|A Visit With St. Nick
Author: ninamonkey PM
A visitor brings both mirth and mystery to Boragora, and Corky has to deal with his past...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 12,859 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 1 - Published: 09-07-99 - id: 2535
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Visit with St. Nick
Although you get used to the high heat and humidity of the tropics, you can't help making comparisons. Take August, as an example. Since the calendar says August, you start believing the temperature outside's worse than it actually is, which makes you really hot: Hot tempered, hotheaded, and hot under the collar...
"Jake, I can handle it," Corky growled. He grabbed a spanner from his toolbox and yanked a bundle of wires out of the Grumman Goose's pilot console.
Jake Cutter worked the half-bitten cheroot between his teeth while his blue eyes blazed. "Corky, you can't just rip--"
"Oh, can't I?" The short, stocky mechanic rubbed his four-day growth of beard and swore softly. "What the heck are you doin' to the Goose, Jake? Half the wires are smoked, and there ain't no way you're goin' to Tagataya in the shape she's in."
Corky wedged himself between the pilot and co-pilot seats and stared up at the remaining tangle of wires. "Aw, swell, look at this mess! It'll take hours to fix. You know, it's a good thing you're grounded. If I had to handle one of your P-40's right now I'd make you fix it!"
"At this point, I'd prefer it," Jake muttered.
"What?" Corky peeked out from the console, looking as mad as Jake felt.
"Forget it." Jake shook his head. He was glad the Clipper was landing a few days early. Corky was driving him crazy tearing his plane apart and putting it together for no real reason. At least the Clipper would bring in the parts Corky needed to fix the genuine problem, the bad plugs. "Look, I'm going inside for a beer. You want anything?"
Corky swore and threw another bundle of wires to the floor.
"I'll take that as a 'no'."
Jake dismissed Corky's mess with an angry wave and stormed from the plane. He glanced around for Jack but even the terrier knew better than to be involved in the August feuds. He was probably lounging in the Monkey Bar, waiting for the Clipper to land so visitors would lavish their attention on him. If Jack were lucky one of the passengers would be carrying a female of his species with whom...well, with whom he could be "cultural" with. Jake wished he could be that lucky.
He was still steaming when he entered the batwing doors of the Monkey Bar.
The French Magistrate de Justice pursed his lips as he offered Jake a bottle. "Are you and Corky still arguing?"
"Like a bunch of old ladies." Jake downed half his beer and tipped his pilot's hat with the bottle. "I'll be lucky if I can ever get the Goose off the ground again, considering the condition he's got 'er in."
"He is anxious, Jake," Louie said softly. "Be grateful, mon ami. It could be worse."
Jake glanced at the terrier at his feet, and sighed at the two of them. "I know, I know. But it's the Goose!"
The slim Frenchman smiled. "Courage, Jake. Think how much further Corky has come. He's had, peut-etre, two, three problems this month? Not bad, considering it is the middle of August. Compare that with the previous year."
Jake winced as he drank. "Don't remind me. Last August he was soaked eight days straight."
"There you are. Progress."
Louie poured a cognac for himself, and lifted the glass in a salute. "To progress."
"To progress," Jake said, clinking his bottle against Louie's glass, "and a working seaplane."
"Ah, Jake," Louie began, remembering something. He smoothed his mustache. "I have some news about the Clipper's passenger list. It appears that a millionaire has bought most of the seats on the Clipper, and he and his group have asked to rent the services of my establishment for a party tonight. Because of this you may wish to keep track of Corky's whereabouts."
"You rented the Monkey Bar out to some rich guy?"
"Oui," Louie said. "This has been a rather slow month and a lot of money is involved. Besides, all patrons of the island are invited."
"I doubt Corky'd want to crash a fancy dress ball. Count me out, too." Jake took a long pull from his beer. "I'm not into snooty cocktail parties any more."
"As if you ever were," another voice said.
Jake made a face as Sarah Stickney-White perched next to him at the bar. She'd been as snippy as Corky lately and Jake could only imagine it was because she caught him kissing another girl in Tagataya, a whole week ago. She held grudges almost as long as Jack did.
"I hold my own," he muttered.
She sniffed and rolled a slim hand through her dark, wavy hair. "Only if the club members are into ex-fighter pilots who sweat a lot."
"Mon Dieu," Louie muttered. "Sarah, please. A truce, for my sake? We have enough fighting between friends already."
She narrowed her gray eyes, but nodded. "All right. For you, Louie."
"Thanks a lot," Jake grumbled. He finished his beer and motioned Louie for a fresh one. "It's bad enough with Corky mad at me."
Sarah frowned slightly and stared through the Monkey Bar doors. "What's with Corky, anyway? Lately he's been sniping at the least little thing."
"Mmm," Jake said, but he didn't answer her. He and Louie knew the real reason for Corky's mood but Sarah didn't need to know unless Corky wanted to tell her. "He'll probably get over it."
"I hope so. I'm getting tired of watching my words around him."
Join the club, Jake thought, although he kept his mouth shut. He sipped his beer. After a moment, he tilted his ear to the ceiling. "Sounds like the Clipper's comin' in."
Louie followed Jake's action and nodded. "Oui. I will prepare for my guests."
Jake smiled. Louie only prepared for guests if he thought either money or beautiful women were involved and the Clipper usually brought both. He swigged his drink and tapped his pocket for a new cheroot.
"Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas!"
Jake gagged on his beer. "It can't be." He slammed the bottle on the bar and threw his unlit cheroot to the floor.
Louie raised his eyebrows and was about to question Jake's action when the biggest, jolliest man he had ever seen burst through the doors and captivated the entire bar.
"Of all the times for him to show up--!"
Sarah giggled. The visitor was covered in a blazing red and white wool suit despite the heat, and over his shoulders he hauled three velvet sacks bulging with colorful boxes and glittery ribbons. "Father Christmas? In August?"
"Not quite, Sarah," Jake said, clenching his jaw.
Following "Santa" was an entourage that also wore red and white, and they carried everything from instrument cases to foodstuffs. Jake rose angrily while Sarah and Louie ogled the huge bearded titan and his group.
"Amazing," Louie muttered. Jake's face darkened, and Louie came from behind the bar to stand next to him. "Do you know this curious fellow?"
They all watched the pseudo-Santa put his sacks on the floor and distribute items to his red-and-white crew. Tinsel, holly, toys and mistletoe shot up like weeds, and permeated every spare corner of the Monkey Bar.
"Jake, mon ami," Louie began. He paused after a tittering woman in a tight red dress presented him with a small gift-wrapped box. Louie grinned as her hips swayed past, but Jake's glower brought back his focus. "Ah, pardon, Jake." He watched the woman disappear around a corner. "I was...distracted."
"Yeah, well, Jojo Wavermann has that effect on people." Jake grabbed another cheroot and crammed it in his mouth while simultaneously waving off a Santa hat another girl tried placing on his head.
"Ooh, I love it!" Sarah cooed, snatching the hat from the girl. "Christmas in August. Finally, a reason to celebrate. It's been boring around here long enough."
"Won't be for long," Jake muttered. He balled his fists and jammed them into the pockets of his bomber jacket. "Blast his hide. If I'd known Jojo Wavermann was the millionaire coming on the Clipper I would've never let it land."
He scowled as the natives of Boragora, who had been attracted to the sound of the Clipper, added floral wreaths and leis to Jojo's colorful party mixture.
"Really, Jake," Sarah started. She smiled at a handsome fellow from the Clipper and he grinned boldly back. Jake's temper rose. "What's the harm? This Jojo person seems like a perfect delight."
