When P.I. Jade de Jong invites Superintendent David Patel on a scuba diving holiday in St. Lucia, she hopes the time away will rebuild their conflicted relationship. Jade's dreams are soon shattered when David calls off their affair, forcing her into the arms of environmentalist Craig Niewoudt. But the next morning, romantic issues are put aside when a scuba diving instructor, Amanda Bolton, is found brutally stabbed to death. Amanda is a most unlikely candidate for murder-a quiet and intelligent woman who until a few months ago pursued a high-powered career as an air traffic controller. She had few acquaintances and no lovers. The only loose end is a postcard in her room from Jo'burg-based Themba Msamaya, asking how she is doing "after 813 and The Fallen." Jade and David put their differences aside and start the deadly hunt.
Themba Msamaya didn’t suspect a thing on the morning he
opened his door to death.
He was halfway through his first cup of tea when the knock
came. Over the past few months, he’d developed something of a
ritual. He’d get up early, boil the kettle and dunk a bag of cheap,
Shoprite own-brand tea into a chipped South African Airways
mug. He’d learned to do without milk, but a teaspoon of sugar
was an essential he couldn’t forego. Black tea didn’t have to be so
strong—it tasted better weak, in fact—and he had discovered
one teabag could easily stretch to two mugs.
He would drink the steaming, reddish brew while sitting at
the desk in his tiny Yeoville bedsit, yesterday’s papers open at
the Classifieds, his elderly laptop ready to browse the Jobsearch
Over the last few days, his searching had become more stressful,
because his useless Internet connection, slow at best and
unreliable at worst, was close to reaching its cap. He’d nearly
got through the five hundred megabytes that his low-spec package
allowed him, God knew how, seeing it was only the twentysecond
of the month, and all he’d been using it for was trying to
find work. But once the threshold was reached, he would be cut
off. Rudely, instantly and without any warning. It had happened
a couple of times recently, once while he was right in the middle
of sending off his cv.
Today, JobSA was slow to load and Workopolis had no new
listings, but his favourite site, nats Careers, was advertising a
position that looked promising.
Email us your application and cv, the advert read. All companies
required candidates to do that these days. Phone calls appeared
to have become redundant.
A quick read through the well-worded cv that he’d paid a
specialist company to put together for him five months ago. Now
he wished he hadn’t wasted the money on it.
Did he need to change anything in the accompanying letter?
He scanned the document once more, slowly, even though he
knew the damn thing off by heart. He thought it sounded fine.
As fine as was possible, at any rate. He attached it and pressed
‘Send’, willing the email to go through the first time, praying
that the connection would not drop, as it often did, forcing him
to repeat the task and gobbling up even more of his precious
A series of clanging sounds and shouts from outside disturbed
his concentration, and he looked up, frowning. Was this his
neighbour causing trouble again? Themba didn’t know him by
name, but he was convinced the guy was a drug dealer. People
were in and out of that room at all hours, talking, partying,
banging on his door late into the night, and occasionally on
Themba’s door by mistake; and just last week he had overheard
an argument that had ended in a gunshot.
No, it couldn’t have been his drug-dealing neighbour. The
morning after the gunshot, he’d been on his way to the shops
when he’d seen the man hurrying down to the garage, carrying
what looked like a hastily packed gym bag, half zipped up, in one
hand, and his firearm in the other. A few minutes later, Themba
had heard the unmistakable roar of his black, souped-up, spoilerdecorated
bmw. The man had left and, as far as he knew, he hadn’t
been back since.
Then Themba realised what the sound was. It was the dustbins
being emptied. There had been a municipal strike for weeks,
and the bins lined up on the uneven paving outside the building
had quickly gone from full to overflowing. Black bags had split
open and vomited their contents onto the pavement and into the
road. Those that hadn’t split had been torn apart—by stray dogs
or vagrants or both, he guessed. Crumpled plastic now littered
the sidewalks, mushy piles of leftover food had swiftly started
stinking in the heat, and dirty nappies disgorged their foul
contents, which were soon blanketed by flies.
Now he could hear the loud drone of the garbage truck and the
clanking of its crushing mechanism. Above this, the shouts of the
workers, more clanging as empty metal dustbins were flung on
their sides, and the clatter of the plastic wheelie bins being upended.
And then a second, closer sound, only just audible above the
racket. A quick, polite-sounding rat-tat-tat on his door.
Themba glanced at the email. It looked like it was going through.
Then he got up from his wooden chair and squeezed past his bed.
As he wasn’t expecting anyone, he was sure that whoever was
outside the door was yet another customer looking for his drugdealer
He twisted the Yale latch open with his right hand, pulled the
door handle down with his left, and opened the door a crack,
snapping out a rather irritated ‘Yes?’ before squinting out into
the shady corridor.
That one word was all he had time for. The door exploded
open, its handle wrenched out of his hand, its edge smashing
against his temple as he staggered backwards and a sharp, stabbing
pain lanced through his gut.
Themba slammed against the rickety desk and sprawled down
onto the floor, blinking as hot rivulets of spilled tea splashed
down onto his face.
And then a black-clad figure wearing a dark mask was inside,
standing over him. The pain in his stomach was dreadful; he
could taste blood in his mouth, but in his shock he hadn’t begun
to associate any of this with the slim black handle that now jutted
from his midriff.
Until his assailant leaned forward, grasped the handle with a
gloved hand, and pulled.
The pain was sickening. Themba screamed, a shrill, breathy
sound, and clamped his hands over the deep gash, now pouring
blood. He glanced up, only to see the knife coming at him again.
‘Don’t . . .’ he begged, but his voice had reduced to a whisper.
He mouthed the words, ‘Please don’t.’
He wanted to plead for his life, to explain that this wasn’t fair,
that this was the wrong room, that he was not the right man.
That he didn’t deal in drugs and never had. That this was all a
But there was no time.
He tried to stop the blade, tried to grab it with his right hand,
but it sliced cleanly through his palm and buried itself in his
And then his attacker was gone.
Themba found he couldn’t move. He wanted to cough, but he
couldn’t do that either. All he could do was lie in his own blood,
watching as a dark mist rushed to cover the smeary ceiling.
Outside, the clanging of the garbage truck faded into silence.
Jade de Jong was fighting to convince herself she wasn’t going to
She was six and a half metres under the surface of the sea and
sinking, with tons upon tons of water forcing her downwards.
She was burying herself in a pale-blue grave, every movement of
her fins taking her closer to the ocean’s sandy floor and further
from the sky and sun above.
She reached out in front of her, striking forward, pushing just
a tiny fraction of all that water aside, noticing that her cupped
hand looked sickly white in the dim light. Like a sea spectre. Or
perhaps more like a corpse.
The thought paralysed her with fear—she was unable to keep
going down, unable now even to breathe. Just as she had been on
the dive before. And the dive before that.
God, get me out of here, she thought frantically. She knew
how easy it would be to escape. A few kicks with her flippers and
she could be hurtling up out of the depths, shooting to the
surface, ripping the mask off her face. The next big breath she
took could be real air. Proper air, not the dry-tasting canned
stuff in the tanks on her back.
With her heart banging so hard she was sure it must be sending
a subsonic message of panic to all sea life within a two-kilometre
radius, Jade forced herself to stay put. She did what
Amanda Bolton, her personal scuba-diving trainer, had told her
to do. Gently exhale and send a rush of bubbles upwards. Then
breathe in again. Slowly and easily. She had to force herself to
relax, a command that Jade had realised on her first dive was
physically impossible. This time, though, she managed to keep
her fear at bay. She took a long, relieved gulp of air and then
signalled to the wet-suited figure who was a few metres in front
of her and looking at her enquiringly, waiting for her to communicate
what she wanted to do next.
Closing her fist with her thumb towards the surface, Jade
Get me out of here.
Amanda signalled back ‘ok’. Escaping locks of her dark hair
swirled, mermaid-like, around her face. Then she made another
sign that Jade knew meant: slow. Take it slow going up. No
As Jade kicked towards the surface, she saw a shoal of fish
swimming past. Small silvery-looking fish that seemed almost
impossibly bright in the clear water—a scattering of marquisecut
diamonds on an aquamarine backdrop. They swam fast and
purposefully, as if they were late for an important appointment.
Pretty, yes. But worth the dive? Jade didn’t think so. And as
for the rest of the sea life she’d heard so much about but hadn’t
seen yet, like the huge leatherback and loggerhead turtles that
the St Lucia estuary was famous for—well, she was sure there’d
be some in a glass tank, ready for viewing, at uShaka Marine
World in Durban.
Jade had thought learning to scuba dive would be easy, but it
was proving to be the opposite. She’d managed her training
dives—eventually—but open water terrified her, and she had
never thought it would.
She’d expected that she’d take after her mother in this regard,
as she did in so many other ways. Her late father had been a
reluctant swimmer, a man much more comfortable out of the
sea than in it. Although he’d never spoken much about her
mother, Jade was certain that she remembered him saying once
how much she had loved scuba diving.
Now she realised she must have inherited her father’s dislike
of the ocean.
At last she broke the surface and pulled off her claustrophobic
mask. Treading water, she looked up gratefully at the cloudless
sky and felt the coolness of the air against her face. It wouldn’t
have this effect for long—not in this heat, with the humidity
smothering the estuary like a pillow, but the first few minutes
out of the water always felt refreshing.
Miles of sea all around her in every direction, stretching all
the way to the horizon on the seaward side, and the faraway rolling
outline of the forested dunes on the shoreward side. The
vastness of that distance didn’t worry Jade too much. It was the
depths below her that gave her the shivers.
Then Amanda surfaced beside her.
‘Short break?’ she suggested.
Jade nodded and they swam over to the dive boat waiting
nearby and clambered on board.
‘Well, that seemed to go better,’ Amanda said in an accent
that Jade had originally thought was from southern England, but
which she had laughingly confessed was pure East End. ‘Fifteen
minutes under, this time. That’s two minutes longer than on the
last dive, and you went further, too. Quite an improvement, I
think. How do you feel?’
‘It still doesn’t feel like my environment. I’m just not comfortable
going so deep, although I know by scuba standards six
metres is barely underwater.’
Bending over, she eased her fins
off, then unzipped the wetsuit, which was already feeling too
warm, and pulled it down off her shoulders.
‘You’ll get there, don’t you worry. Most people take to it like
a fish to water, ’scuse the pun, but some never get the hang of it.
Others learn how to do it, but just don’t like it.’
‘Does that ever change?’ Jade asked, glancing longingly at her
T-shirt and shorts that were folded up on the bench.
‘Oh, it often does.’
Amanda sounded so chirpy that Jade had no idea whether she
was humouring her or not.
‘Just you wait. In a couple more days, we’ll have you out on
the big boat, diving in a group with your boyfriend. That’s where
you really want to be, isn’t it?’
Jade didn’t miss the sympathy in her voice. But she couldn’t
argue with her, because the scuba instructor was spot on. One
hundred per cent correct. She didn’t want to be here, taking
private lessons that were being offered at no extra charge, thanks
to Amanda’s kind-heartedness. She did want to be out on the big
boat with police Superintendent David Patel, who might or
might not be her boyfriend, but who was most definitely going
to be her partner on this trip.
David already knew how to scuba dive, so Jade’s plan had been
for her to complete the diving course with a couple of other
beginners at the resort, which rejoiced in the name of Scuba
Sands, and then to join David in exploring the rich coral reefs
that lined the estuary in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park—reefs
that Jade had been interested to learn were the southernmost in
But nothing had gone as planned.
Jade’s own fear of open water had held her back. The other
beginners had completed the course without trouble and had left
that morning for a full-day’s diving out on the reef with Monique
du Preez, the other instructor.
And David wasn’t even at the resort yet. He’d been supposed
to drive down with Jade at the start of the week, but he had
been delayed in Jo’burg after a drug-smuggling case he was
working on had, in his own words, ‘hit the bloody fan harder
than a shit-bomb’.
He’d messaged her last night to say that he was getting an afternoon
flight from Jo’burg today and would be landing at King
Shaka International Airport in Durban at four-thirty. As soon as
she and Amanda got back to shore, Jade would set off to fetch him.
But before that, she had one more dive still to get through.
She stepped over to the prow of the boat and grasped the
metal railing. Just a few minutes out of the water and she was
already starting to feel sweaty in the oppressive humidity. The
sea was as flat and still as a pond, and the sun burned down from
a metallic sky.
‘I’m not used to failing,’ she admitted. It was easier to say the
words when she wasn’t looking at the other woman. ‘Up till now,
I’ve always managed to do everything I’ve wanted to do. Some
things have been easy, like . . .’
She stopped herself. She’d been going to say: like shooting.
That had come naturally to Jade. The first gun she had fired at
the age of twelve had been a rifle almost as tall as she was, and
she’d hit her target—a Coke can—at a distance of more than a
Admittedly, that gun had had telescopic sights. But the handguns
she’d fired since then had not. Guns felt like an extension of
her own body; shooting was almost as instinctive as breathing.
She had made a promise, though, that she wasn’t going to talk
about her work activities on this holiday. Not with David there.
Her ability to shoot, and what she had used it for, had caused
problems between them that, at one stage, Jade had feared were
permanent and would never be resolved.
Amanda laughed, obviously misinterpreting Jade’s sudden
silence. ‘Yeah, I know. You can never remember all the things you
can do easily when you’re thinking about the one thing you can’t.’
‘Cycling,’ Jade said, picking a safer subject. ‘I love to cycle. I
bought a mountain bike a while ago and I try to get out on it at
least three times a week. I’m good with uphills. They don’t bother
me at all. Not when I’m cycling or when I’m running. I do that
as well, and I’ve been training myself to run barefoot.’
‘Well, that’s incredible. Hills just about kill me, whether I’m on
a bike or my own two feet. But I can see you keep yourself fit.’
‘I’d like to do the long cycle races one day. The 94.7 kilometre
one up in Jo’burg and the Cape Argus.’
‘Ah,’ Amanda said. ‘And have you done the L’Eroica Chianti
cycling race in Italy? I was wondering when I saw your shirt.’
Jade glanced across at her faded T-shirt that had, indeed, been
a free gift to all entrants from the race organisers a few years
back. She hadn’t completed the ride, though. She’d been assigned
as security detail to a wealthy British businessman’s wife who’d
gone there hoping to cycle the medium-distance route. But the
woman hadn’t put in nearly enough training for the tough,
135-kilometre course over rough, hilly terrain, and she’d been
forced to retire before she’d even reached the halfway point.
That meant that, as her bodyguard, Jade had had to swallow her
disappointment and put her own bicycle in the back of the pickup
van together with her client’s when it came round to collect
‘I didn’t finish it,’ she said. ‘I was there with a client who pulled
out before the halfway mark. I was disappointed, but there was
nothing I could do. It felt like a failure, too, even though it wasn’t
Amanda gave a small nod and a shadow crossed her face.
‘Failure’s never easy to cope with,’ she said in a soft voice.
‘Especially when it’s not your fault.’
Her hand strayed to the small gold airplane pendant that she
wore on a chain around her neck, and she slid it from side to
side; an instinctive gesture that Jade had seen her make before,
but thought Amanda herself was unaware of.
Taking comfort from the familiar action, perhaps.
Jade wondered what failure Amanda had experienced. Whatever
it was, she clearly didn’t want to talk about it, and Jade wasn’t
going to ask.
Changing the topic, she said, ‘That’s a pretty piece of jewellery.’
The dark-haired woman smiled.
‘My mother gave it to me when I started work at Heathrow.’
Now Amanda’s smile widened. ‘No. Actually, I’m an air-traffic
controller. I started out in England and then travelled around
the world. That’s what I’m qualified to do; what I’ve always
done. The scuba diving is just a hobby, really.’
Jade nodded, hoping her surprise didn’t show on her face.
She’d never have imagined that the woman who had been so
patiently teaching her to dive had held down one of the toughest
and most responsible jobs in the world—co-ordinating the
approach and departure of airplanes at what must be one of the
world’s busiest commercial airports.
‘I see,’ she said. ‘Sorry.’
‘Underestimating your abilities.’
‘You wouldn’t be the first one to do that. People see a dive
instructor in her thirties, working in a little resort like this, and
they assume she’s a drifter who never had any ambitions in life.
At least you asked.’
‘That was my old life,’ Amanda continued. ‘Up until last year.
I’ve been here almost six months now.’
‘Are you enjoying the change? It must be far less stressful.’
Jade had thought Amanda would agree, but instead she looked
‘Not really,’ she said.
Her words struck a chord with Jade. Made her reflect on her
own situation. She was qualified as a bodyguard and had years of
experience as a private investigator, working on her own and
with big firms. But that might well have to change now.
She knew David didn’t approve of the work she did, because
of the danger to which it exposed her. Not to mention the fact
that in solving her cases she often chose to go beyond the law, or
that some of the cases she handled were not legal at all.
Could she do what Amanda had done? Turn her back on her
previous life and start afresh doing something else? And if so,
what on earth would that new career involve? Would it be too
late to finish the law degree she’d started long ago, before she
had decided that her heart and her talent lay elsewhere?
One thing was for sure—becoming a scuba-diving instructor
was definitely out of the question.
‘Shall we go under again? Aim for sixteen minutes this time?’
Jade dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands. One
more dive. Another visit to the depths. The time stretched ahead
of her, endless as a prison sentence, but she had to do it. The
only thing she feared more than being under the water was
giving up on trying.
‘Ok. Let’s give it a go,’ she said.