The trunk of the car was heating up in the morning sun. The car turned off the tarmac and bumped along a rough road. Branches swished and scraped over its roof.

The man in the trunk was pouring sweat. His white golf shirt was drenched and clammy and no longer white. He could smell his perspiration and the stench of his own terror. For hours he had twisted and writhed, flinging himself against the carpeting on the sides and against the hard metal shell above his head.

The car had been parked somewhere overnight. At one stage, when he’d stopped struggling, he’d realized how cold it was. He’d curled up and shivered. He hadn’t slept. The long minutes had passed, quiet and deadly slow.

Then the car had started up and begun to move again. He’d renewed his efforts to make a noise, to produce some motion that might attract somebody’s attention. But the car was too big and heavy. Its new, springy shocks simply absorbed the impact of his rolling body. He had a gag in his mouth, but he hadn’t let that stop him. He’d grunted and bellowed, putting all his effort into getting his voice past the obstruction in his mouth, in the desperate hope that somehow, somebody might hear.

The gag was one of his own socks, ripped off his foot and secured in his mouth with sticky brown packaging tape. He could taste the sour sweat and dirt from his foot and his shoe. The sock’s coarse cotton fibers pushed against his tongue.

The man who’d gagged him had wound the tape round and round his head, covering his mouth and chin in a brown bandage. In the back of his mind, he thought that the gag would be agonizing to take off. It would rip out the two-day growth of stubble and his graying buzz cut. Then he realized how stupid he was to think that. Because if the gag ever came off, it would be a miracle. He would be glad of the pain.

He was a strong man and, although he was pushing fifty-five, still a tough man. He’d thought he was too hard, too experienced to fall victim to an attack like this. But he’d been taken by surprise because it had been slick, so slick, and com-pletely unexpected. Done with military precision. He’d done a few years in the army way back during apartheid. He knew training when he saw it. He’d been outnumbered. And he was familiar with the brutal intent these men showed.

They’d handcuffed and gagged him. They’d yanked his laptop from the power supply and taken his cell phone. Then they’d searched his files. He’d shaken his head and shrugged. Whatever they wanted, he wasn’t going to point it out to them. An operation like this, he was in deep shit anyway. He’d recognized the signs.

The tall man had shouted at him and punched him in the stomach with an iron fist, so hard that he’d doubled over in agony. He’d braced himself for a brutal beating, but the man with the gun had intervened.

“Leave him. Not here, not now.”

“We could take the gag off and question him.”

“And if he shouts?”

“We need the info.”

“It’s recent. Probably nothing’s been filed yet. Anyway, he’s all we need. And this.” He indicated the laptop.

Then they’d marched him down to the car and, at gun-point, forced him into it.

Slowly, fighting the gag, he’d screamed his voice away. Now his throat felt ragged and he could taste blood in the back of his mouth. Even if the gag was removed, there was nothing he could do now. He’d been stupid. He had wasted his voice.

The cable ties that bound his hands behind his back had been too tight to begin with. His hands had swollen now, which made the thin plastic even tighter. His wrists throbbed with a hard hot rhythm in time to the panicked beating of his heart. Every time he moved, a bolt of pain shot up his arms. He wondered if he’d ever be able to use his hands again. Then he realized that was the least of his problems.

He always instructed his clients to try to loosen the car-peting on the inside of their car’s trunk so that they could kick out a rear light if they were held captive in a hijacked vehicle. The carpeting in this vehicle was sturdy. In the dark-ness, it took him a long time to work out where the lights were. Eventually he followed the curve of the trunk’s lid and found the area by feel. He tried to grab the edge of the carpet with his swollen fingers and yank it away.

It didn’t work. He lost a nail. The red, tearing agony as it ripped out of his finger squeezed a flood of tears from his eyes. His nose blocked and he sobbed in desperation, fighting for breath as the gag threatened to choke him. Deep in his gut he knew that this was it. You didn’t get let out and set free when you were tied up in the back of a car. Only worse would happen.

The car stopped. The heat pulsing through the metal above him reduced just a little. The engine was switched off. In the shade, he thought, with odd clarity. They had stopped in the shade.

Then the lid was flung open.

He shrank away from the light that burnt his eyes, filtered only by a thin layer of dry leaves and twigs from the tree above him.

Blinking in the low rays of the sun, he looked up at the man who stood there. The tall man. The one with the cold, empty eyes.

He could only watch. The man lit a cigarette.

“Get out.”

He sat up, knocking his head on the top of the open lid, and a wave of dizziness caught him. The world spun, and for a moment he thought it would spin away. Then it righted itself. With legs that trembled so violently they could hardly work, he wriggled up until he was sitting on the rim of the trunk. Then he pushed himself over. He lost his balance and fell head first onto the stony ground.

“Get up.”

He swung onto his knees and staggered to his feet. His bare feet, bruised from kicking and struggling during the journey. The stones hurt his soles. They were soft, used to shoes. He stood bowed, swaying and snuffling through the gag.


The other man climbed out of the passenger seat and trained the gun on him. There was nothing he could do. He stumbled into the trees. They were somewhere out in the bush, far from anywhere. Tears welled in his eyes as he walked. What had he done to deserve this?


Trees were all around him. Their long trunks stretched up to a winter sky. Birds twittered in the branches. His feet were planted in a carpet of leaves.

The man shoved him backwards against a tree trunk. He had more cable ties with him. Long enough to stretch around the tree. Two were tightened around his neck. Another two pulled his ankles back against the rough bark.

He couldn’t speak, but his pleading eyes asked questions. The tall man laughed.

“You might be wondering what we’re going to do to you now.” He waited for a moment with his head on one side, as if expecting an answer.


The two men turned and walked away. He couldn’t move his head, only follow them with his eyes. They reached the car. Were they going to leave him on his own?

He closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if anyone would find him or if he would die slowly, strangled by the cable ties when his exhausted legs finally gave way.

He heard scrunching on the leaves and strained his eyes sideways again. The tall man was returning. He was wearing a full-length protective mackintosh, the sort of coat that might keep you dry in a monsoon.

The man smiled. “Before I go, I think I’ll cut a little wood. It’s always nice to have freshly chopped wood in winter, for the fireplace.”

His eyes grew wide in horror and he struggled with all his might, bucking and fighting the cable ties.

The man had produced a heavy-looking, long-handled axe from under his raincoat.

The forest was still for a moment, seeming to hold its breath. Then the first blow of the axe landed. A shower of dry leaves fluttered to the ground and, in the tree above him, the birds took fright and wheeled away into the air.

Random Violence