Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter Seven - Improbable Weapon User

Geovanni the elevator operator turns out to be a limo driver as well, and ushers Heller to the residence of Bang-Bang Rimbombo (what?!).  Although a serious mafia hoodlum, all along the way he gushes about how Heller took down those thugs in the Gracious Palms, one of which was Faustino's nephew.  "Blowie!  Blowie!  Blowie!  Just like that!  Wow!"  And yes, he's making shooting motions with one hand while driving.

Against all odds Heller arrives at a crummy apartment without ending up in a fiery car crash.  One girl answers the door, and Bang-Bang's in bed with another, but he hurriedly gets dressed when he hears that Babe has a job for him.  He and Heller rustle up a cab - the mob never uses a limo for "wet jobs," but has the cab companies in their pocket.  Geovani departs the chapter still making "Blowie!" noises and shooting his fingers.

A page after he's introduced, Bang-Bang finally gets a description - he's a "narrow-faced little Sicilian" (of course) who "looked pretty smart."  He and Heller arrive at the garage and find both the front and back doors are padlocked.  After sizing up the place, Heller picks the front lock in a heartbeat, carefully checks for tripwires and walks to avoid any landmines once he's past the threshold, and opens a window from the inside.  Then he goes back out, locks the padlock, and helps Bang-Bang scramble through the window, shutting it behind them.  And no pedestrians or motorists are around to witness this bit of breaking and entering, conveniently enough.

Gris, meanwhile is impressed - Heller's acting like a trained combat engineer, and his method of entry was quite discrete.  "I would have to remember how to do that," he thinks, reminding us how mind-boggling it is that such an incompetent bunch of "trained" intelligence agents could hope to topple an empire.

The garage has been jam-packed with crate after crate of illegal goods, with only a little avenue remaining to drive a car through. There's a million dollars' worth of both Jonnie Walker Gold Label booze and Taiwanese wrist-mounted recorders, all smuggled into the country to avoid those pesky customs fees.  Bang-bang angrily concludes that Narcotici's outfit is trying to cut in on the Corleones' smuggling operation, and blames "that crook Oozopopolis!"

Aaaand that was the moment in this chapter that makes me want to put the book down and walk away.  Is this going to become a regular thing, Hubbard?

Heller's more concerned about his car, of course, and urges Bang-Bang along to de-bomb it.  They find it in a dimly-lit section of the garage.  Bang-Bang gets out a torch - I'm guessing a flashlight, and that Hubbard's come down with a touch of Britishness - and crawls under the Caddy to get to work.  He tsks at the craftsmanship of his rival car bombers, as this one's set up so that sticks of dynamite are attached to each wheel, spinning until centrifugal force gets all the nitroglycerine to ooze to one end, until a big enough bump in the road sets it off.  "Cut-rate.  They saved the expense of detonators!  Cheapo!"

And now I'm kinda wondering where Hubbard learned this stuff about making car bombs.

Even though Bang-Bang is a demolitions expert, it's up to Heller to suggest that the dynamite is just a decoy, and that there may be another bomb.  Sure enough, in the back of the front hood there's ten pounds of gelignite, hooked up to the odometer so that it'd blow after five miles.  Bang-Bang's impressed that someone's this mad at Heller, but then they hear the sound of an approaching car!

They hide between two stacks of crates as the car parks and a trio of mooks enter the scene, the guy who saw Heller earlier and two new folks named Dumb-Dumb and Chumpy.  There's a lot of complaining about how long it took them to get here, and how they have to hurry up and move the car outside before he comes back. The thugs take up separate positions in the shadows to wait and shoot him when he comes for the car. 

Hey, that's a pretty smart idea that doesn't involve a car bomb being stored in a garage full of flammable substances.  Why not do that the first time, then?  Skip the hugely-conspicuous bomb and make with the silenced bullets?  Heller could have been dead four chapters ago! 

Heller's having none of this.  Neither he nor Bang-Bang have a gun - "It's illegal to carry a gun on parole" - so it's time to improvise.  Heller slips out of his clackety-clack cleats, and... oh, this is gonna be stupid.

He unwinds a length of fishing line and attaches a bass plug to one end.  Then he throws it at the front door, firmly attaching the line to it.  With a firm yank he pulls open the apparently unlocked portal, and before the crash is done echoing he throws a baseball - yes, a baseball - with enough force to take down poor Chumpy without so much as a whimper.

From there it proceeds like any number of stealth-based video games.  The other mooks neither see nor hear their comrade fall, but move forward to inspect the loud noise and decide that it's just the wind.  Heller hurls another baseball and drops the one in sight, then when the other quite appropriately wonders "What the hell?", Heller attempts a bank shot off a wall at the sound.  Astonishingly, he misses.  The hapless survivor bolts for the back door, only to find it locked.  Before he can blow the lock with his gun, Heller takes him down with another baseball.

And yes, they're all dead, their skulls smashed in.  Boom, headshots.  From baseballs.  Heller just killed three people with baseballs, with an assist from a fishing line.

There's eight more books of this.

Bang-Bang loots himself a highly illegal firearm from a thug's corpse and boggles along with the reader that Heller just killed people with baseballs.  Heller is all business, though, and tells him to finish up on the Cadillac.  "We've got to get to work now."

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, January 30, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter Six - Kittens Don't Really Have Fingers, Hubbard

Some nagging suspicion made me go back a few chapters and reread them, and sure enough, as far as I can tell Vantagio Meretrici has offered Heller a place to stay, food and drink, and a part-time job without asking him his name.  He introduced Heller to his staff as "the kid," watched "the kid" stuff thousands of dollars into a safe, and simply hasn't shown any interest in who "the kid" might be. 

And this doesn't surprise me at all.  This is from the author who wrote a book in which a tribe enthusiastically agrees to follow a stranger into battle against an alien empire, and then asks who he is.

So what would have happened during Heller's presentation to all the hookers if Vantagio had looked at his ID and seen that he wasn't underage? 

Anyway, this chapter.  Heller gets up the next morning, tidies up his new clothes (including that Eton collar - this is very important), and grabs a shoulder-strap satchel that "looked, for all the world, like one of those kiddy schoolbook bags."  Remember, it is essential that Heller look younger than he is.  He grabs a wad of fishing lines, some tools and some baseballs, then hires a cab to take him to a specific garage in Weehawken, New Jersey.

And then it becomes evident that L. Ron Hubbard could not be arsed to proofread his own book. 

I suddenly chilled.  Up until then I had not grasped what Heller was going to do!  He was on his way to get his car!  Bury knew where that car was.  It would be rigged! 

Gris, three chapters ago:

And suddenly it dawned on me what he was up to.  He had believed that tale about it being too hard to drive in New York!  He was going to bring the Cadillac into town!

Oh!  No, no, no!  There was no way to warn this naive simpleton!  One of the things Bury would surely have done was to have that Cadillac rigged to explode!

A revelation so dramatic he had it twice.

There's a litany of street names and geographic locations so that, if you so desired, you could track Heller's progress on a map.  I'm vaguely curious whether or not the route Hubbard gives us is accurate, but not enough to actually check.  Heller has his driver stop one block from the destination, and when the man objects, tears a fifty dollar bill in half to get him to stick around, which I always thought counted as defacing currency.

"Trucks!  Trucks!  Trucks!  The whole area in front of the huge, low building was jammed with trucks!"  Workers are unloading crates... into the garage?... but are having a problem.  One man is insisting that the goods can't be stored there, but won't say why (because there's a bomb), and when he spots Heller lurking around he flees.

Heller decides to dodge all the Trucks! and try a new approach.  He gets the cabbie to take him to Crystal Parkway, Bayonne, which makes the driver uneasy.

The New York cabby had to look at a map.  "This is a foreign country," he explained.  "It ain't as if you were still in civilization.  This is New Jersey.  And you can't ask directions.  The natives lie!"

Hmm.  This almost feels real.  I mean, the wording is a bit stilted, but this actually sounds like something a New Yorker would say about New Jersey.  Unless TV has lied to me.

Street names, Heller asking about some sort of statue near the waterline, they get there, Heller gives the driver the other half of the fifty and a twenty dollar tip so he can "hire a native guide" to get home.  Heller prepares to enter a "very splendid building.  A new condo."

There's a dedicated elevator for the building's penthouse, operated by a "very dark, very Sicilian" man.  Heller asks to see Mrs. Corleone, name-dropping Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty.  And the elevator guard asks for I.D., but not the mobster who has decided to become Heller's personal benefactor, or the police officer investigating a triple homicide with Heller on the scene.  This one guard has shown more common sense than 98% of the book's cast, simply by doing his bloody job.

The elevator operator makes a call, eyes Heller suspiciously, frisks him, and rides up with him.  He nudges Heller down a "beautifully decorated hallway," then into a "gorgeous room, all done in modern gold and beige."  As opposed to Renaissance gold, or Roaring Twenties gold.

The room's occupant is resting on a couch, a blonde, blue-eyed, forty-something woman whose hair, redundantly described as corn silk, is braided into a sort of crown shape atop her head.  When she stands to greet her guest she turns out to be taller than even Heller, "a real Amazon!"

The woman is, of course, Babe Corleone, head of the New Jersey mafia.  She welcomes Heller as one of Jimmy's friends and offers him something to drink.  Heller asks for some beer.

She wagged a finger at him, kittenishly. 


"Naughty. Really naughty. You realize that would be against the law."

