Fischer Price was Robert Ludlum's penultimate novel before his death, the poor critical reception of which many consider to be the cause of his death. Though the lackluster reviews were nothing new for the extremely popular author, one critic's allegation of "overextended and utterly ridiculous storytelling far surpassing the idiocy of his previous works" apparently took its toll on the writer, who turned to Harper Lee-esque hermitism to complete his final book before his death, North of New York City. The text (annotated to highlight key points and abridged to allow for an enjoyable experience) is as follows:
The man woke up with a strange sense of alienation, the smell of rice and dumplings in his nostrils. Though the smell of the traditional Chinese cuisine filled him with a sense of happiness and belonging, the unforgiving palisade upon which he was perched clearly did not invite either of these feelings. He appeared to be strapped to a fortified wall, with a gun pointed at his head. "Jesus Christ! What the hell?"
He couldn't remember a thing as to how he had arrived at this unfortunate position. All he knew was that he had to act. Pushing the small of his back against the wall, he pulled the straps fixing him to the wall out of the mortar between the bricks and kicked the gun out of the soldier's hand. Grabbing the gun out of the air, the man pressed it into the small of the Chinese man's back.
Recalling his fluency in Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Korean, all Germanic languages, and several extinct dialects of Proto-Indo-European, he proceeded to bark in all of these languages "Who are you? What the hell are you doing trying to kill me?" To an ordinary man, the Chinese man's response would have sounded simply like "Hang yang tou chaaaaannn poulau dai chou," but George Fischer was no ordinary man.
He heard the man say, "Praise American Jesus, sun, stars, happy splendid goodness! Your super fantastic ultra mega life has been fantastically restored!" Fischer screamed in reply "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?" while pressing the gun deeper into the tailbone. The Chinese man looked at him quizzically, and Fischer shot him disgustedly. Who was he?
Joshua Rappaport threw down the government-paid cellular phone angrily. Picking it up, he threw it down again, yelling "Bastards! Dirty bastards!" The Chinese had failed to kill Fischer. Now it was up to him. Opening his phone, he dialed a number. "Set it in motion. Yes, it's time."
The man raced through the unfamiliar streets with cat-like stealth. In his mind he turned over the repercussions of what he had just done. Why had he done it? What had that man done? He needed answers now! Instinctively, his hand went to his ear as the receding twilight revealed the area's shadows. Something seemed off about the situation, something that had nothing to do with the screams and cries of a distraught woman who had just found her husband dead. Twitching his earlobe, he caught sight of what he least wanted to see.
Instincts flooding back to him far faster than his memory, he continued walking past the shadow that shouldn't have been there. Reaching into his pants for a good luck tug, Fischer feigned a falter in his step, stumbling away from where the stalker was crouching. Falling to his knees, he braced himself for the assault, and when it came straightened up, taking the gun-wielding man by surprise. He wrenched the pistol out of the Westerner's hand and pointed it at his adversary, hand quivering.
"What are you doing? Why are you trying to kill me? Who are you?" the man with no name asked his assailant. "No habla English," replied the attacker. The nameless man smacked his enemy in the cheek with the gun, shouting obscenities into his face. "Yo, Fischer," replied the hostage, "Chill, dude. It's just a water gun." Fischer let the man out of his grasp.
"Yeah, George Fischer! You're my buddy, man!" Fischer was flabbergasted at this odd and not all-too-pleasing turn of events. At this moment he received an intense bout of pain in his testicular area as he fell to the floor. "PSYCH!" yelled the purported friend. "You lose! And by the way," he said with a snicker, "this is a real gun." At that moment a blinding sensation of pain swept over Fischer, concentrated around his gut. In this moment, everything became clear.
There he was, the picture of perfection, the absolute epitome of a youth in his prime. But hidden under his boyish charm and looks hid a very sinister motive indeed. He was here to kill his former ally, Italian mafioso Franco Belli. As far back as when Fischer had witnessed his father's brutal rape and killing at the hands of Belli, they had been in contact. Whether through supplying crack-cocaine to the young man for considerable remuneration or just shooting the breeze (and a squealer) for old times' sake, they had hit it off.
But something had changed. Fischer, lacking rather noticeably in morals and conscience, could no longer condone the actions of his once-friend. Plus, the triads paid much better, and for that there was something to be said. For him, the task was simple and noble. Perhaps it would get him in good graces with that "God" he'd heard all of his victims whining about.
