PAL - Permissive Action Link: the President's "trigger" to the detonation of all US nuclear warheads. Four have vanished from a high security government lab. Now, somewhere in India, a renegade communist spy plans to give the KGB the key to America's atomic arsenal!
Enter Richard Camellion. Posing as a harmless tourist, he leads a team of special agents on a blood-soaked manhunt from the back alleys of Delhi to the Holy Temples of Kashmir...toward an explosive showdown that will leave Uncle Sam's most powerful enemies without a hope or prayer.
So ... the Infinite Jest Group Read ended in September and my Stephen King Project has slowed to a pace resembling a jog through quicksand, so it's back to the violent and bloody exploits of Richard Camellion.
Joseph Rosenberger wrote 70 DM volumes and one stand-alone book - twice the length of the regular publications - entitled "Super Death Merchant". Looking at the publication dates, it appears that SDM #1 (titled Apocalypse) was published between #67 and #68 of the DM series. However, I don't believe there will be any problem with reading the final books out of publication order. (And who knows in what order Rosenberger actually wrote them?) I'll continue with the final three books of the series and then dive into SDM #1.
The Hindu Trinity Caper opens with Camellion in Bombay, disguised as a Sikh taxi driver. Faking car trouble, he pulls up to a house full of drug smugglers and asks the owners if he can use the phone. It's a cunning plan to see the layout of the nine-room house, so he can return later that night and apprehend Edgar Bedsloe, an East German intelligence officer. While on the phone, a gun falls out of Camellion's hidden shoulder holster and hits the ground. ... Rut roh! In a "twinkling of a bat blink", a shootout begins. In all of the commotion, Bedsloe runs out of the house. Camellion gives chase through a Dakhma, but cannot catch him.
News of the shootout reaches Mischa Wolf, the head of East German Intelligence. Wolf believes that Bedsloe is actually Franz Holtz, an agent who is planning to defect to the Soviet Union. Then, utterly out of the blue, Wolf and two other men rant about the problem of illegal immigration in the United States. Wolf mentions the "flood of Mexican trash" coming into the US and quotes an article from the New York Times.
In the Soviet Embassy in New Delhi, the Russians are also discussing the shootout, as well as asking questions about Bruce Canover, an American professor visiting India with his wife and 12-year-old son (who are actually Camellion and agents Lana Stanley and Wilbur "Weejee" Theimer (a little person)). They have concluded that Bedsloe is Holtz and that the Canovers are CIA agents. They believe that Holtz has stolen four nuclear safety circuits from the US and will give them to the Soviets when he defects.
The Death Merchant, Stanley and Weejee regroup in a safe house in northwest Bombay. While they wait as Courtland Grojean (Camellion's boss) and the CIA develop a lead on Holtz, we get Holtz's backstory:
The story had really begun almost eight years earlier. It was in late 1980 that MfS, East German Intelligence, sent two illegals into the United States, two highly trained deep-cover agents: Franz Joseph Holtz and Erika Ermatrude Hoffman. Under a man-and-wife cover of "Edgar and Cora Bedsloe," the couple settled in Amarillo, Texas, supposedly moving from Du Quoin, Illinois*.[* Note: Author Joseph Rosenberger was originally from Du Quoin, Illinois.]
Their target was the Pantex nuclear warhead assembly plant.
In 1983, Edgar Bedsloe obtained employment at the Pantex facility. A conscientious worker, he was promoted in 1983 to a position that gave him access to the section where the permissive action links were kept.
Bedsloe (or Holtz) was very cautious and bided his time. It was not until October 1986 that he stole four PALs—and vanished.
For some reason Camellion and Stanley do not remain in the safe house. They end up going sight-seeing (!) to the Elephanta Caves. Two Soviet agents attempt to kill them during the cave tour, but they are able to gun them down (as well as killing four back-up agents). Camellion and Stanley cannot escape the cave undetected, however, so they turn themselves over the the local police. They claim they acted in self-defense, with Camellion using his superior self-control to foil a lie detector test. While the Indian police privately suspect that Bruce Canover and his wife are CIA, governmental higher-ups order them to be released. They are told to leave the country immediately.
