Heart of the Hunter

Deon Meyer

Copyright  2002 by Deon Meyer

English translation  2003 by K. L. Seegers



He stood behind the American. Almost pressed against him by the crush of Le Metro. His soul was far away at a place on the Transkei coast where giant waves broke in thunder.

He thought of the rocky point where he could sit and watch the swells approaching in lines over the Indian Ocean, in awe at their journey over the long, lonely distance to hurl and break themselves against the rocks of the Dark Continent.

Between the sets of waves there is a time of perfect silence, seconds of absolute calm. So quiet he can hear the voices of his ancestors? Phalo and Rharhabe, Nquika and Maqoma, the great Xhosa chiefs, his bloodline, source, and refuge. He knew that is where he would go when his time came, when he felt the long blade and the life run out of him. He would return to those moments between the explosions of sound.

He came back to himself slowly, almost carefully. He saw they were only minutes from the St. Michel Metro station. He leaned down, only half a head, to the ear of the American. His lips were close like a lover.

?Do you know where you are going when you die?? he asked in a voice as deep as a cello, the English heavy with an accent of Africa.

The tendons in the back of the enemy?s neck pulled taut, big shoulders tilted forward.

He waited calmly for the man to turn in the overfilled crush of the train. He waited to see the eyes. This is the moment he thirsted for. Confrontation, throwing down the gauntlet. This was his calling, instinctive, fulfilling him. He was a warrior from the plains of Africa, every sinew and muscle knit and woven for this moment. His heart began to race, the sap of war coursed through his blood, he was possessed by the divine madness of battle.

The body turned first, unhurried, then the head, then the eyes. He saw a hawk there, a predator without fear, self-assured, amused even, the corners of the thin lips lifting. Centimeters apart, it was a strange intimacy.

?Do you know??

Just the eyes staring back.

?Because soon you will be there, Dorffling.? He used the name contemptuously, the final declaration of war that said he knew his enemy, the assignment accepted, the dossier studied and committed to memory.

He saw no reaction in the lazy eyes. The train slowed and stopped at St. Michel. ?This is our station,? he said. The American nodded and went, with him just a step behind, up the stairs into the summer night bustle of the Latin Quarter. Then Dorffling took off. Along the Boulevard San Michel toward the Sorbonne. He knew prey chooses familiar territory. Dorffling?s den was there, just around the corner from the Place du Pantheon, his arsenal of blades and garottes and firearms. But he hadn'?t expected flight, thought the ego would be too big. His respect deepened for the ex-Marine, now CIA assassin.

His body had reacted instinctively: the dammed-up adrenaline exploding, long legs powering the big body forward rhythmically, ten, twelve strides behind the fugitive. Parisian heads turned. White man pursued by black man. An atavistic fear flared in their eyes.

The American spun off into the Rue des Ecoles, right into the Rue St. Jaques, and now they were in the alleys of the University, barren in the August of student holidays, the age-old buildings somber onlookers, the night shadows deep. With long, sure strides he caught up with Dorffling, shouldered him. The American fell silently to the pavement, rolled forward, and stood up in one sinuous movement, ready.

He reached over his shoulder for the assegai in the scabbard that lay snug against his back. Short handle, long blade.

?Mayibuye,? he said softly.

?What fucking language is that, nigger?? Hoarse voice without inflection.

?Xhosa,? he said, the click of his tongue echoing sharply off the alley walls. Dorffling moved with confidence, a lifetime of practice in every shift of the feet. Watching, measuring, testing, round and round, the diminishing circles of a rhythmic death dance. Attack, immeasurably fast and before the knee could drive into his belly, his arm was around the American?s neck and the long thin blade through the breastbone. He held him close against his own body as the light blue eyes stared into his.

?Uhm-sing-gelli,? said the Marine.


He nodded, correcting the pronunciation softly, politely. With respect for the process, for the absence of pleading, for the quiet acceptance of death. He saw the life fade from the eyes, the heartbeat slowing, the breaths jerky, then still.

He lowered the body, felt the big, hard muscles of the back soften, laid him gently down.

?Where are you going? Do you know??

He wiped the assegai on the man?s T-shirt. Slid it slowly back into the scabbard.

Then he turned away.



Transcript of interview with Ismail Mohammed by A. J. M. Williams, 17 March, 17:52, South African Police Services offices, Gardens, Cape Town

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