Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index

 

 

 

 

Affair in Tokyo

John McPartland

 

 

 

Chapter Two  Chapter Three  Chapter Four  Chapter Five  Chapter Six  Chapter Seven  Chapter Eight  Chapter Nine  Chapter Ten 

Chapter Eleven  Chapter Twelve  Chapter Thirteen  Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen  Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen


E-Text from blackmask.com

Chapter One

EVERYBODY SEEMED TO BE HAVING fun; there was enough noise, music, and laughter, girls and strong beer. The fights were stopped quickly and there wasn't enough light to hurt anybody's eyes.

You could almost forget the scum-covered Tokyo canal next to the place, almost forget that the short-legged, glossy-haired girls dancing there looked at their soldier and sailor lovers through eyes like black mirrors that hid an unguessable mixture of interest and hatred.

This was the brawling Come Again Club at the fringe of the sin-thick Shimbashi district of Tokyo. Some small brown businessman had listened thoughtfully to his emperor's so-sorry speech eight years ago and had taken down his rising-sun flags and banzai posters, putting up English signs that read, “WERCOM AMERICAN—HAVE DAM HOT TIME—COME AGIN,” just as the young men of the First Cavalry walked carefully and wonderingly into the streets of Tokyo. In 1953 the Come Again Club was still doing business in beer, girls, and noise.

I was finishing a small argument with a stocky lad from one of the British regiments, a yellow-haired kid with bad teeth, who wore the gray-brown woolly uniform of Her Majesty.

The argument was about how much room at the bar I was entitled to, but the anger behind it was because I was bigger and my teeth were O. K., because I probably had money and spent it easily. Because I was American.

I can understand that stuff—I was raised by folks that worked hard on a Mississippi farm. We didn't like kids from the town, where folks had money and fed and dressed their kids better than we were fed and dressed. We used to rough them up for no other reason.

Mostly they're good lads, the Britishers, and sometimes friendly, but in a way they've got hard feelings, sometimes, for the Americans. I could understand, and still I couldn't take a bad time from the stocky kid.

He faded back into the noisy corners, deep in shadows, and I had another bottle of Asahi beer.

The Come Again Club was a kind of Japanese joke, a West Side Chicago tavern in Tokyo style, full of thousand-yen short-time girls who knew more about us, our habits, our weaknesses, than all of the psychological-study experts of the United States Army. I took a long drink of the hop-high, malty beer and played with the idea of writing a suggestion to Far East Command that they fire all the slick civilian psychologists and hire some musume from the joints of the Shimbashi to tell them what American soldiers think about.

Maybe I was a little drunk, but there was some sense to the idea.

I finished the bottle, got up, and started to walk toward the doorway. It opened on a little alley that led to the Street beside the stinking canal.

“Know where you're going, Sergeant?”

A girl had come out of the darkness near the wall, through the body-tight dancers toward me. A tall girl, a long-legged American girl with a soft, clear voice.

You don't see American girls in the Shimbashi clubs. American girls didn't fit into the life of places like the Come Again. These were for the soldiers of half a dozen armies, for the short-legged, black-eyed women who were ready for them, for the rat-faced pimps.

I looked at her for a long moment in the dim light, through the curling haze from the bright-tipped cigarettes.

“Pardon me, ma'am?” It was a funny phrase for a Shimbashi night trap.

“If you go outside you'll get kicked into hamburger.” She said it in a nice, easy way, like a college girl telling a boy what band they'll have at the dance.

I understood right quick. The important word was “kicked.” Down at Kobe, where most of the limey boys are stationed, you're more likely to remember that you don't walk outside alone after you've had an argument with a limey. He and his friends will be waiting for you in the darkness with their hard, heavy boots.

If you leave with a few friends of your own, the Britishers will use their belts, broad whips tipped with solid buckles. It's all in fun, but you'll never look or feel the same afterward.

“You're probably right, ma'am,” I said. “I'd forgotten about the lad.”

“He didn't forget. He just left with four others. They were watching you.”

The waiting brawlers with their face-breaking boots didn't seem so important as the girl. This surprising stranger, who shouldn't be here, was lovely and beautiful.

“Pardon me, miss, but why did you bother telling me?”

“We're in the same line of work,” she said. She nodded toward the red, white, and blue shoulder patch on the right sleeve of my khaki shut. It's a shield with the words “Pacific Stars & Stripes" embroidered on it, and it's worn by the staffers of the daily newspaper of our forces in the Far East.

I looked at her through the murky air of the club. Straight-shouldered, with a proudness to her, wearing something simple that looked good. A small hat on one side of short, copper-red hair.

“Maybe you've seen my stuff, Sergeant. I take pictures for World News.”

Beautiful, young, terrific. I knew who she was, and I wasn't surprised any more at meeting her in a Shimbashi beer joint. I could have met her on the slope of the mortar-pocked hill at Kumwa, because she'd been there, too.

“You're Satin Shea, miss?” I asked, but I knew.

“Back in Chicago it used to be Mary Shea, Sergeant, but it got fancied up.”

We stood there in the jangle of the music, in the smoke, with the high laughter of the Japanese girls loud around us, and I was in love.

Real fine. A sergeant falling for Satin Shea, one of the best news photographers in the world, a girl my age who earned twenty thousand a year or better. Real fine.

“What are you going to do about your British friends outside, Sergeant?”

I guess that's the kind of living that's made Satin Shea great. Going to places like the Come Again, seeing what goes on, taking the trouble to tell a stranger that trouble's waiting for him outside. A very right girl.

“I take my chances, Miss Shea. What else?”

I wondered what she'd say if I asked her to go somewhere with me, have s'kiyaki or tempura or maybe just a drink.

“You ever tangled with limeys, Sergeant?”

“Boots. Belts. Very rough and for keeps.”

“I see you know. Foolish to go out there, isn't it, Sergeant?”

Be brave, be bold, be male, Sergeant First Class Robert E. Lee. You don't earn twenty thousand a year, you're tall and rangy but not good-looking, and you're a GI that doesn't have much smooth talk. But you've got to show off for your girl. Your new girl, who'll never see you or remember you again.

I tried a smile for-size, tried to look careless and reckless and rough.

“They're just playful boys,” I said, and walked toward the door. If I was able to come back in again I figured I might ask her about that drink or something.

“Wait a moment, Sergeant.” The clear, soft voice was crisp, all business. Satin Shea walked through the crowd and heads turned again to watch her, the widening eyes of the men, the narrowing eyes of the Japanese girls.

She was back and she was carrying her Rolleiflex with the flash gun mounted.

“Let's go, Sergeant.”

There were four of them and they wanted to get me a little away from the door, in the narrow alley.

I went low and forward, hands in front of my face, knees high, like a lineman charging to take out a guy.

They figured on getting me down and giving me the boots as soon as my face hit the ancient dirt of the alley. I figured on staying up.

The first man swung his belt but I was low and moving forward fast and the belt went high as I pushed his jaw up with the heel of my hand, locking my right leg behind his knee. He swung into the toe of the boot that was coming up hard from the number-two man. He kind of toppled away and I played dirty, Canadian style, getting the heel of the boot in my left hand, pulling the leg straight and up, kicking along the leg so that my shoe knifed into the soft body and the guy was through for a day or two. There is no meaner kick than that leg-and-leg job.

He made sad noises, and the other two clumped away down the alley. Probably they were frightened by Satin's strobe light, and as the hurt limey cried over the ruin of his groin, Satin took one last shot It ran later in one of the big picture magazines.

The photo showed the British soldier on the puddled dirt of the alley, his knees high against his belly, his face bunched around his open mouth. I stood above him, hands out from my sides, angry and still hot to go, my uniform cap pushed back on my head. Near my feet was the belt, like a flat snake, the heavy buckle shining. Behind us was a wall with one sign in Japanese characters and the old, faded sign “WERCOM AMERICAN.”

I turned to Satin.

“You go pretty good, Sergeant,” she said, folding back the top of her Rollei and putting the strobe light into her shoulder-strap case.

Still breathing hard, I said, “Trick is to start fast Doesn't always work.” I was a little scared now, realizing how stupid I'd been. The odds had been real big that I should be flat in the alley now, my facial bones and teeth all mixed up together, with most of my ribs broken. It should have ended that way and I knew it.

The other Britisher was standing in the darkness near the wall. He went to the man on the ground, tried to help him up. Only once did he look at us, and then he said something bitter and obscene that began with “Bloody” and ended with “Yank.” The funny thing is that often they're great guys, and sometimes good friends.

“Things O.K., Satin?” It was a man in the doorway of the Come Again, a big man in civilian clothes.

So it would end quickly, I realized. Sergeants don't meet Satin Shea alone in the Tokyo night, girls like Satin are never alone, and there is always the big man in the background, ready to take charge. She'd done a strange sergeant a small favor, and when he had disregarded her warning she had followed him in his foolish bravado to get the pictures of whatever might happen.

“Some fair shots of an alley fight between a GI and some other guys,” said Satin, turning her head. “I'll meet you at the club later, Deet. The Sergeant's taking me somewhere for a drink.”

The night was suddenly warm with spring.

He came over, walking with a big, strong man's stride, and now he stood between Satin and me. His shoulder and back were toward me, like a quick wall he had built around the girl.

“But we're meeting Dick and Karl at the club at ten.” He was backing a little now, edging me away. A direct operator, this big man.

“Come on, Sergeant,” said Satin, stretching an arm toward me. Now he turned to look. I could see a massive face, heavy-jawed.

“Miss Shea has a busy schedule for tonight, soldier,” he said. His voice was husky with a low booming quality to it. “You'd do her a favor if you didn't bother her.”

“The schedule starts right now with a drink with me, friend,” I said. “Is that good with you?”

I got a good break on the action. There was a groaning noise, and both of us turned to see the two British lads limping away from the alley, one of them with his arm around the other, and holding his middle with his left hand. It looked kind of impressive.

I took Satin's hand.

“So long, Deet. See you later,” she said. I didn't say anything and the two of us walked toward the street, Satin's camera case swinging from her shoulder. The big man was left there, watching us, I suppose, as we went out of the darkness of the alley into the bright, jangling night of Tokyo.

“You did invite me for a drink, didn't you, Sergeant?”

I looked at her. She was laughing, a tall, pretty girl who walked well, matching my own long legs.

“Yes, ma'am, I sure did. I don't believe I mentioned my name. I'm Sergeant Lee, Miss Satin.”

“Sergeant Lee from maybe Mississippi or Alabama?” She was a real fine girl; she didn't ask the question in a make-believe Southern accent. An awful lot of folks do, and I wish they wouldn't.

“From Oxford, Mississippi, ma'am.”

“Faulkner's home town?”

“That's right, ma'am. Also the University of Mississippi. I don't, know Mr. Faulkner except to see him.”

We were walking under the arches of the railway viaduct now, out of the fringe of the Shimbashi and Ginza-nishi districts into downtown Tokyo. Above us was the roar of a fast-moving electric train, and as we turned out of the viaduct we could see the lights of the Imperial Hotel.

“Glad to meet you, Sergeant Lee. Sorry I neglected to introduce you to Deet Byron—the man we just left. He works for one of the news bureaus here. Or have you already met him?”

“Not until just now, ma'am.”

“Don't you ever go over to the Correspondents' Club in Shimbun Alley?”

“Hardly ever, ma'am. They don't make soldiers real welcome there.”

“But you're on the Stars and Stripes?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“See much of Korea when the fighting was on?”

“Some. Mostly with the Third and Seventh Divisions.”

“Lee... Lee. Hey, Sergeant—you're the boy they used to call Lonesome Lee, aren't you?”

“Yes, ma'am. It was a sort of joke.”

“I remember the joke. You went on the patrols—which is a damn-fool stunt if you don't have to do it—and when they'd ask you why, you'd say because you didn't want to feel lonesome.”

“That was just to say something. Mostly I went on the patrols so we could run the boys' names in the Stripes. It would make them feel good to see their names in the paper along with a little story about the particular patrol they were on. They didn't have much else to make 'em feel good.”

“You got banged up yourself a couple of times.”

“After a while you get careless, ma'am.”

“But you'd be welcome in the Correspondents' Club, Lonesome Lee. They've used a lot of your stuff in the civilian wire news. You were famous for your combat stories.”

“Oh, no, ma'am. They used a lot of the Stripes' stories. We've got a good paper, and darn near two hundred thousand circulation daily. It's the biggest English-language daily east of London, west of Honolulu, and north of Australia.”

Satin laughed. It was a pleasant laugh. “You're sort of proud of the Stars and Stripes, aren't you, Sergeant?”

“Yes, I am.”

I had her arm under mine and we were taking long steps along the narrow street next to the wall of the railway viaduct. On one side was a clutter of little shops, each of them bright with lights and colors; under the arches of the viaduct were more stores, offices, homes. They don't waste much, space in Tokyo. The narrow street itself was as busy as a creek full of frogs—little three-wheeled trucks, bicycles, Fords and Chevrolets made twenty years ago and now sputtering along as taxis, short-legged girls in sweater-skirt-saddle-shoe combinations, men clacking over the cobbles in their wood-soled zoris, women elegant in brocade kimonos.

With the sounds, the colors, the lights, there were also the smells of Tokyo.

“Where are we going, Lonesome Lee?”

I smiled. “That was just a joke. It ended when they stopped shooting in Korea. Most people call me Bob. We're going in right here.”

Right here was the three-story Rocker Club. As we turned down the garden walk beyond the big gates of the club, I looked over Satin's head toward the night sky to the southwest. I knew I wouldn't be able to see anything, but I was looking for the glow from the Devil Islands.

At six tomorrow morning I would be on a little ship headed two hundred miles out of the port of Yokohama toward the boiling seas that swirled around the newborn Devil Islands, pushed up from the ocean floor by a submarine volcano.

Chapter Two

“NO WONDER YOU DON'T CARE about the Correspondents' Club!” Satin Shea was looking at the smaller of the two ballrooms on the third floor of the Rocker Club. A band called the Tokyo Cuban Rhythm Boys was playing a samba, waiters were running with balanced trays of tall drinks, the dance floor looked like pearl, and the tables around it were bedded in deep carpeting, the whole place glittering with luxury.

The Rocker Club was famous from Pearl Harbor to Hong Kong, probably one of the most elegant drinking and eating clubs in the Far East, and its members were the enlisted men of the American forces. Two ballrooms, three bars—one of them eighty feet of curving black marble—and a restaurant that served butter-soft steaks, twenty-cent Martinis made with Holland gin, twenty-cent Scotch, and all of the famous German, Danish, and Dutch beers. Two hundred Japanese employees scurried endlessly on slippered feet. And beyond the long bar the rows of slot machines paid the costs of the whole elaborate elegance.

Satin had her camera and strobe light out again.

“I've got to get some shots of this place—it's fantastic!”

Her hair was copper-red and shining, and everything about her was perfect. We had a drink and we danced together. I could almost forget that this was the girl who'd taken the once-in-a-lifetime shot of Eisenhower angry, the Pulitzer Prize series at White Sands, the Trieste fights, and all the rest of the wonderful pictures that anybody could have taken if he had a-camera, courage, imagination, and a magical genius.

By now I'd stopped calling her “ma'am” and we'd laughed over a few things, been serious about a few more.

“What's next for you, Bob?” she asked after we'd come back to the table.

“Tomorrow I'm covering that undersea-volcano thing for the Stripes.”

“Me too!”

I felt the sudden realization that comes sometimes to men—maybe to women as well—that there was a pattern to my life, and that for a lightning-quick moment I'd had a glimpse of that pattern.

“Six o'clock at Pier Thirty-four-B in Yokohama?” I asked her.

She nodded, smiling. “With my bag full of cameras.”

“It's eleven now. That's going to come awful soon, Satin.”

“Too right, Bob.”

She lifted her glass to me and looked over the rim. “You probably know about it, Bob. You've done the same things. I get scared. And I'm scared of the Devil Islands.”

“So am I.”

“A volcano beneath the sea. Everything hot and bubbling. And maybe all of a sudden whoosh! and there's no more little ship full of scientists and reporters and cameramen. Just a big bubble.” Satin smiled again.

Four days ago there had been a quake on the Kanto plain of Tokyo. In the rickety four-story building of the Nippon Times, where the. Stripes had its offices, we had felt the first rocking, watched the light fixtures swing lazily and the typewriters slide across the tables.

The Kanto plain shook, and the Imperial Hotel rode the swell of the earth as it had done in the great quake of thirty years ago. Windows cracked in the shops along the Ginza, and a few walls fell in the too quickly built boom town of the Shinjuku district. The tall buildings of downtown Tokyo rocked a little, and the quake was over. The eight million people of the third largest city in the world went back to work, talking, giggling, the quick panic of fear gone from their faces as fast as it had come to them.

Yokohama and Tokyo had quivered, but two hundred miles to the south and west in the gray Pacific, the Devil Islands had risen above the water, hot and raw; volcanic islands pushed up from the bottom.

Tomorrow a small ship would leave the harbor, a ship sent by the imperial government and staffed with experts. On the ship would be the usual newsmen and photographers, and the ship would head for the Devil Islands. It would be the first expedition of-its kind, the first scientific ship to head directly for the center of violent volcanic activity.

“Whoosh —and one more big bubble,” I agreed, lifting my glass to Satin.

“Rob, I guess it's time for me to say I'm not quite sure why I told Deet Byron you'd invited me for a drink. I'm not quite sure why I wanted to meet you and talk to you—but I'm glad I did.”

“You did something else nice tonight,” I said.

“Warning you about the limey boys?”

“That too, but I was thinking that you've never asked me why I'm a soldier. I was hoping you wouldn't.”

“It's the reporters that ask the questions, not the cameramen,” Satin said, the little laugh that lived in her face showing for a moment again.

“The funny thing is that if you had asked, I couldn't have given you a real good answer. I was working for a San Francisco paper and things were happening in Korea and I enlisted. In another couple of months I'll be out.”

“Then what, Bob?”

“Work for a sheet somewhere. Not Los Angeles. Maybe a small town.”

“Not back to San Francisco, either?”

“If I went back to my old paper somebody'd have to get bumped off his job. There are enough hungry newspapermen's families in San Francisco now. I'd rather find a new place. And you, Satin—where do you go from here?”

There was a change now. Around us was the imitation-perfect Cuban music from the Tokyo Rhythm Boys, the soft tinkle of glasses, and the rustle of voices. The fish swam in the green-lit sea caverns of the wall aquariums and the great red eyes of the giant painted octopus on the ballroom ceiling glowed. Satin and I were as we had been a moment ago, at a small table, our drinks before us, looking at each other. But it was changed.

“I'm getting married in a month, Bob.”

Then after a few seconds she gave a little smile. “I don't know why I sounded apologetic about it. Girls are supposed to get married. I'm happy about it.”

Yeah, sure. I took a long drink.

“You're a little late for the club, Satin. Should I take you there now?”

“Bob.”

“Yes?” I was standing, looking down at her. Her chin was high.

“I'll admit that we've done well together. Men and women do sometimes, sort of fit together without any strain. But—well, after all, Bob, it was just a crazy notion to have a drink with you. You went into that fight like a little kid showing off—and then you were so quick, so cruel—”

I waited beside her chair. Angry? Yes, but not at Satin; at things, mostly at a stupid young man from Oxford, Mississippi, who fooled himself too easily, too quickly.

“But, Bob,” she went on in her soft, low, clear voice, “I'm a little sorry, now, that I had that crazy notion.”

“It was fun, ma'am,” I said, and somehow I found a smile for her. “Anyway, we'll see some more of each other tomorrow and for the next few days. If it all doesn't go—”

“Whoosh!” she finished, and we both laughed.

In front of the Rocker Club was the usual line of patient Japanese cabmen. We got into a '37 Plymouth and rocked through the downtown traffic behind a T-shirted driver with an unlighted cigarette dangling from his mouth. Like all Tokyo cabmen, he leaned heavily on the horn button, and as far as we could tell he had no brake pedal at all.

Then it was Shimbun Alley—“newspaper alley”—behind the neat red-brick office buildings that house the neat brown businessmen of Mitsui and Mitsubishi; Shimbun Alley and the Correspondents' Club.

Two hundred-yen bills to the driver, whose cigarette was stained brown for half its length, and then Satin and I stood in front of the door.

I took her in my arms and kissed her, and it was like that; I took her, not struggling, not yielding, her mouth ready for the kiss but her body arched back away from me. For me it was a kiss that had all of the brief night in it, from the fight at the Come Again to the closeness at the table in the Rocker and the cold finality of “I'm getting married in a month.”

Then the door of the Correspondents' Club opened and Deet Byron was looking at us.

Slowly I dropped my arms away from the slim, strong body of Satin Shea and stepped back from her.

She might have known Deet Byron was there; I don't know. But she didn't turn her head, she stood straight and proud, her face turned up a little toward mine, and looked me in the eyes. It was a long look that told me nothing.

“Satin—” Deet came down the steps, and again he managed to edge his big body and shoulders between us with ms back to me. I think maybe it's one of the things a new boy at the magazine has to learn before he can have his own crew cut.

“Yes, Deet?” There was nothing to be learned from her voice, either. Soft, cool, clear.

“You're late.”

“I'm sorry. Bob, will you come in for a drink?”

I could hear her, but all I could see was the back of Byron.

“Sure, ma'am.”

Byron turned, reluctantly. He managed to get a long, telling look at my uniform that was supposed to put me in my place.

Satin walked into the club, Deet behind her, and I was running third. The manager stopped me, a fussy little man.

“Pardon me,” he said. “Are you a guest?”

Deet kept on walking, but Satin looked over her shoulder.

“My guest, Kimatsu.”

There was a big change in Kimatsu; the Japanese surrendered, we occupied Tokyo, and I was a number-one mister. I even got the bow. It figured that Satin Shea would be important here, but it didn't figure that Satin Shea would still consider me her guest.

It might have, if she'd kissed back, but she hadn't.

She couldn't be marrying this Deet balloon. He was a major bureau chief for the top Tokyo office outside of AP, UP, and INS, but he had the manners of a water buffalo. I wondered who the man was, wondered and hated him. I'd been here before as a guest of a civilian editor of the Stars and Stripes. The Correspondents' Club wasn't particularly fancy; it looked like newspapermen's clubs almost anywhere—plenty of place to drink, not so much place to sit around, a pretty good spot for a big poker table.

Satin got the big bear hug from a small bear of a man who was introduced to me as Karl, Far East manager for one of the big news magazines. With him was a man named Dick who ran an English-language weekly magazine in Japan, and their wives. One of them was tall, cool, and quick, Karl's wife; Dick's was small, dark, and a ballet dancer. Satin, Deet Byron, and I made up the rest of the party.

Everybody came over to say hello to Satin. When somebody from United Press wasn't throwing his arms around her neck and kissing her, it would be a girl from the Collier's bureau, or a smaller balloon edition of Deet from Time-Life. Almost everybody had something to say to Karl and Deet, with a medium hello for Dick and a nod to the sergeant.

Mostly I thought about the kiss, and for a little I listened to the trade talk of the table.

“Pete's in Bangkok for life.”

“Yeah, Syngman Rhee banned my goddamn sheet out of Korea and I took a plane to Seoul and I said to the old bastard—”

“A whole series of the best pictures I've ever seen—”

“We were all drunk at the Hotel Scribe in Paris and Ed Kennedy—”

Deet Byron was the big voice, doing the talking; Satin was doing most of the laughing; Karl, under the experienced, amused eyes of his wife, was trying to make out with Satin, and nobody minded, not even me, because Karl was obviously a man who would stop trying only when he was dead, and it seemed natural and acceptable for him to try to make out with the loveliest woman in Tokyo, maybe in the Far East.

I couldn't even buy drinks for the crowd. Members signed chits for the tabs and they kept boy-san on the run with fresh trays of drinks.

But once I saw Satin looking at me. It was the long, deep look; it wasn't supposed to do anything to me or for me, it was for herself alone. It must have been the kind of look she gave to something just before she bent over her Rollei and pushed the button.

All three women were nice. Karl's wife talked to me about the Stripes, and Dick's wife talked about progressive music. Once I saw a look pass between them, a communication between women that had understanding and pity in it; they had noticed how my eyes were on Satin.

Deet was talking. “It was General Dean, all right, and he was walking through this gate, and this oaf of an M.P. was trying to stop me, and I said to the punk, 'Say—'”

He stopped talking. Everybody stopped talking and the place was silent except for the creak of the building's timber.

The chandeliers were swaying and the full drinks spilled a little over the tops.

Earthquake.

They were standing now, looking at each other. Karl had Ms arms around his wife. Dick laughed and his pretty ballerina of a wife was wide-eyed in sudden fear. Deet had started to run. I was beside Satin and she was the only person who didn't stand up.

The Kanto plain beneath Tokyo rumbled uneasily again and the dust sifted down from the ceiling.

“Just a little one,” said Karl.

“Big enough for me. I'll never get used to them.”

I looked down at Satin and she was smiling.

“The Devil Islands,” she said.

Two hundred miles away, beyond the two-mile-high cinder cone of Fuji, beyond the tumbled rocks of the shore of Honshu, biggest of the islands of Japan, beyond the curve of the gray Pacific's western waters, two hundred miles away and a mile down, the earth itself was wounded and Tokyo trembled.

We waited, and the earth was still; the chandeliers hung straight-and the highballs in the glasses were motionless.

I went back to my chair, Karl and his wife sat down, Deet Byron returned to the table.

“Safest place in an earthquake is to stand in a doorway,” he said as he slid his balloon shape into his chair.

“Yeah,” said Karl. “We all wanted you to be safe, Deet.” Dick's wife closed her round, crimson mouth and shuddered. “Lord, what a place! Earthquakes, typhoons—”

“You didn't seem much bothered Satin,” Dick said to her.

Satin shook her head slowly. “I was scared to death. I didn't know what to do, so I just stayed in my chair.”

“You should always head for a doorway and stand there,” said Deet Byron.

“Yeah,” said Karl.

“We're going to the Devil Islands tomorrow,” said Satin.

“We?” asked Dick.

“Bob Lee, here, is going for the Stripes, and I'm doing it for World.”

“You'll get boiled,” said Dick. “That silly little ship will just start going round and round, and the water will get hotter, and then—”

“I know,” said Satin. “Whoosh!”

“Tell her to stand in a doorway on the ship, Byron,” said Karl.

“I'm going on the trip myself,” said Deet Byron.

“You? Don't tell me that Teight, Inc., has cut your bureau down to one man?”

Byron shook his big head. I got an odd feeling about the big man. Coward he might be, arrogant and insufferable, but somehow he had fought his way to be bureau chief for the Teight magazines in Tokyo, and I felt that under the softness and the cowardice there might be a hard, cruel, brutal man.

“I talked to the experts at the university today. They told me it will be a magnificent show—the new islands raw, terrible, the water steaming, explosions and mile-high clouds of steam—but absolutely safe. I got absolute assurance from the best volcano experts in Japan that the trip is safe.”

“Did they put it in writing?” asked Karl.

Dick laughed, and when Deet felt the laughter at him his eyes narrowed. I hoped Karl never had to ask Deet Byron for a job. He might get one.

The earthquake, not a big one by Tokyo standards, had broken off the continuity of the party. Satin, it turned out, was a house guest of Karl and his wife. They would take her home.

Dick and Karl shook hands with me and I said good-by to Satin.

“Until tomorrow at the dock in Yokohama,” she said, and once again her eyes looked deeply into mine.

A man and a woman can meet, and it is there and they both know it. And if he's a sergeant about to start looking for a job, and she's a woman who is the wonderful, famous Satin Shea, about to be married...

“I'll give you a lift, Sergeant,” said Deet Byron. Karl looked at him in speculative surprise.

“You've never done a simple favor in your life,” said Karl. “Just for fun I'd like to know your angle on this one. I remember outside Gnomon when you wouldn't give that kid from the Stars and Stripes a ride in your jeep because you said if you gave one soldier a ride they'd all want to ride.”

I was a little curious myself, so I said something about yes, thank you, to the big man.

He had a Jaguar outside.

“Where's your barracks, Sergeant?”

“Finance Building, on the other side of Hibaya Park.”

“Oh, yes.” The Jag pulled out into Shimbun Alley and he tromped down on it.

He didn't say anything until the Jaguar swung along the curb at the entrance to the enormous concrete bulk of what had once been intended to be the offices of the Imperial Japanese Ministry of Finance, and is now the largest American troop billet in the world.

“Miss Shea is a fine girl, isn't she, Sergeant?” he asked as I opened my door.

Here it comes. “Yes,” I said.

“She's going to marry Major General Wilton Duncan next month. Good night, Sergeant.”

Chapter Three

I STOPPED OFF AT THE ORDERLY ROOM on the fourth floor of Finance and told the Charge of Quarters to wake me at four in the morning, and then I walked the long lonely corridor to the barracks room I shared with thirty other men.

Four o'clock in the morning would come with brutal suddenness, but it wasn't easy to slide off into sleep. Satin Shea of the long legs and the copper-red hair, the world-famous woman news photographer, is marrying Major General Wilton Duncan, Korean war hero whose division was shown in Satin Shea's famous combat pictures. They will live in Connecticut or Carmel or wherever in the hell... And as I rolled under the GI blanket and tossed somehow into sleep, Satin got mixed up with a mile-high cloud of steam rising above the boiling waters around the Devil Islands.

