Monday, March 28, 2016

Spy Killer - Chapter 8 - A Spy, A Killer

For a story about spies, there hasn't been a whole lot of spycraft in this book.  Reid's not a spy, he's a hitman, a dupe being juggled between various actors, a lummox who decides the best way to uncover a spy is to ask about him by name.  Savischna is one of Japan's most valuable agents, but doesn't have a specific mission she's supposed to follow, and her spywork seems to consist of lounging around in well-furnished homes while letting her lackeys (such as Reid) do all the heavy lifting.

Well, that will finally change - at the very end of the story - once we get our first action scene out of the way.

Reid steadies his rifle by sticking it through a "loophole," I'm assuming a firing port built into that ruined tower they're at, but the text doesn't make this clear.  Savischna does the same from beside him, and tells him to shoot at the oncoming car's driver while she blows out the tires.  While Reid doesn't quite understand the reasoning behind this order, he's "quite ready to fix up any number of Japanese," and as soon as the car comes close enough for Savischna to take her shot, our hero joins her, targeting the base of the windshield.  The car "seemed to trip over itself," as wheeled vehicles are wont to do, and tumbles into a ditch, ejecting its occupants.

Turns out there were five people in the car - well, five Japanese and a "man-mountain" Reid is very surprised to see.  Yes, it's our friend Captain Yang, who spots Reid, yells, and fumbles for his (semi)automatic.

Reid shoots him.  Yang roars and charges up the slope toward Reid, waving his gun instead of firing it.  Reid shoots again, and Yang continues to charge, glaring hatefully instead of shooting his gun.  Reid shoots a third, fourth and fifth round into Yang, but the "towering hulk" does not stop, or shoot his gun.  It's only when Yang closes to one yard from Reid, and after Reid counter-charges and swings his empty rifle like a club, that the captain of the Death Squad finally fires his weapon, managing a near-miss that scorches Reid with its muzzle flash.

Kurt dodged.  He was off balance and falling.  Yang, with a loud cry, depressed the muzzle of the automatic for the coup de grâce.  Kurt cried out and rolled away, but there was no escaping that muzzle.

Suddenly Yang folded into himself.  His tremendous body plunged rigid into the dust, sending up a swirling cloud.  His fingers clawed at the ground.  A look of surprise came over his face.

Yeah, each one of Reid's shots landed, it's just that "the great vitality of the Chinese captain had scorned the mailed fist of death until the last," most dramatic, bullet hit.  And had time to sink in.  Maybe it was lag?

So that's our second-most-wanted bad guy dealt with.  Savischna has the three surviving Japanese at gunpoint, Reid ties them up, and they're set up next to their wrecked car, where I'm sure someone will be along to rescue them eventually.  Hopefully all of them made a bathroom visit before starting their ill-fated trip.

Savischna tells Reid to put on Yang's boots, cloak and cap, an order he obeys "without question" because at this point it's best to go along with wherever the story's going than try to fight back.  The White Russian reveals that one of her other men brought her a telegraph - Lin Wang is waiting to meet them.  This gives Reid "some vague idea of what this was all about," but we'll have to wait until the author tries to explain things for us.

And here comes the spy stuff: after they drive along a bit, Savischna has Reid pull over so she can apply some vials of dye she was carrying on her belt, for Reid's face and hands.  She also fixes "a band behind his ears which pulled his eyes up at the corners, giving them a slant."  In other words, one of the characters in this story just put on a disguise.  It's kinda silly and racist, but it's a start.

So they drive on through the day, past downtrodden Chinese and Mongols, with Reid disguised as a Japanese officer and Savischna as his captive.  Reid doesn't much like it because the tape hurts his eyes... wait, it's tape now?  Would that be better or worse than a rubber band?  Anyway, at dusk they finally reach the meeting spot, an abandoned monastery.

