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By Ian Rankin
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With all the verve and taut pacing that have made Ian Rankin an internationally renowned suspense writer, Blood Hunt is a gripping story of one man’s dogged pursuit of justice.
ALSO BY IAN RANKIN
THE INSPECTOR REBUS SERIES
Knots and Crosses
Hide and Seek
Tooth and Nail
A Good Hanging and Other Stories
The Black Book
Let It Bleed
Black and Blue
The Hanging Garden
Death Is Not the End (a novella)
Set in Darkness
A Question of Blood
HE STOOD ON THE EDGE of the abyss, staring down.
Not afraid, not feeling anything very much except the burning in his lungs, the damp ache behind his legs. He knew staring was never a one-way thing. It was reciprocal. Okay, he thought, get your staring finished, get it over and done with now. The fall, he thought—it isn't the fall that kills you, it's the ground at the end of it. It's gravity, the fatal pull of the planet. There was water at the bottom of the chasm, the tide rising, foam churning against the sheer sides. He could hear the water, but in what was left of the daylight he could barely see it.
He took a deep breath at last and drew back, stretching his spine. There was an hour left till dusk: not much time. They wouldn't find him now. He'd had one piece of luck about seventy-five minutes ago, but reckoned he was allowed one lucky break per mission.
At least they were quiet now, his pursuers. They weren't yelling ill-considered commands back and forth, their words carrying on the sweet, still air all the way to where he lay listening. And they'd split into two-man patrols: also well-learned. He wondered whose idea that had been. They would know by now that time was against them, know too that they were tired, cold, and hungry. They'd give up before he did.
That was the edge he had on them. Not a physical edge—some of them were younger, fitter, stronger than him—but a psychological one. The sharpest edge there was.
He looked up and listened, breathed in the wet bracken, the small dull buds, the charged air. There were thunderclouds in the distance, moving farther away. A torrent of rain had swept the land yet again. There was nothing worse for the spirits than a periodical drenching. Their spirits, not his. They weren't within a mile of him. They weren't anywhere close. None of them would be blooded today.
He checked himself. Overconfidence. It had to be avoided. The most dangerous part of a mission, any mission, was the last part—those final few hours, or minutes, or even seconds. Your brain starts winding down, your tired body doing the same. And you start to make mistakes. He shook his head roughly, feeling the pain across his shoulders. He was carrying seventy-five pounds, which would have been nothing five or ten years before—he'd carried double that in the Falklands; some Special Air Service missions in the Gulf War had carried even more—but now he'd been carrying the rucksack for thirty-six hours, and the pack was wet and heavy.
He set off again after checking his map, walking backwards through the mud, sometimes circling so he crossed over his own tracks. He took a pride in all this confusion—a confusion his pursuers probably wouldn't even notice. They had, perhaps, turned back already. But this wasn't about them at all. It was about him. He'd never doubted it for a moment.
He started to climb again, with his back to the ground, heels pushing into the soil, his rucksack transferred to his chest. Near the top of the ridge he paused, listened, and heard a sound he could identify all too easily: paper tearing, being crushed. The ball of silver foil bounced close to him and stopped. He could hear no footsteps, no advance, no retreat—and no conversation. A sentry, then; a lone lookout. Maybe part of an observation post, which would mean two men. They had, after all, split into two-man patrols. He heard a bar of chocolate being snapped in two. He became certain he was dealing with a stand-alone; the other man must be out on recce.
The close of daylight being so near, it was tempting to take a prisoner, a hostage. But he knew it was only tempting because he was tired. Overconfidence again. He was trying to evade the enemy, not engage it. But if feet shuffled towards the overhang, if toecaps sent crumpled earth showering down, if a pair of eyes wondered what was below . . . The gun was ready.
He hugged the soil and grass, feeling the damp soaking into his back. To take his mind off it, he did a little mental check, ensuring he was ready for anything.
A sigh from above, barely ten feet away. Then: "Sod this for a lark," and the sound of feet shuffling away, a throat being cleared, phlegm hawked onto the ground. Minus points, he thought—traces left for any pursuer: a gob of spit, some silver foil. Plus speaking out loud. Very minus points.
One day, he thought, one day not so very long ago, I'd have crept up behind you and dug my knife into your throat. Not a slit—a throat was tougher than you thought; a slit often wouldn't be enough—you went for maximum damage in minimum time, and above all you wanted to get the voice box. So you stuffed the point of the dagger into the throat and poked around with it.
He had that nightmare sometimes. Not so often these days. It worried him that he didn't dream about Joan and Allan. He never dreamed about them at all, yet they were his whole life—they were his saving.
