By Deon Meyer
Formats and Prices
- ebook $15.99
- Hardcover $41.00
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 26, 2008. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
A young woman makes a terrible confession to a priest. An honorable man takes his own revenge for an unspeakable tragedy. An aging inspector tries to get himself sober while taking on the most difficult case of his career. From this beginning, Deon Meyer weaves a story of astonishing complexity and suspense, as Inspector Benny Griessel faces off against a dangerous vigilante who has everything on his side, including public sympathy.
A gruesome abuse case has hit the newsstands, and one man has taken it upon himself to stand up for the children of Cape Town. When the accused is found stabbed through the heart by spear, it’s only the beginning of a string of bloody murders – and of a dangerous dilemma for detective Griessel. The detective is always just one step behind as someone slays the city’s killers. But the paths of Griessel and the avenger collide when a young prostitute lures them both into a dangerous plan – and the two find themselves with a heart-stopping problem that no system of justice could ever make right.
It was the following morning before she phoned him in his hotel room. From a public phone booth with Sonia on her shoulder.
"Five hundred rand," was how she identified herself in an even voice that did not betray her anxiety.
It took only a few seconds for him to work it out and he said: "Can you be here at six o'clock?"
"Room 1036, in the Holiday Inn opposite the entrance to the Waterfront."
"Six o'clock," she repeated.
"What is your name?"
Her brain seemed to stop working. She didn't want to give her own name, but she couldn't think of any other one. She must not hesitate too long or he would know it was a fabrication — she said the first word that came to her lips.
Later she would wonder why that? Did it mean anything, have any psychological connotation, some clue by which to understand herself better? From Christine to Bibi. A leap, a new identity, a new creation. It was a birth, in some sense. It was also a wall. At first thin, like paper, transparent and fragile. At first.
"I have thought about it a lot," she said, because she wanted to get the story right this time.
"The money was a big thing. Like when you play the Lotto and think of what you would do with the jackpot. In your imagination you spend on yourself and your child. Sensible things: you aren't going to squander your fortune. You are not going to be like the nouveau riche. That is why you will win. Because it's owed to you. You deserve it.
"But the money wasn't the main thing. There was another aspect, something I had since my school days. When I had sex with my father's friend. And the teacher. How I felt. I controlled them, but I didn't control myself. How can I explain it? I wasn't in myself. Yet I was."
She knew those were not the right words to describe it and made a gesture of irritation with her hands. The minister did not respond, but just waited expectantly, or maybe he was nailed to his seat.
She shut her eyes in frustration and said: "The easy one is the power. Uncle Sarel, my father's buddy, gave me a lift one day when I was walking home in the afternoon. When I opened the car door and saw the look on his face, I knew he wanted me. I wondered what he would say, what he would do. He held the steering wheel with both his hands because he was trembling and he didn't want me to see. That's when I felt how strong I was. I toyed with him. He said he wanted to talk with me, just for a short while, and could we take a drive? He was scared to look at me and I saw how freaked out he was but I was cool so I said: 'Okay, that would be nice.' I acted like I was innocent, that's what he wanted. He talked, you know, silly stuff, just talking, and he stopped by the river and I kept on acting and he told me how he had been watching me for so long and how sexy I was, but he respected me and then I put my hand on his cock and watched his face and the look in his eyes and his mouth went all funny and it . . . it excited me.
"It was a good feeling to know he wanted me, it was good to see how much he wanted me, it made me feel wanted. Your father thinks you are nothing, but they don't think so. Some grown-ups think you are great.
"But when he had sex with me, it was like I wasn't in my body. It was someone else and I was on one side. I could feel everything, I could feel his cock and his body and all, but I was outside. I looked at the man and the girl and I thought: What is she doing? She will be damaged. But that was also okay.
"That was the weirdest part of all, that the damage was also okay."
She found someone to stand in for her at Trawlers. She spent the day with Sonia, rode her bike along the seafront as far as the swimming pool in Sea Point and slowly back again. She thought about what she would wear and she felt anticipation and that old feeling of being outside yourself, that vague consciousness of harm and the strange satisfaction it brought.
