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James McClure

The Artful Egg


for Wendy Robinson Copyright ©1984 by Sabensa Gakulu Limited First published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain by Macmillan London Limited, London This edition published in 2013 by Soho Press, Inc. 853 Broadway New York, NY 10003 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data McClure, James, 1939–2006. The artful egg / James McClure.—1st American ed. p. cm. ISBN 978-1-61695-245-7 eISBN 978-1-61695-246-4 1. Kramer, Trompie (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Zondi, Mickey (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 3. Police—South Africa—Fiction. 4. Mystery fiction. I. Title. PR9369.3.M394A87 2012 823’.914—dc23 2012033748 Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


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A h e n i s an egg’s way of making another egg. This was the thought uppermost in the mind of Ramjut Pillay, Asiatic Postman 2nd Class, at the start of the horrific Tuesday morning that altered the course of his life. He tried to have an uppermost thought every morning, for fear of being lulled into intellectual stagnation by the sort of reading his work required of him: Mrs. WM Truscott 4 Jan Smuts Close, Morningside, Trekkersburg, Natal, South Africa Not that most envelopes, being mailed locally, had anything like as much on them, making this example—an air letter from Cincinnati—the workaday equivalent of War and Peace. Not that there was ever any real need to read further than the first couple of lines anyway, because nothing reached his sorting-frame that hadn’t already been set aside for Morningside, but he prided himself on being conscientious. Ramjut Pillay slipped Mrs. Truscott’s air letter through the slot in her front door, sidestepped her Dachshund with nimble


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disdain, and continued on his way. There was nothing today for the Van der Plank family at number 6, and only a few bills and a holiday postcard for the Trenchards at number 8. He no longer perused postcards; the sheer inanity of their scribbled messages was more than his rather remarkable mind could bear. “So let us ponder more profoundly and afresh,” he murmured, as he opened the gate to 8 Jan Smuts Close, “the devilish cunning shown by the aforesaid egg, and its consequent effect upon the wretched fowl in question. . . .” Ramjut Pillay invariably used the plural form when addressing himself, being exceedingly conscious of the fact that there was a lot more to him than met the eye—which, admittedly, wasn’t much. Bespectacled, standing five-two-and-a-quarter, slightly bow-legged and as spare as a sparrow’s drumstick, he “reliably informed” his pen pals the world over that he was “wholly Gandhi-esque” in appearance, “save for a head of truly healthy hair.” What he didn’t tell his pen pals was that people frequently looked right through him, just as though he wasn’t there, and that, as a child, his mother had kept losing him on buses, in shops, and at the Hindu temple down Harber Road. Once, when he was about twelve years old, his father and mother, after a frantic search of the bottom end of town, had found him seated in the midst of the temple elders, under a sacred fig-tree. “Ramjut,” his mother had cried out, “don’t you know how worried your father and I have been? Just what are you up to, child, with these wise old men?” To which he had replied: “Eating figs.” The front door to 8 Jan Smuts Close opened before he could slip the mail through its letter-slot. “I wondered if—” began blowsy Mrs. Trenchard, her green eyes darting to the mail in his right hand.


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He knew what she was after. All last week it’d been the same, the constant hope against hope that her son had written to her from army camp. “You keep hearing these stories,” she had explained to him, “that they’re no sooner given their boots than they’re sent to fight in the bush in Namibia.” Indeed, her motherly anguish would once again have been pitiful to behold, were Ramjut Pillay paying the slightest attention to it. Instead, he was slyly stealing a look at seventeen-year-old Suzie Trenchard—he’d delivered her recent birthday cards in their unsealed envelopes—who was languidly descending the staircase, engrossed in a glossy magazine. The white girl’s legs were bare all the way up to the frilly-edged panties she wore beneath a shortie nightie. What legs! Broad thighs, smooth knees, calves with a truly heavenly curve to them. The full breasts were also quite exquisite, a pair of bobbing sweet melons which jutted the sheer fabric and gave it a delicate shake each step she took. Several split-seconds passed before he could reluctantly collect himself. “You were wondering, madam?” said Ramjut Pillay, fanning the mail like a conjuror and suggesting she picked the postcard. “Blast,” said Mrs. Trenchard, hardly glancing at it. “Is that the best you can do?” “The picture is most pretty and informative,” Ramjut Pillay pointed out. “Don’t be cheeky!” snapped Mrs. Trenchard. “What I want to know is, haven’t you anything else for me?” There was really no need for her to be so rude, so he indulged a simple pleasure by handing over the bills one by one. Then, with a final forbidden glance at Suzie Trenchard, whose delectable bottom was giving a ripe jiggle as she disappeared down the passage towards the kitchen, he turned and went on his way. “Suzie!” he heard Mrs. Trenchard shouting out, a moment before the front door was slammed shut. “Suzie, will you come


