It was the early hours. And yes, it was cool by now. Shadow was thankful that he could curl up in his father’s grey old coat that made him nearly completely invisible under the bushes where he was lying, and catch some sleep.
The target was in his house. Shadow had known which escort agency to stake out; he’d recognized the man by the description Ina had given him. That monster – Hal Vandeventer van Vuuren was the name, and in his daytime life he was a lawyer – had been drunk. He would have quite a nasty head by now, after a night of drinking, ‘escorting’ – Shadow gave a little snort at that euphemism – and plying his trade. Of pushing high-class drugs and painstakingly selecting the next victim. Because this was the monster’s style: He first dated the girls, making them feel special before luring them to who knew where, raping them, killing them and depositing their bodies in a garbage dumpster. Where Ina’s younger sister had been found. Engela had only been seventeen to Ina’s twenty. A burial in a dumpster. Could he imagine a worse death?
Actually, he could. But he had said nothing and accepted the job. Payment wouldn’t follow; she had given him the deposit in cash, but he had read in her eyes that it was all she could rake together. Well, he wouldn’t allow her to go into debt. He’d waive the rest of his fee and let the target pay it himself. The job was halfway towards a ‘cause’.
He must have closed his eyes, because when he opened them, the sun was shining. It was still very early in the day. Honest people were on their way to work; Sabie’s rush-hour meant a line of cars waiting at the traffic light. And honest kids were on their way to school. He smiled in sympathy at the thought.
He found himself a place in front of the police station, leaning against the wall there with his floppy hat pulled deeply into his face, waiting for the traffic to subside. Night time wasn’t always the ideal moment for his job, but when working in the day, he had to be careful how many people saw him.
And he heard two of the police officers yak as they came up the stairs. Nomvhulo, he remembered, and Mpho. They were jibbing excitedly in one of the many Southern Frisbean languages that were on his list for learning; but unexpectedly, one lapsed into English.
“Can you believe it,” said the other one, “in a garbage dumpster!”
Shadow lifted his head just enough to establish that it was Mpho making the “shame” comments and Nomvhulo bringing the story.
“And?” asked Mpho. “Was she…”
“Yes, raped, and killed, hau, shame! Just like the other one. Choked to death. Cause of death, asphyxiation,” Nomvulo added punctiliously.
“Yes, a school girl. With blonde hair. They all, those victims, they all have blonde hair.” And Nomvhulo lapsed back into that very fast yak in her home language, punctuated with Mpho’s “shame!”.
And the police chief came along and chased the ladies into the police station. He cast a suspicious glance at Shadow but then ignored him further.
Shadow felt rather cold at this moment. He’d had a lovely evening with a warm gadje family, and as a result another young woman lay dead in a dumpster. No: this mission couldn’t wait.
When precisely had this monster got that right? Van Vuuren must have returned to the clubs after his dread crime. Possibly right around the time Shadow had faced down that hunting rifle of Marge’s son.
He gathered himself together and wandered down the road, looking aimless. Pointless and drifterish. He knew that the motorists were staring at him; some, who’d just heard on the news about the renewed case, this one right here in Sabie, would be looking at him wondering if he were that monster. They’d want to arrest him, just for being different, a foreigner.
They’d never dream of arresting Hal Vandeventer van Vuuren, the respectable lawyer owning his own legal firm. ‘VVV Prokureurs: Vandeventer van Vuuren en Vennote’. Shadow had gleaned enough Afrikaans by now that he knew that ‘vennote’ could be ambiguous. It could mean partners; but it could also mean accomplices. It was one of those useful trivia he had chatted out of shop owners.
Shadow drifted apparently aimlessly out of central Sabie and down the road towards the property where Van Vuuren lived. It was a large plot, curving down from the road the same way Marge’s did; the house half-hidden behind those wonderful jungle giant trees of Eastern Province.
The curtains were drawn in all the rooms. Shadow silently cursed the fact that his Allen keys had gone missing. He investigated the motor garage and found toolboxes in there; among other useful gadgets, a set of minuscule screwdrivers. Those he pocketed, along with some very small Allen keys to replace his lost set of lock picks. And he found the back door and very carefully, very quietly, picked the lock.
He stood outside and listened for a moment. Nothing seemed to move behind that door. He opened it a crack and, staying on the outside, hid behind it, his jack-knife open. Sometimes this trick lured the target out. But nobody emerged, so after listening intently a few more moments, he peered into what turned out to be the kitchen.
The room was empty, in the half-dark of closed curtains. He let himself in and sneaked through to the other side, the pantry. The floorboards were wooden and old, he had to step carefully. Ha! Of course, someone like Van Vuuren would have creaky floorboards as an early warning system.
