Warren Murphy: A Pound of Prevention

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  • Название:
    A Pound of Prevention
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    Детективная фантастика / на английском языке
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    Английский
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IT AIN'T CLUB MED... Something funny is going on in the East African nation of Luzuland...and it's more than just the usual civil unrest or military coup.  Organized crime lords are converging for what looks like an underworld summit - and Dr. Harold Smith dispatches Remo for a look-see and some quiet, effective neutralization. But Remo has his own problems, and he's just not in the mood to be killing his way up chain of command in East Africa.  Chiun has gone AWOL, fulfilling some ancient Sinanju contract and busily storming the Luzu presidential palace with a handful of saber-wielding warriors. And unless Chiun can beat some sense into his pupil's skull, Remo's bent on nuking an entire mob-infested Third World city to deliver a pound - make that a megaton - of prevention guaranteed to wipe out a generation of predators...and a few million innocent souls.

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Destroyer 121: A Pound of Prevention

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

PROLOGUE

In the glory days of the great Luzu Empire, on the fringes of what would one day become East Africa, before the final encroachment of Europeans, which would change the face of the continent for centuries to come, before the bloody Boer Wars and the countless deaths that they would bring, the people of the tribe of the mighty Luzu chief Kwaanga met in ceremony on the shores of the great azure sea.

The day was warm, not hot, the sky as clear as glass and as blue as the smooth waters of the sea that stretched out boldly to the horizon. At some distant point, sea snatched sky from the heavens and clutched it firmly to its undulating bosom.

In the center of the small bay--barely an inleta sleek, strange ship from some distant land lay at anchor. The wooden vessel bobbed lazily on the gentle waves that rolled toward the sandy yellow shore, where they became thin froth.

Out of respect for their parting guest, the females of the Luzu tribe covered their breasts with silks from far-off lands where dwelled men with slits for eyes and skin the hue of a lion's belly. The Orient. The place from where their honored guest had come. The place to which he would now go, never to return to the land of the Luzu.

The elders of Luzuland were dressed in flowing caftans and dashikis, the wealth of the empire reflected in their raiments. The young males were smeared in green and red paint and carried finely crafted metal-tipped spears-an honor guard for the man who had served them all so well for so long.

The recent news of the revered one's departure had been a surprise to all. Or perhaps not all. Surely great Chief Kwaanga had known. It was he who had summoned the mysterious warrior from his faraway land to aid the Luzu. They had not been told because, as mere subjects, it was not their place to know. But Kwaanga had to have long known that the thin man with hands and feet as swift as an arrow in flight would this day take his leave of the Luzu.

The people had turned out at dawn. Hurrying to prepare for the ceremony, they were ready by midday. Just in time.

When the white-hot sun reached its highest point in the heavens, the great men arrived.

Chief Kwaanga strode in front, a powerful man with a broad, smiling face and flowing, colorful robes. This day, Kwaanga did not smile. Behind their chief, astride a huge black pony, rode the protector of the Luzu people.

The chief's horse had once belonged to the Spanish. It was a demonstration of both gratitude and humility that the chief should lead his guest like a common Luzu.

A hush fell over the people-ten thousand strong-gathered at the foamy shore.

The man atop the horse wore a ceremonial robe of a green deeper and more vibrant than anything the Luzu had ever seen. Upon his head bobbed an awkward hat of thin rice paper, stained black. The hat was too small for his head and seemed ready to blow off from the slightest breeze.

He was known as Nuk, the Master of Sinanju. He who had taken as seed a small band of warrior peasants and helped them to grow into a mighty empire.

Nuk did not meet the eyes of the crowd. As his pony walked closer to shore, he stared over the heads of the people. He looked beyond the land, beyond even the waiting ship in the harbor. He was gazing at a point where sky met sea, to distances the Luzu people could not perceive and to depths none but he could fathom.

A warm breeze came across the ocean, pushing landward. It disturbed silken robes and blew a cloud of fine sand inland. Passing through the multitude, the Master of Sinanju and Chief Kwaanga paid the wind no heed.

Where the men walked, the Luzu people parted. Silently, proud black features glistening in the merciless African sun, the chief led the horse through the throng. At the shore, he stopped.

A small rowboat listed on the sand of the beach. Two anxious sailors stood near it.

A nation strong, the Luzu people crowded on beach and bluff.

Near the boat, Master Nuk slipped from the pony's bare back, his wooden sandals failing to disturb even a single grain of sand.

The Master of Sinanju was tall but thin, his black hair lately touched with streaks of coarse gray. When Nuk turned to address the chief of the Luzu, his voice was loud enough for all to hear. He spoke in the language of their fathers.

"Sinanju would take its leave of you, fearless Chief Kwaanga of the Luzu," the Master of Sinanju intoned.

Before the lean man, whose face was the color of sand in shade, Chief Kwaanga drew himself up to his full regal height. The top of his head came only to the bridge of the Master of Sinanju's nose.

"I would grant you your leave, Great Master Nuk, he who graciously throttles the universe, from the fearsome House of Sinanju."

A nod that was not quite a bow passed between the two men. Afterward, Master Nuk looked out at the gleaming black faces of the Luzu nation. Though his words were directed at their leader, they were intended for his tribe.

"You are a wise and powerful ruler, O Kwaanga. Your people are brave and strong, your diamonds pure. You give your nation both physical strength and strength of character. The leader serves the nation and the nation, the leader. And Sinanju is honored to have served both." There was a hint of pride and sadness in the Master's hazel eyes. "Remember you this-though I now depart this land, if ever there comes a time when your people are in need of the services of Sinanju, you need but summon us. This is the pledge of Nuk, current Master of Sinanju, to you, Kwaanga of KwaLuzu."

And from his robes, the Master of Sinanju produced a small ceremonial dagger. Its cudgel was of ivory, its blade the purest gold. It had been given to the Master by Chief Kwaanga. Master Nuk returned the small knife to the Luzu leader.

Accepting the blade, Chief Kwaanga found that a new symbol had been carved into the handle of the knife. It was a simple trapezoid bisected with a vertical slash. The symbol of the House of Sinanju.

"This is a sign of amity between our peoples," Nuk proclaimed. "Keep it always close."

With that, the Master of Sinanju lifted the skirts of his robes and climbed into the waiting wooden rowboat.

The two nervous sailors in attendance had eyes round like a Luzu, but their skin was neither that of the Luzu nor of the departing Master. They had skin as white as the clouds above Kilimanjaro and spoke in a tongue foreign to native ears. Once the Master was seated in the boat, green skirts arranged around his knees, the sailors pushed the tiny vessel into the gentle surf. Climbing aboard themselves, they began rowing quickly toward their waiting ship.

And as Master Nuk left that shore for the last time, a soft sound rose up from the gathered Luzu nation. The cheers grew in size and strength until the very air shrieked with joy. As the rowboat passed the anchor of the moored ship, great raucous ululations carried over the bay.

The Master of Sinanju did not look back as he scurried aboard the big vessel.

Chief Kwaanga did not see the Master clamber into the boat, nor did he wait with his cheering people as the ship put to sea. As soon as Master Nuk had climbed into the rowboat, the chief had mounted his own black horse. As his people shouted their joy and gratitude, he rode off alone. Away from the sea. Back to the seat of his empire.

The chief was quietly concerned. In the hollow place where dwelled his spirit, he wondered if the words spoken this day were merely for ceremony. If there ever came a time that the Luzu were in need of the Master of Sinanju, would the head of the ancient House of assassins truly take heed?

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