All rights belong to the author: Warren Murphy, Richard Sapir.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.

Destroyer 87: Mob Psychology

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

Now that two men were holding him down on the soggy ground and a third had submerged his head in the cranberry bog, Wally Boyajian reluctantly concluded that it had all been too good to be true, after all.

This must be a hazing ritual, Wally thought wildly as he held his breath, his lips compressed to keep out the brackish bog water that was already clogging his nostrils. It was the only explanation.

He had showed up for the job interview bright and early at eight A. M. sharp. Wally had no more stepped up to the reception desk than the blue-blazered security guard immediately buzzed the vice-president in charge of systems outreach.

"Your eight o'clock is here, Mr. Tollini," he said crisply.

"Show him in, quick."

"Mr. Tollini will see you now," the lobby guard had said, pointing down the luxuriously carpeted hallway. "South wing. Last door at the end of the hall."

"Thank you," said Wally Boyajian, fresh out of the Darrigo Computer Institute on his first postgraduate job interview. He straightened his tie as his gray Hush Puppies gathered a charge of static electricity from the carpet.

The door at the end of the south wing was marked

"ANTONY TOLLINI, VICE-PRESIDENT IN CHARGE OF SYSTEMS OUTREACH."

Wally hesitated. He was a computer engineer. What was the VP in charge of systems outreach doing screening job applicants for customer service?

But this was International Data Corporation, the Mamaro neck Monster, the company that put the frame in mainframe and a PC in every office. They never made mistakes.

Steeling himself, Wally grasped the doorknob.

"Ouch!" he said, withdrawing his static-stung hand.

The door whipped open and the eager ferretlike face of Antony Tollini greeted him.

"Mr. Boysenberry. Come in. So glad to meet you," Tollini was saying, pumping Wally's tingling hand with both of his. Tollini had a handshake like a cold tuna steak. Wally barely noticed this as he was ushered into the well-appointed office.

"Sit down, sit down," Tollini was saying. His sparse, uneven mustache twitched and bristled as lie took his own seat. He wore Brooks Brothers gray. Everyone at IDC wore Brooks Brothers gray. Including the secretaries.

Wally sat down. He cleared his throat. "I want to tell you, Mr. Tollini, that I'm very excited that IDC agreed to interview me for the senior technician job. After all, I just graduated. And I know how tight the job market is right now."

"You're hired," Tollini said quickly.

Wally's eyes jumped wide. His eyebrows retreated into the shaggy shelf of hair above them.

"I am?" he said blankly.

"Can you start today?"

"Today?" blurted Wally, who was having trouble keeping up with the conversation. "Well, I guess so, if you really want"

"Fantastic," said Antony Tollini, jumping out from behind his desk. He practically gathered Wally Boyajian out of his chair with a friendly arm around his shoulder and piloted him out into the corridor. "You start now."

"Now?" Wally gulped.

The fatherly hand fell away like a deadweight.

"If you can't," Tollini said crisply, "there are other applicants. "

No, no. Now is fine. I just assumed I'd have to be called back for a follow-up interview before-"

"Here at IDC we take pride is recognizing talent early," Antony Tollini said, the warm arm returning to its place across Wally's shoulders like the waterlogged arm of an octopus slipping onto a coral shelf.

"I guess . ." Wally said as he found himself pushed through a half-open door marked "CUSTOMER SERVICE."

"Hey, everyone," Antony Tollini shouted out, "meet Wally Boysenberry--" ,

"Boyajian. It's Armenian."

"Wally's our new senior customer engineer," Tollini was saying.

All around the room, grave-faced technicians in white lab smocks perked up. The stony pallor dropped from their faces as if cracked loose by a sculptor's chisel. Smiles lit up the room. There was a smattering of polite applause.

Wally Boyajian smiled weakly. He had never been applauded for his technical knowledge before.

"Oh, when do you start, Wally?" asked a breathy-voiced redhead.

"Wally starts right now, don't you, son?" Tollini said, clapping Wally on the back so hard his horn-rimmed glasses nearly jumped off his narrow-bridged nose.

"That's right," gulped Wally, going with the flow. Going with the flow was very important at IDC, where it was said that when the CEO expired, the entire payroll was promoted and a global search for the perfect office boy was ?begun.

This time everyone stood up. The applause was unanimous.

They surged in his direction like groupies toward a rock star. Instantly Wally found himself besieged by white lab smocks.

"Oh, that's wonderful, Wally."

"You'll love it at IDC, Wally."

"Here's your LANSCII documentation, Wally."

Blinking, Wally accepted the heavy blue looseleaf notebook embossed with the IDC logo.

"LANSCII?" he said. "That's a language I never heard of"

"It's new," Antony Tollini was saying. "Pilot program stuff. You'll need it to debug our Boston client's system."

