Defense Force headquarters had undergone one of the many name changes that had swept South Africa during the last decade. Sometimes Jade felt she had returned to an entirely different country.

Headquarters, originally called Roberts Heights, was nestled at the foot of the hill where the Voortrekker Monu-ment had been built. In a fit of nationalism, the old regime had renamed the base Voortrekkerhoogte, or Voortrekker Heights. When the ANC came into power, that name had been discarded. The new name was Thaba Tshwane, which Jade personally thought sounded like somebody sneezing.

Apart from the change in signage, the Army base looked the same as Jade remembered it from her few brief visits long ago. When she drove through the gates early the following morning, she was shown through to the office of the Chief Directorate of Human Resources. The director was a tall man with close-cropped hair and a ramrod-straight carriage. His voice was clipped and brisk with a surprisingly English accent that Jade had noticed when she had phoned him the previous afternoon.

Once he’d heard her story in person, the director picked up the phone.

“I need to access all staff records from 1974 to 1989. We’ll need two of you to help us search through the files. I’ll see you at the records office in five minutes.”

He gestured to Jade.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

The lawns outside the admin center were the only place in the South African winter highveld that were emerald green and lush. Jade saw two soldiers weeding and trimming and another one moving a sprinkler around. In the Army, any-thing was possible, she supposed.

The director gave two corporals the job of locating the paper files and carrying them from the vaults. He sat with Jade and got ready to search the computerized files.

“We should start with height,” he decided. “What are our parameters?”

“Let’s take everyone over six foot.”

“Fair enough. That’ll weed out three quarters of them.”

Jade was glad she’d come early, because the task in hand seemed endless, with record after record flashing up on the screen, and the two helpers running backwards and forwards with armfuls of files. She was pleased that they were also dili-gent about keeping her coffee cup refilled.

They went through the first five years’ worth of files before lunch. The following ten after lunch went more quickly.

“Were you already experiencing reduction in numbers?” Jade asked.

The director nodded. “Every year you could see a difference.”

By half past three the computer work was over. Jade looked at the massive stacks of paper files she would need to go through one by one and sighed.

With the color photo provided by the tech as reference, she started searching through the records. Each file contained an identity photograph and a full description. She looked at the photos of the young men who had been forced to sign up for military service in the old South Africa.

The men looked so young, so innocent. Wide smiles, guileless eyes, skin scarred with acne but otherwise smooth. She was sure that when the photos had been taken, the men had no idea what their future held, or the part they would play in enforcing the apartheid regime, like pawns in a flawed game of chess.

At half past five she found the file she needed, although she didn’t realize it at first. The repetitive mechanical processing of paper had lulled her into a stupor. She flicked through its pages automatically. Then she stopped, went back, and looked again.

The man was called Garth Whiteley and was from the 1976 intake. The records stated that his hair was red, his eyes blue. He’d squinted at the camera, unsmiling. In the black and white photograph his skin looked doughy and pale, blotched with grayish streaks of scarring over his cheeks and nose. He had a bulky jaw and a nose that looked identical to the one of the man in the hardware store photograph.

“I think we’ve found him,” she called.

The director came over and took a look.

“Seems like a match to me. Whiteley. Let’s see what hap-pened to him.”

He turned to the computer and typed in a couple of commands.

“He spent three months in basics. Then he went through to intelligence. Obviously a clever boy.” He frowned down at the yellowed pages. “Looks like he spent three years in the army, and most of it under the command of my friend General Nel. I can call Nel if you like. He’s still around. Find out more about Whiteley.”

“Thank you,” Jade said.

The director got on the phone. He talked and listened, scrib-bling notes on his pad. Jade waited, looking at the pages that were completed thirty years ago. His identity number was there. His home address too, although she doubted he would still be living there. It was for a house in Townview, Germiston. Back then, it had been a place where working-class whites had lived. Now, Jade was sure it was close to being a no-go area. She wondered if Whiteley had wanted to do his national service. Being poor, he wouldn’t have had a choice. Rich boys who didn’t want to do national service had emigrated or pleaded that they were medically unfit. With the help of an obliging family doctor, any excuse could be fabricated.

“Right. I’ve got some interesting information for you.” The director put the phone down. “Nel remembers him well.”

“Fantastic. What was he like?”

“From the Army’s point of view, he was a contradiction.” He glanced down at the paper. “Nel says he was orphaned just before he was called up. His mother, a single parent, committed suicide by drowning herself in the bath, apparently. Whiteley qualified for exemption because of that, but he chose to join up anyway. He was overweight and unfit. Barely made it through basic training. But he had a brilliant strategic mind.”

“Hence the move to intelligence?”

“Exactly. He performed well for a year, worked his way into a leadership position. They sent him to the border, then to Angola, where he ended up in charge of a unit after the com-mander was killed in a training accident. That was when the trouble started.”

“What trouble?”

“Theft of supplies. Theft of equipment. It happens from time to time, but this was on a serious scale. Looting of the surrounding villages. A couple of the troops in his unit must have been intimidated, because when we investigated they wouldn’t say a thing. Another couple of troops went missing. Suspected of desertion, but you never know.”

“What did General Nel think at the time?”

“At the time, he thought Whiteley was a poor leader, that he was letting his troops run riot. It was only later that he realized Whiteley was behind it all. Nel reckons he was selling equipment and supplies to the enemy, the SWAPO terrorists. Getting cash or diamonds in exchange. He didn’t have a shred of proof, so he couldn’t arrest him, but he got him recalled to Pretoria and discharged from the Army.”

“Did he ever see him again?”

“Never. But he wasn’t surprised when I said he was a suspect in a criminal case. He said Whiteley was a violent man. And a dangerous one.” The director paused and paged back through his notes. “But he didn’t call him Whiteley while we were talking. He referred to him as Whiteboy. A nickname, I suppose.”

Random Violence