Nathan quickly locked the bar entrance door and then went down to the restroom at the back. It was as he expected, dirty and smelling of urine. The single wash basin was cracked and stained and the empty shell of a contraceptive machine hung on the wall. The floor was wet and it didn't look as though it had been caused by a janitor's mop. No water came out of the hot tap and just a miserable trickle from the cold. Nathan took a sachet of brown hair dye from his pocket and using the filth encrusted wash basin, dyed his blonde hair back to its natural colour. His dirty looking jacket was reversible, and when he turned it inside out it was clean and unmarked. He buffed his shoes as best he could and shaved off his heavy growth of beard with the razor sharp knife that had just killed Mickey. Finally, he popped the blue tinted contact lenses from his eyes, flushing them away with the remains of the hair dye. Nathan had already picked up the knife that Mickey dropped. He let himself out of the back door of the bar. Stashed behind a disgusting smelling trash bin that was spilling its rotten contents over the side, was the small bag he carried with him. Nathan dropped the knives and his gun back into the bag. There was nobody about and he walked down the narrow alley that smelled of dog faeces, up into the street. Ten minutes later he was clear of the area and was waiting at the bus station for the next bus to leave town. It was going out in five minutes and for now, Nathan did not care where it was going.
As the bus pulled away into the night Nathan felt nothing. Mickey was the first man that Nathan had ever killed - he had not even had a fist fight since the few rough and tumbles of childhood. He had expected to at least feel some small release from the heavy burden of guilt that he carried because he alone had survived that awful night. There was not even a feeling of satisfaction or revenge, it was as if he had stepped on some nasty insect leaving him as empty and bitter as he had been before. There were eight more names on his list and, he suspected, somebody - The German?, who had orchestrated the whole thing. Would he feel any different when they were dead, as they surely were doomed to be ? He did not know, but he had discovered that there was nothing to be gained by repeating the manner by which he despatched Mickey. None of the others would even get that chance, they were scum, less than people, the animals that murdered all those he loved, and they were given no chance at all. He looked at the photos that he carried and leafed through them until he found the picture of Mickey. When he found that one he tore it into tiny fragments, then opened his window and let the wind take the pieces away. The bus was heading North out of Texas and for now, that would be just fine. Four hours later he arrived in Oklahoma City. Having decided along the way, where he was going, he could have stayed on board. When he purchased his ticket he had scanned the route of the next bus due out and picked Des Moines Iowa, mainly because he thought, ‘who the hell ever wants to go there'. It turned out that he really did, so he left the bus, preferring to make his trip less direct and with less people likely to try to strike up a conversation with him, or remember him.
For the next three months Nathan stayed in Oklahoma city. He could easily afford to do nothing and just bide his time, but the boredom would drive him mad so he took a series of low paid jobs, moving on after no more than two weeks. Always staying in cheap out of the way motels he kept himself to himself, caused no trouble, made no friends. Late at night he would put himself through a gruelling training program that kept him in peak physical condition, but nobody ever saw him pounding the streets or doing endless pull-ups in the City parks. Eventually his hair had grown out to the length he wanted it, and all the dyed hair looked like badly applied highlights that had been neglected. Nathan had his hair cut into a totally conservative style, the kind of haircut that a million American wear every day on their way to the office. In addition he had grown a moustache that he had clipped in a similar, almost boring style. He purchased an off-the-peg suit, a plain blue shirt and a pair of shoes in the clothes section of a Wal-Mart, and then the accessories that he needed to go with them including a pair of heavy framed reading glasses with the weakest lenses that he could find. His other casual clothes had been washed in an all night Laundromat, and were folded neatly inside his travel bag. When he dressed in his new clothes and donned his spectacles he looked just like the travelling salesman or maybe neighbourhood geek that he wanted to be. Nathan waited at the bus station for his bus. He had to make one change at Kansas City, and he expected to arrive in Saint Paul Minnesota in the early hours of the following day.
