Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Part Thirty-One, Chapter Five - Heller Keeps Getting Richer

Heller, Bang-Bang, and a cat with Klinefelter's Syndrome go back to the Empire Station Building and the Multinational offices, Silva's luggage in hand.  When Izzy asks what's going on, Heller says "We're making you an accessory after the cat," because apparently the "hit man cat" gag hasn't been wrung dry yet.  Heller makes to pop open the suitcase recovered from the airport, but Bang-Bang scolds him because in New York you never try to pick locks in case there's a bomb wired to them.  Good to know.

While Bang-Bang carefully works on dismantling the new suitcase, Heller goes through the other luggage, more spy equipment that is once again carefully tagged as "Certified CIA Test Lab."  There's a balloon, a dissolving poison spoon, poisoned lipstick, and a Suicide Kit: "Take two before retiring.  The Surgeon General has determined these to be hazardous to your health..." hur hur hur.  When Izzy asks what he's doing (again) Heller describes his looting as "penetrating the most closely held secrets of the CIA," a rather grandiose spin on rifling through some gag gizmos the CIA was dumb enough to label.

Bang-Bang can't get the suitcase open, so Heller just pops the front latches and is immediately shredded by the Claymore mine rigged to... yeah, no, the suitcase is full of money.  Excuse me, MONEY!  Heller dumps it all out to create a "small mountain of MONEY!", and then Izzy... well, up until now I'd been impressed with how Hubbard handled him.  He was Jewish, and made sure to remind us of that with an "oy vey" or two and by calling people goyim, but for the most part it was a surprisingly restrained take on what could have become a caricature, especially given the walking stereotypes of Battlefield Earth.  But when he sees that pile of cash...

But Izzy sat down on the floor.  His bare feet started scrubbing against each other.  His hands, like talons, began to lock upon packets of money.

In a muttering blur of sound, as fast as the blur of his hands as he stacked it, the pile of packets, neatened, grew beside him.  Then he was done.

"Oy," said Izzy.  "Give or take miscounts in the packages, this is a MILLION DOLLARS!"  He rubbed at his eyes behind his horn-rimmed glasses.  He looked at Heller.  "How do you do these things?"

Maybe this isn't Izzy using a Secret Jew Money-Counting Technique.  Maybe Hubbard views Izzy as an accountant first and foremost, and thinks any economist could learn this power.  Yeah, that's it.

Heller again plays coy, stating that he has "secret admirers" who are "terrified I might go on welfare," and adds the mixed notes from Silva's wallet - including Gris' cash - to the pile.  Izzy resolves to put it on arbitrage and play with foreign currencies until they make up the last $400,000 they owe the IRS.  Heller gives Bang-Bang a ten thousand dollar tip because his friend was complaining about being "low on skirts," so I guess he's buying him a round with the girls at the Gracious Palms?  Then Heller gives Izzy another hundred to buy the Still Unnamed Cat a leash and dish and things, "a decent spacekit."

1) This cat has not been in space and, god willing, will never go into space.  There is no reason to call any items associated with him a "spacekit."

2) Just because you've gone into space doesn't mean you can add "space-" to perfectly normal words.  Michael Collins does not get a "spacehaircut."  Buzz Aldrin does not drive a "spacecar."  Neil Armstrong does not enjoy a "spaceburger" with a "spacecoke" and a side of "spacefries."  Especially when they aren't actually in space.

The cat curls up under Heller's desk lamp and purrs in his sleep, Heller adds the dead goons' IDs to the pile - yes, as always the hired thugs carried their identification with them, I guess you want to get a drink after you double cross and murder an uberassassin - and Heller refuses to explain to Bang-Bang just what happened on the roof that night.  End chapter.

Apparently whoever planned on double-crossing Silva instead of paying him his fee was still willing to put that fee in a suitcase and send it out in to the world.  Lucky for Heller, that.

Back to Chapter Four

Monday, July 30, 2012

Part Thirty-One, Chapter Four - Luggage Check

So Heller, still disguised as a janitor, Bang-Bang, wearing a bulletproof spy suit under a black dress, and the cat that proved so shockingly effective at defeating an assassin, all drive to the Midtown Air Terminal Overnight Baggage Check to see what the dearly departed GUNSALMO SILVA! wanted to pick up.  Heller explains how he'll follow Bang-Bang and shout "pizza!" as an alarm if there's danger, and assures Rimbambo that "I know this place.  I am sure you'll be as safe as if you were in your own bed."

When has Heller been to this airport?  I'm assuming it's JFK since that's the only one on the map, but I certainly can't remember Heller ever visiting the place.

Heller walks in, drops his bucket, and begins sweeping the floor of the nearly-deserted terminal, effortlessly and flawlessly disguising himself as a custodian, while Bang-Bang turns in Silva's ticket to a yawning receptionist.  Heller hovers near a beefy guy who's intently watching Bang-Bang, and when the goon runs off in pursuit after Bang-Bang picks up a suitcase, Heller immediately follows.  The thug doesn't notice the commando shadowing him because Heller's "running at the exact same cadence as the other.  There was only one set of sounds of feet!"

It's just that easy, folks.  Also note that Heller burst out of his harmless janitor routine to immediately match the goon's "cadence" with but a split-second's warning, and managed to do this while chasing his prey down a flight of stairs.

As the thug and Heller follow Bang-Bang into a dark tunnel and the nameless, disposable bad guy draws a pistol, Gris has another revelation.  "Suddenly it came to me that somebody had not meant Gunsalmo Silva to really collect that suitcase!  I was watching the standard hit-the-hitter routine in progress!"  Though he adds "Or was it?  Maybe this was something else?"

I certainly hope so.  What kind of message does it send when you put a hit on someone no other assassin has been able to kill, only to double-cross your problem-solver when they do what you ask?  Terribly bad for business, that, the sort of thing done by self-destructively stupid bad guys, i.e. villains in a L. Ron Hubbard novel.  You also have to question the logic of trying to kill someone who just eliminated a previously unbeatable target.  Could be a dangerous miscalculation.

So they're all going down a tunnel, then two guys dressed as cab drivers come through the doors ahead of Bang-Bang.  The first thug aims his gun, Heller grabs the thug's gun hand and yells "pizza!" (oy), and Bang-Bang drops the suitcase and hits the floor.  One of the new guys tries to scoop up the luggage, the other draws a weapon now rather than having it ready when they burst onto the scene.  Heller aims and squeezes the first thug's arm to shoot and kill the two newcomers, who presumably are Bad Guys who deserved it rather than two unfortunates who did the wrong things in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Then Heller wrestles with the thug some more, aims the man's gun at his own head, and removes the top part of the man's skull.

I guess Heller managed to jam his finger through the trigger guard over the thug's finger?  And then squeezed it?  Otherwise the first assassin got so flustered from being grabbed that he reflexively shot himself in the noggin.  Yes, Heller overcame the shooter and controlled his aim and firing using only his right hand.  No, Heller's search for answers doesn't require him to take any prisoners or anything.

Heller swipes the gunman's wallet before his corpse hits the ground, helps Bang-Bang up, and flees the crime scene with the extremely important suitcase.  Gris notes that due to Heller's shenanigans none of his fingerprints are on the murder weapon.  Heller urges Bang-Bang to hurry and get in the car, "We don't want this blamed on the cat!"

This would be more nonsensically funny if Heller hadn't just blamed that cat for blowing an assassin off the roof of the Empire State Building.  The way the story's been going it's actually plausible that Heller might try to pin his three latest slayings on the calico.

Back to Chapter Three

Friday, July 27, 2012

Part Thirty-One, Chapter Three - Blame the Cat

So after throwing a cat at a guy to distract him long enough for his own explosive to blow him off a building... man, I still can't believe that happened... Heller starts leaping down the stairwell of the Empire State Building six steps at a time.  He notices that the cat is trying to follow and so places the feline in the bucket that's part of his janitor disguise.  We're told that the cat rests his paws on the rim of the bucket and watches "with interest" as Heller resumes his journey, which, since this is being narrated by Gris, who can only see what Heller is looking at, means that Heller is jumping down a half-dozen steps at a time but keeping his eyes on the cat while doing so.

Let me also express my skepticism that a cat would happily ride in a bucket while its carrier jumps down a flight of stairs in a controlled fall.

Heller makes it to the street and a waiting Bang-Bang, who reports that somebody's being scraped off the sidewalk of a nearby street.   Heller tells him to drive and evades any questions, then orders a confused Bang-Bang to stop at a deli for some milk when the cat begins to yowl.  "Holy blast, Bang-Bang, don't you even talk cat?"

Bang-Bang's brief absence gives Heller time to inspect his new companion and go through the late Silva's purse.  The cat's got a tag from the city pound, while Silva's belongings amount to an "obsolete" Voltarian grenade, the Apparatus Section knife Gris gave Terb, a baggage check, and passports and money from multiple countries.  And it isn't Gris identifying any of this in narration, Heller's talking to himself as he paws through the haul.  He concludes that "This is CRAZY!"

"This" being a hitman keeping Russian rubles and American dollars in the same wallet, not the whole "I threw a cat at a guy and he blew himself up" incident last chapter.

Gris freaks out too when he sees the wad of cash he paid Silva a few nights ago, especially since it's in the hands of his nemesis.  Bang-Bang returns with milk for the cat, and Heller explains that since it saved his life he's responsible for it now.  Heller continues looting his latest victim, popping open a suitcase to reveal all sorts of spy stuff from across the globe, including a jumpsuit with an undetatched label reading "Proofed to 3600 foot-pounds of impact energy, CIA Test Lab, Langley, Virginia."  I sincerely hope that the real-life CIA doesn't put its name and address on its equipment.

