Детективы и Триллеры : Триллер : 25. : Lauren Beukes

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I'm met by wolf whistles and monkey whoops from D'Nice and his idiot friends, who are sprawled on the steps outside Elysium, already mostly drunk.

"Hey, Zee Zee On Top!" D'Nice catcalls. "You can ride me reverse cowgirl, baby!" He bucks his hips and pretends to swing a lasso above his head.

"You need to get a job, D'Nice. The beer is rotting your brain."

"Oh, I got one. You're looking at the new Elias. I start on Tuesday."

Upstairs, I find a print-out tacked to my door that explains D'Nice's behaviour, the Marabou's sarky remark. It's from Mach blog, a sneak peek of an upcoming feature (full story in the May issue!) called "Was It Good for Zoo?"

There are photos.

Some of them are five years old. Candid. He swore he'd deleted them.

Some are from a couple of nights ago. A kiss pinned against the wall of a grungy building. Dancing at the Biko Bar. Me looking wistful in the backseat of the car, streamers of city lights reflected in the glass. I don't remember Dave taking that one.

The naked pictures are not the worst of it. It's the words.

The copy is a mash-up of truth and invention. Gio writes about all the ways we have sex. Reverse cowgirl included. This, at least, is based on past experience, but he makes up the rest. How Sloth shivers and yowls when I come because we're connected like that. How he gets a little squeamish about it all. Calls it his pseudo-bestiality threesome. A gang-bang really, because the shadow of murder, of my sin, is like a fourth in the bed with us.

Mama always told him to avoid the bad girls, but hey, he writes, in a moment of tender confession, he loved me once.

"Cocksucking pigdog bastard mothercunt!" I kick the door for emphasis, leaving a vicious dent and cracking the paintwork. Mrs Khan pokes her head out of 608, concerned. "Is everything all right, sweetheart?"

"Peachy," I snarl, and head upstairs to Benoît's apartment. He should be back by now. I just hope he hasn't seen it, but D'Nice is sure to have made extra photocopies to shove in his face.

Benoît is sitting in the middle of his floor sorting through a meagre selection of clothes, in front of the sagging nicotine-yellow couch he and Emmanuel lugged all the way from Parktown when they spotted it dumped on the pavement.

The Rwandan kid sees me first. He's taping up a collection of tatty cardboard boxes salvaged from the superette. Everything Benoît has in the world. I could tape myself up in one of them and wait for his return.

"Benoît," Emmanuel says in a warning voice, a voice that tells me everything has changed.

Benoît looks up to see me standing in the doorway. He turns back to his job without comment, but he looks frayed, like a carpet that's been trodden down. The Mongoose gives me an evil look – our moment of bonding at the window last night forgotten.

"It's not true," I say, adding in exasperation. "Emmanuel, can you get lost, please?"

"Uh-" Emmanuel looks to Benoît for confirmation, but there's none forthcoming: he just keeps folding and rolling his t-shirts. Emmanuel has always been a little scared of me. He sets down the tape and ducks out the door past me. "Sorry," he says, like it's a funeral, and squeezes my arm.

As he finishes folding each one, Benoît places the sausage-roll shirts neatly inside one of those damn checked bags. I kneel down next to him.

"Please don't use that. I have a backpack I can lend you." He ignores me.

"Thanks for the phone. And the tip. I found her. I couldn't have done it without you. I'm getting the cash tomorrow. I can pay for fake papers, for your plane ticket."

"I don't want your money," he says, taking all the rolled-up shirts out again and starting to re-roll them.

"Oh for fuck's sake. Look, Giovanni and I had a thing years ago. He made up the rest. You can tell it's bullshit. That obscene stuff about Sloth coming at the same time-"

"Oh, that?" says Benoît. "I don't care about that, Zinzi."

"Where are you going?"

"Central Methodist Church. It's just for a couple of days until I leave."

