Accused of murdering the man lying in a pool of blood in his driveway, thirty-four year old Thomas Pearson is immediately arrested. His ordinary life is totally turned upside down when he is forced to enter the South African justice system.
Dealing with incompetent officials and vicious criminals, Thomas is considered guilty until proven innocent. All rules are suddenly suspended and Thomas is trapped in a corrupt system.
Slowly his hopes of being vindicated and regaining his freedom are dwindling. How did he end up in this mess? With no assistance from the outside, Thomas not only has to fight for his survival with all means necessary, but also to keep his sanity and humanity intact.
Blue strobes flashed into Thomas's eyes. His pupils struggled to keep up with the pulsing light. One moment everything around him was bathed in eerie blue, the next second his surroundings were plunged into darkness. More lights, this time white, almost blinded him. His ears picked up different sounds: screeching tyres, revving engines, running feet, people shouting. Exhaust fumes and burning rubber assaulted his nostrils. His head throbbed painfully. The swiftly changing lights left him unfocussed.
"Lift your hands!" a voice shouted from his left. "Lift your hands where I can see them!"
Thomas squinted at the dancing lights trying to locate the speaker.
"Lift your hands!" the voice screamed again.
Thomas raised his hands, but to shield his eyes from the flashing beams, not to obey the command.
"Keep them where I can see them!"
The pounding in his head increased dramatically. Bile rose in his throat. He saw purple stars and feared he would pass out. Gingerly, he touched the back of his head. A huge lump was forming just at the base of his skull. He winced with pain as his fingers trailed the outline of the swelling.
"Keep your hands up!" the voice shouted again.
A sturdy black man in an ill-fitting police uniform stepped into his line of sight. A gun in a two handed-grip pointed at Thomas's chest.
He swallowed hard.
What on earth was going on?
The cop moved cautiously closer. "Keep your hands where I can see them!"
Thomas had no intention of defying the officer - not with a gun at such close proximity.
The cop took another step forward. His right arm shot out and hit Thomas in the chest. Thomas stumbled and his back slammed against the wall. The uneven surface scraped his skin; his thin button-down shirt offered no protection.
The cop pressed him against the wall, pushing the gun under his chin. Thomas squirmed painfully.
"Don't make a move!"
The man's rancid breath rose in Thomas's nostrils and he turned his head away, but the cop only increased the pressure under his chin, preventing him from moving even a centimetre.
Out of the corner of his eye, Thomas saw more police officers. They rounded his car, stepping forward cautiously. Every single one had his weapon drawn and pointed at him.
He watched the scene with growing bewilderment.
A pot-bellied cop walked in Thomas's direction, keeping a suspicious eye on him. A short distance away, the officer bent down, inspecting an object lying on the gravelled ground.
"Matimela!" pot-belly called. "We found the weapon."
Weapon? Thomas thought. What weapon? What the hell is going on?
He opened his mouth to ask some pertinent questions, but the cop holding him against the wall pushed the gun even harder under his chin.
"Shut up! You can talk later!"
Thomas hadn't even uttered a sound.
Another police officer appeared out of the dark, fished a set of rubber gloves out of his back pocket and knelt on the ground. Carefully wrapping a glove around the grip, he lifted a gun into the air for all to see.
"I think this is it," he proclaimed. "This is the murder weapon."
Murder weapon? Thomas thought, confused. What the hell?
Once again he opened his mouth, but his attempt to speak was cut short by the sturdy cop standing in front of him.
"Mothebe," he shouted. "Cuff this son-of-a-bitch."
Another officer, a mean glint in his eyes, stepped forward. He grabbed Thomas's right arm and wrenched it viciously behind his back. A sharp pain shot up into his shoulder and Thomas cried out.
Mothebe swung Thomas around and pushed him back against the wall. His face hit the rough bricks, small stones scraping his cheek. The cop grabbed his left arm and pulled it behind his back. Thomas felt the cold of metal bracelets around his wrists. The clicking of the locks snapping shut echoed in his ears.
The cop manhandled Thomas away from the wall. The swift movement increased the pounding in his head and he saw stars again. His knees buckled, but the cop held him upright with an iron grip.
The officer reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small, well-worn piece of cardboard. "You are under arrest ..."
Thomas's brain kicked in. "Under arrest?" he shouted. "Under arrest for what?"
The cop raised an eyebrow.
"Let me go," Thomas yelled. "I've done nothing wrong!"
Without a reply, the cop grabbed Thomas's arm and shoved him in the direction of the car's bonnet. Thomas stumbled a few steps forward, coming to a stop beside his Chevy's passenger door. Leaning against the car's cool metal frame, he peered past its hood.
A slender black man was lying on the ground. His T-shirt had ridden up his belly and his jeans were dirt streaked. One arm rested on his chest, while the other was flung out, away from his body. The man's eyes and mouth were wide open. A small hole sat in the middle of his forehead. Blood pooled around the man's shoulders, soaking the stubby grass underneath him.
Thomas turned around frantically. "That wasn't me! I had nothing to do with that!"
