At Government House

29 Oct

Istana Palace, Singapore, Late February 1942 

Government House had taken quite a lot of damage in the recent Japanese bombardment. Von Lederhosen, standing at the bar in the banquet room, noted with admiration the blast holes left by artillery shells in the walls. He could see burn marks where windows had blown out and curtains had caught fire. The room was filled with Japanese Imperial Army officers, most in parade dress.

Every remnant of British rule had been removed from the room. White tablecloths were spread over long tables filled with fresh fruit. Ice water pitchers streamed condensation. The afternoon sun shone through the blast holes, making the banquet silver glow. An Imperial war flag flew from scorched rafters at the head table.

It was eight days since the British Governor-General had left Government House, just before the surrendering the city to the Japanese.

Von Lederhosen, nursing his champagne cocktail, found his Wehrmacht uniform stiff. He felt uncomfortable in uniform, but not so much that he would allow Tanaka any sense of it. Rigidly upright at the bar, Lederhosen took another drink. The early evening breeze cooled the room. But Lederhosen, crisply starched, noticed how Tanaka sweated. There is something about this man Tanaka, Lederhosen thought, that is not entirely comfortable in such surroundings.

They spoke English.

“Major Tanaka, the Imperial Army’s achievements in taking Singapore so quickly are impressive.”

Tanaka preened. “Yes, Lieutenant. Our forces advance inexorably toward victory.”

Lederhosen’s eyes closed halfway at the tone Tanaka had used when saying “Lieutenant.” As if Tanaka’s superior rank meant something in the larger scheme of their business together. This was an insult to remember, not one to redress immediately. Still, Lederhosen could feel his eyelids burning, as he forced himself calmly to take another sip from his drink.

“As do German forces in North Africa, I am told.”

“Quite so, Lieutenant von Lederhosen. Perhaps our countries’ forces can meet somewhere in the Near East, when the British have been routed.” Tanaka smiled without humor.

More unease in this man, von Lederhosen thought. As he stood watching the Japanese military guards saluting visitors at the door, von Lederhosen reminded himself he was far from home, and without any confirmation of these Japanese forces’ good intentions.

Perhaps there is a way to exploit Tanaka’s lack of grace in social situations, he thought.

As Lederhosen stood there at the bar, looking down at Tanaka, a hush fell over the large banquet room. One hundred male heads turned, as epaulets swung and eyes focused on the main stairway. When he glimpsed the focus of attention, von Lederhosen too stared.

Princess Pupuli descended the stairs one at a time. Pupuli turned as she reached the bottom of the stairs and looked straight at von Lederhosen. Smiling, she crossed the room at a natural pace. Every eye followed her. There was dead silence.

And then she was standing next to von Lederhosen. Surprised and delighted, he turned toward her, clicked his heels, bowed and kissed the air above the offered hand.

Leutnant Manfred von Lederhosen, Princess. May I have the honor of addressing you by your name?”

“Of course, Herr Leutnant. Call me Pupuli. I hope we can be friends.”

“May I present Major Tanaka of the Imperial Japanese Army? He is our host this afternoon.”

Lederhosen thought Tanaka may have grunted, but said nothing.

Pupuli, who had been meeting soldiers all her life, offered her hand to Tanaka. He shook it without ceremony, in the American style. Pupuli’s smile widened. Lederhosen would have called it a grin.

“Major, is there a table where we three can talk? I would prefer to be out of the sight and sound of all this.” With a wave, Pupuli’s hand dismissed every other man in the room.

“Yes, Princess, please follow me.” With a clear objective, Tanaka became suddenly confident. He escorted Lederhosen and Pupuli to a table next to a window, where they could sit in relative privacy while looking out on the gardens surrounding Government House.

An orderly brought Pupuli a tall cool drink. Tanaka and Lederhosen positioned themselves one on each side of her. They passed several minutes talking about the flowers and weather. Eventually, the eyes around the room lost interest, and a general din of conversation rose in the banquet room again.

When she was sure the room had generally lost interest in the three of them sitting there, Pupuli dropped her voice.

Leutnant von Lederhosen, I have been given to understand you have obtained a map that may lead to a treasured object. Am I right to have been so informed?”

Von Lederhosen concealed his shock, but betrayed nothing.

“I know of no such map, Princess. Whatever you may have heard.”

“My source of information, Leutnant, has been extremely reliable in the past. I am told you have obtained a map leading to a certain Buddhist palace in Rangoon. Have I been misinformed?”

Pupuli leaned forward, her lips making a small pursed expression. Then her look changed completely, and the poise became steeled resolve.

“Perhaps I can refresh your memory, Herr Leutnant. Your men and Tanaka’s dock patrol raided a bar on the docks in this city three days ago. The bar is named the Forbidden Island Social Club. Tanaka’s men have made it a . . . comfort station.” Pupuli’s lips curled with distaste.

Tanaka, immediately aware that Pupuli had insulted him by neglecting to refer to his rank, sat bolt upright.

Von Lederhosen smiled. This woman would be easy to handle after all. Predictable.

“Regrettably, Princess, you are misinformed. Major Tanaka’s shore patrol raided that club, it is true. But they found nothing, and the club has been allowed to continue operations.”

“I care nothing for the Japanese soldiers’ patronage of a house of ill-repute, Herr Leutnant. What I care about is that your agents have obtained a map woven into a tapestry. A map that shows the location of the Rangoon Ruby.”

Lederhosen smiled and said nothing.

A tense silence hung over the meeting for a long moment. Finally, Tanaka spoke.

“What is this Rangoon Ruby? Some trinket promised you by your father?”

Lederhosen watched amused, as Pupuli’s eyes flashed with anger.

“What would you know of my family, Tanaka?”

“If you persist in disrespecting me, Princess, I will have you removed.”

“You would not dare.”

Lederhosen was enjoying the spectacle, but broke in.

“Please, this is getting us nowhere. I have no such map, Princess. Your source has told you something that is not true.”

Pupuli, her chest heaving with anger and a kind of asexual lust, looked Lederhosen straight in the eye.

Herr Leutnant, my source has told me quite a lot about you and your men. Perhaps Major Tanaka here would like to hear more about your black market activities.”

Lederhosen’s voice lashed out like a whip. “You will watch what you say, Princess. You may be royalty from a small island, but there are limits to my patience. And your small island is not so important that you can depend upon my good intentions in all matters.”

Pupuli took a moment, calmed herself, and smiled. She took a drink and looked out the window at the orchids. Suddenly Lederhosen noticed her perfume, a soft hint of jasmine which had not been noticeable before.

Now Pupuli spoke in flawless German. “Herr Leutnant, wir werden eine Vereinbarung treffen. We will make an agreement. I will not expose your gold-smuggling operations from Mindanao to Singapore, if you will take me along on your pursuit of the Rangoon Ruby.”

Tanaka, who spoke no German, stared at Pupuli. His face betrayed his concern. Lederhosen took notice, just as he was careful to conceal his surprise.

In English, he replied. “I am sure we can come to some agreement, Princess. I will need to discuss this matter with Major Tanaka. Shall we meet tomorrow at my office to discuss this further?”

“What assurance do I have that anything will be resolved at that time?”

“Because you have no options, Prinzessin. You want something that we do not possess. You have no cards to play in this game. Because it pleases me to make you wait.”

Von Lederhosen smiled. “It will be my pleasure, Prinzessin.

And then the three of them stood, von Lederhosen helping Pupuli up from her chair.

Prinzessin. May I call you a car?”

“That will not be necessary, Herr Leutnant. My men will drive me back to my hotel.” And with that Pupuli turned, crossed the room as decorously as she had entered it, and left by the front door. The hundred heads followed her out the door.

Tanaka looked up at von Lederhosen for a moment, then spoke. “How could she possibly know about our pursuit of the Rangoon Ruby?”

Von Lederhosen spoke slowly and carefully. “I do not know. But there is a security leak. We need to find it, and rid ourselves of it.”

“Yes. Immediately and with finality.”

“You will investigate the American and his whorehouse?”

“Yes, yes. And you will tell me what she said to you in German?”

Von Lederhosen just laughed. But the laughter was forced, and he could feel it choking him. The woman was dangerous, and needed to be watched. And, eventually, managed. With finality.

Von Lederhosen said a brief goodbye to Tanaka, and left.

Back at his desk, his uniform off, Lederhosen sat down and looked out at the harbor. The lights of the hundreds of junks anchored in the harbor glittered on the water. He thought about this woman Pupuli. And Tanaka. And the heroin shipments already spoken for in Rangoon. The war raged in Europe and North Africa. But here there was only money to be made. No clear path to glory.

The Rangoon Ruby? Every instinct told Lederhosen the Rangoon Ruby would be of incalculable value. His only orders had been to establish a black market. He had been given free rein, and OKW had never even sent word of a case officer responsible for reviewing his reports. He had stopped writing them a year ago. There had been no response from OKW. They were too busy winning the war, apparently.

