Детективы и Триллеры : Триллер : 27. : Lauren Beukes

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This was inevitable. This grubby church basement with its grubby sign that reads NEW HOPE. The grubby men and women with grubby animals chanting the miserable litany of their grubby lives, mine included. It's supposed to be all relative. Degrees of awful that contextualise your own suffering. But what it really is, is painfully monotonous. There are only so many ways to screw up your life. We cover most of them in the first twenty minutes.

Even when the rich kids from the Haven join us halfway through, the only difference is in the details. But I feel saner for going. I also considered Phoenix, Fresh Beginnings and even Narcononymous, but I'd already established the credentials of the New Hope programme. Same principles as its plush sister facility, although there are less cheekbones per capita and I imagine the food isn't as good.

Lunch consists of day-old sandwiches sealed with stickers that proudly announce their providence as DONATED FROM THE KITSCH KITCHEN FINE FOODS DELI – CERTIFIED ORGANIC. Could have done with real cutlery instead of plastic, but hey, the patrons of this fine twelve-step establishment are a little rougher than those that frequent the Haven.

A cute black girl who came in with the rich kids slides in next to me and greets Sloth: "Hey, fuzzybutt, I thought I recognised you."

Sloth reaches out his arms to be picked up, and she takes him from me and gives him a cuddle.

"It's Naisenya, right?" I say, recognising Overshare Girl from the Haven. "You can keep him, if you like. He's not exactly thrilled with me right now."

"Is that why you're here?"

"I could ask the same of you."

"Day trip. I'm the driver." She tilts her head at the rich kids, who are getting a nasty taste of what hitting real bottom involves. "We come visit every Sunday."

"Guess that makes me a passenger. The old revolvingdoor ride."

"No free will," she agrees and tucks into her only slightly stale pastrami sandwich. She offers Sloth a bite.

"He only eats leaves."

"Sorry, didn't bring any with me. I would have saved you some weeds if I'd known, cutiepie."

"Hey, did Songweza ever come here with you?"

"Oh yeah, Song was practically a regular. Wouldn't know it, huh? High-maintenance girl like her. I think she kinda gets off a little on slumming it."

"I get the same impression."

"This is where she met her poet."

"Would this be Jabu by any chance?"

"I see you're familiar with the tragic romance of Song and Jabu."

"Broke up with her via SMS?"

"Harsh, huh? Those two fell hard. Pop princess and wannabe-novelist breadline kid living with his charlady mom in Berea. He wrote poems for her when he managed to stay off the mandrax for long enough to catch the words. She promised to turn them into songs. And then, poof! He just never came back."

"Can't be that unusual. This isn't rehab proper. No one's exactly checking in."

"Sure, you get the drop-ins, drop-outs. But that was cold, even for a junkie. How do you know Song anyway?"

"Let's say I used to be in the music industry. Very briefly." I pack the Kitsch Kitchen wrappers and the plastic cutlery into the box, and stand up to go.

"See you again?" Naisenya asks, hopeful. I think she has a crush on Sloth.

"If you're here." I toss the box into the communal dustbin. "Working it, and all that."

It's strange to phone Songweza's number and actually get through, although it takes her twelve rings before she answers. I feel a stab of guilt for neglecting her.

"Lo?" Her voice floats up like she's answering from Atlantis – a dreamily drowning voice that is so far removed from the smart-arse diva persona, I'm convinced I've dialled wrong. Which is impossible. I put her on speed-dial two.



"It's Zinzi. The woman with the Sloth."

"Oh. Oh yes. You weren't very nice to me." A hint of petulance spikes through the depths.

"Is everything okay? With you, I mean."

"I'm fine. Arno is cross that I came back. Yes, you, doos. But I had a talk with Odi, and he says as soon as this album drops and after the tour, we can talk about splitting up and going solo. He said it's like a good launch platform? For both of us."

"Well, that's good, right? Are you going to play indie music?"

"Odi said celebrities are little gods. You have to feed the people what they want so they can worship you properly."

"What about Jabu, Song?"

"Jabulani, Jabulani, he can kiss my breyani. I just made that up. Odi says he was cheating on me. Tried to hit on Carmen. Can you believe the nerve? He says he had a little word with him and that's why he took off. He says he didn't do it to hurt me. Odi, I mean. He has my best interests at fart." She giggles.

"Are you back on your medication?"

"I wasn't on these pills before."

"Do you know the name?"


"Do you have a pen?"

"What for?"

"I want you to take down my number. I want you to call me if you're worried about anything, or if you run into any trouble."

"So you can pull my hair out by the fucking roots again?"

"So I can try to help you."

"It's cool, your number came up on my phone."

"I'd like you to write it down."

"I'd like you to kiss my breyani," she screeches and lapses into manic giggles. "Shut the fuck up, Arno."

"Can I talk to your brother? Or Des?"

"Des is gone. Des was the bomb, but now he's gone. Here, talk to doos face."

"Arno?" There is the scramble of the phone being handed over.

"I told you. Didn't I tell you?" Arno whines.

"She's on some pretty heavy medication. Where is Des? Is Mrs Luthuli there?"

"No, they went away for a coupla days. Back to the Valley of a Thousand Hills. For a funeral. Des's cousin hung himself," he says matter of factly. "He was twenty-two. It was probably Aids."

