The Life of Henry Fuckit
78 Henry commits a capital offence
It was mid afternoon and still hot. He walked blindly, vaguely aware of his intention to reach Edinburgh Drive and hitch a lift back to Woodstock. It was half an hour before he paused to take his bearings. The street was leafy with thick hedges and mature trees; the driveways were widely spaced. This was Bishops Court, the exclusive suburb for Cape Town's fat cats. Mansions set in private botanical gardens. He must take the next turning to the left.
Something was trying to gain his attention, distracting him from his anguish and intruding upon his emotional turmoil. With surprise he realised it was thirst. He was parched. Must have been the fish. Gates stood open and a gravelled driveway led to the double doors of a garage. Hydrangeas in the shade of overhanging trees and a high garden wall. Ah, a coil of green hose-pipe. Must be a tap… yes, next to the bench. He ducked in under the branches and unscrewed the hose fitting. From cupped hands he drank long and greedily, then splashed water in his face, trying to dampen the fire behind his eyes and at his temples.
The crunch of gravel announced the arrival of a vehicle. A white Mercedes convertible. Pigs. Elderly pigs in sunglasses, she with a headscarf, he with a tweed cap. Henry was shocked by the grotesqueness of their countenances. Were they wearing masks? Were these malignant scowls their own? These were expressions of habitual displeasure and sour intolerance. He pressed back against the wall and stood motionless, half hidden by foliage and deep shade.
Three times the man banged on the hooter.
"Where's that bloody Kaffir?" His voice was a rasping bark. "I told him to be ready and waiting to open the garage door. And why were the gates standing open? Useless black bastard. Philemon! Philemon! Damn you!" Probably a retired captain of industry, terror of the boardroom, used to trampling on people all his life.
They both got out of the car and he went to he boot and began hauling out a bag of golf clubs.
"My putter, woman. Where's my putter?"
"I put it in, Hadrian. I definitely put it in."
"Then where is it? I don't see it. You're a bloody liar. You forgot to put it in, you hopeless old cow. You can't do anything right, can you? Stupid, stupid, stupid!" And with each 'stupid' he yanked the tail of grey hair protruding from the scarf. "Now get back to that bloody clubhouse and find my putter. Now!"
Shaking and sobbing the old woman got behind the wheel, started up and reversed out into the road. As she drove off her husband caught sight of Henry. Uh-oh.
"What the bloody hell…? You! You there, what the bloody hell are you doing on my property?"
"Having a drink of water. Do you mind?" Henry moved out into the sunlight and in the process had to step around the golf bag propped against the bench.
"Ah ha, what's this?" He reached down and pulled out a club. "I don't play this stupid game myself, but I can recognise a putter when I see one." He held it up. "There you are, cunt-face."
The old man shouted an unintelligible curse, lunged forward and snatched the club from Henry's outstretched hand. Yes, this was a club, not a weighted stick for tapping a demure white ball into a vacuous black hole. This was for the smashing of skulls. If the wedge of steel had found its mark Henry would have sustained potentially lethal damage, but he ducked and was struck on the shoulder instead. Shit! That was painful; bound to result in a nasty bruise. He was being attacked by a madman. As the club was swung a second time he caught the shaft and wrenched it from his assailant's grasp.
"Calm down, you fucking maniac!" Arms outstretched, holding the club at either end, he tried to ward off the frenzied onslaught. A wild kick found its mark, toe cap of polished golf shoe connecting with hairy shin. "Ow! Fuck you!" Up to that point he had been restraining himself. Now the restraint popped like a bubble and the fierce strength of rage took over. A brutal shove sent the old man staggering. Sunglasses and cap had fallen to the ground. Another shove and he lurched backward into the bench, vainly tried to regain his balance and sat down heavily. Henry was onto him immediately, half in his lap,
"Stop struggling, or…"
Not more than a foot separated their faces and for the first time he looked into the man's eyes. It was as if a sigh was emitted and the world withdrew, removing its presence and leaving him in silence. He was oblivious to the spluttering and the cursing, the hands pushing at the metal shaft. He was looking at something evil, something familiar, something hateful. This was the vicious old man in his dream, this was the future Henry Fuckit. He couldn't allow this fiend to survive. The complete conviction of what he must do, the utter certainty of his intention filled him with a religious joy. This was the joy of knowing, for once in his life, exactly what he was going to do. He was going to compress the demon's windpipe like a rubber hose so that the walls touched and no air would be able to pass. The tongue would poke from the gaping mouth, the eyes would inflate and glare fixedly, the body would jerk violently, the spasms would grow feeble and finally cease altogether. A rabid dog would bite no more. The endorphins at work in his brain suffused him with calmness and a sense of warmth. At the same moment the old man understood the insane design and his heart was grasped in an iron clamp. Henry shifted his weight in order to bear down and perform the homicidal act, but simultaneously a hand passed in front of him and placed itself firmly over his eyes, blindfolding him.
