Warren Murphy: Summit Chase

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  • Название:
    Summit Chase
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The President of Scambia's life is in danger when one sleezy goon schemes to assassinate not only a leader, but immobilize and destroy the entire country and transform its peaceful society into a thundering safe haven for international hoods. Master Chiun and his protégé Remo Williams descend on the scene to combat the treacherous plot...but not without a fight.

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

* Title : #008 : SUMMIT CHASE *

* Series : The Destroyer *

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

* Location : Gillian Archives *

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

CHAPTER ONE

It is written in the ancient books that when visiting a man who is soon to die, one must carry the knotted rope of elephant tail.

So when the uniformed guard told him that the President would see him now, Vice President Asiphar waited until the guard had left, and then secreted the bulky knot in the right back pocket of his uniform trousers. Only then did he walk from his own office and follow the guard down the hall, the sounds of their heels clicking on the marble floor, the only rupture in the monumental stillness of the ornate palace.

Asiphar paused outside the carved, double-oak doors, took a deep breath and then pulled open the heavy door. He stepped inside, allowed the door to shut behind him, and looked up.

The President of Scambia was standing at the window, looking out over the grounds that surrounded the palace. The palace itself had been built of blue slate-like stones that were mined in the small and still new country; the grounds reflected the President's preoccupation with blue.

They were crisscrossed in mazes of pools and gardens and hedges. The water in the pools was blue, so were the flowers-even the precisely cut hedges were of so deep a green as to appear blue.

The uniforms of the palace guards were blue, too, and the President noted that fact with satisfaction. It would be the nation's tradition. When a nation is nothing-has nothing-tradition is not a bad place to begin building.

The only mar to the colour scheme of the palace was the yellow of the uniforms of the work crew laying a sewer under the roadway, at the corner of the east wing of the palace building. It annoyed the President to see it, as it had annoyed him every day for the four weeks the crew had been working. But he would say nothing. A nation must have sewers as well as tradition.

President Dashiti turned now, to face the man who stood across the desk from him. During the interview, he would find it necessary to turn to the window from time to time, so as not to commit the discourtesy of smiling openly at the uniform Vice President Asiphar wore. It was of red gabardine, and every available inch of seam appeared to be trimmed with braid: gold braid, silver braid, blue and white braid. The uniform had been tailored in Paris, but not even its immaculate tailoring could disguise the obesity of Vice President Asiphar.

Not that many noticed, on first meeting, that Asiphar was fat. The first impression always was that he was ugly. More striking than his hideous uniforms, more impressive than his enormous bulk, was his face-a blue-black inkwell of darkness. His nose was wide, his forehead sloped back to a pointed head, that, fortunately, was hidden by his braided military cap.

President Dashiti once had wrestled for three weeks in his own mind, trying to determine if Asiphar looked more like a circus fat man or an out-of-shape Neanderthal. The body belonged to the circus, the face to pre-historic man. The question had been left unresolved.

More important was the fact that Asiphar was a military man, the choice of the generals for vice president, and it was necessary to tolerate him, no matter how loathsome Dashiti found him.

But toleration was not trust, and the President gave himself full approval to distrust Vice President Asiphar. How could one not distrust a man who spent twenty-four hours a day perspiring? Even now rivulets of sweat ran down the vice president's face, and the backs of his hands glistened with pearl drops of perspiration. They were here together, not under strain or tension, but merely to discuss Asiphar's vacation plans.

"Be sure," the President said, "to visit the Russian embassy. Then, of course, stop in at the American embassy. And let them know you have been to the Russian embassy."

"Certainly," Asiphar said. "But why?"

"Because this will surely get us more guns from the Russians and more money from the Americans."

Vice President Asiphar made no effort to hide his distaste; involuntarily, his right hand moved to his hip and his fingertips felt the knotted elephant tail in his pocket.

"You disapprove, general?"

"It is not my place to approve or disapprove, my president," Asiphar said. His voice was thick and guttural, his accent guaranteed that he had not been schooled at Sandhurst. "It is just that I am not comfortable living on the largesse of other nations."

President Dashiti sighed and sank slowly into his soft, blue leather chair. Only then did Asiphar sit down across the desk from him.

"Nor am I, general," Dashiti said. "But there is little else we can do. We are called an emerging nation. Yet, you know as I, that we have emerged from barbarism to backwardness. We will have many years to rule, before our people can live from the fruits of their own productivity."

He paused, as if inviting an answer, then went on.

"We were not lucky enough to have oil. Only that accursed blue stone, and how much of that could we sell? How long would our people live off that? But we have something more important. Our location. Here on this island, we control the Mozambique Channel and thus much of the world's shipping and so does whichever great power we happen to side with. And so our course is clear. We side with none; we talk with all, and we accept their largesse until that day when it will no longer be necessary. But until that day comes, we must play the game, and so you must visit their embassies on your stay in Switzerland."

He picked delicately at the crease of his shadow-striped white suit, and then his shrewd eyes raised to meet the cow-eyes of Asiphar across the desk.

"Of course, I shall, my president," Asiphar said. "And now, with your permission?"

"Certainly," Dashiti said, rising to his feet and extending his slim taa hand which was alone in air, for just a fraction of a second, before being engulfed in Asiphar's blubbery black fingers. "Have an enjoyable vacation," Dashiti said. "I wish I were going with you." He smiled, with real warmth, and tried to hide his revulsion at Asiphar's sweaty hand.

The two men held the handshake, their eyes locked together, then Asiphar turned away. The President released his hand, and with a slight bow, Asiphar turned and walked across the carpeted floor to the twelve-foot high doors.

He did not smile until he was past the two blue-uniformed guards who stood watch outside the President's office door. But he smiled on his way down the hall to the elevator. He smiled in the elevator. And he smiled while walking to his chauffeured Mercedes Benz limousine, parked in front of the palace. He sank back into the soft cushions of the rear seat, breathing deeply of the dry, air-conditioned coolness. Then, still smiling, he told his chauffeur: "The airport."

The car slowly made its way out, along the circular drive in front of the palace. The driver slowed, to inch past the half-dozen yellow-suited workmen, digging a deep excavation next to the east wing wall of the palace, and muttered a curse under his breath. Aloud, he said, "These fools seem to have been digging for months."

Asiphar was too pleased with himself to worry about the laggard performance of workmen, so he said nothing. The knot in his right hip pocket pressed uncomfortably against his flesh. He pulled it from his pocket and held it in his hands, looking at it, feeling the toughness of the hide, beginning to plan the remarks he would make upon his ascension to the presidency in just seven more days. Asiphar. The president of Scambia.

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