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downstairs this minute for your breakfast? And see you’re decent, do you hear? Don’t forget the servants.” Two letters, an electricity bill, and a small packet of colour prints went sliding through on to the hall carpet of 10 Jan Smuts Close. “A hen is an egg’s way of making. . . .” But his uppermost thought had changed. It was always so when Ramjut Pillay felt a stirring in his loins. A condition, moreover, that tended to elevate his thoughts still further, reminding him of his deep affinity with the Mahatma. “Brahmacharya. . . .” he whispered reverently, not noticing that he’d given 12 Jan Smuts Close the mail for numbers 14 and 16 as well, so great was his preoccupation at this moment with Higher Things. The brahmacharya experiments, as any devotee of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi knew full well, had entailed the Mahatma lying all night with naked young girls beside him, testing his will to abstain. Gandhi’s will had reportedly never failed him, and neither would Ramjut Pillay’s, he felt sure, given the opportunity to undergo a similar ordeal. “There’s the rubbing,” he muttered to himself, hurrying on up the close. “The damnable rubbing. . . .” The rub being quite simply that, try as he might, Ramjut Pillay had yet to find a young girl in Trekkersburg who was willing to lie naked beside him all night. Once, he had come very close to emulating the Mahatma, that was beyond dispute—although her father still did not see it that way, and he had to make a two-block detour whenever he chanced to be in that part of town. And once, having decided that tender years might not be an absolute requirement of a brahmacharya experiment, he had attempted a night with Sophia, a middle-aged Tamil lady well known for her accommodating disposition. That had worked very well for the first hour; and then, growing restless, Sophia had given a deep sigh before suddenly heaving herself onto him.


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“I say,” called out old Major MacTaggart from the porch of 14 Jan Smuts Close, “dash it all, I was expecting a copy of the club minutes this morning. You weren’t just going to trot by, were you?” “M-Major?” “Big brown envelope.” Ramjut Pillay seemed to remember a big brown envelope in his Jan Smuts Close bundle, but a quick check revealed that his memory, usually so perfect in every way, must have played a trick on him. “So sorry, Major,” he said, “no can do today.” “Humph,” Major MacTaggart snorted unpleasantly. “I’ve my doubts about you as a post wallah, Pillay, serious doubts. Well, don’t just stand there looking holier-than-thou, you bandy old rascal—you’re late enough as it is.” Seething with indignation, yet no better placed to protest than when Sophia had clapped a hand over his mouth before having her vigorous way with him, Ramjut Pillay continued on up Jan Smuts Close. By jingo, how the world took advantage of an avowed pacifist. “A ruddy hen,” he said crossly, “is an egg’s—” No good. He simply couldn’t be expected to concentrate, certainly not under these circumstances. Post wallah? What a damnable impudence! What a way to speak to a highly educated man, qualified ten times over in any number of things. Why, the principal of the Easiway Correspondence College, the world-famous Dr. Gideon de Bruin, was forever congratulating him on the variety of diplomas he continued to be awarded, ranging from Automotive Engineering (Theory Only) to Elementary Philosophy, Newspaper Cartooning and Conversational Afrikaans. “That’s a pretty stamp,” remarked Miss Simson at 20 Jan Smuts Close, as she signed for a registered letter, “on that cream envelope, half-sticking out of your bag.”