So the mob boss, who routinely breaks the law to earn her ill-gotten pay, refuses to give an apparent teenager a beer and orders Heller some milk - or rather, she commands a lackey to to get some "God (bleeped) milk!" once she hears that they're out.  Hubbard is taking this running gag and grinding it against your face like a sheet of sandpaper. 

This chapter's close to twelve pages long, by the way.

Babe asks about Jimmy, who Heller says was hot on the job last he saw him, and then Heller inquires about Babe's family because he doesn't know about mafia terminology.  This makes Babe reminisce about the dearly-departed "Holy Joe," and how he was a traditional mobster who stuck with smuggling and bootlegging, none of this drugs crap like what that New York jerkwad Faustino "The Noose" Narcotini is pushing. 

And yes, this is exactly how the names appear in the book.  It's always "Faustino 'The Noose' Narcotini," or "Jimmy 'The Gutter' Tavilnasty," or "'Holy Joe' Corleone." 

After politely expressing confidence that Babe will succeed against those nasty drug-pushers, Heller suddenly asks if she's Caucasian.  This is the second time this chapter I've had to force myself to keep reading.

What follows is two good pages of stupid genealogy, but intentionally so.  Babe, you see, is a former Roxy chorus girl, and when Holy Joe married her the "old cats carped and meowed and criticized" because she wasn't a Sicilian.  So Babe hired a doctor to come up with her family tree, which proved that not only is she a descendant of Charlemagne, but she's a genuine Sicilian because her north Italian parents moved there for four years during World War Two.  And there's your joke.

The most baffling thing about this whole sequence is that it's - or I'm reading it as - an actual, critical satire of genealogy and racial science.  Babe throws around terms like "Proto-Negroid" and "dolichocephalic--means long-headed, which is to say, smart," which sound like stuff from the bad old days of eugenics, and were certainly out of style even during the dark days of the 1980's.  Gris sneeringly guesses that she's repeating what that "doctor" she hired told her, words that were certainly chosen to please, and notes that American women have a strange preoccupation with family trees.

Which makes the author's presentations of things like psychology and the U.S. government all the more bizarre.  Here is a brief glimmer of sanity, something in the book that bears an actual resemblance to the world we live in, buried beneath paranoia and hyperbole and crushing cynicism.

Heller, of course, is only bringing up the subject because of that thrice-damned Prince Caucalsia story.  He perks up when Babe describes the Caspian racial group, who migrated from around the Caucasus Mountains, and asks if she's ever heard of Atalanta.  She confuses this for Atlanta, but just before Heller can explain an ancient legend from another planet to a person who isn't supposed to know that he's an alien, another Sicilian bursts in with urgent words for Babe Corleone.

While Gris tries to place the guy (it's the clerk from the brothel), Babe is stunned, and summons the elevator operator (Geovanni, if you're interested) to yell at him for not telling her that "this was that kid?", the one who saved Gracious Palms.  And now is when this career criminal decides that Heller deserves a beer, "to hell with illegality!"

But Heller turns her down.  Instead he wants to talk to Bang-Bang Rimbombo (and once again I say what?!), as he thinks he's got some "car trouble."  Gris suddenly deduces that Heller must have remembered that newspaper article he spent an inordinate amount of time reading, and headed to the mob boss who employed the car bomber so he could get his Cadillac defused.  Babe orders a limo to take him to Bang-Bang's (what?!) place, gives "Jerome" a big ol' smooch on the cheek, and the chapter finally, finally ends.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, January 27, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter Five - Vehicular Homicide Is Fine, Littering Is Not

Now, the dubiously-driven attacking cab has just been shoved over a fifty-foot railing with nothing but pavement below.  You might think this would result in a fatal crash and/or a fiery explosion, but you'd be only half right.

Heller hops out and climbs down through the hole in the guardrail, "swarm[ing] down a girder" and sliding down a pillar to reach the street below.  The other car, astonishingly enough, landed on its wheels and against all odds managed to drive forward only to crash into a stanchion.  Heller rushes to jimmy the car doors - yes, he was carrying a jimmy, don't you? - because he's noticed gasoline leaking from the wreck, and if the fumes hit the control box of a nearby streetlight, there'll be an explosion.

Quite a deduction from someone who had to have the concept of a liquid, chemical engine explained to him, and who thought that there were horses under the hood of his automobile.

Heller pries the cab doors open with his mighty fingers and hauls the two people inside to safety before the inevitable explosion.  One of them is pretty dead and missing the top of his head, so you have to wonder why Heller bothered to rescue him or how he failed the notice the partial decapitation.  Also, Gris is able to surmise that the corpse is "obviously a Sicilian" despite all the blood and brains and lack of skull.  Good eyes, Gris.  Way to avert the "you [foreigners] all look alike to me" thing with incredible homeland-deducing vision.

The surviving occupant is none other than Torpedo Fiaccola.

Torpedo opened his eyes.  He saw Heller.  He recognized him.

Torpedo said, "You ain't going to kill my mother?"

Heller looked down at him.  "I'll think about it."

Our hero. 

Heller rifles through Torpedo's wallet, finding the five thousand dollars Heller gave him a day ago, which the man decided to carry on him rather than depositing in a bank or anything, as well as instructions to deliver "the evidence" to someone.  With some questioning ("Mothers should be cherished"), Torpedo admits that he's supposed to deliver Heller's bloodstained baseball cap and a lock of hair to a certain address.  Heller advises him to keep the money, get fixed up in a hospital somewhere, and then go to the North Pole "and learn to speak polar-bear.  I'm not a mother killer but I sure enjoy exploding torpedoes!"

The cops arrive and question why Heller bothered to rescue anyone from the other vehicle, then decide to give the dead Sicilian a ticket for littering.  This is incisive, hilarious satire of the uselessness and callousness of the police department of New York City.

Heller meets up with Mortie and goes to the street next to the assigned drop-off point.  Heller had already dipped his hat in "the mess that had been the driver's head," and now he pulls out a knife that he apparently was carrying and cuts off some of his hair, then sticks it to the hat with the blood that hasn't dried yet.  He has Mortie make the delivery for a bonus, and the cabbie soon returns with a package.  On the way home Heller opens the box and produces a plane ticket to Buenos Aires.  Mortie values it at three thousand dollars, though Heller would have to go to the airport to get it exchanged, and also declares that his protege has the makings of a top New York cabbie.  Heller gives him his six hundred dollars in pay and his friend speeds off.

Bye, Mortie.  I'm not sure what you brought to the plot other than an excuse for Hubbard to "satirize" New York drivers.  I also don't know why Heller needed the driving lessons when he's proven to be a hot hand at that Cadillac, to say nothing of the other vehicles he's piloted.  So you were an unnecessary character in an unnecessary section of the book.  So long!

Heller heads home, clickety-clacking along in his cleats, and goes to his room in the Gracious Palms.  He adds the box's other contents, "ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!", to the fifty grand already in his safe.  So now Heller, who is already insanely popular and famous on Voltar, is becoming rich and well-connected on Earth.  His resources are power are growing, while his enemies are proving to be just as incompetent as ever.  Yet somehow Hubbard is going to stretch this plot out over eight more volumes, and insist that there's some real drama over how and whether Heller can hope to succeed against all the forces arrayed against him.

Oh, and Raht and Terb send in another report to Gris, describing how Heller apparently got a job and room at the clothing store, since he hasn't come out yet.  These trained Apparatus agents did not notice him exiting the building.  Gris is furious, among other things.

I was getting frightened that I might have to go to America myself to handle this.  And I didn't have the least idea what I could do even if I did.

Get off your ass and actively work to solve your problems rather than hoping that your brainless subordinates - who you cannot even contact - can make everything better for you?  That's just crazy talk.  Better stick to watching helplessly and waiting for your sex slave to arrive.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter Four - Crazy Taxi

So, once Mortie Massacurovitch... oh, like massacre as a Russian surname.  How droll.  Anyway, once Mortie's off-duty he takes "Clyde Barrow" to his company's garage, or "barn."  His chosen vehicle is what Gris calls the "remains of a cab," a blocky old car with real steel fenders and, somehow, bulletproof glass.  Mortie checks the fluids, Heller gets in the passenger seat, and then they're off to terrorize innocent New York motorists and pedestrians alike.  The cabbie dives right into the traffic on Grand Central Avenue, which "was THICK!  And fast!"

The chapter consists of six pages of mainly "comical" automotive shenanigans, of screeching tires and battered bumpers coupled with playful bouts of reckless endangerment and unnecessary property damage.  Mortie's lessons are:

  • "People are basically yellow.  They always give up before you do.  So that leaves you a very wide scope."
  • Use your squealing brakes to get people's attention, "because honking was [sic] frowned upon."
  • Use skids to spook your fellow motorists, allowing you to take his place in line when he slams the brakes.
  • Speeding behind ambulances or fire engines is fair game, "but setting a fire ahead to get the engines to run is frowned upon."
  • If stopped by a police officer, wait until they reach your door, then whisper "'Run for your life.  This fare is holding a gun on me.'  And the cop will beat it every time!"
  • Try to insult other drivers until they get out of their car to fight you, so you can speed ahead and take their place in line.
  • You don't need to sideswipe limos, they're particularly cowardly and will get out of your way at but a gesture.
  • You can go down one-way streets the wrong way if you do so in reverse, because you're "pointed in the right direction so it ain't illegal."
  • If you hit the sidewalk at the right angle, you will do a "curb bounce" and sideswipe a rival with extra force.

