Charlotte Otter (1968 - ) was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg. She attended UCT and Stellenbosch, and worked as a student reporter on The Witness during her university holidays. After graduating, she worked at The Star and The Citizen in Johannesburg as a crime and court reporter before joining Anglo American’s corporate communications department. Charlotte moved to Germany in 1996, where she now lives in Heidelberg and works in IT communications. Her first novel,Balthasar’s Gift, which she describes as feminist crime fiction, was published in Germany by Ariadne Verlag in 2103 and by Modjaji Books of Cape Town in 2014. The second in the series, called Karkloof Blue and also featuring headstrong journalist Maggie Cloete, is currently in the works.
Find out more about Charlotte on her website (www.charlotteotter.com). She blogs at Charlotte’s Web (https://charlotteotter.wordpress.com) and takes her coffee breaks on Twitter (@charlwrites).
Excerpt from Balthasar's Gift (2014)
Her head whipped around. She saw faces, sunglasses, but no distinct features. Were they after her or the children? Mbali waved to her from the back of the Combi as she rifled through her options. It was fifty-fifty, but at least she’d know. When the traffic light turned green, she made her decision. Sipho trundled straight across the intersection, but she took a fierce left. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that the BMW was following her. That was good, but now she would have to lose them.
She opened the Chicken’s throttle up Victoria Street. It was usually busy, full of offices and small businesses but on this early Saturday evening, it had emptied to a trickle of cars. A few pedestrians turned their heads at the sound of the Chicken’s engine screaming. The BMW kept up easily, its silent progress along the street shark-like, unsleeping, tailing its prey.
In front of her was a red Opel Kadett with two grey heads in the front seats. They crawled along at a genteel pace. She had to get past them, to put some distance between herself and the BMW. She looked at the oncoming lane. There was a truck, thundering down towards Commercial Road and the highway turnoff. She dropped a gear, flashed past the Opel, earning a loud parp from the driver and an even louder bellow from the truck. She slid in front of the Opel just as the truck bore down on her. Now there was one car between her and her pursuers. The Opel’s driver shook his fist at Maggie and conferred with his wife, who shook her head. They had no idea, she thought, that behind them was a team of thugs, possibly armed, who were after the ill-behaved motorcyclist in front.
She turned right just as the traffic light went red. The BMW driver ignored the traffic light, roared around the Opel and turned right behind her. Now the sedan was sniffing the Chicken’s backside. Her breath caught in her throat.
She needed a plan, and fast.
Her apartment block was coming up on the right. They knew she was close to home and she knew that they knew. What would the BMW driver expect her to do? Buzz the security gate and let herself in, hoping it would clang shut before they could follow her?
That was too dangerous. If they got hold of her behind closed doors, who knew how much damage they could wreak before one of her neighbours woke up to the fact that she was in danger. Instead, she changed down another gear and headed into Taunton Road, scene of yesterday’s run. The Chicken’s gearbox screamed but she could feel the rear wheel torque clutch the road tighter. That was what she needed.
Her plan was to get to the top of the hill, across the traffic circle and down into Town Bush Road, where she could lose herself in the plantations. She went there nearly every weekend with her off-road club, and the Chicken was built for leaping dongas and skidding around tight corners.
Blood throbbing in her head, she urged the Chicken up the hill. What she would give to have Bond’s Z8 right now, she thought, teeth gritted. The titanium plating and armour would be of assistance if these bastards started shooting at her. The missile pad would be good if she needed to shoot back.
Then up ahead, just before the road curved into the ravine, a driver in a battered estate car pulled into the road in front of her and her pursuers. Oblivious to the chase going on behind her, the driver cautiously hugged the road’s curves. A black Doberman in the back of the estate lifted his chops and showed her his white fangs.
The BMW nosed her exhaust. They were trying to run Maggie off the road. Her heart flew out of her chest cavity and landed in her mouth. This was not the way she wanted to go. She would die in her sleep, maybe, or have a spectacular heart attack after a lifetime’s indulgence, but she didn’t want to be strawberry jam on a BMW’s fender. The German car’s engine roared in her ears. She could taste metal.
She overtook the estate. It was time to get lost. She wasn’t going to make the plantations.
She looked at the gulley below. Its clogged bush would provide cover. Pulling the Chicken over to the side of the road, and leaving her flank-down on the ground, she dived into the ravine, feet meeting rocks, arms meeting thorny branches as she plunged into its leafy depths. From nowhere, a root snaked out and tripped her. She tumbled. She felt the ice of pain on her forehead before coming to rest against a tree trunk ten metres into the gulley. She heard her breath, ragged gasps, but it was drowned by mynah birds greeting night with their noisy lullaby.
On the crest of the hill above her there was silence. Had her pursuers moved on? Headed off to nose the town’s underbelly for other prey?
‘Can’t see the bitch,’ came a voice from the top of the gulley. A Zulu voice, speaking English.
‘Ja. Probably hit her head on a rock, hey?’ The second voice had a strong Afrikaans accent.
Through her pain, she managed a wry smile. The thugs were too concerned about their designer suits to come sniffing around in the ravine for her. She heard their feet thump. She would give them a few minutes to leave before she clambered up the gulley.
Then she heard it: the sound of metal on metal. She put her fist in her mouth to stop herself from screaming. They were wasting the Chicken. It sounded like they were using mallets. She felt every crunch, every jolt, as they pulverized her bike. The carnage seemed to go on for hours. Then she heard doors slam and the BMW’s growl as it took off.
2014. Balthasar's Gift. Cape Town: Modjaji Books.