The two men paused when they saw Jade. In a heartbeat, she assessed her predicament. It couldn’t be worse. There was no time to draw her weapon. She was outnumbered. And cornered. She’d walked into a dangerous situation without backup. Investigating a run-down office block in broad day-light might not be a high-risk activity in Britain, but this was South Africa. She should have been more careful.

Jade’s gut constricted as the Beretta’s barrel swung towards her. She dived to the floor behind the desk, scrabbling under her jacket for her own gun, her heart banging against her ribs. As she fell, she heard a deafening report from the Ber-etta’s muzzle. Plaster scattered to the floor.

Her finger curled round the trigger of the Glock. She could hear the men speaking in rapid voices. An African language. She couldn’t understand the words.

Heavy footsteps stomped towards the desk. Jade crouched under her wooden shelter, waiting for the man to come into view. They didn’t know she was armed. If she was fast enough, she could have the advantage.

One of the men shouted, his voice urgent. The footsteps stopped and then retreated.

Jade waited, listening. He didn’t speak again. Moments later she heard a trickling sound and the acrid fumes of gaso-line filled the air.

Dread curdled her stomach. The men were planning to torch Dean’s office and all its contents, including her. They weren’t going to bother to shoot her first. In any case, gunfire was out of the question now. The tiniest spark—or a muzzle flash—would ignite the vapor into a deadly inferno. She was certain of that. But she wondered if the two thugs handling the gas were up to speed on its volatility.

If she ran, would the gunman shoot and risk trapping them all inside a giant fireball?

Jade knew she didn’t have a choice. If she tried to escape, death would be possible. But if she stayed where she was it would be a certainty.

She tensed, ready to sprint to the door from her precarious shelter, sure that when she left the desk she would see the tall man bent over the jerry cans and his partner facing her, his finger tight on the trigger.

Then she heard footsteps echoing in the corridor.

Were the arsonists expecting backup? If they were, her odds had just narrowed to at least three against one. If not, she’d been given her only chance. An unexpected arrival would distract the two men.

Jade grabbed the desk and boosted herself to her feet. She pushed away from the heavy wood and flung herself across the room. The man pouring gas dropped the jerry can and shouted as he saw her. His friend had his back turned, watching the door.

She skidded on the oily floor, the liquid soaking her shoes. The gunman swiveled back towards her and she saw deadly intent in his eyes.

“Don’t shoot!” she screamed.

She ducked under the outstretched arm of the thug with the jerry can and smacked the butt of her gun into his face. It hit the pressure point under his nose and he reeled back, temporarily out of the fight.

The gunman had lined up his Beretta. For the second time, Jade found herself staring into its expressionless black eye. But this time she was closer. She had a chance.

She lashed out with her left hand in a swift chopping motion, knocking his gun arm away. The man’s eyes blazed with hatred, his lips curled back from his ochre teeth. Jade cringed away from the thunderous blast as he pulled the trigger.

The shot lodged high in the wall, sending another shower of plaster tumbling downwards.

No fireball.

The gunman grabbed at her with his left hand. He caught her hair and his fingers ripped strands out of her scalp as she tugged her head free.

Then she grabbed the doorframe, elbowing him back as he lunged for her again. He stumbled over the shoes inside the doorway and skidded on the pooling gas, his arms wind-milling. Jade dived out of the room, closely followed by his accomplice.

As the gunman lost his balance and fell backwards onto the office floor, the Beretta discharged again.

The air seemed to gasp and shimmer as the fumes in the room ignited. Then, with a molten roar, the gas fireballed.

Flames boiled from the door as Jade sprinted down the passage, hearing glass shatter behind her as the windows exploded. She cannoned into the shopkeeper. He was standing in the corridor, rigid with shock and gripping a cell phone. Her savior. His footsteps had distracted the thugs. She knocked him flying, but tripped over his legs and fell down beside him on the dirty linoleum.

The jerry can man pushed past them and ran for the stairs, his pursuit forgotten. From inside the burning office, she heard a thudding noise and a high, keening wail. Blinded by smoke and flames, the gunman was trapped in the blaze. He was a murderous bastard, but even so, her stomach clenched in horror at his agonized cries.

But there was nothing she could do. She scrambled to her feet and helped the shopkeeper up.

“Downstairs!” she shouted, coughing as the thick smoke billowed towards them.

As Jade ran down the steps she realized she was following a trail of blood.

She burst out of the doorway and into the car park. It was as empty as it had been when she arrived. But now a set of tire tracks curved out of the exit and onto the road. Somebody had made a speedy getaway.

To her surprise, Jade saw the jerry can man heading down the street at a stumbling run. She saw a dark vehicle under the nearby trees, but as she looked, it pulled away. She ran out onto the road. The limping man had vanished.

The shopkeeper stood staring at the thick black smoke and leaping flames.

Nkosi yami!” he cried before dialing a number on his cell. Moments later she heard him conversing excitedly with the emergency services.

She walked away on legs suddenly wobbly with shock and called David, hoping she could keep her voice steady while she spoke to him.

“Bloody hell,” he shouted when she told him the news. “You okay, Jadey?”

She took a deep, trembling breath. “Fine, thanks.”

“What do you make of this?”

Jade blinked, trying to erase the image of the gunman’s eyes, cold and furious in his snarling face. Had his hatred been directed at her personally? She didn’t think so. More likely at what she represented.

“It was brutal. Revenge or a cover-up, perhaps. They didn’t expect to see me there.” As she uttered the words, she won-dered if they were true. Had the men known she was in the office? Why was one of them carrying an unholstered gun? She didn’t know, so she continued. “They didn’t hesitate to shoot. And they weren’t working alone. I think there was a car waiting for them. When the office went up, the driver cleared out fast. I’ll ask the shopkeeper if he saw anything. There’s no sign of Grobbelaar. Just a pair of abandoned shoes inside his door.”

She heard David tapping away on a keyboard. “You said the guy who ran away was injured. Burned, do you think?”

“No. Too much blood. My guess is he has a bullet in his leg, courtesy of his friend’s second stray gunshot. Can you notify the hospitals if I give you a description? I’m sure those guys will have a record. Racially motivated violent crime would be my guess.”

David sighed heavily. “Will do. But he won’t risk going to a hospital, not with firearm injuries. He’ll go to a sangoma, a witch-doctor. God knows what treatment he’ll receive. Herbs, muti, purging. Maybe he’ll survive, maybe he’ll get an infec-tion and die.” His voice sounded flat, as if he didn’t care either way. “That’s the risk they run.” He added something else but Jade couldn’t hear him because his voice was drowned out by the blare of approaching sirens.

Random Violence