Sunday, October 25, 2015

Death Merchant #56: Afghanistan Crashout

Rescue Mission

"With the help of Allah," a handful of fanatic Afghanistan freedom fighters plan an all-out attack on the Soviet high command in the mountain city of Kabul. But the odds are staggering: The Russians have twenty thousand crack troops and the most sophisticated weaponry; the rebels are poorly organized, and still depend on knives for fighting and carrier pigeons for communication. Everyone, including the rebels, thinks that the attack will probably be a suicide mission. Even the Death Merchant has his doubts.

But the CIA needs Richard Camellion to get two key Western spies out of the Soviet-controlled Central Prison in Kabul, a hellhole of inhuman slaughter and torture. Only the Death Merchant could attempt such a daring rescue, but even he'll have to use more than just his great cunning and deadly firepower to pull this one off.


Richard Camellion is in Afghanistan ("the hillbilly haven of Asia", according to author Joseph Rosenberger), with a group of Shi'a Muslims led by Khair Bahauddin Ghazi. As noted on the back cover, the Death Merchant is trying to reach the Central Prison in Kabul and rescue two agents who were inadvertently swept up in a mass arrest.

Ghazi and his tribe are fighting the Russians, who have invaded Afghanistan (as they did for real in late 1979; this book was published in August 1983). The Death Merchant and three others - Rod Hooppole, Ghazi's son Ismail, and another Afghan - have been hiking for two weeks on their way to the prison when they spy a Russian mine-laying unit, complete with armoured cars and grenade launchers. Ghazi wants to attack the Russians and basically taunts Camellion into going along with his seemingly suicidal scheme. (Of course, all of the Russians are wiped out.)

Back at the complex of caves in the lower hills of the Karakorum mountain range, Ghazi reveals his big plan: to attack the city of Kabul in three weeks and drive the Soviet forces out. Ghazi has been amassing men and weapons on the outskirts of the city for awhile. Camellion thinks this idea is pure suicide; the Afghans' methods are so rustic, they rely on human runners and carrier pigeons for communication. (Yet, the CIA is supplying them with weapons.*) Ghazi agrees with Camellion to a point, admitting that while he expects to triumph, he'll likely lose 80% of his 7,000-mujahideen fighting force.

* The US is doing this covertly, of course. Rosenberger says that is because the US does not want to trigger WWIII. (But wouldn't the Russians already know (or deeply suspect) from whom the Afghans are getting their weapons?) Ghazi says that the US should care deeply about what happens in Afghanistan: "The Soviet Union's invasion of our country is a major international disaster which in the long run will adversely affect the United States." In this, Rosenberger was quite prescient.

As they are discussing the Kabul mission, they receive word that Soviet helicopters and tanks are approaching the base. First, the town of Bashawal is destroyed, reduced to smoking rubble. ("The Cosmic Lord of Death descended on Bashawal.") The Afghans fire some RPGs and destroy five of the copters. Close to 400 Russian troops begin to advance up a hill - and the Afghans hold their fire, waiting until the Russians advance far enough that a retreat is impossible. Camellion orders the Afghans to charge - the "brain-washed Russian goofs" have walked right into a trap! An epic firefight erupts, a battle that is big enough to be saved for the end of the book. Rosenberger describes the shooting and hand-to-hand combat in his usual overly descriptive way, informing us of the paths the many slugs take through human bodies.

After the fight, approximately 100 people begin the long march to Kabul (190 kilometers), most of it through the Hindu Kush mountains. At some point, Camellion feels that the mission "is no longer feasible", that the attack on Kabul will surely fail and the chances of rescuing the two men in the prison are next to nil; he wants to be helicoptered out when a supply drop is made. The CIA doubles his usual $100,000 fee and for that reason and some others that are not too clear, the Death Merchant agrees to continue. The march continues through the Nuristan region, and past a communication center in Failiya (which apparently is in Iran); they traverse a huge gorge known as Aknib Limok (fictional) and encounter an encampment of Kuchis. A week later, they are at the ruins of Shahri-i-Chulghula (also fictional (or misspelled)).

