Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Death Merchant #52: The Flight Of The Phoenix

As the Phoenix X-2, an incredible cargo carrier that will change the face of the twentieth century, nears completion in Great Britain, a strange series of deaths and accidents escalate into a vile and mysterious pattern. Camellion isn't one to believe in coincidence. If there's anything illicit behind this X-2 operation he'll root it out and tear it apart.

The Phoenix X-2 is scheduled to make her maiden voyage, stopping at each major urban center across the globe. It's a perfect opportunity for sabotage - unless the Death Merchant can weave together all the clues and deliver a show stopping surprise ...

***
As The Flight of the Phoenix begins, Richard Camellion and CIA agent Sandra Irella are posing as journalists touring the hangar containing Phoenix II, an airship that is 1,300 feet long and over 400 feet high, shaped "like some gargantuan silver whale". (And kudos to artist Dean Cate for making the ship look whale-ish on the cover.) (Actually, the book opens with a three-page prologue, kind of an extended footnote from author Joseph Rosenberger, that recaps the history of the zeppelin.)

Camellion knows there have been a series of mysterious accidents surrounding the construction of the airship, which will make its first voyage in one month. During the tour, a truck arrives in the hangar unloading oxygen and acetylene cylinders. However, these employees are actually bad guys bent on destroying the Phoenix (some of the cylinders contain explosives). Camellion senses that something is not right and a shootout follows - "The Cosmic Lord of Death snickered and all hell broke loose" - with five of the seven "employees" dead and two taken away for questioning.

The Death is not happy to be working with a woman because they "don't have the necessary realism. They tend to hesitate." However, Camellion is assured that she is "almost as trigger-happy" as he is. (Also, he has worked successfully with women in previous books, so his reluctance doesn't make total sense.) Naturally, Sandra is an attractive blonde who fully expects Camellion to make a pass at her.
She had yet to meet the man who hadn't tried to get her between the sheets ... Thus far, during their two-day association, [Camellion] had been polite, though distant, yet totally self-assured. ... Let's face it, she told herself, he hadn't had the opportunity to make a pass at her. That opportunity would come later when they were alone in the Safe House, later that night. To the left of the sitting room was Camellion's bedroom. Sandra's was to the right of the sitting room. Furthermore, there weren't any locks on the door. Rape? No. He wasn't the type.

Then again, she thought, maybe balling with him might be a memorable experience. ... If he was half as good in bed [as he had been at the hangar], he'd be able to send her to paradise and back a dozen or more times. Yes indeed ... maybe it was a good thing the doors didn't have any locks ...
That night, when she expects Camellion to make his move, the Death Merchant is happily unpacking his beloved firearms and doing his Pranayma breathing exercises. (Later, they do sleep together, one of the few instances in the series of the Death Merchant getting laid. Sandra soon disappears from the narrative, however, and plays no role in the big showdown.)

The Death Merchant's mission is to find out who wants to sabotage the Phoenix II. The CIA believes it is an "international combine" named SCULL. The CIA has wiretaps on various SCULL locations, but have gathered no information.

The two captured gunmen confess and tell who recruited them for the job. One of the recruiters (Maurice Peronne) owns a jewelry shop in Paris, so Camellion and Irella fly off to France to black-bag him and see what they can learn. After a bit of torture, Perrone says he was given his orders by Abram Koznik, a member of the Israeli Mafia. And as luck would have it, Koznik owns a decorating business right there in Paris - and if they hurry, they can get over there before it closes for the day! Camellion and Irella pose as an elderly couple (the DM is a master of disguises, you'll recall) who want to have their 23-room house renovated. Once alone in the office, they pull their guns. There is another shootout as they escape with Koznik.

Rosenberger's insertion of information about the weapons and caliber of the various slugs gets in the way of the action:
Lowe's body almost exploded from the crossfire, from six of Captain Seibert's 9-millimeter slugs and ten of Sebastian's 7.62 x 51mm boat-tailed bullets. His entire front a mess of blood and gore, Lowe fell backward.

