Authors: Ian Patrick
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Thrillers
The Ryders were chuckling.
‘Good dog! Come here, Sugar-Bear.’
The dog obeyed instantly and ran
over to Fiona, to be rewarded with a tweak of the ears and a hug.
‘See? I had full protection while
you were away. Nothing to fear when Sugar-Bear is near.’
‘I must say I was worried about you
three while I was away,’ Ryder said. ‘Oxford University is running a particular
theme on crime in South Africa.
Posters, statistics, papers,
photos, video clips.
They seem to focus on crime in South Africa as a
special case. I think the students start off under the impression that that
section of their studies is all about crime fiction rather than crime, because
of the cases they’re introduced to. Then they start looking at the statistics
and reading up on documented cases and they begin to realise that it’s anything
‘Don’t worry. We’re careful.
The boys too.
They’re never extravagant. They dress down. No
flashy stuff. They don’t attract the attention of criminals.’
‘Still. I worry. I don’t know what
I’d do if…’
She was surprised at Ryder’s genuine
heartfelt concern, and reassured him again. Then added a loving embrace and
kiss. Which started Sugar-Bear off again, barking at them.
‘See,’ said Ryder. ‘He doesn’t
really like me. He’s jealous. Wants you to himself.’
Ryder grabbed the dog, rolling with
him in the sand before suddenly leaping up and sprinting into the water to join
the boys, the dog in hot pursuit.
She watched them all cavorting in
the surf, and had the same thought as her husband. What could she possibly do
if something awful ever happened to her family?
Wakashe had passed out, leaving
Thabethe and Mgwazeni to mope around the modest home in search of something
else to drink. They eventually found another four bottles of beer behind a
stack of old newspapers in a corner of the kitchen. Spare bottles stowed in
case of emergencies? Thabethe pulled the bottles out from their hiding place
and in so doing dislodged the pile of paper, sending some of it cascading onto
the floor at his feet. He cursed and bent down to restore the pile. As he
picked up the last newspaper his eye caught a headline and he decided to retain
it for closer reading. Mgwazeni found a bottle opener and pulled up two chairs
while Thabethe spread the newspaper across the table.
It was a fairly dated copy of the
newspaper going all the way back to January 2015. His eye moved down the page
to the item that had caught his attention.
a long and close collaboration between the SAPS National Crime Intelligence
Unit, the SAPS Organized Crime Unit and the United States Homeland Security,
significant inroads are being made into drug trafficking from various countries
in Africa to South Africa and via South Africa to various destinations around
The piece went on to describe a team
of crime intelligence members working with organised crime detectives busting a
deal involving uncut heroin. Four kilogrammes. Value one million rands.
Thabethe was wondering why he was playing with stakes that were so small when
there was this kind of money on offer. He read with interest about local
drug-manufacturing laboratories, and with deep concentration about a couple of
syndicates being taken down by the police, with the recovery of goods valued at
more than fifty million rands.
The article described how police
were working with colleagues in law enforcement not only across the country but
internationally. Maybe it was time to go global.
Everyone else is
, he thought. Maybe he could graduate from
to straight heroin. He began to
fantasise as he read about dealers and traffickers and couriers working in
Pakistan, the Emirates, Seychelles, Tanzania and Mozambique, with South Africa
used as a
for the purpose of shipping
drugs onward to other countries.
Mgwazeni was dozing with his head on
his arms, which were crossed on the table. Thabethe drank deeply from the
bottle of beer, and thought about the one hundred thousand rands he had once
kept in the tin near Nomivi’s Tavern. He wondered how he might replenish that
that money into a million, to enable him
to secure a footing in the heroin trade.
By the time Wakashe woke up he had
decided there was no option. He and Mgwazeni and Wakashe were escaped
prisoners. One of them with bandaged hands. The hunt for them would have
started already. They couldn’t lie low without resources. Their only option was
to access money from somewhere and multiply it by resuscitating the
Within minutes of Wakashe emerging
from his slumber, they were on the move, looking for a taxi that could take
them out to the area near Nomivi’s Tavern, where his connections in the street
trade would still be strong. But first they had to go via a few cash dispensers
and try out the pin numbers and
so kindly provided by the two prison guards.
There were six men,
ranging in age from twenty to twenty-five years. They were drinking beer and
sniffing glue on the dried veld-brown, almost khaki-coloured grass under a tree
in Albert Park, Durban’s inner-city magnet for homeless people. They were not
especially distinguishable from the many other groups of homeless people in the
park. Some were there to find help with their own drug problems, or to seek
advice on finding employment or shelter. Others were there because they had
nowhere else to go, and they had heard that this was where they might meet
people like themselves. Others were beneficiaries of the
one-stop intervention centre and forum
helping homeless people to make a fresh start. This initiative by the eThekwini
municipality, following action requested by the mayor, had enjoyed some success
but there were many people, mainly men, who spurned the offers of assistance
and merely saw the initiative instead as a way of securing the means for a
Such was also the motivation of the six young men. For them,
the price of a
considerably cheaper here than it was anywhere else, so
was where they convened on most days. Their own straws
had been depleted, and now they were on beer and glue. They were drinking in
vast quantities. Their loud guffaws and bravura shouts at each other and their
friendly but violent jostling prompted others nearby to move further away. There
was something menacing in their behaviour, and those seated within twenty paces
chose discretion and moved on.
The park was
surrounded by a collection of medium to high-rise buildings and the casual
observer might have seen little more than the signs of urban decay. Crime had
destroyed property value over the years, and this had been accompanied by
exploitative letting practices and encroaching homelessness, petty crime, and
vagrancy. A closer look might have revealed to such an observer a much more
positive view of diversity and heterogeneity where local inhabitants negotiated
areas of difference and commonality and in some instances established positive
new relationships. There was a rich mix of languages, cultures and ethnicities
in the park. But there was also an underlying sense of danger, as many
considered the possibility that a misplaced word or a misunderstood gesture
might lead to confrontation.
Some of the
surrounding properties were under legal administration following the original
owners’ failure to maintain the buildings in some cases, or having fallen behind
with levies in other cases. Other buildings were professionally managed and
maintained, generating considerable profits for the owners. There were still some
flashy cars to be seen in the area, not all of them owned by drug dealers.
The six men displayed
braggadocio and machismo with a vocabulary rooted
in violence. Each man tried to out-perform his companions with boasts about
personal prowess. In the way that is all too common in such groups, the
anecdotes commenced with achievements in the sports arena and moved almost
seamlessly from football to memorable street-fights and physical brawls and
from there to sexual conquests. The latter subject, built upon experiences both
real and fantasised, traversed descriptions of extraordinary depravity as the
currency of the discussion was measured increasingly in terms of how violently
some woman had been treated by the speaker. Lascivious laughter peppered the
responses to phrases such as
you, she was asking for it
her first time with a real man
showed her what fun was really like
They conversed in
interspersed with occasional
slang and corruptions of English and Afrikaans. One of the men had a matchstick
between his lips. He moved it around with some expertise, never using his
fingers. His tongue and lips worked together to move the small sliver of balsa
wood from one side of his mouth to the other. His companions were fascinated as
they watched the object dance from between his teeth to the tip of his tongue
and then across his lips as he spoke. They knew him only as
, short for
, a nickname used for him because his father had
responded to his childhood habit with the matchstick by calling him
‘toothpick’, and the name in
had been retained ever since.
comrades. We need some money. Where we going to find some money? Tell me. We
can’t get more
until we get
animatedly over one another. Each of them had suggestions about how to get the
next fix. One thought that a raid on the Indian shop in Umbilo would yield the
richest rewards. If the owner of the shop resisted, he suggested, then it would
be time to retaliate and beat up
the local Indian merchants. His companions cackled loudly and broke out into half-remembered
lyrics from the well-known song that had scandalised members of the public with
its perceived racist anti-Indian sentiments.
Loku cut through
the hilarity with a commanding voice, the matchstick anchored between two teeth
as he spoke.
Enough. You all sing like shit. My head is sore. No more singing, comrades. Let’s
go and visit the Indian in Umbilo. Let’s grab some
They jeered and
joked and slapped one another on the back and gradually drifted away, to the
relief of the nearby homeless people.
Wakashe and Mgwazeni
were both impressed. Wakashe had only half-believed the story about Thabethe’s
reputation on the street. Mgwazeni had had no doubt at all. His three months in
prison with Thabethe had taught him one thing about the man. He never lied. He
did what he said he was going to do, and he could be trusted. But Thabethe
expected the same in return. Mgwazeni knew that anyone who crossed Skhura Thabethe
or lied to him would be treading a dangerous path.
at the number of people on the streets, especially teenagers, who greeted
Thabethe in a manner that communicated both enormous respect and trepidation.
The greetings were polite, respectful, and careful. Each stranger was keen to
ask Thabethe when he had been released from prison, but not one of them posed
The last they had heard was that the fearsome
Skhura had been taken down by police on the south coast
months ago. But here he was, apparently free and back on the streets.
Each greeting was
accompanied by some discussion about who was supplying and where the biggest
deals were taking place. Thabethe dropped the key words indicating that he was
back in business and that the stuff he supplied was still superior to that of
In between these
encounters and greetings, the three men moved from one bank to the next.
Thabethe assumed that the credit cards and debit cards he had retrieved from
the prison guards would enable only one withdrawal each, and he would have to
guess that the daily withdrawal limit would be one thousand rands in each case.
He might push his luck and retain the cards for a second day of withdrawals, on
the assumption that the victims and their families might not have the wit to
cancel all bank cards. Relatives of people who could lodge their pin numbers in
the same place as their
were probably not
the sharpest tools in the shed.
careful to get his companions to stand back, out of camera view, and to
disguise his own face as he made each withdrawal. His two companions saw the
stack of cash growing with each stop at an ATM outside a range of different
banks and supermarkets. The two friends were breathless with excitement. They
were going to stick with Thabethe. Here was a man who would change their lives.
They walked swiftly away from the latest cash dispenser, Thabethe carrying the
money in a brown paper bag.
As they walked away
in search of another taxi Thabethe was thinking to himself that it was time to trade
and to turn his few thousand rands into a million.