When they make it to the Zaranj plain, on the outskirts of Kabul, where the CIA will make the weapons/supplies drop, they are once again attacked by Soviet helicopters. This assault is over very quickly, though, as the mujahideen fire Stinger missiles and blow the pig farmers' "eggbeaters" out of the sky.

While drawing up the plans to attack the seemingly impregnable Central Prison from all four sides, Rosenberger goofs on military time yet again. It is daylight at 0400, someone asked if darkness will be a problem at 1500, and 1500 is also referred to as "three o'clock in the morning".

Afghanistan Crashout ends when Camellion et al. kill all of the prison guards and free the captives. We hear about the Afghans' subsequent attacks on the Soviet headquarters and airbase in a one-page Aftermath. They did not succeed and nearly 4,000 mujahideen were killed. But Camellion's mind is elsewhere, as the men hike out of Afghanistan to be picked by helicopter in India. (One of the two jailed agents that Camellion was trying to rescue died in his cell before the Death Merchant arrived; the second one dies in his sleep during the trek to India, two days after being rescued.) The Death Merchant will fly first to London and then on to Romania for his next mission.

Like the last few DM volumes, this book was a real slog in some places. Rosenberger's goofiness from the earliest books is long gone, and you really get the sense that he saw the series at this point as a job, and perhaps not a very pleasant one. While he still includes a ton of research (which is sometimes interesting, though it's hard to know if any of it is fictional) and will occasionally offer a poetic turn of phrase, often when describing the climate or specific terrain, Rosenberger's narrative is overly serious; there is a heaviness to the book. Rosenberger puts a lid on the usual discussions of politics in this book, though Camellion does muse that the internal collapse of the United States is "right around the corner":
"[U]nless something was done quickly by 1990 the American transportation system would collapse. Aliens from Asia, from Mexico and Latin America had already ruined many major cities. The demise of their economy and the free enterprise system was staring the American people in the face, while lawlessness was increasing, due to Kennedy-type liberalism.1

FN1: All this was foreseen by a recent symposium with both U.S. mayors and scientists in attendance.
There is also a serious increase in gun porn, with Rosenberger taking time out to describe exactly how some weapons work:
The Death Merchant sighted down the updated M16, thinking about the RAW, the Rifleman's Assault Weapon that was designed to give all riflemen the instant capability of defeating such obstacles as concrete bunkers, walls, and armored vehicles. The system required very little training to use; it was as easy as fixing a bayonet. The man firing attaches the unit to his rifle, pulls out the safety pin and fires an ordinary cartridge at any target, using standard sights. Within a quarter of a second, the RAW is propelled from its launch frame—attached to the barrel of the rifle—and flies straight to the target in less than two seconds with zero trajectory.

The RAW's launcher frame holds a tube which is free to rotate on bearings and which contains rear vents, as well as two side vents consisting of two curved tubes that are at opposing right angles to the axis of the main tube. The projectile—it resembles a round metal ball—fits into the main tube and up against part of the main launcher support. It is this portion of the support that has a hole drilled through it which connects with the muzzle sleeve. The removal of the safety pin unblocks a firing pin at the lower end of the hole where it meets the body of the projectile. When the bullet leaves the muzzle of the rifle, some of the expanding gas flows down the launcher-tube hole and through the bracket. With the safety pin removed, the gas is free to strike the firing pin, driving it into a primer in the rear of the projectile and starting the rocket motor that drives the five inch diameter ball-projectile. As gas is expelled from the rocket, it is directed through the two right-angled tubes, causing the main tube and the "ball" to spin sixty revolutions per second. At launch, the gases are directed through the 'rear vents and diverted away from the man pulling the trigger.

The RAW warhead is armed through a conventional thrust/pin mechanism. Upon contact, the front part flattens, giving a "squash head" effect for the thirty-four ounces of TNT that explodes. The RAW is rifle munition with artillery power.
Nevertheless, I'm committed to reading the rest of the books in the series - or perhaps I should be committed for doing so. I'm already looking forward to going back in time and reading the other series Rosenberger wrote in the early-to-mid 70s (Murder Master and Kung Fu: Mace). I fully expect those books to have plenty of the humour and wackiness Rosenberger displayed in the earliest Death Merchant volumes.