The Charge of Quarters shook me and it was 0400. I showered and dressed. Downstairs in the courtyard of Finance a boy-san driver was waiting with the Chevrolet sedan that would take me to the dock in Yokohama. I signed the trip ticket and got in the front seat next to him. Then we rolled down the Yokohama Road in the darkness before dawn toward the dock, the little ship, the experts, and Satin Shea again. Toward the Devil Islands.

They've rebuilt Tokyo and it doesn't look like a hurt city any more, eight years after the long, silver B-29's, the high explosives, and the fire bombs. But Yokohama in the gray dawn is barren and flat. We smashed it down in '45, and the little brown men haven't put it together again. Boy-san wheeled the sedan through the empty miles where the great war industries had been once, and then we swung over toward the docks.

Japanese police stopped the car, looked over my orders and credentials, talked to each other, and finally nodded my driver on. I was carrying a bag with a change of clothes and little else, and at the dock entrance I waved good-by to my silent boy-san and walked toward Pier 34-B.

There were quite a few cars around the entrance. A Japanese driver sat behind the wheel of Deet Byron's Jaguar, and I saw several black and shining '53 Cadillacs. Some of the Japanese newsmen that I knew were standing around, lads from Yomiuri, Asahi, and Mainichi. I looked at the Yomiuri boys much as they looked at me. When MacArthur had been god of the GHQ in the Dai Ichi building, the newspaper Yomiuri had knocked itself out praising everything American; now that the occupation was over, Yomiuri knocked itself out damning the Americans as barbarian rapists who were looting the empire. The kids from Asahi and Mainichi were pretty much O.K. guys.

Some of them were real hipsters, too. Little Charlie Daniki from Mainichi, for one. He weighed about 120 and stood five-four and no more, with his black-rimmed glasses included, and-he was a sharp, nice kid.

“How's the ol' cotton-pickin' rebel?” he called over when he saw me. “You don't want to go on this clambake, Mississippi boy—you can't even take the hot water in a bathhouse!”

“Hi, Charlie! Mainichi Press must figure this is dangerous, or they'd send somebody that wasn't expendable.”

“Dig that Confederate talking big!” laughed Charlie. “You all just remember your folks lost a war, too, Robert E. Lee.”

Lads like Charlie Daniki were kids when their kids' world fell apart, and through the next eight years they studied everything about Americans until some of them would be completely at home in any juke joint along Route 66.

I was looking for Satin Shea.

At the check point near the loading ramp a Japanese official checked my papers again and passed me on. It was brightening now, with the sun coming up out of the great roadstead of the bay, and the light painted the distant cone of Fujiyama.

The scientific ship was a small one. I climbed the roped board to its deck and put my bag down. I could hear the putt-putt of the little fishing boats in the harbor, and then the faraway blast of a big ship coming in. Charlie Daniki was talking to some friends near the stern, and I saw a group of Japanese who looked as if they might be scientific experts. A United Press photographer whom I knew came aboard and I waved to him.

Then I saw Satin Shea. She was wearing GI fatigues, a pushed-back GI cap with a long bill, like mechanics wear, and Japanese zoris on her bare feet. The zori—a flat sandal with anchored straps that come between your big toe and the one next to it—is comfortable footwear after you're used to it.

Satin had just come out of a long Buick, and the car's Japanese driver was carrying her bag, a canvas one much like my own.

Maybe she was looking for me, because she saw me at the rail and waved.

“Good morning, Sergeant.” It was Deet Byron standing behind me..

He didn't wait for an answer, but hurried over to the gangplank in time to meet Satin. The two of them went forward and I waited at the rail.

A little after six the ship moved away from the pier, out into the bay, and toward the Devil Islands. I had some hot tea with the Japanese press boys.

An older man with Charlie Daniki, a graying Japanese in the worn and frayed blue serge suit that is the uniform of Mainichi reporters, explained what the expedition was trying to do.

“The ship will sail into the new group of islands. We will take temperature, depth soundings, air samples, measure radiation, take many pictures. Is most important to Japanese people to understand all about volcano—because Japanese people must live with earthquake, with volcano, as wife must live with husband.”

But while he was explaining everything to me with serious courtesy, I was trying to remember what Major General Wilton Duncan looked like, and what I'd read about him.

I could remember pictures—and some of them had been taken by World News photographer Satin Shea—of a lean, sharp-eyed man, six-three or better. His division had held above the Han in the big Red drive two years back, and he had every decoration except the Medal of Honor.

He was a West Point man, and from some wealthy Eastern family. A rich, handsome hero, and a two-star general. If Satin Shea saw anything in me to make her forget Wilton Duncan, she was crazy.

It was coming back. Duncan and his division had replaced the First Cavalry at Camp Crawford and Chitose up in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. I remembered Chitose. I'd covered a story on Duncan's division when it moved in. Chitose was the roughest, wildest town in the Far East; a row of dance-and-beer halls, with five thousand prostitutes, with nothing else.

I finished my tea and went below deck. The few staterooms on the little ship had been assigned to the scientists and a few of the top-flight newsmen. The Japanese reporters and Sergeant First Class Robert E. Lee had a cozy little hold for ourselves near the engine.

A man can be in love, and he also can be sleepy. I fell asleep.

It was afternoon when I opened my eyes again. Afternoon, and a small ship rocking through the great swells of the western edge of the North Pacific with some of the sickest Japanese newsmen I've ever seen.

A pale-green Charlie Daniki was curled against a bulkhead.

“Ho, cotton-picker,” he said when I came over to him. “You do Charlie number-one favor, please? Throw me overboard, huh?”

The little ship went up, up, up, and then down as if it had been dropped. Charlie gave a long groan. “Please, you throw me overboard, right now, quick?”

“You'll get better, Charlie,” I said, and went up on deck. Two of the crewmen watched me, their faces without expression. Forward, near the bridge, I saw some of the scientists, Deet Byron, and Satin.

I hoped that Deet got sick easily. It might be pleasant to see that big face about the same color as Charlie Daniki's.

“Hi, Bob,” said Satin as I came forward. She was still in the Army fatigues, the little cap pushed back on her dark-red, glowing hair.

About a dozen men were around us, but for a moment Satin and I were alone as far as we knew or cared. And then she turned away.

“Hello, Lonesome,” said the U.P. cameraman. “Scared?” It took a second to answer. I was still looking at Satin, at her fine back and the copper-dark hair gleaming below the cap.

“Maybe a little bit,” I said.

“We hit the islands around ten tonight, they tell me. Then we stay there until maybe noon tomorrow. Should be kinda interesting.”

“That's what they told me when I took journalism at Ole Miss. They said things would be interesting, but I'm just beginning to understand why those boys were teaching it rather than doing it. Smart boys.”

Deet Byron was talking to Satin and the U.P. man glanced at them. He nodded in their direction and spoke in a quieter voice.

“That big egg—ever meet him? Bureau chief for the Teight magazines.”

“I've met him,” I said.

“He's mad for that Satin Shea, nor do I blame him. But he's playing a lost game.”

“Oh?”

“Wonderful kid, that Satin. But she's marrying a general. Big romance from Korea when she covered his division.”

“I've heard about it,” I said. Heard about it and didn't want to hear any more, but I didn't say that.

“He's not a bad guy, for a general. Tough and hard, eyes like a couple of bullets aimed at you. One of the youngest two-star generals in the Army, but you can understand it. What a record!”

“Yeah, I hear he's great,” I said.

“Got it cut out for him up there at Crawford and Chitose, though,” the U.P. cameraman continued. “You ever been up in Hokkaido?”

“For three days when Duncan's outfit took over from the First Cav.”

“Rough, brother, rough! I've never seen anything like Chitose. You know it used to be a little Jap village—maybe four or five hundred farmers. Then we brought about fifteen thousand troops up there. Wow! Every hustler in Japan headed for Chitose.”

“I've seen the street in Chitose.”

“But remember, Lonesome, these troopers are all replacements now, just kids from Stateside who are used to hanging around the corner drugstore, or maybe a nice neighborhood beer tavern. And up in Chitose they meet double-distilled sin in the meanest town in the whole damn world.”

“You ever see a Mississippi juke joint on a Saturday night in ginning time?”

He laughed. “Pleasure-fightin' and pleasure-lovin', but that's just a few kids that know each other, and after they've got the vinegar out of their systems they all settle down and raise God-fearin' families. But Chitose is different. Chitose is mean and nasty.”

“That's ol' Mr. Duncan's problem,” I said. “Any time you've got ten or fifteen thousand healthy and lonely boys five thousand miles from home, and drawing more money over the pay table than most Japanese families see in a year—”

“Beer, women, and fights,” said the U.P. man.

“Beer, women, and fights,” I agreed.

“With most of the hustlers using heroin, and every one of them scheming some dirty scheme aimed at a GI—”

“That's Chitose.”

Deet Byron walked over to us. He wasn't seasick. The U.P. man looked at him in some surprise, because bureau chiefs usually don't walk over, they let you come to them.

“I heard you mention Chitose?”

“Have you been up there, Mr. Byron?” asked the U.P. man.

“General Duncan had me as his guest a month or so ago.”

“What did you think of Chitose?”

“A good, busy town, from what I saw of it as we went through. A good example of American-Japanese relations. I understand the place used to be nothing but a poverty-stricken village, and now it's a thriving little city, thanks to us.”

“Ah, so,” I said. It's a Japanese phrase and it means anything from yes to no, depending on how you say it.

“Well, it's thriving, all right, Mr. Byron,” said the U.P. man.

“You fellows all set for the fireworks tonight?”

“How much fireworks do they expect?”

Byron rubbed a big hand over his big face. “We've had planes circling the area where the volcanic activity is going on. Last radio reports were that there are still underwater eruptions throwing up steam, smoke, and hunks of lava.”

“That's just dandy,” said the U.P. man.

“Nothing to worry about,” Byron chuckled. “The scientists on the ship have assured me that everything's perfectly safe.”

“Are they related to the experts who used to assure the Japanese that they were going to win the war?”

If Byron had a sense of humor, it didn't show easily. He walked away.

“Steam, smoke, and hunks of lava. Underwater eruptions,” said the U.P. man.

“I wonder why I ever left Mississippi,” I said.

“That Deet Byron is an odd guy. Looking at him, maybe you'd think he was just a big, soft chunk of blubber, the way some big men are. With him it ain't so,” said the cameraman. “He's under forty, and he's a mass of muscle. Third string All-American for one of the ivy-league schools just before war started in Europe. Keeps in shape, too, and about once a year he gets real drunk, and then watch out— he tries to beat up everybody in whatever joint he's in. Like a crazy grizzly.”

“I don't much care for him,” I said.

“Who does?” agreed the U.P. man. “But he's on his way up. The scoop is that his next job will be managing editor of the Teight monthly, and he's real fair-haired with the Teight family back in Boston.”

“He's got it made.”

“Except for that luscious redheaded Satin Shea. I think he'd trade even—everything he's got or will ever get, just for her. She's pleasant to him because the Teight magazines use World News pictures, and I guess because Satin is pleasant to everybody. Otherwise, no dice.”

I was looking at Satin, twenty feet away on the slowly rocking deck. She had her Rollei and was taking a picture of two of the Japanese scientists as they checked over equipment lashed to the forward hatch.

After she had finished I went to her.

“Hello, Bob,” she said, pulling down on her cap. There was no one else close to us now.

“Satin—”

“I think I understand, Bob Lee.” Her shoulders were back, her chin high, her eyes on mine. “Sometimes I've wondered about that.”

“Wondered about what?”

“The luck of the pattern. All of the ways things might be—if I hadn't gone to work as a lab girl for World News in Chicago and then started on a run of luck that turned me into something that maybe I shouldn't be. You know, Bob—”

“Yes, Satin?”

She looked away, across the low railing toward the clouds piling high over the gray seas. “In the beginning it was all fun, and the kind of excitement you get maybe when you roll the dice and you can't seem to miss. Lab girl, extra fill-in on shooting pictures, and then all of a sudden picture credits on the wire photos, in Life, in Collier's, all of a sudden big-time. I've got to explain this to you somehow, Bob.”

I waited.

She spoke again, soft and clear. “All I cared about was pictures. Maybe that's why I got some good ones. The Chicago office tagged me as Satin as a little joke in the beginning, and before long everybody was calling me that.

“It happened so fast. I seemed to be just keeping my eyes on my finder, and I was looking at the whole world through that finder—Washington, Paris, Tokyo, the big names, the big action.

“Maybe you'll understand, Bob. Satin Shea with her Rollei or her Speed Graphic was one person, and she was having a wonderful time because she loved pictures and she was getting chances to take pictures for a hundred million people. Mary Shea was there, too, wondering what had happened.

“Because, Bob, Mary Shea is just supposed to meet some nice young man, marry him, have children, and keep house. That's all Mary Shea is set up to do.”

She turned back to look at me.

“Satin Shea should be only a kind of fun for Mary Shea, a pleasant little daydream after the dishes are done. But instead, Bob, there's a Satin Shea and no Mary Shea. So Satin met the kind of man she should marry, and she has a Satin sort of love for him.

“The girl you kissed last night was Mary Shea, and she's just a pleasant little daydream now for Satin Shea after the pictures are taken. Do you understand, Bob?”

“No,” I said. “No, I don't.”

Our eyes caught it first, and all of us turned our heads. It was a flash, far away, but bright, in the sky; a flash and a fading glow.

“We won't hear the sound for a long tune,” I said slowly. “The Devil Islands must still be a hundred miles away.”

“There's nothing so terrifying, nothing,” said Satin slowly. “I've taken pictures of atomic tests, I've seen war, typhoons, but nothing is so completely terrifying as a volcano.”

“Because its forces are beyond our understanding, maybe.”

We watched the sky to the southwest but the glow had faded. It seemed like long minutes afterward that we heard the rumble, like faraway thunder.

The ship moved on through the gray-black water.

“Satin Shea or Mary Shea, going to marry a general or not, I'm in love with you,” I said to the tall, slim girl with copper-red hair.

She didn't smile or turn her head toward me again.

“Men say that easily.”

“And women?”

“A woman knows that she can be mad for a little while, too easily. I'll say the truth, Bob. I thought about you for a long time last night. I thought about the suddenness, the Strangeness, about how I felt. And then I said to myself that you can't have that importance. You can't be the only different man, the only important one. It doesn't add up. Supposing that I hadn't gone with Deet to the Come Again Club last night, that I never had the crazy notion of having a drink with you, of dancing with you—”

“Then we would have met today, on this little boat headed for the Devil Islands.”

“And it might all have been different then, Bob.”

She walked away from me.

Chapter Four

CHARLIE DANIKI felt a little better. He had come up from the hold and was leaning over the rail.

“How's it going, Charlie?” I asked him, coming alongside.

“It's gone, all gone, rebel.” He gave me a sick little smile.

“You'll forget about being seasick when we get there.”

Charlie made a face. “This is good? Maybe better never happen.” The Mainichi reporter had a trick of switching his English; sometimes he spoke pure Harvard, sometimes the jargon of the hepcats, and sometimes a mocking version of Tokyo slang.

“Did you see the flash in the sky a little while ago, Charlie?”

“Damn right.”

“You've lived all your life with earthquakes and volcanoes. Do you ever get used to them?”

“Huh!” It was expressive.

“Then why are you going on this one?”

“There are five little Danikis back home and they all like rice. There are maybe two hundred other reporters for Mainichi Press. If the boss says, 'Daniki-san, jump in the ocean,' I hold my nose and jump. O. K.?”

I was beginning to feel a little hungry now.

“What time are they going to come up with some food?”

It was the wrong thing to say to Charlie at that point. When he could turn around again he looked at me.

“Whattsa matter you, GI? You crazy, huh?”

A very good lad, this Charlie Daniki.

Through the rest of the afternoon and evening all of us were restless. I didn't talk to Satin again and she had dinner with the special guests while the rest of us had ours on deck.

I talked to some of the men from the university, and then—through Charlie—I discovered that the captain of the little ship had been an admiral of the Imperial Fleet during the war. With Charlie I went up to the tiny bridge to talk to him.

He was a thick-bodied, round-faced man, and he listened to Charlie for a sentence or two. Then he held up his hand in the old gesture of command.

“Very busy now. Besides, it's too late.” He had answered in English for my benefit.

“Too late?” I asked him.

There was a faint smile on the round face. “Maybe three-four years too late. Three years ago I would be glad to talk to an American reporter, and maybe you get good story about a Japanese admiral working as laborer at Yokosuka naval base for Americans. Now is different, Sergeant. I'm busy now.”

Charlie shrugged and turned to go. The former admiral smiled a little more.

“Maybe you come back in another three years. Maybe another story then.” He laughed.

As we reached the deck Charlie shook his head. “Smart son-of-a-bitch. All the time smart sons-of-bitches until Charlie Daniki's house gets blown up again.”

I laughed a little.

“Yah,” said Charlie. “You a smart son-of-a-bitch, too, huh? Maybe you know where a number-one Japanese reporter can get a steady job in California?”

“Look, Charlie.” I pointed toward the night sky to the southwest. There was a wavering, firelike glow.

We both were silent and there was the noise of the ship's engines, the rustle of the water against the hull, the sound of talk from the newsmen near the stern rail, the faint clicking chatter of the crewmen.

Then all of the sounds were gone and there was only a dull rumble, growing louder. After it there was silence except for the engines and the water. Then everybody talked again, their voices higher.

“You know something, Mississippi boy? We're crazy to be on this boat.”

For a long time both of us were quiet.

Our quiet time was broken by Deet Byron. The big man came up to us as we looked at the black water.

“Hiya! Everybody happy? Hah-hah-hah!” He brought a heavy hand in a bear slap on my back.

I could smell the whisky and then I recognized the thickness in his voice. Deet Byron, bureau chief for the eight Teight magazines in the Tokyo office, was getting solidly drunk.

What had the U.P. man said? “He tries to beat up everybody—like a crazy grizzly.”

Charlie Daniki knew the best thing for him to do. He slid quietly away into the darkness. I stayed and Deet Byron lay heavily on the rail next to me.

“You know what's wrong with you, Sergeant?”

“What's wrong with me?”

“You're stupid, that's what's wrong with you. You got some kind of soft job on this Army rag and you think you're a newspaperman and you try to crowd in. That's what's wrong with you, Sergeant. Nobody wants you around, and you try to crowd in because you're stupid.”

I didn't say anything because this wasn't talking time. I figured it might get to be fighting time pretty damn soon, but that was up to Byron. I'd give him the first one.

Maybe he wasn't drunk enough yet, or maybe he was a counterpuncher, but he waited beside me there on the rail over the black water. After a little he lighted a cigarette, the lighter glow bright on his face.

“Cigarette, Sergeant?”

“No, thanks.”

“I didn't need to talk like that, Sergeant. I've been drinking a little, and I was annoyed last night because you seemed to be forcing yourself on us—but maybe it wasn't your fault. Maybe Miss Shea was amusing herself.”

That was the one that almost did it, but as I turned, ready and hot, his back was to me and he was walking down along the deck.

Now I was alone and I let my fingers untighten, let my breathing and heartbeat slow down.

A roan can be on a ship headed on a crazy mission into the heart of seas tormented by a submarine volcano, and still he leans over the rail and thinks about a girl.

I gave myself a smile that must have looked something like Charlie Daniki's when he was seasick, and I went down to the hold, where the Japanese reporters were playing stud poker. By the time we got into the exciting area I'd won four thousand yen.

Charlie Daniki had won the rest of the money in the crowd, and that was all right with them, because money meant the same to him as it did to them. With me it was different. They knew to the penny what a sergeant in the U.S.Army makes, and it was about four times what the best of them earned a month.

The Yomiuri man threw his cards on the floor when I took the pot that broke him and said something in Japanese that made Charlie angry enough to tell him off, but that was the only resentment that showed. As with the British troops at the Come Again Club, I could understand it, but that still didn't mean I wasn't going to bet my two high pair right into his backed ace.

One of the boys from Asahi came clattering down the companionway, excited and shouting, and then everybody started talking and we all went up to the deck.

It was still far away, but quite something already.

Glowing steam plumed out of the black sea like a mile-high white ostrich feather, and at the base something was going on that looked like the embers in a fireplace when there's stuff in the ashes that will catch from time to time and flash into an instant of brightness.

Down in the hold by the engines we couldn't hear this thing that was going on, but up on deck we could hear it. A great big snake, like the snake in the old Norse myths, tile biggest damn snake in the universe, and it was hissing.

“Eeey!” yelled all my Japanese friends.

Something had gone rocketing up out of the water, exploding maybe half a mile in the air, exploding with a thunderclap of noise and a cluster burst that looked like a white phosphorus shell out of a 4.2 mortar.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” said Charlie Daniki. “I just remembered I forgot something!”

“What?”

“I forgot to stay the hell off this son-of-a-bitch of a boat, you cotton-pickin' rest home for hookworms.”

Charlie Daniki is like that; when he's really frightened he makes jokes. When the Reds staged the May Day riot near the Emperor's palace, Charlie and I found ourselves next to a blazing Chevrolet on its side, with about two hundred hardhearted Waseda University students all carrying eight-foot loaded bamboos staves gathering around us. They were fixing to work us both over with the staves and Charlie had looked over at me and said, “Well, you miserable Klu Kluxin' bastard, now you know what it means to be on the other side.”

But Charlie Daniki didn't pick any other side; he stayed right with me, talking fast to the unfunny college boys until three truckloads of Metropolitan Police came charging in to the rescue.

His favorite magazine is True, he's that kind of Japanese, and I wish there were eighty-six million more just like him.

“Nothing to worry about,” I-said.

“That's what my major used to tell me early in 1945,” said Charlie.

“I'm moving up front. Come on.”

We went up to the bow rail. Satin was there, her camera clicking.

“Hi, Bob. I hope these make it. A telephoto lens and infrared film. What do you think of it?”

“Looks like a bathroom in hell,” I said.

“How far away do you think it is?”

“I couldn't be guessing, ma'am.”

“Maybe fifteen, twenty miles. Too close,” said Charlie.

“There's going to be some more action—that red part is getting brighter,” I said.

Satin was shooting with her Leica now, holding it to her face, the long, bright telephoto lens shining against the night blackness. For a few seconds we heard only the boat sounds and the distant hiss of steam. Charlie had moved up to the group around the scientists.

Another fireball exploded, and my eyes were used to the darkness now. The brief trails of bright ribbons from the fireball lit the deck. Charlie came back, quite serious now.

“Some disagreement among the scientists, Bob,” he said.

“One of them, a younger man who is not so famous, says it's dangerous to go much closer. I was wrong on the distance. Right now we're only eleven miles from the center of the new islands.”

“Why don't we cruise around at this distance until morning? That should be safe enough.”

I could see Charlie's face in the light from the bridge. He hung his head a little, and one shoulder was high,' Charlie Daniki was ashamed of something.

“The captain.”

“Yes? What about the captain?”

“You saw him today. He was an admiral. Very proud, much bitterness. Because there are so many reporters on this ship he must show off. Me is sailing right into the center now at full speed.”

“With those things exploding out there? And there'll be crazy currents!”

Charlie nodded. “I think maybe it will be disaster. So does the young scientist. But not the captain. Full speed straight ahead—hello, Pearl Harbor!”

Deet Byron walked toward us. The smell of whisky was Still strong, but he was quiet and steady.

“Quite a show! Glad you came, Satin?”

She put the Leica down, turned to Byron. “I don't know the light values on this volcanic stuff. I did some daylight eruption shots of Mount Aso, down south, and they weren't much. I'm trying four different types of film, a special filter, and running through the changes on the Leica and the Rollei—but still I don't know.”

“Aren't you worried a little?”

“Sure I am,” she muttered, lifting the Leica again. “If I'm not exactly sure of what I'm doing, I'm bound to worry. But after I've run this stuff through the darkroom I'll know how to shoot this kind of thing next time.”

This was Satin Shea.

The ship riffled through the black water. I thought I could begin to feel the heat.

Another fireball exploded, and the sound was like a gunshot close by. I closed my eyes and I could still see the bright spider legs of light.

Chapter Five

SOMETIMES YOU GET A CRAZY CARNIVAL spirit on a deal like this. The word got around quickly that the captain was a little mad, that he was going into danger with the ship because he wanted to prove something.

“Same thing with the battleship Yamato,” said Charlie Daniki. “Biggest damn battleship in the world, number-one secret. And at the last the damn fools sail it toward Okinawa. Big deal! Yankees drop takusan bombs—no more Yamato. Suicide, same thing as this insane ex-admiral sailing into the volcano area now. When Charlie Daniki commits suicide will be with big insurance all paid for five little Danikis. Today no insurance, goddamn!”

But Charlie, like the rest of us, had the crazy carnival spirit. He was laughing. Deet Byron had a big-faced grin, Satin Shea was smiling, everybody had the giggling look of children who are doing something that's fun, and who think they'll be punished for it.

Maybe it was the contrast, the ordinary, everyday quality of the little ship steaming forward, and the titan nightmare of the steam plume, the unworldly red glow, the fire bombs shooting up from the tortured seas.

“Plenty trouble, huh?” said the Asahi man near me at the rail.

“How about currents? Won't there be tricky whirlpools and surges?” I asked.

“You bet!” he said, grinning.

I tried to think of the way the story should be written for the Stars and Stripes, how to give the feeling of all this, the color, the excitement, the growing tension as the little ship headed toward the Devil Islands, newly born in fire from the bottom of the Pacific.

“Wow!” It was the U.P. photographer, but all the others shouted too. A great white ball of fire had shot up from the churning black sea, had gone high, seemingly almost above us, and had exploded in a ship-shaking roar. We could feel the deck rock as the wave hit us.

“How far?” somebody asked.

“Maybe three miles.”

We looked at each other in the strange light, and suddenly the carnival was over. It wasn't crazy fun any more, it wasn't a scary ride on a brand-new roller coaster with all the excitement just-pretend and ending soon. This was real. We were on a little ship on the night-black Pacific, headed into water still boiling from the lava spat up by a monster volcano a mile deep. We were going into inferno because the Japanese had lost the Pacific war and an ex-admiral on a rusty bridge was trying to show that Bushido still lived.

“Baka.” It was whispered at first among the Japanese newsmen, repeated by the Americans, loud now. “Baka, baka, baka!”

The word means “crazy,” and it was used in the battle of Okinawa to describe the human aerial bombs launched by the Mitsubishi bombers, one-way, man-guided aerial torpedoes.

“Baka!” The captain was crazy.

Then it started. The Yomiuri reporter ran for the bridge and a sailor tried to stop him. Deet Byron ran heavily on the teeter-totter deck, and the U.P. man was shouting; There was a little fight at the bridge ladder.

Satin Shea was bent over her Rollei camera now, one hand on the ship's rail.

“Sometimes I wonder how things would have gone for me if I'd been a Christian,” said Charlie Daniki, standing close to me. “Somehow Buddha has never done much for ol' beat-up Charlie Daniki. But then, how could I explain to Buddha how I happened to get myself in this ridiculous situation?”

It went fast. They were shouting and fighting and then the ship tipped over neatly, like a toy in a bathtub.

The ship tipped over and the black sea came up around us.

Some sudden surge of the volcano-whipped waters, powerful enough to flip over the thousand tons of steel, had hit us like a bear paw touching a mouse.

Black, cold, moving water, and I went down. As the water took me into itself my brain was still screaming the warnings—the sight of the deck slanting, slanting more and not returning, not rocking back; the sudden silence, the quick, quickly hushed yells; the sliding, falling, the dropping, and the giant slap of the black cold water.

Down, with the salt water in my eyes, my nose, my ears, my throat, and struggling arms and legs. Ice biting into my skin and spine. Terror.

We had been at the rail near the bow, and as the ship went over we had been thrown into the water. Maybe the ship fought back, the air within its hull holding it buoyant for a little time as the seas cascaded into its holds and engine room, and then it had exploded and burst, falling through the water torn and dead. I don't know, no one knows.

I fought my way against the terrible pull of the swirling water yards beneath the surface, felt the death pain in my lungs, and tried to swim.

The coldness of the black Pacific bit at my muscles and my belly.

It was like breaking through a thin wall with death on one side and air for my lungs on the other, the thin wall of the surface of the sea. I was breathing, with the water still closing over my head, letting me break through again.

Blackness and bitter cold, with a giant sea cat playing with me, hitting me with water paws of waves, letting me breathe, slapping me under again.

“Yo! Yo! Yo!” It was faint and far away.

“Yo! Yo! Yo!” I could hear it better now, and I Wed to swim toward the sound.

It was Charlie Daniki, barely two yards from me, staying afloat in the ancient sailor's bob, a way of surviving in water without swimming, without burning away the energy of arm and leg muscles. I remembered it and pulled myself into the vertical crouch of the sailor's bob, and found my lungs filling again with air. The terrible, frantic panic was gone.

Charlie had seen me, a blur of white hands and face in the darkness, and had called as best he could. Neither of us could speak.

The darkness had a strange, luminous quality to it from the great plume of steam three miles away, and I could begin to see a little.

Satin. Maybe a dozen feet from us at the rail when the ship tipped over.

Satin!

Through my chattering teeth I tried to yell, and produced only a thin sob. Charlie was gone, and then as the water surge pushed me up on a crest I saw him again, twenty feet away and swimming now, swimming strongly. The water dropped into a trough and I was alone in the bowl of the sea.

