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With Jassy Mackenzie
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 2, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Alone in his office, Khosi Khumalo waited for the visitor who was his last hope. He was nervous about this meeting, more so because the man was late. He glanced through the window. The latch had been damaged in the recent burglary and he’d fixed it with a piece of twisted wire. Outside, the sky was darkening and the hum of traffic was starting to subside. But he’d willingly stay here till midnight or beyond if this visitor could deliver what he’d promised…information.
Khosi was desperate for the vital link that would allow him to pull together everything he’d learned over the past few weeks. They knew he was digging, and they were trying to stop him. The recent break-in was proof of that, he was sure. He’d hidden two sets of backup data in different places, and although they’d found one, they had missed the other.
But he didn’t know who “they” were—not yet.
He hoped that by the time he left tonight, things would be different. Then he could share the knowledge with his business partner. It would turn everything around, and give the two of them a fighting chance again. He hadn’t wanted to burden Joey with what he’d learned, not when Joey was preoccupied with the day-to-day survival of Private Johannesburg, their fledgling investigation business.
The shrill ring of the doorbell made him jump. Instinctively he glanced at the empty space where the video surveillance screen had been. It had been stolen, of course, together with everything else of value.
Khosi checked that his pistol was holstered on his belt. Then he hurried to the lobby and opened the door. “Mr. Steyn?”
The man who shuffled in looked as furtive and dispirited as he had sounded when he’d called earlier. They’d taken everything from him, he’d said, and it certainly appeared true. Dressed in shabby jeans and a threadbare shirt that hung on his lean frame, he seemed much further down on his luck than Khosi was. He carried piles of files and documents in a makeshift wooden crate with nails jutting from it. In a soft voice, he greeted Khosi.
“Let me help you with that,” Khosi offered, taking one side of the crate, but Steyn nearly dropped his side, and the flimsy container started to fall apart. Khosi made a grab for the documents as they slid to the floor. Wooden slats clattered around him, and something sharp jabbed him painfully in the thigh.
“Hey! Careful, there,” he warned as he picked up a dog-eared folder. Behind him he heard Steyn mumble, “Sorry.”
A minute later, and Khosi had retrieved the fallen papers and pressed the nails back into place. His thigh was stinging…the crate looked old and dirty and he made a mental note to get a tetanus booster as soon as possible.
He placed the crate on the desk, feeling surprisingly tired after the short walk. Well, it was only Tuesday, but the week had already been filled with stress. He sat down, realizing that the room was starting to swim around him. Desperately, he tried to gather his thoughts.
“Tell me who they are,” he began, but he slurred the words. Deep inside him, a flame of panic blazed. He slumped onto the desk, aware of Steyn pulling on a pair of latex gloves before approaching him. Steyn’s movements were no longer downtrodden and shuffling, but fast and purposeful.
“No!” he wanted to shout, but the words would not come; a darkness was rushing up to meet him. He tried to channel his panic into action but the flame flickered and died. With a jerk, his pistol was snatched from the holster.
He felt his hand being lifted; gloved fingers forced the gun into his own grasp. Khosi had time only for a pang of terrible regret that his own desperation had driven him so trustingly into this trap.
Cold steel, hard against his temple.
The clean-up crew had missed a bloodstain. Joey Montague saw it as soon as he lifted the steel filing cabinet. Now dried to a deep rust color, the blood had seeped through a crack in the floorboards, darkening the wood around it.
It was ingrained now, a permanent reminder of the disasters that the past two weeks had brought. Their last contracts canceled, a devastating burglary, and finally his business partner’s suicide. On Wednesday morning, he’d walked in to find Khosi Khumalo’s body slumped on the floor with a fatal bullet wound in his temple. In death, Khosi had looked peaceful, and his service pistol was lying near his right hand.
Then, as now, Joey’s first reaction had been an anguished, “Why?”
But that question could never be answered. Khosi hadn’t even left a note.
The new tenants could worry about removing the floor stain. Joey was vacating the building. After Khosi’s death, he’d been tempted to close up shop for good, abandon his hopes and dreams and go back to the corporate world. But in the end, his fighting spirit prevailed and he’d decided simply to scale down. He would run Private Johannesburg from his home office until he was back on his feet—emotionally and financially. He would carry on trying to make a success of Khosi’s legacy, even in these difficult circumstances.
He still remembered the call, seven months ago, that had lured him out of his pressurized office job and catapulted him into a different and riskier world.
“Joey? It’s me, Khosi! Listen, bro, I’ve got a great opportunity here. You know I’ve been running my own show as a PI the past few years? Well, on my last case, I ended up working with an international firm called Private. Long story short, Jack Morgan, the owner, proposed that I open a branch here. Private Johannesburg. Bro, this is going to be huge—the potential is unlimited, but I need help. I need a business partner in this venture. I could use your expertise in financial forensics. You want to come discuss it over a whiskey after work?”
