Remo was lost. Smith had to make that realization. There was still Chiun and therefore the best chance to protect the President. The workers who cleaned the President’s office were all examined for memory. Apparently none suffered noticeable memory loss. But the substance was not the major problem. Somehow the Dolomos had gotten to the President. And if they had gotten to him once, they could do it
And if he became like Colonel Dale Armbruster, the pilot of
How effective the solution was and how long it lasted were key elements of the battle. So far none of the people afflicted had regained their memory. The damage seemed permanent. Even if it weren’t, the President would have to die, Smith had decided, because there was no way to make him harmless while under the influence of that solution.
As for the solution itself, how long it stayed potent was a question that had to be answered. They had to know what they were up against. Could a small dose poison a city? Could a large dose create a wider swath of mental destruction?
And what were its potential delivery systems? What the world was facing now was something that could change the very nature of human beings. It could make man a helpless animal, because without his mind he was little more than meat for the predators.
It would be like creating cats without claws or balance.
Smith put these thoughts out of his mind while taking control of the investigation at the Dolomo estate. He got the Agriculture Department to exercise control over the area and moved scientists in with warnings about what they were looking for. Then he put a Secret Service seal around the area, with special instructions. No one could leave and no one was allowed to touch anyone who had entered. Whatever was needed would be sent into the estate. But nothing could come out.
He even ordered the sewer lines plugged up so that nothing could be washed into the water supply. The first news was horrendous. The entire first wave and part of the second wave of Agriculture Department scientists were lost by the time they figured out a surefire way to handle the substance. When the Dolomos had left the estate, Smith hesitated to put a missing persons alert out for them through the police department. He would wait until they failed to appear in court.
Their lawyer, Barry Glidden, had also disappeared, but it was thought that one of the afflicted found in the estate might be him.
Smith stayed just outside the President’s new office so that every half-hour he could come in on some pretext or other to see how the President was doing. He was introduced as a new personal secretary. He stayed out of the office when an old OSS buddy of his had a meeting with the President. The old friend now owned his own company.
Chiun arrived near midnight without fanfare.
“Our hour is near,” he told Smith. “I salute you and give you exaltations.”
“Uh, thank you, I suppose,” said Smith. “I think you realize what we are up against. But let me be frank.”
“Your subtlety over the years is now appreciated, your genius evident,” said Chiun, who for a while had given up all hope that Smith was going to make himself emperor of this nation. Consequently Chiun had seen no hope in America for Sinanju, and the moment he could get Remo to leave, he planned to be gone.
But now fate, as ever the curious wonder of the universe, had exposed Harold W. Smith, the silly-looking peculiar man with the strange meaningless missions, as actually far more cunning than Chiun had even imagined. He had shown inordinate patience, a rarity in a white man.
Now with Smith about to become emperor of the richest nation in the world, with Sinanju at his side, his loyal and faithful assassins, the oblivion suffered by Sinanju since the first of the Western world wars was about to come to an end.
With America acknowledging Sinanju, and Sinanju performing as no amateurs could, there would be a demand again for the professional assassin. And of course the greatest demand for Sinanju. It would be an age to rival the reigns of the Borgias, or Ivan the Prompt, who paid the very day a head was delivered to him in Russia, a man curiously known by other whites as Ivan the Terrible, but a person whose word to his assassin was his bond.
All these things did Chiun think about as he joyously hailed Harold W. Smith on the threshold of their shared greatness.
But Smith only seemed worried.
Chiun assured him that it was normal to be worried.
“A first for you, an age-old mission for us,” said Chiun.
“The first thing I want you to do is to examine the Oval Office.”
“We will remove him there,” said Chiun.
“Not necessarily,” said Smith.
“We will use a more secluded place. When he sleeps.”
“Perhaps,” said Smith. “First I want to protect him from something.”
“Of course, but may I suggest something that has worked well through the ages?” said Chiun. He noticed Smith’s office was sparse and small. But it had always been like that. He hoped that Smith would not be one of those emperors who insanely denied themselves the glory of the throne, living frugal and bare lives. Genghis Khan, who ruled from the saddle, was impossible to work for, and when the fine civilization of Baghdad fell before his barbaric sword, it was a sad day for Sinanju.
But one could never tell with Smith. He was inscrutable.
