�� �Nathan climbed onto the jetty and slipped unseen onto the ocean going motor yacht that was moored there. A quick search confirmed what he had expected: there were no weapons on board, and even if there had been, what chance would he have against four men armed with automatic weapons. All he found was a camera that they used to picture fish from time to time when they caught the big ones like Rays and Marlin. He took the camera and left the boat, creeping back along the jetty and then into the edge if the jungle. Just then the second RAC came around the point, entered the lagoon, and landed a second four man team. Nathan could guess where they had been and the fate of the small security team. He felt physically sick but he had to keep a control for just a little longer, if these animals were ever going to be made to pay for what he was sure they had done. He crept closer and closer, using every trick that he had been taught, the skills that let him come up behind a Deer, or track a Bear. When he was as close as he could possibly get he began to take pictures but at the same time his remarkable memory was taking pictures too -indelible images burned into his cerebrum forever. He circled around to get the best possible views, it was faces he wanted. Then he saw a ninth man appear, joining them from the road that led to the radar station and Nathan understood why there had been no alarm. He did not understand how this man had got onto the island, but it was unimportant now. Eventually he ran out of film, but it did not matter. There had been almost all of a 36 frame roll in the camera, the moonlight had been good, and he was sure that some of the images would print as clearly as the images in his mind. Then one of the men spoke. He spoke in heavily accented English and Nathan suspected he was a German. He assumed that they were not all German and that English was their common language.
�� �"The boy is not here", he said.
�� �"Are you sure", replied another, this accent clearly British.
�� �"We checked all the buildings. No sign of him".
�� �"But we were assured they would all be here."
�� �"Somebody screwed up then", an American accent.
'Who screwed up?', wondered Nathan, 'who set this up ? Who assured them ?'
�� �"You sure he is not here", another different accent.
�� �"Well even if he is, he ain't going nowhere", said the American, "there was a girl here though."
�� �"A girl?"
�� �"Yeah, she might have been a maid or something."
�� �"She dead ?"
�� �"Okay. Scuttle that boat and let's get out of here for the pick up", said the German.
�� �Two men ran over to the jetty. They went down into the boat and opened the sea cocks that would flood it with water, sinking it to the bed of the shallow lagoon, then ran back to the RACs. The men got in their craft and sped away. The second they left the lagoon, Nathan ran to the boat, his only means of escape, and closed the sea cocks. There was less than six inches of water in the boat. After that he ran to the house and realised his worst nightmare.
�� �He found his mother first. She had been hit four times, three times in the chest and one head shot that probably was the killing shot. Lauren had almost been cut in half by a swathe of fire and then he found his father, face down, five exit wounds on his back, a large pool of blood spreading around him. As Nathan knelt to turn his father over, Tyler opened his eyes.
�� �"Son, they didn't get you ?", he said weakly, each word a struggle.
�� �"I heard a noise, I was over on the rock,. oh dad, I'm so sorry".
�� �"Weren't your fault son. Something I need to tell you", Tyler gasped, his mouth red with foaming blood.
�� �"Don't talk dad. I'll fix you up and get help".
�� �"They'll never make it in time. Listen, I'm so sorry about this, your mom and me, we loved you son, you know that don't you ?" He coughed up a big clot of dark blood.
�� �"Of course dad. I love you too. Now be quiet. "
�� �"Son, in the safe at home...there are papers...the combination is... 081171."
�� �"Papers ? What papers dad", said Nathan, struggling to hold back the tears. He could see his father's life slipping away. "I'll get every one of the bastards and whoever set this up. I swear it dad".
Tyler actually managed to smile. He was feeling very cold now, "I know you will son. If anybody ever finds out...about you....they'll take it all", he said.
�� �"About me ? Find out what dad ?"
�� �"I can't have kids, something wrong down there. You...you were adopted son, at birth....from a French family...who died in a car crash."
