Authors: Peter Temple
Tags: #FIC019000, #FIC000000, #FIC050000
‘That’s because I’m white,’ said Niemand. He had known Zeke for a long time.
‘You’re not all that white,’ said Mkane. ‘Bit of ancestral tan.’
‘That’s the Greek part of me. The Afrikaner part’s pure white. You kaffirs get cheekier every day.’
‘Ja, baas. But we’re in charge now.’
‘We? Forget it. Money’s in charge. Took me a long time to understand that. Money’s always in charge.’
Niemand’s mobile rang. It was Christa, who ran the office. ‘After Mrs Shawn,’ she said, ‘Jan Smuts, flight 701, arriving 8.45 p.m., a Mr Delamotte and his personal assistant, whatever that fucken means.’
‘His travelling screw, that’s what it means,’ Niemand said.
‘Ja, well, at the British Airways desk. To the Plaza, Sandton. He had a bad experience in a taxi last time he was here.’
Niemand repeated the details.
‘Right,’ said Christa. ‘Then it’s two restaurant pick-ups, both late. They’ve got your number. Zeke’s due to knock off at 11. Can he stay on? Coupla hours.’
They were out of the inner city, in dense traffic heading for the northern suburbs. ‘In a hurry tonight?’ Niemand said to Zeke. ‘Couple of hours, probably.’
‘Some people have plans, you know.’
‘What about you?’
Zeke raised a thumb. He saw a gap and put his foot down. The Mercedes responded like a Porsche.
Mrs Shawn was waiting with a shopping centre security guard. She was about forty, pretty, too much sun on her skin, slightly tipsy, a flush on the prominent cheekbones. She’d had a long lunch, gone shopping. Probably had a swim before lunch, Niemand thought, a swim and a lie in the sun. The guard put her purchases into the boot, four bags, and she gave him several notes.
like a new car,’ she said as they queued to get into the early evening traffic on Corlett Drive. She was English, Yorkshire.
Niemand knew the accent from the old days, the Rhodesia days. Lots of people from Yorkshire in Rhodesia.
‘It is a new car,’ said Niemand. ‘In an old body.’
‘God,’ she said, ‘that’s how I feel.’
Niemand smiled, didn’t say anything. He could feel that she wanted to flirt. They often did, these rich women, but it was bad for business. He’d screwed a few in the beginning but no good came of it. One took to phoning six times a day, then for some reason confessed to her husband when Niemand wouldn’t take the calls. They’d lost the company’s business, at least twenty thousand rand a year, and he’d narrowly escaped being fired. That was too much to pay for a fuck you couldn’t even remember.
‘People down the street got hit two weeks ago,’ she said. ‘The car got in behind them before the security gate could close. Three men.
Fortunately, they settled for money. He had a few thousand in his safe.’
‘Lucky,’ said Niemand. ‘Mostly it’s your money and your life.’ He switched on the thin fibre-optic rear-view screen in the roof of the car, looked up. It was providing a 120-degree view of the road behind but it could cover 160 degrees.
‘Wow,’ said Mrs Shawn. ‘That’s technology. My husband’d crave that.’
‘When we get there,’ said Niemand, ‘we want to be inside quickly. How does it open?’
‘Remote,’ she said. ‘You punch in the code.’
‘How far away?’
‘You have to be at the gates.’
‘Put in the code now.’
Mrs Shawn searched in her bag, found a device. ‘I can’t see,’ she said. She was too vain to put on her reading glasses, held the control close to her face and tentatively pressed soft buttons.
I’ve done it,’ she said.
Zeke turned his head to Niemand, who kept his eyes on the rear view screen.
The house was in a leafy street in Saxonwold, a rich part of the city. It was one of four large mock-Georgian houses built on land carved from the grounds of a mansion. The perimeter walls were three metres high, topped with razor wire. As Zeke drew up in front of the steel gates, Niemand opened his door.
‘Open them,’ said Niemand. ‘Close as soon as you’re in, Mrs Shawn.’
‘It’s very fast,’ she said.