The man who said he was a travelling salesman booked into a Super 8 motel, just outside Saint Paul at 7 am. The man behind the desk could see that his new guest had had a rough overnight journey on the Greyhound bus and smiled genially as he was paid in advance. Nathan said that he was not sure when he was leaving to he would rather pay now because he could claim it all back on expenses in any event. The proprietor appreciated the thought and said that he wished all his guest were as thoughtful as he handed Nathan his room key. The register was signed Stephen Harris, from Utah, but his accent could have been from anywhere. The Motel ran to a light breakfast buffet in the morning, nothing fancy mind, but real good coffee to set a man up for the day. Nathan thanked him kindly and asked if he could get a pot now, and the smiling proprietor duly obliged. He smiled some more when Nathan gave him a ten dollar bill for his trouble, winked and said, "expenses, ain't that the best word you ever heard ?"
It was late October and getting cold in Saint Paul, but that didn't bother Nathan. The first flurries of winter snow were already on the ground and in the centre of the town, the trees in the small park opposite the Saint Paul Hotel were decked out with lights. The town itself is so small that in can be walked right around in an hour. About five miles north of Saint Paul was a small car lot, ‘Benny Stone's Auto Mart'. The name was bigger than the business. It ran to six pick-up trucks, the kind with fancy paint jobs, chrome wheels, tinted glass and gun racks, four Japanese saloons, ten or so various American cars that dated from ten years ago to one brand new Chrysler Town Car, and up on a ramp, all on its own in pride of place , a Mercedes limousine. That was the sum total of Benny's business empire. Already the sun was fading as the day drew to a close when a final potential customer ambled onto the car lot. Benny was in a ramshackle cabin at the back, thinking about closing up for the day. He had sold one UTE which wasn't so bad at that time of day, especially since he had not had to deal with some wreck offered as a trade-in. The finance had been fine, and all he needed to do was to post of the documentation on his way home. He glanced out of the cracked window and saw somebody looking over a nine year old Buick that he had been stuck with since Spring. Never one to miss a sale, Benny pulled on a warm coat and stepped back outside to see if he could offload his Turkey onto the sucker that he was looking at.
"Hi there ! Benny Stone is the name!", he greeted the customer effusively, offering his hand an pumping a firm handshake when the customer smiled in return and offered his. The man looked about right to Benny who could sum most people up with a glance. The man's jacket was a little stained and soiled, he wore a pair of faded Levis and his scuffed cowboy boots looked like they had covered a few miles. He was clean shaven except for a moustache and his dark hair - hard to tell the colour in the failing light, was slicked down with hair oil. He was slouched a bit and he wandered around the vehicle just looking at it, testing a panel here and there to check that it was sound. To Benny the man looked like a regular working guy, probably a hand from one of the many ranches in the state. Certainly the battered Stetson he was wearing was a common enough sign of a ranch hand, around Saint Paul. This far north and with winter coming what the man really needed was a cheap pick-up or at least something with a four wheel drive, but Benny wanted rid of the Buick.
"You got service history on this ?", said Nathan.
Benny could not readily place that accent and he had travelled widely - in the USA , never beyond its borders, except just once, last year.
"Yes Sir! This beauty was the personal conveyance of the Pastor's wife down in Saint Paul, god rest her soul", lied Benny smoothly, "Would you like me to fire her up ?", he asked hoping to dear god that the battery was not flat and that it would run.
"Yeah, can I get a test drive ?"
Benny thought for a second, it was getting late, the car was a pile of crap, but then, if it started and the sucker wanted it...."You most certainly can my friend. You wait on here while I get the keys from my office."
A few minutes later Benny returned, having sifted through the candy tin in which he kept all the ‘no hoper' car keys. He opened the driver's door, uttered a silent prayer, and turned the key. The engine fired up straight away and he silently, thanked god for that. It was running more or less smoothly for a car engine that had seen no mechanic for three years. It missed once or twice and Benny smiled and said, "its real cold today, just needs to warm up a bit."
"Can I take her out ?", asked Nathan.
"Why of course, but I will have to come with you young man. I mean you no disrespect, but a man can't be too careful these days. You know I can't do you finance on this, but I am sure we can work out a damn good cash deal? C'mon, let's take it for a ride."
Benny got back out and walked around to the passenger side. That door lock was broken and only opened from the outside, but he would get around that later by dropping the window to demonstrate the fact that the electric mechanism worked, and then he could pop the door to get out. He had done the same thing at least ten times so far, but he was still stuck with the car.
Nathan pulled off the lot and turned left, heading away from Saint Paul.