Like an ostrich with a sack over its head he was immobilised. A voice said "Stop. Leave him." The hand was removed. For long seconds he looked at the horrible visage before him and then slowly stood up, the golf club falling at his feet. He stood looking down at his victim, only half aware of the black man at his side.
"Philemon, Philemon!" The old man was gasping in agony, both fists at his chest. "My pills, Philemon!"
The bloody kaffir leaned his face close to his master's and hissed "No pills! You die. Now you die!" He straightened and turned to the murderer. "Hamba, umlungu. Miesies come now-now. Go. Gou-gou."
At the gate Henry paused on his rubbery legs and looked back. The useless black bastard had produced a cloth bag and was throwing handfuls of fine dust into the air.
The Cape Times had nothing on Thursday, which was hardly surprising; nor had The Argus in the afternoon. But there it was the following morning on page four. Mister Hadrian Kruiper, 74, found dead in garden… former MD of this and that…ex-City Councillor…distinguished career in commercial world…blah, blah, blah…no foul play suspected…heart condition.
Henry was still in a state of shock, trying to assimilate, evaluate and rationalise. He dreaded the night. Night was worse than day. Or was it? It was the old man in the square he feared. By day he dreaded the knock at the door. He formulated puerile escape plans which his imagination always quickly doomed to spectacular failure. Nervous agitation, paranoia and mental confusion produced in him such a state of vulnerability and susceptibility and quivering tension that he was obliged to dose himself with liberal amounts of alcohol, pro re nata. Was he really a murderer? Of course he was a murderer; look at the paper. The man was dead. They just hadn't determined the true cause of death. Yet. He risked walking into town for a visit to the library. He had to get hold of Dostoyevsky. Returning without incident, thank God, he sat at his desk and read the murder scene over and over. How horribly authentic it was. He could pick no fault with the detail. The description of the old woman's head held a particular fascination for him. 'Her thin, fair, greying hair was as usual smothered in oil, twisted into a rat's tail plait and gathered up under what was left of a broken horn comb, which stuck out at the nape of her neck. Being a small woman, the blow fell straight across the crown of her head.' Brilliant!
But Fuckit was no Raskolnikov. The Russian crime had been premeditated and blatantly venal. The South African one was more like a crime of passion, on the spur of the moment, in response to provocation, and certainly not for gain. More like culpable homicide or manslaughter. And he had been defending himself. No malice aforethought.
Kak! Who was he trying to deceive? No malice aforethought - bullshit! It might have been on the spur of the moment but, nonetheless, he had fully intended to dispatch the old goat by throttling him to death. Only the gardener's intervention had prevented him form carrying his malicious forethought to its final conclusion. Without any shadow of a doubt he was guilty. Hadn't it been made abundantly clear by none other than jolly old Jesus on the Mount? 'Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.' No trace of amphibology there. Could be only one interpretation of that little gem: The line between intention and action is as fine as the gap between rational and irrational on the number line. Extremely fine.
No, he mustn't fool himself. He had fully intended to kill the old man. And he had; not by wringing his scrawny neck but by convincing him that his scrawny neck was about to be wrung. The murderous light in his eye had filled the man with such fearful agitation that his diseased heart had failed, unable to cope with the demands being made upon it. It was as good as a blow to the head with a hatchet.
Yes, there was no getting away from it, he was a murderer. But admitting his guilt to himself was a far cry from going to the police, confessing, and proffering his wrists to some cold-eyed Van der Merwe. No fucking ways. At all costs he must try to keep his guilt a purely private affair. If the true circumstances surrounding the ogre's death were to go undetected, then all well and good. No need to go complicating matters unnecessarily, and certainly no need to place further strain on the courts and the prison services. Unlike Raskolnikov he felt no obligation to reveal all and submit himself to trial and punishment. He would deal with punishment, penitence and redemption in his own way and in accordance with his conscience. But, of course, that was assuming the police in the meantime had not smelled a rat and, even now, might be on his trail and closing in.
Smelled a rat? For some inexplicable reason he had spent the first day trying to exclude the gardener from the events which had taken place that hot afternoon in Bishops Court. Maybe it was a form of denial whereby he was refusing to confront his greatest threat. But by the end of the second day he could no longer postpone the inevitable: he had to acknowledge the fact that there had been a witness.
