A dark cloud hangs over the free world. Somewhere in the Aegean Sea, the Soviets are building the most powerful transmitter known to man. If successful, it will control the jet streams and turn the world's weather into the ultimate weapon of domination - a weapon capable of plunging the West into political and economic chaos!
In desperation, the CIA sends their top agent to locate the secret island fortress. But as Richard Camellion closes in on his target, a highly placed double agent prepares to betray him. For the Agency has decided that success must be bought at any price - even if it costs them the Death Merchant!
This is the final Death Merchant book in my reading project, but it was apparently published between #67 and #68. On two different front pages, Apocalypse is identified as "Death Merchant #68". But there was another book in the series that was #68.
Apocalypse has about twice as many pages (390) as the other books. However, the print is much larger and I have a feeling that the word count is probably similar to the late-series DM books which had 180-190 pages of very small print.
The plot of Apocalypse follows the pattern of every other Death Merchant book. It opens with an action/shootout scene. Then we get the background of the DM's particular mission. We switch to the bad guys' POV a few times for plenty of exposition. Camellion has a few altercations along the way, with maybe one or two dead ends that sometimes feel like they are included only to fill pages. And then, after many details about the planning of the final blowout, we get to the final blowout, with the requisite descriptions of the myriad wounds made by the flying projectiles and intricate descriptions of hand-to-hand combat.
The Russians want to control the world's weather patterns and they have kidnapped and forced a Greek scientist to assist them in finishing the work on a magnifying transmitter modeled on Nikola Tesla's notes. If successful, Russia would "rule the world" - and turn the United States into an uninhabitable desert. Camellion must find the island where the scientist is being held, and get him and his family out safely, while also destroying the transmitter.
The Death Merchant Has Sex—Twice!
Many 1970s action-adventure heroes — when they weren't gunning down bad guys — had wild sex with many beautiful, insatiable women. Not Richard Joseph Camellion. You could probably count on one hand the number of times Richard Camellion has been intimate with a woman in the entire series.
Which is odd, because in the late 1960s, Rosenberger slapped a Ph.D. on the end of his name and wrote numerous adult books filled with "case histories" of patients with various sexual kinks. He was more than adept at writing extremely explicit sex scenes. But perhaps he grew tired of that and when he moved into the action-adventure racket, he decided his main character would be asexual as possible (despite what is claimed about Camellion below).
The Death Merchant hits the sheets with two women in Apocalypse. The first is Melina Arnaoutis, who he meets in a bar (and who will later be revealed as a Russian spy):
It was how Ma Nature had put her together that intrigued the Death Merchant, who was far from being a stranger to feminine pulchritude. She had a slender waistline, a flat stomach, and, in the common vernacular, was well stacked, her well-shaped breasts apparently not imprisoned by a bra. When you see two faintly dark circles outlined beneath an off-white blouse, and pushing out against dots, you can bet ... the nipples are free and unconfined.Rosenberger adds: "When a woman was built like Melina, only a fairy—and not the mythical kind that tapdances on the petunias!—could live in the same apartment with her and not want to play bedroom games."
The Death Merchant had also shared enough beds with the opposite sex to know that there were three kinds of women. There were those who appeared as cold as a dead fish but became wildcats in bed. Other women looked and acted sexy but were as frigid as a 3,000-year-old statue. In the last category were those women who exuded sex and, later in bed, proved it by having orgasms almost as fast as slugs can spit from the muzzle of a MAC-Ingram submachine gun!
However, Camellion is actually in no hurry to "play bedroom games". When Melina asks him if he wants "a quickie" after she showers, he turns her down, saying: "A wise man does not sample the food at a banquet. He slowly eats and savors each course." Also:
[Camellion] didn't want to be completely undressed until Melina had dried herself off and was in the bedroom. Melina was a gal who enjoyed sex in a shower. Camellion didn't. He couldn't enjoy a woman with water pouring down on his head. The only other thing that he didn't like about Melina was that she never shaved under her arms. Greek women never did.The DM is an odd duck, to be sure. But he eventually gets down to business:
The Death Merchant sat down on her side of the bed, took her in his arms, and kissed her. Melina didn't resist. ... She moaned as he slipped a hand to her back to unbutton her halter, then removed the garment and for a time lavished kisses on her breasts before moving his hands to her shorts.The Death Merchant also has sex with a CIA agent named Karen Spreitler, who "had a sexiness about her that would stir any normal male":
"You did that well," she said softly, watching him drop the shorts to the floor, "as though you've had a lot of experience."
"It's all a part of the trade," Camellion said with a straight face. "Manual 16-G-14F-K." ...
