Copyright 2010, H. E. Rasske Jr.

Published by Whiskey Creek Press LLC

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Sample Chapter For The Death Master Trilogy – The Ultimatum (The Legend of the Brass Monkey) by H. E. Rasske Jr.


One late summer day, at a private secluded place in the mountainous region just east of the Great Basin in the western United States, a stocky, gray-haired gentleman tended a rose garden on the southerly side of a small cabin. The structure had been placed as close to the rock of the mammoth mountain as possible. The cabin was protected by huge rock formations on each side, as well. To the front in a southerly direction a large plot of earth for a garden enjoyed the direct rays of the sun. Judging from the appearance of the well manicured area, it was an obvious labor of love. A small tributary of a larger creek ran nearby on the far side of the road from which he carried buckets of water to nurture the plants. The man would stop the tilling chores occasionally, to converse with a large seal point Siamese cat sitting on its haunches nearby, focusing its attention on his every move.

Henri Rasske was elderly, choosing to spend most of his waking hours thinking of his past life, reconstructing old battles and assignments time and time again. He seldom tired of telling the tales over and over to his furry companion. The animal would utter a low growl occasionally as she listened to his long narratives. She understood his words, and enjoyed the dissertation and succinct manner in which each story was delivered.

Of late, it had been his choice to re-live as many childhood events as possible and dwell on how his unique and exemplary life had begun. As with many of those who served before him, his mind often dwelled on the possibility of what could have happened if he’d had the opportunity to re-live his life and follow a different calling. Had that possibility ever come to pass, he decided long ago, he would reserve even more time for the felines. Over the decades, each of his bodyguards possessed unforgettable traits he remembered fondly. Individually, each protected his life with unwavering loyalty. He well knew his existence would have been cut short without their services. Now his full awareness that his life was winding down toward its end contributed greatly to the motivation of recounting every assignment and campaign in which he had ever been involved. For whatever reasons, and some he didn’t quite understand, he assumed this was simply a natural course of events for anyone reaching old age.

“ It’s so strange to think, Bayan,” he mused, snipping a dried up flower from the end of a rose stem which would enable the plant to produce yet another flower in time. Henri carefully placed the leaves in a pocket with a collection of several others. He saved the shriveled petals and some of the leaves to brew rose tea. The petals and leaves produced a flavorful drink with a sweet flowery scent, most enjoyable in addition to its medicinal qualities. “Can you imagine that I, Henri Rasske, was once responsible for the death of the Admiral who commanded the Imperial Secret Service? He committed suicide, you know. The Japanese call it seppuku. The word has to do with the abdomen, so I need not go into how the suicide act is carried out. It is a most distasteful procedure anyway. I certainly wouldn’t want to watch anyone shove a knife into their stomach and then wait for a second to cut their head off with a Samurai sword to end the misery and pain.

“ You and some of your illustrious ancestors were very instrumental in contributing to my survival during those terrible days, alerting me to many dangers placed in my path. If it had not been for Mai Tai’s diligence, as well as your own, my pet…” He paused to pat the owl-faced feline on the head. “I would have surely perished, long ago. Sometimes I wish I could be remembered for earning a Presidential Citation for some reason other than owning a nightclub and catering to every kind of spy and lowlife you can possibly imagine.”

The cat uttered another low, ominous growl followed by a quiet meow and quickly licked his outstretched hand, as if in agreement and to probably spur the story to a swift conclusion. Henri sometimes wondered if the animal might be growing tired of listening to his daily tales of the past. After all, he certainly had many stories to tell and did so at every opportunity.

What he didn’t share with the animal was the fact he was mentioned in Secret Service archives as the only man, during the entire course of World War Two, who schooled Marine Corp Raiders in the art of self defense. This included the ability to end the life of an adversary with a singular, swift, well placed movement of either hand. He had taught Marines the art of Wu-Yi, to kill instantly and quietly after all other methods had been exhausted. Since many Raider members were sent on missions that were secretive, carrying any weapon other than a knife was out of the question, in most cases. His grueling training schedule of the men in the Marine Corp Raider Battalions had been at the direction of the Secretary of War and the President’s personal representative.

