained a single sheet of paper.
‘Dear Mr Mwoga,
I hope that all is well with you. As you read this I am no longer in Nairobi. I hoped to see you on Thursday but when you did not come into the shop I assumed that you were away. You had mentioned something about travelling upcountry with your family. I was working as a temporary relief manager at the store near your office. It took them a long time to find a suitable person but a new manager is now in place and I have come home to Taveta to be with my grand mother who is not very well. It was nice meeting you and I hope that someday I may repay your kind compliment of a decent cup of coffee. Stay well.
Your ‘old friend’
I walked into the new pub just before seven, nearly twenty minutes before our appointment. I was meeting my friend, the retired police inspector, whose views on time keeping sometimes bordered on the extreme. I ordered a cold pint and sat down at a table facing the bar. I drew a long sip of the smooth beer giving thanks for the miracle of water, barley, hops and a bit of carbon. I wondered aloud, “How on earth did they make it taste so good?”
I looked around the room now as more punters strolled in giggling like eager school children with faces all lit up in anticipation of the first pint. Seated at the table to my right a young lady was flicking the pages of a magazine. As I sipped my pint a young man came up to the table. He leaned forward and said to her, “ We ready?” She smiled at him and nodded. He placed his canvas bag at the foot of the table and sat down opposite her, reaching for his glass of coke. By now more punters were streaming in, both men and women finding seats for themselves. The more excited ones preferred to stand at the bar. This was quite a small pub.
The lady at the table next to me now got up and gracefully eased her way up to the bar. It was becoming quite busy here now as friends met with colleagues, bought each other rounds and caught up with the latest news. The music was getting louder making it necessary for the punters to shout to one another. There was the usual good natured shoving to get the barman’s attention.
More people poured into the pub. One of the newcomers turned out to be my friend. And he was five minutes late. He came over and quickly ordered a round. Our drinks soon arrived as we were exchanging pleasantries. My friend said that he had been unsure about parking and had opted to drive home to South B and take a taxi back here. I agreed that this made sense, especially if we were going to make a night of it.
We chatted for a while and I asked my friend if there was fresh information about the statements that he had promised. “ There are a couple of police and witness statements, nothing much. You must remember this was over 30 years ago.” He said. “Come by the office on Monday and see for yourself.” I nodded gratefully taking another sip of the fine beer.
There seemed to be some kind of commotion brewing at the bar area. The punters were all talking in an agitated sort of way. Someone uttered a loud shriek and said “Wooiii I have been robbed. My wallet is gone! Help. Someone call the police!”
One by one the punters at the bar patted themselves and on discovering their loss joined in calling for help. Someone suggested that the doormen should lock all the doors and conduct body searches. Another called to his friends go with him to see if the culprits were hiding, perhaps in the toilets.
I asked my friend what to make of the unfolding drama. “Stay calm and carry on drinking. The police will soon be here and they’ll get to the bottom of the matter, though I doubt they will find any wallets in these premises.” He signaled to the waiter for more drinks.
I guessed that his comment was to indicate that the perpetrator(s) would have left the pub long before the first victim noticed the crime. I tried to think whether I had noticed any suspicious activity before the ex-policeman arrived. As far as I could recall the bar area punters had been having a jolly of a time. They were all office-suite types and all seemed familiar to one another. There was no way that they could have been robbed by one of their own, surely.
As if reading my mind, my pal asked, “Did you notice anything unusual, seated here facing the bar?” I shook my head slowly and said, “Well the crowd at the bar were a bit loud but it was all good natured – the Man’Ure Aresn hole, Chelski type of banter, nothing serious, you know?”
The doormen opened the doors now to let in the officers of the law. The senior policeman strode to the bar, introduced himself and explained that his officers would make searches and then take statements. The searches did not yield anything, just as my friend had suspected. It was decided that the bar would have to close immediately. The police asked for a copy of the cctv recording for the evening. The bar man now told the shocked gathering that the system had been out of order for the past 3 weeks . The management were aware of this.
The statements done, we were free to leave. The police concluded that the pub had been hit by professional pickpockets. There were several teams operating in the area. This would be the focus of their investigations. In plain english, just forget your wallets and money, go home and be more careful next time.
We were back at south B at my pal’s local. He said, “Pickpockets often sit watching the bar area to see which pocket the marks put their money in.” It is fairly easy then to finger the pockets without the mark paying the slightest notice. Do you remember anyone sitting facing the bar area?”
