Authors: Michelle Pretorius
THE MONSTER'S DAUGHTER
Copyright Â© 2016 by Michelle Pretorius
First Melville House Printing: July 2016
Melville House Publishing
46 John Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
8 Blackstock Mews
London N4 2BT
Ebook ISBN 978-1-61219-539-1
Design by Marina Drukman
To get to Unie from Johannesburg, take the N1 highway to Cape Town and veer onto the N12 Southwest. The road is little more than a faded line in the savannah, pockmarked with cracks and potholes, heat rising off it in undulating wisps. Black women walk on the red dirt shoulder from farm to shantytown, babies tied to their backs in bright blankets, while children, some barely able to walk, clutch at their mothers' wide skirts. Sleek cars fitted with radar detectors thunder past them at irregular intervals, stirring dead air in their wake.
Ten kilometers past the exit, traffic came to an abrupt halt, discordant horns provoking others in response. A BMW had flipped on its side, the front crumpled like silver wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Shattered glass sparkled on the blacktop. A middle-aged man lay in the road, clutching his head between his hands, his cropped blond hair streaked with blood that seeped through his fingers, staining the cuffs of his dress shirt. The old semi the BMW had collided with stood unscathed a few meters away, Nigerian rap blaring from its speakers.
Constable Alet Berg had seen this scene many times since she'd transferred to Unie. From the skid marks it was obvious the BMW had been going at one hell of a speed. Stuck behind the semi, his view of oncoming traffic obscured, the driver had probably decided to overtake on the left, going onto the shoulder of the road. Only after he pulled out did he see the people walking there, their lives teetering on his next move. He hit the brakes, jerked the wheel, prayed he'd avoid hitting the truck. But, he didn't.
Alet knelt down next to the man lying in the road. “Sir, can you hear me?
?” His shoulders jerked in response, a sob escaping his lips, his gaze fixed on where Sergeant Johannes Mathebe crouched next to the wreck.
Mathebe's droopy brown eyes scanned the interior. “There are people in the car.” He strained to open the door. The bent frame of the BMW resisted his efforts.
“Are theyÂ â¦?”
Mathebe looked back at Alet, slowly shaking his head. The semi driver yelled into his cell above the rap music, gesturing wildly with his free hand.
“Turn that off,” Mathebe yelled.
A rapid exchange followed between the two men in a language Alet didn't understand. Xhosa? Maybe Zulu? She forgot which Mathebe was. The semi driver swept both arms through the air, shooing Mathebe away and climbed into the cab. Distant sirens replaced the heavy bass. Only an hour after the accident was called in, a record speed for that time of year.
Alet turned her attention to the man on the blacktop. “What is your name, sir?”
“Schutte,” came the muted reply.
“Who was in the car with you, Mr. Schutte?”
Tears mixed with blood, running down his face in diluted crimson rivulets. “My wife. The baby, Hentie.” Schutte tried to push himself off the ground. “They're okay, hey?”
Alet bit the inside of her cheek. “Stay still, Mr. Schutte. We're doing what we can.”
An onslaught of sirens and horns overpowered her words. Cars, trucks, and a donkey cart lazily moved onto the skirt of the road to make way for the ambulance. Alet and Mathebe were pushed out of the way as the emergency services descended like locusts. The police were reduced to coaxing traffic past the accident. The corpses of Schutte's wife and son were laid out on the blacktop, covered with a sheet, while men in dark uniforms barked instructions. They lifted the still-crying Schutte onto a gurney. As if crying would help.
Alet's eyes lingered on the small bundle in the road as sirens faded,
the ambulance taking the turnoff to George, the nearest town with a hospital.
Heat rose through the soles of Alet's boots as they waited for a tow truck to remove the wreck. An African taxi, an old Volkswagen combi filled with paying passengers, honked at the people in its way, then stopped abruptly to squeeze in a few more before speeding past. Gawkers hung out of sedan windows, straining to get a look at the carnage. At their destinations they would tell friends and lovers about what they'd seen, reveling in the excitement of gazing upon the dead.
The air inside the white police van was oppressive. Dark stains showed under Alet's arms and down the back of her police uniform. She rolled the window down, the reflection of her round face disappearing by degrees.
“I've been here six months now, right?”
Mathebe nodded as he got into the driver's seat. He kept one hand on the steering wheel, stubby fingers gripping tightly, the other hand taking a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his forehead.
“So when are they going to fix the
Mathebe shot her a disapproving look, his nostrils flaring. He opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind, shifting in his seat. The man had the soul of a Calvinist minister. They drove in silence, avoiding the fraught two-step of political correctness that seemed to mire most of their interactions. Alet stared at the barren earth and dry bushes bleeding into monotony, as repetitive as the days since she was transferred here from Johannesburg. Unie was what she imagined purgatory would be like. Not that she believed in that sort of thing, but still.
