Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Part Seventy, Chapter Four - That Damn Cat

Okay the police headquarters gets emergency lighting, but the courthouses are still dark.  I can only assume New York's hospitals are getting power, but what about restaurants?  What about refrigerators?  Where's the food trucks, the mass exodus to the countryside, the rampant cannibalism?  We're two weeks without gas, remember.

Maybe all that stuff happened last week, and the New York we're seeing is a ghost town inhabited by a few tribes of degenerate ghouls and the public servants desperately trying to impose order, while the local politicians go through their routines, pretending nothing is wrong.  Which sounds kinda interesting.  Can I read about it instead?

Anyway, Heller and his mafia friends arrive at the "Narcotici mob building."  While Heller looks over the building blueprints with a nifty infrared flashlight and special lens, Babe's signore keeps trying to talk her out of this mission, it's far too risky, your private jet is on standby if you have to flee, etc.  In other words, "wow, Heller sure is brave and handsome for coming up with this incredibly dangerous attack plan!"

Señor signore informs Babe that their goons are all in position, while the city officials are meeting with Faustino in a banquet room on the thirty-fifth floor, guarded by all of the Narcotici outfit's gunslingers, as well as a nearby police station and an Army tank unit?!  Way to make the most of your limited fuel supply, guys.  Babe gives the go-ahead, Heller synchronizes their watches, and flies off on his hover-sled.

Delicately manipulating the controls, he edged sideways to the building as he climbed.  It was a fifty-five-story building and it was so dark he almost missed the top.

Hmm.  So he and Krak brought along pieces of fabric that make you chase other pieces of fabric, and a device that changes your skin tone, but not a set of night-vision goggles.  Even though the last would probably be of more use to a space commando.  And what, doesn't he have Super Vision that lets him measure the granularity of rock in a dark room?  Does that not translate into decent night vision?

The gleam of chrome was to his hand.  He made the sled hover.  He reached into his bag and brought out a handful of round objects.  Working with one hand, he looked at their numbers.  He found one that said 1 in a glowing numeral.  He pushed it against the chrome.  He glanced at his watch.  He gave the blob a twist.

So much for the top floor.

He dropped down two floors.  He found a blob that said 2.  He pressed it against the chrome building side.

Lower he went, two more floors.  He fixed a number 3.

Down and down he went, pausing each time, pushing in another one.

Finally he planted a number 10.

Sabotage is actually kinda boring.

That done, Heller flies around to the window of Faustino's office, with murals of Sicily on the walls ('cause he's Italian) and a chair with a weird metal dome over it that will be important next chapter.  He uses a disintegrator gun on the window so its edges "curled away," passes inside, then makes a spyhole through the door with a thin beam.  "Despite the narrowness of the aperture he could see quite well," the book assures us.  I guess the lesson is that Heller sees precisely as well as the author needs him to.

A sudden setback!  Faustino has the table in the banquet hall set up in the wrong way!  Heller was hoping that the rival mob boss would be closer to the office door, but instead there's a hundred feet between them!  How ever will Heller manage to run up and grab Faustino... by the collar...  huh.  Really?

By the light of candles, Faustino was making a speech.  Something about the great success of the Civic Betterment League.  What he was saying was getting guffaws and applause every few words.  He was enormously fat, better than three hundred pounds.  His face was so puffy he didn't even seem to have eyes: a balloon with a hole in it that opened and closed for a mouth.

Oh, good.  See, we the reader don't have a real reason to hate this Faustino fella.  Sure, he's a drug-pushing mobster in cahoots with big bad Rockecenter, but Faustino hasn't had much to do with the plot beyond that.  He's an offscreen, impersonal sort of bad guy.  But thanks to this bit of description, I guess we can look down on him for being overweight.  You kick that fat guy's ass, Heller.  Teach him to deviate from society's standards of beauty.

Heller checks his watch, sees that it's time, and opens a satchel to withdraw the cat.  After making some preparations that the narration hides from us, Heller quickly opens and closes the office door - "The blast of air burst like a gale into the room!"  With all but one of the candles blown out, Heller swiftly crawls across the floor to get behind Faustino, who appeals to calm with promises of bonuses.

And then it gets silly.

"Now, march!" Heller whispered into the transmitter, mouth dosed.

There was a sizzle of sputtering at the other end of the room.  Instead of beholding the uplifted envelope, all eyes turned to the office door!

The cat walked into the banquet hall.

He was towing a black, round sphere which slid along behind him.

He was dragging it by holding the fuse in his mouth.

The end of the fuse was throwing sparks!

Why a cat, Hubbard?  Why not a dog?  Was the fact that Krak was able to teach it English meant to show just how incredible an animal trainer she is?  Were you simply a cat person?  Was the animal based off one you knew in real life?

A startled gasp of horror went through the assemblage.

Sedately the cat marched forward toward the middle of the U.

Its eyes were pale green orbs in the candlelight.

The sparks trailed across the floor.

"A BOMB!" came the concerted scream.

And don't you know what this does to the story's tone?  Here we have a sequence with two mobs going to war, amid a global energy crisis and military mobilization.  Things are pretty damn grim.  And now a cat is walking through a scene, dragging a Cartoon Bomb.  Goodbye, gravitas!

Faustino snapped a hand into his coat, grabbing for a holstered gun in some insane effort to shoot the cat.

Why is it insane to shoot a bomb-toting animal?  Or, why is it more insane to shoot an animal dragging a bomb than it is to attach a bomb to a cat in the first place?

But Heller's hand darted and had the gun.

Heller's other hand had Faustino by the collar.

"IT'S GOING TO EXPLODE!" screamed Heller.

Some officials had been trying to leap over the table to get at the fuse.  But at Heller's yell, they abandoned it.

There was a crush and a rush at the door.

So they were literally inches away from possibly snuffing out the bomb's fuse, but if it's about to explode, well, they're counting on their ability to get outside the blast radius. 

All were leaving but Faustino---and Heller held him firm.

So, there we have it, the reason Heller brought the cat along, his grand strategy for capturing the mob boss.  The weird thing is that all those fleeing officials are going to get caught anyway, so there's no reason to go through such eccentric efforts to apprehend Faustino.  The insulting thing is that Faustino ultimately has little to nothing to do with getting Izzy and everyone out of the Empire State Building.

I guess we can call this Action Padding: stuff is about to blow up, but it doesn't advance the plot.

Back to Chapters Two and Three

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