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Mike Nicol

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Extracts from the Revenge Trilogy: Payback, Killer Country and Black Heart

Extracts from The Revenge Trilogy

payback—————————————————-From Payback

They sat for two hours waiting. Three men in an old white Toyota looking out at the sodden street. No one to notice them. No one about in this dark suburb above the city. In some of the houses lighted rooms in the upper storeys. The houses behind high walls. Below they could see the city’s tall buildings drifting
through the trees.

‘This’s up to shit,’ said the one in the back, Mikey. He had a 9mm in his hand, racked the slide, released it. Racked it again.

‘Doesn’t matter what you think.’ Abdul Abdul turned round to grin at him. ‘You got no staying power, my bru.’ He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. ‘Patience, hey.’

Mikey grunted. He looked up at the mountain rising black above them. Threatening as the sky. He had his window open despite the rain gusts, the cold that numbed his feet seeped into his marrow. He had his
window open because Abdul and Val smoked from cigarette to cigarette. ‘It’s bloody freezing,’ he said, putting the gun down to blow on his hands.

‘Close the window.’

‘Then stop smoking.’

‘Isn’t gonna happen,’ said Abdul.

Between cigarettes Abdul brought out a joint. Mikey toted on that.

‘You smoke dagga but you don’t smoke cigarettes.’ Abdul said to Val. ‘What a stupid. Mikey the moegoe.’

Mikey heard the car approaching, said, ‘Shit, man, watch it. He’ll see the glow.’

The car came past them, an Alfa Spider, swerved in at the open gates thirty metres down the street.

‘That’s him,’ said Mikey. ‘Mace Bishop.’

Abdul turned down Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Mannenberg’ that’d been on a loop in the tape system.

‘And now?’ said Mikey.

‘We’re gonna wait,’ said Abdul.

‘Jus wait?’

‘Jus wait.’

‘Maybe he’s not gonna go out again.’

‘He will.’

Mikey sat back, sighed. ‘For how long, hey, we havta wait?’

‘Long as it takes.’ Abdul wound up the song.

‘Enough,’ said Mikey. ‘We been listening to that for two hours. Three if you take it from when we left.’

‘So,’ said Abdul. ‘It’s a good song. Cape Town’s theme tune.’

Mikey took a last pull at the roach. Squashed it underfoot. He went back to playing with his gun. Rack release. Rack release.

They listened to ‘Mannenberg’ for another forty-five minutes until Mace Bishop drove out fast in the Alfa.

‘Here we go,’ said Mikey, hunching forward.

‘Not yet,’ said Abdul.

They waited five more minutes. All quiet. Mikey sitting hunched forward all that time. Abdul started the car.
‘You get the pill down the woman’s throat, Mikey. That’s what you gotta do.’

‘Then I can bang her.’

‘Thought your thing was kiddies rather,’ said Val.

‘Kiddies. Grown-ups. I got a bone needs picking with her.’

‘Ag sies, man.’ Val opened his door, spat onto the gravel.

‘Remember,’ said Abdul, ‘we’re here for the girl.’ He turned, cuffed Mikey lightly on the cheek. ‘No shit, right. No bones. What we want’s the girl.’ He reversed the Toyota into the driveway. The men pulled on balaclavas. Mikey had his pistol in his hand, Val and Abdul slid their guns into their belts. Abdul fancying American style with the barrel down the crack of his arse. They stood looking at the Victorian house. No burglar bars over the front windows. Same thing as leaving a door unlocked.

‘Those windows,’ said Abdul.

Mikey smashed a pane and they were in. Inside stank of wet clay and turps. Before he could say anything, Abdul put his hand over Mikey’s mouth. They listened, a television playing somewhere. Val pointed up. Abdul nodded. They came out of the room into a hallway, facing a flight of stairs. Again Val pointed up. Abdul drew his pistol, went up the stairs first, treading close to the banister. Still some of the boards groaned. Each time he stopped dead. Listened. No movement. Just the television, bangs and sirens of a cop show. He waited on the landing for Mikey and Val.

They came up separately. Mikey the only one silent as a cat.

