The two main characters in this story are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are mine except those two titans of American history; FDR and George C. Marshall. This tale depicts the two main characters as something more that just friends. This story also contains descriptions of violence and many instances of graphic language including the "F" word so be forewarned. It also contains a few references to the Japanese people that are, of course, very inappropriate today but one must remember the time frame of this story, especially after the events of December 7, 1941.
It must be stated the "Legend of Monsopiad" related in this story is not mine. It is my understanding this is an actual Kadazan legend and while I did add some details to make it fit into context, the main part of the legend remains unaltered.
"What the hell?"
Janice Covington rolled over and cast a bleary eye at the clock by her bed. It read 3:20.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
From the other side of the door a low voice said, "Open up please. We need to talk to you."
As soon as Janice came to a sitting position on the side of the bed her head began to feel as though there was a little gremlin inside trying to bust his way out with a sledgehammer. Blinking her eyes hard, she looked ruefully at the well tapped bottle of Jack Daniels lying on the floor and moaned softly. She was just two days removed from a four month stay in the Andes Mountains and had celebrated her reception of a twenty thousand dollar check for the results of her intense work a little too enthusiastically.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
"All right. All right," she growled. "Keep your shirt on, damn it." She reached under her pillow and pulled out the Colt .45 automatic she had recently bought to replace her old revolver. Still somewhat groggy, she weaved her way to the door. Without removing the chain she cracked opened the door. Keeping her .45 out of sight she peeked out and saw two men in dark suits, obviously armed, standing there. She cocked her head to one side and looked up the hall. There she saw another man standing by the elevator.
"Miss Covington? Miss Janice Covington?"
"That's my name. Don't wear it out."
"We have to talk to you, Miss Covington. If you'll just let us in..." The man put his hand on the door in an attempt to push his way in.
"Not so fast, pal," said Janice. "Just who the hell are you anyway?"
Janice saw a hand stick a wallet through the cracked door. After snatching the wallet out his hand she flipped on the light switch. The picture was almost impossible for her tortured eyes to make out and the fine print was practically indiscernible but there was no mistaking the big, bold letters FBI.
"You gonna let us in now, miss?"
"Yeah, sure," said Janice. "Just give me a minute."
She went to the bed and put on the old, tattered robe she'd had since her college days. Before returning to the door she carefully tucked the automatic back under the pillow. She then opened up the door and handed the ID back to the agent.
"So what can I do for you boys?" she asked.
"Miss Covington, there is a plane taking off for Washington in...," he checked his watch, "exactly fifty-two minutes. Our orders are to see that you are on it."
"What is this? Some kind of a gag?" asked Janice.
"Do you see anyone laughing?" the other man shot back.
"Who's your playmate here?" snorted Janice. "J. Edgar Hoover?"
"I'm with the United States Secret Service, ma'am," the man replied, showing his ID. "I'm here to make positive identification on you." He snapped his wallet shut and returned it to his coat pocket. "I must say, Miss Covington," he added, "you are a hard woman to track down."
"Well you guys went through a lot of trouble for nothin'. 'Cause I ain't going anywhere with you," said Janice.
The FBI agent set his jaw and looked at her as if she was Public Enemy Number One. "Miss Covington, one way or another you are going to be on that plane. Now whether you walk on or we carry you on makes no difference to me."
"You know the last time I checked this was still the USA, not Nazi Germany," said Janice heatedly.
"Miss Covington, with all the trouble in the world right now it's sometimes necessary to bend civil liberties just a little, if you know what I mean."
"Okay, okay," she said evenly. She could see the man was deadly serious. She slowly backed away and said, "Let's not get excited."
"We knew you'd see it our way," said the G-man with a politeness that was unsettling.
"Just let me get dressed."
"We're not stopping you," said the T-man.
"Is this how you guys get your jollies or something?" smirked Janice.
"Sorry, ma'am, we can't take any chances. We were told you could be ahh, 'resourceful', shall we say?" He walked to the door and whistled softly to the man by the elevator. When his cohort entered the room the G-man picked up the blanket off the bed and handed one corner to him. They then stretched it out to form a screen, their faces turned to the door of the room.
Janice grinned slyly and said, "Okay, fellas. I get it."
Having to dress in the same room with three armed men did not disturb Janice Covington. In fact, not much of anything fazed her anymore. She had, for the most part, seen it all and done it all. As the rogue, or black sheep if you will, of the archaeological world she never played by anybody's rules. She couldn't afford to. And anything like this that added to her reputation as a maverick only made her stand out more in a field almost completely dominated by men. This attitude had served her well in the past few years for during that time she had consistently beaten those jelly-bellied pansies with their pressed suits and their clean pith helmets to some of the most startling finds of the day. The Star of Turkey, the lost city of Pentacholpanec, the Xena scrolls... all were found by the gritty daughter of Harry Covington after all the other "experts" had given up hope.
No, it wouldn't do her any reputation any harm to be practically abducted by government agents and hauled off to Washington. But for what purpose? she wondered as she buttoned up her shirt. She looked at the startled faces of the three men and allowed herself a small grin of satisfaction. The bastards expected me to wear a dress, she thought. Well screw them. Janice Covington doesn't wear a dress for anybody. She tucked in her shirt and stepped out from behind the blanket. With an impish grin she made a big show of zipping up her khaki pants. She noted with pleasure the envy in the men's eyes when she donned the blue jacket with the famous NY logo on it. The rare article had been given to her by an old college classmate who now worked for the Yanks.
"Okay, crimebusters," she said snidely. "Lead on."
For some reason her thoughts turned to Mel. Something like this would scare her shitless, thought Janice. It would be safe to bet a dollar to a doughnut that Melinda Pappas would not have gotten dressed in front of any G-men, or T-men, or X-men for that matter.
"You're really going out dressed like that?" asked the Secret Service man. God, he thought, what will the Boss think?
"Sorry, boys," sniffed Janice. "I'm not the pearls and high heels type."
The man shrugged and picked up the telephone. "Give me room 216," he said. "Hello, Bob? We're ready."
Suddenly a thought struck Janice. "Hey, what about the room? And my things?"
"The Bureau will take care of the room," the G-man assured her. "And your effects will be forwarded to you in Washington."
Janice shrugged and said, "Good enough." She then nodded toward the bed and added, "Be sure you don't forget my 'friend' under the pillow."
The Secret Service man lifted up the pillow and whistled softly. "Nice piece. You know how to use it?"
"Let's just say there's a couple of creeps out there who thought they could muscle in on me walkin' around now with enough lead still in 'em they don't need a radio to pick up Little Orphan Annie," said the archaeologist.
Ninety minutes later Janice Covington was bundled up in the drafty hold of a southbound C-47 trying desperately to keep from freezing to death. Her light Yankees jacket was of little help at nine thousand feet on a cold November night. With her teeth chattering and her uncontrollable shivering she was almost unable to express her displeasure about the flying accommodations to the crusty sergeant eyeing her from the other side of the plane--almost but not quite.
"God d-damn!" she blurted out. The sons of bitches could have told me it was a military plane, she raged silently.
The sergeant rolled his wad of tobacco over his tongue and into his other cheek and spit a large brown glob on the floor of the plane. "What's the matter, honey?" he smirked. "Ya ain't cold, are ya?"
Fucking smart ass, thought Janice. She looked enviously at his thick sheepskin lined leather jacket and gloves. "You wouldn't happen to have some more of those lying around here somewhere would you?"
The sergeant grinned and spit again, this time much closer to her feet. "Nope."
"Look sergeant," said Janice, "just what the hell's eatin' you anyway?"
"What's eatin' me is I hadda get out of my warm bunk in the middle of the night just to haul some dame's ass down to Washington," rasped the sergeant.
"If you think it was my idea to be up here in this ice box with wings in the dead of night you're nuts, Buster," Janice shot back.
"Yeah, well dames don't belong on no Army Air Corps plane," said the sergeant.
"Up yours," snarled Janice.
"What's going on back here?"
Janice and her antagonist were joined by a tall young man wearing the single silver bar of a first lieutenant.
"Ma'am, what seems to be the trouble?"
"Trouble? I'll tell you what the trouble is!" shouted Janice, her anger rising with every word. "I'm back here freezing my bazooms off and this palooka wants to give me a lecture on army decorum!"
With a puzzled look on his face the lieutenant turned to the sergeant. "Sergeant?"
"Where's the flight suit we brought for this woman?"
"Well ah, sir, ya see...," the sergeant sheepishly picked up the small tarpaulin he had been sitting on and revealed the heavy flight jacket and pants lying underneath.
For Janice this was too much. "Why you son of a bitch!" She lowered her head and launched herself at the sergeant. She wrapped both arms around the man and drove him backward until he slammed into the side of the plane. Before the stunned sergeant or his lieutenant could react Janice stepped back and punched him dead in the nose. She drew back to hit him again but before she could deliver the goods the lieutenant caught her arm.
"Ma'am. Ma'am! Don't." As the lieutenant became more excited his voice went right up the scale.
"The bastard was holding out on me all the time!" snarled Janice. "Let go of my arm!"
"Calm down, ma'am," the lieutenant pleaded. "I think he's had enough."
By now the sergeant had his handkerchief out and was holding it tightly under his nostrils. "You cwazy dame," he honked. "You bwoke my doze!"
"Yeah? Well serves you right, asshole," said Janice.
"Uh, sergeant, I think you'd better come up front with us," said the lieutenant with some amusement. "We'd better see if we can get that bleedin' stopped."
The lieutenant took the sergeant by the arm and led him forward. As he passed Janice the sergeant's pride, which was hurting him much worse than his nose, would not let him depart without comment. "Cwazy dame," he muttered weakly.
But she was no longer paying attention to her victim. Already she had the flight jacket on, snugly zipped up, and was in the process of pulling on the flight pants.
The early morning sky had broken clear over Washington and there was a crisp breeze in the air. The lieutenant pushed open the door of the plane and stuck his head out. Normally this was the sergeant's job but he had refused to get anywhere near the "cwazy dame" again.
"Ma'am looks like you're expected."
Janice bent down and peeked out from the lieutenant's outstretched arm. She saw the plane had taxied to a remote spot on the airfield and parked with the door facing away from the control tower. The propellers on the twin-engined plane had not even stopped turning yet and already a car was pulling up next to them.
What is all this? Janice wondered.
She noted there were two men in the car and, for all she knew, they could have been clones of the ones in New York. The car had not come to a complete stop before the man on the passenger side had his door open. Without bothering to shut his door the man got out the car and jogged to the plane.
"We're here to pick up Janice Covington," the man said.
The young lieutenant squinted suspiciously at them. "Ya'll got some ID?" he asked.
"Look, Lieutenant, ah... what's your name?"
"Moore. Lieutenant Chris Moore, USAAF."
"Look, Moore, we don't have time to fuck around here. Miss Covington is due at the White House in forty-five minutes and if she's not there then your ass will be the one that will have to explain to General Marshall why she was late."
At the mention of the White House and the army chief of staff the lieutenant decided this was way over his head. "Sorry theah, padnah," said Moore, his Texas twang involuntarily kicking in. "Jes' checkin', that's all." He turned to Janice and said, "Ma'am, ah reckon you're to go with these fellers."
Janice stepped to the door of the plane and crouched down to make her leap to the ground. She then turned to the amicable young man and, in the first real display of warmth seen by Lieutenant Moore, said, "Thanks, Lieutenant. Take care of yourself." She then smiled and added, "Ya heyah?"
The lieutenant smiled and nodded but she was already gone.
During the entire ride from the airfield into downtown Washington not one word was spoken by anyone. Janice had been simply waved into the back seat of the big Packard and her two escorts had taken their stations up front. All through the trip the driver steered the big sedan with both hands firmly on the wheel and not once did he take his eyes off the road. As they made their way through the city she at first thought it odd that the streets would be so empty at this hour but then the realization came to her--this was Sunday. Most government offices were locked up tighter than a jug and even those that were not were manned by skeleton crews of junior staffers.
She peered through the steamy window and again wondered what possible reason could make the government want to rouse a nobody like her out of bed and pack her off to Washington D.C. in the middle of the night. She remembered what the man had said at the airfield. The White House? God, she thought, you don't suppose...? Nah, Janice that's crazy. But still, why else would she be taken there? And then there was the matter of General Marshall. What did the army chief of staff have to do with all this?
Janice Covington did not have to keep up with current events much. She didn't have to. She had seen them first hand often enough. Besides what American didn't know about how Hitler had overrun Europe and was at this very moment pounding on the gates of Moscow? Unlike most of her countrymen at this time, she did not believe the war in Europe was none of America's business. She felt cultural ties with Britain were much too strong for the United States to stand idly by let her fall. In fact Janice was a little surprised her nation was not at war already. At any rate she deemed American participation in the conflict inevitable. It was only a matter of when.
The Packard pulled to a stop and the driver exchanged a couple of terse sentences with a uniformed guard. As they drove past she wiped the steam on the window off with the sleeve of her jacket to get a look at the guard. He was wearing a long overcoat and she really could not tell whether the man was military or some other kind of security person.
A minute later the car came to a stop for the final time and the man on the passenger side popped out and opened the door for her. "Miss Covington? Follow me." Janice sensed this was an order, not a request.
Like most Americans of her day she had very little knowledge of the White House. She knew what it looked like, of course--well the front of it anyway for that was what the newsreels and newspaper photographs always showed. Now seeing it in person for the first time, she was somewhat surprised. She had thought it would be bigger. Janice would have liked to just stand there for a moment to take it all in but she was quickly hustled through a side door and up a flight of stairs to the second floor. There she was deposited into a plain hardback chair and told to wait. Her two escorts then disappeared and she was left alone except for yet another man in a conservative suit at the far end of the hall. Janice correctly guessed his job was to make sure she stayed put.
She looked up at the various paintings on the wall and for a time tried to guess who they might be. However she quickly tired of this. She then stuck her hand into her jacket pocket and extracted a pack of Beeman's chewing gum. After unwrapping a stick she remembered where she was, thought better of it, and returned it to her pocket.
Fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes elapsed and by now she was ready to explode. Janice Covington hated to wait. Her impatience on a dig was legendary. She had a reputation as a boss who wanted things done yesterday. Now added to her discomfort was the fact that her stomach was beginning to protest being neglected.
Grrrrrrrrrr.... Her growling stomach could be plainly heard in the quiet room. Boy, what I wouldn't give for a stack of pancakes right now, she thought.
Finally, after what she was sure was a wait of a least three of four hours (in reality fifty-six minutes) she saw a trim, distinguished-looking man wearing what looked to be an army uniform striding purposefully toward her.
This is it, Kid, she thought, her anxiety returning.
As he neared Janice noted the man was about fifty-five or sixty years of age and carried himself with the bearing of someone who was used to being in charge. The four stars on his shoulders were merely confirmation of her assessment.
"I'm General Marshall."
Having seen his picture in the newspapers many times she knew who he was. "I know," she replied quietly.
She wasn't the only one. Everyone in Washington knew who George Catlett Marshall was. As the most respected man in the armed forces he had an unbroken forty year reputation as a man who could get things done. From his graduation from the Virginia Military Institute in 1901, through his tenure as one of "Black Jack" Pershing's most trusted aides in The Great War, to his now-famous "Benning Revolution" in the early 1930's, George Marshall's career had been one of exemplary, if relatively anonymous, service.
That had all changed in 1938 when he was summoned to Washington to head the War Plans Division of the Army General Staff. This brought him in close contact for the first time with Franklin Roosevelt. Determined to keep his independence from the charismatic Roosevelt, Marshall appalled his fellow officers by refusing to allow the President to call him "George." He also refused all invitations to White House parties or weekends at Hyde Park, he even refused to laugh at the president's jokes!
But Roosevelt knew a gifted man when he saw one. Bypassing very many officers who were senior to him, Roosevelt in 1939 reached down and plucked out George C. Marshall to be the next Army Chief of Staff, the army's highest position. In one of those ironies history is so fond of, George Marshall was sworn in on September 1, 1939-- the same day Hitler's Wehrmacht blitzkrieged into Poland thus starting World War II. Since that day Marshall had spent every waking moment desperately trying to prepare an isolationist America for its inevitable participation in the war.
During his many appearances before Congress at this time he gained a reputation as a man of unparalleled integrity. Democrats and Republicans alike were very impressed by this austere, aloof, but always truthful man from Pennsylvania. It had been Marshall's candid testimony as the army's sole witness during hearings to extend the Selective Service Act that had been credited with saving the force that he had so painstakingly built up through the 1940 peacetime draft.
With China ravaged, France beaten, England badly pressed, and the Soviet Union hanging on by a fingernail it had been one piece of bad news after another for George Marshall. Now with negotiations with the Japanese on the verge of collapse he knew the situation was about as bad as it could get.
But none of this constant weight on the man who would one day be known as the "architect of victory" was evident as he shook hands with the tough-looking young woman. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long," he told her.
"That's okay, I didn't mind," lied Janice.
"Would you follow me please?" Marshall led her down the hall to an open room. Inside were two men flanking a man sitting behind a desk and looking out the window. The seated man's profile was unmistakable.
Oh my God! thought Janice. It's him.
General Marshall rapped lightly on the door to announce their presence. "Mr. President, Miss Covington is here."