"I will?"

Suddenly the stony faces came back. Wounded eyes searched his perplexed face for signs of hope.

The redhead drew close to him, treating Wally Boyajian to a whiff of some indescribably alluring perfume. Since. he was allergic to perfumes, he sneezed.

"But," she said worriedly, "you are going to Boston, aren't you, Wally?"

Wally sneezed again.

"Oh, no!" a technician moaned. "He's sick!" The technician went three shades paler. "He can't go!"

Stricken looks replaced the worried ones.

"Of course he's going," shouted Antony Tollini, whipping a red travel-agency envelope from inside his coat and shoving it into the vent pocket of Wally's only suit. "We got him booked on a ten-o'clock flight."

"Boston?" Wally said, blowing into a hastily extracted handkerchief.

"First class."

"Oh, you'll love Boston, Wally," a chipper voice said.

"Yes, Boston is so . . . so historical."

" I . . ." Wally sputtered.

Antony Tollini said, "We're putting you in a first-class hotel. A limo will meet you at the airport. Naturally, since you won't have time to go home and pack, we've established a line of credit at the finest men's stores up there. And of course there's the three-hundred-dollar-a-day living allowance."

This reminded Wally Boyajian that the subject of his salary had never come up. In these lean times he was lucky to even have a job, and decided that with a three-hundred-dollar-a-day living allowance, they could keep the damn salary.

"Sounds good to me," said Wally, putting away his handkerchief.

The ring of white lab smocks burst into a ripple of delighted applause. Wally thought of how nice it would be to work here once the Boston job was done. These looked like a super bunch to work with, even if they did go through mood swings pretty fast.

"Okay," said Antony Tollini, "let's get you to the airport, Wally my boy."

The octopus arms urged him around and back out the door.

As he left the room, the calls of good luck rang in his ears.

"Oh, good-bye, Wally."

"Nice meeting you, Wally."

"Good luck in Boston, Wally."

"We can't wait to hear how it went, Wally."

They really cared about him, thought Wally Boyajian, twenty-two years old, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, never to reach twenty-three, never to see Philadelphia again.

As the company car whisked him away from IDC world headquarters in Mamaroneck, New York, Wally thought breathlessly that it was almost too good to be true. Techies like him dreamed of going to work at IDC the way schoolboys dreamed of pitching in the World Series.

With a lot of passion but minimal expectation.

The flight was short but very pleasant. Wally had never flown first class before. He was a teetotaler, so he passed up the complimentary drinks and settled for a bitter-tasting mineral water.

The stewardess was unfailingly polite but reserved as she served Wally. That was, until he blurted out that he had just joined IDC.

She practically sat in his lap the rest of the way.

Wally Boyajian decided that yessiree-bob, he was really, really going to enjoy working at IDC.

At Logan Airport there was an honest-to-goodness chauffeur waiting for him. The chauffeur didn't wear livery, only a neat dark sharkskin suit and a cap. He stood nearly seven feet tall and was built like a library bookshelf. Somehow, he seemed more like a chauffeur than if he had worn a uniform, Wally decided.

"You the guy from IDC?" the chauffeur had asked.

"Yes, sir," Wally had said, at a loss for how to address so imposing an individual. Since the Gulf War, he was very respectful of anyone in uniform.

"Come on, then. We're going for a ride."

The limousine was no stretch model, just a long black Cadillac with tinted back windows. The chauffeur opened the door and clicked it shut after Wally had slid in.

The car eased out of the congestion of the airport and into the tiled fluorescent paralysis of the Sumner Tunnel.

"Ever been in Boston before?" the chauffeur called back.

"No. I was reading about it on the plane, though. I hear this is where practically all the cranberries are grown."

"Yeah, there are lots of cranberry bogs out in the sticks."

"Maybe if I have the time, I might visit one. Cranberries remind me of the holidays coming up. This will be the first holiday season I've spent away from my folks. I miss them."

"Pal," said the gruff chauffeur, "if you can fix my boss's computer, I guarantee you all the cranberry bogs you wanna splash around in."

"It's a deal," said Wally Boyajian with the unbridled enthusiasm of a young man to whom all of life's rich possibilities beckoned.

After twenty minutes of stop-and-go riding, Wally noticed they were still in the white-tiled tunnel.

"Is Boston traffic always like this?" Wally asked at one point.

"Only on good days."

Thinking this was a local joke, Wally essayed a timid laugh. He swallowed it when the chauffeur failed to chime in.

Finally they emerged in a section of narrow, twisted streets where the brick apartments crowded one another with suffocating closeness. Almost no sun peeped down past the rooftops.

"By the way," Wally said suddenly, "this company you're taking me to-what is it's name?"

