Inspector Makrahanish drove them the few hundred metres to Peter Malo’s house. As they approached the entrance, he said, “I just got word from the station. We rounded up the usual suspects this morning. The petty muggers and crooks, that sort of thing. My officers have been interviewing them all morning. It is doubtful that this attack was carried out by a simple criminal. The attack was so savage and yet nothing at all was stolen. Why did they cut her up like that? Torture, perhaps?”
The commander shook her head. “We have to assume that the perpetrators are sick individuals and that Rubina just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no sexual motive to the attack. They must be sick sadists; only that can explain the horrific injuries.” She said.
As they pulled up at the front court-yard by the house a lady opened the front door and came to meet them. She introduce herself as Margaret Kromati, farm manager. They explained why they had come. She ushered them inside and showed them into a comfortable lounge. As they were seated, a servant was sent to bring tea. Ms Kromati pulled forward a straight-backed chair placing it where she could face all of them and sat down. She spoke calmly and said, “I have heard the talk in the farm. A woman was attacked in the road by robbers in the night. They say it is Rubina. I called the hospital but they won’t talk to anyone about it. They wont let us go and see her.”
Inspector Makrahanish asked when Ms Kromati had last seen Rubina. “Oh, I saw her yesterday morning as she was leaving for town.” She told them. “When she is using matatu she has to leave quite early, but I am always up and about dealing with farm matters, you see.” The commander said, “Ms Kromati, are there times when Rubina does not use public transport? How does she get to town? She doesn’t drive.”
“Her father normally drives her.” Came the reply. “He went away on Wednesday, you see. He drives her to the courts down town and picks her up later in the afternoon.” He’s gone away on business. That’s why Rubina was using public means.” Kromati shook her head slowly. Commander Ruby pressed, “ But where is this that Mr Malo has gone, Ms Kromati? We have tried calling him but his number is unavailable. When do you expect him back?”
Ms Kromati sighed. “ He is mteja because he doesn’t take his phone with him. I can’t reach him, nobody can. Not until he gets back from his safari.” There was a note of despair in her voice and Babu followed it up. “ You say he leaves his phone, How do you know this?”
Ms Kromati stood up and walked over to a large painting hanging on the far wall of the room. It was a larger than usual copy. Babu noted the unmistakable features of Jomo Kenyatta in his black leather jacket on the night that the colonial powers arrested him and many others and declared a state of emergency in the country. Kromati took down the painting to reveal a large safe built into the wall. She fished out a small key from somewhere and unlocked the safe. She now brought out a passport, national ID card, a driving licence and two mobile phones. She placed these on the table for them to examine.
Ms Kromati said, “I am not just the farm manager. I look after the domestic arrangements here too. This gives me access to every part of the house. I open this safe almost every day to pay the casual workers. I am constantly in and out of Mr Malo’s room looking for an invoice here or a receipt there that he has forgotten to bring to the office.” Babu looked puzzled and asked, “So why does he leave all his stuff here when he goes away? I don’t get it.” Ms Kromati laughed a short laugh. “ You’re asking the wrong person. I asked him so many times, I lost count. He always said “That’s my business.” So I gave up asking. It really isn’t my business what a grown man does in his spare time.”
It was Inspector Makrahanish who now said: “Tell us a little about the business trips, madam how often does Malo go away?” The reply surprised them all. Ms Kromati said, “Peter Malo goes away on business every three months. He leaves the farm on a Wednesday and returns on a Wednesday some four weeks later. He always stays away for four weeks. Always. In the eight years that I have worked here He has never failed to make this trip. He locks away his car in the garage and uses a rental vehicle for the trip. Also he does not take any luggage from the house with him.”
It was getting late and the shadows outside were growing longer. They were slowly making their way back to the car. The commander and Ms Kromati walked slowly at the rear. In the courtyard some children had gathered and stood looking at the police vehicle. Now they watched the visitors with interest. A small boy in the group held a little brown puppy in his arms.
“Hello,” said Babu “ What a beautiful puppy. What’s his name?” The little boy smiled. He told Babu that his puppy was a girl. “Her name is Jinja. But you knooow…….. her mummy is gone.” The boy was suddenly sad. He looked at Babu and said “ Mister police can you find her mummy?” “Sure I can.” said Babu. Tell me her mummy’s name.”
