Monday, March 14, 2016

Spy Killer - Chapter 5 - At Least Someone Is Amused

So my working theory now is that the Chinese and Japanese and the White Russians are all cooperating to make this story happen.  They all sat down at the table one day, putting aside all these concerns of war both civil and interstate, and decided that what they really needed was to have a good laugh.  So what if, the Chinese representative said, we got some clueless American to run around pretending to be a secret agent?  We could take turns capturing and releasing him, the Japanese representative said.  And lets make sure he's good-looking, the White Russian representative said, so the women on different sides can toy with him.

Yes, it's ridiculous, but no less so than what's happening in the story.

Reid can only stare in silence after the revelation that the Takeki guy he's supposed to kill is actually that hot Russian chick, but nobody notices.  Savischna expresses her hopes that "these compatriots of mine did not cause you any inconvenience," and asks if Reid has any news from the south.  After all, he had to have some reason to come all the way up to the Great Wall.  Reid at first stammers a negative, then mumbles something about Lin Wang and asks if he can share this information in private.  Luckily Savischna has a car nearby that will take them to a place where Reid can get a bite and talk shop.

Kurt felt the leaden silence of the room. He felt very uncomfortable. He could feel the thoughts of the Japanese.

Friggin' psychic Hubbard heroes.

They were not at all sure of him, those fellows, and he knew they were telling themselves that they would keep their eye on him.  He felt a chill run up and down his spine when a soldier clattered his rifle against the wall.  The brown eyes stabbed him.  Death and danger were heavy in the room.

And after spending a good paragraph to establish the danger, we promptly walk out of it.  Reid and Savischna hop into the car, while some soldiers cling to its running boards as an armed escort.  There's some environmental symbolism as a cold night breeze blows over the "dead brown hills" of northern China, and then the car is passing through a clanging gate into a compound of three stone buildings that remind Reid of a prison.  Even when he follows Savischna into what turns out to be a finely-decorated home with silks on the walls, an inviting fireplace and sweet Russian incense in the air, he can still hear patrolling guards on stone paths outside.

Or in other words, we're five-for-five when it comes to chapters where Reid spends some time held against his will.

A servant brings in food before disappearing, and Reid and the Russian have an awkward meal.

Kurt ate slowly, watching Varinka, and listening to the footsteps of the guard.  Finally he said, "This is rotten business."

Varinka shrugged.  "One has to live."

"You mean you're a spy for these yellow devils?  You mean you're willing to help them take over China.  Not that I care what happens to China, but after all the Japanese..."

"One has to live," said Varinka.

It sure is interesting when a character justifies their actions and choice of vocation with a shrug of "It's a living."

We're meant to be sympathetic, though, because Savischna explains the guards' presence with that adage "A spy can never tell who his friends and enemies are" with a brief flash of fear in her eyes.  But she shoves it aside, and asks what happened to Reid after he was scooped up by the Death Squad back in Shanghai.  Reid gets as far as mentioning that Lin Wang has promised to give him a confession in exchange for a service, but then he abruptly chokes on his food because "He realized then that this Takeki and Varinka were one and the same person."

He realized then.  Not last chapter, when he was introduced to Takeki and saw Varinka.  It's a delayed reaction that hit him five pages later.

Savischna notices Reid turning white and asks what's wrong, Reid stalls and hides his face by taking a big drink before explaining that Lin Wang sent him north, and "told me to leave China."  Savischna notes that this is an awfully strange thing for someone like Lin Wang to do, but Reid can't just tell her the truth because "You can't tell a person that you have been sent to kill them."  No, the best thing to do in this delicate situation is to be ambiguous and evasive, and hope that nothing happens in a page or two that would make someone want to shoot you.

So Reid asks how Savischna got out of that business in Shanghai.  The Russian explains that she had a hidden staircase and secret door to escape through, and also reveals that yes, she was the one who sent a man on a sampan to the river near the Rangoon, because she just so happened to know that Reid was going to be "set loose" from the ship's brig, and had someone follow Reid all the way to the teahouse.  All of this because she needed "a good, strong man I could trust," and also that Lin Wang was after Reid too.

And I'm pretty sure the story is going to have to take a turn into fantasy or sci-fi territory soon, and Reid is going to revealed as a Jedi or wizard or something, because how else can the author justify all of this nonsense?  Why does everyone fighting over China want this clueless, blundering American in their camp?  What qualities could Reid possibly possess to justify all these machinations and manipulations?  I mean, Reid himself can't begin to guess what makes him so special.

"What did you want me for?"

