Dead at Daybreak

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A headspinning thriller from crime writer Deon Meyer: the story of an ex-cop who has seven days to solve a seemingly unsolvable crime — the answer to which lies in his own dark past.

When Johannes Jacobus Smit, an antiques dealer, is found burned with a blowtorch and killed execution-style with a single shot to the back of the head, former cop Zatopek “Zed” van Heerden is called in to investigate the unusual circumstances of the murder. Zed is still obsessed with the betrayals of his own past but must fill in the blanks of this victim’s life. Who tortured and killed Smit, and who was Smit in the first place? Not the man whose papers he carries, that much is certain. Zed can never be sure of the loyalties of the people with whom he is dealing — his own past reputation ensures that — and he soon finds himself uncovering secrets that the security services of many countries would like left alone.

“Exciting….A terrific ride on almost every level.”-Chicago Tribune


Also by Deon Meyer

Heart of the Hunter


Copyright © 2000 by Deon Meyer

Translation copyright © 2000 by Madeleine van Biljon

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

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First eBook Edition: October 2009

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-02789-2


He awoke abruptly out of an alcohol-sodden sleep, the pain in his ribs his first conscious sensation. Then the swollen eye and upper lip, the antiseptic, musty smell of the cell, the sour odor of his body, the salty taste of blood and old beer in his mouth.

And the relief.

Jigsaw pieces of the previous evening floated into his mind. The provocation, the annoyed faces, the anger—such normal, predictable motherfuckers, such decent, conventional pillars of the community.

He remained motionless, on the side that wasn't painful, the hangover throbbing like a disease through his body.

Footsteps in the corridor outside, a key turning in the lock of the gray steel door, the grating of metal slicing through his head. Then the uniform stood there.

"Your attorney's here," the policeman said.

Slowly he turned on the bed. Opened one eye.

"Come." A voice devoid of respect.

"I don't have an attorney." His voice sounded far away.

The policeman took a step, hooked a hand into the back of his collar, pulled him upright. "Come on."

The pain in his ribs. He stumbled through the cell door, down the paved passage to the charge office.

The uniform walked ahead, used a key to indicate the way to the small parade room. He entered with difficulty, hurting. Kemp sat there, his briefcase next to him, a frown on his face. He sat down in a dark blue chair, his head in his hands. He heard the policeman close the door behind him and walk away.

"You're trash, Van Heerden," said Kemp.

He didn't respond.

"What are you doing with your life?"

"What does it matter?" His swollen lip lisped the s.

Kemp's frown deepened. He shook his head. "They didn't even bother to lay a charge."

He wanted to indulge in the relief, the lessening of the pressure, but it eluded him. Kemp. Where the fuck did Kemp come from?

"Even dentists know shit when they see it. Jesus, Van Heerden, what's with you? You're pissing your life away. Dentists? How drunk do you have to be to take on five dentists?"

"Two were GPs."

Kemp took in Van Heerden's appearance. Then the attorney got up, a big man, clean and neat in a sports jacket and gray slacks, the neutral colors of the tie a perfect match. "Where's your car?"

He rose to his feet slowly, the world tilting slightly. "At the bar."

Kemp opened the door and walked out. "Come on, then."

Van Heerden followed him into the charge office. A sergeant pushed his possessions over the counter, a plastic bag containing his slender wallet and his keys. He took it without making eye contact.

"I'm taking him away," said Kemp.

"He'll be back."

The day was cold. The wind knifed through his thin jacket and he resisted the impulse to pull it closer around his body.

Kemp climbed into his large 4x4, leaned across, and unlocked the passenger door. Slowly Van Heerden walked around the vehicle, climbed in, closed the door, and leaned his head against it. Kemp pulled off.

"Which bar?"

"The Sports Pub, opposite Panarotti's."

"What happened?"

"Why did you fetch me?"

"Because you told the entire Table View police station that I would sue them and the dentists for everything ranging from assault to brutality."

He vaguely remembered his charge-office tirade. "My attorney." Mockingly.

"I'm not your attorney, Van Heerden."

The ache in the swollen eye killed his laughter. "Why did you fetch me?"

Aggressively Kemp changed gears. "Fuck alone knows."

Van Heerden turned his head and looked at the man behind the steering wheel. "You want something."

"You owe me."

"I owe you nothing."

Kemp drove, looking for the pub. "Which car is yours?"

He pointed to the Corolla.

"I'll follow you. I have to get you clean and respectable."

"What for?"


