The boy that opened the door, was about Shadow’s age. He had dark hair and blue eyes under long lashes. There was a look of intelligence around him that seemed to be trying to avoid him, as though it were embarrassed to be associated. And also an impression of helplessness, making him appear a lot younger than he was, if Shadow presumed him to be Lindsey’s classmate.
Richard, a cool head taller than him, pushed past him into the house, not waiting for an invitation.
“Is Lindsey here, Ben?”
“What – how did you know where to find her?” asked Ben, confused and scared. And he eyed Shadow. “Is that the freebooter your mom has taken in?”
Shadow snorted, suppressing a laugh. Freebooter!
“Shadow at your service,” he announced with a flamboyant bow. That he’d stolen from a circus clown’s performance. “I’m the thug Richard called for reinforcement to force Lindsey to come back home. She needs to go home. You realize there’s a girl-killing monster out there?”
“That wouldn’t perhaps be you?” asked Ben sharply.
“I don’t kill girls,” said Shadow with disdain. It was the truth. “I look for bigger game,” he added maliciously. That, too, was true.
“Shadow, stop intimidating Ben and come help me,” called Richard. He had found Lindsey in a room down the passage and was arguing with her. Shadow pushed past Ben and headed towards where Richard was, and was blocked by a very large woman.
The woman screamed in terror when she saw him. Shadow echoed her scream. She was very large!
“Who are you?” challenged the woman.
“That’s the desperado Lindsey’s mom is harbouring,” said Ben helpfully.
Shadow snorted again. “Pfft! Desperado!”
“Well, then, the homeless bum.”
“The Romany,” Shadow corrected him. “You don’t get those in Southern Free. ’m a hundred percent imported. I’ll settle for ‘that foreign devil’. An’ she’s not harbouring me. ’m leaving already.”
“He’s leaving?” The call came from the room down the passage. Lindsey emerged into view, with Richard following her, carrying her sleeping bag and her school bag.
Shadow, in fact, had already left. He’d found what he was looking for, and that was usually enough. He knew the way back to Sabie, and to Marge – there really was mainly one road. And he didn’t want to chance another drive in the four wheel drive with that madman at the wheel.
A little while later he sat by the Sabie River that was running parallel to Main Road here, using the scissors he’d nicked from Ben’s household to cut that driver’s license into ribbons of a millimetre each. The neolaminene curled back on itself, making helices. He carefully shredded the helices into little pieces no longer than three millimetres each, gathering the whole lot up in his hat. Eventually he was done. He cast the confetti into the breeze and it carried it into the river and bushes, where the tiny white flecks became so nearly invisible that they blended with the surrounds.
Shukar! So that was accomplished. Now there was one mission left: Retrieve Sharktooth. Then, finally, he could disappear. Marge would understand. He had an appointment in Durban, a job waiting.
It was fairly afternoonish by the time he approached Marge’s house from the wildlands for a second time. He heard the angry arguing from a good distance; this time it was Lindey’s and Marge’s voices ringing across the otherwise peaceful afternoon. Here and there Richard dropped a comment.
Once again, Shadow let himself in by the back door. And the effect was the same: Sudden silence.
“Is that slime-ball still around?” exclaimed Lindsey. Marge gasped. “And before you say it, Mother,” added Lindsey scathingly, “I shall never apologize to it!”
Shadow smiled at her.
“Showing others respect says more about you than the person you’re showing respect to,” he pointed out. “Don’t worry, Lindsey. I’m leaving. I’ve got a job…” an apologetic glance at Marge, “in another town. Just wanted to say goodbye. Where’s Lucy?”
“Sleeping,” said Richard with a scowl. “Still. Wonder if she’s catching something.”
Marge looked shocked and moved off towards the inside of the house, to check on Lucy.
“Give her a hug from me,” said Shadow. “And Richard…” He held out his hand.
“Right,” said Richard and gave back Sharktooth. Shadow nodded his thanks. And he turned to Lindsey once more.
“Listen, buzni. There is a girl-killer out there. We were at the poliţia earlier, your brother and Shadow. Someone got killed. Wasn’t you, count your lucky stars. Stay in the house and don’t go anywhere alone.”
