The trap had failed. Smith told Remo he did not blame him. Chiun apologized for the failure anyhow.
“Let us stop him from embarrassing you further, O great Emperor Smith,” said Chiun into his end of a threeway telephone hookup in the Miami condo.
“It’s not his fault, Chiun,” said Smith. “It’s mine.”
“Never,” said Chiun. “Thy radiant wisdom is a success the moment it leaves your magnificent lips.”
“Things don’t work sometimes,” said Smith.
“Smitty, stop reasoning with him. You’re not in the right century for that. The operation failed. What do we do now?” asked Remo.
“We stop blaming our gracious emperor,” said Chiun. “We stop right now. How can we blame our emperor when we are not at correctness?”
“What do we do now, Smitty?”
“Why don’t you take a look at the people who got off. Find out how they’re doing it. Who are they paying? And try not to leave bodies, all right? We’re not a revenge outfit.”
“No revenge?” said Chiun.
“No. No. We’re not here for revenge.”
“You have another plan?”
“We have many plans, Chiun, but revenge is never one of them.”
“Begging your gracious pardon, why?” asked Chiun.
“We don’t believe in it.”
Chiun was silent. Remo glanced into the other room, where Chiun was holding the telephone, dumbfounded. Remo got the information and then hung up. Chiun stood stunned, clutching the receiver in his hands. Remo hung it up for him. Chiun did not move.
“Did I hear correctly? Did Emperor Smith say he did not believe in revenge?”
“That’s what he said. He’s not here for revenge.”
“An emperor known not to seek revenge is one who is dead by the morning. Revenge, known public revenge, is what keeps civilization from chaos.”
“Well, he’s doing something else.”
“It is a disgrace to work for an emperor who will not use revenge. How can he employ the premier house of assassins of all time and not use revenge? Would you buy a car and not drive it? Marry a woman and not make love to her? Walk through a rose garden and not breathe? How can he say he will not use revenge when the House of Sinanju stands ready to glorify him?”
“Good questions, Little Father,” said Remo.
“That means you’re not going to answer me,” said Chiun.
“You’re catching on,” said Remo.
* * *
William Hawlings Jameson celebrated the court’s verdict of innocence in grain-market manipulation with a party so lavish it consumed almost ten percent of his illegal profits from those manipulations. At the party he was beaming. Everyone could understand that. He had just escaped ten to fifteen years in the federal penitentiary.
But his wife said he had been feeling that way for weeks before the trial. She told this to a very attractive dark-eyed man with high cheekbones. He was very interested in Bill. No, he didn’t work for Bill, but he wanted to speak to her husband.
“He is so high on life, I don’t think he could speak to one person alone. It would be a downer to him— like having only one bank account. Wasn’t that court decision wonderful? Isn’t it miraculous?”
Mrs. Jameson was one of those women of advanced middle age whose wrinkles could be formed into something attractive only with the massive amount of cosmetic talent that lots of money could buy. She smiled a lot to keep the wrinkles up. Remo estimated she had had two face lifts already. Her teeth, of course, gave her away. Teeth aged in almost everyone, everyone he knew except Chiun. And now, of course, himself. He did not know why this was so about him and Chiun, but he did know that the greater truths, the more basic reasons for things, were just as much a mystery as the far side of the universe.
“Is there something caught in my teeth?” Mrs. Jameson asked.
“You’re sixty-two, right?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“That’s rude,” said Mrs. Jameson.
“I’m right, then,” said Remo.
“Young man, that was uncalled for.”
“You’re right,” said Remo. “I’m really in a foul mood.”
“Well, you certainly know how to ruin a party,” she said.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet, sweetheart,” said Remo. Somehow that made him feel a little bit better. Mrs. Jameson called the butler. He would politely ask the gentleman to leave, and if he did not leave, the butler should use whatever force was required.
“Whatever force,” she repeated.
She did not see her butler again that evening, but she did see the rude young man. He seemed enraptured with Bill’s explanation of his new religion.
“Yes, I know there’s a lot of stories about cult hustles and Poweressence, but the proof of anything for me is in the pudding,” said Bill Jameson, a portly man with the sharp executive face of success. He didn’t have to wear a tuxedo and a gold Rolex to show he had money and power. Wealth was reflected in his eyes and the sure set of his head. His smile was the smile of a man who gave approval and didn’t need it for himself.
