Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Spy Killer - Chapter 4 - To Kill a Super Spy, Send an Anti-Spy

Fast-forward an indeterminate number of days later to Kurt Reid arriving by train in the north Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, called Kalgan by honkies.  He's shaved and strutting his stuff in a classy black suit and gray hat, looking "as much unlike the bucko mate as had the prisoner of Lin Yang."  Or in other words, he once again looks different from how he did in the previous chapter, but he still has no hope of blending in with the local population.  A bit of a disadvantage if you're expected to do some spy work.

Our hero is a bit unhappy, though not because he's a lousy spy.  He tried to find Ms. Carsten before leaving Shanghai, but never managed it.  Guess he couldn't remember the directions to that house.  He's also pessimistic that this mission to kill a Japanese agent in the middle of Japanese-occupied territory can even be accomplished, but he's stuck doing it in hopes of getting that pardon.  Also, he has Yang and the rest of the Death Squad along to nudge him when he stops to take in the sights.

So Reid and his minders walk the streets of Kalgan, surrounded by Japanese soldiers in mustard-yellow uniforms bearing bayoneted rifles, and head for a hotel.  But on the way Reid sees something that makes him gasp in surprise, immediately drawing Yang's attention.

Kurt walked on calmly enough

Oh yeah, sure, play it cool.  I'm sure Yang will just forget the whole incident.

although he was certain that he had seen a familiar face in the crowd.  Maybe all White Russians looked alike,

Huh, can you be racist against your own ethnic group?

and maybe there was more than one fur hat and coat like that in China, but something more than sight had given him his information.

Oh no, Hubbard characters are going to start knowing things for mysterious reasons again.

Varinka Savischna was here! He had seen her entering a shop.

So Reid saw her enter a building, but still thinks "something more than sight" let him know she was there.  Oy.  Also, can you... well, if I ask the question, that might... you know, let's just move on.

On the one hand, Reid hates to see that hot chick he met at a teahouse that one night in a Japanese-occupied town, but on the other he takes her presence as "an omen of good luck" (because only good things have happened since he met her), so maybe he'll be able to find this Takeki person after all.  It's "with springier stride" that he marches into a hotel and rents a room, and while Reid "briefly fondled the idea of getting out and away" ...right, technically Hubbard isn't using the word wrong, but he isn't choosing the best word to convey his intent, either.

Anyway, Reid's caressed hopes of escape are dashed when he sees one of his minders nonchalantly smoking by the hotel entrance, arousing no attention, blending in so well that we must ask why this Death Squad commando hasn't been given Reid's mission.  So our hero decides to get down to business and root out that Takeki spy fellow.

So when a hotel worker enters his room to fluff Reid's pillow, and mentions that he's a good guide, Reid asks "Where can I find this one known as Takeki?"

Now, before you groan and facepalm, understand that Reid told him before to "promise to forget the question immediately."  Not that he waited for the man to make this promise, but still.  And hey, his back-up plan is to make sure that Takeki comes to him, so attracting attention through blunt intelligence-gathering is a valid tactic in that regard.  And it's not like James Bond signed into hotels under a fake name, huh?  So there.

Well, the guy fluffing Reid's pillow turns out not to know the local super-spy, so Reid ends up stretching out on his bed to rest and wonder what Savischna is doing here.  Then there's a knock on the door.  "Without knowing quite why he did so" ...dammit, Hubbard... Reid glances out his window to find that yes, his Death Squad minder has disappeared, which is explained when Reid opens the door and is confronted with a Japanese officer and squad of men, who inform him that he's under arrest.


In the first chapter, Reid had just escaped from the ship's brig.  In the second chapter, he was led to a safehouse and locked inside of it, becoming more or less a prisoner.  Then he was arrested by the Chinese and spent the third chapter in a prison.  And here he is, captured again, dragged off to another prison.

I did mention there's only eight chapters in the book, right?  And while they're not all the same size, and we're not really halfway through the story yet, still - good grief.

For once the hotheaded, impulsive Reid doesn't fling himself into a losing battle, and is led out of his room by the Japanese.  At this point Yang bursts out of his room, musters up some tears, and plays Reid's sobbing friend, embracing him to whisper "Keep your mouth shut, fool.  Killing will be too good for you."  Then Yang's pushed away and Reid is led through town while children jeer and people whisper, and Reid can only stare at the ground and the feet marching alongside his, "unable to account for this sudden turn of events."

Unable to... okay, now you can facepalm.

So Reid's led into the Japanese headquarters and brought before a clerk with vertical "pig-bristle brush" hair and glasses so thick they "made him look like a submarine monster," and the guy from the hotel is there to confirm that this is the idiot who brazenly asked about a notorious spy.  Reid tries to present himself as a Mr. Smith, but it's a wasted effort and they already know who he is, so he insists that he has some information he needs to give Takeki in person.  The Japanese are nice enough to send Reid to a cell with word that if Takeki comes by, maybe Reid can pass along this information, and if not, shrug.

Well I say "cell," but its description puts it as something like an animal cage, and I guess it's outside?  That would explain what happens shortly.  Anyway, first Reid is angry, stomping around and kicking at the bars as if it's their fault he's a terrible spy, but then he mumbles to himself that he's been in "One jail after another" and he really "should have let them hang me the first time," which makes him grin and lifts his spirits enough so that he's able to stretch out and nap for six hours.  Huh.

