Work Header

A Very Serious Matter

Work Text:

"A missing hairpiece?" Mma Makutsi demanded from behind her desk. "This is not a matter for a serious detective agency! What shall we investigate next, the loss of a child's choo choo train?!"

"It's a very serious matter!" BK insisted. "The lady cannot go out in public without her hair. She hasn't left her home in days!"

"Well, this is her problem!" Mma Makutsi retorted, her voice beginning to take on that particular tone that she sometimes adopted while certain that she was right and everyone else in all of Botswana was wrong. While well-meaning and a gem among secretaries and junior detectives, Mma Ramotswe thought, Grace Makutsi could occasionally be quite difficult when she put her mind to it. She opened her mouth wider and Mma Ramotswe lifted a hand.

"Mma," she said kindly, and Mma Makutsi instantly shut her mouth. "I am not in the habit of turning down cases, particularly when the matter is as grave as this one."

BK gave a triumphant "Ha!" while Mma Makutsi stared at Mma Ramotswe, her face blank and uncomprehending.

"It is a wig," she said. "A collection of false hairs twisted together and sitting on her head!" She pointed at the top of her own head, sharp and unswerving. "A pile of hair that looks like a dead rat on top of her head, purely for the sake of her puffed-up vanity!"

"A case is a case, Mma," Mma Ramotswe said. "You taught me that yourself. We do not turn our backs on clients; dogs and wigs alike."

BK clicked his tongue, disapproving. "The lady is not puffed up," he told Mma Makutsi. "She has been sick, and now has less hair than Festus Mogae!"

"...Oh," said Mma Makutsi, more quietly, and then she sat down behind her desk and did not say anything else at all. After a moment, she began busily rearranging papers.

This was not typical behavior for Mma Makutsi, not in the least, and Mma Ramotswe cast a quietly concerned look at her before continuing. "A very worthy case indeed," she said. "In fact, I believe that it may just be worthy enough for a junior detective. Don't you think, Mma?"

The paper-shuffling silenced. Mma Makutsi looked up and nodded once, the move forceful enough that her glasses bounced on the bridge of her nose. "Ee!" she said, determined. "I will find this lady's dead rat."

"And I will help you," said BK.

Mma Makutsi shot him a very hard assessing look, and then she said, "You will have to be more helpful than you were the last time."

"More helpful?" BK cried, throwing up his hands. "Just who do you think rescued you from certain death at the hands of those maids, Ninety-Seven Percent?"

"Then it is settled," Mma Ramotswe interrupted with a slightly strained smile. "The junior detective and her worthy co-investigator," (at this, BK gave a gracious nod of thanks), "will recover the lady's hair, and I will cross the border to investigate the banker."

"I do not need a co-investigator," Mma Makutsi said. "Worthy or not!"

Mma Ramotswe's hand on BK's arm forestalled the return comment that was doubtless coming. She said soothingly, "You are very capable, Mma, but how will you know the wig if you see it? BK is an expert on hair, and as a friend of Mma Mokaila, he will recognize it."

Mma Makutsi sat still for a moment, seemingly considering this point. "This is true," she finally said. She looked at BK. "You can be a co-investigator."

"Hallelujah," BK muttered, rolling his eyes, and Mma Ramotswe hid a smile behind the back of her hand.

Printed in Mma Makutsi's meticulous hand, the blackboard read:

On the last notation, most of the words were in Mma Makutsi's handwriting, but the struck-through line and 'possibly' had been added by a less judgmental soul.

There were very few places in which Precious Ramotswe felt as comfortable and at-ease as her tiny white Datsun. Winding along roads, whether in the heart of Gaborone traffic or crossing remote bush paths, she always knew that she would get where she was going. Oh, the van had its bad days, but didn't everyone? And it had certainly had less of the bad days since JLB Matekoni had taken over its maintenance.

Today, thankfully, was not a bad day.