Up again as I bobbed and I saw a face, white arms. I straightened into a crawl and swam toward the face, kicking my low shoes off.

Satin was swimming well, working her way out of the fatigue jacket, then using it as a crude balloon for buoyancy. She turned her head toward me and there was recognition, but neither of us tried to speak.

“Yo! Yo!” It was Charlie Daniki again, and as the water lifted Satin and me, I saw him. He was on something, a flat, floating object.

Satin let her improvised shirt balloon collapse and the two of us began to swim toward Charlie.

He was on a hatch cover, maybe ten feet square, its surface a foot above the water. Satin pulled herself over the edge as Charlie helped her, and then I climbed out of the water to the little shallow raft of the hatch cover. The three of us lay flat against the canvas-covered boards, gasping.

“Any others?” Satin asked huskily, minutes later.

I raised myself on my arms and tried to look over the surging waters.

“I can't see anything,” I said.

“Too quick,” said Charlie. “Almost everybody drown under the boat, I think.”

Another fireball exploded in the sky and for a moment the sea was bright. The crashing roar of sound was like the beating of an immense drum.

“Eey!” said Charlie, but his squeal was not caused by the fireball. We seemed to have drifted into a weird fog garden, with wisps of fog rising from the water like wind-whipped trees and bushes. It was suddenly warm.

“Hot water!” Charlie shouted, dipping his hand over the edge of the raft.

I put my hand into the water. It was hot, all right. It was almost boiling and it was the most frightening thing that has ever happened to me.

“Damn!” said Satin faintly. “All that good film gone. I'll never know how it would have come out, and now I'll have to start all over.”

“You're a pretty good woman,” said Charlie. “Me, I'm only worried will we get a chance to start over?”

“There'll be planes soon,” I said. It was a little easier to talk now. “They'll figure something happened when the ship's radio went out. Search planes can be here in an hour or less.”

“It won't be hard to find us,” said Satin. “We're close to the Devil Islands now.”

“Too close,” Charlie said.

The fog ghosts were gone, and the water around us was cold again.

“Must have been a little current of hot water from the eruption.”

“It felt good,” said Satin. “I'm awfully cold.” She had slipped out of her Army pants and shirt while she was swimming.

My own teeth were still clicking a little.

“Lie flat on the raft and bicycle with your legs.”

“Ho-o—” A weak sound in the darkness, maybe close, maybe far away.

“What was that?”

“Somebody. I go see.” Charlie slipped into the water, swimming toward the sound. The steam plume, like a great vertical cloud near us, towering over us, brightened from the glow near its base, and I could see Charlie's arms as he moved away.

I pushed myself toward Satin, put my arm around her. Her almost bare body was cold and shaking.

“Not much warmth in me, either,” I said.

“It feels good. Don't go away.”

“The planes will be here soon. We'll make out.”

“Sure we'll make out,” said Satin.

The water whipped across the low raft and our bodies rolled with each tut and fall. We clung to the lashing across the canvas but our fingers were stiffening with the cold.

“I'm worried about the little man.” Satin's voice was a cracked whisper.

“Charlie. Charlie Daniki, of Mainichi Press. Good man.”

“He saved our lives. Finding this hatch—calling to us.”

“Good man,” I said again.

Both of us were fighting for survival, clinging to the slippery canvas, trying to keep from rolling off the hatch cover, breathing between the whippings of the water as it washed over us, with our bones aching from the cold.

The raft tipped and there were snorting, gasping noises. I turned my head and saw the big body of Deet Byron falling across the canvas. He was fighting for breath, his back heaving in agony.

I looked into the darkness for Charlie.

He was gone and I could guess why. The hatch cover was barely afloat with three of us oh it. Charlie had saved Deet Byron and then had swum away, because if he had climbed back on the raft it would have gone under.

I don't pray often, but I prayed for little Charlie Daniki. Deet Byron sobbed and I wondered if he knew what the Japanese reporter had done for him. No one could blame the Teight bureau chief; the choice had been Charlie's.

Tune without meaning passed for the three of us on the wave-swept raft. Sometimes the night sky brightened with an exploding fireball thrown up by the sea-bottom volcano, or by a glowing of the steam plume; mostly it was dark and cold. I held Satin, and we talked a little, senseless things mostly. Deer Byron had raised himself up once, and looked at us, but said nothing. Charlie was gone, and the night was silent except for the sounds of the sea and the hiss of the steam from the Devil Islands.

It seemed that we were, drifting slowly, and we were moving away from the danger area. Once again we had been warmed by a chance current of hot water and we left it again.

Time without meaning, except for Satin and me.

We were together at a basic level, two human beings warming each other with their body heat, alone and almost wordless. Byron was there, and nearly touching us, but we were alone together. The final, basic level—a man with a woman clinging to life and to each other, with hope.

“This is strange—maybe terrible,” Satin whispered.

“What, Satin?”

“You. You were walking into violence last night when I met you, and since then—”

It was hard to laugh, clinging to the hatch cover, shivering, half drowned from the water washing over us, but I laughed.

“I didn't sink the ship, Satin.”

“But it had to be you and me, you and me together.”

“With Byron.”

Her body shook a little under my arm. “Yes. Always with Byron. Strange.”

“I love you, Satin.”

“I'm going to marry Will. If we live through all this.”

“We'll live through it.”

I tightened my arm around her.

The raft had drifted far enough to have doubled the distance to the steam plume above the raw, new rocks of the Devil Islands. We were at least six miles from the disturbed area now.

“The planes should be here soon,” said Satin.

“Soon.” A half-moon slipped out from the clouds.

The planes would come and we'd be picked up. Americans in the Far East have a special feeling about being lost on the surface of the sea. Whether it's the gray Pacific or the white-riffled water between Japan and Korea, “the planes will come.”

We'd be picked up and rushed back to Tokyo. The doctors would check us over and we'd go our ways. Deet Byron would go back to the fine offices of Teight, Inc., and the soft-footed servants of the Correspondents' Club. I'd go back to the clatter of the Stars and Stripes office, and to the vast concrete barracks of Finance.

Satin would go back to be married to Major General Wilton Duncan, and that would be that. Maybe in the years ahead she'd sometimes remember a t«ugh little night club at the edge of the Shimbashi district of Tokyo, a mile-high plume of glowing steam on a black ocean, a wave-washed raft, a sergeant who talked of love and who had kissed her once.

Once.

My fingers laced through her hair and I pulled her face to mine.

“I love you, Mary Shea.”

It was deep and warm, a wedding-night kiss on a rocking raft beaten by splashing water.

Byron's fist crashed against the side of my head, knocking me away from the girl. He was on his knees, his big body above me, and as I fell away he grabbed me by the throat with his left hand, forcing my head back over the edge of the hatch into the water.

He had me. I tried to push him away but there were only seconds of life left for me, bitter water in my mouth and eyes, his hard fingers tight and cruel on my throat.

Deet Byron was insane with rage and jealousy and fear of the terrible night, the terrible sea. Deet Byron was killing me with his hands.

The fingers relaxed, pulled away, and I tore at the canvas with my hands until I was lying on the hatch cover again. Above me I saw Deet crouched with Satin. She was fighting him.

Byron was cursing her, his hands on her, tearing at her. I pulled myself to my knees on the slippery canvas, stood up, and hit him. Moonlight glistened on his wet, contorted face as he turned to me. I tried to hit him again, and slipped, falling, almost sliding into the sea.

I rolled and was up again, my fists hard on the big man's body.

He yelled, his arms high, fighting for balance. I hit him again and he went over and back, falling into the sea. He screamed once, and as I stood there, Satin next to me, the clouds covered the moon and it was black night.

I dived into the water. I had to find him, help him back to the raft.

There was only the noise of the water in my ears, only blackness, only the sea. I didn't find him.

When I tired, my arms heavy, I swam to the raft, finding it only by the sound of Satin's screaming. I climbed back and fell on the canvas, unable to talk, helpless, hopeless.

It's one thing to fight a man. It's another to kill him.

Even when he's tried to kill you, even if he was mad with brute jealousy and hate.

I lay there, with Satin holding me, sobbing.

“He was crazy, Bob.”

It seemed to be a long time. Satin talked to me and I could only remember the big wet face, moonlit, as it fell away from me into the black water.

Satin and I were alone on the hatch cover, sometimes in the darkness, sometimes in faint moonlight. In the distance was the fading plume of steam from the Devil Islands.

We saw the first star shell a long way off, like a tiny blue-white sun suddenly bright in the sky, hanging there, falling slowly. We could hear the sound of the planes.

“They'll find us, Satin. Maybe the next one.”

“Bob—”

“Yes, darling?”

“Deet Byron was never on this raft. We didn't see him. There was no fight.”

I thought about that for a little bit.

Satin and I had an ugly story to tell, if we told the truth. Any story that ends with a man being knocked off a raft into the uncaring sea is ugly.

But if we changed the details, leaving only the end the same—Deet Byron lost and drowned—there would be no trouble. Change the details beginning, with brave little Charlie Daniki's swimming away from the hatch cover.

If Daniki had not brought Byron back... That's all the change that would be necessary to make an ugly, dangerous story into a simple one of survival.

“You're right, Satin,” I said. “Charlie Daniki swam away, and never came back. We haven't seen any other survivors.”

The second star shell was bright overhead. The plane circled over us. They had seen our raft.

I put my anus around Satin Shea and she pushed me away.

“Don't do it, Bob. It's not for us.”

A wave rocked the raft, throwing a few hundred pounds of water across us, almost tearing us from the canvas cover. Another star shell burned white-bright and I looked at Satin as the water fell away from us. Byron had torn her bra from her as they had struggled. She was flattened against the canvas, her head turned toward me.

“Be good to me, Bob. Forget me.”

“Never. And I'll never stop trying.”

The plane was low over us, and as it passed it dropped a bulging object that struck the water thirty yards away. A life raft.

“Hold on, Satin. I'm going to swim to it.”

“No, Bob! No!”

I slid into the water. This wasn't the pool at home, or the long, lazy beach at Kamakura. This was the violent Pacific, and after ten strokes I felt something colder than the water—fear.

It must have been like this for Deet Byron. The terrible power of the sea, and a man swimming is no more than a water bug to be smashed by a casual surge. When I was high and clear I got a glimpse of the raft, lemon-yellow and almost flat, as the star shell burned.

Slowly the whiteness faded and the black closed in above the black, cold water. High again, and I could not see the raft. Down, with the water a black bowl again.

Up, and another star shell. I turned my head and saw the white body of Satin, the yellow life raft.

Before I reached the long, yellow doughnut of the life raft, two more star shells had burned away in the sky. I climbed over the round edge and fell face down.

You find strength when you have to find it. I ripped open the gear and took a paddle. Satin was only twenty yards away now, and the job of paddling was not impossible. Before I reached the hatch cover she was swimming toward me.

“That was crazy, Bob,” she said, minutes later.

“We made it, Satin.”

Above us the plane was like a guardian angel, circling slowly. There would be a helicopter soon.

.We didn't talk much. Satin was shaking with the bitter chill from the water and the night wind and now I held her close to me her face only inches from mine. It was not a time for talking, not a time for love. Somehow, with her body in my arms, I felt farther away from Satin than I had at any other time since I had met her.

The helicopter came out of the night and lowered itself slowly. By that time both Satin and I were dazed with cold. A ladder almost touched the raft, drifted away as the sea pulled at us, moved closer again. The rescue man climbed down, reached out with one arm as Satin stood up, missed her, and reached again as the 'copter moved with the raft. I saw his arm tighten around her body, pull her up to the ladder.

Two minutes later we were both in the cab, a heavy foul-weather jacket around Satin.

Six minutes more and the 'copter descended gently to the deck of a destroyer. The medics were waiting for us as we came out, and the sailors had only a few seconds to look at Satin's long legs before we were below and wrapped in blankets.

Hot coffee can be the most blessed thing in all the world.

After the first warm wave of coffee spread through me, the executive officer asked me if I was able to talk.

I gave him the story. I told him about the quake and the ship tipping over, Charlie Daniki, the hatch cover, Satin, Charlie sliding into the water again. I did not mention Deet Byron.

One of the yeomen was taking it down in shorthand and everybody was very nice to me. Satin was in a cabin and the ship's officers seemed kind of excited about rescuing Satin Shea.

Everybody was very nice to me until things went bad, bad and quick.

The exec had gone away and now he was back, standing above me.

“Sergeant Lee, are there any changes you want to make in the story you gave us?”

“No, sir. None that I can think of right now.”

“Do you know a Mr. Deet Byron, a civilian newsman?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When was the last time that you saw him?”

I felt as I had when I was swimming in the black-cold sea, with the water a bowl around me as I dropped with the trough of the wave.

Had Satin told them the true story? Or had they found Deet Byron?

“I'll warn you, Sergeant. You may be in trouble. We've just had a message from the other ship on this rescue mission. Their helicopter found Mr. Byron more than thirty minutes ago, apparently less than half a mile from where you and Miss Shea were found. Two of the Japanese crew of the sunken ship, wearing life jackets, were in the water with him, taking turns holding him. Apparently the plane that spotted you and Miss Shea couldn't see the three heads.

“But the other 'copter made a low search and found the three men. Mr. Byron is in very bad condition, Sergeant, but he has made a statement to the officers on that ship. The statement is that he was on the hatch cover with you and Miss Shea. He says you attacked him and pushed him into the water. Is that true, Sergeant?”

Chapter Six

“NO, SIR.” It was a real good question, and I gave the best answer I could think of at the moment. I hadn't attacked Deet Byron, he'd attacked me, and would have drowned me if Satin hadn't pulled him away.

“How do you explain Mr. Byron's statement, Sergeant?”

“I don't understand it, sir.”

The exec was still looking down at me. I was getting away with sitting down during this interview because I was still wrapped in blankets, but the exec's pleasant face was showing some plain thoughts that he'd like to go back to the normal situation of the officer in a chair and the soldier standing at attention.

“Was Mr. Byron ever on that hatch cover with you and Miss Shea?”

So we were down to cases now. Not good, either. Satin had told them the same story that I had, and there was no Deet Byron in that story. Now, if it turned out that we both were lying, there might be some interesting and uncomfortable questions raised. Particularly in the mind of Major General Wilton Duncan, commanding the troops of the 136th Division at Camp Crawford and Chitose, fiance of Satin Shea.

Interesting and uncomfortable questions that also might be asked by a general court-martial board.

Sometimes your mind gives you a quick picture. Mine did as I looked up at the destroyer's executive officer. A quick picture of the Federal Disciplinary Barracks at Lompoc, California. I've never seen them, but my mind gave me a picture of men marching in a dusty courtyard, men in prisoners' fatigue uniforms, and I was one of them.

What are you going to tell the officer, Sergeant Robert E. Lee? I damn well didn't know.

If I said yes, that Deet Byron had been on the hatch cover, I'd make liars out of both Satin and myself. If I kept to our story, Byron could prove that he'd been on it by simply describing it, describing Satin's near nakedness.

“No, sir. I knew Deet Byron. He was not on the hatch cover.”

Of course, Satin might change her story when she learned that Deet Byron was still alive. Back in Mississippi we used to have days like this, but there seem to be more of them in the Far East Command.

“You're sure, Sergeant?”

Not much point to riveting a lie. I smiled and took a real long drink of black, hot coffee. It still tasted good, maybe a little more bitter than it had a few minutes back, but still good.

“But this Japanese reporter was on the cover with you for a while?”

“Yes, sir. He helped save our lives.”

“As I understand the radio message, Sergeant, Mr. Byron mentioned this reporter too.”

“I wouldn't know about that.”

“Hmm.” The exec was in a small bind himself. He was in the position of questioning Miss Satin Shea, top news photographer and quite famous, the future wife—if he knew about it—of a general. He would have to suggest that she might be lying to cover up for a soldier who had tried to kill the bureau chief for the powerful Teight, Inc., magazines. Not so good for a young naval lieutenant who was trying to get along and keep his nose clean in the best traditions of the service.

“Very well, Sergeant.” He turned and left, looking thoughtful.

I got the use of a bunk and some dry clothes. One of the best things I learned as a boy in Oxford, Mississippi, was that when you had problems and no answers, you did well to go to sleep. I did.

When I woke up we were at Yokosuka naval base. I got dressed and washed up. For a while I felt great and then things began to come back to me.

Satin had fought for me, lied for me, but also she had said, “Be good to me, Bob. Forget me.”

And somewhere soon I'd meet some men with questions who wouldn't be as easy with me as the young lieutenant on the destroyer.

I went on deck and there was bright sunshine. The sailor who'd awakened me was waiting.

“They're making a big deal out of this, Sarge. Photographers and reporters and stuff. Only I guess mostly it ain't for you, it's for that doll you was with. Man, I saw her last night when you came aboard, and I was thinking I bet that dogface wished they hadn't got found for a couple of days. Was I right, Sarge?”

“She's going to marry a general, swabbie,” I said.

“Yah, that'd make it all the better. Man, I'd liked to have been on that 'copter. The guys were saving she was just about bare, and real luscious. Sarge—”

The launch was waiting alongside. I went down to it. Satin was amidships with the destroyer's exec and some well-dressed civilians. I guessed they were from World News and some of the other agencies. She waved at me and I said hello. The civilians gave me long, narrow-eyed looks. They must have heard the Deet Byron story.

We went in to the dock at Yokosuka and I saw him when we were still a hundred yards away. A tall, straight man with good shoulders. Good shoulders with the sun glinting on the two stars he wore on each of them.

Major General Wilton Duncan had come down the hundreds of miles from Hokkaido to welcome his rescued bride-to-be. Satin saw him, too, and she stood up to wave.

We bumped gently against the hawsers that protected the dock timbers and the civilians helped Satin—looking lovely and a little lost in a suit of blues with a jacket over it, the jacket probably because destroyers don't carry replacement bras—to the dock, and then she and Duncan were in each other's arms.

It was a bright, sunshiny, lousy crumb of a day. After the civilians clambered off I followed them. Major General Wilton Duncan was waiting for me. I saluted him and he returned the salute, and then reached out to shake hands.

“I have a lot to thank you for, Sergeant.”

“No, you don't, sir,” I said, but I had to take his hand. He gave a man's handshake, warm, dry, hard, with plenty of squeeze, his gray eyes looking into mine.

The photographers and the reporters were being kept back by four big S.P. guards. I saw the top girl writer on the Pacific Stars and Stripes, a staff sergeant in the WAF, Pat Metz. She knew more about news and how to find it than any reporter I've ever met.

Duncan and Satin walked to one side of the dock, with the General bending over a little so that they could talk quietly and privately. A naval officer gave the word to the S.P. guards and they let the newsmen through to me, but Still blocked off General Duncan and Satin Shea.

“Hi, Bob,” said Pat. “Try to give me something exclusive. We've got two hours before we close. Tell me the works and I'll phone it in.”

“The ship tipped over. A kind of a little tsunami, a volcanic wave. A reporter from Mainichi was in the water with us and he found the hatch cover.”

If I kept on I'd be lying to Pat and I didn't much care to do that. Besides, Pat is sharp; she can spot a lie damn fast. She was the girl that got the exclusive with the Japanese Communist member of the Diet who wanted to tell all, and she was the girl that broke the big secret about the Japanese fishing boats that were secretly trading with the Russians. Not a good girl to lie to.

“The rest of it is pretty standard air-sea rescue stuff, Pat. Star-shell flares, life raft, helicopter, destroyer. The regular routine.”

Pat had slid expertly into a position where she blocked the men from the Nippon Times, the Japan News, and the big Tokyo papers away from us.

“Are you under some kind of security hush, Bob?”

“Why, no. Nobody's said anything.”

“Something's funny here. Far East Naval wants to clear all stories about this rescue before the Stripes prints anything. I've got the feeling that there's something wrong in this rescue someplace. Do you know what it is?”

I couldn't cross Staff Sergeant Pat Metz of the Pacific Stars and Stripes.

“Probably about Deet Byron. He was rescued and he's made a charge that I pushed him off the raft we were on.”

“Oh-oh. Did you?”

“It's a long story, Pat.”

She put her hand on my arm. The others were crowding around us now.

“Deet Byron died early this morning. Bob. That's all we know. They haven't released anything else. But I've got some good news for you—the helicopter search found your old pal from Mainichi Press, Charlie Daniki. Alive and cold, bobbing around in the Pacific two hundred miles from land.”

I was damn glad to hear that Charlie Daniki was alive, even if he'd swing open the doors of the prison at Lompoc for me, which is what he would do when he told his story.

“Can you give me some description of the Devil Islands, Bob?”

The other reporters were being pushed aside by a photographer and I was looking past Pat toward Satin and General Duncan.

“We got there at night, Pat. A big column of steam and a lot of little eruptions that acted like shells being shot straight up. Much noise, and pretty spectacular, but we didn't see the islands. Only the steam and the fireballs.”

“Pardon me.” This was a hulking man in civilian clothes, and there was another, slimmer man behind him. “You folks will have to break this up. We want to talk to Sergeant Lee alone.”

They all stayed bunched around me, until the hulking man flipped back the side of his wallet and said, “C.I.D. This is official business.”

C.I.D:—the Criminal Investigation Division of the Provost Marshal's office, the plain-clothes cops of the Army.

The reporters, mostly Japanese, faded back; their eyes seem to get brighter and blacker and almost all of them had their mouths open a little. Only Pat stayed there. She might be merely an enlisted woman in the Air Force, but she wasn't backing away because of a badge and the word “Official.”

“Sergeant,” the C.I.D. boy said to her, “you'll have to take off. This is private and confidential.”

“Does it have to do with Deet Byron?” she asked, her blonde hair golden around the blue-gray of her soft uniform cap.

“Has Sergeant Lee made any statements to you about Mr. Byron?”

“No. Are you including Miss Shea in this inquiry?” she asked.

“We're not giving out any information. You'll have to leave now.”

She didn't move. “Bob, anything you want to tell me; if the Stripes can't print it, I'll give it to the boys at United Press.”

The slim C.I.D. man had his hand on her shoulder, starting to push.

“Yes, Pat! He was on our raft. He attacked me and fell off during—”

“A big hand was over my mouth, and my right arm was locked behind my back, bending me over. Those guys practice being fast at this kind of stuff. I was looking at the scrubbed planks of the dock, and I was hurting; the big hand that seemed like a catcher's glove pushed my lips back against my teeth and shoved my nose up.

But Pat had her exclusive and she'd get it on the wires fast. There was no point in lying, now, not with Charlie Daniki alive.

The big hand moved away from my face and my arm was free. I straightened up and turned to the two C.I.D. men standing at attention, facing Major General Wilton Duncan. I felt Satin's hands on my arms before I saw her face.

“What's the meaning of this?” Duncan was asking.

“You know about Deet?” Satin whispered.

“He's dead. And Charlie Daniki's alive, Satin. We'll tell the-truth now.”

The C.I.D. men were explaining something to the General. He nodded, and I could hear him say, “Very well. But no more of that stuff. Treat the Sergeant with the respect a noncommissioned officer who is being called as a witness deserves. You aren't breaking up a brawl in Chitose, Lieutenant!”

“Yes, sir.”

“I'll take the responsibility for Miss Shea. We will be at the Provost Marshal's office at three, after Miss Shea has had an opportunity to rest and to change clothes.”

“Yes, sir!”

The two stars of a major general, particularly one still in his early forties, don't come easily, but they sure-do an awful lot for a man. I looked at the tall, straight man, his hair graying at the sides below his garrison cap. He was wearing a regular officers' O.D. uniform, not the fancier Class A dark green jacket and “pink” trousers. I saw the six rows of ribbons before he turned to Satin and put his arm around her.

But I had held her and kissed her, and she had said, “Be good to me.” She had fought a man to save my life.

They walked away together, down the dock, and the two C.I.D. men waited until they were gone.

“Come on, Sergeant, and keep your mouth shut,” said the hulking agent.

“We ought to hold that Air Force girl for a few hours. She's got information that isn't supposed to be released.” The slim agent spoke in a soft, low voice.

“Hell, she took off like a bird just before that general butted in,” said the heavy lieutenant in the civilian clothes of the C.I.D. “Let's go.”

They had a Chevrolet sedan, painted black, as all our cars are now in the Far East, with a Japanese driver. I got in the back seat, between the two C.I.D. agents.

I didn't say anything and they didn't say anything. It was a quiet ride from Yokosuka naval base to the Provost Marshal's office in Tokyo..

There wasn't much to think about. I was going to tell the truth, Satin would tell the truth, Charlie Daniki would tell the truth, and they'd have whatever Deet Byron told them on Destroyer 848 before he died. Out of all that somebody would be believed, and that was that. I didn't think about Satin. About her I just felt lonely and empty. The car joined the jangling, swarming traffic of downtown Tokyo. I heard the old sounds—the squawk of horns from the rattling taxis and the three-wheeled trucks, the tinkle of bicycle bells as their drivers scooted between cars, the rasp of the spoken advertising from the loud-speaker, kiosks on each corner, and lower, the shuffling clatter of wooden sandals on the sidewalks.

We turned into the driveway of the Provost Marshal's office, the car stopped, and the two C.I.D. men walked me into the building. I was wearing the clothes I'd signed for on the destroyer, navy blues like those Satin had worn.

“Where you billeted, Sergeant? Finance Building?” the slim man asked.

“Yes.”

The slim one turned to the big one. “Should we send over for his stuff?”

“No. We'll wait on Major Forbes. Whatever he wants to do.”

They took me to a small room. Four chairs, a desk, nothing else.

“Sit down, Sergeant.”

I did, and they pulled up chairs to face me.

“What do you want to tell us about this, Sergeant?”

“What's this?”

“Sergeant, I'm Lieutenant Gregory.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We want the story of what happened last night. The whole story in your own words. We're not trying to cause you trouble, Sergeant, we simply want the correct story.”

“Yes, sir.”

“O. K., Sergeant. Start talking.”

I gave the story simply, and when I finished telling it I could see the great big hole that was left.

“As you tell it, Sergeant,” said the thick-bodied man, “Mr. Byron suddenly attacked you for no reason. Miss Shea helped you defend yourself and then you pushed Mr. Byron off the raft. Right?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. That's the way it happened.”

“Any idea why Byron should do that?”

“No.”

“Had you ever met before? Before being on the boat, I mean?”

I felt as if I were walking downhill.

“Yes. Last night. At the Correspondents' Club.”

“Oh? Tell me more.”

C.I.D. boys are maybe great—at least, I've met some pleasant ones while doing Stripes assignments—but they are likely to have some wrong qualities, too. One of them comes from watching their damn training films, which seem to be written by the same man that writes “Mr. District Attorney.” They're taught to act as if they saw all, knew all, and were barely able to restrain their violently righteous indignation in the presence of a criminal. They see these lousy training films and after a while they try to act that way. I've watched them interrogate and sometimes it's kind of funny.

It isn't so damn funny when they're interrogating you.

“We didn't talk much to each other. Casual stuff.”

“When was the last time you saw Mr. Byron before meeting him on the boat yesterday morning?”

Score one, a bad hit amidships. “He drove me back to my billet at Finance the night before.”

The big man actually said, “Ah-ha!” Damn if he didn't.

“You were kind of close, then, Sergeant, if he took the trouble to drive you home, right?”

“Wrong. We'd hardly talked. He was driving and I was alone, and that's how it happened.” Almost how it happened, at least, I thought.

“Are enlisted personnel from the Stars and Stripes members of the Correspondents' Club?”

“No, Lieutenant.”

“How did you happen to be-there?”

Another hit. I felt like the Japanese battleship Yamato when our planes found it.

“I was a guest of Miss Shea.”

The agents looked at each other and turned back to look at me like two old beagle hounds that had treed a varmint in the scrub hills back of Oxford.

“You knew Miss Shea?”

“I met her that night.”

“You did? Where?”

“At the Come Again Club.”

“You mean that enlisted hangout between the viaduct and the canal at the edge of Shimbashi?”

“That's right.”

“That place is a joint, a low joint. How did you happen to meet Miss Shea there?”

“I got involved in a brawl with some Commonwealth troops. She warned me they were ganging up outside the place waiting for me. Then she took pictures of the brawl and we got to talking.”

“She was there alone?”

“No, sir. She was with Deet Byron.”

“I see. And then the three of you left for the Correspondents' Club?”

“No, sir. Miss Shea and I went to the Rocker Club. We met Byron again later at the Correspondents' Club.”

“Hmmm.” Those training films for C.I.D. men all have scenes showing the interrogator going “Hmmm.” This boy might have had some excuse for it.

“How did Miss Shea get home that night?”

“She's staying with friends. They took her home.”

“And Mr. Byron drove you to the Finance Building billet?”

“That's right, sir.”

“And the next day he tried to push you off this raft— tried to kill you?” '

“It looked that way. He seemed to be fixing to kill me, Lieutenant.”

“But Miss Shea came to your aid?”

“Yes.”

“And instead you threw Mr. Byron into the water?”

“I jumped in after him and tried to find him.”

“But you didn't find him, did you?” This was the big scene of indignation where the criminal cows before the righteous violence—properly restrained—of the interrogator. Lieutenant Gregory's face was red, his fists were balled tight.

“No.”

“And then you lied to the officers on the rescue ship, didn't you, Lee?” His eyes were popping a little. It's quite impressive when it's happening to you.

“Yes.”

“You lied because you had deliberately and intentionally thrown Mr. Byron into the sea to drown, didn't you, Lee?”