Then it all went awry. The killing was botched, the double agent had himself been turned on, and Franco's right-hand man could not stop narrating the scene from a safe distance. He was shot in the back, and his memory went black.
Fischer woke with a start. He felt the bandaging on his stomach, wondering who nursed the wound while simultaneously wondering about the state of his task. What was it? With the revelation fresh in his mind, he concentrated on remembering. Remember, remember! However, several moments later his attention had been spent and he was no closer to the truth. What was it? He desperately wanted to know, but was distracted by the long-haired lady who had walked to his bedside.
"You're awake?" the woman asked kindly. Fischer stared. She was the perfect specimen: young, nubile, blond-haired, and nurturing. He sat up, realizing his shirt was off. He made a weak attempt at flexing his abdominal muscles, but the intense pain caused by that action forced him to stop. "Yes," he said slowly and deliberately, "I'm fine....but how come you're here, nursing me?"
"Because," she said, surprised, "it's the right thing to do! I found you on the street, and I had to help you!" He grabbed her hand tenderly, and she drew closer to him with curiosity. "Is everything alright?" Yes, Fischer thought, everything's fine, you pretty little thing. He noticed with zeal that she was wearing a button-down shirt. He allowed himself a small smile and pulled her forcefully to him.
With the young woman laying in the fetal position on the floor, Fischer contemplated what he had just done. He didn't see much wrong with it. "So, how are you?" he asked in an offhand manner. "GAH! W-w-w-w-w-w-w-" the woman spluttered before ceasing to speak and continuing to rock herself. Fischer chuckled and fell asleep.
When he awoke, he donned his clothes, and made for the door, when he felt her latch onto him. "WAIT!" she yelled. "What do you want, Mrs. Gah? Can't you see I'm leaving?" he asked angrily. She let him go, looked down bashfully, and said, "I want come with you." The meek words astounded Fischer; the hardened man that he was, he had never expected something like this. "Why?" She said nothing.
Provoked, Fischer angrily spat out his entire memory, the entire revelation, occasionally adding in an epithet for good measure. When he was finished, he said, "I'm just a no good guy! I'm no good. You don't want to be with me!" Suddenly, she ran up to him and kissed him. "Oh, yes I do! I know you're a good person at heart, I just know! You deserve to know the truth, and I want to help you!" Pondering for a moment, Fischer denied her offer. As he walked out, she walked beside him, saying "I know I can help. A kind-souled person like you deserves a second chance!"
"It's done?" Rappaport asked tensely. Upon the answer from the other end, he loosened greatly. "Thank you," he said emphatically, before hanging up. He promptly marched out of his office to the Room. This secret room, known only by its common noun due to lack of originality, was the center of the Fischer operation. He had the Fischer Price transferred to the assassin's bank account, and then took out Fischer's file. Chuckling softly, he lit it on fire. "."
General Lao sighed, in part due to the unfortunate name of his province (which translated in English to "Some Place in Korea" and was the butt of many jokes), and in greater part due to the failure of The Cobra to complete the task. It had been 36 hours and he hadn't heard back from the assassin-burglar who was supposed to do the deed. One could only assume that he had failed. He could hold it off no longer. He picked up his phone.
"Richard," he said in heavily accented English, "The Cobra failed. The war may begin at any time now." The voice on the other end responded immediately. Lao nodded. "Yes, prepare your troops, but do not let them get wind of the objective. There is still time." The other voice uttered an affirmative, and the line went dead. Lao found it curious that he had been so quick to get off the phone, but he brushed it aside, as he had more important things to do.
On the other end of General Lao's phone sat Richard Gruthers, head of the FBI's covert Super Secret Dirty Work division, who was currently very happy. This war was going to happen, and it would be his doing. Certainly, one wouldn't know it now, but when the United States emerged again in glory, it would have been at his behest. Hardly able to contain himself, he paged Joshua Rappaport to his office. Upon Rappaport's arrival, Gruthers handed him the second half of what he needed. "Do it," Gruthers said gravely. Rappaport nodded and left.
Fischer and the woman, whose name was Thelma, drove along the dark road at breakneck speed. Fischer, hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, didn't know exactly where he was going. Instincts were yet again driving the car, and everywhere he looked familiarity dwelt. What had the task been? Why couldn't he remember? In the distance, a pair of headlights appeared, racing towards their car. Sensing trouble, Fischer slammed on the brakes, drifting 180 degrees to face the opposite direction.