At four o'clock she left her daughter with the childcare lady and took a slow bath, washed and blow-dried her long hair. She put on a G-string, the floral halterneck, her jeans and sandals. At half-past five she took her bike and rode slowly so as not to arrive at the hotel out of breath and sweaty. This feels almost like a date, she thought. As she wove through the peak-hour traffic in Kloof Street, she saw men in cars turn their heads. She smiled a secret smile, because not one of them knew what she was and where she was going. Here comes the whore on her bicycle.
It wasn't so bad.
He was just a regular guy. He had no weird requests. He received her with rather exaggerated courtesy and spoke to her in whispers. He wanted her to stroke him, touch him and lie beside him. But first she had to undress and he shivered and said, "God, what a body you've got," and trailed his fingers slowly over her calves and thighs and belly. He kissed her breasts and sucked the nipples. And then the sex. He reached orgasm quickly and groaning and with eyes screwed shut. He lay on top of her and asked: "How was it for you?" She said it was wonderful, because that was what he wanted to hear.
When she rode her bicycle home up the long gradient, she thought with a measure of compassion that what he had really wanted was to talk. About his work, his marriage, his children. What he really wanted was to expel the loneliness of the four hotel room walls. What he really wanted was a sympathetic ear.
When it became her full-time profession later, she realized most of them were like that. They paid to be someone again for an hour.
That night she just felt she was lucky, because he might have been a beast. In her little flat, while Sonia slept, she took the five new hundred-rand notes from her purse and spread them out in front of her. Nearly a week's work at Trawlers. If she could do just one man a day, for only five days a week, that was ten thousand rand a month. Once all the bills were paid, there would be seven thousand over to spend. Seven thousand rand.
Three days later she bought the cell phone and placed an ad in Die Burger's Snuffelgids. She carefully studied the other ads in the "adult services" section first before deciding on the wording: Bibi. Fresh and new. 22-year-old blonde with a dream body. Pleasure guaranteed, top businessmen only. And the number.
It appeared on a Monday for the first time. The phone rang just after nine in the morning. She purposefully did not answer at once. Then in a cool voice: "Hello."
He didn't have a hotel room. He wanted to come to her. She said no, she only did traveling. He seemed disappointed. Before the phone rang again, she thought: why not? But there were too many reasons. This was her and Sonia's place — here she was Christine. Safe, only she knew the address. She would keep it that way.
A pattern was established. If they phoned in the morning, it was local men who wanted to come to her. In the late afternoon and evening it was hotel business. The first week she made two thousand rand, as she would take one call per evening and then switch off the phone. Thursday her daughter had not been well and she decided not to work. In the second week she decided to do two per day, one late afternoon and one early evening. It couldn't be too bad and it would give her time to have a good bath, put on fresh perfume . . . It would double her income and compensate for evenings when there were no clients.
Clients. That wasn't her word. One afternoon she had a call, a woman's voice. Vanessa. "We're in the same trade. I saw your advert. Do you want to go out for coffee?"
That was her initiation into what Vanessa, real name Truida, called the AECW: the Association of Expensive Cape Whores. "Oh it's like the Woman's Institute, only we don't open with scripture reading and prayer." Vanessa was Young student redhead, northern suburbs. Come and show me how. Upmarket and exclusive.
