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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"Agency?" said Remo, feigning surprise. "I told you. I'm cub reporter Remo Welby, hot on a story that's going to win me the big prize that all reporters dream of."

"Da Pulitzer?" suggested one of them.

"That's the one. I'm gonna win it hands down. Now, first nosy question—how many old people have you guys snuffed so far?"

"Apparently, one too few," said Roy.

The other nurses snorted.

The elevator stopped downstairs at a basement laundry room. The five nurses escorted Remo out into the room and fanned out in a circle, surrounding him.

Roy cracked his knuckles against his open palm. "Sorry about this, buddy," he said to Remo. "But business is business."

"I wouldn't know anything about business," Remo said. "I went to journalism school. They taught us to be suspicious of anyone who worked for a living. But if you want, I can put something special in your obituaries."

All live rushed him at once. Rippling arms and tree-trunk legs swung and flew in wild arcs around Remo's head. Remo yawned.

A meaty paw flashed at his face, and Remo leaned back. The fist swooped past his head and landed with a I hump on the temple of a male nurse closing in on


Remo. The man let out an "Oof and sank to the floor.

"Oh, now that isn't fair," said Remo.

Roy shot out a right hook that flattened the face of one of his comrades, tumbling him into a laundry basket. Soiled linen flew everywhere.

"Hey," said Remo. "You're not supposed to do it yourselves. Leave me something."

"Something this, buddy," growled Roy. He wrapped his arms around Remo's chest and squeezed. This was how he had finished the first government investigators who had come to nose around Sunnyville Retirement Community. Roy had snapped their spines like dry noodles.

The other men—even those injured—pulled themselves up to gather around their leader. They liked to watch Roy in action. Roy could bench-press a transmission. One of his favorite moves was to stretch his fingers all the way around the ankles of selected elderly patients and break both legs with one squeeze. He called it "making a wish."

But something wasn't right with this latest government snoop. The skinny guy hadn't even turned red yet. He seemed to be breathing, too. At least it didn't look as if he wasn't breathing. And he was whistling. The tune sounded like "Everything's Coming up Roses."

"Spiffy trick, Roy," Remo chirped. He slid from the huge man's grip like liquid margarine and trotted across the room. He scooped something up from the floor. "See if you recognize this one."

The men lunged all at once, Roy leading the charge.

"Hey, I didn't get my turn!" said Remo. He mixed


with the charging behemoths, joining their attack. "Naughty, naughty," he admonished, dancing between them and clanging a silver bedpan from head to head. "Must play fair."

Five sets of sounds echoed through the room.

Bong! Crack! Four left.

Bong! Crack! Three left.

Bong! Crack! Two left.

Bong! Crack! Roy left.

"Bye, Roy," said Remo. "I guess you won't be playing with old folks or government agents anymore."

Roy seemed genuinely disappointed. "No more old folks?"

Bong! Crack! No more Roy.

"I trust you incinerated the body?" asked Dr. Augusta Coffin without looking up from her desk.

"Which one?" asked Remo.

Dr. Coffin's head snapped up. "Sweet thing, you're back!" She rose from her seat as Remo clicked her office door shut. "Where's Roy?"

"He took something for his head," said Remo. He glided across the plush green carpet to the gleaming mahogany desk. "You're next."

"I don't know what you mean," said Augusta Coffin.

Remo glanced to his right. An enormous Plexiglas window overlooked a well-equipped gymnasium.

Basketball court, weights, parallel bars—Remo assumed all of this stuff had been used only by Roy and the other nurses. To one side of the gym was an unused shuffleboard court. He imagined that the residents


of Sunnyville—the people for whom all of this was intended—only saw the inside of the gym when they were forced to clean it.

"I'm glad you're all right," said Dr. Coffin. She circled the desk and pulled up beside Remo. "We can be good together, baby," she breathed.

"Did you have raw onions for dinner?" Remo tried to block the fumes with his hands.

"What's that?" asked Dr. Coffin, pointing to the shiny, dented metal object that Remo had been hiding behind his back.

"It's a bedpan," said Remo. "Don't see too many of these, do you?"

"Ick, of course not," said Augusta Coffin. "If they have to crap in a bucket, we don't want them around here. I didn't even think we had any more left. Where did you get that one?"

"Downstairs." Remo tapped it and smiled. "It's not supposed to look like that, is it?" "Nope. It should look like this." Remo flipped his wrist, and the bedpan, which had been dented by the skulls of the dead in the basement, popped back open like a folding top hat. "Hey, that's neat." "It gets better."

Dr. Coffin pushed in closer. "If you took care of Roy, you're somebody I can use." She rubbed her hands on his chest. "And you can use me, too," she added breathily.

"Keep it up," warned Remo. "It's only going to make it easier for me to kill you."

Augusta Coffin was startled back to attention. "Kill me?" she said.


"Thought you'd never ask," said Remo. He reached over and unplugged her life-support system, medically known as her cerebral cortex.

Whistling, Remo stuffed as much of her head as possible into the bedpan and flung her at the Plexiglas. The partition shattered, and Dr. Augusta Coffin skidded across the floor of the gymnastics area before landing on the "10" triangle at the top of the shuffle-board court.

"That's what you get when you mess with a member of the Fourth Estate," he pronounced solemnly.

Remo parked his rental car at a pay phone by a busy highway a block away from the nursing home.

He didn't have any change so he shattered the coin box with his forefinger and inserted one of the quarters that poured out back into the slot. He hummed to himself as he jabbed the "1" button a half-dozen times.

There was a series of clicks over the line as the call was rerouted halfway up the East Coast and back down again. Finally a parched, lemony voice came on the line.


"The sun has set on Sunnyville," intoned Remo.

"Very poetic," the voice of Dr. Harold W. Smith responded dryly.

' 'And you might want to get someone over there to take care of the residents."

"I am making arrangements for the patients."

Remo sighed. "Knowing you, you're trying to sell the terminal cases on squandering their last days and life savings on the Folcroft three-meal-a-day plan."

Smith said nothing. The organization for which they


both worked operated under the cover of Folcroft Sanitarium. Although he had a virtually unlimited budget for clandestine operations, Smith insisted on running Folcroft as a business.

"I knew it!" Remo said.

"If there is nothing else to report, I suggest we sever this connection," Smith said tightly.

"There is just one more thing," Remo said. "About a hundred TV reporters saw me off that Coffin woman. I suggested they shoot me from the left. I think that's my better side. So if you tune in at about six-thirty tonight, you should see me on the news. And just so you don't think I hogged all the limelight for myself, I mentioned your name at least three dozen times."

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