" F and L Importing," the chauffeur said in a bored voice.

"What's the F and L stand for?"

"Fuck 'em and leave 'em," replied the chauffuer. This time he did laugh.

Wally did not. He did not care for profanity or those who resorted to it.

" I never heard of it," Wally admitted.

"It's a wholly owned sub . . . sub . . ."

"Subsidiary?" Wally offered.

"Yeah. That. Of LCN."

"I don't think I've ever heard of LCN. What does it make?"

"Money," the chauffeur grunted. "It makes tons of money. "

Before Wally knew it, the car purred to a stop.

"We're here?" he said blankly, looking around. They had pulled into a tiny parking spot behind a dirty brick building.

"This is the place," said the chauffeur.

Wally waited for the door to be opened before stepping out. Almost immediately before him was a blank green-painted door. The air was thick with heavy food smells. Spicy, pleasant food smells. Wally assumed these enticing odors were wafting from the company cafeteria as the tall hulk of a chauffeur opened the blank green door for him.

Wally had only a momentary-impression of a cool woodpaneled dimness before he passed through the alcove to a nearly bare room where three very husky men in business suits stood around a tacky Formica-topped card table on which an ordinary IDC-brand personal computer stood like a blind oracle.

"A PC?" Wally said. "I expected a mainframe."

The three husky men in suits tensed.

"But you can fix it, right?"

"Probably," Wally said, laying down his custom leather tool case and testing the cable connections in back of the PC. "What's wrong with it?"

"The whatchcallit-hard-on disk-cracked up."

"Hard disk. Don't you people know that?"

"They're security," said the chauffeur from behind Wally's back.

The room was small and Wally said, "I could use a little elbow room here. Why don't you fellows take a coffee break?"

"We stay," said one of the husky men.

Wally shrugged. "Okay," he said good-naturedly. "Let's see what we got." Wally got down to work. He tried to initialize the system but it refused to boot on. He next inserted a diagnostic floppy. That got him into the system, but the hard disk remained inaccessible. It was going to be a long first day, he realized. But he was almost happy. He had a job. At IDC. Life was sweet.

By twelve o'clock he started to feel his stomach rumble. No wonder. The close air was redolent with the spicy tang of garlic and tomato sauce. He kept working until one o'clock, imagining that someone would tell him when it was time to break for lunch. Wally didn't want to give an important IDC client the impression that he was more concerned with his stomach than with their hardware problem.

Finally, at one-fifteen, he stood up, stretched his aching back, and said, " I think I need to have a bite to eat."

"Is it fixed?" asked the chauffeur.

"It's a long way from being fixed," Wally said.

"Then you get to eat when the box is fixed."

Wally thought of his three-hundred-dollar-a-day living allowance and the fine dinner it would buy and said, "Okay."

Maybe this was some kind of test, he thought. Getting into IDC entry-level was something. Being promoted to chief customer engineer on the first day was too good to risk rocking the boat.

It was well past eight P. m. when Wally wearily finished his last diagnostic test. He had accomplished nothing more than to activate every error message in the system.

Frowning, he removed his glasses, wiped them clean, and restored them to his thin face.

He looked up to the husky chauffeur and said, "I'm sorry. The data in this system is irrecoverable."

"Speak American," the chauffeur growled.

" I can't fix it. Sorry. I tried."

The chauffeur nodded and went to a door. He opened it a crack and called into the next room. "He said he tried."

"They all fuggin' say that."

"He said he was sorry."

"Tell him not as sorry as he's going to be."

Wally Boyajian felt his heart jump into his throat. The way the three husky security men were glowering at him, he was sure his failure to debug the hard disk meant his job.

Silence. The husky men surrounding him looked at Wally Boyajian as if he had made a flatulent noise. Then the chauffeur asked, "What do we do with him?"

The voice from the other room said, "Scroom."

"Before, he said he wanted to see the cranberry bogs," the chauffeur reported.

"Give him the fuggin' cook's tour," said the voice from the other room.

"Actually," Wally said when the chauffeur had closed the door and was walking in his direction, "they can wait. I just need a decent meal and to be taken to my hotel."

A hand grabbed him by the back of the neck. It was quite a big hand because the fingers and thumb actually met over his Adam's apple, restricting his ability to swallow.

Surrounded by three big F and L security men, Wally was hustled out the side door to the waiting limousine.

Again the chauffeur opened it for him. The trunk this time, not the rear door.

Wally would have protested being stuffed into the car's ample trunk, but the meaty hand kept its inexorable grip on his throat, preventing any outcry louder than a mew.

When the hand let go, Wally's leather tool case was flung in his face and the trunk lid slammed down on his head.

He woke up to the sound of traffic and the limo's quietly humming engine. It sounded like a lion purring.

