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The GAME of theHunter


     I was always good at hide and go seek. The idea was to learn to think like the other person. If you were hiding, think like the seeker, and vice versa. Once you figured out how the person hiding thinks, it is a lot easier to find them.
     Capture the flag, ditch, even paintball were all variations on the theme. Even some of the video games I now tested worked the same way. My co-workers hated trying to flush me out in the open on some of the games we had where you played against real people instead of the computer. I knew how to hide. Usually in plain sight worked very well. And in the better games where you could manipulate your environment, it was child's play to blend into the woodwork and wait until they got close, then, well, game over.

     Now was the same idea. But the stakes were higher.
     I was working with Allied Forces again. We had busted up a ring dealing in antiques that had been 'borrowed' from various museums, but one of them had gotten out the back. And now we were playing a deadly game of hide and go seek in the closed historical village at night in the middle of an ice storm.
     The bust went down at a state museum complex. We had set up a sting and caught the bad guys flatfooted. The place was surrounded by a twelve foot high, electrified barbed wire fence, so there was little chance our friend would be able to get out. A dozen ancient buildings, no lights, no cameras, nothing, and many of the structures were unlocked.
     We didn't want to wait on more cops, so in we went. Allied Forces, one uniformed deputy, and me.
     I looked over the map of the place before we went out. The buildings ranged in age and size from a small log cabin built in the 1700's to a 100 year old multi-storied sawmill. Everything from a barber shop to a church.
     "This isn't going to be fun." Allied Forces said.
     The cops frowned at the ice storm. The deputy's partner was going to stay in the main building and wait for backup, guarding the only way out.
     "If you were going to hide and wait for a chance to make a break for it, where would you go?" I asked the deputy.
     "The mill. It's the biggest. Most places to hide."
     "OK. We'll work our way that way." I checked dad's gun. "Let's go." I closed my coat up tight against the wind and ice.
     Allied Forces pulled the collar up on his leather jacket and pushed the door open.
     It was freezing, pitch black and slick. Our flashlights did little except illuminate the falling sleet once away from the main building. We checked the immediate area and went on.
     I had planned on letting the other two go on and make a show out of starting to check the buildings. Then I'd get separated and go to where I suspected our friend would be hiding. Where I would hide. In and around an old farmhouse with several out buildings and a garden. Close enough to the main building to watch what was going on and wait for a chance to get out.
     "I'll check out the schoolhouse!" I shouted to whichever of them was closest. They waved and moved toward the massive hulk of the mill.
     We were out of sight of each other in minutes. I shook the schoolhouse door, it was padlocked.
     I turned off my light and went slipping and sliding toward the farmhouse. Stopping now and again to peer into the night and see if I saw anything moving.
     At the corn crib I got out of the storm and started crawling carefully along the floor. Pausing to listen and grit my teeth against shivers running through my body. Then I went to the smokehouse. It was locked from the outside with a padlock. I was carefully sliding toward the wagon shed when I saw movement. I froze, freezing. The shadow was man size and in a big hurry to get to the granary. It lost its footing and went down. I held my position for a second and then moved along a rose arbor to get closer.
     The prone figure got up and made it to the building before I got close enough.
     For a home grain storage building, this one was good sized. I heard panting and rustling along the far wall.
     "Hold it. I've got you covered." I said to the shadow. It darted out a small narrow door. I didn't follow but went back out the front.
     He ran wildly toward the farmhouse, crashing into the porch on the ice glazed path. I moved as quickly as I could to follow. I wasn't going to risk a broken ankle this close to getting my target.
     Once under the porch, I paused to catch my breath and wipe icy slush out of my eyes. Once I could see clearly again I noticed wet footprints on the old dry wood in the half light of a spotlight far away on the main building. I got out my flashlight for a real look.
     The prints at the door seemed a little funny. Smaller than they should be. With a pronounced heel. It was even money my quarry was a woman.
     The knowledge didn't change my pursuit at all, except maybe I was a little more careful. Everybody knows a female is more dangerous when cornered.

