Hunter



Hunter
By Andrew Macdonald

VI

Oscar might not be able to cure his aimlessness quite yet, but he was determined not to let carelessness become a problem. He intended to kill Congressman Horowitz - very carefully. He was pacing back and forth now, thinking hard. He slammed a fist into an open hand, increasingly excited as he turned over various possibilities in his mind and made his plans.

The telephone rang. It was Adelaide.

“Hello, love. My mom is pretty sick, and things here are a mess. I think I’d better stay through Tuesday, at least. Do you mind?”

“Sure, I mind, baby. But do whatever you think you should.”

Adelaide asked Oscar to call her office Monday morning and say that she had the flu and was too sick to come to the telephone.

“How’ll you explain your usual gorgeous, exuberant, bouncing self at the office on Wednesday? If you’re just over the flu, you should look pale, tired, and listless.”

“I’m counting on you to produce the desired effect by screwing me half to death Tuesday night, lover,” she laughed teasingly.

“Hey, sweetheart, you know that I’ll do my very best for you. But you thrive on it! The more often we make love at night, the better you look the next morning, and the paler I am. Total abstinence is the only way to make you look pale.”

Adelaide’s call added a new element to Oscar’s planning. He didn’t want to rush the Horowitz project, but it would be nice if he could get it done before she returned. It was becoming increasingly difficult to do his night work when she was in town, without arousing her curiosity.

Horowitz, he knew, was a night owl. Oscar had noticed his picture in the “Style” section more than once during the past year, and he had spotted the legislator on an earlier occasion in the same Capitol Hill restaurant from which he had tailed Jones. That had been the first time he had taken Adelaide out to dinner, when he wanted to impress her. But he didn’t think it would be a good idea to start eating there regularly. There was no telling how long it would be before Horowitz showed up again. Besides, it was the sort of place where everyone looked around to see who was at the other tables. Oscar had felt conspicuous there alone the last time, even sitting behind a plant. He needed some way to find out in advance where Horowitz would be on a given night.

No sooner had Oscar formulated the question in his mind, than he had the answer. Carl Perkins was always inviting Oscar to come along with him to the cocktail parties that one or another of the big defense contractors and the Beltway consulting firms seemed to be throwing every other night for their government friends. “It’ll give you a chance to meet some of our leaders in the Congress,” Carl had joked with him, knowing Oscar’s intense dislike of politicians. “There are always a dozen or so of ‘em there.”

The fact that Oscar was a non-drinker was only one of the reasons he had never accepted Carl’s invitations. But now he remembered the latest of them, which had been offered when he had called Carl last Wednesday. General Dynamics had just won a new billion-dollar contract and would be celebrating-Monday, Oscar thought it was. “It’ll be a big one,” Carl had said. “Everybody’ll be there.” And Oscar knew that Congressman Stephen Horowitz, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee among other things, almost certainly would be there too. Oscar called Carl at his home. When he had finished discussing the paperwork detail on his current contract, which was the pretext for his call, he said, “Well, I expect to have some preliminary results on the new antenna pattern by Monday afternoon. Maybe we can have a bite together Monday evening, and I’ll show you what I have.”

“Thanks, pal, but I can’t. I’ve got to be at the General Dynamics bash Monday. Why don’t you let me take you and Adelaide as my guests?”

“Where will that be?” Oscar responded tentatively, as if he were considering accepting the invitation.

“The mezzanine ballroom at the Shoreham. Starts at eight o’clock.”

“Thanks anyway, Carl, but I guess I’d better not. You know I’m not one for parties.”

“You ought to give Adelaide a break sometime and show her off in public. She’s too pretty for you to keep all to yourself.”

“She’s not really a party person either. Besides she has a bad headache today and thinks she may be coming down with the flu.”

“Oh, oh! Better tell her to stay away from the office until it’s gone. I can’t afford to have the flu now. I’ll be too busy until we get the new appropriations bill safely through the House. I’m scheduled to spend most of next week testifying before the Armed Services Committee.”

Oscar smiled. Carl didn’t know it, but Oscar was going to try very hard to change his schedule for him.

After lunch he drove to the Shoreham Hotel to look over the layout. The prospects for making the hit outside didn’t look good. The traffic situation around the hotel was very awkward. It would be too easy to get stuck trying to get away in a car. The whole sidewalk area in front was open, and there were floodlights everywhere. There would be no shadows to loiter in at night. Oscar counted six police patrol cars within 100 yards of the main entrance. Too many big shots and too much security at this hotel all the time. Anyway Horowitz, who was always accompanied by his chauffeur-bodyguard, would undoubtedly be driven right up to the front entrance and be picked up at the same spot. No chance there, except for a suicide attack.

Inside, things seemed a little more promising. The main entrance to the mezzanine ballroom was in a side corridor. Oscar slipped into the darkened room, which was not locked, flipped on the lights, and surveyed the exits. There were several service doors, but nothing marked “Ladies” or “Gentlemen.” That meant that the guests would have to use the rest rooms at the far end of the side corridor.

What were the chances that Horowitz would have to pee during the evening? Oscar wondered. At least, there would be a lot of coming and going between the ballroom and the rest rooms during the evening, making it much easier to slip inside without an invitation. If Oscar could get into the ballroom, he probably could get as close to Horowitz as he wanted. But what then? Try to slip something into Horowitz’ drink?

Oscar grimaced. That was fairy-tale stuff. Besides, he would be taking too big a chance by entering the ballroom; Carl or someone else he knew from the Pentagon might spot him, and he didn’t want anyone to know about his presence there. If Horowitz were killed, there would undoubtedly be a thorough checkout by the police afterward of everyone who had attended the party.

He turned the lights off and strolled down to the men’s rest room at the end of the corridor. It was palatial: the wash basins were set in wide, marble counters, and there was even a shoeshine stand. There was also a double row of metal lockers in an alcove of the rest room; perhaps the place doubled as a changing room for the male staff, and they kept their street clothes in the lockers. The space behind the lockers was barely lighted and conceivably could be used as a hiding place, but Oscar didn’t like the idea. Any guest who came into the rest room might peep behind the lockers merely from idle curiosity.

There was also a door at the opposite end of the rest room from the entrance, probably a storage closet. Oscar tried the knob. It was locked. Locks were a hobby of Oscar’s. He pulled a small plastic case from his jacket pocket, selected a tool from it, and had the door open in 15 seconds. It was a closet, a fairly large one, but it was empty, with dust lying thick on the shelves.

That was interesting! Because the closet wasn’t being used, there was very little chance that a hotel staff member would open it before or during the party. Oscar stepped inside and closed the door. Through the ventilation louvres in the upper panel he could see about five feet of tile floor directly in front of the closet door. He tried bending the inside edge of a louvre to increase his field of view, but the metal was too stiff for his fingers.

He opened the door for a little light and spotted a coat hook screwed into the back wall of the closet: one of the heavy, old-fashioned, cast-steel types. He unscrewed it, then wedged the end of it between two louvres and applied his weight. He closed the door and peered out again. This time he had a clear view of most of the room, and the louvres on the outside of the door showed no trace of his handiwork. Before he left he tore a blank page from his pocket address book, folded it into a tight wad, and wedged it into the opening in the striker plate on the door jamb. He adjusted the position of the wad so that the door, though still locked, could be opened with a strong jerk.

Oscar paused again at the entrance to the ballroom and stuck his head in for another quick look around. He didn’t like the idea of having to depend on Horowitz’ using the rest room - and, furthermore, on his being alone in the rest room for at least a few seconds - but he liked the idea of showing his face at the party even less. Better, he thought, to wait for Horowitz in the rest room and risk missing him than to risk being seen. If Horowitz didn’t show up, then he’d have to get him later somewhere else.

On his way down to the lobby, Oscar considered one other possibility: putting a bomb in the ballroom and killing everyone at the party. It was a small ballroom, about 50 feet square, and it had a suspended tile ceiling. He could slip back into the place this evening with a couple of suitcases full of dynamite and have the bomb in place in the ceiling, with a radio-controlled detonator, in five minutes. A stranger carrying a couple of suitcases into a hotel, at any time of the day, should elicit no curiosity.

He thought more about the bomb idea as he drove home, and he finally decided against it. For one thing he had no explosives on hand, and it might take more than two days to obtain some through normal channels. He didn’t want to rush things. He also didn’t like the idea of an indiscriminate massacre, which would probably kill Carl along with everyone else. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go ahead and lay in a stock of explosives for future needs, though. He made a mental note to look into that when he had time.

Monday Oscar did some shopping. He visited two theatrical supply stores and purchased a wig, a pair of non-refracting eyeglasses, a makeup kit, and an assortment of false facial hair pieces: goatees, moustaches, whiskers, long sideburns, and so on.

At home Oscar found that the wig quite convincingly changed him from a blond to a brunette. A little color from the makeup kit applied to his eyebrows completed the transformation. The false eyeglasses changed his appearance even more. Examining the disguise in the mirror, Oscar was satisfied with all but one thing: the scar on his left cheek remained as noticeable as ever, and it was exactly the sort of detail a witness would remember.

He pasted on a set of long sideburns and side-whiskers. They effectively covered the scar, but the effect was too startling, especially with his piercing gray eyes peering out of all of the dark hair. He peeled the whiskers off and began experimenting with some of the other materials in his makeup kit. He finally settled for a large paste-on wart and half a dozen fake pimples. They didn’t hide the scar completely, but they broke it up enough so that a casual observer would see only a very bad complexion, rather than a scar.

He was pretty sure that any police sketch developed from witnesses’ descriptions would be far enough from the truth to be harmless. On the other hand there was no way he could make himself truly unrecognizable to someone who knew him - at least, not on such short notice. The shape of his head, the size and placement of his ears, his stature and bearing were all characteristic; more than once friends had spotted him at a distance in a crowd with only a rear view. Too bad he wasn’t one of those nondescript, inconspicuous little fellows that no one ever notices, he thought.

Oscar had selected his weapons the day before. One was a garrotte he had fashioned himself from a piece of high-tensile steel control cable, as strong as piano wire but more flexible, with wooden handles and a sliding lock which kept the loop constricted until a catch was released. He would use that if he caught Horowitz alone in the rest room. It would have the advantage of being completely silent.

His other weapon was a spring-loaded hypodermic syringe mounted inside the tube of a ballpoint pen. The outside of the pen was completely normal in appearance, but when the button on the end was depressed a thin hypodermic needle poked half an inch out of the other end, and a powerful spring ejected the contents of the syringe through the needle. Oscar had loaded the syringe with a milliliter of a concentrated solution of syncurine, a powerful and fast-acting muscle relaxant.

If one unobtrusively pushed the pen against a man’s leg or buttocks or back in a crowded room and fired it, the victim would feel the prick of the needle and a stinging sensation from the drug, and he probably would utter an exclamation and turn around to see what had happened or slap at the point of injection as at a stinging insect, but he would lose control of his legs and fall helpless to the ground within ten seconds and be completely paralyzed within 30 seconds. Death would inevitably follow from asphyxiation. If the assassin remained cool and feigned innocence, witnesses probably would not even notice the pen in his hand.

Oscar would use the pen if he could not catch Horowitz alone but could get close to him.

The last thing Oscar did before leaving home was spray the fingers on both hands with a clear, fast-drying lacquer. The lacquer made his fingers feel stiff and dry, but it also effectively prevented him from leaving fingerprints on anything he touched. It would be good for a couple of hours. He also had used it before making his survey of the hotel on Saturday.

As he drove to the Shoreham he felt the familiar tenseness and cold perspiration, and he was glad; he had been worried by their absence in the moments before he shot Jacobs and was afraid that without them he would become reckless. Probably, he thought, the difference was that he had acted against Jacobs in the heat of anger, whereas all of his other actions - like this one - were much more deliberate.

By the time Oscar had reached the mezzanine level of the hotel, just after eight o’clock, the tenseness and nervousness had been replaced by the usual icy calm. A dozen or so people were standing in the corridor outside the ballroom entrance, some of them holding drinks. Oscar quickly noted that all of those with drinks had adhesive name tags stuck to their coat lapels. Two men standing at the door seemed to be monitors, and as he passed the open doorway he saw a registration table just inside, where invitations were being checked and name tags issued. No chance of getting inside now, but things might relax a bit later in the evening. Oscar continued down the corridor toward the rest room.

There were two men in the rest room when Oscar entered. He took a place at one of the urinals and waited for the men to leave so that he could enter the closet. Unfortunately for Oscar, however, there was a steady traffic into and out of the rest room. He stood at the same urinal for five minutes, and still there was no opportunity to enter the closet. Oscar was beginning to feel conspicuous. He left the urinal and entered a stall.

Under the stall door he could see enough of the floor to monitor the occupancy of most of the room. After another 20 minutes, however, he began to despair of ever being alone in the rest room, much less being alone with Horowitz. He could not avoid a dark suspicion that everyone at the cocktail party had spent the whole evening beforehand drinking beer.

Finally there were no feet in Oscar’s field of view. He stood up and surveyed the room. A stall door at the far end of the row of stalls was closed, but otherwise the rest room was empty. He strode toward the closet and had his hand on the doorknob when the rest room door banged open behind him again. Damn! He turned around, preparing to resume his post in the stall.

The man walking toward the urinals looked straight at Oscar, and Oscar’s heart paused for a fraction of a second. It was Congressman Stephen Horowitz. Oscar tried not to let his emotion show on his face as he and Horowitz passed one another. How much time would he have before someone else came into the room or the man in the end stall came out? Ten seconds? He would be lucky if he had five seconds. It was now or never.

Oscar spun silently on his heel as Horowitz reached the urinals and began fumbling with his fly. He pulled the garrotte from beneath his jacket, swung the loop down over Horowitz’ head, and yanked the handles apart, all in a single, flowing sequence of motions.

As Horowitz’ hands jerked defensively toward his throat, Oscar applied every ounce of strength he had to the handles. The strangling wire lifted the smaller man clear of the floor, and his feet beat wildly in the air. Without waiting for Horowitz to stop struggling, Oscar jerked savagely backward on the garrotte and heaved him into the nearest stall. Supporting the still thrashing Horowitz with one hand, Oscar latched the stall door just as the rest room door banged open once more. He jammed Horowitz down onto the toilet seat and then sat heavily on top of him. He hoped no one would notice two pairs of feet under the stall door.

Although it seemed much longer, it could not have been more than another ten seconds until Horowitz gave one last, convulsive shudder and then ceased his struggle for air and life. Oscar saw a pool of urine spreading out across the floor of the stall as the man’s bladder emptied. Oscar kept his position for another two or three minutes, then felt for Horowitz’ pulse. There was none. He reached behind the man’s head and with some difficulty released the catch on the garrotte. The cable, which had cut deeply into the flesh of Horowitz’ neck, was dripping blood, and Oscar hastily wiped it dry with a wad of toilet paper.

Sounds of running water were coming from the wash basins, but Oscar could see no feet in the vicinity of his stall. Trying to avoid Horowitz’ urine, he slid under the partition into the adjoining stall, leaving Horowitz slumped back against the wall but still on the toilet seat. Before leaving his own stall Oscar flushed the toilet for effect, then walked toward the basins to wash his hands and check his wig.

While Oscar was standing before the mirror straightening his tie - and surreptitiously pushing the garrotte into a more secure position inside his jacket— two more men entered the rest room. One headed straight for the urinals, but the other surveyed the room as if looking for someone, then took a position against the wall opposite the stalls and folded his arms across his chest. Oscar had never seen the man before, but he knew with certainty that it was Horowitz’ bodyguard.

While drying his hands Oscar noticed that the pool of urine from Horowitz’ stall was spreading visibly onto the tiles beyond the door. As he left the rest room he heard the toilet finally flush in the other occupied stall. Things were about to become interesting.

Turning the corner at the end of the corridor and leaving the partygoers behind him, Oscar glanced quickly at his watch. He had been in the rest room 32 minutes altogether, the last five of them with Horowitz.