TSoA: Chapter 11: Second Verse, Same as the First

Okay, can it, everyone—plot’s back.

-Joel Robinson, Catalina Caper, MST3K

As you might recall, Babylon Rising featured the murder-by-falcon of two security guards at the Parchments of Freedom Foundation, where Isis McDonald works.  It was okay, though, because one was a not-spiritual guy who had a fat, ugly, nagging wife.  The other…well, he made the fatal mistake of trying to stop Talon, who was there to steal a piece of the Brazen Serpent, and whose specialty is death by falcon.  Also death by razor-finger.

You might think, after the brutal, yet mysterious deaths of two of their guards, the Foundation directors might choose to upgrade their security precautions.

You would be wrong.

But first, this very strange opening:

The full moon was making [the guard’s] job as a night watchman a breeze.  From the top of the roof of the Smithsonian, he could see anyone entering the parking lot that flanked the back two sides of the building.  As he moved diagonally across the roof to the other corner, he could see 5th Street, which ran north and south, and Milford Boulevard, which ran east and west.  The traffic was light for a Friday night.

Um.

Two things:

1.  Am I missing something, or is there no Milford Blvd. anywhere around the Smithsonian?

There’s 5th Street, running north to south, but…the east and west streets are letter streets: E, F, G, etc.  Did Bob Phillips just make up a street in Washington?  If so, why?  Why give the Foundation an exact location at all?  Why can’t it just be The Parchments of Freedom Foundation, Washington, D.C.?

2.  AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE PARCHMENTS OF FREEDOM FOUNDATION IS PART OF THE SMITHSONIAN THE HELL???

I mean just WUT??  This was not mentioned in the first book at all.  And now the Foundation is part of the frakking awesome Smithsonian???

MY MIND HAS JUST BEEN BLOWN BY THIS INFORMATION.

*pant pant*

Oh yeah, the deaths of the new guards.

The above paragraph, by the way, comprises the totality of the shiny new security measures of the Foundation.  Two guards were killed by a murderous thief, so the solution is to hire new guards, and place one ON THE ROOF.

Which is a great place to be when the murderous thief, WHO WAS NEVER CAUGHT, uses BIRDS to kill people.

Oh, and also: one of the guards is, in his own words, “an old guy,” and another suspects that he is slowly losing his hearing.  And NO, he hasn’t seen a doctor OR informed his employers of this fear.

Talon once again uses a bird to kill, but it’s different this time.

This time, Talon is wrangling a STARLING.

I have no idea WHY Talon would want to use a starling, but it’s…different.

Here is how he uses it: Talon pulls his car into the parking lot of the SMITHSONIAN, fully intending for the guard to see him.

Suddenly [Talon] raised his hand, held it in midair for a few moments, then snapped it down against his thigh.  Instantly Thielman [the guard] heard an earsplitting shriek behind him and swiveled to see a dark shape arrowing down toward his face.  Fumbling at his belt, he instinctively took a step backward and tripped over a taut monofilament line stretched between two steel air outlets.  Turning awkwardly, he managed to break his fall by gripping the guardrail surrounding the roof.

And then the rail snapped in two like a stale breadstick and he was plummeting through space…

And.  He.  Died.

And it was a stupid starling that was to blame.

Wanted for murder

(Picture from Wikipedia.)

So, instead of just having a falcon rip out someone’s throat like last time, Talon goes to all the trouble of sneaking onto the roof of the Smithisonian, setting up this wire for the guard to trip over, waiting until that night, showing up to catch the guards attention, then setting the starling loose and trusting the guard to fall in exactly the right way so that he will fall to his death.

That seems unnecessarily complicated.

Talon sneaks into the Foundation like he’s a one-man Leverage team or something.  (Which is beyond stupid: he is an assassin for hire, not a cat burglar.

He comes across another guard and simply slashes him with his Razor Finger of Doom.

Talon heads on down to Isis’s office, after the piece of the ark for The Seven.  Isis has fallen asleep at her desk because she is pulling an all-nighter.  But Talon wakes her up and she goes for the gun in her desk.

