Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Part Fifty-Five, Chapter Five - The Flight of J. Warbler Madman

Normally when I complain about Hubbard getting sidetracked by satire, I'm referring to instances where the already plodding narrative stumbles to a halt so he can take the time to deride his enemies.  But this chapter kicks off with the characters in-story getting bogged down by snarky observations about La Gran Manzana.  As Gris and Teenie and Raht board the helicopter:

Teenie said, "Hey!  So this is how you run your white-slave ring.  Choppers!  How updatey!"

"What's that?" said the chopper pilot, turning around in his seat.

"Don't pay any attention to this (bleeped) kid!" I raved.

"If you're going to do something illegal," said the pilot, "you'll have to go back to the office and pay extra."

"No, no!" I cried.  "We're trying to save a man's life.  And even that isn't illegal in New York."

"Might be," said the copilot thoughtfully.  "There's several guys I know of it would be illegal not to kill.  There's a woman, too.  You ever hear of the mayor's wife?"

"Oh, Gods, please start that engine!" I wept.  "I'll pay you both an extra hundred, personally."

So why is this in here?  Did Hubbard feel that after six books spent in the city, readers needed to be reminded how corrupt New York is?  Or is this supposed to introduce a lighter side to the situation, where the people know how awful life is on Blito-P3 and banter about it so they can get up in the morning?  And is the start of an action sequence the best place to do this?  Because that's what the bulk of this chapter is, the daring rescue of Madison.

The helicopter flies over the city to Madison's address to find nobody waiting on the apartment roof - but Heller's parked below and looking up at the highrise.  Faced with the prospect of his enemy capturing a quote valuable ally end sarcastic quotes, Gris orders the pilot to keep hovering so he can think.  And by "think" he means "watch Krak and Heller on the viewscreens." 

"I'll go in and ring the bell," said Heller.  "You cover me, Bang-Bang.  If he's home, he might come out shooting when he recognizes who it is."

"NO!" said the Countess Krak in the back of the cab.  "There's no sense in making this into a shooting war.

Why not?  You just got away with chasing down a fleeing truck, throwing a grenade into the back of it, and interrogating the driver in broad daylight in the middle of the street.  Heller's killed a couple dozen people without any negative consequences.  And you just talked about bombing a law office because its owners had the temerity to bring you to court.  Why can't you go in, guns a-blazing, and use Krak's Bag of Tricks to bamboozle your way out of any attempt to bring you to justice?

I think Krak's objecting because she wants to be the one to destroy Madison, in her own special way.

He probably is not home, as it's working hours  I'll just take my shopping bag and go up and see his mother."

"I don't like it," said Heller.  "You don't have to fight in wars.  It isn't ladylike."

Men break bodies, women rape minds.  It's in the Space Bible or something.

"I've done just fine lately," said the Countess Krak.

"That you have," said Heller, "and I admire you and Bang-Bang for it to no end.

And this is why Heller is not a good guy.  He admires a woman whose solution to life's difficulties is to reprogram peoples' brains until they do what she wants.  He admires a hired killer whose solution to life's difficulties is a spree of indiscriminate bombings.  He consorts with bad people and does bad things in pursuit of a good goal that will help bad people do a bad thing.

But this guy is the worst rat I have ever heard of.  He actually pretended to be my friend.  And all the time he intended to knife me.  He's as bad as an Apparatus 'drunk.'  I'd better go."

Organized crime, fine.  Murdering people, fine.  Mind rape, fine.  But betraying a friendship?  Or more accurately, showing up out of nowhere, giving you some buckteeth and spectacles to wear during a photo shoot, and then proceeding to weave some ridiculous stories about you in the newspapers that only a complete idiot or mob boss or your girlfriend would believe?  Unforgivable. 

Think the author had a thing about betrayal?  And not, say, kidnapping or reprogramming people or breaking the law or lying or swindling?

While Teenie berates Gris for watching a "crime drama" and Raht risks a Code Break by commenting on the 831 Relayer, Gris continues to desperately work to salvage the situation by sitting on his ass watching Heller on the viewscreen.  Heller, Krak and Bang-Bang disembark and walk towards the apartment.  Heller finally notices the helicopter hovering noisily above them, but Bang-Bang decides it's a police "plain wrapper" and they decide to ignore it.  Gris resorts to praying in Italian for somebody to save him from this situation.

Does Raht have a gun?  They could drop him off and tell him to shoot Heller, since Gris is trying to get rid of him anyway.  Or hey, got a phone?  Maybe call Madison?  How about those security guys?  For that matter, why didn't Gris warn the security team earlier so they could help defend Madison?  Or Flagrant?

