Warren Murphy: Shock Value

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Shock Value

The Destroyer #51

by Richard Sapir & Warren Murphy

Copyright © 1983

by Richard Sapir & Warren Murphy

All rights reserved.

Shock Value

A Peanut Press Book

Published by

peanutpress.com, Inc.

www.peanutpress.com

ISBN: 0-7408-0574-6

First Peanut Press Edition

This edition published by

arrangement with

Boondock Books

www.boondockbooks.com

For Pat Sellus and for the House of Sinanju, P.O. Box 1454, Secaucus, N.J. 07094

?Chapter One

Orville Peabody was watching television. Had his mind been operating correctly, he might have said that he liked television as well as anybody. Back home in the nondescript clapboard ranchstyle house in West Mahomset, Ohio, which he shared with his regulation homemaker wife and their requisite quota of average children, he had watched quite a bit of television. As a child, in another nondescript clapboard ranch-style house in West Mahomset, he had squeezed in regular doses of "Howdy Doody" and "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour" between his activities at Junior Achievers, Four-H, and the Boy Scouts. His taste had improved since then. Sometimes, back in West Mahomset, he even watched "Masterpiece Theatre."

He was not watching "Masterpiece Theatre" now. If Orville Peabody's mind had been operating correctly, he might have questioned what he was watching, which was a daytime soap opera titled "Ways of Our Days," featuring an inane cast of adolescent rock musicians turned actors. He might have questioned the place where he was watching it, which was about as far from West Mahomset as you could get.

He might also have questioned the identities of the two men who flanked him on either side, each gazing intently into his own silent television set, listening through earphones to the greedy squeals of a game show audience and violins in a rerun of an Old Lassie movie.

But Orville Peabody's mind was not operating correctly. It was drinking in each millisecond of "Ways of Our Days" with a thirst unequalled in the annals of telecommunications. It was absorbing information with an intensity that left Peabody breathless and expectant. It was extracting from the beating light in front of him a message so clear that it stood out like a shining nugget, hard and inviolate, against the vague flapping images on the television screen.

It was telling him his destiny.

And so Orville Peabody, in his glorious moment of revelation, did not wonder why he was sitting in a darkened room on a tropical island, his skin brown from unremembered days in the sun, huddled beside two strangers who might have been sitting, unmoving, beside him for hours or days or weeks for all he knew. Nothing mattered now. He had a mission. It had come to him through the television, and it was not to be questioned. Orville Peabody was at peace.

Smiling like a prophet who has viewed the future of man and found it good, he rose from his contoured chair and turned off the set. The two other men in the room never glanced his way. Without a thought for the stiff muscles brought on by the hours of sitting, he walked over to the small closet in the room and put on his suit jacket. Everything was in place: his wallet, containing the forty-two dollars he had left West Mahomset with; three credit cards; a passport; photographs of his wife and kids; and a Swiss Army knife. His father had given him the knife for his tenth birthday, and Orville carried it wherever he went. "Just in case one of those muggers comes to West Mahomset with any fancy ideas," he would tell his kids with a wink.

Outside, the sun was shining, fairly pelting cheer onto the narrow dirt roads of the primitive island where the land gave way to the rocks and the rocks to the wild sea. It would be a wonderful day for traveling. He walked the two miles to the small island airport and bought a ticket for Newfoundland, Canada.

"How will you be paying for this, sir?" asked the clerk behind the makeshift counter.

"Credit card," Peabody answered, smiling. Automatically he reached into his trouser pocket and placed the card on the counter.

"Very good, Mr. Gray," the clerk said. "Now, if you can show some other identification..."

He looked at the name on the card, Joshua Gray. But he was Orville Peabody. All of his cards said so. Warily he reached inside his pants pocket again.

Wait a second, he thought. He didn't keep anything inside his trousers pockets. His I.D. was in his jacket. And yet his hand had gone immediately for the card bearing the name of Joshua Gray. His fingers reached around a small booklet.

"That's it," the clerk said, opening up the passport to Peabody's picture. Below it was the name Joshua Gray. Peabody stared at it, uncomprehending. The clerk was motioning somewhere off to the right. "Your plane's boarding now, Mr. Gray." she said. "Have a pleasant trip."

"Thank you," Peabody said, fingering the strange passport and credit card. How had they gotten there? And why was he going to Canada? For a moment he panicked, sweat suddenly popping up on his brow and streaming cold from his armpits.

"Are you all right?" The clerk's face showed alarm.

"Yes, yes." Peabody drew a deep breath and irritably snatched up the identification. The moment of fear passed. Whatever had prompted him to use a false card he hadn't known to be in his possession was, he decided, nothing of his choosing. There were greater forces at work in him now, and it was not his place to question them. He was going to St. John's, Newfoundland, because that was where he knew he must go to live out the pulsing, unreachable message in his brain. He was to go there under a false name, because that was what the message had decreed. He knew also that, once in St. John's, he would discard the Joshua Gray passport and credit card and book passage on still another flight under his own name.

He wondered, as he walked into the airport at St. John's, where that flight would take him.

He looked for a men's room. His hands mechanically stashed the false card and passport into a trash bin, then his feet walked in sure, brisk strides toward the BOAC counter.

"Rome, first class," he heard himself say, reaching automatically for his Orville Peabody identification inside his jacket pocket.

Rome?

"Ladies and gentlemen. We are now making our final descent into Leonardo Da Vinci airport..."

He was lost. He had no business in Rome. Or in St. John's, Newfoundland. Or on that cheerfully anonymous tropical island where he had spent the last eternity since he had seen West Mahomset, Ohio.

Orville Peabody worked in a clothing store. He had graduated without distinction from the local high school. He had married the daughter of one of his parents' friends. His kids played in Little League and belonged to Cub Scouts. Sometimes he watched "Masterpiece Theater."

What the hell am I doing here? he thought.

But those were not the words his lips formed. What came out of his mouth was a request for directions to some place he'd never heard of. The man he had spoken to, a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman, pointed to his right.

"Spanish Steps?" the white-haired man asked in a refined British accent. "Can't miss it. Beautiful sight. Early eighteenth century, you know. Magnificent architecture. Of course, you won't see much of that today. Some kind of rally going on. Leftists, no doubt. They're everywhere. A pack of troublemakers, if you ask my opinion."

"Pack of troublemakers," Peabody repeated, dazed.

"Well, I daresay you'll enjoy it all the same," the Englishman said with gruff cheer. "Spot of color for your holiday, what? Cheerio."

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