He sped away down the narrow road, amid Thelma's cries of "Oh my God! What the hell are you doing?" He just hoped he wouldn't run into any cars before the one-way path widened. Looking in the rearview mirror, he saw nothing but a large empty expanse, similar to a pickup truck. Suddenly, he recognized the unpleasant smell pervading the car, and understood why his gut had told him not to steal the automobile in the first place. "It's a fucking HEARSE!" he screamed angrily as the speedometer wound down to nothing. He had blown the hearse's motor. Bracing himself for the impact, it came, and he blacked out.
As Thelma and Fischer bled in the demolished hearse, the attacker stepped out of his Ford Taurus and surveyed the wreckage. Such a shame that they had to die, but The Cobra couldn't live. Not when his task was so important. He knelt down in front of Fischer's face and breathed onto him with his garlicky breath. Franco Belli reveled in his genius. Though he had been betrayed by the warlord he had been working with, and had lost Fischer to his expert medical care, that warlord was dead now. Though his hitman had failed to kill him, and he had lost him yet again to an American student with conscience, it didn't matter.
Franco Belli had killed George Fischer, and it didn't matter what he did now. Now Joshua Rappaport would be none the wiser to his initial failure. Maybe he'd even ask him on a date! Franco stood up smiling, and pulled his FBI badge out of his pocket. Soon, it would be over, and he could get out of this cover for a better life. He drove away smiling.
But Fischer wasn't dead, he had awoken and seen it all. And he remembered.
Pinned beneath the wreckage of Belli's Ford Taurus and trapped by the shoddy construction of the macabre transportation he had purloined, Fischer was powerless to stop the imminent world war. He didn't know what exactly had come over him, but it felt as if a sense of righteousness was pervading his person, filling every pore on his body. "I have to stop this!" he exclaimed to an unconscious and likely dead Thelma. "I have to! You have shown me what it is to be complete!" Thelma drooled.
Immensely heartened by this display, Fischer wedged his way out of the car. Standing on bruised and bloody legs, he called out for help. "DAMN it! Why aren't you helping me? You bastards all suck!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. Tired from his fruitless call, he worked to push the Taurus off of the hearse. A pair of headlights appeared in the distance. He was saved. Grasping an immense wad of cash from his pocket (the origin of which he was unsure of), he waved down the driver. "Go! Asshole, go now!"
The commandeered car caught up to Franco Belli's in short order. The undercover FBI agent was oblivious to the approaching Fischer, as he was occupied with the tweezing of his eyebrows. "Damn it!" he exclaimed in anguish, dropping the tweezers onto the floor. He studied himself in the rearview mirror. Examining his facial attributes anxiously, he hoped he hadn't damaged his beautiful features. All for you, Joshua, he thought dreamily. As he dreamt of future liaisons with the other FBI man, he failed to notice the road's sharp bend. Plunging headlong down a 150-foot ravine, Fischer's prey was lost.
"FUCK!" he yelled, stabbing the driver of the vehicle with a ballpoint pen. As they, too, disappeared down the deep chasm, Fischer regretted his move. Luckily, the ravine's edges were quite gentle and they traveled down at a comfortable speed. Fischer slammed down on the dead driver's foot to brake once at the bottom and found a badly bruised Franco Belli crawling from the wreckage of his less-fortunate car.
"Have your way with me, O immortal!" Belli weakly yelled as Fischer strode toward him. Fischer, in turn, picked him up by the scruff of his neck and slapped him. "Oh!" Belli moaned as Fischer yelled "Where the hell is it, you asshole? You know damn well what I mean!" Feigning ignorance, Belli shrugged, and Fischer slapped him again. "If you don't return the Jade Monkey of Jiang-Xian to the Temple of Chan-jai Pau, you can start a world war, you bastard! Now where is it?" Belli pointed faintly to the trunk of his car, and then fell to the ground.
Fischer ran to the trunk, finding it jarred open by the 150-foot fall. Opening it, he found it. The Jade Monkey of Jiang-Xian and its accompanying stand, the Pedestal of Poo-Fau Song. Little did Fischer know his fortune, for Belli had just acquired the Pedestal from the designating pickup place. He had been on his way to sell it to Russian agents when he had been overtaken by Fischer. George allowed himself a small smile. Walking away, he reflected on the future.
He would be alright after all.