Monday morning I took the first train to Joburg. It was only an hour there and an hour back, so hopefully I’d be home by the afternoon. Gideon thought the best thing to do was go and see Mareledi at home. He hoped maybe she would talk to me since I was an outsider. It might help too that I was a private detective.
He met me at the station. “I told Mareledi we were stopping by for tea. I didn’t mention anything else. She still sounds so fragile on the phone. Whatever this is has really affected her.”
We pulled up at a tidy brick house and a middle-aged woman came out to greet us. “Hello Gideon,” she said. “Come in. It’s nice and quiet today. Thomas is off to work and the kids are at school. I’d forgotten how quiet the house is in the day.”
Gideon introduced me then said, “Mareledi’s husband is a police officer.”
“Traffic officer actually. Luckily no murders and such things. But traffic can be difficult too,” Mareledi said. We sat down in her sitting room full of sensible furniture and lace. She already had a proper tea set out with a cake tray and a tea cosy over the teapot. Could this woman have stolen diamond earrings? Lola was certainly leaning in Gideon’s direction on that question.
“So Lola is a private detective,” Gideon said.
“Is it? That must be exciting,” Mareledi said as she poured tea.
“It can be.”
“She might be looking for a receptionist,” Gideon said. I was pretty surprised to hear that. I could barely pay myself, let alone pay a receptionist. “She thought you might be well suited. She is only concerned about why you left The Global Mail.”
Mareledi’s pleasant face changed. She was suddenly very nervous. “I … you know, Gideon … er … Thomas and I decided it was better I stay home now. The kids need me to be here and … well, you know how men are.”
“Yes,” I said, looking at Gideon, whose plan had flopped completely. “I’m actually in Joburg, besides here having tea with you, for a case. I’m sure you know about Ms Mmanthe’s earrings going missing at The Global Mail. She is thinking of hiring me. I’m sure, as most of these things turn out eventually, that she’s misplaced them. All sorts of drama over nothing.”
Immediately I could see that Mareledi was hiding something. Though she may not have stolen the earrings, something about them had her feeling pretty upset.
“Yes … yes, I’m sure that they’re lost … or something…” Mareledi’s voice trailed off. She looked out of the window at a passing car and when she looked back her eyes were full of tears. “You know, I never wanted to leave my job. I loved working at the newspaper. It was always so exciting and everyone was busy doing important things. I was proud of working there.”
Gideon reached forward and took the older woman’s hand. “Then why did you leave? I think it has something to do with those earrings.”
Mareledi began to cry properly now.
“Why don’t you tell Lola? I’m sure she can help you. She’s amazing and can always find a way out of tight spots,” Gideon said.
Mareledi took a cloth handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her nose. “I … I wanted to tell someone, I really did, but I thought no-one would believe me.”
“Tell someone what?” I asked.
“I stayed a bit late that night. I had some letters to type for the managing editor and since the next day was deadline and I knew it would be crazy like it always is. I thought it best I finish the letters before I knocked off. I thought everyone had gone. I looked up only at the last minute – when I heard the drawer shut.”
“And what did you see?” I asked.
“I saw the person taking the earrings from Kago’s drawer. He didn’t see me, but I saw him.”
“Who was it?” Gideon asked.
“It was Mr Samuel.”
“Mr Samuel?! The lifestyle editor?” Gideon asked. “Why would he need to steal earrings?”
“Yes. You see? No-one would believe it. Mr Samuel is always so nice and polite; he’s lovely. I don’t know why he took those earrings; he must have a good reason. I couldn’t sleep the entire night. Then the next day when Kago found the earrings were gone, I kept hoping somehow Mr Samuel would give them back. But the whole day, he never said anything. Again that night I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t tell and I couldn’t live with not telling. I felt like I was going crazy. I felt as if leaving was my only choice.”
Gideon patted Mareledi’s hand. “Don’t worry. We’re going to figure something out, aren’t we Lola?”
They both looked at me and the only thing I could say was: “Of course.”
I went back to The Global Mail with Gideon. I’d never been to his office when everyone was around. He once took me there at night to show me his cubicle, but now it was a different thing entirely. He paraded me around the various offices, introducing me as his girlfriend (which made me proud and a little bit scared) and most people responded with: “We wondered when we’d finally meet you,” (which made me even prouder, and a little bit more scared).
I wanted to get a look at this Mr Samuel. Often people who see someone every day miss important clues about the person. Gideon took me to the far end of the floor. Mr Samuel had a big office in the corner. His desk was piled with music concert promotion sheets, invites to book launches and art exhibition openings. He looked up from his computer.
“So Gideon, is this the lovely woman? I was starting to think you made her up,” Mr Samuel said as he smiled and stood and came around from behind the desk. He took my hand and kissed it. “Enchanté mademoiselle!”
He was lovely. A tall, elegant white man. His suit was designer though it had seen better days, and his shoes were Italian leather, well-polished, though nearly at the end of their rope. He wore a tie, the first one I’d seen among The Global Mail staff.
“It’s so nice to meet you,” I said.
“I would love to stay and chat but I was just off to yet another fashion show. Will these things ever end? I hope you’ll stop by again, Lola. We must all go to dinner one weekend.”
I felt sad when I saw him leave. I knew now that what Mareledi said was true. I also knew why Mr Samuel did it; the evidence was all over his office. I didn’t like the idea that I would have to be the one to break the news that this lovely man was indeed a thief.
Tell us what you think: Did Mareledi do the right thing in her circumstances? Why or why not?