Detective Constable Edmonds saw the running man just a half-second before the unmarked car she was travelling in hit him.
A slightly built man, dark-skinned and dark-clad in a tightfitting jersey and a beanie. He burst out of the shadows behind a flyover and sprinted straight across the A 12, fists pumping, head bowed against the gusting rain, splashing through the puddles on the
tarmac as if he were running for his life.
"Look out!" Edmonds shouted from the back seat, but Detective Sergeant Mackay, who was driving, had seen the man, too.
"Hang on, people."
A shriek of brakes, and then the car reached the puddle of water that had pooled on the tarmac and went into a skid. Edmonds' seatbelt yanked hard against her chest, squeezing the breath out of her in spite of the regulation Kevlar vest she was wearing under her jacket. She grabbed the seat in front of her, and a moment later her hand was squashed into the padded fabric by the larger, tougher palm of bulky Sergeant Richards, who was also bracing for the crash.
The car slewed sideways, and Mackay swore as he fought for control. Through the spattered windscreen Edmonds saw the running man look, too late, in their direction. He flung out a hand in defence, and Edmonds' heart leapt into her mouth when she heard a loud metallic thunk that seemed to shake the car.
The man stumbled heavily and went down, sprawling onto his side. But before Edmonds could even conceptualise the thought — is he hurt? — he got up again and set off at a shaky jog. He scrambled over the crash barrier on the opposite side of the road and disappeared from sight.
He didn't so much as glance behind him.
The tyres regained their purchase on the road and Mackay slowed to a stop.
"Jesus," Richards said. "What the hell was that all about?"
Nobody answered. For a moment the only noise was the ticking of the hazard lights, which Mackay had activated, and the flick of the wipers. Water splashed up as a car drove by in the fast lane, the motorist oblivious to what had just occurred.
Then Richards looked down and saw that his hand was covering Edmonds'.
"Oh. Sorry," he said, and removed it.
Mackay pulled over into the emergency lane, and two of the men climbed out and shone a flashlight into the darkness where the running man had vanished.
"He's nowhere in sight. Must have gone into that park over there." The detective who had been sharing the back seat with Edmonds and Richards climbed back in, and once again Edmonds found herself squashed, sardine-like, between the car door and
the warm bulk of Richards' thigh.
"He's lucky you were wide awake." The detective sitting next to
Mackay shunted the passenger seat forward for the second time that trip, in an attempt to give Edmonds a couple of inches more leg room.
"Lucky anybody is at this hour," Mackay said. "And that it's so quiet tonight." He let out a deep breath, then checked his mirrors and pulled onto the road again.
"But we hit him," Edmonds said. She could hear the unsteadiness in her own voice as she spoke, and she hoped the other detectives would put it down to reaction after their near-accident, rather than nervousness about what lay ahead. "Do you think he's all right?"
Mackay nodded. "He'll have a sore arm tomorrow, I should think. Nothing we can do about it now. I'll write it up when I make the report."
"Better hope you don't have a dent in the bonnet, or you'll be writing that up as well," Richards observed, and all the men laughed. Another clicking of the indicator, and they turned right off the a12, heading east towards Stratford.
In the three months since Edmonds had been promoted to the Human Trafficking team in Scotland Yard, she'd been surprised to discover that most of the operations they tackled did not take place in central London, but in the middle-class and respectable-looking suburbs. Like the one where they were headed now.
As they drove down Templemills Lane, Edmonds stared at the tall wire fences and enormous crash barriers that lined the road.
The headlights flickered over the stiff mesh, ghostly silver in the dark, as high and solid as a prison fence. But the area protected by the fences and barriers was no prison. It was the construction site for the 2012 London Olympics.
"That's where they're building the athletes' village." Richards pointed across her, to the left. "More than twelve thousand people will be living there. Not all of them will go back home again, if our last Olympics was anything to go by. They'll stay in the uk and claim asylum. About a thousand, probably. Mostly from Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Zimbabwe."
Edmonds peered into the darkness at the endless wire fence and the solid concrete barriers flashing past, but she found she couldn't get the image of the man out of her head. Fists clenched, head bowed, seemingly oblivious to the fact he was running straight across a major arterial road.
Running towards something, or running away?
For a troubled moment, Edmonds wondered whether the near-accident with the man was a sign that the police operation tonight, her first-ever raid, was going to go wrong.
Then she shook her head and told herself not to be so superstitious.
The crash barriers came to an end and, suddenly, they were in suburbia. Ranks of small, unremarkable-looking, semi-detached houses and flats, with shops and businesses lining the narrow high street.
"This is where you'll find the kind of places we're after," Richards had told her during her training. "Not in Soho and the West End. There, they work in pairs. One girl and one maid in one flat. That's legal. But what you'll find out here often isn't."
A police van was parked by the side of the road, waiting. Mackay flashed his lights at it as he passed, and it pulled out into the road behind them.
Peering through the rain, Edmonds made out a pub, a launderette, a fish and chip shop, and another business with a large sign written in lettering she couldn't understand — Turkish, perhaps.
All dark and locked up, because it was already after midnight.
The unmarked car slowed as the establishment they were here to raid came into sight.
At street level, the place looked innocuous — a black-painted door with a small number six painted on it in white. Upstairs the windows were shaded by dark blinds and a sign hung, small and discreet, from a neat hook in the corner wall.
"Sauna? Yeah, right," Richards remarked drily.
The police van following them pulled to a stop behind their car.
"Right, everybody," Mackay said. "Let's get this operation going."
Heart pounding, Edmonds wrenched the door open and jumped out, slipping and almost falling on the wet, uneven pavement.
Richards caught her arm.
"C'mon love. Round the back."
But there was no time to bristle at the word that Edmonds was sure, in any case, was unintentional. Time only to follow the plan which had been discussed in detail the previous day, to sprint round the back of the building with two of the uniformed officers and head for the fire exit.
She ran up the fire escape, the metal vibrating under her fleece-lined boots.
"Get in position." Richards was behind her, already out of breath.
Ahead, a solid-looking grey door.
As she reached it, Edmonds saw the handle move. Someone was opening it from the inside.
The door swung open and a middle-aged man hurried out.
Tousled brown hair, furtive expression, busy buttoning his shirt over his paunch.
"'Scuse me, sir." Edmonds stepped forward.
The man glanced up, then stopped in his tracks when he saw the two uniformed officers behind the plainclothes detectives.
"I'm not ... " he said. He whipped his head from side to side, as if wondering whether turning and running would be a better option, but there was nowhere to go.
"Please accompany the officers down to the police vehicles, sir," Edmonds said, aware that she sounded squeaky and not nearly as authoritative as she would have wished. "We need to ask you a few questions."
Footsteps clanged on the fire escape as the two officers escorted the unhappy customer downstairs.
Then a red-haired woman wearing a black jacket and a pair of dark, tight-fitting pants burst through the exit, almost knocking Edmonds off her feet. The policewoman grabbed at the railing for support.
The woman's skin was sickly pale, a stark contrast to her crimson hair. She looked older than Edmonds had expected; in her fifties, perhaps. Too old to be a sex-worker? Edmonds had no idea.
She smelled of stale cigarettes and perfume, the scent musky and
The woman was past Edmonds before she could recover her footing, but Richards, standing a few steps further down, managed to grab her by the arm.
"Let me go!" She struggled, shouting at Richards in accented tones, but he had a firm hold on her.
"Nobody's going anywhere just yet, ma'am. Are you in charge here?"
"Me, no." The woman raised her chin and stared at him fiercely.
"I am nobody, nothing. Forget you saw me."
"We can't do that, I'm afraid," Richards said, with heavy irony. "Who are you, then?"
Defiant silence. Then the woman snaked her head towards Richards, and for a bizarre moment Edmonds thought that she was going to kiss him. Before the big officer could stop her, she sank her teeth into the exposed strip of skin between the collar of his waterproof and his beanie.
Shouting in pain, Richards let go of her arm. He snatched at her head with both hands, grabbing her hair in an effort to pull her off him.
"Kick her!" Edmonds shouted, but in his panic, Richards seemed to have forgotten his basic self-defence training. Her stomach clenched. God, this was it. She'd have to take the woman down. Fumbling for the canister of pepper spray on her belt, she leapt forward, ready to tackle her, feeling the fire escape rattle as one of the officers below came running up again to assist.
Before Edmonds could act, the woman twisted away from Richards' grasp, leaving long strands of hair dangling from his hands. Edmonds had a brief glimpse of her mouth, bloodstained lips curled back in a snarl, and her gut contracted again because she looked just like a vampire.
To her astonishment, the woman then hooked a leg over the handrail and jumped. Edmonds saw her red hair fly out behind her as she landed on the tarmac below on all fours, like a cat.
"Grab her," Edmonds shouted, and the fire escape vibrated yet again as the officer on his way up did a hasty about-turn and made a hurried descent.
Edmonds thumbed her radio on. "Escaping suspect," she yelled. "Back entrance. Red-headed female. You copy?"
She glanced down again, just in time to see the woman dart into the shadows and disappear from sight. She was limping heavily, favouring her right ankle, which must have twisted when she landed.
The radio crackled in reply. "We've got the two main streets
cordoned off. She won't get far. Over."
Edmonds turned back to Richards. He was swearing, breathing hard, his fingers pressed to the wound on his neck. He took his hand away and stared down at the sticky smear of blood.
"Bitch!" he hissed through clenched teeth. "Bloody bitch. Can't believe she did that. God knows what she's given me."
A strong gust of wind wailed eerily through the gaps in the fire escape's supports. Blinking rain out of her eyes, Edmonds saw the woman emerge from the shadows, then bend and fumble under her trouser leg before she set off half-running, half-limping, towards the young constable standing by the parked police cars.
Edmonds grabbed her radio again. Through the worsening downpour, she thought she had seen the gleam of a knife in her hand.
"Watch out! She's armed!" she shouted, directing her voice into the radio and also towards the uniformed officer manning the cordon.
The officer didn't hear her warning. He moved confidently forward to intercept the fleeing woman, obviously thinking, as Edmonds had done at first, that she was one of the trafficked victims trying to escape. There was a brief scuffle, and then he cried out and stumbled backwards, clutching at his stomach. In the bright beam of the police car's headlights, Edmonds saw blood seeping through the young man's fingers.
Kevlar offered little protection against a sharp-bladed knife.
Firearms were not commonly found in brothels, as there was always the risk that they could fall into the wrong hands. Because of this, the police didn't carry guns during raids.
Right now, Edmonds wished she had a gun.
"Officer down!" she screamed into the radio, staring at the scene in horror. "Call an ambulance. We've got a man injured on the street."
Another pair of high-beam headlights blazed in the darkness, and Edmonds saw a sleek black car speeding down the street towards them. It skidded to a stop a few metres away from the police blockade. For a moment the lights from one of the police cars shone directly through the windscreen, allowing Edmonds to glimpse the driver, a sunken-cheeked black man. Then the passenger door flew open, the red-headed woman dived inside, and water hissed from under the tyres as the car spun round in a tight U-turn and disappeared down the Leytonstone Road.
Two other officers sprinted over to the fallen man.
"Shit!" Richards had wadded a tissue onto the wound in his neck and was also staring at the departing vehicle. "That was an Aston Martin. Looked like Salimovic's car."
"The brothel owner?" Edmonds' eyes widened. She'd heard Mackay on the radio earlier, communicating with the team that had been on the way to his house to arrest him.
Now it seemed that despite their careful planning and preparation, he had managed to escape.
"Shit," Richards said again, inspecting the wet and bloody tissue. "How do these bastards always know?"
"Well, it wasn't Salimovic at the wheel," Edmonds said. "I saw the driver. He was black."