He’d signed the deal with Khosi that night and resigned from his corporate job the next day, confident he was making the right decision. Now, he was no longer sure.
A gust of wind rattled the wire-fastened window latch, distracting Joey from his thoughts. He didn’t have time to stare at the floor; he needed to get the last of the furniture in the truck because a summer storm was approaching fast. Dark thunderheads were swallowing Johannesburg’s skyline. The sight of those high-rise buildings, clad in pale concrete and glimmering glass, had become familiar to him. They were a symbol of hope that one day he could move the business out of this humble suburb where rentals were cheap but crime was escalating, and into the CBD. Now, the storm had turned the skyscrapers to a dull, forbidding gray. The trees in the nearby park swayed wildly in the gale, and litter scudded down the sidewalk.
As the first drops of rain spattered the dusty glass, Joey’s cell phone started ringing.
“Montague,” he answered, leaning his elbows on the cold steel cabinet.
“Is that Private Johannesburg? It’s Isobel Collins speaking. I’m looking to hire a bodyguard urgently.” The caller sounded breathless and Joey picked up an American accent.
You’re a couple of days too late for that, Miss Collins, Joey thought sadly, as lightning split the sky. He was going to tell her that Khosi, the firm’s only qualified bodyguard, had tragically died, but she spoke again.
“Please, I need your help.”
Joey caught sight of his own reflection in the darkening glass. Short-cropped black hair, deep-set hazel eyes, hard jaw. His expression was grim, making him look older than his age of thirty-five. Khosi had always joked that Joey lost ten years every time he smiled.
He moved away from the window, where rain was drumming the panes.
“There’s nobody who can help,” he explained in heavy tones.
“It’s urgent.” Had she heard him? Perhaps the storm was affecting the signal; her voice crackled down the line.
“What’s the problem?” he asked.
“I’ve just arrived in Johannesburg from JFK. I need a bodyguard for the weekend. I booked someone before I left, but he didn’t meet me at the airport.”
“I’m sorry. No guards are available.” As he spoke, thunder crashed overhead.
“What was that? I didn’t hear you. This connection is terrible.”
“I said we don’t have a qualified guard at this time.” He shouted the words, but they were obliterated by the clatter of hail on the roof.
Clearly, the elements were conspiring against him.
“You’re on the top of my list,” Isobel replied. “Private, I mean. I have other options, but you’re my first choice. So if you could…I’d really appreciate it.”
Joey was about to repeat his refusal, but he hesitated. There was something in her voice that was making him uneasy.
“Please, I’m short of time,” she added, and Joey heard a tone in her voice he recognized all too well.
Isobel Collins was badly scared.
Perhaps she was frightened of traveling alone in a country with such a high crime rate. Most visitors were paranoid about safety in South Africa, even though there were always the few who tried to climb out of their safari vehicles to hand-feed the lions.
Suddenly Joey thought: why shouldn’t he take the job himself? Although he didn’t have practical experience in the field, he’d completed a close-protection course and a self-defense seminar during his first month with Private. Shepherding a tourist around the city would be an easy job, and it would fill the empty weekend ahead that he’d been dreading.
“I’ll do it,” he promised.
“Thank you,” Isobel replied, in a voice filled with relief. “I really appreciate it—it’s my first time here, and I feel out of my depth. The city’s different than I thought it would be…Way bigger, for one thing. And busier.”
“Are you still at the airport?”
“No, I’ve left already. I’m driving to my lodgings.”
“Give me the address and I’ll meet you there.” He assumed she’d be heading to the Central Business District, where most tourists stayed—although travelers usually came for business, rather than leisure.
Founded in the 1880s as a gold-rush city, Johannesburg had always attracted people looking to make fast money. Today the thriving CBD, in the suburb of Sandton, was filled with an aggressive, contagious energy. Beyond it, in every direction, the city grew and sprawled.
Although Joey found Johannesburg’s history and culture fascinating, he had to acknowledge that for the majority of tourists, the place was merely a stop-off point for the more scenic towns and game reserves nearby. But even so, it was where the wealthy people of South Africa lived. It was the country’s business hub, where the money flowed and deals were done.
The Sandton CBD was accessible by high-speed train from the airport, and he wished he’d had a chance to tell Isobel, because it was far easier to take the train than fight through Johannesburg’s notoriously congested roads.
But, as it happened, Joey had guessed her destination completely wrong.
“I’m staying in Kya Langa,” she said.
“You’re staying where?” He hadn’t misheard, but he was hoping she’d gotten the place name wrong.
“Number three Foundry Road, Kya Langa. It’s in eastern Johannesburg.”
“Yes, I know where it is, I used to do work in the area, but…”
- On Sale
- May 2, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages