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Read a free extract from The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer



Read the opening of The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer



The Dark Flood is coming Thursday 14th April




Captain Benny Griessel heard the racing footsteps, the urgent shout; his Hawks colleague Vusi Ndabeni calling them, come, come quickly, there’s a cash-in-transit heist, happening right now.

A Tuesday morning in July. Mid-winter.

He abandoned the dossier on his desk, grabbed his Z88 from the drawer and ran. Vusi was small of stature, the quiet one, always calm. But not now: the urgency in his voice meant Griessel did not hesitate. He fastened his holster around his hips as he ran down the passage. Vaughn Cupido was approaching, long coat flapping behind him – his ‘Bat suit’, his winter gear.

‘Praise the Lord,’ said Cupido. Vaughn hated the tedium of police paperwork. They had been buried in dossiers for days. This was a reprieve.

Captains Frankie Fillander and Mooiwillem Liebenberg emerged from their shared office, shoes drumming on the bare tiled floor of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation – the DPCI – in Bellville, a herd stampeding to the armoury on the first floor.

Ndabeni was already inside, passing out R5 assault rifles and spare magazines, Warrant Officer Bossie Bossert scribbling hurried notes in his inventory.

‘I want a Stompie,’ said Cupido.

Vusi gave him the short Beretta RS200 shotgun with the pistol grip, and a cartridge belt.

‘You always gotta be otherwise, hey,’ said Fillander. ‘It’s a cash-in- transit heist, not a bank robbery.’

‘Method in my madness, uncle,’ said Cupido. ‘Just wait and see.’ ‘Just bring them back,’ Bossert shouted after them.

At morning parade over the previous five months, they had been kept informed of Vusi’s investigation. He had been working on the flurry of in-transit heists in the Western Cape. The same gang, the same modus operandi; ten men in four stolen cars would ambush the transit van. One vehicle, always old and heavy, would be deliberately rammed into the security van, forcing it to a standstill. The other cars would encircle it and open fire with (according to post-action ballistic tests) AK47s and an exotic collection of small arms. Until the guards surrendered. Or explosives would be used on the rear doors if they would not. An estimated fourteen million rand had already been stolen.

The robbers were phantoms, they left no solid forensic evidence behind. Ndabeni was at his wits’ end, and under extreme pressure from his commanding officer, Colonel Mbali Kaleni.

So now the five detectives raced off, at a hundred and fifty kilometres per hour, in two unmarked cars, the BMW X3 leading and the Ford Everest behind. To the N1 first, then heading east.

Griessel’s phone rang. It was Vusi, from the leading BMW, driven by Fillander.


Ndabeni had to shout over the wailing of the sirens: ‘I believe the robbers have a police radio, so we’ll restrict comms to the phone. It’s a very hot tip from my new informant, very credible. They’re going to hit a Pride Security van on the R45, between Malmesbury and Paarl.’ Griessel repeated the lowdown to Cupido behind the wheel, and

Liebenberg, both of them in the Ford with him.

‘I’ve notified Paarl, they’re dispatching their task force,’ said Ndabeni.

Griessel shared the update with his colleagues.

‘Shitshow,’ said Cupido. He had little faith in the rural police force’s abilities.

‘I called Pride Security, they’ll reroute the van,’ said Vusi. ‘So, we’re hoping to get the gang while they’re waiting.’

‘Do we know where they’ll be?’ asked Griessel.

‘At the junction of the R45 and the Agter-Paarl road,’ said Vusi.

Adding: ‘The chopper is coming too.’

They drove with majestic blue mountains looming ahead, the Boland beautiful in the clear light of the brisk, bright winter’s day.

*        *       *

It was, as Cupido described it afterwards, ‘a clusterfuck of majestic proportions’. Right from the very start.

Because the thieves had a radio, tuned to the frequency of Pride Security. The van’s new route was broadcast straight to them.

Because Vusi chose the R44, reckoning it would be quicker than driving through Paarl, sirens or no sirens.

And because Mrs Barbara van Aswegen, farmer’s wife in the home- stead just sixty metres from the scene of the crime, would hear the shots and immediately phone the Paarl SAPS, who in turn would notify the task force where the action was. And then she would unlock the safe and take out her husband’s .308 Winchester hunting rifle.

