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.
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About the Author
Hometown:Edinburgh, London and France
Date of Birth:April 28, 1960
Place of Birth:Cardenden, Scotland
Read an Excerpt
Blood HuntA Novel
By Ian Rankin
Little, BrownCopyright © 1995 John Rebus Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHE 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.
Excerpted from Blood Hunt by Ian Rankin Copyright ©1995 by John Rebus Limited. Excerpted by permission.
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