Warren Murphy: Blue Smoke and Mirrors

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  • Название:
    Blue Smoke and Mirrors
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  • Жанр:
    Детективная фантастика / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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"The Horror Is Quicker Than The Eye When Remo And Chiun Go After An Invisible Enemy" "Now You See It..." Someone - or something - is walking right through the walls of America's top nuclear missile facility, and walking off with some of the world's deadliest secrets. Someone has mastered an unholy power that makes Chiun believe in ghosts. Someone has perfected a mind-defying magic that beats anything in Remo's bag of tricks. Unless Remo can take his eyes off the chest of a buxom beauty with a chip on her shoulder...unless Chiun can come down to earth from the sphere of the supernatural...America's nuclear safety and her two supreme defenders will be victims of a disappearing act...

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Destroyer 078 - Blue Smoke and Mirrors

1

When a Titan 34-D missile exploded shortly after launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, it was dismissed as an accident.

When another Titan veered off course and had to be destroyed by the range safety officer only seconds after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, taking with it a multimillion-dollar Delta weather satellite, officials dismissed it as "a short run of bad luck."

And when an Atlas-Centaur rocket went out of control during a thunderstorm, lightning was blamed, prompting a Cape Canaveral spokesman to remark that these unfortunate incidents always seemed to come in threes and no one expected any more missile accidents.

He was correct. The trouble shifted to the new B-1B Bomber program. Three B-lB's crashed during routine training missions. Everything from geese in the intakes to pilot error was cited.

The Air Force dismissed this as "expected test-performance attrition." Privately, the generals were marking time until the first B-2 Stealth Bombers rolled out of the hangars.

And when three F-117A Stealth Fighters crashed even before the first one was unveiled to the media, this was blamed on ice forming on the wings. The Pentagon sheepishly explained that the sixty-million-dollar craft were not equipped with wing de-icers- equipment common on all commercial aircraft-because they were thought unneccesary.

The Air Force generals shrugged. The next generation of Stealth fighters would have wing de-icers, they promised.

No one suspected that every one of these accidents had a common cause. No one dreamed that a single agency, unknown and unstoppable, was systematically at work. An agency that could not be touched, tasted, smelled, or heard. And one that no one had seen.

Until the day someone stole Airman First Class Emil Risko's Calvin Kleins from LCF-Fox.

They were ordinary jeans. Risko had bought them from a K-Mart in Grand Forks, paying $38.49, marked down from $49.99 "This Week Only." He brought them with him to Launch Control Facility Fox, intending to change in them after his seventy-two-hour shift. He had promised his wife that he would take her dancing at the Hillbilly Lounge. Risko folded the jeans neatly, still with their tags on, and placed them at the foot of his bunk so he wouldn't forget them.

That night, after a routine patrol of the ten Minute-man III launch facilities attached to LCF-Fox, he returned to his room and found them missing.

At first, Airman Risko thought he had placed them in a drawer. He opened every drawer. He checked under his pillow. He dug out the K-Mart bag from the wastebasket, thinking that somehow he had thrown out the jeans by accident. The bag was empty. Risko looked under the bed. He found a dustball.

After he had repeated these checks five times each, going so far as to take the grille off the window air conditioner, in the hope that someone playing a practical joke had hidden them inside, he sat down on the edge of his neatly made bunk and smoked two Newports in a row while the sweat crawled down his face.

Biue Smoke and Mirrors 9

Finally, reluctantly, Airman Emil Risko went to the facility manager's desk.

"Sarge, I have a problem."

The facility manager looked at the constipated expression on Risko's face and dryly remarked, "Ex-Lax works for me."

"This is serious, Sarge."

The FM shrugged. "Shoot."

"I bought a pair of blue jeans on the way in this morning. I know I put them on the bunk. At least I remember doing that. I locked the door after me. When I got back"-Risko took a breath and whispered- "they were gone."

"Gone?"

"That's right. They must have been stolen."

Staff Sergeant Shuster took a long slow puff on his cigar. He blinked several times dully. Wheels were turning in his mind, but he was slow to say anything. He looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy in Air Force blues.

"Do you now what this means?" Risko hissed impatiently.

"Do you know what it means?" Staff Sergeant Shuster shot back.

"Of course! It means there's a thief on the facility."

"Maybe yes. Maybe no," the sergeant said, peeling several bills off his bankroll. "How much?"

"It's not the money. They were stolen. On the facility."

"Look, they're only a pair of jeans. Do us both a favor. Take the money. Buy another pair. Forget it."

"Sarge, regulations expressly say that this has to be reported under the program."

"If you want to report this to the flight-security controller, I can't stop you. But think ahead two steps. You report this thing, and OSI becomes involved. Then everyone from the cook to the status officers in every underground LF gets hauled in for questioning.

10

Including yours truly. If no one owns up to it, we're all on the hook. The Air Force can't afford to have a thief on a nuclear facility. We'll all be transferred. Me, I like it out here. It's flat and out of the way, but they leave me alone."

"But, Sarge-"

Staff Sergeant Shuster stuffed a pair of twenties into Airman Risko's blouse pocket. He buttoned the pocket.

"Do it my way," he said soothingly. "We'll all have less grief, huh? You're not exactly the most popular guy on the LCF. Catch my drift?"

Airman Risko expelled a disappointed breath. He dug out the twenties and slapped them on the desk.

"Thanks, but no thanks," he said, stalking off.

"Don't do anything we'll all regret, kid," the facility manager called after him.

His face anguished, Airman Risko walked through Launch Control Facility Fox's homey recreation-room area, where other airmen were playing Missile Command, reading books, or watching television. Two airmen playing chess looked up when he entered. One cleared his throat audibly. The buzz of conversation abruptly died and Risko hurried down the corridor to his room.

The FM had a point. If he reported the theft, that meant a breakdown in the Personnel Reliability Program. It had been the first thing drummed into Risko's head when he was assigned to security detail on the missile grid. Because of the potential risks of an accidental missile launch caused by an unstable person, everyone watched everyone else for any sign of attitude or emotional changes. The officers watched the enlisted men, and each other. The enlisted men were allowed to report personality changes in any officer, regardless of rank.

Risko's bunkmate had been relieved of duty only last summer when he expressed suicidal thoughts. Risko had reported him. The man was interrogated and it

11

came out that he had been having trouble with his wife. He suspected her of cheating on him during the long three-day shifts everyone in the grid put in. He was summarily transferred to Montana's inhospitable Malstrom Air Force Base.

Every one of the officers assured Risko that he had done the correct thing. But many of the enlisted men began avoiding him. He heard the word "fink" whispered a time or two behind his back.

Now he faced a similar situation, and although his duty was clear, Risko hesitated.

As he turned the corner to his room, his eyes cast downward, Risko bumped into someone.

"Whoa there, airman!"

"Oh, sorry," Risko mumbled, looking up. It was the new cook, Sergeant Green. She was the only woman on the LCF. That alone would have made her stick out. She was a pert little redhead with laserlike blue eyes. She wore a white cook's uniform with silver-and-blue chevrons on her collar. But Risko wasn't looking at her chevrons. He was looking at her chest. Half the LCF had bet the other half that Sergeant Robin Green had a bigger chest than Dolly Parton. No one had yet figured out a way to prove this belief to the satisfaction of the lieutenant who held the betting money in trust.

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