Luckily, Nathan did not have to wait very long. There was a constant stream of trucks and cars leaving the Ferry Port, and he was riding in the cab of a returning haulage contractor within the hour. Nathan told the driver he was heading for London, that he knew some people there and was hoping to crash on their floor for a few days. The driver started the usual kind of conversation with Nathan, who decided to feign sleep in order to avoid the barrage of well intentioned questions, and was started to be shaken awake some time later.
"Here you go my dozy American mate!", said the driver who had pulled over to the side of the road, "I head off West now so you had best be finding yourself a new ride".
"Thanks buddy", Nathan replied with sincerity, feeling guilty that he had provided no company at all for the amiable trucker.
"No problem. Good luck!", he said, leaning over to close Nathan's door and then feeding back into the never ending stream of traffic.
Nathan was somewhere in Surrey, although that did not mean too much to him at the time. He also did not know that it was illegal to hitch a ride at the side of a British motorway, and he had only been trying for ten minutes when a Police patrol car pulled up behind him. One officer got out of the car leaving the driver behind the wheel.
"Broken down Sir ?", the policeman enquired, making a play of looking for his broken down car.
"Say what...no Officer, not at all. Just looking for a ride", replied a startled Nathan.
"Ah I see, American are you sir ?"
"Yeah, my accent huh", Nathan smiled back, trying to look the confused tourist.
"How did you get here Sir ?"
"I have been travelling in Europe, I cam across from France on the Ferry."
"Sorry, I meant how did you happen to be on the side of the motorway?"
"Right! I see. Some trucker guy gave me a ride at Dover, dropped me right here."
"Hmm, well that in itself is an offence. So where are you heading, Sir ?"
"North London, I have some friends there."
"Do you have any identification, a passport please, Sir?"
"Oh sure", answered Nathan as he handed over his UK passport.
"UK passport Mr.....Thompson ?", he read. The policeman leafed through it and handed it back.
"What ? Oh yeah, UK. My parents were based here a long time. They're dead now."
"Well it seems to be in order, but you can't stay here and to be honest, hitchhiking is illegal in this country, but everybody does it some time or another. We have to get you off this motorway before you get yourself killed. You may not know this Sir, but the average life expectancy for somebody standing on the side of this particular stretch of tarmac is seven minutes. We call it the ‘road from hell'. Into Rock music at all are we Sir ?"
The question caught Nathan by surprise "excuse me ?", he said, nonplussed.
"Rock Music ? A gentleman by the name of Chris Rhea wrote a song inspired by this wonderful ring road, that's where we get the name ‘the road from hell'. Come along, we'll get you off this road and pointed in the right direction.
The friendly traffic police were as good as their word. They drove around a section of the notorious M25, eventually leaving it and dropping Nathan at the side of an equally busy main road. "Strictly speaking Sir, you should not be hitching at all, but this road will take you right into London and from there you should be able to find your way to the part you want. Good luck Sir." The radio burst into life to which the same policeman issued an immediate response, the driver switched on a siren and the blue roof lights, and the patrol car sped away in a skid of flying gravel. It was nightfall before Nathan reached his destination, ‘The Gael' public house, somewhere near to Kings Cross railway station.
From the outside the pub was just as he remembered it from a few months ago. The sounds were just the same and as he went inside it seemed to him as though all the occupants were the same as before too, there was even a domino game still playing at a table in front of the heavy curtain. The barman looked over the heads of his patrons at Nathan and swivelled his head towards the curtain, his signal that Nathan should go right on in. When Nathan entered the back room again, he saw the familiar faces of the Irishmen whom he had met before. The man he had dealt with looked up in surprise, "well now! What brings you back so soon my fine American friend ?", he said. His accent was still very obviously Irish but the last time they met he had spoken in almost a caricature of an Irishman as might be portrayed in some comedy movie.
"I ran into some trouble", said Nathan. "I have given some thought to your offer, a lot of thought as a matter of fact."