She recited her life story in a coffee shop in the Church Street Mall. A sharp-featured woman with a flawless complexion, a scar on her chin and red hair from a very expensive bottle. She came from Ermelo. She had so wanted to escape the oppression of her hometown and parents' middle-class existence. She had done one year of secretarial at technical college in Johannesburg and worked in Midrand for a company that maintained compressors. She fell in love with a young Swede whom she met at a dance club in Sandton. Karl. His libido had no limits. Sometimes they spent entire weekends in bed. She became addicted to him, to the intense and multiple orgasms, to the constant stimulus and the tremendous energy. Above all she wanted to continue to satisfy him, even though every week it took a little more, a step further into unknown territory. Like a frog in water that was getting gradually warmer. She was hypnotized by his body, his penis, his worldly wisdom. Alcohol, toys, Ecstasy, role playing. One afternoon he called in a prostitute so they could make a threesome. A month later he took her to a "club": a lovely big house on a smallholding near Bryanston. He was not unknown at the place, a fact she registered only vaguely. The first week she had to watch while he had sex with two of them, the second week she had to take part — four bodies writhing like snakes — and eventually he wanted to watch while she had sex with two male clients in a huge bedroom with a four poster bed.
When she heard for the first time what the girls at the Bryanston place earned, she laughed in disbelief. Six weeks after Karl dumped her, she drove to the club and asked for a job. She hoped she might see him there; she wanted the money, because she had lost all direction. But she was not so lost that she was blind to the inner workings. Too many of the girls were supporting men, men who beat them, men who took their money from them every Sunday to buy drink or drugs. Too many were dependent on the perks of cocaine, sometimes heroin, which was freely available. The club kept half of their earnings. Once she had got Karl out of her system, she came to Cape Town, alone, experienced and with a purpose.
"The trick is to save, so you don't end up in ten years' time like the fifty-rand whores on the street, hoping someone wants a quick blow job. Keep off the drugs and save. Retire when you are thirty."
And: "Do you know about asking names?"
"When they phone, ask who is speaking. Ask for his name."
"What's the point of that? Most of them lie."
"If they lie, that's good news. Only the married ones lie. I have never had trouble with a married one. It's the ones who can't get a wife that you have to watch. The secret is to use the name he gives you when you speak to him. Over and over. That's how you sell yourself over the phone. Remember, he's still window shopping and there are a lot of adverts and options and he can't claim his five hundred rand from the medical aid. Say his name, even if it is a false one. It says you believe and trust him. It says you think he's important. You massage his ego, make him feel special. That is why he is phoning. So someone will make him feel special."
"Why are you giving me all these tips?"
"Aren't we in competition?"
"Sweetheart, it's all about supply and demand. The demand from needy men in this place is unlimited, but the supply of whores who really are worth five hundred rand an hour is . . . Jesus, you should see some of them. And the men get wise."
And: "Get yourself a separate place to work. You don't want clients bothering you at home. They do that, turning up drunk on a Saturday night without an appointment and standing on your doorstep weeping: 'I love you, I love you.'"
And: "I had a fifty-five thousand rand month once; shit, I never closed my legs, it was a bit rough. But if you can do a steady three guys a day, it's easily thirty thousand in a good month, tax free. Make hay while the sun shines, because some months are slow. December is fantastic. Advertise in the Argus as well, that's where the tourists will find you. And on Sextrader on the Internet. If he has an accent, ask for six hundred."
And: "It's their wives' fault. They all say the same thing. Mamma doesn't want to do it anymore. Mamma won't suck me. Mamma won't try new stuff. We're therapists, I'm telling you, I see how they come in and how they go."
Vanessa told her about the other members of the AECW — Afrikaans and English, white, brown, black and a tiny delicate woman from Thailand. Christine only met three or four of them and spoke to a few more over the phone, but she was reluctant to become involved — she wanted to keep her distance and anonymity. But she did take their advice. She found a room at the Gardens Center and set her sights higher. The money followed.
The days and weeks formed a pattern. Mornings were Sonia's, and weekends, except for the occasional one when she was booked for a hunting weekend, but the money made that worthwhile. She worked from 12:00 to 21:00 and then collected her daughter from the daycare where they thought she was a nurse.
Every third month she phoned her mother.
She bought a car for cash, a blue 1998 Volkswagen City Golf. They moved into a bigger flat, a spacious two-bedroom in the same building. She furnished it piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle. Satellite television, an automatic washing machine and a microwave. A mountain bike for six thousand rand just because the salesman had looked her up and down and showed her the seven-ninety-nine models.
