Who could forget the media circus around the Oscar Pistorius trial. Inspired by a sudden dose of legalese, I decided to write a legal short story with my own unique twist…
I knew I had him. The moment I saw him taking the seat in the dock, he was in my pocket. His eyes flitted around the courtroom. He looked nervously at the judge, at the prosecutor, at the stenographer, at the gallery and the bailiffs. In fact, he looked every where he could, but at me. That was all I needed to see.
I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable by the dry, Johannesburg heat. I was trying to remember the one reason I was in this courtroom in the first place. In fact, I had over a million reasons to be sitting right where I was and not in my Cape Town offices or mansion. And he was sitting right behind me, stinking to high hell. His name was Juan Slabbert. Greasy. That was the only word I could use to describe him. Greasy blonde hair, greasy, pimple covered skin. Just greasy. The reed thin boy leaned forward in his seat, chewing bubble gum like a damn cow. I would have told him to stop that, but that would mean I would have to turn and face him. To put my nose squarely in his direction. That is the last thing I wanted, so I focused on the prosecutors’ last witness. Their primary witness. Mr Van Wyk. The victims’ husband who was in his late forties. My age, but he looked a lot fitter. The prosecutor, an attractive fifty something woman who I wouldn’t mind getting to know better, was leading him through his testimony. The witness explained how he had returned home from work to find his front door open. He then went inside to find his wife laying on the floor, dead. Mr Van Wyk then testified that he saw the suspect, my client, running out of the yard through the lounge window. Mr. Van Wyk broke down in tears at this point, lifted his glasses from his face, and wiped his eyes.
It was now my chance to cross-examine the witness.
“Mr Van Wyk, please, remind the court who you are.”
An unnecessary question, but one I threw in to knock him off guard a bit. He fidgeted in the stand – his hands wringing the blue and white handkerchief. “My Lord,” he started, a little confused. His voice feeble and shaky as he addressed the court. “My name is Martin Van Wyk, I am…I was Tina’s husband.”
“Please speak louder Mr. Van Wyk.” I raised my voice, and the witness actually jumped in his seat. This was my intention. To shake him up even more. “For the benefit of the court.”
Uncomfortably, he leaned towards the microphone. “My name is Martin Van Wyk. I am Tina Van Wyk’s husband.”
I smiled, and adjusted my robe. “Thank you Mr. Van Wyk. And what do you do for a living.”
“I…er” he stammered. “ I am a …an accountant.”
“And where do you work?”
“I am the CEO of Odin Auditing.”
“Please address the court with some respect, Mr Van Wyk,” There was no real need to reprimand the man, but it was a great opportunity to unnerve him more.
“I’m sorry.” He responded meekly.
“CEO?” I repeated, as if I did not know all this information from the start of the case. “That is impressive. I mean, you are in your late thirties Mr. Van Wyk. You must have worked long hours. Worked your fingers to the bone, to get all the way to the top. Right?”
“Er, My Lord, the company was started by…by my Grandfather. It was passed down to my father who past it down to me.”
I nodded, “I see. So you were given a multi-million rand company on a silver plate.”
The state prosecutor shot to her feet. “My Lord, that is not necessary, and I object. This is not relevant in anyway. And it is just an attack on the witness.”
The judge looked at me with stern eyes, but before he could say anything, I said. “My Lord. I apologise and I would like to retract my statement.” I turned back to Mr Van Wyk.
“Mr Van Wyk, what time did you leave work that day?”
“At three o clock in the…My Lord, at three o’clock in the afternoon.”
“And you went straight home?”
“I see.” I paged through my notes, for no real reason but to build tension. I knew he was lying. “According to your statement, and to your testimony, you arrived home at just before five. Is this correct?”
“My Lord, that is correct.”
I had him. “But Mr Van Wyk, your offices are only fifteen minutes from your work.”
The look on his face was priceless. “I…er…excuse me.”
“I said, you work only fifteen minutes away from your home. We actually tested this. Fifteen minutes, in peak traffic. No more than that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, Mr. Van Wyk, if it takes less than fifteen minutes to get home and if you left work at three, you should have been home at three – fifteen. Maybe three – twenty. But you got home at five. Surely an accountant can see the problem here.”
“I…er…I made a stop first before I got home.”
“I see, so you lied.”
“I…” his eyes screwed up with anger, but the prosecuter got to her feet before he said anything further.
“My Lord, Mr. Meyer is just calling the witness names.”
“My Lord.” I responded confidently, as I saw her mistake. “I did not call him a liar. I said he lied. Which he did. He said he went straight home in his statement and testimony, yet now he is giving us another story. That is lie.”
The judge, soft spoken. “I agree with Advocate Meyer. And I will allow it.”
“Thank you My Lord, “ I said, trying to control my ever swelling confidence. I turned my attention back to the witness. “Mr. Van Wyk, so where did you go for an hour and forty five minutes “
“I…er…” He looked pleadingly at the prosecutor.
“Please speak up.”
“I went to visit a friend.”
“Yes, just a friend.”
“I see.” I said. “And what is your friend’s name?”
The pause was tangible. It was exactly what I wanted. The longer the pause, the more doubt he was putting into the Judges’ mind. “Nicole. Nicole Kelms.”
“That is a Miss Nicole Kelms?”
“That is correct.”
“So what did you do during your visit with your friend, Miss Nicole Kelms home?”
“Nothing, We just talked.” He turned hopefully to the Judge. “My Lord, I don’t understand why this is important.”
“Mr Van Wyk, please stick to answering the questions of the Advocate Meyer.” The judge responded.
I asked my next question quickly. “How is your business doing Mr. Van Wyk?”
“Yes. How is Odin Auditors doing?”
“We doing great. My Lord, business could not be better.”
“But that was not always the case, was it?” Once again, I looked through my notes for no particular reason as I knew all my facts by heart. “How did you meet your wife?”
“My Lord, through my father.”
“According to my records, Odin Auditors almost went under twenty seven years ago. That was until a massive investment from a Mr Clayton Harvey. Who is Mr Clayton Harvey to your wife?”
“Her father, my Lord.”
“And what did Mr. Harvey get in return for his investment?”
“A share in the business.”
“A majority share in the business?”
Again, a pause. “I guess so. 51% though.”
“But that is still a majority share, am I correct?”
“Yes.” He whispered.
“Please speak louder. Mr Van Wyk.”
He leaned towards the microphone, and gave me a look of pure hatred. “That is correct.”
Looking through random sheets of paper. “I believe Mr Harvey is ill. Terminally sick. Lung cancer.”
“That is true, my Lord.”
“It is sad,” I did my best to fake a look of sadness. “The Doctors have given him less than six months to live, and that was two months ago. Is this correct?”
“That is correct.”
“Tell me, Mr Van Wyk. Should Mr Harvey die, who stands to inherit his 51% controlling share in the business.”
“My wife, I guess.”
“I see. But now that your wife is dead, who will now inherit the 51% share?”
“I do not know?”
“I do. It is you, isn’t it?”
“I think so. I’m not sure.”
“I am sure. It is you. So, the person who benefits the most from the death of your wife, is you Mr Van Wyk.”
“Are you accusing me of killing my wife?” He screamed.
The fury was unexpected and I was taken aback. Unexpected, but very welcomed. “I am not accusing you of anything. But was your wife accusing you of something?”
“We pulled your wifes’ cell phone record. It shows that she made numerous calls to Ms Kelms. Was your wife aware of your affair, Mr Van Wyk?”
“She was not.”
“So you are saying you managed to keep your affair a secret.”
“That is not what I am saying. I…”
“If you got divorced, and your father in law were to die, would it be accurate to say that your ex-wife would have control over your family business. Over your legacy.”
“It would, but that… I mean…My Lord…”
“So a woman, bitter with the fact that you betrayed her. Angry with you, would now be your boss?”