It was like a hammer blow, a shock greater than all the grief even that he now felt. A few spoken words from his dying father who was not his father, "Adopted....?", was all he could reply.
�� �"Its all in the safe. Destroy it before....before they destroy you. I love you son, I truly do." He coughed up a lot more blood, and shook a little this time. His face was almost paper white.
�� �"I love you too Dad", said Nathan who could feel no other emotion for the man who had been his father without any question, the man who had given him everything, "I love you so much dad", he said again as Tyler closed his eyes and died.
�� �Working in the light of another magnificent Pacific sunrise, Tyler brought the bodies of the murdered security men from the house at the runway, back to the main house. He laid all the bodies out with great care, on the uncluttered expanse of Teak flooring. The power generator was in a corner of the storm cellar, so he went down there and opened up a valve on the diesel tank. Nathan had brought over a jerrycan full of aviation fuel and he splashed that over the bodies. Finally, he spoke a prayer out loud and then stepped out of the house. He lit a flaming torch that he had fashioned from a piece of wood wrapped in his own shirt, soaked in aviation fuel, and then threw it into the house.� He watched the flames take a hold, which they did very quickly and in a very short time the whole house was blazing, a funeral pyre of all those he loved. Only then did he begin to weep. He was still weeping, racked with pain and hurt, when the diesel tank blew up, scattering burning wreckage over the other buildings and the jungle beyond. He was still weeping when the fire took hold in the jungle.
�� �The flames swept up the length of the island and the heat became so intense that Nathan felt the skin on his face beginning to burn. It had been raging all day. Every building was alight and a second huge explosion had told him that the aviation fuel tanks had exploded on the far side of the island. Now the flames were licking at the jetty, the only man made structure that� was still untouched. With� a few last words, Nathan walked to the jetty, climbed aboard the boat, and set out to sea. Behind him, paradise burned.
�� �Nathan King died that day as surely as if he had been inside the house when it burned. The killing machine that eventually became known as 'The American' was born the second he cast off from the island. All he took, apart from the boat, was the camera that he had used to capture the images of nine men, that and the combination to his father's safe in New Hampshire. The boat had plenty of fuel and Nathan could easily sail it alone, despite its size. He took a course that was more southerly than the coast of the United States, but waited until nightfall before he was ready to go ashore. The coastline that he could see was that of the Californian Baja. He had visited this coast a few times when fishing for Marlin, and he knew there were any number of sheltered bays and coves. The film from the camera was wrapped tightly in kitchen film. In his wallet he had some bank cards, a few credit cards and around eight hundred dollars in cash. He had anchored off the Mexican coast, somewhere between San Carlos and Cabo San Lucas. When it was dark Nathan opened the sea cocks again and waited awhile until the boat was beginning to sink into the ocean, and then he struck out for shore.
�� �By the time that Nathan had made his way back (illegally) into the United States, and travelled by Greyhound bus across America to New Hampshire, no alarm had been raised because the King party were still supposed to be on vacation, on Grand Augusta. Along the way he had stopped at a Mall and had a fast photo lab develop his film. He had done well and selected the nine best images. The rest he burned. He reached the ranch a week after leaving the island, getting past the security guards far too easily he thought, but then, the ranch was empty. All he wanted now was information. This was, he knew, the last time he would ever see the place he grew up in, the forests that he loved to roam, where he learned to ski with his mom, where he met Lauren, and then abruptly he threw a switch in his mind and shut that all off again. There was a lot to be done before he could go back there, inside his mind where the pain was stored.