Bang-Bang mentions that the cat is a calico, a breed from Africa (sorta...), and this specimen is particularly lucky because it's a rare male calico.  Then he gets a shock when Heller shows off the passports he looted, proving that the newest human pancake was "GUNSALMO SILVA!"  Heller is modest enough to deflect the credit for defeating this surprisingly defeatable super-assassin.

"That cat did it," said Heller.  "He's a hit man.  Got a record as long as his tail.  Wanted posters in every post office.  And he just broke out of the slammer.  So don't turn squealer on him, they could send him up for life.

Cute, but Heller's really overlooking Silva's contribution to his own defeat.  The guy did set and stand on the explosive that killed him, after all.

Heller has plans for the evening, and notes that this bulletproof jumpsuit looks to be Bang-Bang's size.  He has Bang-Bang take them to a costume shop, bribes the place open at this late hour, and gets Bang-Bang in a black funeral dress.

Heller gave the propertier another fifty dollars.  "We'll bring the costume back."

The man said, "Nein, nein, keep it!  We got plenty like dot.  Them we furnish for the funerals, yet."

"I hope not mine!" said Bang-Bang.

"Let's go and see," said Heller.

What a great friend.  "Put on this bulletproof jumpsuit and this dress and let's see if you get killed."

Back to Chapter Two

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Part Thirty-One, Chapter Two - The Kind of Situation That Never Comes Up in Assassin Training

I'm not sure when this chapter happens chronologically.  Gris informs us that between his terrifying encounter with the non-hostile GUNSALMO SILVA! and lingering worries that Heller might be suspicious that Gris had something to do with all the sabotage affecting him, he'd been "making it a habit" of fast-forwarding through the taped HellerVision footage at the end of the day.  He's also so spooked that whenever he's gone near the Empire State Building in a taxi he's hunched down in his seat to stay out of sight.

Of course, the only time we've actually seen Gris leave his hotel room was his attempt to get money from Octopus Oil several chapters and in-book days ago, and he certainly didn't make a big deal of staying out of sight then.  And it goes without saying that the author doesn't explain what Gris was doing out on the town in these other, off-screen instances.  So my guess is that Hubbard is trying to imply that Gris is taking an active role in the plot and going out and doing things without actually showing this, and especially without going back to re-write previous chapters to show him doing this.  We've watched Gris cease to exist beyond reporting the morning's newspaper headlines, but now we're being told that nope, he was doing things.  They're just none of our business, apparently.

Anyway.  Over the past whatevery days Gris has observed Heller fall into a routine of dressing up like a janitor and going to the closed observation deck of the Empire State Building at around midnight, planting and collecting "wind cones" to take air quality samples.  Gris spends not one but two separate paragraphs wondering why Heller would care about Earth's atmosphere to do such a thing, as if Heller was aware that his mission was a sham and that Lombar Hisst would probably use "exterminator sprays" on the natives, sparing only a drug-growing colony in Turkey.

Hmm.  Between this off-hand comment and the Psychlos, sounds like Hubbard was a firm believer in gas warfare.

Gris doesn't enjoy watching Heller collect these samples, as he doesn't like heights and as said before he doesn't see the point of it.  But then something magical happens.

So tonight, I

When's "tonight?"  The night of the day of the second headline from the last chapter?  Why is it "tonight" instead of "that night" or "that morning" like it's been for the rest of the book?  Why the sudden shift in tenses?

So tonight, I almost didn't look at the viewer when the time came.  

Wait, so is he watching these in real time, or doing another "rapid scan [of] the recorded strips"?

So tonight, I almost didn't look at the viewer when the time came. But some keen sense that is bred into you in the Apparatus told me that before I went to sleep, I better make sure he was up there again and not knocking on my door.

Yes, once again the Plot has spoken to Gris, telling him to do a certain action at a certain time even when he has no real reason to do so.  Also, allow me to blow a particularly wet raspberry at Gris' "keen senses."  This is an intelligence officer who is convinced that a hitman eagerly taking orders from him is actually trying to kill him, and who isn't the least bit suspicious of his "wild desert girl" knowing multiple foreign languages.  Also also, if Gris is scanning archival footage than how would it help him if Heller is indeed on his way to knock on Gris' door?

Gris finds Heller up retrieving his sooty windsocks when an "old lady" in all black, including a veil, comes up to him and sobs that her cat is stuck up on the railing.  Gris goes into "instant shock.  Falsetto or no falsetto, I knew that voice."

Say it with me now: "GUNSALMO SILVA!"

Yes, that last million-dollar contract killing Silva's going for is on none other than Heller himself.  Gris is dismayed because he still doesn't have Heller's platen, and surely the unstoppable warrior that is Jettero Heller stands no chance against an Apparatus-hypnotrained transvestite assassin.

Heller pats the "lady" on the back and works to retrieve her cat, a white orange and black critter hanging from outside the safety railing by his leash, eighty-six stories above the streets below.  Gris concludes that Silva hopes to knock Heller off the building to make the kill, since "To leave bullets in a body makes people suspicious."  Which is absolute crap, as the police in these books have been consistently presented as criminally disinterested when it comes to bodies in crashed vans or corpses with stilettos in their backs.

To get the dangling kitty Heller takes some yarn from the "lady"'s suspiciously bulky purse and weaves a - wait for it - cat's cradle.   And by "cat's cradle" the book means "yarn basket at the end of a sturdy length of string."  How does he know what a cat's cradle is?  Shouldn't it be a "lepertige's cradle?"  Why does Heller possess this particular skill of weaving mesh harnesses out of yarn?  Did it come up often in his time as a combat engineer?

Heller climbs up on the safety railing and successfully wrangles the cat, but then "Some sound must have caught his ear above the wind" and he looks back at the "old lady."  Silva is placing something on the pavement ten feet away, and Gris recognizes the item as a Voltarian concussion grenade he gave to Terb.  This miraculous explosive is certainly capable of knocking Heller to his doom, but will leave no fragments of any kind, no evidence that it ever existed.  Magical Voltarian science.

Heller spots the explosive, starts counting down from fifteen, and throws the cat at Silva.

This is the point where I lost all interest in the chapter and surfed the net for fifteen minutes before dragging myself back to finish.

So the cat hits Silva in the face and goes nuts on the mobster in the way that only felines used as projectiles can.  The seasoned hitman, even with all his enhanced Apparatus training, is immobilized as he struggles to get the angry animal off him, and though he isn't too distracted to pull out Gris' pistol, he's sufficiently distracted to be unable to fire it.  Heller takes cover.  The cat continues to claw and howl "like a nightmare."  Silva hits the cat with the purse until the "cradle" bursts and the cat flees.

As Heller continues to count out the seconds, he moves to the safety of some suitcases Silva apparently hauled up as a buffer against the concussion grenade that he has completely forgotten about.  Instead Silva tries to get a good angle on Heller, firing his pistol but missing.  See, he knows better than to rush at an unarmed man, and while he's an unstoppable super-assassin he certainly can't count on hitting the top of someone's head.  No, the best thing to do is to climb up on a parapet and shoot down at Heller's position, with a ticking explosive nearby, of course.

At the count of fourteen Heller ducks behind the suitcase and covers his ears.  There's an explosion so loud that even his clasped hands can't negate it, and he looks up to see Silva hurled into the air, up and over the fence to splat on the streets of the Big Apple.  The only evidence of the encounter is a "slight concavity" where the grenade went off, and who's gonna notice that?

Heller raised his head to the sky.  He said, "I hope you noticed, Jesus Christ, that I didn't have much to do with that.  But if I ever happen to wind up in your Heavens by mistake, remember to chalk me up with having saved a cat.  Amen."

And that's it.  Heller throws a cat at a guy, and a super-dangerous assassin forgets about the explosive he set to try and kill someone with.  What's interesting is Gris' reaction - there isn't any.  Once he recognizes Silva and the Voltarian grenade and the scene on the roof starts to play out, Gris' only input is to remind us that Silva's using his Colt Bulldog.  Gris doesn't respond to Silva's death in any way, and only describes the action without sharing his thoughts with us.  Aside from a half dozen or so lines, the next few chapters play out as though the story had a more conventional narrator.  It's like Gris isn't even a character at all.

Back to Chapter One

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Part Thirty-One, Chapter One - Continuity Errors and More Headlines

Gris is fading away again.

After watching Heller go shopping that morning, he ceases to exist until evening, when he catches a "59 ½ Minutes Too Late" interview with the fake Whiz Kid, surrounded by textbooks, wearing a college beanie, and waving a school pennant.  The fake tells his life story, how he had a revelation when a book fell off a shelf onto his head, won a soapbox derby by secretly having a neighbor inside the car pedaling it, and blew up his house after studying Carl Fagin's Homecraft Series: You Too Can Make an Atom Bomb in Your Own Little Basement Workshop, or, A Visit to the Graves of the Mighty Men of History.  There is a picture of Albert Blindstein on the cover.

Just... why?  What's the point of this?  How is changing "Einstein" to "Blindstein" satire?  What is the reader supposed to get out of this?  There's no insight or cutting commentary to be found here, and if it's humorous I guess I'm in the wrong mood for it.  It's just perplexing and annoying, and suggests that the story takes place in a parallel universe where certain famous figures were given profoundly stupid names.