“No. What I want is this. We will attempt to protect the President from a certain substance. If we cannot, then and only then will I possibly order that you do what you have to do. But I don’t want to put this country through another assassination. I want it to appear like a heart attack. Can you do that?”
“A heart attack is one thing, a seizure is another. We do a wonderful fall with just the right bones broken, leaving the face untouched for a state funeral. I would recommend that,” said Chiun. “We have a prepared speech that could be translated into English. You assure everyone you are going to carry on his wise policies, except make them more lenient while enforcing safety even more. People like to hear that. It goes over so well. It is a good way to start a reign.”
“You don’t quite understand. Let’s just look at the Oval Office for now. I’m looking for a substance that can take away memory. I believe a small amount has affected the President. It occurred in that office. I’m afraid of what would happen if you touch it, so touch nothing.”
“You mean the sort of poisons that move through the skin? Do not worry about us.”
“You mean Remo is safe from that too?”
“At peak, the skin is as controllable as the lungs,” said Chiun.
“I see,” said Smith, “but Remo was not at peak.”
“Is he all right?” asked Chiun.
“Yes,” said Smith. It was the first time he had ever lied to either Remo or Chiun. “He’s fine.”
Smith did not want Chiun distracted.
“I wonder if around the White House you might wear something less flamboyant than a gold-and-red robe. I know it’s your greeting robe to the ruler, but I would prefer you go unnoticed.”
“Until the time is right?” said Chiun.
“If we must eliminate the President, I want you to take Remo away from here.”
“But how will you rule?”
“You will understand everything at the right time,” said Smith.
“A great emperor is a mysterious emperor, for who knows what wonders he performs,” said Chiun. Actually emperors who acted mysteriously did very well for a very short time until their empires collapsed around them, because no one knew what to do.
Chiun examined the Oval Office for any strange substance. He found forty of them, from the synthetic material in the flags to the plastic on the desk.
“We are looking for something oily that makes people forget.”
“Olive-flavored gin,” said Chiun.
“Not drunk, steals the mind.”
“A living death,” said Chiun. “You wish to put this emperor out of his misery?”
“No. They are happy when they forget. I guess pain is a learned thing.”
“Pain and happiness are both illusions, O great Emperor Smith,” said Chiun. Whites liked that sort of thing nowadays. It made them feel as though they were getting something wise.
* * *
Even Rubin had to admit that Beatrice’s plan was brilliant and the only way out.
“He wanted war, he’s got war. Our only problem is we weren’t fighting a war.”
“You’re right. You’re right. When you are right, you are right,” said Rubin. He wheezed under the weight of the bags at Nassau airport. They had gotten out of America easily. They simply used two phony passports and carried the money on board.
Just before their bags went through the X-ray check he coated the money with a fiberglass that made it all look like loose sweaters.
But at Nassau they had to open their bags entering the Bahamas. The airport was hot, with signs for rum and entertainment on the walls. The light was Caribbean bright, like rhinestones under fluorescence, a bit too bright to feel natural for Americans.
The customs inspector saw the fiberglass coating and politely inquired what it was. He had to be on the lookout for anyone bringing in narcotics or weapons.
Rubin explained it was a gift for his good friends on the island, a new sort of material to make building houses easier.
“A technology from outer space,” said Rubin.
“Lay off that planet-Alarkin stuff or we’ll both be in the slammer,” said Beatrice. She asked the customs inspector where they could buy suntan lotion and because he did such a good job with directions, gave him ten crisp hundred-dollar bills.
“You are welcome with your invention from outer space to the Bahamas,” said the inspector.
But Beatrice and Rubin did not stay on Nassau. They took a small charter aircraft to the island of Eleuthera, a long strip of coral and sand dotted by occasional beaches and many small villages with no more than two stores apiece. There could not be more than ten thousand people on the island, and a closer guess would have put it at three thousand.
“Too many for the plan,” said Beatrice. “Too big. The people can make trouble.”
Rubin looked over the map. He pointed to an even smaller island ten minutes by boat from Eleuthera. It was called Harbor Island, and it was famous for two miles of pink beaches and a “decency of people rare anywhere in the world.”
“Good,” said Beatrice. “We can push them around.”
“Or buy them,” said Rubin.
“Why buy what you can bully?” said Beatrice.
“It’s easier on my nerves,” said Rubin.
“Try another Percodan.”
“I’m running low.”
At Harbor Island the first part of the plan went into effect immediately. They purchased all the available hotel rooms. Then the call went out by phone, along the squeaky radiophone system, to all the Warriors of Zor.
“We are safe. We are here. Join us.”
And the call went out to all the franchises.
“Send us Powies. The moment of truth is at hand. Profits about to go through the roof. We have all been in the wrong business. About to make you all rich beyond your wildest dreams.”
Of course the reply was: what level Powies did the Dolomos want from their franchises? No one was going to give up the big spenders.
“I don’t want money. I want believers. We’ll pay the way down. Believers.”
“Believers mean money,” was the general answer.
“Then poor believers,” said Rubin.
“You mean the kids, the ones who want the future and try to sell Poweressence on the street corners?”
“Yes. Them. Anyone. We are ready to strike back. Beatrice says we’re not taking it anymore.”
“That’s why you had to leave the country in the first place, isn’t it?” asked one of the franchise owners.
“We’re going to have a place very shortly that we’ll never have to leave. Have you ever wondered why Presidents don’t go to jail and citizens do?”
“No,” said the franchise owner, who was more interested in a “Be Free from Eyeglasses” promotion Rubin had mentioned as an aside.
“Then,” said Rubin, “you will be bound by your pettiness forever. Do you want to play with sight enhancers all your life?”
“Rubin, if we can sell ‘see without glasses’ we can devastate the eyeglass market and put contacts out of business forever. Forever. Millions. I’m talking millions.
How many people are embarrassed to wear eyeglasses? We will own the geriatric market.”
“I don’t know if it will work,” said Rubin.
“Doesn’t matter. We just need people to believe it will work. Lots of diets don’t work, Rubin, but people still belong to clubs and buy books.”
“Small change,” said Rubin. “You don’t know how big we’re going to be. As Beatrice says, we’re not taking it anymore.”
Within two days the Warriors of Zor had arrived at Harbor Island, and Rubin, with his suitcases of cash, was able to put them all in a fine little resort that straddled the island in the middle, each with small bungalow cottages and central dining room.
“It’s like a vacation,” said one man who sold insurance. To him Rubin entrusted the mission to the banking commission of the Bahamas.
“I want to open a bank,” said Rubin. He gave the man twelve inches of hundred-dollar bills to establish the proper credentials. Rubin Dolomo had his bank before sunset. But there were other things he was doing.
The Warriors of Zor would lead other Powies. With his own bank he could receive or give loans. The first thing he did was put the paper into it, and through a tangle of financial maneuvering got himself credit around the world.
The native population being open, honest, and friendly, he immediately established himself as ruler, with Beatrice as queen. Those who went along received a large, friendly stipend. Those who did not were threatened successfully.
Within three days of landing, the Dolomos had turned Harbor Island into their own preserve and announced independence from the Bahamas.
The Prime Minister of the Bahamas was quite rightly infuriated. Since the Bahamians had the good sense to avoid enemies and even the better luck to have an ocean between them and any neighbor, they had never needed an army. They sent their police force, a finely trained, disciplined, and polite constabulary, still retaining many British officers as well as equally competent natives, to subdue the rebellion.
The first wave got to the beach and were met with smiling, friendly people wearing rubber gloves and carrying cotton swabs. The first wave never reported back. The second wave went in with orders to let no one near. But by this time the Powies had the guns of the first waves. There was a slaughter on the beach.
And here Rubin showed his true skills. Instead of hunkering down, Rubin prepared an announcement for his new Secretary of State, a pleasant man who ran a souvenir shop featuring tall cups with bug eyes that stared back at the drinker.
“We are the Revolutionary People’s Army of Harbor Island seeking to redress age-old oppression by Nassau, Eleuthera, and Great Britain, which made all these islands colonies. Our struggle will not stop until total freedom, total liberty, and total independence are achieved.”
Since Rubin had carefully kept himself and Beatrice out of sight and since it seemed as though these were truly natives conducting the rebellion, fourteen Third World countries offered them recognition immediately, and Russia sent a trade delegation to give them arms.
Just off the pink beach Rubin enlarged a crude factory into an underground bunker that could produce the memory formula. The Warriors of Zor trained the Powies who made it. Men of the Bahamian constabulary were allowed to play in the sand. No more tourists were allowed.
