Cara’s post Experts or is it all done with smoke and mirrors reminded me of our first experience with an expert. Like Cara, Michael and I had no connections to the worlds of police or forensics or, I’m glad to say, criminals. We had a sliver of an idea for a mystery set in Botswana, but we knew nothing of the police system there, how it was structured, etc. We guessed that it would be similar to that of South Africa, since both countries had been heavily influenced in their bureaucracies by England.
Early in the process of writing A Carrion Death, we decided to rectify the situation by visiting the capital of Botswana, Gaborone, and speaking to the detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department. Our protagonist, David “Kubu” Bengu, was, after all, an Assistant Superintendent in the CID.
For several months before going, I emailed the CID to set up an appointment, but never received a reply. For a couple of weeks before we set out, I started phoning. I certainly got through, but was still never successful in setting up an appointment. I was told to just show up at the CID Headquarters at Millennium Park.
Michael and I eventually arrived in Gaborone and went to the CID, where we met the Deputy Director, who was very suspicious of two white men purporting to be writers asking to speak to the Director. He was evasive, and we did not get to meet the Director. But I did manage to get his cell phone number. So I called and called and called. The phone was never answered, so I kept leaving messages.
On Saturday morning, I decided to continue my telephonic assault and left another message. Suddenly my phone rang – it was Director Mulale himself. “You’re very persistent. You’ve worn me out! What do you want?”
I told him who we were and what we were up to. “Meet me at noon at the registration desk of your hotel,” he said. Needless to say, we were excited, but a little nervous because ours was a seedy hotel situated in a seedy part of town.
We went to the desk at noon, and there was this tall man in jeans, cowboy boots, and a Stetson chatting to the receptionist. Not what we had anticipated. But what a delightful man. He didn’t sit down with us for 30 minutes and leave – he spent the rest of the day driving us around Gaborone and environs showing us all the various police buildings, including jail, the old CID buildings, and the Botswana Police College in Otse, 20 or 30 kilometers south of the capital. One could see how proud he was of the College – we suspect he was instrumental in getting it established.
He was very open in answering our questions and told us about a number of the major cases he had been involved in over the years. It certainly gave us wonderful insights into how the CID and police operated.
While we were driving around, Director Mulale kept getting phone calls from his Deputy, informing him that they had arrested a gang of thieves, or worse, in Lobatse, who were armed with AK-47s. He wanted the Director to get involved and sort out the situation. Director Mulale kept fobbing him off. “I’m busy! Sort it out yourself,” he kept telling the Deputy Director. That made us feel very important!
It was late afternoon when he eventually dropped us off. We invited him in for a drink, but he declined. “I have to leave tomorrow for an Interpol meeting in Mexico.” Unfortunately we were so nervous about upsetting him that we did not take a photograph of him. And we worried that it may be against the law.
Since then, he has retired. But we have continued to meet and question members of the Botswana Police, all of whom have given us the time we need – from Commissioner Thebe Tsimako, to forensic pathologist Salvator Mapunda, to a variety of station commanders at the police stations in the towns where our stories take us.
We could not have had a better set of experts.
Stan - Thursday