�� �The safe was in the wall behind his father's desk. 'His father ?. Damn right he was!' There was a sizeable amount of cash in the safe and Nathan felt no guilt at all in taking it. There was also a single buff coloured envelope. Inside there was a French birth certificate, just as his father had said, and a business card belonging to a Doctor Seifert. The card only had a telephone number and Nathan did not recognise the code so he took the documents and closed the safe. He knew where the key to the gun room was kept, so he retrieved it and armed himself with an automatic pistol and a box of ammunition, knowing that he would have to get rid of it because it was a registered weapon. He was about to leave when he saw a picture of him, his mother and his father. It had been taken when he had his leg in plaster, back when the Bear spooked him, so he took it from the frame and put this in the envelope with the other documents. It was the only photo he knew of himself grown up, that existed. With another long lingering look - he could smell his mother's scent� and his father's cologne, he turned his back on his home. The King dynasty was dead.
�� �Three weeks later, the King family were overdue from their holiday. A number of attempts had been made to contact the island with no success and so Chuck Mitchell himself had ordered a company plane to take him there. When they reached the island Chuck looked down, not on the paradise that he was so accustomed to seeing, but on a charred and blackened ruin. "Oh my sweet Jesus", he said in shock and horror, and then to the pilot, "do you think you can set her down on that ?"
�� �"I'll give it a damn good try", replied the pilot as he looked down at the ravaged runway.
�� �Chuck left the aircraft. It had been a bumpy landing, some of the runway surface had bubbled in the heat of the fire. All he could smell in the air was ash, and death. Every living thing on the island had perished in the flames. He walked over what was left of the road, to the collapsed ruins at the main house. The heat must have been awesome when all the Teak went up, but he could see that several bodies had been inside, and from the looks of it, all in the same place. A piece of jaw here, a thigh bone, some teeth. They had all perished. He was also sharp enough to notice spent bullet rounds amongst the bodies and guessed how they had died, but he had no way of telling just how many there were. When he later found no bodies at the guard's house, he put two and two together and figured that everybody was dead and that the killers had hoped to destroy all the evidence by fire. They damn nearly had.
�� �The Police were called in straight away, and Chuck did not see what else he could've done. He knew full well the tradition of the King family, it was after all, the reason he had a job. With no bloodline heir, well who knows what would happen. How the tragedy happened and who was responsible might never be known - that was for the police to figure out. After painstaking forensic work, it was finally established that two women and five men perished in the house. Further investigations isolated Mister and Mrs King, mainly thanks to the DNA database held at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Lauren was identified from dental records held in Phoenix by her dentist, and eventually the other four men were traced. There was no sign of Nathan, no other body to identify. It was as if he had vanished from the face of the earth. None of this work was completed overnight and it nearly a year before the last of the victims was conclusively identified. As soon as this information was made public, and with indecent haste many thought, Gunther Lecke demanded an extraordinary board meeting.
�� �Gunther rose imperiously to his feet, "gentlemen, before we commence I am sure we all feel a sense of shock, of loss and grief of the founding family of our Corporation. We have managed to keep operating this past year and as acting Chairman, until we can establish the whereabouts or circumstances of Nathan King, I can only thank you for you efforts."
�� �"Hear, hear", somebody said and there was a muted round of applause.
�� �"Sad and distressing though these times are, we are a business, and as a business it is our duty to go on. Thousands of people around the world rely on us for their own jobs and families as much as we rely on them to do their work for us. Where is Nathan King ?"
There was silence. "That was not a rhetorical question gentlemen. I ask� again, where is Nathan King ?", Gunther repeated.
�� �"I am sure that nobody here can answer that", replied Howard Delaney, the man who ultimately controlled the UK and Ireland.
�� �"Quite so! We cannot continue in limbo. Nobody knows if Nathan is alive or dead."
�� �"I thought there was something about his bank accounts being cleaned out, nearly three million dollars I heard", said Sam Lawrence, president of Crown Electronics division.
�� �"Yes, that is also true. A lucky hacker no doubt. You know the term ?", said Gunther.
�� �"Hacker ? Excuse me", said Howard, puzzled.
�� �"Hah! A new kind of criminal that uses computers to steal from other computers."
�� �"Hmm, I'll have to get my chaps onto that", mused Howard.
