"Because I think I'm a nice person. Do you think I'm a nice person?"
"I think you are an idiot. Sit here and talk to me."
Remo sat on the grass next to Chiun.
"Smitty wanted me to kill Ruby," Remo said.
"Oh," said Chiun. Remo could tell by the tone of voice that Chiun was concerned at this.
"Because she wants to leave CURE," Remo explained.
"And now that you have betrayed your employer, you think she will live? You think that Emperor Smith will just say, oh, Remo will not remove Ruby and therefore Ruby must live? You know he will not say that, Remo. He will take steps to dispatch Ruby another way. So what have you gained? Instead of doing what you have been trained to do and guaranteeing that her death will be painless and swift, you have made it likely that she will suffer at the hands of some idiot. But she will still be dead. You will have accomplished nothing." ,
"Chiun, I know all that. But I just don't want to be part of an organization that kills their best—like Ruby. I just can't handle that anymore. Let me ask you—would you kill Ruby?"
"If my emperor said to ply the assassin's art upon her, then I would. The decision to do that is emperor's business and therefore not mine. I am not an emperor. I am an assassin."
"Just like that, you'd kill her?"
"Just like that, I would do as my emperor wished."
"Smitty may send you after me," Remo said. "Will you take that assignment?"
"I love you as a son, because you are my son," Chiun said, watching the shiny water of the pool.
"I know," Remo said. "And you love your thousands of years of Sinanju tradition."
"Yes, I do. As you should."
"I'm leaving," Remo said.
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know. I want to think about myself and just who I am. I'll let you know where I'll be if you need to find me."
"Will you be all right here?" Remo asked.
"Yes. I will be all right."
Remo stood up. He looked down awkwardly at Chiun, wondering what he might say to break the silence, to lift the tension of the moment.
"Well, so long," he said.
When Rémo walked through the gate, Chiun stared after him for a long time. Then softly to himself, he said, "Foolish chüd. No one will kill Ruby Gonzales all that easily."
After driving Dr. Harold W. Smith to the bus station, Ruby Jackson Gonzales had not gone back to Folcroft Sanitarium, the building in Rye, New York, which served as the cover for CURE's operations and housed the massive computer network of the crime-fighting agency.
For the past four days, she had cautiously been cleaning out her desk—carrying personal belongings home at night in her purse—and now she went directly to the three-room luxury apartment she rented in Rye, to pick up her suitcases, packed the night before.
She and Smith had not discussed where he was going, but she knew from the charge bills that had come across her desk that Remo and Chiun were at the Jersey shore. And she knew, too that Smith had made the appointment with Remo himself, a task which normally would have been Ruby's. That meant Smith didn't want Ruby to know what they were talking about.
Fat chance. She knew the only way anybody left CURE would be in a box, and Smith was on his way to tell Remo to ice Ruby. Let him try; before
the ice arrived, this coldcut was going to be long gone.
A half-hour after Smith's bus had left town, Ruby was aiming her white Continental south also, toward Newark, ¦ New Jersey, a city where she had relatives and where her black face would be just one among hundreds of thousands of black faces. There she would figure out what to do next. Going home to Norfolk, Virginia, at the moment was out of the question; it would be the first place they'd look for her.
As she was driving out of Rye on the Cross-Westchester expressway, an idea came to her, and instead of taking the Tappan Zee bridge to New Jersey, she turned south on the New York Thruway and headed into New York City. There was something she wanted to do first.
Newark, New Jersey. Crossroad of 300,000 private lives. Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily.
And on this day, three special dramas.
Remo was never supposed to go back to the town because he had left it dead. But he had been there once since, and St. Theresa's orphanage had been an old soot-covered brick building, with the windows and doors boarded up, a dead building waiting for the rest of the neighborhood to catch up with it.
That had been a couple of years earlier, and now the neighborhood had caught up with the old orphanage. The street was a collection of empty lots and fire-gutted buildings. Even in the daytime, rats scurried across the street. Remo parked his car there and looked up at the old orphanage building. It was dead still, just as much of Newark was dead, just as Remo Williams—that old Remo Williams who had grown up in this building and been punished with rulers across the knuckles when he'd been bad—just as he was dead too. He sighed. What had he expected? A brass band and a memorial plaque
designating this as the spot where Remo Williams was raised? There were no brass plaques erected in this kind of neighborhood. Junkies stole brass.
The idea of tracing his parentage, finding out just when and how and why he had gotten to St. Theresa's as a boy, suddenly seemed like an insurmountable problem to him. He put the car in gear and drove off. He would think about it tomorrow. First, he would get a hotel room.
Lester McGurl, who had decided he liked to be called "Sparky," already had a hotel room.
He was sitting in it now, the television tuned in to an afternoon soap opera, a drinking glass from the bathroom on the floor five feet in front of the chair in which he lounged.
The boy had filled out. In á few weeks since had had met Solly Martin, he had gained almost twenty pounds, and now all that poundage was encased in an expensive suit that fit correctly. Still, Sparky would have loved the suit even if it hadn't fit, simply because it was his suit, owned by him, not a hand-me-down that had been rubbed raw by a half-dozen wearers before it finally got to him.
He pulled a match from a book, scratched it lit, and tossed it toward the glass on the floor. It hit the edge of the glass, then dropped back onto the floor, where it burned a moment, charring a black spot in the nylon rug before sputtering out. The glass was half filled with burned matches; the floor pocked with a few dozen burned black spots. He ripped out another match and tried again. It dropped into the glass, kept flaming, then set afire the twisted stack of matches inside the container.
Sparky got up from his seat and poured some
water into the glass to extinguish the fire. Solly didn't like it when he broke glasses on the rugs or set fires in hotels. That was the only thing wrong with Solly: he didn't want Sparky to set any fires unless they were paid first for them. But he didn't hit the boy, and he kept him fed and clothed, and he didn't think Sparky was some kind of freak because he had a power to ignite fires, and all in all, Solly Martin was the first kind human being Sparky had ever met. Thinking "father" was painful to Sparky; he had never known a father, just a succession of heavy drinkers and their desperate wives who had used the boy as a vehicle to get foster parents' checks from the state and then had abused and degraded the child. No, not a father. Sparky didn't want to think father. But a big brother. That's what Solly Martin was like to him, and the boy was young enough that he was not embarrassed to say to himself that he loved Solly. He lit another match and flipped it into the glass. Just to make Solly happy, he would not set fire to this hotel when they left.
Two miles away, Ruby pulled her Continental in close to the curb, and three loiterers came down off the front stoop to examine the car more closely.