Jake grimaced at the one-eyed terrier. "Fine, take their side. But you know as good as I do what happens if Jojo and Corky get started. Last time it took us two weeks to sober him enough to work on the Goose, and that cost us a job." He shook his head. "C'mon. If we hurry, maybe we can stop Corky from seeing him before it's--"
"Jake--! Hey, look, Jake, it's Jojo!"
"--too late," Jake finished, groaning. Although Corky had ambled into the Monkey Bar covered in airplane grime, Jojo grinned and embraced the mechanic in a fierce, breath-stopping bear hug.
"Corky, Corky! My friend, how've you been?"
Corky beamed. "Pretty bored until you showed up, Jojo. Ain't that right, Jake? Hasn't it been boring around here?"
"Sure, sure," Jake said weakly. Jojo took that as his cue to come over and wrap his beefy arms around Jake's shoulders.
"Why so glum, Jake?" He boomed. "It's Christmas!"
"No, Jojo, it's August. Hot, sweltering, muggy heat, y'know? Now, what the blazes are you--"
Jojo grabbed Jake's pilot's hat in one hand and tousled his sandy hair with the other. "Relax, relax! It's the watchword of the day. We're gonna live it up!"
Jake snatched his hat out of Jojo's hands but Jojo simply laughed, and left Jake to seek more people to infect. It's getting out of control already, Jake thought. He smoothed down his hair and returned his cap to his head, fretting. Corky hadn't bothered to tell him anything about the status of the Goose since the parts had arrived and the mechanic was following Jojo around like Jack used to, when he was a puppy.
He wanted to do more than watch the disaster unfold, but as much as he wanted to Jake couldn't blame Jojo for Corky's reaction. Wavermann desired to see people happy, and wherever Jojo went he transformed boredom into a giant party. Heck, at any other time he probably would've been glad to see Jojo. Just not in August.
Corky had one hand gently cupped under his chin as he leaned against the bar rail. "Remember that time in ah, um..." He snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah, Ohio! Toledo, Ohio. Remember? We snuck into the circus and stole that guy's penguin--"
"--and tried to teach it to fly!" Jojo roared. His laugh echoed through the bar. "Those were the days, Corky. We ruined some acts, didn't we?"
Jake's brow furrowed. Corky remembered a lot more with Jojo around than he ever did with him, which was another bad sign. At best, he figured Jojo and Corky would get drunk the rest of the night. At worst, Jojo would test Jake's greatest fear: That he'd never see Corky sober again.
"We're in for it, Jack," he sighed.
"Corky, my friend, my pal, I've come all this way to deliver a special gift, just for you."
"For me? Honest?"
"Honest." Jojo reached in a bag and pulled out what once had been Corky's favorite whiskey.
"Wow, Bushmills--! Twenty years old! Jake, it's twenty-year old Bushmills!"
Jake rushed over and plucked the bottle from Wavermann's grasp. "Not today, Wavermann. Corky doesn't need that kind of help."
Wavermann looked hurt. "Is this true, Corky? You don't like my gift?"
"Nothin' doin', Jojo. It's the best--" He glanced at Jake and gulped at the anger he saw. "Uh, but maybe now's not the time."
Wavermann winked. "We'll share that bottle between us before the night's out. Ho, ho, ho, Me-e-erry Christmas!"
Christmas music blared from a Victrola and Jake shook his head. It would be a long, long night.
* * *
The Reverend Willie Tenboom paced the far side of the dock, away from the joyful celebrations of the Monkey Bar. His eyes shot up nervously when a scream pierced the peace of the hazy evening but when laughter followed, he sighed heavily.
"Ach, Blodsinnig--" he tugged at his clerical collar, which of late had been choking him. He swore softly and ran his hands through his blonde hair. "Always when something interesting happens, I get a message to meet someone in the middle of nowhere."
Though he longed to join his friends, he had a higher calling. Besides, he'd be dead in a heartbeat if he defected. He snorted. What would Der Gestapo and SS say if he defected to join the clergy for real? He smirked. "To see the looks on their faces--"
"Whose faces, Willie?"
Willie jumped. "Er, nothing. Who's there?"
Within the light fog, Willie saw the glow of a cigarette. "Ein Freund."
"I can barely see you."
"You don't need to see me. You only need to do what you are told."
Willie swallowed and pulled at his collar again. He pegged the man's accent at or around Breslau, the town of Gestapo headquarters, which frightened him a little. Yet simply because the stranger sounded like an assassin didn't mean he was one, did it?
"Em...What am I expected to do?"
The heavy voice dripped with scorn. "There is a man who recently arrived on the Clipper, a Joseph J. Wavermann. We do not like some of the contributions he has made towards our adversaries."
Willie shifted slightly. "But surely there are others who donate to, er, dubious causes." He talked quickly. "In fact our glorious Fuhrer has counteragents everywhere, rich businessmen who can't compare to--"
"Spare me your propagandizing."
The figure stepped from the darkness. Willie stumbled back, sensing waves of Gestapo arrogance under a plainclothes disguise. The man's dark eyes and heavy jaw were hard with hate and his iron black hair shot with gray. Willie didn't recognize him but it didn't matter. All Gestapo men looked, acted, and trained alike.
The agent sneered and tossed his cigarette to the ground. "Willie, you are a coward and if I had my way I would dispose of you right now. However, you are fortunate. Tonight you may be of use to me."
"Ja? In what way?" Willie was offended by the agent's gall but as far as headquarters were concerned, all Gestapo outranked the highest Wehrmacht.
The agent's smile reminded Willie of a snake as he gestured to a motor boat across the bay's inky blackness. "Thirty miles out is a small island, completely uninhabited. You get Wavermann out here. I will do the rest."
"Entfuhrung? I don't--"
The agent smirked. "You have a choice. I can retrieve Wavermann, or I can retrieve you."
Willie swallowed. "All right, all right, I get the message. But how do you expect me to get him out here?"
"Wait a few hours. Soon he will be besotted enough not to care, as usual. He would follow a groundhog."
As the Gestapo agent disappeared into the fog Willie thought of his mother's nightmarish tales of Nosferatu.
"I suppose I shouldn't complain," he muttered, tromping up the bank. "After all, I'll discover what's going on at Louie's, ja?"
Yet, the familiar pang of betrayal haunted him.
* * *
Jack leapt from the broomstick and barked repeatedly as the bar roared. He wagged his tail, cheerfully gobbling up the attention.
"Good job, Jack!" Jake beamed. Jack hadn't performed that trick since he was a puppy and he lavished in the crowd's response. Jake bet that outside his friends at the Monkey Bar no one figured a dog could tiptoe across a broomstick, using only his hind legs. "You could've joined the circus, Jack. You've got a natural aptitude."
As Wavermann's band played a quick "ta-daa" at Jack's trick, Jake sat back in a corner, put his feet up on one of Louie's tables, and lit a fresh cheroot.
Heaven, that's what it was. Here he was sitting in the Monkey Bar and smoking a cigar while the best jazz musicians of the decade, and the best Lindy Hop team in the country, performed right in front of his very eyes. He couldn't have paid enough for it and here they were performing free, all for him.
"What did I tell you?" Sarah said, slipping behind him and planting her elbows on his shoulders. "Everything's fine. No fire and brimstone, no flood, no plagues. And I even saw you out on the floor."
He shrugged and waved an empty beer bottle. "A few of these helped."
"As well as the dancing."
Jake grinned. "Sarah, you don't know how much I needed this." He ticked off his fingers. "Whitey's Lindy Hop troupe. Cab Calloway. Billie Holiday...all of 'em under one roof, and of all places the Monkey Bar. It's the biggest party in history! And guess who's playing next?"