Except two books ago Miss Simmons sarcastically called Heller "Einstein," so he DID exist in this setting!  So who the hell is "Blindstein?!"

This is a terrible book.  And it's only going to get worse.

The fake Whiz Kid produces yearbook after yearbook showing his mug in various class photos.  But the name listed by it is Gerry Wister, not Jerome Terrance Wister.  Gris freaks out about Madison making a mistake, until he reasons that when Mr. Bury came up with the Jerome Wister identity he must have had a double as a back-up plan.  But then he goes back to freaking out the next morning, when he reads the newspapers.  The headline is of the (fake) Whiz Kid suing his university (the one that Heller isn't attending).  So Gris is torn between enjoying more negative Heller publicity and the possibility that the fake Whiz Kid might win a $500 million lawsuit. 

What does Gris do for the rest of the day?  Who knows?  Who cares?  The author sure doesn't.  Instead we skip to the next morning's front page story about the university's counterattack and riots at the campus.  Gris is encouraged that the opinion pages seem to be favoring the university, to say nothing of the pictures of students killed in clashes with police.

And none of it matters.  Beside Babe's rant the other chapter, none of this bad publicity is affecting Heller at all.  He isn't being jeered by passersby, or questioned by classmates, or thwarted in his attempts to further his mission (if only because he hasn't really been working on it lately).  This lawsuit is between the wrong university and a "lookalike" that looks nothing like him and who is now operating under the wrong name.  If Heller got his hands on a fake ID he'd be right as rain.

The chapter ends on an ominous note, as Gris tells us "that very night, my attention was rudely snapped in another direction."  It's been a while since we've had an action scene, yeah?

Back to Part Thirty, Chapter Nine

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Nine - Fabulous Outfits and Customized Jewelry

Later that morning, Heller is visited by Bang-Bang, who has orders to bring him to Babe Corleone.  Heller dons a white sheepskin coat and white leather cap with earmuffs. Somewhere out there is a reader who gets annoyed when the author doesn't adequately describe the main character's outfit, and Hubbard is making sure that reader is satisfied.

Babe's down at an old passenger ship terminal, overseeing her recent buyout of a shipping line, which leaves her with total control of all water-based commerce in America.  Even the mafia's greatest rivals, the federal government, will have to step lightly around her now.  We find her behind a desk and a bank of TV screens displaying the application data of the "swarms of seafaring-type people" looking for jobs in the new merged company.  A camera sends images of her hand down to the interviewers' desks, so she can give a thumbs up or down as needed.  Pink slips are labelled "no dice." 

Oh, and Babe's in a "full-length, silver fox coat and a cylindrical, silver fox cap.  She wore white silk boots and white silk gloves."  Just so you know.

A hiccup in the process comes when one of the applicants is revealed to be, as Gris puts it, "J. P. FLAGRANT!"  Besides this overreaction, Gris is nice enough to remind the reader that this guy was a PR executive fired in the process of Madison's recruitment.  Flagrant claims that he always hated Rockecenter and would be happy to help the Corleone outfit get payback.  Babe's thumb goes sideways, and two thugs grab Flagrant and chuck him in the freezing river.

Just how dumb does this book think you are?

"Traditore!" spat Babe. "I hate a traitor!" When she had said "traditore," which is Italian for "traitor," it sounded like a bullet!

You, the reader of Mission Earth, are unable to draw obvious conclusions and deduce what a foreign word means, even after the speaker translates it herself.

Also, "hate a traitor?"  Only when they're defecting from your group.  You ought to welcome enemy traitors that can provide you with juicy intelligence and other opportunities.  "Welcome" is not the same as "trust," of course, but they're too valuable an opportunity to, say, chuck in a river.

Babe's demonstration isn't over: she has a man make a speech stressing the new management's commitment to loyalty, offering that anyone unable to meet those standards should take their leave.  The three who try to do so are grabbed and thrown into the river.  One guy jumps on his own.

Don't worry, a nearby fishing boat pulls them all out, so they won't drown.  They might still die of hypothermia, but at least it'll be on dry land.

The hiring continues, with Babe giving thumbs up or down until her arm gets tired.  Then she addresses Heller and harangues him for losing the race and consorting with newspaper reporters.  It culminates in her throwing her wineglass and shouting "THIS IS THE LAST TIME I WILL WARN YOU!  KNOCK OFF THIS GOD (BLEEPED) BAD PUBLICITY!"  What is a man?  Nothing but a miserable little pile of scandals.

So for the record, Babe Corleone is a savvy businesswoman able to control shipping from coast to coast and hold out against an energy conglomerate allied with the US government, but she can't tell Heller from the bucktoothed, bespectacled "lookalike" and believes what she reads in the paper about him (despite disliking reporters).

Bang-Bang escorts Heller out before Babe gets "upset," and Heller wonders what he can do to cheer her up, since he can't do a darn thing about those danged reporters.  The answer, of course, is to go to Tiffany's and design an eye-wateringly gaudy piece of personalized jewelry.

Hubbard thought this was important, so...

What in Hells?  He was drawing the Sovereign Shield of his Voltarian home, the Province of Atalanta, Manco!  Two crossed blastguns, firing green against a blue sky, circled in red flame.  Incidentally, I had seen him draw it before under the words Prince Caucalsia on the tug he flew to Earth.  More sentimentality?  Crossed blastguns?  What was he up to?

In response to his questions, the designer said, "Yes, we can make it into a tiara.  The shield will be up on the front of the head, of course, gripped in place by the semi-coronet.  We can make the field in diamonds, the guns in onyx, the blasts, as you call them, in emeralds, and flame circle in rubies.  And set it all in white gold, of course, so it does not clash.

"How much?" said Heller.

They called in some others and after calculation, they could do it for $65,000.

Yes, Heller's company owes a million odd in back taxes to the IRS, so it's the perfect time to blow sixty grand on jewelry to make his mob boss mother figure like him again.  The chapter ends with Gris ecstatic at his enemy's poor budgeting.

Now, Heller ends up at Tiffany's.  Utanc was last seen allegedly heading to Tiffany's the day before.  So I'm wondering if her absence is meaningful and indicative that she's been doing something else instead of shopping, or if the author just forgot about her.  It's not like she's been mentioned for the past twenty pages, and she won't reappear for... well, I can't find her in the next Part.  So let's go with "forgotten about."

Back to Part Thirty, Chapter Eight

Monday, July 23, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Eight - Another Speed Bump on Heller's Road to Victory

The next day Gris has another newspaper headline for us: "WHIZ KID FALSIFIES COLLEGE."  Yes, following his appearance on the Benighted Show investigators went to... the Massachusetts Institute of "Wrectology."  So... yeah.  There's no records of Heller/Wister having attended classes there.  Imagine that.

Gris tries (and fails) to call and congratulate Madison for his hard work, then turns on the HellerVision to laugh at his enemy's misfortune.  Heller's walking the streets taking readings of New York's air pollution with an atmosphere densimeter - it's cold, so everyone in the city's turned on their oil- and coal-burning furnaces.  Screw you, natural gas.  Beat it, electricity.  Gris complains about the Code Break and the fact that New Yorkers are too stupid to notice an alien waving around an advanced sensor probe, I complain about how pointless the Code Break angle is.  So what, is Gris going to rush over and arrest Heller?  Ship him back to Voltar and wait for a replacement?  Tell the teacher on him?

Oooh, hey Heller!  There's your next move!  Forget race cars, build a super-efficient Eco-friendly heating unit!  Then enter it in some sort of climate control competition amid a blaze of publicity, as Gris and Rockecenter's gang scramble to sabotage you!  That could eat up the rest of this book.

Roll your eyes if you want, but I bet you'll wish that's where the plot was going in a few chapters.

Heller goes to his office, notices a big ol' "GOOD-BYE CRUEL WORLD" sign on Izzy's door, and rushes up to the Empire State Building observation platform to stop Izzy from killing himself.  Again.  Heller finds him clutching a chair leg for dear life twenty feet away from the edge, too dizzy from heights to fling himself from the building.  Izzy confesses that not only is he crushed by all this bad publicity, but he also used Heller's assets to buy the old, struggling Chryster Motor Company... anyway, Izzy put his mom on the motor company's board of directors and she turned the company around, and suddenly the IRS took notice and invented a heap of retroactive taxes and penalties to hit International with.  Heller's super-secure financial network is now on lockdown, its assets frozen, with a million and a half owed in back taxes.

Lucky for Heller that so many people have tried to kill him, people who kept wads of thousand-dollar bills in their pockets.  After carrying Izzy back to the International offices Heller pops the safe and hands over one hundred thousand dollars, enough to get International operating again.  He reminds Izzy that he's saved his life twice now, Izzy promises to be doubly responsible (in all-caps), and Gris ruminates that the IRS was designed by Rockecenter's forebears to keep the family rich and everyone else poor.  He's confident that there's no way Izzy and Heller can earn enough money to pay the back taxes.

It's not like Heller has connections to a network of illegal businesses and very rich anti-government millionaires or anything, nope nope.

Back to Chapter Seven

Friday, July 20, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Seven - What a Terrible Patronym

I just realized that it's Part Thirty, we're in book four, and the most progress we've made in the main "save Earth through clean energy" plot was a car race thirty pages ago.