Henri had been, all his life, a member of an elite fraternity counted on the fingers of one hand, as had his father and grandfather and nine family generations before him. He was the last in a line of martial arts guru’s schooled in secret and deadly methods of survival, a required addition to the myriad of qualities contributing to the makeup of a spy. The mention of the word Death Master induced immediate awe and quite naturally, fear, in anyone familiar with the martial arts, in private, and of course, highly informed circles.

His particular knowledge and the art he taught did not necessarily emanate from Budo nor was it directly related to anything emerging from the Shaolin Temple Wushu martial arts training all those thousands of years ago. He’d always thought it came into being even before the dynasty of Emperor Kang, but that was another story. It had nothing to do with Taoism or the Chinese School of Self Seclusion. The skills he personally tutored to the Marines probably came into being much earlier, although there were no written records to substantiate his theory. One of his grandfathers, nine times removed, had long ago journeyed to the far off land of Nepal and lived in a monastery for many years, acquiring the knowledge of the art in which Henri was so expert. This now distant relative had been the first outsider, the first member of any Western civilization to be so honored. He’d traveled there with the Great Khan’s armies, so the story goes, as a scholar in search of enlightenment.

Henri’s very existence depended solely on the ability to defend against and overcome those always in pursuit. His would be assassin’s primary mission was to gain information stored in his photographic mind and then, end his life. The advantage he held over his assailants was very simple. None of the assassins knew for certain if he was the man they were after. Many people suspected his identity but every time an assassin was sent to kill him and failed, it brought about the possibility he wasn’t the man they were after. In conducting most of his assignments he operated as an independent businessman, gaining favor with local governments.

In short, he was a killing machine with an infallible memory. This, in turn, made him the perfect spy of spies. He did not buy and sell information as most were wont to do in this profession. Henri merely observed and catalogued the items he saw or heard and conveyed it to the proper US authorities. He was paid handsomely for this expertise and could have garnered a larger fortune if he had wanted to sell the knowledge. Had he ever done so, it would surely have resulted in a contract on his life even his martial arts expertise could not have saved him from.

In all the assignments, once he became a participant in the world of the spy trade, the constant need for protection had worn on his mind in the beginning. After a few years, he’d grown hardened to the fact his life would always be hanging by a thread and simply accepted it as inevitable. Confidence in the ability to thwart any attempt on his life never wavered. He had the advantage of mammoth amounts of knowledge and facts in his mind which would be priceless to anyone who gained access to it. This did more to protect his life than anything else. His father had been adamant on this point and he now knew it was the correct course of action. The assassins who pursued him obviously could not slay him in broad daylight while he was walking down the street, for instance. They could, but in the fraternity of the spy profession, it simply was not done. Killing him would lose the very information they were after and no one wanted to answer to a superior as to why the quarry was dead and nothing had been retrieved. Everywhere he journeyed on missions he would contact local governments and make friends with proper officials, and secondly, contribute greatly to their pet projects. This usually provided favored citizen status and offered more protection than any other avenue. Thus, anyone bent on capturing, interrogating, and then killing him would have to do it under the cover of darkness. Thus, the night was his best friend. Would be attackers had difficulty operating in the blackness. Henri wisely did not venture into the world after nightfall unless it was necessary. He did not fear any attacker, but chose to stay out of the window of opportunity as much as possible. He slept soundly in quarters watched over by his little bodyguards. This was the primary reason for the protection required from his little four-footed friends. The cats would always warn him and a split second was all the time he needed. It was the only way he could get a good night’s rest in many cases.

Serious students of martial arts and sciences heard only the stories told by their peers. Not one, including their mentors, had ever known a Death Master. They knew there was such an entity because in the natural course and sequential progression of the art, there had to be. A Death Master was revered in the same light as a supreme being. Regardless of commitment to the regimen and the length of time of study, each student knew there would always be one who was superior. There would always be an ultimate master, no matter the regimen pursued. It was a common fear among the participants of the art, no matter the extent of their expertise and knowledge, that someone else existed who could beat them. Henri decided long ago the stories passed down from teacher to student he’d heard were greatly exaggerated, related in multiples for maximum effect on any audience. In his lifetime, he’d heard many preposterous tales and simply smiled, knowing he could correct the storyteller if so desired. Henri chose not to infringe on this avenue of the martial arts world because it would have resulted in patronization and he considered himself beyond that.

