I am not who I appear to be.
It seems like I’ve never been. I’ve been playing this game for so long, I’ve almost forgotten who I was when I started. But then again, I doubt if I ever really knew who I was, even then. Do you ever truly possess an identity...or does it possess you, I wonder.
An elevator in an alcove at the end of a long hallway dings.
Two women with handbags enter the hall when the doors open. They chatter in low tones as they walk a few doors down the old colonial-style brick hallway. They pass several non-descript doors which litter the hallway.
“I just don’t think he understands, you know, I work too,” The one with a small handbag mutters, “and the last thing I want to do is come home and cook up a great big meal, just because he says so.”
They stop at door number four-fifty-one, with a name plaque that reads, “Christopher Normand, CPA”. The one with the bigger handbag reaches in and pulls out a ream of keys and unlocks the door.
The big handbag lady looks at the small handbag lady and says, “Well, all I have to say is, use sex as a weapon, and you’ll find dinner waiting for you when you get home.”
They disappear inside.
The chattering cuts off suddenly as the door closes and the hallway is drowned in silence once again.
At the end of the hallway, lights are broken, casting deep dark shadows in a corner next to the stairwell. A single red dot flares in the center of the darkness as a cigarette shrinks in length. The figure with the nicotine fix leans against the wall and waits. He is a huge man. A hulking figure in leather, he is consumed by tattoos and his seething demeanor. His eyes are as intense as the ember of his cigarette. He has the eyes of a predator.
You would have to be a predator in my line of work. A successful predator in the wild has to pick up certain abilities. Intelligence, adaptability, camouflage, keen senses, steely nerves, misdirection and patience are all important tools for a gifted predator. A lethal combination when used together. Strength and pure raw force help, I can see. But without the others, they become useless. A single rhinoceros will often fall prey to the strategy of a lone tiger. It may put up a valiant effort for awhile, but they all fall sooner or later. Strength and power make the animal over-confident, often separating itself from the herd in an invisible sense of self security. The tiger’s best tool is patience. He just sits and waits for the moment when the rhinoceros makes himself vulnerable and open to a single solitary attack.
It’s all part of the game.
The figure waits. The elevator bell dings again.
This time a little man steps out. The figure smiles and examines his prey closely. John Gant can’t be taller than five foot four, he figures, a hundred and forty pounds, maybe a little more for his soft looking tire around his mid-section. He’s in his mid-fifties, balding with wire-rim glasses, a briefcase and a small brown lunch bag. He looks like he jumped through a time machine from the nineteen-forties, as he has tan gloves and his suit is a brown three piece suit.
It’s very important that I study my prey. I need to know that one thing that drives each person. I find that one thing and I have control.I do my homework. There is so much to learn about people. How they carry themselves, how they act, their desires, their needs, and most of all their capacities.
Much of what drives us as humans is our capacity. Our capacity to love, our capacity to hate, our capacity to feel empathy towards another human being. This capacity drives us and motivates us. Most of all, I want to know of a person’s capacity to kill. Not everyone has it. But in my line of work it’s important to know how far a person can be pushed before they will reach inside their souls and find that capacity within themselves.
John walks down the hall and stands in front of door four-fifty-three, which has a glue strip where the plaque should be. He absently fumbles for his keys. He has a slow lazy way about him. He finds the keys and unlocks the door. He shuffles in and closes the door.
The predator smirks and drops his cigarette into a pile of half-smoked butts on the floor and steps on it. He walks up to the door and opens it without knocking.
John Gant stands at a single metal desk facing the door in the middle of a completely sparse office. He is startled when the figure opens the door suddenly. The figure looks around.
The office has very little furniture. The desk has a phone, computer, and one file folder on it. A single folding chair sits in front between the desk and the door. John has his hands on a plush roll-back chair as if he was about to sit at his desk. The walls are brick, chipped and greyed. The figure notices there is nothing in the room that signifies personal belongings of any kind; no pictures, no name plaque, nothing on the walls.
The figure comes in dramatically and slams the door, then sits in the folding chair. He waves his hands in the air as if just performing a great magic trick.
“So you wanted to see me?” He rasps dryly.
John Gant tries to regain his composure, “Excuse me, can I help you?”
“Now I am truly hurt that you don’t recognize my voice, I should be unforgettable, after all, we just talked yesterday.” His eyes curl up in question, “Are you senile?”
John squints in recognition. “Mr. Preston?”
“That’s right, here I am after all…Brophy Preston!” He yells triumphantly.
John grabs his ears in pain. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Preston, I was unaware that we had set an appointment. I was under the impression that you did not want to meet with me.” John sits down.
Brophy smiles, slaps the table and points at John. “That’s not it, I just had to see you for myself, you know, make sure you’re not the cops or nothin’. In my line of work, you have to be careful, you know.”
John’s brow furrows as he reaches for the file folder on the table. He flips it open to reveal a mug shot of Brophy and pages underneath. He thumbs a few pages until he comes to what he is looking for. “Line of work, Mr. Preston? I didn’t realize you were currently employed…”
Brophy furrows his brow in response. “Hell, just ’cause I don’t have a time clock to punch in and out of doesn’t mean I’m not dedicated to my work. Don’t think of it as blue-collar work, think of it as black-collar work. A little breaking and entering here, a little kidnapping there, it’s all the same. I still get paid.”
John flips the pages back and taps the mug shot. “Black-collar…well, it’s reassuring to know you still have your criminal ties.” He smiles trying to loosen the tension.
Brophy doesn’t smile. “Ties. A pun. I get it. I like that. You sure are an interesting man, John, don’t get me wrong, you are funny, but you and I both know why I am here,” He winks at John, “so how about we BOTH get down to business.”
John reaches down for his briefcase and places it on the desk. “I assume you are talking about the one hundred thousand dollars I mentioned on the phone?”
Brophy laughs loudly. “Ha! That’s it, now you are definitely more interesting. John, you got me here, I am all ears and terribly eager to know more. So let’s have it.”
“Right. Thank you Mr. Preston. I guess I should start at the top.” John takes a big breath.
“I sure would appreciate it.” Brophy breathes sarcastically.
“I work for an inter-continental agency called the N.A.P.C. or the North American Peace Coalition.”
Looking around impressively, “Well, they do have beau-t-i-ful offices. Or is it orifices.”
Embarrassed, John says, “Oh, I’m only here temporarily, under assignment. This is just for a few days. The regional office is out of Vancouver, British Columbia.”
“Is that in Canada?” Brophy asks in monotone.
“That is correct, Mr. Preston, it is actually found at the border between the U.S. and…”
“I don’t care, get on with it.”
John smiles uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Mr. Preston. Anyway, it is a little agency partially funded by the U.S. and Canadian governments to find and apprehend certain individuals that make up a very low percentage of criminals that are considered by both governments to be of the most dangerous.”
“That’s right. Serial Killers, Terrorists, and Bombers seem to make up the majority of these.”
Brophy suddenly yells, “My brothers…and how do I fit in?”
John pauses a second and looks at Brophy. “We would like you to help us catch them. Well, one to be specific.”
Brophy says quietly, “I don’t think I heard you right. You said what?”
John nods. “We have a known suspect here in town that we would like to apprehend, his name is James Renault, a Quebec national wanted for the bombing of the court building in a small town in Canada.”
Brophy’s eyes turn into slits and he looks around the room again closely. He suspiciously says, “You’re a Bounty Hunter?”
In surprise John says, “Oh, no, Mr. Preston, I’m not. I’m a clerk. I go out and recruit locally for jobs then disappear. Most people don’t even seem to notice me, I go into one area and move on when the job is done.”
Brophy nods in satisfaction. “You didn’t look like one. Do you realize who I am?” Brophy rambles on without waiting for an answer, “I’m one of the bad guys, I take pride in that. I love what I do. You might as well be speaking French. You want me to be a Bounty Hunter?”
John opens his briefcase and pulls out a thick envelope. He lays it in the center of the table seductively. He smirks as if ready to lay down his cards. “I have one hundred thousand dollars that says I do.”