Gris and Utanc spend two days in the hotel room having Sexy Time, so that Gris is physically exhausted and barely able to lift the spoon of his breakfast bowl of ice cream... hmm.  Heller keeps eating sundaes.  Gris likes to start the morning with ice cream.  I guess Hubbard liked ice cream too.  No surprise, everybody likes ice cream.  Except diabetics, the lactose intolerant, and people with sensitive teeth.

All that to say, Gris concludes that after two days of nothing out of the ordinary (aside from the fact that Utanc is having physical contact with him), perhaps it's possible that Terb didn't talk while under torture, and GUNSALMO SILVA! might not be out to kill him after all.   Utanc is getting bored at any rate, and gets all minked up to hit Tiffany's.  Gris offers her a pearl-handled "Remington Double Derringer"... those stopped being made in 1935.  Why the hell did Gris have an antique miniature handgun in a cabinet in his hotel room?  Why can't he find a modern firearm that's just as concealable?

There's that magic number again: 1930.  The decade of Hubbard's youth.  The source of so many bizarre elements in this story, things that the author obviously likes but are so out of place that they bring the narrative to a momentary halt while the reader boggles at them.

Anyway.  Utanc refuses to take the gun, Gris tells Utanc to be careful with the money, she shows off a purse stuffed with cash, and Gris concludes she's a real "manager," setting us up for a future plot point.  Gris decides to enhance his own funding by hitting Rockecenter Plaza (geddit it's like Rockefeller Plaza except satire) and the Petty Cash window at the Octopus Oil building.  But something is amiss.  The former teller Miss Grabball (wow) retired the other day, and the new teller is Miss Pinch.

In just about seventy pages from now, Miss Pinch is going to help take this story to terrifying new places, places you probably never expected nor wanted it to go.

Miss Pinch tells Gris that his ID isn't listed, and when the computer turns up blank she doesn't take it as proof that he's a proper spy.  But she's nice enough to let Gris flee before using the riot gun built into the counter.  Mr. Bury's out, so Gris can't find help there, and without any other options he goes back home, i.e. his hotel room.  He briefly considers robbing a bank and tries to contact Raht for advice, only to learn that his lackey is in the hospital with pneumonia, so Gris watches TV instead.

The fake Whiz Kid is on "The Benighted Show" with Donny Fartson, Jr.  This is apparently clever satire.  I'm not sure about what, but Hubbard gave a character the name Fart-son, so not only is it insightful but it's also hilarious.  The phoney cracks a joke about the Big Apple being full of worms, and Gris is worried when the crowd laughs at him instead of throwing rotten eggs.  He tries to call Madison but the line is busy, so Gris goes to bed.

So to summarize this chapter... uh, Gris didn't get shot by Silva.  And we're introduced to a character we're really going to regret meeting. 

Back to Chapter Six

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Six - The Fight, Flight or (Bleep) Response

The next sunrise Gris answers a pounding on his door to find a very blue and very shocked Raht who says "He's dead," and "Tortured to death."  Gris is pleased and asks Raht to hand over the money Terb confiscated from Silva's corpse, and is hit with the obvious twist.

He said, between sobs, "It's Terb that's dead."

I opened my mouth to speak.  I closed it.  GUNSALMO SILVA WAS STILL ALIVE!

Yeah, we can figure that out for ourselves, thanks.

So Gris flips out, runs around locking doors and grabbing a back-up gun, then demands how things went wrong.  All Raht can say is that he tracked down Terb by a tracer worn so the two can always find each other... so that's not a security risk, but a two-way communicator is?  Anyway, he found Terb's corpse in an abandoned basement with his feet "burned half off" and his "teeth all broken from grinding them."

Gris asks if Terb had the hundred thousand dollars on him, because Gris is an idiot.  When Raht reports that all of Terb's money and weapons were taken, Gris asks if Terb talked, which Raht has no way of knowing, because as I said Gris is an idiot.  Raht just sobs about the loss of his partner and that Terb must have been too cold to fight, which Gris takes as a greedy demand for a overcoat as he kicks Raht out.

Having decided that Terb probably talked before his death, Gris concludes that the best thing to do when faced with a super-assassin who knows where you live is to remain exactly where you are, as opposed to fleeing the country, going to a secure location like the Octopus Oil offices, or even checking out a room in another hotel under an alias.  Remembering that Silva posed as and murdered the CIA Director's wife, Gris warns Utanc to stay inside and lock the doors, because he hired her former bodyguard to kill the head of the CIA and then tried to kill him to get his money back.  Gris produces the bloodstained ID Silva dropped off last night as proof.

Utanc's response may surprise you.

Her mouth was open in astonishment as she stared at it.  Then she said, "You paid him to do it?"

"And tried to get the money back.  He may be around any corner.  Don't go out!"

Psychologists will tell you that murder and blood do strange things to women.  Death stimulates them sexually.

Just as a reminder, we established books earlier that Gris actually knows very little of psychology, making this inaccurate statement more of a satire about know-nothing know-it-alls than psychology proper.

She suddenly grabbed me and kissed me!

Then she raced around and closed all the drapes so the room was dark as pitch.

She threw me on the bed and was all over me!

We didn't go out that day.

Her mouth was hot as fire!

To reiterate: a deadly assassin may be after Gris, and certainly knows where he lives, so of course the best thing to do is stay home and engage in Sexy Time.

Also, Utanc's turn-ons now consist of Hollywood stars from the 1930's, phallic architecture, and the possibility of being murdered by a hired killer.  Gris sure knows how to pick 'em.  That is, purchase them.

Back to Chapter Five

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Five - Return of the CapsLock Menace

Just minutes after turning off the HellerVision, Gris answers a knock on his door to find Raht and Terb, looking worse for wear after being ordered out of their hospital beds and back on active duty.  Raht reports that the New York Apparatus office is running again and all those appointments for Gris' pet mobster hospital have been scheduled.

But aside from a stack of paperwork for Gris to stamp, the real reason they've come is Gunsalmo Silva.  Apparently the Apparatus-reprogrammed hitman showed up in Turkey looking for a paycheck, even though Gris sent him on a "suicide" mission to kill the Director of the CIA.  "He should be safely dead while executing an execution that couldn't possibly be executed!"

So here's some oscillating paranoia.  Gris is of course mortally afraid of Silva and under the impression that the man who has shown no signs of aggression towards Gris, and who has faithfully followed every order Gris has given him, is nevertheless out to get him.  This is nonsensical and stupid and par the course for Gris.  But, after hearing that Silva the super-thug was last seen boarding a plane for New York, Gris decides that "New York is a big town" and there's no way Silva could know his address.

I think we all know what's going to happen next.

Raht and Terb leave, Gris decides to actually do something today and dresses for a walk, and opens the door to find "GUNSALMO SILVA!"  The hitman pushes his way inside, and Gris babbles a question about how GUNSALMO SILVA! found him.  Turns out Utanc, in between shopping sprees and other mysterious disappearances, has been sending back to Turkey postcards of her hotel with a little "X" drawn where her room.  Silva - excuse me, GUNSALMO SILVA! got one and used his brain, which makes him twice the secret agent that Gris is.

GUNSALMO SILVA! is here for his paycheck.  We learn that Gris wasn't spending the last week fully reading those newspapers because there were two headlines about the CIA Director succumbing to an "operation."  GUNSALMO SILVA! got himself hired as a government assassin, did a few murders to build up trust, then disguised himself as the Director's wife and killed the guy when he was visiting a brothel, before killing the wife and selling her body to a university hospital just to cover his tracks further.  He's so pleased with himself that he's ready to retire after he does one more hit: a million dollar job on some guy who's killed thirteen hitmen, so no one else is willing to take the contract.  Hmm, wonder who that could be...

Gris stalls.  He explains that he needs to get the money delivered because surely GUNSALMO SILVA! doesn't want to be paid in lira.  Then he calls Terb over and orders him to tail Silva, kill him, and retrieve the money he's carrying, giving the minion his own revolver and knife because Terb came unarmed (!), and ignoring Terb's objections that he and Raht work as a team.

So Gris digs a hundred thousand dollars out from under his mattress, apologizes for the delay, and pays GUNSALMO SILVA! for his work, wishing him good luck on his upcoming retirement.  He's a witty one, our Gris.  Surely a wounded agent still recovering from injuries dealt by some prostitutes will be able to overcome this unstoppable, hypno-trained murder machine.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why Gris didn't try to just shoot GUNSALMO SILVA! himself: "It was actually a temptation to simply blow him full of holes with the Colt Bulldog, but such a slug spills a lot of blood and it would ruin the sofa. Besides, he might outdraw me."

It isn't even his sofa.  He's in a hotel room.

Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Four - Gris' Lost Week

Throughout Mission Earth, Gris has been oscillating between his roles as a character in the story and its narrator, without really succeeding as either.  In this chapter he goes full narrator and for a time ceases to exist in any other respects.

After sending Bury on his way to the zoo, Gris calls to check on Madison and learns that he's made a remarkable recovery, and is ready to get back to work at making Heller (in)famous.  Gris presses for specifics, but all Madison will say is that they've moved past the first two C's of Confidence and Coverage, and now it's time for "CONTROVERSY!"  He advises Gris to keep an eye on the front page before hanging up.  Gris is annoyed at the non-answer, but checks the newspaper the next morning all the same.

Sure enough, the headline is "WHIZ KID ACCUSED OF FRAUD," with details about how his vehicle was impounded and the Whiz Kid's refusal to sit for an interview.  Gris checks the HellerVision to find the "real" Whiz Kid confused, asking "what in the name of blastguns is this all about?"  Izzy reminds him about that ticket to South America, where there's no press and the only thing to worry about are the army ants.