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Ramjut Pillay glanced down. Great heavens, he’d quite forgotten he had this to look forward to. “Yes, the new UK issue, madam,” he said, “and the first time I am ever seeing one.” “So, are you going to ask them if you can have it?” said Miss Simson, smiling as she handed back his ballpoint pen. “To add to your collection?” “Most assuredly,” Ramjut Pillay replied, nodding. But it wasn’t until he had actually reached the top end of Jan Smuts Close that his mood changed properly, allowing him to appreciate again what a beautiful morning it was, and to anticipate to the full becoming the proud owner of such a fine example of British stamp design. “Now, let us see. . . .” he said, pausing to take out the cream envelope and to rummage about for the rest of the mail for Woodhollow. There was always quite a bit of it, the bulk coming from overseas and being addressed to Naomi Stride. Yes, just “Naomi Stride,” with no “Mrs” or “Miss” in front, which was because, she had explained to him, it was her “professional name,” whatever that meant. Then, to complicate matters, she also received post for Mrs. Naomi Kennedy, for Mrs. N.G. Kennedy, and for Mrs. W.J. Kennedy, although nothing ever arrived for a Mr. Kennedy. To the cream envelope Ramjut Pillay added six other personal letters, four business letters and a circular, then started up the long drive. Woodhollow, or 30 Jan Smuts Close as it really should have been known, wasn’t strictly speaking part of the cul-de-sac of modest middle-class bungalows at all, but stood well back, behind a screen of Scots firs up at the top end, facing away over a wooded valley. It always took a minute or two, in fact, before someone approaching on foot actually saw the house, so dense was the surrounding vegetation. “Ah, such beauty,” sighed Ramjut Pillay, and inhaled again the heavy scent of the flowering shrubs on either side of him.


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He pictured the lady coming to the door, his asking for the stamp most politely, and her agreeing as always, giving that throaty little laugh. Perhaps she would want to ask him more about preparing curries, which she did from time to time, and he would have a glass of chilled orange juice brought out to him by the servant. Just then, there was a stirring in his loins, making him wonder why on earth the problem of the brahmacharya experiments should return to bother him at such a time. Then, without warning, a truly shocking insight provided the answer to that, tempting him to think the unthinkable. He gave in. There would be no servant to answer the door when he knocked. The hall would ring empty. Then he would hear the slap of her sandals, and the door would swing inwards, revealing her in her voluptuous glory. Her face would soften sweetly when she saw who was standing there, then a flush would rise to her throat. “Come in,” she would whisper hoarsely, “I have great need of you.” And there would be no mistaking what she meant by those words. In another minute, his postbag cast aside, he would enter— “Ho, what balderingdash is this?” Ramjut Pillay scoffed out aloud. “Have we taken leave of our senses, post wallah?” Not entirely, another side to him insisted. The lady in question had already shown herself to be unusually sympathetic to his race. What other house on his round always smelled of incense? What other lady wore toe-thong sandals on her feet, and dressed in long, loose-fitting garments so clearly inspired by the sari? What other lady asked him intelligent questions about the God Kali, about yoga and yoghurt, and knew words such as “Sanskrit”? “None,” admitted Ramjut Pillay. Well, said this other side of him, at last we’re getting somewhere. And is it not true that she has several times listened with


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fascination to your accounts of the Mahatma Gandhi, confessing herself to be in awe of his great spirituality? Has she not herself said that she would dearly love to be able to follow in his footsteps, too? Then, is this not her great opportunity? If properly cajoled, I am sure she would be willing to join a true disciple such as yourself in a brahmacharya experiment, and to— “Bosh!” said Ramjut Pillay. “Bosh, bosh, bosh! Immorality Act!” That old thing, sighed another side to him. What has that to do with it? Without hanky-panky, there can be no contravention of the Act, surely? OK, OK, so you are of different races, but all you’re asking her to do is to lie naked beside you, while you— “Enough!” declared Ramjut Pillay. “This is mad talk, and I will hear no more of it! I have forgotten it already. There, now, it’s all gone. . . .” Even so, there was still such a stirring in his loins that, for want of a loincloth, he had to move his postbag round to cover his upper thighs before reaching up for the doorbell. Nobody answered his ring. The house remained silent. He rang again, two short rings and then a long one. Nothing. How uncanny, that all should be just as he’d imagined it, only a minute or so ago. And were those approaching sandals he heard? Glancing round first, he then bent low and peered through the letter-slot. The hall was empty. Well, perhaps the servants were taking their breakfast break, and she was out in the garden somewhere. He was about to slip the letters through the slot anyway, when his hand rebelled, not wanting to release the cream envelope until he had been promised the stamp on it. Perhaps he could just take a quick look round, and hope to spot her with her gardening things or beside the swimming-pool.