A smile flickers across Brophy’s face and his eyes play tag with the envelope. “Now you’re speaking my language.” The smile disappears with a snap. “Why me?”
“Who better to catch a criminal, than another criminal?”
Brophy thinks about it. A battle rages inside as if he is torn between which capacity to give in to. His capacity for hate seems to win over greed. “I think Bounty Hunters are worse than cops. They aren’t even doing it for the right reasons, it’s all about the money with them.” He eventually says.
“That makes you ideal for the job. You get paid when you do a robbery or a kidnapping. Only when you do a job for us, no one will hunt you down for it.”
A dark look sets the embers off in Brophy’s eyes. Brophy stands up, trying to get a reaction from John. “I’ve killed a few Bounty Hunters in my time. I know how they operate and there is a distinct difference between me and them…I LOVE what I do.” He says with conviction.
He reaches into his coat pocket and John flinches as he pulls out his cigarettes. Brophy smiles as he seems to feed off the energy of John’s fear as if sunbathing in the glow of a forbidden sun. He takes out his Zippo lighter, lights the cigarette and takes a deep breath of death as his hand slowly drops the lighter back into his pocket. He pauses to enjoy the tightness in his chest and he focuses on John again. “I LOVE the look of fear in people’s eyes.” He leans forward and places his palms on the desk and blows the smoke into John’s face. John coughs uncomfortably. “I LOVE getting in their faces and seeing their pain up close. It’s like a game for me. Like Kick The Can. You remember that one, a group of kids gather around a can and you have to kick the can before someone tags you. Only this game…” He points to the table, “I play by myself and I’m kicking someone else’s can all over the street.” He twirls his fingers around the table.
John nods. “Think of this as a game then. Only the can you have to kick is James Renault. The list I have here is for DOA.” He reaches into the briefcase and pulls out a clipboard. He taps it. “DOA. As in Dead or Alive.” Brophy shows some genuine interest. “That’s right. I am giving you the right to kill someone, and it’s legal.” John raises his eyebrows, looks at the clipboard and waves it above the table. “Have all the fun you want, all we want is the thumb.”
Brophy’s eyebrows collide. “The thumb? Why the thumb?” He walks over to lean on the wall.
“It’s been our experience that most people are a little partial to a thumb being taken, whereas some people will accept twenty thousand for any other digit. We also need the newspaper from the day after.”
“A thumbless corpse usually raises enough eyebrows to be listed in the paper the next day and it shows the date of the kill.” John throws the clipboard back into the briefcase. “Excellent for our records and we match the thumbprint to the fingerprints on file. If they mention the name of the victim in the paper or show a picture, you get a twenty thousand dollar bonus.”
“How do I get my money?”
“You give me the thumb and newspaper and I give you the money.” He taps the envelope.
“Let me see it.”
John opens the envelope and spreads a few tightly bound thousands on the table.
“How much is that?” Brophy asks.
“Hundred thousand.” John nods.
“Where’s the rest. The twenty thousand for the bonus?”
John pats his coat pocket. “I have that if you get it. This should give you enough money to leave the country if you so wish. Find a nice place in the Bahamas or something.”
Brophy thinks about it. He turns to the wall and taps it with his toe. He nods as if trying to decide. He looks at John with a tight stare. Slowly, he walks around the table like a tiger stalking a rhinoceros. He leans over the back of John’s chair behind him and puts the cigarette out on the desk in front of John. John’s body tightens like a spring coil.
Brophy breathes in John’s ear. “I think you may have misjudged me.” Brophy brings an unsheathed switchblade around in front of John and taps it on the table in front of John. John looks at the blade as if wondering where it came from. “What if I just kill you right now and take the money for myself?”
John takes a deep breath and blows it out slowly as if to steady his nerves. “That is one option, but where’s the fun in that? You’ve left your handprints on the table…” John taps the table, “and who knows how many other places. People saw you come in here and people will see you leave. “Unlike me, Mr. Preston, people notice you. You stick out like a sore thumb, no pun intended…”
“That may be true, John,” Brophy places the blade on John’s throat and John starts to shake, “but it sure would be fun. And in the end, it’s all about the game.”
