During a weekend spree in Cape Town a young, rich Afrikaner fatally injures a teenage street girl with his Range Rover but is too drunk to know that he has hit her. His companions-who do know-leave the girl to die.
The driver's mother, a self-made mining magnate named Margot Le Roux, intends to keep her son in ignorance of his crime. Why should his life be ruined for a nameless girl who was already terminally ill? No one will care and the law is cheap. But by chance the case falls to the relentless Warrant Officer Turner of Cape Town Homicide.
When Turner travels to the remote mining town that Margot owns-including the local police and private security force-he finds her determined to protect her son at any cost. As the battle of wills escalates, and the moral contradictions multiply, Turner won't be bought and won't be bullied, and when they try to bury him he rediscovers, during a desperate odyssey to the very brink of death, a long-forgotten truth about himself ...
By the time Willocks' tale is finished, fourteen men have died, and he shows once again that he is the laureate of the violent thriller.
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)|
About the Author
Tim Willocks is a novelist and screenwriter. Translated into twenty languages, his novels include The Religion, Bad City Blues, Green River Rising, and The Twelve Children of Paris. He has worked with major Hollywood directors, dined at the White House, and holds a black belt in Shotokan karate.
Read an Excerpt
The girl had no more reason to turn down this street than any other. In the humid labyrinth of Nyanga township all streets looked alike. They weren't even streets, just strips of baked dirt between rows of shanties and rusted shipping containers turned into homes.
If she had been here before she didn't remember. She didn't even try. She had no use for memory. The less she allowed to go in there, the emptier it got, and the more the monsters that lurked within the emptiness seemed inclined to sleep.
She didn't know what time it was. She had no use for time. The dogs had long since howled and gone to sleep. It was enough to know that the world was quiet and dark and that people would be few.
She had no use for people, for their company, their feelings, their help, their concern, their lies. She only had use for the things they had thrown away and which kept her alive. Even here there was surplus enough to survive on, as a rat survives. She could have bargained for more but she had learned that what little that more might be wasn't worth the cost in humiliation. And sometimes danger.
The rats were doing fine and so was she.
She walked the maze without destination. Without ambition, intention or anything so grand as desire. Even need, she had found, could be negotiated downwards. At some point fatigue would overcome her and she'd crawl into some hole to join the dogs in their dreams. When she awoke, she'd start walking again.
She had no use for self-pity. Animals felt no self-pity, they only felt pain. Children felt no self-pity. They only felt pain and sorrow and bewilderment. Self-pity was something you learned in a place of safety and the girl had never had the chance.
She saw the cars up ahead and stopped. There were two of them, one white, the other blood red, parked side by side, noses out, in a vacant dirt lot by a shebeen.
They were beautiful.
Stranded among the hovels and rusted containers, they shone as if with their own inner light. The single distant street lamp, the pale half-moon, the waste glow from the bar, could not account for their radiance. They shone with dominance, ingenuity, wealth; with a fanatic and extravagant commitment to a way of being as remote from her own as the constellations wheeling above her head. She was moved simply by their perfection.
She smiled as a child might smile at some new-found wonder.
She looked about and saw no observers. She ran towards the cars.
Up close they seemed to squat there, huge-shouldered and silent. Something in their dormant power made her scalp shiver. Silver letters gleamed on their hoods. Toyota. Range Rover. She circled the white one and peered in the windows. The glass was too dark to see anything inside. She reached for a door handle, hesitated, drew her hand back. The cars would give her nothing that she needed. They had given her a moment of wonder and that was enough. She turned and ducked between the two great machines as a draught of sound gusted from the shebeen.
Voices. Music. A gust of coarse laughter. The sound faded down again.
She looked towards the shebeen. A long narrow shack half-reclaimed by weeds, built from planks of diverse origin and roofed in corrugated iron.
