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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

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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 in Singapore”

24 Jul

or,

How Jack Harris Escaped Cutthroats,

Convinced the Japanese Navy that He’d Drowned

In the Strait of Malacca

And Test-Drove a Jeep

December 1940, British Crown Colony, Singapore.

“So that’s the lot, then? Ye’ve got nothing more to bet?”

The one-eyed Aussie named Johnny looked sharply across the table at Jack Harris. Their right hands locked in a death grip, their elbows strained for advantage on the pitted tabletop. The veins on Harris’s throat throbbed. His face beet red, Harris gasped for breath.

Jack, drunk, spoke through clenched teeth. “That’s it, Johnny. Bottom of the damned barrel.”

The entwined fists writhed back and forth, like the head of a snake, first toward Harris, then toward Johnny.

Gasping again, Harris leaned back. “Well,” he grimaced. A pause for breath, then Harris leaned sharply forward. “There’s this.” His left hand held out a German Luger, which had been stuffed in his belt.

Johnny glanced at the Luger a moment, then back at the writhing fists. He took a moment’s pause at the increased stake. He’d won this stinking dive at dice in January ‘39. Leilani, the barwench, had come in the deal, together with the front door key. Business had been bloody good so far. And he could trade that Luger for notes he’d signed in Manila to Colonel Saito. Might just lift the price on his head at that.

“So you’ll chance the Luger?” Johnny cocked his head toward the barwench once.

Harris creased his brow and gulped air. “Mark it down, Leilani!”

Leilani twitched her left shoulder, then twirled a strand of her long black hair nervously around one finger. Turning her head slightly away from her employer, she made another mark on the chit of paper sitting at the bar.

She twitched her left shoulder again. Harris, distracted by the bare shoulder under the strap of Leilani’s red bordello gown, nearly let his straining arm fall to the table top.

A moment more of strain. Harris struggled to recover lost ground in the arm-wrestle. One-eyed Johnny, sensing weakness in Harris’s trembling hand and labored breath, leaned forward. Harris could smell the foul exhale across the table, and paled a little.

“So will you call the bet, Johnny? How about the club, against that Luger? Took it off a dead Nazi in Morocco.”

“So ye’ve really got no more, ‘ave ye?”

Harris, really straining now, grunted. “Bottom of the barrel. Dead broke.”

Johnny laughed. “Call the bleedin’ bet! The club, the girls upstairs, the whole stinkin’ mess, against your bloody Luger.” Johnny tossed the big iron front door key onto the bar in front of Leilani.

Jack’s eyes darted to the key, then back to Johnny. Johnny grinned, showing his black decayed teeth, and pressed with all his might to end the arm-wrestle with a quick thrust.

Just then the street-front window burst inward into the bar. Shore Patrol! A Japanese soldier scrambled over a drunk, blew his whistle and bellowed, in surprisingly good English. “You are all under Imperial arrest. Hands on heads, at once!”

Harris, taking this in at a glance, muttered something about Uncle Sam and the flag, and thrust the one-eyed man’s arm summarily to the table, winning the match.

“Leilani?” Harris exclaimed. The barwench, flashing a grateful smile at Captain Jack, tossed Harris the key to the front door. Harris scooped up the paper money sitting on the bar, then thrust the bills and the key inside his khaki overshirt. As the brawl erupted around him, Harris considered his options. The one-eyed Aussie had disappeared out the front door.

Suddenly Harris stood straight up. In a loud voice he boomed, “This club is under new ownership! We declare the bar open without charge to all Sons of Japan!”

The three Japanese soldiers stood behind their leader, blinking. The bar was suddenly empty. Harris could hear light footsteps padding down the upstairs bordello hallway. A wild thought— would Leilani remember to collect fares as the patrons fled?

A pregnant silence. Then the soldiers broke into smiles, lowered their rifles and stood up to the bar. Harris, as though he had been running the place all his life, snatched a bottle of Suntory and poured generous shots out along the bar.

Soon the Japanese were jabbering among themselves, and Jack was sitting in the back room with Leilani. As he watched Leilani counting out bills to pay the girls upstairs, Harris could only wonder what on earth he would do with a bordello in Singapore. When, after what he’d heard about what the SS had done to the French, what he really craved was Lederhosen’s scalp, laid on a platter, sitting on the bar at the Raffles Hotel.

The memory of the French village burned Jack’s eyes. Uncle Sam and the flag. What the hell?

The next morning, Captain Jack surveyed the mess in the bar. An unholy reek of spilled whiskey, sweat and wet oak flooring wafted up.

“Leilani?”