"Seems to me you might want to pull a U up here a piece. There ain't nothing in this direction except for a few factory outlets and Canada if you go far enough", said Benny who doubted that the Buck could get that far in any case. Nathan said nothing, just kept his eyes fixed on the road and drove. Benny was a might irritated by his silence - he liked to strike up a rapport with his customers, but this guy was too taciturn for his liking. He played around with the radio until he found a Country station. "This good for you ? Radio is as sweet a sound as you are likely to find", he said. Just then, Nathan hung a sudden right - he did not indicate or slow down even, it was as if he knew that the narrow track was there. Although it was reasonably level, it was not much more than a dirt track.
"Hey fellah! I think you made a mistake here. This road don't go nowhere. We had better turn around and get back onto the highway", said Benny in alarm.
Nathan accelerated and the old Buick picked up surprisingly well, bouncing and jumping over a few pot holes as the track petered out. Benny felt the slightest tinge of concern so he took a good look at his customer and decided that he was just a kid, and if he thought he could pull anything on Benny Stone, he had made one big mistake.
"Okay kid", he said now with anger, "you had your fun, and wasted my time too. Now stop the friggin' car and turn it around!"
Nathan swerved off the last few feet of the track and into the woodland. Now the Buick was travelling fast between the trees and undergrowth of a small wood. "I said stop the fucking car you moron!", shouted Benny, aiming a clumsy blow at Nathan, but missing as Nathan moved his head. Then suddenly, Nathan slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt, slewing hard to the right as the worn out front brakes held the wheels unevenly. They had stopped at the edge of a small lake that was sheltered by the trees. On the far side there was a jetty with two or three boats moored, their cabins covered over for the winter. Benny was incandescent with rage. He dropped his window and jumped out of the car, racing around to the driver's door, but when he got to it, the door was already open and the driver had vanished.
"Okay asshole!", he shouted, "the joke is on you my friend. You get to walk back to town!"
"Who is the German ?", came a voice from the trees behind him. Benny spun around at the sound.
"What ? What the fuck are you talking about ?"
"I asked you who The German was", said Nathan evenly.
Benny opened the trunk of the Buick and picked up a tyre lever from its tool kit. He began to walk towards the sound of Nathan's voice, " I don't know any fucking German!", he spat angrily.
"Did you know that Mickey is dead ?" This time the sound came from the left of the car.
Benny turned again, trying to walk slowly over the ground that was covered in pine needles and dry twigs beneath a very thin blanket of snow. His footsteps crunched as he walked no matter how carefully he placed his feet.
"Mickey ? Mickey who, asshole ?"
"Mickey who used to own a bar down in Texas. A friend of yours I believe."
"I never been to fucking Texas. I been to a lot of places, but not there."
"I think you do know him Benny, and I know you have been to the Pacific", said Nathan, this time from the other side of the car because he had circled around again, which made Benny spin around once more.
"Pacific ? Sure, I've been to LA and San Francisco. So what ?"
"No Benny, I mean an island in the Pacific. Last year, You and Mickey. So who is The German ?"
Nathan could not see Benny's face clearly from where he stood, but if he could he would have seen the blood drain from his face and his rage become replaced with fear.
"Who the fuck are you?", he almost whispered.
Nathan stepped out from the cover of the trees. He was about ten feet from Benny and he held an automatic pistol that was aimed at Benny's head. "I asked you who The German was, and this is the last time I am going to ask you", he said.
Benny weighed up throwing his weapon at Nathan and decided he needed to get closer if he had any chance at all, so he took a few very small steps and as he began to move closer to Nathan he said, "all I know is that some German guy paid us fifty grand each for the job. The only guy who ever spoke to him was one of the other Germans who was there, Lukas I think his name was". By now Benny had covered nearly half the distance and was getting ready to launch his attack, "so you kid ? You weren't there, so what the fuck does it matter to you ?"
"I was there Benny. My name is Nathan King", and as Benny drew back his arm to raise the tyre lever a single shot rang out, making a red dot appear between Benny's eyes like a Hindu caste mark, and blowing off the back of his head as it exited.
Nathan was in no rush. He tore off a strip of Benny's shirt and was just able to reach the gasoline in the fuel tank by pushing it into the neck of the fuel filler. He had noticed that the fuel gauge was in the red sector when he started the car, but it was not unusual for a car on a car lot to be nearly empty. He dragged Benny to the car and pushed him in, onto the back seats. With a bullet hole in his head there was no point in trying to make it look like and accident. The idea of a suicide came and went as Nathan realised that there was no damage to the insides of the car and anything he tried to fake would soon be discovered. He opened the hood and in a few minutes had adjusted the engine to a very fast tick-over. That done he wiped the grease from his fingers with the gas soaked rag and then with great care, wiped those surfaces that he had touched, removing all possible traces of fingerprints. He had already dropped the windows of the car, and the engine was racing now, thanks to the adjustment. Nathan found a long stick and reached in through the window, knocking the shift into Drive. The Buck leapt forward, down the bank of the lake and kept on going. It was a very sharp drop at the edge and the Buick quickly sank beneath the surface. In another week or two the snow would really begin and the lake would ice over. Maybe in the Spring thaw some angler might snag his line and take a look, maybe not. The car and Benny might be found then, or it might be years, it really made no difference to Nathan.
It was around fifteen miles back to town, from the edge of the lake, which Nathan knew because he had already run that distance when he scouted out the area. It was a easy run for him. He found the tree in whose branches he had hidden a pair of Nike running trainers, and replaced them in the plastic bag with his boots and Stetson. That done he filled the rest of the bag with some stones, tied it closed and then threw it as far as he could into the lake. It made a dull splash when it hit the water, and then sank. Nathan began his run back to town.
As he ran, long easy strides covering the ground with any easy athletic grace, in fact he was enjoying the run, he took a route that was mainly cross country. He dodged in and out of thickets and woodland even though it was now quite dark and nobody travelling along the highway that ran parallel to his route could possibly see him. The trail of footprints he left from time to time in thin patches of snow would soon be covered by more snow, but the rock hard ground carried no evidence of his passing. Now he at least knew how much they had been paid and that fact alone was sickening to him. The lives of everybody he loved had been sold for fifty thousand a man, a shade under half a million for the nine killers that carried out the atrocity. He also now knew that there was at least one man who knew who was behind the whole thing although even now he was running faces through his memory to see if he could place any of them in the picture - would any of these men that he could see in his mind be capable of such an act ? One thing was certain, Lukas Shafer knew who set it up, and he would tell him, of that Nathan was quite sure, he would beg to tell him the name, before he died.
When Nathan reached the outer town limits he took to the sidewalk. There were very few people out, that late at night. Apart from a few restaurants and the big ice rink that hosts many different events the year round, there is not a lot in the town itself. A covered walkway, the Saint Paul Skyway, runs around the town centre, at more or less first floor level, which allows shoppers to walk and browse in complete comfort without ever being exposed to the elements. Nathan reduced his pace to a jog, arriving back at his motel unseen. He had a room on the ground floor and had left the window unlatched. The window opened out to the side of the building which was the reason he had chosen the room, making up an excuse that he always liked to book the same room number when he travelled, dressed as he was in his geek/salesman outfit. The side of the building was dark and unlit and Nathan slipped back inside. Sweating and feeling the exhilaration of a good run, he stripped off and showered. Totally refreshed, he changed into his salesman clothes and left, this time by his room door, finding a quiet restaurant in which he ate a meal.
The following day Nathan was up early. He had been in the motel for five days, having paid for seven. He dropped his key on the front desk and made his way back to the bus station. Three hours later he was sitting on another bus, heading for Maine. He had a day and a half ahead of him but that was fine, he would chat on the bus to anybody who sat next to him, his voice a flat boring monotone vague mid-western accent that would make his travelling companions wish that they had a different seat. Most would remember the man whose only knowledge seemed to be based on the wonders of extruded aluminium products and who giggled like a schoolgirl at his own inane jokes. They also remembered the way he made so much noise when he ate, slapping his lips and making a disgusting slurping noise when he drank, but what did he look like ? Nobody had the slightest idea, "the guy was a geek", was the best they could do.
The Greyhound bus that left Saint Paul had to travel through Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts to reach Maine, which it did in the early evening of the second day. Nathan had changed buses twice, once in Illinois and again in New York State, but he had maintained the same persona and by the time the now almost empty bus stopped in Bar Harbour, most of his unlucky travelling companions had forgotten him. In the summer Bar Harbour is nothing short of a tourist trap and is also favoured by the Fall leaf poppers. During the winter the town goes into hibernation, most of the cafes and restaurants close down and the Whale watching boats stay at their mooring. Nathan found some cheap lodgings, a boarding house only too happy to have a paying guest at that time of year. He explained that he wanted some peace and quiet to write a book, to which he got the expected interested reply.
"Writing a book huh ? I like a good murder mystery myself. Might I have read any of yours ?"
"I am writing about the statistical analysis of the stress curves in aluminium extrusions", said Nathan in his dull boring voice.
"About the what ? Oh never mind. Here you go, room fourteen. You need anything just give me a call."
"I plan to stay a while", said Nathan, "until Spring. That okay ?"
The man looked at him for a moment and said, "as long as you pay for your room, stay as long as you like, mind there ain't much goes on around here, and me and Beth, my wife, we go to Florida for Christmas. My son checks the place over for us when we are away. You got family ?"
"No. I spend most of my time on the road."
"Figures. Well make yourself at home and good luck with your book, although I have no idea what its about."
Bar Harbour is in Northern Maine making its winters bitter and hard. Luckily, Nathan found a bookstore that had a reasonable range in stock and the TV in his room was connected to Cable services. Every day he carried out the punishing fitness regime that kept in him peak condition. He was careful to find secluded spots, out of sight, in which to work-out because the behaviour was not really in keeping with his boring geek image. Most days he ran, or walked many miles exploring the area. Nearly all the restaurants had closed for the winter but there were still one or two that he frequented, and he often bought food from a convenience store, that he ate in his room. The proprietor and his wife left for Florida the following month, which was November. From then on, Nathan always paid his rent, cash on the dot. The rest of the motel was closed down leaving Nathan as the only tenant. He had been careful to establish a rapport with his landlord so that when he did leave, he had no second thoughts about his winter guest. Normally the whole place would be shut-up, but the rent even from one room, all through the winter, was welcome. The only subtle extra he had cited was that Nathan had to pay for utilities, to which he readily agreed.
Christmas day sneaked up on Nathan and he grieved all over again for the loss of those he loved. Eventually he pulled himself together, controlled his emotions, and recovered the steely determination to finish what he had started. All through the winter Nathan had allowed his hair and his beard to grow. When the first leaf buds added a green fuzz to the trees and sweet blossoms burst from the flowers, Spring had arrived and Nathan looked more like a misplaced Hippy than the geek salesman that had arrived a few months earlier. He had done his best to avoid direct contact with his landlord or his son, but a certain amount was inevitable. "That's a mean looking set of whiskers there, Steve", said the landlord when Nathan aka Steve Harris, handed him his last payment.
"Yep. I kinda let it go while I was so busy with my book".
"Did you get it done ?"
"I got a good start on it, but I need to be moving on now."
"Well I can't complain. You've been a good guest. Here now, you take this last week back, have it on me, son", he said giving the cash back to Nathan.
"Thank you most kindly", Nathan answered, pocketing the bills. "Guess its so long then".
"Don't you want to get that hair of yours tidied up first ? I could get Beth to do it for you. No trouble at all ?"
"No, that's fine thank you. I'll get it fixed later. I must look a mess."
"I hope your book is a success, good luck."
"Yeah, you too", said Nathan, and he left the motel.
Nathan walked casually away, up the main highway that runs right into Bar Harbour and ends at the Whale Watching Boat Dock, which was behind him. He did not pause at the Bus stop, but kept on going, out of town. After another mile there were no other houses to be seen and he crossed a field at the side of the road, heading into a thicket of tall Pine trees. Out of sight, he changed out of his salesman clothes and into his jeans. He pulled his hair back into a pony tail and fastened it with an elastic band. His suit, shirt, tie, shoes and spectacles all went into a hole that he had already dug, deep where it would not be easily uncovered. A salesman with slate grey eyes went into the woods, long haired Hippy with a ragged scruffy beard and deep brown eyes, came out. Nathan did not mind the contact lenses he used to change his eye colour, but it felt so much better not to have any in at all.
He slung his bag over his back and set out along the road. Every now and then a car or a truck passed him by, and after two or three hours, one stopped in response to his outstretched thumb. "I'm going all the way down to Boston", said the friendly stranger who had stopped, "I could sure use the company".
"I only need to get as far down as Lincolnville", said Nathan.
"Well shoot! That ain't n'more than a couple of hours, but all the same, you are very welcome."
"Thanks then", said Nathan as he closed the door and fastened his seat belt.