Jade stared blankly at the rows of cars on the highway. She felt oddly out of control, as if she were being dragged into an unwanted future against her will.

“Why are you helping me with this, Robbie?” she asked.

His yellowed teeth tore another strip of skin from his index finger.

“Believe me, it’s not for my health,” he said.

“Why, then?”

He shrugged. “I said I would. When you left, ten years ago. We had an agreement. Jacobs then, Viljoen now. Two fewer racist pigs in the world. No problem for me.” He turned to her, sucking his finger. “You see, Jade, you think I’m just a gang-ster, some crazy guy who likes killing. That’s not how things are. You don’t understand me. Why do you think I never deal in hijacked cars? I don’t kill for fun. I only kill the guys who deserve it, and that guy deserved it long ago. I saw what he did to you.” He drummed his fingers on the dashboard.

“A leopard doesn’t change his spots. I know that better than anyone, Jade. I grew up on the streets in Westbury, you know. Slap bang in the middle of the ganglands. Then, when I was twelve, my mum landed a better job. She sent me to a good school in the north of Jo’burg. I didn’t want to go. She didn’t want me to end up a criminal. I could have changed, could have ended up being the CEO of some bloody company for all I know. But I didn’t want to. So what am I now? A better-educated criminal, that’s all. I’m a goddamn chameleon. I can speak English like a white man, but put me back on the street with my friends and you wouldn’t ever know I even went to school, the way I talk. Same with Viljoen, I’m telling you. Man knows how to play the game. Two weeks out of prison? He’ll be back to his old ways.”

He turned off the highway and followed the route to Viljoen’s suburb. The superette was a few blocks away. The corner building was low and modest, with a small sign outside. Perhaps it had been a house before it was converted into a shop. Robbie braked and stopped a few meters away.

“Why did you ask why I was helping you?” he said.

“Just wondering.” Jade looked ahead and then behind her. The road was empty. She couldn’t work out what was making her feel uneasy.

“What are you looking at?” Robbie’s teeth had drawn a bright bead of blood on his finger. He stared at it, wiped it on his jacket, and then gnawed the skin again.

“Checking the road, that’s all.”

“It’s clear. I told you. I’ve been here a few mornings now. I know what goes on here. Which is nothing much, as you see.”

Jade nodded. “I see.”

The shop wasn’t exactly a hub of commerce. The entrance opened onto the four-way stop which meant that Viljoen would have to walk round the corner to go in. That was good. It meant it was less likely that any customers would be watching when he walked out and turned the corner to go home. And if they were there, what would they do? Their car would cruise past. Shots would be fired and it would pull away and disappear.

“Here he comes. Out for his daily constitutional. On his way to get the last bread and milk of his life.” Robbie sat straighter in his seat. “He’s alone. Couldn’t be better.”

Jade watched the entrance. A black lady strolled inside. She was wearing a domestic worker’s uniform. Perhaps she had been sent to get some emergency groceries. Or perhaps she was on her mid-morning break. Jade realized she hadn’t seen many domestic workers in this area. People here were mostly too poor to afford help. The lady didn’t seem to be in a hurry.

She saw Viljoen approaching, tottering forward on frail legs. He looked anxiously to the right and the left, nervous about his own vulnerability. The blue collar of his shirt peeped out from under a gray jersey which hung off him, as if it had been bought for a larger, stronger man many years ago.

They waited and watched. Viljoen rounded the corner and walked inside the shop.

“He’s usually about five minutes,” Robbie said.

Behind them, a car was coming down the road. A cheap generic model with mirrored windows. As it passed, it slowed down. Jade glanced at the windows, but all she saw were the reflections of the blue sky and the dark shape of Robbie’s car. It turned left at the four-way stop.

Jade saw another man walking towards them on the other side of the street, wearing a bulky jacket. He was marching briskly down the road. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to his surroundings, but all the same he was another witness. She didn’t want witnesses.

She looked at the digital clock on the dashboard. When Viljoen had gone into the shop it had been 10.48. The numbers flicked forward. She undid her seat belt, curled her hand around the butt of her Glock and drew it out of her holster. Her finger brushed the trigger. She swallowed. There was no time to think about anything else. She needed to focus on the gun and on her target.

At 10.54 Viljoen hurried out again, carrying a white plastic carrier bag.

“You know they make you pay for your grocery bags now in this country?” Robbie said, inching the car forward with an impatient rev of the accelerator. “It’s a shame, really it is. Supposed to help reduce littering but all it does is make the supermarkets richer. Still, he can obviously afford the thirty cents or whatever it is.”