This, thought Wally Boyajian with the wounded pride of a brand-new senior customer engineer, was not the way to treat an IDC employee.

He informed the F and L security men of this unimpeachable fact of business life after the limo coasted to a stop and the trunk lid was raised.

"Look," Wally had said in an agitated voice as he was bodily hauled out of the trunk and stood on his feet, "I happen to be a valued employee with International Data Corporation, and when I inform Mr. Tollini that you-mumph!"

"Have some cranberries," said the chauffeur, jamming a fistful into Wally Boyajian's open, complaining mouth.

Wally bit down. The cranberries were as hard as acorns. His teeth released bitter, acidic juices when they crushed the berries. The taste was not sweet. It was not sweet at all, Wally thought dispiritedly as they walked him, helpless and confused, over to the moon-washed expanse of an actual Massachusetts cranberry bog. It looked like a swamp into which a ton of reddish-brown Trix cereal had been dumped.

None of this, Wally thought, made him think of the holidays at all. In fact, it was inexcusably foreboding.

Crying, he began to spit the foul-tasting cranberries from his mouth.

Wally had almost cleared his mouth of the bitter crushed pulp when they made him kneel at the edge of the bog.

"You were supposed to fix it," a harsh voice said.

" I tried! I really did!" Wally had protested. "You need a media recovery specialist. I'm only a CE."

"You ever hear that saying: the customer is always right?"

"Yes. "

"Then you shoulda fixed the box. No questions asked."

Then they pushed his head into the cool foul water. The hand that had been around his throat did this. Wally knew this because he could feel the same strong thumb and fingers putting merciless pressure on his Adam's apple.

Wally did the natural thing. He held his breath. And while he was holding the precious air in his lungs, the others took hold of his ankles and wrists and slammed him spread-eagled on the edge of the bog, whose cold waters were getting into his nose.

He hoped it was a hazing. He prayed it was a hazing. But it did not feel like a hazing. It felt serious. It felt like he was being drowned for failing to fix a computer.

He held his breath because there was nothing else he could do. His limbs pinioned into helplessness, Wally simply waited for them to release him. He waited for the mean-spirited IDC hazing to be over with.

This did not happen.

By the time Wally Boyajian realized this would never happen, he was tasting the gritty brackish water of the cranberry bog in his gulping mouth. It infiltrated his nose, splashing down his sinuses and into his mouth. Then it was filling his lungs like triple pneumonia. The shock of the cold water made him pass out.

Fear of drowning brought him back around almost at once.

It had been too good to be true, Wally realized, sobbing inwardly. Now it was too unbelievable to comprehend. He was being coldly murdered.

In the last panicky moments of his too-short life, consciousness came and went as he made furious bubbles amid the hard bitter cranberries.

When the last bubble had burst, they consigned Wally Boyajian's limp body to the bog, where his decomposing remains would nourish the ripening cranberries and give flavor to the holidays, which he was destined never to experience again.

Chapter 2

His name was Remo and he was learning to fly.

"Let's see," Remo said, thinking back to what he knew about airplanes, which was precious little. "To make a plane go down, you gotta crack the flaps. No, that's not it. You lift the elevators. Right, the elevators."

Reaching down with a foot, Remo toed the elevators up just a hair.

The aircraft-it was a gull-winged scarlet-and-cream 1930's-era Barnes Stormer-responded instantly by going into a lopsided climb.

"Oops! That's not it," Remo muttered, removing his foot. He noticed that only one elevator actually went down.

The Stormer leveled off quickly as Remo tried to retain his balance against the fierce slipstream. When the plane was again on an even pitch, he tried again. This time he pressed down on both elevators with both heels.

The plane slid into a dive. The elevators fought him. Remo increased the pressure.

Up ahead in the Plexiglas cockpit, the pilot fought the controls. He was losing. He couldn't figure out why. Remo imagined it would come to him eventually.

Looking down, Remo realized he was no longer over the airport. He wanted to be over the airport. If he was going to land this thing over the objections of the pilot, he would need an airport underneath him, not a forest.

This part was easy. The plane was steered by the rudder, just like on a boat. Except that the rudder stuck up in the air and not down into the water. The rudder happened to stick up right in front of him, attached to the tail assembly, to which Remo clung with both hands. His feet were planted on the stabilizer.

He removed one hand from the tail fin and used it to nudge the rudder a hair.

The aircraft responded with a slow, ungainly turn. The distant airport came into view like an oasis of asphalt at the edge of the forest.

"I'm starting to get the hang of this," Remo said, pleased with himself. He would have been more pleased had he been able to catch up with the pilot before takeoff: Remo had missed the man at his house. The maid had cheerfully told Remo that her employer was on his way to do some sport flying. Remo had reached the airport just in time to have the taxiing 1930's-era aircraft pointed out to him.