The radio crackled again and Richards jerked his thumb towards the door. "Don't worry about what's happening down there. They'll sort it out. We're going in now. Room-to-room search. Keep your pepper spray handy in case there's trouble inside."
Edmonds tripped over the ledge in the doorway and almost sprawled headlong into the corridor. Great going, girl, she thought. Look good in front of your superiors, why don't you?
She moved forward cautiously, glancing from side to side. It was gloomy in here, lit only by a couple of low-wattage bulbs. The walls were dirty and the floor was scuffed, the lino cracked and uneven. She caught another whiff of the unpleasantly musky perfume which she now realised hadn't come from the escaping red-head, but from the interior of the brothel itself. Underlying that was the stench of old dirt and another pungent odour that Edmonds suddenly, shockingly, realised was the smell of sex.
Pop music was coming from somewhere, piped through invisible speakers, but as she noticed it the sound was turned off. Now she could hear the voices of the officers at the front of the building.
"You three take the top floor."
"Bag that price list, will you?"
"Christ, it stinks in here."
"Oi! Where do you think you're going, sir? Hey! Someone grab him." Then there was the sound of running footsteps, followed by a brief scuffle.
She came to a closed door on her right. Aware of Richards behind her, she pushed it open. The room was gloomy; a purple lantern illuminated a single bed in the corner with a figure huddled on a stained mattress.
"Somebody here," she called, hearing the quiver in her own voice as she approached the bed.
A black girl lay there, eyes wide and terrified. She was on her side, her slender arms wrapped tightly around her legs, and Edmonds saw with a jolt that she was naked. She glanced around the room for something to cover her with, but there was nothing suitable in the small space. Nothing at all.
"Are you all right, miss?" Edmonds leaned forward. Now she could see the puffy swelling on the girl's left cheek, where the dark skin was mottled even darker with bruising. She could also see the massive, crusted scabs on her lips.
The girl flinched under Edmonds' concerned gaze.
The police officer breathed in deeply, suppressing her anger. Who had done this? The owner? A client? That middle-aged bastard who'd tried to wriggle out of the back entrance?
"Who hurt you?"
No reply. She whispered something in an almost inaudible voice, but it wasn't in a language that Edmonds could understand.
"I don't know if she speaks any English," Edmonds said aloud.
She reached out and gently took the black girl's hand in her own cold, damp one.
"Are you all right?" she asked again.
The girl looked up at Edmonds in silence, her eyes full of tears.
They came for him at night.
Eleven p.m. on a summer evening and Terence was in bed, propped up on his black continental pillow, fiddling around with something on his laptop. She was watching Idols on the big-screen TV, lying naked on the bedcovers, her hair spread over the pillow, listening to some teenager butchering a Mango Groove song.
Then, a noise. Loud, hard, frightening, cutting right through the hum of the laptop's fan and the screech of the South African Idols contestant's high notes.
He snapped his laptop shut and sat bolt upright. She raised her head from the pillow and stared at the window, as if she could somehow see all the way through it and down to the dark garden below.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Don't know." He pushed back the covers and climbed out of bed. "Turn the tv down, will you?"
He pushed back the curtain and peered out of the window. She felt around for the remote, nearly knocking the bedside lamp over. Where on earth was it? She fumbled in the folds of the duvet, checked under the pillow. Her heart was pounding, her hands trembling. What had made that noise? It was impossible that anything could be banging outside like that. But it hadn't sounded like a banging noise in any case. It had sounded like ...
... like somebody knocking hard on the front door.
Which was even more impossible, because they were the only people on the property. It was well secured, as all the homes in this wealthy Jo'burg neighbourhood were, surrounded by a high wall and a five-thousand-volt electric fence.
She glanced across the bed. There it was, of course. On his table. It had gravitated to the man's side, as remotes invariably do. She stretched across, grabbed it and stabbed the mute button with nail-breaking force.
The teen's quavering voice cut off mid-wail.
"Can't see a thing," Terence muttered, turning away from the window.