But Andy Sebastian had also bought the Big One. While four of Lowe's Ruger 5.46 x 45 (or .223 Remington) projectiles were stopped by the lower part of Sebastian's bullet-proof vest, two of the 5.46mms struck several inches below the vest ...

Odum, Bruthers, and Grovington fired like fanatics bent on a mission - which they were. Odum's High Standard 12-gauge boomed. The German H/K MP-5 of Grovington and the Austrian MPi-69 SMG of Bruthers snarled in unison.
I'm upset that the brand name and model number of Sebastian's vest was not included.

From Koznik, they get the name of Sidney Jensen, who is the director of SCULL's London office. There is some of Rosenberger's classic stream-of-consciousness on pages 107-08, as Camellion and his force ("men made tough and patient by the treacherous jungles of Vietnam") are on two helicopters flying to White Plains, New York, to invade Jensen's estate in a "total-kill operation".
Their warning strobe lights flashing, their Lycoming T53 free-turbine turboshaft engines roaring, the two Bell Iroquois helicopters moved northwest at 118 m.p.h., at an altitude of 7,840 feet, the gun-ships flying parallel to each other at a distance of 200 yards apart. ...

One fact was evident: within 25 hours, White Plains would make headlines in newspapers all over the world, not to mention TV newscasts in thirty different languages.

A nice little residential and retail-trade center, White Plains, mused the Death Merchant. Well, what must be must be. ...

On the banks of the Bronx and the Hutchinson Rivers, White Plains was an established settlement by 1735, its name derived from the Siwanoy Indians who called the village "Quarropas"—"white plains"—for the white balsam that grew in the area.

With a population of slightly over 50,000 and connected to New York City by railroad, White Plains already had its secure place in American history. The New York Provincial Congress had met there in 1776, approved the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the creation of the state of New York. On October 28, 1776, General George Washington outfoxed British General Lord Howe at the Battle of Chatterton Hill—commemorated as White Plains National Battlefield Site.

Inwardly, the Death Merchant smiled. Within hours, White Plains will become famous. It will be the city, where the first major "terrorist" attack in the United States took place. The irony is that it is supposed to be "for the good of the American people."

The American people? Self-centered, materialistic unrealists, who were letting themselves go down the drain, all evidenced in the disturbing trend in the U.S. of the rise in irrationalism, a stupidity that was feeding off the nation's decrease in science and mathematics education. The contrast with foreign nations was downright embarrassing. All students in the Soviet Union receive five years in biology. Only one-half of American students receive as little as one year!—And the "Creationists" are trying to dilute even that pathetic amount.

Camellion wondered what any intelligent person could think of a nation in which a man in Little Rock, Arkansas, publicly stated in a courtroom that Unidentified Flying Objects were manifestations of "Satan?" Or a group of loonies selling all their belongings to advertise the date of something called a "rapture," when all the "saved" (?) will overcome the force of gravity and float bodily upward to "heaven?" Or a nation in which astrologers vastly outnumbered astronomers by roughly a 12 to 1 margin? Donkey dung!
This "terrorist attack" - the invasion of Jensen's White Plains estate and the kidnapping of Jensen - is blamed on a Cuban Nationalist group known as OMEGA-17 (after someone notes that they "can't blame what's left of the Weathermen and those goofy Black Liberation Army morons"). One member of the DM's team, Gene Morlog, expresses reservations about the 219 people that died because of this raid, including dozens of police officers who came to the scene after reports of gunshots and explosions. (Camellion berates Morlog for not seeing "various shades of gray involved", but that is exactly what Morlog is doing. It's the Death Merchant that has an all-or-nothing mentality, saying, "We will kill anyone who gets in our way.")
How could they have told the real truth, even if they had wanted to. They didn't! Watergate had been bad enough.

The Death Merchant sensed preternaturally that there was a single individual who might not conform to the rule of complete silence. That person was Gene Morlog (He would have made a wonderful Fundamentalist minister!). ...

