He came to England to rest. He calls himself Michael Shaeffer, says he's a retired American businessman. He goes to the races, dates a kinky aristocrat, and sleeps with dozens of weapons. Ten years ago it was different. Then, he was the Butcher's Boy, the highly skilled mob hit man who pulled a slaughter job on some double-crossing clients and started a mob war. Ever since, there's been a price on his head.
Now, after a decade, they've found him. The Butcher's Boy escapes back to the States with more reasons to kill. Until the odds turn terrifyingly against him...until the Mafia, the cops, the FBI, and the damn Justice Department want his hide...until he's locked into a cross-country odyssey of fear and death that could tear his world to pieces.
Release date: January 26, 2011
Publisher: Ivy Books
Print pages: 320
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He had a little trouble finding it, because in England “Lynchgate House” could mean anything from a private cottage to the corporate headquarters of a conglomerate. By asking directions he discovered it to be a country house not, strictly speaking, in Bath, owned by someone not named Lynchgate. When he arrived, he found a pair of pink, beefy young women at the entrance to smile at everyone and presumably to shut the door when their number approximated the capacity of Lynchgate House. Inside, he followed a middle-aged woman in a flowered dress to a large room with leaded-glass windows that reached from the fifteen-foot ceiling nearly to the floor, and looked out onto a garden with a foreground of topiary trees shaved and worried into the shape of gumdrops and a background of hedges nearly twenty feet high.
The room contained about thirty-five people, all very British and all apparently from the class of British people who always seemed to be busy doing things that couldn’t possibly bring in any money, but didn’t necessarily cost much, either: gardening and bird hikes and lectures. He wondered how many of them knew Latin, and decided that probably all of them did. His eyes settled inevitably on a pretty young woman who was arranging some pamphlets on a table at the front. She bent over as she worked, and he appreciated the curve of her hips under the light silk dress she wore. At this moment The Honourable Meg came in, scanned the crowd and sat down next to him.
The first thing Schaeffer noticed was her skin. It was fair, and appeared to have an even, uniform smoothness like natural ivory, its only variance a slight flush to her cheeks. Her shining dark brown hair made the skin seem to glow, and her bright green eyes looked amused. What she had wasn’t exactly beauty, but perfection, and this was unnerving because it tempted him to scrutinize her for flaws. He sat stiffly in his chair to keep from violating the expanded amount of space that seemed her due.
The girl he had been watching turned around and announced, “Mrs. Purvis will open the meeting with a few announcements on our autumn trip to Atlantis.”
Schaeffer barely breathed. Maybe it was the name of something else, or maybe he had heard the word wrong.
Mrs. Purvis was a slightly plump, enthusiastic blond lady in her forties, and she dispelled his doubts. “After the experience we had last year on our trip to the alien landing strips on the Plains of Nazca, I’d like to beg everyone to pay attention to the instruction sheet when packing this year. We’ll be establishing our base camp on Grand Turk Island. It is tropical, but we’ll be there in hurricane season. During a hurricane, between twenty-five and fifty centimeters of rain may fall in two days, and the winds may be violent, so dress accordingly.”
Michael Schaeffer felt distinctly uncomfortable. He wondered for a moment how this group of people would go about dressing for twenty inches of rain and 150-mile-an-hour winds. The girl who had introduced Mrs. Purvis now launched into a few more details. “Everything we know about ancient Atlantis suggests they wore bright colors, probably lots of reds and yellows. So please try to respect that scheme. There will be ever-so-many lingering spirits about, and it won’t do to offend them.”
Schaeffer slipped out of his seat and moved toward the door. As he made it past the two beefy girls, one of them asked, “Something wrong, Meg?” and he heard a soft voice at his shoulder. “Sorry, dear. We’ve just got to leave. My friend has another appointment.” Then she slipped her arm in Michael’s and pulled him out of Lynchgate House.
Outside the door she didn’t let go of his arm. “Thank you. I’m sorry I had to hitchhike, but when you left it was my last chance. Two persons might have to leave at once for some perfectly benign reason, but if they leave one after the other, it appears to be a trend and they get very upset.”
“Do they?” he said. “You’re welcome.” He tried to turn toward her to remove his arm from her grasp subtly.
“Don’t do that,” she insisted. “They’ll think I just grabbed you for a convenient exit, and they already resent me.”
“Who are you, their psychiatrist?”
“Meg Holroyd. The Honourable Margaret Susanna Moncrief Holroyd. Does that mean anything to you?”
“Where I come from, it would mean you’re a politician, so the ‘Honourable’ would be a lie. Here I suppose it means something else.”
“No, it’s a lie here, too. It means that hundreds of years ago there was a man in my family whose homicidal tendencies got him a title. My people are from York, but nobody goes up north anymore except to sweep the cobwebs out of the family battlements. Where do you come from, by the way?”
“Arizona.” Automatically he fed her the first half of his prepared story.
She demanded the other half. “What’s your name?”
“Michael. Would you like to go for tea or something?”
“Charmingly put. Who could refuse? Macready’s isn’t far.”
“Good. When we get there you’ll have to let go of my arm. Why do those people resent you?”
She smiled proudly. “I did something cruel to them for fun.”
“You did?” He watched her as they walked. “What?”
“Something horrible. Afterward, at the next meeting, they voted a formal reprimand and made speeches saying how irresponsible I was about taking care of the hidden secrets vouchsafed to the initiates.” She laughed happily.
“In other words, you’re not planning to tell me.”
She studied him for a moment, or pretended to. “Yes, knowing you as I do, I suppose I’ll have to. You’ll make me, won’t you?”
As they entered Macready’s tea shop and he followed her to a table in a dark corner, he had a moment to evaluate the risk he was taking. But then they were seated, and he decided to defend himself with questions. “You don’t seem to take your friends very seriously. What are you doing with them?”
She shrugged. “They’re one of my hobbies. I give them money, so I get to play with them. I inherited them, actually. My grandfather was a scholarly sort, and all his life he supported study groups and lectures on scientific topics. But late in life when he was beginning to think a lot about dying, and was getting a bit dotty, he lost interest in geology and archaeology and flora and fauna, and became obsessed with this sort of thing.”
“Expeditions to Atlantis?”
“Well, it’s a whole range of things, all mixed up and linked together. There’s Atlantis, but some of them think it was an ancient civilization and others think it was people from outer space. There’s a smaller faction who think it was an ancient civilization destroyed by people from outer space, and another that think it wasn’t destroyed at all, that they’re still underwater, waiting for us to be worthy of their company before they’ll come out. I hope they’re not holding their breath. It’s pretty easy to get an expedition together: if you’re a lunatic you have to hold some theory that accounts for Atlantis.”
“Because lunatics are systematic thinkers. If they have a secret history of the world to put forward, they can’t have other lunatics shouting, ‘Then, how do you account for the pyramids? What about Stonehenge? Easter Island?’ They have to include these things.”
“What did you do to them?”
“I’m ashamed to tell you.” She stared into her teacup, then added, “But of course I will. I assaulted them. Sexually.”
Schaeffer looked at her. “All of them?”
“Every last one. All of the people who were there today, and a few more who were otherwise engaged. Attendance is down today; you were the only new one. A month ago, I came in and took the podium. I’d been in Paris for some time, but I’d told everyone I was going to Bolivia. I was supposed to tell them about my research at Tiahuanaco. I went on for some time with slides of the ruins, the weeping god and all that, and then told them about my greatest discovery: I’d found a true aphrodisiac. I told them that in a tiny village I’d found a curaca, and paid him eight hundred pounds for a small vial of the stuff.”
“Don’t tell me you sold it to them.”
“Oh, no. It wasn’t anything so crass as wanting their money. I just wanted to play with them. I told them I’d put it in their punch at the reception before the meeting.”
“And had you?”
“Of course not. There’s no such thing. I’d slipped in a little powdered Valium mixed with cognac so they’d feel something. I said I’d just put some in so they could help with the experiment. But I’d prepared rather well. I’d hired two very attractive and respectable-looking prostitutes in London on the way home, and had them come to the meeting separately as interested beginners. Around this time they began to show symptoms that something was very wrong, if you know what I mean.”
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