Reid has just been kicked out of his Russian kinda-girlfriend's safehouse, after learning that she was the Japanese spy he was supposed to assassinate, and she found out that he was hired by the Chinese to murder her. Said Chinese will undoubtedly try to kill Reid as punishment for his failure to do so, so the scene is heavy with mood - the post-midnight streets of Zhangjiakou have "the appearance of a tomb," the clammy mountain air is "like waiting death," the rows of walled residences are "black scowls along the street," and so on. In a story like this, it's pretty easy to tell when someone is after you, just pay attention to the weather.
As Reid walks along, expecting at any moment to be blown away by "the stab of thunder and sparks around the next wall," he reflects upon how he got into this sorry situation, where he's become as the chapter is titled "Any Man's Prey." His Chinese handlers "undoubtedly felt" that Reid is the one who screwed up their operation, and "in Yang's eyes" he failed his mission to kill Takeki. It's hard to feel that Yang is being unreasonable in this conclusion.
Kurt had a feeling of fatalistic helplessness. The gods of China were against him
Please don't let this be like when Gris was worrying that the Greek pantheon was teaming up with Allah to kick his ass.
and he could do nothing to extricate himself. Perhaps he would be able to fight his way out, but knowing that the Japanese would get him if Yang did not, anything he did was futile.
Hey, remember back in the first chapter when Reid was pulling himself out of the river, and he was confident that with the right clothes and disguise, he could pass himself off as Chinese and slip to safety that way? 'cause the author doesn't.
Also, remember when I promised action in this chapter? It takes awhile for anything exciting to happen, there's three full pages of Reid strolling along, gazing at his navel.
After reflecting on how the Chinese, for some mysterious reason, consider him a screw-up, and thinking about how doomed he is, Reid's thoughts turn toward Savischna, that "brave kid" who might have risked her standing with the Japanese to spare his life (if only temporarily). Then he's hit with the terrible knowledge that the Japanese might be less suspicious towards Savischna if they find Reid's corpse in the morning, or in other words it's a reversal of the situation where Reid's life depends upon Savischna's death. Cue silent, wry laughter.
Then Reid wonders what Ms. Carsten would think about this situation, and how she's actually hotter than Savischna, and it's not like you could marry a White Russian in China these days, and then he has to laugh at himself again for getting distracted by women troubles when he has bigger Chinese troubles. And then Reid thinks about how much he'd like to kill Lin Wang, how the scaly bastard obviously didn't know who Takeki was and, in his "warped cruelty," could never anticipate that Reid would gallantly refuse to kill a hot dame even to save his own life. And then Reid realizes that he was probably going to handed over to the Japanese even if he had killed Takeki, so that promise of a vindicating signed confession was meaningless. So he shouldn't have trusted to guy who executed a prisoner right after promising to spare his life, go figure.
And I can't help but notice that Reid has probably done more productive introspection in the process of walking down the street during this chapter than he has in the rest of the book. And yet, maybe it isn't the best idea to do this when an enemy kill team is out to get you.
As it is, Reid pausing to ruefully chuckle against a shadowy wall is the only thing that saves his pondering ass. There's a "whisper of slippers around the corner," and then a "black dot" creeps out from concealment under the next building on the street to come towards Reid. The Chinese agent has his gun out, but he's literally groping along the wall because he doesn't know where Reid is, because he couldn't be bothered to wait another minute until the clueless sap blundered right into his sights.
This is a member of the elite "Death Squad" that is known and feared throughout China, by the way.
Reid draws the pistol Savischna gave him and decides to risk a shot, and while "the sound of Kurt's automatic slide sounded like a sledgehammer blow" that the Chinese picks up on, the assassin doesn't take cover after hearing a gun being readied, but stops in the open, staring into the shadows "with narrow, killer's eyes." So our hero plugs him, the bad guy throws his hands up, then clutches his chest, then falls over with his arms and legs splayed.