"Ahh splendid, splendid!" boomed the profile's voice. "Show her in, General."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States gave a subtle wave to the two aides and they at once withdrew. As they passed by Janice one of them shot an annoyed glance at her. Marshall waited for the men to pass by and then stepped into the room but poor Janice's motor skills seemed to have deserted her. Her jaw dropped, her legs felt like lead, and she found herself unable to keep her hands from shaking.
Roosevelt wheeled himself out from behind the desk and rolled up to the stunned archaeologist. "Miss Covington," he asked, extending his hand, "may I call you Janice?"
Janice weakly took his hand and with a Herculean effort managed to gulp, "Of course, sir."
"Good, good," he boomed. "I find it helps matters considerably if I can talk to people on a first name basis." He looked at her with a devilish smile and added, "I'm sorry if we have caused you any inconvenience. Won't you sit down?"
For one panic-stricken moment Janice was ready to plop right down on the floor and sit Indian-style but General Marshall, mercifully reading the terror in her eyes, discreetly nudged a chair her way.
"Uhh, thank you, Mister President," she stammered, taking the chair.
Roosevelt tilted his head toward General Marshall. "You know, the General there, he won't let me call him 'George,'" he said with a sly smile. "Can you imagine that? The President of the United States can't call his Army Chief of Staff by his first name! Now what do you think about that, Janice?"
Poor Janice didn't know what to think. She looked expectantly at Marshall and saw his face was as blank as butcher paper.
"Mister President," said Marshall evenly, "I don't believe my ability to serve you would be in any way enhanced by familiarity. Besides, as you well know, I serve at your discretion and if at any time..."
Roosevelt threw back his head and laughed heartily. "General, you know well enough that day will never come." He leaned over and, in a conspiratorial tone, whispered to Janice, "He knows I can't do without him. Why I dare say I couldn't sleep at night if he wasn't here." This last sentence would be, in the future, uttered many, many more times by Roosevelt.
Janice smiled weakly and nodded. She then gulped hard and said, "Mister President, if it's not too bold of me, may I ask why I'm here, sir?"
The merry smile faded and in its stead appeared a much more somber countenance. "We'll get to that in a moment. But first..." He then turned to Marshall. "...General," he said, "if you would be so kind."
Marshall put on his glasses and opened up the manila folder he had brought with him. "Miss Covington, you once spent some time in Borneo, did you not?"
"Yeah," said Janice. She closed her eyes in thought and added, "It was in late '37, early '38. I was an assistant to Professor Jones then."
"So you are familiar with the island?" Marshall asked.
"Yeah, I suppose so," replied Janice. "The place has everything from impenetrable jungle to mountains to elevated plains."
Roosevelt looked her squarely in the eye and asked "What do you know about the Rings of Bugang?"
For a moment Janice sat there looking at him in stunned silence. The legend of the Rings of Bugang was known only to a very select few in the entire world. "It's a very old legend," said Janice cautiously.
"Could you tell us about it?" asked Roosevelt.
"Well it's a story that takes almost an hour to relate but if you like I can give you a condensed version," said Janice.
"Please do," said Roosevelt.
"The actual legend deals with a warrior named Monsopiad and was originally told by Bianti, a Bobohizan high priestess." said Janice. "He was born and raised in a village called Kuai where his grandfather was chieftain. It is said that when his mother was pregnant with Monsopiad the sacred bird Bugang made its nest on the rooftop of their house to lay its eggs. When the time came for Monsopiad to be born, so too, was it time for the eggs to hatch. Monsopiad's father, Dunggou, looked upon the coincidence as a good omen. So whenever the baby Monsopiad was given his bath, Dunggou brought down the baby birds to bathe with him. He did this until the birds were finally big enough to fly and leave the nest. The sacred bird Bugang was so grateful to Dunggou for his hospitality that if flew to the sea and returned with a coral necklace featuring four rings of pure gold. It was said that the rings represented the power of the four winds and whomever possessed it would be invincible in battle. When Dunggou explained to Bugang that he was too old to be a warrior anymore the bird told him the necklace was for the boy and was to be placed around his neck when he reached fifteen years of age.
Kuai was a small village and did not have enough warriors to protect it so very often during Monsopiad's childhood his village was subject to attack and plunder by robbers. During these attacks the villagers would have no choice but to flee to the nearby jungle and hide until it was safe to return to their homes. During these attacks Monsopiad would watch from his hiding place, clench his fists in rage, and bite his lip so hard the blood would freely flow.
As the young Monsopiad grew he took to his warrior training naturally and eventually became a skilled fighter, learning to handle every weapon with ease. When he turned fifteen his father placed the necklace on him and told him its purpose. Then and there Monsopiad vowed he would someday rid his village of its tormentors once and for all.
One day while Monsopiad was working in his father's rice field a group of women came to him and began to berate him for working so hard, saying it was a waste of time and effort as most of the fruits of his labor would be enjoyed by the robbers who always struck shortly after harvest. The women also ridiculed the men of their village, calling them weaklings for not being able to defend their village effectively.
Monsopiad, angered by such mockery, vowed to start looking for the robbers the very next day and, once found, kill them. He told the women he would cut off the head of the robber leader and bring it back to his village as a trophy to be hung from the roof of his house. He told them he would take three youths with him to bear witness to his deed. The youths would then return to Kuai ahead of him to announce his success and herald his impending arrival by blowing on a bamboo trumpet. Monsopiad said that in response, the women must put on their best costumes, bear bamboo trays and give him a grand warrior's welcome. If they did not he would kill them all. The women promised that, if Monsopiad succeeded, they would do as he wished.
Early the next morning Monsopiad set out with the three youths in search of the robbers who had been victimizing his village. He finally found them five weeks later and a bloody fight ensued. As he promised, Monsopiad fought the leader of the robbers and beheaded him. Seeing their leader dead, the remaining robbers fled for their lives. The three youths who had been watching the battle ran back to Kuai as fast as they could. When the people of the village heard the bamboo trumpet they were at first confused and frightened for they had not expected Monsopiad to be successful in his quest.
The women who had mocked him were terrified for they had never before welcomed a warrior home and remembered Monsopiad's threat to kill them if they did not fulfill their promise. Fortunately for them, a priestess knew what to do and gave them instructions. The women, bearing bamboo trays and led in by the priestess, formed a procession and the entire village joined in. They began singing songs of victory as soon as Monsopiad entered the village. The sight so inspired Monsopiad that he vowed to wipe out all the enemies of his village.
As the years passed Monsopiad continued relentlessly with his self-imposed mission and in time, no robber or evil warrior dared come near Kuai. Through all this time the necklace he wore always gave him strength and protected him. He had by then, however, become an obsessed man who resorted to provoking other men into fighting him just so he would have an excuse to kill and behead them. Of course this made the other villagers, including Monsopiad's close friends and the other warriors, wary and extremely afraid of him.
Finally a group of brave warriors got together and decided that despite his heroic deeds, Monsopiad's uncontrollable desire to kill had made him a grave threat to the village and therefore must die. Late one evening, while Monsopiad was resting in his hut, the warriors made their move. Monsopiad put up a fierce fight but he discovered he no longer had the strength he once had. Too late he realized that by abusing the special power bestowed on him by the sacred bird, he had gradually become a common man. Monsopiad lost his life that day but the villagers still held him dearly in their hearts for he was, after all, still the man that had vanquished all their enemies.
He had, in all, collected the heads of forty-two powerful warriors, a feat which no other man could equal. The villagers forgave Monsopiad for his mistakes and in memory of his good deeds erected a monument in his honor and renamed their village after him.
It was said that Bugang was so saddened by Monsopiad's downfall that she returned the necklace with the four rings to the sea and vowed never to help man again."
Roosevelt leaned back in his chair and adjusted his pince-nez glasses. "You told that marvelously," said Roosevelt. "Have you ever considered writing?"
"Not really, sir," said Janice. In truth early in her career during one of her longer jobless stints she had in fact thought about chucking archaeology and trying her hand at writing. She knew he had something of a gift for it.
Of course FDR already knew all about this legend, having been briefed twice on the subject by a noted archaeologist from Georgetown. What he had really wanted to know was whether this woman with the rowdy reputation was as knowledgeable as he had been led to believe. It was obvious to him now that she was. However there was the matter of her trustworthiness. The woman had a reputation for being unscrupulous. After closely studying her background several of his advisors had cautioned him against using her. But Franklin D. Roosevelt had wanted to see for himself. He had not been elected President of the United States three times because he didn't know people. Great or small, friend or foe, FDR had a gift for sizing people up quickly.
Now, after studying the young woman sitting nervously a few feet from him, he had decided that Janice Covington, like millions of others Americans, had simply been molded by the trials of the Great Depression. He looked at the hard, but youthful, face and saw eyes that should have belonged to someone much older. During his travels across the country he had seen those eyes many times. It was plain the woman had experienced a lot in her short life and very much of it had not been pleasant.
Her credentials confirmed, it now fell to Roosevelt to decide if she could be trusted on this matter. Well, he thought, let's find out. "Janice?"
"Can I trust you? Let me rephrase that. Can America trust you? If circumstances arose where your services were needed could you be counted on to come to the aid of our nation? You need not answer as a citizen to the President," said Roosevelt, "but simply as one American to another."
Janice pressed her lips together tightly and looked down at her feet. "Mr. President," she began, "I won't try to soft-soap you. I'm not a weepy-eyed patriot. Everything I have achieved in life I had to fight and scratch and claw for. America, or nobody else for that matter, ever went out of their way to help me. When I was in college I had to take every dirty job I could find just to earn enough money to stay in school. I sold tickets at the local movie house, I waited on tables at a half-dozen greasy spoons, I scrubbed floors at the hospital for twenty-five cents an hour. I used to sometimes go to class so tired I couldn't even take notes. I'd just sit there and stare like zombie. I was smarter than any of those rich, bubble headed sorority girls in my classes but I had to settle for B's and C's because I was just too tired from working all the time to study as much as wanted to."
She smiled ruefully and added, "You know, all the time I was in school I had one coat and two pairs of shoes. And then when I graduated do you think I had it any better?" She snorted and answered her own question. "Not a chance. It took me a year of knocking on doors and practically begging before someone finally decided to take a chance on me--for much less money of course. Why? Because I was a woman and every day I had to prove myself to the other archaeologists on the site."
It was here she paused before continuing. "I know America is a great country, sir, but that still doesn't mean that unfairness and intolerance should be condoned. There are a whole lot of people that are smart or gifted in some way that don't get much of a fair shake in this country. And that's all they're asking for, Mr. President, a chance."
"I understand how you feel," said Roosevelt. "But that still doesn't answer my question. Can America depend on you?"
"I know what they say about me," said Janice, barely hiding her bitterness. "I'm a money-grubber, I'd stab my own grandmother in the back if it was to my advantage. I'm sure your people told you all about that didn't they, sir?"
Roosevelt nodded his reply.
"Mister President, all I can say is I may not be anybody's ideal of a model American citizen but I am a loyal one."
Roosevelt leaned over and patted Janice on the knee. "Child, that's all I wanted to know." He nodded to Marshall and said, "Please continue, General."
"About a month ago Navy intelligence began receiving reports from their man stationed on Borneo that several Japanese agents had arrived there. These reports indicated the Japanese were offering twenty thousand dollars in gold to anyone who could produce the Rings of Bugang."
"But why?" asked Janice, furrowing her brow. "I mean, we're not sure they even exist."
"They exist," said Marshall, matter-of-factly. "The Navy's man has them. At least we think he has them."
"What do you mean?"
"He was supposed to have taken a supply boat to Singapore but his contact there reported he never got off the ship," said Marshal. "The last thing ONI heard from him was a report that he had the rings. That was ten days ago."
"Why don't you send someone down there to look for him?" Janice asked.
"We are," said Roosevelt. "You!"
"Mee? But I don't know anything about..."
Roosevelt cut short her protest with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Oh come now, Janice," he said. "Don't be modest. We know all about your ah, adventures, shall we say? We feel you're exactly the right person for the job; the perfect combination of an extremely knowledgeable archaeologist and someone more than capable of looking out for their self."
"What we want you to do, Miss Covington, is go there and find our man, verify the authenticity of the rings, and help our man get out," said Marshall.
"I see," said Janice. "Let me ask you something. Why didn't you have somebody either with this guy or already down there to tell him if the rings were genuine or not?"
"We did. Unfortunately he died under mysterious circumstances before he could do that. We think this forced our man to gamble that the rings he had located were, in fact, the real ones," said Marshall.
"Mysterious circumstances huh?" Janice grinned wryly. "I'll bet."
A little voice in the back of Janice's head suddenly began to sound out a warning. "Things are happening way too fast here, Kid. Watch your step."
"Do you think you could do that?" asked Roosevelt.
"Well obviously, I can't tell you if they're the real thing or not," replied Janice. "After all, no one has seen them. I should be able to tell if the workmanship is of the correct time period, though."
"That's all we are asking," said Marshall.
"May I ask what all the fuss over a bit of gold and some coral is?" asked Janice.
"I'm afraid we can't tell you that as this point in time," replied Marshall. "Suffice it to say we believe that if the Japanese are willing to pay that much out of their dwindling gold reserve for this item then it must be something they deem advantageous to possess. Therefore if follows if they want it, it is in our best interests to make sure they do not obtain it."
"Janice, I can't order you to go, not even the president can do that," said Roosevelt. "But I can and I am asking you if you would do it as a personal favor to me." Wiley politician that he was, Roosevelt already knew the answer. What was she going to say, no?
Janice took a deep breath and said, "Okay, I'll do it."
Marshall immediately handed her a sheet of paper. Janice glanced at it and saw it was an itinerary and, at the bottom, an address--written in longhand.
"Please memorize this and then destroy it," said Marshall.
Janice looked again at the paper and read the names...Pearl Harbor...Guam...Clark Field. Military transport all the way, thought Janice glumly. That's just ducky.
As if reading her mind Marshall said, "Of course there are more commercial means of reaching the island but they are sporadic and unreliable at best. We need you down there as quickly as possible."
Janet merely nodded. At this point one of the aides rapped lightly on the door.
"Sir, it's time."
"Thank you, Robert," said Roosevelt. He looked at Janice and smiled jovially, "It's time for my swim."
She saw Marshall take off his glasses and close the folder and took this as her cue to rise. She knew it was now or never. She had to know.
"Why me? And why did you personally ask me? I mean you must have dozens of guys that could have handled this for you, right?"
Roosevelt looked up at her from his wheelchair and said, "Young lady, now it's my turn not to soft soap you. As you probably know from the news we are at the present time conducting negotiations with the Japanese. What's not generally known is those negotiations are going very badly. So badly in fact that we feel there is a distinct possibility we could be at war by New Year's. The reason I personally asked you to go is because if war does break out we expect Borneo to be one of the first places the Japanese hit. And it goes without saying that it could very well be you would end up on your own down there." He paused and added, "That's why we chose you. You seem to have a resilience, a never-say-die quality about you. You see, our man is being watched very closely over there and if he is to get out of the country with those rings he is going to need the help of someone that knows their business. That's you, my dear. And times being what they are, I didn't think it was appropriate to have anyone but me ask a private citizen to place their self in such a potentially dangerous position." He then looked at her puckishly and added, "Besides, Eleanor is always after me to give the women of this country more responsibility."
"I understand, Mister President," said Janice quietly.
Roosevelt rolled his chair to the door and looked back. "Oh by the way, Janice, you were wrong when you said you never got a thing from America."
"Sir?" Janice asked quizzically.
With a kindly smile the great man said, "Opportunity, Janice. You got an opportunity. Do you realize how many peoples there are in the world that wish for that with all their hearts every day?" The aide took control of Roosevelt's chair and he was gone.
"It will take some time to firm up transportation," said Marshall. "In the meantime arrangements have been made for you to stay at a hotel downtown. Your things should reach you there. When we are ready to move we'll call you."
"I'm sure you already know this but I have a..." Janice almost said 'friend,' "...colleague who assists me ..."
She was correct, Marshall did know. In fact he knew everything about Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas because the FBI had been conducting an intense investigation of them for the past two weeks. "If you feel Miss Pappas will be useful feel free to take her along," he told her. "But I advise you to fully explain the situation to her first."
"I will," Janice promised.
As if by magic the two men that had brought her there now suddenly reappeared.
"Good bye, Miss Covington, and good luck," said Marshall, extending his hand.
"Thanks," mumbled Janice. Only now was the enormity of it all sinking in. Jesus, she thought, I met the President of the United States!
Janice drained the last of the scotch in her glass and reached for the telephone. It was time. "Hello, operator? Could you put me through to Columbia, South Carolina please? I want to speak to a Miss Melinda Pappas. Yes, that's right, Pappas, P-a-p-p-a-s. The number is CYpress-6199. Yes, I'll wait."
It was now 7:30 on the east coast. Janice knew that Melinda...Mel would be home by now. Despite her southern charm and quiet beauty, Mel had not proved to be one of those Southern belles that had to fight off beaux. Stupid idiots! thought Janice as she waited for her connection.
Finally on the other end, that unmistakable drawl, "Hello-oo?"
"Janice, is that you?"
"Yeah, Kid, it's me. Listen up, I need you to come up to Washington right away, okay?"