There was something mysterious about this witness. He had not merely observed the violent altercation between trespasser and his employer. He had ended up being an accomplice. And, more than that, a facilitator. Accomplice? Facilitator? Certainly an accomplice, in having contributed to the death by withholding the pilletjies he knew to be in a small white container in one of his boss's pockets. A coronary vasodilator popped under the tongue would immediately have increased the blood flow through the arteries to oxygen-starved cardiac muscle. Philemon knew this well, having observed the efficacy of the muti on several occasions in the past. But as for being a facilitator, what evidence was there to suspect the man of complicity in this regard? Henry knew it was just a hunch, a vague irrational perplexity based on intuitive feeling rather than observable fact. It bordered on the paranormal and as such would best be left alone.
Whenever he allowed his thoughts to dwell on this mysterious accomplice he was sucked into a quagmire of apprehension, doubt and indecision. 'Why did the gardener intervene?' This was always the first question in the interminable round of queries and answers. If he wished his employer dead, why not let Henry go ahead and throttle him, and then bear the consequences alone? Maybe he wanted a hand in the matter in order to avenge himself, exact justice and have some of his dignity restituted. Henry wasn't entirely happy with this explanation but could come up with no other. Very well. So they had committed the crime together. A crime which seemed to be going unnoticed. 'No foul play suspected.' But what if the state pathologist did his job properly and spotted a faint contusion just below the thyroid cartilage? What would happen when the police pulled into the gravelled driveway and, in their customarily stern manner, asked witness number one to repeat his version of events? Would he remain calm and stick to his story, or would he begin to panic, the sweat breaking out on his face in a lather of incrimination? Would he crack or would he remain strong?
Henry played with the possibilities. If Philemon was convinced that the police knew a murder had been committed, then he would see himself as the prime suspect. How would he reason? Without a doubt he would put the finger on the bearded young white man. But how would he explain his silence regarding the white man up till then? It wouldn't look good for him at all. And how would they trace this white man? On the other hand, he might be of the opinion that white people do some incredibly stupid things, like suddenly confessing because they can't bear the burden of guilt. (He may even have read Dostoyevsky. Look what Raskolnikov did in the end - and he was a white man.) If Henry went and confessed, Philemon would be implicated. One of them would hang, the other receive a lengthy spell in prison. He would be under no illusion as to who would get what. Would he not want to pre-empt this possibility by confessing the truth and thereby gaining a lighter sentence? When Henry considered this option he felt nauseous and was compelled to pace up and down. Should he rush down to Woodstock charge office and make a statement? Even now the gardener might be on the point of admitting to their shared crime. But no, for fuck's sake don't be so stupid. Calm down. Pour another shot of brandy. He must keep his nerve and gamble everything on silence. If they both remained silent they had nothing to fear. Nothing to fear, nothing to fear. Shit, how long would he have to endure this torture? When would the threat finally pass and allow him to emerge from this unbearable limbo?
Monday's obituary column heralded the news he had been praying for: the dear departed was to be cremated at 3 P.M. the following day. He was filled with elation. He wanted to shout and laugh and swear. More than that, he wanted to burst into tears and fall prostrate upon the floor. There on the threadbare carpet he could sob this horrible fear and tension out of himself. He could even allow his bladder to empty. How cathartic the warm sensation of release would be. He might also let go with his anal sphincter in order to further enhance this feeling of relief. But that might be overdoing it a bit. No, he mustn't jump the gun. Many a slip twix't cup and lip. Only a fool would count his chickens, etc. Hadn't life already taught him to presume the very worst, especially when circumstances appeared favourable and the future was bright and unclouded? That was when fate loved to strike its most vicious blows, just when you had raised your head, dropped your guard and begun to look cheerful. Pow! In the balls, and down you go, puking in the dust, stupid arsehole that you are. No, no celebrating. Not today and not tomorrow either. Not even when the body was reduced to smoke and ash.
At four o' clock on Tuesday afternoon he headed up Devil's Peak. Over Eastern Boulevard, through University Estate, across De Waal Drive and onto the forestry track. The dirt road zigzagged steeply up through pine trees and gums until it began the long incline round to the shoulder where the blockhouse had stood. Below was the forest and above him the fynbos covered slope rising steeply up to the cliffs. It was around five when he reached the levelled spot where the blockhouse had stood.
A black-painted cannon and part of a low stone parapet were the only remaining signs of the fortification. He climbed over the wall and sat with his back against it, protected from the breeze. Below him lay the view for which the emplacement had been built - a wide sweep from the city and Table Bay on his left, all the way round to Muizenberg and False Bay in the east. Ahead of him stretched the Flats and passage to the north. The rumble of the metropolis was muted at this height. The highways were choked up with pack upon pack of cars chasing homeward. Thousands of steel rats fleeing the city as if to escape an inferno. Eight o' clock in the morning they'd be streaming back like a plague. The heaviest concentration was rounding hospital bend.