"Slow down young man, slow down. Lets us be understanding one and other from the start here." The man nodded to his two minders that they should leave him alone with Nathan, and they both went into the bar without a word. When they had gone, the Irishman resumed, "a lot of people tink of oos Oirish as tick Micks, always after blowing up da British and drinking oorselves stupid with the moighty Guinness, to be sure!". He had adopted that same exaggerated Irish voice that Nathan remembered, but in a flash the beaming grin broke into a serious look and his voice resumed its original hard edge. "Let me tell you something my friend. It is true I have no love of the English, but what is done is done. You won't find a single pro-IRA man inside this pub, not because we oppose what they do, but because like so many of our countrymen, we are just not interested. I run what you might call, my business from here. The British police watch this place twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, which is fine by me because I watch them. They think this is a hotbed of IRA meetings, so let them think that. Now, from time to time I get offered, commissions shall we say, for certain people. If I were to pass a job over to you, then from the moment I give you a name, you are committed. Is that clear ?"
Nathan was silent for a while, but then he nodded and said, "okay."
"No going back no matter what. You back out and your name goes to the top of the list. Do you think you can handle that ?"
"If the people are people who deserve it...", his voice faltered.
"If they deserve it!", exclaimed the Irishman, "and who the fuck are you to say if anybody deserves to die ! Jesus fucking Christ! I tell you lad, I deal with people who simply enjoy killing, others who do it just for the money, I even know one guy, rich like you would not believe, who does it for kicks - the sport of hunting another man down, but you, you want to judge them ! Fuck me, that's a bit rich, don't you think ? Coming from you ? How many have you killed so far five, six, more ?"
"Okay", said Nathan, accepting the rebuke, "I need the money. I'm in. What's the deal ?"
"Have you been keeping up with the news ?"
Another wide ball that caught Nathan by surprise, "sorry ? The News ?"
"The papers, TV, CNN or whatever you like. Do you read for god's sake ?"
"Yeah, I watch TV".
"So you saw the story about Melissa Cord ?"
"Senator Cord's daughter, yes I read about that. Didn't the guy get off ?"
"So far he has. The TV never showed the videos that were sent to the Senator or what they did to her at the end. Do you want to see them ?"
Nathan was shocked, "what videos ? See them ? What, you mean you have copies? How the hell did you manage that ? No, I don't want to see them."
"Senator Cord was willing to go along with the ransom, anything to get his daughter back. The FBI stepped in and then the CIA got into it as well and said no. They had a suitcase full of counterfeit money and they were going after this ‘Juan Losada' . He was way ahead of the game and knew all about what they were up to. Anyway, the exchange took place just outside a town called Nojales in Arizona, on the Mexican border. Do you know what that bastard Losada did ? He had a big lump of Semtex inside her, do you get my meaning when I say it was inside ?
Nathan nodded, the Irishman was being graphic enough.
"When Melissa was about six feet from her father, her hands tied and her mouth taped shut, they set off the explosive, blew her to pieces all over her father. Losada went to trial okay, but one by one very single witness changed their story, met with an accident or simply vanished. Three judges died before they all but gave up. Now, by your rules, does this man deserve to die ?"
"I need papers, money for expenses, and a Barratt rifle that I can reach in the country you want me to fill the contract."
The Irishman laughed out loud, "a Barratt you say? Have you ever fired one of those mothers ?"
"A few times", Nathan replied casually when in fact he had fired hundreds of rounds from the awesome large calibre weapon and as with most firearms, was a remarkable shot.
"A few times", repeated the Irishman, "how many rounds do you want ?"
"One", said Nathan.
This time there was no laughing, the Irishman could tell from his eyes that he was deadly serious.
"Okay. It will be arranged. Take this key", he said offering a key to Nathan, "in two days time go to Kings Cross station, I know you can find your way there, and open the left luggage locker that this key fits. You will find papers, money and an airline ticket, First Class. There will also be a file on Juan Losada. When he is dead you get fifty thousand."
