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

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