Two police cars escort Camellion and Stanley back to their hotel. But there are two masked men (East German agents) waiting in their room. The masked men kill the cops and attempt to black-bag the Canovers. Another shootout ensues and, after gunning down several MfS agents, Camellion, Stanley, and Weejee escape, stealing a car and heading to a safe house in the Kamatipura District.
Meanwhile, at his country house, Wolf gets the bad news that the assassination attempt has failed. We learn that the Germans have been receiving information from Parveen Babbi, a prostitute who has a relationship with a hard-drinking KGB officer. They need Babbi to find out how the KGB is going to meet up with Holtz. (Babbi will end up passing the same information to the CIA.)
The Death Merchant and his team fly from Bombay to yet another safe house, this time on a betel nut plantation. As usual, Rosenberger is incredibly meticulous in describing the safe house (known as "Ding Bat") and a near-by, half-ruined fort:
Kangra Rasjasthan's house was shaped like half a swastika. There was a long perpendicular section to the north. Connected to this section was an even longer horizontal section that was laid out from east to west. At the west end of this section was the last portion of the house; it, too, was perpendicular. The five rooms of Ding Bat were in the north vertical section.Inside the house, they chat about Holtz and the PALs before the discussion devolves into racist comments against non-white immigrants.
Next to Rasjasthan's house—to the east—were the rusty-red sandstone ruins of Agra Fort ...
Only Agra Fort's outer front wall, sixty-one feet high and thirty feet thick, was still intact. To the west, the wall moved past the end of the north section of the house, so close that the house's north wall—the perpendicular section to the north—was flush against the south side of the Fort's massive front wall. The wall then curved southeast, then south, then made a wide curve to the northeast.
Gelhart finished his ginger ale and placed the empty glass next to him on the floor. "Win or lose, we're skating on thin ice. I don't think it makes all that much difference in the long run. Sooner or later the Russians are going to lose control of their society. We've already lost control of ours. We're risking our lives to protect a society that is rapidly rushing toward its own destruction."The next day, a coded message arrives: Holtz is making contact with the KGB in Fatehpur Sikri, at the Temple of the Rain, in a couple of days.
"That's a very broad generalization," said Lana Stanley, who found Gelhart's pronouncement annoying. "I think there's a lot of good in American society. You've been brainwashed by a media that focuses only on the bad." She glanced at Camellion, expecting him to reinforce her opinion. She didn't like what she got.
"Rory has a good point," he said curtly. "American society has stretched the boundaries of moral behavior so much that we're drowning in a sea of permissiveness. There is a tendency to encourage each delicate ego to become the prime center of its own universe. It's called 'personal freedom,' but it's a freedom that's totally out of control."
"He's right!" Gelhart was quick to point out. "Along with that runaway freedom is the attempt by the liberal-minority coalition to make the American people wholeheartedly accept immigration, integration, and miscegenation."
"That's a racist statement, if I ever heard one!" Stanley snapped. She also gave Camellion a dirty look.
"It's fact," Gelhart insisted. "What the television specials don't tell the American people is that past immigration was almost entirely of European origin, while today it is mostly nonwhite. Today's nonwhite immigrants are coming in so fast and reproducing so rapidly that in a short time white people will become a minority in their own country."
"Nonsense!" sneered Stanley. "There have always been doomsday prophets, and not one of their prophesies have ever come true. I think a lot of immigrants coming into the United States today contribute to society."
"They sure do!" laughed Gelhart. "Go to any large city and you'll see what the majority of these new immigrants contribute—crime, disease, corruption, drugs, poverty, illiteracy—the whole nine yards that's wrecking society."
The Death Merchant said mildly, "Most people don't know it, but the woman who wrote the poem that was placed on the Statue of Liberty, seventeen years after the monument's erection, was named Emma Lazarus. She was a proletarian Marxist, and she called for Americans to accept the 'wretched refuse from your teeming shore.' It's ironic. Today we are certainly accepting that 'wretched refuse'—by the millions!"
That night, or rather 3:30 the following morning, Camellion is awakened by Gelhart. Alarms are going off around the house as Indian paracommandos are closing in (it is not explained how they were tipped off to the location of the safe house). After a shootout, during which the house is rigged with explosives, Camellion and his group escape through a secret passage behind a bookcase that leads to the fort, where there is a van stashed. As they leave, they trigger the charges, destroying the house and killing the comandos.
