Warren Murphy: Death Check

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The big brains behind the business usually have many pots boiling on their stove, or running their think engines as the case may be. But when the business motto of the Brewster forum, "Pursuing Research Into Original Thought", leads them to some eccentric affairs that throw them far enough off track, Remo Williams enlists the help of his Master Chiun to solve a harrowing crime.

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* Title : #002 : DEATH CHECK *

* Series : The Destroyer *

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

* Location : Gillian Archives *



It was a very fast killing.

Touch the needle to the left arm. Press your thumb in between the left bicep and the tricep to pump up the vein. Ah, there it is. Clear the air from the syringe. Then in. Full. Slowly push the plunger all the way.


Remove the needle and let him collapse back again beside the chess table where he had fallen moments before. His head cracked on the polished parquet floor, and the killer could not help wincing, even though a man with a splendid overdose of heroin needs no sympathy.

"You know, my dear," said the man with the needle. "Some people pay for this. I mean they actually pay to do this to themselves."

"You didn't have to do it that way. You could have given him to me first. I wanted him tonight."

She said this, staring directly at the killer's eyes, trying to get him to look at her instead of the man on the floor. She wore black mesh stockings, covered to the knees with deeply polished black boots. She wore lipstick the colour of dried blood. That was all. She held a whip in her left hand and when she stamped her feet, her naked breasts quivered.

"Will you listen to me?" she demanded.

"Shhh," said the man, his hand on the wrist of the person on the floor. "Ahh, yes. He must be in ecstasy. This might not be a bad way to go when you really think of it. Shhh."

There was silence. Then the man said, "A very fast and efficient job. He's dead."

"He's dead and what about me? Have you given any thought to me?"

"Yes, my dear. Put your clothes on." The man who had once been known as Dr. Hans Frichtmann busied himself pressing the now-empty hypodermic needle into the dead man's left arm in three other spots, barely missing the fatal entry hole. When the body was found, the holes would show that it had taken the victim four tries to find the vein. An amateur. That would help to explain the massive overdose. Not perfect, but it might do.

The woman in the boots had not moved. Now she spoke. "How about... you know, you and me? Normal."

"You and me would not be normal." He fixed his pale blue eyes on her. "Get your clothes on and help me with this unfortunate."

"Shit," she said.

"I do not find your total Americanization becoming," he said coldly. "Dress." She tossed her head angrily and her rich black hair cascaded around her bare shoulders as she turned and walked away.

Well before dawn, they placed the body behind a desk in an office at the Brewster Forum, a non-profit organization described as "pursuing research into original thought." It was the office of the director of security, and when the man had been alive, it had been his office.

The head fell forward onto the blotter and the syringe was carefully dropped beneath the right hand, whose knuckles momentarily swung inches above the pile of the carpeting, then settled-very still-above the needle.

"Ah, that's it. Good. Perfect," said the man.

"A shameful waste," added the woman, who now wore a smart tweed suit and a fashionable knit cap, pulled down tightly over her head.

"My dear. Our employers are paying us very well to procure for them the plan to conquer the world. This imbecile got in our way. His death, therefore, is no waste. It is simply a requirement of our profession."

"I still don't like it. I don't like the planets for tonight. There is a force playing against us."

"Rubbish," the man said. "Did you give him a person check?"

"Yes. Was it rubbish when they almost caught us? Was it rubbish when...?" Her voice trailed off as they left the office.

But the person check had not been made. And under the collar of the highly starched shirt of the director of security were clothbound negatives, tightly stitched into place.

The late director of security had sewn them there the previous evening, in response to a vaguely anticipated feeling of danger. When he had finished, he returned the needle and thread to his wife's sewing cabinet, kissed her, told a white lie about an evening of entertainment and moving up in the world, double-checked to make sure his insurance policies were still in view on top of their dresser and left their small home with all the phony nonchalance he could generate without running the risk of being obvious.

Peter McCarthy had planned to find out just what those negatives meant. In eighteen years on the job, a small cog in the federal investigative machinery, it was the first time he had ever felt that his work was important.

Eighteen years on the job, with the money and the benefits, and they were one of the first families on the block with a colour television, and Jeannie got a new coat every year, and the kids were in parochial schools and the station wagon was almost paid for, and they had all taken a cruise to the Bahamas the year before. Hell, $18,000 a year plus the $4,000 tax-free supplement for Peter McCarthy whose final high school grade was a straight C. Nice going.

As he walked away from his house, he wondered if the business with the insurance policies was not unnecessarily melodramatic. After all, this would probably turn out to be just someone's sordid little hobby. Messy, but not really important. He felt exhilarated.

Later that night, when he rested his forearms on the arms of a chair, surveying an element of the latest move in a game strange to him, Peter McCarthy realized he had found something big. But it was too late.

When his body was found the next morning, it was taken quietly to a nearby government hospital, where a five-man team of federal pathologists performed an eight-hour autopsy. Another team went over McCarthy's effects with microscopic thoroughness, removing the lining from his jacket, unstitching all his clothes, dissecting his shoes, and, eventually, finding the negatives.

The autopsy report and the negatives were sent away for further analysis, to a mental institution on Long Island Sound. There the negatives were duly processed into prints, examined for their film type and source of develop, then sent to another department for reproduction and programming, then to another department which sent them to another department which hand-delivered them finally to an office where a bitter-faced man sat with an abacus. The processing had taken two hours.

"Let's see them," the lemon-faced man growled. "Haven't seen stuff like this since college. Of course, in college, we never paid $1,900 a print either."

When he was through with the last of the twelve prints, each the size of a large magazine page, he nodded that the bearer could leave. "Have them processed small for carry and destruction. Water soluble will do."

"The negatives, too?"

"No, just the prints. Get out."

Then the bitter-faced man drummed on the polished abacus beads and spun his high dark chair to face out toward Long Island Sound.

He watched the night on the sound, dark and trailing far away to the Atlantic he had crossed as a young man in the O.S.S. To the Atlantic on whose shores he was given a last assignment he did not like and had at first refused and still wondered about at moments like this.

Peter McCarthy was dead. Murdered, according to the autopsy. And the negatives. They confirmed those vague hints of trouble at Brewster Forum and as far as the United States was concerned, Brewster Forum was heavy. Very heavy.

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