Warren Murphy: Prophet Of Doom

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    Prophet Of Doom
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Where There's Smoke... Everybody with a spare million  is lining up at the gates of Ranch Ragnarok, home to Esther Clear Seer's Church of the Absolute and Incontrovertible Truth. Here an evil yellow smoke shrouds an ancient oracle that offers glimpses into the future. But when young virgins start disappearing, CURE smells something more than a scam. Here in Wyoming, East and West are about to fulfill an ancient prophecy. For Apollo himself, Zeus's own wild boy, is set to unleash a power greater than any seen in two millenia. He's got a score to settle - and Remo is the lucky sacrificial vessel.

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54

been treated by a pacemaker, recurring ulcers, frequent headaches, his list of physical problems was growing by the day.

Smith tried to sit up straighter in his chair, hoping to alleviate the pressure on his lumbar region.

All at once the humming in the distant room stopped. A moment later Chiun, Reigning Master of Sinanju, head of the most lethal house of assassins ever to grace the face of the earth, padded silently into the room on black sandals.

He was a delicate bird of an elderly Korean attired in a flowing kimono. His wrinkled skin had the consistency of rice paper. His bones looked fragile where they poked out from various joints. Puffs of cloudy white hair decorated his balding head. A wisp of a beard clung to his chin. His fingernails were long and wickedly sharp.

"Remo has returned," Chiun said to Smith.

Chiun had deserted Smith the instant the CURE director had arrived, claiming the need to attend to "other pressing matters" elsewhere in the house. Smith had volunteered his assistance—after all, Remo was not due for some time—but Chiun had quickly declined the offer, claiming that his work, if done in solitude, would bring even greater glory to his kind and gracious emperor. In truth, in the four hours since Smith had arrived, Chiun had been sitting by a back window watching the spring grass grow.

Remo entered the room a minute later.

"I see the gang's all here," he said, glancing at Smith. "What's up, Smitty?"

Smith stood, grateful for the chance to relieve the pressure on his spine. Chiun interposed himself

55

between the two men and drew Remo to the far corner

of the room.

"Where have you been?" Chiun demanded in a whisper. "I have been forced to entertain this decrepit white thing for ages." His hazel eyes cast a quick glance at Smith. ' 'Look how he stands. Like a woman in her last, swelling days of pregnancy. Get rid of him soon, Remo, so that we might eat our dinner in peace." With that the Master of Sinanju sent a gracious nod in Smith's direction and moved back closer to settle to a lotus position in the center of the floor.

"Er, is there a problem?" Smith asked uncertainly.

Chiun waved his hand dismissively. "I was rebuking Remo for a previous wrong," he sniffed.

' 'I see,'' Smith said. He retook his seat, and Chiun cast him an impatient glance from narrowed hazel

eyes.

Remo rolled his eyes. ' 'I saw your rental car in the

side lot, Smitty. What's up?"

' 'Remo, do you recall the incident with the Branch t>avidians in Waco, Texas, a few years back?"

Remo grabbed a chair and sat across from Smith. "I remember the headlines at the time," he said. "Feds Fry Wackos In Waco. You should have sent me and Chiun in to take care of business before it got

started."

' 'It was a consideration. Unfortunately you were on another assignment at the time."

"Yeah, it was a real mess," Remo said. "A bunch of peaceniks descending on women and children with tanks. Who would've thought the attorney general would have found time to play general in between lifting weights and initiating cover-ups?"

56

"Remo, please," Smith said. His back was sore, his ulcer was acting up and it seemed that he had completely lost the attention of the Master of Sinanju. He wanted nothing more than to return to his office in Rye, New York.

"Okay, Smitty," Remo said, waving a thick-wristed hand. "What's the deal this time?"

"A situation has developed in Wyoming, similar to the Branch Davidian problem. A woman claiming to be a prophetess of some new doomsday religion has isolated herself in a rural area of the state. She expects absolute obedience from her followers, as well all their worldly goods. In return she promises to protect them from the tribulations to come at the millennium's conclusion."

"This one cannot protect herself from Sinanju, O Emperor Smith," Chiun piped up. "Though she may surround herself with countless armies of fighting men, she cannot stay the shadowy hand of Sinanju." "Thank you, Master of Sinanju," Smith said with a polite bow of the head. "Until recently the authorities were willing to look the other way on this obvious cult of personality. They were even willing, it seemed, to disregard reports of large weapons storehouses on the property. But I have recently learned that the FBI had someone under deep cover at the camp and that this operative has failed to report for several months. If they decide to send in more agents, the situation could escalate. It is my belief that this cult is becoming far too powerful. I want you and Chiun to take care of it before federal foot-dragging allows the FBI to initiate another Waco."

57

"Since when is it our business to bail out the FBI?" Remo asked.

Smith straightened his rimless glasses on his patrician nose. "It is not a question of bailing out anyone, Remo," he said. "Waco was a disaster, not merely because of FBI-ATF bungling, but because of the lack of leadership up the chain of command."

"Shouldn't we blame the voters for that?"

Smith sighed. "During the Waco incident there was a general misunderstanding among those in power of the proper use of force. In the end it was the posturing before and the denial after the fact that transformed Waco into a public-relations debacle. The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation received largely undeserved media attention because of their lawful actions against the Branch Davidians."

"Basically you're sending us in this time so the Justice Department can get better PR? No way, Smitty. It's not my job to make sure somebody else doesn't get a black eye from the press."

"Remo, this is important," Smith insisted.

"Well, I don't see the FBI getting us any positive ink."

"Hear, hear," Chiun piped up.

Smith removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He suddenly felt weary beyond belief. With a sigh that sounded like it could have wheezed from the rusted belly of an asthmatic furnace, Smith replaced the glasses and addressed Remo.

"You both know that for our overall mission to succeed, the organization must remain anonymous," he said slowly. "Our charter absolutely precludes us from continuing to exist if the organization becomes

58

compromised. We do not court popular opinion and we must absolutely not actively seek approval in a public forum."

"Dun, Smitty," Remo said. "Tell me something I don't know."

"A little positive press never hurts, Emperor," Chiun said slyly. "If your enemies were to discover that Sinanju was guarding your throne, your regal head would rest easier. And the exposure would not necessarily be adverse for the House, either."

"Remo, please," Smith said, urgently.

"Okay, okay, we'll do the hit, Smith," Remo said. "But if Sinanju can get a few column inches out of it, ace reporter Remo Williams will be there with a byline and a ruler. What's this prophetess's name?"

Smith furrowed his brow in confusion at the obscure reference, but did not question Remo further. More and more the ex-Marine and former beat cop was becoming as intractable as his Korean teacher.

"Her name," Smith said, "is Esther Clear-Seer."

Chapter Five

Bonnie Sweetwater was the oldest child of an upper-middle-class family in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

Bonnie was eighteen years old, bright, outgoing and, much to the chagrin of her contemporaries—both male and female—had neither "done it" nor intended to "do it" until her wedding night.

Bonnie didn't consider herself particularly religious, but she was a girl with old-fashioned moral values and she had no problem sharing this view with others. She belonged to the local chapter of Marriage First, a national grassroots organization for morally like-minded young people. They met every Friday night in the old city-hall basement from 7:30 to 11:00 p.m., rain or shine. It was an opportunity for Bonnie and the other Marriage Firsters to socialize without the worries and pitfalls of a typical teenage night out.

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