Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Five - Dude, Where's My Diamond?

It's nighttime in Seattle and Palmer is asleep, so it's morning off the coast of Balou and Tiger is sitting in the boat, going through his pockets, unsuccessfully searching for the priceless diamond that so many people want to get their mitts on.  Walleye is the first to notice and comprehend what's happening, then Stagger Ryan sees the look on their faces and quietly asks Tiger "The diamond or the money or both?"  When Tiger admits that he's lost the rock, Ryan draws his cutlass, and Muddy McCoy finally stops sharpening his knife and realizes what's going on.  McCoy jumps up, his blade dancing in his hands as he insists "I didn't do nothing!" as the others advance on him, ready to shake the stolen rock out of him.

So I guess it's one of those situations, where the band of criminals turns on each other over suspicions of theft or squealing or whatever.  Might be more effective if we knew or cared who any of these non-Tiger people are beyond what we heard Tombo tell Malek two chapters ago, but whatever.  Everyone's ready to believe McCoy stole the diamond because nobody likes him and he's so nasty he'd give the sharks indigestion, which begs the question of why Tiger decided to escape with him in the first place.  McCoy gets up on the ship's railing and threatens to jump, but Tiger is easily able to overpower him and throw the thief onto the deck, an interaction so routine and unexciting that Hubbard doesn't try to spice it up with an exclamation point.

Tiger and Ryan search McCoy for the diamond but can't find it, so Ryan suggests they cut him open in case he's swallowed it.  But then someone says "I'll save you the trouble, lads," an interruption so dramatic it causes a break in the paragraphs.  Turns out Tombo and Malek have found the ship's supply of pistols, which they're pointing at the humans, and Tombo demands the Two-World Diamond.

Yes, the two ifrits were watching this squabble, waiting for their moment to step forward, but the narration helpfully explains that for all their power - snrk, sure, Hubbard - ifrits aren't actually all that bright.  So no, they never picked up that the humans might be squabbling because the diamond disappeared.  Tiger explains to the "dear admiral" that they don't know where the diamond is, then...

Well, that 'squabbling thieves' stuff was getting boring, wasn't it?  So here comes three pirate ships.  The Age of Sail equivalent of Chandler's Law, I guess.

Tiger leaps into action, giving orders and altering course, completely ignoring the pistol-toting jinn whose puny brains are still having trouble processing this sudden change in fortune.  Despite Tiger's efforts, the pirate ships are still faster than the cargo lugger, so after the second warning shot hits the water in front of their bow, Tiger gives the order to pull over, nautically-speaking.  A pirate demands through a trumpet that they come aboard, Tiger replies that they'll have to send a boat to fetch them since their ship doesn't have one of its own... and the funny thing is, the narration points out right before they do this that the pirates are flying a red flag to indicate that they aren't giving any quarter.  So I'm a little confused why they aren't just plugging Tiger and company where they stand.

Anyway, a bunch of pirates come to take over the lugger, and when asked if he stole the boat, Tiger grins in response, earning him some points in their eyes.  Then he and the other captives are ferried over to the buccaneers' flagship, the Terror.  Or, as the narration explains, maybe it "might better have been named the Horror for so she would have appeared to any seamanlike eye."  Why, the ship's rigging is so askew that its masts are raking in different directions, the ship's halyards are chafed, even its blocks are rusted!  And note that of these nautical terms, only "halyards" is in the book's glossary, because go to hell, landlubber.

This filthy, mismanaged boat is run by His Majesty Thunderbolt, a fat drunk in a silk robe with a gold crown on his head, who sits on a throne while his red-shirted lieutenant gives the orders to keep the ship moving.  Once Tiger and friends associates are brought before him and his retinue of bodyguards, he takes one look at the prisoners and sentences them to death.  So I guess the red flag means that prisoners will be executed eventually, once the captain has gotten a good look at them.