Ms Kromati came along to where Babu and the boy stood. She said the kids had told her that the big dog, Cadbury was nowhere to be found. “That dog never leaves Rubina’s side when she is here. In fact she walks with Rubina to the bus stop in the mornings and in the evenings she runs back there to wait for her to arrive. Nobody knows how the dog figures out the time to go to the bus stop. Really weird.”
Commander Ruby asked, “Did you say the name is Cadbury?” Kromaty said“ Yes Hahahaha.The kids said they called her that because she was brown all through, like chocolate.”
The commander was serious now. “This is the name that poor Rubina has been trying to tell us.”
Babu said, “Of course. They must have been together when she was attacked. Where is the dog now, I wonder.” Makrahanish called the station with instructions. They were to check for and investigate all sightings of a brown dog in the neighbourhood.
They went back to the hospital and met Woolie who told them that there was some improvement in the patient but she still slept heavily. The nurse said that all the vital signs were good. In her opinion it was very likely that Rubina would shake off the sedatives and wake the following morning. The Doctor looked in and confirmed everything the nurse had said.. Inspector Makrahanish took his leave. Babu and the Commander brought Woolie up to speed with what they had learnt at the farm. Commander Ruby elected to stay the night in case their patient woke.
Woolie and Babu made their way to the hotel. Woolie said to Babu “ It seems to me that whoever it was that stole the dog, they are the ones responsible for the attack on Rubina. Find the dog and we’ll have the attackers.”
When Babu finally got to his room the tiredness had got to him. He undressed and collapsed onto the bed. He turned off the light and lay still. Sleep eluded him as it often did when a case presented seemingly impossible complications. The case before them was crazy: A random absentee father who abandons all that he owns. To go where?
Babu thought back to how he had so wanted to reconcile father and daughter. How he had managed to get Rubina to lead the defence team on a high-profile case. He had contacted Peter Malo and urged him to invite his daughter to stay with him for the duration of the case. He remembered now how Malo sounded the genuinely proud father. He would drive his daughter to court every morning, he had said. Rubina had accepted her dad’s offer graciously. She had told Babu that Malo had simply called her out of the blue. She need not stay in some random hotel when her dad had more than ample accommodation at the farm, Meddling old fool that I am, thought Babu. Where was Peter Malo. Did his absence have anything to do with the attack, or was it just coincidence. It was obvious that he was up to something. Fake Ids? Impersonations? A double life? Espionage? These were fantastic ideas. Rabbit holes. Babu reminded himself of the need to stick to the facts.
What were the facts: A young lady viciously assaulted. No obvious motive. Nothing taken. Hundreds of cuts, lacerations all over the body. Then there was the issue of the strange crime scene. Complete lack of physical evidence. No footprints, No tyre tracks and no reports of suspicious vehicles in the vicinity. How had the attackers arrived there and how did they leave? There was something one of the radio news readers had said in a report on the attack. “These vicious thugs were not human…” And what was it that Woolie had said before we parted? With that thought Babu finally dropped off.
Every Sunday morning Chadli Hosein walked through the forest checking his traps and bee-hives. Sometimes he got lucky and found small antelope or dik dik caught in the snares. He took only what he needed and shared any surplus with his neighbours. Hunting was once a noble and respected occupation. A source of fresh meat for the pot. The poachers who wiped out Rhino and Elephant for horns and ivory had driven good hunters underground.
Chadli was now quite close to the place where that poor girl had been attacked. It happened under that big tree. He looked down towards the river. Down there the vegetation was very thick. Perhaps he could place a trap down there. He slipped carefully down the embankment. He was now completely invisible from the road above. He walked along the river for a while. He was looking for a suitable place to set a trap. He came to a bend in the river.
If he had not been looking carefully he would never have seen the cave. The vegetation had grown so high and then it had fallen over almost completely blocking the entrance. “What an amazing hideout.” He thought. It was unlikely that anyone else knew of this place. He pushed the bushes to one side and moved into the mouth of the cave. A hundred thousand flies suddenly lifted off from their feeding ground. Chadli jumped back, terrified. The buzzing sound as they flew off was deafening. There was also a horrible smell. He quickly recovered his composure and strained to look at what the flies had been feeding on. He could barely believe his eyes. Lying there spread on the cave floor was the largest leopard he had ever seen. Beside it, clinging to the leopard’s neck, even in death was the carcass of a fine dog. Even in the faint light he could see that the dog’s fur was a smooth brown colour, like chocolate.
An hour later Chadli Hosein walked into the Sobea Police Station. He said to the officer at the desk “Who’s in charge here? I think I know what happened to that poor girl on Friday.”