Mortie also shows Heller how to take off people's open car doors.  I'm not sure how this helps him learn to drive, but presumably Hubbard thinks it's funny.  There's also another bit where they take a break at a cabbie bar and Heller tries to order a beer but is scolded for being too young (-looking) and has to make due with a milk.  This is what, the third time this has happened?  And Heller still hasn't caught on?  And Hubbard keeps repeating the gag?  We know he looks young, Hubbard, you've done a great job of driving that fact into our skulls.  We don't know why it's so important, but we get it.

There is something more to the chapter than shattered windshields and screaming victims - Mortie notices another cab following them at one point, though he manages to shake it quickly.  But when he turns the wheel over to Heller to give him a go at it, their tail is back, firing bullets!  Mortie yells that "Somebody is breaking the firearms law!" and tells Heller to floor it.

The climax takes place near the West Side Elevated Highway, where traffic is inexplicably light so Heller can pull his next stunt.  With the enemy cab in hot pursuit, Heller abruptly pulls a sharp turn that nearly sends him over the guardrails, backs up, and when the attacking cab tries to slip by ahead of him, Heller rams it over the guardrail and down a fifty foot drop to the street below.

This is pretty stupid, of course.  The other car saw its target come to a dead stop sitting perpendicular to the road.  The enemy clearly has firearms, and Heller presented it with a lovely, stationary target unable to dodge with any speed due to its positioning.  Tactically, it's a terrible idea, almost as bad as the pursuing cab's utterly inexplicable decision to try to squeeze past Heller.  What was the next step, Other Cab?  Why were you trying to get past your target?  Could you not stop in time?  Did you not react to what your target was doing?  It never occurred to you to hit the brakes?

It's such a dumb move, in fact, that you may be able to guess who's trying to kill Heller.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter Three - Collars and Cabbies

Let's learn about New York City.

[...] New York is a peculiar place: practically nobody ever looks at anybody no matter what they are doing--including rape and murder.  Even dead bodies can lie on the street until the sanitation department gets a complaint--and answers it if they happen to have any appropriations that month.  So Heller was attracting no attention.

I guess Mayor Giuliani really did clean things up. 

Gris notices someone skulking behind Heller, someone who isn't Raht and/or Terb.  Meanwhile our hero steps into a Tall and Big Men store to swap out his old digs.  The main tailor is out of town, so Heller's new clothes are once again too small, and I wonder why, Hubbard, why do you keep dressing this guy in too-short pants, why do you think this is important and vital to the plot?  The suit also features an Eton collar, like those worn by English undergrads, so Heller looks even more boyish and young than usual, because otherwise the story would just fall apart.

He keeps the metal-cleated baseball shoes, though.  Again, why, Hubbard?

Gris bitterly notes that his useless underlings, who he cannot contact due to some jaw-dropping stupidity, will probably stake out that clothing store because of all the bugs they put in Heller's initial outfit.  Meanwhile Heller does something inexplicable - he kneels next to a cab's dented fender and bends it with his fingers, "an easy thing for anybody to do."

This is either a commentary on the shoddy state of modern automobiles, or else we're subtly being told that Voltarians are super-strong compared to us puny Earthlings.  Though the latter would explain some of Heller's stunts, I'm hoping it's the former. I really don't want him to turn into some combination of Superman and Captain Planet.

And no, as far as I can tell Heller isn't marking a car so he can track it.  I've scanned ahead and can't find any references to this event.  Like I said, inexplicable.

After that, Heller suddenly hails a cab, saying that he needs to be on the other side of town lickety-split.  Gris takes an interest, thinking that Heller has at last noticed and is trying to shake his tail.  But upon being delivered to his destination, Heller just looks around, spots a banged-up cab, and tells the driver that he has another urgent appointment.  He does this three times, but upon getting to his final destination doesn't disembark.  Gris freaks out.  "AND THEN HELLER JUST SAT THERE IN THE CAB!"  Guess he was really looking forward to Heller touring Broadway.

See, what Heller was really doing was finding a wild cabbie whose vehicle bore the marks of brutal driving, and who displayed the skills needed to careen through the streets of New York City.  Heller wants driving lessons so he can take his Cadillac with him.  His cabbie, a tank driver in the last war who was sent home for being "too brutal to the enemy!", is Mortie Massacurovitch, who after being promised two hundred dollars agrees to show Heller the ropes once his shift ends.  So that's next chapter set up for us, driving lessons from a war criminal.

Gris is of course horrified at the thought of Heller getting back behind the wheel of that Cadillac, since Mr. Bury would surely have stuck a car bomb in it.  If only he'd done so a few chapters ago, he would have made things so much simpler...

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter Two - Whore Economics

Vantagio turns on the air conditioning to help vent the gunsmoke before sitting back down in his office with Heller.  He asks how his rescuer came to be here, and Heller dutifully recounts his instructions to the cabbie to take him to a house.

Vantagio laughed.  "Oh, kid, you are a greenhorn.  Strictly from the backwoods.  Listen, kid.  In the vernacular of our fair city, the word 'house' means a brothel, a bordello, a bagnio, a crib, a sporting house, a cathouse, a whorehouse, or, in short, a house of prostitution!  And here you are.  This is the pleasure palace of the United Nations, the top 'house' in all of Manhattan!"

Another orgy of synonyms, of equivalent terms, of slang words, nicknames, and so on.  Mary did the same thing while listing all the names for heroin.  Wonder why.  Is the author trying to show off, is he padding the story, or what?

Also, I had no idea "house" meant "brothel."  I must reluctantly conclude that Heller is more "street" than I am. 

Vantagio offers Heller a job as a bouncer, but the battlefield engineer refuses, insisting that he needs to go earn his diploma.  The mobster agrees, noting that he himself has a masters in political science from Empire University, and look at him now, running the premier bawdyhouse of New York City!  ...Well, if your customers are mainly folks from the UN, that could actually make sense.  I mean, they'd be more favorable towards you if you knew something about their countries and customs, surely.  Help create an environment where they'd feel more comfortable while paying for sex.

The conversation is interrupted by two disheveled men listed as gunsels, a term which Hubbard is probably using as a synonym for "hired gun" rather than its homosexual connotations.  They explain that they were delayed by the cops, who were surely working with the rival mobsters.  When Vantagio recounts Heller's gravity-defying acrobatics and improbable aiming skills, they both gush "Jesus!" in unison before being dismissed to tidy themselves up.  This is a respectable establishment, Vantagio explains.

It's for that reason that he doesn't sell drugs, he tells Heller, since the UN crowd would think they were "trying to bleed information out of them"... Hubbard, you told us this last chapter.  Anyway, this is a good-old fashioned whorehouse, with no drugs but plenty of bootleg alcohol (which is a drug).  Even though it isn't prohibited anymore, they still bootleg their liquor to avoid federal taxes, and because it's traditional.

Customer satisfaction is just one reason Vantagio doesn't push drugs, the other is economics.  Drug-using hookers "get all dried up" in only a year or two, and prostitutes are an expensive investment, requiring extensive training, study at Towers Modeling School, work as doctors' assistants, and even a post-graduate apprenticeship to "an ex-Hong Kong whore."  Plus, if they got involved in drugs they'd have to bribe the DEA, on top of losing their UN customers.

Just in case you thought these mobsters were objecting to drugs for any ethical reasons.

"[...] So, no drugs, kid."

"No drugs," said Heller, probably thinking of Mary Schmeck.

I just want to highlight this to emphasize how awkward and problematic the "Gris as narrator" concept is.  Here we have Hubbard trying to make his main character appealing by having him remember the tragic loss of his companion to the scourge of drugs.  The problem is that Heller doesn't actually do this - instead, Gris is suddenly speculating on what Heller is thinking, and remembering a fallen companion with any measure of sympathy is simply out-of-character for him.  For all we know, Heller could be thinking about baseball and mindlessly parroting what his new friend tells him.

The book's hero is totally closed to us, while the voice describing and commenting on everything that happens belongs to a loathsome little worm who I got sick of early last book.  And there's eight more books of this. (editor's note from the future: well, five-and-a-half)

Anyway.  Since Heller saved his life, Vantagio decides to let him room in The Gracious Palms while he goes to college, complete with free meals and drinks.  All Heller needs to do to "repay" him for use of the facilities is to spend an hour every now and then sitting in the lobby.  Of course, Heller can't be served any alcohol while rooming in this illegal whorehouse, because he's underage.

And then... why, Hubbard... Vantagio hits a buzzer to summon the brothel's staff, and has Heller stand on a marble ledge to be presented to them.  "The sea of upturned lovey faces looked like the color plates of the porno and movie magazines had all gone into a mad shuffle."  Vantagio announces that Heller has saved his life, and the ladies under his employ must "treat him decent."  And they oooh and aaaah and drool over his muscles and pant in barely-restrained lust, but Vantagio warns that Heller's clearly underaged, and he doesn't want to be brought up on a "morals charge" while running this whorehouse serving bootleg liquor.  The stolid, mustached Mama Sesso will enforce this order, tossing out any (bleeptch) who Heller complains of bothering him.

And-a Mama Sesso talks-a in the a-stereotypical Italian accent-a.  Mama mia.

There's not much left to tell.  Heller takes his stuff to his room, followed by beautiful women just itching for the chance to throw him down on a mattress, only for his would-be paramours to be shooed off by Vantagio.  The mob boss gives Heller some money and an address for a "tall man's shop," ordering him to get some non-baseball clothes.

Yes, that's right.  Looks like we're getting another chapter of Heller going shopping.