Rubin felt so good he was down to one Percodan an hour, and it was then that he told Beatrice:
“Your Majesty, we are ready.”
Beatrice chortled. She confided to her new minister, Oscar, the souvenir man:
“We’re not taking it anymore.”
And then on a phone system as mysterious as the far reaches of the planet Neptune and sometimes just as inaccessible, she telephoned the State Department of the United States of America and told them she wanted to speak to the President on a matter of utmost urgency.
“And who is this?”
“This is Beatrice of Alarkin. We are a newly independent state and we can go either way. There already is a Russian delegation here willing to sell us all the weapons we might need.”
The President was on the phone in a half-hour.
“We certainly wish to extend the greetings of the American people to your new nation. However, we also have relations with the Bahamas and with Great Britain and I do believe that to be recognized, you must clear up the question of your legitimacy first.”
Thus spoke the President of the United States from his new office, with the State Department brief in front of him. Intelligence had reported a takeover of the small Bahamian island.
Under the new setup he touched nothing. No paper came to him, rather all material came through a computer screen. He was a healthy man for his seventy-odd years, and his mind was sharp. He didn’t want to get America entangled in a revolution, especially one against nations that were friends. On the other hand, he wanted to keep communications open.
The name Alarkin struck a bell with him. But his two aides, now restricted to only entering the outer edge of the office, just shook their heads when he asked them what Alarkin reminded them of.
“Nothing, sir,” said the aides.
A door opened and a lemony-faced man in a gray three-piece suit stood in the doorway.
“I’m fine,” said the President.
And Smith left, shutting the door.
The aides had seen the man in the gray suit do that several times. One of them thought the man might be a personal physician but the other had been told he was a new private secretary. There were even rumors about an old Oriental who seemed to vanish when anyone saw him.
And even stranger, the President refused to enter the Oval Office anymore.
The President put his hand over the phone.
“Alarkin. I’ve heard that name somewhere.”
“Might be one of the old native gods.”
“She sounds white. She sounds American,” said the President.
Both aides shrugged.
“They’re in a revolutionary secession from the Bahamas,” said one aide.
“Right,” said the President, and taking his hand off the phone, spoke into the receiver.
“Can we possibly help you resolve your differences with the main islands?” the President asked.
“What we want is freedom of religion,” said the Queen of Alarkin.
“We too want that, and we support it,” said the President. He turned up the speaker so that the aides could hear. He shrugged. They shrugged.
“The Bahamas have never been known for religious intolerance,” said the President, signaling that he wanted all of this recorded.
“No, but you have,” said the woman who called herself Queen of Alarkin.
“I beg to differ, ma’am. America from its very founding has promised and given freedom of religion. We are proud of it.”
“Religious freedom for some. For the large, for the wealthy, for the powerful. But what about the small and oppressed?”
“Are you talking about small black churches? They do very well here, your Majesty.”
“I am talking about those churches that dare to tell the truth. Those churches that dare to risk new and startling ideas.”
“The fact is, your Majesty, America has more and different churches than any other country in the world.”
“Yes, and what about Poweressence?”
“Ma’am, the people who run that are not facing charges because of teaching new religious doctrines. You may or may not be aware of it, but they put an alligator into the pool of a columnist who was exposing them. The post office has a good case for mail fraud, and we believe they are behind the murder — and I call it murder — of an Air Force colonel, a United States senator, and an entire plane crew. Those poor people died when the rulers of Poweressence tried to kill me.”
“There is no need for death,” said the Queen of Alarkin.
“I’d like to believe that,” said the President.
“If you dropped your cases against them, no one would have to die.”
“I would not interfere with our judicial system for anyone, but least of all for that pair of con artists and murderers,” said the President, his voice rising in anger. He remembered Colonel Armbruster, remembered how he would ask if the landing was just right sometimes, remembered the man had a family.
“I want you to know,” continued the President, “we are not giving in to terrorism of any kind.”
“I am speaking of your life. I can not guarantee the safety of your life as long as the thousands of devoted followers of Poweressence see their leaders persecuted.”
“Is that a threat?” asked the President.
“It is a friendly warning for you to be evenhanded in the matter of the Dolomos. Why do you act friendly to the Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, and feel nothing for the Poweressence devotees, beautiful people, beautiful people all?”
