Murder is the main attraction in this dark and wickedly comic new thriller that follows a young indie filmmaker on her way to fame, fortune, and a shoot-out to the death.
Hannie Reynard landed every aspiring filmmaker’s dream: a hefty grant to make her documentary Freaks or Frauds. But the groundbreaking film that was supposed to launch Hannie’s career may kill her first. Blowing the grant money on a lost weekend in Paris was bad enough, but now the “stars” of her film–women who share a unique genetic trait–have stopped talking...and started disappearing.
Coupled with a burned-out ex-classmate hitching his own hopes for a comeback to her project, Hannie finds herself the unlikely co-star of a movie that will never be made if a very powerful someone has anything to say about it. For Hannie is already in the crosshairs of his chief “cameraman”–a ruthlessly unconventional hit man who never misses a lethal shot.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Alison is the author of Singing the Dogstar Blues, a science-fiction comedy thriller, which won an Aurealis Award for best Young Adult Novel, was listed as Children’s Book Council Notable Book, and was shortlisted for the 1999 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. In 2003 it was also published in the US and was recently listed as an American Library Association Best Young Adult Book of 2004.
Alison lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Ron, and their two exuberant Parson Russell Terriers, Xander and Spike. She was the 1999 D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at Melbourne University, holds a Master of Arts, and teaches creative writing at a postgraduate level.
An Extraordinary Outsourcing
THE FORECASTER COULD COME TO ONLY ONE CONCLUSION: there was no company protocol for hiring an assassin.
He looked through his glass partition at the neat rows of junior salarymen and women working on the next five-year plan. The failure to find a protocol was unsettling—he'd even delicately asked his network of senior colleagues, those men who had completed induction with him thirty years ago, if there was a covert procedure for such an extraordinary outsourcing. None had understood the question. Or perhaps they had chosen not to understand. It was the first time his network had failed.
The Forecaster separated the keys on his chain, rubbing his thumb over the small box shape that unlocked his desk drawer. He had not made any mistakes in his career with the Company—it was why he was sitting in this large office overseeing a department—but he knew the two plain folders in the drawer were a huge risk, to the Company and to himself.
It had started as a private project—a stretching of his forecasting muscles, a secret vanity. Always done after hours in his small apartment, it was a way to fill in the time between working days. And even on Sundays, family service day, he only had to put it aside for twenty minutes at 2 p.m. to take the weekly phone call from his wife. Fifteen years ago she had returned to Tokyo with their only child. She had been right to do so—their son had to attend the best schools if he was to secure a place in a respectable company. The boy was working hard at university, his wife always assured him. He would receive good offers when he graduated. After each Sunday call, the Forecaster allowed himself the luxury of sitting at his apartment window overlooking the cityscape of Harare and imagining the future successes of his son. Perhaps a division manager before he was forty-five. And then the Forecaster would laugh at the audacious thought and pull the curtain across the sweeping view, turning his vivid imagination to another future: the future of the Company.
The Forecaster slid the key into the drawer lock, rotating it easily in the well-oiled mechanism. He lifted his eyes and studied the movements of his staff—dark-suited men and women coverging and breaking away like a slowly turned kaleidoscope—but no one was moving towards him. He opened the drawer. A plain folder slid into view, the small black title stark on the cream cover:
The Forecaster allowed a ripple of satisfaction to move through his body. He picked up the folder and laid it facedown on his desk. No one else in the history of the Company had ever attempted a two-hundred-year plan. No one else had the talent.
Which is why, a week ago at the executive ringi, the unanimous acclaim of his forty-year plan prompted him to override his natural caution and approach the Director. The committee had lauded his forecasting skills, acknowledging the fulfillment of his past prophecies with sharp bobs of their gray heads. But it was the Director's rare words of congratulation that had filled him with sudden courage.
The Forecaster paused, remembering that moment: the tilt of the Director's head, the smile like that of a proud parent, and then, "You are our secret weapon, Tanaka-san." He still felt the fullness in his blood at such recognition.
At the close of the ringi, the Forecaster had lingered at the conference table until the Director was alone. Then, bowing low, he presented the folder, holding his breath as the Director read the label.
"Two hundred years, Tanaka-san?" The surprise was shadowed by a frown.
"It was completed in my spare time, sir," the Forecaster assured him.
"I will read it with interest."
The Forecaster bowed again and left the room, the sudden separation from the plan as sharp and hollowing as though he were giving up a beloved son.
Now the folder was back with him. He laid his hand on the smooth manila binding. It was his best work; a brilliant long-term strategy that would bring huge profit to the Company with developments in its massive contraceptive market. In his midnight moments of fervent loyalty, the Forecaster even went so far as to call it his great legacy. There was only one thing that could destroy its projected outcomes.
He turned his attention to the other cream folder that lay in the drawer: the source of the problem. A report from the medical research arm of the Company:
The "Rabbit Woman" Mutation
Projected Evolution of X-Chromosome Mutation No. 7865
The Forecaster had understood the subtext of the report: the Rabbit Woman mutation, if left unchecked, would result in a lost market for female contraceptive drugs. Not for many generations, of course, but eventually women would have complete control over their own fertility. It was inevitable—a natural evolution of the species—and the Forecaster was not so foolish as to believe he could stop evolution. He just needed to slow it down. For two hundred years.
And there was only one way to delay evolution.
The Director had said as much in their private meeting three days ago.
The summons to the Director's office had specified a time well after hours. A man with less experience would probably have misinterpreted it as an ill omen. The Forecaster recognized it as suitable security for such an important report.
"An interesting conclusion, Tanaka-san," the Director had said, motioning the Forecaster to sit opposite him. "You believe the Rabbit Woman mutation will close down the female contraceptive market?"
"Eventually, Director," the Forecaster said.
"It is a pity that we cannot stop the spread of the mutation." The Director looked up from the folder, his face expressionless. "What would be your solution to this problem, Tanaka-san?"
The Forecaster stiffened in his chair. He had never been asked for a solution before; problem-solving was the privilege of the inner circle. Was this his chance to move into the Executive? Perhaps he could finally satisfy his wife's long-distance ambitions. He heard her thin disappointment pulsing in his head; more power, more money, more prestige. But did he dare voice the expedient course of action? It had come to him in the loneliest hour of another sleepless night, the scheme inspired by a tenet from Art of War, the ancient study of strategy. A general plans for what is difficult while it is still easy.
"Such a problem must be stopped in as many cases as possible. As early as possible," he said, his voice loud with his own boldness. "To limit the impact."
The Director grunted. "Yes, as many cases as possible, as early as possible. To limit the impact." For a moment their gazes locked and the Forecaster was sure he saw respect in the older man's eyes. "A most strategic solution, Tanaka-san." The Director closed the file and pushed it across the desk. "Your record speaks for itself, but the Board cannot act on such a long-term prediction. The forty-year plan is the extent of their scope. Do you understand?"
The Forecaster had stared at the folder in front of him, and understood. First, a private meeting and now the return of the plan with a cloaked message. The honor was too great, but he would prove himself worthy. He bowed.
"It is my turn to make a prediction now," the Director said, and smiled, inviting the Forecaster to join him in the small joke. "Continue with such loyalty and you will one day join the Executive."
Overcome, the Forecaster almost touched his head to the desk in a low bow. "Thank you, Director. I will always do my best for the Company."
The Director nodded. "I know you will."
The Forecaster had not seen the Director since that meeting, but he still felt the thread of collusion that connected them.
He picked up the mutation research folder from the drawer and flipped it open to the contact details of the employee in charge of the investigation. Dr. Salvatore Famagusta. First, he would obtain a list of names from the doctor. And then, starting from that evening, he would go to the small bar near his apartment and wait for the Irishman from the mining company to come in again. A few months ago, the Irishman had bought him a drink and struck up a conversation that had ended in them bellowing out a much applauded duet of "Paint It Black." If the Forecaster's own network could not help him, then perhaps he could use the network of a gaijin mercenary.
The First Deal
TWO RED-WRAPPED TAPES
HANNIE REYNARD WAS HANGING UPSIDE DOWN from her hallway ceiling in a new pair of gravity boots when a letter shot through the front-door slot. The envelope arced towards Hannie's forehead, and in the second before it hit her, she recognized the red logo of the Independent Filmmakers Fund. Fuck, they've found out, she thought as she swayed backwards. On the return swing, she snatched up the letter.
"You should get down," Jezza called from the lounge room. "I read in Women's Health that you shouldn't hang upside down when you've got your period. Makes you sterile."
Hannie ripped the top off the envelope, tearing the letter inside. She'd been hanging too long and her hands were hot and stiff.
"Apparently all the blood goes up your tubes," Jezza added.
Hannie unfolded the letter. There was something vulnerable about reading upside down, so she tucked her chin up against her chest and held the letter close to her face.
Dear Ms. Reynard, it read.
It has come to the attention of this office that you have failed to lodge the last two progress reports for your documentary Freaks or Frauds. Also, a ...
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