The More Dangerous Game
Part One of Three, with all apologies and much appreciation to Richard Connell
It was almost a week before Scott Rainsford realized he was being hunted.
The first sign that his normal, quiet little life was packed, at the station, and ready to leave him for good was on his nightstand one Monday morning. He noticed it through a fog of sleep-blurred vision the second time he hit his alarm’s snooze button. It was a bullet. A rather large one, about the length of a golf pencil, its brass casing gleaming in the slant of morning light shining through his blinds.
I don’t remember leaving a bullet there, he thought to himself with the numb, matter-of-factness that comes from being woken out of a deep, dreamless sleep. Then Scott recalled that he did not, in fact, own a firearm, let alone any sort of ammunition. He stared at it, wondering if it might be some fragment of his unconscious that had followed him into the waking world.
But the more awake he became, the more he realized it wasn’t going to fade away. He picked it up, held it in front of his face. It was there all right. Real. He put it back on the nightstand and got up to make coffee.
He showered, shaved, dressed, poured himself a cup, and then returned to his nightstand. It was still – inexplicably – there; out of place as an ostrich at the opera. Scott hadn’t had anyone over to his apartment in almost a week, hadn’t been drinking the night before, and was 99.99% certain that no bullet whatsoever had been on his nightstand when he’d gone to sleep.
But there it was.
He picked it up, put it in his pocket, and hurried off to work, deciding that there must be a reasonable, simple explanation that he was just unable to grasp. The obvious explanation – that someone had broken into his apartment and put it there – never even occurred to him; he lacked the requisite paranoia.
Scott had one of those office jobs where you don’t get an office. Every weekday he put on a coat and tie and did public relations work for a company that manufactured extruded polyethylene pipe. He worked in a cubicle on the third floor of an office building a good thirty miles away from the plant that did the manufacturing.
(Scott had toured the plant a few times and, while he was bored of touting its virtues, he absolutely loved the smell of freshly extruded polyethylene pipe. He wished he could somehow work it into one of his press releases, but it really wasn’t the sort of thing his audience was interested in.)
That day at lunch in the employee break room, Scott struck up a conversation with Howard Brendt, a sales associate from two cubes over, one cube down. Scott dimly recalled a conversation on a Friday prior to a long weekend where Howard mentioned going back home to Indiana to do some deer hunting.
After a little small talk about the second-quarter sales projections, Scott brought out the bullet. “I remember hearing that you’re something of a hunter. Think you can tell me what kind of gun this came from?”
Howard arched his eyebrows and said with a grin, “You know, you really shouldn’t bring live ammunition into the office. People will start to talk.” He took the bullet, turned it over to look at the base and whistled low. “You’ve got a genuine piece of history here.”
“What do you mean?” said Scott.
“This is a thirty-caliber rifle cartridge. I don’t think anyone mass-produces them anymore. In fact, the last time was probably for the Enfield model 1917.”
“Er, would that be the nineteen-hundred-and-seventeenth in a series or…”
Howard shook his head. “No, that would be for the year 1917. The Enfield is a British design made by Winchester for the U.S. Army. It’s the gun the doughboys carried in the First World War. Where the hell did you find this anyway?”
Scott bit his lower lip – which to his mother meant the next thing out of his mouth would be a lie, but to Howard didn’t mean jack – and said, “I found it while cleaning up the storage area in my building’s basement.”
“Did any of your family fight in the war?”
Scott shrugged. “I’m not sure. I know my grandfather was in World War Two.”
“There were probably plenty of Enfields still floating around in your granddad’s day,” said Howard. “Or maybe he kept this cartridge as a souvenir. I mean, it looks like it must have been polished at some point in the last eighty or so years.”
In fact, Scott thought it looked as if it could have been polished that morning.
When Scott got home from work that evening he tried listening to the radio, tried reading, but always after a few minutes he would pull the bullet out of his pocket and turn it in the light. Finally he picked up the phone and called his mom.
Claudia Rainsford raised Scott and his older sister Elaine by herself after her husband Ed was killed in a car accident, and had done it on a schoolteacher’s salary. For 34 years she had taught math and science to kids at John Tyler High before retiring, selling the house Scott grew up in, and moving down to Boca Raton to live in a gated community. She had never remarried.
“Hey Mom, it’s Scott. How’re things?”
“Oh, just fine, honey. Nice to hear from you.”
“Say, Mom, I know this might sound funny but I was wondering, did Dad ever say if his dad or granddad fought in World War One?”
There was an uncharacteristically long pause on the other end before she replied. “I think your great-grandfather Sanger Rainsford fought in the First World War. In fact, I understand he was considered a genuine war hero. Something or other he did at the Battle of the Marne.”
Scott could register the unease in his mother’s voice. He’d heard of his great-grandfather before, of course. The name was unusual enough to easily catch mention of it at all the usual family gatherings—Christmas dinners, weddings, funerals. But apart from the place he held in the Rainsford family tree, all Scott knew about Sanger was that for some reason he deeply upset certain members of the family.
“Did you ever meet Sanger, Mom?”
The pause at the other end of the line was so long that for half a second, Scott thought the connection had been broken. But at last his mother heaved a short sigh and said, “I only met him once. At your grandfather’s funeral. That was where Sanger and your father had their falling-out.”
Two blocks away, Melissa Zaroff sat in the front seat of her rental car. She brushed her short, straight black hair back over her ear with her right hand and adjusted the earpiece to the receiver she was using to overhear to Scott and his mother’s conversation.
The transmitter was broadcasting from a tap attached to the TNI-box outside Scott’s apartment building. She had set it up the night before, just after her visit to his room. It was stupid, risky, greedy on her part, and she knew it. The transmission wasn’t secure, and right now some kid with a walkie-talkie or some mother with a baby monitor could be stumbling across the frequency and listening along with her. Could be calling the police right now. She should have set up a tape recorder instead of a transmitter—but it would have meant missing out on the calls as they happened. It would have meant missing a moment like this…
… a moment like last night, in the dimness of Scott’s bedroom, standing over his sleeping body, knife in hand, not breathing, not moving, not making a sound, but wishing with all her might that he would sense her presence and wake – that they could have it out there and then.
Melissa squeezed her eyes shut, squeezed her thighs tight, gripped the steering wheel until her shoulders ached, and focused on the tiny voices in her ear. Patience, patience, she told herself. The game – her game – was only starting. Soon Scott would run, and soon after he would understand the rules. And then she wouldn’t have to hold herself back at all.
Then she would do her father and her family proud.
To be continued