Jade put the lids back onto the tins of paint and put them back in the tray with the others. She found some paint thinner and an old jar in the scullery. She left the brush to soak and took the stepladder out to the yard.

There wasn’t much else to straighten up. The kitchen was filled with cardboard boxes ready for transport and storage. She could see which ones had been labeled by Piet. His writing was large and bold, the capital letters written with a flourish. There were more boxes in the corner that Annette must have packed before she died. They were carefully sealed and had small neat lettering on their sides. “Books,” “Bathroom” and five or six large boxes labeled “Adrian—Sport” and “Adrian— Personal.”

Jade heard honking outside. For a crazy moment, she thought the police vehicle was back, bringing Piet home again. She ran outside with the remote in her hand.

David was at the gate.

“Open up, Jade. We need to get moving.”

She locked up the house and hurried over. “What’s happened?”

He waved a sheet of paper. “We’ve got a match for the fin-gerprint on the axe.”

David looked relaxed, almost unconcerned, but Jade could tell from the set of his jaw that he was already on the chase. She took the paper, trying not to think about the fact that it had been procured for him as a favor by his wife. She was going to focus on the task ahead and try to forget what had happened the day before.

Her eyebrows rose as she read through the printout. “This thumbprint belongs to a woman.”

“Yup. We’re on our way to find her.”

Thandi Khumalo lived in a rented flat in an apartment block opposite a park. It looked like tranquil suburbia, but the steel access gate and the perimeter fence topped with razor wire told a different story.

They found the caretaker in the garden fixing a security light.

“Thandi? I’d be surprised if she could even lift an axe.” He laughed. “But she works at a hardware store, so she might have sold it.” He gave them the address; she worked near Sandton.

They got back into the police car.

“We can take a short cut through Alex township. If you’re not scared.”

“I’m more scared driving through Alexandra with a cop than I would be on my own.”

David grinned. “Me too.”

Looking through the car window, Jade was surprised at how the sprawling settlement had been improved. Rows of modest houses were set out in geometric formation, forcing the corrugated-iron shacks into retreat. Jade could see power lines and streetlights. The air was clear. People had planted flowers and trees in the spaces outside their homes.

“It’s a lot better now,” David declared. “The houses on this side of the road were built for athletes competing in the All Africa Games. When the games were over, they were passed on to residents, and they’ve carried on building houses from there. Most of the townships are the same, now. Low-cost housing is starting to take over.” He nodded approvingly. “In a hundred years or so, there probably won’t be any crime at all. Everyone will be happy, in their own little homes with electricity and television.”

“Pity you won’t be alive to see it.”

“Speak for yourself. I plan on living till at least a hundred and eighty.”

The hardware store where Thandi worked was in a newish shopping center. Thandi herself was sturdy and short, with a bright smile and straightened hair gelled back and held in place by a butterfly clip. She wore blue jeans and a black golf shirt with the hardware store’s logo on the pocket.

David explained the situation. The store manager hovered in the background, keen to hear the latest news from the world of crime fighting. Thandi listened, leaning forward, eyes wide and attentive. When he told her that a murder had been committed with the axe, her hands flew to her mouth in horror.

“Eish!” she said.

“Do you know anything about it?” asked David. He opened his file and passed her a photocopied sheet with the axe’s measurements and a 10x8 color photograph.

Thandi and the manager looked at the photo as if it was going to leap off the page and attack them. They glanced at each other and nodded.

“This is the type of stock we sell,” the manager confirmed.

“Thandi. Did you sell an axe recently? Or pack one onto the shelves? Handle one at all?”

Thandi thought for a while. Then she nodded.

“On Monday morning I sold such an item to a customer.”

“And before that?” David asked. “Any other sales?”

She shook her head. “That was the only axe I have sold for a while. People like to buy them at the start of winter, in May. Now it is nearly July.”

David leaned forward, his expression intent. “Tell us about the customer.”

She thought some more, pursing her lips and rubbing her fingers together.

“He asked me for equipment. Axe, hedge-clippers, a crowbar. And gloves. I fetched everything for him. He made me walk all around the shop.”

Jade and David exchanged glances. Yolandi had been assaulted with a crowbar on Wednesday night. Had this man purchased the weapon used to attack her as well?

“How did he pay?”

“Cash, I think. Yes, because he counted his change as if I was stealing from him. Then he told me to pack the shopping for him. He took the bags and left the shop.”

The manager cleared his throat. “Monday morning. Would a security video help you? We’ve got one in place here. I’ll get it for you and then you can play it back and see him.” He rushed off to the back of the store.

Thandi continued. “He was a white man. Tall.”

Jade looked at Thandi, who, if she wore platform shoes, might have reached five feet in height. To her, the word “tall” probably covered a broad range of possibilities.

“Taller than him?” She pointed to David, who drew himself up to his full six foot five. Thandi’s head came to the middle of his chest.

“Maybe.” She had to crane her neck in order to see David’s face. “Maybe as tall as him.”

