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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

The smell of tears


Al Lovejoy - 2008-04-15

“And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

The door of the shack creaks sharply, scrapes open stubbornly and Hond stumbles out into the early morning mud. He’s not in a good mood. It’s cold, raining and there’s a spiteful mist hanging over the Joe Slovo informal squatter settlement. He lurches over to the side of the mean shack, coughs and hawks noisily, then spits, and begins pissing into the reeking garbage piled against the rusty corrugated iron. As he shakes off angrily, he’s staring at the steaming, evil-smelling mess - thinking. In his pocket is exactly five rand. Two twos and two fifty cent pieces. Enough for a litre of lurk. But he doesn’t want a skal of filthy white wine – Hond wants a button pipe.

The Dog is hungry. Actually "honger" would be a better word, because Hond doesn’t care for food right now, Hond just wants what Hond wants - money, mandrax and poes. The Nomber’s calling to him strongly.

Here on the outies he’s forced to be a marrobaner - a thief. Yes, but swakbene - without legs. And Hond doesn’t like being fokken swakbene. Inside the mang he used to be a makwera in the land of nchonalanga.

A prison fighting general.

Treated and respected like a king. Hond had all the money, drugs, sweet-looking laaities, terror and respect he could crave for - but out here, what does Hond have? A filthy hok he has to share with a filthy, lazy meid with a slack poes and a loud, ugly bek that Hond has to keep on beating daily until it fokken shuts up.

He’s wearing the same filthy clothes he’s worn for the last two weeks and in the pocket of his pants there is still only five fokken rand. He does not care about any of it except the kroon jingling quietly in his hand. Money fixes everything for Hond. Everything except maybe taking poes when he wants it. For that Hond needs his fists and feet. And sometimes the razor sharp Okapi in his other pocket.

Okêy, fokkit - get Hond the lurk and dop it.

Ho$h. Salut.

Then fetch the twa and the bullets from the stash place and make the Nomber staan strong in the dark rays of the sun.

Double Ho$h. Impêla.

He isn’t a laaitie anymore - Hond’s indota, a Hollander, a man of blood. Nomber 27. A killer. And it’s been decided in the council of Hond that some boer bitch is going to find this out before the dark sun sets on this day.

Making his way to the small crowd of ragged wretches already crowding the shebeen, he thinks about the twa. He figures it’s just about the right time to get it out. Nobody suspects he has it and for that he’s lucky. The laaitie gangster naaiers he stole it from will make his bones white if they find out he skêbenged it. But they were the ones who stupidly ditched it during a raid by Metro boere. Fokking momparras. It has been a long time since he was a crying little laaitie pop to be raped and naaied in the night by all or any nongies. Ho$h!

He remembers the first night he sat looking at the twa in flickering candlelight. Feeling his piel stirring as he brushed the cold silver metal. Feeling the awesome power. Ultimate Respect. Everything Hond’s ever wanted. Especially the fear of the boere in his pocket. Making them poes scared of Him!

Kak poes scared of Hond! Ho$h!

Then marrobaning them of all their money and making their bones white. Maybe finding another whitie boermeid just like the special little bitch in the Hustler magazine he pulled from the garbage one day. Raping the poes-tiefie till she screamed. Making the Nomber stand in oath and action.

He grunts …

Ja, he could make anything stand with the twa. Anything.

Ho$h 27. Salut. Impêla.

Hond can’t read or write – he grew up in the brutal synthetic misery of a similar squatter camp – but he can still clearly feel tracing his soiled fingers in the beautiful etched lettering all along the cold pipe of the twa – Smith and Wesson .357. Over and over. Thinking about the Nomber.

Just like he is now.

Just like he’s been thinking every since he got out of the mang two weeks ago…

*

Tina McKenzie listens to the sound of Roy’s car fading away down the driveway and lifts her hand to her cheek in absent-minded irritation. To the dry spot where he pick-pecked her goodbye. She blinks back a drier tear, closes her ostrich-leather briefcase and yells at the twins to hurry up and finish getting their homework books, followed rapidly by getting their naughty butts downstairs! They always dawdle infuriatingly after breakfast. The little minxes are trying hard to be late for their school bus again and she really can’t take them this morning. She has to try and get to see Stevie for a quick pre-trial meeting and recheck the associates briefs. It’s not that she doesn’t trust them, they are her employees - and all very clever and highly efficient lawyers, whom she mostly hired herself. It’s just that this LFR civil litigation case they are finalising means a big bonus all round, and if their casework is perfect they stand way more than a ninety-nine percent chance of winning a considerable settlement. Slam-dunk. Just as the lady likes it. Although the huge cheque coming to her afterwards will probably cause more of the usual friction between her and Roy. God, why does it have to be like this? It’s always worse when he can’t have sex. No nookie and a much, much smaller bank account.

Why do men have to be so stupid about their archaic hunter-gatherer roles? Good grief. It’s the twenty-first century already! So what if he get’s only a cop’s salary. Who cares? He’s a captain at least. And we are among the very fortunate few who have no financial stress. She wouldn’t mind marrying a millionairess if she were a man. Bloody male egos. Always getting in the way. And cops had to be the very worst. She knows his desperate need for independence is simply a mask covering a deep insecurity which has something to do with the deaths of his parents as a child. She’s not stupid. That’s why he became a policeman - but in fourteen years of marriage he still won’t talk to her about it. Just shuts her out. Never lets her in to love him and just share a bit of what frightens him in the dark.

It makes her feel almost as if in some place deep, very deep down, she just isn’t enough for Roy.

Oh, Ti. What are we gonna do with him? Sweet, silly, stubborn, proud and yet – he’s still my hunky baby.

There are times when she wishes she were once again the struggling, naïve, redhead state prosecutor – arrogant, idealistic, brilliant and fresh from varsity. And Roy the hunky, yet terminally shy constable who came to testify in a purse-snatching case.

She loves him so much.

In spite of their nasty spat that morning. She could cry and smash mugs he made her so frustrated. Why shouldn’t my family have the best? Why?

Bastard.

Why does the simple fact that she brings home so much more money matter so much? His career in the Force is a noble one. Isn’t that enough, dammit? If anything, by crossing over to the high-priced litigation table she has placed herself in a position of constant attacks on her professional ethics, some of which she isn’t terribly certain she’s survived too well. And he should be pleased for her sake that she and Stevie built a multimillion rand partnership from scratch. Proud of her. How many thirty-something chicks can say they pulled that one off in the self-serving teenage of Black Empowerment?

While raising two unruly daughters?!

Tracey!! Janine!!

Hmmm? Yes, Mr McKenzie … Any comments Captain?

Well sir?

And, FYI - I refuse to let this upset my day. But I will try make it up to you tonight baby. Little contract with myself. You know I can never stay cross with you.

She fishes a compact from her office purse. Make-up okay Ti?

Touch-up lips.

On a big day like this it must definitely be her tried and tested Ruby Slippers. Mmmmm … Kiss … Pout … Blot.

Perfect.

Yes babe, still a hot thirty-something, although my eyes are threatening to look puffy and seem so damned tired. Ag, just laugh lines, Ti, knock ‘em dead anyway girl. Make ‘em pay! She winks one of her brilliant green hunk-slayers at the compact, snaps it closed with a silly little giggle to wilfully shake off the blues and defiantly drops it together with the lipstick back into her demure Gucci.

Girls! I said move! I’m not speaking again!

Oooh, they could wind her up when they did this. And they ganged up on her too. Using all their ten-year-old wiles to bully her and twist Roy into pretzels against her.

Oh, to heck with it. They win. They always won.

She’d take them.

It’s just routine nerves anyway, my girl. Already checked everything by hand three times yesterday. Steve will have done the same last night. You know he would have. Relax Tina. It will all be okay, babe. Yeah, and that reminds me, I'd better change my tampon again. Just to be on the safe side. God help me, I hate heavy days and having to be in court. Giggle, I used to be so sharp on the poor defendants when I prosecuted them like this.

Nasty vindictive woman.

She grabs a tampon from the Gucci and disappears into the hall loo quickly.

On the way out she looks at herself in the large hall mirror, tugs down her favourite Jenni Button jacket and straightens her pearls minusculely. The Jenni Button is a tiny bit loud, but the pastel silk blouse and Polo slacks subdue it perfectly - and she does so love the way it brings out the colour of her skin against her hair. She grins at herself showing small, even, Ruby Slipper-free teeth and marches back into the kitchen, her Dolce kittenheels tic-tacking confidently on their imported Italian tiles.

Just then two very pretty strawberry blondes come tumbling in boisterously. At a glance, they are identical in their school uniforms, although it still amazes Tina that strangers can’t tell them apart. Chalk and cheese if you asked her.