“I will tell you how I will be evenhanded. I am going to suggest Congress deliver me an antifraud-cult bill today. And we are going to put bums like that out of business. Because that’s all they are, Queen of Alarkin. Bums.”
“Well, I can only say, Mr. President, you have only yourself to blame. Because we are not taking it anymore.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’re not picking on a couple of defenseless citizens anymore. We are a nation. And we have a right to defend ourselves from oppression in any way possible. I warn you. Look to the sea. Look to the skies. Look to the land. We’re not taking it anymore. We’re going to get you.”
“Who is this?”
“The beautiful wife of Rubin Dolomo herself.”
“He doesn’t have a beautiful wife.”
“That has to be against the Geneva Convention. That’s low. For that you will pay. I’ve warned you. We’re not taking it anymore.”
The aides saw the President hang up and then dismiss them.
“Smith, come in here please,” he said into an intercom that worked off a button under the rug beneath his desk.
“Are you feeling all right?” asked Smith as he entered. Chiun, the Oriental who worked with Smith’s organization, was with him.
“I’m feeling fine,” said the President.
The Oriental bowed and left the room.
“The Dolomos have taken over a small island in the Bahamas. They have declared themselves independent. They are now foreign leaders, and they have heaven knows what at their disposal. They are totally ruthless and unscrupulous. I suggest we use the other one to go at them now.”
“He’s been lost,” said Smith.
“No,” said the President, shaking his head. “If they got him, they can get anyone.”
“Probably, but Chiun is better, I believe. Remo was not in top shape.”
“Then why did you send him?”
“We didn’t have anyone else, sir.”
“Send the Oriental then.”
“I’d like to keep him here.”
“Look, if we get them, then I won’t be in danger,” said the President.
“And if they get him?”
“Then they’ll get me. They offered terms, you know. Just now. Let them off the hook in the courts, and they will let me off.”
“Are you going to take it?”
“I wonder if this once we shouldn’t back down, and get them at an easier time.”
“I am not selling out to two hustling bums.”
“We may be talking about your life, sir.”
“Then I’ll die in office, dammit. I am President of the United States, not some courthouse politician. I will not desecrate this office by compromising with two patent frauds who have turned to murder.”
“That’s your decision then?” said Smith.
“That is my decision,” said the President. “Today I am going to have introduced into Congress a tough antifraud bill, a bill that would make hustles like Poweressence illegal. And even if those two should somehow beat this rap, then they will never be able to practice their chicanery again.”
“If you say so, sir. May I suggest your sending military assistance to the Bahamas and hope more soldiers will be able to take them.”
“I’d rather use the Oriental.”
“Sir, he stays here. That’s part of the safety built into my organization. No president can order me. He can only suggest. I have a choice of doing what he says or disbanding.”
“And you will disband?”
“I will not order Chiun from your presence, sir,” said Smith.
“You’re going to kill me if I get infected with that substance, aren’t you?”
Smith hesitated. He liked the President. He respected the President, but even more he respected the office.
“Yessir,” he said. “That is just what I’m going to do.”
“Because acting without a memory, acting like that pilot, I can get everyone killed, is that it?”
Smith nodded. He swallowed.
“Yeah. I suppose that’s the right move. They told me when I took over this office you always made the right move. That’s what my predecessor said. Well, let me suggest this. You send Chiun after those two, and if I show any signs of being afflicted, you shoot me. Right in the head. Don’t let me do to this country what the pilot did to that plane.”
“Can’t do that, sir.”
“Because I couldn’t pull the trigger, sir. And since it is all out, let me say that Chiun can kill you in a way no one would know wasn’t an accident or even a heart seizure.”
“Okay,” said the President. “You and Chiun stay here. But how do you know when you come in again I won’t lie and say I’m feeling fine just so he won’t kill me?”
“You’d have to remember for that,” said Smith.
“You certainly do make the right moves, Mr. Smith.”
“Yessir,” said Smith, and disappeared behind a door, only to come out a half-hour later while the President was speaking to several senators about his bill to put greater penalties on frauds in religious cults.
“Absolutely fine,” said the President with a courageous smile.
“Yessir,” said Smith, and shut the door.
“Who was that?” asked a senator.
“Just a new secretary,” said the President.