The highway from Johannesburg’s airport was busier than Jade remembered. More cars, more taxis, queues of trucks and lorries. Forests of billboards advertised insurance and cell phones. Smog and dust smothered the city like a dirty blanket, trapped by the temperature inversion that would only lift when the summer rains came.

Road signs loomed above them and David changed lanes, forcing a BMW to veer out of the way. The driver blasted his horn and gesticulated furiously through his tinted windows.

“What’s his problem?” David asked.

Jade eased her foot off an imaginary brake pedal. “Nothing, I’m sure. Carry on with what you were saying. And watch out, because there’s some slow traffic ahead.”

Not everything had changed, she thought. David’s driving was as bad as ever. She’d hoped that in the ten years she’d been away it might have improved a little.

“Like I was telling you, I got promoted a month ago. You’re talking to Superintendent Patel now. I head up an investiga-tion unit at Johannesburg Central.”

“Congratulations. That’s great news.”

David grimaced. “I thought so too at first. Then I realized I’ve landed in one hell of a mess.”

“What kind of a mess?”

“My predecessor died. Heart attack. He left me with a case backlog longer than a Sandton traffic jam. I found a knee-deep pile of dossiers in his office. Literally. Stacked up on the floor. Old cases, cold cases, priority cases. I’ve seen three affidavits in there already that everybody thought had been lost. It took nine years of his inefficiency to create that bloody heap and now I’m getting saddled with the blame.”

Jade could easily imagine what David’s reaction must have been. When it came to his work, he was a perfectionist. His desk was always immaculate. In the morning it would be piled with reports and case files, their edges set square. By the evening, it would be clear. The paperwork would have been dealt with, or filed away. She’d called him a magician. He’d said it was easy. She wondered how long it would take him to sort it out. Perhaps he already had.

“How did he get to that position if he was so inept?”

“He’s not the only one, Jade. You won’t believe how the police force has changed. We’re swamped with incompetents. If your father was here today, he’d be after half the new per-sonnel with a sjambok, whipping them into shape.”

Jade hadn’t thought much about her father since she left. It had taken considerable effort, but she had managed. Back in Johannesburg she knew she’d be reminded of him constantly. Especially when she was with David. He had long been like an older brother to her. Now she couldn’t look at him without imagining Commissioner de Jong hovering in the back-ground, gazing at both of them with fatherly affection while keeping a stern eye on David to make sure he didn’t trans-gress any of the unspoken rules regarding his daughter.

She took a deep breath and forced the image of her father firmly out of her mind.

“You mentioned a problem case when we spoke on the phone. Is that part of the backlog?”

A couple of days previously, Jade had been almost deafened by David’s delighted bellow when, after a moment’s pause, he’d realized who was on the long-distance line.

“Jadey! Where the bloody hell have you been?”

“I’m in the UK. But I’m coming back to Jo’burg,” she’d told him.

“When do you arrive? Give me your flight number and I’ll fetch you from the airport. Do you need somewhere to stay? Oh, and while you’re here there’s a case you can help me with, if you have time.”

She hadn’t been able to suppress her delighted grin. David sounded exactly the same as he had ten years ago, barking out instructions, organizing everything down to the last detail in the time it took the average person to draw breath.

Damn, it was good to see him again. Good to be back in the crazy boomtown energy of Johannesburg, too. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed the feel of the city. She’d just completed a surveillance job in the muggy heat of an English summer. The firm had offered her another assignment but she’d turned it down. It was time for her to return to South Africa.

David swung the car into the fast lane, glanced at the road ahead, and turned his full attention back to Jade. “No. I need your help with a new case. A woman was murdered a few nights ago, on a smallholding just north of here. Shot as she arrived home. It looks like a car hijacking that went wrong.”

“What happened?”

“We think some guys pulled off the road and threatened her. Opportunistic crime. But she had a pepper spray in her hand when we found her body. Seems she tried to resist them instead of saying ‘Yes, sir’ and handing over the keys.”

“She tried to use pepper spray? With a gun aimed at her?”

“Maybe she panicked. Acted without thinking.”

“And what did they do?”

“Seems they also panicked. Shot her dead, snatched her bag from the car, then took off.”

Jade shook her head. She was back in South Africa all right.

“Any evidence?” she asked.

“First person on the scene was a minibus taxi driver. According to his report, one of his passengers saw the body and shouted at him to stop. So he reversed and they all got out to go and have a look. Eighteen people and one goat.”