“Bill, isn’t Poweressence that thing founded by a science-fiction writer? If it’s so successful, how come he and his wife were just convicted of attempted murder? They also have three counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to extort. This doesn’t sound like Billy Graham or the pope to me,” a guest said.
“You’ve got to understand Poweressence. A force so good has to attract evil. The evil the Dolomos attract keeps it away from the followers. They are really suffering for us, so to speak. That’s the way it was explained to me, and dammit if it didn’t work out that way.”
“Maybe you had a good lawyer.”
“I had the best, but he couldn’t shake my secretary’s testimony. They had me. I was gonzo. And then I believed.”
“What did it cost you?”
“He who has, does,” said Jameson with a knowing smile.
Jameson laughed again. “That’s the initiation fee. But look, they said they would give it back if my life didn’t improve. If I weren’t found innocent. You don’t knock success.”
“I do,” said the young man in his early thirties with dark eyes and high cheekbones. “I knock it a lot.”
“Who are you?”
“The success knocker, Jameson. I want to talk to you,” said Remo.
“I am busy talking to friends.”
The young man put a friendly arm around his shoulder but the shoulder didn’t feel a friendly arm. The shoulder felt like it had been connected to a wall outlet. He couldn’t even scream. He could only nod. He would go wherever that hand wanted him to go, in this case a study off the main ballroom. The door shut behind them and the tinkling noise of his freedom party was shut out.
The room was filled with rich dark wood shelves and warm yellow lighting and solid polished wood chairs. It smelled faintly of rich cigars and old brandy.
“Excuse me, I don’t know many important corporate executives so I’ve got to use my own humble working-class ways to speak with you,” said Remo.
“What did you do to me?” Jameson gasped, trying to shake life back into the shoulder the young man had seemed to electrify with just a touch.
“That’s nothing. Will you listen?”
“There isn’t much else I can do.”
“Good,” said Remo. Then he slapped the president of international Grains, Carbides, and Chemicals on the cheek hard enough to move him two feet to the side. Then he slapped him again.
“That’s hello,” said Remo.
Jameson emitted a pitiful grunt, then quickly emptied his pockets of cash, took off his watch and held it toward Remo.
“I’m not the crook. You are.”
“The court found me innocent,” said Jameson.
“Bring your lawyer in. I’ll work him over too,” said Remo.
“What do you want?”
“Now we’re talking. Who turned the witness for you? Remember Gladys? Your secretary. Told the world all the nasty things you were doing, and you thought because you paid her so much she would keep quiet. Who’s the one who made her forget?”
“What do you mean?”
“This party isn’t for your birthday,” said Remo.
“It was the positive forces of the universe which were unlocked for me. That’s what got me freed.”
Remo slapped him again. “That’s my positive force.”
“I didn’t bribe anyone. I didn’t reach anyone. I just joined Poweressence when everything else seemed to fail. And then my life became positive again. It became good again.”
Remo put Jameson’s right wrist between his fingers and turned so that the arm would turn at the socket. It was not like turning a solid iron knob. The wrist and elbows were weak joints and they could snap at any moment.
Jameson wept in pain.
“Tell me how good your life is, Jameson,” said Remo. “I want to hear about the good forces of the universe.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Wouldn’t understand? I am the force of the universe, jerk.”
“Forget it. You’re not lying.”
Jameson cradled his damaged arm in the other as he leaned forward, crying.
“Are you the agent of darkness?”
“What’s this agent-of-darkness stuff?”
“The stronger the forces of good are, the stronger positive forces are, the more they bring out negative forces. If you join Poweressence and people see you are happy, they begin to knock Poweressence. They can’t live with your happiness. So they have to call Poweressence a fraud. It takes the form of jealousy. Good things always attract bad.”
“Are you saying I’m bad?”
“No. No. It’s just that you’re so powerful. And you have turned that power against me, against my positive forces.”
“I’m a good person,” said Remo.
“Yes,” said Jameson immediately. He shielded his face with his good arm. “You are a good person. A good person.”
“Sometimes I have to use methods you might not like,” said Remo.
“Right,” said Jameson.
“But I am a good person.”