A kilometer after the turnoff, the road snaked up into the mountains. Mathebe handled the sharp curves with the expertise of a lifetime in the Western Cape, his muscular limbs performing a coordinated dance as the speedometer stayed above 120 kilometers an hour. Unie appeared in the expanse below. Where nothing and
got together and grew six feet high, Alet thought. Though it was surrounded by mountains, the town itself was flat and dusty, with only two tarred roads. One side of town was populated by white buildings with thatched roofs and spacious yards, the other side with the pink, blue, and lime-green walls of the tightly packed
was the best description one travel website could muster. Unie had one bank, a farmers' co-op, two churches, and four liquor stores. At least they had their priorities straight.
Mathebe turned onto Kerk Street and pulled up to the police station. A group of black teenagers huddled in front of the convenience store across the street, music droning from a boom box on the ground among them. One of the girls looked up as Alet got out of the van. Her eyes were dull, her lips smeared with red lipstick. On the brick wall behind her hung a faded poster demanding
STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN
. The national campaign against gender-based violence, now in its last throes, had kicked off with great pomp and circumstance fifteen days earlier, local school children marching in the street carrying placards hand-painted with shaky exclamations. The town had settled back into banality by evening.
Young boys leaned against the store, watching with big eyes as older kids smoked. A white pickup truck pulled up, shifting their attention. They swarmed the white faces that got out. “Please,
,” the chorus echoed, holding out cupped hands. “I'm hungry.” The farmer threw them loose change. The boys fought among themselves, grabbing and shoving, the little ones crying when they were left with nothing. The victors would buy sweets. Nobody ever shared.
Alet turned to Mathebe. “So, who's writing this one up?”
“It is your turn,” Mathebe said as he walked up the station's stone steps. It was a small, single-story building in the area's Cape Dutch style, its ornate rounded gables and curlicues compensating for its modesty. A South African flag hung limp from a pole in front of the station, its Y-shaped pattern sun-bleached.
Alet contemplated the stagnant heat inside the station, air circulated only by a single fan on the charge desk. “I'll go get lunch first,” she said. “Want anything?”
Mathebe hesitated in the doorway, then shook his head slowly before going inside.
“Can I have some service here?” Alet sat down on one of the wrought iron stools that lined the bar at Zebra House, Unie's only guesthouse.
A tabby jumped off the pine countertop and disappeared into the back. The place was empty, tables set up with silverware and condiments in garland-lined buckets, snowmen-adorned specials menus stuck beneath the clear plastic tablecloths. Alet picked up a Cape Town newspaper from the bar. The headlines announced corruption allegations against local municipal officials, tourists attacked while hiking up Table Mountain, and two murders during a home invasion in Simonstown. The paper already carried a tally of road deaths for the holidays and Christmas was still weeks away. Page five showcased a special interview to wrap up the gender violence campaign. There was a picture of a young woman, fair and pink-cheeked, pointing to a patch of trees on the university campus. Her attacker had tried to strangle her, but was scared off by a security guard. There was a sidebar with bullet points on safety, most of which required some sort of male presence and conservative habits. Alet tossed the paper aside.
.” Tilly Pienaar, Zebra House's manager, appeared at the kitchen entrance carrying a case of Black Label beers, her back arched to balance the weight. She got onto the tips of her toes to set the case down on the counter, her cheeks flushing from the effort. Alet rented a flat from Tilly's mom, Trudie. The rent was cheap and, for the most part, Trudie kept to herself, although Alet often caught her peeping through the main house's curtains, which inevitably led to pursed lips and high-horse platitudes when their paths crossed in the garden.
Tilly ducked under the bar, and Alet grabbed one of the cans before Tilly could pop up on the other side.
Tilly raised an eyebrow. “
. Don't you think it's a little early?”
“It's five o'clock somewhere.”
Tilly set the case on the ground to stock the bar fridge. Alet only saw the top of her chin-length chestnut hair as she moved back and forth. Tilly dumped the cardboard packaging in an overfilled trash bin, her whole body straining as she pushed it down.
“You want food?” Tilly looked back over her shoulder. “You look like shit, by the way.”
Alet's reflection fought for a place between the bottles of brandy and cane that lined the bar's big mirrored panels, the words “soft” and “ineffectual” suddenly creeping into her consciousness. Her hazel eyes were shadowed by purplish half-moons, the product of little sleep
and too much junk food from the corner chip shop. The sunburn on her pale cheeks spread all the way to her clavicles, interrupted only by the collar of her shirt. Her long dark hair was pasted in a sweaty mess against her scalp, a visible indent at the edges where her uniform cap had sat.