Jade jerked awake in the early hours of the following morning, gasping for breath and scrabbling under the pillow for her gun. Her heart was hammering, and in spite of the room temperature being uncomfortably cold, her hair was damp with sweat.

She sat up in the dark, her fingers curling around the grip of the gun as her nightmare dissolved. The feel of the hard plastic didn’t reassure her. It was a stark reminder of what she had done, and why she was back.

Jade swung her legs off the bed and stood up. Was it the dream that had woken her? Or something else?

She could hear the trill of crickets, and the far-off rum-bling of heavy trucks on the highway, travelling through the night. Closer to home, she heard dogs barking. Why were they barking in the small hours of the morning?

She unlocked her bedroom door and walked towards the kitchen, the cold tiles stinging her bare feet.

The security light outside the kitchen window cast dark shadows onto the floor. Jade padded over to the window and looked out. She could see the gleam of the metal body of a car. It was parked on the road outside her house, headlights off. Somebody was watching her.

She tensed, and dropped down to her knees. If she could see the vehicle outside, could the driver see her?

While she was crouching on the floor, she heard the scrunch of wheels. The car was moving off. Straightening up, she saw it pull away, the shadows patterning its side.

She took a deep, shuddering breath. It could have been opportunistic criminals checking out a newly arrived resi-dent. She didn’t think so, though, but she didn’t know why.

Jade turned on all the lights and checked the cottage thor-oughly. The front door was secure. The alarm was armed. The battery box that fed the electric fence was beeping quietly, its green light flashing.

She got back into bed and lay there listening until the traffic noises grew louder and the birds began to sing and the sky turned from black to gray.


Annette Botha had died almost immediately after the first bullet hit her. According to the coroner’s report, her chest had been penetrated by one of the two .45 caliber bullets that hit her. It had burst the aorta, causing a massive rupture. The gush of her blood had flooded her heart, stopping it instantly.

The other shot, to her throat, had torn open her carotid artery. That would have been fatal on its own.

Jade had set up a temporary office in the kitchen, where she could see the road outside. Even with an oil heater next to the table, the room was freezing. Chilly air seeped through the gaps in the door and window frames, dispersing the heat as soon as it was produced.

She turned the page and took a sip of coffee. She’d found bread, butter and cheese in the fridge. And two bottles of Tabasco in the cupboard. David’s contribution, she was sure. She was having cheese on toast for breakfast, liberally dotted with Tabasco.

The two bullets had been fired from an estimated distance of around six meters. So, Annette’s killer knew how to shoot. There were plenty of gun-carrying criminals in South Africa who didn’t. They only used them for show, to scare. To be certain of killing somebody, they’d have to fire from point-blank range. At six meters, in the stress of the moment, some-body unfamiliar with guns would’ve probably missed the target completely. A random hit would have been a lucky shot.

Annette had clearly been murdered by an experienced shooter. Someone cool and calculating, with a steady hand. Someone who had fired twice, a swift and deadly double-tap, placing the bullets where they would kill. Jade looked up from the file and considered the distance. From six meters, she could have put the bullets side by side in the woman’s head.

She read in David’s report that Piet Botha had been in Cape Town, where he lived, when the murder took place. On the evening that Annette was shot, he’d been giving an art class to his night students.

“Still a suspect,” David had written. “Could have organ-ized it. Inherits everything. Won’t assume he’s innocent until cleared beyond doubt.”

Later on, when Jade phoned Piet she discovered he was in Jo’burg, packing up the house where his ex-wife had died. She got directions from him and said she’d be round in half an hour.

Paging through the map she’d bought at the airport, she was amazed to see that Jo’burg and Pretoria had practically merged, woven together into a megalopolis by a spidery network of streets, highways, businesses and residential developments.

Jade remembered her history teacher telling the class that Johannesburg’s earliest settlers had harnessed up their ox-wagons and travelled for days to reach the city. There were many who were eager to make the trip, despite the fact that their destination was little more than an arid, treeless desert. Almost every other city in the world had been built near a plentiful supply of water. Johannesburg had sprung into existence because of the huge gold-bearing reefs that lay deep below the hilly surface of the ground. The resulting gold rush had caused the original shantytown to explode in size. The original buildings that formed the city of Johannes-burg had been crammed into the only triangle of land in the Witwatersrand basin where there was no gold to be found.

