Warren Murphy: The End of the Beginning

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Warren Murphy The End of the Beginning
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    The End of the Beginning
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HOW DOES A BEAT COP BECOME AMERICA'S SECRET WEAPON AGAINST EVIL? It isn't easy. Especially after being nearly fried in the electric chair, plunged into a secret crime-fighting organization called CURE, then handed over to a Korean killing machine called Chiun, the reigning master of Sinanju. But every prophecy -- even one that foretells Remo Williams's future with the ancient house of assassins -- has a downside, and for Chiun, it's an explosive family secret so devastating, it could spell doom for the House of Sinanju. Someone's got a plan for vengeance that's a real doozy and is selling their services to the mob-racking up the body count with capo and congressmen alike. Ready or not, Remo's got his first assignment. With Chiun along to make sure he doesn't screw up, Remo's about to stop an enemy from putting Congress out of session. Permanently.

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Destroyer 128: The End of the Beginning

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

PROLOGUE

"He does not belong. No matter what lies he tells you."

Ancient fury sparked in the depths of his mother's almond-shaped eyes. Beyond her crooked shape, orange flames crackled in the stone fireplace.

The small house was warm through no effort of those who lived there. The same was true for all the homes in the village, for as far back as anyone could remember.

The firewood was always there in the warm house with the solid roof that kept out the driving spring rain and winter wind, all because of him. The Impostor.

Those who thanked him didn't know the truth. He was a fraud masquerading as their protector. There were no thanks for the Impostor in this house. So what if he kept fires burning and bellies full? In this tiny house, the hatred was worse than the cold. Ancient malice gnawed bellies far worse than any hunger pangs.

"Learn well what he teaches you," his mother said to the boy. "But know that he does not belong. He is a fraud, as was his father before him, all down the line to the first."

The boy had learned early in life that members of his family alone were not frauds. The only exception was his own father. A soft-spoken man, the husband of his mother was not blood of their blood. Worse, he was brother to the tyrant who fed the village. The boy's mother had married the fool in order to get close to him. To her brother-in-law, the Impostor.

A moan came from the corner of the room.

The boy's grandfather. A portly shaman, he sat on a stool, wrinkled eyelids closed tight. The old man spent most days sitting in the corner of the main room. The boy's mother said the old man could speak with the dead. His powers went beyond even that.

Near the shaman, a young woman was preparing the evening meal in a cast-iron pot.

The shaman's other daughter was called Sonmi. Sister to the boy's hectoring mother, she spent her days studying the black arts at the feet of her father. The food the boy's aunt was cooking-like everything else in the village-had been paid for by the Impostor.

Although all this was about to end. There was no more work.

Gone were the days of pharaohs and kings. The world was ruled by presidents and dictators, locked in the bloodless, twilight combat of the modern age.

Even war was different. At the moment, there was one being fought to the south. At night the villagers would climb to their roofs to watch the explosions of artillery shells. Like all the other wars of the twentieth century, it was all about machines and guns and men on foot advancing and retreating until one side thought it had captured a prize. The artistry of assassination was lost. The world was big and clumsy and dismissive of the old ways.

Because the rules had changed, the Impostor couldn't find work. Who needed a scalpel when he could use a club? Why remove a king's head when a single bomb could obliterate his entire kingdom? The work had gone away, and the desolate shadow of death had descended over the small village.

If the food they ate and the wood they used to cook it came courtesy the Impostor, it would not be so for much longer. When the money he had earned was gone, he would have to draw on reserves bequeathed to the village from those who came before. And one day it, too, would all be gone.

The Impostor's only hope-the only hope for the future of the village-was the young boy sitting on this dirty floor, bathed in the dancing fires of hate carefully stoked and tended by his bitter mother.

"He thinks you will save his family," his mother said as the warm fires burned and the wispy smoke rose in ghostly black threads up the chimney. Drawing up a deep ball of phlegm, she spit on the stone floor. "That is all his family is worth. You are the hope of our future, not his. Bring him to ruin. Do it for your family. Such has it been foreseen, such it will be. It is our destiny, and yours."

And the fire of pure evil from his mother's eyes reflected full in the young boy's hazel eyes.

Chapter 1

His name was Chiun and he was the Master of Sinanju and he was leaving.

Although it was late spring, winter refused to release its grip on the Korean peninsula. Despite the cold morning, the village of Sinanju was alive with celebration. There was rice wine and cakes, cured fish and dried fruit. There was singing and dancers and the laughter of children. All taking place under a sky of perfect white-streaked blue.

Such it was when a Master left. Such had it always been. Tributes and laudations came from those whose needs were sustained by the Master's toil.

The tiny fishing village of Sinanju in North Korea had seen many such celebrations. For five thousand years it had been home to the most feared assassins in human history. The discipline that had risen from the rocks near the shore of the West Korean Bay was the source of all the lesser martial arts. They were but rays, pale reflections of the blinding glory of the sun that was the discipline known as Sinanju.

"Hail, Master of Sinanju, who sustains the village and keeps the code faithfully," called the villagers as Chiun passed by. "Our hearts cry with joy and pain at your departure. Joy that you undertake this journey for the sake of we, the unworthy beneficiaries of your generosity. And pain that your toils take your beauteous aspect from our midst. May the spirits of your ancestors journey safe with you who graciously throttles the universe."

As Master of the village, Chiun accepted the words with a stoic face. The praises continued to fall on his proudly erect back as he passed through the crowd.

Of course he knew the hymns of honor that trailed him were hollow. There was more beneath the smiling faces. Here the hint of a frown, there the beginnings of a scowl. Facial muscles ached from frozen smiles. They lied to him now because none dared express his true feelings.

It had always been this way. The people of Sinanju always walked uneasily when the Master was in residence. Although tradition dictated that every Master take the pledge not to raise a hand against a member of the village, one never knew. Especially in these days of uncertainty. This Master who walked among them would be the last. All gathered there this day knew it was so.

Chiun. That was all he would ever be. Not Chiun the Great or even Chiun the Lesser, for honorifics like "great" or "lesser" were bestowed only on those who did not fail. And this Chiun-Who-Would-Have-No-Title had failed like no other Master before him.

"Cursed are we to live in this time, with this Master who has failed us," the women said in hushed voices when they thought the failed Master Chiun was out of earshot.

"Silence," the fearful men insisted. They cowered at the edge of the crowd, behind the women and children. "Yes, he has failed. But even in failure he is strong."

"Not strong enough to find a suitable heir. Not strong enough to protect the village of his ancestors. His strength has waned. The time of the great Masters of Sinanju is over."

Although whispered, their words still carried. Chiun did not let them know he could hear every barbed word.

Such it was for a Master of Sinanju. The ability to detect a lone truthful whisper in a chorus of joyful lies was but a single skill in the arsenal of Sinanju.

He left the crowd to their fraudulent celebration. He spurned the main road from the village, taking the path that led into the rocky hills above the shore. Chiun skittered along the treacherous path in seeming defiance of the force of gravity. His surefootedness would have seemed miraculous to many, given his apparent age.

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