She smiled, the window open and her arm resting there, and she thought: I would always know where South Africa ends and Botswana begins, even without the gates and the guards. The South African border was rapidly vanishing in her rear mirror, but Mma Ramotswe did not need such obvious markers, not with the very particular way that the sun rose over Botswana -- and only Botswana -- and the way that the wind felt. It was different here, just across the border; she knew it in her head and in her heart. Her work was finished, the case wrapped to a satisfactory conclusion, and all that she had to do was draw a line through the case name on the chalkboard.

The sun was beginning to set behind her and she was alone on the road in her little white van, and all was well. With any luck, she would reach Kgale Hill in time to check on Mma Makutsi and BK and their progress, and then could make it to number 5 Zebra Drive by nightfall. She could phone Rra Matekoni to find if he would be free for dinner (he would be, she knew, and the thought made her smile into the horizon) and then she would sleep in her own bed under the skies of Botswana.

It would be a lovely night.

Mma Makutsi's voice could be heard from inside the agency even while the tiny white van's engine still idled.

Mma Ramotswe considered it for a long moment, one foot on the brake and the other on the clutch pedal, her hand on the gear shift as she listened to her hopes for a peaceful evening vanish into the night, but she shut off the van and stepped out onto solid ground. It was late enough that most of the stalls and the people who ran them were long gone; the lights were off at the Last Chance Salon, Mr. Patel had doubtless already turned on his top-notch security system and CC-TV cameras and gone home for the evening, and the assistant at Rra Sesupeng's shoe shop waved at her from where he was locking up. Mma Ramotswe waved back, plucking her purse from the white van's passenger seat, and then she steeled herself and walked toward the agency.

"No!" Mma Makutsi's voice railed. "No, no, no, you silly man, that is not what has taken place here! It is a crime!"

Mma Ramotswe stepped through the bead curtain and into the former Kgale Hill Post Office. Inside, Mma Makutsi was pacing vigorously, her heels clicking with each step, and she gestured wildly with a stapler. BK sat perched on the edge of the desk with his arms folded; he looked exasperated. "I know that it would be a cri--" he said, and then his eyebrows rose and he stopped. "Mma Ramotswe." She wiggled her fingers at him in a small wave, and he began to smile.

"Yes," said Mma Makutsi fervently, her back to the door. "She would know what to do, but she is away on a very important case, and we cannot disturb her."

Mma Ramotswe gently cleared her throat. Mma Makutsi spun around and her face lit up. "Mma!" she cried, taking several quick, skittering steps toward her. "Oh, Mma, I am glad that you are back!"

"I am glad as well," said Mma Ramotswe, and when BK cheerfully rolled his eyes at her behind Mma Makutsi's back, she knew that this was likely not a terribly dangerous matter. Still, she set her bag down on the desk, and she asked, "What has happened?"

"That – that man, Cephas Buthelezi, has been here again; I am sure of it! Who else would enter while the office is empty and move everything on my desk and steal our telephone?!"

"Someone has stolen the telephone?" Mma Ramotswe asked, caught somewhere between outrage and relief.

"Ee, Mma!" Poor Grace Makutsi looked ready to explode like a stormcloud of indignation and secretarial fury. "We are only lucky that I had taken the ledger with me in order to work on accounts!"

"Lucky indeed," Mma Ramotswe murmured, her eyebrows pulled together into a frown.

Footsteps rang out on the veranda. All three of them swung to look at the door – and Mr. JLB Matekoni stepped through. He stopped short, obviously startled upon finding himself scrutinized.

"I – I did not expect anyone to be here," he said. The telephone in his hand gave a near-silent jingle as the handset brushed the receiver.

Mma Ramotswe recovered first. "I've returned earlier than expected, and Mma Makutsi and BK were conducting an investigation," she said. "Is … that the agency's telephone?"

"What?" said Rra Matekoni, and then he looked down. "Ah. Yes!" He hefted the telephone. "I tried to call earlier, but there was some kind of trouble with the phone." He took several steps inside and placed the phone on the desk. "One of my foolish apprentices has a cousin who works on telephone wires, so I stopped by and picked it up to … to ask for his advice." He looked hunted, unhappy to be caught and not entirely certain of his reception.

