Thursday, May 6, 2021

Dead End (Kill Squad #4)

Dead End, by Mark Cruz
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

Dan Streib returns as “Mark Cruz” for this fourth volume of Kill Squad (around this time Manor Books dropped the volume numbers from their series, but the Manor ID number at the top right of the cover indicates this one was published after Dead Wrong). He continues with the schtick of previous volumes: removing his titular trio from their San Diego stomping grounds and making them do stuff that falls outside the boundaries of police work. This time they serve as bodyguards for a wealthy Arab as he travels around Europe. 

But really it isn’t even much of a trio this time. Chet Tabor, blond-haired lunk with the scarred face, has always been the main character of Kill Squad, with co-cops Grant Lincoln and Maria Alvarez serving as supporting characters. But while those two have at least had some share of the plot in past, this time they’re really incidental, only there to occasionally trade dialog with Tabor and then disappear into the background again. In fact they’re only along on the Europe trip because Tabor demands that they come along to back him up. Otherwise Tabor is the star of the show, featuring in all the action scenes and calling all the shots. 

There is no continuity in the series, so no pickup from the previous volume nor any other volume. About the only “new” development we have is that Tabor now carries a .44 Auto Mag, meaning Streib must’ve been reading The Executioner. This gun is built up at great expense, used a few times, then lost in England (there is an apparent bitterness toward the British ban on guns – Streib rakes the Brits over the coals throughout the entire England portion of the narrative). Otherwise another change is that Tabor is even more uber-macho this time around, constantly thinking of sex (even during firefights) and planning to “get a woman in bed” no matter what. He also mouths off a lot, gets in people’s faces, and doesn’t listen to othes. It’s as if Streib wanted to go the exact opposite direction of the wussified Terry Bunker he delivered in the first two installments of Chopper Cop

Yet for that matter, we are often told how “afraid” Tabor is. This is so recurrent in Streib’s work that it doesn’t even come off like him adding characterization. Constantly Tabor will be ducking for cover and fighting down panic, then forcing himself to get up and fight back. Or just as often he’ll wonder why he’s even in the line of danger; there’s a part early on where thugs attack people at a park, and Tabor – a cop!! – wonders why he’s even risking his neck to save them, given that they’re all strangers! Of course all this is similar to Terry Bunker’s attitude, with the only difference that Tabor bullies through his fear and gets in a lot more fights, shootouts, and chases. He doesn’t come off as the most likable hero, though. I mean in that part where the thugs open fire at the park, Tabor hides in a gondolla and lets Grant and Maria handle the action, only coming out when they start screaming for his help! 

This opening action scene will be the only sequence in San Diego. Tabor, Grant, and Maria (we’re told only the press has dubbed them “The Kill Squad”) are serving as bodyguards for visiting Arab Ali Saud, an uber-wealthy oil guy who is here with his two daughters and half brothers. Of course the daughters are in their twenties and smokin’ hot; this is the pre-radicalized early ‘70s so the girls are very westernized, going around sans face coverings and wearing revealing clothes. In fact the youngest of them, Zainab, is a definite tease, and went to college in Berkley. Saud is “a billionaire with petrodollars burning holes in his robes,” and the city has rolled out the red carpet for him, hence the personal police protection – and much to the dismay of “stupid chief” Chief Jackson, Tabor and team have gotten the job. 

Turns out there’s a bounty on Saud’s head, and sure enough a group of would-be assassins hit the entourage during an idyllic gondolla ride. Here’s where Tabor hides, of course with the two girls, one of whom falls on him for cover – Tabor enjoying the “soft, full mounds” on his back and taking the opportunity to cop a feel! As I say he is particularly infantile in this one. In fact we’re informed he’s “thirty-one with two marriages behind him.” Tabor’s also a bit of a loser in the hero department. He finally gets out to fight, and one of the attackers takes a little girl hostage. Tabor chases after – again wondering why he’s even bothering to – and takes a darkened stairwell up the tower the attacker has fled, hoping to sneak attack him. But like a dumbass Tabor overlooks the fact that the bright sunlight will hurt his eyes, which have grown used to the dark, thus he’s temporarily blinded…and in the gunfight the little girl is killed. 

Streib has this weird schtick, in just about every book of his I’ve read, where he has a female character getting shot in the face and killed. Usually the eyeball is blown out, too. This happens here, but having it happen to a five year-old girl is a bit too much, I’d say. Chief Jackson yells at Tabor good and proper, and even Maria and Lincoln are upset he didn’t try harder to save the kid. When it turns out that Ali Saud wants Tabor to accompany him on the Europe – he was impressed with Tabor’s ass-kicking, we’re told – Tabor says the little girl’s memory will fuel him, as he wants to nail the bastard who hired those thugs. Ie, the person who hired them was responsible for the little girl’s death. As with the previous volumes, Chief Jackson is just happy that his three most problematic officers will be out of his hair for a few weeks. 

