Beasts of Prey

Aubrey Paton,  Sunday Times

 'Rob Marsh has done his adopted country an enormous favour, not only by exposing certain past crimes, but by presenting us with a new and perplexing antihero in the form of Captain Russell Kemp, a man whose conscience has sabotaged a once-promising career and his personal life as well'....more

Sonya Naude, Longevity Magazine

'South African characters and settings make for fresh, compelling reading. It's also a brutal reminder of the evil men do, that government organisations that are supposed to protect us, can sometimes be the worst culprits. I seriously couldn't put this book down and eagerly await Marsh's next thriller'...more



Monday, 4 January 1988

  Beneath a cloudless sky the land sweltered.

  During the night the sky above Phalaborwa had been rent by lightning and the air had quivered with thunder, then the rain had come. For an hour it had drummed on the corrugated tin roofs of the houses in the town, pouring into downpipes, submerging gardens and pavements alike.

  By dawn the town was already drying out again and by seven o’clock all that remained of the deluge were a few toppled trees, a memory of the wind and the rain and the lush fragrance of the African bush. Not a city smell, dry and dusty, but of verdant foliage, rich and fertile.

  The call came at just after nine o’clock that morning. Kemp was lying asleep on his disordered bed, still in the clothes he had worn the day before, when the telephone began its shrill ringing. Kemp let it ring. It was his day off and for the first time in months ?in years even ?he had slept without dreams, without nightmares.

  Three minutes later the phone was still ringing. Kemp, dragging himself upright, looked at his watch and then rubbed his face. “I’m coming,?he croaked, lurching out into the hallway, his heavy footsteps echoing off the walls of the empty house.

  “Where have you been??a voice demanded when Kemp picked up the telephone. “Come, man, get your shit together,?the voice continued when he was slow to answer. “You’ve a body to look at and Dlamini’s already on his way to collect you.?o:p>

  It was Colonel Lategan, the station commander at Phalaborwa police station. Kemp imagined him sitting red-faced and scowling at his desk. There would be beads of perspiration popping out on his brow, just as there always were when he was agitated.

  “What body??Kemp asked, suddenly becoming conscious of the oppressive heat within the house.

  “A male. Suicide by the sound of it. That’s all I know.?o:p>

  The Captain reflected indifferently on this new snippet of information. After all, a violent death was a violent death no matter who did the killing.

  “Are you still there??the Colonel said, interrupting his reverie.

  “Yes, I’m still here,?Kemp snapped. “Where do I find the dead man??o:p>

  “In the park. Drive to Shingwedzi. Ask for the camp manager.?o:p>

  “You need to send forensics as well,?Kemp said, but Lategan had already put down the phone.




  “The Lebombo Mountains,?the camp manager said, pointing off to his right. “The eastern border of the park. On the other side is Mozambique.?o:p>

  They were on a straight stretch of road and in the distance the air shimmered. The few animals they passed were standing motionless in the shade, taking refuge from the blazing sun.

  Herman Schutte was a large, bearded man. As the manager at Shingwedzi camp and an employee of the National Parks Board he wore the regulation dress of his profession: khaki shirt with green epaulets, khaki shorts, knee-length brown socks and soft brown walking shoes. Detective Captain Kemp sat next to him in the front of his Land Cruiser and Sergeant Silas Dlamini, the other half of the Phalaborwa Criminal Investigation Division, behind them in the rear.

  The two police officers had that morning driven from Phalaborwa to Shingwedzi, where they had transferred to Schutte’s Land Cruiser for the final leg of their journey to the water hole where the dead man awaited them. Inside the baking vehicle the temperature was at least thirty degrees centigrade, outside it was over forty. In their discomfort, neither of the police officers was paying the camp manager much attention and Kemp, who was suffering from a vicious migraine, was slumped up against the door pillar, eyes tightly shut against the glare.

  “The illegals from Mozambique come through the park because they think it’s an easy option,?the camp manager continued. “It isn’t. They think they’re heading for a land of milk and honey, but they’re not. The lions take a few of them every year, then, when they get a taste for human flesh, we have to put them down.?o:p>

  Clearly, the killing of the predators was Schutte’s main concern and not the deaths of their victims.

  “Are you saying that lions don’t normally attack people, Mr Schutte??Kemp asked, momentarily rousing himself. His head was pounding and every joint ached. Even opening his eyes was an effort.