"Well," Sarah began tentatively, "I think Jojo said it's Duke someone and Goodman...somebody or other. According to Jojo they'll top the charts on that Lucky Strike Hit Parade program any day now."
Jake gawked at her. "Sarah, they're the best musicians in America! Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman--they invented swing!"
"Sorry, Jake, I'm not that up on popular music."
He shook his head, disbelieving what he heard. "You've sung some of their songs. How could you not know who they are?"
She blinked at him. "Well, I don't have to know who they are to sing their songs."
He slumped back in disbelief. "Incredible." He made a face. "Not even Gene Krupa--?"
Jake shook his head. "No accounting for musical taste. Too bad, they sure were swingin.' I could've sworn I heard your voice a couple times."
Sarah smiled shyly. "They let me sing the songs I knew with them, which was really nice. Singing along keeps my external skills sharp even if I'm only good enough to sing backup."
Jake nodded, understanding Sarah's special emphasis on "external." Only he knew that singing was a cover for Sarah's real job, an undercover American spy. When Jake thought about it, he finally figured why Sarah was so edgy. Whenever the spy trade had a low month it usually meant the other side was getting ready to spring an unwelcome surprise. She was probably chomping at the bit because August had been so sl--August--!
Jake panicked. "Jeez, Sarah, I can't believe you talked me into Wavermann's spell. Corky's probably--"
Sarah pushed Jake's shoulders down as he tried to rise. "He's probably fine. There's so much to do around here and so many people that he probably hasn't had the chance to overdo it. Besides, that Duke fellow was teaching him some of his piano pieces, which should take Corky the rest of the night to muddle through. And if not, did you see him jitterbug with that girl? She's probably what's holding his attention now."
Jake grimaced. "Maybe, but--"
"Jake," she sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Quit mothering him for once and trust him. And while you're at it, have fun yourself."
"Sarah, you don't know Corky like I do. He...Well, he--"
She came around to the other side, sat down, and put a finger to his lips. Jake shut up, mostly because he enjoyed her finger there.
"If it makes you feel any better I'll root Corky out, but you stay put and enjoy the music." She kissed him square on the lips, stunning him, and gestured over his head. "Mistletoe."
Jake watched her leave with a lump in his throat and checked above him, but he didn't see any mistletoe.
"You think, Jack?" Jake said, shrugging. "Sarah and I..." He trailed off. He thought about it sometimes, but he doubted things could ever get serious between them. Jack thought it could but the dog had some funny notion that they were good for each other.
"Jake," Willie said, interrupting Jake's thoughts. "There you are. I've been looking all over for you."
"Jack--! That's no way to treat Reverend Tenboom. Cut it out."
Jake looked at Willie guiltily. "Uh, sorry, Reverend. Jack's a little overexcited, that's all."
Willie waved it off. "That's all right, Jake. Never mind."
Willie pulled up a chair and Jack growled at him a final time, before leaving them both.
"Sorry, Reverend. He'll feel better in the morning. What's the news?" Willie downed a small glass of schnapps in his hand and Jake's eyebrows rose. "Something serious?"
"I'm not sure. Do you know someone by the name of Joseph Wavermann?"
"Oh, no. What'd Jojo do now?" He groaned. "He and Corky didn't finish off the parish wine, did they?"
"Oh, nein, nein," Willie said, pulling his spectacles down his nose. "Nothing like that. I'm just curious, that's all. How well do you know him?"
Jake shrugged. "Corky's known him longer than me. Jojo was Corky's first boss when Jojo owned a small barnstorming company. He decided later to sell the place and invest his money in steel, and had enough business sense to stay afloat during the Crash. So now when Jojo makes money he makes parties, and when he makes parties, he makes trouble."
Willie chewed his lip. "So, he is a troublemaker?"
Jake laughed. "Not really. He'd give you the shirt off his back and he loves visiting the orphanages around Christmas. He's all right. He just drinks too much, spends too much, and looks too much like Santa Claus to stay mad at for long."
"Why? What's this all about? You look like you just lost your best friend."
Willie got up from the table and tried to smile. "I sincerely hope not, Jake."
Jake watched Willie leave and scratched his head. Maybe the Reverend should take a break from all those blessings, he thought, but his toe was already tapping as Mr. Goodman wailed his clarinet on 'Body and Soul,' sweeter than Gabriel himself.
* * *
Sarah squeezed through the mobs swarming around her in an attempt to get to Louie's poolroom, but the only way to get anywhere was to follow the flow of the dancers, which she discovered was harder than getting Jake's mind off Corky. She ducked her head right before someone's elbow slammed into her shoulder blade, and yanked her foot back a second before a dancer stomped it.
"Sorry. Excuse me, coming through--Oh!" She jumped as someone's wandering hands pinched her backside. "*Excuse* me!"
The man smiled at her, and she stopped short of smiling back. Her admirer from earlier--Charles, wasn't it--? winked and pretended to look innocent.
"You could say that."
"How about later?"
He hasn't lost interest, she thought, returning the grin. But she could handle him. Who she needed to find now was--
"Ohh...What would ya do with a drunken sailor, what would ya do with a drunken sailor, what would you do with a drunken sail-ORR--"
In a darkened corner huddled around a small table, five of the drunkest, loudest, rowdiest men in the Monkey Bar clinked their glasses together and sang their own made-up lyrics to the drunken sailor song. Of course Wavermann was among them but unfortunately, so was Corky.
"Hey-y, fellahs, lookit, it's--Sarah!"
The group of them banged their glasses on the table chanting, "Sar-AH! Sar-AH! Sar-AH" which was promptly followed by them saluting her with their whiskey glasses and downing the contents.
"Wonderful," she mumbled. She approached the table, dreading the encounter. "Corky, how could you?"
Corky wrapped a drunken arm around her shoulder and dragged her to his eye level. "Hey, Sarah!" He grinned at her and belched softly. "Sarah!"
She made a face at the whiskey on his breath. "Corky, quit shouting. I can understand you fine."
He squinted at her. "Ooh, sorry, sorry. Hey, I gotta secret--" He got closer to her ear. "Psssht--y'know what?"
"What?" she asked, wiping the spray from her face.
"Jake's gonna murder me."
"That makes two of us."
Wavermann refilled Corky's glass and downed his own drink. "Well, then, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die."
Before Sarah could stop him, Corky downed another tumbler of whiskey.
"Oh, no you don't," she said, groping for his glass. "Enough of that. Party's over, boys."
Groans came from around the table as she struggled to heft Corky from their drunken mix. "Oh, for heaven's sake. Come on, Corky, I can't lift you by myself."
"Yes'm." Corky rose, weaved awkwardly, and plunked back down in his chair. "Oopsh..."
"Oops, what?" Sarah asked, horrified. "Don't 'oops' me now, Corky! I've got to get you upstairs and in bed before Jake finds out."
"Shouldn'ta had that last one. Room's spinnin' and spinnin', kinda like a real fast merry-go-round." He paused, and a dopey, dreamy gaze entered his eyes. "Y'know somethin', Sarah?"
"Oh, Corky, what--!"
"I've gone way, way, wa-a-ay past Jake's two-beer limit." With that, he hit the table, snoring.
"Terrific," Sarah hissed. "Jojo, I hold you responsible!"
"Me?" He chuckled innocently. "Sarah, what did you expect? It's Bushmills. Brought a case of it."
"But did you have to guzzle it all tonight?" She glared at him. "You'll have to help me carry him the back way. If we're really lucky, Jake won't notice."
"Oh, Jack, Jake's suspicious enough. Will you keep this to yourself? Just this once?"
"You're a pal! I'll buy you a steak."