"Yuh mean Washington D.C.?"
"No, Mel, I mean Washington, Indiana. Of course I mean D.C."
"But I thought you were goin' to New York," said Mel.
"I did but, ah, something came up," said Janice.
"Is it another job?" asked Mel excitedly. "Can I go?"
"Can't say over the phone," said Janice. "But I do need to talk to you."
"But Janice...I can't..."
Janice read the sense of urgency in her friend's voice. "All right, Mel, what is it?"
"Way-ul, you see I sorta promised Momma I'd take her to the movies to see "Suspicion" this evenin' at the Bijou theater. See, she's a big fan of Cary Grant and, to tell you the truth, so am I and..."
Janice knew it was no use. "Okay, okay," she sighed. "Take your mom to the movies. You can take the overnight to Washington later."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Janice?"
"Are you all right?"
480 miles away the archaeologist could not help but smile. Melinda Pappas was nothing if not thoughtful. "Sure, Mel. I'm fine. Just get your can up her pronto. Be sure to pack a bag--and bring your passport."
"Ahhlll be there," Mel assured her.
"Good." Janice gave her the name of her hotel and her room number. "And Mel, don't tell anybody you're comin' up here, you understand? Not even your mom."
"Okay, Janice, if you say so," said Mel. "But golly, you make it sound like we're goin' on a secret mission or somethin.'"
She did it again, thought Janice. How does she do that? "Just be careful okay?" she replied lamely.
"Good night, Janice."
"Good night, Kid."
After replacing its receiver in the cradle Janice Covington continued to stare at the phone for some time. As mightily as she had tried to dislike Mel at first she found it was just not possible. There was no denying she was a ditzy clutz who was forever trying Janice's patience but she was also the embodiment of all that was good in people. She was kind, gentle, smart, compassionate. >From that first day in Macedonia it had been a classic case of opposites attracting. From Janice's perspective the tall, shy, woman should have been all that she had once hated; a flighty young woman from a privileged family. But it wasn't so.
From no less an authority that the spirit of Xena herself Janice had learned the two of them were merely modern manifestations of a bond formed more than three thousand years ago. A bond that had not weakened with the passing centuries. Many times since learning this revelation Janice had wondered how often the two of them had found each other again over the ensuing centuries. There was no doubt Janice felt the bond tugging at her. Though reluctant at first, she had come to care very much for the gentle southerner. Melinda Pappas was the first human being since the death of her father that Janice Covington thought of as more than someone to be used.
She poured herself another scotch and lay down on the bed. I wonder what it would be like to... aww, Janice, that's crazy, she thought. She shook her head as if to clear the fog. "Janice, that's crazy," she repeated, this time aloud. She turned on the radio and the strains of Tommy Dorsey's band poured forth into the room like fine wine. Like every other woman in America under the age of forty she was a Sinatra fan. The music made her turn once again to thoughts of that soft voice, that lovely face, that gentle heart. At last she fell asleep on the bed, still fully clothed, her glass spilling onto the floor. Janice lay there all night dreaming of presidents and cold airplanes, of grim men in dark suits and hard-backed chairs--and she dreamed of Mel. It had been a long day.
The knocking on the door was so soft Janice barely heard it. "Yeah, whaddaya want?"
"Janice? Janice, it's me, Mel."
Janice rolled out of the bed and stood up. "Ohhhh, God." she groaned. The gremlin and his sledgehammer had returned.
She stumbled to the door with her hand on her forehead. It took a few frustrating moments of fumbling with the latch before she was finally able to open the door. And there she was. Janice squinted up at the woman and grinned, "'Bout time."
A product of a tradition rich Southern family, Mel was, as always, immaculately dressed. She wore a dark blue skirt that just covered her knees and a brilliant white blouse buttoned up all the way to the top. Black pumps and a nicely cut blue jacket that matched her skirt completed the conservative, but very pleasing, look. In one hand she clutched a small hand bag and in the other a pair of black gloves. Over one arm was draped her tan overcoat.
Melinda took one look at her groggy friend, put her hand to her mouth, and uttered her favorite expression, "Oh my!"
Janice squinted up at her through the one eye that seemed to be the least clouded. "Wassamatter?" she asked.
"Janice I do declare you look like Sherman's army came through here and marched all over you."
Janice grinned again and said, "Don't worry about it, Mel. I feel a lot worse than I look." She picked up her friend's suitcase and stretched out an arm. "Won't ya'll come in?"
Mel stepped into the room and the first things she saw were the bottle of scotch on the night table and the glass lying still lying on the floor. "Janice!" she gasped softly. "You've been drinkin'."
"Good work, Mister Moto," said Janice playfully. "What tipped you off?"
Mel, however, was not amused. "Janice, you promised me you'd try to take better care of yourself."
The archaeologist could see how deeply concerned her one true friend was. Yes it was true Janice Covington was known to crack the seal on a whiskey bottle every now and then but she never, ever drank when Melinda was around. She didn't need to. Melinda was miffed to be sure but she wasn't about to beat Janice over the head too much over it. After all, only she knew how lonely a person her friend really was.
"I only had a couple," lied Janice.
It was a lame attempt to placate her friend but Mel was not buying any of it. "I'm sure," she answered, a little icily.
God damn it! thought Janice, her famous temper flaring. Why do I take this from her? If it was anybody else...
Melinda tossed her gloves, coat, and hand bag in a heap on the bed and turned to face Janice. "Have yuh had anything tuh eat? I mean like, oh say, in the last couple of days?"
"Yeah," Janice shot back a little defensively. "I had a hamburger and milk shake yesterday evening."
Mel sighed and shook her head. "Janice I swear you worry me. It seems like when you ain't on a dig you try your darndest to wreck yourself."
She reached out with both hands and took Janice by the shoulders. With surprising ease she spun the smaller woman around and pointed her toward the bathroom door. Over the past few months Janice had come to learn just how deceptively strong Mel really was.
"Now you jes' march yourself right in there and take a nice, warm bath an' you'll feel much better. I'll call room service and have 'em bring up something for ya."
"But I don't have anything clean to wear," Janice protested mildly. "My things haven't arrived yet."
"Oh for Pete's sake don't worry. I'll send 'em out and have 'em cleaned," said Mel.
Janice nodded weakly and made her way to the bathroom. She had to admit she did like it when Mel fussed over her like this. It made her feel good to know somebody cared for her. She closed the bathroom door and began to run water into the tub. Next she peeled off her clothes and threw them in a pile by the door. After turning the water off she walked to the door and scooped up her clothing. Deliberately not bothering to cover herself with a towel she opened the door.
"Here ya go," she said, tossing the clothing on the floor. Mel was on the phone with room service so Janice lingered at the door until she was done. "You're never gonna believe who I saw yesterday." Like a teasing school girl she wanted to make sure Mel saw her.
Mel did see her. "Janice!" she scolded gently.
Janice, however, noted Mel was not blushing as she had expected her to do. She also saw she was taking in every inch of her.
Melinda quickly strode to the door and gently tried to push it shut. "You git in there and take your bath."
"But Mel I saw--"
"Whomever it was, it can wait."
Thirty blissful minutes later Janice finally summoned up enough resolve to pick herself up out of the tub. Mel had been right. She did feel better. She toweled off and combed back her hair. Wiping away the steam from the mirror she stepped back and eyed herself. "Not bad," she allowed admiringly. "Not bad at all."
It wasn't very often that Janice Covington allowed herself to be a woman. It was her belief that in her line of work being female was a luxury she just could not afford. She knew that if she exhibited any weakness at all the barracuda rivals of hers would eat her alive. She was still staring at herself when she heard a soft rap on the door.
"Yeah." She wrapped the bath towel around her and opened the door.
"Here, put this on." said Mel, handing her a white bath robe.
Janice took the robe and in a rare moment of tenderness touched Mel on the forearm. "Thanks, Mel."
Slightly taken aback, Melinda did blush this time and Janice felt a little ashamed for her previous clumsy attempt at exhibitionism. She slipped the robe on and found it way too big for her. In fact it was touching the floor. In vain she tried to reach around behind her and take up the robe's belt.
Seeing her friend's difficulty, Mel quickly came to her rescue. "Here, let me help." She ran both arms around Janice and took up the ends of the belt. "I've been meanin' to get a new one," she said apologetically. "The belt loops on this ol' thing are broken."
Mel was so close Janice could smell her and even without perfume on she smelled... sweet. Mel was much taller than Janice and her breasts were now sooo invitingly close to her. As they came closer Janice was certain she was not the only one that felt stirrings within her. The look on Mel's face was like none Janice had ever seen before.
Melinda looked down at the woman with her still-wet hair combed straight back and was struck by just how young she really was. She knew they were roughly the same age but somehow she had always thought of Janice as someone...older. Over the past months they had spent quite a lot of time together and by now both of them were fully aware there was something special between them. But that "something" was just like a wild stallion yearning to be free but was cruelly pent up inside a strong fence. No matter how desperately the horse might try to knock the fence down it was just too strong. The fence that barred the union of Mel and Janice's hearts was a particularly cruel one for both of them had supplied materials to build it with. Mel's shyness and timidity made for stout fence posts and Janice's stubborn refusal to allow anyone to get close to her after a lifetime of pain provided the railing. But like the stallion their hearts would not give up. They might be stopped today or tomorrow, but someday...
Mel carefully pulled the ends of the belt around and gently tied them off. For once she dropped the veil of Southern propriety and said softly, "You know, Janice, you're quite a lovely woman when you allow yourself to be."
Janice had to admit she found this rarely seen side of Mel exciting. Gone was the timid young clutz and here in its place was a strong, confident woman. Could this be the day? No. It only lasted a moment for Mel suddenly stepped back in an obvious attempt to put space between them and nervously cleared her throat. Before Janice could reply there was a sharp rap at the door.
Mel smiled sheepishly at Janice and said, "I'll get that." She then nodded to the tray room service had brought up and said, "You jes' march yourself over there and eat something, young lady."
Young lady! Janice Covington could never remember being called a lady before--young or otherwise. She made a feeble attempt to curtsy and smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
By the time Mel returned with the heavy suitcase Janice had gotten a very good start on the eggs, bacon, and toast Mel ordered.
"Who brought it?" asked Janice, her mouth full of food.
"Why it was the strangest thing," said Mel. "It was an army officer, a captain I believe."
"Umm," nodded Janice. "Figures."
"Janice, what would the army be doin' with your suitcase?"
By now the spell was broken and Janice Covington was all business again. She poured herself some coffee and walked over to her suitcase. "The bastards better not have forgotten anything," she growled. She placed the suitcase on the bed and, before opening it, took her cup in both hands and sipped the coffee with a loud sluuurp!
A woman of impeccable manners herself, this always drove Mel crazy. "Janice I do declare, do you have to do that?"
"Do what?" asked Janice, her mind elsewhere. She popped open the latches on the case and took a mental inventory of its contents. Of primary concern was the .45 automatic. She halfway expected it to be missing but there it was--neatly tucked under her "protection."
Mel watched warily as Janice picked up the .45 and hefted it in her hand. She released the catch and pulled out the clip. She then pulled the slide back and carefully inspected the breech and firing pin. Government agents or no, when it came to her weapon Janice Covington trusted nobody. Satisfied all was in order she picked up the clip and, with the heel of her hand, bumped it back into the pistol.
"Golly, Janice, is it really necessary to load that thing again?" asked Mel.
"Without its little pals it's just a useless hunk of steel," said Janice matter-of-factly. She tucked the .45 back into the suitcase and returned to her breakfast. For her part Mel was dying to know what this was all about but she knew it would not do any good to press her friend.
A few minutes later Janice finished off her toast and downed the last of her coffee. Leaning back and contentedly patting her stomach, she grinned at her friend and said, "You're not gonna believe what I'm about to tell you."
Ten minutes later Mel had to agree. "You're right, I don't believe you.
"So when do we leave?" asked Mel excitedly.
Janice took a deep breath and spread her hands on her knees. "That's what I want to talk to you about."
Behind her horn-rimmed glasses Mel's eyes narrowed. "What do you meeaan?" she drawled. Janice had found that the more excited Mel got, the more pronounced her drawl became.
"I couldn't tell you over the phone," said Janice, "but I was told this could be a risky business. A very risky business."
"What are you sayin'?"
"I'm saying you really ought to give this some thought before you decide if you want to come or not."
Mel cast her eyes down and, her hurt plainly evident, asked, "If you didn't want me to go why did you ask me to come up here?"
"Damn it, Mel, I never said that," replied Janice. "I'm merely sayin' it could get...rough, ya know?"
"Janice, you know I go where you go, that is unless you don't...want...me...to."
The apprehension on the woman's face was enough to make the Janice want to kick herself in the rear for even bringing it up but she knew the real possibility of danger was something that had to be made clear to Mel. Having fulfilled that obligation, she sagged her shoulders in defeat and shook her head. "Kid, you know that's not true," she said. "After all, we're a team remember?"
Mel happily clasped her hands together and giggled like a school girl. She then got serious and said quietly, "Janice, I promise won't do nothin' to put us in danger. I'll do whatever you say."
"Well you'd better," said Janice, smiling weakly. God, if something happens to her over there I'll never forgive myself, she thought. She then patted the tall woman on the knee and said, "You ought to try to get some rest now. I've got a feelin' it's gonna be a while before we find a bed this soft again."
That afternoon Janice received a call from an army colonel setting in motion a chain of events the two of them would remember for the rest of their lives.
Corporal Mikkelson stuck out his arm and grinned at the two women he had shared crossing six thousand miles of ocean with. "Well, ladies, there it is."
Mel stood up and groped her way to the waist gunner's door and looked out at the huge airfield sprawling below. "Oh, my!" she gasped.
"That's Clark Field," said Mikkelson.
Janice, meanwhile, was content to sit with eyes closed and her back against the side of the B-17. She was disgusted to find that, once again, her stomach had betrayed her. It caused her no end of grief to know that she was so easily susceptible to motion sickness, especially airplanes. Once during a particularly rough flight from Cairo to Damascus in an old Ford Tri-Motor she had thrown up all over the co-pilot's neck hence giving new meaning to her nickname, "Mad Dog." Her flight from New York to Washington had not really counted because she had been too hung over to care. Now she found herself wishing she had something to knock her out.
The big Flying Fortress banked to the right and slowly began to make its descent. The plane was the last of a flight of six to touch down at the big airfield and its slow taxi to its designated spot on the field was the culmination of an odyssey for the two women that had begun three days before and a half a world away.
After receiving the colonel's call Mel and Janice had crawled into the back of another C-47 and flown to Atlanta, Georgia. There they had scrambled into a waiting Mitchell B-25 and flown to San Antonio, Texas where they had joined up with the crew of the B-17 they were now on. These planes were being transferred to the Philippines in light of the present tensions with the Japanese. From San Antonio they had flown first to Phoenix and finally to San Diego.
At each stop the women had been met with disbelief and even some disdain but each time all Janice had to do was produce the letter with "War Department, Office of the Army Chief of Staff," on the letterhead and the signature "George C. Marshall" at the bottom and it was as though she were parting the Red Sea. Instantly these previously dubious men fell all over themselves to be of assistance.
In San Diego they had waited six hours in a grimy hangar while the Superforts underwent routine maintenance in preparation of the Pacific crossing. At Pearl Harbor they had waited twelve more hours while the flight crews got some much needed rest and then it was on to Wake Island. From that small speck of dirt (Privately Janice had worried whether any of these young men's navigation was good enough to hit the small clump of dirt) they flew to Guam and finally, their destination at the airfield northwest of Manila.
Clark Field was the largest American air base in the Far East and many in Washington referred to it as MacArthur International Airport. However as Janice swung herself down out of the pilot's hatch the imperial general with the giant ego was the last thing on her mind. "Hey, Bud!" she yelled at a passing mechanic. "Where's the can?"
"Hello, my name is Major Franks," said the short, stocky man as he walked over to meet Janice. For the last ten minutes had waited beside his staff car with a nervous Mel while her friend dropped a bomb load of her own in the maintenance latrine. He had only two hours ago received a message informing him there were two civilians on board the incoming flight of B-17's. As a liaison officer he was constantly meeting people coming over from the States, be it a congressman, or senator, or defense contractor. Many of these wasters of the taxpayers money merely wanted to have their picture taken with the grandiose MacArthur. When he had seen Janice and Mel emerge from the plane it had taken some moments to get over the shock that they were women.
Janice stuck out her hand and said, "Major, my name is Janice Covington and this is my colleague, Melinda Pappas."
Major Franks stretched out his arm toward the car and said, "Ladies, if you will be so kind as to follow me."
When they reached the car Major Franks gallantly opened the rear door for the tall, obviously refined, Mel.
"Why thank you, sir," smiled Mel.
Janice, meanwhile, unceremoniously yanked open the front door and plopped down in the shotgun seat. Again momentarily taken aback, the Major shrugged and eased into the back seat with the lovely young Southern lady. Fifteen minutes later the three of them were sitting in the Major's cramped office in the administration building at the far end of the field.
The Major offered them refreshments and Mel took a Coke. Janice, while fervently wishing for a screwdriver, settled for just the orange juice.
"Now ladies, how can I be of service to you?" asked the Major.