Lederhosen drank little, but he sat there contemplating a glass of whiskey. It had been sitting in front of him since he had arrived back from the reception at Government House.

And then there was this Prinzessin, Pupuli. Not a beauty like the blonde Aryan girls Lederhosen had admired as a school lad. An exotic type, a riddle. A woman who was more than she seemed. Where had she learned such German? He knew that German missionaries had traveled to the Marshall Islands. There were still German schools there. In school, he had heard the islands called German New Guinea. Perhaps this Pupuli had attended schools in Hong Kong?

And Lederhosen had not met a woman of quality in some time. The British were too arrogant, and now they were gone. The Japanese had not brought any women with them. Perhaps Prinzessin Pupuli could serve more than one purpose in this war.

This Ruby. What of that? Every instinct told him to grab it, to play politics and intrigue in any way possible to possess it. Every inference told him it was a way to turn a war that had become banal into something he could bring home, something he could use to get respect. Something that might even impress his father.

And von Lederhosen sat there looking at the drink and the harbor lights for hours, his various lusts consuming his thoughts.

finis

Created by Robin Enos

Sailor Jack Goes to Shanghai

6 Dec

Sailor Jack – Bound for Shanghai

or,

How Jack Harris left Stanford, then found himself

on a slow boat to Shanghai

Stanford, California – April 3, 1938

Jack Harris stood in the hallway outside the Provost’s office, wondering again about how he’d gotten into Stanford despite never finishing high school. He remembered opening the letter, reading that he’d been admitted as a freshman to the Class of 1941. Then, a little stunned, looking at his mother – his poor dead mother, sick with the tuberculosis that would kill her. Jack trying to make sense of the look on his mother’s face – innocent confusion, changing to a mysterious satisfied smile. Like she had wanted something to happen, and now it had.

It was warm in the hallway. Jack’s blazer felt hot, and his tie felt too tight.

“Please come in, Mr. Harris.”

The Provost’s office was cool, a fan turning slowly above the oak desk. Provost Terman, an elderly man in a tweed suit, sat in a high-backed chair. The black leather upholstery reminded Jack of a few courtrooms he had seen.

The Provost looked briefly into Jack’s eyes. Then down at the papers spread across his desk blotter.

“Sit down, Mr. Harris.”

Jack sat down, leaning forward.

The Provost looked at Jack again.

“Mr. Harris, do you know why you are here in my office?”

“No, Provost. I do not.”

“You know a female student named Agatha Sprechmont?”

“Aggie? Sure, I know Aggie. We went out a few times, early in this term.”

“You went out. So there was a romantic relationship?”

“I wouldn’t say that, sir. I mean, she’s a great girl, but…..”

“Do you know anything about Miss Spreckmont’s family?”

“Uhh, no. Should I?”

“Only if you buy sugar, Mr. Harris. Her family owns the largest sugar cane company west of the Mississippi.”

“Oh.”

“So would you say your relationship with Miss Spreckmont is over, Mr. Harris?”

“Well, we haven’t seen each other for a few weeks.”

“Your relationship with Miss Spreckmont is over, Mr. Harris.”

“Why would you say that, sir?”

“Because, Mr. Harris, your relationship with Stanford University is over.”

“What? Excuse me, but …..”

“I’ve signed the expulsion order, Mr. Harris. Stanford is not for everybody, Mr. Harris.”

“But what – what happened?”

“”Miss Sprechmont is pregnant, Mr. Harris. She says you are the father. If you doubt paternity, you can pursue the matter in court. I would strongly question the advisability of that. I have known Miss Spreckmont since she was a little girl, Mr. Harris. She was quite positive you are the responsible party.”

“But –“

“The steward will accompany you to your dormitory, where you will pack your things. You will be driven to the train station. Now, if you please. This interview is over. I have several other pressing matters to attend to.”

The Provost closed Jack’s file and set it in the “out” bucket.

Jack didn’t have much to pack. Within an hour, he stood with his battered trunk on the northbound platform, with a one-way ticket to San Francisco.

Looking out the train window, Jack thought back. He could never figure how he’d gotten into Stanford in the first place. He hadn’t applied. He quit high school after getting into a fist fight with one of the younger male teachers. He had been living at home with his mother, in the apartment on Shipley Street near China Basin. The only place he’d ever lived. He had done some street fighting, much to his mother’s distress. When he came home from a fight, sweaty and bruised, she would say it again. “You are the son of a great man, Jack. You can’t behave this way.”

She would never say anything else about Jack’s father.

Jack had watched his mother see men off and on. Never for more than a few weeks. She worked as a waitress, until she got too sick. She had taken Jack to the local branch library every Saturday from the time he had learned to read. Jack loved books, especially stories about the South Pacific. He wanted to go there. He would entertain his mother when she was sick with stories about South Sea islands, exotic ports, beautiful girls, sandy beaches, crazy adventures.

Jack assumed his mother knew his father’s identity. But Jack never asked who it was.

When the Stanford letter arrived, his mother said “We need to talk.”

“Okay.”

“Your father is a great, powerful man, Jack. A United States Senator.”

“So what? I don’t see him around here helping you raise me.”

“No. He and I agreed, after I found out I was expecting you, that he would pay the expenses of your birth, send me a little money each month to help with expenses, and make sure you got an education.”

“You never told me anything about that, Ma.”

“No. He and I agreed you would not be told until it was necessary. Now you need to know why Stanford is offering you admission.”

“Why?”

“Because a man like your father expects his sons – even the ones that don’t bear his last name – to have an education.”

“So who is this bastard? Maybe I should hop a freight back East and teach him a lesson in manners—“

“No, Jack, that must never happen. He and I agreed you would never see him.”

“Mother, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Jack, he is married and has a family. If your existence became public, it would ruin his political career.”

“I don’t give a damn about his political career, Ma.”

Jack remembered how his mother started to cry. The tears ran silently down her cheeks for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was thick.

“Jack, I have tuberculosis. I’ll be dead in a few weeks. Nobody can do anything about it.”

“Oh, Ma, I know you’re sick. But why say stuff like that?”

“Because it’s true. I’ve never told you how sick I really was. So now you need to go to Stanford, study and succeed. Without me, Jack. I’ve done all I can for you.”

Then she fell back into the threadbare sofa in a coughing fit. Eventually the blood came up. Jack said nothing, horrified. After a moment, he slipped on his old leather jacket and left for a long walk.

Two days later, Jack caught the southbound train for Palo Alto. He hadn’t been back. He read about his mother’s death in the newspaper death notices two months later. He had no money for a funeral, or even cash to take the train up from school to see her. Jack didn’t even know where his mother was buried.

And now he was expelled from Stanford, penniless, with nowhere to go but the old apartment. Would his key still fit the door?

Jack looked out the window. The train slowed as it entered the station.

When the train stopped, the conductor blew his whistle, then announced “Fourth and Townsend, San Francisco. End of the line.”

Jack got off the train, dragging his trunk. Then he wrestled the trunk onto a streetcar. In a few minutes, he got off at his old corner.

Shipley Street. Where the houses were slowly sinking into the Bay.

Jack paused at the front door. Holding his breath, he turned the key. Miraculously, the door opened to his mother’s neat apartment.

Jack walked into the sitting room, then the kitchen. There was a note in his mother’s handwriting, sitting open and unfolded next to the sink.

Dear Jack –

The ambulance is coming for me now, and soon I will be in the hospital. I do not expect I will be able to return to this place, so this is my only way to say goodbye.

I am terribly ill, and will die soon. You know this.

Your father has paid the rent on this apartment for many years, and the rent will continue to be paid by a bank in Chicago until your father finds out I am dead. I cannot say how long that might take.

There is a bank account at Wells Fargo Bank at Third and Mission in our joint names.

Please never try to find your father, Jack.

I love you,

Mother

Jack read the letter over and over, tears flowing. He sat at the kitchen table and looked out the window for a long time. Eventually, noticing it was dark outside, he got up, donned his leather jacket and left. Jack was angry. It was time to get drunk.

The boys at the Irish bar on Brannan Street all knew Jack. The kid had been coming in for pub grub since he could walk.

Barkeep Digger O’Shaughnessy broke away from refereeing a darts match, slapping Jack on the back when Jack dropped his elbows on the bar.

“So Jackie, we all heard about your dear departed mother.”

“Digger, I couldn’t even come up for the viewing, or pay for a wake.”

“We took care of that for you, son. We knew you was off to college, and couldn’t scratch together two nickels. It wasn’t likely the lads would have let a local lass go uncelebrated. She left us too bloody soon, mate.”

“Thank you, Digger.” Despite his best efforts, Jack’s eyes filled with tears.

“There’s no shame in tears shed for the memory of a fine woman like your mother, Jackie.”

Jack stayed silent for a moment, choked up. Then, “Can you bring me a bottle of something Irish, Digger?”