A few minutes later he was lying beside Melina on the bed, but not before he had surreptitiously looked around the bedroom to make sure no mirror was flush with the wall. ...
She began to make sounds of want, of urging, not words that could be understood but plainly expressions of rapidly mounting desire that was increasingly demanding satisfaction. ... [S]he began to gasp more loudly ... her emotions the result of primordial urges that had not changed in millions of years.
"Do it! Do it! Do it to me!" she pleaded, her long fingers clawing at him. ...
[Soon Camellion] felt his own universe explode and the floodgates open. ...
He remained with her, their rapture mingling, her low moans gradually subsiding, a reluctant admission that the Supreme Moment had come and gone.
Truly intelligent people, realizing that money is only a tool, do not make wealth the center of their lives. At the same time, they are quick to stoop and pick up a ten-dollar bill they might find on the sidewalk.Does Camellion's Lifelong Dream Come True?
Richard Camellion was that way with sex. It wasn't that important in his life, but he wasn't going to ignore it when it was there in front of him. He was going to take advantage of it and enjoy himself. ...
It was Karen's hazel eyes that intrigued Camellion, intelligent, sensitive eyes quick to focus and in whose depths lurked strange enigmatic shadows. ...
Neither Camellion nor Karen had discussed sleeping arrangements. Looking at the large double bed, Karen said only, "It looks comfortable. We'll have a good night's sleep."
Whether she was telling him he could do more than merely sleep next to her in the same bed was a moot point. The Death Merchant's accomplishments did not include mind reading. He made his move a few minutes later, after he had removed his shirt and shoes and socks.
Early in the book, Camellion is in Athens, driving to the villa of a contact, when he has a sudden vision:
A quick flash of the future, as clear as a three-dimensional photograph, came to the Death Merchant as he was turning onto the asphalt drive. The 50-megaton hydrogen bomb would explode 1,200 feet over Athens. Instantly a million people would be vaporized by the heat that, for a nanosecond, would reach the temperature of the interior of the sun. Another million would be flash-burned; and as the mushroom cloud boiled upward into the blue Athenian sky, the 600-mph wind, spreading out from the epicenter, would kill hundreds of thousands more five to fifteen miles from the blast. The firestorm and radiation would follow.The next paragraph begins: "As he was turning into the asphalt drive ...".
It would be the same in Rome, Moscow, New York, London, Warsaw, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Leningrad, Chicago, Berlin, Tel Aviv, and in other major cities of the world.
This seems to serve as foreshadowing, but (spoiler alert!) nothing even close to this scenario occurs in the book. However, the book ends with the strong hint that nuclear war might be about to be unleashed. Camellion, whose greatest desire in life is for the Soviet Union to become a vast wasteland of radioactive glass, "couldn't help but smile":
The only real enemies of the world were the enemies of beauty and reason. The Universe could not care less about billions of bipeds crawling around on a speck of "dust" that revolved around a quite ordinary star on the main sequence scale. The real ism involved Time and Cycles. Death had to feed on Life, and from Death always came Life. It was all relative. Like the man who won a dog named Hugh in a crap game and later lost the dog in a poker game.A little bit earlier, we read about the horrific effects of the Russians' weather modification machine:
You win a Hugh, and you lose a Hugh.. . .
A klaxon began to ring loudly throughout Hawkbill, and a voice called out over the intercom: "BATTLE STATIONS! BATTLE STATIONS! BATTLE STATIONS!"
There are those times when Nature resents the interference of man—that puny and murderous two-legged obscenity who has the audacity to proclaim to the Universe that he—and he alone!—was made in the image of the Creator!This is happening as the Death Merchant and his forces attack the Greek island. They receive a couple of updates during the battle. As they are told the ozone hole is 20 miles in diameter and "millions of people were dead", Colonel Burrell was "secretly wishing he could remember Nostradamus' prediction about the end of the world".
Nature becomes angry and rebels.
The very delicate balance of the thermosphere and the exosphere, formed above the planet over the billions of years, had been upset by the trillions of concentrated neutrons from the magnifying transmitter, the N-beam reversing the normal flow of the electrons in the ozone layer in the stratosphere, which begins six miles above the Earth.
A "hole" had been opened in the ozone layer, an aperture that was directly over north-central Turkey, four miles east of the tiny village of Artova. The instant the "hole" was created the effect was instantaneous and hideous. For only a second the "chimney," reaching from the damaged ozone layer to the surface of the planet, was only 2,710 feet in diameter. ...