Then they heard the noise again. It sounded louder in the silence.
Bam, bam, bam.
"Shit," he said. He hurried to the cupboard, flung it open, rummaged among the clothes.
"What is it?" she asked.
"How the hell should I know?" He pulled on a black t-shirt and grabbed his jeans. Searching through the cupboard once more, he took out a small silver gun. He did something to it that made a metallic, ratcheting noise.
She sat up and stared at him, wide-eyed, clutching the duvet and worrying it between her fingers. He turned around and regarded her coldly, as if she were a complete stranger, as if they hadn't been making love earlier that evening and sharing a jacuzzi an hour ago.
"Put on some clothes," he snapped.
Suddenly her own nakedness wasn't sexy or appealing. It made her feel vulnerable, afraid.
She leaned down to retrieve the outfit she'd worn earlier, now discarded on the floor. Short black cocktail dress, lacy panties, gold sandals. Hands shaking, it took her three tries to fasten her push-up bra. By the time she'd got the dress over her head, Terence was on his way downstairs.
She heard his footsteps on the tiles. Then nothing. She waited, perched on the edge of the bed, straining her ears. Was that the front door opening? She didn't know. It was too far away for her to be sure.
She waited for what felt like an eternity, expecting to hear a shout, a gunshot, something.
She heard only silence and the soft trilling of a cricket outside.
"Terence, are you ok?" she called.
"Terence?" She tried again, louder this time.
She waited a few more fearful, stomach-clenching minutes. What should she do? Eventually she crept down the stairs, slowly, cautiously. Who would be waiting there? She didn't know. She needed a weapon, but what could she use?
Stopping at the foot of the staircase, she lifted an ornamental wooden spear from its resting place next to the painted Masai shield on the wall. It wouldn't be effective against a gun, but at least it was something. Its polished shaft felt comforting in her hand. She held it in front of her and cautiously made her way down the hallway.
The lounge was quiet. The hall was empty. There was no sign of Terence, no sound of anyone.
Ahead of her she saw the front door, gaping wide open. Beyond that — she froze, grasping the spear more tightly, feeling her heart hammer a panicked tattoo in her throat — the electric gate stood wide open, too. Wide open to the dark road outside.
The house was unguarded, vulnerable, its defences breached.
Terence was gone.
Jade pounded along the path that ran parallel to the main road and then wound its way through a grove of pine trees. Her feet skidded on loose sand, crunched over the dry needles. Shade at last. The air was cooler in the dappled cover of the trees. She slowed to a jog and concentrated on her breathing. Two steps breathing in, two breathing out. In, out, in, out. Her lungs burned. Her legs ached.
She hated running.
Every weekend, without fail, her police-commissioner father had got out of bed even earlier than his usual break-of-dawn start.
He would pull on his battered running shoes and strap his service pistol around his waist. If Jade was up by that hour, which she occasionally was, he'd greet her with a grim nod. He'd always say the same words to her, in the same resigned tone.
"Can't let the bad guys outrun me."
Then her father would head out of the house, returning an hour later, redder, sweatier, and with an expression on his face even grimmer than before.
Jade suspected it was similar to the one she wore now.
She wore Nike trainers, which thanks to her twice-weekly runs were rapidly becoming as battered as her father's had been, but she drew the line at carrying a gun. She knew from experience that a loaded weapon might feel light at the start of a run, but it would have grown as heavy as a brick by the end.
Her father was dead, but his life lessons stuck with Jade.
Don't let the bad guys outrun you.
Jade lifted her gaze from the path in front of her and checked the road ahead. Slowing again, she glanced back. Nobody there.
The pine grove was behind her now. The path led down an uneven slope, the dry soil fissured and eroded, pale yellow-green weeds clinging to the sides, and then rejoined the sandy road.
Not far to go till home.