Remo had sprinted after it without pausing to think his actions through. By the time he had caught up, it was lifting its tail preparatory to leaving the ground.

Impulsively Remo leapt aboard. It was an impulse he had begun to regret at twelve thousand feet.

In the cockpit, the pilot was now fighting the stubborn controls like a man possessed. He had no inkling that his tail empennage had acquired a human barnacle as he was taking off. Probably he would have dismissed the thought out of hand if he had.

The pilot, whose name Remo understood to be Digory Lippincott, had her throttled up to five hundred miles per hour, a speed at which no living thing could retain a precarious perch on the tail.

Yet, a mere nineteen feet behind him, Remo straddled the tail like a man wind-surfing. The right foot resting on the right stablizer and the left on the left. He had been holding on to the upright rudder post like a boy hitching a ride on a dolphin's back.

The slipstream plastered his gray chinos against his lean legs. His black T-shirt chattered like a madly wind-worried sail. His dark hair was combed back by the wind, exposing a forehead on which an upraised but colorless bump showed plainly.

Remo 's dark eyes were pinched to narrow slits against the onrushing wind. Under the high cheekbones that dominated his strong angular face, his cruel mouth was closed.

He was actually enjoying this. The plane was doing whatever he wanted.

"Look, Ma, I'm flying!" he shouted.

His shout carried right through the Plexiglas of the pilot's cockpit. The pilot look around. His mean eyes became saucers.

Remo saluted him with a friendly little wave.

Furiously the pilot flung back the sliding cockpit.

"You crazy guy! What're you doing on my plane!"

"Trying to land it," Remo called back over the rushing air.

"Is this a hijacking?"

"Nah. You're my assignment."

"I'm your what?"

"Assignment. I gotta kill you."

"By crashing us both?" the pilot sputtered.

"Not if I can help it," Remo said sincerely. "Tell you what. You land this thing yourself and I'll do you on the ground. No muss. No fuss. How's that sound?"

"Like a bad deal."

"Suit yourself;" said Remo, bringing the weight of his heels down on both cherry-red elevators.

The aircraft went into a dive. Frantically the pilot fought the bucking controls, attempting to level off:

Remo let him think he was succeeding. After the elevators had righted themselves, he nudged one up with the toe of an Italian loafer.

Instead of fighting, the pilot let the Stormer spiral upward. Its nose strained toward the clear blue bowl of the Connecticut sky.

A notch puckered between Remo's dark eyes. He wondered what the Stormer's ceiling was and if there would be enough air for him to breathe up there.

Remo never found out because the engine began to sputter. It missed a few times, and as gravity drained the last of the aviation fuel from the carburetor, the single propeller just stopped dead.

Like a nose-heavy dart, the Stormer dropped. Its tail, Remo still clinging to it, flipped up like a diving salmon. The plane had gone into what aviators call a tail spin.

Below, the forest turned as if on a giant CD player.

Remo wondered if the pilot was trying to shake him or commit suicide. He asked.

"You trying to crash this thing?" Remo called.

"You figure it out."

The ground was coming up so fast Remo didn't think he had that kind of time. He retained his grip, knowing the centrifugal force of the spin would hold him in place.

He wasn't sure what would happen if the plane stopped spinning. His understanding of his predicament was purely instinctual, not cognitive. That was Sinanju for you. Your body learned but your brain sometimes didn't have a clue.

While Remo was listening to his body, the engine sputtered, coughed an oily ball of exhaust, and roared back to life.

With a wiggle of ailerons, the Stormer came level.

The pilot pushed back the cockpit and said, "Thought we were going to crash, didn't you?"

"Something like that," Remo growled.

"It's an old trick. When you stand her on her tail, the engine stalls out. If you try to restart it yourself, you crash. Have to let gravity do the work."

"Now I know," Remo muttered under his breath.

"If you don't stop screwing around with my aerodynamics, I can do it again."

"No, you won't."

"What's going to stop me? You're way back there."

Remo reached forward, took hold of the rotating beacon bubble mounted atop the rudder post, and exerted the same kind of twisting pressure he would on a stuck mayonnaisejar lid.

The bubble light assembly groaned and came loose, trailing wires.

Remo gave it a toss. It struck the spinning disk of the propeller. Pieces of the light flew in all directions. One struck the pilot in the face.

"My eyes!" he cried, clutching his face.

"My ass," said Remo, who didn't like to be taunted on the job. As the heir to the five-thousand-year-old House of Sinanju and the next in line to be Master, Remo expected respect. Even from his intended victims.

The pilot was screaming, " I can't see! I can't see!"

"Tell that to your victims," Remo yelled back.

"What victims?"

"The ones you robbed blind when you ran that bank you used to own into the ground."

