Mabel stood there in the dead couple’s lounge, still reeling from the realization that she was shot at. That a bullet had passed her face close enough for her skin to have felt the displacement of kinetic energy. She looked over at the two people in the corridor, ostensibly elegant in life, but now…
Did they feel this fear? Were they paralyzed like this?
Mabel was shook back to life by uptight master’s student, Michelle, who was literally shaking her by the shoulders. Mabel felt her wild hair flailed from side to side…
‘Doctor? Doctor Ackerman? Are you okay? Are you okay?!’
‘I wasn’t penetrated by a bullet but you are about to Shaken-Baby-Syndrome me to death.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just got such a fright.’
‘It was just an accident, it can happen to anyone.’
At this, Mabel looked up, focused. ‘What? What happened?’
Warrant officer Vilakazi was standing just inside the lounge while several uniformed police officers were crowding the corridor, no doubt after hearing the gunshot.
Nicely contaminating our crime scene. Outstanding.
Michelle, still holding on to Mabel, turned her head to the detective and Mabel thought for sure that Warrant Officer Vilakazi would have to spend the rest of the day pulling out daggers from his face.
‘He shot at you. He wanted to show me the difference between a pistol and revolver and took out his weapon from its holster. It went off and almost killed you!’ Michelle was starting to sound a little hysterical. And all at once Mabel thought that this strange, formal girl might just have a heart, and decided that she really liked Michelle.
‘It was an accident. I never returned the weapon to safety…it just went off. It was an accident.’ The detective was eerily calm, standing with his hands in his pockets. Like he was just waiting for a football game to start…
‘Doctor Ackerman, we have to get you to a hospital. We have to get you out of here!’
Mabel took Michelle by the wrists. ‘Michelle, look at me. I’m completely hole-less. I nearly pooped my pants, but I’m fine, I promise. We still have a job to do here…’
Michelle stared at Mabel as if Mabel just suggested they return to the department by way of cellular teleportation.
‘You cannot be serious?’
‘I’m as serious as heart disease. Let’s get to the bodies…’
Mabel was good at this. Putting trauma in another box while she finished up work. She’d done it many times when her mother was sick with cancer and was being torn from life, one cell at a time.
This feels all too familiar. This compartmentalization.
At the same time Mabel was readying herself for war with Detective Vilakazi. As much as she adored the detective corps, few things irked her more than incompetent and smug police officers.
An experienced cop putting a gun un-safetied? What are the odds?
Mabel focused on the two bodies in front of her. She had used a thermometer to ascertain the liver temperatures of both bodies. This, along with the extent to which the two bodies had grown cold and stiff with rigor mortis, helped Mabel establish time of death at around 10 to 15 hours. She stood up. She looked up into the glass sliding doors which were peppered with gunshots. Beyond the sliding doors was a garden lush with bushes, flowers and old, huge trees…
Mabel knew there were many safety hacks that the average South African understood all too well. One was to not allow a wild overgrowth of garden. Easy to hide in, you see.
Mabel turned back to the lounge where the Rhodes couple left their dinner and wine the night before. The plates of food and wine glasses were still on the coffee table, as if two people were going to sit down for dinner at any time. Mrs. Rhodes clearly took a sip or two of wine. Lip print on an almost full glass of white wine. The food, takeaways from Something Fishy, seemed untouched. Dissatisfied, Mabel turned back and asked Warrant Officer Vilakazi for directions to the kitchen.
Mabel saw it immediately on the kitchen’s granite tabletop: The Something Fishy cash slip. Something Fishy Pretoria East. Customer paid at 19:08.
19:08. Pretoria East branch. It’s about half an hour’s drive from here. After returning, back to the kitchen. Unload the food. Pour the wine. Sit down. TV on. Two sips of wine. Hear something get up. Get revolver. Get shot.
They were shot around 20:00. They’ve been dead about 14 hours.
Mabel returned to where the bodies were waiting. Michelle was standing on the other side of the bodies, observing the scene. Probably growing accustomed to the finality of death.
There is such a long road of adjustment that’s waiting for this girl…
Warrant Officer Vilakazi was crouched next to the bodies with his back to Mabel, busy with something on the floor. As Mabel walked closer, Vilakazi stood up and Mabel could see that he had picked up the revolver that was lying next to Mrs. Rhodes.
‘This was her gun. I think she got it after the first shot came through the slide doors. She fought back.’ Vilakazi said.
This made Mabel even sadder for the couple.
But then Mabel felt a frozen hand caress her back. Her limbs seemed lead-heavy. She shot a look in the direction directly opposite to where Vilakazi was standing: Michelle. Mabel’s scream returned. ‘No!’
To Mabel it felt as though it was nothing but a whisper. To those present in the house it seemed like a Low Veld thunderstorm. Uniformed police officers, about five, came running into the house. Probably still shaken from the gun shot.
‘Put that goddamn gun down!’
Everyone looked at Mabel, frozen. She was staring at Vilakazi in disgust. ‘Look at what you are doing. Look!’
Vilakazi looked down at his hands, but he clearly did not register the cause for her concern.
‘Warrant Officer Vilakazi, were you just trying to open that gun’s magazine?’
‘Can you see that the gun is cocked?’
He looked down again. Understood.
‘Ah. Oh jissus.’
‘Yes exactly. Had you put any more pressure on that magazine you would have discharged that revolver. And you would have had a victim.’
Vilakazi looked up at Michelle, who by now had lost all human coloring.
Mabel looked down at the couple. The sophisticated-looking couple. They might have been great people. Great parents. They have been taken by violence. Violence fueled by greed, hunger, desperation, evil…maybe a combination of it all. Mabel would never know these fine people, but she felt overwhelming sadness for them.
Apart from their demise…in that moment there in the corridor of death…Mabel had no hope for the resolution of their murder…