That’s right: after her “adventure” in the last novel, Isis has taken to keeping “a .32 automatic—as yet unfired—nestled in a drawer amid a clutter of stationery.”

Okay, I am no expert in guns, but shouldn’t she have fired it previously?  I mean, if she wants to use this for self-defense, wouldn’t she have taken a course and done some shooting at a range?  It seems unlike Isis not to have made herself proficient.

Not that it matters, because Talon grabs her before she can grab the gun.  And Isis is about to go the way of Laura Murphy, until the third guard comes upon them.  Proving his versatility once again, Talon dispatches him with a throwing knife to the throat, then has to beat cheeks without killing Isis, because Guard #3 has started the alarm and the cops are coming.

I am sad that Isis could not hold Talon off by herself.

😦

Next up: Murphy’s very sensitive reaction to Isis’s near-death experience.

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Posted on August 13, 2012, in Babylon Rising, Books, The Secret on Ararat. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. …Y’know, there’s a pretty sharp divide in birds when it comes to vision:
    Most of them have excellent daytime vision, with eyes that are almost entirely “cones”. This has obvious advantages in that it lets them see far, far, better than any human can. But it also has a down-side: They’re completely blind at night.

    The others have excellent night (and motion) vision, but can’t make out details overly well and have terrible colour vision. As such, they stay out at night.

    I’ll give you a guess as to which group starlings fall under.

    Also: A starling? Can you even train starlings? And why would you do so? They’re only large by the standards of backyard birds, and about as intimidating as a wet noodle. I don’t know how intelligent they are, either, but I’m sure they aren’t geniuses of the avian world.

    I also love that Talon’s returned to his convoluted death traps. I like to think that he trained the starling to tie the string (also: Monofilament wire should not trip the guard, it should remove his legs. Either that, or Shadowrun lied to me) and maybe gave it a tiny hacksaw to use on the railing. Or, ooh, yes, a highly-trained woodpecker with a diamond-tipped beak!

    • Monofilament wire should not trip the guard, it should remove his legs. Either that, or Shadowrun lied to me

      You’re thinking of monomolecular wire. Monofilament wire is pretty ordinary stuff – standard fishing line. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monofilament_fishing_line

    • Actually, from personal experience, starlings are pretty smart for their size. About a year back, I managed to rescue a teenaged starling from our cats, and we wound up keeping it overnight as it was too late to take it to the local bird rescue organisation straight away (it was generally OK but had a damaged wing and didn’t seem to have any family around). According to the websites I looked at to find out how to take care of it, they’re social, trainable and make fun, if rather high-maintenance, pets, and this one was certainly smart enough to figure out that the humans were a source of food rather than a threat, and by the end of the evening was actually perching on my hand while I fed it.

      On another occasion, too, I saw a starling doing that thing a lot of birds do, of “leading” one of our cats away from her nest– but, from what I could see, she was actively trying to lead the cat onto the road. Which was a little bit creepy.

      None of which makes the attack-starling thing remotely credible, of course– I think you might possibly, with a lot of work, be able to train one to fly at a human, but there are a lot of easier ways to knock a person off-balance. And yeah, not exactly the most intimidating of birds.

  2. Also you don’t keep the gun in a tray of stuff that can get caught up in it, you keep it on your body, at least if you’re serious about it. (But the gun in a desk drawer is a Hollywood cliché, and these guys do love them some clichés.)

    Murder by starling. Oooo-kay. Wouldn’t it be easier just to get a pigeon to crap in his eye?

  3. Eh? An attack starling??? WHY???
    Starlings are noisy and they crap everywhere; a flock of a couple of thousand of them look glorious when they’re wheeling around in the sky at sunset. But that’s about it – they have no other talents that I know of. And as GDwarf noted, they aren’t exactly avian Einsteins.
    Maybe LaHaye and/or his co-writer were thinking of that scene in The Birds where starlings attack Tippi Hedron (they were actually tied to her clothing).
    You know what would have been a really cool bird to use? A raven, that’s what. They’re big mothers with BIG beaks and they have enough brains to be trained. And big plus – they’re black!