"I don't trust Chinese, much less Japanese. I thought you would be able to help me and I knew I could help you. I had an idea that I could prove you innocent, and you had such a reputation as a fighter and as a linguist, I thought it a shame to let some material run around loose.

Oh come on.  There's got to be hundreds of better candidates who speak both Chinese and Japanese and could blend in with the local population.  Also, what does fighting ability have to do with spywork?  When you want to kill someone, that's what soldiers are for.

And maybe... maybe, I was just being kind. I don't know. It amused me."

My hypothesis that this is all happening for gits and shiggles just gained some credibility.

You know what would distract us from the questionable motives of everyone involved in the story?  A love triangle.  Savischna asks if Reid saw Ms. Carsten at Shanghai, and when he flushes, she remarks on what a "fine woman" she is and how she probably fell for Reid, since she has a thing for sailors.  And Reid can only stammer that he thinks she's "a swell kid" but denies being in love with her, much like how he denied feeling anything for Savischna when he was with Carsten.  Savischna reveals that Carsten's father was killed by Lin Wang after getting "far too interested in Chinese politics," which explains why she was working against the Death Squad.

But this mention of Lin Wang sets Reid off again, and he dwells on how the reptilian halfbreed "held liberty in his shaking hands," and all Reid has to do to claim it is kill Savischna.  She picks up on this and again asks what's up, and because this chapter was getting kind of boring, a gunshot rings out.

Reid is a crap spy (not to be confused with a spy crab), but he has some decent bodyguard instincts.  As feet scuffle outside, he flings Savischna against the wall and knocks over the room's lamp, which doesn't start a fire but plunges the room into darkness... even though, yes, there was a crackling fireplace mentioned four pages back.  Must've gone out.  Oh, and while he's got the woman safely pinned between him and the wall, he has to shudder at "the treacherous thought that he could kill her easily now."  Icky.

The window breaks as something arcs through it to thump onto the floor, and Reid gropes for something that "felt like a grenade," then fails to throw it to safety or heroically jump on top of it, and so he's really lucky that it turns out to be a rock with a note tied to it.  Rocks and grenades feel pretty much the same, right?  And oh, the author did remember there's a fireplace in the room, because it "flickered up for a moment" to conveniently provide enough light for Reid to... read the note: "We are waiting.  Death there will cancel death here."

It's from the Death Squad.  They still want him to kill Takeki, even after trying to kill him for failing to kill Takeki.  So they tracked Reid as he was moved through Japanese custody, eluded the invaders' security, and threw this note through the window of Takeki's safehouse.

Why.  The hell.  Did they throw.  A note.  Instead of a.  Real.  Grenade.

The Death Squad can sneak into Japanese-occupied China.  The Death Squad can infiltrate a secure facility to try to assassinate someone held in Japanese custody.  The Death Squad can attack a safehouse and throw something confused for a grenade through a window into a room with the spy they're targeting.  But they desperately need Reid's help to kill this spy.

So yes, Mao killed tens of millions of people through his incompetent efforts at agricultural reform, and killed even more through various purges and whatnot as a result of his tyrannical rule.  But just imagine the disaster that could've unfolded if someone like Lin Wang had gotten control of the country.

We spend two pages on Reid trying to hide the note from Savischna, a Japanese soldier spotting the note but not being able to read it because it's in English, and then an officer coming in who can read the note.  Savischna gets quite upset that Reid was sent in to murder her, but when the Japanese officer draws his gun to execute this quote spy unquote, the Russian declares that "We need not stain our hands with such as he" and sends Reid out to meet the waiting Captain Yang, who will no doubt be happy that Reid once again utterly failed at his mission.

Just before he can leave, though, Savischna gets up to smack him while shouting "You filthy beast!  Get out!  Get out!"  The Japanese love that, and Reid numbly walks out the compound door toward the gate leading onto the dark streets of Zhangjiakou and the waiting Death Squad.  And once again, it takes him a while to realize something important, in this case that Savischna slipped an automatic pistol into his pocket while beating on him.

He knew, standing there, already expecting the numbing shots of bullets through his back, that Varinka loved him and that he loved her.

Yeah.  Met her what, a couple weeks ago?  And Reid was immediately struck by her beauty, then got swept into a stupid, stupid world of spies and assassins, where he was repeatedly captured and recruited and sent on missions and threatened to be killed if he failed and failed but wasn't killed because good God these people are incompetent.  And now that he's met her a total of two times, Reid knows the truth - it's love, twue love.

Back to Chapter 4 

1 comment: