Present Darkness

Read Present Darkness for Free Online

Book: Read Present Darkness for Free Online
Authors: Malla Nunn
Tags: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Crime, rt, blt, South Africa
Evans.” Emmanuel checked his watch in the glow of electric light spilling from the neighbour’s window. Eleven forty-two. If he’d held steady for half an hour longer, Zweigman would still be in bed instead of attending a crime scene.
    “The line between life and death is not set in stone,” Zweigman said, reading Emmanuel’s mind with a glance. “The quicker a wound is cleaned and stitched, the better a patient’s chance for survival and recovery. You know this from the war.”
    “I do,” Emmanuel said. They might not have saved the man’s life with their open-air operation but they had, at least, increased his chances of his surviving the night.
    “Back here. Back here.” Evans waved his arms in the air, excited by the coming end of shift. With the injured black man out of the way, he and the boys could return to their homes, loosen their belts, and knock the top off a cold beer. “Come down this passage and into the yard.”
    Two burly black men muscled through the gap between the house and the garage carrying a canvas stretcher with a small first aid kit resting in the folds. Zweigman motioned them to follow him into the garden. Emmanuel let them get well ahead. The handover from field doctor to hospital attendants was a courtesy Zweigman would insist on.
    The ambulance men worked fast and in silence. Within minutes of their arrival, the injured man occupied a bench seat in the rear of the ambulance kitted out with donated blankets and hand-rolled bandages. The younger of the two attendants pressed Zweigman’s hand in his massive paw and simply said, “Bless you, Baba.”
    And they were gone.
    “Do they have far to travel?” Zweigman asked.
    “Miles and miles,” Emmanuel said and dismissed the policemen who’d bunched together next to a blue police van. They scrambled aboard, stretching out their limbs and breaking open packets of cigarettes. The engine revved and the van jumped the lip of the curb before vanishing into the neat grid of white Johannesburg streets.
    He ushered Zweigman through the Brewers’ front garden to a blue Ford sedan, glad to see the doctor depart the crime scene for his own warm bed.
    Emmanuel slipped behind the wheel of his police-issue black Chevrolet and started the engine. He turned on the headlights. The houses on the street were dark now, but for a solitary window in the bungalow next door. He glanced across at the unpruned rose bushes, expecting to see the angular figure of Mrs Lauda bordered by the wood frame.
    Instead, he saw Cassie Brewer standing with her right palm pressed to the glass, her yellow nightie a splash of colour under a pale face pinched tight with fear. She stepped aside and switched off the light, leaving a black void.
    The girl took quick, shallow breaths though her open mouth. The rough cotton sack covering her face wasn’t a pillowcase grabbed up from a bed and shoved into a pocket. It was designed and made for this purpose alone: to be pulled over the head and then tightened around the neck with a drawstring. The exact fit frightened her. More so than the soft purr of the car engine that sang for miles and miles of smooth, tarred road that led away from the city and all her familiar places.
    The kidnappers smoked cigarettes in silence. The smell of tobacco and leather permeated the sack. The frayed end of the drawstring rubbed against her neck, irritating her skin. They’d left her hands free but she dared not loosen the string. Any movement might attract attention and it was safer to remain quiet in the back seat, unmolested, at least for the length of the ride.
    She could feel leather under her thighs. Wind rattled the passenger side window and her dry breath caught in her throat. Seventeen years old and already an expert at running away. Charity homes, juvenile facilities and Christian youth camps, no place held her for longer than she wanted to be there—and the interior of this immaculate car was not a place she wished to be.

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