Extract from ‘Penicillin’, copyright © Robin E Jones 2021.
Flyn raised his hand in a wave, corners of his eyes creasing as he saw Sandy approach the maître d’. Sandy flashed sugar-white teeth and strutted forward like a puff of perfume simultaneously working her phone. Sandy appeared crisp, moved with economical strides, her dishwater bob jerked in time. You would never meet Cassandra Badenhorst unless you were in the market for a decent-sized family home starting at around twenty million Rand, possibly on the Atlantic Seaboard, or if you were lucky enough to be selling one for that matter. Sandra Badenhorst was the principal at Badenhorst Estates which had seven branches across the peninsula in all the leafiest areas.
Flyn stood and stretched his hand out to meet Sandy’s. She smelled good. Sandy looked like her daughter Sofia, but not as nice-looking, Flyn thought. “Jack Flyn.”
“Sandy,” she said, needing no introduction, her face was on bus stops and billboards.
“Thanks for meeting me,” Flyn said obsequiously. “I know you’re busy Sandy.”
“I hope I can be of some assistance,” Sandy said as she eased into a chair.
A waiter appeared from nowhere. “The usual, Miss Badenhorst?”
“Please,” Sandy said, pointing her chin at Jack. “What will you have Jack?”
”Will you be dining today?” said the fresh-looking waiter, grinning down on Sandy.
Sandy slanted her head at Jack, both her eyebrows shooting up.
“Just the juice for me.”
Sandy made a special signal with her hand and the waiter disappeared. “I understand Sofia has engaged your services,” she said as if she was discussing a casket colour with a funeral director.
“She doesn’t trust the police to do a thorough job,” Flyn said, defending Sofia.
“I can’t blame her for thinking like that but these could be dangerous people, cold-blooded killers. What if they send a hitman after her? I’ve heard some dreadful stories about these big construction companies, corruption, price-fixing, you remember the soccer world cup fiasco. I told her to stay out of it and let the police do their work.”
“That’s an interesting perspective. I don’t have enough information to go on at this stage with this hitman theory,” Flyn said, sweeping his hand in an arc, elbow on the armrest, “all I know is that someone wanted Mark out of the picture.”
The drinks appeared. Sandy sniffed her Gin and twiddled the little stick and studied Jack. “You should take a close look at Victoria,” Sandy said, wagging her gin stick. “The word is that the gallery has some… let’s call it… cash flow issues. I know for a fact that Mark wouldn’t support the gallery financially.” Sandy leveled her eyes over the rim of the glass and gave Jack a schmaltzy smile. “A big payday awaits Victoria once she cashes that insurance cheque, she can trade in that old Lexus and go window shopping for a Lotus Evora.”
“Hmm. A reliable choice,” Flyn said, thinking out loud. “Why wouldn’t Mark support the gallery financially? He’s a… He was an avid collector. An art patron.”
“Mark thought galleries were a middleman racket. Fifty percent commission,” she said enviously, pouting, picking at her drink. “He always dealt directly with artists. The ideas behind the work are what interested him.”
Flyn absorbed her charm and admired her sassiness. Her hazel eyes stared out across the table, batter white skin with a slash of pink running across her lips. Her hair was thick with spray. Sensible, Flyn thought. The Cape was prone to sudden gusts.
“Jack, she stands to make ten million on the policy,” she said stroking her empty drink and looking at Jack, her lips slanting into a sly smirk. “Forty million Rand for the house on my last appraisal.”
“Why did you get divorced?” Flyn asked, changing the subject.
