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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

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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

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