Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (3) Sacrifices by Roger Smith
Sacrifices by Roger Smith
Michael Lane, riding his wife from the rear, the charge of an approaching climax already boiling his spinal fluid, is left suddenly unsheathed as Beverley crawls away from him, his wet erection cooled by the night breeze coming in through the open bedroom window.
He’s ready to protest when he hears a woman’s scream—had there been an earlier yell, almost lost in Bev’s pleasure-pain scat?—coming from the lower regions of the house.
Beverley clicks on the bedside lamp, swatting a metronome of damp hair from her eyes. “The little bastard’s back,” she says, standing, still breathless, wrapping her compact, gym-toned body in a white toweling robe.
“The little bastard” is the banished teenage son of Denise Solomons, their live-in domestic worker: Lyndall, Lynnie, more recently Mustapha, an eighteen-year-old Lane has been benefactor to since the boy was a toddler but no longer knows at all.
As Lane steps into a pair of shorts, the fabric chafing his semi-tumescent penis, he hears another scream, a thin whine that is abruptly silenced. He stretches for the wall-mounted panic button that’ll bring a car commando of brown men in Kevlar vests, automatic pistols holstered at their hips, to his home for the second time that night.
“Wait,” Beverley says. “It’s coming from Chris’s room.”
Lane’s finger freezes millimeters from the button. She’s right. Five years ago their son, the same age as their domestic worker’s, annexed the pool house, and that is where the noise originates, not Denise Solomons’s quarters in the yard at the rear.
Did Lane hear the snarl of Chris’s souped-up little Japanese cabriolet in the driveway while he was lost in his wife’s flesh?
Beverley, belting her robe, punches the code into the alarm keypad beside the bedroom door—the date of their wedding, a strangely sentimental choice for his brisk, no-nonsense wife. When the keypad bleats twice, telling them that the sensors are disabled and they’re free to roam their double storey, Bev is out the door, making for the stairs.
Lane follows, feeling an atavistic craving for a weapon. As they descend, the darkness broken by the strobing lights on the plastic Christmas tree standing beside the fireplace, he dismisses the impulse. Lyndall is somewhere out on the Cape Flats by now, branding his lip on a meth pipe and Chris is partying with his beery rugby-playing friends—boys grown too suddenly into hulking men, graceful on the field and lumpen off it. The scream, Lane decides, is from one of the slasher DVDs his son ingests.
Lane trails his wife across the absurdly large living room, built in a bygone opulent age to host cocktail parties and soirees. After fifteen years he still feels like an intruder in this sprawling Newlands mansion.
Bev unlatches the door onto the deck and opens it, the smell of bougainvillea, gasoline fumes and chlorine floating like a veil on the hot December night. A fat, livid, moon dangles near the black rock of Table Mountain rising beyond the high walls topped with strands of electric wire that spark and spit.
The pool is a glowing blue rectangle and the automatic cleaner chugs along disturbing the surface, patterning Beverley with ripples of light as she crosses the bricks to the pool house. The sliding door to their son’s room stands open, filled with a gauzy curtain swelling out on the breeze.
“Chris?” Bev says.
There is no reply, the only sound a wet, rhythmic pounding from within, reminding Lane of a sodden towel whacked against a wall.
When Beverley pulls the curtain aside Lane hears the sharp suck of her inhalation. What he glimpses over her shoulder causes a reflex shutting of his eyes in denial.
“Chris?” Beverley says again, her voice strangled in her throat.
Lane opens his eyes onto the full horror of the scene.
Their naked son, his heavily muscled back to them, sits astride a young woman who lies supine on the floor, pounding down on her with a dumbbell, his right hand and arm red with blood.
Lane can see only the girl’s unstockinged legs, her skirt riding up to reveal a pair of white panties. She wears a high-heeled sandal on her right foot. Her left foot is bare and the toes wag when Christopher swings the weight again.
Lane flashes back to four years ago when he took Chris shopping at the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Mowbray, a store the size of an aircraft hanger, his son joshing with the sales assistants, sneering at Lane’s feeble attempts to heft this ten pound weight, deceptively small until you lifted it.
Lane is brought back into the room by his wife’s fingers on his arm and when he looks across at Beverley the terror in her eyes mirrors his own. She sways and the grip on his elbow tightens, as if she’s about to faint.
Then she blinks, visibly composes herself and steps away from Lane, reaching down to touch their son on the shoulder.
“Christopher,” Beverley says. “Stop.”
The weight freezes in midair, as if the boy’s doing a bicep curl, and he looks up at his mother, panting, glazed eyes staring out through a mask of blood. Chris’s hair is blond like hers, some of her sharp features still visible in a face coarsened by testosterone. His flesh is hot with the stink of sweat and alcohol as he stands and turns to them, his face and torso red with gore.
Lane, as he has been since Chris became a teenager, is astonished at the size of his son. Well over six foot, easily two hundred pounds, thick across the shoulders, he stands with the perfect balance of an athlete, the dumbbell dangling from his hand, chest rising and falling as he stares at his mother. His torso is corded with muscle and heavily veined, his penis incongruously shriveled, barely visible beneath the thatch of sandy pubic hair.
“Chris, okay, calm down now,” Beverley says. “We’ll handle this.”
Christopher opens his hand and lets the weight fall. It lands on the carpet beside the girl, amidst fragments of white teeth that lie as if they are ready to be strung onto a necklace. Where the girl’s head should be is a pulped mash of bloody hair, bone splinters and pearl gray oozes of brain matter.
Lane gags, steps back out into the night and projectile vomits his sushi dinner onto the bricks. He wants to run, get into his car and drive until the sun rises over some unfamiliar landscape.
But he pushes the curtain aside and says, “I’m going to call the police.”
What’s been said about Sacrifices:
“Roger Smith is the crime genre’s greatest tragedian and Sacrifices might just be his masterpiece. The downfall of these characters is especially Shakespearean.” Spinetingler Magazine
“Perceptive, bloody and gut-wrenching. Another brilliantly crafted piece of noir from Roger Smith.” crimeficionlover.com
“Violent and brilliant! It’s Crime and Punishment in South Africa.” Le Monde (France)
“A frightening thriller. Machiavellian until the very last line.” Le Figaro (France)
“This dark thriller bites like a pit bull.” Kölnische Rundschau (Germany)
“A thriller that is both brutal and subtle.” Sonntagszeitung (Switzerland) Crime Novel of the Month
“An excellent, violent crime thriller with real depth.” Der Standard (Austria)
“Compulsive reading. Smith plots his tale with a master’s hand, ensnaring the reader, drawing them in and enhancing his growing reputation as one of the best thriller writers around.” The Gamblers Blog
“Through Smith’s eyes, South Africa becomes a noir dystopia where life is cheap and tragedy spares no one. His bleakest, most twisted and very best novel yet.” Dead End Follies