She increased her speed, forcing her tired legs into a sprint. She ran past the house on the corner, a gunmetal-grey monstrosity that looked like it must surely be owned by a retired naval commander. The outside wall had been painted white, which was an unfortunate choice for a home bordering a dusty dirt road. Jo'burg's winter had been long and dry, and although it was late October now, and hot, not a drop of rain had fallen. The wall was covered with brownish-yellow stains, just like the teeth of a sixty-a-day smoker.
Past the next house, an inoffensive bungalow with an electric wire fence. Inside, a gardener stood aiming a hosepipe at a withered flowerbed. Jade waved. He waved back. The owners' Jack Russell raced up and down the fence line, yapping loudly. Almost home. Past the next property. It was easy to run faster here, past the main house and the concrete staircase that led to the tiny flat above the garage. Jade didn't want to look at it. She didn't want to see the smart red Mini parked outside the garage. It belonged to the new tenant, a woman who was obviously prepared to pay more for her wheels than for her accommodation.
David had lived in those upstairs lodgings until a couple of weeks ago.
Superintendent David Patel, to give him his full title. Superintendent David Patel, who'd recently packed up his modest belongings and moved away. Lock, stock and barrel. His wife had been promoted, he'd told Jade. She had been transferred to the Home Affairs head office in Pretoria, and so he was moving back to his house in Turffontein, where she and their son Kevin had been living.
Jade had no idea whether that meant David was considering getting back together with Naisha. They were separated, not divorced. Easy to move back in with your married partner. Especially when it seemed her relationship with David was now history.
When he'd kissed her goodbye — a formal peck on the cheek — she'd looked for a sign of regret in his icy-blue eyes, but seen none. His brown-skinned hand had clasped her fair-skinned one for a too-short moment.
"See you soon, Jadey," he'd said. Then he'd straightened up to his dizzying six-foot-five inches and sauntered over to his car.
Jade clenched her hands more tightly. She wouldn't think of the nights she'd spent with him up in that tiny room. How many nights had it been in all the time they'd spent as neighbours?
Not enough, Jade thought. Never enough.
"Get a bicycle."
Those had been the last words he'd called out to her as he sped down the road and passed her on the start of a run. He'd leaned out of the window looking amused, his unmarked vehicle so overloaded with clothes, bedding, books and boxes that she'd meanly hoped he would be pulled over by the Metro Police and fined.
Get a bloody bicycle. What kind of goodbye was that? Damn him.
She hadn't spoken to him since then. She had to admit, though, that the advice he'd given her was well worth taking. Riding a bicycle would be a lot more fun than this.
Jade quickened her pace, elbows pistoning. If she could make it past his house in twenty strides, he'd come back.
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. She hurled herself forward, aiming for the boundary line. It was too far off. She wasn't going to make it.
Ahead of her, an engine roared.
Her head snapped up. She slowed her pace, and moved away from the centre of the road, ducking into the shade. She couldn't run here; the sand was too thick. She dropped back to a walk, propelling herself along on now-wobbly legs.
A shiny silver sports car fishtailed down the road and skidded to a stop outside her gate, dirt flying. The blare of a horn shattered the stillness of the morning.
Gasping for breath, Jade pulled her t-shirt away from her body to draw in cool air. Her hair had worked loose from its ponytail and hung around her face in wet rats' tails. She pushed it back and approached the car cautiously. She wasn't expecting company.
Still less, company driving what she now saw was a new-looking Corvette convertible with a vanity plate that read pj1.
The single occupant of the car was a blonde woman. Her face was turned away, looking back in the direction she'd come from, where the dust of her hurried approach still floated in the air. Jade could see the outline of her head in the wing mirror. If she checked the mirror, the driver would see Jade.
But she didn't. She turned to look straight ahead again, staring directly at Jade's rented cottage. Then she hooted a second time.
Jade walked up to the car and rapped on the window.
When she heard the sound, the woman screamed.
The sound was high and shrill and penetrated the tinted glass. The woman cringed away from Jade, cowering in her seat, arms flung up in defence.
Her face was ghostly pale, her features twisted with terror.
From Stolen Lives by Jassy Mackenzie. Copyright 2013 by Jassy Mackenzie. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime.