I sat down. The movement of her petite body was fluid, as though she were completely comfortable inside it. She sat down opposite me. Tucked up her legs, at home here. I wondered whether it was her place, where the money came from.

‘I, ah …’ She waved a hand. ‘This is a first for me, having a bodyguard …’

I wasn’t sure how to respond. The lights of the Christmas tree flicked their colours over her with monotonous regularity.

‘Maybe you could explain how it works,’ Emma said without embarrassment. ‘In practice, I mean.’

I wanted to say that if you order this service, you ought know how it works. There is no reference manual.

‘It’s simple really. To protect you I need to know what your movements are every day …’

‘Of course.’

‘And the nature of the threat.’

She nodded. ‘Well … I’m not exactly sure what the threat is. Some odd things have happened … Carel convinced me … You’ll meet him in a moment; he’s used your service before. I… there was an attack, yesterday morning …’

‘On you?’

‘Yes. Well, sort of… They broke down the door of my house and came in.’


‘Three men.’

‘Were they armed?’

‘No. Yes. They, urn … It happened so fast… I… I hardly saw them.’

I suppressed the urge to raise my eyebrows.

‘I know it sounds … peculiar,’ she said. I said nothing.

‘It was … strange, Mr Lemmer. Sort of… surreal.’

I nodded, encouraging her.

She looked at me intently for a moment and then leaned over to switch on a table lamp beside her.

‘I have a house in Oranjezicht,’ she said.

‘So this is not your permanent home?’

‘No … this is Card’s place. I’m just visiting. For Christmas.’

‘I see.’

‘Yesterday morning … I wanted to finish my work before packing for the weekend … My office … I work from home, you see. About half past nine I took a shower …’

Her story did not flow at first. She seemed reluctant to relive it. Her sentences were incomplete, hands quiet, her voice a polite, indifferent monotone. She gave more detail than the situation warranted. Perhaps she felt it lent credibility.

After her shower, she said she was dressing in her bedroom, one leg in her jeans, precariously balanced. She heard the garden gate open and through the lace curtain she saw three men move quickly and purposefully through the front garden. Before they disappeared from her field of vision on the way to the front door, she had registered that they were wearing balaclavas. They had blunt objects in their hands.

She was a modern single woman. Aware. She had often considered the possibility of being the victim of a crime and what her emergency response could be if the worst happened. Therefore, she stepped into the other leg of her jeans and hastily pulled them up over her hips. She was half dressed in only underwear and jeans, but the priority was to get to the panic button and be ready to sound the alarm. But not to press it yet, there was still the security gate and the burglar bars. She didn’t want the embarrassment of crying wolf.

Her bare feet moved swiftly across the carpet to the panic button on her bedroom wall. She lifted her finger and waited. Her heart thumped in her throat, but still she was in control. She heard the squeal of metal stubbornly bending and breaking. The security door was no longer secure. She pressed the alarm. It wailed out from the ceiling above and with the sound came a wave of panic.

Her narration seemed to draw her in and her hands began to communicate. Her voice developed a musical tone, the pitch rising.

Emma le Roux ran down the passage to the kitchen. She was fleetingly aware that burglars and thieves did not use this method. It fuelled her terror. In her haste she collided with the wooden back door with a dull thud. Her hands shook as she pulled back both bolts and turned the key in the lock. The second she jerked open the door she heard splintering in the hall, glass shattering. The front door was breached. They were in her house.

She took one step outside and stopped. Then turned back into the kitchen to grab a drying cloth from the sink. She wanted it to cover herself. Later she would scold herself for such an irrational act, but it was instinctive. Another fraction of a second she hesitated. Should she grab a weapon, a carving knife? She suppressed that impulse.

She ran into the bright sunlight with the drying cloth pressed to her breast. The neatly paved backyard was very small.

She looked at the high concrete wall that was meant to protect her, keep the world out. It was now keeping her in. For the first time she screamed ‘Help me!’ A distress call to neighbours she did not know – this was urban Cape Town, where you kept your distance, pulled up the drawbridge every night, kept yourself to yourself. She could hear them in the house behind her. One shouted something. Her eye caught the black rubbish bin against the concrete wall – a step to safety.

‘Help!’ she called between the undulating wails of the alarm.

Emma didn’t remember how she made it over the wall. But she did, in one or two adrenalin-fuelled movements. The drying cloth stayed behind in the process, so that she landed in her neighbour’s yard without it. Her left knee scraped against something. She felt no pain; only later would she notice the little rip in the denim.

‘Help me.’ Her voice was shrill and desperate. She crossed her arms across her bosom to preserve her decency and ran to the neighbour’s back door. ‘Help me!’

She heard the dustbin overturn and knew they were close behind. The door opened in front of her and a grizzled man in a red dressing gown with white dots came out. He had a rifle in his hand. Above his eyes the silver eyebrows grew long and dense, making wings across his forehead.

‘Help me,’ she said with relief in her voice.

The neighbour rested his eyes on her for a second, a grown woman with a boyish figure. Then he raised his eyebrows and his gaze to the wall behind her. He brought the rifle up to his shoulder and pointed it at the wall. She had almost reached him now and looked back. A balaclava appeared for an instant above the concrete.

The neighbour fired. The shot reverberated against the multiple walls around them and the bullet slammed into her house with a clapping sound. For three or four minutes after that she could not hear a thing. She stood close to her neighbour, trembling. He did not look at her. He worked the bolt of his rifle. A casing clinked to the cement, noiselessly to her deafened ears. The neighbour scanned the wall.

‘Bastards,’ he said as he aimed along the barrel. He swung the rifle horizontally to cover the whole front.

She didn’t know how long they stood there. The attackers had gone. Her hearing returned with a rushing sound, then she heard the alarm again. Eventually he slowly lowered the rifle and asked her in a voice full of concern and eastern Europe, ‘Are you all right, my darlink?’

She began to cry.


Her neighbour’s name was Jerzy Pajak. He led her into his house. He asked his wife, Alexa, to call the police, and then they clucked over her in Polish accents. He gave her a light blanket to cover her embarrassment, and sweet tea. Later they walked with her and two policemen to her house.

The steel security gate hung askew and the wooden front door was beyond repair. The coloured policeman was the more senior of the two, with stripes on the shoulders of his smart uniform. She thought he was a sergeant, but because she was unsure, she addressed them both as ‘mister’. He asked her to check whether anything had

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