A Sinanju medal. But who? And how? He had never seen such a medal, and only he and Chiun knew the Sinanju symbol. Only he and Chiun . . . and . . . perhaps Ruby.
Remo pushed the rice away from him and sat on the bed next to the telephone.
He dialed the number of the Norfield Inn at the New Jersey shore.
When the desk clerk answered, Remo said, "Is the old Oriental gentleman, Mister Chiun, still registered there?"
'Tes," said the clerk. "Shall I ring him?"
"No, no, no," said Remo. "I want you to take him a message."
"Why don't I just ring him and you can give him the message yourself? I just saw him go up to his
"Because if you ring his phone, you're going to have one phone crunched into powder. Look, just do it my way. It's worth twenty dollars to you."
The clerk's voice became suspicious. "You going to send it to me over the phone?'
"Chiun will give it to you. Just do what I say. If I
have to come down there and deliver something to you, it's not going to be twenty dollars, pal."
"All right," the clerk said disgustedly. "What's the message?"
"Go up and tell Chiun that Remo is on the phone."
"Yes. Remo. Tell him I'm on the telephone and then when you ring, he'll pick the telephone up without ripping it out of the wall."
"All right," the clerk said. "Hold on."
Three minutes later, he was back on the phone.
"I told him," he said.
"What'd he say?"
"He said something about that he's not no secretary. He's not going to be spending all day talking to people on the telephone. He said Remo who. He said you should write him a letter. He doesn't want to talk to you. He said something about a piece of pig's ear. Stuff like that."
"All right," said Remo. "Now you go upstairs again . . ."
"Wait a minute. How many trips you want for twenty dollars?"
"It's up to fifty dollars," Remo said. "Go back upstairs and tell him that Remo said it's important It's about Ruby."
"I don't know. He didn't look happy."
"He never looks happy. Fifty dollars."
"Oh, all right." The clerk put down the phone again at the desk."
When he returned, he said, "He says he will make an exception to a long-standing rule and talk to you."
"How do I get my fifty dollars?"
"I'll tell Chiun to give it to you."
"I knew it was going to be something like that," the clerk said.
"What's the matter?" Remo asked.
"I saw this Chiun in action yestersay. He came in here for lunch. He ordered water. He wouldn't let anybody sit at the tables next to him. When he left, he walked around all the tables and he picked up the change people left for tips for the waitress. He ain't giving me no fifty dollars."
"Trust me," Remo said. "I'll see that he does."
"All right, but I don't believe it," the clerk said. "Hold on, I'll put you through."
Remo heard the telephone click and then buzz as the room was being called.
The telephone rang a dozen times before Chiun picked it up. As usual he did not speak into the phone, not even to identify himself. He lifted it off the receiver and waited.
"Chiun, this is Remo."
"C'mon, Chiun, stop fooling around. Remo."
"I once knew a Remo," said Chiun. "He was an ungrateful wretch. As a matter of fact, his voice even sounded a little like yours. That screeching nasal whine that white people have. Especially Americans."
"Listen, Chiun, 111 wait while you work off your snot, because I've got something important to tell you."
"This other Remo person always said he had important things to tell me also, but when I listened, he told me nonsense."
"Chiun, it's about Ruby."
Chuin was silent, waiting for Remo to say more.
"Did you give her a Sinanju medal?"
"No," said Chiun.
"But she had one," Chiun said. "She won it from me in a game of cards. She cheated. I never will forgive that woman."
"A gold medal with the Sinanju emblem on it?"
Remo groaned, a long,, anguished oooooohhh..
"What has happened to my medal?" Chiun asked.
"It's not your medal, it's Ruby. I think she might be dead."
"With my medal?" Chiun said.
"Will you stop worrying about your damned medal?" Remo said. "I told you I think Ruby is dead. They found a body in a fire, a woman's body, and she had a Sinanju medal."
"That's terrible," said Chiun.
"Give the desk clerk fifty dollars," Remo said.
"Certainly. Medals here, fifty dollars there. You must think I'm made of wealth."
"Just do what I say. Give him fifty dollars and hang around there for a while. When I find out more, I'll let you know."
Chiun hung up without answering. Remo looked at the dead phone for a moment, started to dial another number, then put the telephone down and went back to the breakfast table, where he again read the Post-Observer's story. Arson suspected, but a peculiar kind of arson. Fires started in four different locations, but no sign of tinder or incendiary devices used to torch the blaze. Remo thought about the location of the fires. It
wasn't vandals. Vandals started one fire and ran. Starting four fires meant a professional job, but who would want to burn down an old-tenement? It wasn't like a business, where the owner, after a fire, could claim insurance losses on equipment and goods he had already stolen from the building and sold. But insurance on a Newark tenement fire wouldn't even cover the cost of replacing the doorknobs.
But who? And why?
He went back to the telephone and dialed an 800 area code number. It hooked into a commercial number that advertised a swingers' sex club.
A breathy woman's voice came onto the phone.'
"Hi, lover," it said.
"Hello," said Remo to the tape recording. "I'd like to buy a plow."
"If you're as horny as I am," the recorded voice said, "You're probably just throbbing for some company."
"Actually, I was going to watch the Tartridge Family' reruns," Remo said.
"Listen to this," the recording said. Her voice faded, and there was the sound of a woman breathing hard and a man grunting and the woman hissing, "Don't stop. More, more, more," and as the orgiastic dialogue went on, Remo said clearly into the telephone: "Five, four, three, two, one."
The tape died. Remo heard a buzz and then Dr. Harold W. Smith came onto the line.
"Yes?" he said.
"Smitty, I've got to tell you, I like your new message better than the Dial-a-Prayer I used to have to call."
"Oh, it's Remo. What is it?" Smith said. His normally cool voice was chillier than usual.
"Where's Ruby?" asked Remo.
"Don't you know?" Smith said.
"If I knew, would I ask?"
"She's gone. When I got back here yesterday, she wasn't here. I thought you had something to do with it."
"Ruby didn't need me to tell her to split because a place was getting too warm," Remo said. "You haven't heard from her?"
"Any ideas where she went?"
"She didn't go home to Norfolk," Smith said. "I already checked that."
"Where else would she have gone?" Remo said.
He could almost hear Smith shrug over the telephone. "She could have gone anywhere. She has relatives in Newark. I don't know. Why? Have you decided to come back to work?"
"Not yet," Remo said. There was a sinking feeling in his stomach. More and more he knew that the body found in the fire ruins, charred beyond recognition, was that of Ruby, young and beautiful and vibrant Ruby who wanted nothing more out of life than to live it. For the second time in less than twelve hours, he felt sorrow saturate his body, all the sadder now for being a remembered emotion. The night before, his sorrow had been for himself, for realizing his childhood was gone. But this sorrow was deeper, built on the terrible knowledge that for Ruby all of life was gone. And for the second time in twelve hours, the sorrow gave way to another emotion—anger.