W Griffin: Hunters

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W Griffin Hunters
  • Название:
    Hunters
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    Триллер / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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W E B Griffin


Hunters

I

[ONE] Danubius Hotel Gellert Szent Gellert ter 1 Budapest, Hungary 0035 1 August 2005

When he heard the ping of the bell announcing the arrival of an elevator in the lobby of the Gellert, Sandor Tor, who was the director of security for the Budapester Neue Tages Zeitung, raised his eyes from a copy of the newspaper-so fresh from the presses that his fingers were stained with ink-to see who would be getting off.

He was not at all surprised to see that it was Eric Kocian, managing director and editor in chief of the newspaper. The first stop of the first Tages Zeitung delivery truck to leave the plant was the Gellert.

The old man must have been looking out his window again, Tor thought, waiting to see the truck arrive.

Tor was a burly fifty-two-year-old with a full head of curly black hair and a full mustache. He wore a dark blue single-breasted suit carefully tailored to conceal the Swiss SIGARMS P228 9mm semiautomatic pistol he carried in a high-ride hip holster.

He looked like a successful businessman with a very good tailor, but he paled beside Eric Kocian, who stepped off the elevator into the Gellert lobby wearing an off-white linen suit with a white shirt, a white tie held to the collar with a discreet gold pin, soft white leather slip-on shoes, a white panama hat-the wide brim rakishly up on the right and down on the left-and carrying a sturdy knurled cane with a brass handle in the shape of a well-bosomed female.

Kocian was accompanied by a large dog. The dog was shaped like a boxer, but he was at least a time and a half-perhaps twice-as large as a big boxer, and his coat was grayish black and tightly curled.

Kocian walked to a table in the center of the lobby where a stack of the Tages Zeitung had been placed, picked up a copy carefully-so as not to soil his well-manicured fingers-and examined the front page.

Then he folded the newspaper and extended it to the dog.

"You hold it awhile, Max," he said. "Your tongue is already black."

Then he turned and, resting both hands on the cane, carefully surveyed the lobby.

He found what he was looking for-Sandor Tor-sitting in an armchair in a dark corner of the lobby. Kocian pointed his cane at arm's length at Tor, not unlike a cavalry officer leading a charge, and walked quickly toward him. The dog, newspaper in his mouth, never left Kocian's side.

Six feet from Tor, Kocian stopped and, without lowering the cane, said, "Sandor, I distinctly remember telling you that I would not require your services anymore today and to go home."

A lesser man would have been cowed. Sandor Tor did not. As a young man, he had done a hitch in the French Foreign Legion and subsequently had never been cowed by anyone or anything.

He pushed himself far enough out of the armchair to reach the dog's head, scratched his ears, and said, "How goes it, Max?" Then he looked up at Kocian and said, "You have been known to change your mind, Ur Kocian."

"This is not one of those rare occasions," Kocian said. He let that sink in and then added: "But since you are already here, you might as well take us-on your way home-to the Franz Josef Bridge."

With that, Kocian turned on his heel and walked quickly to the entrance. Max trotted to keep up with him.

Tor got out of his chair as quickly as he could and started after him.

My God, he's eighty-two!

As he walked, Tor took a cellular telephone from his shirt pocket, pushed an autodial button, and held the telephone to his ear.

"He's on the way to the car," he said without preliminary greeting. "He wants me to drop him at the Szabadsag hid. Pick him up on the other side."

The Szabadsag hid, the Freedom Bridge, across the Danube River was are-creation of the original 1899 bridge that had been destroyed-as had all the other bridges over the Danube-in the bitter fighting of World War II. It had been named after Franz Josef, then king and emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the first to be rebuilt, as close to the original as possible, and, when completed in 1946, had been renamed the Freedom Bridge.

Eric Kocian simply refused to accept the name change.

"If the communists were happy with that Freedom name, there's obviously something wrong with it," he had said more than once. "Franz Josef may have been a sonofabitch, but, compared to the communists, he was a saint." There was a silver Mercedes-Benz S500 sitting just outside the door of the Gellert.

For a moment, Sandor Tor was afraid that the old man had grown impatient and decided to walk. Then there came a long blast on the horn.

Tor quickly trotted around the front of the car and got behind the wheel. Kocian was in the front passenger's seat. Max, still with the newspaper in his mouth, was sitting up in the backseat.

"Where the hell have you been?" Kocian demanded.

"I had to take a leak."

"You should have taken care of that earlier," Kocian said. It wasn't far at all from the door of the Gellert to the bridge, but if Kocian had elected to walk he would have had to cross the road paralleling the Danube, down which traffic often flew.

The old man wasn't concerned for himself, Tor knew, but for the dog. One of Max's predecessors-there had been several, all the same breed, Bouvier des Flandres, all named Max-had been run over and killed on that highway.

It was a standard joke around the Gellert and the Budapester Tages Zeitung that the only thing the old man loved was his goddamned dog and that the only living thing that could possibly love the old man was his goddamned dog.

Sandor Tor knew better. Once, Tor had heard a pressman parrot the joke and had grabbed him by the neck, forced his head close to the gears of the running press, and promised the next time he heard him running his mouth he'd feed him to the press. "Turn on the flashers when you stop," Kocian ordered as the Mercedes approached the bridge, "and I'll open the doors for Max and myself, thank you very much."

"Yes, Ur Kocian."

"And don't hang around to see if Max and I can make it across the bridge without your assistance. Go home."

"Yes, Ur Kocian."

"And in the morning, be on time for once."

"I will try, Ur Kocian."

"Good night, Sandor. Sleep well."

"Thank you, Ur Kocian." Tor watched in the right side rearview mirror as Kocian and the dog started across the bridge. Tor already had his cellular in his hand. He pressed the autodial button again.

Across the river, Ervin Rakosi's cellular vibrated in his pocket, causing the wireless speaker bud in his ear to ring. He pushed one of the phone's buttons-it did not matter which since he had programmed the device to answer calls whenever any part of the keypad was depressed-and heard Tor's voice come through the earbud:

"They're on the bridge."

"Got him, Sandor."

"He'll be watching me, so I'll have to go up the Vamhaz korut as far as Pipa before I can turn."

"I told you I have him, Sandor."

"Just do what I tell you to do. I'll pick him up when he passes Sohaz."

"Any idea where he's going?"

"Absolutely none."

It was Eric Kocian's custom to take Max for a walk before retiring, which usually meant they left the Gellert around half past eleven. Almost always, they walked across the bridge, and, almost always, they stopped in a cafe, bar, or restaurant for a little sustenance. Lately, they'd been going to the Kepiro, a narrow restaurant/bar which offered good jazz, Jack Daniel's Black Label bourbon, and a menu pleasing to Max, who was fond of hard sausage.

But that was no guarantee they'd be going there tonight, and if Sandor Tor had asked the old man where he was going the old man would either have told him it was none of his goddamned business or lied.

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