He was wondering where the other man was, the one the chocolate-eater had gone to find. Last thing he wanted was for the bastard to stumble on him lying here, exposed, with the rucksack on his chest getting in the way of his gun.
Go back down the slope, or head up over the rise? He gave it another minute, then wormed his way upwards, peering over the lip. Open countryside, a rounded dip to the land like a giant saucer; and a hundred yards away, stumbling along, the chocolate-eater. He recognized the young man, even from behind, even in this light and from this distance. He recognized his useful bulk, not too much of which was flab. A quick check of the map confirmed he was headed back to the enemy base. He wasn't looking for anyone. He just wanted to be indoors with a mug of something hot and wet. He'd had enough.
A final look at the map, committing it to memory. Soon it would be too dark to read, and the use of a torch, even the thinnest pencil-lead beam, was dangerous. So dangerous it was verboten during most active missions except in the direst emergency. There'd be no dire emergency this time.
He tracked the chocolate-eater, keeping a steady distance. After a while a tall, thin man joined up with the chocolate-eater and they had a muted discussion, pointing their arms in various directions like windblown weather vanes. Together they set off for camp, unaware that they were being watched by the very man they were supposed to capture at any cost.
Eventually, the "camp" itself came into view: two olive-green Land Rovers with roofs that had once been white. There were three men already there, hovering around a steaming kettle on a Campingaz stove. They were shuffling their feet and checking their watches.
He knew this land fairly well by now, and decided to get closer. It would mean a hike of a couple of miles, around to the other side of the encampment where the ground cover was thicker. He set off, crouching low, crawling on his belly when necessary. Another two-man patrol was coming home, and passed within a hundred yards of him. He made himself part of the scenery. They weren't really concentrating anymore—they were too close to home, not expecting anything. The most dangerous time.
At one point he heard a cry of "Come out, come out!" followed by laughter. The laughter had an embarrassed edge to it. They'd be even more embarrassed if he walked into their camp, his gun trained on them.
He was where he wanted to be now, separated by the vehicles from the campfire and the men. They hadn't set guards; they hadn't done anything. Overconfidence. He lay his rucksack on the ground and started to crawl in towards their position. He knew his target. He was going to crawl right under one of the Land Rovers and point his gun up at them as they drank their tea. Then he was going to say hello.
The voice behind him, over him. A woman's voice, sounding amused, as well she might. He rolled over onto his back and looked up at her, at the gun she was carrying. In her free hand, she held his rucksack. She was tutting now, shaking her head.
"Traces," she said. She meant the rucksack. He'd made no attempt to hide it. She glanced at her wristwatch. It was a man's chronometer with a time-lapse function.
"Thirty-six hours and three minutes," she said. "You almost didn't make it."
They were close enough to the Land Rovers for her voice to carry. The men in their camouflage uniforms came around to the back of the vehicles to see what was happening. He stood up and looked towards them, finding the chocolate-eater.
"Traces," he said, tossing the ball of silver paper. It landed in the young man's tin mug and floated in his tea.
They couldn't head back until everyone had returned to camp. Eventually, the last few stragglers came limping home. One of them, the car dealer, had twisted his ankle and was being supported by his two friends, one of whom—a school PE instructor—had badly blistered feet, the result of wearing the wrong kind of socks with nearly new boots.
"I think I've caught pneumonia," the man with the blisters said. He looked at the man they'd all been trying to catch for the past day and a half. Ten of them against one of him, within an area of six square miles outside which he was not allowed to operate. He was removing his belt-kit, always the last thing he shed. It comprised his survival kit, knife, compass, first-aid kit, water bottle, and chocolate bars. The PE instructor hobbled over and touched his arm, then his chest.
"How come you're not soaked like the rest of us?" He sounded aggrieved. "There's not a bit of shelter out there, hardly a bloody tree. You been cheating, Reeve?"
Gordon Reeve stared at the man. "I never need to cheat, Mr. Matthews." He looked at the other men. "Anyone know how I kept my clothes dry?" Nobody spoke up. "Try some lateral thinking. How can you keep your clothes dry if you've nothing to cover them with?" They still didn't answer. Reeve looked towards his wife. "Tell them, Joan."
She had placed his rucksack against a Land Rover and was using it as a seat. She smiled towards Reeve. "You take them off," she said.
Reeve nodded at the men. "You take them off and you stash them in your pack. You let the rain do its stuff, and when it stops you get dry again and you put your nice dry clothes back on. You've been cold and wet and miserable for a while, but you're dry afterwards. One final lesson learned, gentlemen." He took a mug from the ground and poured a brew into it. "And by the way, you were crap out there. You were absolute crap."
