Warren Murphy: The Last Alchemist

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  • Название:
    The Last Alchemist
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The Philosopher's Stone. The key to turning base metals into gold. Everyone knew it didn't exist. Except it did. And now the last of the alchemists, Harrison Caldwell, had his hands on it and was reaching out to grab the nuclear power that would fuel his dream for bottomless wealth-and create a golden age of hell on earth. Only Remo and Chiun could stop him..if they could get past the army of the highest-paid killers on the globe..if they could survive the attacks of Francisco Braun, the golden-hairdo murderer, whose reputation for being the #1 assassin in his deadly trade was well earned..and if they could break the power of the magic metal that reduced governments to servants and turned even Remo Williams into its slave...

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Destroyer 64: The Last Alchemist

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

The bodies were still there, preserved by the cold and dark of the sea, just as he said they would be. And they were right where he said they'd find them: two hundred feet down, off the coast of Spain, in the belly of a Spanish man-of-war. Maneuvering in the slow dreamwalk of the deep, the diver moved around the open hatch, watching the pantaloons of the dead quiver in the currents created with his heavy leaded feet. They were Spanish soldiers of the king, he had been told, guarding the ship for eternity. They would not harm him, he had been told. He had answered that he wasn't afraid of the dead; he was afraid of the old diving suit he had to wear. If they did find the wreck, and he had to enter it, an air hose going up to the mother ship could get caught in one of the old timbers.

"You're not getting paid to test modern equipment, you're getting paid to find a damned ship and get me something," Mr. Harrison Caldwell had told him from behind a desk in a very modern salvage office in Barcelona. Mr. Caldwell was an American, but strangely he could speak Spanish as though born a grandee. The diver, Jesus Gomez, had been warned of that, warned not to make little snide remarks about the gringo in Spanish.

"Mr. Caldwell, sir. There is no amount of money that is worth my life, sir," Jesus Gomez had answered. He made his protest about the old air hose in practiced English. Jesus was the son and grandson of divers, men who had gone under the water for sponges without any equipment and ended up crippled from the bends, walking into old age stooped like ships heeling to one side. He knew that if he wished to walk upright for the rest of his life he would have to dive with equipment. Getting equipment meant not diving for sponges but things under the sea important people wanted. And important people meant English-speaking people. So Jesus, the diver, learned English early on. The first word Jesus Gomez learned was "mister." The second was "sir."

"Mr. Caldwell, sir. If I lose my life, what good is money? There is not enough money, sir, to pay for my life," Jesus Gomez had told Mr. Caldwell.

"Oh, there most certainly is," Harrison Caldwell had said, brushing something imaginary off his dark immaculate suit. "Let's not waste time in this infernal Latin bargaining. Everything has a price; people are just too stupid to know it. Now, we are not talking about your definite death. We are talking about a risk of death."

"Yessir," said Jesus Gomez. He sat a bit more stiffly than normal, because his mouth had learned the words, but not his soul.

"You risk your life everytime you go down, so we are not even negotiating the risk of your life, but how much of a risk."

"That is correct, Mr. Caldwell."

"Therefore, what is your price for the greater risk?"

"Sir, may I ask why you insist on the old air line connected to a heavy steel helmet and a diving suit? Air lines get tangled in wrecks. Suits are heavy. Wrecks are dangerous enough without entering them on the end of a thin air line."

"I wish to have contact all the time. I wish to have telephone contact all the time."

"Sir, may I suggest the new scuba equipment for me, with a telephone line for you. I will be safe. You will have your diving service, and we will both be happy."

"My way, fifteen thousand dollars for the week," said Harrison Caldwell. He had a sharp long face with a highbridged nose, and an imperious dark-eyed stare that always reminded others of what, exactly, Harrison Caldwell thought they were-servants.

"Sir, I will do it for ten thousand, but let me use my own gear."

"Thirty thousand. We use mine," said Harrison Caldwell.

"Sir..."

"Forty," said Mr. Caldwell.

"Fifty," said Jesus Gomez, and when the American agreed so readily, Jesus Gomez cursed himself for not demanding more. But still, fifty thousand American dollars, for one week of diving, was more than his father had made in a lifetime. Though Jesus was a man of twenty-eight, he almost did not tell his father of his good fortune; Jesus feared his father might regret his having given up his life for so little.

"Jesus," said his father, "fifty thousand dollars American is far too much for a week of diving. It is too much."

"There is no such thing as too much."

"There is always a thing that is too much, " said the father. "I am afraid I will never see you again."

"You will see me rich, Father. You will see a new home, and the good wine bought in bottles, and American cigarettes, and the French cheeses you once had on your trip to the big city. And Mama will have lace for her hair."

"Too much for one week," his father had said. But his father was an old man who was crippled at forty from diving without any gear for the sponges that became farther and farther out, deeper and deeper down. An old man who had spent his strong days earning in his entire life the equivalent of twelve thousand American dollars.

And so Jesus Gomez had taken the dive, and as Mr. Caldwell had said, the ship was waiting for him, including the dead men.

"Yes, Mr. Caldwell," said Jesus Gomez, activating the telephone line with a switch. "I see the bodies where you said they would be."

"Good," said Mr. Caldwell. "Are they wearing pantaloons?"

"Yessir, Mr. Caldwell."

"That is the front hatch, then. Go to the stern. I will wait. "

Slowly Jesus Gomez made his way along the dark planking of the ship, shining the special deep light ahead of his steps, careful not to put his full weight on any plank lest he fall into the hull. Small fish darted in the bright beam, a hole of light in the great darkness of the silent deep. The wood was intact but not strong, not after more than four hundred years. When he reached the stern hatch, his light picked up white skulls, piled like cannonballs in a pyramid.

"Santa Maria," gasped Jesus Gomez.

"You're there," came down Harrison Caldwell's voice. "Wait for the camera." Even two hundred feet down, Jesus could see the strong lights break the surface above. By the time the lights were within the reach of his hands, they were blinding. He had to shut his eyes and grope. Once he had them pointed away, he saw they were mounted on a still camera, a very large still camera, strangely large considering that a movie camera would have been half the size.

"Leave the skulls where they are," came Mr. Caldwell's voice. "Let yourself and the camera down, carefully down, on the prow side of the skulls. You will be walking toward the center."

"I am afraid of my air."

"You have twenty more minutes of work to do to collect the rest of your fifty thousand. Come, come. You are not really in a negotiating position."

When Jesus Gomez shone the light into the dark hull with ribbing torn from the capsizing that took place centuries before, the words "sir" and "mister" came very slow from his throat. But they came nevertheless. Always mindful of his air line, he called for more, and pulled it in a loose coil to his side, careful to avoid a crimp. He would know when he had a crimp. He simply wouldn't be able to breathe.

With the coil carefully at his side, he allowed himself to fall slowly into the hull, prayers on his lips all the way.

It was an insane way to dive, he knew. The camera came with him, its lights making sunshine on wood turned coal black by centuries of the Atlantic. His weighted diving boots kicked a bar and the bar did not move. Heavier than lead. He shone the light down, and it was what he suspected. Gold. A bar of gold. No, tons of gold, piled along the entire length and width of the hull stacked like cordwood in some peasant's hut. No wonder Mr. Caldwell so easily agreed to fifty thousand dollars.

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