Leilani appeared at the top of the stairs, dressed in a white nightgown. Sweet Leilani.

“Yes, Captain.”

At least she could speak English, Jack thought. Gibberish, what they spoke on the streets here.

“Leilani, do we have the receipts from last night?”

“Yes, Captain, I have them in my room.”

“Get dressed then, and I’ll speak to you down here in five minutes.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Captain Jack sat at the rear table, his table now. The reek of stale liquor, cigarette smoke and cheap perfume from upstairs made his stomach lurch. Oh, for some coffee, he thought.

Leilani appeared in a housedress, with a brown leather sack fat with bills. She turned the contents out onto the table.

“Holy . . . ” Captain Jack took a look at the pile of bills Leilani had spread out on the table. “How much, Leilani?”

“Oh, Captain, I think about the same as the night before.”

“So, how much to the, uh, girls?”

“They are paid before they leave for the night, Captain. They are not to be paid any more from this.”

“Mmm. Leilani, is there a safe somewhere?”

“Oh, yes, Captain. It is in the office.”

“I think we have enough here to keep operating. Don’t you think?”

“Oh, yes, Captain. The one-eyed man always took the money, every night. This is the first time I have seen so much in one place, the next day.”

“Why don’t you keep this in the bag for now, Leilani?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“And you can keep running things, and find a bartender?”

“Yes, Captain, I have a younger brother, very trustworthy. He is working now at the hotel across the street.”

“Bring him in this afternoon. You run things. Take half the money for yourself, and use the other half to run the place. If you need to pay for protection, do it. Do you have any coffee?”

“Yes, Captain. My brother will bring some from the hotel.”

“Great. Just crackerjack”

“Crackerjack? This is American expression?”

“Uh, yeah. Just bring coffee.”

Captain Jack swept the table mess away, then wiped off his mouth. The coffee appeared almost instantly. Leilani’s fingernails were clean, polished.

“Ahh! Yes. Honey, that’s great coffee.”

“Excuse me, Captain.”

“Thank you, Leilani.” Mental note not to use so much Stateside slang.

Three nights later, Leilani’s brother tended bar. Leilani sat in a ballgown at the table in the back, writing something in a new leather book. Jack, thoughts a little clouded from the Singapore Sling sitting next to its five empty brothers, looked down at Leilani’s book. The figures swam before his eyes. Blinking, Jack stumbled against the table. Leilani looked up.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Leilani, are we still making money?”

“Yes, Captain. More tonight than last night, and more last night than the night before.”

“And you’re paying the appropriate cumshaw to the Harbor Master?”

“But no. I pay something every day to Saito’s captain. The Japanese run the docks. It keeps us safe.”

“Good. Great job.”

Leilani hesitated for a moment, then spoke directly. “Captain, I sent one of the upstairs girls away last night.”

“Why?”

“She was the youngest daughter of a tribal lord from the back country. Saito’s men told me the tribe had sent armed men to fetch her. I was concerned your enterprise not be interrupted. I sent her home with Saito’s safe passage and a little money.”

Captain Jack looked at Leilani for a moment. “Good move.”

Leilani smiled and gazed downward.

“So, Leilani, are you keeping the money safe, and taking your half?”

“Yes, Captain. My brother gives me the money from the bar, and I store it in the safe in the office.” So she knew the combination. What a girl.

Captain Jack dimly remembered spinning the safe and opening it. Was it the night before? Or the night before that? Damned Singapore Slings.

“Aces, doll. Just keep my share separate, and . . .”

Just then an explosion was heard several blocks inland. Then another. Japanese soldiers raced pell-mell along the quay toward the sound, rifles ready. A ship’s bell rang and rang, alerting soldiers still aboard Yamato, the greatest battleship in the world.

Twenty minutes later Captain Jack Harris stood, stripped to the waist, in a long line of men, both Native and English. Iron shackles bit into Jack’s wrists and ankles. The prisoner standing behind Jack smelled like fish.

A Japanese soldier roared at the front of the line. “All prisoners are to march in step! You are prisoners with no honor! Left! Right! Left! Right!” The line began to shamble along, the clink of the irons tapping out a harsh rhythm on the dock.

The line moved in front of Jack. He tried to keep up with the cadence, but stumbled when the fish-stinking prisoner fell against Jack’s shoulder. Jack pitched forward on the salt-soaked dock timbers. The toe of a dull, sweat-stained Japanese boot twitched a few inches away.

“And what do we have here! Did you not hear my order to march!”

Jack thought of options, saw none, and spoke calmly. “No, no, sir, uh, Captain. Just a slip on the wet –“ Jack could not finish the word “dock” before the butt of the soldier’s rifle hit him on the side of his head.

Rather than knock Jack out, the blow seemed to bring him to his senses. He jumped up, wavering as he gained his footing, and stared.

“If you hit me again, you’ll regret it.”

The Japanese soldier kicked Jack cruelly in the crotch. When Jack was down, he struck Jack’s temple again with the rifle butt. Jack fell back on the stinking prisoner behind him.

A Japanese officer stepped up to the soldier who’d kicked, then struck Jack. A stream of incomprehensible Japanese directed itself at the soldier. The soldier snapped to attention, his rifle against his shoulder.

The officer, a short, sweating man with piercing dark eyes and a ruddy complexion, looked directly down at Jack.

“You are an American.” It was not a question.

“Yeah, what of it?”

“We are not presently at war with America. I have no orders to hold you.”

“So where did you learn such good English, Captain?”

“At Crenshaw High School. Before the Emperor called me to service.”

“But . . .”

“Silence, American. I grew up in your country. Then my country called me. Bushido called me. We will soon rule the Pacific. You keep prostitutes. You will go with the prisoners.”

Two hours later. The sun dipped ever toward the horizon, Jack stood just inside the Japanese harbor captain’s door. Jack could hardly stand up. The smell of the candle in front of the Japanese officer bit at Jack’s nostrils. Jack felt like he might hurl up whatever was left in his stomach.

Captain Suhiro Tanaka had served the Imperial Navy since the invasion of Manchukuo in 1931. Now, at 32, he was a hardened sea captain, with important business interests in opium and pearl trade between Manila and Rangoon. He finished what he was writing, signed his name and looked sharply up at Captain Jack.

“I understand you are educated. Name and reason for being in Singapore?”

“Captain Jack Harris. Born and raised in Oakland, California. Here in Singapore on, uh, business.”

“I thought you sounded like an American. We are not presently at war with America. That might change if your President Roosevelt interferes with our oil shipments from the Dutch East Indies.”

“Not my problem. I run a saloon.”

“We have information you might be training with the Flying Tigers in Burma. That would make you an enemy of the Empire.”

“Flying Tigers? Never heard of them.”

Tanaka slapped Jack’s face, hard. A trickle of blood ran from a corner of Jack’s mouth.

“You will not toy with me, American. You deny the Flying Tigers are training flight crews outside Rangoon?”

“What the hell you are talking about? Why don’t you go beat up some poor peasant streetwalkers, and leave me alone?”

“You disrespect me! And you keep prostitutes. Your club is needed for comfort of Japanese soldiers. Guard!”

A Japanese soldier rousted Jack from the room, and down a stairway to a rattan cage filled with stinking men. As the soldiers dragged him off, Jack wondered whether joining up with the Tigers had been a good move. But that Tanaka—what a bastard.

Jack did not know how long he had been unconscious after being kicked into the rattan cage. He awoke in midday, judging by the heat. And the smell. Everywhere, fish, fish, fish.

A man with a suppurating angry gash on his left cheek threw Jack a fish. “So yer princess has awakened, Mates. Just look at the newest Jap prisoner sailor!. How long before this one throws up?” This last followed by general deep male laughter. The small room was filled with filthy men, most stripped to the waist.

“Don’t worry, Princess, we ain’t sailed yet. We still got time for fishin’.” Another guttural laugh broke out among the huddled men.”

“Come on, Princess, lunch break is over. Time for work.” Jack was pushed roughly to his feet. The men filed out of the small hold and into a larger one through a small hatch.

Fish. Everywhere, fish. Fish in large piles on the floor. Fish in baskets. And in the middle of the room, a pile of guts.

“Take a knife, Princess, and fillet the bloody stinkers from stem to stern. Then throw the guts onto the pile. The fish go into briny barrels. We eat the guts for dinner! Haha.”

The others hard at work, Jack grabbed a knife about a foot long from a chest next to the gut pile, then slit a slippery fish from tail to gills. Guts poured out onto the floor. He tossed the fish into the brine and took up another.

“Make lively now. We only get to eat what’s left over after the officers’ lot goes to market. I hear they pay Yank dollars for it up at the weighing dock.”

Jack grabbed another fish, slit it tail to gills, poured out the guts, threw it into the brine. And another. Over and over again.

Six hours later it was getting dark. Jack had nearly stopped smelling the acrid fish. Exhausted and nauseated by the smell of guts, sweat and diesel oil he slit another fish from tail to gills, poured out the guts, threw it into the brine. And another.

Jack thought if he ever got off this damned dock, he’d never eat fish again.