If the men and women trapped outside had had only a few minutes, they would still have died horribly, but first they would have seen something that no human being had ever seen—something that hadn't occurred since the formation of the planet four billion years ago. All around them, extending from space to the surface of the planet, they would have seen an intense white illumination in which were scintillating flashes and swirls of color, intense reds, blues, greens, and violet, a Brobdingnagian aurora under even brighter lights in the sky, lights almost as brilliant as the sun now shining with full intensity through the hole in the ozone layer.
Human beings and animals had time only for short shrieks of agony as the hell-heat of UV burned them to death within seconds. ...
The people in houses, in barns, and in other kinds of buildings—especially those close to windows—were blinded. Screaming and dying more slowly from the intense heat, they were forced to endure the mental crucifixion of not knowing what was happening to them, or why. ...
The diameter of the hell chimney from space continued to expand at the rate of several hundred feet a minute. Within that large, round circle everything burned, everything died. ...
Pure panic and total awe was the result of the phenomenon, which people knew had to be pure destruction, pure hell, pure death. All normal activity, everything, stopped. Even communists dropped to their knees and started to pray, asking, begging, for forgiveness.
Within an hour, newswires all over the planet were aware of the Hideousness growing in Turkey. In Borne, the Pope prepared for the Final Conflagration. Scores of millions of people watched the sky, expecting to see Jesus Christ—in all His glory and surrounded by singing angels and stern-faced "saints"—coming down on a white horse.
Hundreds of people dropped dead from fright. Thousands rioted.
Hundreds committed suicide.
Once the hole's diameter expands to 300 miles, it begins shrinking. (When the rescued professor is asked why, he says, "I don't know.") In a matter of hours, the truth has come out and the Greek government admits the Russians had secretly used the island as a base of operations. President Reagan refers to the Soviet Union as a "bandit nation of sadists and paranoiacs".
The Pharmacy Ambush
A reader must suspend some (or a lot) of disbelief in reading these books — while countless slugs have come within a quarter-inch of Camellion's head and various parts of his body in this series, the only times he did catch a slug, he just happened to be wearing a top-of-the-line bulletproof vest — but one scene in this book was beyond ridiculous. Chapter 8 begins with Camellion doing some shopping:
He had only one stop to make before returning home, a health food store six blocks from Melina's apartment. Camellion had exhausted his supply of vitamin B6 capsules. Vitamin B6 was essential in removing homocysteine from the blood. Diets known to cause atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," were usually high in cholesterol and methionine. And methionine produced homocysteine. Vitamin B6 helped destroy homocysteine and prevent fatty deposits from building up in vessels and arteries. ...
The clerk, a young and dumpy woman with beautiful black hair, spoke very good English and was eager to help Camellion, who bought two bottles of 50-milligram B6 tables and a bottle of 250-milligram choline capsules, which helped destroy fat in the liver.
He left the store and started to walk west toward the FIAT Uno, sixty feet away. He was in front of the TV and radio store when he detected what appeared to be several inches of a sonics suppressor protruding from the bottom of the front window on the right side of a Nissan 200. ...
The average man might not have noticed the few inches of the rounded silencer, or if he had, he might have hesitated, taking time to wonder what the object was. The Death Merchant knew instantly that he was staring not only at the black muzzle of a silencer, but that someone was about to try to quietly put a bullet into him. Whoever it was almost did. The silencer went phyyyt phyyyt at the same instant that Camellion jerked himself to his right, directing his body to the space between the front of the Datsun and the rear of the Audi, which were parked in front of his car.Okay. This KGB Boyevaya Gruppa kill-expert - one of the finest and most elite trained assassins on the planet, we are told, and one who is working with a team of at least three other assassins - sees his target coming out of a store in broad daylight, but he doesn't do his job.
Ivan Berzin, a KGB Boyevaya Gruppa kill-expert, had pulled the trigger of the silenced Czech CZ75 pistol twice. The first 9-mm flat-point bullet tore into the space between the Death Merchant's left rib cage and his inner left arm. The second slug passed half an inch from the outside of his left biceps. ...
An unhappy Richard Camellion, crouched down in the three-foot space between the Datsun and the Audi, jerked up his left pant leg and pulled the .45 Detonics from the ankle holster. ...
Well, fudge! ... I'm fresh out of miracles. Now I'll have to do some hard thinking.
Instead, he simply sits in the front seat of his car, holding his gun, and waits until Camellion gets close enough to notice the end of the pistol poking out of the car window. And even then he fires only after Camellion starts moving to his right and diving between two cars. ... Kill-expert, my ass. Berzin must be the most timid, indecisive assassin of all-time. (And what are the other two killers in the car doing? Reading magazines? Taking a nap?)