Tuesday's headlines are about a gas line discovered in the Whiz Kid's car, and on Wednesday a story breaks about a racing official bribed by the Whiz Kid.  Thursday covers an angry mob hunting down the Whiz Kid, civil unrest that is wholly absent when Gris looks out his window.  And afternoon edition announces "MAYOR CALLS CITY-WIDE EMERGENCY," and Gris wonders how Madison can keep things up for the Friday.  But the next day there's an article about the discovery of the Whiz Kid's secret hideout, and the day after that the papers and airways are abuzz over how a mob "ten thousand strong" bombed the crap out of the Whiz Kid's bolt-hole.

Which is all an extremely interesting and entertaining bit of satire about corrupt journalism, but what was Gris doing during all this?

Gris reports on each headline, and maybe says a sentence or two about how he's impressed but doubts Madison can keep it up.  But what else is he doing during that week?  Is he trying to salvage his "relationship' with Utanc?  Meeting with Bury?  Checking in with his stupid mobster hospital project?  Grabbing lunch somewhere?  Wondering if Raht and Terb are slacking off?  Visiting the zoo?  Having nightmares about the assassin threatening to kill him unless he gets to work?  Watching HellerVision?

Nope.  He's just reporting what the reporters are saying.  He's scanning the front page of the morning newspaper and then switching himself off, sitting in his hotel room staring at a wall, waiting for the next day and the next day's paper to come.

On Sunday Gris finally does something, for a given value of "does."  After sharing how there are two front-page stories about the Whiz Kid, centered around a newspaper contest to guess his secret formula that was cancelled after the Whiz Kid tried to win the cash prize (the secret fuel was Octopus brand gasoline), Gris chuckles at Madison's "howling genius" and turns on the HellerVision.  He finds Heller at his nature appreciation class, listening to the replacement teacher's lecture while the rest of the class goofs off, looking at least in Gris' opinion kinda dejected.  This of course makes Gris quite cheerful.

The Monday headline is about Octopus Oil officials denying involvement in the anti-Whiz Kid riots and decrying his plot to besmirch the name of decent energy cartels.  A Tuesday story mentions that Heller is now forbidden to drive, since after all he's only seventeen, but it only makes page three.  When Gris calls him Madison is apologetic, but Gris is in good spirits.  He checks the HellerVision to find Heller at a library reading that Hakluyt book about a sixteenth-century explorer getting hacked apart by angry natives, and spending a lot of time staring off into space.  This is called symbolism, children.

An assistant librarian, gathering up some books, said, "You look kind of lost.  Can I help you?"

Heller said, "No.  I don't think anybody can.  Somewhere I went wrong.  And for the life of me, I can't spot where."

Let me help!  It was when you decided to go along with a sudden and suspicious offer of free media promotion and a hastily-arranged, highly-suspicious car race.  I mean, people were hired to kidnap you!  There were snipers involved!  That was not a legit arrangement, that was a trap, Mr. Decorated Fleet Commando.

And what was your original plan, anyway?  It certainly wasn't the car race, since that wasn't even your idea, so what was Plan A and why has it been derailed by Plan B?  Or can you not think of a way to introduce your alien carburetor that doesn't involve a racetrack?

"Just go see the student psychiatrist," the assistant librarian said cheerfully.

"Just because I'm lost is no reason to make two mistakes," said Heller and went back to studying Hakluyt.

Remember, when you're lost and brooding, continue to be lost and brood instead of seeking help. 

But oh, was I cheerful.  My life felt like a song.

Bless Bury.  Bless Madison.  Heller was stopped cold!

I'm reluctant to agree, but the dope can't seem to come up with his own plans, so it looks that way.

Now taking suggestions for exactly which song most accurately depicts Gris' life.  Something with kazoos and huge stretches of nothing happening, obviously.

Back to Chapter Three

Monday, July 16, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapter Three - Feeding Time at the Zoo

Gris is so shaken, so terrified of the thought that Heller might recover from his latest setback and run a second race, that he can't dial the phone himself and makes the operator do it.  I guess he doesn't want a repeat of that race scene either.

First he tries to contact Madison, only to be told that the publicist is unavailable after being prescribed some bed rest by his doctors.  Then he tries to reach Mr. Bury, but his number is unlisted and nobody at the Octopus Oil offices will give it to him.  But Gris remembers riding home with him in a police car... I guess after they captured Madison?  Well, he knows Bury's address and hops in his van to make an unexpected Sunday afternoon social call.

He's admitted with a surprising lack of fuss, for Mr. Bury is quite relieved to be called away by an urgent work-related emergency in order to escape a dinner with the mayor, and more importantly the mayor's thoroughly unpleasant wife... hmm.  Is anybody in these books happily married?  Bury's exit is accompanied by a hail of thrown objects from his own spouse.  There's those two Turkish servants, but I wouldn't call them "happy."  Babe Corleone obviously loved her Holy Joe, but he's dead now.  The only truly happy couple is Heller and Krak, but everyone else seems to be single or promiscuous or miserable.

Gris and Bury drive off and chat on the road.  Bury thanks Gris for his "kindness" in saving him from that dinner, though he warns that it's a potentially "fatal flaw."  Gris explains what Madison's plan was, the whole "kidnap Heller and start World War III" scheme.  And Bury is completely unconcerned.

"Well," he said, "I told you, Inkswitch.  A little bit of Madison always goes too far.  Many think his mother should be arraigned for attempted humanocide.  But frankly, Inkswitch, he's really no more skilled than any other public relations man or reporter.

Then why go through the extraordinary trouble to get him?  You requisitioned an armored regiment and an aircraft carrier!

Also, "humanocide" isn't a wordTry "genocide."

He's just a little faster, that's all."

"You aren't worried?"

"Oh, PRs, catarrhs, Inkswitch.  One of them, sooner or later, will get us into World War III, anyway.  What do you expect?  At least we got him into action."

Total disinterest in a war between two nuclear superpowers, a conflict that everyone feared would bring about the end of humanity during the dark times of the Cold War.  Normally when you're dealing with a corrupt member of a money-grubbing, manipulative mega-corporation, there are two responses when faced with nuclear war.  The first is that the executive is disdainful of the human cost and chortles about all the money he'll make from arms sales and whatnot, giving the protagonist a chance to attempt to convince him that he won't be around to spend it, only for the bad guy to reject this viewpoint and thereby establish himself as irredeemably evil and delusional.  The other outcome is for the executive to work to prevent such a cataclysmic conflict, if not out of altruism then out of pragmatism - it's hard to make money when everyone's dying in atomic fire.

Mr. Bury is, if anything, fatalistic.  He's part of the most powerful organization on the planet, but he seems to think that World War III is inevitable.  Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, he doesn't say.

Gris goes on to say how Madison is currently taking an enforced sick leave, and mentions how there was nothing in the day's papers about yesterday's race.  Bury explains that of course there wasn't, Sunday's papers were printed on Saturday and were being delivered before Heller's race had even started.  This is of course a load of crap.  And even ignoring early-morning printings, and even ignoring multiple editions being printed over the course of the day, this still doesn't explain the lack of coverage in non-print media.  But obviously in this "satirical" presentation of planet Earth journalism works a little differently.  There's a lot more drugs involved, for starters.

Bury does concede that it'll be hard for Madison to pull a stunt to get Heller back on the front page, but he's sure the publicist will try anyway.  He invites Gris to come with him to the zoo to feed live mice to all the charming reptiles, but Gris declines.

I watched him go down the steps with his attaché cast full of live mice.

I have seldom felt so uncertain of the future.

Just a reminder, we're supposed to be feeling suspense over whether Madison can come up with some bizarre headline and if it will stop Heller from running another race, rather than wondering why either of these things matter.

Back to Chapters One and Two

Friday, July 13, 2012

Part Thirty, Chapters One and Two - Armageddon and Other Publicity Stunts

Heller packs up and heads home along with the crowd, but Gris drives his van to the racetrack in search of answers, or more specifically J. Walter Madison.  He finds one of Madison's associates who admits to sparking the riot at the end of the race, but the reporter explains that Madison had a terrible shock just before the race started and had to go to the hospital tent.  He recovered enough to watch the finale, so Gris finds him on the grandstands.

Set your Stupid shields to max.

Madison looks like hell, and Gris asks if it's because Heller lost the race.  But Madison says that the competition was irrelevant, and would have gotten only a day's worth of front-page coverage even if Heller had won.  No, he's distraught for a different reason.

He began to cry.  In a choked voice, he said, "He wasn't supposed to race at all!  Just before the race he was supposed to be kidnapped!  We would have had two weeks at least of front page!"

He ground his fists into his knees.  "It was all to be so perfect!  After two weeks he would have turned up behind the Iron Curtain, a captive of the fuel-hungry Russians!"

He let out a frustrated wail.  "It would have started World War III!  He'd be IMMORTAL!"

After a period of writhing and pounding his knees, he said, "You just can't ever depend on clients!  OH MY GOD!  WHAT DO I DO NOW TO RECOVER THE FRONT PAGE??????"

Six question marks.  This is a professional writer, folks.

But yeah, the thugs Heller wrenched and gassed were kidnappers, hired by Madison in hopes of creating an international incident that would spark World War III and presumably a nuclear conflict that would threaten the extinction of the human race, thus rendering questions of Heller's "immortality" quite pointless.