“Right,” said Jameson.
“Now, are you going to sit there and tell me you’re innocent? You robbed America. You robbed every American farmer. You robbed every citizen in the country who depends on the farmers you robbed. It is not a good thing that you got off scot-free. So why don’t you and I work out a deal?”
“Sounds fair,” said Jameson. He sat very rigid in the chair, with his backbone as far away from the young man with the horror-dealing hands as he could.
“You did commit crimes, correct?”
“I did. True.”
“You got off free.”
“I’ve donated to charity, to religions.”
“That thing with the Mickey Mouse forces of the universe won’t do. You don’t even understand the forces of the universe. They’re not in some cult. They’re in the universe. No, I’m thinking of an agreed-upon punishment for you, so you don’t quite enjoy your life knowing you escaped. Because that’s what you did, Jameson.”
“What do you suggest?”
“How about not walking again?”
“One of your arms is damaged already.”
“No, not my arms.”
“Tell you what. One night, maybe sooner, maybe later, I’m going to come back and make you pay for your crimes,” said Remo.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll just have to decide when I get to it. But wait for me. I’m coming back,” said Remo, and he walked out of the room into the party, thanked Mrs. Jameson for inviting him, and asked her again if he weren’t absolutely correct about her age.
Remo thought it was a fitting punishment, tormenting the executive with the fear that Remo would return to inflict damage upon his body. Of course, he wasn’t going to come back, but the executive didn’t know that. The constant terror would be the best punishment of all. It was enough, and Remo hadn’t done it so much for the country as for himself. It was just too wrong for someone that bad to escape so freely to a life that good.
And besides, Remo was in a foul mood.
* * *
The second lucky recipient of an acquittal lived very well also. He had an estate that covered miles of Oklahoma prairie land, a magnificent home more like a castle than a house. He had servants and he had bodyguards, range riders, tough men with carbines and Bronco land cruisers, ten-gallon hats, and weathered faces.
When Remo unweathered a few of the faces, they brought him right to their employer, a man who had swindled thousands of people out of their savings in a diamond-investment scheme. It was as old as fraud itself. He paid the first investors back handsomely with the profits from ensuing investors, and when he had enough people pouring their nest eggs into his bank accounts, he stopped paying everyone and headed toward Brazil, which had no extradition treaty with America. He didn’t make it and was charged with fraud. His accountant, whom he had planned on leaving behind, prepared the entire case for the government. In fact, he was glad to help because his employer, Diamond Bill Pollenberg, had arranged it so the accountant signed all the incriminating documents.
It was an airtight case and the accountant, happily anticipating his revenge, could not be reached. Until that day when he forgot everything after his first college course in double ledger entries.
And then Diamond Bill Pollenberg went free. He went back to his vast rangelands to enjoy nature. And he enjoyed it right up until a thin man with thick wrists told him that if he didn’t explain some things right now, he was going to embed a horse’s hoof in Mr. Pollenberg’s rectum, and he was going to leave the horse attached.
Bill Pollenberg knew the time to use reason when he saw it. What he saw this day was two of his toughest range hands with their wrinkles rearranged on their faces, and tears of pain in their eyes.
“Howdy, podner,” said Pollenberg, offering the stranger a pot of coffee off the campfire. Pollenberg wore a ten-gallon hat, Levi’s, and boots, which offset his $200,000 diamond pinkie ring perfectly. It was the only real diamond he had ever owned.
“Where’d you pick up this ‘podner’ stuff? I got you down as having been born on Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx.”
“I am a reasonable man. Let us reason together.”
“How’d you turn the witness?”
“I didn’t do anything, friend. Have some coffee. Get with the positive forces. Unleash yourself. Become your real self.”
“What did you do to the witness?”
“The forces of the universe did it for me,” said Bill Pollenberg with a smile. Shortly thereafter, smiling Bill was found minus his diamond ring and serving as a cushion for his favorite horse’s right rear hoof. Every time the horse used his hoof, Bill Pollenberg’s stomach met part of his vast rangeland. The diamond ring was recovered from a little girl in downtown Oklahoma City who said a nice man gave it to her because she had such a pretty smile.
