"Hail, Emperor Smith," said Chiun, bowing courteously.
"My god," said Smith. "My god, Remo, there's a woman outside. Our cover. It's been blown by a magazine. The whole thing's come apart. The whole thing. She read about me in a magazine. A brunette. In her twenties. Recognized me. A magazine. Our cover."
"Guess we have to close shop then, Smitty," said Remo, pulling a chair off the pile of furniture at the edge of the room and slumping down into it. His joy unplugged Smith's excitement. Smith's eyes narrowed suspiciously. He picked up his briefcase. He regained his composure.
"Did you see the young woman in the hallway?"
"As a matter of fact, Smitty, I did," said Remo.
"I see," said Smith. His voice was flat. "And after so many years and so much effort. After so many years of precise covers and broken links just to protect our security, you, for a practical joke and I assume it's that, just blabbed the whole thing to some strange biddy out in the hallway. I assume it had some deep motivation such as her breasts."
"Nope," said Remo.
"You misunderstand your loyal servant," said Chiun. "He was espousing your glory to the populace, oh wondrous emperor of CURE."
"And you explained us to Chiun also?" said Smith. "He knows what we're about."
"He extolled the glory of your Constitution. The heads of its enemies shall lie in the street. All proclaim the way of CURE," said Chiun.
"All right," said Smith. "Chiun doesn't know. What happened in the hallway? Did you go insane?"
"No. She doesn't understand any more than Chiun. She heard a name. So what? Really. Look at it. She heard a name and saw a man. Who is she? No one. And if she could make heads or tails of the whole thing, so what? So what?"
"I beg your pardon," said Smith and he looked for a place to sit.
In one slow movement, Remo was off the chair and it was sliding across the floor where it stopped just behind Smith's legs.
"I see we have tricksters. Our investment is in a juggler," said Smith. "Would you mind telling me what's happening?"
"I went home last night. Not that I have a home. I went back to that orphanage."
"You were supposed to avoid that area under any circumstances."
"The orphanage was abandoned. The whole area was abandoned. It was the center of a city and it looked like it had been bombed. And I wondered what I had been doing for the last ten years. And I wonder what you've been doing for the last ten years. The whole organization."
"I don't follow."
"We're failures. We're a waste of time. We were supposed to be this super setup to make the Constitution work. Everyone would have their freedoms while the destructive elements were put in their place. America was going through a trying time, we were supposed to help it out and then disappear with no one the wiser. We'd be here and gone. One country, one democracy saved."
"What do you mean 'yes'?" said Remo. "We were a fucking waste of time. We had a president who would have been convicted of breaking and entering if he didn't get a pardon. Half the top government is in jail, the other half ought to be. You can't walk in the city streets unless you know how to kill. You read every day where this cop and that is on the take. Care for the aged has turned into a gigantic ripoff? And all this while I'm up to my armpits in bodies, supposedly ending this sort of crap."
"That's just what we're doing," said Smith.
"Hey, I'm no congressman and you're no head of a legitimate government agency. I can read newspapers, you know."
"And what you're reading, Remo, is the organization finally working. This is the pus coming out of the lanced boil. Nixon wasn't the first president to do such things, he was just the first not to get away with it. His successors won't try it again. Didn't it strike you as strange that half a dozen CIA men should bungle a simple burglary? Didn't it strike you as strange that suddenly tape recordings that the former president didn't know about suddenly appear? And he can't destroy them? Remo, just how do you think we work? What you're seeing is the organization working."
Remo cocked a quizzical eyebrow. Smith continued.
"You're not seeing new crimes, Remo. You're seeing people not get away with the old ones. That nursing home scandal goes back more than ten years. Cops on the take go back to the Revolutionary War. Cops getting sent to jail for it is new. You're seeing this country do what no other democracy has been able to do. We're cleaning house."
"Then how about the streets?"
"A little adjustment. Give us five years. Five years and the doomsayers will crawl back under their rocks. This country is coming out stronger and better."
"Why didn't I know about this?"
"Because we only use you for emergencies. You're what I use when things go wrong or can't go right any other way."
Now the Master of Sinanju had listened to this and had been quiet, for when Westerners talked silliness, no light could penetrate their shroud of ignorance. And seeing that they were now satisfied with themselves, he spoke.
"Oh, gracious Smith, how wondrous has been your success, how firm your guiding hand. Your kingdom is in order and gratefully, the House of Sinanju must take its leave, singing always the praises of Emperor Smith."
"If you wish, Chiun," said Smith. "You have trained Remo well and we are grateful, but he knows enough now to operate without you."
"There's a little problem here, Smitty," said Remo and Chiun raised his long delicate fingers, silencing Remo.
"Gracious emperor," said Chiun. "The Remo who once belonged to you now belongs to Sinanju." And seeing confusion on Smith's face, he explained that when he began training Remo, Remo had just been another American, but there was so much Sinanju training in him now that he was Sinanju, and therefore no longer Smith's but Sinanju's.
"What's he talking about?" asked Smith.
"Look," said Remo. "You give a guy a pot, right. A little dinky metal pot."
"A pale pot," added Chiun. "A miserable worthless pale pot."
"And he adds a gold handle. And a gold top. And a full inch of gold outside," said Remo.
"I like your choice of metals," said Chiun.
"Shut up," said Remo.
"Gratitude is dead," said Chiun.
"And now you've got this golden vessel with just the bare little metal left of the original pot."
"The ingratitude is what is left," said Chiun.
"Well, it's not your pot anymore," Remo told Smith.
"What are you talking about?" asked Smith.
"The mountain is not the pebble," said Chiun. "And you cannot violate this law of the universe. It is sacred."
"I'm not sure what you are getting at, Master of Sinanju, but we are willing to double in gold the payments to your village for your services. Since you regard Remo now as of Sinanju, a someday Master of Siuanju, we will pay your village for you and him. Double payment for double services."
"You don't understand, Smitty," said Remo.
"He most certainly does," said Chiun. "Listen to your emperor and learn of him what is your next mission."
Smith opened his briefcase. There was a problem in the Chicago grain markets that just might prove to be more disastrous for the survival of the nation than anything Remo had handled before. It had to do with the purchase of grain and famine spreading to the Western world. Even with its vast network and computers, CURE had been unable to ascertain just what was the matter. A lot of money was making peculiar things happen.
And bodies were floating up around Lake Michigan.
The morning sun came up over Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, as winds blew the chemical waste breezes across Lake Erie into Remo's car. Remo explained the mission to Chiun. This Chiun had demanded, since he was no longer just the trainer in the eyes of the organization. He was a coequal partner. It always amazed Remo how Chiun managed to grasp sophisticated Western concepts when it suited his purpose, like coequal partner.