For almost a week, ever since the crash operation against the estate, he had tolerated Morlog's increasing self-righteousness. Now, Morlog's remark about "three more murders" had made up the Death Merchant's mind about the man. Morlog had to go. The man was definitely dangerous. Sooner or later, he'll blab to the press and stir up a hornet's nest.

"Since you're such an expert on good and evil ..." Camellion's voice was pleasant enough and he looked directly at Morlog, "perhaps you could give us the answer to the theological problem of evil. It's an antilogism that stems from assuming three things, only two of which are compatible—the omnipotence of God, the omnibenevolence of God, and the existence of pure evil."

Traw gave an ugly little laugh. "You should be asking Jerry Falwell that one, Camellion!"

"Good and evil do exist," Morlog said guardedly, feeling that he had walked into quicksand. "But what does theology have to do with the problem of evil?"

"Epicurus presented it this way," Camellion said with relish. "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able to prevent evil? If that's the case, then He's not omnipotent. Or again: is God able to prevent evil, but not willing to prevent evil? Then He's not omnibenevolent? Or—is God both willing and able to prevent evil? If so, then why does evil exist?"

Interjected Marvin Kennedy, who was a sturdy man with a narrow, short-nosed face and slightly curly brown hair, "David Hume presented the same problem. According to Hume, if evil in the world is the intention of the Deity, then He is not benevolent. If evil on this planet is contrary to His intention, then He is not omnipotent. Hume's final conclusion was that evil is either in accordance with God's intention or is contrary to His intention. Therefore, either God is not benevolent, or He is not omnipotent."

Morlog looked like a man about to have his testicles dropped into a vise! "There's nothing sillier than trying to decide what God wants or doesn't want," he said frigidly. "Discussing problems in philosophy doesn't have anything to do with the fact that we deliberately murdered a lot of people so that a new kind of dirigible can fly across the Atlantic. Let's face it: it's not as if we killed those people in defense of the nation. It's not as if the U.S. and the United Kingdom were being invaded by the Soviet Union! All of you know it."

"The chap would seem to have a valid point," Joel Hampton said in measured tones. He looked at Gary Spickler who was sitting not far from Morlog in a Merrimack chair. "However, there are certain facts that invalidate your thesis, Mr. Morlog." His steady gaze swept into a nervous Gene Morlog. "First of all, the prestige of our respective nations is at stake. There has been a lot of publicity about the Phoenix in the Western world. That airship must fly. Second, we are fighting The Brotherhood. Any victory against The Brotherhood is a victory for my nation—and for yours, Mr. Morlog. Or don't you consider it pure terrorism for the Phoenix II to be destroyed by a missile?"

Chimed in the Death Merchant sweetly, "If we hadn't made the raid on Jensen's estate, we wouldn't know about Hoghead Island. We wouldn't know about the missile."

Presented with such irrefutable facts and logic, the half-angry, half-embarrassed Morlog knew he was trapped. Yet he knew he couldn't remain silent; he had to give some kind of rebuttal. "Naturally it's terrorism to shoot down the Phoenix II," he admitted stiffly. "But let me ask you: do you believe that scores of wrongs on both sides can ever add up to one gigantic right. I personally don't think so."

The Death Merchant hooted in derision. "The trouble with you is that you're indulging in a form of epistemological solipsism. You've taken it upon yourself to decide what is total good and what is absolute evil. Survival makes its own laws because it has to."

"And now for something different from the eight-ball almanac!" laughed Phil Traw.

Without trying to, Sandra Irella saved face for Morlog by saying, "I've watched the biggest bunch of nonsense that I've seen and heard in years." She switched off the television set, turned and started back for her chair, all the while smiling. "They had an antiterrorist 'expert' on the Dave Bufflin program. The expert was attached to the New York police department. He said the answer to terrorism is gun control! Now I ask you, have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous? The ignorant son of a bitch reminds me of those spineless cowards who say 'Better Red than Dead!'"