  Hearing what appeared to be a note of genuine interest for the first time, the camp manager took his eyes off the road to study the Captain anew.

  Kemp was a tall, yellow-haired man with dark rings beneath his eyes. His clothes were creased and misshapen: a blue suit jacket over fading denims, a cream shirt un-ironed, and worn black shoes crusted with red clay; a man more at home in the city and clearly uncomfortable and out of place in the bush, someone who in his present dishevelled state would have passed as a down-and-out, a homeless person even, but never as a senior police officer.

  His Black Swazi companion, Sergeant Dlamini, was by contrast a precise and tidy man. Shorter and slimmer than Kemp, he was wearing a threadbare grey suit over a neatly pressed white shirt.

  “Most lions will run for cover when they see a human,? Schutte said, turning his eyes back to the road. “They’re scared of us, you see.?o:p>

  A herd of impala began slowly making its way across the tarmac up ahead, forcing Schutte to slow down. As the vehicle crawled towards them, Kemp began working through the pockets of his jacket. Eventually he found a tin box containing a number of small white tablets, one of which he popped into his mouth.

  “For a headache,?he announced, but he kept the box open on his thigh, counting the tablets, moving them around with a fingertip, though he saw to his horror that his hand was shaking.

  “You’re from the city, aren’t you, Captain??the camp manager said, looking across at him, as two young males standing in the middle of the road dropped their heads and briefly locked horns with a clatter before moving off into the bush.

  Kemp closed the lid and hid the box away again. “Yes. I grew up in Johannesburg. I was transferred here a few months ago.?o:p>

  He spoke slowly, like someone awakening from a deep and troubled sleep.

“Why were you transferred??o:p>

Kemp stared at him. It was the kind of question that a more considerate companion would never ask.

  “Because the powers-that-be reckoned I needed a change of scene,?he answered finally.

  “What does that mean??o:p>

  “It means I upset someone who was powerful enough to do something about it.?o:p>

  Surprisingly, Schutte nodded agreeably. “If you work for the government, sooner or later you must expect to get fucked over, Captain,?he said, with what sounded remarkably like sympathy.

  Kemp shrugged. “Yes, I think you may be right, Mr Schutte,? he said after a moment’s quiet reflection.



  Nine months earlier Kemp had been working on secondment with the Special Branch in Johannesburg. He had been “reassigned?to Phalaborwa’s detective division after yet another altercation with his superiors. This time it had been over the killing of a fifteen-year-old boy who had committed the capital offence of throwing a stone at a passing police vehicle.

  Kemp remembered the morning of his disciplinary hearing quite clearly. It was a typical chilly June day in Johannesburg; at pavement level perpetual shade and above the tall buildings that demarcated the city centre a square of clear blue sky.

  Inside Special Branch Headquarters in Johannesburg he had stepped out of the elevator into a barred cage on the fifth floor, then waited patiently while the uniformed officer on guard duty had risen from his small desk to unlock the gate. Only after Kemp had shown his warrant card and given his name and number ?and these details had been duly recorded in the man’s laborious longhand ?had he been allowed to head down the corridor.

  In many respects, Special Branch Headquarters was no different from any other government building in the republic: the same bare walls, the same tired government-issue green paint, the same smell of floor polish and the same notice boards bursting with the same out-of-date memos.

  Lieutenant-Colonel Carel Boonzaier, his commanding officer, was sitting at his desk in his shirtsleeves when Kemp walked into his office.

  “Please take a seat, Captain,?he said, glancing up for a moment before returning his attention to the paperwork that lay on the desk in front of him.

  Waiting for the meeting to begin, Kemp took stock of his superior.

  The Lieutenant-Colonel was a bloated, red-faced man with the blue-veined nose of a seasoned drinker. Around his colossal chest his shirt was stretched to breaking point, the collar bursting apart beneath the tie knot.

  Judged solely on his appearance the Lieutenant-Colonel should have been a slow thinker, even a man promoted beyond his capabilities, but appearances can be deceptive.

  Holding a doctorate in political science and as a staunch and vociferous disciple of what he called the “Old Order? Carel Boonzaier remained a rock in the swirling river of change that was sweeping through the country. He insisted on speaking only Afrikaans, although Kemp knew that his English was cultured and articulate. But then the Jews, the Blacks, the Coloureds, the Communists and the English-speaking White Liberals were all the same to the Lieutenant-Colonel: traitors, spies and dangerous subversives.