Gris ends the chapter furious, because not only has Heller just made a host of new enemies, but he's rooming in a very secure building (since bawdyhouse owners don't like people breaking in and rummaging through belongings, as that upsets the customers).  Also, Raht and Terb are still shadowing Heller and sending in completely useless reports, and of course Gris has no way of sending them new orders or filling them in on the situation or in fact interacting with them at all, because Hubbard couldn't think of a way for his plot to work if the bad guys had a two-way radio.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, January 23, 2012

Part Sixteen, Chapter One - The Search for Housing

I miss Battlefield Earth.  I miss having a plot, a sense of direction, of purpose.

Heller checks out of his hotel, or more accurately checks himself out because the lobby is deserted.  "Al Capone" signs out and leaves some money under the counter, then goes to the public phone.  There's a lot of numbers scribbled on the wall around it, "some of them girls, some of them pimps and some of them gays," but he eventually finds one for a cab company and summons a "German-looking" driver.

First Heller asks for a place "with some class," and is taken to the Snob Palace Hotel, and I've gotta be honest, I almost put the book down and walked away right there.  Though the place is fancy and has plenty of bellboys and clerks, nobody can spare the time to talk to them because they're busy on phones answering complaints about an improperly aired poodle... this is not me making stupid stuff up in an effort to wring amusement from the book, this is actually in the chapter: "Something about a poodle not being aired."  One clerk tears himself away to eye this strange character in undersized and clashing clothing - someone finally reacts to how Heller is dressed! -  and coldly informs him that rooms are four hundred bucks a night, so Heller moves on.

After hailing another cab, Heller asks for a place that's less expensive, and is taken to the Casa de Flop... hmm.  No reaction.  Guess I'm dead inside now.

[Heller] picked up his bags and walked in.  A sodden group of winos sagged on sodden furniture.  A sodden clerk slumped over a sodden desk.  It was a very sodden lobby.

Heller sniffs and remarks that this place might as well be run by the Apparatus.  Gris makes an excited note of it: "Code break!  Code break!  And unpatriotic!"  Heller doesn't bother talking to anyone, but turns around and goes to find another cab.  He figures a house will be cheaper and cleaner than a hotel, and asks the "Neanderthal type" cabbie to take him to one.  The driver thinks he looks awfully young for that sort of thing, but complies.

So Heller is taken to a beautiful, multi-storied, modern building, The Gracious Palms.  Everything is elegant and gilded and tastefully arranged and not shabby or sodden or anything, but the place is also strangely empty, and at the sight of the limo idling in the driveway the cabbie freaks out, dumps Heller and his stuff, and bolts.

There is one person around, well-dressed, tough, and standing next to the limo.  He eyes the interloper and reports in on a miniature walkie-talkie while Heller enters the building.  The main counter is empty, but there's a nearby door marked "Host" with a man peering out of it.  He beckons to Heller, who puts down his luggage and steps into what turns out to be the office of "Vantagio Meretrici, Manager."  One man is sitting behind the desk, while two others are standing to the side, their right hands out of sight, presumably tucked away in a rift in space-time.  The third man who opened to door for Heller suddenly grabs him and forces him to take a seat.

One man asks if Heller's one of Vantagio's "fancy boys," which he denies.  Another goes back to demanding that Vantagio push drugs on behalf of Faustino, which Vantagio also refuses, since he'd lose all his clientele - they'd think he was trying to "bleed them for information."  A gangster makes some unkind and quite racist remarks about the officials of the United Nations, and threatens to bust up some furniture, or possibly some whores, before killing Vantagio.  He decides on starting with the "fancy boy" they just captured.

Yaaaaay action sequence.  Bear in mind that at the start of this, Heller is being pinned down in a chair by a man standing behind him, with a tight lock on his arms.

Abruptly Heller brought his feet off the floor!

He did a sitting back flip!

His toes struck the man behind him on the head!

Heller's hands caught the sides of the chair seat.  He catapulted himself backwards, straight over the head of the man who had been holding him!  He landed behind him!

He had the man's gun out of his shoulder holster!

Presumably, Gris pieced all this together by taking a blur of confusing footage and going through it frame-by-frame.  Because remember, Gris' viewpoint for all of this is literally through Heller's eyes.  Unless you forgot about that whole bio-bugging subplot and confused Gris for some sort of omniscient narrator.  But that would be sloppy.

From there it's just a lot of shooting.  Mook 1 shoots at Heller but hits Mook 2, who Heller was standing behind.  Heller shoots Mook 1 in the heart.  Mook 3 drops into a crouch and takes another shot, hitting Mook 1, who was wearing his Friendly Fire Magnet that day.  Heller hits Mook 3 in the head.  "Running feet outside approaching."  Mook 4 attempts to make an entrance, but Heller shoots him high in the shoulder, knocking him down but not enough to kill him, and the hood wisely decides to cheese it.  The sound of a revving engine is probably the limo speeding off.

Meh.  Jonnie could kill Psychlos three at a time, and he was just an ordinary human.  And on a good day he could cut down nearly thirty of his fellow man.  Sorry Hubbard, I just can't get excited about this new guy whacking a handful of mobsters.

Vantagio invokes the name of our lord and savior and asks Heller to help him haul the bodies, pulling them out on rugs and rushing a cleaning lady in to mop up the bloodstains.  Good thing too, since he can already hear police sirens, no doubt tipped off by the rival mobsters to rush in if they heard shooting.  By the time Inspector Bulldog Grafferty bursts onto the scene, he finds three corpses in the hotel lobby, and Vantagio explains that they all killed each other in a shootout.  And Heller?  A delivery boy, who showed up after the shooting stopped.

The cop accepts this story a little crankily, tells them that the "stiff team" will be in shortly, and Vantagio and Heller had better show up at the coroner's inquest.  He leaves, and Vantagio tells Heller to take his luggage into his office so they can have a talk.

So I think Heller's now in with the mob.  The Good Mob, of course, which doesn't push drugs, unlike the Bad Mob.

Back to an Intermission
Further Back to Part Fifteen, Chapter Nine

Friday, January 20, 2012

Intermission - I Am So Lost

Last chapter ended on page 258 of 477, meaning we're past Black Genesis' halfway point.  And I'm not quite sure what's going on or where we're going or why anything is happening.

We've got the overreaching plot, the Voltarian government deciding whether or not to invade Earth prematurely vs. the Apparatus' efforts to stall for time until they can use their Earth assets to take over the Confederacy.  We've got Gris' attempts to get Heller in jail or killed vs. Gris' search for the "platen" so he can fake the coded messages Heller set up for just such an eventuality.  And then there's Heller, who's doing what exactly?

His mission is to introduce environmentally-friendly technology so that Earth doesn't get to messy before the Voltarians invade, but how is he going to do that?  What's his strategy, his plan?  He got dumped in a Virginian backwater and was told to pick up his birth certificate, but what was step two?  Did he come up with a strategy at any point?  Or was his preparation for this mission restricted to learning languages, reading up on Prince Caucalsia, and boinking the Countess Krak?

Since his arrival on Earth, Heller's spent his time reacting to other forces.  He gets dragged into the late Mary's problems with the law, decides to flee with her to Washington, then gets scooped up by the FBI and follows Mr. Bury's orders.  Now he has an identity as a college student and presumably is going to school, but why?  Heller's not showing any initiative, any indication that there is a purpose to his actions, that he has an end result in mind.  He's just bouncing off other people so Hubbard can make fun of them.  That said, Heller hasn't been derailed from any plan because there's no sign of him having one in the first place.

If I were the author, and I wanted to have Heller as a reactionary, seat-of-his-pants kind of operative, I'd make a big deal about how Combat Engineers were given broad mission objectives and considerable freedom in how to pursue them.  I'd mention Heller having a history of creative and unorthodox solutions to problems and a talent at improvisation.  As opposed to going on about how famous his sister is and what color racing cap he was wearing at the moment and how well-decorated his room is.

Then there's that "platen."  So Heller is hiding coded messages in his reports, the absence of which will tip his friend the Royal Astrologer off that something bad has happened to Heller, to say nothing of what the hidden reports themselves could say about the Apparatus.  But when are these messages supposed to be delivered?  Heller handed Gris the letter, but what was he expecting him to do with it?

We've been told that there are regular Apparatus flights to and from Earth, but does the Voltarian government proper know about them?  If they're on a strict schedule, doesn't that give Gris some time to find the platen?  And if the messages have to be brought home by Space Pony Express, doesn't that give him some opportunities to have unfortunate accidents happen to the mail bags?  A surprise pirate attack, an insurrection by Prince Whossname, that sort of thing?  Get creative, man!

Also, Heller presumably wrote his letter to the Astrologer after getting the invasive surgical bugging.  So is there not recorded footage somewhere of him writing that letter and using the platen?  Or does the HellerVision only record what Gris personally witnessed Heller witnessing?  Or does it simply not record a damn thing?   

One-way space radios... how the hell are you supposed to manage covert operatives if you have no way to give them instructions?  How are Raht and Terb given missions?  Do they have to go all the way back to Turkey every time they complete an objective?  What happens if the situation changes or they're urgently needed elsewhere? 