"Dollars, US - well its your first one. You'll get more for the next one, if you make it back that is."
As Nathan got up and left the Irishman felt renewed respect for the young man and shook his head as he repeated Nathan's answer when asked how many bullets he would need, "One, holy fuck, just the one! If he really is that good...."
Two weeks later Juan Losada's head exploded in a red mist of brain matter and splintered bone as a 0.5 calibre round fired from a mile away hit a spot dead centre between his eyes. Eventually, as the Police search widened they found a single cartridge case and stuck around it was a sticker much like those that sometimes come free inside a packet of breakfast cereal. The sticker was the American Flag. ‘The American' had left his first calling card.
There was a huge change in Nathan's life after that first contract. Very soon afterwards he visited Columbia, leaving behind another spent cartridge, and another American Flag. He also left behind, the widow of a drugs baron whose relentless drive to supply the USA with cocaine had killed one bright Harvard teenager too many. Over the next two years, Nathan travelled to a remote African state to eliminate a people trafficker whose human packages rarely reached Europe alive, let alone the England that they dreamed off. He went to Australia to track down a Philippino dealer in children destined for Brothels if they were lucky, but more often than not, simply lost in the seedy world of the paedophile. In Russia, Nathan removed two top Russian Mafia lieutenants, although that particular contract had been the result of some infighting between the Russian gangs. Nathan went to China for his most perilous contract, a European who stood out everywhere he went amongst an Asiatic population. There was a Chinese warlord who ran slave mines under terrible inhumane conditions, paying vast bribes to keep operational. He too fell to a single fifty calibre round, the paymaster a rich Chinese whose own son had been abducted into slavery.
All the while this was happening, Nathan was building a fearsome reputation, his identity known by only one man. Somewhere along the way he met a girl and fell in love again. Deep inside he felt a terrible guilt, that the killers of his own family were still free, but for a while he began to feel different, almost at peace with himself. He still wondered about his true parents but shared none of these dark secrets with his new love, after all, how could he ? Happy for the first time in many years, he bought a Ranch in Colorado in 1997, and moved in with his new girlfriend. For a long time, any evidence of ‘The American' at work just disappeared . Some people conjectured that he had run out of luck, that at last somebody had got him - the bounty on his head was high enough to attract a lot of would be claimants. In England, the Irishman wondered too, but never for one minute thought that his protwas dead.
Nathan met Skye when he was spending some time on the West Coast. He had barely made it back out of China and was resting awhile and licking his wounds. With a sizeable Swiss bank account now he no longer needed to accept the kind of work that he had fallen into, but time had inevitably wreaked its changes on him. Without realising it, Nathan had become a contract killer, a man whose existence he excused by the fact that in his heart he felt that every one of his victims deserved to die anyway, and if not by his bullet, then they would soon be dead by another. How he thought he had the right to make such a sanctimonious decision, to act as judge, jury and executioner, he could never explain, but nevertheless, that is what he chose to do. Someday soon he was planning on at last returning to Switzerland with the sole purpose of tracking down this ‘Doctor Seifert', to see if this man had the answer as to who he was, and when that business was completed he would at last avenge the loss of his family by the complete destruction of Gunther Lecke. His body bore the healing wounds of his foray into China, and he lay on a golden beach, reading a book and sometimes just watching the ‘pretty people' who flocked to the Californian coast.
A shadow fell across him and he looked up quickly, much too quickly because he was still living on the edge of his nerves, his every sense still tuned to danger. His eyes revealed the briefest glimpse of fear and his body tensed like a cat, ready to pounce, but the moment passed in the blink of an eye an he resumed a relaxed expression as he looked up at the beautiful girl who had stolen his sun. When she smiled to say her first words to him, Nathan thought that her face radiated more warmth than the sun that was behind her.