Digger nodded, reached below the bar, and an unopened bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey appeared in front of Jack.

Digger poured a shot for Jack, and one for himself.

“First things first. To Margaret Harris, gentlewoman. May she find grace with the saints in Heaven.”

Jack. “To Margaret. My dear departed mother.”

“Amen to that, Jackie. Now drink.”

They drank. Digger poured another round. They stood there in silence for a while.

“While you’re catching up with the lads, Jackie, are you home for a school holiday?”

“Digger, they tossed me out.”

“Hell you say. What did you do, Jackie?”

“Knocked up a rich girl, Digger. I didn’t even know, until they tossed me.”

“Jackie, you’re not the first fellow to join that sorry club.”

“No.”

“We all wondered how long you’d last with the swells, Jackie. I think O’Brien wins the pool we had, for when you’d be back.”

Jack laughed in spite of himself.

“There’s my boy, Jackie. I’ve got matters to attend to. But you just sit here and tell Mr. Jameson about your troubles. I’ll be back.”

Digger shuffled off to break up a fight that had started over the darts.

Eight shots later (or was it nine?), Jack was singing another filthy sea chantey with the regular lads, when he finally noticed a man in a suit, sitting at a table near the bar. The guy looked like a stockbroker. A blonde sat with the guy, smoking.

“And what’s a suit like you doing in our pub, mate?” Jack’s speech was slurred and angry.

“Excuse me? Do I know you?”

“Jack Harris, Stanford Class of 1941.”

“Oh? I’m class of –”

The guy didn’t get to finish the sentence before Jack’s right fist caught him square in the jaw. Stanford collapsed like he’d been hit by a truck.

The blonde screamed. Digger dashed over from behind the bar, to catch Jack lunging forward.

Where did those two cops come from? Jack asked himself, before something hard hit the back of his head, and everything went black.

Several hours later, Jack woke up to a splitting headache, the smell of his own vomit on his shirt, and a stiff neck from sleeping on the floor of Digger’s back room. After a moment of pained consciousness, he lunged for the toilet again.

A few minutes later, while Jack was pulling his jacket onto his shivering frame, Digger O’Shaughnessy appeared at the door.

“So, Jackie, you had a bit of a time last night. How ya feeling, lad?”

“Like bird crap, but okay, I guess.”

“I talked to the coppers. Kearny Street boys they were. We agreed in view of the mitigating factors of your new fatherhood and your mother’s death, justice would best be served if you spent the night in my back room. You’re a lucky boy, Jackie.”

“Thanks, Digger. Jesus, what ran me over?”

“Ha! You’re none too worse for wear, Jackie boy. That’s good, because I’ve got a proposition for you good and proper. But first you’ll need something for that hangover.”

Digger held out a drink in a tall glass. It was yellow, with a layer of fizz on the top and an egg yolk floating around in it.

“Drink this, Jackie. Don’t smell it or breathe in.”

Jack looked at the drink, then looked at Digger. Closing his eyes, muttering something and holding his breath, he drank it down all at once.

“Holy Mother of God, what the hell is that?”

“Best you not know, Jackie. Something for me best customers when they wake up here in the store room.”

Jack grinned, then laughed when he realized his stomach actually felt better.

“Okay, Boss. What’s the play? I’ve nothing to go home to here.”

“I called Mick Kelly down at the Sailors Union of the Pacific.”

“Huh?”

“Jackie, you always talked about seeing the South Seas. Since you were a little one cadging drinks from the lads here at the bar. All we ever heard from you was sandy beaches, beautiful girls, skimpy outfits, breezes in the palm trees.”

“Yeah. So what?”

“So you’ve got no college to run off to. You’ve lost your mother, God rest her soul. You’ve got the craving for the sea – no need to deny it, I can see it and the lads have been talking about it since your early bedtime last night.”

“But –“

“Jackie, boy, you’ve got to ship out. Everybody here who cares about you thinks it’s the best thing. You’re mostly a man now, but you’ve still got some filling out to do, and some rough edges to smooth out. The sea’s the best place for it.”

“Oh, hell, Digger.”

“But me no buts, Jackie. Ye’ve got an appointment with Mick at the SUP hall at 10:00 o’clock. Just enough time to wash up and grab a clean shirt from home. You can take a cab both places, it’s just down Harrison Street at the top of the hill.”

“Gee, Digger, I don’t know….”

“Stow it, swabbie. It’s the best thing all around. There’s a hack waiting for you at the front door.”

Jack looked around the bar. The smell of the place made him want to throw up again.

What the hell. Why not?

The cab, the apartment, the clean shirt, the cab again, and then the SUP hiring hall all passed like a blur.

At four that afternoon, in bright windy sunshine, the SS Carlsbad weighed anchor, with 5,000 tons of displacement, a rusty hull needing paint, and her holds full of redwood lumber. And with a new cabin boy named Jack, his duffel bag and leather jacket bundled on a bunk near the engine room.

As the Carlsbad spewed black diesel smoke into the clean marine air, passing below the newly-finished Golden Gate Bridge, Jack stopped mopping the floor for a moment to look back at the city of his birth.

Jack was bound for Shanghai. And after that, who knew?

finis

Von Leiderhosen’s ‘Graduation Day’

22 Aug

or
How Manfred von Lederhosen’s
Wehrmacht Commissioning Ceremony
Went Wrong for the Third Reich

“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates,

there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” (Carl Jung)

Offizier Inbetriebnahme Zeremonie, Neues Schloss Oberstein, Deutschland (15. Juni, 1938)

The day Manfred von Lederhosen received his commission in the Wehrmacht Heer (land army) should have been the best day of his life. But when Manfred’s mother fell in tears of joy onto older brother Wulf’s shoulders at the post-ceremony reception, Manfred realized he would need to find his own glory elsewhere in the Reich.

Wulf had missed the swearing-in. Wulf was always missing important family moments. The reason was always the same – duty to the Reich. Wulf, four years Manfred’s senior, had graduated from university at Heidelberg, then enlisted in the newly-formed Kriegsmarine. Wulf’s brilliance became evident immediately. In January 1938, Oberleutnant Wulf von Lederhosen was assigned to Admiral Dönitz’ staff, with rumors of new promotions circulating amongst the senior officer staff at OKM, the Oberkommando der Marine or Naval High Command.

At the reception, Wulf burst in, tall, uniformed, fresh from his motorcycle. Tearing off his goggles, Wulf rushed to their mother, who had been standing next to Manfred, fussing over the new Leutnant’s bars on his new grey Wehrmacht uniform.

Hannah von Lederhosen turned away from her second son, squared her shoulders to face her eldest son full on, and looked up at him. “So, mein erste Sohn. What news have you brought your mother to make her happy?”

Wulf smiled broadly. “Mama, I have been posted to OKM, to work as special liaison between Admiral Dönitz and Gross-Admiral Raeder’s general staff!”

The young officers’ father, Kapitän Albrecht Phillip Karl Julius von Lederhosen, wearing his old Imperial German Navy dress uniform, put down his drink and clapped his hands. “Outstanding, my first son. Just outstanding.” Men of Kapitän von Lederhosen’s rank and age did not demonstrate their emotions outwardly.

Hannah von Lederhosen was more effusive. She fell onto Wulf’s epaulets, throwing her arms around him and kissing him hard on the cheek, right above the dueling scar Wulf had obtained fencing at Heidelberg. “My son, my son, my son. I am so proud! You have brought such honor onto the family. And to the Reich!” Wulf leaned forward, wiped his cheek, and grinned. “Ja, a beer, I must now drink a beer. From the road, you understand.”

Captain-at-Sea Albrecht von Lederhosen excused himself to converse with another retired World War I officer, as Wulf lunged off to find a stein of lager. Manfred stood stiffly there in the garden with his mother for a long moment.

“So, Manfred. Now you will join the ranks of the Wehrmacht, and bring honor to the family and to the Fatherland?

“Ja, Mother. Perhaps.”

The tension broke when a student cadet marched up to Manfred, saluted and announced “Heil Hitler!” Manfred snapped to attention, clicked heels, and said “Sieg Heil.” Only his mother, had she paid attention, would have noticed the sullen undertone.

Leutnant von Lederhosen, you are commanded to report to Oberst Himmelberger at once!”

Jawohl, Unteroffizier-Anwärte (Yes, officer-candidate).”

Von Lederhosen bent forward to give him mother an obligatory kiss on the cheek. Hannah von Lederhosen turned her cheek firmly toward her second son, accepted his kiss, and turned back toward her now-returned husband.

“Father, I will advise you if I am ordered beyond the borders of the Reich.”

Danke, Sohn. Now go to your duty.”

Von Lederhosen turned on his heel and left his parents standing next to the flowers, red roses set on white lace, over a black velvet drape. Centered, of course, under the wall-mounted red, white and black Nazi flag.