He grinned at Abdul and Val. Mouthed: ‘Good, hey.’

Abdul grimaced, pointed with his gun at the third door along the landing. The door slightly ajar. He gestured for Mikey to go in.

‘The woman,’ he whispered. ‘Get the pill into her.’

‘Relax,’ said Mikey. ‘Be cool like a schul.’ He shoved open the door, stepped into the room. ‘Hello, darlings.’
Mother and daughter lying on the bed. The woman with her eyes closed, the girl under the duvet, watching television. The woman opened her eyes, seemed to spring from the bed at the same time. Mikey had to crack her one with his pistol. She went down and he was on her. Had a good feel of her breasts in the tumble. The girl screamed.

Abdul had her, hauled her free of the duvet. The kid’s PJ top hiked up, gave Mikey a sight of her round tummy and cute little knickers patterned with teddy bears.

‘Sshh, Christa,’ said Abdul, squeezing the wind out of her.

‘Bru,’ he said to Val, ‘light us a cigarette.’

Val did. Mikey was raising up the woman, his pistol hard against her neck. Blood trickled down from where he’d opened a cut on her forehead.

‘Oumou,’ said Abdul, ‘my friend’s got a pill we want you to take.’ He put the cigarette to his lips, pulled gently. Blew out the smoke from the corner of his mouth. ‘If yous don’t’ – he pushed back the girl’s pyjama sleeve to expose smooth skin – ‘I’m gonna put this out right here’ – brushed the hot tip of the cigarette across Christa’s arm.

killer country——————————————–From Killer Country

Pollsmoor Prison, 6 a.m. The chief warder frowned. No birdsong. No cacophony. There was kak in the land. You didn’t need to be a bloody prophet to know this. The hell of it was he’d just eaten a decent breakfast – thick bacon slices, two eggs, fried tomato, fried banana, toast fried in the grease. The one advantage of the first shift, a breakfast like that. If the old cookie was on duty. The old cookie a lifer with one eye who escaped being dangled over the long drop when hanging was scrapped. All because of the new constitution. The old cookie who should’ve been dropped for all the grief he’d caused. Other hand, the old cookie did a helluva breakfast.

‘You hear that?’ the chief warder said to the rookie with him. A young guy, six months out of training. ‘There’s been shit.’

The young warder looked at him, not even a light in his pupils. Dead brown eyes. Didn’t seem to know what he was talking about.

‘You feel it?’

The young warder shook his head.

Before he opened the solid metal door with the peep hatch the chief warder knew there was major trouble ahead. He took a look into the corridor. Empty as it should be. The old cookie must’ve known. Bastard wouldn’t say a bloody thing, even though he knew. Wouldn’t warn you.

He unlocked the door, let the young warder pull it open. In front of them two grilles, the corridor beyond.

‘You hear that?’

‘No.’

‘The silence. When you hear nothing then there’s kak.’

Trouble was in which cell. Five cells on this corridor could be any one of them. Or all five. Only way was to check first through the peep holes. Still gave him the sweats, these sort of situations. Could be they were planning a mass breakout, come screaming at them waving knives, guns, screwdrivers. No matter what you did the hardware got in. Two weeks back this nine mil with a full load in the cartridge pitched up. Deep in the prison in maximum. How’d it get there? Bloody magic.

‘Lock the grilles,’ he told the young warder.

What he should do was get backup. But bugger that, have the youngster reckon he was chicken shit scared. No ways. He heard the locks bang home. Drew his revolver. These savages came at him he’d take down five of them first.

‘What’re you going to do?’ said the youngster.

He glanced at the boy. How old was he, eighteen, nineteen? From some village most likely. Not a township special, this one. Too polite. Welcome to the pisshole, my china. He watched the youngster fumbling to unholster his weapon. ‘Stay behind me, okay. If I shoot, you shoot.’

‘Why they so quiet?’

‘That’s what we gotta find out.’

The chief warder went up to the spy hole on the first door, lifted the flap to check the glass wasn’t smashed. Last thing you wanted was to put your eye to the hole, some bokdrol sheep turd rams a spoke through your eye. It’d happened one time, they nailed the warder’s brain as well. Poor bastard. He was singing with the heavenlies before he hit the floor.

