Authors: Ian Patrick
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Thrillers
Ryder thought the moment was right.
‘Marcus,’ he interjected, ‘have you
read it? I thought you told me recently that you were so busy that you didn’t
have much time for reading.’
There was a moment of silence before
‘Well, I dipped into it, and I saw
enough, thanks very much.’
‘Really? Dipped into it?’ said
‘Yes. I have the right to decide that
a book is crap if I want to, don’t I?’
‘The right?’ said Busisiwe.
‘Yes, the right.
That’s what I said. I have the right…’
‘Do you mean in a legal sense?’ said
‘Do you mean you have the right in a
sense to pronounce that a book is
absolutely appalling, as you call it, without having read it?’
‘Yes, I do, actually. Certainly. Yes.
I think I have the legal right to say that a book is crap…’
Yes, indeed. No question. I’m quite sure you have the legal right. Sorry,
Marcus, I thought for a moment you were talking about a
‘I thought, from what you said, that
you meant you had a
rubbish a writer without having read what he or she has written. Especially
with you being a writer yourself, I mean.
right to do so.
Marcus, I misunderstood you. Of course you have the
right to say what you like about someone’s writing. You are,
after all, a professional writer. You write radio drama for a living, you said.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say to anyone else that they have no
right to tell people what they think of your own writing.
Even if they hadn’t read your writing or heard your radio dramas.’
There was another awkward moment of
silence. Theresa was not going to come to the rescue of her husband this time.
Indeed, she looked quite pleased at his moment of discomfort. Marcus tried to
break the silence.
‘I do, actually, think that the book
Elizabeth mentioned is absolutely appalling. If you had read some of the latest
Filipino writers… Now, for example, compared to someone like…’
‘Well I think…’ began Ryder.
‘What I quite liked about what
Elizabeth was saying just now,’ interrupted Fiona Ryder, because she could see
that her husband was also about to interrupt, and she felt that her
intervention would probably be a little less inflammatory than his, ‘is that she
was using some interesting critical vocabulary to describe
she liked the book. She wasn’t just saying
it was good. She was saying
it was good.’
‘What? What do you… what are you
saying…’ said Marcus.
‘Well,’ Fiona replied, ‘I happened to
identify with what Elizabeth said about the language and the imagery and the
characterisation and the texture of the writing and the structure and the
foreshadowing and the … well, and things like that. I thought your whole
critique, Elizabeth, was really very interesting and very helpful – to
me, anyway – in understanding where you were coming from.’
‘I agree,’ said Busisiwe. ‘I couldn’t
help thinking that Marcus is the only one among us who is a professional writer
but that his own critical lexicon seems to me to contain very few words between
the two extreme superlatives
‘To each of which, of course, he
always attaches a third superlative,’ said Jeremy Ryder, ‘in case he thinks
those two words can’t stand up for themselves.’
‘What? What do you mean?’ said
Marcus. ‘What do you mean
‘I mean, Marcus, that like Elizabeth
and like Fiona and Busisiwe I only ever hear you say that a book or a film is
. I think you could
make room for a little light and shade in your critical appraisals.’
‘I agree too,’ said Joyce. ‘When I
was listening to Marcus just now I thought he would do well to employ a few
more words such as Elizabeth used during their argument, like
or… I’m no literary expert,
but what I mean is that I prefer words that don’t lead to an emphatic closure
of discussion but rather open up a discussion. Well, anyway, far be it from me
to tell a professional writer which words he should add to his critical
armoury. I know nothing about crime fiction. I only deal with the fairly boring
world of crime and rehabilitation and restorative justice.’
‘I think that’s right, Joyce,’ said
Jeremy Ryder. ‘I would just like to believe that there does indeed exist some
such armoury in Marcus, and that it comprises some critical vocabulary beyond
coupled to some
vague and largely meaningless superlative.’
There was a terrible silence. An
terrible silence, thought
Fiona Ryder. So she decided that she would come to the rescue.
‘Well, I’m sure that Marcus will be
the first to admit that he only does that for effect, in order to get the
argument going. Don’t you Marcus? It’s simply because you like to provoke a
Marcus grasped the lifeline. Yes,
indeed, he was a provocative kind of chap, he said. He always thought that it
was good to liven up a conversation by being contrary,
even if only in jest
, and the best dinner parties were those where
there was some cut and thrust…
The Laphroaig helped, and the evening
mellowed, and the room became cosier, and the conversation bubbled along a
little more convivially than it had. Mongezi and Ntombi and Hans joined in more
volubly than they had done before the whisky started flowing.
The ensuing discussion of local
hijacking incidents and housebreaking and murder and armed robbery and grievous
bodily harm and rape and disembowelment seemed to Ryder to provoke far more
polite and gentle and rational conversation among his guests than had the
subject matter of crime fiction.
The inevitable polite words of
amelioration occurred at the door as farewells were uttered, amidst comments
about the unbearable heat and the projections for the weather and holiday plans
and distant relatives and rugby. Ryder didn’t play his part in this. This was
primarily because as he was leaving Marcus couldn’t resist quoting from some
BBC journalist about the refugee crisis in Europe and its likely impact on the
welfare budgets of European Union members, and Elizabeth took the opportunity
to say that she hadn’t read the journalist in question, but asked Marcus what
felt about the issue. Marcus offered
a response that included a reference to financial data purporting to support
his argument. Ntombi pounced on this and pointed out that as a chartered
accountant she felt it necessary to point out the basic flaws in the arithmetic
that Marcus was proffering.
In the pause that followed Busisiwe
decided that she had had enough Laphroaig to throw caution to the winds, so she
added another comment.
‘You’re always quoting some BBC
journalist or other, Marcus, or some Bank of England guru. I refuse to discuss
these matters with you next time we meet, unless you stop trying to intimidate
me by quoting some authoritative source that you’ve read and I haven’t read, or
some BBC television programme that you’ve seen and I haven’t. We’re not in some
backwoods dump out here in South Africa, you know?’
Ryder was very tempted to leap in at
that point. He found himself entirely in agreement with Busisiwe and felt the
impulse to join forces with her. But he stopped himself from intervening as he
suddenly realised that he might then be as guilty of the same kind of
of which he had accused
Koekemoer. In any case, Theresa’s intervention was better than any that he had
‘Oh, don’t worry, Busi,’ said
Theresa. ‘Marcus invariably hasn’t actually read the guy he’s quoting. He’s
usually just quoting someone else’s quotation of them.’
Amidst the polite laughter Marcus
managed a riposte.
‘Well, at least I can quote some
political commentators. Which suggests I’m reading them. What’s
favourite author’s quote at
‘My favourite author?’
‘No, your favourite quote.’
‘Oh. Well. That’s easy,’ replied
Ryder. ‘My favourite quotation is from Ralph Waldo Emerson.’
‘Oh? And what, might I ask, is that?’
Ryder replied, quietly.
I hate quotations. Tell me, instead, what you know.’
It being very late, the
guests left quietly, murmuring in pairs as they made their way into the
darkness. Fiona Ryder glared at her husband.
Ndileko and Mavis
sat in a corner of the tavern. Music blared and drink flowed. Patrons were
trying in vain to cool themselves down by waving any object that might
substitute as a fan. They used anything thin and flat that might help to move
the stagnant air in the place. Pieces of paper or cardboard, or plastic trays
that had served to carry drinks, were all waving in front of perspiring
He had grown
enormously in confidence as the night wore on. Friends came and went. He was by
no means well known in the tavern, but on this particular night he was pleased
to introduce Mavis to some of his friends who had chosen the same night to
visit. They also danced together, and shortly after eleven-thirty they were
talking about giving up the mission when three new men arrived.
There was a
noticeable dip in the level of noise in the venue. It was almost as if someone
had made an announcement. The music continued, but the level of conversation
and laughter and energy took a distinct dive. Mavis turned at the same time as
Ndileko as they sensed the change in mood, and they both saw, at the same time,
the eyes of Skhura Thabethe at the entrance near the far end of the bar.
Mgwazeni and Wakashe were with him.
breathless with excitement. She and Ndileko were fascinated as they saw the
attention of the entire venue switch focus onto the three men. They watched as
respectful and subdued greetings were directed by patrons at
. His two companions didn’t appear to receive any such
greetings. It was Thabethe who attracted the attention. People whispered to one
another. Those in the know told those who didn’t about the man with the eyes.
Gradually the hubbub of conversation started up again, but there were still
many in the tavern occasionally glancing over at Thabethe as more and more
information was shared. Then the sound started returning and escalated back to
its earlier level.
Mavis whispered into
Ndileko’s willing ear, telling him as much as she could without, she thought,
crossing any line that Captain Nyawula might draw. It crossed her mind to put
out a call immediately to Navi Pillay, but then she thought of the danger. The
man with the eyes appeared to be scanning the entire room. If he saw someone
whispering into an iPhone he might walk over and ask why, the moment he entered
the room, they chose to make a call that looked to him like a very
surreptitious call. There was something about the man that chilled her into
inaction. She decided that in any case by the time any cop responded to a call,
the three men would be on the move again. She would then be left trying to
explain why she was acting way above her pay grade and putting herself and her
companion in danger.
fascinated. He told Mavis that the man with the bandaged hands was now familiar
to him. He had seen him before in the tavern. He remembered particularly seeing
the man a few months ago, dancing wildly at one of the hip-hop competitions. He
had never seen the third man,
the man with the
eyes, he said, and added that the man with the eyes was a man that one was not
likely to forget.
They both agreed
that they would simply be as unobtrusive as possible, and watch, and wait, to
see what they might learn about the three men.
The Ryders cleared up glasses and
crockery and cutlery and were doing a final
the dining-room, living-room and kitchen before preparing for bed. Cushions
were being fluffed up, a brush and pan were hard at work, carpets were shaken
out, and windows and doors checked as they spoke. Sugar-Bear was doing the
pre-wash on the dishes outside. He always enjoyed a dinner party, when the
Ryders would abandon thoughts about the dog’s diet and let him simply play his
part in cleaning up.
Fiona decided against picking up
with him the subject of the post-dinner conversation with their guests. There
were more important things to discuss, like Nadine Salm.
‘Do you think Pauline is OK?’ she
asked. ‘I was worried after I spoke to her this morning. I was right about her
wanting to be alone. I asked her if she’d like me to come around for coffee but
she said she’d prefer to be alone. She was going to see Nadine both this
afternoon and tonight. But now I’m thinking that once she gets home after a
visit to the hospital, that’s probably exactly when she would really like some
company. Is it good for her to be all alone?’