Many people still did. And in those moments she still could not describe to them the universal difference in the love she feels for the twins. Little minxes. Her beautiful, little … well almost not so little … angels. Lord, but they made her heart ache so unbearably sometimes.

Right! Are you munchkins ready? Ninni come here, let Mommy fix your hair properly. This plait is all wrong. Tracey, you are not wearing that hat to school and before you even ask me it’s because I’m your mother and I say so. Wear your rain hat, it’s wet outside. Yes missy, don’t pout. I said so.

She scribbles a quick shopping note to Patience, fishes a hundred out of her purse for the groceries and plonks them both down on the untidy breakfast counter.

Quick glance at her plain gold Lady Rolex. Okay Ti, still nicely on time.

Right, purse, laptop, keys - have you girls got your sports permissions? Are you sure? Tracey, are you absolutely sure, poppet? Right, in the car quickly - let’s go, Mommy’s nearly late for work already …

*

Hond takes the twa from the canvas bank bag. He feels the surge of raw power hit him. It’s like empting his ballas. And it’s being amplified by the lurk. A plestiek melk bottel still half-full of the dirty yellow poeswyn lies between his feet next to the battered Barely Legal Hustler magazine. It’s opened to his favourite little rape-tiefie.

The girl in the pose looks about sixteen. She’s half-dressed in a school uniform, lying in a nest of colourful stuffed animals on a bed in her bobbysocks - legs spread wide open. Her breasts poke out through her shirt over the top of her bra. With one hand she is pulling her white cotton panties away, exposing her plump vulva, and with the other she is caressing the fine dark down of her mons venus with a long pink dildo. Her slightly glazed eyes are lidded and a lascivious smile plays on her lips as she stares directly into the camera looking mildly squint.

Nobody is around.

Hond has crossed the railway line and is well hidden in the bushes under the embankment on the edge of the main road heading towards the the city. He knows this could be a good place for a hijack. Poes! Hond hopes he makes it happen today. Hond hopes even more that it’s a boer bitch. A lekker whitie-tief with wet holes that will bleed everything when Hond is done. That’s what Hond is going to try for.

There is a set of traffic lights above him. A turn left goes over the railway bridge and off along a fairly deserted road. All the other traffic at this time of the morning heads straight for town. That means if Hond lifts a car and forces the tief left he will have the advantage of an empty road. It feels good to him. The Nomber is going to pay. It feels strong.

He slips the release on the twa and the barrel of the revolver pops out. He looks with something akin to love at the fat yellow slugs lying snugly in their sleeves. Nomber! He spins the chamber, grinning mesmerised at the whirling gold and silver metal.

Hond grips his piel through his grimy pants. Au-whê. The Nomber. This is the Nomber. The Nomber is coming. The Nomber is calling.

The mist and rain have made visibility very bad.

Hond snaps the big revolver closed with what he feels is a movie star flourish. Jackie Chan! Drink some more of the lurk. All he must do now is be patient and wait for the right car.

Hond opens his pants, slips his engorged piel out and starts stroking hard - all the while staring fixedly at the stained, damp, slightly crumpled image of the pimply girl with twin ponytails, caught in fading mottled ink, lying on her back in the dirt, staring with impervious dead eyes at the animal ones boring into her. Hond imagines her screaming. Imagines taking the Okapi and cutting her whilst he does it in her poes and her hol. In her mouth, back in her poes and into her hol again. Over and over. Doing her till Hond is completely klaar, then sticking and sticking her with the Okapi until the little rape-tief’s bones are white. After she’s white bones then Hond can cut her lying eyes out. Nomber!

Like he should have done to Cindy Cohen. The little thirteen-year old boer-tief who put him away for an effective six years out of the twenty the courts gave him because the fokken rape-tiefie recognised him in a boere line-up. Hond thinks about her screams again.

Ho $h 27! Hollander!

They were so sweet.

How they eventually stopped and all she could do was drool and moan trying to spit out blood from her broken teeth and lacerated mouth. Hond remembers lying full length on her filthy naked body afterwards. Not naaiing her, just lying on top of her - slipping around from the cuts in her breasts, her stomach and her legs. Just smelling her. The sharp, rancid stink of her terror-sweat. The musky smell of her poes. The sweet, ugly smell of her faeces mixed in with the coppery tang of her blood.

Hond sniffed her eyes, but …

… her tears smelt like nothing.

She meant nothing. She was just a tight little boer poes for the taking. But Hond left her alive, because in that one sublime moment … Hond truly loved her. He wanted to remember her smells. He wanted to remember her ragged, choking whispers pleading Hond not to kill her. Spreading her shuddering legs so he could carry on if he wanted to.

Absolutely perfect respect.

But Hond will never get caught for taking boer poes like that again.
Ever.


*

Tina peers out of her windscreen. The wipers aren’t helping, and even though the heater is blasting away she still has to keep rubbing the glass in front of her with her jacket sleeve. Sorry Jenni Button. The girls are firmly strapped in the back and aren’t helping her concentration either. They’re involved in an argument about some boy named Kevin whom they both apparently think is babalicious and want to know from her which of them he would consider in likewise terms.

Babalicious? Ye gods.

They are insisting she take sides. Yeah, right. The wisdom of Solomon wouldn’t go there. Although in her heart of hearts she secretly always seems to favour Ninni. Tracey is Roy’s; from tiny little babies she’s always fought for Roy’s attention.

Sometime very soon she’s going to have to sit down with them and do the birds and the bees. What did they know already? Babalicious indeed. They were still about three years from puberty. Good grief, children started so young these days, or was that just a reccuring myth adults amused themselves with? No, they started young because of AIDS awareness campaigns at school.

Girls, I’m not taking sides, because you are way too young for boyfriends.

Mo-o-o-o-o-o-o-mmm!!

Haha, that wound them up all right.

Don’t stir, Ti. At their age, she didn’t even know what went on down there. And boys were idiots who pulled your plaits, shot spitballs and made farty noises under their arms. I guess MTV changed all that.

God, this mist is impossible. It might actually make me late. And of course I would have to get stuck behind a great big lorry …

*

Hond sees it. Big pea-green BMW with misted windows coming up behind the truck. He can make out a boer-tief behind the wheel rubbing the windscreen. Nobody in the passenger seat and nobody driving in the mist behind her.

Yet.

He has less than a minute, the light is about to go green.

Hond does not hesitate.

As she draws to a stop near the rear of the truck he breaks from the bushes and runs towards the car, approaching it in her blind spot. If the door’s locked, Hond will smash the window with the twa. He grabs the door handle and —

*

The passenger door opens in some part of Tina’s brain.

She registers something’s amiss but it has no bearing on the routine annoyances she usually has to deal with on the way to dropping the kids off and getting to the office or Court. This is wrong like a wave of things: Why is the door — a rude implosion of cold wet air – Unlocked? … Movement of a swift dark shape into her space.

As her brain untangles itself from its mundane occupations a secondary explosion of realisation washes through her and instantly floods her with mindless terror. A gun has suddenly appeared in her face. A big, shiny gun. With a big black hole. Pointed at her, and behind it is a dark face with angry, jaundiced – and very evil – eyes.

Everything inside her recoils and tells her this is not happening. It cannot be. Time has slowed and stilled. It’s not —

*

Hond klaps her with the twa. The stupid whitie piece of poes is staring at him gulping like a snoek. He moers her again harder, this time with a nice little spasm to his piel as he sees the gazi come out her face …

*

The gun returns to hit her again shockingly. Tina feels wetness running below her eye and becomes aware that the man is screaming at her to Drive and Turn Left in gutter Afrikaans, his horrible fetid, stinking breath billowing into her face.

Oh God! It’s real! Oh Jesus, God, Tina, I’m being hijacked. Oh, God, how did the door —

*

Drive left or Hond will kill her! Drive fucking boer poes-tief. Fok! Drive!!!

*

Tina lifts her foot from the brake, follows the truck mindlessly into the intersection and turns left alone. Some nitpicking part of her brain tells her she’s forgotten to indicate and the man has his feet on her laptop. Into this disembodied reverie cuts a thin, keening sound and Tina realises with absolute horror that in her own shock and terror she has forgotten about the girls. It’s Ninni. She’s begun screaming in a thin, fractured voice.

Mu-u ... u-u-uh … Ma-a-a-a-a-h-hhmmmy.

*

Only then does Hond look over into the back of the car. He see two little boer poes-tiefies. What de fok? Hond didn’t even see them. But Hond definitely sees them now. The Nomber has stood skangaka! Jackroll on the inside boetie. Hond knows how to handle this. Sweet little rape-tiefies. Oh yes, Hond knows how deal with this.