“We’ll see more from the video,” David said. “Tell us any-thing else you noticed about him.”

“He had short hair. Brown, I think. Or red. He did not smile. He had something on his face.” She smoothed her fingers along her cheekbone in demonstration. “Here on his face. Like scars.”

“His age?”

She shrugged. “Not young. Not old.”

“What about his voice? Did you notice any accent?”

Thandi thought about it. “He sounded ordinary. Like any white South African guy.”

David scribbled notes. “Anything else? Did you see where he went afterwards? His car?”

Thandi shook her head. “Perhaps if you ask the car guard. He is good with remembering people.”

They thanked her, and she headed over to the till, head held high, proud at having been able to help.

The manager brought back the security tapes for Monday that covered the hours from nine a.m. to one p.m. “Shout if you need any others. But we checked on the computer. The purchase was made at ten past eleven.”

Before they left the shop, David took a couple of digital photos of the till area using his cell phone. He asked the manager for a Stanley tape measure to record the height of the counter. To Thandi’s amusement, he measured her too. “These photos will help the techie with color analysis from the black and white footage,” he said. “Should be able to get the guy’s approximate height as well, with these references.”

Jade went out to talk to the car guard, but their conversa-tion was not as fruitful. The man said he knew all the regu-lars, but he did not remember a man with a scarred face.

“So he’s not a regular.” David looked disappointed. “Suppose it would be too good to be true if he was.”

“Makes sense,” Jade said. “You wouldn’t go and buy a murder weapon from your local hardware store. We were lucky that Thandi remembered him. Otherwise we’d be as deep in the dark as we were when we started.”

Jo’burg Central’s media center sounded grander than it looked. It was in fact an old meeting room equipped with a TV, a video and DVD machine, some basic computer equip-ment and a variety of uncomfortable chairs. After the techni-cian had copied the tapes onto DVD, he, David and Jade went in and settled down to watch the footage.

“They’ve got the time running at the bottom of the screen on digital display,” the techie said. “Where do you want to start?”

David turned to Jade. “How about ten past eleven, when the man made the purchase? Then we’ll see what he looks like, and we can go back and see when he came in.”

“Sounds good,” she said.

Jade watched as the day in the life of a hardware store flick-ered past at high speed in grainy black and white. The security camera had been set up to show the shop doors and the two tills. The till staff had their backs to the camera, the customers faced it. She wondered whether its primary purpose was to keep the clients or the staff honest. As the technician fast-forwarded, people raced in and whirled past and scuttled out. Money and goods whipped from hand to hand. The security guard near the tills zigzagged to and fro like a goalkeeper.

“Right. Let’s slow it down here.” The time was 11.05. He pressed a button and the scene shifted to normal speed. They watched an old lady hobble past. Her progress seemed infi-nitely slow. She left the screen and the two tills stood empty. The technician’s finger hovered over the fast-forward button.

“No,” David said. “Wait.”

A minute later two more customers appeared. Then Thandi came into view, pushing a trolley. She was easy to spot, being a head shorter than everyone else and two heads shorter than the bulky man who was following her. His head was turned towards her and his back was to the camera. Jade watched her push the trolley over to the till and unload the goods.

The technician pushed another button and the scene went into slow motion. The man had his hands in the pockets of his jacket and was keeping his head down.

“Shit. The bugger knows there’s a bloody camera there.” David shifted in his chair.

Thandi hefted the axe and the other items onto the counter, scanned the purchases and looked up at the man.

“She’s touched that axe all over its handle,” Jade said.

David nodded. “He must have wiped it. He was careful. Just forgot about the base.”

The man produced a wallet from his pocket and counted out seven one hundred rand notes. Thandi gave him his change. Then he pointed at the plastic bags on the counter. She started packing his goods. The axe was long and heavy and Jade saw that she’d had to support the base of the handle with her thumb in order to get it in a bag.

The man picked up his purchases and strolled out of the shop.

“Crap,” David said. “Couldn’t he have looked up?”

“Don’t worry,” the technician said. “That footage told us something.”

“OK. Before we go any further, let’s backtrack and see what he did when he came in.”

“How far shall I go back?”

“How long does it take someone to decide what bloody axe to buy? They’re all the same. Go back fifteen minutes and let’s see if he’s there.”

Ten minutes before he left the shop, the man strode in, hands in his pockets. He went straight past the tills and headed for the gardening section.

“There you have it.” David banged his fist down on the table. “Guy couldn’t even smile for the bloody camera.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the tech said. “We’ll run it again. I’m seeing enough of his face to get a few good stills. Can’t ask for more. A camera like this, it’s put in for the staff more than the customers. You see how you can watch everything they’re doing when they turn to the cash drawer?”

He zoomed in on a frame. “This is the best one I see, but there’s a few other good ones. We should be able to get his approximate height and weight, too.”

“How long will it take?”

The techie sighed. “You don’t want to know what my backlog’s like.” Then he saw David’s face. “For you, Superin-tendent, we’ll prioritize it. I’ll call you in a couple of hours.”

Random Violence