"And fight over a piece of concrete floor to sleep on, an edge of staircase? Please. If you've got someone else moving in here already, you can stay at my place. I won't even try to have sex with you."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"I can't believe you're letting this piece of shit's disgusting slander get between us. A couple of hours ago we're fine, and now this? Over ancient fucking history?" Sloth murmurs in my ear, soothing noises. He hates it when I shout.

"It's not him." Benoît hefts the bag onto the couch and stands up to face me. "It's you, Zinzi. I used your computer. I needed to email Michelle. The aid worker," he clarifies when I look blank.

"Oh." I sit down heavily on the couch next to his bag.

"I found your scam letters. I wasn't looking for them. But you had replies in your inbox. Many replies."

"So what? If you knew the circumstances-"

"Do you know their circumstances, these people you steal from?"

"I just write the formats, Benoît. You think this is easy for me? Living on money scrounged from finding a lost set of keys here, a passport there? I have debts to pay." I am aware of how childishly defensive I sound.

"We all have debts to pay!" Benoît raises his voice for the first time, gestures at the open doorway. "All of us here."

"Mine happen to be financial as well as moral."

"I didn't know you were this selfish."

"I'm an addict! It comes with the fucking territory. I'm sorry I'm not as perfect as your fucking wife. And I hope for your sake she's as fucking perfect as you remember. That she doesn't have an animal of her own. Five years is a long time, Benoît. How do you know she even wants you back?"

"I have a message from her."

"And I have a whole outbox full of messages promising untold riches. How do you know you're not just another moegoe, pinning everything on a dream that's patently impossible?"

"I don't. I just have to go and see how it is, see how to make it work."

"Fine. Whatever. Go live your life. Why do you care about these idiots giving away their money?"

He sits down next to me, the couch creaking mournfully. "It's because I knew a boy like Felipe once. The one who gets shot in the back in your Eloria letter?"

"I didn't know. How could I have known? It wasn't on purpose, Benoît. It wasn't to hurt you."

"Like your letters are not to hurt people? You don't care about anyone else, Zinzi."

"Of course I care, why the fuck do you think I took this missing persons job? And so far it's turning out more dodgy than all the scams I've ever been involved in. I did it so I could get out of this. Aren't you taking this a little personally?"

"I shot Felipe."


"We used to sleep in a church, all the children and us older kids looking after them. I was nineteen. It was meant to be safe. They took us anyway. Armée de résistance du Seigneur. Lord's Resistance Army. Even before these troubles now, they used to make incursions across the border from Uganda. Or maybe it was a splinter group. They broke the windows. Used their rifle-butts to smash in the heads of the little ones too small to walk. Anyone who resisted. In the forest, they did things to drive us mad. Muti. Drugs. Rape. Killing games. His name wasn't Felipe. But he was my friend. And I shot him because that was the choice they gave me."


He smiles wanly. "Nzambe aza na zamba te. God is not in the forest. Maybe He is too busy looking after sports teams or worrying about teenagers having sex before marriage. I think they take up a lot of His time."

"I didn't know."

"Your policy. No questions. It's all right, Zinzi, I wouldn't have told you anyway. I didn't tell my wife when we married. There are camps for child soldiers, where they try to teach you to be human again." His mouth twitches, more pity than smile.

"Was that when you got the Mongoose?"

"It was 1995. Before mashavi. But he was waiting for me. He waited eleven years for me. We were on our way to Celvie's father's funeral. We knew it was dangerous, but it was her father. We should have left the kids behind. The FLDR attacked us. I fought back. Killed two of them. That's why they burned me."

"The FLDR?" I say, reeling. As if unravelling the acronyms could make sense of this.

"The Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda. I thought I'd left the fighting behind. It was like a different life for me, Zinzi, for many years. I met Celvie. We had children. I went to university. But the war in the Congo is like an animal. You can't get away from it." He runs his palm down the scars on his throat.

"What happens now?"

"Now I must hope that I can avoid the war. And this time, I will tell my wife. But you understand why I don't want your money."

In my chest, the poison flower bursts open, an explosion of burning seeds. I imagine Mr and Mrs Barber experienced something similar whenever they finally realised that the bearer bonds were forged.

It is the death of hope.

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