The Death Merchant smiled. Traw and Spickler guffawed.

Putting down the binnacle, Traw growled, "Didn't Bufflin ask the nut why there are so many handgun murders in New York City, in a city where an honest man can't even own a twenty-two pistol for target practice? Almost every day some piece of trash is blowing up someone."

"Yes, Bufflin asked that question," Sandra said. "The answer of the 'expert' was that weapons are being brought in from out of state. For that reason he advocates National Gun Control—a Federal ban on all weapons! Handguns and long weapons both!"

"The poor damn fool!" sneered Spickler. "I'll bet the 'expert' didn't say one damn word about stiff sentences and the death penalty for dirt-bags who use handguns in crimes?"

Sandra, having lighted another cigarette, feigned shock and threw up her hands in mock astonishment. "Oh, my goodness! Of course not! The death sentence for some subhuman animal would be 'cruel and inhuman punishment'. You know how liberals and ACLU types are—forever blinded by their own emotionalism and forever twisting facts to suit their own stupid beliefs."

The Death Merchant leaned back and locked his hands on top of his head. "Antiterrorism is fundamentally a matter of developing good intelligence," he said firmly. "It's not enough to be prepared for a terrorist attack. The very essence of combating terrorism is to prevent it from starting—an almost impossible job." ...

Traw remarked, "There is also some question of how well local and federal forces are prepared in the intelligence area. It's not an easy proposition. First, you have to determine whether any particular group is in fact a genuine threat. Then you're talking about infiltration of the group by undercover operatives or informants, and all too often that is impossible." His gaze grabbed Morlog. "You talk about the FBI! Why its domestic intelligence division can't even get the goods on the Mafia!"

"It's mostly a matter of supposition and luck," Camellion said. "Without advance intelligence, it's hardly possible to stop well-trained foreign terrorists smuggled into the U.S. Into any country for that matter. Only in a well-guarded police state, where the borders are closed, can it be done."

"We can't even keep the damned wetbacks out," grumbled Traw.
Once Camellion learns from Jensen that a missile will be launched from Hoghead Island, off the coast of Maine, to take out the airship as it nears the American coast, he forms a commando team to storm the island and kill every member of the Brotherhood before they can fire the missile. (Afterwards, to their surprise, they discover two missiles on the island and suspect that one was going to detonate more than 200 pounds of nerve gas over New York City.) But that's immediately forgotten as Camellion's CIA boss Courtland Grojean wants to talk to the Death Merchant about his next job: The Vatican Assignment.

Etc.:

"Thanks to bungling and inefficiency, the American people don't get as much government as they pay for. For the same and other reasons, the American people never get the full truth from the media. They don't because the press only prints what it is told. News is also slanted."

"Double fudge and tacos!"

"They're either playing it very cool or scared diarrhealess."

The mansion was "as dark as the bottom of a sealed mine shaft".

"The sky was as black as the inside of a sealed bucket."

"Camellion rushed back into the office with more movement than a country girl at her first square dance."

"Like hypocrites the world over, Walberg always called upon God to help him in times of danger."

[In Camellion's mind] "Hoc est corpus meum! Dominus Lucis—I need your help!'

"The Alaskan roared, the big .44 flat-nosed bullet blowing up the goon's face and skull the way double-o buckshot would explode a tomato."

"The first .44 flat-nosed to leave the twelve and a half inch Mag-Na-Ported stainless steel barrel hit Flores with all the force of a runaway locomotive and opened a hole in his chest, into which a coroner could have dropped a quarter."

"It was like wearing a white suit and suddenly developing black dandruff."

"I'm drier than a baptist picnic."

"Tenacity and total ruthlessness were two traits that Grojean and Camellion shared in common, two attributes that linked the two together. Both men "lived" their jobs, their lives revolving totally around their work. Much of that work was Death. There wasn't any other way to keep the United States safe."

1 comment:

Tim Gueguen said...

The thing about this Death Merchant book is that the "good guys" kill far more innocent people than the terrorists do.