Janice unbuttoned the flap on her shirt pocket and pulled a page torn from her notebook. "I've made a list of things I'm gonna need."
The Major smiled as he picked up the note but his amusement soon vanished. He put down the note and looked at Janice as if she were The Bride of Frankenstein.
"You're not serious!" he exclaimed.
Janice killed the last of her juice, set the mess cup down on the Major's desk, and returned the Major's steely gaze. "What makes you think I'm not?" she asked.
The Major pointed at the note and incredulously began to read the list aloud. "Ten clips for a 1911A automatic? A Marine combat knife? One pair of medium-sized fatigue pants?"
"The pants are for her," Janice interrupted, nodding at Mel.
Franks ignored her and continued, "One pair of binoculars, a Navy survival kit," he put the note down, "and last but certainly not least, two hand grenades."
"Oh Lord, Janice, what are you going to do with those?
"That's a good question," smirked the Major.
"You never know what you'll run into," said Janice.
"Sorry, but your request is out of the question!" exclaimed Franks. "Lady, there is no way in hell we are going to issue ordinance to a private citizen. Especially a, a woman!
It was the way he said woman that really ticked Janice off. He had sort of spit the word out as if it were somehow contemptible to him. With her face not changing expression at all she leaned back in her chair and straightened out her right leg so she could reach into her pants pocket. Slowly she dug her hand in and pulled out her ever present pack of Beeman's chewing gum.
"Ya want one, Mel?" she asked quietly.
"No thank you," replied Mel meekly. She knew this was the calm before the storm.
Janice carefully unwrapped the stick, rolled it up and placed it in her mouth. "First of all," she began, grinding her teeth to flatten out the stiff gum, "I didn't ask for this. I was mindin' my own business when I was rousted out of bed in the middle of the night by some of your fellow government employees. After a lovely flight to Washington I was taken to see a Mister George Marshall and some other guy. Maybe you've heard of him? Do the initials F-D-R ring a bell?"
Mel sat watching Janice's neck get a little redder and heard her voice rise a little higher with each sentence she uttered. Having been witness to many a volcanic eruption by her friend, she had become something of an expert at prognosticating their magnitude. Oh my, she thought. Batten down the hatches. It was clear Typhoon Janice was about to hit.
"Anyway, Mister Roosevelt asked my associate and me..." Mel though it kind of Janice to include her. "...to do a job for him. Now when the President of the United States personally asks you to do something you tend to want to do it, right?" She stood up and leaned over, placing the palms of her hands flat on the desk. "Major, the President more or less told me that if something goes wrong down there my friend and I are going to be on our fucking own. Now if that happens I want enough oomph to at least give us a fucking chance, you understand! It might mean the difference between getting the job done or not."
She straightened up and pulled the now well-worn letter from General Marshall out of her pocket. She then unfolded it and tossed it down on the Major's desk. "You see what that says, Franks? I am to receive full co-operation from all military personnel. Now how do you think Marshall is gonna like it if I come back empty-handed and have to explain to him I was unable to do my job because some pissy-assed, paper-shuffling nobody in the Philippines wouldn't play ball? It won't be my ass they'll be puttin' in the sling.
"Now see here..." Franks tried to fight back but Janice was on a roll now.
"Just how long do you think it would be before he called your boss demanding to know why one of his officers was disobeying orders?"
By now Janice was practically shouting and the major was reduced to just staring open-mouthed at the raging archaeologist.
"You know," she sneered, "you'll be lucky if all they do to you is transfer you to some fucking weather station in Alaska!"
Franks picked up the letter and looked at it. There was no denying it. It did say to give Miss Covington full co-operation, it did say to give her anything she needed, and it was signed George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff. With all the dignity he could muster he stood up and put on his service cap. "Perhaps I was in error, Miss Covington."
"Well we all make mistakes," said Janice. Having clearly won the victory she did not now wish to rub it in. There was something about his attitude, though, that warned her this was not over.
Franks picked up the note and put it in his pocket. "If you will wait here please I'll see what I can do."
Mel felt sorry for the major as she watched him exit the room. She wondered if she would be to able to hold up as well as he had to one of Janice's rages. To be sure there were times when she would bark at Mel but it was always more with a sense of exasperation or annoyance. Never once had Janice vented that kind of anger on her.
"Was, was that a number one?" Often after calming down from a tirade such as this Janice would jokingly say it was a "number two" or a "number three" depending on its severity. Mel had never heard her rate one as a number one. She suspected this might be the one.
"Nah," replied Janice, smiling warmly at her friend. "A number one has a lot more 'fucks' in it." She did take a kind of perverse pleasure in shocking Mel.
Forty-five minutes later Franks returned with an olive green army pack and unceremoniously dumped it at Janice's feet. During his absence he had become more and more angry over Janice's tirade. How dare that bitch speak to me that way! he raged.
"I want you to know it took some fancy talking to get all this," the major said coldly. "But everything you asked for is in there. By the way, are you sure you know how to use those pineapples?"
"It was one of the many things I learned when I was in Spain in '36," replied Janice. This guy is spoiling for a fight, she thought.
Franks sat down at his desk while Janice opened up the pack. Retrieving the fatigue pants from the pack, she tossed them to Mel and said, "Go find a can and put these on." On the flight over Janice had impishly warned her it would not be wise to wear anything that would allow the native wildlife (i.e. insects, spiders, snakes, small rodents) to crawl up her leg.
Mel silently rose clutching the pants to her chest and looked inquiringly at the major.
"Turn left down the hall--go all the way to the end," he said tersely.
Mel nervously nodded her thanks and left the room.
After she had gone the room was uncomfortably quiet for several minutes until the major leaned back in his chair and eyed Janice curiously. "Can I ask you something?"
"I was just wondering why you would be taking someone like your friend to a hell-hole like Borneo."
"What do you mean, 'someone like her?'" Janice asked suspiciously.
"Well I mean she doesn't seem like she belongs out here. How does she fit in? She is obviously not as capable as you are." The major then smiled knowingly at Janice and added, "Or maybe she serves some other purpose?"
"What the hell are you talkin' about?"
"Aw, come on. I saw how she looks at you. You know, I've heard of people like you but..." The major let his words conveniently trail off.
Janice's eyes grew hard and she shot him a withering glare. "Number one, Melinda Pappas is one of the foremost experts on ancient languages in the entire country. Number two, she is a hell of a lot tougher than you give her credit for. Number three, she is my best friend and I resent like hell your thinking her to be anything but the lady she is."
"Lady my ass," snorted the major. "You two are as queer as four dollar bills. I knew it from the first minute I laid eyes on you. How the hell you managed to hornswoggle Marshall into sending you out here is something that's going to be looked into, I promise you that!"
At this point Mel re-entered the room and quietly re-occupied her spot beside Janice.
The old saying, "If looks could kill..." certainly applied to Janice Covington at this moment. Never in all her life had she wanted to hurt someone so badly. She stared at Franks as if trying to bore a hole through his head through sheer will power alone. How dare that bastard think of Mel that way! Down deep she knew there was more than a grain of truth in what Franks said but he had made it sound so...dirty.
Franks casually lit his pipe and then continued, "I just got off the phone with MacArthur's chief of staff, General Sutherland. There's a navy PBY bound for Australia leaving from Corregidor tomorrow morning at 0630 hours. General Sutherland said the swabbies have agreed to drop you off on Borneo. He also said that I was to personally see to it you get on the plane."
"How thoughtful of him," Janice replied caustically. Taking Mel's skirt from her and stuffing it into the field pack, she then stood up and slung one strap over her shoulder. "Is there any place my friend and I can get something to eat?"
"Sorry," sniffed Franks. "The mess hall doesn't open until 1600 hours."
"Come on, Mel," said Janice. "Something stinks in here and it's not the pipe."
Once outside they descended the administration steps and paused at the bottom.
"Don't worry, Kid," said Janice, "we'll find something to eat."
"But the major said--"
"The major doesn't know shit from Shinola," growled Janice. "Besides, at a place like this you can find anything you want-- if you know where to look. So whaddaya say we see what we can dig up."
"Way-ul I am kinda hungry," Mel admitted.
The two of them began walking away from the administration building but had not gone far when Melinda stopped.
"What is it?" Janice asked.
A troubled look came over Mel's face. "Back there in the major's office. I heard what you said."
"About what?" Janice asked, feigning ignorance.
"About you sayin' I was a lady an' all--"
"Well you are," interrupted Janice.
"And how, and how you said I was your best friend." Mel looked at the smaller woman earnestly. "Janice, am I your best friend?"
Janice looked into the lovely face that hinted of hope and not a little trepidation and with a tenderness that surprised even her said, "Geez, Mel, don't ya know that by now?"
Mel's smile was one of both relief and nervousness and she replied, "I kinda, sorta knew but darn it Janice, in all these months you never..."
"Melinda Pappas, anybody that has a friend as true as you should thank their lucky stars every day. I know I do."
So there they stood, the tall belle and the petite archaeologist sharing the warm glow of a love that, while embryonic for them, predated the founding of Rome and Carthage, the rise of Buddhism and Christianity, and most of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They were totally oblivious to the roar of the planes circling the field over head and the din of the multitude of vehicles darting about all around them
Finally Mel whispered, "Janice, you're my most favorite four dollar bill in the whole world."
The archaeologist laughed. "So you heard that huh? Well come on. Even we degenerates have to eat."
The next morning found the two women at the pier watching as the launch that was to take them out to the PBY eased its way up along side. Janice jerked up the field pack and slung it over her shoulder. Turning to Franks she said, "Well, I'd like to say it's been a pleasure to know you--but it hasn't."
Like the gracious individual she was, Melinda tried to thank the major for his assistance but Franks responded by clenching his teeth and hissing, "I hope you and your pal here go down there and get your queer asses sliced up like Christmas turkey."
Mel recoiled in shock at the major's viciousness and blinked in disbelief. Without taking her burning eyes off Franks Janice asked Melinda to put their bags in the launch. She waited until Melinda had descended the ladder and was out of sight before reacting to the insult.
The launch was below the pier and its rumbling motor made it difficult to hear. The major's car and driver were some distance away and facing in the opposite direction. It was still early and no one else was around. Janice Covington saw her chance. She smiled sweetly at the major and then promptly kneed him in the groin as hard as she could. The archaeologist merrily walked over and mounted the ladder. Just before she disappeared below the pier she stopped and looked at Franks now bent over with his knees buckled and groaning like a sick mule. "They really should replace the planking on this deck! she yelled. "Somebody could get hurt!" She mimicked a kiss and dropped down into the launch.
The ride out to the PBY took some time. The sailors were surprised but very happy to see two such fine looking women, especially the striking Mel. For his part the poor boatswain was very envious of the sight of his mates gleefully falling all over themselves to make the women comfortable as he guided the launch out to the plane. Lucky stiffs, he pouted.
Soon they were gently bumping up against the big Catalina Flying Boat, USN designation PBY-6. Janice tossed her pack to the sailor in the blister hatch and then handed him the rest of their bags. She took his extended hand and he pulled her into the plane with a well timed yank. The sailor pointed to where she was to sit. She nodded her thanks and made for the designated spot. By now Mel was being pulled into the plane and the launch was slowly backing away.
For the three sailors in the boat their short excursion with two pretty women was a treat they would repeatedly rub in on their buddies for the next couple of days. All too soon, however, their happy recollections of the day would be burned out of their memories by desperate worries about staying alive.
In the cockpit the co-pilot of the Catalina meticulously ran down each item on the pre-flight checklist. Once satisfied everything was all right the pilot hit the starter switches and the plane's two big 1200 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines coughed and roared to life. He let the engines idle for a few minutes to allow the oil temperature to warm up sufficiently and then slowly pulled back on the throttle. Slowly at first and then faster and faster, the plane began to lumber across Manila Bay.
In the back the young sailor helped the two women put their "Mae West" life jackets on and then took off his white "Dixie cup" hat and stuck in his pocket. "Hang on, ladies," he said. "These takeoffs get kinda bumpy."
At last the plane reached air speed and rose out of the water. It brushed lightly against the surface once more as if to kiss it good bye and then slowly pulled itself into the sky for good.
"Well that wasn't too bad," said the sailor. He nodded toward the cockpit and added, Lieutenant Piloto, that's our new pilot, he hasn't been flyin' PBY's very long but he's getting better." The sailor stuck his hand out to Janice and said, "My name's Ted Williams. I'm the radioman."
Janice smiled at him in amusement. "You're kidding," she laughed. "Do you get teased much about your name?"
"All the time, ma'am," replied Williams, shaking his head sadly. "Especially when I go home."
"Where ya from?"
"The South Bronx."
"Oh Lord!" exclaimed Janice.
"Tell me about it," said Williams.
Totally perplexed by their conversation, Mel leaned over and whispered in Janice's ear, "What's wrong with his name?" she asked. "I think it's a nice name."
Janice looked at her quizzically. "Mel, don't you know who Ted Williams is?"
"Well uh, I can't rightly say...should I?"
Janice laughed and patted her friend on the knee. "Ted Williams is a baseball player," she explained.
"A helluva player," the sailor cut in. "I wish the Yanks had him."
"Oh, I see" said Mel.
"You don't know a thing about baseball, do you?" teased Janice.
"I do too," Mel huffed, her voice hinting of defiance. "I know three strikes is an out, an' nine innings is a game, and I know the world series is always played in New York."
Janice smiled faintly and decided not to challenge Mel's last remark and thus ruin her small victory. Besides, she reasoned, since the Bronx Bombers were in the series practically every year she wasn't that far off.
She winked at the grinning sailor and said, "I'm a Yankee fan too."
"How 'bout you, ma'am," the sailor asked Mel. "You a Yankee fan too?"
"No self respecting lady from South Carolina would be caught dead rootin' for a team call the Yankees," snorted Mel.
"Are you guys ever gonna stop fighting the Civil War down there?" asked Janice.
"We folk in the South still have vivid memories of what General Sherman and his marauders did to Columbia," Mel shot back.
Janice decided not to remind Mel that it was South Carolina that had started the war in the first place. She turned to the sailor and asked "So who is your favorite player, DiMaggio?"
"Nah. 'Course he's their best player and everybody likes him," said the sailor, "but I kinda like that rookie shortstop they came up with this year."
"Yeah. See, he's a little guy like me and we little guys have to stick together. Who is yours?"
"Henrich," replied Janice. "He never gets the ink guys like DiMaggio and Dickey and some of the others do but he goes out there every day and does one a hell of a job."
"He's tough," the sailor agreed. "I like him too."
Not wanting to appear completely ignorant about baseball, Melinda racked her brain trying to come up with a baseball name. Finally one came to her. "I like Ty Cobb," she blurted out proudly.
One hundred miles later Janice was still laughing. Mel's fellow Southerner had not played a baseball game in thirteen years.
The flight to Borneo went off without a hitch. Since the plane had to land out in the bay and there was no boat there to pick the two women up, Radioman Williams was forced to pop the cork on a self-inflating life raft and, with Janice's aid, paddle them to shore. Once safely on the beach Williams quickly helped the women unload their gear.
That done, he stuck his hand out to Janice and said, "It's sure been was a pleasure to know you, Janice."
Janice looked into the sailor's face. God! He's so young, she thought. She sadly remembered what Roosevelt had told her and wondered whether this boy and maybe thousands more just like him would ever live to reach voting age. She took the offered hand and said, "You take care of yourself, Kid."
Williams then shook Mel's hand and told her good bye. The women stood on the dirty beach and watched him push the raft back into the water and begin paddling out to the plane. Mel gave the boy one last wave and turned to Janice. She was about to say something but was startled by what she saw. For there, rolling down tough Janice Covington's cheek, was a single tear.
If one chooses not to include Australia, Borneo is the third largest island in the world. It is composed of 280,000 square miles of rugged mountains, high plains, and some of the oldest rain forest in the world. It had been under British and Dutch rule since the nineteenth century, and Japan had for many years now looked covetously toward this and most of the other islands in the East Indies as a rich source of oil, rubber and other raw materials needed to feed its burgeoning industrial might.
Now, with the American trade embargo threatening to strangle their economy, domination of the area was of even more vital importance for Nippon. This embargo was America's retaliation for Japan's brutal campaign against China and by the time Janice and Mel landed on the east coast of the huge island relations between the two countries had become so strained that the Japanese government had informed their emissaries in Washington that "things were automatically going to happen." What those "things" were neither Nomura and Kurusu, the Japanese emissaries, nor the American cryptologists that had cracked the Japanese code, knew. Whatever it was it was disturbing enough to cause Admiral Stark, the chief of naval operation to send a message that was to be "considered a war warning," to the American Pacific and Asiatic fleets on November 27.
At the present moment Janice and Mel's concerns were of the nature of something not quite as important as automatic things about to happen. With the aid of the map supplied to her by the War Department, (In reality it had simply been cut from a recent issue of "National Geographic" magazine.) Janice had found the main road that led to Tarakan. Unfortunately the term "road" was a very loose one for the it was in fact nothing more than an expanded jungle path. It was barely wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass and was so soft from the incessant rain that in some places there were ruts large enough for a small person like Janice to lie down in and be completely hidden. Although the map said the town was only three kilometers, or roughly two miles, to the north Janice and Mel spent the better part of the evening traversing the road.
