Warren Murphy: Last Call

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    Last Call
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During a CIA budget war, a group of assassins mistakenly triggers an ingenious CIA plot originally planned in the 1950s - and a worldwide killing spree of top-level Russian officials begins . . . Only the Destroyer, with the all-wise Chiun and the ever-wild Ruby, can stop them from reaching their primary target - the Russian premier! However, in the midst of all this carnage, Chiun still wants Remo and Ruby to create a super baby as heir to Sinanju, before the government's budget cuts wipe out welfare funds! How will The Destroyer cope with life and death, love and procreation, all at once?

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DESTROYER #35: LAST CALL

Copyright (c) 1978 by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy.

CHAPTER ONE

It would have seemed like a crime against nature if Admiral Wingate Stantington (USN Retired) had not risen to a position of great prominence in the United States. The new head of the Central Intelligence Agency was the sturdy, clean-faced epitome of the best of all his schools. He had gotten his character from Annapolis, his computer efficiency from Harvard Business School, his culture from Oxford. He had been a Rhodes scholar and a second-string ail-American halfback for the Navy.

His ice blue eyes twinkled with wit and strength, exuding a certain happy courage that had shown America over its television screens that brains and pluck and a new broom were now sweeping our intelligence agencies into a lean, clean top-flight group that not only America but the whole world could be proud of.

Sixty minutes before he was to make an offhand decision that could trigger World War III, Admiral Stantington was arguing with a man who obviously had not read the New York Times Sunday magazine article about Stantington's ir-

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resistible "he gets what he wants but always with a smile" charm.

"Shove it, Stantington," the man said. He was sitting in a hard-backed wooden chair in the middle of a bare room in a federal detention center outside Washington, D.C. The man wore light, plastic-framed, round eyeglasses that were too small for his face, the big sturdy round open face of an Iowa farmer.

Stantington walked in circles around the man, his tall, trim athletic body moving as briskly as if he were on a parade ground. He wore a light blue shadow-striped suit that accentuated his height and whose color went well with his eyes and his impeccably styled sandy hair with the faint touch of gray distinction over each temple.

"That's not really the tack to take," Stantington said in his soft Southern accent. "A little cooperation now might help you in the future."

The prisoner looked up at Stantington and his eyes narrowed behind the thick-lensed glasses.

"A little cooperation?" he said. "A little cooperation? You've got thirty-five years of my cooperation and what did I get for it? A jail sentence." He turned his face away and crossed his arms stubbornly, covering the printed number on his chest. He wore twill prisoner's fatigues.

Stantington walked around him again until he was in front of the prisoner and the man could see the new CIA director's winning smile.

"That's all water under the bridge," Stantington said. "Come on. Why don't you just tell me where it is?"

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"Go to hell. You and that peckerhead you work for."

"Dammit, man. I want that key."

"Will you please tell me why a forty-nine-cent key is so important to you ?" the prisoner asked.

"Because it is," Stantington said. He, wanted to grab the man by the throat and wring the truth out of him. Or call in a CIA goon squad and have them apply electrodes to his testicles and shock the answer out of him. But there was no more of that. That was the old CIA, the discredited CIA, and it was probably knowing that the CIA had changed that made this prisoner so truculent and unreasonable.

"I threw it in a sewer so you couldn't get your manicured hands on it," the prisoner said. "No. No, I didn't. I had a hundred copies made and I gave them away to everybody and when you're not looking they're going to sneak into your office and go into your private bathroom and piss in your sink."

Admiral Wingate Stantington took a deep breath and clenched his hands behind his back.

"If that's the way you want it," he said to the prisoner. "But I just want you to know I won't forget this. If I have anything to say about it, you can kiss your pension goodbye. If I have anything to say about it, you'll serve out every goddamn last day of your term. And if I have anything to say about it, people like you will never again have anything to do with this country's intelligence apparatus."

"Go piss up a rope," the prisoner said.

Stantington walked briskly toward the door of

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the bare room. His pedometer, which measured how many miles he walked each day, clicked against his right hip. At the door, the prisoner called his name. Stantington turned around and looked back into his eyes.

"It's going to happen to you too, Stantington," the man said. "Even as dumb as you are, you're going to try to do your best and one day they'll change the rules in the middle of the game and your ass'll be grass, just like mine. I'll save you a spot in the prison chow line."

And the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency smiled at Stantington, who walked out of the room without comment, a deep sense of disquiet and irritation flooding his mind.

Admiral Wingate Stantington brooded in the back of his limousine, all the way back to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, D.C. He had wanted that key to the private bathroom in his office. Time magazine was coming the next week, probably to do a cover story on him, and he had already written the lead of the story in his mind:

Admiral Wingate Stantington, the man chosen to lead the beleagured Central Intelligence Agency, is both brilliant and budget-minded. In case anyone doubts that last point, when Stantington was installed in his new office last week, he found the door to his private washroom locked. The only key, he was told, was in the possession of the former director of the CIA, now serving a five-year jail term. Rather than call a locksmith and

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put in a new lock ($23.65 by current Washington prices), Admiral Stantington drove by the prison on his way to work the next day and got the key from his predecessor. 'That's the way we're running things around here from now on,' Stantington said when he reluctantly confirmed the story. 'A tight ship is one that doesn't leak and that includes not leaking money,' he said."

To hell with it, Stantington thought. Time magazine would have to think of some other lead for its story. He couldn't be expected to do everybody's job for them.

The admiral was in his office at 9 A.M. He called his secretary on the intercom and told her to get a locksmith tout de suite and get a new lock for his bathroom door.

"And get two keys," he said. "And you keep one."

"Yes, sir," the young woman said, slightly surprised, because she hadn't thought it took a CIA command decision to get two keys for a new lock.

When he clicked off his intercom, Stantington checked his pedometer and found that he had already walked one and a half miles of his ten-mile daily quota. It gave him his first warm feeling of the day.

The second warm feeling came twenty minutes later when he met with his director of operations and chief of personnel and signed an order terminating the employment of 250 field agents and, thus, with a stroke of the pen, accomplishing the kind of decimation of the CIA's field forces that

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the Russians had lusted after for years but had always been unable to accomplish.

"Have to show them up on the Hill that we mean business," the CIA director said. "Anything else?"

He looked at the two men. His chief of operations, a round man who sweated a lot and had yellow teeth, said "Here's something you'll like, Admiral. It's called Project Omega and it's ours."

"I've never heard of it. What's its function?"

"That's just it. It doesn't have any function. The biggest damned no-show job I've ever seen." The operations director spoke in a crackly Southern accent. He was a lifelong friend of Stantington's and had formerly headed the highway system of a Southern state. He got the CIA job, out-of a large group of other close political friends, because he was the only one who had never been indicted for taking construction kickbacks.

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