"Tell that to the judge," the cop said.
"Let me go!"
"Shut up and listen, you piece of sh*t! You are under arrest for murder ..."
Thomas's head swam. He hadn't killed anyone! He had nothing to do with the dead body in the road!
"... anything you say can be used against you ..."
He only heard bits and pieces of the Miranda reading. His mind raced in twenty different directions.
Did they believe that he had shot a man? Did they really think he had murdered someone?"
" ... do you understand your rights?"
Thomas shook his head in disbelief. They were arresting him! Oh my God! They had cuffed him and were taking him to prison!
"Do you understand?" the cop repeated.
Thomas pulled his arm out of the cop's grip. "I haven't done anything! Let me go!"
The cop shrugged his shoulders. "Do you understand what I've just read out to you?"
Thomas stared at the police officer. Didn't the cop hear him? He hadn't killed anyone!
Thomas looked around wildly. Domestic workers dressed in maids' uniforms, gardeners in tattered T-shirts and old stained trousers, and well-heeled home owners stood shoulder to shoulder in the road and on the pavement, forming a tight circle around the commotion. Out of the darkness, they glared at him coldly. Some men had their arms crossed, some women were whispering behind their hands. Thomas searched their faces for a hint of compassion or curiosity. He picked a man standing to his right.
"Help!" he pleaded. "Please help me! I haven't killed anyone!"
The man looked at him blankly, crossed his arms and shrugged his shoulders.
Thomas looked from one person to the next, frantically searching for the one man or woman who would be prepared to step forward. All he saw were drawn lips, narrowed eyes and hostility.
The cop's hand on his back pushed him forward. "Get going."
Thomas took a few stumbling steps past his car. His foot slipped on the curb and his ankle gave way. Searing pain raced up his calf and he swore loudly.
"Stop being a sissy!" the cop growled, forcing Thomas relentlessly forward.
This is not happening! Thomas shouted silently. This is just not happening!
He glanced back at the man lying on the grass. Blood glistened in the glare of the car's headlights. It almost looked like spilled motor oil.
As the cop dragged Thomas in the direction of a police vehicle parked haphazardly further down the curb, the gathered crowd begrudgingly opened a gap for him to pass through.
"Murderer!" a woman shouted suddenly.
"Killer!" another voice yelled.
"Hope you get what you deserve!"
"Hope they lock you up for life!"
The onlookers' voices rose higher and higher, becoming angrier by the second. People started to close in on him, crowding him.
A hand shoved him hard on the shoulder. Thomas spun around, only to be punched in the chest. He doubled over. Another fist struck him in the ribs. He gasped for breath. Something wet hit his face, dripping down his cheek. He realised someone had spat on him.
Panic rose in him. The bystanders were turning into a mob! They were going to lynch him! Where the hell was the cop? Why didn't he stop them?
Bent over, he frantically stumbled towards the police vehicle parked a few metres away.
More hands pushed him. Painful blows rained down onto his shoulders and his back.
Fear choked him. His eyes searched for the cop who had led him away from the dead body, only to find him leaning against the police vehicle, picking at his teeth.
Another few steps and Thomas reached the vehicle. The cop opened the back door and motioned him inside.
Hissing viciously, the mob fell back.
Thomas ducked his head and slumped onto the backseat, swinging his long legs behind the driver's seat. The cop slammed the door closed and the locks engaged automatically.
Thomas breathed a deep sigh of relief. What the hell had just happened?
Frightened and confused, he stared through the rolled-up window. The crowd stared back at him aggressively. Some women had their raised hands clenched into fists. He could hear curses and threats.
If they get hold of me, I'll be dead! They'll kill me! Please God, get me out of here.
His prayer was granted almost immediately. Mothebe and another officer got into the car, slamming their doors shut. The engine rumbled to life and a short siren blast warned the mob to clear out of the way. The officer reversed and the car bumped off the curb.
With hands cuffed behind his back, Thomas had no way of keeping his balance and he was thrown against the closed door. The car shot forward. Gears grinding loudly, the vehicle swung into the dark road, past the crime scene, disappearing from the onlookers' view.
They raced through the busy evening streets, ducking in and out of traffic. Thomas tried to stay upright, but every time the police car swerved around another vehicle, his shoulder hit the door or the seat in front of him. The car braked suddenly, and his cheek smashed into the honeycomb steel partition mounted behind the front seats. Without much pause, the car accelerated and Thomas fell back, his face throbbing painfully.
"Hey," he called out. "Can you take it a bit easier? I've got nothing to hold on to."
Mothebe, sitting in the passenger seat, glanced over his shoulder.
Thomas opened his mouth, but before he could protest, the car turned another corner and he was thrown down onto the backseat, the top of his head hitting the door handle. A small groan escaped from his lips.
For a minute, he contemplated staying down. The chances of him getting hurt lying on the seat were less than him sitting upright.
His nose was pressed against the fabric of the seat. Apart from smelling awful, his eyes caught a suspicious looking stain.