Virgins.

He knew the Nomber would pay. They are his cure for the AIDS he got in the mang after Cindy Cohen. Lekker. He klaps the screaming one with his backhand while grinding the twa into the boer-tief’s side telling her to drive carefully because if she fokken messes up Hond will kill one of the little poes-tiefies in the back.

*

Tina drags out every ounce of her courage and tries to tell the girls to be calm. She is beyond fear. All she is doing is trying to control her own galloping terror. Statistics scream through her mind. She’s worked criminal justice. She knows that most women and children get shot because the hijacker can’t control their hysteria.

My girls, my girls. Oh, Sweet Jesus, my girls. Please don’t let him hurt my girls.

Ninni, stop crying, darling, please stop crying. We must be quiet. The man only wants our money and the car. When we stop I am going to give the man all our money and he can have my car and and my computer and my cell phone too. Okay. And then, see, it will all be okay. Be brave, girls. Just please be quiet. Tracey baby, hold Ninni’s hand. Tracey! Mommy’s talking! Hold Janine’s hand. Please, my munchkins, don’t cry. Be brave, my darlings.

Oh, Jesus, please don’t let me be lying to them. Please, dear God, let him just want the car and stuff. Please, I beg you. Let him listen to what I just said. Please. Just let him leave us next to the side of the road. Don’t let him hurt my babies.

*

Hond doesn’t like the look on the boer-tief. She’s mumbling to herself and looks like she’s planning something. He presses the twa into her neck and growls that she must not try and play with Hond. Hond will kill her. Then he shouts at the little rape-tiefies in the back to shut up, because they’ve started up again.

Eventually Hond sees what he wants.

Up ahead is a dirt side-road heading into a small copse of trees among a thick stand of bush. He tells the boer-tief to turn into it.

Ho$h! 27! Salut.

It’s time. Impêla - the Nomber has come …

*

Roy McKenzie looked across at the pitiful motionless form in the hospital bed. Her little hand was still warm. Strange, that. She had finally gone, but her little hand was warm and floppy. As if all he needed to do was pick up her tiny, limp body, carry her to her room and put her to bed like he had done so many times in her short tragic life.

Especially after

A sob caught in the back of his throat.

Good-bye, Tracey my love. Good-bye. Daddy will always love you. And Mommy and Ninni are in heaven with all the angels waiting for you, my poppet .

Fingers lightly brushed his shoulder, disturbing his painful reverie, and he looked up into Marie’s sympathetic eyes. He knew all the nursing staff by name. Some he even knew their boyfriends', husbands' and children’s names too. But the long on-off four-year relationship was finally over. The machines blank - switched off. And now Marie needed to disconnect her. Pull out the useless pipes and needles.

Poor little Tracey had survived her initial, horrific injuries, blinded and paraplegic, but once the insidious virus took control and full-blown AIDS began its ravaging attack, the end had come quickly. Somehow, there was a mercy in that, because her beautiful little soul had died inside with the knowledge … long before her frail little body did. And now that she was beyond Roy’s undying fatherly love and the very best medical attention Tina’s money could buy, his impromptu medical family had no business with him … or her … anymore.

He was alone with nothing except the cold rage that had sustained him during her suffering. And the terrible sense of guilt and that old, helpless, hopeless, paralysing feeling of utter failure.

He stood, nodded wordlessly to Marie, and stepped out of his place of futility and into the corridor of the critical care unit, not feeling Tracey’s death yet – he was still far too numb for that – but feeling a weird sense of unease at leaving the quietness of the room. Almost a sense of dislocation. He used to detest dragging himself out of those discreet, bleeping, pinging sounds dancing in tune with the obscene sucking puff of the respirator. Reminding him. The only remaining member of his family was dying softly inside. He despised it beyond description. And that nagging little hangnail scratching away somewhere at the back of his mind - he’s left something behind. Not Tracey. Her wheelchair. But the wheelchair without —

That’s why it feels so, so …

She’s dead. My poor little girl is dead.

It has happened again.

And now all my girls are dead.

*

Outside in the parking lot he climbed into his gleaming black 4x4 ATV and left the perfectly tended grounds of the high-priced private clinic. He placed one call on his mobile, conveyed the news bleakly, assured the utterly distraught party that he was fine, and rang off.

He switched on the radio, but some idiot trying to be rude as a form of entertainment came on and he snapped it off again irritably. He wasn’t even going to bother with other channels. Besides, the news would drive him insane. He was the news and he felt insane already.

He needed silence.

Silence …

No, actually he needed more.

He placed another call to the same party, begged for two favours, received assurances and rang off again.

He needed silence and to be alone.

He was alone. But alone to drive … just drive.

And nothing else.

For now.

He knew he would never be able to drive away from the last three years, nine months, six days and however many hours it took since his family fell into the hands of the filthy, sick animal who took them from him.

Never.

But drive anyway.

Drive … drive … drive …

He reached over, opened the cubby hole and took out his personal pistol. His service one had been returned to the Force. Keeping it out of sight, he popped out the magazine, remaking a mental note that it was fully loaded, then cocked it and put it on the safety. Ten shots.

Some bad, insane part of him was beckoning and he knew that the pistol would have a last word for him – if and when he wanted it …

*

It had begun with a phone call on his mobile. From Tina’s business partner - Stevie.

He had been in a meeting with his Colonel when it came through, Stevie asking him irritably where the hell Tina was because she was supposed to have been in court, with him, for the big case they had been working on for months. And her mobile was off! Roy had glanced at his watch and that’s when it all went to shit.

She was supposed to have been at work over an hour ago.

Roy knew his wife. You could set your bloody watch by her. She was a little punctuality control freak bar none. She had all their clocks at home set five minutes ahead so she wouldn’t miss appointments. Every husband’s dream until you had to live with it. And her topshelf corporate law practice meant that she had to literally account for every single minute of the day.

He asked Stevie if he’d phoned the house – maybe something had happened to one of the twins. Yes, he’d phoned the house – nobody there but the maid. He'd known it was a long shot anyway. Tina forgot nothing, did bloody everything and was utterly meticulous. She would have phoned either or both of them immediately if anything untoward had happened.

Roy told Stevie he would look into it directly and rang off - instantly risking the dire wrath of Colonel Samuel "Sharps" Shabalala by speed-dialling her. Stevie had been right - it was off. Roy took another big risk and asked Sharps if he could cut the meeting short so he could determine the whereabouts of his wife. She was supposed to be in court with her business partner and she was neither home nor at the office.

Sharps didn’t like his officers bringing their personal lives to work. He felt it cut into their concentration and out on the street that could mean one of his coppers getting hurt - but the look on Roy’s face convinced him it wasn’t a little domestic cold-shoulder in the offing. He also knew McKenzie to be a painfully private person who would be way too deeply embarrassed and professional to reveal something like that anyway – so the Colonel dismissed his man and told him to find her.

Quickly.

McKenzie phoned the house. Patience answered and told him that when she let herself in that morning the Madam was already gone for work. The little miesieses had gone to the school bus stop too. There was only money and a note to buy milk, ice cream, bread and a chicken she must cook for supper with rice and some frozen vegetables from the deep-freeze.

He thanked her, leaving a message that she must phone as soon as she heard from the Madam or when the girls came home from school.

Fear began prickling the base of Roy’s neck. Christ, where was she? Okay … the twins. Phone the school … Maybe they knew.

He managed to get through to the secretary of the insanely expensive private school that Tina emphatically insisted the girls attend. One of the many reasons for their fights about money. He wanted the girls to grow up normally. In a normal environment. With normal friends. In a normal, decent, government school. But no, Tina had to have it her way. Flashing her bloody cash.

A frigid, nasal voice asked his business down the line. He told her that he wanted to speak to one of his daughters concerning the whereabouts of their mother. There was a moment’s cold pause, a mental sniff of disapproval, and the voice announced primly that he would be put through to the vice-headmistress.

Oh shit! Idiot! Why did you have to tell her that? Just ask for one of your kids, dammit. The stupid, insipid, cow probably thought it was some marriage on the rocks thing. This was exactly what he hated. Exposing his private life, and most especially on a morning when they had actually been fighting.

God, it couldn’t be that – could it? Fuck, it wasn’t that much of a fight. The usual roundabout over flashing money. And it just wasn’t Tina’s style to simply walk out suddenly. Too unorganised. And it was only about —

Click.

He had the ear of a far warmer female voice.

Yes, Good morning, Captain McKenzie … I am well thank you, and how may I possibly help you? … Absolutely no bother. Give me a minute, I will have them called.

He sat there waiting in silence, stubbornly trying to avoid his deeply disturbed imagination, until the same voice - now very businesslike - informed him that unfortunately neither one of the girls could come to the telephone because they had not been present for register or any other period so far that morning. And … tinged gently with discretion - could he possibly shed some light on why?

That is when Roy McKenzie knew that his family was in trouble.

He put down the phone without a word and stared blankly at the wall of his office for all of five seconds.

Last resort. Their comprehensive private medical clinic.

A young black receptionist came on the line and informed him in smiling and lightly accented English that his wife had definitely not booked an appointment or visited any of the clinic’s consulting rooms that morning.

Roy put down the phone, shaking with terror, his professional demeanour and mind suddenly in rags. Then he jumped up as if whipped and ran for the charge office. He burst in on the portly coloured duty sergeant, yelling incoherently at him to put out an all-points bulletin to all Crime Prevention and Flying Squad units in the metropolitan area to look out for a pea-green BMW, registration —

The duty sergeant put up his hands, waved Roy back. Calm down, Captain, calm down meneer, don’t yell. Don’t yell! Nobody can make out what you are saying, Captain.

Yes, okay meneer. Your wife and daughters did not arrive at school or work today. Did they have a breakdown? Your wife’s car was serviced two weeks ago and she would have called. Okay Captain, calm down, I’ll make the radio calls and you fill in an incident report.

And Captain, I think I had better call the Scorpions' JackStop.

JackStop – the elite Prosecution Task Force on Car-hijacking. Set up by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, The Scorpions, in March 1999. They took their nickname from the black South African gang practice of stealing or hijacking a car and then kidnapping young girls off the street and gang-raping them. The cowardly filth that did it called it jackrolling and within the State’s elite federal police task force was a very elite, semi-military unit to combat them. Oh God, no. That is exactly where he didn’t want his thoughts going. Captain Roy McKenzie had never dreamed he would have to live through something like this.

Again.

It was different from what had happened to him as a child, but the same crippling fear hit him exactly the same as it did that other diabolical day so long ago. It had led him to becoming a police officer. To stop this happening to people and to bring the evil scum who did it, for whatever reason, to justice.

The fear of what he believed might be happening to his current family ripped open all the terrible old wounds.

*

Roy was eight and woke up in a semi-strange bed needing to pee so badly he thought his poor little bladder would burst. He was sharing a dark bedroom with his much older cousin, Jeremy. Jems was already a Grownup and in The Army.

His mom, dad and his two older sisters were on holiday from Salisbury with Jems’s parents, Auntie Colleen and Uncle Todd. The McKenzie family were visiting them for two weeks on their beautiful farm in Northern Rhodesia. Aunty Colleen was actually Mommy’s sister.

Roy was way too shy to use the potty under the bed to pee in. The thought of waking Jems up with the sound of his wee made him quake in embarrassment, especially if he maybe farted loudly or needed to also do a smelly number two. He quietly got out of bed and padded to the door. He had no idea what time it was, but he reckoned it might be almost near sunrise. A few birds were stirring. He knew how to navigate his way to the longdrop behind the kitchen, from two earlier nightly excursions. By the second one he had conquered most of his horror of the dark and figured out which floorboards in the corridor creaked most. He similarly didn’t want to wake anybody else up, because they would tell him to use the potty in Jems’s room. He eventually reached the familiar kitchen door, carefully unlocked and unlatched it blindly, then slipped out quietly, closing it behind him.

The backyard of the farmhouse was bathed softly in starlight and he ran across to the grim silhouette of the toilet shack and ducked inside. As he fumbled frantically with the cord of his pyjamas he waged mental war with himself to stop imagining big hairy spiders with malevolent glowing red eyes creeping down the walls. Eventually he managed to get the knot open and let his hot bladder go into the black pit below him. He peed for what seemed like forever and eventually, with a deep sigh of relief, it was over. He pulled his pyjama pants back up and as he was carefully retying them he heard the voices.

For a moment he couldn’t think properly, and then he heard them. They were black voices speaking softly in the language of his nanny, outside and moving closer quickly. Then Roy froze up completely. He could hear very clearly what they were saying now.

One voice said, "Kill the three men first. The old bitch spoke before she died. They have some family visiting and remember, the son is a soldier. Make sure you kill them first and kill any brats too, but try to keep the women alive. We can use them for some fun and get a good revolutionary message across to the white filth and their Security Forces …"

A deeper voice replied, "Viva the revolution, comrades, the dogs have been taken care of by our comrade. Kill quickly and be very careful of the soldier. The old bitch said he is in the room at the bottom of the hall in the front of the house. Assume he has his army weapon near his bed, so use a grenade first …"

Roy was suddenly utterly terrified. While a part of his mind understood clearly what he was hearing, another part had turned him to stone. Then he heard them softly open the kitchen door and realised two things simultaneously. The dogs were silent and he had let them into the house because he opened the kitchen door.

He simply hadn’t noticed the dogs.

On the previous two nights when he had braved the longdrop they had woken up yawning and stretching on the kitchen stoep. Then as dark shapes they came snuffling and whining quietly to, with great welcome, softly lick his hand as he faced the dark, pressing ordeal.

An enormous explosion and gunfire broke out. The terror turned from stone to a lashing thing chewing him in his tummy so bad that if he could, he would have peed ten times over in his pants. It bit into him hammering in synchro with the reverberating machine guns and screams in the farmhouse, making him screw up his eyes tightly and crawl as desperately as he could into a dark, safe place in his mind. And he stayed there. Trying to creep into a similar corner of the stinky wooden planks that had so frightened him before - frozen and dumb - desperately trying to be deaf.

It took years for Roy to finally realise that even hardened soldiers never overcome that kind of fear and his lack of action that terrible morning was not something he did wrong. Neither was unlatching the kitchen door. They had the dead servant’s keys anyway.

It was a fast-moving squad of ten terrorists who attacked the farm. They killed Jems in his bed with a grenade and a long burst from an AK47 before he could even grab his army FN. They killed Uncle Todd just as he grabbed his shotgun and wounded Auntie Colleen in the process. They killed his daddy as he was running across the bedroom with his pistol. They killed his big sister Tammy by accident as she ran into the hall. Then the shooting went silent and afterwards there were only the shouts, swearing, wild laughter and terrible demonic screams of his mommy, his other big sister Pookie and Aunty Colleen. And it was bright daylight when their hoarse, strangled agonies eventually all fell silent. Pookie was the last one.

After all the evil things had been done.

And they didn’t kill them with guns or knives. From his fetid corner Roy watched through a hole in the dilapidated door as the terrorists dragged them out into the kitchen yard, lashed them down on the ground with tent pegs and barbed wire splayed out like starfish. Then they cut all their clothes off, kicked and hit them and kept on taking turns to push their things into them over and over. They stabbed them with bayonets and cut them down there and then pushed their things in some more. They also stabbed them in their arms, legs and breasts until they were all eventually satisfied, whereupon they strangled them to death with more barbed wire. Although with Aunty Colleen it wasn’t necessary, because she died from the bullets while they were still busy with her. He heard them shouting, cursing, screaming in rage and kicking her corpse because they were so upset when she died and they hadn’t finished. Roy, on the other hand, tried not to breathe.

He was never able to tell how long he stayed stuck in the stinking black longdrop after everything went completely quiet and it sounded like they were gone. It was probably sheer blind instinct that helped him make his way through the evil mess in the kitchen yard, back into and over the malevolent carnage in the house, trying not to look at anything while he tiptoed silently as a ghost to the phone in the hall, all the way by the front door.

*

Roy woke up.

He was parked under a tree, in a lay-bye next to some road somewhere. He had no idea where. Must still be South Africa, because he knew he didn’t have his passport with him. Felt more like hell, though. The pain in his head seemed determined to be seriously trying to kill him as the sharp morning sun hammered blows on it through the window. Slightly less than a half-bottle of scotch lay on the seat.

Vague, arbitrary, repetitive more recent memories crept back. Filling up at yet another service station in some tiny, dry dorpie. Buying greasy, fly-blown take-aways and the inevitable bottles of scotch.

Get the hell away from people, drive somewhere, nowhere, hide and drink.

How many times had he done that? So many nameless towns. He didn’t even know how long he had been on the road since driving away from the hospital.

Maybe six weeks, maybe six months? Did it really matter?

Most of it was a blackout anyway.

He didn’t even know the date. He’d thrown his mobile phone and watch out of the window ages ago. Both for irritating and attempting to drag him back into a pain so great that he was running from it with everything he had. He was living out of a small rucksack that had started out as a hundred grand, in cash, much to his bank’s obvious consternation and guarded admonitions. Fuck them – it was his money. He’d been using it for petrol, food, enough whisky and other basic neccesities.

He did not read newspapers and he never switched on the radio.

Every once in a while he’d pull off the road into a bread and butter motel and pay cash in advance for anonymity, silence, a room to wash, shave and possibly sleep in. He also usually paid them to wash off the dust and clean out the whisky bottles and accumulated fast food garbage from his car. He didn’t bother washing his clothes. He just bought a cheap outfit of a few pairs of cheap jeans and a dozen plain T-shirts and threw them away when he thought they were too dirty and would attract attention. He now wore sandals on his feet and no underpants, an irritation he had found when trying to crap next to the road. But these were things that he didn’t notice, least of all endure. Going into towns was the terrible challenge.

And in all the towns, every black lout lounging on a street corner was a piece of filth waiting to hijack.

Victim taker.

Roy felt like murdering poor innocent strangers on the street, he was so angry. And what would that make him?

What he hated.

One of them.

God, his mouth was dry and the thought of more scotch made him wince.

Between his legs was his pistol. Still loaded. Bullshitting himself he was Ready for Hijackers.

Although, honestly, he vaguely hoped it might actually happen in some way so this could end. The weapon had been on his mind too much. Way too much. Sometimes nothing else was on his mind on the road. Especially inside the memories. The memories were like a Black Thing. Wanting to eat him alive. Begging him to end it.

GO.

Go, go … and be with his warm, soft, safe mommy, his loving, teasing, playful sisters, his beautiful, precious wife and incomparably lovely daughters. Go be with his daddy whom he looked up to like a god and whom he has missed terribly his whole life. Go be with Uncle Todd and Aunty Colleen. Go be with them all again.

Why not?

He was alone in the world. He had no more family, except in some imaginary heaven, while down here in the real dark hell demons had devoured his mother, daughters, wife and sisters. Ate, raped and killed the mothers of the earth who gave birth and nurtured their very own life. A black endless male maw of momentary sexual filth and senseless murder and destruction.

He had given his whole adult life to fighting that evil, regardless of its race, evil religions or politics. Caging it. Keeping it away from the innocent and beautiful.

And failed.

He started up the car, turned on the air-conditioning to its highest setting and started driving aimlessly into the empty semi-desert again. He needed to find another small town, buy aspirin, maybe do the motel thing and clean up. Try get some decent food down his neck for a change and buy a fresh case of whisky. Get some sleep in a real bed if he could possibly face people long enough. He couldn’t outrun the Black Thing. All he could do was keep moving … until he couldn’t anymore, and then …

Let the gun have the last word .

*

Strangely enough (at least for a person like Tina), the satellite tracking service Tina had originally contracted for her BMW was a bit archaic. It was unable to send out an alarm from the car. She had never upgraded. However, the security company was almost instantly able to tell Roy the exact GPS waypoint of the vehicle the moment he remembered in his blind, fractured panic and called them. The vehicle sensor was static. The car was not moving.

Of course, because it was the entire family of one of their own fellow officers under an active hijack, the elite Jackstop Task Force reacted very, very quickly.

But it was too late.

Tina and the girls had been with their hijacker for almost an hour and a half. The Task Force Super Frelon helicopter that flew full taps towards the waypoint was able to spot a lone person murkily positioned over one of the bodies. They saw the person run to the hijacked vehicle, but because of the rain, high trees, vegetation and bad visibility they had to hold out as an observation platform for the rapidly approaching part of their heavily armed reaction team on the ground. They could see only one suspect moving. The infrared imaging from their comprehensive eye-in-the-sky camera showed three other heat signatures, but they were static and two of them were visibly cooler. When the team arrived, the alleged hijacker was still apparently attempting to start the BMW. Infrared imaging also showed the presence of only one moving person in the vehicle and nobody else in the surrounding area who was not a part of the team.

The squad leader ordered the visible suspect from the vehicle, but he opened fire on them and they shot him dead. No Task Force members were wounded in the exchange of gunfire. No other hijackers appeared to be anywhere near the scene of the crime.

The ground team secured the crime scene and radioed up the presence of the deceased bodies of two females, one an adult and the other a naked child. Both gunshot wounds to the chest. The adult female had a second gunshot wound to the left knee. Another naked female child had also been discovered, alive, but she had a gunshot wound to the lower abdomen, which appeared to have caused major damage upon exit to the right cervical region of her spine. She had also suffered multiple shallow stab wounds and appeared to have been stabbed and blinded in both eyes. She was unconscious and haemorrhaging from both her vagina and anus. Her breathing was very shallow and her pulse extremely weak. Obviously pupil responses could not be determined and she appeared comatose. BP dangerously low.

Task Force medics on the ground immediately, very carefully, strapped her to a board, then they hit her with a shock pack, two morphine combat syrettes, slipped a wide open Ringers IV into her femoral artery and hooked in a plasma line, while almost simultaneously quickly managing to get field dressings on to the vicious wounds in her broken, bleeding little body. They expertly swaddled her in heat blankets and gingerly eased her into the basket the flyboys had in the interim dropped. She was cleated into the yawing harness and the flyboys quickly winched her up and began flying her with everything the aircraft could give directly towards a nearby private hospital on Captain McKenzie’s implicit orders over their radio net.

The ground squad team members were just as concerned for her life. If they had held out for an air ambulance, her blood acid level might have risen too much, allowing her to slide completely into renal failure, and they would most definitely have lost her. The Task Force had very, very good trauma medicine cross-training in their team for both themselves, the victims they rescued and, more perplexingly, the surviving suspects they were forced to subdue violently. Equal to and better than military Special Forces.

Hopefully they had enough expertise for her too. But the ground squad, as professional and crack as it was, were all deeply shocked by what they had seen.

One of the most battle-hardened veterans in the unit - a black sergeant who had survived sixteen protracted gun battles with hijackers and cash-in-transit robbers, and who had personally shot dead at least seven and wounded four of those suspects in those two years – was seen weeping openly as the unit chopper thudded off frantically on its mercy mission.

She also had two little girls.

By the time the patient landed fifteen minutes later, they had a full trauma team waiting on the hospital helipad. And while she had the most horrific injuries that anybody in the entire trauma team had ever seen together on a single child, she turned out to be a very, very tough and later an extremely brave little girl.

Forensics experts, medical evidence and much later Tracey herself, were able to tell Roy, a widely renowned child psychologist and the silently listening, note-scribbling case detectives exactly what happened during the terrible time before the police arrived.

The evil black man made their bleeding mommy drive down the dirt road for a long way and told her to stop. Then he told Mommy to take out her mobile phone, which she did. He ordered her to switch it off and pull out the SIM card. She did that too and offered him her handbag, but he just laughed and told her to get out of the car. Mommy begged him to take everything and not to hurt them, but he just screamed at her to get out of the very bad word car before he hit her again. Then their mommy got out the car and the evil black man got out too, but before he climbed out he told Tracey and Ninni that if they tried to get out or get away he wouldn’t just hit her again - he would kill Mommy.

He told Mommy to walk over to a big blue gum and stand against it. Then the evil black man shot her in the knee. The force of the .357 Magnum slug pulverised her kneecap and near took off her whole left leg. He left Tina lying in screaming agony next to the tree and came back to the car.

He told Tracey to get out.

The girls were by now in very deep shock from the gunshot. Their mother’s screams of agony were something so alien and terrible they had no response for them. He warned Janine that if she tried to get out of the car, he would kill her sister and her mother and if he caught her he would kill her too.

Janine started crying. A low, moaning wail of hopelessness and dread. Tracey was completely mute and when the evil black man grabbed her and pulled her from the vehicle she came out meekly in a silent, dreamy catatonia. He slammed the door on Janine.

He told Tracey to lie on the ground. She looked at him dumbly so he hit her off her feet. She lay sprawled in dazed pain and began bawling loudly too. He put the gun right in her face and told her that if she didn’t shut up and stop crying he would kill her sister. Tracey’s terror for Ninni’s safety helped her and she managed to stop howling. He told her to lie on her back and lift up her dress. She terrifiedly obeyed him, vainly trying to stop her gasping sobs and the uncontrollable shaking in her thin little pale legs. He grinned and told her to spread her legs. She obeyed. He told her to pull her panties away from her private parts, and show him what he called her poes. She didn’t want to, because she was shy, but she was horribly scared for Ninni and Mommy so she did what he wanted. He grinned, bent down and pushed two of his thick rough fingers into her - down there. The blast of agony was so bad that it knocked all her wind right out and she suddenly found herself in a bright prickly place where it felt like she was going to pass out. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t scream. The pain was absolutely terrible. Her little hands scrabbled reflexively at his arm, but it was like a steel bar.

And that was nothing yet.

Somewhere in the pain Tracey heard screaming. It was Tina swearing and cursing at the evil black man in a spitting, agonised fury to leave her daughter alone. If that’s what he wanted, get it from a real woman. Come get it from her. Filthy, fucking animal! Come fuck her if that’s what he wanted.

Tracey had never heard Mommy speak like that.

The evil black man then got up, left Tracey gasping in paralysed agony, walked over to where her Mommy lay in a pool of blood and wordlessly shot her in the chest. He turned around, came back and ripped off Tracey’s knickers, and after hurting her some more, the rest of her clothes. He held her down by her neck, spread her open and did something she couldn’t see. Then the real pain down there started and went on and on. He hit her in the face with his fists, turned her over and did the pain in her from behind. Hurting her inside her bum. Over and over. Hitting her and changing the pain. Somewhere in the sea of agony she realised that she was floating up and it had stopped down there but he suddenly stuffed himself in her mouth and even if could have she was already far too weak from shock and the haemorrhaging to try and stop him as he nearly choked her to death with his hands ripping his thing into her throat by her hair and her plaits. That pain was so small compared with the other that she didn’t even feel it.

She lost consciousness after the next beating.

It appeared that the hijacker then shot her in her lower stomach, after which he stabbed her a few times and cut into her eyes.

The hijacker then must have apparently walked back over to the BMW and dragged out Janine, who had obviously been trying to cower away under the seat ever since her mother’s murder. Forensics later found spit matching her DNA almost impossibly under the seat.

Then he obviously started on her.

He was still busy with Janine McKenzie when the Jackstop helicopter clattered up overhead. What the police did not see or hear because of the noise of the rotors, downwash and weather was him shooting her in her little chest before running away to try and stupidly start a stolen car he could never – and would never ever - drive.

*

Roy woke up again. This time it was dark. Black. It wasn’t a cell in an unknown drunk-tank. Yet again. That had happened a few times when provincial cops found him passed out in lay-byes next to the road and took him in to sober up with the ironic admonition that it was dangerous to sleep next to the road even if he had a licensed firearm. They didn’t know it contained the last word for him and he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell them even if they suspected as much.

But he wasn’t in a cell. Roy was in a bed in a very musty-smelling room. He fumbled around scratching, found a small cabinet and switched on the bed lamp. It was a cheap motel room.

The inevitable bottle of scotch and a Gideon’s Bible were on the battered bedside table, although he had no idea of where he was. Nothing seemed familiar. He had been too drunk to remember booking in.

Not that he cared anyway.

And he still had no idea what day or date it was.

But the demons were close.

Close and laughing manically. Wanting to hurl images, images and more images into his eyes. Sucking up the black pain pouring from his psyche. Slurping on his agony like fine ambrosia.

Roy had questions. Not the questions that doctors, inquests and police reports could tell him. Those had all already been placed under myriads of microscopes, both great and small, for all their extremely public answers.

Roy had darker questions.

Did you cry out to me in the car, Ninni? When that dirty, filthy, fucking kaffir was hurting Tracey after the evil bastard killed Mommy - did you cry to me? Did you think I didn’t love you? Did you think that if you didn’t try and run away the evil animal might have let Mommy and Tracey live? Did you blame yourself, Tina? Tracey told me in her own way that you tried to get him off her by offering him yourself in a way he might understand. Did you believe he would leave her alone? Tina, had you realised the sick, filthy piece of shit was going to kill you all? Tina, did you deliberately get him to kill you first so that you didn’t have to watch our daughters die?

Tina?

Ti, I forgive you my darling. I miss you so much. I want to be with you so badly. Oh, my girls, my girls, I would have died for all of you. A million times I would have died for you.

Roy picked up the whisky bottle, threw the cap across the room and drank until the blackness returned. He could hide away from the demons there.

And in the darkness there were no questions.

*

The media frenzy surrounding the case was inevitable. In a country utterly inured to senseless ultraviolence, the McKenzie case went straight to the heart of the South African public’s psyche. At least the psyche that wanted to picture Roy and Tracey’s terrible wounds in a certain way.

Roy loathed the press.

All he wanted to do after the massively publicised joint funeral was look after Tracey. But like sharks with blood in the water, they were not going to go away. They smelled the pain and it sold lots of hard copy and prime time. They wanted a big bite of it.

A big fucking bite.

Fucking parasites. The investigative TV reporters were the worst. Following him everywhere. Phoning, begging for interviews. Promising lunches in false sympathetic voices.

Roy ducked and ran.

Stevie was a mess.

He and Tina, in tragic postmortem abstentia, had won their case. And a huge settlement. But he was devastated nonetheless. He tried to explain the unbelievably large numbers to Roy, but he wasn’t interested in the fucking money or massive insurance settlements covering her practice and her life. He wasn’t interested when Tina was alive, and certainly not after. All that money is probably exactly what got her killed, and it sure as shit wasn’t going to bring her or Janine back. Or make Tracey see and walk.

He signed myriads of papers and Stevie promised to take care of the legal ends of the various matters.

Rather wisely, the South African Police Services medically suspended Roy on full pay and ordered him to get post-traumatic stress counselling. He reckoned they wanted to keep him far from the investigation, even if it was finally closed after the over-extensive medical inquests of both victims and the perpetrator.

He handed in his resignation.

It was accepted.

He found some small use for a bit of the money, though. The press had driven him so crazy camping outside the house that he paid an utterly heartbroken Patience a generous six-month severance and made arrangements with Stevie to set up a trust fund for her own kids’ schooling. Patience had been with them since Tina fell pregnant. The twins were like her own daughters to her. Then he wrote her a glowing reference, packed a bag, called a taxi, locked the bloody house, ran the paparazzi gauntlet into the car and booked himself into a five-star hotel closest to Tracey’s private hospital. He told hotel management he wanted strict privacy. The hotel, used to visiting pop-in rock-stars and film personalities from California, ensured it, and that got rid of the yellow journalism sharks.

He simply could not face fixing or driving Tina’s bullet-riddled car and he obviously no longer had access to his work-pool vehicle, so he went out, walked into a dealership and bought the ATV that Tina had liked so much and had fought with him over because she wanted to buy it for him as a present. At the time he told her that no self-respecting policeman of his rank could morally justify driving such a thing. It made him look like he was on the take. The real reason was more because it was way too flashy for a simple thrifty copper like Roy.

The simple thrifty ex-copper paid cash.

The salesperson nearly had a heart attack when he walked in, pointed to a shiny black one on the floor, tossed down a platinum card, told him to figure in an extra small personal gratuity to expedite the paperwork, and demanded the keys.

Then he went shopping for the best neurological, ophthalmology, obstetrics-gynaecology and orthopaedic surgeon’s money could buy. He trampled on a lot of pride and stomped on many professional toes, but he didn’t give a shit. Tracey’s recovery was all that mattered to him. Their greed and professional arrogance could help her.

The nursing staff sympathised with his constant, quietly hovering presence and he spent many nights illicitly in her private room sleeping on a bed they discreetly brought in for him after she was released from the ICU.

The back injury was the most pressing problem. After the gang of orthopaedic and neurosurgeons had managed to carefully pick all the bullet’s shrapnel and shattered bone from Tracey's back during the course of twelve staggered emergency operations they told Roy what he quietly suspected. She would never walk again and she would never be a mother. She would also never see again. But with prolonged rehabilitation and all the love he could give her, she should be able to live with her disabilities.

First she had to pull out of her coma. The neurosurgeons said their machines and tests revealed no medical reason for her to not to wake up. Her body had fought off the infections from the gunshot and back injury and while the spinal damage was permanent, the injury was orthopaedically pinned, stable and healing well. The ObGyn people said that the injuries to her pelvic floor and uterus, while also permanent and having necessitated the radical hysterectomy they had performed, was also stable and healing well. The ophthalmologist told him her excavated eye sockets were healing well and would be ready for their prosthetics soon. The cuts and stab wounds had all mostly healed, stitches and staples removed. The dark, dirty yellow and green bruises on her face, neck and back had mostly all faded away.

She just needed to wake up.

Roy spent hours day and night holding her hand, talking softly to her, telling her how much he loved her. He read her favourite stories over and over, invented new ones to tell her, sang her songs and related all the funny nursing gossip. He massaged her muscles and exercised her thin little arms and legs. The nursing staff showed him how to carefully rub restorative tissue oil into the thick purple surgical scars on her back and the rest of her body to minimise the onset of bedsores. He washed her lovingly, dressed her carefully and brushed her beautiful hair. He wept quietly and prayed for her endlessly.

She was his new career.

