Fiction Friday | 'The Last Hunt' by Deon Meyer
In The Last Hunt, two strands of the same story become a race against time — for Hawks Captain Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido to stop an assassination and for international hit-man Daniel Darret to evade the relentless Russian agents tracking him.
Griessel and Cupido are tasked with investigating a cold case, a difficult case surrounded by mystery, lies and evasion. The body of ex-cop John Johnson has been found by the side of a railway line.
He appears to have jumped from the world's most luxurious train and the two (suspicious) characters seen with him have disappeared. The police have already failed to make progress and others are intent on muddying the waters.
Meanwhile, in Bordeaux, Daniel is settled in a new life on a different continent. But his assassin skills are required one more time, and he is given no choice in the matter. Daniel must hunt again. His prey? The corrupt president of his homeland.
‘Now, here’s another interesting thing,’ Griessel said, as he paged through his notebook.
‘We got hold of the train’s log book. It records when the train stopped, where it stopped, and for how long. At the time the murder was committed, the train was moving, about seventy kilometres south of Beaufort West. But then, at nine thirty-four, it stopped at Beaufort West station, until five minutes past four the next morning . . .’
‘So these two guys, the two phantoms, knew they had a dead body in a compartment and they were scheming how to get rid of it for six hours,’ said Cupido.
‘Because they knew an investigation would tie them to Johnson. Somehow. Or at least their false IDs would make them suspect. But the fact that they sat with that body for six hours and then decided to dump it out the window, along with the cell phone, and maybe take his laptop . . . It does say something.’
Kaleni had been listening attentively. Then she nodded, took out three plates and set places for them on the counter.
‘Johnson’s ex-wife says he did mention a few things about the Indian businessmen who are now suspected of corruption and state capture activities,’ said Cupido. ‘That he witnessed some late-night shenanigans with politicians. Johnson was bodyguard to the minister of state security at the time, Mr Dumisa.’
Kaleni clicked her tongue. ‘He’s a Zulu, that one. He should be ashamed of himself.’ She put a tea-towel over the loaf, picked up a bread knife and began to slice it carefully and skilfully.
‘We know that the VIP Protection Unit tried very hard to find out where Johnson was. That tells us the call to Dimba was interrupted, probably by the murder,’ said Griessel.
‘Because I’m sure if he had the time, Johnson would have told Dimba exactly where he was. And if he had done so, someone would have been waiting at the Rovos station in Pretoria when the train arrived. They – and we think it was the VIP Protection Unit – went to fetch Johnson’s luggage at the station only after he was reported missing and IDed. They were in a big hurry to do that, so they must have been worried about something that would incriminate a politician. Or the unit. Or something like that. Maybe Johnson’s laptop, which disappeared from the train. Perhaps there were photos on it . . .’
‘. . . of the corruption shenanigans,’ said Cupido. ‘Photos or other evidence.’
‘Okay,’ said Kaleni. She put slices of fresh baked bread on a plate and pushed it towards them.
‘Johnson recognised either Faku or Green—’ Griessel said.
‘Or both of them,’ said Cupido.
‘—because he knew them from his days at the VIP Protection Unit. How do we know this? Because he called Dimba. Of all people. Which could mean that Faku and Green worked for the state, or maybe they worked for one of these anti-corruption organisations.’
‘And we were thinking,’ said Cupido, ‘the reason he called could have been because he saw the two old guys together. Maybe it was the combination of them that rang alarm bells.’
‘Strange bedfellows,’ said Kaleni.
‘Yes,’ said Griessel. ‘Maybe he recognised just one of them in the dining car, then saw them together and made some sort of connection. As I said earlier, the two phantoms didn’t know that Johnson would be on the train because they made their booking months before Johnson knew he was going to be Mrs Scherpenzeel’s bodyguard. It must have been coincidence, one way or another. Bad luck . . .’
‘Come, eat,’ she said, and sat down opposite them. They thanked her.
‘Why did they have to kill him?’ said Griessel. ‘That’s the big question. It doesn’t make sense. They used false IDs, but they arrived at the station together, they dined together. They must have known someone might recognise them.’
‘Maybe,’ said Cupido, ‘they thought there would only be foreigners on the train. But that’s a little stupid, and I don’t think they’re stupid. If we look at the way they made the payment for the trip, the passport numbers . . . I don’t think they’re stupid.’
‘Something happened when Johnson went back to his compartment,’ said Griessel.
‘And only three people know what that was,’ Cupido added.
‘If we can’t question Dimba, we’ve got nothing,’ said Griessel.
‘If we can’t use this photo to identify Green, we’ve got nothing,’ said Cupido.
‘There are just too many maybes,’ said Griessel.
‘We really have nothing,’ Cupido admitted.
‘Yes,’ said Colonel Mbali Kaleni. ‘That’s true. But the bones must be thrown in three different places.’
They stared at her.
‘It’s an old Zulu proverb. “The bones must be thrown in three different places before you can accept the message.” It means you have to look at a question many times before you can come to a conclusion.’
‘We’re not allowed to look anywhere else,’ said Cupido.
‘Not now,’ said Kaleni, and spread fresh butter on the bread. It melted into the slices. ‘Not now. But we will wait. And we will keep looking.’
- Extract provided by Jonathan Ball Publishers