Authors: Matt Hilton
Dead Men’s Harvest
Also by Matt Hilton
Dead Men’s Dust
Judgement and Wrath
Slash and Burn
Cut and Run
Blood and Ashes
First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Matt Hilton 2011
The right of Matt Hilton to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 9781444712674
Book ISBN 9781444712636
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
This one is for Alison Bonomi
‘There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.’
Conchar is an ancient Gaelic term for those who admire the king of all hunters: the wolf.
To some, the wolf is a magnificent beast, the pinnacle of predatory evolution. To others, the wolf is a thing of nightmare.
Castle of the wolf: it was a good name for an Army Confinement Facility. Imprisoned within its walls were men and women who were ultimate predators and also, often, things of nightmare.
Criminals housed at Fort Conchar generally fell into four categories: prisoners of war, enemy combatants, persons whose freedom was deemed a risk to national security and, lastly, military personnel found guilty of a serious crime.
Occasionally it housed criminals who did not meet any of these criteria, but that was an extreme circumstance. Only once had it opened its arms to a man who checked all four boxes and then some. Designated Top Secret, his name was withheld even from those who guarded him night and day. Known only by a number – Prisoner 1854 – he was a cipher in more ways than one.
Mostly he refused to speak to his jailers. Some even thought him incapable of speech. But his mystery went much deeper than that.
He was a living dead man. According to official records he had died, not once, but twice. And yet he still breathed.
If all went to plan, the dead man would, like Lazarus, rise again. And people would know him. And they would scream his name in fear.
A breeze stirred and the susurration of foliage was like the whispering of lost souls. Frogs croaked. Water lapped. All sounds indigenous to the Everglades pine lands. Jared ‘Rink’ Rington ignored the natural rhythms of the Florida night, listening instead for the soft footfalls of the men hunting him.
There were at least four of them: men with guns.
From the cover of a stream bed, Rink spied back to where he’d left his car. The Porsche was a mess. Bullet holes pocked it from front to back and had taken out the front windshield. He’d wrecked the sump when he’d crashed over the median and into the coontie trees. A wide swath of oil was glistening in the moonlight, as though the Boxster had been mortally wounded and crawled into the bushes to die. Rink cursed under his breath, more for the death of his wheels than for his own predicament, but it wasn’t the first time he’d had to consign a car to the grave.
Neither was it the first time he’d been hunted by armed men.
It kinda came with the territory.
The stream was shallow, almost stagnant. He used its steep bank as cover as he headed left. Above him someone stepped on a twig and it was like the crack of a gunshot. The insects grew still. There was a hush on the forest now. Rink crouched low, pressing himself against baked mud.
A few yards further on, another twig creaked beneath a boot.
Rink wormed himself out of the stream bed. A man moved along the embankment above him, periodically glancing down towards the water, but more often towards the road.
Through the bushes Rink saw another man was moving along the blacktop. This one held a Glock machine pistol, the elongated barrel telling him that it was fitted with a sound suppressor.
Frog-giggers want to do me in silence, he thought. Well, all right. Two of us can play at that game.
From his boot he pulled a military-issue Ka-bar knife, a black epoxy-coated blade that didn’t reflect the light.
His options were few. He had to take out the men hunting him or die. Put that way he’d no qualms about sticking the man in front of him.
His rush was silent. His free hand went over the man’s mouth even as he jammed the Ka-bar down between the juncture of his throat and clavicle. The blade was long enough to pierce the left aorta of the man’s heart, killing him instantly. Rink dragged the corpse down to the ground.
The man on the road was unaware that his companion was gone.
From the dead man’s fingers, Rink plucked free the Heckler and Koch Combat .45 and shoved it into the waistband of his jeans. There was no suppressor on this gun, so the knife would remain his weapon of choice for now, because the man with the Glock had to be done as silently as the first. Two other assassins were out there – possibly more – and he wanted to even the odds in his favour before exchanging rounds.
Rink was tall and muscular, built like a pro-wrestler. The man at his feet wasn’t. But by exchanging jackets and with the man’s baseball cap jammed over his black hair, he’d fool the other hunter for a second or so. Everything weighed and bagged, that would be all he’d need.
In the corpse’s clothing, Rink moved through the bushes. For effect he pulled out the .45 so the disguise was complete. He held it in a two-handed grip, or that would be how it looked in silhouette.
The man to his right gestured; soldier-speak that Rink recognised. These men weren’t your run-of-the-mill killers; they too must have had military training. Rink hand-talked, urging the man in the direction of a stand of trees. As he moved off, Rink angled towards him. Ten paces were all that separated them. The moon was bright on the road, but its light helped make the shadows beneath the trees denser. If Rink moved closer he could forget the charade.
The man halted. Something stirred in the foliage ahead. He dropped into a shooter’s crouch, his Glock sweeping the area. Then a bird, disturbed from its roost, broke through the trees in a clatter of plumage on leaves. The man sighed, turned to grin sheepishly at his compadre.
Rink grinned back at him and he saw the man’s face elongate in recognition. Charade over, he whipped his Ka-bar out from alongside the .45 and overhanded it at the man. Like a sliver of night, the blade swished through the air and plunged through tissue and cartilage.
The man staggered at the impact, one hand going to the hilt jutting from beneath his jaw, the other bringing round the Glock and tugging on the trigger. Rink dropped below the line of fire, the bullets searing the air around him, making tatters of the bushes and coontie trees. It was a subdued drum roll of silenced rounds, but no less deadly than if the gun had roared the sound of thunder. The man was mortally wounded, though not yet dead, but the Glock was empty and no threat. Gun in hand, Rink moved towards him.
Weakened by the shock of steel through his throat, drowning in his own blood, he couldn’t halt Rink’s charge. He was knocked off his feet and went down under the bigger man. Then Rink had a hand on the hilt of the Ka-bar. A sudden jerk sideways opened one half of the man’s neck and that was that.
Dragging the corpse off the road, Rink concealed it amongst a stand of palmetto.
Two down, two to go.
Rink was beginning to fancy his chances.
Armed now with two reliable guns and his Ka-bar, he decided it was time to show these frog-giggin’ sons of bitches who they were dealing with.
‘My turn, boys,’ he whispered.
A faint click.
‘No, Rington,’ said a voice from behind him. ‘Now it’s
Rink swung round, his knife coming up in reflex, but it was too late.
Something was rammed against his chest and he became a juddering, spittle-frothing wreck as fifty thousand volts were blasted through his entire being.
The headstone was the only feature that held any colour. Everything else was the grey of a Maine winter, with sleet falling like shards of smoked glass across the monochrome background. Even the trees that ringed the small cemetery were dull, lifeless things, their bare branches smudged by the shifting sky. The sleet was building on the ground, not the pure white of virgin snow, but slushy, invasive muck that filled my boots with a creeping chill that bit bone deep.
I hunkered over the grave and wiped the accumulation of icy slush off the headstone. The granite marker stood four feet tall, pinkish-grey, with a spray of flowers carved down one side and painted in vivid splashes of red and green. The name had been inlaid with gold leaf, as had the date of her premature death: almost a year ago.