"That wasn't my fault!"

"My boss says it was."

"He's lying! I'm a sportsman."

"You're a cheap crook who ripped off your despositors. Except one of the depositors happened to be my boss. And he has ways of dealing with financial losses undreamed of by the FDIC."

" I can't see to fly the plane!"

"That's okay," Remo said, pushing down on the right elevator with one foot and lifting the left with the other. "You're about to suffer an abrupt withdrawal from life."

The Barnes Stormer turned around in the air. The pilot, still pawing at his eyes, simply dropped out of the open cockpit, his seat-belt harness ripping free of its anchorage.

"Yaaahh!" he said when he took his eyes from his bleeding face. He still couldn't see, but the absence of the cockpit was hard to miss, as was the precipitous way in which he dropped.

"That," Remo said, "is putting gravity to good use."

The pilot hit a fir tree, impaling himself on his crotch like an ornamental Christmas-tree angel.

Remo righted the Stormer. It responded to his measured foot pressure as if he had been flying all his life.

Now all he had to do was figure out a way to land the aircraft in one piece. Without access to the ailerons and flaps. He knew the flaps functioned as brakes. He had sat over the wing of enough commercial jetliners to grasp that much.

By playing with the rudder and elevators, Remo managed to get the nose of the plane oriented toward the airport. He kept it on course with the occasional nudge and kick.

The forest rolled under him like a marching porcupine. It would not be a good place to ditch, if the pilot's fate was any indication.

When he could see the color of the windsock over the airport operations shack, Remo began his descent.

It was then and only then that he realized he would have to cut the engine if he wanted to survive the landing.

Remo looked around. Not much to work with now that he had used the beacon light, he realized glumly.

He decided that inasmuch as he was nicely on course, he didn't really need the rudder anymore. Not all of it, anyway.

Remo released one hand from the tail fin and used it to chop a piece off the aluminum rudder. Slipstream began to yank it away, but Remo snagged it just in time.

Aiming it like a Frisbee, Remo let fly.

The rudder segment flew true. It sheared off the propeller blades as if they were toothpicks. Remo ducked a gleaming needle of prop shard that skimmed by his head.

There was a lot more to flying, he realized, than just knowing how to work the control, surfaces. A person could get hurt.

Without a propeller, the Stormer naturally lost airspeed. Unfortunately it also began to vibrate rather alarmingly.

Remo was not alarmed. He figured that anything that slowed the headlong flight of the disabled craft could only work in his favor, since he would be attempting to land the aircraft without benefit of landing gear.

Remo, nudging what was left of the rudder, lined up on the black and yellow transverse lines at the near end of the runway. He noticed too late that the arrows were pointing toward him, rather than away. He hoped that didn't mean what he thought it meant.

As it turned out, it did.

And at the far end of the runway, a number of candycolored light planes were revving up for takeoff. Their glittering propellers were pointed in his direction like voracious buzz saws.

"Too late now," Remo muttered. "I'm committed."

He sent the plane into the final leg of its descent. The transverse lines rushed up to meet him like a shark's toothsome mouth.

They flicked by with the fleeting flash of a semaphore signal. And then the hot black asphalt was like a high-speed lava flow.

Remo wrestled to keep the vibrating aircraft level. He did rather well, losing only one wing. The right.

Hissing and sputtering sparks, the undercarriage began to scream in response to contact with the ground. It slewed sideways. The other wing caught and Remo experienced a momentary disorientation not unlike the split second in a roller-coaster ride before everyone screams.

His body told him this would be the perfect time to let go, and so he did.

The Stormer nosed over, which meant that it stubbed its snout and threw its tail up like a bucking stallion.

The plane landed on its back. Pitched into the air, Remo landed on its paint-scraped undercarriage, threw out his arms like a trapeze artist, and said, "Ta-dah!"

The first of several light planes roared only yards over his head. Remo waved them off. He understood how it was to be a pilot now. There was nothing on earth like it.

Next time, he promised himself as he stepped off the crippled plane, he would try soloing the old-fashioned way. From the cockpit.

At a pay phone by the airport restaurant, Remo dialed the code number and put a finger in his free ear to keep out the wail of the crash trucks. He wondered how the FAA would explain finding the plane and its pilot separated by five miles of terrain.

He stopped worrying when a testy voice answered.

"Yes?" it snapped.

"Sorry to interrupt jeopardy," said Remo dryly, "but I'm reporting in as requested."

"I'm sorry, Remo. I didn't mean-"

Suddenly there was another voice on the line, a cracked and aged voice.

"Is that Remo? Let me speak to him at once."

"I-"Smith began.

Remo had a momentary impression of the phone being yanked out of the bloodless hands of Harold W. Smith, his superior.