At the headmaster’s inner office, after von Lederhosen had heiled his way past the secretary, Oberst Himmelberger looked up briefly. Then Himmelberger returned his attention to the thick file in front of him. Von Lederhosen’s student file.

“Sit down, Leutnant.”

“Yes, Colonel.” Von Lederhosen sat down in the hard oak chair in front of Himmelberger’s desk.

“I see you have graduated today, despite your record. Your family was here?” Himmelberger did not wait for an answer. “Kapitän von Lederhosen is your father, correct?”

Jawohl. To both questions.”

Himmelberger looked up sharply, as if he had sensed a faint whiff of insubordination. Seeing too little to bother, Himmelberger leaned back in his chair and looked out the window.

“The Reich has seen fit to extend to you a special duty, Leutnant.”

Von Lederhosen said nothing.

“You are being sent overseas, on a very important posting. This is a great honor, Leutnant. You have been chosen to serve the Reich in the Dutch East Indies and in Singapore.”

“But, Oberst, I do not understand. I speak no indigenous language. I had anticipated a posting to the Signal Corps. Or to Panzers.”

“Yes, I know this is not what you expected. But you speak English, correct?”

“Yes. I have traveled extensive during summer vacations in England.”

“There has been a note in your file that you have shown a talent for, as the Americans say, ‘wheeling and dealing.’” The informal terms spoken in clear English.

Ja, Herr Oberst. I was disciplined in my second year for making beer in the dormitory, and selling it to other cadets. But the file must make that clear.”

Ja. And the file also makes clear that you are insubordinate, sullen, disinclined to your studies, and held in poor esteem by your prominent Prussian Junker family. Who were particularly embarrassed last year, when you smuggled prostitutes into the men’s dormitory. Your father was most disgusted. It was your father who made known to us his preference that you be posted overseas.”

Von Lederhosen, surprised and seething, leaned forward. “And what, sir, shall I be doing in Singapore?”

“You will be organizing a black market, to undermine the British colonial rule in Singapore. We feel the proximity of the Dutch petroleum holdings in the East Indies may someday become important to the Reich and its allies.”

“And if I refuse?”

Himmelberger said nothing. He brusquely signed a one-page order and thrust it at von Lederhosen.

And now Himmelberger looked the young officer straight in the eyes.

“Take this order to the pay officer. Draw expenses for a sea voyage to Singapore by commercial steamer. You will be traveling as a German merchant, in the textile trades. We prefer you use a British merchant steamship for your passage. Your passport and travel visas have been prepared and will be waiting with the cashier. You may take your uniforms, but we expect you will not have much reason to wear them.

“Think of it this way, Leutnant. You are free to set up a black market on such terms as you may wish. You will be a long way from your father, which seems wise. You will be a young man with access to capital, and orders to set up a lucrative business.

“The Reich will expect reports to OKW every Monday by radiotelegraph. You will be assigned a control officer there. We do not yet know who that will be. Of course, if the war we all think is coming approaches your operation, you will do everything you can to help the Fatherland.

“You are not to contact your family or friends before you leave. And you will be expected to be on a ship in the next 48 hours. “Do you understand?”

Jawohl, Kommandant.

“Now leave me to my duty.”

Von Lederhosen stood up, made his stiff-armed salute, and left Himmelberger’s office.

Thirty-four hours later, Manfred von Lederhosen, dressed in an English businessman’s suit, sat on the observation deck of HMS Soho Square. His Wehrmacht uniforms, luger, a few books and a codebook were stored in a locked trunk in his cabin. As von Lederhosen watched, the ship cast off from its moorings at Bremerhaven, bound for Singapore.

Von Lederhosen would never hear of the identity of his control officer at OKW. Despite this unresolved point, his Reichsbank credit line remained solidly intact, and paid for many drinks at the Raffles Bar in Singapore.

finis

Created by Robin Enos

Captain Jack and the Hidden Temple

20 Aug

Pretty Moon had left the stone refuge ostensibly to gather flowers for their new god, in truth to get away from him. The Temple Father had declared him the great bird Mazti’col, and had not the man been seen to fly down from the night sky with great thunder? But there was much un-godlike about him. His Temple Speech was halting and gutteral. He limped slightly as though injured; what could injure a god? And surely Mazti’col would have eyes like to the hawk, not the darting and shifting mud-colored beads possessed by this godling, eyes that hungrily lapped at Pretty Moon and her tribal sisters.

But had not he flown down from the night sky with great thunder?

So Pretty Moon excused herself from his presence (and his pawing hands) that morning ostensibly to gather flowers for their new god. There would be great ceremony through the day; already Mazti’col had demanded for the gold of The Temple Founders to be brought before him, that the End Times were near and he needed to gather the treasures. Battle against the AntiChrist would come, and The Temple had to be made ready, garlanded with flowers and armored with faith. Pretty Moon could help to provide the flowers, the faith not so much.

She came to a beautiful field, a swath of bright colors set high above the rest of the rainforest growth. Only a few minutes walk from her castle home, here had been fought a battle long ago between Temple warriors and the conquistadors sent by the Inquisition to steal their treasures. The conquistadors had been all killed, the skull of their leader decorating the golden throne that had sat empty for centuries awaiting the return of God. Now Mazti’col occupied the throne, but he felt more like to the fallen conquistadors than the promised saviour.

Pretty Moon walked to the far edge of the field and placed her baskets down, intent on filling them by working her way back towards The Temple. But as she reached the hill’s edge, in the near distance Pretty Moon could see destruction; a great furrow churned in the ground, brush thrown up, small trees fallen and great trees broke. Her eyes followed the line of damage, and then her gaze was upon … the back of her hand flew to her mouth in a great gasp, and flowers forgotten Pretty Moon raced down the hill towards the wounded earth, towards the body of the great bird Mazti’col and the form contained inside of it.

It was cold in the dream – cum – memory, a cold night above the South American coastline as Jack was kicked away from the controls. The last crewman of the Henkel bomber hurriedly slung the parachute that had been draped over his co-pilot’s seat across his back, then wickedly he snatched the parachute from the other seat and jumped out of the shattered cockpit window to escape the nose-diving plane. Jack did not have time to find another parachute, nor was there anyone else to fly the plane. Two of the crew had gone out the way Jack had come in, through the bomb bay doors; but Jack had entered the plane as it taxied down the runway, while the crewmen had gone out a few thousand feet over the ocean.

The third crewman, one of the pilots, had in the fistfight moments before gone through the cockpit window, creating the opening that the fourth needed to make his escape. Now Jack, hero of the OSS, had to save himself. Throwing his body forward to crash kneeling into the console, Jack grabbed the controls and with every ounce of strength dragged the hydraulics out of a deathfall. The plane was still losing altitude but its nose was generally straight-ahead. Although his mind knew better, for a moment it looked to Jack like the ground was a swelling wave rising up to engulf him. Then there was a crack, a great groan, Jack stood with the controls to bring the plane down into a belly landing.

Then nothing.

Then light, painful light, and awakening Jack covered his eyes with his hands. He had somehow survived, now he had to take stock of his situation and continue on with his mission. Eyes closed, Jack sat up, his body one large bruise, then he tried to open his eyes again. The girl stood over him, heart-shaped face caressed by a waterfall of dark hair flowing around two golden coins that had been formed into chunky earrings. She wore a white sarong as her only clothing, her bronzed body to be admired like other of nature’s more perfect creations.

“Never thought I’d make it to heaven,” Jack drawled with a smile, “but you must certainly be an angel.” An angel with a gun, he reazlied with a start; she held his M-rifle, slung over his shoulder before the crash, an advanced weapon provided Jack by his OSS handler, as advanced over the bolt-action M1 Garand as the Garand was advanced over the musket. Jack held out his hand. “Now do be careful with that, darlin’, I don’t need Fergus to get all angry with me again. Not only about breakin’ one of his prototypes, but he’ll be real upset about missin’ out on you.”

Jack made no sudden moves as the girl, from her shaking stance, was nervous. She clutched the rifle as a spear, her fingers nowhere near the trigger. “You ain’t understandin’ me, are you girl? You don’t speak English. Or Texan.” The blank stares from the black pearls of her eyes answered him. With a sigh, Jack touched the loose jacket of his honey-colored OSS uniform, touched the chest where was stenciled his name. “Jack. My name’s Jack. Wish I had more to give you, honey, but I had a bad time of it at the end of the war, woke up half-alive in a hospital and all I could remember was my first name.” Touching his chest again, “Jack.”

“Jacques?” Her voice was throaty, a purr akin to Lauren Bacall’s. Not that Jack could remember what movie of hers he saw, but he remembered seeing it.

“Sure, Jacques,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Joli Lune.”

“Pretty Moon,” Jack answered in near-perfect French, a language he had picked up during his year with the French Resistance (or so Fergus had told him). “Now there’s a delightfully fit name for you.”

“You know Temple Speech!”

