The Fallen (US) / Worst Case (SA)

The Fallen cover Worst Case cover

“A white-knuckle thriller with an utterly chilling finale and twists you’ll never anticipate. I raced through this book and wanted more!” Tess Gerritsen

P.I. Jade de Jong’s holiday becomes a nightmare when a dive instructor at the scuba resort is found brutally stabbed to death. The only clue is a cryptic postcard in her room. Jade and her estranged lover David Patel put aside their differences and start the hunt, uncovering a massive organised crime operation and a chain of events leading from a horror crash in North Africa to the St Lucia estuary. Jade soon finds herself in a deadly race to prevent an act of environmental sabotage that could destroy this world heritage site. Death is knocking on the door, and love and cunning is all she has left to fight it.

Themba Msamaya didn’t suspect a thing on the morning he opened his door to death.

He was halfway through his first cup of tea when the knock came. Over the past few months, he’d developed something of a ritual. He’d get up early, boil the kettle and dunk a bag of cheap, Shoprite own-brand tea into a chipped South African Airways mug. He’d learned to do without milk, but a teaspoon of sugar was an essential he couldn’t forego. Black tea didn’t have to be so strong – it tasted better weak, in fact – and he had discovered one teabag could easily stretch to two mugs.

He would drink the steaming, reddish brew while sitting at the desk in his tiny Yeovillebedsit, yesterday’s papers open at the Classifieds, his elderly laptop ready to browse the Jobsearch websites.

Over the last few days, his searching had become more stressful because his useless Internet connection, slow at best and unreliable at worst, was close to reaching its cap. He’d nearly got through the five hundred megabytes that his low-spec package allowed him, God knew how, seeing it was only the twenty-second of the month, and all he’d been using it for was trying to find work. But once the threshold was reached, he would be cut off. Rudely, instantly and without any warning.It had happened a couple of times recently, once while he was right in the middle of sending off his.

Today, JobSA was slow to load, Workopolis had no new listings, but his favourite site, NATS Careers, was advertising a position that looked promising.

Email us your application and cv, the advert read. All companies required candidates to do that these days. Phone calls appeared to have become redundant.

A quick read through the well-worded cv that he’d paid a specialist company to put together for him five months ago. Now he wished he hadn’t wasted the money on it.

Did he need to change anything in the accompanying letter?

He scanned the document once more, slowly, even though he knew the damn thing off by heart. He thought it sounded fine. As fine as was possible, at any rate. He attached it and pressed ‘Send’, willing the email to go through first time, praying that the connection would not drop, as it often did, forcing him to repeat the task and gobble up even more of his precious bandwidth allocation.

A series of clanging sounds and shouts from outside disturbed his concentration and he looked up, frowning. Was this his neighbour causing trouble again? Themba didn’t know him by name, but he was convinced the guy was a drug dealer. People were in and out of that room at all hours, talking, partying, banging on his door late into the night, and occasionally on Themba’s door by mistake; and just last week he had overheard an argument that had ended in a gunshot.

No, it couldn’t have been his drug-dealing neighbour. The morning after the gunshot, he’d been on his way to the shops when he’d seen the man hurrying down to the garage, carrying what looked like a hastily packed gym bag, half zipped up, in one hand, and his firearm in the other. A few minutes later, Themba had heard the unmistakable roar of his black, souped-up, spoiler-decorated bmw. The man had left, and as far as he knew, he hadn’t been back since.

Then Themba realised what the sound was. It was the dustbins being emptied. There had been a municipal strike for weeks, and the bins lined up on the uneven paving outside the building had quickly gone from full to overflowing. Black bags had split open and vomited their contents onto the pavement and into the road. Those that hadn’t split had been torn apart – by stray dogs or vagrants or both, he guessed. Crumpled plastic now littered the sidewalks, mushy piles of leftover food had swiftly started stinking in the heat, dirty nappies disgorged their foul contents, which were soon blanketed by flies.

Now he could hear the loud drone of the garbage truck and the clanking of its crushing mechanism. Above this, the shouts of the workers, more clanging as empty metal dustbins were flung on their sides and the clatter of the plastic wheelie bins being upended.

And then a second, closer sound, only just audible above the racket.A quick, polite-sounding rat-tat-tat on his door.

Themba glanced at the email. It looked like it was going through. Then he got up from his wooden chair and squeezed past his bed. As he wasn’t expecting anyone, he was sure that whoever was outside the door was yet another customer looking for his drug dealer neighbour.

He twisted the Yale latch open with his right hand, pulled the door handle down with his left, and opened the door a crack, snapping out a rather irritated ‘Yes?’ before squinting out into the shady corridor.

That one word was all he had time for. The door exploded open, its handle wrenched out of his hand, its edge smashing against his temple as he staggered backwards and a sharp, stabbing pain lanced through his gut.

Themba slammed against the rickety desk and sprawled down onto the floor, blinking as hot rivulets of spilled tea splashed down onto his face.

And then a black-clad figure wearing a dark-mask was inside, was standing over him. The pain in his stomach was dreadful; he could taste blood in his mouth, but in his shock, he hadn’t begun to associate any of this with the slim black handle that now jutted from his midriff.

Until his assailant leaned forward, grasped the handle with a gloved hand, and pulled.

The pain was sickening. Themba screamed, a shrill, breathy sound, and clamped his hands over the deep gash, now pouring blood. He glanced up, only to see the knife coming at him again.

‘Don’t …’ he begged, but his voice had reduced to a whisper. He mouthed the words, ‘Please don’t.’

He wanted to plead for his life, to explain that this wasn’t fair, that this was the wrong room, that he was not the right man. That he didn’t deal in drugs and never had. That this was all the most terrible mistake.

But there was no time.

He tried to stop the blade, tried to grab it with his right hand, but it sliced cleanly through his palm and buried itself in his chest.

And then his attacker was gone.

Themba found he couldn’t move. He wanted to cough, but he couldn’t do that either. All he could do was lie in his own blood, watching as a dark mist rushed to cover the smeary ceiling.

Outside, the clanging of the rubbish truck faded into silence.