     Leading with the gun I started looking in the small rooms of the old house.
     The shoeprints ended at the stairs. She had removed her shoes and went on. I stood and looked at the old staircase. Most likely they would creak and groan if anybody went up them. I smiled. My quarry was excellent. I shut off my light and put my foot on the third step then shifted some weight onto it.
     The stair made an awful noise. I let off, it groaned, then I did it a couple more times, and stopped, waiting breathlessly just inside the door.
     In a minute I heard a rustling in a room off the dining room beyond the stairs.
     I was ready to spring with a hair trigger.
     She stuck her head around the corner and looked up the stairs. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her toward me, then slammed her against the wall moving to handcuff her in the same motion. Then I checked her for weapons.
     "What're those for?" She asked me when I let her off the wall.
     "We don't know each other that well. Come on, you'll be all right no further than we're going." I saw she still hadn't put her shoes on.
     "I'm not the one you want."
     "OK. Who do I want?" I kept her walking to the front of the house.
     "Samuel. He's the buyer. I'm just a go between."
     I shrugged. "Is Sam here?"
     She nodded vigorously.
     "I'm listening."
     "I went out as soon as I saw you guys coming. He came out just behind me."
     "Where'd he go?"
     "I don't know."
     I gave her a hard stare. I believed her. "OK. Stay here. If we find him, I'll come back and get you."
     "How do you know I won't get away?"
     "Handcuffed behind your back, and no shoes? How far are you going to go in this weather?"

     It was still miserable outside. I dropped her shoes in the wishing well and sloshed my way to my second choice as a hideout. The blacksmith and cooper building.
     The building was enormous. But this one was different from the others. It had animated figures showing the different steps of working a forge and stuff. The equipment was all antique, but the robots were state of the art. I peered around the figures and looked under the small gallery where you could watch the presentation. There was no way one man could check this place easily.
     In the gloom I looked at the form of a blacksmith. He was holding a mockup of a huge heavy hammer with arms three times the size of mine. "If you were real you'd be great backup." I said to the mannequin. Then an idea struck, why not enlist them anyway?
     Outside I had passed a small door with a sign announcing it as the control room, authorized personnel only. I authorized myself and went back out.
     The door wasn't locked, but even if it was, the black iron crow bar I had borrowed from the blacksmith would have served nicely as a key.
     The control room was impressive. The first thing I did was activate the surveillance system. But it was too dark to see if Sam was in there in the dim light. I pondered what to do first. Then decided to do it all, and if he turned up, go get him.
     The lights came up and the figures started moving. The fire in the forges shot flames into the air. Bellows groaned. Metal hoops were formed over giant anvils.
     Then I saw Sam in a camera moving quickly through the second floor of the building. I ran out and went to get him.
     An old cowboy actor's voice was narrating the show, providing a mellow counterpoint to the events now unfolding.
     "Hold it Sam! We got your partner!" I shouted over the other voice.
     His answer was predictable. A wild gunshot with a very small caliber gun.
     I had to duck behind a barrier for cover. He was now picking his way through robots and displays. As a cooper pulled barrel staves out of a steamer Sam crouched and aimed my way.
     I was forced behind a guy splitting wood. The same cowboy actor was talking slowly about waterproofing the barrels. His gunshot was almost drowned out by the noises.
     Mine wasn't. But the shot was wide as he dove into the next display. The robot that was in the way got knocked sideways, but kept driving rivets into a barrel.
     The light and noise had brought Allied Forces and the deputy this way, I heard them yelling downstairs. Sam panicked and tumbled down the stairs in a mad dash to get away.
     There were more real guns firing downstairs. I flopped down at the top of the stairs and looked for him. He was now crouching behind a blacksmith's helper, pointing his small gun my way then back at the others.
     "This is it, Sam. Give it up." I yelled at him.
     Sam cursed us with a heavy French accent, and fired my way. Allied Forces returned the favor and Sam caught one in the shoulder. He swore some more and fired at them.
     Me and the deputy fired at the same time. Sam went down for keeps.

     Bishop42: You got lucky. Samuel Wellbrotio wasn't even on our list. But he was on another list. You have reward money coming.
     theHunter: who wanted him?
     Bishop42: Interpol for the French and Belgians. He was on their top ten list. An international dealer in stolen art and antiquities.
     theHunter: you have to admit this bunch had a real racket going... the phony museum front All of it.
     Bishop42: They did a masterful job of it. Signing out entire collections to display in their museum, displaying a few items, and selling the rest on the black market.
     theHunter: what amazed me is how many museums went for it
     Bishop42: If a couple of the museums hadn't recognized some of their own pieces in a catalog as being for sale, they may have kept going. Tell me, why did you turn the animated figures on in the blacksmith's shop?
     theHunter: Using the environment to your advantage. Part of the game.
     Bishop42: The Game?
     theHunter: Hide and Go Seek. The Hunt.

end 14 game

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