Opening line: "By the big black beard of Boob McNutt, this just isn't my day!"

"Camellion aimed with all the precision of a newly married virgin bride reading a marriage manual ..."

"The Afghans are nuttier over 'macho' than the refried bean boys south of the border."

"In contrast, Mului Imu was killed outright by the eighth grenade, the hundreds of pieces of shrapnel turning him into bloody Afghanburger ..."

When the battle begins: "The show was on the road! The curtain had just gone up. But it beats being an oboe player!"

"To the Death Merchant a Russian was about equal to a spirochete, the microorganisms that cause syphilis."

"Grojean can go fly a milk bottle!"

"The Death Merchant despised communists of any nationality, disarmament freaks, people who grabbed at him, cults, and green beans - and in that order."

"Damn pig farmers! They dropped out of first grade - when they were thirty!"

"What do you get when you cross a Mexican with an octopus?" "I don't know, but you should see it pick lettuce!"

Footnote, page 80: "Richard Camellion has written three books on bare-handed kills. Two are not available to the public. The third is: Assassination: Theory & Practice. Paladin Press, P.O. Box 1307, Boulder, Colorado 80306." I have a copy of this book, which was published in 1977. Paladin published another book "written" by Camellion, Behavior Modification: The Art Of Mind Murdering, the following year. I wonder why Rosenberger didn't mention that one; perhaps because it concerns mind-control and not "bare-handed kills"?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Death Merchant #55: Slaughter In El Salvador

Revolutionary Rampage

The tiny Central American nation of El Salvador becomes a seething cauldron of blood as right wing death squads and leftist guerrillas engage in brutal warfare. Civilians die by the thousands and the fragile pro-Western government teeters on the brink of collapse.

The turmoil is an opportunity for Moscow - and a deadly challenge for the Death Merchant. Wanting neither a Moscow stooge or a bloody dictator in power, the US assigns Richard Camellion to terminate the crazed leaders of each extremist faction.

Luck won't be enough, the Death Merchant will need all the firepower he can get - because his mission will put him in the middle of a jungle holocaust.


At the end of the last "incredible" Death Merchant adventure, Richard Camellion asked H.L. Kartz if he'd like to accompany him to El Salvador on his next mission. Kartz - a Hitler-loving nihilist - said yes, and as the two men (along with Wilbur Fainn) are sneaking through a coffee plantation on an assignment to terminate the six leaders of the right-wing terrorist group, Escuadron de la Muerte (Squadron of Death), the racist Kartz is going on about how "this Central American tortilla trash is only one step above the gooks in Vietnam". Charming.

The Death Merchant's mission in Slaughter in El Salvador is to wipe out the six high-level leaders of the Sandinistas, as well as a handful of top Cuban and Russian officials, at a meeting in Managua. The Death Merchant and a force of five are in disguise as KGB officials (Camellion's alias is Colonel Viktor Maikop Kizhnatsky) who are supposedly late for the meeting. They get ushered up to the fourth floor conference room in the National Institute for Agrarian Reform and commence firing as soon as possible. The slaughter is over fairly quickly - the men at the table have no time to draw their weapons - and then it's a battle with the building's guards as the Death Merchant et al. head to the seventh floor and then to the roof, where a helicopter will be waiting to carry them to safety.

Before that, there is a trek into the Mountains de Huapi with members of the Paribundo Marti National Liberation Front (who are also fighting the "Sandys") and various shoot-outs that all seem like killing time (and filling pages) before crashing the big Managua meeting. At one point, one of the El Salvadorians tells Camellion that he is sick of hearing Kartz's racist opinions. The Death Merchant is of little help: "Racism is a tricky word that has many meanings to many people. ... I don't agree or disagree with what he said ... I will say this: any man who thinks all races are equal in abilities is an idiot."

Early in the book, author Joseph Rosenberger offers a short explanation of how the United States government "has always meddled in Central America":
As far back as 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt issued the "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, declaring that the United States was entitled to police Central America.

