Present Darkness

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Book: Read Present Darkness for Free Online
Authors: Malla Nunn
Tags: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Crime, rt, blt, South Africa
remained possible; a quick lift of the door handle, a hot rush of summer air and then a leap into the dark. Landing on the road would hurt. The alternative—staying with men who owned homemade hoods and prowled alleyways for lone prostitutes—would hurt multiple times more. One way or another, tonight would end in her blood.
    She moved her right hand across the supple leather, slowly inching in the direction of the door. The tarmac ran smooth beneath the car wheels. The road would lead her back to the city, to the room with a single cot in the corner and a window ledge decorated by pigeon droppings; a dump made beautiful in her mind’s eye.
    Cool metal curled under her hand. Blood roared in her ears, drowning out the wind that rattled the window glass. Now. It had to be now. Her fingers lifted the handle. She eased sideways, ready to take the leap. A hand encircled her wrist and tugged her away from the door with a jerk.
    “Do you know who I am, sweetheart?” the man who’d blocked the alleyway asked. His fingers tightened against her skin to make a handcuff.
    “No,” she croaked. In her heart she already knew plenty about the big man. He was patient: sitting in the front seat, smoking a rollie, waiting for her to break cover like an antelope drinking at a waterhole. He was not angry that she’d tried to escape. He was amused. Cold enjoyment, the girl knew from experience, was worse than violent rage.
    “I’ll tell you who I am, sweetheart,” the big man said. “I am your salvation. ”

    Negus dozed on an iron cot pushed into a corner of the European detective’s room at Marshall Square Police Station. The room was a large space with cracked linoleum floors and two fans that whirred from the ceiling. Wooden desks covered with paperwork and empty coffee cups cut the space into a grid.
    “No-one waiting for you to get home, Cooper?” Mason stood in the enquiry room door with an unknotted tie, rolled-up shirtsleeves and damp patches under his armpits. The station interview rooms sweltered in summer.
    “Just a bed,” Emmanuel said and threw his hat on his desk. The weight of one more lie added to all the others barely registered. Besides, the Lieutenant asked too many questions.
    “One of the boys, Nkhato, has been released,” Mason said. “The senior priest at Saint Bart’s confirmed he was in bed at lights out. That was at nine. He’s clean. Makes you wonder what other errors that Brewer girl made.”
    “A bad ID on both boys is possible,” Emmanuel agreed. That would be a sweet result even if the Police Commissioner cancelled holiday leave until an arrest was made.
    “It’s possible.” Mason stifled a yawn. “I need you in with the Shabalala boy. Work your magic. Play up the born and bred in Sophiatown angle and maybe he’ll tell you the truth about where he was last night.”
    “What makes you think he’s lying?” Emmanuel asked. The Sophiatown angle? The Lieutenant had definitely gone through the personnel files and picked up details that should have remained private.
    “You’ll see.” Mason retreated into the corridor and proceeded to the last door on the right. Emmanuel followed. There was still a chance the schoolboy in the interview room and Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala were not related.
    Mason opened the door to a windowless room painted prison green. A bright electric bulb cast a harsh light over the small wooden desk and the black youth seated with his back against the wall. Plucked from bed by the police, he wore blue cotton pyjamas and polished brown leather school shoes without socks. A school blazer hung over the back of his chair, superfluous in the heat. Mason shut the door and leaned against it.
    “I’m Sergeant Cooper,” Emmanuel said, sitting down opposite the boy. He was clearly a younger version of Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala of the native branch. “And you are?”
    “Aaron Shabalala. And I have already told the other policeman everything. Many

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