* * *
On a yacht cruising the Pacific along the California coast, Angelo Muscamente met his underbosses, his oily courtesy coating the ever-present malevolence that made his organization one of the smoothest-running in the country. They all had survived what had been the greatest threat to their freedom in a decade and they had gotten their reprieve when a minor enforcer, a witness, suddenly forgot everything.
No one who knew Mr. Muscamente believed for one moment he had not stretched his long powerful arms out to reach Gennaro “Drums” Drumola. Everyone knew that crossing Mr. Muscamente meant pain at least, and death at most. Those offenses that brought the death penalty were those jobs that cost Mr. Muscamente anything over $5,000. Because the boss was unreasonable and unbendable about the arbitrary line, only petty thievery could flourish in his mob. As his lieutenants boarded his yacht, each kissed his offered hand.
“Mr. Muscamente, it is a pleasure to be here,” said one after another.
“Yeah. Okay,” said Mr. Muscamente, receiving the homage with boredom. There were fourteen, all told, who were finally assembled on the rear deck of his oceangoing yacht
But these were not exactly the words Mr. Muscamente’s bodyguards used.
“Ey! Youse guys. Get outta here. Go to the front. I don’t want to see none of youse here no more. You hear? Now beat it.”
When the decks were cleared of outsiders, Mr. Muscamente cleared his throat. He sat on a slightly higher chair near the rear railing. He wore his yachtsman’s double-breasted blue blazer and white slacks with Top-Siders. Mr. Muscamente had seen others wear this uniform, and he had ordered it by having two of his men muscle a fellow yachtsman into a clothing store and find out what the clothes were called by saying:
“What’s dis guy wearing?”
Then he ordered it for himself. And so from his high seat on his yacht
“You see in me a new person,” said Mr. Muscamente.
“But it is not new. Not new at all,” said Mr. Muscamente. He waited for everyone to agree with his contradiction.
“Now, how can this be, you may ask yourselves.”
“Good question, boss,” said Santino “Big Jelly” Jellino.
“There is within all of us a positive power we fight against.”
“We’ll beat the shit out of it, boss,” said Big Jelly.
“Shut up,” said Mr. Muscamente kindly.
“Right, boss. Everyone shut up,” said Big Jelly.
“Mostly you, Big Jelly,” said Mr. Muscamente. “Now, how can there be another good person locked inside a struggling negative person?”
Only the sound of the engine purring belowdecks could be heard. No one was going to answer the question. Everyone avoided the eyes of everyone else. No one wanted it to be known that he didn’t have the slightest idea what the boss was talking about.
Mr. Muscamente talked of the forces of the universe being good. He talked of astral power. He talked of a far distant planet that all mankind came from, which was what made them different from animals. They all waited for the pitch. When Joey “Fingers” Phalange heard the name Poweressence mentioned, he suddenly thought he understood what it was all about.
“Yeah. I could have bought one of those franchises from the Dolomos back in seventy-eight, real cheap. I know a guy that got stuck with one, though. What with all the bad publicity, alligators in swimming pools and everything, those franchises ain’t gonna be worth salt in a year or two. I say we stay out of them.”
“That alligator was attracted to that columnist’s pool because alligators are negative astral creatures that respond to negative astral forces. That columnist drew the alligator to himself. No one put it in his pool,” said Mr. Muscamente.
“No, boss. They got the guy that bought Exhibit A for the Dolomos. They got him in court. He nailed ’em. That appeal they got won’t do business. The Dolomos are goin’ to the slammer.”
“Not if we can help it.”
“What are we going to do?”
“We are going to do a hit on that turncoat traitor.”
“Because we’re takin’ over Poweressence. We buy in on the franchise low now, remove the witness, then we got somethin’ that’s worth somethin’. I see,” said Big Jelly. Everyone nodded. Mr. Muscamente ruled almost as much through his brains as he did through terror.
“We are not touching one positive center. We are protecting it,” said Mr. Muscamente.
“We sell the Dolomos protection,” said Fingers.
“We sell nothing. We buy. I am entering you all at Level One. I don’t want no negative consciousness around me. You are going to release your blocks. You are going to function with the forces of good, namely us. Anyone against us is evil. Got it?”
There were many yesses. The only thing they didn’t understand was why Mr. Muscamente needed Poweressence to think everyone against them was evil. They had thought like that since childhood.
