For a while I had this chunk of dialogue running around in my head, delivered in a broad Texan accent (think Tommy Lee Jones): “I busted Nelson Mandela’s black ass. You’re looking at the reason he got sent to prison. I changed the course of history and that is no word of a goddam lie.”
The dialogue was inspired by an obscure web interview with an ex-CIA operative who was undercover in South Africa in the early 1960s. He got wind that Nelson Mandela – on the run from the South African security police – would be in the Durban vicinity on a certain day. The CIA guy alerted the SA cops and Mandela went to prison for 27 years. True story, or so the man said.
Okay, I had the dialogue, but what the hell was I going to do with it?
Then, uninvited, a seventy-something-year-old dying of lung cancer elbowed his way into my consciousness. Told me his name was Bobby Goodbread and he’d been in the CIA for years, involved in dirty tricks across the planet, from South Africa, to Vietnam, to Angola. When Jimmy Carter pulled the CIA out of Angola (where they’d been helping the South Africans fight Cuban-backed guerrillas) Goodbread – who was married to a South African woman and had a son by her – found employment with the apartheid state as a hit man, and ended up serving a long stretch in prison for atrocities he committed.
Turned out that Goodbread’s son was very different from his old man. Grew up to become a journalist who was a staunch opponent of apartheid. Went on to marry a mixed-race woman and father twins with her. Robert Dell hated Goodbread enough to refuse to carry his name and hadn’t seen the old bastard in twenty years.
Also turned out that Dell’s wife was screwing her boss, one of the country’s richest men. A man who enjoyed a corrupt relationship with members of the ruling party, as many rich men do in South Africa today.
Dell’s wife was having a tryst with the rich guy when the Minister of Justice sent two hit men to take him out, afraid he was going squeal. Rosie Dell escaped, but one of the hit men – a Zulu by the name of Inja Mazibuko – saw her and tracked her down, wanting to kill her, along with her husband and kids, in what looked like a car accident. But Dell survived. So the State framed him for the murder of his family and he ended up on the run. And the only person there to help him was his oldest enemy: his father. Bobby Goodbread.
Also turned out that Inja Mazibuko had full-blown AIDS and believed (as far too many do) that sex with a virgin would cure him, and was about to take as his fourth wife a sixteen year old Zulu virgin named Sunday, who – I was shocked to discover –was possibly the daughter of special investigator Disaster Zondi. I thought I’d seen the last of Zondi in my debut, Mixed Blood, but he had other ideas. Zondi’s investigative unit had been disbanded by the corrupt minister and he was out for revenge.
So, my thriller, Dust Devils, a dark and bloody look a contemporary South Africa – and no love letter – grew out of that stray chunk of dialogue.
Dust Devils is published in September by Serpent’s Tail.