A fleet of three police vehicles sped out of the Dakao Ward Police Station and headed for District 2, sirens blaring. In the lead car was Captain Le, the chief investigating officer accompanied by three detectives, all armed and ready. More police officers were crammed into the second car while Russell Kemp, Tran Hai Duong, Nguyen Ba Hoa, the twin sister of one of Prinsloo’s victims, and Phan Van Phu, Gerard Prinsloo’s visibly nervous landlord, had all been relegated to the third.
It was as the convoy was trying to weave its way through Ho Chi Minh City’s early evening traffic that the vehicles became separated. That was when Kemp started shouting at the driver, urging him to keep up, but there was little that he could do…
In the kitchen, Ngo Thi Bich said, “I wan’ you take me back home, Distric’ 1, Gerar’.”
Prinsloo looked at her. “Now, Bich?” he queried.
“Yeah, now. I go now,” but when she stood up and made to head for the sliding door that led out onto the patio he reached for the black-handled knife he had placed so conspicuously between them on the table.
“Not just yet,” he said, smiling.
That was when she felt fear wash over her. It was his bizarre behaviour that had frightened her and despite the grin there was no emotion on his face that she could recognise.
Instead of arguing, she turned and walked towards the front door of the house. First she wrenched at the door handle then went running up the stairs.
Calmly picking up the knife, Prinsloo went after her.
At the Riverside
Two blocks from their destination the two leading police vehicles turned down a narrow side street. That was when the landlord suddenly became agitated.
“He says they’ve gone the wrong way,” Ba Hoa said. Duong, meanwhile, was already speaking on the radio.
Kemp’s vehicle was the first to pull up outside Prinsloo’s hideaway. While Kemp ran down an alleyway at the side of the building Duong began hammering on the front door, then he put his shoulder to the woodwork. Somewhere upstairs a girl started screaming.
The side gate was open, so too, the kitchen door. When Kemp burst into the house Prinsloo was waiting for him. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked.
It was the incongruity of the remark that caused Kemp to drop his guard for a moment. When Prinsloo saw that his quarry had not reacted, he felt the rush of his own adrenalin, the surge of his own power. He saw himself then as Kemp would see him — a concerned house-holder shocked by the presence of an intruder. That was when he stepped forward; unhurried movements, even as he drew out the knife.
At the last moment, Kemp tried to move to one side as the knife whipped down in a gleaming arc, but by then it was too late. The blade ripped through his jacket and bit deep into his shoulder. He gave a kind of cry and in the panic of the moment slid away from the blow. He careered into a sideboard then went down on one knee.
Prinsloo closed on him, but even as he advanced Kemp was rising once more to greet him. One arm was already bloodied and hung useless at his side and Prinsloo, even in his blood lust, had for a moment to admire the vigour of the man.
Kemp was faster than Prinsloo had expected, more powerful and more cunning, too. Instead of retreating, he stepped forward and with his one good arm reached up and parried the knife, barging into his attacker. Taken by surprise, Prinsloo stumbled backwards and felt the sharp stab of the table’s edge. The knife slipped from his grasp and went skittering across the floor. Kemp came at him a second time, reaching weakly with his good arm, but relentless all the same.
Prinsloo struck out with his fists, caught Kemp on the side of the face. Saw him weaken and moved in on him again. Two more hammer blows — one, two — hard against the head and he went down onto all fours. Blood was pouring from Kemp’s nose onto the tiles. Prinsloo kicked him hard in the ribs, lifted him with the blow, heard the air blast from his lungs.
Picking up the knife, he turned and ran up the stairs again. In the bedroom, the girl was trying to open the doors onto the balcony. In one fluid movement Prinsloo grasped her arm, swung her around and had the knife against her throat, even as Kemp staggered panting into the bedroom.
“Let her go,” Kemp gasped. “It’s over.”
“Is it?” Prinsloo asked. He was standing in front of the balcony doors using Bich as a shield.
“You don’t have to hurt her. Just let her go.”
“You’re right, it’s over,” Prinsloo said and stuck the blade up to the hilt into the young woman’s throat.
He heard Kemp shouting as she struggled, while the blood sprayed in a fountain. He jerked the knife first one way then the other before pulling it out then he let her go and stood motionless as she slumped to the floor.
When Kemp ran at him Prinsloo stood his ground, lifted his arms like clubs, but a fight was not what his attacker intended. At the last moment Kemp dropped his good shoulder, took him in the stomach, lifting him even as they crashed through the balcony doors.
Prinsloo felt the balcony railing hard against his thighs before the world began to tilt. Going backwards out into space he clawed uselessly at the air. A moment spent falling — the great arched dome of the sky, then trees and bushes inverted on the river bank, then the river itself — followed by an instant of searing pain. Lying on the flagstones Prinsloo gazed up into the heavens. He recalled Aunt Clara, recalled Nguyen Hai Hien, remembered all of his victims, each one vivid for an instant in his memory. Then, above the clouds, above the atmosphere the stars began to flare and die; first one, then another, then the rest: dark, darker… gone…
Through a melee of police officers and flashing lights, a concerned Duong watched Kemp being lifted into the ambulance then clambered in beside him. “You do good, Mitter Kemp,” he said, patting him on the arm.
Kemp was shivering uncontrollably. It took all his strength to answer. “A woman died,” he whispered.
“Yes, but lot more die without you,” the other said. “I very proud work wi’ you.”
For the life of him, Kemp couldn’t think why.
“You go home now, OK. Back South Africa,” Duong said.
Kemp briefly considered the future. “Yes… maybe,” he answered, though he didn’t sound very certain.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters and incidents are invented. Rob Marsh is the author of 30 published books (both fiction and non-fiction). He has a special interest in matters crime-related and is the author of Famous South African Crimes and With Criminal Intent: the changing face of crime in South Africa. He currently lives in Ho Chi Minh City.