Power Play by Mike Nicol
Part One: Lagoon Beach
They ate supper in a steak and seafood joint at Lagoon Beach, Titus Anders not letting go of how their little brother Boetie died.
Trussed in weight belts, dropped over the side of a rubber ducky in six metres of dark water, he went down to talk to the abalone. RIP Boetie.
‘Yesterday I watched him going off with his chommies. Going camping in the mountains. All happy boys. Good boys. Nice boys. Teenagers, you know, joking around, no problems in the world. This morning he’s dead.’
Fishermen found his body chained to a plastic buoy, mistook it for an abalone drop just waiting for smugglers. Property of Titus Anders written on the buoy.
‘Stop it, Daddy,’ said Luc, Titus’s eldest. ‘Leave it now. Please. We all feeling this.’
‘No, man, I can’t believe it,’ said Titus, looking at Luc. ‘Boetie was my boy. Your mommy’s precious because they thought he was dead inside her. She said to me, “Look after Boetie, Titus. You got to look after him for me. Give him a good life.” That’s what she said. I never told you that before. Now look what we got to do.’ He made a gun of his fist, held it up. ‘I thought all this was past times. Over. Finished.’
‘Not your problem, Daddy,’ said Luc. ‘Me’n Quint’ll handle it. Like I told you. We got it sorted already.’
‘You know what it’s like to drown?’ said Titus. ‘Going down there holding your breath till you can’t anymore. Till you have to breathe. Only you know when you open your mouth there’s going to be no air. Only water. You know the panic that’ll cause? The fright? Oh no, man, is there a worse way to die? Your lungs filling up with water.’
‘Daddy, stop it.’ Lavinia, his daughter, sitting there toying with her food.
‘Don’t,’ said Luc, reaching across to grab his father’s hand, lower it to the table. He glanced round the restaurant. Big zooty restaurant with views over Table Bay, the harbour, the soccer stadium flopped like a puffer fish beneath Signal Hill. Family diners at most of the tables. A Neil Diamond loop on the sound system. ‘Not here, Daddy.’
Quint said, ‘What’s the plan?’
Quint the youngest of the family now, a monster man of muscle, neck the size of his head. Quint worked out, daily, ate a lot of meat. Had on the plate before him a five-hundred-gram T-bone, well done. A pile of fries beside it that spilled onto the table.
What Quint meant was what would happen to the boy they’d got chained to a chair in a Montague Gardens warehouse. The boy they’d taken as tit for tat not even an hour after they’d seen Boetie’s body. Quint liked to think he and Luc worked fast.
‘We got to kill him,’ said Luc, cutting into his steak. He forked a chunk, chewed it. Tough, well done steak the way he liked it. The brothers of a similar mind on their steaks, though Luc was a thin guy, weedy. Said, ‘We cut him into pieces. Send him back to his mommy by PostNet.’
Titus said, ‘These boys are too young. You can’t use boys like this.’
‘Wasn’t us that started it,’ said Luc. ‘But we got to finish it. You know that, Daddy. You know that’s what we got to do. It’s what you would of done in the old days before. Nothing’s changed. Then and now it’s all the same.’
‘I can’t eat this,’ said Titus, pushing away his plate.
He’d brought them in here because a family like his had to be seen. Had to act normal in times of trouble. For the sake of Boetie. Show everyone that the Anders family couldn’t be messed with. Titus Untouchable.
Which meant blood in, blood out. Just why’d it have to be Boetie? Why’d she go for him? Not going to be so nice for her now they had her boy.
Titus looked at his daughter. ‘What you think, Lavinia?’
Lavinia, a stunner. Big brown eyes. Delicate nose. Pouty lips that didn’t often smile. His princess. She talked fancy. She gave the Anders name class. Titus thought that except for her dead mother, she was the only other woman he loved. Anything happened to her … He couldn’t hold the thought, couldn’t do that sort of what-if scenario.
Lavinia shrugged, nibbled at her onion rings. ‘You want to do that, you do that, I don’t care.’