Jack blinked his one good eye at her, and for the moment, she thought he could be smiling. "Keep a watch out for Jake, Jack. Bark twice if he's around."
Sarah struggled with Corky's right arm. "Darn it, Corky, you're no featherweight...Jojo, are you sure you're helping?"
Jojo quickly put his drink back on the table and held onto Corky's left side. "Sorry. Just a quick one."
"Lovely. When my back goes out I'll send you the bill."
Struggling desperately under the additional weight, Sarah didn't notice Reverend Tenboom's anxious arrival.
"Ach Du Leiber--ah, gracious, Sarah, what are you doing?"
She broke into a weary grin. "Reverend Tenboom, thank God." She groaned as she lifted Corky's heavy arm off her shoulders. "Corky's really tight and I can't carry him upstairs by myself, and Jojo's nearly in the same condition. Here, take Corky's arm."
She transferred Corky to Willie's tentative, nervous shoulders. "Er, Sarah--"
"There's a good boy, Corky," she said. "Say 'goodnight' to the good Reverend."
Corky snored softly and drooled on Willie's clerical collar.
"Sorry about this, Reverend. I'll help Jack keep a watch out for Jake. Shuffle Corky upstairs as quick as you can, and for God's sakes, don't let Jake catch you."
"I'll do my best..."
Sarah popped around the corner and waited until it was clear. "C'mon, he's trying another dance. He'll never notice if we move now. Hurry!"
"Sarah, I'm trying, but--Ach--Corky weighs a ton--"
"Especially," she said, eyes narrowing at Jojo, "if someone's falling asleep on his other shoulder!"
She punched Jojo in the arm, and he awoke with a start. "Sorry. Guess I'm a bit tired myself."
With Sarah's frantic pushing and a lot of luck they dragged Corky through the back exits of the Monkey Bar, staggered him up the back steps, and dropped him in a crumpled heap atop his hammock. Corky simply smacked his lips in his sleep, and smiled.
Sarah sighed, flopped down on the floor, and kicked a comic book near her feet. "Look at 'im snoring away, like he doesn't have a care in the world." She smiled at Willie. "Thanks for helping, Reverend."
"It was nothing," Willie said anxiously. He glanced at Jojo, who was in a light doze, and checked his watch.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I bet you have something else to do. Don't worry about me."
"Er, ja...Perhaps you'd feel better downstairs, maybe?"
"I'll go down in a minute. I just need to rest a second."
Willie gulped and checked his watch again. The sound of Wavermann's snore had become louder than the engines on Jake Cutter's seaplane, but louder still was the Gestapo warning in his ear.
"Err, Sarah--you'll feel better downstairs, honest." He grabbed her arms and yanked her to her feet.
"Believe me, it's a, er...a modesty issue. Yes, yes, a modesty issue. A single woman as yourself should not be seen in a single man's quarters alone, ja?"
"But, Reverend Tenboom--"
"Now, now, no arguments. I forbid it." He shoved her out the front door and slammed it behind him. "You'll thank me later!"
Sarah gawked at the other side of the door before stamping her foot. "Ooh, honestly, as if I haven't seen worse around here!
"But on the other hand," she said, when Charles saw her and blew her a kiss, "Jake and Corky had their fun, and all's right with the world. It's my turn to enjoy myself."
* * *
Willie exhaled his captured breath and collapsed against a wall. Sarah was gone and maybe, if he hurried, he would still find the time to enjoy the remaining delights of the party. He got to his knees to where Jojo was and tapped him lightly on the face.
"Herr Wavermann...mach schnell--tsch--!" Willie hated when he became too tense. He always blew his Dutch cover under stress. "Mister Wavermann--Jojo--please. I must speak with you; I have a favor to ask. Wake up, Gott im Himmel!"
"Huhn--?" Corky stirred instead and Willie cursed his bad luck. "Wha's goin' on?"
"Go back to sleep, Corky, I need to talk to your friend here." Willie hit Jojo a little harder, but he continued sleeping.
"Nah, nah, nah. Y'won't wake 'im up that way." Willie's heart sank as Corky tumbled from his hammock and crawled up to where Jojo and Willie were. "You gotta yell in 'is ear, like this--HEY, JOJO--! JOJO!"
"Shhh! Corky, please, I understand but I don't think--"
"Nothing. Never mind. Tsk. Maybe I can drag him and--"
Wavermann suddenly stretched his arms grandly and yawned. "How long was I out for?"
Corky stared blearily at his wrists. "Dunno. My watch is broke."
"You aren't wearing a watch."
"Ohhh...That explains it!"
Willie couldn't stand it any longer. "Mister Wavermann, please, you must listen to me."
"Sure." He folded his arms across his ample stomach. "What's on your mind?"
"Well, there's...there is this little girl, a sickly native girl--" Willie had practiced his lie in his mind going up the stairs but now it wasn't coming as easily as he thought. "You look so delightfully like St. Nicholas...I was wondering--"
Wavermann held up a hand. "Say no more. I'll be glad to perform my services tomorrow."
"No!" Willie barked. "I mean, well, she is very sickly, you see. We are praying for her quick recovery but she needs an incentive. You could provide it, ja?"
"I suppose so, but I'm not in any sort of condition to see children right now."
Willie clutched his arm. "Just one child. She won't care of your condition, and it would mean so much to her."
"Aw, Jeez, Jojo, you gotta," Corky sniffled. "Saddest story I ever heard."
Jojo nodded. "All right, I'll go see her if you think that's best, Reverend." He rose unsteadily and stretched again. "Does she prefer dolls or toys? I have a few things left if those folks downstairs didn't keep them."
"Nein--no. Not necessary. Just your face, your cheery, wonderful, life-saving face will help her recover."
"Well, if you say so--"
"Absolutely. No time like the present."
"I'll come, too," Corky said.
Willie balked. "No, Corky, stay here. You need to...to sleep. In your present state, if Jake saw you--"
"Aww, shoot." Corky kicked an imaginary pebble on the floor. "I'm always missin' somethin'."
"Stay here," Willie repeated. He felt a little better and a little less nervous. "I--We--will return soon."
Corky pouted, and watched them walk into the darkness from his balcony window. "I oughta go with 'em."
Corky glanced behind him. "Hiya, Jack." Corky peered at the dog suspiciously. "Sarah send you up here to watch me?"
"Figures. Thinks I can't take care of myself. None of 'em do, not even you."
Jack didn't answer, which was proof enough for Corky. Good ol' Corky, always good for a laugh, always good for fixin' the broke stuff, good ol' dumb screw up--
He fretted. He wished he weren't getting that sober so soon.
"Why don'tcha go downstairs, Jack?"
Corky ran a hand over his forehead and stared across the room at his dresser, as if seeing it for the first time. The dresser was one of the few decent things in his room and it yielded pleasant memories of family life and stability, on most days. Looking sheepishly over his shoulder, Corky made sure the front door of his room was completely shut.
Ambling to the dresser, he opened its bottom drawer and gently pushed aside the picture of his Mom to uncover a small wooden box. Jake didn't know about the box and--Corky thought, glancing over his shoulder and seeing the dog at his feet--neither had Jack, until now.
"Guess it's time to introduce ya," he said hoarsely. Tears began falling from his cheeks but he didn't feel strong enough to stop them. He opened the box, and a silver locket tumbled out.
"Jack," he said, opening the locket, "this is Nina."
The dog sniffed at the locket, but he was more interested at the tears coming from Corky's eyes than the dark-haired woman Corky showed him.