He got out, walked across the road, and got into the Toyota. He found it difficult to unlock the door, his hand shaking. The engine stuttered, wheezed, and eventually fired. He drove to Koeberg Road, left past Killarney, onto the N7, wind suddenly sweeping rain across the road. Left to Morning Star and left again to the entrance to the smallholding, Kemp's imported American Ford behind him. He looked at the big house among the trees but turned off to the small whitewashed building and stopped.

Kemp stopped next to him, opening his window just a crack against the rain. "I'll wait for you."

First of all he showered, without pleasure, letting the hot water sluice over his body, his hands automatically soaping the narrow space between shoulder and chest and belly—just the soap, no washcloth, careful over the injured part of the ribs. Then, methodically, he washed the rest of himself, leaning his head against the wall for balance as he did first one foot, then the other, eventually turning off the taps and pulling the thin, overlaundered white towel from the rail. Sooner or later he would have to buy a new towel. He let the hot tap of the washbasin run, cupped his hands under the slow stream, and threw the water over the mirror to wash away the steam. He squeezed a dollop of shaving cream into his left hand, dipped the shaving brush into it, made it foam. He lathered his face.

The eye looked bad, red and puffy. Later it would be purplish blue. Most of the scab on his lip had been washed off. Only a thin line of dried blood remained.

He pulled the razor from the left ear downward, all the way across the skin, over the jawline into the neck, then started at the top again, without looking at himself. Pulled the skin of his jaw to tighten it around the mouth, then did the right side, rinsed the razor, cleaned the basin with hot water, dried off again. Brushed his hair. Had to clean the brush: it was clogged with black hair.

Had to buy new underpants. Had to buy new shirts. Had to buy new socks. Trousers and jacket still reasonable. Fuck the tie. The room was dark and cold. Rain against the windows at ten past eleven in the morning.

He walked out. Kemp opened the door of the 4x4.

There was a long silence that lasted as far as Milnerton.

"Where to?"


"You want something."

"One of our assistants has started her own practice. She needs help."

"You owe her."

Kemp merely snorted. "What happened last night?"

"I was drunk."

"What happened last night that was different?"

There were pelicans on the lagoon opposite the golf course. They were feeding, undisturbed by the rain.

"They were so full of their fucking four-by-fours."

"So you assaulted them?"

"The fat one hit me first."


He turned his head away.

"I don't understand you."

He made a noise in his throat.

"You can make a living. But you have such a shitty opinion of yourself…"

Paarden Island's industries moved past.

"What happened?"

Van Heerden looked at the rain, fine drops scurrying across the windshield. He took a deep breath, a sigh for the uselessness of it all. "You can tell a man his four-by-four isn't going to make his prick any larger and he pretends to be deaf. But drag in his wife…"


For a brief moment he felt the hate again, the relief, the moment of release of the previous evening: the five middle-aged men, their faces contorted with rage, the blows, the kicks that rained down on him until the three bartenders managed to separate them.

They didn't speak again until Kemp stopped in front of a building on the Foreshore.

"Third floor. Beneke, Olivier, and Partners. Tell Beneke I sent you."

He nodded and opened the door, got out. Kemp looked thoughtfully at him.

Then he closed the door and walked into the building.

He slumped in the chair, lack of respect evident in his posture. She had asked him to sit down. "Kemp sent me," was all he had said. She had nodded, glanced at the injured eye and lip, and ignored them.

"I believe that you and I can help each other, Mr. van Heerden." She tucked her skirt under her as she sat down.

Mister. And the attempt at common ground. He knew this approach. But he said nothing. He looked at her. Wondered from whom she had inherited the nose and the mouth. The large eyes and the small ears. The genetic dice had fallen in strange places for her, leaving her on the edge of beauty.

She had folded her hands on the desk, the fingers neatly interlaced. "Mr. Kemp told me you have experience of investigative work but are not in permanent employ at the moment. I need the help of a good investigator." Norman Vincent Peale. She spoke smoothly and easily. He suspected that she was clever. He suspected she would take longer to unnerve than the average female.

She opened a drawer, took out a file.

"Did Kemp tell you I was trash?"

Her hands hesitated briefly. She gave him a stiff smile. "Mr. van Heerden, your personality doesn't interest me. Your personal life doesn't interest me. This is a business proposition. I'm offering you a temporary job opportunity for a professional fee."

So fucking controlled. As if she knew everything. As if her cell phone and her degree were the only defense she needed.

"How old are you?"

"Thirty," she said without hesitation.

He looked at her third finger, left hand. It was bare.

