Thursday, July 14, 2016

Death Squad #2: Killers For Hire

Death Squad #2: Killers For Hire, by Frank Colter
No month stated, 1975  Belmont Tower Books

The second and final volume of The Death Squad is just want I want in a lurid ‘70s cop thriller – it’s sleazy, gory, and rude. Dan Streib returns as “Frank Colter,” but strangely the book seems to be a little more polished than the first volume, with more introspection, reflection, and description than I recall being in that earlier book. Maybe editor Peter McCurtin or one of his ghostwriters touched up Streib’s manuscript?

Another interesting change this time is that the members of the Death Squad – San Diego cops Mark Sanders (the tough white guy), Sam Durham (the tough black guy), and Raul Gomez (the tough Hispanic guy) – are very concerned with not blatantly breaking the rules and with covering their asses. As I recall they basically gave everyone the finger in Gang War and casually slaughtered their enemies, with no concerns over red tape or legal troubles. In Killers For Hire the three are constantly fretting over the law and the fact that they might go too far some day. Indeed a firefight midway through the book has our heroes mostly worried about being found out for killing several bikers.

But at any rate, according to the Catalog Of Copyright Entries this novel was written by Streib, same as the first. He pulls a clunky fast one on readers, starting the novel with Sam Durham as the featured character, making the reader suspect that this will be his story. Not so; as with the previous book, Streib soon brings on Mark Sanders as the main guy and keeps him in the spotlight for the duration, with Durham relegated to supporting status (and Gomez practically a nonentity). But Durham’s there in the beginning, trying to prevent a young woman from killing herself by jumping off a bridge. Durham soon discovers that it’s really attempted murder – a Hispanic guy is trying to throw the girl off.

Sanders and Gomez are on duty nearby and are called in to assist; Durham meanwhile gets in a shootout with the killer and tries to keep the girl from plummeting. But even with Sanders’s assistance she still falls, which leads to an incongrous bit of racial-slurring between Durham and Sanders. As before the series makes a cop’s plight seem hopeless; when “stupid chief” Lt. Hailey shows up, he flat-out disbelieves Durham’s story that there even was a murderer, and further disbelieves that anyone shot at Durham, claiming that Durham himself shot up his patrol car! But a lot of this stuff is just unbelievable, like when the girl’s corpse is hauled out of the water and her fingers are missing, shot off by the killer, and Hailey insists that a fish could’ve just bitten them off. Surely the wounds would look different?

Anyway it doesn’t matter. Durham has a delayed realization that the killer he saw on the bridge was none other than Carlos Reyes, an independent hitman known for boasting of his kills but always evading the law; none of his hits have ever been successfully pinned on him. Hailey again disbelieves Durham, which leads “the big black cop” to vow his own revenge. Pulling Sanders out of bed with his latest girlfriend, a “tiny Japanese broad with the suction cup mouth,” Durham insists the Death Squad head to a posh nearby hotel in which Reyes is hosting a high-society party. The Japanese stewardess meanwhile “chatters” at Sanders – the novel is filled with that pulpy ‘70s stereotyping we all know and love – and we’re informed Sanders doesn’t even know her name!

This volume has a bit more focus on sleaze than the last one. Sanders gets laid a few times – and we’re reminded often how orally skilled that Japanese stewardess is – and while it never gets into full-bore porn it’s still more explicit than the fade to black dirty stuff in the previous book. Anyway this sleaze is displayed posthaste as the party at Reyes’s hotel becomes an orgy, initiated when a girl is forced to strip and streak through the crowd, culminating with her sort-of rape while the partygoers excitedly look on. Soon enough Sanders and pals, having crashed the party, are waylaid by their own “shills;” hot women on Reyes’s payroll who use their womanly wiles to distract our heroes.