  Though a dinosaur in what was quickly becoming the “New South Africa?he nevertheless remained a man of considerable influence and power and, as Kemp knew from personal experience, he could also be both sadistic and violent. He was not someone to cross.

  “You’re a good investigator but you’re also a loose cannon, you know that, don’t you, Captain??Boonzaier remarked lazily, finally turning his attention to Kemp.

  Kemp furrowed his brow. “Am I, sir??he asked. “A good investigator, I mean??o:p>

  The Lieutenant-Colonel’s expression never changed. Staring across the desk at Kemp he leant back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head and showing the damp rings under his armpits.

  “You don’t have many friends, do you, Captain??he said.

  It was such an honest appraisal it hardly seemed worth arguing the point. “I’m afraid I have to agree, sir,? Kemp conceded.

  “No one in your corner, to speak up on your behalf, I mean.?o:p>

  “Are we talking about my altercation with the General, sir??he asked.

  “In part, yes.?o:p>

  “I have to admit that no one has leapt to my defence, sir.?o:p>

  “No, nor are they likely to,?the Lieutenant-Colonel reminded him.

  Kemp mustered his most dignified face. “I just don’t happen to believe you can go around shooting people without just cause,?he said.

  After twenty years of active service in the police force, he was one of those rare individuals who had never unholstered his firearm, let alone shot anyone.

  “And who, apart from you that is, said there wasn’t just cause??Boonzaier asked.

  For a moment Kemp was thrown off by the quiet venom in the Lieutenant- Colonel’s voice. But it was also a good question. It was just a pity he didn’t have a good answer.

  “All the boy did was throw a stone,?he finally said.

  “Ah! He threw a stone. And next week it would have been a hand grenade or a petrol bomb.?o:p>

  “Maybe, but when . . .?o:p>

  “I don’t like you, Kemp,?the Lieutenant-Colonel said, waving him to silence. “I don’t like you and I never have. That’s why I’m having you transferred out of Special Branch to where you can do the least harm.?o:p>

  “What do you mean by ‘transferred??Kemp asked incredulously.

  “Transferred. Moved out. Reassigned,?Boonzaier said.

  Kemp ignored the sarcasm. “Where to??he asked.


  “For telling the truth??o:p>

  “No, for being a fool. For not knowing when to keep your mouth shut.?o:p>

  “And that’s a punishable offence is it??o:p>

  “It is now,?Boonzaier said pleasantly, steepling his hands on the desk.

  Strangely, the most vivid recollection Kemp had of that unpleasant meeting with his superior officer that morning was not the conversation they shared, or of the disordered office with its dirty coffee cups and stacks of dog-eared files, but rather of one small, inconspicuous family photograph.

  In his younger days Carel Boonzaier had been a rugby player of some note and photographs of his exploits were on display on the walls. The wall behind the desk was devoted to framed newspaper cuttings, now all yellowing with age: pictures of Boonzaier the Provincial lock forward ?scoring a try in one scene, being helped from the pitch in another, holding a trophy aloft in a third.

  There were pictures of his family too. Holiday snaps in the main, though one or two professional portraits also. One, for example, showed him in uniform sitting in a studio next to a plain, dark-haired woman, flanked by their two grown-up sons, all four of them stiff and uncomfortable before the camera.

  The picture that stuck in Kemp’s mind, however, was not placed centre stage, but was pinned to an overflowing notice board behind a tall bookcase lined with leather-bound law books. Not hidden so much as kept out of view. He could see a corner of the photograph from where he was sitting and went to look at it when Boonzaier left the room to collect his transfer forms. It had turned out to be an ancient black-and-white picture showing a very much younger Boonzaier, a teenager perhaps, standing in dripping swimming shorts beside a pool, having just emerged from the water. But it wasn’t Boonzaier who had caught Kemp’s eye, it was the man next to him, the man who was grinning as he held out a towel to his much younger companion: Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.


  “I don’t like the city,?Schutte said, bringing the Captain back to the present. “And Johannesburg . . .?He pulled a face. “No, you can keep it, as far as I’m concerned.?o:p>

  Kemp shrugged noncommittally. The Johannesburg that he recalled was full of unpleasant memories.

  The camp manager sniffed. “We get one or two suicides in the park every year,?he said, changing the subject.

  “How do you know it’s a suicide, Mr Schutte??Kemp asked.