Jade had been enthralled to hear that when the city center was laid out, the street blocks were deliberately designed to be as small as possible. This created the maximum number of sought-after corner stands, so that the government could increase its takings when the land was auctioned off to buyers. Imagine the short-sighted greed that sentenced an entire city to a century of traffic gridlocks, all for the sake of cashing in at the start.

Since then, the city hadn’t stopped expanding. The gold-rush mentality that had driven the earlier fortune seekers to the city was alive and well in modern Johannesburg. And cer-tainly, short-sighted greed was still a strong driving force.

Annette had lived out of town in the far northwest, right at the edge of Jade’s map. She saw long roads and enormous sections of land, and tracts of white space on the page. She expected it to be out in the deepest countryside. She was right.

Annette’s property was on a narrow road with lighter squares where the tarmac had been patched, and darker areas where holes had been filled. The area looked forgotten, as if the land surveyors and developers with their transits and theodolites had overlooked it in their search for prime resi-dential land. But she was sure they would come back.

The only movement she could see was the wind tugging at the brittle shrubs and grasses that lined the verges. Jade tried to imagine what it would be like here at night for a woman arriving home alone. Frightening, she decided.

When she pulled up outside the house, four Alsatians raced to the gate. They leaped up, pawing the metal bars as if they wanted to break through. Shiny white teeth snapped in their open mouths. The gate rattled on its runners.

Jade climbed out of the car and walked over to them. She loved dogs. She’d had two jobs protecting the two consecu-tive girlfriends of a Greek shipping tycoon. Both women had been blond, model-gorgeous and terrified of the guard dogs that roamed the grounds. Jade couldn’t blame them. Rottweilers were intimidating animals, although these two had been friendly and well trained. She’d taught each of the women to be confident, stand still, and show no fear. In the end, they’d both ended up getting on a lot better with the dogs than they did with the Greek tycoon. The first girlfriend stormed out after a month. The second left in hysterical tears after six weeks. Then the tycoon was single again, and Jade was temporarily out of a job.

She smiled down at the Alsatians. “Hey there,” she said.

The barking stopped. They sniffed the air. One of them wagged its tail.

“Good dogs,” she added.

There was more tail-wagging in response. One dog shoved his nose through the gate. Jade let him lick her hand.

Then a squat, gray-haired man walked around the corner and whistled. Jade guessed he was Piet. The dogs ignored him. They started barking again, and leaping up at the gate.

He attached a lead to the collar of the biggest dog. It tensed and growled, retreating reluctantly and forcing him to drag it across the brown grass. The others barked at the gate for a few more moments and then bounded off, following their leader.

Piet returned without the dogs and pushed the gate open. It looked heavy, and it squealed on its runners.

“The motor still isn’t working,” he said. “The bastards tried to steal it, you know. The day before she died. They broke it, although they didn’t take it. If that motor had been working, she might still be alive. She wouldn’t have had to get out of her car to open it.”

Jade shook Piet’s hand, looking at him curiously. He was wearing a tattered jersey, a pair of jeans with old paint stains in all colors of the rainbow, and green socks under sandals with Velcro straps. His wiry gray hair was tied back in a ponytail and his face was deeply tanned. His eyes were a watery blue. For his size, his hands were surprisingly large and their grip firm.

“Thank you for coming, Jade.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said. “Whatever I can do to help, I will.”

He opened the door of the house and she followed him in.

“I’m finishing the packing. She’d already started to sort everything out. Her things. Her brother’s old stuff. She was going to move to Cape Town next month.”

He turned and swung the security gate shut. Jade looked around the cottage’s interior.

She saw a framed photo of Piet smiling proudly with his arm around a woman who she supposed must be Annette. The photo must have been taken a while ago, because Piet’s hair was brown not gray, and there was a lot more of it on his head. Jade was surprised by how striking Annette had been. Flawless bone structure, icy blue eyes, platinum hair. She could see how the woman had attracted Piet’s artistic eye.

There were two golf trophies next to the photo. Silver, shiny and sparkling clean. The name engraved under the trophies was Adrian Muller. Who was Adrian? She’d have to ask Piet.