The chief warder peered in at the first cell, the men not even standing up, lying on their beds like it was summer holidays. He banged his gun butt on the metal door. Yelled in Afrikaans, ‘Stand up. Stand up.’ Watched them get to their feet, twenty-eight of them in a pot meant for ten. Ugly, tattooed, scrawny gangbangers could slide a nail between your ribs while they asked you for a smoke.

The peephole fisheyed the room. Far as he could tell from the heaps of bedrolls on the floor no one was baiting him, wanting to lure him in so they could stick twenty-eight bits of sharpened metal into his skin.

‘Stay like that,’ he shouted, moved on to the next door. Went through the same procedure with the peephole: thirty arseholes in this one, grinning at him. ‘Want to check them out?’ He moved aside for the young warder. ‘Take a long look. You check anything funny, tell me.’

‘Like what?’

‘You see it, you’ll know it.’

His armpits were damp. The taste of bacon at the back of his mouth. Dry. Harsh. This sort of situation brought Cookie’s breakfast back very quickly.

The young warder said, ‘I don’t see anything.’

‘Good then,’ he said. ‘Number three.’ He wrapped his gun on the metal door. ‘Yous just stay like that, hear me?’

Not a response out of them. Everyone shut-up, waiting.

The chief warder scoped cell three, then the remaining two. In them the men all standing up, facing the door. Some bored, some smirking, some giving him the snake-tongue when they saw his eye darken the hole. He walked slowly back to cell three, wondering how to handle this. Call backup? Or go in there?

‘What’s it?’ said the young warder.

‘Check it out,’ he said. Pointed at the peephole. ‘Go on, man, look for yourself.’

The young warder did. Stood back, gabbling in his own language. Grey as ash.

The chief warder gripped the youngster’s shoulder. ‘Been a rough night in there, hey.’ He put his eye to the hole. The convicts standing in two lines. Thirteen one side, twelve the other. On the floor between them a blanket. Under the blanket a body. A dark stain on the blanket at chest level.

He said to the young warder, ‘I’m going to unlock the door, okay? I’m going to go in there, okay? You stay here at the door. You watch them. They do anything funny, any one of them, you shoot, okay?’

The young warder nodded.

‘Say yes.’

The young warder swallowed. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Okay, boykie. Here we go.’

The chief warder unlocked the door, pulled it open. The convicts leered at him. He told them to turn around, face the wall, stand with their hands above their heads. They obeyed. Taking their time, waggling their arses, giving him lots of attitude, but they obeyed. Like he reckoned they would. This wasn’t about a breakout. This was about a job. Or gang initiation.

He sucked up some saliva to cover the bacon dryness in his mouth. ‘Any one of yous move, you’re dead, okay?’

He walked to the blanket covering the body. Lifted a corner. For a moment couldn’t work out what he was staring at. Then he got it. The bloody stump of the neck. The chest opened like a box, the heart ripped out. He wondered if the guy had still been alive at that point. Wondered how many of them had eaten it. The head he found in the toilet bowl. Carefully placed in there so the face gazed up at him, blue eyes wide open.

black heart———————————————-from Black Heart

Wednesday, 27 July

Grainy black-and-white CCTV footage: a man, tallish, bulked out in an anorak, a beanie covering his hair, face down, walking towards the camera along a corridor. Upmarket corridor: marble tiles on the walls and floor, three large photographs of wild beaches hanging on the right-hand side. The photographs in wall-mounted aluminium frames. On the left, two doors. On each the apartment number stencilled in black filling most of the door: 7, 8. A funky touch. At number eight, the man stops, keeping his back to the camera. His head bent forward like he was listening for movement inside the flat, except from the tremor in his shoulders he has to be working something with his hands. Forty seconds spool by, the door pops open. The man rolls down his beanie that becomes a balaclava covering his face. Looks up at the CCTV camera.

