SMOKE: The Hysterical Thief

Originally published: 7 April 2005

I sometimes wonder why strange things happen to me.

Because they do - maybe subconsciously I will odd things to happen to me, or maybe I'm more observant than other folks, or maybe I'm just on a predetermined path of destiny that happens to be fraught with wild and interesting experiences.

A path which led me to a set of static traffic lights on Wednesday afternoon in Claremont and some hot, hot cop action.

I was on my way to Mowbray, having run out of ... uh ... I was needing some more ... um ... well anyway - I was on my way to Mowbray.

There's a huge arterial road that runs nearby our house, called Chichester Road - it disappears out into the Cape Flats somewhere and links up the M3 (which takes you all the way to Muizenberg and other peculiar places) to Claremont.

I was driving out at around 16h00 and at that time the road was quite busy. I was sitting in a long line of cars that was waiting to turn right into Belvedere Rd, which takes you all the way to the Rondebosch Common, before sending you to either the N1, the N2 or Milnerton.

There was a long line of traffic heading in the opposite direction and the line of cars I was in was inching along as only one or two cars made it through the lights with each cycle.

I was idly gazing out of my window towards the traffic lights when I noticed a small man - dressed in council overalls - running hell for leather through the cars that were whizzing past along Belvedere.

At that particular set of traffic lights there are always three or four guys standing around holding black plastic garbage bags and they cause constant irritation by offering you their bags to dump your car rubbish in.

The Running Man was holding just such a bag and at first I thought he was one of the guys collecting rubbish.

I was about to turn away when it struck me that he wasn't just dancing through the traffic like the other guys do - he was very nearly mowed down twice while trying to run across the road and I watched in fascination, fully expecting someone to hit him.

I must have been at least 50 metres away from him but there was something disturbingly familiar about him, even at that distance. I assumed I'd just seen him at those traffic lights before.

But as soon as he made the safety of the other side of the road - a grassy piece of kerb - he dropped the bag he was carrying and started hurtling down the road towards our line of cars.

The moment I saw him drop the bag I knew he was up to no good - I've seen fleeing people dropping bags before. Many times.

And just then a policeman came haring around the corner at top speed on foot, and I had a grandstand seat to one of the finest foot chases Cape Town has to offer.

A note about the policeman - he was enormous. And I don't just mean tall, although he must have been at least 6'5" - he was fat. Obese, actually - an enormous mountain of flesh, stuffed into a SAPS uniform.

But so help me if I've never seen anyone in my life - not even Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis nor Donovan Bailey - run that fast. That fat cop was hauling ass like no athlete has ever done - his lips were tightly compressed with determination, his face was screwed up into a grimace of agony and he was sweating like a stuck pig.

But man - that cop could run. Run cop run. Claremont fat cops, dude - you gotta see it to believe it.

The Running Man had a good headstart on the cop but he was hauled in hand over fist - the cop was going twice as fast as he was and realising his game was nearly up the thief slipped into the line of cars waiting to turn right. About 10 cars up ahead of me.

He started weaving in and out of the cars but the cop was like the fucking Darkman, baby - that oke just hunted down that thief with a relentlessness that was at times frightening, at times exhilarating, but always, always chilling.

I've just never seen a face as determined to exact justice as the face on that fat, sweaty cop.

But that's all just the starters - I haven't even started on the main course yet, let alone the dessert.

Because the cop caught the bastard - as he got to my car. It's what I'm talking about - the universe has a strange way with me. There must have been 20 cars in that line in total, but the oke was caught right in front of my eyes.

The cop lunged as the Running Man tried to dart past the bonnet of my car and nailed him. They disappeared onto the ground and I couldn't see them because my bonnet was in the way. I was peering over my steering wheel when suddenly they both appeared and the cop slammed the thief with unnecessary but impressive force face down onto my bonnet.

I'd noticed something very peculiar during the whole affair - the whole time he was running and darting through cars the Running Man was laughing. But not just laughing - he was hysterical with laughter. Screaming with laughter. He looked like he was simply having the best time ever.

I could hear him still laughing as the cop - who was almost dead from the exertion - was cuffing him, and then he was jerked to his feet and he stared straight at me.

In that moment I recognised him fully and it wasn't from him standing at the traffic lights. It was a face I could never forget, because it was imprinted on my memory with startling clarity just last year.

It was The Creeping Man! The little bastard I chased last year when he sneaked past our study window, having robbed the house behind us. The very swine whose antics caused the neighbours behind us to erect an electric fence after that.

He's clearly past his creeping phase and is in a whole brand new running phase, but he was actually a lot better when he was creeping, I think - the guy can't even outrun a 6'5" obese cop.

And he was laughing, laughing, laughing. Insanely. Mad with glee.

He was still screaming with laughter as the cop dragged him unprotestingly away - maybe he found the happy pills of whoever he'd robbed, or maybe he just wanted to get caught.

Through all of this a disturbingly South African thing happened to place it all in perspective.

When the cop was trussing his turkey up at my car, the lights up ahead changed to green and a few cars slipped - reluctantly - away (all of them had drivers with severely cramped necks from staring so hard at this unexpected but welcome Wednesday entertainment).

This created a gap as the cars in front of me shuffled sheepishly forward, but naturally I couldn't move - I've had my fair share of trouble with the law before, but never for deliberately driving over a police officer and his robbery suspect.

But you can have all the criminals and drama and foot chases you like in South Africa, but whatever you do don't remain static when the cars ahead of you have moved up a few places - that shit upsets okes.

And just as the criminal was being cuffed - someone in the line behind me hooted. An impatient, sharp hoot. One of those ones which lets you know in no uncertain terms how much of an inconvenience you're being.

A criminal was being arrested, but some oke wanted to turn right so he hooted at me, the police and one of Cape Town's top career thieves. He couldn't give a continental about the enforcement of the law - he was far more concerned about the fact that the line wasn't moving.

That's South Africa for you. Cops? Thieves? Drama in the suburbs? Yeah, yeah - whatever. Just get moving, bru - I need to get to Belvedere Rd.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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