A year after she had placed the first advertisement, she and Sonia went to Knysna for a two-week holiday. On the way back she stopped at the traffic lights in the town and looked at the sign board showing Cape Town to the left and Port Elizabeth to the right. At that moment she wanted to go right, anywhere else, a new city, a new life.
An ordinary life.
Her regular clients had missed her. There were a lot of messages on her cell phone when she turned it back on.
She had been nearly two years in Cape Town when she phoned home once more. Her mother cried when she heard her daughter's voice. "Your father died three weeks ago."
She could hear her mother's tears were not for the loss alone: they also expressed reproach. Implying that Christine had contributed to the heart attack. Reproach that her mother had had to bear it all alone. That she had no one to lean on. Nevertheless, the emotion Christine experienced was surprisingly sharp and deep, so that she responded with a cry of pain.
"What was that noise all about?" her mother asked.
She didn't really know. There was loss and guilt and self-pity and grief, but it was the loss that dumbfounded her. Because she had hated him so much. She began to weep and only later analyzed all the reasons: what she had done, her absence, her part in his death. Her mother's loneliness and her sudden release. The permanent loss of her father's approval. The first realization that death awaited her too.
But she could not explain why the next thing she said was about Sonia. "I have a child, Ma."
It just came out, like an animal that had been watching the door of its cage for months.
It took a long time for her mother to answer, long enough to wish she had never said it. But her mother's reaction was not what she expected: "What is his name?"
"Her name, Ma. Her name is Sonia."
"Is she two years old?" Her mother was not stupid.
"My poor, poor child." And they cried together, about everything. But when her mother later asked: "When can I see my grandchild? At Christmas?" she was evasive. "I'm working over Christmas, Ma. Perhaps in the New Year."
"I can come down. I can look after her while you work." She heard the desperation in her mother's voice, a woman who needed something good and pretty in her life after years of trouble. In that instant Christine wanted to give it to her. She was so eager to repay her debt, but she still had one secret she could not share.
"We will come and visit, Ma. In January, I promise."
She didn't work that evening.
That night, after Sonia had gone to sleep, she cut herself for the first time. She had no idea why she did it. It might have been about her father. She rummaged around in the bathroom and found nothing. So she tried the kitchen. In one drawer she saw the knife that she used to pare vegetables. She carried it to the sitting room and sat and looked at herself and knew she couldn't cut where it would show — not in her profession. That's why she chose her foot, the soft underside between heel and ball. She pressed the knife in and drew it along. The blood began to flow and frightened her. She hobbled to the bathroom and held her foot over the bath. Felt the pain. She watched the drops slide down the side of the bath.
Later she cleaned up the blood spoor. Felt the pain. Refused to think about it. Knew she would do it again.
She didn't work the next day either. It was the beginning of December, bonanza month. She didn't want to go on. She wanted the kind of life where she could tell Sonia: "Granny Martie is coming to visit." She was weary of lying to the daycare or other mothers at the crèche. She was weary of her clients and their pathetic requests, their neediness. She wanted to say "yes" the next time a polite, good-looking man came up to her table in McDonald's and asked if he could buy them ice cream. Just once.
But it was holiday season, big-money month.
She negotiated an agreement with herself. She would work as much as she could in December. So that they could afford to spend January with her mother in Upington. And when they came back she would find other work.
She kept to the deal. Martie van Rooyen absorbed herself in her granddaughter in those two weeks in Upington. She also sensed something about her daughter's existence. "You have changed, Christine. You have become hard."
She lied to her mother about her work, said she did this and that, worked here and there. She cut her other foot in her mother's bathroom. This time the blood told her she must stop. Stop all of it.
The next day she told her mother she hoped to get a permanent job. And she did.
