Warren Murphy: Prophet Of Doom

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  • Название:
    Prophet Of Doom
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    Детективная фантастика / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Prophet Of Doom: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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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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That decided Esther Clear-Seer.

She called her broker.

Yes, the information was true. Yes, if she had invested ten thousand when the exchange opened, she would have tripled her investment by this time. And did Esther want to sink some money into Biotechnics, Inc.?

Esther hung up the phone and went out to her porch. The man was wearing his jacket now, and there was something on the bench beside him.

"What's your game?" she asked the strange little man.

"You are rich?" he asked, standing.

Esther glanced at her acolytes. "I am rich in the things that matter," she pronounced boldly. She dismissed the guards, ordering them to deal with the other recruits. When the guards were gone, she leaned over to the little man, whispering, "What's your game? Insider trading?"

I

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The man's smile broadened. Somehow the expression made his face appear even more reptilian. "In a sense," he admitted. He straightened himself up to his full height, but even so, Esther guessed that he could not be more than five foot five. "My name is Mark Kaspar," he said, "and we are destined, you and I, to become partners in the greatest enterprise in modern history." The smile flickered and faded, in an almost too-practiced manner, to be replaced by a more serious expression.

"We should go inside and talk." He collected his package from the bench and headed for the door. The dead-eyed girl followed, mute.

For the first time Esther clearly saw the item he hefted from the tiny wooden bench. It was a large carved stone urn with a heavy cracked lid. On the sides were intricate raised images of intertwined snakes that had been worn smooth with age.

As the strange man passed into her home, Esther Clear-Seer caught the pungent odor of rotten eggs.

Chapter Two

His name was Remo, and he was tired of repeating it. "Remo!" he shouted for the third time to the umpteenth set of nerve-deafened eardrums.

"Zemo?" asked the elderly woman. She checked a clipboard on her desk. The clipboard was upside down. "Oh, dear," she clucked.

"I'm looking for Dr. Coffin," Remo explained as she made a vain attempt to search for the name Zemo Welby on the upside-down visitor's list.

The woman seemed lost somewhere on the page before her. When she finally looked up, it was as if she saw Remo for the first time. "Oh, hello," she said with a quavering smile. "Name?"

"Lawrence Welk," sighed Remo, walking past her and up the hall.

That was at the fourth-floor duty station. Things had gone pretty much the same at the third-floor duty station, the second-floor duty station, the information booth in the lobby and the guard's shack at the main gate of Sunnyville Retirement Community in Tampa,

Florida.

No one Remo encountered was a day under eighty.

He wasn't surprised. Upstairs had told him that this would probably be the case. There were only six

24

members of the Sunnyville staff drawing a regular salary and, Remo was told, the half-dozen individuals he was after were fairly young and not likely to be doing anything more strenuous than overseeing the real Sunnyville workers.

It was no secret that Sunnyville thought the problem with most retirement homes was that the residents felt used up; they were of no account, their days as contributing members of society behind them.

It was with this mind-set that the upper echelon at Sunnyville reinvented the entire nursing-home concept from the ground up. The result was a pioneering retirement community boasting a totally new method of dealing with the elderly and infirm. They worked them like slaves. Some of the aged were put to work in the kitchen preparing the daily gruel. Those who were still lucid were put to work in administration, answering phones, filing or typing. The balance toiled as groundskeepers, cleaning women, carpenters and janitors.

In recent months, Sunnyville had made national news when an eighty-five-year-old retiree, tasked to cut down orange trees in the Sunnyville grove, was stricken simultaneously with a stroke, partial paralysis and a hemorrhaging occipital lobe. A cheery Sunnyville spokesperson, trying to happy-spin the "unfortunate, unavoidable incident," theorized the man's brain was probably already uncontrollably bleeding when he dropped the chain saw on his leg.

Once the story died down, Sunnyville lawyers opted for an out-of-court settlement, with a strict gag order. And so the matter faded from public view. But not in all quarters.

25

Remo had been told about a rumor that Sunnyville had recently refined its lucrative business. Word going around was that whoever was too tired or old to work any longer, would suddenly succumb to death due to "natural causes." Just like that. And the vacant bed and job would go to the person next on Sunnyville's phone-book-sized waiting list.

Remo didn't bother to ask how the word got out. A private memo, some loose talk in a bar—it didn't matter to him. An assignment was an assignment.

Remo strolled down the antiseptic-smelling hallway, his thick-wristed hands swinging casually at his sides. Today his T-shirt was crisply white, his chinos black.

The building almost looked abandoned. The doors to the private rooms were closed. Remo could hear the faint rasp of asthmatic breathing coming from several of them.

The hallway itself was the opposite of his image of a nursing home. There were no laundry baskets, chairs, stools or medicine carts parked haphazardly about. Nor were there any elderly people bent over walkers or slowly pushing their blue-veined hands over the rubber tires of wheelchairs. It was as if the residents were under lockdown.

And there was something else. Something that lingered beneath the thick, combined odors of a thousand different prescription drugs.

It was fear.

There was no mistaking it. The smell was almost palpable.

It clung to the corridor walls, and no matter how many gallons of antiseptic cleansers were applied daily

26

by overworked retirees, the odor couldn't be washed away.

Remo sensed the fear, though he didn't feel it himself, and he thought it odd that he could look back dispassionately on so strong an emotion.

When he was young, he had felt fear; but that was a million lifetimes ago, and at this point in his life he was able to remember the emotion as if it had been nothing more than a case of mild teenage acne.

The Sunnyville residents, however, didn't seem to have that option. The daily fear they lived with clung to them like garlic.

Perhaps, Remo thought, fear could be distilled like musk or sold in concentrated form like a can of frozen orange juice. Instant fear. Just add water. He decided that the market for prepackaged fear probably wasn't profitable enough. Why would people buy something they found in their everyday lives?

This in mind, he rounded a corner and nearly tripped over an elderly woman on her hands and knees on the floor.

A low, baleful moan escaped between the woman's parched and cracking lips. Her swollen, arthritic hands were extended before her. The flaking, bloated fingers of her right hand seemed to be clutching something as she painfully inched forward.

Remo gently took hold of the woman's birdlike shoulders and lifted her to her feet.

She wobbled unsteadily and leaned one gnarled hand against the wall for support, the other dangling by her side in a loose fist.

"Are you all right?" asked Remo softly.

"I'm not finished," the woman said. She panted as

27

she forced the words out. "Please, I can finish." She struggled to make a fist. "There," she said triumphantly. "See? I can still do it. It's not so hard. Really."

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