‘She killed your brother.’
‘We’ve gotta hurt her,’ said Quint.
‘To even the score?’ Lavinia stared at him. ‘You think that’ll settle it?’
‘No,’ said Titus. ‘But where’s our option?’
Lavinia flicked hair out of her face, it fell back in fine strands. ‘There is always another option.’
‘Like what?’ said Luc.
‘You got a plan?’ said Titus.
‘She’s got shit for brains.’ Luc sneering at his sister.
Lavinia raised her fork, brought it close to Luc’s face. No anger in her gesture, just the menace of the fork millimetres from his face.
‘What you want to do, sis?’
‘Stab out your other eye,’ she said. Luc with a pirate patch over his eye. As kids she’d blinded him in the right. Used a stick she’d found on the beach to limit his vision. So much for fun times at the seaside.
Titus waited until Lavinia lowered her fork. ‘What’s your plan?’
‘I haven’t got a plan.’
‘So what d’you think? Man, girl, don’t get clever with words.’
Lavinia went back to her onion rings. Long, fine fingers picking at the food. Bright gold bands on her fingers.
‘Tamora’s your problem, Daddy,’ she said.
‘Ja, I know,’ said Titus. ‘That’s what Luc’s telling me.’
‘She’s a big problem, Daddy,’ said Lavinia.
‘That’s why we gotta chop her boy into pieces.’ Luc sat back. ‘Teach her a lesson. Like tooth for tooth.’
‘Eye for eye, first,’ said Lavinia, looking at him, unsmiling. Luc frowned at her.
‘We got to do it for Boetie,’ said Quint. ‘Tonight. Quickly like they did it to him.’
Titus let this rest there, thinking he didn’t want it. He didn’t want more blood. But what other way out? They didn’t do this, Tamora would piss in his face.
‘Alright,’ said Titus. ‘You and Luc.’
‘We can chop him up?’
‘You want to do that?’
‘Shit, Luc,’ said Lavinia. ‘Just shoot him. What’s your problem?’
‘Just shoot him, okay? One of those slow bullets. No mess, okay? Take him into the sand dunes, okay.’
Quint glanced at her and away, his jaw working at the meat.
‘Pretty little sis giving orders,’ said Luc. Held up his hand, the one with the deformed finger, made it into a gun as Titus had done: ‘Just shoot him, okay. One of those slow bullets, okay. Take him into the sand dunes, okay.’
‘Luc,’ said Titus. ‘Stop now. Enough.’
Wasn’t Luc though, it was Lavinia, always on her brother’s case. Like the two were born to irritate one another. Sometimes Lavinia coming out with stuff like she was a hardarse woman. Use one of those slow bullets! Jesus!
They ate in silence. Titus opposite Lavinia, facing the view. The sun setting, the ocean turned liquid gold. Grief in his heart. Grief for a drowned son. Anger too that he’d been disrespected. That a woman he’d given a break was biting his bum. He pulled his plate back, ate without taste. There would be heartache. There would be tears. He was Titus.
Titus set down his steak knife, his meal half-eaten. He signalled for the restaurant owner. The man hurrying to him, grinning.
‘Calvados,’ said Titus. Pointing a finger round his family.
‘Only the best,’ said the restaurateur. He picked up Titus’s plate. ‘Something wrong, Mr Anders? The meal was good?’
‘Fine,’ said Titus. ‘The Calvados, alright? And the bill.’
‘On the house, Mr Anders,’ said the restaurateur. ‘Always a pleasure for your family.’
‘I’ll pay.’ Titus waved his palm over the table. ‘Tax deductable.’
The owner smiled. ‘Sure, no problem’ – calling to have the table cleared.
‘I’m not finished, Daddy,’ said Quint.
‘Get a doggy bag.’ Lavinia shoved her plate at him. ‘You can have mine too.’
Quint forked her meat onto his plate. ‘I’ll nuke it at home.’
‘You better,’ said Luc. ‘A vet gets that, he can make it moo.’