He liked it up there where he could feel some distance between himself and civilization. This remoteness and detachment allowed him to think more calmly and see his situation less passionately. His albatross had been taken and converted to ashes, thereby removing the danger that had been hanging over him. He wasn't going to throw a party though, even if the relief was so liberating it made him feel drunk. This was a reprieve, not an acquittal, and certainly not a pardon. The albatross might be gone but the guilt remained. The guilt would become a new albatross if something wasn't done about it. And he knew it wasn't just the murder he had to confront. That was a culmination and a symbol for something more significant.
As the afternoon drew to a close he sat looking out, his eyes unfocused, immersed in the process of stocktaking. There could be no denying his life was a mess: twenty-seven and where was he, what had he accomplished?… unqualified, untrained, unskilled…unemployed…he was an un-man…lazy, too…bone-idle, shiftless…and a drunkard…if he wasn't an alcoholic he was close to being one…and solitary like a mad dog…an outcast, a misfit…he lived in the shadows…emotionally stunted, unable to form proper relationships…not surprising, considering his background…he was unable to bond with others…something lacking in him…what friendships did he have?…and love - he knew nothing of love…women were objects of lust, nothing more…his student friendships he had neglected…all that was left was mutual disgust…he mustn't even think of Kaye…Christ, no…and Bergson was no friend…just wanted to use him in his crazy Oxyaston scheme…his life had been a downhill slide into a cesspool…stupidly reckless…he had deserved the scalding…and now look at him…permanently scarred, disfigured…he bore the marks of iniquity and disgrace…how could he possibly respect himself now?…and yet he had entertained a feeble hope…he had escaped the Dockyard, was struggling to climb out of his pit of stinking ordure…some fucking hope…now he could add murder to his curriculum vitae…he had fucked up with…shut up! Cunt!…he had been a walking time bomb, a bundle of explosives primed and ready for the signal…insane…if he had been sane he would have run away and laughed about it…nasty old man…maybe spat in his face…but decide to kill him?…he didn't even feel any remorse…the man was an evil swine… and deserved far worse…but it didn't alter his guilt…how to deal with this guilt…how to move forward and salvage something…he couldn't do nothing…he wasn't sorry for the old man's death, but he had to pay for it…he didn't know why…irrational…primitive ritual…atonement…he felt the need for atonement…something was telling him he would have to go through the motions…confession and penance were the conditions for absolution from guilt…he had no problem with confession…quite prepared to admit his own abominable failings…but penance…something archaic about the concept…there was fasting…the religious nutters believed in fasting, but…physical degradation…not quite sure how that would work…try eating some dog shit…don't wash for six months…rather pointless…self-inflicted corporal punishment…bloody difficult…could sleep on the floor…or in a dustbin like Nagg and Nell in Beckett's 'Endgame'…no, all too ridiculous to contemplate…he wasn't that stupid…he felt obliged to atone, but he wanted more than that…was it redemption he was looking for?…redeem himself, his whole fucked up life…was it Origen he was thinking of…or some other exegete…redemption was 'a grand education by Providence'…the process whereby the allegory was interpreted…he needed to commit himself to something…humble himself, humiliate himself…sentence himself to years of demeaning work serving the community…a dustman, a lavatory attendant…non-Whites only…there must be something…
Cape Town had turned away from the sun and was moving into the oncoming shadow of night when Henry got to his feet. Street lights were on and the windows of buildings were being lit. The main body of traffic had passed and now there were only stragglers. He followed the flashing of an ambulance as it rounded the bend and turned off towards Groote Schuur. As if on a thermal current from the hospital incinerator an idea began to drift up to him. He found himself thinking of Schroder. Not Proffessor Schroder the wavefunction freak but the Ivan Schroder of his earliest acquaintance. They had been admiring the Atomic Clock and making small-talk. They had exchanged some disrespectful comments on the intellectual acuity of their colleague, Mr Alf Whitehead. Schroder had compared him, unfavourably, with a hospital porter. 'The lowest form of life on earth, these porters and orderlies - barely human.' Well, maybe this would be a suitably lowly situation for him to occupy. The servility of the position would teach humility; the attendance upon the sick and dying would promote compassion. He must think about this and even make some enquiries. The hospital was within easy walking distance from Palmerston Road.
As he made his way back down the mountain road, cautiously negotiating the rough gravel surface in the deepening gloom, he realised he was feeling better. Tired, but much happier. He had a suspicion, grounded on nothing at all, that things were happening to him in a way that was beyond his control. More than that, he had the preposterous impression events were being directed in accordance with some covert design. Something must be going on in his subconscious. He certainly held no truck with the concepts of fate or predestination. But maybe in the deep recesses of his mind there was a master plan after all. There had to be. He had to have faith in himself. Wherever he arrived at, he must accept it as a suitable destination. And when he arrived at Number Thirteen, the weariness he was feeling told him he was going to sleep well for the first time in many a long night.
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