"I'm sorry", she said in a kind of mid-west drawl that was at the same time a velvety like purr, "but that book you're reading...well its not the usual thing you expect to find a anybody reading, well what I mean is...", she was stumbling over her words now, entranced by Nathan's piercing eyes, "I mean, here of all places, and you're reading ‘Robinson Crusoe!", was all she could manage.
"Well you know, I happen to like this book", Nathan smiled back at her and this time his eyes were smiling too.
"I read that back in ninth grade. I love that book", she said.
"Yeah well, you know, sometimes I think how great it would be to be alone on some faraway island...", and even as he said it Nathan's expression began to falter as he thought of ‘The Island' so much like Defoe's that he used to be able to visit.
"Have you ever been to the South Seas, seen any of those amazing unspoilt Islands yourself ?"
Nathan hesitated for a second, "yeah, some. Here", he said throwing another towel down, "why don't you sit awhile and give me back my sun. My name is David, David Turner" he said, giving her the latest name he had entered the US under, and the identity that he would keep for the longest time so far, that is other than his ‘real name', but even that, he knew, was false. She sat down on the towel next to Nathan. She was wearing a bikini top and very short cut-off Levi jeans. Her hair was long and golden like the sand, framing and almost heart shaped face in which her pale blue eyes sparkled like precious jewels above a button nose.
"Pleased to meet you David Turner. My name is Skye", she said and offered her hand.
"And you too Skye. You here on vacation ?"
"Kinda. I like to you know, roam a bit. Right now I am just a free spirit, you might say." She looked at him more closely as she spoke, seeing the angry wounds and bruises for the first time. She was no expert but she was sure that one of the holes in his body that seemed fresh and still healing, was a bullet wound. "So David Turner, you look like you have been in the wars some ?"
"I had a minor accident, that's all", Nathan replied, "and David is enough. Where are you from, Skye ?"
"All over I guess."
"Yeah, me too."
They lay side by side on the beach for the rest of the day. When the sun fell down into the ocean they went back to the Hotel that Nathan was staying in where he insisted that she have another room that he easily arranged. Skye was touched by his old world attitude, by the fact that he had not presumed upon her. They spent the rest of the summer together, her gently probing, he offering vague and ambiguous replies. She did not really mind at all - she could see that there was a lot more to this man than a few summer months could reveal. When Fall came Nathan suggested that they winter together in his ranch.
"You have a ranch!", she exclaimed in delight.
"Well no, not right now. I was thinking about buying a place. You wanna help me find it ?"
So the deal was done and eventually they found their dream Ranch, a four hour drive from Denver, Colorado.
Two years after they had moved in, a minor scandal hit France, but with enough importance that its shock waves reverberated across America. By this time, Pascal Rousseau was a highly respected Wine maker, exporting around the world. His habit was to hire cheap immigrant labour whom he paid abysmal wages and housed in terrible tin roofed shacks at the edge of his sprawling vineyards. Caught in the act of raping one of his young workers, the furious remainder set about Pascal with the knives they used to harvest his grapes. They hid his body in a vat of a very good red, and then fled the country. Meanwhile his automated bottling process drew off a hundred cases that were shipped before the Police discovered his body, floating in the wine. A desperate recall was issued but amazingly only fourteen cases were returned. Those ‘in the know' said later that the '99 Rousseau was a particularly good vintage with a fine nose and a spectacular body to it.
Once a month, Nathan made the long trip to Denver to attend to any business he had to do and to check a special mailbox. Invariably there was a message from the Irishman, the offer of a new job, but Nathan ignored them all. In December 1999 he made the trip for the last time that year, planning on picking up a whole load of presents and decorations for another Christmas at the Ranch. There was the usual message in the mailbox which Nathan tore into tiny pieces and threw away. He did his shopping and set off back to the Ranch. When he arrived back the house was in darkness. Instantly, his reflexes kicked in as he suspected danger, and he made a careful approach to the front door. Upon reaching it, he found the door open and with cold dread in his heart, he stepped inside. Reaching under a low table that stood near the door, he felt for the automatic that was taped there, and pulled it free. Nathan began to checkout the downstairs rooms, and when he reached the kitchen he found the note that Skye had left on the table.
