Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Overton Window: Chapter Twenty-Six

There's an old trick producers of b-movies would use when some element was too expensive to film: They'd just have someone from the cast, or maybe even a narrator, describe the events we never get to see. "The Alien invaders destroyed New York City! Trust me, I saw it with my own eyes." Nowadays a movie producer doesn't have to do that, because you can just have an intern Flash animate your alien invasion for free, and it doesn't even impact the budget. So, yay for technology! (Boo for crappy movies!)

All of which I bring up because for reasons wholly unrelated to b-movies. For reasons wholly defying explanation, the very same thing happens in chapter twenty-six.

The entire meet-up between the terrorists and Kearns and Bailey is described, after the fact, in a conversation between the two. Bailey asks a lot of leading questions and Kearns dutifully answers. Which is strange, because Bailey was there, so why does he need to be told what just happened?

"Why don't you tell me what's going on."

"First," Kearns said, "we still have their bomb, because they didn't have our money. It might be that they just couldn't get it together until tomorrow, like they said, or it might have been a test of some kind."

"A test of what?"

"Of us. Maybe they wanted to see if we'd leave the goods with them anyway, without the payment. If we are who we say we are they'd know we wouldn't stand for that. But if we were a couple of feds trying to set them up then we might, just so they'd be in possession of the evidence for a bust tomorrow."

It is, I suppose, an economical choice. Why spend an entire chapter describing the conversation between Kearns and the terrorists? You'd just need to flesh out characters, or at least give them names. And then the author would be forced to come up with some dialogue, and figure out a way to convey the tension and unease that permeated the meeting: The nervous looks, the awkward pauses, maybe an ominous rumble of thunder as if Mother Nature herself was eying the proceedings with cloudy angst.

Or, just go the Burt I. Gordon route and describe what happened "off-screen" in a half-assed conversational manner. Or let the "narrator" fill the audience in:

The plan, plainly agreed upon, had been to leave the dummy bomb with their five co-conspirators in exchange for twenty thousand dollars the men had agreed to pay to cover Kearns's expenses. Tomorrow the men would make the eight-hour drive to Las Vegas and pull up to the target address. Instead of achieving martyrdom they'd be met by a SWAT team and a dragnet of federal agents who'd be waiting there to arrest them. None of these guys seemed the type to allow themselves to be taken alive, so FEMA would be running a local terror drill at the same time. With the area evacuated for blocks around there'd be less chance of any innocent bystanders being caught in the anticipated cross fire.

This thing is making less and less sense as we go along, isn't it? Or maybe my brain is melting into corn syrup. Who knows.

The FBI's plan is to let the terrorists drive all the way into downtown Vegas and then apprehend them there, where crossfire is anticipated? Why not stop them somewhere in the desert in between Whereverthefuck, Nevada and Vegas? Did the FBI learn nothing from Waco? It sounds to me like Kearns and Co.'s plan is not well-thought out. And is Bailey a complete dumbass for falling for this?

And why are all five of the terrorists driving together. Why are the all willing to be vaporized together? Couldn't they have drawn straws? Shouldn't someone stay behind and, you know, contact media outlets and explain why they nuked Harry Reid's office? It sounds to me like the terrorists' plan is not well-thought out either.

So, as all this discussion and exposition is going on, Kearns and Bailey are speeding away from the meeting, not sure if they're about to be killed by their new friends:

"Can you handle a gun?" Kearns asked.

"I'm no expert, but yeah."

"If things go bad, there's a pistol in the glove box. The safety's off but there's a long twelve-pound pull on that first round. After the first shot the trigger's really light."

And there are more stupid questions:

"So what's next?" Danny asked. "Am I done? Can you cut me loose now?"

"Not yet. I told them to e-mail me when our friend Elmer gets back in town later tonight, and we'll have to arrange another meet-up tomorrow. Meanwhile I'll check in with my contact, and we'll have to play it by ear from there."

Again Kearns has to explain to Bailey what just happened. Maybe he had to wait out in the car or was in the bathroom or something when all this was discussed. They make it to the highway, and listen go some "golden oldies" and Bailey asks why Kearns is still doing undercover work. "Don't take this the wrong way, but shouldn't a man your age be retired by now?"

Kearns is vague.

"It's a long story."

"Well," Danny said, "it's a long drive."

I sure hope the author pulls another of his cheap tricks and skips this whole conversation too.

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