I'm also still trying to figure out just what Mr. Bury and the other Rockecenter lackeys were planning.  Presumably they were going to whack Heller, yeah?  So did they really need to haul in all that cash and the potentially incriminating documents?  Did they really need to kill Heller then and there, two days after learning of his existence?  If they knew where he was the night before, and had those Slinkerton guys shadowing him, wouldn't it make more sense to whack him earlier than later, before he could potentially make copies of his ID or tell people his assumed name?  Why go through the trouble of coming up with a new identity if they were just going to kill him?  How would the police finding the inexplicably sniped body of "Jerome Wister" be better than the police finding the inexplicably sniped body of a John Doe? 

Any why is Rockecenter "Jr." such a huge threat, anyway?  Even if the forged documents are just too good for Sr.'s denials to hold up against, how is having an embarrassment of a son going to destroy Rockecenter's plans of world domination?  Given what various royal families or Hollywood celebrities get up to, wouldn't this merely provide an amusing distraction while he continued to rule the planet?  Also, why doesn't the guy who controls the government and the mob and the pharmaceutical industry and the energy industry also control the media?  Wouldn't that make secretly ruling the planet much easier?  And then he wouldn't have to worry about word getting out of "Jr."'s police record, too. (edit from the future: these questions are rather reliant on the assumption that Rockecenter is a rational individual, and as we'll see later...)

Finally - what was the point of the highly suspicious and very suspenseful mystery donut and coffee delivery at the start of last chapter?  Who put the guy up to it?  Who paid for it?  Was there anything in the food?  Wouldn't that have been a great opportunity for the bad guys to poison the coffee and negotiate from a position of strength, "give into my demands to get the antidote," that sort of thing?  Is this just another meaningless incident that Hubbard called undue attention to, or is this seriously going to come up in a later chapter?

 Okay, I'm done now.  I'm no less confused, but I'm done now. 

Back to Part Fifteen, Chapter Nine

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Part Fifteen, Chapter Nine - In Which an Attempt to End This Series Early Tragically Fails

So I guess we've reached the big shake-up in Act Two that sets the stage for the action over the rest of the... ah, what am I doing, this is a "dekalogy" arbitrarily chopped into ten novels, there's no way to graph this turkey on a plot chart.  But stuff actually happens in this chapter beyond Heller driving around and eating hamburgers.

It's just after seven now, presumably the next morning, but we're never quite told this.  A delivery boy drops off a coffee and some jelly donuts, and once again Gris rants at the HellerVision about how Heller doesn't check for poison or anything, even though it's quite suspicious that a shabby hotel like this would deliver breakfast.

And then there's another section that makes me wonder if Heller is a covert specialist after all.  While Heller waits for his appointment with Mr. Bury, he arranges the furniture so that one chair sits with its back to the huge, sniper-friendly window, with the other in plain sight.  He makes sure a small table is up against his chosen seat and that there are two ashtrays on it.  He gets out some tools - alien tools he brought with him?  human tools he purchased when we weren't looking? - and fiddles with the doorknob.  Finally, Heller takes apart and reassembles the portable radio he purchased and places it in his luggage.

Gris' reaction to all this is "Fleet guys are crazy with toys.  Here he was about to be hit and he was amusing himself with a toy."  He doesn't spare any thought for coming up with a better reason for Heller's actions, or consider the implications of the positioning of the room's furniture.  Probably because that would spoil the big surprise coming up, but mostly because Gris is staggeringly stupid.

With all his fiddling done, Heller sits down with his back to the window, through which Gris spotted someone climbing to the roof of the building across the street, violin case in tow.  The hotel elevator door's dinging can be heard down the hall, someone knocks on Heller's door, and the book's hero bids them come in, it's open.  The person who comes through is decidedly non-shabby.

In walked the perfectly-groomed Wall Street lawyer.  The type is legendary.  Three-piece suit in a somber gray.  No hat.  Impeccably neat.  Dried up like a prune from holding in all the sins they commit.  He was carrying a fat briefcase.

Swollen with sin but dried-up and shriveled, huh?  Interesting metaphor.  Also, this may be the first time I've had Wall Street associated with attorneys instead of bankers.

This is Mr. Bury, who takes a seat and immediately asks where Heller got the idea to call himself the son of the world's most powerful man.  Heller is evasive and vague - "Don't know anybody much around here" - but confirms that he hasn't used the name publicly, and only those two dingbats at the FBI know it.  Mr. Bury congratulates him on his discretion.  Gris notes that Stereotypical English Butler from last chapter probably wasn't told Heller's alias either.

Heller shows Bury his papers, and is asked if the FBI made any copies.  Heller replies that they didn't, even though he spent several hours away from the documents tasting drugs and firing assault rifles, hours in which Stupewitz could have easily made duplicates, and hours in which Stupewitz should have made duplicates if he was serious about this blackmail scheme.  Mr. Bury is even more pleased, especially when Heller tells him that he doesn't have any copies beyond what he's carrying.

So Mr. Bury makes his offer - in exchange for the Rockecenter Jr. birth certificate and whatnot, he'll give Heller twenty-five grand and a brand spanking new identity as Jerome Terrance Wister of Macon, Georgia.  Gris explains to us that "Jerome" is white, blond and male, which is good, because given this book's record on character stupidity it wouldn't surprise me for Heller to be offered an identity as a Chinese-American grandmother. 

Jerome's parents are dead, he has no siblings, and he's currently one semester away from graduating from college - though his grades from Saint Lee Military Academy are all D's.  He also has a driver's license certifying him for cars and motorcycles, and New Jersey plates for the Cadillac to foil the FBI trace on Heller.  A social security card and passport round out the bundle.

The latter gets a raised eyebrow from Heller since it already has his picture in it.  Bury smugly explains that it's from the restaurant in Silver Spring.  So... they knew he was going to be there?  Oh, excuse me, he was told to stop there.  So then the Rockecenter Syndicate or whatever you want to call it was able to get an agent hired as a temporary worker with what, twenty-four hour's notice?  And the place had an opening available, specifically during the hours Heller would be there?  And the guys had a trained waitress available and in the area to take up the job?  And the "waitress" was able to keep anyone from taking a very specific seat until Heller arrived?  And they got a photographer in position to take a photo suitable for a passport, and not only got one with their first and only try, but was able to do so unnoticed by anyone in the resataurant?  Or was there even a photographer at all, did they install some sort of hidden camera beforehand?

If nothing else, this really underscores the power and resources of this Rockecenter fella.

Next Heller asks where "Jerome" came from, but Bury explains that the State Department is quite experienced at creating identities for the Witness Protection Program, "And we, you might say, own the State Department."  It's all legal...ish, and all Heller has to do is take the money and sign the hotel registry as his new identity.

Heller takes the cash, but before he signs asks for the rest of the money in Mr. Bury's briefcase, because for whatever reason Bury brought twenty-five thousand dollars extra.  The Wall Street lawyer complies.  But then Heller has another "One more thing" - call the hotel clerk and tell him to call off the sniper on the roof across the street.


After a moment spent stunned, Bury goes for the doorknob, but it falls off in his hand.  He stares at the detached doorknob for another moment, then reaches inside his coat for a gun, but Heller uses those damned Speed Ball skills and hurls an ashtray, of all things, with enough force to make Bury drop the weapon and send the flying bit of glass to shatter against the door.

That sniper watching from across the street?  No reaction to all this.  Even though Heller positioned the easy chair he was sitting in with its back to the window, and the chair Bury sat in in plain view of it.  You see, the room's "too dark and curtained to see deeply into."

Then why did they... if you've got a sniper, you could at least... Bury could have said "it's dark in here, can I turn on the lights to help me read?"  And it's broad daylight in New York City and nobody noticed someone on a roof, eye to the scope of a high-powered rifle?!  Wouldn't it have been much less conspicuous to have Mr. Bury's "associate" Mr. Undertaker come in and hit Heller with a silenced pistol?!  Wouldn't it be much less risky to hit Heller after anyone associated with Rockecenter left the crime scene?!  If they know what Heller's driving, couldn't they get Bang-Bang Rimbombo to leave him a present, since apparently the guy can get away with murder?!

These are the antagonists.  These are the guys who run the world.  These are villains who we're supposed to take as a credible threat.  And they have just utterly botched a relatively routine assassination.  They have been defeated by bad lighting and ashtrays.

While brandishing the remaining ashtray and threatening to take the top of the other man's head off with it, Heller takes Bury's weapon, has him call the clerk, then puts him on the bed in plain view of the door.  Minutes later there's a knock, and as ordered Mr. Bury says "Come in" in a normal voice.  A guy carrying a violin case steps inside, Heller karate chops the back of his neck, catapulting him from the door onto Bury on the bed, which somehow doesn't break his neck, killing him instantly.  But Heller does pull a "Cobra Colt" from the man's waistband while he's flying past tumbling head over heels.

The villains are moronic failures and the hero is invincible.  Book's over, everybody go home.

The "weaselly" sniper complains that Heller was supposed to be just a kid, rather than laying insensible from the severe damage to his nervous system and spinal column.  Heller cows him with a feigned punch, somehow extracting the guy's wallet during the gesture.

The assassin was carrying an I.D.  And a wad of cash, but the assassin was carrying his I.D.

Heller is disappointed at this attempt at treachery and murder, but is still willing to go along with the identity swap.  Though he does reveal that the dismantled radio he set up that morning has managed to record the entire conversation with Mr. Bury - portable radios have all the equipment necessary to record sound, right?  Next he jots down the name and address of the sniper (Torpedo Fiaccola), estimates that the five grand he took from the would-be killer's wallet was half of the hit contract, and makes a contract of his own - if anything funny happens, he'll put out a hit on Mr. Bury.  And to make sure Torpedo goes along with this, Heller gets his mother's name and address for contact information, because the assassin was carrying that on him too.  And now of course Torpedo is convinced that Heller will kill his mommy if he doesn't go along with the contract.