Tiger immediately replies that it'd be a waste of a ransom amounting to three hundred thousand... well, he doesn't specify a currency beyond gold coins, so let's just assume it's gil.  Anyway, he keeps repeating that three hundred thou figure, pirate king Thunderbolt keeps repeating his execution order, and all the pirates around them mutter their suspicions and suggestions.  The story Tiger spins is that good old Admiral Tombo is a very wealthy jinn who owes Tiger a life debt, and when a pirate suggests they just kill the humans and ransom the genie, Tiger goes from putting a hand on Tombo's shoulder to holding a knife to his throat.  Needless to say, Tombo is getting really confused by this point.

In the end, Thunderbolt tells his crew to put the captives all in the same brig as Tiger demanded, then as they're being led away complains that "You never do what I tell you.  Never.  But I get the next captives and I get to do it like I want!"  Despite this, as he follows Tiger belowdecks, Tombo tries to insist that this is "Old Thunderguts," the fearsome leader of a crew of escaped slaves who now terrorizes the sea lanes.  Point the first, let me say you just can't do that, introduce the characters to a drunken 'king' who can't properly command his subjects, then insist he's some sort of scourge of the seas.  You can do the opposite for comedic purposes, of course, but it doesn't work the other way around.  Point the second, don't ask me to fear someone whose name evokes the sound of flatulence.

Fast forward to two o' clock in the afternoon, when Tiger and associates realize that someone in their dark, cramped cell is sobbing.  After sparking a light with some flint and steel, Tiger finds a girl huddled in the corner, and the sight of her sends him reeling - "Her delicate and lovely face, seen through her veil, discovered her to be Wanna, one-time temple dancer, the fragile beauty who had become by his conquest, Tiger's consort!"  Which is to say that he stole a slave and never properly married her.

Now, Tiger's puddle-shallow female 'love' interest should be in far-off Tarbutón, safe in "what remained of the baronial possessions which he had mostly squandered," and when Tiger tells her to "Stand and deliver" and "stow the weeps," she admits she has no idea how she ended up in the belly of a boat.  She starts crying again when he lets slip that she's stuck on the vessel of the dreaded "pirate emperor" Thunderguts, but eventually gives a half-page-long paragraph trying to explain what happened.

"When I woke up this morning (sniffle) I didn't mean any harm (dabs with Tiger's headsilk) and I put on my bathing gown and started to go to the baths (two sniffles) when I felt in my pocket and there was something there (more dabs with the headsilk) and I took it out and oh!  I almost went blind!  (Swift recovery with no sniffles whatever.)  It was a diamond as big as my hand!  What a stone!  I almost fainted

You get the picture.  Like Palmer, she freaked out after thinking of all the things that could happen to her if someone found out she had such a valuable treasure on her hands... you know, it's really strange that Hubbard is taking the time in this book to consider some of the burdens of wealth, when he spent most of his life trying to stuff as much of other people's money in his pockets as possible.  Anyway, Wanna got scared and hid the diamond under her bed, wished that she was with her Tiger, and doodily-doodily-doodily, here she is.  If she'd just said 'I wish Tiger was with me' this book would be pretty different, and I suspect a few chapters shorter.

Tombo, eyes on the prize, asks for the diamond now, but the squirrelly thing has of course vanished once again.  Tiger gets Tombo to back off while demanding to know what's so important about this shiny stone, but all the ifrit says is that he'll wait until the thing reappears, then it's his.  And that's where we end the chapter: waiting for this whimsical artifact to make up its mind about what dimension it's in and where it wants to be. 

So... last time Tiger had the Two-World Diamond until he fell asleep, then it wound up in Palmer's pocket.  When Palmer set it down and fell asleep, it stayed put until Alice found it and moved it around, but it should have gone back to Tiger, right?  And if Alice had it until she fell asleep, and then Wanna had it until she accidentally used it to transport herself to Tiger but she's still awake, is it just sitting in the floor of her room?  I don't think so, because next chapter-

You know what, it's magic, there's no use trying to explain it.

Back to Chapter Four

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