This?  This is why you check what your subordinates are planning, Mr. Bury.  And this is also why the story wouldn't allow Gris to learn what Madison's plan was before he tried to execute it, or else Gris, stupid as he is, would be trying to stop Madison.  Can't have an apocalypse threatening those delicious Earth drugs, after all.

So that's Chapter One.  Chapter Two starts with Gris enjoying a lazy Sunday morning, eating an indulgent late breakfast and reading the paper.  But he's not totally relaxing.

By ten my feeling of laziness began to give way to a vague disquiet.  It occurred to me that it was altogether possible that Heller might recover from that debacle.  In life, he was treacherously hyperactive.  A type of disposition for which I have no sympathy.

Oh wow!  Losing an absurd little car race arranged as a publicity stunt might not have defeated Heller once and for all!  What a shocking plot twist!

So Gris flips through the paper, but finds absolutely nothing about yesterday's race., which is patently absurd even if Heller didn't win.  Likewise, there's only the briefest of mentions on the television, usually a clip or two of the race.  Even the local radio is silent on the matter, instead mentioning some Boy Scouts discovering a van containing ten bodies near a picnic area, as well as what's being billed as a murder-suicide involving a pair of snipers (the "suicide" was a self-inflicted stiletto in the back, in case you were wondering how stupid the police are in this story).

Having expended all other methods of learning what his nemesis is up to, Gris turns on the HellerVision to get a first-hand account of Heller's activities.  The Fleet officer is at his office with Izzy, inspecting the spare carbon converter he brought from Voltar that was secretly sabotaged like the first.  His super-special-awesome vision lets him see the tiny v-shaped notch that was enough to mess up the electrical currents, though Izzy needs a huge magnifying glass (hey, why didn't Heller notice that sabotage when he was installing the thing?).  There's a near Code Break - as if that's ever been relevant - when Heller slips up and refers to the devices as "cheap school kits," but he declares that it will be simple to redesign the devices to avoid that problem, and that he'll prepare another car and run another race!

Why are you wanting to race again?  It wasn't your idea in the first place, and surely you or someone else can come up with a better way of introducing this technology?

Izzy weeps in fear, and Gris has a little freakout after learning of this "REAL emergency!"  He rushes about slamming doors and trying to make a phone call on his gun.  Utanc sticks her head out the door, asks what's going on, and is unimpressed when Gris exclaims that "The world is liable to fall in!"  After making her first, brief appearance in some time, she locks herself back in her room.

So, uh, there's our plot for the next couple of chapters.  Can Madison regain the front page?  Will we get to watch a repeat of the previous Part?  If that doesn't sound exciting, we've only got about a hundred pages left before Hubbard jumps the shark.

Back to Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Nine and Ten

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Nine and Ten - Shatter-Proof Wrists and Improvised Flamethrowers

The afternoon, like the race, drags on.

All the demo derby drivers decide to... damn, can't figure out a way to keep the alliteration going.  Well, they gang up on Heller and get in a little formation that forces Heller to try to shoot through a gap between their cars.  It, of course, doesn't work.

The gap for Heller was wide open and inviting.

He was apparently just going to go through again.

The bombers began to back!  They would hit him!

He suddenly stamped on his brakes and gave his steering wheel a yank to the left!

He spun in a complete circle!

The bombers crashed into each other!

Heller wasn't there!

He came out of his spin and gunned his engine and streaked by, almost scraping the grandstand barricade!

He had gone behind them!  He had used a lane just vacated!

The crowd howled with joy!

I'm wondering what a high school English teacher would say if I got a student to turn in an excerpt from Mission Earth as a creative writing exercise.

It is at this point that something unexpected happens: Heller's engine abruptly dies as he comes out of a turn.  He tries to coast through the enemy drivers but is slowed by the rough, icy track so that he ends up approaching the "bomber" driver formation at only twenty miles per hour.  Predictably, they pounce on him, trapping the Caddy in a pile-up.  Heller notices that his car's hood is now glowing red-hot, pops his seatbelt, says "Good-bye, you Cadillac Brougham Coup d'Elegance.  It wasn't your fault!", and then bails out of the vehicle, hopping from roof to roof as he flees towards the pit.  He urges the other drivers to run too, but the two that manage to get out of the tangle try to run him over instead.

Sure enough, the hydrogen and oxygen tanks fueling Heller's car explode, shooting flames into the air and scaring off most of the other drivers.  But the two going after Heller converge on him in a pincher attack. Heller somehow pushes off against their hoods with his hands, launching himself up to roll over the hood of one car to land safely on the icy track while the two "bomber" cars have a fiery crash of their own.

So I'm curious - how does slapping an incoming car with your hands negate the impact of a multi-ton vehicle?  Because regardless of where it's hitting you, the car is still hitting you.  I guess this is another case of Heller's superior Voltarian physiology, specifically his adamantine wrists.

End Chapter Nine.  Chapter Ten starts with the announcers reporting the Whiz Kid's sudden stop.  Meanwhile one surviving "bomber" pilot manages to get his rolling wreck going and works on completing the race.

The crowd goes nuts, but in a bad way.  With cries of "That God (bleeped) Whiz Kid cost us our shirts!" they rush the pit intent on tearing Heller limb-from-limb.  Heller makes an obscure reference to one chapter two books ago by muttering "Just like it said in Hakluyt's Voyages.  Very hard to make a safe landing amongst the natives of North America!"

As the mob descends "like a storm cloud gone crazy" and smashes through racetrack security, Mike shouts "Now!" before he and the rest of the pit crew grab a dozen oxyacetylene hoses and spray a cloud of fire over the heads of the mob

I've tried to make sense of this with the help of Wikipedia, and from their article on the subject it sounds like oxyacetylene fuel sources are used for welding torches.  I had no idea that stuff was in the pits of racetracks, or that a welding torch is capable of producing a "fan of fire" at a range of over twenty feet.  And since the article throws around numbers like 6000 degrees Fahrenheit for the temperature of these kinds of flames, I am awestruck that this counts as a nonlethal crowd deterrent.  Even if the energy was dispersed over a large cloud, you're still looking at flash burns at least.

But nope, the cloud of fire succeeds in scaring the mob off, enough so that some of them are knocked down and trampled during the panic.  But don't worry, everyone who fell over got back up again and ran off safely, the author said so.  And nobody caught fire or anything.  After all, Mike had evidently planned this.  

Aaaand that's the race.

Hammer Malone's old wreck staggered past the grandstands and wrecked cars and knocked along, working to complete his thousand laps.

But the race was over for the crowd.  They were going home.

Of course they're leaving, a lunatic pit crew is using industrial equipment as flamethrowers! 

So.  Against all odds, Heller lost.  He has failed... in his mission to... win a race?  How'd we come to this again?  When did he decide that the best way to introduce his new carburetor was on a racetrack?  Why didn't he hand off the blueprints to a think-tank or car company?  And how does losing this publicity stunt foil his mission?

Heller's lost, but it's not quite clear what he's lost.  It's a defeat that's only tangentially related to his actual goal.  So it's hard to feel like any of this actually matters.

Back to Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Seven and Eight

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Seven and Eight - Hot Wheels

Heller's fixed his racing helmet so that it's not only heated and treated with a nonwetting agent, but it's also covered with layers of plastic so that if anything gets on it he can just peel off the dirty layer.  Gris considers this cheating.  I'm wondering if wiping his visor off with his rag wouldn't be easier and just as distracting.

The track announcer reminds everyone of the quarter-million dollars prize money at stake, and apologizes for the lack of deaths despite the hazardous conditions.

The race continues.

Heller, roaring along at at least 120, was darting through the scattered pack!

A driver lunged sideways in an effort to hit him.  Heller sped up.  It was a miss.

Another car shot sideways to strike him as he roared through a gap.  It was Car 9.

The car missed!

Another car coming up behind spun and struck Car 9.  The two spun through the fence!  Clouds of smoke!  The belated sound of the crash!

I'm trying to decide if this is as bad as podracing.  On the one hand there's no visual element to make things bearable, but at least it's not such a foregone conclusion that the protagonist will win.  After all, Anakin had to win that race to get everyone off the planet.  But here the event is so nebulously connected to the main plot that it doesn't matter as much whether Heller wins or loses.  If he does win now some contrived circumstances will stretch the plot out, and if he fails he has plenty of time to recover over the next six books.

Well those two "bomber" cars wreck, and the crowd gets its bloodsport when three ambulance drivers are killed while checking on them, so that's nice.  Heller takes another hit and this time Fancy-Dancy doesn't respond to his radio hailing, causing Gris to literally hug himself in glee.  Heller makes a pit stop, replaces the wheel, goes back on the track, gets shot again, and replaces a third wheel.  He now has only one spare wheel left.  Nail-biting tension.  Gris hugs himself again.  The Florida Chamber of Commerce hopes that anyone who wins a bet on today's race will come down to visit, where they'll be ripped-off painlessly.

But then a voice radios Heller that "My talk box got hit and number two took time."  Yes, Bang-Bang miraculously survived when Gris' sniper shot him in the radio, and managed to return the favor a little more lethally.  Gris assumes that because Bang-Bang is Italian he must've used a knife, even though he had a silenced rifle and has shown an appreciation for explosives, and for that matter we've seen Italian mobsters using everything from sawn-off shotguns to stilettos to pistols to vehicular combat in this book, so it's a stupid assumption.  To defend himself from Bang-Bang, Gris draws his Knife Section knife and locks the doors - yeah, that'll do the trick - until he realizes that Bang-Bang is calling in on the pit crew's radio, so he's not out stalking Gris.