“No.”

“Mr. Byron's statement, made and signed by him on Destroyer Eight-four-eight before competent witnesses, says that you did. He died, by the way, Lee, of a heart condition aggravated by exposure. We may not be able to convict you of murder”—he paused, leaped up, pushed his finger toward my face—“but we can convict you of an attempt to commit murder. The penalty for that, Lee, can be twenty years at hard labor. Do you want to sign a confession?”

“No.”

He sat down, and now his voice was easy, cajoling, friendly. “But be reasonable, Sergeant. You are trying to tell us that Mr. Byron, the respected, responsible head of one of the most important news bureaus in the Far East, wantonly attacked you, a sergeant. Mr. Byron, before he died, accused you of attacking him. Who do you think the court will believe?”

“There's another witness, Lieutenant.”

Gregory looked at me, the lids of his eyes unfolding slowly until I was being watched from two fleshy slits.

“You would do well, Lee, not to bring Miss Shea into this.”

Someone knocked on the closed door behind us. The slim man opened it. A soldier stood there and he spoke to the slim man. He waited as the slim agent turned to Lieutenant Gregory and said, “General Duncan is here. He has the Provost Marshal's permission to speak to Sergeant Lee now, alone.”

The heavy head on the thick shoulders nodded slowly.

“Yeah, that figures. O. K., Lee. Go with this man.”

Chapter Seven

WILTON DUNCAN was waiting for me in another room much like the one I had left. The M.P. soldier who had acted as my guide saluted the General, said something about Corporal Schwartz bringing Sergeant Lee, saluted again, and left, closing the door behind him. Duncan had answered both salutes, not in the usual half wave of general officers, but smartly, as if he meant them.

“Sit down, Sergeant.” I felt the impact of his eyes. How had I heard them described? “Like a couple of bullets coming toward you?”

“This will be man to man, not general and sergeant Understand?”

“Yes, Duncan,” I said. If you've soldiered at all, this is not easy to do. I had to do it, not because I didn't like the man, but because I loved his woman, and this was no time for chicken on either side.

His dark-gray eyebrows shot up, came down slowly. His mouth was tight and he looked at me for a long time.

“What kind of a man are you?” he asked.

“A man. Reporter. Not married. Getting out soon. I was raised in Oxford, Mississippi.”

“Not a regular?”

“No, sir.” That one slipped out, but it's bound to happen. “Signed up when the Korea thing was going, not re-enlisting.”

“Why did you and Miss Shea tell the officers of the destroyer that you had been alone on that hatch cover, Lee? Why did you both lie?”

“It seemed best at the time. I suppose you know the whole story now?”

“I suppose I do. Maybe I'm not sure that I do. Do you understand?”

The eyes never wavered, never left mine. I didn't answer.

He waited a bit and then said, “You know you're in trouble?”

“The C.I.D. has just been telling me that.”

“How is Miss Shea involved in this, boy?”

“Not at all. Byron lost his head, we had a fight. I tried to find him after he was in the water.”

“Miss Shea told this lie to protect you?”

“It seemed the best at the time, as I said. It wasn't intentional, and we thought Byron was dead.”

“Did you make any advances toward Miss Shea on that raft—either before or after the fight with Byron?”

These tall, hard, knowing men are hard to figure. I didn't know what was going to happen after I answered.

“Yes, I did. Before the fight. I'm in love with her.”

It was like falling, that silence while we both waited. Like falling, waiting to hit.

Major General Wilton Duncan stood up, tall, straight, slim, and hard-bodied, the six rows of ribbons soft colors against the smooth olive drab of his jacket, his eyes aiming deep into mine.

“I could kill you with my hands, now, here. You know that?”

I was standing, too.

His voice was low, clear, cold. “I'm an officer in the United States Army and I would be betraying my service if I touched you. But I'm a man. I'll tell you what I think.

“I think Miss Shea is terrified of you. I think you tried to assault her and that Byron was thrown into the water trying to protect her. I think she lied because she was nearly out of her mind with fear, numb from exposure.

“You've admitted making advances toward the lady who will become my wife in the very near future. When she was found she was almost nude. Maybe you can thank God for the uniform we both wear—because God knows I want to kill you!”

Maybe if I'd been raised by different folks than my own I could have said something more, but for me there was nothing to say now. It wouldn't do much good to say that it had been Deet Byron that had torn her clothes away, or to explain that Byron had attacked me because I was kissing Satin. She wanted to marry this man, and while I didn't figure on lying about how I felt, I couldn't talk up and say that maybe Satin felt almost the same way I did in a crazy way. Duncan thought poorly of me, but he wasn't likely to think better of me if he knew the whole truth. Nor did it matter.

“That's all, Lee. Report back to where you came from, and remember that if I ever find you when either one of us is out of the sendee, I'll break your spine. Get out.”

I was standing straight, almost at attention. I saluted Major General Wilton Duncan. I waited, my stiff fingers touching my forehead. He brought his hand up, his face expressionless, his eyes not leaving mine. My arm dropped to my side. I did an about-face, opened the door, and left the room.

He was a big, strong, hard man, and he had made life be good to him, winning out over less able men. I could understand that he must believe as he did about the lovely woman he would marry. It was a sorry mess, and it looked as if most of the dirt would end up on me.

The corridor was empty. Down it, a few doors, was another little room with Lieutenant Gregory and the other agent waiting to work on me a little more until I made a confession. Whether I did or didn't wouldn't matter too much.

There would be a court-martial, a big production of a general court-martial. I'd have counsel and a fair go, they'd have the dying statement of Deet Byron. Unless Satin Shea was able to make them see exactly what did happen on that hatch cover, and what had led up to it, I'd get those twenty long years just on the basis of what Byron had told the officers of the other destroyer before he died.

But if Satin told the truth, it would make her look either like a woman half in love with Sergeant Robert E. Lee, or like a woman who was fighting off the love-making I was forcing on her when Byron hit me. Depending on how she said it, she could make them see it either way.

One way was no good for her, not if she intended to many that tall, hard, successful man. The other way was no good for me.

I couldn't see a way out.

I could remember Duncan shaking hands with me on the dock; that was before he heard about Byron from Satin, before he had heard the rest of the story. I could remember kissing Satin; but that was after the fight I had won and the fine evening we had together, and the other time was on the raft. Now it was all changed around her, Duncan was with her, and the time with me was a nightmare, maybe not too clear any more, maybe mixed-up and fuzzy.

The panic and the anger rose in me like twin fireballs from the Devil Islands—blind, senseless panic, bitter, undirected anger.

I was wearing sailor's blues. I had no money. There was no place to run for escape. I wouldn't have a chance.

But I ran.

I knew this building, I'd been here often for the Stars and Stripes. There would be guards at the doors to see that no one left without a pass. Duncan would come out of the little office where he'd talk to me any second; if he saw me he'd have me taken back to the C.I.D. agents and my long slide to the cell in Lompoc or Leavenworth would begin.

My swabbie's round white hat was in my trousers, where I'd stuck it more than an hour ago on the destroyer. I put it on my head, squared it. Then I walked quickly to the bend at the far wall of the building, went down a flight of stairs to the doorway. Two glistening M.P.'s were standing at the doors. My problem was to get by them without a pass.

I came up to the taller of the two. He looked at me without interest, his braid gleaming white, his gloves even whiter, his .45 holster shining black.

“Is Commander Johnson's car here?” I asked.

“Who?”

“Commander Johnson. Naval Intelligence.”

“I haven't seen any car.”

“He sent me down to see if it's waiting and to send the driver back to the pool.”

“I don't know anything about it.”

“Has any boy-san driver been here asking for the Commander?”

“No.”

“Well, he's supposed to go back to the pool. Commander Johnson told—” I stopped, looked past the M.P. to the other side of the street There was the usual line of staff cars parked along the curb. “That's him, over there. I'll tell him myself. Thanks.”

I walked through the doors, across the street toward the cars. It was a plausible story, but I knew something of M.P.'s. He'd be watching me, with the indifferent, continual suspicion that lives beyond the eyes of the Military Police.

I crossed the street, dodging a squawking taxi and some bicycles. I went to one of the cars with naval markings stenciled on the black body paint The Japanese driver looked up as I approached him.

“Who are you driving for?” I asked.

He smiled. “Commander Holden,” he said, missing the r's and l's. “I driver all the time, Commander Holden.”

“Do you know a Commander Johnson?” If he did, it was more than I did.

“Tokusan Commander Johnsons.” He began to count on his fingers. I looked back toward the entrance to the Provost Marshal's office, which was not the entrance the two agents had used when they brought me in. The M.P.'s were looking somewhere else by now. I'd stepped out to talk to the driver of a naval staff car and that was what I was doing, so they lost interest in me.

I stepped around the car and walked quickly, but not too quickly, along the sidewalk.

Sergeant Robert E. Lee, under suspicion of attack on a civilian, which attack led to the death of the civilian, was now a fugitive.

A fugitive without money, or much chance of escape.

As I walked I wondered why I had done it. All I could answer myself was that I had to do it. There wasn't any foolish idea of a permanent escape. It's been done in Japan; a few men have gone AWOL or escaped from prison stockades and have disappeared into the sordid hell of the Yoshiwari or the Shimbashi districts, or have vanished into the villages beyond the mountains. A few men, and someday their money will run out, or their musumes will talk too much, or an M.P. will stop them in a Shimbashi alley or a village street; but mostly it will be the little, intent, efficient men in the blue uniform of the Japanese police that will grab them, jail them.

I had no hope of any permanent escape; I'd just reverted to being a Mississippi boy who didn't want to be locked up in a cell. Maybe, alone, in a few hours I could figure how to get out of this mess.

The new mess I'd mixed up for myself became clear as I went along the crowded street away from the headquarters of the U.S.Army Provost Marshal. I was wearing an illegal uniform. I had no MPC, the scrip money of the American armed forces, which is all that can be used in PX's, clubs, and other service installations. I had no yen. I had no passes or identification to show if I was stopped by any of the armed-forces police. I was hungry.

But I wasn't in a cell. I wasn't sitting at a table while C.I.D. agents tried to act as their training films had taught them. And maybe, somehow, I could see Satin Shea.

I walked toward the only place I might find help: a tawdry little dance joint above a bazaar alley in the Ginza-Nishi district. It wasn't a very nice place that I was headed toward, and it was run by a very unnice old character, but I was hungry. A man can't do himself much good when he's hungry. Besides, old Asahi-san had a telephone.

I turned down the bazaar of Five-chome, Ginza-Nishi. A falling-apart taxi squeezed by me; two giant Ethiopian infantry officers in U.S.Army clothes brushed past, talking in high voices the language of the mountains of Abyssinia, ten thousand miles away; a fat Japanese peasant girl, wearing only a cotton dress, scrubbed the paving in front of a clock shop.

The sign in English read: “Upstairs. Nicest Little Place in Tokyo.” This was the Haji-Basha, run by Asahi-san, Mr. Morning Sun. Some of the Stripes crowd came here occasionally and it was pleasant enough, even though Asahi-san himself was a powdered and perfumed sack of evil, and from here radiated tendrils of sin to every thief, pimp, black marketeer, and criminal of the Shimbashi district, half a mile away.

I went up the stairs, narrow, smelling of stale beer and dance-girl perfume.

One of the day-shift dance girls heard my shoes on the stairs and she was waiting for me at the top with a stainless-steel-edged smile.

“Harro, sairor,” she said.

“Hi. Is Asahi-san here?” I asked, reaching the top of the stairs and walking past her through the short corridor into the tiny cafe with its three-foot bar and two booths, where half the midget dance floor was taken over by an immense jukebox.

“I go see. You want drink?”

That sounded like the best idea of the day. In the shape I was in, hungry and tired and low, a drink would go off in me like a skyrocket, and I could stand a few skyrockets.

“Sure. A tall Canadian and soda.”

“Hokay, I get. You want music too, maybe, please?”

“No music.”

Her face saddened. She probably never got tired of listening to the American records in the jukebox, and she couldn't hear them unless somebody fed ten-yen pieces into it. “Hokay.”

“You get Asahi-san first.”

“Hokay.” She disappeared into the curtained room behind the bar.

He came waddling out, fat, perfumed, rouged, evil. The little eyes almost hidden above the pink-and-purple cheeks glanced at my face, recognized Sergeant Robert E. Lee of the Stars and Stripes, glanced over my sailor blues.

“No good. Whattsa matter you, GI? You clazy?” He turned and began to waddle back. Asahi-san was never one to burden himself with somebody else's troubles, and he could see trouble from here to Yokohama in a February fog.

“Money, Asahi-san, takusan money.” He turned like an immensely fat poodle suddenly yanked by a leash, not fast, but he had to turn to me again.

“You speak,” he said. Which means, in GI-Japanese, “What do you have for me?”

The dance girl brought me my drink and I took a long swallow while the fat man stood above me, the perfume rolling off him like sweet smoke.

“Money? MFC? Yen? Dorrars?” Asahi-san felt about money the way a heroin addict feels about the white powder. As long as he thought I had come to him on a money deal, he was hooked.

What I had to break gently to Asahi-san was that the money would go from him to me. This would be distressing news to the big pansy. I let him wait while I finished the drink. I was right about the skyrockets; I could feel them exploding way down in me.

“You speak, prease,” said Asahi-san, looking annoyed under the thicknesses of powder and rouge. “You speak about money, huh?”

“I need some.”

Asahi-san turned, like a small merry-go-round starting up. “Never happen.”

“But I can pay good. In dollars on the Tokyo branch of the Bank of America.”

The merry-go-round reversed itself, the pink-and-purple face looked down at me again.

“You have dorrars in haccount?”

“More than a thousand. Same as four Hundred thousand yen.”

The beady eyes looked at me with hurt contempt. Asahi-san could quote the exact rate of dollar-yen exchange under any normal circumstance: drunk rates of exchange, gambling rates of exchange, girl rates of exchange, any kind of rate of exchange.

“Why you not get MFC for your dorrars? Huh?”

“I'm wanted by the police.”

The merry-go-round went into action again as the fat man turned, sending out little cyclones of perfume.

But this one was a fake. He was in the kind of deal he loved: a soldier with a solid source of money, and the soldier in trouble. If Asahi-san prayed, he prayed for deals like this. I waited him out, saying nothing. The warm skyrockets inside me felt good and I had half a Mississippi notion to get plain drunk.

He began to waddle away waiting for me to talk. When I remained silent he came back, this time wedging himself into the booth seat opposite me. He lapped over the edge of the tabletop.

“What kind of trouber, huh?”

“You read Mainichi or Yomiuri?”

He nodded. “Not see yet.”

“Get one.” It would save time explaining. He called the dance girl, gave her some yen notes, and sent her running.

“Where's your telephone?” I asked.

“Maybe you get me in trouber?”

I got up, leaned across the table, and took his nose between my fingers. “Asahi-san, you remember the fake thousand-yen notes? You remember me? Big Jim White from the Stars and Stripes and Sergeant Lee?”

His nose slipped out from my fingers. He yelped and said, “Hokay! Hokay!”

It had been three months ago. White and I had run across a tricky deal—Koreans in the swarming slums of Shinjuku district were counterfeiting thousand-yen Japanese bank notes and using them in a three-way black-market deal with American soldiers who bought tariff-free cameras and watches, selling them in the Shimbashi. White had done most of the tracing, but I had found the lead to Asahi-san and the Haji-Basha cafe. The Stars and Stripes broke the story after we'd worked with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and everybody got arrested except Asahi-san. He'd covered his part of the deal carefully and the police planned to leave him alone until they could catch him cold on some future trick. I knew he was a little nervous about the matter, even now, and I knew that he was well acquainted with the names of Jim White and Bob Lee, of the Pacific Stars and Stripes.

He rubbed his nose now and said, “You no good. You number-one trouber!”

“Where's your phone?”

He pointed to the room behind the bar. I got up and he unwedged himself, grunting. As I walked around the little bar and back to the phone he stayed right with me. Asahi-san stayed fat by not trusting anybody any time. He knew damn well he wouldn't stay fat long in a Japanese prison.

There was a stolen USAFE telephone book on the table, the book that lists the numbers of all American installations. I looked up the number of Karl's magazine bureau in the publications section, dialed the bureau number, and asked for the phone number of his home. A Japanese clerk there gave it to me.

I dialed the number. There was the ringing signal and a maid answered. “Miss Shea, please.”

“You wait, please.” Then I heard her voice.

“Hello?”

“Satin—”

“Bob! Where are you?”

“In Tokyo.”

“Bob! Will called me a little while ago. He says you escaped from the Provost Marshal's office and there's an alarm out for you.”

“That's right, Satin. I did.”

“Why? Why run away, Bob? We can just tell the truth, both of us. They'll believe us, and it will be all right.”

“Will it, Satin? Why did Byron hit me? Can we tell them that?”

“He was crazy with fear. Any reason. It doesn't matter, Bob. Where—”

“I've already told your man the truth.”

“Oh.”

I waited for her. It was a little while and then she spoke again.

“That's all right, Bob. In a way I'm glad you did. I'm a pretty honest person myself. At least, I try. That still doesn't keep you from facing this thing. You've done nothing wrong. I know you jumped in and tried to find him in the darkness.”

“There was a squeeze on me, back there at the Provost Marshal's. I guess I pushed the panic button, Satin. I'm not sure why.”

“What are you going to do now, Bob?”

“I'm not sure.”

“Go back to the Provost Marshal. We'll tell the truth and that's it.”

“They've got a dying statement from Byron that says something else. They've got the fact that we lied once already, Satin. Your man thinks you lied out of fear of me. He thinks I tried to attack you on that raft and Byron died protecting you.”

“Good Lord!”

“In a twisted way, it's a little bit true, Satin. I wasn't attacking you, and Byron wasn't trying to protect you— but it's still a little bit true.”

“Will thinks that?”

“He'd like to kill me. Maybe it would make a nice fight, Satin.”

“But then if I tell the truth—”

“It's going to be hard to convince a man like Duncan that his fiance would let some other man make love to her. A lot of things that he probably has always believed about himself and his world would topple.”

“I wonder.” She spoke slowly.

“I'll figure some out for me, Satin.”

“No, Bob, no. If we made love, even a little bit, Fm as much to blame as you. Regardless of what happens, we'll tell the simple truth. I can't let you be a fugitive, hiding from a crime that never happened.”

“Satin, darling.”

“Don't call me that, Bob. Let's start all over. I'm in love with Will Duncan and we're getting married. The other thing is different. I don't want to see you in trouble; I like you and I think you're a good guy. We can be—”

“Friends. Sure. And the next time I see you, ma'am, no matter where it is, or when it is, or who is there, I'm kissing you as I did on that hatch cover last night. And you'll respond the way you did and we'll go on from there.”

Silence. Then, “Bob, go back to the Provost Marshal. I'll be there at three. We'll tell them the truth and that will be that.”

“That will be ten, maybe twenty years for me, Satin darling. That's what the C.I.D. boys promised me.”

“Bob! Will is just coming in. Good-by!”

“Good-by, darling.”

I turned around and looked at Asahi-san, who had listened to the whole thing. He was looking at me with sublime contempt.

“C.I.D. promise you twenty years, huh? Rong time.”

“So right,” I said.

For a moment I thought of going back to the Provost Marshal's office. Satin had made it sound simple and easy. Then I remembered the eyes of the heavy-bodied Lieutenant Gregory, the eyes of Major General Wilton Duncan. Still, I was being a damn fool to try to run away.

Asahi-san was looking at the newspaper his dance girl had brought. His caked, carmine-red lips moved slowly as he told the story he was reading to himself. He had the Mainichi, one of the great newspapers of the world, with a circulation of around three million copies daily. He looked up, and his mouth was a little bit open.

“Never happen,” he said. “You go now. You more than number-one trouber.”

“What does it say?”

“Big news. You push big man to drown. You take general's girl.” He made the old finger gesture. “Much excitement. Twenty years, I don't think so.” He put his fat hands around his puffed neck and pushed up, his tongue lolling on one side of his mouth.

“I think maybe, huh? Now you go the hell out.”

Chapter Eight

“I'M HUNGRY, ASAHI-SAN.”

He told me what I could eat, and I jumped up, grabbed him by the unclean-feeling collar of his robe, and put the heel of my left hand under his nose, pushing up enough to hurt a little bit. Maybe, long ago, when he had been a lean, tough boy instead of a fat soft man, Mr. Morning Sun would have fought. Maybe he still remembered the mean tricks of the Yoshiwari alleys, and knew that the next thing I would do would be to shove his head back with my left hand and then bring my left elbow hard to the point where his lidded, shiny black eyes joined his flat nose. Whether he knew it or not, that was the next play for him.

The noises he made were a series of squeaks, and he was unhappy. Behind him the dance girl looked at us with big eyes, her hands high.

“Hokay! Hokay!”

I took my hand away and wiped it on my shirt.

“You very bad man.”

“Bad man.” The echo was from the dance girl. Then she giggled and put her hands over her face. For her it would be easy to move from fear to laughter, especially at frog-bodied Asahi-san.

“You know what I want,” I said to him.

“You hungry?”

“I want civilian clothes, thirty, maybe forty thousand yen, and a place to stay tonight.” I'd made up my mind as to what I was going to do. No Provost Marshal's office; they'd heard the best that I could tell them, they hadn't believed it, and now they'd keep working on me for a confession. I wasn't going to be worked on.

I was going to get to Charlie Daniki, remind him of what he had heard Deet Byron say to me at the rail of the doomed ship. I was going to set up evidence that Deet Byron had been drunk just before the wreck, that he had tried to pick a fight with me.

Then I would go to Wilton Duncan and tell him that it had been Deet Byron and not Bob Lee that would have taken Satin Shea by force if he could on the wet, cold canvas of that drifting hatch cover.

Right now I wanted food, and another whisky skyrocket inside. I wanted clothes and money in my pocket.

Asahi-san was looking at me, and the thoughts behind his crow eyes were probably devious and none too good for Sergeant Robert E. Lee. But then, this hadn't been my day to be among friends. Satin and Pat Metz were the only ones.

“How much you pay? How. I get it?”

“I've saved up around eleven hundred dollars. It's in the Tokyo branch of the Bank of America. Whatever I cost you now, I pay double in yen.”

“Never happen. You bad man. C.I.D. catch, Tokyo porice catch me. Pay three times?”

“Pay double.”

This was nonsense, and I knew it. Asahi-san didn't know yet how much he could stick me for, or exactly how he'd do it. He knew he was a fair hand at sticking, and he figured he'd get the real chance later. This was just talking because he liked this kind of talking. “Hokay. What I spend you pay two times.” I had a sudden feeling that the smartest thing Robert E. Lee, once of Oxford, Mississippi, could do would be to double-time right to the Provost Marshal's office. On the double into a nice safe cell, far away from Mr. Morning Sun of the cafe Haji-Basha. “You rike steak, maybe, bifsteak, huh?” The feeling of running back into the arms of the Army left me, and I had a hunch, vague, formless, but strong. Play it this way, Lee.

If nothing else, it wouldn't be dull. Part of my hunch took shape, a sort of insight. Asahi-san had a soldier who was in trouble. He'd find uses for that soldier, and I wanted to know what those uses would be.

The counterfeit thousand-yen-note was only one of many deals that this fat, perfumed soft man had, and most of those deals would have as their final target the troops the United States armed forces in the Far East.

Show me something, Asahi-san, I thought. Maybe it will be dangerous to look, but I want to see some of your deals. See them and write them, because first of all I'm a newspaperman.

“Yeah, I'd like some steak. Medium rare, and the whole works to go with it.”

A smile wrinkled the purplish powder on the sin-nibbled face. He spoke to his dance girl in Japanese. I figured he was sending her across the narrow bazaar alley to the good restaurant there.

Typically Tokyo, that restaurant. Outside and in it looked like a fine French restaurant in New York, and it offered fine French cuisine: lobster, charcoal steaks, pastries. A couple of years back the Tokyo restaurant trust had sent its busy little men with cameras and notebooks to copy a New York French restaurant—exterior, decorations, menu, recipes, everything. Even the waiters wore carefully copied tuxedos.

There might be a slight taste of seaweed or squid to the steak, but that wouldn't matter. I was hungry enough to enjoy anything, especially steak.

“Maybe whisky, huh?” said Asahi-san as the girl left.

“Sure.” Something told me that I'd better not have too many whiskies with my fairy godmother, but I'd risk one more.

He poured me a tall, brown one.

“I get crothes.” He took a good look at me, and went to his telephone.

An hour later I was remembering how good the steak had tasted, and I was in the back room putting on the clothes he'd ordered. The dance girl with the stainless-steel teeth was there to help me, taking out underwear, socks, a shirt, trousers, coat, shoes, and tie from the big boxes that had been delivered to the Haji-Basha.

Amazingly the clothes were a good fit, and more amazingly they were good clothes: a light raw-silk suit; narrow dark blue tie; gray silk shirt with a tab collar; excellent shoes.

Asahi-san was standing back of the girl, clicking an abacus on the table, writing down the costs, presumably for the reckoning that would come later. This was more nonsense. He'd find out the total of all the money I could possibly raise, and his bill would be a few thousand yen more than that, whatever it was.

After I was dressed he counted out forty thousand yen in thousand-yen notes. I took a damn good look at them, but they seemed good. A little over a hundred dollars in American money.

I felt a lot better. But my hunch was riding strong, and I was curious as to what would come next.

“Hokay now?” asked Asahi-san.

“Find. Now I want to find a man. He's Japanese, and maybe your girl could do the job better than I can. I don't know his full Japanese name, but he calls himself Charlie Daniki and he's a reporter for Mainichi Press in Tokyo.”

The puffed bag of evil nodded. 'Ah so desk' is big story in paper. Was in ocean rong time arone. Lescued. Big story, not so big as one you push off big shot, but prenty big. Name Yoshiro Daniki. You want?”

“He's either home or at the Mainichi offices by now. Have your girl call the paper first. If he isn't there, he's listed in the Tokyo directory, probably. I want to meet him today—any place he says. Got it?”

“Hokay.” He spoke to the girl in Japanese and she watched his face, her eyes big and round. I know old Japan hands who've been in Tokyo since '45 who believe it's hard for Japanese to understand each other in their own language. Once I asked Charlie Daniki about it and he laughed, then agreed. It was apparent that the dance girl was having trouble getting Asahi-san's instructions. Finally she gave a big smile, and her head bobbed like a bouncing ball.

She began hunting through the thick Tokyo phone book, not the one we put out, but the real one. Her face screwed up in pain, relaxed into anxiety, brightened with hope, darkened again—a child's face—as she leafed back and forth. Eventually she found a number, dialed it. There were a series of conversations with what I guessed to be the switchboard girl at Mainichi, somebody in their city room, somebody else. Her face was tense now, then suddenly all was well. She turned from the phone, chattered to Asahi-san.

He said something and she offered the phone to me. I took it and said, “Charlie, the rebel at this end.”

“Oh-oh,” came Charlie's voice. “Where are you,, friend?”

I knew what Charlie meant by that word “friend.” He was telling me that what I said would be to a friend, and not to a reporter for Mainichi.

“Hiding out in the Ginza-Nishi. What's the word, can you tell me?”

“No good. You were in a jam before, from what I can find out, but now all hell is jumping. Gee gosh.”

“How much have you heard?”

“Me? I've heard everything. There's all kinds of big shots here to see li'l beat-up or Charlie. Two GI captains to take me to the hearing at the Provost Marshal's office real quick now, a whole mess of people from Byron's bureau, and takusan reporters from the wire services and the other papers. Charlie's number-one boy today.”

“Give me the box score on me, Charlie.”

“You're the number-one no-good guy. Only question is how you got Miss Shea to lie. Everybody sure you pushed Byron off that raft. We just heard you ran away a little while ago—one of our boys is a janitor there and he phoned. The Army hasn't released any official word on it yet.”

“Do you think I pushed him off?”

“Never happen. Remember, I saw him give you a hard time on the boat. You know what I think, white trash? I think he was crazy over that redhead girl. Maybe he tried to push you off, I don't know. But you're O.K. with me, cottonpicker.”

“Have you told anybody about Byron's quarreling with me?”

“Not yet.”

“Can you meet me someplace today?”

Charlie didn't answer quickly. “Roger, will do. I don't know when. Got to go with the two captains, and then must go home to the old lady and the little Danikis. They been raising hell because they haven't seen me yet. After that, sure thing! Where?”

“Little cafe called the Haji-Basha, Five-chome, Ginza-Nishi.”

“I know the place,” Charlie said. “Run by a fat boy-girl. Terrible place. All crooks.”

“Right. I'll be here.”

“Maybe nineteen hundred?” asked Charlie, meaning at seven P. M.

“Good.”

I put the phone down. At the hearing this afternoon Charlie would tell the whole story and tell it truthfully. His sharp eyes would make a good, accurate evaluation of the situation after he had told them about drunken, evil-tempered Deet Byron. He was one of the best reporters in Tokyo and he would know as much about the official attitude toward Sergeant Robert E. Lee after the hearing as the Provost Marshall himself.

After I talked to Charlie tonight I'd make my plans. Meanwhile I could find out what Asahi-san had in mind for a fugitive soldier in whom he had just invested over a hundred thousand yen.

“Your fliend come here?” he asked.

“Tonight.”

“He say you in big trouber?”

I shrugged.