Shots of Calvados were set down, the waiter said, ‘Mr Titus, that man’ – indicating across the restaurant – ‘says he’s paying for your drinks. He sends condolences.’
‘Thank him,’ said Titus, raised his glass in the man’s direction. The man palmed his hands in supplication, bowed over them.
‘Who’s that?’ said Quint.
Titus tasted the brandy. Got the kick of it at the back of his throat. ‘Someone we helped with a loan.’
Luc snorted. ‘He pays for the drinks with our money.’
‘No, man.’ Titus stared at his son. ‘Don’t always think the worst, man, Luc. He paid up. He acknowledges us. Our grief.’
Titus shook his head. ‘Don’t start, okay, don’t start.’
Luc kept his gaze lowered, toyed with his drink. He looked up there was Lavinia smirking at him. He wagged a finger at her.
‘Come,’ said Titus to the waiter, ‘clear the plates. And a doggy bag for Quint.’
Lavinia’s BlackBerry buzzed.
‘Lover boy’s after you,’ said Luc. The sneer on his face now, his tongue snaked at his top lip. ‘Doesn’t matter that our little Boetie’s been killed. Wants to know if it’s his lucky night.’ Luc taking up the song with Neil, singing: ‘Hands, touching hands. Good times …’
‘Shut up.’ Lavinia focused on the phone screen. ‘Just shut up, alright?’
‘Is that Rings?’ said Titus. ‘Tell him howzit.’ Titus holding out his drink. ‘Come, come, chink chink for your brother.’ They touched glasses. ‘Boetie.’
Drank the rest of the apple brandy in a single toss.
‘We got to do this now,’ said Quint.
‘Ja.’ Titus stood, smoothed the sleeves of his leather jacket. Looked round for the owner, saw him standing at the grills, a cellphone to his ear. The owner saluted, saying ‘Ciao, ciao.’ Titus giving him a thumbs up.
The family angled through the restaurant, people saying sorry for your loss as they passed. Reaching out to touch them. Men shaking their hands. Women wanting to stroke Lavinia’s arms. Lavinia holding herself rigid.
Titus unsmiling, thinking bad news got around fast. Was the right thing to be here. Give everyone the message, don’t mess with the Anders.
A waiter holding open the door, offering a bowl of mints. Luc pushed past, turned to Lavinia. ‘Bring you back some pictures, hey, sis.’
Outside the evening warm, windless.
What reviewers have said:
Lynn Harvey in Euro Crime: “…a powerful, fast-paced, well-observed thriller set amongst the gangsters, businessmen and politicos of Cape Town. With its own blend of subtleties and vividly drawn characters POWER PLAY is an absolute recommend.”
Jake Kerridge in the Express: “There is a lot of excellent crime fiction coming out of South Africa at the moment and, although none of it is likely to be mistaken for a Miss Marple mystery, the other writers out there don’t quite seem to match Mike Nicol for grittiness. Uncompromising and unputdownable, this is a must-read.”
Andrew Donaldson in The Sunday Times (SA): “Local crime seldom gets more hard-boiled …great dialogue and a cracking pace.”
Maxim Jakubowski in Lovereading: “…A savage slice of South African thriller of the darkest hue and confirms Nicol as the sole heir to that particular, invidious kingdom.”
Kirsty Lang (BBC): “Reading a gripping thriller Power Play by South African crime writer Mike Nicol.”
Mike Ripley in Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine: “… an absolute belter; a must-read for anyone who likes their fast-pace thrillers red in tooth-and-claw.
Samantha Gibb in CultNoise: “… packed with tension and intricacy.”
Cas van Rensburg reviewing Woes (the Afrikaans edition of Power Play) on Netwerk24: “It’s surprising how many good crime writers have suddenly appeared [in SA]…and often their books are better than those on the New York Times bestseller list.”
Jennifer Crocker in The Cape Times: “Power Play is pure magic for lovers of crime novels, seasoned with wise analysis of political power. A great read.”