“Doesn’t ever’body?” Make her feel comfortable, Jack thought, just go along with her until he could sort everything out. Like where the Nazi pilot went. And how a native girl could speak odd-accented French.

For her part, the native girl was trying to sort everything out as well. Who was this man dressed in too much clothing, and how could he speak odd-accented Temple Speech? She nodded her head towards the body behind him. “Is that Mazti’col, the Great Bird?”

Jack turned and surveyed the field of wreckage, He had been tossed or had crawled half-conscious out of the plane; its fuselage was a few yards behind him, one wing still attached, the tail somewhere back a ways in the jungle. “Yeah, that’s the great bird. Wing’s busted up, though. That was maztacall or whatever.”

Pretty Moon became frantic. “Then you two are The Warring Sons, and one will bring darkness to the world!” She backed up a step, pointing the rifle like a spear.

“Us two? Now that’s exactly what I need to talk to you about,” Jack said, rising to his feet (and regretting it when the pains in his legs began). “If you know where that other fellow with the bad fashion sense is, I need to find him and …”

“No!” Pretty Moon adjusted her hold on the odd spear she had found, and in doing so her fingers moved closer to the trigger. She only needed to get lucky once at this range, Jack realized. “The Son Of Darkness is a liar, a deceiver!”

“Be careful with that, uh, spear, doll. Don’t stab me with it. I’m on your side.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Pretty Moon was uncertain. She had a feel that this stranger with the sun-colored hair and eyes like the morning ocean could be trusted, but if she were wrong … her fingers tightened around the spear, two slipping into the trigger guard.

“Pretty Moon, listen to me. I know Temple Speech, right?” Motioning towards the wrecked plane, “I come from inside the great bird, born of it. I’m an orphan now!” His words were still not reaching her, he could see, distress of uncertainty lined her face. So Jack threw up his hands. “I need to think a moment,” he said, reaching with his right hand into the concealed pocket on the right side of his shirt, while his left reached for the heavy lighter clipped to his belt. “I just don’t know what to say or do that will make you believe me when I tell you I’m on your side.” He pulled out a fat cigar from his shirt pocket, a momentary escape from the stress, held it to his lips and flicked open the lighter.

Next thing he knew, Pretty Moon had thrown herself to the ground. “The fire! You are The Son Of Light!” she said as she curled her knees beneath her, head down and arms outstretched, as if worshipping him.

Jack looked at the lighter. “The fire. Right.” Lighting his cigar, he closed and re-clipped the lighter to his belt, and chewing on his cigar reached down first for the rifle and then for the girl, bringing both up off the ground.

“You tested me,” Pretty Moon said with a sniff, as though ready to cry. “I did not believe you.”

“No, no, honey, you passed the test with flyin’ colors,” Jack assured her. He patted her taut stomach, felt the weights of her breasts brush his hand. “I needed to make sure I could trust you, that you would be able to help me take out that wicked brother of mine. ”

“I will take you to him right away!” Pretty Moon began to pull away, but Jack took her by the hand and held her steady.

“No, no, no. First, honey, I need you to tell me all aout yourself and your people. I already know everything, of course, this is just more of a test to make sure you know everything.”

Hard to believe these people are descendants of Templars.

Yet for his doubts, Josef Leider, pilot for the Reich — both of them, the Third that had fallen three years earlier, and the Fourth that was rising to bestride the world — had to accept the truth around him. He was inside the grand hall of a stone castle, squat and hid in a jungle valley, seated on a shell-shaped throne of bright gold. And there was no denying the bars of gold, undulled by time despite their age, that were being stacked singly before him, immeasurable wealth smuggled from France half a millenium earlier. The stupid priest, calling himself Temple Father, had been busy all morning annointing each bar of gold as they were removed from the vault. To a solid party member like Leider, all Christian rituals were absurd; when mixed with the savage religions of the local people, they became laughable.

So the Templars had inter-married with the indigineous population, and thus had diluted their own racial strain with inferiors. Here was proof of the eugenic sciences. Although, solid party member that he was, Leider found the local women most attractive in a savage sort of manner, unclothed and uncaring about it, firm and fit nearly all of them, which is why the pilot in his guise as Mazti’col had commanded beauty be about him. He allowed four local toughs to surround him in case that damnable OSS agent managed to survive, but otherwise his throne room was occupied only by beautiful women.

HIS throne room. Leider smiled at that. Not bad for a ill-healthed Austrian boy much abused because of his name — the public education system began with each day with morning roll call, last name then first, since his first name was pronounced with a soft accent the call out “Leider Yosef” would invariably lead to day-long teasing and leiderhosen jokes. The fools. When he became Party Leader for the area, they all paid.

But being a Party Leader required military service, so to the Luftwaffe the mathematically inclined Leider attached. (And the morning roll calls with their “Leider Yosef” and the snickers that followed.) He served the Third Reich faithfully and well, and from the final days following Hitler’s suicide became part of the Fourth Reich by flying its leaders, equipment, and treasures to hidden Nazi bases around the world. Which is how he had wound up here, parachuting onto the tip of South America in search of Templar gold that his Reich superiors believed they had located thanks to ancient port records and Spanish conquistador legends. Now all he had to do was figure out how to get the gold back to his superiors.

Or do I?

As another bar of gold, so heavy it (thankfully) required two women to carry it, was brought into the throne room, a third lithe lovely approached him, bowed, and then stepped boldly forward to insert bird feathers into Leider’s cap. As she leaned over him, the Reich pilot remained still and enjoyed the view, then when she began to step away he reached out with both arms and pulled her closer, burying his face in her navel in a series of kisses. With a squeal of shock (and, Leider hoped, enjoyment), she pulled free of him.

Leider laughed, then looking about caught the distaste that painted the face of hulking Ubac, one of the crossbow-wielding bodyguards that flanked him. “There is something wrong?” the god demanded of his servant, in the French language which had gotten Leiber chosen as crew for this mission (the better to read any French Templar writings they were expected to come across).

“I believed,” grumbled Ubac, “that the gods and their angels were above those sorts of carnal desires.”

“And when was the last time you have been to heaven? Schvein.” Ubac’s eyes darkened further, now with anger, for he understood he had been insulted even though he did not understand the word.

Eager to get the ham-fisted warrior away from him, Leider commanded him, “Make yourself useful and go to tell the Temple Father stop blessing the gold, I have decided to leave it in the vault.” There was a clatter as Ubac threw his crossbow aside, seeing no need to carry a weapon now that he was no longer guard. He crossed behind the throne, Leider twisting in his seat to watch him. Ubac wondered how Mazti’col could be so much smaller and weaker than himself; would not a god be at least equal to the tribe’s leading warrior? But such thoughts were for confession to the Father. For now, Ubac reluctantly did as he had been commanded and closed in on the double doors the led from the throne room.

The doors exploded at that moment, swinging inwards, the rightmost one catching Ubac and knocking him sideways, momentarily stunned. The unarmed Leider shrieked in terror, the girls before him shrieked in surprise, as a khaki ghost barreled through the doors. Two long crossbow bolts slammed into the door, and two of Leider’s bodyguards fell under the stacatto three-burst rhythms of the M-rifle. The third bodyguard died as well, but his aim was better and his crossbow shot slammed home into the attacker’s left shoulder.

Ubac was there suddenly, a monstrous shadow, reaching out to grab the rifle wth one hand, while his other clubbed down across the back of Jack’s neck, sending the OSS man sprawling to the ground. Ubac tossed the unfamiliar weapon away and took a wide fighting stance, but Jack held up his right arm. “No, no, I wouldn’t even try you with both arms workin’.”

“Non, Ubac!” Pretty Moon cried out from the hallway.

“STOP!” Leider screamed, and the battle with its noise ended as swiftly as it had begun. Jumping to his feet, he declared in English only slightly better than his French, “Somehow you surfifed.”

“I always hated missin’ out on a party,” Jack declared, moving himself into a sitting position.

The Reich captain looked and saw the single name stenciled onto the uniform jacket. “The legendary Captain Jack. No vonder you is so hard to kill.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard for a god.” Ubac and the native girls were listening though not understanding the exchange of English, Jack could see. Worshippers listening to gods speaking in tongues.

“Is a shame you vill die so common, torn apart by the hands of a safage.”

“Common or not, it will still make a pretty good story back at the base.”

Leider grinned widely. “I am not going back to base.”

“The cockpit’s intact, son. Radio should still work.”

“I like it here,” Leider said as he swept his hands towards the women yet cowering before him. “I see no reason I should leaf, do you?”

Jack’s eyes narrowed. “The Reich will come lookin’ for you.” And Leider laughed at this.

“No, they vill not. They vill assume we haf failed because there vas nothing here to find. And if they do send another group to seek the Templar’s treasures and secrets, it vill be many years from now. Just before I left, the Reich had found Atlantis, or so they beliefed. There are many more lost treasures, many more secret cities in this vorld. They do not need this one.”

Jack began to rise, slowly, to his feet, his left arm hanging useless from the arrow still buried in the shoulder. Leider went on, “So you see, no one vill know you haf died. Your burial vill be my secret, Captain Jack, and your death vill not be so celebrated as your life.”

“In that case, I hope you don’t begrudge me a few final words.” With his right hand Jack reached for the lighter clipped to his left hip. And with the words, “Mon frere,” he flicked it open.

Immediately Ubac backed away, bowing. Footsteps could be heard pounding down the hallway, Pretty Moon called out to them, Ubac and the three women in the throne room began repeating her words. The chattering, to Leider, was monkey-like, though he could make out the French words. Still speaking English to Jack, Leider asked, “Vhat is? Son of light, son of dark? Vhat is this?”
Ubac turned and stalked towards the throne, towards the false god, the evil angel, towards the being who had insulted him. The women as well closed in on the confused Leider, their faces stone, their nails as knives. Leider cried out, “Kill him! Kill him!” And when his moments-ago slaves did not stop, he pointed to Jack. “No, him! Get HIM! No. NO!” And shrinking back into the throne, his arms thrown over his face more to hide than to defend, Leider screamed his last as Ubac fell upon him.

Pretty Moon ran up and threw her arms gently around Jack’s waist. “You are badly injured.”

With a sideways smile, “Aw, girl, ain’t nothin’ a night beneath a moon won’t fix.” And Pretty Moon returned his knowing grin.

A second skull adorned the throne, this one wearing a Reich military cap with some feathers in it. Drums beat in steady music as dancers followed the tune. Tables were thrown haphazardly through the throne room, tables piled with roasted jungle animals and all manner of vegetables raw and cooked. Fermented beverages akin to beer flowed free. The tribe was celebrating their victory over the False Angel three days prior, and seated in the throne was their guest of honor, Capitaine Jacques, along with three others who shared his table.

Jack had managed to explain to them that he was not a god, merely a servant of the gods. The tribesmen had tended to his shoulder with amazing skill, and now as he was explaining to the Temple Father, “So this thing we call a radio allows me to talk to my people.”

“So you must go to this bird you flew in on?” Ubac growled by way of asking.

“Yeah. The radio should still work, or if not I can jury-rig it — that means fix it — so I can get a message out. Then I’ll just wait there a day or two until they come get me.”

“You can wait here in the Temple, captain,” offered the robed Temple Father.

“No, no. I ain’t tellin’ nobody about you folks. I don’t fully trust the other gods I work for. It’s complicated.” Just a gut feeling Jack had. About the OSS. About questions on his past that they wouldn’t answer. Complicated.

“We will trust your wisdom,” decalared the Father. “Though I feel perhaps we should re-join the outside world.”

“Trust me, you ain’t missin’ much.” Jack took a swig from a bejeweled goblet. “Well, big band music, but you’re almost there,” he said as the trio of drummers and dancers to match finished in unison to great applause.

After the clapping, Pretty Moon, seated on the floor, turned and said, “I will guide you back to the great bird, Jacques.”

“Aw, I don’t think that’s much needed, honey. Well,” Jack said, reconsidering the offer as the evening’s torchlight glistened off of her body, “long as the Temple Father don’t mind.”

“Pretty Moon will be blessed by the experience.”

Soft enough so only Jack could hear, she said, “Several blessings, I hope.”

Take four heavy bombers and join them together, then place a three-level bunker in the center. Such was the design of an Inquisition airship, thundering its way across the southern Pacific bearing a prisoner to their Antarctic facility. In the airship’s dark heart, an officer holding a sheaf of papers hurried across the command gantry. “Grand Inquisitor, we have intercepted a radio message.”

The crimson-robed man whom the officer addressed snatched the papers away and began reading them. His devilish features broke into a smile, at which the officer said, “It will take the OSS a day to reach him. We can be there in ten hours.”

“Of course we will,” the Grand Inquisitor stated as fact, handing the papers back. “Have your troops prepared. I will not accept another mistake.”

“Of course, my sire.” The officer turned to make the necessary preparations and course adjustments. Self-satisfied as to how things were turning — God’s will was clearly manifest, and God’s favor on him evident — the Grand Inquisitor stood momentarily still, hands clasped behind his back, savoring the victory to come.

Like a burst of lightning he turned and slapped the bloodied prisoner chained to the wall behind him. An assault on the abused, bearded man as sudden as it was unwarranted. “It seems that Captain Jack will be joining you after all. Are you not glad, Fergus?”

And the Grand Inquisitor’s laughter filled the ship.

Created by Sean Michael Stevenson

Captain Jack and the Bloody Grognard

10 Oct

or
How Princess Pupuli Taught Marcos a New Cocktail,
Twan Rescued Jack Harris from Himself,
And Leilani Dispatched a Courier

Late February 1941, Forbidden Island Social Club, Singapore

Princess Pupuli leaned forward toward Jack, exposing much of her ample endowments as casually as if she had bent over to pick up a pencil. Jack simply stared.

“Jack Harris. Sit down and tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”

Jack sat down at the bar next to Pupuli. Pupuli touched Jack’s arm. Jack’s other arm, which had been holding Jack’s head sideways in Pupuli’s direction collapsed under the weight, pitching Jack forward nearly onto the bar. Jack caught himself, sat up straight.

Pupuli’s tall, authoritative profile and finely-cut features told the world of generations of breeding, of only the most beautiful women and strongest men allowed to marry into the royal bloodline of Bikini, that small atoll surrounded by the great South Pacific. Her long black hair, tied back now in a simple ponytail, reached nearly to her belt. An accomplished horsewoman, in daytime Pupuli preferred the active freedom of her English riding habit, a mode of dress picked up at that Hong Kong finishing school her parents had insisted on. Yet with all the athletic trappings, Pupuli could not, had no intention, of concealing her allure. Pupuli knew she was attractive to men, nearly all men, and had learned very early in her life the art of recruiting men to do her will.

Jack Harris and Princess Pupuli’s acquaintance dated back to a long, infamous night in a gambling hell on Macau, where the great Tongs ran the clubs, the Portuguese served drinks free to players, and the world came to risk everything at the tables. That night Jack, bewitched by Pupuli from the very instant he caught site of her, drank rum and played Blackjack until the pile of chips in front of him swam before his eyes.

Pupuli had touched his arm that night too. Jack remembered how, Pupuli on his arm, he’d drawn wildly to an inside straight in hearts, improbably filled the straight and then dragged his chips off the table in his shirt. His memories of the next 72 hours were somehow fuzzy and wonderful at the same time.

The grubstake from that pot had started Jack’s trading company, and financed his first silk shipment back to San Francisco. That was in 1935. By 1940 Jack’s trading had made him a bundle, all now deposited safe and sound in an American bank in Hong Kong.

All that flashed through Jack’s brain in the blink of an eye, as Pupuli leaned forward again and spoke to Leilani’s brother Marcos, the barkeep.

“Kind sir, can you make us a Bloody Grognard?”

Marcos’ brow furrowed. “I am truly sorry, Princess. I do not know how to make that drink. Can you teach me to make it, so that I may offer it to the patrons of this establishment?”

In another context Pupuli might have thought the suggestion impertinent. With Jack sitting next to her at the bar, she gave Marcos clear instructions.

“Bring me a bottle of Philippine rum, a bottle of Russian vodka, two limes, a pint of freshly-squeezed tomato juice, a bucket of ice, a martini shaker, a small bottle of Angostura bitters, and a cup of French absinthe. Also a plate of salt and two wide champagne flutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Marcos turned, his hands flashed across the liquor shelves, and in just a moment he had returned.

Twan, Leilani, Marcos, and 20 Japanese soldiers watched, fascinated. The Forbidden Island bar was utterly silent, for once.

Pupuli, carelessly disregarding her expensive Chinese silk white blouse and tossing her red scarf over her shoulder, leaned forward again. This time, Jack and everybody else watched transfixed, as Pupuli poured first the rum, then the vodka, and then the tomato juice into the shaker.

“It must be done in this order, or the flavors will not blend correctly.”

Then, Pupuli whipped out her switchblade, flipped open the blade, and slit the limes in half as efficiently as a surgeon. As the halved limes sat on the bar, she took the ice, poured half of it into the shaker, and then put the top on the shaker. She shook it hard for ten seconds with both hands. When she lifted the top off the shaker, liquid frothed and frost condensed on the outside. Pupuli set the shaker down and turned to Marcos.

“And now, a hen’s egg. It must be very cold.”

Marcos reached down into the icebox under the bar, produced a white egg.

Pupuli lined up the egg, the limes, the absinthe and the bitters. In what seemed like a single movement, she broke the egg, separated the white from the yolk, poured the white into the shaker, added three dashes of bitters, squeezed the limes thoroughly into the mix, and floated the absinthe on the surface.

The mix, which had been red from the tomato juice, turned bright orange and bubbled up nearly to the lip of the shaker.