"Are you available, Mr. van Heerden?"

"It depends on what you want."


My mother was an artist. My father was a miner.

She saw him for the first time on a cold winter's day on Oliën Park's frost-covered rugby field, his striped Vaal Reef's jersey almost torn off his body. He was walking slowly to the touchline to fetch a new shirt, his sweaty litheness, the definition of shoulders and stomach and ribs, gleaming dully in the weak late-afternoon sun.

She had told the story accurately, every time: the pale blue of the sky, the bleached gray white of the stadium's grass, the smallish group of students loudly supporting their team against the miners, the purple of their scarves bright splashes of color against the dull gray of the wooden benches. Every time I heard the story I added more detail: her slender figure taken from a black-and-white photograph of that time, cigarette in her hand, dark hair, dark eyes, a certain brooding beauty. How she saw him, how all the lines of his face and his body were so irresistibly right, as if, through all that, she could see everything.

"Into his heart," she said.

She knew two things with absolute certainty at that moment. One was that she wanted to paint him.

After the game she waited for him outside, among the officials and second-team players, until he came out wearing a jacket and tie, his hair wet from the showers. And he saw her in the dusk, felt her intensity, and blushed and walked to her as if he knew that she wanted him.

She had the piece of paper in her hand.

"Call me," she said when he stood in front of her.

His mates surrounded him, so she simply gave him the folded paper with her name and telephone number and left, back to the house on Thom Street where she was boarding.

He phoned late at night.

"My name is Emile."

"I'm an artist," she said. "I want to paint you."

"Oh." Disappointment in his voice. "What kind of painting?"

"One of you."


"Because you're a handsome man."

He laughed, disbelieving and uncomfortable. (Later he had told her that it was news to him, that he'd always had trouble getting girls. She'd replied that that was because he was stupid with women.)

"I don't know," he eventually stammered.

"As payment you can take me out for dinner."

My father only laughed again. And just over a week later, on a cold winter's Sunday morning, he drove in his Morris Minor from the single quarters in Stilfontein to Potchefstroom. She, with easel and painting kit, got into the car and directed him—out on the Carletonville road, close to Boskop Dam.

"Where are we going?"

"Into the veld."

"The veld?"

She nodded.

"Doesn't one do it in a… an art room?"

"A studio."




They had turned off onto a farm road and stopped at a small ridge. He helped her carry her equipment, watched as she stretched the canvas on the easel, opened the case, and tidied the brushes.

"You can undress now."

"I'm not going to take everything off."

She merely looked at him in silence.

"I don't even know your surname."

"Joan Kilian. Undress."

He took off his shirt, then his shoes.

"That's enough." He resisted.

She nodded.

"What must I do now?"

"Stand on the rock."

He climbed onto a large rock.

"Don't stand so stiffly. Relax. Drop your hands. Look over there, toward the dam."

And then she began painting. He asked her questions but she didn't reply, only warned him a few times to stand still, looked from him to the canvas, mixed and applied paint until he gave up trying to talk. After an hour or more she allowed him to rest. He asked his questions again, discovered that she was the only daughter of an actress and a drama lecturer in Pretoria. He vaguely remembered their names from Afrikaans films of the forties.

Eventually she lit a cigarette and started packing her painting equipment.

He dressed. "Can I see what you've drawn?"

"Painted. No."

"Why not?"

"You can see it when it's finished."

They drove back to Potchefstroom and drank hot chocolate in a café. He asked about her art; she asked him about his work. And sometime during the late afternoon of a Western Transvaal winter he looked at her for a long time and then said: "I'm going to marry you." She nodded because that was the second thing she had known with certainty when she saw him for the first time.


The female attorney looked down at the folder and slowly drew in her breath. "Johannes Jacobus Smit was fatally wounded with a large-caliber gun on September thirtieth last year during a burglary at his home on Moreletta Street, Durbanville. The entire contents of a walk-in safe are missing, including a will in which, it is alleged, he left all his possessions to his friend, Wilhelmina Johanna van As. If the will cannot be found, the late Mr. Smit will have died intestate and his assets will eventually go to the state."

"What's the size of the estate?"

"At this stage it seems to be just under two million."

He had suspected it. "Van As is your client."

"She lived with Mr. Smit for eleven years. She supported him in his business interests, prepared his meals, cleaned his house, looked after his clothes, and at his insistence had their child aborted."

"He never offered to marry her?"

"He was no… advocate of marriage."

"Where was she on the evening of the…"

"Thirtieth? In Windhoek. He sent her there. On business. She returned on the first of October and found him dead, tied to a kitchen chair."

