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This, Chiun hastened to point out, did not mean that Remo was his equal in the eyes of the universe, but only in the blurred and narrow vision of the white organization for which they worked.

"I understand, Little Father," said Remo, turning off the asphalt road into a dirty driveway. Remo could only use the sideview mirror because Chiun's lacquered wooden chests jammed full the back seat and made the rearview mirror useless unless Remo wanted to look at a pink dragon on a bright blue background.

"We are looking for a man named Oswald Willoughby, who is a commodities broker. He is going to testify about price-fixing on the commodities exchange. Someone or some organization dumped twenty-five million dollars worth of winter wheat on the exchange just at planting time. This caused one of the smallest plantings on record just when the world needed the most plantings. No one knows why this dumping occurred, but of the dealers who handled the bulk of the selling, two came up dead in Lake Michigan and the third is Oswald Willoughby. We're supposed to keep him alive."

Chiun thought a moment. Then he spoke.

"However," he said, "coequal does mean equal payment to Sinanju. It is good that we can get as much for quality as we can for shoddy. The villagers will appreciate my business acumen."

"You didn't understand a word I said, did you?"

"We are to keep a man alive and then you mentioned some things that could not be true."

"Like what?" snapped Remo.

"For instance, no one knows why these men were killed. This is not true. Someone knows why."

"Well, I meant we don't know."

"I could have told you of your ignorance before we left."

"You don't understand how the market works, do you? Do you?" Remo looked for a white frame cabin with a green fence. He could see steam rise from the night-cool stream flowing through the hot morning.

"You didn't understand a word about winter wheat and prices. Well, I'll tell you. If prices are high at planting time, farmers plant more grain. Most people don't buy the grain to keep. They buy it to sell. They buy it now to sell at a future time, like harvest time, when they expect the price will be more. Well, someone at planting time bought up a lot of what they call futures and dumped them on the market. Twenty-five million dollars worth. Now, while that's not much considering the total, the sudden dumping all at once sent the price skidding. Real low. It was perfect timing. Farmers couldn't get credit for large plantings and they didn't want them. So we've got a short crop this spring which explained part of the price rise in food."

"So?" said Chiun.

"So we're afraid it might get worse. That's why we've got to figure out what or who was willing to lose the bulk of twenty-five million dollars. There's a food crisis in the world."

"Why are you so worried? Sinanju has known food crises. You are telling me, you dare to tell me about food crises, you who were raised on meat and never went hungry a day in your life."

"Oh, Jeez," moaned Remo for he knew he would now hear the story of Sinanju, how because of starvation the village of Sinanju had to put their newly born babies into the cold waters of the West Korea Bay, how the village was food-poor, and how the Masters of Sinanju were born in desperation, how each Master for centuries had rented his services as an assassin to emperors and kings in far-off lands so that never again would the villagers have to send the babies "back to sleep" in the waters of the bay.

"Never again," said Chiun.

"It's more than fifteen hundred years since that happened," said Remo.

"When we say never again, we mean never again," said Chiun. "This is your tradition now also. You should learn it."

It sounded like a pot banging a pot down the road, through the scrub pines, whipped short with almost greenless branches by the Lake Erie winds. It sounded dull in the morning air that made the car seat sticky. It sounded like a little pop that morning sleepers shouldn't notice. It was a shot.

Remo saw a dark man run from the white house with the green fence. He tucked something into his belt as he trotted to a waiting pink Eldorado with its motor running. The car took off before the door was shut, a fast but not screeching start, kicking up little dust flurries. The driver intended to pass Remo on the left as all oncoming cars should. Remo occupied the lane. Chiun, who thought seat belts were bondage and was not about to wear one, caught the car crash with a slight upward motion lifting his light frame so that at the moment of impact, he was aloft. Two long fingernails of the right hand caught the dashboard in such a way that it looked as if he were doing a mild vertical one-handed pushup. The other hand caught flying glass. Remo stopped his forward motion with an elbow against the wheel and the same free flight uplift as the Master.

The door popped open and he was out of the car, on the road before the cars stopped their first spin. He caught the Eldorado, snapping open a door, and reached in past a bloody body to put on the brake.

He dragged the two still forms from the Eldorado and saw that the dark man had a gun in his belt. It smelled of a fresh shot. Remo felt for a heartbeat. It was the last strong flutter of a muscle about to die. It stopped.

The driver's heart was better. Remo felt around the body. Only a shoulder bone had that squishy loose feeling of a break. The face flowed red from glass cuts but it was not serious. Remo maneuvered his hand underneath the man's jaw, working on veins going up through the neck. The man's eyelids opened.

"Ooooh," he groaned. "Ooooooh."

"Hi there," said Remo.

"Oooooh," groaned the man. He was in his late forties and his face was a remnant of a teenage battle with acne. The acne had won.

"You're going to die," said Remo.

"Oh, my God, no. No."

"Your partner made the hit on Willoughby, didn't he? Oswald Willoughby."

"Was that the guy's name?"

"Yes. Who sent you?"

"Get me a doctor."

"It's too late. Don't go with this sin on your soul," said Remo.

"I don't want to die."

"You want to go without a confession? Who sent you?"

"No one special. It was just a hit. A five-grand hit. It was supposed to be easy."

"Where'd you get the money?"

"Joe got it. At Pete's."

"Where's Pete's?"

"East St. Louis. I was needing. I needed the dough. I was just out of Joliet. Couldn't get work."

"Where's Pete's?"

"Off Ducal Street."

"That's a great help."

"Everybody knows Pete's."

"Who gave you the money for the hit?"


"You're a great help. Just Pete at Pete's in East St. Louis."

"Yeah. Get me a priest. Please. Someone. Anyone."

"Just rest here," said Remo.

"I'm dying. Dying. My shoulder's killing me."

Remo checked out the small white house. The door was shut but unlocked. The killer had had the presence of mind not to leave it ajar so that the body would probably not have been found until it made a stink.

Willoughby probably got it in bed, thought Remo, as he entered the house. But then he saw the TV lit with the sound turned low, and a silent interviewer asking a silent question to elicit a silent response, and Remo knew Willoughby had spent the night here in the living room. His last night.

The room smelled of stale whiskey. Willoughby lay on a couch behind the door, an open bottle of Seagram's Seven and an unfinished Milky Way on a tarnished end table. Willoughby's brains were spread out on the high back of the couch, powder burns on the close temple. A phone rang. It was under the couch. Remo answered it.