Warren Murphy: Infernal Revenue

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Infernal Revenue: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Remo and Chiun join forces with Harold Smith and his crime-fighting organization in their battle against an artificial intelligence computer chip called Friend that hijacks CURE's computer system and holds the world hostage to technoterrorism.

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Destroyer 96: Infernal Revenue

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

From the moment he drove through the gate, Buzz Kuttner thought there was something spooky about Woodlawn Asylum.

Maybe it was the grim-faced stone lions whose disembodied heads perched atop the brick entrance posts, or the fact that the evening sky began crackling with a sickly yellow lightning as he passed through.

Certainly it wasn't the fact that the back of his Ford Econoline van was crammed with pilfered computer equipment. Buzz Kuttner cut deals like the one that had brought him to Woodlawn on this stormy early-September night all the time. These days a dishonest buck was about the only buck the Buzz Kuttners of the world could turn.

Another forked yellow bolt stabbed down into Long Island Sound as he sent the van circling the three-story brick building, looking for the freight entrance. The thunder, when it came, was a dull, distant thump too meek to echo with conviction.

The bulb over the freight entrance couldn't have rated more than forty watts. Still, its dingy light was enough. The voice on the telephone had told him to look for a light over a corrugated steel door overlooking a rust-stained concrete loading dock.

Kuttner stopped, got out and threw open the van's rear doors before backing up snug to the dock. He waited.

A warm rain started. It drummed on the van's roof with monotonous regularity. The windshield swam. Kuttner looked at his watch, fingered the horn and considered tapping out a toot. But the phone voice who had set this up had warned him not to call attention to himself. He had been very clear on that score. In fact, he'd been very precise about everything, as if setting up surreptitious deliveries of high-tech computer equipment was SOP at Woodlawn Asylum.

Maybe it was, Kuttner thought. These days the medical industry was taking a pounding, thanks to Washington. Not as big a pounding as the computer field, but it was getting to that point.

The owner of the telephone voice-he had claimed his name was Jones, for Christ's sake-had been extremely precise about the merchandise. Jukeboxes with WORM drives. Top-of-the-line with no commercial history or programs already installed. Jones had seemed very particular about that, too. Kuttner hadn't argued. If the guy wanted completely virgin drives, that was his right.

Jones was awful fussy for a guy who was buying expensive computer equipment off the back of a truck, Kuttner was thinking when the corrugated freight door finally rattled up.

Looking up, he could see the man in the door mirror. A tall, gaunt shadow standing well back from the wan light of the forty-watt bulb.

Kuttner got out. "Jones?" he asked.

"Yes," the shadow said.

It was the phone voice, all right. Jones. He tried to project a tough growl that couldn't quite disguise the dry-as-dust tonality of his natural voice.

Warily Kuttner mounted the concrete steps. The shadow immediately withdrew a pace, as if fearful of human contact. Kuttner immediately relaxed. If this was an FBI sting, the guy wouldn't be acting so spooky. "Got the money?" Kuttner asked.

The shadow bent down briefly, and an attaché case skidded into view. Kuttner knelt, opened it and closed it after he was convinced that if there wasn't exactly thirty thousand dollars in the case, it was close enough for government work.

"Okay," Kuttner said, straightening, "we have a deal."

"Installation is part of the bargain," the dry voice reminded him.

"Just tell me where."

"Follow me."

The gaunt shadow abruptly turned and walked into the cavernous area behind the freight door, picking his way behind the weak web of a penlight. Kuttner followed, finding himself walking down a noticeable incline and into a cool area that was filled with great dark shapes of industrial oil furnaces. Once he passed a cobwebby old coal furnace in a corner and next to it steel barrels-filled with cold gray ash.

"I didn't know people still burned coal," he grunted.

"It's for problem disposals," Jones said.

Kuttner grunted. "Who hauls your ashes in this day and age?"

Jones didn't answer. Instead, he said, "You told no one you were coming to Woodlawn?"

"Who would I tell? You know this is under-the-table stuff, I know this is under-the-table stuff. The fewer people who know about our transaction, the better. That's why I worded the classified the way I did."

"You don't seem like the sort of man who trafficks in stolen merchandise for a living," Jones remarked.

"And you don't sound like a guy who buys it. But that's what the world's come to. Guys like me, who used to pull down the big bucks installing information systems, and guys like you, scouring the classifieds for equipment that won't bust your budget."

Jones came to a door and unlocked it using three different keys dangling from a key ring. They passed into a dark space that was much cooler. There was no drumming sound of rain in here.

A light clicked on. A twenty-five-watter hanging from a drop cord.

"There," said Jones. He did not turn around. He was pointing the penlight ray to a far wall where four very old mainframes stood in a brick lined niche.

There was a lot of grit on the floor, and in a corner bits of loose concrete and mortar lay in a pile. In the ridiculously weak light, Kuttner got the idea that the niche had been enlarged recently.

Jones said, "I would like the-what did you call them?"


"Yes, the jukeboxes connected to the mainframes."

"A hybrid system, huh? That's smart. You know what you want."

"Yes, I know what I want. Can you have the new drives installed by morning?"

"I can try."

"They must be installed by morning. No one must know."

"You got it," said Buzz Kuttner, going back to the van. There was a handcart and a dolly out by the freight door, and he used them to trundle the jukeboxes and their optical WORM-Write Once Read Many-drives back to the cool room with the mainframes.

When he got the first one back, Jones wasn't there. Of course, he might have been lurking among the furnaces. Kuttner felt eyes on his back. Suppressing a shudder, he got the other machines in place and set about hooking them together.

From time to time he was aware of Jones hovering beyond the radius of the eye-stressing twenty-five-watt light like an expectant undertaker. He didn't know why that image jumped into his mind. Maybe it was the guy's hollow voice and gaunt look.

To keep himself from getting too edgy, Kuttner started talking a blue streak.

"You've made a smart purchase here, Jones. These optical drives are going to be state-of-the-art deep into the twenty-first century. You won't have to replace these units until the next depression-God forbid."

"I understand that a stationary crystal data-storage unit capable of being read by moving lasers has proven workable on the laboratory level," said Jones.

"That so? Well, if you ask me, it's a long way from the laboratory to the kitchen-if you know what I mean."

"May I ask you where you get your equipment?"

"Different places. A lot of computer outfits going under these days, or dumping product. I pick up what I can where I can."

"Can this equipment be traced?"

"Not through me. These are XL SysCorp jukeboxes. The best. A voice on the phone lets me know when they have some available. I meet a guy I don't know, cash changes hands, and I come away with my truck riding low on its springs." Kuttner stopped. "That reminds me, you in the market for a new terminal?"

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