Authors: James Mcclure
ALSO BY JAMES McCLURE
The Steam Pig
The Caterpillar Cop
The Gooseberry Fool
Copyright © 1977 by Sabensa Gakula Ltd.
First published in the United States in 1977 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
This edition published in 2011 by
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McClure, James, 1939–2006.
The Sunday hangman / James McClure.
1. Zondi, Mickey (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—South
Africa—Fiction. 3. Kramer, Trompie (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
For Allen Cook
Built of attractive brown brick, it looks more like a modern office block. Heavily barred windows are set into the walls. White marble steps, flanked by lush, colourful flowerbeds and rolling lawns, lead up to the huge door of highly polished wood. The door is heavily studded. On the outside is a shining, polished brass door-knocker, and an eye-slit, inlaid in brass. The only indications of the function of the block are the watchtowers at the corners. Inside the block, the prisoners awaiting execution are under observation 24 hours a day.
at the room in which he was about to die, and saw there the story of his life. Nothing had ever turned out quite the way he’d imagined it.
For once, however, he was very relieved to find this was so. In nightmare after nightmare, he had seen himself in a harshly lit execution chamber that had whitewashed walls and high fanlights, a scrubbed wooden floor and a crude beam, a long lever and a thick, bloodstained rope. Whereas, in fact, the chamber was far more like a hospital corner, screened off by green curtaining and lit by a warm orange glow; there was a clinical sparkle to the brass pulley, and the rope was so clean it must have been specially sterilized, assuring him of a swift, certain, scientifically humane end to his days.
Tollie was thinking very fast, absorbing all this in a twinkling while, on another level, wondering what had happened to all the in-between bits. He couldn’t remember his arrest, the trial, or the passing of sentence. It was like coming round in a dentist’s chair: you knew where you were and why, but you didn’t want to probe too much for fear of the onrush of pain.
His other senses were recovering now. He smelled the prison stink of disinfectant and tasted brandy. In his left hand was something squarish. His hand wasn’t visible. None of him was visible. He had been rolled up in a sheet so expertly he couldn’t move. A sheet wrapped round and round and round,
and pinned neatly down the side with safety pins. He was sitting in a chair, bound to it by a wide, soft bandage that went round and round and round.
This couldn’t be right. Think, Tollie, think fast.
The shape of the room was wrong. Every weekday morning at Pretoria Central he’d waited in the soccer yard to be marched off to the workshops with the others. Facing him, as he stood there, had been two and a half stories of solid wall with only a fanlight near the top. If you didn’t guess right away that this was the gallows building, you soon enough learned, because on Tuesdays and Thursdays there was often a delay while they finished nailing down the coffin lids. Inevitably, you came to know its dimensions pretty well, and this room just didn’t go with them at all. Think faster.
The pulley for only one rope was another thing—and so was the amount of floor space. He knew for a fact that sometimes they strung up six kaffirs at once, and no way could six stand side by side on that area of trap door. Naturally, the warders liked to exaggerate the figures they dealt with, but he had seen the evidence of a multiple hanging with his own eyes. After leaving the soccer yard, you went up some steps at the side of the gallows building and along a passage between the door to the laying-out room and the door they brought them out of, over sawdust sprinkled to keep the drips of blood from sticking to your feet. And one Thursday morning, after an unusually long delay, he had actually seen six pairs of soggy khaki shorts being dropped outside the door for collection by the laundry. He recalled the warder winking at him, and wiping a hand on the wall.
He had ears as well. He couldn’t hear the sound that never ceased within the walls of Central—except, very abruptly, when the traps went down: the sound of the kaffir condemneds singing hymns and chanting in the great cell in B2. They always sang even louder before a hanging, making “Abide with Me”
last all night, driving A and B sections crazy, which served the privileged bastards right. Although even in C, which was that much farther away, they got to you when the lights came on at five-thirty and there was that final upsurge before the long, empty silence.
Fighting to impose his sanity on an insane situation, Tollie put a simple question to himself: If I’m not in Central, then where the sod am I?
It wasn’t a dream, and logically he couldn’t be anywhere else, despite all the—
Tollie knew exactly where he was, and just why things hadn’t matched up to his experience. He had been away from Central a good while, and had forgotten the new building for the condemneds which had been going up on the rise just behind it. A really modern place, the papers had said, with all sorts of up-to-date ideas; the inmates had nicknamed it Beverly Hills.
In that same instant, everything slotted into place. The idea of having one gallows for all races had always surprised him; this was the gallows reserved for whites, which explained the curtains and the single rope. The constant hymn-singing from B2, back in the old block, had worked on everyone’s nerves; now, the kaffirs had been put in a new section that was sensibly soundproofed. As for the sheet around him, it was an improvement on the old straight jacket, which, as the warders had often complained, had never worked all that well on the really stroppy cases.
