John looked up from his work bench, the window to his right giving him a view into his kitchen across the narrow concrete pathway separating his workshop and the house. Jackie was indicating to him that supper was ready by making an eating motion with her hands. He smiled at her, nodding acknowledgement. He switched off his drill press at the wall of plugs and closed the large sliding window above the bench. He had planned his workbench to give him a panoramic vista of the countryside, the rolling verdant hills made way for a green fertile valley with a meandering stream where he would often cast a fly to catch a rainbow trout or two. Darkness was gently embracing the tranquillity as the sun left a final few red streaks in the indigo sky. He switched off the light and stood for a moment in the gloom as he took in the peace of nature at work at day's end.
He closed the workshop and locked the door behind him. As he turned to go toward the kitchen, he saw several men with balaclavas pulled tight over their heads go toward Jackie, roughly grabbing her. She let out a scream struggling as they held her pulling a hessian sack over her head, he shouted out ‘What the hell are you doing. Hey’ he shouted again with a trembling voice as he realised what was happening. Suddenly all the exterior security lights went out and inside the darkness was replaced by beams of torchlight waving this way and that. The lights arching back and forth catching the men in silhouette as two of them tried to control Jackie and the others, he did not know how many, were opening cupboards and drawers. He looked around frantically and wondered where the dogs were, they always waited for him outside the workshop door knowing that this time of the day was their dinner time. He felt the adrenaline kick in as he continued shouting and lunged for the kitchen door but he had nothing to defend himself, he needed to get back into the workshop and grab something, anything, he turned back to the workshop fumbling with the key and before he could insert the key into the lock he felt something being roughly pulled over his head muffling him as he struggled and tried to free his arms now being pinned behind his back and a rough rope being wound around his wrists to bind them. His glasses had been dislodged from his face and had fallen onto the pavement. He heard them break as the person behind him crushed them underfoot and pushed him forward and said one word’ Walk’ as he pushed him with force. ‘Why haven’t the dogs barked?’ the thought flashed through his mind. ‘What the hell is going on’ he was utterly disorientated and could hear Jackie’s muffled screams as he was pushed into the kitchen and roughly manhandled and forced to his knees and then to lying on his stomach on the floor. His head spun from the knock to his head on the tiled floor and he continued to struggle as he could hear the men talking in a language he could not understand. ‘Lie still’ a voice said as someone pushed his foot hard onto John’s back. The sack over John’s head smelt of straw and cow dung. Lying with his head on the side he was able to see through the small aperture in the sack, he saw Jackie lying on her stomach, she was weeping uncontrollably and in the constantly moving torchlight he caught glimpses of a man sitting astride of her as he shouted for her to ‘shut up.’ He heard the crack as her head was violently forced into the tiled floor.
John was trembling as he looked at Jackie being manhandled, one of the men was pulling at her jeans as others laughed, he felt helpless and couldn’t even cry out, his mouth was dry, he could taste blood and was disoriented, he felt a kick to his side and groaned as yet another knocked the breath out if him, his vision was hazy, and he felt as if he was passing out or dying he didn’t know which.
John felt himself coming awake from a lonely dark place as he opened his eyes. They focussed on the hessian weave over his face, he moved his head and felt the hardness of the floor on the side of his face, where was he? He tried to move but his body felt as if it was stuck to the floor, he twisted and tried to free his arms but they were bound behind his back and then he began to remember as his mind took control and helped him recall the events. It wasn’t a bad dream this was real, he rolled over onto his side and pulled his knees up to his body as he twisted and wriggled trying to shake off the bag over his head he found that by constantly bringing his knees up and down he was able to release himself from the loosely fitting bag.
The sun was streaming through the windows and he had to screw up his eyes to get them adjusted to the bright light.