It was especially hard for Melinda because even though she was a very strong individual, she was not in as good a physical condition as Janice was. As if the combination of lugging her heavy suitcase and slogging through the goo-like mud wasn't enough she also found herself having a very hard time keeping her shoes on. Though she had wisely discarded her slippers during overnight stay in the Philippines, she found her lace-ups were not much of an improvement. It was as if the mud itself was trying to bond with the leather in her shoes. Every time she picked up her feet the mud would make a kind of slurping sound. Already she had sworn to herself that the first thing she would do when she the opportunity presented itself would be to obtain a pair of boots much like those Janice had.
Despite her conditioning Janice was not really much better off than her friend and so after struggling through the thick slop for the better part of two hours she decided it was time to rest. They found a fallen tree by the side of the road that was reasonably dry enough to sit on and they wearily plopped down upon it. By now both of them were soaked with perspiration. The heat, their hard labor and the very humid air had caused them to look like they had just emerged from the sea.
"How much farther is it?" Mel asked, still panting.
"About a half a mile, maybe a kilometer at the most," said Janice. She pulled a damp handkerchief out of her back pocket and ran it first over her forehead and then the back of her neck. "Damn, I'm gettin' too old for this."
"Well I certainly hope the government appreciates what we--you are doing for them."
Janice stuck out her tongue slightly and blew away the large mosquito trying to make a landing on her nose. "You had it right the first time, Mel," she said. "It is we."
"It never gets this hot in South Carolina," allowed Mel. She pulled out her shirt tail and used it to wipe her brow. She then looked longingly at the large puddles of water all around them and said, "Golly, Janice, I sure am thirsty."
"Me too," said Janice. "But there's no way we can drink this water. God only knows what we'd catch..
Although there was an ample supply of water purification pills in their survival kit, Janice had forgotten a much more basic element--the canteen. Damn it, Janice, she cursed herself, you should have known better than that.
As a magna cum laude graduate of the "Dirty Thirties" school of hard knocks, Janice Covington was used to hunger and thirst too for that matter. Melinda, on the other hand, had received no such education in her youth and Janice was now worried she might become dispirited. It wasn't that Melinda was soft or unreliable--far from it. It was just that she had not quite come to the realization yet that all education did not come from books or a classroom. Coming from the relatively sheltered life of academia, Mel was a little behind on the practical side of her education. That having been said, Janice also knew that she had never met anyone so dedicated, so earnest, so...sincere. On their first dig together after their little adventure in Macedonia Janice had tested this sincerity by giving Mel every shit job she could think of. Not once had Mel complained. True she did screw up sometimes but then again, who didn't. Janice was the first to admit she was not perfect.
Janice eyed her friend quietly sitting there picking bits of leaves out of her jet black hair. With her best Clark Gable imitation she said, "I'll bet you've never been this dirty in your entire life have you, Scarlett?" She was not above teasing the woman about her Southern roots and from time to time called her Scarlett--after the vixen in "Gone With the Wind." This invariably made Mel mad but, like the sweetheart she was, never too mad. Right now Mel was too fatigued to do much of anything except sweat.
Janice reached down into her shirt and pulled her bra away from her breasts. For a moment she pondered taking the thing off for it was beginning to chafe her. Aww what the hell, she thought. Why not? She undid the buttons on her shirt and was about to pull it off when she heard the chugging of a badly tuned motor.
"What is that?" Mel asked anxiously.
Quickly buttoning up her shirt, Janice answered, "It's our taxi, I hope."
A few minutes later an old two and a half ton truck rounded the bend and came lumbering toward them. To avoid the ruts in the road the truck was constantly weaving from one side of the road to the other and Janice could hear the transmission grind when the driver, obviously not used to handling such a vehicle, missed a gear.
When the truck was near enough Janice slogged out into the road and began waving her arms. As the truck slid to a stop before her she saw two men sitting in the front. The driver waved her forward and, as quickly as she could, Janice made her way to the driver's side door.
"Thanks, mister, for--" To her consternation Janice realized her benefactors were Japanese! Jesus Christ! she thought. They're Japs! For a moment she tried to convince herself their presence here was just a coincidence but deep in her heart she knew better. Taken aback as she was, she did not bat one eye nor miss one beat--"stoppin. My friend and I are bushed from walkin' this damn road."
"That's quite all right, Miss," said the driver in perfect English. "We are happy to be of assistance. May I ask what you are doing out here all alone?"
"My friend and I are botanists," Janice lied smoothly. "We're part of a group from the University of Maryland over here to study the flora indigenous to this particular region." With a girlish giggle she added, "We got so wrapped up in our work we got separated from the others. Umm, you going to Tarakan?"
"Yes we are. Are you?"
"You and your friend are welcome to ride in the back," the driver stiffly.
"Thanks." As Janice turned away and made her way back to Mel she could feel their suspicious eyes boring into her back. With her back still to the truck she bent over and picked up the field pack. "Mel," she whispered loudly, "don't be scared but those two guys are Japs."
"Shhh! Janice admonished. "Try to act like everything's AOK damn it. Just calm down and act like you don't know who they are, understand?"
Mel gulped hard and looked down at her friend. "Golly, Janice what are we gonna do?"
"We're gonna let the bastards give us a ride into Tarakan, what else?
Janice loosened one of the pack flaps and ran her hand inside. With the deftness of a well practiced hand she dug down into the pack until she found the .45 automatic. She laid it on top of the other items in the pack to allow for quick retrieval if she deemed it necessary. "Come on." Gathering up their bags, she walked toward the truck. "Now, Mel, I told them we're botanists from the University of Maryland so don't forget."
"I won't," said Mel. As they passed the truck it was all Mel could do not to gawk at the two men sitting inside.
Seeing no place for a foothold, Janice was forced to drop the truck's tailgate in order to gain entry to the back. The truck bed was covered by a large tarpaulin supported by steel rods. She set her bags down and pulled herself up into the truck bed and then extended her hand to Mel.
"Watch your head," warned Janice as she pulled her friend into the truck.
Once they were safely in she put the pin back into the tail gate latch and yelled to the driver they were ready. The driver popped the clutch and the truck lurched violently forward. As it did poor Mel received a painful bump on the head when she banged it against one of the steel rods. It hurt like hell but she stubbornly refused to rub. I'm gonna be tough, she told herself, Like Janice. She looked at her staring intently down the road from whence they came and wondered what was going on in that brain of hers. God only knows, she allowed.
She had come to admire Janice so much. The fiery archaeologist in so many ways represented the woman she had always wanted to be. She was tough, smart, aggressive--okay maybe a little too aggressive but then again she had to have been to have made such an impact in a field dominated by men. More than that she knew how to get what she wanted. Many saw her as pushy, abrasive, demanding, and downright temperamental but Mel knew they were only seeing part of Janice Covington. Only she had been able to peel back that veneer of ferocity and see the vulnerable young woman that was in her. She had known that Janice did not come as advertised. Mel saw her as someone, for whatever reason, reluctant to get close to people. She often wondered if Janice if ever had a lover but she had never worked up the nerve to ask her. She watched Janice close her eyes and very casually trail a finger across her lips. Janice Covington, she thought wistfully, I wish I were your lover.
Although he had his eyes locked forward in diligent concentration as he drove down the pitiful road, Morsuru Fuchida could sense his companion intently watching him. Coming upon yet another rut, he down shifted from second to first gear and, without taking his eyes off the road, said, "Something troubles you, Shidehara. What is it?"
"You know very well what it is," replied Minoro Shidehara. "Why did you pick up those two American women?"
Fuchida chuckled and said, "Calm down, they are just a couple of tree huggers. They are no threat to us."
"Any American is a potential threat to us," retorted Shidehara. "Besides, I don't believe they are botanists."
Fuchida smiled in amusement at his partner's cynicism. "Oh no? And what do you think they are? Spies?" He snapped his fingers as if a revelation had just come to him. "I know, they are the vanguard of some kind of secret military force maybe commanded by Eleanor Roosevelt herself!"
Shidehara was not amused. "Make jokes if you will, Fuchida, but remember this. All the jokes in the world won't amuse Admiral Yamamoto if we do not come back with those rings."
"I am fully aware of our mission," said Fuchida, now deadly serious. "Or have you forgotten it was I who discovered the rings were in the possession of the American named Garnett?"
"No, I have not," said Shidehara. "And I commend you for your excellent work, especially the brake job on the archaeologist's automobile. That was a work of art."
In Miri Fuchida and Shidehara had learned that one of the men they had been warned about, an American named Joe Garnett, had beaten them to the punch and somehow obtained the ancient Rings of Bugang. They learned he had paid five thousand American dollars for them and hurriedly left town. After a frantic search they learned the name of the go-between that had arranged the sale and that night Fuchida and Shidehara had paid him a little visit. To Shidehara's disappointment the man's threshold of pain was not very high and he had told all after only a little torture. The two men learned Garnett was working out of Tarakan. They also learned that an archaeologist named Ross was supposed to have met Garnett in Miri to authenticate the rings but had missed the navy officer by just a few hours. After making arrangements to eliminate Ross they started out after Garnett. But the murder of Garnett's ally had delayed the two men's journey to Tarakan. Though they did not yet know where to find him they were confident he had not left the island. Every Japanese agent had studied their potential enemies and therefore knew Garnett by sight. They were under strict orders not to allow their quarry to leave the island alive.
"You are most kind," said Fuchida. "And do not worry, we will find Garnett and the rings soon enough.
"Do you think those men are somehow wrapped up in all this?" Mel asked.
"I wouldn't bet that doctorate of yours against it if I were you," advised Janice.
"For bringin' me along."
"Janice crawled across the bed of the heaving truck and sat down beside her friend. "Hey we're a team remember?"
Melinda looked deeply into Janice's green eyes and said, "Takin' me along on some dig in the Andes Mountains is one thing but--"
Mel lowered her head. "Jan, I might get you killed here."
Janice looked at her oddly. "Now just how the hell do you figure that?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe you should have brought somebody along who was, you know...more capable."
Janice's eyes hardened and she set her jaw. She then took the last three fingers of Mel's right hand into her own and began to squeeze them very hard. Although Mel was much stronger than Janice and could have easily broken her grip, she just sat there blinking.
"Now you listen to me and listen good," hissed Janice. "This is the last time I'm ever gonna tell you this. There is nobody, repeat nobody, that I would even think of undertaking a thing like this with but you, understand? So cut that crap out. You are the only person in the world I trust." She smiled faintly and added, "Besides you do all right, Mel Pappas."
God! She is so beautiful, thought Janice. The warmth she felt engulf her was like nothing she had ever experienced before. Mel was such a sweet person. Basically very shy, there was nevertheless a stubborn streak in her and Janice had somehow come to adore that combination. As she sat there looking into Mel's eyes she came to the realization that it might be now or never. She reached up and gently took off Mel's glasses.
As she did this Mel saw the same look in her eyes that she had seen back in that Washington hotel room. Again, she felt her heart start to pound. Janice moved closer and Mel's breath began to quicken. For her too it was now or never. "Janice?"
"Have you ever had a...lover?"
Janice responded with a faint smile and gently covered Mel's lips with her own.
"Golly," Mel said breathlessly, just before their lips met.
For a moment Janice found Mel to be reluctant and she feared she might have misread the woman after all. In a millisecond of panic she wondered if she had not made a terrible mistake. But to her ecstatic relief she then felt Mel's lips respond and they enjoyed their first wonderful, lingering, and very belated, kiss. Although she wanted to so very badly, Janice decided against using her tongue to probe for its counterpart. No this first sweet, simple kiss was enough. For an exquisite moment both of them completely forgot they were in a foreign land riding in the back of a filthy truck that happened to be driven by men who were in all probability their enemies. The situation bordered on the ludicrous. All those quiet times they had been alone together and they picked this moment to finally express their love!
Then again perhaps it was that very element of danger that had, at last, served to break down those walls of resistance. Whatever it was, when Janice finally forced herself to pull away she felt as if some great weight had been lifted from her heart. So this is what it's like, she thought.
"It's none of your business."
"Huh?" Mel's brain was shrouded in a blissful fog and she could not seem to think straight.
"You asked me if I've ever had a lover," Janice reminded her, "and I said it's none of your business."
Janice pecked her lightly on the lips and then gave her a very mischievous look. "Melinda Pappas, you don't know what you're getting yourself in for."
Suddenly a disturbing thought came to her. Oh, my God. The window! She jerked her head toward the front of the truck to see if they were being watched through the truck's back window. To her relief she saw the tarpaulin extended well down below the window and thus blocked any view of the truck bed. Janice heaved a sigh of relief and wiped off her brow. "Mel," she said, "there's something I think you should know."
Oh no, thought Melinda, here it comes. She's going to say it was a mistake. She's going to say it was just one of those moments of passion people sometimes have when placed in dangerous situations. God, Jan, she silently pleaded. Please don't break my heart. Not after...
She managed to work up the courage to ask "What's that?" out loud.
"Now you know how I feel about you," Janice said huskily. "I just want you to know that I've been crazy about you for a long time. I just...I just didn't know how to say it or even if I should say it, ya know? Mel, are you sorry?"
This time it was Mel's turn to squeeze hands. "Janice Covington, I love you. To her it felt so good to at last be able to say that aloud. She ached so badly to give herself to this woman right now but of course that was impossible.
"We sure picked a fine time for this, didn't we? 'Course you know this is gonna have to wait don't cha? We've got a job to do here."
"I know," Mel answered. She then grinned at Janice and said, "I waited this long, I reckon I can wait a little longer. But once this mess is over you and I are gonna have some makin' up to do."
The truck slowed to a stop on the graveled street and as soon as it came to rest, Janice and Mel spilled out of the back. "Get our stuff out while I lose these guys," said Janice. Mel obliged and Janice made her way to the front of the truck. "Thanks again, mister," she said. "My friend and I can wing it from here."
The crafty Shidehara replied by asking "You are sure we cannot take you...somewhere?" What he really wanted was to ascertain who they would be in contact with.
But Janice was not fooled. You sly bastard, she thought. The fish ain't bitin' today. "Umm, no," she said aloud. "Melinda and I will be just fine right here."
Shidehara shrugged and said, "Very well. Let us proceed, Fuchida."
Fuchida again popped the clutch too quickly and this time he killed the engine. Janice heard him mutter something in Japanese and though she didn't speak the language, she could tell by the tone of his voice he wasn't praying for divine guidance. She pretended not to hear and went back to rejoin Mel. Unfortunately for Mel when Fuchida restarted the truck a huge cloud of blue smoke belched out of the tail pipe. The truck roared away leaving a coughing Mel enshrouded in the lingering blue haze.
Janice could not help but laugh. "Jeez, Mel, I guess I should have asked Franks for a gas mask too huh?
The rap on the door startled Bill Parker. He reached under his windbreaker and pulled out his navy issue .38 caliber revolver. Carefully he eased his way to the door and peeked through the crack above the knob. He saw two women, one tall, the other short. The tall one was wearing horn-rimmed glassed and looked very much out of place. The short one had on a black baseball cap with the white letters "WF" embroidered on it and seemed to be the one in charge.
The cap had been given to Janice during their layover in Pearl Harbor. A passing captain had heard her lamenting to Mel about the fact she had not had a chance to bring along her lucky hat and had graciously presented her with one of the caps worn by the Wheeler Field baseball team of which he was a member.
Now what the sam hell do they want? Parker wondered. And who are they? British? Dutch? He then heard Mel's unmistakable Southern drawl. "Are you sure this is the right place, Janice?"
"This is the place all right," answered Janice.
"Maybe he's not here."
"Then we'll wait," said Janice.
Parker opened the door just a hair. "Whaddaya you two want?"
"Am I speaking to Bill Parker?" asked Janice.
"Who are you?"
"If you will let us in," said Janice, "I'll explain." It was then she saw the barrel of a pistol appear in the crack of the door. "Hey! Calm down, pal," Janice urged, raising the palms of her hands. "My friend and I didn't travel half-way around the world to get plugged by some spooked naval officer."
How did she know that? "What do you want?" he repeated.
"Like I said," Janice patiently repeated, "If you will just let us in we can explain."
She saw the door open slowly and the voice on the other side said, "Come inside. Just remember, no monkey business. The gun barrel disappeared and the door swung wide open. The women picked up their bags and quickly entered. It took their eyes some moments to adjust to the dark room. Janice's pupils were still dilating when she felt something hard poke her in the neck. "You have one minute to convince me not to blow your fuckin' head off," said Parker darkly. "So start talking."
Jesus, thought Janice, this guy has a screw loose. "We've been sent here to give you a hand," she said evenly.
"Oh yeah? By whom?"
"By the president," Mel blurted out.
"Sure ya have," Parker said caustically. "And I bet Bill Halsey himself brought you over here on the "Enterprise," didn't he?"
Gun or no gun Janice felt her ire begin to rise. "Look, smart ass--"
The quick double click of the pistol's hammer cocking and cylinder turning resounded through the archaeologist's head like a thunderclap. "You got forty-five seconds," said Parker.
But she's telling the truth!" pleaded Mel.
"Shut up, Stretch," barked Parker.
"Leave her alone!" exclaimed Janice.
