Of Hunters and Jackals
excerpted from The Butcher and the Calf
A gray dawn came windy and warmer. Up in the barn and wrapped in
an army blanket, Philip sat huddled against the high wall of the
loft. Looking out the trap-window with his Zeiss field
glasses, in the early morning light he saw the flat brown expanse
of clearing north of the farmhouse and misty line of the forest
beyond. Nothing had happened since he sent Kyle and Lawson back
to get some sleep. The watchers were still in the wood. He could
see them now, faces red beneath their peaked, green-streaked
camouflage caps, drinking from a steaming thermos. Philip did not
know who they were but wished he had some of whatever it was they
Although the temperature was rising, the damp Pennsylvania night
air had chilled him to the bone. Stiff, hungry, tired, and above
all, wary, he was ruing his decision to have only four men along
on this job. Events were spinning out of control, starting with
Lawson's insubordination, the too-pat discovery of Nadya, with
Jean-Pierre ailing, with Kyle a monumental pain in the ass, and
now with this pair in the trees. They were not dressed like the
terrorist he had knifed above the gorge, but they had weapons and
who knew what tricks Saladin was up to? One mistake and they
would never leave these miserable hills.
He was still looking out when he heard a sharp knock on the
closed doors. Startled, he turned and glanced down. He heard the
doors grate open and saw a shaft of light cut in, saw two figures
slip in, then heard Lawson say searchingly, "Lucas?"
Covering Lawson with his AR-23 Colt, Philip groused,
"What is it?"
"Perched, eh?" Lawson said looking up. "What news of our
"They're still sitting. What is it?" he asked, suspicious.
"I have the bitch here."
"I see her."
"She's taking fits. Insists on talking to you. Kyle nearly
strangled her. She claims it's important." Lawson sounded
"You handle it," Philip said. He did not want to be bothered.
The girl walked forward toward the ladder. "Can I come up? This
is for you alone."
Philip glanced out the window and then down at her. "Come
She gingerly climbed the rickety ladder and saw Philip on the
wooden catwalk beside the window, carbine in the crook of his
arm. She crept over and sat cross-legged in front of him. He
could see her full lips and high Chechen cheekbones clearly in
the morning light.
"You won't need that," she pointed at the gun. "I'm not what you
"What are you?"
"What would you like me to be?"
"I'm in no mood for riddles. Say your piece and get out."
She reached over and gently drew the blanket closer about his
neck. "Do you want to make love?" she suddenly asked.
"Here?" He was looking hard at her and liking what he saw.
"Not here," she smiled. "Here would be difficult. But not
He said nothing.
"Last night. When the old man told that awful story. I felt sorry
for a frightened and wounded little boy running through Algiers."
"Save your sorrow. You're going to need it."
"I'm not blind," she said. "I see the way you look at me."
"So what?" he said defensively.
"Don't you want me?"
"No," he lied.
"Why? Because my face is all bruised?"
"If I wanted you that would not mean anything."
"Have you made love with many women?"
"What is that to you?"
She shook her head. "You can't imagine what it's like with
Saladin, how degraded women are. I want to help you, Philip, and
I think I can. But I have to be very careful."
"You want to help me, do you?" he said angrily. "You flatter
yourself, girl. I wouldn't trust you if you sprouted wings and a
Suddenly she flung her arms around him and clung to him, and,
grappling to free himself, he felt her breath on his neck, and
the round safe softness of her breasts, and then he was holding
her and kissing her, her hair thick in his fingers, and he held
her tightly and kissed her a long deep kiss until they fell onto
their sides and lay quietly looking at one another.
She whispered, "Why didn't you let Kyle kill me last night?
Saladin would've had me shot."
"That's the difference between him and me. And there's one other
"When this is over I will be alive and he'll be dead."
"You're a strange one," she told him and kissed his lips.
"Because I believe in my work?"
"Because you haven't turned killer. Those men out there. They're
not with Saladin. I know."
He sat up. "How do you know, Nadya?"
"I know. It's what I came up here to say. That, and about
"What about Lawson?"