Sanders is given a stacked redhead who, while hot, has “the flare of a woman’s libber that [Sanders] detested.” The book is also filled with the lovable feminism-bashing expected of mid-‘70s Belmont/Leisure, which reached its apotheosis in The Savage Women. This series though has never been kind to women, with Streib last time taking pleasure in detailing the gory deaths of several women; accordingly Sanders gets rough with the redhead, backhanding her and beating her for info on Reyes and where the killer was the previous night – the cops still determined to get a solid case on the Reyes. But have no fear, the redhead likes the rough stuff and soon treats Sanders to her own oral skills – again, though, nothing too explicit.

After getting in a brawl with Reyes and his henchmen, the Squad finds itself in jail, and here Streib inserts some of that unexpected introspection, as Sanders we learn is terrified of enclosed spaces and swears that he’ll never so cross the line that he himself winds up in prison. Streib throws in another unexpected angle with Lt. Hailey berating the Squad and telling them to take a leave of absence – and in fact, why not go to Vegas, which is where it turns out Reyes has been visiting of late. In fact there our heroes might get the leads they need to bust the bastard. So with Hailey’s sort-of blessing the Death Squad grabs a bunch of guns from Sanders’s private armory and hops in his Mercedes for the long drive across the desert.

Here occurs that firefight with the army of bikers, who ambush our heroes in the middle of the night on an open patch of desert road. Sadly though, Streib focuses more on the worries of the Squad, in particular of Gomez, than on the actual fireworks. And the gunfight, which sees Durham wielding two Wild West-style revolvers, is so chaotic and brief that it never gets as gory as the stuff in Gang War. The Squad is sure these bikers have been hired by Reyes, who clearly wants to prevent the Squad from arriving in Vegas and figuring out how to unravel the lie he’s used to keep him in the clear for the murder of the girl on the bridge (who by the way has turned out to be the inheritor of a few million dollars).

The sleaze returns with the entrance of Kay Drummond, a “nympho” stripper who is sisters with Jennifer Drummond, a hotstuff brunette Sanders met at Reyes’s party. Jennifer, who appears to be Reyes’s kept woman but who clearly thinks Sanders himself is hot stuff, calls Sanders in his Vegas hotel and begs him to look after Kay. Figuring Kay too knows the goods on Reyes, Sanders resolves to his usual methods; moments after allowing himself into her penthouse suite he twists her arm behind her back, slaps her, and beats her around. Will you be surprised to learn that she too likes it? Fairly graphic sex ensues, more so than anything else in the series.

Streib really seems to enjoy putting female characters through hell and then killing them sadistically; just after nympho Kay has gotten her fill of Sanders a dude in a mask kicks in the door and guns her down! (“Mark was still inside her when the bullet hit.”) As in the previous volume we get copious detail on how a bullet can destroy a woman’s face, all of it similar to the finale of the previous novel, where Sanders himself blew off the face of the girl he was in love with(!). Now Kay’s dead, mere pages after her introduction, and Sanders finds himself in bed with a corpse. Once again he clears himself from going to prison, and meanwhile Streib never even bothers to tell us who Kay’s murderer was, nor why the guy didn’t also kill Sanders – the lame suspicion is that he assumed Sanders was just “another of the girl’s marks.”

Killers For Hire climaxes in the ghost town of Jerome, Nevada, where Sanders is taken by some bikers who easily get the drop on him. Lovely Jennifer has also been captured, and even though she initially blames Sanders for Kay’s death she still begs him to screw her – and time it so Reyes can walk in on them during the act and get pissed off! More sleaze ensues, but is quickly put to a stop by an enraged Reyes, who orders Sanders to be killed. The finale sees Durham and Gomez arriving in the nick of time, guns blazing, in a running shootout with Reyes and his biker henchmen, with the villain himself delivered an appropriately-horrible comeuppance, wrapped in flames.

And that’s that – that is, once yet another female character has been gunned down and killed off. Killers For Hire ends with the Death Squad victorious, having uncovered Reyes’s stupid ruse for exoneration, and clearly ready to bust more criminals off the books. But for whatever reason no further volumes of Death Squad ensued, whereas meanwhile Streib’s other killer cop series, the inferior (and similarly-titled) Kill Squad, ran for more volumes than it deserved.

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