“Maybe you rike nice bath? Delight Baths, maybe, huh?”

After the whisky, the steak, and the fresh clothes I felt pretty good. A go-around at the Delight Baths sounded just right to make me feel fine. Dry, hot baking, soaking, scrubbing, and a massage. What the doctor might order for a man who'd had a rough time, who was confused, uncertain.

“Every cop in Tokyo is looking for me,” I said.

“Never happen. I take care.”

He was smiling, not a nice sight We looked at each other, a strange little war.

When I'd pushed the panic button—GI talk for going frantic in a situation—back at the Provost Marshal's office, I'd headed here because the streets of Tokyo would be too hot for me in a matter of minutes, and the Haji-Basha was the only place I knew where a soldier in trouble could fast talk himself into food, clothes, money, and a hideout. I knew, also, that the price for these things would be high.

In the end I would have to face my problem, and I had no illusions about that. Maybe Charlie Daniki would bring me good news tonight, maybe bad. Either way, my plans would have to end with me talking to a board of officers, accepting their decision: either a free man, or prison.

But for the next few hours I could pretend that I was just a reporter playing a role to find out what Asahi-san's price was to a soldier in trouble. It would be higher than merely twice what he had spent.

“The Delight Baths sounds fine.”

“Hokay, you come.”

I followed the waddling Asahi-san through the back rooms of the Haji-Basha, down another stairway into a quiet alley. A black 1951 Cadillac was parked there, a young Japanese behind the wheel.

“You get in back, prease,” said Asahi-san. I opened the door and sank into the wide seat. The fat man spoke to the driver and then watched us as we left. I wasn't surprised at the Cadillac; a Tokyo black marketeer isn't legal unless he has one.

We moved out of the alley into the action of downtown Tokyo. Once we passed a jeep from the 720th Military Police. It was going slow, the two M.P.'s searching the crowds on the sidewalks for a man in a sailor's uniform, an escaped prisoner without money, probably hungry, tired. The Cadillac passed them.

The Delight Baths is a block-long building, new since the occupation, six stories high. It is a labyrinth of public and private baths, game rooms, cafes, bars, gardens, and secrets. The poor of Tokyo can bathe there in the vast steaming public baths for a few yen; busses bring swarms of tourists, both Westerners and peasants from the villages of Japan, and they look much alike as they walk along the curving corridors, through the interior gardens. Dozens of rooms and suites are used by wealthy businessmen and American servicemen for private baths.

Asahi-san's Cadillac stopped beside a private entrance. I'd been to the Delight Baths before, but always through the main doorway, set in a hundred feet of plate-glass wall. This entrance was secluded and before I got out of the car a young Japanese in white clothes was waiting for me. Asahi-san had phoned ahead to make arrangements for my arrival.

The arrangements were pretty good. My guide led me up three flights of stairs, over a little bridge above a flowing brook in a garden that never was touched by sunlight, and then through a narrow hall to a locked door. He opened the door with a key and took me into a classical Japanese room. At the entrance were sandals to use on the rice-straw floor matting, there was a dwarf tree set in a niche in one wall, a painting on silk of an enormous white cat on another wall. The door at the end of the room was a sliding panel, and the walls were delicately figured rice paper set in gray wood frames. Cool, restful, lovely.

I bent over, took off my shoes, slipped into sandals. My guide closed the door behind him and I was alone in the cool, quiet room.

As I stood there waiting, the door panel slid back and the bath girl stepped through.

The bath girl. My mouth was open and I was staring.

Most of the bath girls at the Delight, wearing white cotton bras and bloomer-type white shorts, are short, thick-legged, pudding-faced.

The bath girls of the Delight are simply that—they supervise the bath, do the scrubbing, massage, clip and file fingernails and toenails. They dress and undress their customers, but there is no sex. They see too many naked men of all sizes and ages each day to react, and they take the bathing and massaging skills of their jobs quite seriously. Americans get a sexual kick out of the proceedings the first few times, but that wears off quickly.

All this is true of the bath girls of Delight, short, thick-legged, with the fat-boy chests that are standard Japanese female anatomy. They're cheerful, busy, competent.

But this was not what I saw entering the cool, lovely room.

She was taller than most, with long slim legs, brown against the starched white of her shorts. Her stomach was flat, and her white cotton bra was not. She had the fine Japanese beauty—rare, aristocratic, superb. The oval face, almond, with hair like carved and shining ebony. The rare, fine Japanese beauty.

“Hello,” she said, and her “l's” were clear. “I am Meriko.” She bowed, her slender arms and long fingers at her sides.

My mind gave me three quick pictures: Satin Shea in my arms last night in the sometimes moonlit empty sea; Asahi-san smiling, the rouge-caked powder cracking; the long legs of Meriko.

She walked delicately across the room, an exquisite and desirable girl.

I knew this was not for the eight-hundred-yen baths of the GI's; this was something for the rich old men of Mitsubishi and Mitsui; this was one of the secret treasures of the Delight Baths—and how did fugitive Sergeant Lee rate this for his bath girl?

Asahi-san.

“What is your name, sir?” she asked, speaking with the liquid clarity that only a few Japanese girls ever achieve.

“Bob.”

“I'm happy to serve you, Bob-san.”

She showed no awareness of the impact her beauty had for me. After glancing at my face for approval, her slender fingers reached for my coat. She took it off, then unknotted my tie.

When she was done, she took my clothes to a closet concealed behind a sliding panel in one wall, hung them carefully, and then led me by the hand through the doorway into the other room. Here was the big porcelain tub, the massage table, and the heat box.

The heat box was first. I sat on a chair and she closed the cabinet around me, arranging a towel carefully at my neck.

“Fifteen minutes, please?” she asked, flicking on the switch that lit the score of light bulbs within the cabinet, and setting the tiny clock.

“Fine.”

She left me, and the heat of the bulbs had begun to make me sweat when she returned. She was carrying a very tall glass.

“A highball for you. Canadian and soda, is that right, Bob-san?”

Asahi-san had given them all the details when he'd phoned. It was going to be quite a deal, finding out what his price was and how he got it.

There was a second cool, marvelously wet highball for me before I left the heat box. The bath routine of the Delight is simply and cleverly contrived to keep men passive during the more intimate phases of being washed. After the quarter hour of heat few men have more than an intellectual interest in their bath girls.

Meriko soaped me, and smiled.

“The tub now, please, and I'll bring you another high-ball.”

“Fine,” I said again. It seemed to cover the situation. I was enjoying a sensual, physical luxury that was all the more wonderful for its contrast with the chill ocean night of such a few hours ago, and with the unreal desperation of reality for me outside the walls of the Delight.

Meriko bent over me in the tub, holding the misted glass to my lips, tilting it until I had finished it. She put the empty glass on the carved table beside the tub and then, her long, gentle fingers washed away the suds from my body with a soft cloth.

I stepped out and Meriko readied the hot, clear water in the tub for me, scrubbing the porcelain before she drew the water. Odd, to have someone as exquisite as Meriko being such a humble, intimate body servant.

During the easy leisure of the clear hot water I had a fourth highball. A fifth was sipped at intervals. I stretched out on the massage table, feeling the supple, knowing strength of Meriko as she kneaded the muscles of my neck, my arms, my back, my legs.

She brought me the sixth highball after the massage.

There was a knock on the door and Meriko opened it slightly and took the glass on a small tray from the waiter outside. I kind of realized that they were coming like clockwork, one about every five minutes. I was getting drunk and I loved it.

Chapter Nine

WE TALKED AS I DRANK THE HIGHBALL. Meriko took a few sips from my glass, smiling.

“Where you from, Meriko?” I took a long drink.

“Tokyo.” The deep, shining black eyes didn't look away from mine; she was sitting, her legs folded under her, on the massage table next to me.

“You know Asahi-san?”

She laughed. “That's a funny name. Mr. Morning Sun. A pretend name, not a real Japanese name.”

“Do you know him?”

There was a knock on the door leading to the corridor.

“Oh, the waiter is here. Please—” She swung off the table, her long legs straight, and opened the door. It was my sixth, seventh? I didn't care. I wanted to be here, talking to Meriko, feeling wonderful.

“Bob-san, would you want to go to the other room? It is much nicer.”

I wrapped a towel around me and followed her and the drink into the room of the rice-paper walls, the dwarf tree, the white cat painted on silk. Even the rice matting felt good to my bare feet.

Meriko brought a low table of polished wood from a corner and we sat, Japanese fashion. She touched my face with her soft fingertips.

“You are a strong man, Bob-san. Strong and wise.”

“Not so damn wise, Meriko.” I had a good swallow from the cool glass and then offered it to her; it's their custom, not mine. “I'm in a big jam, you know that?”

Her face showed surprise, or rather Meriko followed the custom of showing surprise, a formal series of movements-eyes wide, mouth in an O, hands up, palms forward. “Oh, Bob-san!” she said, after she'd shown me the O of her dark-red-lipped mouth and perfect teeth.

“Yeah, damn miserable jam. Don't know how I'm going to get out of it. Going to try.”

“Tell me about it, Bob-san.” The slender fingers were on my arm, and she brought the almond face close to mine. Long thighs, golden against the white shorts, smooth shoulders, shining ebony hair.

“You know Asahi-san?” I asked again.

“A fat, funny man, with a bad, sweet smell?”

“That's him.”

“He's a friend of the man who owns this place. I have seen him.”

“How long have you been here, Meriko?”

“Not very long, Bob-san.”

I finished my drink. This time I laughed. “'M keeping up with 'em, anyhow, Meriko.”

“There will be another soon, Bob-san. All you want. Anything you want.”

That rang a few alarm bells in a drunken mind.

“Why?”

“What are you asking, Bob-san?”

“How'm I getting all this—you, lotsa drinks, everything?”

“You are an honored guest, Bob-san. For you, everything.”

“Including Meriko?”

There was a shadowed smile on the almond face. “You know the rules, Bob-san. The Delight is for health, for rest. It is not a place of women, and the rules are very strict, Bob-san.”

The smile was gone. She bowed her head, half closed her eyes, and her fingers stroked my arm.

“But those are the rules of this place, Bob-san. In here” —her left hand touched the smooth skin over her heart— “there are no rules. You are strong and wise, Bob-san.”

I was wise enough to know what I was in. Whatever Asahi-san's price was going to be, I was getting the full treatment before he gave me the bad news. This fine time was leading toward a real bad time, drunk or not, I knew that.

I was wise, but I wasn't strong. Not strong enough to get up, put my clothes on, and walk out of the Delight. I wanted to stay in this peacefully elegant room a little longer, wanted to look at the lovely Meriko a little longer, wanted another drink.

You get drunk and you fool yourself. I was trying to figure a good story for Meriko now. She wasn't a come-on girl for Asahi-san, really, maybe. Maybe it was just an accident, getting her as my bath girl. She wasn't acting the way a bath girl is supposed to in the Delight; more like a ten-thousand-yen-an-evening modern version of a geisha. But maybe she really liked me.

Satin Shea kind of liked me. If she wasn't engaged to that general—

Meriko was back from the door with my tall, cool drink, and she held it to my mouth.

After the first long swallow I wiped my mouth and bent toward her. “Y'know, I'm no damn fool. I know what's going on, you understand. Sure, I know. But what I can't figure is you, Meriko.”

“Yes, Bob-san?” she said, her lips full and pouting a little. Her arm was around my neck.

I stood up, and found that I was weaving.

“Let's you and me go somewhere, Meriko. Got to get it.”

“First I must dress you, Bob-san.”

The dressing didn't seem to get far. There was another drink mixed up with it, and when Meriko and I were trying to put my trousers on I fell down.

She was laughing at me.

“Don't go, Bob-san. You're pretty stinko. Maybe you get picked Up by M.P.'s. Much better we stay here, Bob-san.”

“Got to go see Charlie,” I said, still sitting on the rice-mat floor with my trousers tangled around my legs. Meriko bent over, her delicate hands reaching out toward me.

I shook my head. “Can't see Charlie. Too damn drunk. Don't want anybody see me drunk like this.”

She was close to me, helping me.

There was a flare of anger, the last desperate try by my good sense to save me.

“You got me drunk. You wanted me to be like this. You're a dirty—”

“Bob-san, Bob-san, strong, wise Bob-san.”

We beat their fleets back across the western Pacific, we smashed their cities from the air, we came to Atsugi as conquerors, we marched into Tokyo as the conquerors. Their women were waiting for us and we brought our own whisky.

It was confused after that. There was a time, somewhere later, when I wanted Meriko like any drunken man, maudlin, pushing her back against the rice-straw matting, but I was too drunk.

There was a time, maybe a little later, when Meriko's hands were soft on my body and her voice was low, insistent, urging. She tightened the silk cord around my forearm, and as the vein stood out she pushed the plunger of the hypodermic.

“Now we have fun, Bob-san. Heroin will make everything so good, so good....”

Of the men that get hooked on a habit in the Far East, most of them, I guess, are hooked like that. A girl, whisky, and then the girl brings out her needle.

With me it was a little different, maybe. Somewhere beneath the whisky and the lust fired up by alcohol was Sergeant Robert E. Lee, and I wasn't completely lost. Some of the reasons for letting Meriko puncture my skin with that shining needle were the usual ones: drunken curiosity, inhibitions shattered and wrecked by hours in the cool, elegant room, confidence that I wouldn't be hurt by trying it once. Probably more than I realized, the triple impact of the girl with the copper-red hair, the wreck and the rescue, and the surprise catastrophe of the dead Deet Byron had shaken me completely.

But when the needle broke my skin and Meriko smiled, I knew what I was doing.

It hit slowly. There was a numbness, and then it was as if my whole body had been washed out by something and I was all new inside.

Heroin. All Japan is lousy with it. From the Stars and Stripes I knew that nine out of ten prostitutes in Japan are heroin addicts, and the stuff sells in the alleys of the Shimbashi like cigarettes in an American drugstore. It is made by the ton in Japan and by the tens of tons in Red China, it sells cheap, and the brothel girls push it.

I was standing, looking down at Meriko. Long, bare legs and a beautiful almond face, shining black hair. I could have her, I could have a hundred like her tonight.

For a second I was frightened. The heroin was pushing the alcohol out of my brain and I had a brief glimpse of the truth. It was an old story in Tokyo. Hundreds of Americans had gone this route, the girl, the drinking, the needle. They ended up in the stockade, gray, rotten husks of men, like something that was once firm and good but that has been eaten out by worms.

Some of them didn't get as far as the barbed-wire walls of the stockade; they were found face down in the slime of the black canals that lace the city. And they started this way.

In a second I learned a little more about the white powder and what it does. I was holding Meriko by her long black hair, pulling her up from the rice-straw matting.

“No, no, Bob-san,” she was saving, fast, loud, her voice shrilling. “We have fun, Meriko give you much fun now.” I slapped her across the face hard and she went sprawling over to the wall of the dwarf tree; honey-colored arms, legs, back glossy hair in a heap against the pale rice straw. Then I opened the door and walked out into a corridor of the Delight Baths. A couple of chubby bath girls in white bras and shorts scampered by, a waiter knocked on a door, and somewhere downstairs I passed three soldiers laughing. Then I was outside.

I felt good and my mind was clear, I thought. Everything was simple. I'd go to the Provost Marshal's office and ask to see the big man. I'd explain everything to him. Maybe I should go to top headquarters and see the commanding general. Better to see the commanding general, because what he said was the word. I'd get a cab and tell the boy-san to drive me right to the general. He'd probably be at his residence-now.

That would make everything simple. After the general had telephoned the Provost Marshal and told him what a good man I was, I'd go and find Satin. She was probably worried about me, and in the excitement of seeing me maybe she'd admit that she loved me. It was going to be a wonderful night.

The big thing was that I felt so good. I must be in pretty fine shape to go through a shipwreck and all that trouble, drink as much whisky as I'd had, and still feel so good.

I started to look for a cab. It was wonderful to feel as good as this and have all my problems settled. Every last problem was settled.

“Bob-san—”

I turned. Meriko was next to me, her slim body wrapped in a trench coat.

“Hi, Meriko. Where've you been, girl?”

“Come with me, Bob-san. I have a cab.”

I was glad to see her. Maybe I'd take her with me to the general. She was beautiful, and she was one of the few Japanese girls in all of Tokyo with a really good figure. Sure, I'd take her with me to the general.

The cab was at the curb and Meriko was holding the door open for me. When we were inside she gave the driver instructions in Japanese.

“Just tell him to take me to the commanding general, United States armed forces in the Far East. The general wants to see me so the two of us can straighten out this business about pushing some jerk off a raft. Nothing to it, all a mistake. Charlie Daniki can tell him. Hey, let's get Charlie Daniki first, huh, Meriko?”

“Oh, yes, Bob-san.”

The cab lurched over the broken pavement. The flaming neon signs of downtown Tokyo were bright, as they would be through the night, but the city was already asleep.

We crossed a bridge over a black canal, turned down a narrow alley, and we were in the Shimbashi district.

“Does Charlie Daniki live here?” I asked Meriko. Then another idea came to me, with immediate, driving insistence. “Meriko, I've got to eat first. I'm hungry. I've got to eat right now. Real hungry.”'

“Yes, Bob-san. We eat.”

The cab had stopped at a small bar, one of the scores hidden in the back alleys of the Shimbashi district.

I remember food, big shrimps fried in batter, and tiny cups of tea. Dim lights, people talking, a couple of sailors, Meriko, and me, sitting in a corner making shrewd plans, my mind diamond-hard, perfectly clear, twisted and poisoned.

There was darkness and I stretched out on a futon, a bedroll, someplace, and watched the fireworks of my mind explode across the darkness beyond my eyes.

It was morning and the light beat on my eyes like a sledge. I was sick with a horrible seasickness, but most of all I was thirsty. I felt as if every drop of water had been squeezed out of my body, as if my flesh had turned into dry sponges. I had to have water as a suffocating man needs air.

The other was realized slowly, as if there were a terrible hunger masked by the frantic thirst. But this was no hunger for food; my body needed something. There were urgent demands in every nerve end in my skin, urgent demands that almost ached in my muscles. I wanted heroin.

I knew the score on the white powder. The Pacific Stars and Stripes had prepared a lot of material on drugs and drug addiction for a projected series. Heroin hooks them fast; there are withdrawal symptoms and a craving after the effects of the very first injection wear off. Heroin can produce addiction on one try.

Meriko was in the little room with me, still asleep. She didn't look good to me now. She lay curled up, her knees against her stomach. It was still a lovely body and her face was beautiful, but Meriko was viciousness and evil. I was sure that I hadn't touched her through the drug-twisted night, and I was glad of that.

It was about all I had to be glad about.

The thirst had to be taken care of right quick. It was as if I'd been eating hot salt and dirty cotton for hours. But underneath was the nerve-lashing hunger that was beginning to be a silent scream for heroin.

I looked for my clothes, sliding back the panels in the walls. Nothing, no clothes. Meriko was awake, sitting up, trying to guess at my temper before she spoke. Her kimono was crumpled near her bed, but she did not put it on.

“Where are my clothes?” It was hard to speak. My tongue felt like a scrap of cracked leather and my eyes were gritty. The soft membranes of nose and throat were raw, the way they are at the start of a bad case of flu.

Meriko stood up. She looked smaller, thin, this morning, and her naked body showed signs of ill use that I had not seen in the Delight Baths.

“First you need medicine, Bob-san. Meriko needs medicine, too. I get, and we will feel fine.”

I pushed back another panel. The trench coat Meriko had worn when she came out of the Delight Baths was in the long cupboard behind it.

“Where the-hell are my clothes?”

She walked to the door panel, slid it back. There was a window in the small room and I looked out of it into the bright morning sunshine on the dirty alley below. This was the second floor of some Shimbashi joint. Vaguely I remembered coming here last night.

Heroin. Whatever happened to me I had coming. Complete damned fool. I didn't blame Meriko now. She had got me drunk, she'd given me the heroin, but I was the damned one, not poor, rotten Meriko.

Through the sour fog of sickness and anger at myself I realized that she had been brutally reckless with my life. Most people begin heroin by sniffing the white powder, according to the stories given the Stripes for its series. Direct injections can be dangerous to a nonuser, but it sets the hook quicker, deeper.

I could feel that hook of the heroin habit in the tissues of my body. The silent screaming within me was stronger now. I needed something, needed it bad and now.

The slim body of Meriko disappeared into the corridor beyond this room. Lord but I wanted a drink of cold water, ice-cold, gallons of it. My eyes hurt.

I put on the trench-coat. It came to my knees. I was barefooted; wherever they'd taken my clothes, they'd left me nothing. Nothing except Meriko's trench coat.

At the end of the corridor were stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was the barroom. A girl was scrubbing the floor. She looked at me, said nothing. I went behind the bar. A typical Shimbashi trap—a few low tables and chairs, a short bar, bottles of Kirin and Nippon beer, a few bottles of whisky, gin, vodka, and sake. I found a bottle of soda and knocked off the metal cap on the edge of the bar.

It was warm and bubbly, but it was wet. I drank the whole quart, at first in a desperate thirsting hurry, then slower.

Now I felt awfully sick and weak. I knew how good I'd feel once I'd taken a little more of the white powder. Even thinking about heroin seemed to ease the terrible itching of my skin, quiet the soundless scream of my nerves. I wondered how strong Meriko had made the solution for the needle. By that time I'd been too drunk to know what was going on around me.

I began to sweat, and I had to sit down on one of the low chairs.

She came from a room beyond the bar, slender and honey-colored but never to be beautiful to me again. I saw her hand outstretched, the crystals of heroin white against the gold of her skin.

“For you, Bob-san. To make you feel good. Put your nose to my hand and breathe in. It is so easy. You will feel so fine.” As she came toward me I got up.

I didn't look at her; I was looking at the shelves behind the bar. They might have some here—and I hoped that the C.I.D. narcotics boys had given the Stars and Stripes the right word on heroin. If I could find some.

They had it, all right, on a shelf. Most Japanese bars carry it. A paper box full of chocolate candy, ordinary sweet milk chocolate. I could feel Meriko close to me, her left hand on my arm, the right still outstretched, palm up, with the tiny pile of white powder. But I was busy eating chocolate candy.

If I'd had nothing more than a fair-sized hangover, the candy would not have gone down so well. This was different; I knew I needed that sugar in my blood stream. The third chocolate bar was washed down with some more warm soda water, and I turned to look for Meriko. She was gone, and the other girl was busy scrubbing the floor.

The C.I.D. boys had been right. It took a few minutes, and I was still suffering the self-inflicted wound of my whisky-drinking, but the need for heroin was gone. It's a trick that might have saved a lot of kids that tried heroin once and felt the withdrawal symptoms the next day. If they start eating candy they'll be well—but of course the pushers never tell them that.

The trench coat felt rough against my skin. It reminded me to start thinking of the rest of my set of troubles. I'd missed Charlie Daniki last night; I was an object of high interest to the men of the 720th Military Police, the watchdogs of the American forces in Tokyo. They would be doing a fine job of searching for me right now, and among the places they'd give the careful look would be the rat-trap hotels and bars of the gaudy Shimbashi district. This place, for example.

From, somewhere I remembered my heroin-charged idea of going to the home of the commanding general. Sick as I was, I smiled a little. That wouldn't have gone over at all, and depending on how much fussing I might have done with the guards at the entrance, I might have annoyed the gentleman very much.

It is much the best not to annoy a commanding general.

And I'd been thinking of taking Asahi-san's fancy number-one prostitute with me, both of us loaded to the eyes with heroin. I sure would have grown old in the jailhouse. Man!

I had learned something. Asahi-san had some high-powered plans for me; he'd been willing to put in what must have been one of his special girls for the job of getting me on heroin. He'd spent considerable money.

Why? As a fugitive I was more of a nuisance to him. He knew I was in bad trouble, so why bother with me longer than necessary to bleed me of every dollar or yen that I could raise? It was hard to understand.

I got up from the little chair. My first move would be to shake this joint down until I found my clothes, or s clothes. Then I'd turn myself in.

This move never came off. As I stood up I heard the front door of the bar open and I swung around to look.

Asahi-san was coming toward me, his fat rouged face without expression. Behind him were two narrow-eyed rats out of the Shimbashi alleys, two young men, probably Korean; one was locking the front door, the other was watching me, his right hand holding an Army .45.

“You make trouber, you dead,” said Asahi-san. “You be smart GI son-of-bitch and I make you lich, make you my ichiban man in my business. You speak?”

Ichiban man, number-one man, in Asahi-san's business?

Both of the Koreans—who make up a kind of Spanish Harlem in Tokyo, where three hundred thousand of them live in the slums of Shinjuku district—were ready to back up Asahi-san's play. They looked as if they would enjoy it.

Chapter Ten

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I asked. I wanted to strangle him here and now but I had to make my face as impassive as his. There might be a problem of living through this situation and I like living, no matter how much trouble it is at tunes.

He waved a puffy hand for me to sit down and he lowered himself into another chair. Asahi-san's perfumes didn't mix well with my hangover, and I made a promise never to drink again.

The two Korean gunmen kept standing, kept ready, particularly the man with the black-market .45.

“You want to make takusan yen, huh? Get prenty musume, prenty dope, be happy awr the time?”

Meriko walked into the room again, wearing kimono and obi now. She was beginning to put up her hair, a job that might take an hour or so. After that was done she would be merely another Japanese girl, taller than most and with a better body, with a beautiful, slender oval of almond face. She would look lovely, and she would walk through the day toward the evil night.

Meriko spoke rapidly to Asahi-san, pointed to the shelf where I had found the candy. He seemed to ask her some questions and she answered. Then he waved a hand at her in dismissal. She went toward the stairway, her slender fingers busy with the long glossy braids.

“You prenty smalt, maybe?” He spoke to me with his eyes heavy-lidded, the perfume a stench over the smell of stale beer in the barroom.

“You speak,” I said, using the bargain phrase of the occupation.

“I speak prenty,” he agreed.

It was not easy to understand the fat man with the purplish-powdered face, but after a few minutes he got his point across.

He had a fishing boat, leaving Yokohama harbor tonight and heading north. It would stop at a village in northern Honshu, the main island of Japan, on which are located the big cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. But the boat was to put in at a small fishing village on the harsher northern tip.

Southern Honshu and the two islands to the south of it are double-crop rice country, where the bent peasants in the paddies can raise two crops of rice each year. In northern Honshu the climate permits only one crop, and so the peasants have a different crop to sell—their daughters. Something less than twenty thousand yen, about fifty dollars, will buy a young peasant girl.

The ..girls of the brothels of Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya, and Osaka come from the one-crop country of northern Honshu. Only in Tokyo is prostitution illegal. Mr. Morning Sun wanted me to go north with the money to buy twenty girls and take them on the boat across the straits to the island of the north, Hokkaido. At the port city of Hakodate there would be a truck ready for me, and I was to bring the girls to Chitose, the brawling sin city that had been built near the barracks of our troops, the troops of Major General Wilton Duncan's division. Chitose had begun with the arrival of the First Cavalry after its Korean service, and when the First Cav moved out, the beer joints and the girls were waiting to welcome the troops of the 136th Infantry Division.

Asahi-san had picked me as a reliable man to escort his merchandise to the shopkeepers of Chitose, the shopkeepers of sin. He said he knew that he could trust me, and he smiled as he said it, because there were twenty years of prison waiting for me.

From under his robe he pulled out a folded copy of the Nippon Times, the Japanese-owned English-language daily newspaper of Tokyo. I looked at the front page.

They had given the story a two-column headline at the top. “Hunt Escaped Soldier Held for Death of Deet Byron.” The Times has its own sources of information and they are good. I read the story.

Sgt. Robert E. Lee, of the American forces stationed in Tokyo, was being hunted today by the armed services police and detectives of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police after having escaped from the Provost Marshal's office yesterday afternoon.

Lee was being held for questioning in the mysterious series of events that followed the sinking of the scientific ship Denkai Maru near the new volcanic islands southwest of Yokohama. Lee, Miss Satin Shea, photographer for World News, and Deet Byron, chief of the Tokyo bureau of the Teight magazines, had clung to a floating hatch cover after the sudden capsizing of the ship.

Some hours later Miss Shea and Lee were rescued by an American naval and air search team. It is reported that Miss Shea, who is to be married to Maj. Gen. Wilton Duncan, was almost unclothed at the time of the rescue.

Another plane of the sea rescue team discovered two seamen of the ill-fated ship in the ocean near the hatch cover. They were wearing life jackets and supporting Byron, who was near death from exposure and an aggravated heart condition. A few minutes after being taken aboard a U.S.destroyer, Byron gave officers of the ship a statement in which he accused Sgt. Lee of having attacked him on the hatch cover and thrown him into the ocean to drown. Byron died shortly afterward.

A reporter for the Mainichi Press, Yoshiro Daniki, confirmed a part of Byron's story by saying he had seen the three Americans together on the hatch cover.

Miss Shea was unavailable for questioning after having made a statement at the Provost Marshal's office yesterday. Her statement was not released. Unofficial sources say that Sgt. Lee is suspected of attempting an assault on the beautiful woman photographer, who has received world-wide notice for her news pictures. Sgt. Lee escaped after having been questioned privately by Maj. Gen. Duncan. Sgt. Lee is reported to be wearing the uniform of an American sailor, which was lent to him after his rescue. First announcements of the rescue, radioed from the destroyer, had indicated that Lee had played a heroic role, and upon his arrival at the dock of Yokosuka naval base he was warmly-greeted by Maj. Gen. Duncan.