Looking at the bag’s slim outline, Jade thought he probably couldn’t afford much else.

Robbie clapped his hand onto her leg. “Right, babe. Let’s go do this.”

He eased the clutch in and the car moved off smoothly down the road.

Jade watched the shape of the old man become clearer as they drove closer to him. He didn’t look like a dangerous polit-ical criminal as he stumbled along, heading back towards his home, shadow wavering on the uneven paving.

They passed an empty plot, rubbish lining the long grass growing there. Deep inside a clump of bushes in the center, Jade saw light glinting off a metal surface. She turned her head to look closer. The flicker had come and gone as they passed, but it reminded her of the sun’s reflection off the barrel of a gun.

She twisted in her seat and looked out of the rear window. The pedestrian on the side of the road had stopped walking. He turned towards them, watching. Her head whipped round. The domestic worker had come out of the corner shop. She was hurrying along the sidewalk in their direction, her stride suddenly urgent and purposeful.

“Robbie, wait.” They were a few meters away from Viljoen. “Something’s not right here.”

“Couple of seconds more and it’ll all be fine.” He buzzed the passenger window open. “Point and click, Jade. Just like you did last time. Don’t lose your nerve now. Don’t let me down.”

Jade struggled with him, trying to buzz the window up again.

“Jade, what the hell? Look, do you want me to do it?” Rob-bie’s hand closed over hers. “I’ll help you. Here, give me the gun. Grab the wheel.”

“It’s a setup. There’s a sniper in the bushes. Those are plain-clothes detectives on the street,” Jade screamed at him, so loud that the elderly man looked round in alarm.

“They can’t be.” Robbie wrestled the gun out of her hand. He sounded confident. “My contact said today was the day. The cops don’t know a thing.”

“They do.”

With a loud crack, the glass of Robbie’s back window shattered.

He dropped the gun and grabbed the wheel.

“Shit! We’re being shot at.” He smashed his foot onto the accelerator. The engine roared and the tires shrieked. Jade heard more shots ring out behind them.

“They go for the tires, we’ve had it.” Robbie swung the vehicle sharply, slewing it from side to side, dodging the bullets. Jade braced herself against the dashboard. With a cold flood of realization, she knew she’d been wrong. She’d been wrong about almost everything. She didn’t know if she could make things right. Perhaps the truth would be as elusive as it had been ten years ago. But she had to try. She had one chance, and she knew one chance was all she would get.

Her body slammed against the passenger door and rebounded into Robbie. She felt his arm, as tense as a steel cable, control-ling the wheel.

“Did you sell me out to the cops, Robbie?” she yelled above the wailing of the tires.

“Jesus Christ, I swear I didn’t, Jade. I don’t know what’s going on here. I never sold you out. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Stop the car,” Jade screamed.

“You crazy, babe? I stop this car now, we’re on a one-way trip to hell. Via the holding cells, if we’re lucky.”

“Stop the car. Just for a second. I’m getting out. I’m going to go, whether you slow down or not.” Jade wrenched the door open, fighting the slipstream, icy air stinging her eyes. She saw the tarmac rushing past, and readied herself to jump.

“For Christ’s sake.” Robbie braced himself against the wheel and stamped on the brakes. The car skidded to a stop, flinging Jade forward. Her head struck the windshield and her vision exploded into a thousand stars.

Then Robbie’s hand was on her back. He shoved her out of the car.

“Go,” he yelled.

He’d pulled away before she’d even stopped rolling. Rubber tore from the tires and smoked on the tarmac. He took the corner on two wheels, just as the vehicle with the mirrored windows appeared at the top of the road again, engine racing as it accelerated towards them. The car screeched to a halt and two figures jumped out. Then it roared off again in pursuit of Robbie.

Jade took no notice of the car, she just followed the black trail and the smell of burning rubber back down the road. Her shoes crunched over the broken glass from the BMW’s rear window. She walked into the sights of the sniper she knew was waiting for her.

She swung her arms by her sides. She had no weapon on her.

Viljoen was crouching on the grass, his hands over his head. The shopping bag lay beside him. The contents had spilled out. A loaf of bread, a half-liter of milk, a pack of veg-etables for soup.

When she reached him she held out her hand.

If she was wrong, the person in the bushes wasn’t a police sniper. Then she would die. If she was right, but the sniper was jumpy, he might still shoot her. Hopefully he would be experienced. Then she wouldn’t know about it. She wouldn’t know anything at all.