A newspaper lay on the coffee table, open at page three. “Artist Devastated by Family Tragedy,” the headline screamed. Jade scanned the story. According to the writer, Annette’s murder was brutal, senseless and typical of the new South Africa. Piet had been quoted as saying, “The police have done nothing so far. They haven’t brought my ex-wife’s killer to justice.”

She could see why David needed her help.

Next to the newspaper was a scattered pile of Piet’s business cards. Ready to hand out to more reporters, she supposed.

He sat down opposite her and pushed his tough, gnarled fingers together.

“So you’re a detective?”

“Yes. A private investigator.”

Piet’s knuckles shone in patchy red and white.

“Those bastards took her away from me. Annette was my life. She was all I had.” He was silent for a while. Jade listened to the rhythmic tick of the clock on the wall. “We were going to be together again. That’s why she was moving. So we could give it another chance.” He unlaced his fingers and pulled at a rip in his jeans. His gaze strayed to the photo and back.

“You’re lucky to have Superintendent Patel in charge of the case. He’s one of the leading investigators in this province.”

Piet continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “Annette’s brother Adrian was killed a few years ago.” Jade glanced at the golf trophies on the wall unit. “Stabbed while he was withdrawing money from an ATM. They never caught the guys. I saw what that did to her. He was the last family she had, and she never saw his killers brought to justice.” He stared at the photo, jaw working, eyes watering.

Jade wondered just how upset he was. He had an unbreak-able alibi. But had he planned the crime? She had assisted with a case where the victim’s wife had been openly trau-matized after her husband was shot during a botched bank robbery. The heartfelt eulogy she had given at his graveside had reduced friends and family to tears. A couple of weeks later, she’d been convicted for organizing his murder. Spouses were top of the list of murder suspects. You just never knew.

She leaned forward and spoke gently. “This property was sold recently. I saw the sign outside.”

Piet nodded. “She put it up for sale when she decided to move.”

“Did she get a good price for it?”

Piet dragged his gaze away from the photo to look at her.

“How would I know? I’m no good with money. I’m an artist. She wouldn’t discuss the sale of her property with me.”

“How often did you speak to Annette?”

“Every few days. We had a lot to talk about, with her moving to Cape Town.”

“Did she mention anything unusual to you in the last week or two? Anything she’d noticed? Any cars near her place, any people outside watching her? Any strange incidents?”

Piet buried his bristly chin deep in his hands and stared ahead. Jade watched him closely. He started to speak, then stopped himself and shook his head. She wondered what he had decided not to say. Then he straightened up and turned to her. “There was something, yes. I don’t know if it’s impor-tant or not, but she did ask me an unusual question a couple of weeks ago. She wanted the number of a private detective.”

Jade put the newspaper back down on the table and turned to Piet. “Did you tell the police?”

He spread his hands. She noticed his fingers were stained brownish-yellow on the tips. Paint, perhaps. Or nicotine.

“I forgot about it till now.”

“It could be important.”

“I suppose so. I’m sorry.”

“Who was she trying to contact?”

Piet rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a battered pack of cigarettes. He put one in his mouth. He didn’t light it. He spoke with the cigarette in his mouth. It moved up and down, punctuating his words.

“She wasn’t trying to get hold of anyone special. She just told me she needed a private detective.”

“Do you know why?”

“She never said why. I didn’t ask. That’s what I learned from being married to her. She didn’t like to be quizzed. She’d tell you when she was ready.”

“What did you tell her? Did you give her any names?”

He shook his head. The cigarette followed the motion. “I told her she should look in the Yellow Pages. She said she didn’t know if she would be ripped off by a person from the Yellow Pages. She was like that. Careful with money.”

“Did she mention it again?”

Piet’s cigarette waggled to and fro. “No. She never spoke about it again.”

“Did she sound scared or worried when she asked you?”

He thought for a minute.

“She sounded the same as always. Curious, maybe. If she’d sounded scared I would have been worried. But she didn’t, so I forgot about it.”

He patted his pockets, looking for a lighter. Finding none, he took the cigarette out of his mouth and put it back in the packet.

After Piet had pushed the gate closed behind her, he walked over to the yard and let the dogs out. They bolted for freedom. One of them lunged at him as it ran past, forcing him to leap aside.

Jade shook her head as she pulled out onto the lonely road. She had a feeling that the dogs preferred women to men. Which was unfortunate for Piet.

Random Violence