"I guess it doesn't much matter. He didn't hurt me." Kissing him
a short hard kiss on the mouth, she backed away and scampered
lithely down the ladder.
As she came out Lawson stepped up behind and jerked her aside.
Agitated, he shoved her against the wall.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, gaunt-faced, unshaven, and
scowling. "Your orders are to help me delay him until the plane
arrives, nothing more. We'll kill the two in the house, but not
before we use them to get rid of those spies in the trees. I'd as
soon kill Lucas too, and the hell with taking him alive to
Saladin. I can't figure why Saladin wants him so badly anyway."
"Lucas scares you, doesn't he? And get your greasy paws off me!"
She squirmed loose from him.
"I hate him and this country," Lawson said thoughtfully. "But
I'll handle him. It's you who scares me. Last night you were one
of us. What's changed?"
"Maybe me. And maybe it goes farther back than last night." She
paused. "It's true Saladin left me here to help you. But I've
changed my mind."
"Listen, whore," he hissed. "Playing both sides means death.
Forget Lucas. Haven't you laid down for enough men?"
"Not laid down for as many as you," she said coldly. "Saladin
told me all about you, how he found you rolling in the gutters of
Gaza with your little Fatah boys. We had a good laugh."
"Close your mouth, whore," he said, then drew his pistol and put
it to her cheek.
She laughed at him. "Don't try to frighten me with that. You need
me if you hope to collect your thirty pieces of silver.
Imagine the agonies Saladin will give you if I'm harmed." She
whirled defiantly and headed for the farmhouse. Cursing, Lawson
holstered his pistol and rushed after her.
Fidgeting up in the loft, Philip pondered what the girl had told
him. For an unknown reason he felt she spoke the truth. He lifted
his field glasses and panned the timber. The green colony of
pines was overhung with mist. He swung the glasses and realized
that the watchers were gone. He cast off the blanket, backed down
the ladder, and hurried out the barn and crossed the hundred-yard
clearing to the house.
The others were already astir. Though the fire had burned out
Philip felt warm after the loft. Jean-Pierre and Lawson were at
the table and Kyle was hunched in a corner beside the hearth,
sitting atop a sleeping bag. Holding a carbine, he was gently
caressing it with an oiled gun-cloth.
The girl was seated on the floor with her back to the black iron
stove. Her jacket hung open and Philip immediately noticed the
swell of her breasts against the khaki tunic she wore. All of
them looked up when he came in. Only the girl smiled.
"Any news?" Jean-Pierre said.
"How's the chest?" Philip asked him, looking out the window.
"Very well. Do not concern yourself." From his voice Philip could
tell that the Algerian was still suffering.
"Our shadows have vanished," Philip said. "We have to avoid
trouble at all costs. Kyle, how long for you to go get the jeep
and bring it here from where we stashed it?"
"A couple of hours maybe. And by the way, we should just kill
"No," Philip said, and Lawson watched him.
"Why not?" Kyle said accusingly. "Why the hell not?"
"Don't start anything with me, Kyle," Philip growled. "Don't."
"Well, then," Kyle said, "to avoid them we should all leave. The
woods are a good place to disappear."
"And a good place to get bushwhacked."
"Bad things can happen in two hours, if we wait," Lawson
Philip nodded. "Go get the jeep," he ordered Kyle. "We'll wait
for you. Come quick. And if you sight anybody keep well away."
"What do you tell me that for? You think I want to get greased?"
"How much ammunition is left?" Philip asked him.
"Plenty. Enough to defeat Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun
"Go," Philip said.
Kyle threw on his parka, took his rifle and left by the back
Again Philip looked out the window and saw nothing. He went to
the table, sat on a barrel and put his hand on the shoulder of
Jean-Pierre. "Feel up to standing sentry, old one?"
"I'll go," Lawson offered.
"Surely," Jean-Pierre said ignoring Lawson, and put on his coat
and brown knitted cap. "I am quite fit."
"Don't stray far," Philip called as the Algerian went out.
"I could've gone," Lawson said. "Just because we've had
differences doesn't mean I'm not part of the team."
"I want to help too," the girl said. "I know how to use one of
those," pointing to a rifle.
"That I believe," Philip said sourly.
Outside, Jean-Pierre was near the barn when he saw the three
emerge from the pines. Quickly he ducked behind it. They were
wearing camouflage coats and caps and each had a weapon slung
over his shoulder. As they approached, walking abreast, the
Algerian placed his rifle aside and shuffled out,
stoop-shouldered, to meet them, an idiotic grin widening over his
When they saw him they stopped, one man unslinging a submachine
gun. Jean-Pierre shuffled on. He came up to the one with the gun
until its short ventilated barrel touched his chest.
"What is this that blunders down the throat of a machine?" the
man grunted, and Jean-Pierre was shocked to hear his French
accent. The Algerian, his own accent still thick after all these
years, stuck out his tongue, pointed to it, shook his head and
made gurgling noises in his throat.
"A mute," a second man said. "And from his looks an imbecile. Are
you deaf? Can you hear?" the man shouted.
Pointing at his ears and indicating that he could indeed hear,
Jean-Pierre continued to grin crazily.
"Where are the others? Inside?" the third one asked. All three
were big, tall, and mean-looking.
Jean-Pierre tossed his head toward the house, put fingers to
mouth and made a chewing action. Continuing the pantomime, he
lifted both hands to the sides of his head, opened his fingers to
form antlers, and tapped the submachine gun with his knuckle.
"Hunting, is it?" the second man said.
"Nous apprendrons si c'idiot ment," he told the others,
and Jean-Pierre, pushing out his lower lip, heard: "We will soon
learn if this old lunatic is lying."
"Lead us inside," the first man said poking Jean-Pierre in the
ribs with his weapon.
Hunched over like an arthritic, the Algerian slowly shambled
toward the farmhouse.
As they approached, the door opened and Philip came out on the
porch coatless and without his gun belt. "What's wrong?" he asked
excitedly. "Are you all right, Papa? Why do you have a gun on my
father?" He was unsure what Jean-Pierre was up to.
"This mute is your father?" the first man asked doubtfully, and
hearing the accent Philip realized Jean-Pierre was concealing his
"If you're here to rob us," Philip said, "you are out of luck. We
have little money."
"We are not bandits. Can we come in?" the man holding the gun
"Why not?" Philip said. "Come ahead."
Entering, Jean-Pierre's eyes moved to where the equipment had
lain. He saw the sleeping bags, haversacks, and scoped
Remington rifles. Everything else was gone.
Frowning indignantly, Lawson snapped, "What's the meaning of
this, who —"
"Shut up," the submachine gun man said. He looked about and then
wandered slowly through the farmhouse. His comrades waited for
him in silence. Returning, the first man commenced to examine the
"Papa is okay," Philip said pointedly. "They know he's unable to
speak and haven't harmed him." He asked in friendly fashion,
"What can we do for you fellows?"
"We ask the questions," the one checking the rifles said. "You
"Yes," Philip chuckled. "Trying, anyhow. That pretty young lady
is my fianc‚e. And the good-looking one there is my buddy, Al. We
were out late last night. Truth to tell, we're lost and can't
find our car," he said sheepishly. "So we spent the night here,
built a fire and everything."
The first intruder picked up a rifle and sighted through its
scope. "A good gun," he said. "For the bringing down of
elephants, that is. Are there elephants in the hills?"
"We need all the help we can get," Lawson said as if embarrassed.
The intruder put the Remington down and strode suddenly,
menacingly, up to Philip. "Where is your license to hunt?"
In answer, Jean-Pierre went over to him, grinned, gurgled,
pointed to the sacks and whacked him on the rump.
"Get back, you old goat," the man snarled and slapped Jean-Pierre
across the face with his open hand, leaving a wide red blotch.
The Algerian stumbled backward and then sat down on a barrel
before the table. He reached slowly beneath his coat and slipped
the safety off his Browning 9mm pistol.
"Sure we have licenses," Philip said. "Papa was only trying to
"I don't mind, but first I need to know your authority."
"Here is my authority," the man lifted his weapon.
Philip moved back a step and raised his arms. "Hey, we're not
poachers. You're forest rangers, right?" Whatever they were he
knew they were not forest rangers.
The man's lips twisted into a wan facsimile of a smile. "We," he
said, "are warranted agents of the government of France and come
at the behest of your Homeland Security Department. We are
pursuing a terrorist wanted in Paris and are informed that he is
operating in this area. Perhaps you are that terrorist."
"Us?" the girl suddenly leaped up. "We live in Lancaster. My God,
terrorists? We have to get home, Phil. This is too frightening!"
"I'll get the licenses right away," Philip said. He went and dug
into a haversack wondering why they had waited till now to show
themselves. And why three instead of two? He came back flaunting
the licenses, which had their photographs on them.
The intruder examined the documents in silence. "There is no
paper for you," he told the girl.
"Why would there be?" she said. "I don't hunt."
The man was staring at her. "Those are interesting clothes."
"Do you like them?" she said, brightening and batting her eyes at
him. "I bought them in Saks Fifth Avenue especially for
The submachine gun man watched her simper and then shrugged. "All
appears normal," he said and handed back the papers. "One thing.
Where is the other who was with you?"
"Out, hunting," Lawson answered. "We were hoping to cook a stew."
"Cook it somewhere beyond these mountains," the third intruder
"Right," Philip said. "Now you've cautioned us, we'll go
immediately. Thank you very much."
As the three started out, the second man said to the first,
"Je pense il a tort les permettre vivre. It is a mistake
to let them live. With twenty-five million hanging in the
"No, Maurice," the first said. He glanced at his watch. "We meet
the others in one hour to locate and remove the American
unit. We cannot risk a disturbance here. These are harmless
insects, they pose no threat. Allons."
From the window Philip watched them go. "They bought it," he
"French," Lawson said to Jean-Pierre. "Could you make it out?"
Jean-Pierre laughed bitterly. "If you believe that fable of
French agents, you believe Saladin is a social worker. If General
Wilkes informed France of our mission — and he had every
reason to, since Saladin has murdered scores of French Jews
— Paris would never send operatives. These three plan not
to advance the cause of justice but to collect the bounty on the
terrorist. They will liquidate the American unit to
prevent any but themselves from capturing him. We have just been
"They're mercs, then?" Lawson said.
Jean-Pierre sneered. "Not mercenaries. Scavengers. Pickers of
bones. They are jackals."
"We're moving out," Philip said. "I hope we can avoid a fight.
God help Kyle if he runs across them. But that's his problem. We
have ours, which is getting out of here before they discover
their error and come back firing."
He opened the grate of the stove and hurriedly began removing the
weapons he had stashed there. Lawson went into the hearth and
lifted the ammunition boxes up from under a pile of ashes and
took the RPG and carbines out from where they were wedged in the
"How can I help?" the girl asked.
"Cross your fingers," Philip said, as he buckled on his pistol,
"and hope we don't have to fight."
"We could take them," Lawson said.
"Could we?" Jean-Pierre said grimly. "I know these French
bastards only too well. There will be more than those we saw.
They hunt in packs and are skilled assassins. And only three of
"Four of us," the girl said.
Grabbing a Colt, Philip turned and tossed it to her.
"You said you could use one of these. You might just get your
Jean-Pierre shook his head doubtfully, disapproving.
"I know, I know," Philip waved a hand. "But you said it yourself:
they're qualified men. And I have me an unbreakable appointment
"But —" the Algerian began.
"No buts, ami. Besides," he patted his pocket, "I've
still got the clip."
by Christopher S. Baldwin
... who is a transportation director interested in history, with
numerous cultural and political articles published in The
American Spectator, National Review,
Chronicles, The Leading Edge,
and elsewhere. His short stories have appeared in literary
magazines; and while Night of the Barbarian is making the
rounds with publishing houses, this story is excerpted from his
second novel, The Butcher and the Calf, a book in
progress. His work has previously appeared in this magazine,
where he is also a contributing editor.