“I’m not dof, slime-ball,” replied Lindsey. “I can look after myself.”
“Oh, I don’t care what happens to you,” replied Shadow with a shrug. “I don’t want your mother to be sad. She was good to me.” And he was suddenly gone, like a phantom. Richard stared after the place where Shadow had been a moment back, wondering if he’d imagined things.
“Buzni,” muttered Lindsey and took her palm-pad out of her pocket. She connected it and looked up the meaning. “He called me a frickin’ nanny goat!” she exclaimed indignantly. Richard laughed. “You think that’s funny?” she yelled at her brother. He laughed even more.
Public transport didn’t suit Shadow. He was currently on the back of a vegetable truck, his hat pulled down over his face, dozing away the hours. He’d held up the truck and bribed the driver for a lift.
There were a few things jarring him about his stay in Sabie. He liked paying his own way. In his profession he made good money; and he never needed to spend much of it. Currently his fresh cash was in his pocket, waiting to be dumped into his holding account – an account opened in the name of a (fictitious) old lady by name of Samantha Perkins. The banks had all sorts of security regulations, but he’d got around them the Southern Free way. Knowing which individual to bribe at which moment was an art he was picking up with natural ease, as though he’d been born here. He could have bribed his way out of the cells too, last night – if he’d had his cash on him. Damned if he’d let the police know about his bank account!
This recent lot of cash would be deposited in White River. At an ATM. He had never yet feared ATM fraud. Firstly, nobody wanted to mess with him. Secondly, even if they had committed it – whatever. He wasn’t attached to money. He could always make more.
The sun shone down warmly on his borrowed rags. Falling asleep on this lot of veggies was probably a bad idea.
A voice. He listened intently into the droning of the truck, the red warmth of the afternoon sun.
There it was again – no more than a whisper, calling his name. His birth name, that he didn’t intend to share with anyone here in this lazy, peaceful country. He knew the voice. A chill crept over him. The red heat was gone, replaced by a grey grave-cold. And the pale, bloodless face of his sister stared at him from the half-dark.
He felt iron grips around his lungs. He couldn’t breathe.
What are you doing? she asked him. And she spoke his name, which made him freeze in fear.
Don’t say my name, he begged. They are going to find me!
I’m here to tell you, she replied. Remember.
Remember what? She seemed to hesitate.
Katya, what must I remember?
Remember who you are. Her image started fading. Remember your drom.
Don’t go! begged Shadow.
The image of his sister faded away. The clamps around his chest disappeared; he gasped for breath. Tears brimmed in his eyes. Katya, come back, he pleaded, but nothing happened.
His drom; his roads. The gypsy way. She had come to warn him not to forget the romipen? Why? He had been trying to abide by its codes – as much as was possible. And a few codes of his own, by now. Why was she warning him?
Shortly after, Shadow opened his eyes. The truck had stopped. The sun was gone; it was getting nippy – though the Southern Frisbeans still didn’t know the meaning of ‘cold’. They had reached White River.
He jumped off the truck. Now there would be no more open banks to deposit his loot; to find that ATM that took cash? He asked the driver, and got directions.
“Tomorrow I drive to Durban,” the trucker dropped the bait. Shadow took it.
“I’ll come with you,” he said. “Same price again?”
“Same price,” agreed the trucker, obviously happy to make a bit of pocket money on the side. Shadow went off to deposit his money, then started looking for a place to sleep.
Lindsey couldn’t sleep that night. Insulting the vagrant – that had all been cool. Letting him know his place. She had been relieved that he was leaving. She didn’t trust him as far as she could push him.
Buzni. Calling her a goat! It was so mundane that it actually got her attention far more than if he’d called her other, more commonly used insults. It was as though he had carefully considered all of them and found the most fitting. A goat. What the heck?
As she drifted off to sleep, she found herself puzzling over the tenderness he’d shown her little sister. Strange, that. She wondered if there was something in his past, if he’d maybe lost a sibling…
Years later, back in Romania: