Thriller Thursdays: HUNT AMONG THE KILLERS OF MEN

Some of you may have heard of Gabriel Hunt. A world-renowned traveler, explorer, and finder of lost artifacts, Gabriel Hunt is co-chairman (with his brother, Michael) of the New York-based Hunt Foundation, an organization that  backs numerous scientific and research expeditions across the globe. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and has been nominated twice for the Peaburg Prize for photography.

That’s in fiction. In reality, Gabriel Hunt is a pen name for various authors who write for the Gabriel Hunt series.

Hunt Among the Killers of Men is the 4th book in the series, but don’t worry, it’s not the kind of series where you have to start with book 1. In Killers, Gabriel Hunt is on the trail of some warlord’s men who came to New York to preserve a deadly secret. His path will take him to the treacherous alleyways and rooftops of Shanghai and to a showdown with a madman out to resurrect a deadly figure from China’s past…

Full of all the adventure and danger characteristic of the Gabriel Hunt series, any thriller fan who doesn’t yet know about Gabriel Hunt will soon be hooked. So put on your Indiana Jones’ hat and read on!

Like what you read? Hunt Among the Killers of Men is now available in trade paperback and e-book, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the Gabriel Hunt series here.

Thrill on,

Hannah

Chapter 1

     “I give up.”

Gabriel Hunt was widely known for solving mysteries and rising to challenges. This time, however, frustration had bested him.

“I give up. You do it.”

He relinquished the Rubik’s Cube, placing it onto the table (itself a Chinese antique gifted by a beneficiary of a Hunt Foundation grant) next to a more obscure and even more difficult puzzle called the Alexander Star.

“It’s a toy, Gabriel. Children do it.”

“So give it to a child then,” Gabriel said.

Michael picked the cube up, began idly turning its sides. Instead of colors, each square was labeled with a piece of the Hunt Foundation logo against a different metallic background—silver, copper, bronze, gold—and the toy itself was made of stainless steel rather than plastic. “You give up on things too quickly,” he said. In his hands, the facets slowly reorganized themselves.

“Name one thing I’ve given up on,” Gabriel said. “Just one. Other than this toy.”

“The Dufresne report.”

“I brought back the mask. Dufresne should be happy.”

“He wants a report.”

“Here’s your report: I brought back the mask, close quotes, signed, Gabriel Hunt. What else does he want to know?”

Michael shook his head. “He has a board of trustees he has to answer to. It’s not enough to hand him a carton and say, here, here’s your mask. That’s not the way things are done in the foundation world. You should know that.”

Why was it that every time Michael opened his mouth, he sounded like he was the older brother rather than the younger? Gabriel was his senior by six years and change.

Michael set down the Rubik’s Cube, its sides neatly arranged, entropy defeated once again.

“Never mind,” he said, heaving a familiar sigh. “I’ll write it.”

“Make it good,” Gabriel said. “Tell them I had to sneak past a tribe of cannibals to get it.”

“In the south of France?”

“Gourmet cannibals.”

“I’d appreciate it, Gabriel, if you could show a modicum of seriousness about these things.”

“I know you would, Michael. It’s what I love about you. You use words like ‘modicum’ with a straight face.”

They were a study in contrast, Gabriel and his brother.

Both were still in tuxedos—how often had that fate befallen them?—the evening’s entertainment having consisted of the Hunt Foundation’s annual Martin J. Beresford Memorial Awards dinner two floors below. But where Michael wore his bespoke tailored suit with quiet dignity, Gabriel had untied the bowtie and cummerbund of his rented number and undone the shirt studs halfway down his chest. Michael was scholarly, almost tweedy, bespectacled; the pallor of his skin reflected a life spent largely indoors, these days behind a computer screen much of the time, or else talking on the telephone to similarly pale men halfway around the globe. Gabriel was darker—hair as black as shoe crème, skin browned by the sun of many lands. He was chiseled, the muscles of his long arms ropy. The last time he’d found himself behind a computer he’d been using the thing as a shield. You can’t beat a nice solid IBM laptop for stopping a bullet.

The aegis of the Hunt Foundation had made both brothers moderately famous in their respective ways, and to an extent they depended on one another for their success. Gabriel’s discoveries in the field and unearthments of historical significance would not have been possible without the Foundation’s financial support. Michael, in turn, acknowledged grudgingly that much of the Foundation’s prestige derived from the attention Gabriel’s higher-profile successes had brought in—the kind of risk-taking that is indefensibly reckless until it yields something suitable for publication.

“Your presentation went over well,” Michael said in a conciliatory tone.

“It had pictures. Everyone likes pictures.”

“Oh, you’re in one of your moods,” Michael said.

“Four hours of speeches from guys in penguin suits will put anyone in a mood. Anyone but you.”

“Maybe so.” Michael sorted through some of the neatly arranged papers on the table, pulled a sheet and turned it to face Gabriel. “Before you go.” He uncapped a fountain pen and held it out. “You still have to co-sign the endowment for the Indonesian group.” All significant expenditures of the Hunt Foundation needed to bear the signatures of both brothers, though Michael handled all other aspects of the organization’s administration on his own.

“The Molucca figures,” said Gabriel. “Right.” He reached out for the pen, and at that moment both brothers heard the sound of footsteps outside the office door. The knob turned, the door swung toward them, and a member of the Foundation staff stuck his head inside. “Mr. Hunt?”

“Yes?” Michael said. “What is it, Roger?”

But Roger said, “Not you, sir,” and turned to Gabriel.

“Me?”

“There’s a woman, sir, asking for you. Quite…informally dressed. She insists on speaking with you. I let her know you were occupied with Foundation business, but she insisted she has something of utmost importance to discuss with you…in private, sir.”

“Do you know who this is, Gabriel?” Michael asked. “Some old paramour of yours?”

“Probably,” Gabriel said. “Though how any of them would know to look for me here I don’t know.”

“Possibly your last name on the plaque by the door,” Michael said, “next to the word ‘Foundation,’ had something to do with it.”

“Where is she?” Gabriel asked Roger.

“In the club room, sir.” Roger’s expression was unreadably neutral. He was very good at his job.

Gabriel bent over the Indonesian papers, signed them swiftly in triplicate, re-capped the pen, and followed Roger to the door. “Don’t wait up for me,” he told Michael.

“Oh, I know better than that,” Michael said.

     As Roger led him down a gently curving and lushly carpeted flight of stairs, Gabriel ran through in his head the women who could possibly have tracked him down here. Annabelle? Rebecca? No; they were both still in Europe and lacked visas to travel to the U.S. Joyce Wingard? Fiona Rush? Unlikely in the former case, strictly impossible in the latter. Then who? He could have continued guessing indefinitely without ever thinking of the woman who turned from the window at the far end of the room to face him after he entered the club room and shut the door behind him.

“Hello, Gabriel.”

“Lucy?”

He saw her bristle at the name.

Lucy Hunt had been born Lucifer Artemis Hunt, thanks to parents whose knowledge of classical antiquity and Biblical scholarship exceeded their ability to anticipate the taunting a girl might be forced to endure from her peers if they named her Lucifer. They’d meant well, naming all three of their children after archangels from the Bible, but Gabriel and Michael had gotten the long end of that particular stick and Lucy the short. When she’d run away from home at age seventeen, her name hadn’t been the cause, or at least not the sole cause—but all the same, she’d taken to calling herself Cifer. She’d also severed all ties to the family, the Foundation, and her prior life. Gabriel had seen her a grand total of two times in the past nine years, neither of them here in the building where they’d grown up; and he knew Michael hadn’t seen her even once. He’d exchanged e-mail with the mysterious “Cifer” from time to time, but had no idea who it really was, because at Lucy’s request Gabriel had never told him.

“What are you doing here?” Gabriel asked.

She came forward. She was wearing scuffed, mud-spattered sneakers and well-worn leather pants; a battered denim jacket with a black t-shirt underneath; and a canvas rucksack over one shoulder. She had obviously just thundered in out of the rain. Her wet hair was dyed brick red and chopped short and she had a large Celtic tattoo Gabriel didn’t remember decorating one side of her neck. She’d filled out a bit since Gabriel had seen her last, put on some weight that she’d badly needed; she was in her mid-twenties now and quite pretty, and cleaned up she’d be a killer. But that was about as likely to happen, Gabriel knew, as a televangelist refusing a tithe.

She stopped beside him. “I can only stay a short time, Gabriel. I’m not even supposed to be in the country. I’m supposed to be under house arrest in Arezzo.” She lifted one leg of her pants to reveal a bit of high-tech apparatus clamped around her ankle; a red LED on it flashed silently every few seconds. “I hacked it so it says I’m still there. But they do visual sweeps every three days, which only gives me till tomorrow night to get back.”

“Jewelry-wise, you might want to go with something a bit more spidery,” Gabriel said. “So I repeat, what are you doing here?”

“When I heard about Mitch, I had to come. She needs help. Which means I need your help.” She took note of Gabriel’s monkey suit, nodded toward it. “Hey. Wedding or funeral?” she said.

“Funeral would have been more fun,” said Gabriel.

“Why I got the hell out,” she muttered. “So, what about it? Talk?”

“Sure, what the heck? We can get Michael down here, make it a real family reunion. There’s got to be some ice cream in a freezer around here someplace. Marshmallows. We can put on our pjs and talk all night.”

“Serious,” she said, shucking water like a cat. She took him by the wrist, tugged him toward the door.

“What’s wrong with talking here? It’s wet out there.” But she kept tugging. “Fine.” Gabriel grabbed an umbrella from an elephant-foot stand, buttoned up his shirt with his other hand. “After you,” he said.

     “I’ve got this friend, Mitch,” Lucy began. “Short for Michelle.”

She had steered Gabriel to a caffeine dive in the Village where the espresso ran extra-strong and the lights were kept mercifully low. On the way out of the townhouse, Gabriel had abandoned his suit jacket for a nicely broken-in A2, US Army Air Corps vintage circa 1942, with the emblem of the Eighth Air Force and the Flying Eight-Balls on one shoulder. He was still wearing the white piquet tuxedo shirt under it, though.

“Mitch is air force—or she was, before they threw her to the wolves for a helicopter crash, a training flight accident. They needed a scapegoat and wouldn’t nail the pilot because of rank. Plus they hate the idea of a woman in the program, needless to say.”

“Is this going to be another feminist soapbox thing?” said Gabriel. “Or does it get interesting?”

“Just shut up and listen and I’ll get to it.”

“Okay.” Gabriel took another sip. The coffee here really was very good; the kind of drink that made you want to sit and contemplate deeper mysteries.

“So: Mitch gets defrocked. She comes back to New York to stay with her sister, Valerie, who works in the records department of a company called Zongchang Limited. But the day Mitch arrives, Valerie goes to a meeting with Zongchang’s foreign corporate heads at a hotel. The police find her heels-up in a dumpster at 1 A.M. the next day with the stale Caesar salad. Her throat’s been cut, and she’s been shot through the heart.”

“Both?”

“Yeah—and that’s not even the interesting part. Do the cops go hunting for someone who might have done it? No—they nail Mitch for it. For the murder of her own sister. No way in hell, but that’s what they’ve decided. She Twittered it on the way to jail. I snuck myself onto the next flight over.”

“Twittered?”

“Think of it as way you can update a blog from your cell phone—” She saw Gabriel’s blank stare. “Never mind. Point is, she told me what was happening. They’re only calling her a ‘material witness’ for now, but it’s obvious they think she did it. The only good part of the whole thing is that, over the prosecutor’s objections, the judge has set bail. Which by the way means I need some bail money.”

“If what you want’s money,” Gabriel said, “Michael’s got the checkbook.”

“I can’t ask him. Can you picture that, first time I see him in a decade, it’s Hey, Michael, can you get my friend out of jail? And by the by, I’m sort of under arrest myself…” Lucy shook her head. “Anyway the money’s not all I want. Listen. The high muckety-mucks in this company have something to do with ‘ethnographic Chinese antiquities.’ ”

“I think I remember reading something about that,” Gabriel said, “the head of Zongchang being a collector. Ching, or Chung, something like that.”

“Yeah, well, Mitch is pretty sure Ching-or-Chung whacked her sister because she found out something she wasn’t supposed to. But now the men who did it have high-tailed it back to China—to the CCC. You know what that is?”

Gabriel pinched the bridge of his nose. The CCC. He knew this political movement-cum-Mafia only by ruthless reputation, since he had somehow managed to avoid a hands-on run-in with them. “The Chinese Cooperative Confederation. It’s a lot like Russia after the Soviet Union fell apart. Like Morocco during World War Two.”

“Bastards who play for keeps, was how Mitch put it,” said Lucy. “They’re outside international law. No extradition—”

“No diplomatic inquiry,” said Gabriel, nodding.

“Once someone’s tucked away in there, there’s no getting them out.”

“And you want to get someone out?”

“Mitch does. And unless they keep her locked up for the rest of her life, she’s going to go after him herself. Neither of which is a great alternative. I mean, Mitch can take care of herself, but I wouldn’t want to see her go up against an organization like this.”

“Unlike me, for instance,” Gabriel said.

Lucy nodded, and the look of utter confidence in her eyes shot right through Gabriel’s defenses. It was like when she was eight years old and he was twenty, freshly back from a year in North Africa, and she’d listened to his exaggerated tales of his exploits with rapt attention each night after Michael had headed off to bed. She’d believed he could do anything. He’d believed it for a while himself.

“And who is this woman?” asked Gabriel. “Why is it so important to you to help her?”

Lucy paused before answering. “She’s a friend,” Lucy said. “I’ve known her a long time. She got me through some very bad stuff. I owe her a lot.”

“All right,” Gabriel said. He mulled over the possibilities. “The CCC,” he said. “Well, moving around inside China’s easier than it used to be, though you’d still want cover for something like this. One possibility, Michael was telling me about a lecture series he’s setting up at a bunch of Chinese universities. He’s supposed to give the lectures himself—but who’d really complain if I showed up with him?”

Lucy allowed herself the ghost of a smile. “Or instead of him. You’d really wake up some of those rooms.”

“No doubt,” Gabriel said. “So, tell me straight: what exactly is it you want me to do?”

“First thing is help me get Mitch out of jail,” said Lucy. “And then convince her that she doesn’t need to fly to China to kill this guy.”

“Because I’ll do it for her? I’m not some sort of assassin, Lucy.”

“You’ll think of something,” Lucy said. “You always do.”

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