Dear David, I want you to know that no matter what, I will always love you. I tried so hard to understand you these past few years, but I don't know you at all. I do know that some terrible things have happened to you - you shout out names in your sleep that you never mention in the day. Those scars on your body are not from some accident, somebody did that to you, so I wonder what you did to them ? I need some space to think, to try and work this all out. I will never forget you David, or whoever you are. Give me some time, that's all I ask.
I love you,
Nathan read the note a few times, then put it to his nose so that he could smell her on the paper. He folded it carefully and put it in his wallet, behind the only picture he still had, the creased and faded photograph of him and his parents that he took so long ago from the other ranch in New Hampshire. He spent the next few months alone and morose. He didn't bother going into Denver, just waited for Skye to come back, but she never did. Eventually, Nathan ran so low on supplies that he had to go into the nearest town, but he changed his mind on the way and kept on going, all the way to Denver. There were a number of messages in his mailbox this time, but it was the most recent of them that caught his attention; the offer of a contract in Switzerland. That more or less decided him to finish what he had started once and for all, and so he called the Irishman, on the mobile number that he had committed to memory, where it could never be forgotten.
"Its grand to hear your fine voice again!", said the Irishman in obvious delight.
Nathan's reply was not as warm, it was cold and detached, "the job in Switzerland. Okay".
"Ah well this one is a bit different, mind you, your take is a million ?"
"No matter. Give me the subject. It suits me to be in Switzerland just now."
"Like I said, this one is somewhat, err...delicate you might say. Can you be in Zurich tomorrow ?"
"Yeah. No problem."
"I'll have you picked up. I think I need to tell you about this face to face."
True to his word, the next day David Turner deplaned at Zurich International Airport. A driver had been sent there to meet the first US flight of the day, and with instructions to meet every UIS flight until his man was met. The driver held a hand-written cardboard sign that said ‘The Gael', a nice touch by the Irishman. At one ‘o' clock the driver was rewarded for his patience when Nathan approached him. Thirty minutes later, Nathan was in a hotel room, talking to the man who had fed him his targets, and paid every promised penny into his account, for the past five years.
"You look older than when I last saw you", said the Irishman.
"I am older".
"Still chasing those leprechauns of yours though ?"
"Still chasing, but not for much longer. So what makes this one so special that you have to meet me, after all this time ?"
"The ones in the past, you were chosen by me for each one because they were all essentially what you might call, bad people".
"Yeah, so your point now is ?"
"This one I have for you...", the Irishman seemed to squirm, as if he was very uncomfortable now and a bead of sweat broke out on his forehead.
"I don't care who he is. Just give me the damn file", said Nathan impatiently.
"God! You have changed. There is no file - there are no known pictures of this man."
Nathan laughed, "no picture ? How the hell am I supposed to find him ?"
"I can tell you exactly where he will be and one what day. That will be the one and only opportunity that you will have. All you have to see is a cream coloured Fedora with a black silk band - he's your man."
"A lot of people wear hats like that. Are you putting me on ?"
"Never! On this day, at this time, at this place, there will only be one man wearing such a hat. That's all I can tell you."
"Who is he, this mystery man ?"
"Some kind of money man. He lives here in Switzerland. He is setting up some kind of deal between the Bolivian Government and a German named Gunther Lecke."
Nathan's face paled to such a degree that the Irishman noticed his shocked response. "Lecke", Nathan almost whispered, "he is involved too ?"
"Yes, in whatever it is they are doing. Why, do you know him ?"
"You might say that. I won't be taking a fee for this one. You can have it all."
"What ? Are you mad ? Its a million now. You want nothing ?"
"Not a cent. What is the location ?"
