Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Part Eighteen, Chapter Eight - I'm So Tired of This Book I Could Burp

The chapter starts with the line "An hour later, Heller came out of his room," so right away things are screwed-up.  Since Gris is, remember, watching the novel's events unfold through magical surveillance equipment that lets him see through Heller's eyes, it'd be better to say that Heller left his room.  But no, it's written like Gris is waiting out in the hall for Heller to show up, even though he had to be watching Heller do whatever he was doing for the past hour.

Splitting hairs, perhaps?  It gets better.

Heller goes to a gym, in cleats, to meet Bang-Bang Rimbombo.  The mob demolitionist is hanging out in the sauna, sweating off several days' hangovers.  Heller asks if Bang-Bang's taken care of what he asked him to, and I have no idea what he's talking about because the book doesn't tell us.

I checked the previous chapter, but Heller only asked for Bang-Bang's phone number and didn't talk with him yet.  I kept flipping back to see if I missed a phone call, but no such luck.  The last time they were actually in the same place was just about eighty pages ago, when Heller was designing the ultimate gas-guzzling pimpmobile, and it doesn't look like he was asking anything of Bang-Bang then.  So I can only conclude that Heller's mysterious request happened in his hotel suite, over the phone, WHILE GRIS WAS WATCHING.

Gris is a narrator who's constantly spying on the book's hero, in order to provide sarcastic and mocking commentary on what's going on, to describe the actions of a "good guy" through the lens of an utter bastard.  But, in order to occasionally provide the story with a hint of mystery (beyond the inexplicable actions of the main character), here Gris has to flat-out refuse to provide information he has no excuse not to possess.  We're not told he got up to take a nap or hit the can while Heller was in his suite.  He was clearly interested in how Heller planned to deal with the situation he was in, and was around to remark on what clothes Heller chose.  But he won't tell us what Heller said over the phone.

Remember all my complaints about the "censor static" that pops up whenever Heller might be doing something horizontal?  This is dumber.  A fundamental premise behind this story is broken because the author cannot rectify the narrative tricks he wants to use with his decision to have a voyeuristic, ever-present character as narrator.

And this story goes on for eight more books.  Christ on a pogo stick.

Anyway.  All we know about Heller's mysterious request is that it can be met by Father Xavier, who swings by once a week to hear Babe Corleone's confession, drop off a load of stolen birth control pills... Catholics, huh?  And then he visits the Gracious Palms.  The good shepherd will be by later tonight, so he can give "them" to Heller then.  And I must ask, if the Mystery Item will appear within a few hours, book time, why do you need to shroud it in secrecy?  Is the author so desperate for tension that he'll preserve this pitiful nugget of mystery for a few chapters?

With this all taken care of, Bang-Bang starts lamenting his situation.  Something about parole officers out to get him and whatnot - those nasty feds, picking on honest car-bombers.  If Bang-Bang doesn't get a job, with social security and everything, he'll spend another eight months in prison.  Now wait, you may ask, isn't Bang-Bang in the mob, part of a network of front businesses and more legitimate establishments that dabble in illicit activities?  Well, Bang-Bang refuses to have Babe Corleone set him up with something.  He's too famous, you see, and having him working a legitimate job might implicate Babe, and he doesn't want to get her in trouble.

Lemme just flip back to that newspaper article from 176 pages ago... ah, yes: "Bang-Bang is a trusted member of the notorious Corleone mob [...] The New York / New Jersey mob is run by the able and charming Babe Corleone, the ex of the late 'Holy Joe' Corleone."

Anyway, in order to protect his boss Bang-Bang needs a real job that can't be connected to the mafia.  Heller is sympathetic, but won't suggest a job for his friend for a few pages yet.  On the way out of the gym he punches a training dummy off its stand, so we can marvel at how strong he is.

We spend the rest of the chapter in Sardine's, an Italian restaurant controlled by the Corleones, so mobsters eat free.  Bang-Bang gets out the bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label he brought along for no reason other than to set up a scene in a few pages, prompting Heller to try to order beer of his own, which Bang-Bang objects to, causing a blood vessel in my brain to explode.  But fear not!  Cherubino Gatano, mustachioed waiter extraordinaire, produces some special Swiss non-alcoholic beer for Heller to enjoy!  Hooray!

Heller tasted it.  "Hello, hello!  Delicious!"

"You see," said Cherubino, starting to take the bottle away.  "You always were stupid, Bang-Bang."

"Leave the bottle," said Heller.  "I want to copy the label.  I'm so tired of soft cola I could burp!"

Let it be noted that Heller greeted a bottle of non-alcoholic booze with much the same enthusiasm he did for his (former?) love interest the Countess Krak.

While they wait for their food to arrive, Bang-Bang tells Heller about his days in the military.  He started as a promising Marine, then got to fly whirlybirds until his tendency to crash ("choppers full of bullets don't fly well") led to him undertaking specialist demolitions training.  No, I don't follow the logic either.

This lets Heller bring up his ROTC membership over the spaghetti, and he has a proposal for Bang-Bang.  Heller takes his oaths seriously, so he doesn't want to swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution or anything, since he's, y'know, an alien preparing for an invasion.  But he says he can get Bang-Bang a job as a driver, if he'll assume Heller's identity, sign the oath, and attend the ROTC classes.  And Bang-Bang refuses, because he was in the Marines, dammit, so he's not going to even pretend to join the Army.

And then the bottle of smuggled beer Bang-Bang brought along to look at but not drink, his refusal to work with Heller, and the fact that Sardine's is frequented big-name theatrical stars like Johnny Matinee and Jean Lologiggida, all come together for the chapter's finale.

There's a commotion at the restaurant's door, and everyone starts craning their necks to see which famous actress will be making an appearance next.  But it's Police Inspector Grafferty, brazenly walking in on Corleone turf to mock Bang-Bang about his imminent return to prison.  Then he spots the illegal booze that Bang-Bang brought along so Grafferty could spot it.  But Heller is already quietly tucking the corner of the tablecloth into the policeman's pocket... before Grafferty starts harping about the booze.  Huh.  Our hero's in reflexive Dennis the Menace mode.

Well, from there things unfold about how you'd expect.  The policeman starts to complain about Heller being served beer while underaged, Heller protests that it's non-alcoholic, and then somehow Heller fumbles it so Bang-Bang's scotch goes over the side of the table.  Grafferty dives for it and takes the tabletop with him.  Heller "accidentally" kicks the illegal hooch out of reach and manages to smear tomato paste all over Grafferty's face in his attempts to clean him up.  And all the famous actors and actresses we've never heard of laugh at Grafferty, and the paparazzi take lots of pictures, and Grafferty's humiliated in front of his favorite actress before fleeing from the restaurant in shame.

All of this so that Hubbard can slather pasta on an antagonist's face while a crowd of people point and laugh. 

With the mob's enemy thus defeated, Bang-Bang agrees to Heller's plan of going to ROTC in his place, if only "because you're kind of fun to be around!"  Meanwhile Gris fumes at Heller getting so much attention for pulling off an old Academy prank.

That's the end of this Part.  Only six chapters to go.  Of this book, the second of a "dekalogy*."
* Dekalogy--a group of ten volumes.

Back to Part Eighteen, Chapter Seven

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