“Ha!” Pupuli exclaimed triumphantly. The orange-filled shaker stood there on the bar, little beads of condensation streaming down its sides, as if it was perspiring after the physical act of love.

The crowd gasped.

Pupuli stuck out her tongue in Jack’s direction, licked the rim of one of the champagne flutes, dipped into the salt, and then poured the drink into the flute, careful to leave the salt ring intact.

“You first, Jack.”

Jack drank. The wet slid down his throat smooth like gossamer, slinky like silk, sweet like honey, fiery like Pupuli’s lips after the red was kissed off. He drank another sip, and another. Soon the flute was empty.

“Well?”

Jack waited a moment, wiped off his mouth, set down the champagne flute.

“Holy God in Heaven.”

The crowd burst into cheers.

Marcos looked up from the notes he’d been taking feverishly. Suddenly orders for a Bloody Grognard were being shouted in English, Japanese, Malay, Spanish, Tagalog.

Marcos looked both ways, panicked, and suddenly his sister Leilani was by his side, lining up wide champagne flutes. Leilani waved two of the girls watching from the top of the stairs down to help. In a couple of minutes, the shakers were shaking, the salt was rimmed and the orange essence was pouring out.

Shouts and laughter filled the Forbidden Island, as Leilani took in yen, Hong Kong dollars, Spanish pesetas, Yankee dollars, and the pile of money mounted next to the cash drawer behind the bar.

After the general hubbub had subsided a bit, Jack and Pupuli chatting meanwhile at the end of the bar, Twan wangled his way up to the barstool next to Jack, on the other side of Pupuli.

“So lover boy, do you think we can get going on our mission now?” Twan spoke with a sardonic tone, but with an undercurrent of urgency.

“Hell, yes, Twan. Sorry about that.” Jack took a last swallow of his third Bloody Grognard, set the champagne flute down on the bar, and looked at Leilani.

Leilani, having delegated the drinkmaking to her girls, was quietly looking directly at Jack from the other end of the bar.

Jack turned from Pupuli to Twan, with Leilani in his field of vision.

“Twan, shall we?” And Jack got up off his barstool to go.

“Jack, darling, so where are you going in such a hurry?”

“Oh, Pupuli, it’s hush hush. Strictly for the War Effort.”

“Jack darling, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Rangoon Ruby, does it?” Pupuli said it sweetly, but her emerald eyes flashed.

Jack stopped dead a moment, recovered. “Pupuli, you know I can’t tell you. We have to go. I’m sorry.”

Pupuli’s voice purred. “Oh, Jack, I was hoping to spend some time with you. When will I see you again.?”

“Can’t say. We’ll be back in Rangoon in a few –“

Twan looked darts at Jack, who cut off his sentence mid-word.

“Gotta go, honey. Stay out of drafts.”

Pupuli pouted for a moment, then whispered into Jack’s ear.

“Be careful, Jack.”

Jack and Twan turned and left the bar.

After Jack and Twan left in Twan’s jeep, in the general direction of the airfield, Leilani stood at the end of the bar. Expressionless, she watched Pupuli. Pupuli smiled broadly at Leilani, who smiled back somewhat less broadly. Leilani crossed the room and stood in front of Pupuli.

“Thank you for teaching Marcos the Bloody Grognard. It will be very popular. We are in your debt.”

“Oh, child, it was nothing.”

“We must thank you for anything that helps Captain Harris’ enterprise here.”

“Oh?” Pupuli tried to cover her surprise.

“Yes.”

“Child, I really must go. I am expected in Rangoon.”

“As I had assumed, Princess.”

Pupuli ignored the undertone, turned on the heel of her leather riding boot and strode out of the bar.

In a moment, Leilani sat behind the desk in the office, writing on a small sheet of paper, in her neat convent hand. When she finished, she walked out of the office and across the bar to Marcos.

“Send for our youngest brother Philip.”

“Sure, Leilani. What’s going on?”

“I need Philip to carry a letter. To Jack.”

Marcos nodded. In a moment, Philip had left to deliver the message.

Finis

Created by Robin Enos

Captain Jack with the Flying Tigers

6 Oct

or
How Jack Harris Learned to Fly the Curtiss P-40B,
Why Twan Saw the Inside of a Powder Room, and
How They Found A Map

February 1941, Aerodrome Mingaladon, 12 km north of Rangoon

“Hand me that wrench, will you?” Jack gestured to the RAF flight mechanic.

“Do you mean the Spaniard?” asked the mechanic.

“What the hell?” Jack looked up from the 12-cylinder rotary 600 hp Curtiss engine he had nearly finished tuning up.

“Spaniard. You know, the bloody wrench,” asked the mechanic, annoyed.

“You mean spanner.”

“Spanner then, Yank. Whatever you say.”

“So the three-quarter inch ratchet, then?” Jack asked.

“Here ‘tis. Fresh from the box. Shiny as a new bride.” The mechanic handed over the wrench.

Jack peered up into the guts of the engine. All 12 cylinders needed fresh matching sparkplugs. Anything less, and the high compression aviation engine might just start to misfire in the middle of a dogfight. That could cost a man’s life. The margin between the P-40B and the Japanese Zero fighter was too thin for joking around, and the superior climbing rate of the Zero meant Jack’s P-40 needed every rpm it could muster.

Finally satisfied after fitting the last of the new spark plugs, Jack bolted down the engine cowling, jumped into the cockpit, and had the mechanic turn the propeller. The engine sputtered on the first try, then caught on the second and blazed to a throaty roar. Jack’s P-40 strained at its chocks, almost as if it wanted to jump into the air on its own.

Jack gestured thumbs up. The RAF mechanic pulled the chocks, and Jack’s P-40 shuddered forward onto the close-cropped grass runway. Jack turned her into the wind, got the go-ahead from the tower, and thundered off into the sun rising over the eastern mountains.

After adjusting to the sun low on the eastern horizon, Jack spoke to his trainer. “Okay, Tiger One, I’m airborne and heading due north climbing to 5,000 feet, bearing 210.”

The flight commander, radio ID Tiger One, responded immediately. “Tiger Four, you’re trailing white smoke. Abort flight, return to aerodrome.”

Jack looked into his rear view mirror. Blast! New spark plugs, and now an oil leak.

“Roger willco, Tiger One.”  Jack banked around carefully. In two minutes he would circle the aerodrome and set her down. Gently.

Jack set his course for a straight upwind landing. He was maybe 100 feet aloft, about to set down, when his radio crackled again. “If you don’t get those wheels down, Harris, I won’t even write your mother to explain how you ended up strawberry jam!”

Realizing he’d neglected to lower his landing gear, Jack, deeply embarrassed, tugged the lever and the wheels cooperated immediately. He brought his smoke-spewing P-40 to the ground, then taxied to a gentle stop in front of the maintenance hangar. Just as he was unhooking his safety belt, his radio crackled again.

“Report to the CO immediately, Harris.”

Well, there was always the saloon to fall back on, thought Jack as he made his way to the CO’s office.

Ex-RAF squadron chief trainer James L. “Jaimie” Harter, assistant to Col. Claire Chennault, commandant of the Flying Tigers, was standing behind his desk when Harris knocked, then entered the CO’s office.

“Harris?”

“Sir. Jack Harris, CAMCO trainee 2nd class.”

“Harris, you nearly pranged your kite this morning. Didn’t they teach you to check the undercarriage before final approach?”

“Yes, sir. No excuse sir.” Jack ignored the sweat dripping off his nose.

Harter said nothing for long seconds, puffing on an unfiltered Player, looked out the window at the line of Flying Tiger P-40s next to the hangar.

At last. “You’re a bloody fine natural pilot, Harris. See to it you don’t end up cracking up one of our P-40’s next time, what?”

“Yes, sir. Is that all sir?”  Jack couldn’t believe his luck.

“No. There’s something else.” Harter buzzed his assistant. “Send him in, Corporal.”

Jack, still standing at attention, broke his stance to look over his shoulder as the door swung open. It was Twan!

Harter puffed once more on his cigarette, then stubbed it out.

“I understand you two know each other, Twan?”

Nonchalant response. “Yeah, boss, I know Harris.”

“So you two think you can find this map?”

Twan smiled. “Yeah, boss.”

“So take Harris with you and go find that damned map.”

“Yeah, boss.”

And Harris?  This is strictly top secret. You understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Jack responded automatically, despite being mystified.

“My assistant will fix up your travel arrangements. Dismissed, Harris.”

“Yes sir.” Jack turned mechanically and followed Twan out of Harter’s office.

They drove away in Twan’s jeep. Jack, sitting in the left passenger seat of the right-hand drive jeep, sat silently as long as he could stand.

“So what’s this damned map he’s talking about, Twan?”

“Map somewhere in Singapore, Boss. We fly there tonight.”

“What’s on the map, Twan?”

“Don’t know, Boss. Hush hush.”

