Devil's Peak

Deon Meyer

English language translation copyright 2007 by K. L. Seegers

Also by Deon Meyer

Heart of the Hunter

Dead at Daybreak

Dead Before Dying

Dedicated to my wife, Anita




The moment before the clergyman folded back the carton flaps the world stood still and she saw everything with a greater clarity. The robust man in his middle years had a diamond-shaped birthmark on his cheek that looked like a distorted pale rose teardrop. His face was angular and strong, his thinning hair combed back, his hands massive and rough, like those of a boxer. The books behind him covered the whole wall in a mosaic of alternating colors. The late afternoon Free State sun threw a shaft of light onto the desktop, a magic sunbeam across the box.

She pressed her hands lightly against the coolness of her bare knees. Her hands were perspiring, her eyes searching for clues in the slightest shift of his expression, but she saw only calm, perhaps some suppressed, benign curiosity about the content of the carton. In the moment before he lifted the flaps, she tried to see herself as he saw her?evaluate the impression she was trying to create. The shops in town had been no help; she had to use what she had. Her hair was long, straight and clean, the multicolored blouse sleeveless; a shade too tight, perhaps, for this occasion, for him? A white skirt that had shifted up to just above her knees as she sat down. Her legs were smooth and lovely. White sandals. Little gold buckles. Her toenails unpainted, of that she had made sure. Just a single ring, a thin gold band on her right hand. Her make-up was light, delicately downplaying the fullness of her mouth.

Nothing to betray her. Apart from her eyes and her voice.

He lifted the flaps, one after the other, and she realized she was sitting on the edge of the armchair, leaning forward. She wanted to lean back, but not now, she must wait for his reaction.

The last flap was folded back, the box open.

?Liewe Genade,?

he said in Afrikaans and half rose to his feet.

Sweet Mercy.

He looked at her, but he seemed not to see her and his attention returned to the contents of the box. He thrust one of his big hands in, took something out and held it up to the sun.

?Sweet mercy,? he repeated with his hands in front of him. His fingers felt for authenticity.

She sat motionless. She knew his reaction would determine everything. Her heart thumped, she could even hear it.

He replaced the object in the carton, retracted his hands, leaving the flaps open. He sat again, taking a deep breath as if he wanted to compose himself and then looked up at her. What was he thinking? What?

Then he pushed the carton to one side, as if he didn?t want it to come between them.

?I saw you yesterday. In church.?

She nodded. She had been there?to take his measure. To see if she would be recognized. But it was impossible, since she had attracted so much attention anyway?a strange young woman in a small town church. He preached well, with compassion, with love in his voice, not so dramatic and formal as the ministers of her youth. When she walked out of the church she was certain it was right to come here. But now she wasn?t so sure . . . He seemed upset.

?I . . .? she said, her thoughts scrambling for the right words.

He leaned towards her. He needed an explanation; that she well understood. His arms and hands made a straight line on the edge of the desk, from elbow to interlinked fingers flat on the desk. He was wearing a formal shirt unbuttoned at the neck, light blue with a faint red stripe. His sleeves were rolled up, forearms hairy where the sun caught them. From outside came the sounds of a weekday afternoon in a small town?the Sotho people greeting one another across the breadth of the street, the municipal tractor accelerating duh-duh-duh up to the garage, the cicadas, the clanging beat of a hammer alternating with the mindless barking of two dogs.

?There?s a lot I have to tell you,? she said, and her voice sounded small and lost.

At last he moved, his hands folded open.

?I hardly know where to start.?

?Begin at the beginning,? he said softly, and she was grateful for the empathy.

?The beginning,? she approved, voice gaining strength. Her fingers gathered the long blonde hair from where it hung over her shoulder and tossed it back with a rhythmic, practiced motion.


It began for Thobela Mpayipheli late on a Saturday afternoon at a filling station in Cathcart.

Pakamile was seated beside him, eight years old, bored and tired. The long road from Amersfoort lay behind them, seven dreary hours of driving. When they turned in at the garage the child sighed. ?Still sixty kilometers??

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