Sgt. Lee is well known among readers of the unofficial Army newspaper, the Pacific Stars and Stripes, as “Lonesome” Lee, a combat reporter during the Korean war.

Spokesmen for the American forces in the Far East have refused comment on the case. It is believed privately that Sgt. Lee will face a court-martial when he is recaptured. Some question of jurisdiction may enter the case, according to leading Tokyo attorneys and legal experts. Under the present agreement with the American forces in Japan, criminal cases affecting American personnel are tried in Japanese courts. As Sgt. Lee's alleged offense took place at sea, almost two hundred miles from the Japanese mainland, but following a disaster to a ship under the flag of Nippon, exact jurisdiction may have to be determined.

Then there was a short biography of Deet Byron, the man who had hated me so completely because he had seen me kissing the tall girl with the copper-red hair.

Nothing much new, but it looked cold and grim in the neat printed words, black on white.

At the last paragraph there was something new: “Miss Shea and Maj. Gen. Duncan were seen at Tachikawa air base last night, boarding the courier plane for Sendai and Chitose. Friends of the couple believe they will be married in a chapel of the 136th Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Duncan, in the near future.”

So Duncan had taken the tall, lovely girl to Hokkaido, and Asahi-san wanted me to take a truckful of frightened peasant girls to Chitose. I felt alone and tired.

I threw the paper on the tabletop and looked across to Asahi-san. Exactly what he had in mind for me I didn't know, but I was sure that it involved more than handling the money on a deal for twenty peasant girls. Something more, and something dirtier.

“Prenty bad, huh?” said Mr. Morning Sun.

Satin Shea had given the Provost Marshal's office a statement. That raised two questions: What had she told them? Did they believe her? No one would have ever questioned Satin Shea, except that she had lied once about Deet Byron and that black night in the terrible sea.

“O. K., I'll take your deal,” I said to Asahi-san. He looked at me for a long time, not smiling.

What trouble I was in now had already happened; the dice had been rolled for me yesterday. They had talked to Charlie Daniki and to Satin Shea; they had heard my answers to their questions. If they still believed Deet Byron's dying accusation, I'd spend a long time in jail waiting for a decision on jurisdiction of my case. And after that I'd spend a long time, maybe, in a cell. The cell might have Japanese guards or it might have hard-eyed Americans; after the first few years it might not matter much.

If they had decided that Deet Byron had lied just before he died, I was simply AWOL on an assignment I had given myself—an assignment to get the facts on the rotten, deadly web that led from the Shimbashi district of Tokyo to Chitose, a web of vice, dope, and the beady-eyed shopkeepers of sin. In that web would be the frightened, bewildered kids of the 136th, who were finding out that life is horribly different in Chitose from life back home. Kids led along the road Meriko had tried to take me last night, kids black-marketing to get the money they needed for the shopkeepers in Chitose.

“Yeah, I'll go along,” I said. And the loveliest girl in all the world was in Hokkaido now.

“How so?” asked Asahi-san.

“Oh, mostly because I don't want to be lonesome.”

He didn't understand, but he knew that lie had his American soldier, his desperate, hunted American soldier, and that's what he wanted. I figure Asahi-san had made a lot of money using men like that in the long years since we came as conquerors to the islands of Japan.

“Hokay. You go boat today. All you do is watch money, get paid when you bling girls Chitose. You come back, you get takusan yen, do something again. You my ichiban man.”

I wondered how many number-one men Asahi-san had used and where they were now.

“Where are my clothes?”

“No good for boat. You get.”

The two Koreans had never relaxed. The .45, heavy as it was, still pointed at me. Asahi-san moved his swollen body in the chair and spoke to his thugs. The gun went down, disappeared behind the coat.

“I go now. This man, Benny, he show you what to do. You do tlick, you die. Never happen, huh?”

He waddled to the door. Benny opened it for him, locked it after he had left. I suppose the long black Cadillac was waiting for him outside.

Benny walked back to me.

“AWOL? Deserter? Kill somebody?” He showed a friendly interest in me now.

I shrugged. “I'm kind of hot. They're looking for me.”

His English had been learned from the troops of the occupation, but he spoke it well. “Yeah, sure. They won't find you. In a couple hours we'll be on the boat. You shack up with Meriko, huh? How you like it? Goddamn best, huh?”

“Yeah, great.”

“These fish we buy up north, maybe we'll find something nice. Maybe just a bunch of fish, big legs, face like a honey bucket. We teach 'em before we get to Hakodate.” He laughed. His laugh and Asahi-san's smile made a daily double.

“Yeah, sure.”

I was taking an inward look at Robert E. Lee and where he'd put himself. The real truth wasn't simple; it was a mixture of a lot of things. Sure, I wanted to be the reporter who traced out the story behind the web that led to Chitose. Sure, I hated the thought of spending even one night in a jail cell. And I was restless, curious. But mostly I still had that crazy idea of Satin Shea and me.

There was no way to forget her lips against mine, her body in my arms, her cool eyes looking into mine.

Maybe if she hadn't gone to Camp Crawford or Chitose with Duncan, I wouldn't have told Asahi-san that I'd play along.

But then, if I hadn't said that, there might have been a new file at C.I.D.: “Body was found in a canal.”

Chapter Eleven

THE PLUMP GIRL, kept on scrubbing the barroom floor. She had not been interested in any of the activity, not in me, not in the slim honey-toned body of Meriko, not in Asahi-san or the little man with the big black gun. She seemed to live a peaceful life.

Benny did not try to hide his curiosity about me, or the contempt that was active beneath the curiosity. Maybe he had seen other number-one men of Asahi-san.

He gave the other Korean orders and in a few minutes, he brought me clothes, a crumpled set of GI fatigues. I put the trousers and shirt on and stuck up a bare foot. Benny laughed.

“Maybe not so good fit. We got takusan boots. We try a few, buster.”

Buster was what he called me. The other Korean took a careful look at my feet, muttered to himself, and went away. When he came back he had two pairs of combat boots. One pair was a fair fit, and he had some cotton socks wadded into his pocket. I now had my wardrobe.

We were ready to leave when Meriko came down the stairs, looking mighty fine in traditional Japanese clothes— kimono, obi, fancy zoris on her feet, and her hair arranged in a shining tower on her head. Rice powder had whitened her face, and her lashes were thick with mascara. She looked like a geisha of the first class, and maybe if all the things that began with Pearl Harbor hadn't happened, that's what she might have been, instead of an evil animal of the Shimbashi nights, with her nerves riding high on heroin.

Meriko spoke briefly, with a curl of bitterness, to the two Koreans, and they answered her with obscene smiles. She didn't give me a glance as she left.

For us there was a '37 Ford truck. I rode in the back, on the dirty floor boards, and the road to Yokohama would have given me plenty of time to think about things if I had wanted to think, but I didn't. Benny and his pal chattered away in front, laughing and happy.

I'd seen the models for Benny and his friend a thousand times around Japan. They reach out hands as you wait for a cab in front of the Cafe Mimatsu, “Best hotel, new girls, I show you.” They crowd around the busses bringing the men on R and R leave from Korea to lovely Nara, ancient capital of Japan and one of the most beautiful places in the world, and as they shout at the Americans it's the old and dirty story again.

You see them along the Ginza, darting eyes watching for a soldier whose camera is swinging easily from a strap over his shoulder. They can slice the strap with a razor blade and be long gone with the camera before the soldier knows what's happened.

And sometimes they slide the bright knife into the olive-drab jacket, into the flesh between the ribs, into the heart. Not often, but often enough to make all Tokyo outside of downtown off limits to all American soldiers after dark.

I didn't know this Benny and his friend yet, but I knew the species.

Benny and I got out of the truck in a wilderness of small boatyards and docks somewhere along the Yokohama water front. The fishing boat was waiting for us and it looked none too good.

It wasn't.

Four days and nights along the fog-rimmed mountains of the coast of Japan. Four days of emptiness while the three-man crew edged the boat northward, and Benny sat wedged against the cabin, smoking yellow-wet cigarettes and playing a card game with himself. Four nights of the smell of the boat and the smell of the sea, with the stars overhead as my only friends.

Ten meals of rice with a thick, fishy sauce, and gallons of bitter green tea.

Four horrible days, four nights of regrets.

We rounded the headland at Tsuguru Strait, between Hokkaido and Honshu, on the morning of the fifth day. Our boat anchored in a small bay, and two of the villagers rowed out to meet us.

Benny had tired of asking me questions by the first afternoon out. My answers had been meaningless words and finally he had muttered something in Korean, spat, and left me alone.

Now he looked at me with a crooked smile. “Pretty soon we get the fish. I give you the money now, you pay papa-san. I look the girl over, I say it's O. K., you pay. We stick 'em in the fish hold for five, six hours while we go across to Hakodate. Truck at Hakodate, we take 'em up to Chitose. I speak how much with the buyers, you take the money. O. K., buster?”

“Yeah.”

It's a business that's been carried on in Japan since the first farmer looked at his ripening daughter and realized that she'd bring a few more yen as living flesh than she would as a pair of hands in the two acres of rice paddy that was his farm. But it's not a business I wanted a part of.

We got in the high-prowed rowboat and Benny talked to the silent, blank-faced oarsmen. The village wasn't much; wind-tormented houses up from a narrow street, a few stores with their wares dangling from cords at the doorways.

Through the rest of the day we waited, Benny drinking hot sake and smoking through three packs of Peace cigarettes. We had rice and pork for our evening meal, and we slept on futons in the back of a sake cafe in the village.

The next morning, shortly after dawn, the fathers brought their daughters to us. Benny gave me a tin box stuffed with hundred-yen notes.

“When I say O. K., I tell you how much. You count it out, give the guy a boot out, and we're ready for the next one. We work fast, buster, real fast.”

A man, thin, with a worn-out face and stubs of teeth, shuffled in. His daughter was behind him. They both bowed, their eyes turned toward me.

In these villages Americans are still curiosities, pink-faced giants to be watched and wondered about. The girl, thick-bodied, with a face like a brown china plate, stared furtively at me. She wore a cotton wrapper, wooden sandals. Benny spoke to her in clipped sounds, orders given brusquely. She took off the wrapper and stood patiently as he checked over every inch of her skin for signs of disease. When he was done with his careful visual inspection he poked and squeezed her like an entry in a cattle show.

“O. K.,” he said to me. “Give the old man twelve thousand yen.”

The thin twisted hands, much like roots of a bush, reached out for the notes as I counted them from the tin box. A little more than thirty dollars had bought this girl.

She was about fifteen. If she followed the usual pattern of such girls, she would earn enough with her body in the next two years to pay back her purchase price to the brothel owner. If the Americans stayed in Japan she would save enough money during the two or three years after that to be eligible for marriage.

By the time she was twenty she would be swollen with the first of her children, the busy wife of a hard-working young peasant farmer. In the next ten years she might produce six or seven children, and she would expect her daughters to be bought for a brothel as she had once been. Benny told her to wrap herself again and waved her to one side. The next father and daughter crowded inside, bowing, looking at me with frightened, wondering eyes.

Through the cool hours of morning after dawn the buying continued. Almost thirty farmers appeared, some with two and three girls. Benny bought twenty-two of the girls offered; the youngest seemed barely mature, the oldest might have been seventeen.

Some of them giggled, a few of them cried, but most of them stood patient and quiet as Benny looked and poked. The prices ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 yen, from $28 to $112 for a girl who looked somewhat like Meriko.

The high price for the slender peasant girl, standing with eyes closed and her thick black hair hanging down over her smooth back, was not the result of any bargaining. Benny paid high because the eventual buyer would want the girl burdened by a big purchase debt; it would be years before this girl could earn her freedom.

As each father was paid, two copies of a receipt were painted on strips of paper. He would keep one, the hiring contract for his daughter; her buyer in Chitose would get the other. On it he would mark the price he paid for the item of human merchandise, and that would be the price the girl must earn.

By nine in the morning we were back on the boat with the twenty-two girls. One began a sobbing scream, from fear or loneliness, and Benny slapped her until she was quiet.

The three cheapest girls were given to the crew; Benny kept the girl who looked a little like Meriko. There was no room for any privacy. The other eighteen were jammed into the stinking fish hold to watch as Benny gave them an animated lesson in the things girls must know to protect the merchandise in Chitose.

I went as far forward as I could, watching the waters of Tsuguru Strait and the shoreline of Hokkaido beyond.

What I had on my mind, beyond revulsion at this thousand-year-old business behind me, was to wonder why Asahi-san had wanted me on this trip. Benny could have counted out the money; I'd served no purpose except as a curiosity to the villagers.

Most of the girls got seasick before we reached Hakodate. It was a sorry mess but nobody seemed bothered by it except me. In Hakodate harbor we waited for darkness and Benny busied himself by teaching the girls to sniff a few grams of heroin. He took his samples from a wooden box that held a couple of hundred papers of the white powder.

After the twenty-two girls, most of them still children, were high on heroin—which had results much as it might have on any children—I wished for the comparatively clean sorry mess of a few hours back.

This was the sort of sin that had etched the evil into the fat, rouged face of Asahi-san.

These were the girls headed for the beer halls of Chitose to meet the young men from Springfield, Ohio, and Springfield, Missouri, and Springfield, Massachusetts, and a thousand other American cities and towns.

For some of these young men these girls would be the first experience.

Shortly after Hakodate harbor was dark the fishing boat moved alongside an old covered wharf. Asahi-san's agents had readied a bus for the trip to Chitose; an ancient Japanese-built bus with wooden seats and broken windows.

Benny gave me the metal box, now empty of yen but filled with the receipt slips. He carried four of the wooden boxes in a sack. The girls, some of them laughing, a few of them weeping, were loaded into the bus, and Benny and I followed them. He spoke to the driver, a hard-faced man in his early twenties, wearing a torn I shirt and U.S.Army sun-tan pants.

The old motor snorted, the gears chattered, and we were on our way to Chitose. It was maybe the roughest town in the world, and it was patrolled tightly by some of the toughest M.P.'s the U.S.Army has ever produced. Those Military Police lads would be even more curious than the villagers we had left about an American like me. The first one that saw me would want to see my papers, while his partner covered me with his .45. They would listen to no explanations and they would take no argument.

One minute after the first M.P. patrol saw me in Chitose, I would be on my way to the Camp Chitose stockade.

I was beginning to think that might be a very good idea.

So far my association with Asahi-san had given me five miserable days. I had seen the first phase of the vast Japanese prostitution web in actual operation—the farm girls bought, given their instructions, and being introduced to the white powder that would enslave some of them. I had known much of the dirty story, by hearsay, but seeing it was something else.

It was a fair guess that these girls would try to induce some of the American boys they met to try heroin. The military authorities knew that; they had fought that problem almost since the beginning of the occupation. As a reporter, so far, I couldn't tell them anything they didn't already know.

But I was certain that Asahi-san and his boy Benny had something more in mind for me. I was curious enough and foolish enough to figure on finding out about that.

These were the thoughts I had as the bus clanked over the chuckholes of the road around Volcano Bay, and I could hear the chatter, the sobs, the laughter of the twenty-two girls bound for Chitose.

“Maybe you better hide, buster.” Benny's face was hidden by the darkness as he spoke. “Pretty soon maybe the Japanese cops check this heap. Very tough on you guys if you don't have papers. Very tough, buster.”

“Where the hell would I hide on this thing?”

“On floor, in back.”

Temper, Bob Lee; temper. Don't lose it now. The question was whether this was a bit of Japanese humor, a kind of nasty little practical joke on me, getting one of the proud and arrogant conquerors to hide on the floor between the legs of giggling, heroin-crazy farm girls; or whether it was solid advice that might keep me from being thrown into a Japanese jail tonight.

I decided it was both. And this wasn't so good, because I'd have to do it, knowing that Benny's face would be twisted with laughter. The Japanese police keep much the same watch on the people of Japan as a cat does on a mouse hole. Nothing happens, no one travels, no place is locked without a Japanese policeman knowing all about it and writing it all down in the report.

“Leave that boxful of receipts with me, buster. The cop might want to see them, since these girls aren't registered yet. But you—you get back there and hit the dirt. You know? Hit the dirt?”

He laughed and he was maybe half a second away from a broken face. After the last few hours on that fishing boat I could have smashed Benny into a bloody mess and felt clean doing it.

But after I'd hit him, then what? The girls would not have understood. They saw nothing wrong in what was happening to them. And there was no place for me to go, no place except an American Army stockade or a Japanese jail.

I wondered if I would hate the thought of being in a cell, even for a few days, so much if I had not met Satin Shea. As it was, the thought of having jail walls around me was intolerable.

The girls quieted into complete silence as I walked back in the darkness on the swaying bus. I sat on the floor between the feet of two of them and wished that I'd never been born.

Benny shouted something at them, and it must have been in the Tokyo dialect, the Brooklynese of Japan, because I could tell from their whispering that they didn't understand him. He was Korean, which gave him third-class status among many Japanese, who have the same qualities of racial tolerance that some of my home folks in Mississippi have, but he was also male, which gave him number-one status with these farm girls. They wanted to obey him but it was hard to understand him.

When he got his orders understood at last, there was a lot of giggling. The two girls whose wooden sandals touched me alternated between what sounded like frightened whispers and near hysteric giggling.

But Benny was right. It was a long, rough ride to Chitose and during the night hours that we rumbled over the broken highway we were stopped three times by Japanese police. None of them came back to look; they chattered with Benny, looked over the papers, counted the girls by waving their flashlights at their heads, and left.

I was wedged against the boards of the seat at my back, and between the muscular farm-girl legs. Each bump of the bus hit my spine like a hammer. It was one hell of a long ride.

We rolled into Chitose a little before dawn. The bus brakes squealed for the last time and the jolting stopped. Some of the girls were asleep. Those that were awake stopped talking and whispering. They'd arrived home, in a way of speaking. Their great adventure with the young conquerors was about to begin.

The bus had stopped behind one of the big frame buildings. In the darkness we climbed out into the cool, clean air. Hokkaido has a climate much like that of Wisconsin. It's a beautiful big island, but Chitose is not one of its beauties.

Inside the barnlike building was a long plank bar, a floor littered with the trash of last night, and a sign, “Happy Time Bar. Sweatest Girls.” The place smelled of strong perfume, stale beer, cigarettes—like a lungful of old feathers after the fine, keen air outside.

Benny was busy now. Three new characters were on the scene, two little men and a fat woman, all of them chattering at Benny and giving me side looks from narrow eyes. A string of naked bulbs lit the dance barn.

The girls huddled together, their giggling ended. Once again they were checked, this time by the fat woman and one of the small men. There were prodding, poking, and bitter comments made in Japanese to Benny, who shrugged and smoked a soggy Peace cigarette. Nobody paid much attention to me.

They were finished with the girls. A veteran of Chitose —a girl of maybe eighteen, wearing sweater, skirt, bobby socks, and saddle shoes, and with a face that looked like the kind of plate used at a cheap lunch counter—led the girls away. Tonight they'd have their opening.

Benny came over to me. I wished that I weren't so tired, so empty inside, because I knew that the showdown time was here.

Chapter Twelve

“HOKAY, BUSTER,” SAID BENNY, the cigarette dead now and drooping from his mouth as he talked. “Now me and you get to business, huh?”

I waited.

“You know where you are, buster. This Chitose, and baby, it is one son-of-a-bitch. You know?”

“Yeah.”

“You pretty smart. Not goddamn smart or you wouldn't be loused up, huh?”

He knew I despised him and I guess he loved it.

“You smart enough to know everything we tell you is a lot of crap. Never happen, what we tell you. You know?”

I looked into the birdlike eyes, two shining black beads under the thick lids. “I know,” I said.

“Gonna be too much trouble in Chitose pretty goddamn soon. Big C.I.D. trouble. We got you here, now we use you.”

“Use me?”

“The C.I.D. got some cute kids here—you know, pretend to be dumb GI's, go around drink, dance with the girls, just like regular GI, You know what you do, buster?”

We looked at each other and he spat the butt of the cigarette away.—

“You find who these monkeys are, buster, and you make a deal with them.”

“You're crazy.”

His head shook slowly. “Never happen. Tonight you hang around here, drink, talk with the other GI's. Pretty soon those C.I.D. bastards will come to you. You know why, maybe?”

“Why, maybe?”

“Because you're going to be talking. Talking about the Stuff and what a big beat it gives you. You're going to act like a drunk GI talking the big talk about the white stuff and how it makes you ride so high.”

“I'll get picked up by the M.P.'s and that's the end.”

“No, buster. Maybe not tonight, but pretty damn fast you'll find some new friends. They'll want to talk to you because they'll check you out before they ever come up to you. They'll know you're a goddamn phony, that you don't belong to any outfit here. They'll be pretty damn sure you don't use it yourself. And the word'll go to the M.P.'s that you're not to be touched. Get it, buster? You'll be too hot for any M.P. joker to handle.”

“How do you know what's going to happen?” He smiled, showing yellow stumps of teeth. “These lousy Japs got a G-two that knows everything, you know that, buster. Broads that work in officers' houses, do washing, cooking, listen all the time. Other guys work in camp, act as drivers, got ears like a goddamn microphone, huh? Last week my bosses find out C.I.D. watching this joint, working with Japanese police in Hokkaido, in Tokyo. Pretty soon throw us all in the can. No goddamn good, huh?”

“So the C.I.D. and the Japanese police are going to crack down. Why don't you just get the hell out?”

“Never happen. Too much money now, going to be too damn much money pretty soon.”

“What do you mean, Benny?” This was one of the two things I'd come to Chitose to get: the real story on the web of heroin sellers that touched every American installation in the Far East.

He lit another Peace cigarette. “You do plenty good for us, buster, and maybe you'll get in on it. But not today, buster. Do this job first.”

“I'm listening.”

“You get in your soldier suit we give you. Give you five stripes, huh? Sergeant first class O. K.? You have plenty yen, drink, dance, after you get drunk you talk. That's all. “We watch. We know everything except who these two smart C.I.D. sonsabitches are. But we watch. Pretty soon they come to you. They'll want to know where you came from, who you work for. Maybe they'll talk about buying some heroin. Yeah, sure. You know?”

He had it about right. I knew how the Army's Criminal Investigation Division worked, and it would be like that, slow, cautious, secret.

“Then you laugh, buster. You say, 'Come with me, boys.' You take them to other end of the street in Chitose and you say you make them rich. You take them in little shack and you show them ten thousand dollars American money. Not MFC, not yen, green Yankee money.”

I knew he was lying. Whatever they planned for me, it wouldn't be like this. This story was nonsense. But I listened, my eyes on his, my face showing nothing, I hoped.

“O. K., buster. You play it smart for us and you buy those jokers. Then we make the big deals, takusan money. Now you sleep, get ready for a big night tonight. Regular GI heaven for you, buster. Plenty girls, plenty yen in your pocket, beer and new girls and no goddamn reveille, huh?”

He showed me a room at the side of the big beer hall. There was an Army cot with a couple of O. D. Army blankets.

“Sleep good, buster,” he said, and closed the door.

Funny thing was that I slept very good. I was tired.

When I woke it was late afternoon and I was hungry, hungry and dirty. Hungry and duty and cold. There was noise coming from the big room of the beer hall, soldiers in town early and starting their night of beer and women.

The door to my room opened and a girl looked in, saw that I was awake, and closed the door quietly behind her.

“Please,” she said, standing next to my cot, “I bring clothes, wash you, bring food, please?”

It sounded good and I smiled at her. She smiled, bowed, and clippety-clopped out of the room, hurrying back a minute or two later with a tray. A big pot of tea, a dish of steaming rice, and some fruit were on the tray. By the time I'd eaten and drunk through that, she was in the room with two small tubs of very hot water and a stack of Army towels.

This was no sensuous bath. The girl was intent on getting me clean, rubbing my skin with hot wet cloths. After the bath she left again and returned with a shining straight-edged razor and her strong fingers smoothed my skin as she shaved me.

Her next trip was with my clothes, and she helped me into a pretty good fit of a Class A uniform. I noticed the sleeves of the jacket carried the five stripes of a sergeant first class, just as Benny had said. There were service ribbons over the left breast pocket—pretty standard, UN and Korea, Good Conduct, the Combat Infantryman Rifle, a Bronze Star. I wondered who the soldier was who had once worn this jacket, where he'd earned his Bronze Star, and what had happened to him.

By the time the girl was done I felt good, rested, fed, clean.

“Thank you,” she said as she looked at me, then she bowed and left. She closed the door and it opened again for Benny. He examined me from my polished boots to my cap before he nodded.

“Looks O. K., buster. You're kinda funny, you know, kid? That girl, Suzi, she's number one, and now she's hiding and crying.”

“The girl who was in here? Why?”

“Because you didn't use her. She says you think she's ugly or sick. Crying like goddamn hell.”

And I knew he was speaking the truth. I'd been in Japan long enough to take the soft valet work of a girl like Suzi for granted, hardly aware of the girl's fingers as she scrubbed, shaved, tied the bootlaces. But I'd forgotten that Suzi's life in the Happy Time Bar, like the lives of the other fifty or sixty girls who worked there, was measured by her desirability to the red-faced barbarian giants, who were rich and powerful beyond the dreams of a peasant girl. I hadn't “used her” and so she was hiding and crying.

Benny grinned, the yellow stumps wet in his mouth. He lighted a cigarette. “You ready, buster?”

“Ready?”

“Yeah, to go out and have fun. Lot of GI's out there now. Going to be a long night and you might as well get started.”

“I think I'll take a walk first. Around town.”

“Don't get it in a sling, buster. Any M.P.'s stop you, you've had it.”

“I'm going to take a walk.”

He shrugged, his eyes like black beads, and behind them quick suspicion.

“You know what happens to too smart sonsabitches in Chitose, buster?”

“What?”

“The rats chew on them until somebody finds them in the morning. Mostly the rats chew at the place where the knife went in. O. K., huh?”

“Yeah.” I walked past him, out into the beer hall, past the soldiers and the girls into the fading sunlight and the wide street of Chitose.

A six-by-six truck was lumbering along, a guard carrying a carbine standing at the rear, one boot on the tail gate. A woman in kimono, her baby on her back, went by me on a bicycle. A sergeant and his girl walked along, and three girls arm in arm, giggling like something out of “The Mikado.”

An old man used the street as a latrine and another old man, wearing only torn cotton shorts, peddled a three-wheel bike truck loaded down with bottles of beer. There was the jingle of music from the beer halls, and the soft shuffle of wooden sandals.

I walked fairly rapidly, glad to be alone, glad to be out in the clear, cold air.

Two thoughts wove in and out—the nonsense story Benny had told me early this morning, the nonsense story of using me to bribe two C.I.D. men with ten thousand dollars in American money; the other thought was of Satin Shea.

The sergeant walking with the Japanese girl suddenly dropped his arm from her waist and snapped to attention, his right arm rising in a quick salute. In time to follow him I saw the sedan coming down the broad street, the black-painted Chevrolet with the two gold stars on the red field of the small sign over the bumper. As my fingers touched my forehead I turned my head to watch the sedan pass and I saw him, sitting erect in the rear seat, Major General Wilton Duncan. He was alone. He didn't turn to look at the soldiers he was passing, but each salute was returned.

Then the sedan was far down the road, and the sergeant had his arm around his girl again. The division commander had passed. The salutes brought out in sharp clearness the difference between the two men who wanted Satin, a difference a civilian might not understand. Duncan was responsible for nearly twenty thousand men here and at Camp Crawford, near Sapporo, where there were two regiments of the 136th, and where his division headquarters were located. To those men, and to the Japanese, Duncan was supreme.

He may have been supreme, but something happened then on the street of Chitose that would have been beyond his understanding. I must have stopped and turned my head again to watch the rear of his staff car. As I stood there a jeep cut in from the left-hand lane and slid to a stop with the gravel squirting from under its tires.

“Yes, ma'am,” said an American voice as I spun around to look. A corporal, in dusty fatigues, was grinning from behind the wheel at the girl, also in fatigues, who sat next to him. “You said stop by this soldier, ma'am, and I sure stopped by him!”

“That's fine, Higgins. I'll get out here.” Satin swung her legs gout of the jeep and stood in the street, her fine eyes on mine. Her camera bag was slung over her shoulder, her red hair was tied smooth and tight under her long-billed fatigue cap.

Higgins and his jeep waited, but she waved him on. “I'll call the dispatcher later,” she said.

“O. K., ma'am,” Higgins said, and he gunned the jeep and was gone.

Satin and I were still looking at each other, a searching look, more than a lovers' look, as if we were hunting for what we knew was there in each of us. It was a long look, a look to find realities.

She spoke first. “Bob!”

“Your general just passed by in his staff car. Couple of seconds ago.”

Maybe she hadn't heard me. This time it was softer. “Bob!”

They knew her, the GIs and the Japanese, and there was a score of faces aimed toward us, curious. The General's strange lady—to Americans, the beautiful redhead; to Japanese, the incredibly different woman, like a devil-goddess from an ancient print—was standing in the street with a sergeant from the 136th.

Standing there and looking at him with searching eyes that even a Japanese girl could understand.

“What's happened, Bob? Are you all right?”

I knew now. Let Wilton Duncan stand tall and proud with the two stars on his shoulders—this woman was name.

Why, I didn't know. That didn't matter. But while our eyes had searched, both of us had found what we hunted, and both of us knew it there on the dusty street of Chitose. We had both stepped forward and now our faces were only inches apart.

“What are you doing here, Bob? Tell me, quick, please.”

“Mostly I came up here to see you. It's a long, no-good story.”

Now all the top layers of her mind were closing in, and she was remembering that we weren't just a man and a woman; we belonged in a rigid pattern, and it was a pattern that could hold no love between us.

“You're still in trouble, Bob?”

Trouble. That was a good word, and coming from her now, it had a nice ladylike sound. In another minute, as everything that was real between us was smothered by everything that was real in the world around us, she'd be calling me “Sergeant.”

“Yeah. And ma'am, move on. You don't want my troubles.”

I'd find out something in the next ten seconds that would make all the difference in the rest of my life. What she did now would show whether she was real or whether she was ordinary. And if Satin Shea was ordinary, all the women I'd ever meet in the future would be ordinary, too.

“Is there any place near here where we can go and talk. Bob?”

So “Lonesome” Lee would never be lonesome again. He had a woman and she was real.

And so the smart guy betrayed her, and took her toward destruction.

“A beer hall. The Happy Time.”

“Let's go.” She looked at me again, and all I can remember of that look is her fine eyes, knowing me, knowing herself.

So I walked beside her for the little distance to the Happy Time and we did not speak. The heads turned as we went by, blue eyes, gray eyes, and shiny black ones all suddenly widening. The General's redheaded girl was somewhat more conspicuous in Chitose than if she'd been a real devil-goddess.

The kids, many of them carrying still smaller and even rounder-faced kids on their backs, were forming a semicircle in front of us.

One private, his uniform already mussed and his face beer-heat red, waved drunkenly. “Yoh, Sergeant. You trying to make out with the big man's doll? Love that!” The two soldiers with him closed on him like double doors, and a brace of M.P.'s, attracted by the crowd of kids, swung out of their jeep with their billy clubs ready. They'd heard the drunken private, and his afternoon in Chitose had already come to its finish. One of them stiffened to attention and turned toward Satin, barely stopping his arm from coming up in a semaphore salute.

“Sorry, ma'am,” he said, and his eyes glanced quickly at me. I felt as if I'd been brushed with a knife. Sharp, bright eyes had sketched me out, hunted for a memory of me, glanced again to make the mental photograph of the sergeant who was walking with the lady who was to become the wife of the commanding general.

Sergeant first class, 136th Division, Bronze Star and the Combat badge, all of it in order. He looked for regimental insignia and found none, and I know he wanted hungrily to ask me for my pass. But I was with the General's lady.

They hustled all three of the soldiers toward the jeep and Satin and I walked on.

Walked on toward my betrayal of her. The doors of the barn that was the Happy Time were open and we went into the soft jungle of jukebox sound and the smell of beer and perfume and cigarettes.

We got maybe ten feet inside when two or three of the dance girls were in front of us, chattering in excitement, their saucerish breasts bobbing with their breathing. Then one of the little men from early this morning, one of the men who had prodded and scolded the new shipment, was in front of us and the girls faded back into the electric-bright jungle of noise and smell.

“Sorry, please not come in. Is not nice, quiet place, sorry.” As he spoke he walked in tiny, worried steps toward us, but steadily edging us back.

I knew damn well it was no nice, quiet place. But it was only a notch or two worse than the joint in Shimbashi where I had met Satin first, and it was the only place in Chitose where I knew of a door I could close behind us.

“Hiya, buster! You got trouble, huh? Don't sweat, kid, I fix! Huh?” It was Benny, his eyes briefly wide as he smiled with his yellow wrecks of teeth, then narrowing quickly. “You come with me quick, I take you to number-one place. No trouble.”

So we both were stupid. It's understandable. We wanted to use words to do something about what our eyes had found, and like anybody else, we were in a hurry to use those words, to be some place where there wasn't a circle of eyes looking at the General's lady.

“You walk with me, please?” Benny was trying to smile again, and I remember being shocked. There was a faint fog of sweat on Benny's face, and somehow I knew he was in a near agony of fear.

But we walked with him out to the dusty street, through a gateway with a thick door, and to a waiting car.

Chapter Thirteen

THE CAR MUST HAVE BEEN SET UP for us within the last three or four minutes, while the dance girls had chattered at us in the Happy Time, because the driver had just slammed the door beside him as we reached it.

“You get in, huh?” said Benny. The smile was gone, but the film of sweat was thicker, and now he had a little gun. A short-barreled gun, maybe a .32, and it was pointed at Satin Shea.

I moved at him fast, and stopped fast Benny the Korean wasn't just making motions with his gun. As my hands went up and forward I saw him flinch against the noise the gun was going to make, his eyes almost closed, his shoulders hunched up, and his upper lip wrinkling toward his nostrils.

Somehow I'd stopped fast enough, and my eyes followed his finger as it slowly loosened, his shoulders drooped to normal, and the lip curled into a snarl.

“Wise son-of-a-bitch, huh? I blow her belly into hunks, you so goddamn wise then? Get in!”

Satin's face showed nothing. No surprise, no fear. But then, this girl had been where men died quickly, men that she had known and talked with, and she had seen their bodies within minutes of the moment she had laughed with them. She turned her head, and again we looked at each other.

Lover, I thought to myself, with anger and bitterness in me like the blast of the Devil Islands, where have you brought this woman? Into what?

Benny rammed the gun into Satin's side and her face showed sudden pain. He spat as he talked. “Hayaka!”

Satin ducked her head and Benny stepped back, quickly, out of range of any fast move of my hands. She climbed into the back seat of the car and Benny motioned me to follow her. It was an old Plymouth, maybe a '33.

Benny said, “Get over, get your heads between your knees, 'way down.”

I knew what the men must have felt like when they surrendered, the swaggering young guys of the old occupation First Cav; when they surrendered to the North Koreans in those first bad days, years back, in that summer of '50. I bent my head down until my fingers touched the muck and dust on the floor and the blood began to pound. I turned my head and I saw the red hair of Satin only inches from me, then everything was drowned in dust and stink and darkness. The driver had thrown a filthy blanket over our heads.

A lightning rap of pain bloomed out from my skull, and as my body, in frantic rebellion, tried to push back up, Benny's gun muzzle dug through the blanket into my head again.

He was saying something but I couldn't understand him. The car's motor shook into noise and the clutch went out with a scream; I rocked back and the-muzzle hit like a hammer. He must have been leaning over the front seat watching.

“Who?” said Satin, and coughed from the dust in the stinking darkness.

I tried to answer and coughed instead.

The car bumped a hundred yards, turned, bumped along.

Both Satin and I coughed, and once I heard her gasp in pain, and felt her leg touch mine as her body jerked. She must have lifted her head and felt the hard rap of Benny's gun.

My blood-whipped mind couldn't figure any action. Our heads were two melons under a blanket to Benny. He could see any movement we tried to make and bring that brutal steel hammer down too fast to give us a chance.

My ears were beyond hearing Satin if she spoke, with the blood tom-toming in them. Each time I tried to speak I coughed, and if my cough raised my head the punishment was quick. The back of my head felt as if the bone had been battered in.

The car stopped, yawing as the worn brakes grabbed, but fast enough to throw us both forward. I started to lift my head and the gun gouged down hard. Benny was half shouting and I could hear him through the tom-toms in my skull, hear him enough to know that he was shouting in Korean.

Once again the car lurched forward and stopped almost at once. This time the shudder of the engine ceased altogether.

There are unnecessary cruelties, and in the Far East they must have a delicate, enjoyable flavor. It was more than a minute before Satin and I raised our heads, and when we did it was slowly, like a dog when it fears a lash but must come toward you. Our heads rose an inch, and the reflex of the fear of pain pulled them down in panic hurry, then seconds later we raised them even more slowly again, an inch, and waited, then another inch, and then up, with the filthy blanket falling behind us. Benny was outside the car, watching us in the dim light of the interior of some building, laughing. He had slid out quietly, and stood there watching our heads.

But the short-barreled gun was in his hand, and it was pointed toward Satin.

“Get out, real quick, son-of-a-bitch,” he said. I pushed down the wreck of the door handle, swung it open, and found myself staggering when I tried to stand up. I held my arm for Satin and I think she did better than I did when she straightened herself from that stooped torture position.

We were in a barn, a shed, something like that. It was big enough for two or three cars, but there was only the ancient Plymouth, Benny, the driver, and the two of us there.

The strain was over for Benny, it seemed. He looked as if he thought he had it made, in the Army phrase. The yellow-stump smile was wide and narrow.

“Stupid Japanese think this kind of hair is real ugly,” he said, poking the stubby gun toward Satin's head. “Me, I think it's number one, huh? Like anything American, you got to learn to like it. Me, I think I like it fine.” The driver was grinning, too. I don't think he understood much English, certainly not enough for him to get that part where the Korean had said “stupid Japanese.”

He turned around and fumbled in a long box toward the end of the thick-walled shed. Benny waited, looking at Satin. When the driver came back he had a World War II nine-millimeter Japanese rifle cradled under his arm, one of the long ones with the straight bolt handle sticking out.

Now the rifle covered me. Benny walked slowly toward Satin.

“You ever have a Korean, huh, kid?” he said, and now there was spittle on his lips. “You ain't lived, huh?”

I was looking at the gun but I wasn't thinking about it. I was thinking about the girl on the fishing boat going toward Hakodate, the girl that looked like Meriko, and what had happened while I stood at the prow and watched the sea ahead.

The Japanese with the old rifle was interested. The gun was pointed toward me, but his eyes were watching the slow approach of the Korean as his free hand began to reach for Satin.

The first rule of covering a man with a gun is the rule about not letting him get close to that gun. The Japanese forgot that rule. My hands were out and wrapped around the barrel, pushing it into his chest like a blunt, unexpected spear.

Benny swung as the Japanese howled and Satin was on him, her fingers digging at his eyes. I had the rifle away from the driver and he was coming for me, still howling. My hands were on the barrel and he got the butt in the face this time. He went over backward and didn't try to get up.

Benny had torn away from Satin's fingers and he was lifting his gun when the stock of the rifle and his skull shattered together. His body went over like a tree. I saw the suddenly dead, pushed-together face as he fell. I was holding the rifle barrel but the gun was useless now. It had hit the side of the Korean's head like a baseball bat and crushed it.

Satin looked down at the body, small now and frail, with blood hiding the terrible wreck of the head and the crumpled face. For a moment horror showed on her face, and then it was gone and she rubbed her eyes with small fists.

The driver had his hand over his broken nose and shattered teeth. He made hurt-animal noises.

I picked up Benny's gun and checked it. With the gun in one hand, I put my other hand on Satin's back, pulled her to me, kissed her.

For a moment there was only the softness of ungiving lips, and then she showed passion, fiercely, quickly. I let the gun fall again into the dirt and I held her. The only noise was the hurt-animal sound.

Then her hands were on my chest and she pushed me away.

“God, Bob! What was this? Who was that man? Why?” Standing there by the old car, I knew the answer. At least, I could guess.

I could guess why Asahi-san had sent me to Chitose. Not the nonsense about watching the money that bought the girls in the village, or the nonsense about bribing C.I.D. men.

Asahi-san had brought me to Chitose because Satin was there, and because Satin was to be the wife of the man whose word controlled the 136th. Because there had been something between that woman loved by a general and a sergeant hunted by the police. He couldn't have known much more than that, but that much he could have read into the stories in the Tokyo newspapers.

Whatever he'd planned involved three people—Satin, Duncan, and me. It was Japanese thinking; there are dozens of old Japanese plays that use a similar plot—the noble, his love, and the thief. And in most of them the three are used, and their passions are the strings, by the clever, ambitious man. Asahi-san had put us into a familiar Japanese play, but what did the clever, ambitious man want from the three, the general, the girl, the fugitive?

We were in a well-built barn with a dirt floor. It looked much like a barn in Minnesota. Many of the buildings in Hokkaido do, because the big, fertile northern island was explored by the English and not the Japanese, and it was settled with American aid more than half a century ago. Sapporo, the big town, looks like a little Midwestern American city.

The doors at the end were still open.

“Get in the car,” I said to Satin. “I've got to get you back to Chitose fast. And when we get there, get out and get away from me. Forget that you know me. I'm poison.”

She didn't start toward the car.

“This was some kind of kidnapping. What's it all about?”

“I'm mixed up with some bad people, Satin. I guess they want to use you and me to reach your man.”

“My man? Will?”

“General Duncan.”

“I see.” Her fine eyes were on mine. “You're mixed up with them, Bob?”

“After I broke out of the Provost's office in Tokyo I went to a man in the Ginza-Nishi, a black-market crook. He brought me here. They've been giving me all kinds of stories about why—but when they saw us together they moved into action. Whatever they've schemed up has to do with you and me together, and that means Wilton Duncan.”

“How could it, Bob? Will couldn't be made to do anything, if that's what you mean, because of me. If it was a question of the Army or me, he'd not even think of me. Or is that what you mean?”

“For some reason, Satin, you're important to a man called Asahi-san. A bad one. You've got to get back to Chitose quick, and you've got to have no connection with me.”

She pointed to Benny's body. “What about this?”

It was a very good point. Benny dead was a problem the Japanese police would take up. There was a weird quality to this; three times Satin and I had been together, and three times there had been violence, and twice a man had died.

“I'll take care of it,” I said to Satin. “Get in the car and let's move.”

Her hands found mine. “Bob,” she said, “what can we do?”

“About this mess? I'll handle—”

“No, not this. About us.”

It wasn't easy to say. “There's nothing about us, Satin. Nothing.”

“We know that isn't true, Bob. Maybe it would be better if there were nothing. But there is, and what can we do now?”

“We can't do anything.”

The fine woman's body in the greenish cotton fatigue shirt and pants slumped a little and she turned away. She pushed open the rusted door of the old sedan, bent over, and picked up her camera bag. She slung it over her shoulder, ran her fingers through the red hair, the short copperish hair.

“Let's go, Bob. I'll drive.”

I picked up Benny's gun, looked over at the Japanese. He was coughing but still lying with his knees high against his body.

Satin had gone to the front seat and she swung in behind the wheel.

“Bob, I want you to tell me the story from the time in Tokyo until now. Tell me the whole thing. I've got to understand what's going on.”

I climbed in beside her, and reached over the back of the seat for my cap. Being a soldier gives a man a lot of habits, and wearing a cap when in uniform outdoors is one of them.

The key was in the ignition and the starter worked noisily.

“This man called Asahi-san—” I began.

She reached down to the gearshift, put it in reverse, and let out the whining, chattering clutch. The car backed out of the barn.

“Tell me why you ran away first,” Satin said as we bumped backward into the bright afternoon sunlight.

“Panic. I didn't want to be in a cell. I had some idea of finding Charlie Daniki. I don't know. Mostly panic.”

She nodded. “I understand. The whole thing was shock.” Now she seemed remote, cool. Like a nurse, or maybe a teacher trying to help somebody in trouble.

She cut the wheels over and backed across a rutted farm road. On both sides of us were fields of something like cabbage. I saw the round hats of a farm family working about a hundred yards away. They didn't seem to pay any attention to the sound of the car. Satin moved forward, shifted into third. The sedan rattled and we bounced along the narrow road between the fields. Except for the round hats of the farmer and his family, it might have been Minnesota. I turned and looked toward the barn. Beyond it was an ordinary Japanese farmhouse. No one came out of it, and there was no explanation I could think of as to why Benny had brought us here.

The road curved and went downward into a kind of broad gully.

“I don't know how much time we have before we get to Chitose, Bob. I'll have to say this now—it's important.

“You've got to get out of this jam. I'll help, and maybe Will can help. But you've got to get out, and then you and I will have to face up to whatever this thing is that we have. I can't marry one man when there's another man that—”

“Yeah,” I said. It wasn't a lovers' word and I didn't want lovers' words now.

“We'll go to the camp and you'll turn yourself in. You have to do that, Bob. That's the beginning.”

The combat reporter of the Pacific Stars and Stripes had known fear. The guy who had been called “Lonesome” Lee had known that cold edge of fear that cuts through the belly; but this was a different fear.

Waiting in a cell; a Japanese prison cell. Waiting for the trial with the small, polite brown men talking in their own language, watching them argue and make careful notes. Going back to the cell and waiting again. Trying to explain, so that the interpreter could explain to the little bright-eyed brown men how Deet Byron had lied about that hatch cover and the black water, and why I had come to Hokkaido on the boat with Benny, and why the next day I had smashed his head with a rifle butt.

And Satin would be in that strange, unreal court, explaining why Deet Byron had been whipped by jealousy into attacking Sergeant Lee, explaining that Lee had held her in his arms and kissed her, explaining why she had been with a fugitive in a car in Chitose, explaining, explaining.

And beyond that court there might be more familiar ones. The board of officers with their distant, shielded eyes, listening to the charges and specifications of a general court-martial under the code of military justice.

“That the said Sergeant Robert E. Lee, while in the custody of the Provost Marshall, did willfully—

“That the said Sergeant Robert E. Lee did willfully absent himself from—

“That the said Sergeant Robert E. Lee did appear in uniform and insignia of a member of the—

“That the said Sergeant Robert E. Lee did associate and assist in the procurement of female Japanese nationals for the purpose of—”

And so on. The code of military justice has a lot of sections and I figured a lot of them would apply to me.

Maybe it's me, but there is something completely terrifying about the great machinery of the law when that machinery is grinding you, and you have only words, explanations, and finally your hands drop to your sides and you can feel the chill, impersonal cruelty of the punishment machine as its steel bites into your soul.

I thought of my plan of doing a Stars and Stripes series on Chitose and the evil that links it to the web of Tokyo, and of trying to explain that plan to the remote-eyed officers, to the interpreter with his narrow shoulders bent over as he listened, his head bobbing to show he knew the words.

“What is it, Bob?” Satin turned her eyes from the road to me.

“Nothing, Satin. I was just thinking, that's all.” Violence, and dead men—that's what happened when Satin and I were together. The Devil Islands had been a kind of symbol for us.

Satin stopped the car by the side of the rutted, narrow road. She put her hands on the sides of my face and her mouth was on mine, and after the long seconds had gone her face was still close, her hands on me.

“Now we know, Bob. No Will Duncan. No other man. You.”

I didn't ask her why. She was freer than most women; she was lovely, and she had a sure talent that brought her to the great ones of the world and to the moments of high excitement; she was free enough to know her love, and to take it. Even if her man was a very ordinary guy in very bad trouble.

But we both sensed the desperation of time. The minutes we had together now might be all we would have.

As a woman she seemed to know this urgency even more than I did. Her arms, her fingers, her mouth, her eyes touched me in love and in desperate urgency. We did not use words to try to communicate what our bodies had known so long.

“Now we know,” she said again.

“Now we know.” She had brought something to me, a sureness and a strength. “Let's get into town and start getting out of this jam.”

“I've got to tell Will,” she said.

“I can tell him. I've talked to him before.” I remember what the tall general had said. It was a good thing that I had strength; I was going to need it. “Maybe it would be better to tell him first, and then I can go to the Provost Marshall.”

“It won't be hard to straighten these things out, Bob.”

She started the car. I was thinking fast now. The big thing—the one that might make the difference—was the secret of why Asahi-san had wanted to get Satin and me. I was sure now that he had set his plan back in Tokyo days ago, and that Benny's chief job on this trip had been to see that somehow Satin would meet me. We had fallen into his hands quickly and easily. But what was the end purpose?

The brakes jammed on and the car swung squealing toward the side of the road. A big new car had rounded a curve almost in front of us and we stopped with its bumper almost touching our right fender.

“Gun it! Satin, quick! Get moving!” I shouted.

But it was too late. Asahi-san, in the back seat of the big car, had seen us too, and one of the two men in front was already out of the car.

I shot at him with Benny's gun but the gun clicked on a dead round.

There were three of them around us now, with only Asahi-san still sitting. One of them was trying to pull Satin from the front seat and another had his gun in my face.

Chapter Fourteen

SATIN MUST HAVE BEEN FIGHTING HARD because I heard a man scream. I stopped fighting. This was a Japanese gunman covering me, and I could see the frantic nervousness in his face. Slowly he stepped away from the car, motioning me to get out.

I turned to look at Satin. She was standing on the dirt beside the road, and one of Asahi-san's men had her in a brutal wrist-and-throat hold. I looked back at the gunman and he was ready and more than willing.

It was a lost fight. Slowly my hands went up, and I nodded toward Satin, then shook my head.

The gunman laughed at me and I felt the third man move behind me before the crashing pain of the blackjack came. I went to my knees and fell forward on my hands and I thought my eyes were going to fall out.

My wrists and arms were like wet rope and I had to try hard to keep from going all the way down with my face in the soft, moist earth. He must have clipped me on the neck, well below the ear; I could feel the paralysis in my shoulder and my arm.

I saw the movement near me again and I flinched before his pointed shoe kicked into my stomach.

Satin and I were in for a real bad time. That was the thought that bounced around in my swollen head.

The kick came again and I knew what it was supposed to mean—“Get up!” I pushed myself back on my heels and stood up with blackjack pains running down my back and side.

They were talking quickly and nervously among the four of them. I turned my head and it wasn't easy; it was as if my head had been nailed to my shoulders.

I saw the copper-red hair, the girl tall above the men who held her, and then she was in Asahi-san's car. I started to run toward her, and the blackjack was fast behind me again and I went falling forward, felt the crumbly dirt slap into my face.

They must have had her under control now, because two of them pulled at me and hauled me to the back seat of the old sedan. I went into it and crumpled on the floor in a heap.

When I tried to fight my way up, the blackjack got out for the third time — at a pressure point on the shoulder—and that did it.

I was crying like a kid. Not from the pain, but from the whole damn mess. You try to fight a little, you try to outthink them a little, you hold on with whatever you've got inside you, and the damn blackjack keeps coming down, and behind the jack there's a gun, and you know you could kill the three of them with your hands, and now you're weak and shattered from the pressure-point blow and that's it, boy. You're done.

And she's done, too.

Before there was ever a Pacific war, the gangs of Tokyo and the port cities of Yokohama and Kobe were tough, as tough as any gangs in the world. Little, and maybe comic sometimes, but totally cruel, totally serious about killing.

In Tokyo it was the old Yoshiwara, and the alleys be-hind the stinking canals. Now it's the Shimbashi, and these were the men of the gangs; little, even funny to look at if you didn't look at their eyes, merciless. What they didn't know by 1940 they learned from 1945 on, and we helped teach them.

There wasn't much to remember about the ride. It was back to that barn again. I pulled myself out and tried to rub my arm back into life. There was just the car and two of Asahi-san's men. They talked to the fellow who didn't have much face left after his rifle butt had hit it. He was sitting up now and trying to wipe away blood with a piece torn from his shirt.

It was hard for them to understand him. They looked at Benny, pointed at his head, and bobbed their own heads as they talked.

I was about ready to try the old game again; there was a little feeling to my muscles and I figured it was worth the try. They turned to look at me as I started to go for them and they both squeaked and the gun was big towards me.

I'm sure I smelled the perfume before I saw him, but either way he was there. First he spoke to his men in Japanese and then the little eyes behind the puffed, rouged cheeks turned toward me.

“Trouber, you too damn much takusan trouber.” It was a complaint, as if I'd shown bad manners.

He muttered something at me in Japanese. There are two phrases that sound pretty much alike; one of them is chotte motte, and the other is chotte matte. One means something close to “just a minute.” The other one means “I kill you with a knife.”

Asahi-san had said one of them, but I wasn't sure which one.

The two gunmen had understood him, though. One of them giggled a little,—

“You get that girl back to Chitose, to headquarters,” I said, my voice low and steady. “You get her back safe and quick or the American Army will fry that lard. You know that.”

Maybe he understood, maybe he didn't. The occupation was long over now, and the American Army was sometimes little more than a profitable nuisance to many like Asahi-san.

The pain was still rolling through my neck and head like bear claws. I could think of one, maybe two things: Satin was probably in the farmhouse we'd seen near this barn; and I was probably going to find out what went on behind those little eyes in the purplish, swollen face of Mr. Morning Sun.

He squinted at me, as if he was making up his mind. The two gunmen were still smiling. Over everything was the quiet of a Hokkaido afternoon, the big quiet of a farm that was so much like a farm in the American Midwest. I could see dust motes in slow whirling movement like the dust motes I'd watched as a kid in Mississippi.

Benny had enjoyed those long seconds when Satin and I had fought reflex fear to lift our heads and pull off the blanket. Asahi-san was enjoying these long seconds now.

I'd have to try to bargain, try to outsmart this fat, perfumed rat of the Shimbashi, try to save Satin, try to save my life.

“Let's get smart,” I said. “Give me a cigarette and let's get together for some loot on this deal. I know there's money.”

I held out my hand for the cigarette. The little eyes barely flickered.

“Give me a cigarette and then talk business. I've got plenty of friends.”

The purplish powder and rouge cracked, and the fat cheeks bounced. Asahi-san was laughing.

“Prenty fiends? You need prenty fiends—but never happen!”

He wasn't fixing to do any bargaining.

Men I had known must have felt this, back in the time when the Reds took them as prisoners and tied their hands and then the man with the gun walked along the row and shot them, one by one. This was waiting at the end of the row.

Asahi-san spoke softly, almost with the tenderness of love, to one of his men. The one with the gun. The man lifted it like a target shooter, straight out at arm's length, sighting an inch or so below my navel.

The pains were gone, and my stomach was tight as a league baseball.

“Duncan won't believe you. Baka! Crazy scheme— whattsa matter you?” The words had to come out with anger and contempt, not shrill with fear. These were Japanese.

“Baka! Crazy! Duncan won't believe you!”

Asahi-san spoke to the man with the gun, but it stayed out in position.

“You're going to tell Duncan I kidnapped the girl, and that some men from Chitose followed us and saved her— but that I got killed. Baka!”

Maybe he showed a little interest. He shrugged.

“Maybe happen.”

“Duncan won't do anything for you. Not if he believed you, even, he wouldn't. He's an American Army officer, a two-star general. Not that girl, not me, none of those things are important. Never happen!”

Asahi-san liked all this. He was vastly amused.

He waved his hand at the other man, not the one holding the gun straight out. “You speak, prease,” he said to him.

The man laughed and spat out his cigarette. He asked Asahi-san a question in Japanese and was answered in the same language. Then he turned to me.

“Is big joke, Sergeant-san. Very big joke.” His face turned serious and he made a neat bow.

“We have little business to do. Export business. Very nice. Much money. You understand? I speak O.K. good?”

From the beginning, from the time I'd walked up the stairs to Asahi-san's bar, I'd felt this laughter, this hot edge of cruel laughter. It was here, loud in the silence.

“You speak good,” I said.

“Is export business. You know how we make box for things we send. Very good box?”

I remembered the little shop in the basement of the Finance barracks where two busy craftsmen wrapped the kimonos, the fishing rods, the chinaware the GI's bought. All in clever, fitted boxes, all well stuffed with fluff against the long voyage home.

“Very good boxes,” I agreed.

“We need fine boxes for business deal. We think maybe this general will let us use a box. You think?”

“I think you're crazy. General Duncan wouldn't let you send an illegal postcard, let alone a box. No matter if you saved his mother as well as his girl.”

He shook his head sadly. “You no think. Too bad.” Then he smiled broadly. “But we think maybe so. You are going to be the box.”

All three of them laughed at that one.

For a moment the crazy idea was with me that I was still back in Tokyo, still mad with heroin, and this was all hallucination. But this was reality.

The man with the gun outstretched had been holding it, even as he laughed, and his arm had lowered unconsciously. I tried.

I tried by throwing my hurting body toward him, twisting as my hand grasped the wrist of the gun arm, pulling him forward as my body turned, my shoulder hitting his face as the gun went off, shooting past me.

The other man was on me like a monkey, chopping at my neck with the side of his hand, and he was good at it. I went down.

I'd tried and it had been a fair try but it hadn't worked.

It took a little while to work myself back to my feet, and not a pleasant while, with the expectation of the brief flash of the bullet that would kill me. But they didn't shoot me. Maybe because they were enjoying this, more likely because they really hated me now. Hated me not for trying, but for failing. Anybody who knows the islands will know what I mean.

“You real fighter?” asked the man who had talked about the box. Then he spat.

The three of them talked to each other rapidly, and Asahi-san shrugged.

“Maybe you like to know about this box deal, fighter guy?” asked the man.

I know some unpleasant words in Japanese. I said them and my heart was behind them.

“Now you fight with big mouth, fighter guy?”

Asahi-san was waddling away, back toward the doors. He was weary of the fun, or he had more important things to do than watch them have fun with me before they killed me.” More important things with Satin Shea.

“I tell you about box so you understand good, fighter guy. We've got stuff to send to your country. Nice number-one pure heroin. Not Japanese stuff—Chinese. You know where we get it? We get it right here on Hokkaido, from fishing boat.

“We get it very cheap. But the Japanese police not like us to bring it to Tokyo and they maybe catch us. Smuggled stuff, no tax. Besides, price in Tokyo not much.

“Sometimes we bring heroin up, regular Japanese stuff. Not so much trouble if we get caught But million dollars American—lots of money, hey, fighter boy?—in Chinese heroin if we get it to San Francisco.

“Million dollars in heroin not so much. Not big, not heavy. Go in the box easy.” The word “box” always made him giggle a little.