They drive to Brass Coin, the other safe house in town: the colonial home of Malcombe Pratt Walsingham. His motivation for having his house used as a CIA safe place? Money, of course. But also: "He knew that the United States stood for freedom and was the hope of the world."
Finally, the Death Merchant and his associates are at Jammu, mingling with dozens of tourists. As they move leisurely towards the Temple of the Rain, they spy a group of seven men and one woman - and think (correctly, but based on very little evidence) these people have to be Holtz and the Russians. They attempt to surround the group and when they get close, they attack. A huge battle breaks out, and soon there are also KGB agents and East German paracommandos on site.
The Death Merchant didn't walk into Major Bukashev's trap. Bukashev, realizing instantly that he and his men had walked into a trap, was too much of a street fighter to think he could defend himself and still hold on to the attache case with his right hand. He let the handle of the case slip from his hand, feigned a left inside roundhouse kick and a right edge-of-the-hand strike to the left side of the Death Merchant's neck. At the same time, he tried a left hand two-finger spear strike straight for Camellion's throat. The Death Merchant didn't fall into the cleverly executed trap. He blocked the roundhouse kick with a right-legged chado sweep and easily brushed aside Bukashev's knife-hand strike by bringing up his left arm, his forearm slamming against the inside of the Russian's right wrist and throwing the arm outward. The two-finger spear strike was not a problem either. Camellion stepped to his left and the Russian's hand went harmlessly by the right side of his neck.The Death Merchant is able to grab Holtz and the all-important attache case. Holtz says that there is only one PAL in the case; the other three are in a storage company vault in Chicago.
Bukashev did not have time to reorganize a new attack. The Death Merchant was far too fast, and Major Bukashev had left himself wide open. Camellion used a double-strike. He raised his right arm, and brought the edge of his hand down against the left side of Bukashev's neck in a Shuto sword-ridge slam. Simultaneously, he used his left hand in a Yubi Basami knuckle-fingertip strike.
Major Boris Bukashev might as well have been hit by a fifty-ton tank. Camellion's right-handed strike crashed into the Russian agent's sternocleidomastoid muscle and shook his jugular vein and carotid artery to the extent that, for a second, blood was cut off from the brain.
It was the knuckle-fingertip "claw" that switched off Bukashev's life. Camellion's thumb and first two fingers crushed the thyroid cartilage. Faster than one could say "Praise be to Lenin," there was hemorrhage, and as blood burst from veins the soft-tissues in Bukashev's throat began to swell, cutting off all air. Bukashev's eyes began to expand out of his head as loud gasping and choking sounds poured from his mouth. The hinges in his knees began to fold and he began to sink to the floor. He'd be stone dead within twenty seconds.
Alexander Kogan was having his problems, and Franz Holtz and Suri'an Nushinobey were having theirs. A big man, Kogan had not counted on the speed with which Rory Gelhart would employ a right-legged inside roundhouse kick, any more than Holtz and his Hindu girl friend had anticipated Dillman's cyclone-quick attack.
Almost 90 percent of Rory Gelhart's weight was behind the roundhouse slam, his foot almost burying itself in Kogan's lower stomach and upper abdomen. Blue-hot agony shot all the way to Kogan's face and down to his testicles and through each leg. His bladder and part of his lower intestine were mashed. The femoral arteries were as flat as paper, and the spinal nerves were sending giant impulses of shock waves to the brain. Unable to withstand such an assault of pure pain, the brain exploded psychically. A corpse, Alexander Kogan fell backward.
During the shooting, there are some very close calls!
By the time the other commandos to the east recovered and got into action, the Death Merchant, his three men and their captive were halfway to the first kos minars facing the north. But they were still in a storm of silent death. A 7.62mm projectile tore through the shoulder bag—taken from Major Bukashev—that was bumping up and down against Camellion's right hip. There was a loud ZINGGGgggggg as the bullet hit the side of an M61 Skorpion submachine gun, the impact making Camellion almost lose his balance. Another bullet missed the rear of his head—horizontally—by only half an inch. Several more projectiles tore through the bottom of his long coat, which was fluttering out behind him.DARFA troops are standing by with a Panhard M3 command vehicle. They plan to keep the DM's group pinned down until they run out of ammo. A CIA helicopter arrives and uses its 16-Y Ubba chaingun to rain 20mm shells down on the groups of enemy agents.
