Warren Murphy: The Last Temple

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    The Last Temple
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The bodies of two murdered Israelis have turned up, hacked to bits and the pieces arranged in a bloody swastika - and Remo and Chiun are on their way to meet the leaders of an Israeli doomsday group, Zeher Lahurban. In the event of Israel losing the war with the Arabs, secretly stored atom bombs will drop on Arab territory. But a group of ex-Nazis discover the plan, and see a way to destroy the Jewish nation once and for all - without any help from the Arabs. Remo and Chiun are up against fanatics with long memories, who are keeping Hitler's schemes alive in their twisted minds.

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***********************************************

* Title : #027 : THE LAST TEMPLE *

* Series : The Destroyer *

* Author(s) : Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir *

* Location : Gillian Archives *

***********************************************

CHAPTER ONE

Ben Isaac Goldman separated them, cold and thin, then stuck them into their stainless steel cages and lowered them into the boiling grease and watched them fry.

Then he watched the frozen golden chunks in their pale dough coffins being lowered alongside into the earth of liquid grease.

The next day Ben Isaac supervised the grilling of the round, flat pieces of meat, which were USDA inspected and not more than 27 percent fat. When the red light flashed and the buzzer sounded, he would automatically turn them over and sprinkle salt onto their burned backs. As they sizzled and spat at him from the grill, he would lower the solid weight atop them to keep them pressed down flat.

The day after that had always been Ben Isaac's favorite. He lined them up, bread round, acned with sesame seed, then fed them into the ovens.

After they were done, he would wrap them in their colorful paper shrouds and stick them in their styrofoam coffins.

For nearly two years, this daily, rhythmic eight-hour massacre had brought Ben Isaac Goldman a certain cleansing peace.

For two years, he had changed symbols: he had traded the six million dead from the swastika for the twenty billion sold from the golden arches. And he was content.

But no longer. He had lost his faith in both symbols, the swastika for which he had worked thirty years earlier, and the golden arches, which he served as an assistant manager in Baltimore, Maryland, spending three days a week controlling the scientifically designed slaughter of helpless food stuffs.

And so now he just went through the motions, his small paper cap squashed down on his wispy white curls, shuffling in greasy black shoes from section to section, making sure the plastic, non-dairy shakes weighed enough, that the measured-before-cooking semiburgers were not in their waiting bins more than seven minutes, and that the onion, tomato, pickle, and special sauce bins were never less than half full.

And he waited only for the end of his workday when he could take off the cheap white gloves he bought each day in Walgreen's drugstore, and drop them into the garbage on his way out.

Recently, he had taken to washing his hands constantly.

On a Sunday evening in April, a spring that promised a bone-melting hot summer, Ben Isaac Goldman pushed open the swinging top of the garbage can in front of the hamburger store, and watched as someone else dropped a pair of white gloves in. He followed with his own gloves, then looked up and met for the first time Ida Bernard, a tight-boned middle-aged lady, originally from the Bronx, who worked at the ice cream place next door.

She wore white gloves too, because her hands got cold working with the soft ice cream so many hours a day, making Mother's Day cakes and birthday treats and sundaes and flying saucers and parfaits and simple plastic cones, all under the auspices of an old man who did his own television commercials and sounded like a candidate for a total laryngectomy.

Besides their use of gloves, Ben and Ida suddenly discovered, talking over the trashcan, that they had a lot of other things in common. Like they both hated hamburgers. And they both hated ice cream. And weren't prices awful nowadays? And wasn't summer going to be hot this year? And why didn't they continue this scintillating conversation over dinner?

So at 8:30 on a Sunday night, Ben Isaac Goldman and Ida Bernard went off in search of a restaurant that did not feature either hamburgers or ice cream.

"I love good peas and carrots, don't you?" asked Ida, who had taken Ben Isaac's arm. She was taller than he was and thinner, but they both had the same length stride so he did not notice.

"Lettuce," said Ben Isaac. "Good lettuce."

"I guess lettuce is all right too," said Ida, who hated lettuce.

"Better than all right. There is something great about lettuce."

"Yes?" said Ida in a tone that tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the question mark.

"Yes," said Ben Isaac Goldman forcefully. "And what is great about lettuce is that it is not hamburger." He laughed.

"Or ice cream," said Ida, and laughed with him, and their strides lengthened as they searched more diligently for a restaurant that served good vegetables. And lettuce.

So this at last was the promised land, Ben Isaac Goldman thought. What life was all about. A job, a place to live, a woman on his arm. The meaning of life. Not revenge. Not destruction. Here, there was no one checking on him, no meetings, no bugged telephones, no dust, no soldiers, no sand, no desert, no war.

He talked all through dinner at a little place with wrinkled peas, white carrots that grew soggy, and lettuce no crisper than wet blotting paper.

By the time their coffee came, weak and bitter as it was, Ben was holding Ida's hands in his on the table.

"America is truly a golden country," he said.

Ida Bernard nodded, watching Ben's broad, jolly face, a face she had seen every day going to work at the hamburger palace, and that she had finally conspired to meet at the glove-disposal unit in the parking lot.

She realized she had never seen Goldman smile until now. She had never seen the twinkle in his deep brown eyes or color in his pale cheeks until now.

"They think I am a dull old man," Goldman said, waving his arm to sweep together every frizz-haired hamburger jockey in the country who resented assistant managers who told them not to pick their noses near the food. Goldman's swinging arm bumped against a newspaper tucked precariously into the pocket of a man's raincoat hanging on the coat rack. It fell to the floor, and Goldman, looking around embarrassedly, bent to pick it up. As he leaned over, he kept talking.

"Aaah, what do they know?" he said. "Children. They have not…" His voice trailed off as his eyes fixed on a corner of the newspaper.

"Yes?" said Ida Bernard. "They have not what?"

"Seen what I have seen," said Goldman. His face had gone ash white. He clutched the paper in his hand as if it were a baton and he were a world-class relay runner.

"I must go now," he said. "Thank you for a nice evening."

Then, still clutching the paper, he stumbled up out of his seat and left, without looking back.

The waiter tiredly asked Ida if that would be all. He did not seem surprised at Goldman's sudden departure. The restaurant's culinary arts often had that effect on the digestion of senior citizens, people old enough to remember when things had been better.

Ida nodded and paid the check, but as she got up to leave, she noted Goldman's hat on the coat rack. He was not to be seen on the street outside, but on the inside band of his hat, his name and address had been printed twice in indelible ink.

His address was only a few blocks from where she stood, so she walked.

She passed the devastated blocks of business, their doors chained and their windows fenced in against the human storm of Baltimore. She passed the open doors and boarded windows of a dozen bars. The Flamingo Club and the Pleze Walk Inn. She passed a block of squat four-family houses, each with the same design, the same television aerials, and the same fat old mommas out on the stoops in their rocking chairs, fanning the soot away from their faces.

Goldman lived in an apartment building that was, to Ida's eyes, a forbidding brick square, chipped and worn, like a stone castle that had been under attack by the Huns for the past two hundred years. The street on which he lived had survived the murderous race riots of ten years ago, only to die, instead, of natural causes.

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