Warren Murphy: Fade to Black

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    Fade to Black
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NOW PLAYING Something smells at Cabbagehead Productions. Ticket sales for the indie company's slasher movies  are skyrocketing, thanks to the publicity of some real-life murders.  Remo draws the short straw to dump whoever is behind these stunts on the cutting room floor. But now it's time for the feature presentation: a terrorist bomb in New York...the White House under siege...hours of nonstop action...edge-of-your-seat thrills from the summer's biggest blockbuster:  Remo's problem isn't the army of extras hired to commit murder, or the truck bombs rigged to blow a Hollywood studio sky-high.  It's the Master Of Sinanju himself, Chiun, busy strutting like a tyrant and generally wreaking havoc on the set of his own top-secret movie...and smack in the middle of the greatest epic disaster of all time.

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Destroyer 119: Fade to Black

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Prologue

Excerpt from The Annals of the Glorious House of Sinanju:

To all later generations that they might learn truth!

The words you read have been inscribed by the awesome hand of Chiun, unworthy custodian of the present history of our House and trainer of Remo the Fair, who, though not technically of the village proper, was deemed an adequate receptacle by the Master in spite of his pale complexion, strangely deformed eyes and near total lack of gratitude for the greatness bestowed upon him by the most benign and patient Master Chiun. But there is no sense in complaining about things one cannot control, especially the ingratitude of a thankless foundling, so why bother?

The History of Sinanju

AND LO DURING THIS portentous time, the Master of Sinanju did venture to the most distant western shore of the current Rome. It was called America.

So vast was this nation that it took many days overland to travel from its cold and barren eastern shores to the warmer climes of its west. But because of his special status as royal assassin to America's mad yet generous Emperor Harold I, the Master did not have to waste his time on common ground transport. A flying machine of Korean design (see The Thieving Wrights: Where They Went Wrong) did spirit him to his destination in mere hours, thus sparing him prolonged contact with the dregs and castoffs who did populate this land.

The Master of Sinanju did travel in secret in the dead of night. This he deemed necessary, for though the Master was acting in the interests of Sinanju, he was not acting directly on behalf of his emperor. However, he was on a mission that would ultimately bring glory to the House and, as a result, glory to he who had contracted with the House. For this reason, when the veil of secrecy was at last lifted, Harold the Generous would rejoice in the Master's secret actions. Of this, the Master of Sinanju was certain.

And the Master's airship did travel to that region of America known as California-named thus despite the fact that it was not ruled by a caliph, but by a governor (see White Nomenclature: the Case Against).

As promised by those who had summoned him, a carriage awaited the Master. The coach was a kind reserved for only the most revered individuals in this nation. Called a limousine, it was, and not even the Master's emperor of the time did have one of these special carriages.

The Master was ushered into this regal chariot and was driven in haste to the preordained meeting place. His destination was a wondrous province of this Caliphless-fornia. A place of magic and wonder, the name of which was known in the four corners of the world. Hollywood it was called, even though no woods of holly were immediately visible to the naked eye (ibid).

When first he had ventured there, this province had presented an enigma to the Master. For though the word studious was trumpeted from every building, no evidence of current study or past education was visible in its inhabitants. Only upon closer inspection did the Master realize that the word was actually studio, which in this tongue was roughly equivalent to the atelier of the French.

Once in the Woods of Holly, the Master's limousine did speed him between the heavy castle gates of Taurus Studios. There he was met by those who had summoned him.

The first was called Hank Bindle, the second Bruce Marmelstein. Makers of magic they were. Illusionists were they. Theurgists of the highest order who did transform paper into moving images.

"Hey, babe. How you doing? Looking good," did the first magician, the one called Bindle, pronounce as the Master alighted from his sleek black chariot.

The prestidigitator Marmelstein, not to be outdone, did intone, "Looking great, but what am I talking? It's got to be-what?-a hundred in the shade out here. I'm sweating my mazurkas off. Let's go up to the office."

This they did, Bindle and Marmelstein flanking Chiun, toadying respectfully to the Master.

The air within their fortress of glass and steel was cool, controlled by machines built for men who could not control their own bodies. Only when they were secure in their inner sanctum did the two address the Master.

"The picture's gonna be great," Bindle insisted.

"Gangbusters." Marmelstein nodded, seeming to agree. As was his wont, he employed an odd colloquialism that the Master had not before encountered.

"Boffo," Bindle pressed, seeming to agree with the agreement.

Their confusing use of language did not distract the Master. For it was written in our histories by the Lesser Wang that "there is a time to endure the braying of jackasses and there is a time to talk turkey."

Although the Master had partly ventured to this land because of difficulties with their mutual project, there were also problems with a contract between the Master and the wily sorcerers Bindle and Marmelstein.

"I have been contacted by barristers who claim that you are attempting to rewrite our original agreement," the Master intoned seriously. His piercing hazel eyes searched for deception. With Hollywood producers this was like looking for water in a swimming pool.

"Lies," lied the crafty Bindle and Marmelstein in unison.

"They have informed me that you wish to cut my percentage down from the agreed-upon amount."

"Would we do that?" Bindle squeaked.

"No," Marmelstein answered his partner.

Now, the Master of Sinanju was not a fool. He knew that these two conjurers were attempting to deceive him. And though telling falsehoods to a Master of Sinanju was, under ordinary circumstances, an offense punishable by death, the Master did have need of these two. In his wisdom did Chiun the Brilliant take a new tack.

"I have heard rumors of production delays," the Master said craftily.

"It's a little behind," the worm Bindle confessed.

"More than a little," the spineless Marmelstein muttered, with a furtive eye on his partner.

"A couple of weeks behind," the slimy Bindle admitted.

"What we were wondering..." Marmelstein ventured.

"If you could, you know..." offered Bindle.

"Move things along," Marmelstein finished. There it was. The mendacious magicians had spoken aloud that which the Master already knew.

They needed the Master of Sinanju to move their production forward.

"It would be a pleasure to aid you, O wise Bindle, O learned Marmelstein," the shrewd Master said magnanimously.

With the words of the Master ringing true in their ears, there was much relief in the private halls of Taurus. Their faces-brown from the captured sunlight of coffinlike booths-did brighten with pleasure.

"Great," the sorcerer Bindle sighed.

"Perfect," the toothy Marmelstein exhaled.

But before relief overwhelmed them, the Master of Sinanju held up a staying hand. "When certain contract provisions are met."

Smiles melted into suntanned skin. The round white eyes of the two magicians belonged to animals in an abattoir.

"But..." Bindle spoke.

"B-but..." Marmelstein stammered. The Master cut them off.

"Our contract will be reopened. I have learned much these many months since first I signed. It will be rewritten in such a way as to make impossible any attempts to deprive the Master of that which is rightfully his due. Plus ten points. Gross. This for my agita. Only when this new contract is processed will I agree to aid you with your difficulties."

The tricksters Bindle and Marmelstein were at a loss, thwarted by the superior skills and mighty bargaining position of the Master of Sinanju. They conferred among themselves, but only briefly. Finally, Bindle spoke.

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