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Extract from ‘Mermaid Fillet: A Noir Crime Novel’ by Mia Arderne

Before the Democratic Alliance emerged and started shutting down the smokkies, Simply Red’s Fairground could be heard for blocks around the yaat. The furniture was scattered carburettors and disembodied VW car seats. There was a Nissan Skyline, a BMW 325iS and two Datsuns parked outside the Ravensmead yaat when the police arrived. But the uncle in charge had a routine for when the boere came:

Police officer stands at the door.

Uncle struggles to find his keys. Quickly hides the drugs.

Police officer waits.

Uncle suddenly remembers where the keys are. Quickly hides the illicit seafood.

Uncle goes to fetch his keys. Quickly hides the jewellery.

Uncle smiles. “Please come in, officers.”

This uncle was bald with intent. He was a man who got out of his Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in boxer shorts and slides to put petrol in his car. Kids playing foursquare in the street looked at him and marvelled. ’Cause how many coloured multi-millionaires do you know? The man would rip the thick gold chain off his neck and fling it into a man’s ribs to get what he wanted. He would park in front of Spar and leave all his stuff in the car, unlocked. No one touched it, whether he was in Belhar extension or Camps Bay, because people knew. A man of gallantry, despite his savage reputation; the last of the old school. A husband to a talented and exquisite woman. A woman who could have been a prima ballerina, if she hadn’t been disallowed from all major stages for being coloured. Theirs was an old school chise. She would eat the three corners of the samoosa and he would have the middle. A tradition they continued even after they’d amassed unimaginable wealth.

Geld se baas, he was a man who uplifted his community, but arguably not as much as he destroyed it. A great businessman who was denied a seat at the table, so he built underworld empires instead. Everybody’s uncle.

When he rolled in, it was in a wheelchair. He’d recently been shot in the throat, collarbone and hip. Nog dala. There was a bounty of five million on his head if someone killed him before Christmas. With half a dozen attempts on his life, people had started to wonder if the man was immortal. He carried two tog bags of cash as he wheeled towards Whaleed and Alton, both in their twenties. His domelike bleskop was shiny and brown with summer sweat. But Whaleed knew that if he ever grew his hair, it would be grey. The uncle passed a tog bag of cash to each of them, nodded, and started wheeling away in his fluffy pink slippers. Suddenly, he stopped. The uncle had heard something. 

“Bly stil,” he instructed.

Everyone in the yaat shut up. He listened more intently. Alton and Whaleed looked at each other. Had someone been sent to kill him? Were the cops at the door again? Was the uncle just becoming paro? A mumbling continued.

“Bly stil or I’ll put this M16 in your bek!”

The yaat went even quieter. Except for this one bra. This one nwata who carried on talking. What happened next, Whaleed and Alton would never forget. True to his word, the uncle shoved his gun into the nwata’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Since that night, this uncle was informally referred to as M16-in-your-bek.

6 December 2019

Ravensmead

It was one of the last remaining yaats that hadn’t been shut down by the DA. DJ Jazzy D’s version of My Lady Soul could be heard for blocks around the spot. The furniture was still scattered carburettors and disembodied VW car seats. There was a Ferrari, an R8 and two GTIs parked outside the Ravensmead smokkie when Perd and AK arrived.

The yaat was secured with four gated entrances, three Alsatians, a shark tank and a wall of screens corresponding to 15 cameras fitted in different corners of the property. There was one camera as you entered, one as you approached the second gate, three at the bar and two inside the walk-in freezer. There was one in the caravan because tikkoppe need surveillance, contained spaces to consume and the privacy of makeshift curtains. There was another camera at the door before M16-in-your-bek’s personal security room with all the screens, three surrounding his old adjacent house, two surveying the customers in the yaat and one in the outside toilet. And those were just the cameras Perd and AK were aware of.

“Who’s in there these days?” asked AK, gesturing with his eyes at the late uncle’s personal security room.

Perd shrugged. 

“I know the man’s making money like dust,” said Perd.

“Ja,” agreed AK.

“A hundred-and-fifty-thousand-rand fridge. Fridge,” Perd said, shaking his head.

“Awe, heard he pulled out a Hummer for himself the other day. Paid for it cash,” said AK.

“Slapped on a paar 22s too. Cash,” Perd added.

“Quick-fast.”

“Chrome 22s.”

“Cash.”

“Driven in specially from Nelspruit.”

“Eight and a half for the rims alone.”

“Cash.”

“Tinted the windows, bullet-resistant glass, then bought another nine Hummers, exactly the same, for decoys.”

The men took their cash and left. Take your cheque, hou your bek.

This is an edited extract from Mia Arderne’s Mermaid Fillet: A Crime Noir Novel (Kwela Books)

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Mia Arderne
Mia Arderne is a Cape Town-based writer with bylines at Cosmopolitan, the Mail & Guardian, Marie Claire, GQ, City Press and more. Her writing explores the politics of gender, race, identity, sexuality and mental health. She works as a journalist at Viewfinder, Accountability Journalism. Her debut novel Mermaid Fillet is published by Kwela, NB Publishers.

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