“You get killed. We have good story about you stealing woman with copper-wire hair. That not matter much.

“All we wanted was you in Chitose where we could kill you, and Army take your body. Army sergeant cut you up —autopsy, huh? Yes, autopsy. Cut you open. Then you put in coffin to go back Stateside. But in you is million dollars in heroin. Big joke, you the box.”

I saw the Army coffin as it would be lowered into the ship's hold for the ten-day voyage back to San Francisco. The body was inside, in its shroud, and the lid had been screwed down. The body would be marked for shipment back to the little town of Oxford, Mississippi.

I could see the neatly wrapped tins of heroin in the body cavity where the big organs of lungs, heart, and intestines had been.

If they had bought the sergeant who made the autopsies for the 136th, they had a box for their heroin that no narcotics inspector would search.

“Very hard to kill soldier without big trouble. But you, fighter guy, you easy to kill. You very bad man, take General's girl. She get gun, kill you. She good girl.”

He held out his hands, palms forward. “Asahi-san is very smart. Couple weeks ago he thinks about using the cutting-up sergeant. Sergeant has girl, needs much money. Asahi-san figures how to get body. Then, little time more, you come. You in big trouble. Next day Asahi-san find out your girl up here in Chitose.

“Old Japanese story. Big man, girl, bad man. Smart man use them.

Chapter Fifteen

“I EXPLAIN SO YOU UNDERSTAND GOOD, FIGHTER GUY. We got the Chinese stuff, million bucks' worth Stateside. Very, very hard to get across safe.

“We got drunken sergeant who works in the morgue for the division. Drunken sergeant with a musume, and he do anything for money. Like putting a package in a body going back Stateside.

“We got to have a body. That's you. We can't have trouble about killing somebody for a body, and it's got to be a GI.

“Any kind of crazy story do to get you up here. If we can get you and the copper-wire girl together up here— real good. Then we get girl to cover story. Girl not crazy, she not let big general boy friend think she go with AWOL sergeant out behind bush, make pom-pom. Girl say you steal her, try to make pom-pom, she fight, get gun, shoot you in belly. General like that very much.

“You like that, fighter boy with big mouth? You like that, goddamn Yank?”

There was the long silence, so rich in pleasure for him, so tight with hate for me. The long silence while the tall man in the rumpled uniform, whose hands were empty, looked at the small man whose hand held a gun. Looked at the other small man with the bright eyes and the curled, scornful mouth.

Before the silence was broken Asahi-san came back, and walking in front of him was Satin.

She walked proudly, her head high.

Asahi-san was grumbling. He spoke in Japanese to the talker of his gang, the man who seemed to enjoy explaining things.

“Hello, lady,” the talker said. “How you do, please?”

Satin was looking at me, paying no attention to the others.

“I think they want me to kill you, Bob,” she said.

The talker got angry. He slapped her across the face and I had to see the gun aimed at my belt before my hands dropped to my sides again.

“You listen, please?” he snarled. “You listen goddamn good.”

Her remembering eyes turned to him.

“Yes, little evil man?”

“This guy here, he's dead meat. You know? Dead. Right now he thinks he's alive, he's dead. Understand?”

“No.”

“S'koshi minutes back he was going to get it. The bullet in the belly. Dead.” The talker made gestures, one hand to his middle, his shoulders slumping forward, his mouth falling open, his eyes rolling up. “All dead.”

“But you didn't,” Satin said. She was fighting for time, as I had done.

“Asahi-san, he say maybe get girl to do it. He say you smart girl, take shimbun pictures, make big money. He say you know score. We kill you both, already got one body for pigs to eat, that goddamn Korean. Give pigs one more body. You. For him we got better use than fat pig.

“But you, lady. Kill you Eke that. Nothing. I like to kill you. Maybe keep you here alive for hour, have fun, cut your head off, throw the meat to pigs. You like that, lady?”

The tall, red-haired girl's quiet eyes showed no fear. She knew some Japanese words, too, and she used them. They were much like the ones I'd used in my reply a couple of minutes ago.

He shook his head. “Never happen. We boss, you nothing. Asahi-san says you can kill this GI son-of-a-bitch, go back tell general boy friend a big lie. Everybody happy. You not have rough time here, make you scream. You not killed. Not feed pigs. Much better?”

My body was as cold as death and I could feel my heart, dull and heavy. I knew that I was going to start arguing with Satin, telling her to do what they wanted. I was going to ask her to kill me.

Because these men meant what they said. If she killed me they'd take her back to Chitose, and she would live with the lie that I had made her go with me by force, and that she had killed me in a struggle. That way she would live, and the lie would put part of her life together again.

But if she didn't kill me, in the next minute or two they would do it. Then they would use her, not for pleasure, but for hate. When the broken, crazed thing that she'd be then was of no further use even for hate, they'd cut her throat and let that fine, supple body be hidden forever behind the slavering, terrible jaws of the sows.

She could live only if they believed she was coldly practical, facing reality. The reality that she could live, go back to her life and the man who wished to marry her. “Satin,” I said.

Everybody in that barn seemed to know what I was doing. Even the man with the gun, who probably knew only a dozen words of English, looked at me with a kind of sadness.

“Satin,” I said again, “we'll be better off if you do it.” The words sounded odd; they didn't have the weight to them that seemed right for this moment. “Better off”—a funny phrase for what it described.

We were looking at each other, and for us we were alone there.

She knew what I meant. She had her choice of life— or horror and death. For me there was no choice. As the talker had said, “Dead.”

Now the talker spoke again. “That's the deal, please. How you go?”

Satin spoke the few words in Japanese she had used before. The Japanese are not a people who curse, or who use the fancy and imaginative insults of other Eastern peoples. These phrases were to the point, contemptuous.

The talker seemed pleased. Maybe there would be more fun for him this way.

“Satin, do it. I'll die easier.”

“You don't have to die, Bob.”

There was a strength in the slim, red-haired girl that I felt. One thing I knew now, she would live no lie. Regardless of the death it might mean, she would live no lie. So I would fight, too. “But Satin, think it out, step by step. What it means to them, step by step. If you don't shoot me you'll die, but not very quick, Satin, Not quick enough, if you think it out.”

She was a sharp girl when the squeeze was on tight. I knew what to expect and I couldn't spot the change in her.

“I can't do it, Bob,” she said, but I guessed the playacting had started.

Step by step. There were several different possibilities, if you thought it out, step by step.

“O. K., lady—” began the talker.

Satin turned on me in sudden fury.

“Bob! You got us into this, you fool! I love you, but it's been like this from the start. Trouble, each time worse. Now we're in this—and they'll kill us! They'll kill us. Kill us, do you understand?”

“Trouber, too goddamn much trouber.” It was the first thing Asahi-san had said. His cheeks flopped as he nodded his head.

“I won't do it, Bob! I won't take it any more! I won't die because of you! I can't die, Bob. I can't die.”

She had to play it slow, cool, and careful.

“Kill him! Stop playing with us! Kill him—and let me go!”

“You do, miss.”

She stood there sobbing.

“You do, lady,” the talker said again, his voice soft, his face serious and intent. Asahi-san was looking at her with ancient, evil wisdom.

“Maybe she fooling,” he said.

“Kill him, and let me go,” Satin said, her voice suddenly cool and bitter. “Kill that man. I've got to live.”

The talker spoke quickly to Asahi-san in Japanese, and the man with the gun joined in, but the gun stayed pointed at my belt. Then the talker took a knife from his sleeve and stepped behind Satin. His hand came up and the blade was at her throat.

He spoke to the gunman in Japanese. With the gun still held toward me, the man dropped the clip. There was still a round in the chamber.

A single bullet, and that for me.

Watching me as he moved, he side-stepped to Satin. The shining edge of the talker's knife was tight against the great artery of her throat, and she was forced to tilt her chin high.

We could hear the sounds our breathing made, the four of us and Satin, and the quietness of the Hokkaido afternoon was like a pause before the shattering crash that would come from the gun with the single bullet.

“You take gun, please,” said the talker. His knife seemed to bite a little into the smooth line of throat. The man with the gun, turning slowly to keep me in line, backed into her.

“It's all right, Satin. It's got to be like this. Don't worry, girl, I won't make a move.”

The sweat was cold on my face. When I'd tried to think it out step by step, I hadn't thought of a knife against her throat. I'd figured another gun, or maybe the stunt with the single bullet. Something that would give us a chance. She had understood me when I'd said, “Step by step,” and —not quick enough.” I'd meant they might not be quick enough.

But I hadn't figured on a knife against her throat.

The man with the gun reached behind him with his left hand, found Satin's right, then stepped aside a little, brought her hand to the gun.

“You try fool, you die,'-' said the talker.

I was watching the gun. I watched Satin's fingers close over the butt, as the gunman released his hold. I watched her finger go over the trigger. The talker was watching, too, and the edge nibbled into her skin.

The black mouth of the gun was still pointed at my belly, and she was holding it now. The other men stepped back of her.

Satin, with the knife against her throat, faced me with the gun. Asahi-san and the one man were three or four steps behind her, and the talker was close behind her.

She began to straighten her arm, and the black mouth did not waver. The gun was aimed at me. Her arm was straight now, and the gun was ready.

She fired it in one smooth motion, the trigger squeeze beginning as the barrel went up. As the barrel went up and her elbow bent quick and steady.

He didn't have a chance to scream. The bullet went into his forehead. She had fired straight over her shoulder, the gun pointing directly back as her elbow bent and her wrist twisted.

I went forward for the other man as the dead talker's body slumped back and fell. The other man got a fist in his face as my knee came up to guard against his kick.

Asahi-san was squeaking and waddling toward the door when I caught him.

This was one I hated to touch.

I tried to spin him, but the mass of blubber was too heavy. Then he surprised me, and I should not have been surprised.

This was a gross, soft, fat she-animal in an evil man's body, but Asahi-san had come up through the terrible alleys of the Yoshiwara and the Shimbashi. He had killed his men, and had fought in the night fights where the losers floated face down in the slime of the black canals at dawn. He had not lost.

I should not have been surprised.

He turned like a bear and the long, black, sharp nails raked for my eyes. His great belly bumped against me and one arm wrapped around and against my spine, while I tried with my free hand to hold off the bear-claw nails. I could see the chipped red lacquer on them, and I felt the terrific squeeze of his right arm against my back.

Asahi-san was fantastically strong.

I couldn't hold the nails away from my eyes.

The folds of stinking cloth with the rolls of fatty flesh pressed around me, and beneath that perfumed jelly were cords of muscle. I could see the caked powder and rouge on the swollen face, with the animal eyes almost hidden in the pouched sacks around them.

His nails were above my eyes, and no more than inch away. My head was bent back, and my forearm was pressed against my biceps straining to keep those claws away.

The arm at my spine loosened, the nails fell away from my face, and Asahi-san stood in front of me, his face slowly collapsing from the tautness of rage into the emptiness of defeat.

Satin had the knife, and its point was dug into the folds of skin below the bear-man's ear. She was speaking to him, softly and evenly, in Japanese. He knew what she meant.

“Hokay,” he wheezed. “Hokay. Never happen.”

I had strength enough to find the-clip for the gun, and reload. Then Satin walked away from the fat man. The other one was gone; he must have run away. Satin leaned against a timber support and held her hand to her throat. There was a red line of blood there where the talker's knife had cut when the bullet struck him.

“Trouber. Goddamn trouber. All the time you make trouber. Son-of-bitch,” said Asahi-san.

I was breathing too hard to talk. Two men, now, had died in this barn in the fields in the quiet afternoon. My body had taken a beating, enough beating so that I felt as if parts of me were loose and broken.

“I—I think we've got it made now,” I said to Satin.

She stopped wiping the blood on her throat and tried to smile. We were both used-up people.

“Best we do,” she said. “Best we've got it made. I don't think I've got much left, Bob.”

“I'm kind of whipped down myself.”

The fat man was watching me and my gun. He looked as if he might have plenty left if he was given a chance to use it.

I wasn't figuring on giving him any chance at all. Two men had died here in violence. I'd killed one of them. Satin had killed one of them. Neither one of us would have thought much about making it three.

We were two used-up people, and we were feeling kind of edgy now.

Asahi-san knew the signs. He stayed very quiet and kept his distance.

Chapter Sixteen

“BOB—”

“Yes, Satin?”

“We sort of know something about each other now, don't we?”

“We knew it before.”

“That was bad, here, a little while ago.”

“Real bad.”

“I've got to tell you, Bob—”

“Yes?”

We were standing on the dirt floor of the barn. I was holding the gun, and the fat man was watching me. In another minute or two I'd try to think of the right way to handle things, the best way to go to headquarters in Chitose.

“The only thing I was afraid of—really afraid of, when they wanted me to—”

“I know. Go ahead, Satin.”

“What I really was afraid of was that you'd stopped fighting. That they'd shoot you, and you'd just be standing there, waiting for the bullet. I was really afraid of that, Bob. But now I know.”

I didn't say anything.

“Maybe I'll never be as happy again as I was when you told me to think, it out, step by step, and I knew what you wanted me to do. Maybe it seems crazy, Bob Lee, but that was a wonderful moment for this girl.”

Our eyes met, and it was like the first kiss of a man and his bride. So I was still in trouble, and my body was a stack of bruises, and I wasn't sure what to do next, but I felt mighty fine.

“You take the bows, girl. I'd tried once before they brought you back, and they'd plain beat me. What happened in the house?”

“Some frightened farm women hid when we came in. Nothing else much. I had rather a bad time in the car. I tried to fight.”

“I saw it, Satin. It's been a bad hour or two.”

“My camera's still in the car. But I don't feel like taking any pictures. I don't even feel much like talking now, Bob.”

“I understand.”

“We've got to go back and see Will.”

See Will. See the General. Explain in some well-chosen words how Satin and I happened to kill a couple of fellows, and how we were in love, and General, how about forgetting about this court-martial nonsense? Sure, General, or can I call you Will, like our girl does? Sure, I'm a teensy-weensy little bit AWOL, and I have been playing a little footsie with a gang that handles prostitutes, narcotics, and murder, and I have kind of stolen the girl you were going to marry, Will—or should I call you General? —but you know how us sergeants are, fellow, just a carefree bunch of devil-may-care dogfaces, always out for a lark and a little loving.

It was a touch of delirium. I felt like laughing, but it's supposed to be women who get hysteria.

“We've got to face it, Bob.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think it's safe to try to get to Chitose?”

“No way of telling how much of a gang this guy here has got, Satin, or what this setup here amounts to. We've got a gun—and by now we should have some kind of reputation around these parts. Reputation for being mean, real genuine mean. Double mean.”

Somehow she found a laugh in her. She'd seen death before, lots of it, and she had a solid core, this Mary Shea out of Chicago.

“If we've got the reputation, we earned it the hard way.”

I looked at Asahi-san. Traveling with him would be like traveling with a treacherous, powerful, sweet-stinking bear. I had a lot of respect for the strength under that fat.

Nor had I forgotten that this was the boy who had schemed up the idea of sending heroin to the States neatly wrapped in my corpse.

When you're in the Orient, it's maybe O.K. to go a little Oriental. I gave Satin the gun. She didn't need any advice on holding it nice and steady. Then I found the blackjack that the talker had used so effectively on me.

“Get in the car,” I said to Asahi-san. He was looking at the blackjack unhappily. As well he should. He took a quick side glance at Satin. The gun was steady.

“Hokay.” I heard him mutter, “Trouber. Goddamn trouber. Now big trouber.”

He opened the rear door of the big car and I gave it to him with every ounce I had right behind the fat ear. He fell face down on the floor mat. I was on him like a cat and I worked the jack until my arm was tired. There were a number of things I could think about while my arm was pumping that jack on his head—heroin, box, sows, lots of things. I didn't tire real fast, but after the first couple they didn't hurt him—then.

But when the lump of suet recovered, he'd hurt, and plenty. It would make it a little bit even; there'd been those he'd hurt, and I guess most of them never did get well.

The big car was outside and I saw the round, brown faces watching us, at a safe distance. It must have been a place that the Chitose gang used, a farmhouse well out of town where the M.P.'s didn't bother them and where the Japanese police wouldn't, unless they broke Japanese laws. Which are quite different from ours.

Asahi-san was breathing heavy and hard. It was a pleasure for me to see somebody else on the floor behind the front seat. I felt like giving him three or four more with the blackjack, but my arm was too tired.

Maybe when the Japanese police found out about the heroin he was bringing in from Red China instead of using the fine Japanese product, they'd work on him for a while, too. I didn't much envy Asahi-san in a Japanese prison.

Come to think of it, I realized as I slid behind the wheel of the big car, I didn't much envy Robert E. Lee in a Japanese prison, either.

First thing I did with Satin when she moved in beside me on the front seat was to kiss her. We did it pretty fair this time; we were getting used to the idea.

Tall, lovely redheaded girl with fine eyes and a warm mouth. So she made twenty thousand dollars a year—it hadn't stopped her from liking me. It sure wasn't going to stop me from liking her.

The fat man behind us grunted and I leaned over to look at him. He was in good shape—from my point of view.

I moved down on the gas gently and the car rolled out toward Chitose.

There was a taxi bumping along and coming our way. The cab came to a quick stop, like a loose tin rabbit, and the man in front with the driver was Charlie Daniki.

“Hiya, rebel!” he yelled, but his friendly face showing excitement and surprise. “I knew you folks had some idea of invading the North, but I didn't know you was thinking of northern Japan.”

I had the big car stopped and I was out of it with my hand stretched forward. We shook and I could see that Charlie was trying to wipe three or four emotions from his face—surprise, curiosity, and self-satisfaction. They all showed there.

“Charlie! What brings you here?”

“You, on a hunch, cotton-picker,” he said, waving at Satin. “There's no place in Tokyo you could hide, and I figured Lonesome Lee might be able to get up where his honey-chile was.” He realized suddenly that he'd done the unforgivable, and for a moment he looked worse than Asahi-san was looking. He'd said what had come naturally, and then he realized he was talking of the girl who was to marry Major General Duncan.

He was just a small brown man in a wrinkled suit now, and his face was empty.

“I'm sorry,” he said.

“You don't have to be, Charlie. You're right. It won't be the general—it's going to be the rebel.”

The rising sun came up, and he looked like a different roan, pumping my hand and smiling the big smile at Satin.

The cab driver sat behind his wheel, looking at us with boredom. After driving a cab in Chitose for a while, there was nothing left to surprise him much, or to interest him any.

Satin, for all of the weariness and the shock, looked wonderful, and her smile to Charlie had warmth and brightness.

“Can I ask one question, please? Bob and I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to find out,” she said, “but what the hell is everybody doing here? Bob, an army of Shimbashi gangsters, and now you! I'm supposed to be used to this, but what goes on?”

.”I come to Hokkaido this morning, Miss Shea,” said Charlie. “In Tokyo big search for missing Stars and Stripes correspondent, famous Lonesome Lee. Nobody can find, everybody think he's maybe dead. I think that he was pretty crazy about you, and that maybe he found some way of coming to Hokkaido.

“This morning I come to Hakodate after very long, very bad train ride, with little boat ride. I call man from Hokkai Times in Chitose, and he says there's a big rumor in Chitose that the beautiful lady photographer Miss Satin Shea has disappeared. I hire little cab, and we come straight to this road, because there aren't many roads. My man from Hokkai Times said number-one gangsters in town, and they go out this road in big car.

“Police know. I ask them, and they tell me which way the gangsters went.”

Charlie was breathless and excited enough to break into GI pidgin, instead of his usual talk.

“But, Bob, why—what—” said Satin.

I realized suddenly that Satin and I had talked together long enough to settle only one problem, our big problem. If the rumor was around Chitose that she had disappeared, the Japanese police and the M.P.'s would be over this part of Hokkaido like eagles. I wanted her to know what it was all about. So far she knew only of dead men, of threats, and of blind violence.

“After I ran away, Charlie, I went to this fat guy in the Ginza-Nishi, Asahi-san—he's knocked But in the back seat of that car—and I guess I hoped to hide out until the Deet Byron thing was settled.”

“But—” began Charlie.

I kept on talking. “It was a messed-up deal, and it worked out that he wanted me to come up here for him. I had some kind of idea of getting the inside on the heroin-prostitution-counterfeit-money connections between Tokyo and here.

“Anyway, I went. This morning I met Miss Shea and the gang pounced on us. Mostly, it turns out, they just wanted me dead and my body in the G. I. morgue. They had some plan of using it to smuggle heroin back to the States.”

“Gosh!” said Charlie. It sounded normal from him.

“They figured on having Satin mixed up in my dying, and God knows where they would have gone on from there. But it's over now. Couple of 'em are dead, one ran away, one got beat up pretty bad, and the fat boss is in the car. I worked him over with a blackjack.”

“Now what, rebel-boy?” Charlie was looking at me with very big eyes.

My face twisted a little in what probably wasn't much of a smile.

“I turn myself in. What else?”

“How about this GI morgue?”

“They've got their finger on the sergeant that does the autopsies. He was going to fill my body with heroin. Stateside they'd have somebody get to it. Maybe at the port.”

“Uncut heroin?”

“Yeah. They said maybe a million dollars' worth.”

“Where is it now?”

“Who knows?”

Satin's hand was on my arm. “Would that sergeant have it hidden there?”

I turned to look at her, and I was thoughtful. “After Asahi-san feels a little better I can probably find out. His head ought to be getting real tender about now.”

“A sergeant that turns in a million dollars worth of illicit morphine might get a better break, Bob.”

Quite a woman, in the best traditions. She had her man, and now she was trying to find a way to keep him around, instead of in one of several assorted cells.

“Pretty soon, lots, of hell's going to break open in Chitose, unless Miss Shea shows up,” said Charlie.

“And if that autopsy-room sergeant hears that the gang's been broken up, he'll get panicky.” Satin was riding the story the way a reporter learns to do.

“Let's go,” I said. “We'll use the big car. Can you get us through the gates of the camp, Satin?”

“I pan get us through—but a minute after we pass the guard the phones will be ringing from Will's office to C.I.D. headquarters, and every other place. You know that.”

“So we move fast.”

Charlie's driver showed signs of interest when the three of us climbed into the front seat of Asahi-san's car, and when I started it he began to yell at Charlie, but we were moving. He'd get his money later; Charlie's a very honest boy.

“One thing, Bob,” said Charlie, with half a little smile. “Is there any chance you think they're going to lynch you for Byron's death?”

“Maybe not lynch, but I figure I've got a bad time coming there.”

Charlie shook his head slowly, and I turned my eyes away from the road to watch him.

“The three people who knew what happened near the Devil Islands are all here in this car now;”

“So?”

“So you think lots of Miss Shea, but not so much maybe that you don't believe she'd tell the truth and make them believe it?”

“They said they wouldn't believe her.” Charlie laughed.

“They believed. The next day I was there, and everybody was bowing as if they were Japanese. They believed Miss Shea, and they believed Charlie Daniki—which is maybe more than my editor does sometimes.

“If you'd stayed in jail overnight you'd have had it made, rebel. But you sure got your tail in the wringer by taking off like that. Whattsa matter you, GI? You crazy?”

Chapter Seventeen

“DIDN'T YOU UNDERSTAND, BOB?” asked Satin. “I was sure you knew.”

“I've been out of circulation. Give me the score, somebody, please.”

I swung the heavy car around a sharp corner and in the back Asahi-san grunted again.

“The score is simple, Bob,” said Satin. “I told them what had happened. The kiss, and why Deet was jealous. I told them the truth. What else did you think I'd tell them?”

Sure—but a man gets crazy ideas when the pressure is on him, suddenly and unexpectedly. They'd been crazy ideas, but I'd been in a crazy situation, too.

“There wasn't any question about what had happened. You weren't in any trouble.”

“Then what was I running away from?”

Charlie said, “You just pushed the panic button, rebel. Cheer up. We Japanese make mistakes too. I remember one we made.”

I felt stupid.

Even more stupid—because now I was in trouble. Uncle Sugar hates to have his nephews take off on their own, and he sort of hates to have them in bad company. The fact that they knock off a couple of the bad-company boys doesn't necessarily help matters, either.

“Bob, I told you over the phone that I was going to tell them the truth.”

“Mostly I remember you telling me you loved Duncan.”

I had the car going pretty well now, a lot better than the roads were built to handle, but it was a solid car.

“A girl meets one man, and over a long time it builds up, and they talk about marriage, and it works along like that. The girl meets another man, and in a few minutes he's exciting, and she wonders what's happening to her. I didn't really know until I saw you in Chitose today. I did then.”

“Less trouble, Japanese style,” said Charlie softly. “My old man tells me who the girl is going to be. This is it. So far, so good. Better now, because since the occupation is over, I tell her all those American ideas about women were just propaganda. I think, maybe, I got her believing me. A little bit.”

“Let me get this right,” I said. “I'm clear on the Byron thing?”

“Yes.” I knew Satin was watching my face. I looked straight ahead.

“And we're together. No matter what?”

“No matter what.”

I said a small prayer. The prayer had to do with Japanese police cars and M.P. jeeps. I didn't want to meet any until we got to our camp.

“Charlie, you say the police know that Asahi-san went out this road?”

“Sure. Damn Japanese cops know everything. They ought to, they watch when you go to the benji. But only Charlie knows that you were with those boys.”

“Why aren't they looking for Satin out this way?”

“Why should they? They think she went somewhere in town with a soldier. Next thing some C.I.D. joker will figure out who the soldier probably is. Whee! Then they'll start looking!”

Charlie laughed. “Good thing—I need excitement. My editor thought it was a bum idea, coming up here. I made a pretty good guess, eh, Lonesome?”

I saw the rows of Quonset huts beyond the airstrip buildings.

“Here we go, hold your hats!” I made the mile in forty seconds and then braked down as we came to the guards at the gate. The sentry stepped up, started to talk, and then recognized Satin.

“It's all right Corporal—” she started to say, but he was already in his booth at the phone. I gunned the car forward.

“Where's the morgue?” I asked Satin.

“Might be at the end of this road, near the dispensary. Maybe that hut with the windows painted white. Let's take a look.”

Funny thing, in the few seconds it took to drive toward the building where there might be a million dollars in heroin hidden, I wasn't thinking about how my body might have been in there tonight. I was thinking about the way I'd let myself be panicked back there in Tokyo.

I knew one thing. I had me a girl now, and I knew that because of her I'd never feel like pushing the panic button again.

There was a small neat sign on the Quonset door: “136th Division Morgue. M/Sgt. William Brown, Med. Corps.”

I got out of the car, walked to the door, and pushed it open. The soldier wearing the six stripes on his sleeve put down the battered magazine he was reading and looked at me.

“What the hell are you busting in here for, Sergeant?” His voice had the rasp that too many nights give to some of the old sergeants, too many nights full of whisky and smoke.

“Come on outside, Brown.”

“Who the hell are you giving orders to? You drunk? Where the hell's your cap, soldier?” Old Army.

“Come on outside before I pull you out.” He started to move toward the phone, and then maybe a little worry seeped through the whisky-rotted brain. He stopped.

“What the hell's this about, Sergeant?” I moved, and he pulled himself up and walked to the door. His little eyes narrowed when they focused on Satin Shea.

Half shoving him, I took him toward the car and leaned him over so the he could see Asahi-san slumped there in the back.

“That's the big boss,” I said. This would be the sergeant who would have cut me up and put the heroin in the “box” that would carry it Stateside.

“What the hell do you mean, big boss?” he muttered, but the fear was growing.

“Where's the heroin?” I said.

“What the hell are you, C.I.D.?”

I saw the big fist, slow and clumsy, and it missed by inches. There might have been a time, before the years, the whisky, the women; but that time was long gone for Master Sergeant William Brown, Medical Corps, United States Army. He turned and ran, slow and clumsy.

There was a pressure of time on me and I was not kind. I got the big hand and pulled him around, bending the big hand in the way that hurts bad, and I saw his face twist with the pain of it.

“What the hell,” he yelled, and I walked him, with the pain in him, to the morgue.

“Where is the heroin?” I said again.

For a second what was left of the strength within him held out, and then the pain and the fear and the years had their way with him and he was done.

“In those boxes with the dressings labels,” said the old, destroyed man.

By the time the first M.P. jeep reached the morgue— less than a minute later—I was looking at the neat package that contained a million dollars in heroin.

Thirty seconds behind the first M.P. jeep was the sedan with the two gold stars on the red sign in front. Everybody but Satin and Charlie snapped to attention, even the old, destroyed sergeant.

Everybody including Sergeant First Class Robert E. Lee. The Army is a lot bigger than any of the people in it.

“What's this, Sergeant?” asked Major General Wilton Duncan, and he was talking to only one man in the neat, well-scrubbed little morgue.

“Heroin, General. About one million dollars' worth of Chinese heroin. It was intended to be smuggled to the States.”

He stood there, tall, straight, and proud. There was no expression revealed.

“You will make your report to Colonel Patterson, my provost marshal.” He turned to look at Satin, then his eyes were briefly on me.

“A couple of men were killed, General,” I said. “Japanese, involved in this.”

“You will make your report to Colonel Patterson. I am sure your report will be satisfactory, Sergeant Lee. Completely satisfactory.”

He was waiting.

“Yes, sir,” I said, and saluted. He returned the salute, turned, and left. He had not looked at Satin after that first searching glance. He knew.

THE END

of a novel by John McPartland