"An' Nina," he swallowed, "this is Jack...See, Jack, I had a picture of my sister all along. You didn't think I did, did you? You'd think because I wrecked her plane, because I wasn't good enough to catch one lousy leakin' fuel line, that she and the baby--that I...that I--"
He collapsed on the dresser, sobbing. "She would've been alive, Jack! She and her baby could've had a life, and I killed them! Seventeen people, and it's my fault, all my fault--"
Jack jumped on the dresser and licked his face, but Corky squeezed his eyes tight and shoved him out of the way. "Cut it out." He took a deep breath and wiped his face with a dirty sleeve. "I don't need it. Leave me alone, would ya?"
He returned the locket to the box and slammed it into the bottom drawer. "I don't need your pity."
"I'm a grown man, Jack. Do I look like I need a sitter?"
Corky turned on him, suddenly furious. "Oh, yeah? Well, maybe I don't want one. You ever think of that?"
Jack growled softly as Corky paced unsteadily in his room. "Y-You're just like everyone else, Jack, tellin' me what to do, takin' care of me, tellin' me when to eat, sleep, and drink. Maybe I wanna forget about everyone and everything, and really booze it up."
"Yeah? Jojo gets away with it, don't he? An' he's the swellest, happiest guy I know. Not a care in the world, and he helps me forget what I--"
"Sez you. I know different."
For a split second the awful truth dawned on Jack, but Corky was closer to the back door than he was. Before he could react Corky fled from the room and slammed the door, trapping Jack inside.
"Yell at me tomorrow," Jack heard from the other side of the door. "Late tomorrow."
Enraged, Jack continued to bark at the back door but it was too late, Corky had gone. Their only hope now was if Jake or Sarah caught him before he snuck out but considering the noise, excitement, and music the prospect seemed highly unlikely.
Frustrated, Jack rested his head on his paws, snorted, and stared at the door. He may as well take a nap. No one would hear him until after the party died down anyway. Until then, as far as he was concerned, Corky was on his own.
* * *
Willie checked nervously over his shoulders. He couldn't see or hear anyone but the settling mists were thick enough and the night dark enough that someone could be right behind them and he wouldn't know it.
"She lives an awfully far distance from the town center, doesn't she?"
"Eh--?" Willie gave Jojo a blank look before remembering. "Ah, ja. She's very far--halfway to the other side of the island, nearly the jungle. Theirs is the only family out there."
"That isolated? Strange way to live for islanders, isn't it?"
"There are many strange people on Boragora," Willie said quickly. He looked over his shoulder again--was that someone's footsteps--? "People live anywhere that is safe for them. Perhaps we should quicken our pace. I, ah, don't like the looks of that mist."
Jojo chuckled. "This mist? It's nothing. A little mist never hurt anyone."
Willie swallowed the rock in his throat and suddenly the pain of delivering Jojo to an enemy pierced his conscience. He stopped walking and grabbed Jojo's arm.
"Wait. There is something you should know."
Such a trusting soul, Willie thought. Perhaps it did not matter if he made a sacrifice of his own to save the life of such a man.
"Mister Wavermann, we haven't much time but I must confess one thing to you before we continue. Earlier this evening, someone approached me." He sighed, finding the words to continue. "Jojo, I--"
"That will be far enough."
Too late. Willie's heart sunk as the Gestapo agent emerged from the dark with two other junior Wehrmacht that flanked his sides, like hunting dogs. The agent glared at Willie. No longer trusting him, he removed a revolver from his jacket pocket.
"Hello, Joseph," he said. "I trust your evening walk was comfortable."
"Karl," Jojo whispered. Fear and joy flashed across his face. "What are you doing here?"
"What is the meaning of this?" Willie gestured at the two officers, uncomfortable with their role. "Who are these men?"
"It's all right, Reverend," Jojo said, misinterpreting Willie's outrage. "The man before us is Karl Leiden, whom I have not seen in twenty years. He is my brother."
"Half-brother," Leiden barked. He pulled back the hammer on his gun. "Soon to be late half."
"Karl, don't do this. We can discuss--"
"The time for talk is over."
Willie gulped as Leiden's grip tightened on the gun. His fleeting thought was that the bloodshed would not be on this spot. He had performed quite a few blessings where Leiden stood, and he preferred that the native girls would have fond memories of the spot rather than negative.
But suddenly Leiden turned his gun from them, hearing a noise in the distance. He motioned to one of his guards and to the other he gave his gun. "Schurke, watch them both," he muttered in German to the guard who stayed, "and prepare the old fool." Leiden then slunk over the ridge followed by his other Wehrmacht guard who drew an additional pistol from his jacket.
Willie crept from the remaining guard as he approached.
"Resist, and I will kill you," the soldier said. Keeping his eyes glued on Willie and Jojo he put his weapon in one pocket and removed a small handkerchief and vial from another.
Chloroform, Willie thought.
"I'll go peaceably," Jojo said. "There is no need for--"
The Wehrmacht pounced on Jojo, thrusting his noxious handkerchief into his face."That's it, breathe it all down," he hissed, and Jojo fell to the ground.
"That was not necessary," Willie spat back, in German. "He would have followed you willingly. There was no need for gas."
"I was following orders, sir." He proudly stuck out his chin. "Can you say the same?"
Before Willie could retort a gunshot echoed over the ridge. "Get the gun--!" Willie heard. "No, leave it! Get him, hold him--!" "Schurke! Kommen sie!"
The Wehrmacht Schurke, being polite to his superior officer, bowed to Willie before running to Leiden's call.
This is wrong, Willie thought. He wasn't sure if it were the cloak of darkness or the disturbing zeal of the young soldier, or the idea that Leiden may have used his rank to enact his own personal vendetta. Whatever the case Willie was determined to understand the entire situation and not just parts of it.
"Was ist--? No!" Willie gaped, horrified at Leiden's new catch. Somehow, Corky had wandered over to them, finding them through the darkness and the fog. Trust him to stumble upon a Nazi kidnapping. Corky battled Leiden and his men, however, and they barely held him. Willie shrank back into the darkness hoping not to be seen by the mechanic, but Corky was fighting too hard to notice his presence anyway.
"Leiden," Willie ventured, "let him go. He means nothing and will remember nothing in the morning. What would it benefit you if--"
"He saw," Leiden spat. Corky fought like an enraged bear, harder than Willie had ever seen him fight, and not even three Gestapo officers could subdue him. He made a mental note not to get Corky riled if he'd been drinking--if, Willie thought swallowing, they ever saw one another again.
Corky punched one of the Wehrmacht men in the eye--the one, Willie thought with a grin, who had gassed Jojo--and broke free of his captors. Willie cheered silently. He would not blow his cover but maybe Corky could escape over the hill and warn his friends. Willie promised himself he would hinder the soldier's shots if they dared fire upon him.
Schurke lunged, and grabbed Corky's leg.
The other men descended like wolves, and Schurke grabbed the chloroform. It took considerably longer for Corky to succumb to the gas than Jojo but eventually his shoulders slumped back and he collapsed at Leiden's feet.
"We should kill them here," the other Wehrmacht snarled, wiping a trickle of blood from his chin. He swiftly kicked Corky in the side.
"Nein, Biest. We have made enough commotion and don't need to draw attention here. We must wait until later."
"Leiden," Willie began. The men looked surprised, as if they had forgotten he was there. "How much of all this--" he gestured to Corky and Jojo--"is an order from Headquarters, and how much is your personal involvement?"
"I have the authority."
Leiden limped to the boat and Willie noticed a trail of blood trickling down his leg, which Leiden ignored. He commanded his men to dump Jojo and Corky into their boat.
"He is an enemy of the state," Leiden continued. "Therefore justice will be dispensed."
