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«The Final Crusade», Warren Murphy и др.

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Destroyer 76: The Final Crusade

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Prologue

On the day the Ayatollah died, a rocket launched by the Mujahideen Khalq struck the square called Maydan Sepah, in the heart of Tehran, narrowly missing the shop of a wizened old rug merchant named Masood Attai.

When the dust cleared, Masood breathed a prayer to Allah. The prayer turned into a muttered imprecation when he noticed the lightninglike crack that had appeared on the rear wall. The portrait of the Ayatollah, which Masood had only an hour ago rehung with black crepe, lay on the floor, its glass front shattered.

He looked for the nail. It could not be found. Masood walked out into the settling dust, pinched his flared old nostrils with cracked fingers against the smell of the burning cars, and sought a nail in the rubble. After nearly a decade of war with Iraq, and now harassment by Iranian counterrevolutionaries, even common nails were at a premium.

He found a nail-a thick one with a large square head-amid the ruins of the Museum of Iranian Art and Archaeology. He carried it back to his shop and, using a wooden mallet, drove it into the wall in a new spot.

He was hanging the portrait of the Ayatollah when the Western woman walked in. Masood knew she was a Westerner because, contrary to Islamic law, she wore no face-concealing chador. Her skirt hung well below her knees, but shamefully, her ankles and calves were bare. Masood found himself staring. It had been a long time since he had seen a young woman's naked legs. Not since before the Revolution.

To his surprise, the woman inquired of his health in impeccable Farsi.

"Salaam. Hale shoma chetore?" she asked.

"Khube," he replied "Shoma?"

When the woman replied that she was fine, he stepped down and asked her if she sought a special rug.

The Western woman shook her head, saying "Na, na."

"I have many fine rugs," Masood repeated in the same language.

Her eyes sought the hanging portrait.

"Such a large nail," she ventured, "for such a small portrait."

Masood frowned. "The Imam deserves the best," he said.

"And very old."

"I found it in the rubble of the Archaeology Museum. It is a crime. So many fine artifacts in ruins."

"In the Archaeology Museum, you say?" Her black eyes were thoughtful. "It could be anything then. Even a relic."

"A nail is a nail," Masood Attai said, shrugging expressively.

Reluctantly the woman turned to a fine Ghiordes prayer rug. She knelt, showing the trim line of her thighs. She was a very fine woman. A thoroughbred, Masood thought. She tugged at the corners with expert fingers.

"Have you any Mamluks?" she asked upon returning to her feet.

"Alas, no," Masood said. "Not since the fifth year." The woman did not ask the fifth year of what. She evidently knew that in modern Iran time was measured since the Revolution.

"I will come again, then," the woman said. And she clicked out of the shop and into the street without a sign of fear on her comely face.

Another rocket struck moments later. It demolished a green-tiled mosque down Firdausi Street, in the direction the woman had walked. Masood looked out of his shop doorway and saw the woman turn down a side street with quick, businesslike steps. Her chiseled profile was knit in thought. It reflected no other emotion and Masood wondered what it would be like to enjoy such a woman on a cool spring night....

Returning to his shop, Masood noticed that the last concussion had caused the portrait of the Ayatollah to tip. He restored it, wiping ancient dirt off the square nail head with a sleeve. It seemed to be just an old nail. Why had the woman displayed such interest in it? he wondered.

Chapter 1

Lamar Booe tossed on the narrow cot. He could not sleep. At first it was because the cot, like all the others jammed into the hold, continually shifted and creaked as the great ship plowed through the swells. Then, after the cots stopped shifting, it was because Lamar knew that meant the ship had entered smooth water.

The Reverend-Major came down from the deck to confirm it.

"We're in the Gulf," he whispered, going from cot to cot, shaking the men awake. They reached under their cots for their tunics. They pulled them over their undershirts. Only afterward did they begin assembling their weapons. Bolts slid into receivers. Magazines clicked into ports. Safeties were tested.

The Reverend-Major touched Lamar Booe on the shoulder.

"We're in the Persian Gulf," he whispered.

"Pershing Gulf," Lamar corrected. "When we're done, the world will call it the Pershing Gulf."

"Old Black Jack would be proud." The Reverend-Major smiled. It was a beatific smile. Not the smile of a soldier about to take a force into combat, but of a man of God leading his flock to righteousness. The smile soothed Lamar's anxious soul.


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