Warren Murphy: Last Rites

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    Last Rites
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Initiation The Sinanju Rite of Attainment sounds like a nightmare for Remo Williams. But as the desciple of the last Korean Master, he can't play hooky. Bounced around the world to perform the Labors of Hercules, Remo finds the days no joy and the nights sheer hell that stretch his warriors skills to the limit. And when the final challenge comes, Remo realizes that somebody's dying is the only prize to be won...

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Destroyer #100: Last Rites

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

PROLOGUE

They had laid her out in the narrow oaken bed to die. Everyone knew she was to die. She was old. Very old. She had lived a useful and productive life as a bride of Christ, but now that life had ceased to be useful, and her senses were shutting down.

A priest had given her the last rites of the Catholic church, sprinkling holy water over her thin frame with an aspergillum. He had spoken the words in the familiar Latin, commending her immortal soul to her savior. Incense candles were lit.

But she refused to die. The windows were curtained to keep out the harsh sunlight that tormented her even through the milky cataracts that had robbed her of almost all sight. She could hardly hear. She had not strength to walk. Food seemed not to nourish her.

There was no quality to her life, and although no disease ravaged her work worn body, there was no hope for recovery. Her vitality had been used up. Some say she had begun to fail many years ago, after the fire.

Yet she lay in her deathbed, shrouded in white linen, blind eyes fixed on the cracked ceiling of Our Lady of Perpetual Care Home for the Infirm, fingering the black beads of her rosary. Her thin lips writhed soundlessly.

The sisters who took care of her in lieu of nurses thought she was saying her Hail Mary's. She was not. She was counting her charges, reflecting on their destinies. A virgin, she had no sons or daughters to call her own, and so the lost and abandoned offspring of others became hers.

Each bead groped between her fingers brought to mind a name. Most she had lost touch of. Some had visited her often in days gone by. Many were lost. In France, in Korea, in Vietnam and more obscure places whose names no longer mattered, their bright promise had been spent like so many precious coins.

No one visited her now. She had retired long ago-so long ago that even the youngest boy had grown old enough to have adult children and adult cares and no time in a busy life for an old woman who had taught him the best she could.

She had never imagined growing this old. The infirmities were almost unendurable. She wore her skin like shellacked paper stretched almost to the breaking point. The slightest bump to the backs of her hands where the skin was especially shiny created a black bruise that seemed never to heal.

Another bead crawled between her fingers. And another. There was no order to the boyish faces that came to her mind's eye. They came unbidden, spoke in their authentic voices and seemed to be saying goodbye.

Then came a face that brought a clutching twinge to her heart and a wave of inexpressible sadness filled her breast.

She remembered him as a boy. Not even ten. She preferred to remember him as a boy. She had known him as a man, but she always thought of him as a boy. Just as when she dreamed, she did not dream of the rectory where she had dwelt for most of her adult life, but of her childhood home. Many people dreamed that way, she had read.

The boy had sad eyes the color of tree bark. He had not been the smiling kind. A serious boy. "The Window Boy," they used to call him. For hours on end, he would press his face to the orphanage window, looking out into the wide world he did not know, waiting, ever waiting.

He was waiting for the parents he never knew. The parents no one knew. The parents who might or might not be alive. She had told him that. Still, he waited.

But no one ever came for him. No one ever cared. My failure, she thought bitterly. My one failure. Some children are placed and some are not. That is a truth as hard as concrete and as eternal as the promise of resurrection.

Perhaps if a proper home had been found, things might have turned out differently for that one sad-faced boy. But they had not. It was the boy's own fault, in a way. He had resisted all efforts to place him in a good, loving home. He stubbornly waited for his true parents, who never came.

When he had matured, he was full of such promise. A policeman. It was a surprising choice. Perhaps not so surprising upon reflection. A wronged boy who wanted to set the whole world right. He had been an honest boy, too.

It was such a shock when they had convicted him of that murder.

The boy she had known would never have slain. But he had been a Marine. Had served in Vietnam. Vietnam had changed so many of them. They came back lean and hollow cheeked and with a spiritual emptiness deep in their eyes. It was, she had long ago concluded, Vietnam that must have changed him so. Although he returned to exchange his green uniform of war for his blue one of peace, no doubt he had been changed by the green.

It had been such a bitter day when the state executed him. To Sister Mary Margaret Morrow, it had felt like losing flesh and blood.

Now, with her body failing and her senses all but shut down, Sister Mary Margaret lay in expectation of death, refusing to die and wondering why.

She had no unfinished business on this earth. None whatsoever.

But the good Lord refused to take her, and all she could think of was an orphan boy who had gone bad many many years ago.

A boy named Remo Williams.

She wondered if she should ask for him at the gateway to Heaven. She was certain he had died in Christ, in the end.

Chapter 1

By the time he took the last turn on the trail from Yuma and Red Ghost Butte hove into view, William S. Roam began to feel as if he were riding across the dying planet Mars.

Red Ghost Butte was the color of raw brick. Everything around it was red. The sun burned overhead like a red, resentful orb. The sandstone hills were red. But Red Ghost Butte was reddest of all.

Although he had grown up in these rusty hills among the blowing sands of this low corner of Arizona, he had been away long enough that the red receptors of his eyes were overwhelmed by the sheer ferocity of the color of desolation.

All at once he felt ill, weaving on his hand-tooled saddle as he piloted his horse through the low desert toward Red Ghost Butte and what lay beyond.

Even his horse seemed red. It was chestnut colored, more brown than red, but under the blazing Arizona sun, it seemed to absorb the infernal redness all around till its hair smoldered.

Though sick, Bill Roam pushed on. His people needed him. He had nothing to bring but the white man's money and an empty fame that had come too late in life. But they were his people, and he had a duty to them.

He looked like a cowboy in his pink shirt and denims. His boots were hand-tooled Spanish leather, bought in Mexico City with a Visa Gold credit card. His white Stetson was pure Hollywood. The silver points of his turquoise-studded bola tie clinked together with each gritting hoof fall. His legs were long, and his muscles under his denim jacket were like lean, knotted ropes. Seven feet would catch his height. Only God could calculate his age.

He was no cowboy. His face was as red as the land that had formed him, as eroded as the sandstone mesas that dotted the endless red desolation. His eyes wore a permanent sun-squint, and their color was the color of the red-brown clay that lay under the red sand to nourish the corn that was life.

After three more miles, his red receptors shut down. The red of the sand and the sun faded, washed out, and he felt twenty times better.

The corral-style fence came into view, its gate as wide open as all outdoors.

"Pick it up, Sanshin," he told his horse, urging it along.

The horse began cantering. The red never bothered him. Horses don't see color. Horses don't know heartsick. Horses are lucky, he thought.

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