  “Because it’s either suicide or murder . . . and murders don’t happen in the Kruger National Park, Captain, that’s why,?the camp manager said. “We just get these city people. They come up here, book themselves in somewhere for a few nights and then . . .?o:p>

  “And how do you explain that??Kemp asked. “The fact that some people come here to kill themselves, I mean??o:p>

  “Everything can seem much simpler here sometimes . . .? the camp manager said.

  That was a very interesting hypothesis, Kemp thought. It was also one without precedent as far as he was concerned. In fact, it was something he had never considered ?a suitable location for suicide, that is, not the act itself. The night before, for example, he had taken out his service revolver, cocked the weapon and held the barrel to his head. At the time he had been sitting in the living room of his house, contemplating a glorious oblivion. Even now he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t pulled the trigger. Perhaps things would have ended differently had he earlier on ventured out into the garden.



  Five minutes later they turned off the tarmac and onto a narrow dirt road that vanished into deep bush. Between the wheel ruts tall Guinea grass scratched against the underside of their Toyota. After a kilometre or so they drove across a stretch of open land where a lone baobab tree stood out bleakly against the sky then back into thick bush again. In the shimmering distance was a line of mottled hills, lying on the horizon like a string of ancient vertebrae.

  The track ended in a clearing about the size of a cricket pitch; a dry and dusty bowl pitted with animal tracks and fringed by a circle of trees. It was here that the body, or at least what was left of it, had been found by one of the park’s game rangers. Alerted by the sound of a pack of hyenas so close to a well-used tourist track, he had investigated. It had been immediately obvious to him that the corpse they were fighting over was human, but the animals were so aggressive that he had had to charge them with his vehicle and twice discharge his rifle into the air to get them to disperse.

  When the hyenas had retreated to a safe distance, the ranger had approached. By then only the head and upper torso of the victim remained reasonably intact. Below the breastbone was a torn abdomen and spilled entrails, a third of a body, no more. Though, amazingly, the upper right side of the victim’s body was completely untouched, with the arm and shoulder in place and free of bite marks ?the limb in question outstretched, with the hand seemingly grasping for the revolver that lay nearby, almost as if the dead man had been trying to reach for the weapon as he fell.

  The ranger had covered what was left of the body with a length of canvas sheeting from the back of his truck and had then radioed the camp manager at Shingwedzi to report his gruesome discovery.

  By the time the camp manager parked his Land Cruiser under the trees, alongside the other two vehicles, the incident site had already been marked out with police tape and the two crime scene officers were sitting in the shade with the game ranger who had made the original discovery, all awaiting Kemp’s arrival.

  Ignoring the others, Kemp climbed out of the Land Cruiser and went to stand at the edge of the clearing. The air was full of birdcalls and the ticking of cicadas and the tablet he had taken a short while before had brought on a pleasant light-headed numbness, replacing the migraine that had sprung up so suddenly on the journey with a gentle euphoria.

  He gazed at the canvas sheet covering the victim. The smell of putrid meat hung heavily in the air, yet above the body a cloud of butterflies floated gently in the breeze, wings aglitter in the sunlight.

  The camp manager had remained standing next to the Land Cruiser, where he was swiftly joined by his colleague and soon the two men were in deep conversation together. Sergeant Dlamini, meanwhile, had moved away to one side and was writing in a notebook.

  A few seconds later Sergeant Swanepoel, one of the crime scene officers, came to stand at Kemp’s shoulder. For a while the two of them stood in silent contemplation of the corpse.

  “It’s a nice morning, George,?Kemp remarked finally.

  His companion remained unconvinced. “You think so??he said.

  “So what can you tell me??o:p>

  “The victim’s name is Johan Coetzee. We found his wallet in the car. His ID was inside. Louis photographed it in situ, then I had a quick look inside and put it back. My guess is that he came out here this morning, put a bullet in his brain then got himself half eaten by hyenas.?o:p>

  Kemp glanced around. The other crime scene officer was still standing in the shade, camera in hand.

  “Has Louis finished taking photographs yet??he asked.

  “More or less.?o:p>

  “Have you looked at the body??o:p>

  The sergeant pulled a face. “Yes, and I’ve taken swabs from his hand to check for gunpowder residue.?o:p>


  Kemp steeled himself for what was to come. The area immediately around the body was a brown wasteland of dust and bare earth splattered with a trail of blood and gore stretching back to the water hole.

  “What about the rest of him??he asked, staring around.

  “We found one of his legs,?Swanepoel said.

