Warren Murphy: Dark Horse

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    Dark Horse
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An ordinary California political campaign turns into a thriller when someone begins killing off the candidates, and it is up to Remo and Chiun to stop him.

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Destroyer 89: Dark Horse

By Warren Murphy apir

Chapter 1

It was called "the Buddy Holly rule."

It applied to the President of the United States and the Vice-President. It was strictly observed by sports teams. Rock bands adhered to it religiously, as did corporate officers.

It was inflexible, unbreakable policy wherever it applied. And it applied to every business and political situation. And, on occasion, social situations.

It should have applied to the Governor of California and his lieutenant governor.

Technically, it did. They were, under no circumstance, to fly on the same plane, travel in the same vehicle, or even ride the same elevator. That was unshakable policy.

Unfortunately, unshakable policy applied only to political trips, arranged for by political aides and handlers.

This was social.

The governor of California didn't know that his lieutenant governor was going to attend the concert at Los Angeles's Music Center.

He discovered this amazing coincidence shortly after the flight attendant had shut the 727's big door.

Almost immediately, someone began pounding on it.

The governor, seated in first-class, smiled thinly. He knew how the airlines worked. If the door was closed, you missed your flight. There was no second chance, no appeal. The jetway passenger bridge was about to be retracted from the jetliner's aluminum skin. This particular airline was plagued by recurring schedule problems. They were not about to add to them, the governor was sure, simply for a single passenger who couldn't even make check-in.

The governor settled back to see what the editorial pages of the Sacramento Bee were saying about him today.

Suddenly, a harried voice could be heard in between spasms of pounding.

"Let me in! Let me in!"

This guy just isn't going to give up, the governor thought, wondering how he had managed to get onto the jetway in the first place. The late ones were usually intercepted beforehand.

The flight attendants began to buzz among themselves. One knocked on the flight deck door, and slipped in.

She returned after a very brief consultation with the captain and went directly to the exit door, where she undogged the locking latch. She gave the door a shove.

And in stomped a face the governor of California knew only too well.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, taking his briefcase off the empty seat beside him.

The lieutenant governor flopped onto the seat, extracting a white handkerchief from his coat pocket. He ran this across his bedewed forehead, while he caught his breath. His face was flushed.

"Damn cab ran out of gas!" he huffed. "Can you believe it-a cab running on empty? Only in California."

The jetway ramp was retracted, while the two highest-ranking officers in the State of California shared a rueful laugh. With a rising whine, the jet slithered out from its berth.

"You're lucky they relented," the governor said as the 727 turned into its takeoff position, wishing they hadn't. The lieutenant governor was a Democrat.

"I kept telling them I was the damn lieutenant governor," the lieutenant governor muttered. "Wasn't sure they heard me."

A pleasant voice over the intercom called on the flight crew to begin a cross-check in preparation for takeoff.

In a moment, the engine whine rose and the wheels under their feet began to bump and rumble.

As the jet started to pick up speed, pushing them back into their seats, the governor remarked, "You know, we shouldn't be doing this."

"Doing what?"

"Flying together. It's the old Buddy Holly scenario." "Huh?" asked the lieutenant governor, who had been born in New Zealand.

"You know, the Crickets. Everybody got on the same plane, it crashed, and rock and roll took a mortal blow."

"Didn't one of them take the bus?" asked the lieutenant governor, as the wheels left the runway.

"Search me. Back then, I was listening to Guy Mitchell."

The jet climbed steeply, and their stomachs sank. The sound came of the wheels toiling up into their wells.

Only after the engine roar had settled down to the familiar whine of horizontal flight did they resume speaking. By that time, the flight attendants were offering martinis and smiles.

"Well," the governor said ruefully, "if anything happens to us, there's still the secretary of state."

This thought sobered both men until the drinks were set before them.

"What's your business in L.A.?" the governor asked, when the first very-dry sip had gone down.

"I'm attending a concert," the lieutenant governor said. "Nana Mouskouri, or something like that."

The governor started. "Really? Those are my plans!"

"How about that?"

"I didn't know you were a fan of her music."

"I'm not," returned the lieutenant governor.

"Then why?"

The lieutenant governor shrugged. "The tickets were free."

In the act of swallowing a gulp of dry martini, the governor of California felt his mouth go dry. Something of the fear he felt must have showed up in his eyes, because the lieutenant governor took one look at his paling face and blurted, "What's wrong?"

Slowly, the governor of California withdrew an envelope from his suit. He displayed a ticket. His next words were little more than a croaking.

"Came two days ago. Anonymous."

"Mine contained airline tickets, too," the lieutenant governor said, in a voice drier than his drink.

"Mine, too."

The two highest elected officials in California-over California, now-digested this startling coincidence in silence.

"Someone," the lieutenant governor said thickly, "must really want us at that concert."

"Or maybe," the governor croaked, "on this flight."

Their eyes were already wide. They had been widening all through the conversation. They could hardly have grown wider, but they did. A child could have run a Magic Marker around the outer edge of the irises and not touched or discolored an eyelash.

They were both thinking the same thing. They were thinking how unpopular their administration had become in less than two years. How many special-interest groups despised them. How unpopular recent gubernatorial vetoes had been.

The governor shot up in his seat.

"Turn this plane around!" he demanded harshly, his voice like something that had been torn off bleeding muscle.

The flight attendant hurried up the aisle. She presented a concerned face, and a smile that promised reassurance but jittered around its lipsticked edges.

"Sir, is something the matter?"

The governor used his finger to point. "This is the lieutenant governor sitting next to me."

The attendant looked, said, "Yes?"

"We're not supposed to be flying together!"

"It's the Buddy Holly rule," the lieutenant governor chimed in dutifully. "And you know what happened to them."

"Was he an actor?" wondered the flight attendant, who looked all of twenty-two.

The governor cleared his throat and mustered up his best oratorical voice. "Please inform the captain that the governor of the state sincerely requests that he turn this flight around and put us down at LAX," he said, giving each syllable a tight, steely enunciation.

"I'm sorry, but that's against the airline's rules."

"Please do this."

"Yes, please," the lieutenant governor pleaded, moist-eyed.

The flight attendant hurried off. She was gone for a while.

Eventually, a stone-faced man in airline black stepped into the first-class cabin. He wore his years in the cockpit on his regular, seamed face.

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