Reid's mission is straightforward: kill Lin Wang.  Reid is to go to Wang's headquarters, dressed as a Japanese officer, and tell the leprous lizard-man that Captain Yang wants to parley at this monastery.  Wang will at most bring a few bodyguards for this secret meeting, which will be easier to deal with than trying to kill the guy in his seat of power.  As for why Lin Wang needs to die, besides the fact that he's trying to blackmail our hero, Savischna reveals that he's actually sold out to the Japanese, and she in fact works for the loyalist Chinese.

This is the sort of plot twist that in most cases would be accompanied by an exclamation point, but I'm just not feeling it.  'slike wowzers, the inscrutable foreign lady who hired on a a freelance spy and proceeded to loaf around various townhouses isn't fully on the level?  And the slimy leader of a paramilitary group turns out to be self-serving instead of loyal to his country?

There is a legitimate surprise twist coming up, but be patient.

Kurt shook her hand and found that it trembled a little. She weaved close to him and he kissed her. She pushed him away toward Lin Wang's headquarters.

Which means Reid deliberately takes his time walking there, so he'll arrive after dinner and give time for Savischna to set up her trap.  Along the way he does hear "a furtive movement behind him" at some point, but since he doesn't see anything in the dusklight, Reid thinks nothing of it, for the same reason the Japanese posted no sentries outside their headquarters in the previous chapter.

Now, the Chinese are a bit smarter, because when Reid arrives at the "ancient fort" Lin Wang lurks inside, there's two whole guards standing out front.  Reid spends an hour watching from concealment to make sure they're the only two sentries he'll have to deal with in case things go badly, but then another two Chinese show up, dragging a captive with them.  But since they came from the opposite direction that Reid took to get here, they can't have nabbed Savischna, so Reid relaxes.  It's not like she or they could have used some sort of automatic, mobile vehicle to move around at greater speed than Reid's swagger.

So Reid strides out of the shadows, introduces himself as our friend Taichō Shimazu, and says he has business with General Wang.  The guards bow and say he's expected, and once he's inside Reid, "for some reason," feels the need to quietly chain the door behind him.  I wish the author could find even flimsy motivations for these characters to do things instead of just shrugging at us.  No sooner does Reid do this than he hears a vehicle screeching to a halt outside, but there's no time to investigate, let's have our showdown with the bad guy.  Reid marches down a long, echoing hallway, opens a door, and finds

Lin Wang sat in a puddle of yellow light, flanked by two sentries.  The rest of the room was dim.  Great shadows flickered along the walls like crawling monsters about to pounce.  Lin Wang was looking through candle flame at two soldiers and a prisoner.

Kurt was unnoticed.  Something was familiar about the prisoner.  Brown hair, slender shoulders.  A military cape drooped down from her throat.  The hair was disheveled.

Kurt almost cried out.  He swallowed the sound and sagged against the door.  The prisoner was Anne Carsten!

So now all three of our main central characters have been held captive at some point during the story.  Reid's just the best at it.

The diabolical Wang is taunting Ms. Carsten, "a small shower of scales" falling onto his desk as he talks... eww.  How's this guy even have a face left at this point?  Anyway, it's the "I've got you now my pretty" speech, and Wang talks about how he's had his eye on her ever since he saw Carsten leave a ball one night, and though she's obviously repulsed by him, now he's about to leave China after he gets a certain message and he evidently doesn't want to go without saying goodbye.  Carsten is defiant, and says if Wang tries anything, she'll poison herself with the little vial she wears around her neck at all times.

One of the guards immediately yanks it out of her hand.  Welp.  I think we all learned something from this - don't taunt someone about your trump card unless you have it firmly in your grasp... man, the word "trump" has been pretty much ruined by the current presidential campaign, hasn't it?

In this commotion, Wang finally notices "Shimazu," and asks where "the money" is.  Reid offers to lead Wang there, but the lizard wants the messenger to sit down and enjoy some sake with him... and since this woman will probably try to kill herself before he returns, Wang ought to make the most of things.