He was a very good man, that JLB Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe thought, and some of that warmth must have made it to her smile, as Rra Matekoni immediately smiled himself. The tension vanished from his face.

"It is now as good as new," he announced.

"Well!" said BK, looking between the two of them and grinning broadly. "I can see that my work here is no longer needed. Ke fidetse! Sala sentle."

"Tsamaya sentle," said Mma Ramotswe, as Mma Makutsi sometimes did not think of social graces – and currently seemed quite intent on rummaging around inside her desk – and Rra Matekoni always thought of social graces, but sometimes forgot to extend them to other people when Mma Ramotswe was in the room. She would have to ease him from that habit, she thought, and that thought – combined with the sight of BK wearing a portable hairdryer like a gun at his hip with a scarf for a holster, as he sashayed out of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency – broadened her smile.

"I am glad to see you back so soon." Rra Matekoni's smile gave away just how glad he was. "I take it the case went well?"

Mma Ramotswe thought of the expression on Matsapa Tlani's face when she had told him that she was a detective, and she was struck by another wave of calm satisfaction. "Very well indeed."

"Ee! Wonderful," said JLB Matekoni. "We will have to celebrate with dinner at the President Hotel."

Mma Ramotswe laughed. "Tonight?" In the background, a drawer slammed shut and papers rustled.

"I am a spontaneous man," he said gravely, and Mma Ramotswe laughed again, delighted.

"Well," she said, smiling, "then it is settled. What about you, Mma?" She glanced to the side, at Mma Makutsi behind the desk. "Would you like to celebrate?"

Mma Makutsi paused for a moment, holding still where she had been making a show of busily cleaning her spotless desk, and then she said stiffly, "Ke itumetse, Mma, but it is late."

"Of course. Come," she said. "I will drive you home, and while I do that, Mr. Matekoni can secure the very best table at the hotel." She turned her widest smile on Rra Matekoni, who still tended to look blissfully dazed under it, even now.

His answering grin crinkled his face. "The very best table," he said. He sounded quite determined. "I will do that."

Mma Ramotswe had never expected to laugh so girlishly again, not after the disaster of her ultimately-false first marriage, but she found herself doing so now. "A regular table will be just fine," she told him, her eyes bright.

Waiting for Mma Ramotswe to come out of the office was torturous, Mma Makutsi decided. That was precisely the word for it. Mma Ramotswe was undoubtedly exchanging words with her fiancée, which she was certainly entitled to do, but the waiting left Mma Makutsi twisting her hands into knots as she stared straight ahead at the empty veranda.

Perched in the van, she waited until Mma Ramotswe climbed in and shut her door, and then she burst out, "I am sorry I have failed you as a junior detective." Her hands clenched and unclenched under her purse in her lap.

Mma Ramotswe turned to face her, her smile fading into clear confusion. Outside, the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors towing van roared to life and motored off with a cheerful toot of the horn. Mma Makutsi rarely approved of the use of car horns – unless it was in the name of averting an accident, and even then, what were you doing driving poorly enough to nearly get into a crash-up? – but found herself too distracted and wretched to comment.

"What?" asked Mma Ramotswe.

"My detection skills have once again proved very rusty," she said. "Not even rusty! For a possession to rust, one must first possess it!"

Mma Ramotswe frowned slightly. "Did you not solve the case of the hairpiece?"

"The lady's father's sister had it," she said miserably, staring at her knees. "It was a case of jealousy."

"Then I do not understand." Mma Ramotswe started the van, and Mma Makutsi braced a hand against the door. "You have done very well!"

Mma Makutsi looked at Mma Ramotswe then quickly looked away again, glancing out the window into the darkness of Kgale Hill. "This is the third time in as many weeks that I have thought that Cephas Buthelezi had invaded the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and I have been very wrong each time." She felt foolish, and Grace Makutsi did not like to feel foolish. Foolish was for short skirts and their 42-percents, parading themselves around as if they were cattle to be bought. It was certainly not for junior detectives who had earned the highest result in the history of the Botswana College of Secretarial and Office Skills.

Mma Ramotswe pulled the tiny white van past the agency and out onto the road, deftly avoiding holes. "It is a good detective who has hunches! Unfortunately, as Mr. Clovis Anderson tells us, they cannot all be correct; that is a fact of life." Her voice took on a hint of a dark tone as she finished, "And you certainly cannot be blamed for suspecting Cephas Buthelezi of dirty tricks."

Grace Makutsi watched the side of Mma Ramotwe's face for a long moment, the tiny white van's two passengers bouncing with the bumps in the road, and then she smiled a very little bit and ducked her head. "Ee, Mma."

On the board inside the office:


The rains in Botswana came during the summer. All through the winter, the sun shone and the wind swept the plains dry, but during the hot summer, the rains cooled the country and ideally kept it in water for the entire year. The storms were beautiful in their own way, gray and black clouds roiling in the skies and sweeping across even the Kalahari, water pouring from the heavens to ease the desert's thirst. Each year, the Okvango Delta began the long, slow swell that would bring animals in search of water from across the country and would peak when the last of the rain waters drained into the delta in the winter.

The rains were the life blood of Botswana, cleansing the country and rescuing it from droughts and their terrible toll. The dangers of the rain were different than those of the dry winter; kombis and big German cars mired in the mud, villages washed away by floods, cattle drowning, and many stagnant pools of standing water. And yet it was beautiful, too; the entire country turning up green, the ground blanketed with Namaqualand daisies, new grass, and Tsama melon vines. Beautiful purple bougainvilleas bloomed in the garden at number 5 Zebra Drive, even if they threatened to take over the space reserved for Mma Ramotswe's pumpkins and paw-paws.

After droughts such that had been suffered in the past, no one could begrudge Botswana her rain. Still, Mma Ramotswe was quite pleased that she had finished the long drive to and from Rustenburg before the rains had begun in earnest.

It was raining again as she stepped onto the veranda just behind Mma Makutsi, the ground hot enough to steam as the rain struck it. She closed her pink umbrella and said, "Ah, thank you, Mma," as Mma Makutsi held the door for her.

"I will update you on my progress," Mma Makutsi promised over her shoulder, click-clacking her way over to her desk and setting down her armful of flyers, carefully wrapped in plastic to protect them from the rain. "It does not look as though anyone besides the family had access or a modus operandi."

"Well, someone other than the family could have had a reason to break in," Mma Ramotswe said, picking up a flyer as she passed on her way into her office. "It is a sad thing, but there are people in Botswana who would love to sell those items."

"Ee," Mma Makutsi agreed through the former post office teller's window. "Thieves!" With a disapproving noise, she stepped away from the window.

"I am sorry to say, I think that this case will probably have a sad ending for Rra Tsvangirai," Mma Ramotswe called, shaking out her umbrella and placing it on the floor beside her desk. "If only his family members hold the key to the storeroom, that is. I do not know how someone else could have come in and out without leaving a trace or setting off the alarm system." Mma Makutsi did not answer, and, settling in her chair, Mma Ramotswe glanced at the flyer that she had picked up. It was very handsomely designed, advertising the many varied services of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the finest ladies' detective agency in all of Botswana. She smiled.

"This is excellent work, Mma," Mma Ramotswe said. "You have outdone yourself. How many have you printed?"

After several seconds of silence, she frowned and glanced up. Mma Makutsi was not visible through the teller window, and unless she had taken off her high-heeled shoes, she was not walking around. "Mma?" Mma Ramotswe called.

Children's laughter drifted in through the open door, little Lily Melesi splashing in the rain with a few friends. A kombi rattled past. Rra Sesupeng was shouting at his assistant again.

"Mma Makutsi?" she asked. Outside, the rain pattered and the wind rustled through the acacia leaves. It was rarely a good sign when Grace Makutsi fell utterly silent; rarely at all. Mma Ramotswe rose from her chair and crossed the office.

