It was finished. After a week of stalking the prey, they had finally cornered him in a secluded part of the woods. There would be no escape. The mark knew that he was cornered – his feeble charge towards the predator was met by a bullet that smacked onto the centre of his skull. The prey’s massive legs buckled. His eyes widened before closing hastily. There was no indignant screams except the sound of his massive frame as it hit the ground. Roscoe had expected the mark to put up a more valiant fight but it had all fizzled out in the anti-climax of a half-hearted charge.
Michael Skoro Moyo was his real name, but he’d changed it to Roscoe, and everyone believed that was his family name. Not that it mattered, Roscoe did not have any family and he was not sentimental about his past either – he owed it nothing, as it owed him nothing. He had been born on a discontented stormy night that followed a seething summer afternoon – perhaps it was inevitable that his life and temperament mirrored the elements that governed the day of his birth. His parents had never forgiven him for causing the accidental death of his younger sister, so he had left home at the earliest possible opportunity. Roscoe pushed those thoughts away as he approached his prize. It was going to be a big payday.
A few minutes later his mallet shaped head seemed to bobble as his knife ripped into the flesh of the kill in delicate masterful strokes. The delicate process meant that any mistake would reduce the value of the body parts in the curative market. His accomplices watched silently, daring not to move nearer or offer assistance.
Only the insects chirped. The grasses swirled to the dictates of the breeze. Roscoe gently removed the loins from its stiff position and placed them in a container. There were separate containers for the heart, the nose, the toes and the fingers. When he had harvested all he needed, he ordered his men to throw the cadaver into a fire-pit they had prepared. They doused the pit with petrol before nonchalantly throwing a matchstick into it. A flame erupted hungrily into the air, licking and then engulfing the dead body. The smell of burning flesh, the crinkling fire and the spluttering sound produced by the fatty parts of the corpse did not concern the men, for the forensic evidence of their crime was being destroyed – and their souls purified.
Roscoe conversed in hesitant bursts as he labored to give even the shortest of instructions. This distressed his counterparts to no end as they attempted disconsolately to anticipate the intent of his tortured sentence constructions. Roscoe expected people to carry out his commands instantly, it didn’t matter to him that his thoughts were not matched by the speed of his speech – he expected one to act as soon as he opened his mouth – in the process many of his men had fallen victim to this incongruent expectation because he thought they were dawdling or disrespectful.
Excitedly, they loaded the cargo into their truck which was fitted with a cooling system that would keep the harvested products in good condition until they placed them in the hands of their client. In the distance they heard the rumble of thunder. In the day time, each of them would be in their houses, with girlfriends or wives enjoying the fruits of their labor. They jumped into the cab of their truck. Ralph tried to strike up a conversation but the mumbled responses he received convinced him to shut up.
The rains had lingered in the air for too long but as they drove towards the city, water gushed torrentially from the grey blanket that had covered the sky. An hour later they came to a halt, the stream they had crossed in the morning was now a raging river that raced swiftly towards an unknown destination. Further compounding the problem for the gang was the fact that the makeshift bridge had been washed away. They were stuck until the river subsided.
As Roscoe contemplated what to do, a truck approached them. It was a surprise to the gang because their presence in the area had brought an undeclared curfew that discouraged both man and beast from carrying out nocturnal activities. Four occupants were inside the truck but only one got out and glided in the rain towards where Roscoe stood. Roscoe stared into the official’s face. He was temporarily taken aback – gone were the stinking clothes, the fake beard and the unkempt hair which had obviously been a wig, but he could not mistake the intensity of the haunting russet colored eyes as they peered into his face – it was the vagabond. Behind him Roscoe could recognize the bartender, but she was now putting on an official uniform. No words were spoken. Roscoe knew the game was up.
Earlier that day, they had been lazing around the only bar in the area as they usually did when they had an assignment, waiting for the scorching sun to go down. They had seen a vagabond seated by the entrance door of the bar. He was drinking out of a filthy looking cup and eating pieces of what looked like rotting bread. Inside, Roscoe had noticed that most of the patrons were drinking opaque beer. It was the same faces he had seen previously each time they came in to rest – he had wondered where they got the money to drink every day.
The bartender was a young woman who was bulging out of her floral patterned dress. She had made sure that Roscoe and his men had a good view of her breasts and her backside whenever she swiveled to get their orders from the fridge. Roscoe had come to know her well over the past one week of their hunting activities. He remembered that they had been a male bartender when they’d first arrived, but he had disappeared, not that he cared. She would give her most charming smile, but Roscoe was not interested, he was a man on a mission. The smell of money bewitched people, it did not matter whether they were supposedly conservatively rustic or boisterously urban. He had given her a crisp fifty dollar note for the drinks. He would have used a fake note, but the bartender reminded him of his sister or what he thought his sister would have looked like if she hadn’t died. And the fact that she had the same name as his sister was a coincidence that was not lost to him at that time.
