Killer Aboard- John Otter Novel Chapter 1
“One-week, Lubanzi. One more week and then you’re fucking dead.”
Junior slammed his ham sized fist hard into Lubanzi’s stomach to make his point. Lubanzi collapsed on the concrete floor of the pawnshop with the wind knocked out of him, sure a rib was cracked.
“Junior, I’ve told you already I’ve got something cooking. You’ll get all your money,” Lubanzi croaked out the words.
“I give you a job out of the kindness of my heart, and you decide to screw me. You better have my cut, or there’s going to be a big smile on my face as I kick you to death. God damn degenerate, get out of my sight.”
Lubanzi picked himself up off the floor still holding his stomach and stumbled out the door before Junior changed his mind. The truth was, Lubanzi didn’t have Junior’s money, not a single cent of it.
Lubanzi was broke.
A Copper Philly named Ithemba had seemed less than interested in racing the one-day Lubanzi had bet on her with the cut he owed Junior. The irony was her name meant “hope” in Zulu. Hope indeed.
Lubanzi hoped he wouldn’t end up dead because of her. He knew Junior meant every word of his threat. One of Lubanzi’s compatriots at the track had rung up a smaller debt than him and Lubanzi hadn’t seen the man since he had failed to pay Junior back.
Lubanzi also had a bigger problem. Junior was still unaware of what else Lubanzi had taken during the robbery. If he knew, Lubanzi would be dead already.
Lubanzi jumped on the first minibus he could flag down, back to his home in a slum outside Cape Town called Santini. The slum was a collection of dilapidated shacks, tin roofs, and garbage in the street. Cape Town’s booming economy hadn’t reached the slum’s streets yet and Lubanzi had a pretty good idea it never would.
Cape Town was behind in affordable housing by about 25 years. Biblical floods of people from rural areas to the big cities after Apartheid had ended, created an endless need for affordable housing. Lubanzi knew there was almost no possibility the government would ever catch up to the demand.
The road to the slum was bumpy and filled with meteor-sized craters. Nonetheless, the bus made record time as it somehow avoided an endless stream of mangy dogs running in the street.
Lubanzi climbed out and ran into his aunt’s house.
“Where have you been?” Lubanzi’s Aunt shouted the second he walked in the door. “The sailing school has been calling all morning. Smith vouches for you and this is how you repay her? What is wrong with you boy?”
“I’m leaving now,” Lubanzi said. He grabbed the few items off his bed that he had planned to pack before his painful visit with Junior.
“This is a huge opportunity for you boy, best not ruin it. If they change their mind, you have nothing! How can you show up late?” his Aunt said again getting in Lubanzi’s face.
“I know, I know!” Lubanzi shouted back. He instantly regretted his words. One didn’t backtalk the woman who raised you in South Africa. The palm of his aunt’s fleshy hand connected with his cheek a split second after the words had left his mouth. He saw stars. For an elderly woman, she hit like Muhammad Ali. And there was never just one strike. His Aunt believed in landing combos. The blows rained down on him until he squeezed his 6’4’ frame out of her way and held up a hand to hold her at bay. She was winded which helped give him a brief respite from the blows.
He looked at her, she was still angry, but he could see something else. She was sad to see him go. How much emotion she felt was hard to know. Theirs had never been a close relationship. Taking in another hungry child after her sister had died was not her wish, but he was family. And she had done her best to raise him.
“Tannie,” he used his pet name for aunt, “I’m going to be OK.”
“I know. There is nothing in this place for you boy. Go,” she said pointing her meaty finger to the door. Lubanzi hugged his Aunt and walked towards the door. He wanted to just walk out clean, but he knew he should warn her, it was the least he could do.
“There will be some men coming by,” Lubanzi started.
The anger returned to her eyes swiftly.
“You’re gambling again? How much this time?”
“It doesn’t matter, they can’t catch me in the middle of the ocean. They won’t touch you because of Oom.”
Lubanzi’s uncle was a South African police officer. Not a high ranking one, but it didn’t matter. Junior wouldn’t dare harm them for Lubanzi’s debt. South African police and prisons were notorious for disappearing anyone who touched a cop.
“I’ll call you when I get to St Helena island.”
Lubanzi grabbed his seabag and ran outside. He quickly ducked inside the dog kennel on his Aunt’s lawn. He reached under the kennel and pulled out the worn canvas cloth. Wrapped inside the cloth was all he had left; an ivory scrimshaw knife his birth father had left him, a rusted revolver, and a stolen bag of uncut diamonds.