Chapter Eight starts with more blistering satire of the media as Channel Six and Seven-Eighths repeats the "old man talking about the weather gag," then plays a jingle for Peegram's Corn Whiskey, and finally has the anchorman yelled at for cutting away from the race to do a slow-motion replay of a satisfying crash.  And Gris informs us that it's now around 3 pm.

Remember, the race started at around nine in the morning.  Those six hours have just flown by, haven't they?  Gris notes that the magical alien carburetor is scheduled to fail soon, because I guess the sabotage is just that reliable, and dependent solely on how long the device had been running rather than how hard it's been going.

The other drivers have given up on racing normally and are now intent on ramming Heller.  There are skids and near misses, then one car tries to slam into him only to be repelled by a flash of light that sends it spinning through the rail.  In case you're still wondering why Heller's wheels are electrified:

The TV did a replay.  It was a lightning bolt!  Car 10 had hit Heller's left front wheel and an electrical flash at least five feet in diameter had flared!

An actual bolt of lightning is actually quite thin, about a centimeter wide.  Presumably he meant the lightning bolt was five feet long.

The electrical surplus from the carburetor was being grounded in those wheels!  And any other car that touched them bled off the grounding in a lightning bolt!  

I'm curious as to why the other cars' rubber tires or metal chains and spikes can't similarly ground the energy being transferred to them from Heller's car.  Or how a lightning bolt could carry enough force to hurl a multi-ton car off a racetrack. 

Basher Benson was getting shakily out of Car 10.  He apparently had no idea what had happened except that he didn't want anything more to do with this race!

The radio sportscaster was trying to account for it and suddenly settled upon the explanation that it was the Whiz Kid's magnetic personality.

Now magnets might make more sense, like some nonsense that Heller's car has a powerful charge that's repulsing the other vehicles.  Also, these people are idiots.  Especially the referees who aren't reacting to Heller's car shooting lightning at the other vehicles.  And the other drivers, well, they're not sure what's going on, because "there are always sparks to some extent when metal is hammered against metal in a crash."  Another one tries to ram Heller and gets sent spinning out.

Again, the refs do nothing.  The crowd is of course going wild.  Gris is on the edge of his seat, possibly because he's been sitting there for almost twelve hours straight without getting food or stretching his legs or making a bathroom stop.

I was on the edge of my seat.  I had half an eye on the viewers and the other half on the stopwatch.  It was past three.

Was Heller going to win after all?

What about the other eye, Gris?  You've got one accounted for being split between two objects of interest, but what about the other?  What a thrilling cliffhanger to end the chapter on.

Back to Chapters Five and Six

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Five and Six - Fancy-Dancy Fire Support

At long last, we've reached the climax of the "Heller's big race" story arc.  The story arc that started in the previous book, and which once finished will have little impact on this book.  I'd ask why the hell this Part wasn't included in The Enemy Within, but I've finished skimming through An Alien Affair and from the looks of it there's nothing of comparable interest that happens over the next three hundred pages.  So I guess it was a choice between a book with a displaced climax and a book with no climax.

Gris turns on a small TV and watches as Heller rolls into position on the starting line, his resplendent Cadillac standing out amongst all the battered "bomber" cars "like an aristocrat amongst winos."  There's eight inches of snow on the track but the crowd is still going wild for the Whiz Kid.  The flag is waved, the Caddy leaps forward, and the race is on.

I suppose it's possible to make a car race interesting to read about.  You could write from a first-person perspective and let the reader know what it's like to sit in the driver's seat of a vehicle built for blistering speed, with the pervasive roar of the engine combined with the wind screaming around the vehicle creating a cocoon of almost overwhelming sound that threatens to drown out the other senses.  You could describe how the driver's mind is juggling a hundred different variables, keeping an eye on the dashboard while tracking the positions of his rivals and judging when to make his next pit stop, all during the deceptively easy-looking act of driving in an elongated oval.

Unfortunately, Mission Earth has the weird conceit of allowing us to see and hear through the main character's senses while keeping his actual thoughts locked away from us, and when that isn't being used our viewpoint character is Soltan Gris, who is watching the proceedings on a little TV in a van.  So the race is kinda boring, even with the added danger of wintery conditions. 

Heller did his first lap.  He was keeping just ahead of Killer Brag.  But he was not going fast enough to pass the end of the closely spaced pack.

With all the chains and spikes those cars had on their wheels, they were not losing traction.  But they were tearing the track to bits, and after one circle they were hitting ridges that were now ice.  They began to slither and vibrate. 

A howling gust of wind swept across the speedway, lathering it with snow again, hiding ruts.

The sun got stronger and glaring.  The snowing abruptly ceased.

Heller was having a hard time not to overtake the tail of the pack and still keep ahead of Killer Brag.  He was not really going at high speed.  Maybe only a hundred.  But that poorly banked track tended to throw the cars off sideways when they made the turns at each end.  It was a scrambling roar and a steering wheel fight to not fly over the edge.

But Heller's wheels were gripping well.  He was making it through better than the rest.  He was braking into and gunning out of the turns.

But then Heller completes his fifth lap, which is the signal for Gris' snipers to take the first shot.  Suddenly Heller swerves from an impact and loses first place, forcing him into the pit to replace a tire.  He sends a quick message of "I just got one" to "Fancy-Dancy," then alerts his pit crew to what he needs.  Gris is pleased that Heller has used up one of his four spare wheels, but he's also going "slightly crazy" from the mystery of "WHO was 'Fancy-Dancy' and WHERE?"

So in Chapter Six he goes searching for them.  Gris looks outside and scans the area with his binoculars.  Even though his two snipers are wearing snow cloaks, they've left their weapons uncovered so they're given away by their dark rifles - and this is only the start of the cut corners.

Then on a nearby roof Gris spots a third gunman with a silenced, scopeless M-1 rifle, who evidently noticed Gris' shooter and is readying his own shot.  Why it's our good friend Bang-Bang Rimbombo providing fire support for his buddy!  Heller's always one step ahead of poor Gris, even when there's no way he should know about the danger he's about to dodge.

Bang-Bang has a radio to keep in touch with Heller, but Gris' gunman does not.  So Gris can only watch helplessly as the two marksman race to finish the other off.  Unfortunately for Gris' sniper, his rifle failed to eject the spent cartridge.

An Accelerator case is subjected to an awful lot of extra force and maybe it had expanded. Or maybe the cold had jammed the action. Or maybe those Weatherbys weren't in top condition--I had picked them up thirdhand. And the cases were reloads. The sniper was pulled sideways, working on the jammed case with a knife!

So even though Gris has decided that it's vitally important to discredit Heller by sabotaging this race, he's pinching those pennies by equipping his men with discount equipment.  Our villain, ladies and gentlemen. 

Bang-Bang shoots the sniper right in the gun, blowing it up and pitching the shooter off the roof to land on the street a hundred feet below.  But Gris' second sniper is alerted, and while Bang-Bang picks up the radio to report in, Gris' sniper fires and Bang-Bang collapses out of sight atop his roof.

Since we can't see his dead body, and his "death" takes all of three sentences instead of a full chapter of him dying in Heller's arms, it's safe to assume that Bang-Bang's alive and kicking, just out of action for the moment.

Come on, it's too obvious to be a spoiler.

Back to Chapter Four

Monday, July 9, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapter Four - Spiked Electro-Wheels

I read ahead.  Well, skimmed.  I wanted to have an idea where the story was going, needed to know that it was going somewhere.  It was a lot of boring and a lot of stupid, as per the norm, but then I got to the book's halfway point.


But that's over a hundred pages in the future.

After a half-hour nap or break Heller turns on his radio, giving the reader a lot of italicized text to go through.  There's information about which driver is getting which pit, an interview with one of those "bomber" drivers, a snippet of humor where an old man is brought in to compare the current blizzard with those of eighty years ago, and even a little "were you paying attention?" moment where the announcer mentions that there's a busload of spectators from Jackson High School.  Remember waaay back in the beginning of Book Two, when Heller was shopping for clothes and he picked up some surplus clothing from a high school?  Clothes he picked because they shared the same initials?

On the one hand it's heartening that the author had the foresight or attention to detail to include such a little continuity nod.  On the other hand it's astounding that he expects the readers to keep track of such a minor detail from two books ago.  The only reason I remember it is because I wrote it down in a blog post.  Maybe he expected us to take notes. 

Two hours pass with Heller just sitting in his car, while Gris just sits in his van, watching Heller sit in his car without so much as wondering what Heller was up to, much less getting up to use the bathroom or growing bored and opening a magazine.  There's more hilarity as a weather report sponsored by the Florida Chamber of Commerce mentions the "warm and sultry breezes of Miami Beach."  But finally at nine in the morning, there's an important announcement over the racetrack loudspeakers - due to the terrible conditions, the "bomber" drivers have refused to race without spikes or chains.  The crowd uproar is immediate, causing the announcer to hastily declare that all rules about spikes and chains are now suspended.

Which is exactly what Heller was waiting for.

Heller muttered, "That's what I've been waiting for."

Told ya.