So earlier that day, when they came into the bar, Roscoe had chosen a table that was nearest to the door, after scanning the bar, just in case they had to make a rushed exit. There was music blaring out a concord of sungura and dance-hall. He was lost in his own world. The bartender came with his change and tried to engage him in conversation but he had waved her away brusquely. Today would be the last time he harvested body parts, after this he would emigrate and start a new life without the ghosts of his acts chasing him, he thought.
After a few drinks his men had become petulant and had started to bully some of the patrons – Roscoe hated their behavior because it was not induced by alcohol – however, they were the best team he could work with. So he tolerated them. His men were especially intent on traumatizing the vagabond who had come into the bar asking for money – the vagabond was disheveled, flies buzzed around him enjoying the pungent scent he carried. Not wanting to draw too much attention to his group, Roscoe had gruntingly pushed his men away from the vagrant. He capriciously threw a five dollar bill at the tramp as he lumbered towards the exit.
Now the vagabond was officiously declaring that he was a Detective Mahlahla with some organized crime taskforce. Roscoe looked into his eyes – the man looked uncompromising, so engaging him in a bribery conversation did not look like an option. There was only one way out of the dilemma.
“We have been tracking your gang for the past few weeks….”
There was no smirk on the vagabond’s face. A circle had formed around him and Roscoe.
“You are under arrest—” He never got to finish the statement as Roscoe lunged and felled him with a flurry of fists striking at his torso. The vagabond pushed Roscoe off and staggered to a standing position. He spun around and landed a roundhouse kick squarely on Roscoe’s jaw, bringing him to an excruciating fall. They tumbled on the edge of the roaring river. Roscoe rapidly gained an upper hand. He dunked the head of the vagabond into muddy water at the edge of the river. He pushed the vagabond’s face deeper into the murk, grating his skin, his eyes popped out as his breath spurted out of his mouth sporadically. Roscoe unrelentingly applied his grip like vice throttling life out of the vagabond. “My- name- is- Roscoe.” Each word was accompanied by him dunking the vagabond’s head into the water.
The other gang members had engaged Mahlahla’s team, such that there were skirmishes happening all around. Ralph had thought that he would have it easy with the bartender and probably fulfill his fantasies. While at the bar, he had leeringly imagined himself exploring her curvaceous delights, but had been disappointed when she had shown more interest in his boss than him – now he would teach her a lesson. But Ralph badly miscalculated – he was lying sprawled out on the mud, unconscious in a few seconds.
The rain pelted forcefully, creating a furious roar that made it sound like there were thousands of spectators egging-on the participants involved in the brawl.
Mahlahla’s almost limp fingers scurried over the surface of the grimy soil in search of an object, he found a rock and floppily tossed it at Roscoe’s head but he missed. The burst of laughter that broke out meant that the game was up for him. A dark gloom enveloped him. Roscoe stood up. The vagabond lay lifeless –his eyes open and his tongue hung out as if preparing to lick the murky soil.
As Roscoe stumbled feebly away from the body, he heard Madeleine’s voice calling and warning him to stop. He ignored. The soft voice repeated the warning authoritatively. She backed up the warning by shooting into the air. Roscoe walked on. Two other shots crackled into the darkness but that did not stop Roscoe. The forth gunshot hit him on the temple, breaking his cranium. Roscoe’s brain splattered out just as he turned around and looked at her – his face filled with surprise. Roscoe fell onto the muddy ground like a marionette doll. The gunshots had brought all the scuffles to a halt. Roscoe’s gang had tried to run into the bush when they saw their leader fall but they were subdued.
Mahlahla came to. One of his men helped him up, and he saw Madeleine standing over a body. He woozily walked towards her. He did not revel in the death of the man, killing did not come easily but sometimes they did not have a choice. He put his arm around her for he understood what she was going through.
“I get the feeling that this is not the end.” He was sure that their bosses would celebrate and give her a commendation for a job well done. They would use the opportunity to crow about how they were fighting criminal gangs and would not stop until all criminals were in prisons, but as far as he was concerned, it was not over.
“You are right, he was just an enforcer. This is a war we might not win even if we cut off the head. We have just entered dangerous territory.”
Post image via African Digital Art
CJ Tahmla is the pseudonym for Fortune Nkosilathi Mateta. He is focussed on creating short stories. He is currently self-publishing on a local publishing platform, mazwi.co. He also has a blog for his short stories.
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