‘Nice touch,’ said the woman watching the footage on her laptop. Speaking aloud, smiling. She tapped the keyboard with her gloved hand to pause the image. Caught her own face reflecting on the screen: her high cheekbones, pencilled eyebrows, the plum richness of her lips. Her latte face ghosting over that of the balaclavaed man. She puckered her lips in a kiss. Putsch.

He was good, the balaclavaed man. Only one or two people she knew could’ve done it faster. She smiled. Raised her gloved hand to touch the face. ‘Mace Bishop,’ she said. ‘Welcome to my world.’

She clicked play. The man was in. The CCTV footage running on, showing the now empty corridor, the two closed doors. After a minute the automatic timer kicked in, switched off the lights. She waited: three minutes later the lights clicked on. There was the man closing the apartment door, not rushing, keeping his back to the camera. Walking down the corridor to the lift at the far end. Going past the lift to the stairwell, reaching up to take off the balaclava as he disappeared from the screen.

He’d behaved exactly as she’d wanted. Couldn’t resist sniffing out her lair.

She ejected the DVD with the CCTV footage from her laptop, the DVD a little favour courtesy of the block’s security company. She’d told them it was a friend playing the fool.

‘Some friend, some fool,’ the boss man at the security company had said, not making too much effort to keep his eyes off her cleavage. ‘You know people with interesting skills, Miss February.’ ‘You better believe it,’ she’d said, sashaying out of his office in her
long coat, her black hair floating above the collar.

Sheemina February slotted another DVD into the laptop. Footage from her own surveillance system. There was the balaclavaed man in her apartment, picked up on infrared, the colours muted blues and blacks. The balaclava dark blue, the anorak black, the man wearing gloves, jeans, trainers. The uniform of anybody. Standing there, dead still, listening.

No visible gun.

Meant he wasn’t expecting her to be home. He was scoping the terrain. Cautious Mace. Predictable Mace. Curious Mace. Exactly
what she’d anticipated. Lure him in for the kill shot. It was almost too easy.

On screen the man moving into her open plan lounge by torchlight. Running his fingers along the back of her white sofa, walking across her white flokatis to her desk, opening drawers, fidgeting among her papers, moving on, sliding the beam too quickly over the pictures on the walls to take them in. But stopping at the box of cut-throat razors mounted above her desk.

Blades that had once shaved famous men. Blades she’d tracked down, paid top dollar for. A blade that’d belonged to Cecil Rhodes.
Another to a killer called Joe Silver. Had his name engraved on it. A man some historian had fingered as Jack the Ripper. She liked that, the posthumous fame of the gold rush pimp and trafficker, Joe Silver.

Each of the six blades she’d collected had a story. Except there were only five there now. The missing one, her grandfather’s, had been used to cut the throat of Mace Bishop’s wife. Before that, quarter of a century before that, her grandfather had used it to slit his wrists. Rather die than be turfed out of his house. In a way, Sheemina believed, that particular cut-throat was an instrument of history: destiny manifest. Pity to lose a family heirloom but it couldn’t be helped. The razor probably lying in some evidence box waiting for the autopsy hearing. No worries. There were ways she reckoned she could get it back.

She snapped again on Mace Bishop, Mace Bishop focusing on the empty space in her cut-throat collection. Realising that the blade used to kill his wife had once been an ornament on her wall. How’d that make him feel? Rise the rage in him? Bring up the red pulse? What was he thinking, this man, Mace Bishop? This man in her white lair, among her things. This man intent on killing her. Fired by revenge. Did he even begin to figure out why she wanted to hurt him? Why she wanted to ruin him? Wreck his life? He would. By the time she’d finished, he would.

She watched him, as she’d done so many times since he’d broken in, watched him leave the lounge, enter her bedroom. This was the part that got her agitated, excited. Brought up her heart rate. Sent a tingle through the fingers of her broken hand. The hand he’d smashed with a mallet. Back in the day. She crossed her legs.

There he was in her bedroom. Shining the torch over her bed, the bedside table with the digital clock, 04:20, the landline phone on its recharger, the photograph in a silver frame. The only photograph in the apartment. A photograph of Mace Bishop in his Speedo after a swimming session at the gym pool. One of a number she’d taken on the sly. Put it there hoping it would push him over the top.