She twisted her neck and made a signal, bouncing her index finger, a jewel glinting. A waiter trotted over with two fresh drinks. Jack was starting to enjoy Sandy’s company. Sandy snapped herself up straight. The gin breakfast and Jack’s charm had got her all relaxed. “We were married for twenty-five years.” she said, eyes softening, ”We both ran our own businesses. Increasingly our own social circles. Mark hated parties. I loved to entertain. Sofia had left home. It just made sense.” She lifted her hand to her mouth, her eyes glassy. “He was a good man,” Sandy added. “We were on good terms.” Sandy turned to her drink, then looked up at Flyn. “I thought you should have this.” Sandy produced a Polaroid photo, she handed it to Flyn, “that’s Mark on the left, I don’t know who the other two are, but look at the back. Four names, that’s what piqued my interest.”
Flyn flipped the Polaroid over, “Mark, Eddie, Sue and Martha, Villiersdorp, 77,” Flyn read, he flipped the Polaroid between his fingers, “intriguing.”
“When I moved out I must have taken it by mistake, it was in a small wooden box with a hinged lid, there was a medal and some other personal effects from his army days, an old watch and a cut-throat razor.”
“It must mean something if he held onto it for… what forty years,” Flyn said, squinting, doing the math.
“It’s probably nothing.”
“Can I hang on to this?”
“Keep it, I have plenty of photos and indelible memories of Mark.”
Sandy reminded him of Sofia. “What do you know about this deal with Grant Drempel?”
“The architect? Sandy said, face crumpled like she had just sucked on a lemon. “I thought the whole thing stank. To quote Hillary,” Sandy said, patting her sleek bob into position, “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours.”
“You’re saying Drempel is a shady character?”
“Shady would be polite, reputation is important in this industry, people talk and Grant Drempel didn’t have a good reputation, that’s all I’m saying.”
“What was Drempels play?”
“On the surface, it appeared to be a good deal. The play goes like this,” Sandy said, swooping a stray hair from her face with her index finger. “The seller and the valuer, both associates of Grant Drempel, inflate the asking price, Grant and Mark acquire the property, Grant exits the deal, Mark bonds half the property, pays Grant out, then Grant also collects half the inflated value from the seller and pays the crooked valuer a modest fee.”
“Sounds like Mark didn’t do his own due diligence,” Flyn said, looking at Sandy.
“I can’t speak to that,” Sandy said, flapping her hand, fingers spread, punctuating her words, “but Grant’s machinations left him hovering at the edge of criminality.”
“The deal closed before he became aware —”
“I believe so, Mark could afford to take a haircut, he had bigger fish to fry,” Sandy said, plucking at her lapel.
“I was out of the loop, I heard rumours,” Sandy said, leaning back in her chair. “A big development, three hundred units, estate agents gossip. The dream of securing a mandate like that could drive a young agent into orgasmic rapture.”
Flyn almost choked on his whiskey, but managed a recovery and said, “so Drempel cons Mark and does a double-dip, winning on both sides of the transaction. Except, it didn’t play out like that.”
“You betcha it didn’t, Mark disappeared just after the transaction closed. If they had found Mark dead on the side of the road, according to the legal agreement, Mark’s share of the property would have been signed over to Grant, finito. That didn’t happen, instead, Grant became liable for the bond and upkeep of the property. He couldn’t exit the deal, because he needed a death certificate, which can take years in a missing person case.”
“So Grant got stuck with an overpriced property that was costing him dearly,” Flyn said, taking notes.
“Whoever killed Mark botched the job,” Sandy said.
“Not necessarily, that depends on the motive. Mark’s disappearance almost destroyed Grant Drempel, only the drought saved him. Yet, as you said, if they had found Mark’s body on the side of a road, Drempel would have been delighted. You could then surmise that the true motive was to destroy Grant Drempel by killing Mark and ensuring his body was never discovered.
“If that theory is correct Jack, the same could be said for Victoria Stefano and her gallery,” she said.
“Victoria stands to benefit from Mark’s death either way, albeit a belated payday,” Flyn said. He flipped through his pad and said, “tell me about Neville.”
“What’s there to tell, he had a reputation, that’s common cause.”
“With the ladies?”
“Unreliable. Drink and drugs too.”
“But surely that’s ancient history now,” Flyn said. “Tell me about his boating accident.”