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Bump, bump, bump, moving a little awkwardly because of the postbag, Ramjut Pillay set off to circle the house anti-clockwise. The swimming-pool lay without so much as a ripple on its surface. The garden looked quite empty. There was no sign of life anywhere. Then something that flashed caught his eye. Needing new lenses in his wire-framed spectacles, Ramjut Pillay had to cross the patio beside the swimming-pool before he could make out what was reflecting the sun’s rays in this unusual manner: it was an electric fan with shiny metal blades, purring away just inside a room that opened out through huge sliding glass doors. Edging a little closer, he took a quick peep into the room, which was probably what he’d seen described somewhere as a sun-lounge. There was certainly enough sun in it, bouncing in off the pool outside, so no wonder someone had the fan on. “Oh, heavens!” gasped Ramjut Pillay. That someone was none other than the lady of the house, who lay stretched out on the black-leather sofa directly in line with where he was standing. She must certainly have seen him peering in, for he had been able to see her well enough, and would now doubtless expect some very good excuse for his intrusion. All the more so because she was virtually naked, save for a glittering bluey-green bikini. “Er, madam?” Ramjut Pillay said hoarsely, stepping over to where the sliding doors stood ajar, but keeping his eyes humbly averted. “Good morning, madam, so sorry for the disturbance—many, many apologies, madam.” There was what he took to be a stunned silence, so he went on hastily: “All in the line of duty, you see, madam. When I feel the weight of this cream letter in my hand, I say to myself, ‘Pillay, you are the bearer of some very important tidings—see there is no delay in the conveyance.’ And so, when I am ringing at your bell and there was no immediate answer, I. . . .” He


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had just taken another peep at her, and now realised her eyes were closed. “Asleep?” he whispered, hardly believing his good fortune. Why, he need only sneak away as quickly as possible, and nobody would ever know he’d been there. Then he hesitated for a fateful fraction of a second. Long enough anyway to want a closer look at those splendidly rounded white limbs, at those womanly breasts, at the gently domed belly, and in that same blink of an eye another side to him took possession. This frightened Ramjut Pillay—in fact, it scared the wits out of him—but it also somehow excited him, and excited him enormously, if the situation behind his postbag was anything to go by. At first, he acted with cold calculation. He cleared his throat loudly, and when this failed to produce a reaction he gave a rap on the glass door. He did not rap a second time, however, having satisfied himself she was not merely dozing. And then he took his boots off, leaving them outside on the patio before setting off on tiptoe across the wooden floor of the sun-lounge. This was when a feverish, dizzying feeling overcame him. He would never have believed such a perfect pallor of exposed skin possible, not in a million trillion years, and wanted desperately to caress it, to feel its cool sheen soothe his brown fingertips like magnolia blossom. Nothing could stop him now, and if she awoke suddenly, too bad—he’d just have to do something drastic. There was a low buzzing in the room. He ignored it. He marvelled instead at the glittering bluey-green bikini, shimmering as though stitched over by thousands of iridescent sequins, and moved closer, his weak eyes greedy for strong detail. The bikini had some red in it, too, he noted. The blurry face was as he remembered it—rosebud lips and long sweeping eyelashes. The breasts seemed heavier than he had suspected, the mound between her thighs far more pronounced than he


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could have dreamed. All of a sudden, he hated that bikini and wished it away, wanting to see beneath it. He got his wish. No sooner had his advancing shadow fallen across the female body lying languorously before him, than the bluey-green glitter disintegrated into a buzzing swirl of angry flies, rose up and disappeared over his shoulder.


The artful egg excerpt