Friday, March 25, 2016

Spy Killer - Chapter 7 - Car Driver

I think I overestimated the Death Squad's intrusion skills.  Yeah, one of their not-ninja-because-those-are-Japanese was able to sneak into where the invaders were keeping Reid, but when our big dumb hero returns to the Japanese headquarters in Zhangjiakou, he's able to stroll right up to a window.  No mention of any patrolling sentries to slip past, no fence to climb, not even a "Do Not Enter" sign to somehow circumvent.  And it's not like we can just assume there was some sort of obstacle that Reid got past in the space between chapters, because the author takes the time to discuss a truck parked outside with its driver sleeping slumped over the steering wheel, just not any, y'know, guards.

But hey, why would they need any?  We're just talking about the forward command post in an occupied city that will serve as a launching point for the Japanese invasion of China proper, on a night when there's been an attack on a prisoner in this very same "secure" facility, threats and doubts have been raised around one of Japan's top spies, and there's been a running battle on the city streets whose perpetrator is still at large.

Even though the windows are open wide enough so that they "sprayed yellow jets into the street," Reid can still situate himself to look in without being spotted.  Savischna is standing before a bunch of seated officers with red armbands, their faces displaying "a merciless arrogance which was heightened by the effect of their black, bristly hair."  I guess that was a hairstyle during the Imperial years or something.  There's guards in there, "posted about the room" with bayonets at the ready, just nobody preventing, say, a Chinese assassin from entering the premises.

The bad guys are "questioning" Savsichna in a way that shows "her guilt was a foregone conclusion," except they don't actually ask any questions.  They accuse her of lying to them in her reports, as corroborated by some men of hers that they've tor- performed enhanced interrogation techniques upon.  And they've also recovered the (semi)automatic she gave Reid from, which proves that she slipped a weapon to a known Chinese agent.  Savischna counters that they just think she has "too much power" and are angry that she refuses their slimy advances, but it's an unconvincing argument, and she's sentenced to death by firing squad at the Great Wall.

The only thing interesting about the whole two-page conversation, aside from the fact that it's supposedly being translated from Japanese but the author keeps using untranslated ranks like taishō to show off his vocabulary, is that there's little indication that the great spy Takeki was actually given a mission.  Instead it's mentioned that Savischna discussed "some sort of intrigue [she was] planning" in a report to her employers, not that she failed at some specific task.  So what, the Japanese encountered this Russian chick, decided to hire her, and then let her lounge about in Shanghai while writing occasional reports?  And this made her one of their top agents and a priority target for the Chinese?

Savischna is fearless and defiant, "a lioness pulled down by jackals," and doesn't look back when soldiers come in from outside and march her out to a waiting car.  A sergeant named Shimazu tells... oh hey, that's the clan I won Shogun II with.  Yeah, I know, easy mode, but it's hard to turn down improved katana samurai and a start location right next to half the game's trade routes.  I was doing fairly well with the Ikko-Ikki on my next campaign, but then Realm Divide kicked my ass and face in simultaneously so-

Anyway, Taichō Shimazu tells "the silhouette of the driver" to get going, and since our hero has disappeared for the past few pages, it's little surprise when Shimazu complains that they're going too fast and the wrong way, and the car driver turns out to be Reid, who knocked out and replaced the vehicle's operator while the narration was focused on Savischna.  And I guess he did that before those guards came in from outside to grab her, otherwise they would have seen him, right?  But then how did he know to disguise himself as the car driver so he could rescue Savischna before she was executed at the Great Wall?  Also, that's a big car to seat four people without any of them being in the passenger's chair where they might be able to get a glimpse of their non-Japanese driver.

Whatever, guess it's an SUV and Reid moved very fast in the sentence-long window between Savischna's sentence being voiced and the guards coming in from outside the headquarters.  He dramatically reveals himself, swiveling in his seat and aiming a pistol back at his passengers, ordering them to "Tabi-dasu!  Jump out!  All of you!"  And it's a wasted effort because the two normal soldiers lunge forward with their bayoneted rifles while the squad leader draws his (semi)automatic, and even though he's got the bad guys flat-footed Reid knows that he can't gun down all three of them at once, even with a (semi)automatic pistol.

Luckily the author gives Savischna a chance to do something, and she shoves the riflemen's weapons up so Reid can shoot the officer and again politely asks the other two soldiers to drop their weapons and disembark.  They're compliant this time, but there's a truck full of soldiers following the car to the execution site, and soon there's a few bullets coming the good guys' way to punch a hole in the windshield and hit the... tonneau?  Well, learned a word today.

I guess it's a chase scene, even if it's pretty brief.  Savischna tells Reid to head south, which takes them right through a gated checkpoint, which Reid gets through in all of a paragraph by swerving so that its two guards have to jump aside or get squished.  There's no mention of whether he went around or smashed through that gate, which is odd, but I guess that gives the reader liberty to decide how the obstacle was surmounted.  Make the book a more interactive experience or something.

But that's it for excitement in this chapter.  Reid and Savischna are roaring along at sixty milers-per-hour, running carts and camels off the road as they head into China proper.  The pursuing truck is no longer a threat, "lost in dust, much too slow to keep pace with Kurt's masterful driving and the touring car's Western engine."  Could this be symbolic of how other nations cannot hope to surpass the West despite aping its mannerisms and stealing its technology?  Or would that be a more thoughtful, dedicated bigotry than the kind of casual racism Hubbard usually works into his stories? 

Savischna crawls into the passenger seat next to Reid, and the two have a little chat.  She talks about Anne Carsten not being able to do something like that, Reid rightfully asks why Savischna brought her up, and we go through the old "I thought that you loved her" song and dance.  Reid says "Hell, no," and Savischna looks disappointed that the story's main character is interested in her instead of her friend.

Nothing about how he had gotten there, nothing, about what they would do or where they would go.  Kurt snorted.  Varinka sat there baiting him about love.

This is a weird relationship.  They meet in a teahouse, where Reid impulsively decides to rescue her from the Chinese, and later she reveals that she had him freed in a fit of whimsy for use as her own agent, then she gets mad when she learns he's been hired to kill her, but she still risks her life to save his, and then he gets to return the favor when her employers find out.  And Reid is convinced that Savischna is in love with him even while she keeps asking if he's interested in Ms. Carsten.

Maybe it'll make sense in the final chapter.  Half an hour into the drive, Savischna has Reid change course and head

"East? That'll take us back into Japanese territory."

"You must head east," said Varinka. "I have business."

"Say, listen, haven't you had enough?"

"Oh, no. I must never leave unfinished business. Head east."

Grudgingly, Kurt turned down the road which was far worse than the one he left. He was beginning to think that Varinka was crazy.

But not as crazy as the Japanese, who until recently employed her as one of their top spies, or Reid, who has the hots for her, and who follows her crazy orders.  The drives them to a crossroads marked with a stone tower, where Savischna orders him to stop and hide the car behind cover.  She suspects some eastbound Japanese will be along shortly, and asks if "my Kurt" is any good with a rifle.  Time to set up an ambush.

Kurt knew that it would be useless to argue with her.  He parked the car, took one of the bayoneted rifles and got out.  Dust was already rolling up along the other road.

"They come," said Varinka with a cat smile.


This lady's weird.  But it looks like we're all set up for a climactic grand finale, a shootout at an abandoned tower in China's hinterlands.  So tune in next time as we... well, we haven't dealt with Lin Wang or Captain Yang yet, so presumably they'll show up to get killed.  And maybe we'll find out where Ms. Carsten went off too and what the hell Savischna's deal is, and I guess get Reid's legal situation figured out.

Back to Chapter 6

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