Who Is "Ralph Buntline"?
It had been agreed that the CIA would send one of its most experienced field agents into Greece. In this case, the operative would be Ralph Buntline, who would travel under the name of Richard Camellion. Grojean had not mentioned that "Richard Camellion" was a non-contract agent.Rosenberger does not bring up this bit of information again. However: In The Soul Search Project (DM #62), someone asks: "Which of you is Richard Camellion?" The Death Merchant states: "That's the name on my baptismal record." (The narrator informs us that this is a lie.)
The how and the why had been next on the agenda. "Richard Camellion" would have to have a legitimate reason for going into Greece. ...
The CIA had a proprietary firm in New York that was perfect: Triangle Importing and Exporting Company, Inc.
Why couldn't Richard Camellion fly to Greece as a representative of Triangle? By so doing, he would be able to make contact with Joseph Pappas, who also had an importing and exporting business.
Camellion certainly goes to Greece as a Triangle representative and meets with Pappas. Is the Death Merchant's true name Ralph Buntline? Only the Cosmic Lord of Death knows for sure.
There is a character named "Julius George Hagberg". Rosenberger had a step-brother named "Julius George Fritz".
Cahill had "a face that looked as if it belonged to a man who did pushups without hands".
We learn (for the first time) that Camellion rarely drinks because "his uncle had died an alcoholic" and his father had been "a hopeless drunkard" for 30 years. Camellion was "afraid he might acquire the habit ... [He] knew the same weakness was in his own genes."
The slug "bored through the zygomatic (or cheek) bone, zipped through her nasopharynx, and went out the back of her head".
The Death Merchant was "exceptionally facile at shifting from one cognitive process to another ... Some men were like that."
The Death Merchant heard Pappas say something "in the pessimistic tone of a man who has been told in the morning that he has won a $5 million lottery, but learns in the afternoon he has incurable cancer and will have a grass cover and a granite pillow in six months".
"It is not likely that when Sir William Bond created Old Bond Street from a muddy country lane in 1686, he envisioned the city that would be London 301 years later." (That is true, it's not likely.)
"Per ratio of population [Athens had] six percent more taxis than ... New York"
An example of Rosenberger's bizarre habit of stating something and then immediately undercutting it by stating the opposite:
The KGB was not so paranoid that it attempted to bug the room of every tourist who might come to Riga. Just the same, the hotel was Intourist, the Soviet travel bureau. It was possible that every room in the place was bugged. In the Soviet Union the KGB used this system not only in Intourist hotels but also in such hotels as the Metropole and others favored by foreign visitors."Yeah, let's earn our daily CIA bread. It does beat writing bumper stickers for a living ..."
"He might as well have asked me to take a bath on top of a flag pole!"
"I think it's illogical to inhale smoke from a weed wrapped in paper, and pay money to do it."
"That's as ridiculous as saying that Joan of Arc's last request was for a match!"
"At that moment, he would have agreed that an ant could stack a ton of hay in half a minute."
"Sifting through the carefully indexed files of his mind ..."
Camellion is pissed and wants to tell his CIA boss, Courtland Grojean, to go fuck himself:
"I'm thinking of corals, hydras, jellyfish, and other Cnidaria, sometimes called coelenterata," Camellion said, sucking in his lower lip."Do you realize that the human race is made up of only passionate vegetables? Do you realize that if you placed a dozen tomatoes or a dozen cucumbers in a sack and shook them, they would have as much passion as we have—DO YOU? ANSWER ME!"
"I'm listening." Grojean forced himself to be patient. He had always considered the Death Merchant to be the Patron Saint of the Perpetually Strange and was never too surprised at anything he might say.
"Corals, hydras, jellyfish, and other coelenterata are asexual. No sex organs! No fun! In contrast, hermaphrodite or bisexual animals, such a worms, bryozoans, snails, slugs, and what-have-you, have sex organs of both sexes."
"So!" Grojean uncomfortably shifted his weight in the chair.
Camellion smiled. "If you were a worm, I could tell you to go have sexual intercourse with yourself. That should give you some idea of the odds against my going to Miskos without being paid to do so."
"Poor pig farmer. You overrate yourself. You think you're an idiot!"
"Colonel Clint Ambule flexed his tonsils."
"Racing in a crooked run, on a course that would make a pretzel look like a straight line ..."
"There were times when [Camellion] felt he was the only resident adult in a house full of psychotic monkeys. 'All of us are prisoners, more or less, of our early conditioning and religious training.'"
"Life is many things."