Also fueling Tabor is the opportunity to get in the pants of either or both of Saud’s daughters. Zainab is the saucy younger one and Hayat is the slightly more conservative older one. A running subplot is that Saud intends to take his daughters back to Saudi Arabia after this Europe-America jaunt and return them to “the old ways.” In particular he feels that Zainab is “disturbed,” her brain rotted by American decadence. There’s actually more meat here than you’d encounter in a book of today that might cover the same topics; I imagine most American authors of today would be afraid of being branded Islamophobic. But Tabor has no problem with chastising Saud that Muslim men “keep their women as virtual slaves,” and he also doles out such impossible-today gems as “You didn’t learn that behind a veil,” when Zainab gives him a sultry kiss. 

For Zainab, we learn, is the one who really hired Tabor – she wants a piece of that uber-macho hunk. When Tabor learns this he takes umbrage; he’s no “hired stud.” Indeed he goes out of his way to talk down to Zainab…and when she goes off in a huff he wonders if he should wake up Maria for some quick sex, given how turned on he is! (For those taking notes, Tabor and Maria are a nonevent this time; she really does nothing more than deliver a few lines and shoot a few people, more on which anon.) Tabor’s muleheadedness is especially hard to understand, given how determined he is to get either of the girls in bed; there’s a later part where Zainab comes to him again, this time in lingerie, and an angry Tabor gives her a paddling! “Here’s what I think of Women’s Rights,” he tells her before bending her over his knee, casting doubt on his entire anti-Muslim tirade. The funniest bit here is Tabor’s shock to discover that Zainab isn’t nearly as turned on by the paddling as he is! In fact she screams and fights him so crazily that she wakes up the entire hotel. 

Streib is fond of female villains – I think every book of his I’ve read has featured one – and Zainab’s anger at being forcibly returned to “the old ways” should set off alarms. Instead Tabor constantly rebuffs her…while he meanwhile wonders how he can get her in bed on his terms. Or better yet her sister, whom we’re told Tabor finds hotter. Meanwhile we get some of the England-bashing I mentioned above. Streib has practically every British character quake in fear at the sight of Tabor’s gun; even some guys from Scotland Yard come by and say that, if he were to use one of those guns, the full weight of the law would hit him. Of course he has to use it, most memorably in a long-running action sequence in Stonehenge, where more would-be assassins come after Saud’s party. 

During this battle Tabor learns that an infamous contract killer named Purcelli is behind all the attempted hits on Saud; this will be a character Streib doesn’t much build up. Streib attempts to develop tension later when the entourage is leaving the hotel and Tabor suspects Purcelli is going to spring an attack. This part sees more wussified Brits panicking as the action goes down, particularly when a bomb goes off on the premises. This part also has an unexpected outcome in that a character in the entourage is suprisingly killed off. The bigger outcome so far as Tabor is concerned is that he loses his Auto Mag, having to hand it over to the authorities. Unbelievably Saud continues on his European journey, despite his personal losses; turns out it’s really a business trip, as Saud is meeting in private with oil contacts at these locations, to talk away from spies. 

The action moves to Monaco, where Tabor finally has his way with Zainab…or, “entering that dark and welcoming place,” as Streib puts it in a fairly non-explicit sequence. After which the two go on a boat ride, where Purcelli tries to take out Tabor; an action scene that just keeps to go on and on, and ends with the infamous assassin again running off. This part sees another character outed as a villain – the reveal isn’t much of a surprise – and as Tabor struggles with her for control of a gun he grabs “the tender V between her legs” in a brutal move. This takes us into the climactic action scene, as Tabor races against time to stop Purcelli from killing Saud in a villa. 

Streib isn’t done killing kids, though; one of Purcelli’s men, we’re informed, is a “young boy” who comes at Tabor with a gun, and Tabor almost casually blows him away…only to later discover that the kid was merely holding a target pistol! This revelation doesn’t seem to faze our hero in the least. But then he and his comrades are particularly brutal in this finale; there’s a part where Maria “carefully” shoots another of Purcelli’s goons in the crotch, and if I had a fancy doctorate in literature I’d suggest that this might be due to residual hatred she has for all men, given her gang-rape in the first volume

The finale seems to come out of a Hollywood blockbuster, with Tabor and two of the villains on a runaway train. It occurs to me that Streib has a firm template for Kill Squad, as each volume features the trio outside of San Diego and each ends with Tabor recovering in the hospital, with Chief Jackson paying him a visit. So happens here, with Jackson again telling Tabor to take an extended vacation to stay out of his hair. Otherwise Dead End didn’t hit the lurid heights of the first volume, but it was definitely more entertaining than the third volume, which mostly featured Tabor and Lincoln sitting on an airplane. One more volume was to follow.

1 comment:

Grant said...

I usually have trouble naming the trademarks of comics artists, but there was a horror comics artist named Dick Ayers, who would often make a character's eye pop out no matter where he was actually wounded. It sounds almost like this author was a fan of his.