So we get about four paragraphs of Wang making creepy advances on Ms. Carsten, stroking her cheek and hair while the soldiers grin and Reid agonizes over whether to intervene to save her or stick to the Savischna's plan.

Rifles and soldiers. Guards outside. Kurt sat very still. The liquor gagged him. He was looking at Anne again. She was not standing in very good light and he could not clearly see her face. Something was oddly wrong about her, something Kurt could not understand.

While he fails to understand, Reid's eye falls upon a satchel by the door.  And in the middle of groping his prisoner, Wang sees Reid see this, and decides to break off and investigate what turns out to be the bag Carsten was carrying, which is unexpectedly filled with yen.

Lin Wang stared into the satchel and, then, with a roar wheeled about and, glared at Kurt.

This is like looking at a target at a firing range that's been shot at by a nearsighted drunk, except the bullet holes are commas.

The money was there - and yet an officer had come to take him to a conference to give him the money.  Lin Wang's wits worked well on one theme - treachery.

The characters are cheating.  It's suspicious that a Japanese messenger arrived to take Wang to a location to be given some yen, right after a woman was captured carrying a bag of yen, but it's a bit of a leap to deduce that this is the same bag.  It is the same bag, but the only way any of these people would know that for sure would be if they read ahead a page or two.

Reid decides its time to go loud, yells at Carsten to duck, and whips out his pistol... um.  I didn't mean for that to be innuendo, but...

The .45 came through a slit of his cloak.  Flame stabbed from the jerking muzzle.  Lead screamed from the walls only half stopped.

A .45 is well and all, but what the ladies really want is a man with a fifty-cal, if you know what I mean.

Lin Wang took two shots through his stomach.  His clawing fingers contracted as he collapsed, twisting to one side.  Screaming orders, he fell to the floor, instantly swallowed up by the flame and smoke and turmoil.

Aaaand that's it, the book's primary bad guy goes down in three sentences.  Bit of an anticlimax, but I guess it's more feasible than some sort of drawn-out swordfight on the battlements of the castle during an intense thunderstorm.  Even if Captain Yang got like a page-long encounter with Reid before dying.

There's no time to bask in the afterglow, there's mooks in the room that need killing.  Short story shorter, Reid kills them.  Carsten's staring down at Lin Wang's corpse, "smiling bitterly" until Reid yanks her along, but she refuses to leave without taking that satchel of foreign currency with them.  They run down the hall to where there's a squad of men trying to batter down the chained door, and it sure is a good thing Reid had the sudden impulse to do that, isn't it?

Then again, maybe it wouldn't have mattered - Reid unchains the door and yells, in Chinese, about traitors and Lin Wang needing their help, and off the soldiers rush, too terrified of their (late) master to stick around and ask questions.  So Reid and Carsten run right outside, where surprisingly the touring car Reid left with Savischna is sitting out front next to a truck.  After grabbing a gas can, off they drive, Carsten hugging her bag of money while the Chinese suckers take some pot-shots at them in the darkness.

Maybe it wouldn't have been that hard to send Reid in to murder Wang in the middle of his base.

"Thank you..." said Kurt,

Please note that this comes immediately after the sentence describing the Chinese shooting at them in the darkness, and Carsten has done nothing but carry the money bag while Reid took the initiative and got them both out.  It's unclear why he's thanking her, is what I'm saying.

Oh yeah, our legitimate plot twist:

"then you are both Anne Carsten and Varinka Savischna.  But how..."

Good question.

"Hollow capsules flatten the nose, pads raise the cheekbones.  A yellow wig hides brown hair.  Pads broaden shoulders.  Heels can be high or low.  A voice and accent are nothing to be changed."  She laughed and leaned against him.  "I was good.  I even had you fooled.  You didn't know what to think when Anne Carsten asked you about Varinka and Varinka asked you about Anne.  They are both the same.

