He awoke abruptly out of an alcohol-sodden sleep, the pain in
his ribs his first conscious sensation. Then the swollen eye and upper
lip, the antiseptic, musty smell of the cell, the sour odor of his body,
the salty taste of blood and old beer in his mouth. And the relief.
Jigsaw pieces of the previous evening floated into his mind. The provocation, the annoyed faces, the anger - such normal, predictable motherfuckers, such decent, conventional pillars of the community.
He remained motionless, on the side that wasn't painful, the hangover throbbing like a disease through his body.
Footsteps in the corridor outside, a key turning in the lock of the gray steel door, the grating of metal slicing through his head. Then the uniform stood there.
"Your attorney's here," the policeman said. Slowly he turned on the bed. Opened one eye. "Come." A voice devoid of respect.
"I don't have an attorney." His voice sounded far away. The policeman took a step, hooked a hand into the back of his collar, pulled him upright. "Come on."
The pain in his ribs. He stumbled through the cell door, down the paved passage to the charge office.
The uniform walked ahead, used a key to indicate the way to the small parade room. He entered with difficulty, hurting. Kemp sat there, his briefcase next to him, a frown on his face. He sat down in a dark blue chair, his head in his hands. He heard the policeman close the door behind him and walk away.
"You're trash, Van Heerden," said Kemp. He didn't respond.
"What are you doing with your life?" "What does it matter?" His swollen lip lisped the s. Kemp's frown deepened. He shook his head. "They didn't even bother to lay a charge."
He wanted to indulge in the relief, the lessening of the pressure, but it eluded him. Kemp. Where the fuck did Kemp come from?
"Even dentists know shit when they see it. Jesus, Van Heerden, what's with you? You're pissing your life away. Dentists? How drunk do you have to be to take on five dentists?"
"Two were GPs." Kemp took in Van Heerden's appearance. Then the attorney got up, a big man, clean and neat in a sports jacket and gray slacks, the neutral colors of the tie a perfect match. "Where's your car?"
He rose to his feet slowly, the world tilting slightly. "At the bar." Kemp opened the door and walked out. "Come on, then."
Van Heerden followed him into the charge office. A sergeant pushed his possessions over the counter, a plastic bag containing his slender wallet and his keys. He took it without making eye contact.
"I'm taking him away," said Kemp. "He'll be back."
The day was cold. The wind knifed through his thin jacket and he resisted the impulse to pull it closer around his body. Kemp climbed into his large 4x4, leaned across, and unlocked the passenger door. Slowly Van Heerden walked around the vehicle, climbed in, closed the door, and leaned his head against it. Kemp pulled off.
"Which bar?" "The Sports Pub, opposite Panarotti's."
"What happened?" "Why did you fetch me?"
"Because you told the entire Table View police station that I would sue them and the dentists for everything ranging from assault to brutality."
From Dead at Daybreak by Deon Meyer. Copyright © 2000 by Deon Meyer. Translation copyright © 2000 by Madeleine van Biljon.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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