A slug cut through Barry Dillman's clothes and scraped part of his back where the rear of the two scapula protruded. Another tore off the right heel of his jabba boot as his foot was raised. Another came so close, horizontally, to the back of his neck that the metal touched the longer hairs in its passing.
Gelhart, Holtz, and Hondergriff also found themselves in a cloud of flying projectiles. One bullet knocked off Holtz's nritrya; another cut across the underneath side of his right wrist, the same bullet, streaking at an angle, almost hitting Rory Gelhart in the right side.
BBBBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! Fifty 20-MM projectiles hit the Panhard, forty-eight going easily through the thin armor plate, twelve exploding with the force of a dozen hand grenades. For the space of a heartbeat there was only flame and smoke as the command car turned itself and its four occupants into hot, twisted metal decorated with bloody parts of arms and legs and other parts of bodies, including internal organs. Major Marchchakka's head flew fifty feet into the air before falling to the stones and bouncing for several feet like a basketball running out of air.During the hellacious firing from the copter, Camellion and the others escape to the Garden of the Moon, where they will be rescued. Holtz is killed in the firefight, however.
Six days later, Camellion is in Langley, Virginia, where he is told by Grojean that he was not supposed to find Holtz! It turns out the CIA had been wise to Holtz for about a year before he made his move. The CIA had by then substituted fake or altered devices for the PALs Holtz was planning to steal. The CIA had no idea why the East Germans wanted these devices, but were thrilled when they heard Holtz wanted to defect. Grojean believed if the Soviets studied the fake PALs, it would set their missile plans "back several years". The Death Merchant is told he was called in only for appearances sake, to make it look to MfS and the KGB like the US actually wanted to capture Holtz. Camellion doesn't seem too perturbed that he risked his life in a pointless mission that didn't really need to be undertaken.
Camellion dislikes cursing: "Swearing was only the lazy person's way of expressing emotion."
"Not only had the Death Merchant's pile driver foot-stomp broken the main tarsus bone, it had also injured a large portion of the medial plantar nerve, as well as smaller portions of the deep peroneal nerve and the superficial peroneal nerve."
"Self-contradictions, Gordian knots and paradoxes! The entire world was one big absurdity! In the United States and Europe, overweight was a problem of millions. Yet in the world at large, a human being dies of hunger every eight seconds! The West was obsessed with freedom. There were constant references made to the world's most useless debating society, the United Nations—but forty member nations in the UN do not even allow elections!"
Lana Stanley, an attractive woman posing as Camellion's wife, notes that the Death Merchant "hadn't even made a simple pass at her. Before retiring, he would sit cross-legged on the floor and do yoga breathing exercises, after which he would crawl into bed beside her, say "Good night," roll over, and instantly go to sleep."
"I used to be disgusted with the world; now I'm only amused. The Death Merchant often wished that some of the liberal unrealists in the United States could see the reality of the rest of the world. They would know that there can never be total equality. Each group has its own talents and intelligence level. What makes a people great is not "theory," but what they have accomplished. The world belongs not to "people" but to those who have made civilization."
Despite Rosenberger's frequent statements that the United States is a beacon for freedom in the world, he often has Camellion criticize the US:
Listening to the drone of the engines, the Death Merchant thought of Martin Koss. The poor guy had a lot to learn. He believed he was fighting for "freedom," for "democracy," and for that nebulous entity called the "American people." If Koss lived long enough, he would come to realize that, for comparatively little pay, he was risking his neck for self-serving hypocrites who worshiped money and power, for a system too eager to protect and too reluctant to punish, too "equality" happy to be realistic, yet too selfish to really care. A tinsel town of materialistic morons who thought more of half-illiterate sports figures than they did of scientists—That's what that fool Koss is fighting for!And finally:
The Death Merchant had only one real regret in his life: that more often than not the people he worked with (and Courtland Grojean) regarded him as a master killer. It was paradoxical not only because he killed only when he had to, but because he considered all life special and precious. Even the pig-farmer trash in the Soviet Union contained a spark of the Eternal. However, there were honest Russians, many of whom were willing to fight and die for their belief in freedom.