Luckily, Gris doesn't have to do anything about this problem, because "MADISON SOLVED IT!"  Just like the time Gris and Bury went to recruit him, Madison comes flying out in his Excalibur.  Gris uses his psychic powers to deduce how Madison had "apparently despaired of being rescued from the roof and, seeing 'Corleone' on that cab, had panicked and fled in his car!"

So, a five-page chase scene.  Heller and co. get in the cab and pursue Madison, while Gris inc. tries to beat them to it in the helicopter.  And even though Madison's car has state-of-the-art engines and a driver desperate to save his skin, it's still a tense and exciting sequence because he's being chased by a refurbished old cab driven by "a championship spaceship pilot."  Because what is a car but a spaceship with wheels?

Madison hits the freeways doing a hundred, while Gris resorts to screaming at him from the helicopter to "GO TO CONNECTICUT!" while freaking out about what might happen if Madison gets caught.

A new thought hit me like a lightning bolt.  Madison would reinforce the involvement of Bury and the Countess might take it into her head to run up the whole chain.  If she did that and found me, she would also add it up and find Lombar.  And Lombar would find me for permitting it!

Wait, doesn't Krak already know about Bury?  Yeah, that psychiatrist lady from last book spilled the beans about Bury's plan to use Rockecenter's long-lost child to take over the company.  She even aha'd about "The crooked lawyer is planning to usurp the empire!" when Flagrant spilled his guts two chapters ago.  So Krak already has reason to go after Bury, and Gris is once again two steps behind.

I was caught in a nutcracker!

I seemed to be in the center of a whirling, screaming circle of Demons. That was what I got for praying to Jesus Christ!

Earth Demons or Manco Demons?  Are the Demons going after you for invoking their enemy, or for breaching your contract and praying to a different religion?

Literally the next sentence after that revelation is an action sequence.

Madison caused two trucks to sideswipe.  One, a semitrailer, shot sideways to block the whole road.  But Madison was through!  Going like the roaring wind!


Heller was stamping on his brakes.  He slowed.  He sized up the scene.

Then suddenly, he rocked the cab by hitting a divider, went straight at the rail, skidded against the bars and shot back onto the highway.  He was around the obstruction.  Feeding throttle, he raced after the Excalibur!

Vehicle chases work well in movies because they're a visual medium.  We get to see the cars or planes or segways zipping around, and we can appreciate the stuntwork involved in creating such a spectacle.  They're harder to pull off on paper - authors have to expend a lot of words to paint the same picture a camera can do as a matter of course, and never quite as well.  What books do have on movies in this regard is that they can tell the reader what it's like to be in such a chase.  The wind roaring in your ears, the snarling engine, the way your arms ache as you keep a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, how your heart skips a beat as you feel the tires slip on the pavement and the car start to slide out of your control, etc.

We're missing out on that because first, our viewpoint character is watching this car chase rather than participating, and second, the author's terrible at his job.

Madison manages to outpace the cab so that Heller drops out of sight, but is panicking and only has three miles of road left before he hits the ferry terminal at the bottom of Manhattan.  Gris' psychic powers kick in again and he understands that Madison plans on hiding out at the docks like he did last time.  Except that's not what Madison does; instead the publicist just aims his car at the end of a pier and roars on full-speed.  Suicide counts as escaping, right?

Luckily Gris already decided to lower Raht on a rope ladder to snatch Madison out of the speeding car, and it only took a gun and a wad of cash to get everyone to cooperate.  And so we get that scene on the book's jacket where Raht grabs Madison, the two get pulled up by the copilot, and the driverless car "WENT OFF THE END OF THE PIER!"  Yay.

This stunt actually gets witnesses - Gris mentions cars stopping on the Elevated Highway and people watching from the rails.  All Heller, Krak and Bang-Bang catch is the tail end of the Excalibur going in the river and that "police helicopter" flying off, no doubt after trying to give out a speeding ticket.  Heller gets out to investigate, but Bang-Bang opines that they'll never find the body due to all the gangster corpses down there already.

"Good riddance," said the Countess Krak.  "Serves him right for talking about my Jettero that way!"

At this point I don't think they were planning on interrogating Madison at all.  Krak already knows about Bury, she just wanted to kill Madison for badmouthing her boyfriend.

Heller signals Bang-Bang that he's found something,  Wanna know what it is?  Too bad.  Instead Gris - say it with me - freaks out at the thought of someone having witnessed the helicopter rescue of Madison, which is pretty damn likely given all the rubbernecking going on.  He freaks out further when Krak suggests bringing the yacht around so they can search the water and ensure Madison's dead (not try to find him for questioning), because the next step of his escape plan is to get to that yacht.

So the chapter ends on the exciting question of whether an old taxi can beat a helicopter to a harbor.

Back to Chapter Four. 

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