From his lying position he could see Jackie nearby, her hair lay around her head like a mantle and her face was turned the other way he had no way of knowing if she was alive. He croaked ‘Jackie, Jackie.’ No answer. He managed to shout ‘Jackie, Jackie.’ Silence. He used the knee movement he had used before and edged closer to her sliding over the tiled floor. He pushed his body against her over and over repeatedly calling her name. Jackie did not move. ‘Oh no’ he cried ‘what the hell’ he began to sob.
‘John, Jackie you there? someone was shouting from outside as they knocked on the front door. John heard a window smash and then there were people around him untying his wrists all babbling and talking he could not make out what anyone was saying as he started shaking uncontrollably. He was pulled up and sat on a chair, someone was holding a cup of water to his dry lips saying something soothing and reassuring, he noticed someone bending over Jackie and covering her with the checked tablecloth they had ripped off the table.
John had gone into shock and was shivering uncontrollably as his neighbours Mike and Jen sat either side of him. Jen holding his hand. ‘What happened Buddy, can you talk about it.’ John shook his head staring at the body of Jackie covered with the gingham tablecloth. ‘Jackie?’ he finally said. ‘Sorry Buddy.’ John stood up ‘I want to see her.’ ‘Sit down Buddy’ Mike pushed him back down onto the chair ‘wait for the police to arrive.’ Jen put her arms around him, rubbing her hand down his back as he sobbed into her shoulder.
‘The dogs what happened to them.’ ‘The bastards killed them’ Mike replied ‘
The smallholding was in a remote location and it had taken the local police sergeant and his assistant more than an hour to reach the crime scene.
‘I am so sorry,’ the police sergeant said, ‘but we need to get as much detail as quickly as possible to assist us. Is that alright with you sir?’ John nodded. ‘Please tell us everything you remember.’ John had recovered sufficiently to give the sergeant all the details as he remembered them before he had passed out.
‘How many men were there.’ ‘Four I think’ ‘and what were they wearing? ‘They all had balaclavas on and were dressed in denim jeans I think. I remember the one sitting on top of Jackie had a red polo shirt on and was wearing Nike track shoes, the others had dark clothing, I think one had a camouflage jacket.’ ‘Did you hear them speak ‘yes they were speaking a language I couldn’t place, and they were laughing’ John said with a sob.
‘Anything else you can remember!’ John shook his head ‘will you catch them?’ ‘We will gather all the evidence and I promise you we will do everything we can to apprehend them.’
Mike and Jen took John to their farm while the police went about gathering all the evidence. The farm was sealed off and a team of forensic specialists was flown in by chopper.
John was called back to the farm the next day to provide a list of everything that had been taken. His home had been stripped of all their possessions of value. The truck and trailer had been stolen and obviously loaded up with all that they could carry. Mike had arranged that a farmhand should dig a grave for the dogs and Jackie’s body had been flown to Johannesburg for the coroner's report.
Heading up the investigation, Sarel Van der Merwe was a top detective nearing retirement. Farm murders were now commonplace in South Africa and he had manged to solve a number of cases over the years as often the perpetrators left clues or stupidly tried to off load stolen goods close to the crime scene. This was different as there were no clues at the scene. All surfaces had been wiped clean and footprints outside brushed away. They had recovered some DNA from Jackie’s body and the hessian sacks but linking that to anyone was going to prove difficult. Over the first weeks of the investigation no reports of attempts to dispose of the stolen goods became evident and even the truck and trailer had mysteriously disappeared.
The police were hard pressed to solve the number of crimes they had to deal with and like all cases this one remained open but the focus needed to shift elsewhere as the time passed.
John was placed under psychiatric care for some months and the homestead remained empty. When he was discharged he wanted to ask the police if they had finished with the need to have access to his home that both he and Jackie had built as their forever home. His son Alec had been against his Dad’s plan to burn the property to the ground and erase all memories. The police asked him to hold off on his decision until the case had been solved as they may have missed some evidence.
This case had a personal aspect to it for Sarel as he had purchased a small farm in the same district and he and his wife of forty years had planned to move there when he retired much like John and Jackie had. He realised the risks but like John he planned to have three large attack dogs to guard the property and to also install a state of the art security system and high fences. This had not been enough to protect John and Jackie though. He had to solve this crime. It was not a random attack but one which was carefully planned and fitted the profile of other cases on the police files in different parts of the country.
He re-visited the crime scene a number of times hoping to uncover the slightest clue that could put him on track as all the possibilities had so far been exhausted. He tried to re-enact as best he could the events that took place that evening and night. He even checked on the weather and the moon at the time of the crime and waited to replicate those conditions and then methodically going over the sequence of events as he understood them from the evidence. The dogs? Where were they that night, John had said that they didn’t bark and the security system, why did that fail, why was the gate open and not locked. Questions that were all answered in the initial investigation by thoroughly questioning the two men who John employed as assistants on the smallholding. It all pointed to an inside job but all the investigation had led to a huge zero.
It was a year later that John decided to return home from his extended stay with family in the UK. It was time to go home and close this awful chapter in his life. Sarel and he had become friendly over time and he had been kept in the picture of the police progress in solving the crime. Sarel had ordered that the dogs should be exhumed to determine the cause of death, the toxicology reports had provided proof that a pentobarbital solution had been administered by dart into the dogs. The perpetrators had been methodical in their clean up as even the darts had been removed. Parts of the truck had also been recovered from a ‘chop shop’ but this also drew a blank.
John helped himself to drinks and snacks in the business class lounge in Terminal 2 at Heathrow and checked his mobile. Sarel had sent a message that he was looking forward to seeing him again but didn’t have much more to tell on any breakthrough in the investigation. He was just about to reply when he heard laughter that was instantly recognisable and a cold shiver went through him taking him back to that awful night, he would never forget that sound. He looked up and perched on a bar stool he saw the back of a man sitting facing an attractive and exotic looking woman. She threw her head back as the man joined her in laughter. ‘My imagination is playing tricks one me, can’t be him.’ I am having those thoughts again. I must stop.’ The man got up and John could see that he was fashionably dressed in designer gear and he looked away as the man walked past him to the bathrooms. He looked at the woman who was now busy with her phone. She was certainly very exotic he couldn’t stop staring at her neckline; the gold chain pendant necklace she wore looked identical to the one that he had especially made for Jackie on their 25th anniversary. Jackie loved elephants and John had a jeweller design an elephant head gold pendant with a diamond in each eye. The design was unique and the small tusks had been represented by tiny pearls. That’s Jackie’s necklace! John went cold. With the woman still looking down at her phone he took several photos of her just before the man returned. He enlarged the screen and this was definitely Jackie’s necklace. It wasn't possible that it was a coincidence that someone had the same design as the one he and the jeweller had designed, he had paid a high price for the piece to be a one off exclusive item.
The flight was being called and John noticed that the couple were getting themselves ready to head for the exit gate ‘good they are on the same flight’
On the pretext of taking a photo of the lounge John stood up and pointed his camera making sure that the couple appeared in the picture.
He sent Sarel a text and the image of the man and woman. While he was sitting on the plane sipping the complimentary glass of champagne, the couple a few rows in front of him, his phone pinged. It was Sarel. ‘We’ve got this.’
John noticed that Sarel and a couple constables were at the end of the jet bridge as the passengers were disembarking. He didn’t greet him Sarel winked in acknowledgment as John proceeded to clear immigration.
John learned from Sarel later that the man was a well known and wealthy business personality and owner of a security firm that specialised in farm and business installations. He had the ability to remotely disarm security systems and was the mastermind behind the farm attacks and murders, on investigation it had been established that he also found a perverse delight in involving himself in some of the raids.
John and Alec stood silently as they watched the homestead burn, the flames angrily devouring the roof and rafters and obscuring the countryside views behind a thick haze of smoke. Later they turned from the smouldering shell and John handed Alec the elephant necklace ‘for your new bride and a new beginning’ he said as they both walked back to the Land Cruiser and Sarel who had prepared a sundowner picnic.
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