Jack grimaced. “So how the hell are we supposed to know when we find it?”

“Yank Navy Intel thinks Leilani might know something. That’s why they hired me. Leilani told them about me. She told them about you too.”

Jack thought about Sweet Leilani. That girl seemed to think of everything.

“So how do we get around in Singapore?”

“Jeep flies with us, Jack. Just like coming here.”

Jack said nothing. He reached for the cigarettes in his breast pocket. Pack empty. Damn. Now he’d have to bum one from the pilot of the C-46 Commando.

Ten hours later, the Commando cargo plane’s engines still ringing in their ears, Twan and Jack watched as the C-46 ground crew deplaned Twan’s jeep onto the Singapore airport runway.

An hour later, they stood outside the bar. It had a new sign above the door, the one that had been repaired after the Japanese shore patrol broke it down. The “Forbidden Island.” Jack made a mental note to compliment Leilani on another good move.

Twan took a last drag on his Camel, stubbed it and grinned at Jack. “Okay, Boss. Let’s see if Leilani remembers you.”

Jack pushed open the door. Leilani’s brother labored behind the bar. The place was jammed with Japanese sailors, soldiers and airmen, chumming with the working girls and drinking like fish. Someone was plunking out “It Had to Be You” on the piano. Cigarette smoke and the combined reek of whiskey and cheap perfume cut the air.

Jack made his way through the crowd of laughing, drinking, sweating and swearing Japanese to the back table. Leilani sat there, suffused with calm, with her leather book of accounts. She was dressed in a new purple gown. Looking somehow more in charge, than in the old red one.

Leilani looked up at Jack, smiled, and closed her book. “Captain Jack, it’s so good to see you. I have so much to tell you.” Not a word about “Where the hell have you been.” This girl was definitely a keeper, thought Jack.

“Leilani, my girl, how HAVE you been?” Jack sat down across from Leilani, mustering his most charming smile. Leilani leaned forward and spoke quietly.

“Jack, the bar is a fine business for you. You have thousands of Hong Kong dollars in the safe. But I’m worried the Japanese might still be looking for you. And there’s the German. Lederhosen.”  Her mouth twisted downward when she uttered Lederhosen’s name.

“I told you not to let that bastard into this bar with his men. What’s happened?”

“You remember he was here with his men and beat up my brother. They went away and didn’t come back for three months. I heard the German was overseas. Then a week ago, they came back. They arrived with ten men, natives and Japanese, no shore patrol around. They held a gun on me and asked me for a map. There was an old map in a frame behind the bar. I tried to tell them that was the only map I knew about. Lederhosen struck me. Then they broke the frame and took the map. Then they left.”

Twan, standing behind Jack and watching the door, listened impassively. He looked up at the faded spot on the wall behind the bar, where the map had previously hung.

Jack said nothing, confused.

Twan broke the silence. “Was it the map of the Straits? The one with Krakatoa in the middle? That had been here for years?”

“Yes, Twan.”

Twan lit another cigarette. “Leilani, is there still a silk tapestry in the Powder Room on the second floor.”

Leilani’s eyes narrowed as she stared at Twan.

“How would you know about that, sir?”

“Never mind. Is it still there?”

“Yes. But I don’t see what that has to do with . . . .”

Twan turned and ran up the stairs. Jack watched as Twan burst through the door of the second floor powder room. Squeals of laughter and screams accompanied Twan’s disappearance into that female sanctum sanctorum.

Leilani stood up, said nothing, and marched up the stairs. Jack just watched.

Twan emerged with a piece of silk cloth under his arm, and a pair of white silk panties on his left shoulder. Taking a moment to brush off the panties, and oblivious to the flutter of female voices behind him, Twan strode down the stairs two at a time, and back to Jack’s side. Leilani had disappeared without a word into the powder room.

“Boss, we have to talk. Private. Now.” Twan’s voice was urgent. Jack looked around. Nobody in the bar had noticed anything.. More likely, the regulars were used to pretending not to notice.

Jack motioned Twan into the office, and closed the door behind them once inside.

“Twan, what the hell was that all about?”

“Boss, that map has been hanging behind the bar of this club for years. The story on the docks is that it was left here by a crazy Englishman 20 years ago. Something about he’d traded it in Rangoon for his houseboy. That it carried a secret. Something about a Rangoon Ruby. Boss, this silk tapestry is an embroidered copy of the map.”

Jack opened his mouth. He couldn’t think what to say. “But how did you know . . .”

Twan was dead earnest now. “Boss, I’ve been working out of this club for five years. I know who made this copy. It was my mother.”

“Damn, Twan, this is great. Do you think the embroidered map has anything to do with what we were sent here to find.”

“Jack, the embroidered map IS what we were sent here to find. I had to play like I didn’t know about it with boss man, to get you out of there and to get air transport back here.”

Jack thought fast. It all added up. The only thing that didn’t fit was . . . what the hell was on the map?

“Okay, Twan, let’s keep that thing in the safe.”

“No, Boss. Too dangerous.”

“So what do you suggest we do with it?”

“First we make sure the place is calm and the girls get a bonus for keeping their mouths shut. Leilani can take care of that. Then we’ve got to get moving. That German is a week ahead of us, Boss.”

“What do you know about this map that you’re not telling, Twan?”

“Just that it had to be the map Harter was talking about, that we were sent to find. And that the German wanted it enough to come back for it. And that the crazy Englishman told wild stories about the Rangoon Ruby.”

The Rangoon Ruby. Captain Jack though a moment. This war stuff had made a big change in his life, but he was still Trader Jack, buyer and seller of anything of value. “Look, Twan, we’re supposed to be helping the war effort here. The US isn’t at war with Japan yet, but everybody thinks something’s going to happen to change that soon. And we know what the Germans are doing in Europe. We can’t mess around with chasing this Rangoon Ruby.”

“Doesn’t change anything, Boss. We’ve got to get moving and follow the map.”

“Why?”

“Boss, we were sent to find that map. The Flying Tigers can wait. If the German wants it, we need to beat him to it.”

Jack thought a moment. There could be lots of reasons why Harter had sent him after the map. With war coming, it could be crucial intelligence. “Okay, Twan, let’s move out.”

Just then Leilani appeared, unflappable as ever, standing behind Jack’s seat. Funny, Jack thought. I didn’t hear her come into the office.

“Captain Jack, the girls will be fine. They’re all getting double pay tonight. And they know how to keep silent.”

Jack looked straight at Leilani, again. “Okay, Leilani, we’ll need some of that operating capital.”  Leilani swiftly dialed the combination on the safe, and handed Jack a bundle of bills at least an inch thick.”

“Here, Captain. From your earnings. If you need more, just let me know.”

Jack’s eyes moved from the pile of money to Leilani’s face, then back to the pile of money.

“Leilani, I, uh . . .”

“Captain, there is no time. Take it and do what must be done.”

“Yes.” There seemed little else to be said.

Twan hissed with urgency. “Boss, let’s go! The shore patrol is coming down the dockside.”

Jack grabbed his hat and bag, and headed out into the bar, Twan right beside him.

And just as he reached the bar, Jack stopped dead in his tracks. Sitting at the bar, coolly sipping a Mai Tai, was an extremely familiar face. An extremely familiar female shape. Extremely familiar long black hair. Extremely familiar long legs, silk blouse, black jodhpurs, black leather riding boots, and red scarf. And those lips.

And, oh my God, thought Jack. That unforgettably-familiar jasmine perfume.

Pupuli looked Jack dead in the eyes, and smiled like the princess she was, had been all her life. Then she spoke in a low, languid voice.

“Hello, Jack. Long time no see.”

Twan and Leilani simply looked at each other.

Finis

Created by Robin Enos

The World is a Retro

25 Sep

by Robin Enos
– Alameda, California, September 24, 2010

The Tiki gods were smiling last night, as suburban Alameda, less than three miles but a world away from the mean streets of Oakland, was the scene for wild bikinis, Island how-to’s, Las Vegas showgirls and musical shorts from the Swinging Sixties.

Amid the thump of pre-drug rock and roll (the kind made by clean-shaven guys in coat and tie), a crowd of mostly 50- and 60-something beachcombers made the scene, while the 16mm projector flickered and the musical shorts ran end to end at the Tiki-Tronic Film Festival.

The filmography reflected as much of Hollywood’s propensity for making cheesy musical shorts as footage of the Islands. Featured aspects of Tiki culture includes bikini sunbathing lessons, smiling dancers and (for some reason) a golfing number at a Las Vegas country club.

The crowd, mostly dressed in bluejeans with the occasional woven beach hat, sipped their Mai Tais, clapped at the end of each short subject, and hooted when the jiggling seemed nearly to turn into, well, wardrobe malfunctions.

Watching all that twisting, frug-ing, ska-ing and swimming, and consuming all that fruit juice — well, we all got our Vitamin C. Dissolved in ethanol.

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