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Authors: Michael Slade

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Headhunter

BOOK: Headhunter
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HEADHUNTER

by

Michael Slade

AN ONYX BOOK

NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

nal books are available at quantity discounts when used to promote products or services. for information please write to premium marketing division. new american library,
1633broadway. new york. new york10019.

Copyright © 1984 by Michael Slade

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Inquiries should be addressed to Permissions Department, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 105 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016.

Lyrics from "Jimmy Jazz" by Strummer/Jones

Copyright © Nineden Ltd. 1979, quoted by kind permission from

Nineden Ltd

This is an authorized reprint of a hardcover edition published by William Morrow and Company, Inc.

^^ ONYX IS A TRADEMARK OF NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

Signet, Signet Classic, Mentor, Plume, Onyx, Meridian and
NALBooksare published by New American Library, 1633 Broadway. New York, New York 10019

First Onyx Printing, September, 1986

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printed in the united states of america

for all the Fathers/Mothers

The mind of man is capable of anything— because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.


Joseph Conrad

PART ONE

HORSEMAN

Old is the tree, and the fruit good Very old and thick the wood. Woodsman, is your courage stout? Beware! The root is wrapped about Your mother's heart, your father's bones, And like the mandrake comes with groans.


Robert Louis Stevenson

The Nightmare

Medicine Lake, Alberta, 1897

The body hung upside down from the ceiling by nails driven through both feet. The head was missing, the neck severed to expose vein and muscle, artery and bone in a circle of raw flesh. What was left of the man was still dressed in the bright scarlet tunic of the Northwest Mounted Police, the arms, with their sleeves decorated with gold braid now dangling down toward the plank and sawdust floor. A pool of blood as red as the tunic spread out beneath the corpse. There was blood dripping from the tips of the dead man's fingers but the splash of each drop as it hit the pool was drowned out by the slow, incessant, monotonous thud of a drum beating overhead. The drumbeat came from up on the roof beyond the trap door in the ceiling.

Thump . . . thump . . . thump . . . thump . . .

He awoke with a start.

His muscles tense.

His mind alert.

His nervous system taut like a bowstring at full draw.

Under the blanket Blake used as a pillow, his right hand closed on the Enfield's grip and his thumb eased back on the hammer. There was a click as the hammer cocked but its sound was smothered and lost among the coarse cloth folds of the blanket. Slowly, Blake eased the revolver out from under his head and into the bitter cold. Then he lay stock-still in his buffalo robe. Silent. Listening. Waiting.

Thump . . . thump . . . thump . . .

The night was cold and moonless. To the north the aurora borealis flashed and trembled across the frozen landscape, the sheeted light fading in and out with that weird flicker the Indians say is "the Dance of the Dead Spirits." Above Blake's head countless stars pierced the inked-out sky; while off to the east, in the vault of space, rose-colored streaks from a meteor shower stabbed the first faint smudge of dawn. The time was 6 a.m.

During the hours that Blake had slept a storm had burst in from the Arctic, and once more reburied this valley beneath a weight of thick-fallen snow. By 3 a.m. the blizzard had passed. Now frost came down from the cold, dark sky to shroud his camp with ice—and all the world seemed to sleep in savage desolation.

Thump . . . thump . . . thum-thump . . . thump . . .

Blake was camped four hundred and fifty feet west of Medicine Lake. It was here in the lee of a clump of pine that he strained his ears to the silence. There was not a sound in the air nor from the frozen earth, yet in his gut, his primal core, Blake
knew
something was out there.

Enfield in hand, breath held, slowly he rose from the ground.

Wilfred Blake was a tall man with a firm, unflinching eye. He was dressed by regulation in a thick black buffalo coat. Though he was almost sixty years of age, the decades of fighting and exposure had failed to sap his strength. This strength was molded in his shoulders and chest, in his neck, in his backbone as straight as a ramrod down a rifle barrel.

Wilfred Blake was not a reckless man. He had not survived for nineteen years in the British Imperial Army by disregarding his instinct, for instinct had saved him more than once in those many Colonial Wars.

In 1857 Blake had been with the Highlanders stationed on the Ganges, and during the Sepoy Mutiny he had been garrisoned at Cawnpore. It was there that he had slept through the screams of soldiers skinned alive and nailed to makeshift crosses, had seen that well near the Bibighar filled with the heads and limbs and trunks of dismembered British women and children. It had been instinct that had guided his arm for the revenge that was wreaked at Lucknow. where kilted and bloodstained and shrieking "Cawnpore!" again and again and again, Blake had spiked and had slashed with his bayonet, taking no prisoners and feeling the Glory as the bagpipes had driven him on.