Niemand was out, on the edge of the kerb, looking around. Early summer Highveld dusk, fresh-smelling, hint of jacaranda blossom in a broad street, no traffic, a calm street, a stockbrokers’ street, a place to come home to, have a swim, pour a big scotch, shed the cares of the day. There was a sharp sound, the gates unmated, and Zeke drove into the driveway, a walled corridor leading to the doors of a three-car garage.
Niemand, walking backwards, got inside just before the gates met.
On the driver’s side, a 14-inch security monitor was mounted against the wall under a small roof. Mrs Shawn handed Zeke another remote control. With Niemand leaning against the car, they went on a video tour of the house, room by room, two-camera vision. It was furnished in a stark style, steel louvre internal shutters instead of curtains, not many places to hide. Beside the monitor a green light glowed. It meant that no window and no door, internal or external, had been opened or closed since the alarm was activated.
‘Looks okay,’ said Niemand. ‘Let’s see the garage.’
There was one vehicle in it, a black Jeep four-wheel-drive. A camera at floor level showed no one hiding underneath it.
Mrs Shawn used the remote.
The left hand door rose. Pistol out, held at waist level in front of his body, Niemand went in, looked into the Jeep, waved to Zeke. He parked behind the Jeep, and the garage door descended. Zeke took the short-barrel, pistol-handled automatic shotgun out of its clips under the driver’s seat.
Mrs Shawn unlocked the steel door into the house with a card and a key.
Niemand went first, Zeke behind him.
They were in a hallway painted in tones of grey, mulberry carpet, a single painting under a downlight, a print, Cezanne. Niemand liked paintings, even paintings he didn’t understand. He bought art books sometimes, threw them out after a while.
Mrs Shawn disarmed the alarm system.
‘Wait here,’ said Niemand.
She shook her head vigorously. ‘No, I don’t want to be on my own.’
Niemand in front, they went into a passage, then into every room. He opened every cupboard, every wardrobe, Zeke covering him. The beds were all box, no way to hide under them.
In the sitting room, for the second time, Niemand said, ‘You can relax, Mrs Shawn.’
He holstered the pistol, didn’t feel relaxed.
She went into the kitchen and came back holding a bottle of champagne, Veuve Clicquot, and a flute, a crystal flute. ‘I’m having a glass of bubbly,’ she said. ‘This all makes me so tense. There’s everything else. Beer, scotch, whatever.’
The men shook their heads. ‘You’re expecting Mr Shawn when?’ said Niemand.
She brought her watch up to her face. ‘Any time now, any time. Can you get the top of this off for me?’ She held out the bottle to Niemand. He took it and offered it to Zeke, who put the shotgun on a chair.
‘He does champagne,’ Niemand said. ‘I do beer bottles. With my teeth.’
Mrs Shawn smiled, a wary smile, uncertain of Niemand’s drift, whether she’d been wrong in automatically asking the white man. Zeke stripped off the foil, removed the cage, wriggled the cork out slowly, no bang, just a whimper of gas, poured.
‘Thank you,’ said Mrs Shawn. ‘You are an expert.’
Zeke smiled and took the bottle into the kitchen.
Mrs Shawn drank half the glass. ‘Jesus, that’s better,’ she said.
They sat on the leather chairs. Zeke came out of the kitchen. ‘Calls to make,’ he said. He left the room, closed the door. Mrs Shawn knocked back the rest of her glass, went into the kitchen. Niemand heard a cupboard open, close. Silence. She came back with a full glass and the bottle.
‘Well,’ said Mrs Shawn, sitting, smiling the smile, crossing her legs. Niemand knew the coke smile. He looked at her legs. They were brown legs, filling out in the thighs, the feet in soft-looking shoes. ‘Home at last,’ she said. ‘You’re very professional…what do I call you?’
‘Mike,’ said Niemand. He held her eyes, smiled, looked at his watch. He had a bad feeling about this house, the kind of feeling that had sometimes come over him on patrol, brought on by nothing in particular. ‘The houses next door, you know the people?’