She was appointed as sales rep for a small company that manufactured medicinal face creams from extract of sea-bamboo. She had to call on chemist shops in the city center and southern suburbs. It lasted two months. The first setback was when she walked into a Link pharmacy in Noordhoek and recognized the pharmacist as one of her former clients. The second was when her new boss put his hand on her leg while they were traveling in his car. The final straw was her pay slip at the end of the month. Gross income: nine thousand and something. Net income: six thousand four hundred rand, sales commission included, after tax and unemployment insurance and who knows what had been subtracted.
She rethought her plans. She was twenty-one years old. As an escort she had earned more than thirty thousand rand a month and she had saved twenty thousand of it. After buying the car and a few other large expenses she still had nearly two hundred thousand in the bank. If she could just work another four years . . . until Sonia went to school. Just four years. Save two, two-fifty a year, perhaps more. Then she could afford a normal job. Just four years.
It nearly worked out. Except one day she answered the phone and Carlos Sangrenegra said: "Conchita?"
He checked out of the Parow hotel. His requirements had changed. He wanted to be more anonymous, have fewer witnesses of his coming and going. He drove into the city center where he could pass the time without attracting attention. From a public phone in the Golden Acre he called the detective in Umtata to ask for news of Khoza and Ramphele.
"I thought you were going to catch them."
"I'm not getting anywhere."
"It's not so easy, hey?"
"No, it's not."
"Yes," said the detective, mollified by the capitulation. "We haven't really got anything from our side either."
In Adderley Street he bought Die Burger and went into the Spur on Strand Street for breakfast. He placed his order and shook the paper open. The main news was the 2010 Soccer World Cup bid. At the bottom of page one was an article headed, Gay couple arrest over child's death. He read that one. A woman had been arrested on suspicion of the murder of her partner's five-year-old daughter. The child was hit over the head with a billiard cue, apparently in a fit of rage.
His coffee arrived. He tore open a paper tube of sugar, poured it into his cup and stirred.
What was he trying to do?
If children can't depend on the justice system to protect them, to whom can they turn?
How would he achieve it? How would he be able to protect the children by his actions? How would people know: you cannot lay a finger on a child. There must be no doubt — the sentence of death had been reinstated.
He tested the temperature of the coffee with a careful sip.
He was in too much of a hurry. It would happen. It would take a little time for the message to get across, but it would happen. He must just not lose focus.
"It's not going to happen," said Woolworth's head of corporate communication, a white woman in her early forties. She sat beside André Marais, the female police sergeant, in a meeting room of the chain store head office in Longmarket Street. The contrast between the two women was marked. It's only money, thought Griessel, and environment. Take this manicured woman in her tight gray suit and leave her at the charge desk in Claremont for three months on a police salary and then let's take another look.
There were six around the circular table: January, the Waterfront store manager, Kleyn — the communications woman, Marais, Griessel and his shift partner for the month, Inspector Cliffy Mketsu.
"Oh yes it is," said Griessel derisively enjoying himself. "Because you won't like the alternative, Mrs. Kleyn." He and Mketsu had decided that he would play the bad cop and Cliffy would be the peace-loving, good cop Xhosa detective.
"What alternative?" The woman's extremely red mouth was small and dissatisfied under the straight nose and over made-up eyes. Before Griessel could reply she added: "And it's Ms. Kleyn."
"McClean?" asked Cliffy, slightly puzzled, and slid her business card closer across the table. "But here it says . . ."
"Ms.," she said. "As in neither Mrs. or Miss. It's a modern form of address which probably hasn't yet penetrated the police."
"Let me tell you what has penetrated the police, Ms. Kleyn," said Griessel, suspecting it would not be difficult to act mean with this particular woman. "It has penetrated us that this afternoon we are going to hold a press conference and we are going to tell the media there is a serial killer on the loose in the shopping aisles of Woollies. We are going to ask them to please warn the unsuspecting public to stay away before another innocent, middle-aged Woollies customer is strangled with a kettle cord. This modus operandi has penetrated the police, Ms. Kleyn. So don't you tell me "it's not going to happen," as if I came to ask if we could hold trolley races up and down your aisles."