"Thirty-five seconds," said Parker.
"You kill us and you'll never get those rings off this island," said Janice.
"I thought as much," Parker said triumphantly. "So who are you working for, the Japs or the Krauts?"
"She already told you. The same guy you are," retorted Janice. "Uncle Sam. And if you'll give me half a chance I'll prove it."
Janice felt another, slighter, click as Parker eased the hammer back down. "So prove it."
Janice puffed her cheeks and blew out a small sigh of relief. "Can I get something out of my back pocket?"
"Yeah but don't be tryin' anything cute," warned Parker.
Janice slowly reached into her back pocket and pulled out the man's wallet she always carried when in the field. She reached inside and extracted a folded up, sealed envelope and handed it to Parker. He smoothed out the envelope against his knee and saw "Lieutenant Commander William E. Parker" neatly typed on the front. In the upper left hand corner he read:
"That doesn't prove anything," he said.
"You don't trust anything do you?" asked Janice.
"Lady, in this line of work trust is a luxury you can't afford," replied Parker.
He backed away from the women, tucked the pistol under his arm, and tore open the envelope. Out fell two folded up pieces of paper. In the dim light he made out one to be a hand written note and, to his surprise, he saw the other was the cover page of the game program for the 1930 Army-Navy football game. Returning to the note, he read:
"Damn," muttered Parker. He unfolded the page from the program. Written in the space above the date of the game were the words, "To Jimmy, Best Wishes, Billy "Flash" Parker." Parker smiled faintly as he read the signature. "Flash!" That's what the newspapers had called him during his gridiron days as a speedy halfback at the Naval Academy.
"Okay, ladies," he said, carefully folding the program up and stuffing into his shirt pocket, "I guess you're okay."
"Well that's mighty decent of you," snorted Janice.
"Sorry 'bout that," said Parker. "But like I said before, one can't be too careful."
"Is that why you're going under the name of Joe Garnett," Janice asked.
"My mother didn't raise William Eulas Parker to be a fool," said Parker.
Eulas, what an odd name, thought Mel. Odd but somehow vaguely familiar. Where had she heard that name before? For some reason the name kept buzzing around in her head. Eulas? Ulas? Iolaus?
"Eulas is an unusual name," said Mel. "Where did it come from?"
"It's an old family name," said Parker. "It goes back in my family for hundreds of years. Some say even longer."
"Well my name is Janice Covington, I'm an archaeologist, and this is Melinda Pappas. She's an expert on ancient languages."
"I gotta tell you, we were brought into town by two guys who were Japs for sure," said Janice.
"So what else is new?" Parker asked ruefully. "The damn town is crawling with them. What did they look like?"
"There was nothing special about them," replied Janice. "But I did hear one of them call the other one Fuchida."
"Ahh yes, Fuchida and Shidehara. That's their varsity team," said Parker. He gave Janice a hard look. "You weren't followed here were you?"
"No, I was very careful about that," Janice assured him. "So uh, can I see the rings now?"
Without a word Parker walked to the center of the room and pulled the chain switch to the ceiling fan. At that time Tarakan was one of the few places on Borneo that had the good fortune to have access to electricity. Once the fan stopped turning he placed a chair directly underneath and stood up on it. Taking out his pen knife, he quickly removed the three screws that held the fan assembly to its mounting bracket and pulled the fan away from the ceiling. Parker then reached up into the hole in the ceiling and pulled out a small black bag.
"Here," he said, tossing the bag to Janice.
While Janice excitedly opened the bag and Mel stood behind gaping over her shoulder, Parker carefully lowered the fan down until the only thing supporting it was the electrical wires. After a little trouble with the knot sealing the bag, Janice finally got the thing open and dumped its contents into her hand. To say she was disappointed would be a serious understatement. That's it? she thought dejectedly. What a gyp!
"Mel, would you get the magnifying glass for me please? It's in my suitcase."
"Sure." Mel kneeled down and opened up Janice's suitcase and retrieved the large magnifying glass Janice had taken in lieu of the five bucks she had won in a poker game off those shocked air reconnaissance boys back at Pearl Harbor. When she had innocently asked in the game the boys had gleefully welcomed her with open arms thinking they had a pigeon for sure. However it soon turned out their "pigeon" was, in fact, a shark. So while Mel slept on an army cot behind her, Janice won forty-four dollars, the magnifying glass, a watch, a box of chocolate bars, and a Swiss army knife. She was not one much for sweets herself so she saved some of the chocolate for Mel and traded the rest to a machinist's mate for three bars of soap and a tube of toothpaste.
"Here ya go," said Mel, handing her the glass.
"Okay if I crack one these shades a bit, Commander?" asked Janice.
Parker nodded and Janice took the piece to the window and opened up the shade.
The rings were indeed golden, not very thick, and had the approximate circumference of a silver dollar. The rings were not separate but fused together in much the same manner as a set of brass knuckles. Each end ring had a loop in it through which ran a long leather strap. Strung on each side of the strap were several bits of very colorful coral. She observed that at one time they must have been arranged in a very precise pattern but over time had become misaligned due to the necessity of having to change the strap periodically.
After scrutinizing the rings for a good five minutes Janice put down the glass. "It's not the best example of Kadazan workmanship I've seen," she said. "But it is definitely of the correct time period."
"So in your professional opinion you'd say it was the real McCoy?" asked Parker.
Janice took off her baseball cap and scratched her head. "Well," she sighed, "I gotta admit the thing is more real than most things connected with ancient lore. Yeah, I'd have to say it is."
"I knew it," Parker crowed triumphantly. "I knew this was the one." He pointed to the rings and said, "You're lookin' at five thousand bucks there, ladies."
"My goodness," Mel gasped. Even for someone from her background five thousand dollars was a great sum of money. She cocked her head to one side and asked "So just what is the big deal about this thing anyway?"
"It's believed that whoever possesses this will be invincible in battle," said Janice.
"Is that why the Nips want it so badly?" asked Mel. "To make themselves invincible I mean?"
Parker shook his head. "No. Even the Japs don't believe that mumbo jumbo. They're more pragmatic than you think. No sir, they've haven't spent all that money building up their army and creating a big ass navy just to have them sit around and twiddle their thumbs."
"Then why are they--and we--going through so much trouble to--"
"You would have to ask somebody in the government that makes a whole lot more money than I do about that," said Parker. "All I know is I was ordered to obtain it by hook or by crook and that's what I did."
Immediately the line from Tennyson came to Mel, "Theirs was not to reason why..." "How did you know where to find it?" she asked him.
"ONI, that's Office of Naval Intelligence to you, gave me a general area to search and the rest was plain old legwork," said Parker.
"Any idea why the Japanese want this thing so badly?" Janice asked.
"I couldn't say," said Parker. "All I know is if they want it then it's to our advantage to see they don't get it."
Janice realized this was almost verbatim what General Marshall had told her. "Is this something that could be used for propaganda purposes?" she asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine," said Parker. "They're not as good at lying as the Germans are but anything that will help them keep the oilfields and rubber plantations down here humming is to be viewed as an asset I guess."
"You know, you're talkin' like the Japs were already here," said Janice.
"It's only a matter of time," said Parker. "Who's gonna stop 'em once they decide to move?" asked Parker. "The British? They've got their hands full with Hitler and besides, Singapore is a much bigger priority for them than Borneo."
"What about us?" asked Mel.
"The only credible land force the United States has in ten thousand miles of here is in the Philippines and they'll be up to their own necks in Japs once the shooting starts."
"You mean to say the Western Pacific is wide open?" Janice asked incredulously.
"Everything west of Hawaii anyway," said Parker. "And if the Navy can't hold 'em off we'll be goddamn lucky if we can keep the bastards from moving over those mountains of New Guinea, taking Port Moresby, and then invading Australia itself."
"Good God!" exclaimed Mel. "It is that bad?"
"I'm afraid so. Those Aussie Diggers are some of the best soldiers in the world, the Japs are scared to death of 'em, and General Blamey is a good man. If the Japs do invade we think Blamey will abandon the north and try to defend the Great Artesian Basin and the big cities on the east coast--Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne but the general consensus is they won't be able to hold. There just ain't enough of them. Needless to say, if that happens the United States will be up shit creek not only without a paddle, but without a canoe as well. We've got to have Australia for sub bases, airfields, staging areas, not to mention their armed forces."
It made Janice extremely uneasy to think of Australia as being threatened with invasion. She had spent a couple of months there in early '39 and found the people to be open, friendly, and a lot of fun to be around. She liked the place very much.
Parker sheepishly at his feet. "Sorry, I didn't mean to lay all that military stuff on you. I guess I got carried away," said Parker. "How did you two get here anyway?"
"A navy PBY dropped us off a couple of miles down the coast," said Janice. She dropped the relic back into the bag and handed it to Parker who then returned it to its hiding place in the ceiling.
"So what are the new instructions Stark mentioned?" he asked.
"You are to come with us," said Janice. That PBY will be returning from Australia in three days to pick us up."
"That would be the eighth," said Parker. "But why wait three days?"
"They figured we might need a little time to find you," replied the archaeologist. She noted the puzzled look on Mel's face and asked "What's wrong?"
"I thought today was the fourth," said Mel.
"We crossed the international date line remember?" Janice reminded her. "When you travel west you gain a day."
Mel's face turned a very nice shade of crimson. "Oh yeah," she said. "Silly me."
"So how come you weren't on the boat?" asked Janice.
"I missed it, plain and simple," said Parker. "From what I know now it was a good thing I did. I've since found out there were Jap agents watching the docks. I probably would have been turned into fish food if I'd showed up."
"Did you ever find out what happened to the guy that was supposed to have verified the rings for you?"
"All I know is he died," said Parker. "The heat was on me and I had to get the hell out of Dodge. I couldn't wait around to sort out the details if you know what I mean."
She peeked out the window and noted the shadows were getting very long. "It's going to be dark soon. Mel and I have to find a place to stay."
"Well, you could stay here...," he conveniently let his words trail off.
"I don't think so," said Janice.
"There's a hotel just down the street," said Parker, jerking his thumb to indicate the direction.
Janice picked up her bags and said, "Mel and I will get a room and check back with you after it gets dark. Bill, I don't think you ought to be showing yourself outside anymore. Not till we're ready to make our move anyway. We can't take a chance on you being spotted."
"You think I should just hole up here?" Parker asked.
"Okay but, I gotta eat you know."
"We'll take care of that," said Janice. "In the meantime don't let anybody in here. When I come back I'll give three quick raps, then three slower raps, then three more quick raps."
"That's Morse code for SOS," said Parker. "Don't you think that's a little dubious?"
Janice cracked open the door and peeked out. Turning back to Parker she said, "It's all the Morse code I know. I'll be back about...," she looked at her watch, "...oh say, nine o' clock?"
Parker nodded and Janice peeked out the door once more before opening it. "Let's go, Mel."
Mel smiled faintly at Parker and followed Janice out. He closed the door and watched the two women through the cracked window shade until they were out of his line of vision. As might be expected this first encounter with the women left him feeling very uneasy. As a product of the time he really did not know how to take someone like Janice Covington. Women just were not supposed to be that forceful. Like most men he was a firm believer in the old line, "A woman's place is in the home," and the idea of this smart, confident, assertive, woman more or less telling what to do was rather unnerving for him. What particularly galled him was this Covington woman's implication that she had come to rescue him. "Hah, that will be the day," he snorted.
He went to door and undid the latch. He swung the door open and was about to go outside when he remembered his old pals Fuchida and Shidehara were skulking around out there somewhere. Muttering an oath of resignation under his breath, he slowly closed the door and pushed the bolt back in place. Covington's right, he thought. I can't go out there. He knew he was doing the right thing by following her advice but somehow he didn't feel very good about it.
That Janice on the bed in her room turning over day's events in her mind. After some deliberation she had decided it would be best if she and Mel took separate rooms. She figured the less attention drawn to the two of them the better. She had already returned to Parker and then seen to it Melinda was squared away before saying good night and returning to her own room. Now she opened a window but it did not do much to relieve the stuffiness in her room. The evening temperature had not cooled things down very much and the humidity was no less stifling. She found herself wishing for a drink.
Almost without thinking she ambled over to the radio and began to play with the dial. She was gratified to see the radio was capable of receiving short wave transmissions. After a few twists of the dial and she had tuned in Manila, Honolulu, Brisbane, and Singapore. Hoping to get a bit of news she finally decided on the Australian station. To her frustration she learned they read the news at the top of the hour and it was now just a quarter past. She started to turn the dial but the music they were playing was especially good so she left the dial where it was and stretched out on the bed.
She couldn't take her mind off Mel. Yes, she had told the woman they would have to wait but that had been an easy thing to say while they were bouncing along in the back of a beat up old truck. Now, with the air of the steamy tropical night clinging to her a like tight sweater, she found herself not only wanting Mel but aching for her.
She lay there fidgeting for a few minutes before finally deciding to try to get some sleep. First though, she thought she would check in on Mel once more to make sure all was well. Still in her sock feet, she opened her door and padded her way two doors down to Mel's room. Once, twice, three times she knocked. No answer.
"Mel? You in there? Come on, answer the door." She knocked again, this time much more forcefully. No answer. "Mel?" With a mounting sense of apprehension she simultaneously whacked the door hard with the palm of her right hand while vigorously jiggling the door knob with her left. "Mel!" Still no answer.
She the rammed her shoulder against the door but the construction was too solid. Beginning to feel desperate now, she ran to the stairs and bounded down to the lobby. She was almost to the night desk when there, standing at a table in the corner of the lobby idly thumbing through a magazine was Mel!
Janice's stocking feet stopped dead and she felt an overwhelming sense of relief wash over her. She ran a hand across her damp brow and whispered a heart felt, "Thank God." However, now that she knew Mel was all right she felt herself becoming very angry. Pressing her lips tightly together, she stomped over to her AWOL companion.
"Oh hi, Janice," Mel said innocently.
Her teeth almost gnashing, Janice glared at her and took her by the arm. "Just what the fuck do you think you're doin' down here anyway?"
Taken aback by Janice's vehemence, Mel gulped hard and answered, "Golly, Janice, I got bored so I came down to find something tuh read, that's all."
Janice's tightened her grip and she hissed, "God damn it, Mel. We're not in Charleston, South Carolina here! You're not safe down here alone. If those Japs see they'll know something is up! Don't you ever pull a stunt like this again, you hear?"
"I didn't mean to make you upset." Mel pulled the corners of her mouth up in that endearing tight-lipped smile Janice adored and all the anger in her just drained away.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "God, Mel," she said quietly, "you scared the bejeebers out of me, that's all." She relaxed her grip on Mel's arm. "It's my fault. I should have warned you beforehand."
Mel drew herself up to her full height and looked down her nose at Janice. "I don't know if I should accept your apology," she said solemnly.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Jes' what I said," retorted Mel. "You come stormin' in here like a tornado rippin' my ass when all I was doing was trying tuh find something to read."
"Yeah. And furthermore, I think anyone that runs around hotel lobbies in their stocking feet with the fly of their pants open hain't got much right to be beratin' other people anyway."
Janice's eyes grew wide and her hand shot down. Mel wasn't kidding! Janice had on a pair of men's pants and not the side-zippered style slacks women of the day usually wore. As leisurely as she could manage she looked down at the gaping hole in her pants. While this sort of thing is usually merely good for a snicker or two, Janice had real cause for alarm because she was not wearing any underwear! How did I... Then she remembered. When she used the toilet earlier she still had her pants down when she pulled the chain to flush it. To her consternation the accursed thing began to back up and she had to reach for the plumber's helper. She remembered frantically buttoning her pants to keep from tripping...but not zipping them up.
Janice looked at her friend with a sheepish grin on her face. "Damn, Mel, why didn't you tell me?" she gasped, pulling up the zipper.
Mel grinned puckishly and said, "I jes' did."
Janice had to smile. "Okay, okay. You win. I deserved that. Now do you think you could select one of these fine periodicals and come back to your room?"
"I reckon I could do that," said Mel airily. It was not often she got the best of Janice so she was eating this up with both hands. She picked up a month old copy of "Life" magazine and sighed, "I 'spose this one will have to do."
Janice shook her head in mock despair and started for the stairs. "You know, that's the first time I ever heard you say 'ass.'"
"It's your fault," sniffed Mel. "You're corruptin' me. The last time I was home Momma heard me say the word 'damn' and I swear I thought she was gonna have an apoplexy."
"By the time I'm through with you you'll be lucky if Momma doesn't disown you completely," laughed Janice.
A minute later they stood in front of the door to Mel's room. She looked at Janice and smiled nervously. "I am sorry I scared you, Janice." She stuck her key in the lock and was about to say good night when Janice shot out her hand and stopped her from turning the key. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Mel? Stay with...me tonight?"
Mel looked at her and, without a word, stuck the key back in her pocket.
Janice led her back to her room and the lock on her door had no sooner clicked shut before she began to unbutton Mel's blouse.
"I thought you said...,"
"I was an idiot," said Janice.
The bra soon joined Mel's blouse on the floor and, soon enough, both of them were out of their clothes and standing facing each other just a little nervously. Janice then took off Mel's glasses and led her to the bed. They sat down on the edge and for a moment just looked at each other.