"Leiden, this is madness!" Willie ran up to them hoping, even praying for one last chance. "At least let Corky go. He is vital here, and his friends will look for him very soon."
"No," Leiden said. One of his men shoved the boat into the water and the other started the motor.
"Why?" Willie shouted across the water.
"Because you wish it."
Their boat trudged into the fog and disappeared. Willie watched and listened as long as he could and approximated their heading.
He paced the dock. Technically Leiden was his superior officer and the orders were legitimate, whether initiated by Leiden or not. Willie couldn't go against his superiors, but if he could prove Leiden was acting on his own, and that his plans proved detrimental to the authority at Headquarters--
Willie ran back to the chapel, hoping he had enough time. If he hurried the lives of two men might be saved.
* * *
Jake stirred in his sleep. "Corky," he muttered, "adjust the fuel mixture. The Goose's sounding like Jack's bark."
Jake couldn't tell. Was the Japanese officer barking like a dog, or was Jack talking Japanese?
Jake sat bolt upright, and immediately wished he hadn't. "Ah, crap," he said, rubbing his temples. He had a monster of a hangover. He could only imagine Corky's condition.
"Jack--?" Grumbling, Jake stumbled across his room searching for a pair of slacks. What time was it, anyway? The sun wasn't over the horizon yet and the band downstairs was still playing gentle, soulful tunes for die-hard dancers. Jake stubbed his toe on the way to the door and muttered a curse.
"C'mon, Jack, quit playin' around. You've gotta help me pull Corky out of the gutter Jojo's got him in." The more Jake woke up, the madder he got. Jojo did it to them again and he probably left Corky a mess.
"Jack!" Jake bellowed, and winced.
He frowned. The fuzziness in his brain began to clear and he realized something wasn't making sense. Did Jack sound distant, like he was stuck somewhere--?
"I'm coming, Jack," Jake said quickly. He rushed on a clean shirt and ran from his room with his flight jacket, into the mournful quiet of the Monkey Bar.
"Keep barking so I can find you."
A few rooms away Jake paused. Was Jack's bark coming from Corky's room--? A wave of fear weakened his knees and, swallowing, he opened the door expecting the worst.
Jack leapt into his arms and surprised Jake with one furious lick before jumping to the floor.
"Well, I'm glad to see you too," Jake said. "You must've wanted out pretty bad, huh?"
Jake glanced around the room seeing Corky's telltale mess but not Corky himself. "Lemme guess," he sighed. "Corky got pretty liquored up, got mad, and locked you in his room, right?"
Jack cocked his head but didn't say anything. Jake grit his teeth. "And someone bribed you to keep it quiet--! I bet I know who did, too."
Jack ran down the stairs and into the Monkey Bar. He shuffled between a few exhausted dancers, expecting Jake to follow him.
"I'm gonna give her a piece of my mind," Jake muttered between clenched teeth.
"He's probably out cold somewhere. It could take forever to find him."
Jake scowled. "You know where he is?"
"Good. We'll go get him after I speak with Sarah. Maybe then we can all get some decent sleep."
"Yeah, I doubt it, too."
Jack made a beeline for the batwing doors, but stopped short of going outside when he saw Jake wasn't following. Jake was paused over the balcony, watching Sarah dance with the Charles guy from last night.
"Chuck" was part of the reason Jake's hangover was so bad. Seeing the Clipper passenger dance with Sarah planted seeds of jealousy that dug deeper than he would've liked. Sarah was a big girl and they hadn't made any commitments one way or the other, but it still stung him as he watched her dance with Charles all night and into the morning. He seethed even now. It was bad enough she bribed Jack.
"Sarah--!" He shouted over the railing. She arched her eyebrow at him, which made him angrier. "We need to talk."
He scuttled down the stairs before she had a chance to refuse. Jack barked at him but he didn't care. Corky's sobriety could wait, for the moment.
"Mind if I cut in?"
"Yes," Sarah said.
Charles beamed and Jake wanted to knock in every one of his perfect teeth.
"It's all right, Sarah. I could go for a cup of coffee. Keep her goin' for me, fly boy. I'll be back."
Jake gave him a dirty look.
Sarah watched Charles's back a few fleeting moments before whirling angrily on Jake. "What, you can take all the women in the South Seas, and I can't have one dancing partner who doesn't have two left feet?"
"I do not have two left feet," Jake snapped. He grabbed her hand and torso and forced her into a close dance position. "Don't try to make things worse. You're treading on thin ice with me as it is."
"Yes, really." Jake narrowed his eyes. "You lied to me about Corky, didn't you?"
Jack growled and tugged at his pants leg, but Jake wasn't about to quit grilling her.
"I did not lie."
"No, you did worse. You tried hiding him from me, which is worse than lying in my book."
Sarah lowered her eyes like a defenseless child and Jake wanted to kiss her, despite his anger. "You were having such a good time, Jake. I didn't want to spoil it for you."
"I know." He smirked at her and lifted her chin. "But there's one thing you've gotta understand. Corky has it rough sometimes, and his bad patches can get pretty bad. If you think last night was tough, you don't know the half of it. You wouldn't have recognized him in Shanghai."
Jake sighed, continuing. "I owe Corky my life, Sarah, and I'm tryin' to help him get his back. I can't do that if you don't tell me what's going on, or if you hide something he's doing from me. If he starts going downhill come get me. Or," Jake said, shaking his pant leg, "get Jack to watch him. He usually--Oww!"
In desperation, Jack had clamped down on Jake's leg and bit hard.
"Cryin' out loud, Jack! Corky can wait a blasted minute!"
For the first time, Jake looked at the dog's face and realized Jack was pacing. He'd thought Jack was trying to save Sarah from confessing or that he was mad at Corky for locking him up in his room, but maybe there was more to the story.
"Jack, are they in trouble?"
Sarah and Jake exchanged glances and raced after Jack who had already made his way out of the Monkey Bar. They ran after Jack to the other side of the dock, and nearly collided with Reverend Tenboom.
"Jake, thank God I caught up with you."
"Not now, Reverend," Jake said, watching Jack carefully. The animal was pawing at a moist patch on the ground and snarling at the water. Jake went over to him and bent down, frowning as he dabbed at a dried patch of blood. "Corky's in trouble, Reverend, and Jack--"
"I know where he is," Willie interrupted. At Jake's surprise he cleared his throat. "Well, the direction, anyway. One of my...parishioners told me this morning that Corky and Wavermann met with three other men, four hours ago. There was an altercation and the three strangers loaded them onto a motorized boat. They were headed east."
Jake cursed. "East? They could be anywhere! There's dozens of islands out there!"
"Do you know which island, Jack?"
Sarah put a tentative hand on Jake's shoulder. "But, Jake, the Goose--"
"--is in pieces," he finished, scowling. He paced the dock and deep worry lines crossed his brow. Suddenly he stopped, and snapped his fingers. "Unless...If he's willing, it might work. It's their only chance!"
"What chance, what?" Willie asked.
"Sarah, Jack, meet me by the Clipper." He began jogging up the bank and Willie followed him. "Reverend, this could be dangerous. I don't know if--"
Willie held up a hand. "Jake, Corky is my friend, too. It would be difficult for me to forgive myself if anything happened to him. Besides, a little prayer never hurt."
"We could use some." He nodded. "All right. Besides, it's gonna take a miracle to try and convince Captain Pearson into lending me his plane."
* * *
"Ohh, brother..." Corky coughed sand from his mouth--or, it tasted like sand, anyway. The way he felt it could've been a fancy gourmet dinner. "The truck..."