Jade waited. A bird fluttered down and hopped along the pavement in front of them. It pecked at a piece of orange peel and then flew away. The old man looked up at her, his eyes full of anxiety. He took her hand and she helped him to his feet. He moved stiffly.

She bent down, packed his groceries back into the bag and handed it to him.

“Wat gaan aan?” he asked her, in Afrikaans. What’s hap-pening?

Jade replied in English. “I don’t know what the shooting is all about. My name’s Jade de Jong. I want to ask you a couple of questions, Mr Viljoen. Can I walk with you?”

“Jade de Jong?” He squinted at her, hobbling forward on legs still jerky with fright.

“My father was Commissioner de Jong. He handled your case. Back in 1995, when you were arrested.”

The man nodded sadly. To Jade’s relief, he switched to thickly accented English. “Ja. We were arrested in December ’95. I remember de Jong.”

Jade could see the people from the car approaching. She felt a chill of despair. Williams and David were walking towards her, side by side. The other plainclothes detectives—the man in the jacket and the woman dressed as a domestic worker— watched from a distance.

Viljoen glanced nervously at the approaching men and then back at Jade.

“I need to know something, Mr. Viljoen.”

“Ja. You can ask me.”

“Did you or your brother have anything to do with the murder of my father? Did you know about it? Were you involved?”

Viljoen looked at her in total bewilderment. “Your dad was murdered? De Jong? No, I didn’t know that. I’m sorry. How did it happen?”

Jade stared into his eyes. She couldn’t see a lie there. She didn’t answer his question.

“Did you or your brother bribe a cop to sabotage your case?”

Viljoen gave a half-smile. “No. You don’t understand my brother, Ms. de Jong. He was a madman. He thought there was no case against us, that we would be found innocent. Until the day they sentenced him, he believed that he was right and they were wrong.”

Williams strode up to them, mustache bristling. “What the hell’s going on here?” he shouted. “That was an attempted assassination, my girl. We’re going to arrest your accomplice in that getaway car. And we’ll have handcuffs on you faster than you can say ‘Guilty.’”

“He wasn’t an accomplice,” Jade said.

“We have it on good authority he was.”

She shook her head. “He helped me locate Mr. Viljoen. That’s all.”

“You located Viljoen in order to kill him.”

The old man recoiled from Williams. He moved closer to Jade, despite the commissioner’s accusations, as if she could protect him from the frightening words as easily as she had picked up his shopping bag.

Jade spread her arms. “I don’t even have a weapon. Was I going to break his neck with my bare hands?” She stood her ground and stared down at Williams, who glared back up at her. “I wanted to ask him some questions relating to the death of my father. I got answers from him. The only shots fired were from your police sniper.” She indicated the camou-flaged man in Kevlar emerging from the bushes.

“Did the occupants of the car have a weapon?” Williams asked the sniper.

The man brushed dry leaves out of his hair.

“They were struggling with a weapon,” he said. “I fired a warning shot and then attempted to disable the vehicle by shooting out a tire.”

“You didn’t shoot very accurately,” Williams snapped.

“The car was all over the road, Commissioner. And there was a civilian directly in my line of fire.” The man sounded defensive.

Williams shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now.” He turned back to Jade. “You were struggling for possession of a weapon, with intent to commit murder.” Jade glanced at David. He stood statue-still and silent. She wondered what he was thinking, and if he knew that what she was saying was a lie.

She shook her head. “My driver was nervous. We saw a man with a gun in the bushes as we passed. He thought we might be hijacked if we stopped the car to talk to Mr. Viljoen. He wanted to have his gun ready for self-defense. I was trying to persuade him to put it down. I didn’t want Mr. Viljoen to be frightened. Then our back window was shot out and my driver panicked.” Jade put her hands on her hips and waited. Williams was still glowering at her, but she could see some uncertainty in his eyes. He didn’t have grounds for her arrest. She had been insanely lucky. The police sniper had fired the first and only shots. Hopefully, that meant David would be out of trouble too.

Williams’s walkie-talkie crackled.

“We lost the suspect, Commissioner,” a voice said. “He got away from us on the back roads.”

Jade felt a surge of relief.

“Roger. Return to the scene, then.” Williams sounded dis-appointed. He turned to Jade. “You’re off the case, as of this moment.” Then he turned to David, jabbing a finger into his chest. “And Superintendent, you’re suspended with imme-diate effect, pending a disciplinary inquiry.”

Random Violence