U.S. troops were sent to Honduras in 1911 to protect American business interests and property. Between 1912 and 1933, U.S. Marines periodically fought Nicaraguan peasant rebels whose fanatical resistance made Washington worry about "Bolshevik" influence close to the Panama Canal. Before the Marines left they had established a National Guard that soon placed Anastasio Somoza Garcia in power and created a dynasty that lasted almost fifty years.

Then there was Guatemala! mused the Death Merchant. In 1954 Washington helped overthrow the Guatemalan government. Well, D.C. didn't have much of a choice. Not only had President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman expropriated property belonging to the United Fruit Company, but his wife, being a communist, had other agrarian reforms in mind. Those two idiots should have known better than to try to buck American Big Business.

Aided by the CIA, Guatemalan exiles invaded their homeland and overthrew Arbenz.

And here we are in El Salvador, trying to convince "God's Forgotten" that we only want to help!
It's a blunt history lesson I didn't expect from Rosenberger, who from all appearances was extremely conservative. Rosenberger even castigates President Ronald Reagan for giving tax breaks to the rich. Fainn refers to Kartz as "the Rolls-Royce of hit men" and then states (complete with footnote!):
"You now, speaking of Rolls-Royces, I suppose you know how our dear President—he who loves the poor!—has handed Rolls-Royce owners a tax break, giving them seventy grand tax-break rebates—two-thirds of the purchase price of their jazzy jalopies. A working stiff has to depend on his own wallet, but a rich guy can buy a new Rolls and Uncle Sam will save him seventy thousand dollars.7

7: Fact.
In Rosenberger's world, there is always time - even during the most tense part of a mission - for a discussion/argument about the evils of religion:
"God help us all!" breathed Leon Sunol, squeezing the fingers of his right hand. "It will be only with the help of the Almighty that we get out of this alive."

Kartz lit a cigarette. "You mean it will be with the help of firepower," he said with a sneer out of the corner of his mouth. "You can leave out God and his holy joes. In fact, it's the holier-than-thou morons and their unrealistic ideals who are making it easy for the Russians, not only in the U.S., but down here in Central America. If you spi— if you people down here had brain one, you'd boot out all the ministers and priests, and that includes the so called lay missionaries who are working with the rebels and their 'noble cause.'"

"You're really something, H.L.," exclaimed Fainn. "It seems to me that every time you bump your gums together you're castigating someone or something. Don't you ever have anything good to say?"

Kartz gave Fainn a You-dumb-banjo-butt look. "I say it how it is. Those who can't stand the heat of reality can get the hell out and hide in the cooler of unreality. That's what the Jesus boys and girls are doing—helping communist revolutionaries and thinking they're 'serving God' and doing 'His will.' The idiots! How in hell do they know what God wants!"

"He's right." The Death Merchant came to Kartz's defense, not so much because he liked the man and admired his professional kill ability, but because he respected truth in any form. "I'll give an example. The nuclear-freeze movement and the phony peace drive are inspired and directed from Moscow. The Soviet-controlled World Peace Council works with American groups to promote disarmament. The nuclear freeze program, for example, has been coordinated by the American Friends Service Committee under its disarmament program. This outfit is active with the World Peace Council. It was also the American Friends Service Committee that helped found the U.S. Peace Council."

The Death Merchant went on, "All over Central America and South America, priests and Protestant ministers are helping Communist especially the damned Jesuits. In fact, the Jesuits are so bent on overthrowing governments that the Pope has told them in no uncertain terms to stay out of local politics; and the damn fools think they are doing it in the cause for 'peace.'"