Mma Makutsi stood beside her own desk, clutching a sheet of paper in both hands. She was staring at it, her posture stiff and her glasses slipping down her nose while she made no move to adjust them. The paper wavered in her hands. She was shaking it, not the wind, Mma Ramotswe realized.

"What has happened?"

Mma Makutsi's eyes flicked up swiftly, as if she were startled at being addressed. "I found this," she said. "On my desk." She held out the letter – for it was a letter, Mma Ramotswe swiftly saw. The paper rattled in Mma Makutsi's hand and she blinked hard behind her glasses.

It was a white sheet of paper in a standard size, utterly unremarkable apart from the typed message: I know what Richard Makutsi is, and unless I receive Mma Ramotswe's client list and billing information in two days, the Botswana Gazette will know, too. The paper was crisp and shiny, and the letters had the particular look of something that had been written on a computer.

"It is not signed," Mma Makutsi said, her voice admirably steady, if quiet.

"I suspect that I know who wrote it," Mma Ramotswe said darkly. All this modern technology, she thought, truly furious, and the terrible things that people did with it!

Mma Makutsi nodded faintly, her eyes momentarily downcast before coming back up.

"He will be sorry for it," Mma Ramotswe told her firmly. "Cephas Buthelezi's days of bullying are numbered." She set the letter down on Mma Makutsi's desk with a slap of her hand against the wood. It was an odious missive, and one that smacked of desperation. It was not to the typical smooth caliber of Buthelezi's plots -- not that she would say such a thing to Grace Makutsi. "I will need to place some phone calls, to South Africa and to the United States. Can you do that?"

Mma Makutsi blinked at her. Mma Ramotswe took her confusion – and indignation at being asked such a foolish question, if Mma Ramotswe was any judge of Grace Makutsi's facial expressions – as an excellent sign. "Ee, Mma."

"Good," she said, and she turned away to fetch the necessary information from the desk drawer in her office.

"Mma?" Mma Makutsi's voice stopped Mma Ramotswe before she had made it more than three steps.


"The phone call to America," said Mma Makutsi, her hands clasped tightly in front of herself. "It will be very expensive." She suddenly looked very quiet and very still.

Mma Ramotswe reached over and squeezed Mma Makutsi's hands with both of her own. "It will be worth each and every thebe spent," she said fiercely, and Mma Makutsi squeezed back. "I am not about to allow the finest junior detective in all of Botswana and her brother to be threatened."

Mma Makutsi bobbed her head several times, her mouth pressed into a thin line and her eyes shining behind her glasses. "It is a foolish threat," she managed after a moment. "The Botswana Gazette does not know who Richard is, and would not care to print such things."

She smiled gently. "This is likely true. It is their own loss that they do not know him, of course."

"Yes," she said, beginning to recover some of her usual fervor. She held her head up high. "They should know who he is, and not because he is sick. Richard is an excellent writer."

Mma Ramotswe's smile broadened, approving. Mma Makutsi was a very loyal sister. "We will give Mr. Buthelezi a great deal of trouble, then, in Richard's name."

Mma Makutsi smiled faintly, the motion small but with nothing tentative about it. "He will like that."

"You were right to worry, you know," Mma Ramotswe told her; Mma Makutsi cocked her head to the side and resembled nothing so much as an inquisitive, confused bird. "All those times when you thought that Cephas Buthelezi had infiltrated the office. Perhaps you were not correct in those specific instances, but you were right to remember the anger that he held, Mma."

Mma Makutsi sniffed. "He is only a foolish man," she said. "It was elementary."

Shortly, with the solved cases erased, the board read:

She would be brave, Mma Makutsi told herself, marching across the pavement. Each click of her heels sounded like a gunshot in the stillness, at least to her mind. In many parts of Botswana, people would have already been awake at this hour and well into the start of their days, but not so in the city center of Gaborone, where offices and shops opened at 9:00 o'clock sharp. While this was not the modern city center, not quite, it was close enough in Mma Makutsi's mind. The shining steel and glass business park was utterly deserted at 5:23 A.M. Lazy, Mma Makutsi thought; all of the people still sleeping in their beds were very lazy. She clutched the notebook to her chest, both arms wrapped around the accounts book. Her purse dangled from her elbow, wobbling with each determined step.

Mma Makutsi halted in front of the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency, glaring up at the sign with its little cartoon man and at the windows with their foolish cityscape outline. The painted letters still read Ex-CID, Ex-New York, Ex-cellent, one stacked on top of another, and she scoffed to herself as she walked to the door. It made her feel a little bit better; a little less shaky. She took a deep breath, feeling the first few drops of rain land on her face. She needed to be brave, like Mma Ramotswe would be.

When she opened her eyes, there was a face smiling at her from only six inches away. Mma Makutsi gave a tiny shriek, nearly turning her ankle under herself in her haste to step backward.

Cephas Buthelezi was chuckling even before he shouldered the glass door open. "Very jumpy, Mma," he said, in that terrible smooth voice. He swept an arm toward her, motioning inside of his ugly, soulless office, which Mma Makutsi was quite certain had stolen its style from somewhere in America. "Won't you come inside?"

Her dignity bruised, glaring at him, Mma Makutsi let go of the accounts book with one arm just long enough to sharply tug her jacket back into place. "No," she said stiffly. "We will conduct our business right here, outside." She pointed at the ground emphatically to illustrate her point.

He laughed again, folding his arms over his chest and casually leaning in the doorway. "Suit yourself." He crossed one ankle over the other, quite clearly making a show of the fact that he was dry in the agency doorway while Mma Makutsi stood out in the rain. She narrowed her eyes at him, and he only flashed more teeth in his smile. "I do hope that you have brought what we discussed. I will be quite … unhappy to have come all the way down here so early just for a bit of slapstick comedy."

"You are a bad man," she snapped, standing up at her full height. The rain began to fall harder, trickling down her glasses and making her clothes damp. "A very bad man! What kind of a man insults and threatens a stranger, a sick stranger, who has nothing to be ashamed of--"

"If your brother had nothing to be ashamed of," Buthelezi interrupted, his expression swiftly crossing into irritation, "you would not be here. Now, madam secretary." He stepped up out of the doorway, looming over her, and Mma Makutsi felt the first cold fingers of fear brush her heart. She remembered his insults as being neatly masked in smiles and snappy talk. This was different. He had lost Round 1 to Mma Ramotswe, and he was not patient any longer. "The client list and account books."

She shoved the binder into his chest hard enough that it slapped him; hard enough that Cephas Buthelezi rocked back on his feet. "Here," she snapped. "It is what you deserve."

He abruptly smiled once again, but this time, there was something darker behind it. "Oooh, spunk," he crowed. "I do love a woman with spunk." He winked at her, and Mma Makutsi promptly turned her head and made a spitting sound. Still laughing, he raised a hand as if he were going to turn her chin back toward him.

Her heart rose into her throat, but she did not flinch. "If you touch me, I will hit you with the brick in my handbag," she told him matter-of-factly, and he chuckled and dropped his hand.

"As charming as this interaction has been, I do believe that our business is finished here," he said. He dismissively flicked his fingers toward the car park, signaling that she should leave. "For now."

"It is not finished." Mma Makutsi held tightly to the strap of her purse. "You must look at the files."

"Well," he said, smiling that self-satisfied snake's grin, "if you insist; I must say, I'm impressed by your commitment to your espiona--" He stopped as he opened the front cover, his smug flourish halted mid-movement. "What is this?"

Soaked to the skin, standing in a deserted city center car park at five o'clock in the morning with a brick in her handbag, Mma Makutsi pulled herself up and said with great dignity, "It is today's edition of the Botswana Gazette. Hot from the presses."

"I know what it is. What I would like to know is," he stepped forward and she did not step back, tilting her head so that she could glare up at him at this new, closer distance, "where are my files? I am losing patience."

"I would guess that they are in whatever filing system your secretary has chosen for them," Mma Makutsi said, her mouth set stubbornly. "Perhaps ordered alphabetically."

He tsk-tsk'd at her, shaking his head in menacing condescension. "This is not a game, little miss."

"Nyaa," she agreed, her hands shaking with righteous anger and near-satisfaction. "It is not." She pointed at the newspaper. "Page two."

He shot a dubious, annoyed stare at her finger for a long moment, then tucked the notebook under his arm and opened the newspaper. A large article, taking up the better half of one page, had been circled in red ink by a helpful soul. "I may be humoring you, but don't mistake--"

Mma Makutsi thought that the abrupt stop probably came when he read the title, though she could also see it as having been the first two sentences.

"You were never a member of the Johannesburg Criminal Investigation Department," Mma Makutsi told him helpfully, so that he did not have to read it. "And you slept on your brother-in-law's couch in New York City for two months while working as security for a bar; that is the extent of your experience as ex-New York." She cocked her head to one side and could not have kept the triumph from her face if she tried (and she did not try). "Would you like to hear more about what you really did in Johannesburg? It is in column three."

Cephas Buthelezi tore his eyes from the paper. "What do you want?" he demanded, his voice low and rough.

"I am not blackmailing you, Rra." The rain came thundering down in earnest and Mma Makutsi raised her voice over it, ignoring the way that her hair was falling from its neat style and that her clothes were sticking to her. "It is too late for that; the story has already been printed. Copies are as of this moment finding their way to desks in the attorney general's chambers, the Administration of Justice, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Botswana police service, and the CID in Johannesburg." With each party listed, his face fell slack further and further. "They are very unhappy in Johannesburg that you have used their name, and I believe that the CID wants to talk to you. If you contact anyone associated with the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency ever again, this," in one swift motion, she plucked a tape recorder from her purse and held it aloft, shielding it from the rain with her hand, "will go to the police. It is a tape of the telephone conversation in which we established that we would meet here today." She pressed 'play.'

Mma Makutsi's crackly voice demanded: "You have run Mma Ramotswe right off the road and brought her terrible ex-husband to Gaborone to hurt her, and you expect me to believe that you will not harm me or my brother if I give you this information?!"

On the recording, Cephas Buthelezi laughed. "My past actions may make me rather unreliable," he said. "Unfortunately for you, you have no choice but to trust me."

Mma Makutsi stopped the tape. He stared at her in stony silence, but Mma Makutsi could see it: he did not know what to do. He did not know what to say.

She replaced the tape recorder in her purse and neatly closed the clasp. She finished: "I would suggest leaving Gaborone now. Possibly even Botswana altogether."

Cephas Buthelezi looked from Mma Makutsi to the newspaper, focusing on the latter. His eyes abruptly narrowed and he slapped the article. " 'Not available for comment'?" he demanded furiously. "I was not unavailable for comment!"

Mma Makutsi shook her head. "It is too bad. You should have answered your phone."

"The lines were down!" he shouted down at her, suddenly looming far too close. Close enough that she could count the pinstripes in his dress shirt; close enough that he would barely have to lift a finger to touch her.

"You are wasting a great deal of time while people read page two of the newspaper," Mma Makutsi told him very seriously, taking several swift steps back. On the far side of the car park, an engine rattled to life and headlights switched on. "But in the future, you will remember to do business honestly. Or perhaps you will at least remember that it is very stupid to make a woman angry." She kept stepping backward, leaving him clutching the newspaper in both hands, and Cephas Buthelezi's expression only became more blank as the white Datsun pulled up from across the car park.

Mma Makutsi turned her back on him and walked to the van. Sitting on the opposite side, in the driver's seat, Mma Ramotswe leaned down, smiling, and waved at Cephas Buthelezi.

Her hand on the door handle, Mma Makutsi glanced over her shoulder. "My brother is a who," she said, voice and spine full of steel, looking straight at Buthelezi and staring him down. "Not a what." She opened the door and clambered up into the cab, and the tiny white van left Cephas Buthelezi, private detective extraordinaire, standing frozen in the rain with his entire world coming down around his ears.