I suddenly remembered the pretty lady with the young lad. As I described her to him I could see a tiny smile beginning at the inspector’s lips. In his eyes there was a far-away look. He asked, “Did you notice, think carefully now, did you see a hint of a limp as she walked?”
“Yes I did inspector, do you know this woman? Is she the thief?” I asked, getting all excited. The inspector made a call on his cell. He spoke quietly for several minutes and then hang up. He looked at his phone thoughtfully
“Hmmm. The wallets and purses – valuables and cash missing of course – were found dumped in a rubbish bin outside the pub about an hour ago.” He said looking at me intently. “A woman and young boy matching the description you have just given me were seen hopping onto a number 63 bus around the time the thefts were discovered. Now last weekend there was a similar incident at a pub nearly half a mile away. The wallets were dumped in an alley in this case and an old man and young girl were spotted jumping onto a bus.”
“So is this someone that you know, a criminal from your past?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, chap, it is just a suspicion that I have because of the disguises. I think we are done here. I will tell you all about it over a nice bottle of Kavosia.” He said, smiling.
So here we were just before midnight stepping into the inspector’s house. The place was in total darkness. He flicked a switch but no light came so he cursed the “dark forces” under his breath.
“There’s a box of candles in the kitchen. I’ll just find them then we can see what we are doing. Have you got a light?”
I offered him my blue cigarette lighter which he struck several times without luck. “Pengine the gas is over, try this one,” I said slipping him the red one. He flicked this one too but it would not spark, the flint was dead. He used the flint from the first lighter to spark the gas in the second one setting a flame to the candle and then there was light. Together we cursed the lousy cheap imported lighters from the far-east.
Using the reliable candlelight we located some glasses and the large bottle of brandy. We retired to the sitting room where the inspector fished out a couple of Havana cigars from a secret panel above the fireplace. With drinks served and blasts lit my host settled into his favourite armchair. He cleared his throat and said “I suspect that the incident tonight was the work of a former adversary of mine. A very talented and extremely prolific crook who ran rings around the entire police force in the early 2000s. She specialised in pickpocketing and confidence tricks but she ran high class scams targeting the so-called great and the good. She was never caught red-handed. I personally arrested her twice but on each occasion her case was thrown out due to insufficient evidence.”
“Wow, did she have well-connected friends, then?” I wondered.
“It was difficult to say”, he answered. “Remember that most of her targets were well heeled public and private individuals. She scammed jewellery, fine arts and plots of land. She lived the jet set life-style with the best of them.
“I was coming up for my retirement in 60 days when she pulled an audacious plan to scam the police commissioner himself. It was almost as if she was daring us to try and catch her. The commissioner allowed his standards to slip. He’d been officiating at a prize giving day in a City primary school. As the event came to a close the commissioner was approached by a young man of Indian descent who asked if he could help his mother sell some gold bars.”
“The greedy commissioner took the bait. He made contact with the lady, who revealed that she needed money urgently to pay for her poorly husband’s treatment. It was all straight forward. She showed him the chest full of gold bars – their life savings, she said – The woman named her price but our hard-working commissioner managed to haggle forcing her to accept half the asking price. The woman insisted on carrying out the exchange in a busy public place.”
The plan was that the gold would be placed behind the telephone box at the end of Wabera street and the commissioner was to leave the money in a briefcase at the bottom of a bench on the other side of the street.” I was amongst many detectives drafted in that afternoon to ensure that the operation went smoothly. We believed this was a sting operation to capture a well-known smuggler.
“As the commissioner watched, a dozen young women, all dressed in the full niqab approached the bench. They gathered around it for a moment and then disappeared down the road taking the briefcase with them, niqabs flowing in the wind. Looking back at the phone box he noticed that the courier had delivered the gold. He ran back and grabbed the box, throwing the lid off. It was as he had feared. 24 cans of Redds on a tray and a note saying “Have a good weekend Mr commissioner. Xxx”
“That evening the commissioner was quietly admitted to the Mental Health Institute at Gigiri having suffered a complete nervous breakdown. To this day nobody knows the sum of money that he lost. Most believed that it was a huge amount. They said that they would not be surprised if the woman finally retired. And you know what, that was the last anyone heard of her.”
I refilled our glasses and settled back on the settee. I asked the inspector, “You haven’t mentioned her name all this time, what was her name? Or did she go by so many aliases that you just couldn’t keep up?” He replied, “There is no doubt she switched between multiple identities as she scammed her way around the country but the name that we hold on record is Ms Amina Wambui Suleiman.
If Amina Suleiman is back in the city we can expect some excitement over the next few weeks and months