‘Hey man, Marco, did you hear?’
‘Are you sitting down?’
‘No, I’m at the restaurant prepping bok choy. What is it?’
‘It’s Noakes. You should probably sit down.’
‘You’re freaking me out. What’s going on, Shaun?’
‘You haven’t seen the news?’
‘Jesus Christ, just spit it out! You’re scaring me.’
‘Noakes is dead.’
‘What the f**k are you talking about?’
‘The domestic worker found his body in his kitchen last night. He was still alive, but in critical condition. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.’
‘No! I can’t believe it! What happened?’
‘They’re not sure. But there’s a picture doing the rounds on the internet, one of the neighbours took it on their cell phone at the scene before the ambulance arrived, so it’s dark and a bit blurry.’
‘Was it a home invasion?’
‘They’re not sure yet; but they don’t think anything was stolen.’
‘Wait, what does that even mean? Are you saying that someone might have murdered him, like on purpose?’
‘It’s possible. Like I said, they’re not saying. I can’t believe you haven’t heard about it yet. Twitter is going nuts. In fact, the entire internet is on fire.’
‘I was at the market first thing, and I just got to the restaurant, and it’s crazy here,’ Marco said. ‘They don’t know how he died? How is that possible?’
‘Well, that’s the other thing. They can’t do an autopsy to determine cause of death.’
‘Why the hell not?’
‘Well, this is the insane bit. The latest news is that the ambulance taking him to hospital when he died was hijacked, with the body in it.’
Marco staggered and sat down, still clutching the phone to his ear.
‘Yup. They don’t even know where he is now,’ Shaun said.
‘This is unbelievable. Do you think whoever killed him hijacked the ambulance?’
‘To get rid of any evidence before an autopsy was done? Maybe.’
‘My head is literally spinning. Have you spoken to Xolisa and Shireen yet?’ Marco asked.
‘Yeah, I just got off the phone with Shireen, and I’m with Xolisa. They saw it online. It must have happened too late to make it into the morning papers.’
‘How are they?’
‘Shocked, freaked out, crying.’
‘Christ . . . What do you think this means for us?’
‘Sales will probably go up.’
‘For f**k’s sake, Shaun!’
‘What? It’s true. That’s what happens when a celebrity dies! Michael Jackson sold more albums after his death than he did the entire decade before.’
‘I don’t think we should compare the Prof to Michael Jackson.’
‘Fine, whatever. Listen, one of us is going to have to take over as the public face of this whole enterprise now that he’s gone.’
‘Jesus, Shaun. His body, wherever it is, is barely cold. How can you even think about something like that at a time like this?’
‘Well, someone has to think about it! It’s all of our futures at stake here. We can’t fart about wringing our hands because one of us is no longer around. Someone needs to take charge, and I, for one, am up for the job.’
‘Shaun, please tell me you didn’t have anything to do with his death.
It wasn’t you, was it?’
‘What? Wait, you think I killed him? Are you out of your freaking mind?’
‘No, but I mean, I have to ask. You don’t seem particularly thrown by his death, to be honest. And I know how difficult it’s been for us, and you especially, to accept that we’re just the nameless co-authors behind the scenes, while he’s been the one getting more famous by the day. Nobody calls it the Shaun diet, the Marco diet, the Xolisa diet or the Shireen diet: it’s the Noakes diet. Everyone knows that hasn’t been easy for you to handle, Shaun.’
‘That’s rich! You’ve been just as frustrated as me. Plus you’ve hardly had an easy run with that dead-end, money-pit restaurant of yours. I’m sure it’ll get a much-needed boost now with all the press we’re about to get. You must have thought at some point that it would do a whole lot better if you had more of a public profile.’
‘For the sake of our partnership and our friendship, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that, Shaun. We should stop this conversation now before one of us says more stuff we might regret. Something traumatic has happened, we’re upset, in shock. And we shouldn’t be having this kind of conversation over the phone, anyway. You never know who might be listening in.’
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment.
‘Fine. The police and the press are going to want a statement from each of us. We should get together to figure out what we’re going to say,’ Shaun spat.
‘Sure, don’t be such an idiot! It’s a murder, we’re his closest business partners, they’re going to hang us upside down and give us a good shake, looking for answers to fall out. I’ll set up a time, we can Skype with Shireen in Joburg. I’ll text you the details,’ Shaun said.
‘I can’t believe this is happening.’
‘Oh and Marco . . .’
‘Don’t talk to the press until we’ve gotten together and worked out what we’re going to say, okay?’
‘Jesus, what do you take me for? Of course I won’t.’
Marco slammed down the phone, then placed the knife he was clutching down on the counter and breathed deeply. He thought he’d come across as appropriately surprised and horrified, which was important. He didn’t want Shaun to know that he already knew about the Prof ’s death. He’d been practicing his surprised response and his devastated face all morning; it was going to come in handy over the next few weeks, he thought, returning to his bok choy.
Death By Carbs by Paige Nick is published by Bookstorm and is available now. This extract reproduced by permission.