A tall black African stood outside the door. He wore a black suit and a white shirt that somehow conveyed an alien beauty similar to that of the cars. She knew at once that he was a dangerous man. A man who had killed and was ready to do so again. He wore this power of killing as he wore his suit, with the understated confidence that came from having earned it. She knew also that he'd never stoop to hurting her. At worst he would chase her away but she wanted to look at him. He was beautiful, too. He glanced at the two big cars.
She ducked. The cars were his, or in his charge. She crept around the back of the blood red car, the Range Rover, and edged out one eye to watch him again. He hadn't seen her.
He lifted his right hand towards his face holding a burger half-wrapped in a paper napkin. The girl felt her stomach clench with hunger. He studied the burger without enthusiasm, then took a bite. He chewed and his face contorted with disgust. He bent forward and spit the mouthful out at his feet.
He spat again, looked at the burger in his hand. He could have thrown it into the street, where it would have gone unnoticed amongst the drifts of trash, but he was not that kind of man. He looked beyond the Range Rover. The girl turned to look too.
A few steps behind the cars, shoved against the cinderblock wall of the building at the rear of the lot, stood three black metal garbage dumpsters. For the first time she noticed their stench. The man walked towards the cars and passed between them. The girl retreated on her haunches. The man used the paper napkin to raise the lid of the dumpster and tossed the burger inside. As he walked back to stand outside the bar, he pulled a bottle of water from the pocket of his pants and opened it. He rinsed his mouth and spat and drank again.
The girl had a handbag slung around her neck, cheap striped cloth. She reached in and found a plastic cigarette lighter. She checked the flame. She shuffled back around the blood red car and looked back at the dumpster. She risked a glance at the man. Could she get into the dumpster without him seeing her? She thought about it.
A gunshot slammed.
Dust and splinters exploded from the wall of the shebeen.
Before the splinters reached the ground, the tall man had dropped the bottle and drawn a gun from under his jacket. He opened the bar door and vanished inside.
The girl dashed to the dumpster and threw back the lid. It hit the wall and dropped back. She threw it up again and slid around the side and steadied it in place. She turned her face away from an eruption of acrid vapour. The lid held. The top of the dumpster was level with her shoulders. She peered over the rim into absolute darkness. She stretched her arm over the edge and clicked the lighter. The light of the flame fell across an uneven mass of every kind of waste, much of it organic and seething with tiny life. The dumpster looked three-quarters full. She scanned the filth and waved the small flame but she couldn't see the burger within range of the light.
She staggered away and doubled over and retched. She leaned her hands on her knees until she'd recovered. She wiped tears from her eyes, took three deep breaths and held the last, and straightened. She stepped back to the dumpster and shoved her head over the front rim. She stood on her toes and reached over with the lighter and clicked the wheel until she got a flame.
Voices rose some distance behind her as the bar door opened, one voice dominant.
"Simon, take Mark and Chris straight to the hotel. I'll bring these two clowns."
Locks clunked open. Lights flashed. She glanced over her shoulder. The tall African herded two young white men towards the white Toyota. They were both unsteady on their feet. If they'd seen her rooting in the dumpster, they didn't care. She turned back to her search.
"Dirk? Give me the bloody keys." The dominant voice again. A foreign accent.
"It's my bloody car." This voice slurred, younger.
"It's your mother's. Give me the keys, now."
Car doors slammed. An engine started up.
"What do you buggers want?" The foreigner. Then two new voices shouting together, the words indistinct. The foreign voice rode over them. "Shut up and calm down. Here, take this. Take it. Buy a new poster. Buy a new bar. Now fuck off before you get hurt."
More clunks. Lights flared right behind her.
"I said: fuck – off. Dirk!"
"You didn't have to bitch-slap him."
"Get behind that wheel and I'll slap you."
"You wouldn't dare."
She sensed the car to her left, the white one, drive away.
She saw the burger.