“A goat?” Jade glanced at David to see if he was joking. He wasn’t. He was looking straight at her, his eyes worried and serious in his brown-skinned face. She hurriedly transferred her gaze back to the road, ready to warn him if he strayed into the path of an oncoming tanker.

“One goat and eighteen people,” he repeated. “If there was any evidence nearby, it was history after the time that taxi stopped. When the flying squad got there, all they found were eighteen different footprints. And goat droppings.”

“Any leads so far?”

David shook his head. “Not a clue.”

“No informers?” Jade was watching the steering wheel. He wasn’t touching it and the car was drifting to the left. Couldn’t he see?

“Nope. We’re working on it. But in the meantime there are complications.” David slid his hands over the wheel and the car straightened up.

“What complications?”

David turned off the highway and accelerated onto a road going north. Jade saw brand-new office parks surrounded by raw earth and piles of sand, and acres of townhouses where she remembered trees and open space.

“Her ex-husband Piet. He’s decided the best way to speed up the investigation is to contact every newspaper and radio station who’s prepared to speak to him, and create the biggest media circus since Zuma’s rape trial.”

“That can’t be helping you.”

He shook his head. “I’ve got journalists pestering me every time I turn on my cell phone. And Commissioner Williams is on my back wanting to know how hotshot new Superin-tendent Patel has managed to create more negative press in one week than the old one did in nine years.”

“That could be career-limiting.”

“It is already. Williams doesn’t like me. I wasn’t his choice for the job. He’s already said he wants to take me off the case. I’d be out of the department altogether, if he had his way.”

David made a few more turns, and drove down a sand road so rutted and potholed that Jade felt her teeth being rattled loose in her head.

“Where are we going?”

“To your hotel.”

“Down this road?”

A couple of minutes later he stopped the car outside a gate and pressed a remote control button to open it. The thatched cottage behind it was enclosed by a palisade topped with six strands of electric fencing.

David turned to Jade and smiled. “It’s next door to where I’m renting. It’s secure, and best of all, it’s free. I did a favor for the landlady a while ago. Her boyfriend got drunk and started threatening her with a knife, so I did the neighborly thing and arrested him. When she heard I had a friend coming, she offered it to me for you. It’s yours for a month.”

Jade climbed out of the car and breathed in. The fresh, cold air had a tang of wood smoke blended in with other scents that made her think of vegetation—not green, not rotting, but concentrated and crisp and dry. She could imagine staying here for a month. Perhaps even longer.


Jade had spent most of her childhood in Turffontein, south of the city. Not the best area in the world. She hadn’t needed to look at the calendar to know when it was the weekend, because the couple next door would start drinking and fighting at eight in the morning, instead of waiting till five thirty in the afternoon when work was over.

She used to sit in her bedroom studying her textbooks with her fingers in her ears. It didn’t stop her from hearing the screaming and swearing, and the occasional smashing sound as one of the tall brown quart bottles of beer was dropped or thrown. The broken bottles were piled up outside the house in cardboard boxes every Monday, the day the rubbish collec-tors came round.

Her father was a highly respected police commissioner. Despite his senior position, he couldn’t afford to live any-where else. Jade knew she needed a career that paid better than police work, so she’d decided to study law at varsity. One day, she would be a wealthy attorney and live in a huge house. When her father retired, she’d build him a luxury cottage.

Then, when Jade was in the second year of her law degree, David transferred from Durban to Johannesburg to join her father’s unit, and rented a house in the next street.

“This is David Patel—my new assistant,” her father had told her when she’d arrived home one day to find the two of them drinking coffee in the kitchen. The young man, dressed in a neatly ironed white shirt and black tie, unfolded himself from the wooden chair and walked over to shake her hand.

David Patel. What kind of a name was that? Jade looked up at him. And further up. He was so tall his black spiky hair brushed against the glass shade of the ceiling lamp. His expression reminded her of a hawk. But his eyes fascinated her the most, because they were the lightest gray she’d ever seen. They looked almost colorless, like water.

“When I retire, he’s going to be the best detective in the whole of the South African police force,” her father continued proudly. Jade blinked, surprised by her father’s announce-ment. He didn’t usually make mistakes about people, but she wasn’t sure about this man. He didn’t look like a detective at all. He looked like he should be out fighting with mercenaries in an exotic and dangerous location, a machine gun strapped to his back.

David looked down at her with his strange eyes, so oddly pale in his brown-skinned face. He took her hand in a gentle grasp. And then he smiled.

At that exact moment Jade changed her mind about him.

With David there, Turffontein didn’t seem like such a bad place after all. And when she spent time talking to him about his job, Jade thought she might have been wrong about a career in the police force, too. Crime-fighters were heroes.

At least, David made it sound that way. But when she’d told him she had changed her mind about being a lawyer, he dis-couraged her from joining the police.

“As a woman you’ll be limited, Jadey,” he told her. “You’ll be kept in an admin position for so long you’ll start to grow mold. Why don’t you become a private investigator? That way you can be your own boss. Run your own show, work with the cops.”

Jade liked the idea of working with David. And she had never wanted to grow mold. So she took his advice.


David walked into the well-tended garden with her. Now that she wasn’t trying to watch the road for him, she had a chance to look at him properly.

She had expected that time would have stopped while she was away, that David would look the same as when she’d last seen him. He didn’t.

His face was thinner and careworn, his forehead furrowed, his body more solid. Looking closely, she saw white strands gleaming in his dark hair. He still reminded her of a merce-nary, but now it looked as if his fight had been harder and his victory more narrow.

She saw he was staring at her, too. She wondered what he was thinking.

“You haven’t changed a bit, Jadey,” he said. “You still look so damn good.”

He was being kind, she knew, although she was encour-aged by the unbrotherly tone of the compliment. She was thirty-four now. She had smile lines and tiny crow’s feet around her eyes. Her hair was darker brown than it had been; she’d started dyeing it last year when she’d spotted the first evidence of gray. She was still slim and wiry though. Like her father she had a ridiculous metabolism that allowed her to eat whatever she wanted and stay that way.

She smiled up at him.

“You haven’t changed, either,” she said.

She could be kind, too.

They strolled over to a railway-sleeper bench in the shade. He thumped his weight down on the wood, and patted the seat next to him. Jade joined him. The bench was punish-ingly hard on her backside, still numb from the eleven-hour flight.

David gazed at the view. She thought he looked puzzled, as if he couldn’t believe that it was as real as the crime and brutality that he saw in his working life.

“The case. Could you help me with it?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“I can’t pay you. We’ve got no budget.”

“You can owe me.” Jade watched a bird with a luminous turquoise breast hop along the grass towards the bench. It stared at them, inquisitive. Then David bent to adjust his shoelace. Startled by the movement, it flew up to a safe perch on the branch of a syringa tree.

“If you were thinking of coming back permanently, it would be a good kick-start for your career,” he added.

“Yes, it would.”

“Why the hell did you disappear, Jadey?” He looked at her, his pale gray eyes keen and sharp under his elegant brows. “I’ve often wondered. You left the country so suddenly, you didn’t tell anyone where you were going. What happened?”

Jade chose her words carefully. Not because David was a top-notch investigator who might pick up the slightest whiff of falsehood. But because he was her friend. She didn’t want to lie. Equally, she couldn’t tell him the truth. Not now. Not ever.

She settled for saying, “It was to do with my dad, mostly.”

He nodded, as if he’d been expecting her to say that. She was worried he’d question her further, but to her relief he looked at his watch and stood up.

“I’d better get going now,” he said. “Or else I’ll be in more trouble.”

They went back to the car. David took her suitcase out of the trunk, together with a beige folder containing a slim sheaf of papers.

“This file contains everything on the case so far.”

“Thanks. I’ll look at it now.”

He slammed the trunk shut. “And this car is for you. I hired it on your behalf. It’s a good choice, I think. Inconspicuous.”

Jade ran her hand along the hood. “Great choice, David. Thank you very much.” It was small and white, so inconspic-uous she didn’t know how she would ever find it again if she walked away from it in a car park.

She buzzed the gate open for David and watched him jog the short distance to the house next door. He ran up a flight of outside stairs to a room above the garage, reappearing a minute later with a tie in his hand, climbed into the unmarked vehicle in his driveway and headed down the road, honking as he passed her cottage.

She hefted her bag into the bedroom. The cottage was fur-nished, although the décor was too chintzy and frilly for her taste. She drew the line well before heart-shaped scatter cush-ions and lacy toilet-roll holders. But it had what she needed. Steel security gates, burglar bars on all the windows and an alarm system that was linked to an armed response company.

Jade walked outside to her car.

She’d get to the case file as soon as she could. But first she had more urgent business, on the wrong side of town.

Random Violence