Having resolved the immediate conflicts set up by his awakening in a room like that, Tollie suddenly realized he’d never had a mental blackout before. In fact, he could remember quite distinctly—
“Don’t be frightened, son, you won’t feel any pain,” said a deep voice behind him. “We’re all here and it’s half-past five on the dot.”
N HIS TIME
, Lieutenant Tromp Kramer of the Trekkersburg Murder and Robbery Squad had been asked to believe many things. But when they told him that Tollie Erasmus had hanged himself, he simply shook his head.
“See for yourself,” said the new man in Fingerprints, dealing him a photograph from the batch in his hand. “I took that myself this morning, as you can tell from how nice and clear it is.”
Kramer used an apathetic finger to bring the picture round the right way up on the bar counter. Sure enough, that was the face of Tollie Erasmus, all right: a sleekly handsome, pointy face, with small, close-set eyes; the sort of face a bull terrier would have if it were human. A dead face, moreover, and there was a rope around the neck.
“Where?” he murmured, glancing up to see who else had come across to the hotel from police headquarters opposite.
He really should have guessed. Why, it was none other than Sergeant Klip Marais, the gladdest bearer of ill tidings in the Criminal Investigation Department, and, an obsequious, sometimes quarrelsome, little runt to boot.
“Lieut Gardiner said to inform you immediately,” explained Marais, his tone repenting the levity shown by his companion. “We saw the note you had left in your office for Zondi, and so.…”
“Where?” Kramer repeated.
“Ach, upcountry,” said the new man. “They had him unidentified at Doringboom, and the Lieut sent me to get prints, et cetera. Then, when I got back just now, the other blokes all recognized him straight off, and I was sent to find you in CID.”
He seemed amused by his present surroundings.
“So Doringboom is handling this?” Kramer said, pocketing the print. “When are they doing the P.M.?”
“This afternoon, I hear.”
“Uh huh. The body was found when?”
“In one of those picnic places for cars alongside the national road, about twenty kilometers this side of Doringboom. His car was there also, a green Ford, and he’d strung himself up on a thorn tree just by the fence. Some umfaans made a report to a family that had stopped for breakfast with their caravan. He hadn’t been there all that long; only a few hours—or that’s what the doc says.”
“Don’t ask me—the local district surgeon, whoever he is.”
Kramer stared at this new man, and then decided that he was not going to be an asset to crime detection in the division. Shyness made some people cocky, and so did being the minimum required height of five foot six, but here was an object that was neither of those things: if anything, he was almost as tall as Kramer himself, a lot bulkier, and his swagger showed even in the way his greasy quiff was combed back.
It was curious how the unbelievable had this effect, tempting you into thinking about petty irrelevancies, while, deep inside, certain adjustments were made.
“Are you offering?” the new man asked, nodding at the drink in front of Kramer.
“Um—I think I’d best be getting back,” said Marais, edging away. “Um—see you, hey?”
They watched him go.
“By the way, I’m Klaas Havenga,” the oaf announced, snapping his fingers for the Indian barman. “A brandy and orange, no ice, and the officer here is paying for it.”
“The same,” Kramer added, noting how automatic his responses had become.
He took out the picture for another look at it.
“So what’s this all about?” Havenga asked, after using his first sip as a mouth rinse. “Marais was trying to tell me as we came across, but you know how that bugger talks, nineteen to the dozen like a bloody coolie.”
The barman, a sensitive soul, moved to the far end of the counter, taking his newspaper with him. He’d been writing some interesting names into the crossword when the two jokers had arrived, armed with their bombshell.
“I was looking for him,” said Kramer, feeling nothing as yet.
“Oh, ja? Is it true he tried to take a pot shot at you once, only your boy went and buggered things up?”
“Three months ago,” Kramer replied, taking some ice from the plastic barrel. “We got a late tip-off there could be a raid up on that rise in Peacevale where there’s a line of Bantu business premises—ach, you know, along that dirt road that runs parallel to the dual carriageway. They were trying out the idea of a small bank there at the time. Right on noon, our informant said, but when we rolled up, the bloody thing was already in progress.”
“Not that it looked like it. The people outside didn’t even know at that particular moment, he was so quick. They were used to seeing armed whites going in, carrying the bank’s money—and the same went for the bank employees. The stupid bastards took him right up to the safe and opened it. Anyway,
Erasmus comes running out with his gun up before we realized the position. Mine was still in under here, so Zondi spins the car around, to give me time to draw. As he comes on to Erasmus’s side, he gets a thirty-eight in the leg, straight through the bloody door. That was it.”