Even through all that foundation he could see she had turned a deep shade of red.
"Benny, Benny," said Cliffy in a soothing tone. "I don't think we have to make threats. We must understand Ms. Kleyn's point of view too. She is only considering the interests of her customers."
"She is only considering the interests of her company. I say we talk to the press."
"That's blackmail," said Kleyn, losing confidence.
"It's unnecessary," said Cliffy. "I am sure we can come to some arrangement, Mrs. Kleyn."
"We will have to," said January, the manager of the Waterfront branch.
"Did I say Mrs.? Oh, I am sorry," said Cliffy.
"We can't afford that kind of publicity," said January.
"It's strength of habit," said Cliffy.
"I will not be blackmailed," said Kleyn.
"Of course not, Ms. Kleyn."
"I'm going," said Griessel, standing up.
"Could I say something?" asked Sergeant Marais in a gentle voice.
"Naturally, Ms. Marais," said Cliffy jovially.
"You are afraid something might happen to customers in the shop?" she asked Kleyn.
"Of course I am. Can you imagine what that publicity would mean?"
"I can," said Marais. "But there is a way to remove the risk altogether."
"Oh?" said Kleyn.
Griessel sat down again.
"All we want to do is to get the suspect to make contact with me. We hope he will initiate a conversation and get himself invited to a woman's home. We can't confront him in the shop or try to arrest him: there are no grounds. So really there is no risk of a confrontation."
"I don't know . . ." said Kleyn, and looked dubiously at her long red fingernails.
"Would it help if I was the only policeman in the supermarket?"
"Steady on, Sergeant," said Griessel.
"Inspector, I will be carrying a radio and we know the supermarket is a safe environment. You can be outside, all over."
"I think that's a good idea," said Cliffy.
"I don't see why we should change good police procedure just because the Gestapo don't like it," said Griessel and got to his feet again.
Kleyn sucked in her breath sharply, as if to react, but he didn't give her the chance. "I'm leaving. If you want to sell out, do it without me."
"I like your proposals," said Kleyn to André Marais quickly, so that Griessel could hear it before he was out the door.
Thobela was standing at the reception desk of the Waterfront City Lodge when the Argus arrived. The deliveryman dropped the bundle of newspapers beside him on the wooden counter with a dull thump. The headline was right under his nose, but he was still filling in the registration card and his attention was not on the big letters:
VIGILANTE KILLER TARGETS "CHILD MOLESTERS"
His pen stalled over the paper. What was written there — what did they know? The clerk behind the desk was busy at the keyboard of the computer. He forced himself to finish writing and hand the card over. The clerk gave him the room's electronic card key and explained to him how to find it.
"May I take a newspaper?"
"Of course, I'll just charge it to your account."
He took a paper, and his bag, and headed for the stairs. He read.
One day before crèche owner Colin Pretorius (34) was to receive judgment on several charges of rape and molestation, he apparently became the second victim of what could be an assegai-wielding vigilante killer bent on avenging crimes against children.
He realized he was standing still and his heart was bumping hard in his chest. He glanced up, took the stairs to the first floor and waited until he was there before reading more.
The investigating officer, Inspector Bushy Bezuidenhout of the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit (SVC), did not rule out the possibility that the bladed weapon was the same one used in the Enver Davids stabbing three days ago.
In an exclusive report, following an anonymous phone call to our offices, The Argus yesterday revealed that the "bladed weapon" was an assegai . . .
How much did they know? His eyes searched the columns.
Inspector Bezuidenhout admitted that the police had no suspects at this time. Asked whether the killer might be a woman, he said that he could not comment on the possibility (see page 16: The Artemis Factor).
He opened his room door, put the bag on the floor and spread the newspaper open on the bed. He turned to page 16.
Greek mythology had its female protector of children, a ruthless huntress of the gods called Artemis, who could punish injustice with ferocious and deadly accuracy — and silver arrows. But just how likely is a female avenger of crimes against children?
- On Sale
- Mar 26, 2008
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown and Company