New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample from Dust Devils by Roger Smith

Rosie Dell had come to end it. For keeps, this time. She let herself in the back way, like she always did. Walked up to his ground level apartment from Clifton beach, the sun fizzling out in the Atlantic like a cigarette in a gutter. Glimpsed her reflection – a blur of brown skin and tangled black curls – as she unlocked and rolled open the concertina steel gates that covered the glass doors to the bedroom. That’s how they lived in Cape Town, these rich whities. Behind bars.

He was waiting for her. Lying on the bed in his suit pants and Italian shoes, silk shirt unbuttoned at the collar. Face featureless in the gloom. Rosie threw his keys onto the sheet beside him.

“I can’t do this, Baker,” she said. “Not any more.” When they were alone he was always Baker. Never Ben.

He said nothing, stood and came toward her. Used his bulk to press her up against the wall, the kiss sucking away her words of protest and her resolve. Baker’s hands were under her skirt, lifting the cloth above her waist, sliding her panties down her legs. He shed his shirt and she could feel the hot weight of his flesh. She thought of Kobe beef fattened on beer.

When they were done it was night. Rosie sat down on the bed, still dressed. Baker stood over her, silhouetted against the light from the corridor. She heard the teeth of his zipper meshing.

“Pick up the keys,” he said. She felt the cool brass beneath her fingers. “Put them in your pocket.”

She did as he said, her wedding band clinking on the metal. Thought she caught the flash of his smile in the dark. Rosie watched him walk down the corridor into the brightly lit sitting room, shirtless, the pale skin of his back streaked red from her fingernails. His naked torso was hard with fat, like a seal. Not even my fucken type, she thought, as she always did. Whatever that meant. But when he was near, some kind of fever took her. Something beyond reason. It wasn’t his money. That she would have understood. Worst thing was, she knew she’d be back for more.

Baker was standing beside the Picasso sketch of a bull, pouring Scotch from a decanter, when the two men came in from the direction of the front door. Black men, dressed in blue overalls. There had been no sound, so they must have had a key. One man was big, young and nervous-looking. The other small and older. Calm. Both held guns.

Baker set the decanter down on the polished chiffonier and raised his hands level with his shoulders. Spoke in the assured tones she’d heard him use many times at boardroom tables. “Okay. Let’s keep this cool. Whatever you want. No problem.”

The small man shot Baker in the chest, the gun coughing through a silencer. Baker dropped his hands and went down on one knee. He was turning to look at her when the next bullet entered his right eye and sent part of his skull onto the wall behind him. The man shot Baker once more as he lay on the carpet, and his body jerked.

All this took maybe five seconds. Rosie sat in the dark. Frozen. Then the older man looked into the bedroom and saw her. She pushed herself up from the bed and slammed the door, turned the key in the lock. Heard a pop and the wood splintered beside her hand as a bullet bored through and buried itself in the mattress.

She jabbed the panic button on the wall. No sound in the apartment but it would be ringing in a control room somewhere, bringing men with guns. Bringing paramedics. Too late for Baker. She ran out onto the patio, into the night. The security gates were locked in the sitting room, holding the men.

She heard them kicking down the bedroom door as she crossed the tiles. Heard the thin wood tearing. Hurdled a flowerbed and hit the pathway to the beach at a sprint. Leaving her sandals behind as she ran, the paving rough on her bare feet. Feeling for the keys in her jacket.

Heard that coughing sound and something spat next to her foot. The pathway twisted round shrubbery and she was at the gate. High wall. Humming strands of an electric fence. A motion-sensitive spotlight kicked in, pinning her. Battled to get the key into the lock, fingers shaking like a Friday night boozer’s. Heard the drumming of footsteps.

Fok, fok, fok. Her tongue finding the Afrikaans of her childhood. Fingers finding the slot.

Opened the gate and she was through. Slammed it locked as the men came into view. The older one lifted his pistol and a bullet sang past her head. She chased her shadow into the darkness of the beach, felt the sand gripping her feet. Fought on toward the water’s edge where she could run more freely, her breath coming in rasps, louder than the surf. Sprinted from Second Beach to First.

Rosie saw a group of teenagers in baggies and hoodies on their way up to Victoria Road, bodyboards under their arms. She fell in with them as they climbed the stairs, zigzagging between beach bungalows that sold for millions in dollars and euros. The boys were sharing a joint, a firefly dancing from one face to another. She was older than them by fifteen years but they looked at her with interest.

One of them said, “Hey.”

She said “Hey” back and he held the joint out to her.

Rosie took it, sucked on it, felt the familiar heat in her lungs. She released the smoke and handed the joint on. They were up at the road now and she scanned the area. Dog walkers and night joggers. No men with guns.

She left the kids at a rusted minibus and crossed to where the silver Volvo was parked under a street light. A car guard in a cap and a day-glo green bib gave her a wave. He was an engineer, a refugee from somewhere in Africa. She always tipped him. Not tonight.

Rosie sat behind the wheel of the car. Numb. No shoes. No panties. Felt the stickiness between her legs as she started the engine and drove home to her husband and her children.