But first the robbers overtook the van. They struck just past the Windmeul Kelder wine cellar, where the dual carriageway flowed like the confluence of two rivers into a single road. An old, solid, 1995- model Mercedes S500 rammed with a dull boom into the side of the armoured security vehicle. The Pride driver, pumped up on adrenaline, fear and desperate determination, was driving too fast. He over- compensated in his response to the collision, spinning the steering wheel to the right, but at that moment the Mercedes wasn’t in contact, and the van swerved too sharply. It rolled. Two, three, four times, and scraped across the tar, sparks flying, metal screeching, a high-pitched keening. Finally, it came to rest on its left side, in the middle of the road.

The four heist vehicles encircled the van – the Mercedes in front to fend off any approaching traffic, two on the sides and one behind.The robbers leaped out and began firing at the security van. Their usual tactic.They knew the van’s windows and panels were bullet-proof, but the hammering hail of lead was so terrifying that guards would usually surrender. They emptied their magazines and in the silence of reload- ing gave the men in the van a chance to emerge with their hands in the air. So that the rear doors could be unlocked without further exchange of fire.

But not this time. The guards were hanging in their seatbelts, injured, shocked, afraid.

The robbers went for Plan B. The two from the rear vehicle ran to the van with the explosives.They pressed the package expertly against the joint between the doors, ran back to shelter behind their car, and hit the detonator. The blast boomed across the winter-bare vineyards, so that the children of Slot van die Paarl Primary School looked up at their teacher in alarm. A ballooning cloud of flame and black smoke rose up from the van. Ears ringing, the hijackers didn’t hear the sirens of the approaching Hawks.

Vusi Ndabeni was the first to spot the smoke from the explosion. ‘Ndiyoyika,’ he said, pointing it out to Fillander.

‘Bastard!’ said Frankie, the old veteran. He looked back at the passenger seat, where his rifle lay.

Their hearts began to race. Fillander braked instinctively. Vusi phoned Griessel. ‘Do you see the smoke?’

‘Yes,’ said Benny and pointed it out to the other two in the Everest. ‘Fokkit,’ said Cupido. ‘Party time.’

Griessel felt an intense craving for the calming effect of a Jack Daniel’s. He was a rehabilitating alcoholic, more than two hundred days now since his last drink.

He and Liebenberg smacked back the folding butts of their R5’s, and cocked them. Thumbs on the large safety mechanisms. Cupido braked to keep his distance from the BMW.

The two gangsters standing guard at the Mercedes, looking out for approaching traffic, saw and heard the Hawks simultaneously. They yelled to the other eight, who were carrying the cash boxes out of the back of the Pride van, but it was too late. When they fired the first shots at the SAPS cars, the BMW and Everest had already screeched to a halt – sideways across the road. The detectives piled out on the safe side of the vehicles. They sheltered behind the cars and returned fire. Cupido, whose ‘Stompie’ wasn’t built for this range, had his Glock 17 in both hands.

The crackle of gunfire, lead smacking against all three of the vehicles and the road surface. Bullets whizzed past the men, some only a whisker away, the chemical tang of propellant charges heavy in the air. A moment of hesitation for the eight cashbox carriers, as they weighed up their options: should they help shoot, or get the loot into the getaway vehicles as fast as possible? The road to Paarl was still open behind them. The leader – sinewy, clever and fearless in his orange beanie – had many hits’ experience behind him. He didn’t rate the ability of policemen, was sure his mates could keep them busy long enough. He shouted at the others to get the boxes into the cars.

He had no idea of Frankie Fillander’s talents.

Fillander was one of the top marksmen in the DPCI – better known as the Hawks – in the Cape. And his previous experience with the SAPS in Mitchells Plain had taught him to be calm under heavy fire. He set his R5 on semi-automatic, and lay on the ground at the back of the BMW. His colleagues provided covering fire. He waited for his chance, lined up the first Mercedes man through the larger foremost ring sight of the rifle. He shot him high in the right shoulder. The man jerked and dropped his AK.

Fillander swung the barrel to the left. He could see only one arm of the other man by the Mercedes, where the elbow bent as he cradled the AK. He aimed, taking the constant movement of the arm into consideration, and fired. The 5.56 ×45 round shattered the elbow: the man screamed out his pain and shock.

No one was shooting back at them now.

That was the moment that Benny Griessel thought, we’ve got this under control, today the good guys win.

Then the cavalry thundered in.