    • I was thinking that ravens would definitely be an improvement. Excellent vision (though, again, not at night), large, incredibly intelligent, lots of menacing folklore about them, and you can teach them to talk.

      About the only menacing thing about starlings is how they’ve devastated North American bird populations after they were imported by someone who was certain that the continent would be improved by having every bird mentioned by Shakespeare.

      • Let’s face it, if you want this to happen at night, you’re basically looking at owls. Which are profoundly scary if you meet them suddenly in the dark (which is the usual way to meet them), and just as good with the talons and beak as the other raptors.

        • Yep. Owls or kiwi.

          …Alright, I now desperately want to see Talon use an assault-kiwi.

        • A Trained Attack Great Horned Owl would be one scary-ass mofo, because normal untrained Great Horned Owls are scary-ass mofos to start with. Ever have one fly above you, and their humongous shadow passes over you as you hear their wings flap ominously and scary-loud?

          But I agree with the following comments — a Trained Attack Kiwi would be the Best Attack Bird Ever. Followed closely by Trained Attack Hummingbirds, because hummers are incredibly aggressive anyway, and will attack much larger foes without a second thought.

  4. Out of curiousity, do these guard uniforms include a red shirt perhaps? Straightest example of helpless mook guards completely helpless against a guy with cool-but-inefficient weapons I’ve seen in a while. Well, outside of video games I mean, there it’s always par for the course.

    And yeah, if Talon put the rope there, he could’ve just pushed the guard of the roof. Would’ve been easier than training that bird for this kind of attack.

    Still, this is a Christian author in generic cliched territory, of action thrillers in this case. And as usual, the product is bad but in a bland way. There are other action thrillers that are bad in much the same way (though I doubt there are any where the villain trains tiny birds to distract guards into falling of the roof). I’m more curious when Murphy shows up and demonstrates how an RTC can be manly. My money is on that he continues his trend from the first book and after Isis tells him she was nearly killed by Talon, he makes it all about him and how he will get Talon for what he did to his wife. Oh yeah, and a couple of unnamed church flunkies I guess. That or tell Isis that she should clearly stay in the kitchen, because if she works in an office building, the work Murphy sends her to do will just get her killed, and this is a job for brave men like those three guards that got slaughtered.

  5. The full moon was making [the guard’s] job as a night watchman a breeze. From the top of the roof of the Smithsonian, he could see anyone entering the parking lot that flanked the back two sides of the building. As he moved diagonally across the roof to the other corner, he could see 5th Street, which ran north and south, and Milford Boulevard, which ran east and west. The traffic was light for a Friday night.

    Huh. You know, I’m no D.C. native – I’ve visited all of once, more than a decade ago. But I do recall a couple of things. One being that there’s no one “Smithsonian” building – it’s a bunch of different museums. So why would a guard think of it as the Smithsonian, rather than the name of the building he’s actually on?

    And second – parking lots? I don’t recall any big parking lots that flank both sides of any of those buildings. I remember gorgeous landscaping between rows of buildings, and lots of pedestrians, and everybody taking the Metro… And unless Google maps’ satellite imagery is lying to me, that hasn’t changed much. In that row of buildings, I see a few small parking lots along one side of a building, but no big huge WalMart-style parking lots that wrap around the building.

    Of course, Google also fails to show me 5th Street near a Smithsonian building. So Google must be lying to me…

    • I’ve been there a whole lot, and there are no parking lots next to the Smithsonian buildings in downtown D.C. To put parking lots in that area of D.C., you’d have to rip up national landmarks, buildings that are both historic and heavily used. But now I’m seeing a lot of other stuff that’s just wrong.