Now, this highly-trained, lethal commando's buddies were smart enough to wait in concealment until now, but at the sound of the gunshot they come charging out from around the corner. Reid, who just made an easy kill from the shadows, inexplicably decides to run away from this new "threat," then realizes that he'll be an obvious target if he leaves his cover, and so instead impulsively jumps up and hauls himself over the wall he's up against. Said wall has broken glass at the top to discourage burglars, so Reid's "hands were gashed into a slippery mess," but he heroically (or anti-heroically as the case may be) ignores the pain and sprints through the garden he finds himself in.
The two Death Squad goons batter their way through the residence's gateway while Reid sprints past decorative storks and turtles amid the pools of the garden, but our hero's escape plan is thwarted when he finds himself up against the home itself rather than another wall to climb over (and grievously injure his hands on).
No, he can't break into some guy's home and escape that way, that'd be rude.
The Chinese loomed hugely against the lighter gray of the far wall. But they did not seem to have faces or hands, only arms. They were great shadows come to life without wits, with only the will to slaughter. They knew that they had to be fast. The Japanese guard would be coming soon to locate the firing.
Weird that the guys whose country is being invaded by an aggressive empire are dehumanized like this, while the Japanese imperialists get to spend a few paragraphs making the case for Manchukuo. Anyway, as he watches those great shadows advancing in front of a gray wall, Reid realizes something he didn't pick up on when he was on the street earlier - he's in the shadows right now, so they can't see him, but they're really obvious against that far wall.
So Reid's able to plug one Death Squad goon as he advances, then blasts another at point-blank range when he tries to jump on him. The last is able to get into a good page-long tussle with our protagonist, stabbing Reid in the shoulder, which every assassin knows is the fastest and easiest way to kill someone with a knife.
They went down into shrubbery with a crash, the Chinese on top. Kurt, anger setting red balls dancing before his face,
I have no idea either. Maybe I've just never been angry enough.
felt that he had embraced a clawing tiger. Kurt kicked hard with both feet. Fingers were locating his throat.
Another case of Hubbard's "technically correct but wrong for the scene" grasp of vocabulary.
Kurt's gun was gone.
Not that he needs one, he has a knife embedded in his shoulder. Reid manfully yanks the weapon out of his own flesh and plunges it into the mook's back once, twice. It gets stuck, but the Chinese thug's grip on Reid's throat soon slackens, and Reid no longer has the problem of being throttled by a murderous paramilitary operative, but the problem of being pinned to the ground by a heavy dead guy.
Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? I mean, four people died! That makes this chapter like four times as thrilling as Chapter Four. I'm not sure how much more interesting it is than Chapter One, though, since I think the two bad guys in that chapter were merely bludgeoned into unconsciousness. Maybe each unconscious guy is only equal half a dead guy, so this is eight times-
Anyway, after catching his breath, Reid goes around inspecting the bodies, but none of them are Captain Yang. He helps himself to one mook's pistol and then flees the scene before the Japanese authorities arrive, which isn't to say that he then tries to keep a low profile. Nope, our hero's blood is up (and escaping through his ruined hands and wounded shoulder), and he feels like he could lick the entire Japanese army by himself, or blow away Lin Wang and his whole bodyguard.
He took the middle of the street with a swagger. His face, usually so handsome, was twisted up into a hard-boiled scowl. His gait was a sea roll and he carried the automatic in plain sight. He was insane and he knew it and didn't care.
And he's promptly shot in the face by a military policeman, the end.
Can't blame me for hoping. No, our hero "knew it without thinking" that his beloved Savischna is in danger, and so heads back to her safehouse to repay her for saving his life with that automatic... Hubbard keeps using that word while referring to things like a Colt .45, which is properly a semiautomatic pistol, not something like an Uzi. The story describes Reid taking single shots, not hosing the bad guys down with a quick burst of bullets. But I guess guns that weren't muzzle-loaded were new back when Hubbard was writing this, so we can't be too hard on him.
Anyway, when Reid arrives at Savischna's house he finds the place deserted, save for a sobbing servant woman who reveals that the Japanese took the Russian girl prisoner. Reid knows that those Japanese don't take long with their interrogations, and so leaves the safehouse (after spending only a moment gripped by a "helpless nausea") and "walked swiftly" towards the Japanese base.
So take heart, fair damsel, your knight in bleeding armor is power-walking to the rescue.
Back to Chapter 5