Fifteen vears later Blake had been with the Black Watch in
Africa: in fact Viscount Garnet Wolseley himself had chosen Blake for the Ashanti Campaign. In 1825 Sir Charles Macarthy had foolishly crossed into Ashanti-foo, where the Africans had killed him and cut off his head, parading the skull once a year through the streets of Comassie. In 1872 London had ordered Wolseley to even the score. It had been strictly on instinct that Blake had survived the Battle of Armoafo, for in wave upon wave the Ashanti had hurled a force five times as large upon the British Colonial Army. Through ambuscade after ambuscade in ever increasing numbers, Blake had ordered the Square to "fire low, fire slow" as a mountain of African corpses had piled up in front of the Black Watch rifles. Later, Blake had found Macarthy's skull and had been awarded the Victoria Cross.

Thus over the years this man had been taught the soldier's ultimate lesson: that intelligence tempered by instinct was the only key to survival.

Instinct had ruled him then, for sure. And instinct ruled him now.

Blake listened. As dawn began to stain the jagged ice-capped peaks to the East, he crouched on his heels and shivered in the keen hoarfrost. The hand which held the Enfield was beginning to go numb.

Thum-thump . . .

Lake water was lapping against the ice ring that crept in from the shore.

Thum-thump . . .

From far away, at intervals, came the lonely hoot of an owl.

Thum-thump . . .

Every now and then a passing breeze would bend the fir trees until their branches whispered like conspirators.

And then there was silence.

Thum-thump . . .

Almost total silence.

The only sound that Blake could hear was the blood-pump in his ears.

When Wilfred Blake had awoken he had been in the grip and torment of an unrelenting nightmare. This black dream had come to him with the hour preceding dawn, and as with the tension that ran through him now, it too had commenced with a pounding in his ears. He began to wonder, as he crouched listening to the beat of his own heart, if perhaps it was only this nightmare that had wrenched him wide-awake.

Eventually this line of thought brought the nightmare creeping back.

Thump . . . thump . . . thump . . . drip . . .

It is not the throbbing that bothers him. Nor is it the dark. It is the bullet marks and knife hacks that slash and scar the walls. For this is a room that has lurked in his mind for almost thirty years. The walls without windows—the plank door studded with nails and now firmly bolted shut—the hand-hewn logs stacked one upon the other, some with shavings of bark like skin still clinging to the fiber—the mud packed between the trunks to fill the gaping spaces: every detail of this room is just as it was back then.

He knows it is a winter month in 1870.

He knows this is the room in the fort where they conduct the Indian Trade.

For close to him are sacks of feed and crates of ammunition. Off to his left against the wall, there leans an open box. The lid of this box, prized off, is lying on the floor. Inside a ruddy smear of candlelight shimmers on a barrel, while next to it are seven crates, one just like another. At twenty carbines to the case, there are one hundred and—

The attack came without warning.

As happens in the mountains, the wind had changed direction. A light breeze barely strong enough to turn smoke or twist a feather had sprung up from the west. Instantly two dogs awoke and turned in that direction. The dogs had been sleeping near the sled fifteen feet north of Blake.

For a split second Blake thought.
Why the dogs? They're nae in this dream.
Then he realized this was not the dream and that his hunt was over.

Blake turned.

Fast. Fast enough to meet the attack now coming through the snow.

The Cree was no more than eighteen years of age. He wore the usual winter dress of his tribe and it offered little protection against the elements. A breechclout of leather hung down over a narrow belt tied around his waist. His leggings reached from ankle to groin. On his head, the Cree wore a buffalo horn cap adorned with feathers and weasel skins. There was no covering for the upper part of his body save a buffalo robe. In his right hand, he clutched the barrel of an old Winchester that he now held above his head like a club.

Iron-child,
Blake thought.
At last the search is over.

A sudden jolt of adrenaline hit the white man's blood, for this was when he was most alive and knew it most completely.

Raising his gun, he sighted the Indian down its barrel. Then he pulled the trigger.

The Enfield, however, refused to fire. For either his finger was frozen or the mechanism was jammed.

The sudden shrill pitch of a war whoop shattered the brittle air. Iron-child had come out of a thicket forty feet to the west, and now he was churning and floundering and clawing his way through the stretch of snow between them. He was out of shells, that was obvious.

Blake jammed his left mitt into his mouth, bit down hard, and wrenched the glove from his hand. Then he gripped the revolver with both hands and once more tried to fire. The wood of the handle was smooth to his touch, the trigger a curl of ice.

Iron-child had discarded his robe and was now naked above the waist. Stumbling and faltering, his breath billowing out before him in great white clouds, he staggered through the snowdrifts ten feet from Blake. The rifle was grasped in both hands high above his head. When he saw Blake about to fire, he ducked and dropped to his knees.

There was a flash of yellow from the muzzle, and then a shocking explosion. With a lurch of the pistol, the blast roared out at the solitude, only to be repulsed and echo back again and again.

But the bullet missed.

It passed two feet over Iron-child's head and hit the breech of the Winchester. There it splintered and ricocheted off the metal. One careening fragment hit the Indian just above the temple. It slashed his cheek in a downward course before it lodged in his shoulder. The velocity stunned him. His right arm went numb. And the force of the shot hitting the rifle threw his body backward into a drift of snow.

Iron-child's right leg snapped at the ankle.

Then he passed out.

Thump . . . thump . . . thump . . . drip . . .

Is Someone Hunting Heads?

Vancouver, British Columbia, 1982

Monday, October 18th, 5:00 a.m.

In this city, it often rains. Geography demands it. For beyond the islands scattered west roll endless miles of ocean, while northeast at the city's back jut jagged mountain peaks. With the slate-gray skies of autumn come the cyclone westerlies, raging winds and boiling clouds that sweep in from the sea. In waves these bloated clouds tear open on the peaks, and the rain which fills each gut spills and rattles down.

To live in this city, you learn to like rain.

The woman stumbling through the early morning storm was soaked right to her skin. She staggered up Pender Street in Chinatown with one arm clutched to her abdomen, the other thrown wide to grasp support from the buildings that lined the road. Her feet splashed through the puddles stained with neon tint. She was tall and slender, this woman—a long-legged, black-haired Caucasian in her early twenties. Though the chill of October hung in the air her coat flapped open to expose a scooped-necked blouse that bared her upper chest and a pair of tight blue jeans. The wet fabric of the blouse clung to her puckered nipples. She was cold. She was tired. She was hungry and wet. And she was badly in need of a fix.

The woman was heading for the Moonrise Hotel and "The Wall," where, by tradition, hookers write their messages to each other. The neon sign which sputtered a block ahead was her destination. There was mist in between.

At the corner of Pender and Main the woman slipped and
her feet skidded out from beneath her. There was a bone-jarring wrench as her hip collided with the pavement. She gasped in pain as severe withdrawal cramps seized her. A cold burn spread over the entire surface of her body. Ants seemed to crawl through her muscles. And now as she sat quite still on the pavement, her head bent, the rain plastered her black hair against her pale white forehead. She began to cry.

Johnnie, you rotten bastard! Won't somebody help me, please!

It had now been twenty minutes since the police had let her
go.

The bulls had stopped her on the street at nine the night before. "Routine check," the bulls said. "We roust all the working girls." At first she had thought they were vice bulls working the pussy patrol. But of course they were narcs.

"Lemme alone," the woman said. "I know my legal rights."

One cop riffled her wallet, then gave her a wan smile. "You don't
have
rights," he said. "This ain't the USA."

Then they had found the junk hidden in her shoe. Ordinarily she would have carried her stash in a plastic balloon in her mouth, hoping to get it swallowed before they clamped on a choke hold. Work, however, made that very difficult. How do you chat a john up when your mouth is stuffed with balloon?

The worst part of all was that the cap was for her fix. Just five more minutes, count 'em, and she'd have cooked it up in
a spoon.

The bulls had dragged her down to the cop shop at 312 Main. She was already sweating by the time they booked her in, took her prints and snapped a mug shot full of anguish. They had caged her on the fourth floor, then left her alone to stew. Lack of junk had done the rest.

It was only a short time before her nose and eyes began to run and sweat soaked out through the pores of her skin to drench her already rain-damp clothes. Hot and cold flashes hit her as if a furnace door were swinging open and shut. After a while she lay down on the springs of the bunk—for there was no mattress—and curled up into a ball. She felt too weak to move and her legs twitched and ached. A soft blow hit her heart. The cell went black around the edges.

The woman wanted to die.

