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05:36: a girl runs up the steep slope of Lion's Head. The
sound of her running shoes urgent on the broad footpath's gravel.
At this moment, as the sun's rays pick her out like a
searchlight against the mountain, she is the image of carefree grace. Seen from
behind, her dark plait bounces against the little rucksack. Her neck is deeply
tanned against the powder blue of her T-shirt. There is energy in the rhythmic
stride of her long legs in denim shorts. She personifies athletic youth -
vigorous, healthy, focused.
Until she stops and looks back over her left shoulder. Then
the illusion disintegrates. There is anxiety in her face. And utter exhaustion.
She does not see the impressive beauty of the city in the
rising sun's soft light. Her frightened eyes search wildly for movement in the
tall fynbos shrubbery behind her. She knows
they are there, but not how near. Her breath races - from exertion, shock and
fear. It is adrenaline, the fearsome urge to live, that drives her to run
again, to keep going, despite her aching legs, the burning in her chest, the
fatigue of a night without sleep and the disorientation of a strange city, a foreign
country and an impenetrable continent.
Ahead of her the path forks. Instinct spurs her to the right,
higher, closer to the Lion's rocky dome. She doesn't think, there is no plan.
She runs blindly, her arms the pistons of a machine, driving her on.
Detective Inspector Benny Griessel was asleep.
He dreamed he was driving a huge tanker on a downhill stretch
of the N1 between Parow and Plattekloof. Too fast and not quite in control.
When his cell phone rang, the first shrill note was enough to draw him back to
reality with a fleeting feeling of relief. He opened his eyes and checked the
radio clock. It was 05:37.
He swung his feet off the single bed, dream forgotten. For an
instant he perched motionless on the edge, like a man hovering on a cliff. Then
he stood up and stumbled to the door, down the wooden stairs to the living room
below, to where he had left his phone last night. His hair was unkempt, too
long between trims. He wore only a pair of faded rugby shorts. His single
thought was that a call at this time of the morning could only be bad news.
He didn't recognise the number on the phone's small screen.
'Griessel,' his voice betrayed him, hoarse with the first
word of the day.
'Hey, Benny, it's Vusi. Sorry to wake you.'
He struggled to focus, his mind fuzzy. 'That's OK.'
'We've got a ... body.'
'St Martini, the Lutheran church up in Long Street.'
'In the church?'
'No, she's lying outside.'
'I'll be there now.'
He ended the call and ran a hand through his hair.
She, Inspector Vusumuzi Ndabeni had said.
Probably just a bergie.
Another tramp who had drunk too much of something or other. He put the phone
down beside his brand new second-hand laptop.
He turned, still half asleep, and bashed his shin against the
front wheel of the bicycle leaning against his pawnshop sofa. He grabbed it
before it toppled. Then he went back upstairs. The bicycle was a vague reminder
of his financial difficulties, but he didn't want to dwell on that now.
In the bedroom he took off his shorts and the musky scent of
sex drifted up from his midriff.
The knowledge of good and evil suddenly weighed heavily on
him. Along with the events of the previous night, it squeezed the last
remaining drowsiness from his brain. Whatever had possessed him?
He tossed the shorts in an accusatory arc onto the bed and
walked through to the bathroom.
Griessel lifted the toilet lid angrily, aimed and peed.
Suddenly she was on the tar of Signal Hill Road and spotted
the woman and dog a hundred metres to the left. Her mouth shaped a cry, two
words, but her voice was lost in the rasping of her breath.
She ran towards the woman and her dog. It was big, a
Ridgeback. The woman looked about sixty, white, with a large pink sun hat, a
walking stick and a small bag on her back.
The dog was unsettled now. Maybe it smelled her fear, sensed
the panic inside her. Her soles slapped on the tar as she slowed. She stopped
three metres from them.
'Help me,' said the girl. Her accent was strong.
'What's wrong?' There was concern in the woman's eyes. She
stepped back. The dog growled and strained on the lead, to get closer to the
'They're going to kill me.'
The woman looked around in fear. 'But there's nobody.'
The girl looked over her shoulder. 'They're coming.'
Then she took the measure of the woman and dog and knew they
wouldn't make any difference. Not here on the open slope of the mountain. Not
against them. She would put them all in danger.
'Call the police. Please. Just call the police,' she said and
ran again, slowly at first, her body reluctant. The dog lunged forward and
barked once. The woman pulled back on the lead.
'Please,' she said and jogged, feet dragging, down the tar
road towards Table Mountain. 'Just call the police.'
She looked back once, about seventy paces on. The woman was
still standing there bewildered, frozen to the spot.
Benny Griessel flushed the toilet and wondered why he hadn't
seen last night coming. He hadn't gone looking for it, it had just happened. Jissis, he shouldn't feel so guilty, he was only
human after all.
But he was married.
If you could call it a marriage. Separate beds, separate
tables and separate homes. Damn it all, Anna couldn't have everything. She
couldn't throw him out of his own house and expect him to support two households,
expect him to be sober for six fucking months, and celibate on top of that.
At least he was sober. One hundred and fifty-six days now.
More than five months of struggling against the bottle, day after day, hour
after hour, till now.
God, Anna must never hear about last night. Not now. Less
than a month before his term of exile was served, the punishment for his
drinking. If Anna found out, he was fucked, all the struggle and suffering for