Authors: Kwei Quartey
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime, #African American, #Police Procedural
“Well, if that’s the case,” Abraham said, “whoever got the canoe there knew what he was doing because he had to slip by the fishery protection vessels that are on standby to enforce the five hundred meter no-go zone around the rig.”
“No-go zone?” Dawson asked. “What’s that?”
“It’s the safe operating boundary around the rig to prevent collisions between vessels. It’s standard all over the world, but some Ghanaian fishermen are convinced it’s all a plot to prevent them from getting at the fish that swarm around the rig, especially at night when they’re attracted to the rig lights. So to get at that bonanza of fish, sometimes the fishermen will sneak within the boundary and then their fishing nets get all tangled up with rig installations.” Abraham shook his head and gave a dry, ironic laugh. “The classic battle between tradition and modernity.”
Dawson agreed. That kind of conflict occurred onshore too. Recently, coconut palm farmers had been infuriated by the establishment of a new natural gas plant that meant the destruction of some of their farmland.
“I should introduce you to my fisherman friend Forjoe,” Abraham said. “He’s in charge of the canoe rentals. He can tell you even more about canoes and such.”
An idea occurred to Dawson. “Does he keep a record of the rentals?”
“No, I do. When I collect my portion of the fees he’s charged, I note it down in a book along with the fisherman’s name. It’s a little informal.”
“Did you have any rentals last July?”
“I can check, but I don’t think so. Business was very slow.” Abraham stood up. “I’ll fetch the book.”
He disappeared inside briefly, returning with a notebook and sitting down next to Dawson. He flicked through the pages until he came to July.
“Nothing,” he said, running a finger down the blank page. “Not a single rental the whole month.”
“Any chance Forjoe could have forgotten to tell you?”
“I doubt it. He’s very reliable.”
“Is anyone else you know doing the same thing? Renting canoes?”
“I don’t personally know anyone, but Forjoe will know. I’ll call him tomorrow and then we can go down to the harbor.”
“Good.” Dawson paused a moment. “Did Forjoe know the Smith-Aidoos?”
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“No special reason,” Dawson said with a shrug. That wasn’t quite true. In fact, a thought had struck him that Forjoe would have had perfect access to a motor-powered canoe that could transport two dead bodies out to sea. But maybe that was jumping ahead too far.
a wrought-iron gate set in a high brick wall inscribed with a sign that read C
“I ran out of money,” he said to Dawson as they got out. “That’s why the building is temporarily stalled, but I’m hoping to finish everything by the middle of next year.”
“Why did you call it Chapel Hill?” Dawson asked.
“That’s the name of this part of town. The street we came on used to be called Chapel Hill Road, but it was renamed Shippers Road.”
He opened up the padlocked gate, revealing a neat, square bungalow on a generous plot of land with a smattering of banana trees and two blooming jasmine bushes that lightly perfumed the night air. Abraham had not yet installed exterior lighting, but the street lamp on the corner provided a little illumination.
“It only has the primer coat of paint,” Abraham said, unlocking the front door. “In the end it will be a sun-yellow color.”
Dawson followed him in as he switched on the overhead light of the kitchenette to their left. It had a new house smell.
“I don’t have the cupboards up yet,” Abraham said. “But everything is connected and ready for use—stove, refrigerator, water …”
He lifted the tap handle and after a cough and splutter, water began flowing.
“This is nice,” Dawson said, looking around. “It will be beautiful when it’s finished.”
“Thanks,” Abraham said, smiling.
They went on into the small dining area, which was bare except
for three boxes of unpacked materials in one corner. The recessed ceiling lights were in working order and missing only their trim.
“I will bring a table and two chairs for you to sit down and eat on,” Abraham said.
“Don’t worry about that, cousin Abe,” Dawson said. “I can do without.”
“It’s no problem. I’ll get them tomorrow.”
The bedroom contained a wardrobe and a narrow bed.
Abraham snapped his fingers. “Oh, I forgot curtains for the window. I’ll bring some tomorrow as well.”
“The house is in better shape than I thought it was going to be,” Dawson commented in appreciation. “I was imagining just the wood frame.”
Abraham laughed. “No, not as bad as that. Are you okay with it? Sorry I don’t have the AC connected yet.”
“No worries at all. I appreciate this very much.”
“Call me if you need anything—even tonight. I don’t mind.”
Once Abraham had left, Dawson hung his clothes up in the wardrobe and then remembered what he had meant to do earlier. Sly had unwittingly given him an idea about how witchcraft might have some connection to the Smith-Aidoos’ murder.
Dr. Allen Botswe, a professor at the University of Ghana, specialized in African criminal psychology. His landmark book,
Magic, Murder, and Madness: Ritual Killing in West Africa
, was the authoritative text on the relationship between homicide and traditional West African culture, particularly in Ghana. Botswe had helped Dawson out during his last case.
He dialed the professor’s number, but no one answered. He redialed, a trick that often worked, and this time Botswe picked up.
“Mr. Dawson! How nice to hear from you. I hope all is well?”
“Yes, thank you, Doctor.” He got down to business. “I’m investigating a case in Takoradi of a murdered man and his wife who ended up in a canoe out by an oil rig.”
“The Smith-Aidoos—the man who was decapitated?”
“You know about it?”
“Only the bare elements.”
Dawson summarized the most important points. “My older son,”
he continued, “who accidentally saw the photograph of the severed head said he believed witchcraft or
“Possibly. Could I see the photograph?”
“I’ll text it to you. Please call me back once you’ve had a chance to look at it.”
“Yes, of course.”
Dawson opened up the docket, took the clearest possible picture of the severed head with his mobile, and sent the image to Botswe, who called back a few minutes later.
“Gruesome,” the professor said. “Some of the features here suggest a ritual killing, which is a murder committed in connection with the powers of gods, spirits, or ancestors. That often involves taking the victim’s head, eyes, lips, tongue, breasts, genitals, or internal organs. Sometimes the blood may be drained as well. The sacrifice victim is often selected for his or her perceived purity or unspoiled nature—a child, or a virgin, for example. In that regard, Charles Smith-Aidoo doesn’t quite fit the bill, but it still doesn’t rule out a bloody ritual. Were any other body parts missing?”
“No, but I should have told you that an old pocket watch was found stuffed in his mouth with the scrawled inscription, ‘blood runs deep.’ ”
“Aha,” Botswe said, his tone changing from interested to intrigued. “Fascinating. The murderer might have been trying to invoke family ties, the old watch indicating generations past, maybe a vendetta, something terrible done to his family member or members, or to an ancestor. He is deeply embittered and vengeful. A human sacrifice aspect could be separate but related to the family issue. My feeling is you should look very closely at the Smith-Aidoos’ family history, or one tied up with theirs—specifically ancestral tragedies or murders. When you do that, you may find the answer to this killing.”
“Thank you, Prof. You have really helped.”
“You are most welcome, Inspector,” he said, smiling with his voice. “Please, do keep me posted.”
As he hung up, Dawson reflected on what Botswe had said:
something terrible done to his family member or members.
Is that where Jason Sarbah came in? Did he blame Charles and Fiona for Angela’s death and kill the couple for revenge?
Dead tired, Dawson took a cold shower, brushed his teeth, and fell
into bed. In the morning, he would meet with Superintendent Hammond with a fresh mind.
AWSON SAW THE
neighborhood for the first time by the light of day as he emerged from the lodge. It had rained overnight, which surprised him because he hadn’t heard anything and rain usually woke him up. It proved how tired he must have been. He locked the front gate behind him. Across the street was Stellar Lodge, a white, two-story hotel with a brand new extension.
Business must be good
, Dawson thought, although he recalled that the place had had some adverse publicity about a year ago after a hotel guest had been apparently electrocuted in the shower. Dawson wondered how one could engineer a murder that way. Not as gruesome as his present case, but certainly not a pleasant way to die.
He observed several 4×4 SUVs parked in front of the hotel. One pulled out with its Ghanaian driver at the wheel and a white man in the rear—probably an oil engineer.
He decided to take a short walk before hailing a cab so that he could get a good sense of the neighborhood. Within a ball’s throw of the lodge, young soccer players were performing their early morning drills on a large green playing field that belonged to Hassacas, a local soccer team. He caught a slightly smoky scent to the air—someone cooking on firewood somewhere, but he couldn’t tell from which direction. He passed a petrol station to the left, and a little farther along, a strip mall with a clothing store, a jewelry boutique, and a barbershop.
The morning had started out cool but had warmed up considerably by the time he arrived at Shippers Circle, a neat roundabout that Malgam Oil had recently refurbished. Taxis were ubiquitous in Takoradi; Dawson got one in seconds with barely a gesture. The driver, a bone-lanky man whose name was Baah, looked like he was eighteen but he assured Dawson he was twenty-four.
“How long have you lived here?” Dawson asked him.
“Since I born,” Baah said, with a broad smile marred by crooked teeth. He added that he had only been out of Takoradi once in his life. His knowledge of the city and his love for it were obvious as he pointed out landmarks. Just beyond Paa Grant roundabout, he gestured to a thickly wooded area on their right.
“Dis place be Monkey Hill,” he said.
“Why is it called that?” Dawson asked.
“Because plenty monkey dey.” Baah said with a laugh. “They make sanctuary for them and plenty birds too. We should go there?”
“Okay, but later,” Dawson said.
They passed a wetland area with a patchwork of glistening pools, woody plants, and swamp grass on either side of the road, and then Effia-Nkwanta Hospital, where Dr. Smith-Aidoo and her father had identified the bodies of her uncle and aunt. Next in quick succession were the high court, the men’s and women’s Sekondi prisons, and the pale green Sekondi Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA) building.
They turned in at a sign reading
GHANA POLICE SERVICE
SERVICE WITH INTEGRITY
, and climbed a steep incline to a two-story pale yellow building with the signature GPS blue trim. The hill on which it stood gave a fine view past the corrugated metal roofs of old Sekondi to the blue Atlantic Ocean, the fishing harbor, and the naval base.
Dawson liked Baah, so he made him an offer to engage his services on a daily basis. They haggled a little and then came to an agreement on the price.
Dawson went directly to the Homicide Division on the first floor, where the front room was equipped with six desks, four of them with computers. No one paid much attention to Dawson as he came in except one of the men, who looked up at him over the top of his glasses.
“Morning. May I help you?”
“Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, from CID Headquarters.”
The man jumped up to salute. “Oh, fine! Good morning, sah. You are welcome, sah. Superintendent Hammond is expecting you. Please, if you can have a seat. I will tell him you have arrived.”
He went to a door a few steps behind him, knocked lightly, and then opened it.
“Please, Inspector Dawson is here from HQ.”
Dawson heard the reply, “Show him in.”
The sergeant opened the door wide and stepped partly into the room to allow Dawson to pass and then left, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Superintendent Hammond looked up as Dawson came in.
“Good morning, sir,” Dawson said.
“Good morning. Please, have a seat.”
He indicated the chair opposite his desk. His grey-peppered hair, which hadn’t been trimmed for a while, was receding from his furrowed brow, where one especially deep crease cut sharply into the middle of his forehead like a canyon. The cold absence of a smile and his failure to make eye contact alerted Dawson that something was wrong.