But then he's awakened by "the slither of rope into the enclosure," sits up, rubs his eyes, but is instantly alert because he "had the feeling that something was wrong."  After hearing that rope.  And then when he sees the rope, that "long snakelike thing," he jumps in surprise.  After hearing that rope.

Also, despite spending some time pacing around his cell-enclosure, and after stretching out on a bench to take a nap, he just now notices that it doesn't have a proper roof, just bars bent inward at the top to prevent escape.  Which, combined with its probable location outside a secure building, enabled someone to climb into Reid's cell, draw a knife, and step toward Reid, who is able to tell somehow that the newcomer is Chinese.

"Captain Yang," said the guard in a low voice, "has passed the sentence upon you.  You have failed Lin Wang, you are no further use to him.  I am a member of the Death Squad."

Deep breaths... deep breaths... so.  The Death Squad can make it to a Japanese-occupied city and not attract attention.  They can sneak an assassin into a Japanese prison.  But they can't kill this Takeki spy without a dumbass American's help?

Groan.  Fight scene.  Not a Hubbard Action Sequence but close, most paragraphs are two sentences long, but not exclaimed.  Reid is shocked at first, but catches the Chinese's knife hand and grapples with him, getting blasted by his assailant's "garlic-reeking mouth."  He almost loses when the Chinese feints and slips out of his grasp, but Reid deflects the blow with his shoulder and takes the knife hit broadside, then leaps on and bears the assassin down.

On top of the Chinese, Kurt secured the dagger hand with his knee and then with both hands, Kurt raised the close-shaven head and slammed it back to the concrete. Once, twice, the third time the head did not bounce. The man's eyes rolled far up into his head. A sticky smear of blood stained the concrete black in the starlight.

Wow, that's fairly brutal for... whenever this was published, I'm actually not sure and Wikipedia doesn't seem to know.

Once Reid pulls himself together, he realizes that the rest of the Death Squad might be after him, and yells for the guards.  When they ask why there's a dead assassin in his pen, Reid insists that it's some "man who thought I had wronged him," and the Japanese guards nod their agreement, reasoning that someone would really have to hate Reid to break into this prison(?).

And so Reid's able to convince his captors to relocate him into the guard room, where he sits politely while the Japanese talk about him for a bit, remarking on his size, skin tone and probable thievery, since "all foreign devils were great thieves."  Reid is able to keep up a poker face until he asks for a glass of water in fluent Japanese, which makes the other men jump, and I guess it's humor.  Feels a bit weird coming a page after our hero bashed another man's brains out on the concrete, but whatever.

Conversationally, our hero asks why it's such a crime to ask about Takeki, and a scholarly-looking guard asks if that's why Reid's here.

"I merely wanted to see Takeki.  I had some information for him."

"For him?" said the soldiers all together.

The officer had said that.  Kurt thought it queer.  He decided not to talk about Takeki.

In a moment, in a moment.  The Japanese start to bond with their prisoner over how good a job he did breaking open that Chinese guy's skull, and give their side of the whole "invasion of another country" thing.  The Japanese say that they just wanted to leave their neighbors alone, even though the Chinese tried to invade them twice (wasn't that the Mongols?).  So after the Chinese tried to take away their country, now the Japanese "merely want to police theirs and wipe out some of their so-called warlords such as Lin Wang," and can't understand why the rest of the international community is so upset.

Reid surmises that everyone thinks the Japanese are trying to conquer China, and the Japanese conclude that it'd be good for someone to take over China and "make a nation of it and cut down this killing and made the people behave," so why not them?  Really, the world is just afraid of Japan growing stronger by absorbing China's manpower.  And Reid just doesn't give a penguin fart, he's apolitical and distracted by more pressing matters than international affairs.

Now, there's no mention of anything like the Rape of Nanking that might explain why people are upset with Japan's actions, and I think this helps to establish when exactly this story is taking place (because the author doesn't flat-out tell us).  Japan's in north China, around the Great Wall, which means they've formed an "autonomous province" in the region following the annexation of Manchuria in 1931.  So we're probably in early 1937, just before the invasion of China begins in earnest in June.

Anyway, someone opens a door and tells Reid that Takeki is ready to see him, and it turns out to be Varinka Savischna.  Hence why all the Japanese were reacting to Reid calling the spy "him," and avoided ascribing pronouns to this agent.  Looking back on the previous chapter, it looks like even Wang was careful with his pronouns, and never explicitly described Takeki as a male - he specifically asks for "its scalp" when using the hunting metaphor, not "his scalp."

So did Wang know that Takeki was a woman, particularly a conspicuous Russian woman?  And didn't bother to tell Reid this before sending him after her?  And still can't manage to kill her with his own agents?

Tune in next time as we continue to search for a character who is actually competent at their job.  Well, that's not fair, that Japanese informant who snitched on Reid did a bang-up job.  So there's a start.

Back to Chapter 3


  1. I have a logical explanation for why the death squad has to have Kurt kill Takeki: So Lin Wang can have somebody else blamed for offing him... her. What better way to get away with murder than to have somebody else do it?

    It seems like Kurt is the combined form of Gris's stupidity and Heller's acts of violence that are immediately brushed aside like nothing.

  2. Jesus Christ, Hubbard. The twist doesn't work in Japanese since most honorifics and pronouns are gender-neutral. I only know a little bit of Japanese, but I think Reid would've had to go out of his way to say "for that man" in order for them to be surprised by the gender.

    It's an understandable mistake, like using "Hello" as a greeting in Buckskin Brigades 80+ years before the word was coined (as a a telephone greeting), but he makes so many of them that it's fun to pick them out.