Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Abandoned Car

Jassy Mackenzie burst onto the South African thriller scene with her debut novel RANDOM VIOLENCE (2010), introducing Jade de Jong, and reflecting the violent tension of Johannesburg that hadn’t been a focus of South African thriller fiction before her book.  Jade was back in STOLEN LIVES (2011) and THE FALLEN (2012) and this month sees the release of the new book PALE HORSES.  The horse in question is the fourth horse of the apocalypse, and, as The Witness newspaper of South Africa commented, “Jade and David Patel find themselves in a race against time as they deal with sinister and very powerful forces in a satisfyingly tense and convoluted plot.

Jassy lives in Johannesburg. She loves the energy, danger and excitement of the city, and believes there is no better place for a thriller writer to live.  But from time to time that danger gets a bit too close for comfort.  In her guest blog today, Jassy tells us about a scary example of that.

Michael - Thursday

The car came into view, trapped in the beams of our headlights, as my partner Dion and I drove down the quiet and unlit road that led to our country cottage. It was just outside our gate, and we knew for sure it spelled trouble.

Living in Johannesburg, even in the rural suburbs, one soon develops a sixth sense for when things are wrong, and the car was setting off all the alarms. For a start, this is not an area where people park on the side of the road at night. You either get yourself to safety behind tall gates and electrified fences, or you keep driving. But this car – a luxury vehicle – was just... stopped. At an angle, and only partly off the road.

“Is there anyone inside?” Dion asked, giving it a wide berth as we approached.
The headlights offered limited visibility, and we didn’t want to pass by too slowly. But then I saw that something was definitely wrong.
“The passenger door’s wide open!”
There was something strange about the window glass, too. It was opaque and milky-looking.
Don’t stop,” I told Dion.
“I’m not going to,” he reassured me.
With a suspicious vehicle just outside our gate, turning into our driveway would be stupid at best, suicidal at worst. It would mean we would be trapped. Instead, we drove slowly around the block while I called the local security firm, told them about the creepy-looking car, and asked them to meet us outside our house. We kept on the move until their red and yellow truck arrived, and then we got inside fast, making sure the gate was closed behind us and our cottage locked up tight.

Next morning, in the reassuring sunshine, I walked outside and found myself in the middle of a crime investigation. Two police cars were on the scene, as well as security personnel, with the buzz and crackle of walkie-talkies filling the air. In daylight, I could see why the glass of the car had looked so milky – it was peppered with bullet holes.

  I ran back to the cottage and fetched my camera. Standing inside the cover of my gateway, I took some photos of the scene. Then, since it looked as if the investigation was wrapping up, I grew bolder. I ventured outside and started talking to the detective.

“This BMW was hijacked in Fourways last night,” he told me. “While the hijackers were driving away, a security guard opened fire on the car with an automatic rifle.”

Wide-eyed, I peered at the bullet holes, some of which had punched right through the body of the car. I could only imagine the scene – the blast of gunfire filling the air; the screech of tires as the hijackers made their desperate getaway. Now all that was left to tell the story was the damaged glass and punctured bodywork and the silvery streaks and smudges of fingerprint dust.

  “They abandoned the car here,” the detective told me.
“That would explain the open door, I suppose,” I said. “But why leave it here? Did they panic?”
“One of the hijackers was hit by a bullet,” he said. “He was injured – dying, perhaps. I think they called for their accomplices to meet them here, and jettisoned the car. They must have dragged him out of the passenger seat and fled.” He gestured towards the BMW’s plush interior. “The passenger seat is covered in blood.”

 A click of my digital camera, and I captured the gory scene before thanking the detective and hurrying back to the safety of my cottage. An hour later, the car had gone, but the images of this scene still filled my mind. It was scary and sobering – a glimpse into another world that coexisted, mostly parallel to our calm and peaceful life, but just occasionally intersecting. A world where brutal acts were forcefully executed – where the language of violence was the first one spoken.

Where, on that cold July night, thanks to the sharp reactions of a security guard, a job went suddenly, lethally wrong. A desperate ride took these men to this quiet, dark rendezvous point. The driver sweating, terrified, gabbling on his phone. The passenger groaning and gasping as he pressed his hands onto his wounds to try and stem the flow of blood.

What happened to them? Where are they now? Is the driver still doing crime, or did that night, and the sound of his partner’s agony, provide a turning point for him?

None of us will ever know.


  1. I think I'm going to move to Joburg - Knysna is too tame. Scary story!

  2. I've heard of these sorts of episodes before in Joburg from SAf friends in Greece, Jassy, but never in such first person, vivid detail as yours. Hard to imagine how different your routine, everyday life decisions are from those of us in say even NYC or Rio.