Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (6) Hour of Darkness by Michele Rowe
Hour of Darkness by Michele Rowe
Fred turned off Baden Powell Drive onto the M17, heading away from False Bay. He crossed Spine Road and drove on, flanked on the left by shrubby dunes. It was 5.30 a.m. No sign of cars or people, sunny morning, and already quite hot. Last night’s rain had transformed the sunnier dunes, and tiny daisies and vygies splashed the sand yellow, purple and white.
He’d packed his rods on the roof and told Natasha he was going fishing past Sunrise Beach. She never questioned where he went and what he did, knowing it was none of her business.
After 16th Avenue, he kept an eye out for the inconspicuous dirt road that crossed the dunes between Baden Powell Drive and the pans. There was no sign to indicate that it led to the Strandfontein Sewage Works. It was seldom used and no one was likely to be around there at this time. He hoped the tsotsi had understood the directions.
They’d had an earlier confusing phone call. That was the trouble with these kinds of jobs: vague instructions, tenuous connections to inexperienced township small-timers who did not have a clue about how to run a job, all so fucking unprofessional. Ten-a-penny small-fry thugs picked up at taxi ranks who got a hard-on at the thought of two grand to kill someone. He shook his head. The guy had been recommended by one of Ricardo’s bodyguards; was a relative in all likelihood. Cheapskates like Ricardo were always trying to cut corners. Taking advice from political bullyboys, rag-tag bouncers and enforcers that were all over politicians like flies on dog shit.
The dirt road ended at a scattering of low buildings. He drove through the empty car park and continued along the unmarked road that began narrowing closer to the sewage pans. There was a whoosh of wings, birds flushing off the water at the sound of the engine. The dark-blue 4 by 4 Volvo (that the cops were looking for right now, according to Ricardo) was waiting where Fred and the tsotsi had arranged to meet, next to a half-derelict ablution block close to the pan.
Fred drove past, scanning the Volvo from behind his dark glasses, then pulled up just ahead of it and cut the engine, never taking his eyes off the rear-view and side mirrors as he unclipped his belt and popped the locks.
The youth climbed out of the Volvo. Fred could see he was as jumpy as a rabbit and sure as hell to have a weapon on him somewhere. These little street thugs always had knives, at the very least.
He waited for the boy to get closer. The clown was all flash and labels hanging off his stupid arse. Wearing his money before he’d earned it, living high on credit to look good. The Volvo looked unoccupied from this distance, but there could be someone hiding in the back, or even in the boot. Fred got out of the car and walked slowly towards the boy, who was checking him out in a way Fred didn’t like. Hard-eyed. Red-rimmed lids. Reeking of alcohol and sweat, and underneath a familiar acrid smell. This moron had messed up a simple intimidation job because he was tikking away his fucking stupid life.
‘You alone?’ The boy was craning his neck at the Camry.
‘Yes. And you?’ Fred worked at a non-threatening demeanour.
The boy gave a wary nod.
‘I believe you had a problem.’ Fred kept his tone pleasant; he had spotted the unmistakable outline of a gun in the pocket of the boy’s baggy, low-slung jeans.
‘No problems, my bra. The job is done.’
The boy was younger than Fred had first thought. ‘Where’s your partner?’ he asked.
‘No partners. I do the work myself.’
The boy’s black eyes flicked over Fred, taking in his Edgars’ chinos, Mr Price checked shirt and Chinese knock-off loafers. Thinking, what exactly? That Fred was a moegoe? A stooge, a messenger boy?
‘Well, then it’s only two and a half. We heard there were two of you.’ Ricardo’s contact at the cop shop said two were involved. Fred was worried about possible leakage, others involved in this dimwit’s fuck-up who could compromise Ricardo further down the line.
The boy’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. ‘Don’t be a clever with me, coolie, verstaan? It’s five thousand for the job. And I did it alone.’
‘I’m not a coolie.’
‘What are you? You not a coloured.’ The boy grinned inanely. ‘You a Chinese or what?’
The little fool thinks I’m scared of him. Fred thought that was funny.
‘Calm down. I’ll give you your money. But not here.’
The boy’s face darkened. ‘Don’t shit me, man.’
Fred made a nervous gesture towards the ablution block. ‘Not in the open. There are workers from the sewage plant all around here.’
‘Suka, don’t play games with me, Chinese.’ The boy hesitated. Fred headed around the back of the concrete building. He heard the youth’s footsteps behind him.
He pushed open the graffiti-defaced metal door leading into a lavatory. A black cloud of flies buzzed lazily around the lidless bowl, blocked to the rim by yellowing scrunched-up newspaper. The stench of piss and shit was overpowering.
The boy gave a cry of disgust: ‘Jee-sus, it stinks!’
That was rich coming from the boy who was as rank as rotten fish. He and Fred were wedged in the narrow concrete passage, half in, half out of the lavatory. The boy was muttering in Xhosa, getting edgy. Fred quickly drew the bulging envelope from his inside pocket. ‘This is a lot of cash for one man. You sure you did it alone?’
The boy’s eyes fixed on the envelope. ‘I don’t trust anyone else.’
Fred tossed him the packet. ‘Very wise.’
The greedy little punk caught the envelope and began tearing it open, his attention off Fred for those critical seconds. Fred slipped on his leather gloves and positioned himself behind the boy who, too late, spun around.
The garrotte was already around his neck.
His hands scrabbled for the gun, but Fred had lifted it from his pocket and drop-kicked it out of reach.