      The traffic being light for a Friday night in downtown D.C. is meaningless. D.C. traffic is incredibly heavy. “Light for a Friday night” in D.C. does not mean light. Besides which, the sidewalks are not empty of pedestrians at night either. But the traffic mention is weird because that area of D.C. is built for pedestrians, not cars.

      The full moon is making the guard’s job easier? In downtown D.C. by the flippin’ Smithsonian?! This night watchman sounds like he belongs on a castle wall in a fantasy novel, not on the roof of a building in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world, in an area of that city which is specifically lit to be exceptionally bright, in which the exteriors of very many of the buildings (like the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building) are brightly lit in an artistic fashion.

      And I don’t know the exact specifications, but if all the Smithsonian buildings don’t have some of the most sophisticated security equipment in the world, I’ll eat a starling. Someone whose only assets are a bird, a fishing line, and a razor finger o’doom would not be able to sneak in.

      Anyone know exactly what time of night this is supposed to be, anyway?

  6. Sorry, a trained death starling just sounds adorable to me. Also, I was incredibly disappointed when I went back and found that the murderfinger was just an ordinary sharpened prosthetic and not, like, some gothic-looking metal claw (or TALON, wink wink) that would be fun and charming and silly like a Bond villain. Or even just as silly as the rest of Talon’s bird-wrangling schtick! Instead it’s just this dumb, awkward thing that doesn’t sound practical in the slightest, and just seems boring in contrast to his ninja starling antics. The antagonists in these books are always so disappointing. I mean, at least Talon has a couple of aspects that are fun and eccentric – our only alternatives are a shadowy cabal who can’t even burn down a church properly, and some idiot archeology professor who spends so much time stroking his inflated ego that he only occasionally tries to sabotage the careers of his students. There just aren’t any interesting villains in this story.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Sorry, a trained death starling just sounds adorable to me

      As in “something you’d expect from Fluttershy turned assassin”?

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy

    So, instead of just having a falcon rip out someone’s throat like last time, Talon goes to all the trouble of sneaking onto the roof of the Smithisonian, setting up this wire for the guard to trip over, waiting until that night, showing up to catch the guards attention, then setting the starling loose and trusting the guard to fall in exactly the right way so that he will fall to his death.

    That seems unnecessarily complicated.

    That seems like a writer going “See How Clever I Am?”

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy

    I am sad that Isis could not hold Talon off by herself.

    Remember this is a CHRISTIAN novel and She’s Only A Woman.

  9. I think it is now clear that Talon was fired from his employment as an evil henchman in the Bond ‘verse due to being too dramatic and gimmicky with his murder plots. Desperate for work (do you know how much it costs to maintain an aviary–particularly with birds of prey?!), he ventures into a cheap, James Bond knockoff ‘verse where he blends in perfectly with all of the other characters who were unable to make it into the high dollar stories. Poor guy goes home every night to his many birds, who are his only friends, and says to them, “I do this for you.”

    Meanwhile, the Professional Redshirts collect their paychecks and head to the nearest bar to celebrate the end of their roles in a terrible work of fiction.

    Bob turns to Joe and says, “Can you believe the author actually bought that hearing loss story? Nice way to lure him into killing you off early. I’ll have to remember that one.”

    Joe replies, “Yeah, I got it from a video game mook. Your fall was totally awesome, by the way. Very melodramatic how you hung from the railing for a bit before going over.”

    “Hah! Thanks. I figured I had to do something good considering I was being taken out by a starling of all things. You’d think he could have used something a little less embarassing. Anyway, where are you headed next?”

    “Eh, I’m not sure yet. I’m thinking it might be fun to go for a part in one of the Twilight knockoffs. Someone has to be horribly mutilated by a vampire so the hero knows what’s going on.”

  10. If only our government would permit all citizens to carry starlings, as our Founding Fathers intended, tragedies like this could be avoided.

  11. Now that people have suggested Talon with a kiwi, I have a sudden desire to see him with some of the other large flightless birds, like an ostrich, emu or cassowary – but maybe those would be too genuinely threatening, since they can (in theory, anyway) disembowel someone by kicking.

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