"The actual conference is to take place in a very exclusive hotel, somewhere up in the mountains. Trust me, not even you could get close to that one. Its built like a fortress. State of the art stuff too. Apparently the place was once a very private clinic of sorts but there was a huge scandal that the Swiss Government played right down, like they do with these things. You know what the Swiss can be like."
Nathan was at once deeply interested, "A clinic ? What sort of clinic ? Plastic surgery....?"
"No, nothing like that. I did read about it somewhere. It was some sort of millionaire's adoption scam, you know, new born babies, something like that. Anyway its..."
Nathan cut him off, "do you remember reading about a Doctor Seifert ?", he asked sounding almost excited suddenly, his face animated.
"Seifert? Could be, it was a while ago but yes, that name has a certain resonance to it."
"Are you sure ?"
"Why ? Does it matter ? It was about four years ago, I think, I can't remember all the piddling details.", the Irishman replied irritably, surprised at Nathan's sudden deep interest in the story.
"It could matter a lot to me. Do you know if this Doctor Seifert is still alive ?"
"No idea, how would I know ? Anyway, its all long gone now. Turned it into a luxury hotel, but you will have one chance in Zurich, two weeks from now. That's when your subject arrives to pick up this Lecke character, before they go on up the mountain. That's your window, when he gets out of his car to go into the hotel."
"I'll be ready for them."
The Irishman shook his head, "them ? You weren't listening to me. Its one subject."
"No, I heard you alright,. But there may be some collateral damage this time", said Nathan grimly.
"How do you mean, collateral damage ? You've always been a clear hitter, one shot every time. Fucking amazing, but nevertheless, that's you."
"I have some personal interest in this one".
"Well that's for you to decide, but you know the rules. You have to make the hit on the subject. What else you do is your business."
"That's right, it is", Nathan agreed.
"And you don't want paying either, is that right ?"
"Yeah. This one is on me."
"Damn funny contract if you ask me. Okay my friend. Usual equipment ?"
"Not this time. I will need two rounds", said Nathan, and although he discussed the details agreeably enough, on his face there was an expression so cold and deadly that even the Irishman was taken aback.
In his mountain castle in Germany, Gunther Lecke was very excited, and that did not happen very often. Soon he would retire, sixty-six years old and rich beyond his dreams, and his great debt of honour repaid in full. For years his scientists had been trying to increase the yield and quality of bio-diesel, refined from rapeseed. Now, the secret process that required a special mineral found only in Bolivia had been perfected. Negotiations had been tense from the outset, and finally Gunther had called in the services of the world's most respected broker, who despite his fame, had never been seen full face. An enigma of his own making, ‘The man in the Fedora'. In a few days, that man would meet the President of Bolivia and seal the deal to let Gunther begin working their mines.
His long-time business arch-enemy, Lord Steele had at last stepped down as head of Steele Horizons, and two years ago, to the shock and dismay of all the much older board members, Jonathon Steele had taken the chair at the age of twenty eight. In the first two years he had more than proved his worth. He was very different to his father who now devoted all of his time to The Ashwood Foundation. Jonathon was sharp, decisive, and totally ruthless. Any threat to the Group was dealt with instantly, and despite the misgivings on the main board, their share price, like their star, continued to rise in the business world's skies. Jonathan had been keeping a close watch on Lecke, ever since that dreadful day that he had shown him those disgusting photographs. He vowed to break the man one day, at almost any cost, and he felt that his day might be coming soon. Then he learned of Lecke's plans for Bolivia, and his breakthrough with the bio-diesel fuel. If he could really deliver what he said, then it would ruin Steele Horizons, who had extensive oil investments. Even a small fluctuation in the world price impacted heavily, but a major drop would be a catastrophe. Lecke had to be stopped. The deal must not be allowed to happen. Lecke was all but impregnable, but The Financier was another matter. He must not be allowed to make the meeting. Jonathon knew who to call, or at least he employed a man who did, a man who in turn knew how to contact ‘The American'.