Authors: Roger Smith
© 2013 by Roger Smith All rights reserved
is a work of fiction and names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without the express written permission of the author or publisher except where permitted by law.
(as Max Wilde)
thrillers are published in seven languages and two are in development as feature films. He also writes horror under the pen name Max Wilde. Visit his
A novel by
For my son, Max
Crime when it succeeds is called virtue.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
, 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 lips 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 head 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.”
“Wait,” Beverley says.
“I’m Detective Gwen Perils from Criminal Investigations.”
The latte-colored woman with the blow-dried black bob speaks in an accent as modified as her hair, almost free of the guttural bray of the Cape Flats.
penny loafers clicking on the tiles, comes to stand beside Lane in the living room doorway, as if they’re greeting the cop at a social event. Bev is composed, a finger toying with a button on her silk blouse the only sign she is nervous. Lane wears his distress more visibly: shirt untucked from his khaki chinos, hair tousled, a sheen of sweat on his brow, eyes sunken in their sockets.
Christopher slouches in an overstuffed armchair, mesmerized by the blinking lights of the plastic Christmas tree that Beverley—a sucker for tradition—insists on dragging from the storeroom each year. He
’s barefoot, dressed in a crisp white T-shirt and jeans.
Lane is repulsed at the memory of his wife, her robe sodden, standing with their naked son under the shower in the guest bathroom, cleansing him of gore before she called the police.
Christopher’s head is bandaged and Lane feels the jar in his wrist as the dumbbell, sticky with the girl’s blood, connected with his son’s skull just above the right ear. The weight, swung with all of Lane’s strength, barely rocked Chris, used to worse punishment on the rugby field. But it had drawn blood and raised a lump for the medics to tend, lending some credence to the fiction Beverley had trotted out for the security men and the uniformed cops who were the first responders, Lane standing mute in the background.
A flashbulb barrage from inside the pool
house breaks the night like sheet lightning, startling Lane who stares out at the garden, thick with cops and crime technicians, their vehicles clotting the driveway.
“Maybe we can sit down?” Detective Perils says.
“Of course.” Beverley points to the chairs where their son slumps, ignoring them.
The Lanes take the
couch that faces the giant flat screen TV and Perils sits beside Chris.
Mr. Lane,” Perils says, “maybe you want to walk me through what happened earlier tonight, with this boy, Lyndall Solomons?”
“Well,” Beverley says, “we were down here watching TV—”
“Let’s hear from Mr. Lane okay?” Perils says.
“Why?” Bev asks, used to getting her way.
The cop bares her perfect teeth in a humorless smile and says, “You’ll have your turn.” She looks at Lane. “Michael?”
Lane, relieved to be recounting the events of earlier in the evening, sinks into the safety of truth. Or the slightly sanitized version of the truth that he’ll package for this hard-eyed brown woman.
It was around ten and Lane and Beverley were sitting on this very couch, watching TV. Bev, addicted to American courtroom dramas, sat rapt, her feet tucked under her.
Bored, Lane sipped at the one Scotch he allowed himself each night. If he and Beverley went out—which they did less frequently these days, friends divorcing, falling dead on tennis courts or, increasingly, ending up as statistics in Cape Town’s crime epidemic—he’d sip on a glass of red wine. Sip on it so slowly that he may as well have been litmus paper absorbing the alcohol.
Not a day went by without something dark within him straining against these self-imposed shackles, yearning for the mindless oblivion that came with getting totally wasted. But that night of horror on the lonely road nearly two decades ago was undimmed in his memory, the smell of gasoline forever twinned with the smell of blood, still able to leave him shaking when he stopped at a gas station to fill up his car.
So one drink it was.
He reached out and stroked Bev’s bare foot, fingers moving up her leg and under her skirt, until she swatted his hand away. But she smiled, her eyes still on the screen. A promise of what would come later, as it did most nights.
erley was small and athletic, at forty-two her body still tight and fit from tennis, swimming and daily gym sessions, and if Lane no longer loved his wife his desire for her was as intense as it had ever been, and he marveled sometimes that lust, the thing that had ignited the love he’d once felt for her, remained now that the more tender emotion had been eroded to nothing by the years.
The chattering TV almost masked the sound of somebody scuffing through the back door. Lane looked at Bev, but she was lost in a closing argument, so he stood and walked through to the kitchen, his bare feet leaving prints on the white tiles that evaporated like steam on a mirror.
The motion-activated spotlight in the courtyard silhouetted Denise Solomons in the kitchen doorway.
“Denise?” he said, clicking on the recessed LED lamps which cast an almost forensic glare.
Denise turned away from him, hiding her face, and he could see her body shaking beneath her floral print dress. Denise Solomons was an ample woman, and the body-hugging print wobbled like Jell-O.
“Denise?” he said again, and received only a mucousy sniff in reply.
This situation definitely fell under the category of women’s business, so he crossed to the doorway to the living room.
His wife ignored him, the tube flickering across her fine-boned face.
“What?” she said, irritated.
“There’s a problem here. With Denise.” Lane walked back to the woman. “D., what’s wrong?”
She turned to him now, holding a hand to her face, but he could see her right eye was starting to swell and there was a smear of blood on her nose.
“It’s Lynnie,” she said.
She nodded. “In my room.”
“How the hell did he get in?” Bev said, standing in the doorway, arms folded.
Denise looked down at the floor. “I let him in.”
“Jesus, Denise,” Beverley said, “I thought we were over this nonsense?”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“Is he still out there?” Lane said.
“Ja. He say
s he won’t go until I give him money.”
A familiar refrain. The kid had developed a world-class meth habit in the last year.
it was called in the Cape Flats ghettoes where Lyndall, dropping out of school and turning his back on plush Newlands, had been spending all his time, aping the street slang and attitudes of the teenage thugs who were his new friends.
Lane said, “Telephone Sniper, Bev.”
Sniper Security. The rent-a-cops who kept this privileged white suburb almost free of crime.
“Can’t you just talk to him, Mr. Mike?”
The tag Lane couldn’t shake no matter how many times he had told Denise to call him Michael, or—if she absolutely had to be formal—Mr. Lane. But it was hardwired into her, this reflex subservience, even though she was at least his age.