John takes one last stab at a bargain, “How about this Mr. Preston…unlimited free reign to play your little games, all you want. All financed by us. I need a good regular. I can send you all over the country playing tag with all of the people on my list. The money is good and you will never be hunted again. How is that for benefits?”
The room is still. John and Brophy both seem to hold their breath. Brophy says quietly, “Now that may be something to think about.” He abruptly stands back up and the blade disappears inside a pocket. He steps around to the front of the desk and smiles. “Do you like to play games, John?”
John breathes slowly and cracks a smile of relief. “Only when I was a little boy. But it has been a long time.”
“I bet it has. Only you might be really good at them, you have a poker face…” And with that, Brophy leaves the office with a flourish.
Quietly, John starts to flip through Brophy’s file once more, wondering what he got himself into.
They made me what I am today.
I often wonder how I got here. Then I meet another one, just like the first and I remember why I’m here. They fill the need within me. The need I have to play the game.
Some people say the first time a person sees the sight of blood, they’re never the same. I can remember my first time. It was a moment of sheer terror, and somehow…thrilling. That moment changed my life forever. They call this feeling bloodlust. Adrenaline replaces the blood in your veins before a kill. I was on the edge, waiting for the time to strike. Waiting patiently for the prey to spring the trap.
A small parking garage dimly lit and vacant sits quietly, no trace of the savage tableau that’s yet to come. Two cars litter the small underground structure made of brick. A beige rent-a-car sits in a far corner, while a dark ominous van sits in the middle.
In the opposite corner, an elevator bell dings.
The doors open and out steps John Gant. He is still in his three-piece suit, wearing his gloves and carrying his briefcase, paper lunch bag and his clipboard. He walks across the parking garage toward the rent-a-car, unaware of the eyes peering at him from inside the van.
He walks past the van. Half-way to his car he hears the van door open, then close.
“John, I think it’s time we play a little game of our own.” A ragged voice says behind him.
John stops and peers back at the van. Brophy Preston emerges from the shadows. He is in all black and wearing gloves. Light glints off the steel blade in his hand. John is startled. “Excuse me…Mr. Preston?” He says curiously.
Brophy walks toward John slowly. “I said, I think it’s time we play a game of our own…it’s called, Hide and Seek. I know you’ve played it before, only about a hundred years ago.”
John is confused. “I don’t understand.”
Brophy continues, “This particular Hide and Seek is a little bit different though.”
“Mr. Preston, is this about what we discussed earlier? Have you made your decision?”
Brophy stops a few feet away from John. “Oh, yes, I have.” He points the knife at him. “My decision is for you and I to play a game. Drop your stuff. Now.”
John looks at him for a second and slowly puts his briefcase, clipboard and baggie on the ground.
“Stand up. Don’t move, I wouldn’t want to cut you. Not yet. Put your hands up.” John does as he asks. Brophy comes around and pats John down quickly, looking for something. “Do you have any weapons?”
“The envelope’s not in your pocket. Where is it?” John doesn’t speak. “Is it in the briefcase?” Still nothing. “OK, then we’ll do this your way.” Brophy Preston backs up a few step, puts the knife away and smiles at John. As if scolding a child he says, “The rules are very simple, somewhere you have hidden a hundred thousand dollars. I’m here to find it. Is that becoming clear? Will you give it to me?”
John tries to reason with him. “Mr. Preston, we’ve discussed the terms of our agreement, I can’t give you the money until the job is completed.”
Undeterred Brophy continues on, “That’s what I thought. And I do appreciate your honesty, John, I really do, but I think it would be a lot easier if I just take the money myself and move on. That vacation does sound good, believe me…”
“I can’t give you the money.”
“Yes, I know that John, and you are a strong one.” Brophy laughs. “So let’s just play the game, shall we? Now, I’ll introduce a few more players to the game.” Brophy suddenly raises his right hand. John flinches and Brophy laughs again. “Not so fast, we haven’t even started the game. This is player number one. His name is Mr. Right.” Brophy says as condescension drips from his every word. He balls his fist. “He is an aggressive player and very competitive. He hates to lose.” He suddenly raises his left hand. “This is player number two. His name, unusually enough is Mr. Left.” He balls his left fist. “He is also very competitive and hates it when he loses to player number one.” Brophy holds his fists up in front of John for him to get a good look. “Their job, rightly so, is to Seek for that check. Seek and ye shall find!” Brophy puts his hands down. “Will you give me that money?”
Softly John says, “No.”
“OK then, let the games begin. Mr. Right?”
Brophy quickly punches John viciously in the stomach. John doubles up and gasps for air. Brophy holds his right fist in front of himself and asks, “Did you find it Mr. Right? No? Well, then it’s Mr. Left’s turn. Mr. Left?” Brophy punches John in the face. His glasses fall to the ground. John grabs his face in pain. “Did you find it Mr. Left? No? Damn. That’s a shame. No winners yet…”
In obvious pain John says, “This really isn’t necessary…”
Brophy playful facade drops and he yells, “Well, you’re right there, I gave you a chance to think rationally, but you didn’t take it! So here we are playing a game that you are unequipped to handle. Let me just fill you in on a few things…I am perfectly happy the way things are.” He pokes John in the chest, “I make the rules. I play the games. And I don’t have to answer to no whiney-ass scrawny clerk for any of it. I will take your money though. That is appreciated.”
John chokes in obvious disgust, “You won’t get away with this. We’ll catch you.”
Brophy puffs up his chest and says in a kids voice, “You and what army?” He pokes himself in the chest. “I’ve been doing this for too long, I know all the tricks. Hey, you know what this game needs? More players. Right now, there are only three. Me, Mr. Right and Mr. Left. So let’s introduce two more players to the game and make it five, shall we?” He holds up his right foot. “This is Mr. Toe. Your turn Mr. Toe.”
He kicks John in the side and John falls to his knees clutching his side. “Oh, that was a good one Mr. Toe, but did you find it? No? OK, then…on to player number five.” He holds up his left foot. “This is Mr. Heel. Heel, your turn.” He kicks John in the stomach. John whelps and goes down on the pavement hard. “Did you find it? I didn’t think so.”
Brophy bends down to speak into John’s ear as if scolding him. “Now, John, you are the only player not showing any enthusiasm for the game. The other players and I are holding up our side. We expect some participation from your team, It’s time to pull your resources together and produce the item we are playing for.” Brophy pulls out his blade and opens it slowly. He’s tiring of the game. “Now, I will only ask you one more time…where is the money?”
John coughs for a few moments and wheezes, “It’s in the bag…”
“What? I can’t hear you.” Brophy strains to hear.
“It’s in the lunch bag.”
Brophy smiles. “Sneaky. Lunch bag. I figured it was in the briefcase.” Brophy taps the blade on Johns forehead a couple of times. “Now, go get it.”
John finds the strength to crawl over to the bag. He reaches into the bag and pulls out a small five-shot pistol and instantly shoots Brophy in the left foot. Brophy yelps in surprise and falls to the ground, clutching his bloody foot.
John takes a deep breath and stand up. He dusts off his suit and rolls his neck as if letting out the kinks. John breathes normally and smiles at the man laying on the ground at his feet. Brophy is stunned, glaring up at John in amazement. John calmly walks over to his glasses, blows on them, folds them up and puts them in his pocket. His demeanor has changed and he takes on the appearance of a different man. Confidence shines in his eyes and face.
John says in a voice deeper and without the whine, “Now, let me introduce you to someone.” He holds up the little gun so that Brophy can take a good look at it. “This may sound very hokey, but let’s play in your world for a little while, shall we?” As if teaching a class, John says, “This, is the great equalizer. I know, trite, but true. He’s not the best, but overall not a bad player to have on your team. The wonderful thing about him is that he doesn’t care what race you are, what gender you are, what size or age you are. He is the great equalizer.” John puffs up his chest, “Makes even the littlest man as strong as ten.” He pokes himself in the chest. “Makes the older feeble man, that’s me, as young and as agile as any younger man,” he says as he pokes Brophy in the chest, “that would be you.”
John taps the gun on Brophy’s forehead. “This makes me fast. This makes me strong and this makes me powerful. This makes everything fair. This, Mr. Preston is my Army as you so playfully put it. Are you listening Mr. Toe?”
He swings the gun around and shoots Brophy in the right foot. Brophy screams as the blood rushes from his face.
“What’s wrong Mr. Preston? You no longer have any more passion for the game that you so thoughtfully started. If you start the game you have to be fully prepared for the unexpected. The problem, Mr. Preston, as I see it is that you simply did not bring enough players to the game. Right Mr. Left?”
John shoots Brophy in the left hand.
“Me? I have myself and five other players. Small, tiny players, but players nonetheless. Three have had their turns.”
He shoots Brophy in the right hand. Brophy screams in agony and struggles to hold on to his bloody body.
John nods. “Four. Now, Mr. Preston for someone who professes to be so well equipped for this game you forgot one vital rule. Do you know what that is?”
Brophy gurgles, “What?”
“Anyone not bringing a gun to the game, will lose.” John drops the playful façade and says, “Now, Mr. Preston, let us go back to the main issue, shall we? You still have a few minutes yet until you bleed to death and it is important to me that you understand this. Are you comfortable?”
Incredulous, Brophy says, “I’m bleeding…”
John continues, “Then you should be numb in no time. Anyway, let me teach you something about being a Bounty Hunter, because this is something I know a great deal about.”
Brophy’s stunned again. He looks at the little man kneeling before him as if seeing him for the first time. “You’re a Bounty Hunter?” he manages.
John nods in affirmation. “That’s right. You misjudged me. The best Hunters always make the Bounty come to them. The biggest tool for a Bounty Hunter? Eh?” he asks.
“I have no friggen idea…”
“Estimation. How do you estimate the strength of a man? By his looks? By his mind? By his resolve? No. By his experience.” He taps the gun on Brophy’s head again. “It’s called research, Mr. Preston. You research your opponent. So you know him well enough to bring him to you. What is his capacity? How far can you push him? What motivates his desire, feeds his monster?”
John looks Brophy deep in the eyes. “A man’s character can not be defined by what he chooses to show you. It’s what he doesn’t show you that counts.”
He reaches down and picks up Brophy’s knife. “My research, for example, has shown me that you like to beat up on your victims before you kill them. Also, that you have an affinity for knives not guns. You could care less about money because of the amount left behind at several of the jobs and that at ever opportunity you played and taunted your victims and the police. I was able to catch you where others had failed because I fed your need to dominate your victims.”
Brophy squeezes out, “Why did you wait so long?”
John shrugs. “Hey, don’t blame me if I played the game better than you. You seemed to like it so much, why not give you a taste of your own medicine? You had a chance to ask questions. Your first question should have been, am I on that list?”
Brophy laughs and finds some strength to say, “Go ahead and take me in. I’ll just get loose again, and we’ll throw that can right back into the air and start all over.”
John looks at Brophy just as a tiger would a defeated rhinoceros. “It’s easier to take a thumb than it is a prisoner.”
John shoots Brophy in the forehead and he falls back on the concrete, dead.
John throws the gun on the ground next to the body. He reaches down and meticulously cuts off Brophy’s thumb with his blade and throws the blade on the body. He takes his leather gloves off to reveal his hands in plastic gloves underneath. He throws the leather gloves next to the body.
He walks over to the briefcase and takes out plastic bag and puts the thumb in the baggie and places it into a pocket of the briefcase. Grabbing the clipboard, John reads, “DOA TARGET” and underneath that, “Brophy Preston”. He takes out a pen and crosses out his name. “There’s your money.” He says as he puts the clipboard in the briefcase.
John gets up and walks toward his Rent-A-Car, gets in and drives away.
In this business, you have to have a little bloodlust. Otherwise, how could you do what I do. You have to have a killer instinct, and a little bit of the tiger in you.Does this make me any better than the men I kill? Probably not, but there definitely is a difference between me and them. I do this for the right reasons and I HATE what I do.
My name is John Ulysses “Ute” Gant.
And I am a Bounty Hunter.