Heller finally drives into the racetrack and enters the pit, and Gris' heart sinks as he recognizes Mike Mutazione and others from Jiffy-Spiffy Garage, the same guys who refurbished the Caddy, as Heller's crew.  Good for him, because otherwise I'd have to look the name up on a character sheet.  He hands over the Sack of Dead Thugs' IDs and asks Mike to hide it somewhere, then breaks out his secret weapon for the race: spiked metal wheels, "internally braced steel donuts" with both grooves and spikes for traction.

What is it with Hubbard and cleats in this novel?  His hero wears them all the time, uses them to kill people, and now he's putting them on his car.  Why does this need to happen?  Why can't there not be a blizzard and Heller runs the race in normal tires?

Well, there's another special feature about these wheels - the alien carburetor Heller is using creates more energy than it expends as fuel, so he's wired things to ground the electricity in the metal wheels.  Sure, sounds logical.  Metal conducts electricity, and the wheels touch the ground, so everything should be fine. (I'm taking refuge in the written word's difficulty to convey sarcasm, so if this is legit I can sound like I approve, while if it's bogus obviously I know about it and am laughing).

And the inspectors have to allow it because they just suspended the normal rules, right.  The weird thing is that they aren't at all weirded out by the spiked electro-wheels, but are instead only interested in whether or not there's a motor hidden in there.  Not that they check, they're happy to accept Heller's word on the matter.

...Hey, did Heller have to ground his wheels when he was testing the car earlier?  I don't remember any mention of it, or of a dangerous static build-up.  Hmm.

Gris is a little thrown by this twist, but reasons that even if the metal wheels won't blow like a normal tire, a sniper round will still gouge them up something awful.  As Heller moves into position behind the starting line, he radios someone with the callsign of Fancy-Dancy, but Gris decides it's one of the pit crew and disregards the message.

"Bye-bye, Heller," I said.  Oh, how I was going to enjoy watching this (bleepard) fail!  Him and his stinking, snobbish Fleet officer manners and ways!  His lousy popularity was about to go up in smoke!

Assuming you don't miscalculate and the sniper ends up killing him in a car crash, resulting in fresh attention towards Mission Earth and your probable execution by your vengeful boss.  Or that your snipers don't screw up and Heller wins anyway.

Also, when did Mission Earth become about Heller's popularity?  Wasn't there something about an alien invasion and clean energy technology?  But I guess the important thing is how many people like Jettero Heller.

Back to Chapters Two and Three

Friday, July 6, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Two and Three - Corpse Disposal and Wasted Hamburgers

To summarize two chapters in a single sentence: Heller cleans up the crime scene and makes it to the racetrack.

To go into a little more detail: Heller rounds up the corpses of all the people he just killed, removing their IDs and loading them into their van.  Then he puts some cans of gasoline in the back of the corpsemobile and takes three mysterious pellets out of his garage, before driving the van to a nearby park.  He plops the pellets in the gas cans and then helps the van off a cliff; after it crashes it goes up in a fireball because those pellets Heller used were "Voltar time-disposable explosive caps."  Where did he get those?  When did he pack them?  Why was he storing them in his garage, and for what reason?  Stop asking reasonable questions.

He gives a quick prayer to the Voltarian god of voyagers, complaining about how troublesome these Earthmen are being even though he's only trying to help - so now we actually know something about Voltarian religion!  And it only took the author four books!  Another shocker is when Heller adds another prayer to Jesus Christ, asking forgiveness for "rubbing out" some of His people, and hoping that He will "accept these souls from their funeral pyre and find it in your heart not to give them more than they deserve."  In fairness, he is learning Christianity from mobsters.

That's Chapter Two, all three pages of it.  Chapter Three has Heller walk back to his semi and trailer, disguising himself by throwing a cover over the Cadillac and spraying "SUICIDE RHODES" on the side of it.  Then he secures the garage by running a nearly-invisible thread across every entrance, which Gris snickers at as being too little too late.  "A real spy has to be downright paranoid all the time.  Heller would never learn.  In espionage, insanity is mandatory.  Heller was crazy, of course, but not in the right direction."

So insanity is a synonym for caution or paranoia, I guess.  Let's also take a moment to soak up the hypocrisy of Gris advising paranoia while displaying a remarkable lack of interest concerning what Utanc does all day.

There's a lot of traffic, and snow.  Heller stops short of passing through the gate to the speedway and pulls over, heating a hamburger in his car's microwave (?!) but deciding not to eat it.  Gris concludes he's worried.  There's a couple instances of that in these two chapters, Gris deducing the state of Heller's emotions, as he forgets he's a character of his own and behaves more and more like a mind-reading narrator.  This will get worse in one particular chapter next Part.

Again, all the thugs were carrying IDs, and as Heller examines them he finds that all but one of them were Italian.  That seems to be the kind of book we're in - if you're a criminal you're a mobster, which means you're Italian.  Naturally the thugs were also carrying five thousand dollars a piece, so Heller earned more than "a hundred G's" from his little rampage.  My first impression was that Hubbard just wanted to make sure his hero remained as wealthy as he is handsome, but turns out this windfall is for a reason that will again be revealed next Part.  Heller wonders why some of the thugs were reluctant to shoot and whether they had some connection to this race, then closes his eyes for a rest.

So that's it - Heller faked a car crash and almost went to the racetrack.  The next chapter will further delay starting the race, but rest assured that the five after that will be all about cars going 'round in circles.

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapter One - Probably Not the Action Scene You Were Expecting

Gris has set up an alarm for the HellerVision that will alert him when his enemy is up and active, which jerks him awake before four in the morning, I guess because Heller wants to beat the crowds to the racetrack.  There's a probably ghostwritten paragraph reminding us how Gris had inserted bugs into Heller's skull and camped out in a heated van the night before, which is a bit perplexing.  Anyone who's read the previous volumes of Mission Earth as intended would surely know this stuff, while any newcomers would need pages and pages of material to get a grip on what the hell is going on.  With this half-hearted bit of exposition done, Gris goes on to describing Heller's morning, which I will in turn describe for you.

Heller, "being Jettero Heller," brushes his teeth and dresses for the cold snowy weather, so presumably Gris being Soltan Gris would ignore his oral hygiene and put on shorts.  Venturing out into the blizzard, Heller takes his semi (sans trailer, and presumably rented to transport the Caddy) to a diner and orders a bag full of hamburgers and a gallon of coffee.  There is humor of a sort when the cashier asks his opinion on whether the Whiz Kid will win, making Heller reply "I sure hope so."  There is weirdness when Gris compares the chromed, upholstered interior of the semi to that of a Fleet spaceship.  Is it a simple observation about the similarities between two ostentatious cultures, or a suggestion that humanity's love of chrome detailing might reflect an extraterrestrial heritage, much like how incidences of space opera in popular culture are signs of our past lives in alien civilizations?

Our hero drives towards the garage containing the modified Cadillac, and then we get five pages of an extended Hubbard Action Sequence.  Someone jumps out of hiding and thrusts a gun in Heller's face!  Heller counterattacks with whatever he has on hand!  Lots of short sentences ending in exclamation points! 

Heller threw up his left hand and hit the gun wrist!  The gun flew out of the mitten.

The ball peen in Heller's right hand came straight across and buried itself in the assailant's skull!

The other door was opening.  Heller let up the 

You get the idea.

The first guy is "very dead," as Heller has managed to cave in his skull with a blow from a hammer.  The second guy is disarmed but manages to escape thanks to Heller's gun (taken from the dead man) jamming due to the cold.  Heller notices a garage door without a snowbank in front of it, takes a hat off the dead guy, puts it on a stick, and pushes it up towards a high window, making the guy inside waste a shot. 

Since at least one guy is holed up in a garage, the door pinned close by the semi's trailer, Heller does the obvious: he gets some tools and redirectis the still-running semi's exhaust into the structure, filling it with carbon monoxide.  You know, instead of fleeing or alerting the authorities or trying to negotiate or anything.  They're trapped in there by Heller's trailer, and he's going to gas 'em.  Like a true hero.

Next Heller exchanges his red anorak for the dead man's khaki one, then dumps the redecorated corpse in the snow.  Conveniently a van filled with more baddies chooses that moment to drive up and investigate the scene, the disembarking thugs expressing outrage that someone was dumb enough to shoot their quarry.  When they flip over the corpse and discover that it isn't Heller, the Fleet officer strikes, bursting from hiding to hurl a wrench with deadly accuracy right into a shotgun-toting thug's face.  And the rest of them?  They stand there, not returning fire or taking cover, but trying to deflect an incoming barrage of garage tools, as Heller flings wrench after wrench at them.

These guys are armed, they have shotguns.  They were smart enough to use cover when they disembarked and moved to check the corpse.  But once Heller attacks, they stand there trying to dodge the incoming wrenches, at least until they lose half their number and break.  One poor bastard gets half his head chopped off by a spinning wrench as he tries to flee.  The other slips while trying to get back into the van, but Heller breaks his arm with one wrench, then closes and, dodging the man's feeble counter-attack, bursts his head "like a melon!" with another blow from a common household tool.

No mercy, no attempt at nonlethal blows, no desire to take prisoners for questioning.  Just a bunch of heads smashed open with blows from wrenches.  A true hero.

So that's six dead guys outside, including the first guy Heller killed, and then he checks the garage to find four blue-faced corpses inside the garage now filled with diesel fumes.  Ten kills in just the first chapter of the book.  Heller notes the ropes and some sort of dartgun his attackers were carrying, then checks his watch to find it's only 5:20 in the morning.  Most guys don't kill that many people in a single day, let alone before sunrise.

Back to the book's intro
Back further to Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Nine