Mma Ramotswe was smiling, small and quite satisfied, as she swung the wheel and they joined the traffic on Nelson Mandela Drive. "Well done, Mma! I have never seen such a face!"

"We will have to thank Mrs. Curtin for the use of her New York connections," Mma Makutsi said, accepting the dry blanket that Mma Ramotswe pushed to her across the seat. "And Billy Pilani, and the reporter, and Charlie's cousin who works for the phone company."

Mma Ramotswe laughed quietly. "There will be time for that, Mma. For now – Cephas Buthelezi will not be threatening anyone again soon."

Mma Makutsi sat in silence for a long moment, absently drying her glasses while she watched the blur of Gaborone pass her window. "It was satisfying," she said, and Mma Ramotswe's ringing laugh filled the cab.

"Out!" Mma Makutsi shouted, and several hens came flying out the front door of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, each squawking more indignantly than the last.

Mma Ramotswe paused at her van, her hand still on the door from closing it. She carried her handbag and a notebook filled with observations on the suspicious habits of an accountant, and she wore a warm half-smile. It was a beautiful summer afternoon in Botswana, the sun shining, the mud drying. The stalls and their owners had returned to Kgale Hill after the rain, Lily and her mother selling their beautiful cakes, Mma Kwelagobe sitting with her sewing machine, and the regular pair of middle-aged Zambian sisters cheerfully exhorting passersby to try their mealies. Across the way, BK was seated in front of the Last Chance Salon, surrounded by a harem of female clients as he manicured one woman's nails. Laughing heartily, he blew Mma Ramotswe a kiss, and she chuckled and waved back. Behind her, several men herded cattle across the road, calling to each other in Setswana over the hoof falls and lowing of cattle.

"This is not a place for chickens!" Mma Makutsi hollered from inside the office, and several more chickens came running onto the veranda, doubtless propelled by the expert use of a broom.

Smiling broadly, Mma Ramotswe stepped around the chickens pecking at the dirt, and she climbed the veranda. Mma Makutsi burst out the door with an armful of chickens, which she dumped at Mma Ramotswe's feet. "I am sorry, Mma," she said, grabbing the broom from inside and using it to sweep the poultry out of the door. "They have invaded again. Always pecking at things! Ech! This is the last of them."

"It's quite all right, Mma," she said, laughing. "Chickens, sometimes they cannot be helped."

"Did you find what you were looking for?" Mma Makutsi asked, glancing at her, as a kombi pulled up and the side door rolled back.

"I may have," she said. "The problem will definitely require several cups of bush tea."

A young woman stepped out of the kombi, her face honest and open – if Mma Ramotswe was any judge of faces, and she thought she was – and her movements uncertain. The other passengers shut the door behind her and the kombi sped off in a cloud of dust, leaving the young woman to shield her eyes with her hand and take the first few hesitant steps toward the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and the two women standing on its veranda.

Mma Makutsi started (nearly hitting Mma Ramotswe with the broom still in her hands in the process), whirled, and zoomed back inside the office. Mma Ramotswe plucked a feather from her junior detective's hair as she scrambled past, and her smile only grew as she heard the sound of furious typing start up a few seconds later.

"Dumela," Mma Ramotswe said to the young stranger, stepping down and offering her hand in the proper Batswana fashion, her left hand resting on her right forearm. "I am Mma Ramotswe, the detective."

"Dumela, Mma," said the young woman, shaking her hand. "I am Pelonomi Outlule. I–" She stopped, clutching her bag close to her body, and then started again. "I have a problem."

"Go siame, sister." Mma Ramotswe squeezed her hand gently before letting go. "You have come to the right place." Pelonomi Outlule smiled, tiny and hesitant and hopeful.

As they climbed the veranda, Mma Ramotswe glanced back. The final few fine, fat cattle were crossing the road, leaving the dirt packed and firm in their wake, a hazy cloud of dust hovering. The sun shone high over a beautiful, hot Botswana day, and Mma Ramotswe smiled.

All would be well, and all would be well.

On the case board: