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“This is one of those books that simply won't give you any peace. Grade: A”–Rocky Mountain News
NIEMAND CAME in at 2pm, stripped, put on shorts, went to the empty room, did the weights routine, ran on the treadmill for an hour. He hated the treadmill, had to steel his mind to endure it, blank out. Running was something you did outdoors. But outdoors had become trouble, like being attacked by three men, one with a nail-studded piece of wood. The trouble had cut both ways: several of his attackers he had kissed off quickly.
Still, you could not pass into the trance-like state when you had to break off from running to fight and kill people. So, resentfully, he had given up running outside.
Niemand didn’t get any pleasure from killing. Some people did. In the Zambesi Valley in the early days, and then in Mozambique and Angola and Sierra Leone and other places, he had seen men in killing frenzies, shooting anyone–young, old, female, male, shooting chickens and dogs and cows and pigs and goats.
In command, he had dealt with soldiers for this kind of behaviour. The first was Barends, the white corporal the men had called Pielstyf because he liked to display his erection when drunk. Niemand had executed him with two shots, upwards into the base of his skull, come up behind him when he was firing his LMG into a crowded bus. The military court found the action justified in that Barends had twice failed to obey a lawful command and posed a threat to discipline in a combat situation.
The second man was a black soldier, a Zulu trained by white instructors, a veteran killer of African National Congress supporters in Natal, in love with blood and the hammer of automatic fire. In Sierra Leone, on patrol in the late afternoon, the Zulu had shot a child, a girl, and then shot the old woman with her, the child’s grandmother perhaps, but it could have been her mother, the women aged so quickly. Niemand had him tied to a tree, a poor specimen of a tree, had the villagers gathered. He told the interpreter to apologise for what had happened, then he dispatched the Zulu with a handgun, one shot, close range, there was no other sensible way. The man looked him in the eyes, didn’t blink, didn’t plead, even when the muzzle was almost touching his left eye. There was no military court to face this time. Niemand had become a mercenary by then, saving the sum of things for pay, and his employers didn’t give a shit about a man killed unless you wanted him replaced: one less pay packet.
The third time was at a roadblock. A fellow-mercenary called Powell, a redheaded Englishman, a Yorkshireman, a deserter from two armies, had for no good reason opened fire on three men in a car, two white journalists and their black driver. He killed the driver outright and wounded one of the white men. When Niemand arrived, Powell told him he was going to execute the survivors, blame it on rebels. Niemand argued with him while the unhurt journalist tried to stop his friend’s bleeding. Powell wouldn’t listen, high as a kite, pupils like saucers, put his pistol to the man’s head. Niemand stood back, took one swing with his rifle, held by the barrel, broke Powell’s freckled neck. He drove the journalists to the hospital.
Niemand showered under the hosepipe he had run from the rainwater tank on the roof when the water was cut off. Then he lay down on the hard bed, fell asleep thinking about all the other killings, the ones that were the means to the ends. Other people’s ends.
The alarm was set for 5:30pm but he woke before it sounded, showered again, dressed in his uniform of denims, tee-shirt, gun rig, loose cotton jacket, left the building by the stairs. The lift didn’t work but even when it did, no-one used it except as a lavatory or to shoot up. He walked with his right hand inside his coat, the .38 shrouded-hammer Colt out of its clip above his left hip. He stayed close to the inside wall. That way, you bumped head-on into dangerous men coming up. They always hugged the inside wall. And if you encountered one of them, then the quickest man won.
Niemand didn’t doubt for one instant that he would be the quickest.
The car was waiting at the kerb, engine running, an old Mercedes, dents everywhere, rust at the bottom of the doors, no hubcaps. The driver was smoking a cigarette, looking around at the street. It was crowded, a third-world street full of shouting hawkers, idlers, street boys, garishly made-up prostitutes, black illegal immigrants from all over Africa the locals called maKwerekwere, interlopers who eyed their surroundings warily. This was the fringe of the old business district of Johannesburg, Hillbrow, a suburb long abandoned by all the whites who could afford to move to more secure areas. Not secure areas, only less dangerous areas. Nowhere was secure, not even buildings with dogs and razor wire and four kinds of alarms and round-the-clock security.
It had never occurred to Niemand to move. He had no possessions he valued, had been looking after himself since he was 15, didn’t care where he lived. He couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours unless he was physically exhausted, what did it matter where he slept?
Zeke saw him coming, reached across and unlocked the door. Niemand got in.
‘Rosebank,’ he said.
‘You always look so fucken clean,’ said Zeke. He took the vehicle into the street. No-one driving the car would mistake it for an old Mercedes. Which it wasn’t, except for the body. The driver’s full name was Ezekiel Mkane. His father had been a policeman, a servant of the apartheid state, and Zeke had grown up in a police compound, a member of a client class, no respect from whites, utter loathing and contempt from blacks. A smart boy, good at languages, a reader, Zeke had nowhere to go. He joined the army, put in 16 years, took in three bullets, two exited, one extracted, and shrapnel, some bits still there.
‘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 8:45pm, 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 40, 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.
‘This smells 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 husand’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 think 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. ‘Let’s sit.’
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?’
Posted November 19, 2004
There are so many just wonderful authors out there -- yet how the h*** did we miss Peter Temple! This book rocks big time -- I am an addict for mystery/thriller writing, and frankly will put any book down that does not meet the 'read out loud' rule (good enough to read out load to my wife) and if I could give the writing more than 5 stars I would. Why? The writing is filled with life and excitement on every page, no fluf here -- and mystery that puts one on the edge of the chair all night long. Truly, start reading this one and get the word around -- this author MUST get his 5 other books published here! (He is an Australian author). Powerful writing. RogerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2010
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Posted May 20, 2010
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