“Wait…this is wrong…I…”
“Mr Van Wyk,” I had him on the ropes, and I was about to go for the knock out punch. “There was no physical evidence linking my client to the murder. Nothing. My client has no motive. Nothing was stolen. There are no other witnesses, but you. My client was just the young man trying to make a few rands from working in the yard of your neighbours. He did not have the easy life as you did. He did not get millions of rands handed to him on a plate. He has been homeless. He has been on the streets. But that just made him an easy target for a scape goat. An easy target for a bully like you.”
That last statement caused an uproar from the prosecutor and a reprimand from the judge. But that was fine. I expected that. I had already achieved what I wanted to achieve. Reasonable doubt.
· * * *
I was exhausted. My body was sore, but it was worth it. The celebratory sex with my assistant Nadia had never been better. I poured myself a glass of Johnnie Walker Gold from the hotel bar and sipped it in the lounge. Nadia was still resting in the bed. Silly child. She really believes I will leave my wife of twenty nine years for her. I have been married longer than she has been alive. My cellular phone rang on the bar top. Lifting it up, I did not recognised the number, but I answered anyway.
“Hello,” I said
“Is this Mr Meyer?”
The voice was vaguely recognisable. “Yes. Who is this?”
“Mr Meyer. This is Juan Slabbert.” The greasy one. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” I really didn’t want him to mention anything. I did not want to talk to him at all.
“Look, when the police arrested me, I thought I was done. I mean, I thought I was going to get a life sentence. But then you came along. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank your Uncle. He hired me.”
“Uncle Karel? Wow, that is a surprise. Guess his farm is making big money now. But thank you Mr Meyer. I promise you, I will be more careful next time.”
With that, he hung up. Next time? I felt a twinge in the pit of my stomach. I had gotten a guilty man released because I managed to put the grieving widowers testimony in doubt. What was this sensation I was feeling? Was it…remorse?
The knock on the door shook me from my self-attrition. Making sure my bathrobe was tightly tied, I walked over to the hotel room door and opened it.
The man outside was in his late sixties. Casually, yet well dressed. Beige chinos, white shirt and a Stetson hat. It was Juan Slabbert’s uncle. The man that hired me, a Mr. Karel Venter.
He greeted me with a warm smile and a handshake. “Well done, Mr Meyer.” He said.
“Was there any doubt?” I smiled back confidently. “You get what you paid for.”
“True. I guess I paid for a genius.”
He walked into my hotel room. “And I guess you have come to settle your account.”
“I have.” He reached into his pants and pulled out a fat, white envelope. “The remaining R500 000.00, in cash. As requested.”
I snatched it, and fought the urge to count it there and then. Instead, I nonchalantly dropped it on the coffee table. Half a million rand, tax free. It destroyed any sense of guilt I may have felt earlier “So, are you taking your nephew with you to the Eastern Cape?”
He nodded. “I have to. The only way I can keep him out of trouble.” He glanced at his watch. “That being said, I should get going.” He shook my hand again. “Once again, great work.”
I followed him to the door, but as he went through the doorway, I felt I had to say, “Mr Venter. I feel obligated to tell you the truth. Your nephew is guilty of the crime. And I believe he will do it again.”
For the first time, the smile on Mr. Venter’s face slipped away. He coughed hard, and wiped the spittle from his lips. “Thank you for your frankness. I have never doubted his guilt. But what else can I do?” He shrugged. “Family is family, and I will do anything for my family.”
· * * *
That little blue pill is not the only miracle pick-me-up I know. After counting every note and confirming that all R500 000.00 was there, I had the desire to visit Nadia in the bedroom once more. Two hours or so passed, when I flicked the television on, with Nadia lying in my arms on the bed. I flipped through the news channels, and as I expected, my case was the lead story. The image on the screen was that of poor Mr. Van Wyk, being interviewed by a reporter. He looked poor, but was probably talking about me so I turned up the volume.