  Kemp frowned at the thought. Looking around he spotted a bright orange traffic cone half hidden amongst some bushes.

  “I’m sorry I missed that,?he said.

  “We had to bring it in otherwise the hyenas would have taken it.?o:p>

  “Where is it now??o:p>

  “We wrapped it in plastic and put it in the boot of his car.?o:p>

  Kemp regarded the back of the victim’s Ford with new eyes. That was one piece of information that the next owner of the vehicle would probably not want to know.

  “Have you gone over the vehicle??he asked.

  Instead of answering, the sergeant merely shrugged.

  The clearing was an oven, the heat relentless. On the far side of the water hole a pair of yellow-billed hornbills swooped down to the ground, poked their long beaks into some dried elephant dung, then hopped back into the shade.

  Kemp felt a surge of apprehension and though his stare remained fixed on the birds his mind was a jumble of disjointed images: one second he was at the crime scene, the next he was with his angry daughter in Johannesburg, then he was sitting in his kitchen in a house full of echoes with a gun upon his knee.

  “Time to go to work,?he said brusquely, turning and heading back towards the trees.

  He returned to the crime scene wearing plastic gloves and overshoes, walked over to the victim’s vehicle, peered through the windows, then opened the front passenger-side door. Lying in the passenger footwell was the victim’s wallet, which he removed. It contained a standard Republic of South Africa green Identification Document, thirty rand in cash and a small wedding photograph dated 1984: a head-and-shoulders shot showing the dead man and his wife, both smiling happily for the camera. Kemp then turned his attention to the victim.

  One of Constable Ontong’s photographs ?a long shot taken from the edge of the clearing ?shows Kemp standing next to the dismembered corpse, gazing down at the torn abdomen and spilled entrails. There is a look of exhaustion in his face. He’s bending forward, his straight arms pressed down on his knees, like a tired runner. Far behind him, in the background, are the blurred head and shoulders of a giraffe, a dark silhouette set against a frame of glinting trees.

  There are other photographs too ?of a jacketless Kemp making notes on a writing pad; of him swallowing another tablet from the tin box he kept in his pocket; of Kemp and Sergeant Dlamini taking measurements around the body; of the two Parks Board officials sharing a cigarette beneath the trees ?but there is no sense of urgency in any of the pictures. Rather the opposite, in fact. The impression gained is that all the detectives ?Kemp in particular ?are merely going through the motions, that instead of an enquiry gathering pace, one was witnessing an investigation slowly winding down.


  Doctor Francine van Zyl, the local district surgeon and acting pathologist, drove into the clearing thirty minutes after Kemp and Sergeant Dlamini had begun their work. She parked her Land Rover close to the other three vehicles, then, pulling on a wide-brimmed straw hat, stepped out into the shade.

  The Doctor was small and neat; a slim, plain-looking thirty-five-year-old woman with dark eyes and brown hair drawn back into a ponytail. Beneath her white coat she was wearing a pink cotton dress bedecked with small white flowers.

  “It’s good of you to make time to see us, Doctor,?Kemp said, reaching into the back of the Doctor’s Defender to retrieve her medical bag.

  “You should be wearing a hat in this heat, Captain,?she said indifferently, checking out the clearing ?the police officers and Parks Board officials gathered in the shade ? the place where the corpse awaited her.

  “Are you sick??she asked, looking back at him.

  “What do you mean??o:p>

  “You look sick.?o:p>

  “I have a migraine.?o:p>

  “Have you taken anything for it??o:p>

  “I have some pethidine tablets.?o:p>

  “Then you need to be careful.?o:p>

  “I am careful.?o:p>

  That was when she glanced at him: head to toe, a professional appraisal.  

  “Maybe not careful enough,?she said.

  “I don’t know what you mean.?o:p>

  “You’ve lost weight.?o:p>

  “I’ve been on a diet.?o:p>

  She gave him a cool look. “And your eyes? Have they been on a diet too??o:p>

  “I don’t know what you mean.?o:p>



  “Miosis . . . your pupils are like pinpricks. You don’t get that from dieting.?o:p>

  Kemp’s face became taut, like he had suddenly heard bad news, but by the time he opened his mouth to say something the Doctor was already striding towards the water hole.

  Kemp went after her.

  “I take it that forensics have finished??she said as he caught up with her.


  “Right, I’ll get to work then,?she said as she helped herself to a pair of latex gloves from the bag Kemp was holding and stepped over to the corpse.  

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