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Crime Beat

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Crime Cameos : The Dark Side by Melissa Siebert

Crime CameosContinuing Crime Beat season of short stories from the candidates at the Centre for Creative Writing, University of Cape Town, is ‘The Dark Side’ by Melissa Siebert.

He could smell the blood. Human or animal, he wasn’t sure. Detective Anton Swart pushed open the gate to the sangoma’s kraal, kicking up Limpopo dust as he walked towards his rondavel. It was mid-day in December, and Swart was sweating in his coolest bush clothes. Could have come at dusk, he thought, but reconsidered. No way in hell, not to this place.

There was no one in sight, just a forlorn, amber-eyed goat tethered to a pole. The stench got stronger as Swart approached the rondavel’s low door, opening to darkness. Tshivase? Swart said aloud, and with no answer, stepped inside.

Last week, the third muti killing this month, and Swart held Sello `Looksmart’ Tshivase responsible. Girl, 12, lips, hand and genitals taken. Tshivase’s trade spread before him on the dirt floor. Bones, probably goat, chicken, and pieces of wood, shell, small stones. Jars of floating fetuses, cat, pig, dog…a staring monkey head in another. Stacks of dried herbs, innocent enough. In two years as head of the Occult Crimes Unit in Thohoyandou, Swart had found the unwanted parts left behind — but couldn’t nail those making the medicine. He’d get them this time. Fuckin’ freaks, he muttered. Murderers…

Behind some jars Swart bent to examine a thin trail of blood. He felt a draft suddenly, and a hand on his back. “I Nhlikanhi — are you looking for something?”

Swart wanted his gun but instead pulled a photograph from his pocket. He’d recognized the snakey voice. “Do you know this girl?”

Tshivase, in his stale grey blanket, torn trousers and hat of some dead animal, took the photo and glanced at it briefly. “The daughter of my cousin,” he said. “Sit down, Detective Swart. You look unwell.”

Swart ignored the remark, in spite of a migraine coming on, and sat down on a red plastic Coke crate. Tshivase lowered his bulk onto a mat amidst his talismans. His onyx eyes peered out from under the hat brim, a ledge of fur. “Murdered,” Swart said. “We found the body last night, minus a few pieces.”

Tshivase frowned and shook his head, clucking.

“You wouldn’t kill family, would you?”

“Baba?” A young boy had appeared at the door, and summoned by Tshivase, went to his side. “Mama is asking for you.”

Tshivase swung the boy’s hands slightly. A serious boy, 11 or 12, with a downturned scar on the right side of his mouth. “Zwo is learning to be a sangoma, like his father,” Tshivase smiled.

Swart found the family portrait sickening. “That blood on the floor over there?”

“Chicken…” Tshivase eyed him. “I have something for your headache.”

It was happening again, something pulling him on a rope closer and closer to the edge of a cliff. Swart made for the door. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

He was out of the gate and nearing his car when the boy, panting, caught up with him. “Let me see your gun, I must have one for me.”

Swart checked the safety and handed the Vektor CP1 to the boy, who stroked it like a pet. Swart couldn’t resist. “How good is your father’s muti against that?”

The boy returned the gun, reluctantly. Swart walked away, feeling the boy’s eyes on his back.


When he picked up the morning paper at the unit the next day, its headline stunned him: BLOODIEST YET: 4TH MUTI MURDER THIS MONTH. Full-colour photo of a child’s head, eyes open, scar on the right side of his mouth.

Swart’s temples pounded. He stared at his Vektor, lying inert on his desk, and thought how useless it looked.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    July 30th, 2009 @11:13 #

    Love the sense of authenticity, the detailing. These cameos are fantastic so far!


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