But he didn’t look closely, swept the beam to her built-in cupboards, the light reflecting off her mirror, for a moment whiting out the image. Then he was visible again, reaching to open the doors on her dresses, slacks, jackets, glancing at the racks of shoes stacked at the bottom. She watched him run his hand over one of her evening dresses. Imagined she was wearing it, his hand gliding down her back. Sometimes she thought of him like that. His hands hard against her breasts, hard on her buttocks pulling her into him. She shook her head to throw the thought. Flushed by the thrill of it.

There was the man she wanted to kill with his hands in her underwear, coming out with one of her thongs, holding it close to his face, crushing it into his fist. He threw it back into the drawer. Sat on the edge of her bed, bounced like he was testing the comfort factor. Fell backwards against the pillows, his hand sliding underneath, finding a black negligee. Holding it up. Silky. His torch beam sliding from it to the photograph on her bedside table. Pity she couldn’t see his expression.He dropped the negligee, grabbed the photograph for a closer look. Brought the torch up to the glass. Stared at himself: that strong body dripping water, that small costume. Then put the photograph back on the table, carefully. Shot off the bed fast, closed the drawers in the cupboard, shut the doors. Buried the negligee in his anorak pocket, heading out the apartment. The screen darkened, the camera switched off.

Sheemina February fetched a white wine from the fridge, took her time drawing the cork, thinking, he’d aroused her taking the underwear. Something secretive about it. Exciting. Lustful. Sex and death.

She poured a glass: De Grendel sauvignon blanc, tasted it, let the wine lie in the bowl of her mouth before she swallowed. Got herself settled. Thing was, why had he treated the photograph like it didn’t matter? She’d expected some violence. Wanted some violence, the glass smashed, the picture ripped out. Which was why she’d set it up. Instead he went Mr Ice. She sat again at her desk, replayed the disc.

Halfway through, her cellphone rang.

‘Mart,’ she said.

‘Just checking in,’ said Mart Velaze against a background of music, voices. Mart the government man. National Intelligence Agency. Who’d called her out of the blue, given her the heads-up on a deal that’d gone down even better than she’d hoped. A deal that’d done for Mace Bishop. Mart who’d handled matters in recent days like he couldn’t put a foot wrong. Efficient Mart, looking after her interests. The man with the wide white smile. Except you never knew, was it a smile as in friendly, or a smile as in deadly? The only black man Sheemina February had encountered who’d never pulled a move on her. Which made her wonder: why not? ‘Keeping an eye out,’ he said.

‘There’s no need.’

‘Part of the service.’

‘Not on this score.’ Giving him the back-off but holding her voice light all the same. ‘Where’re you?’

‘Not far away. In a cafe opposite the beach. I can come over.’

‘Best if you don’t.’

‘In case something goes wrong.’

‘Nothing’ll go wrong.’

‘You can’t be sure in a situation like this.’

‘You can’t be sure ever, Mart, but you can load the dice.’

‘He’s going to be focused. In the kill zone.’

‘You think I’m not?’

Sheemina February waited for his answer. Heard the cafe music, Tina Turner doing the only Tina Turner anyone played, Simply the Best.

‘I’ll call you,’ she said. ‘As we agreed.’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Just get in first, okay. Don’t give him a chance.’

‘I’m a big girl, Mart. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’m not going to freak out.’

A pause while Tina Turner had her say.

‘Till later.’

Mart said, ‘Right.’

She thumbed him off. Useful guy.

He’d got her the gun. The .38 Smith & Wesson. The revolver lying beside the laptop. The gun that would be within reach every moment of the next six, seven, eight hours, however long it was before Mace Bishop rocked up.

Sheemina February took her wine onto the balcony. Stared out over the ocean, a flat glassy sea sliding against the rocks below to break with a crack. The sun lowering, its warmth gone. Tomorrow when it came up everything would be different.

Between then and now all she had to do was wait for him. Mace Bishop. But she was good at waiting.

 

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