Kartz blew cigarette smoke toward the sky, then snarled, "You know what 'peace' means to the Soviets? It means the killing of all opposition to Soviet-dominated territories, whether it's by mass murder as in Afghanistan, by slow starvation and overwork as in their own Gulags, or by random terrorist attacks as in the target populations of Latin America and Africa." He tossed away his cigarette and practically glared at the Death Merchant. "Or we going to sit here and gab, or get on with it?"
Remarkably calm as he always was when the Cosmic Lord of Death was close by, Richard Camellion was not interested in the glories of Managua. Every nation has its "beautiful" cities with all their past and present "glories," their monuments and "sacred" places that its people cherish—and that in a twinkling of an eye can be turned into dust. It was all relative, all meaningless when viewed within the framework of reality—If the sun turned into a nova tomorrow and this planet evaporated, not the tiniest wave of discontent would ripple through even our own galaxy, much less the Universe. In less than thirty years, Managua would be nothing but rubble, its buildings deserted, most of its people dead and scattered throughout the jungle. And so will New York, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, and all the rest of the "great" cities of the world. But the THEN does not have anything to do with the NOW!

So far, he reflected, they had not encountered any difficulty. The drop-off at Pedro Melgarejo's small farm had gone as scheduled. They had spent a restless night and had left the farm on schedule. Not once had any Sandinista, or group of Sandys, stopped the jeep to ask the occupants for identification, none of which surprised Camellion. Other Sandinistas, seeing Sunol, Dorticos and Tristaban in similar uniforms, assumed everyone in the jeep belonged there and that the vehicle was on some official errand.

The jeep was soon skirting the guajiros barrio, a tremendous district of dilapidated houses, the poor section that was soon far to the rear as Tristaban turned onto the Autopista, the wide highway that would take them to the Avenida Andres, the long tree-lined boulevard that moved through the center of the city and divided it into the east and the west sections.

Traffic increased as they moved deeper into the city . . . a trickle of traffic, the kind one would find in Moscow, or Warsaw, or any city in any communist country. The automobiles were also similar to the vehicles one would find in a nation in the pig-farmer bloc—small East German and Czech cars. There weren't, however, any Soviet-built vehicles. Another difference was that there were quite a few American cars on the streets, these having been imported before the revolution.

Ricardo Tristaban called back in a loud voice, "Americanos, see how few cars there are? This is due not only to a lack of gasoline, but to a total lack of turistas. Rush hour used to be a bullfight in the streets with every car a blaring beast and every pedestrian a toreador. Not even the sidewalks were safe. All that has changed. People are afraid. At night the streets are deserted."

"Si, even the prostitutes have been driven out of business," said Leon Sunol. "Ironically, driving out the prostitutes is the only social good the Sandinistas have accomplished, and then it was unintentional."

Emilio Dorticos said, "So far they have not put any restrictions on religion. They have expelled many foreign priests and ministers. So far it's nothing like what is taking place in El Salvador where they're murdering the Religious left and right!"

Those weird "laughing" noises from Kartz. "Yeah, both the Left and the Right are knocking off the holy joes and janes."

"With the communists, religious liberty never lasts long," said Leon Sunol. "What kind of a nation can you have without religious freedom?"

And often . . . what kind of a nation do you have WITH religious freedom? The Death Merchant recalled the words of Lucretius: "How suasive is religion to our bane."

"Religious freedom" seems to be on par with stupidity, hyprocrisy, and brutality . . . with opponents of abortion committing arson against abortion clinics, and kidnaping and threatening death against those who disagree with them—all in the name of Jesus!

With opponents of the prayer-in-school amendment being reviled, threatened, and their patriotism impugned—all in the name of Jesus!

With books being banned by dangerous, uneducated boobs who tell us that God cannot stand Kurt Vonnegut!

I wonder what kind of God these people have? I wonder what kind of people are these, these screaming and raving Bible thumpers, these twentieth century Torquemadas who, with their inquisition of hate, are so quick to curse, so slow to forgive, so in love with compulsion, and so very ignorant of the very Bible in which they so fervently believe; these moronic sadists who could rationalize the worst moral crimes by saying it was "God's will" . . . who could totally ignore the real teachings of Jesus, who told his followers to pray in private . . . the same Christ who praised the publican's quiet prayer in the shadow over the Pharisee's public display of righteousness, who said religious acts should not be ostentatious, should almost be done on the sly, so that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing!

On the sly!
The Death Merchant wanted to vomit. Modern religion in the United States was a symphony of loud noise, with screaming and screeching of "The Word," on television and radio productions aimed at the gullible millions—all of it orchestrated by legal con artists with an eye on the Almighty dollar.