It seemed like months before the narcs removed her from the women's jail upstairs and put her in the interview room. By then she was clutching her guts with both arms just to keep them inside. The room was ten feet square with a table and two chairs. One cop, young and muscular, remained standing by the door. The other narc sat down. He was much older, a man with a waxy embalmed complexion and a silky black moustache. He looked like a Mississippi gambler from the 1880s. He was the one who grabbed her arm and slapped it down on the table.

"You been hookin' that spot so much it's about to get infected." He pointed to the needle welt in the crook of her elbow where the vein had almost disappeared, retreating back toward the bone to escape the probing needle.

Black Moustache then dumped her purse onto the table between them. Combs, cosmetics, condoms and tissues scattered across the surface. He placed the cap of junk seized from her shoe in the center of the contents. Then he began the spiel.

"The law allows, lady, up to seven years for possession. With the sort of shape you're in even minutes will seem like years. You make the decision."

"Back to your cell," Muscles said, "or walk right outa here."

"Pick up the contents of your purse and sashay out the door."

"All
the contents of your purse.
Everything
on the table."

Black Moustache tapped the cap and rolled it an inch toward her. "Name your pusher."

"Name your pimp."

"Give us something better."

"We're reasonable men."

"Poor sick girl like you."

"Don't tell us," Moustache said, "and what else can we do?" He shrugged his shoulders, palms up, like the Frenchmen do.

But she did nothing. Said nothing. And the narcs made good their threat. It wasn't until 4:30 a.m. that they issued her an Appearance Notice and let her out of the can.

Johnnie! I gotta find Johnnie!
she thought.
Please Johnnie, get me a fix!

She had gone first to the room they shared in a rat-infested hotel. A sign outside advertised:
Hot and Cold Water in Every Room. Reasonable Rates.
But Johnnie wasn't there. And all their stuff was gone.

When she reached the exit onto the street a drunk was sprawled in the doorway. The wino had a pale thin face and long yellow teeth. He looked like a rodent. Flicking her a blank, cold smile, the man took a deep slug from a bottle of Aqua Velva shaving lotion. On the ground beneath him was a puddle of piss and rain.

Disgusted, the woman squeezed herself flat against the brick wall near his feet. "Gimme a kiss," the drunk slurred as she stumbled out onto the pavement. Then the woman turned down Carrali Street and made for Chinatown. The feel of the bricks on the skin of her palm had reminded her of The Wall.

Now the traffic light at the empty intersection of Pender and Main turned red, suffusing the mist with a color so intense that it seemed as if a rain of blood dripped down on the city. The woman glanced down Pender Street, back the way she had come.

Chinatown at 5 a.m. could be in another century. For at this hour the mystery and inscrutability that the West sees in the East is almost tangible. The woman could see a line of buildings stretching out in the rain, their facades as ornate as Chinese theater masks. Windows looked out on the road like dead man's eyes. In one of these buildings Sun Yat-sen had lived out part of his exile. In others Secret Societies had met in an atmosphere as thick with mystery as the smoke which fumed from their opium factories. While under the street— where she sat now—fabled tunnels had snaked from somewhere to somewhere else for some forgotten reason.

This woman, of course, knew none of this—for she was new to this city. She had lived within it for a total of four days.

Slowly struggling to her feet, she lurched toward the hotel.

The Wall was right next door to the Moonlight Arms, the pub of the Moonrise Hotel, and it was built of old brick painted with the red and white stripes of a skid row barber shop. The white stripes had become a hookers' message board. For it was here that the prostitutes who worked the Downtown Eastside warned their sisters of the night about certain kinky johns. Messages like:
Light blue Pontiac: This one's a cutter
or
Look out (shank!)
and then a BC license number. Occasionally pimps used The Wall to contact their stables. Pimps like Johnnie.

With a rising panic, the woman frantically searched for Johnnie's characteristic scrawl.

Oh, God, no! He hasn't left a message!

She didn't notice the vehicle that came around the corner.

The car crept down the block from Main Street, its tires hissing over the rain-soaked tarmac, its license plate covered by mud. Ten feet from the woman, it headed for the curb. The passenger's window was open. The engine idled.

The woman heard the motor purr and she slowly turned around. Then she stumbled to the window.

"Want a date?" she croaked.

On instinct she bent down to get a look at the driver, for hers was a dangerous business. Only yesterday afternoon she had heard that a working girl had been snuffed by a john. The guy had used a nylon to strangle her to death.

Though the driver's face was shadowed, she could just make out the eyes.

"Forget it," the woman said sharply, and she went to turn away.

"Hey, wait a minute, lady. You don't look so well."