"I jes' want you to know I've never, you know, done this before," said Mel quietly.
"Shhhh." Janice laid a finger across Mel's lips and whispered, "It's all right. Don't be scared."
Janice moved closer and Mel closed her eyes. Their lips met and this time Janice drove her tongue deep. To her delight Mel responded and for several exquisite moments the two of them remained locked in their first real embrace. Finally Janice pulled away, smiled wantonly at her, and pushed her down onto the bed. She then spread Mel's long legs and placed herself on top of the taller woman. She began to kiss Mel's shoulder ever so softly and then slowly worked her way over to her neck. As she alternated between caressing Mel's neck with her tongue and ever so gently nipping at it with her teeth, she did not have to ask her if she liked it. Mel's moans were proof enough.
Janice pushed Mel's legs wider apart and began to slowly work her hips in a circular fashion, grinding her crotch against Mel's. Every so often she would thrust forward much as a man would do and grunt softly. This was a selfish sort of thing for her because she knew it really wasn't doing much for her lover...but she loved to do it. After a time she worked her way back up and they again kissed.
"Ohh, Jan," Mel whispered breathlessly, "I love youuuu."
Janice smiled and kissed her again and then began to kiss her way south. She stopped at Mel's breasts cupped her hand around one of the perfect mounds of flesh. After teasing the nipple hard with her tongue she began to slowly, ever so gently, suck her breast. Mel groaned and placed her hand on the back of Janice's head, pushing her closer.
After giving her attention to first one breast, then the other Janice allowed it was time for the main event. She would have liked to have taken the time to explore Mel's body further but she too impatient to wait any longer. She wanted this beautiful Southern belle now. She pushed a pillow under Mel's buttocks and snaked her arms around her legs. She began to gently lick the inside of Mel's thighs and then ran her tongue along the entire length of her thigh and stopped just short of home.
Finally she pulled the lips of her crotch apart with her middle fingers and at first just touched the tip of her tongue around the edges. Excited by Mel's soft moans, Janice's tongue began to work its magic in earnest. Mel bucked and pressed her hips hard against Janice's face.
"Ohhhhhhhh Gahhd! Ohhhhhhhh Gahhhhhd! Oh Gahhhhhhhhhhhhd!"
After a few minutes of delicious exploration Janice's tongue began to pound away at the Magic Button.
Melinda Pappas was no stranger to orgasms. Though still a virgin, like most people her age she had ignored the ominous warnings and ventured into the world of masturbation. Her first attempts had been pleasurable enough to make her want to do it again and she became quite adept at pleasing herself. But she was not prepared for the fury Janice's gifted tongue wrought when her body erupted. It was as if something had blown up inside her and was emitted pulsating shock waves of pleasure.
All she could manage was a guttural, "ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!"
Mel gasped for breath and drove her shoulders into the bed. She lifted her buttocks completely off the bed, taking the still busy Janice with her. She sank back to the bed, whimpering loudly. Janice did not follow her back down but sat back on her knees. She was still throbbing when Janice again snaked her way back on top of her. Once more she sucked Mel's breasts, this time much more forcefully, and then rolled off and nestled her head on her lover's shoulder.
"God, Jan," Mel whispered hoarsely, "how did you do that?"
Janice kissed her again in the sweet, simple fashion of their first kiss. "Oh," she smiled, "I've been around, remember?"
"Could you...teach me how to do that?
Janice playfully trailed a finger along the lips of Mel's soaking wet crotch. She then plopped down on her back and spread her legs invitingly wide. "Honey, she cooed, "lesson one is about to begin."
The next afternoon Janice and Melinda made love once more but this time Janice could not keep her mind off Parker and the rings. When Mel sensed Janice was not quite as passionate this time around, she was still insecure enough to wonder if it was something she had done. Maybe I didn't do it right, she thought.
However Mel had to admit that, whatever her lover's level of intensity, Janice had no problem bringing forth her long pent up passions. Two orgasms, one long and volcanic, the other shorter but no less rapturous were induced in the Southern belle's hungry body that afternoon by the enigmatic woman with the tough talk and the tender caress. After the pulsating ripples of Mel's second explosion died away Janice once again returned to Mel's breasts and toyed with them for quite some time. It pleased Mel to know Janice liked her breasts so very much.
As for the rest of that evening and the entire following day they passed in the very manner Janice hoped they would--quietly. During this time the two of them left their room only sparingly. She knew well enough that if they were seen by Fuchida and Shidehara the two men would no doubt put two and two together and they would not come up with five. Not since that first day had they seen any trace of either of the two men, or any other suspected Japanese agents for that matter but she was sure they were still around. For her part Janice wasn't trusting anybody. She knew any one of the hotel staff could be a Japanese plant.
Late in the evening on the second day Janice returned from her visit to Parker. The navy officer was not taking to his confinement very well and was becoming very antsy.
"Just hang for a little while longer," she had told him.
She knocked the three short, three long, three short, signal on the door and checked the hallway while she waited for Mel to open the door.
"Did everything go all right?" asked Melinda as she bolted the door to her room closed. They had spent the last two nights together in Janice's room and as an added precaution the archaeologist decided they would stay in Mel's room this night.
"Yeah," replied Janice. "I think Parker's starting to get a touch of cabin fever though."
"He's not the only one," sighed Mel.
Janice glanced up at the clock and read 10:45. "Just think," she said. "By this time tomorrow we will be off this island and on our way to Guam."
"I wish we were goin' to Australia instead," said Mel wistfully.
"Because down there we could get some decent food and take a real bath instead of jes' washing off with a damp rag."
Janice had to admit that did sound pretty good. Tarakan was a fair sized place but on the whole the conditions there were still not very modern. For a while the two of them sat quietly listening to the radio Janice had lugged over from her room. To their initial dismay they had found the one in Mel's room to be broken but had soon remedied that.
Just before midnight Mel yawned and stretched out her arms. "I think I'm going to turn in."
"Good idea," said Janice. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."
Mel walked over to the bed and took off her glasses. She laid them on the night stand and then started to undress. The past two nights both women had slept totally in the buff, both to help beat the sweltering heat and to facilitate some middle of the night petting. Tonight however, would be different.
"Don't take off anything but your shoes."
She looked at the smaller woman quizzically but got no explanation. "Okay, Jan," she said quietly, "whatever you say." She took off her shoes and carefully placed them under the bed. "You coming?" she asked Janice hopefully.
"Not right now. In a little bit," said Janice.
"Oh." Mel's face fell a little and she turned away, not wanting to show her disappointment. She stretched out on the bed and rolled over on her side so as to turn her face away. She knew she had not done anything wrong nor was Janice angry at her but this first, albeit very gentle, rejection by her new lover was a hard thing for her. Mel understood they could make love every night but that made her no less disconsolate.
So she lay there feeling sorry for herself and taking some small solace in the notion that she would sooner or later gain her revenge. Just wait til she wants to do it again, she told herself. Then we'll see who gets the cold shoulder. Yeah, Mel, sure, she thought ruefully. Sure. Before long her eyelids began to get heavy and just before she fell asleep she became aware of footsteps crossing the room toward her. As the light snapped off a set of warm lips kissed her on the cheek and a husky voice whispered, "Good night, Kid. I love you."
Janice returned to her dark seat and with Johnny Mercer's "Love of My Life" flowing from the radio, Mel smiled dreamily and murmured, "Good night." Her last thought before falling asleep was she finally said it!
"You are certain this is the place?" Shidehara checked his pistol in the dull yellow light of the truck's map light.
"This is the place," parroted Fuchida. He too checked his pistol before returning it to the shoulder under his jacket. The two men had no intention of using these weapons if they did not have to but, careful men that they were, they nevertheless had to make sure they were ready.
Fuchida and Shidehara had spent every waking moment over the last two days relentlessly searching for any clue as to the whereabouts of the man they knew as Garnett. Unless he had been foolish enough to try escape through the jungle they had been quite sure he was still in Tarakan.
And not more than an hour ago their diligence and tenacity had caused them to strike pay dirt. While canvassing a smoky tavern down by the docks earlier that evening, Fuchida had overheard a conversation between two of the locals about how the inconsiderate the American had been. This had set off all kinds of alarm bells in Fuchida's nimble mind. After plying the two men with a few more rounds he learned the man named Garnett had rushed passed them a couple of days ago and not even said hello. They had found this odd because always before he had seemed so friendly, even sometimes offering to buy them a drink at their favorite watering hole.
Fuchida had feigned indignance at their slight and said it was just another case of the arrogant whites pissing on we Asians. In fact, he had told them, he had a mind to take this fellow to task himself. Now...just where was it he was staying again...?
That night the two men waited patiently until the town's activity died down and the streets were clear. They parked their truck and quickly walked the hundred yards up the street to Parker's bungalow. They then very carefully worked their way around to the back door. They stood there for a few moments listening intently for signs of life inside. They were none. Privately Fuchida hoped this was not a wild goose chase. It would be very dishonorable to him to have to admit to Shidehara he was wrong. At last he nodded to Shidehara and within thirty seconds his colleague had the back door lock picked and, with a toothy grin, was easing the door open.
Parker was having trouble sleeping. The worries of the past few days were beginning to take their toll on him. Holing up inside an oven for a house was not his idea of adventure. He had volunteered for the ONI with visions of doing daring things in exotic lands like India or China--not hiding like a scared rabbit in some sweltering hell hole on the equator.
And those two women. What the hell sense did it make for the government to send them down here. Parker wondered what genius dreamed that one up. Did those two have any idea what could happen down here? Can they be counted on to keep their heads if trouble came? Can they even lead me to the fucking PBY? He raised his arm up and checked the luminous dial on his watch. 11:45 Thank God this is my last night here, he thought.
He closed his eyes for a moment and when he reopened them he became filled with the horrifying sensation that he was not alone. He shot upright in the bed and reached for the .38 under his pillow but he was too late. White streaks of light flashed in his brain as he felt something hard strike him across the face.
A cold, decidedly Asian voice said, "That would be most inhospitable of you, Mister Garnett."
Melinda Pappas had a sense of standing near the water. Wherever she was it was a beautiful place but something about it frightened her. The water was an odd black color. She looked out over the broiling water and, in the distance, saw huge columns of black smoke billowing high up to the sky. Every now and then she saw great orange and red flashes erupt on the surface of the water. Oddly enough she had no sense of sound. Above the columns of smoke she saw what looked to be great swarms of huge birds circling overhead. She was fascinated by the birds and yet fearful of them. As she stood there watching the birds circle and dive over the columns of smoke she became aware of something floating in the water. She walked down to the water's edge to get a better look and saw it was a man. She tried to scream but, again, there was no sound.
Now as if magically transported she found she was now in the water herself. There was smoke and fire all around her. Even the water was on fire. For some reason she could now hear the roar of the fires broiling all around her. Through the choking smoke she could hear the screams of others but was powerless to help.
What is this place?
What is happening here?
Suddenly out of the smoke a man swan over to her. His face and arms were covered with a black substance and was screaming at her to get away. Mel heard a horrible screeching sound and looked up and again saw the great birds swooping down. Only now they seemed to be making directly for her! She turned back to the screaming man but he was gone.
The screeching birds were now all around her. They were green and black and had big red circles under their wings. She had never been so afraid. She felt something erupt as if the whole world had been shaken apart and she was pulled down...down...down. After what seemed an eternity she burst forth from the depths of the black water and was again on the surface. The horrid birds were gone. Something bumped her hard from behind and she wheeled around to see what it was. It was same man that had screamed at her before. To her horror Mel saw he now had no face. She felt the hand of Death all around her.
A tattered piece of cloth floated by her. Mel realized she ought to recognize it but for some reason she just could not remember. Red and white stripes. White stars on a blue field. God! What is this thing? Why is it so sad to see it this way?
Another body bumped into her. She dared not look this one in the face. He rolled over in water and inadvertently flopped one arm into Mel's face. As she pushed the arm away she saw that something seemed to be written on his forearm. She lifted the arm up out of the water and saw the writing was a tattoo. A wound had obliterated part of the tattoo but the part she could make out read... "Arizona."
Mel awoke and bolted upright in the bed gasping for air. Frantically she looked about the dark room. There were no dead men. There was no fire, no great birds. She wiped her forehead with the back of her shaking hand. She was covered with sweat. God, it was only a dream! she thought thankfully. But it had seemed to real. She looked over to her left and lying there beside her was Janice, softly snoring. Quietly she got up and poured herself a glass of water. As she walked back to the bed she happened to notice the clock. It read 2:28. She sat there on the side of the bed for a few minutes while her hands stopped shaking and her heart beat returned to normal. She remembered the ragged cloth. An American flag? And "Arizona,"...why did that word make her shudder? She lay back down on the bed and stared up at the spot of light filtering through the window and dancing on the ceiling. It was a very long time before sleep came again to Melinda Pappas.
"Mel. Mel, wake up."
Janice smiled faintly and shook her friend again. "Come on, get up."
"Mel rolled over and peered up at the cloudy apparition looming over her. "What time is it?" she asked.
"It's time to get up," replied Janice, simply.
Mel groaned and sat up in the bed. She yawned and rubbed her eyes and finally just sat there. But not for long. Janice picked up Mel's shoes and tossed them into her lap.
"Come on, Sister," she said. "Get the lead out."
"Okay okay." Her eyes still closed Mel began to fumble with the shoes.
"I don't see why you're so tired," said Janice. "You got to bed way before I did."
It was then Mel remembered her dream. She wondered it she should tell Janice about it but, in the end, decided against it. "I didn't sleep very well." was all she said.
At last she managed to wrestle the shoes onto her feet. "When are we leaving?"
"That Piloto fella said we would rendezvous at the same spot he dropped us off at 1600 hours today, that's 4:00 PM. By the time we round up Parker and secure transportation we'll only have a couple of hours or so to wait." She set their bags by the door. 'Mel, I'm going down to settle our bill. I'll be right back."
"Anything you want me to do?" asked Melinda.
"Well you could take that radio back to my room," replied Janice. "I'll unlock the door on my way down to the desk. Ya might also just kind of look around to make sure we're not leavin' anything."
Janice went out the door and Mel then began to inspect the room. "Well, Jan, looks like you got everything," she sighed.
She ambled over to the radio. Though known as a "portable" and in fact considerably smaller than the large floor model radios common to the period it nevertheless weighed several pounds and was quite bulky. It made her smile to remember how much trouble Janice had experienced bringing it over from her room. Mel had offered to help but, true to her nature, Janice had stubbornly insisted on doing it herself. Now she wrapped her long arms around the apparatus and hefted it up with ease. As she moved to the door, however, she stumbled over the electrical cord she had forgotten to unplug and banged the radio hard against the door facing.
"Oh my!" she gasped. She returned the radio to its former resting place and, with not a little trepidation, switched it on. At first she heard nothing but static. With trembling fingers she quickly twisted the dial first to the left, then to the right, praying she had not done any damage. For a brief moment she felt much relieved when she heard a voice speaking clearly over the air waves...that is, until she realized what the voice was saying.
"...number of casualties is unknown at this time but it is believed to be very high. The White House has announced the President Roosevelt will speak before a joint session of congress tomorrow at 1:00 PM, Washington time. It is expected he will ask congress for a declaration of war against Japan..."
"Okay, Mel let's--" Janice was stopped cold by the look on Mel's face. There was not a hint of color anywhere to be seen there. The look of sheer horror she exhibited was enough to make Janice wonder if she had somehow injured herself. "What's wrong?"
Mel pointed weakly to the radio.
"Once again, just before 8:00 AM, their time, Japanese war planes attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Details are sketchy at this moment but it is certain their target was the main battle fleet in mooring there. There are also reports of Japanese attacks on Hong Kong, Formosa, and Singapore. The War Department says the number of casualties is unknown at..."
"It's started." Janice switched off the radio and threw her field pack on the bed. She took out her ,45 automatic and tucked it into her pants. She then took out the combat knife and stuck it, sheath and all, into her boot. She then opened up Mel's suitcase and took out the beautiful white blouse Mel had worn to the hotel in Washington. Janice turned the pack upside down and dumped its remaining contents, ten pistol clips and the two grenades, onto the blouse. She then quickly tied the blouse up into a bundle.
"Mel, we have got to get out of here. All bets are off now and it's gonna be every man for himself."
Melinda nodded and picked up Janice's suitcase.
"Leave it," said Janice. "The only thing we're takin' with us are our passports...," she picked up the bundle by its knot, ... and this."
Now Mel understood the meaning of her dream. A quick mental calculation told her she had been dreaming of it at the exact moment the attack was occurring. My god! she thought.
As she followed Janice out of the hotel and out into the street a strange feeling came over her. From somewhere down deep within her a small voice rose up. "It is up to you to protect the Little One, whatever the price. So it has always been and so it will ever be. The Ancient One's warrior blood flows strong within you. Harken unto it and you will not fail."
"What do I do?" Mel whispered.
"Trust in the Ancient One," the voice said. "She will protect you and guide you--always."
Janice rapped the SOS code once, twice, three times on the door of Parker's bungalow but there was no answer. "I've got a bad feeling about this," she whispered.
Her bad feeling got even worse when she turned the door latch and found it unlocked. Janice drew her .45 and slowly pushed the door open. "Parker?" she hissed. "Parker!"