“ Better to let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak. I know what they do not know and that shall always be the way,” he had muttered.

“ Ah, Bayan,” he sighed, as he stopped and sat on the porch of the modest frame dwelling to rest. The large seal point quickly took advantage of the opportunity and leaped onto his lap. “What if we could live those times once more? What an adventure! I sometimes wonder what could have been, if I had practiced law or become an investment banker or something of that nature? What might have happened if I had taken the opera singer as my wife when we were in Macau? Do you remember her, my friend? We would be living in a very nice home with servants waiting on us hand and foot. Sophia’s beautiful voice would be ours to listen to any time we chose. And you,” he paused, looking down at the attentive feline, who immediately licked his nose, “you would have been happy and very content to hunt mice and tomato worms in the garden. For one thing, it wouldn’t be necessary to protect me and you could simply be my companion. However, let me hasten to say, I wouldn’t have entered into any profession which would have deprived me of your acquaintance. I cannot imagine a life without you by my side. Since the good Lord has blessed me and given me the opportunity to know Him and his Word, I feel so very fortunate for knowing you and all your ancestors. It is very comforting to know where one is going when our lives have ended on this earth and we leave the vessel that has carried us during our stay here. I do wonder, though, if I will be able to see all my little friends when I get there. It is a most curious speculation. The Father has not told me yet what to expect, in any case. I have discussed this with others during all the busy years and have been privy to the confidence of some people who think little friends like you were placed in our lives to show us God’s love. If this is true, I suspect there is a great deal of love in your small body and it is greatly enjoyed and appreciated.” He smiled as Bayan continued to lick his arm. “I should hasten to add, dear little one, the feeling is mutual.”

The cabin appeared tidy and well maintained. The rooms were curiously small in size. From the exterior, it could have been an average size dwelling. However, after a quick look through the window of the compact dining room, one could see it was sparsely furnished with only bare necessities. One could also see a woman’s hand had never been at work here. There were no curtains framing the windows, although a vase filled with roses displayed prominently on the small table in the center of the room did provide some decoration. The vase was filled with fresh flowers daily, in season. The seemingly never ending supply of flowers did serve to mystify some of those bent on his discovery as to how this could be. First glance would reveal to any observer this would be called home anywhere, but closer inspection also disclosed no stove for warmth or cooking. In the one small room possibly designated as a bedroom, there was no bed. This would immediately suggest to onlookers the occupant either slept standing upright or in another location.

“ I suppose we should go now,” he muttered, more to himself than to the cat.

The seal point reacted quickly, leaping upon his shoulder. She understood the words well and knew a quiet and restful time was approaching.

“ Did I ever mention, Lady Bayan, you were named after Generalissimo Bayan, the most trusted commander of the Great Khan? It has been written General Bayan had a thousand eyes, you know. He knew everything of any consequence which transpired around him at all times. It has been said there was nothing of importance in the civilized world he was not aware of. Even though you’re not of his gender, it is a remarkable compliment to be named after such an important person. You are just like him, my little guardian. I suspect the two of you would have gotten along very well and would have been great friends. When we get to our quarters and have eaten, make yourself comfortable, for I am going to tell you the story of how I happened to be in Macau, that dreadful island of spies, in 1941.” Henri knocked the ashes from his pipe on the porch railing and refilled the bowl from a leather pouch. Instead of lighting the pipe again, he placed it in his pocket for use at a later time.

He entered the cabin through the front door, locking it securely, and proceeded quickly to the interior of the bedroom and placed his left hand on a precise spot in the center of the wall. Silently it swung about to reveal a dark entry and steps cut into the solid, red rock. The walkway led downward, leveled, followed a corridor for a short distance and then rose upward, into the bowels of the mountain directly behind the cabin. Rasske lit a torch removed from a holder on the wall of the tunnel, the flickering light sending eerie shadows bouncing off the walls.

The wall of the cabin swung slowly back to its normal position and he locked it in place with a heavy timber. Beginning the long climb up the steps cut into the rock, he could feel Bayan’s muscular body relax slightly as she perched on his shoulder. She knew they were safe now and there was no need for her constant vigilance.