Yeeeaaaaah.  So all those times Reid got intimately close with Savischna or Carsten to get his kissy on, he never noticed they had the same brown eyes, never saw past the nose and cheekbones and hair.  I went back and checked, and sure enough, when Reid met Savischna in Chapter 1, there's no description of her eye color, only that there's a slight slant to them.  But Reid also is able to read the fear in her eyes when they meet again in Chapter 5, so he did make eye contact at some point, just again, he never made the connection.  Even though when he reunited with Carsten as Carsten, he made a point about how he remembers how beautiful her eyes were that night they first met.

As for why Savischna/Carsten kept up this deception even after hiring Reid as a lackey... well, she never explains her actions, but if I had to guess, she probably thought it was funny.

Carsten/Savischna goes on for nearly a page explaining how she was expecting the Chinese - or maybe the Japanese - to catch on to her game sooner, but "they are very dull, those fellows."  Dull or not, some soldiers evidently saw her and Reid set up shop at the monastery, and she got jumped from behind while he was gone.  But while she was taking a dark car ride, she was able to switch disguises to become Anne Carsten, who wouldn't be in as much trouble as Varinka Savischna.  Even though she also reveals that Lin Wang knew that Carsten was Savischna.  Huh.  So "Carsten" getting nabbed by Wang should have been exactly as bad as "Savischna" ending up in his scaly clutches... but if she hadn't switched personas, then there wouldn't be this reveal, got it.

But that's that, mission accomplished.  Carsten has done her job killing Lin Wang, whom she warned Chinese officials was a traitor, and the Japanese never figured out that their Takeki was the same woman as Chinese operative Anne Carsten.  Except she says she isn't working for the Chinese anymore - apparently foreigners are able to hire onto a country's intelligence service and just leave whenever they feel like, with no repercussions.  Oh, and she's keeping Lin Wang's bribe money, because

We've earned it. We're free, and at peace with the world. The Japanese will never know that Varinka is Anne Carsten."

"Free?" said Kurt. "Free? Good God, I still face a murder charge in Shanghai!"

So leave through Japanese territory, sheesh.  Or borrow some spy goodies from Carvischna and become Vladimir Generikrusski.  Or don't wash your face for the next couple of days until you leave China.  Or do what you originally intended and disguise yourself as a native thanks to your dark eyes and hair and pale skin and mastery of the local languages.

Also, I think Savsten is overlooking the amount of Chinese and Japanese soldiers she and Reid have gotten killed over the course of their adventure when declaring they're "at peace with the world."  If nothing else Reid should be wanted for that shootout and jailbreak in Zhangjiakou.  But the author insists it's a happy ending because it turns out Carvastena got the confession exonerating Reid "out of Lin Wang's jacket while you were busy thinking about target practice in the room."  I guess she was picking his pocket while he was groping her?

So that's it, our hero and love interest have a "good, solid, brutal kiss" while driving very fast along a bumpy road in the dark through enemy territory.  And thus ends our spy thriller.  There was in fact one spy in the story who was good at their job, it just wasn't our hero, and her ability to pull off this deception is a bit unlikely.  And her motivations for becoming a spy remain unexplained.  And her spywork was mostly about sticking things up her nose and putting on a wig and somehow convincing the Japanese to treat her as a secret agent.  Though that isn't much of a stretch since those same skills somehow convinced the Chinese to treat her as their agent.

And where are they going to go from here?  A double agent who says she's quit the game is unlikely to be very welcome in either country she worked with.  And they are still in Chinese territory after killing what were technically Chinese soldiers - no mention of them being Death Battalion or anything.  And what, after duping and fighting them, are our heroes going to try to spend that sack of yen in Japanese territory?

I guess it's hard to appreciate pulp "classics" if you think about them like, at all, or ask any questions.  Better to just sit back and let things happen in front of you like a big, dumb Hollywood blockbuster.  Goodness knows some of the Bond flicks weren't much better than this.

Back to Chapter 7

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