They drove back to the house for debriefing. The Reeves had turned the stables into an annex that included a shower room with a dozen spray nozzles; a changing room with metal lockers, so each man could store his civvy clothes and all the other paraphernalia of the life they were leaving behind for seventy-two hours; a well-equipped gym; and a small conference room.
The conference room was where Reeve did most of the initial teaching. Not the physical stuff—that was done in the gym, or outside in the courtyard and surrounding countryside—but the other lessons, the show-and-tell. There was a monitor and a video machine; a slide projector; various blackboards, wall maps, and diagrammatic charts; a big oval table and a dozen or so functional chairs. There were no ashtrays; no smoking was allowed indoors. Smoking, as Reeve reminded each new intake, is bad for your health. He wasn't talking about lung cancer; he was talking about traces.
After showering, the men dressed in their civvies and headed for the conference room. There was a bottle of whiskey on the table, but none of them would sniff a drop until the debriefing—and then there'd be just the single glass apiece, as most of them were driving home after dinner. Joan Reeve was in the kitchen, making sure the oven had done its work. Allan would have laid the table, then made a tactical retreat to his room to play another computer game.
When they were all seated, Gordon Reeve stood up and went to the blackboard. He wrote the letter P seven times with lime-green chalk. "The seven P's, gentlemen. Not the seven dwarves, not the Magnificent Seven, and not the seven moons of Jupiter. I couldn't name the seven dwarves, I couldn't name the Magnificent Seven, and sure as shit sticks to your arse I couldn't name the seven moons of Jupiter. But I can tell you the seven P's. Can you tell me?"
They shifted in their seats and offered up a few words. When they got a word right, Reeve chalked it on the board.
"Piss," he said, writing it down. "Planning . . . Poor . . . Proper . . ." He saw they were struggling, so he turned away from the board. "Proper Planning and Preparation Prevent Piss-Poor Performance. I could add an eighth P today: Procedure. You were a shambles out there. A barefoot Cub Scout blind from birth could have avoided you these past thirty-six hours. An elephant looking for the graveyard could have avoided you. The British Ladies' fucking Equestrian Team and their horses could have given you a run for your money. So now it's time to evaluate exactly what went so bloody disastrously wrong."
They exchanged sad glances; his captives. It was going to be a long time till dinner.
After dinner and good-byes, after seeing them all off in their cars, waving them back to their real lives, Reeve went upstairs to try to convince Allan that it was bedtime.
Allan was eleven and "bookish"—except that in his case the adjective referred to computers, computer games, and videos. Reeve didn't mind in the least that his son wasn't the outdoor type. Friends thought maybe Reeve would have preferred a musclebound son who was good at football or rugby. Friends were wrong. Allan was a lovely-looking kid, too, with a strawberry-cream complexion and peach fuzz on his cheeks. He had short fair hair which curled at the nape of his neck, and deep blue eyes. He looked like his mother; everybody said so.
He was in bed, apparently asleep, when Reeve opened the door. The room was still warm from computer-use. Reeve went over and touched the top of the monitor—it was hot. He lifted the plastic cover off the hard drive and found it was still switched on. Smiling, Reeve nudged the mouse and the screen came to life. A game screen was held on pause.
He walked over to the bed, crunching magazines and comics underfoot. The boy didn't move when Reeve sat down on the bed. His breathing sounded deep and regular; too deep, too regular.
Reeve stood up again. "Okay, partner, but no more games, right?"
He'd opened the door before Allan sat bolt upright, grinning.
Reeve smiled back at him from the doorway. "Get some sleep . . . or else."
"How are you getting on with that game?"
"I'll beat it, just you wait. Uncle James always sends me games that're too hard."
Uncle James was Reeve's brother, a journalist. He was working out in the States, and had sent Allan a couple of computer games as a very belated birthday-and-Christmas-combined present. That was typical of James; kids always forgave him his forgetfulness because he made it up to them once a year or so.
"Well, maybe I can help you with it."
"I'll do it myself," Allan said determinedly. "There's one screen I can't get past, but after that it'll be okay."
Reeve nodded. "What about homework, is it done?"
"Done. Mum checked it this afternoon."
"And do you still hate Billy?"
Allan wrinkled his face. "I loathe Billy."
Reeve nodded again. "So who's your best friend now?"
"Go to sleep now," his father said, closing the door. He waited in the hall, listening for the crackle of footsteps on paper as Allan left the bed and headed for the computer. But he didn't hear anything. He stayed a little longer, staring along the passageway. He could hear Joan downstairs, watching television. The dishwasher was busy in the kitchen. This is home, he thought. This is my place. This is where I'm happy. But part of him was still crouching in the rain while a patrol passed nearby . . .
