Warren Murphy: The Head Men

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Remo Williams, aka The Destroyer, is being summoned to the nation's capital by the White House to expose a vicious plot to assassinate the President. The FBI and CIA are coming up empty in their investigation of a string of murderers of top executives around the country and now they need the special talents only The Destroyer can provide. Cutting to the core of the deadly conspiracy, Remo discovers a security leak on Capitol Hill itself and tightens his lethal noose. But, can he and Chiun, his Sinanju mentor, stop the killers before the President becomes the last corpse in the long line of The Head Men?

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DESTROYER #31: THE HEAD MEN

Copyright (c) 1977 by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy

For Hank nocte dieque incubando

CHAPTER ONE

This death threat made him think.

It had that real quality about it, as if it weren't so much a threat as a promise.

The caller had sounded so much like an authentic businessman that Ernest Walgreen's secretary had put him right through.

"It's a Mr. Jones."

"What does he want?" asked Walgreen. As president of DataComputronics in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he had learned to rely on his secretary, so much so that when he met people at business functions he would instinctively look for her to tell him which person he should warm up to and which he shouldn't. It was a simple question of not bothering to use his own judgment because his secretary's had proved so much better over the years.

"I don't know, Mr. Walgreen. He sounded like you were expecting his call. He says it's a somewhat private matter."

"Put him on," Walgreen said. He could work while he talked, reading proposals, checking out contracts, signing documents. It was an executive's attribute, a mind that could be in two

1

places at once. His father had had it; his own son did not.

Walgreen's grandfather had been a farmer and his father had owned a drugstore. Walgreen had thought there was a natural progression, from farm to pharmacy to executive suite, and on to possibly president of a university or perhaps the clergy. But, no, his own son had bought a small farm and had returned to growing wheat and worrying about the frequency of the rains and the price of crops.

Ernest Walgreen had thought the progress of the Walgreen family was a ladder, not a circle. There were worse things than farming, but few that were harder, he thought. But he knew it would be of no avail to argue with his son. The Walgreens were stubborn and made up their own minds. Grandpa Walgreen had once said, "The purpose of trying is trying. It ain't so damned important to get somewhere as it is to be on your way."

Young Ernest had asked his father what that meant. His father said, "Grandpa means it isn't how you put it in the bottle, but what you put in."

Years later Walgreen realized that that was just a simple contradiction of what Grandpa had said, but by then he didn't have too much time to think about it. He was too busy, and before Grandpa died he commended Ernest Walgreen for using his very modest skills, "to become one of the richest little pissers in the whole damned state. I didn't think you had it in you." Grandpa Walgreen talked like that. All the Walgreens made up their own minds.

"Mr. Walgreen, we're going to kill you," came

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the voice over the telephone. It was a man. A steady voice. It was not the usual sort of threat.

Walgreen knew threats. His first ten years out of the university were spent guarding President Truman in the Secret Service, a career which, despite its promised promotions for one as bright and thorough as Walgreen, did not go as far up the ladder as Walgreen had intended to take himself and his family. But because of that he knew threats and he knew most of them were made by people who couldn't carry out real physical harm on their targets. The threat itself was the attack.

Most of the real dangers came from people who never sent any threat at all. The Secret Service still checked out the threateners and had them watched, but it was not so much to protect the President as to protect the department in the unlikely event that a threatener actually went out and tried to do something about his hatred. Eighty-seven percent of all recorded death threats made in America over a year were made by drunks. Less than three-hundredth's of one percent of those threats ever resulted in anything.

"You just threatened my life, didn't you?" said Walgreen. He put aside the pile of contracts and his desk, wrote down the time of the call, and buzzed his secretary to listen in.

"Yes, I did."

"May I ask why?"

"Don't you want to know when?" said the voice. It had a twang, but it was not midwest. Walgreen placed it somewhere east of Ohio and south. Virginia in the west, possibly. The voice sounded in the late forties. It was raspy. Walgreen wrote down on a small white pad: 11:03

3

a.m., twangy voice, South. Virginia? Male. Raspy. Probably a smoker. Late forties.

"Certainly I want to know when, but more than that I want to know why."

"You wouldn't understand."

"Try me," said Walgreen.

"In due time. What are you going to do about this?"

"I'm going to report it to the police."

"Good. And what else?"

"I'll do whatever the police tell me."

"Not enough, Mr. Walgreen. Now you're a rich man. You should be able to do more than just phone the police."

"Do you want money?"

"Mr. Walgreen, I know you want to keep me talking. But I also know that even if the police were sitting in your lap, you would not be able to trace this call in less than three minutes . . . and considering they are not, the real talking time is closer to eighteen minutes before you could trace this call."

"I don't get death threats every day."

"You used to. You dealt with them all the time. For money, remember ?"

"What do you mean?" asked Walgreen, knowing exactly what the caller meant. The caller knew Walgreen had worked for the Secret Service, but even more important knew exactly what Walgreen's job had been. Even his wife didn't know that.

"You know what I mean, Mr. Walgreen."

"No, I don't."

"Where you used to work. Now, don't you think you could provide yourself some good pro-

4

tection with all your friends at the Secret Service and with all your money?"

"All right. If you insist, I'll protect myself. Then what?"

"Then we'll kill your ass anyway, Ernie. Hahaha."

The caller hung up. Ernest Walgreen wrote down the last note on the sheet. 11:07- The caller had spoken for four minutes.

"Wow," said Walgreen's secretary, bursting into the office. "I got down every word he said. Do you think he's for real?"

"Very," said Ernest Walgreen. He was fifty-four years old and he felt drained that day. It was as if something in him were crying about the injustice of it. As if there were better times for death threats, not when his son's wife was about to give birth, not when he had bought the ski lodge in Sun Valley, Utah, not when the company he had founded was about to have a record year, not when Mildred, his wife, had just found a consuming hobby of pottery that made her even more cheerful. These were the best years of his life and he found himself telling himself that he was sorry this threat didn't come when he was young and poor. He found himself thinking, I'm too rich to die now. Why didn't the bastards do it when I had trouble with the mortgage payments ?

"What should I do ?" asked his secretary.

"Well, for the time being, we'll move you down the hall. Who knows what these lunatics will do and there's no point getting anyone killed who doesn't have to be."

"You think they're lunatics?"

5

"No," said Walgreen. "That's why I want you to move several offices away."

To his sorrow, the police also thought it was a call by a lunatic. The police gave him a lecture that came right out of a Secret Service manual on terrorists. Worse, it was a dated manual.

The police captain was named Lapointe. He was roughly Walgreen's age. But where Walgreen was lean and tanned and neat, Lapointe's fleshy expanse seemed held together only by his uniform. He had condescended to see Walgreen because Walgreen was an important businessman. He spoke to Walgreen as if addressing a ladies' tea on the horrors of crime.

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