"Fuck off," the woman said, glancing back over her shoulder.

"You strung out, lady? I can fix that up. I want you for a friend of mine. He'll throw in some junk."

"No!" the woman said—and then the cramps hit her again, worse this time.

Ten seconds later, she climbed into the car. The driver eased the vehicle away from the curb and they drove off into the night.

11:45 a.m.

The maple trees were turning. Earlier that morning the rain clouds had blown inland and now, out beyond the panes of the greenhouse, the leaves were a riot of color. Hues of red and yellow and orange stood out sharply against the backdrop of English Bay with its blue-green waters whipped into foaming whitecaps. Bright October sunshine slanted in through the glass, hitting a row of prisms that threw rainbows across the floor. Inside there were also other colors in profusion, for they liked it here, the roses.

The plants were growing in tropical wells and artificial gardens, row upon row of them, spread out around the greenhouse.

Over near a door which led to the house was a section for
hybridizing." In this section stood a single plant that flowered deep maroon.

The man was sitting in one corner in a large white wicker chair. He was a tall, slender individual with piano-player hands. His hair was dark and wavy with a trace of gray at the temples, his eyes dark and brooding. There was a slight shadow of beard showing through the skin of his finely chiseled jaw, and his aquiline nose, on first impression, hinted at arrogance. It was only if you heard him speak that his humility came through.

The man was sitting cross-legged with a pad and clipboard on his knee. Scattered about him, covering the surface of a library table, hiding the tiles on the floor, were several dozen volumes of history on the First World War. The floor space left between the books was littered with crumpled paper.

Engrossed in what he was writing, the man failed to notice that a woman had entered the room. She stood for a moment just this side of the door to the house, contemplating him. Her eyes were large and green and sparkling with life. They were set in a flawless face. Her cheekbones were slanted high and her lips were full. Her hair was auburn. She was twenty years younger than the man, in her early thirties. She wore a maroon silk blouse and a tailored suit over her full figure. The suit was gray.

"Eh bien, Robert,"
she said in French,
"Est-ce qu'on prendra un
lunch
aujourd'hui?"

The man looked up from his work and smiled. He put the clipboard down.
"Oui,"
he said.
"J'aimerais bien. Combien de temps as-tu?"

"Juste une heure,"
the woman replied.
"J'ai une classe de seminaire en fin de la journee."

The man stood up and crossed over to where she waited at the door. She touched his arm as they turned to leave but the man paused for a moment. He looked at the single plant in the hybridizing area, picked up a pair of shears and snipped off one of the buds. The rose was from a strain that he had bred himself. Up until now it had remained unnamed.

"As-tu pense au nom que tu lui donnerais?"
the woman asked him.

He held out the rosebud just in front of her heart, maroon on maroon for a perfect match.

"Genevieve, "
he answered, now giving it a title.

With a light laugh, Genevieve DeClercq broke into a smile.

And in that moment, it seemed to him even brighter in the room.

Monday, October 25th, 6:30 p.m.

It is common knowledge that for physical setting there are only six great cities in the world. Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Cape Town, Hong Kong and San Francisco: these are five of them. Vancouver is the sixth one.

The young man who leaned on the port rail of the BC Government boat was watching the city pass by on the left. He was six feet tall and lanky, with a long face, good teeth, and blond hair that blew in the wind.

The boat was returning from a salvage check up the bite of Howe Sound. The Sound lay just north of the city harbor, one of the million indentations that make up the ten thousand rugged linear miles of the British Columbia coastline. The boat had just reached the mouth of English Bay, the gate to Vancouver Harbor. Point Grey lay ahead, Vancouver to the left.

It was the shank of the day; the sunset, the time Heller enjoyed the most. His work completed, he could now relax with nothing more important to do than breathe in slow, deep lungfuls of the salt-sea air. To the north and left the backdrop peaks of Hollyburn and Grouse and Seymour Mountains were burnished copper by the sun. In the foreground where slope met sea the Point Atkinson Lighthouse was winking. Far away in the distance which comprised the State of Washington, the volcanic cone of Mount Baker stood guard above the scene.

Heller loved the sea because the sea knew no control. Here English Bay one moment was a sheet of calm green glass, its freighters and tugs and sailboats slipping among the tide lines like small fish through a net. Then the sky would change suddenly as a storm came crashing in, the boats then tossing in the wild waves like corks in boiling water. From all around would come the shouts of men in rubber raingear, and the clouds would open up to pelt the angry waters.

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