Warren Murphy: Assassins Play Off

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    Assassins Play Off
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For centuries, the ancient House of Sinanju is recognized as the center of learning for all the martial arts. From the ancestral nucleus of Oriental power and prestige have come the world's deadliest assassins and killers, also man's greatest protectors and warriors. To become a Master of Sinanju, however, is to totally perfect one's mental, spiritual, and physical powers. Very few mortals possess even a fraction of the necessary skills. Mere muscle or brains do not matter. Rarer still have been the men who dare to even approach the lowest steps of this shrine to violence and sudden death at Sinanju. The masters of Sinanju are the sun source and essence of the martial arts since prehistory. Recent upstart fighting techniques such as Kung Fu, Karate, Ninja, Aikido are but minor variations in the deadly armament of a Master. Only foreplay to the Grand Battle. And now, for the first time, a Westerner, a white man, Remo Williams, is defending the Holy Place against his relentless archenemy, Nuihc. Not since the Mongol invasions and the barbaric Chinese warlords has the land trembled in such anticipation. The scenario begins in New Jersey. The die is cast in a U.S. government submarine. Now Chiun and the Premier of Korea will witness the Grand Battle. And Remo Williams - the Destroyer - is being allowed but one blow. One split-second opportunity to punch, slash, chop, smash or kick . . . The ghosts of a thousand warriors dance in the dust as the two men face each other. And Chiun knows.

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

* Title : #020 : ASSASSINS PLAY-OFF *

* Series : The Destroyer *

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

* Location : Gillian Archives *

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

CHAPTER ONE

He who plays with the sword shall succumb to him who works with the willow branch. —HOUSE OF SINANJU.

He had paid $8,000, all that was in his family's savings account, and had promised $12,000 more in three years of monthly installments to be sitting in the drafty main room of this Scottish castle in the drizzly, bitter chill autumn of the highlands, his knuckles on the floor, his weight on his knees in a position of respect.

They had remodeled the room, they said. A new wooden floor, polished to a high gloss. New rice-paper tapestries with the symbols of Ninja—the night fighters—of Atemi, the fist methods; of Kung Sool, the archery; of Hsing-i, the boxing; and many others he did not recognize.

But they had not taken away the draft from Kildonan Castle, north of Dundee and south of Aberdeen, inland from the Firth of Tay. Only the Scots, thought William Ashley, could create a structure that was drafty without being ventilated.

And even the Koreans couldn't overcome it.

The large room smelled of pungent sweat mixed with fear and perhaps it was the chill that made Ashley's knees ache and his back feel as if someone were tightening a garrote on his spinal column. Not since he was a novice in the little commercial karate dojo in Rye, New York, had Ashley felt the pain in the position of respect, knees on floor, hands extended outward so that you rested on both feet and hands. It was in that little dojo after work that he learned respect for himself in the conquest of his body. Learned to control his fears and his passions, learned that it was not the yellow belt or the green belt or the brown belt or even the highest—or what he thought was the highest then—the black belt, that was important; no, what was important was what he became with each step taken toward a perfection far off in the distance.

And it was precisely this striving for perfection that had brought Ashley to the highlands with his family's savings and his three-week annual vacation.

He had initially thought that perfection was an unattainable goal, a thought that kept men rising and improving, a goal that when you were closest you realized was farther away. A place and a thing beyond where you would ever be. It was a direction, rather than a destination.

Which is what he had said in the Felt Forum of Madison Square Garden last month. Which was why he was here, $8,000 poorer and telling himself, like all those who really understand the martial arts, that body pain must eventually diminish.

He had made the remark about perfection being unattainable to a Korean who had come to the annual martial arts exhibit and who had commented somewhat complimentarily on Ashley's performance.

"Almost perfect," said the Korean, who wore a dark business suit with white starched shirt and a red tie. He was young but somewhat fleshy around the jowls.

"Then I am happy," said Ashley, "because no one is perfect."

"Not so," said the Korean. "There is perfection."

"In the mind," said Ashley.

"No. Here on earth. Perfection you can touch."

"What school are you with?" asked Ashley, who himself was karate but knew of kung fu, aikido, ninja, and many other fighting methods of the body.

"Perhaps all schools," said the Korean. Ashley looked at the man more closely. He could not be older than his thirties, and such arrogance in one so young surely meant ignorance rather than competence. He reminded himself that not all Orientals knew the martial arts any more than all Americans knew rocketry. The man had obviously come to the Felt Forum to see what the martial arts were about and just as obviously was a windbag. There were Orientals who talked through their hat, too.

The Korean smiled.

"You doubt me, don't you, William Ashley?" he said.

"How do you know my name?"

"Do you think your name is a secret?"

"No, but I am surprised that you know me."

"William Ashley, thirty-eight, computer programmer for Folcroft Sanitarium, Rye, New York. And you think because you are a grain of sand on the beach, I should not be able to tell you from any other grain of sand on the beach, and you are surprised that I know you."

"Very," said Ashley who knew what to do in situations like this. He was supposed to call Folcroft Sanitarium and report it because the information he worked with at the sanitarium was top security. The sanitarium walls were just a cover. He, along with two other National Security Agency programmers, had been sent there seven years before, and so secret was their work that no one man could tell, even if he were forced to, about the scope and nature of any project he worked on.

But something about this Korean made Ashley hesitate.

"If you are surprised, you have a very poor memory."

Bill Ashley slapped his thigh and laughed.

"Of course. I remember. Last year. Just before Christmas. You had been in some sort of accident, with crude oil, I think, and had suffered skin burn. Severe, if I remember. You came to our dojo and you were recuperating and our sensei said you were a great master. Your name was, don't tell me, I remember, I remember, I remember…"

"Winch."

"Right. Winch," said Ashley. "How do you do, sir. It is an honor to meet you again. Oh, I'm sorry." Ashley put his hand down. He remembered the man did not shake hands.

Together then, they watched an exhibition of monkey fighting, a peculiar form in which much leverage was claimed, but Winch pointed out to Ashley that there was no leverage at all, just the illusion of power.

When one of the fighters knocked the other off the mat, Ashley said that looked like plenty of leverage to him.

"Only because they were both monkey style, balancing on a single foot, instead of thrusting from that foot. Anyone with feet wide apart who got close so that he could see the little lines on the teeth could, with a push, make any monkey fighter look like a fool."

"I believe it because you say it, but they are both fifth dan black belts."

"You do not believe it, but you will," Winch said and rose from his seat. In a language Ashley assumed was Korean, Winch spoke to several of the monkey fighting masters who looked shocked, then angry.

"Put on your gi," said Winch. "You will make the monkey boxer look like a fool."

"But they are all very famous here in the New York area," said Ashley.

"I have no doubt. Many people are famous here. Just keep your feet wide apart and get very close and push."

"Perhaps a more forceful attack?" said Ashley.

"A push," said Winch.

"What did you tell them?" asked Ashley, nodding past Winch toward the black belt experts who were staring at him.

"What I told you. That you will make any monkey boxer look like a fool and that they should be ashamed that true Koreans would lend their presence to such silliness."

"Oh, no. You didn't," gasped Ashley.

"Go," said Winch.

"What about humility?"

"What about truth? Go. You will shame that monkey boxer if you do as I say. Do not box. Do not attack with feet or slashing or chopping blows. Get close and push. You will see."

When Ashley, in his two piece gi, entered the ring, he heard snickers from the black belts. He saw several smile. The monkey boxer chosen to take care of Ashley smiled. He was about the same age as Ashley, but his body and even his skin was harder, more alive, for he had been training since he was a child. Ashley had started when he was twenty-eight.

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