A Japanese sailor appeared, blew a whistle. Gash-face spoke. “Time for dinner, Princess.” The men dropped their fish and knives immediately and filed out into the smaller hold where they had spent their midday break.

Jack looked around for a chow line. Gash-face laughed. “After the Japanese have had their fill, Mate. Just enough to keep us’n from starvin’.”

Great, thought Jack.

A sailor threw down a barrel into the cage. The men struggled for handholds. Jack shouldered his way to the front, and stuck his hand into the barrel.

Fishguts. Jack groaned and threw the guts back into the barrel.

“Too good for the guts, are we?” Gash-face thrust his face within an inch of Jack’s. “Ye’ll not survive without some protein, Princess. Or is the guts too rank for yer delicate nose?” With that the man swung a meat hook straight at Jack’s head.

Jack jerked sideways like a linebacker. The meat hook lodged in a timber behind Jack’s head. He kicked Gash-face in the stomach. The man fell back, and suddenly there was a brawl everywhere in the small hold. Fists, feet, blood flying, flesh thudding into flesh.

The Japanese guard rushed down from the foredeck. “Stand fast! Stand fast!” Unwisely, he came down the companionway and opened the door, his bayonet drawn and pointing forward into the mass of brawling men.

Jack, slinking behind the guard, turned and darted up the steps to the dock, grabbed a barrel and used it to knock the guard cold. Three steps, dive. Then Jack swam as fast as his screaming lungs could take him.

Jack took a breath at the surface. Bullets streamed through the water around his head. Then he swam as deep as he could, under the hull of the trawler standing at dockside.

No sign of guards on this side of the ship. Great! Jack struck out across the harbor, swimming for the nearest junk as though his life depended on it. Shouts in Japanese rang out all across the harbor. No one thought to look Jack’s direction. He swam straight out toward a large junk riding anchor a short distance away.

Jack reached the hull of the junk, dove deep, surfaced, took a breath. Now the hull lay between him and the Japanese trawler.

About 3:00 a.m., Jack pulled himself out of the inky water and onto the quay. The trawler was gone. Soaked to the skin, blood ran from cuts in his face, scalp and hands. A tall, slender Asian man in a khaki shirt and shorts stood next to a strange, boxy-looking car with, what looked to Jack, no windshield. The man took a drag from an unfiltered cigarette, and looked both ways up and down the dockside.

Jack took a chance. “Do you speak English?”

“Yeah, man. What’s it to you?”

“I’m trying to get back to my club. Can you help me?”

“Why should I help you? The Japanese tore up the dock tonight looking for you. Maybe they’ll pay me to hand you over to them.”

“I’ll pay more. I just gotta get back to my club.”

“Okay, Boss. Fifty dollars, US.”

“I’ll double it if you can get me there safely.”

A thin smile. “You’ve just hired yourself a Chinese, Yankee.”

“I’m Jack. What’s your name?”

“Twan.”

They shook hands. Twan motioned Jack to the boxy green car with no windshield.

“What the hell is this car, Twan?”

“New Yankee soldier car. Jeep.”

“Looks damned useful.”

“Four wheel drive, good Ford four-cylinder, good on rough road. You drive, Yankee.”

“Aces, Twan. Back to Singapore.”

Leilani sat at the bar in the same red ballgown. She paid no attention to Jack’s appearance.

“Captain Jack, you have been away. I have the receipts from last night and tonight. But there was trouble here two nights ago. A Japanese ship docked, and a German officer and his men came here. They were looking for their ex-captain, they said. They took all the whiskey, and beat my brother most brutally. He is home with my mother recovering from his wounds.”

Captain Jack thought a minute. Then he spoke quietly and urgently to Leilani.

“Leilani, I have to leave Singapore tonight. Keep the bar. Keep the money. If I ever come back, give me some of it. God knows you’ve earned it.”

“But Captain –”

“Hush, child. Keep good accounts and pay the cumshaw, and keep the Japanese and the tongs happy at all costs. And NEVER let that German and his men into this place. On your life! Do you swear?”

“Yes, Jack, of course.” Leilani looked at him a moment, full in the eyes. Jack was surprised to see regard and respect there.

“Now go back to work. You never saw me. You never heard me.”

“Yes, Jack.”

And then Captain Jack slipped out the back door.

Three months later, standing at the Raffles bar, his belly full of chop suey and Tsing Tao, Jack turned to Twan. “See that German?” Than’s eyes darted to Lederhosen, who stood with several uniformed Wehrmacht around the piano, swilling beer.

“Yeah, Boss.”

“I’ve never met the Nazi bastard. But he’s going to pay for what he did.”

“Yeah, Boss.”

Finis

Created by Robin Enos

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