*

Roy drove and drove down the long, straight road bathed in sharp moonlight as it ribboned off into the distance. Time to pull off the road again soon. Maybe for the last time. Something told him it was coming. The smell of the fast-food meal he bought at the roadside truck stop should have made him hungry, but it didn’t. He was eating only as a reflex now. All his passion was spent, he was nothing but a broken shell, and the only thing he did with any vigour was drink until the darkness came and banished the screaming demons back into murky, forgetful mists.

Soon, very, very soon, he knew, the gun between his legs would mercifully have the last word. He wondered if he would even feel it. Even that made it unfair. To die so easily. A bright, painless instant.

He kept driving through the middle of nowhere in the darkness, looking out for the right place.

*

Eventually, late one night, exactly three months, seventeen days, eleven hours and forty-two minutes after the trauma team logged her in - Tracey stirred. As usual, Roy was sleeping in the chair next to her bed and holding her tiny hand.

Somewhere in the grey ghosts of sleep, Roy felt his hand jerk. But it couldn’t be his hand … Something else! Roy snapped awake – every sense suddenly swamped with adrenalin. Tracey's hand twitched again and she moved her head. A small, low groan escaped her lips.

Roy burst into tears.

Tracey, are you awake? It’s Daddy, baby. I’m here, my angel, are you awake, my poppet?

Another small groan.

Roy hit the emergency button next to the bed.

He lifted Tracey’s hand and smothered it with little kisses, smoothed her hair, gently urging her to wake up, assuring her that he was there, telling her through blinding tears that he loved her, he loved her, he loved her …

"Da-a-a-a-ddy?" She croaked it in a thin, reedy voice. And squeezed his hand weakly.

The nursing team arrived in a rush, and ten minutes later the neurosurgeon on call announced that Tracey was out of the coma but he was going to sedate her deeply so that she could sleep normally for the rest of the night and in the morning they would begin the careful process of helping her cope with her loss and injuries.

Roy spent most of the night in a daze between joy and tears. His poor little baby girl was awake again and could come back home.

Then the Virus came …

*

Roy awoke again, with all his nerves suddenly screaming on edge.

He had not shot himself … yet.

He was still in the car, on the back end of his last black drunk, a bit nauseous and dizzy. And a sound that should not be there had woken him up.

He listened …

Voices .

He had taken to hiding the car in bush away from direct sight of whatever road he was driving, because he didn’t like waking up in strange cells through the actions of concerned and pitying Provincial Traffic Police officers, his name and face recognised by them from his driver’s licence and gun permits in his ID booklet.

Actually he hated it.

He did not want to be disturbed at all – but now he had been.

And tonight was to be The Night - the very last thing he needed was company.

Or witnesses.

Leave him alone!

The sounds of the voices were wafting in through the tops of the all the car’s windows, which he opened slightly at night through adopted habit to stop the early morning sun frying his hungover brain. He was usually too drunk to care about mosquitoes.

The voices were pitched. Tense. Arguing.

Roy reached up and immobilised the dead interior light switch so it would not light up. Then he carefully opened the door with an almost inaudible click, slipped the gun out from between his legs and slowly and silently eased himself into the brisk night air.

He could hear the voices more clearly now and pointed his head in their direction over the ATV’s high bonnet. Cold moonlight washed the bush surrounding him in greyish silver.

Afrikaans.

Men.

Gutter talk, prison language.

Roy understood it.

In his other life he had to be fluent in the language to understand the criminals he captured. He understood perfectly.

He crept closer slowly and very quietly and eventually made out the dim interior lights of a car, four doors wide open and a group of men shadowed around the light of the open boot, parked in the same lay-bye he had chosen, although nowhere near where he had hidden away for the final act.

He obviously had no idea how long they had been there.

He listened carefully.

They were arguing about a woman. No, two women. An old one and a young one.

Having sex with them.

Who was … going first?

Yes, arguing about who was going to get the young one first. The daughter.

Roy went cold as the thread of their argument unravelled.

They were standing behind the car drinking and laughing nastily, mocking one another, arguing loudly.

He clearly counted five men in the bright moonlight. He hoped they had not seen him in his dark blue T-shirt and jeans, although he was certain they had night-blinded themselves with the artificial interior lighting of the car and boot.

The largest man stood a head above the other four and was demanding most loudly and most stridently that he get to take the young woman first – as longas he wanted and how he wanted.

An older voice was arguing back that he knew exactly where the farm was and without him there would be no hit tonight. At least one that they could pull off with their replica toy pistols and the inside knowledge that the farmer had no dangerous dogs but did have a wife and teenage daughter. And probably a safe full of money and real guns too.

The large man retorted angrily that if any one of them wanted, he could turn this into a fight that second, and one which no one would forget. They could do what they all wanted, but the little boer bitch was his until he was finished. The three laaities with them were coming along to make their Nomberskangaka with boer gazi – that’s all. He was along because he liked robbing, killing and taking poes and he would have to finish off everything anyway if they lost their nerve – that’s why he deserved the young one. The rest of them had to prove themselves to him first.

He was assured angrily that no one would lose their nerve.

Roy was not only fully awake now as adrenalin swamped him – he was as sober as a judge and suddenly as sharp as a razor.

What the fuck? This wasn’t some wandering family stopping for a rest and whom he hoped would bugger off quickly so he could down half a bottle and pull the fucking trigger finally.

Who were these animals?

And what should he do?

He was a recently retired police officer; he should arrest them.

But for what crime?

They hadn’t done anything yet and it was his word against theirs – there were no witnesses to back his story.

Were they actually going to do what they were saying?

It sounded like it to Roy.

What should he do?

He knew, and ironically it infuriated him, because tonight, he had felt, was his night to die.

His Night!

He did not need this!

Knowing they were unarmed made him angrier because they could not respond with the same force he actually wanted needed ... to end it ... for him.

Then the anger exploded into cold, boiling, molten rage and he waited.

For about a half-hour, as they drank up the courage, he waited, enduring shooting pains in his legs from crouching silently as he heard them fantasising about the rapes, murders and robbery they were about to commit. They had moved on from the pecking order of the rapes and were loudly debating on whether to kill the farmer or force him to watch them until his wife and daughter were dead. They seemed to be agreeing to force him to watch as long as they tied him to a chair properly first.

The big man and the older voice then told the younger three exactly whom each was to kill. Each one of them had to stab and then strangle their particular victim to death with pieces of nylon cord, which the big man then pulled from the boot to show them. Then with their fresh blood they had to claim the Nomber on the walls. That was for the papers and for proof that they had done it for the gang.

They all hooted gang slogans and waved around the dark silhouettes of what Roy now knew to be fake guns as the big man tossed the ropes back in.

Eventually they finished imbibing the bottled Dutch courage, put the empty bottle and glasses back and shut the boot, while Roy tensed.

The car was facing towards his right hand, so luckily he had direct sight of the driver. As the last man climbed in and slammed his door shut, he burst out of the bushes, slipping off the safety of his pistol as he did so, and ran right up to the startled driver’s window. Roy double-tapped him point blank in the head through the glass. The man had just switched on the headlights; he hadn’t even started the engine yet.

It was the dimly illuminated face of the older sounding voice that disappeared as the gun roared, glass cracked opaquely and instantly the dead man’s head whipped away from the force of the bullets, but Roy just kept moving around the car quickly to the boot and immediately yelled at them to get out with their hands up.

Eight shots left.

Screaming erupted in the car and muffled hysterical begging not to shoot reached Roy’s ears.

He bawled the command again more furiously.

Roy stood where they could see him and the gun clearly in the car’s red tail lights and motioned again with the weapon that they should get out.

He was trying to listen for traffic, but the deafening ringing in his ears from the two shots had shut out the usually clear-sounding night.

The doors opened and the occupants slowly emerged, hands raised.

Roy screamed that if they tried to fuck with him with their toy guns or knives, he would shoot them where they stood, but they merely stood shaking and begging … Please Baas, please Baas - don’t shoot Baas. They were poor, they had nothing, they had done nothing to Baas.

The big man, now far more clearly seen by Roy, had been in the passenger seat, and what looked to be three teenagers in the back. All of them had exited the vehicle from the passenger side away from the very dead driver, whose skull, brains and blood were splattered all over them like dark blotches of glistening wetness in the moon. They were all too near the as yet deserted road.

Roy had to keep them in his control while they were in shock and gruffly ordered them away from the car and around it to a patch of star-washed gravel in the rest area, where he told them to sit on their hands.

They complied, cringing and wailing at him not to kill them, please Baasie, please don’t kill them. Please Baaasie!

Roy heard nothing, even if he could hear. He was thinking too hard.

What he had done was cold-blooded murder. If this were a crime scene he had been called out to, he would have to arrest himself on the spot. To all intents and purposes, the man he had shot was innocent.

