AbeBooks Seller Since July 26, 2010Quantity Available: 1
AbeBooks Seller Since July 26, 2010Quantity Available: 1
About this Item
Publisher: Forge, New York, New York, U.S.A.
Publication Date: 2000
Dust Jacket Condition: New
Edition: 1st Edition
About this title
After poachers kill his family in Africa and a career as a mercenary, Joe Sable returns to the United States and is unexpectantly offered a second chance at happiness.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
There was blood in the tall grass, but not nearly enough. Dark red instead of bright and frothy, which would indicate a lung hit, or the thick yellowish slime of a gut shot. A muscle wound. Not enough to kill, even with time. Only enough to wound, to hurt...to enrage.
Worse than a miss.
And now it was his responsibility to sort it out. It was his job as a professional hunter to host, guide, advise, nursemaid, and clean up after his client. That meant listening to hunters' yarns and outright lies told around the campfires, supplying four-star meals and Five Star Hennesey, and catering to requests and whims. It also meant anchoring poorly shot cripples before they escaped to die a slow, lingering death or turned and charged, bent on a bit of justifiable homicide.
Every hunter's worst nightmare.
* * *
The lion lay in a small pool of blood, watching the narrow channel of his own trail through the tall grass. He flattened himself in a clump of grass so small one would never suspect the danger lurking there, his tawny coat and shaggy mane blending in perfect camouflage with his hiding place. He gathered his three good legs beneath him for the charge that would carry him forward. The fourth was shattered and useless, but that wouldn't matter. His claws were for holding, while his teeth did the killing. A single bite could sever the spine of a zebra or crush the skull of a man.
The wound had begun to hurt, now that the initial shock had worn off. At first he had snapped and bit at the pain, roaring his anger, but now rage had transcended agony and he no longer heeded the searing, throbbing pain of the bullet. He thought only of the men who were following him, and he knew that if he remained still they would come within reach of his revenge.
* * *
Jon Sable reached into the pocket of his bush jacket and pulled out a small cheesecloth sack of mopane ashes, gently shaking it to release a puff of fine gray powder that drifted on the almost imperceptible air currents. The wind had been fickle, changing direction in light swirls and eddies stirred by temperature changes and rising thermals, rather than a steady breeze. Not that it mattered much; the lion was probably already watching them, waiting somewhere in the acre-sized patch of grass for the opportunity to spring from ambush. Following a wounded lion into tangled thornbush and tall grass is a hell of a way to make a living. Do it often enough, and the odds against you build to roughly those of finding a Krugerrand in your Cracker Jack box.
At Sable's feet, Jacob Inyati crouched low in the grass, examining the spoor like a hunting dog. Jacob was barefoot and stripped to a breechclout, revealing ripcord muscles beneath his ebony skin. Like his Zulu ancestors, he carried a long-bladed assegai, not merely for "local color" but also because the spear was a proven weapon against thin-skinned animals. In another era, Jacob would have hunted this lion alone, with only his spear and shield. But at this moment he was just as happy to have Sable armed with his .375 Holland & Holland Magnum.
Sable took off his battered hat and ran his fingers through the sweat-soaked tangle of black hair, glancing back to be certain that his portly client, Phillip Hathaway, a New Jersey stockbroker, had remained where he was told, standing in the back of the Land Rover. Sable had explained that this was to give him a vantage point in case the lion broke from cover. In truth, it was to keep him the hell out of the way.
Hathaway had begun this deadly situation with a bad shot from the shiny new .378 Weatherby that Sable had recognized as trouble the first time Hathaway took it out of its leather case. Sable wished just once he'd get a client who owned only one rifle and had used it enough to beat the hell out of it--some scratches in the stock...a little wear in the bluing...anything that indicated the guy knew how to use it.
Hardly anyone came to Africa on their first hunting trip, so clients usually had at least one rifle with which they were familiar and comfortable. Then they'd go out and buy something "special" for their big trip, something that bit at both ends and scared the hell out of them, so they wound up flinching in anticipation of the recoil and sending the bullet God knows where.
If it was a miss, it was no problem. Sable would just smile and agree that there must be something wrong with the sights. He'd tell a few self-deprecating stories of some of his own misses to bolster his client's ego. But if it was a bad hit, there was no choice but to follow up the shot, track the animal down, and sort it out.
Strangely, Sable didn't find it hypocritical that he loved the animals he hunted as much as he loved hunting itself. But he hated hurting them and didn't like to see them suffer. There are no peaceful deaths for the wild; animals only die of drought, disease, starvation, or depredation. Given the options, one could argue that a well-placed bullet might be a mercy. Sable had drummed it into every client he took into the bush: when you make the decision to kill, you must do everything in your power to make it a quick and humane death. If the opportunity presented itself, Sable would try to see that the client fired the final killing shot. Sometimes, however, there was no question that he was going to have to clean up the mess himself.
Still, Hathaway had done fairly well during the sight-in session Sable required of all his clients. And, in ten days of hunting, he had shot a number of fine trophies. Sable had begun to feel optimistic.
But among the animals on Hathaway's shopping list of trophies was lion.
They had hunted hard for signs of a recent kill in hopes of building a hide and waiting in ambush for the lion to return to feed. It would have to be a fresh kill of a large animal, such as a zebra, in order to survive the onslaught of the scavengers; Africa's cleanup crews are always alert for a free meal. Then word arrived of a cattle-killing lion a few miles upriver. A rancher had lost several head of young stock and would be delighted to have the cat permanently relocated to Hathaway's den.
Sable and Jacob bent to examine the tracks that led off into a tiny thicket nearby. It was a large print, broader than a man's hand. A big cat. Solitary. Perhaps an old king, deposed and driven out of the pride by a new ruler.
No sooner had they begun to follow the tracks than the lion, a mature male with a golden mane, broke for cover fifty yards away. Hathaway swung and fired as the big cat disappeared into the sea of grass, and Sable knew his day had just gone to hell.
"What do you think. Jack?" Hathaway inquired as Sable stood listening to the terrible roars emanating from the tall grass. Sable ignored him as he had every time the man had called him Jack for the past ten days. The guy just never seemed to get the message. "Maybe we should leave him for the night, let him stiffen up, come back with beaters--"
Sable turned cold gray eyes on Hathaway, eyes that told him that they were not about to do any such thing.
"First rule of the hunt, Mr. Hathaway: never leave a wounded animal to suffer," he said in a calm voice that surprised even himself. "We are not going to leave him overnight, and we are not going to send men in there after him."
Hathaway scuttled back a step. Maybe Sable's voice hadn't been quite as calm as he thought. "I was just...I didn't mean--"
Sable cut him off. "He's in pain, and he'll take it out on anything that comes his way, whether it's you or me or the next villager who crosses his path."
He turned back to the roaring thunder rumbling through the tall grass. "And now that he's crippled," he said grimly, "he won't be able to hunt his usual prey, so he's going to turn to the easiest thing he can catch. If we don't finish him now, we'll wind up with a man-eater."
He opened the action of his rifle and made certain that the chambers held two soft-nosed bullets. The rifle represented the ultimate product of the finest artisans in the firearms field, Holland & Holland. This was the Royal Ejector model, an old piece manufactured in the 1950s. Its twin twenty-six-inch barrels were chambered for the versatile .375 Holland & Holland Magnum that delivered a 300-grain slug with over two tons of energy. Set into the rib between the barrels was an express sight that sported folding leaves calibrated to an optimistic 400 yards. In this case, ranges would be measured in feet or inches, not yards.
Sable snapped the action shut and palmed two more cartridges in his left hand against the bottom of the forearm. The old white hunter's trick of sticking cartridges between your fingers only worked with flanged cases like the old .470 Nitro Express; belted Magnums like the .375 H&H had no rim and would pop out under recoil. Satisfied, he pushed the safety off. He wouldn't have time to fumble with it.
"Maybe you can live with that back in New Jersey," he said to Hathaway, "but I have to live here."
* * *
The errant shift in the air currents carried the man scent to him, overpowering even the smell of his own blood. He fought the urge to scream his rage. He knew his speed and he knew instinctively how close he must let them come before launching his attack. He would give them no warning. He stilled himself, sinking even lower into the grass, vanishing.
* * *
Sable and Jacob had long since developed a silent communication that served them well in situations like this: gestures, glances, subtle shifts in posture. The two men worked as a team, each depending on the other for survival. Jacob concentrated on following the spoor, which freed Sable to focus all his attention on the surrounding bush, searching for some telltale sign of the lion's presence that would give them even a moment's warning.
They didn't get it.
The charge was sudden and silent and came from an unexpected quarter, where the lion had doubled back to lie in ambush along the trail of his own blood. Only a brief flicker of movement caught Jacob's eye...
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