Corky moaned and cupped his hands over his eyes. On a scale of one to ten, the hangover he had rated an easy eight. He tried to sit up but every part of him ached when he moved. He slumped back down and--uhh...No. He shook off a wave of nausea. No, not an eight, a nine. Definitely a nine. He threw his forearm over his eyes to filter out the light.
"Number on the truck that ran me over," he croaked. "You write it down?"
"Not today, my little friend."
"Sorry, Jake," Corky mumbled automatically. Any minute he'd hear Jack's disapproving growl for what he did. And Jake...He frowned. Something was different about Jake's voice. Did he have a cold? He sounded German.
"Get the water bucket."
Water? Nothing made him sicker after a long night than water. Jake knew that. Come to think of it, Jake would know that. How bad did he mess up?
"Corky, maybe you should try to sit up."
Now that was Jojo. Uh, oh, maybe they were in jail. Louie wouldn't do that to them, would he? Corky shut his eyes tighter. If he were in jail he didn't want to know about it, and he sure the heck didn't want to see the look of disappointment on Jake's face. His head started to throb worse. Last time he felt a hangover this bad was...was...well, at least three years ago, probably somewhere in China. He hadn't been too sober in China.
He must've really slipped up. Jack wasn't even barking at him.
"Lemme alone, Jojo," he groaned. "I probably deserve it."
"Die wasser, Colonel."
"Throw it on him."
"Huh...To make things worse, I could really go for a beer--H-h-hey!" Corky yelped and shot three feet straight up as cold water came from nowhere, and hit him square in the puss. "What's the big idea!"
Corky wiped the water from his face. "Not funny, Jake. You got a real lousy way of...of...?"
Jojo cautioned him silently. Corky blinked, imagining he saw German officers behind Jojo. When his eyes finally cleared, he did a double take. German officers--?
"A-Am I still drunk, or...or are German officers standing behind you, w-with guns?"
"Good...'Cause I feel like passing out..."
"Remain standing, please," Leiden said. Corky obeyed, barely. "You are also feeling the effects of chloroform gas, on top of your imbibing. I am not sure of the effects of such a combination as I do not drink, so I cannot vouch for your hangovers."
The officer said the words with a smile on his face but Corky didn't trust him. "What's goin' on, Jojo?"
Leiden chuckled. "What a delightful innocence, Joseph. Your friend amuses me. It is a pity that his death will touch your already sullied conscience."
Corky swallowed. "D-death?"
"Corky," Jojo said sadly, "meet Colonel Karl Leiden. I'm truly sorry you had to become involved in our dispute."
Leiden nodded to his guards and they roughly tied Corky and Jojo's hands behind their backs.
"Leave us," he told Schurke and Biest.
"I gave you orders."
The men exchanged glances but bowed and left their Colonel's presence.
"Now. Let's have a chat, ja? Between kin." He was smiling again and Corky gulped, realizing Leiden's smile wasn't a good thing. "Will you share your money with Der Fuhrer, or should I extract it from you...one bullet at a time?"
"It's all right, Corky," Jojo said. Jojo and Leiden's eyes locked and for the first time in Corky's memory a hard glint passed over his friend's features. "He won't shoot us, yet. He wants to play with his captives first. He's been that way since we were children. Tell me, Karl, did you ever explain the truth to Mother, about her parakeets?"
Leiden chuckled. The sound was deep and guttural and sent chills down Corky's spine. "You are still upset about the birds? The birds were annoying, and the cat was hungry."
"Y-you fed her parakeets to the cat?" Corky exclaimed.
"In pieces," Jojo muttered. "First he twisted off their heads, and then he tossed them to the cat like footballs and watched her play with them."
"I'm gonna be sick," Corky said.
"The cat ate the heads as well," Leiden explained. "Nothing was wasted, and no evidence was found to convict me."
Leiden continued to laugh until Schurke came to the clearing, suddenly agitated, pointing to a portable radio they brought with them. The two spoke quickly in German, faster than Corky could understand, and turned their backs to them. Corky wasn't paying much attention. He slumped to the ground, wondering if Leiden saw them as parakeets...
"Corky," Jojo whispered. Corky wasn't sure how long Jojo'd been trying to get his attention, but it must've been a few seconds. "How long can you hold on?"
Corky shrugged as well as he could with his hands tied behind his back. "I dunno. As long as your brother lets us, I guess."
Jojo smiled. "Look up--northeast, about thirty degrees."
Corky did, and saw the strong outline of a plane cresting over the horizon. "Hey, that's--"
Jojo pursed his lips in a quieting gesture and nodded to where Leiden was standing.
"--the Clipper," Corky finished, whispering.
"I thought so."
"What's she doin' out here? It's not time for her to leave Boragora. At least, I don't think it is. Depends on how long we were knocked out."
"I've been awake longer than you but I'd say it's been less than five hours since we were kidnapped. It isn't noon yet, the sun's not high enough."
Corky nodded, agreeing. "Clipper's comin' from the east...sun's still on her tail...7:30 a.m.?"
"Sounds about right," Jojo said, smiling. "Listen, Corky. If there's one thing my brother loves more than performing acts of cruelty, it's gloating over his achievements. He would keep us tied up for eternity just to name the ways he could kill us. If I can keep him talking we could have a chance."
Leiden chose that moment to return to their vicinity. He was consuming a banana and despite feeling sick, Corky heard his stomach rumble.
"By the way," Leiden said, devouring the fruit, "I know you are expecting company; we've seen the plane overhead. I would not worry so much about them. By the time they find you, your bodies will be cold." He smiled malevolently. "Quite cold."
* * *
By the time Raymond Pearson was "convinced" enough to let us borrow the Clipper two hours had passed, and I wasn't sure if we could find Corky's trail. Jack was sure, all right, and stared out of the cockpit window and grumbled whenever we strayed off-course. On the other hand, convincing Raymond that Jack knew what he was doing was another story.
"Cutter, explain to me why I'm letting a dog tell us how to fly?"
Raymond Pearson was nearing fifty as far as Jake could tell and he had taken on the pasty, over-fed look of someone who had lived the high-life too long. Pearson had also become more of a nuisance than Jake remembered. There weren't that many pleasant memories of Pearson the times Jake had flown as his co-pilot at Pan Pacific, but Pearson had been trying to make his mark back then. Pearson had made his mark all right, and he wasn't letting anyone forget it now.
"Because," Jake said, barely keeping his temper in check, "Jack knows what he's doing."
Jack was quick to answer, but kept his nose pressed against the cockpit window.
"Ridiculous. A dog? I always knew you were pretty eccentric, Cutter, but this is insane. Is that why Pan Pacific cut you from the flight roster?"
Jake gripped the co-pilot's yoke a little tighter. "I left, Pearson, because I wanted to fight for my country. If you can't see that--"
"Just asking, just asking. No need to get sore over it. But if the Boragoran Magistrate hadn't thrown his weight around I wouldn't be here. I have passengers to get to Hawaii, you know. Important passengers."
Jake bit the retort on his tongue. He knew exactly why Pearson agreed to let them use the Clipper. He wouldn't get his fat bonus without Wavermann.
"Let's just fly the plane without the report, all right?"
"Touchy, touchy," Pearson muttered, but at least he shut up.
To Jake, none of it made any sense. Who would want to kidnap Jojo, and why? Jojo wasn't interested in politics and he loved everybody. Who'd want to kill him? He chewed his cigar, mulling over the possibilities, when Sarah poked her head in.
"Jake, I have to talk to you."
"Great," Pearson muttered, "the more the merrier. It's not as if it's crowded in here already."
Jake ignored him. "How important is it? I have a feeling we're pretty close to where they are."
"Very important," she emphasized. Right then, Jake knew she was talking about her other profession. "And I'd rather talk to you about it, alone."