Downstairs, he made a couple of mugs of instant coffee and headed for the living room. This had been a farmhouse once, just a couple of rooms and an attic reached by a ladder. Reeve imagined that in the winters the farmer brought his animals into the house, keeping them warm and using them as central heating. The place had been uninhabited for eight years when they bought it. Joan had seen potential in the house—and Reeve had seen potential in the seclusion. They were close enough to civilization, but they were on their own.
It had taken time to settle on this location. The Scottish Borders would have provided better communications; clients driving up from London could have done the trip in half a day. But Reeve had finally opted for South Uist. He'd been here on holiday once as a child and had never really forgotten it. When he persuaded Joan to come with him to see it again he pretended it was just a holiday, but really he'd been sizing up the place. There were a few villages nearby; but for the most part there was nothing at all. Reeve liked that. He liked the wilderness and the hills. He liked the isolation.
Most of his clients came from England, and didn't mind the travel. For them, it was part of the overall experience. They were a mixed lot: hikers looking for something more; gung-ho apocalyptic types, shaping up for the final showdown; trainee bodyguards; all-purpose masochists. Reeve provided intensive training that was partly field craft, partly survivalist. His aim, he told them at the outset, was to get them to use their instincts as well as any skills they might learn along the way. He was teaching them to survive, whether it be in the office or on a wind-chilled mountaintop. He was teaching them to survive.
The final test was the pursuit. It was never a no-win situation for the weekend soldiers. If they planned, prepared, and worked together, they could find him easily within the time allotted. If they read their maps, found themselves a leader, split into pairs, and covered the ground systematically, there was no way he could elude them. The area wasn't that big, and boasted few enough hiding places. It didn't matter if they couldn't find him, just so long as they learned their lesson, learned that they might have found him if only they'd gone about it the right way.
The chocolate-eater was going to be somebody's bodyguard someday. He probably thought being a bodyguard was all about being big and holding a clean driving license; a sort of chauffeur with clout. He had a lot to learn. Reeve had met a few heavyweight bodyguards, international types, political types. Some of them had been in Special Forces at the same time as him. Chocolate-chops had a long way to go.
He never told clients he'd been in the SAS. He told them he was ex-infantry, and mentioned a few of his campaigns: Northern Ireland, the Falklands . . . He never went into detail, though he was often pressed. As he said, none of that was important; it was the past. It was just stories—stories he never told.
The living room was warm. Joan was curled up on the sofa, tending to the immediate needs of Bakunin the cat while they both watched TV. She smiled as she took the mug from him. Bakunin gave him a dirty look for daring to interrupt the stroking session. Reeve made a tactical withdrawal and sank into his favorite chair. He looked around the room. Joan had decorated it, doing her usual thorough job. This is what home is all about, he thought. This is fine.
"You slipped up today," she said, her eyes still on the TV.
"Thanks for making me look good."
"Sorry. I didn't know that was my job."
Did she want an argument? He didn't need one. He concentrated on the coffee.
"Did you get all their checks?" she asked, still not looking at him.
"They're in the drawer."
"In the cashbox?"
"In the drawer," he repeated. He couldn't taste the coffee.
"You gave them their receipts?"
She didn't say anything after that, and neither did he, but she'd managed to get beneath his skin again. She could do it so easily. He'd been trained for most things, but not for this. Joan would have made a great interrogator.
This is home, he thought.
Then the phone rang.
THE CO-WORLD CHEMICALS BUILDING was situated on the corner of B Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown San Diego. That put it about sixteen miles north of the Mexican border, which was a lot closer than Alfred Dulwater liked. The place was practically a foreign country as far as he was concerned. He knew, too, that the city's Gaslamp Quarter started only a couple of blocks south of the CWC building, and though the city had cleaned the place up and now advertised it to tourists as "historic," it was still as full of panhandlers and bums as it was overpriced restaurants and knickknack shops.
Dulwater came from Denver. As a kid, he'd taken a map of the USA and drawn two diagonals through it, one from Seattle to Miami, the other from Boston to San Diego. In so doing, he'd managed to prove to himself that Denver, Colorado, was just about at the heart of the blessed United States. Okay, Topeka had actually been nearest the cross-sights, but Denver was close, too.