Her lighter went out. She relit it. She was in luck. The burger had landed on a plastic bag but it was out of reach. She crouched, grabbed the edge of the dumpster with both hands, and jumped, boosting herself up so that she lay doubled over the rim. The metal dug into her belly just beneath her ribs but it wasn't something she hadn't done before. The burger was invisible again, She clicked the lighter. Again. Again. A car door slammed; then another. The lighter caught. An engine started. She saw the burger.
She reached out and grabbed it. Heard more shouts of contention. As she levered her body backward a flood of white light threw her shadow at the raised lid. The engine revs rose to a whine. The girl jumped down and twisted to land sideways. She blinked as white lights hurtled towards her.
Her bones collapsed.
Her guts popped inside her.
Her face bounced on glass.
Her awareness was swamped. She was blind. Dazzled by bright colours. She was pinned above the earth. She was falling. Couldn't breathe to scream. She saw the night sky.
For a moment she felt nothing, heard nothing. She stared up at the stars. Her body warned her. It was gathering itself, preparing itself, to devote everything it was and everything it had to the experience of intolerable pain. The pain was as yet a ghost, shimmering just beyond the veil of reality, waiting for the energy to become material. She sensed that ghost. It was coming. And it was her own flesh. Terror saturated her mind. Terror so intense that for a moment it kept the ghost at bay. Red lights glared into her face.
"Turn the engine off! DIRK! Turn the fucking engine OFF!" The engine cut out.
The girl turned her head towards the voices. She looked down the shining red length of the car. A big white man opened the driver's door and jutted his bearded chin towards the interior.
"It's my car."
"You're weak. You're stupid. And you're pissed. Now move over and put your seatbelt on."
The big man cocked his fist.
"Alright, alright! I'm sorry."
The girl wanted to speak but was afraid it would invite the ghost. She turned her head. Another man's face stared down at her from the open rear window. Young, white, a huge muscular neck. He appeared to be horrified. She opened her mouth and a low moan came out and her insides started to scream and she choked the moan off. The young man called to the elder.
"Hennie, I can't find my phone. Give me yours."
"What do you need a phone for, dickhead?"
The big man turned and looked straight down at her. He frowned but without horror; as if he'd spotted nothing worse than a flat tyre. "Bollocks," he said.
The girl tried to speak to him with her eyes. The big man got the message. He scratched his beard with a thumb. Grimaced. He didn't otherwise move.
"Hennie, the phone, Jesus!"
"Keep your fucking mouth shut."
The young man in the back opened the door and the big man, Hennie, took a step and slammed the door in his face. He looked down at the girl. Tiny points of light in dark sockets were all she could see of his eyes.
The drunken voice from the front seat: "What's wrong now?"
Hennie looked at her a moment longer. She raised her arm toward him. She heard and felt the grinding of bones, the bursting of membranes somewhere deep inside her.
"Nothing's wrong," said Hennie. He turned away from her. "Time to hit the road to dreamland."
The girl watched him get in the car and close the door. The engine started. The young face appeared at the open rear window and peered down at her. He was crying.
The girl watched the blood red car drive away between the shanties.
Brake lights flared. The lights disappeared.
And the ghost took possession of her body.CHAPTER 2
Hennie had been driving for seven hours. They were six hundred clicks from Cape Town and thirty minutes from home. He'd been glad to seen the dawn and its eerie splendour had not been lost on him but in broad daylight the Northern Cape was something to be crossed not appreciated. The province was larger than Germany. Flat scrub desert stretched to the horizon in every direction. The sky was a hard, bright blue. It was always blue. There were days when Hennie would have danced with joy to see a single cloud.
He'd never been much of a sightseer, or a tourist, though he'd seen his share of the world and more. Maybe it's because he was a Londoner. In his view grand landscapes were best enjoyed on a cinema screen – deserts, jungles, canyons, waves pounding the rocks, forests in the snow, so forth. But then you were only looking at them for a few seconds at a time, and you knew that shortly someone would appear on a horse or driving a fast car, and that they'd shoot someone or meet a long-legged woman or find a suitcase full of cash. He'd hiked through all such terrains in his time, carrying a sixty-pound pack and a rifle. They were impressive for about five minutes, then they were just something to be crossed. He'd shot a good number of people, too, but he'd never met the woman or found the suitcase, or at least not in a landscape. The woman he had met at her husband's funeral. The cash was a sequence of digits in Switzerland.