�� �"All this is all very well, but where is the man ? He is nowhere. I, for my modest efforts, am willing to continue as President", said Gunther with an attempt at humility at which he failed.
�� �"I will second Gunther", said Marcel� Fournier, the man who controlled Crown-France.
�� �"I too will accept Gunther", said Jose Alaminos, the Spanish presdent.
Louis Beauchamp from New Orleans spoke up with more than a hint of anger, "what is this, a united Europe front you guys worked up on the plane over ?".
�� �"Not at all Louis", Marcel replied, "this is the first I heard of it, but Gunther has done a good job so I say, let him continue."
�� �"With no election ? Sounds like a fix to me ", drawled the man from New Orleans.
�� �"You have an alternative you wish to propose ? Please do so", Gunther invited.
�� �"Me ? Well no", said Louis reluctantly.
�� �"Then maybe a show of hands and we can move on ?"
Gunther won the vote with a comfortable majority, big enough that in effect, he could do what he liked, which was just what he wanted.
�� �"Thank you for your vote, gentlemen. Now, to business. The time will come that we will be obliged to declare that Nathan King is dead", Gunther began.
�� �"Or that the kid shows up, and I for one think that more than possible", said Chuck Mitchell, speaking for the first time, and interrupted the German.
�� �"Mr Mitchell. I compliment you on your faith in the boy. We invited you here as a courtesy, and because you are one of the very few people who knew Nathan well."
�� �"Correction there. I know Nathan well", said Chuck.
Gunther sighed, "Very well then, you know him well. However, this is a board meeting of a board that had elected me President and we must prepare for any eventuality. Do you not agree, Mister Mitchell ?"
�� �"I guess..."
�� �"You guess. You guess Nathan is alive and I am sure we all hope so too, but we cannot wait in limbo for him to appear like Jesus from the dead! To do nothing at all is to do just that. I say we begin to consider the fragmentation of some of the business on order that Crown Inc can go forward and survive."
�� �"Motion seconded", said Marcel instantly.
�� �"Carried", said Jose.
Gunther waved his arms around the seated members, "you see, we do only what it best for Crown, without this nonsense of bloodlines and family tradition. Those times are gone. This is the future !"
�� �"Well it still sounds like a set up to me pal", said Chuck.
�� �"And me", agreed Louis.
Howard� Delaney made a steeple with his fingers, placed the point under his nose and said, "hmm."
�� �When the meeting broke up, Gunther was feeling very happy indeed. By slight of hand and a motion slipped in along the way, he now had personal ownership, not just control, of the biofuel company in Austria, and he had big plans for that, very big plans. Getting his hands on one almost insignificant part of the business was only the beginning. He had risked everything to get to this point and with one minor hiccup, he had made it, but where was Nathan King, and what was he up to ? Was it still possible that he perished in the fire ? Who set the fire ? This was a worry, but nothing more. Even if Nathan were not yet dead, if he ever showed up again, he soon would be.
�� �During the year that the forensic experts analysed hundreds of sample bags collected from the funeral pyre on Grand Augusta, Nathan had spent two thirds of the funds he had amassed. He still had a million dollars left which was more than enough for his needs, but much more importantly, he had a list of nine names and locations that matched the nine photographs he carried. Information, he soon discovered, did not come cheaply and more than once he was cheated, but he learned quickly and nobody had cheated him again after the third time. His list could only tell him where the men were last seen; there were three Americans, two Englishmen, three Germans and a Frenchman, and as far as was known, they were all currently in their home countries. It would do as a start.