She drank. ‘Well, we’re the longest survivors in the row here. What, two months, just under. Can you believe that?’ She closed her eyes, stubby eyelashes. ‘I was so naive when we came. I mean, I thought it’d be like Malaysia. I lived there with my first husband, we had this lovely house in KL—the poor don’t bother you there. Jesus, what a shock I got. I hate this fucking country, I’d be back in the UK tomorrow…’
Niemand was already tired of listening to her. He was forced to listen to people like her every day. To some people, he called his business Parasite Protection.
‘…Bloody Brett told me it was going to be for two or three weeks. Then people are buggering him around, the deal falls through, next thing…’ ‘Don’t know the neighbours?’ Niemand said.
She blinked, had trouble adjusting. ‘Well, I see the people on that side every now and then.’ She gestured with a thumb to the left. ‘To wave to. They’re Americans. With live-in security. An Israeli. He used to be one of the Prime Minister’s bodyguards. Christ knows what that costs.’
‘The other side?’
‘Empty. They left a few weeks ago. Only here for a few months. Lucky them.’ A phone rang, in two places. She drained her glass, went to the kitchen.
There was something wrong here.
Niemand went into the passage, looked up and down, went into the dining room, a formal dining room with a big blond table and ten chairs. Zeke was on his mobile, half-sitting on the table. He looked at Niemand, raised an eyebrow. Niemand shrugged, went back to the sitting room.
Mrs Shawn was coming out of the kitchen, glass refilled.
‘My husband,’ she said. ‘He’ll be here in a minute. He’s going to London tomorrow. Won’t take me. Sometimes I think he’d like to see me murdered.’
Niemand felt some of his feeling go away, went out to escort the husband in. The driveway and street outside were floodlit, bright as day, and as the man drove the Audi past him, he saw a chubby face.
In the garage, the man got out, briefcase in his left hand, looked at his watch. He was short and paunchy and even an expensive suit didn’t improve that.
‘Just you?’ he said.
Niemand shook his head. ‘My partner’s inside.’
The man looked at him. He’d been drinking, face flushed. ‘What colour’s he?’
‘No blacks in the house. Don’t trust any black.’ He pointed at the floor. ‘Next time, he waits here.’
This man should be allowed to die violently, thought Niemand. He didn’t say anything, walked to the door into the house and waited.
The man came over and opened the door. Niemand went in first, went through the hall, into the sitting room. The woman was standing in the kitchen doorway, champagne flute in hand. Zeke was sitting in a leather chair, the shotgun on his thighs.
Brett Shawn dropped the briefcase on a chair, was taking off his jacket, didn’t look at his wife, eyes on Zeke, threw the expensive garment sideways, careless of where it fell, walked to the middle of the room, made a stand-up sign to Zeke, palm upwards, short fingers held together, flicking urgently.
‘Up,’ he said. ‘On your bike. Don’t pay a bloody fortune to have people sit on my bloody furniture.’
Zeke’s expression didn’t change. He stood, weapon at the end of a slack arm, looked at Niemand. Niemand nodded at Mrs Shawn.
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Thank you both.’
Brett Shawn went into the passage first, Zeke behind him. Shawn was at the door to the hall, had his hand on the doorhandle, when the hair on the back of Niemand’s skull pricked. He looked up, saw something on the ceiling behind him, something at the edge of his vision, a dark line not there before, shouted Zeke’s name, spinning around, finding the pistol at his waist, throwing himself away from the line of sight, hitting the floor, rolling into position.
The man in the ceiling pushed open the inspection hatch, fired a pumpgun, hit Shawn in the side of his belly as he turned around, in the pinstriped shirt distended over the sagging gut, almost cut him in half, fired again. Zeke raised his shotgun and fired at the ceiling without turning, just his head tilted backwards, deafening noise in the corridor. Then Zeke’s head blew apart, a balloon of blood and bone and pink and grey material exploding.
Niemand had the .38 out, was about to fire into the roof behind the inspection hatch, didn’t.
A noise overhead, a bumping sound.
A shortened shotgun dropped into the passage. Then a bare arm and a shoulder in a T-shirt fell through the hatch. A dark hand dangled.
Niemand registered the voice of Mrs Shawn screaming. He paid no attention, reached forward, got Zeke’s shotgun, ran his hand over his friend’s head, smeared his own throat and chest with Zeke’s blood, lay back and looked at the hatch.