His mind had roamed from one random thought to another since they'd left Cape Town and some had seemed profound and even important, yet now he couldn't remember a single one. He wondered how many thoughts he had had in his life. Probably millions, if you included things like deciding to cut his toenails or how many sugars to put in his tea. Most of them, too – in retrospect, almost all of them – had been a complete waste of time. Gone forever; and no more significant than the thoughts of a dog. The toenail stuff was the probably best of it. At least that had been useful. He'd seen men killed by neglected toenails.
He rubbed his face with one hand to improve the blood supply to his brain.
Time was catching up with him. He felt that he was in the best shape of this life but objectively that wasn't possible. Fifty-five-year-olds didn't win gold medals. But he believed he could take his twenty-three-year-old self on the grounds of stubbornness, meanness and experience. He'd been harder on the outside but softer on the inside. The softness of youth was built into the machine. No matter how brutal your own life had been, you could always put that down to sheer bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong parents. You still had hope. It took another couple of decades to realise that there was no better world somewhere. A better life, maybe, but not a better world. Man was a vicious bastard, pure and simple, and mad into the bargain.
He turned from the tarmac unspooling across the veld and looked at Dirk.
Dirk lay slumped against the passenger door. Drool seeped from the corner of his mouth to soak his Versace T-shirt. A handsome lad. Hennie felt a pang of love stab him in the chest.
Dirk would be twenty-four next month. Since the age of nine he had been Hennie's stepson. If he'd been Hennie's real son, Hennie would have made his life a misery and most likely have driven him away. As his stepfather Hennie didn't feel a genetic responsibility for who Dirk was. Didn't feel obliged to mould him or feel embarrassed by him. All that was Margot's business. Hennie's was to keep Margot happy. Keeping Margot happy was the purpose of his life. No easy chore but he felt glad to have found any purpose at all. When necessary, it meant protecting Dirk. He had protected Dirk from the law. Question was, did he need to protect him from Margot?
"What a fucking cock-up."
He realised he'd muttered out loud. A grunt came from the back seat. He glanced up into the mirror. He saw Simon's white Toyota 4Runner, some hundred metres behind them. Simon was their head of security. He was Zulu, as solid as Table Mountain, and as close to a true friend as Hennie had. Hennie adjusted his angle on the mirror and saw Jason blinking and clutching his throat in the rear.
"Jesus." Jason's voice sounded like a cheese-grater on a rusty pipe.
Jason Britz was of no more than average height but his shoulders half-filled the rear of the car. His primary occupation was lifting weights and injecting steroids. In theory, he was a farmer. For two centuries his forefathers had sweated, coaxed, and bullied a living from this Godforsaken terrain, a land shunned by all flora and fauna edible to Europeans and even to the vast majority of Africans. No soil, no grass, no trees, no fruit, no mammals. In the four years since Jason had inherited his family's farm, the desert had reclaimed itself almost entirely. In practice he made a living supplying weed and meth to local dealers whose main clientele worked in Margot's mine. He wasn't in prison, or buried under the sand, because his uncle, Rudy Britz, was a police sergeant.
Hennie pulled a bottle of water from the holder and drank and put it back.
"Can I have some of that?" asked Jason.
"Get your own."
"The other bottles are in the boot."
Hennie managed not to respond.
Jason said, "You think it's all my fault."
"I was enjoying the silence. Why don't you try it?"
Jason didn't speak again for all of thirty seconds.
"I wonder if she's still alive. I mean, well, you know who I mean."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Memo From Turner"
Copyright © 2019 Tim Willocks.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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