He slid farther down in his chair. "You want me to trace the will?"

She nodded. "I've already explored every possible legal loophole. The final sitting at the Master of the Supreme Court is in a week's time. If we cannot supply a legal document by that time, Wilna van As doesn't get a cent."

"A week?"

She nodded.

"It's almost… ten months. Since the murder."

The attorney nodded again.

"I take it the police haven't had a breakthrough."

"They did their best."

He looked at her and then at the two certificates on the wall. His ribs were hurting. He made a short, obscene noise, part pain, part disbelief. "A week?"

"I —"

"Didn't Kemp tell you? I don't do miracles anymore."

"Mr. van —"

"It's ten months since the man's death. It's a waste of your client's money. Not that that would bother an attorney."

He saw her eyes narrowing, and a small rosy fleck in the shape of a crescent moon slowly appeared on one cheek. "My ethics, Mr. van Heerden, are above reproach."

"Not if you give Mrs. van As the impression that there's any hope," he said, and wondered just how much self-control she had.

"Miss van As is completely informed about the significance of this step. I advised her of the potential uselessness of the exercise. But she is prepared to pay you because it's her last chance. The only remaining possibility. Unless you don't see your way clear, Mr. van Heerden. Evidently there are other people with the same talents…"

The crescent was bright red but her voice remained measured and controlled.

"Who would be only too pleased to join you in taking Miss van As's money," he said, and wondered if the fleck could become any redder. To his surprise she smiled slowly.

"I'm really not interested in how you acquired your wounds." With her manicured hands she gestured at his face. "But I'm beginning to understand why."

He saw the crescent moon slowly disappearing. He thought for a moment, disappointed. "What else was in the safe?"

"She doesn't know."

"She doesn't know? She sleeps with him for eleven years and she doesn't know what's cooking in his safe?"

"Do you know what's in your wife's wardrobe, Mr. van Heerden?"

"What's your name?"

She hesitated. "Hope."


"My parents were somewhat… romantic."

He rolled the name around in his mouth. Hope Beneke. He looked at her, wondered how someone, a woman, thirty years old, could live with the name Hope. He looked at her short hair. Like a man's. Fleetingly he wondered with which angle of her face the gods of features had fumbled—an old game, vaguely remembered.

"I don't have a wife, Hope."

"I'm not surprised… What's your name?"

"I like the Mister."

"Do you want to accept the challenge, Mister van Heerden?"

Wilna van As was somewhere in her indefinable middle years, a woman with no sharp edges, short and rounded, and her voice was quiet as they sat in the living room of the house in Durbanville while she told him and the attorney about Jan Smit.

She had introduced him as "Mr. van Heerden, our investigator." Our. As if they owned him now. He asked for coffee when they were offered something to drink. Strangers to one another, they sat stiffly and formally in the living room.

"I know it's almost impossible to find the will in time," Van As said apologetically, and he looked at the female attorney. She met his gaze, her face expressionless.

He nodded. "You're sure of the existence of the document?"

Hope Beneke drew in her breath as if she wanted to raise an objection.

"Yes. Jan brought it home one evening." She gestured in the direction of the kitchen. "We sat at the table and he took me through it step-by-step. It wasn't a long document."

"And the tenor of it was that you would inherit everything?"


"Who drew up the will?"

"He wrote it himself. It was in his handwriting."

"Did anyone witness it?"

"He had it witnessed at the police station here in Durbanville. Two of the people there signed it."

"There was only the one copy?"

"Yes," said Wilna van As, in a resigned voice.

"You didn't find it odd that he didn't have an attorney to draw up the document?"

"Jan was like that."



The word hung in the air. Van Heerden said nothing, waiting for her to speak again.

"I don't think he trusted people very much."


"He… we… led a simple life. We worked and came home. He sometimes referred to this house as his hiding place. There weren't any friends, really…"

"What did he do?"

"Classical furniture. What other people describe as antiques. He said that in South Africa there weren't really any antiques; the country was too young. We were wholesalers. We found the furniture and provided traders, sometimes sold directly to the collectors."

"What was your role?"

"I began working for him about twelve years ago. As a kind of… secretary. He drove around looking for furniture, in the countryside, on farms. I manned the office. After six months —"

"Where's the office?"

"Here," she indicated. "On Wellington Street. Behind Pick 'n Pay. It's a little old house —"

"There was no safe in the office."


"After six months… ," he reminded her.