What was that thing about looking into the Abyss?

Somehow he was still numb.

The murder meant nothing to him emotionally - yet.

Whatever it was he had done, he was on their side now, albeit for a fantasy crime they had not committed, and he wasn’t sure who had pushed him over. He could have arrested them. Easily. He knew that even five of them could not fight a fully loaded gun in his very expert hands.

Roy refused to think about it; he had a dangerous situation on his hands.

He backed away from their miserable fear-fuelled pleas, keeping the pistol trained on them steadily, and edged back around the car. At the driver’s door he took careful aim at the group and punched in the shattered window with his elbow. It was a bit of a reach and a frustrating fiddle, but he managed to remove the car keys from the ignition and made his way backwards to the boot.

This was the very dangerous bit.

There was no way any one of them could move fast enough to get to his feet before Roy shot him down, but he was worried about being night-blinded by the boot’s interior lights. He unlocked it and opened it, not looking in directly, but watching his prisoners.

Then he glanced down, saw the cut strands of white rope and grabbed them, looking up almost immediately into bright, colourful spots dancing into his eyes.

The fuzzy image of the four men sitting on their hands did not stir. They obviously had not realised he was momentarily blinded. He slammed the boot closed.

The silver night crept back. All too slowly for Roy’s pounding heart.

Moving towards them with the ropes, he could hear they were calming slightly in their demeaning pleading. At the back of Roy’s mind was still the fear of other passing traffic which might be coming and which he could probably not hear yet. He had to tie them up and move them quickly.

Pointing the gun at the big man he told him to get up slowly, turn around and come backward towards him. Any games, he died. The man did so silently until he told him to stop and lie on his stomach facing the others with his hands on the back of his head. The man did as he was told. The teenagers had lapsed into troubled silence, probably thinking that tying them up was a good sign.

Roy put his knee into the middle of the big man’s back to keep him down, put the gun between his teeth awkwardly and pulled the man’s unresisting hands down, quickly tying his thumbs together with a piece of the thin nylon rope while hair-trigger tense, quivering almost in concentration, ready to snatch the gun and put a bullet into any one of them who moved. Especially the big man under his knee.

They seemed to sense this and kept very still.

As soon as the big man was trussed and immobile, he called the largest of the teenagers and repeated the process until all four were firmly tied by their thumbs and lying face down.

His luck was holding out. No car had passed since he'd awoken in a daze almost three-quarters of an hour earlier.

The simple joys of being in the middle of nowhere.

He ordered them to their feet, but had to help them by grabbing each by the collar and hauling him up. Then he told them to march down the track he had used to drive to his own hiding place.

They obeyed and came out into the small wild meadow with the dim shadow and gleam of the black ATV under the trees where Roy had parked it.

He made the men sit down with their legs stretched out in front of them.

Roy stood looking at them, thinking, and they sensed he had come to the next phase of whatever he was going to do to them and the pitiful wailing and pleading with the Baasie started up again. He came to a decision, stepped over to the big man and shot him in the left kneecap.

All the men screamed, the big man loudest, and he began cursing Roy as terribly as he knew how.

The teenagers were howling and screaming in terror. The one Roy had come to think of as the middle one started scrambling and rolled on to his stomach, presumably so that he could attempt to get to his knees and feet to run. Roy stomped on his right leg and shot him through the back of the kneecap to more howls and screams of rage, fear and agony. He stomped down on the other two’s legs and shot their kneecaps even as they started scrabbling, screaming for mercy, crying, bawling and now begging the Groot Baas – please, Groot Baas, Grootbaas, Grootbaas, please, please Grootbaas, don’t shoot uuusss.

Roy heard nothing. Six shots, four to go. His ears were buggered.

He left them screaming in pain and alternately cursing him and went back for their car. They were going nowhere for now. It seemed that no one had stopped while he was out of sight and busy. The body, he knew, was going to be a problem so he could not leave it or the car there.

He wasn’t finished yet.

Roy tucked his pistol into the back of his jeans and opened the passenger door. The metallic smell of blood and the sickening stench of faeces from the corpse hit him, making him momentarily nauseous, but he adjusted the passenger seat back as far as it would go. Then he opened the rear passenger door, reached across and dragged the stubborn body out of the driver’s seat and mostly into the back. He was grateful the older sounding man had been a small person. He slammed the door and reaching in through the passenger door, he grunted and heaved the legs of the corpse out of the driver’s side and stuffed them untidily into the passenger footwell. He stood back panting.

Shit.

He moved around the vehicle, daring a look up and down the utterly deserted expanse of road.

Good.

He climbed in, ignored the smelly mess inside the vehicle, started it, and drove down the same little track and parked out of sight. Then he returned to his ATV, fetched his bottle of scotch and walked back to the moaning, crying and groaning wounded men. They eyed him with naked terror and the senseless begging started again.

He told them to shut up and took a long swig of his whisky.

Baas, baas … Who the fuck said that to white men any more?

When they were more or less silent, Roy told them that they were all going to die. At this they went hysterical again, except for the big man, who was now spitting with anger and murderous hate and spewing all the threats and insults he could at Roy. This almost made Roy smile, but they could not hear him speaking through their screams, so Roy put on the pistol’s safety, grabbed one of the men by his sparse afro, put his knee into the back of the man’s head and smashed his mouth with the butt of the pistol a few times as hard as he could.

The cracking of teeth and bone and the shocked screams of the others made a louder and uglier noise he could hear through the ringing in his ears. It was driving him insane.

He wanted to be alone!

In silence!

So he silenced them all in that fashion.

Except for moaning in pain and spitting out bits of teeth and gore, each man now remained in mute horror - making bubbly, sucking noises as they struggled to breathe.

Roy sat down again, facing them, and calmly told them that he had to explain to them his predicament - because they had to know why they were going to die.

The men groaned wretchedly.

He could never have let them go on to attack, rape, torture and murder innocent people like they had been planning to, and he similarly could not arrest them, because as a police officer he had no crime and no case he could prove. But the biggest problem of all was that he was the only one legally guilty of murder here this night. And he had no alternative. They had asked for it. Since they were arguing over who to rape first, they had to decide like gang indotas which of them was going to die first.

They couldn’t scream and yell anymore, because of their broken mouths, but they shook their heads vigorously, pleading and croaking denial through their crying and moans of agony.

He smelt faeces again and realised one of them had shit his pants already.

Somehow, the shock of what he had done was wearing off as the booze hit him afresh and Roy looked at the pitiful sight before him.

Was this pure evil?

These three skinny kids and this sad bully who threatened them all?

He slipped the safety off and shot the teenager at the end of their wretched line-up in the head. The body slumped over and the dreadful sounds of the survivors' sobbing and fearful whimpers rose up to a wailing maniacal shriek of hopelessness and dread. He quickly shot the other two teenagers in the face too, silencing them, then stood up deaf from the shots and battered by the inhuman cries for mercy, Baaff, pleathe Baaff, dear Jesus God, don’t kill us Baaff. No Baff, Plea—

He walked away blindly.

He never ever wanted to hear that again.

And, he was the evil one now. He was a trigger squeeze from the ongoing screams of his victims roaring around and trapped in his head like a malevolent wind - while their shattered corpses were now forever silent.

He looked at the dark shape of his pistol. Nine shots if he had counted correctly.

One left.

To make sure, he popped the magazine. It came out empty, yet the slide was forward and the hammer still locked.

One up the spout.

For his rudely interrupted Night.

Whatever passed as normal life was forever lost to Roy. He had become a cold mass murderer in the space of an hour. The same thing in men he had fought to cage almost all his adult life. And he was keenly aware of this, yet strangely he still felt nothing.

After all, why should he?

What made them so baselessly evil?

And why him?

Why force him to choose if he was preventing evil or being the embodiment of it?

It was supposed to be His Night!

He walked back to the big man and the three slumped-over corpses.

The big man was obviously in tremendous pain, but here, at what he could only perceive as his final moments – he showed uncommon bravery in his silent defiance.

Roy sat down, stared at him and drank whisky.

Wetness was running down his cheeks to his chin.

The big man stared back silently.

Both men were lost in their fatal thoughts.

The moon shone down its beautiful silver light, care-free and slowly the gentle sounds of the bush returned to Roy as the ringing in his ears faded.

Roy put his hand to his cheek and touched the wetness.

He smelt his damp fingers, but it was not blood, there were tears running down his face, but …

… His tears smelt like nothing.

Eventually … Roy slowly, very slowly, raised the weapon for the last time, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger.

Copyright © Al Lovejoy, 2008. This manuscript is the intellectual property of Al Lovejoy and may not be copied. The moral right of Al Lovejoy to be identified as The Author is asserted.