Our hero wraps things up by taking the "shells" out of the violin case and everybody's guns, then sends Bury and Torpedo on their way, "May we never have occasion to meet again."  He puts the room back together, gets dressed and packed, and as he heads out to start his new life, laughs that "There's nothing like FBI training to see you through."

Yes, in the handful of hours Heller spent wandering through the Hoover Building, he learned how to detect and foil an expertly-arranged assassination attempt, much less this amateurish botched assassination attempt.  Though Heller is exultant, Gris is terrified, because a man like Bury never loses; people like him "only postpone," and he has literally the entire U.S. government at his command to enact his revenge.  Which wouldn't be a bad thing, if Gris just had that "platen" Heller's using to encode his progress reports with secret messages.

And after that utterly exhausting chapter, we're done with this Part. 

Back to Part Fifteen, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Part Fifteen, Chapter Eight - Waiting Impatiently on That Hitman

Heller arrives ten minutes early for the meeting/ambush arranged by Mr. Bury.  As he enters the restaurant and orders his meal, Gris catches sight of a familiar face.  He gets a freezeframe of the HellerVision to focus on a man with "very Sicilian" features, a scar extending from the corner of his mouth to his ear, and "reptilian" eyes.  And then there's a profoundly sad moment where Gris picks up a camera, presses it up against the HellerVision screen, and takes a picture of the picture because these super-advanced aliens don't have the equipment to transfer a still image from a video file to a printer.

And why not?  Because a "proper computer system" is illegal to install on this planet.  These guys have a secret base hidden by holograms and capable of servicing interstellar spacecraft, but they aren't willing to take the risk of bringing along a decent PC.  The Apparatus, which gleefully breaks the laws of the Voltarian Confederacy in its campaign of death and extortion, follows the rules when it comes to banning extremely useful equipment like two-way radios.

Idiocy.  Idiocy that is necessary for Hubbard's plot to function.  Idiocy that enables further idiocy, layers upon layers of stupid.

Anyway.  While Heller enjoys his hamburger, the HellerVision picks up on the Sicilian showing a gray haired fellow something cupped in his hand, and nodding towards Heller.  The gray haired man, who gets a full paragraph describing how well-dressed he is, politely sidles up to Heller and introduces himself in a very English accent as Buttlesby, here on behalf of Mr. Bury to take care of the "young master."

Buttlesby leads Heller back to the Caddy, holds the door open for him, and gets in the passenger seat, while the Sicilian gets in his own vehicle to follow, which Heller notes but does not react to.  Buttlesby gives instructions while he gives directions - Heller is to take his car to a garage in Weehawken, New Jersey, a place Gris describes as shabby, then take a cab into New York City.  This is to save the precious Caddy the horrors of New York fender-benders, while Gris notes how Buttlesby is defeating the FBI vehicle trace.

Heller gets to the garage, parks his car, gets his luggage, and hands over one set of keys.  Apparently he had two the whole time and Gris just now noticed.  There's a taxi waiting for him, and Buttlesby declines to accompany him into New York City, because it's a "dreadful place."

Heller spends more time gawking at the battered and dented fenders of New York City's traffic than looking up at the towering buildings surrounding him.

The taxi drops him off at the Brewster motel, in a section of New York that Gris deems shabby.  Heller signs in as Al Capone, gets to his shabby room, and looks out his double window at a building across the street that would be a wonderful place for a sniper to kill him from.  Then he repeats an earlier bit of "comedy" and attempts to fix the old black-and-white TV, before giving up and watching a movie about how "the Mafia won World War II for America in Italy."

Gris gets fed up and actually does something beyond watching Heller's life unfold.  He tracks down Faht Bey and shows him the picture of the TV, then spends an hour digging through the base's records to identify the man as Razza Louseini, adviser to mob boss Faustino "the Noose" Narcotici, outlet for the illegal drugs produced by I. G. Barben Pharmaceutical, which is controlled by Delbert John Rockecenter.  "One of our best customers had been given the job of knocking off Heller!"

And that's about it.  Heller had dinner, met a guy, dropped off his car, and got in a hotel room.  I guess we're supposed to be rigid with tension over whether or not he's about to get whacked?  Though the garage would have been a great place to do it if they were planning to, and they certainly don't seem to be rushing to get to Heller or anything.

Guess we'll just see what happens next chapter.  Will the main character of the series with eight volumes after this one get killed off?

...Hey, all the mobster crap in this book is getting us ads for some Godfather game.  

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Part Fifteen, Chapter Seven - Breakfast, More Driving, and an Obituary

I had to go back and do some careful rereading to figure out what's happening, or rather what isn't happening.  Heller wasn't picked up by anybody in the motel last chapter.  This is because the rendezvous that Mr. Bury set up for him was for the following night, a four hour drive away in a place just outside Newark.  So whatever Mr. Bury has in store for Heller, he isn't in a particular hurry to make it happen, and is relying on Heller's willingness to stick to a schedule and show up for his murder/pick-up.


Anyway, it's the next morning and Heller still hasn't been assassinated, though Gris is "unconfident" that he'll stay that way for long.  When Gris pops on the HellerVision he finds his nemesis in the shower having a wash.  Gris eats his breakfast while continuing to watch Heller bathe, and despite the Apparatus agent's disdain for homosexuals, he shows no discomfort at presumably getting a first-hand look at Heller's man-parts.  The most irritation he expresses is over the Fleet officer's "passion for cleanliness," even while he watches Heller pull on his underpants.  Apparently Gris showers only rarely despite the Turkish heat, because bad guys are filthy people while good guys are immaculate and have great teeth.

There's the usual "Heller being stupid by not checking his luggage for bombs" and "Heller being stupid by not looking around corners" commentary as the book's hero leaves his room, and then we get to watch Heller eat his breakfast - an ice cream sundae, five plates of waffles, and three cups of coffee, extra sugar.  Now I'm looking forward to a diabetic Heller in book six.

During the meal, there's some important information gleaned from the young waitress - Heller asks about the old lady from last night and learns that she was a temporary worker who left this morning, and also mentions the fuse, which the waitress reveals didn't blow, but was pulled by someone outside. Let's tuck these tidbits away for future reference.

Blah blah blah, Gris complaining about Raht and Terb not insisting on bringing a two-way transmitter even though apparently such essential devices are deemed illegal by Voltarian intelligence agencies... Heller brushes his teeth with a Voltarian "spin brush," another possible Code break... Heller not checking his car for bombs... Heller gets on the interstate...

We're supposed to be on the edge of our seats, worrying whether our beloved hero is about to be whacked, instead of being bored out of our minds.

Heller turns out to be an idiot with no semblance of safe driving skills despite being a fully-rated pilot.  He's so impressed by a bunch of caged chickens on the back of a truck that he tailgates and nearly sideswipes the vehicle so he can gawk.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Gris enjoy shooting songbirds back on Voltar?  And I'm not going to check, but didn't somebody order some poultry at the Artists' Club?  Voltar obviously has winged, feathered avians, so why is Heller so impressed by chickens?

It's intended to be humor, except for it to work you have to ignore what's already been written, or change the hero from a naive, somewhat innocent man into a blistering idiot.

More evidence for the "idiot" interpretation arrives when Heller comes to a dead stop on the Delaware River Bridge, causing a semi to skid sideways and block all four lanes.  Heller is oblivious as he looks down at the Delaware River, muttering "Holy jumping blastguns!" in Voltarian.  He asks an enraged driver if there's a city upriver, is informed that Philadelphia is nearby, and concludes that the Delaware is the city's sewer system.

I had to do some research, but it sounds like the Delaware has had a reputation for being a particularly polluted river, but also that starting in the '60s the federal government - the evil, freedom-hating federal government - went through a lot of effort to clean it up.  I'm not sure how far along the process was during the early 80s, but nowadays the water quality's improved enough for bald eagles to feel comfortable eating fish from it.

Anyway, back to the boring and stupid chapter.  Heller's still driving, tailgating behind an orange truck as if the fragrance will help... rolls down windows and starts sneezing from the New Jersey pollution... I guess the slums and ghettos of Voltar are very clean slums and ghettos, and the grimy industrial sectors where they transmute lead into gold are easy on the sinuses.

Wait, Heller's doing something!  "I better get busy," he says to himself, before suddenly accelerating to ninety miles per hour, breaking past the orange trucks and zipping along for several miles!  Then he... slows down to pay a toll, and parks by an exit ramp out of sight.  Ah, he's waiting for someone!  Going to watch the road, see if anybody's following him, and - why is he getting out a newspaper?  Why would you take your attention away from the road to read a newspaper if you're trying to catch someone following you?

Obviously, the author has some vital information to convey through the article Heller's staring at.


Mucky Hack, veteran investigative reporter and crime exposer of the Daily Libel, was splattered all over 34th Street last night when his specially built Mercedes-Benz Phaeton was rigged for a blitz that went BOOM!

The car was worth $89,000 according to Boyd's, the only underwriters who would touch it.  It was alleged to be a gift from the I. G. Barben Pharmaceutical Group.  Car fans will miss 

I can't go on.  "Mucky Hack?!"  The Daily Libel?!  This is just juvenile, crap that wouldn't fit MAD Magazine's standards.  Hubbard calls it "satire."