“…a disgrace.” He said. “The legal system is a disgrace. A murderer was set free. He killed my wife.”
“Mr Van Wyk” the reporter started. “Advocate Meyer implied that perhaps you were involved in the crime.”
Mr Van Wyk wiped away a tear as he confirmed, “He did.”
“He implied that…”
“This is Ms Kelms,” Van Wyk interrupted the reporter. He pulled into the shot a very old, white haired woman. Her wrinkles made more pronounced by her large, thick eye glasses. “Ms Kelm has worked for our company from when my father was the CEO. She is like family to me. She recently retired so I visit her a lot. To keep her company. She has no other family so my wife and I try to be her family.”
Well, that is a shame, I thought. To be honest, I didn’t expect Mr. Van Wyk to be having an affair, but I really hoped he was. Then at least he would have deserved the torment I put him through. Oh well…
The reporter, a handsome young man then turned to the camera. “We spoke to Juan Slabbert’s only known relative a little earlier to get his views.”
The camera then cut to another pre-recorded scene. A hunched over, scrawny bald man was in the centre of the television. The similarities in appearance between him and Slabbert was so shocking, I had to push Nadia off of me and sit straight in bed.
“Who the hell is this?” I whispered to no-one in particular.
“Ja,” the man said, in a harsh Afrikaans accent. “Ek weet nie. That boy, that boy is a monster. I know he kill her. Everyone know he kill her. Ek weet nie. That lawyer, Meyer, hy is a slang. He talk with a fork tongue. He…”
I stopped listening to what he was saying. Instead my eyes were focused on the name at the bottom of the screen. It read Karel Venter, Juan Slabbert’s Uncle. But the man on screen was not man I had met with earlier. This is not the man who hired me.
The live feed from the reporter returned, “We can confirm that Mr. Clayton Harvey, the victim’s father was in the courtroom, but he was not willing to give us a statement. We…”
· * * *
The phone rang a few times.
“Answer, damn it Juan.” I said, pacing in the lounge. “Answer your phone you greasy fool.”
Finally, it was answered.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hello Mr. Meyer.” A familiar voice said on the other end of the line. “I’m afraid Mr. Slabbert cannot come to the phone right now.”
I slumped back onto the couch. “Mr Harvey, or Mr Venter. Which would you prefer?”
He laughed, and then began to cough on the other side of line. When the coughing stopped, he said, “No need to keep up the charade. Please call me Clayton.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Oh, we will keep him alive for as long as possible. I can promise you that.”
“We…” that was when the entire truth hit me. “Your son in law is with you, isn’t he?” He did not respond. “He threw the case on purpose. From the beginning. You hired me to get him off so that you two could take your own vengeance.” Again, he did not respond. “What you are doing is wrong. It is illegal. Release him now or I will contact the police.”
He laughed again. “Go ahead. By the time you contact them, this scumbag will be dead. Besides, I don’t think you want to take the moral high ground with me, Mr Meyer. You and your tax free payments. How many more tax free payments have you received in your practice? Perhaps SARS would like to look into this? An anonymous tip, perhaps?” The threat was thinly veil, but the consequences to me should I be investigated by SARS would be drastic. “Mr Meyer. I loved my daughter and I love my son in law as if he was my own blood. I have less than a half a year left on this Earth, and I’ll be damned if I am in the ground and this scumbag is sitting in some comfy jail. And then released after ten years. No ways. I will not have that Mr. Meyer.” I cupped my hand over my mouth, lost for words. “I will have my vengeance Mr. Meyer. I will have my eye for an eye, and when my need for vengeance is met, when I am satisfied I have taken my pound of flesh and have made him suffer long enough. When I can guarantee he will not be a threat to anyone, any more, then I will turn myself in. What’s the worst that could happen me? The case will take over a year to get to trial, but I will be dead in three months.”
“Mr. Harvey,” I started, trying to reason with him. “Please listen to me. I…”
“Good Bye Mr. Meyer. And once again, good work.”
The line was dead.