�� �The drifter had arrived in town in the back of a beat up open bed truck, driven by a farmer on his way to pick up a load of pig feed.� Nathan jumped down when they reached the big barn that sold the feed and, as he promised, helped load the sacks in return for the ride. He had bleached his dark brown hair blonde and was careful to keep it cut short and bleached. His usual upright posture was now slouched with his shoulders sloping giving an illusion that he was shorter then he really was, he shuffled his feet as he walked and had allowed his beard to grow, fuzzing his chin line. The farmer offered Nathan some work on his farm, but Nathan said he needed to be in town, which was true and so they shook hands and� went their separate ways. Nathan took a room at a run down Motel he found right on the edge of town. He could more or less afford anything he wanted, but money drew attention, and nobody remembers a bum. The owner of the motel was suitably unimpressed by his new guest, demanding a week up front for a room with no TV, a shower that dribbled rust coloured water, and a bed that looked like the last occupant had died in it. Nathan paid the man anyway and then wandered into town, except he knew exactly where he was going.
�� �The name of the bar was 'Mickey's'. It was dimly lit inside by low wattage bulbs, a bar running the length almost from the front door to the back wall. A number of mismatched tables and chairs were scattered about, and there were six different barstools. Three pin ball machines were spread across the back, leaving just enough room to squeeze by to the rest rooms. An old pool table with torn baize was standing almost opposite the bar itself. The only window, a big picture window at the same end of the bar as the door, looked out onto the street. A number of dead insects lay on the narrow sill that was once white. The window was grimy from years of tobacco smoke and a broken neon Budweisser� sign flickered, right in the middle of the window where it sometimes spelled out 'Bussr'. A juke box sat lonely in one corner, playing records ten years out of date and skipping every now and then across the worn out vinyl. One speaker rattled with every bass beat. Next to the juke box there was a cigarette machine that looked empty, but there were ashtrays on every table, old car hubcaps that served the purpose. Two men sat at the bar and there was one man behind it whom Nathan knew was Mickey. Nobody looked around when he entered.
�� �Nathan took the barstool nearest the door. Mickey said disinterestedly, "what'll it be ?".
�� �"Gimme a beer", mumbled Nathan, slurring his words as if maybe he was a bit slow or worse, already on some other kind of high.
�� �"Two bucks", said Mickey placing a foaming golden glass in front of him that spilled over the top and onto the bar. Nathan placed two crumpled dollar bills on the bar, which Mickey took and placed in the cash register without another word. An hour went by and then the man at the other end of the bar, who Nathan had seen drink six beers while he had been there, got unsteadily to his feet. The man was tall and skinny, his clothes rumpled and stained. He was smoking Camels non-stop, lighting another as soon as the first burned down. Nathan noticed how his hand shook every time he lit up. He staggered rather than walked to the door, then paused in front of it as if he were trying to figure out how it opened, and then he reached out a bony hand, pulled the door open, and lurched out into the street. Mickey took no notice.
�� �The other man who still sat at the bar was a very big man, well over two hundred and fifty pounds at least. Even though he was almost at the other end of the room, Nathan could smell sour sweat on the man. It was a strange bar - no attempt at conversation from the owner/barkeep who seemed almost sullen when pressed for another drink. The music that rattled and screeched from the old juke box had ended ten minutes after Nathan arrived. There was an equally old TV set on a dangerous looking bracket fixed to the wall behind the bar, which Mickey turned on and set to CNN. The picture was all reds and blues, the green part of its cathode ray tube not functioning, and the images were fuzzy and blurred where the focus was slowly fading with age. The sound was fine however and while Nathan sat there, he listened to a monotonous background of the same news stories, over and over. Another hour passed and he had drunk half his beer. Mickey cast him an accusing look from time to time as if to tell him to drink the damn thing, but Nathan was careful not to let his eyes catch the look.
�� �Outside it was dark now. A hooker had come into the bar which was the only time that Mickey spoke, to tell her to go on her way. Once or twice a police car with its siren blaring had hurtled past the bar, but there had been no other patrons. Nathan wondered idly who it was that had smoked all the cigarettes whose butts filled the upturned hubcaps, and then he wondered in what year they were last emptied. He could see that the wallpaper was yellowed with nicotine, and was peeling from the wall in places. At last his patience was rewarded and the fat man belched very loudly. He got off his barstool and made his way out of the door, letting it slam closed behind him. Mickey spoke for the first time other than when he was serving a beer. "You gonna drink that or make love to it ?", he said in obvious disgust at the length of time that Nathan had sat, with one beer that was still half full.