"And S'bu?"

"He's writing songs in his room."

"Can you do me a favour, Arno? Can you give me the name of the medication Song is taking?"

"Uh, sure, hang on, I'll just have to go upstairs."

Song shouts in the background. "Hey! Hey, prick for balls! That's my phone."

"She's lost it completely," Arno whispers into the phone. "She's actually worse than before. And S'bu's just spacey. He's on meds too, now."

"Get a pen. Take down my new number. I want you to phone me if anything weird happens."

"Weird like how?"

"Like any kind of weird. Phone me first, okay? Not Odi. And then phone the cops."

"You're freaking me out here."

"I'm just worried about you guys with Mrs Luthuli not being there. Tell you what, I'll call in every day to check up on you. And I'm going to speak to a social worker, okay?"


"You got the name of that medication for me?"

"Uh, hang on. Mi-da-zol-am. What is that?"

"Hang on, let me check." I do a quick search on my laptop. "Okay, it's cool, just a sleeping pill," I say. With one hell of a kick. "See if you can get her to lie down and actually sleep. And let me know if you run into any kind of weird. Anything at all."

"Does Song being a freak count?"

"Not unless she's being especially freaky."

The house has actually deteriorated since my last visit. It seems darker, dingier, and that smell of old people and vase-water has gotten worse. Carmen looks skinny and pale in a lime-green sixties-style handkerchief bikini. When she serves a tray of that disgusting tea, I notice that her fingernails are dirty, like she's been digging in the carrot patch all morning. Her Rabbit lies sprawled listlessly under her deckchair.

But the real shock is Huron. He is looking particularly odious in a faded Oppikoppi '99 t-shirt that rides up to reveal his hairy belly. There is an old scar that hugs the curve of where his hip would be if his stomach wasn't in the way. Or rather a series of scars, slightly curved like surgical staples. Or teeth marks. His cheeks have sunken to flaccid jowls and, most telling of all, there is a drip on a wheelie-stand hooked up next to his ironwork chair. Above his head, the black tumour of sawn-off tentacles is thicker and squirmier than ever.

"I don't know why you felt you needed to see me," he says, antagonistic behind his oversized sunglasses.

"I actually wanted to see Songweza. Check that she's okay."

"After you cocked up the job, you mean. Check that you're still getting your full payout. So nice of you to care."

"Nice of you to pay me so well to do a job you were perfectly capable of doing on your own."

"What can I tell you? I hire good people. They got there first. Don't worry, you'll still get your fee."

"That's very generous. I take it it's more of a shut-yourface pay-off than anything I really earned."

"Take it however you want," he says and slurps his tea noisily.

I lean forward across the table. "I'd ask if we could talk privately, but I think Carmen might want to hear this."

"Carmen's a big girl," he says.

"This is what I think. You've been sleeping with Song. And Carmen and anyone else within reach. Song ran away, maybe planning to blackmail you, maybe spill the story to the press, which would have been extra juicy considering you're also moving drugs through your club. It's a guess, but I figure the Marabou and the Maltese facilitate that. It's a kind of procurement, right? And you've got them doing a lot of international travel. Does that include drug smuggling? 'Cos I've sampled some of the wares coming through Counter Rev, and it was good shit, let me tell you. Wasn't that what got you into trouble with Bass Station?"

Huron opens his mouth to retaliate and I hold up a finger to silence him. "I'm not finished. Song's rehab boyfriend Jabu was probably helping her, maybe even instigated the whole thing, but you scared him off, so she turned to Ronaldo, the bouncer, in desperation. You had him beaten up already. I reckon the Maltese and the Marabou went back for round two and this time they got Song's whereabouts out of him. Might have even killed him. But hey, what's a missing Moroccan bouncer in the grand scheme of things? And I reckon you'll do the same to anyone else who gets in the way."

There is a long pause. Then Carmen says, "Excuse me," in a strangled voice. Her cheeks are bright pink. She picks up her Bunny and clip-clops into the house.

"You've gone and upset her," Huron says, not looking particularly bothered.

"It's upsetting stuff."

"This notion of yours," he says, pinching his thick bottom lip. "What should we call it – the Polanski-Sopranos Theory? It's original. Not bright. Not true. But original. Aren't you worried I'm going to put out a hit on you?"

"Believe me when I say I haven't got anything left to lose."

"So, what's next? You go to the police?"

"With what evidence? One half-baked Polanski-Sopranos Theory? No, I'm just letting you know that if anything happens to Songweza Radebe – anything else I should say – then I will go to the police. Inspector Lindiwe Tshabalala is an old friend. She'll listen to what I have to say." By "friend" I mean "one-time interrogator" of course, but I figure I can afford to be a little liberal with the truth.

"These are wild accusations. I might have to take this to my lawyer."

"Do what you have to."

"Do you have a physical address I can have the restraining order sent to?"

"Your people know where to find me. But so long as Songweza stays singing fit and healthy, I won't trouble you with the slightest, littlest thing, Mr Huron."

"You assume I don't have my own insurance policy on you."

"Like the 1.5 million you've taken out on each twin?"

"You've been doing some research, little girl."

"I'd like my money now, please."

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