She turned to Mel and laid her index finger across her lips as a warning for her to remain silent and Mel nodded she understood. The two women carefully entered the bungalow and Janice eased the door closed behind them. The bungalow had only two rooms so Janice stealthily made her way to the thick curtain that served to partition the two rooms. Turning to Mel she nodded toward the window and said, "Keep an eye out. We don't want any unexpected guests."
Mel nodded and went to the window while Janice carefully pulled back the curtain.
Oh my God!
The sheet on Parker's bed was covered in blood. His blood. Janice ducked through the curtain and rushed to the bed. He lay naked on the bed, his spread-eagled hands and feet bound to the bed posts. His face had been beaten almost to mush and there were numerous deep cuts all over his body. His neck was encircled with thick red welts as if something, she guessed a belt, had been used to repeatedly choke him. She saw at least of his fingers were broken.
"Jesus Christ," she whispered. Certain he was dead, she turned to leave when she heard a soft gurgle. "Parker?"
She knelt down beside the bed and murmured in his ear. "Parker, who did this?"
The navy man was unable to open his swollen eyes but he turned his face toward the voice nonetheless. "Fu--" He gagged loudly and blood trickled slowly out of his mouth.
Parker gasped and the air slowly, hoarsely, seeped from his lungs.
Without thinking she whispered, "Good bye, Iolaus."
Iolaus? Why did I call him that? she wondered. And what was that he started to call me? Gabrielle? How did he know that? She shook her head as if to clear the fog from her brain. She stood up, laid the palm of her hand on his forehead, and gently stroked back his blond hair. She looked down at his tortured body. Never in her life had she thought she would be glad to see a fellow as worthy as this dead.
Mel's soft voice startled her and she quickly walked to the door. She caught Mel just about to enter and she pushed her back away from the curtain. "Mel, get back," she said urgently.
"You don't want to go in there," said Janice.
Melinda Pappas was no fool. "Iolaus--I mean, Parker...he's dead, isn't he?"
Janice looked at her oddly. WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? "Yeah, he's dead."
"God, Jan, this is terrible."
"We'll mourn later," said Janice. "Right now we have work to do." She ran her hand into her pocket and pulled out the Swiss army knife she'd won in the poker game. Emulating Parker's example she switched off the ceiling fan and positioned a chair under it. She mounted the chair only to discover she was too short to reach the screws.
"Damn it. Here Mel," she said, handing the taller woman the knife, "you'll have to do it."
Mel stood up in the chair and removed the three screws holding the fan in place.
"Don't let it fall on you," Janice warned.
Mel eased the fan down and ran her hand up into the hole.
"Is it in there?" Janice asked anxiously.
"I don't...no wait! I got it!"
Mel tossed the black bag to Janice who quickly opened it up to check the contents. The rings were indeed there.
"Should I put it back?"
"The fan, should I put it back?" Mel asked.
"Forget the fan. We're blowing this joint."
As the two women emerged from the bungalow two pairs of almond shaped eyes observed their every move.
"You see, Fuchida, I was correct."
"I congratulate you on your insight, Shidehara. And for you suggestion we continue to monitor the house," said Fuchida, bowing his head slightly. "It would seem our tree huggers are not who they say they are after all."
"It is almost certain they have the rings, don't you agree?" asked Shidehara. "Or at least know their location."
"There is one certain way to find out," answered his colleague.
"Let us hope these two flowers are not as stubborn as Garnett--Parker was."
"He was most brave," Fuchida conceded.
The two men allowed Janice and Mel to continue on down the street for some distance before following. As they passed the hotel Shidehara stepped into the lobby and walked straight to the pay phone. There he placed a call to a Mister Kurito working in a dry goods store three blocks away. Kurito punctuated the terse conversation with a servile "Hai," hung up the phone and rushed to the shop door. There they were! A tall woman wearing glasses and a short woman wearing a black baseball cap. His orders being only to delay these two, Kurito frantically racked his brain over how to accomplish this. Then it came to him.
Kurito hid behind the door and waited for the two of them to pass. He then leaped out and snatched the bundle from Janice's hand.
"Hey!" Janice wheeled around and lashed out at the little man but he was too nimble. He darted back into the shop and ducked behind the counter.
Once inside the shop, Janice drew her .45 and carefully began advancing toward the counter. "Come out right now, fella," she said cautiously. "Come on now. I ain't got time to play games here."
She eased over and peeked behind the counter at the cowering man huddled in the corner. She stretched out her arm and wiggled her fingers. "There's nothing in there that would interest you so give that and you won't get hurt."
The man lay there like a rock clutching to the bundle. He was fully prepared to die obeying his orders. Not wanting to hurt Kurito and sensing no danger, Janice laid the .45 on the counter and walked up to the man. She tried to wrench the bundle away from him be he clung to it like a mother to her child.
"Give me that, damn it! Mel," she barked, "come and help me."
But Mel did not answer.
"Mel!" Janice turned to the door and saw they had company. It was their two benefactors from their first day on Borneo, Fuchida and Shidehara. Fuchida had a pistol pointed at her and his partner had his stuck under Mel's chin.
"Good morning, Miss," said Fuchida politely.
"What is all this?" growled Janice.
"Oh come now, Miss ah, Covington, isn't it. These silly charades are such a waste of time."
"I don't know what the hell you're talkin' about."
"We shall see," said Fuchida ominously. "Kurito!" The man scrambled to his feet and ran up to Fuchida. Fuchida spoke several sentences to him in Japanese and the man handed the bundle to him, bowed, and disappeared into the back room. Fuchida undid the knot and inspected the bundle's contents.
"Ah so. This is standard equipment for botanists now?" he smirked.
"So I'm a little unorthodox," snorted Janice. "Is that a crime?"
"Enough of this!" snapped Shidehara. "Let's get on with it."
"You see? It does not do to make my colleague upset," Fuchida said smoothly. He retied the bundle and waved his gun toward the door. "If you would be so kind."
Janice and Mel were pushed through the door and into the back of the same truck they had rode into town in. Only this time Shidehara and his pistol got in the back with them.
"You all right?" Janice asked.
"Quiet!" commanded Shidehara. "No talking!"
"Up yours, Tojo!" barked Janice.
"Janiiice," Mel whispered urgently.
"Fuck him. He's not gonna do anything...yet."
Fuchida wrestled the truck to a warehouse not far from the main pier and parked around in back. Shidehara stuck his pistol in Janice's belly and leered, "Out!" The two women piled out and were hustled inside. While Fuchida covered them Shidehara bound Mel's hands to an overhead beam.
"Now," said Fuchida, "we can, what is it you Americans say, get down to cases?"
"I don't know what you two boys want but whatever it is, you're barking up the wrong tree," said Janice.
"Liar!" roared Shidehara. He slapped Janice hard across the mouth.
"Janice!" screamed Mel.
Janice wiped the blood off her mouth and, glaring at Shidehara, said, "It's okay, Kid. This fucker has got a sissy punch."
Shidehara roared again and punched the archaeologist hard in the stomach. "Where are rings?" he demanded.
Janice groaned loudly and, with all the dignity she could manage, stood erect. "Where rings?" shouted Shidehara. The angrier he got the less fluent his English became. He again punched her in the stomach and the woman fell to her knees coughing, gagging, and gasping for air.
Fuchida took her by the hair and lifted her back to her feet. "I warned you not to make him angry, Covington," he cooed. "Now why don't you tell us where the rings are and we can dispense with this...unpleasantness."
Fuchida sighed and nodded to Shidehara. He took off his belt and looped it around Janice's neck. With a hard yank he snapped her head back.
"Stop it," shrieked Mel. "You're killing her!"
Protect the Little One. Mel pulled hard on the ropes that bound her. "Got to..."
Shidehara threw Janice down on her stomach on the floor and put his foot in her back. With a sadistic leer he again yanked on the belt.
"Fuck you," gagged Janice.
Fuchida kicked her in the ribs and felt something hard. "Roll the bitch over!"
Shidehara flipped her over and Fuchida ripped open her shirt. Out rolled the black bag. "Well well well." He knelt down beside the prostrate Janice and lifted her head up by her hair. "Now how do you suppose that got in there?" he asked in mock surprise.
He stood up and grinned at Shidehara. "Looks as if our work is finished here," he said in Japanese.
Shidehara nodded to Janice. "What about her?"
Fuchida broke in a wide grin. "Why, kill her, of course." He again knelt down beside Janice and lifted up her head. "You Americans are so soft with your cars and your refrigerators," he sneered. "Even your leader is a cripple. The great struggle to free Asia from your money grubbing grip has begun. We have already destroyed your navy. The destruction of your way of life is next. You and all who dare oppose us will learn the Bushido Code is unbeatable."
Janice turned her head toward him and with a great effort managed a weak grin, "If I were you I wouldn't sell my hara-kiri knife just yet, buster," she rasped.
"We're going to kill you," said Fuchida. "And we're going to take your friend with us. You see it gets lonely out here in the islands."
"You son of a bitch," Janice tried to get up but Fuchida slammed his fist hard between her shoulder blades and the woman groaned and collapsed back to the floor.
"Kill her," ordered Fuchida.
Shidehara raised his pistol when suddenly it went flying across the warehouse. Mel caught Fuchida by the arm and rammed the hammer of his own pistol into his forehead. There was a dull crack and he groaned loudly and melted to the floor. Shidehara roared and rushed her and she leaped up and wrapped her legs around his neck, pulling him to the floor. She then crushed his skull like a cantaloupe between her two beautiful, but deadly pincers.
Melinda Pappas shook her head stared down at the dead man between her legs.
Melinda gathered Janice up in her arms and rested her head upon her lap. "Jan," she whispered, fighting back her sobs. "Jan, I'm here."
The petite woman with the blonde hair grinned weakly up at her, "Next time, Kid, see if you can evoke that ancestor of yours a little sooner, huh?"
The tears burst forth from Mel like Niagara Falls. She laughed and cried at the same time and pulled Janice to her breasts. "God, Jan. I love you so."
That afternoon Mel loaded Janice into the truck and drove them to the rendezvous point. When Williams paddled in from the PBY he was appalled to see his fellow Yankee fan injured thus but took heart to see her spirit was just as good as ever. As ordered Lieutenant Merle Piloto flew Janice and Mel to Guam where they were transferred to the heavy cruiser "San Francisco" bound for Pearl Harbor. On the way the ship's pharmacist's mate patched Janice up as best he could. For all her pain, she wasn't hurt too badly, mostly just bruises.
On the trip the two were not allowed to leave their rooms except to use the head. The captain didn't want his crew distracted by a couple of very pretty women, especially now. Their meals were brought to them by a crusty chief petty officer named Frank Ryan. As a sixteen year old kid in the Great War he had battled German U-boats in the North Atlantic on the old four stack destroyer "Nathan Hale" and he thought he had seen everything. Until now.
"Dames on a warship," he'd marveled, scratching his head.
It was late in the evening when the "San Francisco" finally made Pearl Harbor. As they slowly worked their way down the channel Ryan sounded off the names of the ravaged ships. Nevada...Tennessee...Maryland...California...West Virginia. When they passed the Arizona the grizzled chief's voice finally cracked. He had pulled six years on the grand old lady and still knew a lot of the fellows that served on her. He stood there staring at the once proud ship-of-the-line and, try as he might, could not hold back any longer.
Janice saw the tears stream down his cheeks and she found herself welling up as well. All those boys!
Melinda moved to the railing and looked out over the water. The seeping oil and diesel fuel had turned it black--just like in her dream. Staring at the twisted, blackened hulks she set her jaw and, looking straight ahead, recited a line spoken by her family's mortal enemy of some eighty years before, "War is the remedy our enemies have chosen and I say let us give them all they want."
"Who said that?" asked Janice. "Grant?"
Mel shook her head ruefully, "Sherman."
"Don't worry, Miss," said Ryan. "When we get through with these bastards the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell. It won't be easy. There'll be a lot of dead Joes when it's over. But if I know Mister Roosevelt, we won't stop until we are marching down the streets of Tokyo itself."
Janice had to agree.
A week later the two women were back in the same Washington hotel room from whence their long and eventful journey had begun. They had not much more than checked in when Janice received a phone call from Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau. He explained to her the president was, of course, much too busy now to see her but that he wished to express his heart felt gratitude for their service to the nation.
"Yes, I understand. We'll be ready."
"Who was that, Jan?" Mel asked, emerging from her bath.
The Secretary of the Treasury," replied Janice. "He says we are to come to Blair House this evening--wherever that is."
"That's the official residence of the vice-president," said Mel.
Janice shrugged and took off her well-worn boots. "Well, that's where we're to turn the rings over to them."
"Janice," said Mel thoughtfully, "there has to more to this than what we've been told. The government wouldn't put this much effort into something just to keep it out of the hands of somebody else if it was worthless, would they?"
Janice sighed and said, "I don't know. I just glad this is over."
Mel sat down beside her on the bed and put both hands in her lap. "Janice?"
"Have ya given any thought as to what we're, you know, gonna do now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Way-ul, what with the war and all I don't think there's gonna be much archaeological work goin' on--at least for the duration."
"I don't know," said Janice. "I hadn't really given it much thought. I guess I should though huh? Whatever it is it'll be something to help out with the war effort. What about you?"
Mel looked down at her feet. Her voice barely above a whisper she said, "Jan, you know I'll do whatever you do. Whether it's riveting in a shipyard or teaching college or sweeping floors in Minot, North Dakota. As long as we are together."
Janice smiled and kissed the wonderful, ever-surprising woman with the funny looking glasses. She had been going to wait and let Secretary Morgenthau make it official but she couldn't bear to see Melinda so apprehensive about their future. "Kid," she said, "I don't know how to tell you this but we've already got a job."
Mel's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. "Really?"
"Yeah. It seems Mister Roosevelt liked our work and he said we were to kind of stick around. He told Morgenthau the government might have future need of our ah, services."
"For sure, Jan?"
"Yep. You see, we're at war now. He's not asking anymore, he's telling us.
Janice leaned over and murmured, "And we're even gonna get paid from now on."
"Golly!" Mel repeated.
"Not as much as we're used to, you understand," cautioned Janice, "but with what we'll both make we'll be all right."
Mel beamed a smile and Janice playfully added, "I think we'll pull in enough to enable you to see Cary Grant every now and then."
Mel blushed and drawled, "Janice Covington, you are the most evil thing."
Janice grinned and pushed her down onto the bed. She leaped on top of her and pinned her arms to the bed. "Ain't I though?" she leered.
"Humph," snorted Mel.
"C'mon, Mel, you love the way I am."
"Ah guess ah do kinda find ya excitin'...in a vulgar sort of way," Mel answered nonchalantly.
Janice pretended to pout and the tender hearted Mel had to say, "Janice, you know good and well I think you're the most wonderful person there is."
"Why thank you, Mel."
Mel suppressed a laugh and added the qualifier, "I mean... for a Yankee, that is."
"Why you...! Janice laughed out loud and pulled open Mel's bath robe. She began to tickle the Southerner and, over her lover's joyous squeals, said, "Reb, I will accept nothing less than unconditional surrender."
These were superfluous words because both of them had already surrendered to the other the most precious gift of all--the heart.
Three days later in a top secret demonstration at the Federal Penitentiary in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a former army corporal convicted of killing another soldier in a fight over a crap game was marched to a secret location and stood up in front of a wall. In attendance was a bevy of army and navy brass including a major general and a rear admiral, upper half.
An army sharpshooter, selected by lots, First Sergeant Wallace Perry from Austin, Indiana positioned himself exactly twenty feet away from the condemned man and, at an officer's signal, fired eight rounds from one of the new M-1 Garand rifles directly at the man's heart. As the last round was expended the clip ejected from the breech and pinged on the floor.
When the resounding echo of the shots died away the silence was even more deafening. Not one round had touched the prisoner!
The army general took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his lips. "God damn, John, what is that thing?"
The admiral smiled and turned to his aide, "Okay, Barney, you can put it away now."
The aide strode over to the prisoner and removed from his neck a leather strap strung with bits of coral and tied at each end to four interlocking rings of tarnished gold.
"Beats the hell out of me, Milt," said the admiral. "All I know is some of our people gained access to it over in Borneo."
The general shivered and said, "I don't know about you but this voodoo crap gives me the willies."
"If the Japs had gotten their hooks on it, you'd have gotten more than the willies," the admiral retorted.
"I guess you're right, John. So, do you think the president will let us use this thing?"
"There's not a snowball's chance in hell of that," said the admiral. "After all it is of vital importance that we maintain some semblance of taking the moral high ground in this fight. We sure as hell can't be seen as relying on some kind of tribal witchcraft or whatever." The admiral nodded toward the prisoner and asked, "What about him?"
"We stick with the deal," said the army man. "He gets a pardon from Roosevelt and is returned to his old unit on the condition he keeps his mouth shut. If he doesn't..."
The admiral didn't need the man to draw him a picture. "I see. I recommend everybody that witnessed this today be made to sign a sworn oath of secrecy."
The prisoner was marched out and the admiral's aide dropped the rings of Bugang back into the same battered black bag they had arrived in; leaving the still astonished Sergeant Perry gaping at his rifle and wondering just what the hell the world was coming to.
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