The gist of it is - Mr. Hack (age unlisted) was killed in a car bombing that, according to Police Inspector Bulldog Grafferty (what?), bears the unmistakable handiwork of the Corleone mob family's demolition expert, Bang-Bang Rimbombo (WHAT?).  The police are well-aware that the late Mr. Hack was an enemy of the Corleones, who are currently led by the "able and charming" Babe Corleone, the late "Holy Joe"'s girlfriend, but since Bang-Bang (seriously, WHAT?) was still in jail at the time of the bombing, he has not been arrested and the case is closed.

The good inspector also tells us, apropos of nothing, that the Corleones, who refuse to push drugs, are losing territory to mobsters under Faustino "the Noose" Narcotici.  And suddenly I know that Heller will end up allying with the Corleones, because murder and graft and prostitution and racketeering and everything are not nearly as evil as the sale of recreational pharmaceuticals.

"Mucky Hack is survived by his editor and an old Ford."

Well... we certainly learned something from that newspaper, didn't we?  Now we just need to ask why the author thought that the best way to relay this information was by having his hero distract himself with a newsheet while trying to carefully watch the road for pursuit.

That's what Heller's doing, of course - even Gris recognizes the Fleet tactic of racing ahead to set an ambush for pursuers (though he's more interested in the Bugs Bunny cartoon in the paper).  Heller concludes "No Slinkerton!" and gets back on the road, reading the paper while he weaves through traffic because he is Just That Good.  He's on a strange new planet driving an unfamiliar vehicle through unexplored territory but he still wants to read the bloody paper while doing so.

Back to Chapter Six 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Part Fifteen, Chapter Six - To Understand Something, You Must Set It On Fire

Though Gris is convinced that he's doomed since Heller's about to get himself killed (prematurely), the agent is still willing to watch helplessly through Heller's eyes as the simpleton marches to his doom.  In cleats.

Heller makes it to the Howard Johnson and against his instructions signs in and rents a room, not bothering to falsify his license plate number.  He does pick an alias for himself, though - John Dillinger the bank robber.  I'd complain about Hubbard's obsession with mobsters, but in fairness, where else would Heller get an alias at this point?

After dropping off his luggage, Heller hits the restaurant for what Gris is convinced will be his last meal.  Once again there is a matronly waitress who refuses to serve him sweets until he finishes his veggies... or is it the same waitress following him around?  At any rate, Heller has to observe the other diners to figure out how to use his utensils, which raises the question of how Voltarians eat their food, even though Heller has had little trouble adapting to Earth clothing and weapons and whatnot.  How many centuries more advanced are these aliens' forks?  What about an Earth knife would puzzle them?

All the while Gris is freaking out, complaining that Heller doesn't check behind him, isn't watching the shadows, didn't test the chicken for arsenic, and is obviously being led into a kill spot by the waitress since she insisted that he was in the wrong seat and put him under a bright light with his back to the wall.  There's a "tense" moment when Gris spots movement out of the corner of Heller's eye, followed by a flash, but the waitress assures him that it's just a cashier's desk light blowing out.  And then, because Heller was a good boy and ate all his salad, he gets to have a sundae.

After that hair-raising dinner, he goes to his room to experiment with drugs.

At some point during his tour of the FBI drug lab, Heller somehow got two "small handful"s of "DRUGS!" and shoved them into his pockets.  And the trained investigators, guys who know drugs by sight and smell, did not notice.  I'm not sure what form of drugs Heller took, if they were leaves or powder or clumps or whatever, all we're told is that he dumps each pocketful of DRUGS! into an ashtray.

Then he pops open his suitcase and brings out two vials with a "tiny amount" of powder.  Gris calls the amount microscopic, and while this would normally be grounds for a rant along the lines of "if you can see them without a microscope they obviously aren't microscopic Hubbard you idiot," remember that Heller has super-special vision that lets him read the granularity of stone with his naked eye. 

And... well, it's unclear.  We have two samples of DRUGS! in two ashtrays, and two vials of other drugs.  The former came from the FBI labs, the latter from who-knows-where.  Heller pours each vial over a separate ashtray, then holds the result up to his Super Eye, so that "The granules were suddenly HUGE!"  From this Gris is able to identify one sample as Turkish opium, the other as Turkish heroin.

...Which he couldn't recognize until Heller gave them the Super Eye?

I think what's going on here is that Heller is comparing what he somehow swiped from the FBI to what he must have somehow swiped, offscreen and unobserved by Gris, from the Apparatus base in Turkey.  But this is never stated.

And then Heller sets the drugs on fire.  Because... science?  Well, the fumes make the HellerVision go all blurry (in contrast to, say, learning of a companion's death, or sampling from the FBI's exhaustive inventory of illegal substances), forcing Heller to go outside on his room's deck for some fresh air.  Then he rinses out the ashtrays, vials and his sleeves, flushing the drugs down the toilet.  And then... he reads his books on fishing and baseball.  It doesn't take long since he has Super Reading Comprehension, of course.

We get some comedy, I guess, when Heller has trouble with the television, which stubbornly refuses to project in 3D.  He settles down to watch THE FBI IS WATCHING YOU!, a film about how the FBI wiped out America's communists, Mafia, and Congress.  So I guess when Maulin was describing how the FBI ran the show, he wasn't actually divulging a secret or anything.  Hubbard's "satire" of America is openly a police state powered by drugs and attempting to use an ineffective science called psychology to stay in power.

After the movie comes the local news.

Whites had been mugged.  Blacks had been mugged.  Whites had been raped.  Blacks had been raped.  Whites had been murdered.  Blacks had been murdered.

There is a law in America that TV must cover everything impartially without showing bias and they had racially balanced the program pretty well.

Oh good, Hubbard's commenting on race relations in America.  Alternatively, oh god, Hubbard's commenting on race relations in America.

Heller goes to bed, and Gris continues to fret about the hit that he's convinced is imminent.  Mary Schmeck is mentioned twice in this chapter - Gris notes that the local news doesn't have a death report for her, since she's just another self-destructive junkie.  He also hopes that his own death is as overlooked and unmourned.

But I'm sure Heller is really torn up inside, just hiding it under all that fried chicken and ice cream.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, January 13, 2012

Part Fifteen, Chapter Five - High-Tech One-Way Radios

To recap the last few chapters:

Heller: I've been in this country for less than a day and I'm already on the run for assaulting policemen.  This secret mission's going great!
Mary: I am sick from lack of drugs!
Heller: Oh yeah, my heroin-abusing prostitute companion.  Let's get a drink in this park.
Cop: Hey, this license plate has a bullet hole in it.  Out of the way, passed-out and vomiting woman.
Paramedic: You're coming with me, lady.
FBI Guy: You're coming with me, kiddo.
Heller: I am cooperating with the local authorities. 
FBI Guy: I need to make a phone call, then dance in glee to celebrate my attempt to blackmail the most powerful man in the world.  Oh, and that girl died.
Heller: Seriously?
FBI Guy: Yep, the drugs killed her.  Offscreen and everything.  I wasn't involved, honest.
Heller: What is the drugs?
FBI Guy: Come with me so you can learn them all by taste.
Heller: So many flavors!
FBI Guy: Now let me tell you all about how this agency secretly runs the government and is able to murder anyone we want to.  After that I'll teach you how to defeat security systems, run a criminal investigation, and fire heavy weaponry.  These are skills you will undoubtedly use against us at some point, so pay attention.
Heller's Cleats: Clickety-clack!
FBI Guy: Those shoes are loud!
Heller's Hideous Clothes: Why doesn't anyone pay attention to me...
Mary: Apparently I just died and the hero barely noticed, quit your bitching.

The FBI tour is over, so Gris gets to fret about what the other agent was arranging for Heller while his partner stalled for time.  When they return to their office, Maulin answers the phone to have another conversation with Mr. Bury while Heller sits in a chair with a bright light shining in his eyes.  They aren't interrogating him, however, it's just that those goons in the FBI don't know how to talk to people any other way.  And yes, the narrator is nice enough to point this out for us in case we don't understand how evil these guys are.

Stupewitz explains that they've reported that a wrecked Cadillac containing a burnt corpse fitting Heller's description has been recovered, so the manhunt is off without anyone aware of who they were chasing.  He's got a new license and vehicle registration for Heller all in his name, with tags attached directing any local authorities to call up Stupewitz and Maulin if they come into contact with Heller.  From this Gris immediately deduces that the agents have also set up "tail plates" on Heller's car, a surveillance order sent out to all police departments to call in whenever they spot Heller's tags.

If police actually do this, consider me impressed.  Sounds like a right pain, jotting down and looking up the numbers on every single license plate that crosses your field of vision.  Unless they've got some sort of scanner to do it automatically.  If they don't, they should, someone get on that.

Maulin shares his last conversation - Mr. Bury was quite concerned about Rockecenter "Junior," and suggests that in order to avoid undue media attention Heller shouldn't use his (assumed) name.  He's to go to a specific hotel and, rather than check in, go on to the dining room, have a nice dinner, and wait for a family retainer to pick him up.  And from this Gris immediately deduces that it was Bury who was stalling for time, so he could arrange a hit to take out this impostor!

Uh... huh.

Well, I guess this conveys the power and ruthlessness of this Rockecenter guy, if his flunkies are willing to whack any idiot who tries to pretend to be a long-lost family member.  On the other hand, is it strictly necessary?  Wouldn't it be less effort to sneer at the claims and demand that they produce the... oh wait, Heller's got those forged birth certificates.  Hmm.  That would suggest that the FBI or someone like them was involved, in which case wouldn't Rockecenter have bigger concerns than one phony son?  Wouldn't he be putting out a hit on the agents who dared to go against their boss?  And remind me again how Maulin and Stupewitz think they can get away with this and survive until retirement? 