"I quickly learned the business. He was in the Northern Cape when someone telephoned from Swellendam. It was a jonkmanskas, a wardrobe, if I remember correctly, nineteenth-century, a pretty piece with inlays… In any case, I phoned him. He said I had to have a look at it. I drove there and bought it for next to nothing. He was impressed when he got back. Then I started doing more and more…"

"Who manned the office?"

"We started off by taking turns. Afterward he stayed in the office."

"You didn't mind?"

"I liked it."

"When did you start living together?"

Van As hesitated.

"Miss van As…" Hope Beneke leaned forward, briefly searched for words. "Mr. van Heerden must unfortunately ask questions that might possibly be… uncomfortable. But it's essential that he acquire as much information as possible."

Van As nodded. "Of course. It's just that… I'm not used to discussing the relationship. Jan was always… He said people didn't have to know. Because they always gossip."

She realized that he was waiting for an answer. "It was a year after we began working together."

"Eleven years." A statement.


"In this house."


"And you never went into the safe."


He simply stared at her.

Van As gestured. "That's the way it was."

"If Jan Smit had died under different circumstances, how would you have got the will out of the safe?"

"I knew the combination."

He waited.

"Jan changed it. To my birth date. After he had shown me the will."

"He kept all his important documents in the safe?"

"I don't know what else was in it. Because it's all gone now."

"May I see it? The safe?"

She nodded and stood up. Wordlessly he followed her down the passage. Hope Beneke followed them. Between the bathroom and the main bedroom, on the right-hand side, was the safe's big steel door, the mechanism of the combination lock set in it. The door was open. Van As touched a switch on the wall, and a fluorescent light flickered and then glowed brightly. She walked in and stood in the safe.

"I think he added it. After he bought the house."

"You think so?"

"He never mentioned it."

"And you never asked?"

She shook her head. He looked at the inside of the safe. It was entirely lined with wooden shelves, all of them empty.

"You have no idea what was inside?"

She shook her head again, small beside him in the narrow confines of the safe.

"You never walked past when he was busy inside?"

"He closed the door."

"And the secrecy never bothered you?"

She looked at him, almost childishly. "You didn't know him, Mr. van Rensburg."

"Van Heerden."

"I'm sorry." He could see the woman blushing. "I'm usually good with names."

He nodded.

"Jan Smit was… he was a very private person."

"Did you clean in here after the…"

"Yes. When the police had finished."

He turned and walked out, past Hope Beneke, who was standing in the doorway, back to the living room. The women followed him. They sat down again.

"You were the first to arrive on the scene?"

The attorney lifted her hands. "Could we have a bit of breathing space?"

Van As nodded. Van Heerden said nothing.

"I would love some tea," Beneke said. "If it's not too much trouble." She gave the other woman a warm, sympathetic smile.

"With pleasure," said Wilna van As, and she walked to the kitchen.

"A touch of compassion wouldn't hurt, Mr. van Heerden."

"Just call me Van Heerden."

She looked at him.

He leaned back in the chair. The pain around his eye was surpassing the ache of his ribs. The hangover throbbed dully in his head. "Seven days doesn't leave me much time for compassion, Hope." He could see that his use of her name irritated her. It pleased him.

"I don't think it will take either time or trouble."

He shrugged.

"You make it sound as if she's a suspect."

He was quiet for a moment. Then he said slowly, tiredly: "How long have you been an attorney?"

"Almost four years."

"How many murder cases have you handled during this period?"

"I fail to see what that has to do with you and your lack of basic decency."

"Why do you think Kemp recommended me? Because I'm such a lovable guy?"


He ignored her. "I know what I'm doing, Beneke. I know what I'm doing."


For years the painting of my father hung on the wall facing their double bed—the lithe miner with his coppery blond hair and muscled torso set against a ridge in the Western Transvaal, bleached by winter. The painting was a symbol of their unique meeting, their unusual romance, the love at first sight that evidently happened more often in those days than it does now.

I don't offer Emile and Joan's meeting as an amusing prologue, but as one of the great factors that shaped my life.

In the shadow of their romance, I would spend most of my life searching for that moment in which I, too, would discover the same immediate and dramatic certainty of love.

It would, eventually, lead to my downfall.

My father was a man of integrity. (How disappointed he would have been, had he known his son as an adult.) That—and his body—possibly formed the foundation on which my parents' marriage was built, because they had nothing in common. Even after their marriage, three years later, they lived in separate worlds in the mine house in Stilfontein.

On Sale
Sep 3, 2007
Page Count
400 pages