"Well, I'm not leaving," Pearson snapped. "It's my plane."
"Fine, stay," Jake muttered. "Take over, will ya, Jack?"
Jake untangled himself from the co-pilot's chair and joined Sarah in the cabin. Willie and Louie, who had come along for the ride looked up anxiously, but Jake assured them everything was fine.
"What's the situation?" Jake whispered to Sarah when they were alone, and far from anyone else's ear.
"I went back to check on some things before we left, Jake."
"Yeah," he said. "I know. You were one of the reasons we were so late taking off."
"I know, I know, but I'm glad I did because I was able to check on some area 'activities.' It seems a Gestapo officer, Colonel Karl Leiden, has become a bit of a bother at Gestapo headquarters. He was reported missing three months ago along with two junior officers, on a mission no one knows about. And someone reported seeing him in the Marivellas just last night."
Jake became grim. "So what's the connection between this Leiden guy, and Jojo and Corky?"
"Your Jojo isn't as innocent as we might think," Sarah said, smirking. "He's donated money to several big businesses and formed contracts with the US government that could give the Germans one heck of a headache."
"Big enough to get agents coming after him?"
"Perhaps, but I don't think that's the main reason Leiden's after Jojo." Sarah put her hand on his arm. "Jake, Leiden is Jojo's half-brother. And from what I heard, Leiden wants to keep that bit of his past completely anonymous. According to the grapevine, his mother--and Jojo's mother--was Jewish."
Jake whistled. "No wonder Leiden wants Jojo dead. Does the Gestapo know about it?"
"I think so. He's on some kind of wanted list, and the Gestapo wants Leiden out as much as he wants to stay in. I guess Leiden figured if he kept the secret and Jojo was killed, there wouldn't be any proof of his Jewish heritage since their mother and his father were both killed ages ago. If Leiden can get Jojo he'll kill two birds with one stone--a US sympathizer, and his Jewish past. He'll be a hero again."
Jake shook his head. "Leiden's crazy if he thinks the Gestapo'd let him back in."
"Probably. But I don't think he feels he has anything to lose."
"Cutter--! Get your blasted mutt off me!"
Jake jumped to his feet and ran to the cockpit. "Sounds like Jack and Pearson had a little difference of opinion."
Jack was chewing on Pearson's arm, while Pearson desperately struggled to keep the Clipper aloft. "If you don't get him off, I guarantee we'll crash in the next two minutes!"
Jake grabbed the yoke and steadied the plane. "Jack wouldn't have attacked without good reason. Did we overshoot, Jack?"
Jack let go, and Pearson rubbed his arm. "Stupid mutt. There's nothing down there, except for that mud puddle. No boat or plane, either."
"Pearson, you don't know Jack. If he says there's something down there, you'd better believe him. There's room enough for us to land right over--"
"Huh? Aren't they down there?"
"Hah. See, I told you, Cutter. Your mutt's screwy."
"Shut up, Raymond." Jake eyed Jack carefully. "If we land too soon or in the wrong place, they're as good as dead, is that it?"
"Well, we can't stay up here all day," Pearson retorted. "This plane guzzles gas like Corky guzzles whiskey."
Jake shot him a look. "He saved your butt, Pearson. He was the only mechanic who saw the oil leak in your plane, when everyone else cleared you for take-off."
"Yeah? Well he missed the fuel line on the Hawaiian Clipper, didn't he?"
Jake's eyes blazed. "He saved countless other lives afterwards and paid his dues for what happened. Talk about him like that again, and I promise you won't be flying for a long time."
He ignored Pearson's look of anger, and concentrated on Jack. "I hate to admit it, Jack, but Pearson has a point. The Clipper wasn't gassed before we left. We could be stuck if we don't quit circling soon."
The dog almost nodded, and Jake got the impression he was asking him to trust his instincts. "You're sure?"
"All right, then. We'll wait it out."
* * *
Corky knew he could be slow sometimes, especially if he were hungover, but even he knew something was wrong. Leiden had begun pacing in front of them while his two officers brought over the portable receiver. They were questioning him angrily, in German.
"Jojo, are you catching any of this?"
"Some of it," he said, beginning to smile. "There seems to be a weighty price on their heads, and one of the officers caught wind of it on the radio. Gestapo headquarters wants their hides. I don't think Karl's men knew they were running away from the Gestapo. I think they thought they were undercover, for some assignment."
One of the men--Schurke--took out his gun and waved it in Leiden's face, and Jojo shuddered. "They've also heard Karl's half-Jewish," he said quietly.
"Jewish? What's that got to do with--"
Corky jumped as a shot rang out. Leiden slumped, clutching his chest, and Schurke dropped the gun, astounded that he had shot his superior officer. Biest yelled anxiously at him.
"Gehn! Na, Mach Schoen--!"
The soldiers shot nervous glances in both Jojo and Corky's direction, but fled quickly towards the shore of the island. Jojo stumbled to his feet and collapsed where his brother fell. Corky followed.
"Karl," he said softly. "No, no…"
Leiden's face drained white. "Quiet, Joseph," he murmured. "For the best, perhaps...Everything--gone--"
"Shh. Don't talk. Don't."
Corky turned away. He heard the Clipper circle once and land, but their immediate return to Boragora didn't seem that important any more.
Karl clutched Jojo's jacket and collapsed. "Ver...Vergeben..."
"Of course, Karl. Yes, I forgive you. You are forgiven." Jojo lay his head next to his brother and wept and Corky couldn't stop his own tears. He realized he was grieving for them, and for himself.
* * *
Jake shook his head and stared at the hulled out cockpit of the Goose. As much as he needed Corky's help he wasn't about to bother him now. When the Clipper left for Hawaii with Jojo and the full passenger compliment, Jake left Corky at the dock to be alone with his thoughts. The issues his friend had to face he had to face alone, and seeing Karl die and watching Jojo's reaction must've reminded him of Nina more than he wanted to accept.
Jake figured Corky wouldn't want to talk about it for a while. He was surprised when Corky dropped by the seaplane, an hour later.
"I apologized to Jack," he said quietly. "He's still pretty sore at me but Sarah made him a steak sandwich. Maybe that'll help."
"It might. Doesn't work for me," Jake said, hoping for a smile.
Corky continued to look sullen. "We'll see." He sighed and glanced around the seaplane. "The Goose is a wreck."
"Yeah," Jake answered. He watched as Corky dug a small wooden box out of his pocket. Corky was frowning at it, yet he was caressing it as if were the most precious jewel on earth.
Corky flinched as if struck. "A bad idea. I don't think I'm ready yet."
Jake pretended to be apathetic. "Well, you don't have to be ready, for whatever it is."
"Yes, I do." Corky's features hardened and all innocence fled from his face. "I don't know if it's so wrong to hold on. It sounds too much like forgetting, forever. I can't do that. I won't."
Jake hid his disappointment under the ruined pilot's console. "My Mom once said it takes small seeds to grow big plants," he said. He grabbed a pair of pliers and grimaced at the loose wires above his head. "I mean, it sounds like good advice to me, since you can't really grow a plant without seeds, can you...? I think Mom also would've said that as long as you keep the seeds alive, and keep them growing that there's always an opportunity for a flower somewhere down the line."
Corky said nothing for more than a minute, and Jake almost poked his head out to see his expression. Had he understood the analogy? Jake let the silence linger, despite the tension between them.
"Jake," Corky finally sighed.
"You're hookin' the wires all wrong. Why don't I take your place, and you hand me the tools?"
Jake smiled. "Sounds good. You know what you're doing."
"I guess I do," Corky said, returning the smile.