"Remo," said the aged voice urgently, "you must come right away. All is lost."

"What?"

The phone went abruptly dead.

"What the hell?" Remo muttered, batting the switch-hook bar and redialing.

For the first time in memory, the communications line to Folcroft did not ring. Thinking he had misdialed-which was possible even though the code number had been simplified to a series of ones-Remo tried again. The number did not answer.

Remo dug back into the recesses of his memory for the backup number. He thought there was a five in it. Maybe two.

He tried dialing all fives. That got him a nonworking-number message from AT&T.

"Damn(" Remo said. "I could be here all day trying to remember that freaking number("

Remo dashed to the operations shack.

"I need a pilot willing to fly me to Rye, New York," he announced.

No one batted an eye.

"Money is no object," Remo said, digging out his wallet.

Still no reply. A reedy man expectorated into the sand of a standing ashtray.

Remo's eyes narrowed.

"Won't anyone help a marine just back from the Gulf?" he wondered aloud.

A small riot broke out as the lounging pleasure pilots fought one another over the privilege of ferrying the heroic marine just back from the Gulf to his destination.

Remo waded in and shattered a lifted chair before it was employed to crown a man. Using just the flats of his hands, Remo immobilized as many as he could without inflicting serious injury.

When he had created a pile of squirming men on the tiled floor, Remo picked through them as if through a rag pile, looking for any pilot who seemed reasonably airworthy.

Remo dragged out a likely candidate.

"I choose you."

"Thanks, mister, but I don't own a plane."

"Then why the hell were you fighting?"

"I got carried away with patriotic fervor."

"There's an airport at Westchester," the reedy man piped up from under a tangle of limbs. "That good enough for you?"

"It'll do," Remo said, extricating him from the pile. 'Let's go...

The aircraft was a two-place silver-and-blue monoplane. Remo had to listen to the pilot natter on and on about how this was a home-built job, and once he finished building his wet wing, she'd be as sweet a thing as ever took to the skies.

Remo, who didn't know a wet wing from a wet bar, felt guilty about lying, but only a little. He had actually recently returned from the Gulf, and he had been a marine. Back in Vietnam.

"You know," the pilot was saying as the other aircraft pulled off to the side of the runway to let the plane carrying the war hero go first, "you look familiar to me. Ill bet I caught you on one of those TV news spots, saying hello to the folks back home."

"Yep, that was me," Remo said absently. He wondered why the pilot thought he recognized him.

"You ever think about flying yourself?" the pilot asked after they climbed up over the airport.

Remo looked down at the tangled remains of the vintage Barnes Stormer, now surrounded by crash trucks and fire engines.

"Not in the last half-hour," he said. His tone was worried. He hoped there was nothing wrong Upstairs.

But most of all, he hoped Chiun was all right.

"You fly, then?" asked the pilot.

"I had a plane but it crashed my first time up. How do you think I got this bump?" added Remo, who in fact had no idea how he'd acquired the lump.

Chapter 3

Remo Williams didn't bother counting out the pilot's money. He just extracted cab fare and handed the man his entire wallet, including ID cards and phony family pictures.

"Hey, don't you want-?"

"Keep it as a war souvenir," Remo said, jumping from the plane. He collared a taxi driver who was sitting in his cab sipping black coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

"Folcroft Sanitarium," Remo called from the back seat.

As if a spring had popped from the cushion, the driver jumped straight up in his seat. His head banged the cab roof and his coffee scalded his lap.

"Hey, what the "

"I'm in a rush," Remo said, throwing money into the front seat. "Take me there, and no lip. I'm a famous war hero. Only today I brought down a Barnes Stormer flown by a fiscal terrorist."

The driver turned around in his seat and started to protest.

He hadn't heard the cab door open or close and had no inkling of how the strange guy in the T-shirt appeared in his back seat. But the dark eyes that looked back at him were so cold and deadly that the driver swallowed his protests.

He peeled out of the cab stand, asking, "Folcroft, where is that exactly?"

Folcroft Sanitarium was exactly situated on the portion of Rye, New York, that overlooked Long Island Sound. It was nestled in a rustic section of the shoreline like a sore tooth in clover.

"Don't drive up to the gate," Remo warned as they drew near. "And kill the engine."

The driver obediently killed the engine, coasting to a stop in a copse of poplars by the side of an unmarked road. He glanced at his fare in the rearview mirror, thinking that the guy looked more like a Vietnam vet than he did a Gulf War hero. He had those thousand-yard-stare kind of eyes. Cold.

"I'll get out here," Remo said quietly, shoving a fifty-dollar bill through the partition slot. "You never brought me here. You never even saw me."

"Tell that to my scalded balls," the cabby muttered.