I rather suspect God finds it hardest to hear prayers that are boomed from loudspeakers!
Camellion is referred to early in the book as "an amateur paleontologist", and none of Rosenberger's research goes to waste:
The escape corridor was not a straight shot to the canyon. It was not built like a railroad tunnel. To the contrary, the passage twisted and turned, often at very sharp angles; nor were the roof and the floor evenly spaced from each other. In some places the rock overhang was as much as thirty feet above the floor, in other places no more than six feet. There were no stalactites or stalagmites. There was only the dark ceiling, the floor strewn with rocks and the jagged walls of metamorphic strata with large cavities known as vugs; yet within the light of high intensity flashlights, "Night Blaster" lanterns and spot Q-beams, Camellion could see that within the walls were embedded the skulls of primitive birds, the bones of ganoids and placoderms, dinosaur vertebrae, wing bones of pterodactyls, and the bones of archaic mammals such as Xiphodons, palaeotheres, Eohippi, titanotheres, pinoeshemes, and Oreodons. ...

The Death Merchant saw that the far rim of the canyon, half a kilometer away to the east, was four hundred feet from the floor, all sides wild and primitive. On the canyon floor were bluffs and broad washes, interlaced with steep weedy slopes thick with tangled grass, cactus, and scrub. The bare surfaces that could be seen revealed an absence of Archaean and primordial strata, most of the rocks being Jurassic and Comanchian sandstones, with now and then a glossy black outcropping that suggested a hard, poor grade coal. These were gabbros, coarse-grained igneous rocks composed of diallage and labradorite.
At last, with his mission completed, the Death Merchant thinks some deep thoughts:
It has to do with Reality, with Time. If our future is predetermined, our every act is determined, including how and where and when we die. But who determines it? But if Time isn't a closed circle and the past, present and future aren't one, all rolled together, this means the future doesn't exist during the present and that the past is totally gone, except in memory. On the other hand, if we somehow choose our future from an infinite number of existing parallel universes, then there isn't any fixed result at any given time in any future and all possible futures exist. Precognition does exist. Does that particle of future exist at the same time that one is aware, precognitively, of that slice of future, of that specific happening? Fudge! None of this can explain a death aura.

"Fate put funny relish on our cheeseburger."

"Only one man in the second jeep had time to realize that the Cosmic Lord of Death was in their midst. He couldn't do anything about it. He could die, and did, a stream of slugs blowing open his skull like an overly ripe melon before he could even pick up his AK assault rifle."

"Porcupine poop!" ... "Camel crap!" ... "Donkey dung!" ... "Cassowary crap!"

"All four of you belong in the Who's Who of Dumb!" sneered the Death Merchant, who swung the AKM toward the doomed Sandinistas."

"'What is your name?' Stark naked vindictiveness dripped from all four words as the Death merchant let Sevilla have his most ferocious stare, stabbing him straight in the eye. For only a split second did the two men lock eyes, but that tick of time was too long for Sevilla. He didn't know what he glimpsed in the depths of those blue pools, but whatever it was the sheer malevolence, beyond time and matter, filled him with a flash of unspeakable dread and horror."

"'Hot diddly damn!' yelled Kartz—happier than a wino who had just broken into a liquor store and was looking at all the cases and shelves filled with booze."

"Give the man a tube of gold-plated Preparation H."

"The 9mm 115 grain JHP projectile stabbed into Enrique Varona ... the impact of the slug in the man's chest staggering him. Varona was still acting like a man trying to open an umbrella in his pants ..."

In each of the last half-dozen books, Rosenberger has made a passing reference to someone in California named "Rance Galloway". Rosenberger clearly does not like this guy (or his "sow-slut" wife), but Google has been no help. (I wonder if it's someone from Rosenberger's personal life.)

Friday, October 09, 2015

Previews Of "The Cutting Edge" (18-CD Set Of Dylan's 1965-66 Sessions)

The release date for this historic behemoth has apparently been moved up by one week, to October 30.

Four previews have been released so far:
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Take 1 and Take 8)

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Take 13)

Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence (Take 2)