On the bridge, the captain noticed something moving toward the
Finally he asked the first mate to verify what he saw.
“Are my eyes going?” he asked.
The first mate focused, then he too refocused.
“I don’t know what it is either. It looks like a man in a dark T-shirt and gray pants, swimming toward us.”
“At twenty knots? Fourteen miles out in the Pacific?”
“It must be a small boat,” said the first mate.
The captain took back the binoculars. He looked out toward the object.
“Right— a boat. With arms and legs that move. How can he swim that fast?”
The first mate got his own set of binoculars.
“You’re right. He is swimming fast, and he hardly seems to be making an effort. Not like any swimmers I’ve seen. They splash a lot. Boy, is he smooth. Do you think we should tell Mr. Muscamente?”
“Those animals back there would tear us apart. He’s having one of his meetings.”
“Then what should we do?”
“Maybe that guy isn’t heading toward us.”
“Looks like it to me.”
“If he’s a man overboard, we have to pick him up,” said the captain.
“Doesn’t look like a man overboard to me,” said the first mate.
“We’ll all find out pretty soon.”
One of Mr. Muscamente’s guests spotted the man overboard soon after. The captain knew this because the guest fired a small pistol at the figure. The figure disappeared under the water. The figure came up at the rear of the yacht and began talking to Mr. Muscamente.
The first thing he did was to convince Fingers to let go of his gun. He did this by separating Fingers from the wrist that held the gun. Big Jelly went overboard like a bucket of chum. Then everyone sat back down quietly, including Mr. Muscamente.
It was a day that would be remembered forever in the annals of the California mob. It was a day that brought tears to the eyes of Mr. Muscamente. These tears came when he could not explain why the witness, “Drums” Drumola, failed to remember testimony.
Mr. Muscamente explained it as forces of the universe, while his underbosses listened politely. The guest who swam aboard had a strong tendency to respond with slaps and twists of arms.
Within a few minutes Mr. Muscamente was a helpless ball of flesh, his double-breasted blue blazer in shreds, his Top-Sider deck shoes kicking helplessly in the air. At that point, the guest who had swum aboard threw Mr. Muscamente over the stern. Every time Mr. Muscamente came up for breath, the guest asked how Mr. Muscamente made Drums forget his testimony. On the third and last time Mr. Muscamente surfaced, everyone on board realized he was telling the truth. He believed he had unlocked the forces of good on his side.
Everyone on board agreed on something else. They certainly didn’t want to tamper with government witnesses if this man was protecting them, because they believed, as Mr. Muscamente had shouted, that indeed this man was the supreme force of negativity. And if that were the case, none of them wanted to be on the side of the positive.
Remo sailed back sullenly with the remnants of the California mob and a very impressed captain and first mate. He was quiet, even as his clothes dried. He had failed again.
Several of the underbosses wanted to know who he worked for, not that they were curious, Remo should understand. But they would be totally delighted to employ him. They saw in him the sort of person who shared their most basic convictions. They saw in him someone who would fit perfectly into the California rackets.
“No,” said Remo. “I happen to be the good guy.”
And since he said this as he threw someone overboard, there wasn’t a soul to disagree with him as the
When he phoned in to headquarters, he knew he had to be slipping somehow, because Smith was now conciliatory, telling him it was not his fault.
“I would say go at the Poweressence people because that’s the only common thread we have here. But if they were behind this, why didn’t they use this power to turn witnesses for themselves? It doesn’t make sense. The only thing we know is that the whole justice system seems to be coming apart in California.”
“Yeah, and if it happens in California, the whole nation catches it soon thereafter,” said Remo.
“Are you trying to make me feel good?” asked Smith.
“I don’t feel so hot myself.”
“Why don’t you take a look at that organization? Take Chiun.”
“You don’t think I can handle things anymore.”
“Are you telling me I can’t do the job?” asked Remo.
“I am telling you I don’t understand how you and Chiun work, and if he tells me you are out of synch with the cosmos, then that means there is something wrong. And you are for some reason not coming up with results.”
“You just told me it wasn’t my fault.”
“I just told you I had no reason to believe it was your fault. I can’t be sure.”
Remo pulverized the receiver of the pay telephone. It was so much more satisfying than hanging up.