And honestly, I'm suspicious that Gris is wrong, and there is a Rockecenter Jr. who looks just like Heller, and Bury, despite his name, is earnestly trying to pick him up.  Guess we'll see!

The FBI guys give Heller directions to the Howard Johnson's he's due at, and warn that daddy has the Slinkerton Detective Agency in the area to make sure he stays out of trouble.  Then they usher him to the FBI garage and say goodbye, with a tremulous Heller thanking them for giving him a chance to go straight.

So while Heller enjoys rush-hour DC traffic, Gris gets to sprint to Faht Bey and demand to get in touch with Raht and Terb.  The Apparatus mooks aren't aware anything's wrong, and reported that Heller got scooped up by the FBI as originally intended.  And unfortunately they don't have any way of receiving messages from Gris, so... damn that is stupid.  They've got equipment that lets them send reports, but not receive them?  Why wouldn't their communicators be two-way?  It isn't for security reasons, since they're able to send messages without detection, so what the hell?

Rather than doing something drastic, like hopping in his spaceship and rushing off to America, Gris slumps in his seat and despairs how Heller is doomed, and then Earth will be invaded, and then the Apparatus' plans will be foiled and he'll end up in an unmarked grave.

He hasn't considered turning on Hisst or anything, though.  No attempt to escape the Apparatus' sinking plans and save his own neck by selling information.  Or attempt to go to ground under an assumed identity.  Interesting. 

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Part Fifteen, Chapter Four - Death, Drugs, and Target Practice

It takes a ringing phone to stop the victory dance of the two FBI agents who plan on blackmailing the most powerful man on the world with the misdeeds of someone pretending to be his son.  One of them deals with it, the other explains to Heller that they've had a chat with daddy's attorney, and that Heller will be staying with them for just a bit longer.  Oh, and Heller "can stop worrying about that hooker.  She's dead."

I had to stop and work through my ire after reading that.

There's a lot of ways to handle character deaths.  In many cases they're dramatic affairs, with tragic dying words and environmental symbolism and the like.  Alternatively, death can be sudden, unexpected, and almost callous, like Cedric's death from Goblet of Fire.  The former approach has its uses, but the latter method is particularly good at shocking the audience, reminding them what kind of cruel and dangerous world the story is set in.  I think this is what Hubbard was going for with Mary's death.

Except this is a story of "satire," an "essentially humorous dissection of life" on Earth.  Which is just one of Mission Earth's many problems, really - the schizophrenic tone.  Last book had the "Well the birds liked it!" and "WHERE THE HELLS WAS LOMBAR?!" comedic bits intermeshed with Gris pulling someone's entrails out through their ribs and other acts of murder.  This book's had the "lighthearted" antics of Gris playing with his staff and spooking Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty, coupled with Gris purchasing a sex slave and now the death of an addict.

So Mary's sudden, offscreen death both feels out of place and wholly appropriate at the same time.  If it was intended as an audience sucker punch it probably succeeded, but it's just as likely that Hubbard is simply being half-assed about his narrative again.

Well, Heller jolts at the news, and asks why the FBI killed her.  Stupewitz, "innocence itself" explains that Mary died in the ambulance of heart failure before even reaching the hospital.  Since Hubbard included the sentence "innocence itself" we should immediately suspect that the agent ordered a paramedic to kill her while she was being loaded up, but Stupewitz blames "Big H" for Heller's loss.  Heller remembers to ask what a fix is, and Agent Maulin decides to give Heller a crash course in illegal pharmaceuticals.

And then, it happens.

"For chrissakes, Junior," said Maulin, annoyed by the noise.  "Why are you wearing baseball spikes?"

Ten chapters.  Ten bloody chapters, but someone finally, finally mentioned that Jettero Heller is dressed like an imbecile... well, more specifically someone noticed that he's wearing loud shoes.  There's still been no comment on the hideously-clashing outfit chosen to make him stand out, and the shoes were only purchased a few chapters ago.  But I'm going to stop with the running tally now.

Maulin leads Heller into the FBI's drug lab, explaining that even though other departments are supposed to look after this sort of thing, it's the FBI that's "really in charge of the government and sometimes we even have to shake down the DEA."  He advises Heller to learn how to identify all the various illicit substances by sight, smell and taste (!) and gets him to go down the rows, jar by jar, getting a good sniff or lick of everything (!!).  But he makes sure Heller spits out anything he tastes, for safety's sake.

I'm trying to remember, but aren't Voltarians supposed to be like five times more susceptible to drug effects?  Like how even a carved-off portion of Speed almost did Gris in?  Well, Heller's obviously much more robust, and has no ill effects after getting a little hit of every drug the FBI has in stock.  He's not even slightly high or tipsy or anything.

He is interested in a can of brown powder, which turns out to be opium.  This leads to the agent explaining how it's imported from places like Turkey, leading Heller to ask what Afyonkarahisar means after seeing it on the label.  Gris is at least smart enough to be spooked by Heller making the connection between a Very Bad Drug and the Apparatus' base of Earth operations.

Maulin and a friendly lab tech decide to fetch some literature for Heller, but alas, their coworkers have been "using it for toilet paper again."  Why would they do that, Hubbard?  Why would the FBI use textbooks as toilet paper rather than readily-available and inexpensive actual toilet paper, which is often quilted for softness?  You've already implied that they've killed a woman, you've described their offices as being bloodstained and filled with the sound of screaming victims, so why is insulting their hygiene a necessary part of your continued defamation of these guys?

Maybe it's an excuse for his next jab.  Since the FBI texts are currently clogging up toilets, someone buys Heller a copy of Recreational Drugs, as recommended by Psychology Today, naturally.  The agents don't pay for it themselves, of course, and hit Heller up to cover the cost, but are nice enough to rustle up a hamburger and drink along with their finder's fee.  And as Heller retrieves his money, he uses a weird Voltarian gambler's technique where the bills get wrapped around his fingers so it looks like he has twice as much money as he has.  This is important because falling back into this mannerism allows Gris to deduce that Heller is rattled.

So it takes Heller handling currency to get across his reaction to his companion's sudden and shocking death.  Seriously, the entirety of his response to the news was jolting in his chair once and asking "Why did you have to kill her?"  If you skipped the first page and read the rest of the chapter, you'd have no way of knowing that the woman Heller has been traveling with six or seven chapters has died.

Or maybe Heller's just feeling all those drugs he took little samples from.

Using his super-special-awesome powers, Heller is able to read the book in the time it takes him to finish a glass of milk, then it's off to the FBI museum.  There's exhibits on Chicago mobsters during Prohibition, of course, but that's a major part of FBI history, not a manifestation of the author's gangster fetish.  Probably.  At a display of weapons Heller asks if the guns are chemical or electrical, while the agent extols the virtues of the sawn-off shotgun ("it'll blow a man in half!") and the burp gun ("point it down a crowded street and it mows down dozens of innocent bystanders.  Totally effective.").  Then there's modern mock-ups of bank security systems, which Maulin helpfully shows Heller how to disable.  After that comes a tour of the FBI forensic labs and a discussion of investigative techniques.

Why are they doing all this?  Gris suspects that the agents are up to something and are stalling for time.  So they're teaching this guy all about their top secret agency and the particulars of how it controls the country.  Hey guys, you want to keep someone busy for a few hours, give them a magazine!

Then it's back to the mobsters from the '30s, and Maulin waxes poetic about our lord and savior, J. Edgar Hoover.

"Hoover had the greatest imagination in history.  He used to dream up," said Maulin proudly, "the God (bleepest) dossiers for people.  Total inventions!  Right off the top of his head.  Pure genius!  And then he could go out and shoot them down!  In a blaze of glorious gunfire!  A master craftsman!  He taught us how and we were left with the heavy responsibility of carrying on this magnificent tradition!"

To recap: all those gangsters from the bad old days?  Innocent victims.  Hoover was simply a serial killer who made up excuses to personally murder people. 

What about this is "essentially humorous," Hubbard?  How is this a "dissection of life on this sometimes manic, often deadly planet" when it bears so little resemblance to reality? 

Not content with exposing the terrifying secrets of his organization and teaching this random kid espionage skills, next Maulin takes Heller down to the firing range.  After acquiring proper ear protection, Maulin and Heller take turns plugging away at wanted posters with magnum revolvers, because male authors gravitate towards magnums in a way that gives women authors endless amusement.  Maulin, of course, shoots the wrong target.

There is - and I am reluctant to say this - a somewhat funny bit.  Heller, who is a Fleet commando, is able to easily and one-handedly hit his target dead center with his first shot.  Maulin calls him out on his poor form, shows him how to take a proper firing stance, and is proud of his teaching skills when Heller proceeds to hit his second target dead center.

The chapter wraps up with Heller learning how to fire numerous other weapons - in exactly as much detail as I just described - and then Maulin checks his watch and says it's time to go back to his office.  Gris deduces that whatever the agents have planned has been set up.  I bet next chapter's gonna be exciting.

R.I.P. Horsey Mary Schmeck.  I'd say you will be missed, but I'm not quite convinced you're dead, and if you are then there's a good chance that you won't be mentioned for the rest of this book.  But at any rate you're out of the story, so things worked out alright for you.

Back to Chapter Three