He didn't live in Denver these days, though. The private investigation company he worked for—indeed, was the newest junior partner in—operated out of Washington, DC. The image a lot of people had of PIs was the usual fictional one: grubby men chain-smoking on motel stakeouts. But Alfred Dulwater's firm, Alliance Investigative, wasn't like that. Even its name made it sound more like an insurance company than some two-bit outfit. Alliance was big and prosperous and worked for only select clients, most of them big corporations like Co-World Chemicals. Dulwater didn't mind at all working for CWC, even on something which seemed so trivial, but he did mind that Kosigin kept bringing him to San Diego. Usually, a report would be delivered by trusted messenger service. It was very unusual for a client to demand that a junior partner deliver the report personally; in the present case it was not just one report, but several, requiring several trips to Southern California—crazy economics, since the subject was living and working locally. It meant Dulwater had to fly out here, rendezvous with his team of investigators, read through their report, and then carry the same to San Diego, like he was a damned postman.
Still, Kosigin was paying. As old man Allerdyce at Alliance said, "He who pays is king." At least for a day.
Mr. Allerdyce was taking a close interest in this investigation. It seemed Kosigin had approached him personally and asked him to take on the case. This was a simple surveillance, with background biography and clippings. They were to look for the usual—dirt buried beneath the fingernails of the subject's past—but were also to report on his workday activities.
Which, really, as Dulwater had suggested to Mr. Allerdyce, was a bit beneath them; they were corporate investigators. But Allerdyce had sat behind his huge oak desk and pouted thoughtfully, then waved his fingers in the air, dismissing the complaint. And now he wanted regular reports from Dulwater, too. Dulwater wasn't stupid; he knew that if he kept in with the old man, did a good job, and kept quiet, then there might be advancement. And he lived for advancement.
No Mexicans seemed to work in the CWC building. Even the doorman, the security guard who checked Dulwater's identity, and the cleaner polishing the brass rails on the wall between the four elevators were all male, all white. Dulwater liked that. That had class. And the air-conditioning pleased him, too. San Diego was warm-to-hot; it was like that all year, except when it got real hot. But there were sea breezes, you had to admit that. It wasn't a baking or steamy heat. It would've been quite pleasant if Dulwater hadn't been trussed into a blue woollen three-piece with a tie constricting his neck. Damned suit and shirt used to fit—but then he'd added some weight recently, since the injury to his knee stopped his weekly squash torture.
There was a gym in the CWC building. It was one floor below the lobby, and one floor up from parking. Dulwater had never been that far down, but he'd been right to the top, and he was going there again. The security guard came with him to the elevator and turned his key in the lock, pressing the button for the fourteenth floor. You couldn't simply press the button, you needed the key as well, like in some of the hotels Dulwater had stayed in, the ones with penthouse and executive levels. The doors closed, and he tried to stop seeming nervous. Kosigin wasn't the biggest fish within the multinational; he was maybe number five or six in the States, which made him seven or eight in the world. But he was young and arrogant with it, and Dulwater didn't like his attitude. In another life, he'd have punched him out and then given him a sharp-toed kick in the lumbar region for good measure.
But this was business, and Kosigin was king for the duration of the meeting. The doors opened, bringing Dulwater out onto the thick, silent carpeting of the fourteenth floor. There was a reception area, with only three doors leading off. Each door led to an office, and each office covered several hundred square feet, so that they didn't feel like offices at all; they felt more like temples. The secretary, who was actually known as a "personal assistant," smiled at him.
"Good morning, Mr. Dulwater." She still pronounced it dull-water, even though on his first visit he'd corrected it to doo-latter. In truth, the family back in Denver said dull-water, too, but Alfred didn't like the sound of that, just as he'd hated all the jibes and nicknames at school and college. When he left for Washington, he'd decided to reject dull-water and become doo-latter. He liked doo-latter. It sounded like it had class.
"Mr. Kosigin will be about five minutes. If you'd like to wait inside . . ."
Dulwater nodded and approached the door to Kosigin's office, which the secretary unlocked with a button beneath the lip of her desk. Then he walked in.
That was another thing. He'd looked at Kosigin's name and thought koss-eegin, like the Soviet guy in the fifties—or was it sixties? But the name was pronounced kossigin, rattled off in a single breath, all the letters short and hard. There was a hardness to Kosigin's office which matched both his name and personality. Even the works of art looked harsh and brutal: the paintings were full of squared-off objects, geometric shapes in dull colors; the sculptures looked like either disfigured people or things that had gotten too close to a heat source. And even the view, which should have been fantastic, was somehow harder, crueler than it merited. You couldn't quite see the waterfront—there were other, taller buildings in the way. He thought he could see the shiny Marriott through a gap in the downtown buildings, but the way it reflected light it could have been anything.
- On Sale
- Nov 1, 2006
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Little, Brown and Company