The boy fought like a huge fish, twisting and turning, trying to throw Fred off, flailing his arms, trying to get a grip on Fred’s wrists. Fred shuddered at the crudeness of it. He detested the contact, but garrotting was cleaner than a knife, left no mess and blood. Still, he hated the intimacy, the shaking and thrashing. He cursed Ricardo for getting him into this. Ricardo, who would walk away, hands clean. Free to be sanctimonious and self-righteous and holier than thou. Fred gave the nylon another whirl and twisted it tighter, watching it disappear into the flesh of the boy’s neck, the line slicing painfully into Fred’s thumb and forefinger.
The boy was making horrible rasping, gurgling noises. Fred switched his eye line to the flat expanse of water in the sewage works and thought about an article he’d read about a hippo that had gone missing around here. The sort of sentimental story Natasha loved. After what seemed a loathsome eternity, the boy sagged against him, lifeless
and heavy. Fred let go of the garrotte and the body slumped to the ground. He picked up the envelope of money and tucked it back into his top pocket, then went through the boy’s clothes and extracted a new Samsung phone, just over a thousand rand in notes and some loose coins. He wondered where the other stolen five thousand was that Ricardo had mentioned. A cheap cigarette lighter and a wallet containing an id that said the boy was Axolile Sama.
Fred put everything in his jacket pocket. He hooked the boy under the arms and dragged him out of the ablution block, trying to avoid the sight of the tongue that popped grotesquely from the open mouth, the staring eyes that were already clouding over. The sun was a white glare behind thin clouds. The boy felt heavier with every inch they covered, his trainers dragging, leaving a trail in the light sand. Fred manoeuvred the body to the edge of the pan. He was sweating from exertion and faintly nauseous. He needed to eat something; his sugar level was low. He looked around, and gathered some rocks and stones, which he stuffed into the pockets of the boy’s clothes until they could take no more. Slowly, he rolled the body over the pan. The water was covered in some thick algae, so that the body entered it with no more than a dull agitation of the surface. Then it slid slowly into the sludge and sank out of sight.
Fred walked back to his car, an unhurried easy pace, looking around to make sure there was no one about. He went over to the Volvo and tried the door. It was locked. Then he realised that he had not found the key on the boy’s body. He peered into the car: there was no sign of them on the seats, or in the ignition. He tried the boot. Locked. He would have to get someone to break into the car, strip it and dump it near Monwabisi. Another mess to clean up. Shit.
He drove away slowly in his Camry, occasionally checking his rear-view mirror. The car had just been valeted and it smelled of some kind of deodoriser, which had mixed with traces of the boy’s body odour into something sickening. Fred put on the aircon and opened the vents. Close to Sunset Beach, he stopped and stripped off the gloves and put one each into two black plastic bags. He paused for a minute, feeling the blood pounding in his head. He took a deep breath and gazed out at the sea rolling in, imperturbable and regular, each green wave flowing into another with a pleasurable and comforting regularity. He took the boy’s cellphone. His screen was a snapshot of a plump girl in a striped halter-neck top, her hair in elaborate braids, leaning against a car, hip jutting out, sulky face.Fred erased all the messages, including his call log and list of contacts, then
took out the sim card and buckled it until it broke in two. He placed the phone near the front right wheel of his car and drove over it and reversed back until he heard a crunch through his open window. He got out of the car, gathered all the phone’s fragments and divided them and the two pieces of sim card between the plastic bags that held the gloves.
He drove through Muizenberg to where it backed onto Marina da Gama until he found a municipal bin to dump one of the black bags. Then he made his way to St George’s Drive. He was thinking of the story he was going to tell Natasha when he got home – that the sea was not conducive to fishing after all. He would stop off and get some nice pastries, lose the other bag, then head back to Plumstead and Natasha, hopefully before the Monday-morning traffic got too heavy.
What reviewers have had to say:
PHILLIP ALTBEKER, Times Live – ‘The latest writer to succeed in reflecting the specific problems besetting policing while also offering a compelling narrative is Michéle Rowe in What Hidden Lies.’
MERVYN SLOMAN, Owner of The Book www.hotwatchsale.co.uk Lounge – ‘It was a fantastic read, with a great plot, tremendous pace and stand-out characters. Percy Jonas is a wonderful creation. As soon as you put the book down, you want to pick up the next one and read more about this woman’.
LIEZEL FOURIE, 9lives.co.za – ‘Rowe keeps you captivated throughout, always twisting the plot so that you never know what really happened till the very end. Her characters each have their own past secrets, quirks and dark sides, which add interesting elements to the story.’
MARTI WILL, Vista News – ‘This book is brilliant. I am a Patricia Cornwell fan, but after this impressive South African read, I am converted. Michéle Rowe can stand up to the best crime writers in the world.’
TAME TIMES – ‘It is very well written. The relationships between the characters are fully explored and developed. By now I feel like Marge and Persy are old friends that I’ve come to know personally through the pages of the book.’
SHELAGH PARRY, thewordfiend.net – ‘The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) Debut Dagger Award and I can see why. This is crime writing just the way I like it – smart, pacy and character-driven.’
MIKE FITZJAMES, Fine Music Radio – ‘… all I will say is, that if you can put down this book for longer than it takes to pour a drink or make a cup of tea, you’re a mile in front of me. I read and read until my eyes were aching and eventually as I reached the conclusion I realized that I would really miss the various new characters that I had encountered. A tour de force indeed.’