Warren Murphy: The Last Monarch

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    The Last Monarch
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CURED Thank's to Chiun's "emptying basin" technique, past U.S. presidents remember nothing about CURE, America's most secret defense organization. Now a former head of state believed to have lost his mind suddenly finds it - and calls Dr.Harold Smith to say hi. But before Remo and Chiun can redo their amnesia trick, the old guy is kidnapped by bumbling eco-terrorists eager to sell him to a desert despot with a grudge. As the ex-Mr.President doggedly tries to outwit his captors and single-handedly save the Middle East from extinction, Remo and Chiun pick up the trail, and a worried Dr.Smith fingers his cyanide pill, convinced that this is the end. For Remo, it will be...unless Chiun drops the altitude he's adopted over a certain fiasco involving his Hollywood screenplay, and the world's most deadly assassin's end up killing each other before they can save anyone else.

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Destroyer 120: The Last Monarch

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

It would be the his last photo op.

His wife had objected. Insisted that it would never happen as long as there was breath in her body. Her unyielding passion on the subject would have surprised many of her harshest critics. Even a few of their oldest friends would have been stunned by her determination that the photo op not take place. "It's not so bad," one had ventured. He had been a close family friend since the California days. His once sharp face now sagged with age. "It might even be good for him to get out."

"No," she replied with icy firmness. Sitting across from him in the sunroom, she sipped tea from a China cup.

"The kids think it's a good idea," he advised.

She laughed at this. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

He stiffened, embarrassed at her faintly bitter tone.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought that was all settled."

"It is." She sighed, setting cup to saucer with a tiny click. "It's just that they don't think things through very clearly. Everyone knows that."

He tried one last tack. "Forget about the kids, then. Think about the country. Things have gotten bad in the past ten years. America needs to have its hope restored. And people love him."

At this, the famous ice queen's veneer cracked ever so slightly. Her eyes began to well up as she fought back the memories. All the memories-for years they had been happy. Now they were bitter, tinged with great sorrow.

She straightened her back, seemingly embarrassed by her inability to control her emotions.

"No, Cap;" she replied, a steely resolve in her voice. "America or not, he's my husband, and I won't let him be used like some prop."

That was that. Or so she thought.

A few days after she'd spoken what she thought to be the final word on the subject, she flew back east for a weekend antidrug fund-raiser. Although she was reluctant to leave his side-especially now-the doctors insisted he was fine. At this point, there were no sudden changes expected in his condition. Besides, the fight against drugs had always been a pet project of hers.

Wifely concerns heavy on her mind, she left his side.

Her plane was barely taxiing down the runway before they came to collect him.

It was his daughter who betrayed him. The Goneril to his Lear. Now in her forties, she had been young when he was climbing the ladder to his great perch.

The girl had always been full of hate for her famous parents. This latest rebellion was more an act of revenge against the both of them than anything else.

Her mother was airborne-on her way to Washington. Her father was helpless to stop her. Perfect timing.

"Cowboy boots, denim shirt, jeans," she barked to the coterie of men who trailed her into her father's room. They began to dutifully raid closets and bureaus.

Clothes were tossed onto the quilt.

Through it all, her father sat there, oblivious. Perhaps a puzzled eyebrow arched as the men worked quickly. At one time the most famous face in the world, reduced now to a confused knot of sadly familiar wrinkles.

He did nothing to stop them as the strangers began to strip him of his nightclothes.

FORTY MINUTES LATER, they were on the range. Distant mountains undulated in blue-violet waves from the ruler-flat plain. Above, wisps of clouds reflected shades of orange and red from the fire of the setting sun.

The Jeep they were in stopped beside an empty horse trailer. Father and daughter got out.

Photographers were waiting. Two wranglers stood next to the trailer, one holding the reins of a big yellow palomino. The animal snorted nervously at the crowd.

The crush of people encircled them immediately. Her father was typically disoriented.

He had been enjoying the ride, the warm evening air sparking something in the hazy cloud that was his mind. But with the throng of people came confusion, almost a sense of fear.

Makeup was quickly applied.

"We're losing the light," a photographer complained tightly.

"Get him on it," another urged. He was clucking impatiently as he checked his light meter.

The old man's arms were grabbed. He didn't even try to fight them as they pushed and pulled him up on the horse.

It was almost a familiar sensation. This had been his experience with many things the past few years. He could almost feel, almost remember....

Almost, almost, almost.

He was lost in a sea of almosts. With nothing to hold on to. Nothing to keep his sanity afloat.

He had drowned long ago. Died. His mind was gone. It was only a matter of time before his body caught up.

He was in a familiar setting now-in the desert, on a horse. And he didn't even know it.

Coaxed by a wrangler, he grasped the reins.

A long-faced girl with dark hair and a lean body looked up at him. She was the one who had orchestrated this event. She seemed very angry about something. Maybe if he smiled at her she wouldn't be so angry. He instantly forgot to smile.

Below him, the horse snorted angrily at the air. Cameras clicked madly.

Men moved around, framing quickly. Click, move. Click, move.

The horse snorted once more, scuffing a thick hoof at the cracked and dusty ground.

Men swirling. Skipping, sliding, twisting all around him. He was becoming dizzy.

A loud whinny.

Other men coming forward, pushing past those with the cameras. The world dropping out below him. The horse rearing, rising furiously to its hind legs.

"Hold him!"

"Get beneath him!"

Sliding backward. Falling. The ground racing up to him.

There was a sharp pain at the back of his head. Stars exploding behind his eyes. A flash of sudden, stark memory.

Darkness. Then light.

They were all above him, faces cast in silhouette. Behind them loomed the vast orange sky.

And he remembered nearly all of them. Those he didn't recognize, he knew he had never met before. He knew. Remembered everything. And it was wrong.

Before losing consciousness once more, he murmured something to those kneeling above him. A single word. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he was gone.

Guiltily, his daughter cradled his head in her hands, less concerned with her father's health than with what her mother would do when she got back home.

"What did he say?" a Secret Service agent asked, unhappy with himself for not being more firm with the daughter of his charge.

"I don't know," his partner said.

"It sounded like 'cure,'" a photographer whispered.

"Cure? What do you suppose he meant?"

The photographer shrugged. "Who knows with Alzheimer's?" he said.

For an eternity on that dusty California desert bluff, with a soft breeze blowing down from the Santa Ana Mountains, everyone stood around in shock, not knowing what to do.

They looked down on the tired, weathered face of the former President of the United States, little realizing that their unauthorized stunt had unlocked a decades-old secret so dangerous it could very well topple the government of the nation he had served so well.

Chapter 2

His name was Remo and from where he was standing he couldn't see a single pitchfork or burning torch.

There were no chants. No banners, per se. A few signs here and there, but these were feeble at best. The only real effort shown by the protestors was their jockeying attempts to get their faces in front of the many television cameras that whirred up at them from the sidewalk.

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