Shadow heard a low growl coming from a corner and glanced. There lay a completely emaciated dog; a large dog, on a chain. It could be a Doberman or a street mix; Shadow wasn’t all that clued up. The animal was clearly too exhausted to get up, but did its duty by warning Shadow.
The gypsy’s heart ached for that poor wreck. He went down on his haunches, carefully stretching out a hand and observing with anger how the dog flinched and bared his teeth.
“I’ll come back for you, buddy,” he promised under his voice. “You hang in there, Rikono, alright?”
The dog calmed down, as animals tended to do around him. The tail gave a half-hearted wag. And Shadow got to his feet and followed his gut instincts into the depths of the house.
The whole place was quiet but chaotic. That Van Vuuren didn’t think of clearing up ever, did he? The basic things one needed for living – if you were a gadjo – were strewn about at random. Dirty dishes littered the place, dirty clothes lay around on the floor. Shadow listened out for rats.
There was a soft sound of someone breathing. With a small edging of a snore. Shadow followed the sound and found the origin. It emanated from a well-dressed hulk of a man; tall, clean-shaved, and dead to the world. He hadn’t even bothered to take off his fancy expensive shoes. Though they were dirty. And he reeked, to Shadow’s highly honed gypsy senses: Of smoke, alcohol, dirt and sweat. And some other slightly sweet smell that was not entirely familiar, and perfume. Male perfume. Which mingled badly with the other odours.
The Tzigan was nothing if not thorough. He had learnt through bitter experience not to stage random hit-or-misses. It didn’t work; it was a double fail in that an innocent came to grief and the target got away and was that much more difficult to track afterwards. So he had to be sure.
He reached carefully into the man’s jacket pocket – the inner one where pub-going gadje kept their driver’s license. He angled that document out of there and compared. Yes, this was most definitely the target.
The rest happened so fast, by the time Van Vuuren was half awake and realizing that whatever mosquito had stung him in the small of his throat, had meant business if the bucketfuls of blood on his hands were anything to go by, Shadow was already out of the back door.
The poor dog had got to its feet and was now barking mournfully.
“Shoosh, Rikono, Shadow’s not leaving you alone!” hissed the young gypsy under his voice. He wished the dog would shut up so that he could hear what was going on in the house.
There was a loud thump. That was probably an indication. Shadow got up from his hiding place next to the wall and re-entered the house to investigate.
Van Vuuren had made it as far as the dreadfully disgusting living room. There he lay on the floor, by now rolled onto his back, studying the ceiling with glassy eyes. Shadow hunched down to ascertain that the man was indeed dead. And he nabbed that driver’s license as it had his fingerprints on, rifled for and found the man’s cash stash and looted that, and grabbed a cloth, using it to pick the lock on the dog’s chains. He opened the fridge with that same cloth and found some raw meat which the dog ate hungrily, and then he removed himself, watching from a distance how the dog left the kitchen with a chunk of meat in his jaws. And he escaped, through the garden, through the adjacent piece of wildland at the back, to disappear from Sabie.
Maroela Lodge was in uproar when Shadow approached the place from the wild forest. He heard voices shouting, arguing loudly; Marge and Richard. Little Lucy’s loud wails were audible inbetween.
He’d returned here to say goodbye to Lucy, and to Marge. And to pay Richard for the old jeans, because he had his pride! And he couldn’t care less about Lindsey – that silly goose. But hearing them in a shouting match like this worried him. He hurried up to the back door and entered the house at the kitchen.
“There he is!” shouted Lucy and ran to catch him around the knees. He ruffled her hair and stared at Marge and Richard who had both gone silent and were looking at him as though… as though he’d committed some sort of crime.
Which he had, of course. But not against them!
“You must help us!” squeaked Lucy. “Lindsey is gone!”
He stared at them all, his eyes stretching wide. “Lindsey is gone?” There was another block of ice forming in his stomach. What he’d heard at the police station… “Stars, Marge, we have to find her!”
“We thought that you’d maybe know where she is?” probed Richard.
“That I know?” asked Shadow. They thought that he… “I don’t know! I was fetching my coat.”
“You took a bit long with that,” Richard growled.
Marge was more astute. “Why, Shadow? What do you know? What are you not telling?”
Shadow shook his head in stress. “Heard a police report,” he muttered. “Marge, we have to look for her right away!”
“What police report?” she pushed, now grey with dread.
Shadow cursed himself for saying anything in the first place.
“Marge,” he said, “you must wait here with Lucy. Lock yourselves in, be safe. Richard must drive with me to the poliţia, and then we must look for her.”
“The blasted police only allow one to file a missing persons report after twenty-four hours have gone,” said Richard angrily.
“Doesn’t matter,” insisted Shadow. “We go now.”
Richard armed himself, with both the hunting rifle and a small hand-held gun. Shadow watched with wide eyes, making mental notes. Time to get himself guns.
(C) Copyright by Lyz Russo 2016
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