�� �"You Mickey, Mickey Carr ?", said Nathan in a strong hard voice suddenly that didn't match the image of the washed up bum that was sitting there.
�� �"What ? You fucking Einstein ? Yeah, I'm Mickey Carr."
�� �"You remember these people?", said Nathan placing the picture of him with his mother and father on the bar. Mickey glanced down at the image and then back up again.
�� �"What the fuck is this ? You a cop or summit ? I don't know who they are!"
�� �"Look again", said Nathan firmly, "an island in the Pacific ?"
�� �Mickey paled visibly. With great care he reached under the bar. There was a baseball bat and an old Colt revolver under there. He wasn't sure which one he wanted, but he did not have to make the choice. Nathan said with no change in his voice, which was flat and without any expression at all, "that's not a good idea Mickey", pointing his automatic at Mickey's head. "Move out from the bar", Nathan instructed him, and Mickey obeyed - he had seen the look on Nathan's face many times, and he understood it.
�� �"So okay big man. You got the gun. Use it or get the fuck out", said Mickey angrily, hoping to taunt the stranger, to call his bluff because Mickey still hoped it was a bluff. He was not prepared for what Nathan did next. Nathan handed him a knife - not any knife but a fighting knife of the pattern revered by most elite military units.
�� �"You stupid punk! Do you know who I am ?", said Mickey, seeing Nathan put his gun away and replacing it with the same kind of knife.
�� �"I know what you are Mickey. I'm giving you a chance, that's all."
�� �"You being paid for this, is that it. Did the German put you up to this ?"
That caught Nathan by surprise. The German ? He knew there were two Germans on the team, but the way Mickey spoke, The German ? "Who do you mean, The German?"
�� �"Aw fuck you", said Mickey, lunging left, then at the last minute sliding to the right and driving his knife into his target - but Nathan wasn't there. The moment Mickey moved he knew what was coming, anticipated, then side stepped behind Mickey who spun round to face the threat. "Lucky kid", he said and repeated the same move and a second time they ended up facing each other, positions reversed. "You're good", said Mickey, "but I'm better", and he did exactly the same move. Nathan could have expected the third strike to be opposite to the first two as it usually was, but Mickey knew that too which was why he repeated his move. Nathan decided it was time to teach Mickey a few things so as he side stepped again, he quickly ran his blade down Mickey's side, slicing through the greasy sweatshirt he wore and leaving a thin red trail where he cut into his flesh.
�� �Mickey clasped a hand to his side and drew it away, looking at the blood. "Okay you bastard. I'm done playing", he spat. He struck suddenly and with amazing speed, a direct blow aimed at Nathan's heart but Nathan brought his knife hand up even faster and used his own blade to deflect the blow, as if it were a sword fight. Mickey's eyes narrowed and for the first time Nathan could see a little fear and maybe panic too. Again Mickey attacked and again Nathan cut him. Mickey glanced at the door, now he wanted to run. He made one final attack thinking that as soon as he did, he could get to the door, but as they spun around again, it seemed to Mickey that Nathan had made a terrible mistake - his back was towards him. Mickey rushed forward with his knife raised for a killer blow, but Nathan had tossed his knife from one hand to the other, at the same time flipping it, so that he held it with the blade pointing backwards. As Mickey closed, so Nathan lunged backwards, knowing without needing to look, where his target would be. He turned around, still holding his knife which was buried to the hilt in Mickey's stomach. Now his face was an inch from Mickey's who said in disbelief, "who...the...fuck...are...you ?". With one strong movement, Nathan ripped the knife upwards and Mickey's intestines tumbled out like white steaming slimy sausages, and as he died Nathan said, "I'm Nathan King."