But he made no other protest as he watched the tall, skinny man in the T-shirt ease soundlessly into the woods. He watched him for several seconds. It was broad daylight, the woods not dark. Just kind of dim, the way thick woods are even at noon under a heavy canopy of foliage.

The man simply disappeared after slipping behind a tree. The driver dawdled ten minutes, and eventually lost interest.

By the time the taxi driver had gotten his cab turned around, Remo Williams was slipping over the perimeter fence surrounding Folcroft Sanitarium, ostensibly a private hospital but in fact the cover for the organization that employed Remo in the service of America.

Breaching Folcroft's gate was no feat, even for someone without Sinanju training. It was simply a matter of slipping up to an unguarded spot and scaling the stone fence. Pausing momentarily, Remo dropped soundlessly to the other side.

Although Folcroft concealed one of America's deepest deep-cover installations, high-profile security-not to mention out-of-the-ordinary secret surveillance equipment was not present. The very existence of such equipment would have signaled that Folcroft was more than it seemed. And attracted attention.

Attention was the last thing that the director of CURE-the supersecret organization that Folcroft harbored-wanted.

CURE had been set up in the early sixties. A United States President, destined never to complete his term of office, conceived it after he had come to the reluctant realization that his country faced a period of lawlessness and anarchy unequaled in its history.

The President concluded that the sole obstacle to righting the ship of state was its very mainsail. The Constitution. He couldn't repeal it, so he created CURE to work around it. Quietly. Secretly. Deniably.

One man ran CURE. A former CIA analyst named Harold W. Smith. Responsible only to the President, he became the rudder of America, steering the ship of state through political shoals by rooting out crime and corruption and extinguishing them through a variety of subtle methods. At first, by simply alerting traditional law-enforcement agencies and leaving matters in their hands.

But as the years went on, it became obvious that the ship of state needed a secret weapon more powerful than the bank of computers Smith employed to track illicit activity.

And so Remo Williams was recruited to be its enforcement arm.

Remo wasn't thinking of that now as he ghosted around the brick building that was Folcroft Sanitarium. He was working his way down to the apron of grass that sloped gently to the Sound. It was a vista he had seen many times from the window of Harold Smith's office, an office he was about to enter in an unusual way.

Remo stopped in the lee of a ramshackle wharf. He lifted his dark-brown eyes to the building's brick facade, trying to recall which one looked in on Smith's office.

A frown touched his face when he picked it out. The window was easy to spot. It was completely opaque, like a dull mirror. For security reasons it was paned with two-way glass. Not even Remo could see into it.

"Damn Smith and his dippy security," Remo grumbled.

Remo floated up to the building anyway. The facade was brick, which made it easy to scale. Had it been smooth concrete, he could have scaled it just as easily.

Remo went up like a spider and paused at the opaque glass. He set an ear to the pane.

Voices came from within. Pitched low, but charged with urgent emotion.

"Under no circumstances will I allow this!"

Chiun's squeaky voice.

"I must insist."

Smith's lemon-bitter voice. He continued.

"This is Remo's decision, Master Chiun. It will do no good for us to argue it to death. Let Remo decide."

"I will not be ignored. I know how it is with you whites. You have no respect for age or wisdom, both of which I embody in full measure. I will be heard!"

Remo heard Smith's dry, rattly sigh, and expelled one of his own. If they were still arguing like this, there was no danger.

He removed his ear from the glass and knocked twice to get their attention.

He received an instant response.

"Aaiiee!" Chiun.

"My God, Remo!" Smith, of course.

Even though he couldn't penetrate the blank glass, Remo knew they could see him plainly. And he knew he wouldn't have long to wait for a reaction.

The sound was a shriek, like a diamond cutter scoring glass at high speed. It started above his head and screeched around the edges. Remo watched a thin silvery line trace a square.

It is open," Chinn called.

Obligingly Remo gave the pane the heel of his hand. The glass popped out of its frame in one piece.

He climbed in as if stepping through an ordinary doorway.

"Hiya, Smitty." This to the tall, gangling man who had turned in his chair not two feet in front of Remo. ,He jumped to his feet.

"Remo! What is the meaning of this!" he demanded.

Smith's distended jaw threatened the precise knot of his Dartmouth tie. Behind rimless glasses his gray eyes were aghast. His face was the hue of trout skin. This was normal. Smith always looked ashen and unhealthy. .

"You tell me," Remo said, nodding to Chiun, Reigning Master of Sinanju.

Only five feet tall, and looking like the Korean edition of Methuselah, Chiun stood beside Smith's desk holding the large heavy plate glass in his frail arms as if it were mere cellophane. He wore an emerald-and-gold kimono that might have been sewn from a pile of discarded Chinese dragon costumes. ...

All rights belong to the author: Warren Murphy, Richard Sapir.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.